Search

The Nature of Being

rethinking the facts of life

The Portrayal of Asexuals in Media

My last article will be dedicated to asexual representation in media. I would like to focus on the depiction of a/sexuality in media and the roles that asexual characters usually perform. Furthermore, I would like to draw attention on depictions of asexual individuals in the media.

Giving us a broad overview, the youtuber LatinAlice discusses asexual characters and the depiction of asexuality in fictional media. Some characters, like Sherlock Holmes (series: Sherlock) or Sheldon Cooper(Series: Big Bang Theory) are assumed to be asexual (by the queer community at least) but will sometimes have romantic and/or sexual partners throughout the show. This implicitly communicates how sexuality is considered a natural, basic need, an instinct and drive without which a person cannot be complete. Following this assumption, the dehumanizing nature of it becomes clearer, asexuality makes you less human, which is as LatinAlice points out ‘the ultimate form of othering’. They also discuss an episode of Dr. House, where one doctor has an asexual patient and Dr. House bets that he will find a medical explanation for it. By the end of the episode, Dr. House is proven right and can alleviate the ‘symptoms’ for the patient, yet his problematic assumption stays in tact. His approach is somewhat violent toward people who identify as asexual since he basically invalidates such identity in communicating that asexuality means there’s something going very wrong.

Similarly, the talkshow ‘The View’ invited the founder of AVEN, an informative website on asexuality, to discuss what asexuality entails. But instead of properly listening to the interviewee’s statements, most of the participants prefer to insult him or ask indecent questions. A very striking moment is when another panelist inquires if he ‘had sex with himself’, a question so personal and public it would generally understood to be impolite and rude. Worsely even that when he answers, said panelist persists with their question. Here, two things become apparent: firstly, he is not taken seriously at all and the existence of asexuality is constantly contested by the other panelists, secondly, the way he’s being talked about is sheer sensationalism, a dehumanising public humiliation. The debate is therefore more of a freak show than an actual interest into the lives and desires of asexuals.

On January 6th 2017 Vice published an article, headlined by ‘We asked Asexuals for their sex fantasies’. You may wonder why the title is self-contradictory. It seems to remain unimaginable to not have any sexual desires, and a societal way of processing is questioning the existence completely. Surprisingly, many asexuals report that they experience no sexual fantasies whatsoever and explain how they fantasise about their career, future pets or children and other goals that they have.

Here the societal quest for residual sexuality seems to be a prominent one when discussing and exploring the field of asexuality. The allonormative and also medical/sychological assumption that everyone has to have a sexuality and sexual desires comes into play.

Apart from these unfortunate representations of asexuality in the media, there is really not much talk about due to underrepresentation or rather invisibility. Rarely a character will identify as asexual, especially when there deemed to beautiful and attractive. There is much to be changed if society wants to be inclusive of all genders and orientations in media.

Further information and sources:

http://www.zeit.de/community/2015-05/asexualitaet-beziehung-erfahrung

https://www.vice.com/de/article/kbwda3/wir-haben-asexuelle-nach-ihren-sexfantasien-gefragt

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLn4ob_5_ttEaA_vc8F3fjzE62esf9yP61

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ikoIEUBY00Y

http://asexuality.org/?q=video.html

https://youtu.be/6kPfLYuQlL8

* the asterisk implies that ‘woman’ is a social role that some people identify with. Some people will be read as female but do not identify as such, these may or may not want to be included in this social category. The asterisk indicates that being a woman is not a biological fact but a social category that one can assume for themselves.

Advertisements

The Medicalisation of Asexuality

It wasn’t long before medical scholars discovered human behaviour as new field of interest next to the various kinds of sicknesses. Non-normative behaviour has a long history of being sanctioned and disapproved of according to a societal understanding of modesty and reputable behaviour.

