Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Capitalism, Economic Development, Gender Roles and The Story of Stuff

Image © Enjoy Waking Times.Com

In a 1998 PBS interview with sociologist Michael Kimmel, No Safe Place, Violence Against Women, Michael outlines views on masculinity in the United States. Kimmel discusses that traditional models of masculinity have been around for a long time and that men are expected to follow traditional rules of manhood by stating that one, “You can never do anything that even remotely hints of femininity.” (PBS, No Safe Place, Violence Against Women). Michael continues to describe male roles within society in three points to follow. 

One, a male is expected to be a “big wheel” meaning measuring masculinity by a paycheck, wealth and power, that a male is expected to be a “sturdy oak” meaning never showing emotion, and three, a male is to always “Give “Em Hell” meaning being forthright and aggressive, showing power and control. These are examples of how capitalism and economic development have differential effects on women due to outdated gender models within society that affect gender relations within all areas of the workforce and global development.

As a sociologist, Kimmel continues to explain that not everyone can be a “big wheel” and that having to keep one’s emotions in check affects male relationships with women and that the idea that being consistently aggressive is an immense pressure on men. This is where the "Women’s Movement” challenges the traditional male models of society. Although Kimmel outlines difficulties with male gender roles, a rise in men that support feminism and violence against women has risen, simultaneously. However, there is a split within Western society. 

One, there are more men that support equality presently due to recognizing that outdated models do not work, in part due to the Women’s Movement that teaches respect, that men can recognize their emotions, and that violence and aggression must end in order to create equality within society and the workplace. For example, Kimmel states, “We're sitting in a studio right now where there's a woman who's interviewing me, a woman sound person, a woman producer. I mean this was unthinkable 30 years ago in the work place. So it's completely different. And I think that more and more men are supporting that.” (PBS, No Safe Place, Violence Against Women).

In addition, there are men that refuse to let go of traditional models of masculinity and view change as erosion. The male gender then feels compromised and needs to fight back that results in a rise in violence towards women. Kimmel includes the importance of the era. For example, what sexual harassment meant in the 1960’s compared to harassment today is different. In the 1960’s, men were taught to keep trying, to go for it, to succeed and to not stop trying. Today, that is stalking and harassment. 

The importance lies in women that are reporting these instances. In this vein, men are responsible for their behavior and women are protected by laws that did not previously exist. This split in the West, in addition to outdated models, specifically in regards to development, are examples of how women are victimized and empowered as well as the differences in relationship between gender, sexual ideology, economic development, and civil and human rights.

The Story of Stuff, a 20-minute short film released in 2007, outlines production and consumption patterns in the United States. The premise of the short is based upon the question, “Have you ever wondered where all the stuff we buy comes from and where it goes when we throw it out?” (The Story of Stuff, 0:24).  

Annie Leonard, one of the writers, spent 10 years traveling the world and what she found is a system in crisis. In the West, our economic development and capitalist governance affects the entire world.  This nation does business with diverse cultures, economies and environments and the shortsightedness of the government affects the balance of all people, some more so than others.

For example, out of the 100 largest economies on Earth, 51 are corporations. Where is economic equality for all people? The government pays more attention to corporations as they grow larger and more powerful, thus all attention paid to the corporation, not the people. Extraction, or natural resource exploitation, causes the government to look to other nations for natural resources. “We [The U.S.] have 5% of the world’s population but we’re consuming 30% of the world’s resources and creating 30% of the world’s waste.” (The Story of Stuff, 3:38). 

Furthermore, the consumption and production in the U.S not only takes resources from other nations, but the production of synthetic chemicals produces toxins. This affects breast milk, a breastfeeding mother and her newborn infant, the most safe and natural form of nurturing and nutrition.

As this nation attempts to get rid of toxic chemicals it produces, it looks to other nations to aid it. Dirty factories are moved overseas. In addition to polluting this land and people, the United States government, along with corporations, is polluting other nations, their workers and their people via air pollution, land waste and dirty factories. 

Annie Leonard used buying a radio as an example of how consumption in the US connects to the experiences of women in developing countries. “The metal was probably mined in South Africa, the petroleum was probably drilled in Iraq, the plastics were probably produced in China, and maybe the whole thing was assembled by some 15 year old in a maquiladora.” (The Story of Stuff, 8:50).

