Free to be…you and me: 40th Anniversary

This November is the 40th anniversary of Free to be…you and me. The television special, which aired on March 11, 1974 (3 months before I was born) and was shown repeatedly in my elementary school in North Carolina, was my introduction to feminism. In honor of the anniversary, I thought I’d post some of my online lectures about the film; I’ve screened parts or all of it in many of my classes.

Feminist Debates, Fall 2011

Final day of class, December 13, 2011 
In “Feminist Education for Critical Consciousness” (in Feminism for Everybody), bell hooks argues for the need to give children access to a feminist education. Is this possible? Necessary? What would it look like? Did you have access to feminist education when you were younger? If so, what were (weren’t) you taught?

On our last day, I thought I’d show you my introduction to feminist/feminist values: Free to be…You and Me.

top_logo.gifI’m a child of the 1970s (born in 1974). When I was in elementary school in North Carolina, the entire school watched the Free to be…you and me film (Videos/VCRs didn’t exist yet…yes, I’m that old) during an assembly. Everyone was really excited because it was a long film–a whole 45 minutes!–and long films meant less class time. Anyway, I don’t remember much of what I thought about the film back then (I was probably 6 or so). Yet, I’m sure some of it seeped into my consciousness, helping shape how I experience the world and how I see myself and my relationship to others.

Originally a book/album created by Marlo Thompson, with a little help from Gloria Steinem, Free to be…you and me was turned into a one hour TV special. It first aired March 11th, 1974 (3 months before I was born). You can find out more about the history of the project here. Several years later, it became a popular film to show in schools around the country (like mine in North Carolina. It was also shown in Minnesota).

It stands as one example of feminist mass-based education. Would such a show be possible now? What sorts of feminist (or feminist-friendly) films did you see in elementary school? If we were to create a feminist resource for kids, what would/could/should it look like?

Here’s one of my favorite songs from the show:

Note: Rosey Grier was a football player during the 1970s. I really like how “Free to be…you and me” challenges the stereotype of who does cry (girls/women) and who isn’t supposed to (boys/men). In addition to having Grier sing the song, they also show a series of images of all sorts of people crying. As I was searching through youtube for this clip, I also found this one from Barney, “It’s OK to Cry”:

Barney is singing to little Beth about how it’s OK for her to cry. Does this song undercut a feminist message to boys (and all children), that its alright for everyone to cry?

Feminist Debates, Spring 2011

Week of April 11th, 2011

April 11               Youth/Children and Values
Martin, Karin. “William Wants a Doll
Berstein, Susan David. “Transparent
film clips: Free to be…you and me and Tomboy

Direct Engagement Question for the week (students were required to post comments on these questions):

  • What does it mean to engage in gender-neutral child rearing?
  • How are gender and sexuality connected in terms of child rearing and the development of gender identities? This is a key part of Martin’s argument–I am curious about what you all think she is saying with this argument and if you agree with it or not.
  • We will be watching the clip from Free to be…you and me, “William Wants a Doll” in class on Monday.

    You can check out the lyrics here). What sorts of strategies (theories of gender, etc) are going on in this song? What do you think about how this song frames William’s behavior in terms of his role as a father?
  • In her essay, Martin describes one of the critiques made against socialization theory, that it offers an “exaggerated view of children as unagentic, blank slates” (457). (How) are children active participants in their gendering process? How do they process and reflect on their own gender performances (their practices, actions, etc)? Are they just products of socialization? Or, are they both projects of socialization and agents who negotiate their gender identities/roles/expectations?

Online Lecture/Discussion:

We wil be watching this video in class today:

Tomboy from Barb Taylor on Vimeo.

Here are some questions to consider from kjfalcon’s discussion of the movie:

  • What are some of the main messages from the cartoon?
  • Why is gender something that has to be policed?
  • In the cartoon how do you interpret the representation of the intersections of gender and race? If you don’t see the explicit connection between gender and race/ethnicity does it matter that this Alex – the tomboy – is a Latina character?
  • What do you think of the representation of the mother character?
  • This is meant to be a tool for teachers learning how to teach – is this affective in this sense? What value do you see in encouraging dialogues around these issues to occur through this movie?
Is it possible to raise children in a gender-neutral environment? How do toy advertisements discourage this and encourage rigid gender divisions?
We are also watching some clips from free to be…you and me.

