Sexuality, Disability, and Aging: Queer Temporalities of the Phallus Review

26% of the United States population and 16% of the entire world’s population has some type of disability–born with or later acquired in life. That makes disability the largest minority. Yet, so often it is forgotten, especially when discussing topics of sexuality. Despite the lack of discourse around disability, there are some scholars that choose to examine disability through a disability studies lens or through crip theory. According to the University of Minnesota, crip theory is “a blurring or merging of queer theory and critical disability studies. Crip theory explores how the social pressures and norms around ability intersect with the social pressures and norms around gender/sexuality.” In the book “Sexuality, Disability, and Aging: Queer Temporalities of the Phallus” by Jane Gallop, crip theory is utilized to examine the intersections of disability, sexuality, and disease.  

Rather than making an argument in “Sexuality, Disability, and Aging: Queer Temporalities of the Phallus,” Gallop instead chooses to explore the intersections of disability, sexuality, and aging through anecdotal theory. By doing that she hopes to share her experience of sexuality, while aging with a disability. 

Jane Gallop was born in Duluth, Minnesota and went to Cornell University for her undergraduate and graduate degrees. Now she works at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee as a professor in the English department–specializing in feminist, queer, and critical theory alongside academic writing. Gallop, a long-time feminist, is known for her writing on feminism, and is credited for writing ten books. Gallop developed her interest in disability from her own physical disability. She was born with her disability, flat feet and weak ligaments, but its symptoms did not start to manifest themselves until her late 40s. As her foot pain started to progress into chronic pain, she began to walk less–eventually using a wheelchair as her primary source of aid. Claiming her disability identity was not easy for Gallop, as she struggled with feeling invisible and unattractive. As time went on she began to explore the intersections of disability, sexuality, and aging, which is what prompted her to write “Sexuality, Disability, and Aging: Queer Temporalities of the Phallus.”

The book opens with Gallop saying that “This book is, first and foremost, rooted in the way crip theory resonates with my own experiences” (Gallop 2). That sets the tone for the rest of the book. Gallop then proceeds to explain where she got the ideas for the different themes of the book. When discussing aging she says, “The swath of experience that can be understood either as disability or as aging” (Gallop 5) suggesting that as we age we develop more disabilities. Then she believes that sexuality and disability are so intertwined that both topics are wrote about together, saying, “I immediately loved the attitudinal kinship of ‘crip’ with ‘queer’ and felt that was the direction I wanted my theorizing to head’” (Gallop 1). Lastly, she explains where she developed the idea for the phallus. Initially she was unsure if she should include phallus in the subtitle, as, “Someone who contributed to the feminist critique of the psychoanalytic concept of the phallus, I feel sheepish indeed to return here to the phallus as a term for thinking about sexuality” (Gallop 14). Yet, she does acknowledge the phallus is male centered. There are only two chapters within the book. Staying true to her anecdotal theory, she opens each chapter with a personal narrative. The first chapter’s narrative is about her discovering her disability and how she associates it with castration, but then she discovers how to navigate it and it becomes phallus for her. The second narrative is about her discovering her sexuality after her husband discovers and is treated for prostate cancer. There, castration is used to describe her husband’s illness, and phallus is used when they become sexual again. 

The main strength of “Sexuality, Disability, and Aging: Queer Temporalities of the Phallus” is the way Gallop’s personal narrative is used throughout the entire book. Each chapter opens with a story of Gallop either realizing her disability or learning to navigate it then for the rest of the chapter she uses the different themes of her story to discuss the intersections of disability, sexuality, and aging. The great amount of personal narrative used helps the reader sympathize with Gallop’s experiences, and better comprehend the investigation within the book.  

The overarching weakness of “Sexuality, Disability, and Aging: Queer Temporalities of the Phallus” is the lack of accessibility of the content to the general reader. Throughout the book Gallop references different theories–temporality theory, crip theory, queer theory, decline theory, and psychoanalytic theory, to name a few. Gallop mentions and refers to these theories without explaining them or defining them. The lack of detail makes much of the content difficult to understand. I have had to look up many of the terms myself, causing the reading to be extremely tedious. It makes it very obvious that the intended audience is not the everyday reader, but rather other scholars who are already familiar with the topics. 

In conclusion I thought “Sexuality, Disability, and Aging: Queer Temporalities of the Phallus” by Jane Gallop was extremely interesting. It gave me another perspective on the intersections of disability, sexuality, and aging that I did not have before. Yet, the inaccessible nature of this book was very prominent. I believe anyone would benefit from reading this book, as the topic is almost never talked about. However, the lack of details when stating different terms or theories used makes it quite challenging for someone not well-versed in these theories to truly understand the full message behind the book. Overall, “Sexuality, Disability, and Aging: Queer Temporalities of the Phallus” by Jane Gallop is an interesting, well-written and extremely informative book, especially for someone already familiar with the theories underpinning it.

Work cited

Gallop, Jane. Sexuality, Disability, and Aging: Queer Temporalities of the Phallus. Duke University Press, 2019. 

Big Hero 6 Spin Off Takes a Big Step 

I am a disney fan, as a lot of people I know are. I love the kid friendly content that also sometimes has adult humor mixed in; the cute sidekicks and comic relief; and so many heartwarming stories about love, friendship, and finding yourself. However, there is one thing Disney has always lacked. Take a look at some of their most beloved characters and couples, and see if anything stands out to you. 

Rapunzel and Flynn Rider from Disney’s Tangled
Ariel and Eric from Disney’s The Little Mermaid
Cinderella and Prince Charming from Disney’s Cinderella
Anna and Elsa from Disney’s Frozen
Belle from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast

All white, cis gender, unrealistically skinny, and straight. Granted, the company as a whole has come a very long way but they have long struggled with diversity and inclusion. The majority of notable and big role human characters, specifically princesses, are still predominantly white, all have the same (very skinny and oddly proportioned) body type, and there still has not been a big film that features a non straight romance. 

As I was pursuing Disney Plus, I came across a show that I had seen mentioned on tik tok, being either applauded or berated for a few scenes it included. The show is called “Baymax!”, created by writer Don Hall, and it features six short episodes around ten minutes each of the adorable healthcare robot Baymax, famously from the movie “Big Hero Six ”, helping different people in their respective predicaments. As I was watching the third episode, I was shocked. The third episode follows a 12 year old girl named Sofia through her day at school, when suddenly, she gets her first period. Baymax the robot comes into the bathroom to help her and explains that what she is experiencing is completely normal, and then he offers to go to the store to get her some menstrual products. First of all, it is completely unheard of for Disney to be openly talking about periods, which have historically been a taboo topic. For them to base a whole episode on the subject of menstruation shows big progress. When Baymax is talking to the frazzled Sofia, he says, “It is common for people to feel embarrassed, fearful, or uncomfortable, with the subject of menstruation. But it is just biology. It is nothing to be ashamed of.” This quote is so refreshing, because talking about periods has become a thing to avoid doing. It has often become something used to shame or embarrass women, instead of something that should be normalized and even empowering. Having even just a short spin off episode on this subject is a huge step in the right direction for Disney. 

 Even more huge progress is shown in Disney’s diversity and inclusion in the scene when Baymax is at the store in the pad and tampon aisle. Baymax is confused on what product to buy so he asks a woman near him for help. Once she offers her suggestion, lots of different people start chiming in letting the robot know which products they recommend. One of the people to chime in is a man wearing a shirt that is striped with the colors of the transgender flag, and he lets Baymax know that he prefers the pads with wings. 

