Issue 01: Body
The 2005 entries were originally written for the journal I kept in WST 3015/Intro to Women's Studies. They have been modified slightly since then.

2005 August 24, 1:41 pm

My World Religions teacher discussed an ancient Indian notion of expectant parents praying to one of the gods for their child to be born with the right proportions— in other words, for their child to be attractive because proportional parts are more attractive than asymmetry. He made a remark along these lines: "If you are born with good proportions, you are a good looking girl. If you aren't..." (he shrugged) "not so good. You are a big girl. Maybe you shouldn't eat so much."

To make a point about a god named Agni, to whom you can pray for children and relationship assistance, he asked girls in the audience, "What do women want most?" When no one could answer it, he announced, "A boyfriend! You're looking for a boyfriend!"

The former comment reinforces what an issue female weight is in our society, particularly the pressure to be thin. He was kidding around, I suppose, but the message he conveyed was that if you are too big, you should not eat so that you'll look better. I don't think a professor should be putting out the message that eating disorders are an answer to anything, especially the idea that they will help make you look the way you "should" look. When he said it, I was horrified that he would even joke about it. In a class of about two hundred students, there are certainly some overweight female students, including someone sitting two seats away from me. I hope no one took his comment to heart, but I'm worried that someone out there would feel that his opinion reinforces what society says women should look like.

I'm not sure how I would discuss weight issues with someone since I'm petite and have never weighed in the "overweight" range; I don't want to offend someone by saying the wrong thing. With a remark like that teacher's, though, I wish I had some way to say, "Only worry about your weight if it affects your health, not for how attractive or not people think you are."

His latter comment also makes a very heterocentric assumption that all women are interested in pursuing marriage with men and having children. This is definitely not the case. Many heterosexual women have no interest in marriage, or romantic/sexual relationships; other women are interested in those things, but are interested in having them with other women. People shouldn't just assume that all women (or men) want any one thing, especially when it comes to sexuality.

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2005 November 9, 10:12 am

It took me several days to journal about this. I was so shocked and offended by it that I wanted to take the time to calm down. Remember that world religions professor from a couple entries back? He'd made heterosexist remarks before, but this incident was WAY off base.

Our class was covering the split between the Eastern (Orthodox) and Western churches following the Council of Nicene, and then discussing how the Church had sex scandals between nuns and priests while the Orthodox church allowed ministers to marry. My teacher talked about how the priests aren't allowed to do these things, and then said, "That's probably why so many become homos!" What the hell?!

First, he's using a VERY offensive term to say that— I can take actual gay or bisexual people joking about "homos" but not somebody like this. And then, he's suggesting that you can BECOME gay through lack of contact with the opposite sex. Finally, the remark suggested that he's equating homosexuality with pedophilia (since it was about priest scandals.) I was absolutely horrified. I sit on one of the front rows, so he could clearly see I wasn't amused by it. I would've picked up my things, got up, and walked straight out, but we were at the end of class anyways so I think it would've looked more like leaving class early than walking out on the class because of something that was said.

Still, I wish I'd done or said something more. I couldn't get my thoughts together to figure out what because I was so stunned at what I'd just heard. When I journalled about it, I don't know if there was a way that I could report remarks like this or somehow bring it up with him. The class probably had a couple hundred students enrolled in it; I don't know how many were actually there that day, but that's a large potential audience for that statement— and there was a lot of laughter after he said it.

Well, Dr., I'm not amused.

My Women's Studies prof did tell me this was something I should report: "i would talk to the department chair about your professor's remarks. i mean, that's REALLY bad. really bad..." And still, I couldn't seem to work myself up to actually reporting it. Maybe it's too late by the time I'm editting this, I don't know. I feel like I should have done it right away, but I hesitated. Did I miss my chance for them to believe me and take it seriously?

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"Address issues of sexuality"

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick says in her Axiom #2, "The study of sexuality is not coextensive with the study of gender; correspondingly, antihomophobic inquiry is not coextensive with feminist inquiry." If anyone has the opportunity, I highly recommend checking out her Epistemology of the Closet and reading “Introduction: Axiomatic," which is where the quote comes from. It's a very difficult read because of how dense it is, but I think it's very worthwhile to attempt it.

I'm a few months rusty on it, but Sedgwick was trying to describe how studies of sexuality, particularly when it comes to challenging heteronormativity, is an area of study unto itself. It cannot easily be lumped in with feminist or gender studies, even though it shares some features and goals. Part of the worth of queer studies (especially with trans issues like Feinberg talked about) is that it opens people up to realizing how everyone is affected by narrow concepts of gender and sexual identity, but sexism and heterosexism are not the same thing!

