Friday, July 31, 2009

Odds 'N Ends

1. "The area from which you pass urine" is not a medical term

Via Feminist Law Professors, Ann Bartow posted amusing(ly annoying) real-life photos of male and female versions of instructions on how to collect urine samples.

Bartow notes the contrasts in the directions to women versus the instructions to men. Namely, unlike references to the male's "penis" and "foreskin," whoever wrote the instructions prudishly failed to mention female genitalia by name. Instead, women were directed to "spread [them]selves." Labia labia labia labia labia labia labia labia labia labia labia labia labia labia labia labia labia labia labia labia labia labia labia labia labia labia.

Whew. Pardon me. Now that that's out of my system, the failure of these signs to mention female anatomy by name is really sort of a minor annoyance. What is more striking, as Bartow notes, is that the author of the signs also assumed that women are less competent at collecting a urine sample "from themselves" than are men. For instance, while the Man Sign contains only 8 steps, the Lady Sign contains 12. It also informs women to remove their "panties" and "panty hose completely" and then to "swing one knee to the side" so the women do not piss on their undergarments. Men were given no instructions regarding how not to soil their panties.

Now, I know it is a little more difficult for women to collect urine samples than it is for men, given anatomy and all. But, given the fact that Vagina-Americans are used to having vaginas and all, I also think that most ladies are able to figure out how to piss in a cup without soiling their "panties" and "panty hose." And furthermore, given the state of some toilets I have entered after men have used them, I do have serious doubts about the competence of men to do the same.

2. Erasing Lesbians, Again

A woefully inadequate and uninformative AP release demonstrates the problems with conflating "gay" and "lesbian." The headline first informs us that "Lesbians in China petition to donate blood." The first sentence continues "Lesbians in China have organized an online petition calling for gay people to be allowed to donate blood." Taking the headline and this first sentence together, it is not clear whether lesbians in China are petitioning to allow lesbians to donate blood or whether they are petitioning to allow all gay people, men and women alike, to donate blood.

China's policy with respect to banning "gay people" from donating blood differs from policy in the US. China bans anyone involved in a same-sex relationship from banning blood, including women. The US, on the other hand, bans the more statistically relevant "men who have sex with men" category as opposed to "gay men." After all, one can be a gay man and never have had sex with another man; and, a man can consider himself to be heterosexual or bisexual and still have sex with men. Those involved in HIV prevention and care know that "men who have sex with men" is a much more informative category, from an HIV risk standpoint, than is any category of sexual orientation.

Furthermore, given that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has yet to identify a single instance of woman-to-woman sexual transmission of HIV/AIDS, the US does not ban women who have sex with women from donating blood. It is unclear as to why China would do so. The policy seems to rest, if not in bigotry, than at least in an ignorant grouping of lesbians into the default category of "gay person," which we know really means "gay man."

For the sake of accuracy, too, journalists should be very wary of conflating the category of "gay men" with the category of "lesbian."

3. More Anti-Gay Lies

The Box Turtle Bulletin recently documented anti-gay Christian pastor Miles McPherson, of The Rock Church in San Diego, making the following claim:

"Recently in Pennsylvania, a woman was arrested and sentenced for 47 years in prison because she had the following bumper sticker: God loves homosexuals, but homosexuality is a sin. This is only one of the many current and shocking examples of Christian prosecution presented in today’s message."

That is a lie. It is a blatant, un-Christian, outrageous lie. No judge on Earth would sentence a woman to 47 years in prison because of her bumper sticker slogan. Really, it makes me incredibly frustrated that so many so-called Christian leaders would lie so obviously and that neither their flocks nor their own consciences hodl them accountable for saying such things.

Although, I find it absurd that anyone would actually believe such an audacious claim. I really think some of these "pastors" give their sheep no credit at all.

But, cookies and shout-outs to anyone who can actually produce this case.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Superstars and Sexual Assault

[Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault]

Back when football star Michael Vick was all over the news for his involvement in an illegal dogfighting operation, I had a conversation with a male friend about the preponderance of media coverage of this crime and the outrage that many sports fans were expressing. Specifically, I noted that while dogfight operations are cruel, one rarely sees as much press or fan outrage- especially within the sports media- in instances where, say, a woman is raped by a sports star a sports star rapes or is accused of raping a woman.

It is difficult to talk to men about these things without them getting defensive.

For instance, even though my male friend is gay and thus not in the class of men who usually go around raping women, he immediately replied "well, you know, these women just need to report assaults to the police if they want anything to be done about it."

That is a typical Defensive Man Answer.

For one, my friend overlooked the fact that I was clearly referring to instances in which the woman had gone to the police and, in which the media had reported on it. Immediately, his mind jumped, not to my noted disparity in media coverage and subsequent sportsfan anger, but rather to what female victims might have done "wrong" to cause the disparity. Two, while the Poor Duke Boys (tm) are the martyrs around which many men "prove" that "bitches lie" about rape, the reality is that most rapists actually walk free. 15 out of 16, in fact. And, I honestly think that that is quite okay with some men, particularly the ones who believe that most "bitches lie" about rape.

There are many reasons as to why women (and men) do not report that they have been raped, but that low probability of conviction is certainly one factor. For many women, re-victimization occurs almost immediately upon telling others about the assault. Enduring invasive physicals and a trial in which a woman's character and sexual mores are trampled upon isn't worth it, especially after what has happened.

The mistreatment of women who allege rape is especially true when the alleged rapist is some sort of male superstar. When, for instance, an alleged rapist is a famous athlete, the media, attorneys, and/or the alleged rapist can transform a woman from alleged victim to a goldigging lying victimizer. I'm not saying that women never lie. But I am saying that it is a story that plays well, as the dominant narrative about sex in a society centered around the heterosexual male gaze posits that women have a natural desire to be sexually available at all times to wealthy, rich, and famous men. Such men, the story goes, Could Have Any Woman They Want and, therefore, women who actually get to have sex with such men are Very Very Lucky. These VIP (let's call them) males cannot rape women because, really, what woman would not consent to sex with such a VIP man?

One of the problems with the dominant narrative, of course, is that it assumes rape is mostly about getting off.

On July 21, a female hotel employee filed a lawsuit against Superstar NFL Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger accusing him of raping her in a hotel room last summer. I can already hear my friend telling me that this woman just should have gone to the police sooner. And, well, you don't have to be an attorney to know that waiting a year to report a rape makes for a problematic case.

Yes, it is true that this woman could be a Gold-Digging Liar or some variation of that theme. Yet, what if we looked at her decision to wait to report the alleged assault, not from the male vantage point within the Superstars-Can-Have-Any-Woman-They-Want-And-Are-Therefore-Incapable-of-Rape Narrative, but from the perspective of a woman within that same story. What if, for instance, from her perspective a hypermasculinized culture (especially of sports) continually tells us that rape is not a big deal, especially when compared to More Important Things like winning sports championships, having good teams, and not damaging an image.

What if ESPN, the self-touted "Worldwide Leader in Sports"
issued a 'do not report' alert on the Roethlisberger story,"
presumably because ESPN did not want to jeopardize its future access to the Superstar*.

What if, after reporting the incident to security at the hotel where she worked, the chief of security allegedly told the woman that "most girls would feel lucky to get to have sex with someone like Ben Roethlisberger" and that her boss would "personally fire [her] for starting rumors about Roethlisberger's personal life"?

I think the Yes Means Yes blog sums it up perfectly: "This Is What Rape Culture Looks Like."

We don't know what happened in this case. But, Rape Culture, from the perspective of a woman in this case, tells us two things. One, some things are just More Important than a man's sexual assault of a woman, especially sports. Two, Sports Stars are not capable of rape, because all women naturally want to be fucked by Sports Stars. When put like that, I hope some of my male friends can begin to understand why a woman might sometimes be hesitant to come forward about a rape.

*ESPN is claiming that it banned coverage of the story in order to protect Roethlisberger's reputation.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Explaining Traditional Marriage

"America's Best Christian" Betty Bowers provides a funny look at Traditional Marriage as observed in the Bible.

While I'm sure some Christians will look at this video as yet further proof as to how Everybody Is Mean To Them, I don't think they should overlook the overarching message of the video. Namely, that what marriage has really "traditionally" meant differs from what they tend to say that it has meant. The utopian version they present (one man, one woman, for life) comes in stark contrast to historical reality. And not only that, we continue to see that, really, this called Traditional Marriage always has been and always will be (if some people have their way) an institution entirely about men and their needs and wants.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Ohio Bill 252: No Abortion For Sluts?

Ohio Representative John Adams has introduced House Bill 252 in the state of Ohio. To summarize this bill, it requires all pregnant women seeking abortions to identify, in writing, the father of the fetus. It then prohibits abortions, whether the fetus is viable or not, that do not have the written, informed consent of the father of the fetus. A woman who violates this proposed law would be guilty of a first degree misdemeanor; a second offense would constitute a felony. (The bill does contain an exception for rape, incest, and the mother's health. However, the rape and incest provisions require a police report or court document which, of course, would be slightly problematic in cases in which women do not file reports).

