Monday, December 10, 2012

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Opt-In Revolution

Another perspective on why reproductive justice in general - and access to contraception in particular - is an economic issue, not just a fringe political issue: The Opt-In Revolution? Contraception And The Gender Gap In Wages. An excerpt:
In 2003, Lisa Belkin’s New York Times Magazine article, “The Opt-Out Revolution,” reopened the debate about the reasons for persistent differences in women’s and men’s labor market outcomes. In particular, she argued that the women who might have been the professional equals of men chose not to be—these women “opted out” to raise their children. Shang and Weinberg (2009) find some evidence that college graduate women have begun to have more children, but these changes seem small relative to the Opt-In Revolution that began 50 years ago.
This paper quantifies the role of the Pill in catalyzing this revolution. As the Pill provided women with cheaper and more effective control over childbearing in late adolescence, they invested more in their human capital and careers. Most affected were women in the middle of the IQ distribution and with some college, who experienced remarkable wage gains over their lifetimes. To put our results into perspective, the Pill-induced effects on wages amount to roughly one-third of the total wage gains for women in their forties born from the mid-1940s to early 1950s.31 Our decomposition shows that almost two thirds of these Pill-induced gains (at the mean) can be attributed to increasing labor-market experience and another third is due to greater educational attainment and occupational upgrading.


Friday, November 2, 2012

Monday, October 22, 2012

Feminist Parenting Link Dump

TV and Electronic Media

I've had this on-going debate with a couple of adult acquaintances who are die-hard SpongeBob fans. My feeling is that shows like SpongeBob that move at a frenetic pace are not good for language development, to put it mildly. (Not to mention the countless little violent interactions between characters that provide much of the humor in most fast-paced cartoons...) I also think that being constantly exposed to frenetic TV shows inhibits the development of an attention span, which is the most fundamental requirement for learning how to read. So I can't help but gloat a tiny bit when I come across studies like this: The Immediate Impact of Different Types of Television on Young Children's Executive Function, the results of which are summed up nicely here:
Simply put, television is both good and bad: there are good programs and bad ones. And, what makes programs good or bad has to do not only with the content itself but with what in communications research are known as the formal features of that content. Some sequences are naturally paced (eg, human-Muppet interactions on Sesame Street), and some are rapid (eg, SpongeBob SquarePants). Others occur in what seems like slow motion (eg, Mr Roger's Neighborhood). In addition to the pace of the show, formal features include the edits and cuts. Some shows change scenes more than 3 times per minute, whereas others have greater continuity. The “overstimulation hypothesis” is based on the theory that the surreal pacing and sequencing of some shows might tax the brain or parts of it, leading to short-term (or long-term) deficits. (from The Effects of Fast-Paced Cartoons)

Child Sexual Abuse

I completely agree with the approach advocated in this article: How Can We Stop Pedophiles? It just doesn't seem that controversial to me. Of course, I also have zero confidence in our collective ability to ever get to a place where we have a sensible and humane approach to sexual predators, but that's a separate issue...

Educational Approaches

book cover: Drive by Daniel Pink
Maybe this is just on my mind because of the choices I've made recently regarding preschool, but there seems to be a lot of recent research and writing that basically explains why a Montessori approach works so well in so many ways in which our traditional educational models fail. One great example is Drive : the surprising truth about what motivates us by Daniel Pink. You should read it. It's not just about early childhood education, but it's an easy, compelling read that is extremely relevant to our educational choices. I highly recommend it.

Halloween Costumes for the Ladies

Ever wondered what you would get if you plugged the names of women's Halloween costumes from the top three costume sites (according to Google) into a word cloud generator? Well, wonder no more:

And the men's costumes at the same websites?

Happy Monday!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Unexpectedly Awesome

I took my girls to see this train when it came through town today. I thought it would be sorta cool. It was actually kind of awesome. Who woulda thought?

UP 844 steam train

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The rhetoric of inclusiveness

Long time no post...busy...etc.

But here's a quick sketch of something I've been ponderin' on lately.

For a while now I've had this vague, unarticulated sense of discomfort with the rhetoric of inclusiveness and sharing that's so common in daycares, preschools, and the K-6 setting. As you probably know, usually I'm all about inclusiveness and non-violent communication and all that. But I think there's a pretty serious misapplication of these otherwise good ideas in this context. It seems to me that there's a very important piece getting lost in the dialogue, and it's a piece that's especially important for girls.

Establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries in your relationships is an important part of being a healthy, functional adult. Having a sense of your own worth, and your right to defend yourself against abuse or a situation that makes you feel uncomfortable is critical. And establishing a sense of autonomy and ownership of self is foundational to both of these. My thought is that with the excessive emphasis on inclusion and sharing and avoiding conflict as much as possible that's so common to early educational environments, this important foundation gets lost.

The insistence on referring to every child in the class or group as "your friends" even when there's a legitimate conflict going on is one example of this dynamic. In an adult context, we interact with people every day whom we would not choose as our friends. We can be polite and kind to them without making them a friend. In fact, if that person is rude or abusive to us, it would be ridiculous to think of them as "my friend" simply because we find ourselves in the same place with them on a regular basis. And yet this seems to be what we're expecting of children. You'll often see adults expecting kids to share a toy they just began playing with, or to include other children in a game they're playing even if it's not a good time in the game to add more players. And then there's the old expectation that children will reciprocate with physical affection to another child or an adult who's demanding it, even if the child is feeling shy, or is not in the mood for the physical interaction.

