January 18, 2012
I recently attended the gathering of roughly 300 concerned citizens reacting to the firebombing of a Jewish synagogue in a neighboring town. The rabbi and his family of seven live above the synagogue in the residence. Mercifully, no one was injured, but, of course, the family is shaken: scared because of the violence and saddened because of the hate.
‘Hate,’ similar to ‘violence,’ is a rather ambiguous concept, prone to semantic dispute. When asked to define either of these terms, most people tend to recall their own experiences for explanation: People hate me because I’m Jewish/Muslim/Black/Gay/Female, etc. Violence is beating/rape/spitting/yelling obscenities/shooting a gun, etc. Because of these discrepancies, we tend to forget that others too experience hate and violence in their own unique ways. Hate and violence are personal, and things we think we own.
At the vigil, members of the community, politicians and local clergymen made grand statements describing their outrage and expressing hope for peace and unity between the Jewish community and their own. I leaned forward and whispered in the ear of our minister, “You should make a statement, if you feel comfortable. Please mention that we are an open and affirming congregation that welcomes people of all sexual orientations.” He nodded.
There were many different kinds of people at the gathering, mostly varying on the basis of religion. The yarmulke on Jewish men, habit on Catholic nuns, and kufi on Muslim imams signified diversity. Then there was our Protestant pastor with no distinguishing religious attire – that I can recall, just a tweed jacket and a gentle expression. He rose and spoke on the subject of disbelief: how he and others couldn’t understand how such a heinous act could occur here, in this quiet little burg.
And that was all he said.
Oh well, I thought; there’s a missed opportunity to plug our mission. Perhaps he didn’t feel comfortable being OPENLY gay in a crowd of people who aren’t open to people being gay. I can certainly respect that, since you never know when and where hate and subsequent violence can sprout. Perhaps the mention would have caused a riot. After all, this is not a community that’s hosting vigils for LGBTQ (the ‘Q’ stands for Queer) individuals who are survivors of violence, firebombing or otherwise.
Wait just a minute! Why is that? Why is this community, which purports to accept and love all religions (or at least those on display), not professing its love (or lack of hatred) for gays? This wasn’t just a missed opportunity for a little PR, it was a missed opportunity to remind religious folk of their hypocrisy: loving those who follow the heteronormative formula, and rejecting those who don’t.
Even while the inter-faith flag flew, it was easy to tell that topic at hand was not simply hatred or violence. Instead, it was hatred and violence against a pristine family, one with a composed yet doting father, a beautiful mother and five precious children who – aside from fittingly, physically resembling their parents – look like they’ve just stepped out of an ad for GapKids®. So they look normal…acceptable? They follow the rules. And the rules are these: be born, squelch your natural instincts if you don’t fit the hetero formula, grow up, date and marry a member of the opposite sex, have children and die. Happy? Probably not. The restrictive gender binary that holds our society together is gradually tearing us apart because we collectively resist change and adhere to an antiquated understanding of “the way things should be.”
Our church, open and affirming though it may be, is not superior to this resistance. Just try offering up a suggestion for change: “That’s not the way we do it.” We’ll never get and keep new members if we’re sticks in the mud. But the reason I joined this church is because I wanted to be social in an environment that has boldly crossed the current frontier: we love the people who identify as LGBTQ. And this was not something that was easily fostered: many left the church after it adopted an O&A stance, not necessarily because they weren’t open to these identities, but because they couldn’t commit to affirming them. And now, here we are: the product of some old thinking, some new thinking, but with both feet firmly planted on the side of love. I think Jesus would approve.
It’s easy to point to LGBTQ and say “they’re the victims” these days. Bullying and suicide have reached extreme levels in our American society. But the truth is queer bias is simply a fallout from our all too rigid gender binary which informs the aforementioned formula. Look at how we react to the likes of a Susan Sarandon/Tim Robbins pairing. Many remark, “Why don’t they just get married?!” Marriage is the crucible upon which we tend to level our fear of the unknown or the undesirable. This is not just because of a fear that gays and lesbians marrying will breach the gender binary (and cost the government millions in lost tax revenue)… No, it’s the manifestation of our deeper need to put people into categories: male/female, masculine/feminine, married/single/widowed/divorced, secular/non-secular, working mother/domestic mother, Democrat/Republican, liberal/conservative, socialist (gasp!)/capitalist, violent/non-violent, Jewish/Muslim/Hindu/Buddhist/Christian, etc. GEEZ – we’re judgemental! But that keeps us safe, right?! (It’s a pity that Sarandon and Robbins have split…just as we were starting to get a handle on the concept of domestic partnership!)
