Month: April 2015

Queer theory part one: what is queer theory? 

what is Queer theory? 

Queer theory has its roots in feminism in the 1970s and 80s. Judith butler coined heteronormativity in Gender Trouble, to describe how people perform as straight/gay. and masculine/feminine.  In The Straight Mind, Monique Wittig  describes how women are categorised by heterosexual men as a universal category. However, Queer Theory didn’t become an independent movement until the 1990s. 

Queer theory doesn’t simply examine sexuality. Instead, it examines how people differ from gender norms, and one of these ways is sexuality. In other words, if someone doesn’t think or act like a straight heterosexual male or female, they’re queer. Historically, “queer” meant anyone who was odd.  The LGBT community uses the term “queer” to show pride and defiance for being an individual, not an archetype of the straight, gender normative word – including gays, lesbians, intersexed people, transgender, asexual, demisexual, gender benders and bisexuals. However, queer theory can be useful to critique   “Straight” people too – like single mothers taking on fatherly roles, metrosexual  men and “action hero” women. Gay and straight are used side-by-side and each defines the other: it’s impossible to define straightness without queerness, or masculinity without femininity. People who conform to the norms of their sexual identity and gender are deemed heteronormative. 

Some key terms: 

These are terms used in Queer Theory,  the LGBT and AVEN community. Just like Feminist theory works with the Second and Third Wave Feminist movements, Queer Theory works with different movements too. 

(Please note: these are general definitions meant as guidelines, not universal categories to define sexual, romantic and gendered identities. Whilst I understand these categories are up for debate and might miss important points, this is meant to be an introduction to LGBT terms). 
Heterosexual matrix: 

A term used by Judith Butler, this describes the power structures of the heterosexual matrix. If you imagine the matrix in The Matrix, Judith’s version might be the blue pill and the red pill of sexuality; if you take the red pill, you won’t view the world under a biased, coloured lens dominated by straight people (historically, white, straight, upper class men). What Butler specifically meant was that gender and sexual identity are constructed by the ways that they are perceived, ideas of queerness and straightness have changed over time, so new categories are added. Is it wrong to categorise oneself, and risk fitting  into a box? (“Bisexual”, “homosexual”, “heterosexual”). Or will it provide identity security? 

Pansexual:

Pansexuality is the attraction to all genders – including (but not limited to) transgender, agender, intersex, gender fluid and genderqueer. Not the same as bisexuality or polysexuality, since bisexuality assumes that there are only two genders, and polysexuality might not be all genders. 

Asexuality: 

The absence of a sexuality, so that sexual attraction is rarely, if ever, felt. Asexuals can feel either platonic or romantic love, but crushes, sexual activity, lust or intimate activity, such as kissing, might not be felt or liked by asexuals. A common stereotype for charters rumoured to be asexual is that they are either childish or borderline psychopathic. These traits are not related to asexuality in any way, and are just coincidental. This doesn’t necessarily mean asexuals are repulsed by or hate close intimacy, but they might not have a desire to seek out sexual and/or romantic feelings. 

Romantic orientation: 

Often used by the asexual community, it describes who someone is attracted to romantically: homoromantic (same sex), biromantic (both) panromantic (all) heteroromantic (opposite sex) and aromantic (none). For many, sexual and romantic attachments are usually aligned; so homosexuals are usually homoromantic. However, some bisexuals are only sexually attracted to the opposite sex, but might feel both romantic and sexual towards the same sex (or vice versa). Not all asexuals are aromantic, and who they feel romantically attracted to can be separate to sexual attraction for them (if they feel sexual attraction). 

Demisexual: 

Demisexuals are on the border between asexuality and sexuality. In order to feel any sexual attraction, they must have a close bond (e.g. friendship, partner, etc.). Demisexual describes how somebody feels sexual attraction, not to whom. This is because Demisexuals don’t view romantic and sexual attraction as being the same or aligned, so in theory gender and sexual orientation don’t matter. Demisexuality is sometimes criticised for upholding perfect ideals, since some people assume that Demisexuals slut shame, don’t have sex before marriage and only sleep with their one true love (all of which are false assumptations since choice is out of the picture). The reason why demisexuality could be frowned upon upon is because on the surface it reflects “fairytale love”: uncorrupted by “sinful” lust, loving the person over looks and falling for someone gradually, all of which are deemed ideal by the Church, romantic comedies and philosophical preachers as “pure love” – thus making sexualised love look juvenile, false or sinful by comparison (neither assumptions are true). Whilst demisexuality might sound familiar and even “normal”, for some  it might mean not fancying celebrities, having few if any crushes, not having hookups and a disregard for physical appearance. 

