Friday, April 29, 2011

Barber: "Practitioner[s] of the Homosexual Lifestyle" Can't Judge Marriage Cases

As we saw two days ago, the supporters of Prop 8 are seeking to vacate Judge Walker's pro-equality ruling in Perry v. Schwarzenegger. Their contention is that since Walker is in a same-sex relationship, he cannot be impartial about ruling on the constitutionality of California's ban on same-sex marriage.

In their motion, Protect Marriage's legal team insists:

"It is important to emphasize at the outset that we are not suggesting that a gay or lesbian judge could not sit on this case."

Well, Team "Protect Marriage" might want to let anti-gay activist Matt Barber, Associate Dean of Liberty University School of Law, in on that little tidbit. Writing at conservative Christian Lifesite News, Barber lets it all hang out:

"Back in February of 2010 it became rumored that retired Federal Judge Vaughn Walker – who presided over the case at the District level – was a practitioner of the homosexual lifestyle. It was further reported that he had a longtime male lover. Judge Walker refused to confirm or deny the rumors. At the time I was one of the few people to publicly call for his recusal. It’s inexplicable that attorneys defending Prop 8 didn’t make such a motion.

With Judge Walker’s recent admission that he does in fact practice homosexuality, the case for recusal has been proven. His ruling on the Prop 8 case should be immediately vacated as he possessed both an incontrovertible and disqualifying conflict of interest....

A heterosexual judge is precisely what Federal law requries under such circumstances."

While Protect Marriage tap dances around the idea that a gay judge can't be impartial (you know, lest their side look like bigots), Barber just comes right out and says it: Only a heterosexual can judge this case.

One is led to wonder if Barber, who's also the Vice President of Liberty Counsel Action, doesn't understand the oh-so-nuanced-and-not-at-all-bigoted argument that ProtectMarriage is trying to make. You know, the one where it's not the judge's homosexuality that's the problem, it's his homosexual tendency of being in a homosexual relationship that's the problem.

Or, maybe Barber's just not as concerned as some "marriage defenders" about not looking like a bigot.

Either way, whooops.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Prop 8 Drama: Quote of the Day

Regarding the Prop 8 supporters' motion to vacate the Perry v. Schwarzenegger decision on the grounds that Judge Walker is in a same-sex relationship, Pema Levy observes:

"The judicial bench -- traditionally a bastion of privilege and racial homogeneity -- has never been as diverse as it is today. That is, of course, a good thing. But it may signal that minority judges are vulnerable to ethical challenges....

If Walker's decision is vacated, this situation may well give rise to a new species of ethical conflicts. While the motion to vacate Walker's ruling is certainly offensive in parts, by using Liljeberg and other similar rulings to demonstrate Walker's conflict of interest, Prop. 8 opponents are essentially arguing that an interest in full equality is the same thing as a financial interest....

The motion against Walker is in unchartered territory, so it's unclear if a judge will find it convincing. But the sentiment behind it highlights the sad truth that judges are usually members of a group -- namely straight, white, heterosexual men -- who enjoy more privileges under the law and whose impartiality is never questioned. 'Typical cases affect groups that judges aren't members of, such as criminals or people on welfare,' Hellman says. 'There aren't many laws challenging a middle-class way of life.'"

Indeed, if this motion is successful it will set a precedent for requiring the recusal of minority judges in cases ascertaining whether that minority group is unconstitutionally discriminated against.

And regarding the contention that a gay judge in a same-sex relationship has "an interest" in the same-sex marriage issue, well, logically, of course minorities have an interest in no longer being discriminated against. That's sort of the nature of discrimination and oppression, derp. But then, so too do majority groups have an interest in perpetuating that discrinination.

Unfortunately, and owing to the invisible nature of that privilege, it is only non-heterosexual, non-white, and non-male judges who continually have to go out of their way to assure everyone that they are not beholden to "special interest groups." White male heterosexuals never have to assure us that they are not beholden to the special interest group of straight white guys.

That being said, many constitutitional law scholars (who aren't, like, affiliated with Liberty University) believe the chances of this motion succeeding are slim. For instance, UC Irvine School of Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky has said that the motion "has no chance of success" and that he "know[s] of no instance in which a judge has been disqualified because of his or her race, religion, sexual orientation, or gender."

DePaul University School of Law's Jeffrey Shaman, who authored a textbook on judicial conduct, suggests that the Protect Marriage legal team might be "worried about the judge's opinion, which was such a strong opinion, and they are trying to make an end run around it."

We'll see what happens. Honestly, you really never know how a case is going to turn out. BiAsEd JuDgEs notwithstanding, natch.


American Foundation for Equal Rights: "Prop 8 Propoonents Desperate Plea Backfire in the Media"

Marinelli: NOM Sought "Crazy" Pictures of Equality Advocates

Last July, in writing about the National Organization for [Heterosexual] Marriage's (NOM) "Marriage Tour," I speculated that a motive of the tour might have been to present "marriage defenders" as victims of aggressive LGBT advocates in order to drum up opposition to same-sex marriage.

After all, it's easier to get people to deny rights to a minority group that is framed as dangerous, monolithic, and evil than if that group is framed as just as human and nuanced as "good, clean, regular everyday folk."

Indeed, soon after the wheels on their bus started turning, NOM began tediously documenting and publicizing every real and imagined slight suffered by its participants and supporters.

For instance, when someone allegedly cut off the NOM bus in traffic and flipped them off, NOM's Brian Brown tweeted "Got tolerance?" (Apparently, only "marriage defenders" ever have run-ins with rude drivers). Then, speaking of equality advocates who showed up to counter-protest NOM, Brown characterized them in a blogpost as "crazy" and "nuts" for shouting "Get your hate out of our state."

Well, almost a year later, NOM defector Louis Marinelli is claiming that Brian Brown sent him an email during the tour instructing:

"I need crazy pictures of our opponents."

According to Marinelli, Brown's request came minutes after Marinelli had sent Brown a photo of "marriage defenders."

If true, Brown's request would be especially ironic coming from Team Don't You Dare Frame Us As Villains.

Indeed, back in 2009, NOM's Maggie Gallagher bemoaned the fact that some marriage equality advocates dared to suggest that "people who see marriage as a male-female union are like slave owners or segregationists" and, in response, Gallagher demanded, "This kind of disrespectful treatment of diverse views on gay marriage really needs to stop. Now. Today."


Got projection?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Prop 8 Supporters: Judging While Gay Is Not Okay

According to a motion just filed by the anti-equality group "Protect Marriage," a person who is in a same-sex relationship may not be a judge in a same-sex marriage case.

The group, which led the Prop 8 campaign in California, is asking the US District Court to vacate Judge Walker's pro-equality ruling in Perry v. Schwarzenegger because Walker recently admitted to being in a 10-year committed relationship with a man. Their main contention is that Walker's impartiality is questionable since he allegedly has an interest in the outcome of the proceeding, which would potentially allow him marry his same-sex partner.

And, following that logic, no member of a racial minority group can judge an affirmative action case, because he or she might potentially benefit from the ruling (take note, Justices Sotomayor and Thomas). No fertile woman can judge an abortion case, because she has an interest in the outcome of the case. No man who is, or might one day be, a father can rule on father's custodial rights and child support in divorce proceedings.

In fact, no member of a group alleging discrimination can be impartial about deciding whether a law is discriminatory or not. Our legal system must instead rely on the totally objective, impartial, and unbiased legal reasoning of societal ingroups to recognize unconstitutional laws.

Of course, Team Anti-Equality isn't framing their motion as the gay-baiting bigotry that it is. Their motion insists:

"It is important to emphasize at the outset that we are not suggesting that a gay or lesbian judge could not sit on this case."

And what it's important to emphasize is that what they're actually doing is suggesting that a person in a same-sex relationship could not sit on this case. See, it's not so much the judge's being gay that they see as the problem, it's his exhibiting that gay tendency of being in a gay relationship that's the problem.

Same dif.

