Sunday, February 8, 2009

Gender Part 2: The "Real" Female Fear

Gender Part 2: Introduction: The Women & The Girls

I have some reading that I want to brush up on before I really delve into the gender issues surrounding women, because I have been away from these books for some time. What I hope to accomplish with this post in particular is to give you some thoughts to chew on before we get into the heart of the discussion, and to introduce you to some really amazing texts that I think should be mandatory reading for EVERYONE, male and female, young and old. 

First, I would like to quote to you from Jean Kilbourne's book Can't Buy My Love, a treatise of (mostly) depictions of women in the media. The images alone will shock you. Social psychology has shown time and time again that we are ALL affected by advertising and the media, even when we firmly believe that we aren't. When you take some of these images, slogans, commercials, etc. out of their context in a magazine or tv channel, we begin to SEE the messages that are conveyed. Normally they slip past our conscious awareness, but when you really look at what's there, you will likely be stunned. Google Jean Kilbourne to see some of these images. Her speaking engagements can be found on YouTube. Here is a sample summarizing the major themes of her lectures:

But here is a (long) quote from her book that really, deeply struck me when I read it:

"When men objectify women, they do so in a cultural context in which women are constantly objectified and in which there are consequences - from economic discrimination to violence - to that objectification. 

For men, though, there are no such consequences. Men's bodies are not routinely judged and invaded. Men are not likely to be raped, harassed, or beaten (that is to say, men presumed to be heterosexual are not, and very few men are abused in these ways by women). How many men are frightened to be alone with a woman in an elevator? How many men cross the street when a group of women approach? Jackson Katz, who writes and lectures on male violence, often begins his workshops by asking men to describe the things they do every day to protect themselves from sexual assault. The men are surprised, puzzled, sometimes amused by the question. The women understand the question easily and have no trouble at all coming up with a list of responses. We don't list our full names in the phone directory or on our mailboxes, we try not to be alone after dark, we carry our keys in our hands when we approach our cars, we always look in the back seat before we get in, we are wary of elevators and doorways and bushes, we carry pepper sprays, whistles, Mace."(p. 279-280)
When I read this paragraph, it was like a light bulb went off in my head. Men (in general) truly do not and cannot understand what it's like to have that constant fear. My husband doesn't check the backseat of his car before he gets in it. He's not afraid of being in a parking garage at night. He doesn't understand why I feel the need to firmly latch and lock every window and door in the house before going to sleep at night when I am alone. It's not that he doesn't sympathize, it's just something he doesn't GET. 

Now the flip side of this, of course, is that it's unfair for women to immediately be wary of all strange men. The men's movement hates the idea that they are all labeled as potential attackers until proven otherwise, but they also understand that this MUST be the case. At least for now. 

This will come up again in the subsequent posts regarding transgender and intersex individuals, but Sandy Shoes and DuWayne mentioned the concept of the unisex bathroom in the comments on a previous post. 

For a woman, transgender, or intersex individual, a multi-stall, public, unisex bathroom is a scary place. It is out of public view, it has locks on the stall doors and often on the outside door as well. Unless we know every single person well who uses said bathroom, it is simply not a safe place to be. If a woman in an office goes into a supply closet that locks from the inside, and a male co-worker who she doesn't know very well enters this closet, she is going to feel uncomfortable. A unisex public bathroom is no different from the closet, except our pants are usually already down while we're in there. 

Should it be that way? Absolutely not. 

But women are raised with a heightened awareness of possibly threatening situations and places. We are taught from a very young age to avoid them whenever possible. 

The mentality of fear that women possess is often silent, extremely subtle, and most of us are not even aware of it until it is pointed out, such as in Kilbourne's book. But it is very real. No amount of feminist rhetoric can make it go away. 
"Nonetheless, the rate of sexual assault in the United States is the highest of any industrialized nation in the world. According to a 1998 study by the federal government, one in five of us has been the victim of rape or attempted rape, most often before our seventeenth birthday. And more than half of us have been physically assaulted, most often by the men we live with. In fact, three of four women in the study who responded that they had been raped or assaulted as adults said the perpetrator was a current or former husband, a cohabiting partner, or a date."(p. 280)
Quite often, what we are taught to fear in the outside world is what we ought to fear in our own homes, schools, and social events. 

