The Nomenclature of Gay and Female Bodies

17 11 2013

Most of us are familiar with the highly developed and sophisticated set of terms used to describe the female body. (Understanding that gender is a complex creature, here by female body I mean the traditional concept of the biological female body.) Many, if not most, of these terms compare women to animals. In my experience some women don’t care, some women find them empowering, and many find them demeaning. This is totally understandable. I guess it just depends on the individual.

I am quite certain most of these terms are available on Urban Dictionary in case you are unsure of their meaning, but here I have provided a few of the most famous ones. Unsurprisingly, the majority of them seem to treat women in terms of their sexual relation to men. A simple Google search for each term reveals its image in the popular imagination. Oh, I suppose this is the time to tell you that the below images are not safe for work. Also, *trigger warning* for potentially degrading images.

First, we have the bitch:

Female Nomenclature - Bitch

OK, so this term does not refer strictly to the body, but it still compares women to animals, which is a running theme here. The bitch is supposed to be an unpleasantly feisty woman. Funny. I would never call Helena Bonham Carter a bitch—I would just call her magnificently talented—but I guess you could make the argument that a bitch is a good thing.

Then there is the fox:

Samantha Fox - Leather

While the bitch is a ball-breaking ‘cock-blocker’ (not exactly the same thing as a cuckold), the fox is a pornographic delight for heterosexual men everywhere. Samantha Fox, who happens to have a female partner (to the chagrin of men who grew up in the ’80s), calls her fans ‘foxies’, so sometimes it might be a positive term.

The fox closely resembles the vixen (which happens to be a female fox):

Female Nomenclature - Vixen

Here I have used a picture of the character Vixen from the Disney film The Fox and the Hound because a Google search of vixen yielded nothing but images of ’80s hair bands and pornography models. The vixen, I think, is supposed to be more sweetly seductive than the fox.

Even more seductive is the sex-kitten:

Female Nomenclature - Sex Kitten

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Obviously, the term does refer to her sexual relation to a man (or, I suppose, her sexual relation to a woman too.) The sex kitten puts the vixen to shame. She is ultra-cute and coy, and loves to toy with men’s desires. Personally, my idea of a sex kitten is Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman—a lady who will claw your balls off if you fuck with her:

Michelle Pfeiffer Catwoman

In this case I must maintain that the sex kitten resembles something more akin to a powerful, self-asserting agent—like the Egyptian goddess Bastet—than a pleasantly-purring princess. Of course, this was from a film in which men themselves were compared with bats and penguins. Oh, there was also the Poodle Woman, but she was more creepy than sexy, which I kind of like.

And what of the majestic cougar?

Female Nomenclature - Cougar III

She is the sexually mature, over-forty mother of cats. There are many a pimpled teenage boy who fantasize about her. But why can’t older women be sexual and vibrant without kow-towing to silly puerile sex fantasies? Jessica Lange, Miranda Richardson, and Ellen Burstyn have already proved it is possible.

But the complimentary anthropomorphic archetypes end there, it seems, for we also have the dog:

Female Nomenclature - Dog

Does this look like a woman to you? It doesn’t to me. I am pretty confident in saying this is categorically cruel and demeaning.

Another case in which the woman is compared negatively with an animal is the cow:

Female Nomenclature - Cow

I guess this is supposed to refer to an overweight woman? So, what? It’s cruel and unnecessary. I take great delight in the thought of a cow daintily trampling the smug teenage boys (and sometimes older men) who mock women’s weight.

The nail in the coffin is the whale:

Female Nomenclature - Whale

The whale is actually a graceful and intelligent creature, but somehow this fact has escaped the minds of those who compare women’s bodyweight to that of a whale. Hopefully they get crushed by a calving cow while surfing the waves of southern California and, while pinned under her weight, have to watch her calf suckle from her teat, as the cow and her calf wash away. That would be sweet justice.

This trend in ascribing animal traits to women applies to lesbians too, particularly in the form of the bull-dyke:

Female Nomenclature - Bulldyke

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is just one image of the bull-dyke, and it suggests there is power in the term. There are other images which are decidedly less sympathetic. The bull-dyke is a large, strong, assertive gay woman. I guess this is another case of ‘pick or choose’ whether you like the term or not. By the way, is that Betty Friedan? At any rate, I think she rocks.

