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The Nature of Being

rethinking the facts of life

Month

February 2016

Contradictions between Feminist Ideologies: Are Men and Women Really Different?

Feminism, specifically radical feminism, has conceptualized public politics to be ‘intrinsically male’. Along with this conceptualization comes ideals of masculinity, often coded to mainstream politics such as competitiveness, aggressiveness and self-interest. In turn, the other side of this conceptualization suggest a women’s way of conducting politics, or a ‘women’s culture’.  In a well-recognized study done by Carole Gilligan, a feminist psychologist, it was observed that men tended to sway towards an ‘ethic of justice’, whereas women swayed more often towards an ‘ethic of care’. This was explained by the different focusses each gender took when reasoning about moral questions. Where men chose to focus on more abstract rights and rules, women drew on their traditionally set out roles of caregivers to ponder such questions.

The next issue then, is what does this mean for the field of politics? This is where the contestation between different branches of feminist politics takes place. Feminist political scientists can either take a realist ontological stance on this dilemma, or a relativist ontological stance (there are others, but for the sake of simplicity we will focus on these two). Specifically what this means is, where some believe this lays out the particular area women can contribute to the field of politics, taking on a ‘one reality’ perspective; others say this construction of difference between men and women is far too ambiguous to allow to enter the public sphere. Feminists of this mode of thought suggest that it is wrong to ‘universalize’ women’s experience in such a way. On the surface it may seem rational to universalize the female experience, however society is multifaceted and what this perspective does not take into consideration is the racial and economic components of this multifaceted issue. For example, the long lasting ‘segregation’ between African Americans and Caucasian citizens in the United States portrays quite well the fundamental problem with assuming all women carry the burden of patriarchal oppression in the same way.

Mainstream second wave feminism focussed on the norm of women, white middle class, and not the full scope of women and female experiences, failing to recognize the interdependence between race, economic class, and gender on the individual experience of patriarchal social organization. Continuing with the example above, when the first and second waves of feminism first took hold, the event of social activism largely took off without the inclusion of African American women, often times only seeking their participation through the social coding of ‘exotic’-Therefore forcing this demographic of women to constitute their own feminist movement, entitled black feminism. For the realm of politics, this lays out an intriguing instance where the branch of politics that claimed to be a relevant and important source of objectivity in the discourse of political science, can now be seen as in need of re-assessment. That in mind, I will end with the following quote to illustrate my personal beliefs in this branch of political science and its upmost significance for the contemporary, modern political sphere.

“Despite its internal diversity and debates, the feminist perspective is badly needed in political science. The achievements of feminist political science in ensuring a full and discerning account of women as political actors have been substantial, and whilst the limitations of this approach are increasingly recognized, it will go on being necessary.” (Randell, 2010)

References:

http://www.iep.utm.edu/fem-race/#H2

Theory and Methods in Political Science-Third Edition: Edited by David Marsh and Gerry Stoker-2010: Published by Palgrave MacMillan

Legitimizing female oppression: Contesting the Distinction Between Public and Private Spheres

‘The personal is political’ is a slogan widely known and effectively used to discuss the core questions addressed by feminist politics; one of the more interesting being, the traditional distinction between public and private spheres. Politicians working under the discourse of feminism have acknowledged this distinction as one way of legitimizing the oppression and exclusion of women from public spheres.

“The real inspiration for new thinking, was radical feminism, which called into question the conventional understanding of the scope and nature of politics, rejecting its distinction between private and public spheres, and highlighting the ubiquitous role of male power or patriarchy and the masculine character of mainstream political institutions.” (Randell, 2010)

Exploring the private and public spheres, feminists have argued that the two are highly interdependent, and thus issues coded conventionally as private have now been brought to the attention of those in the public spheres, such as abortion rights and domestic violence. This has been accomplished using a ‘second order’ methodology, meaning an ‘outside’ perspective, much like that of sociological discourses. For this reason, the relationship between sociology and politics comes to an interesting intersection when looked at from a feminist point of view; many of the same topics such as sexual behavior and family relations are closely analyzed in both fields of academia. This somewhat of a disciplinary ambiguity, results in a rather captivating normative question- should the political expand to embrace the social, or is the problem that of a more fundamental one, specifically in reference to patriarchy? In other words, should mainstream politics evolve so that the border between the public and private spheres is dissolved? Or is the issue raised here only of that with the system of patriarchy- meaning once an egalitarian approach (equality) takes hold, the borders between the public and the private can stay intact?

