Friday, April 30, 2010

Odds 'n Ends

[Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault]

1) Oklahoma Abortion Law

Oklahoma has passed an abhorrent law forcing fetal vessels to undergo an ultrasound and listen to description of the fetus prior to having an abortion. From the Times:

"Though other states have passed similar measures requiring women to have ultrasounds, Oklahoma’s law goes further, mandating that a doctor or technician set up the monitor so the woman can see it and describe the heart, limbs and organs of the fetus. No exceptions are made for rape and incest victims."

To require an unnecessary medical procedure in order to undergo another procedure is an infantilization of women. The purpose of this law, which of course is to prevent abortion, is to show and tell women who seek abortions that they don't really know what they're doing. As though women, the ones carrying a fetus, don't fully understand the magnitude of what's at stake when it comes to abortion.

For women who have not been sexually assaulted, this law is enough of a manipulative invasion of privacy. For those who are pregnant as the result of rape or incest, this requirement will do little besides induce further trauma.

The Center for Reproductive Rights has already filed a lawsuit.

2) Non-Consent As the Default

Over at Alas, A Blog, Ampersand examines Duke's new sexual misconduct policy. In short, it turns the usual sex narrative about consent on its head:

"Rather than assuming consent until proven otherwise, Duke’s policy says 'Consent is an affirmative decision to engage in mutually acceptable sexual activity given by clear actions or words… consent may not be inferred from silence, passivity, or lack of active resistance alone.'

Put anther way, our society should stop teaching that consent is the default state, until a sufficiently forceful 'no' is stated. Boys — and girls — should be taught that non-consent is the default, unless a person enthusiastically says 'yes' with words or action. Duke is trying to teach that, and they should be praised for that."

For reference, the Duke policy uses an example of a male-female couple wherein the woman says "no" to her boyfriend twice before silently acquiescing to his pressure to have sex. Under the Duke policy, this would be a violation. Generally, I think many people would have trouble seeing this as a violation, given that the woman didn't forcibly resist. Only by constructing consent as something that must be explicitly given, does this example demonstrate that the default in society is basically "sexual consent is assumed until a person is met with physical resistance."

3) State Rep Engaged

This week on the House floor, Illinois state representative Deborah Mell (D) announced her engagement to her same-sex partner. She made her announcement to bring awareness to the issue of marriage equality and highlight the inequality in Illinois' marriage laws. The couple will be marrying in Iowa, which recognizes same-sex marriage.

Congratulations to the couple.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

More On the Compromised Roethlisberger Investigation

[Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault]

Earlier this week, I wrote about Timothy Egan's editorial on Superstar athlete Ben Roethlisberger's most recent charge of sexual assault. In the comments, a reader noted one of Egan's quotes:

"Prosecutors said they would not file charges against the quarterback — in part because of sloppy police work by officers who fawned over the athlete —"

I wanted more details as to how this alleged fawning might have compromised the investigation and case against Roethlisberger. Well, Deeky at shakesville, who has been monitoring this case since the beginning, has provided a link outlining more details about the problematic start to the investigation:

"According to witnesses aligned with both the accuser and accused, Milledgeville police Sgt. Jerry Blash demonstrated little patience with the alleged victim....Roethlisberger, meanwhile, was barely pressed by Blash, the night commander, who had his picture taken with the two-time Super Bowl champ earlier that evening.

After hearing the young woman’s story, Blash quickly notified Roethlisberger and his group of her allegation. The sergeant, who has since resigned amid an internal investigation into his behavior, approached two of the quarterback’s associates, Pennsylvania lawmen Anthony Barravecchio and Edward Joyner, and told them what had transpired....

Barravecchio, a Coraopolis, Pa., officer assigned to a federal Drug Enforcement Administration task force, said Blash told them: 'We have a problem, this drunken [expletive], drunk off her ass, is accusing Ben of rape.'"...

According to Biancofiore, the sergeant told them he would file a report but warned them they were wasting their time. Lubatti told the GBI that Blash advised, 'You can file a statement but this man has a lot of money and good attorneys.'"

Throughout this account, multiple sources report that the alleged victim was intoxicated and changed her story multiple times. I don't think that necessarily makes her allegations untrue, especially given that later the same evening she presented in an emergency room with physical trauma consistent with sexual assault.

What is troubling about this case is the narrative.

In Roethlisberger's previous case, a security guard told the alleged victim that "most girls would feel lucky to get to have sex with someone like Ben Roethlisberger," thus protecting male sexual access to women by creating the narrative that Superstar Men Are Incapable Of Rape Because All Women Want To Fuck Superstar Athletes.

In this latest case, the narrative tells us that women who are intoxicated are unrape-able. That is not to say that men do not rape intoxicated women. Just that, if they do, there's a good chance they can and will get away with it. Guess "Not Drinking" is just one more thing women can add to our list of ways to limit our lives so as not to be raped by men and/or deemed to be trustworthy.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Scary Health News: Soy Edition

Sometimes, I am just so amused by "news" source WorldNetDaily. Thanks to commenter Sarah, who passed along this article about the dangers of soy I was more amused than usual.

Jim Rutz begins:

"There's a slow poison out there that's severely damaging our children and threatening to tear apart our culture."

Goodness, this sounds scary. He continues:

"The dangerous food I'm speaking of is soy. Soybean products are feminizing..."

You know, it's always funny to me when anti-feminist folks claim that it is feminists who hate femininity. In a mere few sentences, this fella claims that a food that is "feminizing" is a "slow poison" that threatens to "tear apart our culture."

Why? Because it's girly:

"Unfortunately, when you eat or drink a lot of soy stuff, you're also getting substantial quantities of estrogens.

Estrogens are female hormones. If you're a woman, you're flooding your system with a substance it can't handle in surplus. If you're a man, you're suppressing your masculinity and stimulating your "female side," physically and mentally."

You can see where Rutz is going with this: Lots of foodstuffs contain soy. Soy contains female hormones. Female hormones emasculate boys. Emasculated boys are gay. Thus, kids (oh, by kids he means boys) who eat soy will become gay.

No word on what makes the girl kind of kids gay.

What is clear is that this article is entitled "Soy is making kids 'gay'" as though homosexuality is the worst possible outcome of eating soy products. At the end of the article, we also learn:

"There's also a serious connection between soy and cancer in adults – especially breast cancer."

Note, I don't dispute that soy can be dangerous. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. I'm not a scientist, not even a pretend "food expert" on the internet. I more just wanted to note (a) the conflation of emasculation with gay, (b) the erasure of female homosexuality, (c) the assumption that being gay is a disease, (d) the making of boys as the default kid, and (e) the implicit message that being gay is worse than getting breast cancer.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Protesting Privilege

[Trigger Warning: Dehumanization of LGBT people]

From anti-racist writer Tim Wise:

"Protest is only seen as fundamentally American when those who have long had the luxury of seeing themselves as prototypically American engage in it. When the dangerous and dark 'other' does so, however, it isn’t viewed as normal or natural, let alone patriotic. Which is why Rush Limbaugh could say, this past week, that the Tea Parties are the first time since the Civil War that ordinary, common Americans stood up for their rights: a statement that erases the normalcy and 'American-ness' of blacks in the civil rights struggle, not to mention women in the fight for suffrage and equality, working people in the fight for better working conditions, and LGBT folks as they struggle to be treated as full and equal human beings."

Wise aptly concludes that the ability of Tea Partiers to protest while spewing violent rhetoric and simultaneously be viewed as "patriotic" is a demonstration of white privilege.

It is also Average Joe privilege, which is the entitlement that society gives white, heterosexual, "average," usually male Americans to express anger. This entitlement is rarely extended to other groups. The anger of the Other, whether righteous or not, is not framed as patriotic, but as a dangerous threat to all of society. It is not seen as a natural reaction to political unfairness, but as proof of deviance.

I am reminded of the post-Proposition 8 atmosphere in California, wherein groups of LGBT people and allies took to the streets after the disappointing vote that stripped same-sex couples of the right to legally marry. Anti-gay organizations, individuals, and bloggers painstakingly documented every real and imagined act of wrongdoing during these protests and perpetuated the message that these protests only proved that the homosexuals are an Angry Fascist Mob and, thus, undeserving of equality anyway.


