Sunday, May 4, 2008

Love and Marriage: Go together like a horse and carriage?

"...This I tell you can't have one without the other."

-Frank Sinatra

It's interesting that Frank sang of such a combo when he didn't seem to have much luck in with either; marrying and divorcing several times. And this is not only a trend among the stars, it is a crisis seeping into over half the households in the United States. Or has it been "seeping" since the dawn of time? This is just what Stephanie Coontz, author of Marriage, a History, set out to debunk along with everything else about marriage.

This is, of course, no easy task as Coontz found out once she dove into her research. In her introduction she explains that this idea of the "marriage crisis" has always been present. People have always noted "the decay of marriage" and reflected on some sort of "Golden Age of Marriage" but really it never existed in the first place.(1) This "golden age", Coontz, is merely a retort to our dissatisfaction of the institution itself and the situations which accompany it. And really it all boils down to LOVE. Once we started marrying for love alone marriage no longer made sense. Ultimately, love fades and marriages end.

Chapter 1: The Radical Idea of Marrying for Love

Coontz delves into "love and marriage" more here by going over the history of many culture's rules and expectations of marriage. Surprisingly, marrying for love was often mocked, especially in medieval Europe, because love was considered a highly irrational emotion.(17-18) Coontz points out the differences between many cultural conceptions of marriage. Today, we often look at marriage as a great bond between two people, best friends and lovers but it has not always been this way. And monogamy was not always a common practice and consequently non-monogamy was accepted and practiced regularly. It was not uncommon for either spouse, primarily the man, to go elsewhere for sex. In some cultures keeping the birth family together was more important than getting married. As a Kiowa Indian woman said "a woman can always get another husband, but she has only one brother."(21) This highlights the extreme differences between one culture and the next.

Chapter 2: The Many Meanings of Marriage

In this chapter Coontz addresses the many definitions that have been given to marriage and then explains how they cannot apply to marriage. This was most interesting because I thought most anthropologists that defined marriage were generalizing and I don't see how a single definition could ever work. Every country has a different notion of what entails marriage. Of course Coontz was able to debunk each proposed definition of marriage. It's more complex than we would ever have thought. What is marriage? A institution involving a man and a woman, living together, having sex, cooperating economically? (26) Or is it a union of a man and a woman which bores a child and that child is legitimate? (27) I felt that the legitimacy of the child was the most shocking and upsetting aspect. The fact that some children were "illegitimate" or "bastards" because there parents we married or socially accepted. Why are we punishing children for something completely out of their control? I think it's nonsense and really appreciate what the Naskapi man said to the Frenchmen:

"You French people love only your own children; but we love all the children of our tribe."

It was also interesting to see how in-laws were cherished in many cultures. This is especially funny in comparison to even our pop culture where "the in-laws" are often horrific and unbearable. Many people have told me that if you are thinking about marrying someone you should try living with his family first because that will tell you whether or not it will work out. This does make sense to me but it also makes me kind of sad. Some cultures really cherish the connections and friendships they make through marriages but our society often loathes these bonds. (at least that's what I have seen.)

Chapter 3: The invention of Marriage

Where did marriage come from? That is a good question. Coontz digs really deep in this chapter beginning with the hunter-gatherers. She posits whether or not marriage was started to protect women or to oppress women. She finds that early on it was not one of the other. "The male-female pair w as the fundamental unit of economic survival and cooperation" and one could not fully function without the other.(38) When tools and technologies became more advanced some men "needed" more wives to keep up with their hunting. (43) Coontz then settles, saying that "marriage probably originated as an informal way of organizing sexual companionship, child rearing, and the daily tasks of life." (44) But from this simplified marriage, it became more about property, wealth, and love...(though later on.)

I have been a cynic of marriage for many years. Although I have lightened up a bit, I still feel it is a somewhat nauseating institution particularly in our society. Just look at the two-inch-thick BRIDAL magazines. How much money goes into ONE WEDDING that only lasts for ONE DAY?! It's huge!!! Why not save it for the kids college fund? I could go on about the marriage institution but I will save it for class tomorrow.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Transformation of Intimacy

Chapters 8-10 Discussion Questions


First we will engage in an interactive discussion to get us warmed up to talk about the concluding chapters of the book. This means that I will hand out popular magazines to everyone in the class and ask for you all to find an article, gossip column, interview, etc that somehow relates to intimacy. (I may have an example so you know what exactly I'm looking for.)
Then I will ask anyone who is willing to tell us what the article is about from looking at the title and skimming it (we'll only get to look at the magz for about 10 minutes, probably.) Then tell us how it relates to anything Giddens has covered throughout the book. It can be pretty abstract...

