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?"

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Unfair Rule Change

During practice yesterday my teammates and I were running on the local golf course discussing life, as we always do, and of course solving all of the worlds problems. On my teammates brought up a recent video from Flotrack, a website dedicated to everything running from all over the world. The video was released by a professional male runner discussing the recent decision by the head governing bodies of running to change the qualifications for World Records. He was up in arms about how they have decided to strip record holder Paula Radcliffe of her Women's Marathon world record time because she did not run in a race that was "only women." She ran the race with a couple male "rabbits" or "pacers" to help her achieve the world record time. This decision was made quite some time ago, but i just heard about yesterday. I was at a loss for words. The only reason they have for doing this is that she was not solely competing against other women. Let's not look over the fact that she creamed all the other women in the race and the fact that when she crossed the finish line her time was still a world record time. Instead the focus remains on the little fact that there were males who happened to be in the same race. As a fellow runner and distance runner at that i was literally upset when i heard this. Distance athletes train years for that single moment of towing the line on race day. If Radcliffe's body was in good enough physical condition to run the time she did, she could have ran it whether or not those men were in the race or not. It is not fare to strip her of her world record for having men in the race. If anything i would think those head governing bodies would encourage more of this, in order to progress their sport further. The article I have posted above is from before the ruling was made, but the issue has been settled and her world record is no longer valid. I find this cruel, to both women althetes and the running community in general. What a way to darken such a bright spot in running today.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Taking the LSAT

This weekend I was able to take the LSAT. What a wonderful test it was: tested my logical reasoning and ability to sit still for 5 hours. However, as I walked gallantly into Hays to take this test I realized that I would, more than likely, be taking it in the midst of an all male population. In fact, I was wrong. Interestingly enough there were several females that made the arduous trek from IU and Indianapolis to accompany us in task at hand. I sat, having finished a section, feeling a small sense of accomplishment and relief, wondering what in world must this poor IU girl think of the conversation that was taking unfolding between us Wabash men. The conversation, like a UFC fight, was no holds barred: everything and anything could be and was talked about. This poor girl, I say this lightly because she more than likely, being a Bio-Chem Major at IU, beat the scores of everyone in the room by 10, sat silently until the break, and she didn't leave the room during the one allotted 15 minute break. We all tried to make discussion, some attempts more feeble than others, which in itself shows the unabashed, unadulterated conscious of a Wabash man, but none broke through that obviously embarrassed shell. At tests end, she simply got up and left unabated.

Here was my issue: after reading "Theorizing Masculinity," were we Wabash men trying, somehow, to exude such manly dominance and pride that we simply neglected all femininity in the room? I would say so. Joey was there, he could tell you. The author of the text quotes Derrida, and the necessity of femininity to define masculinity, but, obviously, with the exception of a handful of professors, there is no femininity to complement, contradict, anything this Wabash environment, as so well shown in this testing room. Part of me was embarrassed and part of me was so excited to be done that I left the room in the same fashion. But, now, as I look back upon this experience and consider the merits of all-male education, I realize that we lose a lot. The feminine offers everything back, everything we desire so heavily to exclude from our lifestyle here at Wabash. Why must we fight the feminine feeling so consistently. Slow down: let's truly learn something about what we are missing, and why it's important that we keep this environment... or is it?

Affliction the Film

So, I just finished watching the film version of Affliction. There are quite alot of differences. The movie follows the story pretty decently, using many narration voice-overs to stand in for Rolfe's Narration. Here are some major plot differences:
1. Lillian is practically a saint, the worst thing said about her is "She never fit in here, and that's why she left." There is no mention of her sleeping with Lugene Brooks (who is a woman in the film), Nick Wickham, or LaRiviere. Not to mention her affair with her lawyer is never brought up. When Lillian tells Wade that she is disgusted by him going to a new low, she is only referring to the custody lawsuit.

