Book Report: The Tragedy of Heterosexuality

The Tragedy of Heterosexuality

“To the straight people reading this book, let me say with all my love and solidarity, I am your ally” (Ward, 13). Who knew that such a normalized sexuality – heterosexuality – could result in the depressing lives of both parties? In Jane Ward’s scholarly monograph The Tragedy of Heterosexuality, she examines the normalized problems inside hetero-relationships, like misogyny, toxic masculinity, and gender roles. Because of these problems, women feel like many parts of their lives are trivial compared to men; on the other hand, men don’t feel secure in their own manhood to “pick up” a woman and keep them around. Let’s dive into why Ward says such things, and why Ward ends the book with “Straight men do not need to be queered; they need to learn to like women” (Ward, 171).

Beside The Tragedy of Heterosexuality, Jane Ward, a professor of Feminist Studies at University of California Santa Barbara, has written two other books: Not Gay: Sex Between Straight White Men, which was published in 2015, and Respectably Queer: Diversity Culture in LGBT Activist Organizations, which was published in 2008. With these published books, Ward has written about various topics, such as “trans relationships”, “the evolution of straight culture”, “the meaning of sex between straight-identfied men”, and more (these topics as well as the complete information of Jane Ward will be linked). Because of these previous works, Ward knows the reality of, in this case, straight people and their couple troubles. She has been aware of such topics early on, to which one could say she has an expertise in these fields. Even if not straight herself, Ward seems to know more than enough than one might expect.

As the book starts, Ward tells the reader that she views the life of “‘straight culture’…through a queer, feminist lens.” To put the problem of “straight culture” into perspective, Ward, as a queer person herself states, “Straight women’s lives are very, very hard. It’s not that it ‘gets better’ for queer people; it’s that heterosexuality is often worse.” With this line, I kind of reflected and thought how true it is – of course queer lives get better, but never realized how hard heterosexuality actually is. Growing up and accepting the fact that one is queer is already hard enough, but to put this context into the actual world of men trying to get with women is already depressing enough. This idea of sexism and toxic masculinity takes over straight culture, to which women and men can not have a successful life with one another because of these coinciding problems. How can men expect more from women when they can not expect more out of themselves? Men are too scared to break out of this heteronormative shell to which they resort of to the seduction of women and plain sexism. 

There is a shift from women doing things to themselves – dieting, shaving, waxing, dying – to deem themselves worthy of a man’s “love,” now to men who realize that their bodies may not be enough to attract a woman’s love, such as being too bald, too short, or too fat. Because of this shift in men’s views, some men have started going to get help from pickup artists, which is, essentially, the idea of “how fast am I able to inappropriately touch you?” During this rise of pickup artists, Strauss’s book The Game was introduced; because of this, the pickup industry expanded into bootcamps, allowing for usually men to give men a lesson on how to get “game,” which is the same idea of seducing woman – how to get a woman into you and getting with her the same night (Ward, 87). As years passed, men slowly started to realize this isn’t what girls need or what – they want to feel seen, heard, and reassured; as a matter of fact, we know women don’t want to be seduced because women have developed “survival strategies…to manage sexual objectification” – these strategies being “bitch shields (i.e., being rude to, or ignoring, men) and shit tests (i.e., insulting men)” (Ward, 99). Women want men who are capable of showing these range of emotions, not the typical self-destructive men who needed a woman to “save” them and make them feel like woman actually had a job other than sex (Ward, 109). Like said earlier, as time moved, these pickup artist industry got more progressive (at least some of them, like Project Rockstar, who had better – younger, more attractive – instructors teaching men how to properly “game”: “thinking beyond consent to consider the quality of women’s sexual experiences, and using spot-on metaphors to help each other conceptualize good, humanizing sex” (Ward, 115). With this shift to a more progressive pickup artist industry, 

One strength about Ward’s writing is her tendency to use others’ work as examples, which strengthen Ward’s own argument. For example, during chapter 4, Ward uses her queer acquaintances and friends as more opinions onto straight life and its culture; with these opinions, she is able to reinforce her own perspective to something more reliable and accurate. She’s also able to draw out something more from these different opinions and perspectives. Additionally, another strength with Ward’s writing is critique a problem – with detail – within straight culture, and is able to offer a solution or workarounds to be able to enjoy a relationship where men actually love women and vice versa. 

While I admire almost everything about the book, one weakness about the book is  the lack of perspectives coming from the other side. Yes, I agree this is something that shouldn’t have another side, and that dismantling this patriarchy is ultimately the step that allows for something more in these relationships. However, one effective strategy, I would say, is that Ward would be better off using rebuttals to her perspective, and counter those arguments, which also give the mentality of “Nothing-to-lose.” Here’s what I mean: for example, within the pickup industry, some men had “that nothing-to-lose frame of mind that allows men to approach women they would otherwise find intimidating” (Ward, 104). By refuting these opinions coming from the other side of this battle, we can then give women and men a same state of mind, allowing them to try these new, which they somehow deem “queer,” like exploring sexual, such as polyamory or “pegging.”

After reading this book, I realized that some of these issues did not occur to me. While I am queer myself and know there has always been issues within straight relationships, I never knew what specifically. Reflecting on my past years, I recognize how little my life has been filled with straight relationships and their problems. I have three sisters, so of course I’ve been exposed to that of hetero couples, but have never actually noticed the problems embedded within. This book has put out more than I realized could be wrong with straight relationships, such as how men are scared of hurting their manhood in any way and would rather dismiss their female partner and their feelings and/or interests (I knew men were scared of hurting their manhood, but did not know until now how they would treat their partner just to protect themselves). While this book has a specific audience range consisting of mostly straight people, I say anyone with an open-mind should read this book. While some people may not consider themselves straight, I think this book provides a great opportunity to know more of the world around us revolving around straight culture. To some degree, I would not say there is a specific audience; although it mostly takes place within these hetero-relationships and they should be the one to fix it – through communicating and experimenting – I think those outside of the straight community also play as a role to disassemble this hetero-patriarchy: as Ward, a queer person, says herself, “I wish for them that their lust for one another might be genuinely born out of mutual regard and solidarity.” For straight women, this book does a great job at giving light to these problems; it can be freeing to have a book dedicated to the ways your life can be improved. Thus, I think this book has something in store for everyone, and we could all learn a thing or two as the principle of love is something mentioned, even if towards straight men. 

Works Cited

Ward, Jane. “Jane Ward: Scholarship for the Feminist Future.” Jane Ward, https://www.janewardphd.com/

Ward, Jane. The Tragedy of Heterosexuality. New York University Press, 2020.

Reversing the Ally Relationship: Straight Women’s Gendered Suffering and “The Tragedy of Heterosexuality”

About a year ago, I went through my first real breakup. I was in a toxic, straight relationship with a man for nearly three years, and since our breakup, I have often wondered: how unique was my experience? Reading Jane Ward’s monograph, The Tragedy of Heterosexuality, I was struck by the degree to which my former relationship was indicative of a larger problem with straight culture, and the ways my experience aligned with many other women’s experiences. Ward outlines the patriarchal structures and influences of rape culture that inform straight men’s violence against and general lack of empathy toward women. She goes on to connect these structures and influences to the widespread dissatisfaction (at best) of women in straight relationships. Ward proposes that straight women are in danger and calls for a reversal of the ally relationship in which queer individuals become allies to straight women.

According to Ward, straight culture’s impact on straight women has elicited queer concern and confusion for decades; members of the LGBTQIA+ community have often described straight relationships as, at best, boring, but often toxic, and at worst, violent. Ward talks about her love for her queer life and argues “that the basic premise of the question—that heterosexuality is easier than queerness—requires renewed investigation” (Ward 2). Ward centers lesbian feminist scholarship and cites that the “tragedy of heterosexuality” is “a critical but still largely overlooked consequence of the drowning out of lesbian feminist ideas and experiences” (Ward 4). By centering lesbian and queer feminist perspectives, Ward posits the tragedy of heterosexuality is that “straight life is characterized by the inescapable influence of sexism and toxic masculinity” (Ward 8).

The Tragedy of Heterosexuality’s overarching argument is that heterosexuality is “a system equally organized around love and abuse,” and rooted in white supremacy and patriarchal structures (Ward 12). Many straight women, according to Ward, are unhappy—so what entices them to stay? By outlining the historical and structural contexts of straight culture, Ward situates straightness as a “fetish for normalcy” (Ward 15). Heterosexuality has often been framed as the norm, reinscribing gender roles and biological essentialism, among other sexist narratives that permeate straight culture. Ward argues we must address the ways in which heterosexual relationships reinscribe these narratives—the “we” presumably being individuals across the spectrum of sexuality.

Ward quickly addresses that her focus is straight culture, not necessarily sexuality itself. One prominent aspect of straight culture is normalized mutual dislike: “Across time and place, most forms of heterosexual coupling have been organized around men’s ownership of women (their bodies, their work, their children) rather than their attraction to, or interest in, women” (Ward 34). But Ward argues that in addition to men’s control of women, “straight women’s and men’s shared romantic and erotic attachments to an unequal gender binary” indicates a wider issue with and fear of detachment from the norms of the gender binary and sexuality, further reinforcing heterosexuality as a fetish for normalcy (Ward 22).  

