More Reasons Why Homophobia Makes No Sense

1 03 2014

I’ve already given eight reasons why homophobia makes no sense, but I am continuously discovering more reasons, as you can tell by the title of this blog entry.Morgan Freeman Homophobia

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer recently vetoed (for largely economic reasons) a bill passed by the Arizona legislature to allow business owners to discriminate against people on the basis of religious belief. Senate Bill 1062 would have allowed business owners to deny service to members of the LGBT community on the basis of personal religious faith. (The pro-business Brewer was pushed to her decision largely by corporations threatening to leave Arizona if the bill was passed.)

The bill also could have allowed business owners to deny service to Muslims, pagans, very many women, and others who do not subscribe to the religious doctrines of the business owner. If a business owner passed by a restaurant booth and overheard a conversation by a Muslim woman saying she was seeking or had sought an abortion, the bill, if passed, would have given that business owner the right to deny that woman service (if the business owner could prove their religious conviction in accordance with the re-written law).Stephen Fry Homosexuality Love

This whole fiasco drew opponents to homosexuality out of the woodwork, and they populated social media in force. They hemmed and hawed against religious restrictions, while LGBT advocates hemmed and hawed about equal protection (which is also a constitutional right in the United States).

So, with that in mind, I am going to focus here on the attitudes of people I have encountered in social media who supported the bill because it would have allowed business owners to discriminate against LGBT people. I am going to expose their fallacies and destroy them one-by-one. I cannot connect a single argument with a single person, but I can say I encountered these arguments commonly (and you have probably encountered them, too).

1) ‘Why should I serve people who flaunt their sexuality at the restaurant table?’

Why should I serve people who flaunt their sexuality at the restaurant table? Oh, wait, you are talking about LGBT people, and I am talking about straight people. Why do you think that gay people flaunt their sexuality at a restaurant table any more than straight Audre Lordepeople? Is it just the fact that you know they’re LGBT? As opposed to straight? How is there a difference? I am confused.

2) ‘What’s next? Allowing swingers and people in BD/SM gear to enter my establishment and demand to be served?’

Wait, what? So you equate LGBT people with swinging and BD/SM more than you do straight people? That’s silly, since straight people probably have just as much interest in BD/SM as LGBT people. If you shun LGBT people because of their scary sexual experimentations, why don’t you shun straight people as much for the same reason? It doesn’t make sense.

3) ‘You can’t compare LGBT rights with black rights.’

This is a false dilemma. You are saying that LGBT Lesbian Charactersrights do not compare with black rights because LGBT people choose to be who they are, while black people do not. First, how do you know that LGBT people choose to be who they are? Give me the evidence. Second, even if they did choose to be who they are, natural does not equal right, and unnatural does not equal wrong. Third, it is wrong to say that LGBT rights and black rights are entirely separate just because LGBT identities are based on sexuality, and not skin colour. No, LGBT and black rights are similar because both LGBT and black people have experienced institutional and/or systemic discrimination based on their status. Obviously their experiences overlap. Ask Audre Lorde.

4) ‘Gays and atheists and what-not will discriminate against me!’

No, they won’t! What they want is a compromise. The gay-theists will take wedding photos of you, because state law says they should, and you will take wedding photos of gay-theists, because state law says you should. Doesn’t it all work out to a magical equilibrium?

5) ‘Religion trumps everybody else’s rights’Gay Love

No, it doesn’t. True religious freedom means the right to exercise your religion in peace and harmony while also respecting the freedoms of others. It does not mean steamrolling over their freedoms; it does not mean controlling every aspect of their lives; and it is not a free pass to do whatever you want on the grounds of personal faith. Religious freedom ends when it seeks dominion over the basic freedoms of others.

So that is my response to attitudes about the recent decision in Arizona. I know I will not reach the heart of truly devout Christians who believe what they believe, but I hope something like this will make a dent in the beliefs of people who are on the fence. If you truly believe that God made Adam and Eve to procreate, you have to ask yourself why there are post-menopausal women who have sex, women who have had hysterectomies but have sex, sterile women who have sex, and women who simply choose not to have children but have sex. How is that any different from a gay person having sex? Obviously it is about love and devotion toward another human being. How is that wrong?

