Friday, June 29, 2012

Quote of the Day

"If the sum total of your knowledge of feminism comes from looking it up in the dictionary, I don't think you're going to have anything useful to tell me about it." -Thalestris


It's true.

If an article begins something along the lines of, "Now, if one looks in the dictionary, feminism is blah blah blah," I pretty much know it's not going to be embiggening to the discourse. What usually follows is something like, "Why then, do so many people hate feminism and/or not call themselves feminists?" which is usually followed by a dude-authored mansplainy tone argument answer that is something along the lines of, "Because feminists hate men, are too strident, and/or are too polarizing."

It's a good screening device to use if you're short on time and don't want to read a lousy Article On Feminism Written By (oftentimes) a Non-Feminist or Anti-Feminist.

Consider that my helpful hint of the week.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Limits of "We're Just Like You"

Over Pride Weekend, some friends posted a graphic on Facebook that was supposed to emphasize how similar gay people are to heterosexuals. Featuring two white, thin, gender-conforming, well-dressed men seated on a couch, in scary font, it read: "The Gay Agenda: They Pay Their Bills! They Make Dinner! They Go To Work!"

Yeah, I find it funny because it plays on that always-over-the-top meme about The Homosexual Agenda (dun dun DUN!). Contrary to some anti-LGBT activists' fantasy of "the homosexual lifestyle" being a never-ending, hedonistic party of poppers, promiscuity, go-go boys, and anal sex, many LGBT lives are actually quite mundane.

At the same time, notice the image. Two white, thin, gender-conforming, well-dressed men being "boring" together. I realize that is the image that must sometimes be presented in the US in order for LGBT people to prove that we are "just like everyone else" and therefore deserving of respect and equality under our legal system.

However, it remains a message of exclusion. How would the message conveyed be different, say, if the image was of an inter-racial lesbian couple, both of whom were fat and butch? What if one, or both, members of the couple were trans*?

While I recognize the political and legal strategy involved in the "we're just like you" meme, the LGBT movement sells itself short, becomes too conservative, when it becomes fixated on the narrow goal of winning marriage equality. For me at least, the end goal isn't marriage equality, but something more along the lines of liberating of people from the sex, gender, racial, and other stereotypes we are indoctrinated with from the moment we're born due to living in a racist, sexist, heterocentric, homophobic society that wrongly believes the only way a person can be any of those things is if one is in the KKK or Westboro Baptist Church.

In The American Prospect, Urvashi Vaid writes:
"In my book Virtual Equality, written more than 17 years ago, I argued that if the LGBT movement ignored the broader and structural dynamics of racism, economic exploitation, gender inequity, and cultural freedom, it would accomplish what other civil-rights movements in America have—a partial, conditional simulacrum called equal rights. We would attain a state of virtual equality that would grant legal and formal equal rights to LGBT people but would not transform the institutions of society that repress sexual, racial, and gender difference.

The formal, largely legal measures of equality that the LGBT movement has pursued over the past two decades have become far less substantive than what it sought in the 1970s and 1980s. From a movement demanding that LGBT people be able to live a public life in a world in which queer sexualities are not only tolerated but celebrated, the movement now seeks the much narrower right to live an undisturbed private life. From an exploration of queer difference, the movement has turned into a cheerleading squad for LGBT sameness.
 In my lifetime, LGBT organizations have moved away from actively working for reproductive justice, which lesbians, bisexuals, progressive gay men, and transgender people fought for throughout the 1970s and 1980s; challenging racism, which was a central plank at the first national March on Washington in 1979; and working for economic justice, which was reflected in the pro-union coalition-building done by Harvey Milk and activists in the late 1970s, in the Coors beer boycott, and in queer alliances with the United Farm Workers. No longer would we find a nationally organized LGBT presence at a major anti-war rally, as we saw at the 1981 demonstration against the war in El Salvador. Few LGBT organizations are engaged in articulating a new urban policy, seeking a more effective response to homelessness and poverty, or using their clout in the service of universal health care. Today’s mainstream LGBT movement is strangely silent on the broader social-justice challenges facing the world, oddly complacent in its acceptance of racial, gender, and economic inequalities, and vocal only in its challenge to the conditions facing a white, middle-class conception of the 'status queer.'”
Mainstream LGBT organizations, some LGBT people, and the gay bloggers who focus primarily on gay rights (ie- marriage equality) are often not progressives and not interested in social justice beyond achieving the (rather conservative) end goal of marriage equality.

To illustrate with a parting anecdote, I was recently talking to a white gay man about participating in the Pride Parade. He expressed reservations about an acquaintance of his, a heterosexual, white, progressive, feminist woman who had done a lot of community organizing work in communities of color. His concern was that she might feel "uncomfortable" at a gay pride parade.

To me, that really illustrated a disconnect.

