An evolutionary psychology study that gained much media attention in May 2017 claims to show women’s sexual attraction to other women is the outcome of evolution, specifically for the pleasure of heterosexual men. The study was reported widely as ‘homosexual women evolved for men’s pleasure.’ Journalists have not read the study nor linked to it. The study is published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences. The study is led by Associate Professor Menelaos Apostolou. The team is based at the University of Nicosia, with apparently only one woman co-author.
Here, I show why the study is flawed and why the conclusions are premised on dangerous heterosexism. Heterosexism is the prejudiced belief that heterosexuality is ‘natural’ and ‘normal,’ and that heterosexuality uniformly structures all aspects of social life. Heterosexism also presumes that gender is a binary (there are only two groups, men or women), and excludes the lived experiences of transgender people. Heterosexism brings to light the social construction of sexuality, and in this case, the values and social dynamics that impact on what is taken-for-granted about heterosexuality.
I focus my discussion on cisgender heterosexual and homosexual people as the authors of the study have presumed men and women can either be homosexual or heterosexual, to the exclusion of other gender and sexual identities. They have done this without explicitly saying so (it is a facet of heterosexism to reinforce binaries, because variations of sexuality disrupt the idea that heterosexuality is natural and normal). Experiences for transgender lesbians would vary, however, the authors presume a gender binary in thinking about lesbian desire.
With these cautions in mind, let’s dive into the study.
We have to deal with rubbish evo psych study described here: "homosexual women evolved for men's pleasure." NO. https://t.co/UPqm6WF0lu
Penelope Cruz is absolutely wonderful in Ma Ma, the biggest feature at the Spanish Film Festival in Canberra. Cruz plays Magda, a single mother who decides to leave her cheating husband, a professor of Philosophy who is sleeping with his students (!). This decision coincides with her learning that she has breast cancer.
On the same day of her marital independence, she meets and forms a friendship with
(Luis Tosar), an ailing husband who, also on this fateful day, learns his wife and child have been in an accident.
This film begins by exploring grief and human connection through loss, but soon proves itself a film about life and how to be happy in brief,
The film is a beautiful celebration of motherhood; the film ends with a dedication: “to all the women.”
There is more to like about this movie: it’s depiction of friendship especially as well as its wrestling with faith and atheism. It is a lovely statement on the diversity of families and ultimately has an affirming message about gay fatherhood. While there are many cliches along the way about living life to the fullest, there is great joy in seeing a woman-centred story where the journey is driven by her own desires.
Score: Distinction (7.5/10).
Representation of intersectionality
Gender: The central story makes some (limited) feminist statements, with a strong, self-assured woman protagonist. That being said, she is played by a extraordinarily beautiful able-bodied, cisgender woman from a majority ethnic group.
Disability: Magda’s illness is a life affirming statement for the audience. She is lovable because she is beautiful through her pain. Many scenes play out while she receives chemotherapy, but as with many of the “cancer trope” stories, her suffering is only permissible because she remains buoyant, even as she accepts the probability of her death.
A scene where Magda lives out a fantasy of a threesome with two men reinforces her independence and is a positive statement on her heterosexuality. She enjoys the sex and feels validated. It is a triumph to see a woman enjoy unconventional sex on her own terms.
There is a mixed message in having Magda embrace her body after a mastectomy. Women are rarely portrayed in mainstream movies naked in this manner; however, Cruz is able-bodied and supernaturally gorgeous. The threesome is a pivotal moment in her body positivity. Would the audience be so invited to identify with the body of a woman who is actually a cancer survivor or who is disabled? Given that women sometimes feel pressured to have reconstructive surgery after a mastectomy, even by medical professionals, the choice to cast an able-bodied woman in such a role undermines the affirming message.
Race, culture and class: There are no ethnic or racial minorities in the film, despite Spain’s multiculturalism and complex national history. Everyone is wealthy and so illness and disability are disconnected from the class and racial divides that actually impact on health and healing. Magda has excellent medical attention and so her pain plays out in large, sterile and beautiful rooms. We know she is dying, but she has a choice about how this plays out.
Sexuality: A bisexual doctor, Julián (Asier Etxeandia), is conventionally attractive but he is also a professional and compassionate. He is a great character on many levels, being confident and open about his sexuality with those he trusts, as well as having high emotional intelligence. At the same time, he is portrayed as promiscuous, which is a tired stereotype of bisexual people. He is unhappily married to a woman and ultimately settles down with a man.
