Friday, July 29, 2011

Are Single-Gender Colleges Possible?

It's a great week for reader recommendations, as Alert Reader Drew points us to this piece on trans issues and all-women's colleges from Insider Higher Ed. The piece is titled "Women's Colleges and Ex-Women," which I suppose is meant to be funny, but kind of hits me wrong. Trans men aren't "ex-women," you know?

The main issue this article addresses is how all-women's colleges should handle it when some of their students transition and identify as male. Of course, we know that transitioning doesn't require people to transition from female to male or from male to female - there are all sorts of other points on the gender map a person could pick, and it can change over time. This article doesn't go into those issues at all, though. This appears to be the central question:
What place do gender roles have at a decidedly feminist institution? Or at any women’s college, for that matter?

This is a thorny issue for the institutions - as the article points out, questions include what to do about sports, bathrooms, dorms, professors who won't use a student's preferred name, gender-neutral housing, etc. But they need to figure it out, and quick. As one of the people interviewed in the article says, higher education should be at the cutting edge of all issues of diversity and inclusivity. I agree with this sentiment wholeheartedly, but haven't found it to be true in my experience.

Anyway, my thought is this: Are single-sex institutions something we should have? I realize that this is a big question and one that implies completely changing some prestigious, historic institutions. But I think we should just ask the question and walk through it. I know that some woman-identified people prefer an environment consisting entirely of only woman-identified people, but... how realistic is this? Trans and genderqueer people might not feel they belong at either all-women or all-men schools, and while they could go to schools that aren't gender-based, what if they don't figure themselves out until college? I mean, plenty of people don't, right? And what is a school going to do if someone identifies, brilliantly, as a queer trans femme dyke? If gender is something we perform and not something we are, can we have schools with admissions based on gender? Presumably Mt. Holyoke wouldn't turn down someone for being a boyish/masculine/tomboy-type woman - for not performing "woman" in the culturally prescribed way, which I'm not convinced anyone really can anyway - so where does the line get drawn? What I'm wondering is, should there be a line at all?

Maybe the answer is for women's colleges to admit anyone who self-identifies as woman/female/femme/genderqueer and not ask any more questions. And men's colleges can use similar criteria. All schools should have gender neutral housing [which the University of South Florida is doing!] and bathrooms, and all faculty and TAs and residence hall advisers should learn about trans and queer issues, which would improve student life for so many kids.

As someone who works in higher education, at least for now, and who has a lot of investment in queering academia, I think these conversations are critically important. Accessibility to higher education means being fully inclusive of all kinds of people, and so trans and genderqueer people need to feel safe and happy at their institutions, and see that their identities are just as valid and honored as those of self-identified cis women and men.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Breast-feeding Optional

Despite being a member of the nulliparous set, I know it's a heck of a lot of work to produce and raise children. Props to you parents out there. Thanks for, you know, contributing to the continued existence of the human species. I appreciate it.

Most sane people know that child-rearing takes time, money, and sometimes personal sacrifice. Also, gestating and birthing babies is certainly hard on the body. And yet, we as a society feel perfectly free to step in and say, "That herculean task you're undertaking? You must do it exactly as we prescribe. Else you're a bad person."

One example is the way we completely proscribe alcohol for pregnant people. Though light to moderate drinking has not been connected to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (this site summarizes the topic pretty well), our disapproval is so severe that even informed pregnant folk don't feel comfortable having a glass of wine in public. And that's just one of a long, long list of things that are forbidden to eat, drink, or do during pregnancy.

It's not over once you give birth, of course; your choices remain highly scrutinized. In particular, parents are highly pressured to breast feed. Now, I am not anti breast-feeding. I know it has demonstrated health benefits for the child, can function as a form of contraception, and is deemed highly rewarding by some parents. But at the same time, it is highly constraining for the breast-feeding parent. I've written about this before, but just take a look at the World Health Organization's recommendations: exclusive breastfeeding, breastfeeding on demand, and no use of bottles, teats or pacifiers for six months. You weren't planning on doing anything for those six months, right? Like, I don't know, working? Shame on you.

They also recommend that breast-feeding continue for at least two years. Okay, let me get real here and remind everyone that women (and otherwise identified folk who birth children) are, in fact, people. It is a bit much to expect people to curtail basically all activities for six months per child, and then not to travel without their kid for two years per child. These blanket requirements tie women down and constrain their lives. Some may be able to deal with these constraints, but others cannot or will not. And, as the Crunk Feminist Collective points out, some women just may not want to. (The idea of breast-feeding a toothed, talking toddler weirds me out, and I bet I'm not the only one.)

Like I said, I'm childless and not planning to change that, but the WHO recommendations get my dander up on behalf of parents everywhere. There are a lot of beneficial things you can do for your kid, but I bet you can't do all of them. Choices have to be made. And it pisses me off that parents' (especially womens') quality of life is expected not to factor into those choices.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Did My T-Shirt Mess Up Your Freedoms?

Alert Reader Karen points out that one half of a lesbian couple had to turn her "Marriage is So Gay" shirt inside out at Dollywood. That would be Dolly Parton, a gay icon, by the way. Clearly, she did not personally run the sensitivity seminars for the staff at this place, or she'd laugh in the face of someone suggesting that this was an appropriate course of action. At least, I hope so.

Karen's question is, "So if this shirt had been one of those 'man + woman = marriage' shirts, would that have been considered offensive as well?"

Probably not, even though that shirt is offensive, because it's coming from a place of bigotry. But those values are, in many ways, more mainstream, despite the fact that 53% of Americans support gay marriage. That fact notwithstanding, the number of self-identified evangelicals to self-identified queers is 10:1.

I have the same "marriage is so gay" shirt that the woman in question had to turn inside out. I have definitely noticed that people sometimes seem uncomfortable when I wear it, but I've never been asked to change, and I honestly don't care. I like making people uncomfortable sometimes. But these ladies had their kids with them, and didn't want to cause a scene, I get that. I'm glad they're doing something about it now - they're asking the park "to implement policies that are inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people; conduct staff sensitivity training; and issue a public statement indicating that the park is inclusive of all families." Word.

The park's policy as of now is to ask people "with clothing or tattoos that could be considered offensive to change clothes or cover up." You know what I think is offensive? Asking people to hide their self-expression because someone at this park gets to decide what is acceptable, and what a family looks like, and what a person should put on their body. If you don't like tattoos, don't get one. But we seem to have this whole cultural idea that it's more important to protect people from seeing anything unpleasant than it is to allow people to express themselves. Aren't we supposed to be the land of the free? My tattoo or nose ring or whatever hurts you literally not at all, so just get over it, okay? And if my t-shirt slogan means you have to have a conversation with your kids, will the world cave in? Or if you have to have a conversation with yourself?

"But Jess! What if someone is wearing a 'God Hates Fags' shirt or sending their kids to school in a shirt that says 'Islam is of the Devil'?"

Look, I do think there's something of a difference here. Those messages of hate speech are just that, hate speech, and they are explicitly designed to make people feel unsafe and unwelcome. But I don't think they should be illegal either, we have to be able to deal with idiots productively. The shirts themselves aren't the problem here, it's the bigoted asshole fucks behind the shirts, and we need to get past them and their fabulous signs and talk about how we can make society so safe and accepting of everyone that fringe shitheels like these folks don't even register on our radar anymore.

We need to quit policing each others' bodies and what we put on them. Your swinging fist is your business until it hits my nose. Wear what you want, I may or may not like it, and you shouldn't care if I do.

