Beneath the Surface: a Look into Invisible Disability

Beneath the Surface: a Look into Invisible Disability

 The intersection of invisible disability and gender studies is still a forming field of study. Illustrated through the work of forerunners such as Maureen Fitzgerald, Kathryn Paterson and Karen Depauw. And more clearly developed through the more recent voices of Ellen Samuels, Aimee Valeras, Margaret Vickers, Kendyl Klein, Samantha Bassler and Denarii Monroe.  Mental illness within women, especially eating disorders, is a subset of invisible disabilities studies that demonstrated a strong link with gender studies and show how physically bound the subjects are. These authors analyze the difficulties of invisible disability, particularly disclosure, and how society oppresses people with hidden disabilities.

In the article “The Hidden Disability Dilemma for the Preservation” of self Maureen Fitzgerald and Kathryn Paterson address specific difficulties of women with invisible disabilities. Published in 1995 at the forefront of gender studies in intersection with disability, “The Hidden Disability Dilemma for the Preservation” of self-relates many of the challenges women with invisible disabilities face in contemporary times. Easiest to relate is the ever present question of disclosure and consequences with both informing people of invisible disability and hiding it. This ties directly to analysis, of identity which is grounded within the studies of women with invisible disability. By focusing in on two case studies where women from Hawaii and women from Australia were compared. These two groups of women with invisible disabilities, the women from Australia with hidden Multiple Sclerosis(MS) and the women from Hawaii with Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome(TMJ), are able to convey the ways in which invisible disability affects certain ways beyond a case by case basis. One problem the women from this study face, as others with an invisible disability do, is the issue of legitimizing disability. Because invisible disability is generally not apparent to others it can be difficult to get recognition for the really impacts a condition has on an individual’s life. In the case of one woman who was deaf but did not seem that way she began carrying a white pole, not because she needed it but rather because people would not accept that she was deaf. There is a possible weight in revealing a disability, a weight on identity-based on people’s reactions to disability. Many women from this study hide the level of pain they are in and the symptoms they have for various reasons. But this isolation of themselves comes at a cost while being interviewed, many of the women admitted that they were not as happy or as fit as they used to be. There is a negative correlation between invisible disability and self-worth. This study ends with a need for invisible disability to be taken seriously so that people with them don’t have to emphasize them as much for valid assistance.

Karen Depauw constructs the significance of space in the context of the society in  “Space: The Final Frontier”: The Invisibility of Disability on the Landscape of Women’s Studies.” Through analyzing the breadth of subjects that gender studies encapsulate within intersectionality Karen Depauw noticed a lack of solid research in disability and how it connects to women, gender and identity. Published in 1996 Space: “The Final Frontier”: The Invisibility of Disability on the Landscape of Women’s Studies” is at the forefront of disability studies with Maureen Fitzgerald and Kathryn Paterson. By narrowing her view to the lens of space Karen Depauw is better able to articulate how disability dictates movement through space, also how disability can alter perceptions of space. Perception of space can be integral parts of identity and gender.  In working with space in relation to invisible disability she explains the ways in which spaces can differ based on interpretation. Her focus, particularly on mental disorders, illuminates how societies categorization of things and people can give stifling identities. Because of the individuality of invisibility disabilities, not to mention the different severities, it is limiting to categorize and clump disabled people. Furthermore to marginalize people because they do not fit into a normative format cramps them to the margins of society, into boxes that confine them. People with hidden disabilities are presented with two boxes, one in which they hide their differences and the other in which they may emphasise their differences in order to be believed and categorized as disabled.  Though there is more room for nuance than those two categories the exceptions are limited and never fully void of the decision that the individual with hidden disabilities makes about disclosure.  

The struggle of middle-aged women with chronic invisible disabilities who also work full time are argued by Margaret Vickers in “Unseen Chronic Illness and Work: Authentic Stories from “Women-Inbetween.”” Published in 2001 this article helps show many facets of being a woman and having an invisible disability. The eight women in this study explain some of the different difficulties. Like finding time for a doctor’s appointment, being assumed healthy at work, and trying to juggle a full-time career and caregiving. By adding in occupational difficulties Margaret Vickers shows another dimension of invisible disabilities effects. The added weight of gender is shown by the caregiver position that women are expected to fill, these mothers not only work full-time jobs but run households. Margaret Vickers explains how these roles stack up to burdens that leave these women not fully attending to themselves and struggling to show other people how much they are handling. Because hidden disabilities are not visible it adds to the dimensionality of whether people chose to believe in the legitimacy of these disabilities. Simple recognition of invisible disability would help in easing the weight of these women but in order to better understand their burdens society, gender roles, and other intersections must be scrutinized.

“My Body, my Closet: Invisible Disability and the Limits of Coming-out Discourse” by Ellen Samuels gives a more recent commentary on invisible disability. Published in 2003 this article focuses on disclosure of invisible disability. The approach of “My Body, my Closet: Invisible Disability and the Limits of Coming-out Discourse” is slightly unorthodox in its comparison of coming out in terms of sexuality and revealing an invisible disability. Through juxtaposing the two narratives “My Body, my Closet: Invisible Disability and the Limits of Coming-out Discourse” articulates the nuances of disclosure around invisible disability. Ellen Samuels explains how coming out keeps intact the binary that assumes heterosexuality and able-bodiedness are the norms and that it is necessary to reveal yourself as other if you are not strictly within those loosely defined boxes. One piece that is particularly addressed in revealing invisibility is the assumption with disabling that people are placed under but don’t necessarily want. In several people’s accounts disclosing an invisible disability are more about explaining it to others and less about accepting it yourself.  As addressed in “The Invisibility of Disability on the Landscape of Women’s Studies” is a pioneering article on disability studies with Maureen Fitzgerald and Kathryn Paterson the accusation of fraud around invisible disability is still an issue that keeps some people from disclosing at all. Ellen Samuels does an excellent job of explaining the weight and privilege that invisible disability holds: “Like racial, gender, and queer passing, the option of passing as nondisabled provides both a certain level of privilege and a profound sense of misrecognition and internal dissonance”(Samuels) Because invisible disabilities, in most circumstances, can be hidden there is consistent choice of disclosure. Unfortunately, both revealing and covering disability can have burdens. In elaborating on the issue of disclosure Ellen Samuels states a few times that people with invisible disabilities can “pass” as abled. However, even within just that word, she is still showing how disjointed they are from society and othered. People with hidden disabilities are in a weird in-between that fluctuates greatly by disclosure and can fluctuate with the severity of conditions on a day to day basis. Because hidden disabilities are a case by case dependent they have real tolls on people’s sense of identity and self-worth.

