Thursday, September 30, 2010

MRA Essentialism of the Day

Many men's rights activists (MRAs) are not fans of gender essentialism. When it is men who are being negatively stereotyped, that is.

Indeed, for all of their whinging about women/feminists/society framing men as violent, sex-crazed cavemen, one might expect that a logical next course of action would be to reject other assertions of alleged essential characteristics of men.

But alas. While it is observable that (a) men and women have more overlap than difference with respect to personality characteristics and traits and (b) that the display of "masculine" and "feminine" traits is often attributable to social conditioning rather than biology, making many stereotypes about men and women unfair and inaccurate, many MRA (and socially conservative and anti-feminist) pontifications on sex and gender can be reduced to the following maxim:

Gender essentialism is inaccurate when it is men who are being negatively stereotyped as violent, sex-crazed loafs, but is accurate when men are being positively stereotyped as strong, ambitious, and of superior intelligence. Gender essentialism is mostly accurate when it is women who are being negatively stereotyped as weak, passive, and intellectually inferior and inaccurate when women are being positively stereotyped as non-violent, compassionate, and safe.

With these tenets in mind, let's observe today's MRA essentialism. Specifically, one MRA's take on why lady-run businesses are destined to fail:

"When women leave the home and the patriarchal structure that supported it, and go into business to do what men do, they really do what they 'see' men do, for they are completely unaware of the unseen activities of men that enable the functioning of the seen. Unable to comprehend the unseen, women then have only one purpose for all that they do in the world of men-making money. They think the reason to publish a book is to make money; whereas, men know the reason to publish a book is because it contents are worthwhile, and the challenge of the publisher is to make a profit on its publication.
Women think the purpose of a business is to make money; men know the purpose of a business is to bring products and services to humankind, and that the challenge of the businessman is to make a profit so that the business can be sustained.

Women get jobs in order to make money whereas men go to work to support their families....

Women do not pioneer; they deal with what is; with what they 'see.' Any woman-started business will be in a field that already exists. They do not start new things nor do they invent things, both of which require dealing with the unseen."

Look at what he's saying here. Women, because they have woman bodies 'n brains, are inherently incapable of understanding the great unseen myssssssssteries at work when men do that manly thing known as Being A Productive Contributor To The Public Sphere. Men, though, because they have man bodies 'n brains, have sort of a sixth sense for Just Knowing how to contribute totally new and worthwhile products to society, and men furthermore never invent products with the sole aim of making money.

This is all just the way men and women essentially are, folks.

Note the cocksure certainty of this man's take on men and women. Citing no study, no authority, or heck not even an article found on the world wide web, he just knows that this is what men and women are like and he knows he's right. Imagine how an MRA would respond to a woman-written article that was this broad, this certain, this unsupported, this grounded in stereotypes, and this full of namby-pamby statements alluding to "unseen activities" and the "feminine" and "masculine principles."

Unfortunately, such folks rarely let facts that really exist in our real world intrude upon their essentialist, fantastical, "unseen" men and women are opposites worldviews.

So, what follows is for everyone else.

This post was brought to you by women, creators of Kevlar, Harry Potter, and fire escapes and is dedicated to men, creators of "sea monkeys," Ponzi schemes, and the worthless securities that led to the sub-prime mortgage crisis.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sarah's Choice

"In the sorrow of having children there is the recognition that one's humanity is reduced to this, and on this one's survival depends." -Andrea Dworkin, Right-Wing Women

This is not a post about whether or not Sarah Palin is a Real Feminist. Indeed that is the wrong question. These days, since apparently any choice is a feminist choice as a long as it's a woman that's making it, slapping the label "feminist" on a person is a most uninformative endeavor.

Thus, it is sufficient to note that the Sarah Palin-birthed conservative feminist revival has been an interesting phenomenon. 2008 brought us the political alignment of self-proclaimed feminist Sarah Palin, a woman who opposed abortion even in cases of rape and incest, with John McCain, a man who opposed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, voted against the Violence Against Women Act, opposed funding for the Office of Violence Against Women, voted against expanding the Family and Medical Leave Act, and voted to terminate funds for family planning.

The complicity of women in movements that are generally unconcerned with the liberation of women is hardly novel. The '70s had Phylis Schlafly's Stop the ERA movement and, even before Palin emerged on the national scene, various groups of ladies against women have been actively working for years to entrench women in essentialist feminine roles. In the world of conservative feminism, men and women work together in complementary cooperation, skipping hand-in-hand through the tulips singing songs of saving male dominance American values, American families, American children, and indeed the very specialness of men and women themselves.

And yet, the subtext of this conservative narrative of male and female relations has never been all that rosy.

Observe. One of the best ways to do all of this American family values saving is, allegedly, heterosexual marriage, that special combination of "both halves of humanity." So, co-opting the liberal language of equality, some conservative feminists- like one at Red State Feminists- opine thusly about why Glenn Beck is wrong to support marriage equality:

"[T]he purpose of marriage is to make true, equal, loving partnerships between the two halves of humanity necessary for humanity to continue: men and women. And in establishing those partnerships and in ensuring equality between men and women in those partnerships, marriage ensures that all new human beings will learn from their earliest days how to live in peace, equality, and love with the other half of humanity and will look forward to forming such loving, equal heterosexual partnerships in the future themselves."

Equality. Peace. Love. Who would oppose such values?

I have addressed this silly revisionist take on what Marriage Really Means before, so I won't re-hash that today. Instead, I want to highlight that undercurrent of intense fear that lies within this conservative feminist message.

As we all know full well that one "half of humanity" has historically tended to make themselves "more equal" than the other half, the implication is this:

If men do not marry women they cannot love women. If men do not love women, the hyper-sexual, aggressive, violent wildebeast that is man will not learn how to relate peacefully and respectfully to women. If men do not know how to relate to women, men will hurt women.

Instead of liberation from being categorically defined as the victim/sex/fetal-incubation class, the conservative feminist clings to that narrow definition of woman, believing that if she lets go of the feminine role she will float away into that dark void of nothingness. This, she calls equality or complementarity or femininity or some other nice-sounding word.

Yet, what she clings to is a substitute of equality and liberation- the promise of safety in a world of men, attained via heterosexual marriage. It is a promise of male protection in exchange for letting men steer the ship. Instead of questioning or fighting against male entitlement to engage in violence and domination (also known as Rape Culture), the conservative feminist accepts it as a fact of life and works within it as a matter of survival.

American family values is code for this conservative culture of gender-based fear and domination that is passed from generation to generation, taught as the "natural" way men and women are and should relate to one another.

With this promise of safety in mind, consider Critical Race Theorist Derek Bell's offering that whites have historically supported progress for racial minorities only when it has also advanced white self-interest. Building off this idea of interest-convergence, I suspect that the men who have erected and maintain the big tent of conservatism will continue to support conservative feminism only to the extent that it also advances male dominance.

Of course, in conservative-speak male dominance is called "equality," and the women give the emperors a pass on that minor detail. Indeed, when we continue reading the anti-same-sex marriage piece at Red State Feminists, we get whiffs of trouble in paradise:

"When male conservative pundits do not understand what female conservative mothers understand about what threatens America, the conservative movement has a real problem."

The men dominating a political movement are not adequately considering the female perspective or the concerns of women. Male pundits are overlooking women's need for safety and focusing on More Important Issues.

Welcome to the club, sisters?

But alas. It would be unbecoming, possibly dangerous, for a conservative feminist lady to suggest that the conservative movement as a whole has a woman problem. Instead, the real problem is outsiders. Gender rebels. Homosexuals.

Andrea Dworkin wrote that conservative women fear male homosexuality because in gay men they see men who have no use for women. Indeed, every time they see a gay man call a woman a bitch, a whore, or some variation of a useless cunt, this fear is reinforced. Gay men, some women believe, can afford to be brutally honest about the Male Opinion Of Women, because gay men are unconcerned with attracting female sex partners. Believing "commonsensical truths" about the inherent differences between men and women, in which women are the tamers of beastly men, the conservative woman's rejection of homosexuality thus rests in the fear of a coming gender-cide. The Red State Feminist continues:

"Consider 'Doogie' Howser [sic, that would be Neil Patrick Harris, the actor who portrayed the fictional "Doogie"] and his same-sex partner, who have bought eggs and rented a womb in order to have twins. They are saying that they are under no obligation to allow their children to have a mother, that it is all right to purposefully and premeditatedly exclude from their children’s lives the love of a mother. Mr. Beck, this is the height of inhumanity. This is erasure of motherhood by men who see no value in women."

It is a simplistic argument, to be sure. Yet, notice how, although she is likely quite unaccepting of lesbians, she has chosen as her example a gay male couple. Because these two men have not married women and will raise their children without a female parent, she claims that these two men "see no value in women." As though the value of a woman rests entirely in whether or not a man wants to make her a mother and wife. Men see no other value in women. The erasure of motherhood means the erasure of women altogether.

