Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Let's Talk About Sex (Columns), Baby

Savage Love

The Nation
reports that ever since Berkeley's "Sex on Tuesday Column" in 1996, students have been writing columns in the vein of what author Alex DiBranco calls the "student sex columnist movement."
At its core, the sex column phenomenon is a radical progressive movement in the sense of pushing against traditional silence and the status quo, which is a source of concern for many administrators, parents and even students. Challenges to the columns stem from a conservative mindset--whether that be political, religious or cultural.
The challenges, it seems, are numerous. Universities and state legislatures threaten to pull funding from campus media that publish sex columns. Ultimately, to me it seems like more expression about sexuality is a good thing. Sex columns, as trite and annoying as I often find them, sometimes do perform an important public service for people who feel alone in their sexuality. The good ones push conventional wisdom and social norms about what's "normal" when it comes to sexuality.

The Nation column pointed out that Dartmouth is a school known as a conservative campus, but the Dartmouth Free Press, a Campus Progress-sponsored publication, has been publishing a sex column for years.
The sex column entered the pages of the Dartmouth Free Press in 2004, when senior Sheila Hicks, sexual leftist and host of the campus radio sex talk-show, "In Your Pants," encouraged readers to send "the questions you probably wouldn't ask your parents or your clergy members" to Dartmouth's liberal, progressive and alternative biweekly. Clint Hendler, Free Press editor in chief during the latter half of Hicks's tenure, saw the column as "a way to put a thumb in the eye of campus elements who found a ready outlet in the Dartmouth Review for rather churlish and reactionary takes on steps taken by the administration and others to support safe sex and LGBTQ culture." Unsurprisingly, given the aesthetic of the paper, sex columnists for the Free Press tend to be more clear about having explicit political and activist motivations than those on campuses in general.

Heather Strack asserts in the Free Press, "A sex column is a significant statement of female rights. Not only am I a female columnist, but I am writing about a topic considered taboo and improper for a woman." Women are the main target of abstinence/purity movements; thus, even if most columnists do not state this as unambiguously as Strack, the campus sex column is not only about students seizing control but about hearing underrepresented voices. Though men are readers in equal numbers, the sex columnist is a (straight and queer) female-dominated profession, with a small minority of queer men.

It's true that not all sex columns are the same. Just as many are inspired by Sex and the City, Cosmopolitan, and Dan Savage (although Dan Savage's column is decidedly the most progressive of the three, since he actually acknowledges that non-straight couples exist), as they are by open and honest views of sexuality.

Sometime around my junior year (if I recall correctly) my alma matter's campus daily began publishing "Dr. Date," a letter response column that reads like a more inane version of Savage Love. The column, as I remember it, was awfully relationship focused and took more of an opportunity to snark than it did to educate.

Cross posted.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Taxpayer Protests

Over at Campus Progress today, I have a take on the heath care reform protesters that flooded D.C. this weekend. Go ahead and take a look.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Wrong Again: Monica Hesse Edition

Apparently Monica Hesse's horrible puff piece on Brian Brown, the director of the National Organization for Marriage, wasn't enough to stop her from publishing more worthless drivel in the pages of the Washington Post. She didn't want to step too far from the topic she knows she can screw up write about: marriage.

See, Hesse is like other unimaginitive journalists. She cannot possibly comprehend that what's going on in her own personal life isn't interesting to the rest of the world. That's why, apparently she decided to write a very annoying article on the fact that she's getting married. Um, is this just some gaint scheme to link to her wedding registry?

Much like the last time the Washington Post tried to address the "When is a good time for people to get married" question, this time is an utter failure. Hesse is baffled that some people think 26 is too old to get married and some people think it is too young an age to get married. She thinks it's determined by how old her friends were when they got married (if they have that option at all; she seems to have fallen for Brian Brown's argument against gay marriage, so I guess she doesn't care if her gay and lesbian friends don't have the option).

She seems to have stumbled on the already prevelant data that the average marriage age tends to be lower in rural areas than it is in metropolitan ones. There's also marital status data by age, socioeconomic class, and size of families over time.

But Hesse couldn't be bothered with data or statistics to inform her piece. Instead, her conclusion is that you should not get married unless you know where "home" is. Well. Gee. Thanks for that.

Honestly, I think we should stop worrying about when people get married. Or if they get married. Rather than trying to figure out what the "best age" for heterosexual couples to get married is, perhaps she could have thought about a real issue for a change.

But I guess that's too much to expect.

Cross posted.

Flickr image by Kables

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

According to Technorati, Blogging Is Male, Old

Technorati released results of their study of the blogosphere today. According to the research they found, by and large, bloggers are male.


It's something that we've seen replicated in other new media paradigms (and some old ones). Men make up the majority of "popular" Twitter users and men have dominated "old media" -- especially among high-level editor positions -- for centuries.

We might be tempted to write this off as The Way Things Are, but I think it reflects some deeper gender stereotypes. After all, many men I know don't think twice about putting their opinions on the web in a professional context and many women are more hesitant.

When I first started blogging, waaaay back in February of 2007, I couldn't come up with a name for it so I named it after myself. That, I figured, wouldn't change. (For all of you out there waiting for me to change my name if I get married let me just pause to assure you that it ain't gonna happen.) My colleague at the time and blogger at Feministing, Ann Friedman, marveled at this. In the feminist blogosphere, many women adopt psudeonyms. Many of the stereotypes and social cues we take about how to act in life translate to other kinds of media.

