Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Revisiting Favorite Books--after a gender seminar

Now that you've gone through a gender studies senior seminar, would you add to, modify, or demote any of the books, plays, poems, films you listed as favorites at the beginning of class? You can refer to any of the texts we've read or looked at, as well as past favorites (or previously disfavored texts) that you now might see in a new light. Try to spend some time reflecting on why you may have changed your views. What new ideas, whether from reading or class discussion, would account for your different views, assuming there has been some change?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Should all male colleges continue to exist?

I'm going to get us started on this, and you can post new blogs on it or respond to this one. I was reading the Wabash entry in the book Colleges That Change Lives, and there's a quote by former Pres. Andrew Ford who says when asked why Wabash is still single-sex, "You're asking the wrong question. The question is, why did you go coed?" And the writer of the chapter follows with, "And everybody on his campus feels the same way." That this palpably false statement is out in print, in a book widely read, really upsets me. Does "everybody on campus" feel the same way on this issue?
Most informed people know why the vast majority of colleges went co-ed from the 50's on--it was the right thing to do. Single-sex colleges were set up in the 18th and 19th centuries because women were not considered worthy of higher education; it was assumed that they did not have the intellectual capacity for it. If one accepts that this assumption is no longer valid, then what is the basis for single-sex college education? Women's colleges may have a legitimate rationale--historically and socially; women weren't permitted in male colleges, and there continues to be discrimination against women in society which would legitimize the value of their "choosing" to be educated separately from men.
But what is the value an all-male college? After teaching in one for over thirty years I can see that there are some unique benefits, but also some drawbacks, from the perspective of a faculty member.
One benefit for me is having a diverse all-male group discuss issues of masculinity in an insulated, focused way. One disadvantage is having an all male-group discuss this issue, and any issue, in an insulated way, without the benefit of a variety of female perspectives. But I'm not a student here, so I would like to hear the honest response of students about this issue, especially from seniors. What do you see as the benefits--academically, intellectually, emotionally, socially--of this experience? What are the drawbacks for you?  As a student in an advanced gender studies class, what lessons learned from what you've studied help shape you current opinions on this question? What out of classroom experiences shape your opinions? Can you think critically about this question, given that you are still immersed in the college environment? Finally, at this point, would you encourage your son(s) to attend? Why or why not?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Family Guy coming through for class?

Here's something to think about, even Family Guy is getting in on gender/sexuality statements.  Look it up: Season 10 Episode 4: Stewie Takes a Ride

Monday, October 17, 2011

Feminism in Anime

I really enjoy watching movies from the director Hayao Miyazaki. He writes and directs fantastic animated films. Lately I have been thinking about the interesting roles that women play in his stories. The main characters in most of his films are female. One of his best works, Princess Mononoke, features a male lead character, but the film’s title is the name of a central character who is female. She is a girl who is raised by wolves and has a unique perspective because she has roots in both the animal and the human world. The movie is about a war being waged between humans and nature. A very interesting female character in this movie is Lady Iboshi, the leader of the village of Irontown. She displays many characteristics that are traditionally considered male. She is hardened by battle, and puts emotion aside when she makes decisions for her people. She is a strong figurehead for all the people in the village and has respect from her soldiers who consider her powerful and intimidating. I think that Miyazaki’s perspective on women in his stories is something that defies classification. He does not seem to be a feminist, but in a school of though all his own. I strongly recommend Princess Mononoke and all of Miyazaki’s films to anyone who is interested in gender.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

"You are man-ish"

In Tuesday's Arts section of the New York Times i came across this article entitled,"Downsized and Downtrodden, Men are the New Women on TV." The article discusses the recent shift in portrayal of men on new television sitcoms. It focuses on the main characters of the two new shows "Last Man Standing" and "Man Up." I personally have not seen either of the shows, or heard anything about them until this article. However, reading the article does prompt me to think about how men have recently been portrayed compared to past male television figures. I think back to popular television shows in the past with strong, defiant male characters such as "Macgyver," "The Cosby Show," "Home Improvement" and so on. Each of these shows had a male figure who was more or less the center of the household or the storyline in the show, and it often came down to him "saving the day." Obviously in "Home Improvement" Tim was usually fixing one of his mess ups, but none of those were due to his lack of masculinity. A quote in this article that particularly struck me states, "Nowadays men get on their wives' and girlfriends' nerves by not being manly enough." Personally i find this representation of men and masculinity to be a bit over the top and frankly absurd. Yes, the fact that i am a male might factor into this a bit, but the recent rise in feminine achievement and success does not have to mean the masculinity of men take a hit. The way these recent television sitcoms are portraying men as stepping aside the women dominating the scene is only going to hurt both genders in the long run. As was the case with women and their quest to gain equal status as men during the onset of the feminine movement, men are going to be susceptible to the same thing if the pendulum continues to swing in its current direction. There needs to be a happy median found, and if that median is not found soon, and men are continually downcast as weak and effeminate characters, the young boys who are today becoming men in this age will be at a loss, and i feel will suffer tremendously.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

