the f-word: feminism
Wednesday, March 24, 2004

i've been doing some actual writing writing about whiteness and institutionalized racism, so i'll get those notes in here soon enough.

in the meantime, via Ann:

"Where Is My Gay Apocalypse? Over 3,500 gay marriages and, what, no hellfire? I was promised hellfire. And riots. What gives?" --Mark Morford, SF Gate

also, this great cartoon on A Brief History of Marriage in America by Tom Tomorrow

and, in line with Val Lehr's (rah rah Queer Family Values) criticism of Marriage, Alexander Cockburn's regular "Beat the Devil" column in The Nation raises some interesting points about how pursuing Marriage might not be the best move toward overall Democracy. If you can get your hands on a copy of the latest issue, it's worth a look (get it from the library, or something. why pay for reading materials when we have those wonderful, free sources of free books to read for free?). it's titled "Gay Marriage: Sidestep on Freedom's Path," and, per my usual, i agree and disagree. more on this later, too.
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Friday, March 19, 2004

saw a performance on campus the other day addressing the complexities of "whiteness" as an oft-invisible and privileged ethnic and racial category. the performance was called White Lies and was created by a woman named Anne Sibley O'Brien. i have lots more to say on this, but i wanted to get this little introduction out there first.

[cue elevator music]
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Wednesday, March 17, 2004

in honor of st. patty's day and my mom (well, my mom, mostly), i post the following:

O, there lived in old ireland
a wee little man
and he goes by the name of a leprechaun
a fairy shoe maker
none other is he
and he has the power of wishes three
now, i'm telling you truly
should i meet him this day
'tis me who would boldly step up and say,
"bless the friends that i love
and the friends that love me
and the friends of me friends
that's me wishes three."

(hope yer feelin' better, mom)
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Monday, March 15, 2004

yep, it's true. turns out that women's and men's different modes of emotional existence, varying levels of assertiveness, etc. are not due to biological differences "hard-wired into the brain" (a favorite phrase of bogus "men are from mars, women are from venus" scienFAKEtists... aka, quacks). and...hey... it's about socialization! who knew?

see this article about a study at Purdue via Alas, a Blog
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Friday, March 12, 2004
--Bree Sharp

i've started a new and exciting weblog dedicated to the media i encounter in my daily life--by which i mean (not so much news as) art, by which i mean books, music, film, whathaveyou. it's intended, as i say in my dumb little intro, to be more of a log for myself and a resource for folks looking for something "good to watch/read/yougettheidea," so it won't be heavy on the analysis. i'll save that for this weblog. it's hard to separate out these parts of my life, though. i figure i'll give it a shot; what's the worst that could happen? i'd have to give it up.

anyhow, my new weblog: c media
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Thursday, March 11, 2004

Phew! I'm finally getting around to responding to Ann's latest post on the topic of same-sex marriage (SSM):

First, let me start off by noting that I differ from both Ann's and Volokh's assertions that the biological differences between women and men are the root cause of the segregation of institutions such as schools, bathrooms, sports teams, etc. Let me also say that I've noted Ann's disclaimer that she's "far from convinced that any of these motives make sense, but I’m more concerned about the nature of the argument than what it says, so for now I’m going to pretend society's motives are correct." I do think that, however, that society's motives are worth exploring, so I'm not necessarily arguing against Ann, even though I am arguing against what Ann has posited.

Although mostly [1] I agree that there are biological differences between men and women--e.g., women can have babies and men cannot--I believe that the separation of gender has much more to do with societal understandings of gender than with actual, physical differences between men and women.

Let's take the bathroom example. Ann argues, and I think Volokh would agree, that "We segregate men’s rooms and women’s rooms because men and women have different body functions." If women's and men's physical differences were the root cause of separating the genders, unisex bathrooms would not exist. Men and women can use the same bathroom facilities; our reasons for separating the genders into "female" and "male" bathrooms have much more to do with our comfort and interpretation of our different body types and our understanding of what it means to be women and men, at the level of society and at the level of the individual.

The problem arises when men and women must share a bathroom at the same time. We get uncomfortable when we see a person we perceive to be "the wrong gender" enter "our" bathroom. Have we seen their penis or their vagina before making this assumption? No. Do we know for a fact that the person we see is biologically a woman or a man? Not unless we've seen their chromosomes. This issue may be particularly apparent to transgendered or genderqueer folks who may not easily pass as one or the other gender and who must deal with often very strong reactions to their presence in a bathroom, irrespective of whether or not they are biologically the "correct" gender.

So, why do we segregate women and men into different bathrooms? What are we worried will happen if we allowed men and women to defecate in the same room, even (gasp!) at the same time? It's a wicked complex issue involving our understandings of power and bodies. As for me personally, I don't know that I'd feel especially safe sharing a public restroom with a man--but that's not about the fact that he pees standing up. It has to do with the fear that I've learned and the realities behind the fear--rape, for example. Again, power and bodies. In a perfect world, I'd say that making unisex bathrooms the standard would be great. However, for some of the same reasons I believe we still need separate women's schools and sports teams, I'm ok with having separate bathrooms.

Women's sports teams are a little trickier. Again, Ann says that "We segregate boys’ and girls’ sports teams because boys tend to be taller and stronger than girls." Well, yes and no. It's an issue of values. That is, what we value as legitimate "sports" (football, basketball, baseball, hockey) have historically been played by men and utilize men's strengths. Men may, indeed, be taller than women, on average, but they're not necessarily stronger. Let me stop here for a moment to say that what i am not arguing is that "all men and women have exactly the same strengths; women just haven't developed them." I'm not making a GI Jane argument. However, I am arguing that women and men have parallel physical strength; it just happens to be in different areas of the body. Men tend to--again, on average--have better upper-body strength, and women (on average) have better lower-body strength. Take these differences and add years of athletic development for men (versus domestic development for women), and you get the current state of affairs. Not only are women just beginning to compete with men in the aforementioned "men's" sports, women's sports or styles of playing them are just starting to be recognized. My dad always says that he enjoys watching women's basketball because it's more about strategy and less about individual players showing off.

One other point remains to be made about differently-gendered sports teams. Note that I've repeated "on average" about a billion times in the above paragraph. Now, we should know by now that the "average" doesn't necessarily apply to every individual, every town, or every region. There may indeed be a lot of tall women in Finland, and, if these women moved to my town, they might, with equivalent training, be able to kick the butts of the male players on the local college basketball teams. Again, I'm not necessarily advocating that men should be allowed to play "men's" sports and women's "women's" sports, nor that teams or leagues must necessarily be segregated by gender. I'm merely arguing that there's an element of history and power in the progression of sports as we understand them.

Finally, schools. I'll keep this one brief. Despite all of the pop psychology that's out there, I don't believe that girls and boys learn differently because their brains are wired as such. Unlike the bathroom and the sports arguments above, I'm far less convinced that men's and women's brains are so biologically different. It's yet another complex issue, which relates to our understandings of what it means to be male and female in this society. That being said, studies show that, when girls and boys inhabit the same classroom, girls tend to gravitate toward certain types of discussions, certain types of subjects, while boys focus on others. I maintain that these results have more to do with what girls and boys have learned about being proper girls and boys than about intelligence in one area or another. I'll have to blog more about this topic in the future, but I'm feeling the need for further research before I start spouting examples of the many ways I was encouraged, questioned, or discouraged as a budding mathematician in high school and college.

I'd also like to make a more general point that the argument that the pro-SSM movement and the civil rights movement of the 50's and 60's are, indeed, different on a number of levels. For example, most obviously, the risk of physical harm to Freedom Riders in 1961 was much greater than the risk of physical harm to pro-SSM protesters on the steps of the State House... not to say that there is no risk, because there certainly is, but it's a smaller risk these days. Additionally, the pro-SSM movement and the movement for the legalization of interracial marriage are different for similar reasons. It has to do with historical context, understandings of race and sexual orientation, and risk of physical harm. Some would argue that race and sexual orientation are different because race is biological and sexual orientation is a choice. I have issues with this argument on several levels, in part because I don't believe that race is biological (it's socially-defined, evidenced by the argument that we aren't born with discrimination written into our genetic code. it's taught to us, and we re-teach it [or not] every day.) and because I don't believe that sexual orientation is always a choice.

To get back to Ann's central argument, I heartily agree that the same-sex marriage debate has much less to do with biological differences than it does with relationships. I do think that gender is a factor, inasmuch as: 1. SSM wouldn't be an issue if people of the same gender weren't restricted from marrying, and 2. the media focuses differently on male couples than female couples. But I agree with Ann that "in marriage, the relationship between each half of a couple is all that matters" (although I'd take a step even further to the left here and nod toward polyamory, again, in a perfect world). Yes, I also agree that the differences between straight and same-gender couples are insignificant in that "both sets of partners love each other; there is no difference between the way heterosexuals love each other and the way homosexuals love each other. Both couples run errands, watch movies, yell at each other, have sex, live their ordinary human lives together--and all in essentially the same way. Likewise, black people use restrooms the same way as whites people do, black people learn the same way as white people do, and black people play sports the same way as white people do. There’s nothing you can point to and say, “Look! All white people/heterosexual couples do something this way, and all black people/homosexual couples do something that way.”"

However, I don't believe that the following is necessarily true: "There is no difference whatsoever between a homosexual and a heterosexual relationship beyond the fact that one is made up of a man and a woman and the other is made up of two people of the same gender." There is a major difference between what we understand as a straight and a gay relationship and that is that society frowns upon the latter and sanctions the former--not in all cases, of course, but broadly speaking. Again, it's not about biology. It's about society, a society we have an obligation to change for the better.

And I disagree with Volokh when he says, "Limitation of marriage to male-female couples is not an attempt to maintain the supremacy of any one sex." I think that it is, however unapparent, diffused, implicit, or indirect, an attempt to maintain a system of power that has historically benefited men more than women. Here, too, gender comes into the SSM debate.

But I do think Ann's underlying point is about discrimination based on race versus discrimination based on gender versus discrimination based on sexual orientation. Indeed, they're not perfectly parallel, but there are valuable comparisons to be made and lessons to be gleaned from the movements toward equality in each of these broad social groupings. I only hope that we can hang together as opponents of constitutionalized discrimination in whatever its form, with a nod to our various, different, sometimes conflicting histories.

[1] I don't entirely agree with myself here. Even my statement about how "women can have babies and men cannot" is invalidating to the experiences of infertile women, intersexed folks, transgendered folks, and others. I'll get into the nitty gritty of biological differences again at a later date.
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Saturday, March 06, 2004

In response to Ann's latest post on the topic of same-sex marriage (SSM) and subsequent comments:

first, the basics. i agree with ann's underlying assertion that "Marriage has nothing to do with biological differences and everything to do with relationships." however, it is important to note that marriage does have its roots in religion--specifically, we understand marriage as having its roots in Christian religion. there's another big "however" here, though. here it comes:

howEVAH, as ann has noted indirectly in previous posts (i'm too lazy to look 'em up at the moment), marriage today means two admittedly interconnected things:
1. the religious component (including the roots of marriage, the ceremonial usually church-y stuff, for those who choose it today)
2. the civil component (including the legal stuff, the tax stuff, the benefits stuff, the forms and paperwork and miscellaneous State and Federal legitimacies that come with being quote-married-unquote)

quite frankly, i don't give a flying fart about the religious component, except to note that our collective understanding of marriage (like, i would add, many other things) is unavoidably linked with our understanding of religion in this country.

i do, however, give quite a VOLUMINOUS fart about the civil component. to folks who say that marriage is between a "husband and wife" as defined by law i say:

your law discriminates against me and my partner. for marriage, like the ability to vote, is a criteria of citizenship in this country. to say that i can't participate in one of what our president has deemed a defining institution of our country is to freakin deny me citizenship, and that is flat-out discrimination. and it makes me angry. me asking to be able to marry is not not NOT asking that your priests marry me, NOT asking to be allowed to marry in your church, NOT asking you to even accept my relationship as legitimate. hell, there are lots of other folks who do marry in this country whose relationship you would probably deem illegitimate. what i care about is my civil rights and my rights as a citizen of this country.

why, you ask, would i not be satisfied with a so-called "civil union?" well, i'll tell you--rather, i'll reiterate what i've said above. not calling my marriage what it is denies me my god-given rights as a citizen of this country. it creates the whole "separate but equal" phenomenon we decided was illegal decades ago. we now know that there's no such thing as separate but equal, and you can bet that, if a separate institution is created just for one category of people (i.e., gays, people of color, poor people, whathaveyou), it ain't gonna be equal. it's discrimination by definition. and, in case you were wondering, here's the definition of "discrimination," brought to you by dictionary.com:

"Treatment or consideration based on class or category rather than individual merit; partiality or prejudice."

to re-state the above: "Treatment or consideration [e.g., "civil unions" vs. "marriage"] based on class or category [e.g., GLB folk]..."

this is basic, basic women's studies 101 stuff, here, folks. complex, yes. but it's fundamental to our understandings of oppression and equality.

but, to get back to ann's post, i'd like to take a stab at a slightly different argument against Volokh's post. before i get to that, though, i think another basic women's studies 101 concept needs to be addressed here--something that i, too, have been guilty of putting on the back burner in my use of the term "same sex marriage (SSM)"--that is,

what the hell is the difference between sex and gender?

if you do some drilling down in this very blog, you'll see that ann has very thoughfully provided a link to a webpage that slices and dices "gender" into 6 fun-filled categories. i very much trust Alas, A Blog as a source of legitimate feminist theory, so, check this out:

the six sides of gender are: core identity, biological sex, sexual/romantic attractions, sexual/romantic attractiveness, gender expression, and social perception.

still with me on this one? i hope so... i'm having trouble staying with myself, at this point!

so, now, really, back to ann's post... and i'll get to it in a moment. : )

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Friday, March 05, 2004

blogging on this post of ann's is forthcoming... once i can hold my head up in front of the computer long enough to bang out a few additional comments. in the meantime, read away!
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Wednesday, March 03, 2004

i've been a bit ill. last sunday night, a monster cold hit on me faster than a frat boy noticing my "nobody knows i'm a lesbian" t-shirt. i'll be back as soon as the waves even out... what passes for even these days, anyway.
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