Saturday, November 28, 2009
Thursday, November 26, 2009
I decided to my film review on a film called “The Toilers and the Wayfarers”. It is an independent American film that was released in 1997. The story is about two friends, Dieter and Phillip, in a small midwestern town who are both secretly gay, but can't be open about it because of their small town's conservative values. Coincidentally, a lazy and rebellious relative from Germany comes to live at Dieter's house which then leads them to all end up in a big city where they try to find their true identity.
The film is riddled with different ideas, representations, references, and confusions regarding people's personal masculinity as well as the judgement of others.
One of the first striking incidences where someone's personal masculinity comes into conflict with their life is when Dieter's friend Phillip tries to kiss him after they lock eyes. They kiss for a split second until Phillip seems to become disgusted and leaves his friend out in the forest. Phillip calls for him to come back while yelling that it was only a joke, but Dieter never turns around. Phillip ends up disappearing for quite some time, while Dieter claims that the situation disgusted him. Dieter's attraction to men as well as his friend Phillip, certainly creates an internal struggle for him. His father is very conservative and macho as well as physically abusive. He ends up calling Dieter's straight friend a “faggot” because they hang out too much. The small town's heteronormative expectations certainly plays a part in this, too. Later in Dieter's sexual maturation, he becomes sexually active with Phillip. So , it is safe to say he wasn't actually disgusted by their quick kiss, but more disgusted in himself.
Another instance that I would like to discuss further, is how close, but non-sexual same-gender friendships can make people uncomfortable. They also can make people assume it's sexual, because the thought of two men who are extremely close emotionally can be seen as anti-masculine. The mysterious German relative, who is much older than Dieter, begin to have a very close relationship. They talk about everything and spend lots of time together. To have that kind of relationship without being sexual or gay seems impossible for many. Male friendships are a commodity, in a sense, that are often regulated through certain actions to keep the popular image of heterosexuality alive. When someone rejects this and has a more intimate than usual, albeit non-sexual, relationship many people tend to make assumptions. The father begins calling the German relative, Udo, a “faggot” and begins to worry that he and Dieter are sexually active. Strangely enough, it is his own son with same-gender attraction and there is no sexual relationship between them.
Thirdly I am going to discuss how having homophobic understandings of masculinity create tension that is completely unnecessary which can destroy families, who otherwise, might be much healthier. When Dieter runs away from home without ever letting his family know where he is, he becomes a gay sex worker. He eventually is caught up in a sting operation by police officers. The police officers identify him and call his parents who are at first relieved to hear an update about their son. Then they hear how he was soliciting sex to men and refuse to come pick him up. They apparently miss their son enough to be excited to have a police officer call and say that they have him in their custody. But, their homophobic bias leads them to destroy any relationship that they could have recreated with their son. So, the homophobia of the parents not only hurt their son, but hurt their own quality of life by making it seem unthinkable to have a healthy relationship with him.
Overall, I enjoyed how the film showed how certain ideals of masculinity expectations can harm various aspects of peoples lives. For instance, homophobia can hurt more than just gay people, but it can also ruin the relationships and potential friendships of straight people by having expectations of a masculinity that doesn't include certain natural human experiences.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Hans’ analysis of men’s relationship to women’s hair is interesting. This relationship was touched on in class when analyzing about men’s friendships. Men must prove that they are heterosexual when bonding with male friends to exhibit, and reassure, that their relationship is not homosexual in any way. As Lyman states in The Fraternal Bond as a Joking Relationship: A Case Study of the Role of Sexist Jokes in Male Group Bonding, Homophobia is inherent in straight men’s bonding, and the men in the friendships rely on objectifying women in order to negotiate that tension. One way that men objectify women is by commodifying pieces of their body. Hair is believed to be one aspect of a woman that is often commodified in society. Women are often considered sexy or sexual solely on the quality, or whiteness, of their hair. Men joining together by putting women down in a subordinate place is one aspect of socialized masculinities. According to Lyman, “shared aggression toward an outsider is one of the primary ways by which a group may overcome internal tension and assert its solidarity” (ML, 148). This is exactly what men are doing to women, which has been taught to men as they are socialized to be masculine from birth.
The men in Good Hair also used many sexist jokes when talking about black women’s hair. Lyman states, “ uncovered the use of sexist jokes in creating bonds between men; through their own joking relationships (which they called friendships), the guys negotiated the tension between their need for intimacy with other men and their fear of losing their autonomy as men to the authority of the...world” (ML, 149).
In class we discussed men in the family and the stereotypes of father/husbands in the media. Men are generally portrayed in commercials and other advertisements, as we saw in class, as unable to fulfill the women’s role in the family. This role includes child care and the emotional development of children. However, Chris Rock defies this stereotype by exhibiting that he takes an active role in the emotional well-being of his daughters. We are informed in Good Hair that Rock’s inspiration comes from a statement that his daughter made. Rock explains that his daughter asked him why she didn’t have good hair. As we’ve discussed in class, men are capable of being emotional and full-time Dads. Donald N.S. Unger talks about the negative stereotypes of fathers in the essay Judging Fathers: The Case for Gender-Neutral Standards. According to Unger, “what I’m asking for as a fully engaged father is essentially the same thing that women have been fighting for in the professional sphere for forty years or more: a gender-neutral standard of assessment” (MSO, 211).
