Lauren McGuire pointed us to a post by Gilligan at Retrospace inspired by a scene in the 1963 Western, McLintock! The movie included a scene in which George McLintock, played by John Wayne, uses a shovel to spank his estranged wife, played by Maureen O’Hara.
The spanking scene apparent stuck quite the chord, as it was used repeatedly in the promotional materials.
Gilligan suggests that the spanking of adult women by adult men was a midcentury theme, from Kiss me Kate to comic books:
Here’s an Q&A from the New York Daily Mirror, circa 1950s (thanks to @perstornes):
Lady spanking is a manifestation of the infantilization of women. The idea that they are not men’s equals, but are expected to obey them as subordinates and can be punished when they do not behave. Of course, materials riffing on the spanking adult women today (outside of porn and fetish communities) would probably inspire an outcry, but that leaves open the possibility that the gendered power asymmetry simply manifests in other ways. Adult women are still infantilized (see posts here, here, and here) and dominance/submission is still sexualized in mainstream materials (consider our post asking what love is supposed to look like).
Originally posted in 2010; re-posted in response to a new example. Images borrowed from here, here, here, here, here. H/t Retrospace.
by Sayantani DasGupta MD MPH, Jul 30, 2013, at 12:00 pm
The reproductive health police are at it again, and this time they’ve got the gender and sexuality cops with them. Despite the CDC reporting a decline in teen pregnancy across ethnic groups, public health and privately funded campaigns are popping up across the U.S. aimed at chastising, shaming, and blaming teenage mothers.
Ok, I get it. The campaign was designed to communicate the fact that most teen pregnancies are, yes, unexpected, and that teen fathers should bear an equal responsibility for said pregnancies. But as someone working at the interstices of narrative, health, and social justice, I am less concerned with wondering if teen pregnancy is ‘bad’, or even if shame and/or shock are effective motivators for behavior change (which I would argue they are not, check out Brené Brown’s eloquent argument). What concerns me is what other work such images are doing. In other words, what additional cultural stories is this campaign telling, and are those narratives socially just or unjust?
As this fantastic take-off from the Media Literacy Project shows, the primary problem with the Chicago campaign is its deeply trans-phobic narrative:
In the frame of the advertisers, the pregnant bellies in the ads are solely female while the rest of the body is solely male. The contrast is supposed to cause discord in the viewer, yielding feelings that the image is “disturbing” or “unexpected,” as the ads say. However, sex and gender are much more complicated than the advertisers understand. Transgender boys and men can become pregnant. Calling their bodies disturbing perpetuates a culture of ignorance, prejudice, and violence against transgender people.
The truth is, bodies which do not look traditionally ‘female gendered’ can and do become pregnant (consider the much publicized story of Thomas Beattie, for instance, a transgender man who bore three children) while bodies which do look traditionally ‘female gendered’ sometimes can or do not.
Philosopher Judith Butler asserted that gender is nothing more than a series of repetitive performances; behaviors which, in cis-gendered (not transgendered) people, are often so subconscious as to feel ‘natural.’ But simply consider that the gender-coding of many such behaviors have changed over time. Hairstyles, clothing, and work-home-balance are all easy examples. Requiring at the very least a working uterus, pregnancy is one type of public ‘performance’ that still appears ‘naturally female.’ Therefore, ‘male pregnancy’ can be a subversive act, as with the work of cyber-artists Virgil Wong and Lee Mingwei, where, as feminist science scholar Donna Haraway would say, one ‘queers what counts as nature.’
But that’s not what is going on here. As with the broadly comic absurdness of male pregnancy in films like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Junior,this anachronistic Chicago campaign actually reinforces a traditional gender binary while essentializing pregnancy as a function of only cis-gendered female bodies. In doing so, the campaign defeats its own stated purpose. By looking at these posters, cis-gendered boys won’t feel like pregnancy can happen to them. Rather, they will scoff, or laugh at the ‘absurdness’ of male pregnancy, reassured that their (utterly and fixedly ‘masculine’) bodies are ‘safe’ from such conditions. More devastatingly, the cis-gendered general public looking at these images will have their own prejudices and expectations about male pregnancy reinforced: as something ‘unexpected,’ shocking, and ‘unnatural.’
