Author: Insiya R. Naim

Themes and controversies

I really enjoyed reading Roxanne Gay’s piece on pop culture and women’s sexuality being taken advantage of. What especially struck me in the piece was her shift between topics. Her discussion ranges in topics, from music, to abortion, to male persistence. It was very refreshing to read such a wholly encapsulating piece that seemed to summarize the majority of problems that women face in the US lately. However, I was hoping for a deeper analysis of the song in the title – Blurred Lines. In my sophomore year of high school I analyzed the lyrics of Adam Levine’s “Animals” to find more and more oppressive language and become horrified about the reality of the song’s message. Although it was not clear that Gay would be doing the same with Blurred Lines, this was still implied.

Aside from this, I was very impressed by Gay’s writing. Specifically, her discussion about abortion resonated with me. Growing up in Dubai, questions to pro-choice vs pro-life were not ever debated, unless behind closed doors and only within the company of liberal-minded people. This is because the UAE follows Sharia law, therefore abortions are illegal and not discussed further. It was very refreshing to read about the topic in more detail with a clear example of why being pro-choice is not a bad thing. Overall, her argument was sarcastic and fun to read, but slightly convoluted because she discussed many topics in a short space.

When reading the Aziz Ansari article, I was very interested in finding out about why the conflict about the scandal was prevalent. After the Harvey Weinstein scandal, I would think that most allegations would be taken seriously, however it was pertinent in the article that there was more controversy about the scandal than I thought. I was especially struck by the mention of Ansari’s private vs public persona, which I would definitely like to analyze further in day-to-day social groups.

Multiple narratives

Something that stood out to me in Sullivan’s “Wolfpack” was her transition into different scenes. On page 8, Sullivan describes the kiss between Arya and Margina, which is a very happy and lighthearted scene in the extract. However, this is immediately followed by a negative tone discussing the man who showed up, which was a very difficult part of the story to read about. I felt very upset while reading this extract, as Sullivan described the emotional and physical vulnerability of the characters through the multiple narrators, making the images powerful and illustrative of the reality that Sullivan wanted to portray. This is also shown through Verniece’s story, which had themes of strength, which contrasted with the encounter with the man, which came across as more vulnerable and terrifying – the threats of sexual harassment and derogatory terminology definitely put her in the victim’s position, making the audience sympathize with her.

Through the multiple viewpoints, Sullivan presented the power of words, as many of us have already highlighted, and the way she caters her writing to suit these different perspectives allows the reader to have a holistic interpretation of the experiences of the different characters. In doing so, Sullivan almost forces the reader to empathize with the incarcerated women in the story.

Reconciliation

In reading part two of Fun Home, I found a lot of questions being answered. While the first part of the graphic novel struck me as confusing and disturbing, I felt a lot more comfortable reading the second part and delving deeper into the lives of Bechdel and her family members. It was specifically enlightening to learn more about her father and his past, as well as see their general relationship grow as she got older and revealed more moments that they shared together. It was also interesting to see the parallels between the two, such as the scene where Bechdel is reading a magazine with the image of a man with his shirt unbuttoned, spread across the double pages. Bechdel and her father share an admiration for ‘masculine beauty’ which I find slightly endearing, considering the fact that they were both in the closet at this moment in time. It was also interesting to see more of the father in a positive manner rather than the negative, almost morbid way that he was depicted in the first part. In fact, Bechdel even draws him smiling towards the final pages of the graphic novel, which I found bittersweet. It is true that Bechdel and her father had a complicated relationship, and I believe that this was portrayed accurately in the graphic novel through the shared features of images and prose.

Confused and disturbed

I wasn’t exactly sure what to think of Bechdel’s “Fun Home”. It was quite a confusing and cryptic graphic novel, in the sense that it consisted mostly of strange anecdotes and references to different pieces of literature throughout each chapter. The first reference was about Icarus, and this reference was used as a metaphor for Bechdel’s father. Frankly speaking, the entirety of the first three chapters made me feel uncomfortable.

