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The Management of Gender and Sexuality

As a gender non-conforming individual, I was always utterly confused at why there is such an effort to control gender and place it within the binaries of male/female and as a bisexual individual why there was an effort to control the sexuality of others. Today in theory class I had an “Aha!” moment when discussing Mary Douglas and her analogy of the body. The analogy of the body is so frequently used because it is universal, in a sense. Everyone has a body, everyone has experiences, emotions, and similar such things happen to them whilst in their body. Many of us have a basic knowledge of the inner workings of the body. The body is just the perfect model for society— except when it’s not.

Things that are outside the body (or the norms) are considered dangerous, in a sense, and thus must be regulated. This was my “oh, that’s why so many people think I can’t live my life the way I’d like… it offends their sensibilities” moment. Theory has opened my eyes to why so many different people think the way they think in politics and considering gender and sexuality are two personal interests of mine, I’ve learned more ways to apply theory to these specific concepts as well.

When I think of someone who wants limited government and is generally conservative my mind usually jumps to the image of the loud, spiritual, moral conservative. The one who wants the government to not interfere with their economy or tax them (and often still wants the benefits of public taxpayer-funded

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Many K-pop artists use androgyny as part of their image/performance

utilities) but wants their government, which in principle should have minimal interference in people’s lives, to interfere with a select few people’s lives by controlling their lives. From banning gay marriage and transgender people from serving in the military to trying to control which bathroom people use to y’know, go to the bathroom, many of those who preach limited government really would like the government to overstep their limits into other people’s personal freedoms. To say the least, it irritates me.

 

Though my idea of presenting my own gender as neither fully male nor fully female does not affect anyone’s personal life but my own, and my desire to settle down and enjoy the legal benefits of marriage with my girlfriend in the future do not actually have any impact on other people’s “traditional” marriages it is outside of the binaries- male-female, straight-gay, etc and thus is constantly trying to be managed by those inside the “normal” body of society. They claim society will lose its stability, structure— and god forbid the sanctity of marriage if these things were allowed to occur. Yet, it hasn’t destroyed anything but the lives of those overly passionate about trying to police other’s rights.

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Social Instiutions are like organs, and Ed Gein liked those

Ed Gein and structural-functionalism. What do they have in common, if anything?

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Ed Gein’s macabre crafts made out of human organs and other body parts

Radcliffe-Brown’s structural-functionalist theory was a powerful theory at the time though it left many things unexplained, like social deviancy. His theory focused primarily on the fact that certain social institutions were created naturally in order to fulfill certain functions of society and define relationships between people and other people, people and their institutions, and people and their environment. These social institutions were likened to organs in the human body- vital to the stability and upkeep of society. But what happens when someone does not have access to these vital social institutions? How do they develop and how does it impact society? Since anthropological theory is littered with similes and metaphors about how society is like the human body and its institutions like organs I decided to pick someone else who liked human organs and focus on his deviancy- meet Ed Gein.

Ed Gein was born on a farm and grew up mostly isolated from society. Although he could attend school- a vital social institution- he was not allowed to participate fully in it, ‘stunting’ it’s effect on Gein’s life. Ed Gein’s family- arguably one of the most vital social institutions of all, was dysfunctional at best. For this brief analysis, I’m going to mostly focus on those two social institutions family and school and how the lack of them in a structural-functionalist model can create deviancy.

First, let’s talk about Gein’s life on the farm. His father was largely absent and an alcoholic, dying at 66, while his brother Henry died at the ripe old age of 43, and his mother died at the age of 67. Gein’s life was largely centered around these three people and he had trouble socializing with and making friends with others. This led to a dependency on his own family, a dependency that Gein’s mother may have intentionally created.

Augusta Gein, Ed’s mother, was a highly religious woman who hated her husband and “harlots,” (which by her definition pretty much included all other women in the world) who were creatures of the devil. She was known for keeping her sons on the farm quite often and shouting the most violent and controversial of bible verses at them. Mother-son bonding, am I right? She allowed them to attend school, but when the boys tried to make friends and engage in their schooling she yelled and punished them (and often tried to go after the people they socialized with as well). Ed’s isolation on the farm can be compared to having your two kidneys (these would be school and family) but one is shriveled and half functioning and the other is diseased and actively failing.

