Thursday, April 25, 2013

America: lousiest host ever

Okay, here's the deal. How it should be.

If you're in the United States for reasons beyond your control-- that is, you didn't decide to come here on your own, pay for it on your own, and physically get yourself here on your own-- you're entitled to the rights and responsibilities of U.S. citizenship. Additionally, if you're in custody of the U.S. in some way or another, the same goes. If it's a bunch of Americans who are patrolling outside the cell where you're spending day after day, year after year, even decade after decade, you deserve the kind of rights that every native-born American, living out his or her entire life on American soil, enjoys or should enjoy (and can sue if he/she doesn't receive). Like, you know, the right to due process.

All right? Because that's how a civilized country behaves.

A civilized country does not act as if people from other places are inhuman because they weren't lucky enough to burst into existence in a hospital room on American soil or haven't yet gotten the chance to complete the lengthy, tortuous, and utterly capricious experience of becoming a naturalized citizen.

A civilized country does not capture people and lock them up for years without charge or trial, regardless of where it found them or under what circumstances. It finds the time to actually figure out what they supposedly did to merit being locked away from anyone they know or even anyone who speaks their language, officially tells them what it is, and determines whether they're guilty of it. Then releases or punishes them accordingly.

A civilized country remembers that the tired and huddled masses yearning to breathe free are going to want to breathe its free air so long as such a thing exists. It does not respond by vacuuming all of it out and providing oxygen tanks to a selected few favored people, so that the undesirables can properly suffocate. It does not whine "They hate us for our freedoms" and proceed to eliminate those freedoms so that there's nothing left to hate.

And a civilized country would never be so cruel, so inhuman, so devoid of any shred of empathy, that it would fight to deny the ability of people who were brought here without any intention of their own, as children, to remain in that country instead of sending them packing to go live in a location and culture that's alien to anything they've ever known.

You got that, Kris Kobach?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A bit of mulling over

Following up on Sunday's post, I can't help but keep returning mentally to Dr. Darrel Ray's talk at Skeptics of Oz last month, which you can see and hear (both are important in this case) here.

In a nutshell, the thesis of Ray's talk (and, I assume, of his book Sex & God: How Religion Distorts Sexuality, although I haven't read it) is that the essence of religion-- in particular American Christianity-- is sexual control via shaming. Shame and guilt, actually-- Ray doesn't differentiate between the two, although I find the distinction between them very important. He says that religion causes people to be filled with sexual shame to the extent that even as they grow up and live out their lives as mature, sexually active adults, they are compelled to lie about that sexuality to themselves, their friends and family, and especially their children. They lie about the fact that they masturbate. They lie about the fact that they have sex outside of marriage, whether before, during, or after. They lie about sexual attraction being a part of them that exists quite independently of the desire to create and raise children, and as such isn't something which sprang into existence on their wedding day and exists only for the person they married.

In support of this position, Ray points to higher than average levels of divorce, pornography consumption, and teenage pregnancy in the more fundamentalist parts of the U.S. Sexual shame is the source of all this lying, he asserts, because we can't escape from being sexual beings, and yet religious people-- again, mainly American Christians-- yearn to escape this aspect of our nature so badly that they are driven to simply deny it. This shame manifests itself even people who have deconverted, as a vestigial part of our moral thinking as adults, which can be observed when the more secular amongst us nevertheless engage in activities such as slut-shaming against others as well as when they turn it inward and deny their own impulses. In order to properly reject this, Ray says, we must be "secular sexuals," embracing our own sexuality as well as that of other people-- to admit publicly that we masturbate and have since we were kids, to refrain from slut-shaming and condemn those who do, and recognize that other people have their own preferences and these are their own business. In this way, we can subvert the popular assumption that sex sullies a person-- particularly if she is female-- and encourage education while discouraging ignorance and bigotry.

Okay, that wasn't exactly a nutshell. Sorry.

