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Knowing the Body

2004 Final Web Report

On Serendip

The Anthology of "S" Introduction

David Little, JM, Deb Sosower, Beth Piastra and Ariella Abeyta

Anthology of "S"

Table of Contents

I. Introduction

II. Structure, David Little

III. Sensationalism, JM

IV. Stigmatization, Deb Sosower

V. Self, Beth Piastra

VI. Sex, Arielle Abeyta


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, sexual assault law, obscenity in the media and the arts, categories of gender and race, and the sexualized and powerful appearance of women. We 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.

It is apparent in the diversity of topics in our book that gender and sexuality issues are pervasive; invading every aspect of our lives. That is why we are able to illuminate American culture from five distinct lenses. Despite the broad range of topics, they all share the common threads of cultural imposition and relation to the body. We explore language, imagery, ideals and their interwoven nuances and meanings. We look at agency and structures 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 are saying it in that particular way. Who and what influence the decisions we make?

We examine the myth of normality and what constitutes the "other." This book entertains 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 is the issue of marriage, language, sexual assault, obscenity, gender, or high heels, the fact is that there is no normal. There are individuals whose identities and ideals exist outside language demonstrating the social pressures and stigmatization that this book emphasizes 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's acceptable practices and 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 our or others' morals are imposed and whether or not we have the right to self-imposed morals. This book argues 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? What power lies in the represented? In the individual voice?

Our book examines these questions through the diverse issues of women's love of gendered language in legislature surrounding same-sex marriage, censorship and what is considered "obscene," homoerotic art and why, rape and the laws that contribute to how it is viewed by society, the problematic act of separating one issue such as race when discussing other issues such as sexuality or gender, and women's love of backbreaking shoes.

Our book explores 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 and gendered power inequality are 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 are addressed within this book from several different perspectives using varied 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 and continuing social stigmas. By contemplating and analyzing these political and cultural structures of gender and sexuality we can understand better the ways our freedoms, rights, liberties, and power are threatened and therefore be more apt at protecting them.





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