This new Prop 8 drama comes on the heels of Team Anti-Gay's desperate attempt to forever conceal footage of the Prop 8 trial. On the one hand, they can't stop telling us how biased the gay Judge Walker was during the trial, but then, of course, they don't want folks to actually see videotapes of the trial and make that determination for themselves.

This is what I like to refer to as the OOGEDY BOOGEDY Strategy of Marriage Defense.

Team Anti-Gay lobbed a piss-poor case in trial court, acting a bit too overconfident that their one-man, one-woman model of marriage was a self-evident truth to all people, and now they're blaming the results of their lackluster performance on a bad call by a biased umpire.

Accordingly, both Prop 8 motions are the latest in a disturbing trend of anti-equality groups bullying and defaming judges who issue pro-equality opinions. I am confident that many Americans will be repulsed by this latest PR strategy against Walker. It reeks of the same unsuccessful gay-baiting that was used against Justice Kagan during her confirmation process and that will likely resurface once the Prop 8 case reaches a US Supreme Court that is inhabited by two unmarried women, one of whom is supposedly good at softball. (Which, by the way, I looked at that photo of her swinging the bat and I thought her technique looked a little iffy, but I digress).

My point is that when marriage "defenders" lose on the substantive arguments, they blame everyone and everything but the inadequacy of their own arguments.

For instance, in Iowa, Bob Vander Plaats of (the mis-named) "Iowa For Freedom" successfully led a campaign to remove three state Supreme Court judges who declared unconstitutional a law barring same-sex marriage. Iowa Republicans are now trying to impeach the remaining justices for alleged "malfeasance of office."

It's not often that the substantive arguments and points within pro-equality opinions are addressed in mainstream narratives, let alone demolished. If you strip away the blustering soundbites (NOM NOM NOM) about Tyrannical Activist Judges, you often find that these criticisms, at their core, basically amount to nothing more than "I don't like it that judges can overturn The Will Of the People To Discriminate."

It's a bizarre, but catchy, position Team Anti-Gay continually takes. It's as though the ultimate goal is to convince Americans that same-sex marriage is resulting in total chaos, doom, and anarchy.

I can't think of one recent pro-equality court decision in which the judges were not widely lambasted as activist, tyrannical, biased, and/or improper by major anti-gay forces. Yet, contrary to their teeth-gnashing about how sucky judicial review is, it's not actually judicial review that these people hate. It's the use of judicial review when it produces outcomes favorable to LGBT equality that they hate.

Marriage Is a Benefit... Er, Sometimes

Judge Walker's Sexual Orientation Is A Non-Issue

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Framing Gender Noncomfority as Homosexuality, Again

[TW: Gender policing]

Being "all boy" comes so naturally to all boys that Malaysia sends some of them to Boy School so they can learn how to be real boys. From the BBC:

"Sixty-six schoolboys identified by teachers as effeminate began counselling this week to discourage them from being gay. They are undergoing four days of religious and physical education. An education official said the camp was meant to guide the boys back 'to a proper path in life'....

Gay rights groups have also criticised the measure, saying it promotes homophobia in the Muslim-majority country where gay sex is still illegal."

These gay rights groups are correct in noting that rigid gender policing promotes homophobia, but it's always interesting when a violation of gender norms is framed primarily as a gay rights issue while the more-obvious gender rights issue goes unmentioned.

For instance, the BBC article notes that the state officials were unable to detail specific "effeminate" or gay traits observed. Instead, the officials blamed this alleged "pre-homosexuality" on parents who encouraged "boys to develop feminine traits, by dressing them up in girls' clothing at a young age." Given that homosexuality is not defined as "a boy dressing up in girls' clothing" this automatic conflation between gender nonconformity and homosexuality is dubious.

The gender rights issue here, of course, is that a boy should be able to wear whatever the fuck he wants to wear, especially given that what makes an article of clothing "feminine" or "masculine" is arbitrary, ever-changing, and variable across different cultures.

The other gender rights issue is that it is largely viewed as degrading to boys to demonstrate effeminate traits (and wear "feminine" clothing), because femininity and, consequently, girls and women are seen as inferior to boys and men. So, while this sort of rigid gender policing is likely grounded in homophobia, it is also grounded in, and a reinforcement of, male supremacy. A society's fear and loathing of "effeminate" men mirrors its fear and loathing of women.

Notice, too, that the BBC article makes no mention of gender nonconforming girls (or lesbians or bisexual women). This invisibilization of women often happens when the media frames instances of gender policing/anti-homosexuality in African and Middle Eastern states primarily as "gay rights" abuses.

This pattern of framing leads me to speculate that a human rights abuse has to be framed as being inflicted upon gay cisgender men for it to be recognized by the international community as a human rights violation. If these groups were, or were framed as, women or transgender people, I believe the atrocities would be seen as too specific to women or trans people to be considered atrocities implicating the dignities and rights of humans beings.

What's also notable is that gender noncomformity is so often framed as a something that is unnatural- as though a gender noncomforming person is just confused and hiding hir true nature. For instance, a state educator said:

"As educators, we have to do something about it before the young ones misunderstand people and reach the point of no return."

The mainstream assumption is that gender nonconforming kids have somehow been "indoctrinated" into being that way. What state officials invariably overlook are all of the ways mainstream narratives (and death penalties, prison terms, and special boot camps) indoctrinate and frighten people into being Real Men and Real Women.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Tennessee Anti-Reality Bill

[TW: Homophobia]

As you might have heard, a Tennessee Senate panel recently passed a "Don't Say Straight" bill that would prevent students from learning about heterosexuality in public elementary and middle schools.

When some heterosexuals expressed concerns about this bill fostering anti-heterosexual animus and preventing students from learning accurate information about sexual education, marriage, notable heterosexuals, and the fact that heterosexuality exists in the real world, Republican Senator Stacy Campfield, the bill's sponsor, noted:

"The bill is neutral. We should leave it to families to decide when it is appropriate to talk with children about sexuality- specifically before the eighth grade."

Oh wait. That didn't happen.

The Senate panel actually passed a "Don't Say Gay" bill that prevents students from learning anything at all about homosexuality in schools. Apparently, it is only the homosexual orientation that has anything to do with sexuality.

We know this because Michelle and Bob Duggar can parade themselves and their 19 (and counting!) proofs of coitus on national television and that's fine and dandy, but if a lesbian quietly notes to a co-worker that she has a partner she's the one who's Flaunting Her Sex Life In Everyone's Faces and Shoving Her Sexuality Down Everyone's Throats.

So yeah. That's the double-standard of hetero privilege right there.

Helpful Anti-Bigotry Hint: Ignoring reality doesn't make it go away.

Friday, April 22, 2011

New Illinois Law Pressures Catholic Agencies (To Stop Harming Kids)

Referring to Catholic adoption/foster agencies' refusal to place kids with same-sex couples, EWTN News (a Catholic news agency) reports:

"If a new civil unions law in Illinois shuts down Catholic adoption and foster care programs in the state, it will ultimately be harmful to those children in need, the Catholic Conference of Illinois says."

Let me just fix that spin:

If a new civil unions law in Illinois the hetero-supremacy and anti-gay prejudice of Catholic adoption and foster care programs shuts down Catholic adoption and foster care programs in the state, it will be ultimately harmful to those children in need, the Catholic Conference of Illinois those who believe same-sex parents are just as good as mixed-sex parents say.

There, all better now.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Gender Neutrality in the Bible, Again

The 2011 translation of the New International Version Bible (NIV) includes some gender neutral changes that are drawing criticism from some who believe that such changes "can alter the theological message."

Now, these changes apparently didn't involve anything as radical as, say, referring to god in gender neutral or hermaphroditic terms, mind you. They are changes that "avoid using 'he' or 'him' as the default reference to an unspecified person."

Nonetheless, the Legitimate Other Side to gender neutrality in the Bible was presented in this article by the patriarchalist Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) "an organization that believes women should submit to their husbands in the home and only men can hold some leadership roles in the church." A CBMW spokesman explains her* concern over changing the text of the Bible:

"Evangelicals believe in the verbal plenary inspiration of scripture. We believe every word is inspired by God, not just the broad thought," [Randy Stinson, president of CDMW] said.

