Wednesday, 18 November 2009

How to Attract a Man: The Daily Mail Way

Here’s an interesting one. The Daily Mail has an article on a psychological study that says women who bare 40% of their naked, womanflesh in nightclubs are more likely to attract a man than those who don’t show enough or those who show too much.

So what? Well, as usual, it’s the way the Mail reports on these issues that makes them so ludicrous.

“It is the question that has troubled many a young woman as she dresses for a night out: How much should she dare to bare? After all, if her clothes are too revealing, she may catch the eye of the wrong kind of man. But too prim and she may attract none at all.”

Insert your own DUN DUN DUUUUUN here.

Ah, that age old question. Now, obviously there’s no point in a woman going to a nightclub if she can’t attract a man. And, more importantly, she must do everything she can to appeal to a man. We all know women don’t ever go to nightclubs to have fun with friends or – god forbid – attract other women. The article continues.

“Seventy hours of recordings revealed that a man was much more likely to ask a woman to dance than vice versa. While this may not seem surprising, it is important because it meant that the female clubbers had to compete against each other for male attention. And clothing - or lack of it - was one of the factors that helped them stand out.”

It paints a pretty dismal view of nightclubs doesn’t it? Women are reduced to nothing more than passive sex objects whose sole function is to stand out from the pack in order to be “rewarded” with male attention. While sexism from the Mail is nothing new, is it really necessary for the article to use this sort of language? There no place in the article for anything other than an essentialist, heterosexist mating ritual.

But wait – there’s more.

“Suitable outfits might include a sleeveless dress that skims the thighs. But showing off any more flesh than this could be counterproductive. Dr Hendrie said: 'Any more than 40 per cent and the signal changes from "allure" to one indicating general availability and future infidelity. 'Show some leg, show some arm, but not any more than that.'”

Yes, Sir, Mr Science Man! What Hendrie is really saying is that showing any more than 40% of their skin means the woman is a whore, a slut, a slag, and any other insult men fling at women. More worryingly, perhaps, are the hints at something more sinister; we’re all aware of the sexist argument that rape victims’ clothes or behaviour means they were “asking for it” and now that idiotic notion has a pseudo-scientific study to back it up – you were showing more than 40% of your skin, they’ll say, what did you expect?

As a lesbian who doesn’t particular like clubbing (I’d rather go to the pub instead) I’m probably not the target audience for this information anyway but it doesn’t change the fact that it paints such a negative image of women being subject to and seeking men’s approval. As far as the article explains, the study was observational and none of the people in the clubs were actually interviewed, so Hendrie is putting his own patriarchal values onto the data – it is he who thinks that a woman showing more than 40% of her flesh is a bad thing and indicates that the woman is easy or likely to cheat in the future, all the data shows is that these women were asked to dance less frequently.

The fact is women at nightclubs don’t dress solely for men’s approval and nor should they. This study and article fails to take that into account and instead paints women as desperately motivated by the thought of attracting a man, and doing anything they can to gain male approval and attention. The article seems intent on shaming women for their sexual behaviour. While never said explicitly it seems to belong to the same ideology that says that while men who sleep around are studs, women who do the same are slags. Sadly, I’d expect nothing less from the Daily Mail.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

So once again the masses have voted. Once again we’ve been made to feel like second-class citizens.

I don’t even know what to say at this point.

On the upside, early reports indicate we’ve ‘won’ in Washington. The good people of Washington have voted to uphold domestic partnership laws, meaning that gay folks now have everything but the word ‘marriage.’ Um, yay?

I’ve already blogged about the semantic bullshit these sorts of laws are based on, and while I should be happy that gay folks are making any sort of strides towards equality, the fact is I’m pissed off.

Why should my right to marry be voted on by someone who has never even met a gay person and believes every scare-mongering horror story the religious right comes out with?

“It’s about protecting traditional marriage!” Which tradition exactly? The tradition of treating your wife like property? The tradition of not being allowed to divorce? The tradition of black people not being able to marry white people?

“If gay people get married, pretty soon a man will be able to marry his dog!” Well no actually he won’t. Ignoring the fact that I’m pretty sure you just compared a queer relationship to bestiality, and that slippery slope arguments are hyperbolic and often ludicrous, the main issue here is one of consent; both parties are able to consent to a queer relationship/marriage whereas the dog can’t. Plus bestiality is illegal in the majority of the US; ‘sodomy laws’ were struck down as unconstitutional by Lawrence v Texas in 2003.

“If gay people get married, it’ll affect my marriage!” How? I’m genuinely curious. Does your neighbour getting married affect your marriage? Did black people getting married affect your marriage?

“The purpose of a marriage is to provide a stable unit to have and raise children!” And yet there are many single parent families, step-families, and gay families that all have children. Oftentimes the person advocating this view will then go on to clarify that they mean have children ‘naturally’ or that are biologically related to both parents. So infertile heterosexual couples who adopt shouldn’t be allowed to get married then?

