Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Race, Gender, and Class: A Hegemonic Analysis of Sex & the City


Masquerading as a program supporting feminism in the form of the radical, successful woman, Sex & the City (SATC) in reality reinforces the ideology and hegemony of American patriarchy and the capitalism. In their quest for love, the four main characters delve into issues of race, gender, and class, culminating in an overall salute to the dominating American cultural norms and values of white elitism and a superficial, capitalistic agenda. As Bordo said, “we are surrounded by homogenizing and normalizing images…suffused with the dominance of gendered, racial, class, and other cultural iconography” and SATC is no exception to this rule (1101). The sheer fan-following of this show suggests audiences’ consent to the hegemony and ideology being reinforced through the medium of television in which it is presented.

TV’s Role as a Text

In John Fiske’s, “Television Culture,” he states “[T]elevision broadcasts programs that are replete with potential meanings, and it attempts to control and focus this meaningfulness into a more singular preferred meaning that performs the work of the dominant ideology. [It] attempts to make, meanings that serve the dominant interests in society, and…circulates these meanings amongst the wide variety of social groups that constitute its audiences” (1087). SATC is no exception. The show depicts four privileged white women, between the ages of 30 and 40, searching for the right man to complete their lives. Although each of them is financially secure and self-sufficient, they still desire the opposite sex; a desire serves as the driving force of the narrative. Below this generic exterior, lies an internal network of ideological codes which link the audience with the text. These codes include but are not limited to “individualism, patriarchy, race, class, materialism, capitalism” and manifest through visual and verbal cues (Fiske 1089). By taking part in the viewing and discussion of TV programs, audiences preserve and justify the ideology of the dominant culture, that which is being reproduced and delivered to the masses. Often times see the protagonist or main characters are depicted as heroic figures which the audience identifies with and supports juxtaposed with a villain, usually of a minority such as a lower class or different race. Morality comes into play within the issues of race, gender, and class, in efforts, perhaps unintentional but inarguably discernible, to buttress the patriarchy and capitalism ruling American culture today.

To explain audience interaction with TV as a text, Hall describes the way in which “television is implicated in the provision and the selective construction of social knowledge, of social imagery, through which we perceive the ‘worlds,’ the ‘lived realities’ of others, and imaginarily reconstruct their lives and ours into some intelligible ‘world-of-the-whole’(Barker 315). The viewing audience is conscious of the meanings and representations of the text, and they subjectively choose what they want to believe. However, the audience also mirrors the representations of the actors and their fictional experiences, in the form of plot; they reify the experience into a form of general knowledge to be regarded as common sense, crystallizing the ideology of the culture to which they both belong. These dominating meanings substantiate what Gramsci called, “cultural hegemony” (Barker 319). Although the audience may not accept these meanings as their own, they have no choice in what the text’s ideology is; they can only choose whether or not to watch. It seems since SATC was a bestseller as a book, a hit TV series spanning “six seasons from 1998-2004,” with re-runs showing on several networks such TBS and KTLA, and being followed up by a major motion picture, with its sequel in production, audiences cannot seem to get enough of this text, suggesting their preference for or identification with the meanings it presents.


New York City, the setting of SATC is a glamorous location which seems to be so important, it could be considered a fifth main character. It is associated with the elite, independence and maturity. The city also enables anonymity, in that it allows for people to be who they want without the fear of gossip or close scrutiny one would experience living in the suburbs, the kind of experience seen in Desperate Housewives, or any of the Real Housewives of… shows on cables’ Bravo TV network. Suburbia allows others to see through any performance. The city allows for increased social interaction and bonding because it is a microcosm, more people occupy the small space, as we see in the frequent brunch dates which SATC’s main characters collectively gather to catch up. Furthermore, the affluence of the four women only presents the glamorous elite of the city. When the show does depict poverty, it is only to portray it as something to be avoided at all costs. This is best exemplified when Miranda, the wealthy lawyer of the group, refuses to let Steve, her ex-boyfriend live in an awful, dirty, apartment, the type of which most New York residents can actually afford. The choice of NYC as the setting further exemplifies how SATC is attuned to a capitalistic and consumerist ideology.