Questions to ponder/discuss when looking at the Magazines:

1. How does the article focus (if at all) on issues of intimacy, relationships, heterosexuality/homo-sexuality, marriage, etc?

2. Can you find examples of any terms that Giddens brings up; such as plastic sexuality, episodic sexuality, pure relationships, etc, etc?

3. Do you think these magazines express the transformation that Giddens is introducing us to? Do you think these magazines have transcended his ideas of intimacy?

Has our society/culture grown since Giddens wrote this in 1992?
...Or do you think these magazines prove to us that nothing much has changed in terms of our relationships and sexuality?

Now back to the actual text:

1. I thought it was an interesting approach for Giddens' to look towards lesbian relationships to understand the dynamics of the "pure relationship." His definition of the "pure relationship" states it simply as "a relationship of sexual and emotional equality."(2) Although, regardless of the assumed equality within "pure relationships", Giddens points out the "fundamental tensions within the emergent world of "pure relationships." (136.) What can we say about this "purity" of equality when there are still contradictions (an entire dedicated to them)?

2. Giddens tends to slip in a lot of Freudian theories of relationships. Even though Freud is no longer such an accredited psychologist in our society today, can we still claim that some of his theories do ring true to some extent? OR is this problematic and completely impossible? Does Giddens present more accurate theories of relationships and sexuality such as Goldberg or Ehrenreich? (Freudian examples on pages 138, 154...probably more.)

Chapter 9 was the most difficult for me to grasp so I would like to hear what others thought and what it meant to them.

3. Marcuse believes that "sexual love can be liberating in a double sense" and be "compatible with wider social citizenship."(166) What is your opinion towards "sexual love" and its interactions with society?

4. What is the relationship between repression, permissiveness, and liberalization according to Giddens? Do you think repression is necessary for the development of society?

5. I found his section of Modernity as obsessional really interesting and enlightening. Giddens says "sexuality generates pleasure; and pleasure, or at least the promise of it, provides a leverage for marketing goods in a capitalistic society." (176) Do you find this statement to be true? If so, how do you suppose we get out of it? Is that an impossible question?

6.In his final chapter "Intimacy as Democracy", Giddens discusses his positive outlook on intimacy in terms of a democratic relationship. This was refreshing in comparison to Kipnis. He points out the importance of trust, respect, and equality within relationship which mirrors that of a democratic society/government. With such high divorce rates and infidelity, is it even possible to achieve this sort of intimacy? Given the amount of hours average Americans work each week, increasing stress levels, and a plethora of other issues, is there hope for a "pure relationship"?

Hopefully better questions will come up during discussion...

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Transformation of Intimacy

Sexuality, Love, & Eroticism in Modern Societies
By Anthony Giddens

Chapters 1: Everyday Experiments, Relationships, Sexuality

Giddens starts out this chapter with a somewhat disturbing story from the novel Before She Met Me by Julian Barnes. The “protagonist” Graham, a married man falls in love with another woman, Ann, whom he puts on a pedestal and nearly expects perfection from especially in terms of her sexual history. When he learns of her not-so-pure past, particularly with his best friend Jack, he goes mad and homicidal/suicidal. Graham could not stand that he had no control over Ann's sexual history but also knew that it was a ridiculous expectation. From this story Giddens continues with the "slut vs the pure and innocent woman" conversation and other traditional or stereotypical gender binaries that also still come up today.
He talks about studies that others have done regarding sex and relationships which highlight many of the things discussed in Louisa Allen's article "Girls want Sex, Boys want Love." He then hits on heterosexuality and homosexuality and findings from Doctor Kinsey's research.

This first chapter was not new information to me mainly because I've read similar articles in my other classes such as Human Sexuality, Gender & Sexuality, etc. But also I think this information has been out for a long time. The book was written in 1992 and while a lot of what he was talking about was probably new at the time, now 15 years later, I think things have changed a great deal (which is a good thing.)

Chapter 2: Foucault on Sexuality

This was an interesting chapter because Giddens was somewhat critical of Foucault and he brought up some good points. He summarizes Foucault's The History of Sexuality and the issues of early sexual repression, which may not have been repression at all but actually obsession. He also talks about Foucault's emphasis on power but is critical of this because Foucault does not touch on Love at all, which Giddens sees as important and rightly so, I think. He talks about the importance of sex and the changes it's undergone in the past century. These changes have greatly benefited women since Victorian times that looked at sex as a very un-pleasurable and painful thing just for their husband and in order to have children. Thanks to the research of Freud, Kinsey, and Masters & Johnson women were finally allowed pleasure and orgasms.