Thus, like many critics of gender neutrality in the Bible, Stinson is arguing that making the Bible a bit more gender neutral results in making the Bible a less accurate reflection of "God's" word.

Yet, I was pleased (and honestly, surprised) to see that the AP article actually mentioned how, like, the Bible wasn't originally written in English, as that's a fun fact that some patriarchalist Christians seem not to know. One linguist explains:

"While the change to the generic 'man' in verses like Matthew 4:4 is applauded by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, linguist Joel M. Hoffman, author of 'And God Said — How Translations Conceal the Bible's Original Meaning,' said it is simply incorrect.

"'Anthropos' (the Greek word in the original text) means 'person,' plain and simple," he said. 'It's as much a mistake as translating 'parent' as 'father.'"
He doesn't buy the argument that 'man' is understood in English to refer to men and women.

'If you walk into a church on Sunday morning and say, 'Will every man stand up?' I would be shocked if the women stood up, too.'"

Now, it is true that some passages in the Bible are irredeemably sexist and oppressive toward women. Yet, it is also true that at least some passages could be redeemed to reflect a purported word of god that is, not only less male-centric, but also truer to the original texts.

Patriarchal Christians, however, are unwilling to make concessions that do not favor maintaining male supremacy. In insisting on "gender-neutral" masculine pronouns that are inconsistent with the original Greek, Patriarchal Christians do not concern themselves with the trivial matter of the demands it places on half of its congregants, who must do a translation of a translation of a translation just to see themselves reflected in the word of "God."

And so I would tell this subordinate, marginalized half: When patriarchalists say that their male-centric version of Christianity is more accurate, more divinely-ordained, than a gender neutral one, it's helpful to remember Mary Daly's maxim that "patriarchs are always the reverse of what they claim to be."

*Actually "him," but what's the harm in starting a trend of making "her" the default "gender-neutral," am I right? Soon enough, Everyone Will Just Know that "her" really means "her" and "him" (but really, usually just "her").


Gendered Language Shapes Our Minds

Critic of Biblical Gender Inclusion: Mansplaining Needed

Review: Out of the Silent Planet

"Gender Neutral Masculine" is an Oxymoron

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

"Marriage Defender" Accidentally Insults People Who Matter

[TW: Homophobia]

Via the anti-equality blogosphere, we get two diverging perspectives on the importance of community acceptance of relationships.

In Corner #1, we have Amber Lapp at the anti-equality-leaning Family Scholars Blog, speaking of her community of friends who are supportive of her heterosexual marriage:

"Doherty’s term, 'friends of marriage' captures the truth that marriage is, as sociologist Kai Erikson says, 'something of a community affair.' In his book Everything in its Path, Erikson elaborates by saying that marriage is '…validated by the community, witnessed by the community, commemorated by the community' (219) and that the community is almost like a magnetic force that can help to hold the couple together (or perhaps tear it apart).

Given this, I think that one thing that we can all do to lower the divorce rate is to 'befriend' the marriages of our friends and families—whether that means offering a listening ear, offering to babysit on a Friday night, or working cooperatively on a garden."

Although Lapp writes in a heteronormative context, I would agree with her that communities and friends are important in sustaining relationships. Isn't it community-building to want others to respect and support one of our most important relationships in life? Isn't it a sign of a healthy society if communities support and build up such relationships rather than tear them down?

Unfortunately, in Corner #2, anti-equality blogger "Playful Walrus" has a less charitable view of the importance of community affirmation and acceptance of intimate relationships. The compassionate Christian opines:

"Emotionally and mentally healthy adults do not care so much what other people think about their relationship or their sexual practices."


Of course, "Playful Walrus" made his comment in the context of telling everyone how awful, immature, crazy, and needy it is that same-sex couples seek community support and affirmation of our relationships.

It's sad, really, that this is a purportedly Christian man's view of community and relationships. Walrus likely doesn't believe he harbors ill-will toward LGB people or our relationships. And yet I wonder. Does he intend his cruel maxim on emotional and mental health to only apply to adults in same-sex marriages, or was he making a statement about adults in heterosexual marriages too?

To apply it only to those in same-sex marriages would indeed be prejudicial and bigoted of him. It would look an awful lot like anti-gay animus, in fact.

Yet, I suppose, since "marriage defenders" Aren't At All Bigoted Or Anything, we can logically infer that Playful Walrus just issued an equal opportunity insult to all married people who seek and appreciate community support of their relationships.

Whoops. So much for defending marriage.

Related: Anti-Gay Ordinance Accidentally Hurts People Who Matter.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

That HuffPo Class Action Suit

Former Huffington Post blogger Jonathon Tasini has filed a class action lawsuit against HuffPo and AOL. His claim is that HuffPo has been unjustly enriched by luring bloggers to contribute in exchange for exposure (rather than paychecks) and then selling the website to AOL for $315 million dollars.

My areas of legal expertise are not class action suits, but many commentators seem to think this case is a slam-dunk loser. Although, it should be noted that those providing such conclusions have rarely provided much in the way of legal analyses beyond iterating some sort of trusty argumentum ad gastrum that this lawsuit is dumb. Thus, these analyses don't deserve to be linked to.

One of the more compelling legal arguments I've read was from this guy, who noted that class action suits are proper only when all members of the class "are governed by the same rules." And so unfortunately for the HuffPo bloggers, nationwide unjust enrichment class actions "typically don't go anywhere, because unjust enrichment laws from state-to-state simply vary too much"- meaning the class action status (and claim for $105 million) would be denied.

Okay, I'll buy that.

I also think it's worth drawing attention to Tasini's over-the-top-ness in reference to this suit. He recently claimed:

“'In this case, blogger-creators are slaves on Arianna [Huffington's] plantation -- one that she built on the backs of thousands of creators,' Tasini told in an email. 'She marched away with her loot, and her Marie Antoinette response to polite requests that she share a portion of the value created by thousands of workers was, essentially, “screw you.”'

Even though I can't say for certain how this case will turn out, I am 99.9% confident in predicting one spoiler that discovery is bound to reveal: Huffpo bloggers weren't really slaves!

As a blogger-for-free myself, I am sympathetic to the plight of these bloggers. Yep, it certainly feels icky that HuffPo made a lot of money at least in part off of content its bloggers provided without providing the bloggers monetary compensation.

Yet, at the same time, the bloggers knew going in that they were not going to get paid in anything other than potential page views for their contributions. I remember receiving several email invites myself to become a HuffPo blogger, invites that I ultimately ignored because I didn't have an interest in contributing to a commercial website for free.

In fact, when I was somewhat new to blogging, I would regularly be asked to write guest posts or become a contributor to other (oftentimes commercial) blogs. At first, I was flattered. People liked me, they really really liked me! And so I did.

What I gradually came to realize was that emails from random people asking "will you write a guest post?" really often meant "I don't read your blog much but will you provide free labor to help my blog become more popular?" or "why don't you provide content for me to make money off of?"

*Farting noise*

I can and do write guest posts in collaboration with non-commercial, progressive bloggers who I have pre-existing bloggy relationships with. But, I think it's a good idea for bloggers to be aware of how they feel about other people making money off of their content who don't fork over a fair share of the profits. In general, if I know and trust a siteowner and blog community, I am okay (and honored) to guest post in exchange for wider exposure. If the request is a form email that feels like the blogging-equivalent of a Nigerian Prince scam, not so much.

This is internet. Many laws have not kept pace with the ever-evolving ways people are communicating now. At the same time, people and companies are going to exploit the gray areas, try to leach money from other people's talent, and/or take advantage of many writers' desire Get Discovered at a Hot Blog. I mean, my blog isn't even Big Time, but on a near-daily basis I receive emails asking if I'll put advertisements on my blog, to use and review random products (including dresses, make-up, and sex toys), or to provide links to commercial websites.

See what I spare ya'll from!

