Day Thirteen: March 2

1. Review the media example assignment.

2. Discussion of Sexuality/Sexual Practices

Download the lecture notes here

While our week on sex was focused on sexed bodies and the ways in which sex comes to mean the division of bodies into a binary system of male/female, this week's discussion on sexuality is focused on the history and construction of sexual identities (Monday: Katz, Marinucci, Weeks) and the consequences of how sex practices/desires are ordered and evaluated (as good/bad, normal/deviant) for various individuals and communities that fall outside of Rubin's "charmed circle" (Wednesday: Rubin, Wilkerson, Siebers, Bednarska)

Sexuality is not comprehensible in purely biological terms. The body, the brain, the genitalia and the capacity for language are all necessary for human sexuality. But they do not determine its content, its experiences, or its institutional forms (Rubin, 10). 

How does sexuality gain its meaning? How do we understand and evaluate our desires and our sex practices? What institutional forms does sexuality take?

Religion: how does sex gain meaning in various religions? religious practices? 
Medicine and Psychiatry What does medicine/medical discourse tell us about what sex is and who can/should practice it?
Popular Culture: What representations of sexual desire/sexuality do movies, television shows, websites, etc provide? How does popular culture/popular media participate in the making sexuality/desire/sex practices meaningful?
some other institutional forms: SCHOOLS, FAMILIES

5 IDEOLOGICAL FORMATIONS (that shape and control our understandings of sex practices and sexuality)

  1. SEX NEGATIVITY: sex as dangerous, destructive, negative, sinful
  2. FALLACY OF MISPLACED SCALE: over-invested in sex, sex matters too much, "bad" sex has unduly exaggerated consequences (leads to irrational "panics")
  4. DOMINO THEORY OF SEXUAL PERIL: need to draw a line, create boundaries, keep extending line for protection, any crossing of the line leads to sexual chaos
  5. LACK OF CONCEPT OF BENIGN SEXUAL VARIATION: single ideal of sexuality, no room for variations that are free of the good/bad ordering
Screen shot 2011-03-01 at 10.57.13 PM.png

What are the consequences of this charmed circle for those who don't fit into the center? Who exits on the "outer limits"? (See Wilkerson)

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Who gets to draw this line? Why is a line necessary? How is that line drawn--what is the criteria for evaluating good/bad? Who gets to decide that criteria? What are the consequences of drawing this line for certain bodies?

A radical theory of sexuality must identify, describe, explain, and denounce erotic injustice and sexual oppression. Such a theory...must build rich descriptions of sexuality as it exists in society and history. It requires a convincing critical language that can convey the barbarity of sexual persecution (Rubin, 9). 

Sexuality is a vital means of pleasure, interpersonal connection, personal efficacy and acceptance of one's body and of self more generally...(Wilkerson, 34). 

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Wilkerson writes that "any public articulation of sexuality as an aspect of life to which everyone should be entitled still remains almost unthinkable" (35). 

A radical theory of sexuality is about sexual agency: not merely the capacity to choose, engage in, or refuse sex acts, but as a more profound good which is in many ways socially based, involving not only a sense of oneself as a sexual being, but also a larger social dimension in which others recognize and respect one's identity (Wilkerson, 35). 

Sexual democracy requires not only opposing the political forces that stigmatize some sexualities as perversions, but also dismantling oppressive social relations including racism, ableism, capitalism, sexism, and ageism which cause some groups' sexuality to be scrutinized in the first place (Wilkerson, 38). 

How do racism,ableism, capitalism, sexism, and ageism contribute to more scrutiny? Can you think of some examples?

Screen shot 2011-03-01 at 11.20.35 PM.png
...deeply erotophobic attitudes coexist with overtly sexualized environments, as in the U.S, where it is difficult to get through the day without being bombarded by sexualized images in advertising and entertainment. 

How is sex a problem? Do you see evidence of erotophobia and, at the same time,  overtly/overly sexual ads, videos, movies? 

Cultural Erotophobia is not merely a general taboo against open discussions of sexuality, and displays of sexual behavior, but a very effective means of creating and maintaing social hierarchies, not only those of sexuality, but those of gender, race, class, age, and physical and mental ability (Wilkerson, 41). 

Oppression as powerlessness through restrictions, penalties, coercion, being denied access, being stigmatized (Wilkerson, 42).

