Archive for July, 2009

The Steps Towards Gender Liberation

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

How will the public debate around gender issues develop over time? What phases will we go through? Nobody knows of course, but here’s my stab at trying to predict the future, combined with the current phases:

  1. Feminism. Women become aware of the limitation of their gender role and start fighting for their rights. Early on this was a healthy struggle, but since the 60s it has increasingly become a polarizing and one-sided perspective where radical feminism dominates the discourse on gender issues.
  2. Men begin to wake up, and notice that feminism doesn’t care much about them, and may even be hostile toward them in its unhealthy forms. This leads to MRAs (men’s rights activists), masculism and anti-feminism. This process is still in its early stages, but it’s gaining traction all the time.
  3. A growing awareness that both gender roles are limited and have serious downsides emerges. This leads to increased understanding between the sexes, and a will to cooperate instead of trying to prove who gets the worse deal. The nature vs nurture debate is also put to rest, since people finally acknowledge that both variables matter.
  4. We start treating people as individuals first, and their gender as a secondary thing. We neither exaggerate nor deny innate gender differences.

Do you have a different take on where we’re at, and where we’re going? Let me know in the comments.

Gay Men and Feminism

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

Feminism often positions itself as the ideology that cares about the rights of GLBT people. If you take a class on Women’s Studies or Gender Studies, you’ll learn about the concept of intersectionality, which claims that all kinds of oppression – whether based on gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, class, etc – interact.

This means that if you as a gay man want to accept the recognition you get from feminism (i.e. recognition and understanding that discrimination against gays exist), then you also need to accept that men are an oppressive class, and as a gay man you are part of that oppressive class. In other words, feminisms extends one helping hand, and uses the other hand to accusatorily point out gay men as oppressors.

My view on gender roles is that it is far from easy to determine which gender role is “better”, since there are so many downsides to both of them. Therefore I don’t believe in comparing the gender roles; instead, it makes more sense to try to improve both gender roles in tandem. From the position I take on gender roles, I don’t see why gay men should have to put up with being called oppressors (however indirectly), when there is an alternative that accepts their sexuality fully, without slapping the oppressor label on them.

IMO, the natural place for gays to fight for their rights is in a men’s rights movement or a gender liberation movement beyond feminism. As men, gay men experience many of the downsides of the male gender role, except for the downsides that are directly connected to heterosexual marriage and relationships.

Straight men and gay men have more things in common when discussing gender issues than do gays and feminist women.

Brain Gender in Tweens

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

About a week ago, Time.com featured an interesting article about how the brains of tween girls and boys react to potential social interaction. First of all, it’s interesting to note that the journalist is still trying to be politically correct, and tiptoeing around the facts:

Only in the past few years have scientists been able to use imaging technology to look inside men’s and women’s heads to investigate whether those stereotypical gender differences have roots in the brain. No concrete results have emerged from these studies yet

I suppose you could say that no concrete results have emerged, if you’re expecting a complete brain manual for both sexes and all individuals. However, if by concrete results you mean results that clearly demonstrate that men and women have brains that function differently, and that are structured differently, then yes – concrete results have emerged.

Interestingly enough, after firing off that politically correct introduction, the author proceeds with an almost biologically deterministic statement about the research report on tweens and social interactions:

a new functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study of children offers at least one explanation for some common tween social behaviors: girls are hardwired to care about one-on-one relationships with their BFFs (best friends forever), while the brains of boys are more attuned to group dynamics and competition with other boys.

I believe that biology is a very real factor in creating gender differences, but it’s important to remember that behaviors are usually a combination of biology, culture and free will. Claiming that biology only is responsible is usually a premature claim, in a world where we still need to work out the details around how biology, culture and free will affect gendered behavior – not to mention how these three factors continously interact.

This caveat aside, the research report becomes yet another piece in the puzzle of the emerging knowledge base around biological brain differences between the sexes:

The results suggest that as girls progress from early puberty to late adolescence, certain regions of their brains become more active when they face a potential social interaction. Specifically, when an older girl anticipates meeting someone new — someone she believes will be interested in her — her nucleus accumbens (which is associated with reward and motivation), hypothalamus (associated with hormone secretion), hippocampus (associated with social learning) and insula (associated with subjective feelings) all become more active. By contrast, boys in the same situation show no such increase in activity in these areas. In fact, the activity in their insula actually declines.

Finally, the author even offers us a potential explanation that is grounded in evolutionary psychology:

Perhaps it’s evidence that evolution has programmed boys to compete within large groups, so they can learn to eliminate rivals for women — and that girls have been programmed to judge, one-on-one, who would be the most protective father for offspring.