Ward, who is a professor of Feminist Studies at UC Santa Barbara, “has published on topics including the marriage self-help industry, the rise and fall of pickup artists, how early lesbian feminist ideas shaped contemporary gender politics, the meaning of sex between straight-identified men, queer childhood and parenting, the evolution of straight culture, the corporatization of gay pride festivals, the race politics of same-sex marriage, the social construction of whiteness, feminist pornography, and trans relationships” (Jane Ward). In addition to The Tragedy of Heterosexuality, she is known for her works Not Gay: Sex Between Straight White Men (2015) and Respectably Queer: Diversity and Culture in LGBT Activist Organizations (2008). Ward’s book, Not Gay, was featured in Newsweek, New York Magazine, Forbes, The Guardian, BBC, Washington Post, USA Today, Huffington Post, Salon, Vice, and Slate (Jane Ward). Her first book, Respectably Queer, was named by The Progressive magazine as a best book of 2008 and has been featured on NPR (Jane Ward). Ward, who herself identifies as queer, has published many works about queer existence, flipping the dominant narrative of straight as normalcy on its head.  

In Ward’s discussion of the history of straight culture, she begins with the eugenicist marital hygiene ideals of the early 20th century: “…this era also initiates straight culture as a gendered mode of consumption in which the purchase of beauty products and relationship advice were vital to maintaining the delicate balance” (Ward 47). Then, midcentury advertising campaigns and educational films capitalized on these gendered modes of consumption to add more pressure on women: “…advertisers skillfully connected their products—from cosmetics to electronic dishwashers—to the project of heterosexual repair…” (Ward 53). Ward finishes out the historical context with the late-century explosion of a self-help industry “built on biopsychological claims about gender difference,” which further normalized heterosexual misery (Ward 30). To explore these circles of the late-century, and more recent iterations, of self-help, Ward discusses pickup artists and seduction coaches, and their redevelopment of a “woke masculinity” (Ward 31). Ward outlines the motives and degree to which these self-proclaimed dating experts contribute to the tragedy of heterosexuality: “Seduction coaches, at some level, know that heterosexuality’s continued fragility and failure produce a demand for interventions that can build a women’s sexual desire for average men and increase average men’s capacity to elicit that desire” (Ward 87).

Starkly contrasting the perspectives of seduction coach culture are the queer subcultural materials and interviews with queer people. For instance, one portion of the queer testimonials is entitled “It’s Sad How Much Women and Men Dislike Each Other,” in which queer individuals talk about the heartbreaking ways straight culture normalizes mutual dislike and straight women’s dissatisfaction with their male partner. As a rebuttal to the tragedy of heterosexuality, and particularly the issue of mutual dislike, Ward discusses the concept of “deep heterosexuality,” in which straight men would essentially take notes from lesbians and identify with women to develop a deep mutual regard (Ward 158).  

The Tragedy of Heterosexuality’s greatest strength as an academic work is its grounding in reality, not the theoretical. Ward takes an anthropological approach, using real human testimonials supported by lesbian feminist scholarly literature; her inclusion of queer perspectives in the chapter “Sick and Boring Life” exemplifies the degree to which this work is rooted in lived human experience. In addition to these queer perspectives, her interviews and described interactions with modern pick-up artists and dating coaches emphasize the humans behind and the humans suffering because of hetero-patriarchal structures. What makes the book so powerful is the way in which Ward marries the academic and the personal; I related to nearly every single tragedy of heterosexuality—but before reading this I did not know these experiences were a part of a larger system. I thought it was normal and inevitable to feel stuck with a boyfriend who disappoints you, relies on you for therapeutic counseling, and acts in controlling, manipulative and misogynistic ways. Ward shows straight women (and men) that there is another way.

Though I heavily related to the content of this book, I find that one thing it was missing was the perspective of straight women. Much of the discussion of straight women’s experience is rooted in academia and considering this is a work about straight women, a lot of the included perspectives were not theirs. From Ward, we learned how queer people feel about straight relationships and how some straight men feel about straight relationships (although, not the ones who indicate an inclination toward deep heterosexuality), but to “save” straight women, do we not need to understand the feelings tied to the tragedy of heterosexuality, too? I think a chapter like the queer perspectives chapter, but with anecdotes from straight women, could have made the work stronger.

As a personal reading experience, I found this book to be very validating and liberating. As a scholarly experience, I found the book immensely enlightening in how Ward breaks down the structures that cultivate oppressive realities for straight women in heterosexual relationships. Any straight women or women who have been in a straight relationship should read this book to understand why straight relationships function as they do; frankly, they should read The Tragedy of Heterosexuality to understand that many of the shortcomings of their straight relationships are not their fault. I also think straight men could benefit from reading this book; Ward provides insight into the situations they place women in and outlines how heterosexual misery is not an inevitability.

As Ward calls for queer allyship, queer individuals should at least read excerpts from the book (potentially excluding the queer perspectives chapter if they are very well-versed in the realities of heteronormativity and the tragedy of heterosexuality). Examining the tragedy of heterosexuality from a queer lens is an example of why it is critical to view normative, dominant structures from those who have been marginalized by them. Queer people understand their own existence and straight existence, and the insights they can provide, as outlined by Ward, are invaluable in turning the tragedy of heterosexuality into healthy relationships bonded by deep heterosexuality.

Works Cited

Jane Ward: Scholarship for the Feminist Future, https://www.janewardphd.com/.

Ward, Jane. The Tragedy of Heterosexuality. New York University Press, 2020.

Pharrell Williams: Blurred Misogyny 

Pharrell Williams: Blurred Misogyny 

In 2013 superstar Pharrell Williams teamed up with artists Robin Thicke and T.I to bring us “Blurred Lines.” The Times’ 2013 song of the summer, 640 million streams, 14 million copies sold – The song enjoyed instant and lasting success. But the song’s undeniable catchy beat, ironically, blurred its appalling lyrical and visual message. This piece will uncover what so many of us missed: 

The song’s lyrics promote three very troubling concepts:

While one of the most catchy, the line “I know you want it, I know you want it” is equally – if not more – problematic. These lyrics, sung by Pharrell, are a direct challenge to a woman’s consent. They imply that what comes from a woman’s mouth is not truly what she wants. Smiling, laughing, pushing – the video encourages a man to reject a woman’s word and insinuates he can do so in a joking and fun manner. This line reflects a more significant cultural issue; men have historically – purposely and not – misinterpreted a woman’s consent. This lyric suggests the line between consent and refusal is cloudy (blurred) when in reality, a woman is always firm in her decision.

Additionally, Pharrell sings about the “good girl,” the perfectly manufactured woman in the eyes of the patriarchy. “good girls”, as defined by Pharrell, are women who are sexually passive, almost timid about their desires, and are in need a man to direct, if not force them. The concept of “good girls” exists to build frequently unachievable standards for women. These lyrics normalize a concept we see so often in other forms of media today: women are sexually drawn to men who are aggressive and forceful about their desires. This enables men to feel as if forms of sexual harassment and sexual assault are just another kind of “advanced” flirtation. 

Lastly, Pharrell sings, “Tried to domesticate you, but you’re an animal, baby it’s in your nature” – In the music video, Robert Thicke mouths Pharrell’s words into the ear of a black model. An insensitive shot in which the lyrics can be perceived in a racial context. Black women being considered anything but human has enabled centuries of medical malpractice in which Black women were used as test subjects to advance scientific understanding. The racial implications of this shot are undeniable; forceful power dynamics and dehumanization have assisted and continue to assist in the oppression of black women.

How Blurred Lines directs masculine objectives: 

Along with the lyrics, It’s important to analyze who Pharrell’s intended audience is. While an artist will generally cater to the reasonably widest audience, it is clear that the message he pushes is meant for young men. This becomes apparent as he displays the social and sexual success of men who employ the technique of using and forcing themselves onto women. 

On the top: T.I, a rapper most popular with young male audiences, flirts and dances with three separate women while the lyrics “I know you want it, I know you want it” play. The positioning of the shot is essential; T.I dances in front of the women, who appear to serve as his backup, dancing behind him. This shot reinforces the idea that women should be treated as props and helpers in a man’s life. The inappropriately flirtatious T.I also underlines that men who subscribe to aggression and assertion with women will be sexually hyper-successful. 

On the Bottom: T.I, Pharrell and Robert Thicke are pictured together. All three of the men are in classy attire. The scene endorses the idea that forcing yourself onto women will not only bring you success with women, but will additionally give you status and respect among your friends. In contrasting their clothing, we see that the men, who are fully dressed, exude a message of strength and control, while women, dressed in only revealing clothing, are judged solely based on their body image and are a supporting entity to the man’s status. 

Years later, Pharrell and Robert Thicke have admitted their embarrassment for their part in writing the song. Remorse is a step in the right direction, but the damage this song has caused and will continue to cause is evident. Younger generations that are broadly refused access to sex education in schooling often turn to forms of media for guidance. Messages like that of Blurred Lines subconsciously encourage the persistence of misogyny and rape culture in our society. The importance of the lesson we can learn from this is anything but blurry: the media we consume matters, our consumption has the possibility of enabling good and bad. 