But seriously, I have consciously kept this space commercial-free because (a) many of us are bombarded enough with various forms of advertising and (b) I can write whatever I want without worrying about offending advertisers' delicate anti-feminist-anti-progressive sensibilities.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Just Some More Conservative Misandry

Maggie Gallagher recently riled up some of her anti-gay, anti-male readers over at the National Organization for [Heterosexual] Marriage blog. While lounging on her fainting couch, she tattles on Dan Savage for speaking frankly about sex, criticizing the Pope, and swearing. She writes:

"I suggested that Dan Savage's view of the world is influenced by his personal experience: he's a gay man. Finding another gay man who will accept that kind of deal may be hard, but it's not nearly as hard as finding a woman like that.

Applying gay male sexual ethics to opposite sex relationships is likely to result in some pretty bad advice--because women are different than men."

How, specifically, are men so very different from women? Well, let's hear it from frequent anti-gay commenter Marty opining away in the NOM blog comments, a locale that is quite the fever swamp of bigotry and paranoia these days:

"One thing Dan is very open and honest about, is that all men are basically pigs and perverts... No secret there, but he is more honest than most.

What he is blissfully ignorant of, is that women tame the savage beast within men, and raise us to a level of civilized behavior.

Of course he knows nothing of this, preferring to wallow in the pigsty with his own kind."

Apparently, it's a commonsensical self-evident truth that men are pigs and pervs who need mommy-wives to civilize them. Each woman is responsible for marrying and then training a husband-pet of her very own because, unlike women, men aren't grown-ups who are responsible for their own behavior! Rape, war, infidelity. It's women's fault for not being good enough zoo handlers.

Sounds enticing.

And by that I mean:

Worst. PR. Campaign. For "Traditional" Marriage. Ever.

Well done, Mags. Thanks for helping show that when it comes to actual, full-on man-hating, most feminists have nothing on the socially-conservative gender essentialists.

ps- MRAs, meet Marty. Marty, meet MRAs. Work this shit out amongst yourselves and stop taking the cheap, easy, and socially-sanctioned tactic of blaming feminists for "everyone's" shoddy view of men.

Related- The Meaning of Marriage: Protecting the Womenfolk Edition

Women: New Rules For Vigilance

Man Food, Again

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Pinnacle of Coaching

I have mixed thoughts about this article. In it, Jeff Pearlman argues that legendary basketball coach Pat Summitt (note for those unfamiliar: she's a very successful lady coach who coaches women's college basketball) should take over coaching the University of Tennessee's men's team.

He writes:

"Ever since [former Tennessee coach] Bruce Pearl's dishonorable dismissal on Monday, talk in Knoxville has swirled around possible replacements. Colorado's Tad Boyle. Belmont's Rick Byrd. Virginia Commonwealth's Shaka Smart. Marquette's Buzz Williams. The names are an empty-calorie collection of animated men in suits, pacing the sideline, barking out instructions, doing whatever it is coaches are supposed to do. They are, we have learned by now, a dime-a-dozen pack. Easy to find, easy to replace....

The Vols have become something of a joke; a place for unworthy men to land prestigious positions.

This, however, can change.

Pat Summitt has said in the past that she has little interest in coaching the men's game. In 37 seasons leading the Lady Vols, she's gone 1,070-198, winning eight national championships and seven coach of the year awards. She is a legend. An icon. A beloved, respected, one-of-a-kind coach who lacks the irksome cockiness of a Geno Auriemma or the we-need-to-cheat-to-win philosophical outlook of Pearl and so many other college coaches. Players swear by her goodness, assistants swear by her smarts, rivals swear by her relentlessness. In nearly four decades on the job, she has served as the school's greatest spokeswoman.

She is the University of Tennessee. Which is why, just maybe, this could work."

To state the obvious, sex-based average differences in body size, speed, and strength, which are used to justify sex-segregated athletic divisions, are not relevant with respect to coaching. Thus, it should be a given that women possess the competence to coach male athletes.

Yet, while it is common for men to coach women's college teams, especially after Title IX helped raise the status and pay of such jobs, it is still rare for women to coach men's teams. Fun fact: In 1972, 90% of women's teams had female coaches, while now only 42% do. Meanwhile, 2-3% of men's teams are coached by a woman (PDF). The next time some anti-Title IX crusader whines about how wrestling program got decimated due to the uppity female athletes, recite that statistic.

Anyway, on the one hand, I think it could be barrier-breaking for Pat Summit to coach Tennessee's men's team. I think it's a given that she would do it incredibly well. And, the doubling of her salary for doing the same job would be nice for her.

And yet, would it not do female athletes, and women's college basketball, a disservice to take (arguably) the best college basketball coach in the US away from women's basketball in service of an alleged Greater Purposes of (a) coaching men and (b) breaking a barrier?

While Pearlman raises a good point about mediocre "dime-a-dozen" male coaches who regularly get major coaching jobs, why does a lady have to be someone of Pat Summitt's elite caliber to even be considered as a viable candidate to coach a men's team?

I don't write this in opposition to Summitt taking a men's coaching job, I write it to question the unstated assumption that both men's basketball and male coaches are the Platonic ideal of athletic accomplishment in their respective categories.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Marriage Is A Benefit... Er, Sometimes...

Regarding (the now retired) Judge Vaughn Walker's ruling in California's federal Prop 8 case (Perry v. Schwarzenegger), in light of Walker's homosexuality, John C. Eastman* argues:

"Recusal is required by the code of judicial conduct if 'the judge's impartiality might reasonably be questioned,' such as when the judge knows that he 'has a financial ... or any other interest that could be affected substantially by the outcome of the proceeding.'

Not his sexual orientation, which alone would not require recusal, but the possibility that he could directly benefit from his ruling, raised the prospect that recusal may have been warranted. If the relationship [Walker was in] was such that it gave Walker a financial or other interest in the outcome of the proceeding -- and the ability to marry would certainly qualify -- recusal would be mandatory and non-waivable." (emphasis added)

Using this logic, no one at all would be able to rule on this issue, given that all of civilization directly benefits from a ban on same-sex marriage. /snark

But seriously, for one, I find this argumentation interesting insofar at it highlights the invisibile way that privilege operates and perpetuates itself. Although bans on same-sex marriage directly benefit heterosexuals by (a) lofting their marital relationships into a position of superiority relative to the relationships of same-sex couples and (b) doling state and federal benefits to such couples on LGB taxpayers' dimes, it has rarely if ever been seriously argued that heterosexual (or Catholic, Mormon, or Evangelical) judges recuse themselves from ruling on the legality of same-sex marriage bans.

Secondly, for some additional context, let's remember one of the closing arguments (PDF) made during the Prop 8 trial.

Ted Olson said: "[California] has rewritten its constitution in order to place [gays and lesbians] into a special disfavored category where their most intimate personal relationships are not valid, not recognized, and second rate. Their state has recognized them as unworthy of marriage, different and less respected."

Here, Olson was observing how Prop 8 took away same-sex couples' right to obtain marriage licenses and re-relegated them, instead, to domestic partnerships- a status that grants almost all of the state-level benefits and obligations of marriage.

Yet, in their 9th Circuit reply brief (PDF), Team Anti-Equality argued that partly because domestic partnerships confer many of the state-level benefits of marriage on same-sex couples, domestic partnerships "bear no resemblance to the 'separate-and-inherently-unequal' system of racially segregated education struck down in Brown v. Board of Education. And so, because marriage and domestic partnerships are almost the same thing and confer almost the same benefits, same-sex couples aren't actually harmed by being channeled into domestic partnerships.

(You know, other than not receiving all of those important federal benefits. Ho hum, thanks DOMA!)

So, what does Eastman's argument mean in the context of the larger Prop 8 case?

Well, if folks are going to go down this road of arguing that Walker's ruling be vacated because, as a gay man, he's likely to receive a "financial or other interest" due to the outcome of a case that is, in part, addressing the issue of whether gays would receive a "financial or other interest" from the institution of marriage, I daresay Team Anti-Gay is shooting themselves in the foot with this new contrived grievance.

