Posts Tagged ‘women’s sexuality’

Oh, goodness! Being “good” as being “same”?

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

Having recently listened to the Joe Jackson song referenced in class, I have been on a “kick,” if you will, about sameness. As our readings, particularly the Wilkins piece, exemplified, sameness offers solace and comfort, as well as social reaffirmation that one is on the “right path.” For example, we witnessed the University Unity kids assert repeatedly that they do pursue and hold friendships outside the confines of Unity and Christianity as a whole. However, and most notably, they find it hard to know “where they stand” with these secular friends or friends of other faiths. This cuts Unity/non-Unity friendships short, or only allows them to reach a certain point before one or both of the members feels disconnected from the other person on moral grounds. And in terms of Unity lifestyle, there are many areas that are apt to prompt disagreement with non-Unity friends.

The idea of being a part of a group that Wilkins originally categorizes as “just good people” is intriguing, because it brings up the necessary and essential idea of goodness. What—and who—can be considered “good?” In terms of Unity alone, it seems that if one is dutiful in praying and reading the Bible, setting aside time for God, and abstaining from sex, drug usage, and immodesty, then that individual fits the criteria for “goodness.” But in effect, adherence to these rules leaves very little room for individuality and potential to think for oneself outside of an academic context, so no wonder it limits their more secular relationships.

My question here is, does goodness imply sameness—sameness of “thought, word, and deed,” as outlined in the Nicene Creed itself?

This is a disturbing thought, because the last thing we want to believe is that we, as humans with functional minds and control over our actions, could subscribe to a set of prescribed actions and thoughts to such an extent that we become, as we mentioned earlier in the semester, “holy spirit zombies.” That we would be unable to identify any personal characteristic or marking qualities aside from surface-level hobbies, such as Lucas’ swing-dancing pastime, is frightening to a modern, liberal, 21st-century mind. And yet, on the surface, they seem so normal—college hoodies and movie nights with friends, going out to diners and for ice cream, and the like, seem to suggest that we as non-Unity members are not so different from them after all.

However, it is also important to note that while the Unity kids seem not to stand out in their choice of dress and lack of partying—Wilkins describes them explicitly as “vanilla” at one point—this is precisely what sets them apart from the norm. Though understated and subtle, Unity kids maintain the appearance of social “norms” in the way that Christian Rock does—they take the semblances of the mainstream and then “clean it up,” therefore making the action more palatable for those who subscribe to the Unity lifestyle. For example, some of the Unity girls like to go out and dance with their friends, but instead of contour skirts and pumps, they can be seen in T-shirts and jeans.

“Unity Style”

versus

This chick

This is the tricky part: T-shirts and jeans seem so normal, but in this case, their wearers are actually embodying a quiet form of resistance to social (i.e., secular) norms. By going against the expected code of dress, Unity girls maintain the modesty expected of them, and are able to participate in activities outside Unity, all the while upholding Unity values.

This resistance is fascinating, because it is often gender-dependent, can have many layers, and can be done in a variety of ways. In my Language and Gender class, we have talked a lot about gender and how individuals and groups will often subvert gender in ways that are unexpected and often surprising. If you have the time, I would recommend you read the following article about “Nerd Girls” that we had to read for class. Just the idea that the category of “Nerd” does not already include females is noteworthy, but that aside, it is a good read and exemplifies yet another way that groups subvert, undercut, and otherwise resist social norms and gender expectations. Furthermore, this is another example of how important sameness is in terms of connection and group cohesiveness, and how social situations can become potentially problematic or confusing if not all participants in the conversation approach the subject the same way.

[Incidentally, another gender-bending article we read for Language and Gender may be of interest to some of you. It is a culturally-based a commentary on Japan’s “Kogals”who routinely defy and redefine young Japanese women’s sexuality through sexual availability, deliberate linguistic change, and distinctive images that offer yet another form of resistance against traditional femininity.]

Whew, sorry for the longest blog post ever! See you all in class!

Here Comes the Ghost, doo doo doo doo :)

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

In Ghosts of Futures Past, Molly McGarry touches on several things that “struck my fancy,” so to speak. A brief list of these may include the following:

-Mediums channeling those of other sexes/genders, and the complications thereof

-“Free love” and how it upset the “moral hierarchical order” of man-woman marriage—who knew the turn of the century marked the first hippie era?! (Just kidding—I know it’s not parallel, but the terminology made me laugh.

