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Women's Studies, Gender, and Sexuality > Gender Studies

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Being Ugly

Southern Women Writers and Social Rebellion

Monica Carol Miller

In the South, one notion of “being ugly” implies inappropriate or coarse behavior that transgresses social norms of courtesy. While popular stereotypes of the region often highlight southern belles as the epitome of feminine power, women writers from the South frequently stray from this convention and invest their fiction with female protagonists described as ugly or chastised for behaving that way. Through this divergence, “ugly” can be a force for challenging the strictures of normative southern gender roles and marriage economies. In Being Ugly: Southern Women Writers and Social Rebellion, Monica Carol Miller reveals how authors from Margaret Mitchell to Monique Truong employ “ugly” characters to upend the expectations of patriarchy and open up more possibilities for southern female identity.

Previous scholarship often conflates ugliness with such categories as the grotesque, plain, or abject, but Miller disassociates these negative descriptors from a group of characters created by southern women writers. Focusing on how such characters appear prone to rebellious and socially inappropriate behavior, Miller argues that ugliness subverts assumptions about gender by identifying those who are unsuitable for the expected roles of marriage and motherhood. As opposed to familiar courtship and marriage plots, Miller locates in fiction by southern women writers an alternative genealogy, the ugly plot. This narrative tradition highlights female characters whose rebellion offers a space for re-imagining alternative lives and households in opposition to the status quo.

Reading works by canonical writers like Zora Neale Hurston, Flannery O’Connor, and Eudora Welty, along with recent texts by contemporary authors like Helen Ellis, Lee Smith, and Jesmyn Ward, Being Ugly offers an important new perspective on how southern women writers confront regressive ideologies that insist upon limited roles for women.

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Between Good and Ghetto

African American Girls and Inner-City Violence

Nikki Jones

Between Good and Ghetto reflects the social world of inner city African American girls and how they manage threats of personal violence. Drawing on personal encounters, traditions of urban ethnography, Black feminist thought, gender studies, and feminist criminology, Nikki Jones provides a richly descriptive and compassionate account, revealing multiple strategies used to navigate interpersonal and gender-specific violence and how gendered dilemmas of their adolescence are reconciled.

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Beyond Bombshells

The New Action Heroine in Popular Culture

Jeffrey A. Brown

Beyond Bombshells analyzes the cultural importance of strong women in a variety of current media forms. Action heroines are now more popular in movies, comic books, television, and literature than they have ever been. Their spectacular presence represents shifting ideas about female agency, power, and sexuality. Beyond Bombshells explores how action heroines reveal and reconfigure perceptions about “how” and “why” women are capable of physically dominating roles in modern fiction, indicating the various strategies used to contain and/or exploit female violence.

Focusing on a range of successful and controversial recent heroines in the mass media, including Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games books and movies, Lisabeth Salander from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo novels and films, and Hit-Girl from the Kick-Ass movies and comic books, Brown argues that the role of action heroine reveals evolving beliefs about femininity. While women in action roles are still heavily sexualized and objectified, they also challenge preconceived myths about normal or culturally appropriate gender behavior. The ascribed sexuality of modern heroines remains Brown’s consistent theme, particularly how objectification intersects with issues of racial stereotyping, romantic fantasies, images of violent adolescent and preadolescent girls, and neoliberal feminist revolutionary parables.

Individual chapters study the gendered dynamics of torture in action films, the role of women in partnerships with male colleagues, young women as well as revolutionary leaders in dystopic societies, adolescent sexuality and romance in action narratives, the historical import of non-white heroines, and how modern African American, Asian, and Latina heroines both challenge and are restricted by longstanding racial stereotypes.

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Beyond Explicit

Pornography and the Displacement of Sex

Helen Hester

Develops a novel characterization of the pornographic as a cultural concept.

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Beyond the Flesh

Alexander Blok, Zinaida Gippius, and the Symbolist Sublimation of Sex

Jenifer Presto

Though the Russian Symbolist movement was dominated by a concern with transcending sex, many of the writers associated with the movement exhibited an intense preoccupation with matters of the flesh. Drawing on poetry, plays, short stories, essays, memoirs, and letters, as well as feminist and psychoanalytic theory, Beyond the Flesh documents the often unexpected form that this obsession with gender and the body took in the life and art of two of the most important Russian Symbolists.
            Jenifer Presto argues that the difficulties encountered in reading Alexander Blok and Zinaida Gippius within either a feminist or a traditional, binary gendered framework derive not only from the peculiarities of their creative personalities but also from the specific Russian cultural context. Although these two poets engaged in gendered practices that, at times, appeared to be highly idiosyncratic and even incited gossip among their contemporaries, they were not operating in a vacuum. Instead, they were responding to philosophical concepts that were central to Russian Symbolism and that would continue to shape modernism in Russia.

