Category Archives: Gender

Pro-Choice reinterpreted as Pro-Abortion

This is terribly sad: Jocelyn Peirce wrote this pro-abortion pledge, apparently as a response to anti-abortion pledges from the pro-life movement. It includes gems like:

“1. If I get pregnant before the age of 21, I will have an abortion.”
and
“2. If I know anyone who gets pregnant before the age of 21, I will strongly suggest that they have an abortion.”

Perhaps Peirce thinks that her #8, which says, “If I am in any of the aforementioned situations and opt not to have an abortion, I will remember that my choice would have been meaningless without the right to choose and will continue to defend that right.” makes up for the offensiveness of the other portions of her pledge. It does not. What a horrible suggestion, that everyone under 21 who becomes pregnant should abort or be pressured to abort! Even if one is pro-choice, the idea that abortion should be recommended rather than personally chosen is offensive and contrary to the entire point of preserving women’s autonomy. At the very least, one wonders why adoption is not even mentioned as an option, much less having the courage to raise children under less-than-ideal circumstances. Why abortion should be considered automatically preferable to these alternatives is beyond me, and I can’t see why anyone would sign such a horrible petition.

Douthat on Internet Sex Scandals

For the most part, I side with Ross Douthat in his exchanges with Michelle Goldberg and Andrew Sullivan on the subject of internet sex scandals and Rep. Weiner. Goldberg seems to be overstating the threat to privacy resulting from coverage of Weiner’s situation, and Douthat is correct that most people would be able to pursue “fantasies” on the internet without sending ridiculous pictures of themselves to unintended recipients. Unlike Goldberg and Douthat, though, I’m not particularly “disgusted” by Weiner’s actions. I just feel sorry for his wife and the student to whom he sent the pictures, and think he showed himself to be rather pathetic. I mean, if you’re going to tweet sexy pictures of yourself in such a stupid way as to create a public scandal, is this the best you can do for sexy pictures? Pretty sad.

On the other hand, Andrew Sullivan’s excuses for Weiner’s behavior as the natural result of “texting while male”–even if Sullivan subsequently qualifies this as “texting while male and horny”–are equally pathetic. Sullivan’s attitude towards male sexuality and self-control is not much different from those who excuse rape because, after all, “the horned up male mind is not something to be trifled with.” When it comes to stupid sexual things one can do on the internet, Sullivan thinks his formulation implies that, “no one would be free from temptation or from giving into it.” However, I’d venture that most men I know have enjoyed at least some variety of pornography on the internet without tweeting silly pictures of themselves or otherwise doing stupid things to embarrass their families in the process.

The entire dynamic of “temptation” and “giving in” strikes me as but one way of experiencing desire, which may be irrelevant for many people. Does looking at a racy picture on the internet necessarily involve any sense of temptation or transgression, for example? These things seem relevant only if there is some boundary or rule against the behavior in question, and in those cases men seem perfectly capable of avoiding transgression. It seems pretty insulting to men to suggest that, when “horned up”, we can’t really expect them to consistently exercise self-control.

Is Monogamy a Myth?

At The Daily Beast, Jessica Bennett asks this question while reviewing new books that “challenge our idea of fidelity.” My answer: it’s definitely not a myth. It’s fine that people who prefer non-monogamous or non-traditional marriages are enjoying increasing mainstream acceptance of their choices. It’s also unfortunate that so many people who thought they were in a monogamous relationship will have to deal with the damage caused by infidelity. This should not be taken to mean that monogamy is obsolete or mythical, though, and it’s becoming rather tiresome to see so much shoddy analysis on this issue now that non-monogamy seems to have become a fashionable topic.

I first noticed this nonsense after the release of Sex at Dawn, by Ryan and Jetha, which argues that humans are naturally non-monogamous. The authors also took this to mean that non-monogamy is a struggle for most people, one which exacts a “cost” comparable to eating a poor diet, wearing “ill-fitting shoes”, or working the night shift, even though their evidence did not support such speculative interpretations.

Bennett’s article and many of the experts she quotes have jumped to similarly unsupported conclusions. Even though she cites evidence against the assumption that most of the cheaters are men, Bennett appears to assume that infidelity is the sort of thing that men do, such that “wives leave husbands”. She speaks as if stories about infidelity are “so common” that “we could argue doing away with marriage altogether”, which is a bit like saying that since telling lies is so common, we could argue doing away with honesty altogether.

Bennett argues that monogamy might be “delusional” based on claims like those of Ken Haslam of the Kinsey Institute, who insists that, “Humans aren’t monogamous, we need to get over that,” and that, “We fool around. We do! And if you don’t fool around, you want to fool around.” On what evidence does he claim that people who don’t fool around want to fool around? I certainly don’t. Am I simply a freak, or someone making unrealistic demands of a spouse, or both? The argument seems to be that because many of our ancestors were non-monogamous, and many present-day humans have had multiple sexual partners, we need to “get over” the desire to form a committed relationship with only one partner. Why? Is it somehow important that my enjoyments and choices be dictated by what other people find or have found naturally compelling or otherwise desirable? We wouldn’t accept this standard when it comes to other aspects of sexuality besides monogamy. Some people have a special liking for fancy high-heeled boots, for example. Most people probably do not, and even among those who do, most probably do not make them a regular part of sexual activities. Our more distant human ancestors did not have such boots, much less any natural proclivities for them. So do boot-lovers need to “get over it” and accept more “normal” or “natural” standards for their sexual inclinations?

