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Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Make It Better

A number of you have probably already heard of Dan Savage’s It Gets Better Project, a series of video clips from gays and lesbians and their straight friends and family from across the country to let young LGBT youth know that bullying in middle and high school does eventually get better.  From Savage’s Savage Love column:

I wish I could have talked to this kid for five minutes. I wish I could have told Billy that it gets better. I wish I could have told him that, however bad things were, however isolated and alone he was, it gets better.
But gay adults aren’t allowed to talk to these kids. Schools and churches don’t bring us in to talk to teenagers who are being bullied. Many of these kids have homophobic parents who believe that they can prevent their gay children from growing up to be gay - or from ever coming out - by depriving them of information, resources, and positive role models.
Why are we waiting for permission to talk to these kids? We have the ability to talk directly to them right now. We don’t have to wait for permission to let them know that it gets better. We can reach these kids.

So I love everything about this project (with the exception that it was necessary in the first place).  I love the Savage is encouraging people to use our technology to reach others they never would have seen before.  I like the idea of providing hope to young people who don’t necessarily have a whole lot of it.  I like the call to allies, who are in this case privileged straight people, to jump into the issue and do some damn work.  But what I like the MOST about the project is that other activists have taken it and run with it.

The Make It Better Project, started in response to Savage’s call, is a collection of grassroots LGBT activists and organizers who are getting the word out about ways to stop LGBT bullying.  Let’s be clear - IGBP is a good start, but we want to stop this type of bullying from ever happening, period.  They’ve got a couple of really basic, really good action items on the site:

  1. Start a Gay/Straight alliance in your school, college
  2. Find out what local LGBT-friendly laws, or anti-bullying laws are up for a vote in your town.  Places like a local NOW chapter or GLAD can probably help with that.
  3. Start or join an event with the Week of Action, October 5th - October 11th (national Coming Out day).

I urge any and all of our readers to get involved in SOMETHING.  I’m still working on getting my own video up for IGBP, and figuring out what my men’s group can do in support of the Week of Action.  The more people we can get involved in the Make It Better Project, the better it’ll get for young people who think that there is no support in the world for them.

Since Savage started his campaign two weeks ago or so, there’ve been a spate of new LGBT youth who have committed suicide as a result of anti-gay bullying.  There isn’t a much clearer line from social pressures on gender presentation to damage than this.  Young men and women who are trying to exist as they are - as the natural personas they ought to be free to be, are being told by their friends, neighbors, family, and everywhere else that society does not allow them to be that way.  Sure, they can live, but only if they play by the majority’s rules, and the majority’s rules don’t allow for non-patriarchal, non-traditional gender conforming ways.

There wasn’t (as far as I know) much sexual violence involved in these teens’ suicides, but the background cause of the anti-gay bullying comes from pretty much the same place as rape apologism.  If you have the chance, check out Suzanne Phar’s book Homophobia: a Weapon of Sexism (it’s short and you can download it for free now).  If we can first of all, get the practical tools in place to prevent anti-gay bullying, like local school ordinances, then we can gradually start to phase it out of our world.  As homophobia gets weakened, the pillars on which it rests, like gender essentialism and hetero-normativity, also start to sway.

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Posted by Dave on 10/06 • (1) CommentsPermalink

Monday, September 27, 2010

Quick Hit

Cool article showed up yesterday on, about city councilor Ayanaa Pressley and her conversation with a pimp.  I didn’t have time to really dig into it too much, but it is an indication of our world right now: Ms. Pressley, a city councilor, is approached by a man who sells women for money.  That he did so, at all, shows that he’s probably off his rocker a bit, but also that there’s an on-going social message that women are available for men’s consumption.  Even if they are a city councilor.  Even if you are a presidential candidate.

It’s ridiculous and stupid that a pimp harassed our city councilor, but he’s only at the end of the spectrum by which we tell all men what women are for.

