Fast Company on Female Infanticide: “Don’t Kill Girls! They’ll Cook and Clean For You!”

27 11 2011

Many cultures around the world are suffering from an undersupply of women, since many people prefer baby boys to baby girls. In response, the business magazine Fast Company has launched an advertising campaign aimed at swaying consumers to combat the world’s skewed gender ratio. This is a noble cause, but the problem is that the magazine goes about correcting this problem in the worst way possible—by promoting damaging stereotypes about women. Basically, the campaign argues, we need to make more girls because girls are intrinsically nicer than boys and they’ll cook and clean for you!

I read about Fast Company’s campaign on Aubrey Cohen’s blog at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Initially I thought, “Oh, this is great. A business magazine is helping raise awareness about female infanticide, gender-selective abortion, and all of the other practices which are reducing the world’s female populace.” Because we shouldn’t be killing or preventing life based on sex, of course. By the time I had finished reading the article, though, I was thinking to myself, “Christ on a cock. You’ve got to be kidding me. They’re basically saying that we should be increasing the global female population because girls are intrinsically nicer than boys, and boys are fuck-tards.” Below is the blog article I read:

Ads Make the Case for Girls

Parents around the world, including most U.S. dads, still prefer sons. So the folks at Fast Company magazine decided to attack the issue with advertising.

In the age of ultrasound, it’s an issue with serious repercussions. Chinese parents give birth to 120 boys for every 100 girls, while their Indian counterparts have 109 boys for every 100 girls, compared with a natural balance of 105 to 100, Fast Company noted.

That consumer preference turns into disaster when repeated across a society. Unnatural [s]election does a frightening, thorough job of documenting the consequences for countries full of men: sex trafficking in Albania, mail-order brides in Vietnam, crime in “bachelor towns” in rural China. The future portends aging populations short of nurses and teachers

Ad campaigns have been enormously successful in promoting seatbelt use and stigmatizing drunk driving, the magazine noted. “That’s why, as a thought experiment, Fast Company asked some top advertising, marketing, branding, and digital agencies to make the case for baby girls in the language of the global consumer — a challenge they took very seriously.”

The ads use the requisite flashy graphics and clever imagery to note, among other things, that women tend to make better leaders, be more compassionate and live longer, while “boys are 76 percent more likely to set something you love on fire.”

I have exactly what I wanted: one of each. And, while my son has never set anything on fire, he does start bouncing uncontrollably by the end of the day if he doesn’t get a chance to run around.

Wow. Really??

We need more girls because they’re nicer than boys? Really?

When I read the last bit, I thought to myself, “Aw, how sweet. Cohen ends with a sentimental anecdote about how his daughter can stay still longer than his son.” Unfortunately for him, this doesn’t prove that girls in general can stay still longer than boys. In actuality, increased exercise is actually positively correlated with better learning outcomes for both boys and girls. Contrary to the single-sex education fad taking the world by storm like some early 1980s hairstyle, girls need to move around too in order to learn well. They’re not submissive little princesses for you to talk at.

But the whole article is chock-full of simplistic, sentimental assumptions about sex differences, including the Fast Company quotation implying women’s teaching and nursing capabilities, which Cohen affirms with his own anecdote about his well-behaved daughter and his unruly son, a little boy plagued with the curse of a male neuroendocrinological system. (Oh, and isn’t it just so cute! He can’t help himself!)  Like the writers at Fast Company, he takes it for granted that women are better equipped to be nurses and teachers, because they are more nurturing. But what’s the proof? He provides none. It’s just a sweet, sentimental blog entry purporting to espouse a common-sensical truth. Yet Cordelia Fine adroitly overturns the hypothesis that women are intrinsically more nurturing than men in the first section of her rigorously researched tome Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference. The science cited to prove this claim, she shows, is basically junk, and we need to stop cowtowing to our sloppy, self-serving sentiments.