When women believe that men value them primarily for motherhood (which they are sometimes correct in believing), the ability to gestate- to "mother"- becomes the most important distinction between men and women. It comes to define womanhood. By conceding the public sphere to men and effectively granting men their own special affirmative action program in every other arena of life, the "private" sphere of motherhood is the one special niche women have that makes women necessary to men. To women afraid or unwilling to compete with men in the public sphere, to women who still believe the myth of female inferiority, to women who believe it is women's primary role in life to mother, could anything in this world be scarier than men co-opting the one realm in this world that decidedly and by definition belongs to women?

I don't care if Sarah Palin calls herself a feminist. What I do wonder is what Sarah Palin is doing to liberate women from being defined by motherhood and sex? What is she doing to liberate women from the fear of male violence and control?

Sarah Palin and her pack of grizzlies seem quite proud of their fierce image, laden as it is with sexy winks, smart-ass comebacks, and the rejection of abortion. Yet, when we pull the curtain down, a more troubling image comes into view- that of a much meeker animal, tip-toeing on eggshells in the pink ghetto of Mamahood First.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Man: Princessy Women's Races Are Feminist Plot

The Wall Street Journal ran an article about the plight of male runners who enter women's running races. Apparently, that some corporations market certain races toward women constitutes "reverse Title IX."

Now, depending upon the justifications for it, I don't think sex-segregation in sports is a bad thing. Personally, I consistently participate in mixed-sex and single-sex sporting events and I think each has its pros and cons. All-female sporting events allow women to participate in sports without having men dominate the field under real or imagined assumptions of athletic superiority. As an athlete, nothing grates on my nerves more than some dorkwad guy tripping onto the field who automatically assumes he's better at sports than all women on the field yet who is himself, basically, the worst at sports.

Yet, I also enjoy the challenge of training and competing against men (and women) who are better, bigger, and stronger than me. Such competition makes me a better athlete. Also, given my strength and the fact that I often confront rather than defer to male "athletic prowess," I enjoy consistently challenging men's assumptions about the inherent frailty and suckiness-at-sports of women.

But alas, justifying women's-only races with the reliance on pinkified stereotypes of what women inherently are or like? Not my favorite. One example of the reliance on gender stereotypes in sports marketing, highlighted in the WSJ article, is Disney's Princess Half Marathon, which is apparently "for a princess earning her glass running slippers or a woman who runs her kingdom already."

Then, the article quoted a man in the lady running biz, who explains the reasoning behind these women's races:

"'You take out the testosterone and these events are kinder, cleaner, gentler and sweeter,' says Robert Pozo, who runs a group of women's races from a website called Run Like a Diva."

To discourage men from competing, some races offer feminine goody bags and prizes, such as tiaras, necklaces, and medals "awarded by bare-chested male firefighters."

So, how predictable that such an article would be imbued with comments from dudes like the following:

"...I'll bet there would be an uproar if there were an all-mens' race, with medals awarded by bikini-clad models. This sort of thing is endemic of a segment of feminists whom seem to want equality, yet nonetheless expect the door to be held open for them a little wider. They're the ones who went to Russell Sage or Mount Holyoke, teeming with estrogen from every pore, yet are crushed by the brutal competition of a world that no longer cares about your plumbing, only the price of what you produce."

Comments like these make me seethe.

One, it demonstrates how "discriminatory" women's-only races like this, to misogynists, anti-feminists, and male supremacists, quickly become a metaphor for everything that is wrong with our allegedly post-feminist society. In their eyes, schools, the working world, higher education, politics, the legal system, and everything basically, privilege women by granting special rights to inferior beings so as to ensure equal or superior outcomes for women when, in reality, Everyone Knows that men would come out ahead on a truly level playing field.

And two, some women genuinely do like pink stuff, tiaras, and hot nearly-naked firemen giving them awards. But, if I can burst the fantastical gender-essentialist bubble floating around in this article, some women don't. Furthermore, some men do. Thus, letting male-dominated corporations make a buck off of first creating the sweet pretty princess ideal, reinforcing in women that that is is how real women (and certainly not men) are, and then marketing this pink gender role as Girl Power is not exactly a high priority of the Feminist Agenda.

But yes, Wall Street Journal, let's continue framing such articles from the perspective of the oppressed men who choose to run in some of the very few women's-marketed races that exist, rather than in the others in which they could choose to participate that market men as the default racer, so today's Angry Man can justify his know-nothing pontifications about what is "endemic" to feminism and how modern society is rigged to disadvantage men.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Traditional Marriage "Equality"

While some folks wax on about the supposed inherent "equality" that exists in the heterosexual marriage, and only in the heterosexual marriage, I actually love it when folks are more up front about their sexism. Instead of cloaking their gender complementarist sexism in the language of equality, they just outright admit that they long for the days of old, when men were in charge and women lacked the legal and financial means to live without husbands.

In a CNN article (that I first saw at shakesville) discussing how some children of divorced parents have vowed to never ever get divorced themselves, one commenter opined:

"Divorce is always more likely in a feminist climate where the woman tries to act like the man and the man is reduced to a man-gina who can't take charge of the relationship. 'Equality' is really just a euphemism for insecure, controlling women needing to micromanage men to death. It's no coincidence that since feminism has become widespread, relationships have suffered as a result. When you have 2 people trying to steer the wheel of one car, the inevitable result is a wreck."

Notice how some people are incapable of framing men who do not seek to dominate women as anything other than womanly (oh, and they mean womanly in a bad way). Notice too how some people are utterly incapable of conceiving of traditional heterosexual marriage as anything other than hierarchy. Male dominance is, to many, still essential to marriage.

Furthermore, I disagree with the automatic assumption that divorce is always a negative. Indeed, if traditional marriage activists recognized women as fully human as they viewed men, children, and fetuses, they wouldn't consistently frame divorce as an absolute negative to be avoided at all costs.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Subverting Dr. Dre

[TW, Lyrics NSFW].

Check out this video at Sociological Images. It is an all-female, mostly-white a cappella group singing Dr. Dre's "Bitches Ain't Shit."

Over at Sociological Images, there was a wide range of commentary there about whether it was anything from "ironically racist" to a brilliant "use of race, class, and gender contradictions" to "mock" the original song and expose its misogyny.

I'm a fan of the parody, even if I hope the misogyny in "Bitches Ain't Shit" is, um, obvious enough that most people don't need a parody to recognize it.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Prop 8 Update: Marriage Defense Brief

And so the Prop 8 saga continues.

I read through the recently-filed "marriage defense" Prop 8 brief (PDF), in which the private initiative group that put Prop 8 on the ballot is claiming to have standing to appeal, and was tempted to briefly summarize the 134-page document with the phrase same shit, different day.

But that would have been only marginally accurate.

It is distinct from much anti-equality argumentation, especially of the amateur sort, in that overt anti-gay animus has been sterilized from it. Indeed, the brief attempts to present an American society, certainly a California, that is nearly utopian in its lack of animus toward LGBT people and same-sex couples. In the place of the anti-gay sentiments that polite folks don't say in mixed company is a golly-gee-whiz benign-looking heterocentrism in which the existence, let alone the needs, of same-sex couples and families are largely invisible and unstated. It's not that society made marriage for purposes of excluding same-sex couples, the argument goes, it's just that neither society nor same-sex couples need same-sex marriage.

For, once again, the big claim about the One Big True Purpose of marriage is echoed as:

"Because only sexual relationships between men and women can produce children, such relationships have the potential to further—or harm—this interest in a way, and to an extent, that other types of relationships do not. By retaining the traditional definition of marriage, California preserves the abiding link between that institution and this traditional purpose, a purpose that still serves vital interests that are uniquely implicated by male-female relationships. And by providing special recognition and encouragement to committed opposite-sex relationships, Proposition 8 seeks to channel potentially procreative conduct into relationships where that conduct is likely to further, rather than harm, society’s interest in responsible procreation and childrearing."

Missing from the brief are answers to a few questions.

The brief calls Judge Walker's inference of anti-gay animus a "defamation" of the 7 million voters who voted for Prop 8, but how many of these 7 million voters can articulate the above One Big True Purpose of marriage? (Probably not this guy).

If we accept as true the proposition that marriage's one big true purpose is about channeling potentially procreative conduct into male-female relationships, why do we also provide heterosexual married couples special legal benefits, rights, and privileges that are not associated with procreation? Doesn't that send a troubling message that marriage is about something other than procreation? How does banning same-sex partners from the receipt of Social Security spouse benefits impact the channeling of heterosexual procreation?

Is responsible procreation/childrearing marriage's "central concern" even though it is now considered "rude" to assume heterosexual newlyweds are going to procreate and that many heterosexual married couples engage in procreative sex with non-spouses while remaining legally married to others solely for the benefits marriage provides? Shouldn't we be "defending" marriage on these heterosexual couples' backs as well as on the backs of same-sex couples? Or, are measures that impact the lives of heterosexuals in any tangible way by definition too "Orwellian" to take?