Keeping consistent with the relativist ontology decided upon in my previous article, the answer to this questions can only be found within an individual’s own political perspective and agenda. However, as the slogan stated at the beginning suggests, the widespread of feminist political ideology, and scientists, point toward a more homogeneous mix between the public and the private; holding the belief that an increase in fluidity between the two would be in the best interest of the populace. That is not to say that feminist belief holds egalitarian ideals lower on the agenda, on the contrary, ideals of equality are at the most fundamental roots of feminism. It does however point so some complications within the feminist discourse itself, particularity between several nuanced versions of feminism that answer the question-are men and women really different?-in contesting ways. My next and final article will explore this controversy and its importance further.

Reference:

Theory and Methods in Political Science-Third Edition: Edited by David Marsh and Gerry Stoker-2010: Published by Palgrave MacMillan

Introduction to Gendered Politics: Feminist Jurisprudence and Objectivity

“Feminism is innately political. To the extent that ‘it picks out and problematizes the fundamentally political relationship between gender and power’ (Hojer and Ase 1999: 73), it has had, and still has a great deal to say to political science, although it is not always apparent that mainstream political science is listening.” (Randell, 2010)

 

This quote written by Vicky Randell extracted out of a collaborated book entitled ‘Theory and Methods in Political Science’, works well to introduce the purpose of this article which is to serve as an overview of feminism as a branch in the diverse sphere of political science, rather than simply an activist movement where it first started, outside the field of academia. First, I would like to draw on the importance of feminist politics, and its significant contributions to the political, by looking at its ontological and epistemological perspectives. For those unfamiliar with these terms, ontology refers to questions surrounding existence-what is true? Is there a ‘real’ world out there, or is ‘reality’ constructed? Where epistemology refers to questions revolving knowledge-what is knowledge? How can we gain knowledge? These questions are important when dealing with natural or social science because  the way in which politicians, scientists and other ‘elites’ or people of ‘knowledge’ make decisions is based on how they decide to interpret the world they are governing or studying.

These ontological and epistemological questions are relevant to the field of feminist political theory because of the innate nature of feminism to ‘expose the misogynist tendencies of traditional political thought’ and when one ‘orthodox’ mode of thought is questioned, other outdated forms of thinking tend to come to light as well. Ontologically speaking, feminist theory tends to sway towards a relativists point of view, meaning that they believe the world is socially constructed and thus no one reality is ‘true’. This in turn suggests their standpoint on epistemology, namely, that knowledge is a contingency, or ever changing. These two belief systems are key for the development of political activism and reform, where the heart of feminist politics is grounded. For this reason feminist jurisprudence, or in other words, governmentality in line with feminist ideologies of equality, is of the upmost importance for the growth of democracy and liberalism. Assuming a perspective of mainstream political science, this then codes feminism as an essential discourse on prosperity and the best interest of the cosmopolitan populace at large.

This, however, is not to say that feminism is a unilateral discourse. To give an insight into the immense diversity that the feminist political branch entails I will briefly mention three of the epistemological phases that it has gone through. Namely, rationalist, anti-rationalist, and post rationalist, which in turn coincided with liberal and radical feminism, Marxist feminism, and post-structuralist feminism respectively. For the purposes of this and my last two articles, I will be focussing on post-structuralist feminism, or ‘second generation’ feminism, because of its roots in consciousness and ideals of reflexivity. Of particular interest is their take on dichotomies such as culture and nature or mind and body, as identified with men and women respectively (Randell). The significance of questioning dichotomies, is that when fundamental principles such as these are shaken from their validity, an entire new notion of perceiving the world must first be established.