Chris Rock also defies the stereotype of the Black man, more specifically the Black Father. The stereotype is far worse for Black men than Caucasian men. Black men are portrayed in the media (e.g., rap) as aggressive and sexist beings. Chris Rock disproves this stereotype and sheds a positive light on black men by making a movie about and for the betterment of his daughters and his black sisters. Also, this asserts Chris as being a consciousness-raising agent within the movement. Not only is he educating his daughters, but also millions of others who are unaware. Osayande discusses the prevalence of sexism within the Black community in the essay Redefining Manhood: Resisting Sexism, but Rock fights this stereotype by displaying his feminist ideals in Good Hair.
Rock’s documentary showed an aspect of masculinity that is raced. Black masculinity is something that we should think about more when talking feminism, instead of simply speaking of white men’s masculinity. Black masculinity is overdetermined due the many questions one could ponder about Black men’s social behavior that has been socially constructed for him. Through Chris Rock’s film and his open-mindedness we may gather that masculinity varies depending on the individual’s social awareness.
Monday, November 23, 2009
The film “Murder Ball” is a documentary about a men’s quadriplegic rugby team. The film follows players of the U.S. wheel chair rugby team as they compete at the 2004 Paralympics. The rugby players share their struggles and successes as quadriplegics as well as document their interactions with their friends/ family/ each other. This film review will address three questions regarding quadriplegic men and masculinity:
1. In what ways do the men in Murder Ball redefine masculinity as quadriplegics?
2. In what ways to the men in Murder Ball re-enforce traditional masculinity
3. In what ways are quadriplegic women denied access to Murder Ball? And are quadriplegic women at a greater disadvantage than quadriplegic men in our society?
If society were to define what it means to be a “man” it would certainly include characteristics such as independence and self- reliance which are characteristics that are much more easily accessed by able- bodied individuals. So how do men living as quadriplegics maintain their “manhood” if they are unable to successfully fulfill these defining characteristics? It was interesting watching the men in this film interact with each other in a way that was so traditionally masculine in one sense, and so untraditional in another. A portion of the documentary was focused on romantic relationships that the Murder Ball men were engaged in and how being quadriplegic changes their sex lives. In one sense their self- disclosure with the camera crew challenged the construction of masculinity in that “men” do not admit to their shortcomings and challenges that they’ve had particularly when it comes to having sex (which is supposedly the pinnacle of manhood). However when the camera crew began filming the men interacting with each other and their and especially with their able- bodied friends, the men were much more adamant about proving their masculinity by saying how much they “love a women with big tits” and make other sexist comments that assured them a place amongst “the guys” despite their disability. It was as if they were overly assert their masculinity and male privilege in order to make up for the ways in which they are not privileged.
The men in Murder Ball made it a point to say repeatedly how rough and aggressive this sport was and how even though they are quadriplegic they can still “kick some ass”. This hyper masculine aggressive attitude was a common theme throughout the film and represents the key way in which these men affirmed their masculinity to themselves as well as to society.
Watching this film was both empowering and frustrating at the same time. Although I felt extremely empowered by the disadvantaged men empowering each other and making such a powerful statement for folks with disabilities- it was frustrating to see that these were predominately white men with economic privilege. It seems that while this demographic of people with disabilities were able to re-gain acceptance into society, other groups with these same disabilities would have a much harder time. This double standard can be seem in many areas of society for example, it is much easier for a man to be over weight and still be respected in society than for an over weight woman or person of color. I believe that this double standard is also visible with people with disabilities, in that society is much more likely to accept and create space for men with disabilities (particularly men adhering to traditional masculinity) than women with those same disabilities.
(The One with all the hypermasculinity)
The television show Friends is a program I grew up with and watched every week. I would recite one-liners with my friends on a daily basis and wanted the “Rachel” haircut the infamous hairdo that Jennifer Anniston’s character was known for in earlier seasons. This program depicts 6 close friends, 3 of them being male-identified, Ross, Chandler and Joey the other 3 female-identified, Monica, Rachel and Phoebe all of them being white, heterosexuals living in a trendy area in the village in New York City. Their world is like a Manhattan fairytale of rent controlled apartments, beautiful people, coffee houses, and finances that have a way of just working out. Friends depicted a white homogenous life in the exciting city of New York and had an impact on United States culture, being one of the most popular sitcoms of our time (the show ran from 1994-2004, 10 seasons) having catch phrases like, “How you doin?’” become part of our daily slang and with 52.5 million people watching the shows final episode, the serieshad a huge audience and fan base but what were people seeing (or not seeing) when they tuned in?
One thing viewers were not seeing were people of color. The show is predominantly white, with even the extras and background scenes scarcely representing any sort of diversity. Which raises a question, “Why don’t these characters have any minority “friends”’ as Kim Imdieke asks in her essay “A Critical Media Analyses of Friends”. Television is an influential source of media and with millions of viewers seeing no regular characters that are minorities and only handful of interracial relationships throughout a 10 years, “one can get the feeling that white dominance in American society is viewed as okay in today's world.” The shows characters come from mainly middle class homes, (with the exception of Phoebe whose eccentric past includes her being homeless, fatherless and having a mother who committed suicide, but refers to these instances in jocular form) and shows the “average” lifestyle of people in their mid 20s, this average lifestyle being focused on heterosexual intimate relationships, consumerism (except once again the wildcard Phoebe who is the token hippie, spiritual, vegetarian who attempts to go against the grain) our society’s gender dichotomy and the effects that had on their co-ed friendship, that often had a sexual undertone, along with the bond these 6 friends had over their similarities and their differences . While growing up many of these issues did not occur to me. It seemed normal that Ross and Rachel would fall in and out of love constantly, Joey would be the girl crazed playboy, the womyn are skinny and seemingly independent even though they are constantly having trouble with men, and no one ever works, they sit around and drink coffee. Over the ten years we did see Ross’s ex wife marry her lesbian lover, and how the 3 of them raised their son, Chandler’s father who was a drag queen in Vegas and how their father son bond was restored and discussion on the topics of safe sex, pregnancy, and . But these storylines were not constant and although a depiction of these lifestyles and choices is a good start, it could have gone a lot further and pushed past stereotypical depictions. Now after taking this course in masculinities and growing as a feminist, I see the jokes that I used to laugh at in a new light. I am starting to become more critical of ‘why’ I am laughing and what that laughter is reinforcing or affirming. I still laughed at many of the jokes like I did back in 8th grade, but found that some things just didn’t seem so funny anymore.