And finally, my favourite argument: “Gay people getting married undermines the sanctity of marriage!” Really? The near 50% divorce rate didn’t do that already? A rate which rises with every subsequent marriage, I might add. Do I really have to mention Britney Spears’ 55 hour just-for-fun marriage at this point?

I don’t want to put my life to the popular vote. Governments are supposed to protect their weakest citizens, not incite a hostile majority to vote them down time and time again. In the space of a week LGBT Americans have seen The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate-Crimes Prevention Act pass - a law that finally offers legal protections for victims of hate crimes and their families - and then today another vote repealing the laws granting gay marriage rights in Maine.

For every step forward, we take two towards the back of the bus. We’ll keep fighting, but this war won’t be won in referendums or propositions. It’ll be won through legal battles and court decisions, like African-American civil rights were. While we wait for that one Supreme Court decision that will turn the tide in our favour we have to keep coming forward so the steps back don’t seem as far back as before.


Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Some Thoughts on ‘Age 8 and Wanting a Sex Change’

Channel 4’s “Age 8 and Wanting a Sex Change” examines the plight of trans kids across the pond ahead of a possible change in the laws governing treatment of trans kids in the UK. Being from the ‘Bodyshock’ strand of documentaries (sample titles: The Man Who Ate His Own Face; The Man With A Shark For A Foot) I wasn’t expecting much in the way of sensitivity and after a minute or so I thought my suspicions had been confirmed when the narrator started to use the wrong pronouns to refer to the trans kids, and continued to do so for the rest of the documentary.

First off, seriously? The people interviewed (mostly the families of the trans kids or the doctors who were treating the kids) were using the correct pronouns! Everyone in the context of the programme used the correct pronouns. Why the hell was the voice over using incorrect ones? That’s beyond insensitive. It’s damn right insulting. Are we supposed to infer that the kids and their parents are deluding themselves? That it could only happen in America? That the documentary filmmakers don’t respect the gender choices of the subjects, or worse, don’t see their subjects as the gender they are? That they’re trying to dumb it down, match the pronouns to the “true sex” and aim it at the general public who don’t know anything about trans issues?

I suspect that the last question is the most accurate and it’s the most troubling. Part of the reasoning behind the documentary was that it was designed to educate ahead of a possible review of guidelines for dealing with transgender kids in the UK. By consistently using the wrong pronouns, the programme just reinforces negative assumptions about transgender people, chiefly that they will never truly pass and they’ll always be the sex they were born. Worse, it reinforces the idea that these kids are deluded, or going through a phase; eventually they’ll return to their “true sex.”

In fact there are a couple of occasions in the documentary when the interviewer asked the younger kids if they were going through a phase, as if hoping to catch them out. Of course, they all strongly denied it with one going as far as to say, “If I had to dress in boys’ clothes and be a boy for the rest of my life I’d probably die.” The thing that bothers me the most about the implication that trans kids “grow out of it” is the assumption that children don’t know what gender they are. Cisgendered children know if they’re a boy or girl, even before they know that boy bodies are different from girl bodies or the cultural expectations that their gender places on them, so why can’t a transgendered child know the same thing?

The medical side of the process of obtaining puberty blockers and cross gender hormones was somewhat glossed over as well. In each case we were told how the child had been unhappy in their birth sex, worked up the courage to tell their parents they were really a boy or really a girl, and were diagnosed with gender dysphoria. The process of being diagnosed can be a lengthy one and isn’t something that happens lightly. The programme seemed to be suggesting that this wasn’t the case, and somewhat ignored the regular doctors’ appointments and medical procedures before and after the kids were diagnosed.

There were one or two other troubling moments in the documentary; firstly the fact that Josie, an eight year old mtf, still played with cars and other “boy’s toys” and secondly that Bailey, a twelve year old ftm, had been on age appropriate “dates” with girls who didn’t know that he was genetically female. In the first case, the narration treated Josie’s toys as an anomaly and perhaps a sign that she wasn’t “truly” a girl. In the programme makers’ world there only appears to be two modes of gender expression: ultra feminine girls and butch, masculine boys. That Josie could be a tomboy never seems to enter into their heads. The only person who seems au fait with this is Josie’s awesomely supportive mother who basically says it’s none of their damn business what toys her daughter plays with, “Just because a man likes to cook doesn’t make him a woman and just because a women knows how to change the oil in her car doesn’t make her a man.” The documentary really missed a chance to explore other gender expressions here, and instead chose to point to this as something (else) that wasn’t really “normal” about these children.

