I enjoyed this article: “The Dynamics of Gender Hegemony: Femininities, Masculinities and Social Change” by Shelley Budgeon very much. I’ve always found the argument that gender is simply a construct to make a lot of valid points. This actually would have come in handy for my mid-term essay too (a little too late!).
While the article very much does acknowledge that gender and gender roles are a social construct, it also makes a very interesting point that we cannot simply abolish this construct: “The social production of difference is not neutral for as long as women and men see themselves as different kinds of people women will not expect to occupy a similar position within social structures and ‘therein lies the power of gender’” (318). This is essentially saying that regardless of feminism and the desire to be equal, as long as we still see ourselves as different, we will not truly strive to be treated the same.
The article also goes on to explain that: “There is no femininity that is hegemonic in the sense that the dominant form of masculinity is hegemonic among men because all forms of femininity in this society are constructed in the context of the overall subordination of women to men” (322). Women are so trained to be subordinate to men that anything beyond that doesn’t really matter and there is no hierarchy of women. This reminded me of the idea that girls need to stick together. So many times in my life I have been told that women need to stick together and support each other. This idea reinforces that idea that women are all on the same level and that the level is below men.
The article talks about sexuality for awhile which was very interesting to me. Heterosexuality was described as: “Schippers argues that heterosexuality is normatively constituted as a naturalized relation of male active dominance and female passive receptivity” (323). This kind of struck me the wrong way. I understand where it is coming from, but heterosexual sexual relations do not always fit this mold. Women are not always simply passive receivers and to express it like that makes it seems almost unconsensual. When women do not fit this mold they are met with stigmas and double-standards.
The discussion of Dutch school children was very interesting to me. I had heard that some countries were making great strides towards eliminating gender pronoun, etc but I found this examination of school children to be very enlightening as well. The fact that the way we currently distinguish people is old school to them now is a bit concerning and I think it should be a red flag that it is time for a change.
October 20, 2014
Dr. Joyce Rain Anderson
I found "The Dynamics of Gender Hegemony: Feminities, Masculinities and Social Change" by Shelley Budgeon difficult to get through. I felt that she delved so deep into the perceptions of gender and the differences that I am afraid she lost me in some places. "This article examines how shifts in idealized gender constructions affect the social construction of gender as a relation of contemporary differences," (318). To me, this says she will be discussing how genders are different in relation to contemporary views in society. "To explore these patterns I review research that focuses on the ideational constructions defining forms of contemporary femininity and the relationship that emerging 'new feminities' have idealized constructions of masculinity," (318). Is this saying that she is researching femininity and how it contains elements of masculinity?
Something I don't understand is the gender binary. Why is it so wrong to be one gender? I am a female and I embrace that part of me. I am biologically made up differently from a male and I don't consider that a "bad" thing. I feel like in a lot of scholarship debating gender, the idea of identifying as male OR female is deemed as something we need to change in society. Of course I understand that social construction and social norms, such as patriarchy and unequal rights are ranpid issues that need to be addressed and solved. However, having a "gendered body" is something that everyone has, either they want to escape it or not. Even if you identify as a different gender than you were born, you are still "gendered" as whatever sex you identify with. I don't think having bodies gender neutral is a good idea. I think there are certain aspects of males and females that are different and can be embraced.
As woman, of course I want to be treated equal, I want equal rights and privileges. But I also want to be seen and identified as a female because I am proud that I am one. I may have gone off track, since as I said, this article had sections that were difficult for me to grasp. I hope we go over it in class.
19 October 2014
Dr. Joyce Rain Anderson
“Branding Teena: (Mis)Representations in the Media”
Annabelle Willox’s article “Branding Teena: (Mis)Representations in the Media” discusses the complexity of transgender and transsexual identities and how these identities are conceptualized, policed, and denied (or sometimes affirmed) through rhetoric. Willox explores these issues through the lens of the popular mainstream film Boys Don’t Cry by Kimberly Peirce. Notably, this film depicts the true story of Brandon Teena, whose identity did not conform to the societal “norm” and challenges the assumed gender binary; and ultimately, Brandon lost his life as a result of these complexities and how they were received by others. Willox attempts to reconcile Brandon’s story and how it was represented within the film after his death both by reviewing the film as a text itself as well as the media’s discussions of Brandon. Willox’s text follows her thought process as she tries to contextualize and explore these concepts, which ultimately reveals how muddled these discussions can get.
