heron61: (Dandy)
Here's an interesting and thankfully entirely non-transphobic article about a woman and her butch but definitively female-identified daughter

This article reminds me of various comments [personal profile] teaotter has made, that one huge problem with modern constructions of gender is that definitions of male and female have become increasingly narrow, and while we are both pleased that there's increasing awareness of transgendered, non-binary and bi-gendered people, there's absolutely no reason that acknowledging their existence needs to narrow gender categories.

Also, it doesn't look like that's the causation. Instead, it appears that both male and female gender norms began narrowing prior to the most recent surge in transgendered, non-binary and bi-gendered awareness, presumably as a backlash or reaction to both social pressures towards gender equality and growing acceptance of people who are not heterosexual. I'm assuming that at least part of the reason is straight cis people's fear of being assumed to be something other than straight and perhaps cis given that other options are now possible to openly discuss *sigh*.

However, despite such fears, not all male bodied people with gender presentations that don't conform to masculine norms (like me *waves*, with my proud self-definition as a fop and a sissy) are transgendered, non-binary, or bi-gendered (but some definitely are), and in fact, not all such male-bodied people are even gay (although many are).

Similarly, not all female bodied people with gender presentations that don't conform to feminine norms (like [personal profile] teaotter) are transgendered, non-binary, or bi-gendered (but some definitely are), and in fact, not all such female-bodied people are even lesbians (although many are).

Once again, we face the fact that there are no simple answers or formulas for human behavior – living creatures are complicated, and sentient ones are ever more so.
heron61: (Heron - about me)
After seeing The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Aaron and I talked a bit about masculinity. This is of particular interest to Aaron, likely due to some combination of being trans and growing up in Nebraska in the 70s & 80s, where gender seemed even more fraught than on the coasts. As someone with no particular attachment to my sex and even less to my gender, such conversations are always a bit odd. However, we discussed one topic that I rarely talk about, but which is very much at the heart of my social persona – the appearance of harmlessness.

I dress as a fop and a dandy, and tend to come across as significantly non-masculine. In part, this is due to having Jon Pertwee’s wonderful Third Doctor as one of the more important media characters in my childhood, combined with an overall distain for mainstream style and culture. However, there’s well more than that going on. In my late teens, when I first began to become a social being, it became clear to me that traditional masculinity was not merely repellent to me, it very much got in the way of things that I considered to be vitally important. Shortly after I got away from my seriously touch-starved family, I found that I enjoyed hugs, cuddling, and all manner of friendly and positive physical contact with people I like, just as I value people opening up to me emotionally. I also noticed that one of the central masculine dynamics, that’s still present today, was all about threat, fear, power, and dominance.

I have no use for any of that sort of thing. I greatly enjoy having things go the way I want them to, but this is very different from being in charge of a situation or acting as any sort of leader, a state that I’m rarely all that comfortable with, especially if the alternative is someone I like being in charge. I most especially have no interest in anyone feeling afraid of me or being threatened by me, I can see no possible benefit to me from that state and it was also very obvious to me that being that way got in the way of people feeling comfortable with me. Thus, one of my goals has been to come across as a kind and harmless fop, with a strong emphasis on being harmless. Put in the very direct & house-cat-like psychology that is my norm, my underlying impulse is the awareness that individuals who are at all aggressive or dominant are typically not regarded as cuddly, approachable, or safe to talk to. It’s mostly quite easy for me, since I am not a particularly dominant individual and am both disinclined to violence and in fact recoil from much violence, so some of this is perfectly natural behavior, but other bits of the image and behavior set that I normally use were consciously constructed to help set people at ease and to signal to them that I am safe to talk to, spend time with, and touch. All this puts me well outside the bounds of standard US masculinity, and while it is partly a construct, it is my own construct, and all social presentations are inherently constructs. On a related note, I have no idea if most people think as much about their social persona or personas I as I – perhaps it’s due to the fact that in part mine is a conscious construct designed to accomplish certain goals.
heron61: (Default)
Here's a troubling article about how the gender-based wage gap perpetuates when more women move into a professional field. The most striking point is:
"The same gap is often seen within engineering itself. Bioengineering has been growing to the point where we could see a 50/50 split of women and men majoring, and there have been some reports of salary staying flat or going down. Engineering fields where women are less than 20 percent pay more." Arreola says more study is needed to conclusively determine a cause for this pattern, but the implication is chilling: Once women break into a field in noteworthy numbers, its value goes down.
Here's one particular explanation for how this occurs,
One possible explanation for the average pay going down in fields with more women is that the ladies aren't negotiating their salaries as assertively as men do -- but then, why is that again? Well, there were those studies that showed, as Harvard public policy professor Hannah Riley Bowles put it, "[M]en were always less willing to work with a woman who had attempted to negotiate than with a woman who did not. They always preferred to work with a woman who stayed mum. But it made no difference to the men whether a guy had chosen to negotiate or not." So if men are doing the hiring, women might be less willing to push for a higher salary, for fear of not getting the job at all or being penalized in other ways once they do, while men are free to ask for more with no consequences.
However, it seems clear that there's more than this going on, and what we have in part at least is the visible result of the still widespread assumption that a field with a significant percentage of women in it is a field that is no longer as deserving of high wages.
heron61: (Gryphon - emphasis and strong feelings)
I've been annoyed with the way the term "political correctness" has been used for at least the last 15 years, and here's a wonderful article that explains what going on with the terminology and the politics behind it exceedingly well.
The term politically correct is a reactionary term,” he said. “[It was] created by people who were worried by [social] changes…that affected their everyday understanding of the world in ways that pointed out their role in creating or reproducing dominance and subordination.
This article is well worth reading and is one that I completely agree with.