Now, this was both a safe and audacious talk for Ray to give at a meeting like Skeptics of Oz. Audacious because those are some very strong claims-- the original claim was that religion is a "sexually transmitted disease," that religion is all about sexual control, religion is fundamentally about making people feel ashamed of their sexuality and deny it their entire lives even while dating, marrying, producing children, and in general living a typical adult sexual life. And religious people hearing this would think "No, that doesn't remotely describe my experience." Which, in America, for most religious people, is probably true. It's possible that religion in America is as much about sexual control as veterinary medicine is about euthanizing peoples' pets-- a phenomenon which is a near-monopoly, but far from an all-consuming purpose. Which leads to why it was a safe talk for Ray to give at a conference for skeptics-- because when it comes to conferences, "skeptic" generally entails, if not translates to, "atheist." (See this excellent talk by Matt Dillahunty at this year's American Atheists conference for what the distinction is, and why it's important.)

He wasn't likely to hear a lot of argument from the audience about religion's role in sexual shaming and deceit-- and in fact, there was none. And that is because, I feel comfortable in saying, we-- not just secular, but anyone other than socially conservative Americans-- are sick to death of social conservatism. And social conservatism, especially that relating to anything sexual, invariably comes with an appeal to religious sensibilities. Because this is America, Christian religious sensibilities. Abortion? God's against it. Birth control covered by health insurance? Same. Pornography? Same. Gay rights? Same (but please don't look at how many politicians and clergy have been caught having gay affairs). Sex outside of marriage? Same (but please don't examine how many of us have stuck to that). Adultery? Same (but please don't look at our divorce rates). We're used to this, if anything but happy about it. It's called the religious right, and it shows no sign of going away. So of course a group of secularists-- sworn enemies of the religious right-- are not going to speak up about a talk saying that religion (American Christianity) is, fundamentally, about sexual control.

I just think it's overstating things. Just a tad.

To be continued.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The miseducation of Katelyn Campbell

Katelyn Campbell
Recently in West Virginia, a teenager objected to a particularly obviously problematic form of abstinence-only education. Wait, let me rephrase that-- "Lying, slut-shaming diatribe" would be a better name for it. And the teenager in question, Katelyn Campbell, knew that's what it was. She even used the word "slut-shaming," which is just excellent. It's like a teenager being taught to "consider the controversy" in her biology class when learning about evolution immediately saying "Intelligent Design, right? That's really what you're getting at. Right?" Only in this case, it's as if Intelligent Design was the only thing being taught. And evolution was presented as a pack of lies. And students who believe in it were chastised, shamed, and told that their mothers probably hate them.

Yes, one of the things Pam Stenzel, Christian sex educator, said during her presentation was "If you take birth control, your mother probably hates you." Other common statements in her "educational" talks include gems such as:
  • “I could look at any one of you in the eyes right now and tell if you’re going to be promiscuous.” 
  • “Ladies, you contract Chlamydia one time in your life, cure it or not, and there is about a 25 percent chance that you will be sterile for the rest of your life.” 
  • ”That drug, that hormone, that pill, that shot that this girl is taking has just made her 10 times more likely to contract a disease than if she was not taking that drug.”
  • ”Students, condoms aren’t safe. Never have been, never will be.”
And my personal favorite,
  • "if you have sex outside of one permanent monogamous - and monogamy does not mean one at a time, that means one partner who has only been with you - if you have sex outside of that context, you will pay. No one has ever had more than one partner and not paid."
Campbell apparently knew about Stenzel and chose not to attend the assembly that she (Stenzel) would be speaking for at George Washington High School, where Campbell is a senior and student body vice president. Instead, she started speaking out about the issue and filed a complaint with the ACLU. This attracted the attention of the school's principal, George Aulenbacher, who called Campbell into his office and proceeded to lecture and, according to Campbell, threaten her
Aulenbacher called Campbell to the principal's office after she contacted media outlets about the assembly and said, "I am disappointed in you" and "How could you go to the press without telling me?" according to the complaint. 
He then allegedly threatened to call Wellesley College, where Campbell has been accepted, and tell them about her actions. "How would you feel if I called your college and told them what bad character you have and what a backstabber you are?" he said, according to the complaint.
In case you're wondering, it's all cool with Welleseley.

And it's probably all cool with Katelyn Campbell as well. In addition to Wellesley issuing a public statement saying it is "delighted to welcome" her as a member of the class of 2017, people are clamoring to congratulate Campbell for her bravery and maturity in this matter. And she deserves every bit of it-- she's one of those rare high school students to whom it would even occur to consider that something like the tirade by Pam Stenzel at her school might not just be hard to sit through, not just unpleasant, not just wrong, but possibly illegal...and then actually do something about it. Become a student activist.

