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

From Theory to Praxis: Masculine Ideals in Male Athletics

One of the topics that really stood out for me from our GSS class was the discussion of body image. What especially resonated with me was when we talked about Adonis Complex and how people are concerned about their own bodies more than ever before. Since I talked about this topic in my literature review, I decided to focus on it more and apply it to my life. Being a male student-athlete, I am surrounded by an extremely heteronormative environment. It is easy to become ignorant and think that male athletics is only for heterosexual athletes because all the biggest stars are stereotypical masculine men. With the idealized image of masculinity comes the concept of muscle dysmorphia. It is a subset of the Adonis Complex that emphasizes a muscular male physique. As an athlete I feel this pressure of not only being in shape but also getting bigger even though it does not necessarily improve your performance on the court. From my personal experiences, this pressure comes from inside the team but also from outside observers.

Taking this class taught me so many new things and broadened my view of society. I think I can apply the ideas I have learned in this class to my own life and especially the athletic environment. I see gender and sexuality now as more of a spectrum rather than a binary. I am proposing a research project in which I survey several male athletic teams on campus to determine their attitudes towards masculine body image and appearance. I am interested if the perceptions of masculinity are similar across these different teams and if they differ from my personal experiences after taking this class.

Because of this class has changed my perceptions, I am excited to find out how my peers opinions will compare to those of society as a whole and my own views. This class has been a valuable experience for me and I am now much more aware of the structures and institutions that shape our society even though they may not be visible.

The Making of Man?

Advertisements should ideally be smart and catchy, leaving viewers with an immediate desire to purchase that product. In the United States, some see the Super Bowl, with its hefty fees for commercial time, as the pinnacle of advertising. In 2014, an ad for Summer’s Eve Cleansing Wash appeared on screens across the country. The ad begins with a husband showering and using what he believes to be body wash while his wife brushes her teeth in the bathroom. When she realizes he is using the wash designed to douche, she explains the benefits of this brand to him – a quick sell of the product. The husband, however, ignores all the information his wife describes after she first mentions its intended use. His face sinks, as he feels his masculinity threatened, and proceeds to attempt an outrageous amount of tasks to assert his manliness, such as drumming like a true rock star and prepping for a boxing workout by eating raw eggs. He finishes these activities by jumping onto the couch next to his wife, crushing a beer can against his skull as she rolls her eyes, most likely intending to mirror the look on viewers’ faces as they watch this ridiculous sequence. Despite the silent, eye-rolling critique from the wife, this ad does not give a powerfully positive message about gender equality or inclusivity. Instead, on the largest stage in advertising, Summer’s Eve chose to display gender conventions. Specifically, while the creators of this ad intended to make the man look foolish and the woman look smart and realistic, a deeper analysis reveals this ad as more offensive than progressive.

The horrified look on the husband’s face as his wife reveals the advertised nature of the product he is using re-emphasizes obsolete gender stereotypes, hinting that not only should women avoid talking about their bodies, but that men cannot even comprehend these conversations. As the wife begins discussing the benefits of her cleansing wash, the man immediately stops listening, more worried about his threatened identity, and, in the end, contributing to a woman’s lack of confidence in opening up a dialogue about her body. This ad, as many have before, manages to sell a product to women by shaming its key clients. In the Victorian Era, “True Women were defined by their distance from lust” and any sexual topics, and, in a way, this ad brings women back to that time period, suggesting many people, especially men, will not listen to a discussion as “inappropriate” as one about a woman’s bodily functions (Katz 232). In an attempt to deflect the conversation from a potentially uncomfortable topic, the husband physically leaves the scene and begins a new activity, leaving the wife appearing like a lecturer as opposed to a participant in a dialogue. While this ad is clearly targeted to women, portraying her husband as a child-like figure who ultimately discourages her discussion about her body, only further strengthens those dichotomous gender stereotypes.

