Monthly Archives: April 2014

The Constructed Body

Alia Roth

Although the analysis of male body obsession was upsetting and enlightening, I was particularly drawn/reactive to Joan Chrisler’s PMS: A Culture Bound Syndrome, probably because it related mostly to myself.  As someone who has struggled with hormone imbalance issues for the past seven years, this article came as a bit of a shock.  In my life, from my friends, family, loved ones – PMS has always been a way to justify my emotions, hysteria, body swelling, cramps, acne and so many other physical and emotional expressions – soon enough, of course, I was using it to justify when I was upset or bothered by something or someone.  PMS became a very quick fall back if and when those around me felt that I was acting too “outrageously” or “irrationally”.  That being said, (and as Chrisler points out), one cannot possibly understand PMS and its social context, without understanding the menstrual cycle – and no one had ever really explained that scientific function to me.

That being said, it was merely something that I used to justify my behaviors and thoughts.. but never something that I sought to remedy.  When Chrisler began writing about the efforts that women go through to “elevate” PMS, i was shocked.  Progesterone therapy which has not been approved by the FDA? Seriously? This was just so horrifying because it means that women are so intensely shamed to believe that these natural feelings and physical changes are unnatural and should cease to occur, that they go through debatably dangerous medical treatments in order to elevate these symptoms of PMS.  A hysterectomy / oophorectomy?? 

Chrisler argued that this very drastic “remedy” and “interference” with a woman’s body would not be acceptable in other cultures, but in ours it is accepted.  This also goes back to the argument of FGM versus cosmetic surgery.  Why do we condemn other cultures for have cultural practices that interfere with bodies and turn a blind eye to ours? Especially when it is something that is so natural.  How people and even doctors endorse PMS and even PMDD – which are completely constructed concepts, is troubling because it essentially states that our society is uncomfortable with women who are emotional (shocking, I know).  We have medicalized women’s emotions so that we can justify why women should NOT have power or responsibility because they are “fundamentally irrational” – specifically at this “time of the month”.  This also goes back to that media clip we watched when a male news anchor stated that “There must be some downside to having a woman president.”

Interestingly, while we box women to remain unemotional, irresponsible, and unhealthily thin, The Adonis Complex states that we are pressuring men to obsess over their muscle mass, weight control, and have the “ideal body” which is lean yet muscular.  Articles such as: 

http://mbshq.com/muscle-building-workouts/

http://www.nerdfitness.com/blog/2012/06/25/super-hero-muscle/

have constructed “masculine” diets and work outs in order to reenforce the importance of looking a very specific way.  These work out articles fail to comment on the intellectual, social and emotional impacts that this kind of pressure has on the person working on… Ugh, so many problems.

Body as Masculinity and PMS as an Excuse

Gina Pol

Physical appearance and body satisfaction has become a very significant factor in the lives of many men today. This is supported in Pope’s article, which included several studies that revealed the amount of men who are dissatisfied with their appearance and body. A situation that was once considered only a “women’s problem” was now becoming a man’s issue as well.

Pope discusses a variety of factors that may have contributed to men’s insecurities, which included steroid use, magazines, toys (specifically action figures), and the media. Body builders were being broadcast on television, muscular men were being featured on the cover of magazines, and action figures with huge biceps were what most young boys and men were viewing on a day-to-day basis. These images are so instilled into their minds that it leaves some men with a desire to become a “muscular man.” I enjoyed Pope’s discussion of the GI Joe action figures and the changes in body shape that the toy has gone through because I vividly remember my brother and male cousins playing with them when I was younger. One day while they were playing, I asked my cousin, “why do these have muscles, but Barbies don’t?” My cousin’s response was, “it’s because he’s stronger.” I was dissatisfied and still confused so I went on and said, “so Barbie can’t be strong because she doesn’t have muscles?” It was clear that my cousin associated strength with muscularity as well. 

