Sunday, May 24, 2015

Forgiveness and Sex: Homosexuality vs Sexual Assault

The news about the Duggar family, stars of 19 Kids and Counting, reminded me of a draft blog post that I never published about homosexuality and hypocrisy. A friend of the family had been fired from his job after many years of service when he attempted to get a marriage license to his partner. Those that praised the school for standing up for religious values in the same breath cursed TLC for cancelling the show, Duck Dynasty.

Multiple generations of the Duggar Family. Picture retrieved from their family blog.
The hypocrisy for me was the inconsistent use of and illogical interpretation of freedom of speech. When the school fired the homosexual professor, it was their freedom of speech, so good for the school. When the cast of Duck Dynasty professed their faith and insulted homosexuals, it was their freedom of speech, so shame on TLC for cancelling their show. The reasoning behind both of these statements was intensely hypocritical to me, for in both situations a private entity is reacting to an employee's actions. To praise the school and curse TLC was to extend the freedom of speech to only those that agree with you, in this case, the (Christian) faithful. Besides my reservations about the ability for private, religious institutions to discriminate against women and homosexuals, the fact remains that the school had the legal right to fire the faculty member. Because they based their employment contracts on certain moral rules that homosexuality violated, the faculty member was in violation of that contract. Similarly, TLC had every legal right to cancel Duck Dynasty if their actions and statements did not align with the station's values. The backlash against the channel for cancelling the show, which resulted in it being un-cancelled, represents a fundamental misunderstanding of freedom of speech.

Retrieved from this site.
Freedom of speech protects individuals from governmental persecution. People can assemble, protest, and speak their mind without fear of imprisonment or execution or the removal of rights. A private employer, however, is certainly not the government and thus does not have to hire or employee people who violate certain standards or beliefs. There are even legal restrictions on certain types of speech, such as slander, false advertising, child pornography, and certain levels of obscenity.

This long introduction leads me to the topic at hand, the pedophilia and sexual assault by Josh Duggar, member of the Quiverfull family, the Duggars, another TLC show. The entire situation is disgusting and makes me question the teachings of this branch of Christianity in their teachings about sexuality. I've already discussed the potential issues with the purity movement and fear that something similar may be in operation here. Of the entire situation, I am perhaps most infuriated by the people who have come to the defense of Josh, such as potential presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. The same person who has repeatedly insulted and discriminated against the homosexual community has come out to support a child molester. Huckabee has commented on Josh's transformation where he has repented and asked forgiveness for his actions. So...this is now a valid legal defense? Forgiveness, divinely asked for, should not be a substitute for direct, legal action. In the same breath comparing homosexuals to that most hated community, Huckabee comes out in support of one. The hypocrisy is mind-blowing. I doubt that he would be so vocal about a child molester who had found forgiveness through Allah. Why do Christians get a free pass on corrupt sexual morality while at the same time questioning the morality of atheists?

Retrieved from this site.
This article does a fantastic job at comparing the hypocrisy of reactions to Josh's child molestation and homosexuality. If Josh had instead come out as gay, he would have received scorn and hatred from the same people now supporting him, simply because of his faith. In a study of religious bias on reactions to crimes, George Tamarin found that people's high approval of the Jericho massacre in the Bible drastically reduced (from 66% to 7%) when the situation was changed to a massacre in China. Richard Dawkins commented on the study in The God Delusion that this study represents the hypocrisy of faith. The same situation is treated much differently, crimes are given moral approval, and child molesters have their records destroyed, all in the name of faith.

Perhaps people would be better able to compare the horrid, disgusting crime of child molestation and sexual assault from a loving, homosexual partnership by learning a thing or two about consent.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Female Comedians aren't Funny: Gender and Sketch Comedy

It's been two years since Kenan Thompson came under fire for blaming a lack of diversity casing in Saturday Night Live on the poor quality of black female comedians. Women often lack representation in the media, especially women of color, and the comedy genre is no exception. Similar to previous posts I've written about tokenism, it seems that the few females that are successful serve as stand-ins for the general inability for women to be funny. If Amy Schumer or Garfunkel and Oates can achieve success, why not every woman? Those who are successful are held up as proof that there is no bias or discrimination, although they still represent a minority of comedic faces. It's clear that prejudice still remains, with men still chairing key positions on popular comedy news shows and women of color remaining relatively absent even as male diversity increases. There are some notable exceptions that I hope will become more frequent. One of my favorite Daily Show segments features Samantha Bee and Jessica Williams tackling race issues. Tell me these women aren't funny.

Daily Show news team. Retrieved from Comedy Central.
The new season of Inside Amy Schumer has also been receiving attention as she tackles important social issues with a comedic slant. Among the very many attempted sketch shows, this one seems likely to succeed with Amy's keen insight for satire. Among her many hilarious and poignant videos, Amy has addressed beauty standards (video below), female representation in the media (long, but completely worth it, especially if you like 12 Angry Men), rape culture, and obsession with the female anatomy. Catchy and hilarious, "Girl, You Don't Need No Makeup" is a satire of boy bands and requirements for female beauty that reinforce unnecessary adornment and pruning. They note, "with a little mascara, you'll look female" linking the wearing of makeup as a female gendered activity; to not wear makeup is to violate the female identity. It is okay for males to comment on and discipline the actions women should take regarding their appearance. At the end of the video, the male singers try on some of the makeup products and their reactions reveal the ridiculousness of the products women are expected to wear.