Typically, women and children hold menial labor jobs in other nations and are most affected by economic development in the West. Furthermore, people in other nations pay for these developments with natural resources. 

These people paid with the loss of their clean air, with increasing asthma and cancer rates. Kids in the Congo paid with their future—30% of the kids in parts of the Congo now have had to drop out of school to mine coltan, a metal we need for our disposable electronics. These people even paid, by having to cover their own health insurance. All along this system, people pitched in so I could get this radio for $4.99.” (The Story of Stuff, 9:34). 

All of these situations are examples of how women and children are victimized in other nations by the economic development and capitalist governance of America.

The Story of Stuff exposes connections between environmental and social issues, and calls us together to create a more sustainable world. This film short explores U.S. capitalist development and global economy and the detrimental effects that has on all people, specifically women and children in other nations. 

The PBS interview focuses on male power and aggression in traditional gender roles in American society that further affects global societies due to economic development in the U.S.  The more consumers buy into a capitalist world economy, the more adverse results occur in regards to women and children in other cultures and nations, as well as our own. The result, if current developments continue, is dependency, westernization and acculturation.


No Safe Place, Violence Against Women. (1998). Michael Kimmel interviewed by PBS.  [Radio series episode]. PBS. Retrieved from:

Leonard, Annie, Fox, Lewis, Sachs, Jonah. (2007). The Story of Stuff Project. Free Range Studios. [Video file]. Retrieved from:


Thursday, November 16, 2017

Brave New World: Explorations in Utopian Literature

Brave New World

     Brave New World, written by Aldous Huxley in 1932, focuses on a distant future based in a London “Hatching and Conditioning Centre.” The purpose of the hatchery is to create nearly identical human embryos for a flawless race of humans by means of artificial reproduction with the purpose of social conditioning of the entire population. 

     There are several rooms, Fertilizing, Bottling, Social Predestination, and Decanting. After gestation, the embryos are assigned to one of five castes, Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, or Epsilon. Alpha relates to leaders and thinkers of the “World State”, a system designed to remove strong emotions, desires, and human relationships. The other castes are conditioned to be less than Alpha in regards to physical and intellectual features. The execution of the conditioning of each caste is via depletion of oxygen, chemical treatments, vaccinations, and mental reprogramming. Each caste is conditioned according to the stage of gestation and purpose in society. For example, the Alpha caste is conditioned to be leaders while the Epsilon caste is conditioned to be workers.

     Bernard Max, Alpha caste, is a sleep specialist at the Centre but does not fit Alpha requirements. Bernard is short due to an accident with alcohol in Bernard's blood-surrogate. He is independent intellectually with an outward depressive nature and exhibits human emotions such as anger, jealousy, cowardice, judgment and resentment. This is a sign that conditioning was incomplete and causes Bernard to be an oddity in his culture. Due to his Alpha caste, these attributes are weaknesses. 

     Linda, Beta caste, is the mother of John the Savage. John is the son of Linda and the Director of the hatchery, Thomas. John was born unauthorized, breaking law, on The Reservation, opposite of the controlled society they reside in. Linda was left on her own by the Director while pregnant. She was too ashamed to admit she bore an illegitimate child. Linda wasted away unable to cope from being tossed from a controlled culture to a native one, from Beta to The Reservation ending up in the “Park Lane Hospital for the Dying.”

     John the Savage, the son of the Director and Linda, is a unique human being. He was born neither of the Reservation, an uncontrolled civilization, nor of “the Other”, the controlled society of Brave New World. Considered a “savage native”, John is the moral compass. As a rare individual, belonging to neither side, John has the most advantage because he is able to exist on his own without concern about fitting into caste, group or society. 

     Mustapha, a World Controller, had a charismatic nature that made it possible for him to support the Brave New World order even though it is outright totalitarianism. Mustapha stands for the idealism of "Community, Identity, and Stability" by dredging up horrors of the hidden past. As the Controller, Mustapha believes that art, literature and freedom with scientific experimentation must be ignored to maintain happiness. He fully supports castes, the conditioning and the control of the State over its people as worthy. To him, a stable environment is the utmost virtue because it produces happiness. Although he follows this “Brave New World”, in his youth, Mustapha wished change yet feared exile. 

     The focal point where change radically occurs involves the disturbing and disrespectful demise of John’s mother, Linda, where John became disillusioned with utopian society. John goes against Mustapha and starts a revolt among the lower caste system fighting for primitivism showing that soma, “a pleasure drug”, is a dangerous narcotic. Bernard becomes courageous when he returns to society wishing the end of the Director, who wished to exile Bernard. The courage was temporary as Bernard became egocentric with his success, banished for non-conformity. After the attempted revolt, media, paparazzi and the public hounded John. Ridden with shame, he retreated. His demise is iconic and oddly, modernistic. The events leading up to his death mirror actions of media, leaders, and people in our current world.   

     Several social traits that will improve our own culture is embodying everything that made John the Savage who he was, an ethical human being with emotion and compassion. An individual with an authentic mind and soul who cared deeply for his Mother, disgusted with the disrespect shown to her upon her death. John revolted when he saw the system was a hoax. He tried to involve others. They were not impassioned. They were conditioned. John was enigmatic when speaking to Mustapha about the creation of “the Other” along with the history of what existed before, in relation to what creates happiness by stating, "But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.” (Brave New World, Pg. 240).

     Huxley wrote Brave New World after World War I and before World War II, a text that mimics our modern day society with both “the Other” as well as the Reservation. At this time, Britain as a whole was peaceful; however, the after effects of World War I with World War II looming in the future were starting to show. Huxley’s message to us involved changing long held societal laws, ethics and beliefs. 

     Brave New World warns us of what will occur when we cease moving towards equality among classes and sexes and continue separating ourselves into labels, boxes and certain groups of people. Brave New World is a call to action, for us to wake up and start now, in our own backyards, before it is too late to change things without utter destruction of all that is good. 

“They never learn,” said the green uniformed pilot, pointing down at the skeletons on the ground below them. “And they never will learn,” he added and laughed, as he though somehow scored a personal triumph over the electrocuted animals.” (Brave New World, Pg. 105).

Works Cited

     Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. 1998. Perennial Classics. Pgs. 105,240. Print.


Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Androgynous Mind

© Picasso "Standing Female Nude" 1910. 
Picasso's "androgynous mind" conceiving a "female" nude made from the letters of his name

#1: The Right To Define Gender Identity

“All human beings carry within themselves an ever-unfolding idea of who they are and what they are capable of achieving. The individual's sense of self is not determined by chromosomal sex, genitalia, assigned birth sex, or initial gender role. Thus, the individual's identity and capabilities cannot be circumscribed by what society deems to be masculine or feminine behavior. It is fundamental that individuals have the right to define, and to redefine as their lives unfold, their own gender identities, without regard to chromosomal sex, genitalia, assigned birth sex, or initial gender role. Therefore, all human beings have the right to define their own gender identity regardless of chromosomal sex, genitalia, assigned birth sex, or initial gender role.”

- The International Bill of Gender Rights, 1993. 

The International Bill of Gender Rights or IBGR, developed by transgender activists, was adopted by the International Conference on Transgender Law and Employment Policy in 1993. This bill educates, promotes and sustains fundamental human and civil rights from a gender perspective. This document is not gender exclusive. Ten sections are universal rights claimed and exercised by every human being regardless of sex or gender. The bill, much like The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is “adopted” by legislative bodies, courts of law, and the United Nations meaning these entities gave their approval and acceptance of the bill, similar to amendments and resolutions.

In mainstream Western culture, categories such as gay, lesbian, and bisexual are often considered “third genders.”  Such assumptions are gross misunderstandings of gender classifications, specifically in regards to third gender, intersex, and non-binary. Gender classification is the categorization of people that do not conform to nor identify with a hetero-normative, or two-gender framework, such as male or female. Third gender is recognized differently in various cultures.

For example, in Africa, a woman can be a “female husband” who enjoys all of the privileges of men, known as such, yet whose femaleness, while not openly acknowledged, is not forgotten. To Indigenous Mahu of Hawaii, third gender is an “in-between” state between man and woman, and hajiras, also considered third gender, are transgender individuals of India, Bangladesh and Pakistan assigned male at birth.

