Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Writing for California

Southern California Conferences for Undergraduate Research
After writing a research paper for a Shakespeare class, my teacher encouraged the class to look for a writing conference we would submit our final research project to. As I was searching, I found a writing conference which caught my eye. It is called the Southern California Conferences for Undergraduate Research and is being held this year at Pepperdine University. Aside from the fact that I would LOVE to visit Malibu, California, since taking a class on writing in the digital era, I realize the importance of networking, sharing ideas, and putting yourself "on the map" so to speak, and what better way than a writing conference?!

My paper, entitled "And They Twain Shall Be One Flesh," explores the literary figure of the hermaphrodite in terms of a creation act as opposed to an anatomical "mistake." This blog was actually spurred by the paper and as I am revising my paper, preparing to enter it into the conference, I decided to blog about each portion of the revision and share that revision. No more writing in seclusion, I want to network! So this is an explaniation post to inform my readers what I will be writing about for the next few days, weeks, months?! Who knows!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Networking With the Best

After taking a short leave of absence I have returned, ready to blog to my heart's content about gender and the Renaissance!
Phyllis Rackin
In my advanced writing class we were encouraged to network with professionals in the fields of study we are blogging about. One of my favorite writers, Phyllis Rackin, teaches at the University of Pennsylvania where she is an expert on Renaissance studies and takes particular interest in Shakespeare and the role of women in Shakespeare's plays. She recently wrote a book entitled Shakespeare and Women in which she explores the role women held in the Renaissance and its reflection in Shakespearean plays.
So, I googled "Phyllis Rackin," found her email address and decided to give it a whirl. I wrote her the following email.
Ms. Rackin,
I am currently writing a series of research papers regarding the English Renaissance theater's exploration of gender in relation to today's modern social platform, the world wide web, with a particular emphasis on blogging.

There are many similarities:
  1. Both sites serve as a social "watering hole" of sorts where gender exploration was/is accepted under the guise of "pretend."
  2. Both utilize tools necessary to not only play a different gender role, but a visible sex change occurs as well (boys dressing as women in the theater and computer users utilizing avatars to project the desired sex)
  3. Both sites promote the current mode of thinking within society as well as suggest a change to that way.
I was drawn to this comparison by two things,
  1. My studies of Queen Elizabeth Tudor's Tilbury Speech
  2. A quote I read in your article "Androgyny, Mimesis, and the Marriage of the Boy Heroine on the English Renaissance Stage" which said:
"Recent literary historians have pointed out that the English Renaissance theater was an important site of cultural transformation- a place where cultural change was not simply reflected but also rehearsed and enacted. The theater provided an arena where changing gender definitions could be displayed, deplored, or enforced and where anxieties about them could be expressed"

I was wondering if you have any thoughts regarding the comparison as well as a question:
With all this hype regarding gender in the Renaissance, what with Moll Cutpurse, the Roaring Girls, Shakespearean plays, etc., what came of it? Why was this social platform of the English theater utilized as a means of change? Is the answer as simple as "Because a lot of people went to the theater" or is there something more? I feel like there has to be another element. Just because people gather in one place a lot doesn't exactly make it prime for social change.

I appreciate your time reading this, thank you!
Here's a link if you're interested in reading my blog about this comparison.

The Digital Hermaphrodite
The Hermaphroditic Sovereign: Renaissance Exploration of Gender
Avatars: Exploration of Gender in the Digital Age

Thank you again for your time.
Becca Hay
A few weeks went by and no response. One day I check my email and WA-LA! She answered! I couldn't believe my luck and was very honored that she put thought into her answer. Here's what she wrote:

What an interesting project!

I don't know if I have a good answer to your question, but I do have a comment, which may or may not be helpful. I doubt that the players were using their stages as platforms to advocate for social change. I think they were trying to make money and that their choice of plays that raised touchy questions about gender was largely dictated by popular interest in those questions. I think drama thrives on conflict, sensationalism, and social anxieties, and I think the big point to remember about the playhouses is that they were commercial.

I think another reason for the popularity of plays that featured cross-dressed characters was that they provided a vehicle to showcase the virtuosity of the male actors who played women's roles. I think I discussed this in my chapter on "Shakespeare's Crossdressing Comedies" in the anthology A COMPANION TO SHAKESPEARE'S WORKS, Vol. III, edited by Richard Dutton and Jean E. Howard (Blackwell, 2003). You might also want to look at the chapter entitled "Boys will be girls in my own book SHAKESPEARE AND WOMEN (Oxford, 2005).