2. Wade is crazy the entire movie. Honestly, it totally misses the whole slowly descending into madness aspect. He seems to be a bit insane the entire movie.

3. The truck never goes under the ice, Jack just shoots the tires out.

4. Jack's death is in the epilogue, with a whole 5 seconds spent on the entire scene.

5. Most of the post-tooth pulling events don't occur. Wade never sleeps with Hettie, never talks to Asa Brown. Just pulls the tooth, gets his daughter, grabs Wickham (a lot more forcefully), finds Margie moving out, throws his daughter, then talks to his father about love, before killing him.

6. Wade blows up his father's truck when he's burning down the barn, there's no explanation how he gets up to the mountain to kill Jack.

7. The story that Wade confuses with Rolfe is not of getting beaten for the bathing accident. Rather it is of a wood chopping story that somewhat combines the barn story and the bath story. Overall, the father seems much less violent, and more incoherent than anything else.

8. Wade is very surprised and remorseful that he killed his father... in the novel he seemed sentimental, but definitely not remorseful.

So, the film representation does do a decently good job of telling the story, but the novel, naturally gives you a much better insight to Wade. His emotions, his frustrations, his downward spiral into homicidal madness. The movie glosses over these, which is unfortunate for people who view the movie and not read the book.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

My Father's Diary

My Father's Diary
by Sharon Olds

I get into bed with it, and spring
the scarab legs of its locks. Inside,
the stacked, shy wealth of his print—
he could not write in script, so the pages
are sturdy with the beamwork of printedness,
LUNCH WITH MOM, life of ease—
except when he spun his father's DeSoto on the
ice, and a young tree whirled up to the
hood, throwing up her arms—until
TO DESERVE SUCH A GIRL? Between the dark
legs of the capitals, moonlight, soft
tines of the printed letter gentled
apart, nectar drawn from serif, the
self of the grown boy pouring
out, the heart's charge, the fresh
man kneeling in pine-needle weave,
worshipping her. It was my father
good, it was my father grateful,
it was my father dead, who had left me
these small structures of his young brain—
he wanted me to know him, he wanted
someone to know him.

This poem stood out to me because the focus on the father-daughter relationship seemed refreshing to me. Olds creates an intense bonding experience between daugher and father by having the daughter read about her father in his diary. The fact that the father even has a diary is a unique twist--culture teaches us that moody teenage girls keep diaries full of their crushes, but the fact that the boy who becomes the girl's father keeps a diary subverts this stereotype. I particularly like how the jumpy nature of the boy's writing reflects the emotions of an adolescent boy--he moves quickly from one thing to the next. Though he no longer lives, the daughter is able to find meaning and inspiration in his words--she sees only the positive aspects of him in his diary, as well as his abounding love for Lois, whom we can presume to be her mother. The daughter now has a more concrete image of her father to hold on to, and she will always to some extent hold him as innocent and pure, as he still appears in his diary when he was younger. I think my favorite line describes his pages, which "are sturdy with the beamwork of printedness." She pictures her father and sees his concreteness and stability in his writing itself. In the end, the poem emphasizes the daughter's desire to connect with her father on a deep, emotional level. Reading her father's diary provides her with the intimacy she is unable to get. It's interesting that the "maleness" of his writing is what intrigues and enchants her--it is clear that she envisions her father as an indiviual who is unwaveringly "solid." I think it's also worth pondering whether or not a son would connect with his father in the same manner. What would he be attracted to in reading his father's diary? The speaker also seems to be particularly interested in the romance between her father and Lois, who is presumably her mother. As Reed pointed out, the language becomes suggestively sexual as the girl envisions the "nectar" drawn from between the "dark legs of the capitals," and the girl seems to read the sexuality into her father's "beamwork of printedness." She notes how her father worships Lois, and she admires this, calling her father "grateful" and "good." She connects herself to her father through her parents' relationship--seemingly able to identify with both her father and her mother.