*Fun fact: John Eastman, ironically, wrote an article about a gay judge's alleged "financial or other interest" in a same-sex marriage case while not disclosing his own "financial or other interest" with the National Organization for [Heterosexual] Marriage.

Related: Judge Walker's sexual orientation is a non-issue

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

To A Teacher

Recently, I learned that my history teacher from the 7th grade, Ms. S, passed away.

7th grade, for me, was a long time ago. But, I have always remembered Ms. S because of one specific moment in her class. For some context, I attended a public school in a small blue-collar Midwestern town comprised primarily of working-class white people. This town, like so many others like it, is often written off as racist, homophobic, ignorant, bigoted. And, indeed, those elements thrive, but like any town, it is not monolithic.

One day, in Ms. S's history class, a student, let's call him Chad, raised his hand and made a racist comment about Asian people. The comment was not particularly notable, mostly because similar comments about groups other than heterosexual white people were often made in school, at the mall, at bowling leagues, in the workplace, and in homes and it was business as usual. So, as much as I'd like to sit here and tell you that the 12-year-old me turned to Chad, wagged my finger, and gave him a stern lecture on the inappropriateness of racist "humor," I am sure I laughed along with the rest of the class.

Why I remember Ms. S is because she was the first grown-up in my life to call out and object to racism, or any sort of -ism, while in the midst of those who accepted it as the status quo. Being a buzzkill like that isn't always easy to do, even though many of us are conscious of how silence acts as complicity in these -isms.

While the class laughed at the racist "joke," Ms. S stared blankly at the student who made it. Once the laughter died down, she said "That is racist, and I will absolutely not tolerate racism in this class. Chad, please go sit in the hall."

That shut us up.

Just as those who are oppressed in some way (or ways) based on aspects of our identity experience microaggressions that further belittle, marginalize, and hurt us, I believe too that perhaps the road to progress, for some- certainly for me- is paved with microprogressions.

Living in a racist, sexist, homophobic, ableist, etc, society, it is easy to internalize these -isms, -isms that are then, if we are not vigilant and purposeful, reflected in our speech and our thoughts. We echo these -isms with ease if they are not confronted, challenged, and called out for what they are, because believe it or not, progressives don't spring forth fully-enlightened from the womb.

Being a progressive, I think, means being open to the notion that we harbor privilege and -isms not because we are necessarily Horrible People but because we live in a society that teaches us to cling to privilege and -isms. It means being open to the idea that it's worse to be sexist, say, than to be told that we might have just said something sexist.

Ms. S's obituary noted that she had and taught respect for all life and that she loved teaching history because she didn't want humanity to be condemned to repeat past mistakes. I am grateful that Ms. S not only respected all life, but that she had the moral courage to actually do so when it counted.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

You Know What's Awesome?

When people of power and influence don't pander to privilege.

Via AfterEllen, some person on Twitter accused Grey's Anatomy (a show which I lurve) producer Shonda Rhimes of "pander[ing] to the gay/lesbian community."

Her crime?

Having one same-sex couple be in the mix of, like, 52 heterosexual relationships and hookups. I mean, seriously, have you seen Grey's? If there is any pandering, it is aimed at people who have sex in the workplace! (Pander pander pander. That just sounds dirty.)

Anyway, Rhimes responded:

"...[O]ne of the reasons I cast the show the way I did is because I like to turn on the TV and see people who look like me living in a world of diversity. I'm betting there's a lesbian girl out there who likes to turn on the TV and see people who love like her too.

So, you know, yeah I just went all ranty, but come on. Love is universal. Life is universal. Grow up and stop complaining and stop hating on a storyline because the characters are different from you. Because THAT? Is ridiculous."


Also, via Shakesville (via Phyrra), game company Bioware recently took some heat from one Straight Male Gamer for supposedly neglecting the main gaming demographic of straight white guys by including non-heterosexual romance options in the game "Dragon Age 2."

In reponse, Bioware wrote:

"The romances in the game are not for 'the straight male gamer.' They’re for everyone. We have a lot of fans, many of whom are neither straight nor male, and they deserve no less attention. We have good numbers, after all, on the number of people who actually used similar sorts of content in DAO and thus don’t need to resort to anecdotal evidence to support our idea that their numbers are not insignificant… and that’s ignoring the idea that they don’t have just as much right to play the kind of game they wish as anyone else. The “rights” of anyone with regards to a game are murky at best, but anyone who takes that stance must apply it equally to both the minority as well as the majority. The majority has no inherent “right” to get more options than anyone else.

More than that, I would question anyone deciding they speak for 'the straight male gamer' just as much as someone claiming they speak for 'all RPG fans', 'all female fans' or even 'all gay fans'. You don’t. If you wish to express your personal desires, then do so. I have no doubt that any opinion expressed on these forums is shared by many others, but since none of them have elected a spokesperson you’re better off not trying to be one. If your attempt is to convince BioWare developers, I can tell you that you do in fact make your opinion less convincing by doing so.

And if there is any doubt why such an opinion might be met with hostility, it has to do with privilege. You can write it off as 'political correctness' if you wish, but the truth is that privilege always lies with the majority. They’re so used to being catered to that they see the lack of catering as an imbalance. They don’t see anything wrong with having things set up to suit them, what’s everyone’s fuss all about? That’s the way it should be, any everyone else should be used to not getting what they want."

Much appreciation to both Rhimes and Bioware.

*rolls away on rollerskate shoes to go play Dragon Age*

Monday, April 11, 2011

Another One Down

[TW: Homophobia]

6,999,998 to go.

Elite "Marriage Defenders" who have built careers out of getting Americans to feel good about opposing same-sex marriage have claimed that it "defames" those who believe in "traditional marriage" to suggest that they, and the 7 million voters who upheld California's anti-equality Proposition 8, have anything less than benign motives for doing so.

It's not so much that American "marriage defenders" think same-sex couples or gay people are inferior to heterosexuals, they claim, it's just that they think every marriage should contain a man and a woman.

Well, oopsies. Again.

It turns out that Prop 8 plaintiffs Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier were "subjected to more than a dozen antigay voice mails during the 2010 trial." These messages echoed the big "non-bigoted" anti-equality talking point about how the purpose of marriage is procreation:

“'You stinkin’ lesbos make me sick,' the caller, identified by multiple sources as [Gregory Lee] Giusti, said in one voice mail to Stier and Perry. 'I hope you lose your case. ... Marriage is between one man and one woman only. That’s the way God arranged it, set it up. Two people of the same sex cannot procreate. And no, getting yourself artificially inseminated is not procreation in God’s eyes. Or two faggots can’t procreate no matter how much you want to [expletive] each other.'

In another, Giusti told the couple, who have children, ' think that’s really disgusting that you’re raising, um, kids, I think the law should state lesbos and faggots shouldn’t be around kids. ...

'I hope you enjoy burning in hell, for that’s where you’re going to go when you die, for the Bible clearly states that lesbianism and homosexuality is an abomination in God’s eyes,' Giusti said. 'And you can tell those other faggots doing the case with you that I hope they both die of AIDS.'”

Now, this fact doesn't erase the unfortunate reality that some opponents of same-sex marriage were also harassed. But, it does counter the anti-equality, anti-gay narrative that it was primarily "marriage defenders" who were harassed and fearful during the Prop 8 campaign and trial.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Quote of the Day

Via G-A-Y, Louis Marinelli, who earned notoriety last summer for his work with the anti-equality National Organization for [Heterosexual] Marriage (NOM) and its somewhat-pathetic Summer of Marriage Tour:

"Ironically, one of the last tour stops added to the itinerary was Atlanta and I bring this site up because it was in Atlanta that I can remember that I questioned what I was doing for the first time. The NOM showing in the heart of the Bible-belt was dismal and the hundreds of counter-protesters who showed up were nothing short of inspiring.

Even though I had been confronted by the counter-protesters throughout the marriage tour, the lesbian and gay people whom I made a profession out of opposing became real people for me almost instantly. For the first time I had empathy for them and remember asking myself what I was doing....

In December I came out in support of the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. I also removed the admins I had delegated my moderating duties to for my [NOM] Facebook page.