In medical terms, asexuality was conceptualised relatively recently as ’Hypoactive sexual desire disorder’ (HSDD) or ‘Inhibited Sexual Desire (ISD)’. Medicalisation of human differences occurred in many aspects of life for example in questions of abortion. The discovery of asexuality or as it is called the lack of sexual desire as field for medical intervention is much younger. When Masters and Johnson published their book ‘Human Sexual Inadequacy’  in 1970 a debate was stimulated about sexual dysfunctions, among them also the lack of sexual desire. It was argued at that time that having sex is part of a healthy and good lifestyle, so suddenly there arose a new norm regarding people’s sex lives.

Apart from these ‘cultural trends’ in lifestyle, there is also an underlying scientific assumption that sexuality is pre-social; much like breathing, digestion and the like it is supposedly involuntary and instinctive. This stance then leads to the problematising of sexualities that fall short of complying with unspoken norms. ‘Deviating’ forms of sexuality have been thus of interest in modern psychology and medicine, e.g. homosexuality, masochistic and sadistic sex practices have been pathologised and it has been tried to find cures and antidotes for many of these. Some of these are still intact today, a prominent example is the so-called conversion therapy for homosexuality. In fact, some forms of sexual expression existed for a long time (e.g. homosexuality was a common, normal practice in ancient Greece) and only attained their new moral condemnation in modern times. In the case of asexuality, it has been linked to sexual dysfunction or abstinence, as opposed to a lack of sexual attraction. A sexual dysfunction is present when an individual experiences psychological strain because of their inability to perform sexual practices. In the case of asexuality there is nothing to be cured since there is no psychological strain in the first place.

In the asexual community these assumptions are largely referred to as allonormativity, which describes the notion that each and everyone has to have romantic and sexual desires and attraction. Many describe their youth as a time when they thought, something was wrong with them, which points to the structuring element allonormativity is for modern societies. Allonormativity is omnipresent in everyday life, as we will see when we talk about asexuality and aromanticism in media.

Sources:

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypoactive_sexual_desire_disorder

https://www.omicsonline.org/open-access/asexuality-dysfunction-or-sexual-orientation-2161-038X-1000185.php?aid=76817

http://www.nytimes.com/books/97/03/23/reviews/bright-inadequacy.html?mcubz=0

Asexuality and Aromanticism

Have you ever heard of Asexuality? Chances are pretty high that you have not, since it  is nothing that mainstream media or school curricula cover. Asexuality is at best ignored, else it is stigmatised, denied or pathologised. So it seems about time to educate ourselves about different forms of sexuality and the absence of sexual (and romantic) desire, too.

Asexuality is the lack of sexual attraction to other people. Some asexual people do have relationships with other people, some will even perform sexual acts with others, some do masturbate and many others won’t do any of those. Some are asexual, but still consider themselves hetero/homo/bi/pan/_-asexual, meaning they do experience romantic feelings and attraction toward others. Some define themselves as aromantic, meaning that they do not desire romantic relationships. Some people will experience demisexuality or grey asexuality, which usually refers to only experiencing sexual desire for people when there is a very strong emotional bond.

The youtuber Amelia Ace talks in her demisexuality video about a survey she’s done and concluded, very few demisexuals experienced sexual desire more than once or twice in their life. Asexuality is a spectrum, there are no clear criteria one has to tick off a list in order to define as asexual. That being said, there are characteristics many asexuals will agree on being true for them. Nonetheless it remains important to always bear in mind that it is foremost a label people use to explain themselves to others. These labels can change across the lifespan and are not rigid. Usually people come up with their own definition and personal meaning when they choose (or reject to choose) labels for themselves.

The AVEN network (Asexuality Visibility and Education Network) is the biggest platform worldwide where asexual and other people exchange and discuss asexuality and aromanticism. Its aim is to „ creating public acceptance and discussion of asexuality and facilitating the growth of an asexual community“ ( more on http://www.asexuality.org/?q=about.html).  There is quite an overlap between Aromanticism and Asexuality, for short Aro/Ace. Romantic desires are usually distinguished from friendship and parent- child relationships but are not occurring for everyone.

Aromanticism does in no way mean that these individuals will not want to create meaningful and deep connections with others, they merely are not interested in romantic connections. Wanting a tight net of friends and a need to bond with others are not only part of romantic relationships but rather a basic human need that occurs across a spectrum. In fact, there are different forms of attraction, that might make it easier to imagine how aromantic people could feel like.