Those who participate in social justice movements outside the insular world of Gay Inc know that it most likely wouldn't be her who would be an uncomfortable, ignorant, disapproving outsider at his political rally. The far more likely reality is that it would be him who would be an uncomfortable, ignorant, disapproving outsider at a social justice rally that did not center gay rights.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

On Choice Feminism

Welp, someone needed to say it*:
"In any comment section on the internet where feminism comes up, someone will pipe up and cry, 'But feminism is about CHOICE!' No. Feminism is not about choice – at least not insofar as it’s about saying 'Any choice women make is a feminist one and so we can’t criticize or judge it.' Feminism isn’t about creating non-judgmental happy-rainbow enclaves where women can do whatever they want without criticism. Feminism is about achieving social, economic and political equality for all people, regardless of gender. It’s not about making every woman feel good about whatever she does, or treating women like delicate hot-house flowers who can’t be criticized." 
A lot of people, especially anti-feminists and non-feminists, are confused by this concept. 

Anti-feminist men, especially, love to chime into convos about feminism, co-opt the "choice" lingo, and make wise-ass comments like, "What about Sarah Palin's choice to be opposed to other women making the choice to have abortions, hmmmmmmmmm? Seeeee, feminists don't really care about choice."

It's a close cousin to the anti-LGBT bigot's, "How dare you be intolerant of my intolerance of you! This proves you homofascists don't even care about tolerance."

Some women who stay at home and who are anti/non-feminist also seem to have it in their heads that it's primarily feminists, and only minimally or not at all a sexist, capitalist system, who HATE them and OPPRESS them and their CHOICES that they've definitely CHOSEN in a vacuum without any sort of external pressures.

So, what I find, in my interactions with them, is that these same women are somewhat sheltered, perhaps due to buying into the simultaneously condescending and pedestalizing narratives about "gender complementarity," womanhood, and stay-at-home-motherhood, and so they have strange notions of what both feminism and sexism are. Through their writings, they seem to harbor a strong fear of men, male aggression, and hetero male sexuality while simultaneously entitling men to engage in aggression and violence under the auspice that Men Can't Help It, while displacing their own womanly fear onto Others- such as gay men, lesbians, trans* people, feminists.

Some of these "Digital Network Army"/Opine Editorials types I've interacted with can really dish out the anti-feminist, anti-LGBT venom to their like-minded readers, but as soon as someone not sharing their views tries to engage them in dialogue like adults, they cower behind their own aprons of motherhood/womanhood, interpreting every bit of critique as though they've just suffered a human rights violation of international scale.

It's their choice to do so, but it is degrading nonetheless. It sends a message that "real women," which they alone are of course, are delicate flowers that can't handle participating in the public arena like civilized adults.

It's a choice to act out that infantilizing "don't you dare criticize me! I'm a mother and a woman!" role. But, it's not a feminist one, and certainly not one I have to support just because a woman has made it and that's what Real Feminists do.

*Other people have said it as well, but Internet regularly needs this reminder. And also, because this is Internet feminism, I suppose I should note that I don't agree with everything in the cited piece, or in the piece that is cited within the piece.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Gender Establishing Status

From "Japan: The Importance of Belonging," Global Sociology: Introducing Five Contemporary Societies:
"In Japan, when you meet another person, you must be able to assess whether your status is higher or lower than his or hers. Then you will be able to follow the appropriate norms: bowing higher or lower, choosing the right forms of address. Gender helps establish status because women are assumed to be of lower status than men. For this reason, it is extremely rare to find a woman in a position in which she supervises or gives order to men. In fact, the few women who are business owners tend to surround themselves with female employees. 
In a group that is all men or all women, like a group of women at a flower-arranging class, people hasten to find out how old each member is, so that everyone will know where they are ranked by age. A group of businessmen will immediately ascertain one another's job titles, eagerly offering their business cards to each other. Business cards show a person's name, but in larger print they tell his title and what organization he works for. Once occupational statuses are clearly established, Japanese men feel more comfortable: They know how to treat one another as unequals."
I came across this passage while randomly perusing a sociology text, and I have two thoughts about it:

1) The article went on to discuss how, in Japan, employment opportunities for women are much more rare than for men and how, upon marriage, it is expected and assumed that a woman will stop working and then devote herself entirely to serving her husband and family.

From the text, it was not clear whether women were assumed to be of lower status than men because most women were "just" housewives, because men have occupations outside of the home and that's what grants a person status, and/or because it is believed that women have something innately, essentially inferior to them compared to men.

I suspect it is a combination of all of the above.

In the US, some factions tell women that motherhood is the most important job in the world.

This "compliment," I contend, is rendered in exchange for the many trappings that tell women that this status is, in actuality, precisely what makes women of lesser status than men: the fact that men rarely take the surnames of these alleged "most important workers in the world," that it is men who are often centered in family portraits, that it is often men who sit at the head of family tables, that some women are actually considered lazy and irresponsible when they possess these "most important jobs in the world" while being poor, non-white, and/or without also being legally joined to a man, and the fact that some notable male misogynists (who are too repugnant to even be named at this blog) just outright say that women are completely unnecessary to any job other than bearing children because bearing children is the only thing a woman can do better than a man.

It's quite similar to how Catholicism puts "woman" on a pedestal in exchange for the many trappings that tell women that we are inferior to men - gendering god as male, refusing to allow women into the priesthood, and strongly advocating for restrictions on women's rights and bodily autonomy.

2) Notice the second paragraph I cited.

Once men know other men's occupational status, they feel more comfortable. "They know how to treat one another as unequals."

I contend that gender serves a similar purpose.

In the US, many are very uncomfortable with gender neutrality, gender non-conformity, and androgyny. If people don't know whether someone is a man or a woman, or they see someone acting "out of character" to how they think a male or female human should act, they don't know how to relate to that person on a hierarchy.

That, I contend, causes many people severe discomfort.

The accoutrements of femininity and masculinity, when worn on the "appropriate" gender, help people more readily ascertain one's status in relation to others.

Monday, June 25, 2012

So You Want To Defame "Liberal Feminism"?

That's cute.

I mean, really. Talking about the suckiness of feminism? Never been done before!

However, I suggest that prior to accusing an entire movement of being a hate group, one would be able to make a much, much stronger argument by:

     a) Providing actual examples, quotes, and instances of actual members of the alleged "hate group" engaging in hateful rhetoric or actions; and

     b) Reading actual blogs, articles, and books written by actual members of the alleged "hate group" so one actually knows WTF one is talking about.

Unfortunately, conservative, anti-feminist blogger "Euripedes," a dude who claims to be a "history and political science professor" does neither.

And, if you peruse his blog for 20 seconds, you will find that this tactic of Making Claims Without Supporting Evidence While Possessing Total And Utter Confidence That His Readers Are Trembling Undergrads Who Will 100% Take His Word On Things is, you will find, a common strategy utilized by the professor.

Observe, "Euripedes" in action, setting up his "Biggest Hate Groups In America" article:
"Modern liberalism bases its ideology in large part on the concept of oppression. The ideology grew up out of a desire to protect oppressed classes of people in order to enfranchise them into society. One such class distinction started with the Marxist concept of the proletariat, or, in modern terms, 'the poor.' Blacks and women as oppressed classes were included. Stemming from the successes of the civil rights movement, other classes formed: homosexuals, animals, and even the earth itself. All tried to create special legal protections in order to achieve that most elusive of Marxist liberal ideals - equality of outcomes."
This paragraph, dear readers, is a true marvel, isn't it?

Animals, "even the earth itself," all formed and tried to create "special legal protections" for themselves. 

It's like, if dude says "proletariat" and "enfranchise," he thinks those words will be fancy enough to render invisible the fact that the rest of the paragraph is logically absurd, incoherent, and not at all a realistic, nuanced representation of history, liberalism, or any of the social movements referenced therein.

The intellectual immaturity continues, when "Euripedes" begins defining the Biggest Hate Groups In America (dun-dun DUN!) while of course not supporting his contentions with actual evidence.

Natch, we're on it ya'll:
"Liberal Feminists
Apparently there is no duplicity when a conservative woman is maligned. Think of the public destruction of Sarah 'I can see Russia from my house' Palin, Michelle 'crazy eyes' Bachmann, Laura 'talk slut' Ingraham, and recently Ann 'never worked a day in her life' Romney.

I watched, along with the rest of America, as Sarah Palin was systematically excommunicated from the true believers, ostracized from mainstream America, and slandered as an object of derision across the news and entertainment media. Modern feminism no longer defends the rights of women. It only defends the rights of women to have abortions and to adhere to liberal doctrine. Women with beliefs other than modern liberalism need not apply.

Is there any more proof needed to show that liberal feminism is a hate group?"
Obviously not, "Euripedes." CASE CLOSED!

LOL, I love it. The overconfidence of the ignorant never fails to entertain.

Dude cites no actual feminists doing any of these hate-y things, vaguely references some people somewhere being mean to conservative women, but somehow thinks he's just given the world a shut-and-dry case against "liberal feminists."

Look. I read feminist blogs. A lot of them. I can think of no major or minor feminist blog that I've seen that has engaged in misogynistic or sexist attacks on any of the women he has mentioned. Do we criticize them? Hell yes. But, from feminists, this criticism has, for the most part, not been sexist or misogynistic.

Sexism and misogyny, for those who actually talk about the topics on a regular basis and not solely when one is "concerned" about the topic for purposes of bashing feminists, is a serious problem for all women in politics. Liberal, conservative, progressive. That's why many feminists, myself included, have defended the women "Euripedes" names against the sexist and misogynistic attacks leveled against them even though such women rarely have our backs, are often anti-feminist themselves, and who actively work against the rights of other women.

Had "Euripedes," and the other anti-feminist know-nothings who trot out this meme on a near-daily basis, actually read feminist blogs, he and they might know that.

Instead, dude makes the common ignorant mistake of (a) conflating liberalism, a male-dominated non-feminist and often misogynistic political movement, with feminism, and (b) thinking that feminism, and feminism alone, is responsible for anything mean, sexist, misogynistic, and degrading that happens to the women who count (ie- conservative women).

So, yet again, I'll repeat.

The biggest failing of anti-feminists isn't that they're assholes, which indeed many of them are, it's that they so utterly fail at understanding or even trying to understand that which they loathe.


Friday, June 22, 2012

Happy Pride, Take Two

Holy shit.

David Blankenhorn, of the Institute for American Values and the Family Scholars Blog, has changed his views on same-sex marriage. Blankenhorn has written a book opposing same-sex marriage and was a key witness against it in California's Prop 8 case.

I highlight the following snippets from The New York Times:
"I had hoped that the gay marriage debate would be mostly about marriage’s relationship to parenthood. But it hasn’t been. Or perhaps it’s fairer to say that I and others have made that argument, and that we have largely failed to persuade. In the mind of today’s public, gay marriage is almost entirely about accepting lesbians and gay men as equal citizens. And to my deep regret, much of the opposition to gay marriage seems to stem, at least in part, from an underlying anti-gay animus. To me, a Southerner by birth whose formative moral experience was the civil rights movement, this fact is profoundly disturbing. 

I had also hoped that debating gay marriage might help to lead heterosexual America to a broader and more positive recommitment to marriage as an institution. But it hasn’t happened. With each passing year, we see higher and higher levels of unwed childbearing, nonmarital cohabitation and family fragmentation among heterosexuals. Perhaps some of this can be attributed to the reconceptualization of marriage as a private ordering that is so central to the idea of gay marriage. But either way, if fighting gay marriage was going to help marriage overall, I think we’d have seen some signs of it by now. 

So my intention is to try something new. Instead of fighting gay marriage, I’d like to help build new coalitions bringing together gays who want to strengthen marriage with straight people who want to do the same. For example, once we accept gay marriage, might we also agree that getting married before having children is a vital cultural value that all of us should do more to embrace? Can we agree that, for all lovers who want their love to last, marriage is preferable to cohabitation? Can we discuss whether both gays and straight people should think twice before denying children born through artificial reproductive technology the right to know and be known by their biological parents? 

Will this strategy work? I don’t know. But I hope to find out."

Honestly, I have to digest this news a little.

I'm not sure how it will play it in the larger cultural debate about same-sex marriage and in various amendments and propositions seeking to ban it, but I do appreciate the acknowledgement that bans on same-sex marriage do little or nothing to make heterosexuals more serious and responsible about marriage and procreation. That's a huge concession to publicly state.


Happy Pride Weekend

It's Pride Week where I live and, quite frankly, I've had little desire to talk about, read, or interact with bigots on Internet this week. That, for me, is pretty much what every other week of the year is for (ie- Heteronormative Pride, ya'll!!)


Anyway, my favorite parts of the Pride Parade, besides the dykes on bikes (no doy) and the Gay Men Prancing About (because what else do gay guys do in the bigot's uninspired imagination?) are PFLAG and the ex-homophobe Christians who wear those shirts that say "I'm sorry" for the abuse they used to inflict upon LGBT people.

The latter two groups represent, to me, an important essence of what pride is about: convincing people who are not LGBT that we are worth defending, respecting, supporting, and loving.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Regnerus New Family Structure Study (NFSS)

I have a few comments about the recently-released Mark Regnerus New Family Structure Study (NFSS).

For some background, the study randomly sampled almost 3,000 individuals aged 18-39, with the goal of comparing "how the young-adult children of a parent who has had a same-sex romantic relationship fare on 40 different social, emotional, and relational outcome variables when compared with six other family-of-origin types." (Emphasis added- let's remember that specific wording).

The study is generating a lot of press right now because Regenerus asserts that his study demonstrates that "numerous, consistent differences [exist] among young adults who reported maternal lesbian behavior (and to a lesser extent, paternal gay behavior) prior to age 18." And that, therefore, "the empirical claim that no notable differences exist" in child development "in lesbian and gay families" compared to male-female-headed, intact families "must go."

1) On "Gay," "Lesbian," and "Same-Sex Households"

The first critique, which others on Internet have pointed out as well, is Regnerus' categorization of what constitutes a "gay"/"lesbian" person and a "same-sex household." The screening tool used to identify children of "gay and lesbian parents," for instance, asked respondents the following question:
“'From when you were born until age 18 (or until you left home to be on your own), did either of your parents ever have a romantic relationship with someone of the same sex?' Response choices were 'Yes, my mother had a romantic relationship with another woman,' 'Yes, my father had a romantic relationship with another man,' or 'no.' (Respondents were also able to select both of the first two choices.) If they selected either of the first two, they were asked about whether they had ever lived with that parent while they were in a same-sex romantic relationship."
Note that the question is not something along the lines of, "Were you raised by two people of the same sex?"

The question, instead, focused on whether or not a parent had ever dated, for any amount of time, a person of the same sex while the respondent was under the age of 18. If yes, the parent was categorized as "gay" or "lesbian"- never bisexual, never "experimenting," never "my mom had a brief same-sex relationship, but eventually got back together with my dad," never "gay until graduation," or never "sexually fluid." Parents are categorized as flat-out 100% gay or lesbian, with their family structure being labeled "same-sex households," based upon the parent having ever had even just one same-sex relationship no matter how brief in duration.

Using this inapt categorization method, Regnerus makes claims throughout his paper, including a literature review and critiques of previous studies about "gay and lesbian parents." And, he suggests that not only is his study about "gay and lesbian parents" but that it's better than all of the previous studies about "gay and lesbian parents."

In reality, his paper is actually about parents who have ever had a same-sex relationship while their child was under the age of 18. While these categories will have some overlap, I hope it is obvious (but... apparently it's not) that the second category will include at least some people who are not, actually, "gay and lesbian parents" and who do not, actually, live in "same-sex households."

In explaining his chosen screening process, Regnerus notes the difficulty in obtaining an adequate sample size of "same-sex households." Indeed, it's a legitimate point. However, the screening question he chose to use to boost his numbers boosted his numbers by including people who weren't in "same-sex households" at all.

When people pore over methodology in a study that's making as bold a claim as this one is, the conflation between, say, (a) a dad who might have had an affair with a man and (b) two men who adopt a child together is not something people are going to overlook.

The nuance, unfortunately, is not likely to be picked up on by anti-LGBT advocacy groups.

See also, John Corvino's criticisms with respect to this point.

2) The Play on the Lesbian Predator Narrative

[TW: Discussion of child abuse and sexual abuse]

All respondents were asked if “a parent or other adult caregiver ever touched you in a sexual way, forced you to touch him or her in a sexual way, or forced you to have sexual relations?”  A statistically significant difference was found for respondents with a "lesbian mother." I use scare quotes here to indicate Regnerus' sketchy definition of a "lesbian mother"- because, per the analysis above and for the sake of accuracy, it would have been more apt for the study to state that a statistically significant difference was found for respondents reporting that their mother had ever had a romantic relationship with another woman.

I highlight this one because it's a finding that undoubtedly is going to be picked up by anti-LGBT groups to "prove" that "homosexuals" are sexual predators and unfit for parenthood. But, notice how the question doesn't ask which parent or "adult caregiver" engaged in the abuse- leaving readers to wonder who did it- A babysitter? A daycare worker? A previous boyfriend or husband of the parent? A "lesbian" partner? A Boy Scout master? A priest?)

Nor does the question ask in what context the abuse occurred. Did a lesbian couple adopt a child who had been abused by his or her biological parents? Did the biological father abuse the child, prior to the "lesbian mother" having her same-sex relationship?

To his credit, Regnerus acknowledges that point:
"It is entirely plausible, however, that sexual victimization could have been at the hands of the LM respondents’ biological father, prompting the mother to leave the union and—at some point in the future—commence a same-sex relationship. Ancillary (unweighted) analyses of the NFSS, which asked respondents how old they were when the first incident occurred (and can be compared to the household structure calendar, which documents who lived in their household each year up until age 18) reveal this possibility, up to a point: 33% of those LM respondents who said they had been sexually victimized by a parent or adult caregiver reported that they were also living with their biological father in the year that the first incident occurred. Another 29% of victimized LMs reported never having lived with their biological father at all. Just under 34% of LM respondents who said they had at some point lived with their mother’s same-sex partner reported a first-time incident at an age that was equal to or higher than when they first lived with their mother’s partner."
The study design and commentary sheds little clarity about what's really going on with this finding, and that's really unfortunate. Anti-LGBT groups are going to have a field day with that one in their zeal to demonize gays and lesbian, and a more careful analysis and questioning process by the researcher would have been appreciated. Yes, yes, I know Regnerus can claim that this study is just a "foundation for future research" in this area, but LGBT people have been on the receiving end of mis-used research for far too long to think such a disclaimer is going to stop virulent anti-LGBT groups from mis-using and misinterpreting research findings like these anyway.

In addition, the study reported a similar finding with respect to the question of whether the respondent had ever been forced to have sex against his or her will, and I would make the same points about that question as well.

3) You Say That Like It's a Bad Thing

Another significant finding was that children of "lesbian mothers" (there's that phrase again) were more likely to identify as not entirely heterosexual. Forgive me for not seeing that as a bad thing.

Unfortunately, and without elaboration as though the sub-par status of being not 100% heterosexual is some sort of self-evident truth, Regnerus includes this finding in his discussion of significant findings in which children of "lesbian mothers" have sub-optimal outcomes.

Related to that point, some may find Regenerus' discussion regarding his sexual orientation categorization interesting:
"The Kinsey scale of sexual behavior was employed, but modified to allow respondents to select the best description of their sexual orientation (rather than behavior). Respondents were asked to choose the description that best fits how they think about themselves: 100% heterosexual, mostly heterosexual but somewhat attracted to people of your own sex, bisexual (that is, attracted to men and women equally), mostly homosexual but somewhat attracted to people of the opposite sex, 100% homosexual, or not sexually attracted to either males or females. For simplicity of presentation, I create a dichotomous measure indicating 100% heterosexual (vs. anything else)."(emphasis added)
"Anything else."


That really sums up the biggest flaw of this study for me, and note here, that I'm not ascribing Regnerus with having evil or malicious intent here. Rather, that his sketchy categorization of sexual orientation groups center one group of people as the Normal People. The so-called "microcosms of society"-- a man who has only ever had sex with women, a woman who has only ever had sex with men- and the children they are raising together while married.

And then, apparently, there's Everyone Else. The distinctions among these Everyone Else's don't matter within this study. So, despite all of the nuance in family structure and circumstances that exist in the real world, suddenly the narrative is that any parent who's ever had a romantic relationship with someone of the same sex is a "gay or lesbian parent" living in a "same-sex household."

(Note: Regenerus' study was funded by the Witherspoon Institute and the Bradley Foundation, two socially-conservative funders. I wanted to put that tidbit of information last, so as to not prejudice readers regarding my substantive criticisms.)