Having done that, I had to pick up where they left off. I was largely taken aback by the fact that the page I created had become such a hateful place. My comments are rhetoric paled in comparison to what that place had turned into. I began to understand why the gay community was out there claiming opposition to same-sex civil marriage was all about hate.

I soon realized that there I was surrounded by hateful people; propping up a cause I created five years ago, a cause which I had begun starting to question. This would be timeline point number three. I wanted to extend an olive branch in some way and started to reinstate those who had been banned by previous administrators of my page. I welcomed them to participate on the page and did what I could do erase the worst comments and even ban those who posted them.

Also, I started regularly conversing with same-sex marriage supporters in another Facebook group. This further solidified my new perception of gays and lesbians as real people, not some faceless political opponent. That could be considered the next point on the timeline....

The negative thing about NOM’s work is that it diverts our attention from what is important to preventing a group of people from obtaining civil marriage licenses. We have to stop seeing things in black and white all the time and that is, I’m afraid, what NOM does in terms of marriage. The world isn’t black and white, it’s yellow, it’s green, it’s purple, it’s red, orange, it’s blue. It is, in fact, all of the colors of the rainbow and that’s what makes up our world and that’s why the rainbow flag represents not only the gay rights movement but the diversity the gay community brings to this world."

In part because of his work and experiences with NOM, Marinelli now supports civil marriage equality. His support is much appreciated, even though there are problematic aspects of his other views regarding homosexuality. It will be interesting to see how NOM reacts to Marinelli's flip.

ps- Dear NOM, Whooooops!

You Could Be Dying... Or Not... But Maybe

In Health News of the Unhelpful Yet Scary, CNN presents "When a headache really is a brain tumor." After relaying the story of one teen whose headache ended up being a symptom of basically the Worst Type Of Brain Tumor Ever, the article helpfully informs us:

"Of course, there's no simple way to tell whether your headache is a brain tumor, but doctors do have some red flags. Before reading them, there are some important points to remember. First, 50%-60% of all people with brain tumors don't have headaches at all, Barnett says. Second, your headaches could fall into all these red flag categories and you could not have cancer. Third, your headaches could fall into none of these categories and you could still have a brain tumor."

Fourth, if you get headaches, it might or might not be cancer. But even if you don't have headaches, you could have cancer anyway. Although, not necessarily.

Hope this helps!

ps- Don't. Panic.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Family Matters

Wahoo, Personal Anecdote Time!

I have mentioned before that a close relative of my girlfriend's is very religious and is a member of the clergy in a Christian sect that discriminates against women (in ordination) and same-sex couples (in marriage). Shortly after my girlfriend and I attended, celebrated, and helped organize, this man's heterosexual wedding, he sent a mass communication to his friends and congregation urging them to sign the anti-gay Manhattan Declaration.

Now, I support the right for religious organizations to not recognize same-sex marriage. I have no interest in being a part of a religious sect that believes my basic humanity and relationship to my girlfriend is inferior to heterosexual lives and relationships. I tolerate, say, the Catholic Church's refusal to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies, even if I do not agree with it.

Yet, I also believe that if the government is going to recognize marriage, it must recognize same-sex marriage in addition to heterosexual marriage. And, likewise, religious organizations should tolerate the state's recognition of same-sex marriage, even if they do not agree with it. Religious organizations do not own the institution of marriage.

Unfortunately, the Manhattan Declaration fails this basic test of tolerance, declaring that it is incumbent upon Brave and Awesome Christians to deny same-sex couples state-issued marriage licenses. In this way is Christian "tolerance" a one-way street. Non-Christians and same-sex couples can and do tolerate Christian intolerance of concepts like Treating People Equally within religious ceremonies and leadership, but Christians frame it as a violation of their own religious freedom when they are expected to tolerate the government treating people equally.

I find being around this double-standard to be psychologically harmful. Just as many batterers view themselves as victims rather than perpetrators of abuse, powerful religious groups use their moral capital to declare Others immoral, sinful, and inferior while simultaneously framing these relatively powerless groups as Incredibly Powerful And Dangerous. And thus, when, say, a gay person is in their midst, they give themselves Big-Time Props for not, like, stoning us on their altars.

As a child, I could not escape homophobic situations. As an adult, I can and do consciously limit my interactions with homophobia. So, while I will attend funerals at discriminatory religious institutions, and have attended the occasional wedding at such venues, I do not attend other religious services or ceremonies at un-affirming institutions.

So, back to the religious relative. In the near future, a religious ceremony is going to take place that, apparently, is a Big Deal that many people in the family are attending. Attending this ceremony, for me, would mean taking vacation time, buying a plane ticket, and then ultimately observing a ceremony, the purpose of which is to celebrate this family's choice to raise their child in an institution that tells hir that other members of their family (and more than half of the world's population) are inferior to heterosexual men.

Okay. That's their choice. I can tolerate that from afar. As happy as I am for them about the impending birth of their child and as excited as I am to meet the child, is it unreasonable to choose not to attend this religious ceremony?

On the one hand, as the Lesbian Partner (as opposed to the lawfully-wedded wife), I am already somewhat of an outsider to this family. By not attending such events, I further alienate myself and reinforce the notion that I'm not a "real" part of the family.

But on the other, as a lesbian and a feminist, I find it challenging to reconcile (a) wanting to be recognized as part of the family with (b) wanting to celebrate Important Family Events, with (c) not wanting to implicitly support a religion that is oppressive toward women and LGBT people.

And, once I'm brutally honest with myself, I find that I begin to question how much it is worth to earn acceptance from those who not only tolerate intolerance, but expect one to be complicit in it in order for that person to viewed as a Real Family Member.

I think, the older I have gotten, the more I have come to value the family, friends, and community that I have consciously created, joined, and become a part of by choice. As I gradually began to let go of the idea that unhealthy family interactions had to be endured because of shared bloodlines, I began to heal.

I'm not saying that works for everyone, just that it is what works for me.

So my question to you is, if you are a feminist, woman, LGBT person, and/or atheist, how do you negotiate going to Important Family Events that are religiously-based, sexist, and/or homophobic?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

What Other Men Do

Conservative Jonah Goldberg recently got a forum in the LA Times to tell us that feminism is over in the US and that it's time for feminists to start thinking about how Other men in Other countries are oppressing Other women. He writes:

"Feminism as a 'movement' in America is largely played out. The work here is mostly done...

The good news for those who want to continue the fight for women is that there is plenty of work left to do — abroad.

The plight of women in other countries is not only dire, it's central to global poverty and the war on terrorism. Jihadism is largely a male problem. This shouldn't be a surprise, given that jihadis commit mass murder in pursuit of a virgin bonus in the afterlife.

Islamist extremism and oppression of women go hand in hand."

First off, anyone else find it odd that he frames women's oppression overseas as "good news"? Good news for who, bub? I mean, he says this is "good news" for "those who want to continue the fight for women" sort of like we who actually do this feminism stuff do it for all of the shits and giggles, as though we wouldn't actually rather be playing Xbox or pinochle or 16-inch softball. So, I think what he meant to say is that it would be "good news" for those who find feminism annoying if we feminists took our overly-PC whiny ways elsewhere.

Accordingly, in his piece, Goldberg suggests that we export US-style feminism into Muslim societies, because gender relations in the US represent the true model of women's emancipation.

This colonialist narrative is not new.

Feminist and Muslim scholar Leila Ahmed has noted that beginning in the late 19th century, Victorian colonialists began co-opting the language of Western feminism to condemn the cultures of Other men while at the same time fighting feminism within their own culture. The Muslim treatment of women became a symbol for everything that was inferior and backwards about Muslim culture and was contrasted with the European way of theoretically putting "the fairer sex" on a pedestal.

Thus, at Shakesville, where I first read of Goldberg's piece, I speculated that we should be wary of a self-described conservative man's concern for the status of Other women while he simultanously pontificates on how Western women don't need feminism any longer. I specifically wondered the extent to which Goldberg has supported feminsim in his own backyard. After all, isn't it cheap and easy for men to point fingers at how Other men are treating Other women?

