“The Homosexuals” (CBS, 1967) 10 February 2010Posted by Todd in Gay and Lesbian History, Gay Culture, Gender, Homosexuality, Queer Theory, Sexuality.
In my book The Meaning of Gay, currently in press (sorry for the shameless plug), I briefly treated the gay male response to this documentary in a section on the media and homosexuality. I had tried several ways to find and watch the documentary in its entirety, but had never been able to find it (although since then, I discovered that the TV library at UC Berkeley has it in its archive). This is a fascinating window back in time when straight America were struggling with a relatively new kind of public homosexuality. The central argument of my book is how the move to publicity and public interaction transformed the meaning of gay and more specifically the meaning of gay-maleness. When you have 45 minutes, watch this little slice in the history of homophobia from CBS 1967. Specifically, you are watching in very stark and shameless terms, the heterosexual order asserting its power to control and contain deviant sexualities through control of the meaning of homosexuality (namely, as a disease, a sin, and a crime). h/t Joe.My.God
Gender Differences? 15 November 2009Posted by Todd in American Pragmatism, Biology, Culture, Evolution, Gender, Queer Theory, Sexuality.
In my ongoing quest to integrate genetic, neurological, biological, physiological, and evolutionary research and knowledge into my cultural sociological work, I am constantly trying to grapple with a way to theorize an integrated “nature/nurture” transaction in human behavioral and cultural characteristics. As I’ve said many times here before, I find it frustrating that English, because of its Western cultural heritage of separating humanity from nature, lacks a way to talk about the interaction of genetic/biological heritage with the umbworld (the combined physical, social, and cultural environment) in that intricate dance to create a phenotypical characteristic. The cultural baggage evident in the way we continue to talk of “nature v. nurture” forecloses our ability to think in terms of what is more or less the empirical emergence of human characteristics in an interactive dynamic of evolutionary, biological heritage and the social & physical environments.
Recently I tried to summarize where I stand with gender in my naturalistic sociological standpoint. I thought I would re-post this here on the blog to see what other people thought and get some feedback and pushback on these ideas. This was in response to two acquaintances who had taken very stark stances about the origins of gender, one hard to the biological side and one hard to the social constructionist side. This was my effort to offer a naturalistic and critical perspective:
This is an extremely messy discussion with no easy or clear answers. Both the biologically determinist and the culturally determinist position make me uncomfortable. Here’s where I am on gender difference right now:
There are average differences between the sexes in various areas of behavior and physiology. This however is complicated by several observations:
• in both behavioral and physiological characteristics where there are average differences, the bell curves overlap significantly, to that most individuals fall in the overlap area (the only exception to this that I know of off the top of my head is body mass, where males are roughly 20% greater than females, across geographic-races).
• the human brain is incredibly plastic, so that any characteristic that appears to be possibly an average difference (e.g., a preference for symbolic thinking or spatial reasoning) can actually be learned by any normal brain of either sex. in other words, many mental differences turn out to be preferences, but those preferences turn out to be so strong and universal that they appear to have at least some heritability
• it is difficult to tease out the differences that matter, and often the ones that we decide matter are because of our cultural biases; the best way to see through that is to do cross-cultural research, but cross-cultural research still risks being driven by the cultural biases of the researchers, regardless of their culture of origin
• early childhood studies consistently seem to show a base-line gender difference in behavior and cognition (meaning the *way* they think), even when conducted by feminists; but feminist researchers tend to explain it away as “constructed” difference; I’m becoming less and less convinced. This is completely anecdotal, and just meant for illustration my friends are generally pretty feminist, and all of them who have had both male and female children have been stunned at how gendered their small toddlers are.
• any individual man or woman can fall anywhere in the bell curve, and in any given characteristic be “masculine” or “feminine”, so even if there are generalizable, average sexual differences, they only function at a population and species level and tell us absolutely nothing about the person sitting next to us or about how we should organize our societies or how we should distribute social goods.
• finally, even if we are able to demonstrate clearly how exactly gendered phenotypes arise in human individuals, we run the risk of reifying them socially, so that they become normative: e.g., here’s the gendered mean for a male on characteristic X, therefore, men should or must behave like characteristic X. This is precisely the wrong conclusion to draw from any research that shows average gendered differences in behavior or physiology. This is why, especially for those of us who fall far outside the bell curve, such research feels threatening and dangerous and particularly UNTRUE.
