November 5, 2008

Marriage…Since the “dawn of time”?!

Posted in gender roles, heteronormative, marriage, privilege at 5:17 pm by LB

Since my master’s thesis was on marriage, normative gender roles, and the production of heteronormativity, I very much enjoyed Jon Stewart’s November 3rd commentary on Proposition 8 opponents (even though my own marriage politics is of the Beyond Marriage flavor).

He comedically points out that while those who are against the legalization of same-sex marriage rely on the definition of “traditional marriage” and the way it has “always been,” their arguments, if nothing else, are short term at best.

With traditional marriage, women were property exchanged between their father and their husband, often for the sake of political power, transferring wealth, and keeping the peace. And as Stephanie Coontz points out in her book Marriage: A History, the idea of marrying for love is a fairly recent phenomenon…perhaps less than 100 years old! Love and sexual faithfulness were less important feature of marriages than were the political and economic interests that were advanced by the union. “Marriages of convenience,” at many times, were actually quite normative at some times.

The bottom line is that there is no “traditional marriage” or marriage “norm” that we can either continue with or change. The fact is, that marriage ideals have always changed with societal changes, and often with changes in technology. Marriage’s definition has always been a social construction, and has always been related to political, social, economic, gender, and racial power. Stewart’s piece demonstrates this basic, yet unacknowledged fact:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Even more, just like there is so “natural” definition and understanding of marriage–that it is a human construction that can be defined differently, the way we have organized societal obligations along the lines of marriage is also a construction, and so can be constructed differently. That we take the married family to be the social unit upon which our social assumptions are made is something that needs it change; it does not reflect the interests and realities of many Americans’ lives and their desired choices today. We have to stop foreclosing ways to organize one’s economic, reproductive, and sexual needs, as well as the way we wish to form relationships commitment other than heterosexual marriage. Just like heterosexual marriage is not what is always has been defined as, social organization does not have to be what it always has been. We can be creative in the way we organize our lives to meet our needs, if we can only decenter marriage as the central, normative, ideal set of living arrangements.


September 19, 2008

It appears that women may actually have a right to their bodies in NY

Posted in gender roles, news, privacy, sexual politics at 7:25 pm by LB

According to Thursday’s New York Times, a woman who was upskirt-photographed in a NY subway station (and was able to capture her assailant’s identity on her camera!) has successfully filed criminal charges against him:

Mr. Olivieri was arraigned in Manhattan Criminal Court on Wednesday on misdemeanor charges of unlawful surveillance, attempted sexual abuse and harassment, a criminal complaint said.

That he was arraigned is surely excellent news, since in many other jurisdictions, women bodies are public property, with no expectation of personal privacy in public.  Even more, it was the taking of photos that brought the criminal charges, not their distributing.  In some conversations on this blog around this pet peeve issue of mine, some have suggested that posting the images should be wrong, but that the taking of them in public is and ought to be completely legal.

This NY case indicates that the “wrong” done is in the violation of the photographing; “unauthorized surveillance” seems to indicate that a woman’s body, regardless of its location, is always a zone of privacy.  And to that I say an emphatic “yes”!

More past posts on bodily privacy

September 13, 2008

Questionable conclusions

Posted in bunk science, ethnocentrism, gender, gender roles, gender stereotypes, New York Times at 11:50 pm by LB

The recent article from the New York Times, “As Barriers Disappear, Some Gender Gaps Widen
discusses a scientific study that I find highly questionable. Apparently, the same-old gendered personalities keep resurfacing in personality tests. Psychologists disagree on the origin of the differences: evolutionary vs. socialization. The article asserts that the latter believes that

personality differences will shrink as women spend less time nurturing children and more time in jobs outside the home.

So the effect of “traditional gender roles” will be eradicated when women are in the workforce more and do child care less? That seems overly optimistic at best, naieve and ignorant about the pervasiveness of gender socialization at worst. But that’s not my real critique.

