Monday, October 29, 2007

"Fag talk" and Feminism

C.J. Pascoe investigates the way straight young men enforce the rules of masculinity with what she calls "fag discourse"--using the term "fag" to label behavior that is out of the norm for young male expectations. As she points out, a lot of "fag talk" has nothing to do with gay men, but is a pervasive way for young men to exert dominance and control over one another. In the end, she points out that several states have taken legislative action to prohibit this kind of language in high schools. But she thinks what is needed are not disciplinary measures that will just pull another power play over the young men (after all, "fag talk" is about power and pulling rank over others), but finding a way to show them the dynamics that are involved in this kind of behavior.

This excerpt from Robert Jensen's new book, Getting Off: The Pornography of Masculinity, reveals the dangers of letting "fag talk" go unaddressed. He provides three very chilling examples from his real life about the way grown men continue to exert dominance over one another in a variety of social settings. Jensen says he feels trapped by the masculine roles that he himself partakes of, and then realizes there is a way out: feminism. Its a fascinating read and tries to outline the remedies called for by Pascoe.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

New Carnival of Feminists # 46

A new Carnival of Feminsts is out! Check out Engage there and some of the best international feminist opinions on the internet in this new collection.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

New Philosopher's Carnival # 55

The new Philosopher's Carnival is out. Go check out Engage there and all the interesting philosophical musings in the blogosphere.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Does love see no color?

A few years ago the slogan "Love sees no color" was prominent on progessive T-shirts and bumper stickers. The idea seems simple: we should love people for being human beings, whole persons, and not tokens of a race or ethnicity. If love is not colorblind, then we risk exoticizing people. The result is the hot Latin lover, the Jezebel, the Asian Dragon Lady--we get stereotypes of people of color when we eroticize their race. Better not to take notice of it at all in trying to be loving individuals.

I had a student years ago, in my class on the poltiical philosophy of Martin Luther King, Jr., tell me that he (a white man) had a friend who was Black. But he didn't notice he was Black, didn't think of him as Black--he was just "John", his friend. It seemed to me disingenous to say that he didn't notice that "John" was Black. What would it mean to "think of him" as Black? I often wondered how "John" felt about all this. Perhaps, "John" appreciated being just "John" and not the "Black friend named John". But what if being Black mattered to "John"? Had my student rendered "John" into a modern version of Ellison's Invisible Man?

Heather Wood addresses these kinds of issues in her short article "Ten Mistakes White People Make When Talking About Race". One of these mistakes is trying to think that you're colorblind in order to make it seem as if you're not at all racist. As she argues, its worse to think that race is something we should NOT bring up or talk about or notice.

On one occasion, I was trying to describe Kwame Anthony Appiah's distinction between racism and racialism, when a well meaning, liberal white woman stopped me, and with obvious distaste, said that any notice of racial or ethnic differences between people was just racist. People are people, she said, and race is a made up category. There is no good way to notice race and to do so is morally impermissible.

I thought this might be a idiosyncratic understanding of race until I saw this video by the German artist Sarah Connor:

Beyond the fact that the video trades on some very stereotypcal, feel-good imagery (the world holding hands? oy!), there is a very interesting message here in the lyrics "Try to make this earth a better place without a racial curse." Its clear that acknowledging race can only be negative.

Yet, as Wood seems to imply, thinking of race this way is a particular privilege of white people who tend not to think in terms of race because so much of society is structured to cater to their needs and interests. As Peggy McIntosh suggests, things just are the way they are, for most white people, and white privilege means not ever having to notice whether or not the world reflects your sense of yourself, your family, or your closest friends. People of color don't get to be so oblivious on a regular basis.

So is it more loving, or a greater form of insult to dignity, to be colorblind?


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A More Perfect Union?: Rawls and the Electoral College

Attacking the democratic inequality of the Electoral College and of the Senate is becoming quite popular nowadays. I've posted a couple of times on the subject matter. However, a recent article by Joseph Grcic adds a new twist. He argues that the Electoral College is no longer justified given the concerns the Founders had about mob rule, direct democracy, and the power of small states over more populous ones. Most important, he argues that the Electoral College violates the standards of a well-ordered liberal democratic society as depicted by John Rawls in A Theory of Justice (perhaps the most influential work of political philosophy in the 20th century).

Larry Sabato's new book "A More Perfect Constitution: 23 Proposals to Revitalize Our Constitution and Make America a Fairer Country" also calls for the abolition of the Electoral College. You can get a sense of this views here.

However, it seems clear that if Grcic's argument holds against the College, then abolition of the Senate is also called for. That is, if we truly think that civic equality is a value worth upholding...

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Indigenous People's Day: Reclaiming the Values of Abya Yala

As some people may know, October 12, 1492 is traditionally thought to be the day on which Columbus's ship La Pinta first noticed land. His ships quickly made landfall and encountered native peoples. For anyone who has doubt that conquest and conversion were foremost on the minds of the Europeans, this excerpt from Columbus's journal, in which he describes the first people he came across on the islands, should suffice to dispel it:

"All of them alike are of good-sized stature and carry themselves well. I saw some who had marks of wounds on their bodies and I made signs to them asking what they were; and they showed me how people from other islands nearby came there and tried to take them, and how they defended themselves; and I believed and believe that -- they come here from tierrafirme to take them captive. They should be good and intelligent servants, for I see that they say very quickly everything that is said to them; and I believe that they would become Christians very easily, for it seemed to me that they had no religion. Our Lord pleasing, at the time of my departure I will take six of them from here to Your Highnesses in order that they may learn to speak..."

