Blog Archives

Racism: Genetic or Learned?

end-racismEvolutionary psychology says racism is in our genes — a genetic adaptation that helps groups survive by favoring themselves over others. Skin color cues us in to who’s “in” and who’s “out.” (Yet the most prosperous areas of the world are those that cooperate and trade with each other?)

When I explain the theory, my students are appalled. (Though they readily accept evolutionary psych when it comes to explaining supposed sex differences.)

I once wrote a comment questioning evolutionary psychology on Slate and got the following response:

And what about all of those studies on doctors that found they treat patients differently because of race? What about those studies that show that we show preference to people wearing the same color of shirts as us?

Then shouldn’t children prefer parents who have their same hair/eye color? Not in my case. My mom has brown eyes and very light skin like me and my dad has green eyes and darker skin. Yet as a child I preferred him because mom was the disciplinarian.

And doctors could treat patients differently because they learn prejudice and not because they are genetically programmed to discriminate.

You also have to wonder why so many brown-haired, brown-eyed people have a preference for blonde, blue-eyed looks if our genes cause us to prefer our own type. But then, we’re all bombarded with messages that teach us that blue eyes and blond hair are best, at least on women.

Relatedly, about half of the Black people who take Harvard’s test of unconscious prejudice show a preference for Whites. If evolutionary psychology is right, shouldn’t they have a preference for Blacks? But again, Black Americans (just like the rest of us) are barraged with unfortunate messages that White is prettier, smarter, and less criminal.

Meanwhile, some people show “no preference” for either race when they take Harvard’s “implicit” test of unconscious bias.

Or consider the most recent presidential elections. The younger a person was, the more likely she or he cast a ballot for Barack Obama. Was there a mass genetic mutation that caused younger voters to be less racist? Or has society changed enough through the years that young people have simply learned less racism?

Evolutionary psychology says racism is in our genes. Looks more like it’s learned.

You inherited you grandmother’s eyes. Did you inherit her racism, as well?

February is Black History Month

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My Son Likes Girl Stuff. Is He Gay?

il_340x270.409005563_ivtpRandom Moms across America think they know: My son has got to be gay. He wears khakis today but wore a dress to school from age 4 to 6; he used to do ballet and still doesn’t like sports; in preschool he was all about playing princess but now is all about Pokemon; and, in spite of the clear gender divisions in third grade, he plays with both girls and boys. I mean, what straight boy is into that kinda freaky gender mash-up?

This mom knows better, and she goes on to remark that, actually, butch boys can grow up to be gay, and fem boys can grow up to be straight.

Interestingly, few moms worry that their little tomboys will grow up to be lesbians.

But this mom gets LOADS of advice on how to turn her son “boyish.” Take away the girly toys and clothes, and enroll him in sports!

So much worry about girly boys.

Yet what we think of as “girl stuff” turns out to be “boy stuff” in other times and places.

Boys shouldn’t wear pink? Years ago the country staged a great debate on whether pink or blue should designate girls or boys. Some advocated pink for boys – such a robust color! Blue is so dainty.

The Cabbage Patch craze of the last generation led a lot of boys to want dolls. One of my little boy cousins got one for Christmas. Today most people would call him a manly man, complete with wife and baby. (And G.I. Joe is a doll, too.)

Ancient Roman men wore skirts, though the one on the left is armored! (A likely relief to some macho men out there.)  Other Roman men wore dresses (robes).

              

And we mustn’t forget men in tights, circa “Romeo and Juliet.”

romeoandjuliet_510pxl

Moving on to the court of the “Sun King,” Louis XIV, we find him wearing lots of lace, ruffles, curls, and color. And gracefully posed!

The American founding fathers had considerably less glitz, but they still wore more color, lace, ruffles, and curls than most men today would be caught dead in. They also hired instructors to help present a more graceful appearance. One of my male students asked, “Ok, but what did the manly men wear?” This is what they wore!

In more modern times, Scottish men can still be partial to skirts, though they call them kilts. Below are traditional and more recent versions of the garment.

           

Judges, priests, and scholars also continue to wear “dresses” today.

       

Perhaps the most surprising expressions of manhood come from a culture entirely different from our own: the Wodaabe of Nigeria in Africa. There, men adorn themselves with makeup and jewelry. Because white eyes and teeth are part of the beauty ideal for men, they often roll their eyes and show their teeth to show off these features.

