Theory as Liberatory Practice

Philosopher Amanda Cawston’s essay Are Feminism and Competition Compatible? (2016) on competition and feminism resembles most to scholar bell hooks’ Theory as Liberatory Practice (1991) are the crucial points both authors make, including exclusory practices and lack of solidary in communal spaces. 

hooks empathize on how and why activist-scholars should communicate with laypersons through ideas that both parties can understand; for instance, hooks mention how men in prison sent her letters, thanking her for helping them to let go of patriarchal values (9). She realizes how conceptualizing a theory is a tool for healing, as she can see what is happening in her surroundings and herself. hooks mention a woman thanking her for giving her a voice, making her feel like she was heard, by hooks sharing her thoughts and feelings in ways people can understand, including the woman herself (10-11). Individuals feel they must surrender to speak up in social spaces that support oppressive ideas, like classism. These individuals want to avoid conflicts, stress, embarrassment, or ostracization, regardless of what the social space promises in debating issues. They feel like they cannot achieve what they desire, that is, to lessen the social restrictions. People choose silence in the public sphere by a social force. They sense restrictions throughout their lives, such as hooks did in childhood (1). The restrictions are visible and invisible barriers normalized through practices and communal beliefs, such as competitions.

Cawston’s essay best resembles hooks’ essay by critically examining competition as an obstacle for marginalized groups regarding feminism. She argues that both feminism and competitions are incompatible in their results, definitions, and attitudes (Cawston, 2016; 207-208, 216-217). Cawston even quotes hooks’ definition of feminism, in which Cawston highlights hooks’ argument on the intersectionality between marginalized groups’ oppressions (205-206). Cawston examines the complexity of competition regarding feminism, including what does competition means precisely and how can we conduct changes in improving life conditions? Cawston notes that competitions include examinations on activities in which we limit people by giving them prestige and advantages. Thus, people feel more hostile to striving for or preserving their privileges (209-210). Take competitiveness in academia for an example; liberal feminists have argued that women in fields like academia can achieve gender equality by establishing bourgeois titles and awards along with men. However, the issue also underlines how traits deemed masculine, including aggressiveness and selfishness, are more socially accepted than traits considered feminine, such as thoughtfulness or sympathy (206-207). Cawston, like hooks, argues that white women can gain access to institutional spaces by following the rules, thus more likely to win (218). The problem is that they can participate by having certain advantages, including being white and upper-class. Certain women have more advantages than others by their resources, including performing tasks in ways that institutions require. An example is white upper-class women’s academic abilities compared to lower-middle-class Women of Color. White upper-class women can enter by the given resources, including affording educational resources such as books, constructing norms and socialized behavior, such as how they speak and write, and how people, particularly white men, interpret their abilities. Marginalized groups cannot dominate the competition if the rules rely on Eurocentric, capitalistic, and paternal values, thus enabling social hierarchy and making feminism less available to the public.  

Resources

Cawston, A. (2016). Are Feminism and Competition Compatible? Hypatia, 31(1), 204–220.

hooks, b. (1991). “Theory as liberatory practice.” Yale Journal of Law and Feminism, 4(1)

Transgender’s History, Bodies, and Intersex: Reflections

Transgender and Intersex under Biopolitics1

Over the years, more people identify themselves as nonbinary or trans*. A study at Williams Institute at UCLA discovered that the percentage of trans* adults increased from 0.3 to 0.6 percent (Davis, 2018). The internet and social movements for the trans* community help more people learn and accept trans*gender and/or queer, as getting information and support are crucial aspects of coming out. However, bio-citizenship is an ongoing struggle for marginalized groups, especially for the queer community. 

