Are We Really “Born This Way”?

11 11 2011

I’m sick of Lady Gerber, but I have to write about her because of this song she wrote about being born with immutable sex characteristics. The danger is in how she implies that these characteristics are unchangeable.

Upon its release, Lady Gerber’s dance hit “Born This Way” instantly became a brazen vindication of homosexuality’s biological basis. The LGBTQ community revelled in the message that homosexuality was immutable and therefore deserved society’s approval. The problem, though, is that the song’s message is founded on the precepts of biological determinism, a philosophy which reinforces the social inequities that the LGBTQ community and other minorities are struggling to eliminate. In other words, the song’s message relies on a socially damaging cop-out about human nature. Perhaps what we need to do is take a fresh approach to gay and lesbian apologetics by critiquing biological determinism for the way in which it disenfranchises us, because it doesn’t necessarily liberate us.

Essentially, biological determinism states that people are born with certain immutable biological characteristics, and that these characteristics help explain the social inequities we see in society. By contrast, social determinism posits that the behaviour of the individual is determined by social mores and institutions. Since they are both forms of determinism, biological and social determinism are the opposite of free will, a philosophy which states that human beings ultimately possess agency and volition over their actions. Finally, compatibilism states that free will and determinism are not incompatible, and that both work together to influence the behaviour of the individual. And then there is epigenetics, which is relevant but lies outside the scope of this article.

One might think that, ostensibly, biological determinism would serve gays and lesbians, because it transfers responsibility for homosexual behaviour from the person to the person’s physiology, thereby exonerating that person of any claims of moral turpitude. According to this view, if homosexuality is biologically predetermined, gays and lesbians are not sinning against God, because they are blameless. A person’s same-sex affection is driven by the neurochemistry of his or her brain, and it is unfair to blame a person for neurobiological processes they cannot control, hence it is unfair to blame a person for his or her same-sex affection. In short, the idea is, “You can’t blame a person for something they can’t control.”

It seems like a triumphant final “hurrah” in defense of homosexuality, but is it really a good philosophy for human beings in general? Maybe not.

Using biological determinism as an excuse for our behaviour might inadvertently hamper efforts at achieving gender equity. The biological determinist model posits that boys are inherently more aggressive, lustful, and dominating than girls, and girls, more passive, emotional, and nurturing than boys, because of some genetically-influenced cocktail of hormones which shaped their brains in the womb. But is this philosophy scientifically sound, and does it serve boys and girls? As Cordelia Fine points out in her book Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference, testosterone does seem to determine which set of genitals a baby will develop, but it does not necessarily determine which toys children like to play with, let alone which types of careers they wish to pursue later in life. She also shows in the first section of the book that the scientific attempt to prove that girls are more empathetic than boys is implausible. Fine shows again and again that the “neuroscience” of hardwired sex differences use to justify gender inequity is methodologically flawed, misinterpreted, or simply nonexistent.

If we think about it, we can see the slippery slope of excuses which might be used if we embrace biologically determined sex inequity: for example, when a man rapes a woman, it isn’t really his fault, because he was being controlled by his testosterone levels. In effect, rapists get off the hook because “boys will be boys”, and girls like to please. In other words, men get to violate women because that is what it means to be a man, and women should just lie back and think of England. But biological impulse does not excuse rape, because rape hurts people. I know. Novel concept. If you’re impelled to rape, you deserve to be sequestered, medicated, and treated psychiatrically, not excused because of your testosterone levels. And if you continue to try to rape, a stable of women martial artists should be set on your ass to put you in your place, bitch.

But bio-determinism is dehumanizing for another important reason: empathy is something that defines us as human beings (or as mammals at least), and we need as much of it as we can get, but bio-determinism posits that boys are inherently less empathetic than girls, so, essentially, what it is suggesting is that half of the human race should be crueller than the other half. This is absurd if our goal is to encourage the greatest degree of empathy possible in everybody, male or female. If empathy is so valuable, why are we making exceptions for it? That’s just schizophrenic–it’s shooting ourselves in the foot. Does the LGBTQ community really want to endorse such ridiculously irrational self-limitation? I hope not.