                       

In our own time and place there’s Rod Stewart, who seems to be strongly hetero by all accounts. But check out these shots:

                                                                                         © Chris Walter

There’s a difference between sex and gender. Sex is biologically-based. It’s made up of our genes (xx for girls, xy for boys), hormones (testosterone, estrogen), anatomy (vagina, penis, breasts, etc.). But gender is all made up. Or what cultures make up to mark biological differences.

If clothing, makeup, jewelry and toys aren’t naturally “boy” or “girl” things, how can doing “boy” or “girl” things mark sexual orientation?

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The Cure for Cellulite

FDA-approved Cellulaze can get rid of cellulite with one doctor’s visit. The cost ranges from $2,500 to $12,000 but the procedure promises long-lasting results.

Only problem is that cellulite doesn’t actually need curing. Ninety percent of women past puberty have it. It’s simply the way women’s fat lays on their bodies. If you are a woman without cellulite there may be a problem, such as too-low bodyweight.

While cellulite is perfectly natural, Cellulaze works by singeing healthy connective fibers inside your body with a laser. It may be FDA-approved but this doesn’t sound too healthy.

Once upon a time cellulite was thought beautiful, as with the voluptuous women Rubens painted happily dancing in their dimpled flesh.

In her book, The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf points out that cellulite was classified as unsightly, disfiguring and “polluted with toxins” by Vouge in 1973.

Untrue. But a good way to sell magazines offering advice, along with products and procedures advertised in their pages to hide or get rid of it.

Wolf goes on to observe:

Women’s flesh, you could acknowledge, is textured, rippled, dense, and complicated; and the way fat is laid down on female muscle, on the hips and thighs that cradle and deliver children and open for sex, is one of the most provocative qualities of the female body. Or you could turn this into an operable condition…

How can an “ideal” be about women if it is defined as how much of a female sexual characteristic does not exist on the woman’s body?

Do we need a cure for cellulite? Or do we need to cure a sick society that is obsessed with finding ways to make women feel bad about themselves? And might the best remedy be love for your body instead?

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 You Are “Less Than”?

Sexual Desire & Sexism

Karen Zack, Man As Object

Women typically have lower sexual desire and drive than men in our society, according to both sex surveys and statistics on sexual dysfunction. Our culture may be partly to blame. Consider this:

We are bombarded with “sexy women” but not “sexy men”

Whether on billboards, TV ads, Dancing With The Stars, Olympic ice skating, or professional football, women are half-dressed and men are fully-clothed. The camera hones in on women’s breasts and butts and ignores men. Sure, we are seeing more hot men these days thanks to Matthew McConaughey and Ryan Gosling. But the last time I checked out People’s sexiest men I saw lots of faces and loose T-shirts and few bods. Even the clothing that women and men walk around in show off women’s bodies and, more often, hide men’s.

As Amanda Marcotte at RH Reality Check points out,

Straight women don’t get nearly the provocation on a daily basis — is it any wonder that 60% of the men who answered the Consumer Reports survey (on sex) thought about sex once a day, but only 19% of women?

No part of the male is fetished

No part of the male body is fetishized, either. Men stare at breasts and butts, but what are we supposed to look at? These fetishes may seem natural for men but they are actually a cultural construction. How are they created? In part, see the section above. Or see my piece called, “Men Aren’t Hard Wired To Find Breasts Attractive.” Ever wonder why tribal men don’t get all excited about tribal women’s breasts and butts?

Porn may lead men to think we get aroused by penises, but when Anthony Weiner sexted a photo of his package, Tracy Clark-Flory over at Salon asked women if being sexed a man’s penis would “do it” for them. Most expressed repulsion. Or as one put it, “If by ‘do it (for me)’ you mean ‘send me to the toilet retching,’ then yes, it does.”

Sexy men can seem “gay”

Women are not taught to consume the male body with their eyes, as men consume theirs. To make matters worse, pics of sexy men can seem “gay.” Since sexiness is almost always meant for the male gaze, on an unconscious level women can come to see “sexy” men – perhaps posed in Speedos — through male eyes, too. Bummer!

