Friday, December 30, 2011

Movie Review: My Summer of Love

The movie My Summer of Love had me at cello.


When I perused Netflix one night a few years go, martini in hand, my first thought was "What is this weird movie? 'Gay and lesbian with a strong female lead? I suppose I'll give it a whirl."

Again, I don't have high expectations whenever I start watching such movies. But, as it turns out, this "weird movie" I had started was actually quite a hit across the pond, and (according to ever-reliable Wikipedia) was "met with almost universal acclaim."

The movie also includes Emily Blunt. Playing a cello.

In general, the movie is rather dark and, as such, can be difficult to watch at times. As a viewer, I identified with the character Mona (played by Natalie Press), who is a teenager (17, 18? their exact ages are unclear) who comes from a lower-class background and whose only living relative is her brother, who is a recently-released criminal who was "born again" in prison.

Apparently, Mona is in a crappy relationship with a man who seems to be much older than her. Thus, early on in the movie (like other lesbian movies), we are treated to a scene of the female lead "about to embark on a lifestyle change" having unsatisfying, unenjoyable sex with her male partner. Naturally, I then began anticipating the contrasting Soft And Sensuous Sapphic Love Scene that was sure to eventually follow (which, spoiler alert!, happened after the aforementioned cello scene).

Mona's life, in general, seems difficult, as evidenced by her weird brother, her crappy sex life, and the crummy house she lives in. Her demeanor, perhaps explained by her circumstances, is guarded and somewhat hopeless.

Mona is contrasted with Tamsin (played by Emily Blunt), the other "strong female lead," who comes from a wealthy family and who is mostly ignored by her parents. Despite having a privileged and pampered material existence, Tamsin's demeanor is mostly bored and emotionally flat.

Both characters seem to crave real human connection with others. So, when Mona and Tamsin meet, they seem to provide what the other lacks. As they spend their days smoking, drinking, and bonding, Mona seems to gain confidence and starts thinking that maybe life isn't so bad when you have someone cool to share it with.

Mona is a simple character- and I don't mean that in a bad way- she was just much easier to read than Tamsin. She had a difficult life and didn't see a reason to be deceptive just for entertainment's sake. When Tamsin entered her life by chance, and the two became friends and then (spoiler alert? Come on, the title is My Summer of Love) lovers, Mona finally had a reason to be hopeful. In her reality, and because Tamsin expressed the same feelings, she and Tamsin were going to be together forever and she was going to be able to move out of her crummy house and get away from her creepy brother.

Tamsin seems to enjoy Mona's company as well, but (spoiler alert?) the movie reveals glimpses of how maybe Tamsin sees other people as props that exist mostly for her amusement.

For instance, one time, Mona and Tamsin were sunbathing, Tamsin was topless, and Mona's ex-convict brother happens upon them. When she sees him watching them, she, like, didn't even try to cover up her chest even though he was obviously uncomfortable/aroused. Later, Tamsin flirted with him even though she wasn't really interested in him, and when he finally tried to kiss her, she laughed in his face.

Tamsin in general is a quiet, stoic character, and into such characters it can be easy for people to project their own hopes and desires. With Tamsin, I didn't walk away knowing whether she was ever truly into Mona, or if she just saw Mona as summer entertainment. Like, maybe she was checking off "try being a lesbian this summer" from her list of things that might make her not be so bored with life?

In any event, I did enjoy this movie. It's still rare to see a movie that centers two young women, and who aren't spending most of their on-screen time together talking about men and boys. It also portrays a more gritty and lonely young adulthood experience that might appeal, as it did to me, to some who aren't really able to relate to Ya-Ya Sisterhood/Now and Then-type movies that are about (heteronormative) "girl bonding."

It would have been nice had it had a happy ending, because I'm always a sucker for a nice happy ending. But that it didn't (indeed, spoiler alert!, when Mona discovers Tamsin's deceptions, she pretends to drown Tamsin), seems true to the characters. Mona comes from a background where violence was used against her, and so for her to ultimately react violently is unfortunate, but not unexpected.

Furthermore, despite the sexual relationship between the two main characters, I wouldn't describe it as a "coming-out" story, or a "lesbian movie" for that matter. It's left ambiguous as to whether Mona and Tamsin are lesbian, bisexual, or heterosexual.

Therefore, the problematic nature of their relationship cannot be attributed to the characters' sexual orientation. Rather, because Tamsin's deceptions seem to have been motivated by her privileged boredom with life and Mona's desperation for friendship motivated by her family and home life, the viewer is invited to view the dysfunctional relationship, and the dark ending, as a result of their individual personalities and class considerations. Likewise, with the respect to the pretend drowning incident, the movie steers away from Evil Lesbian Trope territory as well.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

No Seriously, What About the Other Sexists?

In the comment threads here in Fannie's Room, Brian linked to this book:

Dave Barry's Complete Guide to Guys

Description: "For thousands of years, women have asked themselves: What is the deal with guys, anyway? What are they thinking? The answer, of course, is: virtually nothing. But that has not stopped Dave Barry from writing an entire book about them, dealing frankly and semi-thoroughly with such important guy issues as:

- Scratching
- Why the average guy can remember who won the 1960 World Series but not necessarily the names of all his children
- Why guys cannot simultaneously think and look at breasts
- Secret guy orgasm-delaying techniques, including the Margaret Thatcher Method
- Why guys prefer to believe that there is no such thing as a 'prostate'"

Brian's point, if I'm interpreting correctly, was that this book is a prevailing cultural narrative about what constitutes manhood.

My point, which I did not get into with Brian in our conversation, is that this Dave Barry narrative is not the most flattering to men. What are guys thinking? Why, nothing of course! Har har har.


These books piss me off. Not only because they portray men as bumbling morons, but because inevitably it's feminists, rather than Dave Barry, who end up getting the primary blame for these narratives.

Indeed, what is always curious to me is why men's rights activists let books like these almost completely off the hook in their criticisms of prevailing cultural narratives of manhood, opting instead to fixate almost entirely on feminists. It is bizarre to me. This Dave Barry book is not exactly published by a feminist press and I reckon that Dave Barry's writings are approximately 503 times more popular than the writings of, say, Andrea Dworkin.

Relatedly, I recently asked a similar question over at the No Seriously What About Teh Menz (NSWATM) blog. There, Ozy had written a post about the CDC's recently-released statistics on intimate partner violence. These statistics acknowledged that men too can be victims, and women perpetrators, of such violence. I think this acknowledgement is significant, and a good thing, because mainstream narratives on such violence often invisibilize male victims and female perpetrators.

Yet, judging by many of the (mostly male-authored?) comments, this invisibilization is 100% due to the efforts of feminists. One commenter discussed how (imaginary?) feminists viewed the rape of men as a "hilarious joke." He didn't say which feminists, naturally. Another brought up the idea of tracking how and which feminists were contributing to the female-victim/male-perpetrator model of violence. Another discussed how the fun feminists were "glossing over" what the "political radicals" were doing in the name of feminism.

Entirely absent from the conversation was how mainstream narratives and rightwing, male-dominated "traditionalist" narratives were contributing to this problem.

Strange, no?

Now, I certainly wouldn't deny that some feminists have helped perpetuate the female-victim/male-perpetrator model of intimate partner violence. Those voices should be countered and critiqued, but the entirety of feminism and feminist thought shouldn't be rejected as irredeemable either. And, if there are additional purveyors of this narrative, shouldn't they be called out as well?

After all, other voices contribute, and have historically contributed, to that narrative as well. But you would never know that by reading many men's rights/men's issues blogs. Which implies two things:

One, it implies that some people's desire to eradicate this narrative might be insincere, and instead might be a vendetta to discredit feminism.

And two, it suggests that while some men can handle other men spreading unfair narratives about men, they see it as extra special bad (or uppity?) if it is women or feminists who are spreading unfair narratives about men. Because while men are entitled to publicly air their views no matter their problematic nature, women's views, if they are not 100% perfect and acceptable to all people, must be completely silenced, suppressed, and eradicated.

Or, as I noted at NSWATM:

"I see a lot of talk here about feminist groups’ influence on the 'male perpetrator, female victim' view. Are folks here also concerned about tracking and opposing mainstream and rightwing non-feminist narratives that contribute to that view as well?

It’s not like the mainstream media is exactly all over the fact that men can be raped too. When they remember, it tends to be in the context of big scandals like Penn State, and then everyone is all, 'OMG, little boys can be raped. Who knew?!' which seems to perpetuate the view that the rape of boys and men is extremely rare.

Rightwing commentators tend to be worse. I believe it was Ann Althouse who linked to this blog (or maybe it was the Good Men Project?), and the vast majority of the commenters there mocked sites like this, implying that issues like the rape of men weren’t serious issues and that men caring about these issues are 'manginas.'

So, when I see people here only take issue with 'feminists,' for their complicity in invisibilizing the rape of men, I see people letting others who are also complicit off the hook really easily. Frankly, that tactic is going to alienate you from potential feminist allies. I am more than willing to advocate for better and more accurate tracking of rape statistics, but I wouldn’t be a part of a movement that is only critical of feminists and lets non-feminists voices who perpetuate rape myths go unchallenged.”

