Archive for February, 2010

15
Feb
10

Power Struggles

During recent conversation, my viewing of a related movie, and readings and comments on other blogs; I have been contemplating power.  Not political power so much as the power and possibilities of social structures as a whole.

Durkheim said the whole is more than the sum of its parts.  Mead theorized that people become societies in miniature.   These are both correct in their own theory and in interaction with each other.

Durkheim’s theory can show us a great deal about negative reactions to modern feminism (as can each of these).  Many men see modern feminism as an attack on masculinity and on men as a whole.  I think this is partially true.  True because the social structure that allows men (or any empowered group) privilege will also draw much of that privilege away as the margins begin to blur or change completely.  Point being, while the parts may seem at times to be targeting the individual, in reality they are targeting the larger social structure (the whole vs the parts).

As far as Mead, as the whole begins to change, the individual may feel the same stress that the social structure is experiencing.  As the structure begins to shift, so do the thoughts and feelings of the individual.  While to many, this may seem a good thing, to others it is not.  Again, there is a growing sense of disempowerment among men.  Masculinity is attacked and thus feminism is vilified.  As perhaps, it should be.  Feminism as a theory is not bad, but many feminists push their political agendas to the breaking point, forcing others to agree with their opinions or be damned.  Really, this is against the basis of feminist theory.  Equality does not include knocking the “other” down a few pegs.  (Stay with my, there is a point here.)  People are indeed the society in miniature.  As masculinity and masculine men are attacked, many (again) feel a loss of power, once again feeling the need to regain it, whether through physical violence or vocal opposition.

And (finally) my point.  As feminists, we can NOT discount the feelings many men have that they are experiencing a loss of power.  We can NOT pretend that all feminists have the best interests of equality for all (as opposed to an unfair balance in the other direction).  We as feminists need to recognize that with the backlash comes some truth.

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12
Feb
10

Aversion

Vernon L. Quinsey, Sidney G. Bergerson, and Cary M. Steinman created a study examining the effects of aversion therapy on the sexual preference of convicted child molesters.  This study was conducted to look at, not only the aversion therapy effects, but also the tests used to measure those effects.

The authors theorized that electric shock conditioning would lower the subjects’ sexual attraction to children, while increasing their sexual attraction to adults.  Unfortunately, the only rational offered was that previous research on sexual predators had yielded few results, but that the specific population in question (pedophiles) had never been examined as a single group.

Participants in the study consisted of a group of ten volunteers convicted of child molestation.  Each participant was given a pretest to measure penile circumference, shock conductance, and verbal report.  Through these measures, slides in two groups were created for each participant.  Groups of slides included ten slides from the population concerned, and ten for an adult stimuli. 

Negative reinforcement of electric shock was used to deter participants’ sexual response to the concerned population, with no reinforcement or punishment offered for either the adult or neutral stimuli.  Tests were repeated after five presentations of all 20 slides, after ten presentations, and after 20 presentations.  Participants requiring greater than 20 presentations continued additional cycles, but were not recorded in the results.

As expected, results indicated significant differentiation between pretest slides.  Each measure indicated that the participants showed a strong preference for the slides from the concerned stimuli over the target stimuli.  Post test results indicted a shift in sexual preference fro the concerned stimuli to the target stimuli.  Intermittent tests showed no significant change between the concerned stimuli and the target stimuli.

The indication of the results is that electric shock deterred the participants from sexual arousal when viewing slides of children, while increasing arousal during the viewing of adult slides.  This suggests that  electric shock, when used in the manner described above, is an adequate deterrent from one sexual preference while the lack of electric shock serves as a reward to increase sexual attraction toward a target group.

While it is appreciated that this study isolated a group of sexual deviants that had not been previously studied, both the method and the analysis of results leave much concern.

The creators of this study used a variety of measures to identify changes in covert changes in behavior, but the measures are not without fault.  Though the authors acknowledged the problems with penile circumference measures, they neglected to relate that a combination of measures that can be easily manipulated by the participants fail to offer a reliable measure in itself.  This is particularly relevant to the population at hand, as the population (should the study be used to justify the use of electric shock on pedophiles) stands to benefit.  Offenders could easily lie and control erection should a change in sexual preference from children to adults allow for early release.

