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Knowing the Body
2004 Second Web Report
On Serendip

Gender Politics

by Arielle Abeyta, David Little, JM, Beth Piastra and Deborah Sosower

In current events, social attitudes about gender and sexuality have had an enormous impact on public policy and politics. For example, in the latest U.S. presidential election, exit polls indicated that the majority of Americans votes were most influenced by moral issues. Based on President Bush's more controversial policies from his first term including the ban of partial-birth abortion and his approval of an amendment to the constitution to restrict marriage from non- heterosexual couples, we can code "moral issues" to indicate a strong opinion regarding such gendered issues as abortion and gay rights. In asserting that moral issues was the most important factor of the 2004 election, it can be seen how influential and prevalent social opinion of gender and sexuality color our political system. It appears that moral issues indicate a conservative standard regarding the negative impact of gendered issues on our society.

In our book we explore the possible harmful impact of social stigmatization on issues such as same-sex marriage, intersexual appearance, obscenity in the media and the arts, and the sexualized appearance of women. We will use these topics to highlight the broader implication of social stigmatization through a series of questions: Who is being offended? What exactly is obscene? Who is being attacked? What are the rules, social or legal, regarding censorship or categorization? Do we as a social body have enormous influence over our media and political systems or is it just the opposite? If something is controversial, should it be celebrated or condemned? Through media, rhetoric, art and physical bodies we explore these questions and the social implications of the answers.

Due to the diversity of topics in our book, we will be able to illuminate American pop culture from five distinct lenses. Despite the broad range of topics, they all share a common thread of cultural imposition. We will explore language, imagery, ideals and their interwoven nuances and meanings. We will be looking at agency and the driving forces that are behind each issue. We want to know who is saying what, how they are saying it, and the reasons behind why they saying it in that particular way. Who is behind the decisions we make?

We will examine the myth of normality and what constitutes the "other." This book would like to entertain the idea that normal is an illusion, a social construction that is holding these conservative ideals in place by pressuring individuals to conform. Whether it be the issues of language, high heels, obscenity, marriage, or gender, the fact is that there is no normal. That there are individuals whose identities and ideals exist outside language demonstrate the social pressure and stigmatization that this book wants to emphasize as problematic to our freedom to choose our own identities and lifestyles. It is important to pay attention to language and its inadequacy to speak for those who deviate from mainstream society and its acceptable practices, its norms, because this contributes to the bipolar world of right and wrong of whose existence the current administration is trying to convince us. The world is not black and white but shades of gray, and the act of trying to fit everyone and everything into neat categories is an impossibility that this book will strive to persuade you, the readers, to acknowledge. It is important that we pay attention to how are morals are imposed and whether or not we have the right to self-imposed morals.

This book wants to argue that diversity and the individual are being suffocated and are perhaps even in danger of being wiped out. There is an urgent need for us to examine the world in which we are living and to ask the questions that we seek answers to in this project. Do we create the ideas we see in pop culture, the media, art, classifications, language, laws, and debates? Does this broader culture of morals, stigmas and stereotypes represent us and accurately reflect who and what we are in America? Or does the opposite happen? Do we do as we're told by some larger infamous "they" or perhaps "The Man"? Do we internalize propaganda, media, language innuendos, and then perpetuate the ideals they project onto us? Who controls society, the media, the agendas, the stigmas, the issues?

Our book will examine these questions through the diverse issues of women's love of backbreaking shoes, gendered language in legislature surrounding same-sex marriage, the need to bipolarize gender and how hermaphrodites are forced to be either all male or all female, censorship and what is considered "obscene" art and why, and lastly, the possibility of separating one issue such as race when discussing other issues such as sexuality or gender. In this case it will be through the medium of the Janet Jackson/ Justin Timberlake breast exposure at last year's Super Bowl show.

Our book will explore the ways in which gender and sexuality inform the dynamics and mechanisms of power and how these mechanisms, in turn, inform gender and sexuality. Can progressive attitudes towards gender and sexuality restructure contemporary power gradients along gender lines or will these attitudes merely become appropriated by current systems of power? By examining the way in which this power struggle is codified into legislation and political discourse, one can attempt to understand the motivation for the push and pull for power from both sides of the current power struggle. Does this codification allow for a restructuring of this debate in terms other that conservative and liberal that may be more illuminating as to how power moves within the system of this discourse? These particular questions and concerns will be addressed within this book from several different perspectives and from different subjects.

The examination of the politics and power dynamics of gender and sexuality is incredibly important right now because so many freedoms and liberties awarded to once-oppressed (and in many ways still oppressed) persons are in grave danger due to the sentiments of the current administration. By contemplating and analyzing these political structures of gender and sexuality we can understand better the ways our freedoms, rights, liberties, and power is threatened and therefore be more apt at protecting them.

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