Pope also mentions that the body has become a “defining feature of masculinity.” A man’s body was now a determination of how masculine he was. In addition, the media often portrayed men who have muscles as either aggressive or powerful indicating that masculinity and muscularity must have some sort of connection. These portrayals reinforced the ideas that if a man did not have muscles, then he would be assumed to be wimpy or weak. Although the article does not mention it, having muscles are seen as a feature that men would feel proud of having, but it would not be a desirable trait for women because it would make them too masculine. This hits Pope’s point that the physical built is a defining feature of masculinity and women would be too masculine if they had the same body. 

Chrisler’s article discusses PMS as a cultural-bound syndrome that can only be understood within a specific culture and symbolized based on the behavioral norms of that culture. It was interesting and surprising to know that among the 78 articles from the study, 131 different symptoms were listed just for PMS. These symptoms contributed to the views and representations of women who PMS. To me, it was very frustrating to read that PMS was often used as an excuse or the reason why women acted in inappropriate ways. It was used as a way to excuse women’s anger and raging rather than attributing madness to other factors like stress. PMS gives off the assumption that women are unstable for almost half a month and they cannot control themselves, therefore they are not fit to make decisions. By putting the blame on PMS, women will feel that this is something they have no power to change because it is their bodies. These views have even pushed women to feel negatively toward menstruation when other women in the world who do not have these cultural ideas view menstruation in a positive light.

In Control of the Body

Brittany Juliano

Within The Rise of the Adonis Complex I saw many, many comparisons between the discussion and Tough Guise 2. I was amazed that I had never before considered that not only are the men within the documentary promoting violence among men and aggression towards women, but they are also promoting a body image. To me the images of violence are much more serious, but a different focus may prove very useful. The capability scale of muscularity among men was very useful to better understand the range of what can be achieved naturally and what requires frequent drug use to maintain. The men within the huge industry of the WWE are not, it seems, within the physical ability to produce that amount of lean muscle naturally and are therefore giving a huge audience of men misleading models. Not only are these misguided models of violence, but false Ultimately, the use of steroids by men in the WWE along with other frequently viewed bodies within sports or magazines communicate an image of a desirably masculine man without mentioning that the only way to achieve that ideal is by “’roiding up.”

I find this message extremely unfortunate as a woman because I do not see the appeal. Throughout the chapter, The Rise of the Adonis Complex mentions that muscularity is the ultimate sign of masculinity, especially because “as women have advanced, men have gradually lost their traditional identities as breadwinners, fighters, and protectors” (51). First of all, I think that this is walking the thin line between supporting an argument about a widely expressed boy image concern among men and stating that women are depleting men’s masculinity: simply because women have become more self-sufficient over recent decades, does not mean that the biggest sign of masculinity is muscularity. This would suggest that huge, aggressive and violent men have become the ideal man that appeals to women in a hetero-normative world. I disagree. Masculinity stems from much more than a muscular and artificially proportionate body type. Powerful, strong, and efficacious men—as the article states are masculine qualities represented in muscularity—can manifest within so many other ways that are much more preferable to simply physical strength.

On a very different note and reading experience, the chapter, PMS As a Culture Bound Syndrome, was thoroughly entertaining to me. Overall, I like that the reading discusses PMS as a social phenomenon in which women frequently attribute small illnesses or symptoms into one category attributed to their gender. This categorization of any sort of ailment around the time of menstruation is fascinating because it ultimately makes women feel more in control. By human nature, we like to categorize things, to make more sense of the information we take in. This is the same phenomenon that happens when women refer to PMS. My favorite part of the chapter’s discussion was the “out of control feeling” that women get when they are in or around menstruation. From personal experience, I find this to be very true. Most of the time, people are trained to be in control of their lives. They must consciously manipulate their day-to-day lives in order to succeed or else fail in the eyes of those around them. The social phenomenon of PMS allows women to allocate emotional and physical ‘ailments’ to a particular category that excuses their behavior. Essentially, this widespread social category gives a reprieve to women, allowing them to release their controlled behavior and deem their out-of-control behavior to PMS. I found this discussion fascinating because it is absolutely true!

