Gender Roles and Relationships in “Water for Elephants”

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Water for Elephants offers an interesting insight into gender roles during a unique time in US history. The film portrays several different types of character relationships (female dyads, male dyads, and opposite sex dyads) and we are shown how the different dyads interact with one another in their relationships. I feel that the gender roles in this film are extremely traditional and almost seem exaggerated compared to today’s standards. Marlena’s character is very submissive to the male characters in the film (especially August), while the male characters almost seem to be more animalistic in their fight for dominance.

The most prominent female-male dyads in this film would be those between Marlena and Jacob and Marlena and August. Although both relationships involve the same female, they are navigated very differently by Marlena’s character. When interacting with August, Marlena is extremely submissive and seems to almost “play dumb” as though she would be unable to function in the world without August holding her hand. As an audience member we are able to see past this act and realize that Marlena is very intelligent and would be perfectly capable of making her own way in the modern world. However the setting of the film in depression era US may offer an explanation into her behavior. At this time there were very few employment opportunities for women and after the depression hit there were very few jobs for anyone (Clark, Guilmain, Saucier & Tavarez, (2003), p. 440). In this case Marlena’s intelligence would be of very little use to her in finding employment on her own, so she may have felt it necessary to rely on a man to help her survive. Her sexual desirability in this situation seems to be more of a means of survival rather than her intelligence. I feel that Marlena seems to play up her femininity and helpless in attempt to draw male attention.

August is a particularly dominant male that exhibits very traditional masculine tendencies and seems to get pleasure in dominating Marlena’s life.  Through the movie Marlena follows August’s lead and walks and stands behind him. August is very possessive of her and usually has his hand draped on her, almost as if he’s afraid she’ll escape (Richmond, McCroskey, & Hickson,(2012),p. 223). This dyad is different from that of Marlena and Jacob in that it is unhealthy and abusive. This may be due to August’s more extreme adherence to a masculine gender role and a feeling of entitlement he has adopted after becoming the leader of his circus company. It has been found that men that display unhealthy forms of entitlement (which are associated with disrespect for the rights of others and a narcissistic tendency to exploit people) are less adapt at managing their anger and tend to be more abusive in relationships (McDermott, Shwartz,& Trevathan-Minnis,(2012), p. 52)

Although Marlena was able to be more dominant in her relationship with Jacob, it was evident that she still submitted to his dominance. Jacob’s display of masculine tendencies was much less overt and aggressive than August. Jacob was a lot more nurturing and caring with Marlena and with the animals which is associated with more androgynous behavior (Richmond, McCroskey, & Hickson, (2012), p. 229). He was very gentle in handling the animals and would allow Marlena to cry on his shoulder. However, Jacob still called the shots when it came to decisions that were made in his relationship with Marlena, he decided they would jump the train together. He came back for her and basically told her if she didn’t leave with him he would come back for her.  It is very interesting to me how Marlena played along with these men telling her what to do, because like I said I think she was probably more intellectually capable than both of them.  That demonstrates the great effect that cultural standards can have on how a person behaves. I think that in present-day Marlena’s character would be much less likely to submit to her male partners because she would have an opportunity to support herself financially. I also think that in opposite sex relationships it is less acceptable for men to be quite as domineering and August and Jacob. Men are expected to be more caring and supportive of their relationship partners, which could be attributed to the dissolving of gender roles.

