Friday, September 30, 2011


Housewife, by Anne Sexton

Some women marry houses.
It's another kind of skin; it has a heart,
a mouth, a liver and bowel movements.
The walls are permanent and pink.
See how she sits on her knees all day,
faithfully washing herself down.
Men enter by force, drawn back like Jonah
into their fleshy mothers.
A woman is her mother.
That's the main thing.

What immediately struck me about this poem was its connection to The Awakening. Edna very deliberately "divorces" herself from her husband's house, which is clearly a way for her to separate herself from Mr. Pontellier. He associated the house with Edna's duties as a wife—to greet visitors, to care for the children inside, to generally care for. Her decision to "marry" the pigeon house separates herself from this role. This is so distressing to Mr. Pontellier that he makes up this whole "renovation" excuse to prevent anyone from learning of Edna's decision. Of course, the line "men enter by force" denotes forced marital sex, which we may remember from the scene where Leonce prowled back and forth on the porch waiting for Edna to "come in."

Analyzing the poem by itself, I think it's interesting how the title has this dual meaning--"housewife" and also house=wife. While women "marry houses," they also become the house in some sense. Both remain the property of the husband in most cases. The various parts of the house correspond to the organs of a woman's body. The wife on her knees who scrubs the floor of her house is simultaneously "washing herself down." The wife, in this context as property of her husband, is entirely submissive to the wishes of her husband. If he wishes to enter her "by force," he may. She is "on her knees," suggesting both domestic and sexual submission to her gender role.

I find the reference to Jonah to be interesting. I'm familiar with the story but I've never thought of reading it in a symbolically sexual way. Sexton makes a connection between sex and childbirth, as men through sex are drawn back into the place, the person, they came from. This brings Sexton to her final conclusion that women are their mothers--that the ordeal of childbirth is much like that sex, suggesting some kind of violation. But how exactly was Jonah "drawn back," as in returning, into the "fleshy mother," or the whale? I though it just swallowed him whole and then spat him out. Perhaps men are like Jonah in reverse, first coming in through sex and then leaving through birth.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Goddess-- Painful Liberation

The Goddess
Denise Levertov

She in whose lipservice
I passed my time,
whose name I knew, but not her face,
came upon me where I lay in Lie Castle!

Flung me across the room, and
room after room (hitting the wall, re-
bounding—to the last
sticky wall—wrenching away from it
pulled hair out!)
till I lay
outside the outer walls!

There in cold air
lying still where her hand had thrown me,
I tasted the mud that splattered my lips:
the seeds of a forest were in it,
asleep and growing! I tasted
her power!

The silence was answering my silence,
a forest was pushing itself
out of sleep between my submerged fingers.
I bit on a seed and it spoke on my tongue
of day that shone already among the stars
in the water-mirror of low ground,

and a wind rising ruffled the lights:
she passed near me in returning from the encounter,
she who plucked me from the close rooms,

without whom nothing
flowers, fruits, sleeps in season,
without whom nothing
speaks in its own tongue, but returns
lie for lie!


"The Goddess," by Denise Levertov, is a vigorous narrative poem rich with sensory descriptions. The religious overtones suggest a symbolic meaning for the poem. The goddess in the poem who violently removes the protagonist from "Lie castle" seems to be a figure for some sort of liberating idea or even epiphany. The "lipservice" mentioned, and the fact that the protagonist "passed my time" in "Lie Castle" paints a picture of a complacent, blind life. She is then brought into the light of reality and seeming independence by the "goddess."

The second stanza, however, suggests a process, a struggle to accept this removal, as the goddess "flung me across the room (hitting the wall, re-/bounding- to the last/ sticky wall- wrenching away from it/ pulled hair out!)/ till I lay / outside the outer walls." This physical battle reminds me of the push and pull of Edna Pontellier's often painful growth into an individual throughout "The Awakening." The process of liberation for Edna, as for the woman in this poem, was not simple, quick, and pleasant, as we typically envision an awakening. Nor does the protagonist in either awaken to a world that is uniformly bright and happy. Instead, there is pain in the act itself of becoming awake, and once the woman is awake, the reality she beholds is not necessarily all cheery. She finds herself "There in the cold air/ lying still where her hand had thrown me," and she tastes "the mud which splattered my lips." Reality for this enlightened woman is gritty and unpleasant, but it is genuine and tangible.

There seems to be hope, however, in this new reality, evidenced by the seed that "spoke on my tongue." A forest sprouts from the seed, out from "sleep", and it speaks of a "day that shone already among the stars." It seems that this one woman's experience has the potential to inspire something similar on a larger scale, perhaps a liberation for women in general. The wind that "ruffles the lights" in the second to last stanza re-enforces the feeling that some sort of grand change is imminent.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Women Gather

The Women Gather

by Nikki Giovanni

The women gather
because it is not unusual
to seek comfort in our hours of stress
a man must be buried

It is not unusual
that the old bury the young
though it is an abomination

It is not strange
that the unwise and the ungentle
carry the banner of humaneness
though it is a castration of the spirit

It no longer shatters the intellect
that those who make war
call themselves diplomats

we are no longer surprised that the
unfaithful pray loudest every sunday
in every church and sometimes
in rooms facing east
though it is a sin and a shame

So how do we judge a man

most of us love from our need to love
not because we find someone deserving
most of us forgive
because we have trespassed
not because we are magnanimous
most of us comfort
because we need comforting

our ancient rituals demand that
we give what we hope to receive

And how do we judge a man

we learn to greet when meeting
to cry when parting
and to soften our words at times of stress

the women gather with cloth and ointment
their busy hands bowing to laws that decree
willows shall stand swaying but unbroken
against even the determined wind of death

we judge a man by his dreams,
not alone his deeds
we judge a man by his intent,
not alone his shortcomings
we judge a man because it is not unusual
to know him through those who love him

the women gather strangers
to each other because
they have loved a man

it is not unusual to sift through ashes
and find an unburnt picture.