Another lesbian category is the lipstick lesbian:

Female Nomenclature - Lipstick Lesbian

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In accord with the third-wave feminist movement, she needn’t be masculine in order to be a woman. I don’t see a problem with that. Women should be able to be whatever they want to be, whether masculine, feminine, or gender-queer. Again, I guess it’s your business whether or not you like the term ‘lipstick lesbian’.

Let us not forget the leatherdyke:

Female Nomenclature - Leatherdyke

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She wears leather and rides around on a motorcycle. She takes the dominant, butch role in sexual relations with other women, her preferred instrument of pleasure being either a fist or the strap-on dildo. Her leather gear symbolizes her tough exterior, which is supposed to be attractive to lipstick lesbians.

There is a very interesting intersection between women and gay men in terms of nomenclature: both groups have been categorised by body type, especially in terms of animals or sexual nature. The dynamic might be different with gay men in that there isn’t a heterosexual male presence influencing the categorisation, but there is an internal, sometimes self-defeating, pressure to do so. And sometimes women do view men in objectifying ways, although I think it’s safe to say this is less common  only because women know by experience what it feels like to have this done to them.

Some straight women will feel guilty about making some of these categorisations—and yet I almost want them to, because it would suggest that they acknowledge that they have sexual desires too. This doesn’t feel harmful to me, since I know men have traditionally been perceived as the sexual agents, and women, as the sexual patients. So read on, straight women and gay men.

Perhaps the most popular man is the twink:

Gay Male Nomenclature - Twink

He is called a twink because he is smooth and filled with cream, like a Twinkie. (Gay men are vile and disgusting in their metaphor.) He is the property of Hostess, which is now owned by the private equity firms Apollo Global Management and Metropoulos & Co. Forget animals. He is a processed piece of junk-food from the local convenience store. How’s that for dehumanization?

But then there is the bear:

Gay Bears

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bears adopt a rough and gruff exterior, but are often surprisingly sensitive and articulate. They do co-habitate, but the bear-net is loose. Some bears tend toward chubs or otters. (We will get to these latter two below.) Sadly, some of them believe in the ‘straight-acting’ script, which states that a real man isn’t gay, because gay men are somehow unmanly (whatever ‘manly’ is supposed to be). Bears who like leather are called ‘leather bears’.

A young, small bear is called a cub. A cub is just a baby bear; he is younger. What he has in common with his older peer, though, is that he tends to be hirsute. Hair is the crowning glory of the cub and the bear, whether it be a beard, or—ahem—anything else.

Akin to the cub and bear is the otter.

Gay Male Nomenclature - Otter

The otter is basically the same thing as the cub or bear—he is hairy—but unlike the cub or bear the otter is always slighter in build. Also he tends to have a markedly playful nature.

Similar to bears, cubs, and otters is the satyr:

Gay Male Nomenclature - Satyr

The satyr is half otter, half ‘average’. That is, while he has an average amount of hair on the upper half of his body, he has an enormous amount of the stuff on the lower half. Admittedly, it is not the most common of body terms used in the gay community, but it exists. The satyr of Greek mythology has an enormous sexual appetite, but I am unsure how far this applies in the modern-day gay male usage of the term.

And then there is the chub. The chub is just a large man, like the female whale:

Female Nomenclature - Whale

Some people like the term chubs, some people don’t. Some people are attracted to chubs and seem to use it in a complimentary way, yet I can’t help but think that the term is flippant, if not slightly degrading. Again, decide for yourself.

Then there is the dolphin:

Olympics Day 8 - Swimming

Like the twink, the dolphin is slim and hairless (and usually white), but unlike the twink he usually shaves it off so he can swim faster through the water. I guess he would be like a slim, sexy whale (depending on your preferences, of course). And like satyr, the term dolphin isn’t very common, but it exists. He is the prototypical gay bar go-go dancer.

One of the stranger creatures is the leatherdaddy:

Gay Male Nomenclature - Leather Daddy

The leatherdaddy is much like the leatherdyke—he performs an assertive, dominant sexual role—and he is usually older than his twinkish partner. I don’t get the weird ‘daddy’ thing—it kind of creeps me out—but I think it’s just supposed to signify adoration of an older, powerful man. Also like the leatherdyke, the leatherdaddy is totally into BD/SM. Oh, and Tom of Finland’s caricature of the male form is obviously exaggerated (as caricatures are)—most men do not have such ridiculously broad shoulders and narrow hips. I guess it’s just a fantasy.

