Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Catholic Church Envisions "New Feminism"

That paragon of feminism that is the Catholic Church has recently called for a "new feminism" which seeks to promote human rights. Such an aim, of course, is nothing new for what could be thought of as "old feminism" (whatever that is), but I applaud the Catholic Church's sentiment. It's refreshing to see the patriarchs recognize the important role that uterus-humans can play in promoting human rights.

According to the linked article, the Catholic Church's so-called "new feminism" aims to be motivated by "love," "hope," and a "spirit of joy." Unfortunately, this Very Important Womanly Role essentially involves protecting the rights of fetuses:

"The pope said that suppressing, manipulating or compromising human life -- especially in its most vulnerable stages -- must be 'decried as a violation of human rights.'"

Upon reading this, is anyone else reminded of that saying about pigs and lipstick? It sure looks like the Catholic Church is taking an old policy of men telling women what to do with their bodies and trying to re-brand it as something "new." Yet, there really is nothing new about the Catholic Church promoting an anti-choice ideology.

Anyway, in a great irony, a spokesewoman continued:

"Today's generation can spark a new liberation movement so that no one -- born or unborn -- is discriminated against and so that there would be equal opportunity for everyone...." [emphasis added]

What a laudable goal. The Catholic Church certainly has its work cut out for "herself," doesn't "she"? Hopefully, the church will direct some of these newfangled feminist ideas inward towards the men in charge, rather than just outward, at women.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Why Women Are Religious: An Evolutionary Argument

I have written several previous posts critiquing male-centric religions that dominate today. One of the reasons that I am not Christian, Jewish, or Muslim is that I don't think it is appropriate or accurate to personify the supreme deity as some sort of male being. What I always have less trouble understanding is how other women do so quite willingly. In her article "Why Women Are Bound to Religion: An Evolutionary Perspective," R. Elisabeth Cornwell, PhD explores this question while drawing from evolutionary ideas. Specifically, she asks:

"While religions throughout history have mutated, gone extinct, and propagated -- the position of women within their ever expanding reach has usually fared poorly. Yet, women are far more likely to be religious, attend religious services, and inculcate their children with their beliefs. Why are women so willing to give in to religious dogma and subject themselves to the degradations often inflicted upon them?"

Conrwell begins to answer this question by noting that men and women differ physically and hormonally. Furthermore, as the human brain grew, humans developed the need for an extended childhood and, subsequently, the need to be taken care of for longer periods of time than other mammals. Due to this vulnerability, women had to rely on the support of other women and the support of men in order to ensure the survival of their offspring. As Cornwell writes, "With this in mind, we can begin to understand why it is so essential for women to fit into their social group. Exclusion would have meant extinction since those women who could not live in accord with the other members of their group would have had fewer or no descendants."

She goes on to argue that the same concept is at work today:

"Religion creates the illusion of kinship, and kinship is crucial to a woman's reproductive success. Even today, single mothers (and fathers) who receive support from family often avoid many of the pitfalls that single parents without support endure."

I think this argument is interesting. While some conservatives and religious folks argue that men and women are "complementary" and that's why all children need a mother and a father, Cornwell's evolutionary argument suggests that human survival throughout history was due more to the provision of social support to the mother or primary caretaker. Furthermore, religion does provide a built-in support network and, in small communities especially, I can see how it would be scary to be excluded from such a network. For many women, it seems, the practical benefits of having this kinship system would outweigh the less tangible harm of belonging to a very male-centric religious community.

For atheism, agnosticism, secular humanism, and any other belief system to truly compete with today's monotheistic male-centric religions, they will have to provide community, kinship, and social support.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Public Service Announcement and Some Good News

Via Jimmy Kimmel Live, Portia de Rossi:

I thought it was funny. And, I do have to say that, perhaps due to the gay tendency to be creative, our side is at least more funny than the "marriage defense" side in all of its Doom And Gloom The World Is Ending Glory.

In other news, Americans may be right about the direction of our nation but, even if they're not, I'd rather be surrounded by optimistic people than a bunch of Debbie Downers:

I am officially on vacation the rest of this week so blog posts may or may not be forthcoming the next few days.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Marriage Equality Resources

What follows is a post I wrote many months ago but never posted. Its purpose was to counter a common misperception that particular "marriage defender"holds about LGBT bloggers and those of us who advocate for marriage equality. I want to post this resource list today because I see that many "marriage defenders" hold this misconception about the marriage equality side. In short, they take the attitude that we "attack" them as bigots more than we ever address their arguments. In reality, I don't think "marriage defenders" who really believe this are looking very hard for our arguments if this is what they believe.

Thus, I thought it would be appropriate to create a little resource list for such persons to peruse arguments for marriage equality and critiques of marriage defense arguments that do not rely on the "bigot" label. I'm not citing these articles thinking they "win" the case for marriage equality. In fact, I don't even expect marriage defenders to agree with me on many of these arguments, but that's not the point. The point is, we often do more than just call people bigots.

What follows is a preliminary list of marriage equality resources that go beyond calling people homobigots. Many of the article are my own articles, but I do hope to update it regularly with other sources.

1. Law Review Articles

Legal journals are full of scholarly articles regarding the marriage debate. A good article to being is this excellent law review article summarizing key arguments for and against same-sex marriage. Those who believe that allowing same-sex couples to marry is "offensive" should pay particular attention to this relevant part:

"Not only does the inclusion of same-sex couples neither eliminate marriage nor prevent heterosexuals from marrying, but every important change in our society has 'harmed' the 'normative environments' of those opposed to the change. Part of living in a democratic society, after all, is learning to to 'deal with the harm to his or her normative environments inflicted by others seeking to flourish according to their own normative environments.'"

In this article, I explore some of the religious freedom and taxation issues that are implicated in the marriage debate.

2. Framing the Debate

Along these lines, I'd like to direct marriage defenders to my own piece on the importance of relevantly framing the marriage debate.

3. Reviews of Professional "Marriage Defense" Works and Arguments

Next, I'd like to reference my reviews of David Blankenhorn's book The Future of Marriage. I have said before that I respect Blankenhorn for his ability to make arguments against marriage equality without simultaneously denigrating gay men and lesbians. I don't agree with many of his arguments, however. That's why my responses to his arguments are outlined very clearly in my reviews.

In this article, I reviewed a debate about the issue hosted by the libertarian Federalist Society. Participants included law professors Dale Carpenter, Robert Nagel, Andy Koppelman, and Amy Wax.

4. "Deep" Thoughts

For a lighter take on the debate, I'd refer people to my "Deep" Thoughts series. The purpose of these posts is to address the absurdity and illogic inherent in many marriage defense arguments. Agree with me or not, you have to admit that these posts do more than call people "bigots." And come on, you also have to admit, using a thrice-married adulterer as a spokesman to "defend marriage" is just absurd!

5. Constitutional Issues

For those who cry that judicial tyrants have overturned The Will of the People(tm) in various same-sex marriage rulings, I would highly recommend my book reviews of Original Intent and the Framer's Constitution. Relevant to this debate, historian Leonard Levy writes:

"Those who measure individual rights against the rights of society forget that society has a profound stake in the rights of the individual; we possess rights as individuals not only because they inhere in us and serve to fulfill as individuals but because we function as a free society and maintain its openness by respecting personal differences.... Ours is so secure a system, precisely because it is free and dedicated to principles of justice, that it can afford to prefer the individual over the state"

6. California

Anyone interested in California marriage news could start by reading my take on the California marriage equality case here. Prior to this decision, legal commentators noted that the judges would probably rule in favor of same-sex marriage. I predicted a backlash to "tyrannical judges overturning the will of the people" in spite of the fact that there is no good legal justification for upholding the ban on same-sex marriage. Relatedly, all of my writings about Proposition 8 can be found here.