Bio-determinism could even be used to justify racism. As bio-determinists, we might argue that black people are inherently more violent than white people in order to explain the disproportionately high number of black people in American prisons. We might also invoke bio-determinism to explain the higher mortality rate of black people, and why they need this-or-that medicine (the commercialisation of race for the purpose of lining the pockets of drug companies). This racialisation of social ills is roundly criticised by Dorothy Parker in her book Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-Create Race in the Twenty-First Century. When we embrace bio-deterministic explanations for racial inequity in health and crime rates, we are automatically enabling such inequity to persist. Clearly, promoting the assumption that ill-health and violent tendencies are in the nature of dark-skinned people is detrimental to both dark-skinned and light-skinned people, so we should stop making excuses and figure out the larger reasons why dark-skinned people tend to crowd our prisons and hospitals. For this reason, the LGBTQ community might wish to be cautious about using bio-determinism as an explanation for behaviour.

Ironically, the “Born This Way” maxim might not just hurt women and racial minorities—it might actually end up hurting the LGBTQ community itself. Does it really matter whether or not something is natural? By using biological innateness to justify their desires, gays and lesbians are simply giving power to the oppressor, because they are sort of implying that they “can’t help doing something that might indeed actually be wrong”, as if it’s some uncontrollable disease. In other words, they’re suggesting, homosexuality isn’t OK because it makes somebody happy; it is OK simply because it can’t be helped. It’s kind of like saying that freckles are OK because they’re natural, not because they make somebody happy. Of course freckles aren’t OK just because they’re natural; they’re OK because they make somebody happy.  Similarly, homosexuality isn’t OK just because it’s natural; it is OK because it makes somebody happy.

What is taking place here is an “appeal to nature” fallacy, which states that a thing is good because it is natural, and bad because it is unnatural. But a thing is not good because it is natural, or bad because it is unnatural; it is good because it creates pleasure and happiness, and bad because it prevents pleasure and happiness. Clearly, rape and murder are part of human nature, but nobody in their right mind says that these things are good. Conversely, aeroplanes are unnatural, but nobody goes around protesting against aeroplanes because they’re bad. So, what gays and lesbians should be doing is saying, “Even if homosexuality weren’t natural, that doesn’t make it wrong. It is right because it makes people happy. It is also your choice to be a Christian, and that’s a man-made decision, but I don’t discriminate against you because of that.” Thus, to deny power to the oppressor, the LGBTQ community should focus on critiquing the appeal to nature fallacy, not affirming it.

As we can see, Lady Gerber’s widely adored anthem ostensibly vindicates same-sex desire, but in many ways it actually reinforces damaging social inequities for women and racial minorities, as well as LGBTQ people themselves. It hurts almost everyone. Certainly, biology plays a part in who we are as human beings, but it does not necessarily define who we are in a distinct linear fashion from womb to adulthood. Absolute biological determinism, like social determinism, seems a little implausible, so perhaps we should consider paying more heed to compatibilism–the philosophy that allows for a complex interaction between the mind, the body, and society. We might even argue that we have more free will, more agency and autonomy, than we give ourselves credit for. Maybe we weren’t strictly “born this way” after all, and maybe there’s a bigger “socio-biological” picture to why we do what we do, but that doesn’t make homosexuality wrong any more than it makes, say, Christianity wrong. Maybe what we should be doing is defending minority sexual identities for their own sake, not for their basis in biology.

Of course, at the end of the day, it just so happens that there is a mounting heap of evidence defending at least the partial innateness of homosexuality, but, alas, it is exceedingly difficult to teach a religious fundamentalist new tricks, isn’t it?

Source:

The Muck of Ages

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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.





What Makes A Feminist?

18 05 2011

A heterosexual male friend of mine once told me about a chat he had online with somebody who was offended at the fact that his AOL profile (this was back in the ’90s) included the Gloria Steinem quotation, “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle”. According to him, the other person argued that he should not include such a quotation in his profile since women did not need the support of men. Some men have tried to avoid such pitfalls by calling themselves “pro-feminist” instead of “feminist”. But what is the difference? Both view men and women as equals. One might find this “men can’t be feminists” attitude to be illogical and sexist, because it presupposes that women, but not men, should support women’s rights.