After Prop 8 passed, one anti-gay blogger belonging to an allegedly "grassroots" anti-gay blogging group cherry-picked photos of angry-looking LGBT protestors and suggested that LGBT people are hateful bullies and sore losers, in contrast to "marriage defenders" who are, of course, loving and peaceful. Another blogger, who is part of the same anti-gay "grassroots" group took things to a more extreme level, suggesting that LGBT advocates are actually sub-human zombies who are much different than Normal People and in fact are out to kill families and children, as she posted the following photo within an article about the "homosexual agenda":


The text accompanying this photo is: "I think we all know who the zombie is.... GLBT agenda advocates and the government who lets them have their way..." [elipses in original].

It's interesting that this blogger uses "we," isn't it? "We all" certainly do not "know who the zombie is." Yet this blogger, so insular and confident in her beliefs, assumes that everyone believes likewise.

In contrast, when documenting a conservative anti-Obama Tea Party rally one of these very same anti-gay bloggers posted pictures of protesting families and children and called them "Good, clean, regular everyday folk."

Good, clean, regular everyday folk.

When Normal People protest, it's precious all-American fun for the whole family. When anyone who does not have the privilege of being constructed as Normal does it, we're sub-human monsters. That, my friends, is privilege. It is the privilege of being able to construct an entire group of human beings as sub-human monsters as though the beliefs of said monsters about that categorization do not at all matter.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Nike's Woman Problem

[Trigger Warning: Sexual assault]

In a surprising editorial, surprising because it's in the mainstream non-feminist Times, Timothy Egan takes Nike to task for its continued backing of Superstar Athlete Ben Roethlisberger, who three women have now accused of sexual assault. Egan writes:

"If this guy didn’t have a pair of Super Bowl Rings and a $102 million contract to entertain us on Sundays, most people would see him for what he is: a thug with a predatory sense of entitlement....

But Nike, the shoe-maker to the world, the biggest brand in the endorsement game, is standing by Roethlisberger — at least for the moment — just as they continue to back Tiger Woods after his serial infidelities....

What, exactly does it take for Nike to dump a jock? Dog-fighting will do it. After Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick pleaded guilty to running a felony dog-fighting ring, Nike took action. 'We consider any cruelty to animals inhumane and unacceptable,' the company said at the time.

But cruelty to women is O.K...."

Before anyone comes here and informs me of this, I know: Poor Poor Ben has not been convicted of rape. Clearly, he will never be convicted as long as it is his word against any woman's. Aside from the fact that rape cases are difficult to prosecute and even more difficult to obtain a conviction, what the police report does show is that Roethlisberger had some sort of sexual contact with the accuser in a bar and that the woman later presented in the emergency room with "a cut, bruises and vaginal bleeding."

What this editorial shows is a prioritization of money over Superstars whose actions perpetuate the idea that women's most noteworthy role in society is to be fucked by Superstar men.

Friday, April 23, 2010

An Ounce of Anti-Gay With a Dollop of Rape Culture

The evangelical Christian magazine Christianity Today recently posted an interview with musician Jennifer Knapp, a former Christian musician, who has come out as being in a same-sex relationship. Much of the interview discusses this "lifestyle choice" and is fairly unremarkable aside from Knapp's apparent painful journey in reconciling her homosexuality with her Christian faith.

This interview generated over 1000 comments, which seems to be a much higher number than what articles at this site usually generate. If there's one topic Christians love talking about more than Jesus, it's homosexuality. Anyway, in perusing the comments, I came across a common sentiment that is expressed among those opposed to LGBT equality. Observe:

"Betty B Posted: April 20, 2010 3:04 PM
If God wanted Jennifer to choose for herself which gender to fall in love with, he would have made her a hermaphrodite. He gave her female sex organs only. Just because she has no sexual attraction to men doesn't mean she gets to go around picking and choosing who to fall in love with. We need to get back to a more Biblical version of love... Back when marriages were arranged." (Emphasis added)

Setting aside the bizarre statement about "hermaphrodites" and its implication that human beings are only allowed to love those who have "sex organs" of the other gender, let's examine the portion of Betty's statement that I emphasized. See, those opposed to marriage equality for same-sex couples often recite the tired claim that laws defining marriage as between one man and one woman don't discriminate against LGBT people, because LGBT people are already completely free to get married (oh, to someone of the "opposite" sex of course).

This statement demands that LGBT people either live in unrecognized relationships that do not receive the myriad of benefits that the state doles out to married heterosexual couples or that LGBT people opt for the heterosexual lifestyle. It is an extension of the idea that men and women exist for certain purposes, purposes that transcend individuality, free will, and consent.

In short, the statement is a product of Rape Culture.

Note: Betty demonstrates that she knows a lesbian "has no sexual attraction to men," yet she carries the idea that men and women are complementary beings to its "logical" conclusion, and says that the lesbian can't just pick and choose who she wants to be with sexually. Because men and women are complementary, the canard goes, women must have sex with, marry, and reproduce with men. Even if they don't want to. And, as you see, Betty goes on to horrifically suggest that such women should be forced into marriages with men.

Yet, I think there's a word for what Betty's advocating. Welcome to Rape Culture, anti-gay, evangelical "Christian" style.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Odds 'n Ends: Gendered Clothing Edition

Via Feminist Law Professors, Katherine Franke recounts an outraged mom who is concerned that her son will be humiliated if he complies with a Women's History Month school assignment studying "how women's fashion has changed over time." Specifically, the children were asked to come to school dressed in clothing that women wore during some time period.

The teacher specifically noted that the boys didn't have to wear dresses since, obviously, women wear and have worn articles of clothing that were not dresses. Unfortunately, as Franke recounts, instead of putting jeans and a t-shirt on her son, the mom "flipped out that her son might have to go to school in a dress and be humiliated by a project that required cross-dressing as part of an overarching 'gay agenda.'"

It's interesting how invested many people are in male and female costuming, albeit for different reasons. Whether a person is transgender or cisgender, that level of investment underscores how gendered clothing and gender presentation are key determinants to how others react to and treat us. As the "gender" of various articles and colors of clothing has changed throughout history and differs by culture, why articles of clothing are deemed "male" versus "female" (and vice versa) does not seem to be based in anything inherent about men or women. What, for instance, is it about a woman's anatomy that makes high heels "female"? What about the color pink?

What does seem to hold true is that many societies have used, and continue to use, clothing to mark gender, no matter what form the clothing actually takes. For instance, as Franke continues to recount, prior to World War I, pink was considered a color for boys while girls wore blue.

So what, then, is women's clothing?

The answer to that seems to be circular. Women's clothing is and always has been, simply, clothing that women wear. It is clothing that marks its wearer as a girl or woman which, in turn, informs others how they are to treat, respond to, and interact with us. It is often, you will notice, the most fundamentalist socieities- Muslim, Christian, Jewish- that demand strict adherence to gendered dress and grooming codes. These societies, not coincidentally, also make strong distinctions between the categories of male and female.

If you're looking for a more specific, less circular, answer to "what is women's clothing," Twisty offers:

"When I got a spam for 'men in wedding dresses' this morning I thought, hell yeah! I sure do wanna see some men in wedding dresses....

Men universally look asinine in women’s clothes, yeah? The reason for this, and for mild funniness in other low forms of humor, is incongruity. Nothing says 'I submit to my species’ disdain and surrender forthwith any claims to my own humanity' quite like a wedding dress. Women’s clothes are designed, according to a rigorous standard of misogyny, to communicate that the wearer is totally up for self-abasement. Men, on the other hand, are required by law not to be totally up for self-abasement. Therefore, in accordance with the laws of patriarchy, comedy and gender, a dude in a wedding dress is improbable and unnatural, thus causing the observer to laugh or retch or curl a cynical lip....

Women look natural in stupid clothes because women, as is stated in the Global Accords Governing Fair Use of Women, are biologically and culturally constrained to subsist as degraded masochists."

The above, coincidentally, is also the answer to another question. Why is it that high heels, make-up, and a long flowing dress are considered "beautiful" on a woman, but ridiculous, disgusting, and freakish on a man? What does the female costume truly mark?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Field Witch Gets Another Chance

A month ago, Time magazine gave us a gender-fail of headline and story about a female Navy leader who allegedly verbally abused her subordinates and who lost her rank because of it. This story was entitled the "The Sea Witch" and went on to suggest that her actions were explained by her gender and that it was political correctness/affirmative action that kept her around for far too long.

