Tag Archives: Sexuality and gender

Mosquito love songs

The familiar buzz of flying mosquitoes is an important mating signal, with the fundamental frequency of the female’s flight tone signaling her presence. In the yellow fever and dengue vector Aedes aegypti, both sexes interact acoustically by shifting their flight tones to match, resulting in a courtship duet.

Surprisingly, matching is made not at the fundamental frequency of 400 Hz (female) or 600 Hz (male), but at a shared harmonic of 1200 Hz, which exceeds the previously known upper limit of hearing in mosquitoes. Physiological recordings from Johnston’s organ (the mosquito’s “ear”) reveal sensitivity up to 2000 Hz, consistent with observed courtship behavior. These findings revise widely accepted limits of acoustic behavior in mosquitoes.

This according to “Harmonic convergence in the love songs of the dengue vector mosquito” by Lauren J. Cator, et al. (Science 8 January 2009).

Above, the female Aedes aegypti; below, Mosquitos demonstrates another form of harmonic convergence.

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Filed under Animals, Curiosities

The Alpine virgin in Italian opera

 

Uliana Alexyuk - La sonnambula

Nineteenth-century Italian operas portraying an emphatically virginal heroine—a woman defined by her virginity—were often set in the mountains, most frequently the Alps.

This convention presents an unusual point of view—a theme rather than a composer, a librettist, a singer or a genre—from which to observe Italian opera over a century. The clarity of the sky, the whiteness of the snow and the purity of the air were associated with the innocence of the female protagonist.

This according to Landscape and gender in Italian opera: The Alpine virgin from Bellini to Puccini by Emanuele Senici (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).

Above, Uliana Alexyuk in Bellini’s La sonnambula, one of the operas discussed by Senici; below, Renata Scotto in another of the book’s case studies, Verdi’s Luisa Miller.

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Filed under Curiosities, Opera

Ma Rainey’s “Prove it on me”

ma rainey prove it on me

 

Gertrude “Ma” Rainey’s Prove it on me blues affirms her independence from orthodox norms by boldly celebrating her lesbianism.

Rainey’s sexual involvement with women was no secret with both colleagues and audiences. The advertisement for the song (above, click to enlarge) shows her dressed as a man, obviously flirting with two women, while a policeman keeps an eye on her.

The song’s lyrics include:

They said I do it, ain’t nobody caught me/Sure got to prove it on me

Went out last night with a crowd of my friends/They must’ve been women, ‘cause I don’t like no men

It’s true I wear a collar and tie/Make the wind blow all the while

‘Cause they say I do it, ain’t nobody caught me/They sure got to prove it on me

This according to Blues legacies and black feminism: “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday by Angela Y. Davis (New York: Pantheon, 1998 p. 39)

Today is Rainey’s 130th birthday! Below, the 1928 recording.

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Filed under Jazz and blues, Performers

Danse apache and violence

danse apache early 1950s

What is partnered social dance but a ritualized embodiment of the battle of the sexes? The inevitable symbolism of women and men moving and touching, from 18th-century cotillions and reels, to 19th-century European style waltzes, to the ragtime dances of the early 20th century, has repeatedly ignited accompanying public discourses rife with vexed questions about sexuality, gender roles, class, race, morality, and modernity.

The dramatic metaphoric possibilities of social dance reached one extreme in the danse apache of the early 20th century, which was a stylized imagining of the violent lifestyle of Parisian pimps and prostitutes. Here a male and female dancer participated in a dummy display of violence and sexual attraction, combining one-step dancing with gymnastics and theater.

This dance was appropriated by professionals, often as a cabaret act, and was interpolated into several films—sometimes mistaken for real violence by other characters that try to intervene to comic effect. Pretense or not, the footage of this dance displays an alarming level of violence that makes us fear for the dancers’ well-being.

This according to “Dancing with a vengeance: Ritualized sexual aggression in social dance of the ragtime era and beyond” by Eden E. Kainer, an essay included in Dance and the social city (Birmingham: Society of Dance History Scholars, 2012, pp. 141–148).

Above, souvenirs of a reconstructed danse apache from the early 1950s; below, a film from 1934.

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Filed under Dance

Narcissism and digital erotics

madonna vogue

In new video media there is a possibility for a profound change in the representation of sex, eroticism, gender, and sexuality. Freud’s concept of primary narcissism provides important insights into digital imagery, not least in the construction of female spectatorship.

For example, David Fincher’s video for Madonna’s Vogue enacts a sense of femininity as masquerade; the act of masquerade allows women to merely play a role rather than actually becoming it, thus simultaneously fulfilling and parodying expectations.