So we teach them that they can't say no; they can't pursue their own projects uninterrupted when another child decides they want to participate or use the toy in question; they can't politely and respectfully decline to be friends with someone whose company they don't enjoy... And then we wonder why they have such a hard time establishing healthy boundaries in their relationships as teens and young adults.

So what I'm thinking is this: Inclusiveness and non-violent communication are perfectly consistent with establishing and maintaining healthy personal boundaries. But somewhere along the line, someone got the idea that being kind and inclusive requires a person to become a doormat who cannot defend themselves or politely excuse themselves from interactions that make them feel uncomfortable. And the fact that this has become such a dominant paradigm in classroom environments is unfortunate and counterproductive, to say the least. I think we often learn more about relationships from negative interactions, but only when a healthy way of handling conflict is encouraged and modelled for us.

It seems to me that empowering kids to value themselves and see themselves as autonomous beings who deserve to stand up for themselves and be heard is as important as teaching them to be inclusive and considerate. In fact, it seems to be the mirror image and counterbalance. Instead of  "I'm OK, you're OK," it's "you're valuable, and so am I."


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Quote of the day

"Certain forms of perplexity - for example, about freedom, knowledge, and the meaning of life - seem to me to embody more insight than any of the supposed solutions to those problems."

Thomas Nagel in The View from Nowhere

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The biblical definition of the family unit

Up til now I've found this whole Chick-fil-A thing unworthy of comment.  But yesterday I heard a fleeting mention of the story on the radio, in which Dan Cathy's quote was repeated again. You know, the quote about how they "are very much supportive of the family -- the biblical definition of the family unit."

The problem is, I grew up in one of those fundamentalist churches where you really read the Bible a lot. From front to back, over and over again. And for the life of me, I don't know what to make of this phrase. Is there a single coherent biblical definition of marriage or the family? There are so many different families that take so many different shapes in the Bible.  At times the family members do shocking things to each other, and they rarely seem to suffer any consequences for this. Thinking over just a few of the examples, I'm at a loss for what the biblical family unit looks like, but here are some possibilities:

Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Ishmael, and Isaac
Genesis 16:  Now Sarai, Abram’s wife had borne him no children, and she had an Egyptian maid whose name was Hagar. So Sarai said to Abram, “Now behold, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Please go in to my maid; perhaps I will [a]obtain children through her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. After Abram had [b]lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Abram’s wife Sarai took Hagar the Egyptian, her maid, and gave her to her husband Abram as his wife. He went in to Hagar, and she conceived...
Genesis 21:  And the Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did unto Sarah as he had spoken. For Sarah conceived, and bare Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him. And Abraham called the name of his son that was born unto him, whom Sarah bare to him, Isaac....And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and took bread, and a bottle of water, and gave it unto Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, and the child, and sent her away: and she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba. And the water was spent in the bottle, and she cast the child (Ishmael) under one of the shrubs. And she went, and sat her down over against him a good way off, as it were a bow shot: for she said, Let me not see the death of the child. And she sat over against him, and lift up her voice, and wept...
 Judah, Er, Onan, and Tamar
Genesis 38: ...And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, whose name was Tamar. And Er, Judah's firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord; and the Lord slew him. And Judah said unto Onan, Go in unto thy brother's wife, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother. And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother's wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother. And the thing which he did displeased the Lord: wherefore he slew him also. Then said Judah to Tamar his daughter in law, Remain a widow at thy father's house, till Shelah my son be grown: for he said, Lest peradventure he die also, as his brethren did. And Tamar went and dwelt in her father's house. And in process of time the daughter of Shuah Judah's wife died; and Judah was comforted, and went up unto his sheepshearers to Timnath, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite. And it was told Tamar, saying, Behold thy father in law goeth up to Timnath to shear his sheep.
And she put her widow's garments off from her, and covered her with a vail, and wrapped herself, and sat in an open place, which is by the way to Timnath; for she saw that Shelah was grown, and she was not given unto him to wife. When Judah saw her, he thought her to be an harlot; because she had covered her face. And he turned unto her by the way, and said, Go to, I pray thee, let me come in unto thee; (for he knew not that she was his daughter in law.) And she said, What wilt thou give me, that thou mayest come in unto me? And he said, I will send thee a kid from the flock. And she said, Wilt thou give me a pledge, till thou send it? And he said, What pledge shall I give thee? And she said, Thy signet, and thy bracelets, and thy staff that is in thine hand. And he gave it her, and came in unto her, and she conceived by him. And she arose, and went away, and laid by her vail from her, and put on the garments of her widowhood. And Judah sent the kid by the hand of his friend the Adullamite, to receive his pledge from the woman's hand: but he found her not. Then he asked the men of that place, saying, Where is the harlot, that was openly by the way side? And they said, There was no harlot in this place. And he returned to Judah, and said, I cannot find her; and also the men of the place said, that there was no harlot in this place. And Judah said, Let her take it to her, lest we be shamed: behold, I sent this kid, and thou hast not found her. And it came to pass about three months after, that it was told Judah, saying, Tamar thy daughter in law hath played the harlot; and also, behold, she is with child by whoredom. And Judah said, Bring her forth, and let her be burnt. When she was brought forth, she sent to her father in law, saying, By the man, whose these are, am I with child: and she said, Discern, I pray thee, whose are these, the signet, and bracelets, and staff. And Judah acknowledged them, and said, She hath been more righteous than I; because that I gave her not to Shelah my son. And he knew her again no more. And it came to pass in the time of her travail, that, behold, twins were in her womb.
King Solomon
1 Kings 11: ... But king Solomon loved many strange women, together with the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites. Of the nations concerning which the Lord said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall not go in to them, neither shall they come in unto you: for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods: Solomon clave unto these in love. And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines...
And then, of course, there's Lot's traditional Biblical family...

