What just happened?

I was laying in bed last night having trouble sleeping because I was too busy thinking about sociology. This sounds, I know, like a blog entry where I’m going to talk about what a good graduate student I am. Lately, though, I have been asking myself “why sociology?”, in part because I have a tutorial of 30 students this semester who are not sociology students. I started our first tutorial last week by saying what drew me to sociology is that it asks “what just happened?” about moments we don’t understand. I think this is pretty close not only to why I love sociology, but also how I live my life. That question, I think, is such a central one to make sense of our world and how we make our place over and over again in it.

I was a tutorial leader at York for a while, and I had a student who was so eager to learn. They came to visit me in my office hours almost each week to talk about the material, and sometimes we would see each other on transit and chat. This student loved the Fast and the Furious series. I, perhaps needless to say, did not. For their assignment, I asked them to write about anything, but to use sociology to help them to think about it. This student decided to write about the series of Fast and Furious movies. In one of our meetings, I challenged this student to think about the character Vin Diesel played — how differently would this movie have looked if his character had been me? What about if it had been Halle Berry, or Margaret Cho? Would someone like Will Ferrell have been able to pull off this role? Why? Why not?

It is this sort of gender bending question that I’m interested in for this post. Specifically, I want to think about what may, or may not, happen in the playful switching of gender in various campaigns. I want to talk about two in particular. In the style that I hope I lead my tutorials with, I have no good answers (and sometimes no answers at all), but I’m inviting you to talk with me about these moments where I thought “what just happened?”

1. Jailbreak the Patriarchy

The creator, Danielle Sucher, describes this Google Chrome extension:

Jailbreak the Patriarchy genderswaps the world for you. When it’s installed, everything you read in Chrome (except for gmail, so far) loads with pronouns and a reasonably thorough set of other gendered words swapped. For example: “he loved his mother very much” would read as “she loved her father very much”, “the patriarchy also hurts men” would read as “the matriarchy also hurts women”, that sort of thing.

This makes reading stuff on the internet a pretty fascinating and eye-opening experience, I must say. What would the world be like if we reversed the way we speak about women and men? Well, now you can find out!

(Get it here).

screen shot of Jailbreak the Patriarchy

Jailbreak the Patriarchy in use: "Schrödinger’s Rapist: or a guy’s guide to approaching strange women without being maced" (http://kateharding.net/2009/10/08/guest-blogger-starling-schrodinger's-rapist-or-a-guy's-guide-to-approaching-strange-women-without-being-maced/)

I  have this extension on my own Google Chrome and somehow I seem to forget about it almost everyday. I find myself going to my favorite blog in the morning (feministing.com) and seeing it say, instead, masculinists.com (not patriarchs.com, but that’s another story).  The description of the website reads pretty differently, too: “Young men are rarely given the opportunity to speak on their own behalf on issues that affect their lives and futures.” For me, at least, Jailbreak the Patriarchy catches me off guard and helps me think about how easily I might read about “women” and “men” in particular ways, so that when they are switched it catches me in my reading and makes me stop.

The second thing I want to mention is this collection (which, by the way, is confusing if you still have Jailbreak the Patriarchy on your Google Chrome…)

2. (Note: this website may not be “safe for work”) Men-Ups: Manly Men In Classic Pin-Up Poses

A sample "Man-Up"

A small taste of a manly "Man-Up"

This campaign has “masculine” (white) men pose in what are understood to be stereotypically pin-up poses for women. This campaign has me a bit divided. First, I should say that it makes me laugh. I think laughter, at times, can be really useful in the face of oppression, particularly if I start to think things like: Hey, why does my body fit this pose and not this man’s? and What kinds of masculinity are in these photos — are they undermined and/or reinforced?

I am a bit on the fence, though, about how the recurring thing happening in these pin-ups is the sexualization of bodies. Does it make sense, I wonder, to put men in poses that we (feminists) have talked about as degrading for women to show how these poses only make sense for women (and so are linked to patriarchy)? What are the implications here for men’s bodies?

I wonder these same things about women’s “pornography” that features men doing housework. On one hand, I think it is so important to recognize that women do so much unpaid labour in the home and that this labour isn’t rewarded. And, if we’re thinking only about heterosexual women who are in relationships with men who they live with, this might be an interesting thing to show one’s partner. But, is this unpaid labour foreplay? Is it sexy? Or is it a fight for justice? I wonder what is lost in the laughter at campaigns like this — does it make us stop and think about how bodies and people do different sorts of work, or does it reinforce it (and also play into heterosexist assumptions about the world)?


What do you think?


16 Responses to “What just happened?”

  1. Michael says:

    This is exactly what I needed. Thank you! I actually have a intro to sociology tutorial to run tomorrow on gender and sexuality so will definitely be using some of the interesting examples you presented for that discussion. Thanks again!

  2. Katie says:

    Thanks, Michael!

    Let me know how it goes! I’m really interested in how teaching of these things goes. Last term I showed this video in one of my classes:


    I had meant to end the video right at the end of her VLog, but got really into it, so had to get back up to go to the projector. So, my students say where she calls herself a feminist and talks about feministing. The conversation, then, was less about what she was saying and more that she was a feminist. People said things like “feminists shouldn’t diss other women (so, Beyonce)” or that “the feminist is being too picky” or that “the feminist is taking the (sexy) video for the (not really sexy) lyrics”

    It was a really interesting learning moment for me about how feminism can be an F word.

    Thanks for the read and take care!

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