Wednesday, April 27, 2011

And this is relevant because...?

So, there's this:
The sponsors of California's same-sex marriage ban insist they are not trying to disqualify the federal judge who struck down Proposition 8 because he is gay.

Instead, they argue the judge's decade-long relationship with another man poses a potential conflict because they might want to get hitched themselves.
Interesting right? I mean, one of the reasons why we need to prevent same-sex marriage is that it's disruptive - gay people don't want the same things that normal people want, so letting them get married will totally destroy the institution of marriage. Ya know, cuz they don't do relationships the way we do. Oh, wait, except here's one of those gay people who seems to have a stable relationship with his partner. But somehow this doesn't serve as a counterexample that reveals a flaw in the argument. It just makes him unqualified to rule on the subject of marriage. Because maybe he wants to get married. And if he was a single gay man then he wouldn't be qualified either, because then we could infer that he doesn't want to get married, and therefore has no respect for the institution of marriage. And now that we think about it, no gay judge would be qualified to rule on this. But not because we're biased against them, of course.

I wonder, if he was a single hetero male, then would he be qualified to rule on this? Because then we could infer that maybe he was anti-marriage, right? Since we're just straight-up speculating about people personal lives and motives and desires and the impact of that on their legal competence, this seems like a valid line of reasoning. Or if he was happily married, that might disqualify him, because he might think that marriage is so awesome that everyone ought to be able to share in the bliss. And by this reasoning shouldn't a judge who's been married for years be barred from ruling on cases involving divorce law, since he might be unhappily married and pining for a divorce, or happily married and unable to imagine why anyone would ever even want a divorce? And then shouldn't single hetero judges be barred from ruling on cases involving divorce law too, since maybe the reason they're single is that they experienced an unhappy marriage and are now divorced, or that their divorce was the best/worst thing that ever happened to them? I mean, really, is anyone ever qualified to rule on something like this? If you follow this line of reasoning, it doesn't seem like it.

Except that if you're the socially conservative opponents of same-sex marriage, you really do think that there is one group of people who are qualified to rule in cases like this. Straight white males. Because they have the default, "objective" perspective. In contrast, anyone who isn't the straight white male norm is obviously ruled only by their personal experiences and countercultural agendas and could never simply look at the law and the relevant precedent and apply it to the current case. Because straight white males don't have situated identities, but Others do. Because straight white males operate on reason alone and aren't influenced by their life experiences, but Others lack the mental discipline and depth of character to keep these things separated.

Of course, if you're the socially conservative type, you think this way, but you know better than to say it out loud. You might not even be aware of the fact that you believe this. But you've learned to try to put a nicer face on it, and make it about his marital aspirations rather than about his flawed identity. You probably also think that nobody sees through it, to the insecurities and pettiness behind it. Good luck with that.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Video of the Day

On being "found in a compromising position"

My daughter is 3, and she's in that funny developmental stage where kids begin to appreciate the value of diversionary tactics when engaging in some forbidden activity, but they're not very sophisticated about it yet. Say she has a piece of candy that she's been told she can eat, but not until after lunch. She wants to eat it now. The solution is to take it in the bathroom with her and say she needs privacy to go potty. You know what's gonna happen as soon as that bathroom door closes. Or say she has a library book that she reallyreallyreally wants to color in with her markers, but she's already been prevented from doing so. Her solution at this point is to say "Don't look at me Mom! Go over there." And this tactic is so transparent that it's kind of cute and funny. Because she's 3.

On the other hand, when full-grown adults engage in these kinds of tactics, it's not really that cute or funny, although it's still pretty transparent. For instance, agricultural associations in several states (Iowa, Florida, Minnesota) are pushing through legislation to prevent images and video of abusive agricultural practices and Chickens in a battery cage, with injuries caused by the crowded conditionsconditions from reaching the public. The proposed legislation would make it illegal to "produce, distribute or possess photos and video taken without permission at an agricultural facility" and, in some cases, make it illegal to lie on an employment application for an agricultural job if the employee's intention was to gather information on abusive farming practices. Because producers don't want to be "found in a compromising position."

In other words, the full-grown adult representatives of numerous grower's associations are straight up saying to the public "Don't look at us! Go over there." Instead of changing your practices so that you don't have anything to hide, just become better at hiding it, or use the politicians you've already bought and paid for to do it for you. No need to be sophisticated about it. No need to behave like mature or, for that matter ethical, adults. No, the diversionary tactics typical of 3 year-old children are perfectly appropriate here.

