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Manufacturing Female Anxiety

mirror+mirror+on+the+wallI am 22 years old. I weight 52 kilograms. My height is 164cm (I’d like to think of myself as “petite”, although I’m perhaps too tall for it). I do think of myself as attractive. The size of my breasts is not ideal, but I’ve long ago come to terms with it. Of course, every once in a while I think of myself of a bit “chubby”, but I have never went out of my way to pursue thinness… The one major thing I have always disliked about myself is the gap between my front teeth. This is why my teeth never show up on photographs. I never managed to get myself braces and I’m probably too old for it now. Yet, as my mom happily noted: “There are many gap toothed models these days…” This should put my discomfort to rest.

Don’t let this confession give you a wrong impression: I like my body. Yet, every time I walk nearby a surface I see my reflection in, this inevitably produces a reaction and not a neutral one. No matter how well-looking I perceive myself to be, I still want to be a tiny bit better: “Goodbye, cellulite: Hello, perfection!”, as advertisements tell us. Thinking about my own experience as an “embodied Self” and as a woman, I am suddenly forced to ask: “How come anxiety regarding body image has become so naturalized, it does not even present itself as an issue? Where does it stem from?” In trying to answer these questions, I will look at a variety of contemporary feminist texts identifying the processes through which female body image anxiety is “manufactured”. Continue reading

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Desire and Pleasure of the (Un)Sexed Body

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The “sexing” of bodies is inevitably a social process whereby certain bodies are categorized as pertaining to men, while others- to women. The “in-between” remains invisible, concealed by the widely-accepted notion that there are only two “regular” ways of existing:  either being male, or female. Within this context, social power dictates not only the assignment to sex, but also an accompanying gender and with that a whole series of roles, expectations, preferences and life choices one is pressured to adopt in order to “fit”. While concepts such as “desire” and “pleasure” and their resulting behaviors and actions may rather be seen as a concern of  the individual’s “psychology”, social power circulating around both the sexed body and its sexually unclear counterpart dictates the characteristics of desire and pleasure and their respective perception as either “deviant” or “normal”. Within this paper I will explore how the subject of pleasure and desire is construed historically in relation to sex and gender. Simultaneously, I will focus on the ideas and narratives pertaining to sexual “appetite” and “enjoyment” situating them in the sociohistorical context that made them possible. Continue reading

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A Bulgarian “Guyland”

This is an academic research paper written for my class “Sociology of Gender” at Middlebury College. If you have any feedback, please, use the comments section under the article! Happy reading! M.

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From a sociological perspective masculinity is everything but “innate” and “ahistorical”. The definition of “manhood” is socially constructed by culture. In the words of sociologist Michael Kimmel, masculinity is “a constantly changing collection of meanings that we construct through our relationships with ourselves, with each other, and with the world” (Kimmel, 2000, p. 58). “Hegemonic masculinity” characterizes normative masculinity in opposition to sexual and racial minorities and particularly- women (Kimmel, 2000, p. 58). Its construction and enactment are grounded in the patriarchal social order and its resulting mechanisms, ideology and self-perpetuating tools. The acquisition of power, seen as a natural consequence of being perceived as “properly male”, together with the fear of being judged as “insufficiently masculine” and suffering stigma and ridicule, at best, and physical violence and life threat, at worst, prompt male-identifying individuals to constantly seek homosocial approval, attempt to behave in alignment with hegemonic masculinity and continuously reject and differentiate themselves from femininity.

In “Guyland: The Perilous world where boys become men” Michael Kimmel outlines his theory for “guyland” as a stage of life in between childhood and adulthood when “the struggle to prove manhood becomes even more intense, in part because it’s no longer as easy to differentiate between men and women as it was in the past” (Kimmel, 2008, p. 42). Inspired by Kimmel’s book and detailed (even if exaggerated and border-line extreme) depiction of college-aged American males’ problematic relationships with masculinity, I decided to conduct a survey to collect and analyze data about young men’s perceptions of masculinity in my home-country, Bulgaria. Continue reading

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Little Daily Insight: you WILL get hurt

The simple truth is that If you are a closed-off, fearful, unapproachable, reserved person, you will get hurt a few times in life. And even if you are the most open, brave, honest and loving person, you will still get hurt a few times in Life. So, as it seems, the fact that you’ll get hurt a number of times in your life is a given. But you can still choose what kind of a person to be.