Jessica Ahlquist did the same thing, and endured endless harassment and threats for it. It doesn't look Campbell is going to have the same experience, though there has been some backlash in the form of a Facebook group originating in support of her principal. Aulenbacher's threat itself proved to hold no water, and from what I've read if he had been more familiar with Wellesley he should have known this himself, but the fact is...he didn't. He thought he could intimidate a student into shutting up about her objections to an assembly, and that it would be a good idea to do so. If this is all true, he appears to be one of those public school administrators who clearly views his position as one of domination rather than education, and therefore should not be in that role. But it remains to be seen what happens there.

In the meantime, there's so much discussion about Pam Stenzel and her message. In this instance, her visit to George Washington High School was funded by a local Christian organization called Believe in West Virginia, and probably cost between $3,500-5,000. She has a DVD called "Sex Still Has a Price Tag" which she sells to public schools for $30 a pop. She claims to speak to over 500,000 young people a year, at both public and private schools. She attended Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, is supposedly a product of rape and then adopted (as described in her talks), and previously worked at crisis pregnancy centers (pseudo-clinics which are frequently run by pro-life groups and are known for providing pregnant women with false or misleading medical information to encourage them not to abort). The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States' (SIECUS) says of Stenzel:
Pam Stenzel
Pam Stenzel was one of the first individuals that SIECUS became aware of who made a career of traveling from school to school providing abstinence-only-until-marriage assemblies and presentations. The influx of federal abstinence-only-until-marriage funding has meant that more schools are able to pay for these kinds of services (or receive them for free as part of a grant to a local community-based organization, crisis pregnancy center, or church), and Stenzel and her peers have been very popular in recent years. There is much to suggest that there is now a network of abstinence-only-until-marriage speakers that help promote each other’s work and materials.
This comes from a lengthy and comprehensive review of her "Sex Still Has a Price Tag" video, which includes several fact-checks of statements she makes concerning birth control and sexually transmitted diseases, and notes that
Pam Stenzel does not attempt to hide the fact that her performance is designed to scare young people. She begins by telling her teen audience, “If you forget everything else I told you today, and you can only remember one thing, this is what I want you to hear. If you have sex outside of one permanent monogamous—and monogamy does not mean one at a time—that means one partner who has only been with you— if you have sex outside of that context, you will pay.” The rest of the presentation hammers home this concept by telling young people exactly what form this payment may take from unintended pregnancy, to STDs, to emotional heartbreak, to death. 
Ms. Stenzel’s tone throughout her presentation can best be described as punitive, as though she knows that some of the teens in this world (and some members of her audience) have had or will have sex outside of her parameters, and she wants them to know that they will be punished. Moreover, by suggesting that these teens deserve punishment, Ms. Stenzel presents a world view in which virginity is the only measure of a person’s character and moral judgment, and sets up a dichotomy between those who are “good” and those who are “bad.”
The review is worth a full read, though if you're anything like me, it will make you angry.

I can't help but mentally compare it to the DARE program, in which I recall being told outright that consumption of any illegal drug will cause you to become immediately addicted to it, which means that all people who use illicit drugs recreationally are addicts. That's an easily disconfirmable claim, even without consuming any such drug yourself-- all one need do is observe some users of illicit drugs who are not, in fact, addicts. However, Stenzel's "If you have more than one sexual partner, you will pay" lie is better and worse at the same time, because it's so much more easily disconfirmable. This statement can be shown as nonsense by simply observing that practically all Americans have sex before marriage, and multiple sexual partners in their lifetimes, and yet they don't appear to be "paying." At least, not in any way that is causally distinct from the way in which those precious few one-partner-forever people (or, of course, the lifelong celibate) are not "paying." As I've written before, waiting to have sex until you're married doesn't protect you from anything. And having a single sexual partner who has also had no other sex partner but yourself may protect you from STDs, but a) this describes practically no one, and b) Stenzel denies this, but condoms do work. Quite well, actually. These two facts together ruin her entire thesis. Further, the most common STD which most people get actually isn't that bad. Most people who contract it won't even know they have it. As SIECUS says,
In truth, the majority of HPV infections cause neither genital warts nor cervical cancer but, instead, resolve themselves spontaneously without medical intervention. Even HPV infections that cause warts can resolve without treatment. And, if young women do contract one of the strains of HPV that can cause cervical cancer, it typically takes 10–15 years once cervical cells begin to change before invasive cervical cancer develops.
So interestingly, in the process of de-stigmatizing premarital sex in response to people like Stenzel, we end up de-stigmatizing STDs as well. It's not that STDs aren't bad, of course, but they're not as bad as people like Stenzel like to portray, and worst of all of course is the fact that she continually emphasizes (erroneously) how bad STDs are while also denigrating effective means of protecting against them. This is moralizing standpoint, not a fact-based standpoint. Clearly, facts are not the important thing here. You don't tell people how to prevent house fires by telling them never to buy a house, or denying the efficacy of fire extinguishers.

