Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Film Analysis 1: "Tough Guise: Violence, Media, and the Crisis in Masculinity"

In documentary style, ”Tough Guise” addresses the issue of masculinity represented as being tough, macho, and violent in western culture. Host and presenter Jackson Katz shares video clips from movies, interviews with young men, and statistics, in addition to his own view based on his experience working with American young men in an anti-violence education capacity.

“Tough Guise” begins with young men sharing words they feel describe what it means to be a “true man,” as well as words that are the opposite—what, as a male, you’re called if you aren’t “manly” enough. Manly words include: tough, strong, independent, respected. Insult words include: wuss, wimp, sissy, fag.

They learn these concepts from family, community, and media. For example, in movies, Asian men
are depicted as martial arts experts and violent killers. Latinos are tough guys from the barrio, criminals, or gang members.

A particular group of men Katz addressed was black men (whom he referred to as ‘men of color’ since this film was made in 1999). He pointed out that black men don’t have opportunities for privileges and education like middle class men because the resources they need have been systematically taken from them.

“This is not their fault, it’s reality,” says Katz. “But one thing that hasn’t been taken from them is the ability to use their bodies to instill fear and respect in other people.”

Katz continued by explaining where black men got their inspiration for what we know as “gangsta culture” today: Gangster films. Stories about violent white Italian men. It comes full circle, because young white men began copying black “gangsta” men for the image that comes with it: power and respect.

He also explained that school shootings (which were obviously nowhere near the level they are now when this film was made) are not a result of video games, satanic rock stars, or violent movies. It’s about boys feeling that they don’t fit into the jock culture that idolizes muscles and toughness. Guns are “the great equalizer,” says Katz.

He continues by pointing out that violence on this scale has been happening in black neighbourhoods for decades, and the media simply reports it as fact. But now that it’s happening in white middle class neighbourhoods it’s a problem, because suddenly it’s happening to “normal kids.”

While Katz admits that video games and films play a role in perpetuating the idea that ‘manhood’ is represented by toughness, cruelty, and violence, he also says that they do so “within a bigger cultural and social context where the constant message is that manhood is connected to power, control, and violence—it’s what passes for ‘normal’ culture.”

Katz wrapped up his presentation by saying the world needs more honest portrayals of male vulnerability, to define courage in a way that doesn’t include violence and disrespect, and to break “the monopoly of the media system we’ve been looking at where rich white men dictate the kinds of stories and examples of manhood that surround us.”

His final plea is that we will all struggle to enact real cultural and structural change in our society.

“It’s the only way our sons and their sons will have a chance at being better men,” says Katz.

This film was incredible. It may be 15 years old, but it still speaks to today’s pervasively violent culture, especially as it relates to men, manhood, and masculinity. I really appreciated this new perspective that the typical scapegoats (video games, movies, inner city influence) are not the cause of the problem, but perpetuations of a problem we’ve created for ourselves. In particular, Katz mentioned Columbine and how the reports surrounding that event left out a very important and crucial point: that school shootings are always done by males. While one New York Times article mentioned it parenthetically, no one else did, and even the NYT did not unpack that worldview-changing statement.

Another aspect of perpetuating violence in our society that I had not considered was the films that portray extreme violence against women. Katz pointed out that in those types of films, women are shown getting undressed, taking a shower, being in provocative poses, and at that moment, when the straight male viewers are sexually aroused, the women are violently assaulted. This perpetuates the idea that violence and sexual experiences can and should be connected.