I chose this poem because Nikki Giovanni is one of my favorite poets, and to me this is one of her most interesting poems. In this poem she speaks of things that are not unexpected, although you think they would be. She conveys this message with the image of a group of women gathering in the time of sorrow. Not only do her words help to convey this message but the form of the poem does as well. One thing is that when you think of poetry, you suually expect there to be a rhyme scheme, hwoever, in this poem there is no rhyme scheme, but yet it is not strange that there isn't one. In addition to this, she starts the poem of with a pattern of how her stanzas flow. The first four stanzas folloe the patter of there being four lines in one stanza, and then three in the next. In the fifth stanza when she says "we are no longer surprised" the reader is surprised because in this stanza there are five lines, which does not follow the patttern of the first four stanzas.

One of my favorite lines and probably one of the most powerful lines in the poem is "it is not unusual to sift through ashes and find an unburnt picture." I say this because it conveys the message of the whole poem and it is a striking image. Things may not always be what we expect them to be because of how they appear. We can find beautiful things in the most ugly places.

My Life had stood - a Loaded Gun

My Life had stood - a Loaded Gun -
In Corners - till a Day
The Owner passed - identified -
And carried Me away -
And now We roam in Sovereign Woods -
And now We hunt the Doe -
And every time I speak for Him -
The Mountains straight reply -

And do I smile, such cordial light
Upon the Valley glow -
It is as a Vesuvian face
Had let its pleasure through -

And when at Night - Our good Day done -
I guard My Master's Head -
'Tis better than the Eider-Duck's
Deep Pillow - to have shared -

To foe of His - I'm deadly foe -
None stir the second time -
On whom I lay a Yellow Eye -
Or an emphatic Thumb -

Though I than He - may longer live
He longer must - than I -
For I have but the power to kill,
Without--the power to die--

This is going to sound absurd, beyond absurd, but I truly enjoy writing to some relaxing, thought provoking music. Tonight I decided upon my Beatles play list. Naturally, I began with "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," but that's not where the absurdity begins... When my thoughts really began to move towards a reading for this poem was when "Happiness is a Warm Gun" came on.

The song is a counter perspective, as I read it, to "My Life had Stood." The song's perspective, although the gun being a female, just as in the poem, is sung from a man's viewpoint. It's uncanny the resemblance between the two: I digress...

I picked this poem because I truly enjoyed the first lines of the poem, but my favorite stanza is:

And do I smile, such cordial light
Upon the Valley glow -
It is as a Vesuvian face
Had let its pleasure through -

The slave position in which Dickinson places herself in a position of a slave. Her power is purely derived from the man's touch, his ability to "pull her trigger." Obviously sexual, the gun is a classic phallic symbol, and placing the woman as the gun, Dickinson becomes a toy of sexual desire: she is not of her own sexuality, but entirely his. Just after she fires, kills the doe, a female deer, she gives him pleasure, but the "cordial light" speaks to lack of pleasure that she experiences.

Dickinson's use of dashes is absolutely brilliant, I think. The dashes don't let the sentences end, but also allow complete thoughts to come through. Much like the oppression Kate Chopin experienced for voicing her full thoughts on sexual expression, Dickinson is displaying those thoughts, but holding back as if to remain appropriate on some level. The dashes, the nearly stream-of-consciousness style show there is more to be written, said, and she's left thoughts from her poem. She has power, but not without man's approval to use it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

"The Mother"

Abortions will not let you forget.
You remember the children you got that you did not get,
The damp small pulps with a little or with no hair,
The singers and workers that never handled the air.
You will never neglect or beat
Them, or silence or buy with a sweet.
You will never wind up the sucking-thumb
Or scuttle off ghosts that come.
You will never leave them, controlling your luscious sigh,
Return for a snack of them, with gobbling mother-eye.

I have heard in the voices of the wind the voices of my dim killed
I have contracted. I have eased
My dim dears at the breasts they could never suck.
I have said, Sweets, if I sinned, if I seized
Your luck
And your lives from your unfinished reach,
If I stole your births and your names,
Your straight baby tears and your games,
Your stilted or lovely loves, your tumults, your marriages, aches,
and your deaths,
If I poisoned the beginnings of your breaths,
Believe that even in my deliberateness I was not deliberate.
Though why should I whine,
Whine that the crime was other than mine?--
Since anyhow you are dead.
Or rather, or instead,
You were never made.
But that too, I am afraid,
Is faulty: oh, what shall I say, how is the truth to be said?
You were born, you had body, you died.
It is just that you never giggled or planned or cried.