To determine how such a view can be construed as sexist, let us take a look at the definition of feminism. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word feminism denotes “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes”. If feminism is based on the equality of the sexes, but a person states that female support is superior to male support, that person is technically being sexist. If a person seeks support, he or she should view both male and female support as equal, otherwise he or she is not a feminist, but a sexist. In other words, feminists would ideally seek the support of females and males equally, and not one over the other, because they view females and males as equals. Given this assumption, the Steinem quotation should tacitly read, “Women need men or other women as much as a fish needs a bicycle”, for if females and males are equal, female advocacy is as useful as male advocacy.

Besides, how do you explain intersexuality? If you do not believe that males can be feminists, but that females can, what position should intersexual people take? Some of them are considered sexually ambiguous by the most clinical biological definition–chromosomal ambiguity (XXY, XYY, or even something else). What should their feelings be on this issue? They at least should have a say in the matter.

There are important, very practical, exceptions to this principle. For example, it is understandable that a women’s rape relief centre should deny entry to men. Women who seek the services of these centres are often physically and psychologically traumatised, and the presence of men can exacerbate their stress. We might argue that these women should view men as being as supportive as any woman, and many of them probably are, but such a demand requires an unfair and unrealistic amount of reflection on the part of women who are in an emergency situation. The important thing for these women is to feel safe and secure, and to recover stress-free from their trauma, and if this means the exclusion of a visible threat, I think this is only reasonable.

The most important thing is that everybody seek equality for everybody. If we are all in this together, we should not be splitting hairs over the very differences we are trying to surmount in the first place. That is counter-productive, almost like shooting yourself in the foot. Black people need the support of everybody; gay people need the support of everybody; women need the support of everybody; men need the support of everybody; the disabled need the support of everybody; everybody needs the support of everybody. In that way, we are all equal. We are all inherently equal, and we should all be standing in solidarity as members of the same species and supporting one another. For the most part, we are all in the same boat rocking back and forth on the same stormy ocean, and, consequently, we are all dodging the same capricious waves.





The “Straight-Acting” Sham

18 02 2011

In my last post, I discussed gender dimorphism and challenged the biological determinist notion that we are and should be slaves to our biology. I explained how this position is highly questionable, biased, and potentially destructive—for both women and men. As it turns out, attachment to gender roles is not limited to heterosexual people, but includes homosexuals as well. This is rather ironic, because one would think that if anybody were cynical about gender roles, it would be gay people.

In contemporary gay society, there is a subset of lesbians who concern themselves with being feminine, and gay men who concern themselves with being masculine. For these lesbians, femininity equates with heterosexuality; for these gay men, masculinity equates with heterosexuality. Because I have been more immersed in the milieu of gay male society, I will focus on gay men who try to be masculine. Some gay men seek to emulate straight men because they believe that conventional heterosexual manhood embodies masculinity. There are three problems I have with this attitude: 1) it is sexist, 2) it is heterosexist, and 3) it is hypocritical and just plain illogical.

With regard to the first of these, straight-acting is sexist because it presupposes that men, but not women, are supposed to embody traditionally masculine traits. For instance, straight-actors assume that real men are supposed to be strong, aggressive, emotionally distant, and physically active. They are supposed to like action films, working on cars, baggy jeans and t-shirts, and playing rough contact sports, because these are “manly” things, in contrast with “womanly” things; they are not supposed to like romantic comedies, talking problems out, or wearing make-up and dresses, and they are not supposed to have effeminate mannerisms.  (And don’t talk to me about neurobiological differences and all of that crap–I dealt with that in my last blog entry.) But these stereotypes simply re-inforce the stupid sex roles that create so much pain, misery, heart-ache, and suffering for people. Being gay defies gender norms, so, if anybody should be critical of gender norms, it is gay people. It is disappointing, then, that some gay men challenge gender norms when they want to have anal sex, but preserve them when a man wants to wear make-up or a dress. All of a sudden, it’s perfectly manly to have butt-sex in a hotel room, but not to walk down the street carrying a Chanel handbag. How two-faced and arbitrary.

(This reminds me of the furore that has arisen over the fact that the San Francisco Department of Health has begun distributing female condoms to gay and bisexual men. Horror of horrors! How dare they imply that we are FEMALE! Um, hello? Female condoms go in HOLES. An anus is a HOLE. Therefore, it is perfectly logical for a gay man who receives the penis in his HOLE to use a female condom. If you don’t think a man receiving a penis in his anus during butt-sex is effeminate, you have no reason to think that such a man wearing a female condom is effeminate. And, besides, if it is effeminate, so what? He’s an effeminate man. Get over it.)

