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!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Cell Analogy: The Cell- Part 1 Renaissance and Transvestites

In light of my previous post regarding the "Bigger Issue", or the "So What?" part of my ongoing argument that methods of gender exploration in the Renaissance echo that of today's modern blogosphere, I decided to go with the analogy I used in yesterday's post to create another series of posts which echo my more scholarly trilogy exploring this same topic. Each constituent part of this series builds upon the next to create the "Big Picture" in the end. Note, I am a science freak, thus the biological analogy.
Let's start with the issue of gender identity, particularly let's explore a female taking masculine roles.
Thanks to my colleague, Neal, and his comment on a previous post, this post will address Renaissance exploration of gender and Queen Elizabeth's role in that exploration differently than in previous posts. Neal suggested including more in terms of the transvestite theater and how Elizabeth's Tilbury Speech "performance" echos that prominent social platform.

Renaissance Society
The Renaissance was a homosocial society prominently male dominated, yet the crown was held by a queen, Elizabeth Tudor, who claimed to be a King and "convert[ed] her reign, through the perpetual love tricks that passed between her and her people (Bedford). Her reign was during the height of the transvestite theater in England, this type of theater being a place where men and boys dressed and played both male and female roles. In addition to adopting the dress of female characters (as the definition of "transvestite" is "One who wears the clothing of the opposite sex" [OED]), the male actors adopted characteristics usually associated with the female gender and performed accordingly.

Transvestite theater
=male actors taking a female role, combining both physical appearance, or sex, of a female as well as feminine mannerisms, or the feminine gender.

Switching Roles
Elizabeth was once quoted saying "We princes, I tell you, are set on stages, in sight and view of all the world" (Bedford). Standing on that political stage (her passion was the theater of politics [Bedford]), Elizabeth adopted both traditional and transvestite roles as necessity dictated. In her famous Tilbury speech where she rallied her men against the threat of the Spanish Armada, Elizabeth played the role of the men's general, judge and leader, boldly proclaiming "I have the heart of a King- and a King of England too." Visually, Elizabeth fulfilled her male role by donning the "costume" of battle armor from the waist up and even claiming her physical features to be that of a King, the title "King" typically associated with the male position in monarchy. When it is understood that "Renaissance historiography constituted a masculine tradition...devoted to the deeds of men, glorifying the masculine virtues of courage, honor and patriotism" (Rackin) and we read of Elizabeth promising to her men "By your obedience to my General, by your concord in the camp, and your valour in the field, we shall shortly have a famous victory over these enemies of my God, of my kingdom and of my people" we see she is recognizing those three elements of courage, honor and patriotism and participating in a very masculine tradition of honoring those characteristics of her men.

Many "Me's"
Just as you dress differently for a presentation than when you go to the gym, presentation of self differs depending on situation. Did Elizabeth use masculine characteristics and clothing to permanently make herself male? No, in fact all the pictures painted of her depict her in lavishly feminine attire. The situation at Tilbury necessitated the emergence of her more masculine "Me," the novel aspect here being she, as a female, seemed to possess masculine qualities which she readily put forth. Situation creates gender characteristics. Is that a fair statement to make? If Elizabeth were married I feel it safe to say her husband would have been out there, rallying the men. Yet she wasn't married. She was the monarch, the King, the masculine leader her men needed at that point. This emerging masculinity creates the idea of the hermaphrodite, a being with both sets of masculine and feminine characteristics. Could this be characteristic for all, not just females? Do we all possess pieces of our other hermaphroditic half (see my previous post, The Hermaphrodite, for more on the idea of the hermaphrodite) and simply suppress those pieces to create a dominant gender? It seems the bolgosphere suggests this is possible and possibly occurring right now...more on that next!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Why Do I Care?

Let's start with this...

As a part of this...
which makes up this...