As of writing, I have not yet seen Peirce’s Boys Don’t Cry, although it is an assigned film for my Queer Cinema class that I will be required to watch in a few weeks. I have many friends who place themselves on the LGBTQIA spectrum, and a few of them identify themselves as transgender or nonbinary. I had mentioned this film to them during lunch recently, and how it was required for my film class, only to receive an almost unanimous groan. They all seemed to feel the weight of the film bearing down on them, as if Boys Don’t Cry was not an accurate or positive representation of what they have experienced. After reading Willox’s discussion of the film and the media reactions, I began to understand why my friends felt this way. The emphasis on pronoun use was particularly enlightening to me, as I have become familiar with the importance of pronouns within the transgender community. The examples of pronoun misuse media discussion of Boys Don’t Cry seemed to represent the extent of ignorance or sheer confusion that exists within the media as well as society. I was intensely uncomfortable with the inconsistencies of pronouns and gender identity among film critics; for instance, Wheelwright’s discussion of Brandon that says, “Brandon looked just like a regular guy with ‘his’ thin face… Since her death, her family have refused permission to reprint her picture.” To me, this showed how unaware or unconcerned critics were with maintaining an accurate and respectful representation of Brandon.
Ultimately, Willox’s text expresses how obsessed the media is with gender binaries and maintaining them, as well as how often they feel entitled to police bodies and identities. Brandon died, presumably because of these gender binaries and the ignorance (and anger) the general public holds about maintaining them. After the fact, Brandon was “commemorated” with an award-winning film and yet it seems no one has learned anything from this. The abundance of identity policing signifies to me how absorbed people are with defining bodies, even those of ones who have died. Willox continually discusses the “truth” of Brandon’s body, and yet, I wonder why this truth is such a focus. While Brandon’s identity was surely important to him and played a significant role in his murder, his identity is unique to him – to me, the obsession with defining what his identity was seems disrespectful and rude. More so, Brandon symbolizes an unfortunate reality in which transgender and nonbinary identities are violated through the media, even in death, and even such a “simple” thing such as rhetoric can cause these violations. The “truth” of Brandon’s body is that his body was murdered, and this was and still is a tragedy. Until the media is more willing to focus on the tragedy rather than the semantics of it all, I fear that nothing will change. I fear that transgender and nonbinary people will continue to face these issues of rhetoric that attempt to police them (such as the more recent discussion of actress Laverne Cox’s identity on news programs, such as Katie Couric’s show) through the same invasive violations of privacy. And most of all, I fear for my friends.
October 20, 2014
Dr. Joyce Rain Anderson
Once I seen that we were reading about gender and femininity I cringed a little bit. I am all about women empowerment and I do share a lot of values with hardcore feminists but I also find some of their views a little too over the top for me. For instance, one thing Shelley Budgeon says is, “Second-wave feminism challenged gender inequality by ‘de-naturalizing’ and resituating the feminine within social relations of power, thereby revealing mechanisms through which socially devalued characteristics came to define the substance of the feminine. Practices which produced conventional femininity such as beautification, fashion and domesticity and their association with passivity, submissiveness and superficiality made femininity an object of feminist suspicion and denunciation”. Why is it a problem that women enjoy fashion and making themselves look pretty? I see nothing wrong with that type of value falling with femininity. However I do agree with the passivity and domesticity. I do not believe a woman should be passive they should be able to speak their mind and say exactly how the feel. As for domesticity, its 2014, that value belongs to males and females. If you want a house and family you have to do the work that comes with it.
I enjoyed the part about 90’s girl power. I was born in 1992 and I have a sister who is six years older than me so I was introduced to this idea as I was growing up in the 90s with her. This is probably why my own personal views on feminism are different than the traditional feminists’. Budgeon writes, “A high powered, confident, and glamorous femininity representing the ‘modernization’ of gender has emerged as part of a cultural process in which women are invited to formulate their self-understandings around the twin poles of traditional feminine pleasures on the one hand, and embracing self-entitlement, self-reliance and individual freedom on the other”. This quote seems to be more on my wave length of thought. I take the quote to be saying that women should be powerful, confident and glamorous. Also that they can be who and what they want, this could mean being a person ho indulges in fine clothing and beautiful make up or be the complete opposite. It does not matter as long as they are happy.
