Directed by French filmmaker Anne Fontaine, Nathalie (2003) is a film in which the usual romantic onscreen triangle husband/wife/lover is entirely destabilized, demoralized, debased and de-constructed. While bringing to the foreground issues of gender, love, desire and sexual identities, and their framing within western societies, this film occupies a cinematic space filled with the idea of fluidity and interchangeability of identity. In Nathalie, as gender and sexual differences are transgressed, identities based on conventional divisions in dominant societies are completely subverted. The structural and symbolic role of women as objects of male desire is purposely challenged and undermined, while the male, as both the viewer of the woman-spectacle and as the controller of action, is totally displaced. The male protagonist, Bernard, is in fact eventually effaced by director Anne Fontaine. By this I mean that Bernard’s role becomes meaningless by the end of the film, and that he is relegated to the position of a silent character. His image is then only perceived through the perspective that surfaces the dialogues between Catherine and Marlène/Nathalie, the two female protagonists. Part of Fontaine’s agenda is, in addition, to disrupt that cinematic male dominance further by positioning her female protagonist, Catherine, within a diegetic “male zone”. Catherine takes up her husband’s place as she tries to locate the kind of woman who can fulfil his desire; in so doing she also gains access to a space that is solely reserved for men. Hence, the encounter between the two women is marked by an ambiguous and destabilizing crossing of boundaries that liberates desire from the usual pre-existing cultural restrictions and from the limiting parameters of engendering processes that have systematically characterized mainstream cinema across the ages.
Far from being a modern invention, love and all its forms, such as marital bliss, was a driving force in antiquity. The literature of ancient Greece and Rome runs rife with diverse examples including pious, spiritual love as seen in the writings of Plato and Aristotle to the romantic and sentimental feelings in the works of Sappho and Sextus Propertius to the most ribald and raunchy expressions in Catullus’s poems. Despite all the surviving literature, the ancient visual record does not correspond with the same breadth. Most often, images of married couples are limited in classical antiquity. Typically, couples show restraint and little emotion towards each other. Moreover, men usually dominate the images, and women seem secondary. The same cannot be said for the Etruscans. Ancient Etruria is noted for its unorthodox perspective on gender and marital relationships. Etruscan beliefs concerning women and marriage conflicted with contemporary hegemonic paradigms, and this attitude is represented frequently in their art. Unlike the Greeks and Romans, Etruscan literature does not survive, leaving us without their perspective on love. However, engraved bronze mirrors, tomb paintings, and sarcophagi, which are the basis for this analysis, provide ample support for its appeal in Etruria. While one must be careful of not interpreting Etruscan art too literally, the visual representations of love between husbands and wives are significant. Whether truthful or idealized, the sheer number of these images indicates that the Etruscans valued the relationship of the wedded couple. I posit that the import of the marital bond inspired explicit representations of romance and intimacy in Etruscan art. The Etruscans realized that love, affection, and adoration were instrumental to happy, long-lasting marriages, where both husbands and wives were considered equally important members of the union. Consequently, these contented unions translated into the survival of family and Etruria.
Through an analysis of how Israelite and early Jewish texts have promoted five gender norms to secure cultural survival, this chapter argues that gender deviation is tolerated if deviation contributes to preventing loss of land and the weakening of cultural boundaries. In the transition from Israelite religionto early Judaism, these texts exhibit recognition and to some extent, a growing tolerance and accommodation of complex gender identities, because early Judaism turns to an axial emphasis on asceticism, the importance of the soul, and dualistic ideals. What this history does not reveal is any sign of culture pushing aside its categories, norms, and boundaries in situations where cultural survival or salvation is being threatened. Based on these insights from Jewish history, this chapter criticises the encouragement of Judith Butler in Precarious Life to admit to the face of deviant others, especially of those who seem to pose a threat, as a strategy to reduce violence and make the distribution of intelligibility, vulnerability, and “mournability” more even – not because I do not share Butler’s objectives of reducing violence against deviant others, but because the strategy runs counter to basic human defence mechanisms. Instead, I suggest future investments in processes of gathering knowledge about complex identities, about how they have contributed in the course of history to the success and survival of culture. If deviant others participate, as the early Butler stressed in Gender Trouble, in repetitive acts and rituals, participation itself signals a loyalty to the culture, which becomes the key to expanding its very norms, including gender norms. Thus, following Foucault, the earlier Butler and insights from cultural evolutionary theory, I hope that gathering such knowledge will ultimately lead to recognition, and possibly also to accommodation of complex and deviant identities (of course, this is only possible when complexity is seen as a cultural asset).
The aim of this chapter is to explore the inconsistency that lies between the heterosexual matrix of patriarchal society and the overt incompatibility of play norms among boys and girls. Through a narrative analysis of popular media for children (the Disney and Marvel magazines), the chapter seeks to discover whether the popular stories for girls and for boys construct two separate sets of stereotypical gender identities; it targets narratives of love and how they position the opposite sex. A narrative analysis of semi-structured interviews conducted with 28 children (aged between 4–8, resident in Istanbul, middle-class Turkish nationals) examines how these representations of femininity, masculinity and love affect gender construction among little girls and boys. In doing so, I argue that children construct their identities in a narrative form; the stories they adopt from popular culture create an infrastructure of emotion and communication and the way they present their stories becomes their reality. The basis of narrative identity is power and both sexes have more agency and power in their own genres. This affects their relationships with the opposite sex and leads to a segregated social life. The study aims to answer the questions: How can we explain the inconsistency between the gendered narratives, incompatible play norms and segregated social life of boys and of girls? And what are the societal consequences of this inconsistency? The results challenge existing scholarship on gender because the incompatible narrative identity constructions of boys and girls contradict the standard objective of cultural discourse: to secure reproduction.