Image from the scene

While the scene is only about 20 seconds long. It is the first time Disney has had a trans person in their content. The casualness of the scene shows the progress even more, because it simply shows a trans man doing a mundane task, the attention is never directly surrounding his trans-ness, and it shouldn’t be, because it should be accepted that men can have periods too. For those of you that don’t have Disney +, here is a link to the short scene:Baymax goes Shopping for Tampons

This episode, but especially this scene, caused immense outrage among some viewers, being labeled as “woke nonsense” by our very own Republican North Carolina Congressman Dan Bishop. Many parents also expressed their anger by tweeting about how this scene would make their kids uncomfortable and asking what the reason for this scene was:

The truth is, the audience for this show is kids. It is a PG rated show, meaning that kids probably as young as toddler age are watching this. Toddlers are not going to watch this scene and shout about how disturbed they are that a man is buying pads. Toddlers are going to watch this show and laugh at the adorably hilarious robot, and wish that he was there to help them with their medical needs. If a child is uncomfortable watching this scene, it is because they have been taught that it is wrong to speak about your body, and that it is right to judge what other people are doing with theirs. 

While Disney obviously still has a long way to go, this small mini series is a big step in the right direction in terms of recreating and redirecting the conversation around gender, sexuality, bodily autonomy, and inclusion, especially for young kids. 

(This is a post text side note: I highly recommend watching the rest of the series of “Baymax!”. It is adorable and heart warming and also includes an episode (episode 4) featuring an absolutely precious gay love story that made me tear up with happiness because it is just so adorable. )

Insatiable: The Complex Commentary on Body Image for Young Women

Poster for Insatiable

Growing up, we are often told what to do with our bodies – women especially. We are told how to dress, act, speak, and eat. This message comes from many sources, including our parents, social media, and movies/TV shows. One TV show that communicates these social norms to teen girls is Insatiable. It shows women in a negative light in a variety of ways. Fat women are unhappy, inhuman and undesirable; skinny women are manipulative and willing to do anything for a man. Another message communicated by Insatiable is that, for women, romantic relationships with men are more valuable than female friendships.

Insatiable follows a high school student named Patty Bladell, played by Debby Ryan – a former Disney channel star, who already has a large following of pre-teen girls. Patty spends much of her life struggling with her weight until she breaks her jaw and is forced to go onto a liquid diet that causes her to lose 70 lbs. Once she becomes skinny everyone starts paying attention to her, including Bob Armstrong, a local lawyer and beauty pageant coach. 

Debby Ryan as “Fatty Patty” vs. “Sexy Patty”

Insatiable reinforces the idea that there is a wrong way for women’s bodies to be—fat and unhealthy—and a right way for women’s bodies to be—skinny, pretty, young, and sexy. Regardless of their weight, all women’s bodies are objectified, showing their power and agency coming from external factors such as appearance. Fat women are portrayed as unhealthy and undesirable; skinny women are portrayed as selfish and boy obsessed. 

These messages are communicated through scenes involving “Fatty Patty” and “Sexy Patty.” The scenes involving Fatty Patty alway portray fatness in a negative light. She is seen binge eating at home on a Friday night with her best friend instead of going to a football game. She says, “So, while my classmates were out losing their virginity, I was at home, stuffing another hole…” (“Pilot” 1:002 ). That links being sexually desirable and active to being skinny. It also denigrates a strong female friendship and places more value on heterosexual relations. There are also several instances when Patty is compared to a pig. Someone pasted a photo of her face taped to a pig on her locker, and she received the comment, “Smells like bacon,” (“Pilot” 2:34) from skinny girls. This is comparing Patty to an animal and dehumanizing her. Pigs are known for being dirty animals so comparing her to one conveys the message that being fat is “dirty.” Being fat is also associated with being unhealthy. When Patty starts her laps in gym class, she passes out after 15 seconds. Throughout the episode, flashbacks of Debby Ryan in a fat suit reminds the audience how bad Patty’s life was when she was fat. It instills the idea that being fat is undesirable, dirty and unhealthy within younger and teenage girls.

Just as Fatty Patty is used here as a cautionary tale, Sexy Patty is used to show how women use their sexuality to attain their end goal: men. Patty’s main goal is to get with Bob Armstrong, who is an older, married man and an accused child molester. Rather than being cautious, she makes light of this by saying, “Which means I might actually have a shot [at being with him]” (“Pilot” 12:35). Patty goes to great lengths to achieve her goal. Now that she is skinny she understands that she can use her sexuality as a tool to achieve this. Patty seduces a clerk at a convenience store to get him to commit a felony on her and Bob’s behalf. Patty also harms other women to achieve her goal. When Patty and Bob’s wife, Coralee, first meet, Patty calls Coralee “A shrew” (“Pilot” 20:45). Then, Patty says, “I was already driving a wedge between them. Long Island Lolita would have been proud” (“Pilot” 20:50). This is an allusion to Amy Fisher who had an affair with Joey Buttafuco when she was 16 and he was 38. Fisher shot Buttafuco’s wife in the hope she would be able to be with Joey. Coralee also objectifies Patty, based on her appearance. She tells Bob, “She looks like an underage hooker” (“Pilot” 20:15) immediately focusing on Patty’s sexual appearance. 

The title of this show, Insatiable, has multiple meanings. Patty is always hungry and wants to eat, but cannot eat everything she wants due to the fear she will get fat again  (which apparently is the worst thing imaginable). Insatiable also refers to women being hungry for power, often with the ultimate goal of being with men.

While Insatiable can be seen as a parody, the images and messages about women, their bodies, and how they achieve agency (or not) are pervasive. Even though these messages are ostensibly being ridiculed, the intended audience of pre-teen girls may not realize that much of it is satire. Insatiable is “funny” but its humor is based on negative ideas and stereotypes that are harmful to women, especially young viewers who don’t have a well-developed lens of media literacy and who will not understand that this is a parody not a guidebook on how women should behave.

Citations: “Pilot.” Insatiable, created by Lauren Gussis, season 1, episode 1, Netflix, 2018.

Teleflora – Let’s Sell Sex: Enforcing Gender Norms, Body Norms, and Racist Views

Lights, camera, (sensual) action! Teleflora, an online flower delivery service, debuted their “Valentine’s Night” commercial during the 2012 Superbowl (“Teleflora”). Through this strategic marketing, the company reached its intended demographic of a male-dominated audience. By design, the commercial aims to capture the attention of a heteronormative group of male spectators, which also has implications on societal norms surrounding sports and masculinity. The overt focus on societal norms and expectations surrounding the male perspective, in turn, leads to a regressive depiction of the featured female – a depiction filled with undertones of patriarchal and sexist views of women in society. 

Teleflora Ad – “Valentine’s Night”

As if a title like “Valentine’s Night” didn’t already scream sex and sensuality, the portrayal of a female in the intimate space of her bedroom furthers the theme of sex and sensuality emphasized by Teleflora. The camera in the commercial quite literally embodies the male gaze as it follows Brazilian model Adriana Lima from head to toe… sliding stockings over legs, fastening her lingerie, slipping into her red bottom heels, and slowly applying ruby red lipstick. This voyeuristic effect elicits a sense of intimacy between the audience and the “object” of the commercial. In a sense, the commercial objectifies the female body and promotes the expectation that women should “look pretty” not for themselves but for the gaze of others, specifically males. This expectation finds explicit emphasis in the female model’s own words… the only words uttered throughout the entire commercial.