Several research groups have been studying personality tests sorted by gender on a global basis, and have found that the gender gap in personality tests is smaller in countries that have “more traditional” cultures. What I think they mean by poorly-worded and undefined “traditional” is less industrialized and perhaps more institutionally religious. Because the U.S. sure has a kind of “traditional culture” too–of capitalism and consumerism. What their designation really refers to, in my view, is cultures that are more obviously and directly patriarchal, since the article says,

A husband and a stay-at-home wife in a patriarchal Botswanan clan seem to be more alike than a working couple in Denmark or France.

But again, not my main point.

Since this seems counterintuitive to researchers–surely, our more “advanced” societies, full of legal equality and post-post-industrial economies and wealth coming out of our asses should have less gender disparity in individual personalities. So after another study, looking at 40,000 people, on researcher has concluded that

as wealthy modern societies level external barriers between women and men, some ancient internal differences are being revived.

(I think he meant to say “less external legal barriers.”)

The very next statement in the Times article completely contradicts the researcher’s own conclusion, if you actually think about it:

The biggest changes recorded by the researchers involve the personalities of men, not women. Men in traditional agricultural societies and poorer countries seem more cautious and anxious, less assertive and less competitive than men in the most progressive and rich countries of Europe and North America.

Gee, assertiveness, competitive, lack of concern….surely the presence of these qualities has nothing to do with, for one, western constructions of masculinity?! And what is the implication then, that non-western, less industrialized male populations are too “feminine”? I thought the anti-feminist work of Kathleen Parker already told us that feminism has emasculated American men?! The study itself says the following:

masculinity–femininity describes the extent of emphasis on work goals (earnings, advancement, and assertiveness) as opposed to interpersonal goals (friendly atmosphere, getting along with the boss) and nurturance (higher masculinity–femininity scores reflect masculinity)

Interestingly, but not unsurprisingly, a very Western definition of gender. No wonder “traditional” cultures, that may not make the gendered public/private divide the same way it has been made in industrial and post-industrial American culture, seem to have less gendered personalities. The researchers used a cultural definition of gender as a neutral “fact” of “sex” and then applied them to other nations and cultures whose notions of gender are likely different, and not because they are “less than.” (see p. 172 of the study for more equally problematic indicators of gender equality). I’ll come back to this ethnocentrism. Read the rest of this entry »

July 3, 2008

AT & T and gender: commercial critique part 1

Posted in advertising, beauty culture, Commercial Critique, gender roles, gender stereotypes, kyriarchy, representation, television at 11:09 pm by LB

Is anyone besides me really annoyed by the latest AT & T Wireless commercial campaign? They sure say a lot about gender expectations and values vis-a-vis gender and behavior.

The “alter ego” commercials (or so they are dubbed on youTube) have one version of the commercial’s subject talking to the camera and one acting out a scene in the background. The person talking to the camera is saying how someone doesn’t have AT &T, therefore they have no reception, therefore something awful is happening to them, represented by the storyline being acted out in the background.

“Kelly’s Dad” was the first one I saw that I really didn’t like. Like most other annoying representation of stereotyped assumptions, I rolled my eyes and said “great.” But after several more commercials from AT & T that feed unhealthy gender assumptions and values, a pattern has emerged. Read the rest of this entry »

June 10, 2008

Times article on gender, marriage and same-sex couples

Posted in economics, gender roles, heteronormative, ideology, marriage, queer, social justice at 8:42 pm by LB

via Feministe

The New York Times reported an interesting study on the relationships of married (heterosexual) and same-sex couples.

Same-sex relationships, whether between men or women, were far more egalitarian than heterosexual ones. In heterosexual couples, women did far more of the housework; men were more likely to have the financial responsibility […] With same-sex couples, of course, none of these dichotomies were possible, and the partners tended to share the burdens far more equally.

While generalizations couldn’t be made by sex, I would be interested to see if husband and wife “types” emerge in same-sex relationships, along lines of economic providing/dependency and domestic work–especially when children are involved in the relationship. Economic necessities of families–and the government and social restrictions on how these are met–don’t go away just because the sex of the partners changes. Economic roles in families are indeed gendered, and are organized along sex-based gender role expectations. But this isn’t to say that the structuring effect of the heteronormative traditional family won’t in any way also structure same-sex marriages.