This is where the theme of objectivity is deployed; for second generation feminists, the notion of social constructs took its most powerful stance. Under this ideology, the power of definition was taken from the ‘author’ and given to the ‘reader’. Put in more practical terms, the authority of the government to define rationales such as the men-women dichotomy, was passed down to the populace, as legitimated by the new awareness of social constructs. If there is no one reality, no one ‘truth’, then the rational approach would be to give the power of definition to each individual. This sounds much along the lines of the ideals of liberalism and democracy, does it not? In this sense objectivity and feminism go hand in hand, thus feminism can be said to be at the forefront of modern political science. With this article I have hoped to introduce some relevant concepts and terminology for the highly influential political feminist branch and to give some insight into the significance of feminism in political discourse. My next post will be diving deeper into this topic by looking the distinction between public and private spheres, as viewed by feminism.

Reference:

Theory and Methods in Political Science-Third Edition: Edited by David Marsh and Gerry Stoker-2010: Published by Palgrave MacMillan

 

Man’s Evolution alongside Technology

The use of technology was a key turning point in the evolutionary history of man. Many define it as one of the key features that began our trek to the separation between us and other living beings. Around 2.5 million years ago man created his first primitive tool, and in doing so forced human kind down a very different path.(historyworld.net) With these newfound machines, man rose above other animals. He gained the ability to control the world around him, not merely accepting what was thrown in his path. It was through these devices that man was able to create the newfound idea of culture and further the division between him and so call “non advanced” life.

These once primitive tools however, have evolved with us to an extraordinary level into what is now modern technology. With these advancements come many benefits to society. Man now has the ability to influence his surroundings. We no longer have to search for food but can instead make it ourselves. We now have independence from the Earth, and we don’t have to solely rely on luck for survival. We can now complete tasks that are beyond any amount of human strength or willpower. Technology allows us communicate world-wide and draw attention and help where it is needed. More than any of these however is the fact that each person has gained access to a vast amount of shared knowledge. With modern advancements such as book printing and the internet, information from both the past and the present can be transferred to anybody anywhere in the world.  It is through this shared knowledge that society is able to expand and build on itself.

With all these positives however come many fallbacks. Early on, man used basic tools to help control nature and the world around him, however in today’s society this is not the case. We no longer simply interact with our surroundings, we have become accustomed to dominating our environment. Tools are no longer used simply as a way to survive, but rather as a means of pleasure. We extract millions of gallons of petroleum from the ground each year so that our cars can burn it as fuel, polluting our air in the process. We destroy thousands of acres of forest every day in order to produce wooden building materials. We use construction equipment in order to shape the land to our needs, disrupting entire ecosystems as we go. All of this power has been given to us through the use and advancement of technology.

More concerning than any of these facts however, is man’s use of tools as weapons. We use guns, bombs, mines, tanks, and a vast number of other machines in order to kill, maim, and strike fear in one another. With the creation of nuclear weapons, man gained, for the first time in history, the ability to completely erase himself from the face of the Earth. Man can now be his own destroyer. It is clear to see the once basic tools that helped man divide from animal have become something very different. Whether they will serve us mainly for good or for bad is a question for future generations to decide.

 

Sources:

http://www.historyworld.net/wrldhis/PlainTextHistories.asp?historyid=ab11

6) The kids are all right and the mystery of love

This is my last post and I would like to conclude my observations concerning sexuality, emotions and identity by writing about a nice American 2010 comedy: The kids are all right. In that way it is possible to refer to the example of the love betrayal again, in order to show definitely that love and sexuality are quite different fields that don’t communicate always each other. From a biological point of view, the most of us is capable to do everything with anyone, sexually speaking. Often people can fill sexual desire even though they are not in love.

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In that movie, for instance, Jules cheats on her wife Nic with their sperm donor, Paul. After a few time Paul thinks he his probably falling in love with Jules and, as soon as Nic discovers the betrayal, he proposes Jules to stay with him and she answers: “I’m gay!”. That’s another clear demonstration of what I’ve affirmed in my lasts posts: our identity is not specifically a sexual one, rather an emotional one. Of course our desires can be guided by our feelings and, when it happens, it’s a proof of coherence and honesty, but what characterizes us the most is our way of loving people.