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My Halloween Night

1 11 2013

You know how parents protect their children a little too much? How they enfold their children from a frightening sight?

Rubbish.

Halloween is supposed to be a little bit scary—a little bit unsettling. I understand if your child is very young—around the age of 5—but even then they should be allowed to experience a little bit of the macabre, in my opinion. I will modify my actions for a young child, but not for a frowning father or mother who cares nonetheless.

With that, I thought I would share with you my thoughts on my Halloween dressed in full drag as a witch-priest raised from the dead as a vampire passing out candy to trick-or-treaters. Ultimately I decided that she might be some sort of vampire Carrie, but they didn’t know that. Nor did I until I looked in the mirror.

What a horror they must have beheld: Brandon - Halloween 2013

Can you imagine this camp queen spooning processed candy into the already-full baskets of your young ones?

It doesn’t help to acknowledge that this vile image exists: Brandon - Halloween 2013 II

The satisfying  thing was that I gave candy away to a tiny little girl dressed in full Superman costume. I have to give kudos to her parents for that.

But this other little boy said, as he was taking his candy away, ‘Wow, she is a real vampire!’ Brandon - Halloween 2013 IVWell, thank you. Yes, I am.

But on this solemn date, I must implore you to treat your animals with care:

Brandon - Halloween VI

There are still superstitious assholes out there who hurt cats for no logical reason.

Halloween is a night when the fairies run afoul of men, but it is also a night when parents let their children enjoy being scared shitless. It used to be a time when parents themselves were scared shitless. Why can’t we return to this, whether parents or their sweet, trick-or-treat child-things?





The Creepiest Vintage Halloween Costumes

29 10 2013

Halloween 1910What makes something creepy? YouTube user Vsauce cogently explains that creepiness arises from uncertainty over whether or not something is a threat. It is never straightforwardly frightening; rather, it is unsettling because it straddles the border between safety and danger. Humans have difficulty handling vagueness and ambiguity.

This is a natural topic to discuss in relation to the upcoming Halloween holiday. Halloween is about uncertainty. Very brief history: The Christians Christianized a Roman holiday of the dead called Lemuria, which occurred in mid-May. They christened it All Saints’ Day. Then they realised there was another nasty pagan death holiday over in Ireland called Samhain (SOW-in) which occurred on 1 November, and they moved the Christianised holiday Lemuria forward six months to 1 November to co-opt the Irish holiday. That day became the new All Saints’ Day. Hence Halloween, or All Hallows’ Eve. For pagans, there lay uncertainty over the intentions of the dead, and it was deemed wise to propitiate them, often by dressing up to imitate them and offering them food.

So, Halloween was never really about running around trick-or-treating dressed up as Superman; it was about exploring the strange world of spirits, be they good, bad, or mercenary—we never know for sure. (In fact, trick-or-treating isn’t even a hundred years old.) Well, I think Halloween celebrants have appropriately reflected this cognitive dissonance toward the dead in the form of some very disturbing masks and costumes. Below are some of the most unsettling vintage photographs and stills of humans mimicking the dead or otherworldly creatures. Importantly, they are utterly lacking in any modern-day commercialism or skimpy ‘sexiness’.

Take the following portrait, for instance:

Halloween - Vintage Witch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What a drear and dour portrait. The expressionless face and slightly smug grin creeps me out. I can’t tell quite what she is thinking. Is she going to hex me, or ask me to go bobbing for apples (which, creepily enough, actually stems from a pagan divination ritual)?

But that one only scratches the surface. Consider some of the more clown-like masks and costumes, as in this image:

Halloween - Creepy Vintage Masks Costumes XI

Holy shit. Look at the one in the bottom middle. Is that Michael Myers from Halloween in drag?  I can’t tell what she’s thinking. Some of them are scowling, but others are smiling. Others yet are just characterless black masses. Um, I’ll pass on this party. (Or will I?)

It gets even creepier when you put children in masks. Look at these little creeps:

Halloween - Creepy Vintage Masks Costumes IX

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh my God. These creeps outdo everyone at the local cosplay convention in terms of effect. It just goes to show you don’t have to spend a thousand dollars on a costume to look like the spawn of Satan. Just dig it out of your grandmother’s closet.