Women don’t feel sexy

Meanwhile, we might not feel too sexy, ourselves. Surrounded by the “perfect” images our partners consume, we might not feel too hot by comparison to ladies who live on lettuce, surgery and photoshop. Do we really want to reveal our bodies and be negatively judged? The opposite of an aphrodisiac.

Good girls shouldn’t

The double standard is loosening up but sexual women may still be called: slut, whore, ho’, tramp, skank, nympho, hussy, tart, loose, trollop… the list goes on. Men possess cocky cocks while women’s privates are just “down there.” College men returning home Sunday morning may take the Walk of Fame while the women they’ve just had sex with take the Walk of Shame. And so women’s sexuality becomes more repressed.

The problem of housework

Sometimes the problem is more mundane. Women do about twice as much housework as men. After a full day at work women are more likely than men to cook dinner, clean up, and get kids ready for bed. Then they’re too tired for sex and resent their husbands. Not a way to get in the mood.

Or, maybe mom works in the home where her “invisible” work gets noticed only when it’s undone. A lack of appreciation won’t get anyone in the mood for love making.

Sexual violence

Sexual violence also takes a toll. Rape is most prevalent when women are devalued. And women who are raped often lose interest in sex. One woman I know of went numb and emotionally left her body when she had sex because a past rape had made sex seem terrifying and repugnant to her. “Desperate Housewife,” Teri Hatcher, was molested by an uncle who told her that one day she would like sex. That only made her close up more because she didn’t want to prove her disgusting uncle right.

But all women also face the prospect of getting screwed, rammed, nailed, cut, boned, banged, smacked, beaten, and f’d — in common street parlance — when they get intimate. Who wants that?

How to raise a woman’s desire

If you want women to desire sex then: help with housework, show appreciation, stop shaming women for being sexual, or for not fitting ridiculous “ideals,” desire her and let your lady know she’s beautiful.

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That’s Bitchin, But Life’s A Bitch

If you say, “That’s bitchin!” it’s good. But if she’s bitchin, she’s annoying. If “Life’s a bitch,” things are difficult. If “She’s a bitch!” she’s difficult, she won’t give ground. (He thinks that’s bad.) If “I’m a bitch!” I stand my ground. (I think that’s baaad – but in a good way!) But if “She’s my bitch” or “He’s my bitch,” that bitch is submissive.

So which is it? Does a bitch stand her ground? Or does she submit? I guess the words “a” vs “my” make all the difference. Taking someone who stands her ground and making her succumb is, apparently, a huge triumph.

The contradictions continue. Two sitcoms, “Don’t trust the B— in Apt. 23” and “GCB” were first pitched as “Don’t Trust the Bitch in Apt. 23” and “Good Christian Bitches.” In fact, “Good Christian Bitches” was transformed to “Good Christian Belles” before finally becoming the non-descript “GCB.” So network execs shun the b-word in series titles even as actors spew those same words on air.

The networks like the hip, cool titillation the word suggests.

Titillation, as in: “bitch,” defined as a woman who will have sex with anyone – “except me.” (And earlier, defined as a female breeding dog.) Bitch being quite different from a stud (a male breeding horse).

Bitch as hip and cool? It’s cool to demean women, as in “the Bitch in Apt. 23”? Or, it’s cool that women celebrate their independence, as in “GCB”?

Women reclaim this word that has been used to debase and dominate them. But others still use it to insult and control – and then say, “Well, you women use the word yourselves.” (Blacks use the n-word themselves, yet few non-blacks think that grants them the same permission.)

This shape shifter may reflect our society’s contradictory views of women. On the one hand women are strong and amazing; on the other, women are belittled and demeaned.

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Good Christians Should Abuse Gays

By Sherrill Lawrence

The devil can cite scripture for his purpose.

-         William Shakespeare from The Merchant of Venice.

I am annoyed by people who comb the bible for scriptural passages that support their personal prejudices — in this case, homophobia.

Two of their favorites are found in the laws of Leviticus (Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13) and the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 17:1-24). Leviticus instructs on the proper way to make burnt offerings, lists animals we may or may not eat; instructs on how long a woman is “unclean” after giving birth; tells men how to trim their beards, plant crops, breed cattle, and so on.

