Thursday, May 1, 2008

Jamieson: Intimacy, negotiated nonmonogamy, and the limits of the couple.

I’m going to do my best to try something new here (at least for me).

This article was of particular interest to me. After reading the first section, I immediately became aware of some of my own biases regarding relationships. I’ve already grown to understand my own interpretation of an “ideal relationship” and how that may relate to monogamy, but my 'eureka moment' stems my perceptions of others. The “couple” has long been the main way that I’ve really thought about romances. Seeing my prejudice spelled out in front of me was sort of shocking.

I’m not saying that I don’t think nonmonogamous relationships can exist, but rather that I first think of nonmonogamous as a couple with something extra on the side. Only after that—a conscious realization of my own misunderstanding—do I then imagine other possible scenarios.

The general view of ‘cheating’ or extramarital (I use this term loosely) sex as wrong is intriguing in light of the statement that followed. How many people, when asked if extramarital sex is wrong, are thinking about a negotiated nonmonogamy or merely recoiling to the deceit usually involved? I feel that the deceit is generally more of issue. Even still, I think that the willingness (or even need) to be deceitful reflects the social distaste for nonmonogamy. Lying appears to make the cheating despicable, but the actions would have already have been seen as a negative thing (at least by the person performing it) in order to want to lie about it anyway. Is that right? Maybe someone would lie because they expect the other person to be upset about their choice, then finding out about the deceit was cause for being upset. Then again, there are probably examples of both of those scenarios.

The way that this chapter mentioned Gidden’s approaches to love encounter sexual exclusivity. Confluent love does not necessitate monogamy—sexual exclusiveness in the pure relationship is determined by the mutual desirability of it.

Again, after coming to terms with my earlier bout with the 'eureka moment', Jamieson accurately claims that even the Giddens’ coupledom (the one that isn’t necessarily exclusive) still relies on the centrality of the couple.

The specialness provided by fidelity seems to be a reality in the relationships that I’ve encountered. The perception that the person you’re with has a monopoly on your sexual activity seems questionable in some ways. I like monogamy; I like the idea of nonmonogamy. Either way, this sort of specialness is, at least in some way, representative of the issues that kipnis brings up in her polemic. Furthermore, where does this specialness get us?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Transformation of Intimacy 5, 6, and 7

Chapters 5, 6, and 7 all seem to deal with Giddens notion of addition with a majority of the addiction arguments expressed in chapter 5.

Immediately, in regards to sexual addiction, I’m hesitant to take Giddens at his word. I think that my image of him was skewed so much during chapter 5 that I was unable to attack his writing throughout the rest of the other two chapters.

Sexual addiction is a highly debated thing. Giddens acknowledges some of the issues involved in defining “excessive sex” as an addiction, but tries to emphasize the possibility of an addiction in light of how addiction is defined; this especially evident in his comparison of sexual addiction to food addiction on page 77.

I’ll do my best not to focus entirely on this chapter, but based on my personal conflict with it and the importance of seeing potential for sexual addiction found within the following chapters, I’m more inclined to talk about it here and make passing comments on the others.

Defining someone as addicted to sex has inherent flaws. Where Giddens supposes that the existence of an intrinsic desire to have sex does not presuppose an inability to become addicted to it (77), I feel he is also insisting that, for one to be addicted to sex, they must have a larger appetite for it than the norm. As of now, and probably forever, there can be no system that explains the “normal” sexual appetite. As such, is there no position from which to argue that someone is having too much sex, or as it follows, become addicted.

The crux of Giddens argument seems to be that sexual addiction is a behavior that represents his 7 descriptive parts of addiction (the high, fix, time out, giving up one’s self, sense of loss, perception of ‘special’ nature of the event, and self-disgust—pp. 72-3). Most notably the self-disgust, or the persistent feelings of shame accompanying the action (77), appear to indicate when the activity constitutes addiction rather than compulsion.

