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.