Finally, there is the pig:

Gay Male Nomenclature - Pig

By pig, I don’t mean ‘male chauvinist pig’, I just mean a hungry, nasty sex animal. That is the way it is used in the gay male community. The pig doesn’t necessarily dislike romance—he may love it—but he is noted for his love of rough, loud sex. He is into all sorts of things that I cannot possibly enumerate here, nor should I for the sake of decency.

So there you have it. Those are the chief terms used to describe the bodies of women and gay men. Sometimes the term does not refer specifically to the body, but it does refer to the personality and the way in which the individual relates to another, often sexually. I won’t even attempt here to dissect how the media influences concepts of physical beauty—that is an entirely separate blog entry—but I do want to draw your attention to the way people categorise women and gay men according to body and personality type. Some people like it, some don’t, and some just don’t care. My only caveat is this—never be mean-spirited.





Women Who Like Gay Porn

8 04 2012

Surprise! No, not really. It’s quite common-sensical, actually–a lot of women like to watch pornography. You might think this strange, assuming either that pornography objectifies women, or that women are sexless emotional angels, but in fact you’d be wrong. It turns out a lot of the pornography women like to watch is gay. This actually makes sense for several reasons, and it seems to corroborate research on female lust, voyeurism, and promiscuity.

The first reason it makes sense for women to like watching gay pornography is pretty intuitive. Just as straight men are sexually attracted to women, straight women are sexually attracted to men. Hence, just as straight men like watching lesbian pornography, straight women like watching gay pornography. Now people will try to break up this neat little analysis by screaming, ‘But women are less visual than men! Research ‘n’ stuff says so!’ This is basically what Tracy Clark-Flory says in her sex column at Salon in which she responds to a woman experiencing a ridiculously unnecessary tug-o’-war between her ‘feminine’ prudery and her lust for man-on-man action: ‘It’s true that research has found men to be more visual’ concedes the columnist in a tone of tired surrender. Sigh. The all-powerful spell of biologically determined sex difference prevails once again: ‘Men are like this! Women are like that! It’s in the genes! No nuance required! John Gray! Venus! Mars! Easy as cake and commercial as shit! Tehehehe!’ But there are two problems with this: Clark-Flory didn’t even direct the reader to a name connected with the research she ‘cited’ (the curse of popular publishing), and pornography isn’t just about vision anyway; it’s about hearing and other senses, too. So, even if the research proved men to be more visual than women, women might still derive other sensory pleasure from pornography, or it might simply provoke their imagination. The point is that straight women are attracted to beautiful men by way of many senses, and beautiful men are a dime a dozen in gay pornography, hence it makes sense for women to enjoy it–despite the mountains of shame that may weigh on their conscience due to age-old prescriptions on women’s  desires.

The second reason it makes sense for women to like gay pornography is that it doesn’t involve sexual exploitation of females. We all know the formula: some ugly man slams a woman’s head into the cushion of a sofa inside some gross, overlighted Hollywood McMansion while she squeals like a stuck pig and rubs the nipples of her voluminous breasts with her French manicure.  The man’s looks don’t matter, because he is the agent, while she is the screaming lump of gorgeous, glistening flesh to be used. It’s obviously male-centred and male-dominated. It almost feels like rape. Gay male pornography doesn’t have this. It involves a man penetrating another man, so there is no man dominating and objectifying a woman. Some gay pornography does involve objectification, but there seems to be a mutual respect and understanding rather than a real-life power division. This isn’t necessarily so for straight pornography, which can conjure up troubling images and memories for many women. But straight sex shouldn’t be the way it is portrayed in pornography–there is no reason why a man and woman should not have mutually respectful, understanding, and loving sex. That’s what should be depicted in straight pornography. Until that day comes, though, women will like gay pornography. Heck, they might still like it afterward, simply because they like watching gorgeous men having sex.

The third reason it makes sense for women to like gay male pornography is that it lacks a storyline. This is curious and much less intuitive. In his blog Straightguise, openly gay clinical sexologist Joe Kort, PhD, cites an article by Elizabeth F. Stewart in In Family magazine called ‘Hot Man On Man Action (And the Lesbians Who Love Watching It)’. Kort agrees with Stewart that lesbians enjoy gay pornography for its raw nature and de-emphasis on background and storyline, but he adds that straight women may enjoy gay pornography for this reason, too. But women are supposed to like storylines, right? Wrong, according to Kort. Kort cites Stewart as saying in her article that ‘It is a myth that all women–lesbian or straight–want a storyline and emotional content in porn.’ He, too, mentions that women might enjoy gay male pornography because of the balance of power as well as the obviously real orgasm (often faked by women in straight pornography). Obviously it isn’t scientifically conclusive, but Kort’s suggestion that women like gay male pornography for its lack of a storyline, and for its mutual, egalitarian rawness, deserves a great deal of further exploration, because it totally defies the assumption that women are overwhelmingly sexless and emotional creatures. (But, then, a lot of the best gay male pornography is highly emotional and romantic, and many gay men will attest to this, citing some of the highest-quality specimens of film portraying men in love.)

But why do lesbians like gay male pornography? Because some of them do! This was surprising to me. It’s anecdotal, but I worked with a lesbian at a theatre in Vancouver, and when I asked her about this, she nodded, “Yes, it’s true.” We already know one reason, it seems: as Stewart noted, some lesbians like the rough, anonymous nature of gay male pornography. I can only speculate about the other reasons: so-called ‘lesbian’ pornography is fake, degrading rubbish made by straight men for straight men (it says a lot when lesbian pornography is so off-putting as to turn lesbians on to gay men poking each other’s anuses); lesbians may derive a cerebral pleasure watching men do each other instead of women; and you don’t have to be attracted to somebody’s sex to be attracted to what they’re doing and the way they’re doing it. This last point is important. You can be turned on by what other people do without being attracted to their biological sex per se. So, that is perfectly good reason for lesbians to like gay male pornography, especially when women are so poorly portrayed in the industry.

I should mention income disparities in pornography. Defenders of straight pornography will often argue that the industry isn’t unfair towards women, because the women, being the objects of desire, actually earn more money than men. But this doesn’t necessarily give women an economic advantage over men in the industry. For who is the producer and the director? Probably a man, and that man probably earns more than any of the female models. So even then men might have an economic advantage over women in the industry. Besides, the cost of pornography is not just economic–it is also social and psychological, given the image of women it peddles to the male masses. No wonder a lot of women choose gay over straight pornography.

One last point should be made: research doesn’t necessarily support the assumption that women are more monogamous or less libidinous than men. Self-surveys do not actually reveal how people feel, or what they actually do. The media tend innacurately to portray men as more promiscuous than women when in fact women reveal a similar level of sexual desire when interviewed privately and discreetly, as Rosalind Barnett and Caryl Rivers explain in Same Difference: How Gender Myths Are Hurting Our Relationships, Our Children, and Our Jobs (pp. 58-9). We get a more honest picture if we look at our closely-related simian cousins. While Darwin observed female chimpanzees’ sexual swellings, he failed to notice the “12-day period around a chimpanzee’s maximum tumescence, when she typically mates about one to four times an hour with thirteen or more partners”, according to Barnett and Rivers, quoting Sarah Blaffer Hrdy (p. 53). In fact, there might even be reason for women to be even more promiscuous than men, or at least for men to be more loyal to women than previously believed. As Barnett and Rivers note (pp. 61-3), human females don’t go into oestrus, so human males don’t know when the females are fertile. It could be two or three days out of the month, but he doesn’t know which days these are. Hence, to ensure he successfully spreads his genes, it makes sense for the male to have sex as often as possible with the same female, not with many other females, since he might be killed or injured by their mates. Barnett and Rivers explain this increasingly accepted paradigm even further in their book, which is very much worth reading. What we can say based on these observations is that women like sex, and sex with a lot of different men, a lot more than we might wish to believe given our predilection for safe and secure sex roles.

To summarise, a lot of women like gay pornography, because they’re sexually attracted to men (if they’re straight), gay pornography doesn’t exploit women, it lacks a storyline (which women don’t necessarily crave), and lesbians dislike the degrading, fake portrayal of women in straight pornography (while taking pleasure in the sex acts of people despite their gender). We ultimately get a picture of women’s true desires, which is extremely transgressive. Pornography has been bad for both men and women, but it could be good for both. The point is that women liking gay porn liberates both sexes. It lets men enjoy the role of the sexual giver for once, and women, the role of the sexual agent, for, in the end, a black-and-white power-division isn’t healthy–a balance is.





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.





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.





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.





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?