Also, I highly recommend this article about the origin of behavioral gender differences. Perhaps the most important bit of the article is the following:
For her new book, Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow Into Troublesome Gaps—And What We Can Do About It, Eliot immersed herself in hundreds of scientific papers (her bibliography runs 46 pages). Marching through the claims like Sherman through Georgia, she explains that assertions of innate sex differences in the brain are either "blatantly false," "cherry-picked from single studies," or "extrapolated from rodent research" without being confirmed in people. For instance, the idea that the band of fibers connecting the right and left brain is larger in women, supposedly supporting their more "holistic" thinking, is based on a single 1982 study of only 14 brains. Fifty other studies, taken together, found no such sex difference—not in adults, not in newborns. Other baseless claims: that women are hard-wired to read faces and tone of voice, to defuse conflict, and to form deep friendships; and that "girls' brains are wired for communication and boys' for aggression." Eliot's inescapable conclusion: there is "little solid evidence of sex differences in children's brains."
I haven't done anything like this level of research into such articles, but I've read a lot of them, and this completely agrees with my own observations. This is both a problem with research on psychology and gender and more generally on inborn behaviors and genetic determinism. From the wealth of absolutely ludicrous studies involving separated identical twins [[1]], to the gender studies mentioned above, the field is filled not just with junk, but with junk that is consciously or unconsciously designed to support existing prejudices and social norms.

The article then goes on to examine exactly how gender-based behavioral differences come about, which the author argues (very persuasively, to me at least) is a combination of parental expectations and unconscious bias, combined with feedback loops based on initially exceedingly small gender differences in behavior (which I might argue are at least as likely due to parental expectations as anything else).

[[1]] Note: Separated identical twins are exceptionally rare, and the research is in all cases conducted after the twins learn about one another, often a decade or more after they learn about one another, for several decades, most such studies have used the same 20 or so pairs of twins.
heron61: (Gryphon - emphasis and strong feelings)
I've read a number of posts about rape and sexual harassment recently, and I've talked about such issues with people for several decades. The responses I've heard have been quite diverse and often directly at odds with the experiences of others also writing and talking about this issue [[1]].

Leaving aside misogynists and the utterly clueless, and focusing only on the experiences of people who are reasonably self-aware and sensible, and what I have seen is that experiences vary widely, but in a significantly non-random manner. After thinking about this recently, it seems to me that it's effectively a case of people living in different worlds – worlds defined by race, privilege, wealth, social class, and possibly location.

About half of all rape victims are in the lowest third of income distribution; half are in the upper two-thirds. Also, while murder rate and the rate of sexual harassment and rape do not correlate perfectly, there is at least some correlation, and the murder rate in the US varies by a factor of more than 100 based solely on location. The statistics on this graph have special meaning for me – I grew up in the county that's on the lowest edge of the graph (Fairfax VA), which is located only a few miles from the 3rd worst city (Washington DC).

I now live on the West Coast, in a world of progressive geeks who are almost exclusively white, almost exclusively from middle class (or in a few cases wealthy) backgrounds, most of whom live in relatively safe neighborhoods, and most of whom grew up in situations that were at least as privileged, and in many cases far more so, than they are now. I talk to the women I know well, and in almost all cases, not only haven't they been raped, but they also haven't experienced any sort of harassment that ever felt truly threatening. Then, I talk to the few women I know who have lived (as either children or adults) in far less privileged circumstances, and I hear stories of all manner of nastiness. I haven't heard all that many such stories, but I also don't know many people who have lived in such environments.

I read arguments by women and men who have had experiences similar to mine, and I often see shock, disbelief, and in some cases even anger at the degree of fear and anger that many women living in other circumstances feel towards men. Like murder, rape and both creepy and exceedingly frightening forms of sexual harassment can happen to anyone, but they are considerably less likely to happen to women who grew up and live in privileged, economically well-off environments. I'm not in any way denying the experiences of women from highly privileged backgrounds who experienced such things, but it is definitely true that the odds are far more against women growing up and living in poverty and similarly wretched circumstances.