Believe me, I loved you all.
Believe me, I knew you, though faintly, and I loved, I loved you

Gwendolyn Brooks

This poem is thick, and deals with a very heavy issue that mothers must deal with. I picked this poem because it covers all of the emotions of the emotions that a mother feels when raising her children, yet the women in this poem has not experienced those feelings completely as she has opted to have an abortion. Brooks brings all of those struggles encountered in being a mother to life through the eyes of this mother who has opted to have an abortion yet still experiences these motherly feelings "faintly." A line that particularly stuck out to me was, "Though why should I whine, / Whine that the crime was other than mine?--" From this line I took Brooks making a statement that is often made when the topic of abortion comes about. The female is commonly frowned upon when the decision to have an abortion is made, and the male half of the relationship is commonly forgotten about. However, as the old cliche goes, "it takes two to tango." Therefore, this crime of abortion is not solely hers, and the all the responsibility that goes into taking care of a child and the decision to abort the child cannot be solely thrown on the mother. Within the poem itself, Brooks does a great job of using caesura within the body of her poem to put emphasis on those feelings that are felt between a mother and a child. It highlights those feelings that are being lost by the mothers choosing to have an abortion and all the people that the abortion has a long term affect on. Brooks also employs the art of enjambment also. This again adds to her emphasis on particular messages and the take away meaning of her poem. It continues the ideas from one line to the next and continually from the poem itself on into real life where such experiences really occur. Overall this poem was very intriguing and full of emotion that is not experienced by everyone on a daily basis.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The "Meatheads" Lead the Way

With the recent end in the "don't ask don't tell" debacle within our nations military, The Marines have taken an early lead in the recruitment of gays and lesbians to join their ranks. The New York Times have been covering this developing story closely over the past few weeks, pushing it onto the front page most of the time. The same held true in Wednesday's edition of The Times, as the main article front and center was titled "Marines Hit the Ground Running in Seeking Recruits at Gay Center." This was a shocking headline for me to read. I am an advocate for anyone and everyone being available to apply to join the armed forces (granted they pass the standards set forth by those individual groups themselves) so it was not the fact that recruiting had begun at the Gay Center, but rather the branch that was leading the way on the recruiting trail. The Marines are typically thought of as the most masculine group on the battle field. They are distinctly recognizable by their boisterous "Hooo-Haaaa's" that can be heard from a great distance away. As well as their incessant yelling of "Semper-Fi" the mantra in which they fight and believe. As the article states, the "Marines pride themselves on being the most testosterone-driven of the services." This is what caught my eye. They were the only branch of the service present at the convention doing recruiting. What does this say about the marines? Does this affect their "macho" image? Or is this just a glimpse into the changing times we are apart of in today's society? Me personally, I am happy to see them leading the way. I do not see this as a lessening of their masculine image, or tough side at all. Rather, I see this act as nothing but a strengthening of their overall image as a service branch. They are separating themselves from the rest of the pack, and going above and beyond to find the best civilians to join their ranks and fight for their country. I see this as them gaining a step on everyone else. Even if they did not gain any possible recruits on the day at the Center, they were there taking advantage of the recent change in law, and looking for the right caliber of person to join their ranks. People that the others would have missed out on.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Sexiest Women in the World...Is a Man?

I think just about everything in this article is fascinating from a gender perspective. The URL pretty much tells you the gist of the story--a male womenswear model is forced to starve himself in order to maintain his figure. I loved his quote: "Let's be honest. You can't eat much if you want to do this." Obviously Andrej is forced to conform to the societal-imposed standard of thinness=beauty. The strange thing is that one typically thinks of that standard as patriarchical in nature, but here we have a man that's forced to conform to it--and as a result Kate Moss calls him "beautiful"! She's not the only one that thinks he does a good job of it. Not only does he make a good living looking like a woman, but Barnes and Noble actually censored a topless image of him! This of course brings up a whole range of issues. B&N said they did it because they were afraid that someone might think he's a woman.
I can imagine a conversation going something like:

Concerned Parent: "I can't believe they let my kids see this! That's a half-naked woman! This is terrible!"

B&N Worker: "Actually that person is biologically male"

Concerned Parent: "Oh, then that's fine"

There's also an interesting comment in the story about women in his line of work don't like him all that much--because he's too good of a competitor! Besides these larger issues of what society thinks, however, I also thought it was really interesting how Andrej himself thinks about his unique gender-bending role. He is biologically male, and his body is "normal" in that respect. He creates his image through a combination of cosmetics and a strict dietary/exercise regimen. For him, gender is understandably a very fluid concept. He describes how can feel like one and then the other. Interestingly, he doesn't argue that gender is arbitrary or some kind of "spectrum" on which he falls near the middle. He sees it still it as a binary, just one which he may cross over at any time. Yet, at the very end of the article, he says, "I don't want to be a girl, but I like to dress like one." Thus, although Andrej may at times "feel" like a woman, he still clings to his personal identity as a man.

You might also find this link interesting, where FHM listed Andrej as the 98th sexiest "women" in the world...oops!:

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Women, Dating, and Math

I found this interesting article on the Huffington Post. Basically, it summarizes a study that suggests "girls may prefer to study language, arts and humanities over math and science...[because] they believe, often on an unconscious level, that demonstrating ability in these stereotypically-male areas makes them less attractive to men. The study attempted to prove this by showing how women who had recently viewed romantic images or overheard romantic conversation rated their interest in math lower than women who had not recently viewed romantic images or overheard romantic conversation. On the other hand, men's ratings of their interest in math-related fields remained consistent despite seeing romantic images or hearing romantic conversation.

If the study's conclusion that women avoid math and science because they believe it makes them seem less attractive is correct, it proves that the construction of our gender roles wields an incredible amount of power. And it also makes one question in what ways seeing romantic images would effect men? In what other ways does our gender construction unconsciously affect our thinking and actions?

Also, what happens to a woman who reads about this study? Can she be "awakened" in the same sense that Edna is awakened? Does having a growing conscious and awareness of one's unconscious gender construction allow one to change his/her behavior? Or are we inevitably stuck in our genders, no matter how much information we possess?