The extremity of the activities the husband takes part in to recover his masculinity ignores any attempts to disrupt timeworn gender stereotypes, showing that any signs of femininity in a man must be eradicated. The husband karate chops wooden blocks, tows a car with his teeth, and even fashions himself a Spartan helmet, all in an effort to cleanse himself of any traces of femininity stemming from accidentally using the genital wash. While the man is clearly mocked in the ad for his excessive actions, this parody ultimately affirms the hegemonic structure that men are fundamentally different from women, and therefore need specific products. This ad exemplifies this facet of the marketing industry that “spend[s] massive amounts of time and money ratifying and supporting the versions of masculinity that we enjoy and trust,” (Halberstam 1). Validating a world in which men must be completely masculine, this ad “depend[s] absolutely on the subordination of alternative masculinities,” (Halberstam 1). The ad ignores the existence of men who can still enjoy playing sports while being the primary caregiver for their children or manicuring their appearance. Or even use a vaginal wash product manufactured for and advertised to women that, in fact, is basically just soap.

The characters in this commercial represent a white, seemingly upper class, heterosexual relationship, again omitting many other gender, sexual, and even race and class identities from the customer base of the product. Many ads today attempt to cast diverse actors, in order for their products to appeal to more people. This commercial not only displays traditional gender norms, but also portrays a stereotypical heterosexual relationship, which does not exist for many people, including those who might want to purchase the product. Even as scientists and sociologists alike release more information debunking previous assumptions about gender and sexuality, “a scientific fact, once established, may sometimes be disproved in one field, remain a “fact” in others, and have a future life in the popular mind” (Fausto-Sterling 169). While many more people today are realizing and accepting non-heterosexual and/or gender queer people, advertisements like these are still ignoring the emerging acceptance of these lifestyles. This ad, even while using younger actors who may be part of this tolerant generation, does not cater to those who identify outside of gender and sexuality norms.

Advertisements must balance between appealing to the masses and pioneering the portrayal of new societal trends, but this ad focuses much more on old and insulting conventions of gender roles as opposed to engaging people in the 21st century. The creators undoubtedly thought an ad, even one meant for a women’s product, playing during the Super Bowl, must connect with the typical audience of a football game, again making assumptions about the gender make-up of the audience. This targeting, however, not only excludes many people, but also makes gross stereotypes about those who enjoy sporting events. While not everyone today recognizes or accepts the changing discourse on gender and sexuality, advertisements have the ability to change public opinion. An ad created specifically for a women’s product, therefore, should best portray the shifting culture acceptance of previously undermined groups, like women and those who do not identify with traditional ideas of gender and sexuality.

 

Works Cited

Fausto-Sterling, Anne. Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality. New York: Basic Books, 2000.

Halberstam, Judith. Female Masculinity. Durham: Duke University Press, 1998.

Katz, Jonathan N. The Invention of Heterosexuality. New York: Dutton, 1995.

Wilchina, Riki Anne. Quuer Theory, Gender Theory: An Instant Primer. Los Angeles: Alyson, 2004.

Foucault and the Ottomans: A Review of Khaled El-Rouayheb’s book, Before Homosexuality in the Arab Islamic World, 1500-1800

Khaled El-Rouayheb’s book, Before Homosexuality in the Arab Islamic World 1500-1800, as a historical text, helps show how Foucauldian ideas about the construction of the subject, as it relates to sexuality and gender, existed within non-Western frameworks. As El-Rouayheb points out, Foucault argued that El-Rouayheb’s thesis is based on social constructivist ideas, in that he argues that “homosexuality”, as our modern, Western context constructs it, did not exist during the period studied in the book. Rather, many of the distinctions the current idea of “homosexuality” upholds as critical ran together, and, more importantly and saliently, the idea of “homosexuality” does not recognize or does not place the same amount of emphasis on many distinctions that existed in the Arab-Islamic world from 1500-1800.