Comments (on blog entry)

Author Profile Page Nosecage | April 15, 2011 1:20 PM
I am going to try to keep this comment relatively brief, as I know we all have so much work to be getting done. I was, however, a little bummed that we didn’t get to address “Transparent” by Susan Bernstein in class last week. I think it’s a really important article to critique and engage with, so I wanted to bring some of my curiosities up here on the blog and see if we could have a bit of a discussion.
My main concern here is that we understand that Bernstein’s perspective is quite problematic on a couple of levels. The article is not meant to be taken as an authoritative perspective on what it means to raise kids with gender-neutral values. Bernstein does nothing to address the consequences of her kid’s gender non-conforming behavior, which can be severe and damaging. Throughout the article, Bernstein writes from a stance that suggests an almost utopic (not-a-word; adjective form of ‘utopia’) understanding of the world. As early as the third paragraph she says, “…it’s a commonplace to encourage children to try on all sorts of identities.” Really? I think not.
She at one point explains to Nora (her daughter) that, “…once in a while boys grow up and decide to be women, and the other way too.” This seems like an overly simplistic description of transgenderism, if not outright misinformation. Most transgender folks I know don’t ‘decide’ to be transgender, or to transition to living as some other gender than they were assigned at birth, it’s something they need to do in order to begin the process of being comfortable with their bodies–which I would argue is an undeniable human entitlement. While I understand that some of the complexities might be hard to put into language that young children can comprehend, it’s important to not set them up with assumptions that could potentially lead to transphobia (“If they’re simply deciding, why don’t they just not do it?”) Is this all we can say to kids to trouble sex/gender assignment? Can’t we work outside gender binaries to ensure our children have a full range of ways of expressing their gender and, more importantly, their personhood?

Perhaps even more troubling is the way Bernstein deals with and addresses Nora’s eventual move toward gender conformity. She praises Nora’s androgyny as if it were the ultimate answer to gender troubling–some phase on the path to personhood at which we can all arrive and feel at ease. Bernstein also largely ignores the question of Nora’s sexuality, which clearly deserves to be addressed.

Finally, the second to last sentence of the article, “Today’s multiplication of options, though inevitably a challenge, definitely bespeaks a better chance for adult postgender happiness,” almost critiques itself. Bernstein’s uptopic vision is made so apparent in this sentence that I’m not even sure what else to say. Postgender!? Equivalent to color-blindness!? Eek.

Author Profile Page sara | April 16, 2011 10:32 AM

Thanks, nosecage, for beginning this discussion. I agree that it is important to be critical of this essay and I think you do a great job of raising some key points of concern. As I was reading this essay, I also found myself writing all over the margins: what about the consequences of violating gender norms? In many ways, this story of Nora seems very utopic. The recent s**tstorm over a boy wearing pink nail polish demonstrates that “playing with gender norms” has serious consequences–consequences which are exacerbated by social media and the ability to spread violations so rapidly and effectively across the interwebz.

I also agree that sexuality needs to be a big part of this discussion. In many ways, Bernstein’s essay and her promotion of postgender happiness seems to be an extension of the second wave gender-neutral parenting techniques and the “free to be…you and me” attitude that was always haunted by heteronormativity and the threat of homosexuality (this gets hinted at when Bernstein discusses Nora’s “baby dyke” haircut on page 4). How are negotiations of gender tied to negotiations of sexuality?

This essay is from the perspective of Nora’s parent and not Nora. What might Nora’s narrative about growing up and negotiating the gender binary look like? How might she talk about the experience of being mis-identified at the hotel or being accused of being in the wrong bathroom? We focused our discussion on family values from the perspective of feminist parents and their attempts to educate kids/youth. How can youth be engaged in the process of educating? Check out Put This on the Map and their video about reteaching gender and sexuality (created in the wake of the It Gets Better Campaign from last fall).

on Safety: versions 1, 2 and 3

A couple of months ago, I posted an entry—”on privilege“— in which I put together a number of different sources, including some online class summaries.That post was the first in a series of entries in which I take material developed for my 20 classes that I taught at the U of Minnesota and organize it into larger themes. This series is an experiment; I’m not sure what I will ultimately do with all of these themes. A series of podcasts? An iBook? Who knows. For now, I’m just interested in archiving as much as I can in one central location: my blog.

For this entry, I want to focus on Safety. In the following three examples, I offer up 3 different versions of “on safety” (see my other post for another experiment with three versions). Each of these versions draws from similar theoretical and practical approaches, but offers up a slightly different approach to what safety is, who gets to claim it, and how it functions differently in different contexts and for different folks. In putting these three different approaches beside each other, I hope to trouble any easy, uncomplicated, “common sense” understandings of safety.

ONE: Safety on social media and in the classroom
from: feminist pedagogies: fall 2010 class summary
theme: Feminist Pedagogy and Facebook: Vulnerability, Privacy, Community
1. Beckenham, Annabel. “Face off online: Pedagogy and engagement in social network sites”
2. Schwartz, Harriet. “Facebook: The New Classroom Commons?
3. WMST-L. “Using Facebook in the Classroom”
4. Boyd, Dana. “MySpace and Facebook: How Racist Language Shapes Social Media (and Why You Should Care”
5. Kishimoto, Kyoto and Mumbi Mwangi. “Critiquing the Rhetoric of “Safety” in Feminist Pedagogy: Women of Color Offering an Account of Ourselves
6. Fisher, Berenice Malka. “Chapter 5: Dangerous Curves: Safety and Self-Disclosure

As instructors, how much access (to our personal lives, to our time) should we give our students? How is this question complicated when we become facebook friends with our students?

How do we negotiate our various selves/roles/identities on facebook? Can it be productive to make our “personal/private” selves visible for those who normally only encounter our “professional/public” selves? What are the benefits of this visibility? The drawbacks?