Primary sexual attraction: 

Sexual or romantic attraction based on outwards factors; things like looks, smell, scent, accent, clothes, touch or even voice. It’s the fuel for love at first sight, basically. It can die quickly if there’s no secondary attraction. Asexual and demisexuals are unlikely to form attraction based upon appearances. They could, however, have aesthetic or sensual attraction. So they might enjoy your fragrance or think you’re beautiful like a painting, but they won’t try to kiss or fall in love with  you based on these things.

Primary sexual desire: 

Basically, you have sex because you enjoy it, want to have kids or whatever. If you get some sort of personal joy out of it, the desire is primary. Asexuals may or may not have this desire; it would depend on their libido and whether they like sex. 

Secondary sexual attraction: 

Sexual or romantic attraction based on personality, spending time with the person, and so on. This would develop over time, instead of being instantaneous. This mostly applies to demisexuals, since they require an emotional bond first. 

Butch and femme: 

Used by the LGBT community to describe gender identities: butch lesbian/bisexual and femme lesbians/bisexual women are commonplace. A similar analogy could be used for masculine and effeminate gay men (though these terms are usually derogatory). Butch and femme is a spectrum, with neutral in the middle, and other shades leaning more towards butch or femme in between. Technically, butch and femme could be applied to gay men and straight women, but the terms are usually reserved for lesbians. 

Metrosexual: 

Often described as “a straight man with the archetypal qualities of a gay man”.  Metrosexual men usually are interested in fashion, bromances, their appearance and expressing their emotions. The term is sometimes compared with the New Man, because both types of men defy traditional masculinity. The New Man is usually interested in fatherhood, stay-at-home dads and equal gender roles in couples. Fight Club examines the role of the New Man by exploring the narrator’s absence of a father figure, who has been feminised by women. Metrosexual men justify their their actions to prove that their masculinity is not threatened by gender norms. Schmitt from New Girl might be described as metrosexual, because of his bromance with Nick, his close friendship with Jess and his groomed appearance.

Androgyny:

This is having both masculine and feminine qualities, as opposed to being gender neutral. It is occasionally referred to intersexed people, for having both masculine and feminine parts. It is unlikely that somebody will be completely 50/50 with their gender, but mostly in the middle. Not to be confused with cross dressing, gender bending, drag, transgender or agender. 
Queer theory and fiction: 

Queer theory makes a case for interpreting characters’ sexual and gender identities, particularly if they are unclear or raise questions. The sexual and gender identity of the author may or may not give indicators as to whether the text has themes of queerness in it. Part II will examine specific characters and make a case for them displaying qualities of a gendered or sexual identity. We’re going to use the representations of gendered and sexual identities in fiction go to raise questions about the construction of gender and sexuality. 

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White Beauty: the pervasiveness of blonde hair and blue eyes

Blonde haired, blue eyed preference

Nearly every culture tries to construct the perfect person . Eve in the Bible, Pandora, Helen of Troy, Pygmalion’s Bride, Frankenstein’s creature and so on. In particular, the ideal woman is highly sought after. Blonde hair, white skin, blue eyes and an hourglass figure. It’s as though men search for the holy grail of femininity, and women want the elixir to make them the perfect woman. 
1. Classical art

Once again, many a  painting and colour sculpture depicted this. In the Bible and mythical scenes, many women have blonde hair and blue eyes. These traits were considered highly attractive, as timeless beauty. 

2. Victorian/Renaissance beauty

Blonde haired, blue eyed beauties were the subject of poetry and art. Flaxen haire and sapphire blue eyes were considered the epitome of beauty. This beauty ideal seems to date back to Ancient Greece, right up until at least the 20th century. White skin with blue veins was a symbol of royalty and blue eyes and blonde hair were considered divine and godly by the Vikings. People with darker skin and hair were thought of as primitive and feral, or simply plain. 

3. Shulamith Firestone beauty ideal

In ‘The Culture of Romance’, Firestone discusses the need for women to fit into beauty ideals. She knows as well as anyone that they are based on rare qualities. Of course, the blonde has to be platinum or champagne – corn yellow at darkest – and the eyes had to be as blue as the ocean (not just gray, green or violet).

