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Conflicting ideologies, converging identities: the masculinity-disability dilemma

28 Apr

Source: Wiki Media Commons

It’s been documented by both gender and disability scholars (see: Shuttleworth et al; Shuttleworth; Shakespeare; Gerschick and Miller) that masculinity and disability ideology conflict. To be clear, by disability ideology, I mean the medical view which pathologizes disability as a curative illness or defect of person and considers permanent or chronic limitations to function as misfortune and abnormality. Disability, in this view, is associated with fragile bodies and weak minds and persons with disabilities are assumed to be helpless and dependent. This should be distinguished from the social model which defines disability as a social-historical construction that is, at its core, grounded in fear and misunderstanding of difference, and becomes justification for ongoing material as well as attitudinal barriers to persons with impairments. Despite this being the dominant view held by the disability community at-large the medical model has permeated popular discourse and practice leading some scholars (see: Couser; Murphy; Mairs) to believe that disability, in this view, has the power to trump other identities like gender. In-effect, disability is assigned the position of Other and masculinity, autonomous, able-bodied, and strong-minded, is it’s opposite. Thus it follows, men with disabilities are perhaps confronted by an ultimate contradiction in status which beg important questions about subjectivity, the self and identity expression. My PhD dissertation (though in the early stages) explores these ideas from the perspective of blindness. This blog is the first of a two-part piece based on an interview I had with Will Reilly*, a young blind man living in NYC. Part one will focus on masculinity and disability and part two will introduce the significance of visual impairment, gender and contemporary (visual) culture. Continue reading

Boobs, branding and bravado served up with a side of wings: it’s what happens when the worst of American pop-culture collides

31 Mar
Jeff Fusco-Getty Images

Jeff Fusco-Getty Images

Another annual Philadelphia chicken wing-bowl has come and gone, apparently. I wasn’t even aware of the event until my husband stumbled upon a BBC article about it. It is, or was in the past, exactly what one might imagine, a chicken-wing eating contest. As with pies, pancakes and hotdogs, wings are another popular favorite among America’s competitive eaters. To be honest I’m not particularly bothered by people who competitively eat or eating contests in general but I still have no burning desire to attend witness either. The wing bowl however, has morphed into more than your run-of-the mill eating competition. What one ESPN journalist called the ‘the worst event ever’ and what a Philly journalist described as a ‘ gigantic boozy frat ‘n’ bachelor party at a disgusting strip joint that just happens, one night, to hold an eating contest’, the wing bowl is what happens when the worst of American culture collides in a stadium-sized space. Participants and, by default, champs are mostly men, unsurprisingly. Sure, women go to this event and this years winner happened to be a woman but let’s face it, meat, men and competition do go together in the psyche like a triptych.

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Girls, Boys, Booz and Bad Behavior

26 Feb

Source: The Independent onlineMost people are familiar with celebrity personal trainer Jillian Michaels’. Like most A-listers these days she’s investing in everything including a podcast where she doles out pop-culture-style advice about how to live in a healthy body. You know, the kind that really tries to be armchair psychology more than anything else. In a recent episode titled Girls and Booz she responds with moral fervor to the Emily Yoffe Slate article College Women: Stop Getting Drunk which discusses the relationship between rising rates of college binge drinking, particularly among young women, and female sexual assault. Yoffe’s main point is that rising rates of sexual assault on college campuses might be a reflection of our failure as family, friends, teachers (presumably more experienced folk) to tell young women that when they ‘render themselves defenseless [by getting wasted to point of incapacitation] terrible things can be done to them’ [sexual assault]. Michaels’, in agreement with Yoffe, adds that young women who choose to dress sexy in situations where heavy drinking is likely to happen are ultimately ‘playing with fire’ or ‘putting themselves directly in harms way’.

Both women suggest that, as a society, we’ve become reluctant to make girls and women responsible for their reckless behavior because it might resemble blame should something awful happen. All of this urgently calls for major changes in how we educate young people (but really girls) about self respect and bodily responsibility. Michaels, a parent to a son and a daughter, says that this should start in the home. I don’t disagree. Education is an integral part of any sort of prevention and of course family life is a fundamental part of how we come to know ourselves and the world. What we’re taught in the home can unwittingly be as much a part of the problem as it is the solution though. Michaels’ claims that she’s wants her daughter to know that she doesn’t have to cheapen herself [with compromising behavior like provocative dress and binge drinking] to get attention and she wants her son to know that true male power and prowess ‘…is being able to sleep with a girl because she wants to’. Hmm.

Heavy drinking can cause both men and women to behave in ways that are potentially detrimental but men are almost expected to get to that dangerous state of drunkenness where doing something inappropriate to another or themselves becomes even more likely. In the last few months a social media drinking ‘game’ has surfaced in Ireland and the U.K., claiming the lives of several young men. The idea behind ‘neknomination’, as it’s called, is to accept the dare to ‘neck’ or down a pint of alcohol while being recorded so that it can be uploaded online. Dares, which become increasingly dangerous as a way to one-up the next, are passed back and forth on a given night resulting in the consumption of very high volumes of alcohol over a relatively short period of time. There’s even a Facebook page dedicated to it. Judging by the spate of online videos and images it’s something that appeals more to men than women, but women are still participating. This sort of thing is an example of what Yoffe is referencing when she argues in her article that matching men drink for drink has been turned into an expression of feminism among young women. Unfortunately, both she and Michaels take a position that is all too familiar in that it heavy-handedly makes the reality of drink-related risk a burden that women must disproportionately manage or mitigate. More to the point, they fall into the paradigmatic trap that ‘boys will be boys’ and therefore it’s girls that must change.