I’d be interested in reading the study itself, because, notably, the above quote was the only comment made about income and domestic work…and it was with reference to heterosexual couples only. There was nothing reported in the Times about the of division of labor and employment in same-sex couples, and nothing about how things change when children are involved. Some studies have shown that egalitarianism in heterosexual couples tends to go out the window once children are born. The article was really more about conflict resolution and less about economic relations in the family, which I think misses a very important aspect of family constitution. Read the rest of this entry »

May 7, 2008

More on heteronormative familial-economic arrangements

Posted in economics, gender roles, heteronormative, ideology, social justice, U.S. politics at 2:45 pm by LB

This post on income splitting at The Hand Mirror is a darn good read. It’s an analysis of income splitting, which is a “remedy” for the unfairness brought on by this scenario:

Family A, a family with two working adults each earning $40,000, pays less tax than family B, in which one adult earns $80,000 and the other adult stays at home to look after the kids. Each family has the same gross earnings, but the single earner’s larger income places him in a higher tax bracket. This is unfair, Dunne believes: where a parent (usually mum) has given up paid work for childcare, her family should not face a financial penalty.[…] Income splitting seems to recognise the value of women’s unpaid work, and the fact that it supports men to do their paid work. So what’s wrong with this picture?

The critique asserts:

Although families A and B earn the same, things are not equal between them. Family B spends only 40 hours a week in the workforce to make $60,000, whereas Family A spends 80 hours. The extra time available to family B makes a huge difference to its quality of life. Both Mum A and Mum B have domestic work to do, but Mum A begins hers after she knocks off from her paid job each day. Noticeably absent from Dunne’s plan are solo parent families. Solo mums bear lone responsibility for all the paid and unpaid work in their households, but have no one to split incomes with, so cannot receive any tax relief. Income splitting is less about recognising women’s unpaid work than about shoring up traditional nuclear families in the face of increasing solo parent, blended and gay families and whanau.

This is a great critique, as those who stand to benefit the most are those who replicate the ideal, gender-normative and heteronormative family.

(see my two previous posts on this topic).

May 2, 2008

Tom Ford comments on the lack of male nudity

Posted in gender roles, mass media, objectification, representation, sexual politics, Sexuality Blogs and Resources at 1:13 pm by LB

I stumbled on this New York Magazine article via Ms. Naughty’s blog (NSFW), and I am truly intrigued. Not because I think that one (or even 100) pictorials of nude men will change the way male and female bodies are/not produced as ‘sexual.’ As with many many gender and sexuality issues, the problem is not (only) with correcting misrepresentations by merely adding to the ones we have, just like more women as corporate CEO’s is not all that is needed to change the way business and economics are centered around the worker as male. It’s a start, but it’s not the whole story, not even close.

I’m more interested in what Ford said.

[…] the male nude is one of our last taboos. There’s a double standard at play here: magazines that are happy to fund ads featuring an artfully lit female nude will balk at an image of her male counterpart.

Bodies themselves may be, for the most part, natural raw material. But the value societies gives to bodies, what we see those bodies as useful for, what uses are appropriate for which bodies, how bodily qualities (i.e. beauty, strength) are defined, are all socio-cultural and ideological, thus also political. Read the rest of this entry »

April 16, 2008

What’s wrong with this article? Marriage and Taxes, part 2

Posted in economics, gender, gender roles, heteronormative, ideology, marriage, patriarchy, social justice, U.S. politics at 2:14 am by LB

Especially in light of my critique of ‘marriage’-centric social organization, check out this article from

Study: Single parents cost taxpayers $112 billion”:

Divorce and out-of-wedlock childbearing cost U.S. taxpayers more than $112 billion a year, according to a study commissioned by four groups advocating more government action to bolster marriages.

hmm…what’s wrong with this so far? (hint: it’s something to do with the premise of the article)

Ok, I’ll tell you.

  1. It implies that divorcees and parents who are unmarried are not ‘taxpayers.’
  2. Thus, it positions those not divorced or single parents–married people, single people (aka not-yet married), and married parents–as the ‘ideal taxpayer-citizen’

And that’s just the first paragraph.


Sponsors say the study is the first of its kind and hope it will prompt lawmakers to invest more money in programs aimed at strengthening marriages.

