Finally! The repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ went into effect today and military men and women have the ability to openly serve in the armed forces as a gay or lesbian without legal ramifications. While Karin Martin’s essay focuses on the practices of preschools and their influences on gender and body, the military uses similar discourses to shape the gendered body. By enforcing hyper-masculinized ideals — which are heterosexual and aggressive –in boot camp, the military is able to dictate the rhetoric of male gender. For example, physical activity and punishment has the ability to differentiate between stronger individuals and weaker ones. Through the recognition and approval of physical strength, masculinity becomes normalized within the military. Those who are successful in their physical engagements conform to military’s harsh ideals, while those who fail are belittled and de-masculinized. As openly gay men and women continue to serve in the military, the military’s masculine curriculum will be challenged.
While on a less physically threatening level than the military, preschools are shaping the way gender is constructed today. Martin argues that the “hidden school curriculum of disciplining the body is gendered and contributes to the embodiment of gender in childhood, making gendered bodies appear and feel natural” (495). Through the practices of authority figures, preschoolers are often molded into a particular gender role. Martin observes that preschool girls become more self-aware of their physical bodies when parents and teachers place particular emphasis on clothing. As tights and skirts restrict girls’ abilities to play freely and unrestrained, girls are disciplined (Foucault’s definition) into comporting their body into smaller and less open spaces. Similarly, Martin records that girls are told more often than boys to keep quiet and control the volume of their voices. It seems that as girls begin puberty, they are already disciplined into controlling and managing the functions of their bodies, specifically menstruation.
As both Janet Lee and Iris Marion Young detail in their essays, menstruation is often described in shameful and irritating detail. Generally, women recount menstruation in a passive voice. Rather than the body actively participating, menstruation is something that happens to the body. This type of language continues to enforce an environment where menstruation is seen as a condition instead of a bodily function. Moreover, studies of the human body teach that menstruation is a failed attempt at pregnancy. Even marketing shapes the way women view their periods. Tampon commercials aim to convince women that it is possible to be clean and function normally without the inconveniences of a period. These commercials attempt to normalize the female experience of menstruation as something that is uncomfortable. In addition, this attitude contributes to the female comportment and dress. Just as the preschoolers were forced into certain behaviors, women are expected to hide their menstruation cycles, which ultimately restricts body movement and dress.
Young argues that women are forced into the closet about their menstruation status. I think consumerism is to blame for many of these closeted women. It starts with childbirth; babies are adorned with objects to mark their gender. Toys and clothing departments are separated by sex. The feminine healthcare aisle in grocery stores is always inconspicuously placed so that men never have to venture there and women will not be seen there. Maybe we should place Tampax boxes next to the cases of Bud Light. How could someone avoid that? Realistically, companies market to specific genders to make a profit, which is the heart of capitalism. So maybe we should attack capitalism for continuing to control our bodies.