Playing with Categories

3-4:30pm, Friday, November 11, Multicultural Center
Representing Parenthood: The Big Picture

--Come talk about what the numbers don't tell you
--about happiness, fulfillment, and the choices you want to make about parenting.
--Can we think differently about the relation between working and having kids?
Can we find ways to compose our lives that are not defined by cultural images, our parents' decisions,
the "ghosts in the nursery," recent studies at Yale, Penn and Bryn Mawr...?
--Join us for a conversation about dispelling myths and defining ourselves,
as we figure out how to balance work and family without the constraint of cultural stereotypes.
--Bring your children, and/or let us know if you need childcare.
Co-sponsored by The Program in Gender and Sexuality and The Center for Science in Society
Maria Scott-Wittenborn, Megan Rowley, and Anne Dalke

By 5 p.m. Sun, write collaboratively with your group a 3-pp. introduction to your "book," and post it on-line. Your introductions will be the topic of our class discussion on Monday, so think also about--and plan together--how you want to present them to the rest of us--as a panel? a conversation? a debate? an argument? Read everyone else's intro before coming to class.

Day 20: Continuing with Little Jimmy Corrigan

The American ideal...of sexuality appears to be rooted in the American ideal of masculinity. This ideal has created cowboys and Indians, good guys and bad guys, punks and studs, tough guys and softies, butch and faggot, black and white. It is an ideal so paralytically infantile that it is virtually forbidden--as an unpatriotic act--that the American boy evolve into the complexity of manhood. James Baldwin, "Freaks and the American Ideal of Manhood," Playboy, rpt. The Price of the Ticket (1985).

The closer we come to uncovering some form of exemplary masculinity, a masculinity which is solid and sure of itself, the clearer it becomes that masculinity is structured through contradiction: the more it asserts itself, the more it calls itself into question. But this is precisely what we should expect if...masculinity is not some type of single essence, innate or acquired. As it is represented in our culture, 'masculinity' is a quality of being which is always incomplete...It exists in the various forms of power men ideally possess: the power to assert control over women, over other men, over their own bodies, over machines and technology. Lynn Segal, Slow Motion: Changing Masculinities, Changing Men

Jen: So, how can we reconcile the ideas that masculinity IS power, while at the same time acknowledging that men do not equal masculinity (this isn't to say that masculinity is all there is to men's power -- there are structural inequalities to think about too), that different men have different relationships to masculinity, and that expectations of masculinity may be constraining in particular ways for many or all men?

We want to think some more together about masculinity, a category and identity that is as complicated, inflected, constructed (and as potentially damaging?) as femininity.

In "The Problem of 'Women' as an Analytic Category,"
Sherry Ortner calls attention to the "big man bias"--
applying the privileges of elites to male actors in general,
most of whom are excluded from leadership and public initiative.

We're looking, this week, at a "little man," a failed super-hero.



In the forum,

Some of us expressed our strong dislike for the shoddy portrayal of women in the text--
and some of us wondered what (in the form of the graphic novel?) brought out this dislike:
Anna: i didnt like how women were portrayed. not a single one was worth anything - though, really, not a single man was worth much either. i did feel that the women were portrayed worse though...the body parts that were drawn (breasts, lips, butt, legs) were all closeups, never was a full woman shown - is this some statement about the parts of the body that are most important to men?

Jen: If I met Willis' lads in everday life, I think I'd find them pretty offensive in their talk about women, and pretty generally obnoxious! But no one seemed disturbed by this in the same way as many were by Jimmy Corrigan's representations of women. What is it in the content, style of presentation, or author's voice that helps mediate our reactions to the lads more thoroughly than Corrigan does? Or do others have different reactions to the women shown here? Specifically, we might talk about the figure of Amy. How do you perceive her? How do the Jimmies? What do you think she is doing here -- what does she add to our understanding of the Jimmies?

Some of us questioned the "uniqueness" of the masculinity described in Jimmy Corrigan: Amy Phillips: i suppose from other people's posts that part of the point of this story is to be depressing, but is that what manhood is about, or the lack thereof?