Good luck with it!

Phyllis Rackin
Now this sort of contradicts my thesis stating that theatre in the Renaissance time period was utilized for gender exploration. Ms. Rackin believes the heart of the theatre was not social change but making money! So what do I think now? Well, honestly it's the summer and I haven't done any serious thinking (I avoid that like the plague!) but my few thoughts have led me to explore how social networking sites such as Facebook, blogger.com, myspace, etc., make money, if they do at all. I will continue to explore that and blog about it as well as read the two articles Ms. Rackin referred me to and comment on my readings as well.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

What I think of this whole blog thing...

As I have gone through this process of writing a research blog I feel it's a good time to compare it to a conventional research paper (now the bane of my existence) and share my thoughts on this type of open scholarship writing.
Open Scholarship = Open Ideas
How can I go back to writing a paper for one person and never get to share my experience/process with others? Writing for others has been the greatest thing which has happened to me yet. It has changed my view on writing. No longer am I writing in isolation, depending upon my brain, intellect and study skills alone to form a product, but rather now I'm using them as tools to open doors for others to join in my conversation. My product is much more diverse and versatile because of that participation.

Knowing someone other than a professor will be reading my paper makes me rethink how I'm saying what I'm saying. I realized I am much more thorough in my analysis, making sure my thesis is clearly defined and easily found within my writing. I feel less pressure to say what the teacher wants me to say and more freedom to explore personal thoughts without the fear of a low grade because it wasn't the "right" answer. Because of that personal exploration, my critical thinking skills have been enhanced.

My thinking has changed from "Find something to support your theory" to a more liberating "Find an argument which makes for lots of discussion," a technique James and Chris, colleagues of mine in this class, both accomplish by asking their readers questions at the end of their posts. The beauty of this type of writing is I don't have to get it right the first time. I can be critiqued and my argument shaped into something which is meaningful to more than just me because many people participated in shaping its form. Neal's blog is a good example of such a formation as he's good at shaping his blog according to comments made on his previous blog. Stacie and Ben as well redefine their arguments when they saw their foundational argument was a bit shaky.
The Short-Comings
I will admit to being overwhelmed with the sheer AMOUNT I had to cover. Handling the literature was different as I could use more current online sources and the literature merely shaped my argument, not defined it. The task of taking on the Internet to find what I wanted to write and say was daunting. Writing a conventional paper is much easier, as I have a set amount of space to say a set amount of things, quoting a set amount of sources. With a blog, it never ends! Both a blessing and a curse. I learned much more on my topic, yet I had a hard time clearly defining what I was saying (James, a fellow student, encountered a similar problem on his blog) because there was so much already said. However, I feel I'm a much better thinker on my topic because I had so much information to sift through.
Blogs and BYU's Objectives
The second and third institutional objectives of BYU are particularly relevant to writing a scholarly blog. If BYU aims to "Advance Truth and Knowledge," what better way than to have students, the future thinkers of society, publicly document their thoughts and allow for feedback from the current "thinkers" of society to help the students refine and rethink their assertions?! My colleagues Ben, Chris, Neal and Allison all had a good amount of success with the current "thinkers" of society commenting and directing their thought processes. The third goal, "To Extend the Blessing of Education" is SO accomplished through a scholarly blog on an informal social networking site. This type of scholarship extends the resources of university students (such as articles found in databases which you must have a subscription to as well as faculty members who are experts in their fields of study) to the general population. In my blog, I tried to include many sources from scholarly journals so as to 1. add merit to my claims and 2. allow public access to those ideas encompassed by a wall of subscription fees. Through writing a scholarly blog I felt I was educating the masses and extending the blessing of my education through educating others.

This type of open scholarship has changed my view of writing. The research blog has given my writing wings to fly and with those wings I really do feel the sky is the limit!

In the Scheming of Writing Things: An Evaluation

As part of learning how to have a personal learning blog, I was assigned by my Professor, Gideon Burton, to analyze one of my colleague's blogs by a set list of criteria my personal learning blog will be evaluated by.