Hugh Ristick, who runs a blog critical of feminism, was the only commenter at NSWATM who seriously engaged my question. His theory was that "When mainstream and traditionalist groups propagate the male perpetrator, female victim model, it’s not a surprise. It’s old news."

It's an interesting idea, but I don't buy it. It might explain the criticism that some level against feminists, but I'm not sure it explains the majority of the "men's rights," non-feminist, and anti-feminist fixation on blaming feminism for, in particular, this violence narrative and, in general, almost every other social ill facing men.

I read multiple men's rights blogs and blogs that focus on gender issues from a male/men's perspective, and from this reading I would have never fathomed that it's "old news" to most commentators and commenters that "mainstream and traditionalist groups propagate the male perpetrator, female victim model."

Because it's just not brought up or acknowledged.

To argue that it's "old news" for mainstream and traditionalist groups to propagate the male perpetrator/female victim model, implies that it's "new news" for feminists to. And, well, that doesn't really resonate. After all, one of the big criticisms of second-wave feminism (which many critics of feminism treat as the monolithic entirety of feminism) has, for decades now, been that feminism propagates a "man-hating" male perpetrator/female victim model that isn't true to reality.

What Hugh is essentially saying is that feminism, unlike mainstream and traditionalist groups, isn't really known for portraying men in an unfair, negative light, and so critics of feminism have to be extra sure that everyone knows that feminists contribute to portraying men in an unfair, negative light.

And that, honestly, makes me just LOL in bitter disbelief.

For, it is a truth almost-universally acknowledged among many (most?) anti-feminist, non-feminist, mainstream, and traditionalist commentators (which, as a whole, constitute, what, 80-90% of the rest of society?) that feminism paints men in an unfair, negative light. It is furthermore universally acknowledged by these same groups that their own musings on men, while perhaps a little unflattering, are Just Telling It Like It Is commonsensical truths about sex and gender.

I therefore contend that many (most?) critics of feminism who single out feminism do so, not because it's some startling revelation to the fan base that some feminists create problematic narratives, but because it is not as politically risky to single out feminism for such criticism. Namely, because feminism is coded "female," criticizing it involves no breaking of ranks with male-dominated narratives or with the narratives that also privilege men, manhood, and masculinity.

I further contend that it is, in fact, cheap and easy to single out feminism as the number one cause of men's problems, because feminism is already viewed by many (most?) anti-feminists, non-feminists, mainstream, and traditionalist commentators as marginal, hysterical, man-hating, subjective, emotional, and utterly lacking in credibility (and yet- bizarrely- also extremely powerful. Unlike anti-feminist, non-feminist, mainstream, and traditional narratives which, as the silence of these critics would have us believe, are utterly powerless to shape cultural narratives).

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Open Thread

Hi everyone,

I'm still on a half-assed mission to not take anything blog-related seriously for the rest of the year, just out of a general desire to keep things kind of light for awhile. It is truly an impossible endeavor, I believe. But, having an open thread might help?

Like, what are some cool things you have been reading, playing, doing, or watching?

I'm currently reading Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, and it sure is a dark read. Will anything good ever happen to that family? Is getting one piece of stale rye bread to split among 17 people really going to be the highlight of their lives? I guess I'll keep reading to find out.

I've also been playing Portal 2 for about the past 3 months. (Don't judge! I only play it once every few weeks or so). I forget why my character is now carrying around a potato. But, whatever. It's funny.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Of Course It's Going To 'Asplode!

Why was it a good idea to try to have a conversation on Twitter between non-feminists and feminists about gender, especially when the questions "sparking" the conversation, uttered by a man, were "Why can’t women accept men for who they really are? Is a good man more like a woman or more truly masculine"?


Come on people. We know by now how Internet works.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Odds 'N Ends

1) This study is from June 2011, but it's interesting:

"Things such as calling women 'girls' but not calling men 'boys' or referring to a collective group as 'guys' are forms of subtle sexism that creep into daily interactions. The study helps not only identify which forms of sexism are most overlooked by which sex, but also how noticing these acts can change people's attitudes.

'Women endorse sexist beliefs, at least in part, because they do not attend to subtle, aggregate forms of sexism in their personal lives,' wrote authors Julia C. Becker and Janet K. Swim."

I'll just file this one away for when the next time some dude comes here and tells me to stop writing about the silly little stuff I write about and instead write about More Important Things like the Muslim Women. The really big sexist things are often built upon a foundation of little sexist things, things that many people, willfully or not, fail to see.

2) This article's from August 2011 (yes, I know, only the most current news here in Fannie's Room!), but it's a good one:

"So I throw it out there: Raise your hand if you're a racist.

As my students do that thing where they sort of just look at you, perplexed, I raise my own hand. I am deeply embarrassed, but I feel I have to be honest if I am asking them to be....

'In Seattle, there's really a small amount that you have to do to be labeled a hero of diversity,' says Eddie Moore Jr., the Bush School's outgoing director of diversity, who describes Seattle as 'a segregated pattern of existence.'

He adds, 'It's just that there's really no real challenge to how the structure in Seattle continues to assist whiteness and white male dominance in particular. When you say 'white supremacy' or 'white privilege' in Seattle, people still think you're talking about the Klan. There's really no skills being developed to shift the conversation. How can we be acknowledged to be so progressive, yet be identified to be so white? I wish that's the question more Seattleites were asking themselves.'"

In a way similar to how some men think supporting "equality" and women's right to vote is, like, good enough to be considered a heroic feminist ally, it seems as though many white people think that, like, not being in the KKK and not saying the n-word totally makes a person not at all racist. The above article discusses a Coalition of Anti-Racist Whites (CARW) that discusses such issues and, importantly, states a philosophy of following the lead of people of color on matters of race. As one CARW member notes:

"[There are] awesome organizations and leaders of people of color who have been doing this work for decades... The truth is that communities of color are thinking about racial justice all the time. They're living it and breathing it, and there's a group of white folks supporting that work, but it's only a small fraction of the white community at this point."

3) This made me smile.

Against Gender Bullying

Here's some good news.

A teacher actively strives to break down gender stereotypes and gets students to think critically about them.

I particularly liked this part:

"I also became very aware of using the phrase 'boys and girls' to address my students. Instead, I used gender-neutral terms like 'students' or 'children.' At first, the more I thought about it, the more often I’d say 'boys and girls.' I tried not to be too hard on myself when I slipped, and eventually I got out of the habit and used 'students' regularly."

When we call people "boys and girls" or "ladies and gentlemen" (and I do this too), we note a gender distinction and, in so doing, imply that the distinctions between boys and girls (or men and women) are the most important and defining distinctions about a person.

But, are they?

Anyway, I'm sure some will view what this teacher is doing as Unacceptable Homosexual* Indoctrination (OOGA BOOGA), but I really think more adults could use some lessons like these.

(*Because people who don't think critically about gender think anything having to do with gender nonconformity is gay, natch)

Friday, December 23, 2011

'Tis the Season

For "Crimes Against Christmas."

Because apparently that's a thing now.

ABC News even has a blog dedicated to detailing these offenses, or "offenses" as the case may be.

I think my favorite "crime" is the one where residents in Michigan who had put up Christmas lights received a letter informing them of the pagan roots of some of today's Christmas traditions. Specifically, the letter said:

"Hi neighbor, You have a nice display of lights and this love note explains how that pagan tradition began. For thousands of years Sun worshippers have celebrated the Sungod's rebirth after solstice. Pagans honored the birth of the 'invincible sun' with a 'festival of lights.' They used big bonfires, pigs fat tallow candle lights, and today, billions of colored christmass lights. Rome's seven-day December Saturnalia was religious revelry with decadent drunkenness outrageous adultery and giving Saturn's nativity birth gifts to the children...."

You know. Lots of people like to talk about how people are too afraid to speak truth in today's PC GONE TOO FAR society. But, I think it's pretty sad when people can't even be informed of pagan traditions that actually exist/existed in the real world without framing that education as a "crime against Christmas." Or, as a "sin," as one homeowner claimed, totally missing the point:

“It’s a sin to judge other people and to tell people that if they have Christmas lights they are pagans. We’re not pagans, we go to church regularly, my kids go to the Christian school. I think next year we should put on a huge display!”

It's amazing to me that people display little to no curiosity about the roots of their most revered traditions and holidays, or of that funny coincidence where Christmas occurs right around Winter Solstice all the time.

Anyway, speaking of displays, I know what I'm putting up next year.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Rewarding Anti-Feminist Women

Call it issue fatigue, but I'm trying really hard to take nothing seriously for the rest of this year. Especially anti-feminist women who build careers out of opposing everything feminist and placating insecure, privileged, and entitled anti-feminist men.

Take Suzanne Venker's latest piece, "Marriage: What's In It for Men."

She advocates:

"...[W]e must retract the message Boomers sent young women about female empowerment. Indeed, it isn’t a coincidence that marriage rates have plummeted alongside America’s fascination with the feminist movement. Empowerment for women, as defined by feminists, neither liberates women nor brings couples together. It separates them. It focuses on women as perpetual victims of the Big Bad Male. Why would any man want to get married when he’s been branded a sexist pig at 'hello'?"

Wait, so do we see the "male" as the big bad wolf or one of the three little pigs? Mixed metaphors are confusing. And, is feminism all about teaching women empowerment or all about teaching women that we're perpetual victims? Venker can't even keep her story straight as she huffs and she puffs and she totally blows down the whole entirety of feminist thought. Ker-pow!

