The narratives of transgender individuals expressed through new media challenges and debunk the myths placed against them. Anne-Fausto Sterling in her piece The Five Sexes: Why Male and Female are not Enough boldly states that in trying to maintain a norm of a two sex binary and heteronormative culture, society exerts biopower and governmentality that police the bodies of transgender and intersex individuals. Using new media as a mode of social change, trans-blogging has given the lived experiences of the LGBT community visibility in the blogosphere. While promoting visibility, I also agree that new media is not the only solutions or mode of caring out a social change. As a strategy used by the LBGT community and networks, it has its advantages and disadvantages.
From Google Images (creative commons)
Elisabeth Jay Friedman’s The Reality of Virtual Reality: The Internet and Gender Equality Advocacy in Latin America explores how the “information and communication technology” (ICT) has empowered socially marginalized individuals to broadcast their ideas. The first LGBT blog I found, “Stuff Queer People Need to Know” has a blog entry that spread the word on the Transgender pride rally and picnic that took place in Chicago. This form of consciousness-raising gives visibility and stimulates activity within the marginalized community. Queer and Trans-blogging is using the internet as a method for promoting civil society advocacy. Yet a concern for merely examining the LGBT community’s activity online for advocating political change is raised by Friedman. It is definitely necessary to view how the community utilizes technology to increase their presence in new media but as Friedman stated “they provide only a partial view of the relationship between technology and political change.” For instance although a “Lesbian Health Fact Sheet” has been developed and shared on the internet by the National LGBT Cancer Network, it does not reflect the treatment, exclusion and discriminiation experienced by the LGBT community. The rate between change in the material world vs. the virtual one can be uneven.
The complications of ICT can be counterproductive and create instances of misinformation and miscommunication. It can also place pressures on established NGO’s and other vehicles of social change to utilizing the internet in order to be considered a vital resource in campaigning for gender equality (Friedman 4). As the blogosphere has much to contribute to gender equality campaigns, it can also be frustrating in areas where there is a “digital divide”. Not having access to the internet and computers as well as not knowing how to use these tools counteracts the “fluid” and “horizontal” production and distribution of knowledge and ideas within the LGBT community and other gender equality groups and NGO’s. As inspiring the argument is on ICT developing as a vital resource to the LGBT community, whether if it with the low cost that ICT aids in consciousness raising (via emails as opposed to printing flyers), I argue that it does not reveal the diversity and complexity within the LGBT community as fluently as some might argue. Both field and cyber activism are viable ways of enhancing gender equality.
Giving general visibility to the LGBT community online, ICT has helped promote interconnectivity and crucial information for gender equality campaigns. Also providing a form of online autonomy, new media has given the marginalized LBGT community many alternative media outlets. Some examples are Kate Bornstein, Jen Jack Gieseking, and Huffington Posts’ “Gay Voices” blog page. Providing visibility for the LGBT community is one of the main elements credited with new media. Not undermining the physical and field activism that has occurred and is still happening, but in the 21st century, visibility via the web is often equated to providing autonomy and independence to these communities from mainstream media outlets.
With collective action taken by NGO’s and other groups advocating for social change in the LGBT community, there have been benefits gained from technology as well as drawbacks. It has decreased the distance between common initiatives on an international level, promoting regional and local awareness on violations against the rights of women and the LGBT community. Although much controversy follows the NGOization of feminist agendas, on an individual level it has allowed for a healthy does of self-expression.
While skimming through Allure magazine, I came across a poll taken by the makeup brand L’oreal Paris. Under the picture of a new variety of lipsticks it stated that “75% of women believe that wearing lipstick improves their confidence.” How convenient that the same brand that is selling lipstick is also promoting the social “benefits” of wearing their product. I’m not opposed to wearing lipstick and the big picture of three glorious lipstick colors did catch my eye at first. What is problematic is the statement that lipstick gives a woman confidence. What this notion does is give women the idea that lipstick, fashion, losing weight or whatever else is on the front cover of these magazines defines the normative femininity.
With headlines like “Cure dark circles” these entertainment magazines create a form of “self-policing” as well as place certain individual responsibilities as a means to present oneself as a “good citizen” (471 Oulette and Hay). In this type of environment, if a woman has dark circles the blame for looking tired and sleepless is on her.
Still flipping through the pages of the magazine, I reached a page titled “Vicious Circles”. Tired of hearing how others interpreted her dark under eye shadows; the author heavily relied on concealers. With comments like “Rough night”, “Have you tried Ambien” or my favorite “Smile-it can’t be that bad”, all suggested that there was something wrong with her and diagnosed her with insomnia. Dark circles are a human condition and can be hereditary, but I guess some people might forget this with the fully make-uped and often photo shopped faces displayed on every page of the magazine. You are drawn in by the advice bubbles on how to reduce your dark circles so as to appear energized and happy. Quick fixes such as taking an antihistamine if your allergies bring on dark circles become part of your daily routine to keep up with this identity. You so don’t want to be diagnosed with insomnia or depression by your peers and are encouraged to utilize what society has to offer you via over the counter drugs, make-up or even surgery.
This critiquing of the self and others in society is even more potent among people labeled as “addicts”. Interventions, reality shows and make-over TV are also modes of governmentality that lecture us on being self-sufficient citizens through health discourse to encourage productive citizenship (103 Daniels). An addict is usually described as someone who looks tired, pale, unmanaged and like they don’t care about their appearance. These arbitrary characteristics of an addict become the way in which society spots out addicts begins a trend of discrimination based on looks. With shows like Intervention on A&E and other culture industry resources reinforcing the portrayal of an addict, this becomes a form of discourse that we use to understand the body and the self. The identity of self becomes based on an imaginary norm and people who are deviant from that norm are not accepted as productive citizens.
I always used to watch What Not to Wear and a couple of weeks ago came across an interview with Stacy London. I saw a whole new side of her that I have never seen on the show. She talked about how her skin disorder, psoriasis, led her to fashion and loving the idea of self-transformation. Now she is in the business of transforming other people’s wardrobes and bodily transformations through the show.
The promise of reality TV shows such as What Not to Wear not only promote better clothing but also link their agenda to self-esteem, health, productivity in the dating world and relationship with family and friends. As Ouellette and Hay stated in Makeover Television, Governmentality and the Good Citizen, makeover TV functions to make “active and healthy citizens…” as part of a reinvention of the neoliberal government. The notion of being a “good citizen” is tied to the individual being responsible for their own governmentality. When the proper ‘citizenship’ is not practiced, the blame is placed on the individual. This form of policing though is framed by the surge of reality TV and other forms of media that have are part of the growing culture industry. The most commonly implied critique by the two fashion gurus of What Not to Wear was that when the nominated persons were credited for working in successful jobs or being dedicated to their family (example: mothers), their wardrobe did not present them as the good citizens that they are. This indication of failing to present and show society that you are a good citizen, even though you are a productive member of society is problematic according to the growing culture industry. So the hosts create a proposition that they will lead the participant from failure to success. This discourse continues throughout the show hoping that the end result will fulfill and complete the participant.
Reality TV shows like this also frame their solutions to the participants of these shows in a white framework. The dispersal of a What Not to Wear in India extends the role of Western media and reality TV in neoliberal reforms in the US across borders. This becomes problematic as it encourages Western hegemony in the non-West and extends the white frame-work of media gradually promoting a form of Eurocentric global governance.