I find it interesting that “Christians” pick two verses out of a couple hundred to justify their hatred. I say, if that one “law” is as legitimate now as it was then, then they all are. Not only should decent God-fearing people hate homosexuals, they should stone fortune tellers, adulterers, and children who swear at their parents — that is after trimming their beards just so and smashing the crockery that a lizard fell into.

And by the way, Sodom and Gomorrah was destroyed because they broke the laws of hospitality. The ancient Hebrews were supposed to feed, shelter, and protect strangers, even if they were of a different religion, and even if they were an enemy. The men of Sodom violated that law when they demanded that Lot send out his guests to be raped. Of course, it didn’t help Sodom any that Lot’s guests were angels.

Why do “Christians” root around in the Hebrew bible — aka the Old Testament — for rules of behavior anyway? The title Christian means “a follower of Christ’s teachings.”

In Matthew, Jesus said “Love your neighbor as yourself.” In Luke, a lawyer, looking for a loophole asked, “And who is my neighbor?” Then Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan. Since Samaritans were the (insert favorite ethnic slur here) of His day, the story clearly means everyone is our neighbor whether we like them or not.

“Christians” looking for loopholes quote portions of three letters from Paul – yes, Paul — who never met Jesus or heard him speak and began his career hunting down early Christians, and who (among other questionable statements) said long hair is a disgrace to a man. Hear that Jesus? Get a haircut.

If you want Jesus’ opinion on the subject of homosexuality, read the Gospels. Jesus said “love” and “forgive” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Nowhere did he say, “Go beat a dyke to death.”

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Beauty Tricks to Remove Your Power

Ashley Judd’s face looked puffy in the promo for her new TV series, Missing. Big deal. She’s aged since I last saw her, and maybe she’s gained a little weight.

And then the furor. Everyone talking about Ashley’s face.

So she responded in the Daily Beast. A few lines:

The Conversation about women’s bodies exists largely outside of us, while it is also directed at us, and used to define and control us. The Conversation about women happens everywhere, publicly and privately. We are described and detailed, our faces and bodies analyzed and picked apart, our worth ascertained and ascribed based on the reduction of personhood to simple physical objectification. Our voices, our personhood, our potential, and our accomplishments are regularly minimized and muted. The assault on our body image, the hypersexualization of girls and women and subsequent degradation of our sexuality as we walk through the decades, and the general incessant objectification is what this conversation allegedly about my face is really about.

Wow.

The lines linger, waiting to be soaked up.

We are described and detailed
our faces and bodies analyzed and picked apart
our worth ascertained and ascribed based on
the reduction of personhood to simple physical objectification

The body detailed and critiqued, diminished and demeaned. An emotional trashing. Cut up, dissected. It feels like a killing. No wonder we are body-obsessed, declare nourishment the enemy and become terrified of aging.

With our bodies spotlighted the rest of us vanishes.

Our voices, our personhood, our potential
and our accomplishments are regularly minimized and muted
(as)
The Conversation about women’s bodies exists largely outside of us

We become nothing but our “defective” parts.

And we can say nothing as the conversation bubbles everywhere, outside ourselves, removing our power to name and control.

But Judd doesn’t leave us, or herself, hanging in hopelessness. What is deemed good and bad are equally fanciful interpretations, she says, and so she has chosen to abstain from all outside judgments about herself and her body.

We are social animals. Our identities are keenly influenced by how others see us, and more so when those visions act in concert. When many see us a certain way, the agreement brings objectivity, while our solitary thoughts seem merely subjective.

But the declarations are not absolute. Especially when we discern shallowness and falsity. We may choose otherwise:

I do not want to give my power, my self-esteem
or my autonomy
to any person, place, or thing outside myself

 The only thing that matters is how I feel about myself
my personal integrity
and my relationship with my Creator

“It is ultimately about conversations women will either choose to have or choose not to have,” says NPR’s Linda Holmes.

Let’s have some new conversations.

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The Crimes of Hoodies, Short Skirts and Fannie Mae

More guns, fewer hoodies” and we’d all be safer, Gail Collins advised in a New York Times piece after Trayvon Martin was gunned down for “eating skittles while black” – and while wearing said hoodie – in a gated community. A clear threat that had to be stopped.