I have argued before that placing legal prohibitions on abortion or making it more difficult for women, as a class, to access legal abortion is not a matter for men to decide. Not only are men incapable of experiencing pregnancy, but men have historically benefited in the public sphere when women have been denied access to birth control and abortion. Yet, when it comes to individual cases of abortion, I do think that the rights of fathers to make decisions pertaining to fetuses that they have contributed to are more significant than the negligible interest that male legislators and judges hold in "protecting" fetuses to whom they have not contributed genetic material.

Recognizing that interest, however, is not to say that a father's interest in prohibiting an abortion outweighs the mother's right to have one. Ultimately, the fetus subsists in and through the mother's body and, as such, it is for her, rather than the father, to decide whether to allow the fetus to continue living off of her body. I do want people to realize that I see that a father has an interest in the fetus that he helps to create with his genetic material. Yet, in light of the much greater biological investment of the mother, her interest in that fetus is greater. Thus, quite simply, I oppose this law. Men need to realize that they are not always the deciders, especially when it comes to matters of pregnancy.

At this point, with respect to the above paternal-consent law, perhaps you are wondering what would happen if a woman doesn't know who the father of her fetus is. The proposed law provides that if a woman suspects two or more men of being the biological father, then the abortion provider must perform a paternity test to determine who the father is so consent from him can be obtained. Until I looked into it, I wasn't aware that paternity tests could even be performed on a fetus, especially within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy when nine out of ten abortions in the US are performed. According to this paternity testing informational website, prenatal paternity testing can occur via a procedure that is "moderately invasive to the child," potentially harmful to the fetus and mother, and "expensive." Furthermore, this testing for purposes of paternity testing is usually not covered by insurance.

I think the practical intent of this provision is to, basically, prevent sluts from having abortions. I don't throw the word "slut" around lightly, but it's evident that that particular moral judgment is being enshrined in this law given the burdensome requirement of pre-natal paternity testing. I think, in fact, the bill's sponsor John Adams says it best:

"There needs to be responsibility for actions," Adams said. "As someone who is pro-life, this is also an attempt and a hope to keep the two people who have created that child together, and I suppose if you just go back to the simple beginning, there is merit to chastity, and to young men and women waiting until marriage."

While Adams speaks of the merit of "young men and women" remaining chaste until marriage, his law mostly burdens women. Despite the expected blustering about the importance of marriage and abstinence, you will notice that his law does not require the parents to marry, does not require the identified father to assist with the costs of carrying the child to term, nor does it requires the identified father to actually be a father to the child once it is born. He may, of course, end up paying child support; but given that women still bear the brunt of child-rearing, and single parent child-rearing at that, I don't think it is for a man who may or may not have an actual relationship with the mother or child to be the arbiter of whether or not she becomes a mother.

In all, I don't think this piece of legislation gives a hoot about father's rights. It's sole purpose, I think, is to place another barrier between women and their right to have an abortion. I don't think anti-choicers would even argue with that.

Monday, July 27, 2009

In Which Carrie Prejean Somehow Finds the Courage To Go On Living

For good reason, I have mostly refrained from participating in discussions surrounding former Miss California Carrie Prejean, of "opposite-marriage" fame.

One, I don't think talking about her breast implants and similar drama is all that relevant to much of anything. Secondly, I have never been interested in what this inarticulate woman has to say and, actually, I don't know why she is continually being elevated into the national political discourse (I have similar feelings about "Joe the Plumber"). It's not so much that I believe the meme that all beauty queens are idiots, it's more that, to put it bluntly, her oral "defense" of marriage was among the more clumsy I've heard, and I've heard a lot.

When people don't speak well about an issue, they usually don't think well about that issue either. I mean, all she basically said was that she was raised to believe that marriage was for a man and woman and so that's what she believes now. That just doesn't demonstrate much thought about the issue, and it is certainly not a logical reason to oppose marriage equality. When people don't think well or even all that much about an issue, they're probably not in the best position to "inform" others about that issue or become that issue's leading lady.

That's why it's too bad that for Perez Hilton's sexist, asinine treatment of her, Prejean is currently wearing the tiara of "Marriage Defense" Martyr that professional "marriage defenders" have placed upon her head. Most recently, she just signed a book deal to write a "memoir" called Still Standing. Given that "Prejean believes her crown was taken because she said she opposed gay marriage," I'd be willing to bet that this "memoir" will be the embodiment of the standard woe-is-me Christian Persecution Complex narrative that tends to dominate among the anti-gay, anti-equality crowd. In fact, I have a book jacket suggestion that the publishers are completely free to use: I lost my crown because homosexuals are, like, soooo mean!

Interestingly, "Prejean was replaced by the Miss California pageant's first runner-up, Tami Farrell. Farrell has also said she believes marriage should be between a man and a woman." For special, lucky, magical reasons, Farrell has nonetheless retained her crown.

Maybe the Incredible Power of Teh Gay isn't so powerful after all, eh Carrie?

Sometimes a termination based on an employee's breach of contract really is just a breach of contract and not conspiracy orchestrated by the Gay Mafia.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Odds 'N Ends

1) It Depends On What the Meaning of "Choice" Is

Via The Box Turtle Bulletin, I read of a young man (aged 23) whose parents allegedly economically coerced him into ex-gay therapy. How did they do so?

"His friends have said he had no choice as his parents took away his phone, his car and his money."

While I do think it's unfortunate that this guy's parents were (allegedly) so unaccepting of their son's sexual orientation that they cut him off financially unless he went to "ex-gay therapy," I don't think it's at all accurate to say he had "no choice" in the matter. As a 23-year-old adult, he made the choice to go to ex-gay therapy over the choice of not doing so and losing his parents' financial support.

As someone who put myself through college and law school while remaining financially independent my entire adult life, I've had trouble relating to this guy's "lack of choice." Had either of my parents demanded that I go through "ex-gay therapy: when I was 23-years-old, given my independence from them, I would have laughed in their faces. I guess it's all about perspective and what comforts a person is used to.

2) Cunts Again

Every so often in my Google Alert box, I receive links to a certain bizarre online Men's Rights crowd. The other day, I was alerted to a post by a feminist, Amanda Hess, who came across that notorious site that promises to cure the universe from "feminist indoctrination." Like so many folks who are ignorant of feminisms, this site presents the views of Valerie Solanas as though it is "the second-wave feminist view of men."

When someone genuinely believes that Valerie Solanas is in any way representative of mainstream, most, or even the majority of feminist thought, well, that pretty much automatically discredits the person. I mean seriously, 1968 called and it wants its bell bottoms back.

Anyway, from what I've observed, I think men's rights activism (and its twin brother "anti-misandry") is, for some men, a place for dudes to figuratively unzip their flies, take out their dicks and self-indulgently opine upon the "natural" superiority of man and the overall cuntiness of woman. Hess, in a quick site search, found 101 references to "cunts" on that particular site despite the fact that the site supposedly bans that particular offensive term.

That's why I actually think that MRA-ism does a pretty good job of, in many cases, existing as the radical woman-hating ideology that it believes feminism is with respect to men. Its reality is a caricature, an extreme and aggressive reaction to the de-centering of men from the center of all that matters in the universe.

3) "Married" Works Too

The 2010 US Census will include married same-sex couples. However, thanks to DOMA, the Census cannot count same-sex couples as married even if they are legally married in their respective states. DOMA, of course, prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex married couples for any purpose, no matter how trivial. (Although, I think our foes for some reason like it when accurate numbers of same-sex couples and LGBT people do not exist).

To get around this tediousness, "the census probably won't classify [married same-sex] couples as married but as something legally safe, such as 'spousal-designated same-sex couple.'"

I have a better idea. How about we just call these couples married? Because if they're legally married then that's what they are.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Anti-Gay Human Rights Professor

Via Feminist Law Professors, New York University School of Law has just, ironically, hired a new visiting professor of human rights who is a vehement supporter of laws criminalizing sex between two consenting adult men. The professor, Li-Ann Thio of Singapore, previously testified before her country's Parliament in favor of retaining one such law.

Her speech, which can be found here, was quite long and comprehensively covered nearly every argument I've heard against legalizing "sodomy." I find it a little interesting only because it's more rare for women to be so thoroughly and strongly opposed to anal sex, as the majority of the most vocal opponents of the buttsex (between two men, anyway) seem to be men.

