Author: Jason P. Payne

The Call of the Oppressor

In both Roxane Gay’s “Blurred Lines, Indeed” and Caroline Framke’s explanation of the Aziz Ansari scandal, both authors reference the efforts of men and women (though mostly men) to tell women to shut up about sexual assault and harassment. The examples of these incidents occur frequently on a large spectrum, from the literal (such as Donald Trump literally telling his accusers to shut up), to the more figurative. Both articles, however, introduce the issue in slightly different ways.

In Framke’s piece, she describes the silencing of women as a process of denial. Framke describes part of the backlash against the article as a retaliation of people who believe that the #MeToo movement has gone too far. Regardless of your thoughts on Aziz Ansari and his actions, the #MeToo movement has undeniably uncovered countless powerful men who have abused their power to harass and assault women without consequence. The backlash then strikes a blow to those wishing to change power structures, as they are essentially denying the actions of more powerful men.

For Roxane Gay,  the call of the oppressor for quiet comes in the form of diminishing the experience itself; in her words, they tell women to “lighten up.” Here, the men do not deny that the allegations of sexual misconduct, but rather claim that it doesn’t matter. For many, this is almost more dangerous than the other kind; to assert that the actions of men upon women simply do not matter is not a debate that can be easily fought, since it is not based on any logic. Thus, there is no way to stop such rhetoric, which very well may lead to more assault and misconduct in the future.


Fear in an Unforgiving World

Mecca Jamilla Sullivan’s “Wolfpack” is not a story for the faint of heart. It is not inherently complicated; the language is straightforward, the syntax largely basic, and the plot mostly linear. The real trouble lies in its pure, emotional telling of a story strongly influenced by horrible reality. In all of this shocking (though unfortunately not surprising) tragedy, however, one emotion is almost never present: fear. Though the narrator dreads prison and resents many of the people that circumstances have put her with, she never expresses true terror in the face of danger.

When the man who degrades her and her friends begins to attack, the narrator does not express any fear. Many would be scared for their safety and the safety of their friends, but she stands unafraid of the man, though she is furious. Similarly, when she reflects on the origins of her knife that her friend uses to stab the man, the narrator remembers how her mother gave her the knife so she could protect herself after a woman in a similar situation was murdered. Throughout this description, she is not afraid for her life, and the language she uses does not reflect the desperate actions of the fearful. Instead, she talks like the knife is a practical measure, rather than a last resort in the throughs of danger.

Her lack of fear is not a coincidence; many women in somewhat similar situations are depicted as fearful, and purely victims of circumstance. While this is not necessarily negative on their character, Sullivan’s portrayal shows a strength that is often neglected. These women may have had terrible circumstances, but they were not afraid.

Tension in a Single Moment

Throughout, Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel Fun Home, the sizes of the panels vary along with the text on each page. Though some pages look similar, none are ever exactly the same in terms of formatting. However, there is one exception. On pages 220 and 221 towards the end of the book, Bechdel has a tense, yet enlightening conversation with her father on the way to a movie. On these pages, all of the panels are perfectly square in a neat, three-by-four arrangement with no text outside the panels.  This arrangement, which vastly differs from the rest of the novel, distinguishes the conversation and Bechdel’s thoughts during it as tense, yet extremely significant.

This passage is the only time in the book, and in Bechdel’s life, that her father explicitly talks about his sexuality to her. He opens up, even if only a little bit, and relates to his daughter. This relation later leads to them getting along more than they ever had, with people commenting that they were being unusually close. However, their moment of closeness is short lived; it comes to an end when Bechdel tries to relate their experiences in wanting to change as children. In fact, the entire conversation is one sided, with her father ending it as soon as she speaks again.

Despite the faults of the conversation itself, Bechdel’s representation of it captures the mood perfectly. The stagnancy of the panels conveys Bechdel’s fear of the end of the conversation, the panels of nothing define the awkward pauses and wait, and her expressions mirror her growing excitement, followed by her disappointment.

Control with Acceptance

In the first half of Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, Bechdel’s father experiences a need to have a perfect house and a spotless exterior. He forces his children to clean almost constantly, obsessing over the prestige and aesthetic beauty of his home. Meanwhile, Bechdel refers to herself as sloppy and not a fan of cleaning. While these personas may seem to characterize them fully, they are actually inversely indicative of the underlying control each of them has of their life and their sexuality. Bechdel has a firm and unapologetic grasp of her sexuality, so she does not feel the need to exert control over smaller aspects of her life. Her father, however, cannot accept his sexuality fully, and as a result feels the desire to control almost everything else in his life.

We see Bechdel’s father being controlling from the beginning, when she compares him to Daedalus of Greek mythology. He is insistent on every piece of ornate furniture being spotless and in peak condition. However, underneath the surface his life is significantly less pristine. He is in a loveless marriage with three children, and has sex with teenage boys, many of whom are his students. Such a life is taboo and messy, so his desire to be orderly is a way to try (and ultimately fail) to correct that.

On the other hand, Bechdel realizes her sexuality in college. When she depicts her first relationship, her room has books lying in a disorganized fashion. Such disorganization in her room but order in her life and feelings contrasts with the opposite situation of her father. While Bechdel is messy in her habits, her emotions are acute enough to make up for that.

Implication over Explanation

In Mecca Jamilah Sullivan’s “Blue Talk and Love,” there is no explicit definition of Earnestine’s sexuality. She is never categorized as a lesbian, or even a specific statement establishing her attraction towards women. In fact, many could read it as a side plot, not the focus of the story. This implication over explanation significantly helps the narrative of the story; for many young people, they do not start identifying themselves with labels, but rather with feelings.

