Author: Serra A. Muftu

Acceptance of implied sexual violence in media is dangerous

In both “Blurred Lines, Indeed” by Roxane Gay and “The controversy around Babe.net’s Aziz Ansari story, explained” by Caroline Framke they explore the culture of implicit or unclear sexual assault.

Gay discusses how many artists often “blur” the lines between implicit and explicit sexual violence. Often there are “undertones” of sexual violence which in ways can be more dangerous because they are more readily accepted or dismissed by society. After being called out for his song, “Blurred Lines” Robert Thicke addressed this issues (or didn’t address it) by saying that “Men want what they want” which implies that a women’s opinion is marginal in decision making around sex which isn’t consensual. These attitudes are reflected often in both music and comedy which makes them harder to address because they are cast aside as just being jokes. She argues that this attitude isn’t just a pop culture phenomena but is also reflected in the decision making of our lawmakers. Controversial decisions around reproductive freedom often stem from men in government inhibiting women from having the autonomy to make personal choices around their reproductive health such as access to birth control and especially abortions. This stems from the same culture reflected in “Blurred Lines” where men make decisions for women without consulting them or without their best interest in mind.

This “Blurred Lines” attitude is also related to the themes discussed in The controversy around Babe.net’s Aziz Ansari story, explained”. A women who went on a date with Aziz Ansari and went back to his house afterwards felt deeply uncomfortable with his sexual advances and later told the story to Babes.net. Framke argues that men like Ansari “focus on their own desires without recognizing what their partner wants” which creates a reality for women where sex is a “gray area between pleasure and pain”. Aziz Ansari’s in his public image and show “Master of None” were commended for addressing issues such as sexism and sexual assault. This made the woman’s story that much more surprising but also concerning. Though the woman didn’t experience explicit, extreme sexual violence, she was very uncomfortable with the events that happened.

The Power of Words

This story details the stories of Verniece, TaRonne, and LaShayna who along with four other women were branded as the “lesbian wolfpack” or “killer lesbians” who protected themselves after being verbally and physically attacked by a man in New York. The power of words, who has them and who doesn’t, is explored. The attack left these women without words and unable to use their words because both the man and the judge who sentenced them to prison left them powerless. The ability to express oneself and have others listen and respect those words is a power that these women were stripped of. On pg. 10, TaRonne says, “Those words meant the chance to be a person, in my own language, for real.” If she is unable to use her words, then she is unable to be a person. This moment not only stripped her of her voice, but of her personhood as well. They talk about how the difference between animals and humans is the ability to speak. When the man called her an “elephant” and therefore reducing her to an animal he inhibited her from speaking and expressing herself as well. He dehumanized these women by referring to them as animals. The judge said that “words don’t justify hurting a human being” (16) which completely disregarded the dehumanizing, traumatic experience these women went through. LaShayna argues that when someone is treating you inhumanely it is hard to “think human, to be human, when someone is threatening to knock, force, fuck the you out of you” (16). This story was a tragic and powerful example of how women’s experiences, particularly women of color, are often minimized. Here, by the assaulter, the judge, and the media that portrayed them negatively. Though this story saddened me, what impacted me even more deeply was that this mistreatment of women isn’t uncommon.

Images are effective in displaying attitudes and relationships

In general, I don’t think I’ve ever read a graphic novel before. I think that really affects my opinions on how effective the graphic novel form was for me as a reader. I had trouble disassociating graphic novels and their pictures with picture book appropriate content. I also just wasn’t quite use to reading the text in order and also observing the images simultaneously. I usually felt like I was giving the text a lot more attention than the images in general. For some passages I felt like the text was enough to convey her ideas but in other places I felt as if the pictures supplemented her storyline sufficiently.  

On page 204 I felt like the images spoke to themes or enriched the content of the graphic novel beyond just the text. Here, her father is letting her borrow some novels from his library. Since these are his livelihood she finds the act endearing. I think their facial expressions convey the tone of their relationship in a way that the text doesn’t explore. When they are facing each other they solely look at the book because it is the books that are bringing them together. When her father turns around she looks up at him as he turns away. He is really happy to be sharing his books with her and she is happy that he is sharing but they don’t let the other one know. In general, I’ve noticed that her father is always portrayed as extremely serious in the novel and his mood and general attitude is often shown through images rather than text explanation.

I think after reading the entire novel and getting use to the form if I reread the book or when I read other graphic novels I can get a lot more out of them now that I have a better idea of how to balance both looking at the text and the images.

 

Literary References

One of the most interesting parts of “Fun Home” by Alison Bechdel was the role of literary references within the graphic novel. Her father was described as both Icarus and Daedalus who are greek mythological father and son characters. Similarly to how the emotional costs of her father’s obsession with home renovation damaged their family, Daedalus was “indifferent to the human cost of his projects” (11). His coldness, and disregard for his family lead to a emotionless family dynamic. His fixation with changing appearances of homes is consistent with the theme that her father is uncomfortable with reality.