In addition to the problem of inadequate measures, the researchers also failed to consider the possibility that, while there was a correlation between the decrease of arousal toward children and the increase of arousal toward adults, there was no measure during the study of increased or decreased arousal toward neutral slides.  During the initial measure of a baseline, neutral slides were used, however after that initial exposure to the neutral stimuli, no further measure of it was attained.  The question as to whether the response to a neutral stimuli would change or remain the same, in essence disregarding any measure of reliability of the study.

The final (and perhaps most disturbing) of the problems discussed here is the problem of possible misconstrual of results when externalized from the study.  There is a great potential that use of electric shock could be used as a deterrent from other types of non-normative sexual behaviors.  The authors made a point of acknowledging that the neutral stimuli in the baseline measures contained no animals or fetishistic objects.  This implies that they perceive the potential for fetishism to be treated as well, as they obviously considered it a confound deemed necessary of control.

Perhaps future study could examine the possible correlation of increased sexual arousal toward adults with the lowering of sexual attraction toward children by examining additional physiological factors which might not be so easily controlled by the participant.  In addition, measures used at baseline should be included in all rounds of testing.

Quinsey, Vernon L.; Bergersen, Sidney G.; Steinman, Cary M.; Canadian Journal of  Behavioural Science/Revue canadienne des sciences du comportement, Vol 8(2),  Apr, 1976. pp. 202-212.

12
Feb
10

“Brutality Smeared in Peanutbutter”~Arundhati Roy

In his statement, Roy refers to the damage in Afghanistan and around the world that is skewed by US interests, made to appear by those in government and the media to be minimal and necessary for the security of the American people.  In addition it refers to the false presentation that the US attempts to offer aid to help the people of Afghanistan by dropping minimal provisions to people who are starving, war weary, and angry at the government that placed them in the position to require aid in the first place.  Effectively, it is like beating a person to the brink, stealing their property and home, murdering their family, and then offering a cookie so they don’t starve to death.

            I see this attitude in current events and events reporting repeatedly and often.  At present, the current US administration is debating two such initiatives.  First is the troop surge in to Afghanistan (yet again).  Taking time to delve into the problems of additional troops may give the impression of thoughtful planning (as mentioned by one of the fine Senate leaders), but the reality is that all the planning in the world does not equal removing troops already there and providing REAL aid that is long lasting and terribly needed.  The second initiative involves domestic policy.  The bone being thrown to Americans that they will have healthcare, no matter their SES, race, ethnic origin, or gender identity.  Scare tactics are being used to cover up the real need and to support the financial gains of the insurance companies.  There is a reason that private insurers are backing this plan.  They would not if it meant a cut in their profit sharing.

            Another place this is seen (in relation to the readings) is in the minimal “support” offered to the women of the Congo and the people of Africa.  The US sends a minimal amount of financial aid to those in need but pumps a massive amount into the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, huge government bailouts of the auto industry, and yes, even absurd amounts to tourism in the US (both through stimulus funds and trips to ensure Chicago’s place in the 2016 Olympic games).

I’m not saying that our government should not look out for the interests of its own citizens, but given that it uses the bulk of world resources in both food and energy while producing the bulk of the worlds pollutants, I think that there is a great deal more that the US could do to repay its debt to the people of the world.

12
Feb
10

In Response to Alice Walker

                There is no externally valid scientific evidence that proves that women are any more capable of gentleness and nurturing than are men.  On the contrary, there is no way to test these qualities before social construction has occurred.  From the youngest ages, girls are taught to play with dolls, play in tiny pink, plastic kitchens, and solve their problems through words and not fists.  Boys, on the other hand are taught to play with trucks and construction equipment, build forts and play war with plastic guns, and “stand up for themselves”.  Boys are encouraged to fight; girls are encouraged take care of the children and the home. 

                These are not inherent, inborn, or natural tendencies.  These are social constructs that reinforce gender stereotypes.  If socialization can teach girls to be peace seeking, supportive, and nurturing; socialization is capable of doing the same for boys.  Through early childhood interventions, preventing physical aggression does not have to fall to women alone.  Mothers and fathers of today can put an end to this violence in future generations simply by eliminating useless gender stereotypes.