Does this visibility enable us to be vulnerable to/in the midst of others in potentially productive ways? What are the limits/dangers of this vulnerability?

How do public and private function in a feminist classroom? On facebook? (How) do these spaces complicate and demand a rethinking of the public/private distinction?

What is privacy? Check out this trailer for a longer video on “Choose privacy week

Choose Privacy Week Trailer from 20K Films on Vimeo.

Should/can a feminist classroom be a safe space? Is facebook a safe space?
safety: (from Fisher, 140):

Honest participation in feminist discourse meant bringing as much of yourself as you could to such discussions, drawing on experiences, feelings, and ideas that might promote liberating actions (Fisher, 141).

Is trust important to feeling safe? Or in engaging even when one doesn’t feel safe? Does facebook make us more/less trustworthy?

key words:
“differential vulnerabilities” (Fisher, 150)

Kishimoto and Mwangi:

However, just like Munro, we ‘seek simultaneously to create and disrupt notions of the subject’ (1) and thereby create fluid spaces in which to articulate and make sense of our positionalities in different contextual landscapes (90).

Does facebook allow for these types of negotiations? Is it a fluid space where we can make sense of our various positionalities?

On self-disclosure
Mwangi writes:

Self-disclosure is the element of explaining who I am, where I come from and where I am going, as well as my professional background at the beginning of the course. I often feel obligated to do this to establish my presence in the classroom. It is like letting the students know–“hello, I am here! And I have something to offer!!”–Self-disclosure becomes a way of not only authenticating my presence in the classroom but also talking back to myself acknowledges up front that I am in a position of vulnerability and thereby invokes a reminder to myself that I am braced to do what I need to do (92).

On a false sense of safety
Kishimoto writes:

This false sense of safety implied by surveillance is only creating a controlled and predictable environment that does not challenge the hegemonic system, thereby ignoring our subjective positionalities (94).

On the value of being unsettled (troubled?)
Mwangi and Kishimoto write:

To imagine that learning only occurs in a place of “calm” is to miss the ways in which contradictions, ambiguities, anger, pain, and struggles can be sources of energy to facilitate critical consciousness necessary for individual and social change (98).

note: While looking through past notes for this version 1 of safety, I found an article that I might want to skim in the future: Incongruity and Provisional Safety: Thinking Through Humor

TWO: on feeling safe
from: feminist debates fall 2011 Do you Feel Safe Here?
note: This was posted on our course blog as an open thread. While many students posted comments to this thread in expected ways (safety = no physical threats, “feeling” safe from harm while walking around campus), a few were able to expand our conversation to include a wider range of ways of thinking about safety: whose safety? what safety? where? Check out the comments on the original post.

Today, on my way to my office, I took a picture of this sign on the ground between the Washington bridge and the new Science Education building here at the U of Minnesota:


Here are some questions that this sign prompts for me:
Is the U of M a safe space?
Is our classroom a safe space?
What makes a safe space? Is safety possible?
What does it mean to feel safe? What does safe mean beyond physical safety?
Does the question–do you feel safe?–make you curious (a la Enloe’s feminist curiosity)?
What does safe mean?

On page 100 in Hey, Shorty!, they create a list of what safe/safer means:
no tolerance for harassment/bullying–no matter students’ identities
conducive to learning
emotional safe space
less police presence
freedom of self-expression (wear what you want and walk where you want)
addressing violence head on
respect for students’ identities
competent staff
partnerships between youth, parents, teachers, community members

And, on that same page, they offer two suggestions for how to achieve this:
prevention, especially through education
a bill of rights for students (policy)

Yesterday (oct 5) was National Safe Schools Day. Here are some suggestions from Safe Schools Action Network on how to take action.

THREE: on the PIC, protecting borders and SB1070
from: feminist debates: spring 2010
theme: Protection, but at what cost?
1. Gottschalk, Marie. Excerpt from The Prison and the Gallows
2. Meiners, Erica. “Never Innocent
3. Hoffman, Jessica. “On Prisons, Borders, Safety and Privilege

Have you heard about the Arizona Immigration Bill that was signed by Gov. Janice Brewer on Friday, April 23rd? According to the New York Times,

The law would require the police “when practicable” to detain people they reasonably suspected were in the country without authorization. It would also allow the police to charge immigrants with a state crime for not carrying immigration documents. And it allows residents to sue cities if they believe the law is not being enforced.

Brewer contends that the purpose of this bill is to protect the people of Arizona and secure the border:

There is no higher priority than protecting the citizens of Arizona. We cannot sacrifice our safety to the murderous greed of drug cartels. We cannot stand idly by as drop houses, kidnappings and violence compromise our quality of life. We cannot delay while the destruction happening south of our international border creeps its way north.