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Posted by Dave on 09/27 • (0) CommentsPermalink

Monday, September 20, 2010

Pipeline from Masculinity to Rape

When I was in high school, I played on my school’s illustrious soccer team.  I think we managed to lose every single game in my freshman year, but we improved over time.  By my senior year, we had compiled our best record in a decade in our division: 4-12, going 0-10 against teams actually in our division.  Due to chronic lack of funding for both the school and its athletic programs, our inability to retain a coach for more than a year, and social pressure for our good athletes to play basketball or run track, we never really had much of a chance on the field.  Luckily, because we had so few players (and even fewer goalies), I was never cut from the team, even though I probably should have been.  For two years, I was basically the only goalie we had, so I played almost every game for both our varsity and junior-varsity teams (although most of the squad played both levels; we only had like 22 people to make up two separate teams).

I’m remembering my time on the Governors (yes, our mascot was a big floating top hat) today because of another post written by our good friend Thomas over at the Yes Means Yes blog about compulsory masculinity.  This post isn’t new; he wrote it almost 9 months ago, but I found it fitting based on some conversations I had last week at SoJust’s awesome Connecting for Justice event.  I was talking to some folks over at Arts Emerson, who are bringing the Tectonic Theater Company up to Boston to perform the Laramie Project, the show based on Laramie, Wisconsin, the town where Matthew Shephard was killed in 1998.

Compulsive heterosexuality, the term coined by Dr. C.J. Pascoe in his book Dude, You’re A Fag (which Thomas is reviewing in the above post), is the set of behaviors boys take to ward off gender policing.  In the best possible light, these behaviors can be a way for boys to bond in a group, but in most cases, they are destructive actions used as a defense mechanism, to not get beaten up or thrown out of a peer group.  As history like Matthew Shephard’s death show us, in many cases, compulsive heterosexuality isn’t just stupid actions from stupid boys - they are real-life defense mechanisms for a culture that will kill young people who violate gender norms.

Thomas makes a number of fantastic parallels between these compulsive behaviors and rape culture - if you tell boys that the only way to entirely safeguard against gender policing is to have sex with women, some of them will do anything they can to do what we’re telling them to do.  This isn’t confusing; it’s just depressing.

This is making me think about my soccer team for one particularly depressing reason.  My high school was a large public, inner-city school in a busted, burnt-out town with little going for it.  New Haven was (and basically remains) a town crippled by poverty and disenfranchisement.  I was exceptionally lucky to have the protective and financially secure family that I do; most of my classmates did not.  Our team rarely got the necessary supplies to play.  A good chunk of my teammates used rolled-up cardboard for shin guards; we shared jerseys because the school couldn’t afford to get enough for everyone.  I donated both of my goalie shirts to the team, because when I was a senior, we didn’t have any more.  Most of the team was black or Hispanic; and even though we never had any sort of disciplinary actions of any sort leveled against us at any time that I was playing there (in fact I think we were nominated for some sort of division-wide “fair play” award), some of the other teams we played specifically asked our coaches not to come near their ball-bags or benches.  In one particularly memorable occasion, after we lost a tough but relatively good game, the other team only barely stopped to shake our hands, and ran off to their bus.  The story I heard (although I could never confirm it) was that the other team’s players were scared of us, and wanted to get back to their bus while we were still on the field to make sure we didn’t steal any of their supplies.

Here’s the end result of this story: the players on my team were exactly the type of boys who were denied masculinity at pretty much every other turn.  None of the conventional elements of male power were theirs - they had little money, they were not white, they have little sway with authority.  The culture in which that team floated told those guys all the same things it tells every other guy about what it’s supposed to mean to be a man - power, money, responsibility (to some extent), and dominance - but then withheld all of those things from them.

One of the end results of that thinking back on that now?  Excessive compulsive heterosexuality.  If we couldn’t have money, or power in any other sense, at least we could satisfy the “I fucked women” component of masculinity.  I don’t know if any of my teammates were actually gay or not, but I guarantee you that a good number of them (at age 14 and 15) were not having the sexual adventures they claimed in the locker room because I knew them outside of the team and knew what they were doing with their spare time.  The stories of scoring with the ladies, the boasting, the bragging - none of that was particularly terrible, but it is strange to think now that this was the only type of activity that we could engage in that would bond us.  A couple of the coaches even got in on it once or twice, I think mostly to try and calm down some of the more boisterous players.  I didn’t brag too much myself, one because I was much more introverted then than I am now, but also because I wasn’t sexually active in high school and I was terrified that if I talked up my fictitious exploits too much, I would be found out as an impostor.  I would lose whatever credibility I had on the team.  My coach must have noticed that I didn’t join in too often in those boy-bonding activities, and during a particularly rowdy huddle said something to the effect of, “you know, the guys who never talk about it are the ones getting the most play.” At the time, it was a nice gesture from him and it did give me a couple of minutes of fame.  But even his attempts to keep me from getting bullied or pushed around were compulsive heterosexuality.