In a few different places while reading about this story, I've seen people say that if you object to what Stenzel does, you must be fine with telling kids to have sex. You're endorsing an "anything goes" mentality. I'm not doing anything of the sort-- I know what I want teenagers to know about sex, and it isn't "Go forth and screw without regard for the consequences." At bare minimum, I want them to know the truth...yet I'm starting to wonder if that's asking too much.

Not only is Stenzel hiding facts from the kids she supposedly teaches; she's indoctrinating them with falsehoods. Harmful, counter-productive falsehoods. We really need to stop this practice of just inventing catastrophes and pretending that they're inevitable for kids who do whatever we don't want kids to do. Kids will see through this, because a) they're not stupid, and b) they grow up. And when they do, they will come to question everything they've been taught because this particular thing has been shown to be so absurdly false. And while I'm all in favor of thinking critically and questioning authority, it would be nice for public school students not to be taught complete nonsense which forces them to eventually learn the value of such things for themselves, gradually and painfully. That isn't education. Let's not stand for it.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Repost: cultural relativism

Cultural relativism: a moral standard that which maintains that cultural norms are good simply because they are cultural norms, and a person cannot judge the norms of one culture by the standards of another.

 A standard that is, in my view, complete bullshit. And if you thought a little more about what its logical implications are, I suspect you'd agree with me. That is because in order to maintain it consistently you would have to agree that you have no grounds to judge the morality of things like female genital mutilation, child rape, foot binding, and slavery, because these have all been cultural norms. A cultural norm is simply what has become the norm within a culture. And norms are sometimes really, really messed up. But a cultural relativist may not say this, because projecting your cultural values and norms on another culture is wrong! 

Really? What about the people who are suffering because of those norms? Are you doing them any favors by refusing to judge the people harming them? What if they didn't sign up to be subjected to this crap, and would just as soon not be treated as property, not be raped, not be mutilated, and so on? What if they would be better off living by your cultural norms, which lean more toward treating people as equals? Maybe your cultural norms are not just norms for the sake of it, but because some very compassionate and insightful people thought and then fought for a very long time to ensure that the weaker members of society are not subjected to the things that pass as norms in other cultures. Maybe cultural norms are not all created equal. 

Regarding the rural Ecuadorians-- maybe encouraging them to spend their time, energy, and resources on developing and practicing medicine which actually isn't medicine at all is not doing them any favors. Maybe, if they knew what real medicine was and had access to it, they would not be flattered by the fact that you considered their previous cultural practices so charming that you didn't deem it necessary to help them understand what actually works as medicine and what doesn't. After all, they're long-lived and generally happy! Why not just let them keep slaughtering small animals if it makes them feel good? That's just as good as modern medicine! I'm sure when one of them gets cancer he/she is perfectly fine bathing in bat blood and listening to incantations instead of having the tumor removed.

Of course most people are not, in fact, consistent cultural relativists-- they pick and choose the ways in which it is okay to impose their cultural norms on other societies. Even if they wouldn't support invading another country to stop women from being put to death for having pre-marital sex, they won't hesitate to condemn the practice. That's what a moral person does...condemn barbarism, wherever it takes place. The only people who are done a favor by the refusal to condemn are, of course, the barbarians.

