Sunday, April 27, 2008

Zygmunt Bauman's "Liquid Love"

Zygmunt Bauman, author of “Liquid Love,” explains this concept in the foreword of the book: “[Ulrich’s] successors today must tie together whatever bonds they want to use as a link to engage with the rest of the human world by their own efforts…None of the connections that come to fill the gap…are, however, guaranteed to last. Anyway, the need to be only loosely tied, so that they can be untied again, with little delay, when the settings change- as in liquid modernity they surely will, over and over again” (Foreword, vii). It is Bauman’s intention “to explore the frailty of human bonds, the feeling of insecurity that frailty inspires, and the conflicting desires that feeling prompts to tighten the bonds yet keep them loose” throughout the book (viii).

In chapter 1, “Falling In and Out of Love,” Bauman begins by examining the relationship between love and death. Just as one cannot learn to die, the author writes, one cannot learn to love. He argues that instead of people rising to the occasion of loving greatly more often, people instead choose to create lower standards. The author contends that love is not a skill to be learned, nor are ones’ skills to be furthered with each passing experience (5). Bauman contends that for some, love is akin to fate. He writes, “To love means opening up to that fate, that most sublime of all human conditions, one in which fear blends with joy into an alloy that no longer allows its ingredients to separate” (7).

After a section on Eros, Bauman writes of the connection between desire and love. He makes a distinction between two by describing desire as the “wish to consume” and love as the “wish to care, and to preserve the object of the care” (9). Bauman believes, however, we should rethink what we mean by desire. He describes desire as a long term situation or experience, and the time it takes to enjoy the investment of desire is “irritatingly and unaffordably long” (11).

Bauman continues on with an investment theme, describing relationships in terms of investments, stocks, and profits. Similar to investments, Bauman writes, is the effort it takes to create and maintain successful relationships, especially when considering the overwhelming doubts and securities both partners feel. However, the success of relationships is that neither person suffers from loneliness anymore.

The author explains “top-pocket relationships” next, named for how one can “keep it in your pocket so that you can bring it out when you need it” (21). The best qualities of such a relationship are that they are short and sweet. To be effective, Bauman writes, both partners must “enter in full awareness and soberly…and keep it this way” (21).

After a digression on a soap show called EastEnders, Bauman describes how affinity can be both positive and negative for one’s relationships. He states, “living together acquires the attraction which the bonds of affinity lack…over ‘living together,’ future kinship, whether desired or feared, does not cast its dark shadow” (29). The author then explains new popular ideologies, such as a substitution of ‘shared identity’ for ‘shared interests,’ ‘imagined communities,’ and technological communications (31-35).

In chapter 2, “In and Out of the Toolbox of Sociality,” the author contends that “homo sexualis” is both “orphaned by Eros” and “bereaved by the future” (40). He illustrates the issue of the modernity of medicine by describing the increasing importance of medicine rather than sex for reproduction. In the beginning over the chapter, Bauman examines how children change the lives of their parents, both positively and negatively. He notes that children, “first and foremost, [are] an object of emotional consumption” and warns “when it comes to objects of consumption, one looks for ‘value for money” (42).

The author also makes not of the increasing impact of medicine on sex by describing the potentially long-lasting consequences from having multiple sexual partners. Alongside issues of HIV or AIDS, Bauman notes that sexual intercourse or “episodes” also may produce increased levels of anxiety. He writes, “What sort of commitment, if any, does the union of bodies entail? Can the sexual encounter be kept in isolation from the rest of life’s pursuits, or will it spill over across that rest of life, saturate it and transform it?” (51).

It is these last questions that I think will be most interesting to discuss for tomorrow’s class. Many college students attempt to keep relationships or “sexual episodes” as informal and frequent as possible. Others seek out a partner they can see themselves marrying in the near future. I would like to discuss this issue in light of Bauman’s earlier discussions on the frailty of human bonds and the connection between love and desire. To what extent do you agree with his assessment of modern relationships? Disagree? In family/frienships/partner relationships?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Kipnis' "Against Love" chapters 3 & 4

Throughout chapter 3, “The Art of Love,” author Laura Kipnis illustrates different types of affairs, and how adulterers may feel getting into one, being in one, and getting out of one. Kipnis provides a multitude of possible reasons for why people engage in affairs, from boredom to dissatisfaction. She spends more time in the chapter describing what it feels like for people to be in affairs, persuading the reader to believe one can’t achieve this level of happiness/fun/excitement/desirability/love in a state of monogamy. Kipnis illustrates the extent to which adulterers rearrange their lives such as, taking up new hobbies or prolonging the work day, attempting to create satisfactory excuses to keep their actions of their new secret life safe and hidden. She writes of adultery as a way to “experiment with possibilities,” an idea she wants everyone to work with, not merely artists (114).

