Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Trancending Gender Part II

The movie Juno had a particular scene which gave a nice representation of the irrelevance of gender on the ability to love. Vanessa Loring (Jennifer Garner) knew of only one name she wanted to give to the baby which was soon to be hers: Madison. By the simple act of naming, the audience knew that she only hoped to have a baby girl to give her love to. However, Juno, a modern young woman, does not want to know the sex, she would rather it be a surprise for the Loring’s. One main element in Juno is that love is love regardless of one’s gender and with that said, gender is not so black and white, but much more complicated than many would know. Gender is also something that is a private connection one has with oneself and can often be quite ambiguous.

Therefore gender is no longer confined to the limiting criteria of man and woman as humans have come to know it. Many theorists and intellectuals are dialoguing about the very topic of gender transcendence; it is a highlight on the human struggle against gender constraints and the conversation has been enlivened. Simone de Beauvoir by way of Dorothy Parker’s Modern Woman; The Lost Sex called for not only equality, but transcendence beyond the confines of genderhood because she felt that “[her] idea is that all of us, men as well as women, should be regarded as human being.” (de Beauvoir 1).

She is asking the reader to transcend their vision and experiences beyond their sex, and ultimately, humans may redefine what it means to be a man and a woman in the twenty-first century.

Audrey Hepburn playing Holly Golightly of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, might have an androgynous quality: her body is like a young boys, flat and square; she wears her hair up much of the time, giving it a short, boy-like structure; and she uses a pale color on her lips, highlighting her large eyes but not her feminine wiles. More importantly Truman Capote’s Holly Golightly might actually be a man, and therefore, gender ambiguity is prevalent.

The reader assumes that Holly is female because the narrator calls Holly a ‘she’ and describes ‘her’ wearing “a slim cool black dress, black sandals, a pearl choker” (Capote 16), which all signify a females attire. But what if she is a drag-queen? After all, Truman Capote surrounds her with gentleman at “21,” outside of “P.J. Clark’s saloon,” and her party where she seemingly passed out invitations by “zig-zagging through various bars” (Capote 32). The narrator also describes her singing as that of “a boy’s adolescent voice” (Capote 19) and says she has “boy’s hair” (Capote 16).

These suggest a male transvestite’s behavior, receiving attention from only men and at her most natural – just after showering and drying her hair on the fire escape – she has the qualities of a young boy. Therefore, it is perfectly reasonable for Capote to inject his book with a gender chameleon because he allows the biased or ignorant reader to partake in an unconscious ability to sympathize with the protagonist.

Judith Butler also notes in her article “Imitation and Gender Insubordination” that “[t]here is no ‘proper’ gender” (Butler 722) because “gendering is a kind of impersonation and approximation” (Butler 722). Therefore, when television programming blurs the traditional gender lines, they are at once saying gender is personal while capitalizing on this postmodern outlook.

Both Dirty Sexy Money and America’s Next Top Model include transgendered individuals as part of their regular programming. According to Barker, “the struggle over sexual identities…, (Kristeva) suggests, could result in the deconstruction of sexual and gendered identities understood in terms of marginality within the symbolic order” (Barker 297) and we see this within the scope of these programs.

Dirty Sexy Money has employed a transsexual (who is post-op) and plays a transsexual who is having an affair with a New York Senate lawyer. Candis Cayne who plays Carmelita on Dirty Sexy Money is breaking cultural standards of who we can love, have sex with, and ultimately, what decisions we as humans can make for ourselves. Moreover, as Butler notes, this blurring of lines does not necessarily allow one –who is heterosexual - to define another as gay, or in the case of Cayne, really a man because they are defining from their “straightness” (Butler 723). Again, it is a personal representation of oneself.

On Americas Next Top Model too a transvestite was given the opportunity to compete. Even though the contestant, Isis, is not endowed with the female anatomy, they granted her license to be who she feels she is, a woman. Much of this acceptance by mainstream programming is the acknowledgment of the ability to capitalize on gender differentiations, however, Isis has the chance to express that although she “was born physically male, […] mentally everything [she] feel [s] is female” (ANTM).

Michael Foucault in “The History of Sexuality” expresses that gender deviations were created from “three major explicit codes [that] governed sexual practices: canonical law, the Christian pastoral, and civil law” (Foucault 683). Foucault discusses how these constraints and laws placed on individuals exacerbate their sexual deviations from the implemented norms because they “extend[] the various forms of sexuality” (Foucault 689). The laws, Foucault suggests, defined an entire realm of inappropriate acts which people actually became aware of because of the imposed laws and in essence carried them out.