12
Feb
10

The Bitch Manifesto

“To also not look like a woman, move like a woman or act like a woman is to go way beyond the pale. Ours is a rigid society with narrow limits placed on the extent of human diversity. Women in particular are defined by their physical characteristics. Bitches who do not violate these limits are freer to violate others. Bitches who do violate them in style or size can be somewhat envious of those who do not have to so severely restrain the expansiveness of their personalities and behavior. Often these Bitches are tortured more because their deviancy is always evident. But they do have a compensation in that large Bitches have a good deal less difficulty being taken seriously than small women. One of the sources of their suffering as women is also a source of their strength.” (216) The BITCH Manifesto

          First and foremost I would like to acknowledge the choice of the phrasing “beyond the pale”.  I find this especially interesting in the piece considering the origins of the phrase.

          As for the rest of this quote, I can relate on a truly personal level.  I take being called a Bitch as a compliment, and have done so for a very long time.  I didn’t start out this way.  I fought for it.  I earned it.  I broke the mold of femininity as a child, an adolescent, and an adult.

          As a child, I was a “tomboy”.  I climbed trees, bloodied my knees, traversed the many swamps surrounding our small town.  I did these things with other girls and boys my own age.  For awhile.  Most of the other girls had their moments of Barbies (not the Klause kind), baby dolls, and dress up.  I played with dolls too.  I drug them outside and built elaborate forts in which for them to hide.  I muddied their faces, stripped them of their clothes (which my two oldest sisters did not appreciate as they belonged to them and not myself).  They were Amazon women.  They ruled their own worlds, like “Lord of the Flies”. 

          I didn’t stop playing in the swamps and swinging from trees like the other girls.  I ran and romped and climbed until my blisters calloused.  I compared mine to the boys’ and we admired them together at the top of the live oaks of Southern Louisiana.

          Then we moved to the suburbs of Nashville Tennessee.  I was no longer allowed to run and romp with the boys.  My youngest (but still older) sister was no longer my fellow traveler.  She succumbed to the social pressures offered by middle-class America.  She sprayed, primped, and made up every possible inch.  I was alone.

          Undeterred, I went on my merry way.  I had been one of the boys my entire life.  I felt no need to change.  Adolescent girls are evil.  Because of my social deviance, I was ostracized.  I was labeled at the tender age of 11 as lesbian.  Lesbian in an upper middle class neighborhood in a conservative city is not good.  I was treated as a leper and told that my deviance was unacceptable.  I was lucky.  Despite these evils, I refused to change.  I survived the hell offered by other girls who chose to both define and determine the social acceptability of femininity.

          Then Kentucky.  A new start.  The chance to enter a new world as a model of femininity.  Despite the allure of social acceptance, I choose to remain the same, gender bending, Bitch I had been since birth (or so it would seem).  I stepped into an unexpected place.  Not geographically, but psychologically.  Somewhere, somehow along the way I had realized that I didn’t want to be a stereotype, and to hell with those who wanted me to be. 

          People have gender and other social expectations and if those are not met, the results are not pretty.  I mentioned that I moved to a rural area from a major city, and that attitudes between the two were very similar, and they were.  The gender and social expectations remained, but the hell stopped when I moved.  Why?  Not because the people changed, but because I decided not to care.  I didn’t (and don’t) want to be who other people tell me to be.  I am a Bitch!  Every day, I am proud to be!

12
Feb
10

Suffering of men

“…whatever assaults and harassments he is subject to, being male is not what selects him for victimization;  being male is not a factor which would make his anger impotent-quite the opposite.  If a man has little material or political power, or achieves little of what he wants to achieve, his being male is no part of the explanation.”  (Italics added) ~ Marilyn Frye

                This quote pinpoints the aim of Frye’s piece.  She describes oppression as something that men cannot experience as men.  Oppression through race, class, or socioeconomic status exists, but it is inherently not based on being male.  Oppression cannot be experienced by the oppressors.  I completely disagree with Frey’s position.

                I fully understand that I am viewing an article written in 1983, when the third wave of feminism was in its infancy.  I fully understand that the concepts of intersectionality in oppression were still relatively new.  I know this, but the article makes my skin crawl all the same. 