I apologize for my vehemence here....I really do. And to be clear, I am not saying that members of any culture should go around trying to force other cultures to be like theirs. I'm saying that the idea that a person should not come to moral conclusions about behavior that goes on in a culture other than his/her own is not only gravely mistaken but dangerous, and immoral in itself. Human rights are called human rights because they belong to all humans, not some of them depending on what culture they happened to be born in. The people who define cultural norms are the ones with the power, and the ones with the power are very often wrong. We should feel no compunction about saying so, whether they're powerful in our own culture or another. -- Source:

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Will the real Islamophobes please stand up?

Richard Dawkins in a still from The Root of All Evil?
No, you don't have to have read the Qur'an to have opinions about Islam.
Legitimate opinions.
Even scientific opinions.
There, I said it.

Look, I understand that there's this common assumption that a religion can be summed up in its text. That all believers in a religion believe that the text is the true, unchanging word of God and therefore it can be assumed that the text dictates their beliefs in all regards, which means that adherents of a religion who don't abide by (your interpretation of) their faith's text are either renegades or hypocrites or both.

The problem with this is it's not true.

It's a myth perpetuated by religious believers who think that because their faith is based on a belief in the text of their religion, wholly and completely, and everybody else who either openly (by their words) or more implicitly (by their deeds) does otherwise is not a true insert-religion-here.

In reality, religion is as much about behavior as it is about belief. In reality, not everybody believes that religious texts are the end-all and be-all of their beliefs. And when they do believe this, it would be the understatement of the year to say that their interpretations of those texts differ (heck, some religions don't even have texts). In reality, probably the worst thing someone could do when trying to evaluate the effects of religion would be to listen to what religious believers themselves say is a true representation of their faith, and only base their assessments on that. Because-- apologies if this sounds harsh-- they don't get to decide what their religion is and does. At least, not for anyone but themselves. The fact of what self-proclaimed adherents say and do is what determines that. And what self-proclaimed adherents say and do is often not in line with what their texts say they should say and do. Sometimes unconsciously, and sometimes very deliberately.

Yes, I'm aware of how central the Qur'an is to Islam. I am aware of the belief that the Qur'an should not even be translated into a language other than Arabic, because Arabic is believed to be God's own tongue and any reading of the text in another language is therefore inherently flawed and mistaken. I am also aware of the astonishing diversity of beliefs and behaviors on the part of self-professed Muslims regardless.

I am aware that text does not dictate what religion is.
I am annoyed by believers and atheists alike who pretend otherwise.

I also know, for that matter, what real Islamophobia is.
Real Islamophobia is a distortion of reality which makes Muslims inherently lesser by virtue of being Muslim. Real Islamophobia constructs conspiracies of what Muslims believe and do and shrieks about those, rather than things Muslims actually believe and do. Real Islamophobia is "creeping Sharia" in Oklahoma. It's "Obama is secretly a Muslim." It's "Muslims don't have the same rights as we do because Islam is not a religion; it's a political agenda-- so let's ban the construction of a Muslim worship center anywhere near Ground Zero." It's "We should forbid Muslims from immigrating to our country, because they will take it over and ruin it." It's differentiating Muslims from "us" in the first place. It's rampant in the US and the EU alike, and it's disgusting. It is bigotry. It is wrong.

You know what doesn't make you an Islamophobe? Criticizing Islam without having read the Qur'an.

Now, I should stipulate that I'm not saying that Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens aren't Islamophobes (wasn't one, in Hitchens' case). In fact, they may well be/have been. Failing to differentiate between Islam (belief) and Muslims (people) is a good sign of it, and I think all three have done that.

You shouldn't treat beliefs like people, or people like beliefs, which is one of the reasons why focusing on the text of a religion is so problematic when you're trying to discuss what the people who actually practice that religion are doing. Sure, you might accuse them of cherry-picking as a last resort if you find that they are actually friendly, polite, non-bigoted, genuinely decent people in spite of the nasty things you've found in the text to which they ostensibly adhere. But you can't make them examples of the great evil that their religion purportedly inflicts on the world, and when talking about this great evil you are not only doing them an injustice but are factually incorrect when you implicate them in your accusation. That's the problem.

I know it's a little more complex than just parroting "He hasn't read the Qur'an and yet says bad things about Islam; he must be a bigot." But the interests of accuracy and arguing in good faith (sorry), try and get it right.

Oh, and try not asserting that all atheists (or even "New Atheists") must agree. Not only do we not have a text; we don't have clergy either...not being a religion, and all.