Each character in SATC is successful financially: Carrie, is a successful columnist, her character manages to obtain money solely from her career as the writer of the successful newspaper column from which the title of the show comes from and later when she combines them together into a bestselling book, Samantha is a PR executive, Miranda is a lawyer, and Charlotte is an art dealer. With their success comes a lavish lifestyle filled with designer clothing, shoes, upscale apartments, and mostly getting food by dining out. In this way, the show focuses on the lifestyles of an elite bunch, the audience which is mostly the American working class comes to envy and want to be like these fictional characters, and develop as Barker describes, an aspect of Marxism called “false consciousness” where the dominant ideas of society belong to ruling class and working class believes that to be the way society works (62). This appearance of equality between classes serves to hide any perception of exploitation. Gramcsi’s hegemony and ideology also come into play here; the subordinate class which makes up the audience of this text, consents to the values and rules which are presented by it, the values of the dominating class (Barker 66-67). This sustains the social groups in power through day to day experience, for example of watching television. The works of Susan Bordo and Jean Baudrillard can be considered in analyzing how class is represented in SATC.

To Bordo, “an ideology fueled by the fantasies of re-arranging, transforming, and correcting, an ideology of limitless improvement and change” has come about in postmodern culture and been “fed by the currents of consumer capitalism” (1099). Capitalism promises that money can not only satisfy the physical needs of food, shelter, and safety, but it can also buy you approval, beauty, which eventually leads to love and happiness. SATC in its materialism could be considered like Bordo had argued to “efface, not only the inequalities of privilege, money, and time that prohibit most people from indulging in these practices, but the desperation that characterizes the lives of those who do” (1100-1101). The emphasis on fashion and consumerism we see in the show, through the “signified…endorsement of luxury fashion houses, as the four actresses get to wear and effectively, to market the industry's most coveted clothes” makes this program and the medium of “television…the great teacher here, our prime modeler of plastic pluralism” (Baxter 91; Bordo 1104). The media skews messages to fit the ideology that they want to enforce and reflects “woman’s eternally superficial values” (Bordo 1102). As Janet Cramer describes the characters in her article “Dicourses of Sexual Morality in Sex and the City and Queer as Folk,” as superficial and self-centered: “If these were sympathetic, multi-dimensional, or only realistic characters, the four women in Sex and the City would be presented with far more profound dilemmas regarding their choices and the consequences and effects of those choices” (421).

In Baudrillard’s, “The System of Objects” he argues that consumption is so much a part of postmodern culture, that it becomes part of one’s identity, a sort of reference point from which people define each other. He argues “the object/advertising system…does not structure social relations: it demarcates them in a hierarchical repertoire. It is formalized in a universal system of recognition of social statuses” (Baudrillard 415). In this way, the woman becomes nothing more than the commodities she wears and owns. As Brasfield interpets the emphasis on consumption, “this class privilege is supported by a hierarchy that remains intact and a capitalistic system that demands it” (137). Despite enjoying the privileges that come with wealth, the main characters in SATC do not allow themselves to even physically be near those who are not as fortunate. Miranda the lawyer has an on-and-off relationship with a man named Steve who is a bartender. The traditional female and male roles of breadwinner are reversed here, garnering the main problem between them. For example, in an episode where Miranda and Steve plan to go to a fancy dinner party, Miranda visits Steve at his dumpy apartment in a poor neighborhood and sees that he is wearing a cheap suit. She insists on buying him a more expensive suit so that he appears more successful, but Steve will not let her pay. He ends up paying for the suit with cash, a check, and charging some of the price on a credit card. That evening they break up but instead of apologizing or feeling bad for Steve, Miranda gets angry with Steve telling her girlfriends that she “does not want to apologize for her success” (Brasfield 138), when really her problem was that she could not accept Steve’s lower financial status. Later in the series, when Steve conveniently becomes an owner of a bar, do Miranda and Steve finally put their differences aside and get back together. SATC reinforces its capitalistic agenda by its emphasis on its characters material and consumerist way of life while marginalizing characters of lower social status.