What it means to be a ‘real man’ or put another way, boys just being boys, is in everything. This gets into our language and informs our practice by adapting itself to a number of moral arguments (like this one). Unfortunately it’s less the social exception and more the rule to the extent that it can infiltrate our perspective without us even seeing it. For example, Michaels’ wants her son to grow up to be a man who respects women but at the same time she believes there’s a fine line between being a good man and being emasculated. Her son’s ability to understand this concerns her because of his familial environment. He has two mommies, a female nanny, an older sister and a very involved grandmother. What she’s saying without actually saying it is that being surrounded by mostly women might result in him being more feminine and by direct consequence, less good (i.e. manly). This historical idea that what is good is masculine and what is truly masculine is good is at the heart of the bigger gender disparity issue at-play that permeates Western culture from above and below. It’s tired and frustrating and although it’s a root in a decaying tree that’s losing the stability to sustain itself, its remaining strength is reinforced by Michaels’ and many others who so badly want to be part of the solution but just end up being more of the same and by default, part of the problem.

Further reading:

Bachman, R. and Peralta, R. (2002) The relationship between drinking and violence in an adolescent population: does gender matter?, Deviant Behavior, 23(1) pp. 1-19

Cowley, A. D. (2013) “Let’s Get Drunk and Have Sex”: The Complex Relationship of Alcohol, Gender, and Sexual Victimization, Journal of interpersonal violence, 0886260513506289

Herman-Kinney, N. J. and Kinney, D. A. (2013) Sober as Deviant The Stigma of Sobriety and How Some College Students “Stay Dry” on a “Wet” Campus, Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 42(1) pp. 64-103

Messman-Moore, T. L., Ward, R. M. and DeNardi, K. A. (2013) The Impact of Sexual Enhancement Alcohol Expectancies and Risky Behavior on Alcohol-Involved Rape Among College Women, Violence against women, 19(4) pp. 449-464

Miller, K. E., Melnick, M. J., Farrell, M. P., Sabo, D. F. and Barnes, G. M. (2006) Jocks, gender, binge drinking, and adolescent violence, Journal of interpersonal violence, 21(1) pp. 105-120

Embodying the masculine and feminine in auto-portraiture: a case for mediating personal worlds with visual technology

12 Jan
courtesy of  Station Independent Projects

courtesy of Station Independent Projects

Images are said to evoke deeper elements of awareness than words are because apparently the parts of the brain that process images are older than the parts that process verbal information (Harper, 2002). If you think about it, it does make some sense when you consider that we have been using symbols longer than language to communicate. I love words, sharing them, exchanging them and rearranging them. Everything about words excites me but images, photographs in particular, have the ability to seduce me. They can take me somewhere else entirely. Some images have made such a visceral impression on me over the years that I make time to recall them. Visual anthropologists and sociologists have used photo elicitation and production techniques in their research for a number of years. The former is the practice of inserting photographs into an interview or focus group in order to draw out different kinds of data whereas the latter is the collaborative practice of using (mainly) participant-generated photographs as a primary source of data collection.

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Gender and the Body par excellence: Countenance, Consumption and Control

11 Dec

Michaelangelo's Man

Westerners, Americans especially, are fixated with the body but, person-to-person we generally don’t admit it for fear of looking fatuous, superficial, or overly emotional. It should be said that our fixation is much more than simply narcissistic. The social body of America has long since been thought of as a reflection of the individual body which conveys something definitive and substantive about the person. Bodies are self-defining, they’re markers of status and sources of cultural capital. Thus, we have all kinds of logical motivations for investing so much of our mental and physical bandwidth on the way we look and function.

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Guinness, ‘made of more’ or just more of the same?

8 Nov

Beer commercials aren’t typically known for their deep and meaningful messages, but a recent Guinness commercial has taken a different approach. In sum, it features a group of fit, happy-looking men in wheelchairs playing basketball. Toward the end of the ad, all but one of them stand up out of their wheelchairs before they all head to the pub to share a pint. This all takes place against the backdrop of sentimental music and inspirational narrative about dedication, loyalty, and friendship, concluding tagline: ‘made of more’. A number of online media outlets have written positive appraisals of the ad describing it as ”a touching sensation’ (MSN Money) that will ‘make your heart melt (HuffPost); ‘give you goosebumps’ (USA Today Sports); and ‘make you tear up’ (IndyStar). One outlet in particular, Business Insider, suggests that Guinness stands out from the competition by promoting a brand of masculinity that ‘breaks the industry stereotype’. Most beer advertising tends to depict men as irresponsible juveniles with only hot chicks and cold beer on the brain or as meat heads jocks with only hot chicks and cold beer on the brain. Guinness, on the other hand, has crafted a message that suggests that beer drinking sports-men can be sensitive and strong at the same time. This advertising approach works for Guinness in-part because of it having a reputation as a drink of the people and one that hails to make you stronger (see early ‘Guinness for Strength’ ads). Continue reading

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