If you don't want to be found in a compromising position, then don't do things that have to be carefully hidden from public view. It's as easy as that.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Those gender rebels at J.Crew

You might have seen this:
J.Crew catalog feature showing mother with son, featuring pink nail polish on his toenails. Quote:Lucky for me, I ended up with a boy whose favorite color is pink. Toenail painting is way more fun in neon.
The stir it's causing with the socially conservative parenting police is both predictable and amusing. And even though I'm perennially amused by the fears of this crowd, I'm never really sure that I completely understand them. What exactly is going to result from boys wearing toenail polish and girls playing with trucks?

According to Dr. Keith Ablow, it appears that the following things will result from any variation from the conventional parenting script that requires strict enforcement of properly gendered behavior:
  1. Years down the road, you'll have to spend a lot of money on "psychotherapy for the kid—and maybe a little for others who’ll be affected by your “innocent” pleasure."
  2. The result of this kind of play is "psychological sterilization."
  3. An assault on "genuine emotion and genuine relationships"
  4. "encouraging the choosing of gender identity, rather than suggesting our children become comfortable with the ones that they got at birth, can throw our species into real psychological turmoil"
  5. Behaving in any way outside the sex/gender binary system to which you have been assigned amounts to "masquerading through life" which we have to avoid or else "life will exact a psychological penalty"
  6. A further problem is that "girls show none of the reticence they once did to engage in early sexual relationships with boys"

  7. And finally we get to the real problems:

  8. "it will be a very big deal if it turns out that neither gender is very comfortable anymore nurturing children above all else
  9. and neither gender is motivated to rank creating a family above having great sex forever
  10. and neither gender is motivated to protect the nation by marching into combat against other men and risking their lives."
But I wonder about these things, and I think that Dr Keith's claims and the assumptions that they ride on tell us a lot more about his own fears and limitations and insecurities than about the world we actually live in.
  1. How do we know we'll have to spend a bunch of money on therapy for the girls who play with trucks and the boys who paint their toenails? Even if there was evidence that this was true, why is it true? If the real fear here is that the kids will turn out to be transgendered, then let's talk about that.
    First, it is true that trans people often have to engage in therapy - they need a diagnosis to get the meds they need. But why is that? Because of other social constructions such the DSM and western medical conventions. We have chosen as a culture to categorize gender dysphoria as a mental health issue. We have chosen to say that when a person's gender identity doesn't fix the box we put them in, the problem is with the individual, not the box itself.
    Second, if something as simple as wearing fingernail polish can derail your gender identity, why are there any trans people in the world at all? They all went through years and years of gendered socialization, and somehow it didn't work. And now they probably do need therapy, because they're traumatized by it all. There are countless incentives in our world to suck it up and perform the gender you were assigned to rather than transitioning. If, in the face of all that socializing and policing and bullying and belittling and incentivizing acceptable behavior, there are so many people still making the choice to transition, then the claim that wearing some nail polish or playing with the wrong toys is going to derail your gender identity just seems kind of weak.
  2. I'm struggling to figure out what "sterilization" even means here. Is this sterilization in the sense of reproductively incapacitated? That seems unlikely. I was a terrible tomboy, and caused no end of worry and stress to my mom with my unacceptably boyish ways, but I don't seem to have any problem reproducing, physically or psychologically. Ironically, all the really tomboyish girls I grew up with have kids now and seem to be well-adjusted parents. Then is this intended to be "sterile" in the "bacteria-free" or super-duper clean sense of the word? I'm not even sure what that means when the modifier "psychologically" is added in.
  3. So, those who don't strictly conform to the narrow gender boxes supplied by their culture are incapable of genuine emotions and relationships? By whose definition of "genuine?" It seems to me like there are a lot of non-gender-conforming folks out there who manage to forge and maintain lasting, fulfilling relationships. So I suspect that "genuine" here just means "looks like the kind of relationship that doesn't make me feel uncomfortable or insecure."
  4. Again, where's the proof for the predicted "psychological turmoil"? And I'm pretty sure most trans people will tell you that they didn't just blithely go out and "choose" a gender. And if they could, they most likely would have chosen one that was easier to live with. It doesn't appear to work like that, Dr. Keith.
  5. Why isn't behaving according to the gender scripts we've been taught a form of masquerading as well. A performance is a performance, right? So some people perform a different script than the one they were assigned to. This makes it a "masquerade?" Hm.
  6. This is one of my all-time favorites in the list of "fears and insecurities of the socially conservative." We all know that women are the gatekeepers to fun sexy times, right? Because really, we can't expect men and boys to take responsibility for their own sexuality, the poor dears. No, the only way they can possibly behave in a sexually responsible manner is to be surrounded by demure women who will exert a gentle but firm civilizing influence and "tame the beast" by constantly withholding sexual pleasure from them. Of course, this assumes both that these women have no sexual desires of their own, and that men are so weak as to be incapable of controlling their sexual appetites. And this seems like a rather unflattering view of men, don't you think Dr. Keith?
  7. And here we get to the real underlying fear. If men and women are no longer constrained to such narrow and constrictive roles, then OMG who will raise the babeez?!?! Who can be expected to put their projects and dreams and career on hold to selflessly care for the children and perform all the other unpaid domestic labor? In a less-gendered society, could some of this self-sacrifice possibly *gasp* fall to the men? Could they really be expected to give of themselves and risk the possible damage to their careers and nurture their own offspring? Why, it's unthinkable, I tell you!
  8. Wait, you can't have great sex and also create a family? What? I didn't realize you had to choose...
  9. I suppose it's true that you can't march off to war with neon pink nail polish on your toes. Except, maybe you can. And maybe we could try talking things out before going to war. And maybe if we didn't have to construct masculinity as a zero-sum competition, there would be less of a need for war. And maybe since there are in fact already women and gay men and trans folk of both genders fighting wars, this one doesn't really make much sense.
But putting all of these basic disagreements aside, Dr. Keith and I do agree on something. I don't really care for this ad either. In fact, I don't care for this type of advertising in general. This ad suggests that buying the right things will bring you closer to your kids. If you just have the right shit in your life, you'll bond with your kids and have fun times with them. And that's what I object to.

