Love and all that junk

Generally speaking I’m suspicious of people who tout ‘love’ as the ultimate answer to all the problems of the world. It seems too simple to me. However, although Hook’s reading does end on this rather sentimental note- citing feminism as a labour of love seeking to create a world where people can live “fully and freely”, and I quote: ” Let us draw upon that love to heighten our awareness, deepen our compassion, intensify our courage, and strengthen our commitment.”- she does make some interesting points which I would like to discuss.

What caught my interest about this reading was the excellent point raised by Hook regarding feminist movements and human complexity. The issue I have with a lot of radical movements is the oversimplification. Like, solving whatever this problem is will solve all the problems that ever there were. Gay marriage is another one of these. While I’m all for the legalisation of gay marriage, I’m not romantic enough to believe that it’s all encompassing, or that bigotry and prejudice will be resolved by it, or that it’s as clear cut an idea as it’s put across to be. Feminism is the same. As Hook discusses, by lacking a clear and universal definition that’s broad enough to be inclusive of a diverse range of people, feminism lacks a strong foundation and so loses a monumental amount of it’s potential power to actually change anything.

The over simplifying of feminism- that women are victims and men are evil and by tearing down patriarchal dominance the world will be right- ignores the complexity of peoples stories and the diversity of issues at hand. Hook discusses at length the diverse nature of dominant and oppressive relationships. Men dominate and are dominated. Likewise with women. This definition of feminism fails to take into account other factors such as class, race, sexuality or religion. In failing to do so, voices are left out of the conversation and so go unrepresented.

This reading is very similar to one I looked at earlier on in the semester from  , and it’s easy to draw a parallel between the two in how the major issue at hands seems to be intersectionality and people not being heard because they are sectioned off into specific categories.

How does this tie into my essay? Well, at the moment I’m exploring the idea that discourse informs how to think about material bodies, specifically medical and legal discourse have the greatest weighting on how a man and woman are defined and what their bodies should or should not be able to do. And therefore, a body altered by surgery to fit a medically defined gendered norm is seen as more authentic than a body as it is interpreted by the person inhabiting it. How this reading ties with this idea is the idea of whose voices are being left out of the conversation? How we define material bodies is heavily swayed by a medial discourse which holds legal consequences: a person is legally not whatever sex they decide to be unless they are medically deemed to be so. The unheard voice here is the individual, how they determine themselves, and how their individual circumstances may impact their situation.

It’s a stretch, but what I think this weeks reading contributes to my essay is emphasising the importance of a diverse range of voices when considering the discourses that shape the world. And love and all that junk.

The Fault In Our Letters

This week I did the reading by Gayle Salamon. From memory I don’t think I included this in the list of resources for my essay, which I shall now remedy. This chapter will be an excellent point of reference which I fully intend to make use of.

Two quick anecdotes come to mind on reading this chapter, which I shall attempt to share in one sentence each.
The 2003 reality television show There’s Something About Miriam shaped how many of the people in my high school understood and talked about transgender people, which they did in highly transphobic terms.
When I was backpacking in 2012, I stayed in a hostel with mixed gender bathrooms, and all that happened was that people used the bathroom.

My point is that gender ambiguity seems to be something so feared and misunderstood, and I have absolutely no idea why.

Salamon raises a host of interesting points, the ones that stand out to me most being:

  • The problem with ambiguity. People seem able to accept if a person is male or female (be that cis-gendered or trans), but it’s when gender is unclear that things get messy. Salomon writes, “She is safe whether she passes successfully as a woman or is read as a male, in either case. The peril comes if she is ‘read’ as transexual, as having no proper gender at all.”
  • “[T]he assigned letter on the document functions as a kind of property… Sex is not private property, but rather property that belongs to the state itself.” Why do we have our gender marked on birth certificate, death certificate, passport etc.? I can understand in terms of stats and population census, but even that system is flawed since there’s no room for gender ambiguity. It’s interesting to consider sex, something that concerns no one but the individual concerned, as being “state property”. I’d like to note however that in Australia at least, our sex isn’t marked on our licenses. That’s nice I guess.
  • Authenticity. The reason I’m keen as a bean to use this article in my essay now is because Salamon raises issues of authenticity and bodily constructions, and uses breast surgery as a specific example. Going back to those other two points, gender binary seems so steeped into collective social consciousness and law that even when it comes to shaping an ‘authentically’ gendered body, that binary of what bodies do and do not look like and can or cannot do still holds massive sway.

