Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Schools For "Children": On Framing (or Not) Gender Issues

My short post from the other day inspired several interesting comments regarding the alienation and frustration that many feel upon hearing the so-called "generic he" in reference to both men and women. In reading these comments, I was then inspired to comment upon writer Lilian Nattel's observation whilst doing research for her (excellent) book The River Midnight:

"I'd read about 'children' only to discover what was meant was boys. I had to dig for girls and women's history and have been digging ever since."

I was going to reply in the comment section, but thought a response deserved a post of its own as I was reminded of a recent article in Time about US soldiers' noble attempts to keep "schools for children" open and running in Afghanistan. I inferred from the context of this article that "schools for children" mostly meant schools for boys, as the article began:

"The Pir Mohammed School was built by Canadians in 2005, in Senjaray, a town just outside the city of Kandahar in southern Afghanistan. It is said that 3,000 students attended, including some girls- although that seems a bit of a stretch, given the size and rudimentary nature of the campus."

At no point does the article address or further comment upon the "including some girls" bit. At no point is the implied gender disparity Worth Elaborating Upon. Students, here, are boys. And, also, "some girls." I single out Time because it was the most recent example I've run across, but oftentimes, we get lines like the following in well-intentioned articles about Educating The Children of the Middle-East:

"As of 2003, 46 percent of Afghan children — and 60 percent of Afghan girls — between the ages of 7 and 13 were not attending school.

While this article admirably adds some commentary about the Taliban's gender repression, even here it is not clear whether Afghan girls are presented as a sub-set of the group "children" or as their own othered category, distinct from the category of "children."

Oftentimes, when articles discuss "peoples," "citizens," and "children,"- especially when these beings inhabit repressive, fundamentalist worlds- an additional layer of translation must occur as it is implied that the humans being discussed within those categories are men and/or boys only. Any gender disparity that even gets to the level of being noted, is often nothing more than a brief, unremarked-upon observation within an article that then goes on to discuss More Important Things, of course, from a non-gendered lens.

Yet, I am confident I am not alone in wanting more details about gender disparities and, for instance in the case of Afghan school children, how the US military responds to these disparities. Do military efforts replicate these disparities, or seek to eradicate them? Non-feminists and anti-feminists particularly love to inform Western Feminists that we are not doing enough to save Muslim and Middle-Eastern women, but do these issues belong to feminists, and feminists alone, to solve because they (supposedly) fall under the rubric of "gender issues"?

I doubt there are easy answers to these questions. What I do know is that, without feminism, the non-feminist mainstream media too often fails to inspire us to even ask these questions.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Glass Ceiling: Dude Gets Creative With Cause and Effect

Writing in The Sacramento Bee, Bruce Maiman recently explained why that pesky glass ceiling for ladies in the workplace persists and why men don't take women seriously. The problem, he says, is women.


"Two weeks straight and two stories about two fights involving women going for the top two jobs in California: First there was Carly Fiorina's hairgate. Now there's Meg Whitman's shoving match.
Is there pay-per-view?"

Har har har, cat fight! Am I rite? Here, right off the bat, Maiman let's us know that he doesn't take female violence seriously, implying that girl-on-girl action is entertaining, and possibly hot, but in no way threatening or serious in the way that it would be if he were talking about two men. Let's remember this in a moment.

He continues:

"Many have written about the new feminism in politics, but incidents like this recall questions about old chauvinism in the workplace – a misogyny in everyone, not just men. Why are women more hypercritical of women than they are of men? Why does it always seem to be about looks? Do they bully other women? How much of the relationship between men and women is influenced by the way women treat women?

Men don't generally knock each other's appearance. Personality, yes; ability and competency, yes, particularly when competing for the same job, but rarely looks."

Here, Maiman implies that when women fight it's about stupid girly shit, like appearances. When men knock each other, it's about important shit. Like, I don't know, dick size? While he dances around several outcomes of this superficial bitchiness, he asks a rhetorical question:

"How can women break the glass ceiling at work if they're ducking verbal blows from female co-workers? And if the perception, rightly or wrongly, is that women can't take one another seriously, why do they expect men to?"

Now, it's not exactly a Startling Revelation that women can be mean to each other and hyper-critical of each other's looks. Yet oddly, female aggression is framed as, as one "expert" in Maiman's article called it, "the pink elephant" in the room. Because, um, the ladies love pink shit and no one is talking about what's in plain sight except for brave dudes in the mainstream media? Yet, this pervasively-invisible phenomenon hardly holds true for all women and, indeed, applies to men as well. Hello, Perez Hilton and Rush Limbaugh. Yet, more importantly, Maiman suggests that misogyny in men is actually caused by misogynistic women who model the phenomenon of treating other women poorly. Which, of course, sort of lets men completely off the hook. Men don't take women seriously, you see, because women don't take each other seriously. Oh the poor poor men can't think for themselves.

To get to the bottom of why Maiman's proposition is absurd, it will be helpful to see what other dudes think about all this. In a comment that has been flagged as "popular," following the article, "sacbeeuser731" mansplained (wrongly, natch) that:

"[Maiman] hit the nail on the head. Female bullies can do far more damage to a subordinate than men in terms of destroying reputations because the victim isn't taken seriously. A man perpetrating the same offenses upon a female subordinate would be sued for discrimination. Currently, there are no laws protecting against same-sex, same-race harrassment. This results in a double standard in the workplace and needs to be changed."

First and foremost, our mansplainer of the day is wrong about sex discrimination laws not applying to same-sex, same-race harassment. In fact, he is not just a little wrong, he is like, so fucking wrong that the truth is actually the opposite of what he said. A quick perusal of the Equal Employment Opportunity website, for instance, clearly and plainly states that when it comes to workplace harassment, "Both victim and the harasser can be either a woman or a man, and the victim and harasser can be the same sex" and "Discrimination can occur when the victim and the person who inflicted the discrimination are the same race or color."

Nothing like a probable white dude being outraged by the Lack of Protection For White Dudes that is a figment of his own imagination. I mean, seriously, do people even try to look shit up before they get angry about and "teach" others topics they know absofuckinglutely nothing about?

Secondly, here "sacbeeuser" bemoans that female purveyors of violence and aggression are, for the most part, not taken seriously. While it is true that there are issues with traditional domestic violence narratives that gender perpetrators of violence as male and victims as female, how power dynamics, gender, and aggression play out in the workplace is much different than in domestic relations. Thusly do I call bullshit on "sacbeeuser's" claim that women can get away with much more aggressive behavior in the workplace than can men. When women display the same entitlement to aggression that men display (and are sometimes lauded for), whether their aggression is taken seriously or not depends on the gender of the victim.

When women are aggressive towards men (or, you know, just confident and competent) they are often framed as some variation of a Castrating Witch/Bitch. Yet, when women are agressive/mean to other women, men are likely to minimize it, reducing it to a catfight, or otherwise suggest that they are not threatened by female-on-female aggression. Indeed, let's scroll back to the top of my post, pause, and briefly consider Maiman's uninspired comment about wishing the totally-non-threatening lady catfight would be on "pay-per-view." Possibly in mud, am I rite?

And why don't men take female-female aggression seriously?

Because they take neither women nor "girly" shit seriously. That many women also denigrate women is a logical consequence, a trickle-down effect so to speak, of society's powerbrokers consistently denigrating women. Not a cause of it.

In noting the phenomenon of women who hate women, Andrea Dworkin noted that right-wing women recognize that women are categorically defined as sex, but that they reject feminism because for women not to be sex would make women useless to men. That women hatefully enforce codes of patriarchal beauty compliance upon other women is not the cause of male misogyny, but rather a "self-protective sense of repulsion" caused by it.

But we understand, don't we bitchez? Writing about Andrea Dworking is not as exciting to write about as women who cause men to not take women seriously in the workplace.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Doe v. Reed: On Seeking the Special Privilege of Civic Cowardice

Last week, the Supreme Court held that laws requiring the disclosure of the names of those who sign referendum petitions does not violate the First Amendment (Doe v. Reed).

For some background on what brought this case about, Washington allows its citizens to challenge state laws by petioning the secretary of state via referendum containing voter signatures and their addresses. In 2009, a group called Protect Marriage Washington began collecting signatures for purposes of putting a referendum on the ballot that would challenge a law that gave same-sex partners domestic partnership rights. "One individual and four entities, including Washington Coalition for Open Government (WCOG) and Washington Families Standing Together (WFST)" then sought to obtain copies of the petition in accordance with Washington law.