But I digress. Let us move on. Straight-acting is also heterosexist. The evidence is in the word straight-acting itself. Straight-acting implies that to be a real man, one must be a straight man, or a man who has sex with women. But monks don’t have sex with women, and we don’t say that they are not real men. Nor have male virgins ever had sex with a woman, but we don’t say that they are not real men. And some men are impotent, but we don’t say that they are not real men, either. “Ah, but they aren’t real men”, you might say, “because they don’t have sex with women”. But this would mean that a man is never a real man when his penis is not inside a woman’s vagina. That’s just ridiculous. All men are born with XY chromosomes, penises and testicles, and sperm. This includes gay men. Therefore gay men are men too. You don’t have to stick your penis into a woman’s vagina to be a man. Besides, the notion that a real man has sex with women is kind of degrading to women, because, for me, it strongly connotes sexual conquest of women, and that is just dehumanizing. Women are not holes for you to grind your penis in like a pencil sharpener. The actual hole itself is attached to a human being with her own thoughts and feelings.

Then there is the fact that straight-acting is hypocritical. Don’t worry. I’m not engaging in a tu quoque fallacy–I’m not attacking the person’s failure to practise what they preach rather than what they preach (I’ve already disproved what they preach in the last two paragraphs)–I’m merely trying to show that they are incoherent and inconsistent. And that should count for something. Consider Matt Hinsley, the 22 year-old college student who recently attended America’s annual CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) with the conservative gay group GOproud. According to Metro Weekly‘s Ebone Bell, Hinsley—a gay man—said,

“I don’t really like gay people that much. Gay people frustrate me, the stereotypical gay people, it frustrates me…someone who puts on a total act. I understand that some guys are feminine, which is fine. But some guys, at some point, are normal, straight-acting, whatever and the next minute they’re jumping up and down. It just frustrates me. The whole conservative thing is just be yourself, be an individual and just don’t be someone you’re not. If someone does or does not accept you, that’s fine but don’t change who you are to look different to others.”

Holy shit! It’s almost like when black people call each other nigger. Here is my main contention with regard to hypocrisy (I address Hinsley and his sort directly): you say that people should not act like somebody they are not, then you criticise  gay people who act effeminate, but not gay people who act straight. Yet both act like somebody they are not. Well, that isn’t fair. You can’t criticise drag queens without criticising straight-acting jocks, too, because both are acting like somebody they are not. Besides, many drag queens are in their true form when they are in drag, but a straight-actor is still painfully awkward and affected when in his jock-drag. Ugh. Furthermore, being effeminate is not incompatible with being gay, but being straight logically is (straight ≠ gay), so, if anything, straight-acting is more treacherous to one’s own homosexual identity than effeminacy. I think I’ve proved my point. It doesn’t make sense to slander gays for being gay.

Let’s sum up. Straight-acting doesn’t make sense, because it suggests that real men are traditionally masculine, that real men fuck women and not men (which is funny since straight-actors fuck men, and not women), and that drag queens put on an act, but not men who act straight. In essence, straight-acting is artificial, narcissistic, sexist, incoherent, sycophantic, opportunistic, exploitative, unfair, sophistic, and illogical. It cannot be defended. It is, quite honestly, the signature of a chap whose intellect is able enough to commute him from the high-school football quarterback position to the timid chair in the corner of the local community college philosophy course. Where he will fail.





Boys Will Be Biological Determinists

7 02 2011

What do you think of this picture of Amanda Lepore? No, it isn’t a Björk album cover.

Lepore, a nightlife hostess, model, entertainer, and male-to-female transgendered woman from New Jersey, is clearly a hyperfeminine contrivance, and we could chat till the cows come home about what sort of example she sets. Some gender theorists will argue, “She only re-inforces a stereotypically feminine paradigm for women”, while other gender theorists will argue, “She does not: she transfers that expectation from women on to men”. Personally, I hardly think that she is foisting some expectation on to the average woman to be like her. Seriously? If anything, she is saying that men can be that way, too, or, simply, she is being who she wants to be, as an individual. At any rate, we must agree that her highly ceremonial physical appearance testifies to the fact that the body is a thing to be manipulated for present-day needs and desires, and not an ancestral legacy to be embalmed.

