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    Next fall will see Geneseo's first gender-neutral dorms. Admissions forms already have checkboxes for transgender. Among other cultural signifiers I intend to explore, these changes indicate a climate shift in how Americans view gender. Many indigenous cultures have always allowed more flexibility in gender, such as the Native American tribes recognition of the berdache, biological males with nonmasculine roles within their society.
    What intrigue's me most in Alison Bechdel's Fun Home is her struggle to identify herself in terms of her gender. She first establishes her assumptions on what define men and women based on cultural stereotypes, and from here moves to cross these boundaries in an effort to balance out her father's own gender misadventures. She spends the novel rejecting the feminine stereotype in favor of a more masculine form.
    We see echoes of this in Moore's Watchmen. (I mean echoes only insofar as it is much more thoroughly developed in Fun Home, obviously Watchmen was written first).  Laurie's mother attempts to force her into a feminine role by looking pretty, wearing the short skirts with her uniform. All the female heroes in Watchmen find themselves to be more useful as sex objects than actual crime fighters. They are idealized women in spandex and high heels. This idea of femininity is complicated by their superhero bodies, which do not match the soft female bodies we may find in other media.
    My current plan is to explore the portrayal of women within these two graphic novels, (drawing on others as my research expands) and how they fit it into as well as reject the gender roles assigned to them.
Initial Texts:
Fun Home
Watchmen
"Investigating the Engendered Superhero Body"
Bailey, Garrick and James Peoples. Humanity. 5th ed. Wadsworth,
Thomson Learning :Australia, 2000.
Kottak, Conrad Philip. Mirror for Humanity. 6th ed. McGraw Hill: Boston, 2008.
Anthropology. Ed. Elvio Angeloni. 30th ed. McGraw Hill Contemporary Learning Series: Iowa, 2007.

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4 Comments

  1. Unknown User (sms28)

    An exploration of gender in Fun Home sounds like a great idea.  Bechdel makes gender especially important in that story because of the ways she ties it in to homosexuality---the links between being gay and gender identification are very complicated and often controversial.  Many "reparative therapy" programs designed to turn gay men and women straight focus on gender expression on the basis that acting feminine can "turn" a man gay (or that acting masculine can "turn" a woman). In several chapters Bechdel ties these butch lesbian and femme man stereotypes into her rationalizations of her and her father's behavior.

    TheWatchmen comic goes well with the Superhero Gender Expression article. What link does it have to Fun Home?  One's a memoir, the other is a superhero story---I'm not saying don't explore the link, but if you could explain to the reader why these two narratives, specifically, are being compared and contrasted, it could strengthen your argument.  How does Bechdel's portrayal of gender mesh (or conflict with) Watchmen's?

    Some places you could look for info about the link between gender and homosexuality are:

           www.exgaywatch.com ---not a valid source to cite by itself, but it links to many legitimate discussions of gender expression as it relates to homosexuality.

          http://www.homonomo.com/Book--- excerpt from a book by a man who went through

                     reparative therapy

         You can also try "exodus-international.org", an organization that unifies a lot of conservative Christian "ex-gay"/"reparative therapy" groups.  Their website is pretty vague and unhelpful, though.  Especially since none of their theories are supported by legitimate psychiatric or psychological experts (the APA has gone on record stating that reparative therapy can be harmful).

  2. Unknown User (cev3)

    Dear Jayme in Wonderland,

     In my comments I'm  going to refer to gender along with sexual preference even though they are completely separate entities, but I think that sexuality could be considered in parallel  with gender because of the sexual references in both graphic novels and the different way it's portrayed depending on gender.

    I think considering the idea of private and public spheres in reference to gender/sexuality would be a good addition to your paper. You've alluded to it by considering the sterotypes of masculinity and feminity, but perhaps it can be further explored through the multiple private spheres of the Fun Home (for ex: Alison's own, Alison and her father, Alison and her girlfriend) and also in the Watchmen (Laurie, Laurie and her mother, the mother's own private life).

    Because Fun Home is written by a female, how does this affect the way the reader is supposed to view gender and sexuality? Does Alan Moore perpertuate the "male gaze" and does he do this consciously? Do novels like this (which have a very large readership) set our views back in any way or manipulate the audience (perhaps subconsciously)? What are the implications of the expanding genre to include issues that affect our every day lives. I think Moore evades these issues, where as you've identified it is one of the main focuses in Bechdel's novel.

