‘Real Men’ and ‘Real Women’: This is why we call it misogyny, folks

As many of us are wont to do, I too enjoy an updated Facebook newsfeed from time to time. I gotta say, there’s a lot going on in our world, and since I subscribe to some cool pages, and have a bunch of smart and thinky-type folks as friends, I generally find my newsfeed littered with interesting topics, political points, blogs, article links, and scientific developments to sift through. It’s fun, and following those links out into the webosphere takes me places I might not otherwise find myself. While sitting in the living room with three cats swarming all over the place, reenacting feline versions of scenes from the great Scorsese films of our time. There are also times when those posted things dishearten me; sometimes these links depict simple and sad phenomena like puppy mills, or the latest work on demolishing women’s rights in the US (both of which inspire feelings in me of passionate, controlled rage). Other times, they’re something else entirely.

This blog that you are reading now is an open letter to the guy who wrote this irritating and terribly old-view sexist critique of social media pictures that lady folks post on their profiles. Actually, I’m being facetious. He really, really wants women to know what makes a GOOD WOMAN. That said, there are everyday occurrences that speak to our collective and never-ending hope that women (and men) who speak against the socially acceptable dominant masculine viewpoint, will just SHUT UP. It’s very important that women stop having sex lives, personal lives, and professional lives, that maybe don’t depend on our direct approval. These are the messages we send when we talk about ‘good women’, in relation to ladies that just…don’t know what they need to do to be ‘real women’. And ladies always need us dudes to tell them who ‘good women’ are. Because apparently, ‘good men’, ‘real men’, know who ‘good’ and ‘real women’ should be. (I hope readers of this know that I’m being very, very sarcastic.) I’m going to post the entirety of the entry, and respond within. And then I’ll wind it up with a brief final analysis.

Here’s the url: http://dernierevie.com/an-open-letter-to-women-what-men-really-want/. His response to people calling what he said stereotypically gendered and sexist was a pretty impressive avoidance tactic. Actually, no, it wasn’t impressive; it was boringly standard and lazy. But let’s get to the heart of it, shall we?

I was thinking, the most BEAUTIFUL women are the ones that are selfless. I think that submissive, caring, driven women are so sexy! I love it when I look at a woman’s page (on social media) and it’s nice and sweet. No club pics, no pictures of her in the mirror, no vulgar, drama filled updates… just her. I realized that most women draw their cues from other women. They look at big butts, huge breasts, hairstyles, and lifestyles of other women and try to imitate it thinking that it’s what men want. Well, its NOT. Yes, we give those women attention, yes those women get flown places, yes they get taken shopping, but at the end of the day (to us) they are simply something to do. (Typically something to sex). The treatment that they get is part of a contract. That is, spend a little money and a little time and her legs will always be open for you. (Dudes do just enough to keep them interested.)

This is just packed with bullshit. So, selflessness is beautiful; can’t argue with that at face value. However, in this context, what he really means is that women who don’t think of their own wants and needs, and cater to mens’ insecurities, are beautiful. It’s the old, “women who take care of men are real women,” trope. If you’re in service to your man or men, then you’re a good woman. He touches on this a bit more later on. Then, NO CLUB PICS? What the hell are women supposed to take pictures of if they go to a club? This is code for underhanded slut-shaming, as in: ‘don’t be a slut and don’t be out with dudes you aren’t married to’. Selfies in mirrors are sociologically interesting, and sometimes hilarious, as we can see from the #selfieolympics on Twitter. And what if someone is dealing with some vulgar drama in their life? They can’t talk about it? Again, this is code for WHY WON’T YOU JUST SHUT UP? What the hell, man? Okay, now imitation of others is sort of the point here. What do you think you’re doing dude? Being originally masculine? We all imitate others. I imitate tons of writers, sociologists, lawyers, scholars…it’s what we do as humans to try to figure out who we want to be. Who are you to tell half the population they should be doing anything other than what they damned well please? Now here’s the fun part of this bit: he legitimately makes the case that women who dress a certain way are asking for it. Not rape necessarily, but absolutely as sex objects entirely. First, where the hell do you get off speaking for me? I have no interest in taking responsibility for what other adults choose as their dress code. And it doesn’t matter what women wear: WOMEN ARE HUMAN PEOPLE WITH BRAINS, MINDS, BODIES, SEXUALITIES, AND LIFE TO DEAL WITH. It’s your problem if you devalue women regardless of the context, not theirs. It’s like saying, “look, it’s not her fault she was sexually assaulted, but she went to a bar wearing that; what did she expect?” It’s problematic because of the inherent misalignment of values and actions. Are we taking personal responsibility for how we treat people? Or are we blaming others for how we behave? You’re blaming women for men treating women like sex-only objects. That’s absurd, and should deeply insult all ‘good men’.

What men, GOOD MEN, REALLY want is a GOOD woman! PERIOD. Give a man your (undivided) attention, time and affection and he will give you love and respect. If you cater to him, nurture him, mend his wounds and encourage his dreams he will lay down his life for you!

The last sentence here is fine-ish, as long as we’re okay with a little Romeo & Juliet-esque dramatic style, and we assume that men should also ‘cater, nurture, mend wounds, and encourage dreams’ in heterosexual relationships. But from what I know, most people would prefer that relationships take the form of a reciprocal, equitable time-sharing. It’s shared time, not given time, that we might focus on. But again, dude, you’re saying that women should service men. And that is a sexist idea. Remember, I’m disagreeing with you and labeling your words misogynist, not you the person. You can change your world view if you choose, but your words are what they are.

A man, a REAL MAN, takes pride in being a man! He will sacrifice EVERYTHING if it will put one smile on his woman’s face. No mountain will be too high to climb and no ocean too deep to swim. A man will go to the ends of the Earth to provide for the RIGHT woman.

