You have the right to remain similar (or different in a way that doesn’t scare people)

One in ten driven underground, divisions getting wider. Hide your inclinations behind a straight face and a bible. Third Reich morality, and if the cap doesn’t fit, there’s a designer label for hypocrites.

-Chumbawamba, “Smash Clause 28


I was very pleased to read Alex Gabriel's article in this week's readings, “Gay Marriage Has Its Queer Critics Too”. Gabriel explores a number of concerning elements accompanying the most recent wave of “marriage equality" campaigns, focusing as well on the rhetoric of politicians up whose agendas same-sex marriage has rapidly crept in recent years and the discourse that surrounds the homosexual subject in the context of state-observed union. Gabriel’s criticism, and visibility for this kind of criticism is crucial at the moment. Like Alex, I worry that once marriage "equality" is achieved, "
all other crises will be forgotten,”.

Gabriel highlights a subject category that arises from the same-sex marriage campaign that is also worrying. In aiming to establish an “equality” between homosexual and heterosexual partnerships, the discourse usually reduces the queer relationship categories to man-man or woman-woman and those who are Down To Marry (excluding the very young, trans folk, those who eschew monogamy, the persecuted, the uncomfortable, those in straitened economic circumstances, the closeted-by-necessity, the working-class or lumpenproletariate, et al). As Gabriel writes, the implication is that to be equal is to be monogamous and to be monogamous in a way that doesn’t significantly threaten heterosexual relationship tropes. Perhaps David Cameron says more than he means to when he says that his support of same-sex marriage is born entirely of conservatism.

But the saddest part of all of this pretentiously progressive political point-scoring is what this pigeonholing does to the remainder of the queer milieu. By creating these new categories, these “equal” queers, Gabriel points out, the rest of the queer community is left behind in mainstream consciousness. The queer movement as reflected and engaged by the media (and therefore the world) has become a staggering single-issue monster, unconcerned with suicide rates of gay teens, unemployment rates of trans folk or the mutilation of intersex children. It is a comfortable, affluent, shiny-grinned queer that engages with the hetero mainstream now. That’s what politicians want, that’s what the media wants, and it’s sure as fuck what all the other straight couples want. The queer movement reduced to an attractive middle-class subculture, with all the freaks sanitised and dropped in a ditch somewhere. And churches and registry offices and branches of I-FUCKING-kea and primary school parents evenings full of charming motherfucking beige-ass queers with ambiguous haircuts. Hell, if you didn’t look twice, they could almost pass for heterosexuals.

Almost.

image


The author would like to apologise for going on a pissed-off rant. He hates David Cameron and hopes he falls over this week.


(via senorliblor)


Decisions you aren’t qualified to make about your life and body

The readings by Peterson and Sullivan this week both touch on the issues of medicine, surgery and the female body. Both articles (about assisted reproduction technology and female genital mutilation, respectively) reveal levels of inequity in the dominant discourses of the woman as a consumer of medical and surgical services, and the woman as an agent of her own physical and medical destiny.

                                                                                                               First, Dr Madelyn Peterson’s article, "Assisted reproductive technologies and equity of access issues". Peterson explores the reproductive technologies that allow infertile women a greater chance of success at falling pregnant. Peterson writes that the technology caused some controversy in its (pardon the pun) infancy, with opponents suggesting that psychological or social problems could result from the ready availability of the technology. Dr Peterson suggests that the kneejerk died down eventually and the technology became more widely used and accepted as it became clear that IVF children were no more likely than others to be chronically ill, destroy the nuclear family or become socially disruptive.

Peterson goes on to examine, however, how the private practitioners that provide ART and the legislation surrounding it has managed to keep ART reproduction regulated to reflect traditional, paternal and heteronormative reproductive values. By giving practitioners broad and ambiguous rights to assess the happiness of a hypothetical child and judge the worth of potential parents, and in some jurisdictions actually upholding the rights of clinics who require a male partner to give permission for ART to be administered, policymakers reinforce the accepted social norms that state that reproductive labour must be undertaken by women in relationships with men. Single women, lesbians or others with non-typical family arrangements are thus successfully written out of the reproductive narrative by a straight male hegemony.


Associate Professor Nikki Sullivan’s article, “The Price to Pay for our Common Good”, tackles the journalistic, political and public treatment of the cultural phenomenon known as Female Genital Mutilation. Sullivan mentions that while very clear wording in the States Crimes Act bans acts of FGM, similar procedures may be performed electively (and are) on so-called “Austalian” [English-speaking non-migrants] women as an elective surgery. While Canadian law actually makes a distinction between genital surgery on consenting adults and non-consenting children, the Australian legislation makes no such clarification. It would seem it were up to the prosecutor to decide when and when not to prosecute a surgeon who performs these procedures. “Corrective” surgeries on non-consenting infants with intersex genitals is also allowed to slide past the legislators, despite the strong wording of the legislation.

