To Make A Sexuality: The Personal and The Political of Ecosexuality

27 Nov

ecosexuals-believe-having-sex-with-the-earth-could-save-it-body-image-1478044301As we have discussed in class multiple times, identity is a tricky, liminal, shifting thing. However, perhaps nothing is trickier than sexuality. Sexuality involves multiple factors, some of which might be essentialist. However, many other elements may be voluntary or tied to one’s mutable emotional attachments. Also, these factors might be different for different, separate people. Perhaps no sexuality defies classification more than ecosexuality—that is ecosexuality as a sexual orientation.

Sexuality’s politicization has been a part of humanistic theory and discourse since the adoption of the feminist slogan “the personal is political.” That is to say that feminists believed that the distinction between public and private should be questioned, troubled. Thus, sexuality (the private experience) should be questioned politically (the public address). And ecosexuality is a bizarre yet direct mixing of both elements of public and private.

Portraying sexuality in public is thus using private behavior in the wild where everyone can see you. Add this to the politics of ecology—sustainable sex toys and non-chemically invasive lubricant—and you nearly have all sides of ecosexuality. But, of course, you need to add an extreme element, which is provided by those that actually believe in making love to the earth: a participant might, then, stimulate themselves with holes in the ground or tree branches. Yet the act itself, while not necessarily reproductive, may be productive.

It makes a certain sense that if one loves the Earth, they are more likely to wish to save it. However, the connection between sex and love might be a bit too literal in meaning for a sexecology follower, the kind of person envisioned and nurtured by Annie Sprinkle and Elizabeth Stephens. Here Sprinkle and Stephens take the spectacle of visual performance to a new level in blurring the lines between public and private. And maybe this theater has the purpose of saving the planet.

If one is to play identity politics for the betterment of all, then perhaps sexecology is a con for good. Identity, as we have discussed, is a sort of real fiction, based on the body and behavior. But maybe ecosexuality is a postmodern answer to the need to change our politics. The question still remains, however, if one can be so on-the-nose with constructing a sexuality that one can simply ignore the obviously fabricated nature of this particular take on sexuality.

Middles and Monstrous Motherhood

18 Oct

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The feminine body as long been one of mystery, and even one of monstrosity. One aspect of feminine monstrosity is certainly the female body’s procreative capabilities. As the Bible states that Eve is the mother of us all, biblical myth identifies Lilith as the mother of all monsters. This connection to monstrous motherhood is tied also to other mythological monstrous mothers, like Echidna—the half-snake woman whose family attempted, unsuccessfully, to overthrow the Greek gods. Zeus allows Echidna (her name meaning “she-viper”) and her brood to live so that Greek heroes have monsters to fight. The connection between Lilith and Echidna goes even further than their motherhood; it extends even to one of their traditional forms.

Just as Lilith is often depicted in snake form—no doubt intertwining her mythic form with that of the tempter-snake in the Garden of Eden—Echidna is also half-snake.  And this snake form can also be conceptually linked with the belly; lest we forget, God’s punishment of the serpent was for it to crawl on its belly in the dust forevermore.  And the abdomen, although mistakenly, is often connected with motherhood. Similarly, snakes are connected in many mythological systems with fertility (not just monstrous fertility). However, why would one not assume that monstrous children would not arrive from the monstrous womb that drags the ground?

crommyonian_sow_by_uralowa-d58409eHowever, like the children of the alien queen form Aliens, Echidna is a ravenous example of what Barbra Creed refers to as the monstrous-feminine. Echidna devours her pray, first leading them in with her seductive gaze. And gluttony is linked to both the vagina (vagina dentate) and the stomach. As Eve hungered for more than the Garden could give her, she may have become ravenous. And because the vaginal canal is the passageway for life, it might also be the portal to death. Echidna’s teeth, thus, are often depicted as being lined with sultry, full lips but with dangerous and jagged teeth or dagger-like incisors. Parallel, the alien queen’s teeth are also sharp and shark-like. And like Echidna, the Queen seeks warm-bodies for her children’s sake.

