I'm currently working on paper for a class. I would love to have the feed back of the fans.
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This essay involves the braiding together of three abstract concepts feminism, masculinity, and the expression of grief. More specifically I would like to unravel the masculine expression of grief and bereavement within the popular television series Monk. I wanted use a definition feminism that allowed for the multiplicity and diversity of thought within feminist theory. I am personally influenced by three feminists whose theories might not all fit if I defined feminism according to only one of its branches. The feminist theorist and poet Audre Lorde, for example, rejected the idea that feminist theory should be developed and maintained solely by a highly educated mostly white class of women. The two essays of hers that spoke to me were "The Uses of the Erotic" and "Poetry is not a Luxury" in which she discusses the using eroticism and poetry as a means of developing the foundations of a feminist theory that does not restrict it to solely the ideas developed behind an inaccessible ivory tower. She suggested that engaging in poetry and respecting its merit many more women could gain access to the highly inaccessible field of feminist thought.
It is through poetry that we give name to those ideas which are -- until the poem-- nameless and formless, about to be birthed but already felt ... That distillation of experience from which true poetry springs births thought as dreams birth concept, as feelings birth ideas, as knowledge births (precedes) understanding (Lorde).
She also suggested that women should look within themselves to unravel the ways in which our "creativity and power" (Lorde) are hidden from ourselves and the world.
The feminist theorist, poet, and essayist Adrienne Rich has also influenced my definition of feminist theory. Rich's writing directly addressed the fact that much of women's lives were controlled and manipulated by men. She admirably and unapologetically named men's control of women and she identified the institutions that she felt supported and maintained the power men had over women. She specifically addressed the idea of "compulsory heterosexuality" through her essay "Compulsory Heterosexuality and the Lesbian Existence"(Rich). Here she addressed concepts of lesbian sexuality, rape, domestic violence, sexual trafficking, heteronormitivity, the wage gap, forced sterilization, and the deliberate socialization of women such that they are directed away from areas of science and technology. Through her essay she offers the idea that encouraging both straight and lesbian women to name their love and admiration of other women as "lesbian existence" will help unclench the power of the male dominated institutions that control women.
Finally, the feminist author and essayist Mary Daly has also informed my idea of what feminism might mean. Daly addressed the imperialistic and oppressive use of language that she saw shaping our culture. Through her work Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism, Daly challenges her audience to explore a new meaning of the term "exorcism"(Daly). Exorcism is traditionally thought of as the experience of liberating someone from a demonic possession. It is transformed through her book to mean the liberation of women from the sacrificial role she saw them playing for patriarchal based religions. She points out how she sees religions requiring us to view the masculine as powerful and valuable than the feminine. She states that by using the words God and Father interchangeably patriarchal based religions have fortified a cultural connection between masculinity and greatness. Mary Daly keeps coming back to the impact language manipulation plays in the manipulation of women.
Since my essay deals with men and the pressures they are under I tried to find an example of feminist theory that presented a critical look at the constraints men deal with. While looking for this definition of feminism that included an exploration of masculinity, I was interested to find that none of the definitions in my feminist theory textbook included anything like it. This led me to try to create my own new definition of feminism that accounted for the diversity of thought that could exist under the umbrella of feminism. For the purpose of this paper I will use the following definition of feminism: a division of thought dedicated to understanding the nature of women’s oppression. I further define oppression as the extinguishing of an individual’s self-determined agency. In short, my definition of feminism is about allowing people freedom to make self-determining choices for themselves without judgment and retribution.
In identifying masculinity for this essay I found myself drawing from the definitions Professor Raewyn Connell. She is currently a University Chair for the University of Sydney Faculty of Education and Social Work. She has also contributed to the educational environments at the University of California at Santa Cruz, University of Toronto, and Harvard University as well as others internationally. She is a recognized writer and researcher in the fields of sexuality, gender, and social theory. She has written several papers that deal with the nature of masculinity. I will be drawing from an article she wrote for the Canadian Journal, Resources for Feminist Research. RW Connell points out the intersection of feminism and masculinity in her article “Studying men and masculinity”.
There is a strong tendency to assume that ‘gender’ issues are issues about women. Feminist thought has sometimes reinforced this tendency, because feminist research has focused on the lives of women. We must also examine men’s gender practices and the way the gender order defines, positions, empowers and constrains men (Connell).