This video demonstrates the degree to which gender roles are changing and dissolving among the Millennial generation

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l51rxnKJRfk

The male dyads in the film are lacking in warmth and seem to have a competitive nature about them. The most competitive and aggressive of all the dyads would be between August and Jacob. From the beginning August attempts to demonstrate is dominance to Jacob by basically making Jacob beg for a job and prove himself to August. Although it seems like the two are becoming friends in the beginning of the movie, August continues to demonstrate his power to Jacob. He makes Jacob feed the lions and then threatens him when he can’t find a cure for Marlena’s horse. Jacob tends to take a more submissive role which I attribute to the fact he is more androgynous in his gender role and depends on August for survival. We are able to see that Jacob has a nurturing side that August does not have; when Jacob fights he does so with a conscious.  I also feel that in this situation Jacob is more willing to put up with August’s macho behavior in order to get fed and have a place to sleep. It is only when Jacob realizes that he is an asset to the circus and could find a way to survive without August that he begins to fight back. He has Marlena escape with him and then comes back and fights August in order to bring her back with him. Between August and Jacob it seems that Marlena is the ultimate prize possession and the winner is in some way the ultimate alpha male.

We see a softer side of male relationships when it comes to Jacob and Camel. Camel befriends Jacob and takes him under his wing in a fatherly manner after Jacob hops the train. He protects Jacob by offering him advice and guidance on how to navigate the circus in order to survive. There doesn’t seem to be any type of power play going on between the two men like there is between August and Jacob. I feel like each has a respect for one another, Jacob respects Camel’s wisdom and Camel respects Jacob’s physical dominance. They aren’t in competition with one another for a power position either which I also think allows them to be more relaxed in interaction with one another. They disclose more personal information with one another and show more care and concern than any other male characters.

In my opinion today’s males are much less aggressive with one another than they are demonstrated to be in this film. There are situations in which men do fight and try to dominant one another but I feel like that type of aggression usually reserved for sports or the occasional bar fight. The male relationships that I observe regularly are much more similar to that between Jacob and Camel. Men seem to be much more open about caring for one another and expressing their friendship openly than they used to be in the past. I think this could also be contributed to the fact that our society is evolving and puts fewer constraints on what gender roles are supposed to look like.

One thing I noticed about this film is the lack of female dyads displayed. Marlena doesn’t appear to have any close female friends or even any sort of confidant that she interacts with. This is interesting to me because women are very social and depend on one another for emotional support more than men (Benenson & Christakos, (2003), p. 1123). The only female relationships that we are even given a glimpse of are those between the “peep show” dancers. Those relationships have a lack of depth and seem to play into the feminine stereotype that women have no thoughts of their own and simply exist to fill the desires of men. We don’t see any conversations about how the women are worried that the circus might be going under or how they are being forced to compromise their morality in order to make a living. I think this was intentional to show the lack of voice that women had during this time period. Women were probably having these conversations behind closed doors but wouldn’t dare voice these opinions to someone like August who could quickly take away any hope for survival.

This film offers a view into how interpersonal relationships were dictated and constrained by gender roles during this time period. It seems that society as a whole had a much stricter definition of what was considered feminine and masculine behavior. I think it is evident when examining the relationships in this film that those gender roles served as barriers that kept people from being able to relate to one another on a real level. I feel like today people are much freer to express themselves with less constraint because we are not as strict as a society about adhering to traditional gender roles.

Works Cited

Benenson, J. F., & Christakos, A. (2003). The Greater Fragility of Females’ Versus Males’ Closest Same-Sex Friendships. Child Development74(4), 1123-1129. doi:10.1111/1467-8624.00596

Clark, R., Guilmain, J., Saucier, P., & Tavarez, J. (2003). Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: The Presence of Female Characters and Gender Stereotyping in Award-Winning Picture Books Between the 1930s and the 1960s. Sex Roles49(9-10), 439-449. doi:10.1023/A:1025820404277

McDermott, R. C., Schwartz, J. P., & Trevathan-Minnis, M. (2012). Predicting men’s anger management: Relationships with gender role journey and entitlement. Psychology Of Men & Masculinity13(1), 49-64. doi:10.1037/a0022689

Richmond, V.P., McCroskey, J.C., & Hickson III, M.L. (2011). Nonverbal behavior in interpersonal relations (7. ed.). Boston:Pearson/Allyn & Bacon.

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Examining the Character Jean

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I consider the character Jean Cabot in the movie Crash to be the embodiment of the worst kind of white female stereotype. Her character is cold and judgment and has no respect or empathy for those outside of her in-group.

