Jiz! Is Not Safe for Work!

30 12 2011

OK now that we’ve established that it’s not safe to watch this post at work, let’s talk about Jiz!

Jiz is a video parody of that slutty ’80s cartoon show Jem, which used to air every Saturday morning at 9:30. (Yes, my memory is that good. I watched Jem devoutly in my boyhood. Just like I watched She-Ra: Princess of Power. Shut the fuck up.) In the original Jem series, this cool, big-hearted chick called Jerrica Benton, voiced by British-American singer and voice actress Samantha Newark, forms this cool girl group called The Holograms. Jem uses her rock stardom for selfless purposes—to help local troubled youth. (By the way—Samantha Newark has just released her debut album, Somethin’ Good, which has this really cool, fresh electro-pop sound. I’m impressed! See the above link.) So, Jem had this fucking bad-ass super-computer/synthesiser called Synergy, and when Jerrica rubs her magic star-shaped earrings (which have micro-projectors in them), she can command Synergy to create a hologram around Jerrica which disguises her clothing and enables her to assume the image of Jem! I know, totally fucking trippy, eh? With her earrings, Jem can also create holograms in her environment which trick her enemies. One time she created a hologram of elephants to scare her enemies away! And Jem and the Holograms’s nemesis is the Misfits, this cool, trashy-looking group of bad-ass rocker chicks who want to steal Jem’s career!

Anyway, the Jiz parody totally turns everything around—except somehow Jiz still has this sort of well-meaning “I’ll take you under my wing” kind of persona. Which makes it creepy. So, Jiz runs this sex trafficking operation and illegal abortion clinic where she pimps under-age prostitutes and then gives them abortions when they get pregnant. That’s how she makes her income. Oh, and she loves shitty panties. Whenever anybody shits their panties, Jiz, she comes a-runnin’. In addition, Jem’s super-computer/synthesiser Synergy becomes Jiz’s “Electronic Drug Dealer”. All Jiz has to do is rub her magic star-shaped earrings, and Electronic Drug Dealer zaps her with her cools lights and gets Jiz high. Oh, and Jem’s mansion becomes Jiz’s brothel, where she peddles her jiz-whores (some of whom are kidnapped), and the Misfits become the Shitfits! And they talk like unintelligible apes and monkeys and stuff.

I know! It’s totally tasteless! But fucking funny! “I could’ve been the toilet of your dreams!”

Normally I would say this kind of thing is sexist and racist, but I actually don’t think it is. I think that Sienna D’Enema (the anonymous artist who acts as the deus ex machina behind the Jiz series) takes very disturbing topics and makes light of them in order to take away some of their power over us, which I think serves as a coping mechanism. The less seriously we treat these things (in a comedic context), the less we are enthralled by them. Some of the things that happen in Jiz are so outrageous that they can’t be taken seriously. Besides, I have a strong hunch that Sienna D’Enema is a drag queen, and, well, drag queens are known for their cynical, irreverent, tongue-in-cheek sense of humour, and she makes fun of everybody anyway, without discriminating. Like Lisa Lampanelli. It’s understandable why some people would be incensed by such material, but I think that if we understand the creator’s intent, we must accept that it is supposed to be ironic. And that is when the absurdity of all of these horrible things becomes exposed.

That’s my take on Jiz, anyway. But, seriously, seriously! It’s just too fucking funny not to watch. So I implore you, as a newly-ordained Jiz fan, watch this wonderfully crass, tasteless parody and judge for yourself. Or I’ll kiiilllll you.

(Oh, by the way, you should visit Jiz’s Twitter page!)