As presented in the introduction, El-Rouayheb’s methodology is that of a historian. He engages with other historians at times in the book, but the bulk of his evidence comes from his presentation and analysis of primary source texts from the time, most of which are from the culture itself, and which include poetry, legal sources and other writings of the time. El-Rouayheb acknowledges the limitations of his work; by focusing on analysis of written texts, his survey of Arab-Islamic “homosexuality” tends to focus on urban, male members of the educated elite in the Ottoman empire, a group that doesn’t cover all of the Arab-Islamic world of the time as El-Rouayheb notes. Still, his use of primary sources seems to counter many of the misperceptions about what is and was labeled homosexuality in the Arab-Islamic world from Western sources, both contemporary to the period and later.

However, El-Rouayheb seeks to employ the work of other historians, like Foucault, in order to produce a thesis and a lens through which to view his primary sources. In addition to referencing Foucault as a source for the intellectual framework upon which he constructs his thesis, El-Rouayheb also looks at the work of other historians of the Middle East, such as Bernard Lewis and Marshall Hodgson who write about the societal “acceptance” of “what Islamic law prohibits”, but draws distinctions between their conclusions and his own, highlighting the difference between sodomy (liwat) and love (El Rouayheb, 3). He also warns about trying to make broad conclusions about the state of a large region of the world with many varying opinions based on a handful of resources (8- Note: Unless otherwise specified, all citations come from El-Rouayheb). His exploration of the current field is not entirely dismissive; El-Rouayheb cites other authors, such as Arno Schmitt, Everett Rowson and Thomas Bauer, as finding similar conclusion as he himself draws (7-8).

His first chapter, entitled “Pederasts and Pathics”, is an overview of what kinds of relationships or sexual encounters occurred between men and boys at the time. While he does spend some time in the beginning of the chapter discussing penetration as an act of aggression and violence, the center of this chapter are relationships between adult men and boys.

His second chapter, called “Aesthetes”, addresses the phenomenon of love poetry directed towards youths by adult men, in order to highlight the important distinctions and nuances that seem to refute the idea that “homosexuality”, as we conceive of it, existed in Arab-Islamic world of the time. Key to El-Rouayheb’s argument in this chapter are the divisions this culture placed between an aesthetic appreciation of beauty, pining and chaste romantic love and the sin of liwat. Additionally, such divisions sometimes, though not always, lacked the gendered dimensions that a concept like “homosexuality” would necessitate. For example, El-Rouayheb notes that the beauty of women and boys was considered comparable, and expressed through the same sort of language (67). More broadly, love poetry, in El-Rouayheb’s analysis highlights the ways in which romantic and sexual attraction between men and boys not only existed, but was celebrated through praise of boys’ bodies and expressions of the man’s romantic longing for the beloved in this poetry.

Finally, the last chapter of El-Roauayheb’s book, called “Sodomites” focuses on the legal codes that existed at the time, and examines the varying opinions about sodomy across different legal schools of thought.

According to El-Rouayheb, while there were certainly sexual and romantic relationships between men and boys in the pre-modern period within the urban elite of the Arab-Islamic world, to call such behavior “homosexuality” is an oversimplification. The modern, Western concept of the “homosexual” as we understand it today did not exist. Distinctions existed within what we would call “homosexual” behavior existed in the Arab-Islamic world of 1500-1800 that do not exist in the modern West today, or were emphasized much more saliently in this time and place than they are in our modern, Western context. Most important of these was the difference between the penetrator and the penetrated, a distinction that is not as emphasized in a modern Western context.

The distinction between penetrator and penetrated is not a simple one. While the penetrated does seem closer to the modern, Western idea of the “homosexual”, both the penetrator and the penetrated seemed to have different places in society, which in some ways seem to exist as an undercurrent in our own modern society. In many ways, penetrating another person was a sign of everything masculine: dominance, manhood and victory. The rhetoric of penetrating another man was sometimes employed by authors as a way to assert their dominance in quarrels over one another, as El-Rouayheb points out in his first chapter. This is not to say, however, that acting as a penetrator with another man acquitted one of any social stigma tied with sex with another man.