Image via.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Overkill Can Be an Excellent Thing

I read a blurb on Feministing about the prospect of a male birth control pill; specifically, that research on such a pill is now being funded with the understanding that men would actually take it. So that's good.

But then the discussion veers into whether and to what degree women are comfortable sharing the responsibility for contraception. To which I would like to say, are you kidding me? Ladies, this need not affect your contraceptive choices at all. A male contraceptive pill could be used in conjunction with any current method of contraception on the planet.

The fact that we view this as some sort of either-or proposition is the result of our tendency to see birth control as a one-method process. I've harped on this before, but the numbers are not great. If you really don't want kids right now, it is an excellent idea to use multiple methods. Doubling up on methods has always seemed like a blindingly obvious thing to do to me, anyway, and it amazes me to find how many people automatically assume that one method, regardless of effectiveness, is good enough.

Part of this attitude could arise from what our doctors tell us. I was recently discussing barrier methods with a gynecologist, and asked whether the diaphragm could be used in conjunction with condoms. She gave me a funny look and told me that would be overkill. You guys, assuming that diaphragms don't reduce the effectiveness of condoms (or vice versa), the two together have a typical use failure rate of 2%, greater than that of an IUD. That is not what I would call overkill. More like possibly not enough kill. (Remember, failure rates are yearly.)

I suspect that this one-method attitude also contributes to the lack of options we generally have. For instance, as far as I can tell, there is exactly one brand of contraceptive sponge available in the entire world. It is the Today sponge, which has a caustically high concentration of nonoxynol-9. Let me tell you, that sponge can fuck your shit up. Though Wikipedia will tell you there are two other varieties, both of which have either less nonoxynol-9, or none at all, and supposedly are less irritating (and in the case of the Pharmatex sponge, possibly STI-reducing), it took me an extended internet search to figure out that both the Protectaid and Pharmatex sponges have been discontinued. Cervical caps have a similar issue; there is exactly one you can buy (FemCap), and it is one that is poorly rated for comfort compared to earlier models.

This is one of those issues that the free market should ideally solve by producing a wide variety of products. But our assumption that one method is good enough means that most people are going to use the pill or condoms, leaving a relatively small customer base for alternative methods. Given that products have also to be approved by the FDA, that probably kills most of the incentive for birth control innovation. Which is a terrible, terrible thing if you have any difficulty with the most popular methods. And they all have issues.

I've rambled on a bit here, but my point is, for the love of god yes please male birth control pill. More options are a good thing, especially when they can be taken simultaneously with existing methods. And I haven't even touched on how very awesome it is to let men take more responsibility for their own reproduction: if I was a hetero cis dude I'd be all over that.

And just for fun: what's the best you can do layering contraceptive methods? The best I can come up with is pill + copper IUD + female barrier method + condoms = 0.0015% annual typical use failure rate. Now that, my friends, just might be overkill.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Queer History is Not Optional

"I always wanted to leave something important behind. Remember the history book you gave me for Christmas?... I've been going to the library, looking up our history. There's a ton of it in anthropology books, a ton of it, Ruth. We haven't always been hated. Why didn't we grow up knowing that?... It's changed the way I think. I grew up believing the way things are now is the way they've always been, so why even bother trying to change the world? But just finding out that it was ever different, even if it was long ago, made me feel things could change again. Whether or not I live to see it. At work, when everyone else is at lunch, I've been typesetting all the history I've found, trying to make it look as important as it feels to me. That's what I want to leave behind, Ruth - the history of this ancient path we're walking. I want it to help us restore our dignity."
- Leslie Feinberg, Stone Butch Blues

Forgive me for including such a long quote at the top of the piece here, especially given that we'll be talking about Stone Butch Blues on the blog soon. But that quote (and the book itself) is really important to me. Leslie Feinberg really hits the nail on the head with that quote. They clearly understand the importance of queer history - the novel itself is queer history - and the part of that quote that really gets me is when our protagonist, Jess, asks, "Why didn't we grow up knowing that?"

That's the question I ask myself all the time, it's why I study queer history, and it's why I have been cheering on the California legislation (called the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful Education Act) to include queer history in public schools. But, of course, that's going to turn into a big fight, Prop 8-style, even though California Governor Jerry Brown already signed it into law.

Queer historians of education have made excellent cases for the inclusion of queer history from many different angles. Jackie Blount writes about how educational institutions have regulated sexualities and gender. Roland Sintos Coloma looks at the ways heteronormativity replicates Western concepts of race, gender, class, and sexuality. Catherine Lugg writes about the ways laws and policy have impacted educational practice. Karen Graves examines how culture has resulted in the persecution of queer teachers. As Karen wrote in And They Were Wonderful Teachers, "Schools are prime sites for cultural reproduction, contested terrain for those who wish to preserve or challenge the status quo."

The way FAIR works is that it will turn all the kids gay. Jaykay, y'all! Actually, it requires social studies classes to teach about queer civil rights movements and the historic contributions of queer people, and it adds sexual orientation and gender identitiy to existing anti-discrimination laws.

So there are, of course, those who oppose the bill, and in many cases those people are the usual players in the usual games. The California Catholic Conference opposes it for all the usual reasons having to do with hatin' on the gays. And the Capitol Resource Institute has started up the familiar shenanigans trying to overturn it.

It is vitally important that we win this fight. As Scott Bravmann said in Queer Fictions of the Past: History, Culture, and Difference, "In addition to its critical, descriptive, explanatory, and strategic uses... history also helps circumvent the censorship, denial, and amnesia that have continued to inform so much of lesbian and gay existence." Queer people need to see ourselves in history, lest we believe the stories that we are just deviants, that we have never contributed anything positive to society, that we aren't fully human. Queer invisibility in history is an actual problem for people, not just an academic point.

The historical study of queer people is relatively new, largely because queer people have increased their own visibility in the last few decades. The homophobic oppression at the government and grassroots levels in the mid-20th century has kept queer people, and therefore queer studies, repressed. Anti-sodomy laws rendered homosexuality illegal in most states until the 1990s, and times of intense persecution, especially in the Cold War, prompted people to stay closeted and invisible. Invisibility of queer people in the historical record, then, mirrors the problem of queer invisibility in mainstream society in general.

We all know that bullying of queer kids in schools is a problem, as is suicide by queer teenagers. Increasing queer visibility through the curriculum can only help, I think. If people feel more connected to their history, and if schools can demonstrate that we really are here and everywhere - and, indeed, anywhere - we will be that much closer to achieving full equality in the United States. Queer people are part of the past, present, and future of American and world history. As Marlon Riggs said, "When the existing history and culture do not acknowledge and address you - do not see or talk to you - you must write a new history, shape a new culture that will."

Friday, July 22, 2011

Capitalism Is Not The Answer

Happy Friday! My adopted home state of Virginia makes me proud once again. This time it's because it includes one lady with a lot of junk to sell and a dream. And that dream is that no Muslims or queers show up to her yard sale.

Road trip, y'all!


Anyway, seriously. She wants to be sure to not sell her stuff to gay people or brown people (what about gay brown people?). No "LGBT people, illegal immigrants, and muslims, anyone else is warmly welcomed! no drama, terrorism, or illegal transactions with non-US citizens / illegal immigrants / people taking jobs away from people who belong and are legal in this country is desired."