Specifically addressing mental disorders with the sector of invisible disability “Gender differences in mental health” address societal impacts on health. Through sharp analysis of statistics regarding men and women’s mental health, there are direct correlations to gender, particularly with anorexia and eating disorders. “Gender differences in mental health” show that not only is society ignoring mental illness they are often promoting it. The research, though published in 2007, holds many insights particularly in how gender relates to these illnesses. Mental disorder studies reflect how oppression can cause more people in a minority to develop them. Rooted in intersectionality, minorities are more vulnerable to mental instability and disorders. Another factor that affects mental disorders is the location, developing Arab countries women are more vulnerable and more likely to have mental instability. There is not one cause of mental illness or invisible disability and they can remain out of people’s perceptions. This can make invisible disability dangerous and endorse harmful societal norms. There needs to be recognition of invisible disability and wholesome approaches that don’t leave those with hidden disability awkwardly marginalized.

Identity is tightly associated with ability and disability. “”We don’t have a box”: Understanding hidden disability identity utilizing narrative research methodology” by Aimee Valera’s constructs the weight of hidden physical disability and explains the mental toll that it takes as well. By looking at the lives of six different people and their non-obvious physical disabilities, her study and analysis were written in 2010 provides insight into the complex layer of identity in relation to invisible disability. Core to Aimee Valeras’ argument like those of Maureen Fitzgerald, Kathryn Paterson, and Ellen Samuels is the pressure of disclosure. As framed in Aimee Valera’s study the six adults she picked chose to assimilate and push against the label disabled. Aimee Valera’s also takes the time to explain how intersectionality is essential to how people’s invisible disabilities affect their lives and identities. Researcher Aimee Valeras found about adolescent development of self-worth in conjunction with visible compared to invisible disability. One of the more recent and reliable studies showed that students with invisible disabilities had more emotional distress because of anxiety around possible exposure. To have an invisible disability takes people out of the obvious binary of able or disable: “The hidden disability experience, thus, falls in the misunderstood gap between the dominant disability paradigms, the medical model and the social model” (Valeras).

Much like the article “Gender differences in mental health,” “Why Don ‘t I Look Like Her? The Impact of Social Media on Female Body” reveals the specific impact society, especially social media, has on the mental conditions of college-aged women. Reviewing at this very specific study in 2013 of invisible disability in the form of mental illness it is easy to see how gender and white patriarchal society tie into the analysis of invisible disability. Kendyl Klein’s research show how unrealistic beauty standards have disproportionately affected young women. Additionally, her psychoanalysis provides insight into the direct ways in which social media harms women’s mental self-worth and mental stability. There are facts too that show the presence of eating disorders in college-aged women: “between 4% and 9% of college women have diagnosable eating disorders, but more frightening, 34% to 67% experience disordered eating at sub-threshold levels” (Klein). What Kendyl Klein articulates also is the endorsement of these unhealthy standards within America’s culture. The severity of eating disorders and mental illness have been dismissed by parts of society and the beauty industry. One particularly striking paragraphs of Kendyl Klein is the increased depression and suicide rates of those with eating disorders. This level of body dissatisfaction shows just how toxified societal views have become. In a personal account of Kendyl Klein, when she was struggling with body image, it is clear that her mental illness was spurred on by the media and society. Gender studies and invisible disability are tightly bound at the point of mental illness.  

Samantha Bassler constructs an argument that correlates music therapy with hidden disabilities in  “”But You Don’t Look Sick”: Dismodernism, Disability Studies and Music Therapy on Invisible Illness and the Unstable Body.” By first presenting invisibly and music therapy separately she is able to give a solid basis of both before connecting them. Similarly to many of the previous articles published before hers, published in 2014, Samantha Bassler explains the intricate issue of disclosure around hidden disability. Her article grapples with the impact that people’s disbelief around hidden disability has on people who struggle with them. What makes this article stand out is Samantha Bassler’s inclusion of music therapy as a potential avenue to help those with hidden disabilities. Samantha Bassler’s presentation of healing through music is that the music can not cure but rather helps the patient in dealing with their disability. Her final words on the matter of invisible disability tie it to feminism through looking at the normalization of society.

Tying feminism and a modern tone into the analysis of hidden disability Denarii Monroe explain the effects her own invisible disability has had on her life in her article “3 Ways My Learning Disability Affects My Life.” Written this year, Denarii Monroe explains the intricacies of living with an invisible disability.  One thing she addresses is the stigma people still have around disability and an avoidance to reveal her condition. Particularly focusing on the workplace she explains how revealing disability can cause discrimination, less pay or just not getting hired in the first place. Elaborating on occupational effects hidden disability can have she also explains the opposing argument that understanding can make a huge difference and communicating disability can relieve bad dynamics. Essentially reiterating that disclosure around invisible disability is really an individual decision and can help or hurt depending on the situation. Intersecting invisible disability to feminism Denarii Monroe argues that feminists are working for the equality of people and that people with invisible disabilities are among the marginalized. She creates an even stronger argument for intersectionality in her criticism of capitalism, patriarchy and the way in which conformity is institutionalized. The intersections minority people have are layers of oppression and greatly affects a person’s privilege. Truly intersectionality is at the core of starting to understand the complexities with individuals and even within invisible disability. Because there are many forms and accumulations of oppression that go unseen and acknowledged. Denarii Monroe explains the weight invisible disability can have on self-worth and confidence. Hiding disability and openly sharing it both come with their own burden. With sharing the information of invisible disability people sometimes doubt it’s legitimacy, categorizing the person as disabled or at least associating the condition with the person. To conceal the disability leaves the person open to the risk and vulnerability of exposure. Denarii Monroe concludes with the need to deconstruct societal boxes and embrace differences.