The penetrated was, in many ways, closer to the social idea of the “homosexual” developed in the late 1800s in Europe and persisting into the twentieth century. Like “homosexuality”, the desire to be anally penetrated in the Arab-Islamic world was sometimes treated as an illness (ubnah) and conceptualized as such (19). While a term for “sodomy” does seem to exist in the Shari’a (or legal guidelines based on the Qu’ran and hadith) and is prohibited, this term seems to imply that the burden of sin of this practice is placed on the penetrated. It is also important in this context to emphasize another important feature of Arab-Islamic “pre-homosexuality’: the relationship between man and boy. El-Rouayheb points out that much of the behavior that we would deem nowadays as “homosexual” occurred between grown men, assumed to be acting as penetrator, and boys, assumed to be the penetrated. El-Rouayheb complicates this simplistic notion, noting that there’s no way to predict what kind of sexual behavior occurred between men and boys behind closed doors, but does emphasized that the underlying assumption of the society was, should sex occur between the two, the boy would act as the more “passive” partner, and that the rhetoric of romantic poetry written for boys by adult men in this context does place the “beloved” in a feminized and more submissive role than the adult man pursuing him.

However, penetrator and penetrated was not the only distinction that is key to an understanding of the ways in which relations between males in this context can’t simply be boiled down into a homosexual/heterosexual dichotomy. For example, he notes the importance of the difference of the chaste desire of most love poetry in contrast to sodomy, in the second chapter (89). Even beyond the important distinction of chaste romantic love vs. the perceived lust of sodomy, some of the sources of the time suggest that some men chose to write romantic love poetry for fictional beloveds, reinforcing the difference between thoughts and actions that make “homosexuality” a problematic term in this case (110-111).

Certain distinctions that we hold as clear, too, may be different in the differing cultural contexts. For example, in El-Rouayheb’s last chapter, he discusses how many legal schools considered sodomy between both unmarried men and women and between men and boys equal under law, and many lesser sexual acts between men and boys (such as intercrural sex or fondling) weren’t even near the same level of punishment as unmarried fornication between men and women (138).

Overall, El-Rouayheb’s book is thorough and is well-supported. He effectively applies the idea that sexuality, like gender, is constructed, and supports this claim using a wealth of primary source documents and fellow historians’ work. He notes the limitations of his work, and seeks to avoid making broad generalizations based on limited sources. Despite the limitations he notes in his work, he is able to make a good, well-rounded argument by using a diverse set of sources such as poetry, first-person accounts and legal documents in a way that notes the nuances across the Arab-Islamic world but also is able to extract key conclusions.  El-Rouayheb’s book is not perfect, however. El-Rouayheb argues that many of the distinctions, like penetrator/penetrated and romantic love/sodomy, were indicative of a lack of the concept of homosexuality in this concept, because these distinctions do not exist in our modern, Western context. I would argue, instead, that some of them do exist, but have served to more clearly define gender categories do exist in the modern, Western world. For example, in the film “Three to Infinity: Beyond Two Genders”, the idea of penetrator vs. penetrated is broached in relation to gay men in the West. Almost all of the men asked identified themselves as “tops” as opposed to “bottoms”, not because they thought it made them any less gay men, but because it solidified their more masculine role in the relationship. Similarly, modern Western society does seem to recognize a difference between romantic love and sexual desire, but tends to ascribe romantic love as a “feminine quality” rather than the more “masculine” desire to have sex. While drawing parallels between the Arab-Islamic pre-modern world and our modern Western context, El-Rouayheb does help situate the topic in relation to a modern, Western reader. While this comparison is not always perfect and can ignore nuance, it does help remind us of the cultural relativity of our own context, even when El-Rouayheb’s conclusions about the modern world are not always completely crystallized. Despite this caveat I would place on El-Rouayheb’s work, his work is an insightful addition in the academic area of gender and sexuality studies.