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A Young Feminist Decries the “Pink Stuff”

28 12 2011

A very serendipitous gift was bestowed on me on Christmas Day: a video of a little girl railing against gender stereotypes inside a toy store. I unwrapped a present, a book called Same Difference: How Gender Myths Are Hurting Our Relationships, Our Children, and Our Jobs (given me by my wonderfully open and progressive mother), and showed everybody the book, announcing the title for all to hear and accepting family photographs of myself, of course, with the cherished tome in hand. Noting my interest in the topic of gender theory, my elder brother showed me the video, which featured a girl named Riley critiquing the use of colour-coded gender stereotypes in marketing. This girl must have an IQ of 140, or if she doesn’t, she will when she grows up. She is precocious:

I love her! She’s like Lisa Simpson, and Lisa Simpson is like me. Watch this clip of Lisa Simpson, when she was me in, like, 1985 when I was seven years old:

Riley is a real-life version of Lisa—and me! Just like me at her age, she doesn’t buy into the marketing bullshit, and she makes no effort to hide her disgust with the crass commercialization of sex roles. It’s like she’s saying, “this stupid pink shit is fucked up, and it makes me want to vomit!” But, of course, she is a five year-old girl, so she doesn’t say that. What struck me as amazing was her reasoning abilities. She was able to create this abstract symmetry between what girls like and what boys like: “Some girls like superheroes, some girls like princesses; some boys like superheroes, some boys like princesses”. This is pretty sophisticated thinking for a five-or-six year-old.

Most amazing of all, I think, was this little girl’s ability to cut like a laser through the smoke and mirrors of the marketing industry and exclaim that “the companies who make these try to trick the girls into buying the pink stuff instead of stuff that boys want”. So now little Riley has not only identified the unfairness of pressuring girls into buying princesses and pressuring boys into buying superheroes, but she has pinpointed the commercial mechanism which exploits these gender stereotypes to achieve a profit. I’m sorry, but that is a brilliant observation for a child so small.

It’s interesting to note the way in which the father relates to his daughter in this video. The father seems to insist that boys can have pink if they want, but the daughter seems to insist that, while this is technically so, girls are still pressured into wanting the pink princess crap while the boys are pressured into wanting the blue superhero crap. And, if we think about it, that’s true. Even if our children technically can buy cross-gender toys, they are very strongly admonished against doing so. There are social consequences to it, and little Riley is struggling in the midst of this gender fracas. At the same time, I commend Riley’s father for being a true father and taking the time to nurture his child by listening to her words, acknowledging her wisdom, and taking her to the toy store himself in the first place. Not many fathers would do even that much.

This reminds me of my childhood, which was raped away by the horrid spectre of a stepfather who hated women, black people, and gay people. Until 1986, when I turned 8, I was allowed to play with “girl stuff” as much as I wanted—both my parents were mild, good-natured, common-sensical people, if a bit religious and conservative—but once my mother divorced my father and married this odious troll from the American south, everything changed. She had to try to accommodate his stupid scruples, which included the immediate eviction of any gynaecoid play-thing. Suddenly, as boys, we weren’t allowed to play with anything that resembled women (or what women were thought to be). We were allowed to watch She-Ra: Princess of Power, but we were no longer allowed to play with the action figures themselves:

I thought that She-Ra was hot! And by hot I don’t mean sexually exploitable; I mean sexually confident. This woman was a sexual agent. She was in control, and for that reason she was admirable. But for some stupid reason, my stepfather hated the idea of his stepsons watching cartoons of women dodging lasers and throwing men over their shoulders. He hated the idea of boys liking “girl things”, and, on top of that, the idea that those “girl things” involved girls who wielded power. But every faggot loves that shit. It was all just too much of a mindfuck for his dessicated brain to handle. This is the type of gender-stupidity that I think little Riley is railing against in her father’s video.

Little Riley is an inspiration. She gives us a lesson. She is a tiny girl who helps us remember how both girls and boys can be hurt by rigid gender roles. Parents should not tell their daughters that they should like only princesses and pink stuff, and they should not tell their sons that they should like only superheroes and blue stuff. Because, even at an age as young as Riley’s, the stupidity and oppressiveness of these roles are apparent. And if you want to play the biological determinist card, I entreat you to read Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference, by Cordelia Fine (who exposes the very recent, very cultural origin of the pink/blue phenomenon in her book). Reading that might make you think twice about how you treat your children. It’s all about what actually works for us as people who have to adapt to the demands of a modern world. It’s always been about that. Nothing else.