“Love My Way”: Homophobia and Internalized Shame in “Call Me By Your Name” 

Call Me By Your Name (2017), set in the Italian countryside during the summer of 1983, displays a passionate and complex romantic relationship between 17-year-old Elio and his father’s research assistant, Oliver. Before returning to the states, Oliver must travel to a different city in Italy to complete his summer’s research. Elio’s mother, seeing how close Oliver and Elio have gotten, suggests the two of them travel together. Though they remain relatively discreet with their displays of affection, being away from the local town where people know them and could out them, or worse, brings out a carefree side to the lovers. We see them dancing, embracing, and kissing in alleyways; however, there is a sense that this newfound freedom is fleeting as their unavoidable farewell rapidly approaches.

(approximate timestamp: 01:47:55)

Elio and Oliver dance in a cobblestoned alleyway and then embrace one another. Oliver breaks the embrace when he hears the song “Love My Way” by the Psychedelic Furs playing in the distance; earlier in the film, this was a song that both Elio and Oliver danced to at a party with female partners. The coincidence of hearing this song rings as a reminder of the moment’s impermanence—that the two of them have not always felt this free and will not always—but it simultaneously feels like a beautiful, cosmic sign that the two of them are connected in a meaningful way.

As they approached the strangers playing the song, the cement poles on Oliver’s left (in the green shirt) caught my eye. Their shape is phallic, and the coincidence of two, upright phallic structures juxtaposing Elio and Oliver’s figures left me with the impression that even in these moments where the two may “pass” as heterosexual, their gay identity is omnipresent.

(approximate timestamp: 01:48:36)

The feminine stranger is dancing alone, as the masculine stranger leans against the car smoking a cigarette, effortlessly cool and unphased, he is the epitome of suave, heteronormative masculinity and sexuality. Oliver’s instinct to dance with the woman strikes me as a performance of his own claim to masculinity and sexuality—he is carefree, fun, and charismatic, which are qualities that drew Elio to him. Almost immediately as he dances with the woman, the music is interrupted by a church bell ringing.

(approximate timestamp: 01:48:48)

Oliver grabs the woman’s arm, taking her to dance in front of the church where another version of the phallic symbol appears, this time with a chain attached. Oliver steps over this chain, as though crossing the threshold and submitting to the pressures of normativity. The heartbreaking conclusion to the film is Oliver calling Elio months after the end of summer to tell him he is getting married to a woman.

(approximate timestamp: 01:49:08)

Oliver has found a “ball-and-chain,” while Elio observes from the sidelines. Both Elio and Oliver are intoxicated, but Elio feels it more than Oliver, which hints that Elio is more naively intoxicated by their summer romance, and optimistic in ways that further break his heart in the end. Questioning Elio’s naivety, one wonders if there is an element of dishonesty in their relationship. We find out that Oliver has been in an on-again-off-again relationship with his ultimate fiancé for three years. Was it Oliver’s plan all along to submit to heteronormativity? Presumably, Elio momentarily changed Oliver’s mind, but he ultimate crosses the threshold at this moment.

(approximate timestamp: 01:49:21)
(approximate timestamp: 01:49:45)

Elio gets sick from the alcohol, and Oliver’s initial response is to laugh at Elio. He’s separate from Elio—safe from the optics of homosexuality. Oliver seems to laugh because he is also intoxicated, and finds humor in Elio’s vulnerable, very human moment, but there is something more sinister that comes about upon further thinking. The power dynamics in their relationship are questionable—a teenage boy and an older, college-aged student (presumably Oliver is pursuing a master’s or PhD). Laughing at Elio feels twisted and inappropriate, considering this could be his first time sick from alcohol and is certainly his first moment drunk and vulnerable with an older, male lover.

Call Me By Your Name operates under the assumption that privilege does not eliminate all forms of heteropatriarchal oppression and pain. This assumption is fair, though the film leans into a potentially problematic romanticization of wealth, prestige, whiteness, and academia. An assumption within these moments is that for young, formative queer people, many (presumably around half) will make the decision to pass for straight, or many will have a formative queer experience with an older lover. Call Me By Your Name leaves the impression a sacrifice of queer identity for the security of “fitting in” was commonplace, and highlights an immense dependence on family values and upbringing as determining whether someone makes this choice or not—almost implying it is naïve to think someone will not make the choice to pass if given the option.

Call Me By Your Name is heartbreaking, and worth watching if you want to understand a dynamic, albeit a very privileged one, between young gay lovers in the 1980s. It is a beautiful film to watch and a beautiful representation of young love and heartbreak.

Does Gender Exist in Heaven and Hell?

Crowley, played by David Tennant (left), and Aziraphale, played by Michael Sheen (right). 

The Amazon Studios T.V. series Good Omens was released in 2019-2020 and is based on a 1990 book of the same title by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. Set in London, the series tells the story of the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley. At the show’s beginning, Aziraphale and Crowley have worked together for eleven years to raise the antichrist, hoping their respective influences will neutralize his power and prevent Aarmageddon. However, they discover that they raised the wrong child, and the real antichrist has been misplaced. Now, they must find him before it is too late, dragging other beings–human and otherwise–into their caper as they go.

Good Omens poses an interesting question: does gender exist in Heaven and Hell? The answer is surprisingly straightforward: no it does not, or at least not in the way it does on Earth. According to the show’s lore, angels and demons are sexless, but can exhibit different sexes and genders in their “corporations” with a snap of their fingers. Choosing a sex disrupts the theoretical connection between gender and sex and allows each character to break, use, or reject all human gender norms. Characters in closer proximity to humans trend to use the binary, and those indifferent to humans are more fluid. This focus on gender as linked to humanity suggests that gender is a human construction rather than inherent or God-given, contrary to popular interpretations of Christianity. As these characters choose their gender, they provide excellent examples of diverse gender presentations, demonstrate how T.V. should handle ideas of gender, and assert that all gender presentations are valid. For brevity’s sake, I will focus on the non-human characters because they present more interesting interpretations of gender, starting with the protagonists.

Prior to the show, Crowley and Aziraphale have “fraternized” for about 6000 years. Throughout that time, in order to blend in, they have undergone the human process of finding aspects of gender that feel right to them. Even as societal ideas of gender change, they both follow a masculine pattern. They use he/him pronouns, wear “masculine” fashions (ranging from togas to suits), and choose masculine aliases like “Anthony.” They also align with masculine stereotypes; Crowley projects the tough-guy cliche while Aziraphale remains the dapper gentleman. Thus, the preference for masculinity is found, not assigned by sex or God. Through frequently choosing male genders, they create human personas for themselves so that performing gender is also performing humanness. 

Masculine presentations

Occasionally, an ethereal or occult being steps out of their favored gender presentation to achieve a goal, such as becoming the antichrist’s nanny. Nanny Ashtoreth appears only briefly in a flashback, but provides excellent trans representation. There is a long history in film of men in women’s clothing or trans women being the butt of the joke, but this scene is entirely serious. We understand that Crowley’s gender change is not an experiment or anything out of the ordinary; he is simply performing a gender that will get him the job he needs. The show’s context also provides the information that he lives as a woman for eleven years, demonstrating that he is not only performing the gender “woman,” but that heisa woman, regardless of any previous presentations.

If we step out of the fictional world of the show, we can also see that David Tennant’s costume reflects the normality of this gender change. Tennant wears a blazer, skirt, and hat that fit within Crowley’s preferred clothing style down to the matching color scheme. The clothes resist using spectacle or drawing attention to the fact that this is a male actor in women’s clothing. However, director Douglas Mackinonn also chose not to downplay this fact by casting an actress as the nanny. This portrayal reinforces that Nanny Ashtoreth is Crowley even if he is in a different bodily form or performing a different gender. Crowley utilizes both ends of the gender binary but is rarely seen in an androgynous form. However, his and Aziraphale’s colleagues in Heaven and Hell are often combine multiple aspects of gender at once.

Heaven and Hell have characters who do not limit themselves to the gender binary. These characters are intentionally written without gender, allowing the casting to focus solely on who fits the role best. This then allows for interplay with who portrays these characters and the genders they do or do not perform. Archangel Michael, who is nearly always male in religious contexts, allows a masculine name to coexist with she/her pronouns and is played by Doon Mackinchan. Similarly, Beelzebub is played by Anna Maxwell Martin, but uses he/him pronouns. This bending of genders also extends to other non-human beings. One of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, War, who is often personified as masculine, is distinctly feminine here. Some characters reject gender entirely. Pollution, another horseman, uses they/them pronouns perhaps because pollution is a genderless concept, or perhaps because they are too busy wreaking havoc to choose a gender. Unlike Crowley and Aziraphale, these beings take little interest in human lives, so their performances of gender are looser. These excellent interpretations of gender do not end with the Good Omens canon. The fandom of the show has taken that canon further with the support of the show’s creators. 

War and Pollution

In the Good Omens fandom, all interpretations of the characters’ genders are correct. Fans have created art of Crowley and Aziraphale as women, as a heterosexual couple, as gay men, and more. This art might be a reflection of fans’ desire to possess this power of escaping the gender binary or easily changing their gender presentation. 

