Saturday, April 5, 2008

The Social Construction of Sexuality

Wikipedia's Portrayal of Popular Girls

Rey from The New York Times article "When Girls Will Be Boys"

Thomas the First Pregnant Man

"Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex" by Judith Levine

"Flirting 101" from Cosmo Girl!

I chose these five pictures as representations of how the social construction of sexuality is presented in the media. This week I chose all artifacts from online sources yet I am certain that there are many similar examples right in our faces everyday even when we aren’t in front of the computer.

The first and last artifacts (Wikipedia and Cosmo Girl!) grabbed my attention after reading “Mass Media Influences on Sexuality” by Jane D. Brown. The article touched on many important issues including how the mass media is a huge influence on today’s youth and could be used to teach valuable lessons or positive habits but in reality typically teaches risky behaviors and bad habits. Brown explains that the Cognitive Social Learning Theory predicts that people imitate the behaviors of others such as in the Wikipedia article about how to become a popular girl. Girls are exposed to these “How to” guides and this is the behavior that they begin to imitate in order to seem popular, normal, or whatever the goal and photo show. In the Cosmo Girl! flirting guide girls can imitate what they read is the normal procedure for girls their age. Articles such as this assume that all teens are heterosexual and do not give flirting tips for bisexual or homosexual teens or even raise the important issue that many teens are still unsure of their sexual orientation and that that is what is normal. The reader is forced to imitate the actions of all the “normal” heterosexual teens by following the flirting how to guide.

The fourth artifact is the cover to the book “Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex” by Judith Levine. From what I could tell through my research this book speaks about what can happen to children that are shielded from sex and why they should be free to learn and express sex throughout their lives. The description of this book reminded me of the article “The Social Construction of Sexuality” by Ruth Hubbard. Hubbard explains how children should be encouraged to express themselves sexually by encouraging them to explore their own bodies and those bodies of their friends of both genders. She suggests that by doing so then these children will grow to have a better understanding of their own desires, the desires of others, and a better chance at having open communication about sex and contraception with their sexual partners which in turn will hopefully lead to safer sex. Hubbard explains that in the Unites States we typically try to shield our children from sex in hopes that they won’t have it without acknowledging that they are having sex at young ages and aren’t knowledgeable about consequences and/or sexual exploration and desires. Children in the Unites States are supposedly shielded from sex which in reality they are learning about sex through the media when they should be learning about sex from day one from a trusting person and the freedom to explore it on their own terms.

Media artifacts two and three (Rey and Thomas) are artifacts that I thought also related to the article “The Social Construction of Sexuality” by Ruth Hubbard and also the article “Prurient Interests: Sexuality, Ideology, and Popular Communication” by Jane Banks. Rey was the subject of The New York Times article “When Girls Will Be Boys” and Thomas was the subject of a recent Oprah interview. Both Rey and Thomas were born as females but lived their lives feeling like the opposite gender. It wasn’t until later in life that they both came to terms with their true self and realized that they were transgendered and began treatments to correct the issue. Rey’s story focused on the fact that he is attending an Ivy League all girls’ college and was admitted when he was still female and now has undergone hormone treatments to become male. Thomas’ story focused on the fact that he was once a female and has undergone a sex change all except for his female reproductive organs which is how he has become the first man to become pregnant and soon to give birth. The two examples are related to Hubbard’s article in that they were not free to explore their sexuality when they were young which has caused them to live confused lives without knowledge of their own sexual desires or a firm grasp on their gender identity. The two lived as they were taught was “normal” for their gender without the freedom to explore who they really were. The two examples are related to Banks article in how they are portrayed in the media. Banks explains how the media deals with homosexual or transgendered couples versus heterosexual couple’s very differently. In these two cases it is as if Rey and Thomas are on display for everyone to see how “un-normal” they are compared to all of the “normal” heterosexual non-transgendered people we see everyday in the media. Rey and Thomas are definitely not the typical Hollywood glamour types that the media loves to parade around but instead they are another type that the media loves to parade around to show how “different” they are from what has been established as the norm.

All five of these are prime example of how the social construction of sexuality of presented in the media and again, I am confident that we are exposed to artifacts such as these everyday without even having to look for them.

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