And, lest any dudes get too defensive here, my point in wondering this is about more than noting the impropriety of a man, and a privileged conservative one at that, declaring feminism's work to be "mostly done" in the US. If that gets your knickers in a bunch, focus instead on the wariness with which women might have of Western anti-feminists/non-feminists using the language of feminism with the goal of replacing an Islamic patriarchy with a Judeo-Christian one. Or, with a "liberal" Girls Gone Wild! one. Or, with one that tells us in some new way that women are weak and speshul while men are strong and dispensable. Or, basically, with any other culture that perpetuates a hierarchical gender binary rife with gender stereotyping.

Well, Goldberg has offered some clarifications about where he stands on feminism. My suspicions were not unfounded. He writes:

"Meanwhile, some readers on the right claim that little to nothing good has ever come from feminism. I am more than open to the idea that many bad things have come from feminism. I know it in my bones. I am on the same page as Kathryn, Kate O'Beirne, et al. on most of these issues. But it strikes me as lunacy to talk of feminism in the broadest sweep of things as monolithically negative if by feminism you mean the generic movement for female equality. Yes, the guild of professional feminists has done many bad things and at times have seemed at war with everything that is lovely and lovable about the fairer sex."

Given that Goldberg is "on the same page" with virulent anti-feminists like Kate O'Beirne, of Women Who Make the World Worse: and How Their Radical Feminist Assault Is Ruining Our Schools, Families, Military, and Sports notoriety, don't you now really wonder what the "feminism" Goldberg wants to export looks like?

Given that he uses mansplainy dog-whistle phrases like how he just knowwwws things "in [his] bones" about the suckiness of feminism, don't you think he might actually want to export conservative anti-feminist feminism to Other cultures? And, given that he uses asinine phrases like "the guild of professional feminists" (really, that's a thing? And where's my card dammit?) and "everything that is lovely and lovable about the fairer sex," don't you start to get the impression that he might see Muslim countries as, I don't know, a fertile ground to sprout a Republic of Gilead?

So, as much as Goldberg might want feminists to jump on his Save The Other Women bandwagon, I'm not at all comfortable being a well-intentioned collaborator in exporting America's sexist, conservative-style, gender-complementarist, wannabe-feminism to Other cultures. I wonder how much of a victory Western colonialism can be for women when the feminism that gets exported lies somewhere on the continuum of "Muslims make their women stay home and veiled" to Kate O'Beirne's "[Women] want to [stay home]. Hel-lo? [Women] want to do it!"

While it's a plus that O'Beirne replaces stones with shame, let's not pretend either option gives a woman the agency to act in the public sphere without feeling like less of a woman for doing so.

See also:

Conservative anti-feminists on "American Woman"

Catherine Bennett: "Women are often the losers when the west weighs in"

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Book Review: Women and Gender In Islam

[TW: Sexual assault]

First off, thanks to reader EDB5Fold for recommending that I read author Leila Ahmed, PhD, whose book Women and Gender In Islam is the focus of this post. I chose to read this book primarily because it is a historical account of the status of women in the Middle East that is written by a Muslim feminist woman from Egypt.

On that note, anti-feminists, MRAs, and other such folks continually mock and criticize Western feminists for failing to adequately address the Plight of Middle Eastern Women. But, before we begin wholesale exporting Western feminism into the Middle East, it would be an understatement to say that maybe the perspectives of Muslim feminists and women in the Middle East should be taken into account regarding that matter.

So, that point is a good intro to Ahmed's arguments. (All quotes from Women and Gender in Islam unless otherwise noted). In her chapter "Discourse of the Veil," Ahmed notes that women "emerged as the centerpiece of the Western narrative of Islam in the nineteenth century, and in particular in the later nineteenth century, as Europeans established themselves as colonial powers in the Muslim countries" (150). Ahmed traces how colonial narratives simultaneously and hypocritically perpetuated the Victorian English narrative that European men were superior to women while also denigrating Muslim culture for being oppressive to women.

That is, Victorian colonists "appropriated the language of feminism in the service of its assault on the religions and cultures of Other men... at the very same time as it combated feminism within its own society" (152). It's the classic anti-feminist bait-and-switch that we still see from today's Western anti-feminist and anti-Muslim bigots who bark: "Don't criticize us, criticize Them."

The veil, "to Western eyes" then became "the most visible marker of the differentness and inferiority of Islamic societies" (152). Christian missionaries sought to save Muslim women by attacking the custom of veiling and converting women to the (also male-centric and sexist) religion of Christianity. The fundamental premise of some Western (purported) feminist narratives was that veiling was oppressive and that, therefore, Western-style male dominance should replace Islamic-style male dominance (162).

Most colonialists- whether patriarchal men, missionaries, or purported feminists- assumed that saving Muslim women must entail ridding Islamic societies of all "native religions, customs, and dress" because European society was superior (154). The Muslim resistance to this colonialism, then, supported veiling, not necessarily as a symbol of female subordination, but as a reaction against colonization and assumptions of European supremacy.

In more contemporary times, Ahmed explains that the veil can have the practical effect "carv[ing] out legitimate public space" for women, where they can interact with men "without cost to their reputation" in societies that are beginning to integrate the public spheres (224). The veil can "declare women's presence in public space to be in no way a challenge to or a violation of the Islamic sociocultural ethic" (224). Thus, with nuance, does Ahmed aptly explain that to view the veil as signifying anti-feminism is to grossly oversimplify.

As a radical feminist who is religiously agnostic, I am not exactly the biggest fan of organized religion, particularly the three major androcentric monotheistic faiths. And, lest you think Ahmed lets Muslims off the hook for perpetuating female oppression, she doesn't. She is a harsh critic, but her criticisms are aimed more at fundamentalists who overlook Islam's "ethical voice" of equality in favor of an oppressive fundamentalist version that adherents are, when pressed for details, pretty uninformed about (observations that could aptly be made of Christianity and fundamentalist Christians as well).

She lambasts the historical "male-engendered debate about women, with its fixation on the veil," which in contrast to female-authored narratives, "often seem[ed] preoccupied with abstractions and oblivious of the appalling human cost to women and children and ultimately to men exacted by the male dominance enshrined in the laws and institutions of Arab societies" (183). She critiques Islamic family law policies- like polygamy and divorce laws- that give men almost total control over women and children. She observes that laws depriving women of the right to participate politically and earn a living are explicit in some states (231).

Although, Ahmed also acknowledges that "[w]hatever the source or sources a fierce misogyny was a distinct ingredient of Mediterranean and eventually Christian thought in the centuries immediately preceding the rise of Islam" (35). That is, misogyny was and is hardly unique to Islam.

Ahmed ends by suggesting that there is a need for a feminism that is "vigilantly self-critical and aware of its historical and political situatedness if we are to avoid becoming unwitting collaborators in racist ideologies whose costs to humanity have been no less brutal than those of sexism" (247). I find that that suggestion resonates with my instincts, even if I could not fully articulate them.

I have long been uncomfortable with US leaders, particularly those who are anti-feminist, co-opting the language of feminism for (alleged) purposes of justifying war in the Middle East and mandating an end to veiling. For, if the ultimate goal of invasion is to civilize Backwards Muslim Countries(tm), is it really a feminist victory to replace one androcentric culture and religion with another?

Would it be, say, a feminist victory to unveil women in Iran and begin importing an American Girls Gone Wild! culture? What about importing a fundamentalist patriarchal Christian culture? Is it a feminist victory to eradicate the oppressive Taliban by using the US military, a military imbued with a large sexual assault problem, and defense contractors who shield their employees from being prosecuted for rape?

I think, in general, it would be a nice change if conversations about Western feminism's role in Saving (or Not) Middle Eastern Women took these issues and complexities into account.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Anti-Feminists Condemn Feminists For Condemning Maher's Sexism

Grab your barf bags everyone, a Concerned Woman For America is telling her FoxNews audience that The Feminists do not adequately defend Sarah Palin from sexism. Penny Young Nance, CEO of the rightwing anti-feminist Concerned Women For America (CWA), writes:

"It takes a really weak, insecure, and spineless man to attack a woman on television. It takes an even weaker 'feminist' movement to play down such attacks.
In a recent episode of 'Somebody, Please Notice Me,' also known as 'Real Time with Bill Maher' on HBO, the show’s host may have hit rock bottom with his latest rhetorical bomb by referring to Sarah Palin with a vulgarity exceedingly offensive to women. Far more noticeable, and certainly more noteworthy, was the backhanded 'defense' of Palin from radical feminists and their clearly misnamed organizations.

National Organization for Women communications director Lisa Bennett, after days of silence, sounded more as if she didn’t want to be bothered: 'Sorry, but we can’t defend Palin or even Hillary Clinton from every sexist insult hurled at them in the media.'”

Two things.

First, Nance frames this alleged feminist failure to counter sexism as being worse ("far more noticeable, and certainly more noteworthy") than actual sexism. Maher calls a woman a "twat" on his show, and that's bad. But what's worse big is that feminists have apparently not adequately responded, which then provides cover for the rightwing woman-haters' club to use Maher's slur to further their smear campaign against feminism.

Two, on that point, Nance selectively includes only a very small portion of Lisa Bennett's response which can easily be found at the NOW Blog, a portion that conveniently omits Bennett's condemnation of misogynistic slurs. Bennett writes:

"Listen, supposedly progressive men (ok, and women, too): Cut the crap! Stop degrading women with whom you disagree and/or don't like by using female body terms or other gender-associated slurs. OK? Can you do that, please? If you think someone's an idiot or a danger to the country, feel free to say so, but try to keep their sex out of it. Sexist insults have an impact on all women."

Not that this easily-found post stops Nance from tossing ping-pong balls into the Making Shit Up Bucket of Bozo the Clown's Grand Prize Game. In her zeal to undercut feminism, she goes on to claim that this alleged "silence" from the "radical feminists" is part of some sort of trend, a double-standard, that makes feminists "delusional," "clueless," and "irrelevant." Thus, she advises:

"All women, regardless of their political persuasions need to speak out against these kinds of attacks because they harm everyone who is female from age 2 – 92..."

No shit, Sherlock.

Also, what NOW said. Although, why does Nance say it's only up to women to speak out against these slurs? Oh right, let's not upset Daddy by holding men to the same basic standard of civility that we hold women to, eh Nance?

For, look who else likes to jump on the anti-feminist anti-woman bandwagon: A male FoxNews ignoramus/ignorer of feminism, who wrote in his column that of course it's too much to expect NOW to "man up" and denounce Maher.

Get it? Get. It? An organization of women can't "man up" and be expected to Do The Right Thing.

Hmmm, do you think Nance is going to call her anti-feminist bro out for that sexism? To borrow that nifty soundbite from Nance's anti-feminist screed: Let's cue the proverbial crickets.

See, the thing about Nance is that while I agree with her on the point about how we must denounce sexist attacks on all women, in the very next clause of her sentence she's either being a mendacious liar or an ignorant fool with a large platform. Acting like the ego-centric 3-year-old who closes her eyes and thinks that just because she can't see anyone else then no one else can see her, she claims:

"...[T]he prevailing view among radical feminists seems to be that conservative women either don’t exist or are merely female impersonators. They don’t deserve to be defended when attacked because, after all, real women don’t hold conservative views.

So if you’re a woman leader with conservative positions on the issues, and you’re active in your church and speak out about matters of faith, and you get demeaned, demonized, slurred, or smeared, the radical feminist attitude toward you is, 'You get what you deserve, because we, frankly, have the same opinion of you.'”


In the real world governed by real things that really happen, it is an observable and demonstrated fact that feminists regularly call for all people to speak out against sexist attacks against all women. But, even demonstrated instances of condemnation are not enough to those determined to denounce feminists as hyprocrites. Inevitably, feminist condemnations of sexism directed at conservative women are framed as too slow, too insincere, or not loud enough.

And so here I wonder if Nance actually reads feminist work or feminist blogs. Because, in my humble experience of actually reading many feminist blogs on a daily basis, I cannot think of one that even remotely has the attitude that it's acceptable to call conservative women "cunts" and "twats." I wonder too, if that little fact even matters to people like Nance.

Yet, feminists regularly condemn sexist attacks on women even if when it's not politically expedient to do so and even when doing so turns us into the BonerBuzzKills of liberal and progressive movements. The thing is, unlike Nance, we don't usually get a platform on FoxNews or Bill Maher's show to do so.

And on that point, do a find and replace and look at the serious projection that's revealed:

"If you're a feminist and you get demeaned, demonized, slurred, or smeared, the mainstream, liberal, and conservative attitude toward you is 'You get what you deserve, because we, frankly, have the same opinion of you."

Friday, April 1, 2011

Creating Gender

"Based on our understanding of Biblical teachings, we affirm the following:
1. Both Adam and Eve were created in God's image, equal before God as persons and distinct in their manhood and womanhood.
2. Distinctions in masculine and feminine roles are ordained by God as part of the created order, and should find an echo in every human heart."
-Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood website

"We, as Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical Christians, have gathered, beginning in New York on September 28, 2009, to make the following declaration....Some who enter into same-sex and polyamorous relationships no doubt regard their unions as truly marital. They fail to understand, however, that marriage is made possible by the sexual complementarity of man and woman, and that the comprehensive, multi-level sharing of life that marriage is includes bodily unity of the sort that unites husband and wife biologically as a reproductive unit." -Manhattan Declaration

"I think these men are not human. No, no that's wrong- I decided long ago that they weren't human.... They are riddled with duality and the fear of duality. And the fear of themselves. I think it's in their blood. What human being would- sweating in fear and rage- mark out two equally revolting paths and insist that her fellow creatures tread one or the other?"-Jael Reasoner, in The Female Man

In Joanna Russ's science fiction work, The Female Man, Jael Reasoner comes from a world in which men and women are in a war with each other and live in a sex-segregated society. In the men's society, a fraction of the boys are forced to undergo surgeries to castrate and "feminize" them.

By creating the fixed sex class of women and two separate paths for men and women, manhood was thus given meaning, supremacy, and importance. Manhood, in the male society, was defined, primarily, by Not Being A Woman. Women existed primarily to sexually service and reflect the magnificence and centrality of men. The men lived seemingly ignorant of the fact that they had created and then imposed this artificial duality upon themselves, a duality that caused them to then repress the "feminine" within themselves.

In the real world, in 16th-century Italy, "women were not allowed to sing in the church, sanctioned by St. Paul’s injunction in his letter to the Corinthians (I Corinthians 14:34): 'let your women keep silence in the churches for it is not permitted for them to speak…'” Despite the ban on women, a feminized class of singers was needed to perform "woman." Thus:

"Soprano parts were taken either by young boys with good voices and musical ability or by male contraltos i.e. falsettists. This solution was less than satisfactory in the case of young boys since their voices lacked the strength and timbre of an adult and the investment in training was lost when their voices 'broke' during puberty."

The obvious solution to the man-made problem of women being "unavailable" for singing parts, then, was to employ human castration "in the service of vocal art."

In both our world and Jael's world, in order to assure the supremacy of men, a class of people had to be created who could perform femininity without actually possessing the contamination of inferiority of those who had been born female. Both sets of male supremacists peddled, and continue to peddle, the myth of gender complementarity, which posits that all people born male are masculine and all people born female are feminine, the "logical" conclusion of which is that any male/female combination comprises a complete, perfect whole of human being.

Yet, if the very purpose of each society's imposed surgeries was to create a class of male humans who could and did effectively perform femininity, which is conflated with biological femaleness, isn't the entire theory of inherent gender complementarism rendered null?


But despite this ironic consequence of transgendering for male supremacist purposes, both patriarchal societies continued to operate under the mistaken belief that sex/gender duality comes from god, nature, or some other entity outside of humanity.

To answer Jael's speculation, complementarists are indeed human. Their problem is that they deem themselves gods.