Nov 7, 2013

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A Feminists View of Moral Sexuality – English 1A – Essay 2

Assignment – 
A major theme in Tolstoy (and Lewis) is morality – where does it come from? How do we discern it? How does it affect our trajectory as individuals, families and societies? Write an essay in which you engage with the tension (if you think it’s there) in American society between morality and immorality. Is this a false dilemma? Are those terms obsolete (relics of a bygone era), or do they still hold potency in our societal consciences? Engage with one or two topics that can be examined from a moral/immoral framework – what moral & ethical worldviews disagree to create such a tension? Where do you stand on the issue, and why?
 

Final Score: 185/200

Final Comments: “This is very well done, Brie!”

Draft Comments: “Brie – excellent writing. You lose a bit of momentum w/ the main topic on the last page & I’m left wondering if there is a boundary of morality that would be ‘too far’ w/ you.”

_________________________________________________________________________________________

Gabriella Wendt

Professor A.

English 1A

07 November 2013

A Feminists View of Moral Sexuality

Morality is often defined as a set of beliefs about what is “right” and “wrong” behavior. Sexuality has always been linked to the idea of morality. Various branches of the sexuality tree, whether it’s modesty or gender preference, often cause great cultural divides in individuals and can become the centerpiece of even larger debates of ideals.

Tolstoy’s take on morality and sexuality in “The Kreutzer Sonata” is particularly accusative and damaging to the idea that human beings are evolved creatures. Human beings, regardless of a binary gender, have evolved beyond animals and have the ability and option to control their base desires and instincts. The character of Pozdnyshev argues for sexual abstinence because he is unable to control his own desires and impulses, and makes a broad judgment on human nature based on his own shortcomings; I see this reflected in real life, especially among religious groups where there is the desire to impose their morality on others (particularly women) because it is something they find distasteful or difficult to deal with. Jacob Baker, a member of the Latter Day Saints, writes about a particular experience while on mission saying:

It really bothered me seeing so many women in various states of undress. It was hard to focus and I felt weak and powerless around them. How were we to be strong and stay faithful? I had prayed and fasted about it constantly, and felt little strength in return. And I began to despise many of the women I encountered for “making” me feel that way (I knew plenty of other missionaries who felt the same in the face of these hellish sirens).

After voicing his concern, Jacob is enlightened by a fellow missionary who wasn’t having the same problems:

He loved girls (…) and had always wanted to be with them regularly. But he didn’t obsess over girls or think of them as sexual objects designed for his own titillation, to constantly flee from until you hopefully found the safe haven of marriage at some point in the future. He didn’t think girls could directly and irrevocably cause inappropriate thoughts, but that such thoughts were just part of becoming an adult human being, and needed to be acknowledged and managed accordingly. He said he felt free. And that he was sorry for me that I apparently didn’t.  (bycommonconsent.com)

Now, this is not to say that we should control our desires to the point of complete abstinence from all pleasures as Tolstoy would like, but that part of our evolution has been the ability to determine what is reasonable and what is in excess. On his Christian blog post “Seeing a woman: A conversation between a father and a son” Nate Pyle states: “It is a woman’s responsibility to dress herself in the morning. It is your responsibility to look at her like a human being”. (natepyle.com) It is not uncommon to try to heap the blame or the responsibility on one party, a woman should take care with how she dresses with the underlying goal of not being sexually assaulted (and if she was wearing a short skirt she was “asking for it”) or the blame is only with the man’s inability to control his desires.

Such is the problem with today’s rape culture:

(…) a complex of beliefs that encourages male sexual aggression and supports violence against women. It is a society where violence is seen as sexy and sexuality as violent. In a rape culture, women perceive a continuum of threatened violence that ranges from sexual remarks to sexual touching to rape itself. (…) In a rape culture both men and women assume that sexual violence is a fact of life, inevitable as death or taxes. This violence, however, is neither biologically nor divinely ordained. Much of what we accept as inevitable is in fact the expression of values and attitudes that can change. (Buchwald)

The responsibility for the rape (or at least the accusation that the rape could have been avoided) is commonly place upon the woman, that the woman shouldn’t be walking alone in a bad area of town, or that they shouldn’t be wearing such provocative clothing. There is also an unfortunate amount of sympathy still placed with rapists when caught and there are repercussions. In the reporting of the 2012 Steubenville High School rape case, many news outlets were seen reporting on how unfortunate it was that the rapist’s futures were now ruined. Most famously, CNN correspondent Poppy Harlow stated “These two young men who had such promising futures — star football players, very good students — literally watched as they believed their life fell apart,[once the verdict was made]” (huffingtonpost.com) Her misguided quote was fortunately met with public criticism which shows that we are continuing to move forward.

