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.

The Intersection of Sex and Power in Afghanistan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Humor Reinforces Pre-Existing Social Structures Rather Than Satirizing Them

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“9 Non-threatening Leadership Strategies for Women,” was a heavily shared graphic article during the summer of 2016. Sarah Cooper published the article on her satirical “office humor blog” known as The Cooper Review, which generates a variety of cartoons, listicles, and videos under the descriptor tagline, “Funny because it’s true.” However, as I dig into the complexities of the article’s simplistic assumptions, this tagline becomes less ironic and more revealing in how the media it promotes is actively harmful in reinforcing particular norms and binaries.

The graphic article begins with an introduction that suggests the audience (females in business work environments), the antagonist (males and “the patriarchy”), and the purpose (how to alter female leadership style in order to avoid negative perception from men): “In this fast-paced business world, female leaders need to make sure they’re not perceived as pushy, aggressive or competent. One way to do that is to alter your leadership style to account for the (sometimes) fragile male ego.” The full introduction, brimming with sarcasm and humor, sets the reader up for the satire to come: “Should men accept powerful women and not feel threatened by them? Yes. Is that asking too much? IS IT? Sorry I didn’t mean to get aggressive there.” The piece goes on to present nine graphics, each with its own caption and “strategy” for women in the workplace. This framework alludes to the “corporate manual” and variations of leadership strategy guides in the corporate world. These guides permeate the business world in the form of books, magazines, online publications, and are sometimes specified towards women, such as Levo League, an online platform dedicated to providing resources, advice, and connections to businesswomen.
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Each of the graphics in the article is a colored square framed by the article’s name “9 Non-threatening Leadership Strategies for Women” on top and
The Cooper Review branding on the bottom. Between that framing, bold black letters spell out “#1” through “#9” and range from simple actions (e.g. “sharing your ideas” and “emailing a request”) to responding to external incidents (e.g. “someone steals your idea” and “hearing a sexist comment”). Each square is split by a black line, the left side title “THREATENING” highlighted black and enclosed in sarcastic quotes, while the right side title “NON-THREATENING” is not highlighted and is not enclosed in quotes, making it more approachable. Underneath each title is a simple gray scale drawing of a woman or a woman with a man and a text bubble above the woman’s head. The only differences between the left and right sides of each graphic are the characters’ facial expressions as linked to the text (“threatening” vs. “non-threatening”), showing that the “non-threatening” responses are supposedly more polite and happier for all those involved. The left to right transition, imitating the normal English reading pattern, also subconsciously implies which situation is the “right” way for women to act in order to be respected by men.

Despite the biting sarcastic humor of the graphics and their respective captions, the graphic article makes several assumptions that detract from its explicit attempt to undermine particular gender societal expectations. Most glaringly obvious throughout the nine graphics is the reinforcement of the gender binary and gender stereotypes as well as a complete lack of racial and body size diversity. Cooper’s article is fixated on women versus men and their respective perceptions in a corporate work environment. Every “woman” has long hair (either white or black), white skin, is thin, and wears some sort of blouse or suit jacket. Almost every graphic also includes the image of a “man,” also white with either white, gray, or black hair and a collared shirt and/or tie. In promoting such homogeneous images though, the graphic article reinforces a deeper problem of norms in the corporate world. The graphic images only present two categories of gender identity, one type of body size, one race, and most likely one social class, which perpetuates the same normature that the aforementioned “corporate guides” already promote. By showing one type of person, Cooper falls right into line with the large marketing structures that subconsciously promote homogeneous images and what is acceptable in the corporate world.