Which of these, exactly, is Dan Cathy supporting? It would be interesting to know, wouldn't it?

The Parenting Project

Is it just me, or is the news consistently full of pieces that smugly accuse us all of being helicopter parents, or offer advice on how we can be even more involved in our kids lives, or showcase in juicy, pearl-clutching detail the most recent high-profile "neglectful parent" story? As if the ongoing message to parents is "you are all ridiculously neurotic about your children, and here's the 5-step plan to becoming even more neurotic, because look what happened when those parents over there weren't neurotic enough - they neglected their children to death." Basically, parenting is the kind of thing you just can't get right. It's as if the plethora of news stories and parenting books exists to repeat this message over and over again - you're doing it wrong.

Boy hung on clothesline by his clothing
And from what I can tell, most of the dominant parenting philosophies out there are doing it wrong. The much maligned Attachment Parenting allegedly produces overly-involved parents who have no lives of their own, fail to establish healthy boundaries for their kids, and are so involved in their children's lives that they end up implicitly communicating to the child that the child is too incompetent to do anything on his/her own, all while heaping on empty, meaningless words of praise. The Tiger Moms (and dads?) are even worse, and run their kids lives like drill sergeants, not allowing any time for creative play or relaxed, unscripted fun with friends or siblings. On the other side of the spectrum, Free Range Parents and Idle Parents are allegedly under-involved and let their kids run wild in the world with no supervision or boundary-setting.

This summer I've been reading skimming through a bunch of parenting books from both ends of the spectrum (including some that aren't on this spectrum - like Simplicity Parenting), and it seems to me that, as is generally the case, the more extreme theories clearly do get it wrong. But not because of anything actually contained in these ideologies themselves. The problem is their focus and outlook. The problem is that most parenting philosophies tend to be about parents. They're not about kids. But good parenting is about kids.

In my experience, the more dedicated a parent is to a particular parenting style or a vision they have of their child, the less tuned in to the actual child they are. And being tuned in to your child is probably the single most important skill any parent can have. Being accepting of their individual interests, talents, and personality quirks (rather than the interests, talents, and characteristics you want them to have), and willing to establish healthy boundaries that work for you and your child, takes hard work and thoughtfulness and respect for your child's autonomy. It may seem easier and less risky to address conflicts and behavioral issues with some kind of formulaic response learned from a book, or consistently allow the kids to run your life and your household. But what takes real work - and will ultimately result in a stronger  parent-child relationship - is being focused on your child and tuned in to what's going on with her.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Parenting and reproductive choice and feminism....again

It pains me to inform you that a little light housekeeping is in order. Feminism housekeeping, that is.

So let's start with some basic tenets of feminism writ large: 
  1. women should have control over their own reproductive choices and experiences
  2. women are the sole owners of their bodies
  3. all individuals, male or female, should have the freedom to determine the direction their lives will take - to choose the life that works the best for them

These are fairly uncontroversial, right? Of course, we could make #1 and #2 inclusive like #3, but that would be a bit redundant, since we automatically assume these things are true of men in our culture. Of course men are the sole owners of their bodies - what a dumb thing to say.

...but I digress.

We have these three claims around which there is a great deal of consensus. That is, pretty much everyone (who identifies as feminist) will agree to them if they are explicitly stated. And yet, right alongside these basic tenets, we have the perennial conversation about parenting - the one about whether parenting makes you happy and whether mothers resent their childless peers, and whether the style of parenting you choose makes you a good feminist or a bad feminist. And the co-existence of these conversations alongside these basic beliefs we claim to hold is so contradictory and incoherent that it makes your head spin.

If we're willing to fight for your right to avoid pregnancy and childbirth under circumstances you're uncomfortable with, then shouldn't we also support your right to avoid pregnancy and childbirth and parenting altogether - no questions asked? If we think you are the sole owner of your body and should be free to determine the direction your life goes in, how does this view leave room for debates about whether or not you ought to have children?  

So, let's get some perspective on this, shall we?

