There exists a lot of historical and archeological evidence that prove that throughout history people have exhibited ways of expressing one’s sexuality other than the heterosexual marriage community that is prevalent in the majority of our Western societies. In addition, the fact that homosexual behavior is present among all other animal species gives us a reason to believe that homosexuality has been present in human species since the dawn of mankind.
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However, for various reasons, it has been systematically suppressed and opposed within the Judeo-Christian and Muslim cultural framework for millennia. Such a cultural attitude has shaped the minds of the majority of population living within those cultural conditions to view homosexuality as deviant and immoral. Motivated by these conditions, Jodi Shaw writes a story commenting on the dynamics between an individual’s nature, and the pressures that society exerts on their true identity.
Shaw’s story is at the same time pessimistic and optimistic since on the one hand, it shows that such values are now at least questioned by more and more members of our culture, but on the other hand, despite all the changes, the value systems are still strong enough to give support to conservative practices.
In this light, it is best to first examine the concept of patriarchy as an overarching notion that holds the existing social structure in place. Patriarchy, as it is defined by scholars working within the field of gender and queer studies, is a form of social relations which on the basis of biological differences between males and females, builds a structure of political, economic, cultural and social subjugation of women under the assumption that men are in some ways superior to them (Pateman, 207).
What is very important is that such a system draws from a set of unfounded beliefs which are necessary for it to remain in place. In addition to the belief in male superiority, this concept also includes the claim that marriage is holy, and that it should be only between members of different sexes. This way, precisely because this complex and powerful system is built on such false beliefs, the goal of its proponents is to portray all the deviations from that system of values as unnatural and sinful.
One of the most famous intellectuals of the twentieth century, Michael Foucault, has brilliantly exposed the way in which these power structures have changed throughout history. His claim is that although the way of exercising power has moved from the domain of violence, torture and punishment – the Right to Death, as he puts it, to the domain of inner-life of an individual – the form of control that he calls Power over Life (Foucault, 189).
He analyzes all the forms of hidden coercion that are used to induce self-discipline and obedience without overt violence and punishment. For example, statistics and norms of different kind cause individuals to try to adhere to them in order to be accepted. Most importantly for this purpose, he also mentions cultural norms and values as essential to this project. He further argues that most of the dangerous political ideas stem from the claim that certain individuals should be rejected for the good of the group (Foucault, 139).
With the aid of these theoretical concepts, we can now view the specific case of the character name Brady in Shaw’s story. What we see in Brady’s case is a pure example of an individual conforming to a group at the expense of his own self-interest precisely for the reason that he finds the value system of the group correct.
He finds that family life and parenthood are the essence of human life, and since the society fights for them, then he should confirm to the norms of the society even if that means rejecting his self-identity, which is for the most part defined by the fact that he is gay. However, he does not realize that even though some of the maxims within our cultural tradition are, in fact, positive and praiseworthy, they should be critically examined and rethought if the basic principles of that system are flawed.
For example, if our value system is based upon the claim that men are superior to women, and that only acceptable type of love is between individuals of opposite sex, then even though we like the fact that it values parenthood, we should reformulate our system of values so that it still contains family and parenthood, but rejects the unfounded claims.
Brady is quite sure that the only right thing to do is to continue with his current life even if it makes him miserable because he views Christianity and parenthood as ultimate values. However, what he lacks is the critical understanding that by lying to himself and the rest of his family, he is undermining his own project of parenthood. In other words, his chances of being a good father are far less if he pretends to be something he is not.
In addition, he does not realize that a Christian community that rejects some of its members for being different and acting in accordance with their nature is, in fact, the antithesis of what a Christian community should be. What is worse, he makes it clear that he realizes that the community is wrong about some claims, but he is willing to sacrifice himself for it, nevertheless.
Turning now to the question of liberation, the majority of authors agree that some steps towards liberation should be taken, and I find this idea quite obvious. However, they diverge on the question how the liberation from this patriarchic hegemony should be carried out.
Hassel et al (2011), for example, claim that the project should be carried out through education, and teaching about the concept of patriarchy at courses such as women’s studies and the like. For that reason, they set out to construct detailed teaching methodology. They claim that the concept of patriarchy is the crucial one in education, and once the students grasp it, it becomes far easier to tackle other issues (Hassel et al, 2).
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Robson (2002) discusses the options of the minorities oppressed by the patriarchic society. His dilemma is whether the resistance should take on a fiercer form. He realizes that the dichotomy between assimilation and resistance is fallacious (Robson, 631).
This idea is similar to Foucault’s (1980) in that they both view overt resistance as futile within the current conditions of power since it is often the case that in implicit domination, overt resistance, in fact, complements the existing social structure.
However, I would argue that even though both political and educational forms of struggle have to exist, the crucial battles will be fought in the domain of culture, which is one of the reasons why Shaw’s story is very valuable.
Firstly, cultural critiques in general can help us uncover the hidden methods of coercion that we are victims of, and also expose the fallacies that underlie our culturally conditioned way of reasoning in both social and political spheres. Today, this view is quite widespread since the conscious realization of the problem is the first step towards the solution, and sadly, the majority of population is still unable to realize that there are very deep problems with our conception of society.
Second, and perhaps even more important, aspect of the story’s significance is that it aims at presenting an individual’s struggle, which gives the element of concreteness to the idea of gay rights. This is especially important since people who are not directly affected by a problem tend to view it as abstract and not really existing.
Only when it affects them or they hear a story of a real individual affected by the problem, do they stop to think and consider the issue. The examples of such attitude towards real issues are endless. In addition to gay rights, there is the problem of child molestation, increasing cancer incidence, poverty, etc. People, also tend to be more judgmental towards an idea than towards a real person.
The reason for this is that people have the ability to empathize, and picture themselves in somebody else’s shoes. Once they do this, even if they think that a person is wrong they can relate their own errors to those of that individual, and be sympathetic. There is no need to mention the effect this has once people realize that the person is suffering with no fault of their own.
Therefore, Shaw does a great job in giving a picture of a real individual suffering immensely because of the distorted value system that our history and culture have encumbered upon us. The picture of a suffering gay man rejecting one of the most important aspects of his personality just because his family would not accept his real person is a disappointing one, but it serves as a means of transferring the idea that there are millions of people sharing Brady’s destiny, and each of us carries a grain of guilt for remaining silent under such conditions.
In conclusion, Shaw’s short story reminds us of how distorted our value system is, and the consequences that such a state can have on individual people. She reminds us of marginalized individual tragedies that are unseen and hidden from the eyes of the public. The story also shows how culturally conditioned distorted values can be appreciated by people on a rational basis even though by doing so they are fighting against their own nature and correct ethical impulses.
This way of cultural and artistic representation does the best job in bringing ideas and problems close to people’s minds so they could relate, and throw away the spiteful and stubborn views passed down from generations of ignorance about human nature and misrepresentation of one of its integral components. Therefore, the future line of struggle can and must take place in the realm of opinions, and philosophies which are no longer viable have to be thrown away on rational grounds without violence.
Pateman, Carole. The Sexual Contract. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1988. Print.
Foucault, Michel. The history of sexuality. New York: Vintage Books, 1980. Print.
Hassel, Holly, Amy Reddinger, and Jessica van Slooten. “Surfacing the Structures of Patriarchy: Teaching and Learning Threshold Concepts in Women’s Studies*.” International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning 5 (2011): 1-19. Print.
Robson, Ruthan. “Introduction: Assimilation and/or Resistance.” Seattle Journal for Social Justice 1 (2002): 631-650. Print.