The One w/ the Free Porn (aka homosociality: Don't change that station!)
In this episode the roommates Chandler and Joey are ecstatic after stumbling across free porn and never change the channel, with the fear that they won’t get it back. The two men watch the sexual scenarios so consistently that Chandler is surprised when, “I was at the bank, and the sexy bank teller didn’t ask me to go do it with her in the vault!” The characters become so used to the porn constantly playing in the background that they become desensitized to it and reinforces that our society, “largely takes pornography as an uncontroversial part of contemporary culture. This is the normalization of mainstreaming pornography” (ML 381). Chandler’s comment shows how these depictions of womyn can lead some to believe that the situations depicted in pornography are what womyn really want sexually and that men have access and a right to a womyn’s sexuality to the extent that they can buy it in various forms (379). Also Chandler and Joey watch the porn together, as a symbol of male bonding, and masculinity. Joey shares the idea that he could not be “the guy who turned off free porn” because what kind of example would that be if he ever was a father, how could he tell his son that? So pornography is reinforced as an instrumental tool for creating manhood, friendship and the “norm” of heterosexuality, and this is the same experience Robert Jensen encountered at a young age, “So I was consciously becoming aware of sexuality, my first recognizable cultural lesson on the subject came in a male bonding ritual around men’s use of an objectified woman, who existed only to provide sexual excitement for us” (379).
The One w/ the Nap Partners (aka if two men take a nap together, better call “no homo”)
After Joey, Chandler and Ross watch the hypermasculine film Die Hard, Ross and Joey happen to fall asleep on the couch together and wake up in uncertainty as to what occurred. After realizing nothing “happened” the two of them decide to never discuss the fact that they took a nap together, act nervous around one another as if they had a one night stand, and then scream in unison, “Die Hard” to assert their manliness. It seemed the reason this storyline is so comical is due to the homoerotic nature between the two friends, and the fact that two straight men being physically close and enjoying it is laughable. “The suggestion of male bisexual behavior remains just that, a suggestion. The guys are just horsing around…Men and women both take great pains to ensure that male-male sex is a line that just isn’t crossed by “real” men, no matter how homoerotic the horseplay gets” (MSO 83). Ross and Joey attempt to have another secret nap session, but wake up to the rest of their friends staring at them in uncertainty and puzzlement. How does Joey respond? By asserting his masculinity, yelling “Dude what the hell are you doin?” to Ross and storming out of the room, depicting him as the mythical “100 percent “red-blooded heterosexual male”’ and distancing himself as much as possible from homosexuality and intimacy with a male friend. This depiction or hegemonic masculinity is common throughout the episode promoting, “limited emotionality and heterosexuality” and the idea that “homophobia is one of the founding principles of masculinity” (ML 54, 37).
The One with the Female Nanny (aka "You'll grow up to be a big girl... like daddy")
This episode was the most surprising to watch again, had the storyline blatantly dealing with masculinity, homophobia, sensitivity and the roles men are “suppose” to play in our society. Ross and Rachel are hiring a nanny, and mistakenly assume the applicant, Sandy, is a girl when in fact it is young man who enjoys childcare and is very much in tune with his emotions. Ross is very uncomfortable with the idea of a male nanny and immediately questions Sandy’s sexuality, “Are you gay?” “You gotta at least be bi?” and proceeds to become almost hypermasculine in response to his feeling uncomfortable. The issue of work and gender roles comes into play, with the comments about a man taking on the role of a caregiver being, “…weird, what kind of job is that for a man? That’s like if a womyn wanted to be…” and there is a dramatic pause waiting for the answer of what a womyn ‘shouldn’t’ be. Jeremy Adam Smith discusses the role of men as caregivers and how it is becoming more acceptable, “Thanks to feminism-which has tried to teach us to ride out the shockwave created by massive economic change-women now have more choices. So do men” (MSO 203). Ross then confronts his disapproval of Sandy’s career path, realizing that it stemmed from his fathers lack of sensitivity towards him as a child, and the acts of ‘tough love’ he was subjected to growing up. “Heterosexual fathers play a particularly central role in accomplishing their son’s masculinity and, in the process, reinforce their own as well. Their expressed motivations for that accomplishment work often involve personal endorsement of hegemonic masculinity” (ML 52). In the end Rachel reinforces the standards of sensitivity within men, by referring to Ross as girl because of his emotional display in front of Sandy.
