Sexism at Sausage Party?

frank-and-brendaBy Claire Hotaling

Sausage Party has been repeatedly criticized for its racism, sexism, and somewhat disgusting plot, with some arguing that the filmmakers are actually critiquing the racism and sexism that exists in the real world. Along these lines, by analyzing the plot through a third wave feminist lens, the sexualization of Brenda Bunson, voiced by Kristen Wiig, could be considered a critique of society’s sexist treatment of women and their sexuality. In the beginning of the movie, Brenda and Frank want to have sex, but are afraid that the “Gods” (humans) will judge them harshly if they do. In food speak, Frank and Brenda will lose their “freshness.” As an attempt to satisfy themselves, Frank and Brenda touch, but “just the tips.” Throughout the rest of the movie, Brenda is faced with the guilt of allowing Frank to touch her. When bad things start happening to her and Frank, she attributes this to her sins. When viewed as satirical, however, Brenda’s experience is a critique of sexism. The audience is supposed to laugh at how Brenda thinks Frank doesn’t want her anymore after they’ve “touched tips.” In this way, the film is touching on the third wave feminist idea that women should be able to decide when and how they explore their sexuality, as Judith Lorber points out in Gender Inequality (305). By making Brenda afraid of the judgments of Frank, the film reveals to the audience that these judgments are absurd. The audience is invited to laugh at the idea that women can’t make their own decisions sexually, rather than judge women for their sexual decisions.

Rogen also comments on the guilt women feel after engaging in sexual activities. Throughout the movie, Brenda is faced with the guilt of her sexual encounter with Frank and becomes convinced that the negative things happening in her life are because of her sinful acts. However, watching this occur from the outside, it is obvious to the audience that this concept is laughable. It is simply societies expectations that are making her feel this guilt. However, by the end of the movie, Brenda has embraced her sexuality as she realized the only thing holding her back from sex are the social constructs arranged by the gods. If we consider Joshua Gamson’s arguments in “Popular Culture Constructs Sexuality,” Brenda can be seen as a sexual subject rather than a sexual subject (323). Sausage Party has received harsh backlash for its racism and sexism. However, when the humor is viewed as satirical, it is a clear criticism of racism and sexism in our culture, as displayed by the sexism facing Brenda Bunson. This may not be what Rogen was going for; perhaps he genuinely is a racist and a sexist. However, it is possible to see the movie in a positive light, but only when it’s seen as a satire.

NOTE: This essay was written by a First-Year Experience (FYE) student in FG110 Introduction to Feminist & Gender Studies taught by Professor Heidi R. Lewis. FG110 teaches students how to examine power, inequality, and privilege along the lines of gender, sexuality, race, socioeconomic status, age, physicality, and other social, cultural, and political markers using multi-, inter-, and transdisciplinary approaches. Near the end of the block, the students visited a local theater to screen Sausage Party, and this essay was written in response.

Lifting the Military’s Transgender Ban

By Meredith Bower (’18)

DADTOver the past few years, the military has experienced substantial media attention for scandals such as its “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy or the exposed rape epidemic. Now, it’s currently under fire for a ban on transgender people. According to Dan Lamothe, there are about 15,000 transgender personnel currently serving that are forced to keep their true identity hidden. Transgender people can be banned on the basis of both “medical and psychological regulations” (Ross 185), perpetuating an illusion that transgender people are inherently “sick.” The transgender ban poses two very real problems. The first obviously being that the military is denying free people a right to serve their country openly. The second issue at hand is that the military, a generally well-respected institution, is perpetuating the gender-binary structure of society that ostracizes so many.

The regulations behind the transgender ban are incredibly outdated. Psychological and physical evaluations are required before approval of entry into the military, and Allison Ross explains that “the Army’s Standards of Medical Fitness, which is representative of the other branches’ standards, lists numerous ways in which a current or prospective service member may be medically disqualified, including sex-reassignment surgery and identification as a transgender person” (189). Someone with sex-reassignment surgery can be denied the right to serve based on “major abnormalities or defects of the genitalia,” but even a transgender person without surgery can be excluded for “a long list of disorders, including transvestism, transsexualism, psychosexualism, and Gender Identity Disorder” (Ross 190). This exclusion assumes that transgendering is a psychological or physical abnormality. In Gender Inequality: Feminist Theories and Politics, Judith Lorber explains postmodern feminism’s stance that gender is merely a performance—that sex is biological, and gender is not. Instead, gender is “shaped and manipulated by individuals and can be used to transgress the social order” (285). In respect to this viewpoint, the military’s ban plays a massive role in “shaping and manipulating” gender roles. Such a large institution has the power to shape societal norms such as how people view transgendered people.

Transgender Military BanFurthermore, most active military personnel reject the military’s official stance. According to Army Maj. Gen. Gale S. Polluck, active troops today “have been around people who are open about their personality and sexuality. It’s normal for them to be accepting of one another, whereas 20, 30 years ago we didn’t share it because it wasn’t considered normal” (Lamothe). When “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” was revoked, “some senior officers questioned the decision, fearing it would cost lives” (Lamothe). However, this was not the case, and as officers raise similar concerns in regards to lifting the transgender ban, it is important to keep this in mind.

In “Gender, Sex, and Sexual Performativity,” Judith Butler argues that those outside of the “normal” gender structure are viewed as “abjected beings who do not appear properly gendered” and as a result “it is their very humannesss that comes into question” (286). It should be an implied obligation for an institution as large and powerful as the military to reject this notion that those who display their gender “wrongly” are subhuman. But without lifting the transgender ban, the military will continue to play a role in the exclusion and degradation of transgendered people.

Domestic Violence and the NFL

By Cheanna Gavin (’18)

Ray Rice

Ray Rice

In March, NFL running back Ray Rice was arrested for third-degree aggravated assault pertaining to a domestic violence incident with his then-fiancé that occurred in February. The NFL’s initial reaction to the domestic violence case caused major up-roar. Along these lines, Judith Lorber claims, “The ideological subtext of sports in Western culture is that physical strength is men’s prerogative, and it justifies men’s physical and sexual domination of men” (271). This ideal put’s women in the backseat, and makes for justification of men’s violence.

The punishment that Ray Rice received sent a message that the NFL doesn’t care about domestic violence. John Harbaugh, Head Coach of the Baltimore Ravens, said, “It’s not a big deal. It’s just part of the process […] There are consequences when you make a mistake like that. I stand behind Ray. He’s a heck of a guy. He’s done everything right since. He makes a mistake. He’s going to have to pay a consequence.” In the society that we live in, aggression is valorized within sports. “Men and boys are encouraged to be aggressive, cool, and physically strong. Violence, especially in sports, is condoned” (Lorber 254). After months of speculation and backlash, a video of Rice punching his fiancé surfaced on September 8. The NFL responded that same day. Rice’s contract with the Baltimore Ravens was terminated, and he was suspended from the NFL indefinitely. Although the punishment for Rice changed, the responses have not. The fact that it took a video of a man punching his wife to bring the severity of the issue into perspective is a huge problem. Both young boys and girls get the message that this is not a big deal. Young boys see that they won’t be severely punished without visual proof, and young girls see that there voice alone will not be heard.

John Harbaugh

John Harbaugh

From a feminist point of view, there should be no praise for the recent actions taken by the NFL. “Feminist studies of men blame sports […] and other places where men bond for encouraging physical and sexual violence and misogyny” (Lorber 273). The NFL as a whole has made a culture that benefits from violence on and off the field. Feminism views the Ray Rice incident as one aspect of a much larger problem. For example, David J. Leonard and Monica J. Casper write in “Rotten to the Core: The NFL and Domestic Violence,” “Ray Rice might be our current poster child, a symbol that allows the NFL to distance itself from domestic violence. But this is about a culture that, again and again, shows us that women’s lives, and especially Black women’s lives, don’t matter.” This brings into perspective the larger problem of domestic violence and the culture that allows it to flourish.

According to the Redstockings, women “are considered inferior beings […] Our humanity is denied. Our prescribed behavior is enforced by the threat of physical violence” (130). The Rice spectacle has only reinforced this statement by sending the message that domestic violence is “no big deal.” In order for change to be made on a grand scale, the encouragement of aggression and the violent culture of sports must change. This ordeal has brought the issue of domestic violence back into the eye of the public, and has allowed for changes, on a minor scale, to begin to be made. After the backlash that the NFL received, they have changed their domestic violence penalties. For future domestic violence incidents, there will be longer suspensions. Although this does not solve the problem, it is a step in the right direction.