Perhaps his escape from reality was reading books. Among some of his favorite authors were Albert Camus and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Post suicide, she finds some underlined passages in Camus’ “The Myth of Sisyphus” talking about the relationship between absurdity and suicide and also how “we all live as if we don’t know were going to die” (48) but since her father’s was a mortician she feels as if he understood the inevitable well. His connection to fictional characters such as Gatsby who was out of touch with reality shows his unhappiness with his reality. His life lasted only three days longer than Fitzgerald’s life but it’s unclear as to whether this is a coincidence. She struggles with understanding this connection whether it was purposeful or not. I struggled to understand why she wanted the connection between her coming out and her father’s death to exist. Maybe because though “tenuous” (86) it shows that there was some kind of emotional connection between them that was deeper than she previously believed.

Because her father lived vicariously through novels, Alison grew up surrounded in literature and learned to interpret the world this way. Her grappling with her sexuality through books whereas maybe her father avoided his with books wasn’t unintentional. Whereas for her mother, after her father’s death she gave away most of his books over time. For her, these novels represented the negative aspects in their relationship that prevented them from having a healthy marriage.

Do blue talk and love always go together?

In “Blue Talk and Love” by Mecca Sullivan  Earnestine explores and experiences many different kinds of unconventional love in her life from her parents tumultuous marriage to her infatuation with her neighbor and peer Xiomara. As opposed to most of the articles we’ve read thus far, this piece is fictional but often I find that fiction can portray truths better than factual statements. Her style is borders on lyrical and has many lengthy descriptions.

When comparing herself to her peers, Earnestine feels as if she doesn’t live up to the white beauty standards around her which perpetuate that being white and thin is beautiful. Her male classmates often make fun of her for the way she looks. On the other hand, her father tells her that her appearance doesn’t matter, what matters is that she has soul. She often compares herself to Xiomara who is stereotypically beautiful and who is universally adored by boys at school and feels insignificant.

Her relationship with Xiomara is very personal and the time they spend together is intimate. She “felt that she and Xiomara were alone in a secret tropical cave beneath a post-apocalyptic city sometime around the year 2020–an impossible distance away.” (23) Spending time with Xiomara allows her to escape her reality. By the end of the story its implied that Xiomara and Earnestine have some kind of romantic or sexual relationship.

She often observes her parents fighting at home and “It was the small hidden questions of her parent’s lives that scared her.” (32) The communication issues between them are apparent. Her father often plays music after their fights and he plays September but “It was a ballad, a relentless tale of loss that brought to mind all of the things she feared most about love, and made her wonder how people managed to grow up at all.” (34) She doesn’t seem to understand how people fall in love or stay in love since her parents aren’t in love anymore. The connection between “blue talk and love” symbolizes how often with love there is sadness accompanied with it.

 

Unreasonable standards for non-normative groups- Serra & Jefferson

Gay argues that how non-normative marriages are held to different, and higher standards than normative marriages even though they shouldn’t be. For examples, Gay uses the examples of Zach Walhs who had to extensively prove that his two mothers were apt parents in court. Parenthood should be defined more broadly than a man and a woman. A parent should be defined by their actions rather than their specific sexual orientation. Often, gay parents are forced to prove their parenting abilities in order to be recognized as “normal” parents whereas the stereotypical parents of a mother and a father would not have to go to such lengths to do so. Gay uses this court case to highlight societies tighly held preconceived notions about what parenting is “suppose” to look like. Currently, people who are subject to this treatment are the ones speaking out about it, but that responsibility shouldn’t be completely on their shoulders. Instead everyone should broaden their definitions of what relationships look like to lighten that burden on the LGBTQ community. 

No privacy in coming out

In “A Tale of Three Coming Out Stories” By Roxane Gay she explores the role of celebrities coming out and their responsibilities to do so. The first part of her argument is constructed around the role of privacy and how expecting people to come out, or forcing them to is a violation of privacy. Our culture is obsessed with placing these people in categories will have some impact on our lives, or that creating these categories is our responsibility, when most of the time, creating such taxonomy won’t change anything at all.” (161) Her use of the word taxonomy has a scientific edge to it implying that our culture categorizes people’s sexuality almost in a pseudo-scientific manner to imply that difference in sexuality has greater implications which it doesn’t. People’s intense, yet useless curiosity often results in people being “forcibly outed” (161). Celebrities face the most pressure to come out even if it violates their right to privacy. Because of their roles as public figures many people think that “there is a greater obligation that must be met beyond what that person might ordinarily choose to meet” (164). Gay recognizes that this pressure isn’t necessarily fair and that it shouldn’t be necessary, but because their actions can make a potential difference they should.