-The “science” behind the “hysterical” woman—and the sexualization thereof

-Phrenology (I’ve just always thought it was cool), and

-Walt Whitman!

 

Of all of these subjects of interest, however, I found the section concerning Walt Whitman to be the most compelling. It is no surprise to me that one of America’s earliest poetic geniuses, who arguably created all-new forms of dealing with language, was also interested in the occult and wished to channel other’s souls. In fact, as the general public became more comfortable with and receptive to spiritualism, such instruments of spiritualistic “tinkering,” such as Ouija Boards, landed on the market. Spiritualism had officially become marketable, and the American public readily consumed.

Ouija Board and “Spirit”

*Side note: I still think it is really weird that Ouija boards are sold at Toys R Us, right next to Apples to Apples and Monopoly…as if they try to serve the same purposes in terms of entertainment…

This fascination with otherworldly or spiritual means of communication became somewhat of a motif throughout the 1900s, actually; some other major artists who exhibit similar interest and dedication in spiritual efforts include Madonna, who dabbled in Kabbalah (much to the fury and/or excitement of Jews worldwide), and my beloved Beatle, George Harrison.

George Harrison <3

Both Whitman and Harrison made spiritual beings integral to their lives and their art; however, Whitman’s efforts in the matter were, of course, complicated by the fact that he was gay. This is where phrenology sailed in to “save the day,” by justifying Whitman’s love for and commitment/connection to other men as biologically-based; it was literally “all in his head.” As we talked about last class, biology served to “prove” (read: assuage) certain aspects of American society that were “undesirable”; in doing so, it provided evidence for racism, sexism, etc. As we can see from the image below, sometimes we still see vestigial signs of this phenomenon:

“You’re just a woman with a tiny brain, a brain 1/3 the size of a man’s. It’s science.” -Ron Burgundy

So basically, “Anchor Man” aside, I have a lot to talk about in class today…

Fire and Frigidity: Comparing the Sexual Desires of Men and Women

Friday, March 8th, 2013

A recurring theme in our course readings appears to be the differences between male and female sexuality.  Some scholars argue that men have greater sexual desires than women, who are frigid and feel no physical pleasure from intercourse.  Others claim that women are more passionate than men, while some still believe (though this is discussed infrequently) that men and women are equal on the scales of sexuality.  Havelock Ellis, whose article “The Sexual Impulse in Women” discusses these three theories, tends to be a bit repetitive and leans heavily on scholarly quotes that have little background or context.  However, the article raises a few interesting points on the subject of male v. female sexuality.

The first point I found both interesting and confusing is what the article describes as a theory in Jewish culture: “The Jews attributed to women greater sexual desire than to men.  This is illustrated…by Genesis, chapter iii, v. 16″ (Ellis 196).  The article doesn’t produce this passage from Genesis, which demonstrates a problem I found with reading the article in that it assumes that either I have a Bible lying around or I know it by heart.  In any case, I went to the Internet machine and looked it up.  After Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, this is what God said:

Genesis 3:16

New International Version (NIV)

16 To the woman he said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children.  Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”

What I was at first unsure of is what God meant by “desire,” which I bolded above.  Does the term “desire” have an exclusively sexual connotation in this context?  When I first read this verse, I originally assumed that, because this is God’s punishment for the couple, that Eve will love her husband fully, but that Adam will be in control of her.  Maybe that is taking the passage too literally, especially in the line “he will rule over you,” but if the Jewish scholars are arguing that women have a greater sexual desire, I didn’t necessarily see how this passage proves their point.  I interpreted the passage to mean that Eve is meant to be at Adam’s disposal, and if the goal is punishment, then it would make more sense if Eve wanted Adam sexually and was refused or rebuffed in favor of other women or nothing at all.

However, after reading more of Ellis’s article, it became clear what purpose this passage from Genesis serves.  It answers the question: “Why do women go through the pain of childbirth?”  Besides being punished by God with pain during birth, women are apparently cursed with a sexual appetite for which they are both blessed and punished.  They are blessed with children and punished with pain caused by the births of those children.