You know how they say clowns are creepy? Well, not as creepy as these gorgeous creatures:

Halloween - Creepy Vintage Masks Costumes II

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Look at the creep on the bottom right with the triangle balloon head. Is he dressed for a German S&M porn film? Why don’t we do this anymore? Old-timey Halloween was way creepier than modern-day Halloween.

But, still, children in masks are creepier:

Halloween - Creepy Vintage Masks Costumes VI

I seriously feel concerned for that little kid in the foreground with the hat turned askew. Look at that fucked-up Uncle Sam behind him and the creepy rodent thing in the Boy George hat to his right with the garden tool in his hand.

But these little creeps, they are truly disturbing:

Halloween - Creepy Vintage Masks Costumes III

In 1985 when I was in Grade One our class watched an old film about Norwegian troll folklore. There were music trolls, graveyard trolls, and bedroom trolls. The bedroom troll lived under your bed and would reach up and grab your hand, trying to pull you under. The actor playing the bedroom troll had this matted fur covering his arm. Some of the others wore prosthetic skin masks. Ever since then, I have been unable to sleep with my hand dangling over the edge of the bed. These creeps remind me of that.

Look at these shady creeps:

Halloween - Creepy Vintage Masks Costumes V

This isn’t creepy because of the masks they’re wearing, but because they’re a bunch of brown rabbits surrounding a little white rabbit like they’re about to pounce, and they have these fucked-up grins on their faces. Especially the white one. And those ears are unnatural-looking.

Still, the masks are the creepiest, in my opinion:

Halloween - Creepy Vintage Masks Costumes

Masks like these look like they’re half-melted; they resemble the face of a terribly deformed burn victim. The ratty mime costumes don’t help to allay my—fear?—no, uncertainty.

More little creeps from the suburbs:

Halloween - Creepy Vintage Masks Costumes VII

I personally think these kids look creepier than Michael Myers or Jason. But again, they’re not exactly scary—their masks have ambiguous half-smiles, which makes them even more disturbing.

The younger they get, the creepier they get:

Halloween - Creepy Vintage Masks Costumes X

I call this one China Doll Black Face KKK Bloated Child Corpse Mash-Up, because that is exactly what it looks like to me.

The little creep below is one of the most disturbing of all:

Halloween - Creepy Vintage Masks Costumes VIII

Not only is she creepy because she looks like one of those trolls in the classroom film I watched, but she is creepy because she is alone, like some solitary hunter,  about to run at me with a hatchet concealed beneath her cowl.

But this, oh, this is the creepiest image of all:

Halloween - Creepy Vintage Masks Costumes XII

This is actually a still from the Vsauce video I mentioned above about why things are creepy. I don’t even know what these little creeps are supposed to be, let alone what they are thinking underneath their fucked-up masks. That is the unsettling part.

So, those are the images of the creepiest vintage Halloween costumes I could find. I really think Vsauce is spot-on in his observations—the creepiest things are those which straddle the border between our sense of safety and our sense of danger, those which toy with our need for certainty. And none of these costumes is in the least cute or sexy. They aren’t princesses or fairies (unless you mean fairy in the sense of the Aos [Ees Shee], the capricious spirits of ancient Irish folklore). Maybe we can stop with this trend of marketing sexy French maid costumes to women and revive the custom of disturbing people’s minds.





Brandon’s Halloween Costume

19 10 2013

Halloween - Creepy Vintage Masks CostumesI haven’t dressed up for Halloween in years. As a child I was a firefighter, a clown, a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, a mime, and a vampire, but nothing lately. Well, Halloween was originally a time for adults to party, not for children to go trick-or-treating (which tradition is only about eighty years old).

My vampire was kind of shitty. It was inspired by the version of Dracula starring Christopher Lee. I had thick, opaque, stark white skin, black circles round my eyes, red lips, and blood pouring down my chin, and I wore a white shirt with some cheap pendant, black slacks, and black Brandon Vampire XVIdress shoes. I made my own cape of black velvet on the outside and red polyester on the inside. And the collar was cut out of an old pizza box. Yes, I really did that.