This film solidified some things I had been thinking already, and put into words feelings I’d had but couldn’t define surrounding this topic. It was informative, educational, and enlightening. I am so glad I chose to watch this documentary and I may watch the second one if I get a chance to, as well.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Reflection Paper 1

Wood, Chapter 1

Reflection & Discussion

Question 1    
When I was fifteen I spent three weeks on a mission trip in the Philippines. Before we left we (by which I mean the girls) were given strict instructions on what to pack: Long skirts, nice shirts, and baggy t-shirts and shorts to cover our swimsuits. We stayed on a compound owned by the local Adventist church and traveled to and from our daily destinations via our own personal jeepney, hired specifically for our transport ease. Our nights, showers, and meals all took place on the compound. It was only there and the beach that we were allowed to wear shorts; any other time we appeared in public we were to wear skirts and dress as though we were going to church.

One morning a couple girlfriends and I hurriedly threw on some shorts and tank tops to run from our sleeping quarters down the path to the eating commons. As we rushed toward breakfast we heard hooting and hollering from outside the compound walls. Some young Filipino men were on the sidewalk outside the property watching us walk down the path in our shorts and were sending whistles and cat-calls our way. It wasn’t because we were particularly attractive; they just weren’t used to being able to see women’s legs—and certainly not white ones!

Certainly all the pastors there were male, though they did allow some of the girls from our group to preach sermons and share their testimonies in church. When we traveled from house to house giving Bible studies and praying with families, it was almost always the women who were home with the children during the day, while their husbands were at work. We also weren’t allowed to go in groups comprised solely of females; at least one male had to be in each group.

It’s hard for me to say what the specific views on masculinity and femininity and the expected roles for men and women were, since I was experiencing the culture as an American female. This is a different experience than what Filipino women experience, because Americans in general are revered and highly respected in the Philippines. They view us as rich—all of us—and while that is an honor, it can also put Americans at risk for kidnapping for ransom—male or female.

Question 2 
.   I have mixed feelings about current views on masculinity and femininity in America. Part of me appreciates and respects the idea that men should take care of women by protecting them. But another part of me also despises the notion that women need to be provided for by men. I also enjoy the ability to paint my nails, worry about my hair, and spend hours shopping for clothes because I value my physical appearance “like a woman.” However, I also hate the idea that little girls are princesses and are urged from an extremely young age to value their physical appearance via media and product packaging.

Although we have come a very long way as far as allowing women to have successful careers and also be mothers, we are still very much in the dark ages at the same time. Women who are single and childless are preferred in corporate settings over women who have children and/or are married or significantly attached to someone. I find this insulting and completely asinine. It forces women to choose whether they want to be successful career women, or if they want to have a family. Because only in extremely rare occasions (Meg Ryan’s character in “One Fine Day” being an unrealistic example of this) is having both actually possible.

I read an article recently talking about the Bechdel Test for movies and how in 2014 there have only been 129 movies in 2014 (out of approximately 48,000) that have passed it. And out of those 129 less than 20 were well-known box-office hits. The Bechdel Test requires three things: 1. Two female characters with names; 2. Who talk to each other; 3. About something other than men. It’s ridiculous to me that so few pass this simple test, and it angers me.

What I’m doing to combat the negative views I see include changing my vocabulary (not teasing anyone for being ‘girly’ or making ‘like a girl’ sound like an insult or a slur), and in the way I raise my own daughters. I refuse to allow my children to wear shirts that say “Daddy’s Little Princess,” “Cuter than a Cupcake,” “Wrapped Around Daddy’s Finger,” or any other such ilk. They have a box full of toy cars. They know who Superman, Batman, and Spiderman are. They wrestle with their dad and play Giant and Dinosaur alongside Rapunzel and Little Mommy. They read books about being archaeologists and inventors as well as teachers and ballerinas. They own blue PJs with bears on them and wear Daddy’s old Little League t-shirt. The change will happen generation by generation…until they think we’ve gone too far and they’ll slowly swing the pendulum back the other way.

I never really knew anything about the LGBTQ community until I moved to Michigan and started working at Andrews. It’s interesting that it took moving to the most conservative Adventist ghetto in the States for me to learn more about other cultures including the LGBTQ culture. I also never realized how little I knew about racism and its effects on our society and culture until I moved here.