If you’re not normal and we can’t understand you, we hate you. Period. I wanted my daughter to be exposed to diversity at the gathering, and I was sorry for the lack of it beyond religious/ethnic categorization…or at least obvious categorization. Some people still have to hide. Perhaps worse: some people still believe they do even when it’s safe?
Of course, it’s completely impossible to quantify hate. I mean, the synagogue incident is terrorism; it’s horrible! It’s not the byproduct of a greater hatred than that which exists for other terrorized peoples. We can’t be in the business of oppression olympics, even if we are identifying systemic causes of violence. If someone says, “Life is harder for me because transgendered people can’t use public restrooms without dirty looks and, in some places, physical assault,” someone else could say, “Yeah?! Well millions of Jews died in the Holocaust!” or “Did you know that one in six women in the United States is the victim of rape?” etc. Any hatred and resulting violence is wrong: even if it’s just a mean word designed to hurt feelings. (DO NOT SAY IT!)
But in the wake of hatred and violence directed at you, try to remember that it is also directed elsewhere. Reach out with love. And if you haven’t experienced a beating or a rape or a firebombing…remember this: there’s always tomorrow. And somebody probably hates you too.
February 27, 2010
I love “The Daily Show!” (I love it apart from its inability to be embedded in my blog.) Thanks to Faemom, I was on the lookout for the following clip on February 3, 2010. Click below:
Every time I view this clip, I laugh out loud. If you watched it and you didn’t laugh, you might need professional psychiatric intervention. Seriously. Don’t operate any heavy machinery. You should probably stay away from sharp objects too.
To recap: “Men today are probably where women were in the late 50’s; we’re about a half century behind women in terms of being understood, in terms of having options,” declares author and sociologist Warren Farrell. Right. “He’s right,” Samantha Bee says. Oh? “Men run just 4…hundred and 85 of our Fortune 500 companies and only three branches of government.” I see, Samantha. Poor men. What am I thinking being a feminist?
According to Farrell, men have been shut out of pharmaceutical sales positions because they aren’t sexually attractive to the mostly heterosexual male population of doctors that form the pharmaceutical consumer base. By his logic, pharmaceutical sales is a more desirable job prospect than medicine and women dominate the former because they are physically attractive to the latter. So doctors are misunderstood and have few options while women must rely on their attractiveness to men to get ahead? And that’s progress for women because…we now can get ahead in our careers by being sex objects? Similarly, men are disadvantaged from an early age as football players because cheerleaders – long the rulers of the high school sports universe – don’t respect and compliment fallen football heroes. Yeah…those dominant cheerleaders and sexy pharmaceutical saleswomen are really a problem for men!
Enter the Better Men Organization: nothing wrong with this organization in principle – in fact, I think it’s a very good idea, but their complaint in this segment is that men today really aren’t getting what they need, which is social acceptance to gather. Right. It’s not socially acceptable for men to gather at bars, strip clubs or sports arenas. And men are never known to gather acceptably in the woods where they would certainly be restricted from complaining about their wives.
Let’s face it: the fact that any men in America are complaining about their overall subordination to powerful women is laughable. Sure, some men are oppressed in violent relationships or at jobs overseen by power-tripping female supervisors. And many men suffer in unhappiness or die violent, painful deaths. But after thousands of years of world domination, men as a collective have NOTHING to complain about. Even if women as a class were to take over ruling the world, it would simply be a taste of men’s own medicine spooned back to them.
