Author: Elizabeth L. Gleeson

The Power of “Manhood”

In these two readings “Blurred Lines, Indeed” by Roxanne Gay and “Babe.net’s Aziz Ansari Story, explained,” the normativity of sexual harassment and assault against women is discussed.

Through her analysis of the song “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke, Gay explains how this hit song implies that “when a woman says no she really means yes” (187). She also discusses how incredibly problematic this is, and how messages like this being perpetuated by pop culture can only reinforce the disturbing trend of male dominance and abuse in our current society. In the Vox article addressing the Aziz Ansari scandal, there is a similar factor of influence from popularized culture. Aziz Ansari, who was accused of sexual assault in an article published by Babe.net, is an incredibly prominent and well-liked actor. He has also made efforts to popularize the feminist movement, and has openly said that he believes everyone should be a feminist. I personally find it very interesting to look at these two cases of successful and famous men in the media, and how they seem to be excused from inappropriate behavior towards women, even when one of them claims to be in complete support of women and publicly denounces perpetrators of sexual assault.

In the chapter from her book, Gay talks about how “so much of our culture caters to giving men what they want” (189). This is clearly present in the discussion about Robin Thicke’s hit song, as he made statements claiming that “men want what they want” in regard to the way that he talks about and views women (187). clearly, this is an example of misogyny, as Thicke blatantly objectifies women and emphasizes their purpose as bringing pleasure to men. It’s hard, then, to compare him to someone like Aziz Ansari, who is so beloved in popular culture and who was supposedly one of the good guys. Yet, he has still demonstrated an alarming amount of disrespect towards women, especially in the context of him deriving pleasure from them. In the story from Babe.net, he is characterized as someone who does not pay attention to signals that he should stop what he’s doing, and who forcefully attempts to get women to perform in favor of his own sexual pleasure. Whether or not one chooses to interpret the behavior of these men as sexual assault, the fact remains that they are still placed in a social position where they are able to be dominant over women, and where they can use women to get what they want with little regard to their existence as human beings.

What Is Power?

In her story “Wolfpack,” Mecca Jamilah Sullivan explores the different ways that we derive power, and she focuses specifically on the way that words and speech give us power. The story gives us an insight into the lives of several of the women included in the Jersey Seven, who are African American and lesbian women who were given time in prison for defending themselves against a man who verbally assaulted and threatened to rape them.  Throughout the entire story, there is a lot of emphasis on the effect of and power of words, or the lack thereof. For example, in the sections told from the perspective of Verniece, she constantly talks about how the night of the encounter with the man “took [her] words away” (2). The encounter as well as the public and judicial system’s reactions to it make her feel as though she is powerless, and this is expressed through her feelings that what she says makes little difference.

Another recurring example of how words and freedom of speech give us power is the comparison of humans to animals. This is demonstrated when Verniece’s girlfriend says to her “the only real difference between people and animals is people talk. That’s it” (9). This statement has a real impact on Verniece, and it sticks with her throughout the story. As humans, we often think of ourselves as superior to animals due to our unique abilities and accomplishments. It’s very striking, then, when Verniece’s girlfriend says that the only thing that really distinguishes us from other animals is our ability for speech. This scene marks a shift in Verniece, who suddenly becomes very conscious of the empowerment that results from freedom of speech. It is incredibly significant to her, then, when the man calls her an “elephant” (13). In doing so, he takes away her power of free speech by lessening her to an animal. Similarly, the newspaper headline that sticks with Verniece the most following the incident refers to her and her friends as a “wolfpack” (20). By comparing the Jersey Seven to animals in this manner, their freedom of speech and thus their ability to be seen in the world as human beings is taken away.

Lizzie and Melissa Presentation Prep

Today in class we went through each of the questions on the assignment sheet pertaining to the presence of Love and Sexuality in the show Friends. We also brainstormed about what we want our general theme of the presentation to be, and decided on family. Then we came up with different things we can talk about and how family affects the dynamic of the characters on the show, and we came up with several examples and ideas for video clips that we can use for our presentation.

Solidarity and Group Images

While reading the second half of “Fun Home,” I paid a lot of attention to the dynamic between the pictures and the words. In my opinion, each played a fairly equal role in conveying Bechdel’s message to the reader. I found it very interesting how the images shifted throughout chapters 4-7 from portraying the family as very isolated, to showing how in many ways they were very close. For example, on page 134, all of the Bechdel family members are pictured in separate, solitary parts of the house. All were attending to their own business, with no interaction whatsoever. This changes as the novel progresses, especially in the last chapter. Bechdel began talking about the time that she spent with her father and the bond that they had, and the images shifted into showing the family members doing things side by side.