When we look at the above, what we see is a form of paternalism: the author(s) seek to nurture an environment which “cherishes” women while placing them in traditional roles of servitude: the cook, the diaper-washer, the little angel in the house. For people like Cohen (and I don’t presume that his intentions stretch this far, although he reminds me of many whose intentions do), the global undersupply of females is bad not because women are being killed off, but because “nicer” people are being killed off, and nicer people are women. But we shouldn’t be combatting “female undersupply” because girls are “nicer” than boys; we should be combatting it because girls are being killed off simply for being girls, whatever they may be. If we’re short of females, it isn’t that we’re killing off “nice people”; it’s that we’re killing off people we view as inferior because they have vaginas.

The whole assumption that we’re killing off the “nice, female” population, and not just the “female” population is, as noted above, rooted in the idea that females are the “nice” ones. But maybe what we should be doing is two things: fighting against female infanticide, etc., on one hand, and training men to be more nurturing on the other. At some point, men will have to pick up the slack and assume responsibility for some of the traditionally feminine jobs, like nursing and teaching. We should be fighting against female-related deaths because it is murderous and gender-discriminatory, and we should be training males to be nurturing anyway. We should, in short, be fighting against the disproportionately low female population because it threatens females for being female, not because it threatens intrinsically “better” human beings.

That said, I implore you to read this blog article, which deals intimately with female infanticide in a way I cannot: http://viswanathanar.wordpress.com/ It is written in a local dialect, but most English-speakers should get the gist. It’s actually quite poignant once you’ve put the pieces together. In these places, women are merely striving for survival, let alone the rights we enjoy in Western cultures. We should keep things in perspective and place them in priority.

What do you think?





What Does It Mean To Be A Drag Queen?

28 10 2011

What social purpose does drag serve? Do drag queens reinforce gender stereotypes, or challenge them? I would wager the latter.

I once took a women’s studies course in university called “Introduction to Gender Theory”, or something like that. Oh my god, I was in heaven. For me, it was like going to church and singing, “Hallelujah! I have reached the Promised Land, and it is full of all sorts of delicious fucking freaks.” The course was basically an introduction to, well, gender theory, but from a poststructuralist perspective. That basically means when you look at identities and what makes people who they are in a critical, sceptical light. Anyway, at one point in the course handbook the professor discussed drag and explained how some people see drag as reinforcing gender stereotypes by embodying what they think women should be, which is traditionally feminine. The flip-side of this argument, however, is that drag queens are actually challenging gender stereotypes by mocking traditional feminine expectations placed on women.

The latter argument makes more sense to me, and here’s why. Drag is an incredibly complex form of art. It sends out so many messages at once that it is easy for the untrained eye to miss the ultimate point. It is so sophisticated, so full of so many layers of meaning, and so wrought with irony that it is almost too difficult to distil its essence in words. You can’t simply say, “Oh, it’s a man with fake boobs and high-heels, so he must be saying, ‘This is what women are like'”. That kind of answer is just too pat, and it’s an intellectual cop-out. Drag deserves a more nuanced explanation. When men do drag, they do so with a subversive goal in mind: to satirise the crass feminisation of women.

OK, so there are many different types of drag, and each has a unique purpose, but I believe the one I described above is probably the commonest or most salient of them all. And while most drag queens might not be able to articulate what I have just stated, I think they’d probably agree. For them, it is a highly instinctive and subconscious act. It usually is with artists.

To illustrate my point, let’s take a look at drag queen Tammie Brown (who I believe was a contestant in the reality TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race). Do you really think she is saying, “This is what women should be like”? She looks like a cross between Tammy Faye Messner and Faye Dunaway’s version of Joan Crawford, for goodness’ sake. Tammie Brown’s art is so absurd that you cannot seriously think she is saying that women should have 1940s hairstyles, Joan Crawford lips, skin the consistency of puddy, and eyebrows in the middle of their foreheads. It’s satire. Drag queens are not stupid; they are socially savvy, culturally perceptive, and very streetsmart. I haven’t met an autistic drag queen yet (although that would be fucking awesome). What drag queens like Tammie Brown are doing is creating an over-the-top caricature of feminine standards of beauty placed on women. By embodying a cartoonish femininity, they are saying at least two things: “The feminine expectations placed on women are so aburd as to merit the sharpest satire” and “As a man, I will relieve women of this ridiculous ‘duty’ by placing it on my own shoulders”. Drag queens—at least the highly abstract and conceptual ones like Tammie Brown and Raja—are all about confusing people with regard to what men and women should be and do, and they achieve this by transferring traditional responsibilities from one sex to the other.