At the drop of a hat, this year I decided to resurrect my vampire, but this time he will be less cheesy and more genuinely creepy. In fact, I’m not even sure he won’t be a she–with a very flat chest. This time, he will be a priest raised from the dead as a vampire–or a priestess raised from the dead as a vampire. I guess in the latter case she’d have to be a Wiccan high-priestess or something, since Catholics still don’t allow women to be priests. I know, even though it’s supposed to be creepy, isn’t my new goth vampire idea still kind of corny and stupid? I kind of like that though.

By genuinely creepy, I mean she will be realistically deathlike. No more big black raccoon eyes and blood-red lips–no, this bitch is gonna have red lines around her eyes surrounded by deep grey shadow, and grey-red lips which fade toward the lip edge rather Brandon Vampire IVthan go over the edge drag queen-style. She won’t have thick, stark white, drag queen-style pancake foundation, either, but a thin, translucent veil of white reminiscent of a corpse washed ashore on the beach in Blackpool in the dead of winter. She will have long black hair, but the wig I have is too glossy, so I think I’m going to rub some dirt in it. And then I am going to stick some twigs in it. She has to look like she has just climbed her way out of the grave, you know.

Naturally, she will have fangs. How can you have a vampire without fangs? Mine are those theatre-quality fangs with the thermoplastic granules that you melt in hot water, stick into the fangs–which you press upward into your canines–and mould around your molars. The result is highly realistic, natural-looking, bloodsucking feline jugular-rippers.

Brandon Vampire XIXBut she will have black nails. I want a little bit of Vampira’s influence in there somewhere. I bought black nail polish because at first I thought I would just paint my nails black, but I have such stubby and unglamourous fingernails that I ultimately elected to buy the cheap, long, black, plastic, fake fingernails at the costume shop.

And of course there is the costume itself. My vampire won’t look sexy, not even in the kitschy 1950s Vampira way–I find that a bit predictable and passé. I do like that look, but I just want to try something different, and, besides, I don’t have Maila Nurmi‘s voluptuous, wasp-waisted physique, so I have decided to don a priest’s cassock. The cassock actually looks rather like a High Victorian bustle Brandon Vampire VIIdress without the bustle, including a short, tight-fitting bodice, so I think it suitable for a priestess who has just risen from the dead. On top I will wear a black, hooded mantle to create the appearance of a solid, matte, black column of unwelcoming gloom.

The cassock itself is something else–it was custom-made for me by the Victorian-style fashion designer Kambriel of North Carolina. I simply selected the article I wanted in the material I wanted and sent her my measurements. She produced a perfect-fitting cassock for me and sent it to me in the post, complete with a personalised handwritten thank-you note. It was a bit pricey–around USD$300–but for the style, quality, and service, perhaps it wasn’t.

I can’t remember where I came across Kambriel’s Web site, and it may be too late now to order any of her items in time for Halloween, but she crafts the most sumptuously beautiful garments, for both women and men. Just visit her site in the link above and browse her catalogue to behold some of her creations. Oh, and the wig Brandon Vampire XIIII bought came with a face-veil! So I can cover my ashen face with an ethereal, spiderwebby black net to scare the children! Madam Death. She will Fuck. You. Up.

I’m sure I’ll tweak the outfit a little more before Halloween, but you get the basic idea. I know it doesn’t sound very creative, but I like to look at Halloween costumes the way I look at dance music remixes: I prefer a complimentary homage to the classic, original version over a completely irrelevant oddball. The difference lies in the nuance. Maybe next year I will don a creepy vintage mask–I do love those–but I love makeup, and reinventing the classic vampire with an unexpected twist is a show of creativity in itself, isn’t it?

Or maybe I’m a witch.

A vampire-witch?

A witch raised from the dead as a vampire!





Hindu Guru Blames Delhi Gang-Rape Victim for Her Attack

12 01 2013

Asaram Bapu Delhi Rape VictimCan anybody be full of more shit than Asaram Bapu?

The Hindu guru recently gave a speech at a ‘Satsang’, a type of gathering with his devotees, in which he remarked that the medical student who was gang-raped on a Delhi bus on 26 December, and who died of her injuries in hospital a few days later, was just as responsible for her attack as were her attackers. I kid you not. The fucker really said this. Or, depending on how strongly you believe the words of his spokeswoman, he said something like this.