On the issue of whether or not parenting makes you happy.......why the fuck is this question even being asked, and why do we think it's relevant to feminism?
  1. If you're popping out babies because you think it's going to make you happy in some shallow, short-term, experiential way, you probably shouldn't have kids.*
  2. Given the context in which parenting takes place in 21st century western cultures - the social narratives and systemic flaws that place unequal burdens, privileges, and risks on mother and fathers - the question of whether or not parenting in itself makes you happier is impossible to really get to.** Thus it can't be useful as a means of upholding or rejecting cultural claims about women's "natural" desires or roles or propensities.
  3. If mothers do in fact resent and envy their childless acquaintances - which they undoubtedly do at times - then what does this say about parenting itself (nothing - although it says a lot about the conditions under which we experience parenthood) or about whether some women are justified in remaining childless?
All of this indicates the need to take a giant step back and re-evaluate the questions on a deeper lever. We might think questions of whether or not parenting makes you happy are relevant to feminism because of the age-old claim that parenting and nurturing is the only activity that will allow women to be truly and fully fulfilled in life. But the proper response to this is not to go around asking parents if they're happy, or defending the style of parenting you've chosen, or expecting childless women to mount a defense of their choices. All of this just feeds into and confirms that fundamental cultural narrative that's so anathema to all the basic tenets of feminism. The proper response is to question the framework and underpinnings of that narrative itself, and to work to expand the viable options available to women and support their choices - no questions asked. But to allow yourself to get dragged into the mud of a debate that rests on profoundly anti-feminist assumptions is counterproductive and damaging. So let's just knock it the fuck off already.

*If you were to ask me if parenting makes me happy, I would say sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn't. If you ask me if parenting is a worthwhile life project, then I would say yes. For me, definitely yes. For you? I don't know. But the question of whether parenting makes you happy is very different from the question of whether it's a worthwhile activity. And it assumes that it's the kind of experience you could sum up with a yes or no answer to questions about whether you're happy. Parenting opens you up to a range of experiences - good and bad - that would not otherwise be available to you, and forces you to grow and think and explore the world in ways that you would not if you never had kids. For me, this is incredibly fulfilling in numerous ways, many of which are hard to articulate. What's more, this growing and exploring thing is a collaborative experience between you and your child. But that's the kind of thing that's hard to measure and impossible to capture in a happiness study. 
**And assumes that there is no variation between individual persons who are also parents.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Genderbread Person

The Genderbread Person has been floating around the web for some time in one form or another. The latest version is posted here, and it features a non-continuum style of conceptualizing gender identity, gender expression, etc. Your thoughts?

Click on the image to see it full-sized

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Perhaps you missed the point?

William Saletan has a piece over at Slate on Robert Spitzer's research on reparative therapy (which attempts to change the orientation of participants from gay to straight), and his recent apology and apparent retraction. It's intriguingly entitled "Fifty Shades of Gay: In the political war over ex-gay conversion therapy, sexually conflicted people get trampled," which makes you think "oh, maybe here's a new angle on some aspects of this issue we've been overlooking," right? Except wrong.
Saletan notes that Spitzer's research was initially embraced by conservative religious and political groups who wished to eradicate homosexuality, but now his apology and retraction has been embraced by gay rights groups and others who wish to eradicate reparative therapy. According to Saletan, all this eradicating talk needs to stop already. And here's where things get a little fuzzy. Apparently we need to stop talking about eradicating reparative therapy because there are many individuals on the fringes of homosexuality - who feel conflicted or don't neatly fit into the gay/straight binary - and for them this whole reparative therapy might be effective. Correct me if I'm reading him wrong, but I'm pretty sure that's what he's saying.

Now I'm totally on board with two of Saletan's claims. I wholeheartedly agree that the whole gay/straight binary has gots to go. So does the male/female binary, the virgin/slut binary, and a whole lotta other binaries that we ♥ so much in our culture. I think we can generally agree that binaries with rigid boundaries and harmful social policing need to be replaced with flexible identities and open continuums on which people can express themselves and live their lives in the ways that are most fulfilling to them. I'm also totally on board with Saletan's resistance to the urge to overgeneralize and speak for/conceptualize/attempt to treat groups rather than individuals. No group is monolithic, no two people are the same, etc. Agreed.

But here's where Saletan's argument goes chattering off course so very dangerously. In fact, it is not problematic to attempt to eradicate things in general. Some thing just need to be eradicated. Things like hatred and abuse and oppression. Genocide could be eradicated, and I think we would all agree that the world was better for it. So this blanket prohibition of eradicating things seems a little counterproductive, to say the least.

And this points to a further problem with Saletan's argument. Saletan works from the assumption that homosexuality is not political, it's personal. And maybe in some cultural framework that could be true, but it's certainly not true in ours. Sexual orientation and gender presentation are profoundly political, because we make them political. We distribute opportunities and respect and social power and protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender presentation. We view these things as fundamental to one's identity, and identity is key to so many social and economic aspects of a person's life that that they simply can't be depoliticized. Like it or not, sexual orientation is political.

But beyond these issues, it seems like an important question has gone unasked here. It appears that Saletan is claiming that the fact that reparative theory can in theory be effective for those who are just a little bit gay to begin with (this is a great illustration of the problem with binary thinking and language in itself) means we should salvage it and continue the practice. The idea is, if you're not super hardcore gay, you might be able to become kinda sorta straight after therapy. But the real question that must be addressed regarding reparative therapy is why we want to change people's orientations to begin with. Even if you are in one of those shades of gray that doesn't fit neatly into a box, should we want to alter you in such a way that you do fit in the right box? Even if it makes you sad, or results in you living a life of celebacy and shame? Even if it makes you spend a lot of time thinking about killing yourself?

The point is, we have lots of reasons not to support the practice of reparative therapy, and a number of compelling reasons to work to end the practice, that go well beyond the possibility that it might be effective on a very small population of individuals. To begin with, there are the mountains of testimonials from individuals who were traumatized by reparative therapy. But beyond that, there's the harm contained in the very message that the existence of the therapy itself sends. To put it simply, it says being gay is bad and being straight is good. And there's no coherent way to refute this. Imagine if I started a program that promised to turn left-handed people into right-handed people. No doubt you would ask "what's wrong with being left-handed?" The point is, you cannot offer a cure for a condition without also implying that there's something wrong with having that condition to begin with.