Julie Gentron and the Lady League, Vol. 1, Ep. 3: The Bitches Return to Earth!

20 12 2011

Written by Brandon Arkell and Seth Gordon Little

Last time on Julie Gentron and the Lady League, the ladies faced imminent catastrophe as an asteroid and the dwarf planet Sedna threatened to smash the H.M.S. Vestibule to pieces!

“PAM, what’s happened?!” shouted Julie.

“A fragment of the approaching asteroid has skimmed the hull of the ship. The cold plasma shield has eliminated most of it, but some pieces made it through. All vital life support systems, as well as artificial gravity, are operational, however this will not remain the case if the asteroid collides with the ship. My calculations show such a collision will occur within the next nine and a half minutes.” Lupa stormed around the main deck, flapping his heavy limbs and cooing in agitation, clutching his coconut bra, and leaving a trail of urine in his wake. (Donna had forgotten to put on his diaper.) The poor thing was obviously trying to communicate something important, but his message went unheeded.

“I’ll take care of this”, said Rosalind, leering at Donna. “With my superhuman strength, I should be able to push the ship out of its path! Don’t worry, Julie”, she said, smiling seductively at the captain, “I’ll steer the ship on course and we’ll be back in London in time for a massage.” Julie smiled and nodded at Rosalind, who, beaming with confidence, assumed a hard, bright, metallic shell of skin and exited through the evacuation chamber.

“In order to deflect the asteroid”, said Julie, “we need to combine our ship’s built-in artillery with our own mutant powers. We must use the ship’s most potent weapon—the lady beam! Donna! Power up the ovarian plasma-ray generator, focus its energy through the clitoral conductor-cannon, and deploy the beam at ten o’clock, in the direction of the asteroid.”

“Yes, Julie!” said Donna without a beat. She proceeded to chicken-peck away at the computer console, sounding out each letter as she went.

“Julie”, said PAM.

“What, PAM?”

“I’m scared, Julie.”

“It’s just the ovarian plasma ray generator-powered, clitoral cannon-channelled lady beam, PAM. It’s going to help save us!”

“I understand, Julie. My calculations show that this is the most effective tactic, other than self-annihilation. It’s just that I cannot live without you. Proceed.” Julie contorted her face in bewilderment at PAM’s strange show of emotion. Just then, a thick, bright, white-green beam shot forth from the clitoral cannon and obliterated the asteroid. A stream of space debris assaulted the ship’s cold plasma shield in a spray of light. They had done it. The asteroid was done with. Everybody clapped, cheered, and jumped up and down with joy. Then they stopped.

“We’re veering too close to Sedna now!” cried Julie. “Donna, you said you can move planets, so you must be able to move a space-ship out of Sedna’s gravitational pull. Do it, now!”

“I’ll do my best.” Donna placed her fingers to her temples and closed her eyes. She then made a strained, girlish squeal resembling a pig having an orgasm. Lupa stood erect, placed his fins to his breast like an opera singer, and commenced with a haunting, mournful whale-song which resembled the peal of an adolescent humpback whale. “Lupa!” shouted the others, groaning and covering their ears.

“Anyway”, said Julie, “I’ll take command of the ship’s computer and steer us clear of this thing.” PAM murmered words of vague concern over this action. “Don’t worry, PAM”, she said. “Your consciousness will remain intact and fully operational.”

“I—seem—to be—tilting the ship, but not enough to escape Sedna’s gravity”, said Donna, straining harder. “Julie, help!”

“Hold on!” replied Julie. “I’ll concentrate my technopathic powers on the ship’s engines.” Julie thrust her breasts outward, flexed her strong arms and thighs, and concentrated. “By the great goddess! I’ve taken too sharp a turn toward Sedna!” she said, not knowing her own strength. Lupa, unnoticed by the others, assumed the pose of a sumo wrestler, and his high-pitched peal gradually fell to a deep, barely audible hum which reverberated throughout the ship like a foghorn. The ship began to turn, but only the poor land-whale could see how the powerful sonic reverberations created by his whale-song helped the team escape the clutches of Sedna’s hard, icy surface. Meanwhile, Donna was on the floor, doggy-style, ass in the air, elbows to the ground, fingers still to her temples, focusing all her might on moving the ship with the power of her mind. Soon she had matched Lupa’s efforts, and the ship made another tilt. Still, the captain was needed, and so was her computer.

