Thursday, January 26, 2012

In the beginning was the word

Today’s reading in Gill’s book focused on the complaints from the African-American feminists movement. Chiefly, this sect of the feminist movement finds fault in the blatant disregard for the movement’s origin in a place of privilege, the histories and experiences of black women and female sexual and reproductive rights. I keep imagining The Help and the ironic, yet totally realistic relationship between white women of power and their black counterparts. Gill then moves on to discuss the origins of masculinity, which ironically emerged later than femininity because masculinity was and is the implied norm, so why define it? When men were finally gendered, masculinity was then stratified into hegemonic masculinity where many forms and shapes of the masculine identity came about and created a hierarchy of sorts. Just like femininity, masculinity is flawed by a narrow range of models, idealized and eroticized bodies, the notion of a “new man” (largely created by the media), and perpetuating the idea that masculinity is in crisis and on the verge of extinction (gasp!).

Van Zoonen focuses on the construction of gender in general and characterizes its “flaws” in terms of distortion and socialization. Van Zoonen relays multiple conceptions of gender from Lacanian theory (gender began with the acquisition of language), to the idea of gender as property, and up through Foucault’s post-structuralist approach of gender as a process. Many of these theories of gender portray gender as something static and unchanging, without discussing the dynamic nature of gender in our lives. This brings us to the second issues of socialization, where the media (and society at large) plays a dialectical role in the process of creating and being created by the individual. Peter Berger speaks to this notion of a socially constructed reality and Van Zoonen touches on this, but did not mention my favorite aspect of Berger’s argument. Berger’s theory on socialization involves a three-part process of externalization, objectivation and internalization. Externalization implies the outward expression of a social reality (i.e. expressions of gender); objectivation is the commodification of that expression in order to more easily categorize it (i.e. stereotyping based on gender expression); finally internalization, or the idea that the individual embraces this outward expression as something organic or natural within his or herself (i.e. projecting stereotypes onto oneself).

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