In her explanation, Brewer claims that this new law will not result in more racial profiling and that she is committed to training officers on how to properly determine when and if to stop individuals and request their identification (this “proper” way, according to her, must not be based on “the color of their skin”). But, many people think that this bill will allow racial profiling (or even encourage it) and are highly critical of the implications and intent of the call for “safety” and “protection.” In responding to Brewer’s above statement,  the Feminist Texican (who wrote this great post on why we should “stop saying ‘illegal'”)  writes:

In a country where “illegal” is a noun that’s synonymous with “Mexican” (Mexican drug cartels, Mexican border violence, border wall along Mexico,brown people swimming across the river from Mexico, etc.), I find it hard to believe that racial profiling rates against Latin@s aren’t going to rise.  I seriously doubt police are going to start asking white people for their papers at even a fraction of the rate they question brown people.

In an article over at the Arizona Republic, a law professor echoes Feminist Texican’s sentiment, claiming

“That is almost inevitably going to be enforced in a racially
discriminatory way, because how are the police going to have a ‘reasonable suspicion’ that you’re here illegally?” said Paul Bender, a professor of law at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and a principal deputy U.S. solicitor general from 1993 to 1997 under President Bill Clinton. “They’re not going to ask every Anglo that they stop for speeding to show their immigration documents. If they did, we wouldn’t have them and we’d all go to jail. They’re
going to ask the people who look Hispanic. Some of them are not going to have them, and they are going to be arrested.”

[Note: Do you carry proof of citizenship around with you–a driver’s license doesn’t count. Addendum: Or does it? I have found conflicting reports and wonder, what proof do you have to give if you are stopped?] American Progress describes four dangerous economic, social and legal consequences of this law: 1. It legalizes racial profiling, 2. It undercuts the constitution and imbues local police with federal authority, 3. It will harm the state and local economy and 4. It is expensive and takes police away from community policing. For even more on this law, check out Stephen Colbert’s humorous (yet critical) take on the issue:

The Word – No Problemo

What are the implications and consequences of this bill from a feminist perspective? What sorts of questions should feminists ask? What should feminist focus their attention on? How can we link this bill, and its consequences, to the issues we have explored all semester? I can imagine connections to all of the issues–reproductive rights/justice, work, family values, sex wars and the PIC. What connections can you make?

In her article for Gender Across Borders, Erin Rickard discusses how racial profiling makes Latin@ communities afraid of the police and less willing to contact them when domestic violence occurs. What are the consequences of this fear of the police for women? American Immigration Council wonders how
much this bill will cost
and if the people of Arizona can afford it. I wonder, what (types of) programs will be cut in order to pay for this bill? Due to the financial crisis, Arizona has already had to cut children’s health insurance. Will women’s health care (particularly reproductive health) be next? Immigration Blogprof wants us to ask, Why are there so many undocumented workers?, which makes me think of our discussion of La Doméstica and prompts me to ask: what rights do/should undocumented workers have and what rights are they denied with this law? Mark B. Evans over at Tuscan Citizen is curious about what counts as “reasonable suspicion” for pulling a driver over and checking their proof of citizenship? Will those outside of Gayle Rubin’s charmed circle be targeted more? Do their “deviant” behaviors arouse suspicion? Prof Sussuro over at like a whisper outlines the effects of a law like this. Here’s one they mention that seems to be speak directly to the issue of family values: “leaving children on the side of the road to fend for themselves when
parents are arrested.”

A discussion of this bill from feminist perspectives fits nicely with our reading today, On Prisons, Borders, Safety, and Privilege. How is safety and protection functioning in this law, and at whose expense? What are the consequences of trying to ensure safety? Whose safety? Here are a few passages from the text that speak to these issues:

Who is made safe by strengthening a violent law-and-order system? And what does strengthening that system have to do with ending violence (3)?

What is your feminism for? If it is not for disruption and redistribution of power across society (i.e., not just for women [or people] like you), it cannot be so ignorant of, exploitative of, and even counter to the prison-abolition and immigrants’ right movements–not only because marginalized women are involved in and affected by those struggles, but because they are where some of the most significant challenges to power are being made (6).

If feminist is about social change, it is about recognizing that safety in this society is a fantasy afforded only by assimilation to power, and the cost of that fake safety is the safety of those who cannot, or will not, access it. If feminism is about social change, it is about radically challenging prisons and borders of all kinds (7).

What if we crafted a collective feminist response to this issue–one that is not so much based on our own opinions but on the readings, discussions, films, issues that we have discussed this entire semester? What would we want to put in that response?

Maybe one place to start this response is with this statement by Critical Resistance and INCITE! Women of Color against Violence:

We seek to build a movement that not only ends violence, but that creates a society based on radical freedom, mutual accountability, and passionate reciprocity. In this society, safety and security will not be premised on violence or the threat of violence; it will be based on a collective commitment to guaranteeing the survival and care of all peoples (226).

Addendum: I just found this overview of more feminist responses to this issue at feministe.
Addendum 2: As I re-post this entry about Jan Brewer and her unjust practices in the name of protecting “safety,” I have to include one of her most recent appearances in the news. Remarkably, yet again, she engages in unjust practices in the name of protecting her own “safety” (well, and trying to sell more copies of her new book).

On privilege

In the past 24 hours, I’ve encountered several online discussions about privilege (especially, but not exclusively white privilege). I want to archive these conversations for future reflection.