The intersex community struggles to gain bio-citizenship since pre-birth. In Contesting Intersex (2015), sociologist Georgiann Davis expounds on her study on the medicalization of the Intersex community and the issues against the community. The book provides enriching information about social issues relating to people with intersex traits, including (1) conducting surgeries on infants, (2) the term Disorder of Sex Development versus Intersex, (3) heteronormativity along with cisnormativity, and (4) enforcing simplification onto gender and sex. Gender Structure Theory2 applies to the intersex community by setting stratification and internalizing dualistic traditional gender identities, such as personality traits and practices (Davis, 2015; 8). The classification of disorder onto intersex, just like for the trans*gender, creates a false sense of social reality. The misrepresentation of social reality is getting people to accept a false idea, a lie, preventing them from consenting. An example includes medical experts claiming surgical removals on intersex traits minimize cancer risks without critically explaining why so (91-92). Just like for trans* individuals, the false reality for the intersex community is that they have a disorder without consenting to what is a disorder. When we think of disorder, we think of an undesirable object, like pain. The terminology relates to our cultural acceptance, such as why intersex over Disorder of Sex Development helps people accept how sex is as subjective and complex as gender itself. People who reject the medicalization of intersex embrace another aspect that rejects gender as binary, such as being part of the queer community, as terms like “opposite sex” appeal more to people identifying as DSD (104-105). The meaning of intersex creates acceptance for the community and other communities like trans*gender by understanding the complexity of people’s narratives. A person’s life is a multiplex world, as each person is intersectional by what aspects of our lives are connected, like how gender connects to ethnicity. An example is an acceptance of two spirits in North American Indigenous culture3. Before colonization, American Indians embrace gender nonbinary without setting people into dualistic roles. Another example is how gender was nonexistent for the Yorùbá culture before Western colonization4. Understanding a person’s complex narrative is part of expressing cognitive, emotional, and compassionate empathy. Understanding a person’s narrative is part of subjugated knowledge, to uncover buried knowledge that was covered by ruling forms of knowledge5. The goal of knowledge is to find out more information about our social reality and to improve elements of our lives, ranging from making sense of our identities in a philosophical stance to advocating for laws to protect marginalized groups. The irony is that infants cannot consent to optional surgeries that permanently affect their lives, emotionally and physically. At the same time, trans*gender adults financially and emotionally struggle to gain communal, medical, and legal acceptance for their gender.

Trans* people struggle as they must prove their gender identity by subjective notions, like what Christine Jorgensen had said, the “first” American transsexual woman who follow a transnormativity by following the cisgender reality, that it was a biological “failure” (Stryker, 2008; 5). Although Jorgensen helped to spread more awareness for the trans* community through her media appearances, transnormativity leads some people to encourage transmedicalism, that an individual must be transgender by experiencing dysphoria and undergoing medical treatments. Transmedicalism’s limitation includes examples of how some people are unable to transition due to financial issues. Social movements that challenge that kind of narrative, like how activist Lou Sullivan, a gay transman, challenges conditional acceptance and cis-normalcy by advocating that gender identity does not depend on your romantic/sexual attraction, and vice versa (115-120). The medicalization and history of terminology relating to gender, sex, and sexuality, like the term homosexual, and how people like endocrinologist Harry Benjamin set cissexist values for transgender people to follow to prove their gender is valid and a “disorder”6. People who are trans*gender struggle for acceptance, internally and outwardly, as an outsider-within (Sumerau & Mathers, 2019; 67). It is by a conditional acceptance that people are accepted by hierarchical social values that leads to homonormativity, the gay and lesbian people that seek civil rights by appealing to the mainstream social norms that include whiteness, upper-middle classes, Christianity, domestication and reproductivity, endosex, patriotic, able-bodied, monosexuality and cisgenderism (54, 64). The aforementioned is a mouthful, but worth noting how the connection is explicit by historical oppressions that lead us to where we are now in Westernized countries like the United States, a society that allows traditions to strive without further questions. The critical element of traditions is to socialize people into accepting them through ignorance and emotionality, which is why disgust can impact people’s reactions towards the out-group, including trans*gender and intersex people7.

Overall, from medical to legal experts, those in power influence the public by setting a narrative that heterosexuality and cisgender are universal, non-deviant while silencing the queer community by casting them into opposite roles as abnormal or deviant through biopower8. The simplification of gender and attractions leads to a misconstruction of gender and relationships, thus further social inequality. People must consider several actions for liberatory transformation, including working with doctors or experts on intersex and trans* community, educating the public, embracing oneself, especially with feminist ideas, social support, recognizing social constructions, and listening to marginalized groups (Davis, 2015; 157-167).