When she says the next thing, her incoherent agenda becomes pretty clear:

"There may be more than one reason Americans are delaying or eschewing marriage, but almost all of them can be attributed to feminism."

It is sometimes said that always and never are two words one should always remember never to use. It's characteristic of sloppy, simplistic, and over-generalized thinking. I raise a similar red flag whenever I see people using the word "all." Especially when people are trying to talk about feminism.

What critic, who is being in any way fair about hir subject, makes such a sweeping and entirely-unsupported statement? We could insert basically any real or imagined societal ill into that statement and it would have basically the same meaning and impact:

There may be more than one reason Americans are having fewer children than before, but almost all of them can be attributed to feminism.

There may be more than one reason Americans are using drugs more than ever, but almost all of them can be attributed to feminism

There may be more than one reason Americans are choosing oatmeal over toast, but almost all of them can be attributed to feminism.

It is a strange worldview that posits that feminists and feminism are totally stupid but yet curiously all-powerful.

These pieces are annoying precisely because they feed into, and further entitle, that violent MRA mentality that posits that feminism is the ruiner of all good things in life. Not that all MRAs have this view, but many within the movement have an unhealthy, inaccurate fixation on feminism blaming.

You will notice that, while castigating all of feminism for unfairly portraying men as villains, Venker references the poor "countless men's rights groups" that have "popped up across the country," remaining silent of the very observable fact that many of these groups are unashamedly misogynistic, hyper-aggressive, and eliminationist.

If I had to guess, I would assume that Venker is damn well aware of the violence that adheres to many of these "men's rights groups" that she refers to.

Andrea Dworkin, in fact, theorized in Right-Wing Women that anti-feminist women are complict in anti-feminism precisely because they are aware that many men turn violent when their entitlement to privilege and violence is threatened. It is the view of many gender complementarists and gender essentialists, in fact, that "all men are basically pigs and perverts," and that it is "woman's" job to tame men via "traditional marriage."

Such anti-feminists project this belief onto feminists and then castigate feminists for "holding" this man-hating view. In the case of many anti-feminist women, they build their political views and opposition to feminism based upon the fearful assumption that men are inherently violent and bad. In line with this survival instinct, they direct their hatred and anger at feminist women for supposedly "hating men" and "ruining everything," rather than at men (who must always be appeased) or at rape culture or at patriarchy.

"Having good reason to hate, but not the courage to rebel," these women do the easy thing and bash feminists, along with, like, 90% of the rest of society, while deeming themselves courageous tellers of truth.

I guess my point here is that there are many reasons anti-feminist women get columns and book deals. Few of them can be attributed to competence. The truth that dare not be uttered by our courageous tellers of truth is that women are often highly rewarded for engaging in woman-hating behavior.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

On Hitchens

Reading the various reactions to Christopher Hitchens' death has been interesting, both within and outside the feminist blogosphere.

I've seen klassy Christians dance on his grave. I've seen some, including a feminist, talk about what a fun drinking bud he was. I've seen some argue that he was a great rhetorician, and others that he was a lousy rhetorician who hid his poor arguments in fancy words.

What is interesting is that I haven't seen anyone suggest that Hitchens should be kicked out of the atheist club, along with all of his writings, because of his flawed humanity. I'm not suggesting he should be. I'm making an observation that people seem willing to accept imperfection in male non-feminist thinkers, while demanding perfection from feminist thinkers.

However, when feminist theologian Mary Daly died, non-feminists took it as a given that her views were "misandrist" and therefore everything she ever wrote was flawed. One dude even kicked her and her works out of feminism entirely. Feminist bloggers, including myself, were quick to add "I of course don't agree with everything she ever said" disclaimers on our posts about her passing.

My view is that we should recognize and use ideas and arguments that are valid, while rejecting and calling out those that are problematic. Unfortunately, it seems as though a feminist's intellectual and person failings are used to discredit her (and it's usually a her) entire body of work.

Is this done on any large scale, across the political spectrum, with male non-feminist thinkers?

I don't think so. And I wonder why this is? Is it because their flaws as thinkers aren't readily recognized as flaws? When Christopher Hitchens wrote that women aren't funny, was he seen as just courageously telling it like it really is? Despite his reputation for being a courageous truth-teller, Hitchens seemed to lazily accept his culture's biases and stereotypes about gender. But I don't see someone's perpetuation of, and complicity in, such biases as brave.

Katha Pollit makes an observation:

"So far, most of the eulogies of Christopher have come from men, and there’s a reason for that. He moved in a masculine world, and for someone who prided himself on his wide-ranging interests, he had virtually no interest in women’s writing or women’s lives or perspectives. I never got the impression from anything he wrote about women that he had bothered to do the most basic kinds of reading and thinking, let alone interviewing or reporting—the sort of workup he would do before writing about, say, G.K. Chesterton, or Scientology or Kurdistan. It all came off the top of his head, or the depths of his id. Women aren’t funny. Women shouldn’t need to/want to/get to have a job. The Dixie Chicks were 'fucking fat slags' (not 'sluts,' as he misremembered later). And then of course there was his 1989 column in which he attacked legal abortionand his cartoon version of feminism as 'possessive individualism.' I don’t suppose I ever really forgave Christopher for that."

I don't have much to say about Hitchens' passing, but I hope he is in peace.

I say that as someone who stopped being a fan of his after his women aren't funny piece, a piece that helped open my eyes to how many men within the atheist/skeptic movement have serious male privilege/sexism issues and that those who dominate such movements don't appear to have a genuine concern about inclusion.

I suppose Christopher Hitchens is partly responsible for my burgeoning feminism. This might seem like an appropriate place to express gratitude for that, but what's better than awakening someone's feminism is not being sexist in the first place.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Movie Review: Elena Undone

The first thing one notices about the “gay and lesbian movie with a strong female lead” (thanks “streaming video service” recommendations!) Elena Undone is that it doesn’t look like it was made with a camcorder. This is never a given with lesbian* movies that aren't produced by major studios and intended for general audiences.

The second thing one notices is well… okay. I need to be upfront here. Many times, when I turn on smaller budget lesbian films, I’m multi-tasking. That’s how low my expectations are. It’s kind of a test, really. If it can capture my interest, then it’s probably worth watching. If not, then I guess it’s kind of bad. (Yep, this test is similar in its unfairness to Corey Haim's driving test in the '80s movie License To Drive, where his tester throws the clipboard out the window and places a coffee cup on the dashboard. If the cup tips over while Corey is driving, he fails. If it doesn't, he passes. I have simply been let down too many times to give obscure lesbian movies my full, fair, and immediate undivided attention).

So, my point is that by the time Elena Undone sucked me in, I wasn’t always sure who all of the characters were or what was going on. First, there is Elena, naturally. She is a woman of Indian descent, and a photographer, who is married to a white Christian pastor dude who happens to give lots of sermons about how homosexuality and gay people are evil.

Now, early on, the movie had a scene of Elena and Christian Pastor Husband having sex and, without getting graphic, I’ll just say that Elena mostly looked… bored during it all. I readily recognized this scene as “foreshadowing.” In movies about women about to embark on a (spoiler alert!) “lifestyle change,” it’s a pretty common trope to depict Women Not At All Enjoying Sex With Their Male Partners. Naturally, I then began anticipating the contrasting Soft And Sensuous Sapphic Love Scene that was sure to eventually follow.

Anyway, Elena and her husband have a teenaged son. I’m not sure what his name is (see above, regarding multi-tasking), but he’s sweet and cute in a moppy-headed Brian Krakow sort of way, so in my head I just call him Krakow. He has a girlfriend who is also sweet and cute and they seem to maybe live together in Krakow’s parent’s home or something? I don’t know. Is that what Christians do? In any event, the two are very close, relatively open-minded (compared to the pastor dad), and I think we’re supposed to see them as “soul mates.”

Then, there is Peyton.

Peyton is a lesbian writer and we know she's a lesbian right away because of her butch name. Okay, I'm kidding. Sort of. Anyway, Peyton is a writer whose mother recently died and who also recently got out of a long-term relationship with a woman. She also walks a sexy androgynous line and bears a slight resemblance to Lucy Lawless which for many lesbians (and by “many” I mean me) automatically improves a movie by like 4 points on a 1-10 scale.

Peyton also has a best friend. I don’t remember her name, but her purpose really does seem to be that of Promiscuous Smart-Ass Lesbian Best Friend. Which would maybe be offensive in a non-lesbian movie in which she was the only lesbian depicted, but I think the representation is okay if the movie has other lesbians? I’m also confused by her accent because sometimes she seems British and then, like, sometimes it seems like she forgets that she’s British and starts talking in some sort of American accent.

Anyway, I still generally like her character though. Who doesn’t need a friend in life who will tell you to (spoiler alert!) totally go for that hot guy or gal who is already partnered and then subsequently ask you what the hell you were thinking by getting involved with that hot guy or gal who is already partnered?

So, by the time I got into this movie, Elena and Peyton have just met. Peyton seems to be interviewing Elena for some sort of photography project. Like I said, I’m not down with all the details here. But, to be fair (to me, anyway), I don’t think the details are super important. What matters is that Elena and Peyton now have a reason to start spending time together and getting to know one another.