Bravo, Samantha Bee! In light of the fact that so few women are working as writers and performers on late night comedy shows – and even if that weren’t the case, you are a beacon of humor and wisdom for feminists. While I don’t agree that sensitivity and soft-spoken qualities in men should be labeled with a designation that’s “puss-related” – simply because the reverse can also be inflicted on women with a condemnation when we aren’t sensitive and soft-spoken, I champion your ability to poke fun at these shortsighted, complaining men.
Well, except for that last statement you made: “Attention middle-aged vagina men: sack the fuck up! Seriously. You’re turning me into a lesbian.” While there’s nothing anti-feminist about Bee’s preference for traditionally masculine men, there is something irksome in her use of the term “vagina men.” Why? Because it is negatively wielded and implies that only those with vaginas (i.e. women) can be socially acceptable as sensitive and emotionally expressive; thus compounding one lament of the Better Men Organization. And furthermore, because this use of the word vagina, something uniquely female, is derogatory, it is thus derogatory to women even though not intended to insult anybody but the men in the talking stick circle.
Now, as I said before, I love “The Daily Show” and I really appreciate Samantha Bee’s refreshing perspective. But this use of female-identified words as derogatory designations for men has got to stop. Terms like “vagina men,” “douche,” “douchebag,” and “pussy,” or “pusswad” as Bee uses in the segment, are all related to female anatomy and imply, whether intentionally or unintentionally, that female anatomy is inferior to male anatomy and thus that females are inferior to males. Why don’t we keep sex-defining anatomy out of it? Instead of “douchebag,” why not use insults like “loser,” “idiot” or “jerk?” Instead of calling the Better Men Organization “vagina men,” couldn’t Bee have called them “weaklings,” “freaks” or “wimps?” That is what she meant, is it not?
We’ve grown accustom to using these genitalia-related words and have forgotten that they discriminate. Even calling somebody a “dick” implies aggression typically associated with men. Can you or would you call a woman a “dick?” Usually, the term for an aggressive female is “bitch,” which is also derogatory because it historically refers to female dogs. This verbiage keeps us entrenched in our gender binary: women are passive and subordinate, and men are active and dominant forces in the world. At least “asshole” refers to something everybody has. Ergo, use it freely.
Urban Dictionary provides modern connotations for many of these slang terms we use – submitted by the users of them, many of them rooted in misogyny:
- Vagina: female opening to the uterus and an insult as in “Man’gina,” which is an outwardly masculine, heterosexual male who fusses or whines about typically female things like hair care products or cramps
- Douche: product used to sanitize an unpleasant, dirty vagina and a word to describe an individual who has shown (himself) to be very brainless in one way or another, thus comparing (him) to the cleansing product for vaginas
- Douchebag: an item consisting of a rubber bag, tube and nozzle, used to clean a woman’s vagina and an individual who has an over-inflated sense of self worth, compounded by a low level of intelligence
- Pussy: a nice name for a cat, slang for women’s genitals and cowardly
- Pusswad: guy who is a vagina or pussy
I cringe every time I hear one of these terms being used because I know that they are based on the gender binary that I’d like to see dissolved. But it really irks me when I hear or read feminists using these terms. How can we? Don’t we at large know that they are based in the assumption that we and our woman parts are inferior to men and their man parts? You don’t hear people calling another a “bidet,” an “aftershave” or a “nose hair trimmer,” which are items typically used by men and might be wielded to refer to a traditionally masculine female in a tone rooted in misandry. So why do we feminists and others continue to use terminology that is rooted in misogyny: terminology that implies that our woman parts and thus ourselves are “whin(y),” “fuss(y),” “unpleasant,” “dirty,” “brainless,” “cowardly,” passive, subordinate and weak? Stop it, I say. Stop it right now.
I believe that our collective decision to do away with such terminology is one step toward doing away with gender and equalizing the sexes. The result: women can run more than 15 Fortune 500 companies and at least one branch of government without fear of being called “bitches.” And men can sit in circles and communicate their feelings to one another without fear of being labeled “vagina men,” or even “wimps.”
Don’t worry. There will still be plenty of ridiculous ignorance in the world for Samantha Bee to wittily poke fun at.
November 21, 2009
I am speaking about gender as a distinct concept from sex: gender is masculine/feminine and sex is male/female.
