Women Who Like Gay Porn

8 04 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Mapping American Social Attitudes

28 03 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Angelina Jolie’s Leg and Sexual Tension

8 03 2012

With this post, I descend deep into the dark vacuum of popular culture. I don’t do this unless it yields some sort of useful, insightful commentary, and when we look at how bodies are displayed and portrayed in public and in the media, it does. Consider the recent Academy Awards ceremony, in which Angelina Jolie slinked down the red carpet with a long, lean leg emerging profluently from a part in the side of a black velvet, custom-made Versace gown to seduce the cameras with its cold, alibaster glow. Brad Pitt wore the same tuxedo every other man wore. I won’t kid. Jolie looks truly ravishing, and we should appreciate her beauty, but something about the picture is a little bit more asymmetrical than her dress. It’s the perfect example of the schizophrenic attitude that women can’t expose as much of their bodies as men can, but should expose more of it than men should.

The tension between modesty and sexiness is greater for women than it is for men, at least in the West. If Brad had wanted, he could have gotten away with a wardrobe malfunction and exposed a nipple or two–hell, he could have exposed his whole chest for the world to see and the ladies (and some of the men) would have collapsed on the floor and swallowed up his sweat–but if Angelina had flashed her boobs or, heaven forbid, exited the limousine in a deliberately-designed topless gown (which would never happen), the police would have tackled her scrawny ass to the ground. Fashion critics would hold both Brad and Angelina culpable for being indecent if they exposed their nipples, but would hold Angelina more culpable. At the same time, though, they would hold Angelina more culpable if she exposed less skin than Brad. So, the woman can’t show as much as the man, but she should show more than he. It’s a finer line for her to tread.

This obviously isn’t fair. It’s a Catch-22 and a double standard. It’s a Catch-22 because it tells women that they should be modest and sexy, and it’s a double standard because it places this Catch-22 on women, but not on men. Women aren’t allowed to show their nipples in public (except maybe in British Columbia and Ontario), but they are expected to show more skin than men up to the nipple; meanwhile, men are allowed to show their nipples, but they are expected not to show as much skin as women. Now, you might say, “It’s the same difference. Women can’t show their nipples while men can, but men aren’t expected to show as much skin as women. So it all balances out”. But it doesn’t all balance out. The restrictions against men showing as much skin as women can doesn’t have legal consequences, but the restrictions against women showing as much skin as men can does. Men are socially criticised for showing as much skin as women are expected to show, but women are both socially criticised for showing less skin than men are expected to show and legally reprimanded (i.e. arrested) for showing as much skin as men can show. In short, women have to balance a finer line between appeasing social expectations of seductiveness on one hand, and meeting legal parameters of modesty on the other. That’s not right.

But the tension between the sexy and modest woman occurs on a global scale too. In some regions of Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Yemen, and Afghanistan, women are expected to wear veils such as the niqab, burqa (chadri), etc., and women are harassed by police for not donning these garments appropriately. In countries like Britain and the Netherlands, however, magazine racks and television shows are filled with bulging cleavages and glistening thighs, and in countries like France the authorities might actually penalise women for wearing a veil they might otherwise be required to wear in, say, Saudi Arabia. When we compare countries with one another, then, the teeter-totter of modest-versus-sexy woman takes on a global perspective. It infects the world. The world itself simultaneously imposes chastity and desirability on women.

This is absolutely stupid. If we believe in fairness and equality, we can’t penalise women for showing as many body parts as men can, but expect them to show more than men, without being total assholes. It isn’t fair. And it isn’t valid for Westerners to critique Muslim countries for covering their women in veils when Westerners rip women’s clothes off and paste the remaining bits on the covers of supermarket tabloids. It’s six of one, half-a-dozen of the other. What we should be doing is trying to strike a balance by telling women, “Hey, you can show your nipples if you want, but you don’t have to show more skin than men, either”, and telling men, “You can wear something sexier than grandpa shorts or 1930s women’s culottes to the beach. Start by wearing what every man in modern-day Europe wears. A bikini. You know. Like women.” I don’t expect to see Brad Pitt walking down the red carpet in a black velvet Versace gown any time soon–that kind of change takes centuries for men, apparently–but I do expect to see it happen sooner at home, at the beach, and even in the workplace. Surely Hollywood, being so progressive, will eventually follow.