Seeing such a family dynamic, where the parents were not ‘in love’ and the children were treated with harsh consequences as a result of not complying to the father’s rules, made me feel discomfort in a way that I haven’t experienced before. Perhaps it was the case that I predicted that the father had a sexual history that was going to be unfolded, or perhaps it was the inclusion of images that seemed normal, but were accompanied by disturbing captions. Either way, whether it was the storyline or the format of the novel, I felt a distinct disgust at the reveal of the reality of the father’s history.

Additionally, I could sense that the father’s obsession with renovating the house and reading books had a largely negative impact on his relationship with the mother. Bechdel made it clear that there was distance between the father and the rest of the family, but there was a primary emphasis on the lack of classic relationship tropes between the father and the mother – namely, their relationship was mostly businesslike. This made me feel even more discomfort as I was unsure of what the dynamic was truly supposed to be a reflection of.

Descriptions and dyads

In Blue Talk and Love, Sullivan uses the characters of Earnestine and Xiomara to explore the relationship between two girls who eventually come to find more similarities than differences in their personalities. I think that something I enjoyed the most about the chapter was Sullivan’s use of beautiful metaphors to set the scene. Not only was I able to picture myself standing on the exact balcony where Earnestine and Xiomara smoked together, but I was able to immerse all my senses in the situation. I thought that the writing was brilliantly done, and was intrigued to read more.

With regards to the topic, love and sexuality, I was slightly confused by Sullivan’s focus on individual lives rather than the lives of two people together. Although the beginning of the chapter highlighted Earnestine’s relationship with Xiomara, the majority of the chapter described them as two separate individuals, and their independent characteristics and traits. However, as I think about it now, I imagine that the independent descriptions of each character, and the glimpses into their lives, allow the reader to understand and sympathize with each character’s experiences. I especially understood the internal struggles Earnestine was going through, with her family problems and social standing. Her sexuality was part of her development, but was unclear because of the chaos in her life.

Insiya & Steph

Gay argues that our society obsesses over categorization of different aspects of character, including political orientation, gender identity, sexuality, and so on. She speculates that this obsession has become almost habitual, writing that, “we don’t know what to do when we don’t know the answers to these questions or, worse, when the answers to these questions do not fall neatly into a category.” Gay’s observation reveals our need for binary explanations of behavior, perhaps to simplify the complex nature of reality. She also expresses the discomfort people experience when having to deal with such complexities and ambiguities. Gay argues that people believe that categorizing people will alleviate this discomfort. This obsession with categorization, Gay argues, explains our expectation that celebrities will share their private lives just because they are in the public’s eye. This relates to her main argument where she asserts that humans have a desire to know about people’s private lives, as well as our fixation on placing people inside and outside of the norm, when in reality, the norm is much more convoluted than we want it to be.

The importance of celebrity coming out stories

What struck me most about the article by Roxanne Gay was her statement: “We act like placing these people [public figures] in categories will have some impact on our lives… The only thing satisfied by that information is my curiosity.” I understand that in the grand scheme of things, the way that other people act does not directly impact us. However, Gay failed to recognize the importance of indirect exposure to people of different sexualities, especially celebrities. When Raven Symone came out as a lesbian in 2012, she had a very lasting impact on fans of her Disney Channel TV show – they began to realize the importance of being true to yourself. This sparked more young people to come out to the LGBTQ+ community, proving that celebrities do in fact have an unwritten social contract that allows their following to be influenced by what they have to do and say. Hence, I disagree with Gay in that there are impacts on the wider community when a celebrity comes out. However, her point about the categorization of sexual orientations and gender identities also stands true, as we have mechanized sexuality and made it a binary system that oversimplifies the reality of gender and emotion.

Is Marriage That Bad?