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Cooper’s #whitefeminism mission leaves out several gender and racial identities, but she also goes further as to pinpoint and use male stereotypes. For example, “#6 When You Already Knew That,” depicts a “threatening” standpoint in which the female character tells the male character that she has already explained something to him. The “non-threatening” side presents the woman saying she would love to hear him explain it again. In the caption below, Cooper states “Men love explaining things.” While she might intend to present men as stereotypes in defiance of the generalized representations of women, such a statement doesn’t lead to a productive outcome for her assumed female audience. In breaking down expectations of women in the workplace, she builds up and reinforces stereotypes and expectations of men. In the last graphic, “#9 When You Disagree,” the only change between “threatening” and “non-threatening” is the fake mustache on the female character. She claims that wearing a mustache makes you “more man-like.” But what does “man-like” even mean? Having facial hair? “Growing a pair”? Although Cooper intends this comment as a joke, there’s also an unfortunate underlying assumption about what masculinity even means. But, her assumption that men receive more respect in a work environment due to their biology also reveals a subtler point about gender characteristics and perceptions. As we discussed in class, butch and femme characteristics receive different treatment outside the LGTBQ+ community, and perhaps more masculine qualities (i.e. butch) receive a greater degree of respect in the office environment. Studies have shown a counter-intuitive wage gap in which gay men receive a smaller salary than straight men while lesbian women receive a larger salary than straight women. Not only does the graphic article present the characters as cisgender, they also appear heterosexual, which brings us back to another corporate normature that Cooper sustains. One of our takeaways from the Wilchins piece discussed in class was that with sexual queerness comes a level of gender queerness and vice versa. Meanwhile, the characters in Cooper’s graphics seem to all fit the socially constructed gender and sexual norms that the typical corporate guide would also promote, whether intentionally or not.

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Cooper sets out to critique and disrupt the man/woman dynamic in the corporate workplace and model that has been promoted by countless publications, advertisers, and media. She focuses on women’s oppression in the workplace and uses a male/female inversion to prove the lack of respect women receive. However, this graphic article fails to act as a didactic piece and comes across as only entertainment because she only inverts the heteronormative male/female relationship and reproduces other homogeneous racial, sexual, and class expectations in the corporate world. If she wanted it to be more than a piece of entertainment, highlighting the intersectionality of oppression in the workplace would ultimately teach and flip her audience’s expectations of who really does work in the business world.

An Analysis of Facebook Misogynists

Last year, in my high school class’s Facebook group there was a debate I’d like to discuss as it still infuriates me to this day. For context, I’m from a very small, affluent town in Connecticut. My town is known for being quite liberal, generally pretty progressive , and very well-educated. The public school that we all attended is ranked by U.S. News as being number 4 in the state and number 184 in the country. 99% of students who graduate from our high school go to college. For comparison, the national average of high school graduates who enroll in college is 65.9% according to The New York Times (2014). The percentage of Americans who actually attend and graduate from college is even lower. Every single person involved in these conversations is now attending a reputable college, including University of Indiana, Southern Methodist University, and University of Michigan. I don’t say this to brag, but rather to contextualize these comments and explain why I was so shocked by them. Given our shared background and education, this incident was unexpected. To further contextualize this, this occurred on social media with the knowledge that is was a form of mass communication. The people involved were aware of who would be seeing their posts. In order to analyze this, I will be examining some screenshots I have from the private group in which they were posted, and relating their contents to a variety gender and sexuality studies concepts, such as gaslighting, identity politics, and misogyny.

Despite having been graduated for nearly a year at the point when this incident occurred, someone decided resurrect our class Facebook group by creating a post in support of Donald Trump. When a fellow classmate, who happens to be female, spoke up about her dislike of the candidate, two male students felt the need to respond with the following comments: “95% of Hillary 12814413_964920363584441_1240800165149743160_nsupporters are women…BOOM roasted” and “You’re allowed to vote from the kitchen these days?” These comments led me to believe that these boys thought that female supporters of Hillary Clinton do not count and are invalidated in their belief simply because they are women.

 

As degrading as these comments were, what happened next was, to me and to many others, absolutely enraging. Another former classmate of ours posted a porn video that depicted a female porn actor advocating for a woman’s right to voice her opinion, only to be interrupted by a male porn actor shoving his penis in her mouth. Many people, including myself, were shocked that this boy would look up this video and post it in a group that was intended for school-related information. Despite this, many of my former classmates, both male and female, liked this post before group administrators (who were former student government members, so ex-classmates as well) removed the post. Prior to this however, more hatred and misogyny were spewed at the students who asked for it to be removed. Though it was a relatively small group of boys participating in this hatred, I was still shocked at the number of students participating and what they believed was okay to say, particularly coming from as liberal and well-educated of as place that we do. Ironically, this all occurred on International Women’s Day (March 8th), which, in my mind, solidified the point that we need this day to celebrate women seeing as we still face this misogyny, even from our classmates and supposed friends who are college educated.