Maureen Walsh on Marriage Equality in Washington State

13 02 2012

At 11:30 a.m. on Monday morning, 13 February 2012, as the raindrops slide down the sides of Seattle’s skyscrapers, Washington state is expected to legalise same-sex marriage when Governor Christine Gregoire signs into law a bill passed by the state Legislature. The fight for equality in Washington has been an incremental one, starting with an anti-discrimination law (2006) and moving on to a domestic partnership law (2007), which was later expanded and approved by voters (2009), until the Legislature finally passed the marriage equality bill (2012). Senator Ed Murray, D-Seattle, an openly gay man, has played an instrumental role in the process, having spent the last few years sponsoring bills to expand gay rights. But what do impassioned lawmakers have to say?

The struggle to pass the marriage equality bill has been anything but perfunctory. Thanks to the Internet and social networking, people around the world have had the chance to witness the powerful, heartfelt speeches given by Washington lawmakers who support the bill. Interestingly, some of those lawmakers are Republicans, showing that compassion for devoted same-sex couples crosses party lines and touches on core humanist principles. I think we should all acknowledge this basic common-sense empathy when it pops up in Republicans. Maureen Walsh, a Republican representative for Washington’s 16th District of Walla Walla (where yours truly happens to have some super-conservative religious relatives) proved for me that empathy crosses party lines:

This was an inspiring speech, and it’s no wonder it has more than a few Youtube commenters a little bit verklempt. But what we should note is how Walsh touches on the argumentum ad populum of gay marriage opponents, which states that a thing is good just because it is popular. She bravely and passionately communicates that a belief is good not because it is popular, but because it makes people happy. And she holds her fellow lawmakers accountable for making a rational, fair-minded decision (the way Thomas Jefferson would). Her message wouldn’t have had the same clout, though, had she not made it personal and intimate by recounting her relationship with her lesbian daughter, who, as she recalls, used to stand up for bullied children on the playground. She tells her fellow legislators,

My daughter stood up for that kid, [and] even though it wasn’t the popular thing to do, she knew it was the right thing to do. And I was never more proud of my kid than knowing she was speaking against the vocal majority on behalf of the rights of the minority. And to me, it is incumbent upon us as legislators in this state to do that. That is why we are here. And I shudder to think that if folks who have preceded us in history [had not done] that—frankly, I’m not sure I would be here as a woman. I’m not sure that other people would be here due to their race or their creed, and to me that is what’s disconcerting.

Walsh is right. A thing is not right just because it is popular; it is right because it is reasonable, and it takes a principled leader to stand up and say, “this is right, and here are the reasons why”. Would we have abolished slavery had it been put up to a popular vote? Probably not. Would we have approved women’s suffrage had it been put up to a popular vote? Probably not. Neither decision was decided by a popular public vote. There are reasons why we have lawmakers brooding over the rights of minority groups. They take it seriously.

Marriage equality has triumphed in Washington state in part because of people like Maureen Walsh, who, despite her Republican status, believes that every loyal couple deserves the equal protection of the law. Hopefully this will be expanded to include the rest of the United States and, eventually, the rest of the world. To facilitate this effort, what we shoud be doing is proving to people who are still sitting on the fence why gays and lesbians deserve these rights, and we can do this by breaking down fallacies like the appeal to popularity, the appeal to nature, the slippery slope argument, the “special rights” argument, the “homosexuality is a choice” argument, the “homosexuality is condemned in the Bible” argument, and others (many of which I refute in my blog entry “8 Reasons Why Homophobia Makes No Sense“). However, we also need to complement our appeal to reason with anecdotes about the legal and personal struggles of individual gay and lesbian couples. We need to appeal to both justice and mercy. That will change both hearts and minds.





Julie Gentron and the Lady League, Vol. 1, Ep. 3: The Bitches Return to Earth!

