Almost from the day I arrived at MIT, I have been deeply involved in the Women's Studies Program. I also served as the acting director of the MIT Gay and Lesbian Studies program for three years. Issues of gender and sexuality have been central to my work, including both my scholarship and my teaching. I have taught two courses specifically in this area -- Gender, Sexuality and Popular Culture and Myths of Gender -- Masculinity.
"Never Trust a Snake!: WWF Wrestling as Masculine Melodrama" uses genre theory to examine the melodramatic dimensions of television wrestling and its "fit" with the social and economic experience of working class American males. Specifically, I draw on the work of Norbert Elias to examine the ways that sports function as an authorized space of male emotional release and to consider the ways that the fictional structure of wrestling makes it especially effective for provoking strong emotions. This essay first appeared in Aaron Baker and Todd Boyd (ed.), Out of Bounds : Sports, Media, and the Politics of Identity Because of this essay, I was interviewed for the Canadian documentary, Wrestling With Shadows, which will appear on the Arts and Entertainment Channel this fall.
"The Laughing Stock of the City: Male Dread, Performance Anxiety and Unfaithfully Yours" examines masculine responses to another genre -- film comedy. One of my few ventures into psychoanalytic theory, I offer an account of the relationship between male identity formation and a dread of women and suggests the ways that comedy may serve useful psychic functions in helping to resolve male fears about their own inadequacies in comparison to our larger-than-life ideals about heroic masculinity. This approach helps me to examine the complexities of Preston Sturge's Unfaithfully Yours and to explain why this film has been widely perceived as an artistic failure. This essay originally appeared in Kristine Karnack and Henry Jenkins (Ed.) Classical Hollywood Comedy.
"Dennis the Menace, 'The All-American Handful'" represents the intersection between my work on children's culture and my work on masculinity, examining the narrative tradition of "bad boy" comedy as embodying certain masculine fantasies about escape from matriarchal control and then exploring how the 1950s comic strips and 1960s television series based on Dennis the Menace expressed specific concerns of the post-war generation about fatherhood and domesticity. This essay initially appeared in a slightly edited form in Michael Curtin and Lynn Spigel (Eds.) The Revolution Wasn't Televised:Sixties Television and Social Conflict.
"'Complete Freedom of Movement': Video Games as Gendered Play Spaces" examines the ways that contemporary video games build upon traditions of gendered play which emerged in the context of 19th century "Boy Culture." This essay draws on cultural geography, social history, and research on children's literature, to map the spaces open for boys and girls within contemporary video games. It appears in Justine Cassel and Henry Jenkins (Eds.), From Barbie to Mortal Kombat: Gender and Computer Games. For more on this project, see the Children's Culture section.
FEMALE COMIC PERFORMANCE
"'Don't Become Too Intimate With That Terrible Woman!': Wild Women, Disorderly Conduct and Gendered Laughter in Early Sound Comedy" looks at the representations of gender relations within the early 1930s films of three comic stars, W.C. Fields, Winnie Lightner, and Charlotte Greenwood. Fields' comedies fit within a larger tradition I call "Comedy of Marital Combat" which reflects male anxieties about the growing authority women exercised in the domestic sphere; Winnie Lightner's films use comic masquerade to express a female resistance to traditional conceptions of feminine beauty and compliance; Charlotte Greenwood's So Long Letty turns the "Comedy of Marital Combat" on its head to express why women might not find domestic life so rewarding. This essay first appeared in Camera Obscura and then appeared in my book, What Made Pistachio Nuts?: Early Sound Comedy and the Vaudeville Aesthetic.
"'You Don't Say That in English!': The Scandal of Lupe Velez," written to appear in a forthcoming collection of essays on female comic performance edited by Kristine Karnack, represents a revision and reconsideration of my own earlier work. Specifically, I look at the intersection of race and gender in the films of Lupe Velez, a Mexican-American comic star who is remembered today more for her scandalous life and death than for her screen appearances. I examine the ways that the figure of "the unruly woman" or the "woman on top" helped to naturalize existing prejudices against Mexican-American women, even as it allowed a limit space for women to question socially-sanctioned gender roles.
GENDER, SEXUALITY AND INTERPRETATION
I am often asked by people reading or teaching this book where they can find slash. More and more of it is becoming available on the web, though it is often of mixed quality. The best website to get started reading on-line slash is Satyricon Au Go-Go.
My contributions to Science Fiction Audiences: Watching Doctor Who and Star Trek continue this exploration of the relationship between gender, sexuality, and interpretation, and include close considerations of the ways female fans rewrite the relationship between Kirk and Nurse Chapel as a way of resolving the program's contradictory attitudes towards the role of women in Star Fleet; the history of the efforts by gay, lesbian, and bisexual fans to lobby for the inclusion of a queer-positive character in Star Trek; and the status of Star Trek at MIT as a means of working through complicated attitudes about the relationship between mind and emotion and for exploring the students' own growing mastery over issues of science and technology.
"Normal Female Interest in Men Bonking" was an attempt to pull together excerpts from slash fans theorizing about slash writing. So much academic writing has emerged in recent years on the subject of slash, but little of it has been written by participants in this subculture. I wanted to use my access to academic publishing to make the ideas of slash fans more accessible to a broader community. This essay, which I co-edited with Cynthia Jenkins and Shoshanna Green, will appear (someday) in Cheryl Harris and Alison Alexander (Eds.) Theorizing Fandom: Fans, Subculture, and Identity.
"Reception Theory and Audience Research: The Mystery of the Vampire's Kiss" offers an overview of the ways that people have theorized audience response to the cinema. At the core of this essay is the close consideration of one fan story which depicts Thelma and Louise as lesbian vampires. I trace how this story might be understood in relation to the original film, its critical reception, the subcultural practices of fandom, and research on queer audiences. This essay was written to appear in a collection on different approaches to film studies being edited by Linda Williams and Christine Gledhill.