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The mechanisms of love are the secret of the human being. When it comes to sexuality, Alfred Kinsey[1] demonstrated clearly that it’s quite rear to find someone who is completely hetero/homo-sexual. The human pleasure depends on a lot of circumstances and we can fill attraction and desire for a lot of people of the both sexes. To analyse and to describe these circumstances is a scientific task. I think that, since we are used to speak about “sexual orientation” and “sexual identity”, there is an orientation in the sphere of desire and sexual imagination but I think that it is conditioned by our emotional experiences.

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For that reasons, a girl who has always fallen in love with girls in her life will describe herself as a lesbian; a boy who has always fallen in love with girl, instead, will describe himself as a heterosexual and so on. But that has an emotional reason, not a sexual one. As I’ve already written, sexuality is a symbol, is the representation of our emotional identity. It’s as if our desires were unconsciously adapted to our feelings.

But now I have to stop: „When it comes to love, we’re all in the dark[2]“.

Dorotea

The kids are all right Trailer

 

Sources:

The kids are all right. Reg. Lisa Cholodenko. Act. Julienne Moore, Annette Bening, Mark Ruffalo, Josh Hutcherson, Mia Wasikowska. Lucky Red, 2010. Movie.

Kinsey. Reg. Billy Condon. Act. Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, Chris O’ Donnell, Peter Saarsgard.20th Century Fox Home Entertainmen, 2004. Movie.

Notes:

[1] https://thenatureofbeingblog.wordpress.com/2016/01/11/when-it-comes-to-sexuality-we-are-all-in-the-dark-alfred-kinsey-and-the-human-sexual-behaviors/.

[2] Kinsey. Reg. Billy Condon. Act. Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, Chris O’ Donnell, Peter Saarsgard.20th Century Fox Home Entertainmen, 2004. Movie.

5) The emotional nature of sexuality

Today I would like to confront each other two good movies about the problem I’ve started to introduce the last times: what does it mean that sexuality doesn’t cause a determination of our identity, but rather it is a consequence of our emotional identity? I will discuss this position by showing two different examples of love betrayal: the former is narrated in the beautiful 2002 drama Far from Heaven, the latter in the involving 2009 thriller Chloe.

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Far form Heaven deals with the Withacker family in the Connecticut of ’50. Frank Withacker is an affirmed manager and Cathy is his perfect wife, mother of two children and charitable woman. But Frank dedicates himself more to his work than to his wife and Cathy is too blind to think that maybe the things could go better: only by listening the sexual confidences of her friends, she realizes that her sexual life is not satisfying and she becomes worried about the feelings of her husband. One day she decides to bring him the dinner to the office by surprise and she sees him kissing another man. After a first embarrassing time, they decide to go to a psychiatrist in order to nurse his “illness”. But after a few months Frank falls in love with a man and than he asks his wife the divorce.

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Chloe, by its own side, deals with the Stewart family in the Toronto of our times. Catherine is a respected gynaecologist and David is a brilliant music professor. Their perfect synthesis of work and love inspires friends and fans because both of them are charming personalities but David in particular. Therefore Catherine is afraid that David has an affair with someone of his students and, after a strange meeting with a beautiful young girl, she asks her to flirt with her husband in order to see how he reacts. Chloe meets David and for a few times she tells Catherine the hot details of their meetings in order to provoke her unsure mind: she makes her giving up and she seduces her. Only after a discussion with David, Catherine realizes that Chloe was interested in her since the beginning and that all the stories about her and David were invented. Then it was clear that David was still in love with Catherine and, finally, the family starts with a new beginning.

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I think that the first movie shows us clearly that sex is always possible: even though we don’t want to have it, we are able to do it (prostitutes are another example of that). So we are capable of having every kind of sexual act, but we can fall in love just with some people who have some peculiarities. In the second movie the problem is clearly an emotional one: Catherine was really seduced by Chloe, so in that moment she wanted to sleep with her but, at least, she could love just her husband. My conclusion is that our identity is not sexual-oriented rather it is emotional-oriented. What do you think about it? 🙂

Dorotea

Far From Heaven Trailer

Chloe Trailer

 

Sources:

Far from Heaven. Reg. Todd Heynes. Act. Julienne Moore, Dennis Quaid, Dennis Haysbert. Eagle Pictures, 2002. Movie.