Alex: we keep talking about the big political(?) statements this book makes about men and masculinity. but i feel like the book itself doesnt really address these things.... rather than see this comic as a demonstration of emasculation, i see this book as a demonstration of general human misery. this book is absolutely miserable- no joyful parts at all....women...are just simply ignored. this is a story of suffering passed down from father to son, which is uber depressing, to say the least.

Samantha: I was not convinced that the story Chris Ware was presenting to us about the "myth" of masculinity was new/unique. Perhaps I am tired of reading novels/stories/comic books women continuously destroy manhood....Are men solely socialized to be "men" in the home/womb? Do social interactions have anything to add to men's understanding of masculinity? Do women perpetuate masculinity or do we destroy it? the army and all that that implies the model for "manhood?"

Some of us found it useful to think about gendered learning differences--or did we?

Flora: Some interesting gender education reading:
Boys, Girls and Schooling: Author says educators must adapt to learning differences

Elle: "girls" and "boys" often have different learning styles because of all the initial "teaching"...I never thought of Bryn Mawr as having a different teaching style...that suits a woman's brain....Should little girls be taught in all girls schools?... catering to an oppressed groups education needs is a great idea, but it gets a little trickier when you talk about a brain that's already been channeled in a certain direction, and how you can cater to that pre-carved direction.

Some of us were heart-broken by Ware's story--
but others warned us to beware of the political danger of having our heart-strings so tugged upon:

Sarah:I gotta admit that I felt for Jimmy. I mean, sure, he hasn't done anything to help his position with women, but I don't think this is because we're dealing with a misogynistic misanthrope. We're dealing with a character who is very much set aside from the rest of humanity. And I have trouble blaming him for his issues. It feels like blaming the shy kid for not being more outgoing. Jimmy lives in his own little world, probably because his mother dictated his entire life, and his only freedom seems to be in the things he does in his head. I just can't blame the guy for that. If anything, I want to take him to therapy and convince him to join a social group or something.

Lindsay: physically and socially impaired, overly-mommied and generally unloved...completely helpless...Self-loathing is inherited along with the proclivity toward sniffling in each subsequent Corrigan...imagined scenes...are telling of the gap between what a father should be/might be/is. (Is he a hero or a bastard?) The question of heroism also demonstrates this ambivalence--In Jimmy's mind, Superman commits suicide--the one person with the power to leap tall buildings in a single bound instead jumps off the building to his death. You might say that a father has all the power in the world when it comes to his son, so when #1 Dad chooses to be absent from his son's life, we see that choice reflected over and over in Jimmy's broke my heart.

Kelsey: this piece is extremely crucial to our class "Gender and Sexualities" because it focuses on a typical average Joe male who is a marginalized person....all of our readings... focus...on people who are marginalized....How is this person different?...I think it is sad that his upbringing and "un-masculine" appearance has placed him into this perpetual cycle of defeat, and it is this automatic sympathy for Jimmy that the author creates for his readers that mark a potential political danger behind this excuse racism and sexism if it is being presented through a sympathetic socially inept character....women as a gender should not engage in it because it is demeaning and crude.

But perhaps the sharpest challenge to our presumptions regarding sameness and difference came from Orah: the "favorite artistic genre" question should illuminate a certain aspect of the diversity in our classroom.... Moraga's words (DO NOT CALL ME SISTER) speak to a rejection of the "Women" community. ...some of us are inclined to see our classroom as homogenous...why is our first inclination to notice the absence of men, rahter than the presence of our diversity. we've whitewash ourselves into thinking that we are first the same (women). we are the practitioners of a sexist are NOT my sisters. ((is that insulting? were you stung while reading that? why is it insulting to label someone as Other from oneself?...why is it hurtful to acknowledge distance between? and is it our project to lessen that difference? (not a rhetorical question.))

