Week 11: Que(e)r(y)ing Public Spaces: Gender, Sexuality and Social Change

This week’s topic is that of gender and sexuality in the public arena – social, political and legal reforms. This subject covers how sexual identity is politicised and it what ways the law recognises, or fails to do so, and what social change has occurred/needs to occur to enhance the quality of life for our “queer” citizens.

The highly political world of sexuaImagelity is discussed in Senthorun Raj’s thoroughly interesting article for newmatilda.com “Are you gay enough to be a refugee?”. Fear of persecution based on sexuality is a legitimate reason for an individual to claim refugee status in Australia, however, various government departments are using conflicting reasoning to reject these claims. The example was used of one Chinese asylum seeker who feared his government as he was arrested for kissing a man in public. The Australian Federal Court rejected his claim as he had “lacked appropriate discretion with respect to Chinese cultural norms and ought to have engaged in his display of homosexuality privately.” A Mongolian woman making a claim for refugee status, on the other hand, was turned down because she appeared to “lack involvement” in the “lesbian community”. The Court doubted how genuine her relationship was because it was not made public, but, as the woman herself said, she was keeping the relationship secret as she fear persecution! As Raj mentioned in another article written for Amnesty International, “What a catch-22: either you are too gay, or you are not gay enough.”

So it seems as though, as Raj suggests, the courts perhaps focus more on twisting the words of the law to fit the outcome they desire, rather than looking at the cases morally. Examples like this make you wonder…

But don’t worry, we’re not the only ones! In the UK, a young Iranian man was rejected asylum after learning that his former boyfriend had been hanged for practicing sodomy. The courts said that even though homosexuals were executed in Iran, “there was no “systematic” repression of gay men and lesbians”. Nice one Britain. Nailing it.

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Week 9 – ‘Sexualised technologies: surgery, sexuality and identity’

This week’s topic centres around surgery and technology in relation to gender and identity – a topic which I find particularly interesting and also very important. With medical technology advancing so rapidly today, it is inevitable that it has encroached on the field of sexuality, and further into the field of identity and culture.

Kerreen Reiger and Rhea Dempsey’s article, “Performing birth in a culture of fear: an embodied crisis of late modernity”, discusses the fear that women today have of giving birth and the influence that culture, modern medicine, and other factors such as celebrity obsession and the media have had on this. Reiger and Dempsey go on to discuss how women have come to lack confidence in their body’s ability to give birth, and see giving birth as “a passive state of being ‘done to’ or delivered…[as has been] experienced in current medical regimes.”

Growing up watching shows like Friends and Neighbours, and seeing movies like Juno and Knocked Up, I am now DEATHLY afraid of giving birth. The screaming and the pooping makes me recoil, and I like to think I have some sort of maternal instinct. I’ve always wanted children, but it’s the birth that actually seems like the scariest part to me. The media has always portrayed it as the most horrific experience that you could go through! 

What I found particularly interesting about Reiger and Dempsey’s article, and after discussing the topic with my mum this afternoon, was that I had always, subconsciously, taken these birthing scenes to be a depiction of what all birth is like. With medical technology at the stage that it is, birth has really become a matter of letting the doctors/midwives take care of the process for you. But it’s a natural thing. Women have always given birth and the majority of the time their bodies were completely capable of surviving through it and mending themselves so they could do it again. 

Mum’s first birthing experience with my older brother was one of fear. After going to classes and mother’s groups, the focus was on the pain, not the child itself. By the time she had me (2 kids later), she felt experienced, she knew what to do, and the pain wasn’t what she thought of when she thought of giving birth, it was me!

Don’t get me wrong, I think Western medicine is an amazing thing, and wouldn’t want to live without it, but perhaps the discourse of science itself has overridden much of what humans are more than capable of doing, and made these processes a scary and alarming thing.

 

 

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Week 7 – “Online dating”.

Online dating is one of the most stigmatised forms of interaction there is, and yet, when you think about it closely, it is probably be an extremely less intimidating, easier way of getting to know someone. Putting yourself on a public forum where you only have to talk to those with similar interests, values, and political ideas makes it a lot easier to “sift” through the crowd of potential interests. In a way, I would argue that Facebook is a form of online dating, and yet no one’s calling that a cop-out, but let’s not get into that right now.

