Understanding My Hybrid Identity-2018

To explore the concept of identities in relation to place, I will be taking an autobiographical approach to this essay. As a first generation Australia born to mixed parents, I am what is referred to as a third culture kid, that is I grew up in a culture different to those of my parents. As a 28 year old woman, I am confident in who I am now, and there are a number of different factors that have contributed to my identity formation. The woman I am today, may not be the woman I am tomorrow, next week or a year from now as identities are constantly evolving and adapting especially in our new digital globalised world. I will be focusing this essay on my own Jewish heritage and the impact of collective memory and place within my own familial background to explore identity formation within myself. I will begin with a brief narrative around my parents nationalities after which a discussion on the Jewish Diaspora including the concept of othering will be explored. Following on from that will be a discussion on the different markers Judaism can represent and the difficulty of these differences on my own understanding of what Judaism can mean. The assumption of the link between identity and ethnicity is discussed in regards to whiteness in Australia and the essay will conclude with the impacts of my parents nostalgia on my own false sense of nostalgia.

My parents were both born in Eastern Europe, my father in Poland and my mother in Romania. Given the fact both my parents were Jewish and born in the 1950’s, the collective memory of the holocaust was something that impacted the lives of my parents even though neither of them are (or ever were) religious. My father’s family emigrated to Australia when he was 8 and he grew up in a Jewish suburb of Melbourne, deciding to move to Israel around his 30th birthday. My mother grew up under the Romanian communist dictator Ceacescu and only left the country for the first time at the age of 28, using her Jewish heritage to gain Israeli citizenship. After my parents met and got married in Israel, my eldest sister was born there and while pregnant with my middle sister my parents decided they wanted to raise a family in a country where military service was not mandatory and packed up all their things to move for the final time to Melbourne, Australia. We were raised with traditional understandings of Judaism; as in we celebrated Jewish holidays with extended family (my father’s side) but without the religious undertone. Channukah, Rosh Hashana and the other holidays we celebrated were a time to be with family and to eat lots of food, while we occasionally read the prayers this was always more of a tradition than a belief. The role that Judaism has played in my life is one that stems from the tragedies that have occurred over centuries against the Jewish people; a cultural heritage that, according to my parents, should not be forgotten. Judaism is one part of my identity, and there are a number of different intersections that all come together to make up who I am.
The politics of memory are important to the Jewish Diaspora, as is the role of narrative. All younger generation Jews are implicated by the politics of memory as the narratives of our history are passed onto us. Much like Ang and her Chinese heritage, the stories passed on to us are both opportunistic and oppressive (Ang, pg. 27). These stories of opportunity were the stories of how lucky we were to be Australian; we were born in a place that gave us freedoms our parents didn’t have. We had places to use as reference points (Poland/Israel/Romania) for what life could have looked like had our parents not moved to Australia. The oppressive narratives come from stories of living under a communist dictator, stories about the injustices against ‘our people’ during the Second World War, stories of army service fighting unjustified wars. Through the Jewish ethnocultural perspective the Holocaust is the most recent memory that can be drawn on to push the agenda of othering; “a process in which groups come to define themselves through the recognition of people outside their group” (Macionic & Plummer, 2012, pg. 351). It situates Jews as separate from the dominant culture in all contexts outside the State of Israel. But as I got older it appeared to me that the concept of othering was a key aspect of the Jewish identity. I argue that the collective memory of discrimination against the Jewish people (which through narrative I have learnt has been happening since the days of Moses), alongside some of the religious beliefs (we are the ‘chosen’ people) have created not just a scepticism about all those who do not have the collective Jewish history but also a victim mentality.

As more and more stories were passed down as I got older, the more exclusive I began to view Jews. Outside of the Israeli context, religion was a rather large factor in Jewish identity. My sisters and I didn’t attend Jewish schools, go to Hebrew classes or consistently visit temple. I soon realised that even within the Jewish community the concept of othering occurs; something I experienced when my aunt passed away. After her death, my uncle and his children became orthodox in their beliefs, as we remained secular, and it didn’t take long before all communication was cut off as we were now seen as lesser than my uncle and his family due to our (non-) beliefs. It made me question our ‘Jewishness’; we weren’t Jewish enough for our own family, but we were still Jewish enough to be separated from the dominant Christian group. Moving between cultures was something that would occur naturally, yet there were times in which the differences were amplified especially when I felt minoritised and excluded. As cultural identity is often constructed across difference I felt this separation from the dominant group in the physical space of school. There were certain times of the year such as Easter and Christmas when all the kids would be eating chocolate eggs, or opening their presents from Santa that I felt disconnected from both the kids at school and my own cultural background. It also made me begin to question what it really meant to be Jewish. When we were cut off from my uncles family I recognised that Judaism was used in a number of different ways; religious, cultural, ethnic and sometimes even classified as a race. Although problematic, I still aligned with a Jewish identity as it provided a ‘framework for living’ and had the symbolic cultural resources I could employ to make sense of my life as a first generation Australian especially as I got older (Noble et al, 1999, pg. 31).

My multi-cultural heritage has resulted in my appearance being quite ambiguous, I’ve been asked if I’m from almost every corner of the globe including: Greece, Italy, Brazil, Russia, (Indigenous) Australia, “somewhere in Africa” and even once someone asked if I was from Tahiti?! These assumptions of my background feed into the assumed connection between ethnicity and identity. Bottomley argues that “ethnic identities are the dialectical interplay of self-identification by others, and of perceptions and structural forces” (Bottomley cited in Noble et al, 1999, pp. 30-31). People ask where you’re from with the intent of judgement; if they just knew where you were really from they are then better equipped to make judgements about your identity based on (often false) stereotypes. The role of ethnicity within our understanding of identity is often taken as an inherent part of our biology, something natural, rather than a social construct which may influence the way in which we decide to self-identify. Cultural identity is often understood through ethnicity which is passed on through ancestry, yet in reality our cultural affiliations are voluntary choices that we make. The ability to make these choices within the Australian context are not a given to all ethnicities, as those of European descent have it much easier given their white skin. For those with distinct racial features (ie. skin tone, eye shape etc) their choices are more limited and they may face “a socially enforced and imposed racial identity” (Germov & Poole, 2011, pg. 258). Given my hybrid European heritage I was born with white skin, an external feature of my ethnic background which helps my assimilation into Australian society.