According to The Huffington Post, the asshole told his followers that the 23 year-old student (who remains anonymous under an Indian law protecting the names of rape victims) ‘should have taken God’s name and could have held the hand of one of the men and said, I consider you as my brother, and should have said to the other two “Brother I am helpless; you are my brother, my religious brother”‘. He also said that ‘[s]he should have taken God’s name and held their hands and feet–then the misconduct wouldn’t have happened’ and that ‘[t]he accused were drunk. If the girl had chanted hymns to Goddess Saraswati and to Guru Diksha then she wouldn’t have entered the bus’. And the Hindustan Times reports him as saying, ‘Galti ek taraf se nahi hoti hai (mistake is not committed from one side)’. In other words, the old fool thinks the woman made a mistake by letting the men gang-rape her.

Yeah. Well, you know what his spokeswoman, Niam Dubey, did. She came to his defense. ‘Bapujee never made such statements. He just asked his Delhi Rape Victim Protestwomen followers to avoid such situation[s]’, she said, arguing that ‘[h]e was only suggesting that women should try their level-best to come out from such situation[s] by using diplomatic ways‘ but ultimately admitting that ‘[y]es, he said that the girl had made a mistake by taking an empty bus in night. If she had taken “Matra-Diksha”, the God has might save her anyhow’ [sic]. What the mother-fuck? She’s basically confirming what he has already said but simply rendering his words more vague. So, even if there were some media distortion of Bapu’s words, according to his own spokeswoman he still suggested the woman was equally responsible for her attack.

But, while we all agree (hopefully) that the old man is off his rocker, for the sake of argument let’s take a brief look at each of his remarks and show how deeply mired they are in a mammoth pile of steaming cowshit.

First, he suggests the victim should have invoked God and held one of her attackers’ hands–while being raped. Well, by definition, rape is a non-consensual sex act, meaning forced sex, so how could she have held her attacker’s hand while being pinned down and beaten into submission? It wasn’t as though the rapists were giving her leeway to let her grasp their hands and pray with them. Allegedly, the youngest of the accused attackers (a 17 year-old) was ripping out her bowels bare-handed. I wouldn’t be holding my attackers’ hands; I would be screaming from pain. (Whatever you think of that Asaram Bapu Delhi Rape Victim IIreport, the fact is she had to have almost all of her bowels surgically removed.)

Second, he suggests she should have chanted hymns to the gods and goddesses for protection. How does he know she didn’t? For all he knows, she did. And if she did, it obviously didn’t work, because she was still raped, so what then? Even more, he expects her to spend her time praying to the gods rather than poking, stabbing, or beating her attackers (which, granted, is extremely difficult when there are six of them, but just as tenable, if not more so, as praying to the gods). So, you see, Bapu is presuming that the woman did not do things she very easily may have, as if she is inherently subject to suspicion, or else he is expecting her to be patient and hope for the best, or die like a martyr, rather than fight for her life.

Third, Bapu suggests that if she had prayed hard enough, the victim wouldn’t have entered the bus in which she was raped in the first place. So, it is her fault for travelling in a bus, and not the rapists’ fault for raping her? No. She had every right to take the bus wherever and whenever she wished without fear of being assaulted; her attackers had no right to rape her. She didn’t violate their rights when she got on the bus; they violated hers when they raped her. A woman should not have to design her life around those of marauding rapists. So, no, it was the rapists’ responsibility for choosing to savage her; it was not her responsibility for choosing to enter a bus, which she should have been able to do with ease of mind anyway.

This sort of victim-blaming isn’t relegated to one single tradition. We see it in some strains of New Age beliefs too. Some New Age thinkers believe that every soul comes to earth choosing to endure difficult circumstances in order to learn lessons about good and evil. Taking this argument to its logical conclusion, the girl Delhi Rape Victim Protest IIwho is raped by her uncle chose to have this experience, and meanwhile the man who rapes his niece chose to have that experience, suggesting that both the rapist uncle and the victimized niece are equally responsible for the experience. However, even if both chose their experiences, the niece “chose not to choose” the act, whereas the uncle “chose to choose” the act; moreover, how could the niece know what she had chosen if she has forgotten? Her pre-life alter-ego is committing a crime against her. But more practically speaking, the notion that people choose their experiences before they come to Earth (a handsome speculation) echoes Bapu’s suggestion; it justifies violent crime and victim-blaming when all we know is the victim didn’t choose to be victimized, and, for that reason, it deserves our severest criticism.