20 12 2011

Written by Brandon Arkell and Seth Gordon Little

Last time on Julie Gentron and the Lady League, the ladies faced imminent catastrophe as an asteroid and the dwarf planet Sedna threatened to smash the H.M.S. Vestibule to pieces!

“PAM, what’s happened?!” shouted Julie.

“A fragment of the approaching asteroid has skimmed the hull of the ship. The cold plasma shield has eliminated most of it, but some pieces made it through. All vital life support systems, as well as artificial gravity, are operational, however this will not remain the case if the asteroid collides with the ship. My calculations show such a collision will occur within the next nine and a half minutes.” Lupa stormed around the main deck, flapping his heavy limbs and cooing in agitation, clutching his coconut bra, and leaving a trail of urine in his wake. (Donna had forgotten to put on his diaper.) The poor thing was obviously trying to communicate something important, but his message went unheeded.

“I’ll take care of this”, said Rosalind, leering at Donna. “With my superhuman strength, I should be able to push the ship out of its path! Don’t worry, Julie”, she said, smiling seductively at the captain, “I’ll steer the ship on course and we’ll be back in London in time for a massage.” Julie smiled and nodded at Rosalind, who, beaming with confidence, assumed a hard, bright, metallic shell of skin and exited through the evacuation chamber.

“In order to deflect the asteroid”, said Julie, “we need to combine our ship’s built-in artillery with our own mutant powers. We must use the ship’s most potent weapon—the lady beam! Donna! Power up the ovarian plasma-ray generator, focus its energy through the clitoral conductor-cannon, and deploy the beam at ten o’clock, in the direction of the asteroid.”

“Yes, Julie!” said Donna without a beat. She proceeded to chicken-peck away at the computer console, sounding out each letter as she went.

“Julie”, said PAM.

“What, PAM?”

“I’m scared, Julie.”

“It’s just the ovarian plasma ray generator-powered, clitoral cannon-channelled lady beam, PAM. It’s going to help save us!”

“I understand, Julie. My calculations show that this is the most effective tactic, other than self-annihilation. It’s just that I cannot live without you. Proceed.” Julie contorted her face in bewilderment at PAM’s strange show of emotion. Just then, a thick, bright, white-green beam shot forth from the clitoral cannon and obliterated the asteroid. A stream of space debris assaulted the ship’s cold plasma shield in a spray of light. They had done it. The asteroid was done with. Everybody clapped, cheered, and jumped up and down with joy. Then they stopped.

“We’re veering too close to Sedna now!” cried Julie. “Donna, you said you can move planets, so you must be able to move a space-ship out of Sedna’s gravitational pull. Do it, now!”

“I’ll do my best.” Donna placed her fingers to her temples and closed her eyes. She then made a strained, girlish squeal resembling a pig having an orgasm. Lupa stood erect, placed his fins to his breast like an opera singer, and commenced with a haunting, mournful whale-song which resembled the peal of an adolescent humpback whale. “Lupa!” shouted the others, groaning and covering their ears.

“Anyway”, said Julie, “I’ll take command of the ship’s computer and steer us clear of this thing.” PAM murmered words of vague concern over this action. “Don’t worry, PAM”, she said. “Your consciousness will remain intact and fully operational.”

“I—seem—to be—tilting the ship, but not enough to escape Sedna’s gravity”, said Donna, straining harder. “Julie, help!”

“Hold on!” replied Julie. “I’ll concentrate my technopathic powers on the ship’s engines.” Julie thrust her breasts outward, flexed her strong arms and thighs, and concentrated. “By the great goddess! I’ve taken too sharp a turn toward Sedna!” she said, not knowing her own strength. Lupa, unnoticed by the others, assumed the pose of a sumo wrestler, and his high-pitched peal gradually fell to a deep, barely audible hum which reverberated throughout the ship like a foghorn. The ship began to turn, but only the poor land-whale could see how the powerful sonic reverberations created by his whale-song helped the team escape the clutches of Sedna’s hard, icy surface. Meanwhile, Donna was on the floor, doggy-style, ass in the air, elbows to the ground, fingers still to her temples, focusing all her might on moving the ship with the power of her mind. Soon she had matched Lupa’s efforts, and the ship made another tilt. Still, the captain was needed, and so was her computer.