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Beyond the Nation

Diasporic Filipino Literature and Queer Reading

Beyond the Nation charts an expansive history of Filipino literature in the U.S., forged within the dual contexts of imperialism and migration, from the early twentieth century into the twenty-first. Martin Joseph Ponce theorizes and enacts a queer diasporic reading practice that attends to the complex crossings of race and nation with gender and sexuality. Tracing the conditions of possibility of Anglophone Filipino literature to U.S. colonialism in the Philippines in the early twentieth century, the book examines how a host of writers from across the century both imagine and address the Philippines and the United States, inventing a variety of artistic lineages and social formations in the process.

Beyond the Nation considers a broad array of issues, from early Philippine nationalism, queer modernism, and transnational radicalism, to music-influenced and cross-cultural poetics, gay male engagements with martial law and popular culture, second-generational dynamics, and the relation between reading and revolution. Ponce elucidates not only the internal differences that mark this literary tradition but also the wealth of expressive practices that exceed the terms of colonial complicity, defiant nationalism, or conciliatory assimilation. Moving beyond the nation as both the primary analytical framework and locus of belonging, Ponce proposes that diasporic Filipino literature has much to teach us about alternative ways of imagining erotic relationships and political communities.

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The Big Move

Life Between the Turning Points

With an Afterword by Margaret Morganroth Gullette. Anne M. Wyatt-Brown, Ruth Ray Karpen, and Helen Q. Kivnick

When her husband's ill health forces them to move into an assisted living facility, Anne Wyatt-Brown suddenly finds herself surrounded by elderly residents, mostly sick or disabled. In this short but provocative collection, distinguished gerontologists reflect on Anne's moving account of her transition from a vibrant, independent, and scholarly life to one that is quieter, slower, and that takes up considerably less space. By questioning notions of care and community, stigmas of aging, and the psychological factors involved in accepting assistance, this volume provides an instructive framework for thinking about aging, continued care, and our last big move.

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The Big Rig

Trucking and the Decline of the American Dream

Steve Viscelli

Long-haul trucks have been described as sweatshops on wheels. The typical long-haul trucker works the equivalent of two full-time jobs, often for little more than minimum wage. But it wasn’t always this way. Trucking used to be one of the best working-class jobs in the United States.  

The Big Rig explains how this massive degradation in the quality of work has occurred, and how companies achieve a compliant and dedicated workforce despite it. Drawing on more than 100 in-depth interviews and years of extensive observation, including six months training and working as a long-haul trucker, Viscelli explains in detail how labor is recruited, trained, and used in the industry. He then shows how inexperienced workers are convinced to lease a truck and to work as independent contractors. He explains how deregulation and collective action by employers transformed trucking’s labor markets--once dominated by the largest and most powerful union in US history--into an important example of the costs of contemporary labor markets for workers and the general public.

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Biology at Work

Rethinking Sexual Equality

Kingsley R. Browne

Does biology help explain why women, on average, earn less money than men? Is there any evolutionary basis for the scarcity of female CEOs in Fortune 500 companies? According to Kingsley Browne, the answer may be yes.

Biology at Work brings an evolutionary perspective to bear on issues of women in the workplace: the "glass ceiling," the "gender gap" in pay, sexual harassment, and occupational segregation. While acknowledging the role of discrimination and sexist socialization, Browne suggests that until we factor real biological differences between men and women into the equation, the explanation remains incomplete.

Browne looks at behavioral differences between men and women as products of different evolutionary pressures facing them throughout human history. Womens biological investment in their offspring has led them to be on average more nurturing and risk averse, and to value relationships over competition. Men have been biologically rewarded, over human history, for displays of strength and skill, risk taking, and status acquisition. These behavioral differences have numerous workplace consequences. Not surprisingly, sex differences in the drive for status lead to sex differences in the achievement of status.

Browne argues that decision makers should recognize that policies based on the assumption of a single androgynous human nature are unlikely to be successful. Simply removing barriers to inequality will not achieve equality, as women and men typically value different things in the workplace and will make different workplace choices based on their different preferences.

Rather than simply putting forward the "nature" side of the debate, Browne suggests that dichotomies such as nature/nurture have impeded our understanding of the origins of human behavior. Through evolutionary biology we can understand not only how natural selection has created predispositions toward certain types of behavior but also how the social environment interacts with these predispositions to produce observed behavioral patterns.

 

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Black Dogs and Blue Words

Depression and Gender in the Age of Self-Care

Kimberly K. Emmons

Winston Churchill called his own depression his "black dog." Black Dogs and Blue Words analyzes contemporary rhetoric surrounding depression and maintains that the techniques and language of depression marketing strategies target women and young girls, encoding a series of gendered messages about health and illness and encouraging self-diagnosis and self-medication. As depression and other forms of mental illness move from the medical-professional sphere to the consumer-public, the boundary at which distress becomes disease grows ever-more encompassing, the need for remediation and treatment increasingly warranted.

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