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?


  1. I would not take any texts off my original list of favorite works but I would add one from this semester. I will add Angels in America to my list of favorite works. I really enjoy this text it because it is one of the few works where I feel that we get to explore more than one gender at a time, and we don’t get to think of it in the simple binary of males being masculine and females being feminine because we have characters that challenge these assumptions and skew that binary. I think this text shows examples of gender being performative which is one of the main things we have spent a large part of the semester debating. This is one of my new favorite texts because it is rich with symbolism and all the answers are not clear so many questions are raised that we can spend an enjoyable amount of time exploring. One question that comes to mind is if gender is completely performative or is it inherently a part of our identity? To push that question even further, if gender is performative isn’t our identity as a whole performative because we perform who we perceive ourselves to be?

    After compiling our list of favorite texts we have discussed in one of the Felski readings how for the most part our lists may be biased because of our gender and identity. While this may be somewhat true, seeing that I am adding a text to my list that deal with issues of homosexuality, this is a positive thing. I say this because our identity brings a diverse understanding and interpretation to a text which leads to interesting discussion. We may have biases of our favorite texts based on our identity, but this demonstrates that we bring these diverse understandings and interpretations to a text, rather it be biased or not which leaves room for discussion. Being aware of our maleness in reading a feminist text and having some biases lead to productive conversation and thoughts that either party may have not thought about, and the fact that these opposing views are expressed in conversation exposes everyone to similarities as well as differences. A personal example of this is, one of my favorite texts being Richard Wright’s Native Son, which some may argue is biased because it’s protagonist is an African American male and I am an African American male, but it has some similarities to a text we have read for class. When discussing Russell Banks’s Affliction I happened to mention the similarities I saw between Affliction and Native Son. Most of my classmates have not read Native Son and my exposure to something that may have been due to a bias contributed to an interesting discussion and linked similarities in white and black masculinity, to contribute to a discussion on masculinity as a whole.

    Taking a gender criticism class also changed the way I think of gender now. Initially I believed that gender was influenced by both nature and nurture. I still believe that, but for a different reason now. Before I thought that gender was influenced by both because gender roles (nurture) are constructed based on sex (nature). Now I see the two as having an inverse relationship. While gender roles are a social construction based on sex, sex is a social construction based on language. I started to think about this concept after discussing “Southern Comfort.” A classmate posed the question, why do transgenders/transsexuals have a operation to change their sex if they perform their believed gender based on what they feel they are supposed to be? I believe the answer to that question is because we as a society imply that they have to because of the language we use surrounding the concepts of gender and sex. We define sex as something purely biological and gender as a social construct, but in defining both we use language, which all together is a social construct. Who decides that a female can’t have a penis and a male have a vagina? Why do we assign the term male to someone with a penis and female to someone that has a vagina in the first place?

  2. I definitely wouldn’t subtract any books from my favorite book list, but I’d certainly add some. I agree with Greg; my favorite text from the class was definitely Angels for America, and I’d definitely add it to my list. I really appreciate the “messiness” and complexity of Kushner’s work and the incredible amount of symbolism he packs into the play—which is one of the major reasons I think I liked Moby Dick so much. However, I also don’t think there’s a single work we read in class that I did NOT enjoy, and the class has definitely sparked my interest in reading works that explore gender. Devin and Josh’s presentations on the Egger’s book and the sci-fi stuff in particular are things I’m interested in exploring, and I am pretty sure that my sister decided to get me the Egger’s book for Christmas.

    I think reading works by authors of different gender constructions has really opened up my interests in general. Felski’s argument that women are exposed to male authors from a very young age, whereas men are not exposed to female authors, really rings true for me. For most of my life, I think I’ve avoided female authors simply because I didn’t think I could associate with their experience. But being forced to read Chopin’s work really forced me to examine my “masculinity” in relation to “femininity,” and the class readings in general forced me to gradually start thinking less and less dualistically about gender—which makes works by female authors far more engaging and interesting. I’m interested in revisiting authors like Virginia Woolf and delving more fully into them. Realizing that gender is so much more complex really makes works about gender much more inviting, and this is largely due to reading not only about femininity as a social construction, but masculinity also. Examining how my gender is constructed has been one of the most enjoyable and thought-provoking experiences of my college career, and I’ve been able to continue the classroom conversations outside of class with friends and family. So I think really the class has broadened my interests in general; a work by a female or homosexual author now sounds just as appealing as a work by a heterosexual male author, but I know that I would have inevitably picked the male author before the class in the belief that the experiences of the other two, which I related too less, would not be as worthy of exploration. Lastly, studying gender has made me much more conscious of portrayals of gender in the media and politics—if’s definitely solidified and strengthened my views, and I suspect that gender studies usually correlates with higher political activism.

    So, to sum up, the gender studies class has been one of my most unique experiences at Wabash. Greg and I have both talked about how we’re going to miss the class, and I think this is partly because gender is not often discussed—I think most people take for granted the “essential” differences between men and women. It’s hard to find other people to talk to about gender who have explored to it such a degree and spent such a large amount of time examining their own experiences as a gendered individual. It’s interesting that many of my friends who haven’t taken a class like gender studies perceive my views on gender as “radical,” but it always seems to me like they haven’t spent the same amount of time examining their assumptions. I think truly examining gender requires a great deal of honesty, because it requires one to examine oneself as objectively as possible. So I think I can also say that the class has not only broadened my interests, but my thinking as well.