“PAM, help me out!” cried Julie in desperation.

“I will work in unison with you, Julie”, said the onboard quantum computer. “I will provide you the steering, the thrust, the motion, the strokes—”

“PAM!”

“Yes, Julie?”

“Cut the lesbian bullcrap! Er, for now, at least. Help me steer, already!” There was a tense pause, broken only by Lorna’s constipated squeals and the land-whale’s powerful baritone. “Are we clear of Sedna’s gravitational pull yet?”

“Just, Julie.”

“Then, by the breasts of the great goddess, take us back to Earth!”

“Julie, what about Rosalind? If you would like, I will dispose of her with a blast of ion radiation and—”

“—PAM, you will do no such thing! Rosalind will come back aboard the ship unscathed. Afterward, you will direct us on a course to Earth.”

“Yes, Julie.” Almost immediately after, the doors to the evacuation chamber whooshed open, and Rosalind re-entered the deck, panting, yet bobbing confidently and flexing her biceps cockily. Julie embraced her, while Donna gave a half-hearted cheer and a limp clap. Lupa began bounding around the deck with a big, booming, babylike coo of excitement, clapping his limbs uncontrollably and wiping away tears from his big, limpid blue eyes with the tip of a fin. Another trail of urine formed behind him.

“Rosalind, thank the goddess you’re OK”, said Julie, caressing Rosalind’s well-developed shoulders. “I wasn’t sure that your armoured skin would deflect the assault of cosmic rays.”

“Honey”, laughed Rosalind, patting Julie affectionately on the back, “I’ve had worse, like the time I wrestled that giant space-ghoul from the Oort Cloud. I’m not bragging, but I did help steer us clear of a dwarf planet.” Donna mimicked these last words sarcastically under her breath, tossing her feathered Farrah Fawcett tresses to the side. “The atoms in my armour are quite dense, blocking even the most intense radiation”, said Rosalind. “It is almost impossible for cosmic radiation to damage my genes.”

“As I already suspected, since I am a quantum physicist”, said Donna in an argumentative tone. Rosalind lowered at her, and she met her opponent’s gaze with an equally baleful glower. If these girls had claws, they’d be unsheathed.

“Julie”, cooed PAM.

“Yes?” replied Julie.

“I am glad that you are unharmed, Julie.”

“Yes, thank you, PAM”, said Julie, pacing around the deck with a growing wariness of PAM’s human-like qualities.

“Gee whiz”, said Donna quizzically. “What is up with this computer thingy? I mean, I understand when a pole likes a socket and a socket likes a pole, or when a pole likes a pole and a socket likes a socket, but when a socket doesn’t even have a socket to begin with, well, I just don’t get it.”

“Donna! That is uncalled for”, scolded Julie. “For your information, PAM has proved to be a very wise and caring—”

“—It is all right, Julie. I understand. The fact that I do not possess an obvious orifice or appendage for penetration makes Donna uncomfortable.” At this, Donna grinned mischievously.

“PAM”, said Donna.

“Yes, Donna?” bleeped PAM in her computery voice.

“What’s between my thighs?” asked the psychokinetic minx, giggling girlishly and covering her mouth with the tips of her fingers. Rosalind rolled her eyes and slapped her palm to her forehead.

“Your oestrogen-powered utero-blaster?”

“No.”

“Your platinum-lined lady vector ray?”

“No.”

“Your heat-seeking, blood-fuelled, tampon missile rocket?”

“Close, but not quite.”

“Your vagina?”

I can’t believe she actually said it!” cackled Donna ferociously. “She’s just like Siri!” Lupa clapped excitedly, belched, and made one of his famous whale-coos, an action performed by a land-whale when it approves of a jest.

“Of course she did, you dolt”, said Rosalind. “She’s a lesbian space-ship computer.”

