What is family?

As we move toward a more tolerant society, variation in the structure of the nuclear family is becoming more and more common. While the traditional family is still the most widely adopted model, we’re seeing important shifts away from this longstanding norm to include families with gay, and queer parents, and families with nontraditional relationship structures- single parents, or others. Articles like the Belkin reading make it tempting to say that family models that share parenting roles evenly ought to be the new norm. But I believe we ought to move away from normalizing particular models altogether. Instead, we ought to focus on creating accessible avenues for people of all family structures. Our reading on the Swedish parental leave policy is a brilliant example because it provides space for new dads to be a part of their children’s early lives if they choose. The policy does not force dad’s to stay at home, but they have the option to (and 85% take advantage of it). Family ought to be determined by whatever structures and roles make its members most happy. Maria Bello’s Coming Out as a Modern Family is an excellent example of such an alternate structure. As long as we encourage and make space for alternative models of family, we’ll hopefully see greater numbers of fulfilled families, that foster acceptance both within and without the family unit.

Belkin, Lisa. “When Mom and Dad Share it All.” New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/15/magazine/15parenting-t.html (accessed December 15, 2013).

Bello, Maria . “Coming Out as a Modern Family.” New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/01/fashion/coming-out-as-a-modern-family-modern-love.html(accessed December 15, 2013).

Bennhold, Katrin . “In Sweden, Men Can Have It All .” New York Times . http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/10/world/europe/10iht-sweden.html (accessed December 15, 2013).


Virtual strippers sell the clothes they take off…?

The premise behind this “social striptease” is that by linking your facebook or twitter accounts to the website link provided you can command a virtual model to remove his/her clothing. By clicking on a particular clothing piece, the virtual model removes it and an advertisement for it gets posted to your social media account. This advertising strategy absolutely reinforces the ultra thin standards of the slender body as outlined by Bordo. But perhaps more disturbing, is the interactive nature of voyeuristic consumption. As opposed to a still image magazine ad, or a 30 second tv spot, these semi naked bodies are created explicitly for the desiring gaze of the customer. Moreover, the interactive interface actually sutures the customer into a position of power over the sexualized body, and creates a bizarre power structure that encourages the objectification of the virtual body.  At least they are egalitarian in their objectification, providing both male and female virtual models.

Bordo, Susan. Unbearable Weight. Berkley: University of California Press. 1993

Only in Commercials?

As if the world was not ridden with violence and several (notice its plural) humanitarian crises, Neft Vodka released a video that is supposedly advertising its product. Through the first-person angle, the video showcases some “hero” killing his way through some organized group of thugs.

In many ways, this video should anger everyone. It simply serves to create a more sadistic audience and more likely, numbs them to watching violence.

The problem with this type of advertising is that it conceals and romanticizes the violence that actually happens in the world. The audience of such an advertisement is more likely to believe that such violence is only possible not, in the real world, but only through their TV screen. One example could be people’s awareness of the inner working of the strip club industry. As Sheila Jeffreys points out, “…strip clubs are likely to have criminal connections, with media reports suggesting that some strip club owners and managers are associate with organized crime.” Ads like these don’t let people who indulge in strip clubs or prostitution consider that organized crime and violent patriarchy is very real and present. With almost 20 million views, this normalization of violence is exactly how violence against women-or anyone for that matter- goes unnoticed in the private and public domain.

What is Fair Representation?

As we have seen in Dreamworld 3, the mainstream media has been a historical tool to distort people’s ideas of each other. It sells misogynistic images, exploits the queer image for financial purposes and perpetually marginalizes transsexuals. Knowing this, it is a fitting exercise to critique representations that are not only disrespectful but on the whole, contradictory. However, when do we know what is too much or too little representation (i.e. heterosexual couples)? When do we know that the representation is genuine (i.e. queer couples behaving heterosexually)?  When do we know if it’s enough to be fair?

            I would contextualize the answer to this question with Samuel A Chamber’s definition of a norm. He says, “A norm implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, demands, presumes, expects and calls for the normal. This means that norms construct and continuously reinforce (even if only in the background) our idea of ‘the normal’…” I would argue that any type media that promotes egalitarian norms, or is one consistent with the love of humanity, can be fair. Those that are not informed of past oppressions, or at very least, remotely aware of themselves, are promoting an individualistic mindset that assumes depictions of human life are neutral. Depictions of human life can never be neutral. They assert norms and therefore, behaviors.

To assess if a type of media is unfair, we need to evaluate the extent to which it “expects and calls for a norm” that falls outside the aforementioned parameters. The discrepancy between what is considered normal in the media and what is the real-world experience of its audience (more likely, a diverse world), hints at the extent of the injustice produced. 

What is Gender Fairness?

Throughout our time exploring gender, we have seen several feminists denounce its purpose. As Judith Lorber explains, gender can be broken down into three components: process, stratification, and structure. Each of these components highlight that the gender binary is not only endogenous within its social function (a structure assigning men and women roles) and conception (the process by which we conceive an identity) but, more importantly, its implications (an unjust, gender hierarchy). Simply put, we see that gender serves to stratify the human race into two hieratically constructed roles.  When we consider these critiques, a question becomes fiercely present: what would be a just alternative?

In her piece, “Should There Be Only Two Sexes?,” Fausto-Sterling humors alternatives beyond our rigid, gender binary. She proposes a utopian alternative where the “cultural genitals counted for more than physical genitals…” Fausto-Sterling meant this when discussing legal battles where the legitimacy of a heterosexual couples was in question. The plaintiff was “surprised” to discover his transsexual partner. It becomes clear that Fausto-Sterling is for not just open-mindedness but a paradigm shift. I agree. We need to become open to the variability in people’s bodies and more importantly, respect people’s right to self-identify.  This is what Fausto-Sterling meant by “cultural genitals.”  Our culture needs to allow people to develop a deep understanding of their body, their sexual tendencies and then, what they would expect from others. Gender, then, can actually become the individual’s process- not society’s preconceived notions of physical genitals.


Too Many Beckham’s

Apparently, H&M is running out of ideas. To promote their new and flexible briefs, they have David Beckham running around a neighborhood that is clearly Beverly Hills, or something close to it. All of this while just wearing H&H brief. As if the plot itself is not criminally uncreative, there are some obvious problems with the advertisement.

As Hesse-Biber puts it, “The fitness industry has also deconstructed bodies into individual parts to be sculpted and perfected.” The problem is not that David Beckham can’t have a chizzled and sexy body. He does. The problem is that there are too many David Beckham’s being portrayed as the “must be” thing. It is as if the only people worth watching- without a shirt on- are either beautiful celebrities or fit men. In other words, the commercial implicitly creates a sense of inadequacy in its audience because the only type of body worth having is Beckham’s.

Sharlene Nagy Hesse-Biber, “Selling the Body Beautiful: Food Dieting, and Recovery” (2007)

A Woman’s Truth

At the end of the documentary “The Punk Singer,” Kathleen Hanna makes a very provocative statement, “When a man tells the truth it’s the truth, as a woman I need to negotiate the way I’ll be perceived. There’s always suspicion around a woman’s truth.” This statement is reflective of the discussions we’ve had in class regarding how a woman must always defend herself. She is always judged and constantly surveyed for the way she looks and the way she behaves. Hanna always feared that her allegations of sexual abuse and the stories that comprise her life narrative would never be believed. She feared the media’s judgement and her friend’s criticism. So, for self-preservation she kept it all to herself. In the film, Hanna explains that she combats this fear by finally telling her truth without worrying how she will be perceived. The documentary is testament to her truth; she finally reveals it all.