So first and foremost, we know she's barely literate. Second and secondlymost, I love how it looks like she thinks the queers bring the drama, the Muslims bring the terrorism, and the "illegal immigrants" bring the illegal transactions. #stereotypeFridays

This is a good illustration of how the free market is not going to solve inequality, the way some libertarians (*cough*Rand Paul*cough*) seem to think it will. I've heard people argue that capitalism will prevent discrimination because people will always want to sell their stuff to whoever will pay for it, so obviously restaurants will always seat black people! That's how it's always been!


No, of course not. That's what Jim Crow was all about: white supremacy, and not thinking that black peoples' money was as good as white peoples' money. If black people couldn't shop at Macy's, Macy's made less money, but it was participating in the myth of white supremacy, and that was worth more to the bigots. See? So this dumb woman in Virginia cares less about being able to sell all her garbage at her yard sale than about making sure she sells it to the "right" people.

We can't let everything in this country be privatized if we want to make sure everyone has equal access, because the people who have all the stuff we need access to can be jerks. So just because I'm a gaywad or you're Latin American (and therefore she can't tell if you're "legal," because straight white people are always totes legit, and as though there is such a thing as an illegal human being) she can tell us that we can't come into her yard and buy her My Little Ponies. And that ain't right.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Neanderthals Were Totes Refined, Apparently

So, comparing Africans and those of African lineage to animals is a thing. It's a totally fucked-up thing, but it's something we see again and again in representations of black people both in the US and internationally. You should definitely check out the link above, because Sociological Images recaps this trend pretty well.

So when I saw this news item about how the genetic code of Eurasians may contain a bit of Neanderthal DNA, the phrasing got my attention. Instead of "white people totally interbred with cavemen," we get something quite different. Neanderthals, despite being traditionally depicted as primitive caveman types (accurately or not), are described here as "the physically stronger Neanderthals, who possessed the gene for language and may have played the flute." Then there's this BBC graphic that shows black racial groups splitting off from the evolutionary track in much the same way that we're used to seeing invertebrates splitting off from the evolutionary track to mammal-hood.

Both kind of bug me. Some of the adjectives just seem ... cherry-picked. I suspect that if a different species were discovered to have similarly contributed to the African gene pool, said species might be described a little differently. And it's also possible that the corresponding evolutionary diagram might still show more detail on the Eurasian side of things. Admittedly, I don't have any examples of this, but my spidey-sense is tingling.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Sneaky Sexism

One of our derby people posted a fantastic link yesterday. It's all about one woman's realization that in her zeal to prove herself one of the guys, she was also devaluing anything feminine, as well as women themselves, along the way.

I am going to make one blanket statement about women doing supposedly masculine things; props to them for challenging gender roles. But if we have to devalue "feminine" behaviors in the process then we're still being sexist. And it's this form of sexism that is incredibly common at present (and that motivated my post on working with men vs. working with women.)

There are a lot of things we denigrate because we consider them "girly." Emotion, for one. Fashion. Movies about relationships. The color pink. Fruity cocktails. Tiny dogs. And so forth and so on. None of these things are actually exclusive to women. And for some, even the association is false: Men are plenty emotional. But because we consider these things feminine, we also consider them lesser. And as a result, most men and some women are embarrassed to be seen slurping down a daiquiri. Even though they are made of deliciousness. And then everybody loses out.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Pronoun Problem

Last week I complained about Google+'s restricted options for gender: male, female, or other. Since then, they have added the option not to declare one's gender, citing "privacy" as the primary reason. This is an improvement, but still not good enough.

First of all, I am dubious that pronouns are really the reason social networks ask you to put your gender front and center. I suspect it's more about data collection and targeted advertising, which is why I focused on ads in my last post on the topic.

But if the whole issue does really boil down to pronoun choice, then why not simply ask users which set of pronouns they prefer? Heck, some people who identify as "female" simultaneously prefer "he" as a pronoun, so it's a simpler and more accurate approach. Many people will choose "he" or "she," I would choose "they," still others will choose pronouns like "zie." And one of the choices on this drop down menu should be "define your own." Some people would love that chance to provide correct pronouns, and yes, others are going to take the opportunity to be smartasses and comedians. And that's fine. Your profile should express who you are, and if who you are is a smartass, then fine.

I don't know enough about other languages to predict all the gendered language issues that can arise. But do you know who I bet does have a good idea? Non binary-identified people who speak those languages. And those individuals will also usually be the ones with the best solutions.

Gender is complicated. It necessitates a text field. Get with it, internet.

Monday, July 18, 2011

I'm Pissed At Obama

All right, y'all. Can we talk about Obama for a minute?

1. He has the Nobel Peace Prize. And how many wars are we in right now? Three? We're more unpopular in the Arab world than we were under Bush, according to Glenn Greenwald. And this Libya shindig is unconstitutional, and things are not going great in Afghanistan or Pakistan. The TSA searches also got ratcheted up under Obama. I'm not feeling like his foreign policy or his domestic security stuff is any better than it was under Bush II.

2. There's an awful lot of talk about raising the debt ceiling, but none at all about taxing the corporations that haven't paid taxes in quite some time. The wealthiest 400 people in America could afford to pay off everyone's mortgage in the entire nation. Maaaaaybe they could pay more taxes so that we don't have to put Social Fucking Security on the line, you know? In the meantime, 95% of Americans are getting poorer every year. [If you, like Kyrie, enjoy a good chart or graph, please check out that link.] And while we're up, "the market" is not an independent entity. It's a tool used by the rich to stay rich. It would be great if Obama would actually do something about that instead of caving to the people with the money every time.

3. Also, we wouldn't have to be worried about Medicare if we weren't spending all our moneys on the war. This is going to be a problem with the base.

4. Still waiting on those DADT and DOMA repeals, duder. People are still getting discharged and deported and all kinds of things under blatantly discriminatory policies. Let's fix that ASAP.

So, you know, thanks for the Lily Ledbetter Act. That was rad. More of that, please.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Porn, Prison, and the Myth of Male Weakness

First of all, let me state that I have no opinion on porn. I have tried to generate an opinion about it, and I have repeatedly failed. I just have no idea whether it's a good thing or a bad thing, or both, or in what circumstances it can be good or bad. You're on your own there.

But I do have opinions about this Feministing post about a Michigan prisoner suing for the right to access porn in prison. We are supposed to be opposed to the use of cruel and unusual punishment in this country -- though we often fall short of that ideal -- and censorship seems to me to be cruel indeed. If pornography is legal and acceptable reading material for the rest of the country, I think it should be for prisoners as well.

There is also one little part of the above post that really bugs me, and it's this bit: "I’d assume that a sexually satisfied prisoner would probably be more well-behaved in prison than a sexually frustrated one."

This is buying into the concept that people, especially men (and this prisoner is a man), are not in control of their own sexual urges. It is what Hugo Schwyzer calls "the myth of male weakness" and boils down to the assumption that any little amount of sexual frustration can push a guy over the edge and cause him to do horrible things. Which is absurd. (Schwyzer has a whole series of posts on the topic and they're pretty great reading.) Adults of any gender should be able to handle not getting everything they want all the time. And yes, that applies to adults in jail, too. If we make porn available to prisoners, it should be because we consider it ethical to do so, not to pacify them like they're animals.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

We're Coming For Yer Masculinitiez!

So, my friend Steve likes to poke me with sticks sometimes, in the form of horrifically annoying blog posts and news items that he puts on my wall. Yesterday he posted something that is really way too easy to pull apart, but you know what? I am really tired, and it is eleventy billion degrees in Florida, and so this is what we're doing. 'Kay?