“Julie”, said PAM, “I am unable to interpret the rationale behind the dialogue of your companions. I suspect this is due in part to a lack of myelination in areas of higher thinking in the brain.” At this, Donna gave a look of resentment, peering around the deck in search of whatever might constitute PAM’s presence.

“Ladies, ladies!” said Julie. “Donna, you’re being childish. Rosalind, stop being snide. PAM, stay cold and malleable. Lupa, you’re cute, but stop goofing around. OK. Let’s get back to London. If we don’t want to reach home by the time we’re old spinsters, we need to step up the pace and try to move faster than some twentieth century space probe. Donna.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“I want you to use your power to warp space-time by creating a miniature black hole in front of the space-ship to get us past Saturn in the next sixty seconds.”

“Yes, ma’am”, said Donna, sighing. “I’ll try.”

“And, Rosalind”, said Julie, “remember to activate the ultra-tamponic cold plasma shield so that we don’t get incinerated by the heat created in the warp bubble. We already faced that threat warping from Alpha Centauri back to the Earth’s solar system.”

“Yes, Julie”, said Rosalind, thumping down at the console.

There was a spacey sound as the H.M.S. Vestibule entered the inner solar system. Earth, Britain, and, finally, the landing pad in the South London borough of Lambeth became visible.

“Well that was a blast!” said Donna. “We’re here! God, I’m dying for a bubble bath. Calgon, take me away!”

“And I’m dying for that massage, Julie”, said Rosalind, posing like a teenage locker-room jock.

“Bubble bath OK”, said Julie to Donna. Give, or receive?” she said to Rosalind.

“Baby, I’m cleverly equipped”, said Rosalind. The scene was suddenly interrupted by an urgent message in a raspy yet venerable RP accent sputtering out of the main deck’s speakers like a principal yacking away at her students through some old-fashioned twentieth century public school intercom.

“Julie Gentron!” said the voice in a reedy, chiding tone.

“Lady Fairfax!” said Julie. She stood as stiff as an unused tampon. She now had to report back to her boss about her excursion abroad—her mission to open diplomatic relations with the peoples of Alpha Centauri—in the cosy confines of a smart, clean office at the MI6 headquarters in dirty Vauxhall. With this in mind, the ladies heaved their bosoms, disembarked from the Vestibule, and pressed on forward across the landing pad. Opposite them, the silhouette of a low, shuffling figure appeared against London’s filthy sky.

“Quite correct, Gentron”, rattled the voice authoritatively, “in your assessment of my identity; not in your punctuality!”

Stay tuned to find out what surprise awaits the Lady League upon their return to Earth in the next instalment of Julie Gentron and the Lady League!





How I Outsmarted a Sexist Psychology Professor

14 12 2011

If there’s one thing I’ve learned getting to know university professors, it’s that pride is alive and well in academia, despite many claims to the contrary. I always expected such persons to be paragons of fairness and objectivity, but it turns out that they, too, harbour secret prejudices of their own—and sexism is no exception to this rule. I did, however, have the opportunity to turn the tables on one such individual, who thought he knew what he was talking about, but didn’t. Knowing at the outset that his facts were wrong, I graciously burdened myself with the task of correcting him on his assumptions on a topic which often goes unexamined—sexism in language.

(By the way, I must apologise to Nobel Prize-winning economist Leonid Hurwicz for using a photograph of him at the beginning of this article. I’m sure he isn’t a sexist old fogey; it’s just that he really looks like one! But he’s dead now anyway.)

Now, my friend is no dolt—he’s a professor of psychology at an eminent Canadian university—but he’s also an eccentric. He hails from Romania, loves opera and English literature, and pines for the days of the old British Empire, which, in relative terms, imposed a much gentler form of imperialism on its colonial subjects, or so he would say. “The British had an ideal behind their imperial mission–-to teach and to elevate benighted peoples”, is something he would say, “and they carried out this mission much more humanely than the Dutch, French, Spanish, or other European colonial powers.” Anyway, he sounds rather like Dracula and smokes like a chimney. And he’s gay. So he’s like a gay, chain-smoking Dracula. He comes across as sophisticated and quaintly nostalgic, but he has some rather ugly opinions—for they are certainly not facts—about feminists.