If we argue that the state owns sex, and that how one is ‘read‘ is more important than what one is or identifies as, then the question is raised as to how much of ones identity actually belongs to the individual. Bodily construction and what is and isn’t considered ‘authentic’ is much more of a bureaucratic process than it is controlled and owned by the person it affects the most. It’s a process submitted to social scrutiny and determination, a process heavily influenced by the false dichotomy of M or F. It’s a process owned and regulated by systems of government, that literally determine a persons identity based on whether or not they consider their physical manifestation of identity as ‘authentic’.

Salamon states that state legislation forces bodies to match paperwork, as opposed to the other way round. In addition to promoting a gender binary, the fixation on identifying and labelling sex has another aspect to consider. Rather than see gender as a spectrum, the implication with state regulation is that if one does not belong strictly in the category of M or F, then one belongs nowhere. They are a blank, on their documents and in how they are perceived. Regardless of whether a blank is better than strictly one way or another, what this does is take control of ones own identity and notions of authenticity away from the individual.

Female Genital Mutilation

Sullivan discusses female genital mutilation (FGM). (Here is a link to a 2013 review of FGM laws). The major issues she discusses concern FGM laws in Australia, that take a very Eurocentric Westernised approach to regulating FGM. “Folk customs” are “wrong” and forbidden under these laws, as are any procedures that  tradition or local culture require of women, such as removal of the clitoris, cutting or otherwise altering areas of the vulva. However, under Australian law intersex genital “corrective surgery” is acceptable, despite often being medically unnecessary and often harmful to the child. In addition, unnecessary cosmetic procedures such as vaginal rejuvenation are not subjected to legal scrutiny.  Another issues with FGM law is that the law does not distinguish between children and consenting adults.

My opinion is that this last point is the major issue at hand. I’m all for self-determination and once a person is seen as an adult in the eyes of the law, they ought to have ownership and control over their own bodies. Therefore, if someone is a consenting adult who wishes to undergo some form of FGM, it’s up to them to make an informed choice. This goes for intersex people too, whose gender should be their own determination, not their parents or their doctors. Whether they decide to be a male or a female or somewhere in between should be an informed personal decision, and the law should protect that. As for cosmetic surgery, again it’s the decision of consenting informed adults and who am I to say whether or not it’s right or wrong. On this last point, I found the promotional material mentioned by Sullivan to be quite disturbing. It sounded manipulative and pressuring, which goes against my firm belief in making an objective, informed choice. Perhaps it’s this area of FGM is what should be regulated, more so than the moral standing of the procedures themselves.

The issues with current FGM law are that it’s somewhat racist, doesn’t protect intersex people, and ignores an adult’s right to self determination.

On a side note, I was curious as to whether genital piercing is covered under this law. According to a quick Google search that led me to the Better Health Channel, genital piercing is illegal in some parts of Australia on people under the age of 18. I’m curious about this, as I would consider cosmetic piercing to be very much a cultural thing that is classified as a form of body modification. I wonder why it isn’t included under FGM law.

“No fat chicks”

Murray’s chapter discusses the “normal” the “pathological”, and “obesity and the diseased fat body”.

” ‘The normal is then at once the extension and the exhibition of the norm. It increases the rule at the same time that it points it out. It asks for everything outside, beside, and against it that still escapes it. A norm draws its meaning, function, and value from the fact of the existence, outside itself, of what does not meet the requirement it serves.’ “

I think my brain blew up when I read that, but it’s a great examination of ‘normal’. I like the implication that ‘normal’ can’t exist without ‘abnormal’. Or rather, the normal can’t exist without the pathological. With ‘normal’ comes a moral assumption of rightness, which as it follows, cannot exist without ‘wrongness’. It’s very difficult to define and give examples of what is ‘normal’, but it’s easy to state what it is not. In terms of bodies, normal is not fat and it’s not super skinny. It’s some vague grey area in between. Here’s a link to an article I read about the US version of ‘The Biggest Loser’. The winner was criticised for losing too much weight. Originally she was shamed for being too fat, then she was shamed for being too thin. Where is the middle ground here? Where is normal? And with that, how can we decide what is and isn’t morally right? Is excessive weight the sign of lack of self discipline and control, and therefore are the individuals involved somehow in the wrong?