In many ways, this is yet another example of how both social class and race separate us all into worlds that rarely intersect in person and where reasonable assumptions can be very different indeed. [livejournal.com profile] teaotter and I were talking about this yesterday, and she mentioned that never in her life has she had any doubt that the police would come to her aid if she called them and that they would actively help her, and yet we have both known a few people whose experience of the police has been vastly more negative, and that's just one of many aspects of life. The US is a nation that is as a whole uncomfortable with notions of privilege or social class, but both are exceedingly real, and they make huge differences in peoples' lives.

[[1]]One recent example was reading this post, which is in response to this previous post.
heron61: (Gryphon - emphasis and strong feelings)
We live in a society vastly different from the society of 40 or 50 years ago. I can look at Forbidden Planet or almost every episode of the original Star Trek and know that the levels of unconscious and egregious sexism common to both no longer appear in modern media and that such things have been banished to the same closet of vile cultural relics inhabited by dumbly smiling black servants.

However, while much has changed, much has not. As I mentioned several years ago, weakness is accepted in women in a way that it isn't in men. I've heard various people claim that this fact and others like it mean that men are more oppressed under our current gender rules than women, but what such statements ignore is that the reason for these norms is the assumption that women are inherently powerless.

I encountered a vivid example of this recently. A woman I know recently mentioned that one of her goals for going to a particular event was to sleep around. I found this an amusingly bold statement, but was intrigued to find out that when most of the people who this was also reported to heard it, their response was highly positive on the order of thinking that this woman was very impressive and cool. Now consider the reaction of a man making the same statement, even a relatively humane and non-creepy man. In our culture, male sexuality is inherently scary and female sexuality is not, in large part because men are seen as powerful and women aren't.

Such thoughts also reminded me that even in non-horrid modern media women are so often defined by sexuality. I quite enjoy the show Leverage, and while it's less progressive (and also less good) than Burn Notice , Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, or In Plain Sight, it's fun and worth watching, and all of the characters are good, with one exception – Sophie, who is described as being excellent at running cons and impersonating people. She's clearly good at the first, but with one very minor exception, she only pretends to be women who are wealthy and highly sexually available – that's it. The character may be Swedish or Southern, but all of the roles she takes on are highly sexualized in exactly the same fashion.

Some of this choice may be due to the limitations of the actor's talents, but I suspect that most of it is that the writers, directors, and producers can't imagine how a woman could run a con without being highly sexualized, and the only type of actual power that character demonstrates is the power to offer or withhold her sexual favors. Cons are about trust and giving, and in far too much media and too far too many men and women believe that all women can give is their sexuality. Oddly, the show has had a female character do non-sexualized impersonations, but those are performed by Parker, who is a younger and largely non-sexualized female character.

What brought all these thoughts to the forefront was reading an excellent bit of fan fiction for the Iron Man film, which looks at what Tony Stark would have been like if he was female. Here's the first half, which contains a link to the 2nd half.
heron61: (Love That Captain Jack)
In Torchwood and Dr. Who fandom, I've recently been hearing about John Barrowman's involvement in a BBC special looking at the origin of various traits called The Making of Me. Despite having only dial-up access at the moment (a situation due to be [at long last] fixed on Thursday), I watched this lovely segment with him and his partner. In addition to finding Barrowman both very attractive and charismatic (both in and out of character), I'm interested in how and openly gay man negotiates celebrity now that some of the sigma is (finally) fading.

In addition to the simple joy of seeing a happy queer couple on screen together, the thing that struck me most about this piece was Barrowman's reaction to stating that many researchers believe that sexual preference is genetic – it clearly made him both happy and to at least some degree relieved that it was something inborn. That made me sad.

As pretty much anyone who has read my lj for any length of time knows, I have little respect for sociobiology/evolutionary psychology, or whatever they are currently calling that (to me) exceptionally dubious field [[1]], and as with most other behavioral traits, I don't believe that homosexuality is genetic. I discuss my thoughts about this issue here.

However, more than the issue of whether or not homosexuality is genetic or not, what struck me most in seeing that short video was how important the idea that homosexuality was inborn seemed to be to John Barrowman. Watching his reaction helped me understand why so many people are so attached to this idea. This makes me sad because it seems to me that a strong investment in this idea either means that someone finds the idea that they "can't help what they are" to either be reassuring because of some lingering belief or worry that it would otherwise be wrong or (more likely in the case of someone like Barrowman) that it will help people uncomfortable with the idea of homosexuality learn to accept it better. To me it's very sad indeed that in 2008 there are sufficient numbers of sufficiently vocal homophobes that attempting to gain their acceptance is still such an important issue. In any case, given the unfortunately long history, humanity has of discriminating against and even killing people for all manner of obviously inborn traits, I sincerely doubt that many of them care about the reason for it.