Music? Again? Really!?

No, I'll change subject matter, at least for the week. What's been on my mind for this last week is Football. I've been watching an inordinate amount of that and ESPN. What self-respecting man wouldn't? (Joke...) However, one thing that I've noticed, on every station, is the repetition of one specific advertisement campaign. Miller Light has began marketing specifically to men... by challenging their manliness. The series of commercials, we all know them, downgrade the manliness of skinny jeans, speedos, fake tanning, and attending the facilities in groups. Hilarity ensues when the women, scantily clad, decide to deride the violations as well. What really struck my fancy, however was the issue of justifying drinking a light beer. Is light beer some how a woman's drink; is this why Miller Light has started a manliness campaign? Me, personally, I thoroughly enjoy light beer from time to time, but I began to thing about my past experience... On this campus, light beer, despite being popular, is frowned upon. I hear, "Why didn't you get heavy?" or "Bud Light? No diesel?" Hmm... Why would an all guy's campus frown upon light beer? As an all-male school, are we the perfect place to define masculinity? I think there is certain merit in that question. But, as many at this campus would say, back to the beer. If light beer is really seen as unmanly, feminine, I can see why Miller is now trying to change a marketing campaign to target men specifically. With luscious females, a casual bar scene, and stubble on their faces, men are being men, and these men, as they denigrate their fellow male companion, judge masculinity based upon their beer choice, which is now, apparently, light! Why however, I must ask though, are skinny jeans, fake tans, and speedos unmanly? Is it really unmanly, or is Miller marketing some sort of homophobia in these ads? The bathroom ad would certainly lead me to believe that they indeed are.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Graduation Rates

I heard a story on NPR this weekend that reported the medium income for men adjusted for inflation is lower than it was in the 70's. The reasons offered for this decline is that manufacturing jobs are exported overseas leaving us a surplus of blue collar workers. Therefore factories do not have to raise wages to attract workers. The other reason given is that the medium wage earners have the same education that people did forty years ago, a high school degree. Women's median wages have been rising, and they are graduating college at much higher rates than men. I wonder about the reason behind the discrepancy between the education of men and women. Why are women graduating from college more than men? I think it has something to do with different ways that males and females learn. From my experience, it is easier to get female children to sit down and focus while male children are more likely to be rowdy and rambunctious. I think this tendency has a major ripple effect in our education system. Male children do not focus as well as female children in first grade, so they fall behind in reading, which leads them to fall behind in middle school, which leads them to fall behind in high school and leaves them unprepared for college. Maybe there is a more effective way to teach male children in grade school that could lead to higher college graduation rates.

The Discrepancy Reversed...

Terry's entry last week on the lack of famous-- or "canonized," if you will-- female instrumentalists turned my reflections toward arts other than literature, and the gender demographics of the recognized artists therein. I was immediately reminded of theater. I first started acting at around fourteen, and during my first play I soon pieced together that the main reason I was given one of the forty roles in that production over the sixty auditioners whom were not cast was that I was a male over the age of ten. The gender breakdown of this play was not unique. Since then I have performed in over twenty plays (many of them musicals, I should point out), and in almost every one (except for Wabash shows, naturally), there has been a surplus of female actors and a dearth of males. Further, not only are males typically underrepresented, but from my experience, it seems that within that group, there is a disproportionately large representation of gay men.

After a few years in the theater, it became common for people to ask me if, or even assume that I was, gay, merely because I was an avid thespian. Even on the national professional level, big name broadway actors are predominantly gay-- Gavin Creel, Jonathan Groff, Nathan Lane. I do not contend that there is any bias toward gay men or against straight men in theater, but conversely, that straight men shy away from theater.

There is, of course, a well-known stigma of femininity, or "swishiness" associated with thespians which I assume is the root of this hesitance, but whence did this stigma develop? Perhaps it has something to do with the art of acting itself. Males in our culture are expected to maintain a stoic disposition, refraining from displays of emotion, especially emotions which involve vulnerability. But to act IS to express emotions, and to express them in a bold enough fashion as to elicit a response from an audience. Maybe this pursuit is seen as too feminine to warrant the interest of a straight man.

I suspect, though, that there is also a more complex, socially-driven phenomenon at work. The theater has long been a bastion for progressive thought, a place where new and controversial ideas are promulgated. This sort of pursuit breeds an atmosphere that is naturally accepting and egalitarian, which may seem especially inviting to people who suffer discrimination elsewhere. This could help to explain the abundance of gay actors in the 21st-century theater. Homophobia may keep some straight men from auditions, while a subtler force pushes the others away. "Homosexual panic" is a term coined by James Joyce critic Roberta Jackson, in an essay on the short story "A Painful Case," to describe the incessant fear of being labeled a homosexual which affects the decisions of both closeted gay and straight men, and I believe that this "panic" is likely another factor which deters straight men from getting involved in theater.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Testosterone and Fatherhood

One of the last conversations in class centered around whether or not hormones played a role in gender identities--and the New York times article on fatherhood and testosterone was suggested as a blog topic. The experiment notes the relation between fatherhood and decline in testosterone levels, "Testosterone was measured when the men were 21 and single, and again nearly five years later. Although testosterone naturally decreases with age, men who became fathers showed much greater declines, more than double that of the childless men." Even more fascinating is the link from the article to the commentary that Doctor Gray, a professor at the University of Nevada, gives on the experiment, "Wider principles of hormones and behavior have long indicated hormones can influence behavior (think of puberty or castrated pets, for example) just as behavior can influence hormones (try measuring stress hormones before and after a public speaking engagement." This piece of information clearly invites a question--To what extent do hormones affect our thinking, and thus our behavior, and to what extent do our actions dictate our hormones?