That’s right. Guns don’t kill people, hoodies do: Trayvon Martin’s “hoodie killed him as surely as George Zimmerman did,” claimed Geraldo Rivera (who later apologized).

Sounds familiar. When women are raped short skirts become the culprit.

Yet few rape victims are wearing short skirts. And even nicely dressed black men can create fear. Journalist Brent Staples noticed that people got out of his way when he nonchalantly walked about. Amazed at his ability to alter public space, he tried humming Mozart to project his innocence. Seemed to help.

But why aren’t pricey cars, fancy suits and expensive watches blamed when rich, white men get robbed? What thief could resist?

Why? Because making more powerless members of society the culprit is meant to distract from the sins of the powerful. It’s women’s fault if men rape them, and it’s black men’s fault if lighter men kill them.

In another example, some blamed liberals for foolishly using Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to help Blacks and Hispanics “buy homes they couldn’t afford,” leading to the banking crises that nearly drove the U.S. economy off a cliff.

What really happened is that rich bankers gave rich campaign contributions to government officials, who in gratitude disposed of pesky regulations. That helped bankers get mega-rich by devising complex financial packages that no one could comprehend.

Used to be that when someone bought a home bankers made sure they’d get paid back. But under deregulation it didn’t matter because the loan was sold to someone else. And that investor sold the loan again. And financial packages were created and sold, composed of fractions of many people’s mortgage loans. They were rated AAA since they were 1) diversified – and hence, “safe” investments and 2) the housing market never goes down. (Yeah, right!)

Fannie and Freddie entered the process late, thinking they’d better join in or lose out.

When the housing market dropped and people couldn’t afford their homes, or sell them for a profit, the banks began collapsing. Lucky for them, the taxpayers bailed them out (or the whole economy likely would have collapsed).

Did deregulation get blamed for the fiasco? By some. But plenty of the “powers that be” — and especially “hate radio” — blamed Blacks and Latinos.

Because blaming more powerless members of society distracts from the sins of the powerful.

The crime does not lie with the man who pulls the trigger, nor with the man who rapes, and certainly not with the fat cat who pays to rig the game. No, the crime lies with those who wear hoodies, short skirts and who bank while black or brown.

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Women Seeing Women as Sexier than Men

Girls are so inundated with sexualized images of women that they learn to see women as sexier than men. Women come to see women through male eyes?

In the bedroom, this can make women’s sexuality a bit convoluted, which I’ll discuss later.

But consider my students:

“Women’s bodies are just naturally sexier than men’s,” my class tells me when I ask why women are portrayed as sex objects.

In this belief, my students are not alone.

A few years back Lisa Kudrow, of Friends fame, told Jay Leno that female nudity is displayed more in movies because, “Who wants to look at a guy?”

Hugh Hefner thinks women are natural sex objects, “If women weren’t sex objects, there wouldn’t be another generation.”

I’ve talked before about how the breast fetish is not natural, but is learned by both men and women. But how do we all learn that women are sexier than men in ways that go beyond the fetish?

Growing up, girls are bombarded with visions of women as sexy, with skin selectively hidden and revealed, the camera focused on those intriguingly concealed parts.

When I was little my mom took me to the Ice Capades. After noticing that the women were half dressed while the men were fully clothed, I asked why. Mom told me that women just have better legs.

Do they? One warm summer day an adult from my church youth group commented, “It’s too bad the guys have the best legs.” (Thanks!) But what is our cultural ideal? Longer, leaner. Young men typically have longer legs, and they don’t have the extra layer of fat that women do. So most young men’s legs come closer to our ideal. Yet we say women have better legs? When I think about it, I actually think men have pretty nice looking legs. But nothing and no one directs our attention to them.

On Dancing With The Stars, women are half-dressed and men are fully-clothed. During an advertisement, the camera lingers on women’s breasts and legs in a Victoria’s Secret display. Next, a commercial for shoes focuses on women’s behinds: See this Rebook ad for EasyTone. Try to imagine the same focus on men’s butts (which actually are pretty attractive)!

Watch a football game and see big, fully-dressed, aggressive guys playing on the field, while scantily clad cheerleaders show off their stuff from the sidelines. In the Bikini Open men sport golf wear while women dawn bikinis. When does Sports Illustrated most focus on women? In the swimsuit edition.