(spoiler alert for major plot points)

Things progress as they sometimes do when an Attractive Straight Lady About To Embark On A “Lifestyle Change” Befriends An Attractive Lesbian. By which I mean, during their “photography sessions,” Elena begins asking Peyton questions about how she knew she was a lesbian, she confides in Peyton that she married early mostly to rebel against her father, and she begins viewing her pastor husband’s anti-gay preachings with a more critical eye.

Anyway, in one pivotal scene, Krakow’s teenaged girlfriend informs Elena that snails can sleep for like 3 years, and isn’t it strange how a snail can sleep half it’s life away? That statement seems to resonate with Elena and before long Elena is having an affair with Peyton. (Cue the foreshadowed Soft And Sensuous Sapphic Love Scene, which as far as these things go are pretty good. And by "pretty good," I mean that at least they don't involve unidentifiable body parts being softly caressed in hazy candlelight.)

[Addendum: this part added after a re-watch] At one point, Elena comes over to Peyton's house while she is swimming, necessitating a quick wardrobe change. Just as a fun fact, "outfit montages" are one of my favorite television/movie tropes even though I know or care very little about fashion and hate shopping. Mostly, I identify with the frustration of it all and the desire for people to bring me outfits so I don't have to pick them out myself.

Typically, the pattern is like, [Puts on outfit] "No, this isn't quite right. [Changes clothes]. No, this getup is just silly. [Changes clothes]. No, this too is dissatisfying. [Changes clothes] Ah, now this is exactly what I've been looking for." [Salespeople and friends nod approvingly]

In Elena's Undone, the "outfit montage" is more like, "Hmmm, what is the most stereotypically dykey outfit I can possibly put on right now?" [Changes clothes] "No, this isn't quite it."[Changes clothes] "No, this isn't it either." [Changes into jeans, tucked-in tank-top, and a flannel cut-off shirt]. "Yes, now this will impress my Straight Lady Friend."

I will just say this: Peyton pulls it off and looks, um, very attractive. Gotta love a woman who's not afraid to butch out.  Elena apparently agrees and making out eventually ensues. [/addendum]

Now, in general, Elena and Peyton seem to be a good match and to have good chemistry. But, the thing about Elena is that, as Peyton comes to realize, she wants to have her, um, cake and eat it too. Despite being totally in love with Peyton and being totally unhappily married to her husband, she keeps them both hanging on. By escalating her relationship with Elena and withdrawing from her relationship with her husband she mostly takes the maybe-if-I-act-like-a-big-enough-asshole-my-partner-will-break-up-with-me approach to "breaking up with someone."

She stops kissing him, stops having sex with him, and basically ignores her husband without any sort of communication because she is so into her new romance. Now, Anti-Gay Pastor Husband is pretty much an asshole, so there is a certain karmic satisfaction in his wife leaving him for a woman. But, a person’s also an asshole if ze cheats on hir partner and cuts the partner out of hir emotional and sexual life without explanation.

A parent is also an asshole if one’s teenager finds proof of hir affair and the parent expects the child to keep it a secret from the other parent. Yeah, Elena does that too.

Now, I know these things are complicated. It wouldn’t be the easiest thing to tell one’s very vocally anti-gay spouse of like 15 years that one is having a gay affair with a gay gay GAY lover. And, it’s unclear as to whether Elena would have the means to support herself financially upon divorce- like maybe she was feeling financial pressure to U-haul it with Peyton before she was ready? Or, maybe she was worried what her parents and relatives would think. Maybe she was worried about her son.

So, you know, that she wouldn’t immediately tell her husband is somewhat believable and wouldn’t be out of character for Elena. The husband eventually finds out only because a meddling, anti-gay churchgoer sees Elena and Peyton kissing in the park and immediately goes and tells Pastor Husband.

In all, it was a good, enjoyable movie. It did have a happy ending, which for me, goes a long way in the genre. Even if the resolution is a bit too tidy.

Related: Bad Lesbian Movies

[* I use lesbian only here as opposed to "lesbian and bisexual" because it has been my TV and movie-watching experience that shows with self-described bisexual characters are even more rare than those with lesbian characters. Thus, for me to label this post as being about "lesbian and bisexual" movies seems inaccurate and, ironically, invisibilizing. Kind of like when certain magazines, blogs, and travel guides are labeled "gay and lesbian" even though they're obviously only targeted toward gay men.

None of the characters in this movie, to my knowledge, self-identify as bisexual. Elena, on the surface, seems to meet the definition of bisexual in that she was married to a man and then leaves him for a woman. But, throughout the movie she talks about how she never felt passion for her husband and maybe has never actually been in love with him, which suggests that maybe she’s actually a lesbian.

TL;DR version: I can't read character's minds to know what their sexual orientations are. Would it be that difficult for people to write characters who were bisexual or who said, "Hey, I think I'm bisexual."]

Monday, December 19, 2011

Anti-Feminists Discover TOP SECRET Feminist Ideas

Articles like these amuse me. Its title:

"College Textbook Reveals Radical Feminist Agenda"

In it, the author (who is listed as Eagle Forum, anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly's organization) has super-sleuthed a textbook from a "Women and Gender Studies" class at a state university in Missouri and has exposed it to the readers of the "Right Side News" website.

It's not a particularly remarkable anti-feminist article, and it certainly falls into the lazy trap of treating feminism as a monolithic thing. What's most amusing about it is the way the author presents "radical feminist" ideas to the reader as though they're so ridiculous, so preposterous, so utterly asinine that they obviously don't even have to be seriously addressed, challenged, or rebutted.

For instance, on male privilege:

"The authors claim that being male is a privileged status, just as being white or heterosexual. Students are encouraged to recognize that these 'privileges' exist, understand how privileged classes suppress non-privileged people, and accept responsibility for the problem."

And then... that's it. No attempt to show why it's so outrageous to believe that male privilege (and white privilege and hetero privilege) exists. They just move on to talk about the next Totally Ridonkulous Feminist Idea. Like, bisexuality:

"A couple of articles discuss how common it is for women in particular to be bisexual. Limiting sexuality to simply gay or straight denies the true plasticity of human sexuality."

Well, yeah. Sounds pretty right to me. Since bisexual women really exist in the real world and all.

The article is annoying, offensive, and pretty simplistic. But, also funny in a way, because it demonstrates the insularity and close-mindedness of some political communities. The article's purpose isn't to change anyone's mind, it's to tell a like-minded audience, OMG can you even BELIEVE they think that?!? as though people couldn't just go to their freaking libraries, get on blogs, or get on Internet to find any of this stuff out. They have to act like they're Woodward and Bernstein about it all and revealing something Really Big, Secretive, and Sinister!

Friday, December 16, 2011

This Is What I'm Getting You All For Christmas*

Via G-A-Y, I saw that the Ruth Institute is still selling, erm, strange marriage defense products.

[Description: The anti-equality Ruth Institute is selling items like tote bags, coffee cups, travel mugs, baby bibs, baby clothes, and gym bags that say "one man + one marriage for life" and have the Ruth Institute logo on them].

Seriously, like Truck Nutz, is there really a big consumer market for these things?

Do people really sit around having "one man one woman" gatherings with special "party kits"?

I just. Well, when people are pulling these items out of a time capsule, I feel like our ancestors are going to be like, "people in 2011 were so weird and boring."

*Not really.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

On Blogging Priorities

When a person has a blog, it invariably happens that a reader or a critic or another blogger will inform the blogger that ze isn't writing about the right, or most important, stuff in hir little nook of Internet.

Like, if one is a feminist writing about sexism in the media or people making offensive rape jokes, it often happens that people, anti/non-feminists usually, will bark at us to write about the Plight of Women in the Middle East. (Relatedly, I've noticed that one of the implicit anti/non-feminist PR campaigns is: "Look ladies, at least we don't stone you! Now stop your whinin' or... well, let's just say you could have things worse.")

Anyway, this demand to write about More Important Things reminds me of that scene in Beetlejuice when Betelgeuse is in the afterlife reception room thingy waiting to see the caseworker Juno. He sees that the guy next to him is holding ticket #2, while he himself is holding, like, ticket #3,002,121. Distracting the guy, Betelgeuse is all, "Hey, look! There goes the King!" The guy turns his head perhaps expecting to see Elvis, and Betelgeuse swipes the guy's ticket and sits back like, "Welp, looks like I'm next."

Things don't turn out so well for Betelgeuse in the end, but basically, people who visit another person's blog to demand that the blogger write about something other than what ze's writing about are acting a little bit like Betelgeuse. Not only because of the entitlement about New Person thinking ze gets to set the priorities in someone else's writing space, but because they pull this "Hey, don't think about this, think about that" switcharoo that implies that what the blogger chooses to write about is inconsequential.

My point, though, is that there is no shortage of important stuff about which to write. And, like most people, feminism, gender politics, race, body image, religion, and LGBT rights are not the only topics I care or think about. Ultimately, though, on this blog which I receive no compensation for, I have to make choices about what to write.

I'm not sure it's possible to objectively measure something like which causes are Most Important, but one reason I choose to write about feminism and gender issues is because sex/gender is one of the most basic ways humans divide and categorize themselves. Before we are even born, people want to know if the parents know whether "it's a boy or a girl." After that information is revealed, gender scripts play out accordingly.