[As a side note, I think the only two brain structural differences that seem to matter at all are the average size of the corpus callosum and perhaps the average sizes of the pituitary.]
Neanderthal Females Kicked Ass 14 November 2007Posted by Todd in Biology, Evolution, Gender.
Tags: hunting, mastadon, Neanderthals
Apparently, a pair of anthropologists at University of Arizona are arguing that Neanderthal women were hunters alongside the males. The evidence is pretty sketchy, but I like the image. In any case, we know that even in our line, Homo sapiens females were far more involved in the day-to-day survival of their (relatively) egalitarian bands pre-history. The anthropologists say the archeological evidence still shows a gender division of labor, but that they think it’s clear that women were also hunters.
Now I’m fine with that idea of las chicas neanderthalas hunting mastodon. What raised an eyebrow, however, was the Boston Globe’s lead into the story, which was that this practice might be what led to the species’ extinction. The demographic issue is obvious: hunting is dangerous, and losing fertile females would be catastrophic to a species’ survival. The problem here is that the species lasted for nearly 150,000 years. A practice so detrimental to the population as losing fertile females to a random tusk here or a stomping furry foot there would have led to a much quicker demise of the population (which coexisted for thousands of years with Homo sapiens in Europe).
In order for that to have been a major factor in Homo sapiens neanderthalis extinction, it would’ve had to have been a recent behavioral innovation. Otherwise, it would’ve led to demographic collapse much earlier. To have lasted 150,000 years with that behavior would have to mean that Neanderthal females kicked some serious ass with a spear.
Mormon Homophobia, part 3891 27 July 2007Posted by Todd in Commentary, Gender, Homosexuality, Mormonism/LDS Church, Sexuality.
According to the Deseret News, the Mormon church has released a new pamphlet about so-called “same-gender attraction.” The church’s choice of awkward phrasing notwithstanding, the pamphlet rehashes the standard anti-gay but cloaked in love language as usual. The argument is thus (see if you can follow along):
1) you cannot achieve salvation unless you have an “eternal family” which requires a heterosexual marriage
2) god may never tell us why some people have strong “same-gender attraction”, but we know it’s bad, so don’t ever give in to it
3) if you live a good life (i.e., and never have gay sex), god will reward you in the next life
4) our bodies are sacred, therefore we must only have sex in a monogamous (the irony still escapes the church’s PR machine) heterosexual marriages
5) sexual desire does not justify acting on the behavior, which is immoral. Sex is evil. I mean sacred. Yes, sex is sacred. Don’t do it. It’s immoral.
6) giving in to “same-gender attraction” gives only an illusion of happiness; real happiness comes from self-control (read: denial and deprivation); the urge for “same-gender physical contact” will diminish when real emotional needs are met (because sexual contact is not a real need).
7) if you have a strong testimony of the Gospel (mormonspeak for witness or knowledge), then you will not act on your “same-gender attraction”
8 ) so you see, the Mormon church treats all its members the same, because heterosexuals aren’t allowed to have sex until they’re married either! God really does love us all!
9) if you are “same-gender attracted,” you should stop worrying about it, because it’s beyond your control at the moment; instead you should focus on things that matter, like working for the Mormon church or reading your scriptures or serving the needy
10) grow a good garden: you see, this is an analogy, where our lives are like a garden; if we grow good things, we’ll have a good garden; so it is with our lives. If you are “same-gender attracted”, then you should dive into church service and cultivate friendships with people who do not “flaunt” their homosexuality, but keep it hidden away in shame. If you meet people who are openly homosexual, run from them, er, dig them out of your garden. Homosexuals are like weeds in your garden.
11) Just to be safe, do not under any circumstances develop a close friendship with someone of the same-gender, because Satan will tempt you to make it sexual, and nothing could be worse than having sex with someone of the same-gender whom you love
12) pornography is bad. child molestation is bad.