When we encounter characters of other races in SATC, they are usually reduced to their stereotypes and eventually phased out. Two characters stand out in particular: a Russian artist named Aleksandr Petrovsky, one of Carrie’s boyfriends, and an African American doctor, Robert Leeds, one of Miranda’s boyfriends. Carrie “essentializes Petrovsky’s character as the ethnic Other” by repeatedly referring to him as “the Russian” (Brasfield 134). Eventually Aleksandr gets phased out of the series, the problem in the relationship being a constant “cross-cultural (mis)communication” (Brasfield 134). In Miranda’s brief relationship with Dr. Robert Leeds, she realizes she is still in love with her ex, leading to their break up. After they have broken up, Robert is denounced the stereotype of having a large penis. In his final scene, two women are waiting for him at his apartment, neither of them white, suggesting that Robert could get any colored woman but it is more difficult for him to get with a white woman (Brasfield 133). In a similar vein, Charlotte having problems conceiving a child ends up adopting “a Mandarin baby as her last resort in raising a family” (Brasfield 134). Despite living in what most likely is the most culturally diverse city in the world, the characters of SATC demonstrate a somewhat surprising sense of ethnocentrism, reflecting the hegemony of white cultural domination. Characters of color are reduced to stereotypes and after efforts at connection, are eventually eliminated from the series.


SATC has been hailed as adding to the feminist cause in the sexual liberation of its female characters. Each character has a unique sexual identity, and three out of the four have sex before marriage. Charlotte, the conservative old-fashioned one waits until she is married to have sex only to find that she cannot sexually arouse her first husband on her own; he secretly looks at hardcore pornographic magazines to ‘get himself off,’ which inevitably leads to their divorce. Nevertheless, SATC as its name implies, places an importance on sex for the woman, not previously explored in cable television, and HBO allowed it to be uncensored. Sex is often the topic being discussed when the girls get together, gauging norms and giving each other advice. For example, Samantha encourages uptight Charlotte to look at her vagina with a handheld mirror so that she can appreciate its beauty. This allowance can be discussed in Foucault’s terms, that we must reject “the hypothesis that modern industrial societies ushered in an age of increased sexual repression” (690). However, despite this feminist argument, each of the four women end up with a man by the end of the series. Gender roles and sexual identities in SATC are much more complex; here they will be discussed in a cultural context through the works of Judith Butler and Michel Foucault.

As Judith Butler argues in “Imitation and Gender Insubordination,” “gender is a performance” (728). She said that “heterosexualized genders are produced through imitative strategies” (722). As seen with the most openly sexual character, Samantha, many people would consider her to be a ‘man’ because of her preoccupation with sex and her unwillingness to commit to one partner. This assumes that promiscuity is a male trait, that it belongs to the male sex, propagating a common sexual stereotype. Many would call Samantha’s character a “slut,” whereas if she was a male, that may not necessarily be the case. According to Butler, “there is no ‘proper’ gender, a gender proper to one sex rather than another,” and each character represents this in their own way, Samantha’s case being the most obvious (722). For example, Miranda is a lawyer, she is a woman in a male-dominated field, she is the breadwinner of the household, and she eventually becomes a mother. While society has become more accepting of the breaking of gender norms, these norms seem to also be constantly reinforced as when the successful businesswoman must also be a successful caretaker for her children. Instead of the complete reversal of gender roles, society seems to be demanding more and more from women and less and less from men. No one watching this show would suggest that its characters are not women. As Butler said, gender “produces on the skin, through the gesture, the move, the gait (that array of corporeal theatrics understood as gender presentation), the illusion of an inner depth,” the illusion being that gender is a biological phenomenon realized at birth instead of the social construct that it actually is (728). However, gender is assigned, and sometimes misassigned at birth through a naming process which becomes emphasized and further delineated as an individual develops. As Butler says, “one way that gender gets naturalized is through being constructed as an inner psychic or physical necessity” it is driven into us from birth, or even before that girls and boys act certain ways that are deemed socially acceptable (728).