Still, here, I have trouble with his hypothesis. Surely, participating in an action that you feel compelled to do and regret afterward is a sign of addiction, but I think that when we take addiction outside the realm of chemical dependency (alcohol, etc.) we need to alter some of the defining characteristics of addictions. In class we’ve seen many reasons why a woman may feel ashamed of her sexuality. Doesn’t it make sense that someone, more specifically a woman, who indulges in her sexuality, is likely to encounter social pressures that tell her to feel badly about it? Gidden’s argument is limited by the narrow scope of his statement. I may even go so far as to acknowledge a “sex addiction” (which I won’t at this time), but that doesn’t impede my goal of recognizing the social influences that may have contributed to the behavior. Furthermore, we see in this chapter Giddens’ focus on women as sexual addicts because of the social perception of men as having differing sexual compulsions (79). I think that is assertion that, socially, allowable sexuality changes between the sexes should also conjure questions about the validity of his own arguments about the female addict’s process of remorse after a sexual encounter.

I wonder after all of the comparisons to Alcoholic’s Anonymous when we should start to consider how to “correct” unhealthy sexuality. It seems to me that the 12-step programs lend themselves to interpretations that leave out the possibility of still practicing the habits that they’ve demonized. For alcohol, this means that one tries to acquire sobriety by means of no longer drinking. Ever. Should the same be applied to sex? Can it? What does the abandonment of sexuality do to cure a person? It seems to me that a person would, after the program, need to find a way to start behaving in a sexually “healthy” way. This begs the question: what is a healthy sexuality? As a class we’ve seen some of the dangers of trying to define any sort of normalcy regarding sexual desires. Even if we did know what sort of sex was normal, based on the way that we dissected Levy and CAKE, I’d say that what appears normal is not necessarily the most healthy and conversely what is the most healthy may not be considered normal.


Well, I seem to have failed to bring in the other chapters in my arguments. I’ll do my best to sum the chapters up now.

The beginning of chapter 6 seems like a lesson in stereotypical romance novels when describe the “female roles” which he wisely puts into quotation marks. Giddens quickly starts talking about codependency using the addiction language introduced in the previous chapter. The trouble is, for me, that I haven’t accepted the language in the previous chapter as true and, therefore, cannot take what he says at face value—this is more of a personal reflection than an actual critique of his work.

Giddens makes a distinction between the codependent relationship and a fixed relationship. The former represented by an individual being tied (psychologically) to another person and the latter as represented by someone who is addicted to the relationship itself (89).

His argument then strays toward feelings of intimacy and the loss of self that occurs within an addictive relationship (92) and then moves quickly to the Freudian examination of self as defined through childhood. This is where I get a little lost with his argument. Not only do I think that he’s swinging a little too far out of the bounds of his discussion, but I’ve been lead to believe, and indeed believe myself, that many of Freud’s assertions are errant, or at least need major revision.

Within chapter 7, I’m mostly drawn to Giddens claim of male sexuality as episodic. More specifically, I’m interested in Giddens argument about pornography as representing the episodic nature of men’s sexuality. He says “the images of women in soft pornographic magazines... re objects of desire, but never love”(119). He continues “they excite and stimulate and, of course, they are quintessentially episodic” (119). Does this explain male sexuality even in a general way? Was this an attempt to explain the use of pornography as being useful, or at least mildly complimentary, to men’s sexuality? I’m not sure how I take it, or even if those are any of the ways for it to be taken. Furthermore, and this I won’t talk about, does this episodic sexual tendency lead to the violence that Giddens describes in the rest of the chapter?

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Self-made Man: chap 6-8

The remainder of the book talks about Ned’s experience at work, a therapeutic men’s group, and a final reflection of Norah’s performance as Ned.

Norah’s workplace encounter seemed to validate her suspicions of men’s interaction. Then again, that’s sort of what she was trying to find. The “Glengarry Gelen Ross” environment she was searching for is one of extreme competition and money grubbing. This also gave her the opportunity to where a suit, which she looks back on fondly, almost, as a way to empower her Ned persona, contributing to the powerful feelings she originally associated with men as a whole.