What I understood from the article was that Cobb is completely against the institution of marriage, and the Supreme Court’s decision for Obergefell v Hodges in 2015 was one that struck a chord in Cobb’s perception of what it means to be single, or rather, unmarried, in today’s society. What I didn’t understand, however, is the lack of consideration for homosexual people in fighting for their right to marry. I specifically choose to use the word ‘right’ when discussing marriage. I don’t agree with any of Cobb’s arguments about how marriage is when “emotions meet law” and how remaining unmarried leaves one with no “constitutional dignity”. Instead, I argue that marriage is just a tradition that people can choose to exercise. I understand wanting not to get married to avoid the legalities of being someone’s life partner, but wanting to get married and having to experience said legalities should not be frowned upon. I do not agree with the notion of marriage as a “form of governance”. In my opinion, Cobb gives too much credit to marriage, using the phrase “it orders the world and civilization” to describe the power that such an institution has over humanity. Instead, I think that you can give marriage as much power as you wish, and your response to that power is proportionate to how much you personally care about it. 

Issues with Psychology and Gender in We “Other Victorians”

In We “Other Victorians”, Foucault considers the repression of sexulality in modern times as compared to historical eras. One thing that struck me was the mention of Freud and the shift in views towards sexuality that his research caused. I found it interesting that Foucault considered Freud’s conclusions of sexuality to be “scientific” and “medical” rather than holistic and psychological considerations of sexuality. It is understandable that Freudian theory about repression of sexuality caused a great shift in the late Victorian era and beginning of the Edwardian era. However, I also understand that Freud’s theories are now considered outdated and not empirical or scientific enough to be highly ranked within the realm of human psychology. I therefore argue with Foucault’s view that mentions of sexuality are still only determined by psychological and medical reasoning. Instead, I believe that modern day society has begun to accept sex to be liberating.

However, I agree with Foucault’s discussion about the abuse of power in sexual relationships. I believe that sex and power are related, and a huge reason for this is in fact society’s internalization of Freud’s theories. According to these theories, females are born with an Electra complex, which causes them to resent their mother for castrating them, but they still identify with the mother in order to avoid losing their attachment to their father. Because of this, I would argue that Foucault’s theories are more applicable to debates about gender with regards to sexuality and power struggles. After all, modern day society seems to have more cases of men taking advantage of their positions in power in order to gain sexual gratification, as I hope to learn more about in the discussion on the Aziz Ansari scandal. Overall, I think that Foucault’s conclusions have a strong foundation of understanding the relationship between power and the repression of sexuality, but I think that we must dig deeper into understanding the power dynamics between different genders, as well as different sexual orientations.

 

Modern Romance

What I found most striking about Kipnis’s essay, “Against Love”, was her ambiguous view towards monogamy and polygamy. Her narrative came across as almost hostile, suggesting that any attempts towards finding love in today’s day and age are futile, purely because of the social standards set around relationships. I agree with Kipnis’s view that the impact that relationship breakdown has on people nowadays is far more worrying than it may have been in the past, however her lack of sympathy for genuine human emotion makes me feel like she is unjustified to put across such an argument. She continues to write about language having to be “codified”, which in itself comes across as cynical.

Her mechanizing portrayal of love could be interpreted in two ways. First is the optimist’s perception: that love is simple and can be put together through attention to detail. Second is the pessimist’s perception, or arguably, the realist’s: love has caused partners to develop a disconnection from the reality of being together. Perhaps Kipnis’s argument is more against the societal standards of love, rather than falling in love itself. People are too quick to jump into relationships and say those three foreboding words, and hence portray a mentality of not taking relationships seriously. It upsets me to think that modern romance has been damaged because of such standards. However, what Kipnis fails to recognize is that as times change, social standards for all aspects of humanity change. Comparing modern standards of love to historical standards of love is one of Kipnis’s setbacks in her essay, and I would recommend that she instead takes on a more optimistic approach to understanding love.