Lima getting ready for “Valentine’s Night”

With the camera up close and personal, Adriana’s red lips come into focus as she says:  “Guys, Valentine’s Day is not that complicated. Give and you shall receive.” The message comes across as “Men, it’s simple… give women flowers and get [you know what] in return.” This transactional depiction not only demoralizes female agency but also plays upon the patriarchal tropes and symbols that permeate society and systems. Adriana’s words reinforce the harmful expectation that giving females a material object triggers an obligation for the female to return the favor. This notion couches females’ worth in their service to males; A male initiates a transaction and the female is expected to return the favor. This uneven distribution of power subverts female agency and reinforces the harmful notion of female inferiority to males – perpetuating sexism and patriarchy in modern-day marketing. In this context, sex transforms into a form of payment for the “Valentine’s Night” gift. 

Part of the commercial where Lima addresses her male dominated audience

Additionally, the female image presented in the commercial promotes narrow, unrealistic beauty standards. Teleflora plays upon societal beauty standards that idolize skinniness, long legs, toned arms, cleavage, fair skin, high cheekbones, and silky smooth hair among other features. Overall, these characteristics are not representative of the actual diversity of female body types and skin tones. In this way, harmful beauty norms surrounding the female body also intersect with the oppression of other forms of identity, like race and ethnicity.

At first glance, the commercial appears to provide a platform of ethnic representation, but upon further analysis, it does quite the opposite. Teleflora depicts Brazilian model, Adriana Lima, in an errotic light – a strategic marketing ploy to gain the attention of viewers (“Teleflora”). The commercial reinforces the sexualization of Hispanic women in the media and plays upon the trope of an “attraction to the exotic.” Though this marketing decision may capture the attention of more viewers, the question becomes, “At what cost?” Biases are shaped and reinforced by symbols and images people are exposed to everyday. Pairing sexual symbols with the image of a Hispanic woman only furthers stereotypes about the broader group of women who identify with the Hispanic culture and overshadows the diversity of beauty and body type within the ethnic group. The “Valentine’s Night” commercial positions an intersectionally marginalized identity in service to the dominant male (likely white) audience. Even though the dominant group is not present in the commercial itself, it still manages to influence the narrative and support the maintenance of oppressive depictions of the marginalized identities. 

In the end, Teleflora makes buying flowers “sexy” by pairing the flowers with a sexualized and unrealistic female depiction. Though this marketing tactic may have been helpful in reaching the targeted male audience, it has harmful implications for gender and sexuality norms. The commercial perpetuates symbols of females as objects rather than humans with agency and reinforces sexist and patriarchal notions of femininity. It also perpetuates racist views by exoticizing a Hispanic woman and reinforcing ethnic stereotypes about what a “sexy Hispanic woman” looks like or wants. Just as Teleflora’s red and white floral arrangements trigger images of Valentine’s Day, its narrow and sexualized depiction of a Brazilian female triggers deep-seated undertones of patriarchy, sexism, and racism. 

Work Cited:

“Teleflora – Valentine’s Night Video from Ad Age.” Ad Age, 5 Jan. 2012, https://adage.com/videos/teleflora-valentines-night/1187.

Theory to Praxis: Addressing Sexual Assault on Campus

As a freshman at Davidson, coming to college opened up a world of experiences for me. I was excited to explore new opportunities and discover more about myself. While Davidson does more than the public schools I’ve previously attended to support different groups of people, there are still many ways the school can support marginalized and underrepresented voices to create a healthier environment on campus. 

Unfortunately, sexual assualt is prevalent in college, even at Davidson, but I have yet to witnessed this issue being addressed by administration. If someone, typically a woman, comes out about having been sexually assaulted, nothing seems to be done about this. This reluctance of disclosure about something uncomfortable or traumatic can be due to the normalization of ignorance about such subjects at institutions, which mirrors rape culture. It normalizes something that is in fact a huge deal, and people should be able to reach out and feel supported during a time like this. A step in the right direction would be implementing a program or even creating a social media account through the college that is open for anonymous messages for victims of sexual assault, or an anonymous chat room for victims to speak about their experiences and connect with others so they don’t feel alone. This could also expand to people who want to talk about other issues we have learned about in GSS, such as questioning sexuality, adjusting to a PWI, or discovering one’s social identity. Simply talking about troubles and worries anonymously with others students who are feeling the same way can be reassuring and validating of their experience. This can help them feel heard and understood. I also think it could be beneficial if at least one of the counselors specialized in aiding sexual assault victims so they can effectively help students who want to talk about their experiences. Pairing this with an administration that addresses issues of sexual assault would create a much more comfortable and supportive environment for victims.

Something else that should be addressed that comes even before what I’ve mentioned above, is how sexual assault can be prevented in the first place. Although all first-years must complete modules about drugs, alcohol, and sexual assault, I think it is important to keep this relevant to all students throughout the year, not just the summer before they arrive. Similar to alcohol-related posters often displayed in dorms or bathrooms describing how much is appropriate to drink and resources for help, one way to maintain awareness could be to hang posters like this concerning consent – how to show it, enforce it as best you can, and be safe if it goes too far. Davidson could offer more talks or information for resources that can help students be more informed and aware of how to be as respectful and safe as possible. In order to make these resources well known, the college must spread the word effectively and let all students know what is available to them, which hopefully can soon be more. 

Generally, I think there are many ways that Davidson can implement, even small, but effective, means of support and aid for sexual assault victims, and minority groups on campus, and these are only a few.

Theory of Praxis Assignment

After taking GSS 101, a theme that stood out to me was understanding gender as a social construct. Growing up I had a very limited mindset about gender and sexuality and accepted many of the ideas as they were presented to me. However, over the years I have understood more about the complexities and many identities within gender and sexuality. With this in mind, it led to me thinking about how I can use these ideas to influence an art piece for campus to spread awareness and normalize identities that aren’t ‘cis-gender heterosexual’. While there are already many sculptures, especially of bodies, around campus I wanted to propose a new sculpture of a body that implements the ideas of the diversity of gender identities and sexual orientations. My piece is inspired by the metal sculpture on campus by Jaume Plensa, titled Waves III. This piece is made up of letters from all different languages to signify unity and diversity. It is based upon cultural identity and the way that one individual holds a connection to a greater culture.

My idea is to create a sculpture on Davidson’s campus that intersects the ideas of gender as socially constructed as well as show the variety of identities among individuals. The sculpture would be made out of glass and would depict a human form, without genitalia, to represent an individual not tied to a gender. The position of the body would be arranged so that the arms were extended outward to signify openness of the individual. The idea is to show the complexities of humans and the many identities, both genders and sexual orientations that exist. The form of the body would be composed of words carved into the glass form of sexual identities, such as: “queer, bisexual, lesbian” and words associated with gender identities: “she, they, him, non-binary, trans.” And instead of the exterior of the form being perfectly smooth, shards of glass would poke out in all different directions to create an ambiguous body shape.The words would be repeated all over and done in different fonts to completely cover the entire form. The sculpture would symbolize the many identities that don’t receive recognition in a heteronormative society. This sculpture would work towards normalizing those identities that are not cis-gender heterosexuals, but also serve as a reminder of the hardships of LGTBQ+ individuals. The title of this piece would be “Complexities of Intersectionality” and would capture the chaotic and diverse nature of the gender and sexuality spectrum. While this sculpture wouldn’t explicitly touch upon identities within class and race that also affect an individuals experience, this would be the starting point to begin examining identities and start the conversation about other impacts on an individuals’ experience.