In the beginning of the movie we see a more submissive less dominant side of Jean. She is walking down the street with her husband and clings to his arm when she sees Ludacris’s character and his friend. After the carjacking Jean becomes increasingly assertive with her husband and even punches him in the chest during an argument. You can tell that she is attempting to assert dominance with her maid by refusing to make eye contact or to initiate any type of touch behaviors (Richmond, McCroskey, & Hickson, (2012), p. 100).  There is also a contrast between her vocal behavior pre- carjacking and post carjacking. In the beginning she is quieter and softer when talking with her husband and afterward she speaks very loudly and rapidly which communicates anger (Richmond, McCroskey, & Hickson, (2012), p. 116). The way that Jean looks also asserts a type of dominance to those around her; she is dressed very tastefully in designer clothes. Under most circumstances this may offer her an upper-hand in social situations because it communicates her high status, however when confronted with the carjackers her appearance makes her a target of violence (Richmond, McCroskey, & Hickson, (2012), p. 38).  Only at the very end of the film to we see Jean start to become more open towards others, after her accident on the stairs she initiates a hug with her maid. This is a big deal because she usually is very critical of her maid, but finally she is able to see that her maid is the best friend that she has.

Jean initiating a hug with her maid

Jean’s character has a sense of superiority and self-righteousness when it comes to her race. It’s evident from the way that she speaks to her maid and the locksmith that she has a lack of respect for people of different backgrounds. It is also conveyed in the things that she says to her husband about the locksmith that she has a definite distrust of racial minorities. I think the fact that she is from an upper socioeconomic class causes her to have a more close-minded view of those around her. Being in a class of privilege she is more readily able to seek out people that are similar to her in background and race, and less likely to come in contact with people from different backgrounds. Her distrust may stem from her inexperience with individuals of different races. It has been found that white people tend to experience more anxiety in interracial interactions than minorities (Trawalter, S. & Richeson, J.A., (2008), p. 1215). This may be due to the fact that minorities are more experienced in interracial situations due to being in the minority.

I think Jean’s character somewhat blind to her unjust treatment and prejudices towards others. I think from the other characters reaction to her it can be drawn that they see her as cold-hearted and prejudice.  Research has found that although ethnocentrism is very much alive in American society that is becoming increasingly unacceptable to express negativity towards out-groups. (Raden, 825). The fact that she is so outwardly expressive about her contempt for individuals of different races is a violation to this new social norm. I think that it would be helpful if Jean had more practice communicating and interacting with people outside of her in-group.  I think she would have much more constructive interactions and feel less anxiety and fear if she felt a sense of familiarity. It has been found that the more familiar you are with someone the more you tend to like that person as a result (Riela, S., Rodriguez, G., Aron, A., Xu, X., & Acevedo B. P., (2010), p. 488).

In American culture I would see her as the stereotypical upper class white woman that is cold and and completely obsessed with keeping up a good outward appearance. I think that the fact that there is such a great divide in wealth in the US helps perpetuate this view. I think Jean’s character is an exaggeration of the dark side of a life of privilege and the one-sided view of life it can cause. I’m a big believer in the idea that when you know better you do better, and I think that when Jean is confronted with the inaccuracy of her beliefs (especially in the case of her maid) it sparks a change in her actions.

Jean has a high level of ethnocentrism. She both expresses a preference and feelings of ingroup superiority along with negative attitudes towards out-groups (Raden. 804). I think her ethnocentrism was only made worse by her encounter with the carjackers which exacerbated her negative feelings towards out-groups. She also seems to have xenophobia, which is apparent in her opposition to having a Latino with tattoos change the locks in her home.