One small example of this that I noticed was the piano. Bechdel mentioned early on in this section of the reading that she disliked how her parents would pursue their artistic endeavors and effectively ignore the children. However, on page 225, Alison and her father are pictured playing the piano together. While earlier in the book the piano was used as a device for solitude and withdrawal, it has now become something that brings Alison closer to her father.

One thing that I noticed a lot consistently throughout the first three chapters of “Fun Home” was the comparison between Alison’s father and Jesus Christ. This may seem a bit bizarre at first, given the resentment Alison clearly holds towards her father and the way that she highlights the dark sides of her father. To be honestly, I can only venture to guess why Bechdel would choose to portray her father in this way. However, there is a lot of clear visual and textual evidence.

I first noticed this comparison on page 7, where her father is pictured stoically heaving a column on his back. The column was supposedly used in Alison’s father’s endeavors to renovate their house. This immediately reminded me of Jesus carrying his cross, on which he was later crucified. This has some very interesting implications behind it, I would say. Jesus died on the cross that he carried, and I think that this implies that in a way, Alison’s dad’s obsession with rebuilding their house was the death of him. He was so focused on appearances and upholding pretenses that he ruined himself. Another way that he is similar to Jesus is in his ability and obsession with carpentry. In the bible, it is stated that Jesus himself was a carpenter.

In addition to this image of him carrying his own symbolic cross, Bechdel also describes him as “libidinal. Manic. Martyred” (7). By calling him martyred, Bechdel blatantly compares him to Jesus, while also using some interesting diction that contrasts the purity and goodness that Jesus is supposed to represent (“libidinal” refers to libido, which is definitely not what the image of Jesus is supposed to evoke). In this way, Alison’s father is distinguished as a kind of corrupted Christ figure.

I also find it interesting how Bechdel compared her father to Gatsby, one of literature’s most well-known corrupted Christ figures. The two are both obsessed with appearances and maintaining a false image, and they both seem to be infatuated with garishness and luxury in some sense.

As to why Bechdel chose to draw (haha “draw,” get it?) these parallels between her father and Jesus, I am not entirely sure. His death does not resemble martyrdom in the traditional sense, but perhaps there are some messages that we can draw from this comparison regarding his death.

Otherness and Self Acceptance

In the short fictional piece “Blue Talk and Love” by Mecca Jamilah Sullivan, adolescent girl Earnestine struggles with many different aspects of her identity. Race, social class, sexual identity, and heritage are all issues that she struggles with on a personal level throughout the piece, while she simultaneously deals with her insecurities about love and family.

After reading this story, I don’t really think I have much to add. Sullivan uses the character of Earnestine to highlight the difficulties of being someone who deviates slightly from what is considered normal. Because she is not white, Earnestine struggles with the fact that she cannot meet the white beauty standards placed upon her by her peers. Because she doesn’t appear to be attracted to men, she struggles to fit into her own perceptions of what a girl her age should act and feel like. She doesn’t feel the connection to her heritage that her mother wants her to have.  All of these elements of her life create a sense of constant tension, and Sullivan uses this as a means to communicate in a subtle and melancholy manner what it’s like to be a part of that taboo category of “other.”

I think that the ending of the short story demonstrated a kind of self acceptance on Earnestine’s part. Her conversation with her father, in which he told her that even though she’s not like her peers she still has worth, set something off in Earnestine. After her conversation with her father, she was able to understand her relationship with Xiomara much more clearly. Instead of feeling jealousy and resentment towards her, Earnestine seemed to have a kind of quiet understanding that what she really felt was affection and longing for Xiomara. It is heavily implicated in the ending that Earnestine and Xiomara had a sexual encounter, thus solidifying Earnestine’s self acceptance.

Queerness in the World of Fame

In “A Tale of Three Coming Our Stories,” Roxane Gay discusses how society tends to place the responsibility of paving the way to a better future on the people who are suffering from current social conventions. She uses the examples of three prominent public figures coming out to emphasize the unfair burden that gets forced on them.

Gay discusses these stories in the context of privacy, which I think is a very interesting angle to approach it from. It’s true that we as a society tend to pry into the personal lives of public figures, and this has a greater effect on queer public figures than those who are heterosexual because it often forces them to unwillingly come out, or to share more information about their private lives than they actually want to. The way that people tend to justify this is by saying that the celebrities who come out now are making it better for queer people in the future. However, that’s a pretty unfair responsibility to push on them. Why is it only their duty to fix the world that hates them?

That being said, I personally don’t really see any kind of solution to this problem, as celebrities will always have to deal with the public prying into their private lives, and this will inevitably affect queer celebrities in a much different and more troubling way than it will for those who are heterosexual. While I completely agree with Gay in her assessment of how unfair it is, I unfortunately don’t have any kind of solution to offer.