Questions

  1. How does capitalism relate to the trans* and intersex community? 
    • I think about how capitalism affects the trans*community by setting consumerist notions of genders, through gendered practices, or assimilation to cissexist values, such as beauty standards. I also think about companies that pink-wash or queer-bait their products.
  2. How does whiteness, like Eurocentric values or imperialism, relate to the readings?
    • Scholar C. Riley Snorton’s Black in Both Sides (2018) relates to the readings by the intersection between Blackness and transness.
  3. What practices force upon children parallel with trans*gender and intersex children?
    • I ask this question because I think about how social pressure is for children to assimilate. An example includes mental health. Some individuals tend to pressure themselves and their relationships into toxic positivity, to prohibit negative emotions like anger or sadness. Toxic positivity is a form of psychological abuse since it is to deny reality, to deny what they truly feel, that is pain. Many children endure toxic positivity at home, socializing them to believe that they must not express or acknowledge their negative emotions.   
  4. What are other examples of objects or people classified as a “disorder”?
    • I think about introverts; I am known for being quiet and reserved, but several people associate introversion with a personality disorder or other mental health issues, as the American culture values extrovert traits.
  1. How do other countries with firmer laws protecting trans*gender and intersex differ from countries like the United States? Examples include countries that legally and culturally recognize trans*gender and intersex before the United States.
  2. What are other examples of exclusion in spaces, within-outsider, that enforce conformity, like “doing cisgender” (Sumerau & Mathers, 2019;136)?
    • I think about how common for trans*exclusive radical feminists to endorse racism through exclusive practices. Scholar Emi Koyama’s Whose Feminism Is It Anyway? The Unspoken Racism of The Trans Inclusion Debate (2020) discusses how the universal concept of womanhood in TERFs spaces is inherently racist and classist by appealing to white middle-class women, ignoring BIPOC and lower classes.

Notes

  1. Biopolitics, coined by philosopher Michel Foucault. See Foucault’s The History of Sexuality: The Will to Knowledge (Vol. 1).
  2. Risman, Barbara J. “Gender As a Social Structure.” Gender & Society 18, no. 4 (2004): 429–50. https://doi.org/10.1177/0891243204265349.
  3. Estrada, Gabriel. 2016. Two SpiritsNádleeh, and LGBTQ2 Navajo Gaze. American Indian Culture and Research Journal. 35 (4): 167–190. doi:10.17953/aicr.35.4.x500172017344j30,
  4. Oyewum, Oyeronk. The Invention of Women: Making an African Sense of Western Gender Discourses. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016.
  5. Foucault, Michel. The Archaeology of Knowledge. London: Routledge, 2002.
  6. Benjamin, Harry. 1966. The Transsexual Phenomenon. The Julian Press, ISBN 9780446824262
  7. Vartanian, Lenny, McCutcheon, Tayla., Rubenstein, Sarah. “Disgust, Prejudice, and Stigma.” In: Powell, P.A., Consedine, N.S. (eds) The Handbook of Disgust Research. Springer, Cham. (2021): 173-190. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-84486-8_10
  8. Biopower, is another term coined by philosopher Michel Foucault. See Foucault’s The History of Sexuality: The Will to Knowledge (Vol. 1).

References

Davis, Georgiann. 2018. “Sex and Gender Diversity is Growing Across the US.” The

Conversation.

Davis, Georgiann. 2015. Contesting Intersex: The Dubious Diagnosis. New York: NYU Press.

Stryker, Susan. 2017. 2nd Edition. Transgender History: The Roots of Today’s Revolution. Seal

Press.

Sumerau, J.E. and Lain A.B. Mathers. 2019. America through Transgender Eyes. Rowman &

Littlefield.