Both my parents have a collective nostalgia for our diasporic homeland of Israel. It is the place where my parents met, and for my mother, it was the place that allowed her to be free of communist rule prior to the Romanian revolution. Lowenthal describes nostalgia as “memory with the pain removed” (cited in Beng Huat, REF) and this couldn’t be more true in regards to my parents recollections. They came to Australia as a young family at the end of the 1980’s and never really managed to find their feet financially or socially. This social isolation and the financial stress resulted in these nostalgic memories of a more stable and friendly situation; a situation reminiscent of their time in Israel. The migration politics of Israel is very different to those here in Australia. As Israel is the only Jewish State in the world, all Jews from around the globe have the ‘right’ (according to Israeli law) to become a new ‘olim’ (immigrant). The Israeli government therefore provides assistance to these new olim by providing Hebrew classes, specific olim accommodation as well as a number of other welcoming resources to make the assimilation process easier. For my mother, she had two distinct ‘new immigrant’ experiences and the latter move to Australia would’ve highlighted her nostalgic memories of her experiences in Israel. As my father was already an Australian citizen, my parents received no extra assistance from the Australian government, unlike the assistance they received from Israel. My mother would often reminisce with me when I was young, not just of her time in Israel but also of her time in Romania. As Beng Huat suggests, “nostalgia transforms [certain] instances into abstract fond recollections by deleting the specific historical and material circumstances under which they emerged and relocating these instances in an imagined ‘golden past’ that lays claim to be ‘real’ by the facticity of the instances themselves” (Beng Huat, 1995). The nostalgia for Israel experienced by my parents resulted in my own false nostalgia; a longing for a place I’d never been before. The way in which my parents would talk about our homeland almost made me feel as though my Jewish identity would be lacking until I was able to go and physically be in the homeland myself.

I ended up living in Israel for 7 months when I was 19-20 years old, which interestingly was the biggest reason why I would disassociate myself from Judaism today. I found it interesting that the contemporary collective memory of Jews is one of persecution, exclusion, murder and destruction; the exact same thing Palestinians are now experiencing at the hand of the Jews. It seemed too much of a contradiction that the imagined community of Jewish people who, according to all the narratives passed onto me, suffered at the hands of anti-semites would subject any other living being to the same plight they experienced. I want to be proud of my Jewish heritage and to identify as Jewish, but how can I be proud of what the Jewish people are doing to Palestinians? Similar story with my Australian identity; I want to be proud of being Australian, so many freedoms and opportunities my parents weren’t afforded but how can I be proud of the discrimination Indigenous Australians face, all the inequalities they experience on their own land. For different reasons I seem to have more social rights in both Australia and Israel, even though I am indigenous to neither land.

Beng Huat, C, 1995, ‘That Imagined Space: Nostalgia for Kampungs’, Portraits of Places: History, Community and Identity in Singapore, Times Edition, Singapore, pp. 222-241
Noble, G, Poynting, S & Tabar, P, 1999, ‘Youth, Ethnicity and the Mapping of Identities: Strategic Essentialism and Strategic Hybridity among Male Arabic-Speaking Youth in South-Western Sydney’, Communal/Plural, pp. 29-44
Ang, I, 1999, ‘On Not Speaking Chinese’, Feminism and Cultural Studies, Oxford, Oxford University Press, pp. 540-564
Macionis & Plummer, 2012, ‘Sociology: A Global Introduction’, Fifth Edition, Pearson Education Limited
Germov & Poole, 2001, ‘Public Sociology’, Second Edition, Allen & Unwin

This article discussed the changing perception of Singaporean life, and that modernity came at the cost of Kampung life. This has resulted in a collective nostalgia for the Kampungs, but the author argues that it is easy to forget the restricted conditions that allowed the Kampungs to flourish as well as the negative aspects of Kampung life. The author suggests that nostalgia is employed when there is a crisis of the present.
There were a number of things the authors discovered through a study of boys in a particular area of Sydney, in regards to how the boys would perform specific traits of their identity to either assimilate or to differentiate from the dominant group. Strategic essentialism is referred to when members from a particular group temporarily band together ignoring differences they may have to act in solidarity, whereas strategic hybridity is the employment of different aspects of your identity depending on the given context.

Gendered Sexual Shame: The Jezebel Club in the Handmaid’s Tale-2018

This essay aims to explore the gendered nature of sexual shame. I argue that female sexuality is a direct threat to patriarchal values and that as a result of that threat women are sexually shamed more so than men. I will be using the ‘Jezebel Club’ as an object of reference to highlight my argument. I will begin with a brief description of the Jezebel Club which will be followed by a discussion around oppression of women and how that impacts the sex work industry. Next I take a look at the basis for patriarchal systems and briefly analyse the notion of nature and biology as the explanation behind patriarchy. In this section biology is also discussed in regards to gendered sexuality. The importance of women’s reproductive role is also vital to the discussion in regards to male power. I also investigate the significance of religion and the male gaze over history and how that has impacted our cultural understandings of gender. The final parts of the essay will focus on the value of different forms of capital and who has access to this capital as well as a discussion around shame and the link between shame and the body.

In The Handmaids Tale, all women are repressed or oppressed no matter where they sit within the Gilead hierarchical society. While the Handmaids tale was written in the 1980’s it seems more than relevant to certain contexts within our globalised contemporary society. Foucault warns that repressing desire actually results in a production of it (Taylor, 2009, pg. 21), and religion has long been an institution of repression not only of desire but of sexuality as a whole. At the core of Gilead society is an ultra conservative Christian understanding of the world, in which sex is a tool for reproduction and not a site for pleasure or desire. While discussing sex trafficking in Asia, Brown proposes that the more repressed and male-dominated a society is, the higher the levels of prostitution, trafficking and abuse, specifically of vulnerable women. “There is a beautifully neat symmetry: strict sexual codes and rigorously male-dominated societies are mirrored by widespread systems of sexual slavery” (Brown, 2000, pg. 25). We can see a perfect example of this in the Jezebel Club in the Handmaids Tale. The vulnerable, otherwise untouchable, women who have deviated from the strict gender roles assigned to them have the ‘choice’ of ‘working’ in the Jezebel Club, or to be cast away to the colonies (and ultimately to their death).

An explanation behind this ‘neat symmetry’ is that patriarchy involves male domination not only over women, but over each other. To show any sort of vulnerabilities would be a sign of weakness and therefore result in being ‘less’ of a man which then leads to insecurities surrounding their status among other men. By having access over an objectified ‘whore’ creates the fantasy for these insecure men about their ability to dominate within society. While this explanation works for the real world, it’s not so clear in Gilead. It is quite apparent that patriarchy is operating within the Gilead society, but the level at which that patriarchy is operating is not highlighted in either the TV show or the book. Rather, Atwood focuses on the roles of women within this dystopian society.