In a large portion of modern media, sexuality and attraction are shown as defining characteristics of life and personality, but for many people they are not the primary motivations of life. Because of this, modern media often depict queer people as being defined almost solely by their sexuality, instead of being people who differ slightly from the “norm.” As a result, media is often inaccurate in addressing queer people as actual people.

In “Blue Talk and Love,” however, the short narrative explores many aspects of Earnestine’s life, only one of which is her sexuality. As the narrator reflects on other aspects of her life, such as her mother’s church, her father’s daytime disappearances, and her standoffishness towards her peers, she does not generally consider it with the label of sexuality, instead focusing on her other problems. Her sexuality does not solely define her personality, and is instead merely one aspect of her.

This representation of implication is far more accurate to real life and people than most modern media, giving the story a more impactful story and ending.

Privacy vs. Action

In her article “A Tale of Three Coming Out Stories,” Roxane Gay makes three major points: one, privacy is a vital right for everyone, regardless of fame, sexuality, or social class. Two, coming out is not equally difficult for everyone; people who are part of other minorities and people who are in less considerate communities often have far more trouble than anyone else. Finally, in order to advance equality for everyone, we must do everything we can, no matter how small, to stop discrimination.

While these ideas generally coexist easily, there is a slight contradiction in some cases between always taking action and maintaining privacy.

One assumption that Gay makes is that coming out is a single, universal event; once someone is out of the closet, they are out and everyone knows. However, coming out is a constant process. Since anyone who isn’t famous doesn’t usually have a constant buzz about their everyday life, they have to come out to people almost constantly if they wish to be fully open.

The contradiction comes when it’s time to speak up against a prejudice of a friend or a slur. People are often forced to reveal their sexual orientation in order to combat prejudice, and if we are all required to take action whenever this situation arrises, then they are forced to give up privacy for the greater good. As a result, this puts people in a very awkward position, choosing between privacy and action.

Overall, however, Gay makes many excellent point, and I agree with her fully.

No More Profound

In the Supreme Court’s decision to allow same-sex couples to be married across the United States, they stressed the importance of marriage. On the other side, opinion author Michael Cobb stressed the importance of non-romantic relationships in “The Supreme Court’s Lonely Hearts Club.” However, both documents focus on the centrality of romantic and sexual relationships, whether it be their importance or unimportance. In reality, marriage is only one type of love that is important for people.

“No union is more profound than marriage,” proclaimed Justice Kennedy in the decision of the case. However, that is not often the case. In recent years, studies have shown that about 50% of married couples get divorced, vastly undermining the sanctity of marriage as a superior relationship. While there is no other way to document other types of love, such as familial and friendship, those types of relationships are often of equal or sometimes greater importance to many people.

On the other hand, Cobb stresses how unimportant marriage is; to him, being single is an inevitability, so he implies that marriage is not as essential as some other relationships. That being said, marriage is not to be discounted. Marriage and the desire to be married shapes the lives of many people, and often results in creating a larger family, playing into other kinds of love.

In essence, while marriage is not the most important type of love to many on a persona level, it is equal to other types of love including friendship and familial love.

Repression and Avoiding the Point

In “We ‘Other Victorians,'” Michel Foucault skillfully speaks of sexual repression, power, and defying the norm, without directly addressing any of those issues. In his opening chapter to The History of Sexuality, he criticizes how Victorian values have bled into modern day values of sexuality without describing the specific ways in which Victorian values are in any way similar to today’s, instead choosing vast generalizations and accusatory judgements.

Starting off, Foucault explains Victorian values effectively, contrasting them with the earlier, more open values and using the historical context of industrialization to support its origins. As he moves into the modern era, however, he not only fails to explain the nature of repression today, but also continually contradicts himself. Foucault claims that society today is repressed, but his major support for that is how many people enjoy talking about sexuality in order to defy social norms. By his own definition, he refutes his own claim without ever backing it up.

Foucault also dodges his way around other points that he brushes over, specifically power dynamics and non-traditional sexuality. He frequently mentions the role of power in sexual repression, but never explains what he means by it. Historically, the largest power dynamics in sex often relate to either gender (repressing women through marriage, rape, or both) or race (in Western history slavery and rape went hand-in-hand). Without him clarifying, Foucault does not make his positions clear in either regard, or make it clear if he meant something else entirely. Similarly, he mentions Victorian mental hospitals in his “other Victorians” point without elaborating. In general, those hospitals held non-conforming individuals such as people attracted to the same sex, among others. By skimming over these points, Foucault himself refuses to talk about the effects of repression on many people in society.

Not Against Love, but Society

“Against Love” by Laura Kipnis is a fascinating essay in that while the narrator technically rants against the horrors of romance, very little of the piece relates directly to love. Most of her work, in fact, refers to societal constructs such as monogamy, marriage, and domesticity.

From the beginning, the narrator equates love to “thirty-year mortgages, spreading waistlines, and monogamy,” while not referring to any sort of primal emotion. Later, she discusses how adultery is a protest against love, while in actuality it is a direct protest against marriage. Similarly, in her “can’t” paragraph, most of the actions that she refers to are domestic, such as cleaning up or watching TV. Therefore, it is worth noting that the narrator rarely despises love itself, only the oppressive and restrictive confines of society in relation to love.

In fact, in many of her tirades against institutionalized love, the narrator brings up other concepts of love and desire as better alternatives. The most prominent example of this appears in her denouncement of monogamy, where she condones adulterers in their rejection of classic monogamy. Instead of despising any sort of physical affection, the narrator denounces it when it is directed towards a single person.

What the narrator fails to consider, then, is the existence of other forms of romantic and sexual love existing outside that of traditional monogamous relationships. Serious open relationships, unmarried couples, traveling couples, and other unorthodox relationships defy many of the constructs that the narrator protests while still embracing love. It begs the question: what would she think of those relationships?