[[1]] It's worth noting that I have vast amounts of respect for E.O. Wilson, but think that he was incorrect in generalizing from his (truly vast) knowledge of ants to vertebrates, and am pleased that recently he's begun seriously questioning the ideas of kin selection and genetic determinism of behavior.
heron61: (Default)
Here's an excellent NYT article by Susan Faludi on Obama and gender. I don't know how much I agree with her analysis, but she is definitely correct that Barack Obama is not portraying himself, or allowing others to portray him as a traditional masculine hero - he's not showing himself as a warrior, a cowboy, a fierce defender of faith or patriotism, or any similar aggressive, violent, (and IMHO vile) role, and while not as revolutionary as having a female president, I am impressed. I can't think of any president who did anything like this, except perhaps for Jimmy Carter. Of course, this similarity is hardly surprising, since the discontent that brought Carter into office is (vaguely) similar to the discontent that is almost certain to make Obama our next president.

What is worth noting is that aggressive "manly" heroes became very popular in the 1980s and have remained so, but I remember very different media portrayals of men and masculinity from the 1970s. In the 1980s, as the nation became vastly more conservative than previously, and the anti-feminist backlash came into fully force, (unsurprisingly) portrayals of men and masculinity became far more regressive and aggressive than they we the decade before. Perhaps that particular bit of nonsense is at (very long) last coming to an end. I find it very odd how much presidents can affect popular culture (with results going so far as John Kennedy not wearing hats largely ending the fashion for male hats), but this happens, and in this case (if Faludi is indeed correct, which I'm not certain of) then I see Obama as both benefiting from a change that has already been (slowly) building and perhaps driving it further. We shall definitely see.
heron61: (Gryphon - emphasis and strong feelings)
One of the most enduring gender myths is that men are better at spatial & math related tasks, and women are better at verbal & reading tasks. In addition to having seen no shortage of studies supporting this myth, I've also seen an equally large number of seriously flawed and ultimately ludicrous evolutionary psychology studies [[1]] that both supported this idea and came up with predictably lame arguments about why this must be true. However, I've recently seen this idea being questioned, and here's a fairly impressive study that completely disproves this idea. By looking at "results of maths and reading tests taken by more than 275,000 15-year-old students across 40 different countries", the conclusion was clear, the math disparity is due to sexism, and in nations where sexism has been greatly reduced (Sweden was the example given) there is no gender disparity in performance in math.

[[1]] Not that there are much in the way of evo psych studies that aren't seriously flawed
heron61: (Dandy)
Two of the more common stories told about social reactions to sex and gender is that men are almost always treated with more respect than women, and that women who act in a masculine fashion and men who act in a feminine fashion are regularly subject to all manner of negative social censure, including regular verbal attacks. I'm not saying that all of the above doesn't happen, but I think the reality of the situation is rather more complex. Much of the reason that I think this is that it in no way matches my own experience or the experiences of several people I've known.

I've dressed in a fairly femme fashion for decades, and even when wearing nail polish, jeweltone women's silk shirts, and lots of jewelry, I almost exclusively only get compliments, from both men and women, and from both young and older people. Similarly, before he transitioned, Daire regularly dressed and acted as an exceedingly butch woman, and [livejournal.com profile] teaotter is almost stereotypically strong and competent "soft-butch" woman and both of them can easily command the respect of strangers. Oddly, both of them almost never experience the sorts of generalized disrespect &/or harassment by strangers that I've had reported to me by many women I've talked to.

I talked to [livejournal.com profile] teaotter about this a couple of days ago, and our mutual conclusion was that it ultimately had to do with expectations about social roles that had more to do with femme and butch than female and male. Essentially, I think that people who act butch are expected to command significant amounts of personal space, to be listened to when they talk, and to be generally viewed as competent and also capable of defending themselves. Conversely, femme people are viewed as less competent and are given less personal space and less space in a conversation. They are also ultimately viewed as subordinate, and that all of this is largely independent of the person's perceived sex. I've seen and experienced these expectations from both men and women and from a wide range of people. I'm quite comfortable in my generally subordinate role, just as both Becca and Daire are more comfortable being treated as powerful and competent and thus with us all is generally well.

So, why do so many people have so many problems – I think much of the answer ultimately comes down to assumption clash. When someone who appears to be femme (regardless of whether they appear to be male or female) attempts to command "too much" respect or act in a fashion that is seen as too aggressive, many people react negatively because their basic assumptions are being challenged and they react badly and often attempt to "put the person in their place" in some verbally or occasionally physically aggressive fashion. Similarly, when someone who appear to be butch acts subordinate, incompetent, or weak they are often mocked or attacked. I've seen this happen to assertive women who are dressed somewhat femme, as well as to men who are dressed femme but attempt to act stereotypically male, and I've also seen it happen to butch but socially incompetent men. Also, long ago, when I used to dress in a more commonly male fashion, I vividly remember a number of incidents of such assumption clash that ended badly for me. As soon as I started wearing, ruffle shirts, necklaces, and earrings, all that vanished.

Of course, even this isn't the entire story, since assumptions about someone's social gender role (femme or butch) are based upon appearance, and that in turn is a combination of dress, mannerisms, and physicality. I'm tall and the sort of skinny geeks who is generally taken to be weak and harmless, just as both Becca and Daire are large muscular people of well above average female height, so in all three cases the mixture of physicality, dress, and mannerisms match well and so strangers rarely feel threatened or confused. However, some people have bodies that appear delicate and femme or strong and butch despite having temperaments and senses of personal style that are very much at odds with social expectations about their appearance. This sort of discrepancy is inherently problematic, because clothing and mannerisms can do only so much to counteract assumptions based on someone's body.