In both of these examples, we see technology and politics colluding to maintain the sex and gender status quo and punish challenges to it. The choice to uphold the right of ART providers to refuse access to non-typical families ensures that non-typical families have a harder time starting. The choice to only prosecute surgeons who perform genital surgical procedures that are found culturally irksome ensures that the majority of genital surgical procedures being performed are ones to keep vulvas nicely shaped and easily identifiable in case of doubt.

                                                                                                              I don’t want to live on this planet anymore.


"Please send all nude photos to the email address below if you want to meet a considerate, old-fashioned gentleman"

Man seeks woman. Must be interested in film, breathing oxygen and converting protein intake into muscle energy

-Mark Corrigan, “Peep Show

Elizabeth Jagger’s 1998 article, “Marketing the Self, Buying an Other: Dating in a Post Modern, Consumer Society”, a content analysis of personal advertisements, seeks to examine whether previously conceived notions of what heterosexual men and women offer and seek in order to attract partners stands up in analysis of the then-contemporary newspaper advertorial dating scene. Jagger’s findings indicate that in the sphere of ’90s romantic self-advertisement there were some unsurprising similarities in how men and women advertise themselves (both market body and personality consistently above other attributes) there were also some more interesting results (women and men near-equally likely to market themselves using markers of economic resources). Jagger’s findings give good insight into the ways in which the mainstream male and female identities had developed somewhat by the end of the ’90s away from the man as “breadwinner” and woman as housebound or low-paid dependent and given women and men greater options about the eponymous “marketing [of] the self” and “buying [of] an other” in the dating market. Jagger also identifies an increasing body consciousness in men, which she suggests is related to the increasing importance of the male physical aesthetic in the consumerist zeitgeist. Traditionally able to market on resources or social position, men at the end of last century were beginning to demonstrate a heightened awareness of the body and responsiveness to themselves as objects of the “female gaze”.

Meanwhile, Alan Han's 2006 article, “I Think You’re The Smartest Race I’ve Ever Met: Racialised Economies of Queer Male Desire" explores the author’s personal experiences in the queer dating scene as an Asian male moving in white queer male circles. Han’s experiences indicate that in these circles, Asian men are considered unattractive due to racist perceptions of penis size, the media (in particular segments of the queer media) presenting a feminised and "castrated" image of Asian male bodies (consider the linked image of an Asian man, presented at an angle to appear slim at the waist, and both framed and posed to eliminate the suggestion and profile of the model’s genitalia). Han also explores the phenomenon by which the sexual involvement of queer white with queer Asian men is used to define men as outsiders from the mainstream white queer community. Both the white men who pursue these relationships, Han asserts, and the Asian men who are pursued, are looked on as beneath contempt by the larger queer community. The Asian men in these relationships are treated to further symbolic castration and expected to enhance their feminine attributes in order to remain attractive to older queer white men.

Both Han and Jagger highlight the marked affect that awareness of one’s body (and the body of others) reflects the way their subjects pursue sexual and romantic fulfilment. In both examples, I also got to thinking about the effect that the media and our consumer society has on these attitudes. I went looking for examples of how Asian men are currently portrayed in the queer media. I found that even a few years on from Han’s article (itself about experiences that seem to be rooted in the early noughties [or is it naughties? Please shoot me if I ever say either aloud]) that the queer Asian male is still largely depicted as Han had reported. Either a lean, boyish figure projecting a sort of barely-pubescent fantasy; or the masculine but still camp and genitally ambiguous Asian male as linked above; finally, and still surprisingly common, is the Asian man as the full-blown effeminate exotic. See below.

Attendant to these reflections on the representation of Asian males in the queer media, I want to finish on a structuralist analysis of what’s going on here. In our last tutorial, my group and I had a bit of a chat about the discourse that influenced the experiences in Han’s essay, and accordingly I jotted notes down to reproduce here as if it was my own work (tell no-one!)

Denotation: Asian men are unattractive

Connotation: Asian men are inherently less attractive than white men

The myth: Asian men have small pricks and are effeminate

Ideological state apparatuses: Media, advertising, the white queer culture

Socio-economic order: Capitalism, consumerism and colonialism (consider espec. the white history of imperial/commercial interest in Asian lands and labour)

Sorry there were no pithy jokes this week.


Scoop! Women more x than men about y-ing z!