I don’t want to confuse some of these bonding activities with more innocent bonding around or about sexuality.  Teenagers will and should talk (and joke, and poke fun of) their sexuality as they explore it, and not all or even most discussions amongst them about sex is going to be a problem.  The difference between that and compulsive heterosexuality is the othering it does, as usual, of women.  In yet another facet of masculinity, I find that women are not people, they are a prop (so, to keep track now: they’ve been children, they’ve been trophies, and now they are props).  They are the currency that boys, made insecure by a world that threatens them if they step out of the gender-conforming line, use to shore up those insecurities.

If we tell boys that the only way to prove that they are men is to fuck women, and then threaten them subtly with social sanctions or mild violence (or sometimes, you know, murder) if they don’t, what is the natural outcome of this equation?

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Posted by Dave on 09/20 • (3) CommentsPermalink

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Masculinity - what is it good for?

Sorry I’ve been a little absent, folks - I promise that once things calm down at school and I realize what I’ve gotten myself into, the regular Monday posting will resume as usual.  In the adjustment period, though, I might be a little more sporadic on account of I’m not sure where I am of what’s going on in the world.

What I do have for you today, though, is a cool site to check out when you have the chance: the masculine mystique rightly blamed.  Here’s a look at the “about” page:

In order to become fully human, men must reject the Masculine Mystique. Men must accept women fully into society as humans who are identical to themselves. Men must give up the entitlement of sexual access to any women they encounter, and take responsibility for the rape and abuse that they have wrought upon the whole of women across the globe.

There’s a lot more there; you should check it out.  It’s unapologetic.  I like the tone.

If you ever find yourself needing a good checklist, too, of privileges that men get in our society, they’ve got a great list for you.

While I just found the site the other night myself, and I need to dive a little more deeply into it, the authors echo a lot of the same sentiments that I’ve written here before (and that many, many, many feminist authors and writers and thinkers have elaborated in the past).  If we want to stop rape, if we want to end it, as opposed to ignore it, reframe it, push it to the side or try to manage it with casework, we need to attack its roots.  One of those pernicious roots is the current construction of masculinity which will by its definition cause rape.  It is unreasonable and unrealistic to expect that roughly half of the human population should create and rest its personal identity on violence, domination, and power without taking those personal identifications into the world with them in the form of actions that promote violence, domination, and unequal power.

There’s a future post somewhere about how one of the ways the current power structure keeps perpetuating itself is by convincing men and women that those same traits (violence, domination, and power) and sexy, but I haven’t put all those thoughts in order yet.

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Posted by Dave on 09/08 • (0) CommentsPermalink

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Words from a perpetrator

Sorry I’ve been a little absent, all - just started law school on Monday and I’m trying to get my sea legs.  It’s gonna take a little while before I figure out where I am and what I’m doing with myself as a student again, but in the meantime, this particular item caught my eye.  Many thanks to Leah for sending it my direction.

Major Trigger Warning for that link: it’s a reddit from a convicted rapist, who answered anonymous questions about his perpetration.  If you have the stomach for it, the perpetrator says some pretty insightful things about why he perpetrated.  I thought this part was the most to-the-point:

Q: Why did you do it? Do you regret hurting them? (I mean, actually, not just “I regret going to jail for it”.)
A: It’s not very satisfying, but I did it because I wanted it. I wanted them, I wanted to do what I did to them. The sexual arousal was intense, but the desire to overpower them, to take control was even more so. It was an urge that built and built until I surrenered [sic] to it.

I’m still trying to figure out what I think about this in general, but it was interesting seeing a perpetrator echo what sexual violence prevention folks have been saying for a long time.  Dominance, control, power - these are the roots of rape, not sexual arousal or being horny.


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Posted by Dave on 09/01 • (1) CommentsPermalink

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