Tag Archives: the bluest eye

An Intellectual Scavenger Hunt

 

compass of lincoln

Students in Patton-Imani’s Introduction to Women’s Studies were sent on an intellectual scavenger hunt in which they had to explore, analyze, synthesize, and apply connections between knowledge, power, media images and narratives, and individual lives.   Drawing on class discussions about Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, each group was asked to critically consider what we can learn about contemporary society from this narrative, focusing on one of the following:  romantic love, beauty, masculinity, femininity.  The blog posts below share some of their work.  Please leave comments!

Romantic Love

The topic of romantic love and marriage has been a focus in society and politics for decades. Whether it manifests in terms of interracial marriage or the question of same-sex marriage, people have very strong opinions on who should be allowed to married. Today, the biggest issue is same-sex marriage. Opposition comes strongest from various religions, and many feel that allowing gays to marry will “ruin the sanctity of marriage.” The concerns that society has about marriage now are no different than they were decades ago.

pie chart ssmarr romatic love cartoon

Interracial marriage was a legal issue in the United States up until the end of the 1960s. Through the end of the 1800s and the first half the 1900s, many states slowly started repealing laws that made interracial marriage illegal. Before 1967, all but 14 states in the U.S. had either repealed or never passed laws that outlawed mixed marriage. However, in 1967, the Supreme Court ruled anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional, making mixed marriage legal in all 50 states. However, at that point, only less than half of one percent of all marriages in the United States were mixed. Despite the legalization of interracial marriage, the stigma that existed kept the number of those marriages down. Today, same sex marriage is in a similar place. Many states still ban same-sex marriage, and supporters of the ban worry about how allowing gays to marry will affect the state of families and marriage in America. This worries existed during the debates of interracial marriages as well. However, every year, more and more states legalization same sex marriage. However, the stigma that, to an extent, still follows interracial marriage now follows same-sex marriage as well. This attempt to control the institution of marriage mirrors the way that media changes the viewpoint of romantic love in general, and how we, as a society should analyze romantic love, and what our expectations in that area should be.

Romantic love is often referred to as a destructive concept in The Bluest Eye, and readers can see how it affects Pauline’s life. Because she is very influenced by the stories she sees in movies, she creates inner narratives about how her life will go that become self-fulfilling prophecies. Based on the love she sees in the media, Pauline thinks that love has a lot to do with possession and physical beauty, and that idea is reflected in how she allows her husband to treat her. She hoped that one day a stranger would meet her and accept what she sees as her ugliest part—her bad foot. When she meets Cholly, the fulfillment of that fantasy blinds her to the fact that he may not be the best man for her, and eventually leads to unhappiness. Pauline had spent a lot of time watching movies and began to compare herself to others on the idea of an “absolute beauty scale.” Pauline believed that if her beauty could compare to that of the white women around her, Cholly would come back and take care of her like the media portrayed romantic man should.

The way that Pauline envisions finding love is not uncommon from the way many young girls think they will find a husband. Many of the images we subject girls to from very young age depict love as destiny—something that you wait to happen to you. Most Disney movies show the lead woman as helpless, fragile, and beautiful, waiting for a strong, powerful man to rescue her from whatever problems she is involved in. Romantic love is also shown as something that happens instantly, with one kiss or one chance meeting. The “prince charming” image can create unrealistic expectations among young girls when it comes to finding love, and for how the relationship will function, similar to how Pauline relies on her daydreams rather than reality.

Foucault’s “knowledge is power” idea states that what society knows and understands as normal is socially constructed rather than an absolute truth.  He also says that what is established as normal is only done so by society’s experts who study the abnormal.  Only once we are able to see what individuals in society are the outcasts are we able to determine what the “norm” is.  This claim can be seen when observing society’s standards of romantic love.

For example, in the United States there is a general understanding of how loving relationships should work.  When an individual is usually in his or her mid-twenties they are expected to find another individual around the same age with whom they plan to enter into a monogamous relationship with each other for the rest of their lives.  Deferring from this plan is seen in general as abnormal.  Some aspects of what is considered right changes over time.  Many years ago marrying outside one’s class would be something considered abnormal.  Also it would be looked at as odd if the man in the relationship was younger than the woman.

There are other aspects of a relationship that are considered abnormal that would cause others to not believe there could be true romantic love. For example, society has implemented the idea that long term relationships must be monogamous. Polygamist relationships are rejected by society because our knowledge tells us that you can’t be in love with more than one person, and if you are it is usually considered an act of sexual perversion. And according to Foucault, people who are in polygamous relationships do not have the opportunity to speak about the legitimacy of their relationships because their opinions are immediately dismissed since they have already been labeled as abnormal.

Only until recent years, homosexuality has been seen in the same light.  Because homosexual couples are “abnormal,” other aspects of the loving relationship are questioned such as whether or not a homosexual couple can raise a family with the same “quality” that the normal heterosexual couple can.

Finally, age gaps also determine the legitimacy of romantic love in a relationship.  If a couple is seen out to dinner and the man looks like he has twenty years on the lady, then it is assumed that she is marrying him for his money and that he is her “sugar daddy.”  And if there were to be a couple that consisted of a thirty year old and a seventy-five year old, then that is just seen as some kind of sexual fetish.

The knowledge is power statement would state that the reason these abnormalities stay the way they do is because this is how we are teaching ourselves.  In other words, generation after generation our youth are gaining the knowledge of what is normal in society and continue to perpetuate these societal norms.  This knowledge of these norms is the power that fuels this continuation, and what is considered “abnormal” is very hard to change.