So I will probably be quoting most of it here, but if you want to, go read this quick little thing about how, by asking questions about gender equity, the New York Times is trying to turn men into women. Quelle horreur!

Before we begin! I think being a stay at home mom is just fine, and I am not dissing your lifestyle choice [seewhatIdidthere]. But using it as a platform to judge other people who don't stay at home is dumb. Do what you want. I think we can all agree on that, yeah?

Block Quote The First:
First, mothers who stay home have not drawn the shorter straw. The Times treats child-rearing as a career-interrupting inconvenience that complicates the “real work” that evidently occurs in an office building. The truth is that staying home with the kids is a privilege, a short-term job that lasts a few fleeting — yet formative — years. The real question is why more mothers don’t stay home with the children, instead of demanding a two-income lifestyle, business attire, and the way-overvalued “adult conversation.”
Ummmmm okay. Adult conversation may be way overvalued in her mind, but that is probably because she is a pea-brain nitwit who can't keep up with the grownups. And I don't disagree that it's silly to conceive of "real work" only taking place in an office building. I think raising kickass, open-minded kids is work in every sense of the word, really, whether one is a stay at home parent or not. But not everyone considers being a stay at home parent a privilege. I would consider it a slow death. And it becomes clear pretty quickly that she thinks women shouldn't be working in offices, and that THAT is not real work.


Second, men and women are different.

YOU DON'T SAY! Dear Ms. French [have you considered changing your last name since it's so damn un-American?]: Please list the ways women and men are different. Then go ask your grandmother to do the same thing, and some high school kid, and someone from another culture, and a queer person, and your best friend, and that checkout kid at Publix with all the tats. Make a list of what they all say. Are they exactly the same lists? And if not, why not?

What the New York Times really wants to do is challenge gender roles generally.

Well then! The New York Times and I have something in common. Quick, someone cue "Friends in Low Places."

After all, why don’t men take off work to stay home, instead of their over-worked, stressed-out wives? Well, it feels silly to point this out to a panel of experts, but men and women are different.

Uhh you said that already. In the same paragraph. Way to be an eagle-eyed editor there, chief. I'M SORRY if that is too masculine a word for you. And here's some answers to her question:
1. Sometimes men do! It is not unheard of.
2. Because asshats like you are out there telling them that they're not "real men" if they do that, even though I have no idea what that even means and neither do you, clearly. Jerk.
3. Socialize \ˈsō-shə-ˌlīz\ (transitive verb): to fit or train for a social environment.
We have complementary skills and abilities. Women, for example, are the ones with stretch marks and breasts that nourish.

Having stretch marks and boobs is a skill and ability? Wowza. As for that being a woman-only skill slash ability, go tell that to the dudes with stretch marks. And the dudes with breasts that nourish, for another thing. It's like she's never heard of trans* before. See, I'm already fucking with yer list of different skills.

Men cannot gestate a baby, no matter how manicured, effeminized, and metrosexual society tries to make them.
Yes they can! They totally can! Thomas Beatie is on his third already. And he's pretty masculine. I also really love how she's all panicked about making sure we know that just because a cis dude gets his nails filed, he can't get pregnant.

This means that childbirth is harder on women than it is on men. For example, my first two children did not practice “nipple diversity,” meaning I couldn’t drop them off at a sitter with a freezer full of frozen breast milk and a cabinet of bottles.

Of course, sometimes in a challenging economy, moms need to work to put food on the table. Many women, however, work to ensure yearly vacations, drive the best SUVs, or serve some sort of “self-fulfillment.” This causes parents to strain against nature’s order of things by hiring out child-care, breast pumping, using formula, and sometimes asking men to trade their jobs for aprons. No matter how you try to manipulate it, having children is hard on the mother … and it’s not the fault of the father.
So it's okay if a woman works so that her family doesn't starve to death, but not okay if she wants to go on a nice vacation. Or be fulfilled! Ceiling cat have mercy on our souls. Fulfillment is for men, dummies. Women are breast milk machines and daz it. And also, do you sense a bit of "she doth protest too much" in the last line? I'm thinking she has to remind herself constantly that she shouldn't hit her husband over the head with a frying pan just because he knocked her up and now she has to abstain from adult conversation.

PS: Which nature is it, exactly, that dictates that only two adults are meant to have anything to do with child rearing? Animals in nature don't behave that way, lots of cultures aren't arranged that way, it seems to be a lot more difficult. Ohhhhh wait. It's about making sure women are never fulfilled. Got it, got it.

And finally:
“How can we get men to do more at home?” the New York Times asks. They might as well ask, “How can we get men to be women?” Because raising and feeding young children is not a 50/50 proposition — no matter how many experts weigh in on the issue.
A) This makes no sense.
B) What if men want to be women? Or more feminine? Is she the gender police?
3) Does she think women are that terrible that she needed to write a whole column about how only women can lactate to prove that the New York Times experts are undermining America? #internalizedmisogynyThursday
Unicornz) Could raising children be, like, a 15/4/25/5/10/3/2/35/1 proposition? That sounds like my kind of family.

In conclusion, this woman is a straight/cis-privileged white middle class lunatic but I'll bet we all had fun tearing into her today, didn't we? Good.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

In Which Netflix and I Forget About the Deaf

The other day I was bitching about Netflix Watch Instant and how it generally doesn't have subtitles. This is because I am a language idiot and have to use subtitles to catch half the dialogue when I watch movies, but Jess pointed out that this obviously sucks for the hearing impaired. And I felt like kind of an ass for not thinking of that already. But not as much of an ass as Netflix.

TV has close-captioning. Movies usually have subtitles. It is notable that Netflix (and Amazon, if I'm correct) chooses not to offer this basic feature. Notable enough, apparently, that the ADA has filed a lawsuit against Netflix over this very issue.

It's also made me ponder the ways in which the disabled might be excluded from the first wave of technological developments. I'm not really sure how the blind tend to navigate the internet (though I'm learning!), but Flash, etc., cannot be a good thing. And anyone remember when Amazon introduced an audio feature on the Kindle which would read any book out loud, and publishers pressured them to remove it, so that it is only available when rights-holders authorize it? Yeah, that's pretty shitty, too.

Granted, it can be difficult to anticipate the needs of all of your customers, but that's what user testing is for. When I first created my website, I pestered every person I knew to visit it, then watched them navigate it. That is how it works. If you're a company like Netflix, you don't have to rely on your friends; you instead create a large, diverse group of users who will notice different aspects of the product in question. And if you have to exclude disabled individuals from that group, that's a pretty good sign that you have trouble right off the bat. Including differently-abled individuals is essential, not some incidental, oh-it-would-be-nice-if-we-could-do-that feature.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Oh Google, Why Can't You Just Let Me Love You?

Jess and I have complained before about the lack of options for one's gender choice in Google profiles. (FYI, Alsica's gender should be "fembot.") Now they've done it again (with even fewer options) in their new social network, Google+, which requires you to choose from "male," "female," or "other."

This is a logistical problem for me; I am female-gendered but refuse to enter this information on social-networking sites. I feel that should be my prerogative. It's also extremely shitty that anyone who does not identify as either "male" or "female" is forced to identify themselves with the flavorless catchall of "other." Obviously, that is explicitly othering.

A whole bunch of people, including some who do not usually blog about gender, have pointed out why this is a problem; check out The Mary Sue, Randall Munroe (yes, he of xkcd!), Sarah Mei (I may have to check out this Diaspora thing), and Dopp Juice. Their arguments against the mandatory gender field include allowing women to mask their gender in a potentially hostile online environment, not being dicks to non-binary-identified folk, and just plain rethinking gender.