Adding to the idea the idea of society’s role in dictating sexual and gender norms, Foucault would argue that “we are gendered through regulated and regulatory discourse” (Barker 291). In the piece “The History of Sexuality,” Foucault treats sexuality as controlled by:

“pleasure and power. The pleasure that comes of exercising a power that questions, monitors, watches, spies, searches out, palpates, brings to light; and on the other hand, the pleasure that kindles at having to evade this power, flee from it, fool it or travesty it. The power that lets itself be invaded by the pleasure it is pursuing; and opposite it, power asserting itself in the pleasure of showing off, scandalizing, or resisting” (688).

This dual mechanism explains the relationship between sexual deviance and the social institutions, which categorize these groups and give them their names, thereby empowering them, but also striving to subdue them. SATC demonstrates the struggle between power and pleasure by depicting unique sexual identities while simultaneously shutting them out. This can best be exemplified in it’s exploitation of homosexuality. Samantha experiments in a lesbian relationship with a Brazilian woman named Maria, but ultimately ends it because the woman she’s with wants to talk to her about her feelings more than she wants to have sex with her. This portrays the “patriarchal thinking is internalized within these women” in that even Samantha, who is open to sexual experimentation, cannot handle the intimacy of being with a woman (Brasfield 135). Each of the four girls only see men who are highly masculine, Mr. Big, being the best example. When Charlotte dates an effeminate man named Stephen, who in many ways is perfect for her, she ends the relationship because she cannot accept that he is heterosexual. Despite being referred to as a show about women, for women, SATC’s characters do not depend on men, however, their desire for men remains. All of them end up with a man by the end of the show, revealing the hegemony of patriarchy.


In being a program delivered through the medium of television, SATC reflects the values and norms of postmodern American culture. The show, through the actions and representations of its four main characters, while seeming like a feminist text, actually reflects a patriarchal society. Despite being successful women, the characters still desire men, this being what fundamentally drives the narrative. In addition, the depiction of these women as white, upper-class fails to explore the problems associated with being part of a minority or of a lower social status, and ultimately marginalizes these groups, as in Miranda’s treatment of Steve and Samantha’s treatment of Maria. SATC is a product of a capitalistic and patriarchal culture, and with its successful six seasons, with its multimillion dollar box office debut as a film, and the films upcoming sequel, it seems that the social meanings it reinforces will continue to circulate and reinforce themselves, and audiences cannot seem to get enough.


Barker, Chris. Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice. Los Angeles: SAGE, 2008.

Baxter, Judith.Constructions of Active Womanhood and New Femininities: From a Feminist Linguistic Perspective, is Sex and the City a Modernist or a Post-Modernist TV Text?” Women and Language. 32.1(2009): 91-98.

Brasfield, Rebecca. “Rereading Sex & the City: Exposing the Hegemonic Feminist Narrative.” Journal of Popular Film & Television. 34 (2006):130-138.

Cramer, Janet M. "Discourses of Sexual Morality in Sex and the City and Queer as Folk." Journal of Popular Culture. 40 (2007): 409-432.

Rivkin, Julie and Michael Ryan, eds. Literary Theory: An Anthology. Malden: Blackwell, 1998.

Baudrillard, Jean. “The System of Objects.” Rivkin and Ryan 408-419.

Bordo, Susan. “‘Material Girl’: The Effacements of Postmodern Culture.” Rivkin and Ryan 1099-1115.

Butler, Judith. “Imitation and Gender Insubordination.” Rivkin and Ryan 722-730.

Fiske, John. “Television Culture.” Rivkin and Ryan 1087-1097.

Foucault, Michel. “The History of Sexuality.” Rivkin and Ryan 683-691.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Carrie Bradshaw & Judith Butler

For the Sex and the City group presentation, I was mainly in charge of analyzing the handout by Judith Butler, “Imitation and Gender Insubordination” and relating it to our primary text. I came up with three questions relating Butler to Sex and the City through topics such as gender identity and construction. I was also appointed to research the main character, Carrie Bradshaw, and create a character analysis as well as questions about her that would facilitate group discussion. I utilized Butler’s paper to psychoanalyze Carrie and put her in a cultural perspective relating to our course’s theme of radicalism. Each of our group members came together on several occasions to brainstorm and come up with ideas for our presentation. In these meetings we decided who would do which part and how the presentation would be organized. I also helped in formatting and printing out copies for the class of the quiz, “Which Sex and the City character are you?” and I helped in preparing the virgin apple martinis and cosmopolitans for the class to enjoy. During the presentation, I worked with the group that identified with “Carrie” and I tried to give them a sense of her complex character in the time allotted. I also tried to facilitate discussion by passing out different questions to different students and having them collaborate for their answers, expressing my ideas as well. During the presentation I reminded my groupmates to bring the discussion when it went on a tangent, back into focusing on the theoretical questions we had come up with.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Taboos in Space

(Please focus on the first minute of this clip).
In this clip from “Sex and the City,” we see Samantha, the middle aged successful businesswoman with her boyfriend/model Smith, who is a good twenty years younger than her walking down the street in the daytime in the city. Although they have been in a long-term, monogamous relationship, Samantha is afraid to hold Smith’s hand in public, amplifying the role of place in the behavior between humans. As Barker explains in the section, “Space and Place in Contemporary Theory,” spaces are divided to encompass different definitions for social interactions (374). For example, someone’s dining room in their house is known as an intimate space where people can act however they like, whereas the restaurant is a public place where people abide by specific social rules. We can employ “Goffman’s (1969) concepts of ‘front’ and ‘back’ regions,” to relate this video clip to cultural theory (Barker 374). Samantha and Smith are in front space, as if they’re on a stage with other city people as their audience. When they’re at home or with a group of friends, those spaces are the “back” in that they are figuratively “behind the scenes” (374). Culture defines what is appropriate for the front and back regions of space, and it is evident through this clip that the culture these elite socialites inhabit may not be accepting of their massive age gap. This clip pokes fun at the presumed absurdity of this idea by causing Samantha to break her toe in avoidance of the taboo act.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Radical Love or Lack Thereof

Bret Easton Ellis’s, The Rules of Attraction, is a brutally honest and unabashed tale of lost souls, personified as college students, conveying their reckless abandonment of morals. Despite this, the novel manages also to be a radical romantic comedy, with its central characters constantly chasing after some kind of love yet never attaining it. This radical romcom may have a more sentimental, complex counterpart in the film 500 Days of Summer. These stories are inundated with power struggles between the characters, juggling between realism and romantic fantasy, and the duality between youth trying to find their own identity through love despite the oppression of the capitalistic cultures to which they belong.