I’ve included some of the comments below. These comments included such things as “#nomeansyes,” followed by “and yes means anal,” which reflected an incident we had during our Senior year, when the Women’s Empowerment Club created a rape awareness campaign, and put posters around the school with the statement “Rape is not a joke,” many of which were vandalized with the phrase “lol”. This displays the mindset of many of the students involved in this debate, where they truly don’t see women’s rights or rape (which certainly extends to more than just women) as an issue.
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Their comments showed to me that these boys see gender as a clear dichotomy; there are only men and women. Not only that, they perceive these two genders in a clear hierarchy where women are the lesser of the two. Their statements not only diminished women but also served to reinforce this dichotomy and created a notion of having to “choose sides” between men and women, or even between feminist and misogynist. The fact that this one boy thought he was “roasting” Hillary and her supporters by calling them women furthers this notion as it’s clear he thought this was an insult of some sort. Furthermore, this displayed a weak and simplistic version of identity politics, where these boys tried to create a sense of comradery and alliance because of their gender. Their beliefs are being shaped by their gender identity and the convictions that come with that. I believe that many of these students, as white, cisgender men, who were raised in a very affluent town, have never been the subject of oppression or faced anyone telling them they are lesser. Most of them have never truly faced hardship, which I can say confidently as I have known the majority of them since they were in diapers. They are able to make these statements because of their position in society.

The student who posted the video defended his actions the next day with this post below. He felt he was justified because, supposedly, girls from our class had messaged him telling him that they agreed that the other girls in the group, who were defending their right to be seen12814811_964485743627903_3451060346602791121_n as equal, were being ridiculous. Because he had some support from females, it was okay. This again ties into the idea of identity politics where he is attempting to justify his beliefs on the basis of his gender and the support of the other gender. Additionally, it could be argued that he is gaslighting, where he is manipulating others into questioning their own beliefs. He refers to this whole situation as a “joke,” trying to diminish the impact of his words and mold the perception of his actions. He tries to defend his own character, implying that if he’s a kind person he couldn’t have done something offensive,insisting he’s “never said a mean thing” to any of his opposers. This likely won’t be shocking, but he was not a kind person in school. He considered himself a class clown of sorts, and was constantly making fun of others, but always under the guise of humor.

The outrage that followed these posts were undermined by the original posters complaining that feminists don’t have a sense of humor and that they couldn’t take a joke, which, from their perspective, is clearly these posts were. The people involved in both these posts and the anti-rape poster incident (which are groups that include many of the same members, unsurprisingly) excuse their words and actions with humor. Words have power. Actions have power. They are not excused because you think they are funny. There were many comments in this thread that told people to “take a joke” or “chill out” or “get a better sense of humor”. However, I believe that the comments they made are rude and insulting, and should certainly not be taken as a joke. This idea that women don’t have a sense of humor when they try to defend their rights as people is derogatory and degrading. This “joke culture” is harmful because it invalidates feminists’ claims as humorless without at12814530_964920476917763_3029247096580930692_ntempting to understand their arguments, valuing humor as the most important factor. It also attempts to minimize the impact of the offending statements and the culpability of those who make them because they “aren’t meant to be taken seriously,” which is problematic because not only are the perpetrators not seeing the other side of the argument, they often don’t even recognize that there is a problem. They don’t see that feminism and comedy can coexist, and that one does not negate the other.

The claim was made that “feminism definitely doesn’t have a sense of humor,” to which I must respond: I’m sorry that I don’t find rape funny. I’m sorry that you think I’m a “bitch” for arguing that all humans –  male, female, or otherwise – should be seen as equal. I’m sorry that I can’t “just chill my nips” and accept injustices. I’m sorry that completely undermining another human and treating them like subhuman for factors that are out of their control is not hilarious to me. If that means that I don’t have a sense of humor, then so be it. I’d rather be able to see the value of a human than be able to take a joke. I’d rather be a feminist than a comedian.

Freud and Feminism: The Concept of Penis Envy

When the girl begins to notice differences in the genitals of males and females, she feels that she is missing something. As this feeling intensifies, it develops into penis envy.