Arturo struggles with his homosexuality, having first devoted himself to a heterosexual marriage and then entering into a sexless romantic relationship with Magda. He is an honest and kind man, but ultimately the story plays out in a way in which others dictate his sexuality to him. He is even given permission to become a gay man as a final act of kindness by Magda.
It is notable that in a film with a bisexual man and a gay man, the only sex they have is spoken about in the context of past group sex. So, as with many mainstream movies, male homosexuality and bisexuality is only accommodated in a sexless manner. They are, in this way, not fully realised characters. Their sexualities are permissible insofar as they do not confront or discomfort the audience.
All three characters were trapped in unhappy heterosexual marriages; in finding one another, they achieve happiness. This message is a good one and if read through a subversive lens, heterosexual marriage is ultimately being challenged. This message that would have had even stronger impact if the two male characters did not embody other stereotypes.
As anyone who is invested intersectionality understands, mainstream movies have good and bad points. This film is worth watching for the strong performances. It is aiming to be more complex than most other films in its portrayal of sexuality and illness, but it falls short upon critical reflection.
In spite of its flaws, this is a good film experience for people wishing to see more diverse families on the big screen. The ultimate message is that families are made through many configurations. Embracing the love of two men at its core makes this film a progressive love story, despite its shortcomings.
In his classic sociological study of marriage, Ken Dempsey shows the level of work required to negotiate power and inequality within heterosexual relationships. While both men and women noted that marriage has some specific advantages for men and women, overall, the participants noted that men’s power was more overt when it came to doing unpaid work, personal autonomy, and how they managed their leisure time outside the home.
Though men and women said they supported equality, when it came to doing housework and bargaining day-to-day work in the family, men were less willing to compromise. Women were at least twice as likely as men to say their spouse offered inadequate emotional support, including less communication, not spending enough time together, being preoccupied with work and outside interests, and lacking initiative in organising joint activities.
Dempsey argued that while much of feminist efforts focused on changing women’s consciousness, the modern challenge was not convincing men and women about equality. Generally, in Western contexts, men and women will support this ideal in principle. The challenge for men was to develop a “moral commitment” to putting equality into action, especially in emotional and domestic labour.
[Photo: close up of bride and groom holding hands with quote: "Even if a wife can get a husband to the negotiating table, achieving change in key facets of marital relationships will often prove very difﬁcult. Both partners have important resources that can deliver power but, up to this point in time, males are far more advantaged than females structurally and ideologically.“ – Ken Dempsey.]
Photo: John Morton via Flickr adapted by The Other Sociologist.
When I visited the Stedelijk Museum I spent around three hours at the The Oasis of Matisse exhibition, an excellent and comprehensive retrospective on his evolution as an artist. The focus on his relationship to colour and the move from Fauvism to his cut outs was very interesting. There was also a running theme of how he was influenced by other artists from Impressionism (including Monet and Van Gogh) and Cubism (Picasso, featured here back left).
The sociologist of course sees something more: how these artists collaborated to achieve the idealism of women’s bodies. Matisse, like his contemporaries and artists before them, drew nudes to express sexual freedom, which of course is defined through White, Western heterosexual male desire. When their art is displayed side by side here, all of these famous men were converging in the way they thought about and represented women’s bodies. They developed a singular way of defining beauty: generous curves and smooth lines.
Storify is closing and over the coming weeks, I will be migrating my posts to my blog. This is an archive of my article first published on Storify on 24 September 2014.
In September 2014, the United Nations, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, and The Rockefeller Foundation published a study on the representation of cisgender people on film. Here I report on the major findings and include some of my related social media posts.
The study conducted by Dr Stacy Smith, Marc Choueiti and Dr Katherine Pieper included 120 globally released movies in 11 major film regions: Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea, United States, and the United Kingdom. The study included almost 5,800 speaking or named characters. The researchers find that, globally, only 31% of speaking roles in films are given to women and less than a quarter of films are centred on a woman protagonist (23%).
The study finds that girls and women are slightly better represented in the UK (38% of speaking roles), Brazil (37%) and Korea (36%). Women and girls’ representation in Germany (35%) and China (35%) is relatively worse, but gender inequality is even more entrenched in India (25%) and the USA and U.K. (24%). This is especially alarming since Hollywood is the biggest exporter of films globally and they are clearly leading in the wrong direction.
Only 28 films in the sample (23%) feature a woman or girl in the lead role or otherwise sharing the story with another main character. The study also considers the gender balance of film casts (where 45 to 55% of characters are women or girls). Only 12 films met this criteria (10%). When women characters are featured in the main storyline, they appear in highly femininised genres. For example: women feature in 33% of comedy roles; 34% of dramas; and 29% of animated movies, but they make up only made up 23% of characters in action/adventure films.