The second component of her argument is that not all instances of coming out are as easy as others. She makes the point that Anderson Cooper didn’t face much backlash when he publicly came out because like other gay celebrities, he doesn’t present as “too gay” and that is why he was accepted because of he is“white, successful, handsome, and masculine” (165). He fits the image that people want to assign to gay men and therefore was accepted as so. Others who do not fulfill this image often face challenges. She refers to this issue as “a problem though that there’s a right kind of gay” (166). An eye opening comparison she drew for me was the difference in situations between Anderson Cooper coming out and Frank Ocean coming out. Because of their differing identities, careers, and communities they exist in they’re public coming outs had very different levels of risk.

No Shame in Being in The Lonely Hearts Club

Michael Cobb wrote this opinion piece, “The Supreme Court’s Lonely Hearts Club” in a response to the Obergefell vs. Hodges case where Justice Anthony Kennedy commented on the relationship between marriage and loneliness. Not only did he say that “Marriage responds to the universal fear that a lonely person might call out only to find no one there,” but also “no union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family” (1). Cobb takes deep offense to this statement for two reasons.

One, he doesn’t believe that in essence having sex (or not) should determine the benefits a relationship can gain in the eyes of the government. If two good friends wish to function as a unit and receive the tax benefits they should be able to. He believes that the difference between this and a marriage at its core is that they are not having sex. To him this line between friends and romantic partners seems arbitrary.

Two, if Justice Kennedy wants to deliver “same sex couples ‘equal dignity in the eyes of the law’” (3) then there is the implication that non-married people lack dignity. Cobb believes that his dignity, his respect for himself, should not be determined by whether he is in a committed relationship or not. These comments lacked consideration for people who don’t care to get married or who just haven’t gotten married yet. As Cobb questions, inevitably we will all be single as times in our lives so then are we inevitably undignified sometimes?

This made me think about why our government holds the power to legitimizing relationships. If they determine who gets the benefits of being in a certain relationship and who doesn’t then they show preferential treatment to some partnerships over others. This reminded me of Laura Kipnis’s article and how our love is deeply institutionalized in some aspects. The government perpetuates the notion that we must marry one other person and be in a relationship with till death do us apart.

Why we talk about sex the way we do

In the chapter “We ‘Other Victorians’” Michael Foucault explores the historical context behind the repression of discussing and having pleasurable sex confidently in society. He claims that there was a shift from the 17th century, where sex was openly accepted as a far of life, to the Victorian bourgeois where “Sexually was carefully confined; it moved into the home” (3). Unless one was in a mental institution or a brothel sex was “taboo, nonexistence, and silent.” (4). This change in ideology around sex is accredited to the power systems the bourgeois society created and also capitalism.

Foucault emphasises the importance of recognizing the relationship between sex, repression, and power. He questions the systems which led us to question sex, shine it in a negative light, and reject our positive relationships with sex. An important question he asks is why did we, or do we equate sex with sin? He answers that abuses of power have created this complicated relationship. It will take an honest, open discussion about sex over a long period of time to start to unravel these preconceived notions of impurity surrounding sex. In a culture of repressing pleasure it will take years to have conversations of this unprecedented nature because of our history of avoiding sex as a subject. His focus becomes more clear at the end of the essay when he asks many questions and then answers them himself. His questioning of “The way in which sex is ‘put into discourse’” (11) raises important points such as who talks about it? How do they talk about? How are they controlling the conversation around sex? What are their underlying motivations? This piece hinted at many of these answers but I’m really interested in hearing a more detailed account of these systems of power and repression.

 

Is our notion of love biological?

Laura Kipnis in her essay “Against Love” critiques the way modern love constrains us from small things such as eating fluff to large things such as monogamy. One of the focuses of this essay is how nonsensical having one partner for a lifetime is. The institution of marriage assumes that “desire will manage to sustain itself for thirty or forty or fifty years” (736). She argues that tedious work must go into keeping the passion of a relationship alive and often it becomes as monotonous as another job to do so. I’m interested in why most people aspire to have partnerships that last a lifetime. This notion is so deeply rooted in many places throughout the world so I wonder how that social convention came out. We accept romantic love as a natural or inherent behavior usually so her description of historians considering romantic love a “learned behavior” (735) rejected traditional notions of love. There are some aspects of love that are biological such as the release of oxytocin hormone that increases in romantic situations, but there are many conditioned behaviors that we learn from others as well. She briefly discusses adults who stray out of their monogamous relationships and refers to them as “home-grown closet social theorists” (737). Here she continues to question dedicating our entire romantic and sexual lives to another. When discussing mutuality, she argues that stereotypical relationships “presume, of course, that the majority of those needs can and and should be met by one person. (Question this, and you question the very foundations of the institution. So don’t.” (737) She seems to reject monogamy but she doesn’t commit to embracing polyamory where people have multiple intimate relationships at the same time. Maybe for the sake of not dissuading readers who are already wary of her ideas she didn’t push her argument to the next level.