More with the Romeo & Juliet fallacy. You know that was a story, right? Fiction, anyone? And one single smile? That’s not a very high standard you’re setting for yourself and all the rest of us. Now we’re getting to the ‘providing’ action, and it is glorious! Let there be gendered separation! Men provide, women accept those providings with sexytimes and quietness. Yeah, here’s what you’re implying brosef: even if women have their own lives, they should spend extra time taking care of our needs, without regard for theirs. Because that’s what the RIGHT women do to be GOOD.

Ladies, take pride in being a WOMAN. Take pride in the fact that you are the backbone of mankind. The power, majesty and beauty of civilization comes from your womb! We (men) recognize that. We long for the woman that understands that as well.

Alright. This womb-worship is all fine if that’s your thing, but it’s a bit overblown. To the point where it’s pretty obvious that the exchange implied is: ladies, if you cater to our fragile little egos, we’ll say we love your wombs, and that you’re everything to us, except in charge of your own life choices that we don’t necessarily feel totally comfortable with. Which is sexist and misogynist. Your words, not you as a person. I’m not attacking you, I’m appropriately labeling your publicly published thoughts.

Allow us to take the lead. Not to control you, but to protect you. Let us clear the path so that your walk will be made easy.

This makes me shudder. Slightly reminiscent of, “men may be the head of the household/relationship/whatever, but women are the neck.” Also, “you need us to protect you. Because you cannot take proper care of yourself.” Look, everyone’s relational dynamics are their own, but it’s wholly ridiculous to presume that women need ‘protecting’ more so than any other gender. Patriarchal, sexist, misogynist. Your words, not you as a person.

Submit to us. Not for us to stand over you, but so that we can extend our hand to lift you up, over our heads.

Physics! Science! God references! Submission! I fully support everyone interested in establishing a healthy and fully equitable dom/sub relational dynamic. But I know that’s not what you meant. And if you’re lifting someone up, it means you were STANDING OVER THEM! Now there’s physics involved here, and it’s getting serious. And then you say that we’ll position women above us…uh, not to nitpick (okay, well, to nitpick), if women submit to us, there’s a perpetual power imbalance in the relational dynamics. I’m also relatively sure that one of your other implications is that women should be willing to be held up, by men, as trophies of our position as dominant. Right? Yeah, that’s what I thought. Nice try though.

Ladies, in our eyes (a REAL man’s eyes), there is NOTHING more precious than a woman. NOTHING.

You called ladies precious! That’s cute! Like kittens, or puppies, or baby talk. Because nothing says REAL MEN and REAL WOMEN like baby talk. Again, if that’s your thing, cool with me. But basing an entire gendered relations viewpoint on that? Naw.

One thing that I have realized about relationships is that people are continuously responding to the actions of others. What that means is, the best way to be happy, the best way to have a healthy, meaningful relationship is to give what you expect to get. If you want to be cherished, respected and valued, give us those things!

You keep mixing things that sound halfway decent, with things that are so obviously sexist it’s staggering my fragile little mind. But what we’re getting to here is that you’re implying that if women want to be treated well by us in their heterosexual romantic relationships, they better cater to our egos and wants. Which is sexist and misogynist. Your words, not you as a person. Because I don’t know you, but I’m getting to know your words intimately. And I’m getting more irritated and pissed off by the minute.

The treatment that a man gives to his woman starts and ends with her. Consider us, our feelings, our expectations, and the fact that we want to be treated EXACTLY how you want to be treated and watch as the world opens up to you.

We men can open the world up to women! I never knew! Where are the world-opening club meetings held? I haven’t been to them, but I’d like to know how to open worlds for women with my magic. I bet that goes fantastically at parties (but not at clubs), where all the women are dressed in pillowcases not showing their cleavage or ‘big butts’ and just waiting to submit to me so they can be protected from themselves. I hear volcanoes are also very in right now, along with the opening of the world.

Ladies, we love you, we need you, and we want you to understand that the way you treat us (and YOURSELF) dictates the way that we treat you.

We men aren’t responsible for how we treat women because if they don’t service us, we don’t owe them any respect? I’ve held it together pretty well over this whole thing, but I’m at the point where I’m just going to say it: if you cannot treat people with respect regardless of whether they service your fragile little ego, YOU ARE NOT A REAL MAN.

Lastly, understand that your beauty and value ARE NOT defined by how you look or what you own. Your beauty and value is defined by your heart and it’s ability to give and RECEIVE love.

Women are constantly bombarded by imagery focused on inspiring body insecurity, cultural narratives (like the one you so eloquently wrote out) dictating wholly submissive and narrowly defined cultural politics, and political, social, and sexual violence. It’s all cute and Disney (which is meant as a bit of an insult) to say things like it’s what’s inside that counts, or your heart and how you act are what really make you beautiful, but your sheer density is making me nauseous. Men have always been able to look like pretty much anything, and it’s kinda alright. Yeah, there’s a bit of body shaming in our culture toward men, but to nowhere near the volume, ferocity, and emotional violence as that directed toward women. So you don’t have to excuse my anger at you for talking like such a typically uninformed and unaware male, and I don’t really want you to. I want you get angry…at yourself, at our culture, at our gendered presumptions built into us by that very culture. To say that women should just BE THEMSELVES AND BE BEAUTIFUL INSIDE is like saying that everything we experience is just silly nonsense, and women should let men bring them up above it all, except that’s exactly the problem in the first place.

I’m done being sappy.

You were a little sappy, and that wouldn’t bother me one little bit if it weren’t for you letting your sexist socialization and internalized misogyny dictate the thoughts you put into words. Sappy is fine with me; we all get a little gooey for the people we are attracted to. Totally normal in our context. The thing that bothers me is you took the bits of our cultural heritage of feminine servitude, tried to pretty them up with low-level platitudes about gendered submission being somehow romantic and lovely, and then tried to sell it like you were just trying to be helpful. Us guys do that helpful thing all too often, and I’m sure I have as well. We’re built to do it by society; we are conditioned to think the way that you obviously think. No one is immune from cultural influence, and your writing is a perfect example of this cultural narrative training.