Some people–I daresay men especially–show a profound anxiety over changing things one is born with. They don’t want women to be women, and they certainly don’t want men to be women. I don’t just mean cutting off penises or getting breast implants; I mean things like hormones, hypothalamuses, amygdalae, libido, and fight-or-flight instincts. For these people, we not only are slaves to our natural machinery, but we should be. And yet, as it happens, our natural machinery also includes a capacity for self-awareness and adaptation, a drive to meet our current needs and desires. So why should we worship biological impulses which echo ancestral traits, but not those which encourage innovation?

Let us make the following proposition:

Evolution consists in the natural selection of random genetic mutations which best accommodate the novel demands of the present-day environment.

Well, if this is so, then we should be adapting to our modern-day environment, not clinging to the ancestral one. “But this requires selection of a mate with the most desirable genetic mutations”, say determinists, “and we cannot control that impulse. It is instinctive”.

I don’t buy that argument.

First, it is irrelevant whether or not one can control such an instinct anyway, because instinct itself is adaptive. That is, instinct does the work of adapting for us. For instance, if fear of insects developed as a result of some ancestral awareness of potentially lethal insect venom, then this fear-instinct didn’t exist at an earlier date, because the object of fear was not yet present to merit it. Well, this obviously means that the instinct had to have developed. So pre-existing instincts are eclipsed by newer, more relevant ones which meet novel demands, and this is just one reason why we need not cling to tradition. Determinists often argue that conscious resistance to instinct is maladaptive, but what is really maladaptive? Clinging to an obsolescent instinct which causes undue suffering, or responding to the demands of a new one? I wager the former. Anything less would be counter-evolutionary.

Second, I’m not so sure we can’t help who we choose to mate with. As explained above, we humans have a capacity for self-awareness. The fact that I am discussing it objectively with you right now testifies to that fact. Being aware of our own condition, we are aware of those choices which most suit our present-day needs. The determinist will argue, “women instinctively choose stronger men over weaker ones, because, evolutionarily, stronger men can better defend them against wild animals”. I will agree that there is nothing sexier than a big, dumb, beefy male with a dark beard, but we know that there are some women who choose a scrawnier mate over a brawnier one. But this doesn’t make them “maladaptive” or “perverse”. Men evolved to become physically stronger than women so that they could protect pregnant women from wild animals, but some women consciously realize this is no longer necessary. In one recent newspaper article I read, a man and woman were hiking in the Alaska Range when a grizzly bear appeared out of the brush and charged the woman. The man responded not by wrestling the bear to the ground, but by pulling out a gun and shooting it–something the woman could have done if she had had the gun. In such cases, male strength is irrelevant, and, realizing this, women need not seek it out. Because they are conscious of what they need and desire.

And then we get into the testosterone argument. Lordy. This has been a highly popular credo for aeons, it seems–Gloria Steinem is still trying to dispel its glamour–yet it is fundamentally flawed in terms of ethical reasoning. In its basic form, the credo states, “Men are more aggressive because of testosterone, less emotional because of the way their limbic system operates, and more libidinous because of the hypothalamus”. So, what, so what, and so what? I don’t care, I don’t care, and I don’t care. Black people are more susceptible to high cholesterol levels than white people, but that doesn’t mean they should be, and Native Americans are more susceptible to alcoholism than white people, but that doesn’t mean they should be. In addition, white people are more susceptible to skin cancer than black people because they have less melanin in their skin, but that doesn’t mean they should be–we give them skin-block so that they can live in tropical climates, because they should be able to have that experience. Why, then, should we believe that it is “natural” for males to be more sexual than females? Because of some outdated need for polygyny? Ask yourself. Is that really fair? We already know that more intelligent men are more monogamous than less intelligent men, and that both general intelligence and male monogamy are evolutionary innovations. And why should males be more aggressive than females if everybody should be as kind and as nurturing toward one another as humanly possible? After all, if it is good to be kind, why should we deny kindness where possible? To say that a man sitting at home alone with his baby shouldn’t cuddle it as much as its mother just doesn’t make any fucking sense. It’s inane and full of empty, mindless automation. And if there is some neuro-biological impediment to the realization of this vision, there is a simple solution: medicine.