“Gender?”
“Ineffable Wives”

Some fans have tried to narrow the range of gender possibilities. One fan asked producer/co-author Neil Gaiman over Twitter, “Is Crowley gender-fluid” (Mr. Relentless)? Gaiman replied, “Crowley’s Gender is Fallen Angel,” suggesting that Crowley’s gender is hardly his defining feature. Good Omens asserts that while gender is a human construction, all gender orientations, combinations, and expressions (or lack thereof) are valid (Neil Gaiman). As evidenced by the dedicated fans, many people find this show to demonstrate good depictions and increase visibility of people outside the gender binary. So while humans cannot change genders at will, perhaps we and other media can look to Good Omens as an example of how to further explore genders. 

Works Cited: 

  1. Good Omens. Written by Neil Gaiman, directed by Douglas Mackinonn, Amazon Studios and BBC Studios, 2019-2020, performances by David Tennant, Michael Sheen, and Frances McDormand.  
  2. “Crowley and Aziraphale.” RadioTimes. Jun 30, 2021. https://www.radiotimes.com/tv/fantasy/good-omens-2-crowley-aziraphale-romance-newsupdate/. Accessed Sept 24, 2022. 
  3. “David Tennant’s Iconic Crowley Looks | Good Omens | Prime Video.” YouTube. Uploaded by Amazon Prime Video UK, April 11, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=03G_QjcAd-A&t=141s. Accessed Oct 3, 2022. 
  4. “Fall Asleep To Nanny Crowley’s Lullaby 🎶 #Shorts.” YouTube. Uploaded by Amazon Prime Video UK, Apr 20, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FB3SXx_2A74. Accessed Oct 3, 2022.  
  5. “Four Horsemen // Good Omens // Villain [+rus sub].” YouTube. Uploaded by SIDANI, Jun 4, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y3UU2Qt75xc. Accessed Oct 3, 2022. 
  6. Mr. Relentless [@RelentlessHimbo]. “Hey @neilhimself is Crowley genderfluid or are we looking too deep into it? Sorry to bother you.” Jan 29, 2022, 4:30 pm., https://twitter.com/neilhimself/status/1487538631946371073?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1487538631946371073%7Ctwgr%5Ed0a0ac7302fad9067cbe212b028c1525490a1314%7Ctwcon%5Es1_&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fscreenrant.com%2Fgood-omens-crowley-aziraphales-genders-neil-gaiman%2F
  7. Neil Gaiman [@neilhimself]. “Crowley’s Gender is Fallen Angel.” Jan 29, 2022, 4:30 pm. https://twitter.com/neilhimself/status/1487538631946371073?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1487538631946371073%7Ctwgr%5Ed0a0ac7302fad9067cbe212b028c1525490a1314%7Ctwcon%5Es1_&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fscreenrant.com%2Fgood-omens-crowley-aziraphales-genders-neil-gaiman%2F
  8. “Gender?” thegoodomensdumpster.tumblr.com. https://thegoodomensdumpster.tumblr.com/image/186215878402. Accessed Sept 30, 2022.  

“Ineffable Wives.” Pinterest. https://www.pinterest.com/pin/70437481906134/. Accessed Oct 2, 2022.

Book Review: The Tragedy of Heterosexuality by Jane Ward

Cultural propaganda, sexual assault, incest, compulsory marriage, economic dependence, control of children, and domestic violence; are the only possible reasons a woman would remain in a heterosexual relationship. As a straight woman and having had conversations with other straight women, these reasons are evident in every heterosexual relationship I have come across. Jane Ward in The Tragedy of Heterosexuality explores the societal expectations and pressures of the patriarchy upon heterosexuality and the heterosexual-repair industry that desperately attempts to mend these broken relationships. In addition, as a lesbian, in her book, she describes the sadness she feels upon witnessing the violence, control, diminishment, and disappointment experienced by straight women. In summary, her book leaves readers wondering, are heterosexual relationships worth the toxicity of straight culture?

Jane Ward is a professor of Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of California, Riverside. She received her Ph.D. in sociology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. In addition to The Tragedy of Heterosexuality, Jane Ward has written two other books: Not Gay and Respectably Queer. Her books cover a wide array of topics including, feminism, queer parenting, the racial politics of same-sex marriage, and the social construction of heterosexuality and whiteness. She currently resides in Southern California with her partner, Kat Ross. One may argue that because Jane Ward is a lesbian, she should not be making such broad claims about heterosexual women. I counter this by suggesting that a lesbian is the best person to observe and criticize heterosexual relationships and the burden they put upon women. Ward can compare the respect and fulfillment she feels in her lesbian relationship, to the stress and disrespect felt by the heterosexual women in her life.

As a white woman, one aspect lacking from The Tragedy of Heterosexuality is the expectations imposed upon Black women by the patriarchy. One hardship that Ward’s book does examine is the fact that many early white feminists based their arguments for nonviolent marriage and women’s rights on the claim that bringing white women closer to equality with their husbands will ensure a unified front among white people against the Black civil rights activists. However, as a reader who has now read “Controlling Images and Black Women’s Oppression,” by Patricia Hill Collins, the lack of attention paid to the controlling images forced upon Black women in heterosexual relationships, and the constant criticism of their sexuality, is highlighted. Therefore, there is a slight bias in the book to feel sadness toward white women in heterosexual relationships, because Jane Ward is a white woman. 

 The overarching argument present in The Tragedy of Heterosexuality by Jane Ward includes the efforts by the heterosexual-repair industry to improve the enduring defects of straight culture. The heterosexual-repair industry has been flawed since its emergence. It is made up of eugenicists, sexologists, and social reformers. Ward cites three broad concepts present in the industry: they exposed the violence and mutual dislike in heterosexual relationships and reassured the population that this was natural, they took on the role of defining modern heterosexuality and repairing the problems that came along with it, and they accepted the premise that men and women found each other’s bodies undesirable and advocated for the use of beauty products to stimulate desire. Each of these concepts is inherently misogynistic. For example, at one point, experts were channeling their efforts to discover why women had annoying personalities and attempted to mediate men’s irritations with their wives. The solution the “experts” discovered involved women being submissive, lovely, and always putting their husband’s needs before their own. They went as far as asserting that women should be responsible for heterosexual success because they managed men’s emotions and should also be responsible for the happiness of their households and communities. Did no one ever wonder if it was men’s sexism and unrealistic expectations that caused them to be irritated with their wives? Or consider this: perhaps wives’ personalities come across as irritating because they are having unpleasurable sex?

Furthermore, the heterosexual-repair industry also came to the solution that women had to keep their bodies “fresh” and sexually appealing to their husbands. Advertisers collaborated with the heterosexual-repair industry in provoking fear among women to purchase their beauty products. The logic was that if women were not careful about their appearance then they could risk losing their husbands’ affection or “suffer their wrath.” One should not even have to explain the flaws in this argument and the unnecessary strain it places upon women to improve straight culture and desire. The toxicity rooted in straight culture is thanks to the patriarchy, and yet women are expected to help men improve their relationships. To conclude, Jane Ward, in her argument, exposes how the efforts to improve the conditions of straight culture are misogynistic and put the responsibility onto women. 

The single greatest strength in The Tragedy of Heterosexuality by Jane Ward is explaining the misogyny paradox that plagues straight culture. Essentially, this paradox asserts that boys’ and men’s desire for girls and women is expressed in a society that simultaneously encourages them to hate girls and women. Jane Ward provides a possible explanation for this paradox in which society is suspicious of women because they stand to threaten men’s patriarchal power. The author analyzes this in the context of violence against women and girls. The misogyny paradox is evident when a man rapes and/or murders a woman that he reported to have desired or loved. Another example of this outlook is seen in the 18th and 19th centuries in England and colonial America. At this time, wives were seen as a “necessary evil.” Many would argue that wives, and heterosexual marriages, in general, are still seen in this negative light today. While these are all extreme examples, the misogyny paradox takes a simpler form in everyday life. Often, straight men claim to love women but continue to speak over them, mansplain subjects to them, and train their sons to imitate this lack of respect for women. To comprehend the true tragedy of heterosexuality, the author must portray the disrespect, violence, and ignorance displayed by men to women who claim to be in affectionate, romantic relationships. Jane Ward understands the importance of this paradox to her argument and succeeds in making the misogyny paradox accessible and easy for her readers to understand. 

One weakness present in Jane Ward’s book, The Tragedy of Heterosexuality, is the lack of proposed solutions to this tragedy. The author notes that no feminist efforts have made a dent in straight culture, but she doesn’t go further to explain where they fell short. In fact, Ward describes the sexism and toxic masculinity surrounding heterosexuality as “inescapable.” Later, she also reveals that, as a lesbian, it is painful to witness straight women’s “endless and ineffective” efforts to repair straight men. As a straight woman reading this book, it is incredibly depressing to read these statements and feel as though there is no hope. The patriarchy and toxic masculinity seem like grand problems that can never be solved, certainly not by the time that I’m ready to settle down and get married. It leaves me wondering, am I destined for an unhappy marriage? Is there any point in dating if sexism is normalized in straight culture?

After reading this book and sharing facts and anecdotes with my non-straight friends, they unanimously decided that I represent The Tragedy of Heterosexuality. Over my 19 years as a straight woman, I have heard from friends, family members, and therapists that there are good men out there and not to give up. However, upon reading Jane Ward’s book about the emotional and physical strain of heterosexual relationships on women, I began to question if straight culture is worth the control, diminishment, and not to mention, disappointing sex. I will now respond to these friends, family members, and therapists that until the misogyny paradox is abolished and women are treated with genuine respect, finding “one of the good ones” will be challenging. Finally, I wish the heterosexual-repair industry the best of luck as they take on the impossible endeavor of mending the relationships between men and women, following a long history of sexism and abuse. 