Aspirational marketing like this always carries the implicit message that if you want to be x kind of person, all you need to do is buy product y. Choosy moms choose Jif (because what could be better for you than peanut-flavored hydrogenated oil sweetened with high fructose corn syrup?). Trendy hip mothers buy stripy shirts and neon nail polish to paint on their boys' toes. I'd like to think that my relationship with my child is not dependent on material things. There's nothing I could buy that would make me be the kind of parent I want to be. And whenever I encounter marketing (every every every day) that suggests that I need to buy a product to be the kind of person I'm supposed to aspire to being, I feel insulted and manipulated. So Dr. Keith got it right. There is a problem here. It's just not the problems he identified.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

One more time: "Healthy" vs "Low Calorie"

I know I've mentioned this in passing before, but for some reason lately I've been exposed to a slightly higher level of weight loss-related bullshit. So I'd like to invite you to ponder a few things with me real quick, and then we can all get back to work:
  1. When we discuss food in our culture, "healthy" is thought to be a synonym for "low calorie" or "low fat."
  2. If "healthy" and "low calorie" or "low fat" were really synonyms, then famine and drought would be awesome. People would fucking thrive under famine conditions.
  3. When we discuss weight, we tend to equate being thin with being healthy, even though there isn't a scrap of scientific evidence supporting this link.
  4. If being thin, in and of itself, was healthy, then all this talk about diet and exercise doesn't make much sense. Why would you mess around with such a slow method of weight loss if being thin = being healthy? Wouldn't you want to "get there" as fast as possible?
  5. If you want to get thin fast - really fast - I can tell you what to do. Get your hands on some crack. Or if meth is the drug of choice in your neighborhood, go with it. Whatever. The object is to smoke it consistently, several times a day. You'll lose the weight, and fast. Faster than you've ever lost weight before. Will you be healthy? Fuck no, but you'll be thin.
So maybe it seems like I'm the one engaging in crazy talk, recommending that people go out and turn themselves into addicts. But a cultural framework which equates astonishingly unhealthy practices with health is just about as irrational as it gets. Somehow starving yourself or severely limiting your diet or obsessively Avocados and nuts. Healthy? Yes! Low fat or low-cal? Noengaging in repetitive exercises that strain joints and ligaments or eating nothing but grapefruit or eating bars made of what appears to be pressed sawdust three times a day ..... has become "healthy" now. Our bodies didn't evolve under these conditions, yet we expect them to function well under conditions they're not adapted to. In fact we practically have a moral obligation to starve and discipline our bodies in this totally counterproductive way (that just happens to be super profitable for the diet-fitness industrial complex) or we're not being responsible citizens.


So, what physical conditions did we evolve under?
  • Constant, moderate, varied physical activity
  • No processed foods, chemically altered oils, or chemical food preservatives
  • No refined sugars or artificial colors
  • No synthetic hormones in food sources
  • No petroleum-based pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers in food sources
  • A wide range of seeds and nuts and seasonal fruits and veggies with occasional lean meat
Now that's healthy.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Incorporate Your Uterus

It's the only way to protect it from your friendly neighborhood "small government" conservative, who reallyreally needs intimate access to your bedroom, your doctor's office, your romantic relationships, your relationships with your kids, etc. etc.