  3. preface: HAHAHA this is awesome. I, like, JUST read the book I mentioned at the beginning of the semester!

    Now, with that said, my list of favorites could have some potential for change. For example, a whole new world of ideas about movies has flooded my brain throughout the semester. You know those random (but inevitable) times in class that you sort of space out into your own thoughts? Well, more often than not I've gone off into some world where something said in class got me thinking about how that something changes a movie. It's random, I know, especially when I could be thinking about guns n' stuff, but hey, back off. What can I say? When someone mentions Fight Club, I can't help but mull on it for a bit. Or, for example, re-reading The Awakening gave me an entirely new perspective on the novel. While I liked it originally, studying this story through a unique lens offered me a new way to look at things differently. I cannot help but acquire a little more admiration for the work, it's impressive.
    I suppose I should say that this class offered me a lot of new experience and things to think about from these days forward. It's true, it has; but it's class and therefore deserves nothing but scorn. So no, nothing at all from class has shaped my opinion. All of these new insights and questions stem from nothing. Except for all the discussion we had. Which was plentiful to say the least. Even when our conversations when off topic, they never steered far from something that affected opinions and stirred up arguments that were worthwhile.
    One of the best examples of all this is Wyatt's adventure with The Godfather movies. Sitting back and listening to us rag* on him about not seeing it and how "you aren't a man!" until you see it and blah blah blah and so forth and anyway....this whole debacle gave me something to think about. I mean, there really is something there in the movies about fathers and masculinity in general that raise some issues!
    The biggest thing about this class is how it has helped me address a lot of, and I hate using terms like this (kinda nerdy sounding?), my personal issues surrounding my own sense of masculinity-most notably when I started thinking about football. As another effect, I find myself looking at everything through a gendered lens. Just last night, when I definitely should have been working, I was watching Fight Club again. I spent most of the movie breaking down its images and thinking about my own reflections and relations to these things.
    So why the change? I think the timing of this class was paramount in that. Had I taken this class as a freshman, still convinced I'm a bad motherf***er, I do not believe I would have appreciated much less understand most of what went on in class. Taking it now held a different effect. Right now, a 21 year old senior, I am getting ready to jump into the real world. No more begging for paper extensions or running around hitting each other with sticks. Now, as seniors, we are in a kind of 'nut-up-or-shut-up' situation. Are we really ready to move from growing young man to just man? So, as those questions naturally attack me, this class became an outlet for me to address them. So there you go, just a few insights from the jock in the corner. Merry Christmas.

  4. There is definitely one book that I would add to my list of favorites--Affliction, by Russell Banks. Coming from a family with divorced parents, three brothers, and one sister, I natrually saw strong connections between Wade's family and my own. In part I identified with Rolfe, particularly how he seemed to define himself against the image of his older brother. That really resonated with me. At the same time, Wade defined himself against his own older brothers (I am the second youngest of four brothers). When my parents divorced, I stayed with my Dad, and I saw how he struggled to connect with his kids in a broken family. So I saw a part of my Dad in Wade too.
    There were times as I was reading this book that I simply had to stop and compose myself before going on. It's obviously a tragic story, and seeing myself and my family in these characters made it just that much more powerful. I don't know if this a reflection on my tastes in literature or my particular emotional make-up, but that almost never happens to me. Really, the only other time that I've felt that way was during my freshman year in Hudson's Shakespeare class. That might sound like a large jump, from Wade Whitehouse to Romeo and Juliet, but both had the same effect on me.
    I don't remember if I named Shakespeare as one of my favorite authors, but if I didn't I'll do it now. Whereas Affliction gripped me with its depiction of ordinary life, I saw in Shakespeare a reflection of my innermost passions. At the time I was taking ENG 216 I was actually falling in love for the first time in my life, and so I saw in his writing the exact same emotions I felt. At the end of the semester I wrote a paper about how amazing it was to see the most deeply personal, yet newly discovered, aspects of myself in the writings of man who had been dead for centuries. Taking that class awakened me to what I described as the "universal" human experience for the first time in my life.
    Back to Affliction. Since my freshman year I hadn't had that same experience, and I think to some extent I was beginning to doubt my earlier conclusions. But the tremendous connection I felt with Bank's book reminded me of what I had come to know before. With Shakespeare I realized the universal experience of love, with Affliction I suppose "universal pain" comes to mind. Really though, Affliction was about family, about the relationships of fathers and sons, of brothers, and male friends.
    Ultimately, I would add Affliction and reinforce Shakespeare as parts of my list because both revealed to me some aspect of essential human nature, of the essence of masculinity in some way. Perhaps that's not the typical conclusion someone would expect from a student taking a gender criticism class, but that's the way I feel. In fact, when I look at literature now I find myself seraching for universal truths--I just had a conversation with Josh, for example, about searching for "what remains" of masculinity in post-apocalyptic literature. His thesis is that nothing remains, that nuture trumps nature. I can't help but feel differently. The idea of writing my own final paper on Wozzeck came to me precisely because it seemed to mirror Affliction in so many respects. Again, this idea of essential masculine characteristics which cross temporal and cultural boundaries is immensly appealing to me.
    Now, it may be that there is no such thing as an inescapable gender. Reeser talked about this in his piece, how regardless of what we know objecitvely about the nature of men, men still "feel" as if their masculinity is part of some archetype. I don't think that's such a bad thing, however. I think that recognizing these archetypes, whatever their exact origin, allows us as men (or as women) to connect with figures in literature, and by extension their real authors, in a much deeper way than ever would have been possible before.