In other news, totally awesome that the brief used the statements of President Obama, who opposes marriage equality, multiple times to support an anti-equality agenda. HOPEYCHANGEY!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

So, Did We Win?

[TW: Sexual assault, gender-based violence, murder, war]

In Iraq, I mean.

Now that President Obama has declared an end to combat operations, and given that the 7+ year war in Iraq was predicated on an "intelligence failure" that former President Bush has said was his "biggest regret," what would a victory look like?

President Obama has said that "the Iraqi people now have lead responsibility for the security of their country," but I am left wondering: Which Iraqi people?

In war, victory and defeat have not always meant the same for women as they have for men.

We need only look at our own Revolutionary War for an instance of gender-discrepant war outcomes. While some men predicated a war on the self-evident truth that "all men" were created equal and, therefore, imbued with certain rights, looking back we see that these men were at once too literal regarding the word "men" and too figurative with respect to the word "all." On September 4, 1783, the day after the war formally ended, many black women and men were still enslaved and most other women were still some form of male property. Native American women and men, meanwhile, continued to have a decidedly less equal right to life, liberty, and the pursuit happiness than did whites.

Western feminists are sometimes criticized for critiquing patriarchy, sexism, and rape culture in Western society instead of engaging in the More Important Task of single-handedly solving the plight of Middle Eastern women.

Yet, in the dominant discourse surrounding the Iraq War, advancing the status of women was not consistently or loudly offered as a rationalte for invasion, nor was our military's failure to advance the status of women consistently or loudly rendered as a criticism of the war in non-feminist narratives. Clearly, solving the plight of the Middle Eastern woman is a task of the utmost importance only for feminists and not for the general population or the mainstream media, which naturally has More Important Things To Do than talk about or solve the plight of the Middle Eastern woman.

(And, of course, can't you already hear the criticism: Well, Western feminists aren't making us care enough about Middle Eastern women! Because people need that extra special prompting to consider half of a region's population.)

Thus, it was with interest that I came across this article in ColorLines about how the war has not exactly been a victory for Iraqi women. Beginning in 2003, as this article explains, hundreds of thousands of young men were killed in violence or fled the country, leaving women without marriage partners. In a conservative nation where marriage remains an important life marker for women and life as a single woman is restricted, lack of marriage partners is a big deal:

"Women who cross the 30-year threshold and are single face powerful social stigmas and live under heavy limitations. Generally, they must continue living with their parents or other family. If they are not wealthy, educated or employed, they are often reduced by relatives to servitude — cleaning, washing, cooking and watching over small children.

Work opportunities are limited. At jobs or in public, unmarried women are sometimes seen as vulnerable, without the protection of a husband. Some almost never leave their houses."

Men's rights activists like to cite statistics noting that most of the people who fight and die in wars are men. But what they tribalistically overlook are the things that men do, to "other men's" women, in wars. Not only is the male rape of women (and female soldiers) a weapon (sometimes in the form of friendly fire) of war, but the majority of those displaced by war, especially in Iraq, are women and children. After US invasion of Iraq (PDF):

"[M]ost women in Iraq now only go outside with a male escort and rape is commonly committed by all armed groups; they also report that the killing of women is increasing. 'Honor killings,' or the murder of a woman or girl usually by a male relative to restore 'family honor,' have increased dramatically....Approximately 50,000 Iraqi women and girls in Syria have been forced into prostitution."

Law professor Catherine Mackinnon has described war as a particularly ejaculatory method of conflict resolution. When it is (mostly) men doing things to (mostly) other men, a war is seen as occurring- a metaphorical pissing contest. When it is (mostly) men doing things to women, or doing things that affect women, what is happening to women is seen as an ancillary by-product of war, rather than part of the actual war itself or as a war against, say, women. It is woman's natural role in life to be on the receiving end of the things that men feel compelled to do.

In this way, even if "we" win, women don't.

Even if "they" win, women don't.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

We Are Not Amused

[Trigger Warning: Violence]

Why did FoxNews put this article in its "Entertainment" section?

FYI, the article is about how an actor in the movie The 40-Year-Old Virgin arrived at his girlfriend's house only to find her drinking with another man. He then proceeded to, admittedly, stab his girlfriend 20 times. The article then presents the actor-stabber's excuses for doing so (he says he thought she was someone else).

The article then has him lamenting:

"I still can’t believe the knife I was holding was responsible for all those injuries.”

Now that's an interesting take on who, or rather what, possesses moral and physical accountability.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Batwoman: Lesbian

Although many lesbian and bisexual ladies love reading sapphic subtext into movies, books, and television shows, it is still quite fun when subtext because maintext and a fictional character "comes out."

In somewhat old, but relevant, news, comic book character Batwoman is apparently a lesbian, and was "partly based on the experiences of Dan Choi" who was discharged from the Army under Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT). As Robert de Neufville explains:

"Normally, I don’t like spinoff superheroes. I would prefer a female hero with a compelling backstory of her own than a spinoff a of a popular male character. Barbara Gordon was more interesting as Oracle than as junior Batman copy Batgirl. And don’t even get me started on spinoffs like Bat-Mite or Ace the Bat-Hound. But the new Batwoman succeeds as a character precisely because she’s not really a copy of Batman. Batman is driven by the murder of his parents to protect those who are as innocent and vulnerable as he once was. Batwoman’s story is more about being true to her own identity. As she tells her commanding officer, all she has ever wanted since her mother and sister were murdered when she was a child is to serve. But denying her sexuality would require her the West Point Cadet Honor Code, which says 'A cadet shall not lie, cheat, or steal, or tolerate those who do.' She becomes Batwoman only after she is forced to choose between serving her country and the principles for which it stands."

Sounds pretty cool. I'll keep my fingers crossed that Ms. Kane doesn't eventually succumb to any Dead Lesbian Cliche villainery.

In other news, Leftist Gender Warrior says, "Say, if you're not doing anything Friday..."


Friday, September 17, 2010

Learning Gender Through Ads

Thank you to occasional Fannie's Room commenter and special lady friend "hammerpants" for passing along the following Target ad. (Are we still boycotting them, by the way? I haven't received this month's copy of the Gay Agenda Meeting Minutes).

Anyway, let's see what this ad tells us about the sexes:


On the left, we see a pregnant-looking woman who has gathered an assortment of pink stuff in her shopping cart. Presumably, she is shopping for both a girl child and for herself, as the caption above her says "girl power" and the items in her cart are baby items and adult items. Yet, rather than being comprised of powerful (or even fun) items like, say, chakrams, tennis rackets, or protein bars, inside this lady cart are a pink lamp, a doll wearing a pink outfit, a box of diapers, two boxes of infant gas relief medication, laundry detergent, and an unidentifiable bottle of cleaning spray.

Let's contrast that with the man cart.

On the right, we see a man who has put a bunch of blue stuff into his cart. Presumably, because the caption above him says "boyish charms" and contains both baby items and adult items, he has been shopping for a boy child and himself who, in contrast to the girl child and the woman, apparently get lots of fun stuff to play with and eat. Instead of diapers and anti-gas meds, the boy and man get a monkey, a blue lamp, bottles, potato chips, two gallons of ice cream, a guitar, and a toy golf set. How differently would we judge a mother who arrived at a checkout line with those items? Would we find her juvenile shopping habits as "charming"?

Whereas in the real world there is much overlap between the stuff women like and the stuff men like (hello, ice cream!), ads like these deliberately gender certain products and support the gender narrative that constructs male and female as opposites. In this case, we learn from the items in each cart that girls and women are responsible and practical, and that men are "charming"-ly irresponible and impractical. Look everyone, the man doesn't have to think about purchasing boring, pragmatic cleaning products, but that's okay, look at how adorable he is playing with that monkey!

As for the children, we learn that little girls like to play with passive toys that they cannot manipulate, like dolls. Little boys like to play with active toys that do stuff, like guitars and golf sets.

Yes, this is one small ad. But there are countless others like them, all of which add up in subtle and non-so-subtle ways that inform us how to be male and female and, consequently, what being male and female means.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Attention Women: New Beauty Standards in Effect

The Global Accords Governing the Fair Use of Women (to use a Twisty phrase) have apparently mandated new standards of beauty that, like the previous standards, few women naturally meet but should try to emulate anyway.

In this CNN article, we learn that because the US in general, and the fashion industry in particular, is now awesomely post-racial, "ethnic" (read: non-white?) women are now the new "it" standard of female beauty:

"More voluptuous figures, fuller lips and darker skin, features traditionally associated with women of African, Latin and Asian cultures, are 'in.' Over the past decade, an appreciation for ethnic beauty has been on the rise, and these natural features are becoming popular among Caucasian women who desire to look more 'exotic.'"