Asaram Bapu is obviously full of tired, stale, fly-infested bullshit, but bullshit has a hideous power to lull the masses. What we need to do is call sham spiritual leaders like Bapu on their dung. It is never acceptable to justify rape, because rape by definition is non-consensual sex. If you agree that it is rape, you agree that it is non-consensual, and you agree that there is a perpetrator and a victim. In turn, you agree that the perpetrator, not the victim, is responsible for the crime. I don’t usually condone capital punishment, but I honestly wouldn’t lose any sleep if the monsters who raped the Delhi medical student were euthanised, and Bapu were shamed.





Mapping American Social Attitudes

28 03 2012

I’ve found maps fascinating ever since I was a wee lad. I remember getting a globe for my birthday in 1986 and an atlas for Christmas in 1991, and getting new maps and globes over the years to watch the changes in national boundaries. I was shitty at math but adored maps. Maps say so much in pictures  about people, politics, migratory patterns, industry, the environment, natural resources, social attitudes, and loads of other hot, steamy, bloggable stuff. Looking at different maps of the United States, we can see a stark divide in political and social attitudes about race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation. Here I want you to take a look at some maps of the U.S. to see where different attitudes are concentrated. It’s amazing to see the clear patterning of regional differences, which in turn shows us where we have our work cut out for us in terms of achieving social equity.

We can start this work by looking at the political attitudes, which frequently overlap with social ones. Consider the following maps of the 2008 U.S. presidential election. The first map shows states with red, Republican majorities, and those with blue, Democratic majorities; the second one shows this same information, but with a focus on population density.

As we can see, Republican voters were clustered in the south, the Great Plains, and the interior west, while Democratic voters were clustered in the northeast, Great Lakes, and west coast. As it so happens, the red areas also generally reflect sparsely populated areas, and the blue areas, more densely populated areas, revealing a correlation between cities and Democratic values.

But does the Republican-Democrat divide reflect something more than just urban versus rural? If we look at the following Gallup maps from 2011 and 2010, respectively, we get a better idea how conservatives and liberals are distributed across the country.

Not only are the northeast and northwest regions predominantly Democratic and urban, but they are also decidedly more liberal than the south and the midland. (The midland tends to be a grey area, as we shall see.) The ideological divide along geographical lines begins to deepen. Urbanity, Democratic politics, and liberalism begin to characterize the northeast and west coast while rurality, Republican politics, and conservatism begin to characterize the hinterland.

The regional difference comes into even sharper focus when we look at education and religiosity in America. Below is a 2009 Gallup map showing the most religious and most secular states in the country as well as a 2000 Census Bureau map showing educational attainment.

As the first map suggests, the south is much more religious than average, while Cascadia and New England are much more secular than average. The second map shows the inverse for education: the more secular areas tend to have better-educated people, and the more religious areas tend to have less-educated people, especially when we compare Washington state and Massachusetts with Mississippi. What this seems to show is that religiosity and lower educational attainment pattern together in the south, while secularism and higher educational attainment pattern together in New England and Cascadia (anchored by the cultural and educational centers of Boston and Seattle, respectively).

This ideological divide becomes particularly important when we look at the history of black civil rights in the United States. Consider these maps on slavery and anti-miscegenation laws:

It’s probably no surprise that the south consisted almost entirely of slave states, and the north and west almost entirely of free states and territories. Nor is it surprising that the map of anti-miscegenation laws so closely follows this pattern, with the south resisting the repeal of racist marriage laws until 1967, over one hundred years after slavery was abolished. The south wasn’t always overwhelmingly Republican, though: the region was full of “Dixiecrats” when the liberal Democrat and conservative Republican binary was not as stark as it is today.

But this general pattern of a blue, liberal region wrapping around a red, conservative hinterland doesn’t end with race; it also shows up in opinions about women, women’s rights, and sex differences, as illustrated in the following maps of women’s suffrage laws and attitudes about abortion.