But here’s my challenge to you: question why you would ever ask a heterosexual woman to submit to you, or any other male partner. Because if there’s one thing I think I can guess, it’s that you aren’t secure enough in your masculinity to have a truly equitable relationship without that power imbalance specifically in play. That means, along with a whole host of mostly-hetero men out here, that you’ve got some work to do on becoming that good man you seem to idolize. And if there’s anything else I know, working to be a good man intending to create gendered and sexual equity, never stops, and never should. But this? The words you wrote that popped up on my Facebook newsfeed from an old college friend? This perpetuates gendered inequity in such a subtle way to us, the heterosexual men, because 1) we don’t have anything to be concerned about unless we care about pervasive misogyny in the form of ‘protective masculinity’, and 2) it’s highly likely that if we want women to just be themselves as you so succinctly put it in your first paragraph, we sure as hell better start demanding that us men treat ALL WOMEN, ALL TRANSGENDER PERSONS, AND ALL OTHER MEN, as worthy of our respect, regardless of how they decide to present themselves to the world.

That this kind of thing could be spread far and wide as ‘good’ is what really grinds my gears. Seriously, it bothers me. So, instead of being done being sappy, which I actually think is good for us overly-masculinized men, try being done with imitating all the other egotistical, self-centered, culturally twisted men out there. Try being done with falling back on your (and mine too) straight male privilege. It’s old, it’s tired, and frankly, it’s insulting to me as a man and it pisses me off.

Sexuality and society: misogyny and assumption at their most powerful

As I’ve been plowing through the first semester of 1L education (first year of law school…oy), I’ve been not-blogging. Yeah, I know. But, I’ve still been teaching two sociology courses online for Hawaii Pacific University; Introduction to Sociology, and Sociology of Gender and Sexuality. The text for the first half of Gender and Sexuality was already chosen for me, but it’s definitely one I would choose anyway, and well worth a read for pretty much anyone: The Sociology of Gender, Third Edition, by Laura Kramer (Oxford University Press). The second half text was my choice: Current Directions in Human Sexuality and Intimate Relationships, Edited by Terri D. Fisher and James McNulty (Pearson) which features readings from the Association for Psychological Science publication. It’s also friggin cool, and it allows my students to address the ways that good research can still have bias, and what we are learning from the sciences and social sciences about the study of our sexualities. Super interesting stuff in there.

As part of the course requirements, I post discussion board questions, to which the students respond. This is fun for me, as I get to watch them tackle the concepts and support each other in exploring the ideas in often very practical ways. This week was section four in the Current Directions reader, Sexual Orientation. There were five selections, all cool reads. Check the text out for what’s in there; it’s not expensive, and really good reading. Here’s the discussion prompt from this week:

Our readings for this week form a relatively clear picture of what is going on today, in the sciences and the social sciences, regarding sexuality. One major development from the past decade has been work that highlights pre-birth factors contributing to people’s sexual attractions. Another is an ongoing analysis of who people are, in terms of interests in familial arrangement, coupling, and sexual evolution, regardless of who we are sexually attracted to. These two major areas of research are important for two convergent reasons: (1) they allow us to better understand, as a society, what the interactions are regarding lingering questions about sexuality and the aged but still relevant ‘nature vs. nurture’ conversation; and (2) these areas of research provide a human picture of what it means for our society to be heteronormative at it’s core.

Heteronormativity, put simply, is the assumption shared by many, if not most, people in most societies today: that heterosexuality is not just a ‘default setting’ of human beings, but that heterosexuality is the ‘good’ or ‘normal’ setting. The heteronormative assumption is also not necessarily overt, although often it can be. It is a foundational presumption with which we are taught to understand the world, through cultural messaging of all the kinds we experience: family group education, peer group conditioning, formal education, television, film, and in the contemporary era, internet entertainment and socialization. Ever hear someone use the term, “that’s so gay,” to illustrate the point that something is bad, stupid, wrong, or just uncool? This is only one, of many thousands of ways we are conditioned to understand non-heterosexuality as simply not as ‘good’ or ‘acceptable’ as heterosexuality. Similarly, many researchers and bloggers have, in recent years, tackled the idea that the most insulting thing a person can do to a man, is imply that he is ‘like a woman’, which is what we see when people call men ‘little girls’. This brings us back to a set of assumptions that if a man is gay, he is womanlike, which inherently implies: less than a ‘real man’. Which holds at it’s core, the presumption that women are less ‘good’ than men, in whatever ways we seem to still collectively agree upon. And this is the foundation of misogyny pervasive and invasive in our society, that we must include in discussions of sexuality.

While there is research telling us that most folks tend to at least ‘lean’ heterosexual, there is good evidence pointing to a very large gray area of sexual attraction, and sexual interest. There has also been a decent amount of research documenting non-heterosexual sex in countless animal species, making the ‘natural’ argument for heterosexuality, and against non-heterosexuality, much less convincing. In any case, as the researchers from our texts note, the study of our sexuality is rightfully nuanced. As Brian Gladue from North Dakota State University at Fargo notes in The Biopsychology of Sexual Orientation: “A continual and humbling reminder of the task of developing a model [of sexuality measurement] is that heterosexuals, like homosexuals, vary in their psychosexual milestones of genital, neuropsychological, erotic, and reproductive development.”