Friday, April 12, 2013

The most concise explanation of how marriage equality threatens the institution of marriage

...comes from James Sweet, in a comment on Dispatches:
For some people, marriage is still an institution that is defined by proscribed roles. The man has certain rights and responsibilities (mostly the former), and the woman has certain rights and responsibilities (mostly the latter), and these are handed down by God and should not be questioned — and even if you don’t agree with the theological angle, our culture has defined it that way, so you’ll be safe from Jeebus’ fig tree-hatin’ wrath either way.  
Same-sex marriage, by not filling the “appropriate” genders, challenges the notion that proscribed gender roles are necessary for a successful marriage. If two men can have an effective relationship, and one of them fulfills the role that was “supposed” to be assigned to the woman (or, GASP, even more sinful, if they work out their own individual division of responsibilities in an equitable and loving way, that doesn’t necessarily conform to 1950s gender stereotypes — oh god I can’t believe I typed that GET THEE BEHIND ME SATAN!) then the next thing you know, women in heterosexual relationships will be wavering on the whole “unquestioned obedience” principle. It’s a slippery slope, you know?  
Despite some sarcasm in that last paragraph, I’m not joking at all. Marriage equality poses a direct threat to the patriarchy. So in that sense, the wingnuts are dead-on accurate: If your definition of the institution of marriage inherently requires a patriarchal arrangement, marriage equality is corrosive towards that institution.

Bravo. I have nothing to add to that.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

10 ways the opposition to gay marriage insults all of us

What I didn't mention in the previous post about the purpose of marriage, because I intended to discuss it in this post, is that marriage currently serves-- for many people, at least-- the purpose of cementing gender roles. The single biggest fear of gay marriage opponents honestly seems to be that if men are allowed to marry men and women are allow to marry women, both men and women will forget the paths in life which they were assigned by God himself, which will bring about the destruction of society itself. No, I'm not exaggerating. Let me give you some examples:

1. "A child has a right to his/her biological father and mother"
Who this insults:
No, my wife and I are not of the same sex; I am a man and she is a woman. But we are infertile. We did not procreate. For the past nine years, we have been the adoptive parents of our daughter; we are legally her mother and father, but not biologically, and since Tuesday have been surprised and saddened to be reminded that for a sizable minority of the American public our lack of biological capacity makes all the difference — and dooms our marriage and our family to second-class status.
  • And single parents, obviously-- parents to 25% of America's children. Children who are not necessarily doing any worse than those raised by two parents at once and in some ways might be doing better? Insulting to them, too.
2. "Young people just favor gay marriage because TV tells them to." -- Really? 
Who this insults: Anybody who is young, pro-gay marriage, and watches TV.

3. "Same-sex marriage would just allow feminists to marry each other and leach off the state. Men would be used for their sperm and money but otherwise unwanted." -- Yes, somebody actually claimed this
Who this insults:
  • Feminists, because supporting the radical notion that women are people does not make you a gold-digger. Or a lesbian.
  • Men, because they have more to offer than cash and sperm. 
  • People legitimately on welfare, because hey, apparently they could just get gay married and all of their problems would be solved!
4. "Gay marriage will lead to people marrying their dogs, goats, cows, etc."
Who this insults: Anybody who doesn't think of their spouse as an animal. Well, a non-human animal.

5. "Gay marriage cannot be legalized because homosexual relationships don't produce children."
Who this insults: Our intelligence.
Who else this insults:
  • People who know that sexual orientation is an orientation and not a legal mandate or a natural law-- gay people have occasionally been known (as in, a significant portion of the time in which the stigma against homosexuality was sufficient to make it illegal) to have straight sex, which has been known to create babies. 
  • Adoptive parents, again. 
  • People who want to get married with no intention of having children, either because of physical inability or because they just don't want to. The comfortably infertile. The childfree. The elderly. 
6. "Gay marriage will destroy marriage as an institution. Men and women will no longer want to marry each other."
Who this insults: Straight men and women, who represent the overwhelming majority of people who are sexually and romantically attracted to each other, and always will. 