Race and body type, being an often-visible marker of who or what a person supposedly is based on those characteristics, are other categorizations humans use to perpetuate hierarchy and privilege. These categorizations, like others, then imply hierarchy in other aspects of life.

And so, as inconsequential as some may find feminist Internet writing to be, I'm of the opinion that the little things do matter, including sexist TV shows and sexist romantic comedies and sexist advertisements and sexist quotes by random sexist people on Internet. Many (most?) people who are in some way(s) marginalized experience microaggressions, those frequent, commonplace messages that reinforce a group's inferiority, vulnerability, and/or lack of individuality that build up over time and become part of our larger realities.

As Melissa McEwan writes:

"... in a very real way, ignoring 'the little things' in favor of 'the big stuff' makes the big stuff that much harder to eradicate, because it is the pervasive, ubiquitous, inescapable little things that create the foundation of a sexist culture on which the big stuff is dependent for its survival. It's the little things, the constant drumbeat of inequality and objectification, that inure us to increasingly horrible acts and attitudes toward women."

The little things are the building blocks of our cultural narratives about gender, race, sexual orientation, body image, and rape culture. These narratives, I believe, help inform who we are and who we perceive others to be. These narratives become "common sense" and "self-evident truths" upon which the Big Things subsist.

Yet, I also choose my writing topics based on (a) having Issue Fatigue about other serious topics (Earthquakes in Japan! Occupying Wall Street! Yes, I care! But, like many people, I can't think about tragedies and bad things 24/7 and still maintain my grip on mental well-being), (b) possessing familiarity with the topics (does Internet really need more people pecking away about shit they don't understand?), (c) having passion for these particular issues, and (d) having the time to write about everything I'd like to write about.

I think, too, there is an important distinction between those who don't write about certain topics because they view them as trivial and those who don't write about those topics much, if at all, yet who are allies to those who do. There are single-issue blogs run by those with privilege or relative privilege who are hostile to the notion that they might be privileged in certain ways or acting problematically toward other groups, and I strive to not be that.

Anytime a blogger is dismissing and trivializing another's legitimate social justice concerns as just "finding reasons to get mad," ze is not being a good ally. And, I try to keep that in mind as I navigate both writing here and reading other blogs.

In addition to sharing my perspectives as a feminist lesbian, I'm aware that my voice as a thin, white, well-educated, able-bodied, cis woman is going to be imbued with certain privileges. I'm going to overlook things and show that privilege and, while I don't think it's anyone's responsibility to do so, I hope I have demonstrated that I would be receptive to such critiques whether in the comment threads or via email.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Dude Bemoans Piggish "Females"

[content/trigger warning: this post contains examples of misogynistic language, gender policing]

In news of the "my Google Alerts brings me the darndest things," I recently came across this article, where a man bemoans how feminism has turned women into snips and snails and puppy dog tails. He writes:

"Once upon a time, women were considered the 'fairer sex,' the 'better half.' Stewardesses were talented and beautiful. Wives were softer and gentler. Men fought for their honor. Feminism crushed all of that.

It is a testimony to their movement that in today's post-feminist entertainment media, part of what makes television so corrosive and sour is just how piggish the women have become."

First off, I want to note the irony of a blogger with a tagline that claims to be "the voice of essential liberty," policing gender in this way. Perhaps some types of liberties, namely the ones concerning the Proper Behavior Of Men And Women, aren't as essential as others.

Secondly, despite the widely-held view that it's feminists who hate men, notice the author's view of men. In a society that frames men and women as "opposites," when women are the "fairer sex" it means that men are the "less fair sex."

If women are "the better half," men are the "worse half."

If women have become piggish, does that mean all men already are piggish?

If stewardesses are "talented and beautiful," does that mean male stewards are untalented and ugly?

If wives are "softer and gentler," are husbands hard and rough?

All of them?

Third, I am actually in agreement with the author that it's problematic that "not only do the men speak badly of the women on these shows [like Jersey Shore], but also the women speak badly of each other and of themselves....While terms men[*] used for each other were often viewed as complimentary -- big man, dawg, superhero, MacGyver, winner. Women used far more degrading language when talking about other females[*] -- rodent, skank, slut, ho and much worse."

But, isn't there a happy medium with respect to the treatment of women, one that requires neither degrading women nor putting women on a pedestal? The harms of degrading women should be obvious to most. Pedestal peddling, less so. But, both are restrictive and unfair.

Placing women on a pedestal of "the fairer and better sex" is not only unfair to men, but it suggests that all women have certain fixed, submissive, and moral qualities about them, and that those who do not are inauthentic women. By fixing essential womanhood as something that is sugar and spice and everything nice, it suggests that women who use their free will to figure out what kind of women they really are aren't doing womanhood right if they decide they don't, or don't want to, possess those qualities.

That doesn't sound like liberty to me.

*Speaking of degrading language: Outside of clinical and research settings, I'm not a fan the use of the word "females" as a noun, to refer to human women and "males" to refer to human men. There is something dehumanizing about it. It is also striking when, as the author above does, people pair "females" with "men" as though they're equivalent terms. They're not.

In this case, I notice that the author begins referring to women as "females" once he kicks the MTV women off the pedestal of True Womanhood, as though he's observing specimens in a zoo rather than humans. Throughout the piece, he never refers to the men as "males." Just an observation that parallels his men speak well of other men, but men and women speak degradingly of women observation.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Civility and Shared Realities

Over at Alas, A Blog, Myca wrote a satirical post regarding civility in conversations about rights. A snippet:

"I think that as our understanding of what it means to be a parent evolves and our understanding of how damaging homophobia is evolves, we must consider the possibility that opponents of Same Sex Marriage are, by teaching their children homophobia, abusing them, and ought to have their children taken from them.

I’m going to lay out some of the best arguments for taking the children of SSM opponents from them and placing them in foster homes, or, preferably, with SSM proponents. I understand that this conversation may be painful for opponents of Same Sex Marriage to participate in, but I’d like to encourage them to participate civilly, while encouraging SSM proponents to recognize that this argument (that SSM opponents are engaging in constant child abuse),while true, is likely to be painful for them. One thing I do want to be really clear on is that any conversation must be civil, and anyone engaging in uncivil behavior will be banned. This isn’t going to be about name calling. This is going to be about what horrible parents SSM opponents are, and how they deserve to lose their children."

For some background, this post was a response to a piece Barry Deutsch posted at Family Scholars Blog, acknowledging that a discussion about how conversations about marriage equality will often hurt LGB people, even when equality opponents are making relatively reasonable arguments.

I don't think Myca and Barry's pieces are necessarily in opposition to one another.

Barry's acknowledges a reality: Opponents of equality often say things that make LGB people feel attacked and unsafe.

Myca's takes it a step further, and acknowledges another reality: Even though opponents of LGB equality often say things that make LGB people feel attacked and unsafe, they often simultaneously expect LGB people to be near-perfect paragons of peace, civility, and kindness in response or else the conversation will not be allowed to occur.

Of the opponents of same-sex marriage who are, or like to think of themselves as, nice people who aren't bigots, I question whether many of them have an understanding of the extent to which their arguments still can be hurtful. If these hurt feelings are even acknowledged, I know such people often dismiss them with statements like, "the truth hurts sometimes" or "the real reason you're upset is because you're gay."

These statements, of course, usually only make things worse.

In the book Social Engineering, Chris Hagnagy lays out some basic ground rules for communication. In the context of political debates, I think one is really important:

"Never take for granted that the receiver [of your communication] has the same reality as you."

The realities of living in the world as a heterosexual person are different than those for someone who is lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB). Just as many Progressive White People like to say things like "I don't even see race, aren't we all just humans?", some straight people don't understand why LGB people Insist On Identifying As LGB.

It is laudable claim, in one way, because the person appears to be expressing an interest in society no longer stigmatizing certain aspects of one's identity. But, what is problematic about the claim is that it glosses over the inconvenient truth that we are not yet living in that utopian society where all people are treated the same, or where laws impact people the same, no matter their race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and other aspects of their identity.

Living in a society where homosexuality is stigmatized means, on a tangible level, that, on top of not having our relationships recognized in most states, many LGB people: do not feel comfortable showing affection for partners in public (like, even just holding hands), are afraid to talk about our relationships in the workplace, have others continually question our morality and "normalcy," fear acts of violence for being seen as gay, and often fail to receive validation and support from religious communities and family members.

Part of possessing privilege in a society means that a person doesn't necessarily know they have it. And, with that in mind, I strongly question whether many opponents of SSM are aware that the above circumstances are the realities for many LGB people. We just aren't starting this conversation from the same place.

That is, I, as a lesbian, do not have the same reality as a heterosexual woman who opposes SSM. She, for instance, may claim that "no one cares" about my sexual orientation, but as a point of fact, many people actually really do. They care a lot. And not in a good way.

Furthermore and relatedly, I think that in public discussions about same-sex marriage, some opponents of SSM equate being called a bigot to living in the world as a marginalized LGB person. What I appreciate about Myca's satire is that it really illustrates the absurdity of that moral equivalence by, perhaps, helping heterosexual opponents of SSM imagine living in the world where a repugnant policy that intimately and negatively affected their lives was framed as a legitimate debate in which they have to be very nice about engaging.