All of this brings us back to a discussion of heterosexuality, non-heterosexuality, and what sexuality itself actually is within our societal framework. Most sexuality researchers are now in agreement that our sexuality falls somewhere on a continuum, and many people experience shifts in sexual attraction patterns over their life course, meaning that our assumptions about static and singular sexuality are more than likely at least partially false. What are some reasons why this is so significant today? What might be some situational, cultural, and societal factors that we must include in a discussion of sexuality and the experience of sexuality in our society? How might we address these concepts in regard to politics and government policy? Finally, what might we say about how cultural norms and values either restrict or enhance our own experiences, and the experiences of everyone else, of our individual sexualities?

What do you dear readers think?

Reclaiming America: Pondering An Alternative To The Welfare State

For the past several months, I’ve had the honor to work at one of the nation’s—and world’s—most recognizable non-profit organization. In the short time that I have been there, I’ve seen my co-workers and a band of committed volunteers rise to face some of the most devastating disasters in my state and across the country. While they are off saving some and making life better for others, I’m back at the office putting ink in copiers, climbing roofs to see where leaks are, and resolving disputes over whether or not the location of a portable television stand in the garage is breaking OSHA standards.

While my job isn’t the most glamorous and certainly not the most visible, it has its perks. One is getting a honest view on the state of my community. When manning the phones, I received calls about house fires as well as calls for information on different classes we offer, but the common request is for financial or necessity assistance (I define necessity assistance as requests for the necessities of life—food, water, and clothing). Oftentimes, after I suggest a name of another local organization whose mission is a better fit to serve these clients, the person on the other end says they’ve already called and there aren’t any funds down at X. This quickly turns into neither does Y or Z. It’s then that I realize that people are calling us because they simply do not have any other option.

Why is it that in a nation that recently broke a record for the most food stamps distributed that so many people are still going hungry? How is it that in a republic that has voted to support the expansion of retiree pensions & healthcare, child healthcare, a form of universal healthcare for all, universal education through high school, generous funding for poor college students, disability funds, unemployment support, housing subsidies, and more that still so many are without proper food, housing, clothing, and education?

This is the same type of question that Richard Cornuelle began asking in the wake of the New Deal and Great Society programs. A classical liberal thinker with a deep concern for the downtrodden (he rejected the official “libertarian” label because he did not believe that they cared for the poor), Cornuelle rightly predicted that the spending of trillions on War on Poverty campaigns would be fruitless. He offered alternative ideas to battle poverty in his 1965 book, Reclaiming the American Dream: The Role of Private Individuals and Voluntary Associations. Described by George Gallup as the impetus for “the most dramatic shift in American thinking since the New Deal,” Reclaiming the American Dream argues for what Cornuelle described as the “Independent Sector”—a division of the economy separate from government and business alike.

While Cornuelle ‘s tome has some naïve moments (he excitedly write in one passage that the proper execution of the Independent Sector would eradicate poverty), he also has some harsh words for existing non-profits, even going as far as to say they are still in the “horse and buggy” days. He argues that the Independent Sector must be modernized (a problem still facing many non-profits today; people at my organization are coping with Java 6) in order to be on par with the government and business, two separate sectors that are motivated to stay current by multiple factors.

Cornuelle’s essential argument is that the Independent Sector must be built from the ground up. It must be independent of other economic sectors. It must be innovative. It requires the involvement of independent people who seek to see a better, healthier world. It requires the sort of previously-held tenacity and cooperation in the face of hardship that David Beito describes in From Mutual Aid to the Welfare State and The Voluntary City. In summation, the thriving of the independent sector requires the involvement of concerned citizens willing to use their skills for the communal—but not collective—good.

I have been purposely vague in discussing Cornuelle’s book. My hope is that you will pick up your own copy of Reclaiming the American Dream. I hope that you will consider why it was, as one reviewer described it, “dynamite between book covers.” But more importantly, I hope you will consider how his ideas have shaped the modern conservative and philanthropic movements, and how they will continue to shape and should guide efforts to revitalize the Independent Sector for the 21st century (my favorite was discussion of an alternative retirement for seniors that would lead them to be paid for being active rather than for being old).

Cornuelle died in 2011 without having seen his ideas truly enacted. For those who continue his work, the times in which we live must seem so bleak; the government continues its near monopolistic control of public relief at a breathtaking pace. However, hope for supporters of the Independent Sector also remains. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, in which millions received federal dollars, pollsters discovered that Americans were most grateful for the support of their friends and neighbors—particularly those who had stepped up to help even when no bond existed prior to the disaster. This tale from the greatest natural disaster of the decade reminds us that the roots of the Independent Sector are present; now they just need someone who can garden them.

(Accidental) SlutWalks and Solidarity: What Happened the Day I Was Mistaken for a Prostitute in Mexico City

I was wearing classy black shorts, an elegant designer top, my favorite denim jacket, and my leopard-print heels… the ones my husband hates.  I almost never wear anything other than chap stick on my lips, but since this was one of the rare occasions I had gone out since my son was born a year ago, I decided to go all-out.  I chose a bright red lipstick.  I was in Mexico City for two weeks doing research for my dissertation, and a friend of mine was in town for business.  It was her birthday and I was meeting her for dinner and drinks.  I walked the five blocks from my apartment to the bus stop.  I noticed people staring, but that was nothing out of the ordinary.  After all, I was a gringa living in Mexico City.  Every day on the metro I stuck out like a sore thumb with my pale skin, light brown eyes, and chestnut brown hair with caramel-blonde highlights.  People often stared.

Cat calls are ubiquitous in Mexico, so as I made my way to the bus stop to meet my friend for dinner and men whistled as I walked by, it was annoying, but nothing unusual.  Then I thought I heard a man say as I passed by, “Hey beautiful, you’re going to take all my money.”  I must have misunderstood him, or maybe he wasn’t talking to me, I told myself.  As I sat on the bench at the bus stop, I noticed some cars slowing down beside me, but since I was next to a stoplight, I dismissed it.  Then a man approached me and murmured, “How much?”  “Excuse me?” I said, confused at first.  I wasn’t quite sure I had heard him correctly. “You’re not working?” he asked.  “No!” I shouted.  He said nothing and walked away sheepishly.