Works Cited

Ward, Jane. The Tragedy of Heterosexuality. New York, New York University Press, 2020. 

Sister Cindy’s Shaming: Funny or Harmful?

Cindy Smock, or “Sister Cindy” as she calls herself, is an Evangelical campus preacher turned Tik Tok user. She first gained attention when college students posted clips of her speeches on Tik Tok, inspiring her to make her own account. She currently has over 370,000 followers, and #sistercindy has over 194 million views (Fowler). The main subject of her Tik Tok content is encouraging college students, particularly women, to turn to Christianity and be a “ho no mo.” In many of the videos she uploads, she welcomes viewers to “Sister Cindy’s Slut-Shaming Show.” While many of Sister Cindy’s followers regard her as a comical figure, the shock factor she employs in her preaching through homophobic and misogynistic comments is harmful. 

Through a glance at Sister Cindy’s Tik Tok account, it is evident that her content is misogynistic and demeaning towards women. In nearly every video she uploads, she casually uses the words “slut,” “hoe,” or “thot,” as insults towards women. For example, when visiting college campuses, she often changes the names of the universities to incorporate the word “slut.” At the Louisiana State University campus, she renamed the institution, “Louisiana Slut University.” By insinuating that college students are sluts, Sister Cindy is weaponizing the word to be used against women and normalizing the slut-shaming that is common in society, particularly on college campuses. However, Sister Cindy is proud of her slut-shaming tendencies and makes it a common theme in her posts. In a different post filmed by a college student, she exclaims, “You are princesses made in the image of God. Yet, you’ve traded your crown to be a cock-sucker.” This is quite the opposite of sex positivity and guilts women into practicing abstinence. Sister Cindy, or anyone for that matter, should never use guilt tactics to influence other people’s lives. Furthermore, why is this hateful comment only directed towards “princesses,” or women? Why is it that women should feel guilty for engaging in consensual oral sex and men should not? Last I checked, oral sex is an act requiring at least two people. 

Another example of sexism in her uploads is found in a Tik Tok filmed by a student at the University of Florida. In this clip, Sister Cindy shouts, “Men, if you buy her one margarita, she will spread her legs.” This statement is incredibly insulting towards women. Not only does it perpetuate the view that women are sexual objects, but it also furthers the entitled belief held by some men that women are sexually indebted to them after buying them a drink. In addition, this comment is heteronormative and leads straight men to assume that all women are attracted to them and want to have sex with them, which is simply not the case. Finally, similar harmful views were expressed in a Tik Tok clip of Sister Cindy telling a college student that she is “an accessory to the rape crime on campus” because she is causing boys to get their “passions stirred up” (Fowler). This belief is so inherently false, that it should not require any explanation. The blatant disregard for holding men accountable in situations of sexual assault is destructive to anyone who views this post. It reminds me of the common argument in society that someone is “asking for it” based on the clothes they are wearing. Placing blame and guilt upon women seems to be a common theme in the media posted by Sister Cindy. Again, why is it that sexual assault victims should feel guilty for something that is out of their control and not their fault? 

If you thought her content could not get any worse, we have not even analyzed the blatant display of homophobia present in countless Tik Toks. For example, in one clip while preaching to college students, she orders, “Don’t do it. Don’t kiss a girl and like it.” In defiance of her hate speech, two women make their way through the crowd to kiss in front of Sister Cindy’s platform. Apparently, the act of two women kissing is a difficult sight for Sister Cindy, because she has to cover her eyes. In a second Tik Tok, Sister Cindy, with no shame, shouts to a young man walking past her, “Are you a homo? You kinda act a little effeminate there. You need to repent!” There are so many problems with this statement, it is a challenge to decide what to unpack first. To begin, a straight, cisgender person should never use the term “homo” to describe someone of the LGBTQ+ community. Second, Sister Cindy is reinforcing the societal gender expectations that men cannot be feminine and women cannot be masculine. And if that is the case, then that person must be a member of the LGBTQ+ community. Finally, telling someone that they need to repent because of their sexuality, something that is out of their control, is unacceptable. Religion should never be manipulated to discriminate against groups of people. People’s sex lives and sexuality are an intimate part of their lives and should never be a subject of criticism. Therefore, someone who posts homophobic content, like Sister Cindy, should not have a platform to project those hateful beliefs. 

To reflect, one’s values and beliefs should never be used as a weapon or a way of guilting others into adopting those practices. While Sister Cindy’s intention may be to educate college students, her comments are misogynistic, heteronormative, homophobic, and may even be classified as hate speech. Sister Cindy even admits that she expects to be removed from social media for her problematic comments (Fowler). If that is the case, what is Tik Tok waiting for?

Works Cited

Fowler, Kate. “Who is Sister Cindy? Evangelist Christian Preacher Turned Tik Tok Star.” Newsweek, 6 June 2021, https://www.newsweek.com/who-sister-cindy-evangelist-preacher-tiktok-star-1597651. 

I love this post and how it highlights the way that people will oftentimes use comedy to hide rhetoric that is actually very harmful. Although Sister Cindy is oftentimes funny, she’s still promoting a toxic culture that prevents women from embracing their sexuality. This is a super important topic and I’m glad that you’re shedding light on it!

Book Review: *The Tragedy of Heterosexuality* by Jane Ward

For the dominant form of sexual orientation, heterosexuality sure looks disappointing. Consider the oft-referenced statistic that fifty percent of marriages end in divorce. Another statistic, that one in six women in the U.S. experience rape, shows a troubling rate of violence within heterosexuality. Such troubling information indicates that received ideas that queerness is harder than straightness may be quite misguided (4). In The Tragedy of Heterosexuality, Jane Ward describes the contradictions inherent in straight culture, and provides a lesbian feminist perspective on how heterosexuality might become less problematic and more fulfilling for both women and men (4). Her book is a salient and strong argument for a reformation of straight culture to be more feminist.

Continue reading “Book Review: *The Tragedy of Heterosexuality* by Jane Ward”

More Than Just a Haircut: Examining Gender Roles and Male Grooming in Kristen Barber’s *Styling Masculinity*

By Alice Berndt

Image Credits: Rutgers University Press

Since the inception of the metrosexual in the mid-1990s, the United States has seen a rise in male participation in the beauty and grooming industry, an industry that was founded by women and has typically been associated with a more feminine lifestyle. For white middle to upper class American men, there is a tension between the expectation to look clean and professional and the fear of appearing to try too hard to look this way. To balance these conflicting desires, modern men’s hair salons create carefully cultivated male aesthetics in their shops, from the decor and products to their employees’ mannerisms and dress codes. Kristen Barber explores this phenomenon in her monograph Styling Masculinity: Gender, Class, and Inequality in the Men’s Grooming Industry, published by Rutgers University Press in 2016. Barber begins with an initial research question: “What makes a men’s salon a men’s salon?” (Barber 162) To answer this question, she spends nine months in 2009 investigating the painstakingly masculinized spaces of two upscale men’s salons in Southern California, The Executive and Adonis, where she uncovers the aesthetics and gender politics of male participation in the beauty industry and the complex role female employees play in this space.

Kristen Barber is a sociologist, professor, and researcher with a focus on masculinities, culture, and work. She has a PhD in sociology from the University of Southern California, and her research centers on examining what “everyday boundary-crossing behavior can teach us about complex systems of inequality” (“Kristen Barber”). Besides Styling Masculinity, Barber co-authored the textbook Gendered Worlds 4th Edition and is the co-editor of a journal called Men and Masculinities. She currently works at Southern Illinois University as an associate professor of sociology and the director of the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program.

To get to the bottom of her question about what exactly constitutes a “men’s salon,” Barber performs an ethnographic study of two such salons in Southern California, Adonis and The Executive. She chooses Southern California as the site of her study because it is “a mecca for commercial aestheticizing” (Barber 12). She states that the phenomenon exemplified by these salons is not exclusive to California alone but rather extends to the rest of the country as well, though how it manifests in different settings may vary. Barber spends nearly a year frequenting The Executive and Adonis, interviewing the owners, employees, and clientele, and observing the interactions between the male clients and the female workers as well as between the male clients and the space itself. She writes, “I am interested in meanings as they are constructed through people’s face-to-face exchanges and how the organization in which these exchanges are embedded shape relationships between groups of people, identity building processes, and the reproduction and reimagining of cultural norms” (13).

Continue reading “More Than Just a Haircut: Examining Gender Roles and Male Grooming in Kristen Barber’s *Styling Masculinity*”

How the Clueless Creators of “Clueless” Contributed to a Harmful Culture Around Gay Men

Amazon.com: Clueless : Alicia Silverstone, Stacey Dash, Brittany Murphy,  Paul Rudd, Donald Adeosun Faison, Dan Hedaya, Justin Walker, Donald Faison,  Elisa Donovan, Breckin Meyer, Jeremy Sisto, Aida Linares, Wallace Shawn,  Twink Caplan,

Arguably, one of the most iconic movies ever created is “Clueless.” This movie features everything you could want and more from a classic 90’s high school movie. The lead, Cher, is the “it girl” at Bronson Alcott High, and she seems to have her life fully figured out. With her side-kick Dionne, she takes on some typical challenges accustomed to the privileged teenage life, like failing her driver’s test, going to parties, and meeting a cute boy she might have a crush on. His name is Christian, and, despite Cher’s keen eye, she fails to realize that he is gay. 