Encounter One: Scrolling through my politics of sex course blog from last semester last night, I came across my lecture notes on privilege. Here they are:

Today’s topic for discussion is privilege and oppression. This is a continuation of our discussion on Monday about heteronormativity and straight thinking. Ingraham writes:

The question then becomes not whether heterosexuality is natural, and therefore ‘normal’, but, rather how do cultural meaning systems work to normalize and institutionalize heterosexuality? And, more importantly, what interests are served by these processes? In other words, who benefits from the ways we’ve named, defined, and organized sexuality (74)?
In today’s class we focus on the question of whose interests are being served (who benefits)? At whose expense do some benefit? We are extending the question beyond sexuality to think about how heteronormativity is part of a larger network of normativities. 

  • Audre Lorde in “Age, Race, Class and Sex” in Sister Outsider: “Somewhere, on the edge of consciousness, there is what I call a mythical norm, which each one of us within our hearts knows “that is not me.” In america, this norm is usually defined as white, thin, male, young, heterosexual, Christian, and financially secure. It is with this mythical norm that the trappings of power reside within this society. Those of us who stand outside that power often identify one way in which we are different, and we assume that to be the primary cause of all oppression, forgetting other distortions around difference, some of which we ourselves may be practising.”
  • Kate Bornstein in My Gender Workbook: The pyramid

Screen shot 2011-02-15 at 10.50.16 PM.png

Screen shot 2011-02-15 at 10.50.31 PM.png
  • Not just about any one category, or about envisioning the problem as one of binaries: oppressed/oppressor, white/non-white, male/female.
    Instead, about a larger network of norms (in terms of race, class, religion, gender, sexuality) that together contribute to this larger power pyramid of status/identity/privilege


  • Not isolated instances or individual practices of a few “bad” people
  • When analyzed cumulatively we can begin to see larger structures that enable the systematic oppression of groups who don’t fit the mythical norm/who fall outside the normal. What structures do you see emerging in these lists?
  • While becoming aware of privilege and microaggression involve individual experiences and encourage individual reflection, they are not about our individual intentions or about who we are (it’s not about us). Instead, awareness of privilege, microaggression and oppression is about the effects and affects of our actions/understandings on others. And how those actions are made in a larger context and social/material/historical processes of meaning-making.
Some examples (from “The Color of Supremacy”):
Screen shot 2011-02-15 at 11.29.20 PM.png
 Jay Smooth: How to tell people they sound racist:
What they did vs. What they are…the goal is to analyze actions, not to focus on whether or not an individual is racist.
  • Individuals/groups learn/are taught how to ignore privilege and to take it for granted
  • This learning process involves being discouraged from thinking critically about race, sex, gender, class.
  • It also requires active refusals to become aware and to engage in critical thinking.
  • Learning process trains us how to engage in practices of racial/sexual/gender/class/ability/ethnic microaggressions. We may engage in these wittingly and unwittingly.


  • Importance of discomfort in addressing these issues
  • Why study micoraggressions? Privilege?
  • What do we do with this knowledge?

What do you think about this statement “about this site” on the microaggressions blog?:

This project is a response to “it’s not a big deal” – “it” is a big deal.  “it” is in the everyday.  “it” is shoved in your face when you are least expecting it.  “it” happens when you expect it the most.  “it” is a reminder of your difference.  “it” enforces difference.  “it” can be painful.  “it” can be laughed off.  “it” can slide unnoticed by either the speaker, listener or both.  “it” can silence people.  “it” reminds us of the ways in which we and people like us continue to be excluded and oppressed.  “it” matters because these relate to a bigger “it”: a society where social difference has systematic consequences for the “others.”
but “it” can create or force moments of dialogue.

A few more resources:

  1. There are lots of privilege lists circulating on the interwebz. Here’s a list of many of them.
  2. Check out these, in particular: The Black Male Privileges Checklist and Daily Effects of Straight Privilege (by Peggy McIntosh) Why are there so many privilege lists available? What are the benefits and limits of such a proliferation of lists?
  3. Check out this critical assessment of the privileges approach: “The Color of Supremacy: Beyond the discourse of “white privilege”

Encounter Two: Woke up this morning and checked my twitter feed. I found a tweet via @racialicious about a post on racism vs. white guilt.

This video is the subject of her post:

Encounter Three: After encountering my notes and the video on white guilt, I remembered that Slutwalk Toronto was planning to post on privilege soon. We’ve been following Slutwalk in my feminist debates class all semester and read/discussed their statement on racism in class a few weeks ago. I checked their blog this morning and found it: What’s All This About “Privilege”?

Teaching Halloween

My last post on live-tweeting Halloween inspired me to dig up my past notes on screening/teaching Halloween in my feminist and queer classes. In both classes, we discussed the film in relation to Carol Clover’s Men, Women and Chainsaws:

Day Eighteen (11.2.06)

Reactions to Halloween

  • what is the story? Outline of plot
  • listing of characters
  • representations of women?