As faithful readers may guess, the last reason is the most important to me. First of all, my online presence does not have a physical body, and it is absolutely absurd that gender is considered its single most important characteristic.

Second point: on every social site I've used, people like to get creative with their profiles. People tweak names, nicknames, relationship statuses, interests -- you name it -- to reflect their personalities and senses of humor. Why not gender? I would love to see even those who adhere to the gender binary get creative with that field. (And for that matter, Facebook, why will you not let me declare my relationship with Mathematica? YOU CANNOT STOP OUR LOVE.)

I can only assume that sites like Google+ wish to know my gender for the purposes of targeted advertising. Now, I'm not totally anti-capitalist. I don't begrudge Google the opportunity to make money off the services it provides. But I question the effectiveness of using gender to try and target ads. How about instead of a mandatory gender field, you have a mandatory interest field, like a list of a hundred or so common topics of interest from which you have to choose five? Instead of constantly getting ads for yogurt, cleaning products, and weight loss tips, I could instead get ads for hiking gear, computer peripherals, and booze. Do you realize how many more ads I would click on in that kind of advertising utopia, internet? Do you? Please, take this idea for free, from me, and fucking use it.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Why Not Stick to Shoes, Indeed

UPDATE: Mycoskie has issued an apology for the association with Focus on the Family. As you can see in the comments, not everyone accepts his apology. We'll see what happens next.

This one managed to get by me until it had already been over for a week, but it turns out that the guy behind the TOMS shoes One For One Giving program, Blake Mycoskie, has been hanging out with the enemy. And by the enemy, I mean Focus on the Family. He even gave them a coupon.

This is pretty disappointing to me personally, as someone who has been wearing TOMS shoes for awhile and loving them. They're perfect for Florida, they can survive the washing machine, they're versatile. And the giving program is coo, or at least it sounds cool on the surfacel: for every pair of shoes you buy, they donate one to a poor kid in another country. So it reeeeeeeeeeally sucks that they're okay with Focus on the Family, who would, among other things, like for poor kids to languish in foster care instead of being adopted by gay parents. Just for example.

Look: I can't buy things from an organization that actively works against me, and I'm certainly not the only one who's disappointed to learn of this. Mycoskie has a blog, his most recent entry is called "Why Not Stick to Shoes?" I was really hoping it would be addressing a firestorm of criticism over his association with right wing extremists, but instead, it's about his new eyewear line. Borrrring. But people left comments asking about his association with FoF, to which he has not responded, although he's taken the time to respond to fawning praise of his efforts.

There's also the issue of whether the One for One Giving program is really as great as it seems. According to my brilliant friend Diana:
"TOMS isn't as wonderful as everyone makes it out to be. they undermine the local economy of the shoe industry in the countries where they donate and give people a false sense that they gave-back, or 'made a difference' by buying shoes. as if we could consume our ways into a better world..."

She's right, especially about the last point. And there are surely ways to get shoes to people who need them beyond buying them from a company that hangs out with people who actively hate me and my friends. The Southern Poverty Law Center has a lot to say about how horrifying Focus on the Family is. The SPLC last year also noted that Focus on the Family opposed efforts to decrease anti-gay bullying in schools. It's short, so let's block quote it:

For the last few days, an “educational analyst” for Focus on the Family has been getting a lot of press. She’s been suggesting that anti-bullying efforts that draw attention to the harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students are part of a “gay agenda” to “sneak homosexuality lessons into classrooms.”

One can argue, as some have, that Focus on the Family is a fringe group that doesn’t represent the majority of Christians in the United States. That’s true. But it’s also true that Focus on the Family has an outsized impact on conservative thought in this country. And by using deception and spin, the group has managed this week to grab the media spotlight. The goal is apparently to make schools less safe for LGBT students and more safe for their harassers. That cannot be ignored.

It’s also impossible to ignore Focus on the Family’s smarmy tactics. Taking a page out of George Orwell, the group has developed a website for parents designed to “challenge the monopoly.” They’ve named it Sound familiar?

Blake doesn't get to claim that he's working for social justice or uplift or anything if he's working with a group that actively oppresses people. He just doesn't.

So go leave comments on Blake's stupid blog post and write to TOMS and do whatever else you crazy kids do when a corporation does something horrendous.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The World's Women are All Kinds of Things

I want to open my post today by letting you know that I was thisclose to writing a post from the perspective of my cat, Jonesy, who really loves lesbians, if his behavior around my friends is any indication. So be grateful for what you're getting, mmkay?


Tiger Beatdown has a breakdown of the United Nations report called Progress of the World's Women. The blogger noted that the report doesn't deal specifically with queer women, including trans women, at all. This bugs me.

It's true that trying to define "woman" gets sticky. I believe that anyone who wants to call herself a woman is one, and it doesn't matter what her chromosomal sex is, what her gender presentation is, whether she consistently calls herself a woman, whether she rounds up to "woman" for political purposes but feels the label doesn't really suit her, etc. Kyrie already wrote a post about this, so go read that if you have any questions. It's pretty brilliant.

So the question is: Why write a report about women and not include all of them? This report has a lot of great information, but it's incomplete and heterosexist. Given the world we live in, most cultures assume heteronormativity, so not explicitly including queer issues means that it's impossible to find out whether issues of violence and health are different for, say, lesbians. If they are, we need to do something about it.

When I was bugging Kyrie for something to write about for today, and we talked about this report, she said, "It's not very feminist to divvy up women into groups and then only help some of those groups. Plus, LGBT issues are gender/sexuality issues, which ultimately affect everyone anyway." This is exactly right. We talked about this a bit in the post and comments section of our discussion of Read My Lips: feminism hasn't always done a good job of representing everyone, especially white middle class feminism. As feminists, this is our job to correct.

Furthermore, queer people are not just white people, or cis, or middle class. We all carry lots of identities and signifiers all at once, and it's rarely uncomplicated. Some dyke-identified people, for instance, don't identify with "woman" at all. It is the privilege of straight, cis, white people to put these issues aside, I think.

Women's issues are issues of intermeshing. We are all coded differently at different times. For instance, I recently heard someone tell a story of a young gay black man who was standing on top of a building, contemplating suicide in the face of anti-gay harassment he had received at school. When the police arrived, they coded him as black [and therefore criminal] and hauled him away in handcuffs in the cruiser, instead of treating him with the sympathy the police department had shown to white gay boys. The same sorts of coding can happen to anyone, though it results in the denial of parts of peoples' identities.

Another thing that bugs me is that I can't find coverage of this report in any of the major US news outlets. What the hell?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Feminist Logs Into OkCupid ...

Okay, this post is not actually a joke. But your trusty blogger has been doing a bit of dating over the past year, mostly of the online variety. Overall, it's been a good experience. But what fun would it be to talk about my dating successes? Instead, let me complain about something I've noticed: a tendency on the part of some dudes to look for a date by criticizing things women do. It drives me nuts.

First of all, it's going to limit your options. If your online dating profile contains a rant about how a woman needs to have nice nails and so many women neglect this part of their hygiene and so forth, [1.] it makes you look like serious bad news, and [2.] it's automatically going to drive away every woman who doesn't use nail polish. Same with requiring that your date "smell nice." I don't even know what you have in mind there, and I'm not going to find out.