Cher tries every play in the book to try and seduce Chrisitan, she drops her pen to bait him into picking it up for her, invites him out to parties, and brings him to her house when her father is away. She puts an entire roll of cookie dough in the oven, in the hopes that the warm, sweet smell in combination with her domestic abilities will be enough to woo him. She ends up burning the cookies, and they move on to tour the house. As they walk through the backyard, Chrisitan is telling Cher what a beautiful art collection her father has and comments on all the statues talking about the various artists and meanings behind the works. This is a stereotype associated with gay men, a love and appreciation for art. This is only one of many different stereotypes the creators of “Clueless,” put on Christian, however.

Clueless': Cher's Love Interest, Christian, Was Almost Played by This  'Twilight' Star

All the characters from the movie continuously point out the effeminate qualities Christian has. His love for art and fashion comes to mind. He is also the most well-dressed and groomed man on the show. All these things are associated with and are stereotypical qualities of gay men. After the not-so-romantic night between Cher and Christian comes to an end, the movie flashes forward to Cher in the car with Dionne and her boyfriend, Murray. Murray is trying to teach Dionne how to drive while the two of them listen and try to counsel Cher about her failed date. After she says she was ready to, “go all the way,” and have sex with Christian, Murray laughs out loud and says, “are you bitches blind or something? Your man, Chrisitan, is a cake boy.” The sexist language he uses here and throughout the film is enough for a whole other essay, but he uses an old derogatory term, “cake boy,” meant to put down and make fun of effeminate men. He then goes on to list more stereotypically gay things that Christian does, like enjoying disco music and reading Oscar Wild. He then finishes his line by saying “he’s a friend of Dorthy if you know what I’m saying.” After all of that, Cher finally realizes that Christian is gay.

While the creators of the movie did a good job at making Chrisitan a likable character, they abused gay stereotypes and the “gay aesthetic” of the time to perpetuate a misguided view of what being gay means. The Hollywood interpretation of gay men specifically, was one of two character archetypes. Either a creepy, predatory character that you are meant to hate and fear, or an effeminate one that is clean, pristine, and loves to shop. Chrisitan is clearly the latter. 

Having this “gay aesthetic” be so wildly loved, admired, and used in media is damaging to gay youth. We’re told this is what it means to be gay. You have to dress a certain way, act a certain way, and like specific things to be “gay.” This puts pressure on young gay men especially to behave like this idolized character of fashion, art, and shopping. If you don’t look put together you aren’t good enough to be gay. If you don’t love shopping with your girlfriends then you’re either in the closet or some kind of outcast. These characters often become the “gay best friend” of a powerful female character as well. Effeminate gay men were never portrayed as powerful or independent, they always had a popular girl to take care of them and protect them from the rampant homophobia and toxic masculinity of high school. This is damaging to watch as a young gay child. You are told that to fit in and be accepted, you have to be feminine and hide behind other people for safety. When you stand up for yourself a bully will knock you down, and if you don’t act “gay enough,” neither the gay nor straight people will want to include you. Yet, this feminine gay aesthetic was one of the only positive representations of gayness from before the 2010s. Despite how damaging it is to be told you must be and act a certain way, it was the only way to survive.

Gayness is more than being effeminate and liking clothes and Britney Spears, however. As more modern media is starting to realize, gayness looks different for everybody and there isn’t one box of mannerisms and inflections that you can sort us into. Gay people each have their own personalities, behaviors, and interests. Being gay is just one part of us, one identity we have, nothing more. It can mean to you whatever you want it to. That’s why having this kind of representation (as in characters like Christian) is damaging to the gay community. Although Christian is seen as this perfect, sexy man better than all the other men in Bronson Alcott High, his character perpetuates a harmful culture around being gay.

written for Autostraddle | autostraddle.com

work cited:

Heckerling, A. (1995). “Clueless” movie poster. Amazon. Paramount Pictures. Retrieved October 1, 2021, from https://www.amazon.com/Clueless-Alicia-Silverstone/dp/B01M9B4FDS.

Heckerling, A. (2021). Cher and Christian watching a movie. cheatsheet. Paramount Pictures. Retrieved October 1, 2021, from https://www.cheatsheet.com/entertainment/clueless-christian-was-almost-played-by-this-twilight-star.html/.

Old Spice: Perpetuating Genderism Through Advertising

Written by Billy Schoel for Autostraddle

Who would’ve guessed?! We all know Old Spice: the pinnacle of male hygiene and every straight man’s best friend. The American-based men’s hygiene company has produced multitudes of popular commercials over the years, now laying claim to the largest share of the men’s grooming product industry. Even with the over-the-top, absurdist style of advertising that they’ve become known for, their commercials still perpetuate the heteronormative worldviews present in most contemporary advertising. In the recent commercial titled “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like”, Old Spice makes assumptions that support and perpetuate unrealistic expectations, heteronormative approaches to society, and the gender binary.

While this absolute gem of heteronormative marketing is only a mere thirty seconds, its featured fast-paced monologue is where the meat of this advertisement lies. For those who don’t have the pleasure of watching our knight in shining armor, I would be honored to transcribe: “Hello ladies. Look at your man. Now back at me. Now back at your man. Now back at me. Sadly, he isn’t me. But if he stopped using lady scented body wash and switched to Old Spice, he could smell like he’s me. Look down. Back up. Where are you? You’re on a boat with the man your man could smell like. What’s in your hand? Back at me. I have it. It’s an oyster with two tickets to that thing you love. Look again. The tickets are now diamonds. Anything is possible when your man smells like Old Spice and not a lady. I’m on a horse.” Visuals aside, see any problems? I sure do. Let’s talk about it.

Within the opening five seconds, the commercial establishes its audience and general premise. A well-defined, half-naked man nearly bursting with masculine energy exclaims “Hello ladies…look at your man…sadly, he isn’t me.” From the get-go, the commercial sets unrealistic expectations for men by comparing them to a representation of perfect masculinity. Despite the delivery’s fast-paced and absurdist nature, the commercial still establishes the inferiority of men who don’t meet the society’s standards of masculinity. The man continues, “if he stopped using lady-scented body wash and switched to Old Spice, he could smell like he’s me.” Not only does this disparage identities outside heteronormative masculinity by implying the inferiority of “lady-scented” body washes, but it also enforces unrealistic expectations for men. Additionally, by stating “he could smell like he’s me” instead of “he could smell like me”, the commercial continues its degradation of imperfect masculinity by clearly defining the ideal man and the other, forcing their separation and inequality.

The public dragging of the “imperfect man” quickly proceeds with the progression of the scene, painting a beautiful, idyllic picture of the life of the “perfect man.” He states, “you’re on a boat with a man your man could smell like.” Of course, this broadens the disparity between the perfect and imperfect men, implying that the lady would prefer the more masculine alternative over other men, even if they represented normal men in society. The precedence given to overly-masculine men concludes with the final moments of the commercial, the man stating, “Anything is possible when your man smells like Old Spice and not a lady.” Not only does it appear that Old Spice doesn’t know “ladies” smell good, too, but the quote places direct preference towards the ideal of overly-masculine men smelling unquestionably overly-masculine (talk about a tongue-twister), perpetuating, and ultimately strengthening, heteronormative conventions such as the gender binary.

Speaking of the oh-so-popular topic, this post would be quite incomplete without mentioning the commercial’s shameless defense of society’s gender binary. For starters, let’s address the assumed heterosexual relationship that the commercial stamps down as its starting point. Old Spice confines the audience into normality. Who is being addressed? A woman! Who must she love? A man—of course! What else could it be?! You mean to tell me that people have non-heterosexual relationships?! Nope, not never. Moreover, Old Spice expands the binary’s gap by implying that girls not only want just men, but the most masculine men life can offer. Men should not be wearing Old Spice to be hygienic—why would they? Men should wear Old Spice to be masculine, to attract women, to be men. Duh! Why would any woman ever be attracted to anything but the most masculine of men?! Despite my flippancy, the assumptions that this commercial makes are significant. In a world where gender/identity equality was reality, the heteronormative structures of society that enable this commercial’s marketability and ultimate efficacy would be relics of the past. Truly, the marketing of deodorant as a way to enhance heteronormative validation for men, even among their own partners, is almost as absurd as a deodorant commercial abruptly ending with “I’m on a horse.”

Also—newsflash—Old Spice works on everyone! While I’ve yet to find a man who doesn’t like Old Spice, I know plenty of other people who wear Old Spice too. Just because it is marketed to men doesn’t mean that only men use it! It’s deodorant, not a walking beacon of unapologetic masculinity. No matter how hard Old Spice tries to be the lodestar of manliness, at the end of the day, it’s a hygiene company. I could go on—but the point is that they shouldn’t be the deciding factor on what’s masculine, what’s attractive, or even what’s normal in our society. Old Spice may be a great deodorant company, but their marketing clearly needs some tweaks. Don’t even get me started on the fact that the tone of the whole commercial is rather belittling—I have to save something to write about next week.