After providing three different scenarios of adultery, Kipnis begins to explain how adulterers have the great fortune, or misfortune, of being “routinely exposed to the most privy aspects of each other’s primary relationships” (119). While this can lead to excitement for the adulterer, giving him or her inside information and possibly, confirmation that their affair is for the best, it can also lead to a case of too much information and the demise of the affair.

In later sections of the chapter, Kipnis describes negative aspects of becoming involved in an affair, possible negative self-realizations. The most significant, Kipnis writes, is the feeling of self-disgust. The author furthers this section with a discussion on deception, and the potential disastrous consequences of lying to one’s partner. She writes, “The sustaining premise of modern coupled life is that our intimates are those we don’t lie to: we like to think of intimacy as a private enclave of authenticity set apart from ordinary social falseness and superficialities” (127). Kipnis concludes chapter 3 with a discussion on the reasons and potential ramifications of marriages staying together “for the sake of the children” (139).

In chapter 4, “…And the Pursuit of Happiness,” Kipnis focuses on numerous stories of our nation’s politicians’ extramarital affairs, with all of their scandalous details. From former President Clinton to Georgia congressman Bob Barr, Kipnis exposes their stories as evidence of her argument of the erosion of the “public/private distinction in American political culture” (145). I found her argument throughout this chapter that “whoever gets caught, at some level, self-engineers this fate” particularly interesting (147). I can understand how this could both explain and exasperate the sexuality scandals focusing on prominent national politicians. On one hand, when a person in such a famous position in national politics becomes involved in such a scandal, it’s easy to argue they should have known better, being in such a prominent position. Yet if one flips around this argument, it would be easy to claim that such famous figures believe in their own scandal immunity, leading them to participate in a potential scandal. Kipnis continues on to include a discussion on gay marriage, civil ceremonies, and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). I found her encouragement of a civic dialogue on the institution of marriage the most promising aspect of the entire book. We, as a nation, must be willing to entertain the “possibility that marriage was an institution in transition or an institution being redefined” (153).

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

R. W. Connell, chapters 6 and 7

In chapter 6 of R. W. Connell’s “Masculinities,” the author examines the relationship between straight and gay men. Connell introduces the chapter by offering a brief history of society’s public acceptance of homosexuality. In the late 1960s and early 70s, Connell notes a “greater sexualization of the general culture,” providing a basis for the emergence of gay communities in the 1970s and 80s. Social-scientific views of homosexuality began to progress as well, with male homosexuality moving from being viewed as a form of “deviance” to an understanding of a separate identity.

Chapter 6 results from Connell’s interviews with 8 men from the gay community in Sydney, Australia. Ranging from early 20s to late 40s, these men had all had relationships with both women and men. Connell intertwines excerpts from these men with historical and current discourses on homosexuality. He begins by noting that homosexuality was caused by an “abnormality in development,” but that no one had determined what exactly that abnormality was. Distant fathers and seductive mothers were suggested to be the cause, but Connell points out recent studies have found little support. In Connell’s study, all 8 men had family relationships considered to be socially conventional. Their childhoods were also found to be socially normal, as there wasn’t much gender nonconformity (146). Moving into their adulthoods, Connell describes their work lives as socially masculine. With these two possible suggestions for an “abnormality” critiqued, Connell writes of the men’s “moment of engagement,” as stemming from “a sexual experience- the discovery of sexuality, or a discovery in sexuality” (147). The author continues on to describe several men’s early heterosexual and homosexual relationships by referencing that public discourse takes heterosexuality for granted (148). He writes of adult homosexuality, “It is something that happens, that is produced by specific practices, not something predetermined” (149).

Further sections of the chapter focus on the men’s experiences of “realizing” their homosexuality or their “coming out” stories. Usually these dialogues include thoughts of “sexual freedom,” and later, wishing for a long-term relationship. Other stories focus on feelings of “change,” such as change in living situations, or more personal, such as working to change specific parts of one’ s personality.

I was interested in the last parts of the chapter, when Connell focuses on the men’s opinions on feminism, especially when it is noted the their attitude and the level of ignorance of the subject matches those of heterosexual men interviewed. Connell illustrates, “Their usual position is to express some support for feminism, but to qualify it by disapproving of Those Who Go Too Far” (159).