For attraction there are different forms the AVEN website names and distinguishes form each other: aesthetic attraction that refers to attraction on grounds of appearance, romantic attraction as the wish to engage with another romantically, whereas sensual attraction is defined as the desire to have non-sexual physical contact.

further information can be found here:

http://www.aven-info.de/asexualitaet/asex.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xO3ZNw_Eqo4

https://www.pinterest.com/kurougaru/aroace/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NTBLsaLMi5k

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jFWgt9m-Mjs

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W1TqLRd5x9M

Photo by Levi Saunders on Unsplash

The History of the LGBT community in NYC

This time I would like to talk about the LGBTQ history in the city of New York, in order to increase the people’s awareness of the rich history of the LGBTQ community and their long struggle (and still enduring one) to achieve their rights. Indeed New York city is a central historical point for the LGBTQ movement.

I came across an interesting website during my research (and I recommend it to you) the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project.

The NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, an initiative that began in August 2015 and is based on over 25 years of research. It is presented as an interactive map of New York in which key places for LGBT history are specified. Their goal is to make each on of us knowledgeable of the battle led by the community for having their rights recognized. Plus, their history is tightly linked to the history of the U.S.A. in the XXth century.

If the Stonewall Inn is probably the most known historical place for LGBTQ, and the one considered as the trigger of the gay liberation movement (for those who might not know it; in June 28th 1969 in this bar located in Greenwich Village riots took place, leading to strong confrontations between members of the gay community and the police), many other previous events have to be considered.

I will here present a few symbolic places for the gay movement in NYC:

There is the Julius’ bar located in Manhattan. On April 21st 1966, a Sip-in was organized by an early gay rights group (the Mattachine Society) to challenge the New York State Liquor Authority’s (SLA) discriminatory policy which consisted of revoking the licenses of bars that served known or suspected gay men or lesbians. Indeed, after the Prohibition, the bars and saloons were authorized to sell alcohol again only if they wouldn’t turn into “disorderly houses”. Police officers would check on bars and saloons at that time, and punish (which means risking losing its liquor license) any place that would sell alcohol to prostitutes, or gay people. This protest was one of the earliest public actions for LGBT rights and accelerated the end of this discriminatory policy and allowed the expansion of gay bars.

 

mcdarrah-sipin.jpg

The Greenwich Village Waterfront: this area, along the side of the Hudson river, became popular for gay men by World War I. The high concentration of men, the bars and warehouses made the waterfront one of the main centers for gay life that developed a lot after World War II. During the mid-1960s it had a high popularity among gay men, since changes in the maritime industry led this place busy for commerce during the day but empty during the night, allowing gay people to have sex there.

 

EPH_1353-LG.jpg

I just presented two, but there’s more than thousands of them which worth to take a look!

Sources:

http://www.nyclgbtsites.org/

 

Trump’s Presidency: the rollback of LGBTQ’s rights in the US

In October 2016, during his campaign for the presidential election of the United States, Donald Trump could have been seen as a liberal Republican considering LGBTQ issues. He has waved a rainbow pride flag at a rally in Colorado. Back the 1990s he supported amending the Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation liberties.

Despite his promises, his election turns to be a terrible regression for LGBTQ people (and not only…).

All the President’s political actions concerning the rights of LGBTQ happened to be a huge backsliding after the progressive laws and views of President Obama’s term.

First most of his political entourage is known for their conservative views and actions towards sex liberties. Jeff Sessions, nominated in February as the new Attorney General of Justice Department, has withdrawn guidance issue to schools on the treatment of transgender students, signaling that it would no longer consider the country’s responsibility to protect them. Instead, their fate is left to states and local school districts.

On that same month, the Southern Poverty Law Center (an American association known for its surveillance works concerning the far right and institutions advocating hate in the U.S.) published a report ‘The Year in Hate and Extremism’, saying that Trump’s campaign helped inspire a rise of new hate groups, including anti-LGBTQ groups.