Giddens also talks about his term "plastic sexuality" which he describes as "de-centered sexuality, freed from the needs of reproduction"(2) thanks to birth control and the following socialization of sex. "Mass media and a host of other factors"(29) have subverted the traditional values of the family and religious views of sexual relations. One thing he said which really made sense to me but also made me sad was the focus on the body, sexuality, and self identity. I thought it was especially interesting when he said that hysteria was replaced by eating disorders in women. Then at the end of this chapter, he concluded with a statement that we often confront in class: "We have not yet reached a stage in which heterosexuality is accepted as only one taste among others..." (34) and not the standard of all human sexuality.

Chapter 3: Romantic Love and Other Attachments

In this chapter Giddens discussed several types of love and pays close attention to passionate love (amour passion) or the expression of "generic connection between love and sexual attachment." (37) He describes passionate love as a "more or less universal phenomenon." (38) And I was wondering if he thought that passionate love could ever eventually turn into romantic love. I surely think it can and does. This chapter reminded me of the Love Triangle Theory which was developed by the psychologist Robert Sternberg. In this theory love is broken into three categories intimacy, passion, and commitment. According to Sternberg the perfect relationship would consist of all three of these categories.

But back to Giddens, who gives another brief history of marriages and relationships. In "pre-modern" Europe it was very common for most marriages to take place for economic compatibility and benefits, in these relationships there was little or no intimate or sexual connection and husband often strayed to prostitutes or mistresses. Then in the late 18th century Romantic love took its place, romance novels had their hay-day, and the "love at first sight" became a popular term. I thought it was interesting that there was "avid consumption of romantic novels and stories" which produced passivity.(44) I think this still holds true today but rather chick flicks and romantic comedies have replaced romance novels (they're pretty much the same thing.) Many of the things he commented on also reminded me of Disney "princess" films such as Beauty and The Beast, where the timid woman tames the aloof and reckless man who ends up falling in love with her. Ahhh, Fairy Tales.

Chapter 4: Love, Commitment and The Pure Relationship

In this chapter Giddens begins by analyzing research done by Sharon Thompson in the late 1980s on 150 diverse teenagers. I thought this was particularly interesting when she said how the girls were so open about sex and could talk forever about it. This does not surprise me but I like when she said it was a result rehearsing these conversations for hours with their friends. Why is it so common for women to talk for hours on end about sex and relationships?

Giddens talks about "quest-romance" the difference of virginity for women and men, the pursuit of a long term relationship (more common in women than men.) I thought it was interesting that many of the women interviewed about marriage didn't want to end up in the same situation as their mothers. (I can actually share those sentiments.) I thought it was also very interesting that so many looked at marriage as a step towards autonomy. It not so much autonomy as it is a denial or autonomy, a way of justifying there independence from their parents while still actually depending on another person. While there's nothing wrong with that, it's a little sad that so many people see it as a step towards true independence.

One last thing that I think Giddens needed to look into more a deeper investigation of male view points. He said that men "tended to be 'specialists in love' only in respect of the techniques of seduction or conquest." (60) I can see this holding true for some men but I have many friends that struggle with all realms of sexuality and relationships. When he said "men want status among other men..." (60) I felt like he was tending towards male stereotypes which leads to issues of masculinity and the men's movement.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Nature, Culture, & Desire

Articles From NIKK Magasin:

New Perceptions of Gender and Reproduction

This article, written be Merete Lie, deals with the issues revolving around the many new "biotechnologies" being used to assist people with either gender or reproduction "dysfunctions" and possible influences of nature and or culture that play a part in these "biotechnologies". More and more couples are in need of "artificial reproductive technologies" or as it is currently being called "assisted reproductive technologies" because they are having fertility trouble. Why are more and more couples having trouble? Because they push pregnancy/conception later in life in order to get a steady foundation in order to raise a child. More and more women want to start a career first and think about children later but this consequently causes biological problems. The need for reproductive assistance is becoming much more common so much that our society is changing the language to make it more socially acceptable to receive "artificial assistance" to promote pregnancy.

Because of this shift in reproduction, many are even considering changing the definition of what human conception is in order to make it appear more "normal" and acceptable. (6) Lie explains that before these reproductive technologies became popular it was consider very unnatual and almost looked down upon. But now it is more being definded as a "re-naturalization" rather than a "de-natrualization". (4) These technologies help by making the "dysfunctional" bodies with biological problems do what it is naturally supposed to do, therefore justifying that it is natural. I can see how making this reproductive process more socially acceptable is good as a whole but I also think this is a very common thing to happen in our society. We make our medical practices fit our current standards of good, ethical, and normal in order to justify them.