In the suffrage laws map, the divide between a conservative south and a liberal north and west is slightly blurred. Large parts of the northeast joined with the south in resistance to suffrage, but vast parts of the west and northwest remained progressive on this issue, in stark contrast with the south. The north-south binary reappears, however, in the 2006 abortion map, which shows a northeast and west coast far friendlier toward reproductive rights than the south.

The south’s apparent concern for unborn babies seems incompatible with its poor record on child welfare. We see another stark regional difference looking at maps of state-by-state child poverty rates and overall child welfare across the United States.

On the 2008 child welfare map, children are better off in the lighter-shaded areas, which include Washington state, Utah, the Upper Midwest, and New England, but they are worse off in the south–the same part of the country where women’s rights, black civil rights, and post-secondary educational attainment tend to lag behind, and where religiosity tends to flourish. A very similar pattern holds for child poverty rates, with a dark band of impoverished children in the south and a lighter strip of well-off children in the west, north, and northeast.

No discussion of American social attitudes would be complete without mention of gay rights, which seems to be the social justice zeitgeist of our time. It’s everywhere in the news, at least in the United States, where everything is controversial. Once again, the general pattern we have been seeing holds true when we look at the maps below showing the advance of gay rights in the United States.

The first map shows the northeast, Midwest, and west coast taking the lead in knocking down old laws banning sodomy between consenting adults in the privacy of their own homes. Most of the south (as well as Mormon country) had to be forced by a 2003 Supreme Court ruling to catch up with the rest of the country. And, in typical fashion, the northeast, Midwest (Iowa), and northwest (Washington state) shine bright blue as the beacons in the gay marriage movement, while the south and Great Plains are steeped in a mostly dark blood red. We must take care not to lump the entire south into the category of “retrogressive”, however: one former slave state–Maryland–is now a gay marriage state. Now, that’s a remarkable transformation. How many states can say that they used to have slaves, but they will soon have legally married gay couples if all goes according to plan?

Certainly, looking at a few maps gives only a rough depiction of social attitudes in America, and much more investigation is required to yield a truly refined and nuanced portrait of the issue, but we can still get a general idea where American attitudes lie with respect to the rights of women, minorities, children, poor people, etc., by looking at maps. Cascadia and New England generally represent more liberal, educated, healthy people while the south generally represents the opposite. We can use this kind of knowledge to focus our efforts on helping those who have been targeted for oppression. It isn’t about judging ignorant rubes–it’s about demonstrating compassion for the underprivileged. With further research, and with the facts in mind, we can reach out to disenfranchised minorities, abused children, poor people who don’t have money for rent, young pregnant women with no access to reproductive health-care, bullied gay youth with nowhere to go, and the lonely, ostracised atheist or Muslim, with the goal of creating equity for all. This is the purpose of looking at social attitudes in America.





The Divine Feminine: an Iron Age Stepford Wife?

22 03 2012

Maybe you are one of them–women, and even some men, who have secreted away from the church pew to summon the goddess in the sacred grove. The trend is growing, it seems. More people are searching for spiritual fulfillment by exploring the “feminine” side of spirituality which is central to so many pagan and New Age traditions, including Wicca, and generally absent from the supposedly more patriarchal male-god religions. But is this “divine feminine“, which forms one half of a duotheistic theology, really such a fair-minded and forward-thinking alternative to male-dominated mainstream religion? As we will see, it might actually reinforce the very patriarchy it seeks to dismantle, and the implications are ominous for women and men alike.

To show how the “divine feminine” movement backfires in its attempt to overturn patriarchy, we must first establish what the concept means. Generally speaking, the “divine feminine” embodies a triad of female archetypes: the Maid, the Mother, and the Crone. Each archetype correlates with a different stage in a woman’s life. The Maid represents the pure and innocent virgin, the mother, the nurturing life-giver and care-taker, and the crone, the wise old teacher–or, potentially, the wicked witch. She is every important aspect of womanhood, or so it would seem, and people pursue the pagan priesthood specifically to pay her homage. She functions as the polar opposite to the male god in a binary which consists of an aggressive, rational, dominant “male energy” and a passive, emotional, submissive “female energy”.We worship her because she complements a strong, disciplinarian masculinity with a weak, nurturing femininity that males supposedly lack.