7. Benefits, Rights, and Protections of Marriage

Because the marriage debate is often abstract, and "marriage defenders" often speak of intangible harms to society/children/family, I also have a running series regarding the legal and financial benefits, rights, and protections of marriage. These articles outline the very specific ways in which the denial of equal marriage rights harms LGBT families.

I would encourage "marriage defenders" who venture here and read merely one article of mine to peruse my archives before they make sweeping claims about how I do or do not typify all of "them" on the marriage equality side. If you look beyond the surface, you usually find that people are more nuanced than you initially thought.

Monday, March 23, 2009

On "Anti-Christian Bigotry"

What does the phrase "anti-Christian bigotry" mean?

In general, I think the word bigot is overused. For instance, even though I do think that some people who oppose marriage equality are anti-gay bigots who really do not like gay people, I do not think that all people who oppose marriage equality and other LGBT rights are. Oftentimes, on any side of an issue, the label bigot is used to dismiss any opposition, rather than to deal with actual arguments people are making.

Generally, when someone calls another person a bigot, he or she means something along the lines of someone with a prejudice or intolerance of people with certain fixed characteristics- things like race, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation. What is becoming ever more common in this day of the Christian Persecution Complex, is that some have co-opted the bigot label and are now applying it to people who display prejudice, intolerance, and even mere disagreement with another person's religious beliefs. Yet, given that one's religion is not an inherent part of oneself, what does it actually mean to be, for instance, an anti-Christian bigot?

For some insight on this matter, I visited the website of the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission. The closest I got to a definition was a plea to make a "suggested donation" for a book all about the topic. Not very helpful.

Seeking a less expensive answer, I turned to the dictionary. Dictionaries generally define bigot as something along the lines of "a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices" or "one who is strongly partial to one's own group, religion, race, or politics and is intolerant of those who differ." An anti-Christian bigot, then, would be one who is stubbornly devoted to one's own religious opinions and/or who is intolerant of those who differ.

The first part of this definition, one who "is stubbornly devoted to one's own religious opinions," I think would be true of most religious folks. In fact, such devotion is often a hallmark feature of what it means to be a "good" person of faith in many religious traditions. Atheists, too, are even stubbornly devoted to their opinions regarding god's absence.

So, I think the real test of bigotry is in the second part of the definition: one "who is intolerant of those who differ [with respect to their religious beliefs]." It is important to distinguish between tolerating another's beliefs versus tolerating that person's humanity. I know that critics of religion in general, and of Christianity in particular, can be harsh, just as critics of atheism, agnosticism, and secular humanism can be. Oftentimes, criticism goes beyond criticizing beliefs and into the realm of personal attacks. Yet, I do think it's important for people to remember that criticism of another's beliefs, opinions, and arguments is not, by itself, intolerance or bigotry. That is a very important distinction that Christians often muddle and abuse.

We are all free to criticize and reject other people's religious beliefs. So, claiming that critics of Christianity are automatically anti-Christian bigots is like accusing Democrats of being anti-Republican bigots. In other words, yes, many people disagree with the various tenets of Christianity, but so what? Disagreement does not equal hatred of another's humanity. I know that some people do hate Christians, and it's often an unfortunate reaction to Christian intolerance, but in general I think many politically-active conservative Christians are too quick to label any sort of criticism bigotry. Just something to watch out for and be aware of.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Odds 'N Ends

1. End the Lies

The Human Rights Campaign has launched a web-based project called End the Lies, the purpose of which is "to expose the lies and fear-tactics of anti-LGBT voices and counteract them with respectful dialogue and grassroots action."

Some of those included within the wall of those who "use deception and fear to defeat LGBT equality" are the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty (for its "No Mob Veto" ad), Sally Kern (of "homosexuality is the biggest threat our nation has" notoriety), and Maggie Gallagher (for claiming that marriage equality will lead to the "repression" of those who disagree with same-sex marriage).

Want to call someone out for vilifying LGBT people? Nominate your "favorite" anti-gay, too.

2. Another One Bites the Dust

Reversing another unfortunate policy from the Bush era, the Obama Administration has announced that it will sign on the the UN declaration calling for the decriminalization of homosexuality. Previously, the US was the only western nation that had not signed on to the declaration. Bush's cop-out claim was that it would lead to a "conflict" with US laws regarding marriage. I addressed that argument, previously, here. Others still opposing the declaration include the Vatican and 60 mostly-Muslim nations.

I love that we, at least, have some semblance of separation of church and state.

3. Harry the Homemaker?

Did you know that 82% of the jobs lost in the US since November were held by men? This has several implications for gender role dynamics. This USA Today article explores what this means for heterosexual couples. With some women, out of necessity, becoming the sole breadwinner (while "also retaining household responsibilities"), will men contribute more to in-home work?

On the bright side, I think that this situation will change many people's conceptions of what it means to be a husband and wife and that these roles are much more fluid than most people think.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Rush and Anti-Intellectualism

I know that Rush Limbaugh is an extremist and part of the Asinine for Attention Hate Club. I know that every response to his Look At Me! Look At ME! statements only gives him more relevancy. But the guy does have a following of millions and uses his large platform to fan the flames of American anger.

Thus, I'm going to share with you an opinion piece that is, quite frankly, one of the best explanations I've read regarding the appeal that Rush Limbaugh has for so many. A key snippet includes:

"[W]hen he refers to the 'elites,' he doesn't mean really rich people like himself; he means people like Barack Obama or Bill Clinton, whose elitism can be traced to the fact that they followed the American dream out of the lowest economic strata of our nation to win recognition based on hard work and keen intelligence, overcoming obstacles of class and race to achieve the highest position in the land, unlike that 'common man' and 'regular guy,' George W. Bush, who had things handed to him on a gilded plate, never worked very hard at anything, and was given the rich kid's pass through our most prestigious universities based on nothing more than family connections and money....

Like Limbaugh, most of these white male [fans of Limbaugh] did not graduate from college and they've always been aggressively defensive about that fact, a defensiveness that expresses itself in disdain for any and all who did finish college - unless those college grads are vocally supportive of positions they've come to hold."

I read that and I thought of my father and of so many of the people I grew up with in a small working-class city in the rural Midwest. I know these people. And, when I do go back home, I am made to feel somehow... guilty for pulling myself up by my bootstraps and bettering my life. I sense my father's defensiveness about his own life's achievements. When he makes passive-aggressive jokes about lawyers, I know that he is just defensive about his own life's achievements. I know that he is being passive-aggressive because he cannot outright disdain his daughter. He undoubtedly sees me as some sort of "elite," even though most of my achievements have come at little or no cost to him and are mostly the result of my own hard work, a bit of luck, and the generosity of others.

I receive "fiercely patriotic" forwards from him occasionally, some of them reminding me that it's not lawyers who preserve democracy, it's The Troops (tm). This fierce Support-the-Troops mentality is a way of continually reminding people like me that we may be smart but other people are brave. That I am not technically allowed to serve my country has no bearing to him, of course. Although, as an interesting item of note, like Limbaugh, my father himself found ways to avoid serving in the military when he was younger, fit, able, and of the proper sexual orientation.

People like this, like my father, are often Republicans. Republicans generally believe that success is the result of one's own hard work. Poor people are poor because they're stupid and lazy. Except, when it comes to themselves, well:

"Life has not turned out as they'd hoped, but it's not their fault. Rush explains it to them every day."

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

"Deep" Thought: #25: A "Marriage Defense" Two-For-One

Some "marriage defenders" have this bizarre idea that marriage equality is a high-profile issue only because marriage equality advocates have made it one. I think some of them genuinely see themselves as neutral policy wonks just trying to make it all silently go away as opposed to people who are busy fanning the flames themselves.

In a recent article for the National Review, professional "marriage defender" Maggie Gallagher took this strange position:

"Is it mere coincidence that this resurgence in illegitimacy happened during the five years in which gay marriage has become (not thanks to me or my choice) the most prominent marriage issue in America -- and the one marriage idea endorsed by the tastemakers to the young in particular?"