Ghost Hunt?: Understanding "Biology" in Gender Research

This article, by Tora Holmberg, describes the issues that arise under the the topic of gender research in terms of its relationship to the sciences, primarily biology. Often nature is left out of the picture or an after thought in the social sciences and conversely, culture is often an after thought throughout the world of natural sciences. Because of this preference toward one or the other, nature or culture, there is a great disparity and even animosity between gender research and biological research. These differences are heightened by gender researchers tendency toward the theory that bodies are "socially constructed" and that biology is historically gendered and patriarchal. (9) While this is true in many ways, what Holmberg wants to emphasize is the importance that biology can hold for gender researchers. And vice versa, the theories of gender researchers can be beneficial for biologists.

Holmberg, and other gender researchers, suggest there be a "third way" for discussing and researching human biology in order to better conceptualize gender and the body. It is important not to forget that the body and the "biological" is very important in terms of gender research. Holmberg states that in gender research the "biological" often disappears and that gives it its "ghost-like" qualities. I think Holmberg summed up her article very well in the end stating that it "may be useful to follow the ghost back to biology and make use of the insights of feminist biologists, medical gender researchers, feminist science scholars or other cross-border characters." (11)

Gendering Animals: Representation, identification and the demise of simplicity

This article, by Mans Andersson, was by far my favorite because it talked about animals (especially birds!!!) and how in the past there was a great deal of attention put on the action of the males and never much consideration of the females role in the reproduction and life itself. Firstly, science has ignored the importance of Darwin's theory of sexual selection until the 20th century, because this theory did not fit with the male dominant society. It seems that the information and research done on animals has been based off of our own societal beliefs of supposed human interactions. It was always assumed that only male animals were the competitive and aggressive ones. And if any female animals showed these more "masculine" characteristics they were either ignored or joked about as "PMS" or something to that degree.
It was believed for very long that males birds were the ones deciding on their mates but it turns out it's actually the females. This makes more sense especially when you look at the beautiful plumage of male birds. They are only more decorated in order to catch the eye of the female.

Also, any other species that did not fit our "human standard" in terms of sex was considered "outside the general logics of sex" (15) which again proves that we were defining the animal kingdom in terms of our own societal and biological beliefs. I think it is interesting how information and research that is collected can be manipulated in order to fit out human standards. No matter what we find, be it species with 15 different sexes or "mating-types" or female hyenas with penises, we can somehow ignore it or make it fit our perceptions of gender and sex. When really these "unusual" findings can be very helpful when talking about transgender or intersexed people, or any one else that doesn't fit our "standard."

One last article:

Birds Do It. Bees Do It. People Seek The Keys To It

This article from The New York Times by Natalie Angier, discusses the many complexities of human desire. We actually read this article for our class "It's About Sex: Gender & Sexuality" with Mary Titus...actually I think a guest speaker sent it to us to read before she came and talked to us about gender, etc. Anyway. This article talks about the research and surveying of many in the field of human sexuality in order to understand the concept of desire. This issue of Desire is so interesting to people because we all have different definitions of it and we all experience desire in different ways. What some researchers found is that our bodies are "primed for sex before the mind has had a moment to leer." Sexual desire and arousal isn't always a conscious act on our parts. We may be aroused at times and not even know it!! (I don't think I have this problem...)
The article goes on to describe the different brain activity that males and females experience when exposed to certain images. They found that men are either one or the other and only become physically aroused on concrete grounds. While women are more likely to be aroused by anything related to sex, even images of animals having sex. Another article that I read for the Gender & Sexuality class stated that women have no sexual orientation. This does not necessarily surprise me. I wonder how others feel about such a statement.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Soliciting and Group Therapizing to the Finish Line

I would like to start out by stating my experiences from reading Self-Made Man. I started reading over spring break, making it through chapter 5, and I read it as if it was "spring break" reading material. It was entertaining and on the surface, seems pretty mindless. Vincent does, seemingly, all the work for us. I was reading the book uncritically for the most part and I realized this once we talked about it in class on Monday. Consequently, this changed my reading process for the rest of the book.

Chapter 6: Ned Works

This Chapter was the hardest for me to read, mainly because I was bored. There were some engaging portions, but for the most part I drudged through. Nonetheless, Ned's working experience was an important addition to his "research". Ned went on a search for entry level jobs and a few different firms, Red Bull, Clutch, and Borg Consulting, reeled him in. Ned was happy to finally wear a real suit, not business casual, and more empowered in the suit hence the name "power suit". Ned was almost an entirely different person due to the suit and the office/work force mentality. Vincent explained that she used an entirely different form of speech when put into the suit. As a woman she often spoke "in qualifiers". (188) As if anything she said was an imposition to the other party, being as apologetic as possible and especially unnecessary. As Ned in the suit, he went about demanding orders in restaurants but managed to do so politely which came as a surprise to Vincent. As a man, people did not judge Ned for acting this way, it was an unwritten code of respect. Ned was a go-getter and said exactly what the employers wanted to hear. He milked the system.

