Class Reflection-- April 14, 2010

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Please put your hands together and welcome the class summary "The Troublemaker as Disciplinary Problem: The Child."  We got class off to a romping good start with a discussion of my personal hero, Paula Dean, who has a show on QVC. We briefly discussed the possibility of queering QVC, at which point I kind of got sad that I didn't do that for my paper.

We then turned to my new favorite viral video (brought to us by Sophie) about a young boy whose desire to be a single lady transcends gender norms.  Although we noted that the boy forced his dad (and the viewers of the video) to question his assumptions about gender roles, not all of us were convinced that he was a real troublemaker, since he probably didn't intend to be subversive.  More likely, he just felt left out of the group-- Raechel suggested that he was more interested in community than gender.  Jumping briefly back to Althusser, Jessie proposed that the little boy's gender, his position as queer or as an outsider, is hailed into existence when he is told that he can't be a single lady.  Then we found out that Becky really likes to listen to misogynistic pop music (seconded), suggesting that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes a really epic pop song is just a really epic pop song.  Raechel referred back to Willett, suggesting that humor creates a liminal space of potentiality, which can be a pedagogical moment (eg., when the dad tells us that he is "a horrible father").  We concluded our reveries with the sober recollection of the Star Wars youtube kid, who apparently had to switch schools because he was made fun of so much. 

Next, we asked what the link between childhood and troublemaking might be.  Because children's troublemaking might be dismissed as just playfulness, they may have the opportunity to be more subversive; on the other hand, their efforts are less likely to be taken seriously.  What do we think of children as political and moral agents in their own right?  To answer these questions, we turned to the troublemaker's children's book.  First, we noticed the connection between troublemaking and punishment in the stories.  Problematically, the book showed all troublemakers-- from Columbus to Rosa Parks-- as performing the same kind of trouble.  In particularly, we were bothered by the last line of the story, which suggested that there will always be troublemakers getting punished, but let's not let it be you or me.  Angela wanted to know why we shouldn't want to be troublemakers, and again wondered what the distinction between troublemaking and being an asshole might be.  Liz pointed out that the book suggests that as long as you get away with your trouble, it's okay. 

Florence wondered whether the book was hoping to inculcate readers with a fear of punishment.  We took some time to consider the implications of a "time-out" as opposed to other forms of punishment.  Jessie suggests that the time-out, which separates you from everyone else because of your non-normative behavior, provides pressure to normalize.  In this context isolation is presented as a bad thing, and something to be avoided.  Angela wondered if we should make a distinction between punishment that follows directly from a decision (ie., I don't brush my teeth, so I get a toothache) and punishment that's imposed from outside (ie., I don't brush my teeth and I get whipped).  Jessie also pointed out that the book suggests that we might make trouble when we are "feeling full of ourselves"; does this mean that the suffragettes wanted the vote because they were egotistical?  We turned to Florence for a European perspective-- she suggested that kids in France are more likely to be spanked than those in the US.  We also talked about other methods of discipline, like writing lines (which prompted a brief digression into Harry Potter's encounter with Dolores Umbridge and her magic quill which carved words into the writer's skin), or public shame.  We learned that the CA public school system is not as enlightened as we all thought, when Jessie informed us that they used Dunce caps in her elementary school.  Shannon trumped this with her story about a teacher who threatened to put adult diapers on his students.

SUPERNANNY!!!  She is all about the time out.  Angela then gave us a pretty excellent story of her own time-out history, which generally resulted in a lot of tears and overturned furniture.  What if kids just refuse to be controlled?  We decided that we should write our own kids books.