“PAM, help me out!” cried Julie in desperation.

“I will work in unison with you, Julie”, said the onboard quantum computer. “I will provide you the steering, the thrust, the motion, the strokes—”

“PAM!”

“Yes, Julie?”

“Cut the lesbian bullcrap! Er, for now, at least. Help me steer, already!” There was a tense pause, broken only by Lorna’s constipated squeals and the land-whale’s powerful baritone. “Are we clear of Sedna’s gravitational pull yet?”

“Just, Julie.”

“Then, by the breasts of the great goddess, take us back to Earth!”

“Julie, what about Rosalind? If you would like, I will dispose of her with a blast of ion radiation and—”

“—PAM, you will do no such thing! Rosalind will come back aboard the ship unscathed. Afterward, you will direct us on a course to Earth.”

“Yes, Julie.” Almost immediately after, the doors to the evacuation chamber whooshed open, and Rosalind re-entered the deck, panting, yet bobbing confidently and flexing her biceps cockily. Julie embraced her, while Donna gave a half-hearted cheer and a limp clap. Lupa began bounding around the deck with a big, booming, babylike coo of excitement, clapping his limbs uncontrollably and wiping away tears from his big, limpid blue eyes with the tip of a fin. Another trail of urine formed behind him.

“Rosalind, thank the goddess you’re OK”, said Julie, caressing Rosalind’s well-developed shoulders. “I wasn’t sure that your armoured skin would deflect the assault of cosmic rays.”

“Honey”, laughed Rosalind, patting Julie affectionately on the back, “I’ve had worse, like the time I wrestled that giant space-ghoul from the Oort Cloud. I’m not bragging, but I did help steer us clear of a dwarf planet.” Donna mimicked these last words sarcastically under her breath, tossing her feathered Farrah Fawcett tresses to the side. “The atoms in my armour are quite dense, blocking even the most intense radiation”, said Rosalind. “It is almost impossible for cosmic radiation to damage my genes.”

“As I already suspected, since I am a quantum physicist”, said Donna in an argumentative tone. Rosalind lowered at her, and she met her opponent’s gaze with an equally baleful glower. If these girls had claws, they’d be unsheathed.

“Julie”, cooed PAM.

“Yes?” replied Julie.

“I am glad that you are unharmed, Julie.”

“Yes, thank you, PAM”, said Julie, pacing around the deck with a growing wariness of PAM’s human-like qualities.

“Gee whiz”, said Donna quizzically. “What is up with this computer thingy? I mean, I understand when a pole likes a socket and a socket likes a pole, or when a pole likes a pole and a socket likes a socket, but when a socket doesn’t even have a socket to begin with, well, I just don’t get it.”

“Donna! That is uncalled for”, scolded Julie. “For your information, PAM has proved to be a very wise and caring—”

“—It is all right, Julie. I understand. The fact that I do not possess an obvious orifice or appendage for penetration makes Donna uncomfortable.” At this, Donna grinned mischievously.

“PAM”, said Donna.

“Yes, Donna?” bleeped PAM in her computery voice.

“What’s between my thighs?” asked the psychokinetic minx, giggling girlishly and covering her mouth with the tips of her fingers. Rosalind rolled her eyes and slapped her palm to her forehead.

“Your oestrogen-powered utero-blaster?”

“No.”

“Your platinum-lined lady vector ray?”

“No.”

“Your heat-seeking, blood-fuelled, tampon missile rocket?”

“Close, but not quite.”

“Your vagina?”

I can’t believe she actually said it!” cackled Donna ferociously. “She’s just like Siri!” Lupa clapped excitedly, belched, and made one of his famous whale-coos, an action performed by a land-whale when it approves of a jest.

“Of course she did, you dolt”, said Rosalind. “She’s a lesbian space-ship computer.”