People think things are good if they are natural, and bad if they are unnatural. This position is called an “appeal to nature” fallacy. What makes this position fallacious is that a thing is not necessarily good because it is natural, or bad because it is unnatural. So what if male aggression is natural? Rape and murder are natural too, but that doesn’t make them right. In fact, most rapes and murders are commited by males, but we wouldn’t say, “rape and murder are manly things”. That’s just retarded and idiotic. Similarly, airplanes are unnatural, but nobody goes around saying that they’re bad. So, no, “natural” does not equate with “good”, and “unnatural” does not equate with “bad”. Therefore, the argument that male aggression is good because it is natural is entirely vacuous.

A very brilliant friend of mine, Christine (whose culinary blog Angrycherry.com, by the way, is an unparalleled source of sumptuous, gorgeously-crafted home-spun recipes), recently recommended a book to me called Delusions of Gender: How our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference, by Cordelia Fine. (Apparently there’s a new, much more fastidiously laid-out edition entitled Delusions of Gender: the Real Science behind Sex Differences.) The book’s thesis is that sex differences in the brain are not as fixed, black-and-white, or hardwired as the popular media would lead us to believe, and that our loyalty to sex difference may actually causes suffering. I don’t have a problem with sex differences per se, but I do have a problem with the preservation or justification of such differences in that they cause pain, injury, misery, suffering, torment, isolation, or depression. The book is quite stunning according to most reviews: it is incredibly rigorously scholastic, yet fun and easy to read. Thus, I look forward to reading this book, and I recommend it to anybody interested in the subject.

The point I am making in this prolix blog entry is that we need to start using the most of our brains. We need to start thinking for ourselves. No more of this, “Aw, I can’t help it. It’s instinct. I’m a boy” crap. Bullshit. People say that kind of thing as an excuse to be a dick–and they get away with it. They do have control over how they behave, so they need to stop using biological determinism to explain away crimes such as rape, assault, murder, and all the other horrible things they do to ruin people’s lives. Isn’t it all as simple as that? Do unto others as you would have done unto you? Why should it make a difference, then, if your ancestors didn’t care for babies because they had penises?





The “Divine Feminine” and New Age Sexism

11 12 2010

Greek Minoan Snake GoddessDespite my spiritual predilections and fascination with the occult and all things arcane, there is one current of thought within the New Age movement which I find irritatingly sexist. It is one of the reasons I can’t pick up a deck of Tarot cards. It is the concept of the “divine feminine”. In popular New Age thought, we find a strong tendency to revive the goddess, but this goddess is yielding, nurturing, life-giving, and emotional, in contrast with a god which is aggressive, disciplinary, life-taking, and rational. Not much different from the Iron Age. The concept of the “divine feminine” reflects a philosophy which simply recycles the old paradigm of male dominance over a female who is glorified for her self-sacrificing, self-effacing submissiveness.

The problem is that we attribute virtues such as emotion with one sex, and virtues such as logic with the other sex. All of these, however, are universal human virtues which one would think we would want to exploit as much as possible in either sex whenever the situation demands. If this is so, then the “divine feminine”, with its ostensible equalization of the sexes, actually inhibits this equalization and the realization of these universal virtues. In occult thought, the goddess is traditionally associated with various esoteric symbols, such as water (emotion) and earth (nurturance and fecundity); the god, on the other hand, is associated with symbols such as air and sky (logic) and fire (manipulation and authority). The result is a binary of characteristics consisting of these “feminine” and “masculine” attributes.

Already, many young modern people will view this binary as romantically archaic and saccharine, which is ironic since New\ Age thought is supposed to be more radical than that. At any rate, the New Age movement has attempted to balance out the sexual pre-eminence embodied in the monotheistic male-god religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) by reintroducing a female divinity. This I resonate with, for I was raised Christian, and all I imagined was a god with a penis and long, white beard telling me that sex was wrong. (It really is a literal image one has when God is constantly associated with all that is considered male.) And I was told the first human was male, and this male was created in the image of God, who was male (somehow). It left me feeling empty, and always questioning, wondering why this “other sex”–the other half of humanity–should exist at the periphery. If our prototype for humanity was the male, what, then, was this “female”? Where did she come from–other than a rib? And I believe a lot of New Age thinkers have asked the same questions, but I think that in doing so, they are accidentally reviving the mainstream paradigm.

