Can men control their reactions to attractive women?
Tags: bodies, gender, marketing/brands, media, sex/sexuality, commercial, rape culture, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: Beyond simply objectifying women, this commercial for the Axe Chill Collection presumes a relationship between female attractiveness and men's uncontrollable responses. The message is clear: because girls are hot, guys lose their "cool" and, therefore, are unable to control themselves. The ad suggests that their product "helps guys keep their cool before it's too late" but what is implied here? Before it's too late for what? While the commercial depicts men having accidents (e.g. crashing into a car), the obvious sexualization seems to imply that men would also act on their sexual impulses in an inappropriate manner. Again, the message is clear: men are not to blame for these reactions; instead the blame is on women and their "hotness." This attribution of blame, along with the overall sexual objectification of women, are key dimensions of rape culture, which encompasses a set of values and beliefs that legitimate male sexual aggression and rape. Viewers may reflect on the degree to which such messages, also found in music videos and throughout our culture, shape men's actions and attitudes about sex and gender.
Submitted By: Anonymous
When did you decide to become straight?
Tags: discourse/language, lgbtq, media, prejudice/discrimination, sex/sexuality, heteronormativity, heterosexual privilege, sexual identity, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: In this video, amateur photographer Travis Nuckolls asks a number of respondents whether they think people choose to be gay. To those who think it is a choice, Nuckolls poses a thought provoking follow-up question: "When did you choose to be straight?" Why are the respondents so surprised by this second question, and what might their surprise reveal about the way people think about sexuality. One answer is that people were caught off guard because they are rarely asked questions about heterosexuality, and this is arguably because heterosexuality is thoroughly taken for granted as the normal and natural sexuality. In fact, sociologists and others argue that the United States is a deeply heteronormative society, which means that it is a society awash in messages that suggest heterosexuality is the normal and preferred sexuality. In a heteronormative society, heterosexuals do not typically field questions about their sexuality, while sexual minorities, such as those who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, or polyamorous, are routinely asked questions about theirs. A second insight one can glean from the surprise people express in the video is that heterosexuality is widely believed to be the original sexuality. That is, there is a heteronormative belief that all humans start life as straight, or perhaps as undecided, and then reach a moment when they become gay. This belief is the unspoken premise behind Nuckoll's question, "Do you think being a gay a choice?" and since people appear unsurprised by his first question, one can argue that they subscribe to this premise. In contrast, the premise to his follow-up question, "When did you choose to be straight?" is just the opposite. The follow-up question suggests that people start as gay or undecided, and only after making a choice, become straight. However, confronted with this question, people seem to be taken off guard. That is, they do not accept the premise behind the question. In sum, Nuckolls' video likely went viral because it centered and exposed U.S. heteronormativity and heterosexual privilege by asking people two relatively simple questions. It also clearly exposed the fact that people hold heterosexual folks to a different standard. It is entertaining to watch respondents in the video question their assumptions about sexuality, but it's also useful for viewers to articulate just what those assumptions are.
Submitted By: Lester Andrist
The NiqaBitch video protests France's burqa ban
Tags: art/music, bodies, crime/law/deviance, gender, immigration/citizenship, inequality, prejudice/discrimination, race/ethnicity, religion, sex/sexuality, burqa, burqa ban, chandra talpade mohanty, femininity, feminism, male gaze, niqa, postcolonialism, racism, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: This clip features a protest against France's recent Burqa ban, which went into force in 2011. The new law stipulates that anyone caught wearing the niqab or burqa in public could face a fine of €150, or be forced to take lessons in French citizenship. The performance of the two women in the video challenges the resistance/subordination binary, which typically frames discussions about what it means when non-Western women don the veil. By sexualizing their veiled bodies, the women challenge ideas about whether wearing a veil is necessarily an expression of women's oppression, just as it challenges whether wearing hot pants and high heels is necessarily an expression of women's ability to resist oppression (Note that the ban went into force after the video was made). Moreover, by performing a sexualized femininity they are apparently able to navigate the streets of Paris without being disciplined, and their short walk raises a number of provocative questions. First, to what extent are the two women able to “break” the law because they have garnered the approval of the heterosexual male gaze? How might people react to these women if they did not fit the archetype of attractive females? This clip provides an excellent window into Chandra Mohanty's acclaimed paper “Under Western Eyes.” Mohanty takes issue with the way that Western feminists assume that wearing the veil is a symbol of oppression and fail to give a voice to the women who wear these clothes. It is unfair for Westerners to assume that the way they themselves dress is a symbol of empowerment without unpacking the systems of patriarchy that inform Western modes of dress. Viewers can also consider whether Westerners have the authority to make judgments about the way non-Westerners dress. Does the government have the right to create laws that ban certain styles of dress? If so, why aren't the religious symbol laws enforced for nuns who wear veils?
