Violence: Excuse or Encouragement?

Sophie Sharps

In both “PMS as a Culture-Bound Syndrome” and “The Rise of the Adonis Complex,” Chrisler and Pope discuss the rise of and change in discussion around two different topics, both within the same timeframe of the last thirty years. I appreciated that both authors approached these distinct issues with historical contexts, in which they explained the change beginning from the 1970s and onward. Although both readings addressed very different ideas, they analyzed them through cultural and sociological lenses.

In our class, we have focused on the social factors that differentiate men from women and how deeply engrained the ideas of femininity and masculinity are in our society. Women are supposed to act “feminine” and “lady-like,” and thus are held to certain standards and expectations. Interestingly, Chrisler argues that PMS can be a “survival strategy” that allows for women to excuse their “unfeminine” actions because of the hormonal changes they are undergoing (162). In this sense, PMS can be seen as a scientific justification and a way to restore feminine ideals of a woman who might not be acting like a “woman.” In using PMS as a justification to excuse their behavior, women are furthering a cultural stereotype about what it means to be a “woman” and are accepting the expectations and labels given to women. Chrisler explains that PMS serves to hold women back: “each time women advance, there’s someone there to remind us that we can’t go further because of our delicate health” (166). Chrisler lists numerous people and groups who benefit from the concept of PMS, the greatest beneficiary being the status quo because PMS keeps women preoccupied with their bodies and tells women to slow down so that they maintain an inferior status. This proves how psychological and socially constructed PMS is and how gendered and intentional this concept is as a way to define women against men. Chrisler ends with a paragraph on advice, in which she states, “never let someone get away with suggesting that your emotions are caused by hormones” (168). I appreciate this comment because we live in a male-dominated culture in which emotions signify instability so having emotions is seen as negative and undesirable, to the point where women feel as though they must make excuses for their emotions. On the contrary, it is men who must be encouraged to let down their stoic front and show the emotions that they suppress, in order to eradicate the connection between emotions and instability and to enhance communication and discussion of feelings, wants and needs.

I appreciated Pope’s discussion of the roots of male body obsession and the context behind the rise of male body discontent. While we as a society constantly hear references to female body ideals and unhealthy female body obsessions, men are socialized not to discuss their feelings so these very same issues have become taboo for men to discuss. As a result, nearly half of all men report their dissatisfaction with their bodies yet this goes unnoticed. To elevate the issue, men who take steroids have become the standard male body ideal despite the fact that most men and boys do not take steroids and still seek to achieve this biologically impossible ideal. We hear all about the female beauty industry and cosmetic surgery for women, but rarely acknowledge the products targeted at men. Like most everything in a capitalist society, it seems as though a myriad of industries are capitalizing on male body insecurities. Cosmetic surgery increasingly targets men and gym memberships cost a fortune but because men internalize ideal body images, they are willing to pay these absurd costs to strive to reach these ideals. Pope explains the historical context of steroids, including how they were used in World War II and in athletes soon after, essentially creating a “super” man that would otherwise be entirely unattainable. The discussion regarding GI Joe toys fascinates me because we can see the plastic bodies shifting in direct correlation with real men’s bodies. Pope equates muscularity with masculinity, quoting body image researchers who believe the ideal male body to be “powerful, strong, efficacious—even domineering and destructive” (51). No wonder male culture is so incredibly violent, because with this much strength and force, it becomes challenging to not use a great deal of power to do the simplest of tasks. While women have to find excuses to be violent and irrational, men are encouraged even in their ideal body types to assert dominance and violence in their everyday presence.

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3 thoughts on “Violence: Excuse or Encouragement?

  1. Sophie,

    You’re so right about the invisibility of this issue of men’s body consciousness. Since we never talk about the issues of appearance for men, we hardly ever get to engage in discussions about the socialization of the male body.

    I find the author’s point about men focusing on muscles and strength as the women’s liberation movement gained momentum extremely telling of how men can feel threatened as dominant figures in their family and in their own life. Masculinizing the body is a way to reassert oneself as the head of the household, even physically taking up the most space in one’s own context.

    Emma Weisberg

  2. It feels as if our country especially has two extremes for body image. There is the muscular man who goes too far over the top and then there is the obese person. While the built man is influenced by the movies and sports that surround him, the obese one is influenced by the constant advertisements for fast food and the constant accessibility to these foods. While it is important to exhibit portion control, have a healthy diet, and to exercise there is also an extreme level of this behavior that we are seeing. Both sides of the spectrum within this country create health hazards and present a clear issue for that is hard to address from two different angles. While we try to tell people to workout more and to eat healthy we do not want them to go overboard and the message may be lost in the movies, commercials, and sports that everyone consumes.

  3. Sophie,

    I also thought it was interesting that PMS is described by Chrisler as being a survival strategy for women so they can blame their ‘un-feminine’ qualities on a medical condition. So some women use it as a crutch to get out of owning up to behaving in an off manner while others think they can’t handle certain tasks because they are too emotional. Either way, this is negative and hurtful to women. It isn’t fair to think that women are not themselves for at least two weeks out of the month, every month. Hormonal changes don’t take women out of the playing field for all that time, women are more than capable of handling their changes and carrying on as normal.

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