Thursday, August 19, 2010

Queering ponies

If Beanie is horse-crazed, then I am a bit horse-crazed-crazed, as this turns out to be a fascinating topic to examine in parenthropological perspective. For example, while browsing google scholar, I found a reference to Sexy Bodies: The Strange Carnalities of Feminism, edited by Elizabeth Grosz and Elspeth Probyn (Routledge, 2002[1995]). Rooted in feminist theory (which at heart questions the “natural” order of gender and calls attention to its constructions), queer theory (which further questions sexuality), and cultural studies (which “reads” a range of cultural phenomena, including literature and film), the essays are considerations of “carnalities,” or bodies and sexualities.

As an aside: Before I was an anthropologist and before I was a journalist, I was an English major with a concentration in women’s and gender studies in the late 1980’s / early 1990’s. So, I confess to a slight weakness for overwrought readings of text(s), though I admit also to impatience with the breathlessness exhibited in the writings themselves. In any case, if an aim of scholarship is also creativity – a point on which even empiricist friends might agree – then works like this are worth entertaining.

Elspeth Probyn, in her introductory essay, titled “Queer Belongings: The Politics of Departure,” considers the phenomena of “horse-crazed” in terms of relationships between girls, and relationships between girls and horses. In so doing, she reminds us that horse-crazed is not just an idea of the mind, but also an experience of the body or bodies:

While I have always been fascinated by this connection of girls and girls and horses, body against body against body, I am far from alone in thinking that there is something wonderfully thrilling about the movement of women on women on horses. From National Velvet to My Friend Flicka, horses figure in any number of ways. And as far as I remember from the pony-club stories and experiences of my youth, it was always girls and girls and horses together, with nary a boy in sight (and if there were, they tended to be ‘sissy boys’ – but that’s another story that requires another storyteller). Within popular culture this generalized coupling of girls and horses (‘pony-mad’) then operates in opposition to that of girls and boys (‘boy-crazy’). Of course, equine associations vary – consider Jeanne Cordova’s reaction to the onset of puberty:

The day I became a girl, my life was over. ‘This is the stupidest thing I ever saw.’ I flung the bra out of the window and screamed at my mother ‘You can’t expect me to wear that. It’s meant for a horse.’ (Cordova 1992: 274)

I think Probyn reminds us here that the relationship between girls and horses undeniably carries the charge of sexuality - I mentioned in an earlier post that googling "girls and horses" is a mistake for the PG-minded - but it is not necessarily about sex (with references to Catherine the Great bracketed for the moment).

Being "horse-crazy" is different from being "boy-crazy." Probyn suggests that the relationships between girls and between girls and horses – at least as depicted in so many popular stories – are ideal and innocent, like a true sisterhood, a community between humans and animals, or culture and nature in balance with females mediating the connection. Interestingly, I find this consistent with what I have heard other thoughtful adults say about supporting girls' interests in horses - that it can be empowering for girls and that it can encourage their concern with nature and environment.


On being "horse-crazy" versus "boy-crazy" - and providing us with another glimpse of the class dimensions of girls and horses - an observation from The Official Preppy Handbook (1980):

The Horse Phase is a standard condition of a girl-Prep's adolescence. More aesthetic than pimples, less worrisome than cars, but colossally boring while it lasts, it is the activity for girls ages ten to fourteen....

Then one day, she discovers Boys. The breeches hang in the closet, the horse-show ribbons get dusty on the wall, and the objects of her affections thereafter walk on two legs instead of four.

So, it is interesting to think about the taken-for-granted status of The Horse Phase as connected to the taken-for-granted status of girls being crazy for boys (i.e., the normativity of heterosexuality).

At least as a parenthropologist. As a parent, I still need to deal with first grade.

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