I was assigned James, my colleague's, blog In the Scheming of Writing Things. His blog records the process he went through analyzing Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath, and his interpretation of that novel in relation to the digital age we live in today.
As students in Professor Burton's class, our posts are to show the process we went through formulating our product. This is James' strongest point. He very clearly states where he is at in his thinking and shows good cohesion of how he came to that point of thinking. He states what he previously thought, what changed that thought (whether a comment in class, a comment on his latest post, new relevant source he found, new way of thinking, etc.) and where it currently is at. I was very impressed with his documentation of process in that way as it helped me as a reader to not just see where he was at in his process, but why he was there.
Some Points of Improvement
The focus is very clearly trying to find a good connection between The Grapes of Wrath and it's pertinence to the digital world we live in today. How that connection is made becomes a problem as I felt though there was good process documentation, there wasn't enough assertive "This is what I'm going with and here's my support" -type posts. Most of his blog was documenting his process, not finding and sticking with a product. I'm not saying all posts needed to be the product, that's against what this blog project supports. What I'm suggesting is since there is a point to this project above and beyond musing, it's important to find a thesis early on, and begin sticking to it and making changes within that statement. This, along with not a lot of interlinking back to his previous posts, makes his blog a bit hard to jump into and get cohesion from. There is a main idea, it's just not readily apparent to readers in all his posts. I feel if he had more mass quantity of posts he would've come to his conclusions faster and would've been able to start his more assertive posts instead of general musing. More in terms of outside literature supporting his claims would have given a nice foundation to his claims and more studies which show his claims to be true would have given his readers a sense of "fact" as they read. This links to interactivity, of which I only saw from members of the class. Though he does respond and utilize the comments left on his blog, I felt he needed to get out a bit more and connect with others.
Grounded in the Literature
Another great strength was his use of primary text. As a reader, I was impressed with him almost always referring to his current thought in relation to the story of his primary text. He always had his primary text in the back of his head, and as such, so did his readers. Using more direct quotation (as he did in his "Choice and Eviction: The Aged and Divisions in New Media" post) would have been a great idea, but I still liked his "sticking to his guns," and being true to his text.
SEE What He's Saying?
Last but certainly not least, James was really good at use of visual media. Though he didn't ever use videos, his pictures were fantastic for each post, very relevant and enhanced the point he was trying to make. His blog itself is headed by a great picture and the style fits his profile.
Adding to the Conversation
Overall, I really do like James' blog. It has a good point to make and one which will enhance others' reading of The Grapes of Wrath. The criteria for evaluation is very good; comprehensive and takes into account the literary just as much as the personal. It's a good middle ground from personal informal to scholarly formal. I would suggest adding a "timeliness" criteria. Was your audience able to see your thesis and/or what you're contesting early on in the game? With a "normal" blog, that's not very important. However, since there is a point to this blog, it's important to do lots of exploration early on and save later posts for exploration within your stated subject. There shouldn't be a "crunch time." Other than that, I feel it's a good way to evaluate a blog and the writing of another.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Cell Analogy: The Organ- Seeing the Whole

YES! I'm here! This is it, the final installment of my series. Here's quick recap to see how I got to where I am:
  1. "Cell- Part 1" -In my first post, I explored the Renaissance time period, particularly Queen Elizabeth, and their take/exploration on gender and ended with questioning whether or not situations create gender.
  2. "Cell- Part 2" -In my second post, I looked at the digital world, particularly social networking sites, and how gender ambiguity on those social sites reflected that of the Renaissance in terms of gender exploration.
  3. "Tissue" -This post attempted to broaden the view from just gender identity to the problem of online identity. It attempted to show that the one whole of online identity is really a composite combination of many factors, gender being one, which create the whole referred to as "Me."
Why is it important to recognize the factors which shape online identity? Well, oddly enough, those same factors which shape and influence online representation are the factors which influence our objective social interactions.

This is not supposed to be a ground breaking post in which I "Wow!" the world by revealing some little known facts about what makes people who they are. This is simply a post which reveals social factors creating social boundaries and why gender, out of those social factors, is important to explore.
  • Ethnic group
  • Social class
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Gender
  • Sex
These are some of the top factors which socially classify someone. Out of the six, only three are "out of our control," race, sex and gender. Arguably, changing one's skin color and biological sexual orientation is possible, however let's say for the sake of this post, since it's rarely done that race and sex are pretty set factor which determine social bounds. Gender is the other set factor. But hold on. Haven't I just been writing about gender being fluid and that it's only situation and society which creates this constraint? Yes, and I do believe what I said. I believe that one sex can adopt the gender of the other, however I believe it is just that, an adoption. It is not natural and goes against the grain. Let me explain what has led me to this conclusion.

