The Cornell Contemporary China Initiative Lecture Series, featuring interdisciplinary talks by scholars on issues in China today, runs every Monday this semester.
Tami Blumenfield, James B. Duke Assistant Professor of Asian Studies, Furman University
This presentation will explore men's roles in Na communities of southwest China through a series of images and documentary clips. This is an area well known for its matrilineal family systems and for its sese sexual visit system, in which men leave their own home in the late evening and head to their partner's home. After spending the night together, the male partner departs, returning again to his own extended family's home. While this system's function has been explored in depth, few researchers have focused on how representations of Na men have affected people living in these communities. Instead, with many media representations focusing on the existence of 'free love' or on women’s “rule” of this land – e.g., this article from the Guardian—men are usually portrayed in oversimplified and stereotyped ways: either they are hypermasculinized or "lazy" because they "allow" women more control and more freedom.
In this talk, Professor Blumenfield will juxtapose a series of photographs of Na acquaintances with the stories surrounding them, and lay these in contrast to some of the sensationalist rhetoric surrounding Na people. Through documentary sequences, she probes the contradictions inherent in that rhetoric and explore reasons for those contradictions. She also interrogates the implications of proximity and position. Because the people photographed are not strangers, but rather people she have known over years of recurring visits as an anthropologist, the images show a closeness and emotional layer that distinguishes them from the standard photojournalist or tourist snapshot. At the same time, with their closeness, some of the images lurk close to the boundary of personal photo album. Professor Blumenfield will explore this balance in her analysis of the images, looking at both their framing and their content to examine what they reveal (and conceal) about relationships and masculinity while situating this analysis in the broader cultural discourse.
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