You Say Bullying, I Say PC Gone Too Far (and Vice Versa)

Conversations About Civility

Monday, December 12, 2011

Mississippi School District Changes Yearbook Photo Policy

[content/trigger warning: gender policing]

A Mississippi school district has changed its policy on requiring gendered clothing in yearbook photos. Via USA Today:

"The issue stemmed from a complaint in 2009 by Ceara Sturgis, a lesbian, whose photo was left out of the yearbook at Wesson Attendance Center because she wore a tux for her portrait. It also was not included in a composite photo displayed in the school library."

First off, regarding the tux thing. Before the district's policy change, boys had to wear tuxes and girls had to wear, and I quote, "a garment resembling an off-the-shoulder dress." It's always interesting when authorities make gender disctinctions unnecessarily. What was the purpose of requiring separate, gender-based clothing for yearbook photos? Marking gender in this way suggests that gender is relevant to academics. But, is it?

Secondly, I'm not sure why it's relevant to note that Sturgis is a lesbian. Lesbianism is a sexual orientation, not a gender identity. I can imagine many heterosexual and bisexual girls who also maybe wouldn't want to wear "a garment resembling an off-the-shoulder dress." I'm not opposed to wearing dresses, but I for damn sure wouldn't wear an off-the-shoulder thingy.

And, thinking back to my high school days, I for sure know some boys who would have been enviously eyeing those "off-the-shoulder garments." Some people are just into the Jennifer-Beals-from-1983 look. Which is fine. I just don't think it should be, like, forced on people.

Anyway, all students will now wear dresses in their yearbook photos.

And by dresses, I mean caps and gowns. Because the power-that-be consider dresses acceptable for men to wear when they're for academic purposes. Apparently.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Headline of the Day

From the Christian Science Monitor:

"Gay marriage: Court weighs validity of Prop. 8 ruling by gay judge"

Why isn't the sexual orientation of the judges who are weighing the validity of the "gay judge's" Prop 8 ruling mentioned?

If they rule for or against Judge Walker's ruling, will their sexual orientations subsequently be put on trial?

Or, is sexual orientation only relevant if it's a homasexuloogedyboogedy judge making the call? Is this because heterosexual judges are inherently objective about matters that affect the rights of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people, in the way that white people are more objective about, say, affirmative-action cases and men more objective about sexual harassment claims?

Consider this an open thread to talk about privilege, fauxbjective, and whatevs.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

They Already Can Get Married

About a week ago, Republican candidate Michelle Bachmann helpfully reminded gays and lesbians that we already have the same civil rights as heterosexuals. When a high school student asked her why same-sex couples could not marry, she responded:

"They can get married, but they abide by the same law as everyone else. They can marry a man if they’re a woman. Or they can marry a woman if they’re a man."

This is a common talking point, for sure. Indeed, a commenter here likewise echoed Bachmann's informative statement:

"....[A] man is eligible to marry a woman if either he or she or both of them identify as homosexual. They can yell it from the hilltops and they would still be eligible to marry [someone of the other sex]."

Yes, it sure is true that gay men and lesbians are free to marry people of the other sex if they wish. Although, I'm not sure this statement is as big of a revelation to gay men and lesbians as those who utter it believe it to be. Nor is it particularly clever. After all, most children grow up having others assume that they will, one day, marry someone of the other sex.

But, well, for many of us (us, being gays and lesbians), the "they already can get married" argument is a non-starter.

Sure, some gay men and lesbians might find happiness entering into a man-woman marriage (although, would such people more accurately be called bisexual?). But oftentimes, such a marriage will not result in positive outcomes for either the couple or their resulting children, if any.

I was reminded of what such a marriage can look like, when I read Hugo Schwyzer's piece, "I Married A Lesbian" over at The Good Men Project. A snippet:

"Twenty months after Courtney and I had married, I relapsed on drugs after several years of sobriety. I 'used at her,' getting loaded out of hostility and frustration that I couldn’t fully articulate. I went back to drugs in the hope that that might show her how much pain I was in, particularly over the sexless state of our marriage. Court insisted I move out. I rented a room in a sober living boarding house, and soon began an affair with a housemate. After more than a year and a half of fidelity, I cheated with a woman who made it clear she wanted me. It was a cowardly, but understandable, way to get back at Courtney. I told my wife what I’d done, and she instantly demanded a divorce."

Why are those who purport to defend marriage promoting marriages like this?

[Cross-posted at Family Scholars Blog, where the first couple comments are, erm, "interesting."]

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Involuntary Procedures and Local Power

[content/trigger warning: This post seems like it needs some sort of content warning, but I'm not sure exactly what. Maybe, involuntary medical procedures?]

Via Femonomics, we learn of a white American doctor who wrote about his involvement in the involuntary sterilization of a woman with 5 children in Tanzania.

Apparently, there was an issue with the epidural injection the woman received and she stopped breathing. The doctor describes doing chest compressions (and describes hearing the pop of one of her ribs cracking). While doing compressions, the doctor heard another doctor working inside the woman say, "I am tying her tubes. I think she does not need another baby after this."

Describing the aftermath, the American doctor notes that the woman later noted that her chest was hurting and the other doctor told her not to worry about it. She was also not told that she had been sterilized or that her heart had stopped beating. The American doctor described the other doctor's tube-tying actions as heroic.


Suffice it to say, I firmly believe that a person, even a poor person who already has children, has the right to choose whether or not to undergo a medical procedure that will result in sterilization. It is unbelievably problematically paternalistic for men (or anyone, but in this case the choice was made by men) to make that decision for another person. Even if bearing additional children would have put the woman's life at risk or would have made her life more difficult financially, it was her decision to make.

Interestingly, the doctor showed up at Femonomics with a retort to the blogger's critique (either before or after deleting his blogpost bragging about the medical procedure):

"Thank you for posting my story on your blog, but like most colonial thinking individuals, your higher moral thinking has little or nothing to do with the realities of survival in remote areas of the world. In short, you didn't think this one out very well. While we weren't attempting to 'tame' anyone, the decision to tie the woman's tubes came from sound medical judgement. If this woman got pregnant again, there was a greater than 50% chance she would die during or before childbirth. (this not even dealing with the economic reality that she couldn't even afford to feed the 5 children she had.) You are out of line here and off-kilter with your point. It appears to be an angry reaction to your own views of men rather than a well thought argument dealing with the facts. My advice is to go live in the bush for a while and then come talk to me about necessity and choice."

So, first off, this is why it's a bad idea for people who provide professional services to blog about specific cases they've handled. They open the door to severe criticism and they often reveal some pretty problematic assumptions and thinking.

Like this bullshit:

"It appears to be an angry reaction to your own views of men rather than a well thought argument dealing with the facts."

Note how the doctor frames his critic as a raging, irrational, man-hating feminazi. In this way does he attempt to erase his critic's concern about the personal autonomy and integrity of a woman in Tanzania, and in so doing, of the woman herself.

I continue to be amazed that otherwise-intelligent people still think "you just hate men" somehow rebuts a feminist's argument or is, like, a creative or accurate thing to say. Whenever I hear that "man-hating" accusation it's a big red flag that tells me I'm probably not dealing with a person who deals with feminists (and possibly women) rationally and fairly.

And then, well, oh the irony of a white American man who was complicit in the performance of an involuntary medical procedure on an African woman calling someone else a "colonial thinking individual."

But, it's an interesting claim. It is made with some regularity with respect to Western feminists' critiques of non-Western practices that are oppressive to women (other times, feminists are told that we don't care enough about the stuff that happens to Other Women in Other Cultures. See also, What About The Muslim Women?!).

Nonetheless, it is interesting when men argue that bad things that are done to women in some societies must be respected because they are local things.

Context, of course, matters with respect to such arguments. The devil is indeed in the details. But I generally defer to Catherine MacKinnon*:

"Defenses of local differences, as they are called, are often simply a defense of male power in its local guise. Male power virtually always appears in local guises; one might hazard a guess that there are nothing but local guises for male power. The fact that they are local does not improve them."

*From, Are Women Human?: And Other International Dialogues

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Entitlement For Boys

I'm simultaneously entertained and annoyed by toys that are unnecessarily gendered.

The other day, I was perusing some of the free e-books available at Project Gutenberg, and I found this book, from 1914:

Electricity For Boys

Sure, it's pushing 100 years old, but what on Earth could this title possibly mean?

Did boys back then use to be robots and, thus, run on a special type of electricity that was different from the type that generated the girls?

Was it thought that only boys would be interested in learning about electricity?

Like, was there a separate book called Electricity For Girls, that maybe was pink (oh wait, the girly color was blue back then) and explains it all a little differently so the girl brains can understand it? (Apparently, the boy book is part of a "How-To-Do-It" series, also containing the books Carpentry For Boys and Practical Mechanics For Boys. No "How-To-Do" books for girls were listed.)

Naturally, I had to take a peek inside the book (a preview of which is located on Amazon, if you're so inclined. And who wouldn't be, really?). It begins:

"Electricity, like every science, presents to phases to the student, one belonging to a theoretical knowledge, and the other which pertains to the practical appliation of that knowledge. The boy is directly interested in the practical use which he can make of this wonderful phenomenon in nature."

The book doesn't explicitly define girls out of the category "student," but the absence of references to girls does imply that boys in particular are more interested than girls in electricity and, specifically, in the practical application of this science-y thing.