One of the key things to note here is that the women who ‘work’ in the Jezebel Club have not really chosen that line of work. While the women did make a choice, they were choosing between their death (the colonies) or to be repeatedly raped but remain alive (Jezebel). Instead of receiving payment for their services, these women are paid in their survival. The Jezebel club symbolises the ultimate paradox of the Gilead society highlighting the gendered sexual double-standards between the sexes. The justification of such a place within a totalitarian society comes down to the argument of ‘nature’. The commander declares:
“Nature demands variety, for men. It stands to reason, its part of the pro-creational strategy. It’s nature’s plan. Women know that instinctively. Why did they buy so many different clothes in the old days? To trick men into thinking they were several different women. A new one for each day.”
-The Commander (Attwood, 1985, pg. 237)
While this essay focuses on the social side of things we may also note that biology does have a role to play in this. Brown argues that
“[Domination over women and other men] is a biologically driven need and its goal is to enhance reproductive success. This need makes power, domination and sex inextricably linked” (Brown, 2000, pg. 129)
When Brown discusses biology she is referring to the contentious notion that sexual interactions are supposed to increase a person’s capacity to continue their genetic lineage onto their offspring. While men have been encouraged to ‘spread their seed’; Brown suggests that biologically speaking, women are vying for a mate who can provide protection for both herself and her offspring while also possessing ‘an enticing gene bank’ (Brown, 2000, pg. 128). From a biological perspective then, it actually doesn’t make much sense for either of these gender roles to perpetuate; men do not have the capacity to care for the amount of children he is capable of producing, and the ideal mate for a woman may not embody all of the attributes to produce idyllic children for women. This biological debate completely ignores women’s sexuality and agency. If nature only intended for men to enjoy sexual pleasure why would women have an organ such as the clitoris? As discussed a little later a woman in control of her sexuality is a threat to patriarchy and we can see many examples throughout history of sexual oppression of women, such as the ‘hysterical woman’ and religious head coverings. But the biological debate continues, and I argue that the cultural understanding of these biological gender roles have been key to ingraining these gender norms.

While gender is socially constructed, we cannot deny there are biological differences between men and women. Sexuality is quite controversial when analysing the nature vs. nurture debate and it is still unclear as to whether sexuality is a naturally occurring biological function or if our socialisation is the key to our sexualities. Regardless, attempting to repress something as prominent as sexuality is bound to have consequences. The repression of female sexuality in particular certainly isn’t a new trend; women are child-bearers, they provide life. In order for men to hold complete power they must also hold the power of reproduction: women. In the context of Gilead fertile women are a rarity, and Attwood proposes that “.. ruling classes always make sure they get the best and rarest of desirable goods and services..” (Atwood, 2012). In Gilead this means the Handmaids are property in which the ruling class get to ‘own’ the women, which I argue is just the amplified version of the reproductive rights debate happening in many places around the world. Religion is central to the reproductive rights debate and is key to understanding how Gilead came into power. In an interview with Attwood in regards to her novel she states that in order for the coup of the United States to occur (which resulted in the take-over by the Gilead elite) the ruling class had to use religion as the premise of their take over. Had they used socialism or communism the US would’ve outright rejected it. Instead they had to base their claim on already existing ideas from the 17th century, prior to the Enlightenment period when there was still a heavy bias against women and before the separation of church and state. She also stated that restricting sexual freedoms also impacted the rise of the conservative powers (Atwood cited in Mead, 2017).

The role of religion in current society is less influential than previously throughout history, but it has impacted Western culture a great deal. One of the things religion has perpetuated over time is the binary understanding of femininity between the virgin/whore. This dichotomy of femininity not only exists within the Christian faith, but many religions resulting in this as a cultural understanding of women. The understanding of women as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in terms of their sexuality and/or sexual history still continues today which directly influences gendered understandings of shame surrounding sex and sexuality. Foucault suggests that the Christian approach to sex is one that attempts to eliminate pleasure and/or desire; “Acts have to become something neutral; you have to act only to produce children, or to fulfil your conjugal duty” (Foucault cited in Taylor, 2009, pg. 22). Women who fulfil their ‘role’ as childbearer/mother are seen as ‘good’ women; women who have deviated from this ‘good woman’ role are seen as ‘bad’ and stigma is then attached to these women. Ignoring pleasure and desire, as well as individual agency, makes shaming women for their sexuality easier. If sex only has one purpose (to procreate) then any deviancy outside of that is wrong and immoral and women should be ashamed. The importance of religion reinforces patriarchal understandings, as Christ states: “Patriarchy is an integral system of interlocking oppressions, enforced through violence, and legitimated by religions” (Christ, 2016, pg. 223). Therefore women who attempt to control their own sexuality are directly threatening the patriarchal system.

In the case of the Handmaids Tale the only place where we see sex and sexuality functioning outside of procreation is within the Jezebel Club. It highlights the dichotomy of the virgin/whore role of women even within the most conservative societies, as discussed previously. Prior to marriage, women were ‘their own property’ and could have sex with whomever they chose resulting in children being born with no absolute confirmation of who was the father. The concept of marriage was created so that men would know who their offspring were, so that they could pass on their property and wealth to their own progeny. Marriage not only provided a guarantee (should the woman remain faithful) of genetic lineage the woman also became the property of the man. Hence why the term for a married woman is ‘Mrs’ or ‘Mr(‘)s’, as in she is the property of Mr. In the context of The Handmaids Tale, women as property is extremely evident as the main character’s name is Ofred, literally ‘Of Fred’ named after her ‘owner’. Not only are the handmaids considered property but all women are the property of men including the wives and the girls in the Jezebel club.

Through different forms of art over time we can see that historically women have been represented through the lens of heterosexual men as sexual objects existing for their pleasure; “the male gaze”. The performance of the male gaze has become so ingrained in our understandings of gender and sexuality that women have been conditioned to internalise certain values as dictated by patriarchy. The impact of the male gaze in a patriarchal society is important because of the cultural implications over history. Evans & Gamman suggested that Colonial Europeans who were viewing other cultures, such as Asian or Arab, could not be seen “as it is, but through their own eyes” (Evans & Gamman, 1995, pg. 17). The same could be applied to our understanding of society through the male perspective. I argue that because history has been dominated by men we all view society from the male standpoint. This has led to internalised misogyny and self-surveillance of women.

In a patriarchal society men hold the ultimate power because of the valued capital they possess. Bourdieu recognises a number of forms of capital which include: economic (property, wealth etc.), cultural (knowledge, artistic taste etc.) and social (social networks and obligations etc.) (Bourdieu, 1986). It appears that sexuality, especially female sexuality has extremely high value, just as those who formed Gilead understood, yet when we speak of capital, even cultural capital; sexuality or reproductive abilities don’t come into the discussion. Much of the historical gendered conditioning has led us to a place where different social positions hold different power in regards to the forms of capital they can and may possess. Bourdieu suggested that “women are not typically capital-accumulating subjects. Rather they are ‘capital bearing objects’ whose value accrues to the primary group to which they belong (eg. her husband, the family)” (Bourdieu cited in Thorpe, 2009, pg. 493). For women who choose to use their bodies to accumulate economic wealth in order to hold more valued capital, threatens the concept of the patriarchal system. It is important to note here that this is not applicable to the women in the Jezebel club as they have limited agency to make the choice of working in the club.