The Protect Marriage Washington group asked a federal court to disallow these groups from obtaining the petition, making two arguments. They first argued that (I) referendum disclosure laws in general violated the First Amendment; and that (II) the disclosure law as applied to this case was unconstitutional because if the names of those who signed were disclosed, "there is a reasonable probability that the signatories … will be subjected to threats, harassment, and reprisals." Protect Marriage did not present evidence that this was in fact happening, only that it happened with respect to California's Prop 8 (which I address later).

The Court only addressed argument I.

Signing a petition falls under the purview of the First Amendment because, as Justice Roberts notes, "An individual expresses a view on a political matter when he [sic] signs a petition under Washington’s referendum procedure."

Those seeking disclosure argued that the state has two interests in disclosure:

"(1) preserving the integrity of the electoral process by combating fraud, detecting invalid signatures, and fostering government transparency and accountability; and (2) providing information to the electorate about who supports the petition."

The Court only addressed the first interest, and agreed that "preserving the integrity of the electoral process is undoubtedly important" and that "Public disclosure also promotes transparency and accountability in the electoral process to an extent other measures cannot."

Thus on the broad issue of whether referendum disclosure laws violate the First Amendment, the Court held that they do not. Left unanswered, however, was the narrower issue as to whether disclosure in this particular contentious case would violate the First Amendment. For, "In related contexts, we have explained that those resisting disclosure can prevail under the First Amendment if they can show 'a reasonable probability that the compelled disclosure [of personal information] will subject them to threats, harassment, or reprisals from either Government officials or private parties.'"

Although this is a victory for transparency in the legislative process, this case does leave open the possibility of anonymity in specific cases.

In his concurrence, noted (scathing) conservative Justice Scalia was even particularly harsh on Protect Marriage's claim, noting that referendum signers have made themselves legislators and should not seek to be hidden from accountability and criticism. I don't condone violence, threats, or intimidation, and such things have no place in political discourse. Furthermore, as Scalia notes:

"There are laws against threats and intimidation; and harsh criticism, short of unlawful action, is a price our people have traditionally been willing to pay for self-governance. Requiring people to stand up in public for their political acts fosters civic courage, without which democracy is doomed. For my part, I do not look forward to a society which, thanks to the Supreme Court, campaigns anonymously (McIntyre) and even exercises the direct democracy of initiative and referendum hidden from public scrutiny and protected from the accountability of criticism. This does not resemble the Home of the Brave."

As in many contentious issues, it is not surprising that a few people on both sides unfortunately resort to threats. Those should be and often are condemned. Yet, one can't help but wonder if Washington is anything like the post-Prop 8 Christian Persecution Complex scenario, whereby "marriage defenders" largely mischaracterized legitimate acts of protest and criticism as nothing short of domestic terrorism and exaggerated a few instances of potentially legit threats as being much worse and more pervasive than they actually were. Washington's Attorney General confirms:

"The identities of donors to the Ref. 71 campaign — not petition signers — have been public for months. While the Ref. 71 campaign chairman and some top lieutenants have brought forward allegations of threats and harassment, 'that's not the standard,' McKenna said. 'The issue is whether the average petition signer has a legitimate fear of threats, harassment or reprisals. And there just hasn't been evidence presented to date that that was the case.'"

Unless R-71 proponents can bring forth substantial evidence that amounts to more than pearl-clutchery at the fact that some people call them "bigots" for opposing equality, what this means is that these "marriage defenders" in Washington seem to actually be further vilifying LGBT people while legislating away minority rights and seeking the special privilege of not having to take criticism for it.

Little in this world is more cowardly than that.

Friday, June 25, 2010

On Intuition

Perhaps my greatest annoyance with respect to the Culture Wars is the reliance on "common sense" to justify biases, opinions, and points of view. Rarely does common sense allow us to transcend such things, but only further entrench them using the premise that one's intuitive common sense is always right.

Whether folks are declaring a study they haven't read to be wrong because the study doesn't correspond with their own common sense, or claiming that the government needs fewer smarty-pantses and more folks who'll just go with their guts on stuff, the reaction against critical thinking is very real, particularly on the right.

The appeal to common sense is based on the idea that a person's snap intuition is an accurate measure of universal truth, and thus, more reliable than whatever it is that the Other Side is saying that is contradictory. It is effortless and easy. It is the cocksure self-assurance that all the things one already knows in life are also, coincidentally, the things that are absolutely true. Commonsensical ideas, as such, require no revision in light of different, better, or contradictory evidence because that sort of evidence is, by definition, not commonsensical and, therefore, wrong and ridiculous. Relying on common sense is like the heterosexual "marriage defender" whose only "marriage defense" actions involve opposing same-sex marriage rather than, say, opposing divorce. It is cheap. Indeed, it costs nothing.

And so, we come to an interesting article about intuition, written by psychologists Daniel J. Simons and Christopher F. Chabris. While some believe that certain theories about common sense give them a "broad license to rely on intuition and dispense with analysis" in a wide variety of contexts, "[t]he key to successful decision making is knowing when to trust your intuition and when to be wary of it."

For instance, intuition may great for subjective decisions such as "deciding which ice cream we like more," but not so great for getting to the correct answer of an objective determination. Research also shows that confidence in our accuracy in "intuitively" knowing how our minds work, such as in remembering key details of previous events "is largely an illusion." Further, we tend to infer causation from anecdotes and vivid examples, rejecting scientific data.

The authors end:

"Intuition is not always wrong, but neither is it a shortcut around the hard work of logical analysis and rational choice. The trouble with intuition is that while intuitive modes of thought are easier to use than analytical modes, they are poorly adapted to many circumstances and decisions we face in the modern world. If we follow our gut instincts, we will talk on the telephone while we drive, have too much trust in eyewitnesses, and believe we know what causes what—in health care, finance, politics, and every other domain—without even realizing that we haven't considered the right evidence, let alone come to the right conclusions."

[Thanks to Lilian for passing along the cited article.]

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Standard of Review in Perry v. Schwarzenegger

This post is the finale of my brief series on the Prop 8 Trial closing arguments. On Tuesday, I took a look at Ted Olson's arguments for the equality side and yesterday I examined Chuck Cooper's arguments for the "marriage defenders."

Moving on to the standard of review issue, it will be helpful to examine Romer v. Evans, a somewhat similar LGBT rights case from 1996, that albeit has specific distinctions from Perry. In Romer, the US Supreme Court was deciding whether a voter-passed initiative called Amendment 2, which prohibited the "protected status" of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals was constitutional. The effect of Amendment 2 was to repeal all statutes that barred discrimination based on sexual orientation, singling out only LGB people for removal on the grounds that anti-discrimination laws that protected people on the basis of sexual orientation constituted "special rights" for LGBs. Interestingly, Colorado's citizenry was content giving other folks "special rights," as they left wide swaths of other categories- including age, military status, pregnancy, parenthood, and more- protected from discrimination under their legal regime.

Using a rational basis review, in which a law must have "a rational relation to legitimate state interests," the Court declared the law unconstitutional saying in part "its sheer breadth is so discontinuous with the reasons offered for it that the amendment seems inexplicable by anything but animus toward the class that it affects." And when confronted with the state/voter's alleged justifications for enacting the Amendment, which were to protect "freedom of association" for those opposed to homosexuality and to conserve resources to fight discrimination against other groups, the Court responded that the "breadth of the Amendment is so far removed from these particular justifications that we find it impossible to credit them." Thus, "We must conclude that Amendment 2 classifies homosexuals not to further a proper legislative end but to make them unequal to everyone else."

Note here that the expressed motived of Colorado's Amendment 2 was not "we hate gay people," but rather a comparatively benign-sounding justification. And, importantly, the Supreme Court still ruled that it was unconstitutional. This could bode well for Perry as, of course, "marriage defense" attorney Chuck Cooper argued over and over again that Prop 8 was motivated not by anti-gay animus but by the will of millions of voters to channel Responsible Procreation into the institution of marriage.