4. Nazi Germany

Surely the nazis are one of the biggest perpetrators here? Their ideal of the perfect race was a nation of blonde haired, blue eyed people. They called it the “Master Race” of pure white people. Because of this, it led to the mass annihilation of Jews.

The “Perfect baby” continued: Viking babies and designer babies

Danish donors are chosen, from a lineup, based upon how blonde their hair eyes and how blue their eyes are. It’s like the latest fashion trend, only for children. One person interviewed by the ever-controversial Daily Mail describes the experience as “easier than adopting a puppy” as the mail says they “go shopping for a father”. Don’t be fooled into the delusion of women choosing to be single mothers having no part in their sperm donations – even the Danes think of themselves as a superior race.

If that’s not bad enough, then designer babies are even worse. Commodifying children as catalogue orders, this ensures that only the best and most desirable traits are cherry picked for their child.

4. The Barbie beauty

Barbie has been criticized for many things – her unnatural body shape and steroetypical traits being just two of these things – but she, too, is another blonde. She represents the typical modern beauty: blonde hair,golden skin, and blue eyes. An almost impossible combination, since many blondes are fair skinned (or, if they’re darker, their hair might be darker too). She’s the reason so many girls get fake tans, bleach their hair and get breast implants. Because of Barbie having both physical and personality traits of the ideal, feminine girl, this has made her a model of beauty for other girls to copy and live up, even into adulthood. 

5. Famous celebrities: Marilyn Monroe

Okay, so there were others like Elizabeth Taylor and Audrey Hepburn, but many old fashioned stars were blonde and blue eyed like Grace Kelly. The blonde bombshell was very popular in old Hollywood, and perhaps the most famous of them, Marilyn, bleached her hair blonde to be a model. Considered one  of the most beautiful women to have ever lived and a universal sex symbol, her image is deemed one of classical beauty. 

6. Male patriarchy or culture?

Who or what created this beauty ideal? Is women’s beauty defined by men? By women dictating women? Or is it the cosmetics and fashion industries who dictate what we should look like?

Discrimination:

The Bluest Eye

The novel by Toni Morrison really highlights the favouritism of Germanic appeal. All the black people in the novel believe that they are ugly, because only blonde haired, blue eyed people are pretty. Pecola, the protagonist, strongly desires blue eyes. Baby Doll women, like Shirley Temple and Jean Harlow, are strongly desired. Not many Postcolonial novels explore the idea of exoticness, but it’s an interesting one.

Dumb Blondes:

Unfortunately, blondes are now ostracised as being foolish and unintelligent. The legacy of women like Marilyn Monroe and Elle Woods continue to feed this image. “But wait, Elle Woods passed the entry test and managed to win a court case” I hear you shout. (True, but remember she was only admitted for her bikini video and Miss Woods only won her case thanks to the habits of perming and gay men failing to recognise a bend and snap. Not with legal evidence such as an email, unbiased eye witness accounts or DNA samples). I don’t care what you say about lawyers bullshitting their way through either; whilst lawyers are known for being manipulative, they certainly don’t do it by having to wait 24 hours until perming (besides, who’s to say she couldn’t have used a shower cap?). I’m not saying that Elle is unintelligent, since as the LSAT test criteria is largely based on logic, reasoning, fact-finding and analytical reasoning, this is a subject largely based on opinions rather than facts. Now, I understand that law is deemed a hard subject because of its abstraction and lack of concrete information. However, this means that someone could be a Sophist – that is, weave up a highly intellectual argument based on false information with sketchy groundings to support this – think Salesman. The point is, Elle’s hair colour says more about her than we want to admit; the fact is, that blonde hair is fashionable, and it’s assumed that someone who is vain is too self absorbed to possibly learn about the outside world or pay attention to anyone else. If it were brown that was the desirable colour, we would have dumb brunettes instead.

Marginalisation of redheads:

Okay, if beauty is based on rare qualities, why are redheads considered unattractive? Well, ever since the Celtic times, redheads were considered fierce and fiery. This is because the Celt tribes, particularly in Scotland, were mostly redheaded. Redheads are less criticised than they used to be, but are not the dominantly. attractive people. 
Conclusion: 

Beauty is becoming more inclusive, for race, age, gender, culture, body shape and style. However, it may take longer for a truly equal balance, and the advent of Photoshop and social media may present new challenges.