The Adonis and The PMS

-Karen Cardona

While reading both, The Adonis Complex and PMS as a Culture-Bound Syndrome I was able to see how these two issues occur in our society but we hardy ever speak about them. The times in which I have heard about these two in a form of conversation has been in a way that mocks or makes fun of the situation as a way to make others feel bad. To start off the article that I was able to connect the most to was the one relating to PMS by Chrisler, I remember growing up and my mother constantly talking to me about the day I finally “became a woman”. The idea of it would freak me out and constantly make me feel very uncomfortable, I remember seeing a couple of girls in my classroom who got their period during class and all the boys laughed at them. From that day on I would always carry an extra pair of underwear in my bag and some menstrual pads. My mother also informed me about the terrible cramps that come along with this; I would see my friends in pain with horrible stomachaches that at the time I could not understand. Most people would always tell them to “stop over reacting” that it was “just a stomachache”; most of these comments were coming from male teachers. Looking back and now reading these symptoms I am able to see that the excruciating pain that my 12-year-old friends ‘complained’ about was PMS.

Every time I have conversations with my friends they always talk about how horrible the pains are, that they constantly need to take medicine or get in birth control to manage the pain and regulate their periods. I personally have never had cramps before or during my menstruation, every time I tell my friends this they tend to push me away and make it seem as if I am not woman enough. The problem is not about separating one another through differences but to come together to solve the stereotypes that having a period usually portrays. All these TV commercials and ads that depict women as insane and bitchy during these five days. Jokes such as “BEWARE OF ANIMAL THAT BLEEDS FOR FIVE DAYS AND DOESN’T DIE”. See at first we are taught to laugh at these jokes because and blah. It becomes problematic when women begin to attack one another through these jokes and stereotypes often times to fuel the humor in a male. Chrisler describes how violent women are presented in cartoons; this demonstrates how these stereotypes are placed at a very young age. These characteristics of being upset then become abnormal for a woman since women are supposed to play out this idea of a soft, caring, and sweet spoken creature. I believe that women menstruation and PMS should be subjects that we talk more about in elementary schools and in high schools. This would prevent a lot of the stereotypes to continue from getting worse and for girls to actually have a space to explore their interactions with periods.

In the second reading The Adonis complex I found the topic of it extremely interesting, I feel that we constantly see ads that emphasize the way that women are supposed to look but we hardly ever see discussion about male bodies. The part that shocked me of this reading the contrast between the perfect male ideal and the perfect female ideal, females are expected to have a small and slim figure to highlight their femininity. Males on the other hand are expected to be large with muscles to highlight their masculinity. While women tend to go to the gym to ‘slim’ down their figure, males drink protein shakes to make their muscles larger. What happens then to those males and females who do not want to fit in these categories? Although being a male provides you automatic privilege, there are things that place some males at a higher place in society. We tend to label body image as an issue that only women deal with; unfortunately this is a human issue that both male and female deal with. While speaking to one of my male friends he explained to me “we hurt to, but we are not allowed to show it”. It made think about all the times when I’ve seen issues revolve around women instead of looking at issues through a much broader perspective, through gender lens that not only focuses on women but also men. Could we begin to look at the need many males have to become bigger to the need that many women have of becoming thinner? Could we begin to take extreme body building as serious as anorexia?

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.

PMS as a Culture-Bound Syndrome and The rise of the Adonis Complex

Jihmmy N. Sanchez

 

This weeks readings focused on the cultural stigma of PMS and the rise of the Adonis complex in men and how it turns out that men are more worried about their physical appearance than was previously thought.

PMS as a Culture-Bound Syndrome talks about PMS in western culture, the author tries to convince the reader that PMS is in fact a cultural syndrome and how PMS is seen differently and does not carry with it a negative connotation as it does in western society. Chrisler also deciphers whether PMS can be classified as an illness, a disease, or a syndrome. As it turn out PMS cannot be either a disease or an illness because “ A disease is defined as pathological condition od the body that has clinical signs, symptoms, and laboratory findings that are specific to it and that allows us to discriminate it from normal or other pathological states of the body” (Chrisler 158). PMS does not meet these criteria because there are not laboratory findings that separate it from other pathological states of the body; the symptoms are also very different depending on who is going through PMS. The only clinical sign of PMS is that it generally occurs after menstruation. PMS is also not an illness because an illness can be defined as being in a state of pain, suffering, or agony; it is also a psychological condition of the body. Chrisler states that even though PMS can be considered an illness to some women who are distressed or in severe pain because of the symptoms of PMS, most women only experience a few of the symptoms, so can they be defined as ill if they are not distressed or in serious pain? PMS does fit the definition of a syndrome because it has a group of symptoms that are related to each other even though their origin may not have a common cause.