Thanks to my position here at Andrews I have been offered the opportunity to learn more about what LGBTQ means and how the Adventist Church is handling it. In the last year I’ve learned the difference between transgender and transsexual, what cis gendered means, and that the Q in LGBTQ doesn’t (always?) stand for “queer.” I’ve met and talked with people who fit into sexual/gendered categories I didn’t even know existed 12 months ago. Reading this chapter was more of a review for me than I ever would have expected it to be.

Wood, Chapter 2

Reflection & Discussion

Question 1 
.    I would say that the more we learn about ourselves as humans, the more we can understand, respect, and enjoy in our differences and similarities. And the more we understand, respect, and enjoy them, the safer the world becomes for those who don’t fit the standard mold we expected everyone to fit until we learned more.

Question 2 
.   My mother and I have a rocky past. From the time I was about 12 years old she was telling me I needed to not eat so much, eat slower, exercise more, pay attention to how I looked, “because boys don’t like fat girls.” Looking back I’m shocked and appalled that my mother would say something like that—that any mother would say something like that to her child. Especially since, in my case, it wasn’t true. I was nowhere near overweight. However, because my mother told me I was, I began to believe it. I have thought I was fat since I was 12 years old. No one should be able to say that. My mother is also extremely passive aggressive and uses this tendency to manipulate people to do what she wants. I didn’t recognize it as such until I was in college, but it happened my entire life. Because of these (and some other) things, my mother and I have never been close. In fact, I’ve noticed as an adult that I most often refer to her as “my mother” as opposed to “my mom.” This says that, psychologically, I’m not bonded to her as “mommy” and simply view her as the biological route through which I entered the world: “mother.”

My father and I, however, have a quite pleasant past. I appreciate everything he’s done (and not done) for his family; he’s sacrificed a lot to allow the happiness and privilege of his three daughters and his wife, and he keeps a cheerful attitude through all of it. He has always been honest and open with me. When I was a teenager I would often sit on the patio and talk with him, asking questions about why my friends acted the way they did, why he would or wouldn’t let me do the things I wanted to do, and why Mom behaved the way she did. He was respectful of everyone we talked about, and gave me straight answers—not coddling answers parents typically hand their teenage (and younger) children. He made it a point to come to every concert and performance my musical groups ever did (though my mother used her presence—or lack thereof—as a manipulation tactic to control my feelings and behavior), and told me that although he may not understand my interest in certain things (international travel, for one), he would support me because he loved me and believed in me. I most often refer to him as “my dad” rather than “my father.”

I found these theories very fascinating, especially the ones that deal with how we as children develop our views of gender—trial and error, imitation, active participation, etc. It’s fascinating in particular to watch this happen in the lives of my children and look back and see what I might have done right or wrong in aiding in this process.

Wood, Chapter 3

Reflection & Discussion

Question 1 
.    Until now, I viewed “feminism” in much the same way as “gay rights.” Pushing for the rights and equal treatment of women like we do for those in the LGBTQ community. Reading this chapter helped me see that there are myriad ways we can view feminism and feminist perspectives. One of the biggest eye-openers for me was the idea that some feminists believe that instead of pushing for women to be allowed different roles than they currently have, we push for their current (traditional) roles to be more highly valued and respected. The idea that we change the way society views our roles, rather than changing the roles society allows us to fill.

Question 5 
 At their most basic levels, I don’t think it’s very possible fro women to be both politically engaged feminists and sexy and conventionally feminine at the same time. I believe they can be both, but it takes the right environment to be either one. For example—a woman can don a professional suit and heels, spend her day in the courthouse with a stack of legal papers working to make life better for a certain individual or group, and then at 7 p.m. lose the jacket, unbutton a few buttons on her shirt, and head into a bar to perch on a barstool, cross her legs in her pencil skirt, and flirt with strangers. But if she tried to be conventionally sexy in the courthouse—obvious cleavage, licking her lips provocatively, etc., she would lose the respect of nearly everyone in the building. And if she started waxing eloquent on the hottest political issues while sipping a cocktail and chatting up a man on the stool next to her at the bar…it’s unlikely she’d be considered sexy for very long. Unless, of course, the man found intelligence a turn-on, which would then also prove my point because intelligence is not “conventionally sexy.”