Angela shared a conversation she had with her 7 year old nephew about trans folk.  We wondered whether there are appropriate levels of information for each age group/maturity group.  Sophie's mom suggested (via Sophie) that people always grow up AND sideways, not just children.  We agreed with this statement wholeheartedly.  Jessie wondered if this desire to control "levels" of information about sex ed might reflect concerns that if kids know too much about sex, they might do it.  Angela brought our attention to page 3 of the Queer Child reading, where the author proposed that the right wing has relied on homosexuality to construct the way they relate to children (as potential victims, as pliable moral creatures).  The fear seems to be that if children learn about something, they will become it.  This takes about the child's agency and her ability to make her own sexual decisions, as Shannon pointed out.  We turned to that oft-repeated yet fairly meaningless phrase "sexually active," wondering what that conveys in a practical sense.  A lot of sex ed seems to rely on a politics of shame, a politics that Becky points out does not work on senile old people, who have no qualms masturbating or peeing in public.  Florence was really interested in the idea of asexuality; does this mean that someone is never interested in any sexual contact, not interested in sex with anyone but themselves, only interested in certain sexual activities?  We discussed how discourses about homosexuality (and sexuality in general?) suggest that there is a single moment of knowing, and that this is a permanent transition; what about persons who come to a gradual decision about their sexuality, or whose sexuality changes and changes back overtime? 

My personal favorite class moments came during the break, when we started discussing the animated characters we had the hots for as children.  Jessie vehemently advocated for the Little Mermaid, a suggestion that was generally approved of and which might even represent a trans narrative; other suggestions included Fifel from Fifel Goes West and the evil bad guy from Sailor Moon.  We talked about the ways in which children learn about sex through Barbie; at least three representatives of the class rainbow team recalled playing lesbian Barbie as youths (holla!).  Jessie raised a question about the tenses in which childhood sexuality was discussed in our articles; children either look forward to the day when they will have a sexual partner, or they look back on their childhood as adults and try to determine how they were; children are either not yet straight, or their queerness is assigned in memory by their adult self.  Is there ever a space for children to experience their sexuality in the present?  Perhaps this is complicated by children's inability to express their thoughts completely; is this an even greater problem for queer kids?  Sophie suggests that every child has sexual/romantic urges and object choices that they don't have the language to express; she recalls being crazy for Swayze and not having the language to express that feeling.  But Angela argued that a straight child still has a greater ability to express desire than a queer child, since a straight object-choice fits into the dominant heteronormative discourses. 

We wondered why adults don't talk to their kids about these sexual desires; is it because we think of children as innocent?  Because we think of talking with a child about sex is voyeuristic or pedophilic?  Or just because many people don't want to discuss their sex lives with their families?  We wondered if sexual desire is the same as attraction; we answered with a resounding no, but admitted that the distinction was blurry. 

Reflecting on the days of our youth, we came to the conclusion that public representations of childhood sexuality have drastically changed with our generation.  Examples included: the pre-KFed Britney Spears of the virgin/whore persuasion; Hannah Montana and her stripper poll; Twilight and the yearning, pulsating hearts of abstinent mythical creatures; and the promise ring that Disney purportedly insists its stars wear.  The promise ring seemed especially creepy because it represented a contract between father and daughter; is this an Oedipal situation, or a throwback to the idea of women as chattel?  A discussion of the Mystical Realm of the Rhododendron ensued. 

Becky brought up the Bristol Palin PSA, which encourages girls to not pregnant unless you are really rich and your parents will bail you out (the "pause" in the commercial resonated nicely with the idea of a time-out).  The time-out also seemed to represent the sexual "delay" that discourses about childhood sexuality rely on; there is a delay between liking Julia Roberts, for example, and knowing that this was a lesbian crush.  Is this an enforced delay? Shannon pointed out that adults are not allowed to play (she brought up the example of swinging on swings) unless they are playing competitive sports, or role-playing in the bedroom. 

At the end of class, we considered cultural anxieties about pedophilia.  Becky was a bit troubled that the readings seemed to dismiss the possibility that pedophilia can be traumatic for children.  Angela argued that maturity and age are not necessarily correlated.  I wondered about the ways in which our cultural emphasis on the trauma and horror of rape, pedophilia, etc. might actually make the experience worse for victims.  And Sara brought up the point that discourses about sex predators actually rely on a fantasy of the child as a victim for their rhetorical power.

All in all, it was a very lively discussion, and I might add that the snacks were particularly well done this week.  Good luck to all of us as the semester hurtles dramatically towards it's end!

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