First, note the total conflation of the above-mentioned features with "African, Latin, and Asian cultures," as though there are not distinctions among these groups. For instance, are Asian women stereotypically "voluptuous"? All of these "exotic" lady features are clumsily grouped together mostly for purposes of contrasting them with the default, Caucasian women. The article continues on, noting that white women are injecting their lips with chemicals, wearing special underwear that makes their butts look larger, darkening their skin, and otherwise modifying their bodies to meet this new beauty standard. No discussion is given regarding the "exotic" women who themselves who fail to meet these new standards.

It then cite a lady Harvard psychologist who claims:

"'Our standards of beauty are changing and ethnic women are at the forefront today. It emulates our growing sense of cultural awareness.'"

Now, let me be clear. I think it is past due for the fashion and beauty industry to recognize the beauty of women of color and size. Yet, everything in this article indicates that what is going on here is the replacement one standard of beauty for another, a replacement that is touted as somehow racially progressive because it is ethnic women who all women are supposedly trying to emulate.

Then, a fashion director at US Weekly, the magazine that brings us articles like "Summer's Sexiest Bikini Bods," (Hint: they're not fat bods) chimes in:

"'What's not to love, embrace and emulate about ethnic beauty? The use of curvier, more rounded figures looks refreshing.'"

Now wait a sec. I'd bet large sums of money on there being a quantifiable limit on how just how curvy, rounded, and ethnic a women can be or look and have it still be considered "refreshing." This is the same industry, after all, in which one analysis showed that 78% of young women's magazine covers contained a message about bodily appearance (compared to 0% of young men's magazines) and in which 26% contained "conflicting messages (e.g. a message about losing weight next to a cookie recipe) regarding weight loss and dietary habits" (PDF). You have to love an US Weekly fashion director who essentially backs up with her hands in the air as though neither she nor the magazine she works for is in any way complicit in centering and privileging skinny hot white women in the fashion industry and beauty market.

And then, the article quotes a random "32-year-old single man," who qualifies as an expert about all of this because.... um? women exist for the hetero male gaze?, who informs us:

"I mean let's face it, ethnic women have this exotic appeal -- it's the curves and the fact that they don't have this carbon-copy look like anyone else. That's definitely sexy in my book."

That "carbon-copy look"? That's an interesting way to put it. Elsewhere in the article skinny attractive white women like Cindy Crawford are referred to as having a "cookie-cutter" image. It is as though the ubiquity of skinny attractive white women in fashion magazines has utterly convinced some people that the only women who actually existed up until now in the real world were skinny attractive white women. But wait, fellas, now there is this other type of woman that you can consume/fetishize!

A Screen Actors Guild Casting Data Report showed that 73% of all 2008 TV/Theatrical roles went to Caucasians, 13% went to African-Americans, 6% went to Latinos/Hispanics, 4% went to Asians, and .3% went to Native Americans. In addition, 70% of all female roles and 56% of all male roles went to women and men under the age of 40. From a racial/ethnic standpoint, these percentages are relatively close to each racial/ethnic group's representation in the US Census. Nonetheless, setting aside the also quite relevant issue of whether these minority representations in the media are stereotypical and negative, the ubiquity of white (and young) characters contributes to the centering of whiteness as default, un-raced human being and thus, the ideal.

If we define racial progress as whiteness no longer being defined or assumed as the default, standard way of living and being, de-centering white women's beauty as the standard all women should aspire to would seem to qualify and should be celebrated. If we define fat acceptance as celebrating "curvier, more rounded" figures as "refreshing," then this trend is progress.

But this article tells us that the white standard of beauty for women is being replaced by a new one that conflates certain features with "ethnicity" and fetishizes them as "exotic." Some women, the "exotic" (or exotic-looking) ones, have an "it" factor, and some women don't. Some women get to display their natural attributes and have them be defined as beautiful, while, as this article indicates, other women are beginning to seek plastic surgery and other forms of body modification to make them more beautiful. Despite what may look like progress, we still have some women who are trying to live up to a standard pushed upon them by fashion magazines and the beauty industry that, for many, is inauthentic, making it little more than the usual faux Girl Power shit that posits that the only way to inspire and build some groups of women up is to tear others down.

It's not clear what the "it" in "it factor" tangibly is. No definition is actually given "it." What is abundantly clear is that whatever "it" is, it exists on the outside of a woman's body, rather than the inside.

Culturally aware?

More like culturally predictable.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Don't Ask, Don't Tell Ruled Unconstitutional

What do you know. Despite being conservative, the Log Cabin Republicans can sometimes serve a purpose. In Log Cabin Republicans v. United States of America (PDF), a federal judge last week found Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) to be unconstitutional. (All quotes from Log Cabin Republicans unless otherwise indicated).

I will begin this post by first noting that I have complicated thoughts about the assimilation of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people into the US military. I have many friends who have served in the military, including several LGB people who served in Iraq, and some who have been discharged under DADT. While abhorring much of the fear-mongering that posits that allowing LGB Americans to serve openly will have a negative impact on military readiness, from a non-violence standpoint I nonetheless oppose how US military leaders often use our military throughout the world. That discussion is perhaps for another day, though, because regardless of this nuance I will celebrate on the day that Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) is repealed.

Moving on, if you remember, the issue of standing is likely going to be a big issue with respect to the federal Prop 8 appeal in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, where Judge Walker suggested that the anti-equality Protect Marriage group likely lacks standing to defend Prop 8. So, perhaps you are wondering why the Log Cabin Republicans brought this case and how they had standing to do so. Generally, an organization has standing to sue on behalf of its members if they can show that "[at least one of] its members would otherwise have standing to sue in [his or her] own right," "the interests it seeks to protect are germane to the organization's purpose," and "neither the claim asserted nor the relief requested requires the participation of individual members of the lawsuit."

The Log Cabin Republicans were found to have standing because at least one of its members had been discharged under DADT, thus suffering "injury in fact" caused by the defendants that could be redressed through a federal suit. That is, at least one member of the Log Cabin Republicans could have sued on his or her own. In contrast, in Perry, Protect Marriage can claim no member who could bring suit on his or her own to uphold Prop 8. As Judge Walker noted, not only do private citizens have no authority to issue marriage licenses and thus cannot sue to individually deny marriage licenses anyway, but Protect Marriage failed to elucidate even one specific harm they or their members would face upon the legalization of same-sex marriage.

Substantively, DADT was challenged on due process and free speech grounds. On the due process ground, the Court implicated Lawrence v. Texas' articulation of the fundamental right "to an autonomy of self that includes freedom of thought, belief, expression, and certain intimate conduct." That DADT implicated this fundamental right means that the law is subject to heightened scrutiny. That is, DADT must (1) "advance an important governmental interest," (2) the inrusion into the fundamental right must "significantly further that interest," (3) and "the intrusion must be necessary to further that interest."

Granting Congress deference in the area of military management, the Court found that DADT does advance an important governmental interest, but that it did not meet tests (2) and (3). Weighing the legislative history of DADT against evidence presented by the Log Cabin Republicans, the Court found that DADT did not siginficantly advance the Government's interest in unit cohesion or military readiness because DADT required the discharge of qualified servicemembers despite troop shortages, resulted in the discharge of servicemembers with critically needed skills and training, had a negative effect on recruitment efforts, resulted in the admission of lesser qualified servicemembers, and detracted from the merit-based nature of the military.

The Court then found that DADT was not necessary to maintain unit cohesion or military readiness, citing statements by government officials- including President Obama- that DADT actually undermines that interest.

The Log Cabin Republicans also challenged DADT on First Amendment grounds, arguing that it is an unconstitutional restriction on speech. DADT requires the discharge of a LGB people if they state their sexual orientation, whereas heterosexual servicemembers are free to state their sexual orientation without discharge, thus discriminating on the basis of the content of speech. Generally, government restrictions on speech must pass the most stringest scrutiny in order to be constitutional. However, in military situations, courts apply a less stringent measure, deferring to the need for order and control in the military. Thus, regulations of speech in a military context will be deemed constitutional if the military "restrict[s] speech no more than is reasonably necessary to protect the substantial government interest."

The Court held that DADT fails this test, as DADT is "far broader" than necessary to protect the government's interest in military readiness and unit cohesion and, in fact, often undermines that interest. For instance, several gay servicemembers testified that because of DADT they were unable to share even mundane details of their lives, creating secrecy and building distrust within her unit. Others testified about being unable or unwilling to bring violations of military policy and experiences of harassment to authorities out of fear of being targeted for a DADT inquiry.