Now, let's talk about that point for a moment, because I remember quite vividly the "marriage defense" campaign during Prop 8, including the messages circulated by professionals, amateurs, and astroturfers. I don't recall the Responsible Procreation message taking centerstage in this campaign. What I do recall is one Prop 8 mouthpiece comparing gay people to Hitler in a Prop 8 ad, the Yes on 8 campaign running a dishonest ad implying that Obama supported Prop 8 in an appeal to African-American voters, and a fear-mongering video ad that explicitly and ominously asked voters whether they've thought about "what it means when our children are taught about it [same-sex marriage] in school?" and showed a little girl asking about it as though merely hearing about the existence of gay couples was the Worst Thing Ever. Ads like these were par for the course during the campaign and yet, audaciously, Cooper claimed during closing argument that the campaign materials were based in the Responsible Procreation argument thus showing that the vast majority of Prop 8 supporters voted for Prop 8 because of the Responsible Procreation argument and not for reasons of anti-gay animus

Ted Olson rightfully took this claim to task, re-iterating that the ads were grounded in the idea that children should not learn about same-sex marriage because "gays are not okay." So, on the "California voters just wanna channel Responsible Procreation into marriage" argument, Chuck Cooper was way off. The evidence does not demonstrate that this was the voters intent or that Responsible Procreation is the government's interest in marriage. When coupled with the under-inclusive nature of Prop 8 wherein same-sex couples are banned from marriage but no other infertile couple is, I have a difficult time seeing how Prop 8 passes muster even under rational basis review.

If Walker decides on using strict scrutiny, which comes into play whenever a fundamental right is at issue or when discrimination occurs against certain minority groups, he would almost certainly declare Prop 8 to be unconstitutional.

To end here, if Judge Walker rules that Prop 8 is unconstitutional, the "marriage defense" brigade will undoubtedly haul out their Judicial Activism bazookas and start blasting away, as if the laws our legal system allows for must be unlimited and unchecked just because a slight majority of voters approved of the law. Indeed, right after closing arguments ended in what was a remarkably civil trial given the contentious nature of the issue, NOM's Maggie Gallagher, who has no specialized training in law, spoke irreverently, doing what she does best. Feeding into her constructed "marriage defender" persecution complex, she basically takes a piss on Judge Walker's competence and our nation's judiciary:

"Chuck Cooper is a heckuva lawyer. At stake in this case is the future of marriage in all 50 states, and he's right that this attempt to shut down the debate by constitutionalizing gay marriage will backfire. Americans have a right to vote for marriage. Ted Olson doesn't seem to understand the argument, and judging from today's exchanges neither does Judge Walker. I expect Judge Walker will overrule Prop 8. But millions of Americans do understand why marriage is the union of husband and wife and I believe the majority of the Supreme Court will as well."

Of course, also at stake in this case is Gallagher's career of defending marriage from same-sex couples, which makes her statement a conflict of interest.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Rundown of Cooper's "Marriage Defense" Prop 8 Closing Arguments

Yesterday, I provided a brief summary of Ted Olson's closing argument in Perry v. Schwarzenegger. Today is where things get fun, as we turn our attention to "marriage defense" attorney Chuck Cooper's closing argument [PDF].

Cooper begins, right away asserting:

"The New York Court of Appeals, your Honor, observed in 2006 that until quite recently it was an accepted truth for almost everyone who ever lived in any society in which marriage existed that there could be marriage only between participants of different sex."

That is, marriage is between a man and a woman because only a man and a woman can get married, the oft-used circular "marriage defense" argument that, you will notice, does not address the question of whether or not a ban on same-sex marriage is constitutional or even a good idea. He continues, arguing that the above statement demonstrates that:

"[T]he central purpose of marriage in virtually all societies and at all times has been to channel potentially procreative sexual relationships into enduring stable unions to increase the likelihood that any offspring will be raised by the man and woman who brought them into the world."

This argument is what's sometimes called the Responsible Procreation argument against same-sex marriage, and it is addressed more fully in this article, which explains the mythological nature of this argument. Although Cooper's version idealizes this alleged purpose of marriage, many adherents of this theory of marriage contend that marriage exists to channel the inherently-promiscuous male sex drive into marriage, effectively entrapping them into rearing any resulting biological children. In other words, same-sex marriage should be illegal because men are horny sluts, effectively punishing women (whose job it is to "control" men) and LGBT people for men's "inherent inability" to take responsibility for their sex lives.

Nonetheless, you will notice that the Responsible Procreation claim, while being annoyingly male-centric, is not necessarily Bible-based or gender complementarist. That prominent "marriage defenders" no longer even consider outright "Judeo-Christian" homobigotry, sexism, and misogyny to be legally viable arguments is progress, to look on the bright side.

Moving on, the Responsible Procreation claim is likely to be a significant issue in Judge Walker's opinion given that (a) this benign-sounding message was a far cry from the Save the Children From The Idea That Gay Is Normal fear-mongering narrative that "marriage defenders" engaged in leading up to the Prop 8 vote, a narrative that demonstrated a measure motivated by animus rather than concerns about Responsible Procreation and (b) marriage laws are under-inclusive if they prohibit same-sex couples to marry while allowing post-menopausal women, women who have gotten hysterectomies, men who do not have testicals, and infertile couples from marriage, if we accept as true that the Most Important Purpose of marriage is procreation.

For instance, a bit later, Judge Walker asks Cooper if he would suggest that the state withhold marriage licenses from couples unable to reproduce together, given that a premise of his argument is that couples who cannot reproduce together do not fulfill the procreative purpose of marriage and are, therefore, unfit for marriage. Contradicting himself, Cooper engages in special pleading, saying that witholding marriage licenses from the infertile "is by no means a necessary - a necessary condition or a necessary requirement to fulfilling the state's interests in naturally potentially procreative sexual relationships." That is, same-sex couples cannot marry precisely because they do not fulfill "the procreative purpose" of marriage; but heterosexual infertile couples can marry even though they too do not fulfill "the procreative purpose" of marriage?

Addressing this issue more thoroughly than most, Cooper claims that testing all heterosexual couples for infertility would be impractical. And here I disagree. In some cases, yes. But in others, not so much. Not all women have uteruses; not all men have testicles. Testing these couples for "infertility" would be fairly easy and practical. As for other couples, another solution that would help "fulfill the procreative purpose of marriage" would be to withhold the marriage license until a couple "naturally produces" children. And, yes, as Cooper states, there would also have to be post-marriage enforcement ensuring that children were actually produced, which doesn't seem too steep a price to pay to ensure this Most Important Institution continues to do its important job of ensuring the survival of the human race (which Cooper claims is another important purpose of marriage, below). Alternatively, it would be refreshing if Cooper would just acknowledge that, as his expert Blankenhorn admitted in his book: there exists no one single, universal definition of marriage. It means different things to different people. Why is this hard for people to understand? While to some marriage is about procreation, to others it is about solidifying bonds, social acceptance, romance, or something else entirely.

In light of the fact that same-sex marriage bans are underinclusive and, therefore irrational when it comes to supporting the alleged purpose of marriage, an easy and practical solution would be to just allow same-sex couples to marry already. Really, I am so fucking sick of the premise that marriage must be saved on the backs of LGBT families and that the steps that heterosexuals find to be too hard, too "impractical," or too invasive to their privacy are, as Cooper claims, "Orwellian" steps to save marriage. If you're going to exclude people from your special institution, you have to fucking own it all the way, not just when it's cheap and easy like punching a chad in the voting booth to take away other people's rights. Put up or STFU.

And furthermore, if marriage is about procreation, then in the interest of accuracy and fairness we must de-link every single right, privilege, and benefit that comes with marriage that is not related to procreation. As Judge Walker noted: "There are support obligations and there are a host of other obligations that flow from a marriage that have nothing to do with the sexual conduct of the parties to the marriage." I'm sure Cooper and the "marriage defense" brigade would have no objections to such a proposal, given how invested they are in Marriage As Procreation. We can't have our legal system sending mixed-messages, can we?

When further pressed by Judge Walker to answer whether marriage exists for the individuals within it or to benefit the community, Cooper continues, ominously claiming that "without the marital relationship, your Honor, society would come to an end." As though (a) human beings are incapable of reproducing without a marriage license in hand, and (b) heterosexuals will stop marrying and reproducing if same-sex marriages were allowed. Oogedy boogedy!

Like a broken record, Cooper continually skips back to his argument "that responsible procreation is really at the heart of society's interest in regulating marriage." About halfway through his closing statements, Judge Walker pressed Cooper to show what evidence supported this conclusion and, incredibly, Cooper replied "You don't have to have evidence of this
point if one court after another has recognized -- let me turn to the California cases on this." You don't have to have evidence?!

And isn't that bold assertion, really, the crux of the monopoly that "marriage defenders" believe they have on marriage? While he is correct that some court cases and legal scholars, particularly those in the 1800s, say that a purpose of marriage is procreation, it is also correct that other court cases say that marriage is about other things as well and that it is a fundamental right even to those who are incapable of procreating with the person they wish to marry. Yet, Cooper takes it as an Authoritative Statement of Commonsensical Truth that his definition/purpose of marriage is the One True Version. He ignores the plethora of evidence that the equality side presented, evidence that was submitted by actual scholars of history and sociology. Instead, he claims that he doesn't "have to have evidence" regarding the single most important claim of his case.

Interesting tactic.

Judge Walker agreed, observing:

"Let me ask: If you have got 7 million Californians who took this position [of being against same-sex marriage], 70 judges, as you pointed out, and this long history that you have described, why in this case did you present but one witness on this subject? One witness. You had a lot to choose from if you had that many people behind you. Why only one witness? And I think it fair to say that his testimony was equivocal in some respects."

He is referring here, of course, to Cooper's key witness David Blankenhorn, whose testimony and status as an expert appeared rather... flaccid compared to that presented by equality side's witnesses. In his rebuttal to Cooper's closing, Ted Olson harped on this point some more, summing up the "marriage defense" position as "We don't know. We don't have to prove anything. We don't have any evidence." And that, really, is the frustrating annoyance to anyone who has ever dealt with these people. How is it acceptable to take away or deny rights while simultaneously admitting that you don't know what'll happen if you grant these rights?

Tomorrow, I will conclude this series by discussing the standard of review issue.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Rundown of Olson's "Equality" Prop 8 Closing Arguments

Prior to closing arguments in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, popularly known as "The Prop 8 Trial," Judge Vaughn R. Walker issued a series of questions for each side to answer in closing arguments.

[As a note of term usage, I will refer to the pro-Prop 8 side, which is the side opposing same-sex marriage, as the "marriage defense" side. The scare quotes are mine, as I obect to the notion that the moniker "marriage defender" is an accurate term for this advocacy.]

The official transcript of the arguments which address some of the above questions, can be read here [PDF] From the transcipt, I have pulled some interesting tidbits.

To begin, attorney Olson- representing the side seeking to overturn Prop 8, summarized the position of the "marriage defenders." Namely, attorney Cooper and (arguable) expert witness David Blankenhorn argued that the central and defining feature of marriage was to "promote procreation and to channel procreative activities between men and women into stable, enduring unions."

The "marriage defenders" further argued that permitted same-sex unions would diminish the procreative aspect of marriage and/or denigrate the institution of marriage because (a) same-sex marriage would "change" marriage and (b) would "likely lead to very real social harms, such as lower marriage rates and high rates of divorce. These claims, Olson noted, differed from the claims the "marriage defenders" made during the Prop 8 campaign, that Prop 8 was necessary to "protect the children" from learning about gay marriage, a message grounded in the idea gay people "are not okay." Olson noted that during trial, the "marriage defenders" presented no evidence that any of the harms they claimed would befall society would actually occur and that attorney Cooper admitted that they were mere predictions.

Olson continued that 14 Supreme Court cases have defined marriage and that, contrary to the definition of marriage advocated by "marriage defenders," nowhere is the right to marry conditioned on or tied to procreation. Further, and this is a really important point, although the right to marry belongs to individuals, individuals could not collectively- via referendum- take away the fundamental right that same-sex couples have to marry in the absence of a compelling government interest for prohibiting same-sex couples from marriage. In response to the Judge Walker's question as to when was the appropriate time for the judiciary to weigh in on legislative and sensitive political issues, Olson elaborated that this trial has shed light on what the purposes of Prop 8 were, whether they were legitimate, whether the measure was under- or over-inclusive in targeting only same-sex couples, all of which would reveal whether or not it is constitutional.

Olson then powerfully re-played the testimony of several witnesses, including that of "marriage defender" Blankenhorn, who admitted that the elimination of discrimination and stigma that would result by allowing same-sex marriage would be a victory for the American ideal and that same-sex families would be better off for it.

It is uncertain as to what level of scrutiny Judge Walker will apply to this case. Cooper is arguing for the lesser standard of rational basis, while Olson argued for a higher level of strict scrutiny. In making this argument, Olson made a point that isn't much noted. Usually, the denial of marriage equality is framed as anti-gay discrimination. Yet, Olson aptly argued that it is also sex-based discrimination in that a person's choice of a marriage partner is "foreclosed on the basis of sex." Classifications based on sex require heightened scrutiny.

In sum, I found Olson to be persuasive, handling Judge Walker's questions well. I don't have a ton to say about his testimony, as I agree with much of it. Tomorrow's post, summarizing and analyzing attorney Chuck Cooper from the "marriage defense" side promises to be more engaged. Thursday, I will review the standard of review.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Trying To Be Angered By Ross Douthat's Latest, But Really Just Bored

Apparently, a dude by the name of Ross Douthat has mansplained feminism to the readers of the Times.

After his uninspired claim that the US is now a matriarchy because "all major female candidates won" the recent primaries whilst, mind you, 21.8% of Congress is female, he opines:

"What Tuesday’s results demonstrated, convincingly, is that America is now a country where social conservatives are as comfortable as liberals with the idea of women in high office....Yes, female public servants still face a thicket of sex-specific challenges while running for office.... But these challenges no longer manifest themselves in predictable ways, as the peculiar left-wing misogyny that greeted Palin’s candidacy emphatically demonstrated."

And this is what happens when non-feminists/anti-feminsts try to write about feminism.

First, he presents the "Is Sarah Palin a true feminist" question as though it's remotely interesting or relevant to the liberation of women. It's not. More relevant to women's liberation are the policies for female liberation that Sarah Palin opposes or supports.

Then, in answering his own deep question, he mistakes female complicity in patriarchy with female liberation from patriarchy, effectively declaring that feminism has won because conservatives are okay with conservative ladies in power now.

And then, for the final swing and miss, he conflates the left-wing political movement with feminism, expressing the idea that he is shocked and awed that left-wingers can be misogynists. As if anyone who pays attention to the feminist blogosphere (you know, since we don't tend to get our own columns in the Times) is actually surprised by such a thing. As if feminists, rather than being being largely ignored, mocked, and ridiculed within the movement, actually rule the left-wing. As if left-wing politics does not have it's own rather larger and inconvenient Woman Problem.


May these men one day learn to stop mistaking their own ignorance for Just Tellin' It Like It Is explanations of political phenomena.

Friday, June 18, 2010

A Handy Equation for Ladies in the Workplace

I was going to write a post today, but my posts this week were pretty long, so fuck it.

What Twisty said:

"Public women should be X amount feminine, X amount motherly, X amount hot, X amount beautiful, X amount young, X amount confident, X amount helpless, X amount exotic, X amount educated, X amount intelligent (required: the last two values < the men in the office), X amount gay (the last value almost always = 0). The ratios are fluid, shifting from day to day at the whim of public sentiment, so that a woman may think she’s got it pretty well sewed up, only to wake up one fine spring morn to discover that the parade being thrown in her honor has suddenly vanished. Later she finds out it’s because she stupidly forgot she was a member of the sex class, and had dared to imagine that she would be judged on merit rather than her ability to do femininity right."

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Dude Just Tells It Like It Is Without Knowing WTF He's Talking About, Part 4,222,153

Yesterday, I posted a link to The Lesbian Family Study and provided an overview of it. Today, I will examine a response that our trusty anti-gay friend Playful Walrus wrote to an article about this study. To reiterate, let's note that his response isn't to the study itself, but to an article about the study. Indeed, his entire post is an exercise in coasting through a blogpost expecting one article in the mainstream media to hand everything to him on a silver fucking platter, thereby causing him to mistake his own ignorance and laziness for How The Homo Activists Are Getting Everything Wrong.

Given that, let's see how it is he who gets it so very wrong.

First, his title: "Lesbians Report That Lesbians Make Good Mothers"

Just so we're clear then, when heterosexual researchers report that heterosexuals make good parents, is the claim not to be trusted? Here, Walrus' first error is in assuming that the heterosexual life experience is the inherently objective, reality-based one, and that the experiences and observations of those who are not heterosexual are biased. Clearly, egocentric heterosexuals need to be reminded that, as always, an argument should stand or fall on its own merits, not on the characteristics of those who are making the argument. Many folks on the internet misuse the phrase ad hominem to mean basically any sort of personal attack, but Walrus' title and its implications are classic ad hom.

Secondly, and this is just a tangential point regarding general creepiness, the article nowhere states that the researchers are lesbians, yet Walrus seems to Just Know this bit of personal info.

He continues, misinterpreting the study in a very fundamental way:
"...let's take a closer look at what is really being claimed here. After all, it can't just be a celibate straight woman raising the child by herself. No, according to this, it is important that the woman be attracted to other women. That a child's mother is attracted to other women makes the kid do better in math. Right. Now golf, I could believe."

First, har har har. Kudos to Walrus for being so "in the know" about the lesbian sportiness. Maybe he should look into a writing gig at Our Big Gayborhood or AfterEllen. Two, note that he claims that the study claims that the sexual attractions of the parents lead to better child outcomes. Yet, nowhere does the study say or imply that it is the lesbian parent's attraction to other women that makes the child "do better" at anything. Had he read the Discussion section of the study, he would have read the actual arguments made.

A bit later things get substantially more interesting when Walrus mansplains that up is down and down is up. In response to the study's findings that "children in lesbian homes scored higher than kids in straight families on some psychological measures of self-esteem and confidence, did better academically and were less likely to have behavioral problems, such as rule-breaking and aggression," Walrus tells us that:
"Self-esteem and confidence aren't necessarily good things – especially when they are unwarranted. Rule-breaking can be a good thing when the rule is unjust. Aggression is not necessarily a bad thing."
So you see, folks. Self-esteem and confidence are bad, when displayed by children of lesbian parents, that is!

But seriously, how fucking desperate of an Oppose Everything Gay agenda does a person have to have to make spurious bullshit special pleading argumentation stating that now, suddenly, Self-Esteem and Confidence Are Bad For Kids To Have, now that a study has shown that kids of lesbians have these traits? Yes, unwarranted and excessive self-esteem and confidence can indeed be bad things, Cap'n Obvious, but why in the hell assume that kids of lesbian parents have these traits in excessively bad quantities?

Later, in response to the finding that "children in same-sex-parent families whose mothers ended up separating did as well as children in lesbian families in which the moms stayed together," Walrus ejaculates "Does anyone really believe this?" and claims that had he personally "come up with these results" he'd just realize the study was flawed and throw it away. Had he read the actual study, he would've read the researcher's proposed explanation for this. While that explanation may or may not be adequate, it is logical and does make sense. It certainly beats, to paraphrase Walrus' sentiment, "this result doesn't sound right so I'm just going to throw it in the trash." Namely, the researchers noted that non-custodial lesbian mothers tended to stay more involved in the lives of their children after separation than did non-custodial fathers, correlating with more positive child outcomes. But rather than thinking about actual explanations for this, he takes the lazy way out, chalking it all up to homosexual "politics" and a biased study (tm).

After ignoring or dismissing the positive outcomes of the children of lesbian parents, Walrus then proposes some areas of future research. He does aptly note here that the sample size was small, which the researchers also noted in the study, but then he concernedly wonders:
"Are the misandry levels in these children higher than the general population?"
This statement, like his golf joke above, is yet another reliance on the uninspired Lesbos Hate Men stereotype. No worries, though. I would welcome such a test as readily as the one that demonstrated that it is non-feminists who are more hostile towards men than are feminists. Hardy-har-har! Studies are fun.

In a further demonstration of his ignorance, Walrus writes:
"Of course a child is likely to be better off raised by a generally good, financially stable woman who planned the pregnancy over an abusive mother and abusive father who are in and out of police custody and spend their money on their substance abuse habits rather than food for the kid."
Well yes, this comment falls into the No Shit Category, but Walrus seems to be confused about something. Namely, he seems to be under the impression that the Biased Lesbian Researchers in this case deliberately found well-off lesbians and compared them to the worst possible, most abusive, druggy hetero parents possible in order to contrive these results. Had he read the study, he would know that this was not the case.

Then, based on alll of this combined, clusterfuck of ignorance, he concludes:
"The study does not past the smell test."
Well, if you say so, bro!

But seriously, what this statement means is that the results of this study don't comport with Walrus' already-held views about the necessity of a momma and a daddy for each child, and so without regard to the merits of the study, he dismisses it as flawed. And newsflash, ladies and gent! No study showing anything other than negative outcomes for children of gay couples will ever pass his smell test.

He continues, praying to the altar of the gender binary:
"Parenting is an interpersonal relationship. Therefore, there has to be a difference between mothering and fathering. All children, gay or straight, will grow up to deal with both men and women. As such, they benefit from having a parent of each sex parenting them and modeling cooperative interaction between the sexes."
Now this statement here falls squarely into the Making Shit Up bucket of Bozo the Clown's Grand Prize Game. Without a single shred of evidence or any sort of citation, he tells us that men and women are so very very different from one another that children of lesbian parents will grow up not knowing how to have "cooperative interaction" with members of the other sex because of inadequate modeling opportunities.

Here, I say, even if that were true, so. fucking. what? Men and women both would be better off with less modeling of "appropriate" gendered behaviors and performance. For, Walrus ignores the fact that "traditional marriage" has historically been a relationship between a dominant man and his submissive sex property, and instead he tries to tell us that it is and always has been a utopian equal hierarchical relationship where boys learn to become men and girls learn how to become women and the sexes integrate hand-in-hand skipping together in a field of aromatic tulips. The reality is that his version of gender truth, which perpetuates the idea that men and women are different and complementary, is actually anti-feminist code for Men Are Better! I've taken a whiff of that "truth," and that shit stinks.

He ends with a rhetorical question:
"Would the same publication publish a study that was funded and released by Focus on the Family in which evangelical Christian parents raised children according to the principles of Focus on the Family, and the study said that such children are better off?"
It's not clear here whether the "publication" he's referring to is the newspaper or the academic journal that published the study. So, I will end with a much more relevant observation. Advocacy groups, while entitled to their opinions, are not entitled to have their opinions, supported as they are by crackerjack studies, published in every single forum they wish in the interest of Representing an Other Side. The far more relevant question is, assuming for the sake of argument that Focus on the Family could produce such a study, would its methodology, procedures, or logic be flawed? Surely it wouldn't be biased just because of where it came from and the fact that it was conducted by heterosexual evangelicals, right?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Lesbian Family Study- A Quick Review

It's been entertaining to see "marriage defenders" scramble to try to discredit the recent study showing children of lesbian parents have better outcomes than other children. The findings throw a wrench in their "common sense" ideology wherein there is no way on earth two same-sex parents could be good for kids.

Of course, studies show that 99% of those declaring this study to be flawed have not actually read this study, which can be found quite easily on the world wide web, but since when has that ever stopped folks from declaring things they know nothing about to be an affront to good ol' common sense and, therefore, wrong?

Tomorrow, I will delve into one such ignorant internet "smackdown" of this study. But first, I'd like to provide a summary of it. For starters, it is called the "US National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study: Psychological Adjustment of 17-Year-Old Adolscents," and it was published online in the peer-reviewed journal Pediatrics on June 7, 2010. From the abstract, the objective of the study was to:

"...document the psychological adjustment of adolescents who were conceived through donor insemination by lesbian mothers who enrolled before these offspring were born in the largest, longest running, prospective, longitudinal study of same-sex–parented families."

154 prospective mothers volunteered to participate, and 78 children were interviewed. Most of the mothers in the lesbian group (93%) and the heterosexual comparison group (67.7%) were white, whereas those in the lesbian group tended to be in lower socio-economic classes as the heterosexual comparison group (24.7% of lesbian parents were in "upper middle or upper" class compared to 43.9% of heterosexual parents). In addition, the lesbian mothers resided in 3 major urban areas, while the heterosexual parents resided in a mix of urban and rural areas.

The mothers were interviewed and answered questionnaires at several different points in the lives of their children, and the children themselves were interviewed at age 10 and answered a questionnaire at age 17. The questionnaires completed by the parents were of four scales where the parent was asked to rate their child's behavior in the areas of activities, social, school/academic, and total competence. The children answered questions related to the stigma of having lesbian mothers.

The results were that the "17-year-old [National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study] girls and boys were rated significantly higher in social, school/academic, and total competence and significantly lower in social, rule-breaking, aggressive, and externalizing problem behavior than the comparison group." Within the group of children raised by lesbian parents, no significant differences were found based on donor status, separation of the parents, and their own perception of stigma. Although, when the parent reported that their children had experienced stigma, analyses showed significantly higher behavioral problem scores.