But what we see in the media is much more often violence at the hands of a stranger. What follows is the most disturbing portrayal of violence against women that I have ever seen in my life. I cried when I watched it, because it shook me to the absolute core. (The first minute or so is just the beginning of the scene. Bear with it.)

****Advisory: This is very explicit, very violent, and very disturbing. Please do not watch when children are present****

(I couldn't find it on YouTube, YouTube failed to convert it when I tried to upload it, so please go to the following direct link to watch):

Now, assuming I haven't upset you too much (I personally can't watch it again), here are the books I highly recommend that deal with the material I will be covering in subsequent posts about women:


Juniper Shoemaker said...

Oh, my God, you and DuWayne have been fabulously discussing conceptualizations of gender and sexuality that the instructors of my infamous Female Sexuality class at Cal introduced me to! You had to "audition" for that class via an essay, and they let actually admitted my virgin ass! In that class, we watched and discussed a lot of porn, wrote erotica, extended support to classmates that had worked as strippers and escorts to pay tuition, and even visited a strip club (Little Darlings in San Fran) . . . at which several classmates and the instructors performed.

If I weren't so busy drafting my Master Plan to Escape from LA into My Science Career, I swear I would totally join this discussion now. I don't have and have never really had an affinity for psychology-- though I've lately been getting into gene therapy coupled with neuroscience-- but you and DuWayne make it fun. You guys should work together as researchers in the future. I'm being earnest.

JLK said...

Thanks, Juniper!

When you're done drafting your Master Plan, you should definitely write a post about your experience in that class. I know I, for one, would be absolutely fascinated to hear about what it was like.

I had the opportunity to take a course on human sexuality with a fantastic professor who wanted me in the class to generate discussion (she often complained about how shy the students were and how frustrating it was to teach a class like that without discussion.) Unfortunately, I had other pre-reqs I had to get out of the way in order to graduate and it just didn't fit into my schedule.

The sex thing in general doesn't really interest me all that much, but the intersection of sex and gender absolutely does. I intend to bring up the subject of sex workers and strippers in my series on women, so I hope you'll venture back to comment!

Anonymous said...

The minute the first video started showing white folks after whities after whities, I wondered if blacks were a part of the discussion.... YUP! I instantly thought about Tyra's "FIERCE" look and Naomi's bitchy and "cat"tiness. The images of the black women being animalist, mean, angry, mad, etc. is what is glorified on the runway and media.
I wonder if the photogs tell the white women to be polite looking, white men to be tough, the black women to be animals, and the black men to kneel. Or if the models just do those poses automatically because they know they are expected.
I'm going to watch reruns of Next Top Model to hear the directions.
Still processing the other video....

PhizzleDizzle said...

i am such a wimp, i am afraid to watch your video....

JLK said...

LOL. You're not a wimp, PD. I've already seen it and I won't watch it again unless I have to.

It's a clip from the Sopranos by the way, so I don't know if that helps or makes it even less likely you'll watch it.

I don't think it's the kind of thing that you'll have nightmares about, but I saw this particular episode when it first aired several years ago and I have never forgotten this scene.

It's scary, but more than that it makes you feel like your heart is being ripped out for Dr. Melfi.

Juniper Shoemaker said...

I knew it would horrify me, but I watched the Sopranos clip, because I wanted to thoroughly peruse this post.

I don't relish any film and TV violence, but rape scenes distress me the most. I'd rather watch twelve scenes of characters gruesomely killing one another than one rape scene. I actually don't fully understand why, especially because, though rape scenes in film have never failed to distress me, I had a high tolerance for the Randian glorification of violent sex and rape for several years. I suppose it's because it's one thing to be a totally inexperienced person thinking about rape in the abstract and another to be a human being forced to imagine what sort of monstrous act you are actually discussing.

In my fem sex class, we read Inga Muscio's Cunt: A Declaration of Independence, which is largely (if not entirely) about the intersection of sex and femininity. Muscio argues that any cinematic depiction of the act of rape sexualizes it, and she presses for the wholesale boycott of films with graphic rape scenes. She relates a story that a disturbed male friend told her about seeing a popular film in which a young woman is gang raped in a bar; it horrified but aroused him at the same time, which in turn made him feel worse.