But what about those individuals whom, like Candis Cayne, have chosen to change their organs or everything they feel, like Isis, “is female?” (ANTM) Are they a product of the deviation from these laws? And do we has humans just ignore them as if they were the dredges of society? Moreover, who is the ultimate decision maker of a person’s gender identity? According to Barker “sexual identity is not an essence but a matter of representation” (Barker 297). A representation which the individual may make for themselves and Norah Vincent, arguing against the traditional gender positions by disguising herself as the other, illuminates this representation.

Norah Vincent blurs the traditional gender lines in her book Self-Made Man, One Woman’s Year Disguised As A Man; she, however, did so in a way that allowed her to share in the experiences of the other sex through the pretensions of her male counterpart, Ned. Vincent experiments with gender by disguising herself as a man for a year and a half and taking part in all aspects of male life: friendship, sex, love, work, self, and spirituality. What she discovers, against her instincts, is the damage that has been done to not only women but men as well, and like de Beauvoir, attempts to find that “transcendence is[…] overshadowed and for ever transcended by another ego (conscience) which is essential and sovereign” (De Beauvoir 11).

Vincent is the Yang to de Beauvoir’s Yin because, like de Beauvoir, she shows how men who “feels himself a demigod as compared with women” (de Beauvoir 8) are actually fraught with pain over “the essence of what our culture has come to think of as masculine tutelage applied roughly to the moral soul: break a man down to build him up stronger” (Vincent 171).

She talks about a men’s workshop that she joined, where women were not allowed. It was based off of the bestseller, Iron John by Robert Bly and the men were attempting to find a happy medium between what Bly called “the fifties man who was suppose to ‘like football, be aggressive, stick up for the United States, never cry, and always provide.’ But was callous and brutal, isolated and dangerous” (Vincent 229) and the man who came from the sixties “beset by guilt and horror over the Vietnam War and encouraged by the early feminist movement to get in touch with his feminine side” (Vincent 229). Part of the workshop - and central to it - was that the men had to hug one another. Vincent recalls that the hugging was very different from any of her encounters as Ned because they would cry and share reassuring words to regain that “surrogate brotherly/fatherly love” (Vincent 233), and “reverse a lifetime’s worth of programming” (Vincent 233).

Not only are women programmed to behave appropriately, Vincent notes that men are as well. She also shows how each of a gender’s programming inhibits them or encourages them to act a specific and often inappropriate way because we are reacting to the gender laws placed upon humans. Take for example her dating research; it succinctly details the trauma that our conditioning has caused.

Ned’s experiences in the dating world, Vincent sees that “[d]ating women as a man was a lesson in female power, and it made me, of all things, into a momentary misogynist […] I saw my own sex from the other side, and I disliked women irrationally for a while because of it. I disliked their superiority, their accusatory smiles, their entitlement to choose or dash me with a fingertip, an execution so lazy, so effortless, it made the defeats and even the successes unbearably humiliating. Typical male power feels by comparison a blunt instrument, its salvos and field strategies laughably remedial next to the damage a woman can do with a single cutting word: no” (Vincent 127).

She points to “[a]ny smartly dressed woman who has ever walked the gauntlet of construction workers on lunch break or otherwise found herself suddenly alone in unfamiliar male company with her sex on her sleeve […]” (Vincent 21), and since they are intimidated by the cat-calls or unprovoked sexualization, “(t)hey tended to see a wolf in every man they met, and so they made every man they met into a wolf” (Vincent 107).

We tend to put one person’s wrongdoings under the umbrella of their whole sex because “[r]omantic hurt equaled romantic blame, and because they were exclusively heterosexuals, romantic blame was assigned more often to the sex, not the morals, of the person inflicting the pain” (Vincent 100). Yet, as Vincent has discovered, we are all stuck in this “sexuality that is economically useful and politically conservative” (Foucault 1) as if our bodies and the choice we make of who we are is a commodity to be sold. There is tons of material to be gobbled up though, as seen in Susan Bordo’s ‘Material Girl’: The Effacements of Postmodern Culture, of how we define ourselves as predetermined by our gender. These, too, have created an irrational image of traditional gender signs, causing many to literally mold themselves to fit the typecast.

Postmodernism has brought humans, who mind you are of the fitting class, the ability to design their face to look like the perfect image of the gender they wish to symbolize. For example, a female’s idea of beauty is developed through the commodity exchange lens of advertising. Bordo likens it to humans acting god-like in our reconstruction of our bodies. Humans are, “re-arranging, transforming, and correcting […] the very materiality of the body” (Bordo 1). She describes this as a sort of barbidization of the human body, what Bordo calls the “cultural plastic” (Bordo 1) of Western society. While humans are able to define their gender through the modern age of medicine and science, there is still a limit based off of what is shown on television and magazines of the ideal beauty.