It is important that historically feminist writers have tended to exclusively explore the experiences of women, because in a patriarchal culture women’s stories are both deliberately and inadvertently silenced. However, the concept of gender is integral to much of feminist thought. Connell talks about gender as “relationships of desire and power” (Connell) and suggests that these concepts must be explored from both the male and female sides.
As feminists examine the cultural constraints men are under it will also create a fuller picture of our culture and ultimately a better understanding of the nature of women's oppression. That is why I hope to open up a definition of feminism that allows and encourages the exploration of men and masculinity. Connell offers this definition of masculinity in the same article, “Masculinities and femininities are best understood as gender projects, dynamic arrangements of social practice through time, in which we make ourselves – and are made – as particular kinds of human beings.” (Connell) My definition of masculinity draws from the definition that that Connell lays out here. I was particularly drawn to the terms "gender project", "dynamic", and "practice through time” (Connell). These describe gender as an idea that is moving, changing, and constantly adapting to different cultures, eras, and environments. Connell also brings up another critical point in her definition of gender. As gendered beings we both "make ourselves -- and are made" (Connell). This suggests to me that both external culture as well as our personal motivation contribute to the variety of genders that have been created.
I define masculinity for the purposes of this essay as the culturally relative ways of performing, dressing, and interacting with others that allow a person to be seen as manly and accepted into self-identified masculine subcultures. In my personal experience men are under some extreme pressures to be and act in certain ways in order to be considered real men, or manly.
This pressure, as I have witnessed it, comes for both men and women. I have witnessed a man's inability to live up to sexual expectations lead to the ending of long-term relationships, open verbal ridicule, and direct and aggressive comparisons to other men. I suspect that this kind of pressure would shape masculinity in a destructive way (Barton-Taylor).
Instead of exposing all the ways men are pressured in this essay, I will look at a contrasting example of masculinity expressed in popular culture that appears to have a much less restrictive definition. The television series Monk has created a character whose grieves openly, expresses loneliness, and can be crippled by fear at times. All the while to the creators of the show shape the character into a relatable male character that is both an accepted and honored member the fictional male subculture within the story.
While Joanna Starek defines “Bereavement [as] the state of being that emerges after a significant loss whereas grief [as] the intrapsychic process that one experiences in an attempt to regain equilibrium after experiencing a loss ” (Starek). I do not make such distinctions in my writing. I use the terms interchangeably to refer to the processes an individual goes through during and after that individual experiences a loss.
From my experience with the show I have noticed that its expression of grief undermines the hegemonic masculinity’s more limited expressions of grief and bereavement. “The form of masculinity which is culturally dominant in a given setting is called ‘hegemonic masculinity’… ‘Hegemonic’ signifies a position of cultural authority and leadership” (Connell).
An example of this hegemonic masculinity is exposed through Joanna Starek’s dissertation “Men, Masculinity and Bereavement: A Qualitative Investigation”.
Brabant, Forsyth, and Melancon (1992) conducted qualitative interviews with 20 widowers in order to examine two cultural assumptions about the way men grieve. They examined the stereotypic hypothesis that men are less emotionally involved in conjugal relationships, and are therefore less impacted by the death of a spouse. They also attempted to examine the possibility that men are strongly affected by death, but cultural prohibitions against displaying emotions prevent them from revealing their true feelings to others (Starek).
The idea that men are less emotionally engaged is presented over and over in our popular culture and is further reinforced by the seemingly mundane actions of and interactions between people every day. These researchers examined a philosophical assumption that has been taken for granted and over looked in many fields that deal with human interaction. Quite radically however, the television series Monk attempts to challenge these stereotypic ideas on many fronts.
During the seventh episode of the first season begins, “she’s always with me. Every time I close my eyes. She’s always thirty-four years old. She’s always wearing the same dress,” Monk confesses to his therapist about the flash backs he’s been having. This is one of the first sequences in which Monks grief is exposed to the audience. His narration is the somber sound track behind the soft images of a young wife. The image of his wife is quietly compared to the image of a tired and bleary-eyed Monk.