 

When I walk into a bar on a night out, I have no idea whether the guy with the ponytail likes 30 Rock and avocado on toast (without those two essentials, I’m afraid there’s no future for us). How can I possibly tell whether he shares my political views, has an interesting job or even if he’s gay and wouldn’t be romantically interested in me at all? The only way for me to find out is to go through the awkward dance of eye contact, then a smile, then a look away, then a look back to see if he’s still looking, and then trying it again if he’s not and then going over to sit near him, maybe ask for a lighter then walk outside and stand in the cold then walk back in… you get the point.

 

If I could sort through all of that and just work out whether he’s my kind of guy before I even had to talk to him – imagine how easy that would be! Hell, we’d probably be married by now. Nah, probs not. But still, it’s gotta be said, online dating has it’s merits. Sites like RSVP.com and eHarmony have MILLIONS of members, and a multitude of success storiesImage

 

In the sociological research carried out by Jo Barraket and Millsom S. Henry-Waring’s “Getting it on(line)”, they discuss the phenomenon of online dating, and how it’s grown exponentially in the past decade. They talk about certain relationships beginning online, while others are sustained through social media and email. One of their most interesting discussions, however, I found, was how they believed that online dating has changed the nature of intimacy itself. They talk about Zygmunt Bauman‘s theory of ‘liquid modernity‘ whereby people are filtering through people in relationships at a faster and faster rate. I could believe this in a lot of ways. I think Bauman is potentially putting a negative spin on it, but I believe it, and don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing. What’s wrong with trying a few things out before we decide what we like? We do that with hair colours, chocolates, books, movies. 

 

I think online dating has a stigma attached to it as being perhaps desperate, but maybe it’s just for the no-bullshit kind of people out there. Screw maybe finding someone you like at the supermarket or the park, and then not even getting the chance to talk to them because your dog goes ballistic at a possum and so you’re well and truly distracted. These sites make it simple!

 

I’m not trying to sound like an ad, believe me. I’m still not a massive fan of the consumerism that goes with the sites, and there are some dodgy deals out there. AND, personally, I kind of like the above mentioned awkward dance. But I don’t think the sites are as bad as they’re made out to be.

 

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Week 5 – “Families, sexuality and gender”.

Week 5 and the topic is FAMILIES, SEXUALITY AND GENDER. This was a topic I was sure Freud was going to at least pop his head in for, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Ahmed’s “Queer Phenomenology” goes into an in depth discussion about the origins of the words/phrases “queer” (p. 289) and “sexual orientation” in a family setting, whilst critically deconstructing a number of Freud’s views on the subject, as well as those of many others, including Ellis and Butler.

A lot of the reading focusses on this assumption by many that homosexuality is a matter of direction – your sexuality is “directed” toward the same sex – and how that lineage has been seen throughout history as “slanting”, “out of line”. Ahmed mentions the number of times that lesbianism is suggested to be the result of failed heterosexuality (sigh).images

As much as I love Freud, I had to take Ahmed’s side on this one. I can’t really imagine that the reason that every lesbian in the world is as such is because of a (seemingly mild) disappointment in not being able to have her father’s child. He, like many others, still bases this argument on the suggestion the being heterosexual is the norm, and other forms of sexuality deviate from it and orbit around it.

I couldn’t help but be reminded throughout this article, of an excerpt of the best-selling self-help “book” (and I use that term very loosely), “He’s Just Not That Into You”. The book is written for the hypothetical pathetic woman, who just can’t seem to get a man interested. It assumes that all this woman wants and should have is the attention of the man who passes her off each and every day (A LOT of times if we’re imagining that it’s the same guy for every quote…). The condescending prick who wrote it (sorry, getting a little riled up here), acts as though he’s trying to “empower” the woman into taking control of her own life, when really he’s just attacking the dignity that women in general have while feeding into the misogynistic idea that men can and do outsmart women in any and every way they want. I mean FUCK.

Anyway, I guess my point was that this book emphasises that not only is heterosexuality seen to be the original orientation that homo/other sexualities deviate from, but that it is also the woman’s role to be analysing the signals that her male counterpart gives her and resoundingly to them accordingly, while the male continues living his life as he wants and waiting for the woman to work her way into it.

And if that doesn’t work, I guess she might as well go les.

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Week 4 – Bodily Becomings: Discourses on Sex, Sexology, Sexuality

 

This week’s topic is “Bodily Becomings: Discourses on Sex, Sexology, Sexuality”, and is based around the notions that sex and sexuality hold in controlling society.