Intersectionality is core to understanding marginalization and different oppressions of society. Invisible disability and gender studies are better understood in the context of each other. The articles by Maureen Fitzgerald, Kathryn Paterson Karen Depauw, Ellen Samuels, Aimee Valeras, Margaret Vickers, Kendyl Klein, Samantha Bassler and Denarii Monroe provide a small window into an intersection of health and gender that is often overlooked. By focusing in on mental illness within the intersection of invisible disability and gender studies it is clear the influences society has.  

Sources:

Bassler, Samantha. (2014).  “”But You Don’t Look Sick”: Dismodernism, Disability Studies, and Music Therapy on Invisible Illness and the Unstable Body.” Voices: A World Form for Music Therapy.

Depauw, K. P. (1996). “”Space: The final frontier”: The invisibility of disability on the landscape of women’s studies.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, 17(3), 19- 23.

(2007) “Gender differences in mental health” Singapore Med Journal.

Image Fitzgerald, M.H., & Paterson, K.A. (1995). “The hidden disability dilemma for the preservation of self”. Journal of Occupational Science, 2, 13-21.

Klein, Kendyl M. (2013) “Why Don ‘t I Look Like Her? The Impact of Social Media on Female Body” Claremont McKenna College.

Megan Jones, “‘Gee, You Don’t Look Handicapped. .’: Why I Use a White Cane to Tell People That I’m Deaf,” Electric Edge, July-August 1997

Monroe, Denarii. (2016) “3 Ways My Learning Disability Affects My Life” Everyday Feminism.

Samuels, E.J (2003). “My body, my closet: Invisible disability and the limits of coming-out discourse.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, 9, 233- 255

Valeras, A. B. (2010). “”We don’t have a box”: Understanding hidden disability identity utilizing narrative research methodology.” Disability Studies Quarterly, 30(3), 1- 23.

Vickers, M. (2001). “Unseen chronic illness and work: authentic stories from “women in-between””. Gender in Management, 16(2), 62-74.

From Theory to Praxis: Masculine Ideals in Male Athletics

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

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

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

From Theory to Praxis: Introduction of Mixed Gender Day Camp Groups at Summer Camp

During the past 12 summers I have attended YMCA Camp Minikani, first as a camper, then a counselor, and now as an administrator. With this new role in a leadership position, the responsibility of creating an environment for kids to learn and interact outside of normative constructions of the outside world is on my shoulders. Positive youth development in a camp setting is all about creating an environment of equality and respect for campers to pass on to people in their outside lives. Minikani actively works against destructive societal norms to promote originality and kindness towards others. As a leader of the organization, I aim to continue to work against constructions to promote individual and community wide respect. One way we can address this is through the reexamination of Minikani’s gender grouping.

For more than half of Minikani’s history, camp was extremely gender exclusive as only boys were allowed to come to camp. In 1967, the YMCA allowed for females to become campers, and soon after, counselors. Since then, however, there has been little change made regarding gender practices. The camp is currently set up with a day camp and an overnight camp, both of which separate groups into male and female groups. After taking this course, the necessity of demolishing the binary ideas of gender and sexuality became obvious. Anne Fausto-Sterling, along with other authors and theorists, has illuminated the history of assigning gender to bodies, the disconnection between ideas of binary genders and evidence of multiple genders, and the bias in the medical field with regards to sexing the body. These ideas make it clear gender is a construction, and limiting humanity to a binary viewpoint is limiting people’s ways of viewing themselves.

One of the YMCA’s core tenants includes the notion of diversity and inclusion. On their website, one can easily find this statement: “Together we work to ensure everyone—regardless of gender, income, faith, sexual orientation or cultural background—has the opportunity to live life to its fullest”. This is a goal that the YMCA at large, and Minikani in specific, have actively worked towards. Yet the continuation of binary gender divisions in camper groups has promoted an idea that is limiting to people’s constructions of themselves. Therefore, I am proposing a change starting in the day camp unit of Camp Minikani. We would, instead of organizing groups based on male or female and age, only organize groups based on age. This mixing of genders can help to teach cooperation and friendship with people who identify differently than you. More importantly, the lack of naming day camp groups in binary terms promotes inclusion and a non-limiting viewpoint on gender. Starting with the day camp groups in summer of 2017 can be a jumping off point and eventually lead to changes in the overnight camp unit to breakdown binary gender ideas as well. Even if no campers come to camp identifying outside of male or female, the breakdown of the binary system will lead to a respect and appreciation for mixed gender groups and a gender inclusive world.

Between Women: The Diversity of Same-Sex Relationships of Women in Victorian England

Between Women: Friendship, Desire, and Marriage in Victorian England by Sharon Marcus is a convincing, captivating, and original analysis that uncovers the importance and significance of the relationships between women in typical Victorian life. Marcus discusses how not many women in Victorian England had sexual relationships with each other or lived together in long-standing relationships like marriages. However, she also examines how women in Victorian England were involved in close and intimate relationships, which people at the time “believed cultivated the feminine virtues of sympathy and altruism”—that often had an element of objectification and closeness and affection (in a sexual manner). Marcus’s assertion that female bonds were “not only tolerated but promoted as necessary elements of middle-class femininity” (259) proposes an essential counteracting to the domineering opinions today that people in Victorian England saw all same-sex relationships as disgraceful and appalling.