Norah’s infiltration of the men’s group gave, what she assumes to be, some of the most revelatory experiences she had during her experiment. Unfortunately, it also contributed to the most guilt ridden performance of Ned during the year, causing her to have a “break down,” leading to passive suicidal tendencies eventually leading her to commit herself to a mental hospital.

This chapter explained to her, in a way that the chapter on dating began to tell, the hegemonic tendencies of both male and female roles in society. This is where she sees her assumptions of men as the willing benefactors of patriarchal dominion fall apart. She realizes those men, just as women do, have to play the role that society has provided them. In this sense, men can’t be full persons any more than women, who have generally been seen as the victims of patriarchy, were allowed to do. It sums up her understanding of women as "codeterminers in the system" on page 272.

Journey’s End:
This is perhaps the most loaded chapter of her book, intentionally so. Though only a few pages long, it compiles a list of all of the things that she has learned throughout the year. She

I’m curious about her revelation at the end. Her break down evoked a response that seemed to reaffirm biological differences between men and women. I’m not sure if I agreed entirely or if I thought that the experience of pretending for that long might have induced the panic she felt.

She talks a lot about how much of Ned was acting the part. She mentions how being Ned was much more psychological than it was physical—how she, if carrying herself as Ned, was called a man regardless of exterior alterations (276). Mostly, though, her experience made her uncomfortable because of the performance aspect of living. I think that this draws Butler into the argument. We, essentially, had a self-identified woman “playing” a man. She was, like all of us, performing gender. This performance, which she “didn’t like” (275), kept her from acting out every aspect of herself.

I’m left thinking that her entire experiment taught her more about the dangers of stifling one’s personality rather than providing a closer glimpse on the opposite (for her) sex (gender?). Still, she starts to understand the “male” position—insofar as there can be a male experience, just as Butler shows the inherent flaws of feminism claiming to represent all women—in ways that I wouldn’t have given her credit for prior to reading the book. I thought that she pegged my own experience in some ways, mostly in the dating chapter, which I assume is at least a little representative of the male population.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Bulter: Chap 3, part III and IV, and Conclusion

Where to begin...

In this section Butler lays out Wittig’s arguments and then proceeds to destroy them en masse. Still, Butler walks away having gained some insight with Wittig’s arguments. Butler analyzes Wittig in light of Beauvoir’s assertion that sex is “factic” and that gender is gained later on. Wittiq believes that sex, like gender is also acquired (153). Wittig sees sex as something that is politically thrust upon women, and that women become “ontologically suffused with sex” (154). With sex, because we start to see it as intrinsically “there” rather than perpetuated by a social system, it’s hard to notice how sex is created rather than just experienced.

“’Sex’ the category, compels ‘sex,’ the social configuration of bodies, through what Wittig calls a coerced contract. Hence, the category of ‘sex’ is one that enslaves” (157). This forced contract, as represented by heterosexism (?) fails to provide those outside the system with a “voice.” To speak is to take part in the discourse in which you don’t fit (158-9). A predicament to say the least. Butler starts to depart from Wittig at this point. Wittig starts to argue, in Butler’s eyes, for the lesbianizing (163) of the world. Butler’s issue with this is that such a process to achieve a universal point of view would assert a compulsory effect similar to the coercive heterosexual contract that Wittiq criticizes. Wittig feels that only a radical departure from the heterosexual will be able to rid us of the heterosexual regime (164). Butler disagrees... “Further, Wittig’s radical disjunction between straight and gay replicates the kind of disjunctive binarism that she herself characterizes as the divisive philosophical gesture of the straight mind” (165). Not only can homosexual relationships represent some of the inherent problems with the “heterosexual contract,” but also, Butler feels the force of the heterosexual regime is “not the only way it operates” (166). This approach relies to heavily on the “very terms that lesbianism purports to transcend” (169) and that Wittig’s lesbianism discourages a solidarity with heterosexual women (173).