Because PMS can be classified as a syndrome, Chrisler takes it a step forward and stats that PMS is a culture-bound syndrome and “cannot be understood apart from its specific cultural or subcultural context” (Chrisler 160). Chrisler also states that in order to understand PMS one must have a basic knowledge about menstruation as cyclic and the cultural context of PMS, which is that it has a negative connotation amongst women and men and is seen as something that is painful and causes women to act unlike they normally would. PMS has gained so much popularity in the last 30 years because as Chrisler states it can be seen as beneficial to not only women, but doctors, and even pharmaceutical companies. It can be seen as beneficial to women because it is often times used as an excuse, it has become common place for women going through PMS to blame angry and aggressive behavior on PMS. It can be seen as an outlet for behaviors that you don’t want to be known as yours but as an effect of PMS. PMS also encourages women to believe that they are ill or suffering for at least half of the month during their menstrual cycle the same goes for men, viewing women as ill decreases opportunities. For doctors and pharmaceuticals it as seen as another market to venture, as long as these companies and doctors team up together to bring out some medicine that can alleviate or decrease the symptoms that women experience during PMS, as long as PMS is seen as a negative thing there will always be a market for trying to get rid of the pain tht comes with it.

The Rise of the Adonis Complex the male image and how in the past couple of years male image has become increasingly amongst men. The chapter talks about the rise in body image dissatisfaction among men. Men of all ages from young teenagers to men in their sixties are complaining about their body image, from wanting to have more defined abdominal muscles to simply having less body fat body image has become very important amongst males. The market for the mail body, and mail body enhancement has steadily gone up, which has increased the dissatisfaction that males of al ages have with their bodies. Not only are men spending large amounts of money to get cosmetic surgeries, they are also spending over $2 billion dollars on gym memberships, $2 billion dollars on elliptical other weight lifting machines for their homes. The subscription for the magazine Men’s Health has also increased dramatically with an initial market of just 250,000 subscribers Men’s Health now has over 1.5 million subscribers (Pope 31). This increase in subscribers has happened in a short amount of time, from 1990-1997.

The use of steroids has also increased amongst young men looking to pack on extra pounds of muscles. Pope mentions that steroids have allowed men to go beyond the limits of nature when it comes to adding on muscle mass. Since the discovery of anabolic steroids a century ago men have slowly begun using it to defy natures limits. Steve Reeves who is considered to be the greatest power-lifter of all time does not even compare to the images that Pope shows in this chapter, the muscle mass and definition of some of the men pictured blow Reeves out of the park. Since the 1970’s and 80’s the use of steroids has gradually increased, from rumors of Nazi soldiers being dosed with steroids to actors in Hollywood with washboard abdominals steroids use is everywhere and has increased, the fat free mass index, which roughly calculates how much muscle mass can be achieved by a person naturally shows how steroids have been used to go beyond what can be achieved naturally. With most athletes and weight lifters (of average build 5”10’) scoring around 25 on the FFMI some steroids users can scored way beyond 25 sometimes even going into the 30’s.

Pope then goes on to answer why there is such an obsession with having a large muscular body that defies nature. The answer is that boys and men have been constantly exposed to images of the perfect male body from the time boys are playing with action figures till the time grown men gawk and movie stars and athletes the image of the perfect male body is everywhere. Pope compares the body configurations of action figures like G.I Joe’s and Luke Skywalker, and Han Solo from Star Wars. As was anticipated by Pope as the time goes by the physiques of these action figures continue to grow in muscularity. If the G.I Joe extreme action figure were a 5”10’ male he would have a 32 inch waist and a 30 inch bicep. As boys grow older and stop playing with action figures and start watching TV they stop playing with these freakishly muscular action figures and start to see the perfect male body used in advertisements for almost every product related and not related to the human body. This much exposure to a roided’ body leaves men dissatisfied with their bodies.