References:

https://www.davidsoncollegeartgalleries.org/uncategorized/seen-on-campus-jaume-plensas-waves-iii/

Feminist Mix-tape: “Girls in the Hood”

Since gaining massive popularity and consistently increasing her fanbase over the last few years, Megan Thee Stallion is transforming the genre of rap through the incorporation of feminist ideology within her song lyrics while displaying how the racially charged controlling image of the Jezebel still persists today. Through her explicit lyrics in the majority of her songs, she confidently discusses her sexuality while empowering other women to do the same. Specifically, in her song “Girls in the Hood,” she refuses to appease the fragile male ego by voicing “You’ll never catch me callin’ these [guys] daddy (nope). I ain’t lyin’ ’bout my nut just to make a [guy] happy.” Megan encourages women to demand pleasure from sex while crushing the taboo surrounding the sexuality of women at large. However, her assertive compositions working against misogyny within the music industry is certainly not immune from controversy. Many people apply the controlling image of the Jezebel, a concept discussed by Patricia Hill Collins in her work Controlling Images and Black Women’s Oppression, to Megan Thee Stallion in response to her song lyrics and overall confidence. This controlling image of the Jezebel, stronger than just a stereotype, represents a “whore, or sexually aggressive woman [and] is central in the nexus of elite white male images of Black womanhood because efforts to control Black women’s sexuality lie at the heart of Black women’s oppression” (Collins 271). Labeling Megan as a Jezebel attempts to continue the music industry’s long history of misogyny and racism, as well as counter the massive influence she has over the public through her songs like “Girls in the Hood.” This example of the placement of racially charged controlling images on Black women is an issue womansim, essentially Black feminism, confronts that white feminism usually fails to acknowledge (Duke University). But despite this projection onto Megan and the overall pushback her work receives, she continues to encourage the empowerment of women, especially related to sexuality, and transform the general messages promoted by the music industry. 

Book Review: “Sex/Gender Biology in a Social World”

by Chase Waldner

One of the most perplexing and scientifically mystifying areas of study is neuroscience. The study of the brain, memory, identity and neural networks is interconnected and infinitely complex due to the multitude of factors seen and unseen that contribute to what makes you, you. A specific application of this is in the biological study of sex, gender, and sexuality. We have no idea what truly creates gender in humans or any animal for that matter, but we have some fairly decent guesses. There is a potential prenatal hormonal factor that could contribute to gender; a genetic factor, epigenetic factor, a parental and sibling factor, a societal factor. There are too many “answers” as to why we experience gender the way we do to seemingly ever find the true cause, although I suspect it’s a combination of all of those aforementioned aspects in combination with some we have not even discovered yet. Over the years, biologists, psychologists, anthropologists, and sociologists have all performed many different types of studies to try and get closer to the big gender questions: Why do we experience it? Why are there so many different expressions of it? How can we better understand it? And we have made a lot of progress in this field. Anne Fausto Sterling brilliantly summarizes a lot of the major work done on gender exploration and does so from a lot of these unique scientific perspectives. 

In, Sex/Gender Biology in a Social World, Sterling deep dives into the scientific pursuit of gender within the context of social pressures we experience within our culture. She describes both the biological and cultural contributions to our multifaceted gender identity and expression starting from conception and ending with adulthood. She identifies the many different sex and gender identities we cycle through throughout our development and how they each play a role in our final, “adult gender identity.” Sterling uses Money’s “sex layer model” to show this. You start with chromosomal sex (ie. XX, XY, or, rarely, some other combination of sex chromosomes), then “indifferent fetal sex,” and as you develop go through 11 other “layers” of sex until you end up at your adult gender identity. These layers aren’t linear as some layers form as a function of several that come before it. For example, brain sex and fetal internal reproductive sex both contribute to the pubertal hormonal sex of an individual, and gender fortification and body image both create your juvenile gender identity. Sterling uses this book to break down all of these different categories and talk about the different aspects of each one and how they play off of each other in order to come to some sort of definition or conclusion on what makes up our gender.

these are the “layers of sex” from Money

NY native, Anne Fausto Sterling was born in Queens, New York, in 1944. She graduated from The University of Washington with a degree in zoology in 1965 and later earned her Ph.D. in developmental genetics from Brown University in 1970. Currently, Sterling is the Nacy Duke Professor of Biology and Gender Studies at Brown and works within the molecular and cell biology department as well as the biochemistry department. During her time in academia, Sterling has written several books about gender intended for a general audience and has made over 60 scientific articles on similar subjects. She also is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science where she has received many grants for both the sciences and humanities. Clearly, Sterling is known for her astounding scientific achievements and has made many contributions to modern-day feminist movements with her work on the intersection of gender and biology. Sex/Gender Biology in a Social World was written in 2012 and is just one of the written works Sterling has produced on gender. Her listed main areas of interest are, “rethinking the nature/nurture divide, women in science/gender, intersectionality, homosexuality and its construction, and the role of race in gender and sexuality.” Her Ph.D. and mountain of scientific excellence make her uniquely qualified for explaining and exploring gender through a variety of scientific methods. 

For this book, Sterling references many researchers across several disciplines and creates a holistic view of gender through that lens. As said before, she uses Money’s “layers of sex” model to explain how our own gender changes as we grow up. At the beginning of the book, Sterling uses several stories and metaphors to explain how we have been and probably will always be a gendered society. Although our societal expressions of gender have changed throughout time and across different cultures, it will always be a part of the human experience. Starting from birth, your parents dress you and socialize you based on your sex or genitalia, and with this interpretation of your sex, your social gender identity is created. In modern-day America, we have pink for girls, blue for boys, and all childrens’ toys have a gender that they are intended for. Our society has determined what you are supposed to like and how you should act based on your perceived “boyness,” or “girlness.” This in combination with the infant starting to learn their anatomy by discovering their genitals, and the genitals of those around them creates their sense of body image.

Sterling also makes a point of how some different species have more than two sexes, and how some creatures have more than one type of male or female. For example, some insects have three distinct sexes, and there is a species of lizard that does not use males at all for reproduction. There are a variety of factors that determine what sex an animal will be too. Some frogs use temperature for sex determination, and there are so many other seemingly arbitrary environmental features that different species use to determine the sex of their offspring. Some species can even change their sex (ie. develop the opposite genitals and reproductive organs to their natal body) based on a lack of males or females in their vicinity. All of this boils down to Sterling making a point of how up in the air and fluid both sex and gender are. We can not truly understand them if we keep thinking of them as rigid and unchanging when in reality they keep growing and developing just as we do.

As the book continues Sterling circles back to explain the process of human child development in more detail and highlights the stage or “layer(s)” of sex one has reached based on their stage of life. When embryos are first beginning to develop they go into a stage of “equipotential development” where male and female fetuses are indistinguishable. At this point in time, the fetus is said to have reached the “indifferent fetal sex” layer, and soon the XX and XY babies will begin to develop in separate, yet similar, processes. Sterling also makes a note of intersex children and how sometimes sex can get a little more complicated than just male or female. Intersex babies may present as one gender while having the genetics of another, or even have a mix of male and female parts. She then goes into the different aspects of “brain sex.” In some species, like canary birds, the presence of a sex hormone will change the size/development of specific parts of the brain. For example, the injection of testosterone into a female canary’s brain will cause the “song” part to grow and that female will begin to sing male-specific songs. Environmental complexity also affects brain sex. In an experiment with rats, there were separate groups of male and female rats. Some were placed in a cage with no enrichment, while others were given toys and housed together to provide an enriched environment. Female rats in the enriched environment had significantly higher neural branching (think of more neural branching equating to more/better/faster communication within the brain) than males. And in the caged environment, males had higher levels of neural branching. This goes to show how complex brain sex is and how, in some ways, male and female brains develop differently. This, in turn, creates a big part of our adult gender identity.