What's more, it sounds like of the female bloggers out there, they tend to be older women. Only 9 percent of active female bloggers are between the ages of 18 and 24. That's pretty dismal. Research also found that women are more likely to be "personal" bloggers and their style is more likely to be "conversational."

But there is one thing to be optimistic about: Although two-thirds of global bloggers are male, the stats are slightly better in the United States. Here, only 57 percent of bloggers are male. It's still disproportionate, but it's better than in Asia and Europe.

Cross posted.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Is Matthew All There Is?

Thanks to the publication of The Meaning of Matthew, Judy Shepard's new book on her son's life, the hate crimes legislation resulting from the horrible scene of Matthew Shepard's death is back in the news. But as his mother's book discloses, Matthew Shepard wasn't an angelic figure in life even though he has turned into martyr in death.

Gabriel Arana's piece on this subject is something I find a little problematic. He seems to blame Judy Shepard because she "ultimately falls back on eulogistic platitudes." But I find that criticism distasteful. Judy Shepard has gone through something I dearly hope no parent ever has to go through -- not only the death of a child, but the homicide of her child. If anything, I admire her strength to be critical of her son's memory at all.

The other point I find problematic is here:
The Matthew Shepard Act is currently under consideration in the House after being stymied under George W. Bush, who threatened to veto it. If it passes, gay-rights groups can declare a victory. But what will have been vanquished? Even his mother acknowledges that "a dyed-in-the-wool and determined bigot isn't about to log onto the Internet to check state or federal statutes before bashing someone's head in."

What hate-crime laws do provide are stricter sentencing guidelines, feeding a criminal-justice system that has imprisoned more than 1 percent of the U.S. population and unfairly targets minorities. The courts imprison blacks at six times the rate of whites, and Hispanics, at more than double the rate of whites; the rate of black incarceration under President George W. Bush was higher than it was in South Africa during apartheid. If the face of anti-gay violence were a racial or ethnic minority, would we still be pushing for hate-crimes legislation that props up the criminal-justice system?

As Jos Truitt at points out, activists' energy would be better spent on empowering victims and combating the homophobia that motivates hate crimes. Groups like the Human Rights Campaign, which are spearheading the effort to get the Matthew Shepard Act passed, should focus instead on education programs and passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Harsher murder sentences can't bring back the dead, but nondiscrimination laws and education programs can help LGBT Americans who are still living. It's hard to see how Shepard's memory is "honored" by a legalistic redefinition of federal sentencing guidelines or how this accomplishes anything concrete for gay rights.

I understand the general idea that it's unlikely hate crimes legislation would be enforced in any kind of systematic way if passed, but I do think that by passing such legislation, Congress is making a statement that killing someone because they are gay, lesbian, queer, or transgender is unacceptable. Furthermore, Arana seems to suggest that when it comes to LGBT rights, we must choose one thing and work on that. There's plenty of political advocacy to go around. Sure, some legislation my make a greater impact than others, but when it comes to figting for LGBT rights, it seems insulting that we're asking activists to choose one thing for which they can fight.

Arana's other -- and perhaps bigger -- point is one to which I'm more sympathetic:
Over 1,400 members of the LGBT community are victims of a hate crime every year, which includes violent attacks as well as harassment. Why, then, is Shepard the "face" of gay rights? The implication is that all the other candidates weren't quite right: not urban New Yorkers dying of AIDS in the 1980s, not inner-city black adolescents whose parents kicked them out of the house, not leather daddies marching on Washington. The pictures of other gays, lesbians, and transgender people did not prove sufficiently salable to make it onto rally placards.
By making Matthew Shepard, a young white man who otherwise comes from a place of a certain kind of privelidge, we sometimes imply that others who suffer from violence and harrassment somehow don't count. I understand that by elevating Matthew Shepard's story we can be ignoring the stories of others. Still, many people understand why violence against LGBT people is problematic because of Matthew Shepard. It's something they might not otherwise think about. I don't think that's bad -- but we should use Shepard's story to tell the stories of others.

Cross posted.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Cottle Gives McDonnell a Pass?

Michelle Cottle finds herself torn over whether Republican candidate for the Virginia gubernatorial race Robert McDonnell should be judged by his 1989 master's thesis from Regent University. It said, among other things, said women and feminists were "detrimental" to society and that the Supreme Court's decision to allow unmarried women access to contraception "illogical." Cottle says,
I find myself torn in this fight. In general, I find the obsession with politicians' student writings excessive. Most of these papers spring from the brains of people in their early- to mid-20s who have spent the past several years in the self-indulgent cocoon of academia. I realize there's no demographic group more convinced of its inherent genius and infallibility than recent college graduates and grad students. But in reality, most people don't spring forth from Harvard or Berkeley or Florida State or Texas A&M fully formed. (Thank god.) Many even (gasp!) change their views as they trudge through the big, wide, complicated world.
I find it sort of insulting to young people that things you do before you're an "adult" -- whenever that is -- somehow don't count. As if you're unable to think about the fact that what you're doing has consequences. Let me assure you, young people are perfectly aware of what they're doing. It's just that older people claim the ruse of being "unaware" of consequences at the time. It's a myth we hide behind so that we are all somehow unaccountable for our past mistakes. It's okay to say that you've changed your mind or evolved your thinking, but please, don't claim you didn't know what you were doing at the time.

But even if we were to give McDonnell the "youth pass" on this thesis, there's one part of her argument that doesn't quite work. McDonnell was nearly 35 when he wrote that thesis. Can we really give him the "youth pass" when he was in his mid-thirties? That seems overly generous to me.
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