Reservoir Dogs, a film by Quentin Tarantino (1992), is about five men that are strangers to one another, are hired to do a simple diamond robbery, but when the police show up in the middle of the job, they all scatter, and things get messy. The opening scene of Reservoir Dogs shows all the guys hired for the job in suits and ties, as well as the man that hired them, Joe Cabot, and his son Eddie, all having breakfast at a simple diner, talking about Madonna’s song “Like a Virgin.” In this scene you get a feel for some of the characters, and frequent cussing occurs right from the beginning. All of these men are tough, “bad ass” looking guys that scream “masculine.” Throughout the entire movie intense language is used. When referring to a black person, “nigger” is used, whenever referring to a womyn, “bitch” is used, and when referring to anything that is not “masculine,” for example Steve Buscemi’s character goes by “Mr. Pink,” and he wants to trade that name for another one, but they tell him that he gets “Mr. Pink,” because “he’s a faggot.” It’s fairly obvious throughout the entire movie that the white, male dominates, and they all try to see who can be cooler and better over the others. There are a total of four womyn in this movie—a waitress at the diner in the background during the opening scene, but she’s pretty blurred out, the second womyn gets pulled out of her car by her hair by Steve Buscemi when he is running from the cops, and he hijacks her car, the next womyn is a completely blurred silhouette off into the distance, and when they are discussing where that random womyn will be during the robbery, Tim Roth says, “her ass will be in my lap on my dick,” and the last womyn is the womyn that shot Tim Roth in the gut, which is a very significant part of the plot line, when she was also getting her car hijacked by Tim Roth and Harvey Keitel. These four womyn were either serving men, or being assaulted by men, and called nothing but “bitches” throughout the entire film. When the men had to show their masculinity and dominance that is when they put down other people with harsh language and racial/homophobic slurs. I felt that class was definitely another issue to touch on, because these were all professional killers and robbers, and do this for a living, so that they can make a lot of money. These men seemed like they came from rough backgrounds, and would do anything they could to survive in this world, without working for pennies and having a miserable job. The character of Michael Madsen even did time already for a robbery that he actually did not do, but was accused of and currently on parole for, but was still doing this job. He led the gruesome scene of cutting off the ear of a police officer, and poured gasoline all over him, and was ready to set the officer on fire to burn alive. The violence portrayed in this movie was extremely bloody and intense, all while having a nice, easy-going soundtrack to go with it. These men were meant to be “killing machines” that were supposed to care for themselves and one another through the job, and that’s it. No one else mattered, and whatever they had to do to live, they did it. As the audience, you want these men to live and get the job done, even though they are criminals and treat anyone “less” then them horribly, and with no respect.
A movie like Reservoir Dogs makes it seem cool to be like this type of person. A “bad ass” criminal that doesn’t care to give respect to anyone, and can do whatever they want to people. This portrays masculinity in a stereotypical way, in the way that they can hug each other and look out for one another, but only because they have already proven themselves to be able to rob and kill, and they aren’t a “faggot.” For example, Michael Madsen and Chris Penn characters haven’t seen each other in a few years, and so they hug and then start wrestling to show their affection towards one another. But after they wrestle a little bit, Penn makes jokes toward Madsen for supposedly being gay, and wanting to f**k him. Since these men hugged, then they had to wrestle to prove that they weren't gay, and then also make homophobic jokes towards one another, to try to prove once again that they are straight.
This movie is the same mob/gangster and tough attitude that was addressed awhile back in our class, with the documentaries on “Beyond Beats and Rhymes” as well as “Tough Guise.” In “Tough Guise,” Jackson Katz says, “The media constructs violent masculinity as a cultural norm,” and where “being a man equals violence.” This is evident in Reservoir Dogs, these men kill and torture, and this is supposedly what true men are. The sad thing is, is that we help to perpetuate this terrible outlook, and it needs to stop. Society watches a film like this and assumes this is normal behavior, because men are “tough, strong, independent, dominant, powerful,” and apparently “bad ass.” Men are supposed to enjoy films like this for the violence and blood, and then also pick up tips along the way to be a more of a “man’s man.” The parallelism between Reservoir Dogs and the video game, Grand Theft Auto, is extremely close in resemblance, with the hijacking of cars, and the shooting and killing. So if both of these outlets are entertainment mediums, then this is what is being watched recreationally. Young kids through adulthood are playing this video game, and then seeing movies like this, and see all of this violence and dominance normal, and what is expected of young boys and men. This violent, disrespectful, homophobic, racist, sexist attitude will never change if the faults of these views are not examined and brought to the surface.
George and Jerry’s characters on the show are almost polar opposites in their portrayals of masculinity. Jerry is the “normal” character everyone seeks for advice; he is described in one episode as “the nucleus” that holds together the four friends. George, however, lives at home, is unemployed through most of the show’s span, and is never truly happy in any relationship. The episode, “The Pool Guy,” begins with George and Jerry discussing who would win between them if they were to physically fight. In order to determine which is the “better man,” physical violence and a test of strength is required, not any kind of character evaluation. The episode continues with Elaine explaining that she has no female friends, to which Kramer responds, “That’s because you’re a man’s woman. You hate other women and they hate you.” Kramer later makes a comment to Jerry on George’s behavior regarding his wife by saying, “Nothin’ more pathetic than a grown man who’s afraid of a woman!” Kramer seems to personify the idea that men bond over their male privilege at the expense of women. Because Elaine has close male friends, she is in a plane above other women; she is not reduced to the “normal” woman’s role. Kramer thinks it is pathetic (if not downright ridiculous) for a man to be scared of a woman, implying that there is nothing to be scared of because women are, by nature, inferior beings.