The idea that fat equals bad and legitimised by that word “obesity”, and in Murray’s chapter, she discusses how the medicalisation of ‘fat’ into a ‘disease’ offers more weight to the idea that to be fat, to be outside of the grey area of ‘normal’, is to be somehow wrong.
However, Murray makes another excellent point, which is that medicalising obesity as a disease removes responsibility from the individual. This ‘wrongness’ is not your own fault. And harking back to my earlier example of the too-skinny Biggest Loser winner, there the ‘wrongness’ of her thinness was blamed on the television program pushing contestant too far to lose weight.

Something else I found interesting about Murray’s chapter was the idea of punishing and rewarding certain behaviours. Body regulation is something society does, as opposed to individuals regulating their own bodies. We put fat people on television and shame them into losing weight, we put once fat celebrities on television commercials to talk about how they only found happiness once they found thinness. And this obsession with body regulation and fat being wrong seems heavily directed at women. As ye olde saying goes, “no fat chicks”.

Murray argues that women who are overweight are considered weak and shameful, that they are constantly indulging desires that they have no control over. This is a dialogue repeated again and again. Here is a recent interview with actor and comedian Magda Szubanski wherein she claims her weight gain was due to a loss of control and self-discipline, referring to a supposed phenomenon called “calorie amnesia” (forgetting what you’ve eaten).

My essay on plastic surgery, specifically breast surgery, has some relevance to this reading. In terms of authenticity, is a body that’s outside of “normal” any more or less authentic? When someone is obese, is part of the problem that others only see them as their weight? When we call someone obese and consider them outside the norm, consider them as ‘wrong’ or see their obesity as a reason for shame and lack of self-discipline or control, are we reducing people to less than human? How does this impact on the authenticity of their identity?

Lots of questions and no answers. Yet. But they will come. Hopefully.

It’s a ma-a-ans world…

This blog post is a little bit late, and it’s not very good, but I digress. Lets power on shall we?

Connell’s reading discusses hegemonic masculinity and violence. First of all, what do we mean when we say ‘hegemonic masculinity’? According to my handy dictionary, ‘hegemonic’ means ruling or dominant in a political or social context. So when we talk about hegemonic masculinity, one can deduct we mean the ruling or dominant masculine ideal. What Connell points out is that this means more than just patriarchal dominance and the hierarchy that exists between men and women, but the hierarchy that exists between men and other men. Connell also makes the important point that hegemony has a changing dynamic over time, and stresses that hegemony is always a relational concept. Speaking sociologically, hegemony is the ‘inner’ that relies on the ‘outer’ to exist. The king can only be the king if he has a kingdom.

So that’s hegemonic masculinity. But what does it consist of and why does it matter?
Hegemonic masculinity, as far as I can understand, is the glorified masculine ideal. Whether this ideal has any basis in reality, is any reflection of the highest common denominator, or is even a reflection of those with the most power or money is somewhat irrelevant. The example that comes to my mind is the idea of the ‘Aussie battler’. The rugged man-of-the-land, chiselled and tough, who roughs it in the outback. He may not have vast riches and wealth, but he has his woman, his truck, his mates, his dog and his beer.

Does this ideal exist? Maybe. But from my experience, growing up in the country, it’s both striven for and uncommon. Since I moved to the city, less still. This figure is romanticised, and like most romantic figures, it lives fairly exclusively in fiction. Perhaps I’m over simplifying, but it’s interesting none the less.

What is also interesting is the fact that this ‘masculine ideal’ isn’t necessarily aspired to, and in many cases is in fact rejected outright, although it’s consistently there in our social consciousness; what society expects ‘normal’ to be and whether or not we reject or accept that. I sincerely hope that make sense.

Connell raises many interesting points in her article, and offers in depth criticism of other writings on hegemonic masculinity, but what I’m going to talk about now is how this relates to my essay.

I’m writing about breast surgery and while researching this, became interested in male plastic surgery and specifically pectoral enhancement. A sculpted physique is one of the markers of ‘true masculinity’, but one must ask: is it the physique or the physical labour that went into it that gives this aspect of masculinity it’s value? Referring back to my example of the rugged Aussie battler, the rough and chiselled man got that way from slugging it out on the land. In my home town, the guys there prided themselves on how far they ran, how much ‘iron’ they could ‘pump’, and of course athletic ability was glorified. A chiselled physique is a marker of success, a trophy of sorts that indicates great physical prowess and the ability to do all sorts of manly feats like lift heavy things and break stuff. So what are the social implications when this physicality is faked? When it’s the result of surgery? Is that like buying your own trophy?