Chapter 7 focuses on hegemonic masculinities, with reference specifically to rationality. Connell introduces, “A familiar theme in patriarchal ideology is that men are rational while women are emotional” (165). By critiquing this in light of men’s experiences (9 men, aged early 20s to mid40s) constructing their own masculinity, especially in the workplace, Connell illustrates the complexity of this issue.

A majority of the men interviewed recount childhoods with a great understanding of distinct gender roles, usually played out by their mothers and fathers. These reflections often connect directly to their current understanding of men and women’s roles, typically very traditional views.

Connell writes of two men’s vastly different job training experiences, with one educationally more advance, and the other having worked his way up from position to position based on previous skill and knowledge. The author goes on to describe how rationality can be “accomplished” in the workplace. One way is a hierarchically organized workplace, where the most knowledgeable people work at the top. In contrast, the other structured workplace focuses on common goals, rather than the authority in control. Connell concludes, “We may argue, then, that the relation between expertise and hierarchy in the workplace is a characteristic difficulty encountered by this group of men” (174). I found this section of Connell’s chapter most applicable to my own understanding and experience in a workplace, and believe many women, and young adults share this problem. Feelings of both inadequacy and, in contrast, superiority, both plague the workplace environment, creating an arena of uncertainty and disinterest.

Connell concludes with a section on the rationality of a workplace and the place the issue of sexuality holds. He writes, “Though diverse in their practice of sex, the men share a cultural experience about sex”(175). This translates into difficult workplace “sexual etiquette,” the next section Connell discusses.

Connell concludes by restating his argument, that rationality “is part of the modern legitimation of patriarchy” (180). However, he notes, this must be examined in light of sexuality in modern practice and in the workplace. He notes that there have, in fact, been attempts at reform and modernization, though still within well-defined limits (181).

I’m curious to hear what the class thinks about these two chapters of Connell. Though chapter 6 focused more on homosexuality and the interplay between sexual orientation and masculinity, I think its interviews were more critical to Connell’s discussion than those in chapter 7. Other points to consider: what did you think of the authority vs. experience workplace debate? To what extent is that problem similar to women’s experiences in the workplace? Women’s sexuality in the workplace?

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Norah Vincent's "Self-Made Man"

In “Self-Made Man: One Woman’s Year Disguised as a Man,” Norah Vincent becomes Ned, a “regular” man who, in chapters 2 and 3, joins a bowling league and frequents strip clubs. Vincent examines gender identity in one of the most extreme ways possible, with the help of several physical transformations. The first chapter consists of Vincent’s rationale for the research and how she went about transforming herself to pass society’s expectations of how a man should physically look and sound. I was surprised with Vincent’s thoroughness, from the makeup to the weight lifting. It was interesting the extent to which her outward appearances affected her interactions with others. I especially enjoyed the section in which Vincent notes how when after a substantial amount of time of routine contact with certain people, she wouldn’t be as rigid in her physical appearance, such as not binding her breasts, or going for a few days without the makeup, and the people didn’t appear to notice any difference.

Chapter 2 describes Vincent’s experience on a men’s bowling team in a community league. I found her descriptions of how she interacted and the conversations she had with the men on her team fascinating. I was most impressed with this chapter of the three we read so far. Vincent’s descriptions of how nervous she was to even enter the league proved enlightening. She writes, “As a woman, you don’t belong. You’re not wanted. And every part of you knows it, and is just begging you to get up and leave” (21).

Chapter 3 details the experience of visiting strip clubs, both with friends and alone. I found her opinions on the women workers and the clubs’ patrons extremely blunt, and also narrow-minded. Even as Vincent described multiple strippers’ backgrounds and varied reasons for working at such a place, as the reader, I felt pressured to agree with her extremely negative views on the entire place. I felt Vincent believes there is absolutely no single good reason why a woman would choose to enter into the profession of a stripper, and there was no good reason why men should choose to enter such a place. However, as the reader, we weren’t supposed to separate experiences or reasons, just accept her gross overgeneralizations.

Throughout all three chapters, Vincent had me hooked, for better or worse. I am excited to keep reading and look forward to our class discussion. I am wondering whether Vincent’s personal experiences in these situations reflects our own understanding of male sexuality? Does it reinforce what people already believe? Or does it present a different argument? In what way does Vincent’s background and education alter her opinions on the situations she experiences?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Part 2 of Judith Butler's "Gender Trouble"

Butler begins section 2 “Prohibition, Psychoanalysis, and the Production of the Heterosexual Matrix” by illustrating the complexity surrounding the issue of patriarchy as a historical culture and modern universalizing concept. She comments on how a repressive law gains its origins and how the corresponding narrative may, in the end, provide justification for the law it actually opposes. Butler notes, “This ideal [patriarchy] tends not only to serve culturally conservative aims, but to constitute an exclusionary practice within feminism, precipitating precisely the kind of fragmentation that the ideal purports to overcome” (49).