Sometimes, the drag community’s mockery of sexism is accompanied by a mockery of racism, too. This is a delicate subject, and it deserves the utmost sensitivity, but I do think some forms of racial drag actually satirise racism. Consider Shirley Q. Liquor, a.k.a. Charles Knipp, a white man from the American south who dons blackface in drag. Now, she’s controversial. She’s been on CNN, and leaders in the black community have vilified her as racist, but other black people have defended her in praise of her mockery of racism. One of these is RuPaul, who included Shirley on her album RuPaul RED HOT. In RuPaul’s own words, “[c]ritics who think that Shirley Q. Liquor is offensive are idiots.  Listen, I’ve been discriminated against by everybody in the world: gay people, black people, whatever.  I know discrimination, I know racism, I know it very intimately. She’s not racist, and if she were, she wouldn’t be on my new CD”. Now, just as one woman cannot speak for all women, one black person cannot speak for all black people, but it helps to know that some black people see a certain satire in Shirley Q. Liquor’s art. And I think RuPaul sees the sweet irony in Shirley Q. Liquor’s absurdist blackface. From my perspective (and please correct me if I am misguided), Knipps mocks racism by donning blackface and showing how absurd racial stereotypes are. And when it isn’t clear that he is mocking racial stereotypes, I sort of think he is expressing a deeply human affection for the quirks he recognises in the black women he knew growing up. That said, I highly recommend against doing blackface unless you are absolutely certain of the purpose and context of your art and you have support by a sizeable contingent of the black community, and if you fail to heed this warning and proceed to do blackface in a messy, thoughtless way, you are probably an ignorant fool.

Just in case some of you still think Charles Knipps is racist, let me share with you a horribly beautiful video of him impersonating Barb, the stereotypical “narthern” Great Lakes housewife with an obnoxiously twangy, vowel-fronted North-Central American English accent:

I know. Now he’s doing drag in whiteface. So that’s just in case you think his racial drag is mere racism, and not an ironic mockery of racism. Now, we might be able to say, “Oh, look. He’s racist toward white people, too.” But I don’t think we have to say that he’s racist toward anyone. In every face he does, he is mocking some stereotype or another by exposing its absurdity as plainly as possible. It’s hard to take patent bullshit seriously.

Drag queens are inscrutable creatures; they create a disturbingly comical image of beauty, challenging our assumptions about what is pretty, who should be pretty, and why. The simple-minded philistines among us, with their intolerance for irony, will view drag queens as horribly sexist, racist monsters, but those of us with a capacity to think critically and apprehend the intent behind the art will think the exact opposite—they will view drag queens as highly perceptive cultural critics of sexual and racial stereotypes, as people who have been to hell and back and have something to say in defense of the underdog. The purpose of drag is to mock feminine expectations placed on women, it is to toy with our cherished notions about who can be feminine—women, or men?—and it is to defuse racist stereotypes through crass caricature. At the same time, though, drag queens seem to exult in a certain bizarre, twisted, exaggerated beauty in the very femininity they satirise, perhaps because they value it for its own sake regardless of which gender is performing it. You can have crazy eyebrows or an overdrawn lipline whether you’re male or female. It’s all supposed to be messy, but it’s beautiful nonetheless. At any rate, drag challenges our deepest assumptions about who we are, who we should be, and who we can be, and this is an invaluable tool for deepening and enriching our understanding of what it means to be human.