Ed Gein had challenging relationships with his family which failed to provide him with the necessary lessons and information to allow him to be a “proper” member of society. The secondary social institution- of schooling- also failed Gein. His mother’s interference in his school life made Gein into a socially awkward recluse, and eventually into a true deviant of society.

Ed Gein is probably one of the most famous serial killers (though that title is often debated due to how many people he technically killed, versus how many people’s bodies he just snatched from the graveyard) in America and people are fascinated by his macabre creations from different pieces of the human body, like skin masks and suits and gloves made from human hands. Though according to the structural-functionalist theories people like Ed Gein should not exist- deviancy is not a part of the structure that Radcliffe-Brown discusses. Though if we argue that deviancy can be caused by the lack of important parts of Radcliffe-Brown’s structure, suddenly it fits a little more neatly. Though I wonder why structured society is so fascinated by deviants like Gein? Perhaps that’s a question to address another day.

 

 

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19th Century Evolutionism

Spencer: The Unsung Hero of a Modern Conservative

I do not consider myself to be an extremist on many topics. I don’t have strong feelings about the death penalty or how to regulate the economy other than some “common sense” laws to keep corporations from abusing workers or the environment. I believe in an individual’s right to own certain weapons with proper regulations and precautions. I believe people should be allowed to exercise some choice in their own lives without government intervention. I believe in people’s rights to their opinions. I do not believe, however, that oppression is an opinion.

Oppression is not an opinion.

For the past several turbulent years it has become more and more obvious to a growingly disgruntled America that we might not be as “like-minded” as we all thought. Differences in opinion on the economy and how an individual’s income tax worked was once less—charged. Little differences in opinion have far deeper and stronger implications than many people realize. The roots of the modern American conservative trace back much further than anyone might care to admit. We often like to herald ourselves as superior in knowledge and opinion to those who lived in the 1800s, but the very platform of the conservative parties of the United States are based on the work of a sociologist by the name of Herbert Spencer, who (plot twist!) coined the term “survival of the fittest”. It was Spencer that Darwin’s theory of evolution was influenced by.

Spencer’s beliefs are what the modern conservative relies upon to justify their political views. In a country where the conservative side often uses arguments of morality against their political opponents, Spencerism gives them a “moral” excuse for why their policies are often less than kind, loving, and Christianly. Spencer was of the belief that the “weak” (aka the poor) would be eliminated as the more enterprising and astute individuals would continue to thrive. To offer the weak welfare and assistance was to simply extend their misery. Jesus must have just been prolonging the destitute’s miserable lives by giving them bread. It would be kinder to just let them die off sooner, Spencer would argue.

Though Spencer’s beliefs were quite critical of the poor they were not much kinder to the rich, as many conservatives might be surprised to find out. The rich were also idle and unfit. During the time of industrialization, it was the modern entrepreneur that worked hard to build up his business that may have been considered the “fittest”. Now in a system in which the rich often inherit their wealth (much like the noble elitist “idle” rich Spencer criticized) the conservatives have taken only half of Spencer’s “truth” to make their policies and leanings seem somehow less cruel.

Those who champion the term “survival of the fittest” deny those with less means the access to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (or property, if you’re into John Locke more than Thomas Jefferson). They would argue that those who cannot work themselves up from rags to riches are somehow less fit to be alive, completely ignoring the disadvantages those very people face in a system rigged against them. It is odd how over time meaning gets lost. Ironic, almost. The modern conservative fails to see how the very foundation they base their lives upon would be against them as well, in its original meaning. Those who inherit advantage should not actively oppress the less advantaged on the basis of “survival of the fittest”—they themselves are not demonstrating enterprising and astute qualities any more than the idle rich of Spencer’s time.

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