Could it possibly be that our social and economic structures heavily favor married parenting, and that’s what needs to be investigated, rather than ‘strengthening marriage’??

Two experts not connected to the study said such programs are of dubious merit and suggested that other investments — notably job creation — would be more effective in aiding all types of needy families.

…which is good, especially since I heard on NPR recently (I can’t find the show reference! aah!) that divorce and income are correlated (and ya know, ‘the sanctity of marriage’ etc. is of utmost important to preserving ‘traditional’ –read: patriarchal capitalist –values).

There’s more:

Scafidi’s calculations were based on the assumption that households headed by a single female have relatively high poverty rates, leading to higher spending on welfare, health care, criminal justice and education for those raised in the disadvantaged homes.

Right, because there’s a natural connection between single mothering and poverty, apparently, so we need to fix the ‘single mothering’ rather than, say, the ‘feminization of poverty’ or the socio-economic structure that perpetuates single-parent (mother) poverty.

See, there’s two problems here with our socio-economic structure:

  1. The assumption of two parents present and sharing a home. The model used to be male breadwinner/female domestic servant. Now, women are ‘allowed’ to have economic independence but continue to bear the homemaking burden.
  2. Women are paid less money, plain and simple.

So in a single-parent family where that single parent is a woman, she’s doubly screwed economically.

At the end of the day, the article–along with the study and those who commissioned it–assumes the natural and neutral center of American life (ought) to be marriage and specifically, married-parenting. Further, they conclude that we should tell people how they should structure their networks of association in their life because it would cost less in government expenditures and because they are deviating from some sort of arbitrary ‘normal’. Sure marriage is the norm in American society; that doesn’t make it natural. It’s still an arbitrary primary structure of social relations.

Sure sounds like life, liberty, and all that jazz to me!

cross-posted to The Reaction

see my part 1 here

April 6, 2008

The More Things Change…

Posted in advertising, gender roles, gender stereotypes, sexual politics at 8:09 am by LB

The more they stay the same…

Check out these advice nuggets from 1950’s mags. Sound familiar? Via Food, Fat, Feminism.

And here’s a snippet from Jean Kilbourne’s Killing Me Softly 3 that I found on Youtube. She’s been doing research about media imagery and women’s sexuality and identity for 30 years. And it’s pathetic how much things don’t change. I recommend checking out her film (in lots of libraries!) and her book, Can’t Buy My Love (in my Amazon book picks).

(NOTE: nothing more after the jump)

March 29, 2008

The Best Music Video I’ve Seen, like,..EVER

Posted in body politics, cool feminist stuff, empowerment, gender roles, music, representation, sexual politics at 8:53 pm by LB

Wow, looks like this song isn’t at all new, but it’s new to me, and all I can say is…WOW. Very moving and very right-on. The only thing I would change is…the name. Because I would never say the girls who buy into the message that women are only as valuable and worthwhile as they are “sexy” and are sexually available are “stupid” (or the guys, as the vid is a critique on their significant participation in it too-after all, whose expectations is this all for?)…but somehow “stupid patriarchy” or “stupid culture” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it. So WORD! to Pink. Smart is sexy, and I’d say she’s right up there. So, eat this up!

(NOTE: nothing after the jump)

March 11, 2008

Victim-blaming, feminism-blaming(?): Dr. Laura’s comments re: Spitzer’s infidelity

Posted in gender roles, power hierarchy, victim-blaming at 8:43 pm by LB

I am too incensed to not comment on Dr. Laura’s comments about Spitzer’s infidelity, specifically that he cheated because his wife “failed him”. I agree with what Melissa at Shakesville says regarding this:

Secondly, it’s absolutely true that if someone’s (reasonable) needs aren’t being met by a spouse, then something will eventually and inexorably give. But that doesn’t justify cheating; it justifies ending the relationship. That’s true whether it’s husband or wife (or both) failing to deliver; it’s not a one-way street.

The other TODAY show panelists (rightly so) called this out as victim-blaming-that while both parties are responsible for the relationship, no partner is ever at fault for the other cheating.
But what I want to comment on is something else-Dr. Laura’s implicit blaming of feminism (or at least women’s rights) for this particular situation, if not for the situation of cheating husbands everywhere.