What's my point? Many people have been commenting on the "So What?" part of my blog. Yes, I have research, articles, points, all driving my argument to a conclusive "The Renaissance social stage of the transvestite theater and the world wide web are echos of each other in terms of gender exploration." But what are the implications of such an argument? In other words, as my 14 year old sister, Sarah, asked me,
"Why do I care?"
Ugh, here Sarah, do you want back the knife you just stabbed through my literary heart?! But it's a good question. Why is it pertinent to understand that Elizabeth's social appearance at Tilbury reflects an aspect of our culture? So what?

Well, I'll be honest, as I started this project with "research paper" in mind, my point was simply to synthesize and critique the arguments of other scholars. A worthy skill to have and one which is valuable in its own right. Yet, with the freedom this blog gives me, it's good I've been pushed to extend my argument to adding to that literary conversation. This is a nice forum where I can state my ideas, derived in part through the work of others, and answer the "So what?" not through the ideas of scholars, but through my own voice echoing my thoughts.

Back to the pictures. This scientific phenomenon is echoed in almost every aspect of life, big things are big only because of the small things which combine to compose them. They are not simply "big." This is the phenomenon I see occurring within the literary discourse I've engaged in. My ideas are spurred by reading my classmate and colleague Heather's blog, Musings of a College Kid, and her quest to understand the significance of multiple online identities.

Here begins my thought process: Gender is one part of those "multiple identities" which makes up the larger issue of online identity which ultimately reflects the current state of "real" or physical identity and, as Heather is exploring, how all those identities reconcile in "Me."

While searching books on Amazon (a BEAUTIFUL research technique suggested to me by my professor, Gideon Burton) I came across a great book entitled "Being Virtual: Who You Really Are Online", the author's purpose obviously being exploring online identity. And I quote, "The internet has had the greatest change upon the perception of identity yet."

His main argument centers around the statement,
There is, in fact, only one thing that we do not do online: be ourselves

Yet then he challenges his own question.
Or do we? Online we are finally freed from the political conventions and cultural restraints that society determines we must apply to everything we do, everything we say, every relationship that we make and break...Perhaps then it is more appropriate to think that underneath whatever multiple masks we wear in the virtual world, however many personas we construct, a new collaborative identity is built which ultimately reveals the real us?
Just as there are many cells and layers/types of skin composing what we know as "skin," perhaps there are many different "Me's" which all together compose Me. What does this have to do with gender? Well, quite honestly I'm not sure other than gender is one of the "Me's" which makes up Me. I'm still mulling around ideas and need to sleep on it (really it works! It's how I justify going to bed at 9:30pm some days, "I'm working on a paper!") and will continue to post my thought process, and hopefully come to some conclusions. But here's a start! What do you think?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Courage in the Face of Death

Could you inspire courage in the face of death?

Imagine yourself standing in front of a group of soldiers in Iraq with the whole Al-Qaeda terrorist organization coming to destroy you. You are far out-weaponed, and out-numbered by the enemy. It is your duty, as the soldiers' leader, to inspire them to fight with all they have, though the outlook is bleak and death is almost certain. You turn, face your men and proclaim:

"I am come amongst you as you see at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved, in the midst and heat of battle, to live or die amongst you all- to lay down for my God, and for my kingdoms, and for my people, my honor and my blood even in the dust...I myself will will take up arms- I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field."

How would you say it?

Meekly, kindly, boldly, intensely? To inspire a group of men would you use a feminine approach or would you hone in on the masculine characteristics of bravery, boldness, intensely shouting your lines and transferring your earnest intensity to your soldiers?

Let's go back to the literature which spurred this blog, Queen Elizabeth Tudor's Tilbury Speech. We have explored her use of actual words and of visual appearance so let's explore one more element to communication, tone of voice. Elizabeth's plight was similar to the one you just put yourself in. How do you think Elizabeth presented her speech? Though we don't have any recordings, I feel it safe to say, if she made efforts to enhance her masculinity through word choice and visual appearance (as I explored in my previous post), she probably did the same with her voice. I couldn't find a good audio/video recording of Elizabeth's speech, but this one is fairly good. Watch it. How would do things differently?