The advent of the radical romcom brought about specific changes in this type of narrative form which can be linked to a shift in Western cultural values. According to McDonald, a new “spirit of self-absorption” came to the spotlight of romcoms (61). Stearing away from political and social activism, the romcom became radical when its characters initiated “self-reflexivity, a heightened consciousness of self…[and] about the romantic relationship” (67). This self-reflexivity leads to narcissism in the characters of The Rules of Attraction; Paul, Lauren, and Sean all refuse to see beyond their own preoccupations, and although unrequited, their hunger cannot be satiated. If they are not pining for the love and attention of their unattainables, Lauren’s victor, Sean’s Lauren, and Paul’s Sean, they numb the pain by sleeping with strangers, drinking, doing drugs, and in Sean’s case attempting suicide several times. These characters lie to each other, but essentially they lie to themselves, and the stories are set up so that the liars are the ones who suffer most.
Some other hallmarks of the radical romcom include an ending in which the couple is apart, juxtapositions between romance and realism, and response to the audiences’ memory of older conventions in the form of references, or intertextuality. In a film released this year, called 500 Days of Summer, the main character, Tom, falls in love with his dream girl and painfully realizes he is not her dream boy. One viewing the movie’s trailer would hear the voice over say, “This is not a love story. It’s a story about love,” followed by a descriptive list: “500 days of Los Angeles, of promises, of uncertainty, of summer. 500 days of magic, of distance,…of intimacy, of awkwardness, of passion,” and the list goes on (Fox Searchlight). Lauren, Paul, and Sean in Ellis’s novel all struggle through a similar list of obstacles, ultimately resulting in the loss of their lover. Tom constantly fantasizes about what could have been with Summer, his ex-girlfriend, utilizing a split screen, seeing clones of her on a bus, and being the lead in a highly choreographed and lip-synced dance sequence to the tune of Hall and Oates,’ “You Make My Dreams” (Dance Sequence). References to new wave and pop love songs are found throughout the Rules of Attraction as well, such as George Michael’s hit “Faith” about lust and cautiousness in playing the games of love.
To put the Rules of Attraction into a theoretical context, in “the History of Sexuality,” Foucault argues that sex is based on “perpetual spirals of power and pleasure” (688). We can see this in each relationship of the radical romcom, but especially in the love triangle of Lauren, Sean, and Paul. Lauren has the power over Sean who derives pleasure from her. Sean has the power with Paul and Paul gains pleasure from him. There is also pleasure in the “power asserting itself in the pleasure of showing off, scandalizing, or resisting” the sexual oppression of the dominant culture. The power of this oppression has been carried through various social organizations, but these powers do not cancel each other out; “they seek out, overlap, and reinforce one another” as Ellis so aptly accounts in his novel, through the interactions of his characters (690).
Foucault seems to have used Marxism as a base for his argument. Marx delineated the ideas of interplay between a dominant culture from above and a subordinate culture from below. What Gramsci called “hegemony,” the class in power asserts its power through “force and consent” (Barker 66). During the 80s when Ellis’s book took place, the yuppie culture of consumerism and luxury was the dominating class. This class is represented by the idea that Camden students tuition is paid for by their upper-class, wealthy parents, and therefore, their children can do whatever they want and still be assured of a promising future. The counter-culture is personified by the recklessness of the students themselves; they are drug-abusers, sex addicts, unable to deal with their emotions, suicidal, narcissistic, hedonistic, drifters without direction or concern. Any concerns, such as Lauren’s pregnancy, or Sean’s suicide attempts, are drowned out by drugs and sex. Any attempt at romance is quickly denounced in that the characters simply do not know how to “deal with it” as Sean so often said (Ellis 19). The focus on capitalism and “Reaganomics” offered a sense of gratification of “people condemned to lives of work” (Rivkin 1025). But for the college student who has just been unleashed from the sexual repression of their parent’s homes in a brief period of independence before their careers would start, it has become a socially accepting time of sexual experimentation, intoxication, promiscuity, and recklessness, making love unnecessary.


“500 Days of Summer Dance Sequence.” 09 August 2009. Online video clip. Youtube. Accessed on 13 October 2009.

Barker, Chris. Cultural Studies: Theory & Practice. 3rd ed. Los Angeles: Sage, 2008.

Ellis, Bret Easton. The Rules of Attraction. New York: Vintage, 1998.

Foucault, Michel. History of Sexuality. Vol. 1. An Introduction, trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Pantheon, 1978.

Rivkin, Julie and Michael Ryan, eds. Literary Theory: An Anthology. Malden: Blackwell, 1998.

Fox Searchlight Pictures. “500 Days of Summer Teaser Trailer.” 2009. Online video clip. International Movie Database. Accessed on 13 October 2009.

McDonald, Tamar Jeffers. Romantic Comedy: Boy Meets Girl Meets Genre. London: Wallflower, 2007

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


For this ethnography I utilized the dining area outside of Sierra Center to make my observations. I noticed for the most part that there weren’t many couples. I saw an African American couple wearing stylish clothes. The girl pulled at the guy’s arm but the guy pulled himself away. They stood talking to each other and then the guy went a different direction. He called out to the girl, “Call me when you get to your car.” I saw another couple who also dressed similarly and they were both overweight. This couple kept alternating between holding hands and letting go.