Chloe. Reg. Atom Egoyan. Act. Julienne Moore, Liam Neeson, Amanda Seyfried. Studio Canal, 2009. Movie

4) The meaningful realism of Nymphomaniac

This time I would like to write about another controversial movie, Lars von Trier’s 2013 dramatic and erotic movie, which is the third one of the so-called Depression-Trilogy: Nymphomaniac. This movie deals with the sexual history of a nymphomaniac woman and, just as Blue is the warmest colour, it deeply divides the critic in two parts. But this time I belong to the lover’s front!

 

nymphomaniac locandina larga

As you can see from the image, the filmmaker insists a lot on bodily and sexual details too, so as Kechiche did in his movie: Lars von Trier wanted to have in the film-poster the expressions of the main actors while having a real orgasm. So, which is the difference between these two bothersome realisms? Why do I define the sex scenes in Kechiche’s movie almost pornographic? That isn’t real sex. The actresses wear genitals prosthesis. On the contrary, in Nymphomaniac, sex is much more real: the main characters have porno-actors as body-double.

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On the other hand in Blue is the warmest colour the problem is the improbability of this magic lesbian sex: when I see those scenes, I have the feeling that the filmmaker sees the sex between two women as something really special and horny at the same time, exactly the way in which it is painted in porno movies. In Nymphomaniac there is almost every kind of sexual act but I cannot catch traces of sexism. Both men and women are showed in the same nakedness and that’s something rare, I guess: usually you see a totally naked woman but non an entirely naked man.

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Kechiche’s love story shows some lesbian sex; Lars von Trier’s movie is a sexual love story which also includes human relationships, love, loneliness, illness, humanity. In Blue is the warmest colour (homo)sexuality is something that stops the development of our identity to a physical conception: I am, as far as I have sex. What we can see in Nymphomaniac, however, is that sexuality is, of course, a relevant part of our identity, but the link between emotions, thoughts and body is much deeper analysed!

I believe that our emotive identity determines our sexual one. But I will better discuss this position in the next posts. Regarding Nymphomaniac, I say that a prove of this is that sex could also be a pathology and sometimes the reasons of that are psychological traumas, like in Joe’s case, the main character of the movie. If that is true, sexuality is an effect and not a cause of our identity.

But of course, by interpreting our body and our pleasure we can discover something deep about ourselves. During an interview Charlotte Gainsbourg, the main actress of the movie, says that if we told ourselves through our sexual life, there would be no secret anymore, because what we do sexually, represents who we are[1]. And that’s exactly what I mean: sexuality is a representation of something just as a symbol, not an identity itself. But

 

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To be continued…

Dorotea

Nymphomaniac Trailer

 

Sources:

Nymphomaniac Voll. 1-2- Reg. Lars von Trier. Act. Charlotte Gainsbourg, Shia La Beouf, Stacy Martin. Good Films, 2013. Movie.

http://www.vanityfair.it/show/cinema/14/04/02/nymphomaniac-charlotte-gainsbourg-intervista-foto.

Notes:

[1]  http://www.vanityfair.it/show/cinema/14/04/02/nymphomaniac-charlotte-gainsbourg-intervista-foto.

 

“Her”: A New Take on an Old Concept

Recently I was explaining to a friend the theme of my blogs on this site, and she recommended the movie “Her” by Spike Jonze. I expected to find a yet another cheesy Hollywood robot story, however I was pleasantly surprised by the ideas it challenged, as well as how well it related to my other writings.

project 1

This movie centralizes around a lonely author named Theodore, who recently went through a divorce. He buys a new, artificially intelligent computer operating system named Samantha to help him organize his life. Although it starts off as completely business, the two start to realize that they are falling in love.