I. Structuralism’s Critical Exchange

Butler begins by analyzing Levi-Strauss’ structuralist discourse in which a kinship structure is based on women, seen as gifts given from one clan to another through marriage (52). Described as a “phallogocentric economy,” Levi-Strauss’ masculine cultural identity is established through an “overt act of differentiation between patrilineal clans” (54). Butler argues, “In effect, the relations among patrilineal clans are based in homosocial desire, a repressed and, hence, disparaged sexuality, a relationship between men which is, finally, about the bonds of men, but which takes place through the heterosexual exchange and distribution of women” (55). Levi-Strauss’ argues that incest is not a reality, but a “cultural fantasy.” (57).

II. Lacan, Riviere, and the Strategies of Masquerade

In this section, Butler begins by illustrating issues of gender in Lacan’s theory of language. She contrasts the differences in “being” the Phallus and “having” the Phallus. To “be” the Phallus is to be the object and also reflects that desire. Lacan argues, “For women to ‘be’ the Phallus means, then, to reflect the power of the Phallus, to signify that power, to ‘embody’ the Phallus, to supply the site to which it penetrates, and to signify the Phallus through ‘being’ its Other…confirmation of its identity” (59). In addition, Butler also takes note of the “Symbolic order (which) creates cultural intelligibility” by comparing the position of men, “having” the Phallus, and the position of women, “being” the Phallus” (60).

Butler also describes Riviere’s psychoanalytic description of “womanliness as a masquerade,” based on one’s attempt to hide masculine characteristics. I was interested in this theory, and the question posed by Butler, “Does masquerade, as Riviere suggests, transform aggression and the fear of reprisal into seduction and flirtation?” (65). Riviere’s comments on the parallels of homosexual men and “masked” women are also interesting.

III. Freud and the Melancholia of Gender

Butler describes Freud’s psychoanalytic explanation of mourning and melancholia in section 3. Freud believes that when dealing with a loss, one’s ego integrates aspects of the other’s personal characteristics. Butler writes, “This process of internalizing lost loves becomes pertinent to gender formation when we realize that the incest taboo, among other functions, initiates a loss of a love-object for the ego and that this ego recuperates from this loss through the internalization of the tabooed object of desire” (79). Butler also introduces Freud’s idea of the Oedipal complex in this section, which Freud believes can be either positive (same-sex) or negative (opposite-sex). (81).

IV. Gender Complexity and the Limits of Identification

In this section, Butler acknowledges the complexity of the previously outlined gender identification theories. In summary, Butler writes, “In the Lacanian framework, identification is understood to be fixed within the binary disjunction of ‘having’ or ‘being’ the Phallus” (89). Referring to Lacan’s Law of the Symbolic, Butler argues, “The possibility of multiple identifications suggests that the Law is not deterministic and that ‘the’ law may not even be singular” (91).

V. Reformulating Prohibition as Power

In the concluding section of part 2, Butler writes, “An even more precise understanding is needed of how the juridical law of psychoanalysis, repression, produces and proliferates the genders it seeks to control” (97). It was her intention to use psychoanalytic theory to critique the issue of incest taboo and used Levi-Strauss, Lacan, Riviere, and Freud to understand this complicated issue.

Although Part 2 of Butler’s Gender Trouble was as complicated as Part 1, I look forward to tomorrow’s class to unpack her work.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Allen's "Girls Want Sex, Boys Want Love"

As the discussion leader for today, I have outlined my notes to the article and possible topics for discussion based on people's blog posts and responses.

Louisa Allen - University of Auckland
Research: aged 17-19 males and females

“I propose that some young people speak about their sexuality in ways that both conform and deviate to varying degrees from traditional constructions of female and male heterosexualities.”

Power of discourse: discourses are strongly implicated in the exercise of power; as they legitimate existing power relations and structures by defining what is “normal” alternative or “oppositional” subject positions are not usually perceived as desirable or even possible alternatives”

Foucault: “where there is power, there is resistance”

“This article explores Foucault’s notion of the possibility of resistance in relation to the discursive construction of young people’s sexual subjectivities.”