The actual events of this episode center around George’s fiancée, Susan, and Elaine becoming friends, George’s resentment about the situation and Jerry’s awkward, spontaneous encounters with the “pool guy” of his health club. George claims his “worlds are colliding” because his circle of friends is his sanctuary from real life, mainly his fiancée and his job, and Susan is unwittingly intervening. George says, “If [Susan] is allowed to infiltrate this world, George Costanza as you know him, ceases to exist! You see, right now I have Relationship George, but there is also Independent George. That’s…Movie George, Coffee Shop George, Liar George, Bawdy George…” George cannot be any of these things—essentially, how he behaves with his friends “independently”—in front of or with Susan. If Susan becomes a part of the group, George will have to become an entirely different man, other than George Costanza, representing the concept of performativity.
Jerry keeps running into Ramon, the “pool guy” from his health club, who he doesn’t necessarily want to befriend. Ramon does not pick up on Jerry’s uncomfortable demeanor around him and makes an unannounced appearance at Jerry’s apartment. Jerry “breaks up” with Ramon by getting off of the subway suddenly and claiming that he has enough friends and doesn’t need anymore. Ramon is visibly upset and subsequently makes it increasingly uncomfortable for Jerry at the health club. In one particular scene, Ramon insists on cleaning the pool and badgering Jerry while Jerry swims by. Jerry then causes Ramon to fall in the pool, while Newman unknowingly jumps onto Ramon, knocking him unconscious. What follows is a discussion between Jerry and Newman while hovering over Ramon, trying to figure out who will give him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. If this does not sound ridiculous enough, Jerry attempts to convince Newman by stating, “You know he could die,” to which Newman retorts, “Yeah, maybe.” Neither are willing to possibly save another human being by participating in an act that is overtly homoerotic and taboo. If they were to touch lips with another man, in any instance, this would be seen as a weakness and a source of endless jokes and ridicule, as well as a challenge to their manhood.
In another equally absurd, yet thought-provoking episode, “The Contest,” George is caught masturbating by his mother. George tells the group he’s never doing “that” again and when Jerry refuses to believe him, George proposes a contest to see who can go the longest without masturbation. Elaine is outright refused entrance at first “because [she’s] a woman.” Of course, women have no sexual desire and only experience sexuality in reference to men, so it wouldn’t be fair for Elaine to be judged by the same standards as the rest of the group. Jerry claims that men have to do it as it’s “part of [their] lifestyle,” as opposed to women who don’t have sexual feelings and feel no need to masturbate.
At the same time, Kramer discovers that a woman lives across the street from him and Jerry’s building that walks around nude in her apartment. All three male characters stop everything to witness this. Kramer makes a swift exit and upon his return, drops money on the counter and declares he’s “out of the contest.” Apparently, the woman across the street affected him so much, he couldn’t endure the constraints of the contest any longer. Kramer follows this with a warning to Jerry, that the nude woman is “going to get [him] next,” almost as if she is consciously involved in “breaking down” Jerry’s will power.
When George’s mother caught him, in a spell of fright she fell and injured her back. As George visits her in the hospital, he discovers an attractive female patient being sponge-bathed by an attractive female nurse. Despite the contest, George makes it a point to be at the hospital during this time to visit his mother in order to observe this. This scene is presented as a lesbian porn movie behind a curtain and George is beside himself with glee, refusing to fetch his hungry mother dinner to be able to watch the whole show. The idea of women as men’s entertainment is seen quite a few times in this episode and is used to define their heterosexuality. Although these women are acting completely independent of the main characters of the show (a woman in her apartment, a patient in a hospital, etc), their actions are absorbed and interpreted as intended for their enjoyment.
Seinfeld is an intriguing display of masculinity in the sense that these men (and woman) are represented as “normal,” everyday people. There is nothing about them that is incredibly out of the (dominant) ordinary, relatively speaking. By the same token, these are four individuals that seem to speak for a wide audience in a show that claims to be about nothing.
For my critical feminist film analysis, I chose the 1983 dance-inspired sensation, FLASHDANCE (what a feeling).
This movie follows Alex Owens, welder by day, artistic exotic dancer by night, as she strives to pursue her artistic dreams, while finding romance along the way.
It was very clear to me from the beginning that this film was intended to make the protagonist seem to be a 1980s/second-wave symbol of hope and working womyn's independence, but as I watched the storyline unfold, I felt that, while some elements of Alex's character were commendable from a feminist standpoint, many of her "advancements" were at the allocation of male characters.
From the very beginning, the writers strive to make the female lead a strong, independent individual. However, it seems she cannot progress by day in traditional "feminine" roles, or even in gender-independent roles, but only as a masculinized woman. As a character, Alex makes her mark in her surroundings in blatantly "male" ways. The character is given the more masculine name of"Alex Owens" (short for Alexandra/Alexandria?), earns income through the traditional male profession of welder, and wears 1980's power suits (which were a unisex fashion item, however were based off of the mystique of upper-management male privileged persons). Perhaps in order to challenge the system (a patriarchal system), Alex must first gain attention by earning stake in it in traditional male ways, but I feel this is insulting her as an individual, especially as a womyn. This shows people that the only way a womyn can advance in society is by using tools of the male sex. However, this soon evolves into an interesting gender/power dynamic for Alex.
By day (the traditional, 9-5 capitalistic world) Alex is a welder and advances by adopting traditional male character attributes, fashions, and personae, but at night, Alex is able to express her feminine side, through dance, and flagrantly feminine, sexualized outfits. The whole power play expressed through opposing gender-dynamics really got to me, and I found myself frustrated. Is the only way to advance in a cruel, gender-biased world through the adoption of attributes and habits of one of those genders? Is it possible to exist as an independent humyn being without advancing oneself as a "gendered" individual?