The question likely won't be answered soon, and it seems fairly futile for English majors to debate the effects of hormones on the body. However, Gray makes one final point in his commentary that seems extremely relevant to our class. The study points out that "male parental care is important. It’s important enough that it’s actually shaped the physiology of men." The article also notes that males with higher testosterone are actually more likely to become fathers, clearly distinguishing that males with lower testosterone are not more likely to become fathers." Dr. Gray expounds on these two points in his commentary to suggest that the experiments serves as "a nice case study of the relevance of evolution to everyday human life." Gray describes how male evolutionary theory ultimate posits that "constraint[s] on male reproductive success [tend] to be reproductive access to females." The article explains how testosterone then functions as a "trade-off, with high testosterone helping secure a mate" but "reduced" testosterone working "better for sustaining family life." Gray describes how humans take it for granted that fathers care about their families, whereas parternal care is actually "a defining
feature of our species" that is lacking in the primate species most closely related to us.

In other words, the gist of his article is that testosterone functions as an evolutionary tool that help males acquire mates. However, after marriage and childbirth, testosterone rates plummet in order to help males maintain a stable family life and care for the children. This knowledge seems to radically undermine our concept of masculinity--testosterone-fuled maleness is not the end of masculinity, but simply the vehicle towards a more androgynous role in a family relationship. Is testosterone a now obsolete, unnecessary byproduct of evolution, like stress? What does it mean to be male if the end goal of maleness is a more androgynous role? I don't know the answers, but the experiment's results certainly seems to suggest that males are biologically engineered towards child-rearing.

Oh, and here are the links:

I’m not going to write about The Awakening; I think that will be written about and deconstructed plenty over the next few class discussions. Beating a going-to-be dead horse isn’t particularly my style, but music is. I listen to an inordinate amount of music from all different genres and eras. From indie bands to mainstream pop, I’ve very nearly covered the lot, or so I like to think. However, as three in the morning rolled around last Saturday night, a fellow Wally and I began to discuss the merits of the guitar players of history. Being na├»ve as he often can be, he instantly, unchangingly, and whole-heartedly supported the great-but-not-greatest Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin. (This will get to gender bias, I promise.) At first, I couldn’t help but agree, then the bands and guitarists flooded my head. What about Jerry Garcia, Jimi Hendrix, John McLaughlin, Al DiMeola, and Santana for god’s sake! There were too many, Duane Allman, Slash… so many. My head was spinning, and he reverently supported the wonderful Mr. Page. However, at about this point, I peered down at my phone to see I received a text from my dear friend “Katy.” It was that one name that sparked the question, “Danny, do you know any female guitarists?” He said, “Jimmy Page…” I knew he wouldn’t be any help at this point. But I began to think. Female artists, singers, littered my head, Janis, Ella, Patti, Aretha, and Joan were the names that scrolled across my head as if in a marquee, but not one was a guitarist. Moving into modern times, how many well-known female guitarists are there? Hell, how many female musicians are well known for much more than a spectacular voice? I know great female musicians are out there: Daru Oda, who plays with Norah Jones, is one of them, but why, I ask, is the female contingency of the music industry relegated to the voice while the men can explore a diverse set of instruments from banjo to bass, organ to piano? Not detracting from amazing vocal talents of late and lively female singers, but where are my guitar girls: where are my girls splitting strings on a bass or breaking sticks on a drum set?

How Kate Chopin Got Me Into Law School

No wait, I'm serious. When I took the June 2011 LSAT (the single most important factor by far in getting into law school) Kate Chopin showed up on the reading comprehension section. Now, before I go on, I should briefly outline the way the LSAT works (though I'm sure at least some of us--who have taken it already--should already know). There are two logical reasoning sections, one 'logic games' section, and one more for reading comprehension. I hate logic games. Not surprisingly, since I'm an English major, I love reading comprehension. This test had a very easy logic games section. This by alone wasn't really enough to help me, however, because that would only mean the curve was harsher and my standardized score would be the same. But the reading comprehension was a different story. Talking to many people who took the test, this section was incredibly difficult. As a result, the curve was typical for an LSAT. As I said before, this section is my strong suit and I usually get perfect scores on it anyway. Therefore my standardized score was significantly better than it would have been otherwise, and my odds of getting into law school skyrocketed.

Why was that section so difficult? Kate Chopin. One of the four reading sections was on Kate Chopin's development as a feminist writer. It included details about specific feminist genres, but generally avoided complex terminology (I can't be any more specific than that--LSAC copyright stuff and all). However, a huge number of people struggled with it. When I was in the bathroom during break, most of the comments I heard from the others were in some way related to Chopin--"Did you understand that one about 'chop-in'"? Or "How about that feminist article?" I also talked with a few girls about the test (in general terms, LSAC people who have googled this blog, general terms only) and none of them talked about the Kate Chopin article. They talked about the geological, heavy-laden with scientific terminology article.

So is this an example of a lack of bi-textuality? Are men simply less receptive to feminist ideas simply because they're men? I must admit, even though I did really well on the section (English major after all) I missed more questions on the Chopin piece than on the other three combined. But is there a flipside? What about the women who struggled with the more objective geology piece? Does that kind of article express 'masculine' characteristics? Certainly, in schools besides Wabash anyway, men tend to take more science and math courses, and women are more represented in literature courses. So, may it be true that the reason the men struggled with the Chopin article was because of its specific topic of literature--not feminism? I'm honestly not sure. I'm just really glad that Chopin threw everybody else off. Thank you Kate Chopin!