That's why I was surprised, and by "surprised" I mean "not at all surprised," to read this Foxnews article about a male coach "whose reputation for physical and verbal abuse shadowed him through multiple jobs in a half-dozen states" has been given another chance.

Now, second chances are good. I'm all for people learning from past mistakes and doing better. Yet, let's compare these two instances of people allegedly behaving badly.

Of the woman behaving badly, Time magazine shouted in a headline that she was "The Sea Witch." Of the man behaving badly, Foxnews offers this timid headline: "Football Coach Accused of Years of Player Abuse Is Back on the Field." First, note the deference granted to the football coach as Foxnews rightfully withheld a final judgment about his guilt or innocence with the word "accused."

Second, note that his headline was not gendered. Unlike "The Sea Witch's" actions, his activities are not an indictment of his entire gender. He's just one man who messed up, allegedly of course, and who is not getting a second chance to be a, as the article says, "better Christian man."

So here, we learn that when women (allegedly) yell at people, it is Very Bad. So bad, that the leadership capabilities of all women are called into question and gendered slurs are thrown about. When men yell at and hit people (allegedly), it is pretty bad, but there's no doubt that men as a class are still fit for leadership, even the ones who have (allegedly) committed violence as long as they're striving to be "better Christian men." In this way, when men commit violence, it's framed in a minimizing "boys will be boys" manner, effectively entitling men to continue to commit acts of violence.

This phenomenon is closely related to the He Was Ordinarily A Really Great Guy Other Than That Time He Beat The Crap Out Of That Woman phenomenon whereby male violence is framed as a statistical aberration, rather than the statistical frequency that it is.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Arkansas Adoption Ban Ruled Unconstitutional

Back in 2008, Arkansas voters passed a law banning unmarried cohabitating couples from adopting children or being foster parents. Although the text of the law states that it is to apply "equally to cohabitating opposite-sex [sic*] and same-sex individuals [sic**]," in reality a primary goal of the law, as the Family Council Action Committee admitted, was to prevent same-sex couples from adopting or fostering children.

Judge Chris Piazza of Pulaski County Circuit Court recently ruled that this law is unconstitutional under the Arkansas Constitution. While the judge used rational-basis review to uphold the law under the US Constitution, he noted that the Arkansas Constitution offers greater protection of individual rights, writing:

"[T]he Act significantly burdens non-marital relationships and acts of sexual intimacy between adults because it forces them to choose between becoming a parent and having any meaningful type of intimate relationship outside of marriage. This infringes upon the fundamental right of privacy guaranteed to all citizens of Arkansas....[I]t is especially troubling that one politically unpopular group has been specifically targeted for exclusion by the Act. Due Process and Equal Protection are not hollow words without substance."

Well said. Unfortunately, what often transforms Due Process and Equal Rights into hollow words is the will of the majority.

*Male and female are not opposites.

**"Cohabitating same-sex individuals" and "cohabitating opposite-sex individuals" are nonsensical statements. Individuals aren't "same-sex." Couples are. Also, individuals don't "cohabitate." Couples do. You know, together.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Odds 'N Ends

1) On "Girl" Bisexuals and Lesbians

After citing statistics indicating that percentages of female bisexuality and lesbianism have grown to 15% over the years, while rates of male bisexuality and homosexuality remain at around 5%, psychologist Leonard Sax speculates on a possible reason.

Namely, he suggests a connection "between the rise in the number of young women who self-identify as lesbian or bisexual, and the increasing normalization and acceptance of pornography in the lives of young men." To support this argument, Sax cites evidence that female sexuality is more malleable than male sexuality. Yet, this suggestion also seems to be mired in male-centrism. Observe, Sax's parting question:

"...I have to wonder: Are there so many girl-girl couples out there because that's truly who they are - or because the guys are such losers?"

Here's a thought, maybe "girls" who have "girl" partners do so for reasons that have little or nothing to do with boys and men.

2) Heterosupremacy Huckabee-style

Ordained Baptist minister, former presidential hopeful, former governor of Arkansas, Fox talk show host, and Kevin Spacey look-alike Mike Huckabee recently re-iterated his thoughts on The Gay. When asked by an interviewer about same-sex marriage, he said that society should not accommodate lifestyles that are not "the ideal," saying:

"That would be like saying, well there's there are a lot of people who like to use drugs so let's go ahead and accommodate those who want to use drugs. There are some people who believe in incest, so we should accommodate them. There are people who believe in polygamy, should we accommodate them?"


This "argument" comes up regularly in a heterosupremacist society, and thus is deserves no further elaboration than my explanation of the phenomenon back in 2009:

"Generally, heterosupremacy is the belief that heterosexuality is the default, superior sexual identity. To the extreme anti-gay, two circles represent human sexuality. Inside the circle representing 'normal' sexuality, is heterosexuality. Inside the circle marked 'Other,' are homosexuality, bestiality, adultery, incest, polyamory, and every other sexual identity or behavior that is Not Heterosexual. Heterosexual sex within the bounds of marriage is centered and any sexual behavior or attraction that is Not That is marginalized. Extending this idea further, and demonstrating no capacity or willingness to make distinctions, sexualities and behavior that are not heterosexual are lumped together as equivalent."

Within a society that centers heterosexual relationships as the superior, over-valued, default norm of human relations, all other relationships are devalued, marginalized, and lumped into one deviant, malignant, immoral blob.

3) Supreme Court Vacancy

With news that Justice John Paul Stevens, a liberal, is retiring, the media is abuzz with speculations as to who his replacement will be. A short list of possible nominees can be found here.

The conservative-leaning National Review Online hosted a symposium of various commentators discussing the impending vacancy and confirmation process.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Riane Eisler Quote of the Week

From The Chalice and the Blade:

"Insects...have bodies that are imprisoned in hard outer skeletons, or shells. Their minds too are imprisoned, in miniscule brains with little room for the memory storage or the complex information processing that is the basis of learning. Therefore a social organization in which each member fulfills a narrowly circumscribed and predetermined role and the sexes are completely specialized is appropriate for social insects like bees or ants....

By contrast, humans are the life forms with the most flexible and least specialized physical structures. Both women and men have the erect posture that frees our hands to make and use tools. Both sexes have the highly evolved brains, with the immense memory storage and extraordinary information processing capacity, that make us as flexible, as versatile- in short, as human- as we are.

Thus, although a rigidly hierarchical social structure like andocracy [patriarchy], which imprisons both halves of humanity in inflexible and circumscribed roles, is quite appropriate for species of very limited capacity like social insects, it is truly inappropriate for humans." (172-173)

Tell that to those peddlers and enforcers of the gender complementarity myth.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Male Sports Star Accused of Rape Again, Will Not Be Prosecuted

[Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault]

Since March of this year, star NFL quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been investigated for sexual assault for the second time in two years.

If you don't remember the first incident, back in July of 2009, a hotel employee accused Roethlisberger of rape. Through the narratives that dominated that case, we learned that many things- sports, championships, and male sexual access to "lucky" fuckable/unrape-able "girls"- were more important than a woman's claim that a man had violated her boundaries.

Regarding the latest round of accusations lodged at Roethlisberger, the DA has decided not to prosecute. What does not seem to be at issue in this case was that after interacting with Roethlisberger, the woman presented at an emergency room with "a cut, bruises and vaginal bleeding." Despite this, a doctor could apparently not determine whether she "was raped."

Question. Is cutting, bruising, and vaginal bleeding a typical outcome of consensual heterosexual coitus?

Petty details aside, the woman apparently then contacted the DA and indicated that she did not want a trial because it would be "a very intrusive personal experience."

But watch how the media frames these facts:

"Ocmulgee Circuit District Attorney Fred Bright said Monday that after exhaustive interviews and inconclusive medical exams, the 20-year-old student's accusations could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Bright also revealed the accuser no longer wanted him to prosecute."