I was completely mortified.  How dare he think he could have control over my body?  I dressed this way because I wanted to—not because I was advertising something.  I wore these clothes for my pleasure, not his.  As I waited for the bus, cars continued to stop in front of me with the windows rolled down and waited.  Some drivers even gestured for me to approach the car.  They think I’m a prostitute.  Horrified, I looked away and crossed my arms, hugging my purse tightly over my lap.  I was terrified.  I felt naked, vulnerable, and in danger.  Are they going to try to rape me?  I couldn’t believe it.  Here I was, a middle-class, college-educated, late-twenties white American woman from rural Ohio, who—because I had traveled throughout Mexico and spoke fluent Spanish thought I had seen a thing or two—was experiencing complete and utter culture shock.  A sheltered country girl, I had never even seen a prostitute before (unless you count Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman)—so for them to mistake me for one was incredible to me.  My white middle-class privilege has limited my experience with sex work and human trafficking to articles I’ve read, TV shows I’ve watched (I’m a big fan of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit) and movies I’ve seen (For an excellent article explaining white privilege, read Peggy McIntosh’s well-known 1988 article “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”).  Unlike many underprivileged women—single mothers, victims of human trafficking, or women who’ve grown up in poverty with limited educational opportunities, I didn’t grow up with prostitution as a “norm” in my daily environment; I was never forced into sex work; nor did I ever have to consider sex work as a possible profession due to economic constraints.  For women living in poverty, patriarchy and capitalism frame their experiences so that some are coerced to participate in sex work as a way to support themselves and their families. Limitations on the quality of their primary and secondary education further confines any hope of their attending college and climbing their way out of poverty. In my limited white middle-class experience, the way I was dressed that night in Mexico City was appropriate for dinner and drinks that in my everyday life in the U.S. would in no way indicate that I was a “working girl.”  However, this experience indicated to me that in certain neighborhoods at certain times of the day in Mexico City, shorts=prostitute.  And according to my Mexico City hosts, white women or lighter-skinned women are especially “desirable” prostitutes.  Got it.  Lesson learned.  No more shorts.

I was resigned to accept this as a solution at first, but the more I thought about it, the angrier I became.  I can’t even wear shorts without being bothered?  And I suddenly understood the reasoning behind the recent “SlutWalk” movement.  For those of you who may have never heard of SlutWalks, allow me to explain.  In 2011, Constable Michael Sanguinetti, a Toronto Police officer, made a public statement in which he suggested that in order to remain safe from sexual assault, “women should avoid dressing like sluts.”  So, in April of 2011, in protest of Constable Sanguinetti’s “victim-blaming” approach to sexual assault prevention, women in Toronto held the first SlutWalk, in which they took to the streets dressed like “sluts” in protest of victim blaming, slut shaming, and patriarchal constraints on their wardrobe choices (To read more about Slutwalk Toronto’s official organization, click here).  Some feminists of color have criticized SlutWalk as a movement of luxury for privileged white women which ignores the historical implications of words like “slut” for poor women and women of color (To read various feminist critiques of the SlutWalk movement, go here).  Despite the movement’s problems, the Toronto SlutWalkers inspired women in other cities throughout the world to host their own SlutWalks in solidarity.  Mexico City was one of those cities.

Prior to my unfortunate incident in Mexico City, even though I consider myself a feminist, I had always viewed SlutWalks as an extreme fringe movement within modern feminism, despite having had my share of encounters with sexual harassment in the past.  However, the feelings of shame and humiliation which I felt after this particular event angered me in such a way that I felt compelled to hold my own SlutWalk right there at that bus stop on the Paseo de la Reforma.

Sigh.  This was not the first time I had experienced these feelings.  Unfortunately, I have, on more than one occasion, in a variety of settings, experienced sexual harassment.  And I have zero tolerance for it, so when it has happened at work, I have always notified my employer.  Most have been supportive, while others…not so much. One boss told me I shouldn’t complain about sexual harassment or it would make me “look bad” in the eyes of the employer.  I—the person being sexually harassed at work—looked bad for complaining about being verbally violated.  Really—in the twenty-first century, there are still employers who think this way.

And you know what?  Whenever it happens, it doesn’t matter what I’m wearing.  I’ve experienced sexual harassment wearing a grubby t-shirt and jeans.  It doesn’t matter what type of neighborhood I’m in, what time of day it is, or what country I’m in.  It doesn’t matter the race, nationality, or class of men with whom I’ve interacted.  But every time it happens, I feel the same way: dirty, objectified, humiliated, degraded, uncomfortable, and ashamed.  Like most victims of abuse, my initial instinct is to blame myself.  Victims blame themselves plenty, so can we all agree to stop blaming them now?

At times, I’ve felt tempted to buy into the “victim blame game” which so often occurs when discussing sexual harassment and sexual assault (i.e. the recent 2012 case in Steubenville, Ohio, in which the victim, a teenage girl who got drunk, passed out, and was raped by a group of football players at Steubenville High School, and then further violated by the perpetrators when they posted photos and a video of the assault on social media sites, was publicly blamed by members of the community for the incident).   I’ve thought, Maybe they’re right.  Maybe I shouldn’t have been wearing that, or maybe I shouldn’t have gone to that place.  Then he wouldn’t have said that/acted that way/done that to me.  Ultimately, though, this proposed “solution” to the problem of women getting sexually harassed, raped, groped, fondled, or in any other way sexually assaulted is not only untrue, it is not a solution at all.  It is an accepted justification for the actions and words of the perpetrators.  It has no place in discussions of sexual assault.  No woman person, no matter who that person is, what that person does, where that person is, what that person is wearing, or who that person is with in any way, shape, or form is “asking for it.”