“When the wife does not focus in on the needs and the feelings, sexually, personally, to make him feel like a man, to make him feel like a success, to make him feel like her hero, he’s very susceptible to the charm of some other woman making him feel what he needs.”

And on an appearance with TODAY’s Ann Curry:

I would challenge the wife to find out what kind of wife she’s being,” she said. “Is she being supportive and approving and loving? Is she being sexually intimate and affectionate? Is she making him feel like he’s her man?

So unless women support their partners in a way that assures them that they are the bastion of patriarchal manhood, women are responsible if their partners cheat.

also from Dr. Laura with Ann Curry:

I have kept marriages together after affairs because I have reminded women that you have the power to turn this around. He had his children with you. He has his future life plans with you, his dreams, his whole mind, body and soul was wrapped up in the promise of you. If you now turn that back on, all that stuff you turned off because ‘I’m busy’ or ‘I’m irritated’ or ‘I’m annoyed’ or ‘I’m self-centered’ — if you turn that around, you have that man back.

So, dedicate your life and being to making sure he feels like a “real man” (however patriarchally and heteronormatively defined), deny your own feelings to cater to his, and don’t do anything for yourself if it might make him feel less of a man….she only barely falls short of saying “If feminism didn’t corrupt women into thinking their wants and desires are as important than men’s, we wouldn’t have this problem”.

This also comes from the person who says that if a woman is not in the mood for sex when her husband wants it, she needs to a) cut stuff out of her life-her job, other activities, etc., and b) suck it up and do it anyway. Clearly, Dr. Laura feels that a woman’s primary responsibility in the marital relationship is sex, and also that this poorly defined marital relationship is not just one important part of a woman’s life but the most important part. She, like others, think that once married, the husband is owed sexual access to the wife’s body.

It isn’t like the mantra “feminists are selfish” or that “feminism has emasculated men” aren’t already common arguments in our culture. Especially with regards to sex: how dare women say that sex doesn’t end when the man’s orgasm does! How dare women decide what sex acts they do and do not want to do! How dare women have sex only when they want to! How dare women demand equal attention in the bedroom (and in the rest of the house!) How dare women be so…selfish?!

And how dare women, you know, have jobs? How dare women not support classical suffocating visions of masculinity and gender roles? Clearly the issue is with dirty ole feminism…and not at all with men thinking that gender equality means that men don’t have to change anything about “the way things have always been.” Gone are the days of only a rights-based liberal feminism, where equality means women can have entry into the male space of the “public sphere.” Feminist gender analysis means a critique of how gender is produced in our culture and how that harms both men and women. It’s about analyzing interlocking forms of oppression-that patriarchy, exploitive capitalism, heterosexism/homophobia, and racism all feed off of each other in their oppressions. I’m getting off topic a bit here, but it isn’t too hard to see that Dr. Laura blaming Spitzer’s wife for him getting his “needs” met elsewhere–and the needs she’s talking about seem to me more about masculine ego and not about sex–is an attack on feminism’s critique of the construction of gender under patriarchy and practices of sexism.

A final note (also somewhat off-topic, but I found it quite interesting)…

One commenter on feministing made this insightful speculation:

I can’t help but to think of his massive sense of self-entitlement in hiring a “high priced hooker,” when hypothetically he could have spent under $500 on a fancy dinner and sex with some area DC lady (not a professional) who would have made the decision independently to do this for her own thrill.

And Melissa on Shakesville said the following:

But most importantly, this idea that spouses cheat solely or mostly because they are lacking “love and kindness and respect and attention” at home is antiquated horseshit. Yeah, some spouses cheat for that reason. And plenty of others—especially men in positions like Spitzer’s—cheat because it’s exciting and fun and because they are self-indulgent narcissists who are stupid enough to believe they’ll never get caught.

Considering Dr. Laura’s analysis, I don’t doubt that this narcissistic entitlement can be fueled by the male ego being unable and/or unwilling to adapt to the notion that they are not the centre of the universe, despite what patriarchy entitles them to. But this is not women’s fault or feminism’s or the erosion of traditional gender roles that consolidate masculinity– it’s men’s own attitudes regarding their own masculinity that needs to be questioned a bit more.