Remember, there were runners going through the crowd reading her speech in sync with her, but would you depend solely on those runners to exude the same intensity and tone you would? When we understand paralinguistics (the non-semantic aspect of speech--everything but the words themselves) plays as much as 38% of how our words are received it brings up an interesting question which doesn't really have any answer. Were the runners a necessity or theatrical element of her Tilbury performance? While it is pretty safe to say the runners were partly out of necessity, Elizabeth was too sharp to miss the advantage of her speech being read by a man's voice. This tactic is yet another manifestation showing her mastery of blurring the lines between biological reality and social perception. Her role became one which was not one of "masculine" or "feminine" but rather as their "general, judge and rewarder," their monarch leader, "A King of England."

Saturday, June 5, 2010

A Scholarly Vacation...

Have you ever wanted an excuse to fly to England? Well here you go, I'm giving you an excuse. Consider it a gift from me to you for reading my blog! Go tour England while easing your conscience and justify it in your mind by saying "This is for my intellectual growth!" This event is the one which has the Renaissance scholar community buzzing!

Cambridge International Chronicles Symposium- Authority and Gender in Medieval and Renaissance

This event is a biennial interdisciplinary conference organized to promote research and to strengthen the network of chronicle studies worldwide. The aim of the CICS is to allow scholars from various departments of learning and critical approaches to meet, present new research, demonstrate new critical approaches and discuss prospects for ongoing, collective research between scholars and academic institutions.

The date for the event is July 16-18, 2010 at the University of Cambridge.

Registration deadline was 31 May however late registration is possible through contacting the registration office. The registration fee is about $58 US dollars.

If you have ever attended/will be attending I would love to hear your report on previous/the current event! Cheers!

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Table of Content

Can a man write like a woman?
Can a woman write like a man?

Since then 'tis centuries, and yet each
Feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horses' heads
Were toward eternity.

I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

Which poet is the man and which is the woman, or are they the same sex?

How It Started
I am strangely fascinated with gender studies and for a long time have been intrigued by the question "Is there is a basic humanistic way with which to view the world?" I have struggled with the question "Can you see someone from a blank slate?" and always feeling gender-typing is so innately inbred since birth (pink baby blanket for girls and blue for boys) that I can't respond to someone as just human, rather only as masculine or feminine.

Enter the idea of the Hermaphrodite...

...and thus began the formulation of my answer.


It is possible for someone to have a blank slate, but not through removing socialized ideas of established gender. Many "intellectual" musings and lots of research later, my information has pointed to the opposite. We can view another human from a blank slate not through removing gender, rather paradoxically through combining gender and achieving a hermaphroditic wholeness of knowledge! Is it possible? Queen Elizabeth Tudor accomplished such a feat during the Renaissance and today the online blogosphere harbors a multitude of such figures, in fact, if you blog, have a facebook account, or an online avatar of any sort you might be one of them!

The Trilogy

This is synopsis of my trilogy blogs which analyze the hermaphrodite figure as played out in the Renaissance and in today's society. You can see my trilogy:
  1. The Digital Hermaphrodite
  2. The Hermaphroditic Sovereign: Renaissance Exploration of Gender
  3. Avatars: Exploration of Gender in the Digital Age
My entire blog, The Best Things in Life Aren't Hard to Find, is devoted to research and musings on gender issues regarding masculinity and femininity and the idea of the hermaphrodite in relation to those issues.

Who knows, maybe reading these articles will spur you to read the other blogs, comment and you will find a new way of viewing interaction with others.

The Digital Hermaphrodite
This is the core of my argument, the point or tip of my literary triangle. While explaining the Hermaphrodite as a literary figure, this post explains the relevance of the hermaphrodite in relation to the Renaissance transvestite theater, English monarchy and events, as well as making it pertinent to our day in relation to the modern social platform of the world wide web and blogosphere.

