Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Gay Rights As a Conservative Movement?

I've never been big into Ani DiFranco's music. I tend to like my songs a little more.... sung. That being said, though, I do greatly respect her politics and her outspokenness about being a feminist.

Those who are fans, though, might appreciate this interview. In it, she quotes and elaborates upon one of her lyrics:

“'Feminism ain’t for women / That’s not who it is for / It’s about shifting consciousness / It’ll bring an end to war.'

I feel like we need to understand feminism more as a tool to mediate, counteract, to ultimately defeat patriarchy and restore balance to our government, our culture and our ways of thinking and structuring the world. I think we’ve had a very 'masculine' sensibility for a long time, and I think we need to go back to the roots of social imbalance. I think we have to try to right that first, and from there and all these more pressing issues will follow."

This quote brings to mind an issue that I go back and forth about myself.

Namely, is the mainstream LGBT rights' movement push for assimilation into marriage and the military a conservative goal or a radical one?

Both institutions have, historically, been imbued with gender essentialist stereotypes, male dominance, and the oppression of women. And yet, by (arguable) legal necessity, gay rights litigation has traditionally been premised on, to paraphrase, arguments of the "we're just like you and we were born this way" type.

So, rather than pushing to make flawed institutions and flawed ways of thinking about gender and sexual identity better, the push seems to be to keep flawed structures intact while allowing more people into these structures.

Upon the legalization of same-sex marriage and the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," will there be or has there been, to use DiFranco's words, a shift in consciousness about our ways of structuring the world?

I think it is reasonable to argue that same-sex marriage subverts some of the gender stereotypes and expectations associated with marriage, but it's not clear what effect, if any, this subversion will have on different-sex marriages.

[Cross posted at Alas]

Monday, January 30, 2012

Inequality As Dominance

In Meghalaya, a state in India, women- unlike men- cannot become tribal or village chiefs. Nor can they elect the chiefs. Unlike men, they cannot dispose of property on their own, and men are considered the head and master of the family.

Women are framed as the "mistress" of the household and are revered for their capacity to give birth.

This society, however, is also matrilineal and inheritance goes to the youngest daughter. Partly because of this inheritance structure and via the worship of a female god, boy and girl babies are said to be treated equally (unlike in some states where girl babies are seen as burdens).

So, all things considered, why does this BBC article, written by a Western man, frame Meghalaya as some sort of matriachal utopia where women utterly and completely dominate men?

First, note the headline (to be fair, possibly not written by him, but misleading nonetheless):

"Meghalaya, India: Where women rule, and men are suffragettes"

Well, not really.

Is there or has there ever been any state where men have been completely denied the right to vote for state leaders on the sole basis of their sex? Other reasons, such as race, ethnicity, or property-status, yes, but just because they're men? I'm not sure (although, feel free to chime in if anyone knows of any).

Indeed, in Meghalaya, if we take the definition of "suffragette," it is actually the women who are suffragettes rather than the men. Which is the opposite of what dude journalist says.

Thusly I began casting a skeptical eye at the rest of his narrative account of visiting this village:

"It appears that some age-old traditions have been ruffling a few feathers of late, causing the views of a small band of male suffragettes to gain in popularity, reviving some rather outspoken opinions originally started by a small group of intellectuals in the 1960s.

I am sitting across a table from Keith Pariat, President of Syngkhong-Rympei-Thymmai, Meghalaya's very own men's rights movement.

He is quick to assure me that he and his colleagues 'do not want to bring women down,' as he puts it. 'We just want to bring the men up to where the women are.'"

And so we learn that if men are not completely dominant in a society, then it means women are completely dominating them.

My point here is not to say that this men's rights movement doesn't have some legitimate concerns, but rather, it is to suggest that it's a gross oversimplification, an anxious and overzealous interpretation, to frame a matrilineal society in which women lack the right to vote and are revered mostly for baby-making capacities as a society wherein women hold all power.

Seriously, what's with that?

Let's watch the BBC journalist continue to relay his story:

"As we are talking, a praying mantis careers into our hut and slams into the side of my head.

After the laughter dies down, I take the opportunity to break the ice with Alfred by pointing out that female mantises eat their mates after sex, making a gesture with my arms mimicking the insect's claws, an action the Khasi called "takor" and one which turns out to be the gesticular equivalent of sticking two fingers up at someone. There is more laughter at my expense."

You know, when I read that anecdote, I immediately knew the article was written by a man, even before I looked at the journalist's name.

In Right-Wing Women Andrea Dworkin wrote, "In the sorrow of having children there is the recognition that one's humanity is reduced to this, and on this one's survival depends." In a Western context, in societies where women can vote, hold jobs, go to college, and (in theory, if not in fact) become heads of state, I think Dworkin's quote could just as well apply to some "men's rights activists."

This Western male journalist inserted the mantis anecdote for a reason. And, I see it as reflective of male anxiety about the possibility of living in a post-feminist society wherein men are useful only insofar as they are able to impregnate the All-Powerful Matriarchs, after which they will be discarded as useless. Perhaps that explains the need some feel to frame a society in which men are not completely dominant as a society in which men are completely dominated.


"Meghalaya: The Matrilineal Society"

"The myth of matriliny in Megahalaya"

"The matrilineal society of the Khasis"

Friday, January 27, 2012

That's Women's Work

I had a telling conversation with an MRA recently.

Over at Alas, where I cross-posted an article, the conversation in the comments turned to MRAs and their fixation on feminism as the root of all evil. There, I noted:

"...[W]hen some MRAs bring up the statistics of men dying earlier than women, working in more dangerous occupations, etc., they usually do so without any analysis of why those statistics are the way they are. The general point seems to be: Bad Things Happen To Men Too, Therefore Patriarchy/Male Privilege Doesn’t Exist.

Which, you know, fine. Deny the existence of Patriarchy and male privilege. But if they’re not examining the factors that causes men to die earlier, or why men work in more dangerous occupations, or why there’s a 'myth of men not being hot,' those problems aren’t just going to disappear by blaming feminists for them or denying Patriarchy/male privilege.

So, the concern about these issues doesn’t, from my perspective, look sincere when it’s only put forth for those purposes.

It’s like, really? Don’t want men to disproportionately work in dangerous jobs? Push for better safety protection laws. Push for an end to the harassment of women who try to enter those professions. Push for an end to defining certain jobs as 'manly.'”

In response, an MRA defender, Clarence, wrote:

"Men, let alone MRA’s can’t simply 'snap their fingers' and make that happen."

He then proceeded to claim that women, what with our "sexual selectivity" and all, help define what's "manly" and so the onus is on women to change, and feminists to convince women to change.


Thusly we learn that because men can't just snap their fingers and fix their plight, it is apparently up to feminist women to advocate, blog, protest, organize, lobby, and basically do all the gritty shitwork to solve the plight of men and if we refuse to prioritize MRA concerns we're so mean and evil and man-hating.

What about teh menz indeed.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

It's Not Broken

[Content/trigger warning: anti-GLB prejudice]

You know how you read the title of something and you know you really shouldn't even bother reading it if you don't want to get pissed off, but then you think, "oh, this is going to be so bad it's good" so you click on it anyway?

That's kind of what I thought when PF passed this story my way. Headline:

"Confessions of a recovering lesbian"

Ohhhhhhh. Really.

Lesbianism is something that requires recovering from? I scoff at you, offensive headline.

The "confession" begins with a citation from an Acclaimed Social Scientific Research Expert on the matter. Or, you know, a Catholic Church catechism. Same dif:

"Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that 'homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.' They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved. (2357)"

You know, the whole "gay agenda/recruitment tactic" thing is kind of an in-joke among many LGBT advocates, but I have to give some major patriarchy-recruiting props to a male-supremacist institution like the Catholic Church using its authority not to make life easier for LGBT people and heterosexual women, but to declare that the only way one can have a Proper, Moral, And Genuine Sex Life is within the bounds of a heterosexual, "gender complementary" man-on-top marriage. Well played, sirs.

I'm also tempted to say a lot of snarky things about this really offensive confession and the bigotry within it, but I find the story pretty sad.

In it, the writer discusses her 15-year marriage to a man, during which she "struggle[s] daily with same-sex attraction." She talks about how it was difficult being shunned for being gay when she was younger, and of now fighting the urge to go to lesbian bars when she's on work trips. Of being married to a man, she says:

"The sexual attraction to women, however, never went away. I discovered that while I was still attracted to individual men, I was primarily attracted to women as a whole both sexually and emotionally."

And I'm all, "I can totally relate, sister."

Being a young lesbian was hard. And, it is usually in my best interest to avoid lesbian bars while on work trips. (Is it just me or are hangovers after 30 so much worse?). And... I can relate to these things because I am a lesbian.

It's her call, of course, to self-identify however she wants, but I question if she (and her cheerleading Catholic readers who commented) knows what the word "former" means.

Aside from that, the thing about these "confessions of a former gay" narratives is that they demand LGBT people and allies to respect the "former homosexual's" choice to not be gay anymore, but they never suggest that living as an Avowed Lesbian, Bisexual, or Gay is just as valid, legitimate, and moral of a choice as is the choice to be in a heterosexual relationship. Indeed, they actively and explicitly state that it's not, as that is the entire premise upon which their new lifestyle choice is based.

It's like, they assimilate into the cool kids' marriage club and start saying things like:

"It helps, too, to know that what I have with my husband trumps anything I could have had in a homosexual relationship....Naturally, I have profound compassion for those who struggle as I do. But I don’t believe we must indulge same-sex attraction if we experience it. I’m really no different than a straight man who struggles not to objectify women. Or a straight woman who is tempted to fornicate. We’re all broken people, which is why we all need Christ....Does God love His [sic] children who struggle with same-sex attraction? Yes, of course. But He [sic] loves us too much to leave us that way."


I find two things (actually more, but I'll only focus on two things right now) really offensive about this. The first is the narrative that people in same-sex relationships are somehow un-disciplined or constantly succumbing to temptation. Well, let me break it to you. Even though I live my life as an Avowed Lesbian, relationships are still hard. My monogamous civil union with my partner, even though it's gaygaygaygayhomolezgay and even though it's really good, actually does still require give-and-take, honesty, discipline, commitment, and struggles.

Some of these anti-gays seem to think that being in a same-sex relationship is an ongoing bacchanalian feast of fleshly delights that is totally unlike their super special, super disciplined relationships.

Two, what especially sends shivers down my spine are the "What a beautiful piece" and "see, we're not gay haters, we just want you to not be broken anymore" head pats many Catholic commenters gave to this "former lesbian" in the comment section.

It's like there's no capacity to recognize that calling people broken when they're not is really hateful, actually, and that calling that odious statement your precious and sacred religious belief doesn't give you magical immunity from having it called such.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

All-Women US Navy Team Breaks Records

Via The Mary Sue, the first all-women US Navy construction team broke some building records in Afghanistan:

"The Seabees were first formed during World War II as a means of employing soldiers who were also skilled at construction. Women first joined the Seabees in 1972 and started serving alongside their male counterparts in 1994. In this particular situation, there simply weren’t a lot of male Seabees around in the middle of November, when the construction was needed. But the women from Naval Base Ventura County were ready to go to work. When they showed up, naturally some less-evolved soldiers 'rolled their eyes' at the sight of an all-female team. But then they went ahead and worked 12-hour days, finishing the barracks in a period of two weeks. Normally, it takes three. They also went ahead and installed electricity and plumbing, then added an operations center and a gym. Since they had the time, you see."

I just finished reading an interesting non-fiction book on women who were nurses, doctors, and women-at-arms in and during World War I (review possibly forthcoming!).

So despite my mixed thoughts on pacifism and the acceptability of military action, I can appreciate that military service was historically a path toward full citizenship rights for women, that women in the military subvert the traditional gender narrative of male-Protectors and female-Protected, and that contrary to ignorant nay-sayers, many women are willing and capable of serving in both combat and non-combat roles.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Maintaining Gender Distinctions

It is often said that men are considered the default human being whereby the Average Consumer, Average American, or Average [Insert Person In Random Occupation] is assumed to be male and that any deviation from the male sex is some sort of "other" or "atypical" experience.

And indeed, that is true in many instances.

It is not true, however, in all. Take, for instance, the mainstream trend of creating "bromanteaus." As ozy writes at No Seriously What About Teh Menz (NSWATM):

"Think about nurses: we assume that nurses are female, so if there’s a dude who’s a nurse we might describe him as a 'male nurse,' while 'female nurse' sounds bizarrely redundant. The male nurse is a marked case. Bromanteaus embed the marked case in the structure of the word. Women don’t have 'guyliner,' they just have makeup. Women don’t have 'bromances,' they just have best friends. Women don’t have 'mancaves,' they just have rooms."

Recently, I was in a drug store buying lotion. I reached into the basket of lotions on display and the first one I grabbed was a blue and white bottle of fragrance-free lotion with the word "Men's" on it. It was identical to the gender-neutral bottle in every other way, and it contained the exact same ingredients.

The implication was that women were the usual consumer of lotions, which may indeed be the case, and that it was therefore unnecessary to include the word "Women's" on the bottles that did not include a gender. I was also struck by how rare it felt to be looking at a product that treated me, a woman, as the Default Consumer. Unless a product is pink, a cosmetic, baby stuff, or cleaning stuff, this doesn't seem to happen all that much.

Yet, there was another, more problematic, implication working here, and it's one that works in the above "bromanteaus" as well. That implication is that men won't buy things that women usually buy because they don't want to be marked with the taint of femininity and/or feminine inferiority.

Men can't just say they're putting on eyeliner, because that's what women do. So, people make it a little more acceptable by calling it "guyliner." Even if it's the exact same process and product.

Just another interesting way that artificial gender distinctions are created and maintained.

Monday, January 23, 2012

On Hatred and Bigotry, Again

[Content/trigger warning: Anti-LGBT bigotry]

[Note: This article was also posted at Family Scholars Blog (FSB) and the questions I ask within it are more geared toward that audience, as opposed to regular readers of Fannie's Room who are likely feminists and supports of LGBT equality. Nonetheless, you may still find it interesting, and feel free to share your thoughts here (or at FSB, although please note that it can be an unsafe commenting space for LGBT people at times.)]

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization "dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry, and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society."

Unlike some nonprofits, especially those centered around contentious social issues, SPLC publishes its Annual Report, audited financial statements, and Form 990 (which is a nonprofit's "tax return") on its website for public viewing.

Although SPLC engages in a wide variety of progressive activist, anti-racist, and social justice work, it is particularly notorious among those who oppose equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people for its monitoring and labeling of "active anti-gay groups" on its website.

The SPLC's labeling of these organizations as "hate groups" used to be more prominently displayed and explicit on its website. This no longer seems to be the case.

However, in its Winter 2010 Intelligence Report, SPLC listed 13 groups as anti-LGBT hate groups, saying:

"Generally, the SPLC’s listings of these groups is based on their propagation of known falsehoods — claims about LGBT people that have been thoroughly discredited by scientific authorities — and repeated, groundless name-calling. Viewing homosexuality as unbiblical does not qualify organizations for listing as hate groups."

That is, according to the SPLC, a belief that homosexuality is wrong or immoral, is not enough to warrant the "hate group" label. Nor is being a religious group that believes homosexuality is wrong enough. What the SPLC looks at, by its own definition, is a group's pattern of spreading falsehoods about LGBT people that have been discredited and engaging in "repeated, groundless name-calling."

Some of the more abhorrent examples the SPLC cites as messaging that contributes to the "hate group" label include:

Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association claiming, “[h]omosexuality gave us Adolph Hitler, and homosexuals in the military gave us the Brown Shirts, the Nazi war machine and 6 million dead Jews.”

Steven Anderson, the pastor of Faithful Word Baptist Church, saying, “The biggest hypocrite in the world is the person who believes in the death penalty for murderers but not for homosexuals," claimed that "sodomites" recruit through "rape" and "molestation," and told an openly gay interviewer, “If you’re a homosexual, I hope you get brain cancer and die like Ted Kennedy.”

Several groups, including Peter LaBarbera's Americans For Truth About Homosexuality (AFTAH), were included partly for the dissemination of the discredited work of Paul Cameron, who during his career has made many inflammatory and inaccurate claims about "homosexuals." (Just for some "thought food" here, because some FSB readers and bloggers might not be aware of it, in 1986 the American Sociological Association "repudiated any claims that Paul Cameron is a sociologist and condemned his misrepresentation of sociological research" (PDF). Other professional organizations make similar complaints.)

So, it was with much aggravation and disappointment that I heard of this spin:

"Black pastors join pro-family groups to condemn Southern Poverty Law Center for 'bigotry'"

This article (yes, at a conservative Christian news source) discusses a protest of the SPLC that several SPLC-labeled hate groups participated in on Martin Luther King, Jr's birthday, such as the Illinois Family Institute, Mass Resistance, Abiding Truth Ministries, and AFTAH. It quotes Matt Barber, a figure prominent in the LGBT "culture wars," as saying:

“The SPLC has moved from monitoring actual hate groups like the KKK and Neo Nazis to slandering mainstream Christian organizations with that very same ‘hate group’ label. By extension, the SPLC is smearing billions of Christians and Jews worldwide as ‘haters,’ simply because they embrace the traditional Judeo-Christian sexual ethic."

He then accused the SPLC of engaging in "anti-Christian bigotry."

The relevance of noting the race of the pastors involved in the protest is questionable. The implication seemed to be that (presumably heterosexual) African-American pastors possess moral authority to say what does and doesn't constitute legitimate hatred and bigotry, even against minority groups that they may not be a part of. Yet, what some audiences (predominately anti-LGBT ones) might see as some sort of United Colors of Love, Tolerance, and Christianity, other audiences (predominately pro-LGBT ones) might see as an opportunistic alignment of bigotry.

For instance, one African-American pastor involved in the protest added his two cents:

“I think every African-American ought to be appalled, ought to be angry, and begin to wave their fist in the air and declare black power and say to the homosexual lobbyists, the homosexual groups, how dare you compare your wicked, deviant, immoral, self-destructive, anti-human sexual behavior to our beautiful skin color."

Look. People.

We need to have a serious talk about what constitutes civility, hatred, and bigotry.

From my perspective, this protest was deflecting genuine criticism of the tactics some of these SPLC-labeled "hate groups" engage in and was mis-attributing the critiques as being evidence of "anti-Christian bigotry." It is an absurd claim. Not only because SPLC has documented the actions and messaging that they believe constitute hateful behavior, but because if this were a case of bigotry against Christian groups and churches that "merely" oppose homosexuality, the list of "hate groups" would be far more numerous than 13.

Indeed, to those who oppose same-sex marriage, LGBT rights, and/or "the homosexual agenda," look again at the accusations cited above that the SPLC-identified "hate groups" have made about LGBT people. Read the SPLC report for yourself.

Do you find the messaging of these groups to be in any way problematic?

Do you find the messaging to be evidence of hatred? Of ignorance? Of something else?

If a peaceful resolution of these "culture wars" is a goal, and given that the "hater" label can shut down dialogue, what do you think would be a more productive way for LGBT rights advocates to point out the problematic aspects of these accusations and misrepresentations that it call it hate?

Do you feel that some of these groups unfairly give the rest of those who oppose same-sex marriage "a bad name"? How might the fact that prominent opponents of same-sex marriage so rarely call out people on "their" side of bigotry, hatred, or misbehavior impact the perception that supporters of LGBT rights have of you? How might it impact the crusade to save marriage, if some people are giving "all of you" a bad name?

Finally, to all readers, is it "just as mean" or morally equivalent to call someone a hater or bigot who refers to homosexuality as "wicked, deviant, immoral, self-destructive, anti-human sexual behavior" as it is to make that reference in the first place?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Feminism, Men, and Redemption

[Trigger/content warning: Violence]

A couple of people have emailed me asking what I think about the Hugo Schwyzer, erm, Internet Feminist Situation. (See Alas, for a roundup of related links and background.)

(tl;dr version: What role should or can a male feminist play in feminist when, by his own admission, he has had a very problematic history with women but now seeks to make amends?).

My observations are as follows:

First, I have linked to Scwhyzer's work a few times in the past. That being said, I am very troubled by Schwyzer's past and, prior to this incident, I was not aware of the extent of how problematic it was (It ranges from having tried to kill himself and a former girlfriend while being addicted to drugs and alcohol, to having sex with adult students while he was their teacher).

Schwyzer is a relatively Big Name in feminism, he teaches gender-themed courses at a city college (I don't know if he has tenure), he contributes (or contributed to, before recently resigning) to several very prominent feminist and gender issues blogs, he's co-authored a book, and he has a fancy self-promoting website with his photo attached (he's a conventionally attractive white man).

Much of this- the blogs, the gigs, the promotion- I believe is a function of white male privilege.

Not only has he never been arrested for criminal behavior, he recently wrote on his blog of having been given second chances, of having been "urged" to make amends by his colleagues and administrators, and of being handed the opportunity to chair the committee that wrote his college's policy on relationships between students and teachers.

I value the power of forgiveness, amends, and redemption, and I do think Schwyzer is talented, but ... that? That pisses me right off.

Not because I don't think Schwyzer is "deserving" of such treatment, but mostly because I can't see a lesbian feminist woman of any color, a gay man, a trans* person, or a person of color of any sexual orientation being coddled by superiors and colleagues in a similar way and going on to retain hir prominent status within gender studies and the gender blogosphere.

So, I think part of the backlash Schwyzer is now experiencing within the feminist blogosphere can be attributed to that. (Although, of course, many people have raised other valid concerns as well).

Feminist women often say that it takes a man to say what we regularly say for it to be taken seriously, and it feels unbelievably belittling that a man with such a problematic past can be taken more seriously than many, if not most, feminist women writers, bloggers, and thinkers.

And, of course, the cruelness of it is that white men in heterosexual marriages are deemed to be more authoritative objective than the voices of those who are not white men in heterosexual relationships and so Kicking Them Out Of Feminism can be counter-productive if the goal is to be persuasive to mainstream audiences.

Secondly, and relatedly, feminism is relatively marginalized within mainstream political discourse. I think this incident highlights not only the question of the role of men within feminism, but of the role of any person who is not perfect. In what ways does Internet feminism's "call-out culture" further marginalize already-marginalized feminist narratives? Hugo Schwyzer may be a big shot on Feminist Internet, but he doesn't exactly have his own talk show (um... yet?).

Although I don't agree with him about everything, I do think Schwyzer has made some good points about male privilege, entitlement, and sexism against both men and women. I still believe those points are good and valid, much in the way I believe that other feminists who have problematic personal histories or ideologies have made good and valid points about other things.

Is there any other social movement whose members regularly and publicly kick people and all of their ideas out for not being perfectly acceptable to all people all the time?

And what about the voices of non-white men that are regularly kicked out of feminism. For instance, how does it help or hurt feminism to cite Mary Daly's transbigotry, for instance, as a reason to reject her criticisms of the Catholic Church's misogyny? Is there room for feminists to remain critical of problematic aspects of a person or hir theories without rejecting everything ze ever wrote?

Interestingly, Schwyzer mentioned that some of the colleagues who were supportive of him making amends were feminists. I wonder if feminists (myself included) can have a tendency to be So Grateful That A White Man Is An Ally that we overlook issues that we would refuse to overlook in feminists who aren't white men in heterosexual relationships. Many feminists and "gender egalitarians" today won't touch Twisty Faster or an Andrea Dworkin book with a ten-foot pole, but a dude who tried to kill a lady? Go write for Jezebel! Sure, why not?

My last main observation wouldn't be complete without at least mentioning MRAs. Many MRAs seem to absolutely loath Schwyzer. But what they seem to loathe even more is feminist women setting boundaries around the feminist voices they/we want to promote and support. It's all "witch hunt" this and "fascism" that. As though Internet Feminism has institutional power and backing to, like, burn Bad Feminists at the stake. (Oh wait, that was what the Catholic Church did to Bad Women).

Anyway, because much of the conversation has been centered around him and The Role Of Men In Feminism, I hope that the people he has hurt are finding, or have found, peace. I also hope that Schwyzer is finding peace in all of this. He has been honest, in a very public way, about his past.

Redemption is indeed an enduring theme in literature and film. But I'd contend that feminism's primary concern is not, actually, about redeeming male protagonists.

[Cross-posted at Alas]

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Believe It Or Not

But when I'm not on Internet, I'm actually quite introverted.

Which is why I found this article at The New York Times interesting. A snippet:

"Culturally, we’re often so dazzled by charisma that we overlook the quiet part of the creative process. Consider Apple. In the wake of Steve Jobs’s death, we’ve seen a profusion of myths about the company’s success. Most focus on Mr. Jobs’s supernatural magnetism and tend to ignore the other crucial figure in Apple’s creation: a kindly, introverted engineering wizard, Steve Wozniak, who toiled alone on a beloved invention, the personal computer....

Solitude can even help us learn. According to research on expert performance by the psychologist Anders Ericsson, the best way to master a field is to work on the task that’s most demanding for you personally. And often the best way to do this is alone. Only then, Mr. Ericsson told me, can you 'go directly to the part that’s challenging to you. If you want to improve, you have to be the one who generates the move. Imagine a group class — you’re the one generating the move only a small percentage of the time.'

Conversely, brainstorming sessions are one of the worst possible ways to stimulate creativity. The brainchild of a charismatic advertising executive named Alex Osborn who believed that groups produced better ideas than individuals, workplace brainstorming sessions came into vogue in the 1950s. 'The quantitative results of group brainstorming are beyond question,' Mr. Osborn wrote. 'One group produced 45 suggestions for a home-appliance promotion, 56 ideas for a money-raising campaign, 124 ideas on how to sell more blankets.'

But decades of research show that individuals almost always perform better than groups in both quality and quantity, and group performance gets worse as group size increases."

In both educational and professional settings, I've always loathed "brainstorming sessions."

Not only do I tend to be quiet in groups, but I think best when I have time to process information and ideas by myself before hearing all the extroverts go through their Thinking Out Loud Process. It's like, how do people expect me to have valuable information to share, when I don't even know yet what information I think would be valuable to share?

Really, Internet is my ideal form of interacting with people I don't know well (or at all).

If someone tries to chat with me and I'm busy or don't feel like being social, I can just ignore the chat request (unlike in real life, where if someone approached my desk and asked me a question it would be much more rude to completely ignore them). And, I've been known to just leave chat conversations mid-talk with a quick "BYE," if I get busy with something else, bored, or simply want to leave. That would be totally weird to do in person, but my friends and acquaintances don't seem to hold it against me when I do it on Internet.

On blogs, I can interact with people and debate different issues, but I get to choose which comments, posts, and responses I want to engage with. And, the replies don't have to come immediately. The interaction can be done on my own time.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Privilege of Oppression Being "Novel"

In discussing Freshly-Hatched Gynocratic Rage (FHGR), yttik makes a good point:

First, she quotes the alleged "source" of FHGR: "[Taking a women's studies course and discovering] the incredibly pervasive nature of gendered injustice combines the power of novelty with the power of legitimate outrage...."

She then asks a salient question:

"Novelty?? What novelty?! Believe it or not, most women don't 'discover' oppression for the first time in a woman's study class. We've already been there and lived there. Any novelty women might sometimes feel is more about finally realizing they aren't alone, they aren't crazy.

Oppression is not a 'novelty' discovered in a woman's study class."

I agree, and I think the working definition of FHGR is operating on a level of privilege that illustrates how the "men and women experience oppression in equal, opposite, and just-as-bad ways" narrative is a myth.

The definition of FHGR assumes that women haven't already "discovered" gender injustice against women. As though, rather than experiencing it directly, it was something that we have had to learn about from other people.

But, while women's studies may indeed inform women about the oppression women have historically faced, I don't know that the notion of Women Being Oppressed is all that novel to many women.

Learning about the historical oppression of women, gender stereotyping, and sexism against women has always been, for me, an experience of resonance.

It's interesting, though, that claim of "novelty."

I've been in several online conversations with men who have assumed that I was a women's studies major in college. They have made comments, which I'm sure many of you will recognize, like, "I'm just giving you a different view of things than what you learned in women's studies." As though their recitation of uninspired gender stereotypes was more legitimate, more skeptical, and more accurate than my lived experience.

The fact is, I took exactly one women's studies course in college. It wasn't even a theory course, it was a Women In Literature course where I, for once, read books and articles predominately written by women.

Despite this, some men have assumed that what I mostly do is recite "feminist dogma" that I have been "indoctrinated with" instead of speaking from my own long history of living as a woman, and of reading various texts that have resonated with that experience.

In reality, if the women's studies course I took did, in fact, induce any rage in me, it was at the fact that no other course in my entire educational career discussed sexism at all in any context other than a special "women's suffrage" context. Which, you know, can make a young girl feel kind of crazy. Seriously. Crazy. Because that was exactly how Living In A Sexist World That Largely Ignores Sexism And Calls Women Crazy For Talking About That Sexism felt like to me.

When I was girl, my thought process was something like:

"It sure is baloney that they say god is a man and that only boys can raise the flag every morning before school and that the boys get the really nice locker room. But.... no one else seems to think this is weird or wrong... so maybe... there's something wrong with me?"

So yeah.

"Novelty"? Not so much.

I was fully aware that gender injustice against women was pervasive in politics, religion, and sports long before I took my first women's studies class. I just didn't yet have the words or confidence to articulate it.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

They Hate Us For Our Government

I love it when people try to go all rogue libertarian without really thinking it through. Many of them see no need for the things the government does that they completely take for granted or are ignorant of.

Our friend Playful Walrus, who doesn't seem to like democracy, the government, or the US legal system very much, suggests a simple.... very simple.... new legal system of his own. He opines:

"Ideally, our laws would all boil down to:

1. Do not assault or murder.
2. Do not do not steal.
3. Do not damage what someone else owns against their will.
4. Do not be negligent in guardianship over dependents.
5. Do the time if you do the crime.

What am I forgetting?"

I adore that he added that question there at the end. What am I forgetting? Like, he really, really though this new legal system through (for I don't know, maybe 3 whole minutes?), thought it was just as good as any other system, and couldn't foresee any issues on his own. So, naturally, he opened the floor for other people to fill in the missing pieces.

Let me help.

I think my first question would be, well, are these "laws" suggestions or mandates?

For instance, with respect to "do the time if you do the crime," what entity is going to ensure that a criminal does, in fact, "do the time" for the crime? PW's legal scheme creates no police forces, criminal courts, or prosecutors. Is the idea that people will just naturally form vigilante mobs? Can random people just build jails and start imprisoning people?

And, from where would this entity get its authority to restrict other people's liberty? Might makes right?

What about property?

Since PW's legal system didn't establish a government or civil courts (let alone a Patent and Trademark Office), what entity is going to protect people's property rights?

If people's property rights aren't well-defined, how are we going to determine what constitutes "stealing"? Who's going to determine, and punish people, for damaging other people's property "against their will"?

Who's going to build roads, schools, bridges, fire departments, universities, and hospitals- Private individuals? Companies?

Who knows!? Who cares?!

I think what's important here is that PW's system is easy and simple. And importantly, The People will get to work out all the ticky-tacky details as they see fit. What could possibly go wrong?

Ironically, PW seems to think it is primarily progressives, homosexualists, and liberals who want to destroy The American Way Of Life.

Monday, January 16, 2012

What Government Officials Won't Be Quoting Today

So said Martin Luther King, Jr:

"There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I, and others, have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor -- both black and white -- through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched this program broken and eviscerated, as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So, I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such....

As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they ask -- and rightly so -- what about Vietnam? They ask if our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today -- my own government."

-From "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence"

Friday, January 13, 2012

Don't Touch Their Man Food!

Apparently, some putrid MRA reddit caught a whiff of my article on Man Food.

In this post, I talked about an annoying, sexist event that I had experienced in relation to food. Namely, that when my partner and I were visiting with a heterosexual couple, the person making the breakfast, a woman, asked only "the men" if they wanted eggs with their pancakes, and proceeded to scoop heaping piles of eggs onto their plates alongside their 2 pancakes. On the women's plates, sat one lonely pancake.

Although a "little thing," it was illustrative of the ways eating and body image are gendered. Men are often encouraged to eat a lot, so they can get "big and strong" and take up space, while women are encouraged to not eat a lot, so we will remain small and dainty (and, although it's not often said, weak).

So how this post of mine was the Worst Thing Ever, I'm not sure. But that didn't stop the aggressive MRA responses to it from being positively brimming with Illusory Superiority of the "feminist wimmin are so dum" variety.

I think the most amusingly-incoherent response went something like, "WTF, it was a woman who offered the men more eggs, why is ths stoopid feminist complaining?!?!?"

As though, I don't know, it's.... hypocritical(?) for a feminist to admit that women too can do sexist things?

What a strange argument.

Think of the blanks one has to fill in regarding this MRA's thought process and visions of straw feminists that must be dancing about in his head. His argument only "works" in the following way:

(a) Feminists think all men are evil and sexist.
(b) Feminists thinks all women are paragons of perfection
(c) Therefore, if a feminist admits that a woman did something sexist, the entirety of feminism collapses under its own hypocrisy.

Sure, dude.

I'll just add that one to my collection of files proving that the vast majority of MRAs don't even understand feminism well enough to be able to render competent critiques of it.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Trouble With Tobacco-Free Hiring Policies

[content/trigger warning: This post contains a discussion about fat shaming]

I used to smoke, But I'm Not Self-Righteous About Being a Non-Smoker (tm). (Seriously, I loved to smoke. Loved it. So I totally get why some people can't or won't quit.)

I quit about 6 years ago.

You'll notice I say "about" because, for me, quitting was a gradual process. One day, I ran out of cigarettes and just didn't buy more. I stopped taking smoke breaks. And, even though I wanted to smoke, I began using gum, toothpicks, coffee, tea, exercise, water, and fun energy drinks to fill in the gaps of the time I used to spend smoking.

Naturally, I became that annoying person who borrows cigarettes because she "only smokes when she drinks." And then one day, I stopped doing that too. Now, I'm at the stage where smoking doesn't even sound appealing to me anymore. I tried a cigarette about a year ago at a party and it tasted/felt like what I imagine it must taste/feel like to people who have never smoked. Like smoke (it taste/feels different and better to many smokers, LOL). I think, for me, I had to make quitting not be a Big Thing that I, like, talked about and shared with everyone. It let me live in denial for a little while about the fact that I was quitting something I really liked to do.

So, with that disclaimer noted, I recently came across this article, about how some workplaces are refusing to hire smokers.

The reasoning is that "such tobacco-free hiring policies, [are] designed to promote health and reduce insurance premiums." Within the article, the following statistics are noted:

"Each year, smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke causes 443,000 premature deaths and costs the nation $193 billion in health bills and lost productivity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.....The bottom line will benefit because health care costs for tobacco users are $3,000 to $4,000 more each year than for non-smokers, says Bon Secours' Cindy Stutts."

While I understand employers' concerns about "the bottom line," two issues stand out to me with respect to this hiring policy.

One, I wonder if it will have a disparate impact on certain groups. While I do not believe smokers are, or should be, a "protected class" as is understood in the US legal system, smoking does correlate with socioeconomic status, education level, and sexual orientation*.

For instance, according to the CDC's statistics, 49% of those with a GED reported being smokers, compared to 5% of respondents with a graduate degree. 31% of those living below the poverty line reported being smokers, compared to 19% living above the poverty line. In addition, a (somewhat dated) 2001 study (cited in
PDF) found that 46% of gay men and 48% of lesbians smoked, a rate double that of their heterosexual counterparts (data on bisexuals was not included).

A blanket policy against hiring smokers is going to disproportionately impact these groups. The assumption seems to be that such a policy will get people to quit smoking, but an argument could also be made that a policy that doesn't take into account why some people tend to smoke more than others might not be an effective anti-smoking program. It might just end up turning many smokers into people who are good at hiding their smoking, while, say, tobacco companies continue to develop
charmingly-named projects
aimed at recruiting new groups of undesirables smokers.

My second issue is that if we look at the reasons for the policy in light of the dominant narratives regarding obesity, a policy against hiring fat people could also be developed. No one, to my knowledge, is proposing such a ban (erm... right?), but I think we have reason to be wary of a parallel reasoning process being applied to fat people.


The employers' argument is that smokers choose to smoke, smoking has high health and economic costs, therefore, the hiring ban is acceptable. If people want to be hired all they have to do is make different life choices.

Headlines consistently inform us that Obesity Is Overtaking Smoking As the Leading Cause of Preventable Death in the US. The US Surgeon General reports that 300,000 premature deaths per year are attributable to obesity, while the CDC notes that the health costs of obesity are a "staggering" $147 billion dollars per year.

A quote in the smoking article notes that smokers are easy targets, but (as someone who is, or tries to be, a fat acceptance ally), it also seems like fat people are easy targets too. The two words "smoking and obesity" are practically a conjoined phrase in conversations about "preventable" deaths.

Many fat people believe (and I would agree) that being fat and being happy is a radical act given the degree to which fatness and fat people are shamed and demonized. Many non-fat people view being fat similar to how they view smoking, as a bad life choice and an individual you-deserve-what-you-get moral failing, rather than as the result of more systemic, collective issues.

So, to circle back to a point I made earlier, I don't expect policies that only penalize people who fall into certain categories and do not address the reasons why people fall into those categories to be effective public health measures. When employer honchos say things like, "We're not denying smokers their right to tobacco products. We're just choosing not to hire them," I think a lot of people are going to hear:

"We're not denying people disproportionately targeted by tobacco companies the right to their tobacco products, we're just choosing not to hire them"


"We're not denying people who live in food deserts the right to eat their cheap, high-fructose-corn-syrup-laden food, we're just choosing not to hire them."

or, (my personal fave):

"We're not denying people who get fat partly because they work in front of a computer all day the right to work in front of a computer all- oh wait... yes we are. Whoooooops!"

[*Note: Although, the CDC also reports similar smoking prevalence levels among Blacks, Native Americans, and Whites (with lower prevalence levels among Asian-Americans and Hispanics), it also deserves highlighting that tobacco companies have aggressively and disproportionately marketed certain tobacco products to African-Americans and that African-Americans disproportianately suffer from tobacco-related disease.]

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Freshly-Hatched Tone Argument

If a man who is critical of feminism writes a flippant post at his "menz" blog that plays right into stereotypes about Angry Feminists, it should be a statement of the obvious to say that many feminists will view him as walking on extremely thin ice.

So, it was with trepidation that I read Noah's post at No Seriously, What About Teh Menz (NSWATM) on "Freshly-Hatched Gynocratic Rage." He begins:

"The title of this post, 'freshly-hatched gynocratic rage' ["FHGR"], is a phrase I came across in an issue of Bitch magazine, lo these many years ago, and I apologize for not being able to dig up the name of the author who originally coined it.

She described it, more or less, as the phase every feminist woman goes through where she takes her first women’s studies course, suddenly sees and understands the pervasiveness of the damage and unfairness our society subjects women to, and spends a year or two completely pissed off" (emphasis added).

In explaining this phenomenon of FHGR, Noah suggests:

"Discovery of the incredibly pervasive nature of gendered injustice combines the power of novelty with the power of legitimate outrage at something profoundly wrong, and it’s easy to overshoot."

He then proceeded to invite his audience that is predominately comprised of men (presumably, since it's a men's issues blog), and is certainly dominated by men's voices (since many commenters shared their experiences as men), to share their stories of "gynocratic rage" and how they were able to move beyond this phase of feminism.

Aside from the problematically vague diagnosis criteria for FHGR, notice how the author who coined the term did so in the context of women discussing their own anger upon perceiving the vast nature of gendered oppression against women.

Let me share a story.

In June of 2010, I posted the following quote from Sarah Sentilles, a feminist scholar of religion:

"It was only when I heard a prayer that said 'she' instead of 'he,' when I heard God called 'mother' instead of 'father,' that I realized how much translating I had to do when I sat in church, how much energy I spent wondering if I was included, how much I longed for theological language I could see myself in."

No matter how allied, sympathetic, feminist, or gender-egalitarian a man is, I'm not sure an experience like that is going to resonate with him in the way it resonates with many women. Now consider a man who is predisposed to be critical of feminism or is not allied or sympathetic, and well, I can quickly imagine him minimizing women's anger at religious institution's alienating us from god.

Some Zen Buddhists say that in order to really know something, one has to experience it.

Along with that idea, even if men may have their own experiences of oppression as men, I'm not sure the sense of alienation that many women feel within male-centric religions, and the consequent anger at how such religions dominate many societies, is something many men can truly fathom. I think it is, in fact, understandable for many men not to be as angry as women might be upon first learning about feminism and first hearing the oppression of women articulated.

Indeed, my point here isn't to spark a conversation about male-centric religions, for that is but one example among many, but rather to question an assumption Noah seemed to be relying on in opening the floor to his audience predominately comprised of men: that they would have experienced FHGR at all upon first learning about feminism.

While some commenters did seem to discuss their own experiences, others... not so much. Instead of sharing their own experiences of having gone through FHGR themselves, some interpreted the post as a call to talk about how feminists with FHGR have Turned Them Away From Feminism (aka- The trusty "They'll catch more flies with honey than vinegar" excuse for not taking feminism seriously).

A sample:

"When I first discovered feminism, I felt very guilty about the bad things men have done."

"I was expressly told that as an egalitarian, I had no part in feminism. For the most part 99% of feminists I meet are pure shit, but hey isn’t that a law somewhere?"

"I’d had my fair share of crazies screaming at me for being a man, but they were just that: crazy. After reading a lot of feminist material on the internet, however, I started to feel really bad about the whole patriarchy thing."

My issue with the above commentary, aside from a suspect and ableist interpretation of feminist "crazies," the above commentary wasn't FHGR at all, but rather, a sharing of Freshly-Hatched Male-Centric Guilt and Defensiveness.

See, a qualification of having had FHGR, is that a person has, at some point discovered the pervasive nature of gendered injustice against women, has had that injustice resonate, and has consequently felt angry about it. The above comments seemed to have missed basically all of those components.

The thing is, many men won't feel the same sense of "ragey"-ness about the oppression of women, because they simply don't experience the oppression of women in the way that women do. And because they're not going to understand feminist anger, they're going to be more likely to trivialize it, exaggerate it, or use it as a reason to not take feminism and feminist women seriously.

If men are the beneficiaries of certain institutions and belief systems that are sexist against women, I would garner that some of them might even see a vested interest in not understanding or appreciating the legitimacy of a woman's anger about such systems. In fact, some men might see their own defensiveness and guilt as more legitimate, important, and central than women's oppression.

And that's the crux of my criticism of Noah's piece, really.

Is there really a shortage of people who think feminism and feminist women have an anger problem? Is there a shortage of male "allies" or "egalitarians" who will only support feminism if their hands are held, their defensiveness coddled, and we assure them that we know, we really really know, that they're not personally responsible for every bad thing men have ever done?

[Note: Cross-posted at Alas, A Blog, where, I am happy to report, I'm now a guest blogger.]

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Recognizing Abuse In Internet Conversations

[Trigger/content warning: this post contains examples of misogynistic and homophobic slurs, and a discussion of abusive behavior]

A wise woman once told me that sometimes the most valuable gift I could give to myself was the gift of peace. Today, I want to talk about that advice in the context of Internet civility.

Over the years, I have had countless Internet interactions with people of varying backgrounds, experiences, and viewpoints. In general, I enjoy this interaction. I enjoy debate as well as friendly banter. Like many people, I don't enjoy hostility. For me, being on the receiving end of hostility has given me a greater appreciation for not wanting to engage in hostility.

I've made mistakes. I've been hostile. And, even when it hasn't been my intent, I have offended people. But, I do continually strive toward patience and civility, which I would define as treating other people how I would like to be treated, even when treated with hostility in return.

There is, however, only so much hostility a person can take.

That threshold varies for everyone. My threshold happens to be pretty high, but lots of good reasons exist why people might have lower thresholds for tolerating hostility.

My threshold is reached primarily when dealing with a certain type of abusive person, at which point I have to walk away. This might seem counter-intuitive, but I find it easier to deal with people who will just outright call me a bitch, a cunt, or a dyke. When those slurs are uttered, many (though certainly not all) reasonable people readily recognize that incivility has occurred. The interactions I find to be more problematic, and more difficult for me to recognize as abusive, are as follows:

People who post incredibly inflammatory articles and yet- no matter how civil, kind, and peaceful my intentions, no matter how reasoned or logical my arguments in return- refuses to believe that I am participating in the conversation in good faith, instead insisting that my sole purpose on Internet is to attack hir. And then, based on this belief that ze is under attack, this type of person then feels justified in making a barrage of unwarranted and false accusations about my intentions, character, and motivations.

These people are smart enough not to say "dyke," but they also often feel that questions like "is homosexuality normal?" or "is homosexuality a moral error?" are still, like, legitimate questions to ask or that articles like "TV shows are being infested by gays!!" constitute a legitimate "other side" to conversations about LGBT rights. As though there's just so much acceptance of LGBT people in the world that they just have to "balance" out the scales a little more toward the side of intolerance. Because, hey, that's only fair.

Now, I know that we are capable of hurting people even if we do not intend to hurt people, but I'm not talking about that situation. I'm talking about people who will hurt you and then when you defend yourself will then back up with their hands in the air and frame your self-defense as an attack against them. I'm talking about people who post problematic pieces and yet who are unable to participate in a debate about those pieces without interpreting every. single. bit. of civil disagreement as a gross violation of their human rights.

I have engaged with several people like this on Internet. If you participate on Internet at all in "un-safe" spaces, you probably have too.

I find it incredibly frustrating that such people insist, despite all evidence to the contrary, despite my every protestation, that my sole purpose on Internet is to hurt people like them, rather than to defend people like myself (from people like them).

I have learned to walk away from such people. Even though it feels like "failing." After all, walking away often means that these people dig in their heels, become even more entrenched in their beliefs, and continue to post really problematic pieces.

And yep, I know I'm being vague here about who specifically I'm referring to, and that's purposeful. The mere existence of this post in which I am expressing my experience and viewpoint, rather than centering their delicate abuser feelings, would be, to them, akin to waterboarding. It would be further proof as to how very persecuted they are.

I'm not even going to try to delve into the psychology of why these people are the way they are. I think, for me, the most important thing to remember is that it is not healthy or productive for me to engage with such people and that a good first step in dealing with these people is to recognize when I am, in fact, engaging with such people.

In my experience, if these people have comment moderation privileges, they exercise them with a power-trippy "I'm going to delete your civil commentary and respond to it anyway as though you've just unleashed a string of threats and obscenities at me, and then I'm going to tell you what a horrible, abusive person you are" approach to deleting comments and interacting with you, even if you've been incredibly polite in the face of their outright problematic-ness.

So, suddenly we're not talking about an article's homophobia or sexism or trans*bigotry or racism at all anymore, we're talking about, placating, and soothing the hurt feelings of the person who is only capable of hearing "BIGOT BIGOT BIGOT" and who is therefore shutting down and threatening to end the conversation because ze feels that ze is UNDER. ATTACK.

Meanwhile, these same people will continue to be found discussing the horrible awfulness of, say, the Homosexual Agenda with like-minded thinkers, as though that's a totally civil thing to do, especially when ze isn't even allowing lesbian, gay, and bisexual people to engage in that conversation. As though that conversation is of no concern to actual lesbian, gay, or bisexual people.

Their whole approach to Internet "conversation" is akin to the "it's sad when black people experience racism, but what's even sadder is when white people get accused of being racist" approach of talking about social issues. Except these people don't even make the pretense of being allies.

And so, I have swallowed shit and made concessions and have publicly and privately held people's hands and told them things like, "Now, I don't think you're a bigot or anything but hey, can we talk about that article?" But people like this will take and take and take from a conversation and never give a single concession in return or even one tiny acknowledgement that some people actually are bigots and haters against LGBT people or feminists or people of color, and if they can at all squeak that admission out it always comes with some sort of "both sides are just as bad" statement, after which they fall ass over heels onto their fainting couches feeling all ACCUSED of bigotry.

And, the sad truth is that I recognize that this Tone Argument crap is the reality we have to navigate as people interested in social justice, and I keep doing it anyway. Because, if we are at all interested in dialogue with people who have opposing viewpoints, these are the issues we have to navigate.

I don't have any big revelations about how to deal with people like this, I just know that I have this experience enough that I thought it might resonate with others.

My partner hammerpants, who is not as active as I am on Internet, recently jumped into a conversation in a very civil manner with a person who opposes same-sex marriage. Now, my partner doesn't have a mean bone her body, and she certainly didn't say anything out of line, and yet the blogger gave her this unwarranted "you are being SO MEAN TO ME! GO AWAY!!" treatment.

My partner didn't really know how to react, but I saw her begin to doubt herself, her morality, her basic goodness, and her own intentions.

And I told her, "Don't."

"It's hir, not you."

Some people are really invested in seeing us as monsters who ACCUSE THEM OF THINGS FOR NO REASON AT ALL!

I think it's important to be critical of ourselves and mindful of hostility we might be putting out there. But, I've seen too many good people with valid, legitimate, and reasoned things to say silence themselves because abusive, self-centered people whose HURT FEELINGS and bruised egos are the sun around which all important conversations must revolve have accused them of being abusive.

Recognize that it is a common tactic of abusers to plant seeds of doubt in good-hearted people's minds and accuse the people they abuse of abuse. Recognize that abusers often frame self-defense as abuse.

Recognize that it's not you. It's them.

It really is.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Two Sides of One Shield?

From which radical second-wave feminist marxist text was the following passage pulled:

"The purpose of government was the guarding of property-rights, the perpetuation of ancient force and modern fraud. Or was it marriage? Marriage and prostitution were two sides of one shield, the predatory man's exploitation of the sex-pleasure. The difference between them was a difference of class. If a woman had money she might dictate her own terms: equality, a life contract, and the legitimacy- that is, the property-rights- of her children. If she had no money, she was a proletarian, and sold herself for an existence."

Any guesses?

It's a passage in Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, published in 1906.

I highlight it because it reminded me of some recent conversations that have been occurring at the Family Scholars Blog (FSB). Recently at FSB, Barry posted on marriage's problematic history with respect to coverture and women's rights. His point was, to paraphrase, to ask opponents of same-sex marriage who appealed to tradition why they rejected other aspects of "traditional marriage" if preserving tradition was so important and vital.

Interestingly, opponents of same-sex marriage who commented to Barry's post mostly expressed a similar sentiment, perhaps best expressed by this comment:

"Reaching back to 1886 to find a case to make an argument that doesn’t really have anything to do with the subject at hand seems a bit desperate."

Indeed. And, isn't it interesting to see opponents of same-sex marriage suddenly find the appeal to history and tradition so.... unappealing and irrelevant. I mean, I'm all for people recognizing the absurdity and offensiveness of coverture, but.... the way some people talk about how Marriage These Days is in the pits, one doesn't always know which historical traditions they actually would be in favor of restoring and which they would reject in order to save marriage.