Human morality is allowed to evolve with us. Morality doesn’t need to be (and isn’t) a constant. The moral identity of the 18th century is certainly going to have a different outlook from our modern time. This doesn’t mean that we are progressively getting more immoral, or even more pious, but that like anything related to humanity it is capable of evolution, of change, of updating and advancement.

It is also certain that morality is not obsolete; morality is necessary for our world’s community to not collapse into chaos and anarchy. It is an unfortunate common belief that religion is necessary for morality and that you can’t know what is right or wrong (moral or immoral) without having a handed down set of rules. I believe that humans have an innate understanding that murder, stealing, and rape are “bad”; we don’t need a displaced higher power to tell us that they are. Humanity would not have survived this long or have been able to evolve without the natural instinct to be helpful and caring of others. Our nature is not only good though because we have free will, because the human identity is deep and complex, and because it is human nature to find ways to justify the things that we are naturally repulsed by.

Regardless of the differences that exist in cultural moralities, it is my belief that individuals are responsible for their own actions and should have that responsibility put upon them in the face of misconduct. Imposing your personal moralities on others in this regard becomes difficult. Morality itself, though the idea of it is objectively universal, is individually subjective.

Beyond law and cultural expectations, the golden rule is still the best way to judge the moral from the immoral. “One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.” This golden rule has roots and history in a plethora of cultures and is widely accepted. This doesn’t strictly translate into “I won’t try to rape you if you don’t try to rape me” but is more generally thought of in terms of doing no harm and being kind or at least respectful. This golden rule also doesn’t mean imposing your personal beliefs or set of moral codes on others which is a frequent misinterpretation. “What is good for the goose isn’t necessarily good for the gander.” Morality isn’t a one size fits all as we do see stark differences across the globe.

One of the things I struggle with as a feminist is that what I truly care about is people. I care about men and women and everyone else on the spectrum. It is an unfortunate truth that we create so many divides when we are all truly the same. Kameron Hurley, when discussing female roles in literature and history, makes the point that “(…) when we talk about “people” we don’t really mean “men and women.” We mean “people and female people.”  (aidanmoher.com) It’s a long standing tradition, that we are only just now breaking free of, to treat women as property, or secondary, to men. However, those underlying instincts are still prevalent especially around the concept of sexuality as I have discussed throughout this essay. This kind of thinking is dangerous though; when we break the human race up into categories it becomes easier to think of it in terms of “us” and “them”. We separate ourselves, suppress our ability to empathize and that distance creates the ability to disassociate our moralities because it’s not doing harm to another one of us, it’s doing harm to “them”.

Equality among individuals involves understanding that everyone lives equally full and unique lives. Imposing your morality on others is fruitless and this is where law and social contracts become important. Morality in a society quickly becomes majority rule and is governed by cultural and societal preferences. Spoken of often is the stark contrast between the ideals of modesty in the western and middle-eastern worlds; where you can imagine in one a woman covers anything but their eyes, and in the other they bare everything but their eyes.

What I dream of is a world where we have evolved to true unity. Where we are still unique and have beautiful cultural differences, but where we are able to recognize that we are all just humans; we are no longer “us” and “them” but just “us”. I want our concerns to not be whether someone dresses “immodestly” or if their sexual preference or gender identity lines up with what you consider normal, but whether we’re taking care of one another and our world.

Sexuality, specifically the sexuality of women, is not a moral corruption and shouldn’t be villainized. The purpose of the modernization and growth around sexual morality is not to bring humanity to a state of hedonism but to normalize and remove shame from our natural state. I do not know what this would look like, because it is so far from what our any of our world views have been, but by removing the separation and categorization of “Men” and “Women” and return to a state of just “people”, the stigma of modesty and immoral sexual behavior can be removed and a new status quo based on universal respect and understanding can be found.

Works Cited

Baker, Jacob. “Men, Sex, And Modesty.” By Common Consent a Mormon Blog. N.p., 18 June 2013. Web. 21 Oct. 2013. <http://bycommonconsent.com/2013/06/18/men-sex-and-modesty/>.

Buchwald, Emilie, Pamela R. Fletcher, and Martha Roth. Transforming A Rape Culture. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions, 1995. Print.

Gert, Bernerd. “The Definition of Morality.” Stanford University. Stanford University, 17 Apr. 2002. Web. 20 Oct. 2013. <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/morality-definition/>.

Hurley, Kameron. ““‘We Have Always Fought’: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrative”.” Aidanmoher.com. N.p., 20 May 2013. Web. 18 Oct. 2012. <http://aidanmoher.com/blog/featured-article/2013/05/we-have-always-fought-challenging-the-women-cattle-and-slaves-narrative-by-kameron-hurley/>.