“Julie”, said PAM, “I am unable to interpret the rationale behind the dialogue of your companions. I suspect this is due in part to a lack of myelination in areas of higher thinking in the brain.” At this, Donna gave a look of resentment, peering around the deck in search of whatever might constitute PAM’s presence.

“Ladies, ladies!” said Julie. “Donna, you’re being childish. Rosalind, stop being snide. PAM, stay cold and malleable. Lupa, you’re cute, but stop goofing around. OK. Let’s get back to London. If we don’t want to reach home by the time we’re old spinsters, we need to step up the pace and try to move faster than some twentieth century space probe. Donna.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“I want you to use your power to warp space-time by creating a miniature black hole in front of the space-ship to get us past Saturn in the next sixty seconds.”

“Yes, ma’am”, said Donna, sighing. “I’ll try.”

“And, Rosalind”, said Julie, “remember to activate the ultra-tamponic cold plasma shield so that we don’t get incinerated by the heat created in the warp bubble. We already faced that threat warping from Alpha Centauri back to the Earth’s solar system.”

“Yes, Julie”, said Rosalind, thumping down at the console.

There was a spacey sound as the H.M.S. Vestibule entered the inner solar system. Earth, Britain, and, finally, the landing pad in the South London borough of Lambeth became visible.

“Well that was a blast!” said Donna. “We’re here! God, I’m dying for a bubble bath. Calgon, take me away!”

“And I’m dying for that massage, Julie”, said Rosalind, posing like a teenage locker-room jock.

“Bubble bath OK”, said Julie to Donna. Give, or receive?” she said to Rosalind.

“Baby, I’m cleverly equipped”, said Rosalind. The scene was suddenly interrupted by an urgent message in a raspy yet venerable RP accent sputtering out of the main deck’s speakers like a principal yacking away at her students through some old-fashioned twentieth century public school intercom.

“Julie Gentron!” said the voice in a reedy, chiding tone.

“Lady Fairfax!” said Julie. She stood as stiff as an unused tampon. She now had to report back to her boss about her excursion abroad—her mission to open diplomatic relations with the peoples of Alpha Centauri—in the cosy confines of a smart, clean office at the MI6 headquarters in dirty Vauxhall. With this in mind, the ladies heaved their bosoms, disembarked from the Vestibule, and pressed on forward across the landing pad. Opposite them, the silhouette of a low, shuffling figure appeared against London’s filthy sky.

“Quite correct, Gentron”, rattled the voice authoritatively, “in your assessment of my identity; not in your punctuality!”

Stay tuned to find out what surprise awaits the Lady League upon their return to Earth in the next instalment of Julie Gentron and the Lady League!





How I Outsmarted a Sexist Psychology Professor

14 12 2011

If there’s one thing I’ve learned getting to know university professors, it’s that pride is alive and well in academia, despite many claims to the contrary. I always expected such persons to be paragons of fairness and objectivity, but it turns out that they, too, harbour secret prejudices of their own—and sexism is no exception to this rule. I did, however, have the opportunity to turn the tables on one such individual, who thought he knew what he was talking about, but didn’t. Knowing at the outset that his facts were wrong, I graciously burdened myself with the task of correcting him on his assumptions on a topic which often goes unexamined—sexism in language.

(By the way, I must apologise to Nobel Prize-winning economist Leonid Hurwicz for using a photograph of him at the beginning of this article. I’m sure he isn’t a sexist old fogey; it’s just that he really looks like one! But he’s dead now anyway.)

Now, my friend is no dolt—he’s a professor of psychology at an eminent Canadian university—but he’s also an eccentric. He hails from Romania, loves opera and English literature, and pines for the days of the old British Empire, which, in relative terms, imposed a much gentler form of imperialism on its colonial subjects, or so he would say. “The British had an ideal behind their imperial mission–-to teach and to elevate benighted peoples”, is something he would say, “and they carried out this mission much more humanely than the Dutch, French, Spanish, or other European colonial powers.” Anyway, he sounds rather like Dracula and smokes like a chimney. And he’s gay. So he’s like a gay, chain-smoking Dracula. He comes across as sophisticated and quaintly nostalgic, but he has some rather ugly opinions—for they are certainly not facts—about feminists.