Throughout the entire book, Sterling does an excellent job at providing enough scientific detail to provide context and clarity to her exploration of gender, while at the same time not jumping off into the deep end and making the book inaccessible to people with less biological knowledge. At some points in the book she lets herself dive a little deeper into genetic and biological factors of sex and gender and provides mind-gripping science and discovery to keep her readers invested in the book. Some chapters even come across more like scientific articles minus the chemical jargon. This is a wonderful way to expose people to the science behind our brains without losing them with an excess of detail. At the same time, Sterling also uses more anthropological and historical perspectives to analyze gender which only furthers her reach of audience.

While Sterling does a phenomenal job explaining all of these different perspectives, she also sometimes gets lost in story and metaphor. Part of her writing style is to use anecdotes to explain complex topics, but she sometimes spends too much time fleshing out those stories and loses focus on the point of her book. In chapter five, for example, she spends the first half recounting two conflicting scientists’ histories with each other in an attempt to explain gender identity and, more specifically, fetal sex. Although there is validity in bringing up these two scientists, the length of time she spent on their lives rather than their work concerning gender in the context of this book seemed excessive. This is not the only time she does this either. There are a few longer chapters in this book that could be shortened and clarified with some editing down of irrelevant information.

Anne Fausto Sterling’s Sex/Gender Biology in a Social World was well written and provided a wonderful intersection of science and humanities to explore what sex and gender are. Her in-depth recount of the neuroscience and biology behind gender was especially gripping while reading through this book. It truly is meant for people from all walks of life. You don’t have to know a lot about science or biology to understand what Sterling is saying, although having some prior knowledge is imperative to understanding the full picture. At the same time, you do not have to be an anthropological expert to follow along either. Sterling successfully made this a book for all people regardless of their background and education, as there are so many different yet connected perspectives on gender that she cycles through.

Work Cited:

Fausto-Sterling, Anne. Sex/Gender: Biology in a Social World. Routledge, 2012.

Sterling, Anne. “Home – Dr. Anne Fausto.” Anne Fausto Sterling, http://www.annefaustosterling.com/.

From a Pantsuit to They/Them: How “One Day at a Time” Promotes Everyday Conversations on Gender and Sexuality

Main Characters of One Day at a Time. From left to right: Alex, Lydia, Penelope, Schneider, and Elena.

Are you looking for a new show to watch where you can get your fill of comedy and strong feminism? No?…Um, uh, okay then; you probably do not need to continue reading this then. Yes?…Well then One Day at a Time is definitely the show for you. Based off of the original show One Day at a Time that first aired in the 70s, the modern One Day at a Time (2017-2020) is available on Netflix and brings humor, feminism, sexuality, and family all together. The show follows a Cuban-American family in California, which includes the grandmother who immigrated from Cuba, Lydia, played by the stunning Rita Moreno, the daughter of the grandmother, Penelope, and then the daughter’s two children, Elena and Alex. It is so hard to pick one episode of this show that displays feminism and social justice best because every episode of the show introduces or addresses a large variety of modern issues elegantly. For this reason, I will highlight a few episodes from the show that display how modern and influential the show is. Honestly, explaining just one episode does not serve the show enough justice for how significant it is. 

The very first episode of this Netflix original show introduces some of the main characters that appear throughout the show’s duration, including the mom, Penelope, and her daughter, Elena. Elena is fifteen years old at the beginning of the show and the first episode focuses on her opposition to having a quinceañera. Elena is opposed to having a quinceañera because of its misogynistic roots and does not want to be put on display like a show horse (and personally, I cannot blame her for feeling that way). This is very upsetting news to her family as they fully embrace their Cuban roots because they are proud, as they should be. While Penelope and Lydia try to get Elena to embrace her Cuban roots with them, Lydia also tries to tell Penelope that she does not need the antidepressants she has been prescribed. Lydia is a little old fashioned and does not agree with the use of antidepressants. Going against her mother’s opinion, Penelope eventually does take the antidepressants for the betterment of her mental health. This is promising since being a single mother, and a non-white single mother especially, is not easy to say the least. Elena does eventually decide to have a quinceañera by the end of the episode to please her family, as long as some things are done to Elena’s liking, such as what the dress she will wear will look like. Lydia eventually makes her a pantsuit to wear to her quinceañera, and it is a truly touching moment later in season one. 

Elena in her school uniform at home.

Further into the first season, the show addresses sex, porn, and sexuality. When porn, a video of a threesom specifically for those who are curious, is found on Alex’s computer, the household breaks into chaos on what to do. Penelope approaches Alex about this, but he remains adamant that it was not him watching the porn. We later learn in the episode that it was actually Elena watching it on Alex’s computer. Penelope tries to give Elena the sex talk so she is prepared if things begin to go further with her boyfriend at the time, but in the process, Elena comes out to her mom as gay. Penelope is surprised, but supportive (phew, thank god). Side note: it is also mentioned in that same episode that Elena loves to read Autostraddle articles, so yay, we have made it to television everyone (and honestly I think she has got good taste in blogs)! Elena being honest to her mother and coming out shows bravery while Penelope approaching Elena shows motherly compassion, all while tying in humor in addition to expression of sexuality. 

In season two, Elena invites over a friend of video gamers who introduce themselves to the rest of the family with their preferred pronouns, confusing Penelope and Lydia as to why the teenagers are doing this. One friend of Elena’s, Syd, uses they/them pronouns. Elena’s friends introducing themselves with their pronouns casually normalizes this concept for the audience and provides a learning opportunity on gender for Elena’s family as well. As season two continues, Syd and Elena begin to grow closer to each other, eventually forming a relationship together. The two are very awkward with each other at first when they both learn that the other is gay, but it is a joyous and funny moment well written into the episode. Their relationship hits bumps like any relationship does, but it also displays Elena still figuring out her sexuality and who she is as an openly gay person now. Syd has had girlfriends before, but Elena has not and watching Elena learn to be authentically herself is an encouraging storyline. Syd being supportive of Elena discovering who she is is another lesson with sexuality seen in the show. One Day at a Time brings many modern issues into play and goes deeper than the surface level, taking many factors into account. It hits on many difficult subjects, but it is all portrayed tastefully with humor added in. 

Elena and Syd both learn that the other is gay in this awkward, but funny scene from season two.

These are only a few of the many topics that are crucial to today’s society that this show addresses, without giving too much away for those interested in watching the show now. This show is honest and displays how sometimes feminism is not what everyone understands, however, when one feels strong enough to educate others around them, like Elena, then these ideas continue positively. Elena is a really important part to introducing and addressing many social justice issues head on through being intelligent and well educated. One Day at a Time addresses queerness, sexuality, feminism, gender, heritage, race, class, and so much more. This show is amazing, funny, and progressive, and I highly recommend it be a show that you add to your Netflix list (at least for those who said yes at the beginning of this article anyways, and if you said no, why did you still read this far?). One Day at a Time tells us that educating others on today’s issues, including feminism and sexuality is often not a simple task. However, taking the time to explain ideas thoroughly is worth it in the end for both the ones who care deeply enough to teach others, and the ones that listen and are just beginning to learn.

Written for Autostraddle | www.autostraddle.com

Works Cited

Kellett, Gloria Calderon, and Mike Royce. One Day at a Time, Netflix, www.netflix.com. 