So I agree with Saletan that we need to always consider and include those who don't fall neatly into one of two boxes. I agree with him that we can't act as if groups of people are monolithic. That's what queer politics is all about. That's what countless activists and theorists are advocating every day. But preserving a form of therapy that was coercive and harmful from the beginning does nothing to further that end.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Friday Miscellanea

Happy Friday. Here are some things to mull over as you pursue your weekend activity of choice:

A shocking discovery has been made in China:  having more money doesn't make you happier. Which I think we knew from earlier studies, with the caveat that having enough money to cover your basic necessities does impact your happiness ranking, but once you're out of that ball park, it has little or no effect.

A group of rats that switched up their healthy drinking water for a sweet beverage (aka diluted high fructose corn syrup, or soda, or whatever the popular sugary drink currently being marketed to young children is) experienced a substantial decline in synaptic activity. In other words, sugar consumption appears to make you dumb. Which isn't terribly surprising. And I thought we already had enough other reasons to avoid sugary beverages - especially those with HFCS in them.  ...or any food containing HFCS, for that matter.

An interesting new study examines the relationship between teenage motherhood and economic status. In Why is the Teen Birth Rate in the United States so High and Why Does it Matter? Melissa Schettini Kearney and Phillip B. Levine challenge the dominant view that becoming a teen mom is what puts so many young women in the U.S. on a low-income trajectory. Rather, they argue that more teens choose to have babies when there is little economic opportunity or social mobility available to them. In other words, this study seems to show that the causal relationship (if there is one in this particular correlation of factors) goes the opposite way from how it's conventionally viewed. Girls don't become/stay poor because they get pregnant - they are more likely to get pregnant and raise a baby if they are already on an economically-deprived trajectory. I think this merits some serious conversation.

I've finally started reading Virgin: The Untouched History by Hanne Blank.  So far it's interesting, amusing, and fairly light reading. Here's an excerpt on the topic of the hymen:

There simply are no symptoms occasioned by virginity loss that are uniform enough to point directly and unequivocally to the existence of the hymen. One would in any case reason that if there were, or if human beings did possess some innate awareness of the existence of hymens-an awareness, again, that all other hymen-bearing animals appear to lack-it would not have taken us until 1544 to figure out exactly what the hymen was and where it was located in the body. Truly, human beings are not so different from all the other animals that have hymens. We too very rarely have any inkling that our hymens exist.

It seems much more probable, given the importance human beings attach to virginity, that our awareness of the hymen came into existence the other way around. In other words, we became aware of hymens because we are aware of something we call virginity. We found the hymen because we found reasons to search women's bodies for some bit of flesh that embodied this quality we call "virginity," some physical proof that it existed. Humans are not alone in having hymens. We're merely alone in knowing it, and in having given ourselves a reason to care.

What are y'all reading these days?

And finally, a video for your viewing pleasure:

Happy weekend!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

About the whole Bible-and-the-gays thing

No doubt you've heard about the whole brouhaha surrounding Dan Savage's comments on the Bible. Of course, he's just saying what other people have pointed out before, like here, for instance. But this time it's shocking and inappropriate. Notice that nobody has said it's not true. Because it is true. Read the Bible and you will in fact find all kinds of anti-shellfish, anti-cutting your hair in the wrong way, anti- menstruating women, anti-women wearing pants, anti-pork, pro-slavery dictates. Of course these are mostly in the Old Testament. As far as I know, Jesus only identifies one abomination: the love of money. Now there's some food for thought...

But that's not what this post is about. I was thinking about the whole topic of Biblical stances against homosexuality earlier today, which got me thinking about Lot. You know, Abraham's nephew. I remember hearing the story of Lot and his family as a kid. In my church it went something like this:

Lot and his wife and daughters lived in Sodom and Gomorrah (I guess they lived in 2 towns??), which were very wicked (and not in the good way), so God was going to destroy them. At Abraham's request, God sent two angels, cleverly disguised as men, to warn Lot and his family. When they came to town all the wicked Sodomites and Gomorrahites  pursued them, but Lot took the visitors to his home and then defended them against the mob at his door who wanted to sex them up. In the process of defending the angels against the mob (brace yourselves), Lot offered his daughters, whom he claimed were virgins, and told the mob that they could do anything they wanted to his daughters as long as they left the two visitors (whom he did not know were angels, mind you) untouched. 

-I'm not making this up, you guys, it's right here-

So anyway, the angels manage to handle the crowd without handing over the two virgins (who later conceive children with their passed-out-drunk father) to the ravaging crowd and escort the family to safety while Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed with fire and brimstone. Except for Lot's wife, who violated the angels' command by turning around and looking back at the destruction, so she was turned into a pillar of salt.