I did also find the “Branding Teena” article interesting. Mostly because Boys Don’t Cry is one of my favorite movies. The article did lose me in some parts and obviously did not grab my attention like the other one because I am not gay or transsexual. So it was harder for me to identify with it. However I do know that people should not be judged based up sexuality or gender. It is nobody’s business but that person. It crushed me at the end of the movie when Brandon gets killed and not only because it’s a movie and they are created for you to feel empathy but because I know that this really happened and people like Brandon still undergo cruel treatment makes me sick.
Professor Joyce Anderson
October 19, 2014
“The Dynamics of Gender Hegemony” and “Branding Teena”
Within the article, “The Dynamics of Gender Hegemony: Femininities, Masculinities and Social Change” Shelley Budgeon discusses the differences in gender roles. It depicts different points of views of how the terms masculinity and femininity should be defined. Everyone has different views of how gender should be defined. Budgeon writes, “by defining gender as practice Connell appears to suggest ‘masculinity becomes “what men and boys do”, and femininity the other of that” (323). Since we don’t have a clear picture about what men and boys actually do, this presents a big problem. One can’t begin to define a category as large as a gender without going into detail. Also, it isn’t true that femininity is the opposite of masculinity. Women and men may appear different from afar, but they have a lot in common. Each person is very different and each possesses different qualities. Women aren’t completely different from men, and shouldn’t be treated as such. Even though the masculinity definition is so vague, not even bothering to give femininity a full definition isn’t fair or equal.
The second article we read, “Branding Teena: (Mis)Representations in the Media” by Annabelle Willox talks about the murder of Teena Brandon, which has been created into a film called Boys Don’t Cry. Teena Brandon, who was from Falls City, Nebraska, inverted her name to Brandon Teena. Her secret was eventually discovered and two local men murdered her. The author writes, “as with the reports about the murder investi- gation, the worry here is that Brandon will be misrepresented as a cross- dresser, rather than, as Gabriel believes, a transsexual” (414). It is really important for the correct terminology to be used when describing a person’s gender identity. While Brandon never explicitly states what his gender identity is, it is still not good to categorize someone in a place that isn’t accurate. Calling someone a cross dresser implies that the person just likes to dress in the opposite sex’s clothing. It has even been viewed as negative and could be considered an insult in certain contexts.
In the article Gender Hegemony I thought that it was interesting that they talked about gender ideals and how they have changed over time. Things have definitely changed over time. I’m glad that people are no longer necessarily held back by as many gender ideals as they used to be. There definitely are still some that are out there but there are no longer quite as many. Hopefully some day we will progress to a point where there aren’t any at all to hold anyone back. I also liked the part in the article where it said “In the social construction of gender, it does not matter what men and women actually do; it does not even matter if they do exactly the same thing. The social institution of gender insists only that what they do is perceived as different.” This is a good point. People can do something and not necessarily see it as doing something different but the way that society perceives it could be that they are doing something completely different for their gender. I mean it really doesn’t matter; it is just the way that it is perceived by society as a whole. That is how gender roles were created in the first place. Society is what decided these roles are masculine and these roles are feminine and they are the ones who decided to do things to enforce it to keep it that way. I am glad that we are much more lenient about it now because I enjoy a good deal of things that are deemed masculine. The things that I choose to do with my time would most likely have been frowned upon in past society. I can’t even imagine being forced to do gender related things that I did not actually enjoy.
Reading the article Branding Teena interested me right away when it mentioned the fact that there had been murders but once I got to the part about why Brandon Teena was murdered I was kind of horrified. When the article first started I had no idea what it was going to be about. I thought that it had just been three people were murdered and that the one the movie was based off of was a boy. I mean the name of the movie is Boy Don’t Cry so I naturally assumed. But to find out that it was a girl that was going by the alias of a guy was a little bit of a shock. Especially the way that that was brought up so casually in the article. It was the summary of the movie and the way they did it made it sound like Brandon was a bad person. They made it sound like her whole intention was to seduce women into lesbian experiences against their knowledge or something. The fact that people looked at her and decided that she needed to be killed because she was a woman passing herself off as a guy is just ridiculous. Sure she seduced some women but seduced makes it sound as though they agreed to it. It’s not like she raped them or anything. So what is the problem exactly? They killed her because her sexuality did not match up with the ideals of sexuality in society. No one knew whether Brandon was just a lesbian that wanted to be treated as a man or whether she wanted to actually become one but either way it shouldn’t necessarily matter. She was doing what made her happy and it did not seem like she was necessarily hurting anyone. Sure she lied about her gender but people lie about things all the time. If every person that lied got murdered then we would no longer have any people on this planet. Everyone lies at some point or other whether it is a big lie or a small lie. It still happens and no one really needs to be murdered for it.