Lawler, Kelly. “Isabella Gomez as Elena Alvarez in ‘One Day at a Time’.” USA Today, 23 Jan. 2017, www.usatoday.com/story/life/tv/2017/01/23/one-day-at-a-time-coming-out-story-elena-netflix/96787436/. 

“ME GAY TOO – One Day At a Time Elena and Syd.” Youtube, Netflix, 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=GFRZXDXlHek. 

Poniewozik, James. “From Left, Marcel Ruiz, Rita Moreno, Justina Machado, Todd Grinnell and Isabella Gomez in ‘One Day at a Time,’ on Netflix.” The New York Times, 4 Jan. 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/01/04/arts/television/review-the-2017-class-divide-in-a-new-one-day-at-a-time.html. 

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

From Theory to Praxis: Medical Care of LGBT Individuals

Over this semester, I have been exposed to a broad spectrum of concepts, issues, and questions through our readings and discussions. GSS has given me a new lens through which I see the world and a deeper understanding of the structures and institutions in place that govern our lives. As a senior, I will soon be entering the job market and am really looking forward to taking my newly acquired GSS knowledge to my future endeavors. I am looking for a job in the medical field, a field in which LGBT individuals are underserved and often reluctant to pursue care. In this context, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals are often grouped together in a way that implies homogeneity, which is not the case. These individuals are distinct in terms of race, socioeconomic status, age, and ethnicity in addition to their gender and sexual identities. What groups these people together is the underlying discrimination and stigma that they face in society as a result of living at the intersection of multiple different groups. The intersectionality of marginalized groups is a topic that came up frequently in our class discussion and has really opened my eyes as to how a person’s identity is not defined by just one element or trait, it is the combination of these interlinked traits that make up one’s identity.

There has been a long history of discrimination stemming from a lack of understanding of LGBT individuals in the medical field (i.e. the listing of homosexuality as a mental disorder in the DSM). However, as understanding has improved, the treatment of LGBT individuals in the medical setting has gotten somewhat better. There are certain diseases that disproportionately affect the LGBT community such as HIV and other STDs, and these disparities stem from structural and legal factors, social discrimination, access and availability of medical care, and the lack of culturally informed health care.

There are many things that those in the medical field can do to encourage an inclusive and welcoming medical environment. Below are some suggestions to be implemented in different medical environments, which I hope to bring with me to my future occupation:

  1. Allow patients to privately self-input information about gender identity and sexual orientation (ensure that there are a wide range of options on the questionnaire).
  2. Allow patients to specify the pronouns that they prefer.
  3. Be open and non-judgmental when collecting sexual histories of patients.
  4. Refrain from making assumptions about individuals based on appearance.
  5. Do not assume heterosexuality (i.e. Ask “Do you have a
    partner?” rather than “Do you have a boy/girlfriend?” when conducting sexual
    history).
  6. Make sure all staff are trained to interact respectfully
    with LGBT patients (i.e. ensuring use of their preferred pronouns).
  7. Make sure that the medical environment has a non-discrimination policy that includes discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation and publicly display this policy.
  8. The use of brochures and medical information that include images of LGBT people as well as medical information that specifically addresses concerns that
    these individuals face.

All of these suggestions are important, as a clinician may be one of the first people whom an individual discloses non-heterosexual behavior to, and for this to happen, individuals need to be in a space where they feel comfortable. The goals of medicine include providing quality and effective care, and through these suggestions and the scope of my GSS knowledge, I plan to do my best to create an inclusive and welcoming environment for all patients.

Works Cited

http://www.lgbthealtheducation.org/wp-content/uploads/Improving-the-Health-of-LGBT-People.pdf

http://www.aafp.org/dam/AAFP/documents/medical_education_residency/program_directors/Reprint289D_LGBT.pdf

Exerting Power through Porn: “Smutty Little Movies” Book Review

“If it exists, there is a porn of it,” claims the infamous internet meme. This simple statement provides a lot more value than perhaps its intended shocking effect, which we can see in Peter Alilunas’s Smutty Little Movies when adult content disseminates into any new avenue of technology or thought. The academic monograph examines both the adult video and the societal struggle to regulate and contain pleasure as pornography transitioned from the public to private sphere, new technologies developed, and capitalism and the traditional family model confronted sexual pleasure and a lack of social control. Alilunas gathers research and evidence from a wide spectrum of sources, mostly non-academic in nature, to analyze the codependency of the home video industry and adult film.

Alilunas introduces Smutty Little Movies with several key themes and questions surrounding the movement of explicit material from the public to the private spheres (especially from the big screen and the 1970s Golden Age of adult film to private adult video) and how pornography could be defined as an thought structure, allowing dominant classes to exert power in controlling what was considered “pornographic” and off-limits or inappropriate in any way to other classes or groups. The book is structured into four distinct parts that are tied together through the pornography-as-power ideology. Alilunas first chronologically examines changing technological, cultural, and industrial perspectives, beginning with the invention of the Panoram, a visual jukebox found in public places like bars and drugstores, that eventually turned into a “Solo-Vue” with curtains or walls and displayed images of female nudity. As the Panoram provided more privacy in public, motels, in realizing the economic potential of showing adult films, became the liminal space between the public theater and the private home. The underground film piracy economy was key to this transition since adult content was still made for the big screen only, though some motel owners did start filming their own content. Peep-show booths like the Panoram and motel viewing were outdone by George Atkinson who eventually became known as the father of home video rental after he realized that he could provide adult videos in the security of the home for a major profit. At this point, quantity of adult content became much more important than the quality, and so Alilunas argues that capitalism became one of the driving factors for the quiet and private spread of pornography.

Magazines were also a major marketing arm for the adult video industry. Alilunas looks at a variety of publications. Initially the content was the product, meaning magazines focused on sampling of still images and stories. When Adult Video News (AVN) entered the industry, a strategy for quality and taste further pushed pornography into the private sphere. Rather than sampling, AVN acted almost as newsletter foreplay for the actual videos and presented the idea and context rather than the content. This push for seeking out quality content also further reinforces the problematic gender narrative in which women must be “protected” but also might only be interested in “tasteful” pornography. Alilunas goes on to describe two key women in the rise of the adult video industry, though he acknowledges that neither received the credit they truly deserved, which proves how it is “a male-dominated industry built on women’s bodies” (130). Ginger Lynn made her mark as an adventurous girl-next-door actress around whom the Vivid Video company’s marketing strategy was built, though the male owners did not later acknowledge their combined effort. Candida Royalle stepped behind the camera in order produce real change for women and focused on reestablishing female control rather than submission in sexual pleasure. However, even Royalle’s own production company was backed by male investment. Further, she reinforced the pleasure-in-quality narrative, falling into the same categorical traps that places value on individual pleasure. Finally, Alilunas explores external regulation of adult video, which he claims as being rooted in a fear of changing societal morals and the disruption of the traditional family unit. Regulation took place both legally (e.g. investigations, trials, governmental studies) and through grassroots movements (e.g. religious groups, antiporn feminist groups, and corporate video rental companies refusal to stock adult content).

Alilunas ultimately concludes that although adult video saved the adult film industry, it is only one player in the ongoing discourses of power and controlling pleasure. Whether explicit external regulation or decentralized and constantly shifting discourses around what pornography should be, there will always be something new to discuss, reconcile, and push beyond, such as the Internet, which viewers of the Panoram would not have been able to fathom.  