Introduction to Clover

  • her background
  • the notion of the final girl has been very significant
  • What is the argument of the final girl?

Clover argues that the phenomenon of the final girl within late 1970s/early 80s slasher films is significant for rethinking how we understand gender within these films. In contrast to the traditional understanding of gender and the masculine gaze as sadistic and objectifying, Clover argues that within slasher films, male audience members identify with the final girl; they don’t objectify her or find pleasure in her suffering but root for her to vanquish the killer.

Who is the final girl?
Halloween = Laurie

  • the one who doesn’t die/survivor
  • encounters the mutilated bodies of her friends/understands the horror
  • she is chased, cornered and wounded
  • screams, staggers, falls, rises again
  • looks death in the face

Chapter 7: introduction to her as bookish, smart, different, asexual read parts from Clover essay (39) + boyish quotes as well
Chapter 22: her experience of the horror, confronts it. Clover 35, bottom 39)
Chapter 24: trapped in the closet, able to defend herself (35, bottom 39)

Elements of Clover’s argument:

  1. Basic argument = male gaze is not exclusively about objectifying women or about getting sadistic pleasure out of their pain/suffering/death [although that is evident in the film] A different type of girl, the final girl, exists
  2. Final girl complicates the classic gender division of male active/hero and female as passive/victim…The final girl represents both
  3. She is a masculine female: How is this represented in the film? Her name, her interests, her disinterest in boys, her intelligence, her heroism/ability to fight back (see 48)
  4. Gender fluidity: “The world of horror is in any case one that knows very well that men and women are profoundly different (and that the former are vastly superior to the latter) but one that at the same time repeatedly contemplates mutations and slidings where women begin to look a lot like men” (15)
  5. The audience may shift their identification throughout the early parts of the film, starting with the killer as a boy, but by the end of the film we fully identify with the final girl as hero (see 44-45). This challenges the idea that the gaze is always male and that the primary identification is with the man/male character-hero
  6. One sex versus two sex…arguing that horror films play with gender—Halberstam quote about queering gender (Butler too) “improperly or inadequately gendered bodies represent the limits of the human and they present a monstrous arrangement of skin, flesh, social mores, pleasures, dangers and wounds. The bodies that splatter in horror films are interestingly enough properly gendered ‘human’ bodies, female bodies, in fact with the conventional markings of their femininity. Female bodies that do not splatter, then, are often sutured bodies, bodies that are in some way distanced from the gender constructions that would otherwise sentence them to messy and certain death. Carol Clover has named the improperly gendered, de-girled being as the ‘final girl’ (141).

The point of her argument is not to suggest that horror films aren’t sadistic-voyeuristic, but that they are more complicated than that. Women are surely objectified in this movie and gender roles are reinforced, yet something else, something that complicates how we understand gender to function, is happening. The horror film demonstrates that gender is not rigid but fluid.

What do you think about her argument?
What are some other interpretations for what is going on here?
What struck you about the Clover article? The movie?

And here’s the worksheet I distributed when I screened it my queering theory class in 2009:

Queering Theory
29 October 2009

Who is looking? How are they looking? What are they looking at?
Who is active? Passive?
How is the gaze gendered? Sexed? Is it always male? Always heterosexual?
Are there possibilities for looking at this queerly?

Primary Identification: from the perspective of the camera
Secondary Identification: with the character of empathetic choice

  • Who are we meant to identify with in this film? (How) does our primary identification shift? What about our secondary identification? (See page 45)
  • Why is this shifting identification significant for how we understand what is happening to sex/gender/desire, the subject/abject, the possibilities for queer looking?
  • Is the gaze in a horror film, as Mulvey and many feminists suggest, sadistic-voyeuristic (Clover, 8)?

Voyeuristic looking involves a controlling gaze and Mulvey argues that this has associations with sadism: ‘pleasure lies in ascertaining guilt – asserting control and subjecting the guilty person through punishment or forgiveness’ (Mulvey 1992, 29).

What else does Clover think is going on when the audience (young heterosexual men) watch a movie like Halloween? Do they watch it because they like watching young women be tortured?

Key question for Clover: But if it is so that all of us, male and female alike, are by these processes “made to” identify with men and “against” women, how are we then to explain the appeal to a largely male audience of a film genre that features a female victim-hero (Clover, 44)?

the free exchange of themes and motifs, the archetypal characters and situations, the accumulation of sequels, remakes, imitations. This is a field in which there is in some sense no original, no real or right text, but only variants…(Clover, 11). Do you see parallels with Butler here—her notion of gender performativity?

Why horror? its engagement of repressed fears and desires and its reenactment of the residual conflict surrounding those feelings (Clover, 11).

Sex/Gender: What is the gender of the victim? The monster? The Hero?
Sex, in this universe, proceeds from gender, not the other way around (Clover, 13).
What does she mean by this? How does it function in Halloween? Connections with queering theory?