 

If anyone has ever been in an introductory psychology course or have a little knowledge in the field of psychology, often times, the name that is mentioned the most is Sigmund Freud. Freud is best known for his work on studying the unconscious state of mind and how that relates to human behaviors. For many individuals, Freud was the psychologist who studied and focused on sexual drives and aggressive drives and how that affects behaviors. Although many psychologists would argue that Freud is the father of psychology, many controversies exist on his theories of child development.

Perhaps, the most controversial and most common theories that Freud developed were the Oedipus and Electra complexes. The Oedipus complex is the idea that young boys develop sexual attraction on their mother and want to posses her, while displacing the father. The Electra complex contains a similar concept for young girls and that they develop sexual attraction on their father, while displacing their mother. Freud explains that because boys feel that their father is a very powerful figure that they feel threaten by them. As a result, boys will try to become more like their father in order to remove that threat.

While Freud continues to develop the idea of Oedipus complex and explains it in depth about the feelings that boys develop and the stages that boys have to go through in order to successfully overcome this complex, his explanation of the Electra complex seems more incomplete. In fact, Freud explains that the Electra complex period ends for girls, when they come into the realization that they lack a penis and feel that they are missing something. As this feeling intensifies, girls being to develop penis envy. This concept of penis envy will result in normal femininity and in attempt to fill their missing hole, females will desire a child boy of her own in order to substitute for a penis. Due to these concepts, many individuals have viewed Freud as sexist.

This specific body of text that describes the Oedipus and Electra complex can be found in the text Three Psychologies: Perspectives from Freud, Skinner, and Rogers written by Nye with the intended audience of psychology students. The purpose of this text is to unravel different perspectives of psychology in terms of human behaviors and to explain the concepts of personality and how certain behaviors develop through different schools of thoughts.

While the text itself is meant to be a tool for education, these theories from Freud have been argued from a feminist’s viewpoint. According to Risman, she explains in her text Gender as Structure, gender merely exists as a result of a social structure. In contrast to Freud, Risman argues that in order to analyze human behaviors, it is important to understand how social structure acts as a constraint for individuals as well as how and why these individuals chose a specific structure over the other.

Risman continues to explain that gender as a structure exists at three different levels: the individual level, the interaction level, and the institution level. In terms of the interaction level, men and women face different expectations when they are filling their identities. This is apparent in Freud’s theory of the Oedipus and Electra complex because even at a young age, gender exists as a structure and different expectations already exist for them.

In Freud’s Oedipus theory, the norms of gender are represented when he explains that boys view their fathers as powerful figures, therefore, in order to overcome the Oedipus complex, they feel the need to identify with their fathers and become more like them. Additionally, in the Electra complex, the gender norm that exists is that females feel inferior when compared to males. As a result, females begin to develop penis envy. Freud explains that the only way for females to overcome penis envy is by having a child boy of their own. Thus, implying that men are superior to women. These norms are simply being represented in the text and are not reinforced though further exploration of the Oedipus and Electra complex.

In an attempt to respond to Freud’s penis envy, feminist psychoanalyst, Karen Horney developed the concept of womb and/or vagina envy. This concept explains that men may feel envious of the biological functions of the female sex, which includes pregnancy and breast-feeding. Horney proposed that men experience womb envy more powerfully than woman experience penis envy because men feel the need to criticize women more than woman feel the need to criticize men.

Nye’s text about the perspectives of Freud and of the different psychologist are very effective in achieving its intended purpose of educating students in psychology about the different schools of thought that exists in this field. As a psychology major reading this text, I couldn’t help but relate Freud’s theories this class. With some knowledge about feminism and gender, I felt defensive as I was reading this section of the text. Although the intended effect of this text was not to offend female students, I felt offended due to Freud’s explanation of the concept penis envy. As for myself, I don’t feel that I am missing something and I am not dependent on other men. I appreciate the female body that I have and do not feel the need to have a boy child in order to feel satisfied with myself.

 

References
Barbara Risman, “Gender as Structure” (1998)

Horney, Karen (1942). The collected works of Karen Horney (volume II). W.W. Norton Company, New York.

Nye, R. D. (2000). Three psychologies: Perspectives from Freud, Skinner, and Rogers. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.