I think that Jean is a good depiction of the distrust that still exists between people of different races and cultural backgrounds. I think that as a society we like to think that we’ve come so far that racism and prejudice no longer exist, and that’s not true. The sad thing is that both of those things are still very alive in our society. This film serves as a reminder of the ethnocentrism that I try to pretend doesn’t exist within myself. I think we all have a tendency to think that our in-group is special and does things the “right” way, and it’s that type of attitude that causes problems. Being cognoscente of these tendencies can help combat prejudicial attitudes.

Works Cited

Raden, D. (2003). Ingroup Bias, Classic Ethnocentrism, and Non-Ethnocentrism Among American Whites. Political Psychology, 24(4), 803-828. doi:10.1046/j.1467-9221.2003.00355.x

Riela, S., Rodriguez, G., Aron, A., Xu, X., & Acevedo, B. P. (2010). Experiences of falling in love: Investigating culture, ethnicity, gender, and speed. Journal Of Social And Personal Relationships, 27(4), 473-493. doi:10.1177/0265407510363508

Trawalter, S., & Richeson, J. A. (2008). Let’s talk about race, baby! When Whites’ and Blacks’ interracial contact experiences diverge. Journal Of Experimental Social Psychology, 44(4), 1214-1217. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2008.03.013

Richmond, V.P., McCroskey, J.C., & Hickson III, M.L. (2011). Nonverbal behavior in interpersonal relations (7. ed.). Boston:Pearson/Allyn & Bacon

Can you judge a book by its cover?

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I’d like to think that we live in a world where we judge a person based on their inner qualities rather than on physical appearance. According to research that is not the case, we make snap judgments of others based soley on their physical appearance. For example, the more attractive we find someone the more likely we are to like them and think that they possess positive qualities (Feingold, 1992, p. 333).

A good illustration of this phenomenon would be my friend; she is gorgeous and looks like she could be the missing Kardashian sister. It has become a running joke among my friends that no matter what she says to people (whether it’s offensive or just plain awkward) they always respond well to her. It would be impossible to say that all that positive feedback is due to attractiveness (she also has a very bubbly personality, but I definitely think it’s a contributing factor.

But what does this mean for people that are considered unattractive? According to Halprin, Regina Turner states “[an ugly black woman] has only her ugly self in whom few people believe. This means that beyond the strength she can muster from her family and loved ones—usually other Black women—no institution, no media will endorse her existence.” As much as we would all like to believe that we live in a perfect world that is not so concerned with outward appearance, I found there is some truth in that statement. It has been found that from a young age our physical attractiveness has an effect on how we are treated by others. Attractive school children are more likely to receive personal attention from their instructors and are also given more understanding when it comes to behavioral issues in the classroom than unattractive children (Richmond, V.P., McCroskey, J.C., & Hickson III, M.L., 2011, p. 24).  In job settings levels of perceived attractiveness influence who gets hired for jobs and also the level of success attained in the workplace. (Hosoda, Stone-Romero, and Coats, 2003, p. 459). These factors offer truth to Turner’s statement that whether we like it or not physical appearance has a significant effect on the ease in which we are able to navigate the world.

According to Richmond, much of what we consider to be attractive is culturally influenced and changes over periods of time. For example, today the ideal of physical body type for women is well-toned and athletic, whereas a more curvaceous full-figure was favored in the past. There are also cultural differences in what we define as attractive, there are some African cultures in which people scar their bodies and bind their heads to flatten them to make themselves more attractive (Richmond, V.P., McCroskey, J.C., & Hickson III, M.L., 2011, p. 19). Attractiveness is not something that is conceptualized in isolation but is determined by the time and culture in which we live. I definitely feel that there is a lot of pressure in our society to strive to fit the standards of physical attractiveness.

http://youtu.be/I4urDuwJzuI (This is a link to a video about “America the Beautiful” which is a documentary based on the American standard of beauty)

 Our physical characteristics allow others to make interpretations about us without ever saying a word. We automatically make judgments about others based on their sex, race, and level of physical attractiveness. It has been found that when people solely focus on the physical attractiveness of women they are generally perceived as being less warm, moral, and competent. This does not have the same effect when focusing on the physical attractiveness of men (Heflick, N. A., Goldenberg, J. L., Cooper, D. P., & Puvia, E., 2011). From this it can be drawn that women are treated differently than men based completely on their outward appearance alone. It has also been found that race has an effect on how trustworthy we perceive others to be and that we are more likely to evaluate someone of our own race as trustworthy (Stanley, D. A., Sokol-Hessner, P., Banaji, M. R., & Phelps, E. A, 2011).