Also, for the other people in the class that took the LSAT this June (I think there are at least 2, maybe more), what do you guys think? Was the article that hard? Of course everybody else can feel free to express answers to any of these questions.

Ownership in Relationships

During our discussion in class about The Awakening I thought about Edna's problem with feeling objectified in her marriage. I especially thought about this when we questioned if Edna would be in a committed relationship with Robert. It seems that her problem with any relationship is feeling like she is an object that is owned by a man. This lead me to question relationships in general. What I mean is, when we get into a monogamous relationship or even marriage don't we submit ourselves to some implied objectivity? When you chose to be with someone in a committed monogamous relationship, as bad as it may sound you do submit to becoming the object of some type of ownership. That is implication is made through the language we use to describe relationships. In a marriage you become someone's husband or wife, in a relationship someone's boyfriend or girlfriend. When you fall in love with someone one way of expressing that love to other other person is telling them that your heart BELONGS to them. When you take your vows at your wedding part of it is to HAVE and to hold. Even when some people have sex, they speak of owning their partner's genitalia. Although it may not be extreme as looking at someone solely as a piece of property, in my opinion their is no way around implications of ownership in a relationship. I also believe it is not problematic as long as it is reciprocated by both parties. Some may agree with me, but these are just some thoughts that I have been trying to work through since the last class discussion.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


After today's class discussion of Kate Chopin's The Awakening I am left questioning my personal view of the end of the book. Although, I believe this was Chopin's intent when writing her novel, it bothers me that I continue to question the reasoning behind Edna's suicide and what it says about the rest of the novel. At the end of class we discussed two very oppositional sides of the ending. Some viewed it as a very romantic ending, making a strong conclusion to what was a rather "loud" text for women's rights at the time. On the other side of the coin others argued that is was a very tragic ending, as Edna spends her entire journey during the novel "awakening" to her suppression as a woman, but only to squander all that she had escaped by committing a tragic suicide. She left behind no evidence of the progess she had made and in essence just disappeared. As I left class today and even during I was rather bewildered, as my title suggests. What was Chopin trying to communicate to her readers? Her writing is such that she is very elegant in descrete in all of her descriptions and messages that sometimes things aren't always as clear as I would like them to be. Although that is typical of the era in which she wrote this book, I find it frustrating at times to me as a reader. Just like this ending that is filled with so many question marks. When i first read the text, I saw the ending as a very romanticized one. I saw Chopin using the suicide as the final "great escape" for Edna, as her ultimate "awakening" of her suppression within the world. However, after discussion today I had to question this reading. Was Chopin making a statement about women at the time who were expeiencing their awakening who did not know how to deal with it? They take this new found freedom and let it drive them to the point of death. A classmate made an interesting point about the biography of Chopin and her personal struggles with Depression and having to see a doctor to deal with such bouts in her own life. Frankly, I'm still bewildered. I wrote this blog in a hope to find a resolution for myself by the end, but i have not. I'm left out in the questioning abyss, which is perhaps what Chopin herself intended.

Thursday, September 8, 2011


I'm not entirely sure why, but the blog has been set on not allowing me to post until now. Turns out I've been trying the wrong email address. So anyway, I'd like to piggy-back off of Scott a little bit. While reading Felski chapter 3 I started thinking about a point she raises on page 97 by saying, "There is, for example, no rich and sustaining tradition of female heroes in Western Culture....The old stories do not tell of women's action and achievement, creation and triumph. The feminine virtures are patience, submission, and selfless love." This paragraph made me think, first, about the canon and how it does definitely lack feminine heroes; then secondly, how my generation is being exposed to a slightly different truth.
I would agree with Felski on her comments as long as they remain in reference to past stories; however, I feel recent history suggests something different. Consider the examples both Felski and Scott bring up: Cinderella, Snow White, and the like. These are stories written long ago, before any of us were much more than a thought. And yes, they certainly reflect the patriarchal dominance in literature. But i can't help but think of the numerous stories (in this case movies but I feel movies still count) in my generation's life that seem to counter Felski's point. To name a few: Pan's Labryinth and Suckerpunch. In these two stories the protagonists are female characters that actively subvert the stereotypes of passivity and patience that Felski mentions. In Pan's Labryinth the girl is actively adventuring through a myriad of challenges to realize her place in life, her destiny-and it is not the traditional 'get married and live happily ever-after. In Sckerpunch the protagonist(s) are all female characters that display both masculine and feminine traits-actively subverting some traditional roles (yes, these women are taking names) while openly empowering others-namely sexuality.
So I suppose my point is similair to something I said in class last Thursday...that the literary world needs time. If one looks at the progression of literature, the emergence of non-traditional feminie presence is on the rise. Currently, we are stuck in an awkward time period where those changes are taking place. However, it would seem obvious that great strides are being taken but naturally there is an imbalance at this point. But again, time will bring about the advancement and change that Felski and others alike are striving for. But again, these are just my thoughts on the matter.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Literature: an Acquired Taste?