My case in point: when I returned home from dinner with my friend in Mexico City, I told the couple with whom I was staying what had happened.  Immediately, they shared a similar story in which the woman had also been mistaken for a prostitute.  She was wearing an ankle-length skirt when it happened.

Given the difference in our clothing—I was wearing shorts and she was wearing a long skirt—one might ask: what made these men think we were prostitutes?  Like me, she was a white woman living in Mexico City.  Was there some connection between our race and value as a sexual commodity in that particular neighborhood at that particular time of day in Mexico City?  Or perhaps it was simpler than that—we were women living in a capitalist society framed by patriarchy, in which women’s bodies are commodities.  Therefore, the time of day, the neighborhood, and the type of clothing that we were wearing didn’t matter—the only thing that mattered was that we were women, and therefore we were for sale.  If we look around us, women’s bodies are for sale every day.

ad

Billboards, TV commercials, movies, magazine advertisements, night clubs, strip clubs, restaurants (i.e. Hooter’s and Twin Peaks)—the list goes on and on—all feature women’s bodies as consumer products.  Capitalism conditions men (and women) to treat women’s bodies as commodities ( For a brilliant critique of the use of women’s bodies in advertisements, watch Jean Kilbourne’s lecture on film entitled Killing Us Softly 4: Advertising’s Image of Women.  You can watch the trailer for the film here on youtube:

fashion rape

And some bodies, due to social constructions, have more value than others.  The fashion industry alone indicates a strong preference for white bodies over bodies of color, and tall, straight, thin bodies over short, curvaceous, plus-size bodies.  On the runways at fashion shows, you would be hard-pressed to find women of color and plus-size women fairly represented (For an interesting NPR story on the current state of diversity in the fashion industry, read this).  Try finding clothes in a regular store (non-plus-size) if you are bigger than a size 12—it’s not going to happen.  Try finding a woman of color in a leading role on a TV show on a mainstream network—with rare exceptions, it’s not going to happen.  What frames our experiences as women more than anything else is patriarchy and capitalism.  And so, despite the strong influence that these entities have on society, when we walk alone on the street in our high heels and shorts, try to think of us as people, rather than consumer products.

***Hi, nice to meet you.  I am a person.  I’m a mother and a daughter, a sister, and a friend.  I’m a wife, a student, and a neighbor.  I’m a teacher, a scholar, and a feminist, too.  I’m a co-worker, a mentor, and confidant.  I am a person.  I dress the way I want to dress, when and where I want to.  I do it because I like the way I feel and look in my clothes.  If I wear shorts, a dress, or a skirt, it’s not an invitation to rape, fondle, sexually harass, or objectify me.  The same applies if I have a drink or two, if I smile at you, if I talk to you, or if I walk on the street alone.  I possess my own body and my own sexuality.  It belongs to no one but me.  No means no and I refuse to be victimized.  I am a fighter.  I am a survivor.  And I am a person.

Tracy Butler

A Liberal Arts Education: An Exercise in Enlightenment or a Waste of Resources?

“What is the worth of a liberal arts education?” It’s one of those timeless questions; just below “why do bad things happen to good people,” but slightly above “whatever happened to Amelia Earhart (though perhaps that question is slowly being answered)?” In a period of economic downturn and the continued proliferation of technical and low-paying service sector work, supporters of the liberal arts have found it increasingly difficult to defend their field. Even those who benefitted from the highest riches of the liberals arts education fumble in attempts to answer critics. A historian at one of the nation’s prominent universities—speaking in 2006—told her students that the history major prepares students for careers that do not yet exist. Surely this was not comforting to her pupils, many of who were, statistically speaking, within half a decade of a very real job market!

So what is the worth of a liberal arts education? I write this post to provide yet another possible answer to this perplexing question; my answer comes in two parts. First, I shall explain why a liberal arts education is worth the financial and temporal expense for its own sake. Second, I shall explore whether or not there are any benefits beyond this. After reading, I expect that you will come to your own conclusions regarding both.

In May, I graduated from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with a bachelor’s degree in history and political science. In total, I spent three years at UNCG and one year, my freshman one, at a local community college. My interest in both subjects preceded my entrance into college. Indeed, I began my post-secondary education with a healthy—albeit strange—knowledge of American politics and history (I spent my junior year of high school obsessing over the 1996 senate election in Massachusetts). But college provided me with some things that I could not or would not obtain on my own.

College introduced me to diversity. I had attended a small, Christian school since I was in first grade. Jesus was king of kings; Ronald Reagan was politician of politicians. Growing up, liberals were foolish at best, evil at worse, and scarce either way. I didn’t meet a true left-winger in the flesh until after I had been given my high school diploma. College allowed me to meet and converse with people of different colors, backgrounds, sexualities, and ideologies. As the Bible says, iron sharpens iron, and college is a good place for conservatives and liberals alike to come together, spar, and gain a better understanding of their opponent’s ideas, but their ideas as well.

College forced me to think. I mean, really think. Just like my math teachers weren’t content with A + B = C, my humanities professors were not content with just my opinion. They wanted to know why and more importantly what sources could I use to back up my thoughts? Too often today we accept what we hear as the god-honest truth or refuse to argue with someone who seems to have an opinion set in stone. College defrocks many of our sacred cows—it did mine—and we have to decide once again why we believe what we do and if at the end of the day, our beliefs are really worth the admiration and attachment we provide them.

College adds complexity to our perspective. As one of my professors once said, historians dislike the words “absolute truth.” It’s not that such things don’t exist (see college didn’t make me too liberal), but college forced me to question whether or not the conclusion I used to come to so quickly was really all that legitimate. I also became more aware of social cleavages, because they do exist. For better or for worse (and I lean heavily toward the latter), people slice and dice themselves up into groups. Rich. Poor. Gay. Straight. White. Black. Republican. Democrat. How you identify yourself often determines the lens you wear in looking at people, issues, and themes. When I look in the mirror, I don’t see a poor, straight, black woman (political correctness aside though, there are few things more moving that the gospel choir at a black church). Still, the hope is that with a liberal arts education, you could imagine what that would be like as an individual, but also how society would react to you and your ideas.