In this section, Butler explains the effects of inscribing gender (or maybe sex, too) on the body—something I can’t claim to fully understand after reading. As such, my description here will be short. Butler states that, at least for Foucault, “cultural values emerge as a result of inscription on the body” (177). Butler connects this to Douglas’ discussion of taboos. From my perspective, this section can be described by an excerpt on page 186 when Butler brings the discussed arguments back to the sphere of gender:

“If the inner truth of gender is a fabrication and if a true gender is a fantasy instituted and inscribed on the surface of bodies, then it seems that genders can be neither true nor false, but are only produced as the truth effects of a discourse of primary and stable identity.”

The notion of gender being “neither true nor false” helps introduce Butler’s next topic: drag. We see on the following page (187) how drag, or the act of performing gender outside of one’s anatomical sex is representative of three dimensions: gender performance, gender identity, and anatomical sex. The three sets of dissonance (187) shows how “in imitating gender, drag implicitly reveals the imitative structure of gender itself—as well as it’s contingency” (187). If performance, then gender cannot be based on a preexisting attribute or act (192), indeed Butler concludes, “gender can be neither true nor false, neither real nor apparent, neither original nor derived” (193).

We’re brought all the way back to how Butler opened her book. Which, I must say, is probably the best way to conclude. The feminist’s claim of solidarity among all women is a “phantasmatic construction” (194); so too is the “real” and the “sexually factic” (199). I’m likely to agree with Butler here. She sees how feminists have limited themselves with the identities that they tried to use to “open up” discourse (200-1). “The internal paradox of foundationalism is that it presumes, fixes, and constrains the very ‘subjects’ that it hopes to represent and liberate” (203).

So where do we go from here? What is the next step for feminists? Or on an even smaller scale, how do we approach the subject as a class dedicated to discussing gender? By knowing our limitations, which Butler has spelled out many times, we should be able to start to fix them—Or do we replace them entirely?

Friday, March 7, 2008

Girls want sex, boys want love

Allen center’s her article on Foucault’s assertion that whenever there is power, there is the potential for resistance (216). She develops the traditional model of heterosexuality of the New Zealand population, referring to this model as the perceived “’real’ sex” (217) Explaining that sex, like we’ve discussed in the past, is often seen as a power dynamic. Allen stresses how these roles have affected the discourse on sex and relationships among teens, age 17-19. One party, primarily the male, is seen as the active participant where the other party, usually represented by the female partner, represents the passive role. She sees this passive/active model, reflected in the New Zealand understand (partly through literature), as contributing to the perceived differences between men and women’s sexual preferences, saying:

This “construction of women and men’s sexuality is dichotomized, with women lacking erotic desire, voyeuristic tendencies and corporeal pleasure, while men are disconnected from their emotional and mental needs and desires” (218).

Allen’s study is separated into four parts: Young women and the dominant discourse of sexual behavior (passive) and young women resisting dominant discourse, and men’s discourse of dominant sexual behavior (active) and the men resisting dominant discourse.

First, Allen explains the common assertions of female sexuality. This mostly focuses on how women are “positioned as the (reluctant) recipients of male desires rather than initiators of sexual activity” (220). The “recipient” role leads to more talk about desiring love in a relationship rather than sex. A few women, or “minority” (221), resist the prescribed sexuality in favor of something more balanced, though still flawed. Allen mentions how the likelihood of their resistance may be related to exposure to the “alternative pedagogies”(221). Even though they were resisting, the women felt a need to accommodate the dominating practices, as represented by the sexual double standard (slut label). In some cases the resistance reversed the masculine and feminine roles, making the woman the dominant sexual partner. Even so, the result still focused on the active/passive sexual interplay rather than a more equal role. The women also, when describing sex, tried to emphasize the importance of a balance of physical and emotional needs (223), but did not really talk about experiencing a willing sex-only relationship.