    I would  be careful with saying "laurie's mother forces her to dress this way." Is it the mother? Or are both of them functioning in a male-dominated society, and therefore are forced into these sterotyped roles because of this? I remember one part of the Watchmen where Sally explains that the reason she dressed in this way was to make money- give the people (ie men) what they want, so to speak. Additionally in his work though, the women are treated much like sex objects, and their stories seem to revolve around who had sex with whom (sally and the comedian, laurie and Doc, Laurie and Dan), whereas in Fun Home, sex is part of Bechdel's journey

    Current and past events will help with the paper as well in order to identity the shifts in the general public's view of gender/sexuality. We all know there is a fight for equal marriage, yet at the same time there are strong voices in opposition. Steve touches on it a bit with the whole conservative Christian viewpoint. Additionally, even though the view on gender/sexuality is changing, does it still often remain in the private sphere? Even though a bar is a public setting, there are often ones deemed "gay & lesbian."

    Also, you might want to look into the shifting views during the sexual revolution of the 60's- where people challenged the idea of sexual and gendered norms (sort of following suit of the 20's which you could perhaps talk about as well). Comics, 'zines' and underground newspapers were a way for these "silenced" people to have a voice. Although there are problems with this to, because even in a progressive movement, there are always people who are silenced within it.

    Good luck!

    love,

    Colleen

  3. Unknown User (alt11)

    I think that this is a solid starting point for your paper. My first concern is that it is somewhat limited by only using two of the novels, and so I would suggest making sure you've got 12 pages worth of material to use. I am wondering if you could broaden your research to more novels that we've used, I think the idea of gender (masculinity/feminity) also played a huge role in Concrete in the portrayal of Concrete as some sexless "man," simply because he was a man when he was human. But once he becomes this "alien," can the labels of male/female still apply? Also gender roles in Persepolis were an issue. Male/female standards in Iran permeate almost every page of the book, every time she wears her veil in order to cover her femininity (just like Bechdel would do by dressing androgynously, or in her fathers clothing).

    I think that you're right about the female characters in The Watchmen feeding into a male-dominated world with their costumes, but not all of the men in the novel are so grand either. Dr. Manhattan and Ozymandeous are really the only two with "super" powers (Ozymandeous technically has none), and I think that Moore was trying to point out the worthlessness of all of them, not just the women necissarily. I do think that Laurie's mother, more so than Laurie, feeds into her role as a sex object and "pathetic" woman, maybe because of the generation gap between the two women. This idea of the "liberated" woman comes up when Laurie does not agree with her mother's costume choices, etc., and also parallels the generation gap between Bechdel and her father, and time and generational differences being one of the main reasons Bechdel was able to come out of the closet and her father remained publicly unopen about his sexual orientation.

    Great start.

  4. You're fortunate to have received some really productive feedback (which also makes my work easier).  I guess that what I'm taking away from your abstract is its opening -- that is, the "local" politics of gender-neutral housing in Livingston freaking County and how it's not something happening OUT THERE in SanFrancisco or NYC, as Bechdel's highway reference suggests.  Speaking of Bechdel, I'm leaning strongly toward your focusing upon "Fun Home," for all of the reasons you & your readers descibe but also because its relative self-consciousness about gender & sexuality tend to consolidate the topic, making it easier for you to link up with gender politics outside of comics.  "Watchmen" might stand in for any number of other "superhero" titles, albeit with a little more nuanced take on gender.  I'm worried, however, at what sorts of compromises you might have to make in order to bring them into the same essay.  My advice is to imagine someone NOT ALREADY in our class reading your essay -- do the connections seem unforced and productive, or does it resemble a final exam (the theme of gender in Bechdel, Moore, and Barks)?  You might be interested in exploring other comics more parallel to Bechdel's work: Transgender ComicsThe Gay Comics ListQueer Comix on the WebCherry Bomb ComicsWhat's a Feminist Comic?  I'm sure this is only a partial list, but I have a feeling that expanding your range beyond our ENGL 339 syllabus probably will give you a sense of greater possibilities.  Very cool start....