I found “The Tattoos of Epimenides” by Page DuBois to make some very interesting points about being different in society. While I do feel as though it got a bit dredged down in the middle with stories, I was still able to find quite a bit of relevant and relatable content throughout the text.
Immediately, when the text began discussing freak shows, I thought of the new American Horror Story season. The text made an interesting point that only one man, the tattooed Cirassian, made the conscious choice to become one of these “freaks”. Everyone else was in that position due to some sort deformity or as a result of their country of origin. I think that it is important to note this, as there has to be some reason that this man chose to join this group of people, when he potentially could have successfully assimilated himself into society.
I found the discussion of removing Epimenides’ skin on page 68 to be extremely relevant to our discussions in class. The skin is referred to as: “The border between inside and outside, the garment in which the body is concealed, the part of the body that others see” (68). This enforces the idea that while skin makes up the body that society sees and judges one by, it is simply a layer and our true body and true self reside within that skin. Page compares the tattoos to his true body, his poetry, emerging through his skin. It is an interesting and thought-provoking way to think about tattoos.
Page claims that our societal obsession with norms, and our fixation on that which is abnormal, perhaps means that we desire to embrace abnormality (70). It can be argued that those who are abnormal are actually better off than those of us who strive constantly to fit in. They are released from that struggle, and due to that, can be considered “divinely marked persons whose abnormal, unnatural capacities freed them from constraints to which all other mortal beings are subject” (71).
In this work, DuBois makes an important point that we must open our eyes and consider the possibilities that being different does not necessarily mean something negative. Some people, such as those with a plethora of tattoos, strive to achieve this difference and to stand out amongst the crowd. Perhaps the group of “freaks” who have decided (or been forced to) abandon their attempts to fit in and meet norms are a more welcoming group than the “normal” people who are always concerned with keeping up appearances.
October 21, 2014
Dr. Joyce Rain Anderson
“Tattoos of Epimenides” is actually a more relevant article to our society than it may seem. Although the essay discussing, in length, the false portrayal of an ancient Greek man due to the ink on his skin, there are many lessons and observations we in the 21st century can gather from it. The author states in the beginning of the article that they are interested in “the stranger, in the slippage between the abnormal and the unnatural, in people who deliberately set themselves outside of the norm, choose to be abnormal, in order to be unnatural,” (57). I thought this was an interesting statement, one I found myself agreeing with. I too am interested in why some people deliberately choose to make themselves unapproachable to others by what they do with their bodies. A lot of it comes down to style and clothing choices. I am all for using clothing and your own physical features to express a part of you or as a way to present yourself to the world. However, I am always confused as to why some people want to deter people from them. Of course, it is all a matter of opinion. What I find unattractive, many others may find beautiful. I think it is this idea that has made things like tattoos and pierces a topic o f conversation. Some people think they are beautiful and some people are repulsed by them. (Sidenote: I like the quote on page 68, about Epimendies being a man who embodies his poetry. I think that is why most people get tattoos, because it is something they feel so strongly about on the inside, they need to find a way to constantly express it on the outside.)
There is also a stigma that goes along with people who have tattoos and pierces. We made assumptions about people right away. The usual and stereotypical assumption about tattooed and pierced people is that they are rejects of society, troublemakers and sometimes even as far as assumptions about their character or ability to hold a job. The article discusses these “outcasts” as “monsters,” which I found kind of startling because monster has such a strong connotation of horror and fear. Are we as a society that afraid of those rejecting social norms? If that is the case, then why? This is something I am really interested in and I hope we discuss in class.