Marcus goes on to argue that the wishes and needs of women at the time were motivated by consumerism and capitalism, and their friendships were recognized, reinforced, and strengthened by their “families, societies, and churches.” As she explains across a sequence of close readings, same-sex relationships and intimacy occurred in tandem and agreement with and even often promoted heterosexual relationships. Therefore, of course the people around women would support these same-sex relationships because these relationships in turn promoted heterosexual relationships, which led to reproduction and other societal expectations of women at the time.

Marcus goes on to support that images of women in the media at the time did not turn women into submissive and passive people, but on the contrary, represented the “erotic appetite for femininity” of women at that period. The appeal for femininity and fulfilling the ideals and expectations of being a woman in Victorian England drove women to this “erotic appetite. ” Marcus also showed how the relationships between women were a vital and central element of femininity through the analysis of literature, memoirs, letters, and more, and her immense collection of evidence further proves her argument.

When exploring the array of different types of female friendships, she focuses on how in many cases, female friendships just meant regular friendships, and how other times it meant lesbian relationships. Marcus goes on to describe how when same-sex “female marriages” were formed, that to her, they were not the controversial topic that same-sex relationships are today or that people thought they were. Even though these marriages were not legally formed, they were acknowledged in more wide scale social groups. Marcus also writes about a different sort of same-sex relationship between women and that is the relationships between mothers and daughters, and daughters with their dolls that were depicted in illustrations, and how these images had deceptive masochistic and sadistic insinuations and implications.

Sharon Marcus is the Orlando Harriman Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. Her area of study is 19th-century British and French literature, specifically, she focuses on “performance studies, theater, and the novel; literary theory; gender and sexuality studies.” (Columbia U. Website) She is the author of Apartment Stories: City and Home in Nineteenth-Century Paris and London (University of California Press, 1999) and also won the Perkins Prize for best study of narrative for Between Women, along with several other awards for this book. Her essays have appeared in The Blackwell Companion to Comparative Literature, The Cambridge History of Victorian Literature, and more. Marcus has also written for The Boston Globe, The Chronicle Review, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times Book Review. Marcus was also the recipient of Fulbright, Woodrow Wilson, and ACLS fellowships, and a Columbia Distinguished Faculty Award. In 2014, Marcus was appointed Dean of Humanities at Columbia University.

In conclusion, Between Women by Sharon Marcus is a persuasive and unique examination that unearths the meaning and substance of the interactions between women in standard Victorian life. Very few women in Victorian England had sexual or long-lasting relationships like marriages. Marcus discusses how women in Victorian England were often involved in close and intimate relationships, which they thought encouraged the feminine features of compassion and selflessness. Her claim that female relationships were not only allowed but encouraged and endorsed as necessary for conventional femininity suggests an fundamental response to the widespread opinion that the people in Victorian England saw all same-sex relationships (no matter the degree of sex or sexuality played in the relationship) as outrageous and horrifying.

Queer Theory, Gender Theory

Book Review

Throughout Queer Theory, Gender Theory, Riki Wilchins explores topics such as LGBTQ rights movements, politics of meaning and self, identity politics, feminism, and race. Wilchins analyzes the many complex concepts in such a crafted way, always being careful to never segregate a specific subject. By doing this, she points out that all aspects of gender and queerness intertwine with not only each other, but other social constructions as well. For the entirety of the book, Wilchins encourages readers to step outside of their own identity box momentarily to explore and question what gender truly means, what queerness truly means, and what identity truly means.

Her first few chapters are a very good way for readers to ease into the intricacy of gender and queer theory, but by the end of the book she is challenging readers by asking the big questions. Why has society created such strict binaries, of which we must follow in order to create an identity that others can easily recognize as an identity? Why is it so hard for society to deconstruct these binaries, and is it even possible to do so? How does power work, even within certain rights movement groups, and why does it always tend to create a hierarchy? She uses a range of well-renounced theorists such as Michel Foucault and Judith Butler in order to support her arguments, but she recognizes that the big questions she herself is asking are far too complicated to possibly answer. However, the book was not written to answer the big questions, but rather adventure into and expose the complexity of theory.

Riki Wilchins has written two other books and several essays and articles. Queer Theory, Gender Theory was written in 2004 and is her most recent book. She is a post-operative transgender woman, meaning she has had sex reassignment surgery. This can be offered up as an explanation as to why she first began her career as a leader in the transgender rights movement. In 1995, Wilchins founded GenderPAC, which is the first national transgender advocacy group. Her group, active for 14 years, strived to make public places safe and comfortable for those who did not conform to the traditional roles and attributes of the gender binary. In her writing, she works to examine gender in a post-modernist theoretical light, hoping to bring some of that theory into politics and activism.

Wilchins’ first three chapters are all about rights: women’s rights, gay rights, and transgender rights. Right off the bat, she states, “queer theory is at heart about politics−things like power and identity, language, and difference” (Wilchins 5). Thus, this sets the tone for not only her first chapter on women’s rights, but for the several chapters to follow. She makes references to the black civil rights movements and how it has been a big part of the foundation of the LGBTQ rights movements we see today. “For it is in the black civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s that the familiar tools of modern civil rights movements…all come together for the first time” (5). This emphasizes the intersectional lens that Wilchins uses throughout the book to view gender concepts and constructs. She goes on to point out that although at times feminists can seem quite progressive, they often leave out groups of people, thus arguing that even those fighting for equality can get caught up in the power of the all imposing gender binary.

Wilchins then dives into the politics of meaning, which is what she titles chapter 4. She uses the philosopher Jacques Derrida and builds off of his ideology to come to the conclusion that “gender is a language, a system of meanings and symbols, along with the rules, privileges, and punishments pertaining to their use−for power and sexuality…” (35). Wilchins points out that language is flawed in the sense that it can only get us so far. There are certain things we can talk about with language and certain things we simply cannot, for “language favor the Same” (35). So, when people blur the lines of the gender binary, it’s difficult for us to talk about it as a society because language does not allow us that privilege. For example, a trans woman is often not seen as a “real” woman, but rather someone just trying to mimic a woman. Yet, as Wilchins later points out, how do we define a “real” woman? Furthermore, why do these categories of two genders seem to be so exclusive?

