Category Archives: gender

[Book Review] Viper Wine, by Hermione Eyre

This is a book for an energetic mind.

I haven’t finished it yet. I’m having a hard time getting into it, not because it isn’t good or well written or whatever, but because I’m always so damn tired. If I felt like reading something, it would be this book.

My first thought, after reading the description of the book, was that Viper Wine had the potential to make a powerful statement about the social and psychological damage done by the beauty standard. The false value of aesthetic beauty, the judgment of worth by beauty, the patriarchal grading of women by their relative beauty, the competition that arises and demands unnatural measures to achieve “beauty” – all of these damage ourselves and our society, and this book could show us how.

I looked at the table of contents. The chapter titles sounded like short stories (“A Discourse Between Brothers”) or poems (“Moonbeams Are Cold and Moist”). The include modern pop culture references (“Fame” and “Yellow Submarine”). Together, they hinted at a poetic, ornate, satirically flowery style of writing. They were right.

There is a prologue, and Epilogue, and 38 chapters. There are about 400 pages of text. Large pages. There is also a Bibliography (selected), and a list of illustrations. This surprised me. I mean, yeah, it says it’s based on real events, but that phrase gets tossed about quite a lot with very little research to back it up. Not so in this case. Perhaps it’s because this novel, this fictionalization, was written by a journalist. But frankly, calling Hermione Eyre (surely that’s a pen name?) a journalist after reading any of this book at all, feels so incomplete as to be false. This woman is an Author. She has crafted what is perhaps a masterpiece.

I took a peek at the author photo on the back flap, curious about the face that made Viper Wine. The woman in the photo challenges the viewer and does not seem above leaping out of the photo for a fist fight – if only to place bets on the winner.

I wondered, before beginning the journey that has been Reading The Book, whether there could be a connection between the ornate writing style and the theme of social beauty concepts, especially in the damage those concepts do; is the writing style another layer of satire? Now that I’m halfway into the book, I feel it must be intentional. Whatever the case, it works.

Seriously, don’t let the ornate style turn you away before giving this book a try. It isn’t over the top, and somehow it manages to not be pretentious. The story is woven by its prose. Every thread is important. Every word addresses the characters in the most human terms and stabs at the modern feminist’s foes. The text describes the patriarchy without subscribing to it. If nothing else, this story is a feminist victory.

In the end, I ranked this book at four stars instead of five only because it is not broadly accessible; the average reader will have difficulty with some of the style devices – both the overall ornateness and the insertion of radio static (no really; I don’t know how else to describe it), which is original and interesting, but hard to ‘get’ at first.

(I ranked the back cover copy fairly low because books that only list their praise on the back annoy me. Give me a reason to open it, not sound bites.)


Also, you should know that I was given a copy of Viper Wine to review, through, which is awesome.