As a preliminary matter, I find it quite annoying that, although Thio's speech refers throughout to "homosexual sodomy," the law in question and much of her testimony pertains only to sex between two men. The very phrase "homosexual sodomy" is always bothersome mostly because it means different things in different cultures and legal systems. Its definition varies from anything that is not heterosexual missionary "coitus," to sex between any two people of the same sex, to gay male anal sex, and other variations of sexual behaviors that people decide are immoral. Nonetheless, placing that bizarre-yet-common primacy on the penis, Singapore only bans sex between two men. I wonder if it's the case that sex between two women isn't significant enough to be banned or whether no lesbians live in Singapore. Inquiring minds want to know.

Secondly, I won't re-hash her numerous arguments against legalizing homo "sodomy." I read through her long piece and subsequently lost minutes of my life in the process; but instead I would like to focus on a misconception that she seems to have with respect to what constitutes an infringement of her own liberty. Near the end of her speech, she says:

"Homosexuals as fellow citizens have the right to expect decent treatment from the rest of us; but they have no right to insist we surrender our fundamental moral beliefs so they can feel comfortable about their sexual behaviour. We should not be subject to the tyranny of the undemocratic minority who want to violate our consciences, trample on our cherished moral virtues and threaten our collective welfare by imposing homosexual dogma on right-thinking people."

While I wonder what constitutes "decent" treatment, it is kind of Thio to acknowledge that "homosexuals" have the right to expect it from "the rest" of society. Yet, she insists that she and those who think like her will lose something if they are no longer able to restrict who can and cannot have what kind of sex with whom. The argument is that the preservation of anti-gay morality depends upon upholding laws that criminalize "sodomy." This argument about the tarnishment of our so-called shared Moral Ecology is an old one. Yet, to argue that it is somehow unjust for an anti-gay majority to no longer be able to regulate the private sexual behavior of two consenting adults speaks to a real confusion as to what "tyranny" means.

Generally, tyranny means oppressive, absolute power imposed by the state or some other outside force. Let's contrast that definition with freedom. Freedom generally means the state of not being constrained by another entity's power. In light of what the words Thio uses really mean, what I suspect Thio and other anti-gays mean when they refer to the so-called tyrannical power of homosexualists, I think they really are referring to a loss not of their freedom, but of a loss of their own power. Namely, the tyrannical and near-absolute power that a heterosexist majority holds to constrain the lives of sexual minorities. When these people "lose" culture war battles, they do experience a loss. But, this loss is much more accurately identified as one of power, rather than freedom.

It's a small, but important, distinction. For, contained within that distinction is the reality that those opposed to homosexuality are aggressors, rather than the victims they so often paint themselves as.

All this being said, I am not actually opposed to NYU's hiring Thio. Students, who tend to go into law school with strong already-held political leanings, are generally savvy and intelligent enough to pick up on the political leanings of their professors. In that context, extremists are rarely able to convince those who do not already agree with them about things. Besides, advocating for NYU to not hire her would only fuel that deep persecution complex that conservatives and anti-gays tend to have when it comes to academia.

Still, I can't say I would find it all that resonating to be lectured to in the arena of human rights by a woman who within her manifesto against buttsex has said "diversity is not a license for perversity," among other things.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Still Seeking a Genderless God

This post is longer than usual folks, but it's an important topic so I hope you'll bear with me.

I have written before of the alienation that I felt as a young girl growing up within a male-centric Protestant Christian religion. This religion, and the idea that our savior, "god," and pastors could only be men was somewhat traumatic to me and, without a doubt, led to my rejection of Christianity and subsequent atheist phase. Now, while I do not consider myself to be atheist, I find that I am unable to subscribe to any formal religion as I have yet to find one that is sufficiently untainted by human error.

One of the most glaring human errors of organized religion within the 3 major monotheistic varieties is the general male-centric adherence to the idea that there is one god and that that god is male. I know that nuances abound within the various branches of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, but generally speaking, "god" and/or the savior/messiah being is gendered as male. With a few exceptions, women are marginal historical figures in the texts of these religions and, as such, men are viewed as the default believer, "created" in the image of god, and thus possessing the natural right to dominate women.

Religion has been and continues to be a profound cultural force that shapes the sex hierarchy. I was reminded of this when, recently, I came across an article entitled "God, Gender, and the Pastoral Office" in Touchstone, a conservative "Journal of Mere Christianity." Within this piece, a fellow by the name of S.M. Hutchens writes of convincing his daughters (and readers) that Very Big Differences exist between men and women, differences that necessitate keeping women out of positions of leadership in Christianity. As he (presumably "he") explains it:

"It must be understood, however, that the theology which excludes women from the pastorate is not shallow, desultory, or (necessarily) the product of mere conservatism."

Given that I tend to be of the opinion that religious texts are man-made, I think that many assumptions rest in the word "must" in Hutchens' sentence. It is not men, according to Hutchens, who exclude women because of sexism, shallowness, or whatever; it is something other than that, you must understand. And, neither is it merely Paul's proclamations on woman's place which exclude women. No. The exclusion of women from pastoral offices comes from "a massive and logically connected body of doctrine common to both the Jewish and Christian scriptures." That is, the pastoral office itself is explicitly, unashamedly, "defined within scripture and tradition as patriarchal." It is "god's" will. It is Just The Way Things Are. You "must" understand that. If you don't, if you question whether it was men or "god" who have excluded women from ordination, Christianity crumbles to the ground.

Through Christ, we "must" understand, "all things were made." That Christ, the "Beginning and End of all things," came as a male rather than female, according to Hutchens, "has timeless, cosmic significance:"

"It is because of the maleness of Jesus Christ that the Church has confirmed and advanced the doctrine ofmale [sic] priority found in the Old Testament. The Second Adam is like the first: the man is found in the woman because the woman was first found in the man....When one walks into a Christian sanctuary--itself a kind of womb--what should be seen and heard is pre-eminently the Man."

That, in a nutshell, is the standard argument against the ordination of women.

Many things are going on within that argument. First, notice the womb-envious conservative Christian male's co-option of the female birthing process. Even though every human being came from the body of a woman, through Christianity we "learn" that it was really the woman who first came from the man. The sanctuary, notice, Hutchens describes as "a kind of womb." Women have wombs, but in order for salvation, humans must be re-born through the "womb" of Christianity! That argument always reminds me of a bumper sticker I once saw that reads "I was born okay the first time." I think we should all be wondering why some formal religions try to convince us otherwise. Humans, they say, are really born through Christ, a man, and that is partly why women are to remain subordinate to men.

Later on, Hutchens bemoans the female pastor's "usurpation" of the male's role in the church. In light of the male's very obvious usurpation of the power of the womb, I cannot help but to chuckle, ironically of course.

Secondly, the main argument against the ordination of women is actually quite simplistic. Christ was a man. Therefore, the heads of churches should also be men. For, the headship of a church must reflect "the person of character of Christ himself." Personally, I find it unfortunate that such a primacy has been placed on the genitals of Jesus. But anyway, even though Hutchens informs us that it is an "error" for feminists to believe there is something "inglorious" or "inferior" about the religious "truth" that females should submit to men, an inglorious implication of inferiority certainly exists within his argument.

For, to hold that the maleness of Christ, through whom all people are born and saved, is an important enough aspect of his identity to demand female submission necessarily implies the superiority of all males. There is no logical way it could not. As a woman, it comes as no consolation for Hutchens to tell me that there is nothing "inglorious" or "inferior" about being a non-Christ-resembling woman whose natural station in life is to submit to a man. And really, it's not for him to say what is and is not inglorious about the so-called natural inferiority of every single woman on earth.

Third, even though I do not "believe in" Christianity, the acrobatics that some men go through to justify the subordination of women are interesting, if not somewhat amusing, to sit back and observe. Perhaps knowing that it's not quite okay to explicitly state that women are inferior to men, they coat that very idea with paradoxical euphemisms. "Humanity's dual gender is a reflection of the nature of God," Hutchens says, but within this concept of God is both "equality and hierarchy." God is equally male and female, but because of gender hierarchy, only the Father and Son part regularly manifest. Women and men, furthermore, are in an equal and hierarchical relationship. To digress for a moment, this acrobatic argument reminds me of the US Supreme Court's magical reasoning in Bradwell v. Illinois, the case that kept women out of the legal profession by concluding that women were citizens alright, they just weren't the type of citizens that had equal rights like how real (ie- male) citizens had equal rights.

I used to think I knew the meanings of words like "equality" (the state of being the the same as) and "hierarchy" (the state of being classified into different ranks) and that the two were mutually exclusive concepts not able to simultaneously exist within the same framework. Now, thanks to Hutchens and his explication that men and women have an equal hierarchical relationship to each other, I have learned that equality means that some people, male ones in particular, can be more equal than others. If you don't understand that oxymoronic concept, it is only because you do not understand the great myssssssstery that is Christianity!