It's All Monkey Business
In an earlier post, I made reference to a study conducted by Texas A&M in which biological pre-wiring was studied in terms of gender showing forth through the toys male and female vervet monkeys chose. Monkeys were used as it is assumed they have not been preconditioned or socialized to play with masculine or feminine toys. The toys were placed out, the monkeys released and results showed,
Though the monkeys had no concept of a "boy" toy and a "girl" toy, they still showed the same gender preferences in playing with the toys. That is, compared to female monkeys, male monkeys spent more time with "boy" toys, and the female monkeys, compared to their male counterparts, spent more time with "girl" toys.

"Masculine toys and feminine toys," Alexander (the leader of the study) says, "are clearly categories constructed by people. However our finding that male and female vervet monkeys show similar preferences for these toys as boys and girls do, suggests that what makes a 'boy toy' and a 'girl toy' is more than just what society dictates - it suggests that there may be perceptual cues that attract males or females to particular objects such as toys."
So how is this pertinent to my discussion regarding gender identity? The article ends with this assertion,
The implication is that what makes a "girl toy" and what makes a "boy toy" isn't just human society or stereotypes but rather something innate that draws boys and girls to different types of toys.
I would like to put this study's conclusion in light of a statement made by my church regarding the role of men and women here in life.
Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.
I believe the study's "something innate" to be a person's eternal identity. I am what I was and what I will be after I die. Yes, I believe in life after death and I believe that afterlife I will be the same person, both in terms of gender and sex, as I am now. Though some may think it unwise of me to bring in religion, how can I not? If I believe my religion teaches me truth and it is what shapes my thoughts and opinions of the world around then of course it will be a determining factor which shapes my opinion of gender exploration.

I believe people are capable of adopting gender characteristics of the opposite sex. I believe they can act in such a way that ascribes a different gender than their sex dictates and I hope my research on such claims has been sufficient to support that theory. However, I also believe that when such situations occur it is just that, an adoption, an act, not who that person truly is. Is gender fluid? Yes, and that's a good thing. It allows people to understand the Other side and broaden their world view. But acting or adopting doesn't remove that "something innate" within each person which defines who they are, even if that definition is by what they're not. Through my studying, musings, theses, opinions and ideas, I have come to believe that what you see, really is what you get.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Cell Analogy: The Tissue- Online Identity

Having looked that the "cells" of gender exploration in the online world I'm moving away from such a specific topic and broadening the vision in this post to help my readers begin to get the bigger picture on why my thesis matters. Originally when I started this blog, it was to explore the similarities between the Renaissance time period's exploration of gender through the transvestite theater and how that is echoed in today's modern social networking sites, the bloggosphere in specific. Yet through talking with some of the people who read my blog, I came to understand I needed to broaden my view to not just say that it's important, but why it's important. So today I'm going to talk about the larger issue, that being online identity.

Let me preface this all by saying, this is not going to be an in-depth analysis of online identity and its uses/shortcomings. That's not my point. My point is to bring up an issue. If you're interested in this topic, I refer you to my colleague, Heather's, blog Musings of a College Kid, where she has some great current information regarding the issue of online identity.

Now, on with the show!

Many Cells, One Coherence
Gender, sex, racial, ethnic, and social identity are all "cells" which comprise the problem of online identity, the "tissue" in this analogy. But why is this a problem? Well think about it, do you present yourself as the same person on all the social networking platforms you participate in online? Maybe, maybe not. My friend, Daily, commented that I am a different person here on my blog than on Facebook (her description being "On your blog you discuss issues which make my mind explode, but on facebook you're so...'WAAAAAAAAHOOOOOO!!!'...two different people but both you!") The problem here being if presentation of self is so diverse, does the internet create and encourage so many "Me's" that it's not possible to be one unified whole? Are we the epitome of postmodern thinkers who believe in the fragmented state of the human condition? Well, in the words of my friend Heather, she states as the thesis of her blog, "I would argue that online identity establishment consists of a singular, visible identity that is created by the aggregate of multiple online identities" to which I heartily concur. We are one made of many. Many organs creating one organism.

In the words of Davey Winder, author of the book Being Virtual: Who You Really Are Online,
I was destined to become the sum of my parts, a composite personality.