Berger proposes that perspective is based on who holds the most capital suggesting that “It reduced everything to the equality of objects. Everything became exchangeable because everything became a commodity” (Berger cited in Evans & Gamman, 1995, pg. 17). As men are the ones who traditionally hold most of the capital their perspective has a higher value. It appears that to capitalise off sexuality is only acceptable when men are profiting. We see this in the Jezebel Club (although not explicitly stated) it is safe to assume that the women in the club are not receiving any compensation for their services aside from allowing the women to live. The commodification of the body, or even of women doesn’t allow much of a differentiation between a wife and a prostitute according to Simone de Beauvoir. In her book ‘The Second Sex’, she has a whole chapter dedicated to ‘Prostitutes and Hetaeras’ where she states: “For both [the prostitute and the wife] the sexual act is a service; the latter is engaged for life by one man, the former has several clients who pay her per item” (de Beauvoir, 1949, pg. 614). This highlights that within a patriarchal society we are all objects exchanging our own capital (in this example emotional labour and sex) in exchange for economic gains. When women attempt to gain their economic freedom through the commodification of their own body’s they are shamed for it. The basis of this shaming stems from the historical and cultural interpretations of patriarchy.

The body as a site of shame (discussed below) is interesting in the context of the Handmaid’s Tale as we can see that women’s bodys have a different value to men. Female bodies in Gilead are seen as ‘national property’ and different women have different roles to play within the hierarchy. The self-surveillance and internalised misogyny mentioned before is exemplified in the role of the ‘Aunt’s’. Their role within Gilead is to brainwash the incoming Handmaid’s (& other women) to conform to their new gender role within the new society. The Aunt’s assist in oppressing female sexuality in several ways including shaming Handmaid Janine for being gang-raped, as well as manipulating the women during the initiation process. As discussed already Christ suggests that violence is used to enforce gender roles and it’s ironic that the Aunt’s are a part of this violence against women “even though the Aunt’s put emphasis on the abuse of the female body in the old time, it is exactly the Aunts that carry out the punishment on their bodies” (Pei-Hsuan Hsieh, 2009, pg. 3). By each woman having their place in society together they form the subordinate part of the society. From the perspective of Foucault the discipline exercised in Gilead “is no longer simply an art of distributing bodies, of extracting time from them and accumulating it, but of composing forces in order to obtain an efficient machine” (Foucault cited in Peir-Hsuan Hsieh, 2009, pg. 10). The society of Gilead is as a machine that operates through surveillance and power relations to enforce the gender roles expected of the citizens.

Many consider shame to be the central ‘affect’ of the self. Probyn suggests that “the distinct nature of affects provides an optic into the complex combinations that characterize the everyday” (Probyn, 2004, pg. 329). In other words affects help form the habitus, both individually and societally. The affect of shame helps shape our own selfhood through reflexive actions “that also seem to force an experience of inter-subjectivity” (Roberts cited in Stark, 2016). Shame is an affect closely linked to the body, and it is a physical reaction to feeling ‘out of place’ (Probyn, 2004, pg. 328). Sexual shame is very closely linked to religion in many different contexts. In the West, even if you weren’t brought up religiously the Western culture has been influenced by religion, mainly Christianity (although gendered sexual shame is common amongst most common religions). The way in which we are socialised and educated encourages us to feel shame about certain sexual feelings we may have. Our social environments automatically incite shame in certain contexts and more often than not it is women who are subjected to sexual shaming more than men. We can see an example of this in the Jezebel Club, and the character of Moira. We know that prior to the rise of Gilead Moira was a lesbian, which is seen as “non-reproductive, [which] is incompatible with the republic, where compulsory heterosexuality is built into the social structure” (Himberg, 2018, pg. 196). Her failed escape attempt resulted her being placed in the Club, and when Ofred catches up with Moira there you can see the shame and defeat Moira experiences by being in that environment. Her shame is contrasted by all the men around her who all appear to be having the time of their lives experiencing no shame. The men aren’t shamed to be in a place like that because as discussed before it is ‘natural’ for men to pursue many women.

Patriarchal values have a long history borne through the value of private property enforced through violence and perpetuated by religion. From the perspective of the male gaze we have come to understand the world through a patriarchal lens which in contemporary society is increasingly being challenged. Binaries are also important here, whether it be the binary of masculine/feminine, the virgin/whore, or even heterosexual/homosexual. Within Gilead reproductive fertility in women is a rare commodity in which the ruling class has been able to control through violence and fear as women have no autonomy or agency regardless of their hierarchal place. Long-standing conditioning has in turn impacted how we understand gender roles in the current society and we continue to see a lot of self-surveillance of women, as well as the entitlement of men over women’s bodies. The role of the Aunts show us how the effects of internalised misogyny can impact a women and the policing of women of other women is also highlighted here. The entitlement men feel over women’s body is very visible at the current time, and we can see discourse beginning to change around how we report domestic violence and violence against women within greater society.

Atwood, M, 2012, ‘Haunted by the Handmaids Tale’, The Guardian, 21 January 2012, < https://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/jan/20/handmaids-tale-margaret-atwood&gt;
Atwood, M, 1986, The Handmaid’s Tale, J. Cape, London
Bourdieu, P, 1986, ‘The Forms of Capital’ < http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/fr/bourdieu-forms-capital.htm&gt;
Brown, L, 2000, Sex Slaves: The trafficking of women in Asia, Virago Press, London
Christ, C, 2016, ‘A New Definition of Patriarchy: Control of Women’s Sexuality, Private Property, and War’, Feminist Theology, Vol. 24, No. 3, pp. 214-225
Evans, C & Gamman, L, 1995, ‘The Gaze Revisited, or Reviewing Queer Viewing’, in Paul Burston and Colin Richardson (eds.) A Queer Romance: Lesbians, Gay Men and Popular Culture. London, Routledge
Himberg, J, 2018, ‘The Lavender Menace Returns: Reading Gender & Sexuality in the Handmaid’s Tale’, Communication Culture & Critique, pp. 195-197
Mead, R, 2017, ‘Margaret Atwood’s Grimly Relevant Additions to the “Handmaid’s Tale” Audiobook’, The New Yorker, 13 April 2017, < https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/margaret-atwoods-grimly-relevant-additions-to-the-handmaids-tale-audiobook&gt;
Pei-Hsuan Hsieh, J, 2009, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale- The Female Body as a Site of Resistance’, < https://www.yumpu.com/en/browse/user/english.fju.edu.tw&gt;

Probyn, E, 2004, ‘Everyday Shame’, Cultural Studies, Vol. 18, No, 2-3, pp. 328-349
Taylor, C, 2009, ‘Pornographic Confessions? Sex Work and Scientia Sexualis in Foucault and Linda Williams’, Foucault Studies, No. 7, pp. 18-44
Thorpe, H, 2009, ‘Bourdieu, Feminism and Female Physical Culture: Gender Reflexivity and the Habitus-Field Complex’, Sociology of Sport Journal, No. 26, pp. 491-516