To end, my purpose here has obviously not been to debate whether or not it is true that scripture and tradition mandate the exclusion of women from the pastoral office. As a non-believer, what the Bible or any other man-written religious text say is irrelevant to me. It holds no authority over me, or over many other people for that matter. My question is more meta, so to speak, than that. Feminist religious scholars have varying opinions as to whether it is "worth it" to remain in and reform androcentric and/or sexist religions and if so, how such reformation should occur. Personally, I question whether, if Christianity truly mandates formal inequality based upon the idea of a male higher power (in which the female identity is subsumed and subordinate), Christianity as an institution is indeed salvageable at all.

I'm leaning towards no.

The mythology of the Bible holds beautiful, useful moral parables, but to hold that "god" is male- in its incarnation of Father and/or Son- enables men to then postulate that "god" made only male humans in "his" own image. And, it turns a biological truth about conception on its head by enabling men to argue that it was women who came from men, and not the other way around. In short, from that one audacious idea that the most supreme great and powerful one and only "god" is male flows so much of so many religious males' self-righteous entitlement to gender supremacy. In a society that is dominated by a religion whose very texts and traditions mandate formal inequality, it is perhaps only the exceptional man- atheists, agnostics, liberal religious folk, and others who have found formal religion unappetizing- who lack that entitlement. Everyone else will you tell you that you are a "bad" or "ignorant" [insert religion] person for questioning that entitlement.

To end here, castigating those who have dared to ordain women, I also notice that Hutchens mocks the archbishop of Canterbury:

"Making himself equal to God, he was simply unable to take the more radical step of making women equal to men."

This scolding is interesting on two counts. For one, Hutchens calls making women equal to men "a more radical step" than a man making himself god! I think that speaks to the desperation that some men display clinging to their last vestiges of "inherent" male supremacy. Two, from an outsider's perspective, it has been religious men throughout history who have imbued their self-evident sexist "truths" about the nature of men and women with universality and, in the process, made themselves god. I cannot think of anything more radical (or arrogant) than that.

Ultimately, the "god" that Christianity offers me is a rather ordinary man sitting behind a curtain frightening people into believing that he is a real god. It is not god that I reject, but rather the religions built around "him" that depict god in this way. I do not find it any more appropriate to worship "him" than I would find it appropriate to worship the Wizard of Oz.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

On Dialogue

"I am not trying to create dialogue."

Coming from someone who holds very negative strong opinions about LGBT people, I cannot think of anything more sad to hear than someone's admission that his blog does not exist for the exchange of ideas and opinions.

People write blogs for many different reasons, and I respect many of the reasons that people create their own online spaces. What, for me, started as a somewhat self-indulgent exercise in political venting has turned into something that I've toned down a bit while, I hope, still retaining a critical edge. For one, even though my pieces can be quite critical, I try not to say anything that I would not say to someone in person. While blogging, I have been the target of very abusive personal attacks- attacks that I believe would not have occurred had I been engaging in, say, a face-to-face academic debate. However, rather than letting those experiences harden me, I continually use them to remind myself that real human beings are on the other end of my critiques, even though I cannot see their faces when I write. Even if some of the writings I critique are quite tool-ish, I continually try to keep the focus on the toolishness of what various people write, rather than the perceived toolishness of the writer.

Two, I have come to have a better appreciation for the humbling and rewarding experience of learning why others think what they do via the exchange of ideas and opinions, especially those with whom I disagree. Once those on all sides of a conversation shelve the personal attacks, respectful ans sincere dialogue can be quite insightful. That's not to say that dialogue necessarily changes one's mind; that doesn't have to be the point. However, it can render a better understanding of the "other side's" position and remind us all of our shared humanity.

Reading some of the vehemently anti-gay, anti-liberal websites that I read, I have been pleasantly surprised to find that some bloggers take a quite different tone when actually conversing with the targets of their animus. I have found more than a few people I disagree with to be quite capable of respectful dialogue and I believe that, in my own small way, I have chipped away at their erroneous caricatured perceptions of what All Gay/Feminist/Liberalish People are like even when they choose to "ignore" my comments at their blogs.

Euripides, the blogger whom I quoted above, is one who I have found to be respectful when he has chosen to substantively engage an issue. He has a sense of humor and in the past has been willing to listen to what those on the "other side" have to say. Unlike others who I have engaged with in the past, he has not ridiculed, mocked, or misrepresented my words and intentions at his blog. That's why, while I respect his choice, I find it unfortunate that he has professed a disinterest in creating dialogue over at his blog. Although, maybe it is just a given, at a blog entitled "Self-Evident Truths," that all information he posts is true and, therefore, requires no further conversation.

But more seriously, part of the reason that I read and comment on anti-gay/anti-liberal blogs is because I find it enriching to go beyond echo chamber participation. I do appreciate a consensus as it helps to build a sense of community; but I believe that our characters and our own "self-evident truths" are most tested when we engage with people who have different opinions and ideas about important things. Dialogue is hard, especially via the internet with people one doesn't know. Obstacles include that-all-too human unwillingness to put away the ego-satisfying desire to publicly "win" a conversation, the hesitancy to trust someone on the "other side," and that all-too pervasive inability to communicate well and with precision. Yet, whenever I write a critique of another blogger's commentary, it is my sincere hope that the author will, at least, consider what I have said and, at most, respond and perhaps venture to my blog for a civil discussion.

At it stands, I have seen a real lack of accountability when it comes to the inaccuracies that professional and amateur anti-gay bloggers create and promote. I fear that, when LGBT bloggers expose the dishonesty of the anti-gay industry, the anti-gay industry and bloggers present our critiques as more proof that we are being "mean" to them or are just being "intolerant" of their opinions. I have found that some people believe that they are entitled to their own facts, as well as their own opinions. Within such a worldview, pointing out inaccurate "facts" is akin to not tolerating their religious, moral, or political beliefs.

But more often than not, anti-gay bloggers and those whose incomes derive from their anti-gay messages fail to address charges of dishonesty at all. Without acknowledging their errors, they ignore critique and all charges of inaccuracy whilst simultaneously pointing their long fingers at how others ("homosexuals," namely) are immoral. I sincerely question whether such folks are interested in creating dialogue, as well. Perhaps presenting an "other" side that counters The Gay Agenda trumps presenting evidence that is accurate and true.

That's why the purpose of my critiques here has never been to scold people, but rather to correct dishonesty, inaccuracy, and misinformation about LGBT people when I find it in the hopes that I can appeal to the reason of at least some people who oppose the so-called Gay Agenda. Many of the people promoting untruths about LGBT people are educated and many of them claim to be religious folks of upstanding moral values. Accordingly, I see a real disconnect between the public presentation of these selves when coupled with the uncritical promotion and/or creation of blatant dishonesty.

I hold out hope that dialogue can help me reconcile that disconnect and, in my heart of hearts, I sincerely hope in my own small way to keep criticisms of LGBT people grounded in reality, fact, and truth.

Nobody wins this "culture war" when people remain within the safe, repetitious cults of agreeability.

Monday, July 20, 2009

More Strawfeminism

You can always count on "news" source WorldNetDaily to keep the fun in fundamentalist. You know, practically every day I learn more and more about what feminism is and what it means to be a feminist from those experts on feminism, People Opposed to Feminism. Such folks have this bizarre habit of telling we feminists what it is that we believe without asking us what it is that we believe.

Writing their theses against feminism, such folks rarely present actual feminist quotations or analyses. When they do present supporting evidence for their indictments against feminism, they usually take out-of-context quotations or the most radical feminist statements ever made and present them as being representative of what every single feminist in the entire world believes. Ignorantly, they present weakened scarecrow-like variations of feminists arguments and blow them down as though they have obliterated real arguments and, indeed, the entirety of feminism altogether.

Of particular fun are women opposed to Feminazism. As with other traitors to causes that generally benefit those who share their identity within an oppressed group, one inevitably wonders whether their loud and proud stances are the product of genuine convictions, a desire for pats on the head from those within the dominant identity group, and/or a simple desire for the attention that identity betrayal brings. WorldNetDaily writer and blogger Patrice Lewis has "a problem with feminists" and in her article "Selective Feminism" she succeeds mostly in winning her very own game of anti-feminist bingo.

Before delving into the specifics of her article, let's examine the name of her column: "Real America." When people use the phrase "Real America," I always wonder what that means and which parts of America, specifically, constitutes "real" America. The phrase itself implies that there are parts of America that are not real America and I wonder which parts these are. It's very strange. Some people would be very surprised to learn that they reside in fake America.

Anyway, I will use Patrice's article to demonstrate the anti-feminist errors of treating feminism as a monolith and of erecting straw arguments. Of feminists, she claims:

"They hate femininity (which they see as weakness) and loath women who choose traditional roles."

One of my rules for critical thinking is that one should immediately be wary about sweeping statements about "them" and "they." If such hugely general statements are not properly qualified, they are rarely indicative of reality-based thought. Patrice's piece contains no qualifiers such as "some feminists," "many feminists," or even "most feminists." Nope, her entire article is about "feminists," thereby implying all of them.