Which brings us to two.

Upton Sinclair was writing in 1906. A lot of things have changed for women since 1906. But, during the time in which he was writing, I don't think his observation would have been an unfair representation of what marriage was for many women. Lacking the same opportunities as men to support themselves and their families, marriage was often a matter of survival. As was prostitution, and working in a limited number of fields for a fraction of the wages that men earned.

In her bookRight-Wing Women, writing in post-sexual-revolution 1983, radical feminist Andrea Dworkin echoed Sinclair's observation:

"[Right-wing women] see that traditional marriage means selling [sex] to one man, not hundreds: the better deal... They see that the money they can earn will not make them independent of men and that they will still have to play the sex games: at home and at work too.... Right-wing women are not wrong"

I'm not sure many opponents of same-sex marriage, many of whom mock, ridicule, and dismiss feminist critiques of "traditional marriage," understand women's legitimate concern about efforts to regress back to more "traditional" understandings of gender roles and marriage. Again, it's not always clear which aspects of these understanding "marriage defenders" accept and which they reject.

This is especially so when people, like Phylis Schlafly for instance, imply that women who have careers are selfish and that fathers have no corresponding responsibility to balance their professional and home lives. (Interestingly, this view also implies that fathers don't have an important role in the upbringing and rearing of children, other than bringing home a paycheck. A role that, by the way, could easily be fulfilled by another woman these days).

My point is this.

Women, and men, should have a choice about working and/or staying home without people with large platforms shaming them for these choices and saying that they can only do one or the other because of their gender. Not only is it not selfish for a woman to work outside the home, or lazy for a man to want to be the primary caretaker for his children, oftentimes, both women and men (or both partners in a same-sex relationship) have to work anyway, to make ends meet. The financial ability for one spouse not to work is a real privilege.

It behooves the "marriage defense" movement to recognize not only that reality, but the reality that many people have negative connotations with what people like Schlafly refer to as "the traditional lifestyle of husband-provider and fulltime homemaker." It doesn't resonate.

Not only because many people believe it is a narrative of Real Family that erases non-heterosexual families, but because pressuring women into being financially dependant upon their "husband-providers" doesn't feel to them what marriage is or should be.

It feels like an exchange of home-making, sexual, and reproductive services for the privilege of a home to live in and food to eat. I'm not saying all women feel that or that women who are homemakers are prostitutes, but if women don't have a genuine choice about the matter (or don't think they do because being a Real Woman is defined as being a homemaker), many women will feel that way.

And, these women will reject "traditional marriage" and all that it stands for, in favor of more progressive definitions and labels. The better deal.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Commenting Update

Why hello there, readers. Have you done something different with your hair? I simply love it!

Anyway, just as an FYI to those who comment here, I have "un-nested" the comments. This means that when you reply to someone, your reply won't be indented or directly underneath the comment of the person you're replying to.

See what had been happening was, someone would comment, someone else would reply, someone would reply to that reply and so on. Which is fine, it just meant that each reply would be further indented and narrowed, so that by the time a 3rd or 4th person entered the fray, the discussion would visibly look like one vertical wall of text where only, like, one letter would fit in each line.

It was very odd and unseemly.

Now when you reply to someone, your comment won't be indented underneath the comment you're replying to. So, it's probably a good idea to make it really clear who you are replying to (eg- "@Fannie").

Aren't you so glad you read this exciting post today?!?!?

But more importantly, how do you feel about people who have MDs or PhDs and who go by nicknames like "Dr. [insert first name]" on their blogs or in social situations? To me, the coupling of the academic title with the first name suggests a "I'm totally informal, just call me Nick. Dr. Nick, that is. Because I'm a doctor" sense of faux-modesty.

But at least the title was earned.

I know one dude who I once argued with about same-sex marriage who bestowed upon himself the title of "logic black belt." LOLOLOLNOPE.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Allen and "Essentially Different"

Recently, Karen at Family Scholars Blog posted a link to an interview with Douglas Allen that she found interesting. Allen, according to his article's bio, is an "expert on the economics of social institutions."

Like Karen, I also found the interview, examining the "economics of same-sex marriage," interesting. I like the idea of measuring (or trying to measure) the effect of a social policy in terms of its costs and benefits. The devil, of course, is always in the details, however.

It is not an easy task to, for instance, measure the cost (if any) to existing married couples of allowing same-sex couples into the institution of marriage. And, in the interview, Allen does not clearly or adequately articulate his quantitative (or qualitative) methodology in a manner that I find convincing.

In fairness, that's probably because the piece is in the form of an interview, rather than an article, an academic work, or even a blog post. What I found problematic, even given the medium, is that Allen made several contentious claims about "how heterosexual, gay and lesbian [*sic] relationships are essentially different," and he did so without adequate supporting evidence.

"Essentially." That word has a specific meaning and, unfortunately, Allen and his interviewer were using it erroneously. To say that a group has an essential characteristic is to say that that characteristic is a necessary, indispensable characteristic, upon which a person's definition as being a part of that group depends. An essential characteristic is a characteristic that is, by definition, shared by all members of the group.

Thus, to say that heterosexual, gay, and lesbian relationships are "essentially different" is to say that all heterosexual relationships share essential characteristics that they do not, indeed cannot by definition, share with "gay or lesbian [*sic]" relationships. Likewise it is to say that "gay and lesbian [*sic]" relationships share essential characteristics (and differences) that they do not share with heterosexual relationships.

(*Note: Notice how Allen and the interviewer refer to same-sex relationships as "gay and lesbian relationships." Aren't bisexual and queer-identified people sometimes in "gay and lesbian" relationships too? Does sexual orientation matter? Do people "care" whether a person is gay or lesbian? Read on to find out!)

From there, answering the question as to how heterosexual and "gay and lesbian" couples are "essentially different," Allen goes on to attach further importance and distinction to the gay and lesbian identity. Apparently, gays and lesbians are essentially different from heterosexuals (in ways other than who they are sexually attracted to). He claims:

"For both gay men and lesbians, they are more likely to have multiple sex partners, both as singles and couples."

Right off, you notice that Allen says gay men and lesbians are "more likely" to do something, implying that all gay men and lesbians are more likely to do this thing. And well, that's an incredibly difficult claim to prove, but I'd love to see him try! I suspect that what he's done is categorize an average difference as an "essential" difference.

Relatedly, you notice that this claim isn't cited. In fact, none of his claims are cited. Within the interview, Allen generally refers to two papers he wrote (and which are fully cited at the end of the interview), but these are law journal articles, not works of original research directly supporting his contentions on relationship differences.

It would be appropriate here to note that the thing about law journals is that they're edited and staffed by law students. That's not a statement against those who publish in law journals, who often are legit academic types. It's just that errors and misrepresentations are going to happen when the primary cite checkers are students with only 1-2 years of law school experience, no experience as practicing attorneys, and who are often doing this work on top of a full load of coursework and internships/jobs.

So, when I looked up his law journal articles, I wasn't surprised to find that the evidence "supporting" his above claim was a pretty egregious misrepresentation of a study. In "Who Should Be Allowed Into the Marriage Franchise," published in the Drake Law Review, he claims:

"A number of studies have found gay couples to have explicit open-marriage agreements in about fifty percent of unions."

Gay male couples only, or male and female same-sex relationships?

It's important to be specific when using the word "gay," because the word is not consistently used. I regularly see it used as "gay male," "gay and bisexual male," "gay and lesbian," "gay, lesbian, and bisexual," and even sometimes "LGBT." If one is making claims about "gay couples," especially when discussing how these couples are different from other couples, it is impossible to write clearly and accurately if one doesn't understand that these varying usages create ambiguity.

Also, despite Allen's use of the plural "a number of studies," he cites only one study:

"Colleen C. Hoff et al., Serostatus Differences and Agreements About Sex with Outside Partners Among Gay Male Couples, 21 AIDS EDUC. & PREVENTION 25, 32 (2009)"

This study is a study of 191 gay male couples in the San Francisco Bay Area who were recruited specifically to provide a mix of HIV statuses. From this study, Allen then concludes that "this type of behavior contrasts significantly with heterosexual relationships in which open marriages are extremely rare."

Well, maybe. But let's not pretend that the monogamy practices of 191 gay male couples of varying HIV serostatuses in San Francisco are representative of the practices of all same-sex couples in the United States. And let's not pretend that non-monogamy is an "essential" difference between heterosexual and "gay and lesbian" couples.

My more general point here is that Allen's interview, in particular, is unlikely to be convincing to those who don't already agree with him about things. When people make provocative and controversial statements that are inaccurate, and do so in a flippant, unsupported manner, it is especially frustrating. It takes time and effort to cite check and then counter misrepresentations in a reasoned manner.

As family scholars, isn't one of our primary interests accuracy, even if it's not always politically correct to recognize that interest?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Movie Review: IBTC

I liked several aspects of Itty Bitty Titty Committee (IBTC), a big one of which is Melonie Diaz and her portrayal of Anna, a young self-identified lesbian who works as a receptionist at a breast implant clinic (is that what they're called? breast implant clinics?).

In general, I want to see more of Diaz.

Preferably in "gay and lesbian movies with a strong female lead." And preferably with a character she actually has chemistry with, unlike her romantic interest in IBTC, Sadie. But more on that in a moment.

The basic outline of IBTC is that, one day while leaving work, Anna sees someone spray painting the clinic with feminist critiques of breast implants. (I know, right? How does a feminist critique using spray paint even fit on just one wall?). Anyway, the important thing is that the person spray-painting the building is Sadie. Anna, who is hiding in the bushes, is introduced to Sadie when Sadie hollers something cheesy and obnoxious which, to paraphrase, is basically a lesbian equivalent of "How YOU doin?"

Sorry, I just really don't like Sadie. That's not a statement against the actor portraying her, it's just that I think she's kind of a slimy, manipulative, insincere character who is blonde, flirtatious, and cute-sy and therefore gets away with being an asshole to people she hooks up with.

(Wow, writing that was strangely.... cathartic. Um... moving on then.)

So, as it turns out, Sadie is part of a radical feminist group called "cl!ts in action" (aka, "C(i)A", get it?)(Also: Is it NSFW to say "cl!t", except how it's really spelled? I've changed the spelling slightly just in case any filters pick that one up).

At this point, you think that maybe the movie is a satire, but then some parts of it hit a little too close to reality about some radical feminists. So that, well, I wasn't sure if it was a satire of radical feminism or a radical feminist's fantasy of what they/we could get away with. Maybe it's both.

The portrayal also is going to ring pretty true to a mainstream audience's perception of what all radical feminist lesbians are probably like. So on that front, I think people might actually mistake it for a documentary instead of recognizing it as a satire or exaggeration.

But anyway, very quickly, Anna kind of joins the C(i)A group as well. Which she seems to do mostly because she's newly single, thinks Sadie is hot, and is led on by Sadie.

Anyway, Sadie proceeds to be really flirty with Anna, even though (spoiler alert!) Sadie already has a long-term live-in girlfriend, who is an older, semi-famous, less-radical "second-wave feminist" who disapproves of the C(i)A's shennanigans. And really, can you blame her?

I couldn't. The C(i)A's activities, which include vandalism and property destruction intended to Take Down The Patriarchy, seem like the longings of a young person who is maybe brand new to Radical Politics and is looking for an outlet to vent some anger and aggression while still feeling self-righteous about it.

And, you know I'm all for dismantling the patriarchy as much as the next radical feminist, but... I don't know... maybe I'm getting too old, too soft, or too assimilated to approve of such "radical" acts.

That being said, the cast of characters was entertaining and rather diverse, especially from a gender identity perspective.

Daniela Sea makes an appearance as a butch lesbian former servicemember. Lesbian actor/model Jenny Shimizu pops in to make some amusingly snarky comments. And, Clea DuVall has a cameo too. I like Clea DuVall.

As for the members of the C(i)A, they consist of Shulie, who is a feminine hetero/bisexual (who needs labels? scoffs the Millenial Generation) woman. There is also Sadie (ugh). There's an androgynous artiste named Meat, whose gender identity is unclear, but who probably identifies as a woman since C(i)A is a "women's-only" club (more on that in a moment). And there's Aggie, who is a trans* man.

Anna joins them and, well, her identity is mostly.... dorky. But in a cute way. She's really new to feminism and is, like, instantly converted because of her infatuation with Sadie and so, like many a convert to a new ideology, starts taking it Very Seriously To Impress Hot Guy Or Gal. (And yes, this is how the lesbians recruit innocent young women into radical feminism OOGEDY BOOGEDY WOOGEDY! Again with the movie not being recognizable to mainstream viewers as a satire).

Unlike Sadie, Anna is also genuine. Despite being warned about Sadie leading people on, breaking their hearts, and already having a girlfriend, she ended up falling for the asshole anyway, because the asshole was a good actor who made Anna feel special.

So, I think it's difficult for viewers to root for an Anna/Sadie romance, because Sadie's phony demeanor seemed really obvious. As Sadie made googly eyes and spoke in her sexy, smokey voice at an enthralled Anna, I was all, "Anna, you in trouble girl."

In the end, (spoiler alert), Sadie actually finally does leave her girlfriend to be with Anna. But at that point, I was SO over her. And you just know it won't end well, because Sadie will find someone new and impressionable to make googly eyes at. I wanted Anna to recognize that Sadie was an asshole and to move on to someone nicer.

Like Aggie. (Spoiler alert!). At one point, Anna and Aggie do have a sexual encounter, which, to me, could have led to a more compelling relationship. Not only would it have been a groundbreaking portrayal of a lesbian cis woman and a hetero trans* man navigating a relationship, but Aggie was also a much more authentic and likable character. Like Anna, he is kind of adorkable. And nice. Nice is so under-rated.

But alas, instead Anna chose to pursue the cutesy, feminine blonde woman who, out of everyone in the group, most conforms to conventional beauty standards for women. That sure doesn't seem radical to me. But, you know, that's her choosey choice that she chose.

[Content/trigger warning: Tranbigotry, gender policing]

Aside from the Sadie issues, another aspect of the movie I am critical of is Sadie's statement that Aggie gets a pass to be in the "women-only" C(i)A group because "he was born with a cl!t." The statement seemed to be an echo of exclusionary "womyn-born-womyn" type of policies (like Michfest's) that police who does and doesn't count as a real woman.

Which, not only is that policing problematic, it is incoherent. By referring to Aggie by his preferred male gender pronoun while also allowing him into a women's-only club, the C(i)A seems to be giving a "it's okay, you're not really a man" nod and wink to his gender identity. The policy also suggests that some women, namely those not "born with a cl!t," would not be allowed into the super-special women's-only club.

At the same time, the epilogue indicates that Aggie later started hormone therapy and then started a feminist group for men. I'm not sure what to make of that. Does it suggest that Aggie only became a real man once he started hormone therapy? It seems to. Using the C(i)A's reasoning, would Aggie's man club be inclusive of trans* women, since some were born with balls? It's not clear.

In any event, I've said before that I'm not generally a big fan of movies that are overly-political. Because of issue fatigue and all that, I'm especially going to cast a wary, don't-you-dare-fuck-this-up eye at a movie about radical feminists, several of whom are lesbians.

IBTC is not the movie I'd write of my radical feminist lesbian experience, even a satirical one, but I think it will portray, albeit in exaggerated fantastical form, the experiences of some. Warts and all.

And would the C(i)A have it any other way?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Religious Honcho Reveals Gigantic Anti-Catholic Plot

Or not.

[TW: LGBT bigotry]

In Chicago, the city and organizers of the LGBT Pride Parade planned to move the parade to a different route and time, because it had outgrown its old route and because residents in the neighborhood also had expressed concern about emergency vehicles not being able to enter some streets during the parade.

But, that's not how Cardinal Francis George saw things.

His remarks suggest that he feels that the change is part of a sinister LGBT plot to persecute Catholics. You may have heard that in reaction to the parade route change, George inexplicably compared the LGBT rights movement to the KKK. In defending his statement, he then elaborated:

“Organizers (of the pride parade) invited an obvious comparison to other groups who have historically attempted to stifle the religious freedom of the Catholic Church. One such organization is the Ku Klux Klan which, well into the 1940s, paraded through American cities not only to interfere with Catholic worship but also to demonstrate that Catholics stand outside of the American consensus. It is not a precedent anyone should want to emulate.”

What a guy.

Now, there is much that reasonable people could criticize and demonstrate against with respect to the Catholic Church. But, notice the emotionally manipulative, Guilt By Association fallacy that George employs against a movement that tends to be critical of Catholic teachings on homosexuality and gender:

The KKK, which is anti-Catholic, has paraded in front of Catholic churches. The LGBT Pride Parade, which is composed of some people who are really critical of the Catholic Church, was about to parade in front of a Catholic church too. Therefore, the LGBT rights movement is totally like the KKK!

This comparison is reprehensible not only because it is paranoid and intellectually immature, but because it invites readers to attach the same animus toward the LGBT movement that many reasonable attach to a group as odious as the KKK. As though there just is not enough hatred, bullying, and violence toward LGBT people to go around these days, so George has to fan the flames a little bit more.

And they call this man a religious leader?