The two weren’t originally distinct. As language evolved, as it continues to do, the concepts of male/female gender said to be “masculine”/”feminine” arose as adjectives inclusive of traits traditionally exhibited by either sex. But as the eras morphed and gave way to one another – and with women’s liberation advancing women’s choices in behavior – the concept of gender became archaic. While masculine and not feminine might originally have been thought to include athletic agility, certainly we have seen women accumulate a myriad of athletic achievements. And while feminine and not masculine might originally have encompassed all things, activities, attitudes and behaviors relating to the sphere of the home, we have seen men take over housework and child rearing in the absence of and occasionally as the preference to women. Ergo, gender as masculine/feminine doesn’t mean anything anymore, really…but we still use these words. For the purposes of this and all my essays, my use of the word gender will always refer to traditional masculinity or traditional femininity. (What is traditional? That’s my point.)
Because Americans are often inhibited by public mention of private, personal things – such as sex and other bodily functions like flatulence – we have learned to substitute the word “gender” for the word “sex.” We fear that we might confuse people with the word “sex,” making them think of the act of sexual intercourse rather than the differences between its heterosexual participants.
When making an academic argument about the members of one sex or the other and their inherent traits, we must remember to use the word “sex” and not the word “gender.” Be clear: are you talking about men and woman and their differences/similarities, or are you talking about the traditionally held attitudes toward what each sex’s sphere encompasses? If it’s the latter, feel free to utilize the term gender. For instance, my sex is female, but many of my traits are traditionally masculine: I have a job outside my home, I drive a car, I speak my mind, I wear pants, etc.
Actress Rachel McAdams was recently quoted by Entertainment Weekly (Nov. 27, 2009) as summing up her character Irene in the 2009 Sherlock Holmes movie by saying: “She’s not a typical woman of her time. (Portraying Irene) was a matter of balancing her femininity with what was masculine like being a weapons expert.”
McAdams is correct in this wielding of masculine/feminine concepts (gender) in referring to her 19th Century muse as a woman (sex) with traditionally male (sex) qualities. But until we get far enough away to look back on the period we inhabit now (2009), we can’t clearly distinguish the overlying characteristics attributed to either sex. In other words, we don’t know what gender is today because we can’t objectively examine all of its parts or predict what its outcome will mean for the next generation. McAdams is only correct in saying Irene was not typical because the women who came before and after Irene were not weapons experts as a general rule. That skill did not pervade our sex. Does it today or will it tomorrow? We don’t know yet. And someday, when men and women aren’t restricted by expectations of gender, it won’t matter.
“Gender,” when used as a verbal stand in for the collective of men or women, has got to go. We need the term to represent the collective traits long believed to be inclusive in groupings of people of the same sex. If we are specific with this language, then we will be able to examine how gender is really meaningless and detrimental. To believe that women (sex) are only as strong as our femininity (traditional gender) would limit our potential to advance ourselves in society. And to believe that men are all as stoic as traditionally masculine men would limit their potential to assume some of the roles traditionally undertaken by women, thus limiting our potential to advance in roles traditionally held by men. If my husband and I have children, and I am subsequently offered the career opportunity of a lifetime, I might choose to abandon the traditional wifely and motherly duties for a “male” career model leaving my husband to pick up the slack in the arenas of cooking, cleaning and child rearing. He would have to let go of his fear of being judged feminine by other men and women just as I would have to prepare to receive and shrug off any criticism about abandoning my children for long hours at the office. Working mothers often have guilty consciences because the world has long believed they are selfish for pursuing their dreams and leaving their children to be cared for by others.
In my utopia, gender is gone: both the word and what it really means. It is reductive and restrictive and…inaccurate in this day and age.
I could list hundreds of examples of how gender restricts females from doing the things they want in life, but I’d like to turn the tables for a second and talk about one instance where males are being restricted: fashion. It is the privilege of my sex in America to wear ruffles, boas, elaborate costume jewelry, outrageous shoes, make-up and hair accessories. Of course, this isn’t a universal privilege. Some men get away with it right here in the New York City metro area where I live. And certainly, women are restricted from the fun of dressing as they please in countries like Afghanistan and Iraq. Plus, I also must mention that women do painful often terrible things to their bodies sometimes to feel worthy of the adornments I hereby champion including but not limited to surgery and eating disorders. But for the purposes of this argument, we can hopefully agree that some females in Houston, Texas and Atlanta, Georgia are having fun with fashion, basking in the soft and colorful feminine decorations that males are not allowed.