Yet, I am a feminist and I neither "hate femininity" nor do I "loathe women who choose traditional roles." There, I just debunked Patrice's entire argument. Game over.

Her argument is both a straw argument and an overgeneralization. It is a claim that many anti-feminists make about feminists, and it is a misperception that leads to many people's resentment of feminism. Many feminists do not, actually, "hate" the concept of "femininity." Rather, many feminists think that what is called "femininity" is not actually inherent in women; instead, it is something that women learn through conditioning and society that begins as soon as baby girls are swaddled in pink blankets and told how soft, little, and dainty they are. Along these lines, it is mostly advocates of "gender complementarity" who present femininity as weakness, because they view it as the opposing counterpart to man's "inherent" strength.

Furthermore, I, and many feminists, do not "loathe" women who choose to stay at home. I have always said that raising children and choosing to stay home is admirable. Yet, like many feminists, I think that women should have more than that one option in life. It's all about having choices rather than restricting women to one life ambition and demanding them to be satisfied with it because it is their "natural" station in life.

See how different my feminist argument is than the argument that Patrice presents as the Feminist Argument?

Perhaps more grating than people who misrepresent feminism are those who tell me what I, a feminist, believe. Nonetheless, Patrice continues that, while she supposedly used to be a feminist, she learned that feminists don't really advocate for all women:

"At the time I didn't know that, contrary to their claim to speak for all women, feminists sure as heck didn't speak for the strong, self-confident women of Flyover Country."

I wonder if, in Patrice's world, Flyover Country is in Real America? In any event, I don't think "Flyover Country" means what Patrice thinks it means. Generally, when people use the term they are speaking of anything that is not LA or New York. Many a feminist who does not reside in these two cities, myself included, might be surprised to learn that feminism doesn't speak for them. In fact, I think many people, feminist and non-feminist alike, would be surprised to learn that feminism has geographic boundaries at all.

Really, almost her entire article is a big play on the down-home folksy Real America schtick that makes people like Sarah Palin so popular. Patrice accuses feminists of being out-of-touch coastal elites who snobbily think of middle America as "Flyover Country," yet it is she who denigrates and excludes some parts of America as being not-real parts of the country. In November 2008, the majority of Americans made a decision to end the polarizing politics that have divided our country for 8 long years. And so, at the end of her article, when Patrice provokes feminists to "bring [the "snark"] on," I can only issue a calm no thanks.

Instead, I will issue a plea for her to write with more precision and more nuance in the future. I will ask her to stop implying that law-abiding, tax-paying citizens who happen to hold different political views than her are not part of real America. While it may invoke a sense of certainty to believe that the world is black and white, accuracy lives in shades of gray.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Hello all. I'm about to reach a "milestone" birthday and, as a result, will be spending it in The Big Easy possibly trying to forget that fact.

I may or may not have access to a computer or the internets while away, but regular blogging will resume next monday.

Have a great few days!

In the meantime, if you miss me at all, you can imagine me spending the next few days doing something sort of like this:

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

New York Times Interview With Ruth Bader Ginsburg

As we await the probable(?) confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor to the US Supreme Court, The New York Times recently posted an interview of lone female justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Justice Ginsburg and former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor are two women in the legal profession who I have enormous respect for.

Although women comprise about half of law school classrooms these days, they were each one of a handful of women in their respective classes. Despite graduating 3rd in her class at one of the nation's top law schools (Stanford), no law firm in California offered O'Connor a job, "although one firm did offer her the position as a legal secretary." Even today, in these post-feminist (ha ha) times, only 2 out of 100 women have ever served on our nation's highest court. Regardless of whether women and men decide cases differently, I think Ginsburg says it best when she notes that the gender disparity on the court "just doesn’t look right in the year 2009."

Anyway, within the Ginsburg interview she discusses the criticism that Sotomayor is "bullying" and notes that current male Justices Scalia and Breyer are aggressive questioners themselves and that often goes unremarked. Women, and this holds true for women in many professions, are often caught in an unwinnable bind. When women are assertive they are labeled "bitchy," but if they are passive they are considered not "tough enough" for a particular job. Oftentimes, such stereotypical attitudes are held by those who consciously (or maybe even less consciously) subscribe to the idea that a "lady" has a natural delicacy that she should not transcend, and that it is this delicacy that makes her unsuitable to work in the public arena.

To end, check out the interview if you're interested. One of my favorite parts was this:

Q: Do you think if there were more women on the court with you that other dynamics would change?

JUSTICE GINSBURG: I think back to the days when — I don’t know who it was — when I think Truman suggested the possibility of a woman as a justice. Someone said we have these conferences and men are talking to men and sometimes we loosen our ties, sometimes even take off our shoes. The notion was that they would be inhibited from doing that if women were around. I don’t know how many times I’ve kicked off my shoes. Including the time some reporter said something like, it took me a long time to get up from the bench. They worried, was I frail? To be truthful I had kicked off my shoes, and I couldn’t find my right shoe; it traveled way underneath.

It's always nice to know that those sitting in the ivory tower retain their sense of humor.

Monday, July 13, 2009

On "Real" History

Many Americans have a certain mentality that there is this thing called Real History and that the histories of minorities and women is not a part of it. It's not always that such people claim that these "other" histories are false, although they sometimes claim that. Rather, it's more that these people suggest that the histories of minorities and women are not as important as the Stuff that White Dudes Did. Mainstream history teaches us that the one authentic history is the history as told from the point of view of a select group of elite males. It teaches us that not only is this history the Most Important History, but that it is also the history of all people. Accordingly, when women and minorities make efforts to tell the histories of non-dominant groups, it is argued that Real History is being neglected and that "we" (meaning society) are collectively losing something Very Important.

Conservative James Tanner, who we've seen before here and here, espouses this view in one of his recent crotchety pieces. I point out his argumentation, below, only because it is quite representative of social conservative thought regarding the unimportance and silliness of [insert minority group] Studies programs. He writes:

"In looking at the 'social studies' books it is evident that the selection of topics is highly skewed towards those dealing with minority issues at the expense of mentioning even the most famous of our non-minority prominent people. However, this decline in an understanding of real history is only part of a greater decline in Western Culture and Civilization." [emphasis added]

Tanner, demonstrating that unfortunate social conservative tendency of acting like he's the arbiter of all that is and is not authentic in this world, argues that history that focuses on non-minority groups is "real history" and, worse, that Kids These Days are failing to learn this Real History because of that newfangled idea that the history of minorities and women are important too. Implicit in his argument, of course, is the assumption that other histories, like "those dealing with minority issues," are not, in themselves, "real." It is unfortunate, this tendency. By staking their claim on Real Americana, Real Man, Real Marriage, and Real Religion, adherents of the One Way to Live school of thought succeed mostly in polarizing society and alienating the lives, histories, and narratives of anyone not lucky enough to belong within a dominant identity group.

In her latest book, Living With History/Making Social Change, historian Gerda Lerner reflects upon why she took up the study of history. When asked why she pursued that course of study, she answered:

"Without hesitation, I replied that I wanted to put women into history. No, I corrected myself, not put them into history, because they are already in it.... What I was learning in graduate school did not so much leave out continents and their people... as it left out half the human race, women. I found it impossible to accept such a version of the past as truth" (29-30).

Lerner, who played an integral role in the formation of Women's History, knew on an intellectual level that women had to have been involved in the making of history. I suspect that many people know this. Despite the fact that history is popularly conceived of as the History of Man in the most literal sense, we know that it was a biological and social impossibility for men to have done all of that Very Important evolving, producing, reproducing, and surviving all on their own. We would never know it from reading most history books, teaching us as they do about "real history," but women are already in history. The challenge is to have that truth reflected in this subject that some people call "real history," but which in reality is mostly the history of a select group of men. Doing so, of course, is the point of Women's History, African-American History, LGBT History, Native American History, and every other course that requires an adjective before the word "history."

The history of women, up until very recently, has been a history of educational deprivation that reinforced the idea that women were "innately" intellectually inferior to men. In "real history," it is taken as a given that women did not accomplish much of importance, and definitely not much that was "worth" putting into textbooks. Yet, Lerner observes, "[i]n the short span of forty years, women scholars have challenged the absurd assumption that one half of humankind should perpetually present its own story of the past as being a universally valid story." The point of adjective-History courses is to make history more accurate. As it stands, what passes as the mainstream History of Man is not the history of all people and, as such, cannot be accurate.

For instance, most of us who grew up in the US learned about how "we" won our freedom during the Revolutionary War. Yet, given that after the war, women continued to be denied educational and occupational opportunities and African-Americans continues to be enslaved, some of us are ultimately left wondering how the Revolutionary War really impacted the daily lives and liberties of these non-white male populations. What did freedom mean for women and African-Americans, and how was it different than what it meant for white men? Real History tells us that pursuing that line of inquiry is unimportant and unnecessary, perhaps because it does not involve some Very Important military battle. Yet, studying such things produces a fuller, more robust, account of what happened and, importantly, it does so from another point of view.

So, when James Tanner bemoans "Social Studies" These Days for focusing on minority histories, histories that necessarily include a fuller account of history than what he calls "real history," I wonder how on earth the teaching of a more accurate history is complicit in, as he says, the "decline in Western Culture and Civilization."

If I may, I would suggest that Tanner is really bemoaning the gradual de-centering of a small elite group of males from what is considered to be The Authentic Human Experience. Maybe he just doesn't know how, or believe it wise, to articulate that anxiety.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Odds 'N Ends

1) Gay Iraqis Fared Better Under Saddam Hussein?

Investigating the lives of LGBT people in Iraq, the BBC's Ashley Byrne found that every LGBT person interviewed "maintained that life was easier for them when Saddam Hussein was in power, from 1979 to 2003." That's not to say, of course, that life was particularly great for LGBT people under Hussein; mostly, I think it speaks to a situation going from bad to worse.

During the US occupation of Iraq, reports have been surfacing of some of the extreme violence and brutality subjected upon gay men that some men in Iraq inflict upon gay men. As Byrne recounts, some of this violence includes genital mutilation, murder, and gluing the anuses of gay men shut and forcing them to consume laxatives. Perhaps that unfortunate trend of freaking out about anal sex between two men is a cross-cultural phenomenon?

You will notice that these reports mostly pertain to gay men, although Byrne uses the term "LGBT" throughout the article. I wonder whether he was able to interview any lesbian/bisexual women and transgender people in his documentary and I am highly interested in learning more about the experiences of these seemingly invisible sexual minority populations.

In any event, if reports are true and hostility toward homosexuality has gotten worse over the years, I would theorize that it's been brought about mostly by a fundamentalist male-centric theocracy, the oppression of women, and the US-led war and occupation of Iraq. Looking at situations like this, it truly frightens me that some people in the US want to turn our nation into a fundamentalist theocracy or, worse, think that we already live in one.

2) The F Word

I had no idea until reading this interview that Jay Leno's wife, Mavis Leno, was such a public, active, and proud feminist. She was campaigning against the Taliban's treatment of women in Afghanistan years before 9/11 happened.

In response to the question of why "feminist" is a "dirty word" to some people, I like her answer:

"The women who freed 50% of the American population -- at last, to hear their names in speeches [at the Democratic convention] was the most emotional thing in the world to me. So if you don't want to call yourself a feminist, then give it all back, OK? If these women so long ago had the guts to stand up and go through what they had to go through, then have the decency to call yourself a feminist."

Unfortunately, many people define "feminist" by the caricatured definition that anti-feminists like Rush Limbaugh have perpetuated. Out of ignorance and (dare I say?) ingratitude, many young women today refuse to call themselves "feminists" because they don't want men to think they are ugly, bra-burning, man-hating, hairy-legged lesbians. I think the public discourse would be improved immeasurably once we all got it through our heads that it is far more accurate to speak of feminisms than one single monolithic feminism and that, if you ever want to know what a particular feminist thinks about something you should ask her (or him), rather than people like Rush Limbaugh.

3. Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Oh look, Obama said some more pretty words about LGBT rights. Isn't that nice?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Cultural Cliteracy

It probably comes as no surprise to regular readers here that I took a course in Feminist Jurisprudence when I was in law school and that my interest in the field continues to this day. What I appreciated about the course was that it, like Critical Race Theory and other Critical Legal Studies, was one of the few that questioned longstanding assumptions inherent in our (mostly white) male-created legal system. We also talked about sex a lot. And that wasn't (just) a self-indulgent feature of the course. After all, the law actually has a lot to say about sex.

Accordingly, I recently read "Toward a 'Culturally-Cliterate' Family Law?," in which Professor Susan Frelich Appleton argues that the legal field "remains preoccupied with performances that produce heterosexual men's orgasms while ignoring, marginalizing, or rejecting women's interest in orgasmic pleasure." [All quotations from this paper unless otherwise indicated].

To begin, walking through marriage, child support, and paternity laws, Appleton observes that family law is sex-centric, for instance, whether it is singling out marriage as the preferred site for sexual intimacy or imposing financial duties on people whose sexual activities produce children. Family law treats marriage, she argues, as existing for the purpose of channeling (male) heterosexual sexual desire into a sanitary institution that provides for any children produced.

At the same time, however, family law as a field "has undergone a significant transformation in recent years, with the United States Supreme Court condemning as violations of the Equal Protection Clause a long list of family laws relying on or reinforcing traditional gender stereotypes." Some of these stereotypes include who may receive alimony, who the provider is, who has authority over community property, and who gets to care for children after a parent dies. Whereas many aspects of family law have become gender neutral as traditional gender roles have faded away, marriage remains an institution nested in the idea that it requires both a man and a woman.

Marriage has remained an institution for one man and woman (for the most part) because of " law's almost exclusive concern with penile-vaginal penetration, that is, sexual activity that might have reproductive consequences...." Because of this, the heterosexual male orgasm is necessarily incorporated into family law. "At the same time that family assumes heterosexual males' orgasms, the preoccupation with penile-vaginal penetration- not the usual route to orgasm for women- communicates the irrelevance of female sexual pleasure, or even its pathology." Within marriage, and in government-sponsored marriage-promotion and sex education programs, "females are expected to play the policing or 'gatekeeping' role- a burden that leaves little room to prioritize or indulge in pleasure."

I think Appleton's observation here ties in nicely with yesterday's article regarding the Responsible Procreation argument. The Responsible Procreation argument is a different way of saying that marriage exists to channel male (hetero)sexual desire. Not only does this channeling theory take a dim view of the inherent nature of males, but it casts women in the role of martyr. They are to be stuck, for life, trying to convince "their" males not to have sex with other women. Their pleasure is irrelevant because that isn't the point of marriage. The point of marriage is to reproduce and ensure that men only experience sexual pleasure with their wives. This focus on the male orgasm, Appleton argues, is why the traditional channeling story, existing as it does without explicit attention to female pleasure, is "disingenuous" and/or "incoherent." I think another apt word would be male-centric, but I digress.

"Cultural Cliteracy" is Susan E. Stiritz's definition for "what an adequately educated person should know about the clitoris, which is that it is a culturally despised body part because it is an obdurate reminder of women's independence and power and supports women's liberation." Yet, what if instead of serving the policing role in marriage, women "routinely acquired the knowledge and developed sexual self-efficacy that Stiritz advocates, so that those channeled into marriage would expect, seek, and regularly experience pleasure as part of an ongoing, intimate, and committed relationship." If this is to be the new story of marriage, I would add that heterosexual married women might learn a thing or two from lesbians but oops, I digress again. This culturally-cliterate channeling story would, unlike the current male-centric version, provide an "internal logic" while also "depict[ing] women as subjects, not objects."

Developing this new cultural narrative is complicated, as Appleton sets out, and involves working with and against media portrayals of women and women's sexuality, re-thinking "healthy marriage" and sexual education programs, and modifying the field of family law.

To sum this article up, one of the most important points I took away from this article is that it reinforced a recent realization I have had about this thing called "marriage." Namely, that the marriage that Traditional Marriage Advocates tell us we have in our society is not really about couples or children. It is first and foremost about males. It is about regulating their (supposed) incredibly high sexual drives and requiring women to sacrifice their own pleasure to police these desires.

By removing the heterosexual male's sexual desire from the center of one of society's most important institutions, I am reminded that the struggle for women's liberation and same-sex marriage equality are, perhaps, the same battle. Under the current marriage paradigm, women and same-sex couples are penalized for the heterosexual male's "inherent" need to fuck as many women as he can. The current challenge is to create the audacious social expectation for men, and men alone, to take responsibility for controlling their own sexual urges.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Marriage As a Message of Responsible Procreation?

For a slight change of pace, today and tomorrow I'm going to review two interesting academic articles I've read recently regarding marriage equality and feminism. While it can be fun to regularly observe anti-gays prattle on about the ickiness of anal sex and such, sometimes we all need to be reminded that there are far more sophisticated arguments beyond the Homos Will Destroy Our Entire Society and Feminists Are Ugly variety that proliferate on the intertubes.

First, via the Yale Journal of Law and the Humanities, Kerry Abrams and Peter Brooks address the so-called Responsible Procreation argument, articulated by Justice Gordy's dissent in the Goodridge decision, as it relates to marriage equality for same-sex couples. (All quotations from Abrams and Brooks' article unless otherwise indicated).

In short, Gordy's "Responsible Procreation" argument goes something like this: Unlike heterosexual couples, same-sex couples cannot accidentally procreate. Since same-sex couples cannot accidentally procreate, marriage is not necessary or appropriate for same-sex couples. Heterosexual couples, however, require marriage in order to police that rambunctious male hyper-sexuality. If same-sex couples were allowed to marry, it would send a "misimpression that reproduction is acceptable without a long-term commitment to parenting."