To end, anyone with an opinion about this case should read the full text and, specifically, the accounts therein of the gay servicemembers. They have served in Afghanistan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and elsewhere, having received glowing reviews and commendations from their superior officers and cohorts. While uninformed non-experts and homophobes like Peter LaBarbera and the ridiculous Elaine Donnelly have eerily warned of roving gangs of lesbian soldiers taking photos of women in the showers and predatory gay male soldiers engaging in "forcible sodomy," our nation's LGB servicemembers were busy doing other things:

There was Michael Almy, a 13-year veteran of the US Air Force deployed to Saudi Arabia three times who once commanded 180 men, who was outed and subsequently discharged after someone broke into his personal email files without his knowledge or permission.

There was Jenny Kopfstein, who testified about coming out to her fellow officers in the Navy and yet was still chosen to be the Officer of the Deck of the USS Shiloh on September 11, 2001 in charge of the ship's weaponery as it "was assigned to defend the West Coast against possible attack in the wake of the attacks on New York and the Pentagon."

There was Joseph Rocha, who enlisted at the age of 18 with a dream of going to the US Naval Academy. Despite other officers repeatedly harassing, degrading, and beating him for being gay, he received several awards for his service in the Navy and testified that he would rejoin if DADT were repealed.

There are so many more and they all deserve recognition. Demonstrating a willingness to give the ultimate sacrifice for a country unwilling to recognize their full human dignity, if being American means anything at all, these men and women exemplify it.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Totally-Not-At-All-Prejudicially-Worded "Are You A Pro-Gay Bigot" Quiz, Part II

This post is a continuation of yesterday's post, where I take on the "Are You a Pro-Gay Bigot?" quiz. The quiz questions are in bold.

10. Do you believe that only churches that accept homosexuality have interpreted the Bible in the ‘correct’ way?

No, although I do wish Christians would take a course in textual criticism before they begin quoting scripture. Nonetheless, I think it is likely that many of the men who wrote, copied, and subsequently altered the bible were opposed to male homosexual behavior, and thus anti-gay Christians are correct to read anti-gay animus into whatever version of this ancient text they happen to be referring to. That being said, I question many anti-gay interpretations of biblical text, because they often seem to ignore historical context and other messages within these verses. For instance, in Genesis 19, Lot unsuccessfully offers up his virgin daughters to placate the mob of men intent on raping the male strangers. It is telling and sad that many anti-gay Christians fixate on the alleged anti-homosexuality message of this story rather than, say, condemning the idea that the rape of women is an acceptable negotiating strategy and that female virginity is a commodity that men can use to maintain peace among each other.

Do you feel it isn’t necessary to read the relevant Bible passages yourself, all of which are straightforward in condemning homosexual acts?

I would be curious which bible verses the author of this question deems to be "straightforward" in their condemnation of homosexual acts, but yes I have read various interpretations of "relevant" biblical passages myself. Regardless, there is much in this mythical text aside from its anti-homosexuality that makes it irredeemable, especially its treatment of women.

Do you believe it’s impossible to be “kind” and oppose homosexuality?

A person can be "kind" and oppose homosexuality. Kind to heterosexuals, that is. (Just kidding).

11. Are you quick to say “Judge not, lest you be judged” ( Matthew 7:1) and similar passages, without understanding the Christian theology behind it, and all the while being very judgmental yourself?

I don't generally quote bible verses.

12. Do you sincerely believe Jesus would have accepted homosexual sex acts?

This question is irrelevant to a debate about homosexuality. Not all Americans accept the assumption that Jesus is divine or even that he was a real historical figure. Social policy should be made after weighing relevant pros and cons rather than after speculating about whether a man who may or may not have lived 2000 years ago would have accepted this policy.

Do you believe Jesus is cool with whatever anyone wants to do?

See above.

Do you believe there’s such a thing as ‘sin’ and if so, how is it defined?

If we define sin as a violation of a moral rule, than yes, I think there is sin in the world. Generally, I think we sin when we violate the golden rule.

Are you the one who defines sin for yourself?

I don't know from where or what authority the golden rule emanates, but it is a commonality between all major religious and ethical systems. I'm okay with that uncertainty.

Do you have no need of a savior and if not, wasn’t Christ’s death and resurrection pretty pointless?

I was born okay the first time.

Despite all these contradictory and self-constructed beliefs, do you consider yourself a “Christian”?

I am not a Christian. Or a "Christian."

13. Do you believe sweeping stereotypes, like that all ‘gay’ people are innocent victims or that all conservatives must be mean and stupid?

No. Real life usually happens in shades of gray.

14. Do you close your ears and figure it’s a conservative plot if you hear that at least 2/3 of all the HIV transmission in the United States still involves males having anal sex with each other?

No, but I do want to see and analyze all evidence.

15. Do you believe anyone who objects to homosexuality is automatically “hateful,” while you seethe with hate yourself?

No. (Okay, this questionaire wording is really getting ridiculous. It's obviously intended for anti-gay folks who believe they already know exactly how pro-LGBT people are going to respond).

16. Do you believe it’s okay for thirteen- year- olds to learn at school that they have the right to have homosexual sex with each other?

This is a strangely-worded question. I believe 13-year olds shouldn't be taught that homosexuality is wrong or unnatural. The right for 13-year-olds to have sex with each other is a real thing that exists in the real world and, accordingly, I believe they should learn how to keep themselves safe for when they start having sex. That's a big difference from showing them PowerPoint slides taken from the The Joy of Gay Sex, as this question implies.

Do you close your ears when concerned parents are outraged?

Outraged at what, exactly? The idea that homosexuality isn't wrong? Also, how does one close their ears, literally? Is there a flap some people have that others don't?

Would you call such parents “ignorant” and accuse them of “censorship”?

This is difficult to answer without knowing exactly what scenario the question pertains to. Are we talking state action? Banning books? Revising curriculum? What?

17. Do you believe that, after several thousand years where most cultures have prohibited homosexuality, only now the ‘real’ truth is emerging?

The "real truth" about what? The origins of homosexuality? The morality of it? Homosexuality isn't true or false. It is a phenomenon in the real world.

Do you believe this is not an arrogant, narrow or immature position?

No. What is frightening is that this question implies that homosexuality should once again become prohibited because tolerance of homosexuality is arrogant, narrow, and immature.

18. Do you believe that ‘gays’ are the target of widespread violence that goes unpunished in the United States?


Do you understand that hate crimes stats don’t support this claim and that laws already exist to punish all crimes, no matter why they are committed?

The FBI hate crimes statistics show that at least 1,706 people were victims of sexual-orientation-based hate crimes in 2008. This may not rise to some people's level of "widespread violence," but it should also be noted that many hate crimes are not reported as such and studies show that 45% of gay male youth and 20% of lesbian youth report being the victims of verbal or physical assaults in schools. As an attorney, yes, I understand that laws exist already making certain actions like murder illegal. I would encourage the author of this question to seek understanding as to the purpose of hate crime penalty enhancement statutes.

Would you be unconcerned about overall civil liberties if trumped -up charges of so-called “hate speech” were used to silence people?

I oppose laws restricting the expression of anti-gay speech.

19. Do you believe that conservatives are making a big deal out of a behavior that has no harmful effects on individuals, families, communities, or societies?

I do believe many anti-gay folks are unnecessarily making a big deal about homosexuality. I would likewise encourage anti-gay individuals to contemplate how their making a big deal out of homosexuality has harmful effects on individuals, families, communities, and societies.

Do you scoff at any claims that serious public health issues are involved, like sexually transmitted diseases or risks to children?

It's not clear what is meant by "risks to children" so I will address the elephant in the room. Male-to-male sexual behavior continues to be a high risk factor for the transmission of HIV and some STDs. I don't "scoff" at these statistics but I do think that, given that this is what much anti-gay furor over homosexuality centers around, effectively expecting all LGB people to negate our sexual identities is a bit of an overkill to a public health issue that is better managed through education and tolerance.

20. And–very big question: Is your need for other people’s approval greater than your appreciation of truth?

In a heterocentric Christian nation, I am an agnostic lesbian feminist. There is no but. And not the fun kind. You probably don't want to go down this "need for other people's approval" comparison road with me.

Do you refuse to consider an unpopular viewpoint because it might make you appear unenlightened to some people?

After being on the receiving end of veiled rape and death threats because of my "unpopular viewpoints," appearing "unenlightened" is not a big concern of mine.

If your mind and heart changed about this issue, would you have the courage to be a rebel for a worthy cause, to speak up and inform family, friends–and fellow humans who are involved in homosexuality?

I like Rob's answer here: "Yes. And in fact I get enormous satisfaction from being a small rebel in a great and worthy cause — the crusade for truth, dignity, and equality. Wait — are you people claiming to see yourselves as rebels?"