Xenomorph_queen.pngThe Queen uses human bodies, not only as flesh for food to sustain herself and her children, her brood plant eggs in their chests to spread her monstrous children throughout the universe. The chest-bursters here reveal another fear involving motherhood: the male as mother, the subversion of the “natural” roles between the sexes. There is, of course, a normative way for life to come about, and clearly a dominant mother figure in charge will produce totally “unnatural” disharmony.

Thus the themes of gluttony and fertility are all linked in these displays of the monstrous-feminine.  As Simone de Beauvoir writes, the female is the Other. The body—women are often linked only with the body—without a head, as Jeffrey Cohen tells us, monstrous. The monster, like the female, is conceived of a pure body, all body. It is uncontrolled nature. Thus the feminine body, examined here through the myths of Lilith and Echidna and the Aliens story, is monstrously hungry and fertile.

How We Define Who We Are and Why it Matters

18 Oct

autism-pfl-trainAs our course focuses somewhat on identity, I realize that my identity is somewhat scattered. Then again, who’s isn’t. As we’ve discussed in our readings, we as people have many different facets to our personalities, to our embodiments, and to our inner natures. So who gets to determine the final product, and how does we control our identity. As Ellen Samuels points out in her book, Fantasies of Identification, as much as we would like to believe that even our bodily identities are definable, fixed, and naturally determined, identification still relies heavily on the fictions by which we live. That does not mean, however, that those fictions, as unstable as they may be, are not useful, meaningful, and purposeful.

How we choose to identify is important. In fact, identification may be one of the most meaningful things we do in our lives. As Kierkegaard wrote, a duck cannot pretend to be anything but a duck, while we as humans might pretend to be many different things. And this pretense is not unimportant. In fact, this fantasy of identification may be what allows us to form, at least individually, fulfilling lives. Of course, even the category of “woman” is not immune to critique, to movable and permeable barriers. Certainly, this is true of any embodied category. It is certainly true of the category of disability. As Liat Ben-Moshe, et al. point out, disability as a category is defined broadly when marginalizing disabled people, but it becomes substantially more narrow when it comes to dividing resources for accessibility by disabled people.  Lest we forget, however, language plays a certain role in our identification.

I am, of course, hereby referring to the person-first versus identity-first debate. As a disabled person myself, disability informs a great deal of my life. I embody my disability. I live my disability. I do not wish to further disengage with my disability by distancing myself via jargon, even if the adoption of that jargon is done with the best of intentions. Like Emily Ladau, I have experienced the non-disabled stealing away my identity by giving me no other choice with which to identify myself or my community. I stand by Gloria Anzaldua’s assertion in the violence of identity and language denial. To deny me a choice of identity is to deny me community. As Ladau writes of her experience:

I vividly remember the first time I learned about person-first language (PFL). I was listening to a professor of special education speak to a group of students on disability “etiquette.” He handed out a sheet with rules on how to address or refer to a person if they had a disability. While lecturing, the professor seemed keen on calling me out, making me feel like a token, and prompting me to agree that when it came to disability, it was PFL or bust. I went along with it, but something didn’t sit well with me. I was born with my disability. It was news to me that calling myself a “disabled person” was an insult. It had always been just a fact of life, a part of who I was. And now, after all these years of calling myself what I am, here was an educator, who doesn’t even have a disability, telling me I had it all wrong.

Our identities may be constructed, but that does not defer their importance. Socially constructed reality may not be physical reality, but it is still reality. What does it mean, after all, to be authentically anything? Sure, our identities, whether we are speaking of our identities as gender identity, sexuality, racial identity, or disabled community may be constructed, but so is everyone else’s.

Consumer Nostalgia, Boyhood, and The Female Plot Device: An Ode to Barb

18 Oct

Mass-market, consumerbarb cultural nostalgia tends to skew male because the male perspective has been so dominant in the past. I am thinking herein of Louis C.K.’s joke regarding time travel while being white and male (though all groups closest to the normate would fit) as much easier than being a woman or African American—or being queer, trans, disabled, etc.—as white men would be accepted in and treated well in just about any time period. It does seem as if mainstream (marketable) nostalgia focuses on men. Just about every allusion constructed in Stranger Things refers to a story dominated not by men but by boys: The Goonies, Stand by Me, even ET. Sure, there are girls, even interesting girls, in these stories, but the primary focus that is packaged generically as childhood is, in fact, boyhood. What I’m saying here is that the default for consumer nostalgia seems, also, to be male.