The Hermaphroditic Sovereign: Renaissance Exploration of Gender

Queen Elizabeth Tudor, reining monarch of England for 70 years (1533-1603) never married and ruled as a single sovereign, claiming her status as England's King. How can this be? The title "King" is attributed to a male body in the monarchy position, not female. Elizabeth pushed the idea that the position of King was not based upon biological factors, rather it was based upon the ability of a person to perform a masculine gender role. In one of her most famous speeches, the Tilbury Speech, Elizabeth combines her female body with masculine gender, making for a hermaphroditic figure visually and idealistically.

Avatars: Exploration of Gender in the Digital Age
Can you pose as a your opposite sex online? Can you master the elements of word choice, structure and visual appearance which ascribe gender in the digital world? The new social platform of the World Wide Web creates a convergence of both biological sex and gender role into the one "body" of the internet. More and more, creators of avatars, online social profiles, transform their "body" image to what ever they want biologically and that sex can either represent the real sex and gender of the computer user or not. Gender exploration made possible in part by blogging!

Thursday, June 3, 2010


Yesterday in my advanced writing class which spurred the creation of this blog, I received the assignment to explore other blogs and websites which are talking about issues similar to my topic and comment on those blogs. As I was doing some exploring I came across an AWESOME website called GenderAnalyzer. You take any web address, copy, paste and Genderanalyzer using "artificial intelligence" analyzes if a male or female created the web site as well as gives a percentage as to how sure they are in that analysis. As I have experimented with this tool it's so fun to use and especially relevant to the topic of words and visual design's effect upon a site's gender definition. I used three blogs as "tests," my blog, my colleague Ben's Research 2.0 blog, and my colleague Krista's gender ambiguous Uffishsthoughts blog...GenderAnalyzer got it right each time (Krista, you may want to do something about that)! Perhaps being gender ambiguous isn't as easy as first thought! Try it out, have some fun =)! I'm contemplating starting another blog under the pseudo name "John Smith" to see if I can fool GenderAnalyzer! We'll see = )
In addition to having way too much fun with GenderAnalyzer, I found the Difference blog, whose writers comment on current sex and gender issues. The issues presented vary from news items to every day events which serve to strengthen gender roles as "set" in society. I posted a comment on a few. If you're interested you can comment as well, though your comment must first be approved by the director of the group and won't show up immediately. Each post is only a few paragraphs and can be read in about 3 minutes. See what you think!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Avatars: Exploration of Gender in the Digital Age

History Repeats Itself
Four hundred years since the English theater was the place of gender explorations a new social stage has emerged where gender identity is challenged and created, the World Wide Web. This world, composed of objects both real and fantastical in nature, has reversed the old way of one's perception of others, traditionally being based on objective physical, emotional, and mental criteria. The World Wide Web is primarily dependent on how and what one chooses to communicate about his or her self. The subjective nature of online profiles make for a prime place to explore a gender other than the one typically associated with specific sexes.

Gender-Oriented Language
Word choice is one method of determining an author's identity and gender affiliation on the World Wide Web. The subjective nature of this digital forum makes an
ideal place to change gender without changing sex or being labeled as "gay" or "lesbian." Authors of blogs who seek to try on different gender roles while retaining their original sex participate in a phenomenon known as "disembodiment." This term refers to the idea that while the body is necessary to connect to the internet, after that the body is no longer necessary for self-definition, and "This ultimately alludes to a sense of detachment from the identity defined by the physical body" (Sexual Identity Online). Another study comments, "While physical constraints such as the body, biological sex, race, or age can have a profound effect on self-definition and self-presentation, many of these attributes become flexible online" (Huffaker, Calvert). Anonymous blogs are becoming increasingly prevalent as a recent study shows, "BlogCensus randomly sampled 490,000 blogs to find 40% male, and 36% female, with the remaining 24% of the blogs unidentifiable in terms of gender" (Huffaker, Calvert). This could lead to one conclusion that authors of blogs wish to remain anonymous possibly to refrain from an audience bias based upon gender.