7. "Gay sex is icky."
Who this insults: 
  • Straight couples whose sexual repertoire include mundane and commonplace practices such as anal sex (which, let's be honest, is the only kind people who say this are thinking of).
  • Men specifically. Because certain sexual practices have been designated as off-limits to them, however enjoyable they might be, because of the association with homosexuality. Point of order: If a woman is doing it to you/with you, it's not gay. 
8. "Marriage equality will lead to 'sexual anarchy.'"
Who this insults: 
  • People who are aware that being gay is not the same as being polyamorous or a hedonist
  • Actual polyamorists and the hedonists
  • People who are in monogamous relationships and like it that way. 
9. "Legalizing gay marriage leads to the destruction of a nation."
Who this insults:
Nations which have legalized gay marriage and yet somehow have managed to avoid destruction. Such as Denmark (the first country to recognize same-sex civil unions in 1989, which legalized gay marriage in 2012),  the Netherlands (legalized gay marriage in 2001), Mexico (2009), Portugal (2010), South Africa (2005), and many others. 

10. "Legalizing gay marriage would corrupt the institution of marriage."
Who this insults:
Anyone who is married. Who wants to be married. Who has ever thought about being married. Because it suggests that their commitment to a (hopefully) lifelong relationship with the person they love could be "corrupted" by the fact that two people of the same sex are able to make the same commitment. 

If you have doubts about whether some of these arguments have actually been made, please see this list. Tom Junod, who wrote about how the supposed right to a biological father and mother is an affront to his relationship with his adopted daughter, says:
I was not the only one to reject out of hand the logical fallacy of what might be called the “zero sum” defense of traditional marriage, and before long I started hearing an argument based on biology or, as groups such as the National Organization for Marriage would have it, “nature.” For all its philosophical window dressing — for all its invocation of natural law, teleological destiny, and the “complementary” nature of man and woman — this argument ultimately rested on a schoolyard-level obsession with private parts, and with what did, or did not, “fit.” There was “natural marriage” and “unnatural” marriage, and it was easy to tell the difference between them by how many children they produced.
Fundamentally, the greatest fear of gay marriage opponents is something we all should be concerned about. It's the fear of their losing the ability to tell men how to be men and women how to be women, which is what "rigid gender roles" means. Gay marriage opponents have planted a flag in the notion that men and women are not just different, but different in ways that make it a crime against nature and morality for there to be two husbands without a wife, or two wives without a husband....which says some very restrictive and unfortunate things about what they believe it means to be a wife or a husband. A man or a woman. Things we all should reject, if we don't enjoy being told what to be.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Forward Thinking: What is the purpose of marriage?

Libby Anne and Dan Finke at Patheos have started a project called Forward Thinking, which is a series of questions they put to bloggers to encourage them to think productively. The replies to these questions are then rounded up and a new prompt posted. This is my second crack at it. The first can be found here. This round's question is actually three questions, so I'll answer them in order.

What do you believe should be the purpose of marriage in our society today? 

The purpose of marriage is to confer government and societal benefits on people who have established what they intend to be long-standing attachments to another person who isn't a relative by blood or adoption, because these are considered to be the basis of new family units and turn individuals into households. Do I believe that should be their purpose? Sure, I suppose. It's awfully handy to have what you already consider a binding attachment to someone officially recognized, because otherwise the people with the most legal control over your life besides yourself, who will get to inherit your stuff and make decisions for you in the event of you falling into a coma, are your family. And family can be wonderful, but sometimes it isn't. You didn't choose your ancestral family, but you can choose your spouse-- sort of. So marriage, as practiced in places where it isn't arranged, can be a means for the individual to have some more autonomy that way. But I think realistically, marriage results in less autonomy overall. When we think about freedom most of us don't think first about who will get our stuff when we die or who gets to decide whether to unplug our brain-dead selves from life support if such necessity should arise, but rather our daily existence. And marriage gives another person, and the government, more control over our daily existence. Most people seem happy to make that trade-off, however, and sociological research says that married people are happier in general.

Another thing marriage does is prioritize certain kinds of relationships-- namely, romantic ones (again, in places where marriage is not arranged). There isn't any particular benefit to the rest of society if two (or more) people fall in love, and the benefits they receive by being marriage don't require them to love each other. Romantic love is a pretty strong glue, and I'm not saying that people who don't love each other should get married, but there are other kinds of love besides the romantic variety. Other glues are good too. I don't see any particular reason they couldn't be just as good for sticking people together and calling it marriage.