13) remember, if you suffer from “same-gender attraction,” as long as you never act on it or openly display it or flaunt it like a homosexual weed, you can be a full member of the church! See! We love you! Our geriatric Fuhrer has told us so in bland and banal terms in a great and spacious building during our world wide conference wherein we say the same bland and banal platitudes vetted by our Department of Information Clensing and broadcast throughout all the world because god gave us technology so that we could spread. See? God loves you despite your same-gender attraction!
14) As you struggle to live a lie by remaining in the Mormon closet, be sure not to burden other people with your pain and depression and problems, least of all your priesthood leaders. Instead, it is your own responsibility to suffer in silence alone with the Lord. We love you!
15) God has his arms open to all his children, even to weeds like you. Our Geriatric Fuhrer has even said that we sympathize with you, you so-called homosexual!I don’t even have the strength to comment.
It’s so exhausting to read this drivel and to even begin to contemplate the effects this is having on young gay people around the world in the Mormon church. How can they not see the horrible emotional and psychological damage this does to people who have done nothing wrong. I’m not posting the link to the pamphlet because I don’t want to be linked to the church’s website, but you can follow the link from the Deseret News article.
States Rights Is Not the Answer 13 July 2007Posted by Todd in Democratic Theory, Gay Rights, Gender, Inequality & Stratification, Multiculturalism, Race & Ethnicity.
In debates about abortion, gay rights, multiculturalism in general, the U.S. by virtue of the Constitution’s devolution of powers leaves open the argument that such decisions should be left up to the states to decide. However, for democratic societies, this leaves open the possibility of differentiated equalities depending on the state you live in. [The E.U. is currently having this problem with abortion (i.e., Ireland and Poland) and gay rights (i.e., Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania), where individual member-states are picking and choosing which of the human rights conventions they want to adhere to.]
When a group of people is set apart as a class by the society and fundamental human rights are taken away, your democracy is at best, “in process” and at worst a failure. Either you agree as a society that women/gays/ethnic minoriteis are FREE and EQUAL, or you don’t. Making it a “state based” issue means that you as a society have agreed that women/gays/ethnic minorities aren’t EQUAL and do not deserve EQUAL PROTECTION throughout your entire society.
In the U.S., kicking abortion to the states is a cop out to appease anti-abortion moderates who would be happy being able to control their own little backwoods corner of the world. And it leaves women out in the open without universal protection under the law, where their very status as citizens, their ability to choose their own embodied destiny, is not equal throughout the ‘democracy.’
As gay marriage is basically a state-issue at this point, notice how gay couples who travel to different states magically lose their standing once they cross the border, how companies who use out-of-state insurance are not bound by in-state laws requiring same-sex spouses by covered, how power of attorney and wills have to be made separately and strongly despite having a state-level union, because no other state is obligated, thanks to Bill Clinton’s caving to the fuckhead Gingrich on DOMA, to recognize the rights of gay citizens.
To be even more stark here, consider the state-by-state solutions to SLAVERY and JIM CROW.
State-by-state solutions on questions of the equality of citizens are by their very nature the source of inequality, the disenfranchisement of entire groups of people who then are confined to certain states that grant them a simulacrum of freedom and equality.
Abortion 26 April 2007Posted by Todd in Commentary, Gender, Law/Courts, Sexuality.
With the Supreme Court upholding the bans on so-called “partial birth abortion” (a rare procedure used only in dire circumstances) without the expected health exception, abortion has made its way back into my consciousness. I’m pro-choice, reflexively so, and view the moral questions around abortion to be a deeply complex and personal amalgam that individuals must grapple with for themselves. I do not think the state has any business interfering. And I think most pro-lifers should pay more attention to their own lives instead of trying to regulate other people’s crotches.
Stories like this man’s (yes, I said man) bring home for me why this issue is so frought and so personal and why the Supreme Court has rightly ruled that it’s an issue of privacy and why the Roberts Court was wrong this week:
from Disgusted Beyond Belief.
More on “Sexual Purity” 10 November 2006Posted by Todd in Christianity, Commentary, Gender.
A few months ago, I mentioned this growing evangelical phenomenon of “Purity Balls“, where daughters and daddies make creepy abstinence bonds to each other. Here’s a promotional video from Care Net for the 2006 Purity Ball program. I’m stupefied by the sexism, infantalism, paternalism, and bald wingnuttery of the whole thing: