Odd Couples

Human beings strive for relationship and companionship. It is in our nature. Most people tend to bond with others based on the premise of similarity. This is not always the case however. In her work Odd Couples: Friendships at the Intersection of Gender and Sexual Orientation Anna Muraco takes a look at specific types of relationships: those crossing gender and sexual orientation boundaries. “Odd Couples examines intersectional friendships between gay men and straight women and between lesbian men and straight men to show how these friendships serves as a barometer for shifting social norms, particularly with respect to gender and sexual orientation”.[1]

Muraco examines the relationships between opposite-sex, opposite-orientation adults through various interviews with 26 friendships dyads and triads in the San Francisco Bay Area.[2] More specifically, she, “relied on the participants’ self-identification of being in a close intersectional friendship as sufficient to include them during the study.”[3] From there, she asked participants to explain what they believe it means to be a close friend. Muraco has a multitude of reasons for desiring to study the friendships between opposite-sex, opposite-orientation individuals. For one, she believes that previous studies about the same topic do not examine these relationships thoroughly or not in the same way that she desires to; that “A gap exists in social science research […]”.[4] This gap is due to the fact that friendships are more often studied in youth and young adults rather than adults. Another reason for Muraco’s desire to examine friendship groups was the desire to understand whether or not sexual orientation mitigated inequality between men and women.[5] There has been prior research on this question, however, as Muraco points out, the prior research has not answered the question as to whether or not the absence of sexual tension and romance allows for more egalitarian relationships. Neither has it answered whether or not gender norms will still apply in these relationships.[6] Not only does this research by Muraco answer these questions, but it also challenges the concept of compulsory heterosexuality introduced by Adrienne Rich.[7]

Although lack of previous research motivated Muraco to write Odd Couples, she began to examine intersectional relationships by looking at her own relationship and the relationships of those around her. Her best friend of over twenty years identifies as gay, while Muraco herself is straight. As time went on and pop culture changed, Muraco began to notice the similarities between her own relationship with Mike and other relationships that they were exposed to. One example of a pop culture item to which Muraco and Mike related was the 90s sitcom Will and Grace, which detailed the lives of a gay man and a straight woman who were best friends. After noting the similarities between herself and “Grace” and Mike and “Will”, Muraco began to find other friendships similar to her own in films like My Best Friend’s Wedding, The Next Best Thing, and The Object of My Desire.[8] However, while Muraco knew of relationships between lesbian women and straight men, their portrayal was lacking in comparison to that of gay men and straight women.[9] Muraco’s curiosity about why there was less of a portrayal of friendships between lesbian women and straight men spawned her examination of intersectional friendships and eventually led to Odd Couples.

In the area of organization of her argument, Muraco uses each of her chapters to examine a different aspect of intersectional friendships. In her introduction, Muraco provides background into her study; how she came upon the topic and how it was conducted. From there Muraco sets up further background of her own study by examining friendships as a whole and friendships that cross differences. In the second chapter of Odd Couples Muraco introduces the reader to three of the friendship dyads she encountered, Vanessa and Bruce, Emily and Patrick, and Scott and Ruth. These relationships are focused on because they highlight some of the common themes featured in the other dyads and triads presented as the book progresses.[10] One of the benefits of an intersectional friendship is featured in the relationship between Emily (a lesbian woman) and Patrick (a straight man); Patrick reveals that the fact that Emily is a woman allows him to be vulnerable with her than he would with other males, defying gender norms.[11] Ruth and Scott’s relationship shows the common themes that while intersectional friends may care deeply for one another, they do have their struggles.[12] The relationship between Bruce and Vanessa shows another theme common in the other intersectional friendships; the fact that they often form out of common interests and bonds.[13] Muraco challenges the notion that blood is thicker than water in the third chapter, which focuses on how friendships can serve as a secondary family. For example, one of the friendships Muraco looks at is between Brenda and Dan, who met while they were in college. Brenda, a butch lesbian, lives with Dan and his wife Rosie and their children. They all pitched in to buy a home together.[14] This strengthens the notion that “intersectional friends were better or truer forms of family than their families of origin […]”[15]. As the chapter continues, Muraco also discusses child rearing in intersectional friendships and marriage. Gender norms and identities are discussed in the fourth chapter of the book. In the relationship between Mark and Christina, it is clear that Mark, a gay male, lives vicariously through Christina, by commenting on her appearance and with the advice that he gives her. In this way, Muraco believes that gay men have a tendency to reinforce the beauty norms that straight women face. Christina suggests that perhaps gay men have the desire to be women. [16]  Other women in this chapter refers to themselves as gay men living in the bodies of straight women, this is to say that they identify with the culture their friends are involved in, recognize similarities in marginalized positions, or they feel more masculine than their female counterparts. The lack of sexual tension between intersectional dyads also allows for more openness between the friends.[17] In the fifth chapeter, Muraco talks about how sexuality and sexual orientation factor into intersectional friendships. One example of this is how intersectional friendships can tend to begin to resemble heterosexual, romantic partnerships. This was the case between two friends, Jill and Paul.[18] Also to be noted in this chapter was that in relationships across sexuality and gender were said to have less sexual tension than, say a friendship between two gay males.[19] Muraco examines the politics of intersectional friendships in the sixth chapter. She looks at the way these relations tackle compulsory heterosexuality, and how gay men and lesbians expand their horizons by interacting with straight men and women and how the opposite is true. It also leads to more comfort in general when it comes to being with those of a differing sexual orientation.[20] In her conclusion relates her study to what is next for intersectional friendships as the climate towards gay and lesbian individuals changes. Muraco specifically states, “In this final section, I address how we can look to intersectional friendships as a model for postmodern relationships and political alliance and discuss the shifting social contexts to influence the future of intersectional friendships”.[21]

One area of strength in this work is that Anna Muraco well situates herself well within the other research completed on similar topics. She thoroughly explains where other studies are lacking, and where her study fills the gaps. However, one weakness in her argument and the way that her study is formatted is that she seems to try to overuse some studies; they crowd the point that she is trying to make.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Anna Muraco’s Odd Couples: Friendships at the Intersection of Gender and Sexual Orientation. I thought that her observation about the lack of representation of lesbian/straight male relationships was astute as well. I would recommend this book to those who are in an intersectional relationship like some of the ones described or to people who are not and desire to learn more about intersectional relationships.

Bibliography

Muraco, Anna. Odd Couples: Friendships at the Intersection of Gender and Sexual Orientation. Durham: Duke University Press, 2012.

[1]Anna Muraco, Odd Couples: Friendships at the Intersection of Gender and Sexual Orientation (Durham: Duke University Press, 2012), LOC 94

[2]Murano, Odd Couples, LOC 243

[3]Murano, Odd Couples, LOC 221

[4]Murano, Odd Couples, LOC 157

[5]Murano, Odd Couples,  LOC 178

[6]Murano, Odd Couples, LOC 178-188

[7]Murano, Odd Couples, LOC 146

[8]Murano, Odd Couples, LOC 83

[9]Murano, Odd Couples, LOC 94

[10]Murano, Odd Couples, LOC 766

[11]Murano, Odd Couples, LOC 862

[12]Murano, Odd Couples,  LOC 960

[13] Murano, Odd Couples, LOC 1066

[14] Murano, Odd Couples, LOC 1189

[15] Murano, Odd Couples, LOC 1269

[16]Murano, Odd Couples, LOC 1672-1683

[17]Murano, Odd Couples, LOC 1846

[18]Murano, Odd Couples, LOC 2186

[19]Murano, Odd Couples, LOC 2209

[20]Murano, Odd Couples, LOC 2502

[21]Murano, Odd Couples, LOC 3002

*The reasoning behind the use of location number rather than page number is due to the fact that this work was viewed on a Kindle.

Orange is the New Black: An Analysis of Female Sexuality

 

Orange is the New Black is a Netflix original TV show that details life in Litchfield Correctional Facility, a prison. Based off of the popular memoir by the same name, the show follows the main character Piper Chapman as she goes through the process of being sent to prison and her life before and after. While Piper is a young, educated, white woman, many of the other characters are people of color or are of various ages and backgrounds. The show has been praised for its portrayal of LGBTQ characters as well. While the show’s main purpose is to entertain, seen in the humor that is always present, it also aims to teach lessons and showcase different aspects of life that the inmates often face. This can be seen through the moral dilemmas that the inmates often face and the things that they learn about themselves and those around them.

As a whole, this show tackles many issues including race relations, power struggles, religion, love, and, as portrayed in the scenes provided, female sexuality. Often in the show, there is a division among the races; all the black inmates live near each other, the white inmates eat lunch together, and the Latina inmates work with each other. This speaks to the intersectionality of the show and how it addresses the struggles that various women go through. The variety of the characters, due to its portrayal of a racially diverse cast with various sexualities, along with the topics covered, appeal to a wide audience range. The characters all have different backgrounds and backstories that certain episodes delve into. All of the women are from varying classes and each is convicted for something specific to them. The audience members can easily find characters to relate to or at least empathize with. This increases the effectiveness of the show at causing social change or at least garnering views.