As an only slightly-related side-note, assumption clash seems to be a general source of extreme social censure. Regardless of whether he was perceived as female or male, my friend Aaron reacts to social cues differently from almost everyone I've ever known and the social cues he gives off are no more typical. Until he studied acting and physical theater, where he learned a great deal of practical knowledge about normal social cues, he regularly had all manner of odd and not infrequently negative interactions with strangers.

In any case, since the evidence for all this is largely anecdotal, it could be utterly wrong, but it does seem to fit much of what I've observed, and I've never seen anyone discuss this particular point before.
heron61: (Gryphon)
This fascinating article states: Women score much lower on math tests if they are first asked unrelated questions about gender issues. The phenomenon is called "stereotype threat" -- a kind of performance anxiety discovered in 1995 when psychologists found that black students at Stanford University did significantly worse on intelligence tests if they were first asked to identify their race on the test form.

It also goes on to say that if men and women are first asked unrelated questions that caused them to think about "how smart and accomplished they were", performance differences between men and women on a test of spatial abilities vanished. The reason being that the "confidence building" question had no affect on men taking the test, but it boosted the scores of women by around 15 to 20% (just as a gendering question reduced female scores by around 10%). That is simultaneously both proof that all the supposed proof about women being less good at spatial relations and math is indeed nonsense and a way to quantitatively test male privilege. In addition to now being able to know for certain that we have achieved gender (or for that matter racial) equality when scores on such tests are approximately equal and "confidence-building" questions have no more affect on women or minorities than on white men, there is now also a way to test what situations increase academic confidence and self-esteem among women and minorities. With luck, researchers and educators will use such tests to design educational environments to promote equality rather than our current environments, which merely eliminate obvious oppression. Definitely exciting and hopeful news. Also, hopefully more data like this will help discredit ludicrous and reactionary (allegedly) scientific disciplines like evolutionary psychology.
heron61: (Heron)
Teachers at the private Oakland elementary school have stopped asking the children to line up according to sex when walking to and from class. They now let boys play girls and girls play boys in skits. And there's a unisex bathroom.

Admissions director Flo Hodes is even a little apologetic that she still balances classes by gender.

Park Day's gender-neutral metamorphosis happened over the past few years, as applications trickled in for kindergartners who didn't fit on either side of the gender line. One girl enrolled as a boy, and there were other children who didn't dress or act in gender-typical ways. Last year the school hired a consultant to help the staff accommodate these new students.

"We had to ask ourselves, what is gender for young children?" Hodes said. "It's coming up more and more."

Park Day's staff members are among a growing number of educators and parents who are acknowledging gender variance in very young children. Aurora School, another private elementary school in Oakland, also is seeing children who are "gender fluid" and hired a clinical psychologist to conduct staff training.
There are no words to express how wonderful I find this idea. And yet, I also know that this will not spread beyond the most liberal portions of the West Coast unless and until there has been a vast sea-change of social attitudes in the US. I fear that too often increased awareness of these issues will lead to attempts to "correct" the (supposed) "problem" through techniques like "behavior modification" (aka officially sanctioned physical and emotional abuse). However, in this place and time at least wonders are occurring.

Thinking about gender and early schooling I always vividly remember a story that I'm not certain that I have ever related to anyone. I was 9 years old (in 1971) and my 4th grade class was studying Classical Greece. The teacher was about to split the class up by gender, with the girls studying Athens and the boys studying Sparta. Having already read extensively about both cultures (my interests were present from a very early age, I discovered Greek Myths when I was 5, two years before I discovered SF & fantasy) I thought Athens was fairly interesting and found Sparta (like all militaristic cultures) much less so. So, I bravely asked if people could instead vote for who they wanted to study. The teacher agreed, thanked me for bringing this up, and then talked to the kids about voting for what they wanted, but despite this all the boys proceeded to vote for Sparta, just as all the girls proceeded to vote for Athens, and so I, having never been particularly brave, voted for Sparta because I felt I had no other choice. With luck, in the few civilized portions of this nation, more schools will manage to do far better than I ever could have imagined at that young age in that long-age era.
heron61: (Default)
Here's an absolutely fascinating article about homosexuality and other sexual behavior in animals. The core argument is as follows:
Consider the Eurasian oystercatcher, a shore bird that enjoys feasting on shellfish. A consistent minority of oystercatcher families are polygynous, in which a lucky male mates with two different females simultaneously. These threesomes come in two different flavors: aggressive and cooperative. In an aggressive threesome, the females are at war; they attack each other frequently, and try to disrupt the egg-laying process of their fellow spouse. So far, so Darwinian: Life is nasty, brutish and short. However, the cooperative threesome is everything Darwin didn't expect. These females share a nest, mate with each other several times a day, and preen their feathers together. It's domestic bliss.