Peter Alilunas, an Assistant Professor of Media Studies at the University of Oregon, grew up in America in the 1970s and 80s, a time when pornography seemed to be taking over the nation. He explains though that his memories of pornographic images and encounters were fleeting and confusing, which is reflective of his later discovery that academia surrounding the dissemination of pornography is severely lacking. Alilunas’s background in Media Studies is especially relevant since he argues that pornography was a crucial part of the home video’s history (and vice versa) rather than just a consequence of the home video. He received the Society for cinema and Media Studies Dissertation Award of Distinction for Smutty Little Movies in 2014.

Alilunas, despite the lack of literature in pornographic studies and the adult film industry, works to fill in at least some of those gaps on a broad scale, which is also his greatest strength in creating Smutty Little Movies. Rather than pulling together academic content, Alilunas investigates history of the adult video industry and the context surrounding the proliferation of pornography over the years. He is not so media-heavy that he analyzes specific pieces of media but rather pulls from a variety of contextual sources to understand the motivation, process, and outcome of technological, cultural, and industrial changes. More specifically, he pulls from catalogues, magazines, brochures, advertisements, autobiographies, blog posts, fan websites, newspapers, zoning laws, court rulings, etc. to form his own understanding of how society affected pornography and vice versa.

Smutty Little Movies acknowledges many areas in which it could go into more depth, such as queer and race dynamics or even further criticism of problematic gender narratives, but as Alilunas notes at the beginning, his “decision is an effort to limit the scope and scale of the research to a particular industrial history that has not yet received much scholarly interest while simultaneously occupying a massive historical footprint” (31). Having said that though, his ultimate arguments about the power of pornography and societal control could be further grounded in theory, such as Foucault’s thought on the relationship between power and oppression.

As intended, Smutty Little Movies fills in a wide gap in the vast pornographic history, though it’s important to keep in mind that it’s only one gap of many. Observing cultural thought through technology and industry provides a fascinating view of how we are able to both gain control and lose control of our own individual identities. This book is especially relevant for those who grew up in the so-called Golden Age of adult film in the 1970s and the rise of the home video in the 1980s. This study is also important for current college-level students as gender and sexuality disciplines expand and open us up to hidden narratives in our past.

Works Cited:

Alilunas, Peter. Smutty Little Movies. Oakland: University of California, 2016. Print.

Burger or Blow Job?

“Sex sells.” This is a phrase that is ever popular in the advertising world and is used to sell products, services, and businesses alike. This strategy is usually seen as effective, but sometimes advertising companies purposefully push boundaries past what is deemed acceptable in order to evoke shock value in their viewers. In 2009, Burger King did just that with the release of an advertisement promoting their new “Super Seven Incher” burger. The advertisement had a limited release; it was only made public in Singapore, but was pulled from the market very shortly after it began circulation due to its controversial nature.

The images of the advertisement are overtly sexual and intend to depict a woman performing oral sex on the “Super Seven Incher.” The woman is the focus of the advertisement, as her profile from the neck up is shown on the left side of the ad. She is a white woman, has a blonde bob, and a face full of makeup. Her eyes are wide and her red lips are parted in an oval shape. Coming out from the right side of the page is the Super Seven Incher, aimed directly at the woman’s mouth. The advertisement is shaded darker at the corners and becomes increasingly lighter as the focus moves inwards towards the mouth and the burger. Below the image of the woman and the burger are the words “IT’LL BLOW YOUR MIND AWAY” in white, bold letters. Below the phrase is a yellow panel depicting the burger along with a drink and fries and a price of $6.25 for the whole meal. The description of the meal is in the lower right hand corner of the ad.

The target audience of this advertisement is very obviously the heterosexual male and it is supposed to be viewed through the framework of the male gaze. The sexual nature of the image is attention grabbing and conveys the message that by eating the Super Seven Incher, they will receive as much gratification as they would from receiving oral sex. By depicting the act in this way, the ad is designed to create a fantasy for heterosexual males, which can be fulfilled by eating this burger. Eating this burger will make heterosexual males happier, more satisfied, and more appealing to women, according to the ad.

Depicting the woman in the advertisement in such a hyper-feminine way insinuates that the woman’s sole purpose in the advertisement is to provide pleasure and act as a sexual object. Creators of the ad specifically used a young white woman with bright red lips and blonde hair, characteristics that are routinely associated with sex appeal, to target their audience. Although the advertisement was released in Singapore, the woman is white which reinforces the westernized beauty ideals that we see across most media. By portraying the woman in this way, the ad creators have established that this is what a “real woman” should look like and this is how she should act. The woman is submissive to the man and his desires (as represented by the burger) and the ad links her femininity to sexual objectification. Sex sells, but usually only if it is in a heteronormative way. If the roles had been reversed and an image was insinuating that a male was performing oral sex on a female, the reactions would have been different. People would have been taken aback by the overt sexuality, since a male gratifying female sexual desires is not something often portrayed in contemporary media. The same goes for if a woman was illustrated performing oral sex on a woman, a man on another man, or any other combination of gender identifications.

The imagery of the advertisement is extremely sexual and this is furthered by the use of language surrounding the ad. The name of the burger itself, the “Super Seven Incher,” has nothing to do with the taste appeal of the burger. It does not describe what is on the burger or its quality, but instead describes the length of the burger. This burger length is a not so subtle reference to male genitalia, adding to the visualization of the sexual image that is portrayed. In the quote under the burger, the words “IT’LL BLOW” are larger than the rest of the words on the page, immediately catching the viewer’s attention. Slang terms for performing oral sex are “blowing” or “giving a blow job,” so the use of this specific language was no accident. The most glaring use of language to conjure up sexual images was in the description of the burger in the lower right hand corner of the advertisement. The advertisement tells its audience to “Fill your desire with something long, juicy, and flame grilled” and “Yearn for more after you taste the mind blowing burger” Both of these particular quotes describe the burger, but they do so in a way that expresses the longing and need of the heterosexual male to have his desires fulfilled. The “yearning” and “desire” that is expressed can refer to the male’s need for sexual gratification, but can also refer to the female’s desire “for more,” not in reference to the burger, but alluding to it as a representation of male genitalia. Using the images along with the specific choice of words furthers the message of the advertisement and adds to its shock value.

Although the ad was removed from the market, it was successful in the regard that its shock value made it widely circulated and talked about. It successfully perpetuated the image of traditional gender roles and used sexual imagery to maintain heteronormativity. Its purpose was to push boundaries, spark conversation, and evoke a strong emotional response from its viewers, whether it was one of desire or disgust. By this ad fulfilling its purpose, Burger King got the publicity that it wanted, a publicity that has lasted longer than they could have imagined.

Works Cited:

Stransky, Tanner. “Burger King’s Super Seven Incher Ad: Subtlety Is Dead.” EW.com. N.p., 24 June 2009. Web.

“Top 10 Tasteless Ads.” Time.com. N.p. Web. <http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1907218_1907236,00.html>

Grant Proposal: Intersectionalities Between Migration and Latino Studies

Andres Sanchez

Prof. Gonzalez

11 May 2016

GSS 101

Grant Proposal: Intersectionalties Between Migration and Sexuality

For my Grant Proposal, I aim to expose Davidson students to the ways in which queer Latino groups, specifically migrants of Latino roots, attribute sexuality as a cause for their migration to the U.S from their native country. The reason I chose this topic is because of my reading of Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes’s Queer Ricans, a work which focuses on assessing the ways in which Puerto Rican migrations in the 1950s was contributed just as much by the issue of sexuality when compared to social, political, and economic issued existent in Puerto Rico. When it comes to migration, people automatically focus on the idea of race and never really think about the role one’s sexuality plays into the matter.

The idea of my proposal involves inviting La Fountain-Stokes to be a guest speaker at Davidson and provide insight on his book Queer Ricans as well as his personal experience of being a gay Puerto Rican and the experiences of gay Latino immigrants he was exposed to during the publications of his work. My plan would not only include a lecture by Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes but would also focus on getting students engaged in the discourse by setting up Sexuality event cosponsored by OLAS, the GSS Department, the Hispanic Studies Department, and the Latino Studies Department. This event would focus on creating atmosphere of an art exhibit with different student groups presenting issues concerning migration, Latino Identity, and sexuality. The room where the presentations are exhibited would be open to anyone who wishes to learn about intersections of sexuality and Latino studies. The event would also require the reservation of the 900 room in Alvarez Union as well as money for materials students can use to create presentations and food. This event would be held hours before La Fountain-Stokes lecture.

By providing an exhibit event before La Fountain-Stokes lecture, the students would be given the opportunity to research the topic at large and learn about the intersectionalities of Latino Studies and sexuality while at the same time gaining knowledge essential to understanding La Fountain-Stokes lecture.

To make such event possible a budget would have to be made for the payment of Lawrence La Fountains’s lecture, the reimbursement of materials used by students for the exhibit, the money used for food, and payment to provide La Fountain-Stokes with lunch at a restaurant nearby. In addition, there would have to be approval by OLAS, the GSS Department , the Hispanic Studies Department, and the Latino studies Department.This event would hopefully serve to introduce students to the field of Latino Studies and the ways it intersects with migration and sexuality.

Works Cited:

La Fountain-Stokes, Lawrence. Cultural Studies of the Americas : Queer Ricans : Cultures
and Sexualities in the Diaspora. Minneapolis, MN, USA: University of Minnesota
Press, 2009. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 10 May 2016.

 

 Queer Ricans

Techniques of Pleasure: BDSM and the Circuits of Sexuality

cover

 

In Techniques of Pleasure: BDSM and the Circuits of Sexuality, Margot Weiss discusses the social, economic, class, race, and gender inequalities of the BDSM scene in San Francisco, and what Weiss calls circuits between those dynamics. She says, “I call such dynamics a circuit to draw attention not only to the dense connections… but also to the functionality, the effects of these connections.”[i] Weiss applies an ethnographic analysis to identify circuits in the BDSM scene based interviews she conducted with practitioners and participants in the scene and from in-person observations of various BDSM events, classes, and practices. As part of her class, gender, and racial analyses of the BDSM scene, Weiss cites and references a wide array of scholars in fields as diverse as economics, gender, sexuality and queer studies, history, politics, and race studies. Techniques of Pleasure provides a thorough, informative, and original account of the various dynamics within the BDSM community.

Weiss claims in her book, “I explore BDSM as a series of sexual, social, and bodily practices that provide opportunities to remake and consolidate forms of subjectivity built both on capitalist practices of consumption and production and on the regulatory normalization of race, gender, and sexuality.”[ii] She describes the various ways individuals in the scene argue that their interactions subvert various societal norms. Then, Weiss shows how the BDSM scene actually relies on and perpetuates racial, gender, and class norms to derive the power of the community’s alternative sexual practices. The book begins with an account of how and why the kink sexual scene in San Francisco evolved from a small, close-knit, lower class, largely queer community into a larger, predominately white, middle class one. As San Francisco developed an economy dependent on high-income information technology jobs, the demographics of the city and the scene changed to reflect the people more likely to hold those jobs. From there, Weiss discusses the prevalence of toys in the scene, arguing that the focus on material toys gives an implicit status and pleasure advantage to the white middle class practitioners who can afford both the toys themselves and the time to master their use. She finishes with a discussion of the social and political impact of BDSM sex and scenes. Weiss describes how the explicit, intentional power exchange in BDSM depends on existence of actual power inequalities based on race, class, and gender for their emotional impact and sexual pleasure. For example, in the scene it is considered ‘more acceptable’ for a woman to be a submissive than a man, reflecting the patriarchal power men have in society in general.[iii] Weiss’ analysis and discussion of the circuits she describes in the BDSM scene are consistently insightful, and wonderfully account for the impacts that intersections of class, race, and gender have on the practices she observed.

The analysis that Weiss brings to the BDSM scene are informed by her methods of gathering relevant information. She interviewed practitioners in the scene, and also experienced various parties, events, classes, workshops, and scenes as an observer. Weiss interviewed sixty-one participants “most [of whom] were professional-class white people in long-term relationships.”[iv] Bits and pieces of the transcripts of these interviews were included in the text, supporting and complicating claims made by Weiss and other scholars whose work she references. The quotations are a definite highlight of this book. The original voices and experiences of the interviewees shine through authentically, adding some much needed personality to the otherwise academic language of the book. The practitioner’s words provided frank and fascinating windows into the scene. Weiss also includes detailed descriptions of a variety of kink events such as slave auctions, national conferences, private bondage parties, takedown workshop demonstrations, as well more less sexually charged events such as munches, social gatherings for food and drink that do not involve any BDSM practices at all. However, the author uses a decidedly detached tone and point of view. Weiss says she told the people she interviewed that she is not into BDSM, and implies that she did not participate in any scenes as part of research for this book. Her personal taste for BDSM is unclear: “I found that the lose-lose situation of being, on the one hand, too close to or overinvested in SM or, on the other hand, too distant from or incapable of understanding it was more easily negotiated with SM practitioners… I have placed the imaginations and experiences of my interviewees and their scenes at the center of this book.”[v] Maintaining a measured distance from one’s subject of study in the name of academic integrity is certainly admirable. However, I would be fascinated to hear how direct participation in a BDSM scene would influence her analysis. That being said, it is certainly unreasonable to expect that the author would be interested in or willing to take part in a scene, much less relate such an intimate experience to such an impersonal audience.

Weiss locates her book and her argument firmly within the various class, racial, and gender conversations about BDSM. In accordance with her intersectional approach, she references gender theorists such as Judith Butler and Michael Foucault and other feminist theorists, as well as various economists, historians, journalists, race theorists, and activists. Each claim Weiss makes is carefully explained in reference to the work of previous scholars, making sure to clearly outline which ideas she finds useful for her own analysis and which concepts she intentionally disagrees with or discards. However, the quotations from other scholars were almost always outshone by the accounts of practitioners in the scene. The interviews were always more interesting and more enlightening, and it is curious that Weiss chose not to lean more heavily on the visceral accounts and surprisingly cogent arguments made by people in the scene, rather than academic arguments made by scholars who may or may not actually have experience in what they are discussing.

Techniques of Pleasure provides an original, intersectional account of the politics of the BDSM scene in San Francisco. While it is easy to view a community based on fringe sex acts as transgressing social norms, Weiss compellingly argues that, to the contrary, the BDSM scene depends on and reproduces those very norms it claims to transgress. The book is well-researched, and the entertaining descriptions and accounts of various BDSM practices keep even the non-academic reader well enough engaged to digest Weiss’ arguments. This book stands as an informative, unique account of the complex dynamics present in the BDSM scene.

 

Works Cited:

[i] Weiss, Margot Danielle. Techniques of Pleasure: BDSM and the Circuits of Sexuality. Durham: Duke UP, 2012. PDF. Page 7.

[ii] Weiss, page 20.

[iii] Weiss, pages 176-177.

[iv] Weiss, page 26.

[v] Weiss, pages 29-30.