To sum it all up, college introduced me to new ideas, forced me to reevaluate and/or defend my own, and gave me the perspective to think beyond what I could see for myself. But how has this translated to the work force? Not as well as I’d like.
I intended to go right on to graduate school, but developments in my personal life led me to pause these plans. Instead, I decided to leave my friends and family behind and move in with a man I met on the internet (I’m still alive and we’re still happy together, thank you). During this gap year, I’ve had to fall back on my education and experiences.

As a college student, I worked in fast food, wrote for the school newspaper, edited a book on Greensboro, North Carolina, and interned at the university archive. Some may see these as valuable experiences for the job market; others may see them as fluff. In all reality, they were rather helpful. The writing experiences were particularly of use. They landed me my first job upon arriving in East Tennessee—at a real estate office—and helped me get other interviews. I interviewed for a local newspaper, got to meet the staff, and was even told by the editor-in-chief that I was a strong candidate for the job. He eventually informed me that, due to the economy, the company that owned the paper decided to forgo hiring anyone. Likewise, I was hired as an editor for a political advocacy group, but after losing more business, they had to rescind their offer.

The point of all this was that you can’t blame colleges for a lousy economy. My partner—he works in the medical field—accepted a job at a local hospital in 2002 after receiving signing bonuses and promises of future education funded by his employer. Over ten years later, people graduating in his field can’t get full time work let alone the goodies hoisted upon him during better times.
This is not to say that all degrees are created equally. If you are an English major, you are probably not going to make as much money as an engineering major. But for people like me, those who would rather write an essay on the history of suburban lawns than do electromagnetic (yes?) math problem sets, the humanities degree and the liberal arts focus just makes more sense personally and professionally. You can have a very financially rewarding career as a liberal arts graduates (millions have proven so), but don’t spend like a sailor (or worse an engineer graduate or law student); those Occupy Wall Streeters who are angry that they spent $100,000 on a queer studies degree have no one to blame but themselves. If you are a liberal arts student, enjoy the renaissance status your school is trying to give you, but think and spent wisely—not even medical students are promised the American Dream these days.

I will be applying to graduate schools in the fall. Maybe I will get in; maybe I won’t. Regardless of my future education, I never plan to stop reading, thinking, and discussing. The four years I spent seeking out my Bachelors of Arts degree changed my life forever; I wouldn’t give up the experience for the best job technical education could purchase. By spending wisely (college is an investment, people) and thinking creatively, even we history majors can find a lasting and fulfilling career in the twenty-first century economy. Now go out there and make me proud, liberal arters!

Who I have become, and why I blog what I blog: Nick’s introduction

Greetings WordPressers! Nick Gibson here, to say hello and whatnot. The topic of this introductory entry is basically what makes me tick…like a clock with a nice clear set of directions, here we go.

My love affair with sociology began in my undergrad program at Cal State San Bernardino, and was buffered by my master’s work at Cal State Fullerton and three years of Ph.D.-level work at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. That sociology applies to all facets of life is intrinsic to an explanation of what sociology is; yet without a concrete example of how the application of sociology works, the waters of thought can be murky. My first, and most direct example of ‘anything is fair game in sociology’ came when my undergrad mentor introduced me to the study of conspiracy theories. It wasn’t just about what the theory was; we dug into how theories are transmitted, what people did about belief in conspiracy theories, and the effects conspiracy theories have on micro and macro-level relationships. A professor of mine from UH Manoa said once: at its most simple, sociology is the study of relationships in all forms, places, and spaces. Relationships between people, relationships between people and institutions, relationships between institutions themselves, and how people socially exist and create the social experience within institutions, and about narratives and definitions. So, with an eye toward an analysis of relationships, I have managed to explore a whole lot of social phenomena, including 9/11 conspiracy theories. And boy, is it fun.

Sociology can also be exhausting. By exhausting, I mean that it is very difficult to turn the sociology off. Or, as a friend of mine now holding an assistant prof position at Pacific U in Oregon puts it, it is practically impossible to ‘put the sociology back in the bag’. Even while watching comedy, I see and hear things that trigger a sociological cringe and discussion in my head. But it’s much more wonderful than not, and I’m grateful. Here’s why: there is an important message that I learned, and it is that as a relatively very socially privileged straight, white, cis-gendered male, I have always been able to, and still can, ignore the effects of a privileged social position without much thought. To be perpetually tuned in, is to attempt to mirror the social locations of people without the same kinds of identifiable social indicators. To be always aware, is to attempt to pay attention to the presumptions and assumptions that most of us, at least those of us who grew up in the United States, share. I have been taught, indoctrinated, trained, pick-your-forcible-learning verb, to believe and act upon narratives about other people at a basic, fundamental, and usually unconscious level. Those unconscious lessons become real-world experiences, typically to the detriment of people without social privilege. And that, dear readers, pisses me off.