In the scenes presented, the main issue that is dealt with is female sexuality. Orange is the New Black deals with this issue is by addressing the lack of education and knowledge about female sexuality. Two scenes from the second season show some of the inmates discussing female anatomy. While the conversation starts out playfully, it soon turns into a discussion about clarifying a confusion about their own genitalia and how everything works below the belt. Eager to discover the true location of the urethra, the women head to the restroom and begin their search. Noticing their confusion, another inmate, Sophia offers her advice. The perspective that Sophia offers is interesting because she is a transwoman. Sophia basically had the opportunity to design her anatomy the way she wanted. These women all have vaginas. To the viewer, especially male viewers, not knowing one’s own anatomy may seem a foreign concept. The fact that these women are so openly talking about their genitalia on a television show is something that would be considered to be out of the ordinary, meanwhile jokes about male genitalia are made fairly often. Perhaps the lack of knowledge about female sexuality stems from the fears towards women as sexual beings. These fears have existed for quite some time. For example, in his 1880 novel Nana, Émile Zola essentially blamed a female prostitute for the downfall of France. Even in today’s society, we still have these fears towards female sexuality and the female body. This can be seen in the backlash that young girls face for their clothing choices at school. Female bodies are constantly being policed by society, similar to the way that Anne Balay writes on how LGBT steelworkers had to be careful of the way that they presented themselves in order to remain in the closet and therefore, safe from harm. This policing of female bodies is detrimental to their education, and this is mirrored in the scene provided; these women essentially do not know themselves, or at least do not know a huge aspect of who they identify to be. However, as the women in the scene are further educated about their bodies, they become happily surprised with what they learn. In the second clip provided, Sophia goes even further in depth with explaining female anatomy. Then Sophia brings up something basically unheard of, female pleasure when it comes to sexuality. As one Huffington Post writer said, “No one taught me about masturbation. Sure my mom gave me the rundown on where babies come from, but she certainly didn’t mention anything about orgasms” (Lumpkin). Sex education often discusses reproduction, but glosses over pleasure and rarely discusses the concepts of various sexualities and gender identities.

Furthermore, Orange is the New Black  tackles the concepts of gender identity and sexual orientation. For these scenes in particular, it is important to note that these aspects of identity are highlighted. One of the women in the scene, Poussey, explicitly confirms her lesbian identity in her comment about familiarity with female anatomy, but also Sophia, a transwomen, is the one who takes on the task of explaining female anatomy to the other inmates. This decision to use Sophia as the character to enlighten the other inmates about female genitalia brings attention to the fact that she is Trans. Although she is not in the scenes provided, the main character of the show, Piper Chapman, also falls somewhere along the lesbian continuum mentioned by Adrienne Rich; Piper identifies as a bisexual woman and is in prison due to a complications with her drug-dealing ex-girlfriend. The fact that some of the characters shown in the scene along with many of the other characters fall somewhere along the lesbian continuum shows how this program interrupts the norm of compulsory heterosexuality, another term presented by Adrienne Rich. It is notable that the women in the prison are all complex characters. More often than not, women in movies are written to be bland and one-sided. These three-dimensional women have backstories, wants, and desires. The characters are realistic. Their presentation breaks the norm in movies that women are mainly used as a prop or crutch for the scene. These women carry the scene on their backs and propel the show forward with strong acting.

Overall, Orange is the New Black mainly focuses on the different points of  intersectionality and female sexuality. The portrayal of racially diverse characters shows the experiences that women of different races and backgrounds go through.  Differences in gender identity, and sexual orientation help to break down the concept of compulsory heterosexuality and expose viewers to the lesbian continuum. Rich’s use of these terms Lesbian Continuum and Compulsory Heterosexuality give the show something to not only showcase, but also something to change. In the aspect of female sexuality, the fact that the women on the show are able to talk about sex so openly and their anatomy proves yet again how the show can appeal to many, while also breaking norms; the idea that it is fine for males to talk about and make jokes about sex.

While Orange is the New Black may have amassed a strong fan base over its past three seasons, there are aspects of the show that could have rubbed some the wrong way. For example, the fact that many of the women in the show identify along the LGBTQ spectrum may have alienated some viewers who buy into the notion of compulsory heterosexuality. The fact that there are very few male characters may have received cries of “sexism” as well. No matter how strong the backlash is towards the show, it is still going strong, having recently been renewed for an additional three seasons (Cooper).

 

Citations

Cooper, Mariah. “‘Orange Is the New Black’ Renewed for Three More Seasons.” Washington Blade Gay News Politics LGBT Rights ICal. Washington Blade, 2016. Web. 08 Feb. 2016.

Lumpkin, Jincey. “Masturbation Is Not a Dirty Word.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 11 Feb. 13. Web. 08 Feb. 2016.

