Aug 112013

 The Cleveland case, part 2

By Beth Connors-Manke

Editor’s note: in part one of her essay, Beth began examining the ways Ariel Castro, the Cleveland man who recently pleaded guilty to imprisoning and raping Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight, represents structures of thought that are shocking yet familiar in our culture. Here, she looks more closely at the ways privatization threatens individuals and the public sphere.

Unless something very unexpected happens, we’ll probably see relatively little of any of them again. The picture will fade; whatever pattern was momentarily illuminated for us will fall back into disparate pieces; we won’t be able to see how any of this works.

Ariel Castro, by agreeing to a plea deal of life in prison without parole, seems to be avoiding both the death penalty and the probing glare that would come with a trial. Whether it is his intention or not, he may also be granting Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight the privacy they have asked for—the privacy that they recently affirmed via video is necessary for their recovery. The women’s strong desire to be shielded from public interest was asserted again when family members of Berry and DeJesus presented victim’s statements in court.

Sylvia Colon, DeJesus’s cousin, said, “Today is the last day we want to think or talk about this. These events will not hold a place in our hearts.”

Beth Serrano, Berry’s sister, explained Berry’s wish to shield her daughter: “She [Berry] does not want to talk about these things, she has not talked about them even to me. She does not want others to talk about these things. The main reason she does not want anyone to talk about the things or be forced to talk about these things is because she has a young daughter. She would love to be the person who decides to tell her daughter, when to tell her daughter, how to tell her daughter, certain things.” Serrano’s statement goes on to say that Berry does not want other people to talk or write about what happened.

For the time being, what happened in that house at 2207 Seymour Avenue in Cleveland will remain veiled, cordoned off from public view. What Castro was once keeping from the world, the young women are now asking to be the gatekeepers of. Continue reading »

Oct 132010

By Michael Dean Benton

In the opening scenes of Debra Chasnoff’s 2009 documentary Straightlaced: How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up, young males are filmed discussing clothing in a retail store and debating the appropriate hardness of their appearance. This pose brought to mind Jackson Katz’s 1999 documentary Tough Guise: Violence, Media & the Crisis in Masculinity which depicted our cultural entertainments as increasingly focused on a hard, impervious, aggressive sense of masculinity. Sadly, this disciplining of proper masculinity through the threat of aggressive violence is still endemic in the twenty-first Century.

I was recently reminded of the dangers facing anyone who dares to step outside the bounds of rigid gender roles in certain situations. Last year, one of my students was hospitalized after being brutally beaten while walking home at night, his assailants shouting the word faggot as they kicked the student repeatedly in the head. His perceived violation was the wearing of a pink shirt and sporting long hair with different colors. Continue reading »

Jan 292010

By Michael Dean Benton

“Why should an artist’s way of looking at the world have any meaning for us? Why does it give us pleasure? Because, I believe, it increases our awareness of our own potentiality.” — John Berger, Permanent Red: Essays in Seeing (1960)

“There are in fact no masses; there are only ways of seeing people as masses.” — Raymond Williams, Culture and Society (1958)

Gender and sexuality are important contemporary political concepts for understanding the constitution of our selves. They are important because they are a key to the production of our sense of self and identity as social beings, because they are experienced by every human being, because all societies seek to regulate what is acceptable in regards to gender and sexuality, and, because myths about gender and sexuality are tools for the control, demonization and oppression of groups of people. My claim for the importance of gender and sexuality as political concepts does not discount class or race, rather it recognizes that even within the hierarchical divisions of classes and races, there are further inequalities built upon perceived gender and sexuality differences (and vice versa). The discriminatory, power-based inequalities of gender and sexuality are even built into our everyday language.

While the construction of gender and sexuality is a serious subject for us to address, it is also a joyous, surprising, creative, and challenging project. Of all the personal illusions I continuously work to dispel, the myths of gender and sexuality are the most difficult; but, for that reason, also the most rewarding and enriching. The difficulty lies in my training from the earliest age to think of myself as a certain gender construct—a tough, heterosexual, working-class male—that must perform a certain rigid sexual role, and adapt the attitudes/poses necessary to be accepted in my early social environments. Continue reading »