Changing Gender Roles: Get Tattoos. Scare People!

Written by Patricia Raudales Calvario for Wear Your Voice/ https://www.wearyourvoicemag.com

The animated comedy The Simpsons is widely known by the media for “predicting the future.” Scenes from past episodes are scaringly connected to current events. Whether or not you believe this theory to be accurate, you will find many Simpson reference memes on social media. Scenes from the show have contributed to meme culture. The meme culture is rapidly growing on many social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. People see memes everywhere, and the description following the meme, although used to entertain, can show a lot about society’s current views.  

When she’s the one who’s tattooed” meme shows the fear of Homer Simpson (the person on the left) as his wife, Marge Simpson (the person on the right), leans over him with a seductive face. This interaction goes far beyond Homer and Marge; the facial expressions themselves depict gender roles in society. Although women are now empowered in all aspects of life (social, educational, political, and psychological), seeing a woman embodying more “masculine” traits still frightens many, as seen in Homer’s face. Women who show confidence and are assertive are considered more “manly.” Women can be confident but also need to spread warmth and bring joy to others. Rather than being strong, women are expected to be relaxed and easygoing. Anything that contradicts these ideas is quite scary to society. 

Beyond the facial expressions shown in this meme, the creator edited a tattoo sleeve on Marge’s arm to create his “When she’s the one who’s tattooed” meme. This meme is looked at, laughed at, and then people move on to the next meme. However, it is crucial to be aware that memes such as this one tell us a lot about gender roles and identity in society. Memes go beyond giggles and laughs. Memes have meanings and values. 

Why does Homer look afraid in this meme? A tattooed female is leaning over him. This meme does a great job of showing the perception of women and men with tattoos that society holds. When a man has tattoos, he is a “strong man,” a “brave man.” This is why this meme would have not been successful or considered funny if the roles were reversed. Although more and more women are now getting tattoos to represent the femininity and morals they hold, they are not always viewed as “strong women” or “brave women.”  Instead, women with tattoos are described as “aggressive” or “more masculine.” This meme shows how it has become more socially acceptable for a man to have tattoos than a woman. 

The type of tattoos put on Marge’s arm is also specifically picked, creating a more masculine image. A simple google search of “tattoos for women” and “tattoos for men” can show what type of tattoos are acceptable for each gender. For example, Marge’s tattoos would be found within a “tattoos for men” Google search. A simple “tattoos for men” google images search will suggest dark and more frightening tattoo ideas. Tattoos of skulls, fires, lions, snakes, and “king” phrases will be the first to come out. Googling “tattoo ideas for women” would give you the complete opposite: sweet and fragile ideas. Top suggestions would include flowers, hearts, and butterfly tattoos. Google searches for tattoos should be nothing more than inspiration and should not determine the tattoo you think would be the most socially acceptable. No matter your gender identity, get a butterfly tattoo, a skull tattoo, get both. 

Memes like the one described above are dangerous and can complicate people trying to understand their gender identity. A woman can wear “masculine” tattoos and still hold more feminine characteristics. A man can wear “feminine” tattoos and still have masculine features. Tattoos are now becoming more popular in American life. Our role is to dissociate ourselves with putting labels on the type of tattoo one chooses to put on their body.  

Tattoos can have personal meanings to some people, and to others just be a form of art put on their bodies. Tattoos are not gendered, and one should get tattooed with whichever design they desire. Tattoos can be hidden from the public view, or they can be exposed for everyone to see. Regardless, get whatever tattoo you want. Be as creative, bold, and SCARY with your tattoos. Be Marge Simpson and frighten society!         

Gay Tok: Hook-up Culture and Discrimination in the Gay Community

Tik Tok is home to a variety of trends from new dances to popular audios. There are many sides of Tik Tok, and you may be in multiple, depending on how diverse your ‘For You’ page is. However, I will be talking about a specific side of Tik Tok today, and this side of Tik Tok is referred to as Gay Tok (the side of Tik Tok created by and for the gay male community). There are innocent Tik Toks about gay couples on a date, but there are also videos that showcase the problematic side of the gay community. These short videos shine light on hook-up culture while other videos touch on the discrimination gay men of color face in the dating scene.

The first Tik Tok, created by @itslucasmorales, includes him sitting still in a room with the caption, “me remembering the time in high school where I thought I would find the love of my life on Grindr and ended up losing my virginity at 2am to some random guy in a tank top.” The audio in the background exclaims, “Don’t you feel silly, don’t you feel stupid, don’t you feel a little ashamed,” with an ominous sound playing in the background.

This short, twelve-second video shows the difficult dating scene gay teenagers face. The gay community’s dating pool is extremely small. Some people are closeted and not ready for a relationship, others are not queer, and some are already in relationships. The lack of a dating pool created a different pool within the gay community: hook-up culture. Younger gay people are thrown into hook-up culture through Grindr: a dating app intended for gay men. However, Grindr is used primarily to seek potential hook-ups instead of potential relationships. The way Grindr is used exposes teenagers to predators and potential grooming, which leads to gay teenagers engaging in sexual activities with older men. Early exposure to hook-up culture shifts gay teenager’s perception of relationships and their functioning. Instead of a relationship being seen as an emotional connection, it is perceived as a physical connection; gay teenagers will focus more on their bodies than their mental health.

The unhealthy, toxic atmosphere of hook-up culture perpetuates the idea that appearance, especially body shape, is a deciding factor in whether one deserves love or not. The fixation on bodies is deeper than expected. Each body type has their own category, such as twink (hairless, thin bodies) to otter (hairy, thin to athletic-build bodies) to bear (hairy athletic-build to larger bodies); there’s a category where any body type fits. This body categorization has been normalized to the point that there are quizzes, such as this one, to help identify your body type! Hook-up culture creates this body categorization and physical damage, but it also causes emotional damage. There are no emotional relationships. In hook-up culture, there are friends with benefits and sex with no strings attached. This goes back to the physical harm hook-up culture can cause with body fixation, but these issues also cause a mental toll on the person involved. The emotional aspect of relationships is not taken into consideration, making it difficult for gay teenagers to define a healthy relationship, especially if they are deeply involved in hook-up culture.

Hook-up culture is the root of most of the problems in the gay community. Hook-up culture leads to the creation of body categorization, physical over emotional relationships, and the use of preferences to justify discrimination in the gay community, which leads to my next Tik Tok.

The second Tik Tok involves a queer, black man talking about dating as a black person. This person discusses discrimination they have faced in the gay community from other black men. He starts his Tik Tok with the quote, “I’m getting to realize that I’m lowkey not in the mood to date black men anymore, and here’s why.” @Miamiboykhai explains the standards black men face in the gay community and the standards forced upon him. He mentions how black men have commented on his femininity, his skin tone, and his height in comparison to his position during sex, “What I’ve often heard towards myself was I was too feminine […] too dark while being feminine, and then I had people tell me I’m too tall for my position.”

Caption: @Miamiboykhai talks about the struggles he faces in the gay community when dating other black men

@Miamiboykhai discusses how the “outside world” already treats him differently, and now, he is ostracized from his own community. Many gay people feel out of place even within the gay community. They are treated differently due to their gender expression, body shape (as described in the first Tik Tok), and skin color. Grindr also plays a part into these standards. Many profiles have bios that exclude many people (no fats, no fems, no Asians), and the discrimination within the gay community creates an unsafe environment for people of color because of the intersectionality we face. Our cultures and religions are homophobic while the gay community is racist and discriminatory.

Another important argument this Tik Toker brings is, “[…] and I watch you guys pick and choose who you allow to be feminine, who you allow to date, you guys have many rules in the dating world as black people.” Femininity in the gay community is used to categorize gay people; it is associated with thinner body types, bottoms, and submissiveness. However, we need to move away from these stereotypes and realize femininity is a gender expression, and it does not dictate one’s position during sex, their likes and dislikes, or their behavior. Another thing that I should mention is that anyone can be feminine; it is not an exclusive trait reserved for people who are “allowed” to be feminine.          

So, what can we take from this? Tik Tok is a social media platform filled with a variety of genres and videos. The ones spoken about here display problems within the gay community in distinct ways. The first Tik Tok only used an audio and a caption, but it still made a strong point about the dating scene in the community, and it leads to discussing how the gay dating scene became what it is now. The second one was more of a rant, but it also showcased discrimination from someone’s personal experience. Tik Tok allows several people to discuss matters like this one, and it gives the younger generation some insight and information about several other issues in our world. In this case, we see how hook-up culture has perpetuated the idea that appearance, specifically body shape, dictates how desirable and valuable a person is and the assumptions that are made about a person through their gender expression.

Writing for Wear Your Voice | www.wearyourvoicemag.com

Harry Styles Likes Women’s Clothing and He Doesn’t Care Who Knows It (Not Even Candace Owens)

By Alice Berndt

Written for Jezebel

Vogue Online, 13 Nov 2020

On November 13, 2020, jaws dropped and 1D fans swooned when the cover image for Vogue’s December issue was released. The shot features former boy bander and current pop sensation Harry Styles dressed in a black and white lace gown and black cropped blazer, his hair swept to the side in an intentionally effortless flop. He is the first man to appear solo on the cover of Vogue in 127 years. As the cover reads, “Harry Styles makes his own rules.” [Vogue]

Framed against a sprawling green meadow and clear blue sky, the British singer squints into the sunny distance. He holds a blue balloon to his lips, mid-blow, showing off an array of chunky rings, including one in the shape of an “H” and another in an “S.” The photo is iconically Harry — sexy, androgynous, playful, and edgy. 