This is something Stephen Kiernan told me recently that really stayed with me and that I turn to in moments of pain. I believe it has a soothing power.
I think it brings a great relief to just accept that getting hurt is a part of the game. It is not by default a punishment. You may get hurt and not have wronged in any way (think “collateral damage” or politics, being at the wrong place at the wrong time).
I’m now working on erasing the thought process that claims “I am a good person, so this shouldn’t be happening to me”. I am who I am because it’s impossible for me not to.

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Marxism in the Bedroom

More than a century ago, Oscar Wilde stated what may seem an eternal truth. “Everything is about sex except for sex. Sex is about power,” he wrote. But what power could this be? As Marx posits, “The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas” and “the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it” (Marx, 1845). A society ruled by capitalists will not only have its economic system shaped by capitalism. As a self-reproducing whole, capitalism becomes more than a tool for market organization— it spreads as a mindset and becomes an invisible guiding force in every aspect of the societal life, including the most intimate. Applying Marxist concepts such as commodification, the market economy and alienation, one can see how capitalist ideology profoundly influences our sexual practices, preferences and choices.

Continue reading

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The Reign of Monogamy

This is a sociology paper for my Society and the Individual Class taught by the great Jamie MacCallum:)

Durkheim and the reign of monogamy

I started practicing polyamory[1] three years ago in an attempt to free myself of the unbearable attachment, dependency and conditionality that came with monogamous relationships. Needy, shattered and incapable to fulfill my deep need for love and intimacy with others, I longed for change. I first heard about the tempting concept of “love without attachment” at a meditation retreat in Thailand. Soon after starting to open myself to the possibility that relationships may be built on mutual respect, love and appreciation instead of fear of losing the other, desire to dominate or fit social expectations, I was ready to embrace polyamory. The freedom and happiness it brought me inspired me to celebrate it, share it, spread it. I knew it was meant to be challenging, because of the normalcy associated with monogamy in society, yet I thought the status-quo was reversible and people only needed to learn about polyamory to at least give it a try, if not adopt it.

It didn’t take long to figure I was wrong. While I remain optimistic for the sake of not losing my energy as an agent of change in society, I now see the invisible strings that control it. “The practice of having a single sexual partner during a period of time”[2], or otherwise monogamy, fits Emile Durkheim’s concept for a social fact, introduced in The Rules of Sociological Method. Social facts are ways of thinking, acting or being which are normalized, generalized throughout society, constraining and external to the individuals who perform them. Continue reading

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Choose Love over Fear

Today and every day, choose love over fear until it becomes your habit. Wayne Dyerdownload

Today I reminded myself of the time I was freer when I could Love without fear and find strength in vulnerability. In the past months I had grown fearful of hurting others and being hurt which naturally limited my ability to give my love without holding back and looking for reciprocity. It stopped me from being direct and honest to the degree I wanted to. (But if we are, indeed, destined to live our own separate realities, isn’t the only way to bridge the inherent gap between each other precisely direct, honest communication?!)
Ironically, I had put myself and others through a lot of pain simply by trying not to cause pain.
Back then when I lived life to its fullest intensity, I accepted pain as a normal part on the path of learning.
I have been hurt and I have, certainly, hurt others. But may be we shouldn’t villainize pain and strive to escape it.
One thing I had embraced before and forgotten recently is that pain and being hurt is a catalyst of change and transformation.
Being afraid of hurting others or being hurt petrifies us and leaves little space for the good stuff in life- like Love and Empathy. If we accept the possibility of occasionally getting hurt or hurting others (without it being intentional, of course!) as an inevitable part of life that we can nevertheless celebrate, we may find that in the end fear isn’t really worth it and that guardedness is much more dangerous than vulnerability.