Men also tended to identify with the dominant discourse of “male sexuality as perpetually ready for sex, virile and potent” (225). Allen considers this masculine identity as one of social experience and “to achieve full masculine status young men must separate themselves from homosexual and feminine identities” (226). The men that resisted the dominant discourse referred to sex as something that wasn’t the “most” important, but failed to see sex as something unimportant. Interestingly, both sexes appeared to be more open to resisting when in a “safe” environment. The ‘safe’-ness is defined differently for each sex, men in more of a one on one environment and women in a female-dominated environment. Also, both sexes had a tendency to both accommodate and resist the dominant discourse.

Judging by her results during her project, Allen’s conclusion suggests that the dominant view of sexuality is outdated (231). She sees experience as a catalyst for changing mentalities. Often she cites men’s experience in relationships or women’s experience with exposure to alternative forms of sexual discussion as a means of introducing resistant tendencies. I feel that Allen makes a good point here. I think that, without exposure, people are likely to not know what options are available for them to choose from. I’m not sure if I’ll agree entirely, however. Exposure alone may not be enough. In a sex education setting, as she mentions in her opening paragraphs, exposure can be extremely beneficial. Within the private sphere, I feel, exposure is unlikely to have much of an impact—it may even have an adverse effect, closing off potential expressions of sexuality.

I was curious why Allen looked to teens to discover how sex is discussed. Perhaps because she associates the dominant discourse as “outdated” she felt that older individuals would be less likely to reflect contemporary feelings toward sex. Maybe she feels that sex, or at least exploratory discussion about sex is the realm of the young while older people may have already determined where they stand on the issues. Certainly sex is a new and exciting thing in their lives (if it’s even present), but what do teens bring to the discussion?

Sorry this is late. I thought I was writing for monday.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Feminist Iconoclasm and the Problem of Eroticism

Hardy focuses on eroticism as the “public representation of sexuality” (77). He argues that our current understanding of eroticism is incapable of incorporating some of the new social constructions around gender that feminists are trying to adopt. He considers it to be “anachronistic in a world where gender order is being radically challenged” (80). Hardy explains historical influences of hegemonic eroticism, but also emphasizes that the social conditions “exceed historical memory” (81). His timeline helps to explain some of the social uses of eroticism that he describes in a section of the same name. During this process, Hardy discusses the dichotomous relationship between anti-porn, who argue that “sexual violence is culturally procured by the pornographic icon of female degradation” (78), and Anti-censorship, who see “sexual violence as more of a symptom than the source of women’s oppression” (84).

Perhaps one of his most important distinctions between two schools of thought is the separation of the psychoanalytic and social interpretations. He finds fault within the psychoanalytic focus because it “tends to view the erotic only in relation to the psychic” (79), which, he feels, “makes our erotic preoccupation with power seem less threatening and politically problematic” (85).

In responding to a text that has been called “dense” in an email by our professor, I’m afraid I may lack the intellectual capabilities to it justice. I can however focus on what I felt while reading, which I suppose, is all I was asked to do.

Looking historically at the hegemonic relationship between men and women, or this sort of willing(?) power of one sex over the other, Hardy does an excellent job explaining how some of our social constructs of gender (and, from there, sexuality) have been changed throughout time... of course, he sees his own limitations with this approach, which makes me, too, wonder how the original power dynamics came to be. He mentions the “active” and “passive” roles—I won’t elaborate—which make me remember discussion in class about finding new languages for female experience with sexuality. It is, partially, the active/passive language that persisted throughout Greek and Roman society that we base our own understanding of on sex today. What if, as mentioned by Professor Sabo in class, sex didn’t involve a penis “penetrating” the vagina, but rather a vagina “surrounding” the penis? If we were somehow able to attribute an active role to the woman during sex (at that time) perhaps ideas of sexuality would have evolved entirely differently.

Since I’m already speaking in terms of how social change could have altered historical perceptions of sexuality, I should probably look deeper into Hardy’s introduction of “social scripts” language. Hardy perceives scripts as a means of developing an adult gender identity which, he feels, is largely associated with sexual identity (86)... What does this mean? Honestly, I’m not sure, but I come to the following conclusion: if eroticism is “nothing more than an arbitrary and inherently unstable set of conventional significations” (90), it should be possible to change those conventions, especially if they are unstable.