His job was, essentially, to solicit crappy coupon books and other unnecessary items. They worked on commission, making it not only very challenging but also very competitive. The work atmosphere revolved around the cliché of uninspiring inspirational quotes and sports-like attitudes of winning and being the best. To add to this mentality, it didn't matter whether or not you won through unethical means. What mattered was that you were selling the product and bring in the money.

Ned learned a great deal from a co-worker, Ivan, regardless of his absence of tact. Ivan treated many or all of his sales as sexual conquests which also includes defeats and went to great lengths, at times inappropriate lengths to get his way. Ned also experienced these defeats, many actually, and was rejected numerous times until he finally discovered his own technique. He discovered the trick was really to just lie to make sales but it worked.

From these experiences in non-conventional jobs, Vincent saw a tendency to treat men as warriors. These men were expected to succeed, to make as many sales as possible and if they didn't, they were failures. Enough said. Women on the other hand, were not treated with same "tough luck" attitude. Since women were not quite as likely to enter this field it was enough that they even tried. And if a woman did make any sales it was seen as a huge accomplishment, a surprise. It was enough of a surprise to respond "holy sheep!" upon hearing that a woman made the most sales in a given day. Women "were still commended for trying". (221)

Ned quit the job and did so without feeling compelled to "come-out" or come clean with her boss, Dano, or even Ivan. She concluded that they probably wouldn't have even cared what gender she was or wasn't. That world was all about the mighty dollar. Although many of the people interacted with each other in typical and traditional male/female roles, the overall sale was what really mattered.

This chapter, in many ways, tells us more about the act of performance. Even if it isn't truly a Butler sense of performance and subversion, Vincent still address the absurdity of a "man's attire" thoroughly "making" him. (227) And quoted Jerzy Kosinski "Confronted with my camouflage, it is the witness who deceives himself..." (228) Vincent believes that by seeing a person in business attire conjures up credibility, respectability, and license. So essentially, we are all prejudice and have these social "scripts" or codes ingrained in us. And if we see any person, preferably a man, in a suit we will automatically treat this person a certain way. The same way we may treat a blond woman with large breasts or a large black man. Stereotypes.

But really I think there is so much more that can be said and researched. Vincent does disclaim that the soliciting business is most likely very different than other work atmospheres. It was easy for Ned to manipulate this system to make his way in but in other fields I think it could be entirely different and potentially much more difficult.

Chapter 7: Self

In this chapter, Ned joins a men's therapy group which meets once a month and goes on a weekend retreat at least once a year (or was it more?) Vincent digs into the men's movement focusing on the words of Robert Bly, practically the father of the men's movement. Robert Bly believes that there is a lack of male role models, male rite's of passage and rituals nowadays and this is damaging to young boys. I could say my share of things about this but I will wait until I read more about the men's movement before I judge to harshly.

Ned experienced a retreat with the men's group with fear that she'd be found out. The fear was especially heightened here because of the built of aggressions and feelings towards women that many of the men had.
Basically these men get together to emote with one another the hardships of manhood. About how stressful it is to have all the responsibility, to be the breadwinners. And really this brings light to how insecure ALL human beings are and how we ALL need love in our lives. All the men in the therapy group either have unresolved problems with their mothers or their fathers. This chapter actually takes a very Freudian turn emphasizing the connections that humans make with their parents either negatively or positively and how it effects their adulthood.

Vincent does bring up a good point about these gripes the men are having. That, although they may sound completely out of line, that is exactly how many people reacted to the gripes of housewives during the women's movement. Maybe there is another step towards a true equality. Maybe many of us don't think these men deserve some sort movement...but maybe we are missing something. I don't know, I think this is something that I would like to talk about more in class.

One activity the men partook in was to draw their hero(themselves), what his power was and to express their weakness (their Achilles' heal) which was usually women. Once all the men described their hero they tore up the piece of paper. Vincent saw this as a great activity where the men "were learning to stop being a straitjacketed man...and trying instead to be a person who could respond to the world without scripts of conflict or defense..." (260) Once it came time to "spirit dance" at the retreat, things got strange. I felt as if Vincent was acting in a very self-destructive and disconcerting manner. Obviously, her experience as a man was wearing on her enough to inflict physical pain to "take care" of the guilt she was experiencing. This is a text book cry for help but the way she approaches it makes it a very confusing situation. Regardless, this is bad and not healthy. Maybe this wasn't such a genius idea in the first place. Maybe she's really not emotionally stable enough to handle being a man for more than a year...And then she has a mental breakdown.