Freja Norse Nordic VikingThis brings us to the crux of the problem of New Age sexism. New Age thinkers often claim that in each male there is a feminine aspect, and in each female, a masculine aspect. The problem is that the statement “in each male is a feminine aspect, and in each female, a masculine one” consists of a circular argument. By using the terms masculine and feminine to neutralize the sex binary, New Age thinkers inadvertently reinforce that binary, because the terms masculine and feminine themselves constitute a sex binary of male versus female. In other words, one cannot describe males as part male and part female, and females as part female and part male, without presupposing a male and female to begin with. (It should be noted that in typical New Age parlance, feminine is associated with actually being a female human being, and masculine, with actually being a male human being–whether this association is right or wrong.)

So what should we do? First, we should get rid of misleading terminology such as the “divine feminine” and the “divine masculine”, because a lot of people associate feminine with “being female” and masculine with “being male”, and yet a lot of women aren’t feminine, and a lot of men aren’t masculine. And if men are indeed more aggressive than women because of testosterone (which is questionable), so the fuck what? Maybe they shouldn’t be. (I thought y’all believed in spontaneous evolution, anyway.) To assume that they should be would constitute multiple logical fallacies: the is/ought fallacy and the appeal to nature fallacy. That a thing is true doesn’t mean it should be, and that a thing is natural does not mean it should be, either. Even if you proved that men are more aggressive than women, it doesn’t constitute a moral imperative.

To illustrate, we do not say that black people should be more susceptible to heart-attacks because they have higher cholesterol levels, or that Native Americans should be more susceptible to liver disease simply because they are more susceptible to alcoholism, or that East Asian people are well-organised. It is a very socially-influenced phenomenon–not a principle to be lived by. So why not prescribe estradiol supplements to males who are overly aggressive? We wouldn’t excuse rape or murder on the basis of testosterone. Their behaviour is maladaptive and needs to be fixed, although I believe the ultimate solution is allowing boys to be feminine.