There seems to be a certain paranoia about authenticity, even when it comes to surgical enhancement. For example, when reading about male plastic surgery and pectoral enhancement surgery, the common speil is that males who access pectoral enhancement “genetically may not have the propensity to develop a muscular physique “puny males” and men with chest wall deformities such as Poland’s Syndrome or Pectus Excavatum.” In other words, despite pectoral implants being exclusively a cosmetic procedure with no medical benefits, unlike female plastic surgery the idea that one might access this surgery due to vanity is quietly ignored in favour for citing genetics or a physical deformity.

I think hegemonic masculinity is an interesting area that my essay will have to explore in (hopefully) much more coherent detail.

Gender inequality in the workplace: the tip of the phallic iceberg

Connell discusses the various forms gender inequality takes, and how this inequality is the result of dominant patriarchal discourse. Connell discusses how workplaces are often male dominated, with the top positions showing a distinct lack of female influence. Historically, women reaching these positions of power has been impossible, and is a self perpetuating circle: women are given poor paying, uninteresting positions, that have no opportunity for promotion, and the understandable bitterness and discontentment with this situation is used as ‘evidence’ that women shouldn’t be allowed to take on higher positions of more responsibility and better pay. In modern times when women are placed in managerial or higher up roles, the expectation is that they conform to the male dominated, profit driven, eat-or-be-eaten masculine “norm”.

On a state level, women are rarely put into positions of power, and those that are are vastly outnumbered by their male counterparts. A perfect example would be our current political Cabinet. Here is a link to the liberal ministry. There are six women in the ministry, most of them assistants or secretaries. There are thirty five men. There is only one woman in the Cabinet. And if that weren’t enough of a punch to the ovaries, the minister for women is a man.

Internationally female literacy sits at approximately between 65%- 100% on an international scale. In Australia more women are graduating from university, and more women hold a degree. But despite this, female graduates are less likely to find a job than males, and they’re still going to be paid less for doing the same job. One can read more about that here.

“Broadly the evidence shows that men are the beneficiaries where gender inequalities exist.  But not all men benefit to the same degree, indeed some men do not benefit at all. Many men pay some cost, and some pay a heavy cost, for the general supremacy of men in a patriarchal gender order.”

Significantly more men are involved in work place accidents. Men are more likely to be addicted to alcohol or narcotics. The suicide rates for men compared to women are higher, there is a higher rate of men as victims of reported assault or homicide, and more men than women are killed in military combat. Particularly consider that the patriarchal society is very much a white, heterosexual patriarchal society, and trans-gender men, homosexuals, and men with non-white ethnicity or particular religious beliefs, are often targeted for abuse and sometimes violence.

Click here for an interesting Australian report and case study about gender inequality in the workplace from 2013.

Children: they’re sticky

What I took away from the Califia reading and from this weeks lecture is that there’s a general social discourse that having children in a family ‘normalises’ it. By that I mean it makes it recognisable in heteronormative terms. Even Califia’s own unconventional family (two transgendered men raising a child together, made even more unconventional by the fact that the two also split up) seems like the opposite to the typical family of a married man and woman with 2.5 kids. But families are complex, and raising children seem like a point of common ground.

“I never realised before how deeply heterosexual life is coloured by the chore and delight of raising children.”

This heteronormative ideal seems to hark back to the days of old when families were married specifically to bring families together and combine their prestige in a point of mutual interest: a child with bonds to both families. Marriage and producing children is a point of practicality as opposed to an act of romance or seeking a certain lifestyle. Now days such practical measures might be seen as slightly sociopathic, however raising children and preserving a family heritage is common ground that most people can empathise with, and consequently, seems a way to understand and  accept those families that fall outside the norm. Children are the key.

Referring back to the lecture, one of the things we discussed this week was lineage, and the idea of carrying on a bloodline via producing offspring. What intrigued me most about this concept of lineage was the idea of “invisible threads”. Those who disappear from the overall family tree because they didn’t produce offspring, or didn’t marry, or were adopted, or adopted children. It makes me wonder if having children is the only way to be actively included in part of your family’s lineage and heritage. Perhaps the pressure to reproduce comes from as much a place of wanting to not be forgotten as it does wanting to continue on the family bloodline.