 

–       Tinh Le Ngoc, Brian Kalina, Alexander Hilton, Lindsay Sulsa, Amanda Grout

“Real” beauty

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=litXW91UauE

I will be the first to admit that I cried while watching the “Real Beauty” commercial by Dove (Source 1).  I got all teary and sniffly, and felt happy. Or maybe hopeful is the correct term.  Then I read this blog (Source 2), and had to stop and reexamine this hopeful feeling.  The truth is, I initially felt hopeful because it made me believe I am not as hideous as I think I am.  It was telling me that I had more value than I thought I did.  However, upon closer inspection, we see this “Real Beauty” video is merely enforcing a dominant ideology that defines a woman’s worth solely by her looks.  Dove even enforces the typical current standards of beauty.  Descriptors such as “thin, young, and blue-eyed” were considered beautiful, while  “fat, old, or crows feet” were shown in a negative light.  The featured women were all white, and ranged only from young to middle age, which is, in itself, a misrepresentation.  The people of color that were shown in the video all had lighter skin, playing into the “lighter is better” theme that we see in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye.  This notion reinforces the young Caucasian standard of beauty that this country has been supporting since its founding.  Additionally, the blogger points out, “Out of 6:36 minutes of footage, people of color are onscreen for less than 10 seconds.” (Little Drops). That is a startlingly low percentage.  Not only does it emphasize race issues associated with beauty but also draws attention to the problems with society in general.  It looks as if the editors thought to themselves “Well, we threw some black people and an Asian in there, so it won’t be racist.”  Don’t get me wrong, I agree with the blogger’s message; women are to too harsh with themselves, but clearly there is still a value system in play that determines how beautiful women are, thus what their worth is.

The Bluest Eye provides page after page of examples of society’s definition of beauty and how it affects black women.  Morrison often describes the differences of beauty within in one race to draw attention to larger issues in our culture.  These descriptions reveal to the reader the system of oppression embedded in a culture that judges and awards value based on the degree of whiteness an individual possesses.  The introduction of Maureen Peal is a perfect example. When Claudia and Frieda recognize the amount of attention Maureen Peal receives, merely because she has a lighter complexion and a high socioeconomic status, they cannot associate with her, believing they are not like her.  “Meringue Pie” does not even seem to be of the same background because she is so much better: “A high-yellow dream child…she was rich, at least by our standards, as rich as the richest of white girls” (Morrison, 62).  Her light complexion helped her to cast a spell on the entire school, white and black students and teachers alike (61).  This is an example of how Frieda and Claudia, as well as all young women, learn to associate skin color with value; they use Maureen’s apparent beauty through her light-skin to prove to themselves they are not beautiful because they have a darker complexion. Initially, Claudia alludes Maureen has no interest in them, so I was shocked when Maureen, even for a minute, associates with them on their partial walk home. When Maureen turned on them and made it clear what she really thinks about the darker-skinned girls, my shock subsided.  “I am cute! And you ugly! Black and ugly black e mos. I am cute!” (73).  Though I’m still not completely sure what “black e mos” means, I know it has something to do with Frieda, Pecola and Claudia’s darker skin tone. It may also have to do with the relationship between beauty and class, which is interesting and troubling because it is at such a young age they are realizing these furtive systems of oppression.  Further, the idea that a person of color is using the “blackness” they too possess to insult another person of color shines a light on the unsettling reality of the racial-self loathing, as Morrison calls it, the young women are learning during childhood (210).

Beyond interactions with peers, these vulnerable young women are faced with many images that insist on what is beautiful, adored and desired.  Like the deeply rooted oppression caused by white hegemony in our culture, exemplified through Maureen Peal instance above, images such as Shirley Temple were sent through the media to perpetuate this white order.  “Adults, older girls, shops, magazines, newspapers, window signs–all the world agreed that blue-eyed, yellow haired, pink-skinned” was beautiful and normal (20).  This constant bombardment with images of whiteness is especially harmful to young women of color because our society’s ideas of normal or beautiful do not match what these girls see in the mirror, and serve as constant reminders that they will never measure up, never be white enough to be beautiful.  Additionally, how does a child learn to accept who they are and strive for greatness when they are not given decent role models?

Shirley Temple complements the messages sent to young people by the “Dick and Jane” passages at the beginning of each chapter.  They remind us that part of learning to read, part of learning language, includes learning value assignments and social norms.  It is a process of socialization and domestication.  These Dick and Jane beginner books that are referenced and sprinkled throughout the novel are cultural markers or indexes that show what the youngest, most malleable minds of our society are being taught.  These books were all that was available to Americans in the Forties.  From birth, people naturally begin to look for their place in a culture.  When they do not see themselves represented in the media, in books, movies, magazine, etc., they face what the documentary Missrepresentation referrers to as “symbolic annihilation.”  When a child of color reads these books or is repeatedly given a white baby doll or is asked to adore Shirley Temple (our culture’s living definition of “cu-ute”), they receive the message that they are not only ugly in comparison to whites, but there is no place for them in this society (Morrison, 19).  This American narrative does not include them.  Further, these examples remind us of how we can only pursue options we are given and only speak the specific language we learn.  If the language is that of the ruling class, the marginalized groups are forever doomed to use the language of their oppressors, and therefore, only pursue the options they are presented with.  “Black,” unfortunately, is not a word the oppressor associates with beauty.

Works Cited

Source 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=litXW91UauE

Source 2: “Why Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches” Video Makes me Uncomfortable…and Kind of Makes Me Angry” http://jazzylittledrops.tumblr.com/post/48118645174/why-doves-real-beauty-sketches-video-makes-me

Source 3: Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye

Source 4: Missrepresentation documentary

Students in Intro to Women’s Studies)