High School Monograph: A Review of Pascoe’s Dude You’re a Fag

 

High school, while being a time in a adolescents life where the most growth, physically, emotionally, and psychologically, is looked on by many to be a stressful and miserable period full of bullying, angst, and feelings of inadequacy. Why do so many people hate high school? While it is a tendency of the 21st century to assert that we, as citizens of the United States, have made progress regarding how we accept people of different races, ideologies, and sexual identities, the normal high school environment proves otherwise. The four years adolescents spend in high school form the cornerstone in which they build their beliefs and how they come to interact with the world as adults. C.J. Pascoe’s academic monograph Dude You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School is a case study of a high school in Northern California. In her work, Pascoe interviews numerous students and faculty and observes the daily workings of the institution for over a year. What she finds is an environment where adolescents ages 14 to 18 are bred to join the heteronormative, patriarchal society that we are all too familiar with.

Pascoe asserts that commonly held notions of gender, masculinity, and sexuality are solidified during the years in high school. During these formative years, Pascoe argues, important social events are central to the development of sexual and gender identity. Formal occasions such as prom, Friday night dances, and homecoming solidify heteronormativity by encouraging teenagers to pair up, girl and boy, and interact romantically in a social setting. Also examined by Pascoe is how the male students interact in ways that are misogynistic and homophobic. She uses the example of the “fag” epithet to show that teenage boys are forced to prove their masculinity and sexual orientation to their peers in order to gain their respect. If a boy is seen as effeminate or weak, they are more likely to be regarded as a “fag”, which is associated with not being “man” enough. One student that Pascoe interviewed said of being called this insult, “To call someone gay or a fag is like the lowest thing you can call someone. Because that’s like saying you’re nothing” (55). This student is pointing to a central idea in Pascoe’s book and a glaring problem of homophobia that is still present today. Being labeled as “gay” when you identity as a straight, cis-gender male delegitimizes the careful presentation of masculinity that many try to portray to the world. Pascoe also discusses how race plays a factor in determining masculinity. She found that black teenagers were automatically placed on a higher level of masculinity as their white counterparts, and because of this they were more likely to be seen as stronger, more aggressive and sexually domineering. The distinction between the types of masculinity led to more black boys being disciplined by the administration and their teachers. The intersectionality between race and masculinity is a vital part of Pascoe’s thesis and is also very relevant to today’s political and social climate, where the demonizing of black bodies is all too common. Pascoe’s monograph leads us to the starting point of the many issues we all face and grapple with in today’s world.

The author and researcher behind this monograph is C.J. Pascoe, a professor of Sociology at the University of Oregon. Pascoe graduated with a degree in sociology from Brandeis University and received her Ph.D. in sociology from the University of California, Berkeley. Her research focuses on the masculinity and femininity, youth, and sexuality studies. Her monograph Dude You’re a Fag won the American Educational Research Association’s 2007 Book of the Year Award. Pascoe’s knowledge expands beyond masculinity and into the realms of anorexia and its prevalence in society today and how social media and technology is changing how teenagers communicate and grow up. The expertise Pascoe brings to this subject is a deep understanding of adolescents and the developmental milestones they hit during high school. The knowledge gathered by the researcher from many years in academia and the practical world qualify her to write such a book.

Pascoe’s monograph is considered a case study of a singular high school that she uses to draw conclusions about educational institutions and their effect on students throughout the United States. Over an eighteen-month period, Pascoe interviewed numerous students, faculty, and administrators while also observing classes and conversations among students. Pascoe also attended common high school events where socializing takes places such as sports games, dances, and school sanctioned assemblies. Both by quoting directly and drawing conclusions based on conversations, Pascoe comes to find that at a working class, diverse high school gender norms and heteronormativity are deeply ingrained into the students. She observes school authorized events, such as the high school’s homecoming assembly before the dance, in which male students dress up and dance scandalously (in ways that would be considered unacceptable for girls to do) and attempt to win votes and be crowned the king. Other occurrences analyzed by Pascoe are the school plays, the only occasion where it is acceptable for boys to dance, wear makeup, and act flamboyantly in public, and the meeting of the Gay Straight Alliance club (GSA), a place where the margins of the school come together for support. What her observations found is not surprising. There are a very small number of students that participated in the GSA and sponsored activities, while many students either acted in or attended the school plays. The thin line between when it is acceptable to embody traditionally feminine characteristics and when it is considered taboo is shown through these events. Pascoe’s discovery of how deeply the notions of masculinity and femininity are pushed, even through our education system, asks if any progress has been made.