Bennett also claims, echoing some of the writers she quotes as well as several others I’ve read recently, that “our views toward infidelity are comically naïve” because many people cheat even though even most people disapprove of cheating. This she considers “the ultimate hypocrisy”, but that’s much too hasty a conclusion. First, people may assume that more people are unfaithful than truly are. Tom Smith of the University of Chicago puts the number of married cheaters around 18% or lower, based on his study of American Sexual Behavior (2006) and other scientific studies. However, for the sake of argument let’s grant that people may not give honest answers to such surveys, and that the number is actually much higher. Peggy Vaughn, in The Monogamy Myth, cites “conservative” numbers of 60% of men and 40% of women. Bennett says that, “more than half of Americans cheat, and yet 70 to 85 percent of adults think cheating is wrong.” Even if she is right, this only means that at least a third or so of those who cheat believe that their own actions were wrong. It’s not clear that this is best termed hypocrisy, especially if some of the cheaters regret what they did and wouldn’t do it again, if they had the chance. The majority of the cheaters may believe they did no wrong, so there is no danger of hypocrisy, and it is certainly no hypocrisy for the non-cheaters to oppose cheating.

Even if we did assume that everyone who condemns cheating is hypocritical, though, how many of us believe it is better to be honest although we have told lies? Confronted with our failures on that score, we don’t simply abandon the preference for honesty, but we may need to revise our view of the conditions under which lying is morally acceptable. Similarly, the fact that some people find monogamy very difficult could mean that for some people it is better to openly agree to a non-monogamous relationship. Furthermore, those who find non-monogamous relationships morally acceptable may still disapprove of cheating, on the grounds that the partners had agreed not to do so.

Bennett approvingly quotes Jenny Block, who says, “Jude Law cheated on Sienna Miller, for God’s sake. JFK cheated on Jackie. Have we learned nothing from these scandals?” What were were supposed to learn from this? That people in monogamous relationships sometimes cheat, even if the relationship is high-profile and the spouse is considered very beautiful? This tells us nothing about whether monogamy is a viable or good relationship choice. For the large numbers of people who do NOT cheat, it appears to be both, but apparently that’s a less attention-grabbing or fashionable position at the moment.

Never in the Closet?

A mother writing a blog called “Raising My Rainbow”, about “Adventures in raising a slightly effeminate, possibly gay, totally fabulous son”, asks whether it is possible to raise an LGBT child who never has to be in the closet, “thus making the coming out process (with the immediate family) obsolete?”

Sure, it’s possible, but I don’t think it depends entirely on how accepting or encouraging the parents may be. Even children who know that their parents don’t care whether they are gay or straight may nevertheless choose to conceal this aspect of their lives from the parents at some point. We’re still living in a culture that stigmatizes being gay, children are still teased for appearing to be different in various ways, and as children grow older they’ll learn about political conflicts over gay marriage, adoption, and other equal rights issues. Hopefully, things are easier when a child has supportive parents and has known this all along, but the pressures to be and stay in the closet come from other powerful sources too. The question posed here was specifically about “the immediate family,” as opposed to having a gay public identity, but I suspect the same forces could cause children to enter the “closet” even around their parents.

I admire the mother who writes that blog because she embraces her son no matter how he chooses to be, and I’m glad she is asking challenging questions about gender expectations. However, I have a few concerns about the story presented so far. First, I’m not sure why being “possibly gay” is tied to the non-gender-conforming behaviors of one child, but is not apparently tied to the more traditional preferences and behavior of their other male child. Perhaps children whose gendered expressions differ more from the norm are also more likely to be gay–I don’t know if evidence supports such a claim. Regardless, many gay adults are largely “gender-conforming”, and presumably this is also true of children. It seems parents who want to accept their kids as they are should avoid attaching labels, even qualified labels about “possible” gayness, to one child or another based on perceptions about non-traditional gender.

Second, a resistance to such definitions and labels seems particularly important when the child in question is still very young (preschool age, I believe). Children may develop preferences or behaviors early on that they retain throughout adulthood, and they may go through various stages that are quickly abandoned. Their expressions and interests may or may not match up neatly with the gender categories and boundaries typically recognized by adults in a particular culture. Why then bother marking “rainbow” behavior so keenly at this young age?

Third, it’s not as if children make completely free choices about what to prefer or avoid without being influenced by the surrounding culture. When a preschooler shows a marked interested in Barbie dolls, is it more noteworthy that this is unusual for a boy, or that we choose to offer children playthings like Barbie dolls in the first place? Perhaps we take special note when a girl wants to play hockey or a boy wants to be a figure skater, because of cultural perceptions about those sports, but we simply don’t bother much over gender when it comes to swimming, skiing, or soccer. From the perspective of the child choosing an enjoyable activity, though, our gendered associations may mean very little.

I hope I’m raising my children in such a way that they would find it comfortable to be honest and open about themselves. In the interest of achieving that, I don’t want to preemptively interpret their behaviors or preferences through the lens of this culture’s traditional gender associations.