Pyle, Nate. “Seeing a Woman: A Conversation between a Father and Son.” Natepyle.com. N.p., 14 Aug. 2013. Web. 18 Oct. 2013. <http://natepyle.com/seeing-a-woman/>.

Shapiro, Rebecca. “Poppy Harlow, CNN Reporter, ‘Outraged’ Over Steubenville Rape Coverage Criticism: Report.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 20 Mar. 2013. Web. 21 Oct. 2013. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/20/poppy-harlow-cnn-steubenville-rape-coverage-criticism_n_2914853.html>.

Tolstoy, Leo. “The Kreutzer Sonata.” The Kreutzer Sonata and Other Short Stories. New York: Dover Publications, 1993. 64-140. Print.

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Oct 24, 2013

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“What is Art” – English 1A – Midterm Essay

Assignment – 

Write an essay in which you define what art is (in your own words) – what elements combine that allow us to call something a work of “art”. Then engage briefly with Tolstoy and Bloom – does your definition of art agree or deviate from theirs? What (if anything) do they miss in their analysis? Finally (and this should be the larger part of the essay), discuss the standards you use (or don’t use) for labeling artistic endeavors “good” or “bad”. Whence does the standard originate by which you judge art on those terms? Does a preference for one kind of “art” implicate someone morally (i.e., bad people like bad art? or not?

Score: 50/50

Notes: “Excellent”

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Art, to me, is the product of creativity and the act of making. This could be something visual or auditory, it could even be something you eat. Art is nearly limitless in its definition as long as someone (the artist) considers it to be so.

Though I would be more inclined to agree with Bloom’s (and Dutton’s) perception of art, and agree very little with Tolstoy, I am so greatly rooted in the belief that art is completely objective I find it difficult to see their points.

Tolstoy and Blume agree that what matters is where art came from and its intention. For Tolstoy that means a connection with the artist (and if there is no connection then it is not art), and for Bloom it means significance in the origination of the art; the exact duplicate is not worth the original because there was no performance of creativity involved.

I do not judge art by these standards, or I do not, at the very least, believe there to be “good” or “bad” art. There is art that I do nor do not enjoy or don’t understand, but that doesn’t not intrinsically devalue it. The subjectivity of art means that as little as I like or understand something, there is someone else who enjoys it greatly. Oftentimes “modern” art is disparaged because of its seeming simplicity; you will hear people say “I could have done that!” However for the artist (in most cases) there is a great thought or effort put into a piece. For them, this piece is the result of their creativity. Beyond that there is also validation when others are able to connect to, or enjoy, the product. Do not misunderstand though, the art does not require an observer or appreciator in order to be; the art already is by sheer effort.

Since the nature of “good” or “bad” art is subjective, it is impossible to judge ones morality purely on their artistic taste. Hitler enjoyed paintings from the Renaissance, not child pornography* where as I know some lovely individuals who collect splatter paintings made from blood; one cannot draw a direct corollary between taste and nature. I believe that to do so would be short sighted and denying art’s individuality.

The products of artistic expression are constantly growing and expanding as more and more artists continue to be creative. They discover new mediums and tools for their expression and birth new creations. Other artists are able to then nurture, foster, and bring life to the new forms.

Art, though subjectively received is an even greater collaboration among the artist of the world. Our perception of the products of their souls does not change what it, and they, are.

*I have approximate knowledge of many things.

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Sep 26, 2013

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C.S Lewis’s “Friendship” – English 1A – Essay 1

Assignment – 

Write an essay between 1,000 and 1,500 words (approximately 3-4 pages) summarizing and critiquing Lewis’ view of friendship – what parts do you agree with? What frustrates you? What philosophical, sociological, or textual elements combine to persuade you the most? 

Successful essays will have a clear summary of Lewis’ argument, as well as focused sections that illuminate where you agree and disagree with what Lewis has to say, and why.

Final Score: 180/200

Final Comments: “Brie – great job!”

Draft Comments: “Gabriella – great job! Your writing is very strong. Work on the conclusion & look to incorporate more quotes by L – engage w/ his words!”

____________________________________________________________________________

Gabriella Wendt

Professor A.

English 1A

26 September 2013

C.S Lewis’s “Friendship”

     In C.S. Lewis’s essay on Friendship he discusses the various aspects and qualities of Friendship, (primarily among males), the importance of Friendship in our society, the historical impact Friendships have made, and opines that during his era Friendships between men and women were mostly impossible.
Lewis immediately identifies Friendship as being the “least natural of loves” in that it is not biologically necessary where Eros (romantic love) and Affection (familial love) are required for the continuation of the species. He continues to state that Friendship, not only being biologically unnatural, is also often mistrusted as it separates pairs or small groups from the larger community; by identifying individuals as your Friends you are separating others out as being Not Your Friends. However this is not to be misidentified as a dislike of Friendship as Lewis strongly believes that Friendship is one of the best kinds of love. He draws an early corollary between the imagined images of Eros and Friendship; where partners of Eros can be seen face to face, absorbed in each other, partners of Friendship are seen as side by side absorbed in their commonalities.