In Roughgarden's Science paper, she uses "cooperative game theory" to elucidate the diverse mating habits of the oystercatcher. Whereas Darwin held that conflict was the natural state of life (we are all Hobbesian bullies at heart), Roughgarden sees cooperation as our default position. This makes mathematical sense: The family that sleeps together has more offspring. Why, then, do oystercatcher females occasionally engage in all out war? According to Roughgarden, violence occurs when "social negotiations" break down. Although the birds really want to get along (who doesn't like being preened?), something goes awry. The end result is risky violence, in which one female or both will end the breeding season without an egg.

The advantage of Roughgarden's new theory is that it can explain a wider spectrum of sexual behaviors than Darwinian sexual selection. Lesbian oystercatchers and gay mountain sheep? Their homosexuality is just a prelude to social cooperation, a pleasurable way of avoiding wanton conflict.
This makes vast amounts of sense to me, and fits with what I know of various forms of primate social behavior. It also nicely explains the reasons for the general dismissal of the rather impressive amount of evidence for homosexuality among animals. Part of the reason is conscious and unconscious homophobia, but I'm guessing that this is not the majority of the reason. The idea of homosexuality, just like the above example of two female birds cooperating rather than fighting goes against the entire basis of modern evolutionary theory. In addition to homosexuality being at least somewhat suspect among animals, so is cooperation. This study of cooperation in primates is impressive, but you see far more emphasis, especially in the popular press, placed on studies that reinforce a Hobbesian view of nature red in tooth and claw.

As I see it, much of this problem comes from the fact that sociobiology and its various equally foolish and pernicious descendants are widely accepted by a great many evolutionary biologists. As clearly explained in this link, sociobiology, evolutionary psychology, and related theories are ultimately as much about right-wing ideology as they are about science. This is hardly surprising, since these theories are the direct descendants of Spencer's Social Darwinism, and all of them share a conservative capitalist view of the world, where people and animals compete viciously over scarce resources, combined with a view that ever commodity is ultimately a scare resource, including both sex and pleasure.

Based as they are on the ideologies of capitalism and puritanism, such theories have no room for peace, cooperation, friendship, or (especially) sex as pleasure being anything other than odd human aberrations that are a departure from the grim natural world where there is only conflict, or (depending upon the researcher or science popularizer) that the only exception to such conflict is to be found among pair-bonded male-female couples raising young together. Such animal "nuclear families" are regularly depicted as something as conflict-focused as the most vicious family sitcom or as the same blissful isolation found in idealized visions of the 1950s. However, outside of such nuclear family propaganda (one, perhaps unintentional, example being march of the Penguins) conflict and suffering, not cooperation or mutual pleasure are seen as natural in the vast majority of both popular press and scientific views of the natural world.

To me that entire viewpoint is both sick and badly misguided. This is not to say that the proponents of these ideas are vile people, some definitely are. However, I've read quite a number of E.O. Wilson's essays and he ultimately struck me as a deeply humane and thoughtful individual whose worldview made him profoundly sad, just as it would make me profoundly sad. Thankfully, it's not true.
heron61: (Default)
On Sunday, Bob, and Aaron and I talked about changes in portrayals of masculinity in media, and today [livejournal.com profile] teaotter and I had a similar conversation. As I stated here, mass media has changed vastly since the late 1960s and 1970s, and often not for the better. Images of masculinity and heroic male protagonists are a prime example. In modern media, men and violence are closely associated. Male heroes are violent, they often want to crush their enemies, and they are almost always deeply concerned with rules and their place in society. Contrast this with media from the late 1960s and most of the 1970s. From comedies like All in the Family or The Dukes of Hazzard, to adventure shows like Kung Fu and serious films like Electra Glide in Blue and Easy Rider, the vision of masculinity was both surprisingly similar and very different from today.

Older men like Archie Bunker and George Jefferson were loud, but they were also caring and never violent (unlike today, when casual, supposedly humorous violence can be found on the "edgier" sitcoms). Younger men were above all free and rambunctious, the later being something almost totally absent from modern media. Today, physical, non-violent expressions of emotions ranging from joy to anger are now considered threatening in teens and inappropriate for older men. Back then, the more rambunctious young male protagonists jumped on cars, yelled, and did other things that are far rarer on modern TV. Also, violence was occasionally necessary, but it was rarely considered a desirable solution and was typically a last resort even in serious shows.

The young free male protagonist of many of these shows were also usually deeply idealistic, willing to stand up to anyone who attempted to unfairly restrict their freedom, and exceedingly forgiving if offered an honest apology. Also, in comedies, dramas, and action shows, people who were portrayed as good were not only forgiving, they compassionate and willing to ignore both laws and customs if these caused needless harm or trouble to others.

In vivid contrast, modern action heroes are typically murderous thugs driven by rage and a desire for revenge, traits that in the era in question would mark them as the worst sorts of villains. Both in sitcoms and dramas, idealism is rarer than it used to be, non-violent physical expression is almost non-existent (and when it does occur, it is almost always seen as a precursor to violence), and rigid and unthinking moralism is very often now used as a mark of a good or moral person. The message is very much that men are innately violent and that good men almost always obey the laws and strictures of society unless they are ignoring them to punish someone truly heinous.

Finally, one of the most pernicious and obvious differences between mass media back then and now is the fact that back then men could have close friendships and could even express caring about another man w/o raising the suspicion that they were fucking or at least wanting to fuck this other man. That has been a great loss for media and for society in general and I long for the day when both the automatic assumption that affectionate &/or deeply caring male/male friendships are both not proof of homosexual attraction and if this attraction is present it's no bigger a deal than any other type of romance.
heron61: (Heron)
In these dark days of Alito and Shrub, it's wonderful to read an article about young people whose sexual attitudes and practices seem impressively good and healthy. As someone who was in High School 30 years ago, I'm both awed and made hopeful by this sort of behavior. While it's clearly not the norm, it's also clearly growing. Queer culture has been an important part of my life for many years, but I also look forward to the day when it's somewhat of an anachronism and terms like straight and gay cease to hold much import for anyone. It's still not perfect, since male behavior is clearly still somewhat more inhibited, but the fact that both male bi behavior is fully accepted and that two guys making out to catch the attention of girls they are interested in is not uncommon both seem impressively hopeful.

OTOH, I also read this article and think about how I would be growing up in such an environment and realize that I would still be much the same shy, socially inept geek I was 30 years ago and would likely not be a part of any such scene. OTOH, given that my own social life became swiftly and vastly better when I got on-line, perhaps growing up with the internet would have made things far more pleasant and humane - it's impossible to say...

In any case, as the red states continue to get scarier, it's good to see some signs of hope and to know that some young people are moving beyond the struggles most of us went through. It is however, a rather amazing idea that some intelligent and thoughtful people may be growing up in such a way that high school isn't a time to be looked back upon with dread and dismay - definitely a baffling concept to me.
heron61: (Default)
The following quote is from the NYT article mentioned in my previous post:

Now dating etiquette has reverted. Young women no longer care about using the check to assert their equality. They care about using it to assess their sexuality. Going Dutch is an archaic feminist relic. Young women talk about it with disbelief and disdain. "It's a scuzzy 70's thing, like platform shoes on men," one told me.

"Feminists in the 70's went overboard," Anne Schroeder, a 26-year-old magazine editor in Washington, agrees. "Paying is like opening a car door. It's nice. I appreciate it. But he doesn't have to."
Unless he wants another date.

I'm utterly baffled (and somewhat disturbed) by this archaic idea. My partners and I certainly take each other out occasionally, but I've never paid for someone else early on in a relationship - it seems only equitable and reasonable for each person to pay for themselves in the early stages of a relationship, unless one party wishes to do something that the other person cannot afford to do and discussing paying for it in advance.

So, what about you folks?
[Poll #601612]
heron61: (Gryphon)
I've long dismissed most articles on gender relations by Maureen Dowd as largely being snapshots of the bizarre and deeply twisted world of the East Coast upper class, and not particularly relevant to anyone or anyplace else. However, this rather long article about what amounts (from my PoV at least) to the death of feminism troubles me, and has a few statistics to back it up. While

"A Harvard economics professor, Claudia Goldin, did a study last year that found that 44 percent of women in the Harvard class of 1980 who married within 10 years of graduation kept their birth names, while in the class of '90 it was down to 32 percent. In 1990, 23 percent of college-educated women kept their own names after marriage, while a decade later the number had fallen to 17 percent."

can be dismissed as yet another comment on the peculiarities of the East Coast upper class, this

"Time magazine reported that an informal poll in the spring of 2005 by the Knot, a wedding Web site, showed similar results: 81 percent of respondents took their spouse's last name, an increase from 71 percent in 2000. The number of women with hyphenated surnames fell from 21 percent to 8 percent."

is far more troubling. The problem is that I have absolutely no idea if anything else in this article is even remotely accurate. I live in a social world of queer and transgendered people, serious eccentrics, and a truly remarkable number of transsexuals (including all four of the people who regularly come over and visit our house). While sexism clearly still exists in the generalized freak/geek culture I'm familiar with, I long ago lost touch with any mainstream people other than my parents, and so have absolutely no idea if most women actually take anything in "The Rules" (shudder) or if most men actually respond positively so such nonsense. I look at statistics like:

"A 2005 report by researchers at four British universities indicated that a high I.Q. hampers a woman's chance to marry, while it is a plus for men. The prospect for marriage increased by 35 percent for guys for each 16-point increase in I.Q.; for women, there is a 40 percent drop for each 16-point rise."

In utter bafflement and disbelief, and suspect that all of these statistics and comments in the article like:

Decades after the feminist movement promised equality with men, it was becoming increasingly apparent that many women would have to brush up on the venerable tricks of the trade: an absurdly charming little laugh, a pert toss of the head, an air of saucy triumph, dewy eyes and a full knowledge of music, drawing, elegant note writing and geography. It would once more be considered captivating to lie on a chaise longue, pass a lacy handkerchief across the eyelids and complain of a case of springtime giddiness.