Submitted By: Pat Louie
Tags: children/youth, crime/law/deviance, gender, media, sex/sexuality, masculinity, patriarchy, sexism, socialization, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: Following Judith Lorber, patriarchy can be defined as simultaneously the process, structure, and ideology of women's subordination. Sexism, then, denotes anything that promotes or reinforces the system through which this persistent subordination operates. People often have trouble working with formal definitions, so illustrations from the real world, such as this thirty-second commercial from Allstate, can be helpful. The ad features an insurance agent chatting with a homeowner, who is quite pleased with the tree house he recently built in his backyard. "The boys love it," he boasts, "They are up there day and night!" Then with deft comedic timing, the agent informs his prideful client that the boys love their new tree house primarily because it looks into their neighbor, Mrs. Koslowski's, window. It is important to move beyond simply calling commercials distasteful. To articulate why this Allstate ad is sexist is to articulate how it contributes to the systemic subordination of women. It is an exercise in describing how patriarchy works. As I see it, the sexist problems with this commercial are of two sorts. First, the narrative relies on a very problematic myth about the irrepressible sexual desires of boys and men. Plainly stated, Allstate has conjured a scenario of three prepubescent boys in their new tree house with binoculars, but they are not there to play as children. Rather, viewers are to conclude that their incipient male sexual drive is leading them to seize upon a rare voyeuristic opportunity, and a non-consensual one at that. This particular representation of men is sexist because it attempts to justify an abusive and exploitative pattern of behavior among men as it pertains to women. While there is really no evidence that men's libidos ever render them incapable of moral behavior, it is fairly clear that cultures which assure men they have irrepressible sexual urges give men permission to act as if their libido occasionally renders them incapable of moral behavior. But if the first problem has to do with justifying predatory behavior among men, the second problem is the commercial's claim about what constitutes an appropriate response to men who behave as sexual predators. There is a sense in the ad that viewers are witnessing a family memory in progress, perhaps a funny story that might some day be told at a party. But it's important not to lose sight of the fact that the boys are engaging in behavior that is both morally and legally reprehensible (real world examples can be found here). The boys are committing a serious crime; yet the tone of the commercial assures the viewer that it is just another banal instance of boys being boys. Note that the agent is laughing, and while the father is clearly uncomfortable, his response is to spray the boys with a hose. On this last point, the commercial is sexist because it downplays the seriousness of this subordinating behavior among men. To paraphrase sociologist Michael Kimmel, the often made conclusion that "boys will be boys" really means that boys and men will always be violent, rapacious animals. Such a conclusion is a sexist posture of resignation.
Submitted By: Lester Andrist
Fa’afafines at Pasifika festival, 2007. Photo credit: John Corney
Tags: culture, gender, lgbtq, sex/sexuality, fa'afafine, gender binary, Samoan culture, third gender, 06 to 10 mins
Summary: This segment from the New Zealand television program Pacific Beat St explores the concept of Fa'afafine (fah-fa-fee-neh), a gender category in Samoan culture that is distinct from man or woman. In this way, Fa’afafine can be understood as a third gender that falls outside of the gender dichotomy, and this gender category is integrated into the fabric of Samoan society. As explained here, if a family is comprised of all sons, one of the boys will sometimes be raised as a daughter in order to perform daily duties that are associated with femininity. Other times, parents will raise their (biologically born) boys Fa’afafine if they exhibit strong feminine characteristics at an early age. The work performed by Fa’afafines is valued within the culture and, as noted in this clip, can include such things as cooking, caregiving, and singing in the choir. Fa'afafines present their gender in a variety of ways, as one American traveller observed: "Some of the Fa'afafines I met were very effeminate and dramatic, some were big old bruisers, some were very understated and graceful, but all walked among their countrymen with heads high and a solid footing in society." However, although Fa’afafines are an established part of Samoan culture, as this video states, they still face discrimination and marginalization, similar to transgender people in other societies. In this clip, Phylesha Brown-Acton, a Fa'afafine and transgender advocate, speaks of the prejudices she's faced. Instructors can highlight the specific stereotypes Phylesha cites, which, in addition to being perceived as "a sex worker, a druggie, a thief," also include the misperception of being "a man who wears women's clothing." As Phylesha says, every Fa'afafine has a different identity, but she personally does not identify as a man or a woman; as such, she is not "a man who wears women's clothing." This perspective and societal arrangement challenges the Western gender binary system. The clip also features Phylesha's advocacy work with youth and we meet three Fa’afafine youth advocates who work on behalf of transgender issues.