Centuries later indigenous people in the Americas (or as some are calling it, using the indigenous term from the peoples of Panama, Abya Yala), are struggling to reclaim their culture and their place in history. This speech by Peruvian indigenous leader Hugo Blanco, given this past September 2007, lays out this indigenous perspective. The hope is to be able to resuscitate the native relationship to nature and reimplement the ideas of labor which are meant to reflect a culture of communal solidarity and respect for the ecology. The goal is not to overturn European ideals or ways of life, but to find a way to live in justice with them. Its a very good statement of the philosophy of interculturalism that is developing in Latin American and worth a careful read.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Onwards Forever, Commander! Che Guevara 40 years Later

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the execution of Ernesto "Che" Guevara in the jungles of Bolivia. In this interview, Greg Grandin explains why Che remains an important figure in Latin American protest movements, especially those against neoliberal globalization. This photo display provides a portrait of the figure and his legacy in Cuba (at least in terms of great monuments).

Finally, doctors in Venezuela should be celebrating today as well--a 60% raise in honor of Che, who was a trained physician.

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Thursday, October 04, 2007

Is Reading Cosmo Sexist?

Zoe Margolis argues that women can't lay the blame on men for lingering sexism and the oppression of women. Women are contributing to the patriarchy too. How? By being consumers of women's magazines; the kinds that line the checkout counter racks, reminding women that the issues they really need to pay attention to are diets, plastic surgery, shoes, and what other women are doing about their diets, plastic surgery, and shoes. She concludes:

"If women choose to support this misogyny while competing with one another to be the most beautiful, or obtain the better man, or make more money through using their bodies as a commodity, the chance for there to be a more equal society is diminished. How can there be equality while women are still known and valued purely for their appearance?

There's only one choice to be made here. A lifestyle choice, if you will. Women need to realise they do have the power to change things. And by holding onto their money next time they are in the newsagents and not purchasing that pretty cover that's shouting at them offering the latest "celebrity" news, they'll be making the right choice."

She may be onto something here. In talking about sexism in my political philosophy classes, I usually have students compare the covers of recent issues of both Cosmopolitan and Maxm. Our discussions reveal that both magazines are usually dealing the same subjects in big, bold font, with similarly clad, thin, women on the front. I was heartened to see that folks down at our sister university in Eugene are doing similar analyses.

Some students usually object that these particular magazines are harmless fun. They are certainly not as bad as hardcore pornography that obviously degrades women. People who think magazines such as Cosmo or Elle or Marie Claire rob women of dignity have to look hard to make their case, the critics say.

It is true that what counts as the objectification of human beings, and of women in particular, is a complicated issue. Indeed, its not clear that objectification is always morally wrong, even sexual objectification. Martha Nussbaum is particularly good on this point. But she makes a startling judgement as a result.

Some of the worst pornography, she says, may actually be something considered fairly tame nowadays: Playboy Magazine. Playboy is particularly noxious because it inserts layouts of naked women in the middle of a magazine filled with stories about clothes, cars, video games, and other accessories that successful and powerful men should have. The context of those photos in the middle of all that "gear" suggests that women are just so much more stuff to have. Indeed, one men's magazine is so blatant as to be named "Stuff"-- with the subheading "Sexy Girls Fun Gadgets". For Nussbaum, these kinds of magazines make it clear that women are objects for the use and pleasure of men.

But if you look just at the cover of Cosmo, the message is not that different from Playboy. Cosmo doesn't even have the excuse that it occasionally has good articles.


Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Are Slum Tours Ethical?

In the early 19th Century, a South African woman named Saarjite Baartman was paraded around Europe as part of popular and scientific exhibitions.She came to be called the Hottentot Venus, known mostly for her especially large hips and buttocks. At one point, she was displayed in the center of London, naked, in a cage, for passerbys to see. Upon her death, Baartman was dissected and her gentalia examined by researchers in order to understand the "primitive" sexuality of African females. Such theories were often used to justify the continued colonial rule over Africa by the Europeans.

I'm reminded of Baartman upon reading of the phenomenon of slum touring. As this article points out, for between $10-20, tourists can have a guide take them through some of the largest slums in India. These are places with devastating poverty and overcrowding. One of the groups that conducts these tours claims that the point is not to objectify the inhabitants of these slums, but to show the world that these places are sites of industry and production, not just poverty. Part of the proceeds of these tours go to nongovernmental organizations working in these slums.

I wonder if these tours are really designed to be consciousness raising experiences or whether they simply amount to a kind of voyeuristic escapade that is not unlike the crowds in Picadilly coming to stare at Saarjite Baartman. It certainly seems important to become aware of the enormous poverty that affects so many human beings--the 3 billion people that live on less than $2 a day. But can wealthy Americans and Europeans do this without turning "Third World" people into spectacles? In the past, such experiences usually didn't result in more understanding of, or sensitivity to, other cultures--they simply reinforced people's prejudices. Most of the people who went to see Baartman were not inspired to investigate her Khosian culture or ask questions about European colonialism--they went to see how "uncivilized Africans" are different, and probably inferior, than good Englishmen.

Can a slum tour be more than just amusement for the privileged?

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