Although Istranger-things-characters did enjoy Stranger Things, the critique of the female characters of the story is necessary. We have almost no models of truly feminine strength. We have Winona Ryder’s character, Will’s mother, as a paragon of motherly strength, but we’ve always had male reverence for motherly–especially the mothers of men–virtue. Then we have Nancy, who is strong and independent, but she is also punished for being sexual (losing her “innocence”) by losing a friend–again, this is a narrative of women we’ve all seen before in horror. Then we have the generic, bitchy Carol, the (forgettable) girlfriend of Steve’s best frenemy. It speaks volumes that many fans of the show cannot even remember her name. Finally, we have Barb who everyone, including her mother, seems to forget about the instant she’s gone. Barb serves as more plot device than person. She is the living embodiment of the payment for Nancy’s sins. Barb’s only real purpose in the story is to guilt Nancy into a head-on confrontation with the “demigorgon.” It seems apropos that one would picture Barb as a waffle—the confections preferred by Ele—because she has no more purpose than one of Ele’s beloved Egos… she’s loved, but she’s expendable.

We do have Ele. Eleven is an awesome character, but in Stranger Things she’s cast in the ET role–she’s a stranger in a strange land for many reasons, but mostly because she’s a girl playing with the boys. What’s more, the newest critique of the stronger more  of even the modern story applies here. Ele is more competent, saves the heroes, but does not get to lead the story herself—in this way, she is much like Nancy. Nancy, too, is competent enough to figure out the demigorgon’s attraction to blood, encourages a confrontation with the monster, and saves Jonathan Byers when he freezes as the monster attacks, but she is captured by the demigorgon just as Ele is captured by the “bad men.”

magician4Don’t get me wrong, I like Stranger Things. However, I don’t think this is a problem indicative of Stranger Thing‘s inherent sexism, or even the sexism of film. Instead, I think it’s an interesting indication of the sexism inherent in consumer nostalgia via the cultural representation of our sexist notions from the past.

 

Representation and Reality: What’s the Difference?

23 Sep

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What is it about the nondescript stick figure that says ‘male’? Certainly the figure that oftenadorns bathroom’s everywhere is not equipped with genitals—it does not even have hair!  So what is it about this figure that makes people see it as male over female or even another gender/sex possibility? Well, as the Lucal article illustrates, the male is default. It must not be ignored that we read bodies, but who teaches us this skill? How do we know when we are correct? In short, there must be some sort of reason why human is typically read first as male… not to mention white, mspacman2heterosexual, Protestant, and non-disabled.

Let’s consider the conscious representation of women, especially stylized representations? How are these representations (mis)read, just as Lucal claims to be popularly misread as male, as her article points out? One stylized representation of the female might be considered in the form of Ms. Pacman. It is worth noting that, although the Ms. Pacman game became more popular than the original male Pacman, Ms. Pacman didn’t come into existence until after the introduction of the male Pacman. Furthermore, Ms. Pacman (in her original Japanese form), despite being called “beautiful,” is simply Pacman with longer eyelashes and a bow. Thus, the female is additive… perhaps the female is even superfluous. But what of a woman’s personality?

First, it seems, the standard female, the default female, seems quite interested in her appearance. While the male is mostly nondescript, the female is adorned. The female is decorated, and thus takes notice in her appearance in the way a man isn’t implied to have as great an interest in. Therefore, in a way, this seems to be an indication that females are somewhat more self-centered or narcissistic than males. This also points to materialism. As females are sometimes seen as body alone, the body seems to be more important to a woman than a man—at least that’s the representation (it is, of course, not the reality). How we represent the world, in this case, the way women are represented as having an inordinate interest in the body and material goods. Many female character representations have only one personality: female. That is, certain characters (especially the most stylized, the cartoonish, etc.) represent all stereotypes—especially the most unflattering ones—as female.