Well, of course, Muscio argues. It's a popular film. It does nothing but aim to tantalize its audience. Lighting, music, camera angles, makeup, script-- all this stuff combines to give rape the semblance of a romantic encounter. Men in its largely heteronormative audience will get aroused, and the subtle socialization of the "manly man" continues.

The Juniper jury is still out on this one. (And I think Cunt waxes a little misandrist at times.) But I think it's worth mulling over.

The class also viewed Killing Us Softly. I think about it every time I open one of my sister's beauty magazines, because the photo of the scissors with a woman's smooth legs for blades particularly shocked and sickened me when I first saw it. Afterward, we brought in examples of misogyny in current advertisements, video clips and texts. One of my most personable classmates brought in a full-page ad of a beautiful blonde wearing a cardigan and pencil skirt and swooning against a library shelf, with "FCUK Guaranteed" stamped over her.

Fem Sex, far as I can remember-- I'm old, and this was years ago-- devoted roughly half of the course to gender concepts. I credit this course with introducing me to the following ideas:

-Sex and gender are two different things.

-Gender is really not guaranteed by sex. "Transgendering" is more than mere exhibitionism.

-In terms of creating a "healthy" concept of one's own femininity, one's attentiveness as a consumer matters profoundly. (You have to remember that I come from a fairly conservative background, and that I'd not subjected myself to this sort of examination before.)

-Rigidly distinguishing femininity from masculinity starts looking like a really stupid idea fast when you start to think of human sexuality as a continuum. We did this exercise in which the majority of the class, including myself, wound up identifying as "strongly heterosexual with incidences of homosexual attraction". (I've been attracted to a girl twice in my life.) "Meager" as this is, it would make my entire family uncomfortable if they knew I'd chosen such a label for myself. But, then again, it made them uncomfortable when I was a teen and I pasted photos of Kurt Cobain wearing eyeliner and skirts all over my bloody room, so whatever.

You are so obviously both passionate and knowledgeable, JLK, and I hope you get to go to a grad school that makes you happy soon.

Juniper Shoemaker said...

P.S. Don't ever, ever, ever watch The Hills Have Eyes 2. This note is for Phizzle as well.

JLK said...

Juniper, you are now required to read and comment on every single gender post I put up, because I love hearing your thoughts on the subject and you have a knack for reminding me about other aspects of the subject I want to post about.

It's also fantastic to get your comments particularly because of your traditional background and its intersection with race as you grew up.

There will be a post in the near future specifically on the concept of "rape culture" - what it means, how it came to be, why it's bad, what we do to sustain it, and what we can do to get rid of it.

Juniper Shoemaker said...

Yay! I'll do my best. And I mightily look forward to future posts.

Juniper Shoemaker said...

There will be a post in the near future specifically on the concept of "rape culture" - what it means, how it came to be, why it's bad, what we do to sustain it, and what we can do to get rid of it.

I forgot to add in response to this comment that further discussion (that I think is) relevant to "rape culture" arose in my Fem Sex class.* If a woman fantasizes about rape, can she "consent" by sharing that fantasy with her partner? Does it bother you when others aren't disgusted by rape fantasies, because they argue that sex fantasies can't possibly be compared to the realization of them, since a fantasy is completely controlled by the fancier? Do these women only have rape fantasies in the first place because we've been that socialized to romanticize it? How closely is this related to a woman's willingness to be objectified? All loaded questions, but provocative in terms of examining the political implications of our sexual attitudes.

Juniper Shoemaker said...

* Feel free to vigorously correct me. I've only got one class's worth of this material.

JLK said...

@Juniper - I hesitate to delve into sexual fantasies because that's not really where my academic interests lie. That said, my personal opinion on the subject is that NO sexual fantasy is inherently "wrong" or "bad" or "unhealthy" if it is acted out between two consenting, mature people who understand what they're getting themselves into and have discussed safe ways out of it if it becomes too much.

In my opinion, "consent" is the operative word. Informed consent turns a "rape" fantasy into a rough-sex role-play. A husband cannot throw his wife up against a wall against her will and call it consent because she is his wife. But if it's an idea he's into, and she agrees to it, it's (in my opinion) totally fine.

The "rape culture" I'm referring to specifically deals with the sexualization of abused, battered, or dead women. I'm not going to really get into it here, but watch how the camera pans over a woman's dead body on CSI to see what I mean. I'll leave it at that for the moment.

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