Once Again, Romantic Love is Idealized

In his opinion piece “The Supreme Court’s Lonely Hearts Club,” Michael Cobb responds to Justice Kennedy’s statements about marriage following the Obergefell v. Hodges case. Kennedy’s comments that marriage “embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family” (1) prompt an interesting response by Cobb, as he argues that love in all forms, not just in the form of marriage, should be given the same respect given to the institution of marriage.

Cobb argues that marital love is not essential for happiness, and that single people can still lead happy and fulfilled lives even though they are not in a romantic relationship that involves sex. Why is it that when we refer to love, we are usually talking about romantic or sexual love? There are other forms of intimate and loving relationships that do not involve sex, yet these are not recognized as legitimate in the same way that marriage is legitimate. Cobb’s example about Lindsay Graham, a South Carolina senator who is not married, is a very good example of this. When asked who his first lady would be if he were to run for president, Graham responded “well I’ve got a sister, she could play that role if necessary” (2). This is a very non conventional response on Graham’s part, but why? Cobb refutes the idea that sex must be involved in a relationship in order for it to be legitimized.

Furthermore, Cobb takes offense to Justice Kennedy’s comments about the “dignity” (3) of marriage. While it can’t really be denied that same-sex and opposite-sex couples are both equally dignified, Cobb points out that in saying this, it is implied that unmarried people lack this stated “dignity”. I think that this almost ties back to “Against Love,” where Laura Kipnis denounces our society’s unrealistic idealization of love. It’s a similar theme in Cobb’s piece, as once again the idealization of marriage becomes something that overtakes our lives and the way the world sees us.

Foucault’s Challenge of Modern Sexual Convention

In the chapter “We Other Victorians” from his book, Michel Foucault addresses the modern notion that sexuality is a repressed taboo. While this chapter is merely an introduction to the rest of the book, Foucault still manages to introduce several important points and questions. For example, he addresses the greater historical context behind this discussion, most specifically mentioning the Victorian era and how propriety and prudence were very highly valued. He then contrasts this era with the centuries prior to it, and emphasizes that the idea of repressing sexuality is fairly new, as it was not common practice before the seventeenth century.

Foucault also introduces the dynamic between sex and power. Rather than simply addressing modern day sexuality and sexual practices, he chooses to question the manner in which we view sex and ask why we talk about it the way that we do. Why do we look at ourselves as sexually repressed? Furthermore, how did things come to be this way? Foucault insinuates that in order to answer these questions, we must examine who is actually doing the talking. Who is given power over these things, how do they exert their power, and what effect does that have? These are all very preliminary questions and do not evoke answers on their own. However, by bringing up such questions, Foucault effectively challenges modern sexual conventions and opens up the door to greater critical discussion.

Love as Subjugation?

In her essay “Against Love,” Laura Kipnis takes a critical stance on today’s idealism and worship of love, and instead explores a more cynical perspective on society’s notions and practices of romantic relationships. Kipnis’ argument is that love costs more than it is worth, as the compromises that must be made in romantic relationships often take priority over one’s own self-fulfillment. In “Against Love,” humans are portrayed as freely complying subjects living beneath the all-powerful dictatorship of their romantic partner, and according to Kipnis this restrains people from the happiness that they could achieve on their own. Love means sacrificing things for another person and frequently prioritizing the other person’s needs over one’s own. Therefore, while a person may feel as though their love for another person is the thing that brings them the most happiness, Kipnis maintains that they are likely giving up more than they gain. It is this that communicates her main point that love, in essence, is synonymous with subjugation.

 

Kipnis’ argument has a great deal of truth in it, romantic relationships do in fact require sacrifice and hyperawareness of the other’s needs. However, I find that her apparent concept of a relationship is very singular and specific. Her idea of what a relationship is like seems to always involve a partner playing a dominant role that overtakes every minute aspect of the other’s life. Not to say that relationships like this don’t exist, however Kipnis’ description of what she perceives a normal relationship to be like actually appears to me to be a very unhealthy relationship. While there will be certain norms in any given relationship such as each partner sharing an even amount of chores and such, other things that Kipnis generalized to all relationships included things that are not necessarily expected in each relationship. For example, she says that when you have a significant other you can’t go out without them because it’s rude. This is not a concept that can really be applied to relationships in general. Different couples have different methods of communication and different things that they find acceptable and unacceptable, and in my opinion this is greatly overlooked in “Against Love.” Thus, it is incorrect to assume that all romantic couples are essentially the same, and with that it is also therefore incorrect to assume that love is always synonymous with subjugation.