  • What are the differences between the single sex and the two-sex system? What understanding of sexual difference is being employed in Halloween—according to Clover? According to your viewing?
  • How do sex and gender work in this film? Does gender directly follow from sex (body)? What sorts of slippages do you see?
  • What types of visual/narrative/language cues about gender and desire do we get in the film? (e.g. Clover discusses how the masculinized final girl almost always has an ambiguous/manly name. See also her discussion on 39-40.)

What is the final girl? What is the significance of this concept for our viewing (and thinking about) horror films?

WHAT? The fact that horror film so stubbornly figures the killer as male and the principal as female would seem to suggest that representations itself is at issue—that the sensation of bodily fright derives not exclusively from repressed content, as Freud insisted, but also from the bodily manifestations of that content (Clover, 47).

What gender is the killer? (How) does their gender shift throughout the film?
What gender is the final girl (victim/hero)? How does their gender shift?

  • What connections do you see between Butler’s articulations of the abject with the Michael Myers? How does the child psychologist—Dr Loomis—describe Michael?
  • What connections can we draw between the figures of the killer and the final girl—are they different parts of the same person (Subject/abject?) See 49.

Abject terror as feminine: Abject terror is gendered feminine…form of crying, cowering, screaming, fainting, trembling, begging for mercy. Subject = male= forceful anger (Clover, 51).

Gender fluidity/uncertainty: not just the case that the thrill comes from fooling with gender and gender ambiguity (56)

Single sex or both sexes at once? Halloween is a test in which the categories masculine and feminine, traditionally embodied in male and female, are collapsed into one and the same character [Laurie]—a character who is anatomically female and one whose points of view the spectato if unambiguously invited, by the usual set of literary-structural cinematic conventions, to share (Clover, 61).

KEY QUESTION: Clover is analyzing the genre of slasher films primarily from a feminist perspective here. Her analysis of how gender functions within the genre (and films like Halloween) is about moving beyond the simple dismissal of slasher films as low brow fantasies of violent males and victimized females. In what ways does/can our analysis of this genre/Halloween change when we take a queer perspective? What is a queer perspective? In other words, how can we queer this?

The Trouble with Valentine’s Day

Tomorrow (Valentine’s Day), we will be discussing heteronormativity in my Politics of Sex class. To prepare for that class, I thought I would create an entry tracing some of the various implications of Valentine’s Day for the politics of sex. As part of our discussion, we are reading two essays from Chrys Ingraham: “Introduction” to Thinking Straight and “Heterosexuality: It’s Just Not Natural!” In her introduction, Ingraham discusses the idea of straight thinking in many different ways, including “thinking in terms of opposites and polarities when none exist and naturalizing social practices and beliefs rather than seeing them as social, political, and economic creations” (2).

This concept of “straight thinking” has important implications for feminist and queer political projects that put sexuality and issues of sex into conversation with a wide range of other categories of experience (race, class, ethnicity, ability, global positioning, gender identity, just to name a few). So in my own thinking about “straight thinking,” I want to position it in relation to an alternative model for viewing the world: feminist/queer thinking.

My vision of feminist/queer thinking links MAKING TROUBLE FOR (questioning, unsettling, exposing, challenging, resisting, reframing) categories, ideas, practices, norms, institutions with the need for DEVELOPING AND PROMOTING A CRITICAL AWARENESS of how our everyday practices are shaped by and contribute to larger structures of oppression, power and privilege. While straight thinking encourages us to understand our everyday experiences from our particular social/cultural locations  as “natural” or “normal” and breaks them down into rigid binaries (male/female, heterosexual/homosexual, white/non-white) with one half of the binary privileged over the other, feminist/queer thinking encourages us to question, play with and “bust” these binaries. It also encourages us to make connections, to find patterns and to be curious about why things are they way they are and how they might be transformed. And it encourages us to ask who benefits from this “natural” order and at whose expense is it perpetuated.

While my version of feminist/queer thinking is inspired by lots of folks, here are three thinkers that are inspiring me right now as I work to articulate my vision of politics for my “politics of sex” class:

Cynthia Enloe and her emphasis, especially within her introduction to The Curious Feminist, on the value of having a feminist curiosity and of engaging in the difficult labor of questioning practices, institutions, ideologies that claim to be “natural,” “normal,” or just part of “tradition.” These acts of curiosity potentially enable us to expose the larger structures (of patriarchy, racism, heterosexism) that undergird those seemingly unquestionable claims to the natural or normal.

bell hooks and her discussion, especially in Feminism is for Everybody and Teaching to Transgress, of the importance of critical awareness and making connections between our everyday practices and larger structures of power, privilege and oppression.

Cathy Cohen and her discussion of the radical potential of queer politics in her essay, “Punks, Bulldaggers and Welfare Queens.” Challenging a narrow (and straight?) version of heteronormativity as one the reproduces the binary between straight and queer, Cohen argues that while heteronormativity might be a

primary system of power structuring our lives, it [heteronormativity] interacts with institutional racism, patriarchy, and class exploitation to define us in numerous ways as marginal and oppressed subjects (31).

So, moving beyond straight thinking requires that we also think about more than sexuality; we must put our discussions about sex/sexuality/sexual politics into conversation with discussions of race, gender and class. We need to move beyond the single oppression model that narrows our vision and limits our ability to make connections across differences.