 

project 3   project 4   project 2

I found this movie interesting for many reasons, however the main aspect was its unconventional portrayal of technology. Normally technology, or robots to be more specific, is seen in the film industry as an evil figure. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of cheesy sci-fi movies about intelligent computers rising up and taking over their human creators. Robots are usually seen as cold, emotionless, beings that evoke fear. “Her” challenges all of these stigmas. It presents the possibility of a both super-intelligent and humanoid computer. Samantha is given a name, a human voice full of emotion, feelings, and thoughts. Through these means the viewer is truly able to connect to her as if she were an actual person.

Another reason I find this movie so appealing is because of its presentation of radical ideas. While the story of a person falling in love with a robot is nothing new, “Her” puts a revolutionary, new spin on the idea, making it seem more relatable than ever. During the movie Samantha appears more as a person talking behind a curtain as opposed to a machine. She shares her feelings, shouts when she is angry, sighs when she is frustrated, and is prone to jealousy. With all these human features, where does one draw the line on acceptable robot-human interaction?

It is interesting to ponder the idea of a world in which we might one day see a struggle for equality not among homosexual couples, but rather robot-human couples. As the plot of the movie thickens, it is revealed that many people in society, not only Theodore, have become romantic partners with their operating systems. This poses the question of whether a person can truly love a robot, and how their relationship would play out. During the movie Theodore and Samantha appear almost as any “normal” couple. They talk about their feelings, share secrets, and express their desires. On many occasions her and Theodore end up in an argument that seems as real as that of any human pair, and at one point they even have a form of verbal sex. The reoccurring theme keeps coming up however of Samantha’s lack of a body. She struggles to feel adequate among other human figures in Theodore’s life.

With this movie comes many questions. Can this ever be a real possibility? If so, how will society view these types of relationships? These are questions that we could very well find out in the near future.

 

Sources/Images:

 

The Intrigue of Artificial Intelligence

There are many defining human characteristics that set man apart from other organisms. Among these features is intelligence. We consider ourselves intelligent beings, and think of animals as the opposite. Much like the argument of human emotions we are left with a few questions. How do we define this word “intelligence”, and what has the ability to possess it? Does today’s technology have the means to be intelligent?

There is no doubt that there are a number of arguments for as well as a number in opposition of this fact. The book definition of intelligence is, “capacity for learning, reasoning, understanding, and similar forms of mental activity.”(dictionary.com) What does this look like in humans? A very basic example would be recognizing the act of two people hugging as love. The ability to connect the physical gesture of a hug with the intangible idea of love is a process that requires an interpretation of the situation based past learned knowledge, or in other words intelligence. So what does this mean for modern computers and robots?

It is well known that computers have long since surpassed man in certain abilities. Even a simple laptop can store massive amounts of data and recall any individual file, photo, or document on the spot. But are these computers really thinking? While researching this topic, I came across a very interesting experiment done in the late 1970’s called “The Chinese Room Thought Experiment” made to disprove the possibility of artificial intelligence.

chinese experimentsubcortex.com/pictures/c-room.gif

Very simply the experiment test whether a computer is actually thinking on its own, or whether it is simply repeating data. English speaking participants are given a number of cards on which a question written in Chinese is paired with an appropriate response in Chinese. Another participant on the outside of the room who does speak Chinese asks questions, and the participant inside the room responds with the paired answer on the card, without ever knowing a word of Chinese. To the person on the outside however, it appears as though the one on the inside can speak fluently. Relating this to computers, it can be said that no matter how well a device is programmed, it will always be simply relaying information that an intelligent being (its programmer) knew. For me there is a question however, of the point at which we say the person in the experiment knows Chinese. If he/she has enough info-cards to give a response to any possible question, can it then be said that he/she is fluent? On the same grounds is a computer then intelligent?

Another example of this thought process is an interesting website called cleverbot.com. This site allows users to type whatever text they would like, and an appropriate response is generated. Although skeptical at first after spending a few minutes typing into my computer, it wasn’t clear to me if I was indeed talking to a machine or a person. In the end it comes down to a matter of technicality as to whether we define intelligence as the ability to reproduce information, or at what point this reproduction of information matches that of humans.

 

Here is a link for cleverbot: http://www.cleverbot.com

Sources:

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/intelligence

 

 

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