Ladies and gentlemen, you may have noticed that this statement really is a "Deep" Thought Two-for-One. First, we see that Ms. Gallagher notes a correlation and then implies causation: Due to the Incredible Power of the Gay, as Ed Brayton jokes, even the mere advocacy of gay marriage has caused a "resurgence in illegitimacy."

However, those of us in the reality-based world know that, dun dun dun, Correlation. Does Not. Imply. Causation. Just because two variables have occurred together, it does not mean that one has caused the other. No matter how much we state this, it never seems to sink in with some people.

Secondly, after discussing how the rise in illegitimacy occurred along with the rise of gay marriage as the most prominent marriage issue in America, you will notice that Ms. Gallagher defensively tacked on the parenthetical "not thanks to me or my choice." Yet, is Maggie truly blameless here in the prominence of this particular marriage issue? Let's take a look.

According to the "About Maggie" page within one of the two marriage "think-tanks" she is either President or Director of, we have a summary of the various ways that Maggie has, in fact, helped make (opposition to) gay marriage quite the prominent issue:

"Maggie is a nationally syndicated columnist, the author of three books on marriage (including most recently with University of Chicago Prof Linda Waite "The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better-Off Financially"), and a leading voice of the new marriage movement. National Journal named her to the 2004 list of the most influential people in the same-sex marriage debate." (Emphasis Added)

Is gay marriage's rise to social prominence not at all owing to the efforts of professional "marriage defenders" like Maggie Gallagher? Is it really only due to the advocacy of those on the pro-marriage equality side? Or, isn't it more likely that prominent folks like Maggie Gallagher, like those on our side, have all contributed to the popularity of the issue via books, op-ed pieces, television appearances, and blogs?

Issues become issues precisely because they are controversial and multi-sided. Furthermore, those on all sides of the marriage debate quote Gallagher practically every single day. Her own marriage institutes' even brag about how influential she is in this debate! For her to outright say that the marriage debate has become a prominent issue in American "not thanks" to her is just really out-of-touch with reality. That's why I think her little parenthetical not-guilty plea is just another passive-aggressive swipe at LGBT people and gay marriage advocates.

Gay marriage advocates have single-handedly caused a rise in illegitimacy and the rise to prominence of the gay marriage debate. "Deep" Thoughts.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

No Longer Quivering

Last week, I wrote about the Christian Patriarchy ("Quiverfull") Movement that opposes any method of birth control and advocates for the submission of women to men. I specifically wondered what it was that would make such a movement appealing to women. A major benefit to women, perhaps, is that they have no obligation to find, get, and keep a job in the public sphere. Even though a woman's work is never truly finished in the home, after all pregnancy and child care don't "know" when a working day ends, not working at an outside job can certainly relieve some stress in one's life. Yet, I also suspect that, for many women, it's not so much that they find it "beneficial" to submit so totally to male domination, but rather it's more about fearing the consequences of not doing so.

I first saw this mentioned at the aptly named Forever in Hell blog, but two women, both former members of this movement, have chosen to share their perspectives on their blog No Longer Quivering. These women were also featured in a Salon.com article. What many of us can only theorize about, they have actually lived.

One of the women, Laura, writes about how Christianity can manipulate the human fear of death in order to keep women in line:

"All I had to do was toe the line, so to speak, and I would get to heaven when I died. I accepted Christ purely out of fear. Not because He loved me, not because He died for my sins, not because I was so grateful to Him for all he'd done for me.....but because the words I said would guarantee me a place in heaven."

I remember having similar feelings as a child. I felt genuine fear when I was learning about "hell" and this all-powerful being called "god." One time, when I was about 8, my Sunday school teacher asked us all to raise our hands if we would like to go into the hallway with her and become "saved" by accepting Jesus into our hearts. I was shy, so I didn't raise my hand. I remember her looking at me with disappointment and her chastising those of us who refused her offer. We were going to hell, she informed us.

Until I eventually rejected Christianity, for many years thereafter I feared the future domicile of my eternal soul. I think that many religious leaders, particularly of the fundamentalist variety, use this very strong fear of death and "hell" as a form of spiritual blackmail. Essentially, accepting a particular deity often requires accepting a very narrow patriarchal male-centric religion that nicks away at the full humanity of women. It's all very convenient to men who want to maintain male privilege. For, they are able to convince all believers that those who do not believe likewise are heathens, witches, pagans, and/or anti-Christian bigots who are going to spend eternity in "hell" and who wants to be any of those things and end up like that?

But again, that's just my perspective. The other ex-Quiverfull woman, Vyckie, reflects on her experience within the Christian Patriarchy Movement:

"The Bible is an ancient text written in a time and culture radically different from our own. It was written by men who were privileged enough to know how to read and write ~ and it establishes a self-serving, male-dominated religion which uses the promise of Heaven and the threat of Hell to keep the disenfranchised content in their servitude....

It seems crazy that thousands of years later, we should be trying to emulate the family structure and gender roles of an ancient society which viewed women and children as property....

Patriarchy is a pretty sweet deal ~ for the man who gets a Proverbs 31 wife and a quiverfull of children like olive branches around his table....The truth is, not all men are cut out for leadership in the home or church. And for those with controlling, punitive, and demanding tendencies, the practice of patriarchy in the home will only exacerbate their insatiable egos and lend an air of spiritual credence to their tyranny and abuse in the name of 'protection' and spiritual covering."

As an item of note, at one point during this reflection, Vyckie exclaimed "OMG ~ I sound just like Karl Marx." The dominant class (ie- "The Patriarchy") has so ingrained in us that it is un-patriotic, un-Christian, and un-American to question existing power structures. In fact, when we do so, Patriarchists tell us that it is "Marxist," and therefore, "wrong" or "bad" to do so. In that way, you will notice, that Patriarchists rarely address the critiques of dominant power structures, but rather, they merely dismiss them and move on to the more important business of Maintaining Social Power.

Thus, it is always a little sad to me when I see women, members of the working class, and other historically oppressed groups apologetically distance themselves from "Marxist" critiques.

Monday, March 16, 2009

On Re-Victimization

In my real life, I have been working on a piece of writing regarding the complicated issue of domestic violence (DV) among same-sex couples. Not much data exists regarding the prevalence of domestic violence within the LGBT community. There's that whole not-being-counted-in-the-Census bit that causes statistical problems for all sorts of measures. Yet, much of the evidence suggests that same-sex couples experience domestic violence at rates similar to that of heterosexual couples.

Acknowledging DV within the LGBT community can be a sensitive issue. Unfortunately, our political foes create conditions that make some LGBT advocacy groups and same-sex couples reluctant to acknowledge DV. In acknowledging that DV exists within same-sex couples just as it exists in heterosexual ones, we give fodder to those who use such information as part of their propaganda campaigns against our community. Showing their typical complete lack of empathy for non-heterosexual victims of violence, conservative anti-gay groups, bloggers, and individuals often use the existence of LGBT domestic violence as "proof" that same-sex love is inherently dysfunctional and, therefore, that gay men and lesbians do not deserve equal rights. For instance, a group calling themselves the Biblical Family Advocates cites domestic violence as one of its "15 Reasons Why Homosexuality Is Wrong and Hurts Society." Within this propaganda piece, citing no references to support its claim, this organization goes on to state:

"Children should not be exposed to the higher levels of domestic violence of homosexuals. Another reason that same sex couples should not care for foster or adoptive children is that same sex couples experience much higher levels of domestic violence than their heterosexual counterparts." (Emphasis added)

Dishonest statements like these are pretty common and can be found on anti-gay blogs and websites all over the internet. That's why today, I think we should all focus on a concept called re-victimization. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects has written (PDF):

"Unfortunately, for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) [domestic violence] survivors, [domestic violence] services are fraught with the potential for re-victimization that pivots on homophobia, transphobia, and heterosexism.... Experiencing victimization through social stigma leaves many LGBT people vulnerable to commonly used tools of manipulation of batterers. Quite often, early experiences of bias and hatred results in a form of self-victimization that erodes the self worth of the survivor based upon self hatred."