Semiotic Analysis Time: A Slice of Sensual Pizza

A Slice of Sensual Pizza

The printed advertisement is for a pizza brand called Daiya, which the name Daiya sounds closer to the word dairy. According to babynamewizard.com, the name Daiya is also a Polish feminine name for “gift” or “present”; the product Daiya is a ‘gift’ for the consumer. The ad is from a website called Adsoftheworld.com and published in July 2016 in the United States. I do not know if the ad exists elsewhere. The advertisement’s audience seems general, except its for those want dairy-free, like vegans and lactose-intolerant consumers. The message suggests that the taste of the pizza is exceptional good, by expressing humor. The socio-historical context of the text is that it is part of contemporary consumerism. Cultures differ from each other in advertisements by its signifiers. The ads may focus more on text rather than the image. Some ads may inform readers about the product by its advantages. Other ads may use aesthetic approaches to attract consumers. Ads can use humor or reflective storytelling to get consumers’ attention. It involves using a discourse with dominant ideas. Researchers can use a visual method as a communication tool as “border crossers” (Liebenberg 2009). We can deconstruct the semiotics by searching for its meanings, such as ironies or casual relations. The metaphors can serve as an analogy while metonymy as an association. The relevance of analyzing the ad is to understand what social groups are represented and hailed and their mythologies. Mythology involves associating a product with cultural meaning, as part of the strategy (Tolson 1996). The people representing in advertisements disclose cultural implications through gestures, traits, and fashion. The messages in advertisements reveal implicitly or explicitly cultural values or mythologies.


Syntagmatic Analysis
The connotation is a romance novel, and the subject is pizza. The important signifiers are the people, location, and text. The ad seems to be a parody of an actual romance novel called The Princess and her Pirate by Lois Creiman. The couple is holding each other in a romantic pose. The man is feeding his partner a slice of pizza. The woman appears astonished as cheese is stretching from her mouth. The woman is holding a man passively while the man is holding the woman more assertively. They are on the cover of a book, hinting they are fictional people. The book appears to be on a marble table. The title of the book said, “A Yearning Supreme” Below, the book states, “CHEESIER THAN EVER” and features the brand logo, Daiya. The book with the title “Supreme” hints what type of pizza Daiya is advertising to the consumer.
The cultural codes refer to romance novels and the medieval era. Romance novels are known to depict covers featuring a heterosexual couple. Romance novels written for and by heterosexual women tend to depict male heroes as hypermasculine, such as expressing dominance in relationships (Allan 2016). The woman appears feminine. Her dressing codes are long hair, white dress, and make-up. The man appears masculine. He has short hair, five-o-clock shadow, muscular, and wears a vest that exposes his chest. He also carries a sword around his waist, indicating protection for the woman. The ad reminds readers of heteronormativity by featuring a heterosexual couple following traditional gender roles. If the roles were switched, such as a muscular woman holding man assertively, the readers might interpret the couple’s gender roles as part of the message, likely humor. The couple appears white and physically fit; it also erases people of color and various body types. Humor is suggested by an ad based on its image and text. The line “CHEESIER THAN EVER” refers to the term cheesy. The term cheesy refers to inadequate quality. Romance novels are often mocked in culture for their book covers and contents. Many romantic covers tend to depict a couple with exaggerated gender expressions. An example is a man having large muscles and the woman expressing passive gestures. The theme of the book is medieval. The clothes and background suggest the book is about a medieval era. The man’s sword symbolizes the era. The castle is shown in the background. The woman’s dress appears medieval due to its sleeves and corset.