Submitted By: Valerie Chepp
The "sissy boy" experiment had terrible consequences.
Tags: gender, lgbtq, sex/sexuality, conversion therapy, gender socialization, research ethics, 06 to 10 mins
Summary: This CNN investigation looks at the controversial work of psychologist George Allan Rekers, whose 1970s "sissy boy" experiment sought to make a boy more masculine. It covers many sociological concerns including gender socialization, sexual orientation, and the ethics of research. First, in believing young boys who display behaviors thought of as feminine are more likely to be gay than supposedly masculine boys, Rekers exemplifies a common type of flawed thinking by conflating gender and sexual orientation. He attempted to "correct" supposedly feminine boys with severe sanctions (positive and negative) not only to compel boys to act in more masculine ways, but also to reduce the likelihood they would be gay as adults (and he is within a minority of people who think that is a bad thing). Second, because of the extremity of the sanctions that occurred under a psychologist’s recommendations, the “sissy boy experiment” raises many ethical concerns about applied social-psychological research—especially studies conducted on children (and also conversion therapy more generally) without consideration to the long term effects. Rekers, who is well-known in the anti-gay movement today, heralds the experiment as a success despite the fact that the boy committed suicide as an adult. As a third and final consideration about this video, we should keep in mind that everyone is subject to milder forms of sanctions on our gendered behaviors; boys (and even adult men) are often rewarded for supposedly masculine behavior while being shamed or even punished when they act ways deemed feminine (and of course, vice-versa for women). There is no doubt these experiences shape our gendered selves while reinforcing normative gendered behaviors more generally.
Submitted By: Jason Eastman
Youth poets critique the "Oppression Olympics"
Tags: art/music, intersectionality, lgbtq, prejudice/discrimination, race/ethnicity, sex/sexuality, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: This poem, performed by two young women in the youth poetry competition Brave New Voices, is an excellent way to introduce students to the concepts of intersectionality and Oppression Olympics. "Oppression Olympics is a term used when two or more groups compete to prove themselves more oppressed than each other." Intersectionality is the theory of thought that draws attention to the ways in which inequalities are intersecting and interlocking, and thus proves the difficulties associated with comparing one group's experience with oppression to another's. The poem specifically chronicles what happens when members of the African American community and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community engage in comparisons of who has had it worse. While the practice of comparing the harms of racism to homophobia isn't new, as sociologist Eric Anthony Grollman points out in this blog post, "the supposed black-versus-gay divide is old, and frankly a little tired." Indeed, as Grollman and the youth poets show, the experiences and activist histories of these two marginalized groups have much in common. Such insight supports what the bisexual Caribbean-American activist poet June Jordan wrote in her book, Some of Us Did Not Die: "Freedom is indivisible, and either we are working for freedom or you are working for the sake of your self-interests and I am working for mine." In addition to pairing this video with Jordan's work, the clip would work well with scholarship by other intersectional thinkers such as Audre Lorde, Allan Johnson, and Patricia Hill Collins.