Relationship dynamics and the actions of secondary characters also brought forward other elements to me as I attempted to view this film through a feminist lens. The secondary romantic pair in the film, Richie (chef at the night club at which Alex dances) and Jeanie (another dancer at the night club who has dreams of being a figure skater but ultimately becomes a true stripper) represent stereotypical hetero-normative characters that one might expect to find in the world. Richie, though ultimately pushed as being a lovable character, is highly machismo and makes racist and sexist jokes (he's an aspiring comedian). Jeanie is a waitress (Hooters style) who ultimately becomes a drug-abusing stripper after giving up her dream at being a professional ice skater (though of course there are many class hierarchies and an emotionally abusive father working against her achieving this goal) and who is ultimately rescued from the strip club by her friend Alex.
The relationship dynamics of Alex and her man of interest/employer Nick (all sorts of class dynamics/social stratification are evident there) bring out new points. Alex has a passion for dance, and has always aspired to be a professional ballet dancer, but never takes herself seriously until a male figure from a more prominent social class, Nick, encourages and motivates her. Once again, I felt like Alex was only advancing by the "confidence" of a man, but perhaps in a gender-polarized society, that is often what happens? I mean, some credit must be given to Alex, as she does represent a strong, independent individual, yet I just feel it is through socially "masculine" ways that she achieves her status.
In all, watching this film made me realize how completely unrealistic the scenario presented in it truly is. First of all, a female construction worker whose co-workers watch erotically dance at night wouldn't be able to gracefully walk around her job-site with no heckling, but would most likely be the victim of continual sexual assault and harassment. Even if she weren't an exotic dancer, Alex, in the real world, would most-likely face heckling and harassment on the job-site, as we've covered in our readings how horribly common sexual harassment in the workplace truly is. Also, she probably wouldn't have gotten that position anyway, but would have been passed over for a male in the first place. And the whole romantic interlude with her gracious and gentile boss? Forget about it.
In all, this movie is just another off the shelf of 1980s "feel-good" light-drama/love stories which show characters in optimistic roles, with little regard for reality. This saddens me, as I feel open surface-value observation, some might consider this a "feminist movie," even though I feel this movie is the opposite of feminist, as the main character succeeds by compromising with the male-dominated world. Some good things can be taken from this film, however I feel more harm is done by creating optimism in unrealistic, submissive roles.
Transamerica introduces us to Bree, Sabrina the main character, as she is taking voice lessons from a DVD in her home. Bree is a transsexual (self-identified) who was born and raised a male named Stanley and is now living full-time as a woman; this is just two weeks prior to her scheduled sex reassignment surgery. She lives a simple life; she works in a restaurant and also does telemarketing from her home. She is living stealth which means that no one around her knows her biological history; they know her only as a woman. Her psychologist is the only person who knows about her biology.
One day Bree gets a phone call from a 17 year old young man in the juvenile detention center who says he is
One important aspect of the character of Bree is the lengths to which she goes in order to “pass” as a woman. She has had several smaller plastic surgeries already; she lists them – “electrolysis [hair removal], facial feminization, brow lift, forehead reduction, jaw recontouring, and a tracheal shape,” not to mention 3 years of hormone therapy. She talks about “blending in” and “keeping a low profile;” it is painfully obvious right from the start how incredibly important it is to her that she appear in all ways feminine and female. In “Transgender Butch: Butch/FTM Border Wars and the Masculine Continuum,” Judith Halberstam states that “by demanding technological intervention to ‘change sex,’ transsexuals demonstrate that their relationship to technology is a dependent one.” This dependence is observable in Bree’s medical history and her deep desire to please the psychologist in order to ensure their permission for the surgery. The doctor refers to her as having gender dysphoria which he says is a very serious mental disorder to which she states that is seems odd then that this “mental disorder” be cured by having the plastic surgery. She says that after the surgery, even a gynecologist won’t know the difference; she will be a woman. This speaks to her feeling like she is in the “wrong body,” as expressed by other transsexuals. She feels that her discomfort will end as soon as she is in the “right body,” the female body after the big surgery.
This disconnection with her own body is also evident when she is speaking to her regular psychologist. When speaking of the phone call from the young man, Toby, she tells the psychologist that he is likely “
One idea that wasn’t explored specifically in the film that I would have enjoyed is the idea of power and privilege. As a male,
This movie is based on a true life story of a white transgendered female-to-male named Brandon Teena (or Teena Brandon), who lived in a small town in Nebraska in the early 90’s. The character that most exhibited dangerous examples of hyper-masculinity was John Lotter. John is Brandon’s ‘friend’ and Brandon’s lover (Lana)’s, ex-boyfriend. After Brandon falls in love with Lana, John begins to become very possessive of her, and begins to be hostile and threatening towards Brandon.
As we have discussed in this class and in the texts, threatening others with violence is a way that men are often socialized to solve problems. John eventually finds out that Brandon, who identifies as male, has biologically female anatomy. When John finds this out, he does a wonderful job of displaying extremely hateful homophobia, transphobia, and masculinity. John brutally rapes, beats, and eventually kills Brandon because he was transgendered.
Patriachy’s need to display it’s dominance over women and keep strict gender roles in place is disturbing. John’s character illustrates this type of sexual violence that our society instills in men. Men are taught that to be masculine and “a real man” they must exert their heterosexuality. The best way to do this is to show hatred and be violent towards those who do not abide by the gender roles and heteronormativity that society has in place.