This argument was subsequently adopted by other state courts and used as a reason to deny same-sex couples the right to marry. Looking through the lenses of anthropology, history, literature, and constitutional law, Abrams and Brooks explore where this "one goal" of marriage theory originated and question its accuracy.

Unlike those who ignorantly or arrogantly make claims to the contrary, marriage does not have the one meaning to all people. Most historians would agree that there is no single, universally accepted definition of marriage and that, in fact, the purposes and goals of marriage have varied considerably across time and culture. That is not even a particularly contentious claim. It's just a fact in the reality-based world.

However, advocates of Traditional Marriage often idealize marriage as an institution created to encourage men to raise their biological children and "nobly" give up their inherent urge to have sex with as many women as they desire. Yet, this marriage-as-a-policing function is a relatively new conceptualization of marriage. As Abrams and Brooks document, sociologist Claude Levi-Strauss observed that marriage historically was not about the regulation of procreation but rather, it was about "the creation of alliances among different kinship groups."

Furthermore, in addition to creating alliances (and thus reducing the chances of war), marriage served the important function of "maintaining control over private property." Under the law of coverture, a woman's legal identity was subsumed by her husband's and marriage efficiently determined "which children would become heirs." Contrary to the goal of marriage as channeling agent for male sexuality, because "bastard" children could not inherit, Abrams and Brooks note that marriage did not actually function as a check on male (hetero)sexuality. Rather, it functioned "as a way for men to maintain sexual freedom without adverse financial consequences to themselves or their (official) families." Marriage, of course, comes with no guarantee that a male will remain faithful to his wife; historically, it came only with a guarantee that his children born in wedlock would inherit his property.

Even the idea that parenting must be undertaken by both a mother and a father is a relatively new argument as "[t]he history of the family includes a wide variety of structures, most often including extended families and polygamous families, where care of children is shared by many." Abrams and Brooks note that courts did not begin manufacturing the Marriage As Responsible Procreation concept until debates about same-sex marriage became prominent in the 1990s and that when they did so, hilarity (and absurdity) sometimes ensued. Money quote:

"Consider Baker v. Nelson, in which the court stated with no irony: 'The institution of marriage as a union of man and woman, uniquely involving the procreation and rearing of children within a family, is as old as the book of Genesis.' Sarah’s handmaiden Hagar, who gave birth to Abraham’s children because of Sarah’s infertility, would be quite surprised to discover that marriage was the institution designed to police Abraham’s sexual impulses; and the sisters Rachel and Leah, both married to Jacob, knew that marriage facilitated, rather than constricted, Jacob’s access to multiple sexual partners."

With historical context in mind, the Responsible Procreation argument looks suspiciously like reverse reasoning. That is, starting with their conviction that marriage is not an institution "designed" for same-sex couples, advocates of this theory reason backwards by finding the one thing that separates same-sex couples from (many) man-woman couples and come up with a supporting argument that works with their already-held conclusion. It is interesting, on the internet, to observe amateur "marriage defenders" parrot the Responsible Procreation argument and its attendant claims that marriage always has been and always should be about Responsible Procreation as though that is a "self-evident truth" about marriage observable in reality, history, and all cultures since time immemorial.

Abrams and Brooks conclude by arguing that the Responsible Procreation conceptualization of marriage may ultimately lead to the downfall of Traditional Marriage. In short, the idea that marriage exists to entrap men is "wholly unappealing for many people." In reality, marriage means different things and has different purposes to different people. "Marriage defenders" have arrogantly claimed a monopoly on Authentic Marriage and, unfortunately, their definition serves only to alienate people from our shared institution. For, "marriage defenders:"

"have begun the process of transforming marriage from an institution that can be imbued, chameleon-like, with whatever characteristics an individual feels or needs to use to fill it into a mere regulatory device that people engage in out of a sense of obligation, duty, or access to health insurance."

To add to this argument, I find the entire Responsible Procreation argument to be insulting, most of all to men. As advocates of this theory would tell you (albeit euphemistically), men must be entrapped within the shackles of marriage or else they will not be good, responsible fathers or partners. It is in their nature to copulate with many women and then to abandon their resulting offspring for that higher "evolutionary" need to spread his seed. In a way, I suppose that makes sense. I've seen more than a few "marriage defenders" express an emotion that I suppose can best be likened to jealousy towards gay men and lesbians. In their eyes, homosexuality is an "urge" that gay people should just give up and perhaps, instead, channel everything into a (boring?) heterosexual monogamous marriage like the ones they themselves remain mired in. And, if heterosexual men have to give up non-monogamous sex, then gay people should have to give up their own desires as well.

Indeed, in an article that got laughed off the internets, the thrice-married Sam Schulman applauded "ordinary heterosexual men" for "heroically" marching up the aisle and surrendering "that dream of gratifying [their] immediate erotic desires." Are married men forever resentful of this "sacrifice" and, if so, is this why more men seem to be not just opposed to homosexuality, but utterly obsessed with opposing it? Just a theory. And if it holds true, I have a thought. Howsabout we let same-sex couples marry and tell heterosexual men, especially those "marriage defenders" who encourage gays to opt for a heterosexual lifestyle, to just do a better job of suppressing their own "natural sexual urges"? I mean, we already know that marriage already does a shoddy job, in the real world, of preventing married middle-aged "marriage defenders" from throwing away their careers for the thrills of that Other Woman.

But I digress, first off, it is unrealistic to present the desire for non-monogamy and sexual abandon to be a uniquely male characteristic. Showing their unfortunate male-centricity, I wonder if it ever crosses some "evolutionary" theorists minds that, especially since the advent of birth control, women have sexualities complete with desires and fantasies of their own to contend with. I sometimes wonder how much of the much-discussed Male Sex Drive is the result of "evolution" versus how much is the result of society-given entitlement.

Secondly, the idea that marriage's purpose is to channel male sexuality simultaneously gives men no credit and no responsibility for their own actions. Whether society is keeping gays out of marriage or blaming women for their own sexual assaults, society is supposed to cater to the urge of the male penis. Because the penis cannot be controlled, men will no longer rear, care for, or support their children if marriage does not continue sending men the message that Marriage Is For Responsible Procreation. But hey, who can blame them right? Men, you know, are just a naturally irresponsible lot and, despite everything we know about their inherent superiority, they have no agency of their own. They are, in fact, influenced only by their dicks and the messages that Marriage sends them. If they don't care for their children, it isn't their fault. I mean come on, is that really the message society wants to continue sending about men? Really?

Yet, for all of its rhetoric of being about the children, the Responsible Procreation argument's greatest failing is that it actually makes marriage entirely about men and their sexual urges. It, like so many other socially conservative ideologies, places men at the center and postulates that society will be utterly destroyed if marriage does not remain centered around men. For all of its blustering about the importance of fatherhood, you will notice that nary a word is said about wives, women, and mothers.

That's why, I suspect that the Responsible Procreation Argument is a case of social conservatives protesting too much. They know that, whatever happens to the legal status of marriage, society will carry on because women, who have been and who remain the primary caretakers of children, will carry on. Marriage isn't about controlling male sexuality. Marriage has never come with a fool-proof guarantee of sexual fidelity no matter what message "marriage" has sent. No, the Responsible Procreation argument is part of a larger mythology of gender complementarity that hoists the Male above the Female and reduces each one of us to our reproductive capacities, or lack thereof.

For good reason, it is a waning ideology for LGBT people and heterosexuals. It will eventually be its own demise.

Monday, July 6, 2009

David Benkof Makes Dangerously Misleading Claims About HIV/AIDS

Whenever I'm reminded of the existence of "marriage defender" David Benkof and his often absurd arguments, I'm always hesitant to give him any more free publicity. Whether he's *dramatically* calling it quits and shutting down his blog, or re-opening it later and renewing his oh so unique status as the Gay Who Defends Marriage, one is left wondering whether his writings are more about defending marriage or more about garnering attention for David Benkof.

Nonetheless, perhaps the greatest issue I have with some of his arguments is that they're simply inaccurate. In his most recently published piece, David makes an argument that I believe to be dangerously misleading from a public health standpoint. Within this piece, published in the Houston Chronicle, he makes many strange complaints regarding the gay community all to bolster his overall argument that gays are way more proud of themselves than they should be. This piece is actually a re-work of one of his earlier blogposts from about a year ago that I criticized here. The paragraph that I take especial issue with, again, is this one:

"During the late 1980s and early 1990s, gay activists insisted that a wave of 'heterosexual AIDS' was just around the corner in the United States, even though no data existed proving that was going to happen, and even though HIV spread through heterosexual sex has always been and continues to be a small percentage of the American transmissions of the virus. Out of fear that Americans would not devote energy to treating and curing a disease spread mostly through gay sex and drug use, AIDS activists consciously lied about the size of the minuscule threat to Americans who did not use drugs or have gay sex. As a result, huge sums of money were spent to educate about and prevent a 'coming health epidemic' that would never materialize. People made major lifestyle changes to protect themselves from what was essentially a phantom menace."