                Frye talks of the theoretical cage in which women are placed, the binds that are maintained because of group and group alone.  While I agree that (in particular in the early 1980’s) many of these binds were placed on women, they were placed on men as well.  Not as she mentions, white middle class men, but on an entire population of gay and trans men around the world. 

                Oppression toward men for being male is something that exists across time and culture.  While Frye acknowledges that men have challenges, she argues that the challenges or “discomfort” that they face is not because of their maleness.  This simply is not true.

                In a 1990 study of sexual violence conducted by David Duncan, comparisons were made between heterosexuals and LGBT individuals.  While Duncan did not offer a statistical analysis of the gendered data, he did offer the raw numbers (in percentages).  A log-linear statistical analysis of Duncan’s numbers showed an interesting significance.  Not only did LGBT individuals suffer an increased risk of rape as compared their heterosexual counterparts, but homosexual men suffered a disproportionate increased risk (Duncan, 1990).  Translation, gay men are more likely to be raped because they are gay men

                If we are to believe Frye’s claims, gay men should not have an increased risk of rape over that of lesbians, but they do.  While lesbians’ risk increases by approximately 72%, gay men’s risk increases nearly 228%.  (Statistically speaking, this is at a level of p<.001)

                Again, I do recognize that Frey’s article is somewhat outdated and pre masculinity theory, I still think it is important to note that men can be and are victims of oppression, not only as homosexuals, but as homosexual men.

Duncan, David F., (1990). Prevalence of Sexual Assault Victimization Among Heterosexual and   Gay/Lesbian University Students.  Psychological Reports 66: 65-66.

12
Feb
10

“Unmaking: Men and Masculinity in Feminist Theory”~Robyn Wiegman

“If it seems that this discussion has strayed quite far from a consideration of men and masculinity, that is of course precisely the point.  For Rubin, the diversity of lesbian gender in general and butch gender in particular posed theoretical questions for thinking about masculinity as a structure of identification in ways that could be wholly disconnected from genetic male bodies (if not fully from female ones).”

                There are two points in this quote that I would like to address.  First, Rubin is (in my opinion) completely correct.  Because of patriarchal heteronormativity, both the trans and intersex communities suffer.  Members of the transsex community must suffer the indignity of psychiatric diagnosis of a mental illness (GID) in order to make their gender identity congruent with their physical sex.  In that same regard, the same medical institution that dictates the diagnostics also denies coverage for “treatment” under public or private insurance.  The transgender community must deal with the assumption that, as a transgendered individual, s/he must want to be the “other”.  While this may seem to be a mere inconvenience to many, it is that heteronormative culture that makes the assumption.  In short, one does not readily understand the level of discomfort if s/he is not the one experiencing it.

                Intersex individuals are forced to suffer to the extreme.  Not only are they lied to, stripped of their own body parts, and denied sensation as an adult, they often times must also endure countless maintenance surgeries.  They are stripped of dignity, autonomy, and the ability to identify the self as it should be.  The intersex have high levels of suicide (Dreger, 1999) and shamed for their “defect” (Preeves, 2008). 

                And this suffering of so many is or what purpose?  To “normalize”.  And what is normal but a sexual dichotomy that, in reality, does not exist. 

                My second point…Throughout this section Wiegman refers to both the “intersexed” and the “genetics” of sex.  Not to be too nitpicky (which I know I am) but the correct term is “intersex” not “intersexed”.  It is not past tense, as it is a lifelong process of change and development, regardless of measures forced prenatally or at birth.  As for the genetics, I think it is vital that she note the differences in intersex that have nothing to do with genes, but alas she did not.  Most frequently, sex assignment in infants has less to do genetics and everything to do with phallus/clitoris size.  Clitoral resections and clitorectomies are not performed because the infant is XY, but because they aesthetically fail to conform to the sex dichotomy.  Likewise, removal of the phallus and creation of a vagina has nothing to do with genes, but everything to do with the defining of “maleness”.  By focusing only on the genetic side, Wiegman devalues Rubin’s point about the social construction of both sex and gender based on patriarchal definitions of masculinity.