In the Discussion section of the study, the researchers posit several explanations for these outcomes. For one, as opposed to those who accidentally or unintentionally end up pregnant, those who undergo donor insemination demonstrate "a commitment even before their offspring were born to be fully engaged in the process of parenting." Secondly, the mothers in the study used "verbal limit-setting" more often, which correlates with other studies finding that lesbian parents use less corporal punishment and "power assertion," which is "associated with healthier psychological adjustment."

The acknowledged limitations of the study include that it was a nonrandom sample, due to the difficulty of recruiting the somewhat hidden population of lesbians in the 1980s. Two, the comparison data did not include youth self-reporting data or teacher's self-reporting data, which would have made for a "more comprehensive assessment." Three, although the lesbian families and heterosexual families "are similar in socioeconomic status, they are neither matched nor controlled for race/ethnicity or region of residence."

The study ends by acknowledging the grants that funded this research, which is standard. While those opposed to LGBT rights have already concluded without reading the study that the study's funding sources "prove" that the study is biased, the researchers note:

"Funding sources played no role in the design or conduct of the study; the management, analysis, or interpretation of the data; or the preparation, review, or approval of the manuscript."

While this statement alone doesn't, of course, prove that the study is not biased, the onus is on those who claim bias to demonstrate flaws and bias within the study. Just saying that the study is wrong because it doesn't comport with "common sense" is not an intelligent rebuttal.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Florida Gunman Targets Only Women, Media Fails to Ask Why

[Trigger Warning: Hate Crimes]

Well damned if today's post doesn't correlate nicely with this post from last week.

Via Echidne, who aptly examined media responses to this act, another man has apparently gone on another entitled, violent rampage targeting only women. Despite the gender-based nature of this crime and the fact that the gunman passed by and left alone at least one man in order to pick off only women, this report fails to mention the gender-based nature of the crime, this report refers to the hate crime as a "domestic dispute," and this article refers again to the "motive" as "a domestic dispute" and is centered around the "shock" of the male perpetrator's half-brother, who is apparently some Very Important Athlete.

Now, let's imagine if a woman went on a killing spree targeting only men. I'd place bets on seeing (a) a more in-depth exploration as to the cause of her man-hating tendencies, (b) her actually being labeled a man-hater, and (c) an acknowledgement that this was a gender-based hate crime rather than a personal "domestic dispute."

However, in the case of yet another man who, as Echidne calls it, has made himself "a public executioner of women," the media offers no exploration as to why this man felt the need to target only women aside from the fact that he "lost it" because he was "very sad" about how the wife he allegedly abused moved out of their house. While in reality, targeting only women for murder is a gender-based hate crime that serves as a warning message to all women not to step out of line, the typical media narrative tells us that these are isolated, yet understandable, acts committed by Otherwise Normal Guys who sometimes snap, often because a woman wronged them in some way. By failing to ask or explore why and whether this man hated women, the media leads us to infer that hating all women is a logical conclusion to a man being pissed off at one woman.

Traditionally, in some jurisdictions, a man witnessing his wife committing adultery was a legally adequate "provocation" to have his murder charge reduced to the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter. This defense, which often applied to men only, was grounded in the misogynistic idea that the man's property had been violated and the (misandrist?) assumption that, when faced with such a provocation, a "reasonable man" could not be expected to control his rage. When it came to defending his woman-property, the law entitled men to engage in violence.

With that legal relic in mind, that gender-based hate crimes committed against women are rarely called out for what they are demonstrates that, to some degree, women are still defined as sex while men are defined as both (a) people and (b) people who are entitled to sex/women and violence. In such a scenario, how can it ever be considered out of the ordinary, or even woman-hating, when men act violently when denied that to which they are entitled- sex/women?

That is to say, in this reality, it is only logical for media narratives to offer us a somewhat sympathetic portrait of the violent male murderer, delving not into systemic male entitlement issues or Rape Culture, but rather into how "very sad" this man was, how he had stopped eating and lost a bunch of weight, and how he had tried to win back his woman on Facebook, with the implication being that it was only natural for him to then go on to kill a bunch of other women. And this is how Rape Culture tricks us. Women, reduced to the sex class of Woman are not individuals, but a category. Hatred of one woman justifies hatred of all women while, paradoxically, this hatred is not framed as misogyny. Men, perceived as individuals, nonetheless receive a categorical cultural entitlement to engage in violence, especially against women. Yet, also paradoxically, male violence is viewed as an individual aberration, rather than a categorical, societal flaw. .

And the truly sad thing? It's only a matter of time before some Concerned Men's Rights Activist comes here and calls me a man-hater for failing to adequately sympathize with the Poor Murderer.

You can't make this shit up.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Usual

"It was only when I heard a prayer that said 'she' instead of 'he,' when I heard God called 'mother' instead of 'father,' that I realized how much translating I had to do when I sat in church, how much energy I spent wondering if I was included, how much I longed for theological language I could see myself in."

-Sarah Sentilles, A Church of Her Own

I've had similar experiences.

We do not always notice what we have come to endure. We can become accustomed to alienation and sexism.

I read feminist blogs and books to remember this.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Concerned Women For American Prejudges Study About Lesbian Parenting

[Cross-posted at Our Big Gayborhood]

Even though it's a new rightwing meme that every choice a woman makes is a feminist choice just because it's a woman making it (see, eg, Sarah Palin Feminism), the rightwing movement doesn't generally believe that. Take, for instance, the anti-gay, anti-feminist Concerned Women for American's opposition to gay ladies who raise children, despite a new study showing positive outcomes for children of lesbian parents.

Via CNN, "A nearly 25-year study concluded that children raised in lesbian households were psychologically well-adjusted and had fewer behavioral problems than their peers....

Funding for the research came from several lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender advocacy groups, such as the Gill Foundation and the Lesbian Health Fund from the Gay Lesbian Medical Association....

Children from lesbian families rated higher in social, academic and total competence. They also showed lower rates in social, rule-breaking, aggressive problem behavior."

This research directly undermines the varied, cocksure claims of LGBT rights opponents that same-sex parenting is detrimental to the well-being of children. Unfortunately, anti-gay individuals and organizations are resorting to their typical irration and reliance on Good Ol' Folksy Folks Common Sense Trumps Science arguments to "discredit" this study.

Observe, within the CNN article, Concerned Women for America's Wendy Wright:

"[That LGBT groups funded the study] proves the prejudice and bias of the study," she said. "This study was clearly designed to come out with one outcome -- to attempt to sway people that children are not detrimentally affected in a homosexual household."

This is classic poisoning-the-well illogic. Rather than demonstrating in any manner how the study is flawed, she claims that it is flawed merely because of where the money that funded it came from. She treats this research as though it is self-evidently and obviously wrong, without regard to the merits of the study itself, its methodology, its integrity, or its logic. Rather than letting the research findings stand or fall on their own merits, Wright distracts the public from these favorable findings about same-sex parenting, choosing instead to harp on the "biased" researcher and organizations affiliated with the study.

She continues:

"Studies have shown that children thrive having both a mother and a father, Wright said."

Note that studies showing "that children thrive having both a mother and a father" does not contradict this study's finding that "children raised in lesbian households were psychologically well-adjusted and had fewer behavioral problems than their peers." If we put these two statements together, we could logically conclude that children can thrive in both male-female households and in lesbian households.

The articles ends, giving Wright the last word:

"'You have to be a little suspicious of any study that says children being raised by same-sex couples do better or have superior outcomes to children raised with a mother and father,' she said. 'It just defies common sense and reality.'"

Again, Wright fails to address the merits of the study, choosing instead a typical rightwing argumentum ad gastrum. The reality of these findings don't comport with her gut, you know, like how the idea that the Earth revolves around the sun didn't jive with the Vatican's gut in Galileo's day. Thus, she claims the entire study is "suspicious" and counter to reality.

Given the egotistical Monopoly on Truth and Reality that pervades the anti-LGBT movement, it is not surprising that the folks who get paid to Oppose Everything Gay rarely feel the need to offer substantive arguments. Believing that they really really know the one true truth, they instead tell us over and over again that they are right about everything, pretty much, because It's Just Common Sense and their common sense is everybody's common sense self-evident truth. And when studies show that they aren't, actually, right about everything, or that they don't know all that they think they know, they begin emoting, playing on manipulative fears and rage about The Incredible Power of the Gay.