In America, third gender studies conclude that by the age of five, gender classification by an individual is recognizable. Due to society, parental and peer pressure, human beings growing up knowing their gender yet not falling into a socially acceptable gender role socially face difficulty. The Open Society Foundations, an organization focused on building tolerant societies committed to global struggle, published a report in 2014, License to Be Yourself.

This report documents transgender rights based laws and policies that enable trans people to change their identity on official documents. “From a rights-based perspective, third sex/gender options should be voluntary, providing trans people with a third choice about how to define their gender identity. Those identifying as a third sex/gender should have the same rights as those identifying as male or female.” (Open Society Foundations, 2017).

Instead of focusing on gender classification, individual rights and freedoms, mainstream Western culture instead created a sort of “gender dysphoria.” In 2015, LGBT civil rights organization Lambda Legal filed a federal lawsuit against the Department of State that denied Navy veteran Dana Zzyym, a passport because they are, and identify as, neither male nor female. The court found no evidence that the department followed a rational decision-making process in deciding to implement its binary-only gender passport policy and ordered the U.S. Passport Agency to reconsider its decision.

This case is only one example out of many that document how misunderstood sexual gender classifications are in the United States. “Third gender” or “third sex” is when a person does not identify with the sexual genders of neither man nor woman.

Virginia Woolf in her classic 1929 book like essay, A Room of One’s Own, wrote,In each of us two powers preside, one male, one female… The androgynous mind is resonant and porous… naturally creative, incandescent and undivided.” Artists and writers clearly identified with the acceptance and discovery of “third genders” well before a “classification system” existed.

Another example of third gender and “androgynous mind” is the work of musician David Bowie in the 1970’s with his omnisexual alter ego, Ziggy Stardust.  In the truest sense, David Bowie was one of the first globally effective socially accepted “gender benders”, one who “bends” gender roles in order to eliminate rigid sexual roles, one who defies stereotypes. 

Other cultures, often Indigenous, view gender as having more than one option as a part of their social structure. Carolyn Epple, American Ethnologist, composed a dissertation on “Navajo Nádleehí”, or “Two-spirit.” Her studies speaking to Navajo that relate to being “Two-spirit” include, “First, an individual is understood in terms of her interconnections, and as both male and female . . . that no individual's definition is fixed; all vary according to the situation . . . . and while many nadleehi agree on how the definition is structured . . . they do not necessarily agree on its content.” (Epple, Coming to Terms with Navajo Nádleehí). 

Plainly stated, nadheeli refers to one individual identifying with male and female genders dependent upon their spiritual interconnectedness, that nothing is fixed  like Western socially constructed gender roles, and the content within what “nadheeli” means varies from individual to individual.

For example, when speaking to one nadheeli, the description of Two-spirit is described as an “in-between type of person, not a “drag queen” and not a woman, not wanting to be either/or. Another nadheeli describes their personal state as describing how “queen” is identified with being female and they is do not consider themselves female, they are male and attracted to men. There is an existential position present here in relation to cultural relativism, that nadheeli exists outside the constructs of time and societal norms. Cultural teachers of the Navajo describe nadheeli as meaning, “Sa'ah Naaghai Bik'eh Hozho” or natural order.

In conclusion, gender flexibility tends to be a comfortable subject matter to address in relation to aforementioned Indigenous cultures that see gender as being natural when compared to strict societal gender roles imposed and enforced on individuals in “progressive” societies. From a worldview perspective, western civilization has yet to realize that gender is specific to each individual.

The gender an individual relates to is not formed by humankind, it is not man-made, and this is what society must learn to overcome, that gender flexibility is organic and people deserve the right to be whomever they feel most comfortable being. 

* * * 


Epple, C. (1998). Coming to Terms with Navajo Nádleehí: A Critique of Berdache, "Gay," "Alternate Gender," and "Two-spirit". American Ethnologist, 25: 267–290.

Frye, Esq., Phyllis Randolph. (2001). The International Bill of Human Rights. Retrieved from:

Open Society Foundations. (2017). Retrieved from:

Woolfe, Virgina. (2015). A Room of One's Own. The University of Adelaide Library. eBook. Retrieved from: