Photo Essay

Throughout taking photos for this assignment, I kept reminding myself to avoid single cases of stereotypes. Although stereotypical problems are easy to find throughout daily encounters, I avoided cases that I thought didn’t adhere to our society at large. I took these pictures because of their relevance to class as common sites: church, children, Halloween, a restaurant, and a public lecture

I visited home a few weekends ago and knew I would find some good photos to snap here at this church I used to work at. As a Sunday school teacher, I was familiar with their personalities and found their behavior similar to some of our sex and gender topics. During free time they usually play gendered games, the most popular being house or cars. The most obvious example of gender achievement in these children was visible in their dress. Unanimously, the girls wore dresses, tights, and maryjane shoes while the boys wore polo shirts with kaki or corduroy pants. This reminded me of the preschool study claiming, “the clothes that parents send kids to preschool in shape children’s experiences of their bodies in gendered ways” (Martin 1998:220) . When one of the little girls walks in with a pretty pink dress, she’s admired and complimented. Parents and nursery attendants quickly try and fix any falling hairpieces or stained clothes.

The boys gendered behaviors were less evident than the girls. I think this was because they were outnumbered and constrained by the quiet, restricted church setting. I found it interesting that the two boys chose to play alone for most of the day.  They did not want to play with any of the feminine toys and mostly played with cars.Although, when playing outside, the boys took advantage of the wide space through running and yelling  in some sort of ninja activity. Their outward movement is similar to the description of an uninhibited intentionality that, “projects the aim to be accomplished and connects the body’s motion toward that in end in an unbroken directedness” (Young 2005:37). Comparatively, the girls chose to play more “inwardly” through less risky, masculine games. Also, their efforts in achieving the tough guise image are apparent in their choices to play games involving rough behavior (Katz 1999).

While visiting the church by my house, I came across another issue that was applicable to our class.  St.Luke’s Presbyterian is located in a building that is divided by two churches: White Christians, and Indian Christians. Before, an Asian community called Pathways occupied the other half of the building. I never thought much of racial issues because they were only temporarily renting the building.  When I asked my grandfather, who manages St.Luke’s, he referred to them as “the Indian church” claiming they either didn’t have a name or he just didn’t know it. There seemed to be clear evidence of privilege between the churches so I decided to go explore the other side. When comparing the white church (right photo) and Indian church (left photo), they are almost polar opposites. The white church is very large, well lit, and is attended by mostly white, retired citizens. The Indian church is in a much smaller room despite its larger, younger population. This reminded me of Wise’s story of the two middle class communities who were divided racially, despite enduring the same tragedy (Wise 2008). Even though both churches are Presbyterian and meet in the same building, they insist on holding separate services. When I took a picture of their service, I felt like a tourist who needed to have a reason for my visit. This is typical in white people who have been, “taught to think of their lives as morally neutral, normative, and average.” (McIntosh 1998: 78). This inclination to make privilege invisible allows those who are advantaged to guiltlessly go about their lives and maintain oppositional arguments

When thinking about these photos, I realized my unfamiliarity with this Indian community is also problematic as it perpetuates stereotypes. If one of them were to ask about the other church, I wouldn’t be sure what to call them. By making the problem invisible, “we will not, as a culture, adequately know how to address these issues” (Kimmel 2009: 9). The kid’s emulation of adults throughout the day made me realize my role as an agent of social control and their internalization of norms (Smith 2010). Failing to recognize their subordination to our church perpetuates the problem, as the children continue to stereotype these people as insignificant.

Back at my house in Boulder, college students were equally accountable in demonstrating sex and gender. I decided Halloween would be the most obvious time to find visible displays of hegemonic gender. I found my muse in one fraternity’s decision to make pledge brothers dress up in emasculating costumes as a testament of brotherhood. My favorite costume was this boy’s homemade ‘period stain’. Thinking back, most of the costumes resembled the concepts our class listed for women’s genital nicknames. I remember coming across a vagisil costume and, an even more personally offensive costume, a Delta Gamma sorority girl.

This second picture from Halloween also relates to hegemonic gender. By wearing a sports jersey, the boy exemplifies Hartmanns understanding of sports as a “way to assert and confirm one’s own maleness” (2008: 235). Furthermore, my inability to identify which player or team he is representing shows my detachment from masculinity. His girlfriend, dressed as a promiscuous, concert fan reflects the objectification of women entitled to men. The concept of Halloween as an opportunity to dress up in revealing clothing serves men and reduces women. However, the women feel accomplished as they choose “what we would like to convey about sexual natures, using conventionalized gestures” (West and Zimmerman 1987: 130). Although women fulfill the task of acting gender-appropriate, it lasts ephemerally as they encourage objectification in daily life. This concept alienates those who do not fulfill the goals set out in the Beauty Myth and, ultimately, those outside of the “charmed circle” (Rubin 1984:13). On the other hand, the boy in this picture will probably be remembered warmly as a fellow basket

ball fan. The picture also demonstrates how men tend to “act and women appear” (Berger 1972: 47). The boy is dressed as a player for an important team and the girl appears as an anonymous companion.

While my friends in Halloween costumes represent the achievement of hegemonic femininity, this photo of Theo waving her money exemplifies deviance. According to Rich claiming an education through personal success is an, “experience of taking responsibility toward yourselves and your world.” (1977:609). This photo doesn’t comply to femininity’s standards of submissiveness through, “the general lack of confidence that we frequently have about our cognitive or leadership abilities.” As women typically experience being undermined, it’s important that we challenge this stereotype when approaching careers and education.

In cases of sexual abuse and abortion rights, our class also mentioned the importance of independence. In the controversy of pro-life and pro-choice abortion rights, fundamental differences exist between “the life circumstances and beliefs of the activists on both sides of the issue”(Luker 1984:105).  Our class’ expressions of pro-choice opinions reflected the study in this article claims that more educated, self-sufficient women side with abortion rights. A certain level of self-value comes into play in understanding how people respond to issues of inequality and morality.

In our conversation about handling physical inequality in cases of sexual abuse, most women felt discouraged. While defeating hegemonic masculinity’s projections of physiological disproportions seemed arguable, our class had little to offer in ways to maintain physical equality.

When my sorority insisted mandatory attendance at a women’s self-defense seminar called “Girls Fight Back!” I felt reassured about violence. The speaker was a woman who had suffered the loss of a close friend in a case ofrape and homicide. Coping with her loss and consequential phobias of attack, she created a program intended to inform women about protection. She brought up similar topics mentioned in class and readings proposed as women being restrained in their bodies and gestures. When a women is attacked, she has three options: comply, fight, or flight (2010). When women is submissive to the attacker’s plan, they lose control of the issue entirely; a rapist has already risked his attack regardless of your defense choice. So, to avoid being taken advantage of, a woman shouldn’t give an attacker opportunity to privacy.

As she encouraged us to believe that women, like their attackers, are inherently dangerous I realized her lesson was similar to our class. After surviving being raped, victims most commonly wished for “a confrontation in which they, and not the perpetrators, would walk with their heads held high, and the perpetrators would be the ones to look down in shame” (Herman 2005: 594). This stuck out to me as another circumstance inequality reflects achievement instead of morality. This relationship is inherent throughout societal issues of discrimination, reflecting victim’s dependence on people to mutually, innately share values. Realistically, unwarranted privilege is abundant in our society and can only be prevented through measures of personal responsibility. Illusive rituals like weddings veil heternormativity through society in the form of marketing and media (Ingraham 2006:242). Debates circle around the dynamic of nature and nurture’s composition in these problems, both lacking propositions as sole resolutions.

Essentialistialism was also mentioned in our discussion of the facets of a radical theory of sex in relation to discrepancies of “freedom from and freedom to” (Smith 2010). As a personal responsibility to our citizens and government, we should radically define sex by, “building upon rich descriptions of sexuality as it exists in society and history. It requires a convincing critical language that can convey the barbarity of oppression” (Rubin1984: 15). Until this gains momentum throughout a society, individual responsibility to recognize and protect oneself provides recognition of these issues and support for change.

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