Today, women have gone back to hunting their quarry - in person and in cyberspace - with elaborate schemes designed to allow the deluded creatures to think they are the hunters. "Men like hunting, and we shouldn't deprive them of their chance to do their hunting and mating rituals," my 26-year-old friend Julie Bosman, a New York Times reporter, says. "As my mom says, Men don't like to be chased." Or as the Marvelettes sang, "The hunter gets captured by the game."


A friend of mine in her 30's says it is a term she hears bandied about the New York dating scene. She also notes a shift in the type of gifts given at wedding showers around town, a reversion to 50's-style offerings: soup ladles and those frilly little aprons from Anthropologie and vintage stores are being unwrapped along with see-through nighties and push-up bras.

"What I find most disturbing about the 1950's-ification and retrogression of women's lives is that it has seeped into the corporate and social culture, where it can do real damage," she complains. "Otherwise intelligent men, who know women still earn less than men as a rule, say things like: 'I'll get the check. You only have girl money."'

Do people really use terms like "girl money"? I've learned from reading other op-ed pieces by Dowd not to trust her conclusions, but I'm sufficiently isolated from anything remotely resembling the gender mainstream to have no idea if any of this is true in any large-scale fashion. If it is, then the world is a scarier place than I had feared and I will be even more thankful for my far-fringe, freak-positive, isolated from the mainstream lifestyle.
heron61: (Gryphon)
Last night, while Becca, [livejournal.com profile] amberite, and I were over visiting the Ennead, [livejournal.com profile] hereville was talking about the portrayal of women in the movies and mentioned a test for movies that one of the characters in Alison Bechdel's excellent comic strip Dykes To Watch Out For used - she would only go see movies if there was more than one female character with a speaking part and if at least two female characters talked about something other than men at least once in the movie. This seems remarkably little of ask of a movie, and yet all of the Star Wars films fail and all but the very first lack more than one female character with speaking rolls (in the very first film, Luke's adopted mother had a line or two). In Star Wars, women are clearly like Sith Lords, there can never be more than two. However, in many cases, there seems to be only one - looked at in this light, one of the reasons that Padme had to die when Leah was born was that there could be only one important female character on screen.

The newer Star Trek films are considerably better in that they all have multiple female characters with speaking parts, but I'm far from certain that they manage the rest of this. Similarly, I can't think of a single mainstream action film other than the two Charlie's Angels films that have female characters talking to one another about the plot. I find this realization to be impressively pathetic for 2005.

Then, I considered TV and the situation looked far different. Every episode of Buffy & Xena likely meet this criteria, as does most episodes of the 3rd and 4th seasons of Angel. Most episodes of Firefly do, as does almost all of Farscape and nearly every episode of The X-Files (since Dana Scully talked to many minor characters every episode, and some of these characters were female). Obviously TOS Star Trek fails badly, since female characters were remarkably marginal in most episodes and after Tasha Yar was killed, TNG had few female characters. However, both DS:9 and Voyager had multiple important female characters who appeared in almost every episode.

Part of this discrepancy between movies and TV is that geeky movies are faster-paced and usually spend less time on conversations than geeky TV, and that movies are faster-paced in general than TV. However, much of it is simply that TV is in general more progressive than movies, in part I think, because the potential monetary risks are considerably smaller. TV is more regressive now on many fronts than it was 3 or 4 years ago, but it's still not doing terribly on this front.
heron61: (Default)
Yesterday, Becca, Alice and I all talked with Aaron about sexuality and gender and one of the things that Aaron brought up was the as a FtM transsexual, he had a unique experience with seeing sexism and was surprised to have notice things that had had missed before he transitioned and that the vast majority of other people miss. He primarily mentioned that what he has seen is that both men and women are vastly more tolerant of weakness in women than in men, even among people who were otherwise not openly sexist in any fashion and who would in fact deny being notably sexist.

After thinking about his statement, I uncomfortably realized that it was true in many of the social groups I have interacted with. I have many times seen both men and women be considerably more understanding and kind to women in their social group who express weakness, regardless of whether that weakness comes from stress, illness, low blood sugar, depression, or headache. In general, women in such a situation are treated in a kind, deferential, but sometimes slightly patronizing manner, while men in a similar situation are typically either politely ignored or occasionally gently mocked.

There are of course exceptions to this, and I've especially (but far from exclusively) found them among gender-variant people. However, after Aaron brought this sort of thing to my attention, I could name many incidents when I had seen exactly this sort of behavior among liberal, sensible people that I know well and that do not consider to be sexist. The belief that women are in some way less strong, powerful, and together than men clearly runs very deep, as does the belief that men who are not strong, powerful, and together are in some way defective. Yet another data point in the continuing struggle to free ourselves from a vast amount of traditional baggage about gender...

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