Book Review of Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble

By Olivia Comstock

One of the many odd philosophy memes that dwell in intellectual circles of the internet

Gender Trouble by Judith Butler, published in 1999, is a key text for feminist theory, queer theory, and continental philosophy. She wrote several other books on gender and has a position as a professor at the University of California Berkeley. Her books are regarded as difficult to read due to their long, unstructured sentences and many references to other philosophers that it is assumed the reader knows. Regardless, I still think her work is valuable because of its contributions to the larger field of gender theory and how we think about gender today. I will give a summary of Gender Trouble, explaining the concepts she covers.

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Orgasm Equality

A picture of Sophia Wallace’s art, taken from her website.

By Olivia Comstock

In this essay I am going to be talking about orgasms specific to people who have a vagina and clitoris, there are people who do not identify as female who experience these kind of orgasms from this anatomy, so I am going to refrain from using gendered terms as much as possible. Instead, I will just be referring to the orgasm produced from this kind of anatomy as simply an orgasm.

A majority of current media surrounding sex focuses on how to maximize male pleasure, while almost entirely ignoring estrogen-bodied pleasure. Porn primarily serves a male audience and includes acts, such as blowjobs, oriented towards male pleasure while rarely featuring female pleasure or female-centered acts, such as cunnilingus. Advice columns and magazines write about how to be good in bed, how to look good in bed, and how to pleasure your partner. These are instructing the women what to do and alienating themselves from their own body by sending the message that all of their efforts are to increase male pleasure. Popular culture sexualizes and infantilizes women for the pleasure of men.

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The Sexualization of Children and Sex Education

By Kate Ringer

A concern for many parents is the sexualization of children, which is defined by the American Psychological Association as occurring when, “A person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or behavior, a person is held to a standard that equates 

An illustration of a popular doll for children

physical attractiveness with being sexy, a person is sexually objectified, or sexuality is inappropriately imposed on a child.” As this article points out, children are not inherently sexual. When we see babies’ upper thighs in their onesies, we aren’t concerned with people thinking that our babies are sexy, and it should be the same exact way with a child. A child wearing short shorts and a tank top isn’t inherently sexy, but they become that way when the child is taught to engage in inappropriate behaviors, such as the dance routines on Toddlers & Tiaras. Children do not behave that way unless they have been taught to behave that way through the constant media bombardment of sex culture, whether it’s through video games, movies, television shows, advertisements, or their toys. There was a study conducted by Bandura in the sixties that showed children mimicking, or “modeling,” the behavior of adults after being exposed to short video of adults playing with a doll happily
or violently. If they viewed the adult being violent with the doll, they were much more likely to be violent when exposed to the doll in their play. This concept of modeling can certainly be applied to the sexualization of children as well. Children whose parents and the media model behavior that model sexualized behavior may transfer the behavior to their own actions, according to Bandura’s theory of learning. I can remember as a child wanting to wear lipstick just like my mom, and it felt so special when I got to wear it for a special occasion. That is an example of modeling. 
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Male Circumcision in the United States and Consent

For the past two weeks I’ve talked about consent in the context of sex and how consent relates to individuals who are intersex. This week I want to broaden the discussion on a child’s right to decide what happens to their body through an exploration on circumcision.

During the Victorian Era, circumcision became a widespread practice as a treatment for masturbation. At this time, it was the belief of many doctors that masturbation led to many diseases, and that by removing one of the most sensitive parts of the penis, it could be prevented. Male circumcision was not just prevalent in the United States, but in all English-speaking countries at the time, such as Great Britain, Australia, and New Zealand. However, the practice decreased significantly in all of those countries except the United States in the following years. Now, between 60 to 90% of American boys are circumcised, depending on the region they live in, but only 16% of boys in Great Britain are circumcised, even though both countries were influenced by the ideas in the Victorian Era. So why is the United States still engaging in this practice? Continue reading “Male Circumcision in the United States and Consent”

Not Your Mother’s Birth Control

Woman holding birth control pills

Time and time again, I’ve listened to women who are frustrated with their chosen type of  contraception – myself included. For a lot of women, there is a constant battle between enjoying our sexual freedom and protecting ourselves from the possible risks of sexual activity, and it can often feel like a lose-lose situation. Whether it’s the annoying (or harmful) side effects of hormones (the pill, IUD, vaginal ring, etc.), the struggle of consistent condom use by both partners, or the sheer inconvenience of pausing the passion to check dates, insert, replace, unwrap, etc., it can feel as if we no longer have control of our sexual experiences when the options we choose from are not the best fit.

Don’t get me wrong; all types of contraception have their advantages, and every woman is different in what she prefers and what is right for her body. I do believe, though, that because of the society we live in, we can feel restricted to selecting from among just a few options when trying to protect ourselves against unwanted pregnancy and STIs. As more and more of my friends became dissatisfied with their choices, I began to explore what else is out there. Continue reading “Not Your Mother’s Birth Control”

Porn Taught Me Everything I Know About Sex

By Sam Kennedyimages (1).jpg

Yup, you read the title right. I’ve learned everything there is to know about sex because of porn… just like everybody else.