"Shame-o-Phobia: Why Men Fear Therapy"

"Shame may be the least understood dimension of men's inner experience—by both men themselves and the people who live with them. In Affliction, Russell Banks's classic novel about the tragedy of masculinity, a ne'er-do-well named Wade Whitehouse plans a special Halloween weekend with his 11-year-old daughter, Jill, who lives with her divorced mother, Lillian. Wade's clumsy efforts to make sure Jill has a good time succeed only in making her feel anxious and out of place, and she winds up pleading with him to take her home. But instead of her distress, what stands out for him is his sense of failure: he's shamed by the fact that she's unhappy."

I accidentally stumbled across this article on "Shame-o-Phobia" while searching for a secondary source for my Affliction paper, and then I became fascinated as I read the author's description of how men's experience of shame controls their lives--and the article's description of men who don't understand their own experience of shame seems like an exact description of Wade. In class, someone proposed that Wade doesn't truly love his daugher Jill, and that this is evidenced by the fact that he's more concerned about his failure as a father. However, the article above seems to suggest to me that the fact Wade is shamed so deeply is evidence of his deep love for Jill.

David Wexler, the author of the article, describes how men build self-esteem, "A metaphor from self-psychology, the broken mirror, is particularly helpful in understanding the dynamics of male shame. This sensitivity to shame—to feeling incompetent, not valuable, unloved, unneeded, unimportant—is often governed by the psychological relationships with mirroring-self objects in our lives. It works like this: the response from others serves as a mirror, reflecting an image that governs our sense of well-being. Sensitivity to mirroring-self objects and broken mirrors isn't gender-specific, but men are more vulnerable to experiencing these mirrors as referenda on their performance and personal value. When the mirror image is negative (or is perceived as negative), the reflection can reactivate a man's narcissistic injury and deliver a blow to his feeling of competence."

In particular, Wexler says, men who have experienced "toxid doses of shame early in life will do anything to avoid reexperiencing it...A shamed boy [recall Wade's inability to protect his mother from his father's abuse] becomes a hypersensitive man [Wade's sensitivity is evidenced in his quickness to become angry], his radar always finely tuned to the possiblity of humiliation. His reaction to slight's perceived or real and his ever-vigilant attempts to ward them off can become a kind of phobia. Tragically, the very men who are most desparate for affection and approval are the ones who usually can't ask for it: instead, they project blame and rejection and perceive the worst in others."

The quote is particularly telling because it reveals Wade's phobia: Wade sees his father as the ultimate symobl of shame, and so Wade strives as much as possible to avoid comparisons to his father. Every comparison to his father, whether it comes from an external source or from his own thinking, damages and humiliates Wade. He is desparate to be recognized as a good man, but his wife and daughter's unwillingness to give him that affection leads him to see them as vindictive and cruel, and so he perceives the "worst in others"--which inevitably only further damages his relationships and brings him closer to becoming his father. His masculinity proves to be a vicious cycle. I don't have the page number, but I believe that Jill tells his father that he is a bad man, or at least that he used to to be a bad kid somewhere towards the beginning of the book.

Wexler says that when talking to men in therapy, "The idea is to send out the good-men-behaving-badly message. In this way, the man-and, maybe more important, his partner-hears that the problem isn't that he's a bastard with a cold heart and no soul." This idea fits perfectly with Wade. Wade wants recognition and a second chance, and he needs someone to recognize that he is desperate to be a "good man." The problem is that everyone perceives his bouts of anger as simply symptomatic of an especially violent, cruel personality-rather than explosive, emotional outburst as his inability to overcome his overpowering sense of shame by himself.

The article seems to reconcile Wade's inconsistencies and allows us to understand how his violence, shame, and love work together to lead him towards his various actions. However, the article seemed to bring up another possible, and I think, unrelated gender issue.

Wexler gives a few pointers for how to deal with men in therapy, "Offer homework, ation plans, and the rationale for using them, since men's needs and learning styles favor direct, clearcut explanations and instructions. I've found this vaulable with all the men I see." He also mentions how to prepare men for handling relationships outside of class, "If even 10 minutes is too long for a man who can't tolerate the inherent lack of structure in 'feelings-and-relationship' conversations, teach him some very specific relationship-friendly strategies, like 'active listening.'"

Wexler consistently describes how men need "direct, clearcut explanations and instructions" and avoid the "inherent lack of structure" in "feelings-and relationship" conversations. He seems to suggest that men need a rationale and explanation for everything-a strict order through which to understand the world. Could this account for some of Wade's neuroticism towards the end of the novel? Do women not have this problem? Could this be another aspect of male "affliction," a desire or compulsion to "know?"