Cross-posted: Family Scholars Blog

Monday, June 11, 2012

Marriage Matters In the Workplace

Via "Marriage Structure and Resistance to the Gender Revolution in the Workplace":

"...[W]e found that employed husbands in traditional and neo-traditional marriages, compared to those in modern marriages, tend to (a) view the presence of women in the workplace unfavorably, (b) perceive that organizations with larger numbers of female employees are operating less smoothly, (c) find organizations with female leaders as relatively unattractive, and (d) deny, more frequently, qualified female employees opportunities for promotion."
A traditional marriage was defined as a heterosexual marriage in which the man took on the breadwinning role and the woman took on the caregiver role. A neo-traditional marriage was defined as a heterosexual marriage in which both spouses worked, but the man was the primary wage-earner and the woman remained the primary caregiver.

These two types of marriage were contrasted with the egalitarian model that posits that gender is unrelated to which role a spouse centers, "such that men and women can aspire equally to both roles."

The authors of the above-cited paper contend that men in traditional and neo-traditional marriages represent a "pocket of resistance" to the gender revolution and partly explain the purported slowdown in women's occupational progress. They also argue that this resistance will not go away until the structure of these men's marriages change, "an exceedingly improbable event on a large scale."

Repeat. "An exceedingly improbably event on a large scale."

Note that claim, which is made in light of the ever-present "threat" that the legalization of same-sex marriage allegedly poses to traditional marriage.

On a not unrelated note, I also observed that, despite their explicit claims to the contrary, the authors seemed to go out of their way to absolve men in traditional/neo-traditional marriages of responsibility for women's occupational plateau. They write:

"Early on, we noted the gender attitudes and beliefs of men embedded in traditional and neo-traditional marriage likely are implicit. Thus, these men's attitudes and beliefs are not likely to be overtly hostile towards women in the workplace.... Therefore, we do not intend to, nor are we pointing a finger at those whom we have claimed constitute a pocket of resistance to the gender revolution." (Emphasis in original) 
I mean, really.

Let me summarize here:

New paper shows that men in traditional marriage think poorly of their female co-workers, that this male resistance partly explains the plateau in women's progress, and that this male resistance will never go away, but don't worry everyone, these men aren't, like, sexists or anything! Well, maybe they are, they just don't know that they're sexist. So can't we all just take a minute to calm down, stop '"pointing fingers," and think about the men here and how they might be feeling all accused about this? Geez, so unfair!


And therein I think we've also found part of the problem for why this male resistance is so resist-y, and so "exceedingly" improbable of going away. 

We continue to entitle men who hold sexist beliefs to think it's worse to be called sexist than it is for them to actually be sexist.
And so I note here, because it evidently needs to be stated directly and explicitly, that men can hurt women with sexism even if they don't intend to, even if they're usually nice, and even if they aren't aware that they even have sexist thoughts. 

In other words, don't be afraid to point that finger when it's appropriate to do so, folks. Naming what's happening, rather than tip-toeing on eggshells around the truth, is a critical first step in countering social injustice.


Desai, Sreedhari D., Chugh, Dolly and Brief, Arthur, Marriage Structure and Resistance to the Gender Revolution in the Workplace (March 12, 2012). 

Cross-posted: Family Scholars Blog

Friday, June 8, 2012

Quote on Apologies

"I'm sorry, but...."

"Sorry. And as long as we're all looking for things to get offended about...."

"I didn't mean to offend..."

"Sorry that people got offended by what I said."

Gross, right?

Cyborgology has a nice article on apologies and the apparent increase in demands for public ones. In it, Dr. Aaron Lazare, author of the book On Apology, notes:
“We are in a pandemic of bad behavior,” says Dr. Aaron Lazare, chancellor and dean emeritus of the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester and author of the 2004 book “On Apology.”
He has studied the frequency of apologies in published news reports from 1900 to the present day and says since the 1980s, “the number of apologies has tripled.” But, he adds, the effectiveness and sincerity of those apologies has plummeted.
“Most of these people simply want to have their cake and eat it too,” he says, noting that the key to a genuine apology is humility and restoration of dignity for the offended party.
I emphasized that last sentence because that concept really seems to confuse people.

Too often, when people say something racist, sexist, misogynistic, or otherwise offensive, they act as though the key to an apology is a restoration of their own reputation as Being Not Bigoted. No concern, let alone humility, is expressed about restoring the dignity of the people they have offended. No attempt is made to understand why people were offended.

That's why so many people think that if they didn't intend to say something offensive, then it's magically not offensive. (Hint: It can be). They center themselves- their feelings, their perspectives- rather than the people they have harmed or offended.

You can tell a non-apology apology when you see it because the person who has given offense acts as though the apology is about hirself, rather than about the people ze has offended.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Man-Woman Marriage as a "Microcosm of Society"

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the percentage of births to unmarried women in the US in 2009 was 41% (PDF).

Those who oppose marriage equality sometimes assert that marriage as one man, one woman, and their biological children constitutes the "microcosm of society."

Yet, given the above statistic, is such a claim really accurate? Don't many, various "microcosms" of society exist, given the reality that families come in multiple forms?

The claim that heterosexual marriage constitutes the "microcosm of society," not only implies that only one authentic way to be a family exists and thereby erases non-heteronormative families, it also implies that only one authentic way to be a woman (or a man) exists.. Note, for instance, the following claim expressed by a proponent of the "microcosm of society" talking point:
"Marriage provides the child with two parents: one to be emulated, and one whose qualities are sought in a spouse of their own. The differences in the sexes are not arbitrary social fiat, but unchangeable natural fact."
Here, we learn both that the sexes are very different and that these differences are an "unchangeable natural fact." This conventional narrative implies that people who do not possess these purportedly "unchangeable" "qualities" that men and women apparently "naturally" possess are either unreal men and women or they do not exist.

Notice the internal contradiction, as usual, within this narrative. These differences are so very "unchangeable" and "natural," oh yes they certainly are! just take their word for it! everyone knows it!. In fact, these different qualities are so natural and inherent in male and female that children must learn to emulate these "unchangeable natural" differences by observing the behavior of the parent whose sex they share.

I often find that those who believe in this myth of gender complementarity often deem themselves brave truth-tellers about What Men And Women Are Really Like But No One Is "Allowed" To Say Anymore Because Of Feminism.

Well then.

Perhaps it is for the sake of the "traditional values" politically correct and their folksy-folks commonsensical "truths" about gender that the more rational thinkers among this crowd ignore the obvious disconnect within their heteronormative indoctrination plan.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Upcoming Live Blogging/Streaming Marriage Convo

Family Scholars Blog, where I post the occasional guest blog as a feminist, pro-LGBT voice, is going to be live streaming and live blogging a conversation between Maggie Gallagher, who opposes same-sex marriage (obvs), and John Corvino, who supports it.

The two recently wrote a book together called Debating Same-Sex Marriage.

David Blankenhorn is hosting the conversation and Family Scholars Blog is inviting people to the live stream and to comment on the event, which starts at 6 p.m. EST on June 7th.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A Retort to "The Muslims Are Worse"

The other day, I read a blogpost by an antifeminist Christian woman who claimed that for a woman to wear pretty much anything other than a full-length dress was to "assault" men with sexual provocation. Some male commenters chimed in to "assert as men" that she was absolutely correct.

So, like, just put us in burqas already!

In my travels on Internet, anti-feminists and anti-LGBT people often say, "You know, women and LGBT people in Muslim countries have it So Much Worse."

Wanna know what I hear when people make that statement while simultaneously bemoaning the Leftist Feminist Homo Agenda in the US?

"You know, women and LGBT people in Muslim countries have to So Much Worse. And gawd, why can't it be like that here? So unfair!"

 Like, you know that if we take our eye off the ball for 2 seconds, they'd institute the fundamentalist Christian version of Sharia law in the US if they could.

The most important differences between religious fundamentalist, absolute beliefs that are used to justify misogynistic, homophobic, and gender policing policies are those of degree. For, from a substantive standpoint, if someone is telling me that I'm a horrible, sinful person for being gay or that my role as a woman is to be submissive, it is of no consequence to me which godly "authority" or "holy book" or "doctrine" or "teaching" this judgment purportedly stems. The specifics, to me, are of equal absurdity.

I am an equal-opportunity dismisser of fundamentalism. It just so happens that here, in the US, it is primarily Christians who seek to deny me equal rights and who have posed the biggest threats to my human dignity.

That's why the strategy of fundamentalist Christians trying to build themselves up by diverting our attention from their own aggression and onto Other People's doesn't really work for me.

I'll be the judge of who the prime assholes to me, in my life, are, thankyouverymuch.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Lambda Legal Files Marriage Equality Suit in Illinois

Lambda Legal has filed a lawsuit in Illinois against the Cook County Clerk challenging the state's ban on civil marriage between two people of the same sex.

For a brief background, while Illinois' Constitution does not define marriage as only between one man and one woman, its marriage statute does. As of about a year ago, two people of the same sex (as well as different-sex partners) have been able to enter into civil unions, granting the state-level rights of marriage. (Because of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, however, they still cannot obtain the federal rights of marriage).

In the complaint, the 32 plaintiffs allege that the Clerk has refused to issue them marriage licenses solely because they are gay or lesbian and seeking to marry someone of the same sex. They further claim that this refusal harms them and their children.

The complaint references the insecurity that the plaintiffs' children feel with respect to their parents' lack of ability to obtain a marriage license with one another. The phrase "civil union" conveys the "ever-present possibility that others may question their familial relationship - in social, educational, medical, or law enforcement settings and in moments of crisis - in a way that spouses can avoid by simple reference to being married."

From a constitutional standpoint, the complaint argues that the denial of marriage licenses to same-sex couples is a violation of the Illinois Constitution by (a) denying the plaintiffs the "fundamental right to marry, the fundamental right of privacy and guarantee of personal liberty, and penalizes Plaintiffs' self-determination in the most intimate sphere of their lives" without having "compelling or otherwise sufficient justification" to do so, and (b) denying them equal protection of the laws on the basis of sexual orientation and sex.

The complaint also alleges that the ban reflects "animus, moral disapproval and antipathy toward lesbians and gay men."

But that's not the harm I want to talk about today. Instead, I want to focus on the word "marriage" as a meaningful indicator of two people's status with respect to one another- and the possible harms that result in denying same-sex couples that legal status.

Quantifiable harms such as inability to file taxes jointly, to obtain a green card marriage, and to receive Social Security benefits are easier to calculate than the mental and emotional harms of not being able to refer to oneself as legally married. As such, I would compare the harms that many same-sex families endure to pain and suffering damages in a lawsuit and would include things like mental distress, embarrassment, and stigma. 

These harms likely seem minimal, wishy-washy, and insignificant to some, especially those who are able to marry their chosen partners. So, I hope people who are dismissive of these harms might try to imagine putting themselves in the position of same-sex couples here, although I do recognize that a great many people are missing some sympathy chips in this larger debate.

From the complaint: "civil marriage plays a unique role in society as the universally recognized and celebrated hallmark of a couple's commitment to build family life together." So, while civil unions grant legal benefits of marriage, denying same-sex couples imposes a stigma that brands same-sex families as "inferior." "Without access to the familiar language and label of marriage," same-sex couples are unable to obtain the respect for their commitment that married couples can instantly obtain by saying they are married.

Speaking from my personal experience, I would echo this harm.

My partner and I are in a legal civil union. This status, in my experience, is not widely recognized outside of LGBT circles or those who pay attention to the wider "marriage debate."

When trying to obtain a copy of our license at a Currency Exchange, for instance, the clerk gave me a puzzled look when I explained that I needed a copy of my civil union license. It wasn't until I explained, "You know...a marriage license.... for same-sex couples....?" that she understood.

Earlier this year, I was hit by a car. While I thankfully did not suffer major physical injuries, I had to deal with an adversarial insurance company and claims adjustor who did not understand what I meant when I said I was covered under my "civil union partner's" insurance. Because I am both an attorney and pretty feisty, I knew what to argue, how to argue, and I was able to file a successful claim and complete the necessary paperwork. I can imagine that for non-attorneys in civil unions, the barriers to securing these rights that many married couples have the privilege of taking for granted, would be too cumbersome to deal with.

Not being able to produce a marriage license, not being able to call my partner my legal wife or say we're legally married has also meant, in these situations, not being able to "come out" on my own terms. Many LGBT, including myself, prefer to out ourselves in spaces where we feel safe enough to do so. It's a survival strategy born of lived experiences of people expressing animus toward us or people like us.

By not being able to simply refer to my status as married in these interactions with various bureaucrats, I have had to out myself to strangers, in public, and in crowded lines in order to obtain basic documents and file claims.

And now, we still juggle the terminology. We find that how we refer to ourselves differs depending on the context. To each other and our close circle of friends, we're married. To our state, we're civil union'ed sometimes and "as if married" other times. To our federal government and some states, we're legal strangers.

It is a strange semantic game we continually play. We are not allowed to say we are legally married, because some feel that the universal, enduring "core" of marriage can only exist between a man and a woman (at best) or because they have outright bigoted reasons for opposing equality (at worst). Yet, perhaps paradoxically, it is only by invoking the word marriage that I am able to convey to strangers my relationship to my partner. Civil union is too new. Too unrecognizable. Too unfamiliar.

Which, of course, begs the question, if the statuses are so legally similar is it really logical for the state to make the distinction at all?

[Cross-posted: Family Scholars Blog]

Friday, June 1, 2012

Quote of the Day

From the First Circuit Court of Appeals' ruling finding the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional:
"A second rationale of a [put forth in justification of DOMA] is to support child-rearing in the context of stable marriage. The evidence as to child rearing by same-sex couples is the subject of controversy, but we need not enter the debate. Whether or not children raised by opposite-sex marriages are on average better served, DOMA cannot preclude same-sex couples in Massachusetts from adopting children or prevent a woman partner from giving birth to a child to be raised by both partners.  
Although the House Report is filled with encomia to heterosexual marriage, DOMA does not increase benefits to opposite-sex couples--whose marriages may in any event be childless, unstable or both--or explain how denying benefits to same-sex couples will reinforce heterosexual marriage. Certainly, the denial will not affect the gender choices of those seeking marriage. This is not merely a matter of poor fit of remedy to perceived problem, but a lack of any demonstrated connection between DOMA's treatment of same-sex couples and its asserted goal of strengthening the bonds and benefits to society of heterosexual marriage."
That is, if children "do best when raised by their moms and dads" really was a prime reason for enacting DOMA, then it would have been logical for DOMA to (a) have prevented same-sex couples from raising children via adoption or reproductive technologies, (b) to have provided additional incentives for men and women to marry and remain married, (c) to have provided disincentives for unstable heterosexuals to procreate, and (d) to prevent childless couples and male-female couples unable to procreate from marrying.

DOMA did not, and does not, do any of these things. It "simply" prevents those in legal, same-sex marriages from accessing the federal benefits of marriage, available to male-female married couples, on the sole basis of the sex of their partners.

 Thus, the DOMA "solution" to the "problem" that same-sex marriage allegedly presents society, namely the "deinstitutionalization of marriage," is not a rational remedy for that "problem."

 Can those who oppose SSM nonetheless agree that DOMA does not represent a good, legitimate, or logical connection toward its purported goal of strengthening the bonds between children and their biological parents?

[Cross-posted: Family Scholars Blog]