It's not that internet users have a multiple personality disorder, it's quite the opposite. They have one personality which is made up of many different parts (gender, sex, ethnicity, race, social class, etc.) and those constituent parts themselves are made up of even smaller parts. Just as a tissue is made of cells, a cell is made of molecules and cell of gender identity is comprised of the molecules "masculine" and "feminine." It is important to examine each part, looking at it in perspective of the whole to see its strengths and shortcomings in its relation to the whole.
There can be no one part of us that reflects all we are.
-Being Virtual: Who You Really Are Online
Just as our clothing is an outward appearance to the world of our multiple situations and personalities, our online avatars are the "clothing" in which we dress ourselves in the social spheres we participate in, each part participating in the whole "Me."

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Cell Analogy: The Cell- Part 2 Modern Day and Technology

In light of yesterday's post, as well as some of the positive feedback I received from some commentators (thanks Neal and Ben), today's post will continue in a similar vein (pun intended!). This is the second installment in a series of posts relating to my more scholarly trilogy about my ongoing argument that methods of gender exploration in the Renaissance echo that of today's modern blogosphere. In yesterday's post we used a muscle cell analogy in our exploration of gender exploration during the Renaissance. Today, let's use the same basis for our analogy, the cell, just a different type of cell. The red blood cell!
Now before I go any further, you might be thinking, "Ok, Becca if we're going to form a tissue for the next part of your analogy, red blood cells don't form a tissue, they form a liquid, blood!" Yes, that's true, but did you know blood IS a type of connective tissue. So thus my analogy still works!

Self-Expression Online
The World Wide Web has become a way of life for Americans. An article by The New York Times shows,
At home, people consume 12 hours of media a day on average, when an hour spent with, say, the Internet and TV simultaneously counts as two hours. That compares with five hours in 1960, say researchers at the University of California, San Diego. Computer users visit an average of 40 Web sites a day, according to research by RescueTime, which offers time-management tools.
Social networking sites, Facebook and blogging sites above the rest, have become social platforms for people to "update" about themselves. A colleague, Amanda, did some research on this topic of self-disclosure on the internet and its effects. She found an article published by The Open University where studies found,
"New, meaningful relationships can be formed in cyberspace because of, not despite, its limitations." He (Reingold) further argues that `the medium will, by its nature...be a place where people often end up revealing themselves far more intimately than they would be inclined to do without the intermediation of screens and pseudonyms'. Wallace (1999) argues that `The tendency to disclose more to a computer . . . is an important ingredient of what seems to be happening on the Internet'
In the same post, Amanda also makes reference to a New York Times article "Brave New World of Digital Intimacy" in which it states,
It is easy to become unsettled by privacy-eroding aspects of awareness tools. But there is another — quite different — result of all this incessant updating: a culture of people who know much more about themselves.
So what's the point of all this? It is important to understand that today's internet is part of self discovery. Traditional objective methods of evaluating and judging another have all but vanished with the emergence of social networking sites where representation is highly subjective.

Enter the theory of disembodiment and use of avatars.

Disembodiment= The idea that while one requires the use of the body to connect to the Internet, once the user is online, the need for the body is no longer required, and the user can participate completely separately to it. This ultimately alludes to a sense of detachment from the identity defined by the physical body (Sexual Identity Online)

As a person creates an online avatar (a manifestation; display [OED]) sexual and gender representation becomes a choice! Just as we discussed in yesterday's post, the transvestite theater used costumes and adopted characteristics of the gender they were portraying to assist their audience in how to understand their words, the "costume" a computer user "dresses" their avatar with (profile pictures, username, color themes, music play lists, widgits, word font, etc.) creates a gender base which readers use to interpret the words.

Which Implies...
If we all have both masculine and feminine aspects within our biologically biased body, and if we are no longer constrained by biological factors which bias a listener to what we say, perhaps just as Elizabeth was able to convincingly manifest her masculine parts without her audience having a bias, a writer on an online social networking site, such as a blogger, could either create a bias in his readers by obviously "dressing" his avatar with gender "indicators," or remove that bias through removing any gender indicators and having the words speak for themselves. Yesterday we explored the idea that we are all hermaphroditic in gender and that situation dictates what role we are to play. The idea of removing gender indicators presents the possibility of a hermaphroditic reading of a text. One where the reader not only understands things from both a masculine and feminine view point, but where the words themselves promote an unbiased reading in terms of gender. Can you read a text without trying to guess "Who wrote it?" Can you take words for simply that, words and ideas?

Gender exploration is just one "cell" of the many issues (culture, social class, economic status, race, etc.) which make up the "tissue" of "Online Identity," the next topic to be explored in my series on "The Big Picture" of why understanding that transvestite theater exploration of gender during the Renaissance echos that of today's blogosphere matters! So stay tuned!