One of these opinions is that feminists don’t know what they’re talking about. You see, my friend once encountered a group of women in his milieu who complained that the word manhole was sexist because it contained the word man, but not woman. But, he argued, feminists shouldn’t be complaining that the word manhole is sexist, because man derives from the Latin word manus, which means hand”, not “adult male human being”. So the feminists are just being angry, stupid women, he suggested.

Well, that’s just plain bullshit, as I soon showed him. It is what in diachronic linguistics (historical linguistics) we call “folk etymology”: derivation of a word from a false, popular, made-up origin. Anyway, what follows is the general sequence of exchanges we made, in which I disprove his argument and prove its irrational, sexist underpinnings. It is not to be taken verbatim; the quotations are actually paraphrases, not direct discourse, but they accurately reflect the logic behind the points made. And to make a distinction between speakers, I will refer to my friend as simply “Dracula”. Now be patient and closely follow the line of argument to see how I arrive at my conclusion.

“These feminists shouldn’t be complaining that the word manhole is sexist”, said Dracula. “It is not, because the man in manhole comes from the Latin word manus, which means ‘hand’, not ‘adult male human being’. It refers to people who labour with the hands.”

“But the feminists aren’t incorrect to call manhole sexist”, said I, “because the man in manhole doesn’t come from manus; it comes from the Old English word man, which does mean ‘adult male human being’ in our present-day usage. So, yes, the feminists do have reason to complain that words like manhole are sexist.”

“Brandon”, cooed Dracula in a thick yet articulate Romanian accent, “if you want to show that the word man doesn’t mean manus, you have to show that the English didn’t borrow man from Latin.”

“They didn’t.”

“But the Romans conquered the Anglo-Saxons, and conquered peoples borrow words from their conquerors. Hence, the Anglo-Saxons must have borrowed the word man from manus, the Latin word for ‘hand’.”

“That is incorrect. The Romans didn’t conquer the Anglo-Saxons; the Anglo-Saxons settled Britain after Rome left. The Roman conquest of Britain began in 43 under Claudius. The people they conquered were Celtic, not Germanic. After a series of Anglo-Saxon and Irish raids, the Romans abandoned Britain in 410 to concentrate their legions on Rome in response to a massive siege there by the Visigoths, who attacked the city under the leadership of Alaric. It was only then that the Germanics had free rein to settle Britain en masse, and even then they only did so several decades later, beginning in 449, under Hengest and Horsa of the Jutes. This means that the Anglo-Saxons [the Germanic tribes in Britain] couldn’t have borrowed man from a ruling Roman elite. The Romans had left before the Anglo-Saxons could borrow anything from them. So, no, the feminists aren’t wrong about the etymology of man.”

“But, Brandon”, purred Dracula affectionately, “The Celts and the Germanics are the same people with the same language group, so when you say that the Romans conquered the Celts, you say that the Romans conquered the Germanics, too. Thus there was still a Germanic people borrowing the word man from the conquering Romans.”

“That’s just plain wrong”, said I, patiently. “The Celts and Germanics are two totally different peoples with two totally different language groups. Look at any Proto-Indo-European Language Family tree. Italic (from which Latin is derived), Germanic (from which Old English is derived), and Celtic (from which Welsh and Irish are derived) are linguistic sisters. Germanic is no more closely related to Celtic than it is to Latin itself, the language you incorrectly purported as the donor language to the Germanics. They’re all equally distinct. The Celts spoke Celtic languages when the Romans arrived, and the Anglo-Saxons spoke Germanic languages after the Romans left. So, no, there was not a Germanic people borrowing the word man from the conquering Romans, and, yes, the feminists are correct in analyzing man as meaning a type of ‘person’, and not ‘hand’.”

To be honest, I was thinking to myself, “Girl, you’ve got your chronology backwards.”