The study included 1,452 film makers and people working in key roles behind the scenes. Women make up only 7% of directors, less than 20% of writers, and 23% of producers. The UK (27%) and China (17%) are comparably better, while France, Japan, Korea, Russia, and the USA are below the industry average of 7%.
Around 60% of younger characters (children and teenagers) are boys while 40% are girls. While 34% of men are cast as characters aged 40 to 64 years of age, only 19% of women are depicted as middle aged characters. The researchers find this is especially problematic given that the younger women who do appear in films are highly sexualised.
Women are more than twice as likely to wear sexually revealing clothing (25% of women vs 9% of men). Women are more likely to be thin (38.5%) in comparison to men (16%). Women are also more likely to be partially or fully naked (24% women vs 11.5% of men). Women characters are also five times more likely to have their looks commented upon by others (13% vs less than 3%). Younger women are more likely to wear revealing clothing, but women across the ages of 13 to 39 years are equally likely to be sexualised.
Twerking, just like everything else that is specifically known to Black women is the latest thing for Whites to try to appropriate while simultaneously trying to police and shame its originators for doing it at all. Whites (and some Blacks as well) are approaching it with the typical White supremacist approach of overly applauding and worshiping whomever is the latest popular spoiled irritant of a White human being to try to do it, which in this case would be Miley Cyrus. Unlike when something Black men, or both Black men and Black women created/do is appropriated, where some Black men are bothered by the appropriation (i.e. The Harlem Shake), once it’s specific to Black women, some Black men no longer care and applaud and worship any and all non-Black (and especially White) women engaged in the appropriation. The latter is also a facet of White supremacy (and male privilege).
While the sheer act of someone who isn’t Black woman twerking doesn’t bother me theoretically, I don’t like its practical manifestation in a White supremacist society. The typical worship (by EVERYONE, even including some Black women) of anyone who isn’t a Black woman doing it, the mocking of Black women’s distress about it and indulging in entitlement and arrogance about the appropriation is the problem. It’s never just people “having fun.” Their “fun” always comes at a huge price for Black women (and Black culture)—reinforcing race and gender hierarchies.
The oppressor consciousness tends to transform everything surrounding it into an object of its domination. The earth, property, production, the creations of people, people themselves, time—everything is reduced to the status of objects at its disposal.
Once the conversation is about Black women and twerking, the bigotry comes out in full force. I do not accept this bigotry.
No, I do not accept the sexism—the belief that something of interest to women irrespective of male attention or valuation/devaluation is automatically stupid and not worth doing or discussing.
No, I do not accept the misogyny—the notion that twerking can only be self-degrading since it cannot exist for any purpose outside of the dehumanizing gaze of men who choose to only see women as sexual objects, not full human beings engaging in a creative dance with a long Black history.
No, I do not accept the misogynoir—the notion that Black women twerking is “lewd” and “degrading” but White women doing (or trying to do) the exact same dance is “cute” and “classy” and that they should cash in, in attention, praise or actual money (i.e. teaching classes) on twerking while pretending that they do not know the racial double standard here. White privilege is why they can both appropriate and feign ignorance over the magnitude of what this appropriation is. White privilege is why they can continue to dehumanize Black women (while some simultaneously demand loyalty to a White supremacist feminist agenda, versus the intersectional feminism/womanism that we know) by pretending that we are solely objects to emulate—costumes to put on out of interest and then take off if situations get too sticky or portraying a certain form of Whiteness becomes more important or profitable. (See: Justin Timberlake, the male version of this).
No, I do not accept the misogynoir and predictable hypocrisy by Black men—the same ones who were angry about Whites appropriating The Harlem Shake (since Black men do this dance too) but write Black women off as “jealous” for commenting on the double standard regarding twerking (since Black men view this as a dance for women). Male privilege. The same ones who only have an issue with Whites when it is perceived to specifically impact Black men or all Black people, versus solely Black women, are the type of Black men that I’m speaking of. The same ones who endlessly excuse racism from famous White women (but never from a White man of any status) simply because they chase and sleep with non-famous White women are the type of Black men that I’m speaking of.
No, I do not accept the racist sexist classism—the idea that only “poor” and “ghetto” Black women dance this way, thus making it a “shameful” dance unless absolutely anyone of a different social status does it.
No, I do not accept the ageist sexism—the idea that only women of a certain age should dance this way and anyone arbitrarily too young is being a “whore” and anyone arbitrarily too old is being “immature.”