But here's the thing about fact and opinion. Everyone's entitled to their own opinions but we're not entitled, however, to our own facts. In the interest of logic, reality, and integrity, it's time for the anti-LGBT movement, and those whose prejudices are fed by this movement, to learn that distinction.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Stop Me If You've Heard This...

So, Rush Limbaugh got married for the fourth time.

His new wife is 26 years younger than him and significantly more attractive*, all pretty much proving that patriarchy exists to allow older, unattractive men sexual access to attractive, young women, am I right?

[Note 1: The above link should contain a Trigger Warning for a photo of Rush Limbaugh getting kissy-faced with his wife, which, while I appreciate the fact that he seems to be capable of affection, genuinely made me urp in my mouth give that the ugliness that leaves his mouth on a daily basis.]

[Note 2: To pre-empt some criticism here, those who are concerned that this post is "misandrist" or hypocritical for "making fun" of Limbaugh's looks, would do well to observe that I have not, actually, ridiculed his looks. Just making a note about how patriarchy eases the ability of powerful, wealthy men being able to "score" younger, attractive members of the sex class.]

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

In Which Commenters Make My Case

[Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault; Misogynistic Language]

Perhaps some of you have noticed the recent comment in response to this post, about an alleged female serial groin kicker.

I wrote many things in that post, the thesis of which was an examination of how gender-based violence against men are framed compared to the much more pervasive gender-based violence against women. At no point did I condone violence against men or excuse the serial groin-kicker's actions. Rather, a key point of my post was that, because woman-hating and is so pervasive and acceptable, male-on-female rape is rarely framed as the gender-based hate crime that it is; whereas serial groin kicking perpetrated upon men is quite easy to for people to perceive as a gender-based hate crime, because it is so rare.

A couple of recent commenters have visited Fannie's Room to aptly demonstrate the paradoxically pervasive-yet-invisible nature of misogyny, the male entitlement to violate women's boundaries, and the sexist narrative that posits that any woman who points out anything having to do with Rape Culture is a man-hating feminazi cunt. Or, as "Guest" opined:

"What a supid [sic] nasty man hating cunt you are.

A rape in the dead of night is the only chance you EVER have of getting fucked."

One of the reasons I let comments like these stand, as hateful and violent as they are, is that... well, isn't there something resonating about these slips of the masks of civility? Here, rather than a Concerned Man coming here saying that he's worried about my "tone" or some such silencing tactic, we have a man who doesn't hide his misogyny and desire to silence women.

Two, like his brethren, or possibly himself, who physically attack women from behind and in otherwise predatory ways, he harbors fantasies of feminists getting raped "in the dead of night," an admission that directly counters the claim of so many who say that this sort of aggressive male entitlement to traverse women's boundaries is a mere figment of the over-active feminist imagination.

Third, it is worthwhile to note yet another case of patriarchal projection. Anti-feminists often claim that feminists are basically frigid fuglies who can't "get fucked." Note the passive voice. By "get fucked" they mean, of course, "get fucked" by men, which in Rape Culture is the only type of fucking that counts. Yet, counter to Guest's reversal, the reality is that I and every other woman on the planet, basically, could actually choose to "get fucked" by a man very easily by visiting a bar at closing time or, say, posting a sex-seeking ad on Craigslist as a woman seeking a man, to which we would by the end of the day have at least dozens of offers for sex by men desperate to fuck.

But then, dear readers, the plot takes a predictable turn when when a Concerned Male Commenter arrives going by the moniker Toysoldier. His comment is an exercise in Making Shit Up that, unfortunately, men like him sometimes believe to be convincing due to the weight of their Authoritative Male Mansplainer Voices. So eager to find me guilty on the count of Not Caring An Iota About Female-On-Male Violence, he constructs out of thin air the conjecture that the purpose of my post was to "mock" male victims, to "speculate" that the male groin-kickee "deserved it," and to accuse male victims of "whining."

Because my post actually, literally said "While acknowledging violence is wrong [insert thesis of my post regarding Rape Culture]", Toysoldier seems to base his conclusions on the fact that my observations about this matter were centered around a subject other than men and their feelings.

Again, a worthwhile comment if only to demonstrate how men's rights types who are so very concerned about female-on-male violence are over-eager to view feminists as Not Caring Enough about men that they disregard our actual words and arguments. Toysoldier came here looking for a Feminazi Cunt Villain Who Doesn't Care About Male Victims and so he found one, no matter what the actual evidence demonstrated. Again, I speculate another case of projection. He believes I don't care about female-on-male violence because he himself doesn't give a shit about male-on-female violence. For, as for the very real verbal violence that his friend "Guest" inflicted by calling me a "cunt" who basically deserves to be raped "in the dead of night," he was resoundingly silent. Nothin' to see there, am I right?

That, my friends, is Rape Culture. It is men who demand that every conversation remain centered around men and, if a conversation strays from that oh-so-important topic, it is evidence of man-hating that "puts you on the same level as racists and child lovers." It is men who, in a conversation about gender-based violence's greater impact on women than on men, tells you that you getting raped "in the dead of night" would basically be doing you a favor, all because you have the audacity to de-center men from a conversation. It is men who, because misogyny is so rampant, expected, and accepted, fail to see, comment upon, or condemn misogyny and veiled rape threats that are in plain sight.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Book Review: A Church of Her Own

As a feminist with a strong interest in how religion and spirituality can perpetuate and counter sexism and misogyny, it was with much interest that I read Sarah Sentilles' A Church of Her Own: What Happens When a Woman Takes the Pulpit. [All quotations from this book unless otherwise noted]

For this book, Sentilles interviewed a diverse collection of aspiring and ordained female ministers within various Christian denominations. As a preface, I should be up front about the fact that I am not a Christian, for both feminist and rational reasons. Yet, Christianity has an incredible influence on American society and, as such, I do see value in the work that some women and men are doing within Christianity to try to make it more inclusive, loving, and feminist (and Christian?).

So, interspersing the stories of the women she interviewed, her own experience in the ordination process, and eloquent commentary, Sentilles' result is an at-times enraging portrait of that subtle, hard-to-pin-down sexism that stifles women's careers while enabling non-feminists to back up with their hands in the air and declare that Nothing Is Wrong Because Sexism Has Already Been Solved. That was my greatest take-away from the book. While it seems to be a popular perception that feminist work is over when women achieve ordination in a particular denomination, the reality is that, as Sentilles writes, "ordaining women is not the end of the struggle but just the beginning" (4).

1) Subtle Sexism

Sexism in the church is not the result of a secret conspiracy of men "late at night in hidden rooms where people strategize about how to ruin women's lives or keep the church a males only club" (5). (Wait, doesn't that almost perfectly describe the Vatican?). Anyway, Sentilles' continues, that fighting sexism is much easier when there are obvious sexist policies that people can rally around, like the Vatican's ban on female ordination, and when there are actual, tangible patriarchal cabals. Unfortunately, "[s]exism is more insidious than that. It dresses in the garments we all wear. It speaks our language" (6). And, it is evident in the job search, in language that genders god male, and in Bible-based ideology that posits that men and women are complementary (ie, women are inferior to men)- in other word, evidence of sexism that is not readily apparent in quotable statistics.

Through various interviews, a picture began to emerge that although a denomination may ordain women, men more easily got jobs, got better jobs, and got higher-paying jobs than did women. Women talked of going to job interviews with their husbands [Note: Is bringing a spouse along a common hiring practice in ministerial appointments?!] and having the interviewer address the questions to their husbands, under the assumption that the men were the job candidates. Other women reported being appointed to near-failing congregations, where the church hierarchy didn't know whether the congregation was "going to live or die," under the belief that having a female pastor couldn't be any worse than any of the other shit that had happened (68-69).

One woman reported going through the job search process with her husband, who was also seeking an appointment. Out of three interviews each, he got two job offers, she got none, and "the entire process was radically different for each of them" (71). Whereas the husband would get multiple page emails where the rector really tried to connect with him, the woman got one-line notes asking for a resume.

The younger ministers noted that age often compounded their lack of authority, especially once they were in the pulpit. Whereas women in our society are encouraged to look as young as possible for as long as possible, looking young is, for women especially, a career impediment as it equates with a lack of authority. As an attorney, I get this too. Just as many have a picture of a man in some sort of robe when they picture "minister," many people have an image of a man in a suit when they hear "attorney." Even though I'm in my 30s, I still sometimes get "doesn't she look young to be an attorney?"