“Besides”, I continued, “words aren’t borrowed just because they come from a conquering culture; they’re borrowed because they represent something special, hence prestigious, about the conquering culture. The English didn’t borrow the word ‘chicken’ or ‘goose’ from the invading French, because chickens and geese were common to the English; poor English people ate fowl, too. But they did borrow the words for pork, beef, and venison from the French [cf. French porc, boeuf, venaison], because these words respresented something special, hence prestigious, about the invading culture. Only the invading French could afford to eat these choice meats. However, ‘man’ was a concept common to both the invading French and the English, just like ‘finger’ or ‘hair’, so the English didn’t bother borrowing this word from the French. So, again, no, man wasn’t borrowed from an invading culture, and the feminists are right about its etymology.”

Here Dracula sat for a moment, truly puzzled, then drew a copy of Roget’s Dictionary [Please, really? At least obtain a fresh copy of the Oxford English Dictionary] from his mammoth, heaving bookshelf, breaking it open on his dining table next to a glass of rosé and a thick stack of fresh cigarettes. Scanning the pages intently between puffs of smoke, he told me he would find out once and for all the etymological root of man, and how it proved that the feminists didn’t know what they were talking about. Ultimately, though, all he found was a derivation which stated that the origin of man was OE, or Old English. Not Latin.

“Drat!” he seemed to be thinking behind his cigarette, his brow furrowed in deep cogitation. Even then he was wrong, and the feminists were right. And so he slowly slouched back in his chair and puffed on his cigarette, still staring at the page in the dictionary, whilst I politely summarized my argument against him. We eventually drifted off into other topics of conversation, but I think we both left with an understanding that his analysis of the feminists he encountered, and perhaps women in general, was wrong. If this one person can be so deliberately remiss about sexism in language, just tally up all the other culprits. I think that what we’re seeing here is a form of academic hubris which seeks comfort inside its own stubborn, old-fashioned shell, but which hurts girls and boys in the real world of today by promulgating snobbish, stupid myths about women.





Hillary Clinton, Gay Rights, and Cultural Relativism

12 12 2011

I’m not a cultural relativist. Sometimes customs are culturally relative, and sometimes, quite frankly, they are not. I don’t believe that sexism, racism, child abuse, animal abuse, rape, torture, murder, or homophobia are excusable depending on cultural context, because in each context these atrocities share the traits of hatred, violence, and exploitation committed against a sentient being. Let me get this caveat out of the way first: on some issues we are in no place to judge the practises of other cultures, and on other issues we most certainly are. In return, these other cultures are allowed to judge us on our faults. With that out of the way, LGBT rights are not an imperialist vision; they are a humanist one.

Given my wariness of cultural relativism, I was elated by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s amazing speech at the United Nations in Geneva. In her speech, Clinton declares that the Obama administration will defend LGBT rights as a part of its human rights and foreign policy, and that the President will command all government agencies operating overseas to defend LGBT rights through various diplomatic strategies. She makes several points about how and why the world community should end persecution of LGBT people: first, LGBT rights are human rights; second, homosexuality exists in all cultures; third, religious and cultural beliefs do not justify persecution of LGBT people; fourth, the world must confront persecution of LGBT people, not dismiss it; and fifth, we must employ practical means to obtain equality for LGBT people. All of these points are interesting and relevant, but the most provocative to me are the second and third points, which challenge the cultural relativism cited to defend persecution of LGBT people.

In her second point, Clinton challenges the assumption that homosexuality and LGBT rights are purely Western, imperialist conceptions being foisted on non-Western cultures. This is simply not true, Clinton shows, because homosexuality exists in every culture, and homophobia is a problem in every culture. It is, in other words, a human condition, and creating artificial cultural barriers to LGBT liberation would do a disservice to LGBT people:

Some seem to believe [homosexuality] is a Western phenomenon, and therefore people outside the West have grounds to reject it. Well, in reality, gay people are born into and belong to every society in the world. They are all ages, all races, all faiths; they are doctors and teachers, farmers and bankers, soldiers and athletes; and whether we know it, or whether we acknowledge it, they are our family, our friends, and our neighbours.

