Bell Nuntita, was a transgendered contestant on a show, “Thailand’s Got Talent”, a Thailand reality series television featuring performers from all walks of life, similar to shows such as “American Idol” and “X-Factor”. She gained worldwide recognition and viral fame after she started singing in a female vocal range, only to transition into a deep masculine voice. What was ultimately surprising about the story was that she was well received by the audience and judges alike, going so far as to make it to the final round. Arguably, such figures need to be more prominent and accepted in the public mind not solely for the sake of being inclusive, but to indicate that agency should not be limited by being a minority member. It is not surprising that Bell Nuntita is not only an exceptional as far as aspiring singers go, but also an exception to commonly held notions. In the reading, “The Mommy Myth”, Douglas describes how the careless, selfish black mother leeching off of welfare is the antithesis of the nurturing, coddling and ultimately concerned white soccer mom. In the same vein, masculinity and femininity appear to be very much distinct and separate from one another, with distinct stereotypes categorizing each gender role. For instance, in Bell Nuntita’s case the classic image of a transgendered person would be a Dr. Frank-N-Furter-esque figure, not someone like her.
Similar to how the concept of the “Welfare Queen” took root in the minds of the American public, ideas of masculinity and femininity have become entrenched and rigid, creating a binary divide that is self-replicating and self-reaffirming. While individuals and groups can recognize these ideas for what they are-cultural concepts, not reality-it takes something more for the public at large to readjust their concept of gender and class. For instance, a recognizable figure who is easily identifiable with a certain issue. However, what was notable about “The Mommy Myth” was how Douglas described how there was direct interest involved in creating the semblance of satisfaction amongst women who have gone off the welfare system and into “work”, even though they are not necessarily guaranteed a job due to discrimination. Essentially, the notion of momism is directly contingent on persuading the middle class heterosexual population-especially the esteemed ‘Soccer moms’-that abandoning traditional maternal, domestic household roles would lead to utter chaos and financial instability.
As Douglas said, “Coverage of welfare increased during the Reagan and Bush I administrations, when there were various workfare or welfare ‘reform’ bills before Congress…And the news media, with exceptions here and there, gave us the same negative, monochromatic depiction of the welfare mother because they followed, often much too closely and uncritically, the agenda set by the conservative politicians then in power” (179). Essentially, political leaders were engaged in the practice of agenda setting, dictating the terms of discourse the public should engage in. This was done by prominent displaying the “Welfare Queen” for all of middle-white America to see. Hostility, resentment and fear were evoked in the public, and the image had soon become synonymous with the word “welfare”. For minorities to be viewed positively, the negative stereotypes associated with minorities must become synonymous not with a positive stereotype, but a positive image instead. In the case of transgendered people, that the term ‘transgendered’ should become seen as an umbrella term, with people such as Bell Nuntita coming to mind, as well as people like Dr. Frank-N-Furter.
Moreover, the agenda of motherhood in “The Mommy Myth” was set largely by men with a patriarchal outlook on the world. The image of the “Welfare Queen” was used to reinforce the notion that welfare was bad in the public mind. Similarly, mainstream images today continue to largely reinforce the notion of a gender and sexual binary. This only stresses the importance of popular figures such Bell Nuntita, since they provide a positive, alternative concept of the term ‘woman’ that could become as entrenched as the negative stereotypes like the “Welfare Queen” should the topic be pursued further. However, such events still largely remain seen as exceptions to convention and when they do occur, continue to serve as affirmations of the supremacy of convention in some form due to the lack of opinion leaders and political push. Even in Nuntita’s case, people continued to comment on her appearance. The blog called her “Pretty Ladyboy”, teasingly said, “Pretty isn’t he?” and quoted a judge as to saying “I was certain that you were a transsexual, but once you began singing, I was fooled to think that you were female. After you started the male verse, I should have trusted my gut feeling”. Even in the event that an agenda passes, it becomes incorporated into the fold of cultural normativity. For instance, in America, asexual, bisexual and transgendered agendas are not being touted with the same urgency within the mainstream media as the issue for gay marriage.
Moreover, the lack of visibility for women of color who identify as members of the queer community other than “Lesbian” serves as further proof the modern world continues to operate largely in a patriarchal and binary manner despite the repeated insistence of being inclusive. One only has to look towards how these sentiments are expressed in popular forms of entertainment. The fact that women of color, different sexuality and/or different gender orientation have not received the same amount of traction and fanfare as the white, conformist gay/lesbian couple is a telling sign that even in media content and organizations that are attempting to appear inclusive towards minority groups, the very representation of the people they are portraying is only surface deep.
In this regard, the first part of the Bechdel test examines to see whether or not a show views women as ‘token’ characters, while the second is supposed to show whether or not these women are able be seen as functioning characters able to exist outside of a patriarchal context. Unfortunately, it is more often to see on televised shows a minority character conforming to a commonly held stereotype or otherwise serving as an affirmation of the dominant view held by the other cast members. On the other hand, critically acclaimed series with a diverse set of characters of different nationalities, sexualities and gender orientations continue to be a rarity. Shows such as “Orange is the New Black” remaining outliers; exception to the rule rather than the rule of normalcy itself. The fact that issues regarding gender and sexuality remain seen as a field belonging to the realm of academics, feminists and civil rights activists shows that the world continues to be seen from a rigid masculine, male-oriented perceptive. The reason why women like the black, transgendered actress in ‘Orange is the New Black’ and Bell Nuntita receive so little attention is very much the reason why traditional starlets and celebrities like as Marilyn Monroe, Princess Diana, Beyonce (arguably even Miley Cyrus) receive so much by the mainstream media.
Douglas, Susan. The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined Women. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004. Print.
“Bell Nuntita-Thailand’s Susan Boyle.” Life is really beautiful. Web. 5 Apr. 2014.
Ross McGuinness. “The Bechdel test and why Hollywood is a man’s, man’s, man’s world.” Metro. Web. Apr. 5 2014.