This leads Wilchins to dive into Foucault and his theories surrounding power. The authoritarian, end-all-be-all attitude of science often prevents us from obtaining true knowledge. “…the new Science was not interested in knowledge about Sex, but rather power over it” (53.) The discourse that our society has created around gender only allows us to make sense of two certain types of bodies (male and female), which often times makes people who push the binaries of “objects of discourse, not participants in it” (61). Wilchins speaks to repressive and discursive power, and their effects on our perspectives of queerness and what it means to be queer. Which further prompts Wilchins to question our perspectives on sex, something we have often thought of as set in stone and unchangeable. However, intersex people often fall into a very blurry category of sex, one of which our society does not know how to conceptualize, which has in turn led to doctors performing procedures on intersex babies at birth to give them a “real” sex.

Wilchins ties the binaries of race into the binaries of sex. Society has placed significant meaning on what it means to be white and black in this country, just as it has placed significant meaning on what it means to be a man and a woman in this country. “…a central problem for gender theory has been that no matter what telling points are made about gender, Sex lurks right behind, pulling everything right back in the direction of immutable biology” (84). It seems to be that one can just not deconstruct sex. It is an irrefutable Truth. However, Wilchins points out that if this was the case, then we wouldn’t have to teach children what their sex is. If sex were actually an irrefutable Truth, children would just know this about themselves. Wilchins argues that perhaps sex is just another way for society and science to apply cultural meaning to differences that may not be as different as we presume.

The last quarter of the book is quite dense. Wilchins explores post-modernism, its effects on queer theory, and the critiques of it as well. She then explores the deconstruction of race, and how it is much less widely acceptable to deconstruct race than it is to deconstruct gender. Wilchins describes that perhaps race is a “matter of identification created by shared experience and cultural memory” (111). She continues to intertwine race and gender by writing about gendering race and racing gender, stating that the two cannot be separated and by talking about one, you must always talk about the other. Then Wilchins introduces Butler and the problem of identity. The categories of man and women are troubling to both Wilchins and Butler, for “assuming commonality to any identity…can mean assuming a unity that doesn’t exist in reality” (124). So, perhaps Wilchins did answer one of her big questions. Women as a category and identity is something our society has created and bound to us, when in fact, being a woman is far too nuanced to condense into one group.

Throughout Queer Theory, Gender Theory, Wilchins carefully writes about and constructs extremely perplexing and layered topics. The single greatest strength of this book is the way intersectionality continues to come up again and again. It is never neglected, and Wilchins always acknowledges that these concepts must be viewed with several different lenses, in order to fully grasp the complexity of them. The way she writes about race and gender in conversation with each other is necessary for a book like this, but nevertheless still extremely intricately difficult. Wilchins makes sure to never let the reader forget that in order to try and deconstruct gender, one must look at nearly all aspects of our society. She gracefully points out to us that even spaces in which we may think of as un-gendered, actually still are gendered, for it is hard to escape the gender binary society has created. However, as prevalent as intersectionality is throughout this book, at times it was difficult to fully follow. I found myself questioning whom this book was directed towards, and if it was directed towards an audience of which does not identify as LGBTQ, then perhaps it could have been too dense for them. The book is a relatively quick read, however if one has not done previous research on queer theory, then Wilchins’ probably would not be a good introduction to it.

As a Gender & Sexuality Studies major, I very much enjoyed reading this book. It was written concisely and included several real life examples, which sometimes theory fails to do. The book was relatable for me, as I’m sure it was for many others. Wilchins included several philosophers and theorists throughout the book and framed them in a way that was easy to understand and apply to her argument. I believe it would be a great read for others studying queer theory, however as mentioned before, perhaps too dense for someone just introducing themselves to the topic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Wilchins, Riki Anne. Queer Theory, Gender Theory: An Instant Primer. Los Angeles:

Alyson, 2004. Print.

The Gender Binary in Relation to Dance

The music video Sergei Polunin in “Take Me to Church” by Hozier is able to reveal assumptions commonly held in dance around gender.

The camera work is steady. The video starts with a shot of the ceiling and then descends down to Sergei Polunin. For most of the video the camera is a short ways away, however, it’s focus is on him intermittently adding to the intensity of emotion in certain moments. For some shots the camera is close up and filming from almost beneath Sergei Polunin, this interesting style adds a dimension into how he is presented.

The white wooden church like structure Sergei Polunin is dancing in is expansive. The space is simple, there is a loft in a small portion of the second story but beyond that the space is open. The walls are incomplete, the frames showing, and the windows appear to be large holes in the walls. The floor is solid stone tiles of a light gray color, slightly dirty. The light beaming in is bright and glows in white fog that is rolling over the floor.

Sergei Polunin is dressed plainly in tight skin tone shorts and dirtied ballet shoes. He is wearing less than is generally worn for classical ballet. Additionally he is showing a multitude of tattoos. The tattoos are bold and dark on his stomach and sides. Sergei Polunin also has tattoos on his arms, wrist, hand, foot and chest. His hair is dark strait and growing out to be a little shaggy.

The song Sergei Polunin is dancing to, “Take Me to Church” by Hozier, has deep emotionality and is a great coupling with Sergei Polunin’s style of dance. Within the song there is variation of intensity that compliments the burst of action in the choreography.  

There is a dichotomy between his fully controlled spins and the moments where Sergei Polunin holds his head, his body seeming to break down. Sergei Polunin demonstrates an opposition and union of movement, one example of this is his ability to collapse all the way to the floor with grace. His movements are decisive and even as he is incorporating modern dance into ballet there is still form and structure to his movements. The motion of Sergei Polunin starts slow, tensioned and then unfurls into ballet spins and flashier choreography. Always returning back to ballet dance he is able to add emotionally charged moments that are almost theatrical in nature. There is an emotionality in his moves, particularly when there is a softer moment in the music.

In ballet there are many contrasts between classic female form and classic male form. The way Sergei Polunin holds his head is loose. He begins the piece with his hands on his hair bending his head down. His head is lifted but not tensioned. The way his head moves adds to the burst of motion he has and the emotionality. This contrasts greatly with the way female ballet dancers hold their heads which are generally very poised and tilted slightly up at the chin. The feminine head position is held with grace and firm ease.

The hands are important in ballet. In feminine form they are held softy with the second finger extended out just slightly. They remain smooth, slow changing and delicate. However in male classical ballet the hands are interrupted from delicacy often by lifting a women or focusing on quick burst of muscularity. Sergei Polunin has some form to his fingers during specific ballet moves but he also has flat hands for catching himself on the ground and curled finger pushing through his hair. He also at one point makes a fists with his hands which is something not often done by classically trained female ballerinas.  

The way Sergei Polunin expands his limbs through the space is mostly in quick fast points of movement where he is expanding and contracting often. There is a focus on concentrated muscular feats. He has a looseness of his limbs as certain points. Feminine classical ballet is different, the movements are generally supposed to be slow deliberate extensions that show off flexibility and endurance. The motion through space is graceful and full of very structured form.

Sergei Polunin’s movements come in explosive bursts, the focus on agility and strength. The motions are an embodiment of masculinity, protruding, angular and quick. This assertive action can easily tie into gender stereotypes in general and the conception that our contemporary society still holds about gender. In the gender binary men are noted for strength, assertive attitudes and loud demeanors. Differing from this, women are noted for grace, delicacy and consideration. Women have been expected to uphold this smooth action and water-like nature. Considering the role society has placed on women it is no surprise that femininity in dance is associated with smooth graceful movements. There is an emphasis on posture, detail, fluidity and rounding of the body.

Sergei Polunin’s movements, to “Take Me to Church” by Hozier, uncovers some of the gender bias and associations that are so deeply ingrained in our society, that are reflected in the form, movement and posture of dance.

Kids Don’t Care About Their Genitals

One of the most engaging topics of the gender and sexuality field is the categorization of children into male and female genders when they are born. The idea that a doctor defines a child’s gender at birth is a socially constructed practice rooted in defining gender as male or female based on genitalia. This idea of gender identity will strengthen as children grow up, through media exposure and toys they are given to play with. Parents often reinforce these stereotypes and buy their children either “boy” or “girl” toys. These gender specific toys usually differ from each other in color and theme. Toys that are labeled as “girl toys” are often pink or purple. They are usually princess themed toys, horses, and replica home appliances. Toys that are supposedly meant for boys are action figures, cars, and LEGOs for example.

The meme I found challenges these stereotypes of gender specific toys by poking fun at them. It was originally created by Kristen Myers. The meme gives advice on “How to tell if a toy is for boys or girls?” It guides the viewers on how toys should only be categorized as adults’ toys and children’s toys by their intended use. If a toy is meant to be operated with your genitals, it is a toy for an adult and not supposed to be used by kids. If it is not intended to beused with your genitals it is a toy for kids of all genders. This attacks the gender stereotypes because it says that toys that are meant for kids are for all genders and not specifically for boys or girls. My other supporting piece of media exemplifies this gendering of kids toys. It is a toy commercial by the popular toy company Barbie. The company is advertising their new product, a pink toy kitchen. In this commercial a girl calls for her friend and asks if she wants to help her to make dinner on Friday. The commercial goes on and the girls cook imaginary dinner using the Barbie Gourmet Kitchen. The main focus in this commercial is to picture how much fun the girls are having while doing things that are “natural for girls.” It would be “unnatural” to have two boys or even one boy and one girl cooking food with this toy. It is noticeable that the girl who asks for her friend to come over is wearing pink dress, and her friend is wearing red and yellow outfit. This shows us how this toy is meant to be “girls toy” because of the stereotypic appearance from both of the girls in this commercial. This idea of selling replica home appliances to girls emphasizes the femininity associated with domestic work. Girls are taught to enjoy cooking and other tasks around the house.

Target audience and purposes of these two media pieces are very different. The meme is meant to entertain people who understand the idea of having non-gender specific toys, and that it is totally normal for children of all genders to play with any toys. For people, who believe that it is unnatural for boys to play with “girls toys” or vice versa, this meme is educating through its use of humor. When kids see this picture, they are encouraged to think of where their toys fall in this category and how all toys can be gender neutral regardless of color or other factors. For the Barbie Gourmet Kitchen commercial, the target audience is young girls ages 5-10. It is also targeted to the parents of these girls, who are buying the product for their daughters. The purpose of this commercial is to sell the product and that is why it is emphasizing the fun the girls are having. The joyful music and happy girls are intended to make parents think that this product is good for their daughters. This commercial is especially targeted to traditional families, where gender roles are emphasized and parents want their daughters grow up to become traditional feminine women.

Both of these pieces have multiple details that are trying to catch reader or viewer’s attention. The use of big font in the meme pops up and gives the meme a title. The title presents the idea that the meme is challenging gender norms. Like all memes, this one is easy and quick to read. The main purpose here is to be funny and educate the audience by using humor as a tool. Little details in this meme are important. The colors that are used play a significant role. The question “Do you operate the toy with your genitalia?” is in a blue circle because it represents the neutral part of this meme. The line that says yes leads to a red circle with a text “this toy is not for children” and the other line saying no leads to yellow circle with a text “it is for children of all genders.” It is important that the gender-neutral answer is in yellow circle because yellow is considered one of the gender-neutral colors. The adult toy answer is in a red circle because it can be considered “dirty” or “naughty.” The use of the word genitals increases the humor of this meme because talking openly about genitalia can be considered funny. In the TV commercial, the high tempo and joyful music, the girls with high-pitched voices, and the decorated room are details that draw the viewers’ attention. The commercial’s purpose is to attract people and create a happy feeling, and this commercial does it.

The Barbie Gourmet Kitchen TV commercial supports the stereotypes that the meme is trying to challenge. The femininity and masculinity that the kids’ toys represent are being challenged when kids are encouraged to think about these issues themselves. Memes like the one analyzed above try to make people understand that traditional gender roles are outdated and children of this generation should not be forced to accept the gender assigned by a doctor at birth.

Works Cited:

Michelle, B. (2014). How to tell if a toy’s for boys or girls…. Retrieved September 17, 2016, from https://secretlyfabulous.wordpress.com/2014/12/07/how-to-tell-if-a-toys-for-boys-or-girls

Toys Commercials Barbie gourment kitchen Kuchnia Barbie Mattel–. (2014) Retrieved September 17, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Opbg3lxserc

My Anaconda Don’t Want None…of the Intersectional Norms

The famous pop and rap musical artist Nicki Minaj debuted the music video for her chart-topping single Anaconda in the summer of 2014 and it became an immediately viral sensation. With over 617 million views on YouTube, the video homage to female physicality has been met with a wide range of opinions, some honoring it for promoting sexual liberation and some abhorring it for vulgarity and objectification. The intended audience of this video was certainly young, probably those born mostly in the 1990s and perhaps the 1980s. This intention is evidenced by the millennial-aimed product placement, use of contemporary slang, and the song’s content reflecting the relaxation of societal norms around sex over the past few decades. However, the nature of the Internet and the immediate infamous reputation of Anaconda presumably made the audience much wider than just twentysomethings. The obvious superficial task of this video is to entertain, but Minaj herself claimed on Twitter that it was “impacting culture.”[1] The Anaconda video does present undisguised sexually imagery that reflects aspects of culture and the sexual, racial, and gender norms that pervade it. A closer look at the media, however, presents a challenging contradiction as to whether Minaj subverts these norms, or plays into them and encourages their prevalence within a societal framework.

The Anaconda video presents the viewer with four minutes and forty-nine seconds of hypersexual and choreographed cinematography to accompany the song. However, in just a twenty-second clip from 0:40-1:00 we see many of the images that Minaj repeats and that offer insight into the norms she is representing. Minaj presents the following scene: several individuals, all wearing little clothing, dancing in the jungle. Minaj herself, lip-syncing to the slang and double entendre filled lyrics of her single and adorned in gold, is the clear focus of the scene. She is surrounded by several other people, all dressed in black, appearing in various poses illustrating their flexibility on the wooden structure on which they all stand. The scene features copious amounts of twerking, a dance move closely associated with black hip-hop culture. Some people have argued that, with this scene, Minaj is “calling out society’s view of black women as exotic and animalistic,” adding to the argument made in her tweet that she is impacting culture.[2] Minaj is certainly presenting this norm, and, though she attempts to interrupt it, her broad audience may not pick up on her effort to push against this norm; consequently, the video may reinforce the hypersexual, exotic stereotype of black women for those individuals who do not realize that Minaj is trying to ironically undercut those very norms. The broader audience to which I refer includes the over 600 million viewers of the YouTube video, as well as many others who have heard the song in another context. Minaj attempts to undercut these norms by seemingly playing directly into them. That is, she blatantly plays the role of a hyper-sexual, exotic (literally set in a jungle) black woman to prove that she controls her sexuality and can ironically inhabit this stereotype as a way to push back against it. This is recognizable to someone who has studied gender and sexuality in a formal setting, or is simply exposed to GSS theory. However, with no contextual understanding of the stereotype Minaj is undercutting, and no knowledge of her intentions to “impact culture,” I imagine many viewers saw the video as reinforcement of the stereotype.

Within the twenty-second clip previously mentioned, Minaj and the other individuals in the jungle scene play into the existing paradigm within American culture of fetishizing lesbian eroticism. While the contemporary United States still very much exist within a strict heteronormative matrix, there has existed for many years an obsession with eroticism between women. Even while sex between two men has been considered taboo and unacceptable, sex between women has been labeled as hot and sexy, with hours upon hours of so-called lesbian fetish pornography readily available, for free, on a host of internet porn websites. Minaj’s Anaconda reinforces the paradigm of lesbian eroticism being connected to a fetishized sense of desire—male desire, as the paradigm exists in the modern United States. Within the twenty-second jungle clip, the audience witnesses several images reinforcing this norm: another woman mounts Minaj and twerks as Minaj caresses the other woman’s thigh, and the clip features several other moments on intensely intimate touching between all of the women, again within the framework of exotic, animalistic sexuality.

Many have argued that, through Anaconda, Minaj has paid homage to female physicality and sexuality and, in turn, created some visual representation of sexual liberation. However, if we examine Anaconda more thoroughly, it may present an inaccurate representation of how power structures operate in society. If power is simply repressive, Minaj’s hypersexual ode to female bodies and sexualities would be seen as liberating and powerful as it pushes against the power that tells society not to talk about sex, particularly if you identify as a woman. However, the intersectional power dynamics explored in Minaj’s video are clearly more complicated than her simply pushing back against the power repressing her sexuality. Again, a wider audience not exposed to excepted thought and theory in gender and sexuality studies may not understand that she is attempting to make a statement about women—black women in particular—and the repressive stereotypes and norms under which they exist sexually and in general. Thus, the video may in fact reinforce those norms and stereotypes.

Minaj’s video as a whole presents a complex mixture of messages for the audience, especially an audience knowledgeable about Foucault’s understanding of how we internalize power. While Minaj may be attempting to subvert the norm of male sexuality and female submissiveness, her video for Anaconda nevertheless presents a host of images that reinforce certain intersectional stereotypes of race, gender, and sexuality, all the while operating within the male gaze. Though she displays acts of female homoeroticism, they are presented within the fetishized matrix of lesbian sexuality popular in the porn industry and mainstream media. Nicki Minaj’s video appears on the surface a strong step forward for female sexual liberation and I, personally, respect her attempt to impact culture and challenge norms by ironically embodying an exaggerated version of a commonly held stereotype. However, the Anaconda music video presents challenging contradictions as it plays into lesbian fetish norms, and may in turn simply reinforce the stereotype of the sexually liberated, exotic and erotic black woman.