And just in case anybody insists there are no examples of efforts to advance LGBT rights in non-Western cultures, Clinton deftly turns the tables:

Being gay is not a Western invention; it is a human reality. And protecting the human rights of all people, gay or straight, is not something that only Western governments do. South Africa’s constitution, written in the aftermath of Apartheid, protects the equality of all citizens, including gay people. In Colombia and Argentina, the rights of gays are also legally protected. In Nepal, the supreme court has ruled that equal rights apply to LGBT citizens. The government of Mongolia has committed to pursue new legislation that will tackle anti-gay discrimination.

Clinton has obviously done her fact-checking (which is to be granted, given that she is America’s chief diplomat): heteronormative sexualities, if not exactly ubiquitous, are well-distributed among the world’s cultures, hence LGBT rights are a relevant concern to all of the world’s cultures. It is now common knowledge among well-informed people that homosexuality, bisexuality, transsexuality, and intersexuality are not the product of a particular culture; they are a product of living organisms in general, from shellfish to human beings. It seems absurd, then, to say that these sexualities are the luxurious fad of one particular society (the West) of one particular species of animal (homo sapiens), hence it seems absurd to suggest that LGBT rights are relevant only to that society or species.

In her third point, Clinton criticises the notion that cultural or religious beliefs somehow justify persecution of LGBT people, and roundly dashes it to pieces. (I exaggerate, but still, she could have, and she probably would have if representatives of countries like Uganda, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Afghanistan weren’t present.) She does this by comparing LGBT rights to the rights of other persecuted peoples. Specifically, she draws an analogy between crimes against LGBT people and crimes against women, both of which derive from patriarchal hegemony:

[The justification for persecuting LGBT people] is not unlike the justification offered for violent practices towards women like honor killings, widow burning, or female genital mutilation. Some people still defend those practices as part of a cultural tradition. But violence toward women isn’t cultural; it’s criminal. Likewise with slavery, what was once justified as sanctioned by God is now properly reviled as an unconscionable violation of human rights.

Cutting off a woman’s clitoris is universally wrong because it causes unspeakable pain, stress, and health problems for the victim, whether she is from Sweden, Somalia, or Seattle. This is because every person of every culture possesses a common human physiology; the nervous systems of all human beings are basically the same. I suspect every woman feels immense pain when she is mutilated, burnt to death, or stoned to death, despite the cultural situation. And when proponents of cultural relativism cite reasons for their stance, those reasons fall nothing short of pathetic: women shouldn’t be allowed to have sex with men other than their husbands, women shouldn’t be allowed to experience sexual pleasure, or women shouldn’t be allowed to live if their husbands die. Forgive me if I find these justifications more solipsistic than utilitarian, and hence hardly socially beneficial. They’re just the laws of self-serving tyrants who view women as mere incubators. Similarly, every gay person experiences unconscionable pain and horror at being hanged or crushed to death for being gay. Opinions, insecurities, and concerns specific to a culture do not justify violence against women or gay people, because we all share the same basic human physiology despite cultural context. I think this is what Clinton was pointing at.

I won’t mince words. Hillary Clinton is right, and the cultural relativists are wrong. Heteronormative sexuality is found everywhere in the world, and LGBT rights are no more culturally relative than women’s or racial minorities’ rights, because all are products of a common human mental and physical experience. For some reason, though, this is a sensitive topic for many anti-imperialists, who often happen to be from the West. It seems to me that a lot of this cultural relativist dogma stems from white, middle-class people who feel guilty about their colonial heritage, and they spout this disingenuous nonsense about relativism to soothe their own conscience. But think about it. Arguing that women’s or LGBT rights are culturally relative is basically discriminating against women and LGBT people who live in countries, like Iran, which don’t recognise their status, and that isn’t very feminist or pro-gay, is it? It isn’t even very pro-human, as Clinton showed, and I can’t help but respect her for sending such a bold, unapologetic message to countries which still use cultural relativism as a loophole to commit human atrocities. It was truly a satisfying vindication of LGBT rights.








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 61 other followers