Additionally, like other individual-level ‘shaming and blaming’/’shocking’ campaigns, this Chicago anti-teen pregnancy series deflects attention from more systemic understandings and structural changes: from finding funding for affordable and accessible reproductive health care, to anti-poverty work, to programs which support LGBTQ youth. While they may satisfy the need for a ‘moral panic’ among us middle-aged people as we ‘clutch the pearls and think of the children,’ what such anti-teenage pregnancy campaigns don’t do is actually increase the well being of our young people – be they male or female, cis- or trans-gendered.
…it’s interesting, right, to notice how often attempts to hurt other people come in the language of sexuality. This reveals why sex can be scary, especially for women who are so often positioned as the one who “gets fucked”… It’s also part of how we demean and marginalize gay and bisexual men.
This post came to mind when I saw this confession at PostSecret:
Let me put this in black and white: this person expressed “hate” by exposing another person to his penis. So he considers his penis a thing that can defile. This is the same penis that he puts (presumably) in his wife who he (presumably) doesn’t hate. If I were his wife, I would wonder how exactly he decides when putting his penis in things is a loving thing to do and when it’s a way to harm or humiliate someone.
I don’t mean to pick on this individual. The idea that it’s funny (“LOL”) to expose this woman to his genitalia without her consent is widespread. This confession is just a manifestation of our cultural belief that men can hurt people with their penises. And that it’s funny when they do.
If this PostSecret confession doesn’t break your heart, you are a bad person.
Last week I chatted with the Canadian Broadcasting Company for a segment they’re doing on humor and power. I used hateful jokes about fat people as an example of how patterns in comedy reveal our biases: who it is okay to revile, whose feelings we can dismiss, who we see as less-than-human.
I was surprised when the host said that some argue that pointing out people’s weight isn’t offensive because it’s “just a fact.” I responded, “Sociologists don’t believe in that kind of fact.” Two hundreds years ago being called fat would have been a compliment: it represented power, success, wealth, and (yes) health. Today the meaning of fat has changed. The word is now a weapon. For the person who wrote this secret, fatness is not a fact; it’s a “humiliat[ion].” This is what dehumanization feels like.
Whoever you are, I wish I could give your warm, comfy body a big giant hug.
Re-posted to add to the discussion about sexual assault and rape culture in the aftermath of the Steubenville verdict.
On the heels of yesterday’s cartoon making light of lynching published in Eastern Michigan University’s newspaper, Michaela N. submitted an intended-to-be-humorous visual making light of rape in The Purdue Exponent, the Purdue University student newspaper. Part of a “sex position of the week” series, this one suggests that one man should pass a female partner off to another man without her knowledge.
This is another piece of evidence that suggests that we live in a rape culture: a society that, at best, trivializes and, at worst endorses, sexual assault.
UPDATE: Zoe Hayes, editor-in-chief of The Purdue Exponent, sent along a note asking that we link to their apology. To their credit, unlike the non-apology issues in the case of the lynching cartoon linked to above, they express genuine empathy, remorse, and responsiveness.
“We don’t know how the results were obtained. The post-doc who did all the work has since left to start a bakery” reads a tweet with the #overlyhonestmethods hashtag. The hashtag is being used for scientists to discuss the elements of their methodology that do not get discussed in “proper” scientific papers.
In response to this series of tweets, others have been reassuring readers that #overlyhonestmethods is a “‘joke” hashtag, and should not be construed to reflect the actual state of scientific work. Why? What’s the big deal?
Part of it is about the ways in which we like to consider science. The societal discourse is that science (particularly lab science) represents a “pure” form of knowledge, unbiased by human perceptions, relationships, and pragmatism.
In some ways, that may be true (if I mix Flourine and Francium, for example, the result is likely to be explosive whether I believe it to be or not), but that does not mean science isn’t shaped by social, cultural, and institutional forces.
For example, the choice of what to research is highly political. During wartime, scientific research is devoted to things that may aid the war effort, from weaponry, to vehicles, to food preservation. Political priorities in certain regions, likewise, direct research dollars into forestry management instead of ecological preservation. The scientists who do this research direct their efforts in this way because that is the research they can get funded.
#Overlyhonestmethods is, among other things, exposing the very real social nature of scientific research, pointing out that scientists may time their experiments so as to avoid being the lab on evenings and weekends. Or that it is sometimes difficult to know how certain results were obtained because people leave the profession and can’t tell you.