[1] Nicki Minaj, Twitter post, 21 July, 2015, 3:23 P.M., https://twitter.com/NICKIMINAJ

[2] Mueller, Kate. “‘Aaconda’: Why You Should Watch Nicki’s Video Again.” The Huffington Post, November, 11, 2014. Web. September 16, 2016.

 

Fighting Against Conformity

In the TV show, Orange is the New Black Carrie Black also known as “Boo” is an inmate at Litchfield women’s prison. Her character can be described as outspoken because she is never afraid to say what she feels or to be the way she is. In the episode “Finger in the Dyke” there is a lot that is learned about Boo. The title implies the episode will focus on the sexuality and the way Boo identifies. It is a very graphic name, but it relates to the way the character behaves because those two aspects of her are very important in the way she presents herself in the show; Boo is a very complex character and she depicts one of the many sexual and gender identities that exist. She describes herself as a Butch Lesbian. She has the word Butch tattooed on her arm and she feels it is a really big part of her identity and something she has had to fight for. This show has a lot of underlying messages in general about issues dealing with gender and sexuality, but the scene I wanted to focus on was on season 3 episode 4. It is a scene where Carrie Black “Boo” is young and her mother wants her to wear a dress, but she refuses to wear it. The scene starts off with a very unhappy looking teenage Boo wearing a dress. Her mother in the background seems hopeful that her daughter will finally listen to her and stop dressing in ways that make her stand out. The mother then goes on to say that she shouldn’t try and go against the expectations of society because that would bring the wrong kind of attention. What this suggests about society is that there is a set of structures dictating the behaviors and characteristics of each of the sexes, and to stray away from the expectations set will only result in judgment and ostracism. In society, there is a clear gender binary that has dictated the way males and females have to look like and behave like. The mother then walks away angrily as the father comes in to help her “deal” with the situation and try to convince Boo to wear the dress. The father takes a different approach to “dealing with” Carrie’s opposition to wearing the dress. There are a couple of things he says that help with understanding the way people view those who fall outside the gender norms. He pleads Carrie to just wear the dress to make her mother happy. What can be interpreted from this is how conformity plays a role in society. In the scene, the imagery is very strong because it shows just how intense it can be to not conform. You have the mother who is getting really upset and calling her daughter a bitch because she doesn’t want to fit into the mold that her mother is trying to force her into. Boo is very visibly upset, and she also refuses to give in right away. People conform to the gender norms they don’t always identify with because they want to stay in the boundaries set by society in order to keep everyone happy and prevent conflicts. The father then goes to talk about her teenage hormones. What he is implying from this is he thinks what she is going through is a phase because of her hormones as a teenager. He is being dismissive of the way she feels. Boo expresses this to him because she brings up how she thinks it is not a good enough reason to change the way she is in order to make other people happy.

This is something people who fall outside of the “traditional gender norms” have to deal with. Overall, the scene tries to argue how there are pre-set gender norms that people are expected to fit into. Society has built this idea of what a young girl is supposed to look like, and if the person does not fit the mold, like wearing a dress on picture day, then there is a lot of judgment directed at her. In the reading “Female Masculinity” by Judith Halberstam she talks about being a tomboy; in society being a tomboy comes with difficulties because it is seen as a phase and once the girl goes on to her pubescent stage, then the pressure to conform to the rules of femininity are forced upon her by the people in society and, like in Boo’s case, her parents.  The scene is especially powerful because it brings to the forefront the way family can be at the center of trying to push people into conforming to what society wants. One one hand it is because of the concern that they will be judged by others, but it is also on some level because they also believe it is the way things should be.

The intention of the clip is to show the oppressive nature of gender conformity. The scene focuses on how there is an expectation for young girls to be complacent and to behave in a certain way. They have to wear dresses and have to not want to stand out. The mother mentions how there is a bad kind of attention that Boo is trying to get is not the “good kind.” She brings up the way other kids will make fun of her and that plays into the role of how people are forced to conform because of the way other people will treat them. A lot of what happened in the scene was touched upon in the documentary “Three to Infinity: Beyond Two Genders.” There is this idea that forces people into these two binary roles in society when in fact peoples’ likes and dislikes can go beyond that. People will identify differently and that makes people uncomfortable because it is something they do not see often because there are so many social constructs around who people have to be according to the standards set by society. Anyone who doesn’t meet the criteria for what it means to be feminine or what it is to be masculine is looked at weird because people don’t know how to categorize them. Boo is “Butch” and this identity takes on different characteristics and intersects masculine and feminine traits. The intersection defies the binary spectrum which is something people are not used to seeing, therefore leading to judgments against her. It is an effective in portraying the struggles of gender conformity because it shows the strain on relationships and the anguish of the teens trying to push against the behavioral expectations of their gender.

The target audience would be the younger generation. The show does have a lot of younger women as the main characters, but it is still graphic enough to not have the target audience be young teenagers. This affects how the show is written because it can be more explicit with the way it tries to explain things as well as it can focus on a variety of issues that women have to face. This is important because the show does expose the viewers to stories they may have never thought about before. The show does go beyond the plot of piper chapman in order to increase awareness into the lives of the other women in the prison. The episode. in particular, is trying to make people understand that there are a lot of limits to the traditional binary roles and that there are people who identify outside of them. People have to fight all of their lives to justify who they are if they do not fall into one of the two categories designated by society, and they have to put up with judgments constantly while trying to defend who they are. It is necessary to expand the spectrum of identification and move away from the binary in order to understand gender identity and expression, as well as sexuality, come in various forms.

 

Works Cited

“Finger in the Dyke.” Orange is the New Black. Netflix. 12 June 2015. Web.

Halberstam, Judith. Female Masculinity. Durham: Duke UP, 1998. 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>