Paradigmatic Analysis
The central oppositions suggested in the text are the brand and advertisement. Readers can see the logo of the product below the novel. The fonts of the novel appear Edwardian Script, and it is glowing white. The fonts represent the binary of the novel and logo. The font of the novel represents fantasy, while the font below the novel is reality. The couple’s outfits suggest history while outside of the novel is present. History involves the concept of what was then versus now. The realism of the image is subjective to readers. The book cover appears to be a digital drawing rather than a photo and appears hyper-realistic. The logo includes an image of pizza; the image appears to be photo rather than a drawing. Many pizza products feature a photo of pizza as part of the box cover.
The oppositions have importance by its symbolic meanings. The pizza in the novel represents the commercial itself. The readers are aware they are looking at an ad. We are reminded that reading fiction is to escape reality. People enjoy reading fiction to relax and experience emotions by its story. The pizza in the book cover signals to readers that eating pizza can be part of our leisure. The cheese dripping out of the woman’s mouth represents how sensual eating pizza can be for people, like kissing. Readers can see the logo, which is also a box cover for the pizza. The image hints readers what the box cover looks like so that they can remember it when they are shopping.
If the ad presents its product differently, like just an image of the product within the book cover while a fictional couple is reading the book together, it may not get the reader’s attention. It could indicate pizza as part of daily life, and it could tell readers what they can do if they want pizza by showing them a couple reading about Daiya pizza. A book about Daiya pizza could suggest how the product is interesting enough for people to read a book about it.


Reading Against the Grain
The ideological messages endorsed by the advertisement is its simplistic meanings. The ad gives readers simple messages. The image has few lines of words, mainly on humor. Although the pizza states it is dairy-free, with “cheesier than eveR”, implying that its has more cheese than cheese itself, by the brand logo below the novel, the ad lacks further information about the product. I do not know what the exact ingredients nor health benefits of the product presents. The image seems to explicitly encourage readers to only focus more on taste through symbolic messages. The ad also wants readers to associate pizza with romance through a parody of romance novels. Some consumers enjoy romance novels as a form of escapism, as novels allow readers to escape bleak reality by focusing their fantasy. The ad reminds readers how pizza can associate with love life, even it is still fictional. The pizza seems to represent exceptional food by presenting it as a love potion. The woman’s facial and body gestures suggest that she is amazed by its taste. The slice of pizza seems to serve as a kiss from the man. People enjoy reading or watching romantic genres for various reasons. People may desire an ideal partner or sensual moments of stories.
The aspect of the reality is that the novel hides are the relationships of the couple. The reader knows the couple as fictional characters in the novel, but we do not know how they met or what happens exactly in the story afterward. The novel subtly reminds readers that it is fictional. The novel itself is not a real novel to buy. It is a fictional-fictional work of art.
As the reader, I am looking at the novel lying on the table. The text below the book suggests for me to interpret the novel as cheesy. The term cheesy also makes me think about the cheese itself besides its metaphorical meaning. The social implication of the ad is that I am a savvy consumer. My role in the advertisement is that I am someone looking for healthy food and better cultural taste than those reading those sorts of novels. Enjoyment. The psychological implication of the ad is that the humor of the ad will make me curious about the product. The image also suggests that the quality of food, particularly its cheese, will be part of my motivation to buy it.
The camera position I see as a reader is that I am looking at a book. The book is centered, as well as the slice of pizza. The pizza seems to be the main aspect of the image. The pizza appears brighter and seems unusual in a setting like the novel. The pizza appears strange because pizza does not represent the medieval period as caste or sword does. The couples are looking at each other, ignoring the reader. They seem more fixated on each other. The message may be that they are just fictional characters. The reader is focusing on the slice of pizza of the book cover, which is between the couple.

References


Allan, Jonathan A. “The Purity of His Maleness.” The Journal of Men’s Studies, vol. 24,
no. 1, 2016, pp. 24–41., doi:10.1177/1060826515624382.
Liebenberg, Linda. “The Visual Image as Discussion Point: Increasing Validity in
Boundary Crossing Research.” Qualitative Research, vol. 9, no. 4, 2009, pp. 441–467., doi:10.1177/1468794109337877.
Tolson, Andrew. Mediations Text and Discourse in Media Studies. TPB, 1996.

The Pronoun Go-Round

Is the Pronoun Go-Round helpful for the Trans* Community?