8 Reasons Why Homophobia Makes No Sense

26 08 2011

I’m usually pretty hard on gay men, because I think they tend to be a little bit vain and self-conceited. It’s one of those cases where minority members exploit their position by bemoaning their fate and eliciting pity through loud, obnoxious mirror-gazing antics. I even get a wee bit Ann Coulter-ish towards the gays sometimes, and that’s very hard for me to do. So you like dick? So what? The world doesn’t revolve around you and your crying penis. For these gays (for certainly not all gays are like this), everything is reducible to their own problems, which they constantly brood over in a desperate attempt at self-validation.

That said, gay people are still discriminated against in the United States and are bumping up against a particularly scary group of right-wing Christian dominionists campaigning for the presidency. Even though some gays act like whiney little bitches, none of them deserves to be denied their deceased partner’s Social Security benefits, equal treatment under the IRS tax code, or equal spousal immigration rights, among the many other federal protections they do not receive because they are attracted to members of the same sex.

For this reason, I would like to provide a comprehensive refutation of eight common arguments launched against homosexuality. These arguments, which I shall attempt to destroy one-by-one, can be summarized as follows: homosexual marriage goes against tradition; homosexuality is a choice; homosexuality is condemned in the Bible; homosexuality is unnatural; homosexuals cannot procreate; all men can marry women, and all women can marry men; if gays can marry, what’s next?; and what shall I tell my children?

1) “Marriage should be between a man and a woman, because it has always been this way.”

This fallacy is called an argumentum ad antiquitatem, or an appeal to tradition. It states that a thing is good because it is traditional, and bad because it is novel. But a thing is not necessarily good because it is traditional; it is good because it makes sense. At one time black people couldn’t marry white people in the United States, but this wasn’t right just because it was traditional. The law didn’t make sense, so we changed it to allow interracial couples (such as the current U.S. president’s parents) to marry and be happy together. Similarly, homosexuals cannot marry each other in most places, but this isn’t right just because it is traditional. The law does not work for homosexuals, so we should change it to allow same-sex couples to marry and be happy together. So, no, just because marriage has traditionally been a union of one man and one woman does not mean that it should be.

2) “Homosexuality is a choice.”

Usually you’ll argue, “The gay rights activists say that there’s a gay gene”. This is a big, fat straw man argument. Nobody with the faintest understanding of biology is arguing that there is a gay gene. What they are arguing is that there is no single gene for any sexual orientation. Rather, all sexual orientations are determined by a complex interaction of polygenic traits, with no single gene acting as the “signal” for whether you like fannies, pee-pees, or both. At the same time, I will concede that sexual orientation might have some environmental cause, because I am not a biological determinist, but, then, this would apply to heterosexuality too, right? So, no, you can’t say that homosexuality is a choice any more than you can say that heterosexuality is a choice.

3) “Homosexuality is condemned in the Bible.”

So what? The Bible is full of horribly offensive things. The Bible says you can sell your daughter into slavery to pay off a debt (Exodus 21:7). It also says you can execute people who cheat on their partners (Leviticus 20:10). But you wouldn’t do these things, would you? No, you wouldn’t, because these things are barbaric, tyrannical, and entirely incommensurate with the “crime” committed. Why, then, should you believe that homosexuals should be executed (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13)? “That was the old covenant”, you will say, but the new covenant required a human sacrifice in the form of Jesus Christ the avatar, so some form of blood-sacrifice and recompense is required to propitiate God. That’s just ruthless and bloodthirsty. And, besides, it still implies that dues need to be paid for the sin of homosexuality. And in the meantime, two adult women or men could be having the most loving, fulfilling consensual sex imaginable. Why, then, should we abide by such sanguinary, blood-soaked scriptures?

4) “Homosexuality is unnatural.”

This fallacy is an appeal to nature. It states that a thing is right just because it is natural, and a thing is wrong just because it is unnatural. But a thing is not right just because it is natural, and a thing is not wrong just because it is unnatural. Clearly, rape and murder are a part of human nature, but we don’t say that these things are right, because they harm people; similarly, aeroplanes are unnatural, but nobody goes around protesting against aeroplanes, because they are helpful to us. Besides, a great deal of evidence suggests that, in large part, homosexuality is natural. We see it everywhere in nature. Penguins do it in the zoo, lions do it on the savanna, and Ellen Degeneres does it with Portia de Rossi in the bedroom of their Beverly Hills flat while their dogs and cats watch. Oh, and bonobos practice lesbianism as a way to cement social bonds. Human beings have practised homosexuality all throughout history, all around the world, in almost every culture. On top of that, do you know how many species of animals are hermaphroditic or transsexual? The permutations are mindboggling. Just watch one of Isabella Rossellini’s strangely droll and artistic Green Porno or Seduce Me short documentaries about mating habits in nature. How can it all be heterosexual?

5) “Homosexuals  do not procreate.”

True. Homosexuals do not procreate. Neither do sterile couples. Or post-menopausal women. Or hysterectomised women. Or couples who simply choose not to have children. Seriously? You don’t think that any of these people should have sex just because they don’t make babies? That’s just ridiculous. You may as well pass a law which states that couples must procreate within a certain number of years following their marriage or else their marriage will be annulled—and they will be banned from having any kind of sex afterward. Sounds fascist to me. Obviously people don’t just have sex to make babies; they also have sex for pleasure. Having sex for pleasure can help forge vital social bonds and nurture social stability. It also creates personal happiness, which has a positive trickle-down effect on the larger community. In a world verging on 7 billion in population, homosexuals have sex for love and pleasure, not to make more people, thus they play a vital role in creating social and demographic stability. So, no, homosexuality is not wrong just because it does not result in babies.

6) “All men can marry women, and all women can marry men. Therefore there is no inequality.”

This argument is a sophistry—it deliberately misses the point by setting up a straw man. The point is not whether all people are allowed to marry members of the opposite sex; the point is whether all people are allowed to marry members of the sex that they are attracted to. The injustice is in the fact that women cannot marry other women and men cannot marry other men, while women can marry men, and men can marry women. This means that gay people cannot marry the people they are attracted to, but straight people can marry the people they are attracted to. Thus, all people cannot marry the person they are attracted to. That is where the inequality lies. Obviously, the whole point of marriage equality is the right to marry a member of the sex you are attracted to, not a member of the sex you are not attracted to. So, no, it isn’t clever or valid to say that all men can marry women, and all women can marry men.

7) “If we legalise gay marriage, what’s next?”

This is the classic slippery slope argument. It makes me want to ask, well, if we legalise miscegenation, what’s next? Mulatto offspring? Sex with donkeys? Barack Obama? They were singing the same tune, I’m sure, in the United States back in 1967 with the ruling Loving v. Virginia, which legalised interracial marriage. Back then, too, I could have asked, what’s next? child molestation? Seriously, if you think that letting gays marry will lead to people having sex with children and donkeys, you haven’t heard of a little thing called adult consent. And if you compare sex between consenting adults with sexual abuse, there is seriously something broken inside your head. The requirement for morally sound sex is adult human consent. Period. Therefore gay sex between consenting adults is morally sound, while sex with children and donkeys is not. (Animals can’t really consent, can they?)  So, no, none of that nasty, scary donkey sex stuff will happen, dears, because it isn’t between consenting human adults. So just relax.

8 ) “What will I tell my children?”

Tell your children that Pam and Sally, the two ladies who have lived in the mysterious house across the street since before your own family existed, live together because they love each other and want to spend the rest of their lives together, in peace and happiness. That is what they want. And that is what you should tell your children. I know—isn’t it so simple?

And those are the eight reasons why homophobia doesn’t make any sense, and why the U.S. federal ban on gay marriage should be repealed. I hope I expressed my points in the most trenchant prose possible. The federal ban on gay marriage destabilises loving unions, families, and children. If one truly cared about marriage and family, one would want to maximise the potential for lovingly committed adults to raise children in healthy, loving environments which nurture dignity, cooperation, and social cohesion. The current U.S. federal law falls short of this goal, but for some reason I have an inkling that this will change very soon, and when it does, it will be as a much-welcome torrent bursting forth over a dam on to a long-parched field, tended naively by the very people who built the dam in the first place.