Women’s movements in the U.S. frustrate me and inspire me simultaneously. I want the freedom to choose my life path as a woman, but I also in some ways harbor bitterness toward the women who battled to allow us as women to work outside the home. Because while they may think they succeeded, they really didn’t. Now we’re not only able to work outside the home, but we’re still expected to do everything we’ve always done traditionally at home. It’s not a gain of roles, it’s a gain of responsibility, Without shirking anything to make up for it.

However, I very much appreciate the current move in parenting to encourage young girls to be whatever they want to be—whether society says they “should” or not. Websites like make me happier than I ever thought I’d be for something I would have, as recently as a year or two ago, considered super feminist (in a negative way).

As a teen and young adult I never understood my “feminist” friends. Why push so much for empowering women? Why try so hard to change the way people talk about us? We’re not suffering. We’re not oppressed. We have it pretty dang good. And compared to some women in some countries, we do have it good. But there is still a long way to go before women have the respect they deserve, even in America. We’re still judged very much on our physical appearance, we have entirely too many expectations placed on us, and regardless of how good we look, if we have children, our value to society drops considerably. Instead of being viewed as the people raising the future of our country and the world, we’re seen as the people who can’t ever do anything more than half-assed and never finish projects on time because we’re too busy taking sick days to be with our children at home ill from school, attending school programs, and hauling kids to lessons and museums.

Now I see the value in urging people to stop saying the things they do about women in general. The inequality we have as women in the workforce. The oppression we face as mothers anywhere—even at home. While I disagree with some of the movements outlined in this chapter, some shed a new light on an old topic and caused me to see things differently than I had. I appreciate that.

Wood, Chapter 4

Reflection & Discussion

Question 1 
.    I had no idea, prior to reading this chapter, that there were so many men’s movements. In fact, before I read this chapter I had never heard of the Million Man March, and that makes me annoyed on two counts—one for men and one for blacks. This limited knowledge of men’s movements in the U.S. points out the significant biases in the media and education, though they are biases we already knew existed. While men typically get the benefit of the doubt and the long end of the stick, there are a few instances where they really do deserve a bit more attention than they’re currently getting so important changes can take place, whether in societal thought or in cultural practice.

Question 2 
.   The men’s movement most consistent with my views of gender and my values is the profeminist movement. I feel that Joss Whedon fits into this category, and I appreciate all that he has done and continues to do to promote women and their abilities and strengths in popular media. The movement that is least consistent with my views of gender and my values is the men’s rights movement. This bothers me because while they do promote the abilities and strengths of men, they also push women into the background and underfoot again, which I feel is incredibly inappropriate.

This chapter was so eye-opening to me because I really didn’t know most of these movements existed. It was fascinating to read about the different viewpoints large groups of men have. The Promise Keepers was especially interesting to me since I had only ever heard about that group in an extremely negative light prior to this chapter and class discussion. The father of one of my junior high friends was involved with the PKs and I remember my parents talking about it with disdain and reproach in their voices. All I heard about it was that it made men trample over their wives and insist that they be submissive and subordinate. That didn’t sound positive to me. So to hear all the things they really stand for and believe in was eye-opening. Though I still see why it would make some men act how my parents talked about them acting. My friend’s father was a bit overbearing, and even as a teenager it bugged me that her mom couldn’t make any decisions without consulting her husband—even when we asked her to order pizza for dinner. She refused to make a decision until her husband got home from work. That bothered me at 14 and it bothers me now at 31. But I can definitely see now some of the positive aspects of being involved in a group such as the PKs.