I observed some physical contact with a pair of male students who greeted each other with smiles, salutations, handshakes, and pats on each other’s backs. As their conversation continued, while the taller of the two talked, the one who listened put his waist as he stood in a casual stance. There was another group of young males who were seated at a table. This group kept looking around at the people walking by, focusing especially on a female student who walked by. There was no indication that the males knew the female in any way. What I found in the guys but not in the girls, was that most guys seemed to dress more for comfort than for appearance. They also seemed careful not to sit too close to each other. A lot of guys as they were sitting would fidget; they would shake their leg, play with their hands, and one guy was even drumming on his knees with his hands. As for any radicalism within the gender, what I found rare was stylishness and femininity. Once in a while I would see a young man wearing fancy shoes, dark jeans, and a nice collared shirt but this seemed to be more common in older students. I found one male student in particular who stood out. Appearance-wise he was clean-shaven, his hair was crisply cut, and he was wearing shorts that went above his knees. He was sitting and conversing with a girl, using his hands as he talked, and at one point I heard him say the words “jazz hands.”

To focus on the female students, I found that most girls were either sitting alone studying, eating, or talking on their cell phones, or sitting with a group of girls conversing or studying. One woman in particular got most of my attention. She was an old lady wearing a tan hat and a black dress. She had a large cup of soda and she was eating an apple. She struck me as very odd because she kept putting on and taking off her sunglasses, and it seemed like she was talking to herself. I also observed a co-ed group of Asian students where a girl was acting a little strange. She kept smiling, playing with her hair, and at one point she had her hand under her chin. A Hispanic-looking girl came up to the group and stood there, touching a girl’s head to get her attention. There wasn’t any room for her to sit and no one made room or an offer for her to sit with them. Girls had more variety in their outfits than guys, which mostly consisted of tight pants, short shorts, colorful tops, big bags and dark eye makeup. They also sat closer to each other than guys did and would greet each other with hugs.

Applying various theories we have discussed in class helps in analyzing the meaning of the aforementioned observations. Binary relationships can be easily applied to explain the differences between the appearances and behaviors of males and females. It can be useful to apply the concept of “othering” to ideas of masculinity and femininity. It seems without question that our American society is patriarchal. Women dress much differently than men and engage in more feminine behaviors such as playing with their hair, wearing makeup, and tight clothes. Our consumerist society, in terms of semiotics, signifies that if you wear a certain type of clothes, you will attract the opposite sex. Since females tend to put so much attention on their appearance, by othering, males are differentiated by their lack of attention to their appearance. In this way, males make sure to be as masculine as possible also, by keeping their distance from other males, to avoid being seen as another other: homosexual. It is a common stereotype, that homosexuals are more feminine than masculine. However, it seems that some homosexuals embrace this practice by taking care of their appearance, wearing tighter clothing, hanging out with females, and speaking more expressively with hand gestures. This could be a culturally-produced effect or it could be our stereotypes. It is certain that othering and binary relationships play a heavy role in gender identity.

Othering also plays a role in self-identity and in human relationships. For example, the group of Asian students had “othered” the Hispanic female, by not offering her a seat at the table, leaving her standing there awkwardly. Her using her hands to get her Asian friend’s attention seemed necessary only because the Asian may not have wanted to associate with her, the “other.” If we see couple who is overweight, we are surprised as observers, because we are taught by our culture that fat people are undesirable, through othering. We have been taught, especially by the Marxist idea of consumerism that the ruling class is generally beautifully and wealthy and the subordinate class is ugly and poor. We are taught that if we buy certain products, such as expensive jeans or a big trendy bag, that we will appeal to the opposite sex. These visual signs, from Saussure’s semiotics, signify an idea. For example, a man wearing a bag instead of a backpack is seen as more effeminate which leads us to think he is homosexual. It seems that humans are no longer complex creatures but a simplified set of signs manipulated to represent ideas. If the signs don’t match up, if someone wears the wrong kind of hat or the wrong kind of shorts, then it must mean that they are breaking the norm in some way and are therefore different, or the “other.” All of these norms to which people live their lives are under an umbrella of false consciousness; no one knows that they are being manipulated by the ruling class because they believe that society is supposed to work that way, and they are tricked into thinking they have choice, when really it’s the dominating class which controls their options.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Welcome to Me

Although I have numerous blogs which I have started and stopped, I intend on updating this blog frequently. I will be posting all of my writing assignments here from now on. This is to be dedicated mainly to an interesting class I am taking this semester called English 313HON "The Radical Romance." I hope you enjoy!