One of these opinions is that feminists don’t know what they’re talking about. You see, my friend once encountered a group of women in his milieu who complained that the word manhole was sexist because it contained the word man, but not woman. But, he argued, feminists shouldn’t be complaining that the word manhole is sexist, because man derives from the Latin word manus, which means hand”, not “adult male human being”. So the feminists are just being angry, stupid women, he suggested.

Well, that’s just plain bullshit, as I soon showed him. It is what in diachronic linguistics (historical linguistics) we call “folk etymology”: derivation of a word from a false, popular, made-up origin. Anyway, what follows is the general sequence of exchanges we made, in which I disprove his argument and prove its irrational, sexist underpinnings. It is not to be taken verbatim; the quotations are actually paraphrases, not direct discourse, but they accurately reflect the logic behind the points made. And to make a distinction between speakers, I will refer to my friend as simply “Dracula”. Now be patient and closely follow the line of argument to see how I arrive at my conclusion.

“These feminists shouldn’t be complaining that the word manhole is sexist”, said Dracula. “It is not, because the man in manhole comes from the Latin word manus, which means ‘hand’, not ‘adult male human being’. It refers to people who labour with the hands.”

“But the feminists aren’t incorrect to call manhole sexist”, said I, “because the man in manhole doesn’t come from manus; it comes from the Old English word man, which does mean ‘adult male human being’ in our present-day usage. So, yes, the feminists do have reason to complain that words like manhole are sexist.”

“Brandon”, cooed Dracula in a thick yet articulate Romanian accent, “if you want to show that the word man doesn’t mean manus, you have to show that the English didn’t borrow man from Latin.”

“They didn’t.”

“But the Romans conquered the Anglo-Saxons, and conquered peoples borrow words from their conquerors. Hence, the Anglo-Saxons must have borrowed the word man from manus, the Latin word for ‘hand’.”

“That is incorrect. The Romans didn’t conquer the Anglo-Saxons; the Anglo-Saxons settled Britain after Rome left. The Roman conquest of Britain began in 43 under Claudius. The people they conquered were Celtic, not Germanic. After a series of Anglo-Saxon and Irish raids, the Romans abandoned Britain in 410 to concentrate their legions on Rome in response to a massive siege there by the Visigoths, who attacked the city under the leadership of Alaric. It was only then that the Germanics had free rein to settle Britain en masse, and even then they only did so several decades later, beginning in 449, under Hengest and Horsa of the Jutes. This means that the Anglo-Saxons [the Germanic tribes in Britain] couldn’t have borrowed man from a ruling Roman elite. The Romans had left before the Anglo-Saxons could borrow anything from them. So, no, the feminists aren’t wrong about the etymology of man.”

“But, Brandon”, purred Dracula affectionately, “The Celts and the Germanics are the same people with the same language group, so when you say that the Romans conquered the Celts, you say that the Romans conquered the Germanics, too. Thus there was still a Germanic people borrowing the word man from the conquering Romans.”

“That’s just plain wrong”, said I, patiently. “The Celts and Germanics are two totally different peoples with two totally different language groups. Look at any Proto-Indo-European Language Family tree. Italic (from which Latin is derived), Germanic (from which Old English is derived), and Celtic (from which Welsh and Irish are derived) are linguistic sisters. Germanic is no more closely related to Celtic than it is to Latin itself, the language you incorrectly purported as the donor language to the Germanics. They’re all equally distinct. The Celts spoke Celtic languages when the Romans arrived, and the Anglo-Saxons spoke Germanic languages after the Romans left. So, no, there was not a Germanic people borrowing the word man from the conquering Romans, and, yes, the feminists are correct in analyzing man as meaning a type of ‘person’, and not ‘hand’.”

To be honest, I was thinking to myself, “Girl, you’ve got your chronology backwards.”