Despite, as Teen Vogue presents, the fact that many of us realize that our representations and conceptions of sexual and gender difference are overly simplicity, that realization doesn’t explain why we vehemently hold to our view of binaries of gender and sex. This binary is seen as so important, that the representations, as non-descript and artless as they are, are entrusted to guard what some consider the sanctuary of the public restroom. Why are women in such danger in the bathroom? And why is this the place where gender separation is most mandatory? But perhaps the most interesting question is why we wish to simultaneously believe in the inherent division of the sexes when this division is so easily troubled.

I am hereby accessing the phenomenon of the boi—the queer woman that dresses, not as a butch lesbian or a man but as a young man. Certainly, the boi has her or his fans. And, we cannot forget that the boi has a diverse range of gender pronouns and other gender-based societal presenting options: some bois see themselves as boyish females, some see themselves as male and use traditionally male pronouns, and others choose a variety of other options (two-spirit, non-traditional trans people, etc.) But what is it about this phenomenon that is sometimes so offensive to more traditionally feminine identified people? Surely, the boi is immature, but are they also not honest? Do they not have their fans, so to speak? And the boi does access a great deal of privilege, including the privilege of youth. I do believe that there is currently a lot of privilege to access in youth—attractiveness, fun, opportunity, etc. These have been represented in the media as the predominate domain of the young. And the young male has even more access to this power. Doesn’t it make sense that certain women would choose this power? It must, after all, give them access to not only power and privilege, but pleasure.

That is to say that I am thinking here of representation rather than reality. Drawing a distinction between what is represented (symbolic) and what is existent (that to which the symbol is applied) is becomes more necessary as we continue in the course. It’s not so much that the postmodern application of relative truth is totally without merit, but it is more to say that there are certainly worldviews that are swayed by representations of reality and differ from a shared sense of reality.

The Odd Case of Acquanetta: The Exotic Beauty, The Jungle Seductress, Captive Wild Woman

22 Sep

There are differing accounts of the women know as Acquanetta’s heritage. She was billed aaquanetta_images a Venezuelan bombshell, but she was born in Pennsylvania in 1921. Although she famously claimed to be a part of the Arapaho tribe, an orphan from the age of two and living with an adopted family until she reached the age of fifteen (the name she went by, Burnu Acquanetta, according to her meant “burning fire, deep water”), some reports claim that she was a light-skinned African American women born Mildred Davenport—a more plausible origin, and one like that of Anatole Broyard, one of what Kinji Yoshino called passing and covering. Mildred or Burnu, Acquanetta’s heritage is plausibly linked to male desire; the desire for the “exotic” beauty of Acquanetta may have allowed the model-turned-actress to spin a web of ridiculous fiction—male desire thus overwhelming the sense that the object of their lust is racially other, and the evidence of that racial otherness cannot be completely ignored, giving rise to the typecasting Acquanetta suffered and benefited from.

Acquanetta’s brother, Horace Davenport, is recorded to have become the first African American judge within the Pennsylvanian county in which he lived. And more evidence that Acquanetta’s racial roots were suspect to some: her career was closely followed by the African American press at the time, including a publication recently still in existence, Jet magazine. However, the greatest confirmation/denial of Acquanetta’s racial otherness, be it African American or other non-white, might be the roles into which she was typecast: she became the quintessential jungle seductress. According to the billing for her first film, Captive Wild Woman, her jungle genetics gave her “strange power over man and beast.”

As a film, Captive Wild Woman wasn’t meant to be stellar, exactly. The film was classic B-movie horror fare. However, a few new, creative moves were made in the 1944 film. First, a large portion of the film’s footage was recycled from an early film, 1933’s The Big Cage. The film also draws upon a Universal heritage of the monster trope: the “wild woman” in question, played by Acquanetta, is a female gorilla—played by a man—named Cheela. The monstrous twist of the movie occurs when a mad scientist, Dr. Sigmund Walters (John Carradine), transplants the brain of a human into the body of the gorilla Cheela. To his surprise, this transforms Cheela into a beautiful young woman he names, for some unknown reason, Paula Dupree.

