Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Odds 'N Ends

1) On the Elusiveness of Gender

In a recent opinion piece in The New York Times, Jennifer Finney Boylan explores the absurdities of how different states would treat the marriage between herself and her spouse. Specifically, Boylan is a transgender woman who was a man when she initially married her wife, but she transitioned to a woman after the marriage. The two remain married. In her insightful piece, Boylan discusses the elusive nature of gender and its legal definition:

"But what [Boylan's wife] would tell you, were you to ask, is that the things that she loved in me have mostly remained the same, and that our marriage, in the end, is about a lot more than what genders we are, or were....I’ve been legally female since 2002, although the definition of what makes someone 'legally' male or female is part of what makes this issue so unwieldy. How do we define legal gender? By chromosomes? By genitalia? By spirit? By whether one asks directions when lost?...

Gender involves a lot of gray area. And efforts to legislate a binary truth upon the wide spectrum of gender have proven only how elusive sexual identity can be.... Legal scholars can (and have) devoted themselves to the ultimately frustrating task of defining 'male' and 'female' as entities fixed and unmoving. A better use of their time, however, might be to focus on accepting the elusiveness of gender — and to celebrate it. Whether a marriage like mine is a same-sex marriage or some other kind is hardly the point. What matters is that my spouse and I love each other, and that our legal union has been a good thing — for us, for our children and for our community."

I have asked before what it is that makes us male and female (or both or neither) and I have yet to determine what the elusive something is. I doubt anyone is able to adequately do so, although I'd be interested in hearing more theories. Reality is not always as simple as we think it is.

2) Engaging Men in Gender Initiatives

Research organization Catalyst recently issued a report regarding the role of men in gender diversity initiatives entitled "Engaging Men in Gender Initiatives: What Change Agents Need to Know," (PDF). The researchers surveyed a group 178 businessmen to test several hypotheses regarding men's reactions to and awareness of gender bias. Interestingly, they found that defiance of masculine norms, having women as mentors, and having a strong sense of fair play are linked to a higher awareness of gender bias in men. Secondly, the researchers found that apathy, fear of losing privilege, and real and perceived ignorance regarding gender bias undermined men's support for gender initiatives in the workplace.

The sample size is relatively small, and it would be interesting to further explore how these variables related to each other, but I think it's an interesting study nonetheless. It has been my experience that gay men, and other men who don't meet traditional masculine norms, in my life tend to be much more supportive of feminism and gender equality than other men.

Importantly, the report also discussed how gender equality is not a zero-sum game where if women win it means men lose. Feminists argue this all the time, but the report mentions that when the walls of Traditional Masculinity and Traditional Femininity are broken down along with notions of "gender-appropriate" behavior, women and men are freer to have more rewarding relationships with each other that go beyond fulfilling some sort of made-up "complementary" yin-yang role.

3) Sotomayor, Again

Last week, I wrote about Jeff Rosen's (not much of a) "case" against nominating federal judge Sonia Sotomayor to the US Supreme Court. His case was poor because it essentially consisted of anonymous cherry-picked quotes of former law clerks to other judges.

Over at The Volokh Conspiracy, Eric Posner presents a more objective analysis of judicial evaluation. Analyzing data along three dimensions of productivity, opinion quality, and independence, Posner concludes that Sotomayor "is about average, or maybe a bit below average, for a federal appellate judge" and that Diane Wood (another potential nominee) is a "stronger" candidate whose performance has been "impressive." Interestingly, Sotomayor ranked higher than recent Supreme Court addition Samuel Alito on 3 of 5 measures. I don't recall many people questioning his capabilities during the nomination process, lending credence to my argument that white guys are often considered competent until proven otherwise.

Anyway, Posner states that he feels confident about his conclusions but admits that his measures are controversial. I say it's still better than Rosen's US Weekly-esque compilation of anonymous workplace gossip.

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