Sheldon’s method of somatyping asserts that people are classified as having certain characteristics based on their body type (Richmond, et al., 2001, p. 31). According to this method, people with oval-shaped heavier bodies (endomorphs) are seen as being more emotional, forgiving and relaxed. People with more muscular triangular body shapes (mesomorphs) have a psychological type that is more confident, energetic and dominant. While individuals with a more fragile thin physique are categorized as tense, awkward, and meticulous. I think that this method contains some truth on the assessments we make on people when we are only taking into account their body type and appearance. However, I feel that these assumptions vary in truthfulness once we get to know someone on a deeper level. I know plenty of overweight people that are less than jolly and really thin people that are very relaxed. I think that it’s important to be mindful that no one fits into their stereotype as much as you would think.

I think that it’s important to be mindful of the significant effect that physical appearance has on our judgments of others. We naturally categorize people and stereotype them based on how they look, but I think as a society we put too much emphasis on physical appearance.  By looking at others from a deeper perspective I think we can combat this overemphasis on outward appearance.

Works cited

Feingold, A. (1992). Good-looking people are not what we think. Psychological Bulletin, 111, 304-341.

Halprin, S. (1995). Ugliness and cultural stereotypes. In Look at my ugly face: Myths and musings on  beauty and other perilous obsessions with women’s appearance (pp. 186-207). New York: Penguin Group.

Heflick, N. A., Goldenberg, J. L., Cooper, D. P., & Puvia, E. (2011). From women to objects: Appearance focus, target gender, and perceptions of warmth, morality and competence. Journal Of Experimental Social Psychology, 47(3), 572-581. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2010.12.020

Hosoda, M., Stone-Romero, E.F., & Coats, G. (2003). The effects of physical attractiveness on job-related outcomes: A meta-analysis of experimental studies. Personnel Psychology. 56(2), 431-462

Richmond, V.P., McCroskey, J.C., & Hickson III, M.L. (2011). Nonverbal behavior in interpersonal relations (7. ed.). Boston:Pearson/Allyn & Bacon.

Stanley, D. A., Sokol-Hessner, P., Banaji, M. R., & Phelps, E. A. (2011). Implicit race attitudes predict trustworthiness judgments and economic trust decisions. PNAS Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences Of The United States Of America, 108(19), 7710-7775. doi:10.1073/pnas.1014345108

Understanding Your Brain Type

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Before this assignment I had never given much thought to how much our dominant brain hemisphere impacts our behavior. Through learning more about the different characteristics associated with right and left brain orientation.  I’ve come to realize how large of an impact our brains have not only on how we approach our environment, but how we relate to one another.  According to the Pink (2005, p. 13), the left brain is more sequential, specializes in text and is concerned with detail. The right brain is simultaneous, specializes in content and is concerned with the big picture of things. Throughout history and even now our society has seemed to favor individuals that are more left-brained oriented and are skilled at math and science and more deliberative thinking (2005, p. 29). As a right brain oriented person I have found it frustrating that creative ability has seemed to hold little value as far as intellectual aptitudes are concerned. The quiz seemed to be a pretty accurate reflection of my right-brained orientation; I scored a 14 on right brain dominance and a 5 on left brain dominance.

I’ve always considered myself more right-brained, I’m artistic, I absolutely hate math, and I really hate being given a set of direct instructions for anything. But part of me has always wished that I could be more left-brained, mostly because I grew up believing that my “creative talents” would lead to a life of struggle in low paying jobs. While my best friend’s high aptitude in math and science (she is now a Mechanical Engineering major at UT) would lead to success and a high-paying career.