No, I do not accept the framing through the politics of respectability—the idea that this “shames” Black women in front of White people, and nothing matters more than the White gaze (which is racist because of WHO we are, not WHAT we do or do not do, anyway) and the pathway to White approval, which never comes nor should be a goal in the first place.
No, I do not accept the Christian theist idea, shaped by patriarchy, sexism and misogynoir—that somehow twerking—a dance with African roots no less—is somehow “evil” and thus wrong, when it is in fact White supremacist religious views, originally force-fed, now willingly embraced, that shapes Black intraracial opinions on dancing and writes off anything with Black roots, especially precolonial roots as “evil.”
No, I do not accept the White supremacist feminist rhetoric—that autonomy over one’s person, expression and sexuality as a woman, should only apply to White women, and in the case of Black women, doing the same thing is “unfeminist” (not a real concept in the first place as it implies feminist absolutism as a destination, not the journey and praxis that it is) or anti-feminist (which would only be true if feminism is solely gendered White supremacy). I reject the idea that Black women should exist solely as objects for White women to emulate or disdain while simultaneously shaming, to mask their White supremacist thought and endless White privilege, especially considering the history of Black bodies as objects of White power, profit and pleasure.
A part of Alice Walker’s definition of womanism includes “loves dance” because of the very freedom that comes with creative and cultural expression with meaning and history, that’s also fun and includes the confidence that comes with physical, sexual and emotional autonomy.
How rare is it for twerking to be discussed…or actually anything involving what Black women do, think, say, write, create, believe or are…without bigotry, and sloppy, one-dimensional bigoted ideas as the basis of the discussion or the “critique?”
For Miley, appropriation is “fun” and games; Black women are costumes or “big booty hos” to her, not human beings. For Whites and Blacks/other people of colour, it can be viewed this way too, without context and disregarding the truth because of White supremacy; it allows such ignorance. I don’t have the luxury of disregarding the truth since I, as a Black woman, am the target of such bigotry. And, it will never be acceptable.
1) Bromances are based on mocking and rejecting queerness — The entire joke about the SethRogen-JamesFranco bromances of the world is that they’re parodies of queerness. Literally, the humor is about making queerness the butt of the joke (so to speak). It’s funny when straight dudebros enact any kind of queer attraction entirely because it’s something they wouldn’t actually do in any serious way. Queerness is the joke because who would actually want to be queer right?
2) Bromances are used to queerbait. Queerbaiting is when people (like writers of TV shows) throw in an undercurrent of queerness or use homoerotic tension for the sole purpose of keeping queer viewers interested. For example, on a lot of TV shows, bromances can be both a running joke (see #1 above) and also a constant hope. Queer viewers, who are so used to not having any kind of central representation in stories, are baited with bromances in order to keep them hopeful that the characters could be queer, but the result is that they never are because queerness is bad for capitalism. Queerbaiting is cruel and is a huge problem.
3) Bromances enforce white supremacy. Bro-ness seems to exist in a constant space of parodying and mocking otherness. Not only is queerness mocked and then passed off as humor; bromances are frequently about safeguarding whiteness by mocking people of color. Going back to Seth Rogen and James Franco again, time after time the humor of their on-screen bromances comes from racist jokes. From Pineapple Express (don’t even get me started) to the recent parody of Kanye’s Bound 2 video, Rogen and Franco’s bromance humor is literally predicated on either mocking race, or disregarding it and appropriating it for the white cis male gaze (think about how none of Kanye’s messages about racism in Yeezus seem to make it into Rogen and Franco’s parody video, or how Franco’s uncool white rapper trope appropriates blackness in order to make it the butt of the joke).
4) Bromances enforce cis male dominance. Okay this one isn’t that hard to see. Bromances are literally predicated on worshipping traditional masculinity: muscles, boys clubs, getting girls, etc. In fact, ladies are baited with bromances a little like queers: bromances are used to show ladies that dudebros have feelings and can be tender and care about friendship and loyalty, while also showing how they’re strong and masculine — all in order to get the girl. Where ladies are concerned, bromances literally act to shore up patriarchy.
5) Bromances are about asserting privilege. Finally, as kind of a summation of some above points, bromances are all about straight white cis dudes injecting their (irrelevant) opinions about queerness and race into mainstream discourse. Bromances literally have the privilege of being more talked about in magazines and interviews than queer issues do. Bromances allow dudebros to literally prioritize their own viewpoints about oppressed groups and pass them off as comedy or satire.
In conclusion, bromances are literally built on racism and homophobia by mocking othered identities for humor.
EDIT: wow I didn’t even go into “no homo” here it could practically have its own post
I never thought about it like this…
Wow this is really interesting, making me reassess myself right now..