Then there are the dudes who think they're somehow getting ahead by denouncing a part of the performance of femininity often seen as "shallow." Hint: if you don't like women who wear makeup, don't message a woman wearing makeup in her profile picture. I mean, that just makes you look like an idiot.

I get the impression that some guys think they can bond with me by criticizing things I don't do. Like the dude who went off on women who get breast implants. This did not endear him to me. And it's a little offensive that anyone would think it might. I don't hold the viewpoint that my femininity is the "correct" femininity; people get to look how they want.

Now, everyone totally gets to have preferences. But you can state those preferences without being a dick. Try "I'm a sucker for beautiful nails" instead of "so many women have poor nail hygiene." This will only work for some things, though; you're better off not talking about how you prefer a "natural" look or whatever. Basically, hetero dudes should keep one thing in mind: no one fucking cares what your particular flavor of patriarchy looks like.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Queering Academia, Part 2: The Commentary

On Monday, I wrote about how academia is a challenging place to be openly queer, and how a new study shows that students show some bias against openly gay and lesbian professors. As promised, today I'm going to look at the comments on two of the blog posts I found on the internet about the study. There are lots of them and not all of them are interesting to me. "This study is stupid," for instance, is not an argument I'm going to bother to engage with. Anyway. All comments are, of course, [sic.].

From Insider Higher Ed:
Brian: What I am concerned with is the very concern with the notion of "bias". Isn't it better that we teach from who we are; our academic training; AND our life experiences? To even consider the notion of bias as relevant seems to me to fly in the face the feminist and queer pedagogies that have encouraged an inclusion of self in the classroom; the personal is not only political but also pedagogical. After having read this article, I thought SO WHAT? Students should come to university to not only learn from texts but also be exposed to many, many, many ways of viewing the world offered through their professors' perspectives.
Yes. This is excellent and also true. There is literally no way to be completely neutral all the time. Even if we just gave kids a list of facts to memorize (robbing any humanities class of its ability to exist), the inclusion or exclusion of facts would be entirely based on the agenda, outlook, and so on. What I think is really important about the history of education might not be important to other people. I mean, obviously, or there would be more than half a handful of us writing about queer history of education.

BAW: Why is a professor's sexual orientation any of a students' business?
I mean, it isn't, is the short answer. It's no one's business. But some of us have made it our business, because we believe that being openly gay in academia means making the environment safer for our queer students and colleagues. The more we can demonstrate that queer people are just folks, no big deal, the better we'll all be in the long run, I think. Of course, this is a choice that I make for myself, and not a choice I think anyone else needs to make if they're not comfortable with it. And this also does not mean that anyone is "shoving her sexual orientation down anyone's throat" or anything similarly graphic and inaccurate.

V E McLure: Be a single woman with short hair some time. Believe it or not, those were the two reasons I was "accused" of being a lesbian. Yeah, it happens. If you don't believe women are judged, and yes, I do mean judged, in the worst possible way, by a different standard, come live in our world some time. My male colleagues make comments in the classroom that would get me fired in about a nanosecond. What the students think is funny from them they would regard as "bitchy," "judgemental," "sexist," "racist," you name it, from a woman. 
I have had comments on my evaluations that have dealt with my clothes, my hair style, in other words, just about any and everything except my teaching, other than to say that I'm a bitch because I don't take late work. My male colleagues don't either, by the way. 

It is a double-standard world. I have no doubt at all that students will look at a syllabus and percieve bias of some sort based on the gender, sexual orientation, race, heck, on the height, age, hair style or eye color of the professor. Stereotyping is alive and well - and flourishing. The only people who doubt it are the ones who are not directly affected by it.
I don't love her use of "accused," even with the scare quotes, but I hear what she's getting at (and the student(s) may have meant it as an accusation). This is in response to people arguing that bias is probably not really happening, and she is calling them out on that. It's to be expected that we'll be judged on external factors, of course. I think this points to a need for a follow-up study that engages with complex questions of how students perceive a professors' sexual orientation/gender presentation and how that affects their feelings about the professor. This would be harder to do, of course, because you'd have to look at students in an actual classroom, and for it to really be meaningful, you'd have to track their reactions and feelings over the course of the semester.

Michael Dumas: Interestingly, I just taught about LGBT issues last night in a doctoral class on diversity in education. The course is taught by two instructors, both African American, one straight-identified female, and one gay male (me). If this year's student evaluations are similar to last year's, I fully expect to see one or two students complain that "too much time" was spent on gay issues, even though the LGBT content is--coincidentally-- only about 1/10 of the subject matter covered. I also can expect similarly critical comments about how much time was spent on race and African Americans, even though both instructors are conscious about including other populations in readings, media and examples. I don't want to comment on methodological rigor of the study without reading it, but I can say that it is consistent with my experience, and that of a whole range of LGBT, women and people of color in the academy. And yes, negative and untruthful course evaluations can hurt one in the tenure and promotion process.

Now, as for the question raised above about why a professor would reveal her or his sexual orientation, the study states that sexual orientation was indicated in the autobiographical statement given to research participants. It did NOT say that instructors listed their sexual identity on the syllabus itself! And yes, students do talk amongst themselves about who their professors are as people; they see photos on our desks; they know about our involvement in various advocacy groups on campus; and, importantly, they make assumptions based on gender performance (length of hair, style of dress, speaking voice). So it is entirely reasonable that a student would be aware of, or at least presume, specific sexual identities.
This is my favorite comment, because he says "gender performance." He's right, as is the previous commenter, that students consider the humanity of their professors. He's also right that negative reviews from students hurt a professor's career - as they should, if the professor is a bad teacher. But I could imagine universities using reviews from students that were negative because of the modern homonegative reasons the study talks about (things like blaming their dislike of a professor on things other than sexual orientation, even if that's not really what's going on), it's another layer of modern homonegativity. "It's not that you're gay, it's that the students gave you bad reviews. Not because you're gay, but because you're politically biased." Again, as though there is such a thing as objectivity. Further, this guy is a gay man who is talking about gay issues, at least in part, which in my experience is that much harder.

And now, to Autostraddle comments, which are less academic but just as interesting:

Sweet: I really wish people would pay attention to these studies and not suggest that racism or homophobia don’t exist (in circumstances when it is not blatant). This just reinforces the fact that people need to be conscious of, and conscious in considering, their privilege. I go to a liberal Ivy and the number of times I’ve heard stuff like, “why isn’t there a white culture organization” or “why don’t be have a straight students alliance” is beyond not funny. I want to shout, “That’s what THIS WHOLE PLACE is!”
Heh. Right. I remember those conversations about white privilege in college. And, um, grad school. Some people grow out of it, some people don't. Part of what I try to do in my classroom is address this head-on.

Merin: I’m gay and I teach college students and I am not in the closet at work. I’m thinking about handing this article out to my students after a few weeks of class this fall. I am teaching a class on race and ethnicity and it could be good for a week in which we read stuff about modern racism to see how these ideas can extend to other marginalized social groups. Could make for an interesting discussion.
This is an interesting thought. Maybe I'll do it at the end of the semester, if I remember to. Thoughts from the crowd? Would you do this?