Even before John became menacing towards Brandon and they were ‘friends,’ John and another boy bullied Brandon and peer pressured him to do things that were ‘masculine.’ These things included being pulled through the mud on the back of a truck, driving recklessly to escape policemen, and cutting themselves with a large knife. These types of activities apparently prove strength and masculinity and the characters feel they must do these things in front of other men in order to exert their manhood and prove that they are not weak or like women in any way. John often uses alcohol to ‘bond’ with Brandon and mask his own pain. We have seen this type of behavior in our readings about the utilization of alcohol in men’s friendships.
The masculinity that John performs is also affected by his class. The characters in this movie are all working-class. The way that John becomes possessive, jealous, and controlling of Lana portrays how in order to act masculine, men must be in control of a woman. Exerting that power over women, as we have discussed in class, is sometimes performed by lower-class men for several different reasons. One of the reasons is that men threaten or inflict violence upon women because they are oppressed by those in higher classes, and in turn take out their anger by oppressing women. Boys Don’t Cry exemplifies this cycle of oppression and how seriously intertwined capitalism, misogyny, patriarchy, violence, and masculinity are, and how connected they are to each other.
It is apparent from this film, and discussion and readings in class, that love, acceptance, and care are not the traits that men are socialized to have. Men are even punished when they exhibit these ‘womanly’ or ‘feminine’ traits, which are seen as weak. John punishes Brandon for not acting in hyper-masculine, violent, and dominant ways and for loving and caring for Lana. He does this by doubting Brandon’s manhood by suspecting that he was not even biologically male. Because Brandon did not act hateful and dangerous like a ‘real man’ should, he was thought of as odd and suspicious.
I highly recommend Boys Don’t Cry to anyone interested in exploring issues related to hate-crimes, transphobia, class issues, and/or masculinities. However, viewers may want to be aware of the graphic rape, assault, and murder scenes that are quite brutally portrayed. Even though these scenes may be sensitive to many viewers, I think it is important for films to illustrate the horrific realities of hate crimes and I appreciate the way this film shows audiences how terrifying and real constructions of masculinity and heteronormativity truly are.
Sunday, November 22, 2009
The plot follows an aging professional wrestler named Randy “The Ram” Robinson as he attempts rebuild his life. Formerly immensely famous he is now reduced to small-time matches and a dead-end job at a supermarket. At the beginning of the movie a heart attack makes it unsafe for him to wrestle and shocks him out of an illusion of invincibility. The plot is thereafter constructed around three important elements: Randy’s struggle to come to terms with being out of the spotlight, his attempt to reach out to his daughter Stephanie and his relationship with a stripper named Pam.
Scenes showing Randy’s interaction with his fellow wrestlers are the most visually interesting parts of the movie. These scenes were shot using real wrestlers, not actors. The men’s bodies look like unreal, massive jumbles of sculpted muscle: hard and armored. The wrestlers are walking archetypes of masculinity taken to its extreme. These scenes play with the border between reality and illusion. The viewer sees that Randy relies on steroids and tanning equipment to maintain his body. Costumes, hair dye and makeup enhance the wrestlers’ performance. At the same time, this has real consequences: the steroids and strenuous activity damage Randy’s heart. This interplay between the real and unreal is most dramatic in an early fight. Images that reveal the tricks and staged nature of wrestling matches are juxtaposed with very graphic violence and snapshots of medics healing the very real wounds of the wrestlers after the match. In a later scene, Randy challenges the claim the wrestling isn’t “real” by revealing a serious-looking scar from a badly-coordinated maneuver. Throughout the movie the viewer is faced by the dichotomy of Randy’s masterful presence inside the ring and his poor existence outside of it. Clearly, masculinity is a performance that does not reflect the real lives of its actors and actually does them harm.
The Wrestler is driven by Randy’s desire to connect to people and his difficulty in doing so. Trapped in a hyper masculine role he is socialized to be self-sufficient and to undervalue connectivity. However, his heart attack cracks his armor and sends him search outward for support. He is torn between two sources of emotional support: the adulation of his fans and interpersonal relationships. The two are not compatible because the fans expect him to maintain his performance but Stephanie and Pam can only accept him if he opens up. Unfortunately, his experience has equipped him only with the tools to pursue the first, and more destructive, source of fulfillment. The viewer sees Randy struggle to interact equitably with people again and again, when serving supermarket customers, asking forgiveness from his daughter and building closeness with Pam. He meets one discouraging failure after another, causing him to pour himself back into wrestling. The film’s climax is Randy’s choice between self-sacrifice for the fans or healing with someone who cares about him.
Although these elements suggest a nuanced and questioning look at masculinity, the film’s promotion relied on popular constructs of violent masculinity. Far from criticizing the wrestling industry the filmmakers worked with it. As mentioned before the film used real wrestlers and trainers in several scenes. Part of the publicity for the movie involved a plotline in the WWE broadcasts in which Mickey Rourke (Randy) staged a feud with a wrestler, actually fighting in the ring at one point. The filmmakers were quite open about their desire to have major wresting industry leaders support the project. Once again, this is a piece of art and not propaganda. The filmmakers have created a sympathetic portrayal of wrestlers as individuals without questioning the broader context in which wrestling occurs. Ambiguity is vital to depth in art, and the film’s lack of social introspection doesn’t detract from its worth as a study of character. Although I believe that looking at the wrestling industry and male violence in society as a whole is important, injecting these subjects into The Wrestler would have diluted the movie’s power. This is ultimately the story of and individual’s struggle with mascunity and society, and a moving one.
I chose to review the movie Seven Pounds starring Will Smith which was released in 2008. It is a story about a man named Ben Thomas who is suffering with depression and intense guilt from the death of his wife. He was an ambitious work obsessed man that was driving while using his phone when he caused an accident which ended the lives of seven people including his partner. Throughout the movie Ben plans his own death and organizes to improve the life of seven strangers.