The second moment is one I had the most trouble with. Bailey’s family had had to move due to the bullying he was receiving at school, and they purposefully haven’t told anyone in their new town that Bailey was born female. Being that both of the ftms in the documentary are a little older than the mtfs, they are both asked about dating girls and the problems this presents for them. Bailey has been on “dates” with other girls, but hasn’t told them that he’s genetically female. Later, the interviewer asks Bailey’s mother what she would do if her daughter had been kissing a boy who was “really” a girl. Ignoring the transphobic implications of that question, Bailey’s mother says that she would be a little freaked out but she doesn’t really think it’s a problem at this age, and she believes that when Bailey is older and in a serious relationship he would tell the girl the truth up front. A sensible answer you might think, but the tone of the interviewer and the way the question was asked really speaks volumes about the programme makers’ intentions. The idea of transmen and women preying on hapless cisgendered people who have no idea about their partner’s “true” sex is one that is prevalent in society and the documentary seems to be pointing the Bailey’s behaviour as an example of this (see something like The Crying Game for a filmic example). Look, it seems to say, these kids are no better than those terrible transsexuals we’ve all heard about. Luckily, the documentary asks sixteen year old ftm Chris the same question and he explains that he has a girlfriend who knows that he was born female. In addition to this, Chris’ mother is in a relationship with an older transman (who the narration still refers to with female pronouns in what was perhaps the most offensive moment of the entire hour) so we do get to see that the “happy-ever-after” as it were, and “balance” out Bailey’s behaviour.

The programme doesn’t include an adult transwoman, which is a glaring omission considering transwomen are often the most stereotyped and vilified by popular culture; this would have been an obvious chance for the programme makers to truly dispel misconceptions and educate the casual viewer.

Despite all this negativity, what truly made the programme worth watching was the trans kids themselves. They were all overwhelmingly happy and had incredibly supportive parents and families. After seeing the kids with their families, there is no doubt that they are making the right choice and living their lives as they were meant to. Without the narration, the programme could have been truly revolutionary; a sensitive and largely positive portrayal of a difficult issue. The narration undermined the strength and courage of the kids as well as the positive message they presented. If you can divorce the programme content from the offensive narration and have an interest in transgender issues then I’d say it’s definitely worth a watch.



Friday, 16 October 2009

Gately's "Unnatural" Death


Breaking: Gately death due to complications of queerness. 
So says the latest homophobic hate piece from Jan Moir over at the Daily Mail.  Not in so many words, of course, but the message is clear nonetheless.  Gately’s death was not natural, screams the headline.  What’s not written is the implied justification for this opinion: because Gately’s sexuality was not natural.  Sad and homophobic as the piece is, it’s also rather funny the lengths that Moir will go to to blame Gately’s sexuality for his death.  Moir’s concluding piece of evidence that his queerness killed him? Gately and his husband may or may not have had a threesome on the night that Gately died.  Because straight couples never have threesomes.  Or, for that matter, engage in sexual practices more often associated with gay men. 
What is more troubling about the article is Moir’s insistence on turning Gately’s death into an argument against “the happy ever after myth” of marriage equality. 
"Gay activists are always calling for tolerance and understanding about same-sex relationships, arguing that they are just the same as heterosexual marriages. Not everyone, they say, is like George Michael.
Of course, in many cases this may be true. Yet the recent death of Kevin McGee, the former husband of Little Britain star Matt Lucas, and now the dubious events of Gately's last night raise troubling questions about what happened.
It is important that the truth comes out about the exact circumstances of his strange and lonely death."  (Emphasis mine).
The fight for marriage equality has nothing to do with Gately’s death.  She is taking one possible case of something that might not have even happened as proof that gay marriage doesn’t work.  By the same logic I could point to a divorced couple as proof that all heterosexual marriages don’t work.  You can’t base any conclusions on a sample of one.  For that matter, I wasn't aware that (possibly) having a threesome automatically meant your marriage was dysfunctional anyway.  I'm sure it works for plenty of people.  There are happy and unhappy same-sex relationships just as there are happy and unhappy heterosexual relationships, and besides, I think straight people have the monopoly on dysfunctional marriages, don’t you?  They’ve been doing it a lot longer than we have (if we can do it at all, that is.)
In Moir’s world all queers are promiscuous, and destined for an early death.  The use of the phrase “strange and lonely” brings to mind Dyer’s “sad young man” of the Hayes Code era films; a stereotypical character that was frequently made ‘safe’ and/or ‘saved’ through death.  And that, it seems, is Moir’s final point.  Gately deserved to die for daring to be queer.  That he did so in a way that Moir believes condemns his “very different and more dangerous lifestyle” all the better. 
After all, how can someone who lives an “unnatural” life have a natural death?

UPDATE: This issue has been getting a lot of coverage on twitter today, with the result that the Mail has changed the headline on the article but not on the links to the right (via: @charltonbrooker).  
UPDATE 2: They've changed the links on the right now as well (via: @charltonbrooker).