Lewis also makes a point to refute widespread theories (at the time) that Friendship (between those of the same gender) is actually homosexual in nature. He finds this idea, and any points used to support it, ridiculous and even goes on to say that those who hold with this theory and cannot imagine Friendship as a legitimate love have not actually had a Friend. Lewis goes on to identify how different Friendships and love-affairs are; where Eros is strictly between two people and incites jealousy of others, Friendship is actually made better by adding a third or more and is, according to Lewis, the least jealous of the loves. Lewis states that the dynamic of Friendship is improved when more individuals are involved where (using an A,B, and C system) A brings out qualities in B that C does not, and so if A is not with B and C, the experience is different and lesser. Where “Lovers seek for privacy. Friends find this solitude about them, this barrier between them and the herd, whether they want it or not.” The first individual seeks for a second, and then the two for a third. However, according to Lewis, not all potential Friends are created equal.

Lewis ends his essay discussing the gender separation when it comes to Friendships, where men and women can meet in Eros and Affection but not in Friendship. He states that this is due to the disparity in their matrices of Friendship (mainly education, work, and interest) with the caveat that in a world where there is more common ground Friendships can become possible. He also states that where a Friendship between a man and a woman may begin to develop, it will quickly turn to Eros unless one or both are already in a state of Eros with another, or one party is ugly and attraction becomes impossible.

It is clear from Lewis’s essay that he values his Friendships greatly; he views them on a deeper level than most modern Friendships give meaning. Over the course of reading his essay and writing this paper it also made me examine my own Friendships on several new levels. I asked myself if my Friendships were actually Friendships; did we share that common deeper interest or were my Friends actually only companions or allies? I believe that though I now can no longer remember whatever the initial commonality was that brought me and my Friends together, that it was there in the beginning but has become unnecessary as our Friendship progresses.

I agree without reservation that compared to Eros and Affection, Friendship is the “least natural loves.” Speaking strictly biologically it has no place in the continuation of our species, and I again agree with Lewis that when speaking in terms of the success and happiness of the species Friendship becomes a lot more important. I was also intrigued by the idea of how historically Friendship and common interest were responsible for developing things like the basics of modern mathematics.

Another idea that grabbed me is how declaring that someone is your Friend also makes the generalization that others are not your Friends; the idea that becoming Friends with someone separates you from the herd and becomes a form of solitude. I thought of this idea in terms of what I see in the wild; when you encounter a group of people together there is this unspoken boundary and agreement to not encroach on their space, their togetherness. With an individual there is still a sense of needing to maintain distance, but it is less so, they are more approachable. Where with a group the message is “back off, I already have Friends,” while with an individual there is a glimmer of hope. However, more and more we fill that sense of availability with technology. Instead of riding the bus where there is an opportunity for connecting with other individuals, we spend the time on our phones as to appear to not be open and thus close ourselves off. I will say that though this technological wall we hide behind can prevent real world Friendships from forming, it does create a viable platform for more easily finding those “What, you too? I thought I was the only one.” kind of connections.

I initially disagreed with Lewis in regards to his opinion that Friendship is “the least jealous of loves.” I saw jealousy in interactions with my own Friends on a regular basis as we are a fairly large group. Sometimes a duo or triplet does not want to increase the size of their event, so those not included feel left out. However, as I thought on this topic I realized that Lewis was not speaking on the act of excluding, but on the act of inclusion. Where with Eros including a third would undoubtedly incite jealousy, in Friendships, true Friendship, inclusion does not.

I appreciated that with the topic of the opposite gendered Friendships he made the effort to state that though Friendships between men and women were due to a disparity in education among other things, that the reasoning was more about availability and equality in opportunities rather than pure intellect. Lewis stated that already in his field male/female Friendships existed, but that in a different world (or different time) this would be common. I feel that we are now at that point and it would be interesting to see how Lewis’s perspective may shift if he were around today. I believe that though there are many areas where equality is still to be reached, there is nothing holding us back from having equality in Friendship.

Although much of Lewis’s essay initially angered me, I slowly came to have an understanding and appreciation for his point of view and reasoning’s. The aspects and qualities of Friendship are very meaningful and something we clearly take for granted in this age of “social media.” From the most charming, to the most awkward, Friendship is that which we all desire and need for a fulfilling and satisfying life. Lewis struck a chord with me when he wrote “It is when two such persons discover one another, when, whether with immense difficulties and semi-articulate fumblings or with what would seem to us amazing and elliptical speed, they share their vision is it then that Friendship is born.”

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