Since the beginning of One Direction’s seemingly eternal “hiatus” back in 2015, Styles has been making a name for himself as a solo pop rock artist. In addition to releasing hit singles like “Sign of the Times” and “Watermelon Sugar,” he has also become a fashion icon, breaking free from his 1D wardrobe of V-necks and skinny jeans and embracing more traditionally feminine styles like colorful blouses, bootcut pants, and dresses. For the most part, fans and the public have been accepting of his style transformation, which recalls music legends of the past including David Bowie and Prince. But for some, this Vogue cover took it a step too far. 

Screenshot: Twitter / @RealCandaceO

In a move that sparked contentious debate, conservative commentator Candace Owens retweeted Vogue’s post on Styles’ cover shoot and wrote:

“There is no society that can survive without strong men. The East knows this. In the west, the steady feminization of our men at the same time that Marxism is being taught to our children is not a coincidence. It is an outright attack. Bring back manly men.”

[Twitter]

Yowza. Owens received immediate backlash from liberals, feminists, and Styles’ fans alike who claimed she was being sexist and close-minded. She was criticized for her assumption that masculinity and strength (or lack thereof) are directly connected to wardrobe — a man cannot be “manly” if he wears a dress. 

This assumption stems from centuries of clothing acting as a marker of gender — men wear pants and women wear dresses and skirts. Period. But is Owens implying that the inverse is true as well — that women cannot be feminine if they wear pants? Certainly Owens herself has been spotted wearing pants on more than one occasion. Commentators wondered how an article of clothing could limit or “attack” masculinity and strength but not femininity or grace. 

Screenshot: Instagram / @harrystyles

In a reclamation of Owens’ derogatory words, Styles posted an image to Instagram from his cover shoot with Variety and captioned the post “Bring back manly men.” The caption combined with the cheeky photo — Styles in a powder blue pantsuit eating a banana — pokes fun at his haters, addressing the situation while also making light of it. 

Styles is certainly not the first celebrity to be criticized for their clothing choices, so why did this get so much attention? Perhaps because it’s far less common for a woman to publicly shame a man for his outfit than vice versa. We’re used to female celebrities being called out for “scandalous” or “overly sexy” clothing (Billie Eilish’s British Vogue cover, for example), but typically male celebrities wear what they want or what their stylists give them and that’s that. It also cannot be ignored that Styles has a massive fanbase that has grown alongside his career since the inception of One Direction in 2010 and is prepared to defend him regardless of the context.

In talking about gender and fans, we must engage in a conversation about privilege. A quote from Styles on the Vogue cover reads, “Anytime you’re putting barriers up in your life, you’re limiting yourself.” For Styles, a straight white male celebrity with a net worth of over $80 million, he has the comfort and freedom to express himself through his clothing without fear. [Vogue]

For many others, including female-identifying, LGBTQ+, and POC celebrities, what they wear is often the biggest target for ridicule, criticism, and objectification. These individuals must first break down the barriers placed in front of them by society before they can even consider those they may have built for themselves. 

With that simple act of reclamation via his Instagram post, Styles had, in the minds of many, “won” the argument. For many others — celebrities or not — the complexities of how they use clothing to express themselves is a never-ending fight, both internally and externally. [Vogue]

Vogue Online, 13 Nov 2020

Don’t get me wrong, I worship Harry Styles as much as the next Gen Zer and wouldn’t dare question his status as a cultural icon. As actress and director Olivia Wilde says of Styles, “It’s pretty powerful and kind of extraordinary to see someone in his position redefining what it can mean to be a man with confidence.” By breaking free from the societal binary of gendered clothing, Styles utilizes his privilege to pave the way for others. But his work is far from being done. [Vogue]

TikTok: Its Perpetuation of Gender-Based Stereotypes and Human Body Standards

Over the past few years, TikTok has become a mainstream social media platform. This application, available for most smartphones, uses an algorithm to curate content for users, effectively getting them addicted to scrolling on the app. There are many subcultures on TikTok… For example, people who like dogs might find that the algorithm has put them on ‘dog TikTok,’ because their ‘For You’ page is filled with videos of dogs. The same concept applies to gender and sexuality. There are many different points of view represented on the application, and once the algorithm figures out what yours is, it will show you a plethora of content to reinforce that exact idea. 

There is a large subculture (or really, a set of subcultures) on TikTok that perpetuates the gender binary system and all of the gender roles that come along with that. For example, this video is a representation of many of the different videos that are found on ‘straight TikTok’: 

When the individual speaking in the video says, “Men will choose a peaceful woman before a beautiful woman,” they are enforcing many of the expectations that are placed on female-identifying people in our society. Moreover, the speaker is implying that women must be ‘peaceful,’ therefore implying that often, women are not peaceful. This implication tells women that they need not express their emotions; rather, they should focus on being as passive as possible in an effort to be chosen by a man. 

Next, when the person speaking says, “Men seek for peace, and it don’t matter if you’re Black, blue, asian, Latina… they want to come home to a peaceful woman,” they are demonstrating a lack of awareness of the intersection between race and gender. This statement also reinforces the idea that men come home to women, therefore saying also that women should not be working professionals. 

On top of that, the speaker discusses the intellect of women and expectations in that area that men hold. They say, “He wants a woman that’s resourceful, a woman that can think on her feet. So when he can’t hold it down if he’s ill and he’s unable to pay the bills, she can be resourceful and have her intellect to make things happen.” The first implication I see in this statement is that the woman should just be intellectual as a safeguard… the woman will never actually have to use these skills unless it comes down to it. The assumption that men always pay the bills is harmful to all people, regardless of gender, because that is not the case for everybody. By the same token, the fact that the speaker is bringing this point up implies that women are, in general, less naturally intellectual than men. Drawing this unfounded connection between gender and intellectual capacity is harmful to society as a whole. 

Perhaps most disturbingly, our speaker talks about the ‘appropriate’ role of women in a sexual context. They say that men are “looking for a woman to supply their physical needs… A woman that looks good and proper and public but is a beast in bed” is the golden standard. First of all, in addition to ignoring the physical desires of the women at hand, this statement claims that the purpose of women is to fulfill mens’ sexual desires. This incredibly sexist ideology has the capacity to negatively influence the lives of many people. On top of this, the speaker is assuming a common definition of beauty… she is saying that women who have a certain physical appearance and demeanor are examples for what all other women should try to be when in pursuit of a relationship with a man. 

In conclusion, the ideology contained within this video is based on the idea that women are socially inferior to men, and that female sovereignty should not exist when it comes to romantic and sexual relationships. The central claim is that women should constantly be cultivating their personas to match what they think men are looking for in women, in hopes that they will ‘meet the cut’ for some man.

Similar to the last clip, this piece of satire brings awareness to many of the appearance-based expectations that our society holds for women, and the stark contrast between these expectations and those for men. The actor, mimicking a man, says: “Alright, so I want a girl with huge, but perky boobs, small waist, huge butt, flawless skin (but can’t wear makeup). And I like blondes, but I think she should also be brunette… because I get bored quickly, you know?” This statement encapsulates many of the body standards that our modern society has for women, and also touches on the normalized fact that men sleep around while women are expected to be loyal. 

In the caption of this video, the creator claims that this is how all men think. Although this is probably a sarcastic statement, it is representative of the way that many people think. Moreover, individuality is to be nonexistent: all men must act one way, and all women must act another way. Beyond pointing out, and perhaps reinforcing, the gender norms that are in place for men and women, this video illustrates the prevalence of the gender binary in our society. 

Content Warning: This video contains a real-life portrayal of surgical body mutilation. Use viewer discretion. 

In this shocking clip, we see a person that is identified as a man who has ‘overdeveloped’ breast tissue. His act of having the ‘excess’ tissue removed is labeled as life-changing. First of all, the video notes that this overdevelopment in the breast tissue of a man is an actual medical condition, which is known as ‘gynecomastia.’ Its causes are said to be “medications, drugs, testicular cancer, and hormonal imbalance.” 

Without looking into the history of this condition, it’s plausible to assume that this condition was developed in response to a bodily appearance that was not in line with society’s idea of what a man should look like. Moreover, this condition does not pose any medical risk to the patient; it is merely aesthetic. 

This video perpetuates a toxic standard of beauty, and is essentially telling men who have growth in their breast tissue that in order to be beautiful, they must undergo surgery. Explicitly, the caption says, “These [surgeries] literally change men’s lives.” In watching this video, men with growth in their breast tissue are inevitably going to receive the message that they are disgusting, and must go get surgery. 

In conclusion, the three videos I have analyzed here are examples of the many TikTok videos that enforce gender-based stereotypes and human body standards that are present in our society. This is not to say that TikTok is a problematic platform that should not exist; rather, this suggests that we as a society should critically examine the role that social media plays in perpetuating harmful gender-based stereotypes and expectations on a day-to-day basis.

Writing for Feministing | www.feministing.com