Gendered Responsibility in a Sexualised Culture-2018

TW: Violence against women

The recent death of Eurydice Dixon in Melbourne’s inner north has highlighted the current discourse surrounding violence against women and misogyny within our society. The response to her death included statements from Police Superintendant Clayton “.. [to] make sure you have situational awareness” (cited in Ford, 2018), as well as the memorial being defaced by a man just days after her death (Fox Koob, 2018). This discourse of victim blaming, and the imbalanced pressure on women to ‘take responsibility’ is perpetuating misogyny and patriarchal values. I argue that current discourse surrounding gendered violence is too focused on women taking responsibility for themselves; instead of focusing on how socialisation within a sexualised culture is impacting young boys. This essay will be exploring the media influence on such attitudes and the implications of such discourses. I will begin by taking a look at moral panic surrounding the sexualisation of our culture and the impacts of focusing specifically on young girls. As well as briefly discussing the consequences of porn as the ‘new’ form of sex education. Following on will be a discussion on hegemonic masculinities and rape culture which focuses on two study’s within the Australian context. The final part of the essay will focus on the media representations of such violence and will look further into the perpetuation and consequence of rape myths and victim blaming.

Moral Panic & Sexualisation as Socialisation
There is no denying that we are living in a sexualised society and we are constantly exposed to sexualised images, overwhelmingly the images we see are of young, beautiful, semi-naked women. The moral panic surrounding this sexualisation is often discussed in regards to the effects on young women; very rarely do we discuss the impacts of this sexualised culture on young boys. This section of the essay will take a look at our sexualised society and the way in which images are being interpreted and understood through socialisation. I will briefly discuss the impacts of porn as sex education and the pressure on young girls to be able to critically analyse the over abundance of sexualised media in everyday life.
In the article by Mulholland, she discusses the ‘moral panic’ surrounding the impact of the normalisation of sexualised/pornified culture in relation to children, specifically how the images are affecting young girls. There are a handful of self-appointed ‘experts’ who seem to dominate discourse around this issue. Most of these ‘experts’ have linked pornography with danger/harm but have stressed that the harm inflicted affects girls more so than boys. The dangers discussed are often those issues linked to “depression, body image, and self-esteem, coupled with concerns over child abuse” (Mulholland, 2013, pg. 69). Depression, self-esteem and body image are all issues that are self monitored within a person, arguably more often seen in teenage girls than boys. But the issue of child abuse is leaning towards the notion that these images are having an impact on men, and the way in which they view women and girls as being sexual objects whose existence is purely for male desire and pleasure. While ‘child abuse’ is mentioned in Mulholland’s article my previous statement is only an assumption as it was not discussed further than this brief mention. It appears that the moral panic needs to be extended to include interrogating the impacts on all young people including, if not especially, young boys. If boys are growing up in a culture where their female peers are constantly being monitored and judged then boys grow up understanding that it is the girl’s responsibility to take care of themselves. As discussed later many young boys understand sexual assault/violence to be a women’s issue, one that does not concern them. As Flood states “..ending men’s violence against women will only be successful if men are included in addressing the issue” (Flood cited in Hill & Fuller, 2016, pg. 44).
Not only are the publicised sexual images having a gendered impact but contemporary porn is arguably the new form of sex education. If men (and women) are using the internet to educate themselves about sex and sexuality, we need to assess the types of porn that are available to the mass population. When young people aren’t receiving the right type of sex education but have access to online pornography, it isn’t hard to believe that these young people will understand sex through a pornographic lens, a lens which is far too unrealistic. Unfortunately much of the mainstream porn currently available is catered to the male gaze; and themes such as ‘rape’, ‘abuse’, ‘teen’ and ‘rough sex’ are all widely available within the porn industry (PornHub, 2018). Further research should be undertaken to fully explore the impacts of degrading sexual imagery becoming normalised. Research has found that girls are often quite media literate; Gill discovered that young girls are actually very capable of ‘unpacking’ and understanding sexualised images, regardless of the overall (mostly negative) impact the image may have (Gill, 2012, pg. 740). The ‘individual obligation’ to be media literate seems to be heavily biased against women and it interests me here that little research has been conducted on how boys are interpreting the same images.
If this sort of bias is happening out in the public sphere, young boys growing up will not have to experience gendered prejudice that holds women more accountable than men and will understand that this is the natural order of the world. Duschinsky argues that
“The use of ‘sexualisation’ as a developmental narrative focused on ‘girls’ to highlight misogyny in wider society has succeeded in centring moralising attention on young women and sex, rather than critical attention on sexism and heteronormativity” (Duschinsky, 2013, pg. 4)
Focusing on girls interpretations rather than boys understandings shows boys that they don’t need to unpack these images, it is the responsibility of girls to make sure they dress/act/speak etc. appropriately.
I argue that in our current society the sexualisation of our culture is now a part of the socialisation process. Young people are being socialised into a rape culture, and the constant surveillance and monitoring, as well as the moral panic put onto young girls, with little discourse around the boys, further perpetuates a patriarchal and misogynistic understanding of our society.

Hegemonic Masculinity & Rape Culture
Hegemonic masculinity is a vital concept when addressing violence against women and ingrained misogyny. Hegemonic masculinity refers to the “ideal image of the male against which all men are judged, tested and qualified” (Kimmel cited in Feasey, 2009, pg. 358). Context is important here, and dominating masculinities may not be the same across different historical and geographical contexts. What does permeate across all contexts is the unification of differing masculinities to continue patriarchal and sexist domination over women. Hegemonic masculinity is a performance; and unfortunately violence and sexual harassment (predominately against women, but in some cases against men who are lower down within the masculine hierarchy) is often a part of this hegemonic performance. Too often men who undertake these violent ‘performances’, especially adolescents, are rewarded with popularity and power from their peers (Robinson, 2005, pg. 22).
In the Australian context, it could be argued that prominent male sports players, particular within team sports, are the ideal hegemonic male. The media tends to paint male sports players as ‘stars’, ‘heroes’ or ‘role models’ and the way in which these ‘heroes’ are portrayed is another important aspect to look at when investigating the relationship between the media and violence against women. Hill & Fuller researched the media’s representation of multiple sexual assault/violence against women incidents that involved Rugby League players between 2005 and 2015 (Hill & Fuller, 2016). While international studies have shown correlation between male-dominated team sports and violence against women (Toffoletti cited in Hill & Fuller, 2016, pg. 42) this study focused on the media commentary provided by other players within the league in response to particular allegations. They found four main discourses with the most prominent being ‘discourses of support’ (67% of the articles researched); teammates showed support and sympathy for the accused. Hill & Fuller argue that “domestic violence and other social issues are framed through a football discourse, rather than a discourse of domestic violence, and valued in terms of the impact of the incident in terms of sport” (Hill & Fuller, 2016, pg. 47). By shaping gendered violence discourse within mass media in terms of sport, rather than socially it highlights that sporting achievements are prioritised over public social issues. These representations in the mass media are extremely damaging and influential, especially to young boys who do idolise these sports ‘stars’. If young people, especially boys, see that violence against women is accepted and inconsequential, this becomes normalised as part of the habitus (discussed further in the following section). It also highlights a separation between private and public, as much of the discourse stresses the need to detach the off-field allegations from the on-field achievements. As discussed in the following section, understanding violence against women as a public rather than private matter is one of the main shifts we are currently witnessing.
Through mass, social and other forms of media we are constantly exposed to sexualised images everywhere we go, and how men are interpreting the connotative messages are having a direct impact on how young boys are forming their identities. In Robinson’s study spanning 10 years he investigated the cultural and gendered understandings surrounding sexual harassment in Australia’s secondary school system (Robinson, 2005). He highlighted two key myths which were common among the adolescent students; (1) “the dominant discourse of sexual harassment as being primarily a physical phenomenon was especially prevalent amongst the boys”; & (2) “girls were considered to be the main ‘victims’ of sexual harassment and therefore it was seen as an issue that only girls had to deal with” (Robinson, 2005, pp. 23-25). This second point is a great example of how adolescent boys have already been socialised, by their teenage years, to understand gendered violence as something that does not concern them. This is one of the foundations of rape culture as we know it, and this demonstrates that sexism starts at a young age.