Whatever that means.

In another instance I can relate to, one woman noted that the dynamic between a senior male minister and a more junior female one can lead to a really "messed-up dynamic" where it is difficult for the woman to be perceived as anything other than the man's "eager assistance" or "little helper" (97). In short, like in so many other areas of life, men are the default in ministry. A minister is automatically a man, unless someone clarifies that it is a female minister. This is one root of much of the "subtle sexism" experienced by these women.

2) Suppression of Women and the Feminine

The interviews are also stories of repressed and minimized female talent. Historically, women have always ministered, whether or not their ministries are institutionally legitimized. She notes historical examples like Anne Hutchinson, who was not ordained but who nonetheless held weekly religious meetings in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 1600s and Jarena Lee, the wife of an African Methodist Episcopal preacher, who delivered sermons yet was long denied ordination by the church hierarchy.

She notes a woman in her twenties who asked her home Southern Baptist Church if they would license her after she spent two years in divinity school and they said no. Meanwhile, they regularly licensed teenage boys who came back from youth camp and said they had "felt God's call" (51). She notes another lady minister who went to seminary after an unfulfilling career as Minister's Wife. Before seminary, she used to attend meetings with other minister's wives in the area who, she said, were "a bunch of depressed women who had probably been called to be in ordained ministry" but were steered out of it because of their gender (35).

And indeed, talented women whose talents go to waste because of the Necessity For Women To Support Men And Babies have good reason to be depressed. It's an old story, that story of Great Men getting to do Great Things because the world is their oyster in which to do them. It is an old story of men creating clubs and only entitling other men to join them, effectively cutting in half the number of people against whom they have to compete for resources, jobs, and power.

3) Conclusion

In addition to discussing barriers to ministry solely in terms of gender, Sentilles explores the additional challenges that women of color, lesbian/bisexual women, and transgender men and women face in entering the ministry. Perhaps ironically, those chapters were less interesting to me, as those barriers are somewhat more obvious and thus easier to rally around than more subtle forms of sexism. She certainly discusses these issues in a skillful manner, but to somebody on the receiving end of some of these other Christian -isms, you aren't likely to come across any new Startling Revelations.

To end, I appreciated the final chapter on what she is for. It is easy to be against things in the world, and many Christians are defined almost entirely by all that they are against. Thus, I can appreciate Sentilles' belief that "Christian theology that does not contribute significantly to struggles against inhumanity and injustice has lost sight of its point of being" (244).

Amen, sister.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Hey everybody...

Some people get to have wedding rings and some people don't!

Nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah!

I suppose we should be thankful for the explicit admission that "marriage defense" is really about shaming and stigmatizing those who do not enter into the Sacred Heterosexual Coitus Parent-Child Bond that is Real Marriage. Whether through assimilation or literal extinction, the end goal of this sort of "marriage defense" stigmatization is for all people to form heterosexual family units, as some have decided that this is in everyone's best interest (See, eg, the Manhattan Declaration).

And also, wedding rings, apparently, have magical "reminder" qualities that prevent spouses from cheating on each other. It also enables time travel, telepathy, and renders its wearer invisible. Oh wait... that's the Green Lantern's ring. Nevermind.

Seriously, what the fuck is wrong with people?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Manly Products With Secret Lady Features

From a Time article highlighting how "Chevy [has] tweak[ed] its SUV for the stiletto crowd*":

"Nowadays, gender-neutral looks are being paired with woman-friendly modifications so subtle that men may not even notice them...."

Here, the implication is that a company should not modify its products unless the changes are so subtle as to go unnoticeable by its regular (that is, male) customers. Reading between the lines, there is also an assumption that if men knew that a product had lady features, they would not buy that product, hence the need for "subtle" modifications.

Many products are designed for men and/or those who do not wear the costume of femininity like, say, high heels, thus posing a functional problem for many. Yet, when products are designed with the male consumer (or non-high-heeled lady, but really, the male consumer) in mind, there is no need for subtlety. It is, after all, the default. Invisible in plain sight.

*Note: The wording of the title differs between the print article and online version.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

On The Western Feminist Task of Saving Muslim Women

Those of you who've been reading Fannie's Room for awhile probably know that it's my favorite when people who ignore feminism and who aren't feminist allies criticize Western Feminists for not doing enough to Save Muslim Women.

Although helping Muslim women was apparently a later-added objective of the Iraq War, it was an objective which the most powerful military in the world did not successfully accomplish.

And that's why, apparently, ignorers of feminism are calling on the Western Feminists (tm) to get the job done. Perhaps this is due to our mad matriarchy-making skills, our power to feminize society, and our creation of the Boy Crisis, all of which prove that Western Feminists are incredibly powerful and totally taken seriously by everyone.

But seriously, why this argument is not, actually, my favorite is because it is a case of those having no feminist consciousness, oftentimes conservative men but sometimes liberals and progressives as well, telling feminists what we should care and write about. It is an anti-feminist attempt to set the feminist agenda, which is much like letting the foxes guard the henhouse, so to speak.

See, from their privilege perches in Western society, the experience of gender-based oppression is often invisible to men or internalized. Yet, as outsiders to Muslim culture, they see gender-based oppression of women quite well, allowing them to build up a sense of righteous indignation over what Muslim men are doing to Muslim women, without recognizing or taking responsibility for the ways that Western men are privileged and sometimes oppress Western women.

By demonizing the Other, Muslims, and publicly criticizing Western Feminists for not joining in on the fun, he tries to convince himself and others that Western Feminists are basically complaining about nothing and shouldn't be taken seriously.

Sadly, the anti-feminist tirade against Western Feminists does nothing to actually Save Muslim Women. And Saving Muslim Women isn't really the point, is it? The critique seems to mostly serve the inter-twined purposes of demonizing Muslims, bashing feminists, and bolstering the Western man's privileged position in society as the ultimate arbiter of what is and is not a real issue.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Christian Way of Opposing Everything Gay

I first saw the following absurd American Family Association quote at shakesville:

"So Hitler himself was an active homosexual. And some people wonder, didn't the Germans, didn't the Nazis, persecute homosexuals? And it is true they did; they persecuted effeminate homosexuals. But Hitler recruited around him homosexuals to make up his Stormtroopers, they were his enforcers, they were his thugs. And Hitler discovered that he could not get straight soldiers to be savage and brutal and vicious enough to carry out his orders, but that homosexual solders basically had no limits and the savagery and brutality they were willing to inflict on whomever Hitler sent them after. So he surrounded himself, virtually all of the Stormtroopers, the Brownshirts, were male homosexuals."—American Family Association Director of Public Policy Bryan Fischer.

Like I asked before, is the elimination of LGBT people the end goal of anti-gay rhetoric and advocacy? What other conclusion can be drawn from a totally fucking made-up compilation of sentences, uttered by a Christian man whose organization and religion claim to hold a monopoly on morality, which blames one of the worst atrocities in human history on "homosexuals," a group of people he claims are inherently more savage, brutal, and vicious than heterosexuals? Whereas in reality most acts of viciousness and savagery have been committed by heterosexual men, since heterosexual men vastly outnumber "homosexual" men, Fischer's claim whitewashes and invisibilizes the history of heterosexual male violence, effectively centering and privileging the male heterosexual as Normal Civil Human Being.

You know, if I were writing a novel and trying to conceive of a mustache-twirling anti-gay villain, I would consider Fischer's monologue too exaggeratedly anti-gay to be realistic. But Brian Fischer's statement is a real thing in the real world uttered by a real person! It is a statement that demonizes "homosexuals" and, incredibly, offers no citation or source for such a claim. That is the entitlement and power the Normal Christian Hetero Male Voice has to turn actual human beings into horrific Others that is on display here. His voice, the narrative goes, is objective, authoritative, and moral, therefore he can say such things without even backing them up.

Which brings me to a pressing question. Where are self-proclaimed Nice And Civil(tm) anti-LGBT activists Maggie Gallagher, Brian Brown, David Blankenhorn, and even amateur "family values" bloggers calling their allies out on this dishonest, irresponsible, and unconscionable rhetoric?

Is Fischer not smearing what it supposedly means to be a Christian? Or is Christianity now defined by the most outrageous shit a person can make up in the name of anti-gay Christian Family Advocacy?