The paramount strength of Pascoe’s work is how she takes into account and analyzes the importance of intersectionality when looking at masculinity. By bringing race into conversation, Pascoe solidifies her argument even further. As noted earlier, the black students at River High were almost excluded from the “fag” discourse so commonly heard. Protected by what Pascoe calls “hip-hop culture” it is socially acceptable for the black students to pay attention and care to their appearance and dance in public without fear of being referred to as a fag. Pascoe pinpoints this phenomena as an underlying racist attitude that, because black men are seen as meaner, sexually aggressive, and domineering, they are hypermasculinized. Another succinct intersection is that of masculinity and queer identity in America’s high schools. One student at River High, Ricky, an openly gay student, is discussed about in length as an example of how queer students are treated in high school. Ricky describes his experience as violent and unpredictable at the hands of the male students attempting to assert their masculinity. If Pascoe were to leave out these very important intersections of masculinity, her book would not have had the weight and argument that it has.

The way Pascoe chooses to draw conclusions based on the observed actions of the students can be problematic at times. While Pascoe has and listens to numerous conversations with and among boys about their various sexual conquests with girls, she rarely receives female viewpoints. She instead analyzes the interactions of the students, which sometimes border on sexual harassment, and reports on them. In many of these scenarios, Pascoe reports that the girls are most often willingly submissive to the physical dominance of the males without giving a reason why from the girls’ perspectives. The lack of primary information the readers get calls into question Pascoe’s diligence in her research.

This particular monograph examines a subject that is relatable to anyone who graduated from an American high school. Though this may not have been the experience for everyone, River High is a portrait of the American, public, educational institution that casts its influence over the rest of society. Its explicit and easy to read format makes it accessible to readers that are not academics, while its well-researched and deep arguments make it attractive to those who are. I think that this book is analyzed deeply and has an argumentative and interesting take on an experience that is so common to so many people, even today.

 

Works Cited

“CJ Pascoe.” Department of Sociology. University of Oregon, 2016. Web. 24 Oct. 2016.

Pascoe, CJ. Dude You’re a Fag: Sexuality and Masculinity in High School. Berkeley: U of California, 2007. Print.

Pledged: Teagan Monaco

The Intersection of Sex and Power in Afghanistan

The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan is a documentary by Afghan journalist Najibullah Quraishi about the tradition of bacha bazi in Afghanistan. Bacha bazi, which means, “playing with boys” in Persian, is a long-standing tradition of child prostitution and sexual slavery in Afghanistan. Many times, these boys have to dress in women’s clothing, dancing and sing at parties for men, and then are sold to the highest bidder for the night. These are young boys no older than 15 years old (usually poor and/or orphans) that are sold to rich and influential men who keep them for prestige and as status symbols. The practice is illegal under Afghan law. However, the corrupt law enforcement does not implement it, and many times they do it themselves. In this documentary, Najibullah Quraishi researches bacha bazi first-hand by talking with the boys and their owners. At the same time, Quraishi is detailing and recording how authorities in Afghanistan are accountable for preventing these crimes, but are occasionally culpable in the practice. This documentary was created because he practice of bacha bazi is largely overlooked in the West. This short film is a way to shed light on a horrible and ancient tradition and to expose it to the West.