Through it all, the camera gazes at women’s body parts, but not men’s. Telling us what’s important to notice. What’s sexy and what’s not.

Men’s bodies are rarely sexualized outside infrequent underwear ads.

Historically, men have had control of media, and they’ve portrayed what they see as sexy.

Bombarded with these images, girls come to see women as sexier than men. As I’ve said before, when I tell my class that I find a Playboy pinup sexier than a Playgirl pinup, women’s heads nod in agreement.

Meanwhile, when women answer surveys about what they find sexy they say “men.” But when they are wired up, blood flow to the vagina is stronger when viewing an image of a nude woman than a nude man – conscious responses and bodily responses not agreeing.

Oddly, and yet logically, women come to see women through male eyes.

So women come to see themselves as the sexy half of the species. Being sexy has some advantages. It can just be fun, it’s easier to attract mates (consider the success of women versus men in singles bars), and sexiness is a source of power.

But there’s a downside, too, including the narrow construct that leaves so many women feeling they exist outside the “sexy” box, with a drop in self esteem kicking in.

Taken to extreme, some women can become sex objects, taking an unhealthy one-dimensional focus on themselves, feeling that how they look is all that matters. And some men may see them as objects whose sole purpose is to be used for their pleasure.

It ain’t so great to be, or be seen, as mere object.

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 Originally posted on January 10, 2011by

Beastly Breasts. Patriarchy? Or Blasphemy?

Paper 4In honor of women’s history month I talked with Brock Neilson, a feminist artist who wonders if he might sometimes unconsciously support patriarchy.

Or, is he blasphemous instead?

BB: It’s very easy for anyone, including feminists, to unconsciously see and think in patriarchal ways, at least some of the time, since we’re all immersed in the system. You wonder if you sometimes unconsciously support patriarchy in your art. How so?

BN: This past year a lot of my art has been about someone – or something — that has enormous or strange looking breasts. These images are what I’d imagine a drunken fraternity or a 12-year-old boy drawing.

I imagine that these kinds of perversions are part of the package with which males are endowed in society, and I feel a responsibility to address that somehow.

Sometimes I might want the breasts to look uncomfortably disfigured or I might want the viewer to feel a kind of confusion about the body they are seeing. The breasts could also be more humane when they are not perfectly shaped or as easily sexualized, but I worry that I might be reinforcing patriarchy by not allowing something as commonly fetishized as breasts — or the person or entity to which the breasts belong — to just exist without having to be ugly, or strange, or beautiful, or symbolic. However, this concern is unavoidable as these images are being filtered through my nonobjective brain and hands.

The ultimate goal of feminism is to not have to be the mother, the champion goddess, the victim, or even a female or a male in order to have credibility and dignity. It is the hope that everyone could simply be who they want to be without having to force ourselves into degrading positions.

That said, I think it’s important to express these positions — or distortions — of power and powerlessness (and the variations between). My art is preoccupied with the slots we pop people into: the corporate leader, the androgynous, the porn victim, the violent athlete, the disabled or disfigured. I find that I’m often exploring possibilities for a better world by regurgitating things that are offensive to me.

BB: How might your work be blasphemous instead, working against patriarchy?

BN: There’s been a big focus among popular male artists to make big objects and paintings that can be bought and sold — similar to a Wall Street investment. This approach to art is problematic. I have been decorating a lot of brown paper in my work because it’s cheap and accessible. Being a male who is involved in decorating materials that require a kind of gentleness can be a blasphemous act.

I remember overhearing a mother years ago who was telling her five year old son not to smell flowers because she was afraid that this would make him look “gay.” I was so taken back that this innocent behavior — a child smelling flowers — was already perceived as inferior. My work, however crude it may be, is concerned with a hope of reclaiming this kind of sensitivity.

Tawnie Silva, an artist I discovered this last summer, made a beautiful inflatable sculpture of a quirky four-eyed girl with a rainbow coming out of her head. It’s made of fragile plastic bags, but Tawnie Silva’s body is brawny and masculine. It is especially sacrilegious to commercial gender ideals when men make things that are sweet and delicate. Both women and men need to protect and make space for vulnerable things in others and in themselves. This is an important way that we can expand and break dangerous gender stereotypes.

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