It’s because you see them as some alien species that needs to be conquered with trickery. They’re not — they’re people.


-Dave Lister, "Red Dwarf"



Cordelia Fine's 2010 “Delusions of Gender" begins its second chapter, "sex and premature speculation”, with a short history of women’s supposed, and scientifically endorsed, inferority to men. Fine reports on the folleys of empirical studies gone-by, on their “tape measures and weighing scales”, their “facial verticality” relationships and “cephalic” indices as a segue into the “traps” into which researchers may fall in work on sex differences, when emphasising supposed differences in findings between the sexes. While scientific reasoning and practice have improved their technology, Fine writes that differences in brain activity between men and women are reported and linked by authors of studies to the man-woman biological dichotomy even when they are sometimes statistically insignificant, where as the statistically significant similarities are very rarely reported in gendered terms, simply because male/female differences are “more interesting” (what is called the “file-drawer phenomenon”).

The predisposition which Fine identifies in reporting of male/female differences in statistical analyses of scientific investigations (and particularly the biased reportage of same) interests me particularly, because every day on the train I read somebody else’s newspaper (they don’t mind, they’re usually asleep. I hear cocaine lunches on Collins street really mess with older lawyers by home-time). Peppered generously among the stories of burger-bar stabbings and pop-stars falling over are a slew of stories (usually in the “isn’t this hilarious but fascinating?” section, curiously) with titles following the formula “women found to be more x than men” “women react more xly to y than men” “men outperform women in x test of y during brain scans”. These stories are often associated with some study or another, and elucidate upon the recent university or clinic study which has identified that women are more/less capable of a certain task, have one or another type of brain function that men lack or are one or another way predisposed as opposed to men. Oftentimes, these stories are based on dubious analysis of ambiguous studies.

A couple of recent articles stood out, such as this piece in The Saratogian written by Libby Copeland, which (despite coming to some reasonable conclusions about the reasons women self-report for their choice of motorcar) includes the opinions of a psychiatrist and marketerClotaire Rapaille, who contends that the reptilian section of the female brain reacts differently to safe and rational decisions. His opinion is that cup-holders in particular are the make-or-break factor in automobile purchase. His opinion is, to an extent, based on symbolism (“cup holders signify coffee… and coffee signifies safety,” according to Rappaille). Whether Rapaille’s bizarre speculation is based on anything more substantive than his own biases and sexism isn’t really explored, but the opinions of the psychiatrist and his contemporaries seems enough to convince the sub-editor that the article deserves the title “Women More
Rational Than Men About Buying Cars”.

A reflection on Copeland’s article highlights the extent to which journalists seem to give priority to any study that identifies sex differences. The psychiatrist at least presents promising credentials, and this goes some way to encouraging editors and readers of medium circulation periodicals to take him at his word. It certainly makes for a provocative headline. However, a quick google search reveals that editors actually set the threshold exceptionally low for making hard-and-fast generalisations about half the population, when we investigate the language used by Dr Charles Fiscella in a recent Health column in The Irish Central.

Fiscella writes on a recent study by the University of Maryland that has "confirmed" that "chatty Cathy" (the phrase is actually used) women talk more than taciturn men (who presumably spend all of their time grunting and looking around at floor level for huge lumps of red meat to fuck, if we follow the stereotype dichotomy). What’s more, writes Fiscella, the boffins have even established “why”. There’s a protein, “FOXP2" that occurs more in the brains of women studied than in men. What’s barely approached in the article, introduced as it is by an anachronistic image of a smiling fifties woman grinning into a phone, is how reliable this information is. Because the snag as I see it is that the information was all collected from brains scooped out of recently deceased toddlers. 

One assumes that the streets of Maryland are not thick with toddler corpses (what with their recent record low crime and accident rates), so it’s reasonable to guess that only a handful of brains were inspected. Remembering Fine’s chapter, I am suspicious of any sex-line-drawing study which uses a small sample size to draw generalising conclusions. Further, the articles which draw on the study identify the findings as applicable to “men” and “women”. This is a leap in logic, given that the findings were established by inspecting children. No time or column inches are given to the possibility that the prevalance of this protein is dependent on age. The line is drawn and the assumption made: a handful of children of two sexes showed a difference in a protein that may be involved with speech. Therefore, the verbosity of a grown woman (which sitcoms have taught us is absolute) is explicable by physical laws. Now we can sleep soundly.

For balance, here’s Tip Top Gash's chart, “Traditional Gender Dynamics in Conversation”. I'd be more inclined to believe Gash's assessment, and I won't be swayed by the slaughter of a thousand toddlers (although I'll try anything once).