If someone didn't feel like reading the rest of the story, they could very well walk away thinking that Poor Ben keeps getting accused of sexual assault For No Reason At All, as evidenced by the fact that the accuser doesn't even want him prosecuted.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

More Compulsory Femininity in Lady Sports: Basketball Edition

Writing for Slate, Hanna Rosin observes the sports industry's obsessive agenda with marking female athletes as sufficiently feminine. During the NCAA tournament, ESPN played "get-to-know-you" segments that went something like this:

"Each bio clip unfolds like fairy-tale dress-up: A player appears in her daytime clothes, and then—with the help of some presto twirl magic—in her basketball uniform. Stanford's Rosalyn Gold-Onwude is "something like a diva," she says, giggling and vamping in her flirty fuchsia dress. Her teammate Jeanette Pohlen says she "owns over 90 colors of nail polish," and Cardinal center Jayne Appel confesses that her favorite day at the sorority house is "sandwich day." Baylor's Morghan Medlock, dressed in a pink stripy tank top and headband, says she likes to shop."

Whereas the sex and gender of male athletes is rarely articulated, as sports is defined as male, the media and many female athletes display insecure femininity that demands that viewers view sportswomen as female athletes, as opposed to just athletes. Rosin then observes the treatment of star player Brittney Griner, who is 6'8", dunks in games, and doesn't wear the costume of femininity.

It is here that, while Rosin's piece starts out well, her article takes a turn for the worse starting with her casual denigration of women's basketball. She writes, "True, these women do not play nearly as hard and fast as their male counterparts." Balderdash. They may not be as fast men, as male sports fans never get tired of reminding the uppity sportsladies, but women do play as hard. That, however, is just a small criticism in light of things to follow.

See, instead of noting that it is nail polish, "flirty fuschia dresses," and diva-wear that comprise the costume known as Lady, Rosin suggests that it is Griner and her unadorned, un-make-upped, natural style that is somehow "freakish." Without the feminine costume, Griner has a deep voice, wears pants and t-shirts, and thus "can easily be mistaken for [a] guy" from far away. Further:

"As a star, she registers less as the perfection of the norm than as totally aberrant. Around the other women players she looks like a different species, with her endless limbs and her high center of gravity. This might be because she's a freshman and not yet in total control of her body, or it might be because she is just unusual. What she looks most like is a Na'vi, with her braided hair and a way of moving that's less fluid than swaying. The NCAA, and later the WNBA, may succeed in bringing fans out to see her. What they will never know is if it's amazing skill the fans are coming to see, or a freakish one-off."

How bizarre (and racist/sexist) to compare a tall, braid-wearing African--American female athlete to an alien race. Perhaps what Rosin should have said is that compared to the female athletes around her, Griner looks like an athlete.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

LGBT and Allied Critiques on Marriage

[Cross-posted at A World of Progress and Our Big Gayborhood]

Although those opposed to LGBT rights tend to portray the LGBT advocacy community as a monolithic political movement, many of us within the community know that diversity of thought, opinion, and ideology exists within it.

Actually, some within the LGBT movement do not know that varying opinions exist as, just the other day, a commenter at a popular gay blog claimed that same-sex marriage is the Number One Issue for all gay people! That sentiment is an inaccurate yet understandable reaction to the mainstream LGBT political movement's prioritization of marriage equality as one of the most important- if not the most important- "gay issue" of our time.

Today, I will provide examples of some of the less mainstream positions on marriage and LGBT equality. I don't necessarily agree with these positions, but it is my hope that this post will be informative or, at least, a starting point to explore some of these other voices.

1) Compulsory Matrimony: In a chapter of the book Feminist and Queer Legal Theory, law professor Ruthann Robson has written a chapter arguing that marriage is a political institution that confers economic privileges on the married over the unmarried that problematically compels individuals, and women especially, to marry.

Professor Robson first recites many of the economic and legal benefits of marriage that the state grants to married couples, some of which have been extended to same-sex couples. She then notes the various ways the government, through marriage promotion policies in welfare provisions, tries to encourage poor women to "choose" marriage as a way to remedy poverty. Furthermore, by invariably invoking civilization and the sacred, courts promote marriage through legal rhetoric and overstatement, and society promotes marriage by stigmatizing the "single" woman and aggrandizing the big white wedding.

"Arguments in favor of same-sex marriage," says Robson, "recognize this propaganda and use it to support the status of marriage as an institution too important to be denied to same-sex couples." And, this inducement continues in arguments against same-sex marriage that posit quite openly that the purpose of marriage is to coerce heterosexual men into marrying the mothers of their children.

Essentially, Robson notes, the mainstream same-sex marriage movement is asking for the right to be coerced into marriage just as heterosexuals are. I have to admit that, although I find the denial of marital benefits to same-sex couples to be problematic, I also find state coercion to marry convincingly problematic in its own right.

2) Queer Kids Against Gay Marriage: I came across this website some time ago. Although it doesn't seem to updated frequently, it does represent a radical queer position against same-sex marriage:

"The queer families and communities we are proud to have been raised in are nothing like the ones transformed by marriage equality. This agenda fractures our communities, pits us against natural allies, supports unequal power structures, obscures urgent queer concerns, abandons struggle for mutual sustainability inside queer communities and disregards our awesomely fabulous queer history....We think long-term monogamous partnerships are valid and beautiful ways of structuring and experiencing family, but we don’t see them as any more inherently valuable or legitimate than the many other family structures."

In addition to echoing Robson's argument that the marital relationship privileges marriage over other relationships, in a nutshell, this argument is a response to the "We're just like you" argument many same-sex marriage advocates use to make our families palatable to heterosexuals. While it is true that some LGBT families are quite similar to heterosexually-headed families, it is also true that some are not. Why some find the "We're just like you" argument to be problematic is that it mandates queer assimilation and stigmatizes those who do not conform to a certain standard of "normalcy." I tend to agree with that assessment, although, I also recognize that the "We're just like you" argument is legally and pragmatically necessary for the success of those who seek equal marital rights.

3) Rethinking Marriage: Writing in The Nation, Melissa Harris Lovelace, professor of politics and African-American Studies, advocates for marriage equality while simultaneously arguing that same-sex marriage advocacy offers an opportunity to rethink and improve upon the institution:

"Marriage itself is still bolstered by a troubling cultural mythology, a history of domination, and a contemporary set of gendered expectations that render it both unsatisfying and unstable for many people....

Even as progressives fight for marriage equality for same-sex couples, we need also to reflect on marriage as a social and political institution in itself. Our work must be not just about marriage equality, it should also be about equal marriages, and about equal rights and security for those who opt out of marriage altogether."

While noting the problems with LGBT assimilation into "normalcy," she also recounts the experiences of slaves who were denied legal marriage but who nonetheless considered themselves married anyway, ultimately demonstrating that humans have an "ancient, cross-cultural, human attachment to marriage."

4) Proposition 8 and the Future of American Same-Sex Marriage Activism: In a compelling legal essay, law professor Jeff Redding makes a plea for gays and lesbians to find dignity in a place other than the institution of marriage.

He writes, "...[T]he reinvigoration of right-wing politics surrounding marriage in the US cautions gays and lesbians vesting dignity in an institution which could very likely come under the complete control of conservative forces." These same forces argue that marriage is for heterosexuals only because only heterosexual couples are capable of accidentally having children. Ergo, marriage exists to coerce parents, and fathers primarily, to rear their children together. Or, as Redding observes, "marriage is important as a social prophylactic for when the condom breaks."

Thus, it is not clear to Redding how gays and lesbians will achieve dignity through an institution whose "central concern" is how to handle accidental pregnancies. He then suggests that larger gains to dignity might be made with "the development of a body of family law which is for and by gay and lesbian people."

Monday, April 12, 2010

Book Review: The Handmaid's Tale

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale is a classic work of feminist speculative fiction, portraying a dystopian future wherein patriarchy is taken to an extreme, yet logical, conclusion.

The premise, in short, is that a fundamentalist religious dictatorship has overthrown the US government and created the Republic of Gilead, gradually instituting strict gender, racial, and class roles for all people. In order to signify these roles, all people are marked according to gender and class by their clothing. As no people of color seem to exist in Gilead, it is not clear how race is marked; what is clear is that racial groups are separated, with patriarchal Gilead being comprised of only white people.