One of the most interesting parts of Sedgwick's work (and something I reasonably understood compared to the even more difficult material!) was its presentation of two conflicting models of how homosexual individuals are considered in relation to heterosexual ones. She brings up questions of why homosexual men and women are allies of each other; does a same-sex orientation actually give same-sex-oriented men and women something in common, or does it make them completely different from the other sex? I can do a poor text representation of the models, so here goes:

[A] Hetero. men — Homosexual men - Homosexual women — Hetero. women

[B] Homosexual men — Hetero. men - Hetero. women — Homosexual women

In model A, gay men and lesbians are seen as being more like the opposite sex than their birth sex because of their particular sexual inclination. They are found in the middle of the two sexes. Thus, a gay man is considered more "feminine" for having an attraction to other men; he is seen as having more in common with a straight woman than he does with other men. This is how our society tends to view homosexuals.

In model B, however, homosexual men and women are seen as ultimate expressions of their sex. Homosexual women are so innately female that they are not oriented towards the male; they are the ultimate expression of femininity for being centered on their own sex. As far as Model B is concerned, there is no reason for gay men and lesbians to be allies because they are complete opposites of each other, not really having anything in common in terms of sexuality; in model A, homosexuals are grouped together in the middle and thus have a common ground to fight for— a shared identity as people interested in their own sex. Lesbian separatist communities make total sense under Model B.

I don't know where bisexuals or other shades of queer fit into these models, if anywhere (so often excluded), but I thought they were fascinating. It's a shame that my class's readings didn't further explore the issues of binary models of sexuality, as well as the many implications of grouping sexual categories in certain ways as these models do. Are homosexuals of either sex innately similar because of same-sex oriented identities, or completely opposite because they exclude the other sex? Some researchers claim that male bisexuality doesn't exist, or that female bisexuality is extremely common; many people debate what "bisexual" actually means since so many people use it to mean different things. Hollywood definitely has a problem with portraying bisexuals as promiscuous and mentally unstable. What do you think of these issues?

The main thing my readings made me think about was the need for more thorough sex education. Cisneros lacked the information she needed to feel comfortable with her own body and its sexuality, and Wolf brought up some of the dangers of essentialist views of sex and gender (Men are This, Women are That, and this is how compulsory heterosexual relations will work.), but they could've gone further.

I feel very strongly about the importance of sex education for people to feel comfortable with themselves and to understand each other, but I think it's especially important to start with one's own body. Speaking for the schools I attended, I would know so little about myself and others if I relied on them to educate me. The sex education there? One day in fourth grade about how puberty changes your body. One day in fifth grade about the very basics of reproduction, and a tiny bit about puberty for the opposite sex. Nothing until high school "Life Skills" about STDs.

Thankfully, I didn't have to rely on my schools. I am so grateful to my mother and some fantastic public library resources, because that let me understand puberty BEFORE it started. I still had some body image issues, but at least I knew what was happening to me. My mom would take me to the library and let me look up books and pick them out myself. She would reserve the right to turn some aside if she thought I needed to cover other information first or if it wasn't presenting it in a good way, but she gave me that power to make choices and educate myself. She's told me that Dr. Ruth was one of the particularly good authors.

I think it was so important to have a parent encouraging my education instead of restricting it. I really think abstinence-only programs are a disservice to students, especially those who don't have parents like mine or library resources to teach them what the school isn't offering. Plenty of fights are going on around the country now to censor school and public libraries and try to force them to remove materials that show "explicit" sexual material. How are people supposed to be comfortable with who they are, especially comfortable with their bodies, if they aren't allowed to know about them? If anyone has done any research into ideas of sex ed curriculum, I'd be interested to know what methods have been found to promote positive feelings about one's own body and sexuality. I would think teaching people to respect themselves and each other would lead to LESS premarital sex and unwanted pregnancy, as Cisneros pointed out. It's worked for me.

Society doesn't just make girls feel uncomfortable; it encourages girls not to understand male bodies, either. Any girls out there ever pronounce the thought, "I'm so glad I'm not a boy! What if I had an erection?!" Girls are commonly taught to think male puberty is funny and/or weird, so it's certainly not just a problem of guys not understanding female bodies.

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This e-zine copyright © 2006 Immora. All other properties are copyright to their respective holders. E-zine originally created as a service learning project for WST 3930/Third Wave Feminisms. Project started on March 18 2006.