But then she says it "Men are...victims of the patriarchy, too." (272) And this is something we already addressed in class. Of course men are victims of the patriarchy because we all are, it's so deeply-seated in our culture that we all live it. This is exactly what we were talking about when reading Butler. Feminists are using the system, the patriarchal code to try to change things but that's not how we can achieve change.

Chapter 8: Goodbye Manhood.

Vincent sums up her assumptions, ideas, and theories. It was a challenge for her to be a man. I think she knew it would be hard before she even conducted her experiment. She just wanted to prove that she could do it. She was exhausted. And I think it would also be exhausting for a man to be a woman. It's exhausting for Men that truly feel like women inside to pretend that they are men. Gender has been exhausted in our culture and we need refreshing.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

In the name of the Maternal Body and Herculine Barbin

Part 3: Subversive Bodily Acts

I. The Body Politics of Julia Kristeva

In this section Butler goes about deconstructing Julia Kristeva's theory of the semiotic dimension of language in which she bases much of her argument off of Lacan's theory of "the Symbolic." Since I knew nothing about the semiotic (Butler assumes her audience is as well read as her) I looked it up to get a better grasp of it. This website may not be 100% dependable but it was able to break down the "semiotic" for me.

The "semiotic" is a language directly connected to the maternal body. "For Kristeva, the semiotic expresses that original libidinal multiplicity within the very terms of culture, more precisely, within poetic language..."(108) This poetic language within the maternal body attempts to "disrupt, subvert, and displace the paternal law." (108) Butler is critical of Kristeva's theory of the semiotic because she is basing her very argument off of the paternal law and therefore perpetuates its very existence and dominance. Butler tries to "show how the failure of her (Kristeva's) political strategy follows in part from her largely uncritical appropriation of drive theory." (109) Kristeva believes that we all have drives and some are repressed through our existing language in the paternal law. There is a "multiplicity" of drives that are repressed are then expressed disobediently through a poetic language grounded in the maternal body. It is grounded in the maternal body because we have all shared the experience of actually living in the maternal body. This maternal body represents a "continuity rather than a discrete subject or object of desire" (110) which the Symbolic desire proclaims.

I am trying to clarify whether or not Butler is stating this or if she is stating this is where Kristeva's theory falters (I'm guessing it's the latter.) This semiotic language comes from a connection to the mother, it is natural and rhythmic therefore it is primitive to the paternal law...? Is this not perpetuating the dichotomy that "women" are more connected to the earth and less rational because of it? And that men are more rational and civilized therefore must create a patriarchal language to set themselves above this maternal body and primitive language?
This must be where Butler believes Kristeva goes wrong in her theory.

I was also confused by the connection of a psychosis language to the maternal body. Is that really a true connection along with the connection with infants and mothers? Are psychotic people the only ones that truly understand themselves enough to reject and subvert from the paternal law and speak in tongues or their "mother tongue"?

Does that make any sense or am I just spouting out "glossalalias"?

Butler then explains that the homosexuality and childbirth are the only forms of semiotic that "can be sustained within the the terms of the Symbolic." (115) Homosexuality is a break from the paternal law because it portrays a multiplicity of drives (or that is what I have gathered from all of this.) Butler also states that a complete rejection of the Symbolic is impossible (116.) While the semiotic is a "nice try" in subversion from the paternal law, it is not possible because she uses the paternal law to produce her theory through the language. Butler poses the question: "how do we know that the instinctual object of Kristeva's discourse is not a construction of the discourse itself?" (120)

And of course that is a brilliant point to bring up but couldn't Butler ask herself that very same question when it is all boiled down to nothing? I mean she is still speaking English somewhat. If she really wants to avoid using reject this paternal law and discourse she should create her own language. (And of course it always goes back to the language for Butler and Butler basically knows everything that is wrong with everyone else's theories.) The End. But not really the end...ever.

II. Foucault, Herculine, and the Politics of Sexual Discontinuity

Butler starts out this chapter by discussing Michel Foucault's The History of Sexuality and the story of Herculine Barbin, the 19th-century French hermaphrodite. Butler explains that there is a disconnect between Foucault's theory of sexuality in The History of Sexuality and his writings and studies of Herculine's tragic life. Butler believes that "he fails to recognize the concrete relations of power that both construct and condemn Herculine's sexuality." (128) I thought it was very interesting when she described Foucault's theory of sexuality and that the analysis of sexuality pretty much became simplified into the analysis of sex. And this very simplification became problematic for all sexualities.