Technological Explorations of Language
My colleague, James, referred me to a study conducted by researchers at the
Georgia Institute of Technology who were fascinated by the role words play in revealing gender and invented an internet game to explore the issue. The Turing Game is based upon a question-and-answer setting in which questioners interrogate panelists, all posing as the same gender and attempt to discover the gender posers through purely written responses. Most users found it is not as easy to determine the impostor, the language being a good mask for defining one as a specific gender. Simply put, "girls are more likely to disclose personal information, feelings, and concerns than are boys...and (boys) often go out of their way to avoid appearing, in any way, 'feminine'...boys at adolescence tend to (and are encouraged to) restrict their emotions and emotional disclosure during adolescence" (Stern). Blogs have become forums where gender specific language is utilized in associating one with the opposite gender as well as when exploration of one's ascribed gender. One study found boys more likely to present themselves as gay online than in person and conversely, girls are more likely to explore more masculine or "unladylike" talk such as sex, depression, suicidal ideation (Stern) through the online sphere. These studies push the thought that emerging social networking sites have become venues where it is socially accepted to present one's self as a different gender or a combination of both masculine and feminine.

Graphic Disguise
Words are not the only mask the online community has to offer. Visual design "speaks" of gender as much as actual words. Studies have found that "In terms of their structure and style, men's home pages tend to be more technologically complex, to incorporate more motifs related to technology, and to emphasize status. Women's home pages...tend to be technologically simpler, include more floral designs and pastel colors, share more original creations, and more commonly integrate addresses to the audience" (
Stern). Colors as well assist in defining gender of a blogger with lighter and pastel colors more commonly used by females and darker, solid colors used by males.

A class mate of mine, Ben, has been the butt of a few jokes regarding his very "masculine," dark colored, technologically advanced, blog. My blog, being the classic feminine color, pink, attributes a gender through purely visual stimuli. My good friend, Krista, wrote for a question-answer service and unintentionally did not reveal her sex or gender. When this became apparent, she comments on her blog, Uffish Thought, "I liked the Uffish part because it doesn't seem to have a set definition. I saw how boxed in sometimes writers can become, and I wanted to have a 'nym that I could use to answer any kind of question, any way I chose and not have a big uproar." Her followers were shocked when she revealed "I am female." The visual appearance of her blog reveals little by way of gender and promotes the anonymity of her blog. The colors, word font, pictures, etc., do not ascribe gender either way and assist her readers in their interpretation of her answers as unbiased gender-wise.

The Implications
As understanding of words and visual appearance becomes more apparent, the hermaphroditic nature of combining these two elements of writing and visual appearance to create an atmosphere where one can explore different modes of thinking and writing as well as combine their sex with the opposite gender, will enhance self expression and evaluation. The blogosphere will increasingly become a modern day transvestite theater and, in the words of Phyllis Rackin regarding the English theater, an "important site of cultural transformation-a place where cultural change (is) not simply reflected but also rehearsed and enacted...An arena where changing gender definitions (can) be displayed, deplored, or enforced and where anxieties about them (can) be expressed" (Rackin).

A/N: This is the last in a series of three blog posts which explore the idea of the hermaphrodite as related to the Renaissance and modern digital age.
  1. The Digital Hermaphrodite
  2. The Hermaphroditic Sovereign: Renaissance Exploration of Gender
  3. Avatars: Exploration of Gender in the Digital Age

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Hermaphroditic Sovereign: Renaissance Exploration of Gender

Gender exploration emerged as a socially accepted practice under the guise of the transvestite theater during the Renaissance time period. Phyllis Rackin, a well known scholar on the subject of gender studies during the Renaissance commented "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" (Rackin). The biggest paradigm shift in terms of gender exploration came packaged as England's female King, Elizabeth Tudor. The date is August 18, 1588 in Tilbury England, when Queen Elizabeth addressed her militia in what has become one of her most memorable speeches, the Tilbury speech. This public appearance takes on a transvestite theater tone as Elizabeth played with wording and visual appearance to shape her words and image into one which is both masculine and feminine in gender and male as well as female in sex, making her claim of being England's king, although biologically not fitting that description, legitimate upon foundations of gender (the social role one plays which are masculine or feminine in nature), not sex (the biological factors which determine one to be male or female), qualifying one for position as King.