Things that struck me about this story as a child:
  1. What is brimstone, anyway?
  2. Why salt?
  3. Why doesn't anyone notice or comment on the horrifying way in which Lot casually offers his daughters up to the crowd in place of these total strangers he just met?!?
  4. How is it that Lot's daughters (or anyone in that town) were still virgins to begin with?
Of course the contextual view of this story within my childhood religious environment is pretty important here. The conventional wisdom concerning Sodom and Gomorrah was that they were evil because of all the rampant homosexuality. And I think this is still a very common view in conservative religious circles. The fact that the townspeople were violent and predatory, which is what strikes me now, doesn't factor in to this view. That's not what God hated - it was the fact that they wanted the men rather than the women (it seems like maybe they were just super-opportunistic when it came to sex and would have gone after either option...). The point is, they were wicked because of all the homosexuality.  Which is ironically contrasted with the coercive, incestuous behavior in the following chapter that appears to have gone unpunished.

So somehow Lot appears to retain his "righteous" status in spite of offering his daughters up for gang rape. On top of it, there's a little moral of the story thrown in about strict and absolute obedience, illustrated by the punishment of Lot's wife, which seems a bit extreme for a relatively minor infraction, but OK. It's all very confusing, given the fact that we're also told that God is loving and merciful.

But the larger point is... no doubt the Bible does say some pretty harsh things about homosexuality (and shellfish, and pork, and haircuts, and menstruation, and women wearing pants). But it also has passages in which it appears to be perfectly acceptable to offer your daughters up to a gang of frothy-mouthed rapists, so why exactly are we expecting a literal interpretation of the Old Testament to yield any kind of a foundation on which we can ground a modern society? The fact is, Christians are already picking and choosing which scriptures to follow and which to disregard. My understanding of the process is that 1) we're in new covenant (New Testament)  times now, so scriptures about shellfish being an abomination no longer apply, and 2) a thoughtful Christian will think about God's nature and the spirit of the law behind the Bible and the contextual factors behind specific scriptural dictates, and will try to apply them to our social and historical context as effectively as possible. This means at times you will not follow specific scriptures to the letter (after all, nobody's out there sacrificing goats in the city square anymore) because they were intended for a different time and place.

But maybe that's just me. And I'm a backslider and a black sheep, so what do I know about Lot and his daughters?

A post about how it really should be Friday

You guys.

I cannot get over the feeling that it should be Friday. And I cannot get in the mood to blog about anything serious. I can, however, pass along some totally mindless yet entertaining tidbits:

I'm a tiny bit obsessed with milk glass mugs right now, so I've been shopping for sets of them on eBay.

I really need a set of these, right?

Second, here's a fabulous flash mob video to brighten up a dull Thursday (since as it turns out today is Thursday)

And two somewhat less mindless but equally interesting items:

You really should read this short but fantastic piece What Isn’t for Sale? over at the Atlantic. For what it's worth, the transition from having a market economy to being a market society that he describes so well is roughly the same thing I'm referring to when I mention (aka "yammer on about") Habermas' concept of the colonization of the lifeworld.  Good stuff.

And finally, I was thinking this morning how ironic it is when people reference a person who successfully started a business by borrowing $20,000 from their parents as "pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps." Ahem.  People whose parents happen to have $20k lying around don't generally have to pull themselves up by anything. And suggesting to young people who may be economically disadvantaged that they borrow money from their parents to start a business is ... insulting? ...offensive? ...privilege-blind? Something like that.

Not that I don't like Jimmy Johns. Crunchy pickles get me every time.

Happy Thursday.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Monday Miscellanea

...and it's only a day late.

Here's a fabulously well-written article on childbirth in the US:
The Most Scientific Birth Is Often the Least Technological Birth

In the most breathtaking analogy of the month year, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus claims that saying the GOP is waging a war on women is like saying they're waging a war on caterpillars. Because everyone knows that Republican dudes are so obsessed over the physical autonomy and reproductive practices of caterpillars that they're losing sleep over it. Oh wait, no. That's the physical autonomy and reproductive practices of women that they're so obsessed with. I remember now.

Stanley Fish has a great discussion of the role of faith and trust in religion and science over in the NYT blogs. Section one:  Citing Chapter and Verse: Which Scripture Is the Right One? and two: Evidence in Science and Religion, Part Two.

And finally, a webcomic of the week:

Friday, April 6, 2012

Webcomic of the Day

Spoiler Alert: "he ascends into heaven"
Happy Good Friday, if you're into that kind of thing.

Have a great weekend!

Honor versus Autonomy

Amina Filali had a big problem. Under Moroccan law, the 16 year-old girl was forced to marry her rapist in order to protect her honor. By which we mean her family's honor. After several months of marriage, during which her new husband beat her regularly and her mother advised her to be patient, Amina solved the problem the only way she could. She swallowed rat poison.

Meanwhile, smug Americans - the socially conservative and right-wing extremists among them - clutch their pearls and Tsk Tsk over those barbaric Muslims and their mistreatment of women. But when it comes right down to it, the views of socially conservative Americans are of a piece with laws and policies which require women to marry their rapists in order to preserve their family's honor. The common theme is this: it is a woman's responsibility to sacrifice her own well-being and autonomy to protect and maintain the family. No matter what the cost. Her economic, physical, emotional, sexual and social well-being can never trump the interests of her family.

So maybe the vocabulary is different. Maybe the socially conservative crowd refers to it as "a woman's calling" rather than "her family's honor." But underneath it all, it's the exact same idea.