  • young women need protection via restrictions (parental consent, abstinence-only sex ed)
  • those who are "unfit" should be sterilized (encouraged/coerced/done without knowledge)
  • hypersexualizing of African American women (remember bell hooks' "Selling Hot Pussy") and Latino men
  • LGBT people face legal obstacles (sodomy laws, inability to legally marry, benefits for heterosexual married couples) and are denied access to information
  • people with intellectual disabilities are considered children and are therefore seen as not having sexual desires of sexual agency
Do children have sexual desires? Should they have sexual agency?

  • heightened vulnerability to violence and harassment (bullying)
SHAME: "the walk of shame"

Medical discourse 
  • neglects sexuality as an aspect of health (doctors don't ask about sex life, lack knowledge/information on subject)
  • displays sexist and heterosexist values as well as a failure to address other aspects of social group difference (emphasis heterosexual male's perspective)
  • relies on ultimately conservative reproductive norms (sex is understood as vaginal intercourse, other sex practices not considered or encouraged, also centered on reproduction)
  • focuses on the pathological at the expense of healthy states and processes (sees disabled patients/bodies as defective, broken)
  • conceptualizes the body and human life in biological terms abstracted from social relations (Wilkerson, 47). 

What is at stake with arguing for and developing a radical politics of sex? 

Images of disability: reinforcing? resisting?

Here are some images from a photoshoot:



Here are some questions that they ask over at Sociological Images:

  • Is she simply sexualizing disability? And is that good or bad
  • Is the overall effect to make people with disabilities seem empowered?  Or, as in the very first image, helpless?
  • Might she be trying to problematize the "normal," as she does in many ways but, in this case, normal bodies? Does it work, given her conformity to norms of attractiveness (both body and face)?
  • Or... since Gaga is known for being just-plain-weird, does that mean that her adoption of these props is an attempt to be weird (as in: wheelchairs and walking with a limp are weird and so I'll do them to be weird)?  Even if that is true, does pushing them into view normalize them?  Heighten their weirdness?  Both?   Or does it depend on the viewer?
Here are some thoughts by annaham over at BitchMedia:

Interesting, too, is where we see the temporarily dis-abled Gaga: she is wheeled into her mansion from a limo, and wears giant sunglasses so that she, presumably, cannot be recognized by photographers. The disability scholar Susan Wendell argues that individuals with disabilities make clear the split between public and private; in "Toward a Feminist Theory of Disability" (1989), Wendell writes that "[t]he public world is the world of strength, the positive (valued) body, performance and production, the able-bodied and youth," while "illness, rest and recovery, pain, death and the negative (de-valued) body are private, generally hidden, and often neglected."

Wendell's argument about the disabled body as not public gets to the very crux of why the "disability chic" representation in "Paparazzi" is so problematic: the temporarily disabled Lady Gaga is hidden not just from the paparazzi, but also from public space. The only time that viewers see her in the wheelchair is as she is being wheeled down a purple carpet--an ostensibly "public" space--from her limo (private), into her mansion (also private). The mansion (private home) is where her highly stylized "recovery" takes place, with the "help" of people of color. The split between public and private is yet again reinforced in the guise of disability-as-chic representation. The overall message: Disability can be "cool," but only if it is temporary, not shown to the public, and that your eventual recovery from it can be portrayed through the timeless medium of dance! 


I thought this topic was very interesting as I work in a group home for four men with cognitive and physical disabilities. As you can imagine, due to these disabilites, the men live relatively stunted lives, however, love interests remain an extremely important aspect to them. In fact, it is one of the most exciting things in their lives and for this, it is essential that the staff help them keep up these relationships.

One of my residents has parkinsons and moderate mental retardation and very limited speech. He has been dating his "first lady" for over thirty years. While they do not talk that often because they are in separate group homes, they do see each other a couple of times a month, occassionally talk on the phone with help from staff, and see each other every holiday and birthday.

Another one of my residents has moderate mental retardation, cerebral palsy and is a nonverbal quadriplegic. He uses something called a dynavox to talk--with the mouse next to ear, he is able to navigate a keyboard on a computer screen on his wheelchair to type out sentences. These sentences are then verbalized by the computer so he can communicate to others. He has recently begun using this device to help him engage in dating classes in hopes to find a girlfriend of his own.

As you can see, these men have desires just like anyone else, and just because they cannot express them as easily as the rest of us, does not mean they are not as predominate in their thoughts.

As I was reading the note, I recalled a clip in Saturday Night Live, where there's a high school girl broke her arm, and she becomes popular. I think this a great example similar to tempo-disabled Lady Gaga "Paparazzi".

According annaham over at BitchMedia, (s)he is right "Disability can be 'cool', but only if it is temporary". The point of the clip is that only certain disability is "cool", but not totally disabled.

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