To end, perhaps many of you answered these questions for yourselves as you went along. As this quiz doesn't contain a scoring method, it's hard to say whether or not we "passed." Nonetheless, given the wording of the questions, the quiz seemed aimed more at an anti-gay audience, trying as it did to set up "gotchas" while assuming total foresight as to how a "pro-gay" person would respond. Ironically enough, such questions ultimately revealed a fair among of bigotry, stereotyping, and prejudice on the part of the questioner.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Totally-Not-At-All-Prejudicially-Worded "Are You A Pro-Gay Bigot" Quiz, Part I

[Cross-posted at Our Big Gayborhood]

For a brief moment during the Prop 8 debacle, the national discourse surrounding same-sex marriage shifted away from families and instead centered around whether one man, "marriage defender" David Blankenhorn, was a bigot. As distracting from the substantive issue as it was to have various folks, both gay and straight, debate this Matter of Supreme Importance in national op-eds, the conversation does speak to the frustration that many feel with the power of the word bigot to shut down dialogue.

However, the bigot bomb is hardly a one-way shot. Increasibly, prominent anti-gay voices like the National Organization for [Heterosexual] Marriage have begun turning the tables, implying and outright calling LGBT equality advocates intolerant bigots. Because bigotry is a human failing rather than an anti-gay or pro-gay one, it should come as no surprise that intolerant bigots would also exist on "our" side of the ideological aisle.

Thus, following the lead of Rob Tsinani, who posted his responses at the Prop 8 Trial Tracker, I too am going to (as briefly as possible) respond to the 20 (weasily-worded) questions that purport to answer the Big Pressing Question of whether or not a person is a "pro-gay bigot." (I used the Google to find the original source of these questions, and they seem to emanate from an anti-abortion, anti-gay Christian ministry page that is no longer active and/or from this Yahoo message board by poster "pro_family_activist." The questions were also posted at the pro-Prop 8 "Protect Marriage: One Man, One Woman" Facebook page. Also, because I don't want to conflate sexual orientation with gender identity, I have intentionally omitted the "T" from LGBT, in case anyone thinks I've unintentionally left out transgender folks.)

Here we go:

1. Do you believe in free speech about homosexuality for everyone except conservatives or Christians?

While noting that this question erroneously conflates anti-gay ideology with both conservatism and Christianity, I do not support censorship of anti-gay statements.

2. Do you participate in name-calling of those who object to homosexuality — names like bigot, hate-monger, etc.?

This question seems to problematically assume that no anti-gay person is deserving of being called a bigot or hate-monger, and thus reads as an attempt to silence the label when it is appropriate. I don't think a person who opposes LGB equality is automatically a bigot but, like Rob Tsinani, I would argue that those who engage in or support sexuality-based bullying, assault, fear-mongering, hostility, harassment, discrimination, imprisonment, or murder would fall under the category of hateful or bigoted.

3. Do you believe ‘gays’ have been deprived of the right to marry?

First, it's just gays. Not "gays." If this is to be a dialogue, shouldn't anti-gay folks make the simple concession of not questioning the label many in the community choose to identify with? Secondly, yes, gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals have been deprived of the right to marry the person of their choice.

Doesn’t pretty much everyone have the right to marry now — to a person of the opposite sex?

This question implies that since bisexuals, gay men, and lesbians currently have the right to marry persons of the other sex just as heterosexuals do, marriage laws do not discriminate against LGB people. Here, I would advise the asker of this question to become informed about what sexual orienation means. To suggest that the right for a lesbian to marry a man is a meaningful right is an uninformed argument. To paraphrase the great (!) Justice Scalia, A tax on yarmulkes, after all, is effectively a tax on Jews.

4. Do you believe those who object to homosexuality are motivated by fear or ignorance?

I think that some people who object to homosexuality are indeed motivated by fear and/or ignorance. See above, regarding those who believe entering into a male-female marriage is an acceptable, good, or viable option for gay men and lesbians.

Do you believe they could never be motivated by compassion for the people involved, and if they say so, they must be lying?

Although I strongly disagree with the notion that LGB people are in need of compassion solely because of our sexual orientations, I do think that some people hold their anti-gay views out of compassion for those they view as living in an unhealthy, morally wrong, and/or unacceptable "lifestyle" that condemns those "involved" to "Hell."

5. Do you believe some people will just inevitably be homosexual, and that there’s a set percentage of the population that will always be ‘gay’, and that this won’t increase, even if a culture embraces ‘gay’ sex?

Yes. I think that if a culture "embraces 'gay' sex," it is logical to expect more people to act upon their sexual orientations and attractions to those of the same sex.

Do you think homosexual experimentation could never become ‘chic’ and popular?

It is already somewhat "chic" and "popular" for two attractive women to engage in non-threatening displays of sexual interest with each other. However, rather than being legitimate acceptance of "homosexual experimentation," it is acceptable only if it occurs on patriarchally-approved terms. The women have to be feminine and attractive and must be engaging in the behavior primarily for purposes of heterosexual male tilillation.

Is there no risk for the people involved or our culture if this happens?

Female-female sex has lower rates of STD transmission than both male-female sex and male-male sex, and the CDC has yet to document a case of female-female sexual transmission of HIV. More women having sex with each other would be a good thing from a public health standpoint. However, this question seems to have a male-centricity to it that assumes that (a) male homosexual behavior is becoming "chic" and "popular" and that, (b) therefore, we must worry about rising HIV/AIDS rates. Actually, tolerance of homosexuality corresponds with less risky sex and, consequently, lower rates of HIV/AIDS infection in gay and bisexual male populations.
As for the risk to "our culture," I would have to know how the author defines "our culture" (and, of course, what people don't count as legitimate members of that culture) before I could answer that.

6. Do you automatically dismiss any conservative comments about homosexuality without listening?

Here, I'm going to echo what Rob said: "No. I dismiss lots of conservative comments because I do listen. And then I write a blog post detailing the factual and logical errors."

Do you believe you are well-informed, while refusing to learn about what homosexuals actually do and the risks involved?

Ditto: "I do believe I am well-informed, despite the best efforts of conservatives to deceive the public about what homosexuals actually do." Furthermore, as a "homosexual" myself, I am intimately familiar with what "homosexuals actually do" and the alleged "risks involved," presumably more than most heterosexuals.

7. Do you believe that the tragedy of any suicide by someone involved in homosexuality is the fault of conservatives?

I believe those who espouse hostility toward homosexuality and LGB people and who dedicate their lives to demonizing us contribute to feelings of hopelessness and self-hate that would cause someone to view death as a better alternative to living as a gay person. Such anti-gay folks don't cause suicide, but I do think they are a contributing factor. It is disingenuous and ignorant to discount the effect of social stigma, prejudice, and hatred of LGB people on the suicidality and mental health status of LGB people.

Is the best solution to these tragedies to demand that everyone in America accept homosexuality?

I believe the increased suicidality of LGB people could be lessened if Ameria was more accepting of LGB people. Yet, I believe it is an oxymoronic concept to suggest that people can be forced, through others' demands, to accept something. Those who are "accepting" of homosexuality only because it has been demanded of them do not truly accept homosexuality. So no, demanding acceptance is not "the best solution" to the tragedies of LGB suicide.

That being said, given that anti-gay folks have yet to propose a viable "solution" to these "tragedies" and that the effect of anti-gay bias on LGB people is so harmful, I find it sad, uncompassionate, and appalling that those who claim the moral high road remain so stubbornly unaccepting.

8. Do you automatically dismiss the idea that anyone could be a former homosexual, despite the hundreds of groups started by ex-‘gays’ and the thousands who live in America?

Automatically? No. I dismiss the idea because reviews of ex-gay studies have found that true change to sexual orientation is rare and that after "ex-gay therapy" same-sex attractions persist.

9. Do you believe that homosexuals are born that way?

From the research I have read, no compelling evidence definitively demonstrates the origins of human sexuality.

Do you refuse to consider the evidence against this claim?


Have you ever looked at the connection between child sexual abuse and later homosexual attraction?

From the research I have read, no compelling evidence definitively demonstrates the origins of human sexuality. The author of this question seems to suggest otherwise.

Tomorrow, I will post the rest of the questions with my responses.

Friday, September 10, 2010

End Not Near In Post-Same-Sex-Marriage Iowa

I am not going to suggest that the correlation in the following bit of evidence implies causation. I post the following because as actual evidence it automatically trumps the anti-gay "same-sex marriage is a bad idea for society because I say so" argumentation that some of those who oppose same-sex marriage arrogantly use:

"The angst over marriage in Iowa comes after year in which the state of marriage has made a turn toward statistical bliss: More people got married and fewer split up [after same-sex marriage became legal].
Divorces declined to 7,286, the lowest per capita level since 1968, according to 2009 provisional and historical data from the Iowa Department of Public Health.

The health department's statistics also suggest gay marriage is not a trend on the fringe. Of the 19,204 couples who bought licenses to marry during the year ending March 31, one out of 10 were gay. In Pottawattamie and Johnson counties, the ratio was one out four. The marriages occurred in 21 of Iowa's 99 counties."

Wait, let me predict an anti-gay response:

These real numbers that occur in the real world defy common sense and are therefore not really real!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Book Review: Self-Made Man

Previously, I have considered the experience of scientist Ben Barres, a transgender man who has written of how others treat him differently as a man than they did as a woman. Writer Norah Vincent, who is not transgender, decided to disguise herself as a man in order to document some such differences in treatment.

In her account, Self-Made Man, she tells of her experience presenting as a man, whom she calls "Ned," in various social venues such as on a bowling team, in the hetero dating world, in a monastery, in the workplace, and in a men's group. To those who follow feminism or gender studies, Vincent's insights are not all that startling. Basically, she comes to realize that maleness comes with privileges but also that society's strict imposition of the male gender role also harms men. Yet, it's an interesting account, nonetheless.

1. Essentialism and Gender Presentation

Throughout her account, Vincent flirts with the ideas of gender essentialism versus gender as presentation. Indeed, while she makes several claims about Inherent Traits of Men, one wonders how exactly Vincent is able to separate the traits of masculine that men are taught versus the ones they are allegedly born with because they are men. She doesn't claim to be writing a treatise on sex and gender, but this conflation between essentialism and presentation becomes confusing at times.

In the beginning of her experiment, she was very worried about her disguise being passable enough. Although she identifies as a butch lesbian, in disguise she at first feels like a "petunia" next to a "real man," suggesting that men and women are almost too biologically different to make transgender-ing realistic (24). Yet, the longer she wears her disguise, she "began to project a masculine image more naturally" so much so that even when she stopped wearing her disguise, people accepted her as a man. She recounts, "people accept what you convey to them, if you convey it convincingly enough" (12). Thus, gender seems to come from within, psychologically while also being something that one can project.

The inextricability between biology and social construction becomes more evident the more Vincent recounts. She claims, for instance, that she "rarely if ever interacted in any significant way with anyone (even store clerks) who didn't treat [her] and the people around [her] in a gender-coded way" (223). While many feminists readily concede that there are some biological differences between men and women, such pervasive gendered treatment that we receive in every social interaction is incredibly likely to exaggerate and reinforce any inherent differences and also to "add" to these differences.

Ultimately, by the end of her year and a half living as a man, Vincent had enough. Indeed, she had a breakdown, finding that the cognitive dissonance between living as "Ned," whom others perceive as a man, but being Norah, a woman, was too much, an experience she tellingly echoes from many transgender people who "come out" after no longer being able to hide their true genders from the world. Vincent became "passively suicidal," drained by the energy it took to "inhabit a persona of someone who doesn't exist" (268-269). In her account, I found much to suggest that much of gender, although perhaps not all, is what other people give us via how they relate to us.

2. Male Privilege

The first time she presented as a man in public, Vincent seemed to be in awe of how other men reacted to her. Of walking down the same street she had walked down for years, she writes:

"As a woman, you couldn't walk down those streets invisibly. You were an object of desire or at least semiprurient interest to the men who waited there, even if you weren't pretty- that, or you were just another pussy to be in its place.... If you were female and you lived there, you got used to be stared down because it happened every day and there wasn't anything you could about it" (2).

And, as a woman, many women have become so accustomed to this reality, that we fail to notice it. Yet, as a man, her experience was much different:

"We walked by those same groups of men. Only this time they didn't stare. On the contrary, when they met my eyes they looked away immediately and concertedly and never looked back. It was astounding, the difference, the respect they showed me by not looking at me, by purposefully not staring" (3).

She describes her experience as "Ned," wearing a suit, a symbol of male power, at his sales job:

"You see [the suit], not [the man], and you bow to it.... I felt male privilege descend on me like an insulating cape" (187).

"Ned" became assertive, stopped saying "sorry" all the time, he became direct, because that's how guys are and they don't have to explain or apologize for it.

3. Male Pain

Vincent mostly glosses over the male privilege aspects of masculinity, instead spending quite a bit of time recounting the pain many men are in as a result of performing masculinity. Time and time again, after she revealed herself to men who had initially believed her to be a man, they opened up emotionally. As Norah, they told her things they "never would have told a guy" (52), and many of them liked Norah better than "Ned" because they could open up to her in a way they couldn't with other men (as did some of the straight women she later came out to, and who wanted to continue dating her anyway).

In the monastery, she lived among "socialized men" who nonetheless didn't know how to talk to each other "about much of anything, let alone their feelings" (153). This was partly the result of men who were desperately and "actively trying to squelch any creeping womanly tendencies in themselves and their brothers" because they feared being intimate, even just emotionally, with other men (177-178). Vincent went to the monastery seeming to expect to find spiritual solace or peace, but instead found an all-male environment that was "steeped in commonplace masculine angst," that was "observable in a concentrated state" (181). By eradicating women and femininity from their lives, these men lived together "in silence under a hurt they could barely acknowledge, let alone address (Ibid.).

At the men's group she attends as "Ned," she listens to story after story of men saying they didn't know how to recognize their own feelings and aside from anger, certainly didn't know how to express them, especially in the presence of other men. They talked of living in constant fear of other men- fear of losing status, fear of losing their women to other men, and fear of opening up to other men- much of it rooted in literal homophobia and fear of looking weak (248). One man said he "felt trapped" by people assuming that, because of his large masculine build, that he was a dangerous, insensitive "ape" (256).

Unfortunately, many men's rights types blame feminists or women for the plight of men under patriarchy. And here, I am reminded of Hugo Schwyzer observation:

"The dreadful straitjacket of masculinity is put on by other men, by fathers and teachers and coaches and bosses and frat brothers and drill sergeants and peers. While some young women are taught to eroticize the young men who wear that straitjacket with apparent effortlessness, it’s a huge mistake to assume that female desire or expectation is anything more than an ancillary factor in the adoption of the masculine code. As Michael Kimmel and others have pointed out, what drives American men is the craving for 'homosocial approval' — the longing for the approbation of, older, more powerful males."

In a monastery, this craving for male approval is quite obvious. Men perform masculinity to win favor from men of high social standing. And yet, throughout Vincent's account, men play the "masculinity" game in nearly every social situation that they are in. Whether it's making rape jokes or bragging about which women they're going to stick their enormous dicks in next, when men are "doing masculinity" they are often actually using women to gain status among other men.

4. Women Suck (and So Do Men)

Almost immediately, Vincent begins comparing male and female social behavior. She is pleased that the men on the male bowling team she joined accepted her as one of the guys, no questions asked. She lauded how they tried to help "Ned's" sucky bowling technique because, "as men they felt compelled to fix [her] ineptitude rather than be secretly happy about it and try to abet it under the table," which she claims is what women would do (44). Taking a cue from evolutionary psychologists, she speculates that men are hardwired to help other men succeed, because back in caveman days "the tribe's survival depended on it" (Ibid.). Again, we see Vincent attribute to biology what could aptly be explained by social conditioning (assuming that men are more likely to help each other and women more likely to undercut the "tribe's" success in the first place).

Yet, Vincent's account of men is also at times extremely unflattering. Although she mostly excuses her male companions' jokes as "never mean-spirited," she recounts the men on her bowling team regularly telling gay, sexist, and rape jokes, and regularly branding the player with the lowest score "fag" (33). As a reader, I hope I wasn't the only one letting her bowling buds off so easily. When she visited strip clubs with her male friends, they recounted bachelor parties and father/son trips- rites of passage in the commodification of women's bodies. As a man, she "observed the painful compulsions of male sexuality," where a "girl's" face "didn't matter" because that isn't the part of her that's important (63-64). "Ned's" buddy "Phil" forthrightly told "Ned" that with respect to what men are really looking for in a woman is:

"A guy is looking for a woman to fuck him. We want someone we can stick or dicks into all the time. That's ninety-five percent of looking for a woman. And there's no explaining that to anyone" (66).

Again, the assumption here is that this male "sexual compulsion" is biologically-driven, assuming it's a legit framing of the male human experience, rather than the result of socially-conditioned male sexual entitlement to women. And, the argument within this Inherent Male Hyper-Sexuality narrative is that it is social pressures such as marriage that force men to "repress" their sexual urges. The narrative continues when Vincent further recounts her male co-workers boasting to each other about the 74 women they've supposedly had sex with, their 9-inch penises, and their 180 IQs, all "lines" that men let other men get away with (199). These men obsessively talked about scoring with women and trying to score with their female co-workers, whom they invented sexual nicknames for. Where men were encouraged to be aggressive in their sales' positions, the women, not surprisingly, were encouraged to use sexual allure to make sales. But again, hard to say if this socially-conditioned machismo talking or biology, or both.

Because men are sexual wildebeasts, Vincent then claims that men believe women hold all the power when it comes to sex. Whenever I hear men say this, the implication always seems to be that this is bad thing, as though it's some horrible injustice against men that they don't have more power to make women have sex with them whenever men demand it.

