Archive for the ‘social issues’ Category

Age-Based Condescension

October 23, 2012

Ageism is bidirectional.

Middle-aged people wield a disproportionate amount of political and economic power in our culture. This is unsurprising, since it takes time to accumulate prestige and since most people retire at some point in their lives. But when that power translates into automatic social capital, or when being middle-aged is seen as sufficient reason to grant someone undue credibility, there is a problem. Others have pointed out that insufficient attention is paid to prejudice and discrimination against older adults, and I agree, but I think it is also important to realize that ageism is more complex than just negative treatment of older adults – young people, too, face ageism. (more…)


Ladies’ Night: It’s Not About the Ladies

August 20, 2011

A fellow named Steve Horner has apparently been campaigning for years against the concept of “Ladies’ Night” at bars and nightclubs on the grounds that it illegally discriminates on the basis of gender. This has elicited much scoffing (and some more pointed criticism) from a variety of folks. Most people seem to laugh at him because Ladies’ Nights are such an established tradition — few even stop to consider that they might be discriminatory. Some feminists have chided him for focusing on this one minor instance of discrimination against men while ignoring much more serious instances of discrimination against women. The ACLU has said that discounts reserved for women do not “rise to the level of a constitutional injustice.”

It is pretty clear that Steve Horner is a supersized turdburger. He is unapologetically homophobic and misogynist. He thinks he’s a hero on par with the likes of Rosa Parks and Jesus Christ. And he dislikes Ladies’ Nights because he thinks they’re part of some broad “feminist-Marxist” conspiracy, which is the opposite of the real reason why they suck. His critics are right that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and they’re right that there are bigger fish to fry. But one can be a turdburger and still happen to be right about something, and Steve Horner is (sort of) right about Ladies’ Nights. (more…)

It was a Joke!

August 17, 2011

Jokes about racism or sexism or homophobia are funny. Racist, sexist, or homophobic jokes are not.

The distinction is pretty simple. Humorous messages use social axioms and shared knowledge as tools to tell stories, violate expectations, and make people laugh. They convey attitudes, both through the assumptions they make about this shared knowledge and through the information they make explicit in the telling. It is possible – although not always easy – to parse some of the attitudes included in a package of jokes, and therefore it is possible to point out when those attitudes are bigoted. Some jokes reinforce stereotypes, some parody them. Some jokes endorse discrimination, some make fun of it. Some jokes use prejudice as a foundational axiom, some point out the absurdity of prejudice itself. The simple fact that a message is supposed to be funny does not change the need to criticize it if it endorses harmful attitudes, so it makes sense to be attentive to the difference between reinforcing, endorsing, or utilizing group bias on the one hand, and parodying, making fun of, or exposing group bias on the other. (more…)

International Sex Workers’ Rights Day

June 3, 2010

In recognition of a 2001 event which saw over 25,000 sex workers congregating in India, today is International Sex Workers’ Rights Day. I lack the expertise to seriously document the ways sex workers are abused internationally, but I can write a little bit about the American social left.

Political and social barriers to sex workers’ rights are intertwined and often indistinguishable. In many places, prostitution is illegal but in high demand, and the men and women who meet the demand are faced with threats from the police themselves and from clients who are aware that prostitutes frequently lack basic police protections. Powerful social stigmas impede efforts to legalize prostitution or at least shift penalties away from sex workers. Even forms of sex work which are more legal in the United States, such as pornography, carry similar stigmas.

There are serious social problems which contribute to demand for certain types of paid sex and certain arrangements of sexual media, many of which do perpetuate problematic stereotypes related to gender and sexuality, but the blame for these problems does not rest with sex workers. I fully expect social conservatives to be anti-prostitution, but it is time for anti-sex-work progressives and feminists to reconsider their attitudes. Sex workers, stereotypically but not universally female and poor, are not helpless victims of patriarchal abusers, nor are they brainwashed into complacency with oppression. Everyone’s employment decisions happen in the context of powerful economic systems — state-sanctioned and otherwise — and involve various forms of risk assessment. Considering the obvious parallels between sex-work-stigmatization and the slut-shaming associated with the more general sexual double standard, it’s safe to say that feminist justifications for criminalization are not exempt from the influences of mainstream sexism.

WPATH’s Incongruous Response to “Gender Incongruence”

May 27, 2010

The World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) recently released its official reaction to the proposed changes to diagnoses related to gender identity in the upcoming fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of mental disorders (DSM-V). Their report can be found at this link.

In this post, I explain why the report is a pleasant surprise. The post turned out to be longer than I expected, but some readers might be able to skip the “background” sections with little or no confusion.


Homophobia and Transphobia

January 14, 2010

A recent post by Brian McNaught describes David Letterman’s now-infamous skit about Amanda Simpson, who Obama recently appointed to be Senior Technical Adviser to the Commerce Department. McNaught summarizes the skit:

On the program in question, announcer Alan Kalter ran from the stage in horror when Letterman announced that Simpson was born male. The humor was supposed to come from Kalter realizing that he had been intimate with a woman without knowing that he had been with someone born male.

Jokes like this one are old staples of sexual comedy, and they probably remain the most common examples of transphobic humor. The audience is expected to laugh at the pathetic man who has discovered that the gender identity of his sexual partner, and by extension his own heterosexuality and masculinity, have been challenged. (more…)

High School Policy Changes to Improve the Experiences of Sexual Minorities: An Educational and Psychological Analysis

October 30, 2009

April 16th, 2009

High school can be a challenging time for students who deviate (or are perceived as deviating) from the heterosexual norm. As with many other culturally marginalized groups, non-heterosexual kids often feel isolated from and rejected by their high school peers, an experience which can have serious implications for their health and success in school (Morrison & L’Heureux, 2001). They are disproportionately likely to experience depressive or suicidal thoughts (Espelage, Aragon, Birkett & Koenig, 2008), and to actually attempt suicide (Morrison & L’Heureux, 2001; Mufioz-Plaza, Quinn & Rounds, 2002; Uribe & Harbeck, 1991). They are at higher risk for drug and alcohol abuse as well as homelessness (Espelage et al., 2008; Mufioz-Plaza et al., 2002). More specific to school outcomes, they are more likely than heterosexual students to exhibit declining school performance over time (Mufioz-Plaza et al., 2002). Educators who are concerned about the health and performance of all students must pay attention to these negative outcomes, their causes, and their possible solutions. (more…)

The Self and Society in Becoming a Visible Man

October 30, 2009

September 26th, 2007

Personal experience informs everyone’s ideas about gender so powerfully that it can seem nearly impossible to develop a posture approaching holism. An important route to progressive awareness is exposure to a diverse array of views and life experiences, so narratives in which gender is addressed rationally and emotionally are valuable on face—even ignoring any other purposes they might serve. Jamison Green’s Becoming a Visible Man is one such narrative: it provides meaningful descriptions of Green’s personal experiences of gender and of transition. But it also goes a step farther, incorporating descriptive views of gender which form a persuasive sociopolitical argument. There are a few instances where this argument becomes inconsistent, but they should not be allowed to completely devalue the work as a whole. Its overarching philosophy of tolerance and self-determination is valuable. Still, readers might wish to address the particular inconsistencies, which generally seem to arise from Green’s predictable instinct to define groups based on his individual experience—an instinct against which Green himself cautions. (more…)