Love is often considered a positive emotion and an ethical relationship between people. The representations of love in contemporary culture usually emphasise its beneficial, even empowering effects. However, the fluidity of the concept also enables other kinds of representations of love to flourish. For example, the advocates of traditional gender order – masculinists or male rights activists (mras) – use idealistic images of heterosexual love, often intertwined with the idealised heterosexual nuclear family, to promote repressive ideologies such as misogyny and antifeminism. This is increasingly done with the help of internet sites. In this chapter I wish to show that the fluidity of the concept of love enables various strategic uses of the ideal of love. I deconstruct love as a utopian force by critically analysing its strategic usages on the internet. Inspired by multidisciplinary cultural studies and feminist studies, I apply rhetorical analysis in close reading of discourses about love on a male activist site. My hypothesis is that love is used as a repressive, heteronormative ideology in an attempt to re-position women and men within the traditional, rigid gender order. In my reading of the Angry Harry website, which is explicitly linked with the international male activist and antifeminist movement, I wish to show that although performing gender is at the very core of the site, it always intersects with other hierarchical differences. In addition to that, I aim to demonstrate how love is used to justify restoration of a traditional, patriarchal gender order in which the white heterosexual Western male dominates, subordinating people of any other gender, sexuality or ethnic background.
Deirdre C. Byrne
Conventional views of heterosexual union understand it, mainly, as the triumph of unity over diversity, with complementarity the dominant quality of the relationship. In this paradigm, men and women each bring particular knowledges to the connection. These knowledges and qualities cluster around the view of men as active but emotionally limited, while women are passive and yet emotionally sophisticated. The two gendered binary oppositions: active/passive and rational/emotional form the focus of my chapter, which examines literary representations of true love in two trilogies: Murakami’s IQ84 and Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games. Aomame, the female lead in IQ84, and Katniss Everdeen, her counterpart in the Hunger Games trilogy, both transgress gender norms in significant ways. Aomame is a sports instructor, obsessed with fitness and care of the body, whose spare time is occupied by killing men who abuse women. Katniss Everdeen is a hunter and killer, both by choice and, as the series progresses, in order to ensure survival. These two protagonists violate stereotypes of women as passive objects of male desire. Their male partners, Tengo Kawana and Peeta Mellark, display corresponding degrees of emotional vulnerability and passivity, thus also transgressing hegemonic constructions of masculinity. The unions of Aomame and Tengo, and Katniss and Peeta, take place under highly romanticised circumstances, and within the larger literary frame of locations that lie at a tangent to consensus reality. In this way, these two texts espouse a pessimistic view of love and gender performativity, despite a degree of gender rebellion.
Veenu Kakkar and Aanchal Kapur
In India’s cultural context, son preference has now graduated to daughter aversion. A woman’s body is “not hers” even to bear in the womb “her own kind,” but is solely for the purpose of reproducing sons. Besides socio-cultural and economic factors, the “two-child norm” promoted by the government has contributed to girls being unwanted children. According to the Census of India, the overall sex ratio has declined from 972 women per 1000 men in 1901 to 940 in 2011. The decreasing sex ratio is part of, and leads to, a vicious cycle of discrimination and exclusion for women and girls – they are confined to domestic chores and denied any form of recreation and leisure, their mobility and educational opportunities are restricted and there are fewer women in public spaces. The concern for the safety and security of their daughters is increasingly being used by families and communities as the main “excuse” for not having a girl child. Reality, however, speaks otherwise and the increasing numbers of ‘missing women’ has grave implications in terms of the nature and extent of violence against women in different forms. One of them is a trend towards men of marriageable age (in some states of India) “buying” women from other states – primarily to bear a male child to carry their lineage and family name forward. Efforts at challenging and changing this practice across India are being made at the grassroots and policy levels – targeting families, communities, the medical fraternity, governance structures and the media. One such state of India where focussed attention is being given to preventing and ending gender-biased sex selection is Haryana. Campaigns and programmes by civil society, government and media agencies are working independently and collaboratively to change mindsets and behaviours so that no girl is “lost” at conception or birth.
Julie d’Aubigny (known as La Maupin) was a French swordswoman and opera singer – a superstar of the seventeenth century, celebrated as much for her crossdressing, her duels and her affairs with famous men and beautiful women as for her prodigious talents. She has been portrayed in fiction, on stage and screen, and transformed into an icon of Romanticism in one of the world’s most banned books, Mademoiselle de Maupin. But how might she have seen herself? How would others have conceived of her? And how can a twenty-first century fictional representation of the woman and her voice fit into an ongoing cultural narrative about gender and love? In writing the historical novel Goddess, a new version of La Maupin’s life, I not only imagined the woman and the world in which she lived, but also had to reach an understanding about the ways in which La Maupin and women like her were perceived and portrayed in literature, history, theatre and in life. In an era before queer, before Freud, before feminism, before notions of identity, how did a few transgressive women come to be celebrated, when others were punished? How did this acclaimed stage performer perform gender and engage with love beyond the stage? And how does a fictional version of her life perform gender on the page? This chapter examines a literary and historical tradition stretching from the Amazons and Sappho through to cross-dressing “military maids” and picaras, through the works of writers from ancient Greece to the playwrights of Paris and London – to the moment in 1690 when Julie d’Aubigny made her debut with the Paris Opéra. It examines, in particular, narratives of love between women in fiction and in history writing, and the impact of that lineage on Goddess, a twenty-first century interpretation of one remarkable woman.