What do you personally see as the purpose of marriage for your own life? 

As discussed in my recent post on getting rid of the "premarital" in "premarital sex," I'm not married. And it's not because of some scary precedent set in my own family-- my parents just had their 45th anniversary and are going strong, and both of my brothers are in happy marriages. My eldest brother got married in 2009, and prior to the wedding my mother and I had an interesting exchange. It went something like this: "Your brother is going to be the best man, and her sister the maid of won't be part of the wedding party." "Oh, that's okay-- I still get to be there!" "Yeah, I knew you wouldn't mind." I'm really not very into weddings.

And, an even bigger indicator, I'm not into having kids. At all. Both of my brothers went into marriage expecting to have kids, which is good-- that's something you should definitely figure out ahead of time, in case your spouse-to-be does not! But I attended that wedding in 2009 with my boyfriend at the time, whom I'd been with for ten years. Not a smidge of a desire for kids in either of us, and unmarried. And, not too much later, we broke up. I don't think that had anything to do with our not being married-- if we had been married, we would have had a divorce on our hands rather than a break-up.

So I guess at least at this point, the purpose of marriage in my life is nil. While I'm quite capable of loving and being in love, and while a big party with my family and friends with nice gifts and a vacation following sounds awesome, that's like thinking you want a dog because you like puppies. Don't get a dog unless you want the dog.

And finally, what responsibilities, duties, and/or obligations do you believe marriage should entail?

I don't like being all normative about other people's relationships-- there is no one-size-fits-all model for the perfect marriage, just as there isn't for any other committed relationship. So I'd say that the same applies for both, which is that a successful relationship is most likely for two (or more) people who want the same things (mostly), and are able to work out between them how to go about getting them. This generally means setting standards for themselves and expectations for each other, and then following through on those. If your relationship doesn't forbid X and someone else's does, then in their relationship it's a responsibility to avoid X while in yours it is not-- and vice versa. Relationship advice columns are not completely useless because there are some things that most people in relationships can be counted upon to want-- that doesn't mean, however, that there's any particular reason they should want them, aside from the fact that they do. Your relationship, your rules.

If that's the case, then the best ways to fail are a) failing to meet expectations that have been set in your relationship, and b) failing to set any expectations at all, just assuming that your partner already knows everything you expect, presumably by osmosis or something. The best "duty" to have in a relationship is to communicate. To say what you want and think and how you feel, and then listen to what your partner wants and thinks and feels. If you don't do that, what's the point of being attached to them in the first place?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

He didn't even win the girl

From Yahoo! Sports:
Peter Sagan may have finished second in the Tour of Flanders in Belgium on Sunday, but he definitely took first when it came to "jokes" that backfired in a big way. 
Sagan, a 23-year-old cyclist from Belgium, is attracting plenty of criticism from the cycling world and beyond after he pinched the backside of a podium girl during the medal ceremony. The mischievous grin on Sagan's face suggests he was hamming it up for the cameras that were trained on him, but he quickly learned the error of his ways once the photo made its way around the Internet. 
"Shame that Peter Sagan has so much class on a bike and so very little off of it," fellow rider Michael Hutchinson later tweeted. The photograph has actually opened up a much-needed debate about the presence of the smooch-happy podium girls and the ingrained objectification of women in the world of cycling. Is the winner taking home a cycling title or an armful of women? It sends the wrong message, especially for young women actually looking to hop on a cycle instead of a cyclist. 
More than a few people have pointed out that the woman in question was planting a wet one on the cheek of winner Fabian Cancellara, as if that meant she were somehow asking for it. Of course she wasn't, but the mixed messages the "tradition" sends is proof enough that it's time to come up with a better way to celebrate a win. 
I saw some of these "more than a few" posting in the comments on Yahoo. Apparently a voluntary expression of affection toward one person = implicit agreement to any and all such expressions from others. Or, more realistically (and more depressingly), a woman who agrees to be used for ornamentation shouldn't object when she gets treated as if her own wishes don't matter, and nobody else should object on her behalf.


I didn't even know there was "ingrained objectification of women in the world of cycling" until today. But apparently so. I guess "podium girls" are the equivalent of ring girls and booth babes?