We must agree that there is a privilege of our sex in these locales because we are allowed to beautify ourselves in ways that males are not, and this can be an enjoyable activity. Earlier this month, Houston’s O’Rhonde Chapman, a 17 year-old high school senior, wore a long wig and stiletto heels to school because they make him feel good. But the school’s dress code restricts males from growing their hair past their shirt collars or wearing wigs to conceal an unruly hair length. Females are not subject to the same hair length restriction. A video interview with Chapman is available online.
Boo hoo, right? Well, dress is a form of self-expression, whether it includes wearing sparkly barrettes in your hair or the name of your favorite sports team across your chest. Males should no more be restricted from expressing themselves in this way than females. The New York Times featured an interesting article about cross dressing rules for high school students and what it means to both sexes on Nov. 8 in the “Sunday Styles” section. This situation of restricting dress based on sex is unsettling at an all-male college in Georgia that has banned, according to CNN, “the wearing of women’s clothes, makeup, high heels and purses as part of a new crackdown on what the institution calls inappropriate attire.”
Oh my god… Does a messenger bag count as a purse? Does zit concealer count as make-up? What’s the reasoning behind this? “We are talking about five students who are living a gay lifestyle that is leading them to dress a way we do not expect in Morehouse men,” said Morehouse College’s Dr. William Bynum, vice president for Student Services.
Basically, what Bynum is saying is that the rest of the men at Morehouse College are homophobic and uncomfortable with men who exhibit other than masculine characteristics. The school’s resident gay organization supported the ban by a majority vote, presumably to protect its individual members from further ridicule, hatred or fear.
But why should this animosity exist? It exists because of gender, the concept that men should exhibit only a masculine demeanor and women only a feminine demeanor. And before anybody goes accusing men of being the sole perpetrators of this distinction, I’d like to point out that many women, including and embarrassingly myself, prefer to be feminine and look for largely masculine qualities in their partners. I believe this tendency is somewhat natural, and somewhat compounded by its constant reinforcement in the media. Either way, it’s a yearning of both sexes and neither sex can be exempted from its implications. (I’d like to point out here as an aside that, after rereading some of my older posts, I find it interesting that I used to write these essays for people who were unaware of a feminist perspective on choice issues; but now, after spending time with some radical feminists, I find myself writing these essays with them in mind, defending my “lesser” feminism that holds women partially responsible for our decreasingly subordinate position.)
For the minority of males who want the freedom and yes, privilege to dress with color and flair, I offer you some suggestions. You don’t have to wear women’s clothes to feel…er…feminine. Just adorn one of these outfits for men from other eras and varying cultures:
In case you don’t recognize them, these are depictions of Italy’s Julius Caesar (b. 100 BC, d. 44 BC), Mongolia’s Genghis Kahn (c. 1162, d. 1227), England’s Henry (Tudor) the VIII (b. 1491, d. 1547), France’s Louis (de Bourbon) XIV (b.1648, d. 1715) and America’s Sitting Bull (c.1831, d. 1890) respectively. Each of these men was a ruler or warrior in in his time and each is wearing a traditional “masculine” garb of that time. (You really do know what culture you’re in by checking out what people are wearing.) Yes, those are tights, feathers, ruffles, velvet and gold lame’. But those are men, right? Yes. Yes they are.
So have fun, you cross dressing men! Wearing these outfits, you really aren’t breaking any rules, but you might be able to achieve the femininity (by today’s standards) that you deserve. Don’t complain; get creative!
The biology that is sex and the romance that is gender are no longer always compatible, for either sex. We need to get rid of gender, but first we need to understand it and wield its meaning correctly so that one day we can let it go, celebrate the biological differences that exist between men and women yet not reduce either sex to the sum of his or her parts.