“Besides”, I continued, “words aren’t borrowed just because they come from a conquering culture; they’re borrowed because they represent something special, hence prestigious, about the conquering culture. The English didn’t borrow the word ‘chicken’ or ‘goose’ from the invading French, because chickens and geese were common to the English; poor English people ate fowl, too. But they did borrow the words for pork, beef, and venison from the French [cf. French porc, boeuf, venaison], because these words respresented something special, hence prestigious, about the invading culture. Only the invading French could afford to eat these choice meats. However, ‘man’ was a concept common to both the invading French and the English, just like ‘finger’ or ‘hair’, so the English didn’t bother borrowing this word from the French. So, again, no, man wasn’t borrowed from an invading culture, and the feminists are right about its etymology.”

Here Dracula sat for a moment, truly puzzled, then drew a copy of Roget’s Dictionary [Please, really? At least obtain a fresh copy of the Oxford English Dictionary] from his mammoth, heaving bookshelf, breaking it open on his dining table next to a glass of rosé and a thick stack of fresh cigarettes. Scanning the pages intently between puffs of smoke, he told me he would find out once and for all the etymological root of man, and how it proved that the feminists didn’t know what they were talking about. Ultimately, though, all he found was a derivation which stated that the origin of man was OE, or Old English. Not Latin.

“Drat!” he seemed to be thinking behind his cigarette, his brow furrowed in deep cogitation. Even then he was wrong, and the feminists were right. And so he slowly slouched back in his chair and puffed on his cigarette, still staring at the page in the dictionary, whilst I politely summarized my argument against him. We eventually drifted off into other topics of conversation, but I think we both left with an understanding that his analysis of the feminists he encountered, and perhaps women in general, was wrong. If this one person can be so deliberately remiss about sexism in language, just tally up all the other culprits. I think that what we’re seeing here is a form of academic hubris which seeks comfort inside its own stubborn, old-fashioned shell, but which hurts girls and boys in the real world of today by promulgating snobbish, stupid myths about women.





Hillary Clinton, Gay Rights, and Cultural Relativism

12 12 2011

I’m not a cultural relativist. Sometimes customs are culturally relative, and sometimes, quite frankly, they are not. I don’t believe that sexism, racism, child abuse, animal abuse, rape, torture, murder, or homophobia are excusable depending on cultural context, because in each context these atrocities share the traits of hatred, violence, and exploitation committed against a sentient being. Let me get this caveat out of the way first: on some issues we are in no place to judge the practises of other cultures, and on other issues we most certainly are. In return, these other cultures are allowed to judge us on our faults. With that out of the way, LGBT rights are not an imperialist vision; they are a humanist one.

Given my wariness of cultural relativism, I was elated by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s amazing speech at the United Nations in Geneva. In her speech, Clinton declares that the Obama administration will defend LGBT rights as a part of its human rights and foreign policy, and that the President will command all government agencies operating overseas to defend LGBT rights through various diplomatic strategies. She makes several points about how and why the world community should end persecution of LGBT people: first, LGBT rights are human rights; second, homosexuality exists in all cultures; third, religious and cultural beliefs do not justify persecution of LGBT people; fourth, the world must confront persecution of LGBT people, not dismiss it; and fifth, we must employ practical means to obtain equality for LGBT people. All of these points are interesting and relevant, but the most provocative to me are the second and third points, which challenge the cultural relativism cited to defend persecution of LGBT people.

In her second point, Clinton challenges the assumption that homosexuality and LGBT rights are purely Western, imperialist conceptions being foisted on non-Western cultures. This is simply not true, Clinton shows, because homosexuality exists in every culture, and homophobia is a problem in every culture. It is, in other words, a human condition, and creating artificial cultural barriers to LGBT liberation would do a disservice to LGBT people:

Some seem to believe [homosexuality] is a Western phenomenon, and therefore people outside the West have grounds to reject it. Well, in reality, gay people are born into and belong to every society in the world. They are all ages, all races, all faiths; they are doctors and teachers, farmers and bankers, soldiers and athletes; and whether we know it, or whether we acknowledge it, they are our family, our friends, and our neighbours.