sex and gender with bodies

In this course, we have been carefully considering the concept of gender, how it is culturally situated, and how it is created through public acts of performing selves, themselves informed by cultural ideologies of gender. Now, for your final post, reflect on what you have learned about the relationship of gender and language—what knowledge have you gained thus far?
After your reflection, consider the relationship of the body to gender by reflecting on Laqueur’s idea that sex and gender are both “staged” according to cultural understandings of them:
  • How does a discussion of the body complicate or enhance a discussion of gender?
  • How does the film Is it a Boy or a Girl enhance our understanding of this relationship? Be sure and bring in examples. 
  • Where would you put the body in a theoretical understanding of gender and language?
The inclusion of biology in the discussion of gender necessarily complicates and enhances the context. Research efforts such as those we see in “Is it a boy or a girl” and Laqueur’s works illustrate, increasingly, the nature of sex, gender and sexuality as interconnected spectrums rather than dualities. So few things in nature are dualistic; it should be no surprise that there is little about humans that is dualistic. If forced to guess, I would hypothesize that the body is the platform for these three things. In one sense the body might be the necessary and hugely influential structural framework for gender and sexuality. Simultaneously, the body might be justthe platform, from which any picture might emerge, depending on the other components.
With as much time as I have spent in the genderqueer, transgender, and intersex communities – either because of my identity or through my work – it seems that the body must be an active component of gender and sex (and sexuality). However, it’s equally apparent that the body does not play the role it is assumed to play by our dominant cultural gender ideologies. The role of the body is not cut-and-dry, nor is it dualistic in any sense. Even intersex might not be best described as ‘part boy, part girl,’ as sometimes happens in conversations. Rather, it could possibly be said that we are nearly allintersex to some degree, because nearly all of us fall short of the hegemonic gender ideals – there are no real Barbies and Kens, in other words.
Is it a boy or a girlhighlighted the very interesting position that doctors are placed in when a child is born which is visually intersex (not all intersex individuals have external indications of being so – some are not discovered until the autopsy). At 3:52 of part 3 (as viewed on youtube – links below), the narrator begins a discussion of two people’s effort to instigate legislation against sex-assignment surgeries done during infancy. At 4:12, the narrator begins a somewhat-paraphrased quote of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ official position on the practice: in full, that quote is, “research on children with ambiguous genitalia has shown that a person’s sexual body image is largely a function of socialization, and children whose genetic sexes are not clearly reflected in external genitalia can be raised successfully as members of either sexes if the process begins before 2 1/2 years.” The sentiment behind that quote seemed somewhat dated (after all, “Doctor” Money’s work has long been known to be a travesty of false pretenses at best). Some snooping around on the AAP website revealed that they have actually updated their official position on the evaluation and management of intersex ‘disorders.’ Their new policy does reflect the more recent findings concerning the biological basis of gender, and subsequently they no longer support the erroneous claim that “a person’s sexual body image is largely a function of socialization.” (Links to the articles relevant to my findings are listed below.) I was mollified by their updated policy statements; it seems they are moving more toward an evidenced-based approach and away from the previous hegemonic ideology-based approach.
Is it a boy or a girl?– youtube version:
Intersex Society of North America – 1996 stance of American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP):
          “Research on children with ambiguous genitalia has shown that a person’s sexual body image is largely a function of socialization, and children whose genetic sexes are not clearly reflected in external genitalia can be raised successfully as members of either sexes if the process begins before 2 1/2 years.”
          At this time, the AAP made the potential fertility of the infant their primary decisive factor in determining the gender of the infant; surgery was performed to “correct” any aspect of the infant’s sex which might cause them to appear other than the sex which was most likely, in that individual, to prove fertile.
          Still based on potential fertility; removes direct language concerning malleability of gender to social constructs, but indirect language remains and no counter statements are offered (this revision seems more political than functional).
          Acknowledges limitations sociocultural as well as genetic influences on gender development of intersex people; seems to be a functional step forward.
Also, for more information on John Money’s experiments with gender, this is a decent starting point (after wikipedia):