What this means is that an LGBT person utilizing DV services within the more traditional male-as-perpetrator female-as-victim system, means putting oneself at risk of further harassment, sexual prejudice, and anti-gay bias. I fully realize that if any anti-gays are reading this, I lost most of them at "heterosexism" and all of that overly-sensitive rubbish about gay victimhood. Personally, I don't like thinking of myself or my community as victims. That so many of us thrive in the face of sanctioned bias and overt prejudice is, on the contrary, a testament not to our communal weakness but to our strengths.

In any event, I do hope that anti-gays walk away with one salient point: Stigmatizing LGBT people as wrong, sick, abnormal, and/or immoral is abusive. It erodes our humanity, and as such it leaves people vulnerable to future abuse. I'm not letting LGBT abusers off the hook. I fully blame all abusers for pain that they inflict on others. Yet, I also blame those who consistently tear us down for making LGBT people just a little bit (or a lot) more vulnerable to future abuse.

I have written before about how human emotions, such as anger, are not "problems" unique to certain (usually-maligned minority) groups of people. Rather, the seeds of problematic emotions live within all people. It's what makes us human. Similarly, all people have the capacity to be abusive, no matter one's sexual orientation, race, class, sex, or gender. Yet, using the suffering of LGBT victims of DV to advance an anti-gay political agenda, rather than to relieve that pain and suffering, is not only profoundly anti-social, it is unconscionable.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Odds 'N Ends

1. Christian Patriarchy Movement

Well, with respect to adherents of the Quiverfull Movement, I suppose it's nice that at least some people are completely up-front about their patriarchal motives. This conservative Christian movement, which is thought to be a backlash from feminism and its attendant era of relative sexual and reproductive freedom, advocates against using birth control and for restricting women to the roles of mother and wife.

Check out this interview with Kathryn Joyce, a journalist who wrote about this movement in Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement. In the interview, Joyce explains the movement as follows:

"[A] growing number of American Christian fundamentalists also have rejected feminism and egalitarianism, embracing instead male dominance and what they call the 'Quiverfull' belief system.... The women in such communities live within a stringently enforced doctrine of wifely submission and male 'headship,' including a selfless acceptance of possibly constant pregnancies and as many children under foot as God might bring. They reject not only 'reproductive rights' of any kind, but also higher education and workforce participation for women."

I will probably be reading Joyce's book at some point. In the interview Joyce alludes that this movement is closely related to the anti-choice movement. Attacking women's rights and effectually saying that women's highest (and only) purpose in life is to be a wife and mother is a key component of taking away the right that women have to control their bodies and fertility.

The appeal of a literal Patriarchy Movement to men is obvious. I have less trouble understanding how it appeals to women. Sure, I see how there could be a certain security in having one's role in life already ascertained and a real comfort in not having to hold a job in the public sphere. In a way, perhaps some of these women are trading ambition and options for security.

2. Gay Marriage Won't Hurt Kids

Opponents of marriage equality like to argue that, due to the so very speshul "complementarity" of men and women, all Kids Need a Mommy and a Daddy. The Vermont Psychological Association, the Vermont Psychiatric Association, the Vermont Association of Mental Health Counselors, and the Vermont chapter of the National Association of Social Workers disagree and are supporting Vermont's pending marriage equality bill:

"Opponents have argued that gay marriage is detrimental to children. But mental health experts say studies show that's not true and that opponents are instead misrepresenting studies about divorced parents."

I have written about this problem before. When "marriage defenders" actually cite studies, you will notice that the studies they cite are usually comparing the children of married heterosexual parent to those of unmarried heterosexual parents or to single mothers. And furthermore:

"On the specific questions of (a) whether the children of gay parents are less well adjusted than the children of heterosexuals, and (b) whether their parents are less fit, we actually know quite a lot, especially about families headed by lesbians. The research to date has consistently found no inherent deficits among gay parents, and their kids have proved to be as well adjusted as children with heterosexual parents."

One of the key hindrances in discussing this issue is that "marriage defenders" hold "common sense" beliefs about what the world is like. In their minds, of course all children need a mother and a father in order to grow up healthily and of course children raised by perverted sexual deviants would turn out worse than those raised in Real Families. They then mistake their common-sense beliefs for universal truth. In the reality-based world, though, there is a key distinction between "common sense beliefs" versus observable phenomena.

3. Arbitrary Gender Rules

I was wondering the other day... what is it about clothes, in and of themselves, that make them "feminine" and "masculine." Why are dresses, for instance, Woman Things? And why are things like tuxedos and ties, Man Things? Deep thoughts, I know. But it just seems so arbitrary, especially when some people get really upset when others break these codes. Why do some people insist that we must clearly, at all times, distinguish between Male and Female?

Check out this article, which I first saw over at G-A-Y, in which a school principle has refused to allow a girl to wear pants to her prom. Apparently, the school has "a special dress code for prom that requires female students to wear a formal dress."

Another item of note, the girl is a lesbian. It sort of makes one wonder if the dress code is a pretext for ensuring that only the "right sorts of kids" attend prom. In any event, the girl claims that wearing pants is part of her "sexual identity." I think it's more accurate to say it's an issue of gender identity. Many lesbians, after all, like to wear dresses. The issue is that the school won't let her wear a dress because she's a girl, not because she's a lesbian. I wish the journalist would have pointed out that inaccuracy in the article. Had this newspaper noted the inaccuracy, and the irrelevancy of the girl's sexual orientation to this case, perhaps they would have chosen a less sensational headline.

In any event, the ACLU has filed a lawsuit on behalf of the girl. I think one of the strongest argument is based in an equal protection analysis. The school clearly prohibits girls from doing that which they allow boys, and it does so for no good reason.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Fannie's 10 Feminist Must-Reads

Professor What If recently wrote about formulating a list of 10 must-read feminist novels.

These days the majority of reading I do is of the non-fiction variety, but I do believe I've read 10 good feminist novels in my day. I think it's a fun exercise so here we go. I will also include a couple of sentences explaining my reasons for including each book.

That reminds me, back in college I took a course in Literary Criticism and one of our first assignments was to write a 10-page paper on a 4-line poem. Upon hearing this task, my classmates and I at first chuckled as we flipped through our course book confident that we were just reading an excerpt of a longer piece. Our amusement quickly gave way to panic as it slowly dawned on us that our professor was completely serious. I blame all subsequent instances of Writer's Diarrhea on that one assignment. Nonetheless, and I'll try to make this brief, in no particular order here are my 10 Feminist Must-Reads (That I May or May Not Agree With In An Hour):

1. The Chelsea Whistle- Michelle Tea

Although set on the East coast, Tea's memoir/novel of growing up poor, white, and female in a working-class town can resonate with such girls and women across America. It certainly spoke to me.

2. The Left Hand of Darkness- Ursula Le Guin

Contemplating the implications of a gender-less society is fascinating. I do think that if we could lose our collective male-female dichotomy, it would eradicate many other false binaries in society.

3. Jane Eyre- Charlotte Bronte

The Madwoman in the Attic will always be, to me, a representation of how confining women to the role of Wife is suffocating enough to drive them mad.

4. Stone Butch Blues- Leslie Feinberg

I'm pretty sure this was the first LGBT novel I read. It raises a lot of questions about sex, gender identity, and what it means to be a man, woman, neither, or both.

5. The Color Purple- Alice Walker

I saw the movie first, as a child, and even then I was struck by the unfairness of how Celie was, essentially, an abused piece of male property for much of her life. Upon reading the book, I think that Celie largely became liberated, and found her humanity, through her love of another woman.

6. Orlando- Virginia Woolf

This is another fascinating study in gender; the protagonist is a man, who wakes up one day and finds that he's exactly the same person as he was the day before except now he's a woman. In a way, it's sort of like Kafka's Metamorphosis. Except interesting.

7. The Red Tent- Anita Diamant

Women lived in Biblical times, too. Who would have thought?

8. The Temple of My Familiar- Alice Walker

I already included an Alice Walker book in my list, but I think she deserves another mention. It's a creative exploration of sex-based and race-based oppression, and the intersections of both.

9. In the Time of Butterflies- Julia Alvarez

When it comes to reading fiction, I've been on a little Julia Alvarez kick as of late. I've greatly enjoyed all of her books that I've read. This particular book is a loosely-based account of a group of sisters standing up for human rights in the Dominican Republic.

10. The Poisonwood Bible- Barbara Kingsolver

This novel, about a well-intentioned yet-abusive missionary patriarch too hell-bent on Saving Non-Christians to notice that he's doing more harm than good is a little relevant today.

That's my list. What's yours?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Life Above All Else?

Abortion is one of those loaded issues that I generally don't write about all that much. I support a woman's right to choose whether to allow another living being to borrow her uterus and body for 9 months, but I'm not entirely comfortable with the idea of ending life. I also believe that many, if not most, pro-choice women and men feel similarly and that women generally do not take the decision to have an abortion lightly. So, one can show me as many pictures of aborted fetuses that one wishes yet, as disturbing as I will find them, I still won't come to believe that a fetus that is dependent upon another's body for survival has rights that outweigh the rights of the human being that is sustaining the fetus.

Furthermore, I also believe that some of the religious opposition to abortion is grounded in the deep-seated desire to simultaneously degrade and fetishize women as fetal vessels and to control both their bodies and their reproductive lives. As bioethicist Sigfrid Fry-Revere has written:

"To suggest that a fetus has the same rights as a mature adult individual borders on the perverse. A woman’s rights should never be placed second to the needs of her fetus. To do so is to treat women first and foremost as communally owned vessels for bringing forth life and only second as autonomous individuals."

*Sexual Assault and Abuse Trigger Warning*

The Catholic Church recently took this Woman As Communally-Owned Vessel ideology to an extreme, in a story which has been raging through the feminist blogosphere. To sum it up, a nine-year-old girl was raped a man in Brazil allegedly* raped his nine-year-old step-daughter, she became pregnant with twins, and the girl's mother authorized an abortion because doctors feared that the 66-pound girl would not survive childbirth. Subsequently, the girl's mother and the doctors who performed the abortion, yet not the man who allegedly caused the predicament in the first place, were excommunicated from the Catholic Church. The girl herself would have been excommunicated, as all women who have abortions automatically are, "[h]owever, canon law indicates several conditions -- for example, not yet having turned 17 years old -- that would render an individual exempt from the penalty of excommunication."

1. Women Are Not Community Resources

I believe that at least part of the Catholic Church's opposition to abortion is grounded in an ideology that treats women as community-owned fetal vessels. To get at my reasoning, we must delve a bit further into the purpose of excommunication:

"It is also a medicinal rather than a vindictive penalty, being intended, not so much to punish the culprit, as to correct him [sic] and bring him [sic] back to the path of righteousness. It necessarily, therefore, contemplates the future, either to prevent the recurrence of certain culpable acts that have grievous external consequences, or, more especially, to induce the delinquent to satisfy the obligations incurred by his [sic] offence."

Here, we see that the purpose of excommunication is to correct misbehavior and prevent it from re-occurring. In this case, the Church has chosen to punish those who were complicit in removing a fetus from a woman, presumably to prevent others from doing the same. To contrast, the Church has not excommunicated the man who wrongly caused the fetus to exist, explaining "although the man allegedly committed 'a heinous crime ... the abortion - the elimination of an innocent life - was more serious.'".

How male-centric to present the situation as a simple Which Misdeed is Worse urination contest. For many Vagina-Humans, such a comparison rings hollow coming from an allegedly-celibate person who is incapable of bearing, giving birth to, and then raising a daily reminder of horrendous child sexual abuse. But I digress.

Real life is more nuanced than pro-lifers often care to admit. Only by completely de-contextualizing the circumstances is the Church capable of presenting the situation as a simplistic rape versus murder balancing act. De-contextualizing the circumstances of this pregnancy in such a way discounts the girl involved as well as her individual rights. The girl here doesn't matter. Because she is a mere Vessel For Human Life, her life is a means to some greater end. Furthermore, the Church views Preventing the Elimination of Human Life as a public matter, as some sort of community good. Meanwhile, it condemns, but does not punish, a man's "heinous crime" of rape. Unlike women and their uteri, men are private, autonomous individuals. If a man rapes a woman and the end result is pregnancy, his crime a private matter, and one that does not expel him from the society of the Church. Meanwhile, the Church treats the end result of the man's crime, to which the female victim is inextricably bound, as a public matter in which the Church has a duty to involve itself.

I am confident that apologists for the Catholic Church will argue that "everyone already knows" that rape is wrong and, therefore, excommunication is unnecessary for the male perpetrator. Yet, clearly not "everyone" knows this as:

"Jesuit Father Clodoveo Piazza, a missionary in Brazil, told La Stampa that there are thousands of similar tragedies unfolding in the poorest regions of the South American nation. He said where he works in the state of Bahia 'about a third of all children are born to underage mothers; often they are only 11 or 12 years old.'"

The Catholic Church has an excommunication policy in place to specifically bring people "back to the path of righteousness" and to "prevent the recurrence of certain culpable acts." If this Jesuit missionary's words are true, the rape of children is at epidemic proportions in Brazil. And yes, it is rape. You may have noticed that when I was describing this particular case, I put an asterisk next to "a man in Brazil allegedly* raped a nine-year-old girl." I used "allegedly" only because the step-father has not been convicted of a crime, and therefore someone else may have committed the crime. Yet, whether someone raped this girl is not at issue since nine-year-old girls, like all minors, are incapable of consenting to sex

The Church, however, does not use its influence to excommunicate rapists and attempt to prevent the future rape of children. Why? Does it all hit a little too close to home? Is it because the Catholic Church believes, in the case of man-on-girl rape, the perhaps-private harmful act of rape is outweighed by the same act's potential to create the community resource that is Human Life?

2. Forcing a Woman to Give Birth Against Her Will Is Involuntary Servitude

These questions lead me to point number two, as Fry-Revere so aptly puts it:

"To force a woman to carry a pregnancy to term and give birth unwillingly is involuntary servitude, no matter what the rationale. Pregnancy and birth are the most dangerous work most women will ever do. To deprive them of medically feasible means for escaping those dangers, let alone planning their lives, is to treat women with the greatest disrespect."

Expecting women to bear children against their will treats women as a means to an end, creating Human Life, rather than as ends in themselves. It's a male-centric model of womanhood, especially in this case of child rape, to expect mere girls to bear these children and, if they even survive child-birth, to then raise these babies. Yet, how is it in any way healthy for children to raise babies while under the dominion of adult men who abuse them? Is "Life" really a magical trump card that always outweighs the rights, safety, and well-being of living women and girls? Whether it's opposing abortion, opposing embryonic stem-cell research or rejecting euthanasia, the Catholic Church consistently treats this overly-simple and de-contextualized concept of Human Life as being above all else, including quality of life and the individual rights of living human beings.

I will end this blog with one final thought. As much as the anti-choice propaganda tells us otherwise, it's not so much that people who favor a woman's right to choose favor a so-called "culture of death." We just want life to be good for humans who are already living.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

On Oppression and the Monopoly Of It

Those opposed to gay rights sometimes insist that LGBT rights are not civil rights. Black conservatives, especially, rebuke any comparison to racism or to the black civil rights movement of the 1960s. Shelby Steele, writing for the Wall Street Journal, for instance writes:

"It is always both a little flattering and more than a little annoying to blacks when other groups glibly invoke the civil rights movement and all its iconic imagery to justify their agendas for social change....But gay marriage is simply not a civil rights issue. It is not a struggle for freedom. It is a struggle of already free people for complete social acceptance and the sense of normalcy that follows thereof--a struggle for the eradication of the homosexual stigma."

He goes on to argue that since marriage is a heterosexual institution revolving around procreation, gays should stop using civil rights lingo already and just settle for civil unions.

As a response, it is always a little annoying to me when people, perhaps believing that an identity group they are part of is the only one experiencing Authentic Oppression, completely discount the oppression that other groups of people are experiencing. I think there is a fine line between noting similarities between different forms of oppression versus opportunistically using, and therefore cheapening, what another group has experienced. I will be the first to admit that LGBT people are sometimes a bit too careless and clumsy with their comparisons to the black Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Honestly, I don't think it's particularly apt when a rich white gay man compares himself to Rosa Parks.

Yet, I think that comparisons should be acknowledged when they are valid and should not be rejected for political reasons, prejudice, or out of a fear that equality is a zero-sum game where if one minority group improves its lot then others will somehow suffer. I want to share with you a great statement from Audre Lourde's essay "There is No Heirarchy of Oppression":

"I have learned that sexism (a belief in the inherent superiority of one sex over all the others and therefore its right to dominance) and heterosexism (a belief in the inherent superiority of one pattern of loving over all others and therefore its right to dominance) both arise from the same source as racism- a belief in the inherent superiority of one race over all others and thereby its right to dominance."

I have written before about the gay rights and black civil rights analogy. To re-iterate, any analogy by its very definition is imperfect. If two things were exactly the same, there would be no need for such a comparison. Yet, I think Audre Lorde finds that key kernel of similarity among racism, sexism, and sexual prejudice. At their core, these ideologies and and the laws that perpetuate them, are about a false belief in the inherent superiority of something or someone over all others and, within this belief, is the justification for dominance.

As an illustration in this, and to use another comparison that those opposed to LGBT equality love to hate, we can look at laws banning inter-racial couples from marrying and laws banning same-sex couples from legal marriage. Because some people viewed whiteness as inherently superior to (what they deemed) non-whiteness, they believed that the marriage of a white person to a non-white person would degrade marriage. Thus, while almost all laws banning inter-racial marriage prohibited white people from marrying non-whites, members of non-white groups were free to marry amongst themselves (See this article for a brief history of such laws). One of the ideas of these laws was that the purity, and the superiority, of whiteness had to be protected.

The idea that allowing so-called inferior persons to marry white persons would somehow taint what marriage was is summed up by one early US legislator who said that allowing inter-racial marriage "necessarily involves the degradation' of
conventional marriage, an institution that 'deserves admiration rather than

Today, many "marriage defenders" believe in the inherent superiority of heterosexuality and the male-female relationship. Today, many of these people argue that "homosexual marriage degrades a time-honored institution;" it is a mere "counterfeit" that "cheapens" what marriage really is. They let their belief in the inherent superiority of heterosexuality inform their "right" to dominate our culture and define what marriage is and who gets to partake in it. So, while there are certainly differences between same-sex marriage and inter-racial marriage, there is a key similarity: An ideology of inherent superiority used to justify and perpetuate cultural dominance.

Opposition to that sort of ideology, I think, is something that many minority groups can rally around. Despite our differences, we all share the right to counter those who insist on our inferiority. As Audre Lourde continues:

"[I]t is standard of right-wing cynicism to encourage members of oppressed groups to act against each other.... I cannot afford to believe that freedom from intolerance is the right of only one particular group. And I cannot afford to choose between the fronts upon which I must battle these forces of discrimination, wherever they appear to destroy me. And when they appear to destroy me, it will not be long before they appear to destroy you."

Monday, March 9, 2009

Marriage Equality Updates

1. Gill et al. v. Office of Personnel Management et al.

Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) has filed a lawsuit challenging the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The entire complaint can be found here (PDF). I would encourage people to read it as it spells out the real, tangible harms that same-sex couples experience due to DOMA. DOMA prohibits the federal government from recognizing legal state-licensed marriages between two people of the same sex. Thus, from a practical standpoint, as GLAD explains:

"The law in question, the 'Defense of Marriage Act' deprives families of federally-created economic safety nets, to the detriment of those couples and their children or other dependents. It creates a system of first and second class marriages, where the former receive all federal legal protections, and the latter are denied them, even while taking on the responsibilities of legal marriage."

From a legal standpoint, multiple criticisms have been raised with respect to DOMA. For one, many believe that it violates the equal protection guarantees in the US Constitution. GLAD, for instance, argues that DOMA creates two classes of married couples, treats them differently, and that there is no "adequate justification" for doing so.

Two, and this is a point I would love to see conservatives who usually favor a weak federal government and strong states' rights more often address, it violates principles of federalism with respect to marriage. This Slate article does a nice job of explaining the state sovereignty issue with respect to DOMA. Traditionally, the regulation of marriage has been a matter decided by individual states. So, when a state recognizes a marriage as valid, the federal government automatically recognizes it. While the federal government will automatically recognize a state-sanctioned marriage between a man and a woman, DOMA prohibits the federal government from doing the same for a marriage between two people of the same sex.

This case will likely make it the US Supreme Court where it will likely be found, in my opinion, unconstitutional.

2. The Prop 8 Saga Continues

Lately, I have found Proposition 8 to be a tiresome issue. I am beyond disgusted at the marriage defenders' gloating, their demonization of the LGBT community, and of their ignorant double-standard that says it's acceptable for the AFA to launch an anti-gay boycott every other day, but it's somehow Anti-Christian Domestic Terrorism for gay people to engage in legal protests, boycotts, and the posting of public information about who donated in support of the discriminatory measure.

But I digress. On March 5, 2009, the California Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the legal challenge to invalidate Proposition 8. To summarize, LGBT organizations are arguing that Proposition 8 was a "substantial change" to the California constitution and, therefore, it required the involvement of the legislature. Opponents are arguing that Proposition 8 was a mere "amendment" to the constitution and, thus, it required only a simple majority vote of the people. It's a pretty boring case, I think ,and even if we win we'll never hear the end of how Oh Dear God Judicial Tyranny is Running Amok and Overturning the Will of the People!

I'm going to end my commentary on Prop 8 today with an amusing note. In making my daily anti-gay blog rounds, I noticed that at least one "marriage defender" has an ironic sense of victimization. In expressing angst over the California legislature's recent passage of a resolution noting its official opposition to Prop 8, this particular blogger lamented the so-called "Mob Rule of CA House Democrats."

Aye-aye-aye. Mob rule. Nope, we certainly wouldn't want that now, would we?

3. Illinois Civil Unions

Earlier, I wrote about Illinois' proposed Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act which would "provide eligible same-sex and opposite-sex couples with the same treatment as those in a civil marriage."

Last week, in the very busy week for marriage news, the "civil unions" version of that bill finally "squeaked through a legislative committee." This bill would not legalize same-sex marriage, but would grant same-sex couples the right to enter into "civil unions" and receive many of the state-level benefits of marriage. Like the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, this bill also makes explicit the right that religious organizations (have always had and would continue to have anyway) not to solemnize same-sex ceremonies.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Feminist Friday!

March is women's history month. So today is going to be a Feminist Friday at Fannie's Room.

1. What's a Feminist Anyway?

Gloria Steinem was recently interviewed by Russia Today.

No matter your feelings about Steinem, I think the interview is worth reading, especially because the interviewer is a bit... challenging. Nonetheless, Steinem states two feminist truths that I think most decent people could get behind. One, when asked to define feminism, she responded: "It means the belief in the full social, economic, political equality of males and females – that’s it. So a man can be a feminist, a woman can be a feminist. It is very simple...." And two, when asked what the biggest strength of a woman was, she responded "That we are human beings."

Perfect, simple answers. Why are they so scary to some people?

2. Here's Why

In an opinion piece in the The Cornel Daily Sun, Carolyn White explores the "F-word that makes more men and women cringe than the infamous four-letter word we use all too frequently."

She writes, "At the core of the matter is not opposition to women’s equality, but rather, the stigma attached to the term 'feminist.'" Everyone knows the stigma. It ranges from the immature Feminists-Are-Ugly variety to more serious charges that all feminists hate men. White urges people to set aside their personal prejudices against feminism and become part of a larger international "movement to eradicate violence against women."

That should be pretty easy for people to do. Assuming, of course, they believe in both the full equality of men and women, and in the humanity of women.

3. Speaking of Which...

When Christian anti-feminists regularly remind Western women that they have it much better than their Muslim counterparts it always seems a bit pretextual to me. It's like, how much do these anti-feminists really care about the status of women? Are they just criticizing the treatment of Muslim women as a pretense for demonstrating how Christianity is superior to Islam?

Anyway, I'm just saying that it's easier for me to take feminist critiques of the treatment of women in non-Western parts of the world more seriously when they come from people who agree with the general tenets of feminism. So, for a fascinating account of a civilized feminist debate about Islam and honor killings, check out this piece in The Chesler Chronicles.

Generally, I think that anti-feminist Christians who critique Islam under hopes of perhaps showing how Christianity is the Best Religion of All forget that, while there are many differences between their religions, there are similarities, as Dorchen Leidholdt writes in the piece:

"[R]eligious scholars point out that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam share many of the same roots, and I am struck over and over by the similarities of the three major monotheistic world religions. So many of the prophets and precepts are virtually identical. Sadly, all three in text, interpretation, and practice are pervaded with misogyny that can be used to justify violence against women."

The misogyny and sex-based prejudice in all 3 male-centric monotheistic religions is what all feminists, women and men alike, should be opposing.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

"Gender Neutral Masculine" is an Oxymoron

Previously, I wrote about how many of our federal and state laws and constitutions exclusively use the male pronoun in reference to all human beings as opposed to using more gender-inclusive pronouns. The use of the so-called gender neutral masculine, of course, is also common in religious texts.

Sometimes, as in the Catholic Church's instance below, the usage can result in an amusing absurdity and nullification of the speaker's statement. Paragraph 2333 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

"Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity. Physical, moral, and spiritual difference and complementarity are oriented toward the goods of marriage and the flourishing of family life. The harmony of the couple and of society depends in part on the way in which the complementarity, needs, and mutual support between the sexes are lived out." [Emphasis added]

I know that many would argue that "everyone just knows" that the "his" refers to "everyone, man and woman" but I think it would have been a simple concession for any such religious statement and subsequent translation to be gender-inclusive, especially since the point of the Paragraph is to elucidate how both men and women are so very important. This paragraph that is telling us how important it is that we humans have been sex differentiated as men and women is simultaneously ignoring a key half of the "complementary" pair in its language. Ultimately, I am left to wonder how important women really are to the "flourishing of family life" if they do not even garner a simple little pronoun reference of their own.

More generally, considering how simple of a concession it would be for folks to use gender-inclusive language, I have sought to understand why people continue to use the oxymoronic "generic" masculine. To me, it is self-evident that there should not even be a debate about this. But alas, some people believe that the personal cost of using gender-inclusive language is greater than the benefit. From what I have gathered, many people use the "generic he" out of custom, perhaps unaware that it alienates women. It's a privilege thing for men not to have to notice how language often excludes women. I do believe that many men don't really think about this issue or see it as problematic. In the eyes of some, women who point out gender exclusive speech are just being over-sensitive, nitpicky feminazis.

Along these lines, others take a Just Because They Can approach and use the "generic he" to demonstrate how they are capable of exercising free speech. Such people view the trend toward gender inclusive language as an uber-politically-correct infringement of their own right to speak however they like. For evidence of some of these arguments, I urge you to visit Wikipedia's "Gender neutrality in English" entry (and its related Discussion tab). I think this entry is poorly-written and far from objective, but it demonstrates how passionately people feel about the issue on both sides.

Unfortunately, proponents of the "generic masculine" misunderstand, ignore, or remain ignorant of how the usage is problematic. For one, the "generic he" pronoun sometimes really does refer only to men as opposed to both women and men. Historically, that laws, bylaws, and religious commandments were written with the "he" pronoun has been used to deny women equal rights. "In 1879, for example, a move to admit female physicians to the all-male Massachusetts Medical society was effectively blocked on the grounds that the society's by-laws describing membership used the pronoun he."

Secondly, the outdated use of the "generic" masculine pronoun can be confusing. For, "Even when authors insist that 'man' is a general term of all humans, they can lapse into meaning it as a term for only males." Observe:

"As for man, he is no different from the rest. His back aches, he ruptures easily, his women have difficulties in childbirth."

Here, the author at first appears to be talking about all human beings when writing the first clause of the sentence. At best, it is at first unknown whether the writer is referring to men only, or to both men and women. It makes for a confusing shift when, in this same sentence, he begins talking about man and "his women." This sort of double-usage occurs frequently in the Bible. "God," for instance, often commands men (meaning men and women), men (meaning only men), and women (meaning only women) and- depending on translation- uses the "generic" masculine interchangeably.

In light of the obvious problems with the usage of the "generic masculine," the largest being that it alienates half the human population, I mostly see those who continue to use it as either ignorantly privileged, willfully malicious, and/or desperately trying to retain male privilege.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Religion, Science, and Open-Mindedness

During the past year, I have embarked on a new endeavour. The specifics aren't important for purposes of this blog, but I will say that becoming a beginner again at something has been both a humbling and an immensely rewarding experience.

In my real life, to brag a little, I am good at my job and a few other random things. Yet there are many more things that I am not good at and that I am completely ignorant of. As adults, I think we forget this and we don't always let ourselves be beginners at things. We like to think that we're good at life and have it all more or less figured out. There is a real comfort in being sure of things. New endeavors are valuable because they remind us of all the things we do not actually know.

In the scary space of uncertainty, the beginner's mind remains open, flexible, and receptive to possibilities. The expert's mind can be brilliant, indeed, but it can also be rigid and unwilling to change in light of new evidence. Oftentimes, you really can't teach old dogs new tricks. Not because old dogs are incapable of learning, but because they think they have nothing left to learn.

To be somewhat whimsical, I recently wrote about how my mind used to be closed off to certain types of entertainment that I mistakenly believed I did not like. Where before I had thought that my personality was fixed as a Person Who Didn't Like Musicals, once I watched one without that lens on, I realized that I did actually enjoy musicals and have enjoyed many a musical in my day. Contrary to what our society often tells us, it is okay to change one's mind. In fact, precisely because we are human and do not, actually, have all that many things figured out in the grand scheme of things, changing one's mind should be more of a virtue.

I am currently making my way through Pema Chodron's No Time To Lose, and as I was reading it the other day, I came across the following paragraph (page 83):

"Three attitudes prevent us from receiving a continual flow of blessings. They are compared to three "pots": a full pot, a pot with poison in it, and a pot with a hole in the bottom. The pot that's filled to the brim is like a mind full of opinions and preconceptions. We already know it all. We have so many fixed ideas that nothing new can affect us or cause to question our assumptions."

When I read this quote, I immediately thought of the influence that some religious traditions have historically had, and continue to try to have, on science and the pursuit for truth. This isn't true of all religions, of course. For instance, the Dalai Lama has written on the convergence of Buddhism and science and of the similarities "between the scientific empirical approach and the Buddhist exploration of the mind." Buddhist monks have been known to collaborate with scientific investigators to find out what changes occur in the brain during meditation. This spirit of inquiry and open-mindedness is a contrast to the conservative Judeo-Christian tendency to fear, disdain, and reject scientific inquiry.

In fact, when it comes to social policy, I think many people are working from a full pot. Their religious, moral, and spiritual beliefs have already filled their minds to the brim with fixed ideas and so there is no room for scientific understandings that conflict with these already-held beliefs. For instance, many believe that people should not engage in sexual activity before marriage and, therefore, that social policy should encourage teens to abstain from sex as opposed to teach teenagers about birth control. Their minds are not receptive to scientific evidence showing that such social policies do not reduce the numbers of teen pregnancies.

This abstinence-only value, as well-intentioned as it may be, has also unfortunately been used to inform some of the HIV/AIDS prevention work in Africa. After George W. Bush authorized US aid money to the continent through PEPFAR, "a number of the local evangelical preachers began to get excited about this and get involved in AIDS very rapidly.". Unfortunately, because PEPFAR had an abstinence-only funding earmark, some preachers were able to promote harmful anti-condom campaigns. While the HIV/AIDS rate in Uganda, for instance, had been declining after the advent of a relatively successful program that promoted condom use, "due at least in part to the chronic condom shortage, HIV infections were on the rise again." While federal HIV/AIDS funding generally requires organizations to use evidence-based interventions, because of the abstinence ideological earmark, PEPFAR "allows groups or organizations to avoid having to provide prevention treatment or care according to evidence-based criteria."

I wonder if any amount of evidence will lead some people to question their fixed assumptions and opinions about the world. In the case of PEPFAR and sex education, an abstinence-only ideology has thrived precisely because some people have fixed opinions about how the world should be, as opposed to how the world really is. They do not distinguish their ideological truth from evidence-based truth.

Confirmation bias is a noted psychological phenomenon among humans and I think it only grows stronger the more we think we know and the older we get. Always, it's a struggle to keep one's mind open to accepting the findings of legitimate scientific studies that condemn our own worldviews and to be aware of how we so readily accept the ones that comport with our own ideologies. Living in a more reality-based world, and thus having a more genuine relationship to truth, demands that we be aware of the ways in which our own perspective is tinted and to be open to recognizing that we likely hold many misperceptions.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Bizarre Homosex-Obsessed Comic Book

Via Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters, check out this bizarre anti-gay comic book from 1986:


Even though this piece of, um, literature is more than 20 years old, when I saw this page, I am completely confident that it still speaks to those folks who today are obsessively fixated on the sex lives of gay men. And yes, I read through the entire comic book and, although it claims to be about "homosexuality," it really is only about men who have sex with men. After recounting how "male sodomites" do things like cruise for sex in parks and visit bath houses the only shout-out that lesbians get is a lazy (and untrue) afterthought: "lesbians do many of the same acts, but rely on mechanical devices also, such as penis-shaped electric vibrators." It's ridiculous, of course, to claim that there is any sort of preponderance of lesbian cruising spots and bathhouses in the reality-based world. But hey, why let facts get in the way of a good fear-mongering session.

Honestly, I don't think that many anti-gays give lesbians all that much thought. When they do mention lesbians at all, it's usually something along the lines of a "oh yeah, and lesbians are gross/immoral/wrong too" because they can't actually point to lesbians doing "icky" things like having anal sex, going to bathhouses, and utilizing glory holes. It's all so ignorant, really. Does it ever cross these people's minds that gay men tend to be more into casual sex than lesbians or heterosexuals because they're men and there is no limiting woman factor involved? Do people really think that heterosexual men would not be very excited about the prospect of bathhouses and public cruising spots where they could obtain free and no-strings-attached sex with women? I mean come on, that gay guys are into this stuff speaks more to the fact that they're men, not that they're "homosexuals."

Anyway, it's much easier for some to demonize people who, like gay men, are at greater risk for HIV/AIDS than other populations. And, taking a typical male-centric view of the world, I'm pretty sure that many anti-gays don't really consider sex between two women to be as big a threat as sex between two men. In the eyes of some anti-gays, even today, gay men are not complete living beings as nuanced and human as the rest of us, but rather they are sexual beings living sex-fueled lives defined by sexual encounters. Sadly, even today many people's opinions about "homosexuals" are not any more evolved than this 20-year-old comic book's.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Odds 'N Ends

1. A Compromise

Marriage defender David Blankenhorn and equality advocate Jonathan Rauch wrote a recent much-discussed piece in The New York Times calling for a compromise on the marriage equality issue. The compromise is this:

"Congress would bestow the status of federal civil unions on same-sex marriages and civil unions granted at the state level, thereby conferring upon them most or all of the federal benefits and rights of marriage. But there would be a condition: Washington would recognize only those unions licensed in states with robust religious-conscience exceptions, which provide that religious organizations need not recognize same-sex unions against their will. The federal government would also enact religious-conscience protections of its own. All of these changes would be enacted in the same bill."

I like this compromise because it's a tangible step in progressing beyond the idea that Americans are forever locked into a Culture War over this issue. Any time gay people can stop being used as political footballs and scapegoats for all that is wrong in this country, it is cause for celebration. Receiving the federal benefits and rights of marriage would be big. In my lifetime, as a tax-paying law-abiding citizen, I would rather have those benefits than nothing. Thus far, granting us those benefits has been more than many, if not most, "marriage defenders" have been willing to give us.

The "religious-conscience protections" clause takes away a big Ace on the marriage defense side as they would no longer be able to use the Gay Marriage Infringes on Religious Freedom scare tactic. At the same time, I would expect these "religious-conscience protections" to be specified a bit more. While I do not believe that religious organizations should have to recognize marriages that they object to, not that that would be constitutional anyway, I am worried that religiously-affiliated institutions will find other ways to "not recognize" same-sex unions. Anti-gay religious folks have a real desire to skirt non-discrimination laws, say in the provision of spousal benefits to a same-sex partner, and that is cause for concern. In allowing people to discriminate under the guise that not discriminating is somehow religiously unconscionable, I wonder if we would be giving away too much there.

2. Women Just Aren't That Into Anti-Woman Jokes

Over the past couple of days, we have seen how disliking mean-spirited "humor" doesn't mean that one lacks a sense of humor.

Think Progress has a piece up discussing Rush Limbaugh's recent revelation that women tend not to like Rush as much as men do. He seems to find this tidbit of information shocking. For many of us, however, that men like Rush more than women do sort of falls into the "No Shit" category. One reason is that while many conservative fellas have quite the bromance with Rush, their conservative wives probably don't appreciate the dood's reactionary "jokes" about women.

3. Tell Us How You Really Feel

A few days ago Colorado State Senator Scott Renfroe, during debate about a partner benefit law, reminded fellow legislators that the Bible considers homosexuality to be a sin and commands that homosexuals should be put to death. You know, I've never thought it all that wise for people to publicly invoke this particular provision of the Bible when they so clearly interpret the Bible literally. For the sake of literal consistency, it's sort of like admitting that you believe gay men (and lesbians?) should be put to death. Otherwise, if you reject the put 'em-to-death portion but accept the homosexualiy-as-sin clause, aren't you basically just choosing which beliefs to accept based upon your own palatable smorgasbord?

Renfroe later "apologized," not for saying hurtful things, of course. Rather, he's sorry "if [his] use of words did upset people, [he] guess[es]." He also clarified his recitation of the Biblical passage that condemns "homosexuals" to death:

"Obviously I don’t condone that and wouldn’t support that."

The thing is, it's not "obvious." If one bases one's opposition to homosexuality on a literal interpretation of Leviticus, it is not at all obvious that this same person would reject Leviticus's literal order to stone "homosexuals." It's good that he clarified that.