“Orange Is the New Black – Laverne Cox Gives a Lesson in Female Anatomy – S2 Ep4.” YouTube. YouTube, 21 June 2014. Web. 08 Feb. 2016.

“Orange Is the New Black S02E04 Poussey and Taystee Pee Hole.” YouTube. YouTube, 11 July 2014. Web. 08 Feb. 2016.

 

Double Standards in Today’s Society

 

Andres Sanchez

The piece of contemporary media I will analyze is a Pantene commercial from 2013 in which touches on society’s double standards and encourages women to leave labels set by society behind and break from the chains of society’s views. The commercial relates to Adrienne Rich’s ideas in her work Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence where she identifies the meanings of male identification and lesbian continuum. The Pantene commercial intends to explore how current society has not changed much from the time Rich wrote her work in 1980 as although more women gain higher positions in jobs, the labels that were created decades ago must still follow them everywhere they go. Through these labels, the audience is able to see the ways in which standards hold the men and women of today. With these intentions and use of rhetoric, however, the commercial challenges the male audience to react to the commercial in a different way than the female audience.

The commercial by Pantene begins with comparing a man and a woman, both whom are bosses of a company. As the man addresses his partners, he is labeled as “boss”, but as the woman addresses her partners, she is labeled as “bossy”. The label with which the woman is set contains a negative connotation as bossy can be perceived as someone who is imperious. As the commercial progresses, women and men continue to be labeled differently in contrasting situations with men being labeled as “persuasive”, “dedicated”, and “smooth” while women are labeled as “pushy”, “selfish”, and “show-off”. The polarity of labels in the commercial intend to persuade the audience, in this case men and women, that even though women are allowed to pursue higher positions in today society, double standards are working against them for doing so. For example, one of the scenes in the commercial demonstrates the distinction between a man and a woman who are working late at home. In the man’s situation he is labeled as “dedicated” while the woman in the same situation is labeled as “selfish”. In Rich’s work, she defines male identification as “the act whereby women place men above women, including themselves, in credibility, status, and importance in most situations regardless of the comparative quality the women may bring to the situation”. By using this to interpret the scene in the commercial, the woman in the scene is labeled as selfish because she is seen as someone who has to be the caretaker of the house and doing anything other is selfish while the man is seen as the one responsible for the income of the home. In every scene of the commercial, each woman is labeled because she is going against the male identification.

Apart from the idea of male identification, the Pantene commercial also touches on Rich’s idea of lesbian continuum which she describes as “forms of primary intensity between and among women, including the sharing of a rich inner life, the bonding against male tyranny, the giving and receiving of practical and political support”.  The women in the commercial can be seen as those who are part of this lesbian continuum by challenging male identification and pursuing higher positions in jobs. It is because of this opposition against society standards that they are then labeled with negative connotations. The commercial does not shame on the women for doing so, but shames the double standards of society for judging women who want to pursue jobs and take actions that are believed to be those belonging to men. A possible fallacy within the commercial is the way in which only women are seen as the victim, but this is reasonable because the commercial focuses on a product is meant for women. This fallacy, however, can cause some of the male audience to feel uncomfortable at the fact the commercial can be viewed as an opposition to male privilege in today’s society while other part of the male audience may feel unrepresented by the fact commercial only targets the way in which society’s labels affect women and not men.

The rhetorical devices used in the commercial include connotations, contradictions, and tone. The contradictions and connotations are clearly seen in the commercial through the polar labels set on men and women having men being labeled with words that associate with positive connotations and women with words of negative connotations. The song used in the commercial, “Mad World by Gary Rules”, is a very interesting choice as it emphasizes one’s disgust of the regular chores of daily life and the way in which one does not look forward to the next day through the lens of a person who is viewing the world as an outsider. The way this song connects to the purpose of the commercial is that is gives off a tone of angst towards how society has set guidelines which women and men must live by, and once they step out of these boundaries set by society, they are judged and labeled. All these rhetoric devices work together to make the audience feel disdain towards the stereotypes established by society towards one’s gender.

Although women in today’s society aim to obtain better positions in their professional life and move away from domestic stereotypes, there are always labels awaiting them if they do so. According to Rich, these labels are a byproduct of the ideas of male identification and lesbian continuum set in the 1980s. The Pantene commercial analyzed is a great representation of what double standards in today look like. Even though the product advertised and commercial focus on women, the depiction of men is also a product of today’s society. By only including the effects of labels on women, the Pantene advertisement leaves out the male audience and can bring about different reactions by men. In the end, the commercial calls for a great reflection over what standards we hold for each gender and for a break from these standards. The double standards of today should not be a guideline for how one should live their life. These standards exist worldwide, unconsciously or not, and they will continue to exists as long as labels are prevalent based on one’s gender.

What is queer about queer theory?

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