The difference is, in Morocco they have the balls to come right out and say that a woman's well-being, interests, and desires don't and shouldn't factor in. Wouldn't it be refreshing if social conservatives in America would do the same?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The thing about the Trayvon Martin story

A lot of insightful things have been said about the Trayvon Martin story, and I don't feel much need to duplicate them here. The tragic intersection of culturally manufactured fear with our deep commitment to racial narratives and the valuing of property over persons... it's a recipe for disaster, to say the least.

mug shot of George Zimmerman
But there's another significant piece of this story that merits some discussion. It centers around Zimmerman's identity rather than Martin's. Zimmerman appears to be unemployed, but at one point what he really wanted was to be a cop. He took Criminal Justice classes and applied to the sheriff's citizen patrol program. He appears to have spent a lot of time driving around his neighborhood playing cop. Being a cop, officially or otherwise, was central to his identity. And this gives us some important insights into his behavior.

I don't by any means think all cops are corrupt and power hungry. I don't by any means think that there are no good cops. What I do think is that the mindset and culture of most police agencies is such that it attracts a certain type of personality and encourages a certain type of behavior. I have jokingly said to friends before "there's two kinds of cops: those who were bullies as kids, and those who were bullied." While I was joking, and I do think there are a few cops for whom this isn't true, generally speaking, this is a good rule of thumb to bear in mind when interacting with a cop. You should be asking yourself "What does s/he have to prove?  What personal insecurity or childhood scar is this particular badge and gun supposed to be compensating for?" It will make you both more cautious and more compassionate when interacting with cops.

However, this only works if you happen to be in a privileged class, in terms of law enforcement. If you seem suspicious in any way, or you don't conform to the (generally very socially conservative) norms that most cops utilize to make their judgements about those with whom they interact, this probably won't help you. Your best bet is to avoid cops altogether. Like by not walking alone in your own neighborhood at night with your hood on, or being young and male and African American to begin with.

...back to Zimmerman, though. So the details that are emerging about George Zimmerman reveal a person who was one of these types of cops to the core. Every person he interacted with who wasn't clearly a part of some law enforcement agency or wealthy and white was a suspect. Any individual he fixated on was guilty until proven innocent, and he would never allow some paltry little facts to get in his way. He walked around looking for a fight, and some means of soothing/boosting his ego. His view of himself as a "good guy" was so central to his identity that it drove him to irrational and sinister extremes.

This Zimmerman guy - he's scary. At this point, a lot of Americans are realizing how scary he is. But what's more scary is that hundreds of thousands of others who are remarkably similar to him in profound ways patrol the streets and prisons of America every day. People who's ego needs salving, who find reassurance of their strength only by using the constructs of the police and prison system as a weapon against others whom they have personally deemed to be of little or no value to society. The fact that our law enforcement and penal systems attract and encourage these types? That is a serious problem that we face as a nation and that will continue to produce collateral damage in the form of broken bodies and ruined lives.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

On Apologies

I generally avoid writing anything about Rush Limbaugh, because really, he knows who he is, we know who he is, he's not going to change, his fans aren't likely to change... so what's the point. But his apology for calling Sandra Fluke a slut and a prostitute got me thinking. Not about him so much, but about apologies in general.

What is it about an apology, and what are the conditions an apology must take place in, in order for us to take it seriously and accept it? This is interesting to me primarily because of my interest in forgiveness, and what both apologies and forgiveness do for both the wronged and wronging parties. But it's also interesting because of the role that public apologies play in our public life. It seems like in this age of electronic communication, what you say travels so far so fast, that the likelihood that any given public figure will find themselves issuing an apology at some point is very high.

In this case, Limbaugh has a pretty good incentive to make an apology. With sponsors of his radio show bailing left and right, he made this statement (via Politico) yesterday
“I always tried to maintain a very high degree of integrity and independence on this program. Nevertheless, those two words were inappropriate, they were uncalled for, they distracted from the point that I was actually trying to make, and I again sincerely apologize to Miss Fluke for using those two words to describe her. I do not think she is either of those two words.”
Limbaugh went on to reassure us that his apology was "heartfelt" and "sincere."

First, if you have to explicitly reassure people that your apology is sincere, we probably have good reason to suspect its sincerity to begin with. He doth protest too much and all that. But beyond that, we have reason to doubt the sincerity of his apology in general. If a person is apologizing for something he said which was 1) consistent in every way with his worldview and character, and 2) the kind of thing he's highly likely to say again in the future if he thinks he can get away with it, then why would we take his apology seriously? It's not that there's anything wrong with this apology itself. There's none of the doublespeak and passive-aggressive tone that some apologies have that make them so unbelievable. In this case it's purely a matter of context.

Rush, we believe you that you're sincerely sorry that you're getting some heat and losing advertising dollars over this one. That regret is clearly heartfelt and sincere. Regret about what you actually said? Not so much. The deeper lesson here (for you and everyone else) is that what makes an apology believable and constructive goes well beyond content. Sometimes context is everything.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Blast from the Past: Own your Space

Originally posted on Feministing way back in the day (December 2008), and still earning me the occasional hatemail....

Own Your Space!

This semester I had several female volleyball players in one of the classes I teach. They were all very tall, physically powerful, intelligent, well-read, and confident. But you never would have guessed by the way they carried themselves – in the hunched over semi-apologetic manner that tall women are supposed to have in our culture. As if being a tall woman is an offense to all the men you encounter who are shorter than you, so you have to hunch your shoulders down, duck your head, and keep your elbows close to your sides so as to not harm any male egos. This attitude is not new to me, being tall myself, but it irritates me that tall women are still made to feel this way. Obviously they’ve internalized the cultural message that it’s inappropriate for women to take up so much physical space and be imposing in any way.