This according to “Rolling and tumbling: Digital erotics and the culture of narcissism” by Sean Cubitt, an essay included in Sexing the groove: Popular music and gender (London: Routledge, 1997, pp. 295–316).

Above and below, the video in question.

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Filed under Popular music

Nudie Musicals in 1970s New York City

Hair original cast

What is most striking about the nudie musicals that ran in New York in the 1970s—aside from the many naked, jiggling bodies, of course—was just how conventional they were.

Even the raunchiest of the bunch espoused the same basic messages: Human bodies are beautiful! Sex, regardless of with whom, is natural and fun! The seismic cultural shift that is taking place right outside this theater is not threatening or confusing or scary at all!

In marked contrast with XXX theaters, peepshows, and sex clubs like Plato’s Retreat, the sex that nudie musicals featured was simulated—never real—and was almost always packaged in a familiar, age-old format: the musical revue.

This according to “Nudie musicals in 1970s New York City” by Elizabeth L. Wollman (Sound matters 16 June 2014). Wollman’s monograph on this topic is Hard times: The adult musical in 1970s New York City (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).

Above, cast members from the original Broadway production of Hair; below, the finale of Oh! Calcutta!

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Filed under Dramatic arts

Men with guitar cases

oscar-isaac-in-inside-llewyn-davis

An experiment tested the assumption that music plays a role in sexual selection.

Three hundred young women were solicited in the street for their phone number by a young male confederate who held either a guitar case or a sports bag in his hands or had no bag at all.

Results showed that holding a guitar case was associated with greater compliance to the request, thus suggesting that musical practice is associated with sexual selection.

This according to “Men’s music ability and attractiveness to women in a real-life courtship context” by Nicolas Guéguen, Sébastien Meineri, and Jacques Fischer-Lokou (Psychology of music XLII/4 [July 2014] pp. 545–49).

Above, Oscar Isaac as Llewyn Davis, perhaps providing a rule-proving exception; below, a study of men’s reactions to a man with a guitar case.

Related article: Sexual attraction by genre

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Filed under Curiosities, Science

Prince and female desire

Purple-Rain

Prince’s moves to elicit female desire in the song When doves cry can be traced according to three codes found in the lyrics: the “normal” code of male sexuality common in rock music, an unusually explicit “Oedipal” code, and an “uncanny” code.

The uncanny code constitutes a counter-code to the usual male-oriented sexuality of rock music and represents an attempt to elicit a non-stereotypical female sexuality—female desire outside of the male sexual economy.

This according to “Purple passion: Images of female desire in When doves cry” by Nancy J. Holland (Cultural critique X [fall 1988] pp. 89–98).

When doves cry is 30 years old this year, as is the film that showcased it, Purple rain. Above, a still from the film. Click here for the official music video; the lyrics are here.

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Filed under Popular music, Women's studies

Joni Mitchell and 1960s sexuality

joni mitchell 1968

Joni Mitchell’s early records mapped the sexual terrain of the mid-1960s—the period during which premarital sex lost its taboo status and became a normative part of maturation and development—from a woman’s perspective.

With their strong storytelling component, Mitchell’s songs put into popular circulation narratives of sexual freedom that engaged with emerging social practices, helping to legitimize the new choices available to young women.

This according to “Feeling free and female sexuality: The aesthetics of Joni Mitchell” by Marilyn Adler Papayanis (Popular music and society XXXIII/5 [December 2010] pp. 641–656).

Today is Mitchell’s 70th birthday!  Above, a photo from 1968; below, a 1970 performance of Cactus tree, one of the songs discussed in the article.

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Filed under Popular music

Hank Williams’s subversive narratives

hank williams

The extraordinary popularity of Hank Williams’s songs in the late 1940s and early 1950s played a crucial role in transforming country music from a regional and class-bound genre to a staple of mass popular culture.

Yet Williams’s narratives exuded a fatalism and despair about personal relationships, resisted romantic optimism, and avoided the kinds of closure and transcendence historically associated with male subjectivity.

His refusal to embrace dominant cultural narratives gave an individual voice to collective fears and hopes about the body, romance, gender roles, and the family.

This according to “‘Everybody’s lonesome for somebody’: Age, the body and experience in the music of Hank Williams” by Richard D. Leppert and George Lipsitz (Popular music IX/3 [October 1990] pp. 259–274).

Today is Williams’s 90th birthday! Below, a live recording of his classic expression of male vulnerability.

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Filed under Popular music