Media Representations of Violence
It is hard to say whether violence against women has been increasing or decreasing over time as it has, up until very recently, been privatised and not discussed openly. The media plays a huge role in the socialisation process as well as cultural understandings of gender roles. In discussing the function of media (specifically newspapers in the 90’s), Colin Mercer states “[the media] provide not just representation but a daily regular form of reading and training in knowing where you are and how best to do things there” (Mercer cited in Naylor, 2001, pg. 189). In other words, the media dictate to us how to correctly operate in society by providing stories of normal/deviant behaviour and the rewards/consequences of such behaviour. The way in which violence is reported in the media is extremely important when trying to understand gendered socialisation processes especially in the last two decades. Prior to the rise of social media, mainstream media held a large responsibility in regards to providing ‘newsworthy’ stories to the wider public. The stories provided by mainstream media reflected “contemporary attitudes and concerns about gender” (Naylor, 2001, pg. 181), which in turn forms the society’s ‘habitus’; which is how we understand the world through our personal life experiences as well as group cultural understandings (Routledge, 2016). In other words, habitus represents our social norms. Discourse surrounding violence against women and domestic violence has heavily increased especially over the last decade, and Morgan and Simons suggest that part of this increase is thanks to social media (Simons & Morgan, 2018). They propose that the practices of journalists before social media heavily relied on communication with local police forces in order to find stories that were newsworthy. An anecdote by a journalist from a major newspaper in Melbourne which featured in Morgan and Simons’ article outlines the view that domestic disputes were ‘viewed as private business’ (Whinnett cited in Simons & Morgan, 2018, pg. 1204). By viewing domestic cases of violence against women as ‘private business’, it frames the issue on an individual level. Meyers proposes that “the more prevalent the crime, the less it would be reported [in the media]” (Meyers cited in Naylor, 2001, pg. 181), this feeds back to the ‘newsworthiness’ of reporting on these stories. The normalisation of these media practices were shifted when social media was enforced as a tool for news-reporting. Instead of journalists telling the ‘news’ according to the opinions of local police forces, reporters and journalists were able to engage directly with the public in order to find new stories. As well as new engagement practices, the rise of social media allowed larger media outlets to track the metrics of what was ‘trending’ within public discourse. This shift is important when looking at violence against women as a social issue, rather than a private matter. The more visible these stories become, the more likely women will have the confidence to speak out if they find themselves in an abusive situation.
The media is also responsible for a discourse of widely accepted rape myths as well as victim blaming; both within mainstream media as well as social platforms. As discussed previously the habitus of a society silently shapes cultural understandings of a community and Ståhl et al. propose that victim blaming is a reactionary response to a threat against the habitus, or status quo (Ståhl et al, 2010, pg. 240). They further argue that “rape myths are attitudes and beliefs that are generally false but are widely and persistently held, and that serve to deny and justify male sexual aggression against women” (Lonsway & Fitzgerald cited in Ståhl et al, 2010, pg. 240). Not only do rape myths justify male aggression, rape myths seek to normalise aggressive male behaviours by creating a discourse that male aggression is a ‘natural force’ and that women should do everything within their control to protect themselves. Within this discourse both genders are conditioned differently; men are not encouraged to take responsibility for each other, as violent crimes against women are often framed as random attacks; women are habituated to constantly ‘take responsibility’ as well as monitor what we wear, say, how we act and be aware of our physical surroundings; but even when we do all of these things we are still at risk of being attacked.
Much like the lack of discourse around impacts of sexualisation on boys, the lack of public discourse around violence against women has a similar outcome. We have seen that boys being excluded from the moral panic as well as sexualised socialisation has resulted in adolescent aged boys viewing violence against women as ‘not their’ problem; women who lack representations of their issues in the wider public results in them continuing to understand their problem as ‘private’ and this leads to many remaining isolated as well as a failure to report incidences of abuse.

The discourse that the mass media has employed up to this point in time has had a degenerative impact on how society comes to understand normalised gendered roles. We can see that sexualisation of society is having a negative impact on both genders, and education around healthy sexual practices is important for all young people. Social norms are constantly evolving and changing overtime and this is also true of gender norms and roles. This alludes to the fact that hegemonic masculinity will evolve overtime and that the hegemonic male will be determined by the societies habitus and understanding of contemporary social norms. The rise of social media has been extremely beneficial to bringing violence against women out of the private and into the public discourse and I remain optimistic to see us working towards a more equal society.