This documentary not only sheds the light on the boys who are prostituted, it also exposes the men who participate in it and the culture surrounding the practice. In the first few scenes of the documentary, Quraishi meets Dastager, a prominent leader in the bacha bazi business in the Takhar province of Afghanistan. Dastager introduces Quraishi to “one of his favorite dancing boys,” 15-year old Imam. Dastager continues on to dress Imam himself and say, “You’ll really make me want to lose control.” After Imam dances and sings for the other men, Quraishi sits down and talks with Dastager. With no shame, Dastager admits that he has had 2,000-3,000 boys work with him over the years. Quraishi precedes to ask Dastager if he has ever had sex with this boys; Dastager answers by saying no but immediately smiles afterward, indicating that he actually does. This scene shows how this practice is somewhat of an open secret in Afghanistan. Even when this practice is denied, everyone knows it is happening, but it is ignored. In many situations, people will not look at Dastager and think that he is doing something wrong. Instead, they would look at the boys he has raped, and say that they are the lowly and powerful ones. These boys are then looked down on and ostracized by their communities. This attitude in Afghanistan shows why the practice of bacha bazi has persisted for this long. People look down on these young boys (because they are looked at as poor and dishonored because they let the rape happen), and the men are not punished for their abuse, so they know they can continue doing it. These little boys are victim shamed and the blame is put on them.

Furthermore, a common thread throughout this documentary is class. Many of the boys who are sold into this sexual slavery are poor and/or orphans. About 13 minutes into the documentary, Dastagar tells Quraishi the kinds of boys he is looking for. Dastagar explains that he wants an attractive boy that is around 12 or 13 years old who is poor and has nothing. The practice of bacha bazi is perpetuated by poor families who sell their sons and by men who exploit the weaknesses of the poor in their communities. Many of the young boys who enter this world do not know anything about it, and the men who buy them take advantage of that.

Additionally, about halfway through the documentary, Quraishi interviews a police chief in Takhar province. The chief precedes to say that anyone who is caught practicing bacha bazi is prosecuted no matter what class they are because it is illegal in Afghanistan. However, in the next scene, Quraishi’s cameras catch two high-ranking police officials in an illegal bacha bazi party. They were simply watching and chatting with their friends at the party. The corruption of the police is an enormous issue in the preventing of bacha bazi because these are the people that are supposed to be stopping it. Instead, many of them not only look the other way when they know bacha bazi is happening, they also participate in it and consciously commit sexual abuse.

The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan not only sheds light on what is happening to many young boys in Afghanistan, but it also portrays why this ancient practice has persisted for so long. Simply informing the West of what is happening is not going to change this practice. In Afghanistan, the society condones this form of sexual abuse and slavery of young boys. Not only do people turn a blind eye to this horrendous practice, but they also blame the boy who is being sexually abused. They look down on the abused and then praise and admire the abuser. Also, the men who own these businesses exploit poor families and orphaned children who feel like they have no other choice, and prostitute the young boys. This perpetuates the bacha bazi practice because in a way, the boys are “willingly” selling themselves. Moreover, there is no one to enforce anti-bacha bazi laws because the police themselves are overlooking it and even practicing bacha bazi themselves.

Getting rid of the tradition of bacha bazi is not going to be easy. There are certain societal changes that need to happen, like no more victim blaming, giving more choices and freedoms to the poor in the country, and changing the culture and attitude of the police. This is not something that can be done over night. It will take a lot of money, time, and progression. Bacha bazi is banned in Afghanistan; however, this step is not the only one that needed to happen. The first step is that the men who are committing these crimes need to be held accountable and most are never punished for what they do. I think that if they are, it will show other Afghans that this practice is not okay and it will start to be stigmatized (for the better).

Also, I think there needs to be a huge shift of attitude towards feminism, sex, power, and sexuality. In many situations in Afghanistan, sex is looked as another form of attaining power. This is why many women are abused, sheltered by their husbands, and raped (marital rape too), and why these young boys are raped. Women have another set of societal standards that they have to meet. However, we never talk about the set of standards that men have to meet in Afghan society, which I think contributes in large part to the vicious cycle of abuse. If a man is not married and does not have kids by a certain age, he is looked at as impotent and powerless. If he does not beat his wife when she talks back or does not do what he says, he is looked at as weak. These practices go back to the idea that women are lesser and inferior to men and that men always need to have the most power. If you look at bacha bazi, it makes sense then. These little boys are not seen as men yet, they are just another way for “actual men” to prove their power and superiority. These boys are almost seen as women: weak and inferior.