Traditional female discourse: young women are positioned as sexually vulnerable and less easily pleasured, victim to male sexual gratification and more interested in the emotional aspects of physical intimacy; appeared as the subordinate partner who was “acted upon” rather than “acting”

-young woman spoke about female sexuality in terms of traditional notions of vulnerability where women’s romantic ideas of love made them susceptible to exploitation by their male partner (219)
-she saw women as less easily sexually aroused and more likely to be stimulated by foreplay than sexual intercourse

decision to have intercourse for first time: 4 of 6 women constructed notions of traditional female sexual passivity, seen through their anxiety (seen as reluctance to engage) and it was their partners that asked first
-women are constituted as the objects of sexual attention who must be reassured/convinced that intercourse will not have negative repercussions for them

Women who resisted traditional discourse:
-women don’t always want commitment
-sexual double standard (slut/stud)
-openly expressed desire and need to act on it
-talk occurred in environments where young women felt they would not be negatively stigmatized (exclusively female or mixed gender)
-may be argued that there is a juncture between the feeling of control over contraception in a relationship and actually having access to material power in this situation
-disconnect between women/their sexuality/their realtionship
Young Men:
-traditional discourse: perpetually ready for sex
-most examples of men taking up this position were in focus groups, not in front of their female partners
-emotional detachment; preoccupation with sexual attractiveness
-positioning themselves as traditionally masculine through the constitution of their bodies as “pleasure machines”
-constructing their sexual selves in this way served to establish themselves publicly as “appropriately” masculine within/through the realm of heterosexuality
-to achieve full masculine status young men must separate themselves from homosexual and feminine identities
-“hegemonic masculinity” : a form of power that sustains gendered inequality because of the way it achieves the consent of a majority of men who support it

-denying sexual intercourse as primary motive for entering into or remaining in relationships
-“what I want in a heterosexual relationship”:
-love, trust, honesty, respect, commitment
-importance of friendship, communication, equality within a relationship
-worrying about sexual performance: resists dominant meanings about men as sexually knowledgeable, confident, and always ready for intercourse


-more young men than young women reported wanting sexual activity and sexual attraction in a heterosexual relationship
-significantly more women than men reported desiring caring, support, understanding, and trust, honesty, respect from their relationships
-notion that young women want only love from relationships and young men prefer sex is outdated
-many drew on dominant discourses, some resisted, this was complex however, as it often involved both an accommodation and rejection of subject positions offered by dominant discourses

-particular social locations may have facilitated young people’s access to or opened space for, other ways of constituting themselves as sexual
-young people’s constitution of sexual subjectivity is context bound

-sex education issues
What did you think of her research techniques? How important was how they were interviewed? Mixed genders/couples/individuals; age range

Always returning to new language/discourse. What would be an example of inclusive sexuality discourse for young people today? Ex- Getting rid of labels: “slut”
-extending discourse into private sphere: potentially destructive (Matt)

Does her statistical data support her conclusion? (Traditional discourse is outdated)

Distinction between theory and practice: Heidi’s blog post

Holloway’s conclusion: egalitarian heterosexual relationships
-contextualize in 3rd wave discourse

Pg 220: Cam and Chris “2 hours later”

Pg222: Anna, slut, cheating

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Feminist Porn: Successes and Disappointments

I have just finished viewing the two documentaries on feminist women in porn and find myself still having conflicted feelings on the industry. While it was great to see such strong, intelligent, and independent women speaking about their experiences both in front of and behind the cameras over the course of their careers, I am still disheartened by the high level of misogyny and violence against females in porn, like the women featured in the films. However, I believe that what they consider the “extreme” in porn isn’t actually the extreme at all, but instead is the vast majority of pornography. The women featured acknowledged it was only after their careers as adult film stars concluded that they ventured into producer or director roles. I think it’s unfortunate that it is only at this point that they participate in feminist porn, though many argue they were feminists in every film, whether the film itself would be considered feminist or not.

The statistic that 1 in 3 viewers of pornography are female is a fact thrown around in many of the posts and films we’ve read and viewed. I’m curious, then, why feminist porn isn’t as successful as it has the potential to be. I wonder what percentage of those women consciously seek out feminist porn. I’m guessing it’s not over 50%.Why would women viewers be interested in promoting non-feminist porn? Do they not realize it’s out there for consumption? Do they not care? Are they not interested? The women profiled in both documentaries insisted that it is up to the female viewers to make feminist porn more prosperous, since the bottom line of the pornography industry is money.

Throughout the blogs, the complexities and controversies of the pornography issue are shown. I was surprised by how long the “porn wars” have lasted, even within this 3rd wave of feminism. Unfortunately, after reading Levy, CAKE, and now bloggers like Ms. Naughty, I will not be surprised if the “war” continues for many years to come. Will feminists from both sides ever reach a consensus?