One answer, from Sandra Cisneros:

It wasn't until Iowa and the writers' Workshop that I began writing in the voice I now write in, and, perhaps if it hadn't been for iowa I wouldn't have made the conscious decision to write this way. It seems crazy, but until Iowa I had never felt my home, family, and neighborhood unique or worthy of writing about I took for granted the homes around me, the women sitting at their windows, the strange speech of my neighbors, the extraordinary lives of my family and relatives which was nothing like the family in "Father Knows Best." I only knew that for the first time in my life i felt "other." What could I write about that my classmates, cultivated in the finest schools in the country like hot house orchids, could not? My second-rate imitations of mainstream voices wouldn't do. And imitating my classmates wouldn't work either. That was their voice, not mine. What could I write about that they couldn't? What did I know that they didn't?

During a seminar titled "On Memory and the Imagination" when the class was heatedly discussing Gustav Bachelard's Poetics of Space and the metaphor of a house--a house, a house,, it hit me. What did I know except third floor flats. Surely my classmates knew nothing about that. That's precisely what I chose to write; about third-floor flats, and fear of rats, and drunk husbands sending rocks through windows, anything as far from the poetry as possible. And this is when I discovered the voice I'd been suppressing all along without realizing it.
Sandra Cisneros, "Ghosts and Voices," From a Writer's Notebook, Americas Review 15, 1 (1987)

Cisneros' reverie and depiction of house differ markedly from Bachelard's poetic space of house. With Bachelard we note a house conceived in terms of a male-centered ideology. A man born in the upper crust family house, probably never having to do "female" housework and probably never having been confined to the house for reason of his sex, can easily contrive state of reveries and images of a house that a woman might not have, especially an impoverished woman raised in a ghetto. Thus, for Bachelard the house is an image of "felicitous space...the house shelters daydreaming, the house protects the dreamer, then house allows one to dream in peace...A house constitutes body of images that give mankind proofs or illusions of stability." Cisneros inverts Bachelard' s nostalgic and privileged utopia, for her's is a different reality...Cisneros inverts Bachelard's pronouncement on the poetics of space; for Cisneros the inside, the here, can be confinement and source of anguish and alienation....
Julian Olivares, "Sandra Cisneros' The House on Mango Street, and the Poetics of Space." Chicana Creativity and Criticism, Heverva-Sobek and Viramontes, Eds. Arte Publico, 1988.

So...still on the table:
why should we (should we?)
study men in a feminist course?

Should we invite men to the table?

Some history, from Feminisms: An Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism (1997):
Some readers may feel that...a book called Feminisms should not even concern itself with "men." The semantic difficulties of even asking this question are illustrative. Does it mean 'What place do male critics have in feminism' or 'What place do men as subjects have in feminism'? or could it mean 'What does feminism have to offer toward coming to a clearer understanding of men?'....

After Elaine Showalter proposed the idea of gynocriticism (the study of female-authored texts and women-centered issues), work on male-authored texts and male-centered issues almost disappeared from feminist criticism. In the last few years, though, we have seen the beginning of 'gender theory'; an analysis that, working from feminist criticism, takes gender as a, if not the, decisive factor in literary meaning. Since feminist critics have argued convincingly that gender differences are constructed differences, the reasoning goes, shouldn't that mean stereotypical masculinity is as constructed--and as deforming--as stereotypical femininity? The result is a new way so examining texts, as a way of looking at 'masculinity' as a product of patriarchy that is potentially as damaging to those subjected to it as is 'femininity.' 'Gender theory' does not see men as simply perpetrators of sexual oppression, but as themselves victims of it....

Skeptical feminist critics ask whether gender studies are not just a way to re-legitimate traditionally male-dominated literary studies. Proponents argue that it is an expansion of feminist criticism that genuinely recognizes the discursive, constructed nature of patriarchal gender norms, a necessary step if we are ever to realign oppressive gender politics....

[For example, male studies] reveal the the real anxiety behind the surface story of Oedipus, "a vulnerable man caught in the middle of a story that he has indeed helped create but cannot control--caught, as it were, with his pants down, his fallacies exposed, his repressive efforts showed for the ineffectual cover-up they are..."

But: are they particularly MALE?
Is "maleness" the category that counts here?
Or does using it as an analytic category (as per Ortner) just "mystify"?

(Oedipus, from Alter Ego: Robert Crockett)

(Jimmy Corrigan, for sale)

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