Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Stukes: Media Analysis

You Are Who You Are...The Trick Is Not Getting Caught

But I’m a Cheerleader is a movie about a picture-perfect high school girl who has one differentiating characteristic – she is a lesbian. Megan was raised in a nuclear family with a strong sense of traditional gender roles, and she has lived her life thinking that she was upholding the same standards as her family. However, her lifestyle turned direly awry in her family’s eyes, and they confronted Megan about her homosexual tendencies. Megan’s family immediately decided that her lesbian leaning was “wrong,” and therefore it must be fixed at a special camp called True Directions. Over the course of her experience at camp, Megan struggles in deciding between living proudly with her own feminist, lesbian ideology and her family and friends’ dichotomous, heterosexist way of thinking.

For the most part, Megan’s family strictly adheres to traditional gender roles. Her father was almost always the breadwinner; her mother was responsible for the household chores; Megan was always encouraged to dress in a feminine way and to become a cheerleader. Her delicate and girly looks are a prime example that “lesbians look like all women and all women look like lesbians” (Pharr 417). True Directions camp teaches gender roles in an over-the-top way: The campers are given flashcards to study that depict what tasks a wife is responsible for and what tasks are the husband’s responsibility. The girls receive training to become “feminine” such as cleaning the floors, changing a baby’s diaper, and simulating heterosexual sex. Fitzpatrick, et al. define the gender roles taught at True Directions well in saying, “a prototypic feminine gender role is characterized as affectionate, yielding, emotional, and dependent while masculinity is defined as analytic, assertive, competitive, and dominant” (3). The movie even goes as far as to saturate all of the scenes with girls in them with pink-colored walls, clothing, and objects while scenes with boys in them are completely blue.

Society as a whole enforces the idea that heterosexuality is the norm – women should be wives and men should be husbands, and “those who deviate from standard expectations are to be made to get back in line” (Pharr 416). This concept constantly reiterates that “heterosexuality is taken to be the only natural and correct form of sexuality” (Leschasin 1). For many people, though, heterosexuality is not natural; if turned straight, these people would just be creating a shield of lies under which society would not bother them. In a heterosexist world, many times people do not take the time to consider their sexual orientation – they simply assume they are part of the norm; Megan is a culprit of this assumption.

Megan listens to Melissa Etheridge (a popular lesbian music artist), has pictures of female bathing suit models in her locker, is a vegetarian, and does not like kissing her boyfriend. Therefore, she is obviously a lesbian – right? Megan’s boyfriend Jared is depicted as being one of the worst kissers that viewers have ever seen; in the movie, though, her family and friends see only one explanation of why she does not like to kiss him – Megan is a lesbian. Megan always believed that her semi-sexual thoughts about other women were normal, but through the intervention of the True Directions camp she is convinced otherwise. Most of the people involved in the intervention completely persuade Megan that her thoughts are wrong and need to be corrected immediately. O’Neil and Carroll, published feminists, explain her situation as a “gender role conflict…when rigid, sexist, or restrictive gender roles learned during socialization result in the restriction, devaluation, or violation of other or oneself” (193). Megan’s family points only to religious and moral reasons as to why she should not be a lesbian, but perhaps her family was afraid of her choice because “women’s control of [their] own bodies and lives will damage what [Megan’s family] sees as the crucial societal institution, the nuclear family” (Pharr 416).

Homophobia – Drislane and Parkinson define it as “a negative and contemptuous attitude to same-sex relationships and those who participate in them;” it is the catalyst for tearing apart family relationships and the basis for discrimination throughout every homosexual’s life (“Homophobia” 13). When her family decides to send Megan to True Directions, the camp to make her straight, they are choosing to keep her out of sight and out of mind because society generally encourages people to “stigmatize and render invisible any alternatives to [heteronormativity]” (Nielson, et. al 292). Her family is afraid that she is making a bad decision in her life when really she is merely making a different decision than her parents and some of her friends have made. Though numbers are decreasing, many people today think that homosexuality is unnatural and wrong. Homosexuals (like Megan) who are surrounded by this way of thinking easily become ashamed and eager to “fix” themselves. Megan’s parents instill this shame in their daughter for an arguably unjustified reason – she has sexual thoughts about women instead of men. After being expelled from the camp for “inappropriate contact” with her newly found lover Graham, Megan realizes that she should utilize the advice she got from her “ex-ex gay” friends and openly love whom she wants to love. She finally breaks away from the expectations that society, especially her family, has bestowed upon her, and she begins to live her life in a feminist way – proud of who she is no matter who approves or disapproves (Lorde 454).

Megan is bombarded throughout her life with Christian morals telling her what is right and wrong. Eventually, though she became aware that the gender roles and lifestyle choices that her parents disapproved of were not “wrong,” per say, but rather just one of many choices that a person can make. Megan made a difficult realization that gender and sexuality are not a binary; they are a continuum and very fluid throughout a lifetime (Pharr 417). Finally, she was able to live knowing that “reality is, to a large extent, socially constructed” (Cole and Daniels 201). With her new discoveries in mind, Megan is able to live confidently as a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, cheerleading lesbian.

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