Dr. Joyce Rain Anderson
22 October 2014
“The Tattoos of Epimenides”
“The Tattoos of Epimenides” tells the story of Epimenides, who fell asleep while on a task for his father, and slept for fifty-seven years. He is said to be favored by the gods because when he woke, he looked just as young as he did all those years earlier. The author mentions “The Spartans were beholden to Epimenides because he had prophesized the victory of the Arcadians over Sparta, so they were appropriate keepers of his body, or rather, perhaps, of his skin, which was discovered to be tattooed with letters” (67). I think this description is vastly different than one would describe tattoos today. Tattoos aren’t really looked at as a sign of respect today. But, from this section of the article, I see that is what the Spartans did. As time moved forward, tattoos began to get associated with the “freak shows” as the article points out. Now, most people will get tattoos, and while some get them just because they like a design, there are few who only get a meaningful pattern. My cousin got her brother’s name tattooed on her wrist when he passed away a many years ago. This was so she would always remember him, and he would always be a part of her life. People have all different opinions of tattoos today. There are some who think tattoos are gross, while there are others who love them.
Within the article, it is said “the tattooing makes the free Epimenides abnormal in relation to other free men, since tattoos in antiquity were later usually associated with barbarians and slaves” (69). I think it is strange how the idea of tattoos so abruptly changes in history. There is one moment where tattoos are special and unique, and then later changes so the tattoos become associated with crime and hatred. Slaves were often tattooed with marks of possession or punishment for disobedience of attempting to run away from their masters.
With Epimenides, people later viewed him as abnormal, maybe monstrous due to the many tattoos on his body. But, he wasn’t viewed as a criminal in any means. Epimenides was still viewed as a hero, standing above all the other free men. This was because of his wisdom, powers, and long life with the ability to return to the living after death. They associated tattoos with being not normal.
I think society always try to make people with tattoos seem like they aren’t as smart or successful as the person without tattoos. But, most often than not, these tattoos are hidden beneath many layers of clothing, which will probably never be revealed to most people. The tattoos are only on the skin; they don’t affect a person’s inner characteristics, personality, or their ability to perform certain tasks.
October 20, 2014
Response to “The Tattoos of Epimenides”
I found this article difficult to read. I understood the concept, but the introduction didn't quite grab my attention, which made it more difficult to stay focused throughout the article. I did find many parts of the interesting, however. I enjoyed that the article tied in to our conversation about freak shows. While reading about these people was interesting, it is disturbing to think about how these human beings were exploited like animals in a zoo. Personally, I do not think animals should be exploited in a zoo, either. I love visiting the zoo as much as anyone else, but I can not help but feel a little sad that these animals are forced to live in a cage for their entire life and guilty for enjoying and encouraging this practice.
I am not sure if the people who were hired to be attractions in the freak shows were payed or not, but these shows, despite how degrading they were to the people involved, gave an opportunity to these people that may not have been available in society due to their abnormalities. The article mentions “armless and legless wonders” and Siamese twins as some of the people included in the show. Today, the government provides financial assistance to people who are disabled, but I am not sure about back then. These shows provided a form of employment for these people.
I am disturbed by the fact that humans are unable and unwilling to accept something different than what is socially constructed to be “normal.” Normal is a relative term that varies across cultures and different parts of the world. White people made black people slaves and slaughtered Native Americans because they looked different than them, which made them abnormal and automatically inferior to them. Meanwhile both of these groups were considered normal in their cultures. Nobody fulfills absolutely every aspect of what is considered normal. Everyone has something whether physically, emotionally, or mentally, that is considered different or “abnormal.” This is why these freak shows bother me. They are designed to exploit human beings' abnormalities to make other human beings feel better about their abnormalities. It is hypocritical,degrading and, simply not right.
The article points out that being “unnatural” or different can be considered a positive thing as well, such as women helping with tasks that are typically performed by men or by aiding in wars. This, however, is a not necessarily true. As we learned in previous articles. Women were encouraged to work while the men were away at war, but when they returned they were not seen as hero or competant; they were told to go back home and be a housewife. Being different in a positive way did not yeild positive results for these women. This was failed to be mentioned in the article.
While freak shows are not prevalent anymore, being different from the rest of the crowd or a minority is still not beneficial. Even in the case of women, where, at least in the United States, they are the majority, they are still treated as inferior to men. People need to have more of an open mind and a broader definiton of what “normal” is.