First and foremost, David claims that "gay activists" lied about the threats HIV/AIDS posed to heterosexuals yet he provides no evidence or specifics regarding this claim. As he is or was (or something) a member of the gay community, I guess we're all just supposed to take his word for it.

But that's not the most egregious issue with respect to his article. Simply put, it contains misinformation. He claims that the threat of HIV/AIDS to Americans who "did not use drugs or have gay sex" never materialized. The truth is, it has materialized, and it continues to materialize with each passing year. What David calls "a small percentage" and "a phantom menace" is actually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the leading cause of death for black women in the United States aged 25-34 years and a top leading cause of death for black women aged 35-54.

Nationally, whereas women accounted for 14% of adults living with AIDS in the US in 1992, by the end of 2005 this proportion was up to 23%. Women now account for about 26% of new HIV/AIDS diagnoses each year, with the majority of these cases (65%) coming from heterosexual sexual contact. For men, about 11% of new HIV/AIDS diagnoses are now a result of heterosexual sex.

The default picture of AIDS in America is white, gay, and male. However, the "phantom menace" that David speaks of is increasingly affecting heterosexual African-American women disproportionately. Even though African-Americans account for about 13% of the population, black women account for 67% of new cases of HIV/AIDS among American women. Black women, who were diagnosed at a rate 20 times that of white women in 2003, "are most likely to be infected with HIV as a result of sex with men who are infected with HIV." These numbers are a testament to the fact that, as those familiar with the epidemic in Africa know, "a woman is significantly more likely than a man to contract HIV infection during vaginal intercourse."

David knew these statistics when I pointed them out to him in July 2008 and, unless he has a short memory, he still possesses this knowledge. However, I have a hunch that if David shows up here to defend his misleading public health statements, he will try to weasel his way out of being caught making ignorant, offensive, and irresponsible claims. So, conceding as much as I am willing to concede here, at the very best his lack of specificity renders his argument severely misleading.

For instance, while it is true that "HIV spread through heterosexual sex has always been and continues to be a small percentage of the American transmissions of the virus," it is not a percentage that is negligible. In addition, it is a percentage that has continued to increase each passing year. Thus, it is inaccurate to say that the threat to heterosexuals has not materialized. Also, David claims the threat of infection to Americans "who do not have gay sex or use drugs" to be "miniscule." In fact, the risk of infection for a woman on the receiving end of heterosexual vaginal intercourse is greater than that of a man who is the penetrative partner in anal intercourse. So, while the risk of acquisition for a woman who has vaginal sex with an HIV-positive man is perhaps a "miniscule" 10 in 10,000, the risk to a man who inserts his penis into an HIV-positive man's anus is an even more "miniscule" 6.5 in 10,000.

In spite of these statistics, why does David Benkof continue to tell people that the risk of HIV/AIDS to those who do "not use drugs or have gay sex" is a "phantom menace" that has "never materialize[d]"? That dangerous myth, as any public health expert will tell you, leads to heterosexual complacency about risk of infection which, in turn, leads to more infections among heterosexuals. I think it is incredibly irresponsible and shameful to spread false public health information in order to advance an anti-gay agenda and, audaciously, to publicly shame gay people. Most offensively, Benkof's argument renders the experiences of thousands of heterosexual women who are currently living with HIV/AIDS, and others who acquired the disease through means other than male-to-male sexual contact or drug use, invisible.

Ending his HIV/AIDS section of his absurd indictment of the gay community, Benkof claims that to "people made major lifestyle changes to protect themselves from what was essentially a phantom menace." By "people," I can't help but to wonder if David Benkof really only meant white heterosexual people. As it stands, his current argument rings true only in a world where African-American women don't count.

David identifies as "openly gay/bisexual." While I don't consider him to be an ally to the LGBT community, it is too bad that some will attribute his writings to our community anyway just because he calls himself gay/bisexual. As a lesbian, I think it is absolutely necessary to call Benkof out for negating the lives and experiences of another minority group. There is already a large rift between the white-dominated LGBT community and the heterosexual-dominated African-American community. Aside from the dangerously misleading claims about HIV/AIDS within his piece, the negation of African-American lives by an "openly gay/bisexual" man only furthers that divide.

When he writes asinine articles like his latest published piece, Benkof mostly succeeds in demonstrating that he's a friend to neither community.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Odds 'N Ends

1) Well, um, no. But I've heard it's really bad for kids.

Many people are against same-sex couples raising children. Often, however, you will find that those who oppose same-sex parenting don't actually know anyone who has undertaken the endeavor or who was raised by gay and lesbian couples. That, I suppose, was the funniest part about this article about same-sex parenting, in which the author of a "marriage defense" book claims that children of same-sex parents grow up "confused" and "hurt" while, a few sentences later, admitting that "she doesn't personally know any same-sex parents or their children."

But, you know, even though the research to date has shown no inherent deficits among same-sex parents, it's probably just a commonsensical self-evident truth that same-sex parenting is bad.

2) A Child Called Pop

Determined to prevent their child from "being forced into a specific gender mould," a couple in Sweden is keeping the biological sex of their child a secret. Only a few people know the biological sex of the child, whom they call "Pop," and "The child's parents said so long as they keep Pop’s gender a secret, he or she will be able to avoid preconceived notions of how people should be treated if male or female."

To present an "other side" to these parent's actions, the article cites psychologist Susan Pinker who draws a parallel between this case and the case of an infant boy whose penis was accidentally removed during a circumcision and who was subsequently raised as a girl. When that child was a teenager "she" rebelled against the femininity that was forced upon her, later transitioned to a male, and ultimately denounced what was done to him before committing suicide at the age of 38.

Rather than being a strike against how this Swedish couple is raising Pop, however, that tragic story actually supports raising children without gender norms. The key difference between the case Pinker cites and Pop's case, of course, is that instead of forcing Pop into the male or female box, Pop's parents are letting Pop decide who Pop is without those preconceived notions of what s/he can or should be based on whether s/he is a male or female. For instance:

"Pop's wardrobe includes everything from dresses to trousers and Pop's hairstyle changes on a regular basis. And Pop usually decides how Pop is going to dress on a given morning" [emphasis added].

Allowing children to make these choices for themselves is much different than parents (or anyone else) making these decisions for them. It is when a person doesn't have a choice as to his or her own gender that is traumatic.

3) Quotes of the Week

Hey everybody, Jose Solano still keeps talking about anal sex:

"The engagement in anal intercourse is an immersion in feces."

A bit later, he goes beyond equating sex between two people of the same sex with bestiality and actually argues that homosex is the worse sexual behavior:

"Two men having sex with each other is actually worse than a man having sex with a sheep or a dog because in the former you have two men debasing themselves while in the latter only one man."

I first encountered the anti-gay blog that Jose is a part of, Opine Editorials, about two years ago. While I used to find Jose's ejaculations on the utter depravity of two men engaging in anal sex to be a virtual well-spring of entertainment, I now only find it incredibly disappointing to see that he remains mired in habitually responding to pro-gay arguments by opining upon the utter depravity of men using their penises for something they weren't "designed" to do. For, revolving around his visceral disgust with gay male anal sex are all of the many ways he opposes the rights, recognition of, and benefits for same-sex couples and LGBT people.

Solano's ruminations on anal sex are, unfortunately, pretty common amongst men who oppose LGBT rights. Nary a word is mentioned about lesbians, you will find, as many of these folks place a Primacy on the Penis and what It is and isn't doing to whom and which bodily orifice. This Penis-centricity simultaneously erases lesbians while continuing that tired old meme that sex, sex that matters anyway, does not and cannot occur without the Penis. That's why, whenever some folks actually mention lesbians it's always with that air of Oh yes, and lesbians are gross too. But anyway back to what I was talking about before. Why that would be Penises, of course, and what other men are doing with theirs. It is sad how many heterosexual men have so bought into the idea of the all-important Penis that they cannot stop thinking about how society might completely and totally collapse if some men aren't using their dicks "correctly."

And, other than that, people who get this upset about other people's sex lives, something they have no control over, I think are living in a hell of their own making. Within one of Solano's rants, his seething, foaming disgust drips off the screen. Why some people think they are entitled to restrict other people's rights based on what two consenting adults do in the privacy of their own homes is something I'm still trying to understand. I have a hunch that when it comes down to it, the ire that some men feel towards anal sex comes from the fact that when men use their penises for something other than procreation, it de-centers the penis from that phallo-centric role of "plough, seed, grain chute, and ovipositor all in one" that some people fancy it is and oh dear we can't have that, can we? In any event, believe it or not, it does make me sad to see that people can become so discombobulated talking about homosexuality and anal sex.