The protagonist of the story is a woman who carries out the role of handmaid, a fertile woman whom the Gilead government forces to be a surrogate mother for an infertile, married heterosexual couple. Her name being Offred ("Of Fred," because she is Fred's property), she has lost her former pre-revolution identity as a wife, mother, and wage earner, and her only value to the current society is her capacity to potentially bear a child for the married couple with whom she has been forced to live. All handmaids are marked by the red clothing they must wear at all times, which is described as somewhat like a nun's habit.

The lives of the handmaids are lonely, isolated, and uneventful. Mostly, it consists of waiting in their bedrooms for ovulation so they can be impregnated by the man of the house. Reflecting on this waiting, Offred is reminded of historical depictions in art of harems, and notes, "...maybe boredom is erotic, when women do it, for men" (69). Her existence is an erotic male fantasy, as the handmaid's life finds meaning only via a man, and waiting for him.

The ruling class, all male of course, are called commanders and they wear black. They are entitled to wives, a privileged class of women who wear blue, many of whom are sterile due to nuclear radiation. If these wives do not bear children, the commanders are entitled to handmaids that they can "have sex with" for reproductive purposes (quotes necessary as the handmaids have no power to refuse sexual consent). Men who are not commanders are either soldiers, spies, or laborers and many of them are allowed to take wives if they play by the society's rules. Those who misbehave are publicly executed.

Several classes of women exist, all of which are limited to serving domestic, reproductive, parenting, patriarchal training, or sex work roles. Women who are unable or unwilling to assimilate into this patriarchal society are called "unwomen" and include sterile women and feminist types. "Unwomen" are forced to live and work in labor camps and are worked to early deaths.

Although Atwood's novel is thought of as speculative or science fiction, the similarities between her society and fundamentalist patriarchal societies in the real world are striking and obvious. For one, clothing is used to mark perhaps the most important distinction of all in a patriarchal culture, gender, often with the effect of "hiding" women. In nearly all fundamentalist religious groups- Mormons, Christians, Muslims, Jews- followers adhere to strict gendered clothing requirements. Visible male and female uniforms, so to speak, reinforce and exaggerate the differences and the hierarchical relationship between men and women.

Secondly, in accordance with the exaggerated marking of gender, heterosexuality was compulsory and, for women who were fertile, so was pregnancy. This situation mirrors our own US history wherein (a) the economic opportunities for women were extremely limited, (b) marriage to a man was the only means of economic stability for many women, and (c) men were legally entitled to rape their wives and (d) birth control and abortion were restricted and/or outlawed.

Third, women are defined completely by their reproductive capacities and their adherence to patriarchal rules. Whereas no man in Gilead is stripped of his status as male, women who cannot or do not play by the rules are stripped of their humanity and constructed as "unwomen." As women are hidden in the realm of the domestic sphere, Gilead is an exaggerated version of US history, wherein a privileged class of mostly white men (our version of the commanders) limited the legal and financial rights of all women and many men and proceeded to (supposedly) "invent, discover, create, and build" everything good and important in the whole entire world as though doing so proved that they were inherently superior to everyone else, as opposed to the reality that what they had actually created was a giant affirmative action program for themselves.

With this backdrop in mind, several scenes within Atwood's book, which I also find to be quite beautiful from a poetic standpoint, were particularly poignant:

1) The wives of the commanders, while comparatively privileged by their class, still led limited, boring lives that, due to isolation and the restrictions on female education, lacked meaning. Since the primary purpose women held in this society was to bear children, wives who could not bear children were without purpose. Indeed, Serena, Fred the commander's wife, seemed to have little purpose in life, given that she had servants to do all cooking and chores, a handmaid to attempt to bear her husband's child, and no career. In this way, the pedestal of being a wife was both a privilege and a prison.

In an apt move, Atwood seemed to have written Serena as a Phyliss Schlafly/Anita Bryant persona, as she is described as a former religious television personality who, prior to the Gilead revolution, favored a return to the traditional family. In Gilead, Offred sardonically observes:

"She doesn't make speeches anymore. She has become speechless. She stays in her home, but it doesn't seem to agree with her. How furious she must be, now that she's been taken at her word" (46).

Serena was unhappy, bored, and ill-suited with the role she advocated for in her previous life as a woman against women's rights. Or, to paraphrase Sarah Palin, "How's that workin' out for ya?"

Serena, like all of the wives, reinforced patriarchy and remained complicit in their own oppression in exchange for the privileges and status of being a wife. To be a wife, was to be the highest form of woman and, "when power is scarce, a little of it is tempting."

2) While the book is written from the point of view of Offred, we do get some limited insight on the perspective of the commanders. In general, they seemed to possess a general cluelessness about what life was like for women. Fred, the commander, assumes that the women are relatively happy and satisfied, which again would be the ultimate patriarchal male fantasy. This ignorance and wishful thinking is exemplified by Offred and Fred's very different takes on their sexual interactions. Offred describes the reproductive "ceremony"/rape thusly:

"What [the commander] is fucking is the lower part of my body. I do not say making love, because this is not what he's doing. Copulating too would be inaccurate, because it would imply two people and only one is involved" (94).

The commander, however, reads something more into this "relationship," and secretly orders Offred to his chambers for periodic alone-time, which is against the rules. While these secret meetings do not always involve sex, Fred does not seem to "get" that Offred does not have the power to refuse these "dates." Although, given her limited, boring life, she does come to look forward to them as a way to break the tedium of her daily life. Throughout it all, she remains repulsed by the commander, while he imagines her to be as infatuated with him as he is with her.

After getting to know Offred a bit, he only then notes that he finds the reproductive "ceremony" a bit "impersonal" (162), something that should have been quite obvious from the get-go. Later still, he makes Offred go to a harem with him and, before forcing her to have sex with him, tries to seduce her, saying "I thought you might like it for a change" (254). Despite trying to fake her enjoyment, she is unable to feel anything but aversion.

This ignorance was not limited to the commanders, even though they seemed to be the most clueless about the oppressive conditions women faced. Just after the revolution, the Gilead dictators froze the assets of all women and ordered all workplaces to fire the women, leading to the economic dependence of women on men. When this happened, Offred was at the time married to a man and had a job. To her horror, all of her money got transferred into her husband's account.

Although he promised to take care of her "always" and didn't seemed that concerned about the monetary transfer, the juxtaposition of (a) both partners in the marriage being financially independent and then (b) one being forced to be totally dependent on the other underscored the male-female power differential. Offred noted, "We are not each other's, anymore. Instead, I am his." (18). And, indeed, from that day forward she belonged only to men and never to herself.

To end, Atwood's final chapter is written as a symposium in the year 2195 with historical scholars giving a presentation on Gilead. Although the novel itself is heavy, I found the contents of this final chapter to be humorous in a satirical, dark way. For one, the fictional dude scholar mansplained that the present reader "must be cautious about passing judgment on the Giladeans" since, you know, given moral relativism and all, "our job is not to censure but to understand" (302). Parallels to some of today's fundamentalist patriarchal cultures are obvious.

He then ended by snarking that, had the narrator Offred "had the instincts of a reporter or a spy" she might have written a story about More Important Things, such as "the workings of the Gileadean empire" (310). A mere story about the plight of women, you understand, tells us little about a society.

Some things never change.

Friday, April 9, 2010

On Female Complicity, Again

What I took away as the most important theme in Margaret Atwood's classic, The Handmaid's Tale, is its portrayal of the importance of female complicity in perpetuating patriarchy:

"As the architects of Gilead knew, to institute an effective totalitarian system or indeed any system at all you must offer some benefits and freedoms, at least to a privileged few, in return for those you remove....

...[T]he best and most cost-effective way to control women through reproductive and other purposes was through the women themselves. For this there were many historical precedents; in fact no empire imposed by force or otherwise has ever been without this feature: control of the indigenous by members of their own group.... When power is scarce, a little of it is tempting" (308).

Consider this a teaser for my upcoming review of The Handmaid's Tale.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Women Are What You Frak, Not Who You Dorm With

[Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault]

One of the aspects I appreciated about Battlestar Galactica (2004) was that it created an (arguable) sex-blind society.