I found “‘Breathe Upon Us an Even Flame’: Hephaestus, History, and the Body of Rhetoric” by Jay Dolmage to be very interesting. I think that even though it is focused on a particular Greek God and concepts of disability rhetoric, it makes many points that are applicable to all types of rhetorics in all time periods, including the present day.
I thought it was interesting choice on the part of the Greeks to create a God with a physical disability. This seems (to be totally frank) to be something that would only take place nowadays to be “politically correct”. I think that it really speaks volumes about the Greeks that they made this choice. As Dolmage says, “his disability is his ability” (122). Due to his disability, which affects his feet, he has the power to do things that people with normal feet cannot. The article explores a bit about the different ways in which he is portrayed – sometimes with his disability, sometimes with a very strong upper body to indicate his labor and strength.
I particularly appreciated a quote by Hahn that Dolmage uses as a header of sorts. This is: “Humans have always exercised the right to make choices about the anatomical features that they consider desirable or interesting, and, at times, these options have included rather than excluded women and men with disabilities” (122). This sums up what I had been thinking about Hephaestus. His disability is embraced honestly, and I think that it is so important from a rhetorical standpoint. And this was a conscious choice by someone to make a Greek God with this disability who very clearly overcomes it and is not held back by it.
Throughout the article it is emphasized that Hephaestus embodies metis. This is another concept that was very important to the interpretation of his rhetoric, but one that I found to be a bit more difficult. It is a type of intelligence that unifies the mind and body, from what I can tell. It comes with experience in the world. It was described in so many different ways and applied to so many things that I got a bit lost in it’s meaning, however. Essentially it a cunning intelligence that Hephaestus exemplifies that allows him to overcome his disability.
October 27, 2014
Critical Response: The Tattoos of Epimenides and “Breathe Upon Us an Even Flame”
These readings connect with each other because they both address the abnormal and how they present to be ‘different’ within the norm of our societies and cultures as they show the difference within the body that we are used to identifying within society.
The reading “the Tattoos of Epimenides” discussed “freaks” and freak shows. In the article it talked about the nineteenth century where freak shows portrayed a range of strangeness. The extraordinary bodies displayed in the show included the conjoined twins, “wild en of Borneo, fat ladies, living skeletons, Fiji princes, albinos, bearded women, Siamese twins, tattooed Circassians, armless and legless wonders, Chinese giants, cannibals, midget triplets, hermaphrodites, spotted boys, and much more.” These bodies were considered to be out of the ordinary and were labeled as “freak.” In the freak shows human beings were viewed with fascination and disgust, wonder and horror. The reading defined “freak” as “monster.” To some viewers, the abnormalities of these human beings may be considered monstrous, however; these are people and their bodies are different than the expected norm of society. Thinking about the body and what is considered normal varies from different cultures, societies, and traditions. If someone was to grow up around a freak show they would see the abnormal to be normal because that is what they are used to seeing. Within our own society we don’t normally see what would be considered to be abnormal people on a daily basis. Since the abnormality would be different from a culture or society, the people who follow the rules and culture in that society would establish that person as a freak and they would be unfit to pursuit a life within the society, making it hard for them to find a place. Freak shows were a place where they could be accepted in a different society.
The reading “Breathe Upon Us an Even Flame”: Hephaestus, History, and the Body of Rhetoric by Jay Dolmage discusses rhetorical history and the mythical figure of Hephaestus. The Greek God, Hephaestus, had a physical disability. His body was celebrated because of his intelligence. Disabilities are viewed by some people who think a disability defined by a person. There are stereotypes that follow disabilities such as “deaf and dumb.” A person can have a hearing loss, but it would not affect how they think, or act. The disability does not label them because they have lost an ability to hear. Having a disability does not define the person’s abilities or puts a limit to what they can do. Often disabilities are considered to hold people back from accomplishing everyday tasks. The article shows that a Greek God with a disability was held to the same level of respect as other God’s that were not considered disable. Hephaestus appears “able-bodied” although he rides a chariot with wings symbolizing a wheel-chair. I liked how this article addressed the topic of disabilities and showed that a disability is something that does not limit a person and “the concept of disability has been used to justify discrimination against other groups by attributing disability to them.” (123). People with disabilities are often discriminated because of the disability.