But, in the stereotypical binary of the weak goddess and strong god, we already see the failure of the divine feminine to dismantle patriarchy. An example of this binary in Chinese philosophy would be the yin and yang, in which a negative, dark, feminine principle complements a positive, bright, masculine one. The divine feminine movement attempts to reclaim female authority from obscurity by extolling the meek, nurturing, yielding nature of the goddess and ignoring her strong, confident, assertive nature—but this is oxymoronic, because it suggests that women’s power lies in their powerlessness. How can women gain power and influence equal to that of men if they are essentially less powerful and influential than men? It just doesn’t make sense. So, with its schizophrenically passive-aggressive, powerful yet powerless goddess, the divine feminine simply gives patriarchy room to flourish.

Now, critics of this view will argue that the binary isn’t really that black and white. “Each man has a feminine side, and each woman, a masculine side”, they will assure you, glowing with pride in their observation. They will point out, for example, that in the yin and yang model, each side has a little bit of the other within it. This is true, but it is also true that the yin is still overwhelmingly dominant and “masculine”, and the yang, overwhelmingly passive and “feminine”, so it doesn’t achieve much to say “there’s a little bit of the other in each”. Besides, it’s a circular argument. Arguing that there is no pure masculinity or femininity, and that each man is a little feminine, and each woman, a little masculine, is a homunculus fallacy, because it still relies on the use of the discrete terms “masculine” and “feminine” to explain gender. Once again, we see how the divine feminine fails to completely liberate male and female from oppressive sex roles.

In addition to the yin and yang model, the fact that the goddess exists almost entirely in relation to males and childbearing presents a problem for the “divine feminine”. The most important role of the goddess is that of the fecund, life-giving, heterosexual mother. She is constantly associated with the earth, fertility, menstruation, pregnancy, and child-bearing. After all, only women can give birth, right? Yes, male fertility is also celebrated in the form of gods like Priapus and phallic cults, but this fertility forms only one aspect of the male god, who is also warrior, judge, poet, and leader, among many other things. The goddess, though, is overwhelmingly associated with nurturing, life-giving fertility, and her sexual relation with the god, as in the sovereignty goddess, an earth divinity whose purpose is to bequeath the land’s power to a man through sexual relations. She is the pure Maid who is sexually desirable to males, as in the Teutonic fertility goddess Ēostre (related to “Easter” and “oestrus”), the Mother who bears her husband’s children, as in Gaia, and the Crone who is useful for nothing more than giving advice and recalling how many miles she had to walk in the snow, and who sometimes represents death, sinister magic, and even cannibalism, as in the child-eating Slavic witch Baba Yaga or the Greek serpent-daemon Lamia. When the woman explores life beyond the hearth and nursery, her unbridled energy necessarily becomes an evil, a transgression against her husband, children, and community. But this isn’t exactly fair. What about girls, sterile women, post-menopausal women, hysterectomized women, lesbians, and women who simply choose not to have children, or even to marry? Most of us would still call these people female, and the vast majority of them are not evil child-eaters, so obviously the “divine feminine”, with its inordinate emphasis on female fertility, fails to represent the many different aspects of female virtue beyond that of childbirth and nursing. It is hard, then, to see a feminist ideal in this Triple Goddess.

The divine feminine is a well-meaning attempt to correct the historical repression of females in mainstream Western religion and spirituality, and in some ways it may have made inroads, but it still falls short of the goal: it presents an oxymoron in the powerlessly powerful goddess, it creates a contradiction by using the terms “masculine” and “feminine” to assure us that there is no pure masculine or feminine, and it describes a goddess whose identity exists almost wholly in relation to men and reproduction. This divinely powerful goddess begins to look like nothing more than an Iron Age Stepford wife. Of course there is nothing wrong with women being compassionate and nurturing, but there is something wrong with women being more compassionate and nurturing than men, especially if all of us are supposed to meet the same, ultimate standard of enlightenment. To reclaim female authority in religion and spirituality, then, we should be exploring the many other aspects of the divine feminine: the warrior, the judge, the poet, the leader, and the good witch. In fact, we should be expanding this to the scientist, the doctor, the politician, and the professor. After all, we no longer live in the Iron Age, and these roles meet the practical demands of the modern day. Simultaneously, we should be exploring the more yielding and nurturing side of the god. By performing this kind of self-scrutiny, we learn from each other and become truly whole human beings.