the makings of men: yes, I’m doing my homework again

The conversation transcribed below is scripted, and is from a TV show called Six Feet Under. The clip (which is available for your viewing pleasure at the bottom of this post – you’re welcome) is from the first season, which aired in 2001. The section which has been transcribed is a conversation between a father and son who run, with their family, a mortuary and funeral home. It so happens that the father in this scene has passed away, and is speaking to the son as a sort of ghost. Later in the clip, it is implied cinematically that the conversation happened as part of a dream. Despite the unlikely circumstances of the conversation, and despite the fact that the conversation is scripted rather than natural, it is well-scripted, in that it could very plausibly be a conversation between any father and son who have been unexpectedly reunited. The two men sit across from each other, and share a cigarette as they talk.
1 D:     So I’m walkin a/long one day
2          and this asshole `stops me
3          and /asks me if I’m `alright?
4          He says I got a /look.
5          He’d seen a /man.
6          with that /same look once.
7          a:nd had ignored it.
8          And that man had `jumped out a nine story window.
9          ((high-pitched laugh))
10        .hhhh
11        Do you know the reconstruction `involved
12        in a death like that?
13        hhh-
14        This business gets under your skin.
15        It’s like a fuckin virus.
16        You can even /see it on your /face.
17        `Smell it on you.
18 S:    What the /hell is this place – this music?
19        Since when do you listen to (.) the classics four?
20        What the `hell did you /do here?
21        Who the `hell /are you?
22 D:   So many questions –
23        why didn’t ya ask them when I was still aLIVE?
24        (.2) It’s ok, I couldn’t’ve answered most of them anyway.
25        Unlike now, /now I’m a /fucking prophet.
26 S:    Right.
27 D:   You think I’m kidding buddy-boy?
28        ((Leans back))
29        That’s one of the `perks of being /dead.
30        you know what `happens after you /die?
31        `and (.) you know the meaning of life.
32        ((smiles, quiet laugh))
33 S:    /That seems fairly /useless.
34 D:   Yeah I know.
35        Life is `wasted on the /living.
36        ((puffs cigarette))
37 S:    Ya `coulda told me you were /proud of me.
38 D:   You were never /around for /me to tell.
39        Which was `exactly what I was `proud of you /for.
40        ((short laugh)) therein lies your catch-22 ((laughs more))
D: Dad as speaker
S: Son as speaker
` heavy accent
/ light accent
? rising intonation
. falling intonation
(.) brief pause
(.n) measurable pause
CAPS increased volume
*Transcription begins at 3:26 in the clip, which is from Six Feet Under, season 1.
Of the three characteristics of hegemonic masculinity described by Bird – emotional detachment, competitiveness, and objectification of women – two are evidenced in this scene: emotional detachment and competitiveness (1996, pg. 121). Although Bird first defines emotional detachment as the detachment of a young man from his mother in his process of masculinization (pg 121), there seems to be a certain degree of emotional detachment from other men which is integral in the hegemonic identification of masculinity. Indeed, Bird discusses this aspect of emotional detachment as an identifier of masculinity on the very next page, and we see evidence of this behavior in the conversation transcribed above. Bird describes this emotional detachment as “withholding expressions of intimacy” (pg 122). We can gather from the conversation that the son in particular is aware of an emotional distance between him and his father. In lines 18 through 21, the son expresses his frustration with this distance. His frustration is made more evident by the suddenness of his statements, which are contextually unconnected to the last statement made by his father. This emotional disconnection is verified by the father’s reply, in lines 22 and 23: “So many questions – why didn’t you ask them when I was still alive?” From this, we know that these two men didn’t discuss such emotional matters under normal circumstances. Further, in line 37, the son expresses frustration that his father hadn’t expressed any pride in the son. This is another indication of the two men having been emotionally at arm’s length from each other.
The father’s response, on lines 38 and 39, brings us to another point; Bird discussed this in terms of competitiveness, and Willott and Griffindiscussed it in terms of successful masculinities: the son wasn’t home enough for the father to have a chance to express his pride in his son, which was the source of the father’s pride. Not hanging around at home could be an indication of the son’s independence, which is also an indicator of emotional detachment as a characteristic of masculinity (Bird, pg.125), but it’s just as true that the son’s absence from the family home provides a valuable measure of masculinity in and of itself. As Willott and Griffin found, the ability of a man to spend time away from home is, in some ways, and indicator of his success as a man. Even without the pub as a destination – since this TV show is set in USA, not England, and rounds at the pub are less dominant in American culture than in British – a man still must leave the home (in terms of the hegemonic masculine ideology) in order to be a successful provider. Thus, being away from home is a symbol of success as a man, because being a good provider is a tenet of masculinity in the hegemonic ideal (Willott and Griffin, pg. 117). The son’s success might also be considered a measure of the father’s success; the father is proud of his son because his son has succeeded in displaying himself as a capable provider (by not being home), and the success of one’s progeny can be considered a reflection of the parent’s success in their role. Therefore, the competitive aspects of the father’s statement of pride (lines 38 and 39) are relevant to and evidence of the masculine successes of both father and son.
This conversation as a whole might be viewed as edging over the boundaries established by the same emotional detachment it gives evidence of, but the two men maintain a certain distance even as the content of their speech becomes intimate. Their retained distance is visible in their physical distance – they remain on opposite sides of a sitting area, across a small table from each other – and their emotional controls do not escape them beyond a slight raise in volume by the father (line 23), which is quickly contained. Furthermore, the potentially engaging emotions are laughed at – exactly as Bird found in her studies (pg. 126), when participants told her that “feelings are ‘something for us all to joke about.’” The fact that the single moment of raised volume is acted out by the father, as opposed to the son, is also notable. Bird describes how a man’s relationship to the hegemonic masculinity ideals might change over his lifetime, and specifically mentions that one man, at least, cared less about fitting into that ideal as he grew older.
Overall, this conversation gives us an inverse sense of the ‘Father knows best’ ideology discussed by Ochs and Taylor (1996), in that we’re made to understand that the son knows very little of the father’s life. So, despite the role of the father as the protagonist (in that he is the subject of the story he narrates in lines 1 through 17, and in that the son’s contributions to the conversation are almost entirely questions concerning the father’s past behavior) in this particular conversation, the viewers understand that this has not normally been the case. The son is frustrated by how little he knows about his father, and it seems that perhaps he has never even realized, before, how shallow his understanding of his father is. Thus it’s clear that, while we don’t know whether or not the father was a recipient in previous family conversations, he certainly wasn’t the protagonist. This finding is consistent with what Ochs and Taylor discovered about fathers, which is that fathers are typically not protagonists (pg. 102). Even within their families, fathers – as the primary masculine identity in a typical nuclear family – maintain the emotional detachment evidenced in Bird’s research.

Bird, S. R. (1996). Welcome to the men’s club: Homosociality and the maintenance of hegemonic masculinity. Gender & Society, 10(2), 120-132.
Ochs, E. & Taylor, C. (1996). ‘The father knows best’ dynamic in family dinner narratives. Gender articulated: Language and the socially constructed self. ed. by K. Hall. Routledge. pp.97-121.
Six Feet Under, The Room – YouTube. (n.d.). YouTube. Retrieved July 1, 2013, from
Willott, S., & Griffin, C. (1997). `Wham Bam, Am I A Man?’: Unemployed Men Talk About Masculinities. Feminism & Psychology, 7(1), 107-128.