It continues, a few pages later:

"Wherever it is deemed possible to do so, it is planned to have the boy make these discoveries for himself, so as to encourage him to become a thinker and reasoner instead of a mere machine."

What a great idea. But why limit it to boys? Did we not care about encouraging girls to become thinkers and reasoners, or was it just a given that it was fine to expect girls to operate like "mere machines"?

In this way, we see how a gendered book can create an entitlement in boys that they, compared to girls, are more deserving of information about science, of the practical manipulation of their surroundings, and of becoming serious thinkers. If that sort of entitlement is being fed to a boy growing up, how could he not grow up thinking he was more logical and rational than girls and women?

Yeah, we laugh at books like these now and yet this sort of unnecessary gender-based marketing persists.

See also:

Men Need MAN SODA!

Man Food, Again

Monday, December 5, 2011

Religious Freedom, Association, and Discrimination

Last month, Catholic bishops in Maryland released a document entitled "The Most Sacred Of All Property: Religious Freedom and the People of Maryland" (PDF).

In this document, which discusssed how abortion rights and same-sex marriage are allegedly posing grave threats to religious freedom, the bishops encouraged people to "take positive steps to safeguard religious liberty for generations to come." They wrote:

"Religious freedom is so fundamental to our nature that not only does it uphold individual human dignity, but it is also integral to the establishment of a good and just society. Individuals who are free to exercise religious liberty are free to live out their faith in service to others and to build up the common good." (bold in original)

Early in November, this time in Kentucky, members of one small church notoriously voted to prohibit inter-racial couples from becoming members and participating in certain services. Here, the church enacted its prohibition after a white woman showed up to church with her boyfriend, who is black.

In the US, prohibitions on, and disapproval of, inter-racial relationships have historically been premised on white supremacist beliefs, sexist and racist thoughts about the special purity of white women, and anxieties about how inter-racial marriage might demonstrate that other races were morally and socially equal to whites. Historically, religious groups have both opposed and been in favor of inter-racial marriage.

More generally, it is true that many religious people have, throughout history, used their religious beliefs, power, and freedoms to "uphold individual human dignity," to help establish "a fair and just society," and to "build up the common good" (to use the bishops' phrases). But, a reading of history also shows that many religious people have also used their religions to degrade human dignity, to help establish an unfair and unjust society, and to tear down the common good.

So, what I find to be problematic about the bishops' statement, above, is the way it frames religious freedom as an absolute social good that, perhaps, must be preserved above all other social concerns. Oftentimes, religious freedom is but one of several valid and competing social goods that a society must balance.

The church in Kentucky doesn't appear to be suggesting a ban on the legal recognition of inter-racial marriage, and so I don't think a direct comparison can be made to the SSM advocacy that many religious groups engage in. But, I am interested in hearing what other people think about with respect to the following questions:

(a) What do people on all sides of the SSM debate think about the Kentucky church's policy on couples who are in inter-racial relationships? Oftentimes, in the US, the state allows private organizations to set its own membership rules, even if those rules are discriminatory. But, should private organization be allowed to discriminate in such a way, when doing so perpetuates ideas that many reasonable people in a society reject (or claim to reject)? Should this right to discriminate only be extended to religious groups with religious or "sincerely-held" beliefs?

(b) Say a religious group was receiving money from the state to place children in foster homes. Following a court decision allowing inter-racial marriage, what if the religious organization chose to end its foster program rather than place children with inter-racial couples? Could it fairly say that its religious freedom was being infringed upon?

What if the state wasn't providing money to the religious group, but still prohibited the group from discrimination?

This conversation isn't intended to be a "gotcha" for purposes of demonstrating anyone's hypocrisy, racism, or homophobia.
Rather, my intent is to spark a conversation about the competing interests of (a) a private organization's right to freely discriminate/associate, (b) a church's right to exercise its religion (assuming, at least for the sake of argument, that the church's prohibition is religiously-based), and (c) the community's right not to have an organization in the community that perpetuates racism and white supremacy.

I'm not necessarily looking for legal arguments here, although feel free, but I think the questions are interesting from a moral and normative standpoint as well.

[Cross-posted at Family Scholars Blog]

Friday, December 2, 2011

Canaries In Coal Mines

In general, I think the writers at Box Turtle Bulletin (BTB) are doing admirable and important work in monitoring the status of gays in Uganda, specifically with respect to the proposed "Kill the Gays" bill.

That being said, I found BTB writer Jim's statement, below, to be problematically gay-centric:

"...Uganda is little different from the rest of the world: the gay community functions as the canary in the coalmine. How a society treats its gay community is a good predictor for how a society is capable of dealing with other groups who are either out of favor or out of power."

In the comment section, I noted:

"Actually, I’d argue that women function as the canary in the coalmine.

Women in Uganda are economically dependent upon men, have limited job opportunities, have lower literacy rates, have lower rates of land ownership, have limited participation in government, and have little control over their sexuality compared to men.

How a society (mis)treats half of its human population is a good predictor for how it will treat other relatively powerless groups, including LGBT people, especially when those people don’t conform to the society’s proper gender roles."

Folks at BTB didn't really engage my comment, but I think it's an important topic so I'd like to explore it more today.

Although, I now think I would revise my statement to read, "at half the population, it is curious that it's not women who function as the canary in the coal mine when they are mistreated." For, it is true that, for many people, it is gays, and not women, who function as canaries in the coal mine. And so, I am curious what that implies. Does suggesting that the mistreatment of gays signals the mistreatment of other relatively powerless groups suggest that it is homophobia that is a root cause of other oppressions? Why is the oppression of other groups, especially groups consisting of far greater numbers, not seen as the key indicator of other oppressions?

It seems reasonable to assume that the oppression of gays would at least correlate with the oppression of other minority groups, but it seems myopic to make a "gays are the canary in the coal mine" statement without exploring societal causes of homophobia and other-ing.

Being separated by gender is one of the first instances of dualistic other-ing humans experience and, for many, it occurs before birth or immediately after. Girls are other-ed from humanity the moment they are recognized as girls, which tends to occur much prior to when people are categorized and subsequently other-ed as non-heterosexual. Following from this early categorization, gender role policing, sexism, and homophobia are inextricably intertwined and utilized to support male supremacy. As Suzanne Pharr writes in Homophobia: A Weapon of Sexism, "Heterosexism and homophobia work together to enforce compulsory heterosexuality and that bastion of patriachal power, the nuclear family." Along with threats of violence and fewer opportunities for female economic self-sufficiency, homophobia keeps in place male dominance and control over women.

Lesbians, in their non-reliance on men, are hated because they represent independence from a patriarchal, male supremacist system; gay men because they are seen as breaking ranks with the heterosexual male brotherhood of supremacy.

Pharr's piece is US-centric (and somewhat dated), but Uganda seems to have a similar, but more extreme, process of making heterosexuality compulsory and male supremacy the rule, of which the "Kill the Gays" bill (if passed) would be only one aspect.

While Uganda's Constitution demands sex equality, many cultural customs deny that equality in practice. Women are often discouraged to be involved in business, poverty leads to early marriages for many girls, female genital mutilation is practiced, men can "inherit" widows of their male relatives, land inheritance is predominately through male heirs, and men "purchase" wives with bridewealth payments to the bride's family. See also this PDF report on gender and economic growth in Uganda.

Tellingly, and in an echo of some of their US counterparts, the report notes that some men in Uganda perceive a growth in women's rights as a "threat to the institution of marriage." Likewise, I think it's also important to note that current anti-homosexuality laws in Uganda are relics of British colonialism, suggesting that homosexuality in Uganda pre-dated its colonists (contrary to some anti-gays' claims that homosexuality was a white man's "import" to Africa). The colonial roots of anti-homosexuality laws suggest that it was actually homophobia that was imported.

So, when I hear men in Uganda make claims about how increasing women's equality will supposedly Destroy Marriage, I think (a) good, because maybe marriage as it's currently practiced should be destroyed, and then (b) since the Destroy Marriage thing is an anxiety also uttered by insecure, sexist Western men, I think it is reasonable to assume that the colonists also imported sexist views of women and/or reinforced already-existing views regarding women's lower status.

The oppression of gays is an integral part of keeping in the genders fixed in a hierarchical relationship to one another. When we understand the inter-connectedness of sexism and homophobia, we understand that eradicating a "kill the gays" bill, by itself, would not end homophobia because it would do little, if anything, to improve the status of most women in Uganda.

My point here, with respect to Jim's claim is that I think it is highly unlikely that the status of gays can be improved in a society if the status of women remains subordinate to that of men. And women, roughly half the human population of Uganda, are subordinate to men in many ways.

With that in mind, what does it mean that it is gays who represent the canaries in the coal mine signaling the oppression of other relatively powerless groups?

Why is it not women?

Are we seeing an illustration of Catherine MacKinnon's observation that "what is done to women is either too specific to women to seen as human or to generic to human beings to be seen as about women."

In Uganda, or any country really, women functioning in a society in a subordinate role cannot and does not signal the possible oppression of other groups, because the women in such societies are seen as just women fulfilling women's role in those societies. Their concerns are "women's rights" concerns. For, the group "women" consists entirely of women, after all. Only women.