The intensity of emotion that Monk expresses here directly contrasts the ideas that men are less emotionally involved in romantic relationships and that men are less emotionally affected by the death of their spouse. Trudy Monk (Melora Hardin) appears to him several times during the series. She is always a calming presence trying to sooth a mentally exhausted Monk.
During season three Monk is invited to Trudys parents house to help her father with a case. Upon entering the house he emidately flashes back to the times he spent with Trudy there. Again you see him wilt from the pain of such a significant loss.
The juxtaposition of these two images is a deliberate choice on the part creators of the show emphasizing the weight of the grief Monk is experiencing as a widow. Later, while Talking to Trudy’s mother Monk asks her about how she coped with the loss of a child. “How did you do it Marsha? How did you survive” (Monk)? She answered with sober honesty. “I didn’t think I would, I was buried alive” (Monk). “Buried alive” he echoed in agreement. “Then one day the sun came up, the garden was blooming. Kids were riding by the house on their bikes, and I decided to give the world a second chance. It’s still a beautiful world Adrian” (Monk). Trudy’s mother offers him this advice as he looks at her with watery-eyes searching for the closure she has, but it still seems out of reach. Here Monk’s experience with grief is compared to the experience of mother who has lost a child. There experiences are presented as parallel with respect to the depth of emotion they experienced. However, when the experiences diverge we can see Monk is still crippled by the grief associated with the loss of his wife. The creators’ choice to emphasize the main character’s emotional paralysis again reinforces the idea that a masculine character, Monk, can be extremely emotionally involved in romantic relationships as well as affected by their loss. The creators’ also let his affect unfold physically and publicly despite the “cultural prohibitions” of masculinity.
During dinner that evening while still at Trudy’s parents’ house he again misses the warmth of her presence and flashes back to another memory of having dinner with his wife at the same house. Again his loneliness is revealed.
These moments and the warmth and chill that they generate respectively requires the audience to sympathize with both the emotional connection that he had with his wife when she was living and the absence he feels without that connection. Meanwhile, Monks masculinity and identity are not in question. In making this sympathetic connection, and cementing the vulnerability within a masculine identity, the creators’ of Monk open up the definition of masculinity to include more emotional versatility.
During the episode Mr. Monk vs. the Cobra Adrian Monks investigations bring him to the home of Master Zi, a wise spiritual teacher and martial arts master. Master Zi offers this insight as Monk enters his room, “a great sorrow has entered this room… Oh my, a troubled soul. You are on a quest Mr. Monk… You live in a very dark place. The darkness is your fear. Take this as a gift” (Monk). He offers Monk a small candle “light is your weapon Mr. Monk. Be the light” (Monk). Later during the episode Monk is attacked and buried alive in a coffin. He panics and desperately searches for the candle. Upon lighting it he is swept away into a sequence with Trudy Monk’s comforting presence.
The public “performance” of terror as well as serenity here maintains the idea that Monk is both emotionally involved with his wife and greatly comforted by her presence. Again the creators of the show have made a deliberate choice to seamlessly weave the breadth of emotional experience into the personality of a character who is publicly understood to be a man and personally identifies as masculine.
During the first episode of the fifth season the plot involves a film crew that try to make Monks magical crime solving ability into a film. The actor set to play Monk in this fictitious film follows him around to learn about his inner psychological workings. While in Monks apartment he inquires about Monk’s wife and the tragic mystery surrounding her death. “Is this her, is this Trudy” (Monk) he asks as he picks up a photo of her from the mantel. Monk protectively responds, “please don’t touch” (Monk). “Tell me about her” (Monk) the actor insists. “I never deserved her, the world never deserved her” (Monk) Monk says revealing his pain. “I need to feel what you feel” the actor insists, taking Monk to an emotionally uncomfortable place. “Y-you don’t want to do that,” (Monk) Monk warns. The actor walks over to the desk in Monk’s living room and opens a black scrapbook revealing photos from the parking garage crime scene where Trudy’s car was bombed and she was killed. “Is this the way she was killed?” (Monk) the actor asks. Monk convulses from the memory. Monks voice shakes as he retells the story of the day his wife was murdered. “She said she was going to run an errand…She pulled in to the parking garage. I still don’t know what she was doing there (Monk)”. The actor responds, “the person responsible for this is still out there, that must be torture. Is it torture?” (Monk). Monk nods collapsing.