Bordo sites magazines like Fit, which is geared towards women, and Details, a predominately male-centered magazine that have made statements regarding plastic surgery as “another fabulous [fashion] accessory” (Bordo 2), and one can “sculpt your body into a work of art” (Bordo 2). Yet, these magazines show the exact look that a female or a male should have with the advent of breast augmentation and lips on steroids for the female client or pectoral implants and penis enlargement for the male. We are perpetuating a look that is female or male centered, and thus, perpetuating the gender typing of each sex.

Jean Baudrillard, in his article The System of Objects, suggests that the gender castings, by way of “material goods” (Baudrillard 417) are “merely the objects of need and satisfaction” (Baudrillard 417). While some agreement on the advent of plastic surgery can be made, disagreement on it only consumed for need and satisfaction is prevalent. As children and forced into the symbolic order of which we are born under, we are wrapped in either pink or blue. We are gender stereotyped from the womb based off our sex organs. The “need or satisfaction” is not just what consumption entails because of this very symbolic act of wrapping babies in their gender. The movie Juno expresses this very well.

Vanessa Loring decides she will paint the room of the child she is adopting to an eggshell or custard color because it is gender neutral. If she paints it pink and the baby is a boy, what will happen? Will he be a homosexual at the very sight of the female color or confused and ridiculed that his room is a girl’s room? So, eggshells must be treaded lightly, we would not want a confusion to occur about the palate of the room. What is interesting to note, this choosing of gender or gender neutrality is solely on the parent. Vanessa is choosing what will be appropriately stimulating to her newborn. And whether or not Diablo Cody, the writer of Juno, meant to critique gender stereotyping, she does in the act of framing a pink, Jiffy Lube note.

When Juno writes on the pink piece of paper and it is for a typically male centered career of car mechanics, she is blurring the gender lines. The color of the paper is female and the receipt itself is male, being from a car oil-changing business. More importantly, this act is expressing that the framing of the note is from Vanessa’s personal sentiment to the note itself. Instead of focusing on what the baby will be and it’s appropriately designated color, she is celebrating the child as a gift that she was unable to have herself. Her own ideas of gender have been muted; she is no longer concerned with pleasing the appropriate gender stereotype by remaining neutral to its mystery. Moreover, she owns the very joys she is experiencing in having someone to express mutual love when framing the gender mixed note.

These various texts can be viewed as a challenge to the boundaries of what it means to be a male or female as well as showing the detriments of sole focus on gender. Simone de Beauvoir and Norah Vincent both use their experiences to express that her womanhood (and Vincent’s manhood) is not “defined by limiting criteria” (de Beauvoir 2). Moreover, the networks are granting the transgendered community a soap-box that enable human’s a right to be whomever they themselves feel that they are truly. And movies, like Juno, express that simply focusing on a gender is no way to encourage unconditional love. Therefore, human beings may gain a bit more compassion and understanding towards those they encounter, and hopefully, as these texts set out to accomplish, regardless of sex, one may be valued for intellect and ability and ultimately choose what is best for themselves.

Work’s Cited

Barker, Chris. Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice. 3rd edition. London: SAGE

Publications Ltd., 2008.

Baudrillard, Jean. "The System of Objects." Post Structuralism, Deconstruction, and

Post-Modernism: 408-19.

de Beauvoir, Simone. “Introduction: Woman as Other.” (1949).

Bordo, Susan. "'Material Girl': The Effacements of Postmodern Culture." Cultural

Studies: 1099-115.

Butler, Judith. "Imitation and Gender Insubordination." Gender Studies, Gay/Lesbian Studies, Queer Theory: 722-30.

Capote, Truman. Breakfast At Tiffany’s. New York: Penguin Books, 1958.

Foucault, Michael. “The History of Sexuality.” Gender Studies, Gay/Lesbian Studies,

Queer Theory: 683- 91.

Hatland, Katie. Transgender contestant on America’s Next Top Model. 26 September

2008. 13 October 2008 .

Juno. Dir. Jason Reitman. Perf. Ellen Page, Michael Cera, and Jennifer Garner. DVD. 2007.

Chelsea Lately Candis Cayne Interview.” YouTube. 2008. 13 October 2008.

Vincent, Norah. Self-Made Man: One Woman’s Year Disguised as a Man. New York:

Penguin Books, 2006.

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