Yeah, I get angry about social privilege. Mostly because I didn’t earn it, yet benefit from it almost all the time. As an undergrad instructor at UH Manoa and Hawaii Pacific University, I explained this to my students in every course I led. We are taught through media programming (movies, TV shows, music, news shows), political discourse, our social networks, and our legal system, to believe things about our fellow human beings that simply are not true. To me, this is scary. Most folks react in defense, yet given enough time, most folks also seem to eventually get ‘it’. That ‘it’ is what is most important here. That ‘it’ is the thing that makes all the socialization and social training we experience understandable. That ‘it’, is the realization that we learn everything we know, and if everything we know about the world isn’t always true, the fault doesn’t necessarily lie with one person and their belief system. The term ‘fault’ isn’t necessarily the most accurate term to describe what this means. Tim Wise discusses this interplay of blame, fault, guilt, and responsibility quite nicely. Guilt is something we should feel, as people aiming to treat others well, when we do something that harms another. Responsibility is something we decide to take because of the kind of people we try to be. What does this mean? This means that if we are attempting to add goodness to the world, we must explore the experience of becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable. We must willingly engage in discussion about those things that involve feeling vulnerable, allowing for growth and self-reflection. We must take some risks, to feel positive change and shift our world toward a more just future.

I self-reflect on a constant basis, as many folks do without putting the same term to the behavior. I teach my students to self-reflect. I catch myself thinking things that piss me off, and work to shift what that means about what I have been taught against my will. My gender, assigned to me and taught to me without my active knowledge, provides me with social comfort. I must pay attention to that if I am to live what I believe. My race, assigned to and placed upon me without my active knowledge, affords me generous comfort. I must recognize the experiences shaded by race (all of my experiences, as far as I can tell), and talk about what that means. My sexuality, taught to me as the standard and ‘normal’, provides me a very comfortable social existence. If I do not work to build a more just and equitable world in my relatively tiny existence, I am not taking responsibility, and I am not living my beliefs. It is these three huge concepts that I work to make obvious to others. They inform why I do what I do, and why I aim to accomplish more as time passes.

Let’s entertain some thoughts, and make our world what we wish it to be. I wish for an equitable, just, thoughtful, and welcoming society. Even though I experience mostly the best that people have to offer, I want better for everyone. Myself included.

A Library Ann Coulter (Or Her Drag Counterpart) Could Be Proud Of: Introducing Joseph

Visitors to my library will notice three things. First, in addition to books on nutrition, finance, and Satanism, readers will find scores of historical tomes. Second, upon closer examination, visitors will identify the bulk of these as political history texts. Lastly, they will realize that about a hundred of those are about the American Conservative Movement—a hundred more books on the subject than the average twenty-three year old gay man keeps in his second floor stack.

Am I one of those fabled gay conservatives? Maybe. In order to know, you’d have to define conservatism first, which, as the scholarship has shown, is no easy task. But if conservatism’s definition remains ambiguous, the moment of its descent is not. Leading scholars of the modern conservative movement including George Nash and Donald Critchlow argue that the ideology did not crystallize until after the end of World War II. I on the other hand place the birth of modern conservatism closer to the election of 1933.

Arguing that modern conservative was born in 1945 situates the ideology within a Cold War context—one which emphasizes Judeo-Christian values and a muscular, interventionist foreign policy while minimizing individualism for the sake of a united front against godless, wicked Communism. I hold a contrary opinion. My research—my senior thesis is currently under consideration at the North Carolina Historical Review—argues that the formation of modern conservatism dates back to 1935 when libertarians and business progressives, who accepted early New Deal provisions, coalesced to reverse reforms and push back against the emerging Second New Deal. Declaring 1935 as the beginning point of modern conservatism is important because it identifies the movement’s ideological cornerstone as being limited government and fiscal restraint rather than social fundamentalism and internationalism as 1945 would suggest. This definitional dilemma has and will continue to dominate the intellectual and political debates held by the scholars and practitioners of conservatism for some time to come.

So how did my interests in the movement develop? Well, I grew up in a Republican-voting household and was surrounded by conservative people of every stripe through my religious high school and workplace. I’ve wanted to be a teacher since first grade, and have enjoyed public policy since I was old enough to comprehend it.  I considered a political career, and pre-majored in political science to prepare for law school, but ultimately decided against that path after realizing just how little I enjoyed kissing ass (and babies).

Then I considered being a political scientist, but I loathe math and despise even more political science’s zombified drift towards quantitative methods. After transferring to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro from a local community college, I tagged on a major in history and eventually sought disciplinary honors in the subject. While at UNCG I realized the rebirth of political or policy history and believed that my career and intellectual interests laid within its boundaries. After graduating in May 2013, I relocated to East Tennessee where I currently am plotting my entry into graduate school.

Readers can expect most of my blog posts to cover American politics and its political history. Current issues I am mulling over for future posts include North Carolina’s rightward turn and the free market charitable apparatus which libertarian writer & activist Richard Cornuelle referred to as the “Independent Sector.” I also hope to interact with my blogging colleagues under the assumption that our differing academic backgrounds, opinions, and methodologies will provide readers—and ourselves—with an intellectually enriching and, yes, entertaining reading experience that forces all of us to second guess, reformulate, and better defend our own perspectives.

Happy reading!

Introducing “To Entertain A Thought”

To Entertain A Thought, which will fully launch in late August and early September 2013, is a collaborative, multidisciplinary blog started by a group of friends. Collectively, we have academic backgrounds in history, political science, sociology, education, social education, women’s studies, ethnomusicology, nursing, medicine, science, technology, business, literature, English, psychology, music performance, mathematics, theology, philosophy, and law. Outside of these areas, we also have diverse interests and experiences.

The purpose of this blog is to generate productive, thought-provoking conversations that aim to bridge traditional academic boundaries. In general, authors on the site will each publish an article here once or twice a month over whatever they want. Occasionally, some of us might respond to an event, speak to a particular topic or theme, or reply to each other.

To learn more about the specific authors, please see “The Authors” tab. At this time, this page is still in progress. Once “The Authors” page is complete, we will make a blog posting with all of our details. Each of our first articles will also probably be a detailed description of what we study and why, how we define it, and some more personal details about us.

For general questions, concerns, and suggestions, please feel free to email us at: questions@toentertainathought.com 

Please comment, like, subscribe, share, and look forward to many, many exciting conversations! Thank you for visiting.

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