The group "gays," however, is a group that consists of men, in addition to women. And when men are being oppressed in places, it begins to register as a human rights issue, because some members of the group consist of beings who are more readily-recognizable as humans than mere women are.

And herein lies the reason for my ambivalent marriage of LGBT advocacy and feminism: Until more gay men realize that sexism and the oppression of women is a gay issue (just as homophobia and heterocentrism are feminist issues), they do "their" gay causes no favors by joining the rest of the world in ignoring feminism and by remaining complicit in sexism against women.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Woman Says Politician "Sucks," People Throw Shit-Fit

Of all the tweets that are mean, vile, and otherwise-reprehensible in existence, I find it amusing how many pearl-clutching folks are ass-over-heels on their fainting couches about this one, by 18-year-old Emma Sullivan:

"Just made mean comments at gov brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot"

While "heblowsalot" isn't the most mature retort, I generally find it okay to say that people suck if they really do suck.

Which is partly why I contend that some of the reactions to Sullivan's tweet are a lot worse than her tweet. Like, Ruth Marcus' response in The Washington Post. Marcus' piece is gross in many ways, but what really stands out to me is the subtext that Sullivan's biggest sin was impolitely criticizing a very important male authority figure while being a young woman.

Marcus warns:

"Emma Sullivan, you’re lucky you’re not my daughter....

If you were my daughter, you’d be writing that letter apologizing to Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback for the smart­alecky, potty-mouthed tweet you wrote after meeting with him on a school field trip."

Oooh hoo hoo.

Now, as someone who was once accused of blogging with a "listen to mother tone," I find Marcus' tactic really strange and condescending. Is it appropriate to publicly fantasize about how you'd punish a legal adult if she were your "daughter"? I mean, I didn't know before what it would even mean for one to have a "listen to mother" tone, but here is a lady literally taking on the tone and totally owning it. Weird.

And well, after reading Marcus, I don't think my blogging "tone" is quite the same as hers. For one, I would never use the phrase "potty-mouthed." (Do people still even say that? If so, they shouldn't. Outside of the context of discussing a toddler's toilet habits, there are no justifiable reasons for an adult to ever say "potty.") And two, I wouldn't use the word "smartalecky," which when directed at Sullivan in this case, reads as "uppity."

On an interesting side note, one anti-gay fella on Internet once called me a "potty-mouthed dyke," which is interesting, because it seems to contradict that other dude's "listen to mother" bit, but I digress...I think my larger point is that people on Internet are assholes. A lot. So why are prominent adults like Marcus and Brownback only just now realizing this? And why are they only just now realizing it when it's an 18-year-old female high school student who was, arguably, the asshole to a VIP man?

Anyway, given that Sullivan's Tweet didn't include a swear word, and that "sucks" seems to be in the American English lexicon as an acceptable synonym these days for "bad," I think Marcus' threshold for what constitutes "potty-mouthed" is absurdly low. I question whether it would be that low if Sullivan were an 18-year-old young man.

Marcus continues, by mocking Sullivan's silly girl interests. She writes:

"[Before tweeting about the governor,] Sullivan had previously opined on such weighty subjects as the 'Twilight' series ('Dear edward and jacob, this is the best night of my life. I want u. Love, ur future wife') and Justin Bieber."

The implication here is that a young woman who appreciates some of the most popular forms of entertainment in the US right now and who thinks three popular hot guys are hot obviously can't have serious political opinions or maturity. Like, who does girl think she is trying to weigh in on politics, anyway, amIrite bros? As she high fives the "girls are stooopid" crowd, Marcus reinforces the message that because Twilight and the Bieb (do people call him that?) are liked primarily by girls and women, they possess the inferior taint of femininity and thus signal unimportance and triviality.

And, well, playing that card is really problematic, because Marcus has basically just dismissed millions of people from the category of People Who Are Capable Of Having Serious Political Thought.

And then, well, about that.

Marcus may think she's playing some important public role here expounding upon the importance of civility young ladies shutting TFU and acting more like docile little ladies, but she really just comes off looking like a bully. She's using her platform in The Washington goddamn Post to mock and infantilize an 18-year-old who wrote a non-cussing-but-critical tweet of a major politician.

I mean, this is Internet. If you're reading this, you probably know that pretty horrible things get said on Internet all the time (see also #mencallmethings). That worse things are said doesn't make Sullivan's statement perfectly acceptable, but I find Ruth Marcus' column to be cheap and easy. It's cheap and easy because she chose not to use her platform to speak truth to power.

Instead, out of the millions of easily-found, violent messages aimed not only at politicians but at relatively powerless groups in society, she chose to shame a young woman who made one immature statement about a sucky governor.

Just keep this one in mind the next time you hear that it's The Feminists who get our panties in a bunch over all the unimportant stuff.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

They Got Over a Hundred Gays Here So Some of Yous Are Going Home

Hey, did you hear about D2, that gay male softball team that had its 2nd place finish at the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Association (NAGAAA) World Series revoked? Apparently, an opposing team that had lost to D2 complained and said that the team had too many straight players. A strange investigation process then occurred that revealed that 3 allegedly-straight people were on the team instead of the allowed 2.


I want to first take note of the pettiness and jealousy that would inspire amateur softball players to actually go through the trouble of filing a protest after a loss at a tournament on the basis of an opposing team's overall sexual orientation composition. I know, rules are rules. But it's one thing for a team to be stacked with former semi-pro players, but to object based on the fact that a team supposedly has one more heterosexual than is allowed? Geez.

Now, private associations restrict their memberships all the time, and I have played in LGBT sports clubs before. After having grown up in very homophobic sports environments, I appreciate the experience of being part of a sports community that is accepting. I've been at some mainstream softball tournaments, for instance, where a woman felt the need to affirm her Normal Status by walking around with "I love dick" in permanent marker on her leg. Like, just so everyone was totally clear that she wasn't a big lesbo.

That being said, I question the practice of allowing protests based on the sexual orientation of opposing players. Especially if the policy tends to be invoked mostly if a team is doing well in a tournament. I have no idea if that's what usually happens in this particular league, but if the basis of the rule is to ensure an affirming and non-homophobic sports environment, wouldn't a more germane test be whether players are homophobic?

I've been around LGBT sports long enough to know that restricting membership to "gay people" is not a cure-all for homophobia, gender policing, biphobia, and transphobia in these leagues. For instance, some lesbians take real pride in "not being as dykey as some of those other teams."

Besides, I'm curious how the policy is implemented. In the D2 case, how do you even tell a male athlete is gay based on watching him play softball? What stereotypes are going on in people's heads that would make them suspect heterosexuality on the part of an opposing player? How would an accused straight person then prove he's actually gay?

And.... is it okay for people to be bisexual?

Let's look at the rule that was invoked to disqualify the team. It states that "a maximum of two Heterosexual players are permitted on a [world series] roster." Presumably then, bisexual players would not count toward the two-person limit on heterosexuals.

Yet, oddly, from the above-cited article:

"After [the championship game], officials with the gay athletic alliance called [the allegedly heterosexual players] separately into a conference room for a hearing to determine whether they were heterosexual or gay, the suit said.
They were asked 'very intrusive questions,' including what their sexual interests and preferences were, Thomas said.

Charles, who was D2's manager, asked whether he could say he was bisexual and was told, 'This is the Gay World Series, not the Bisexual World Series,' the suit said."

However, in an open letter on its website reacting to this case, the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance's (NAGAAA) stated:

"The three plaintiffs did not identify themselves as bisexual during the 2008 Protest Hearing, in their appeal to the NAGAAA Commissioner, in their complaints to the Washington Human Rights Commission, or in their complaint suing NAGAAA. Nevertheless, all three players have now identified themselves as bisexual. NAGAAA recognizes that some individuals who were present in the room during the 2008 Protest Hearing apparently did not have the same understanding of NAGAAA’s definitions, as they applied to bisexual players, that NAGAAA’s leadership had. The Protest Committee voted Plaintiffs to be believed to be heterosexual, subjected them to the participation limit imposed by NAGAAA’s Rules, disqualified their team, and expunged their participation from the 2008 GSWS. The Protest Hearing included questioning and a voting procedure that Plaintiffs found to be offensive.

NAGAAA has since adopted new definitions that make clear that bisexual or transgender players are not subject to NAGAAA’s roster limits."

Interestingly, the rules (as revised 10/21/11) still state that a "maximum of two Heterosexual players" can be on a roster. That language is not necessarily inclusive of transgender players, since (a) gender identity and sexual orientation are two separate categories and (b) many transgender people are heterosexual. The rules further define heterosexual as "not gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender."

Weird. I wonder if they had input from transgender people on that one.

NAGAAA also stated that although it won the discrimination lawsuit that was filed against them, the organization has decided to recognize the D2 team as 2nd place winners in the tournament in order to reflect the organization's inclusivity of bisexual players. NAGAAA also clarified that it will keep its two-heterosexuals-per-team rule in accordance with a judge's ruling that doing so was permissible. (No word on whether NAGAAA will change its name to reflect its inclusivity of bisexuals and transgender people).

I strongly question the decision to keep the "2 heterosexuals" rule. Are non-LGBT people really vying in significant numbers to infilitrate and win the Gay World Series? I'm not sure it's necessary to subject teams to sexual orientation witch hunts initiated by potentially any team that's upset about losing.