On March 20 was released the National Survey of Older Americans Act Participants (NSOAPP), which helps the federal government decide where to send funding each year. But the Trump administration’s 2017 survey revealed a huge shift in questions relating to sexual orientation or gender identity, as these questions have been removed from the its goals.

One of the latest decisions made by Trump is the announcement through his Tweeter account on July 26th of a ban for transgender people to forbid them access to the military service. Financial costs were the reason invoked by the President. This is a direct attack at former President Obama’s policy, which acted to end a longstanding ban that prevented transgender people from serving openly in the military in June 2016. Meanwhile the RAND Corporation, a think tank specialized in research and analysis of the American army estimates that in 2016 2450 of the 1,2 million of the army’s members were transgender.

Last but not least, there’s also the question of the freedom of religion. The First Amendment Defense Act introduced in 2015 which states that the federal government “shall not take any discriminatory action against a person, wholly or partially on the basis that such person believes or acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.” Supposed to protect the First Amendment, the core concerning the sex equality. This bill can of course be used as a treat for LGBTQ’s people, and is used in that purpose by the Trump’s administration.

Ones of the only remaining American institutions that still manage to defend and reaffirm LGBTQ’s rights are the courts. Let’s hope a shift in Trump’s administration will come, especially considering that American society is progressive towards that issue, such as the major part of the GOP.

 

Sources:

http://edition.cnn.com/2017/05/03/opinions/trump-promise-to-lgbtq-hoover-deaton-opinion/index.html

http://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/first-100-days-how-president-trump-has-impacted-lgbtq-rights-n750191

http://www.slate.fr/story/149079/trump-armee-interdiction-transgenres

John Berger and the human-animal relationship

Our way (as humans) to behave towards animals tells us a lot about ourselves.I will use for my article the essay “Why Looking at Animals?”, part of the anthology About Looking published in 1980 by the British critic John Berger (who is also a painter, a teacher, a filmmaker and a novelist). The latter has, for me, particularly well described the human’s behaviors towards animals in capitalist societies.

He highlights different aspects of human-animal relationship and shows how animals have been marginalized through history, mostly due to the development of capitalism, as he explains by saying that “the reduction of the animal (…) is part of the same process as that by which men have been reduced to isolated productive and consuming units”.

The deep belief that animals as living species express emotions and have feelings have been called into question, especially with Descartes’s assertion of divide of body and soul: “the decisive theoretical break came with Descartes”. Since then it was made possible for some people to consider animals as “machines” (they are considered, unless humans, as “soulless”), and so remove from them their ability to have, as independent living entities, feelings, emotions, and needs. By far and against this statement, the critic shows that humans and non-human animals share much in common, from a biological (“Animals are born, are sentient and are mortal”) and also a historical point of view. Differences between humans and animals are variation in degree rather than kind.

For example the animals’s inability to speak is seen through a different angle than usual in Berger’s work: it should not be considered as a lack, but much more we should study and try to understand the means used by animals to express their feelings and communicate, as part of species. The use of language, a human characteristic, should not let us think of a given superiority of humans. Animals have typical features of their own, which we are not necessarily prone to understand. This refers also to the idea presents in Donna Haraway’s work When Species Meet (2008) that we should not define someone or something by a lack.

Then John Berger assumes that in modern societies men can no longer encounter with animals. He has also a main argument about the look: when there used to be a silent relationship between the two living species, the marginalization of animals and their confinement into zoos are the ultimate proof of it. We can no longer meet with animals, for a lot of them they live in artificial environment, they cannot either encounter with other species in their closed cages. Same with pets, which is a recent phenomenon. The development of companion animals brought with capitalist ideology. Before we used to rely on them for specific purposes (“guard dog”, “haunting dog”…).

In short, their essence is denied from them, and thus thanks to Humans whom, at one point in history, succeeded to make themselves above every other specie.