According to Pink (2005, p. 46), due to the current shift that outsourcing and technical advancement have brought over the past decade, the right brain oriented among us might start having the upper-hand in the working world. I think this shift has yet to occur in a very noticeable way for most of us – my engineering friend will still start of making a great deal more than I will as a school psychologist, but I can see where he’s coming from with this argument. With most left-brained oriented jobs – from computer programming to law are becoming less and less dependent upon people and American people at that.

One of the main issues with automation and outsourcing that Pink and that I have also noticed is the lack of personal contact that these two options offer consumers (2005, p. 61). For example, I’m constantly having technical issues with my cable and instead of getting to talk directly with a repairman of some sort; my phone call is transferred to someone in India that then attempts to help me solve the technical issue myself. This might be a great deal for Time Warner; I’m sure it saves them lots of money, but as a costumer I end up less than satisfied with my service. There is definitely a niche is costumer service that only the right-brain can fill– I would much rather talk face to face with someone who can not only empathize with me being stressed at the thought of missing The Real Housewives reunion episode but can also physically come and fix the problem for me.

As someone who is predominantly right-brained I feel like put extra emphasis and value on interpersonal interactions. This is why I think it bothers me so much when I can’t communicate effectively with others. According to (Shamay-Tsoory, Tomer, and Goldsher, Berger, and Aharon-Peretz 2004, p. 1114), it has been found that the right brain is responsible for mediation of emotions and that people with damage to the right hemisphere of their brain show deficits in empathic responses. It can be drawn from this that right-brained individuals might show slightly more empathetic responses than those that are more left-brained oriented. I think this may make me a more effective decoder of nonverbal messages in the behavior of others. The empathy that I’m able to feel for others may make it easier for me to decode those nonverbal cues than it would be for someone more left-brained. One thing that I think definitely affects my communication is I tend to notice more how something is being said rather than what is being said. This can be problematic when someone may say something harmless in a negative tone because I tend put more emphasis on the delivery rather than the message, even when the tone may have not have anything to do with me.

According to Szaflarski, Holland, Schmithorst, and Byars (2006, p. 202), It has been found that genetic factors contribute to lateralization in brain, which makes sense in my case because from what I’ve observed of my parents, both of them seem to be predominantly right-brained oriented. If genetics have anything to do with brain lateralization I was destined to be right-brained. I was also encouraged to embrace my tendency towards more creative activities rather than being forced to do math flash cards.

I think that my right-brained cognitive composition has good and bad effects on my relationships with others. As far as being able to be supportive of my friends by listening to them and offering support and advice I feel that being right-brained is definitely an advantage. I also think that I’m pretty good at reading the emotions of my friends which is a good skill to have, especially if you live with five roommates like I do. A downside of being right-brained is that I’m really disorganized and tend to be pretty messy and I’m also not very detail oriented in my planning – all things that have caused frustration in my relationships.

This quiz gives a little more detailed breakdown of what it means to be right or left brained and what areas of orientation you most fall under –  http://www.wherecreativitygoestoschool.com/vancouver/left_right/rb_test.htm

 

References

Pink, D. H. (2005). A whole new mind. New York: Penguin Group

Shamay-Tsoory, S. G., Tomer, R. R., Goldsher, D. D., Berger, B. D., & Aharon-Peretz, J. J. (2004). Impairment in Cognitive and Affective Empathy in Patients with Brain Lesions: Anatomical and Cognitive Correlates. Journal Of Clinical And Experimental Neuropsychology, 26(8), 1113-1127. doi:10.1080/13803390490515531

Szaflarski, J. P., Holland, S. K., Schmithorst, V. J., & Byars, A. W. (2006). fMRI Study of Language Lateralization in Children and Adults. Human Brain Mapping, 27(3), 202-212. doi:10.1002/hbm.20177

 

 

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