Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Masculinity v. Femininity

Today when we went to class, I sat next to Brown student Toye, who came to observe and participate in our class. It was interesting to receive the male perspective on controversial issues.

Before beginning our lesson, we discussed the Five Faces of Oppression, specifically on women, which include exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism, and violence. Exploitation involves the structural relations between the groups, such as labor benefits and how work gets compensated. Marginalization is the exclusion from full participation, deprivation, and essentially, extermination, and is perhaps the most dangerous of the five. Powerlessness is the inability in development of one’s capacities, and lack of decision-making power. Cultural imperialism is concrete power in relation to others. Violence ensues due to social membership.

We then discussed the term “hegemony,” which apparently, if mentioned during class, “will totally impress college professors.” This term encompasses all conditions necessary in any given society for the achievement and consolidation of rule. This on results with coercion and mass consent of the people, resulting in even oppressed people to agree with unfair rules.

We then did a role-play game where we were split up into two categories, male and female. I was put in the male group. We then drew a box on the board, and inside the box wrote characteristics expected of a male, and outside the box wrote what happens when these characteristics aren’t met. Some of the characteristics consisted of strong, promiscuous, rebellious, and athletic. After we filled in our box, we had to create a skit in which we incorporated these characteristics into our characters.

In our skit, we had four football players flaunting their strength and bragging about their athletic skills. Then a group of girls walked by, and the football players whistled and called out to them impolitely. When the girls ignored them, the boys, to preserve their dignity, called them prude, and said that they “weren’t even cute.” Then two heterosexual male friends walked by, and the football players threw profanity at them because they were “walking too closely together.” Then a heterosexual couple walked by, and the girlfriend requested that her boyfriend hold her bag while she tied her shoe. When her boyfriend complied, the football players taunted him for being “dominated,” by his girlfriend.

Doing this skit was interesting, because I got to play a football player, and be in the dominant position for once. It was also interesting, because after looking at the female side of the board, I saw that many of the characteristics outside of our box, were inside their box, such as weak, and in turn, many of the characteristics that were outside their box, were in our box, such as independent.

We then broke for lunch. During our lunch break, Dean Almandrez had told us to ask strangers on the street how they defined “masculinity,” and “femininity.” When I asked a girl sitting in the quad what she thought, she simply said “strong,” for masculinity, and “soft,” for femininity. I thought it was interesting that people associate those characteristics with very broad terms.

When we returned from lunch, there were pictures around the classroom. We got paired up, and went around the classroom, viewed each picture with our partner, and commented on our initial thoughts, and how it related to a class concept.

The first picture my partner and I viewed was of Andrej Pajic, an androgynous model pictured on the cover of Dossier. Barnes and Noble refused to sell the magazine with his photo on the front, and instead, sold it with the cover blacked out. I thought it was unfair to censor a photo because it was controversial. Because Pajic was breaking the gender norms by appearing as both male and female, people were confused.

The second picture was of an older woman, covered in makeup, and adorned with a  fancy watch, beside the caption “class is forever.” This is an example of classism, as well as ageism, because the woman was covered in makeup, and edited to look younger.

The next picture was of Beyonce, whose photo had been photoshopped to make her look thinner. Famous for her curves, Beyonce had asked to company to remove the edited photos. I think it is really brave of her to show off her curves in a society that puts so much emphasis on not having curves, and being thin.

The next photo was of a Congresswoman who had been shot, yet the title of the article was “US Congresswoman, Wife of Astronaut, shot.” Seeing this title really frustrated me, because instead of focusing on what this woman had accomplished on her own, the media tied her to her husband who was completely irrelevant to the story. Directly under this photo was an article titled “Astronaut’s wife shot,” yet displayed a photo of the husband, and centered on what he had accomplished, instead of the fact that his wife was murdered. As the Editor in Chief of the school paper at ECHS, this article offends me not only because it is written poorly, and because it focuses on something completely irrelevant to the actual story, but because it is extremely oppressive towards women, and just exemplifies how male dominated our society is.

The next photo was of Shakira’s transformation starting from before she was famous, to up until now. The new Shakira looked completely westernized, with long, blonde hair instead of the curly black hair she had previously displayed in the other photo. This is an example of internalized oppression, because the media and society were telling her what to like, how to dress, and how to act, and she believed it.

When we came back for our workshop at 4:00, there were signs labeled “race,” and “religion,” along with the other Seven Categories of Otherness. Then our TA’s would say a sentence, such as, “the part of my identity I most identify with is…” We would then have to go to the sign that corresponded with what we felt. This got pretty emotional, and quite a few people started crying.

After this activity, we made a big circle. One of the TA’s would say a statement, and if we agreed with it, we’d have to step into the circle. This got pretty hard for me at points, because I was embarrassed to step into the circle, and I was afraid of being judged by the other girls. I did notice that we all had a lot in common, and often everyone was inside the circle.

After this activity, we took some time to reflect on how we felt. I felt really sad afterwards, and I think everyone had a hard time addressing issues that are not normally discussed.

Tomorrow we’re off to the Ropes Course, and I can’t wait!
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