A few years ago I researched this topic and read a number of studies on gendered use of personal space for a paper I was writing. It’s an interesting topic. Generally speaking, the use of personal space matches a person’s social status. So when two people interact, the one with higher status is more likely to invade the personal space of the other. Of course, this follows gender lines, and men use more space than women and are more likely to invade the personal space of a woman. One study used hidden cameras in train and bus stations in Europe to show that when women are sitting on a bench they keep their arms folded, elbows tightly at their sides, knees together, etc in order to minimize the space they need, while men sprawl out on the bench, spread their arms on the back of the bench, extend their legs out, even if their knees end up invading the space of a woman sitting next to them, etc. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve experienced this on an airplane, where the man next to me thought it was pre-ordained that the arm rest and half of the floor space in front of my seat belonged to him. A similar study looked at men and women walking in public spaces. When the path of a man and woman are going to cross, it’s always the woman who’s expected to alter her path to avoid a collision. In addition, women restrict their stride as compared to men, and tend to hunch their shoulders and not initiate or maintain eye contact.

So after I did this research my friends and I started messing around with this. We found that if you don’t alter your path when walking toward a man, a lot of men will almost run right into you, or bump their shoulder against yours, and then turn and give you this weird look. The weird looks you get are increased if you stand up straight with squared shoulders and take longer strides. I habitually walk this way now, and I continue to get puzzled looks by men who turn around after I pass them and watch me with an uncertain look. Part of it is because I’m fairly tall and refuse to hunch over or refrain from wearing boots with a heel (which make me 6’1″) if I feel like it. But also, if it’s not easy or the most natural for me to alter my path, I don’t. Oftentimes the man will have more space on his side of the sidewalk and I would have to step off onto the grass, or pause and wait for him to pass me first. I refuse. This really does bring strange reactions from men, but I don’t think they quite understand what seems so strange to them. Hence the puzzled looks. I also insist on owning my space in bars and restaurants where women are expected to yield their space, and I don’t shrink from eye contact or look away first. The strange thing is, once men get over the puzzled reaction, the usual response is fascination (except for the really insecure ones who feel threatened). But I see this as more than a fun social experiment (and now a habitual way of carrying myself). I think it’s subversive for women to abandon the sexist expectations to which they’ve been socialized to conform. By challenging these profound but unspoken signs of dominance and hierarchy, you can defy sexist attitudes every day without even being aware of it anymore. And that kind of kicks ass, in my view. So my challenge to feminists is to own your space. Become aware of how you sit/stand/walk/make eye contact, and stake your claim. A few weird looks from men isn’t going to hurt you, and it’s amazing how moving through the world in a confident manner changes your own self-conception over time.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Feminist parenting: arguing with your kids

Happy New Year, y'all.

As you may remember, I have a thing against making New Year's Resolutions, but I was sorta thinking that I should try to crank out one real post a week in 2012. We'll see how that goes.

So here's something I've been thinking about:

Over at the NPR blogs there's a piece about how kids who are in the habit of arguing in a productive way with their parents are better at resisting peer pressure. It's definitely worth a read.

Of course this isn't surprising to me. I think having good arguing skills (of the non-flaming, non-drama-queen type) is a basic life skill that will benefit you in many areas of your life. On the other hand, I can definitely see that raising kids who think they have a voice and who will argue (respectfully) with you is more work than just reverting to the classic because-I-said-so style of parenting. But I think it's integral to their developing sense of autonomy, and their critical thinking skills in general, so it seems worth it.

I've also been thinking about the value of being good at arguing with the people in your life in a productive way in another context. I have this friend who is incredible in many ways. He's smart and funny and artistically talented and witty and thoughtful and super fun to be around. But... from time to time he does this thing where he allows some small conflict with someone in his life to build up to the point where he just suddenly goes off on them (usually in email form) and says terribly hurtful things, completely ending his friendship with them, leaving no room for backtracking or starting over or mending fences. There's no room for dialogue, and the hurtful things that have been said can't be taken back. It's a complete burning bridges approach that's puzzling to me given this guy's social skills in general. To say the least, this has cost him pretty big over the course of his adult life, and caused a great deal of turmoil and hurt feelings among our friends.

When my great-grandma (the one with 13 kids) was in her 90s, someone asked her what the secret to a good marriage was. She said "knowing when to shut up." There is a lot of truth to this, I think, but in some cases, knowing when to address conflict before it becomes a blowing-up-and-burning-bridges scenario is more important. My dad has said a few times before: the most important relationship skill is knowing how to argue without saying things you can't take back, and without tearing down the person with whom you disagree. I would add that not discussing things when you're too worked up emotionally is probably a good skill to develop too.

So how do you teach your kids how to do this? I suppose by modeling the skills on a daily basis. By engaging in productive arguments that focus on the activities or events in question rather than making personal attacks or engaging in emotional blackmail. By not rewarding drama queen behavior, but being willing to compromise when kids stake out a reasonable position in a calm and persuasive way.

As far as I can tell, this is a crucial part of feminist parenting.

Anyone wanna argue with me about that?