Submitted By: Kendra Barber
George receives a massage from a man
Tags: emotion/desire, foucault, lgbtq, sex/sexuality, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: This clip is from the Seinfeld episode entitled "The Note," which is the first episode of the show's third season (note: the audio is low; turn up the volume when screening this clip). After receiving a massage from a man, George shows up at Jerry's apartment, clearly distraught. George reveals to Jerry that he thinks he might have had an erection during the massage and he fearfully exclaims: "That's the sign! The test…if a man makes it move." Jerry reassures George saying, "That's not the test. Contact is the test. If it moves as a result of contact." This clip can be used to teach several concepts. First, the clip can be use to illustrate how sexuality is not a fixed concept; it is fluid and not easily defined. For example, is sexuality defined by sexual desire? Sexual behavior? Sexual identity? In this case, George focuses on sexual desire. Despite not identifying as gay or engaging in sexual behavior with men, George wonders if his erection is a sign of same-sex desire, a desire presumably unbeknownst to him. Jerry shifts the focus by narrowing in on behavior, stating that the sign of gay entails physical contact that results in sexual arousal. This discussion points to the complexity of sexuality. Viewers can be encouraged to consider various scenarios in order to highlight this complexity. For example, if George dates women, has sex with women, self-identifies as straight, yet is aroused by a man, is he gay? What if he identifies as gay but has sex with women? Viewers can further be encouraged to question our cultural obsession with defining sexuality in the first place. In his book The History of Sexuality, Michel Foucault calls this a discourse of knowledge and, similarly, power. The clip also illustrates how heterosexuality gets renormalized in our culture through social interactions—that is, there is no need for George and Jerry to debate the definition of being straight. Presumably, that's just known and normal. Finally, the clip also supports elements of Michael Kimmel's concept of masculinity as homophobia, or the notion that men are terrified to be gay or, even more, be perceived as gay.
Submitted By: Valerie Chepp
Missy Elliott's "Work It" celebrates black women’s sexuality.
Tags: art/music, bodies, gender, intersectionality, race/ethnicity, sex/sexuality, feminism, rap music, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: In this music video, rap artist Missy Elliott fills the void in the discussion of pro-sex black feminism. Historically, black voices have been excluded from the sex-positive feminist revolution. In part, the marginalization of black voices is a product of a colonial past that has stereotyped the black body as always already hypersexual (see Saarjite Baartman). As a result, black academics have taken up a “politics of silence” to resist these stereotypes. A potential site to begin the discussion of a pro-sex black feminist discourse is rap music (Skeggs 1993). The female rappers “talk back, talk black” (hooks 1989) to the colonialist system that attempts to contain the expression of women’s sexuality. In Missy Elliott’s hit song “Work It” (lyrics here), she expresses her own kind of sexuality, effectively creating a dialogue for us to rethink our analyses of black women’s sexuality. How does Missy (re)claim her body as a site of desire and empowerment? How does Missy establish herself as an active sexual subject in the song? Does this challenge patriarchal notions of female sexuality? How does she subvert traditional understandings of the black body? Does Missy challenge conventional (white) beauty standards (i.e. celebration of hips, large butt etc)? How, if at all, does Missy’s music differ from other female artists and, specifically, other popular women rappers? Does Missy create a language for other black women to start understanding and theorizing about their sexual experiences? Can we understand the black female body as separate from representations of Saartje Baartman? How does this enhance our understanding of active black female desire? Do you think that rap music is a legitimate medium to begin theorizing about black sexual scripts?
Submitted By: Pat Louie
Cultures have unique ideas of beauty, such as long neck length.
Tags: bodies, culture, emotion/desire, gender, multiculturalism, sex/sexuality, social construction, cultural relativity, ideal beauty, 06 to 10 mins
Summary: What is beauty? Is beauty an objective feature or is it in the "eye of the beholder"? According to a 2012 competition hosted by Lorraine Cosmetics, the most "natural" and "objectively" beautiful woman was determined "scientifically" through such measures as facial symmetry. While the incident ignited a public debate about the ability to "scientifically" measure beauty, a review of the research shows that people's sense of beauty varies across time and culture. In this video, famous anthropologist Desmond Morris notes that while there is a "biological language of sex" in which people are attracted to others through physical characteristics, this process is mediated through a "complex cultural adventure." Throughout cultures across the world, people exaggerate the features of beauty that their culture deems attractive. A study looking at beauty across 200 different cultures found hardly any qualities that existed across all cultures. The video documents several of these physical features on women, including neck length, foot size, and lip size. It illustrates the cultural evaluation of beauty and the (often painful) techniques used to achieve the unnaturally extreme forms of beauty. What notions of female beauty in your culture might be similar to or different from conceptions of beauty found in the video? Viewers may also note the heteronormativity of the video, in which beauty is explicitly stated to attract members of the opposite sex.
Submitted By: omowbray
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