And finally, from our very own blog, Desi has this to say:
Specifically in a college of education, assimilation would be a great disservice. I don't want pre-service teachers to be "protected" from reality. I support making pre-service teachers uncomfortable--how else can they be prepared to work with the realities of the students in their classrooms? (Clearly, I'm basing my comment here on assimilation as an option--not as survival, as it would be in some cases.)
This is so dead-on. I know Desi, and I already know how smart she is, so I am not in the least surprised. But all teachers will have queer students, no matter where they teach. My friend Nic, who is not an educator in the traditional sense, but has sure as hell educated me, says that she thinks all teachers should see all students as queer, and I completely agree. If we worry about how to prepare mostly-white, female, middle-class, Protestant teachers to effectively teach students who are mostly not those things, we also need to be preparing teachers to deal with queer kids. And having queer teacher educators is important to that. I'm not a teacher educator, but maybe I will be someday, and maybe you already are. What are your thoughts on Desi's idea?

Anyway, I'm certainly a believer in the idea that we do want to indoctrinate the youth. I do want my students to learn about queerness, the historical contributions of queer educators, and the ways in which queer teachers have been persecuted. Everyone has to figure out their own relationship to teaching these issues, how comfortable they are with being out, and how they are out. I want to reiterate that these are intensely personal decisions, so do what makes you feel most comfortable or happy or whatever. But the fact is, we can't ignore the fact that students do perceive their gay and lesbian professors differently, and I would like to see more studies looking at this issue.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Lack of Faith and Feminism

There's a series of posts on Feministing called "Faith and Feminism". In it, feminists with different religious beliefs discuss how their faith and feminism interact. The stated purpose of the series is to broaden the discussion of women and religion. It's pretty cool, and, I would imagine, particularly interesting if you are of a religious bent.

I am not, though. Sometime around my 15th year, I decided that I had no good reason to assume the existence of a deity and became an atheist. For me, this was about logic; I have no strong opinions about organized religion, and it doesn't seem to me to be any more prone to misogyny than our many other social institutions. (Some feminists feel differently.)

But my atheism does interact with my feminism in one important way: it was the first issue on which I decided that most everybody I knew was wrong. And accepting that everybody else can just be plain wrong is incredibly liberating. I highly recommend it. It means that everybody might also be wrong about fat, or that gender essentialism is ridiculous, and so forth and so on.

It's not usually my style to end my posts with a question, but guys, I would luuurrve to hear your stories about the time you realized everybody else was wrong about something.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Queering Academia, Part 1: The Gay Syllabus

I've often considered what my future in academia will be like as an openly queer person who writes about queer issues. I'm in a college of education (and if I do have a future in higher education, it will almost certainly be in another one, as opposed to a history department or something), and colleges of education are notoriously heteronormative. Schools themselves are heteronormative, and heteronormatizing. There are certainly other openly gay professors in my department and in my field, but those who are both openly gay AND do work on gay issues are fewer and farther between. And they're heroes, each and every one of them, because this is not an easy row to hoe. But I yam who I yam, and I can't not be me, so either I'll find a place in a department as a radical queer or I won't, and I'll do something else. I love what I do, but I can't, as my friend Diedre says, take out part of my humanity and shoot it just to pay the bills.

So it was with great interest when I read about a study on the perceptions of gay and lesbian professors by college students (you can read more about the study here and here, and if you want to read the actual study, let me know and I'll e-mail it to you). Essentially, the researchers did two studies on the perceptions of gay and lesbian professors by students. They presented the students with syllabi and indicated through autobiographies whether the professors were gay or straight (through professional organizations they belonged to, and by statements like "Dr. Melanie Saunders lives with Lori, her partner of three years" or "... with David, her husband of three years"). They had many hypotheses, including whether students would see the professors as biased based on sexual orientation, gender, and political leanings, and whether they would judge professors more harshly based on typographical errors in the syllabus. I can't go through them all, but I wanted to pull some major points and talk about them. In my next post, I will address some things in the comments to the two blog posts I linked to above. [ETA: The syllabus was for a human sexuality class, which is certainly relevant information that I forgot to include. Thanks for the reminder, Desi.]

Point 1:
The undergraduate students in the present study viewed heterosexuals as the normative professor who is relatively objective and value-free. Lesbian/gay professors who taught a course with the exact same syllabus as heterosexual professors were viewed as coming to the course with a political agenda, with personal biases, and with the aim of forcing their views of sexuality on students (to paraphrase the wording from some of the statements that comprised the Political Bias factor).
This is not surprising. I've written before about how neutrality seems to only belong to straight white cis men, and everyone else is biased. Of course, this is ridiculous. We all have our baggage. They also made the point in the study that people perceive gay and lesbian people as flaunting their sexuality, but not straight people. But a straight person wearing a wedding ring or mentioning her husband is flaunting her sexuality as much as a lesbian mentioning her girlfriend. Because the latter is considered non-normative, though, it becomes A Thing We Notice.

Point 2:
...there was not one version of bias that accounted for students’ perceptions of both lesbians and gay men: Conservative gay men and liberal lesbians were viewed as more biased than were liberal gay men and conservative lesbians. In contrast, heterosexuals were not judged according to their political ideology. The finding of differing views of lesbian and gay men based on their political ideology supplies more evidence that lesbians and gay men should not be considered as one category of “homosexual."
Um, yes. This is certainly true. But there aren't even just "lesbians" and "gay men" as TWO categories of homosexual. Go visit a leather bar and then a drag show and then a dyke bar and get back to me. Oh, and let's not forget the people who don't go to bars at all, or who hang in the bear scene, or who go to straight bars, or whatever. Or look at the queeriodic table.

Point 3:
Homonegatives were less interested in taking the human sexuality course than were modern homonegatives and non-homonegatives. Furthermore, they perceived the course as politically biased, with fewer appropriate topics and materials, and taught by professors with less warmth than the other two attitude categories. Students with high levels of homonegativity, then, present a particular challenge, perhaps in the form of resistance to a faculty member who teaches courses such as human sexuality. Whereas homonegatives categorically dismissed the course, modern homonegatives viewed lesbian and gay professors as more politically biased than heterosexual professors with the same syllabus.
Sigh. I'm not stunned by this either. I like their use of "homonegative" and "modern homonegative." Homonegative means people who are just openly anti-gay. Modern homonegativity "rejects lesbians and gay men on the grounds that they attempt to obtain special privileges because of their orientation, or because it is believed that they flaunt their sexuality." Again, queer people don't seem to me to flaunt their sexuality any more than anyone else does. And there's a reason the gay rights movement has been saying "gay rights are human rights" for awhile now. There's no difference between rights for gay people and rights for anyone else, but when queer people are consistently not protected by laws and face discrimination, we need the law to acknowledge that, essentially.

Another concern I have from this point is that it might somehow justify people closeting themselves in order to not deter students from taking a class. "Just be strategic/less obvious" is something people here. Of course I wouldn't walk in on the first day of class and say "I'm a radical lesbian atheist and if you don't like it, leave." No one does that. But then there's the idea of being more assimilationist, or deliberately avoiding talking about one's partner in the same way a straight person would, and THAT is a huge problem. We should not have to closet ourselves because our very gayness might deter some kid from taking the class. If a student feels that way, that's on him, not me. I engage with all my students. Also, I think that sometimes resistance is good. Students aren't just going along to get along, giving the teacher what she wants. If they're resisting, they're thinking, and I believe we can build from there. We have this idea that college students shouldn't be made uncomfortable and that resistance is a bad thing, and it isn't, always. Sometimes it's healthy.

It's important to note that in this study, the students only had a syllabus, they had no face-to-face interaction. That has to make a difference for at least some people, because the more gays you realize you know, the less homophobic you tend to be. So that's the flip side of this argument: that if I can convince students that my being queer is not bringing America to its knees, we'll all get along better. This is the "making space" argument. The authors point out at the beginning of their study that the presence of openly gay and lesbian professors is good for queer students, and I would argue that it's good for everyone, including other faculty members. It's not always easy, but I really love teaching, and I know lots of other queer people who are talented teachers and researchers. I'm hoping that together we can keep pushing the boulders up the hills, and over time, they'll become lighter.