These concerns – about recording knowledge, and people’s quality of life at work — exist in every other profession, but in most cases we don’t need to discuss those statements as a “joke.” This is because most other professions do not make the claim of presenting absolute truth. In telling the “unpublished” stories of scientific research, #overlyhonestmethods makes it obvious that scientists are people who face constraints — personal, relational, practical, and institutional — potentially shaking the trust people put in science to offer “the” Truth.
Anastasia Kulpa teaches Sociology at Grant MacEwan University in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Her research interests include the sociology of post-secondary classrooms and cultural vehicles for transmitting ideology (class, music, television, etc).
A while back, we featured a post by Mary Nell Trautner and Erin Hatton about the gap in depictions of men and women on Rolling Stone covers. Their study found that women on the cover are not just sexualized, but are generally hypersexualized, whereas men are generally not sexualized at all, and this gendered trend has grown over time.
An anonymous reader sent in an example that highlights this pattern. The British version of GQ is putting out a comedy issue in April. The issue has two covers, one featuring actress Olivia Wilde (via):
The fully-dressed men are “kings of comedy,” while Wilde is a “fantasy figure.” Notice also that the cover on the right that the four female comedians at the bottom are introduced as “sexy.” While these women may be funny, it’s clearly essential that they be hot while being funny; comedic skills alone just won’t do.
GQ created a trailer featuring some of the comedians in the issue. The video consists of 17 male comedians. One woman does make it into the video; at 0:14, Wilde jiggles her boobs:
Because apparently none of those female comedians are worth including as representatives of comedy in the same manner as the men, but only in an explicitly sexualized manner.
by Guest Blogger David Paul Strohecker, Oct 26, 2011, at 08:53 am
I am a huge fan of the television series It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, but I want to problematize some of the humor we often take for granted in the show. In a recent interview with Conan O’Brien, Charlie Day discusses some of the changes introduced into the upcoming season of the show. Specifically, about 1:30 in, they discuss the weight gain that Rob McElhenney (“Fat Mac”) accomplished in pursuit of a “funnier” character (image via):
Notice how Charlie Day and Conan laugh—freely and unapologetically—at the prospect of Mac contracting diabetes (especially Conan’s mocking “Go America!” response to the image of “Fat Mac”):
Continue watching the interview to the 4:45 mark; Conan broaches the topic of mental retardation contained in an earlier episode (Season 3 Episode 9: “Sweet Dee’s Dating a Retarded Person”). You will notice that Charlie Day seems more hesitant and calculated in discussing the topic of mental disability. For one, he uses the word “mental disability” rather than the more pejorative “retarded.” You will also notice less of an audience response, a less raucous reaction to the prospect of someone being mentally disabled than to them being fat.
Mental disability, as a largely ascribed status, serves as a less-viable source of humor. That is, laughing at someone who is born a particular way, or gains that status for reasons beyond their control, violates our precepts of political correctness. However, being overweight is often interpreted as caused by a personal character flaw (laziness, gluttony, etc.) and therefore an achieved status. Laughing at fat people, then, is not only socially acceptable, but often encouraged in American comedy.
This highlights the centrality of individualism and personal responsibility in American society. We hold the obese and the overweight accountable for their corporeal deviations. We tend to believe that those who are overweight (and those who contract Type 2 Diabetes) are responsible for their conditions. It then becomes socially acceptable to mock them. On the flipside, mental disability, as an ascribed status, is more likely to be defined as “off limits” as a source of humor. When it becomes a source of humor, as in this case, comedians must save face by saying things like “Nothing against the mentally disabled, but…” as Charlie does at the 5:25 mark—a form of hedging he didn’t feel obliged to include when laughing at someone’s weight.
Who we can laugh at, and whether we have to apologize for doing so, reveals larger cultural discourses, and analyzing humor allows us to understand some of the prevailing moral assumptions we take for granted.
David Paul Strohecker (@dpsFTW) is getting his PhD from the University of Maryland, College Park. He studies issues of intersectionality, consumption, and popular culture. He is currently doing work on the popularization of tattooing, a project on the revolutionary pedagogy of public sociology, and more theoretical work on zombie films as a vehicle for expressing social and cultural anxieties. He previously wrote for the blog Racism Review and currently blogs at Cyborgology.