On the first page of the final chapter of Rita Felski's Literature After Feminism, a chapter entitled "Values," Felski claims that "Those who value Shakespeare and Shelley, Dickens and Dickinson, have learned to do so." At first blush, this statement rang true for me. I remember first reading Shakespeare in eighth grade and finding myself frustrated by its complexity, getting nothing out of it, until my first class period in which we discussed it. It was only after explanation and elaboration by my teacher that I could appreciate the beauty in what I now truly believe to be a literary masterpiece.

Our class discussion on this chapter in Felski, however, provided a different perspective. Multiple classmates recounted their first experiences with Shakespeare, citing an immediate appreciation and even awe for the bard's wordcraft, even before they had learned anything about Shakespeare or his reputation and place in our canon of "great literature." The class seemed to be torn on whether any of our literary tastes are inherent to our personalities or if they instead solely products of our backgrounds and educations. While many said that their appreciation for works like Shakespeare was pre-educational, I still would contend that predispositions toward certain literary qualities have to originate from some manner of life experiences. Surely a fetus, taught to read, would not prefer Shakespeare over See Spot Run, or vice versa. Later conversation with a classmate, however, made me consider that there may after all be certain qualities that all humans are hard-wired to appreciate. It has been proven that the eye reacts positively to certain ratios in images such as the Golden Rectangle, complementary colors are more pleasing than other combinations, and certain intervals between musical notes sound better universally than others do. Perhaps then, there are qualities that are universally more pleasant in literature as well.

Chaz Bono in Dancing with the Stars

A recent Huffington Post article announced that Dancing with the Stars has accepted its first transgender contestant ever: Chaz Bono. For those who don't know, Bono, the child of singers Sonny and Cher, is a "female-to-male transgender man" described by Wikipedia as "an American transgender advocate, writer, actor, and musician."

For the producers of the show, this is a bold move--intrudocing a transgendered sexuality into a show which has predominantly focused on the sexual tensions between male and female dancers. The show's producer, Conrad Green, declared that the show is "always looking to introduce viewers to new stories and perspectives"-- an idea that is coincidentally very similar to Felski's ideas of bi-textuality. This has interesting implications for the canon, suggesting not only the necessity of a "bi-textuality," but also a "multi-textuality" that extends beyond simple male-female dichotomies to explore liturature that perceives gender and sexuality itself as fluid entities--an idea I'm sure will recur in our explorations of homosexual and trasgender literature.

The article notes that the show has received a lot of backlash for its decision, which promted Bono to respond, "You know, it just kind of shows why for me it's important to be on the show, because so little still is known about what it means to be transgender...And there's so many just completely inaccurate stereotypes and thoughts that people have." This seems very reminiscent of the feminist challenge to the male canon/patricarchy; however, here it is not male patriarchy that is threatened but heteronormativity. In light of class discussion on the perception of feminist "affirmative action," we can see the show's choice to accept Chaz as a contestant as a progressive, political move that challenges viewers to re-examine preconceived biases that some sexualities are inherently more valuable than others by forcing them to view sexuality through a new perspective.

Gender roles in Disney, a surprising thought.

I was going to blog about Pactor's Chapel talk and how he regarded women and assumed all men that went to Wabash must play a certain gender role and be heterosexual... but something more fascinating happened as I was reading Felski. The girl that I have been seeing the past couple of months and I were talking about Disney movies. I brought up a few things in Felski (pp. 96-104) that regarded Disney movies and the view of gender and sex in those. I brought up Cinderella and the need for external forces to empower her to find happiness; a happiness that can only be found by marriage to a prince. She said that she had never seen the movie. My jaw, naturally, fell to the floor. As I scrambled to find my missing mandible, she told me the reasons why. Her father, who seems to be quite a quizzical figure, believed that the film had a devious moral. (Come on, Cinderella with an ulterior motive, right?) She told me that her father believed that little girls should not watch such films, especially Cinderella, because they messed up what he called "normal" gender roles. Cinderella, by being granted a wish by her fairy Godmother, was able to leave the home and seek out the excitement of the ballroom. In doing this, Cinderella forsakes her "womanly" duties of tending to the house chores. Thus, as she leaves her domestic sphere to venture out, albeit in masquerade, to the public and social sphere of a royal ball, she sloughs off her passive gender role for an active one in which she tries to find happiness.
Wow, that blew my mind. I mean, I see the typical passivity in her situation: pushed into adoption by step-mother, forced to do the housework by her step-sisters, only able to escape with the help of magical or unnatural external forces, bound even then by a set of rules, finding happiness only by riding off into the sunset with a Prince Charming to be married and live happily ever after; however, I did not see a reversal of gender roles at all. Cinderella, actually, is not just a passive character, but takes such an active role to leave the domestic sphere that it causes a father to not want his daughter to watch this movie in fear that she may do the same and become an "unnatural" type of woman.

Seriously, blew my mind.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

"Gay Veterans Face Hurdles In Re-enlisting"

Before class today I grabbed an issue of yesterdays New York Times to read in my spare time. I was struck by the article on the front page discussing the issue of gays within our military. I can remember this issue bringing about very contentious and heated debate when the "don't ask don't tell" rule of the military was first brought under fire, but i did not realize that this issue was still one we are dealing with in today's society. We are in the middle of a war, and recruiters are constantly scouring college and high school campuses for eligible young men and women to join the military. Yet, we are turning people away because they are gay. I personally see this as wrong. I understand that some people may have trouble working next to someone who considers them self gay, but for goodness sakes its war, suck it up and fight the damn war and get back home where you can live comfortably under your own roof without having to worry at night. I think sometimes we as a society make a bigger deal out of things than we need to, instead of looking at the big picture, and at what really needs to be done.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Gaga's new persona.