Boshoff, P & Prinsloo, J, 2015, ‘Expurgating the Monstrous’, Feminist Media Studies, Vol. 15, No, 2, pp. 208-222
Connell, RW & Messerschmidt, JW, 2005, ‘Hegemonic Masculinity: Rethinking the Concept’, Gender and Society, Vol. 19, No. 6, pp.829-859
Duschinsky, R, 2013, ‘Childhood, Responsibility and the Liberal Loophole: Replaying Sex-Wars in Debates on Sexualisation’, Sociological Research Online, Vol. 18, No. 2, pp. 1-10
Feasey, R, 2009, ‘Spray More, Get More: Masculinity, Television Advertising and the Lynx Effect’, Journal of Gender Studies, Vol. 18, No. 4, pp. 357-368
Ford, C, 2018, ‘Don’t Let Eurydice Dixon’s Death be a ‘Cautionary Tale’’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 15 June 2018, < https://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/life-and-relationships/don-t-let-eurydice-dixon-s-death-be-a-cautionary-tale-20180615-p4zllb.html&gt;
Gill, R, 2007, ‘Postfeminist Media Culture: Elements of a Sensibility’, European Journal of Cultural Studies, Vol. 10, No. 2, pp. 147-166
Gill, R, 2012, ‘Media, Empowerment and the ‘Sexualisation of Culture’ Debates’, Sex Roles, Vol. 66, pp. 736-745
Hill, EP & Fuller, G, 2018, ‘One For the Team: Domestic Violence Scandals and Reflexive Media Commentary By Rugby League Players in Australia’, Communication & Sport, Vol. 6, No. 1, pp. 41-57
Koob, S, 2018, ‘Man Charged Over Graffiti at Eurydice Dixon’s Memorial’, The Age, 28 June 2018, < https://www.theage.com.au/melbourne-news/man-charged-over-eurydice-dixon-memorial-graffiti-20180628-p4zobs.html&gt;
Mulholland, M, 2013, ‘A New Normal? Pornification, Panic, and the Public Repositioning of Perversities’, Young People and Pornography: Negotiating Pornification, (First Edition), Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, Springer Nature, Palgrave Macmillan US
Naylor, B, 2001, ‘Reporting Violence in the British Print Media: Gendered Stories’, The Harvard Journal, Vol. 40, No. 2, pp. 180-194
Simons, M & Morgan, J, 2018, ‘Changing Media Coverage of Violence Against Women’, Journalism Studies, Vol. 19, No. 8, pp. 1202-1217
Smith C & Attwood F, 2014, ‘Anti/Pro/Critical Porn Studies’, Porn Studies, Vol. 1, No. 1-2, pp. 7-23
Ståhl, T, Eek, D & Kazemi, A, 2010, ‘Rape Victim Blaming as System Justification: The Role of Gender and Activation of Complementary Stereotypes’, Soc Just Res, Vol 23, pp. 239-258
Stubbs-Richardson, M, Rader, NE & Cosby, AG, 2018, ‘Tweeting Rape Culture: Examining Portrayals of Victim Blaming in Discussions of Sexual Assault Cases on Twitter’, Feminism & Psychology, Vol. 28, No. 1, pp. 90-108

SWERF’s & Standpoint Theory- 2018

The following essay is discussing the image above with references to Aileen Moreton-Robinsons article “Towards an Australian Indigenous Women’s Standpoint Theory” (2013). Throughout this essay my main argument is that within all social categorisations (race, class, gender etc.) there is a hierarchy in which a dominant viewpoint may be accepted as a universal truth. Different perspectives will have different ideas around which discourse is the most dominant. Specifically speaking this essay is investigating two groups of people; Sex Workers and SWERF’s (sex worker exclusionary radical feminists) and the conflicting ideologies of the two. I have chosen to discuss in more detail four of the above ‘squares’ and the different standpoints that each of the two groups represent.
⦁ “You’re too brainwashed by patriarchy to understand”
There is no denying that we are all impacted by long-standing patriarchal systems, whether it is positive or negative impacts. The main argument SWERF’s employ against sex work is that the objectification of women is inherently degrading to women and further perpetuates the patriarchy, regardless (and completely ignorant) of individual agency. You could argue that SWERF’s and Sex Workers experience different ontology’s, as both groups are each at differing standpoints. In her article, Moreton-Robinson highlights the issues of Nakata’s “gender-blind” theory stating that he “..universalises Indigenous men’s experience” (Moreton-Robinson, 2013, p. 339). The same could be argued about the SWERF’s that by excluding Sex Work from their type of feminism they are attempting to universalise their point of view. Without understanding that different ontology’s exist, and that their epistemological way of understanding is not the ultimate universal truth. I argue that SWERF’s are unconsciously acting as the patriarchal forces within the breadth of feminism.
• Sex work is rape/paid sex can’t be consensual
As someone who has experienced multiple sexual assaults, and who is now a sex worker, this statement couldn’t be more untrue. I feel safer in my work environment than out in the city streets on a Saturday night. In my job I have the freedom to not only choose when I work but I also get to choose my clients. I understand that my position within the industry is a privileged one and I do not speak on behalf of all workers. Context is extremely important within sex work discourse. In (most states of) Australia sex work is legal, so within legal contexts sex workers have legal (and in the case of brothels and parlours, physical) protection surrounding their work. Not all sex workers have been assaulted or abused in their lives and again I don’t claim to be speaking on anyone’s behalf, my opinions are based on my experiences and my own distinct standpoint. Moreton-Robinson posits that “our understanding of reality and its meaningfulness exists because of our ability as subjects to assign meaning that has been produced historically and socio-culturally” (Moreton-Robinson, 2013, p. 335). It is unclear what has influenced SWERF’s historically and socio-culturally that has produced their opinions on other women’s bodies, but we could make assumptions around religious beliefs, misunderstanding of information or just ignorance as the driving forces of their views. My view is that the patriarchal systems SWERF’s claim are oppressing sex workers are the same systems which have dictated their epistemology.
• Sex Work is objectifying
Moreton-Robinson discusses the perspective of feminist standpoint theory and the dis-connect between body/earth. This is in contrast to the indigenous women’s standpoint perspective where the same disconnect does not exist and instead indigenous women understand humanness through their connection to all living things (Moreton-Robinson, 2013, p. 335). This same disconnect can be applied to the issue of sex work but instead of the body/earth duality, we can look at the values we place upon sex/love (or mind/body) and whether these can be seen as one or separate things. It may be argued that these ontological differences are at the core of this conflict and the concept of objectification is due to the inability of SWERF’s to understand that a woman may see sex work as providing a service much like a plumber or dentist, rather than an emotional and degrading experience. Many sex workers are able to separate sex from love (or the mind from the body), in order to perform their jobs. When the issue of objectification of Sex Workers arises, there is never any discussion around other professions, such as models or actresses who also use their bodies in order to make money. Another contentious term SWERF’s like to use in opposition to sex work is intimacy; yet again there is no mention of other professions of which ‘intimacy’ is inevitable such as child carers, gynaecologists or nurses. What differs between the aforementioned professions and Sex Work is the sexual aspect. It seems there is something quite threatening to SWERF’s about sex and sexuality which brings me back to the duality of sex/love and the SWERF’s inability to separate the two.
• Equates sex work with trafficking
When discussing sex work the issue of sex trafficking often appears. What we need to remember is that agency and context are vital when discussing sex work. If women (and sometimes men) are forced to perform sex work, or have not made the decision themselves to work in the industry this is trafficking. Sex work is not sex trafficking. In Moreton-Robinsons article, Foucault’s ‘subjugated knowledge’ concept is briefly referenced by Patricia Hill Collins work around the suppression, repression and oppression of black women’s epistemology by ‘white patriarchal knowledge production’ (Moreton-Robinson, 2013, p. 333). My argument here is that Sex Workers ontology as well as their axiology has also been suppressed, repressed and oppressed by dominating SWERF discourses.
Unlike Indigenous people, who were born into their social category, sex workers have made a choice to belong to their social category. Regardless of this I believe that many of Moreton-Robinsons arguments and concepts can (and have) been applied effectively to better understand these perspectives. I suggest that further research surrounding sex work could also effectively employ the standpoint theory in order to broaden our understanding of the epistemology, ontology and axiology of both Sex Workers and SWERF’s.

