Theory as Liberatory Practice

Represents this Post

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 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 competitions as obstacles for marginalized groups regarding feminism. She argues that both feminism and competitions are incompatible by 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 in striving for or preserving their privileges (209-210). An example is the competitiveness in academia; 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 as masculine, including aggressiveness and selfishness, are more socially accepted over traits deemed as 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 white and upper-class. Certain women have more advantages than others by resources they are given, 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.  


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)

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, the name Daiya is also a Polish feminine name for “gift” or “present”. The ad is from a website called 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.


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 an 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 risk discrimination by singling people out as trans*.

On the other hand, Professor Jen Manion expounds how they felt invalidated when people assume they is a cisgender woman despites how they describe themself as a gender outlaw (2019). The pronoun go-round symbolizes a welcoming gesture for the trans* community into group settings, such as conferences or classrooms, through acknowledgment (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 components of hyper femininity is not universal, it is by culture and history that influences our notion of femininity. Pink is a classic example of culture changing an object’s meaning over time, pink used to represent masculinity (as blue 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 plural: Masculinities and femininities. Sociologist R.W Connell coined masculinities to describe how masculinity is plural and includes four forms: hegemonic (social dominant), complicit (not hegemonic but does not challenge the concept), marginalized masculinity that are 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 other people as trans*, thus leaving transphobia unchallenged. The public sphere must acknowledge and accept the existence of the trans* community. The acceptance for the trans* community enables us to accept more marginalized groups, such as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, by comprehending the intersectionality and the ramification 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 the trans* community. However, we must consider the negative outcomes of pronoun go round, as the group themselves may not entirely accept the trans* community, especially by cis normativity, such as shaming a trans*woman who is unable to pass as 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 her gender but feel uncomfortable to continue presenting themselves as cisgender. Every action we take is political, no matter how trivial it appears. It is critical to understand why every action and words can impact culture through a collective form.


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


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

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


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

The Invention of Women: Reflections

The Invention of Women

Sociologist Oyèrónkẹ́ Oyèwùmí’s The Invention of Women (1997) discusses the Western notion of gender onto the Yorùbá culture, that presupposes the histories of bodies through the catalog of Other, through body-reasoning (5). The body, a person’s body, is already interpreted by people by our given notions, such as passing. Passing, like passing as cisgender and white, is our collective notion that we accept as natural or universal by suppressing ideas that contradict the hegemonic concept and the concept’s origins. Sex and gender, biology and culture, are one subject rather than opposing forces, as they depend on each other as a comparison, what makes them different from one another. Terms like light and dark, good and evil, men and women are examples of binary hierarchal roles through a Eurocentric perspective. It is what we sense, which differs significantly by methods and knowledge, ranging from biological determinism to postmodernism. Whether they are anti-nativist or nativists, African scholars subconsciously presuppose Western notions onto their African studies (17-27). Their colonized world-sense displays in language, values, identity, and practices.

Oyèwùmí discusses aspects of Yorùbá that are colonized compared to what is not colonized, particularly language since language is a social construction by its functionality, such as reinforcing cultural beliefs. The Yorùbá put strong emphasis on age through their language and kinship, as seniority, is a social ranking, granting the person more authority by their experiences, knowledge, and leadership (40-43). The cognatic marriage in the Yorùbá culture did not affect anyone’s social ranking nor property, as the bride’s partner did not have to be biologically related to their children. Children’s survival was the most important aspect in marriage, as procreation was a crucial part of marriage. Polyamory was accepted for procreation, and postpartum abstinence was encouraged (50-55). The terms obínrin and okùnrin, women and men, do not have the same meaning as the English translation, as there is no social status nor similar cultural components (32-34). Scholars created terms like obínrin and okùnrin to fit the Western notion onto people by assigning gender, a social institution, onto them. A person, a woman of color, becomes colonized twice as the Other by their race and gender. An example is a study on the Yorùbá religion, conducted by researcher Ayodele Ogundipe. Despite being a woman of color, Ogundipe uses inappropriate language, such as portraying the religious followers who are what she describes as females less respectfully than followers who are what she describes as males (168-174). Scholars inventing words that refer to Western terms, like king or daughters, to describe Yorùbá, a genderless culture, for Western translation, creates misinterpretation for the Yorùbá’s culture, along with conscious or subconscious bias. For instance, the gender for Èṣù, a deity, portrays as dualistic and switchable through emotions and personality (173). Worse, the masculine pronouns are ungendered, as default in language, while feminine pronouns are gendered, as part of being the Other (172). The distortion of language recreates the history through collective false memory of the past, enabling colonization by erasing Yorùbá history.