I’m left with the feeling that, if eroticism has historically changed due to social conditions, what is stopping the next conception of eroticism from evolving from our new ways of thinking? Surely, if more and more people start supporting a more egalitarian view of sexuality, there should be a reactive change in public perceptions of the erotic. I think Hardy would argue that this is where the problem lies. He seems to suggest that we need to start in that direction—we need to claim our current position as a “starting point” and work with what we have rather than trying to start from scratch.

In Hardy’s conclusion, he wonders if a new idea of eroticism, born out of the old dichotomy of active/passive and dominant/submissive, will create an new “queer world free of the master categories of gender and sexuality, or simply a multitude of lesser categories in their place” (92). I’m more likely to side with those that think it will create the latter. Based on my own experience, it’s seems natural [my use of natural may only be proving Hardy’s point about our tendency to naturalize] for us to allocate new things to their respective boxes, no matter how small. Where once “feminism” was a box, it has since been divided in “anti-porn,” “anti-censorship,” “anti-sex,” and much more. Of course, that’s one opinion. Maybe the examples I’ve given should not be considered because they are attempts at elaboration, and are not created when such a reality exists.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Raunch Culture. Intro, 1-2

Levy is particularly adept at shedding light on “raunchy” things within our society that I may have not thought twice about. Her approach, while broad, is able to hone in on common threads throughout each example. Many of her examples (possibly all of them) establish a conflict between her own definition of sexual liberation and the definitions of the women participating. From Levy’s perspective, the women participating in the exhibitionist forms of sexuality aren’t necessarily receiving as much liberation as they might expect. Levy’s objections come three-pronged (at least).

Sex has become something commercial and, in Levy’s eyes, this cheapens the expression many of these women are seeking to promote. How can you possibly be liberated by something that is inherently exploitative? Levy would agree that commodification is not synonymous with liberation, suggesting that they are even exclusionary, saying, “raunch culture is not essentially progressive, it is essentially commercial” (p. 29). Sadly, it is also this commercialism that has led to a prescribed form of sexuality. And what is sexy? Answer: whatever can sell. Breast implants, hair color, make-up... all those things that help women to a specific kind of beauty.

Another of Levy’s objections is one of contradiction. Many of the activities considered to be acceptable forms of sexual expression are exactly the types of things that earlier generations were fighting against. Where some feminists tried to ban pornography, many women are now considering pornography a type of liberation—a way to take charge of their sexuality. To Levy, this approach shifts objectification of women by men, to objectification of women by themselves.

Let’s assume for a moment that “raunch culture” is the proper form of liberation; Levy’s argument in chapter two shows the current flaws in such an expression. Sexual expression, or even sexiness in general, is still the domain of women. It’s heavily one-sided. When referring to Katie Couric Levy says, Referring to Couric – “Proving that you are hot, worthy of lust, and—necessarily—that you seek to provoke lust is still exclusively women’s work” (p. 33). And it’s true. It’s not often you hear of a man trying to “show more leg” in an attempt to seem appealing as well as professional.

This is something that we hear over and over again. The women in Playboy, for example, are mentioned as having lives that are separate from their photo shoots. Professional lives. The shoot, for them, is supposed to be a means of expressing that they can be sexy too, or in addition, to their normal life. As real women they are able to be both professional in their conduct and in charge of their sexuality. Levy is quick to point out that this “I can be sexy too” mentality doesn’t really live up to the expectations of the posing women. In a magazine no one will see the real women—it doesn’t extend to the readers that are unaware of the woman’s personal life, they only get the part of the women presented on the page. The product, then, is unbalanced. It only providing the reader with “sexy” and no “too.”

After reading, I'm left with the feeling that any outward expression of sexuality is a potentially hazardous thing. I don't believe this to be Levy's intention. To what extent are we (or perhaps just women) allowed to publically display their bodies? Maybe that's not the proper question... What reasoning would a woman need to embrace certain parts of "raunch culture" without perpetuating many of the problems that Levy points out? Should she ever?