Before the accident Ben was a man who had everything though didn’t take time to realize it. It is a theme that has come up time and time again that a man is defined by what he does rather than who he is as a person. Society tells us that men are supposed to be successful bread winners for their family and not emotionally connected to the world and what is going on around them. This type of masculinity brought me back to our time on “Men and the Family” and “Men at Work” as we discussed that men typically are not expected to have strong relationships with their family especially when they are extremely successful in their career. When a person is enormously intelligent and motivated at work it is easy to understand how disconnecting from loved ones and in a way detaching from humanity could happen. We allow these individuals to drift away in their own research and become consumed more and more removed. It is viewed as a positive trait partly because of our capitalized society that dictates that people have to always make; make more, make better then make more of the better. So it’s great when brilliant men from MIT come in early and stay late working on the latest project that will make the company even more profitable and give higher more advanced technology to people of the world. Though society doesn’t look at how that same man neglects himself and his partner he can’t even resist the urge to read an email off of his phone while he’s driving on his way to dinner with the person he loves.
After his tragic accident Ben became incredibly depressed and seemed to be out of contact with many of the people in his life. Mental illness and depression being suffered by males is also something that is often ignored and kept hushed away since asking for help or telling someone that they need to seek help is in some way thought of as un-masculine. Depression and suicide is affecting more and more men yet it is still taboo to actively be concerned for a man’s life and try to get them into counseling or some other professional help. Although Ben was able to trust one friend who promised to help Ben through his process and make sure that his wishes were carried out once he took his own life. This friend seemed to understand that Ben considered his life to be over in a way and reluctantly agreed to help.
Through his path of redemption Ben connects to people that change his life and he searches for ways to change theirs. He looks for good people who help others in their communities, those who are dire need of help and protection and gives all that he can to change their situation. He becomes selfless in his search to find those who were nothing like how he used to be. In his exploration he becomes reconnected with himself and his humanity; he is able to finally open himself up to another. In addition he is able to forgive himself and begin to think about his future though he is too dedicated to his mission. In the end he saves others my sacrificing all that he has. Some might believe that his actions are extremely thought out and generous, on the other hand others could say that he took an easier way because to really deal with his past would have been traumatic and consuming years of his life to be able to move past what had happened and accept what he had lost. I chose to believe that his actions were with the best intent and that he gave all that he had so that he could in a way repent but also help and mend others because he held too much pain to bear. To me this movie is about a man that deals with his tribulations with helping and caring for others and along the way he finds others that save him.
This is a beautiful and touching movie, I’ve tried by best not to give too much of it away so that others will take the time to view it.
Since yesterday, November 21st, was transgender remembrance day, I decided to review a film that was directly related and relevant to transgender issues. The film Boys Don't cry is a powerful and true story about Brandon Teena, a female-to-male transsexual living in a small Nebraska town. The movie follows Brandon as he tries his hardest to fit in as one of the guys and also pursue love. Masculinity and manhood are very prevalent themes throughout the movie. The movie also includes abuse, rape, alcoholism, and transphobia.
Brandon successfully convinces everyone of his male identity through breast binding and pants stuffing. In order to fully become what he sees as a real man, Brandon constantly engages in risky and often times dangerous behavior. For example, he is talked into bumper skiing, a pastime in Nebraska where people ride on the tailgate of a pickup truck, holding onto a rope for as long as possible. When Lana, the love interest of Brandon, asks why he did this dangerous sport, he replied "that’s what guys do around here". This drive to prove his manhood to the world often gets Brandon into bad situations, such as bar fights, theft, and even jail time. This negative and often times erratic behavior is only escalated by peer pressure from John Lotter and Tom Nissen, two dangerous men with alcohol addictions and very short tempers. With the influence of John and Tom, Brandon runs into trouble with the law and even John himself.
Abuse and violence are also very prevalent in Brandon’s life. Practically every episode of violence is fueled by alcohol or some sort of illegal drug. Alcohol plays an important role in the movie, not only because its use as a catalyst in important events in the movie, but because its close ties to manhood and masculinity. John and Tom are pretty much intoxicated or under the influence in every scene and this eventually lead to the movie’s climax and ending. What is important to note is that all the female characters are either physically or mentally abused by John. His dominance and control over everyone creates a reign of terror that dictates all the character’s lives. His hyper masculine persona ends up tearing apart everything in Brandon’s life.
Brandon is eventually confronted about his gender identity and orientation in a very dramatic scene. John and Tom are completely ignorant and irate when they are confronted with something they don’t understand. They refer to Bandon as having a “sickness” and are unable to comprehend anything other than the traditional gender binary. It’s sickening the insults and abuse that Brandon endures. It’s as if Tom and John’s masculinity is threatened by Brandon’s identity and they are unable to deal with their anger. Their uncontrollable anger results in a terrifying and tragic event that eventually leads to them raping Brandon. Not only does Brandon have to endure the sexual assault, but while being questioned by the police, he is victim blamed and subjected to the judgment of everyone. The police man questioning him asks “Why do you run around with guys being a girl yourself.” The entire situation is incredibly degrading and traumatizing to Brandon.
Overall, the climax of the movie ends in a way that will leave you in shock due to the overwhelming cruelty of John and Tom. This movie is particularly unnerving because it is based on true events. With transphobia and hate crimes still prevalent today, it is important to never forget what has happened to individuals in the past, and to have an open mind and accepting of anyone regardless of anything.