I also thought his ideas on being "sexed" were very interesting along with critiques of feminism...if I understood them correctly. Feminists are subjecting themselves to a set of social regulations by using the "binary restrictions on gender as a point of departure" for their arguments. (130)

Anyway, the chapter goes on to analyze Herculine or Alexina's life and struggles with gender or rather the law's and science's struggle with her gender or "non-identity." Herculine was a threat to the very system that sexuality, sex, and gender were built on therefore they constantly tried to define her. They tried to justify her sexuality and attractions to women by finding as many signs of masculinity as possible. This story is proof enough that sex has everything to do with power because with the smallest of threats all hell breaks loose!

Foucault describes Herculine to be in a "happy limbo of non-identity" state and that maybe this is possibly what homosexuals also experience because of their bodily likeness. I felt as if Butler was putting words into Foucault's mouth when she questioned his "happy limbo of non-identity" even though what she was saying did make sense. By saying homosexuality promotes a non-identity state which then presumes that heterosexuality promotes a identity state. Then it was almost as if Butler was psychoanalyzing Foucault in her comparison to Herculine. At that point I thought she was going crazy but maybe she really is on to something...or maybe this is just her way of saying she can relate to both Foucault and Herculine as well??? Hmmmm...

*Concluding Unscientific Postscript*

In this section Butler talks about a biological study at MIT in 1987 conducted by Dr. David Page. Dr Page claimed from this study that they found "the binary switch upon which hinges all sexually di-morphic characteristics." (145) He then made the claim that "perhaps it was not the presence of the gene sequence in males versus its absence in females (X and Y chromosomes) that was determining, but that is was active in males and passive in females." (146) Which Butler humorously responds "Aristotle Lives! What was not included in this study but Anne Fausto-Sterling reveals is that the subjects in the study were "far from unambiguous in their anatomical and reproductive constitutions." (146) In the end these people were being gendered only upon their external genitals, whether or not they were functional making their research into the "master gene" hardly necessary. In the end, it is all brought back to language, a language being used not only by our society but also through science to perpetuate these restrictive and damaging gender binaries.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Don't You Want Somebody To Love/Have Sex With?

Louisa Allen's Article, "Girls Want Sex, Boys Want Love: Resisting Dominant Discourses of (Hetero)sexuality" was an interesting and accessible exploration and study about young heterosexual youth in today's culture. Based off of a study done in New Zealand, she interviewed/researched 17-19 year olds of a variety of races, economic backgrounds, and social upbringings. Her research was an attempt to "explore Foucault's notion of the possibility of resistance in relation to the discursive construction of young people's sexual subjectivities (216.)" In layman this translates to: she wanted to explore how young people today approach societies discourses in terms of their own sexuality. Through her research she found that some youth still take on "stereotypical" female and male constructs in relationships but that some are also deviating from these constructs.

Allen stresses the strong presence of power in our discourses in sexuality but also emphasizes that, although these discourse may be strong they are not monolithic (216). As Foucault also said "where there is power, there is resistance" therefore there will always be those that choose not to live by our stereotypes of sexuality and gender. When I began reading this article, I automatically related to its content. In my own sexuality I often feel very conflicted on where I stand. At times I feel like I am the active one, making my own decisions about my sexuality but then there's the other side that I often resist. I try not to get emotionally attached, I try not to care about the other person because I don't want to complicate things but I fail almost always.

This article was refreshing for me, not because of the personal testimonies or interviews but with Allen's own critiques throughout. Her theorizing made me feel less crazy when it comes to my sexuality and "love" life.

Allen explains that discourses in our society are never fully recognized or realized therefore they can be resisted which I thought was very interesting. This makes complete sense because it's not like people are walking around thinking "Gee, I really feel like I need to dominate my girlfriend to assert my masculinity today!"
Well, maybe someone out there is thinking that but it's not common. Allen also emphasizes the importance of social location. The society we live in will regulate our actions, for example; whether or not one goes to a private or public school, lives in rural or urban areas, etc.

In the section, Traditional (hetero)sexualities, Allen sets up the basis of her argument by introducing the dominant sexual discourses. She also states that New Zealand is particularly conservative when it comes to sexuality or so they display publicly and socially. She describes the dichotomy which our discourses tend to form of the sexually ready, emotionally disconnected male and the romance yearning and emotional female. She explains that "these discourses have been historically shaped by fields such as religion, medicine, law, media and academic disciplines (218.) But just because they are strong discourses doesn't mean they are the only ones, they are at times resisted.

In the section "Young women and dominant discourses of female (hetero)sexuality" she explains that there are still many women that are still living in the traditional discourse. These women portrayed themselves as sexually vulnerable, not as interested in sex, and more interested in the loving relationship and commitment to another person. In this section I was intrigued by the first woman she talked about, Caitlin, who said she just wanted "to get it (sex) over and done with...(219) And thought that this was fine because they have been together for 3 years. This puzzled me for a couple reasons but I don't know the context of Caitlin's sexuality. I don't think sex should ever fizzle out of a relationship just because they have been together for so long that it gets boring but it happens very often, especially with married couples. Experimentation is good and I'm guessing Caitlin is missing an in depth education of sex and her own sexuality... Either that or she is no longer actually attracted to her boyfriend and is simply attached to him because she wants to be loved and given attention from a male figure (boyfriend.)

These women that show the characteristic romance, love, emotional seeking qualities also talked about their submission into sex after much talk with their boyfriends or lovers. Most of the women expressed fear of pregnancy, abandonment, pain from sex, etc and this is very sad to me. There is so much more pressure put upon women about having sex! Men are encouraged to have as much sex as possible because they have nothing to lose while women have EVERYTHING TO LOSE!!! (Or so they are told to believe.)

Most women are afraid that sex is really going to hurt because they are usually told that it is going to hurt. It is dangerous to bombard women with this idea of sheer pain during sex because women can actually psych themselves out and convince themselves that it will hurt even more than it actually will. We can convince ourselves so much that we are neither mentally OR physically ready for sex!!! I believe that if a woman is knowledgeable of her own sexual needs before she has sex, it can be a more pleasurable experience for her. It still may not be the best sex the first time but it can always get better! It is very sad to me that sex can be a negative experience for many women and this should end.

Then Allen gets into the other women, the women that are in touch with their sexuality; the sluts and the...slags? She explained how women are still considered sluts if they are sexually active with more then one partner but men are the studs in the very same situation. First of all, I think we should get rid of these names completely because, of course, the women get the negative and demeaning names and men get the double standard. We should just call it sexuality and drop this immature name calling because it's unproductive.

In this section I was intrigued by the woman, Anna, who said she was called a slut when she cheated on someone. Part of me, was judging her and calling her a slut, but not because she has "legitimate women's sexual desire (2220" but because she blatantly cheated. She has every right to be sexual but does not have the right to potentially hurt others because of her cheating. (Don't we always get mad at men that are "cheating pigs"? This goes both ways.

I found myself relating directly to the women on page 223 who described their own sexual pleasures and desires. I am more of an actor in my sexuality and I am not ashamed of it, I like it. I also found it interesting that many women expressed their complete control in sexual activity. Most women felt most of the control on the topic of contraception which is a very important aspect of sexuality to be in control of. At the same time, there was an emphasis of women's "empowerment at an intellectual level" rather than in relationship practice (224.) Therefore there is still a disconnect with women and there sexuality.

Allen then gets into the men's side of things and talks to men that seem to be reinforcing the stereotypes that men are crude, sexually aggressive, sex crazed and always horny. In this section I was concerned about the style which she collected her data because she was interviewing groups of guys at the same time. I didn't think that was a very good way to do it because of the influence they would have on each other. Then, of course, I realized that it was part of her research technique and this helped her understand both genders more. I thought it was interesting when she explained the hegemonic masculinity, and the fact that many men recognize it and actually want to be seen as hyper-masculine.

She then described the men that were attempting to resist the dominant discourses of (hetero)sexuality, the men that want love and companionship. In this section I found myself "oohing" and "awwing" every once in a while...and was kinda grossed out by my self. (This is where I am confused and conflicted by my own resistance of dominant discourses of (hetero) sexuality.) Allen found that men were more willing to talk about care and love if they knew it was a 'safe' research environment (227.) While women were more open when they knew they could trust the other women in the group. When people feel more comfortable they are more willing to open up about their sexual feelings, desires, and pleasures. This should be very helpful information for everyone, for sex educators, couples, individuals, etc. Creating a safe and comfortable environment in which to talk often softens the blow when talking about sex.

When Allen showed replies from people about qualities they looked for in relationships I was reminded of Hollway. Many people said they were looking for love and a close friendship, understanding, honesty, care, etc. Hollway explained that many people have fears of committing in relationships because it can make them feel very vulnerable. You show your partner that you love and care for them but also that you need them too. That is a scary thing to do sometimes, especially for men.

Overall, Louisa Allen discovered that our current dominant discourse of (hetero)sexuality is outdated (231.) We need to come up with new discourses that are all inclusive. We need new discourses that allow women to indulge in their sexuality without feeling shame. We need new discourses that allow men to feel free to commit themselves to one person, to love and care for another without feeling embarrassment. This article, as Allen stated, should offer "sexuality education insights into the ways in which some young people talk about their sexual selves (232.) We can have a new discourse on sexuality and we will erase negative associations of sex because sex is healthy and normal.