Dr. Walters is thoroughly pleased with his new creation, despite the horror of his assistant, Miss Strand (Fey Helm), and even takes the young woman out among the “natural” humans—mostly to see if she can pass. The passing here is ironic in that this might be a wink at the audience as to Acquanetta’s own story, possibly passing for something that she is not: both exotic and of another, more acceptable (to lust after) race. Seeing her former animal trainer, Fred Mason (Milburn Stone) in danger in the lion’s cage, Paula rushes to his side. The felines are almost immediately repulsed by Paula, sensing her “unnaturalness.” Both grateful and struck by Paula’s familiarity, and no doubt her seductive beauty[1],  is immediately attracted to Dupree. However, Mason has a fiancé waiting for him to be introduced to the story.

The unnaturalness of the possible pairing of Paula and Mason is highlighted in terms of the obviously preferred pairing of Mason and Beth. Mason’s fiancé, Beth, is a pretty blonde innocent played by Evelyn Ankers. Ankers is not only a classically attractive blonde, she’s obviously of Anglo-Saxon heritage as a British-American actress. But Dupree’s sexual jealousy causes a regressive transformation back to her savage roots—in a rage, Paula transforms back into a gorilla. Dupree, as the murderous gorilla, seeks to kill her rival for Mason’s affection. In short, she seeks to terrorize the “natural” pairing of Mason and Beth. This was a common trope for horror and monster movies, according to Harry Benshoff, who claims the monster—or in Benshoff’s terms, the “monster queer”—seeks to break-up a natural, right pairing of a man and a woman. However, as Benshoff focuses on the taboo of homosexual desire reinforced by the monster film, Captive Wild Woman, while also regarding sexual taboos, revolves around latent fears of both uncontrolled female sexuality and miscegenation.

The film’s messages are, however, paradoxical and contradictory. Wild Woman (as most of the films in Acquanetta’s B-movie catalog) gives free license to the male gaze to lust after Acquanetta, but it simultaneously warns against this pairing. The film suggests the burden of sexual desire’s invocation be placed on the racially othered character, Paula. Thus the man, Mason, as stand-in for the everyman, is resolved of his guilt as his lust, but is warned from acting upon it. This odd mixture of freedom and restraint might be explained by monster theory, as elucidated by Jeffrey Cohen. For Cohen, the monster polices the boundaries of the possible—the monstrous doesn’t bar the door, but serves as a warning to those that might cross. Clearly, there is a boundary identified against the pairing of Acquanetta’s Dupree and Mason. But there is also a seductive side to the monster, as Cohen claims—where would the danger reside if it were not in some way desirable to explore monstrosity? It is also apparent that Acquanetta as Paula is seductive. However, as any good viewer of the classic monster movie must realize, we already know how this possible pairing will playout. The dominant culture—the real monster—must have its way; it must be reified and reaffirmed in its right and rightness. Although Cheela, returned to gorilla form, might have carried away an injured Fred Mason, a police officer mistakes her intentions in carrying Mason away and shoots the gorilla. But as Cohen also observes, the monster always returns—dead is not dead, for the fear lives on—and the “Ape Woman” is featured in two sequels: The Jungle Woman and The Jungle Captive.

The themes of Captive Wild Woman, in some ways, run parallel to the occurrences and struggles in Acquanetta’s life. Her probable passing/covering of her own racial heritage is not unlike that of Paula Dupree in the film. The film seems to be nodding to something that she and the dominant culture of the time kept unspoken, point to the arbitrary nature of race, sexuality, and gender. Acquanetta would go on to star in a handful of other B-movies including Tarzan and the Leopard Woman, Dead Man’s Eyes, and Lost Continent. No one knows the true story of Burnu Acquanetta, but that’s probably because no one wanted to know, not really. She was to remain as she wished to be: an “exotic” but otherwise blank slate whom men could write on as they pleased. Acquanetta was alluring, but she was also monstrous. Her otherness was constantly alluded to through the roles which she acquired. Her beauty was unnatural.

[1] The trailer for the film depicts this seen with the voiceover claiming Paula Dupree’s power of animals and men, suggesting some sort of erotic powers she might possess—suggesting that it is she who seeks out the male, violating the customary norms taken for granted during the mid-forties.