 

Sources:

“Why Looking At Animals?” by John Berger

When Species Meet by Donna Haraway (2008)

 

 

 

“The World’s Most Dangerous Place For Women”, an inside look at women’s condition in Congo

I would like this time to focus on a country: the Democratic Republic of Congo. I will, with help from the S.I.G.I. (Social Institutions and Gender Index) research data, bring a closer look to this state, which is considered as the ‘worst place in the world’ for women. First it is important to bear in mind that Congo, since its independence from Belgium in 1960, is home of terrible conflicts that date back to decades. From then on, and especially from the 1990s, the military violence is one of the worse in the world. In that situation children and women are the first victims. Rape and sexual violence are weapons used by soldiers, particularly in eastern’s province, to inflict fear on people and terrorize them.

A young Congolese woman, who was sent by her parents to Great Britain as a small child, is going back to her native country twenty years later. The BBC shot this as a documentary. Its name is ‘The World’s Most Dangerous Place for Women’. The twenty-three year old woman relates how the mass rape is accepted as a status quo in Congo, although such stories are hardly – if not never – transcribed in Occidental medias.

Though DRC has ratified international legal treaties concerning humans and women’s rights (of which the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, which stipulates men and women equality) and has written the principle of equality between both sexes in the preamble of the 2006 Constitution; the inequalities between both genders are alarming. The political chaos makes the implementation of these legal acts practically impossible.

Women represent 53% of the total population and 61,2% of them live below the poverty line (comparing with 51,3% for men). They are dramatically touched by economical, social and cultural inequalities.

The figures brought by the Thomas Reuters Foundation are frightening: 1152 Congolese women are raped every day, and wives cannot sign any legal document without their husband’s authorization. The atrocity of mass rape is even worse when you consider that, if they have survived to it, raped women are often rejected by their husbands and stigmatized in their communities.

5578926269702d049b000057

Their condition is closely tied to the political situation of the country, all of which makes them even more vulnerable to discrimination and physical violence. With the sexual-violence getting unpunished, we cannot imagine the cruelty ending any sooner unless international organizations and politicians do something.

The economical issue is of course also a huge concern: if women are not independent economically, how can they achieve their supposed autonomy?

The NGO Women for Women International, created in 1993, is trying since then to help women in all the conflict areas around the globe. This association tries to compensate some of the problems the women mostly face in such regions: from a lack of power, a lack of education (mostly the lack of being aware of their rights), a lack of economical resources, and the lack of nutritional health. It also tries to change the mentalities, which are often very discriminative towards women in such countries. Its work have shown good results but of course it cannot inverse the tendency if the crimes committed still stay unpunished.

 

Sources:

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2010/mar/28/congo-women-danger-war-judith-wanga

http://hyperakt.com/items/archived/the-worlds-five-most-dangerous-countries-for-women/

http://www.womenforwomen.org/

 

 

 

The introduction of gender in the belief of ghosts in Thailand

In South East Asia ghosts play an important role. The spirit of ghosts is notably predominant in Thai culture. A radio is broadcasting every night between midnight and 3 a.m. a call-in show, “The Shock”, dedicated to the supernatural where Kapol Thongplub, the animator of the show, listens people nightly telling him about their ghost stories and the apparitions they experienced.

The Thai belief of ghosts is so strong, that Thai people regularly leave offerings at places where people have died, and for example a Hungry Ghost Festival, “Por Tor Festival’, is held in Phuket every year.

There are a lot of different kinds of ghosts, mainly coming from Buddhism history and former Chinese influence, that have however survived and adapted themselves to the modern era.

One of them, called the “widow ghost” (Phii mae maai in Thai), particularly present in the North East Thailand, is a ghost that seeks to steal men away from their families (looking for men to kill and take as “husbands”). The power of this spirit reflects some of the Northeast Thailand understandings of gender difference and most of all translates the danger inherent in female sexuality. This is a reference to female hysteria.