That's it for today. Next time, I'll address some of the comments to other blog posts on this, and any that you might leave on this post. So if I don't respond to you in the comments section here, sit tight and hopefully I'll get to it on Wednesday.

Image via.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Book Club: Wilchins's Read My Lips: Sexual Subversion and the End of Gender

Time for the first book club post! Our goal is to write an even less structured post than usual; we want to start a conversation rather than summarize the book.

Kyrie: One thing of the main things that struck me reading this book is how the author displays clear resentment towards the women's movement and even, at times, to cis women (e.g., calling herself "a swan among the platypuses", p. 54). I am not saying this is a bad thing (an angry tone does not invalidate an argument!), but it was not something I had been exposed to before. And it made me think about the way cis women treat trans women; I feel like we let the male privilege trans women may or may not have briefly experienced win out over the need to support our fellow women. As a result, we do a lot of bullshit to try and justify their exclusion.

Jess: I picked the quote below as a good starting point, because it’s about feminism and this is a feminist blog. If we are going to be honest with ourselves about feminism and its benefits to society, we also need to look at its shortcomings. If Wilchins believes that feminism has excluded her and other trans people, then it has. Audre Lorde similarly criticized the movement for leaving out lesbians and women of color, and people are still talking about similar issues regarding indigenous cultures. Feminism has long been the domain of middle class cis white women, and that needs to change, pronto. But I’ll just let Wilchins tell you.

Moreover, just as feminists have charged that patriarchy made women's bodies a site of contested meaning, and then appropriated women's flesh an experience as a tabula rasa upon which to inscribe their constructions of a subordinated Other, just so, you have made of our bodies a site of contested meaning, and then appropriated transexual flesh and experience as a tabula rasa upon which to inscribe your constructions of us as subordinated Other. Once again you are reenacting the very oppressive mechanisms from which feminism is seeking emancipation (p. 60).

Jess: Wilchins has another quote on page 60 that goes along with this: “Heterosexism requires binary and opposing sexes and genders: if there were a hundred genders, ‘heterosexuality’ could not exist.” Well, exactly. I tend to think there are as many genders as there are people, because I enjoy thinking that everyone in the world is queer. If gender is performative, as Judith Butler would have us believe - if it is an imitation which has no original - then we are all performing gender in unique ways. People might appear to approximate similar genders, which is how we come up with the idea of “man” and “woman,” but if we are all different, are our genders all different also? And if that is the case, how is feminism meant to represent a class called “women”? Have we robbed it of any meaning? And might that be a good thing?

Kyrie: Wilchins’s discussion of the fluidity of gender and the limitations of labels (see, for instance, p. 85) has me thinking a lot about how I would like to define gender. What appeals to me right now is a “style”-like approach, in which masculine and feminine are like “nerd” and “jock;” i.e, kind of a binary, but one in which you can identify with either, both, or neither label. Like “nerd” and “jock,” “masculine” and “feminine” don’t seem to me to be actual characteristics, but rather a shorthand for a collection of characteristics, and hence someone with a lot of one of those particular sets of characteristics can come close to embodying one of those labels, but in general people will not fit perfectly into these molds.

Jess: Furthermore, some people opt out entirely. Some people are punk, or preppy, or - like me - don’t really have a good definition for their style (or identity. I round up to a lot of things so that I can be intelligible, as I believe we all do). On p. 85, which Kyrie points you to also, Wilchins talks about how fluidity and inventing new labels or identities can work for us. I think that is the real revolutionary potential for feminism: if we can push ourselves to get beyond the idea that there is anything like “realness” when it comes to gender beyond what people feel about themselves, then maybe we can get to the point that we are advocating liberation broadly, and not just the end of one particular kind of discrimination while replicating that same form of oppression on other people.

I like the way Wilchins uses Foucault, and the Foucault-inspired question she asks on p. 39 is provocative: “What kind of system bids us each make of our bodies a problem to be solved, a claim we must defend, or a secret we must publicly confess, again and again?” I’m not sure where I’m going with this exactly, but I’d like the revolution to include the possibility of never feeling bad about one’s body or identity. As Wilchins also says, no one is ever trapped in the wrong body. We’re trapped in the wrong society. If society weren’t so terrified of gender transgression, and surgery were available on demand, more people could have it if they want it, and more people could, I hope, feel liberated.

Kyrie: One part of the book that really resonated with me was the chapter in which Wilchins talks about seeing her female relatives’ bras, and how she immediately recognized the symbolism behind them. It reminded me of the first time I went shopping with my mom for a “real” bra, and how I hated it. My discomfort stemmed from a similar realization that these weren’t just objects, there were symbols, and I desperately wanted a utilitarian bra in plain white with no padding, no flowers, and no lace. My 12-year-old self wanted nothing to do with that sort of performance of femininity, but it also wasn’t something I was able to articulate, so I ended up with the little bows and flowers. [Jess: I am also not a big fan of lace or anything, and certainly didn’t have reason to wear a bra when I was 12, but I think it’s kind of funny that Kyrie is the straight one here. Just another bit of evidence for my whole “we’re really all queer” argument.]

This is partly because the type of bra I wanted did not exist, at least not in my size. And this is symbolic of the whole gender problem. There should not only be plain, utilitarian bras in every size, there should be beer label bras, and dinosaur bras, and so forth and so on. This lack of choice in expression which is tied to your anatomy is a huge fucking problem.

Jess: I just want to say that I really loved “17 Things You Don’t Say to a Transexual.” I read it to my brother and my sister-in-law when we were all tipsy. It’s brilliant and hilarious, but I have nothing to add, so, you know, noted.

We’ll carry on this discussion in the comments, so please jump in. Also, we’re reading Stone Butch Blues for next month, so get your Kleenex out and get to reading.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Working with Men

As I've mentioned before, I make my living as an astronomer. This is a highly male-centric field -- especially in theoretical astronomy, which I do. Overall, there's about 15% representation by women, so it'll often happen that I'm the only woman in the room.

Our roller derby team, in contrast, is made up entirely of women except for the referees. Thus, I go from a nearly all-male environment during the day to a nearly all-female environment at night. As a result, I have a great opportunity to compare and contrast the two.

So, what differences have I observed? The only significant one is that my derby teammates are much more polite and encouraging than my colleagues. I hesitate to ascribe this difference to gender, though, since scientists are notoriously socially inept and one's teammates will be motivated to be encouraging for the sake of morale. Other than that, the set of behaviors are not noticeably different to me.

What does surprise me is when someone (usually a woman) will comment on how unpleasant it is to work with a group of women, usually with a comment about how much drama women generate. I'm sure that's not easy, but let me tell you, working with men is no picnic, either. They can be rude to each others' faces -- what would be called bitchiness if they were women. They'll complain or share information about each other behind their backs -- what would be called gossiping if they were women. They'll snipe at each other and carry grudges -- what would be called cattiness if they were women. Sometimes they'll struggle to be polite to those they dislike -- what would be called passive aggressiveness if they were women. And occasionally they'll have big blow-outs -- what would be called drama if they were women.

I think you get the idea; it's the same set of behaviors, different labels. Any large group is going to have difficultly getting along all the time, and I really don't think the two genders handle things all that differently.