Having provided a brief introduction to the differences between straight and feminist/queer thinking, I want to think about Valentine’s Day. What does some queer/feminist thinking about this holiday look like? In my version, it requires paying serious attention to the holiday and exposing and critically engaging with the variety of levels and locations of power and privilege that are involved in our practices and understandings of it. This close attention doesn’t mean that we must reject Valentine’s Day. In fact, I’m not interested in being for or against the holiday. Instead, I am interested in tracing its effects and how that tracing might make visible some processes and practices of heterosexualization. So, here are some questions that V Day raises for me:

Marketing: How is Valentine’s Day marketed to/for women? To/for men?  Do the advertisements help reinforce strict divisions (straight thinking) between the “sexes”? How do advertisers encourage us to buy their V-Day products? Do their methods work to reinforce harmful stereotypes about femininity? About masculinity? Do they draw upon other stereotypes (racial, ethnic, class) in their attempts to make their product desirable to us?

Check out the following commercials. Do you see evidence of “straight” thinking here? What are the potentially harmful consequences of these ads? (How) do they encourage us to privilege certain behaviors/identities/bodies over others?

(the first one comes from a student in my politics of sex class):

Description: The guy is struggling to figure out what message to write on a card for his girlfriend. Faith Hill tells him to “speak from his heart.” He writes: “Your rack is unreal.” Text at the end: Telefora says it beautifully. Because, frankly you can’t.

Consider what Ingraham states in “Introduction: Thinking Straight” about “the ways in which ascribed behaviors for women and men–gender–actually organize the institution of heterosexuality” (4). How are masculinity and femininity shaped/reinforced through these advertisements? How do these ads speak to/reinforce larger stereotypes and expectations of what “real” men and women look like? And how they are expected/assumed to act? What do we “learn” about sexuality and straight thinking in these ads?

What about the couples? Which couples are represented in the second ad? Which types of couples are excluded? If, as the New York Times suggests here, that interracial marriages are on the rise, why aren’t any interracial couples represented here? What about same sex couples?

Regardless of whether or not you find these funny, how do labeling them “just a joke” or a funny (and therefore meaningless) commercials prevent us from interrogating their underlying ideologies/structures/patterns? Check out this comment by Kristi on Valentine’s Day and Heteronormativity (note: troll refers to someone who uses their comments to side-track discussions and provoke others who are seriously engaging with the issues in the blog post.)

How do we place the “jokes” from these two commercials into the larger context of how women are objectified (reduced to their “rack”) or who can marry and/or should partner (opposite sex, same race)?

Labor, production and consumption: In “Heterosexuality: I’s Just Not Natural!,”Ingraham argues that events, like weddings or Valentine’s Day, provide us with the opportunity for investigating “the ways various practices, arrangements, relations, and rituals work to standardize and conceal the operation ” (77) of heteronormativity. She also encourages us to ask after whose interests are being served with these practices and at whose expense these practices are encouraged and perpetuated. While there are many different ways to pose these questions, how can we ask them in relation to labor, production and consumption? At whose expense are we able to acquire the products that we use to “express” our love?

Who makes the products that we buy for Valentine’s Day? Who cuts the flowers? Where does the chocolate come from? Are Valentine’s products gendered? How are our expressions of love linked to consumption in Valentine’s Day, where love = the amount of money you spend?

Relationships: When do we start learning appropriate sexual/gender behavior? What is the link between Valentine’s Day and romance/romantic love? How have feminists critically analyzed romantic love? Can anyone be against love? What would it mean to be against love? How does being single get read as failure before/during/after Valentine’s Day? What other ways can we imagine love, intimacy, connection with others outside of heterosexual monogamy via marriage? Check out what the Zachari C has to write about it over at the Crunk Feminist Collective:

I want to live in a world where there isn’t a hierarchy of relationships, where romantic love isn’t assumed to be more important than other kinds, where folks can center any relationships they want whether it be their relationship to their spiritual practice, kids, lovers, friends, etc. and not have some notion that it’s more or less important because of who or what’s in focus. I want to feel like I can develop intimacy with people whether we are sleeping together or not that I will be cared for whether I am romantically involved with someone or not. I want a community that takes interdependency seriously that doesn’t assume that it’s only a familial or romantic relationship responsibility to be there for each other.

What configurations of loving community and kinship does Valentine’s Day foreclose with its almost singular focus on romantic love as man + woman = marriage? Are there ways to rethink love and sexuality that make room for envisioning (heterosexual/monogamous) marriage as one option among many instead of as the only (natural/normal) option?

Public/Private: How do we negotiate our private lives (our relationships, our expressions of intimacy) in public spheres via holidays like Valentine’s Day? How does our participation in V Day (or other heteronormative rituals like weddings) “signify belonging to society in a deep and normal way” (Warner/Berlant, “Sex in Public” 554)? What are the consequences for not participating in these rituals and not reinforcing dominant norms? Who all is excluded from participating in these public rituals and how are they excluded?