And just in case anybody insists there are no examples of efforts to advance LGBT rights in non-Western cultures, Clinton deftly turns the tables:

Being gay is not a Western invention; it is a human reality. And protecting the human rights of all people, gay or straight, is not something that only Western governments do. South Africa’s constitution, written in the aftermath of Apartheid, protects the equality of all citizens, including gay people. In Colombia and Argentina, the rights of gays are also legally protected. In Nepal, the supreme court has ruled that equal rights apply to LGBT citizens. The government of Mongolia has committed to pursue new legislation that will tackle anti-gay discrimination.

Clinton has obviously done her fact-checking (which is to be granted, given that she is America’s chief diplomat): heteronormative sexualities, if not exactly ubiquitous, are well-distributed among the world’s cultures, hence LGBT rights are a relevant concern to all of the world’s cultures. It is now common knowledge among well-informed people that homosexuality, bisexuality, transsexuality, and intersexuality are not the product of a particular culture; they are a product of living organisms in general, from shellfish to human beings. It seems absurd, then, to say that these sexualities are the luxurious fad of one particular society (the West) of one particular species of animal (homo sapiens), hence it seems absurd to suggest that LGBT rights are relevant only to that society or species.

In her third point, Clinton criticises the notion that cultural or religious beliefs somehow justify persecution of LGBT people, and roundly dashes it to pieces. (I exaggerate, but still, she could have, and she probably would have if representatives of countries like Uganda, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Afghanistan weren’t present.) She does this by comparing LGBT rights to the rights of other persecuted peoples. Specifically, she draws an analogy between crimes against LGBT people and crimes against women, both of which derive from patriarchal hegemony:

[The justification for persecuting LGBT people] is not unlike the justification offered for violent practices towards women like honor killings, widow burning, or female genital mutilation. Some people still defend those practices as part of a cultural tradition. But violence toward women isn’t cultural; it’s criminal. Likewise with slavery, what was once justified as sanctioned by God is now properly reviled as an unconscionable violation of human rights.

Cutting off a woman’s clitoris is universally wrong because it causes unspeakable pain, stress, and health problems for the victim, whether she is from Sweden, Somalia, or Seattle. This is because every person of every culture possesses a common human physiology; the nervous systems of all human beings are basically the same. I suspect every woman feels immense pain when she is mutilated, burnt to death, or stoned to death, despite the cultural situation. And when proponents of cultural relativism cite reasons for their stance, those reasons fall nothing short of pathetic: women shouldn’t be allowed to have sex with men other than their husbands, women shouldn’t be allowed to experience sexual pleasure, or women shouldn’t be allowed to live if their husbands die. Forgive me if I find these justifications more solipsistic than utilitarian, and hence hardly socially beneficial. They’re just the laws of self-serving tyrants who view women as mere incubators. Similarly, every gay person experiences unconscionable pain and horror at being hanged or crushed to death for being gay. Opinions, insecurities, and concerns specific to a culture do not justify violence against women or gay people, because we all share the same basic human physiology despite cultural context. I think this is what Clinton was pointing at.

I won’t mince words. Hillary Clinton is right, and the cultural relativists are wrong. Heteronormative sexuality is found everywhere in the world, and LGBT rights are no more culturally relative than women’s or racial minorities’ rights, because all are products of a common human mental and physical experience. For some reason, though, this is a sensitive topic for many anti-imperialists, who often happen to be from the West. It seems to me that a lot of this cultural relativist dogma stems from white, middle-class people who feel guilty about their colonial heritage, and they spout this disingenuous nonsense about relativism to soothe their own conscience. But think about it. Arguing that women’s or LGBT rights are culturally relative is basically discriminating against women and LGBT people who live in countries, like Iran, which don’t recognise their status, and that isn’t very feminist or pro-gay, is it? It isn’t even very pro-human, as Clinton showed, and I can’t help but respect her for sending such a bold, unapologetic message to countries which still use cultural relativism as a loophole to commit human atrocities. It was truly a satisfying vindication of LGBT rights.