The gender differenciation in poor rural areas of Thailand is not so marked: the domestic work are often done by both women and men. However the gender differenciation remains an important aspect in social life mostly through the necessity of controlling the woman’s body. This translates a divergent understanding about male and female sexuality. Masculinity, except for monks that represent a higher “class” in Thailand, spotlights sexual prowess. Female sexuality is interpreted in a different way: it is the subject of moral problems. When the sexuality of a female is not linked to a conjugal relationship, it is seen as depraved and the social equivalent of prostitution. Female sexuality is interpreted as potentially dangerous for the physical and spiritual well being of men.

They have to avoid any sort of public physical contact with men as this can be interpreted as a sexual interest of their part.

In the case of the widow ghosts, the ‘women’ show their sexuality powers. They take the initiative by seducing husbands. This is a reversal also of the male and female bodies hierarchy (the phii mae maai are thought to lie on top of their chosen ‘husbands’, contrasting with the more usual known sexual position of the man above the woman during the sexual intercourse).

This belief is linked with economical and geographical changes in Thailand (and which are mostly affecting the northeastern part, the poorest one): there is a labor immigration to Bangkok and it is women, usually young and unmarried who constitute the primary labor force. The new geographical mobility of young unmarried women challenges the customary male monopoly over the sources of prestige. Villagers’ fears of widow ghosts bring into play these conflicting meanings of female sexuality in contemporary Thailand. The mobility of young women and their growing independence towards their family and husbands challenge the traditional idea of men being more productive.

This threat of ghosts in Thailand is also a symbol for the new challenges and issues that capitalism and the evolution of the urban spaces.

Sources:

“Attack of the widow ghosts: gender, death, and modernity in Northeast Thailand” in Bewitching Women, Pious Men by Aihwa Ong and Michael G. Peletz (1995)

 

 

 

The Notion of ‘dividual androgyne’ and an introduction into cross-gender’s dances in Java Island

I would like to introduce the concept of « dividual androgyne » introduced by the British anthropologist Marilyn Strathern. In her book The Gender of the Gift: Problems with Women and Problems with Society in Melanesia, published in 1988, she has brought out a conception of gender she had noticed in the study of Melanesian people that are at the opposite of the Western’s conception of gender. I qualify the Western’s conception of gender as a social construction notion of masculine and feminine, where the biological sex of a person is defining her as a male or a female.

The book follows an anthropological study of the Melanesian culture (a sub region of Oceania which includes Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, Fiji and Papua New Guina), where the masculine/feminine distinction (as we have as Westerns) is questioned.

Contrary to Western beliefs, which the author criticizes, the person is here thought as being constituted through his relations. An ‘attack’ against Western’s ethnocentrism, which puts at the margins society in which system of values, conceptions, religions are far from ours.

Following the Melanesian’s conception of gender, the person is both dividual and relational. A person contains both masculine and feminine aptitudes and her “delimitation” into one is made possible through specific time/place/ and in relation with others.

The gender is not considered as a specific category that is unchanging through time, but rather as a process. It is an understanding of a gender as always moving, evolving. Being ‘male’ or ‘female’ emerges as a unitary state under particular circumstances.

This notion leads me to introduce a few words about cross-gender’s dancers in Java Island. There is already an article dealing with the approach of the third sex in Indonesia on the blog which I invite you to read it to get an overview of its gender’s culture.

The concept of ‘dividual androgyne’ can be applied to the Java Island’s transvestites dancers. Didik Nini Thowok, one of the most famous Javanese dancers (as a male dancer performing into woman), talks about ‘mystical gender’. He made an interview with a Senior lecturer in South East Asian Anthropology, Kostas Retsika in which he explains how, when he puts his mask on for the show, he can thinks of himself as a woman. ‘When a woman dances the male mask, she is transformed – it is mystical. And when a man dresses up as a woman, in bedhaya, we don’t always recognize that the dancer is male – it is mystical. He, too, is transformed.’ I find this conception of ‘becoming gendered’ really interesting and important to highlight, it also highlights that identity is a process. I find it also interesting because of the relational idea: we can only define ourselves in comparison to others. 68bb5ed8caa2210a1e7a2f2437d2f63d

Sources:

The sorcery of gender: sex, death and difference in East Java, Indonesia by Konstantinos Retsikas (September 2010)

 

 

 

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