But aren’t children supposed to be a good thing?  In the Bible, Exodus 1:7 says: “But the children of Israel were fruitful and increased abundantly, multiplied and grew exceedingly mightily; and the land was filled with them.”  God promises many children to Abraham.  Children are legacies to these biblical families.  The Virgin Mary herself went through the pain of childbirth.  So why would God make punish Eve, and every woman after her, with painful childbirth and a sexual desire that causes pregnancy and birth, when children are meant to be a blessing?  I guess if painful childbirth had to be a punishment, I can understand why God would give women a strong sexual desire to keep the babies coming, in terms of incentive.

If we are bringing biblical passages into the discussion, like the one above, the theory that women have stronger sexual desire seems like a better argument in a religious sense than the theory that most women are frigid and have no sex drive at all.  One scholar noted that about 75% of married women were “afflicted” with sexual frigidity.  It was also noted that this excluded Jewish women.  As a side note, this reminded me of a quote from a book I read a while back, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.  In the first chapter, the main character often sees pregnant Jewish women, who look proud to be pregnant compared to Irish women.  She suggests that this is because pregnant Jewish women believe that any child they produce could potentially be the Messiah.  If this holds any truth, this could explain why a Jewish woman, as noted in the article, may be less prone to sexual frigidity.

If we’re excluding Jewish women, as the article does, it does make sense that women would be frigid because of painful childbirth or unwanted pregnancy.  In a way, frigidity is the best method of birth control when a woman’s just not feelin’ it.  This theory would throw out Genesis 3:16 and mean that women are not afflicted with sexual desire that overcomes their fear of childbirth.  Rather, it suggests that some women would just prefer not to go through that kind of suffering.  So are the Christian theorists going by the Bible?  Or is the gendered hierarchy of sexual desire purely psychological or biological, and not at all religious?

 

Maybe She’s Born with it…Maybe it’s Awakened During Puberty!: The Sexual Impulse in Women

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013

So, now for a total change of topic from my last pre-break post…

I was especially intrigued by the section of this reading that ranged from pp. 198-203. First, there is Montaigne’s idea that women are “incomparably more apt and ardent in love than men are” because “it [sexual impulse] is a discipline that runs in their veins” (198). This is in direct contrast to the mode of thinking where women are considered sexually frigid. Even the greatest rock n’ rollers were familiar with this school of thought, as is evidenced by the following classics:

She’s So Cold by the Rolling Stones

Cold As Ice by Foreigner

But seriously, there seems to be a great divide when considering women’s sexuality, and I hate that it comes down to this, but if one tried to wrap it up neatly, women’s sexuality seems to fall into the paradigm of the virgin and the whore. Either women are considered “salacious, ”“lascivious,” and “seductive,” or they are regarded as the opposite: unable to be sexually excited at all, and averse to the advances of the opposite sex. It should also be said that the discussion of women becoming “hysterical” as a result of coitus, though ridiculous and old-fashioned to our 21st-century ears, gained a lot of popularity back in the day, and seems to go hand-in-hand with both the virgin who is “deflowered/awakened” by a man’s sexual advances, or the promiscuous woman who is prone to be put into hysterics often and without shame, which in itself would be considered shameful. Altogether, the idea of women’s sexuality and sexual pleasure seems coated in shame…

[Side note: I was frustrated by the fact that the author did not go into same-sex relations, but I can understand why it would confound his/her train of thought. I also have some issues with the final paragraph on page 200 about Baltic women and their seductive patterns, but I feel those would best be raised in class, where the discussion can be more fully fleshed out than simply on the blog.]

But enough complaining! Page 202 brings about an idea that is less offensive and (probably) much more palatable to modern-day women than the view that we are “frigid” or, on the other end of the spectrum, “slutty” or “easy.” I will end with this paragraph, which seems to attempt to make peace with both women and men harboring sexual impulses:

“…in most cases the sexual coldness of women is only apparent, either due to the concealment of glowing sexuality beneath the veil of outward reticence prescribed by conventional morality, or else the husband who has not succeeded in arousing erotic sensations which are complicated and with difficulty awakened… The sexual sensibility of women is certainly different from that of men, but in strength it is at least as great.” (Bloch, 202).

This postulation is not without its own set of assumptions/problems, but it at least seems to award women with their due “natural” feelings and persuasions instead of knocking them for having them in the first place.