I’m glad that I was able to share my thoughts in class on topics like
sharing pronouns in public. I was given the assignment to explain my thoughts.
Here’s what I wrote for class, except that this is an edited version of my
answer:

The pronoun go-round breaks traditional gender order rather than reinforcing
it. However, we should consider the ramification of coming out as trans* in
public spaces. Professor Reis maintains that pronoun go-round evokes
transphobia by risking people’s vulnerabilities, such as how her student, a
trans*woman, felt frightened to publicly state her pronouns and see other
students staring at her because of her masculine appearance (2016). The pronoun
go-round risks discrimination by singling people out as trans*.

On the other hand, Professor Jen Manion expounds how they felt invalidated
when people assume they are a cisgender woman despite how they describe
themself as a gender outlaw (2019). Through acknowledgment, the pronoun go-round symbolizes a welcoming
gesture for the trans* community in group settings, such as conferences or
classrooms (Spade 2018). The actions of invalidating a
person’s identity create a transphobic culture by normalizing traditional
gender order, especially by threatening against or denying trans* identity.
People assume the objectivity of being a woman requires having a specific body,
heterosexuality, and femininity, along with other subliminal cultural
components, unless we deconstruct them to distinguish its subjectivity, such as
realizing how Eurocentrism influences our notion of gender. An example is our
beauty standards; we internalize the notion of hyper-femininity as someone with
long hair, make-up, pink, and dresses or high-heels. The cultural component of hyper-femininity
is not universal; it is culture and history that influence our notion of
femininity. Pink is a classic example of culture changing an object’s meaning
over time, as pink is used to represent masculinity (as blue is used to represent
femininity for the Virgin Mary).

Femininity is subjective since there is no absolute truth on what is truly
feminine. In fact, femininity and masculinity are both plurals: Masculinities
and femininities. Sociologist R.W Connell coined masculinities to describe how
masculinity is plural and includes four forms: hegemonic (socially dominant),
complicit (not hegemonic but does not challenge the concept), marginalized
masculinity that is unable to follow hegemonic masculinity (like Black men who
struggle to follow white masculinity, as they are stereotyped as
hyper-masculinity through racism) The concept of femininities depends on
objects deemed feminine or not, comparing femininities to masculinities and
vice versa. The cultural context of determining someone’s gender identity by
their appearance is widely accepted, consciously or subconsciously, into mainstream
culture by everyday actions, such as assigning pronouns by a person’s
femininities or masculinities. The hegemonic interpretation that gender is
binary and unchangeable makes it difficult for individuals to come out to
themselves and others as trans*, thus leaving transphobia unchallenged.
The public sphere must acknowledge and accept the existence of the trans*
community. Accepting the trans* community enables us to accept more
marginalized groups, such as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, by
comprehending the intersectionality and the ramifications of social inequality.

Overall, the pronoun-go-round is helpful for people to come out as
non-binary, and it represents a form of acceptance of the trans* community.
However, we must consider the negative outcomes of pronouns-go-round, as the
group may not entirely accept the trans* community, especially by cisnormativity,
such as shaming a trans*woman who cannot pass as a cisgender woman. The
pronoun-go-round may function as a gesture for a group to promote liberal
beliefs rather than critically understanding how it is risky for the
trans*community, as some trans* people struggle to come out about their gender
but feel uncomfortable continuing to present themselves as cisgender. Every
action we take is political, no matter how trivial it appears. Understanding why every action and word can impact culture through a collective
form is critical.

Questions

  1. What are other methods of sharing pronouns should people encourage?
    • I am considering privately telling people your pronouns or hinting at what your pronouns are.
  2. Why do you believe pronouns are significant in culture? What if everyone has the same pronoun in the future?

References

Manion, Jen. “The Performance of Transgender Inclusion.” Public Seminar, 30 Sept. 2019,

publicseminar.org/essays/the-performance-of-transgender-inclusion/.

Reis, Elizabeth. “Pronoun Privilege.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 25 Sept.

2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/26/opinion/pronoun-privilege.html.

Spade, Dean. “We Still Need Pronoun Go-Rounds.” Dean Spade, 1 Dec. 2018,

deanspade.net/2018/12/01/we-still-need-pronoun-go-rounds/