As always, it’s good to remember that evolutionary psychology is still speculatory in many ways, especially when it’s used in the context of explaining a research report that wasn’t in itself explicitly examining the validity of an evolutionary psychology claim.

Non-biological father jailed for child support

Saturday, July 18th, 2009

Feminism has been pretty successful when it comes to implementing new laws that look out for women’s rights. Examples in the US include rape shield laws and the Violence Against Women Act, both of which can be questioned regarding their gender neutrality and gender fairness – even though the intention behind these laws were noble.

However, when it comes to men and men’s rights, the legal system still lags far behind. I’ve previously written about my proposal to DNA test all newborns, and to do away with the old fashioned laws that presume the husband of a woman to be the father, or that expect a man to accept fatherhood simply by trusting the woman.

Unfortunately, the legal system in the US (or elsewhere for that matter) still has to catch up on men’s rights and what’s best for the child, so we are still stuck with laws that determine paternity not through proper biological testing, but through probability. This means that some men raise children, or pay child support, even though it’s not their child to begin with.

Fortunately, there are commercial DNA tests available, which means that any man can test his child to see whether it truly is his child or not. You’d think that a DNA test that conclusively proves that you are not the father would be enough to release you from any paternal obligations, including child support, but apparently this is not the case in some US states.

Have a look at this article, that I just came across:

A South Georgia man who had been jailed for more than a year for not paying child support — even though he was not the biological father — was released from custody on Wednesday.

Come again? A man was jailed for not paying child support for a child that isn’t his?? There’s something rotten in the state of Georgia…

The judge, however, postponed deciding whether Hatley must still repay the more than $10,000 in child support the state says he owes.

In a sane world that decision would be a no-brainer. Either you find the real father and make him pay, or else you let the untrustworthy mother pay for her decision to make an innocent man pay her large sums of money.

Two DNA tests — one conducted nine years ago and another earlier this month — proved that Hatley was not the father of Travon Morrison, who is now 21. Even after learning he was not the father, Hatley paid thousands of dollars the state said he owed for support. After losing his job and becoming homeless, he still made payments out of his unemployment benefits.

This man is nothing short of a hero. In a society that couldn’t care less about his rights, he pays child support even when he’s unemployed, for a child that isn’t his to begin with!

Urgent legislative reforms are needed to prevent that this kind of scenario arise in the future. The most swift and fair solution is already out there: DNA test all newborns, to secure two adults who are responsible for the emotional and financial well-being of the child.

Circumcision

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

Circumcision (male and female) is a controversial subject in many places around the world. Female circumcision is generally considered to be a barbaric practice in the West, and it is often referred to as female genital mutilation. Personally I feel that this is a great label to put on the practice of female circumcision, since it emphasizes that it is an irreversible change to the female genitals, one that often is performed on young girls who have no say in the matter.

So what exactly takes place at a female circumcision; what pieces of tissues are cut off? As you can see here, there are at least three different ways of circumcising a girl/woman. Type I removes either the clitoral hood or (part of) the clitoris itself, whereas at the other range of the spectrum, type III removes most of the external sexual organs. All three types of female circumcision are considered to be wrong and illegal in many different Western countries.

So far so good. So what’s the deal with male circumcision? Male circumcision is the removal of some or all of the foreskin of the penis. As such, it is similar to type I female circumcision, described above. However, male circumcision is not illegal, nor is it generally regarded to be barbaric in the West. There are two main reasons for this:

  1. Male circumcision is an integral part of the culture in some Western countries, most notably the US where 75 percent of the boys are circumcised
  2. Male circumcision never reaches the level of mutilation that type II and III of female circumcision do

Even though male circumcision is never as brutal as the most invasive procedures performed on girls, there is a logical inconsistency at play here. We do not accept any removal of genital tissue in girls, while we accept and condone it in boys. Can this be related to the general tendency of society (and humans) to protect women while considering men to be more expendable?

There is much controversy about whether circumcision leads to an increase in sexual dysfunction in men. More research is needed to conclusively prove or disprove this thesis, however, what we do know is that circumcision removes tissue that contributes significantly to sexual pleasure in males. Here is a quote from a research report:

The amount of tissue loss estimated in the present study is more than most parents envisage from pre-operative counselling. Circumcision also ablates junctional mucosa that appears to be an important component of the overall sensory mechanism of the human penis.

As far as I’m concerned, this information alone is enough to question whether parents should have the right to remove part of their child’s penis. I believe that every child, boy or girl, should be protected until they reach adulthood, and then they will be free to decide for themselves whether they want to have surgery on their genitals – for personal or cultural reasons.

Opposing female genital mutilation is an honorable stance. The question that remains is: when will we start protecting our boys?


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