Incorporate My Uterus

pink knitted uterus hanging out in a tree
Also, can someone who knows how to knit please make me one of these? I feel like I really need one, but I ain't learning how to knit anytime soon.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Facts - so inconvenient

So, there's this: Indiana House Backs Greater Abortion Restrictions

INDIANAPOLIS – Both houses of the Indiana Legislature have now approved bills that would restrict access to abortions.

The Indiana House voted 72-23 on Wednesday to require that women seeking an abortion be told that human life begins at conception and ban the procedure after 20 weeks unless the woman's life is in danger.

The bill also requires those seeking abortions to be told in writing that they faced a greater risk of infertility and breast cancer.

Republican Rep. Eric Turner of Cicero says it's the responsibility of lawmakers to protect the unborn and that he hoped the additional requirements would lead to fewer abortions.

The bill now goes to the Senate, which last month approved a bill with many of the same provisions.

Note first that this is the same Eric Turner who opined that women would simply lie and claim they were raped or the victims of incest if there was an exception to the ban on state-funded insurance coverage of abortion for victims of rape and incest. Yeah, he has a super high opinion of women.

Second, this claim that abortion is correlated with a higher risk of breast cancer is interesting. It seems like the kinda thing I would have heard about before, being a health geek and all. So I did a little research, and look what I found.

From the National Cancer Institute:
The relationship between induced and spontaneous abortion and breast cancer risk has been the subject of extensive research beginning in the late 1950s. Until the mid-1990s, the evidence was inconsistent. Findings from some studies suggested there was no increase in risk of breast cancer among women who had had an abortion, while findings from other studies suggested there was an increased risk. Most of these studies, however, were flawed in a number of ways that can lead to unreliable results. Only a small number of women were included in many of these studies, and for most, the data were collected only after breast cancer had been diagnosed, and women’s histories of miscarriage and abortion were based on their “self-report” rather than on their medical records. Since then, better-designed studies have been conducted. These newer studies examined large numbers of women, collected data before breast cancer was found, and gathered medical history information from medical records rather than simply from self-reports, thereby generating more reliable findings. The newer studies consistently showed no association between induced and spontaneous abortions and breast cancer risk.
From ACOG:

There is no evidence supporting a causal link between induced abortion and subsequent development of breast cancer, according to a committee opinion issued today by The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). ACOG's opinion is in agreement with the conclusion reached at the National Cancer Institute's Early Reproductive Events and Breast Cancer Workshop, which met in March 2003.

ACOG's review of the research on a link between abortion and later development of breast cancer concluded that studies on the issue were inconsistent and difficult to interpret, mainly due to study design flaws. Some studies showed either a significant decrease in breast cancer risk after abortion or found no effect. The most recent studies from China, the United Kingdom, and the US found no effect of induced abortion on breast cancer risk.

More detail from the American Cancer Society:

The largest, and probably the most reliable study on this topic was done during the 1990s in Denmark, a country with very detailed medical records on all its citizens. In that study, all Danish women born between 1935 and 1978 (a total of 1.5 million women) were linked with the National Registry of Induced Abortions and with the Danish Cancer Registry. All of the information about their abortions and their breast cancer came from registries – it was very complete and was not influenced by recall bias.

After adjusting for known breast cancer risk factors, the researchers found that induced abortion(s) had no overall effect on the risk of breast cancer. The size of this study and the manner in which it was done provides good evidence that induced abortion does not affect a woman's risk of developing breast cancer.

Another large, prospective study was reported on by Harvard researchers in 2007. This study included more than 100,000 women who were between the ages of 29 and 46 at the start of the study in 1993. These women were followed until 2003. Again, because they were asked about childbirths and abortions at the start of the study, recall bias was unlikely to be a problem. After adjusting for known breast cancer risk factors, the researchers found no link between either spontaneous or induced abortions and breast cancer.

The California Teachers Study also reported on more than 100,000 women in 2008. Researchers asked the women in 1995 about past induced and spontaneous abortions. While the women were being followed in the study, more than 3,300 developed invasive breast cancer. There was no difference in breast cancer risk between the group who had either spontaneous or induced abortions and those who had not had an abortion.

I could continue, but it seems like overkill. Will this have any impact on the vote? Of course not. These are just silly little facts.