Thus, a marginalized group are more marginalized, subalterns, if they cannot speak, as they are written out in history by those in power, even by intellectuals with good intentions, as they objectify the subalterns through mythicization (de Kock, 1992; 29-47). 


  1. How does societal acknowledgment and acceptance for non-binary relate to The Invention of Women? Does non-binary decolonize gender in Western countries?
  2. Oyèwùmí discusses how African societies are often subject to generalization and Western interpretation; in what other ways has this affected other studies or even policies, such as an imperialistic or Eurocentric analysis and strategy on immigration or beauty?


Leon de Kock. “Interview with Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak: New Nation Writers Conference in

South Africa.” Ariel: A Review of International English Literature 23:3 (July 1992): 29-47

Oyèwùmí, Oyèrónkẹ́. The Invention of Women: Making an African Sense of Western Gender

Discourses. University of Minnesota Press, 1997.

A Quick look at Butler & Foucault

I wanted to share my thoughts after reading Bodily Inscriptions, Performative Subversions and Truth and Power. Posts like this one are basically summaries, however, I hope my thoughts makes sense to anyone struggling to read both works. I will post more like this later.

Philosopher Judith Butler’s Bodily Inscriptions, Performative Subversions explores the idea of creating labels on bodies as sex by the effects of the politics, from compulsory heterosexuality and Phallocentrism, or if noticing the differences of bodies themselves influence people to create labels for them, resulting in compulsory heterosexuality and Phallocentrism. Butler discusses drag performances to explain the complexity of gender itself; drag makes us question what it means for an object, a person, to become a parody versus natural. Gender depends on stylized repetition of acts, gestures, and desires, defined as performativity. The line between authentic and fabricated depends on its risk of deformity, failure to repeat precisely, or even a parody. If a person wears mostly pink, either people interpreted them as feminine or risk interpreted as too feminine. The parody depends on onlookers’ knowledge of history to understand its representation, such as associating pink with femininity and youth. An object like pink is subjective by nature as it is merely a color we use, consciously or unconsciously, to communicate. Dualism between real and parody reflects the history of culture and internal; we internalized ideas generally accepted by the public, such as accepting pink as a symbol for femininity or even childish by distancing oneself from it. Philosopher Julia Kristeva’s Abjection comes into play as it helps explain the aspect of our inner self, as it refers to the rejection of an object from within self by deeming it as other. An example is a person abhorring the queer community as it reminds the person of the loss of distinction between self and other. As the other is deemed deviant in culture, the person disdains to question that they may not be entirely heterosexual nor cisgender. Philosopher Michel Foucault’s notion of sexuality comes into play as he expounds on how the body becomes a canvas of culture and history. Suppose we accepted a notion of gender and sexuality. In that case, it becomes real, such as the power of compulsory heterosexuality in a micro-perspective and macro-perspective, from doubting one’s sexuality and gender identity to people’s lack of acceptance of the one’s coming out as queer.

Foucault’s History of Sexuality explains further about his previous works, especially The History of Sexuality, to analyze power’s negative effects, such as its exclusion, rejection, denial, obstruction, occultation. The idea of madness perceives as a rejection of systemic power, as it requires us to question the dualism between deviant or deviant. The body functions as a tool to communicate political beliefs by what we internalize ideology, such as deeming sexuality relating it to morals, whereas other cultures are apathetic to sexuality. Through works of naturalizing ideology as the truth through repeated actions of people, through a culture that normalizes ideology as part of nature, it reinforces people not to question their social reality.

Foucault’s Truth and Power expound on the notion of power, as he explains that power is found in language, social customs, and institutions. As power and knowledge co-exist with each other as a discourse, he notes how power is not the only repression. It is also generative; it is historical, on its forces us to internalize ideology given to us by culture. An example is how we follow institutions’ rules. Many people do not question its origin and how we can still give in to institutional power by violating the rules, such as stealing products from stores to rebel corporations without realizing it harms employees instead. Foucault disagrees with the Marxist perspective on ideology, as he interprets that the truth has no dualism nor order in history. The truth focuses on a form of scientistic discourse, relying on constant economic and political incitement, requiring people to share and listen to these discourses as it is produced under the control of those in power, ranging from media to university, and confronts with ideology struggles by political arguments and social hostility. Foucault proclaims that truth requires us to question its existence, as it is part of undoing its power by procedures and its relation to other forms of power.