Moreton-Robinson, 2013, ‘Towards and Indigenous Women’s Standpoint Theory’, Australian Feminist Studies, Vol. 28, No. 78, pp. 337-347
Imgur, 2017, ‘SWERF Bingo’ [image], ‘Anyone want to play SWERF bingo?’, Imgur, viewed 23 April 2018

Gendered Advertising Analysis-2018

The following essay is an analysis of an ad for the brand ‘Thinx’, who have come up with a new menstruation product in the form of underwear that can be used to replace pads, tampons and menstrual cups. I will begin the essay by looking at the context and target audience, following on with a discussion around gender assumptions and how femininity is being challenged. Then I take a closer look at the visuals of the advertisement itself and how they work to convey a particular message and finish up the essay with how the brand, and the ad, are specifically attempting to breakdown the status quo, not just of the products but around the whole taboo issue of periods.

The ad depicted above is aimed at ‘menstruating humans’ (taken from another advertisement within the same campaign), this in and of itself is already breaking down assumptions around gender as we often think of a very feminine representative advertising/using feminine hygiene products (itself a problematic term). This ad is using a transgender man which is the first of its kind for this particular product. You can see when you take a look at the full campaign that the brand is trying to be as inclusive as possible, there are women from different backgrounds, as well as different sizes included in the campaign. The overall simplicity of the ad emphasises the inclusivity of this particular product; and the context of where the ads were placed (NYC Subway) also says something about the targeted audience.
I argue that this particular advertisement challenges, rather than mobilises, many assumptions around gender, including assumptions surrounding transgender people. We assume that only humans who look like women are the humans who menstruate, and this ad directly challenges that. Although advertising for these products (historically very stereotypically gendered to women) have been around for decades, periods and menstruation is still seen as a taboo topic. These Thinx ads are attempting to fight the taboo and normalise periods, and trying to show the people represented in their ads as strong and empowered humans. In reality, Thinx are not doing anything overly shocking aside from calling a period exactly what it is, yet we have been conditioned to avoid the reality of periods (eg. the use of blue instead of red ink to show the effectiveness of the product). While researching this ad, I found that Outfront Media (the company that sells the advertising space in the Subway) almost didn’t approve the ads because of the use of the word ‘period’ as well as the ‘suggestive’ and ‘inappropriate’ use of the fruit (Cauterucci, 2015). But if you take a look at other ads that have been approved and presented in the Subway we can see this as a shocking double standard, and one can understand why Thinx (who has a female CEO) is attempting to breakdown these taboos.

Throughout post-feminist discourse many scholars argue that the body is representative of our femininity/masculinity, and Gill argues that the body itself is more representational of our identity than our social, structural or psychological features (2007, p. 149). So by using a transgender model in their ad, Thinx have directly challenged the connotations that our systems attach to the word ‘feminine’ and/or ‘masculine’. Terms like ‘she’ and ‘her’ are words we use as labels to facilitate assumptions about the human experience. As this ad suggests not all people who present their outer body as male (or even as female) necessarily experience menstruation, something we have come to associate with women and femininity. Helene Shugart discusses the threat that ‘metrosexuals’ pose to normative masculinity; from that we can only assume that a transgender man must pose an even greater threat. She references Faludi and the term ‘ornamentalisation’ which refers to shifting of the gaze; “men.. are now available for display and objectification in ways that, historically, women have been” (Shugart, 2008, p. 285). Shugart goes further in saying that this ornamentalisation of men is based on their feminisation and one could argue that the use of the transgender model is yet another threat against masculinity, and potentially, the patriarchy.

The dominant part of the visual ad is the use of a transgender male model; this alone represents a manipulation of our assumptions in regards to gender and ‘feminine hygiene’ products. The piece of art that is on the wall behind the man is a photo used in another Thinx ad, which is the yolk of the egg falling off an edge. This represents the shedding of the egg inside the uterus and is actually quite a clever, non-threatening and inoffensive image to depict the monthly cycle of women. The text on the ad really is simple, clear and relatable. It is also worth noting that these ads use the word ‘period’, a new concept within the feminine hygiene industry. As discussed earlier the use of the word period is one of the reasons the ad was nearly unapproved and sparked controversy before it was even released. The colour scheme has also been left quite neutral and hasn’t reinforced any gendered stereotypes, again making this as inclusive as possible. These Thinx ads have not only challenged how we view gender, but have challenged the way we view ‘feminine’ hygiene products overall. Thinx have really impacted the market, both through the product itself (a whole new way of dealing with menstruation), as well as the way it has advertised the brand.

For many humans who experience menstruation Thinx and these ads have really challenged the status quo and brought something very real and refreshing to the public eye. The controversy surrounding the ads highlights how these ads are still seen as quite threatening and confronting to a lot of people, predominately cis-males, but also to people of both genders who experience ingrained misogyny. It still baffles me that something as natural as menstruation can still be seen as such a taboo topic, especially considering it is vital to our very existence. Both men and women have been conditioned to view menstruation as dirty and shameful, a conditioning that I argue has come from patriarchal systems as another means of oppressing women. Since the 1990’s post-feminism dominated discourses surrounding gender and many assumptions were generally accepted as truths. Gill claims that “..discourses of natural gender difference can be used to freeze in place existing inequalities by representing them as inevitable” (Gill, 2007, p. 159). This understanding of naturally occurring gender difference needs to be broken down and Thinx have made a successful attempt to begin that process. By using a transgender model as the subject of focus, Thinx attempts to normalise trans people especially within the discourse around feminine hygiene. Thinx are directly challenging gender assumptions in both the product context but also within the larger societal context.

Cauterucci, C, 2015, Ads for Period Underwear Might be Too Lewd for the NYC Subway’, XX Factor, viewed 20 April 2018, http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2015/10/21/ads_for_thinx_period_underwear_might_be_too_lewd_for_the_subway.html
Gill, R, 2007, ‘Postfeminist Media Culture: Elements of a sensibility’, European Journal of Cultural Studies, Vol. 10, No. 2, pp. 147-166
Monllos, 2016, ‘2016 Campaign’, [images] A Trans Man Stars in an Inclusive New Subway Ad for Period Underwear Brand Thinx, AdWeek, viewed 20 April 2018 http://www.adweek.com/brand-marketing/inclusive-new-subway-ads-period-underwear-brand-thinx-feature-trans-man-171508/
Shugart, H, 2008, ‘Managing Masculinities: The Metrosexual Moment’, Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, Vol. 5, No. 3, pp. 280-300