Pornography has become a teacher in today’s society, thanks to the internet and the increasing use of the “sex sells” attitude within the media. But are we learning the right things from porn?

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Title IX Supports Safe Education for Everyone

In the scholastic realm, discrimination based on sex involves more than encouraging girls to grow up to be teachers and boys to become doctors. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits sex-based discrimination in schools, and without its provisions our academic (and career) landscapes might have looked less diverse today.  However, the struggle for fair access to federally funded education is ongoing.  After four decades and more than 20 amendments, related Supreme Court cases and other political dealings, Title IX has earned the moniker of “living law.”

Title IX is a refreshing kind of legal document.  It is broad in effect and straightforward in language.  The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights explains that the title covers “(all) public and private elementary and secondary schools, school districts, colleges, and universities receiving any Federal funds.”  So if any educational program receives government money, by law it cannot prevent people from participating in its services on the grounds of individual sexual biology, identity, orientation, or preference:

“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance . . .”

And there’s more concerned here than women’s athletics.  Title IX ensures that Sue can go through business school with her sights leveled on a Fortune 500 CEO position, whether or not she ever plays volleyball.  If Jack wants to pursue a nursing degree, no one can legally argue that boys (biological or otherwise) don’t belong behind a nurse’s desk.  Male-identified students can use male-aligned restrooms and request feminine hygiene receptacles in the stalls without ridicule.  Women who identify as lesbians have legal protection to play hockey with other women.  Straight men can be presidents of ballet clubs.  The schoolhouse doors must remain unlocked for everyone, regardless of stereotypes and social judgments.

Yet people can do worse things than laugh at each other or take an extra percentage point off their test scores.  While campuses must stay open, they must also stay free of negative influence: “Under Title IX, discrimination on the basis of sex can include sexual harassment or sexual violence, such as rape, sexual assault, sexual battery, and sexual coercion.”  The potential threat of being hurt, hindered, demeaned or objectified can keep students out of the classroom or clubhouse as readily as a locked door.  As of 2011, there had been almost 4,000 reports of sexual battery and more than 800 reports of attempted and actual rape in American public high schools.  Approximately 20 percent of college women (and nearly six percent of college men) will be sexually assaulted or the victims of attempted assault.  Many such incidents are never reported, and survivors’ voices often go unheard.  Title IX requires all schools to draft a clear policy against sex discrimination and publicize it broadly and continually.  It is a crucial fortification in the fight to keep our schools safe as well as accessible.

The OCR stretches across 12 offices throughout the nation and has a headquarters in Washington, D.C. to ensure this equity in federally funded programs.  Representatives came to the University of Idaho in February and held several conversational sessions with various student groups to review UI’s Title IX compliance, specifically regarding sexual misconduct issues.  While direct OCR support is helpful, all schools are required to appoint and provide contact information for an officer who will monitor and facilitate Title IX compliance, complaints and related issues.  Title IX Coordinator Dr. Carmen Suarez, alongside four deputy coordinators, works to cultivate and enforce an equitable environment at UI.

Like any policy, Title IX retains exceptions.  The law must respect religious organizations’ rights to abide by their own tenets; undergraduate institutions that have had a policy from their inception to accept only people of one sex aren’t forced to mix their memberships; student-populated sororities and fraternities, boys’ and girls’ youth service groups like the Scouts or YMCA, and student training programs for military service can also retain their sex-based policies of membership.  There are a few others, all similarly reasonable.

With such clearly delineated guidelines, sex-based discrimination can be easily identified and prosecuted.  And educational institutions have certainly gained some ground in this area.  Last year, the National Center for Education Statistics reported that the percentages of men and women aged 25-29 who’d attained bachelor’s degrees by 1990 weren’t notably different; but the percentage of women had risen seven points above that for men by 2012.  Further, there was a three percent rise in women’s favor for master’s degree attainment from 1995 to 2012.  The National Collegiate Athletic Association reported a 14 percent, 21 percent and 14 percent upswing in the number of female athletes in Divisions I, II and III, respectively, between 2004 and 2010.

Last week, UI celebrated 40 years since the signing of the Conciliation Agreement.  The document was signed in 1974 by UI President Ernest Hartung and nine members of a group appointed to investigate gender discrimination and other issues in the school.  The agreement called for an affirmative action plan, back pay for employees who had experienced salary discrimination, equal starting salaries for all employees, and job analysis implementation.  It affected positive changes for inclusivity in employment and student recruitment across several school offices and services.

Amid this progress, one of the only problems with Title IX concerns the practical outworking of the document’s provisions.  Not every school employs a Title IX coordinator, despite the legal requirement.  Many people don’t realize the protection Title IX affords them, or even that the title exists.

There are a lot of online resources people can use to educate themselves about Title IX.  Contact Dr. Suarez and her team at UI, or get in touch with your school’s coordinator.  Inform your school if you discover you don’t have one.  Request a list of coordinators in your state.  Get to know your rights, so you can better get on with your education.  Let’s celebrate many more years of equitable treatment in schools together.