26 October 2014
Dr. Joyce Rain Anderson
“The Tattoos of Epimenides”
Page duBois’ work entitled “The Tattoos of Epimenides” discusses both the concept of “freak” or unnatural bodies, as well as body modification choices such as tattoos. DuBois takes these subjects and examines the rhetorics surrounding these ideas; such as what constitutes being a “freak” and what this could imply about society.
I found the discussion of “freaks” to be quite interesting, as the text reveals why this term can be problematic and hurtful, but also meaningful in understanding the societal dynamics at play throughout history. The accompaniment of synonyms to “freak” gave a unique representation of the rhetoric used to described these bodies, with terms such as “abnormal”, “unnatural”, and “anomaly” compared to the idea of the freak. Together, I think this defines what it is to be a “freak”, as it means someone who possesses a body that does not fit into the standard conventions of what a body should look like. DuBois expands upon this idea, yielding examples of “freak” bodies in previous texts, such as those of Rosemarie Garland-Thomson who lists, “from wild men of Borneo to fat ladies, living skeletons, Fiji princes, albinos, bearded women, Siamese twins, tattooed Circassians, armless and legless wonders, Chinese giants, cannibals, midget triplets, hermaphrodites, spotted boys, and much more.” When this list is looked at closely, the suggestion is clear: these are all bodies that do not conform to the aesthetic or behavioral expectations of what humans should be. Furthermore, there seems to be many racial implications within the “freak” description, such as the stereotype of Chinese bodies being small.
As duBois discusses Foucault, the importance or meaning of this particular rhetoric is evident. DuBois states, “The idea of the monster, he argues, is a juridical notion, since it ‘concerns the laws of nature as well as the laws of society’”. This expresses another term akin to freak: “monster”, which has a definite negative connotation. In addition, the discussion of law suggests the desire by governments to control and dominate these freak bodies by utilizing this rhetoric to oppress or divide them from this idealized normalcy.
Dubois then claims, “Our interest in the ab-normal may emerge dialectically from our position in the norm, in the regime of knowledge and power where we are trapped by ideas of norm, normalcy, normality.” This statement seems to realize how or why this rhetoric of freaks exists, as it is used in relation to normalcy in an expression of fear. It seems that the constant use of these words to describe bodies that do not conform to normalcy often brings about negative connotations directed at freak bodies to support or affirm those bodies that are a representation of normal. There is a fear of not being normal, so this categorization of freak allows those who fear abnormality to be content in their normalcy – as these non-conforming bodies are the freaks, rather than those who choose to use this rhetoric. It is a form of distancing oneself from their fears of nonconformity while placing these fears on others who may be unconcerned with the status of normal.
Overall, duBois’ work seems to have a lot of relevancy for our class as well as society as a whole, in which bodies today are still expected to conform. Even the discussion of American Horror Story’s “Freak Show” theme suggests a pervasive interest in the unnatural; whether this is to bring a sense of humanity to those categorized as “freaks” or to instead reaffirm those who think of themselves as normal, I cannot be sure. Thus, it is important to consider the context of works like this one in comparison to modern media representations of “freaks” and the continual use of type of “freak” rhetoric focused upon these bodies; as this may be the only way to truly evaluate what progress, if any, society has made.
October 27, 2014
Dr. Joyce Rain Anderson
'"Breathe Upon US an Even Flame": Hephaestus, History, and the Body of Rhetoric," by Jay Dolmage gave a very interesting approach to disabilities and how they change societies perception of the body. It seemed as though this article was meant for teacher to read in order to deal with teaching children how to except and embrace their own disabilities. I think that it why it was so easy to follow. By connecting her assertions with those of Greek god, Hephaestus, the reader is able to see a different side to this argument.
What I thought was the most interesting, is that greek mythology included a disabled figure at all. "His body was celebrated, not "despite" his disability but because of his embodied intelligence," (119). I really liked this line because I think it explains the idea that there is more to a person than just their body. The use of word "embody" further verifies that our additions skills, like in this case, intelligence, comes out through our body. Those skills are what truly matter about the body, not what is on the outside.