As the curtains lifted and the smoke settled, audiences were greeted with a figure dressed in an Elvis-impersonating-black-pants-and-white-shirt, greased-hair, and thank-you-very-much attitude. After the first, poorly attempted manly masking of voice, the audience meets “Gentlemen Gaga,” as many on Twitter have dubbed the character. The character is that “cool, Nebraska guy” from her quintessentially masculine jam “You and I.” The fourth single from the Born This Way album, “You and I” is an expression of love from a “New York girl” to a “cool, Nebraska guy.” The song flips gender roles from every bound of classic, head banging, Southern, and Hair rock. In a quick explanation, the song is deconstructive of bands from Queen to Journey, the manly embodiment of music. Gaga uses the stomp-clap line from Queen’s “We Will Rock You” and its guitarist Brian May in exclamatory fashion. What sport-loving, hairy-chested man can’t recognize the stadium anthem’s signature stomping? However, by using the classic sing-a-long “Don’t Stop Believing” theme of small-town girl and city boy reversed into a “city girl, small-town boy” motif, Gaga takes possession of the chase. She takes the masculine go-get-the-girl role for herself, but still allows her alter ego to yell emphatically “sit back down where you belong” to the female Gaga. She completely blurs the lines of control and desire, and she uses herself, in the video, to play both roles. She took on the persona of the whiskey-breathed male for the MTV Video Music Awards further extending her gender-blurring masculinity to the “real world.” Her message, as she’s been trying to do for years, finally reached a main-stage audience, and soon enough, ripples will reach those who are still simply writing off the behavior of Gaga over the years to her “weirdness.” There is a goal, and from imaginative to reality, Gaga will slowly turn gender from the he-she-it mentality. However, there is criticism. As one Camille Paglia claims in an article from the Sunday Times, Gaga and her gender-blurring behavior will cause, as the title claims, the “Death of Sex,” a sexuality that Madonna, Bowie, Elton John, and Warhol all worked desperately to create. What will Gaga’s new masculine image, her mainstream attempt at gender redefinition do for the he-she-it world?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Bi-textuality in the Canon

I think it was our own Scott MF'ing Walker who brought up Senior Colloquium the other day in our discussion of gender bias in the great English literature "canon." Since I happened to be in the archives Friday afternoon, I decided to take a quick peek into the past book lists of this class. (I would emphasize the word "quick" here--I mostly ignored the most recent history, deferring to Prof. Rosenberg's firsthand knowledge, and as for what I did examine I did so rather briskly).

I would highly recommend any other student who is interested in colloquium (it's not too late for spring semester you guys, and certainly Wyatt can take both) or simply in the history of the college to look through these folders. I was amazed by the professor's names I read as I went farther and farther back in time--names like Trippett, Powell, Fertig, Placher, and Campbell, seeing first where they began and then where they stopped. While these names changed, those of the fall semester reading list remained remarkably the same. Plato, Aristotle, Virgil, Aquinas, Augustine, Machiavelli and others have persisted through the decades. (I noted with sadness that Milton didn't survive his freshman year, though perhaps he was brought back on the team at some later date). All of the names on those reading lists were, and remain on the list today, male. The spring semester started off the same way. Great names were included of course, such as Locke, Rousseau, Smith, Mill, Tolstoy, and of course Burke and Paine (which you might remember from C&T). But again I noticed all were men. This remained the same from the 1947-48 school year until the spring of 1964 when Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin was added to the list. Then in 1978 Wollstonecraft made a one-year appearance, bringing the number of female authors up to two. Virginia Woolfe was added in 1979, but in the following year Stowe was dropped. Thus the "status quo" of having just a single woman author was preserved. From around here on out I began to see Prof. Rosenberg's name, and given that this was Friday afternoon and I didn't want to spend the entire day in the basement of the library, I put the file away. I assume Prof. Rosenberg can fill us in on more recent developments.

So is this an example of gender bias? If Stowe was worthy of being on the list, then why was she removed one year after Woolfe was added? Was it simply because of her gender? (Note that there certainly were other changes--but the timing here does seem suspicious to me). What names would you have added?

Two other things 1) Bi-textuality has official made the list of my favorite words and 2) Here is a quote I found about what makes a good Senior Colloquium student: "he is not afraid to attack the ideas of others...[and] he knows that occasionally he's going to be made ridiculous."

The Topsy-Turvy World of Male vs. Female Pronoun Usage

While for most of my life I've considered the use of the male pronoun "he" as opposed to the female equivalent "she" to be a matter of course, our class discussions of late have caused me to reexamine my views. As a young child within the admittedly conservative environment of a Catholic school, my fellow students and I were taught that there was no situation in formal writing where the substitution of "she" for "he" would be appropriate (and the nuns teaching us had no problem driving that point home with their yardsticks). So, over time, one could say that I became conditioned to drop the female pronoun "she" from my formal writing altogether.
However, after reading Felski and reflecting on her frequent use of "she" where I would reflexively use the pronoun "he," it seems to me that her overall implication encourages her readers to consider the marginalization of female authors and audiences that my original training has led me to perpetuate. Considering all of this (and hopefully without engaging in too much of a debate on semantics), I am left with the questions: "Am I truly being gender-insensitive when I use "he" anytime "she" would serve just as well? And is my old-school thinking and writing style indicative of a deeper chauvinism that has been subtly built into my psyche, or am I just working within the confines of my earliest instruction in the art of writing?"

...Thoughts from the peanut gallery, anyone?

-Josh Mitchell