What we should do is attend to the demands of the modern-day environment, not the ancestral one. This may require more men to take care of children, and more women to work outside the home. (Women are working outside the home anyway, but men aren’t picking up the pace when it comes to domestic chores.) Concomitant to this, more people demand a female presence in their religion. But Western religion lacks the multitude of female figures available in the typical pagan pantheon. What is our recourse? In the Christian West, it is the Virgin Mary. Initially, it would seem as though Mary is a new goddess. But Mary is non-sexual, and a mother. She performs her duty as a mother by conceiving the Christ-avatar, but she does so without having intercourse. She is defined contrarily by her maternality and her virginity. Mary does serve as a crucial figure of feminine authority and divine intercession in the Western world, but most women need or want to have sex (for every male who wants to fuck because of testosterone, there has to be a consenting female–and hopefully an excited one), and many also undergo childbirth as a direct consequence, so Mary is an impossible archetype to live up to. If we want to identify the “divine feminine”, we must seek further. We must discover the woman who is equally sexual, maternal, aggressive, and strategic. . This brings us to the sovereignty goddess of pagan lore. The sovereignty goddess was basically a goddess of the earth who granted fertility by bestowing kinghood on the man who drank from a well occupied by her, or from her chalice of menstrual blood. Something which constituted fertility, or a male union with the feminine land. The idea was that the aspiring king (male) would unite with the earth (female) to render the land fertile, hospitable, and long-lasting.  The most famous sovereignty goddess of all is probably Medb (pronounced literally as MATHV [Medhbh] in Old Irish, or as MAV in Modern Irish) of Iron Age Ireland. Medb might be either a humanized goddess or a euhemerized (deified) heroine. In the great epic Táin Bó Cúailnge (The Cattle Raid of Cooley), pronounced as Toyn Bo Cool-nya, Medb, Queen of Connacht (a region in the west of modern-day Ireland), seeks to outdo her husband, Aillil, in terms of number of cattle. In anticipation of her triumph, she consults with Fedelm, a fili (a learned poet) and powerful druidess, a mistress of law and decision-making as well as divinatory lore, who, ironically, prognosticates her own mistress’s defeat. This might seem feminist except that, during this long, drawn-out battle in the Irish countryside, Medb basically pimps her own daughter, Finnabair, out to various enemy suitors–including the most ferocious of them all, the infamous Cú Chulainn, of Ulster–in order to win a battle over a bull which would make her property equal to that of her husband, Aillil. (In actuality, neither side won [the bulls on either side killed each other], highlighting the futility of avarice, in my opininon.) Finding out how she is being used, Finnabair dies of  shame. Showing her sovereignty goddess potential, weirdly enough, at the end of Táin, Medb is desribed as fighting in battle and having all of a sudden to take an exit because her bladder is full. Cú Chulainn finds her urinating behind a bush, but doesn’t slay her since she is a woman, and the scribe describes her motioning him off as she actually creates furrows in the ground with her urine. According to traditional scholarly lore, this was either a very humorous, or very mistaken, interpretation of her menstrual potential as an earth-goddess. You can see how ideas get distorted when one plays telephone, as oralists did in the olden days. (Personally, I find the story of Scathach more interesting. Scathach is a master warrior queen of northern Britain [Pictland] who is assigned the task of training Cú Chulainn in the arts of war on the condition that he help her defeat a rival queen. But that is another story which falls outside the scope of this article and its theme of sexism. Indeed, this particular story challenges traditional sex roles and attracts my attention for the same reason.) Medb has been described as a virago, based partly on the Latin vir, or man (hence virile) First, why is it manly to be strategic? Second, how loyal is she to her own sex if she pimps out her own daughter to get a cow? BIG ego. So, Medb may be a trailblazing goddess of fertility and war, but she is basically an avaricious egoist who prostitutes her own daughter to get what she wants. She is ambiguous at best. But still I want to imagine what this goddess might be. It may not be complete in its mythology, nor is it necessarily the foremost example (there may be others, like Athena), but I think of the Norse goddess Freja (after whom the English day Friday is named). Freja was neither just a fertility goddess, nor just a war goddess. Rather, she was the realization of both. She was fertile and war-like, capable of nurturance and of destruction when required. And she didn’t pimp her own daughter for a cow. This, to me, is redolent of sexual possibility, which I believe is most important. Usually, the revival of the goddess has consisted of a revival of traditional sex binaries–the logical, barefaced, aggressive male and the emotional, invisible, clever female. I do not agree with this duality. It assigns some virtues to one sex, and other virtues to the other sex, when all virtues should be present in every person. Why shouldn’t men be more sensitive when they can be? Again, it is environmental stimuli which should mould our behaviour, and not genetic ancestral precedence. What do you think about the “divine feminine”? Do you think it hearkens back to an age when a sun-based god fertilized an earth-based female, or do you think it reflects a potentially multi-faceted, and truly new-age, archetype of womanhood?





Well, Hello

18 11 2010

Well, hello.

And welcome.

To my blog.

I thought long and hard (oooh yeah, baby) about what subject matter to base my blog on, because I knew I had so much to say about so many things. At one point I pondered the viability of creating a blog which followed trends in lipstick lesbian hairstyles:

Oh. That’s a picture of Justin Bieber. Well, you get my point. I pondered the idea for a while, but I decided that the subject matter wasn’t substantive enough, so I then decided that I would create a blog about sex, music, and politics. Yes–all three melded into one salacious, seething mass of pithy commentary dripping at times with venom, and other times, the sweetest nectar. I could not separate one from the other–they were like Siamese twin kittens lying in the snug crevasse of my lap, mewing at me with alternating kitten croaks like a fluffy little hydra. But what unites these three seemingly disparate topics, you might ask? In fact, they are not so disparate as they may seem. You see, music and youth culture, sex and gender theory, and politics all reflect opinions about what is right, good, and fair. Music represents aesthetic ideals, politics, views on a justly governed society, and sex, well, sex is perhaps the chief preoccupation of morality–the prime source of all our fears and pleasures.

In this blog, I wish to explore the culture wars and the ideas of right and wrong, good and bad, concomitant to them, to make sense of these ideas inside my own head, and to regurgitate the finished product on top of you, the reader, to sort out for yourself. I cannot promise I will not sneer at your cherished values and flush them down the toilet, but you will certainly make me think harder. That is probably the most important thing of all, even for somebody who is already an inveterate and compulsive thinker.

 

Dante and Virgil in Hell (or, Nasty Studs at the Folsom Street Fair), by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1850)