Typically, I kind of scoff or laugh off inspirational quotes or songs that speak about beauty on the inside. I realize it is because we as a society don't actually value this, we just know we should. "Normalcy in the "modern world" is a useful fiction that marks out unwanted elements while reinforcing the hegemony of the dominant group," (123). I loved this quote because I was surprised with how true it was. Being "normal" is so important to us, but yet no one can actually define it. Every one's definition of the word is different. That means there is no explicate meaning. If there is no meaning, than why do we value it so? Dolmage's quote shows that we do it because we want to keep groups together, the dominant from the "disabled" or "outcast." In the last article we read, these people were referred to as monsters. We are afraid of being different, of being compared to. I am only saying this as an observation because I know for a fact that I have the same mind set. I think this article put into perspective for me, by using the disabled body, that there is a injustice to the way our society runs.
Dolamges said: "These men overcome their disabilities or compensate for them with poetic genius or bear them as a punishment," (123). I think that can be said for people today too. Because they are not seen as "normal" their body is now a source of questions. "What happened to you?" "How did you become this way?" Hephaestus become a god of intelligence, mind strength and power to overcome the questioning and ridicule of others. I hope that we can embrace this in people we know with disabilities, because their is os much more to a person than their outward body.
26 October 2014
Dr. Joyce Rain Anderson
“Breathe Upon Us an Even Flame”
Jay Dolmage’s work “‘Breathe Upon Us an Even Flame’: Hephaestus, History, and the Body of Rhetoric” contains a discussion of embodied rhetoric used to describe disabled bodies, through the lens of Greek society and its stories of Hephaestus. The work almost reads like an evaluation of these stories and how they represent disability, both in a positive and negative light. This discussion has a modern-day applicability, as the representations of Hephaestus and rhetoric within ancient Greek society can be compared to more current representations of disabled bodies (both in media like movies and literature as well as the rhetoric directed at disabled bodies as they navigate through today’s society).
Dolmage documents the various ways Hephaestus’s disability was represented through art and literature within Greek society, stating, “Homer repeatedly mentions that he is lame, God of the ‘dragging foot’. But his disability also has positive connotations. Having feet that face away from one another does not necessarily entail ‘impairment’ – it means he can move from side to side more quickly.” Ultimately, this suggests the dual representations of disability within these stories and the culture they were created in, or more significantly the multiple perspectives that face disability. Homer seems to view Hephaestus’ disability as something that impedes him or is a flaw, and the idea to describe him as “lame” suggests a disregard for him. However, the acknowledgement of the positive aspects of Hephaestus’ difference implies that there is another way of viewing his body. This conjured aspects of disabled rhetoric that I have heard in the past, most notably the idea of being “differently-abled.” Often I have seen people involved in disability studies focus on rhetorical choices, such as the connotation and reclamation of words. There is a focus on moving away from describing these bodies as “disabled” but instead they are “differently-abled.” This allows for the positive connotations or benefits of the bodies to shine through, as in Hephaestus. He is in fact differently-abled because he functions within his world and live a positive, fulfilled life just like anyone else can, he just has to live somewhat differently.
Dolmage also discusses disability studies and rhetoric, stating, “Disability, in this light, is bodily and rhetorical – two concepts that are tightly united.” I viewed this to mean that disability is more than just the literal disability, but also the figurative language directed at these bodies. The “bodily” disability is the actual disability within these bodies, such as the absence of an arm, the presence of an impairment such as Multiple Sclerosis, or a disorder that alters how one views the world like autism or schizophrenia. The rhetorical disability would be how those who are “abled” view and shape these disabilities. For example, often disabilities are represented within the news as a sort of tragedy, like when one might lose an arm or have a birth defect – this is a rhetorical perspective that surrounds the entire of concept of disability.
I thought Dolmage’s discussion of Hephaestus was enlightening as I compared it to modern representations of disability. I found myself thinking of the representation of Peeta Mellark within the Hunger Games series. In the books, Peeta loses his leg and while it does affect his emotional and physical state, he ultimately perseveres and remains a hero (or “victor”). However, the movies have seemed to skip over this important plot detail for reasons unknown. While unsurprising, this decision reflects an oversight that many still have within our world – disabled narratives are often glossed over or left forgotten within all forms of art and entertainment. Stories of people like Hephaestus and Peeta need to be told so they can reflect reality, in which not every person is abled in the exact same way, but they still are people.
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