On the Galactica military spaceship, male and female military personnel live together in integrated barracks, use the same restrooms, and change in the same locker rooms. All of this happens without sexual incident as males, rather than being predatory, have seemingly come to accept the equal humanity of women. Although a strong argument could be made that recognizing the humanity of women really meant assimilating women into manhood, as all female soldiers and officials are called "sir" just as the men are, hierarchy in Battlestar Galactica is not based on biological sex. The best pilot is Starbuck, a woman, as is the President. No one questions whether their femaleness helps or hinders their competence and abilities; it is just taken as a given that it does not.

Despite its sex equality, Battlestar Galactica represents a society wherein hyper-masculinity, as represented by male and female "sirs," reigns supreme and is still equated with violence and domination. It is hardly an ideal scenario, as many traits associated with femininity have been suppressed, but it is a demonstration of women performing masculinity. Just as the observable fact that traits in the real world that are considered to be "masculine" or "feminine" vary throughout time and culture, Battlestar Galactica suggests too that it is society, rather than biology, that primarily teaches us how to be men and women.

Thusly do we arrive back in the real world, 2010, wherein some colleges are allowing some male and female students to share dorm rooms. Our old friend Playful Walrus, gender defender that he is, is not at all happy about sex integrated dorms. Although unsurprising, his opposition to mixed-sexed housing on his precious dime is incredibly telling, both in his desperate desire to maintain strong, exaggerated distinctions between the sexes and in his negative stereotyping of men as sexual predators.

First, in response to a female student who dared express her belief that a roommate's "personality and study habits are more important than gender," observe Walrus insist that nope, gender is what's most important about a person:

"People like this are in denial of human nature, part of the mistaken mentality that there really isn't much difference between males and females."

Here, Walrus tells us that there is, in fact, "much difference" between the categories male and female and that anyone who thinks otherwise is, unlike him, living in denial and possessing a delusional mentality that prevents them from seeing Things As They Actually Are. It's interesting, his view. If so "much difference" truly exists between males and females, then surely he isn't at all threatened by what this foray into male/female platonic dorming might reveal about the sexes, is he? Surely, that's not why he's so vehemently protesting it, right? Surely, he's totally confident that this experiment will implode, the gulf of differences between male and female proving too large for the average college student, raging with hormones, to overcome, right?

It's "human nature" after all.

So we see, not only does Walrus allow for no individual variation in the expression of gender, he completely denies the idea that biological differences between men and women might be exaggerated within a culture that teaches humans how to perform male and female. In his worldview, all "differences" are biologically determined.

This insistence is extremely important to those who perpetuate male supremacy. Without the pervasive self-evident commonsensical folksy folks "truth" that great inherent, biological differences exist between the male and female, a society finds it difficult to impose a sex hierarchy. For, the greater the real or alleged differences between human categories of male and female, the greater the justification for that man-on-top hierarchy. When those differences between male and female become less exaggerated, being a man in a hierarchical society becomes less of a Big Huge Deal. And that, I believe, is what Walrus is really protesting here. A gender-blind world is a damn frightening place for men who grew up believing that to be a male was to be something incredibly important.

Sex hierarchy did not exist on the Battlestar Galactica precisely because "much difference" was thought not to exist between men and women. Despite the sexual attraction between men and women, they fought together, slept together, boxed against each other, and died together on the battlefield. Relationships were between two human beings (or Cylons as the case may have been), as opposed to a man and his "complementary" and submissive "other half." Contrasted with the Evil Cylons, human beings were humans first, and sexed beings second.

Sadly, a bit later, Walrus goes on to mock the goal of encouraging such genderblindness:

"Hmmmmm. If you had free time on your hands, isn't that what you’d do with your time and energy? Let's see... save the rainforest... register voters... ah, yes... Genderblindness!"

Again, another defense mechanism of those who seek to maintain gender heirarchy. Despite his protestations that there are More Important Things to talk about than genderblindness, Walrus seems to be comfortable devoting a certain amount of time and energy toward opposing it. The liberation of women and men from oppressive and constricting stereotypes and gender roles? Hardly a trivial aim in my book. The unappealing alternative, of course, is to keep humans in a state of imprisoned sexual immaturity and repression wherein the relationship between male and female is, first and foremost, a sexual one because OMG boys have a penis and girls have a vagina and we can't possibly ever get over that and just treat each other like people!

The second item of note about Walrus' over-infatuation with the gender binary is the main reason he seems to oppose male-female dorm integration. Responding to a male student who insisted that living with a female roommate was "not much different" than rooming with a man, Walrus discounted this student's experience and continued to mansplain that yes, actually it is. He opines:

" [the male student] going to tell a newspaper reporter (and thus her and the world) that he'd 'hit it' if given the chance? If he is a heterosexual and normal male, he's attracted to her on some level, unless she is highly unattractive."

Here, I question whether Walrus bothered to read information about this dorm policy at the website of the National Student Genderblind Campaign, the organization that is behind this gender rebellion. The purpose of this mixed-sex housing is to allow students to choose for themselves living situations that are the most comfortable and safe for them. The small percentages of students choosing sex-integrated housing are LGBT and intersexed, thus not "heterosexual" (and therefore not "normal," eh Walrus?).

Yet, assuming for the sake of argument that the male student in question is hetero and "normal," Walrus literally says that the male student is harboring a secret yet "normal" and inherent urge to "hit it" with his female roommate. Notice too how Walrus assumes that the male student objectifies the female by calling either she or her fuckable lady parts "it." What a nice dehumanizing touch. Thus, males, if we are to understand from Walrus' less-than-flattering depiction of them, are not biologically capable of seeing women as "not much different" than men, because (a) women are "its" and (b) men can't get over the fact that women have vaginas that they could, like, "hit it" with.

It's human nature after all!

That bears repeating. These words are not uttered by a feminist, but by a conservative heterosexual man who does not demonstrate any understanding of feminist thought other than what Rush Limbaugh tells him feminism is. If we are to believe Walrus's fascinating fauxbjective take on the human male, men and women are inherently incapable of dorming together because all men are sexual predators just waiting to "'hit it' if given the chance." His words, not mine. Ironically and ignorantly he ends with this:

"I wonder how long this [gender integration in dorms] will be voluntary? I would think the radical feminists of the type that think all men are predators would have prevented it from going this far if they could..."

So you see, it isn't him that paints men as predators, it's the radical feminists! Wow. Insight doesn't seem to be some people's strong suit.

The missing nuance, of course, is that many feminists would actually argue that sexual predation is not something that is inherent within men, but rather is something that results from a society that condones and normalizes male domination and sexualized violence, especially against women. And furthermore, part of living in Rape Culture means that women are expected to learn how to keep themselves from "getting raped" since men are just inherently hyper-sexual and can't control themselves, which funnily enough, is why the onus for rape prevention is on women rather than men. Which, again, makes it funny (in a not very funny way) when dudes like Walrus claim that it's somehow unfair of women to portray men as predators, when many of the women who do portray men as predators are doing so as a measure of self-preservation.

But back to who really thinks all "normal" men are predators. Judging by his own depicition of men, Walrus did a pretty damn good job of thinking that one up all on his own.

It's human nature after all! Hit it, champ!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Heterosexist Agenda: Separate and Inferior

It is so common for those opposed to LGBT equality to make paranoid accusations about a so-called Gay Agenda that the accusation itself has lost much of its meaning.

While many of these conspiracy-minded folks insist that homosexuality is a "choice" and that LGBT people therefore can and should opt for heterosexuality, they simultaneously portray us in stereotypical fashion as inherently very different from Normal People. To them, we are monsters; we are dangerous predators who like showtunes (since of course all gay people are men), deviously plotting to destroy marriage, steal children, and convert everyone to homosexuality.

LZ Granderson, senior writer and columnist at ESPN, recently recounted his own rather mundane gay agenda. It's a lifestyle that will undoubtedly be familiar to many of you, whatever your sexual identity:

"On most mornings, my better half wakes up around 5:30, throws on some sweats and heads to the gym before work.

About a half hour later, I wake up my 13-year-old son, go downstairs to the kitchen to make his breakfast and pack his lunch. Once he's out the door, I brew some coffee and get to work."

Our commonalities as humans are much more than our differences. Unfortunately, that truth gets lost in the culture wars. Those opposed to LGBT rights, especially those whose livelihoods depend on such opposition, exaggerate the differences between Normal People and LGBT people and remain fixated on what sets us apart- our sex lives.

Anti-gays have marked the sex lives of LGBT people as a difference that must be dominated at best and eradicated at worst and that is why their Gay Agenda accusation is a Weapon of Mass Projection. Through their oppose-everything-gay agenda, anti-gays desperately seek to perpetuate a social hierarchy that privileges heterosexuality under the false claim that doing so is the only True, Healthy, and Moral Way of Living. And in this process, for as much as they whine that LGBT "play" identity politics, it is anti-gays who construct homosexuality as the single most important marker of a person's entire being.

Yet, for most of us, it's not. While we may identify as LGBT, that identity is hardly the most interesting or exciting thing about us. It is endless anti-gay advocacy and it's obsessive opposition to homosexuality and gender transgressions that leads to the opposing force known as LGBT activism.

Granderson continues:

"Being gay doesn't dictate how people live their lives any more than being straight does. There are gay people who go to church every Sunday and straight people who do not believe in God. There are single gay men who believe in the sanctity of marriage and married straight men who apparently do not -- such as Gov. Mark Sanford, ex-Sen. John Edwards and Sen. John Ensign, to name a few.

The truth is the only thing all gay people have in common -- you know, besides being gay -- is that we face continuous rhetorical, social and legal attacks for simply existing, thus potentially making something as mundane as bringing a date to a work function a fight-or-flee situation."

Indeed, something as mundane as bringing a date to prom has sparked a national controversy. Earlier this year, high school student Constance McMillen in Fulton, Mississippi wanted to take her girlfriend to prom. Rather than make heterosexual couples attend prom with a same-sex couple, who in their eyes is immoral, unhealthy, and inferior, the high school canceled the prom for everyone. The ACLU sued, and a judge ruled that the school could not bar the student from bringing her girlfriend to prom. The judge didn't force the school to hold the prom, however, because parents were organizing a private prom and it was understood that the lesbian student would attend that prom.

Well, The Advocate has revealed a plot, planned and carried out by cruel and cowardly heterosexual adults and students to trick the lesbians, as well as several students with learning disabilities, into attending a "fake prom" whilst the Normal, Healthy, and Superior Kids attended a separate prom, which was held at a secret, undisclosed location. Prom, like marriage, is for good, clean All-American heterosexual couples. From the article:

"McMillen tells The Advocate that a parent-organized prom happened behind her back — she and her date were sent to a Friday night event at a country club in Fulton, Miss., that attracted only five other students. Her school principal and teachers served as chaperones, but clearly there wasn't much to keep an eye on.

'They had two proms and I was only invited to one of them,' McMillen says. 'The one that I went to had seven people there, and everyone went to the other one I wasn’t invited to.'"

Like the distinction between marriage and civil unions, the same-sex couple (and other social outcasts) was relegated to a stigmatized dance as a way to mark their inferior status as compared to heterosexual couples. LZ Granderson noted at the end of his piece that "Being gay isn't a choice, but being a bigot certainly is." It is unfortunate that so many Normal Americans are okay with their peers making the cruel choice to enact hostile schemes- whether through ballot initiatives or tricky proms- whose most enduring result is to mark certain citizens as inferior to others.

To end, odds are that girl-on-girl-dancefloor-humping-for-male-attention-seeking-purposes was, however, invited to the Real Prom.

Related Links:

McMillen's classmates aren't bigots or anything, they're just tired of all the attention their bigotry has caused her

In 1965, a Birmingham school played a similar cruel trick on the only black student at Jones Valley High School.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Worst Supreme Court Cases for Women #4: Missouri v. Celia

Hello humans and ladies, this post is part of my running series on Worst Supreme Court Cases For Women.

I started this series because, while some try to convince us that the judicial system is or should be an objective arbiter of the law, the reality is that it has rarely, if ever, lived up to that ideal. Oftentimes, our formal educations do not teach us that these supposed Neutral Referees of the legal system have mis-used the power of their positions and the presumed objectivity granted to them to further oppress and marginalize women, people of color, and other historically subjugated people.

Some folks, particularly conservative-leaning ones, mock Women's Studies, African-American Studies, and any other ________ Studies courses as being Not Real. To them, these endeavors are Not Important to Real Scholarship, mostly because they detract away from time spent centering and celebrating white men in academia, who all Real Historians know are and were the most important, competent, and awesome people ever.

In some circles, that fields of study have been created to acknowledge and examine the reality that some of our founding fathers and builders of American infrastructure were misogynists and racists is labeled unpatriotic, man-hating, anti-white, and unacademic. When confronted with the reality that the law has been used to subordinate others, we see these typical projectionist defense mechanisms from those who seek to continue misusing the law in a similar fashion.

And so I bring you, in celebration of Not Real History, the Worst Supreme Court Case for Women That You've Probably Never Heard About #4.

[Trigger warning: rape]

In 1857, the US Supreme Court infamously ruled in Dred Scott v. Sanford that all men were not, actually, created equal, as slaves were deemed to be non-citizens and not protected by the US Constitution.

Less well-known is a 1855 Missouri Supreme Court decision, Missouri v. Celia, refusing to stay the execution of a slave woman who murdered her rapist "owner" in self-defense. Effectively, the court said that women who were slaves were not, actually, women and thus weren't actually rapable by their "masters."

For some background, in 1855 Missouri had a law making it a crime "to take any woman unlawfully against her will and by force, menace or duress, compel her to be defiled" (emphasis added). A woman was, in theory anyway, justified in using self-defense to prevent a man from raping her. Although, it must also be noted that married women during this time legally forfeited their right to refuse sex to their husbands upon marriage, as rape was not a recognized crime if it came within the bounds of marriage.

As members of the sex class, marriage for a woman was historically a situation of compulsory pregnancy at the sexual whim of the husband, given that he was legally permitted to rape her and that birth control and abortion were restricted. This, by the way, is the historical linkage of marriage with procreation at its most extreme and misogynistic, wherein women are valued primarily as fetal vessels. Today's "marriage defenders" use this marriage-as-procreation legacy to deny marriage rights to same-sex couples.

While the rape law protected some unmarried women from rape, and marriage protected married women from non-husband rape, Missouri v. Celia made it clear that men could rape at least one class of woman without legal consequence: slaves.

Thusly, did Robert Newsom purchase a 14-year-old slave, Celia, and immediately begin raping her, which he continued to do for 5 years. She bore two children by him, both of which became Newsom's "property." Eventually, she began a relationship with a male slave, who ordered her to end her "relationship" with Newsom. Wanting to comply with this request, being pregnant and sick, and trying unsuccessfully to get Newsom's daughters to make their father stop raping her, Celia ended up killing Newsom when he tried to rape her again.

At trial, Celia was unable to testify, since blacks were deemed legally "incompetent" to testify against whites. Thus, Celia's defense attorney relied upon the testimony of two Totally Credible White Men who tried to whitemansplain on Celia's behalf that Celia couldn't have killed Newsom on her own and that she didn't intend to kill him.

After both sides presented their respective cases, the judge explained that Celia, being a slave, was her master's "property" and thus Missouri's rape law did not apply to her, despite the fact that, on its face, it applied to "any woman." Ergo, slave women were not actually women. Further, while the rape of a slave woman by someone other than her "master" would certainly be considered a trespass on the master's "property," an owner's rape of his own "property" was quite the legal quandary to our 19th century legal system.

So you see, a privileged class of white men, emotionally and situationally removed from being victims of slave rape, got to have Very Important Objective Legalacademintellectual debates about issues that uniquely affected the rights of black women.

The judge ended up holding that a slave woman, not actually being a woman encompassed by Missouri's rape law, could not make a self-defense argument with respect to rape. He instructed the jury that they were only to consider whether or not Celia murdered Newsom, not whether she did so in self-defense. Serving as a convenient backup in protecting male sexual access to women, especially black women, a jury composed of 12 white men consequently found Celia guilty of murder.

On an attempted appeal, the Missouri Supreme Court found "no probable case for... appeal" and refused to stay the execution.

The state hung Celia on December 21, 1855 for murder.