Elizabeth Grosz‘s article has two main focuses; oppression and identity. She describes a four-fold definition of oppression outlining the general positions that social subjects are assigned within society, the forms of valuation that these subjects go through and the cycle that occurs when the privileged remain privileged, w

hilst the powerless lose more and more power. This description relates so the idea of discourse, and the discursive practices that maintain these social positions within our society, including education, government and legislation.

Grosz then goes on to describe this definition in relation to sex and sexuality, and how oppression separated who the homosexual (/bisexual/any other transgression of heterosexual norms) is, from what they do. I found this article particularly interesting because Grosz makes not of the discrimination and oppression that goes on between minorities, as different that that from privileged groups in society.

Michel Foucault also discusses this idea of discourse in his book, The History of Sexuality. He discusses the “deployment of sexuality” which emerged in the 18th century, and was used through the exploitation of the body to create knowledge and power. While the gay marriage debate is well and truly on the cards, I feel there is a tendency to group all gay and lesbians into the same category of “for” gay marriage. A tendancy which was highlighted to me recently by Hilary Clinton’s switch to support gay marriage in a YouTube address. Non-gay liberal views tend to assume that homosexuals “should” want the right to marry. Through discursive institutions such as the media which perpetuate this to be the “correct” view, thereby placing all those opposed to it into the right-wing. And yet per


France has recently passed same sex legislation, and yet an atheist homosexual, and a spokesperson
against the bill, states that “In France, marriage is not designed to protect the love between two people. French marriage is specifically designed to provide children with families,” he said in an interview. “[T]he most serious study done so far . . . demonstrates quite clearly that a child has trouble being raised by gay parents.”haps the perception of this idea is so because the anti-gay marriage homosexuals are somewhat oppressed amongst the gay community.

Other homosexuals speaking out against gay marriage believe that it threatens sexual freedom. They believe that conforming to the institution of marriage is only an attempt to become more like mainstream, “white” society, and why would they want to be a part of that?

I have to admit, I can understand where the second argument is coming from. Why conform to something that has been the source of oppression of the minority for so long? But at the same time, why should homosexuals be denied the opportunity to conform if they so wish? Is that what freedom should be?

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Week 1 – It’s everywhere.

When told we were to write a blog in Gender and SexualityStudies, I became, admittedly, a little anxious. Writing casually about day to day incidents, let alone those relating to gender and sexuality did not seem like something I could just reel off the top of my head, and writing casually itself, for me, is daunting.

But the more I open my eyes to gender and sex in the world around me, the more I realise that this may not be such a huge task after all. When flicking through The Age website the other day, I saw a number of articles discussing gender based violence and sexual discrimination. In hindsight, I realise that I shouldn’t be relieved by this huge amount of articles (it’s quite sickening actually), but I now know that there’s a lot to discuss;

I want your love

Former One Nation leader Pauline Hanson recently warned radio hosts on air of the “price” of gay marriage, pleading them to “think of the children”, while actor James Franco spoke out against the Australian Classifications Board after it banned I Want Your Love a film showing a strong gay sex scene. The scenes were seen as “indecent” and banned from gay and queer film festivals across the country. Franco stated in a YouTube address that “adults should be able to choose” what they watch and the ban was “embarrassing”.

It’s difficult not to think of Michel Foucault’s “The History of Sexuality” when hearing these stories. In his first chapter he discusses discourse, and the relationship between sex and power.

Discourse is essential to his argument as it refers to the coming together of knowledge and power. Discursive powers throughout history have sought to repress sexuality to increase labour potential, an argument that Foucault puts forward by correlating the sudden repression of sexuality from the seventeenth century to the nineteenth century, and the rise in capitalism.

Foucault goes on to explain, that today, power that can be wielded by speaking openly about sex. It places the speaker “outside the reach of power”, so to speak.

Speaking of gay sex today still raises heavy political debates, and is not seen by many as “regular” conversation, as heterosexual sex has become over the past century. If people are not exposed to homosexual sex (let alone any other form of intercourse on the sexual spectrum) as often as they are heterosexual sex, how can the two ever be deemed as equal? Interestingly, the Australian Classification Board allowed for the movie Donkey Love to be shown last year, which is based on and includes scenes involving beastiality. It is difficult to imagine any sex scene, hetero- or homosexual, that could be more taboo than a person having sex with an animal…

Until next time!

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