Nonetheless, Vincent sympathizes, saying "it didn't feel good to be on the receiving end of [women's] suspicion" and that some men did want more than sex so it wasn't fair that the majority of men ruined things for the Nice Guys (97). Perhaps not. But I've always believed that this Nice Guy's dilemma is men's fault. Not women's, who have every right to be defensive about male sexual predators, especially if Vincent's account is indicative of what men are really like. Unfortunately, Vincent seems to turn quite quickly into a Bitter Rejected Man, a "momentary misogynist," who understands why some men are so resentful of women, who are categorically bitches who "guard the gate" (127, 99). Thus, based in part on this female "power" over men coupled with the newfangled feminist expectation that men treat women equally, Vincent has to go and say this:

"I had operated in my real life under the burden of being a doubly oppressed minority- a woman and a lesbian- and I had encountered the deprivations of that status, as a man, I operated under what I felt in these times to be the equally heavy burden of being a double majority, a white man" (112

Like many feminists, I'm quite willing to recognize that patriarchy and the enforcement of gender roles hurts men too. But I cannot accept the false equivalence that men and women are "victims" of patriarchy in an "equally" burdensome way. Suggesting that men suffer just as much as women do under patriarchy and gender role policing is one of the primary arguments mens' rights activists use to conclude that feminism is unnecessary and unfair to men. Men and women experience patriarchy differently. Period. And the "white" man bit? Nowhere does Vincent give us any sort of racial analysis demonstrating how white dudes have things so very hard.

To be a man in our society means adhering to a stifling gender code, but it also means automatic dominance over women. Men who adhere to the code are "one of the guys," innocent until proven guilty, especially when they are obsessively sexualizing women. While some believe women have "all the power" when it comes to heterosexual sex, one begins to doubt the "power" that women have given that the other half of humanity frames them primarily in sexual terms, seemingly incapable of genuinely interacting with women as regular human beings. If Vincent's account is reflective of the average hetero man, and such men are truly as obsessed with "scoring" as they let on, her narrative demonstrates that male dominance over women is, literally and figuratively, sexual dominance.

While sympathizing with men, Vincent nonetheless describes how, after inhabiting the male connections between "violence and sex and women and self-worth," she is "more afraid than ever of male minds" and feels "more powerless than ever walking in the world among them" (128).

I guess, in light of Vincent's false equivalence between male and female suffering under patriarchy and this ending note, I'm reminded of the feminist quote that men's biggest fear is that women will reject them, women's is that men will kill us. Different experiences under gender roles. Not equal.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Gendered Language Shapes Our Minds

I write often about the English language's role in perpetuating notions of male superiority. Those who feel similarly might be interested in this article, written by linguist Guy Deutscher. Once you get past the creepy, disembodied images of lips gracing the top of the article, you will find that Deutscher renders a thought-provoking article about language's role in shaping how we think.

Mostly, I see that English language promotes male superiority in at least two ways. One, is the oxymoronic concept of the "gender neutral masculine," which refers to both male and female humans as "he" and "him." Indeed, Deutscher discusses how some languages force its speakers to refer to each and every object by a gender, effectively forcing speakers to think about gender- now matter how subconsciously- every time they refer to a noun.

Further, the genders of words vary, by language. For instance, the simple word bridge in German is feminine, but in Spanish it is masculine, giving us further evidence of the cultured and linguistic construction of gender. Masculinity and femininity are not concepts with universal characteristics that transcend language and culture, indicating that we should reject conflating sex (meaning biology) with gender (meaning presentation) as well as the simplistic ideas that masculinity derives from some "essential" characteristics inherent within all men and femininity from "essential" characteristics derived from women. If feminity, for instance, truly and essentially derived from womanhood, we would not see cross-cultural variation in traits (and objects) considered feminine.

The second large way I see the English language, via Christianity in the US, contributing to ideas of male superiority is the gendering of god and Jesus (who was no mere mortal but god on Earth) as male. No matter how many laws we have making sex and gender discrimination illegal, no matter how much people say they believe men and women are equal, the impact of living within a society where the majority of citizens gender the most supreme being in all the universe male, and who also gender all of humanity male, cannot be overestimated.

Deutscher ends, aptly noting:

"The habits of mind that our culture has instilled in us from infancy shape our orientation to the world and our emotional responses to the objects we encounter, and their consequences probably go far beyond what has been experimentally demonstrated so far; they may also have a marked impact on our beliefs, values and ideologies. We may not know as yet how to measure these consequences directly or how to assess their contribution to cultural or political misunderstandings. But as a first step toward understanding one another, we can do better than pretending we all think the same."

Monday, September 6, 2010

"Marriage Defender" Plays Social Darwinist, Badly

It's been a while since I've read the amateur "marriage defense" blog Opine Editorials. However, after perusing their usual smattering of echolalic articles there recently, I found one brief nugget that was worth pointing out. In it, our friend "On Lawn" evidences the hetero-supremacist Prop 8 mindset that Judge Walker rightly struck down.

He writes:

"Essentially, integrating the genders is better than not...

'Dr Dilara Ally and her team at the University of British Columbia, Canada, found that the fertility of clones declines with age.
This means that a tree cannot clone itself indefinitely; it must eventually sexually reproduce, or it will die.'"

This is an extremely brief post, to be sure, but it does fit into his obscure, bizarre narrative that heterosexual marriage is better than same-sex marriage because heterosexual marriage "integrat[es] the genders" and same-sex marriage doesn't, making it just like unsavory, racist racial segregation. It does not seem to be On Lawn's style to build much of a case for his arguments, instead Blankenhorning the evidence by essentially pointing to work others have done, ignoring contradictory evidence, and then acting as though all the facts in the whole world support his worldview and thus he doesn't have to use actual scientific methodology to make his conclusions. He's just tellin' it like it is, ladies and gents!

Yet, we can extract from this mini-post that On Lawn believes that "integrating the genders" [sic] (that would be "sexes" not "genders") is "better than not." He then cites a study showing that trees cannot clone themselves indefinitely. And, because it is sort of the theme of his blog, the implication from this post is that this study, therefore, proves that heterosexual marriage/relationships are "better than" same-sex marriage/relationships.

Because humans are "essentially" trees? Because gay people are trying to clone themselves?

Explanation please.

But seriously, the argument is startlingly simple. Yet, it is one that On Lawn has attached himself to in this era of judges who will strike down laws based on more overt anti-gay animus. Some such folks don't necessarily believe that same-sex couples are icky or gross or bad (although many certainly do), they just see it as an objective statement of fact that hetero couples are "better than" same-sex couples because some hetero couples can procreate together. They don't understand or care how making this sort of subjective judgment about the value of hetero v. same-sex couples is harmful and stigmatizing (not to mention unprovable, for how does one prove that one relationship is qualitatively better than another? Is ability to procreate the only criteria that matters?). Indeed, they don't see it as a subjective statement of worth at all. To many, the superiority of heterosexual couples is just an objective statement of fact.

Setting aside the reality that it can be observed that many organisms in the world reproduce asexually- that is, not heterosexually- without "dying off," let's watch what On Lawn has done here. He takes an observation from nature- here, a study showing that trees must sexually reproduce or die off- and applies it to humanity, concluding incredibly broadly that "integrating the genders is better than not." He does not qualify this statement in any way or specify under which circumstances this gender integration is "better."

And so, one is led to wonder how far On Lawn and like-minded "marriage defenders," especially those like him who worship within the patriarchal religion of Christianity, are willing to take their oh-so- progressive "integrating the genders is better than not" argument. Is "integrating the genders" the ideal with respect to which "genders" get to be members of the clergy? What about god? Does "he" get to be gender-integrated too? Is "integrating the genders better" in dorm rooms? (On Lawn's blogging buddy Playful Walrus would beg to differ). Does he agree that "integrating the genders is better" with respect to sharing cooking, cleaning, and child care responsibilities in the home? How about the gender composition of Congress? The Supreme Court? The military? Does "integration the genders" make any of these institutions better? How about when a gay man marries a heterosexual women? How is that "better than not"?

I ask these questions because, in all or many of these cases, I would suspect On Lawn would not hold quite so fast to his broad maxim that "integrating the genders is better than not."

Indeed, like many a "marriage defense" man, he only seems interested in gender equality at all when he can use the concept to deny same-sex couples marriage rights. Instead of writing about gender issues in any serious way, he fauxgressively uses the language of equality only to further villanize LGBT people, to suggest LGBT people are sexist and opposed to gender equality, and to claim that same-sex relationships are essentially just like racial segregation.

From what I understand about biology (which is not my area of expertise), population-wise there is an evolutionary scenario where sexual reproduction via integrating male and female genetic material might be considered "better than" reproduction that does not do so, and that is when genetic diversity is required to allow a species to adapt to a changing environment.

It's probably better for everyone if folks like On Lawn just left it at that instead of playing amateur social darwinist, as though the reproductive success of trees should be used to guide complex human romantic relationships.