Garfunkel and Oates (who frequent one of my favorite LA coffee spots, Bricks & Scones) are a successful comedy duo that also release sketch comedy videos. They've commented on issues such as an emphasis on pregnancy as crucial to the female identity, the gender divide in sports, and chastity (video below). This is a heads up that the video on chastity does show some mimed sex acts and references anal and vaginal sex. The song is a humorous take on the religious restrictions placed on youth to avoid their sexuality and find "loopholes" to stay pure. For me, this video does a great job at highlighting the double standards for purity, where females cannot be pleased sexually but the male can. Overall, the song brings attention to a common side-effect of abstinence-only sex education that promotes female virginity over information and personal choice. It also brings into question why certain sexual acts are treated differently than others and the treatment of sodomy in homosexual vs heterosexual relationships.

Comedy is a persuasive means of communication that often keeps attention and promotes critical thinking (especially in works of satire). The rise of female comedians opens up new areas for this critical eye of importance to women. I don't think these spaces are exclusively for females to occupy, but it is hard to speak for others. Female comedians provide a sense of legitimacy and authenticity to these issues, having lived many of these double standards and social obstacles. The writers and performers of the jokes come from a standpoint that reflects the unique position of a female in contemporary society. I hope that these shows continue to be popular and I encourage people to support them!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Limits of the Human Body: Horror (and) Marathons

The mind/body dualism continues to captivate the attention of scholars. The inherent separation and differences between the two, and yet their interdependence, creates a constant struggle without end. In the past week, I have been occupied with a similar dilemma of understand the mind and the body. The human body is an amazing thing: simultaneously a hunk of weak flesh and bones, but trained and controlled by the mind to accomplish great feats. In the random collection of thoughts that follow, I will connect ideas from horror films, marathons, and the mind/body dualism.

Image retrieved from this site.
I have been working with a friend and colleague of mine, Kari Storla, on a project about bodily trauma and the Saw franchise. The basis of the film is that the main character, John Kramer, learned the value of human life after trying to commit suicide by driving his car off a cliff. His epiphany about the value of life drove him to test others in a series of "traps." These vary widely and are often related to the trauma that the individuals caused to others or used as substitutes for truly living life.

Amanda's Trap in Saw. Image retrieved from this site.
The tapes that describe the traps often refer to the power of the mind to overcome the impending physical trauma. The people in the traps must make a choice between life and death, lauding the power of the human mind to persevere over the temporary physical pain. To keep the body and mind alive, the body must be sacrificed through a conscious choice. The fate of both are linked, for the mind can only survive if it has a body to inhabit.  In Saw, when Amanda escaped her trap successfully, Jigsaw said, "Congratulations. You are still alive. Most people are so ungrateful to be alive. But not you. Not anymore." For Jigsaw, people are not truly alive unless they value and are grateful for it. The survivors of the traps are now more alive in their physical and mental rebirth.

Image retrieved from this site.
By the time this blog post is published, I will be done (whether finished or disqualified) with my first marathon experience. I vividly remember running track in high school and being, by far, the slowest person. Although I was never told to leave the team, the immense pressure to perform well in track meets and the way I was treated communicated my lack of welcome clearly. I was mentally and physically tormented through running; it is an activity of the body and of the mind. On a two mile loop around the campus one afternoon, it started to rain. I had just started running, I was painfully slow, and hadn't ever run more than the length of a tennis court in a row. Everyone on the track team was forced to wait outside for me to finish as I flailed through the increasingly sticky mud and slogged through 2 miles in an embarrassing 35 minutes. The elite athletes, some who received scholarships to college for running, stood around, in the pouring rain, watching me, and waiting, for 20+ minutes. The horror, embarrassment, and shame followed me through college: I was not a runner.
I need this. Image retrieved from this site.
My physical body was stopped by the mental block in my head. Not until my partner encouraged me to start running again did I realize that my body could do these amazing things, if I only opened my mind to the opportunity. Now, whether I have finished the complete 26.2 miles or not, I have accomplished something that my high school self would have thought impossible and insurmountable. The mind dictates the body's abilities and what it can put upon itself. Of course, no matter how ready the mind is, the body must go through training to complete distances of great lengths. But, with the focus of the mind and of the body, united and together, amazing things are possible.

Image retrieved from this site.
I think of ultra-marathoners who defy odds in multiple day races. I think of the great strength of the trans* community when minds and bodies are aligned. I think of people who survive great losses and turn them into positive and empowering experiences. I think of survivors of tragic events such as the Holocaust, slavery, and Hurricane Katrina. People are strongest when their minds and bodies work together. The mind opens up the possibility for the body to complete them.
Image retrieved from this site.
I want to acknowledge that I am not intending to communicate ableism in this post.  I am certainly not the voice for representative bodies and am not trying to be. I think the body is capable of many amazing things, no matter its state or ability level. The unity of the mind and the body allows for incredible accomplishments and the recognition of all types of bodies. I think more media should represent these bodies, such as the Sports Illustrated Body Issue. Many participants of varying abilities will race with me today. I'm also very excited that the 2015 Special Olympics will be held at USC. Burke argued that humans are always working towards perfection, or teleology. However the body is constructed, people will attempt to reach its limits.

Although scholars may have struggled with the intricacies of the dynamic, scholars such as Susanne Langer, argue that they are never truly separated: “all categories tend to have imperfect boundaries” (In Mind 1988, p. 104).