The Fulton (Missouri) Telegraph article, reprinted in The New York Times, recounted Celia's execution. Specifically, it stated only that she killed her "master," omitting the repeated rape carried out by this "master." Note, that he raped her was not a speculation. It was a fact, as (a) Celia's status as a slave eliminated her power to refuse him, and (b) she bore him two children, demonstrating that sexual contact had occurred.

By omitting these circumstances, the article implies that Celia killed Newsom For No Reason At All. It is a historical account that erases the wrongdoing of the white man and, incredibly, the article ends by calling his death "one of the most horrible tragedies ever enacted in our county."

One of the most horrible tragedies ever enacted in our county.

Not slavery. Not the institutionally legit rape of women. Not the legal construction of black women as unrapable and undefendable.

But that somebody finally showed a white man that her body had boundaries.

Isn't Real History fun?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Sports Fans Comment on NBA's Girl Dancers

Being the diligent radical leftist gender warrior that I am, the first item of note I noticed about a recent Roller Derby bout that I attended was its subversion of stereotypical gender roles.

Thousands of people attended this bout wherein female athletes engaged in a sporty, aggressive contest that was refereed by both male and female officials. At "halftime," male and female dancers of various sizes and (apparent) sexual orientations took the stage and performed brilliantly.

Through this subversion, the gender roles within the larger, dominant, male-dominated sports' world are underscored. Unlike at this Roller Derby bout, in the male-dominated sports world, it is very clear that it is men who the spectator watches "do" sports, and women who the spectator "does" after the game. The "spectator" in the preceding sentence, of course, is the male sports fan.

According to commonsensical folksy folks wisdom it is (heterosexual) males only who are Real Sports Fans. And, the women watch sports only watch them, not for their own pleasure, but out of a desire to win points from their male romantic partner. These are the assumptions that the male-dominated sports leagues make and on which related commercials and commentary are based.

Whereas a Roller Derby bout de-centers men from their position as ultimate (and only) important actors in the world, male-dominated sports keep men stubbornly fixated there. Many male sports fans want to keep it that way. Recently a reader sent me this article, posted at ESPN, wherein a male writer tiptoed on eggshells suggesting that maybe just maybe the NBA's habit of sending "half-naked gyrating women" out on the court to dance at halftime might tell women that NBA basketball watching isn't really for them.

Not surprisingly, the article was quickly and overwhelmingly besieged with mansplanations as to how it's not sexist to watch "girls" dance, insinuations that the male writer was gay, and even more mansplanations that the "girl" dancers- none of whom are under 18 by the way- deserved the right to make a living too. Like little boys hammering a "No Girls Allowed" sign on their treehouse, many (most?) male sports fans are utterly resistant to making Their Beloved Sports more welcoming to women. Presented with a woman explicitly telling them that the NBA sends clear messages that "the NBA is not meant to be 'for [her]'" their dudely response was basically one big "so fucking what?"

Yet, aside from this narcissistic view that the world is solely the man's oyster, it is perhaps most apt to observe the labeling behavior demonstrated by almost every single male commenter who mansplained "girl" dancing to be non-problematic to female sports fans. In this behavior, lies the problem, to us girls that is. For, almost every single male commenter infantilized and Hefner-ized the female dancers by calling them "girls." Commenter "carrot1307" did this the best, probably saying out loud what every other dude knows to be true:

"A lot of the girls do it for fun and a lot of men find it entertaining, I know I do." (emphasis added)

Item of note: Despite his silly name, carrot1307 is a man, an adult. And to be a man means something Very Important. It means that the things he watches for fun and entertainment are girls, who are neither men nor fully mature adults.

In this way, does he make clear that men who watch men do sports are doing real, important, grown-up things. When the girls do the dancing, they are just doing something they find to be "fun." Like a hobby. The sports is what is vital, but the girls, you can pretty much take them or leave them.

Except, of course, if the presence of these girl dancers bothers women. Then, the presence of these girls is absolutely vital. The presence of girl dancers reminds men that they are men. When put that way, the role of girl dancers suddenly becomes very significant.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Book Review: The Marien Revelation

Miguel Santana's latest book, which he simultaneously wrote in both English and Spanish, is not your Sunday School version of the Gospels. In The Marien Revelation, which makes its official premier today, the reader picks up on that almost immediately, when confronted with the two verses preceding the Prologue, regarding the evening before Jesus was arrested:

"Jesus told him what to do
and in the evening the youth comes to him,
wearing a linen cloth over his naked body.
And he remained with him that night,
for Jesus taught him the mystery of the Kingdom of God."
-Secret Gospel of Mark

"A young man was following Him,
wearing nothing but a linen sheet over his naked body;
and they seized him;
but he left the linen sheet behind and ran away naked."
-Mark 14:51-52

These verses, mind you, precede a chapter wherein a Jesus-in-the-process-of-being-crucified recounts his experiences with a male lover whilst foresaking god: "Oh Father, how I begged you to stay away from me."

Thusly does Santana present the reader with the first storyline, that of Mary and her son, Jesus. Jesus' request on the cross resonates throughout the book, especially when interwoven with the parallel story of the modern-day woman, Marien Valbuena, a "radical feminist" theologian who is in an abusive relationship with a former Catholic priest and who was sexually abused by her Mormon father.

It is always bold to revisit "the untouchable paradigms of our western civilization," as Santana refers to them, and infuse them with circumstances that are highly controversial. Undoubtedly, and unfortunately, critics will reject this book without reading it, because of the audacious idea that Jesus might have had a male lover. Yet, Santana's book, far from being a gimmick, is a beautiful combination of intellect, poetry, emotion, and recontextualized passages of the Bible and other sacred/mythical texts.

From a feminist perspective, the divine feminine is fully present in Santana's Mary and, indeed, many elements of the novel reject an (arguably Judeo-Christian) obtrusive, authoritative god/father who imposes himself on unwilling humans. Mary, as a teacher of the Isis Mysteries, is at least as divine as her son, Jesus, in a world in which multiple mythologies co-exist and influence one another. Indeed, although the disciples venerate Mary for being the vessel from which Jesus was born, her aunt also baptizes her in the name of the Holy Mother, Isis, saying: "I'm Isis, sovereign of the world, the one who set forth laws and set what cannot be changed...I'm the queen of the rivers, the wind, and the sea. I'm the Lady of War, the Lady of Thunder. I have conquered destiny. Destiny obeys me. Blessed is Egypt, for it sustains me" (125-126). Although, afterwards, Mary confesses to having visions of sadness from Isis, perhaps signaling the coming of the male monotheistic god who will "reign over" her.

Within the interwoven Mary/Marien stories, are many layers and interpretations. The two protagonists have much in common, despite the roughly 2000 years that separate them. They both want more than the "subjection and motherhood" (30) that their birth religions require of them. And, presenting Mary as a mother who is both aware and accepting of Jesus' sexuality, Santana gives us a progressive model of ancient motherhood. Although, if Jesus took a male lover, what devout mother could be anything but accepting? Perhaps that is part of the conversation Santana was trying to stimulate.

To end, the novel is not linear, parts of it are ambiguous, and the shifts in point of view can be confusing at times. But in Santana's hands, the novel manages to come together in a coherent, lyrical revelation that is, perhaps most importantly, a personal one.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Thursday Reading

The latest Carnival of Feminists is up over at Beauty Schooled. Check it out for some good reads on beauty, from feminist perspectives. Although not beauty-related, my post on "The Oppressed Gay Male Oppressor" was featured.

Over at Feministe, Thomas wrote a long, very well-done post on the Predator Theory:

"Though the stranger rape remains entrenched as the paradigm of 'real' rape, of rape that is recognized as such, it is not actually the norm. As most readers of feminist blogs know, acquaintance rapes are by far the more prevalent....Predator Theory is the theory that acquaintance rape as we know it is overwhelmingly caused by a relatively narrow portion of recidivist undetected rapists in the population, each of whom will have several victims, and that these rapists select targets based on the likelihood that they can rape without meaningful consequence, and favor alcohol and avoid overt force as tools to defeat resistance for just this reason."

Feel free to drop other links of interesting reads. Unlike in the real world, ladies who self-promote are not self-aggrandizing bitchez here in Fannie's Room.