The Digital Hermaphrodite

Hermaphrodite; the term smacks of disorder and confusion to the gender and sex-oriented world humanity creates and expects. The name itself, derived from "Hermes" and "Aphrodite," reveals this complicated nature and represents a masculine and feminine union divined by the gods. Much of society's reluctance to accept this figure is derived in part from its ambiguous nature and inconclusive representation within literature. Yet, what if literature, both formal and informal, became the means whereby the idea of a masculine and feminine knowledge could be brought to life in a socially acceptable manner? The implications of such a claim imply that one person, a writer, could utilize the medium of literature and, through words and associated imagery, become one physical body representing the idea of hermaphroditism, a wholeness of knowledge achieved through understanding which is both masculine and feminine in nature.

Language used by an individual transmits more communic
ation than the words themselves give meaning to. Though text itself is genderless, it has been found that the use of certain words and linguistic structures are more frequently utilized by one gender or another. This fact was noted in an article exploring gender identity in relation to blogs when it reports, "The communication patterns of males and females often differ, with males using a direct and forceful style while females use a more indirect and intimate style of interaction" and continues on giving specific examples of such communication patterns. This is one fact central to a writer exploring a gender other than his or her own. Words themselves can be used to reveal the chosen masculinity or femininity of the author, whether or not that gender is in accordance with the author's sex. Words are not the only form of communication which contain gender indicators. This being the case, there is another factor which plays a prominent role in assigning gender to a text, visual appearance.

Text constitutes what is read and visual appearance of and surrounding a text contributes to how a text is read. The Renaissance, a prominently homosocial and male dominated society, makes for rich studies of emerging ideas concerning gender. These surfacing ideas were brought to social consciousness through the transvestite theater whose basis played upon this notion of visual appearance indicating how a text was to be interpreted in relation to gender bias. Costumes assigned gender to the actor and their lines regardless of sex. Elizabeth Tudor herself, master of this social transvestism, integrated this theatrical practice within her reign as Queen of England one of her more noted "performances" occurring during her speech in reaction to the threat of the Spanish Armada.

Fast forward nearly four hundred years and this same principle of appearance influencing the reading of a text through a gender-oriented paradigm has made its mark on the modern social scene through an interesting medium, the World Wide Web. This virtual reality is the social stage of the twenty-first century. Social networking sites become ideal forums utilized to explore gender identities by creating avatars, electronic images that represent a computer user. On this virtual platform, users can masquerade as any gender
identity they choose and perform for their virtual audience accordingly. Similar to the Renaissance's transvestite disguise, men can take on female avatars and vise-versa with the online community none the wiser. The transvestite theater's use of gender-oriented language and visual appearance to interpret a text is echoed in the modern century's blogosphere creating a socially accepted forum for exploration of gender orientation.

The implications of such a forum become apparent when seen in the light of the hermaphrodite and the ideas this figure promotes. This androgynous being, both male and female anatomically speaking, possesses a complete, unbiased state of knowledge and is the ideal state of human knowledge, possessing both a masculine and feminine gender paradigm with which to understand the world. The workings of the transvestite theater are echoed in today's modern blogosphere, both working as social platforms creating a stage wher
e a mindset containing wholeness of gender-based perspective and knowledge becomes possible from a gender-oriented mind.

A/N: This is the first in a series of three blog posts which explores the idea of the hermaphrodite as related to the Renaissance and modern digital age.
  1. The Digital Hermaphrodite
  2. The Hermaphroditic Sovereign: Renaissance Exploration of Gender
  3. Avatars: Exploration of Gender in the Digital Age