sexual orientation

Michael T. sent in an observation about the Yes on Proposition 8 website, which (successfully) aimed at amending the California constitution to disallow gay marriage.  Along the top of the screen, the four different images below accompanied the slogan “Restoring Marriage & Protecting California Children.”  These marriages, Michael surmises, must be the ones that need protecting.   In addition to reproducing heteronormativity and childbearing, notice that the images are self-consciously diverse, but represent all marriages as within race.


Thanks Michael!

The other day I noticed this sticker on a van:

I took a picture of it, just to remind me to look it up, but I didn’t know if it was meant as a joke (a satirical version of gay pride stickers) or what. But it turns out there’s an organization called Straight Pride. The website says they are not homophobic and do not hate gays. This t-shirt leads me to suspect that though they may not “hate” them, they’re not too keen on them, either:

This t-shirt implies that heterosexuality is patriotic:

People are encouraged to send in photos of themselves wearing Straight Pride products. So far the gallery only has a few photos, all of men. The photos are very small, so it’s hard to see a lot of detail, but this one seems to link heterosexuality to a certain type of masculinity; they appear to be holding paintball guns:

I thought they might be useful for a discussion of homophobia and attitudes toward homosexuality, particularly the element of “we don’t hate gays, we just support being straight.” There’s a notion of false equivalency here: that “straight pride” is just the same as “gay pride” (similar to what some individuals in “White power” organizations say–they aren’t anti-Black, they’re just proud of being White!). You might discuss this idea of equivalency: given the privileges and benefits that are made available only to straight couples (including, in most states, the right to marry, and as of Tuesday in Arkansas, the right to foster or adopt children), is “straight pride” really the same as “gay pride”? Is it possible to advocate heterosexuality without being homophobic? What is the motivation for advocating it, if it’s not a sense of unease with homosexuality? The gay pride movement aimed to reduce the stigmatization of gays and lesbians, as well as increase access to the rights and benefits straight couples have. What, exactly, is the goal of a straight pride movement, if not to keep gays and lesbians from getting those rights?

Marriage–as a social and legal institution–has not always been what it is today.

In early American history, when families largely lived on farms and worked for sustenance, people didn’t marry because they loved each other.  And they certainly didn’t split up because they did not.  Marriage choices were highly influenced by their families and, once married, husbands and wives formed a working partnership aimed at production.  They teamed up to support themselves and make children who would take care of them when they were old and help them in the meantime.

Today, we still (generally) think of marriage as comprised of a man, a woman, and kids, but mutual love and happiness are now central goals of marriage.  This idea only emerged in the 1900s.  It hasn’t actually been around all that long.

I bring this up in order to shed some light on the pro- and anti- gay marriage rhetoric.

On the one hand, those against gay marriage need to define “marriage” in a way that excludes same-sex couples.  One way to do this is to refer to a “traditional” marriage (image found here).

But there is no such thing as a “traditional” marriage, just a long history of evolving forms of marriage.  For example, few anti-gay marriage types would actually be in favor of returning marriage to one in which women were property that can’t contract, vote, testify in court, own anything, and have no rights to their own bodies or custody of their children (though the idea that women are property is still out there today).  Because there is no such thing as a “traditional” marriage (that is, no reason to privilege one historical form over another), when someone speaks of “traditional” marriage, they actually just mean “the kind of marriage that I like that I am pretending existed throughout all time before this current threat right now.”

On the other hand, to make an argument in favor of gay marriage rights, the movement must either (1) change the collective agreement as to what marriage is (the social construction of marriage) or (2) convince the collective that gay marriage already is what we believe marriage to be.

This ad in favor of gay marriage does the latter. Mobilizing the social construction of marriage as about love, the commercial then defines same-sex relationships as about love. If you accept both premises, then, presto, you are pro-gay marriage.  That is exactly what this commercial is trying to do:

NEW!  This Swedish commercial for Bjorn Borg’s dating website, sent in by Ed L., similarly mobilizes the idea that marriage is for love and that gay men’s marriages are, therefore, beautiful:

Muriel M. M. went to a Palin rally and sent us her pictures and thoughts.  She says that she waited three and a half hours to hear Palin speak and then left in frustration; so there will be no pictures of Palin.  She did, however, make some observations about how people were showing support for Palin.

First, she thought the pins were interesting.   Notice the gender binary and heteronormativity in this first pin (the “hero” and the “mom”):

Muriel noted that in the “Read my Lipstick” pin (below), Palin is looking at the viewer, not where she is aiming.  It also reads “Change is Coming.”  I hope it’s not coming down the barrell of a gun.  Just saying.

The other pin (also below) reads “You Go Girl,” playing on the shallow when-women-do-what-men-do-we-should-be-proud-of-their-cute-adorable-selves version of feminism that actually trivializes women.

Second, Muriel reports that there was A LOT of pink at the event–“hats, ribbons, Tshirts… pins”–and that this is in stark contrast to Hillary Clinton events, which downplayed the femininity thing.

Finally, Muriel explains that women, often ones wearing no make-up at all, would hold “…lipsticks high in the air like you would do if you were at a concert and holding up a lighter.”

Fascinating.  Thanks Muriel!

More pins (found here):

In a comment to a post a while back, Macon D. drew my attention to a post on Womanist Musings about Yolanda Charley, Miss Navajo Nation 2008. The post points out that she (and past winners) show a range of body sizes and shapes that would be unusual in a “mainstream” beauty pageant. The competition emphasizes knowledge of Navajo culture and traditions; contestants must be fluent in Navajo and English and be knowledgeable about Navajo traditions and rituals, according to the Miss Navajo Council website. This is a picture of Miss Charley:

Although I didn’t want to automatically romanticize or fetishize it (as the “good” pageant vs. the “bad” mainstream ones), I’m always happy to see examples of different beauty standards. I rummaged around on the website for a while, and some other things about the pageant also struck me, such as the following rules:

…there is no contact with your parents once you arrive for the pageant.

Contestants must dress themselves individually. (i.e. make your own Navajo hair bun, wrap leggings, etc.) THIS WILL BE STRICTLY ADHERED TO.

I assume the point is to try to make the girls rely on their own skills rather than parents and professional stylists (as well as to reduce the amount of parental hovering and interference that probably occurs at most pageants).

The competition includes traditional skills/talent and traditional techniques competitions. The traditional technique is chosen for them and could include butchering. I tried to imagine Miss America contestants having to get ready entirely on their own, without help doing their hair and makeup, and being forced to butcher an animal in front of a crowd. I also tried to imagine the Miss America audience watching them butcher anything. Despite being a vegetarian, I giggled a lot.

I kept reading and noticed rules about not marrying or living with anyone and not becoming pregnant during their reign; these are pretty standard for beauty pageants. I also saw a document with proposed changes to eligibility rules. Here are some new or revised items (all typos/errors are from the original):

Candidate must be 18-25 years of age, never have co-habituated, never been married (including marriage annulments, common law marriage, same-sex marriage/relationship and/or divorce) and have never been pregnant.

Candidate must have an official birth certificate indicating gender at birth.

Candidate will not have a hetero/or same sex relationship during reign.

The obsession with making sure beauty pageant contestants have never been married or pregnant fascinates me. For one thing, although you can verify that someone has never been married, how do you verify someone has never been pregnant? Critics usually focus on the beauty standards imposed by pageant judges, but the insistence on sexual purity is interesting as well–apparently having ever been pregnant (or married) means you are not worthy to be the paragon of beauty. This isn’t specific to the Miss Navajo pageant–similar standards apply for Miss America and, as far as I can tell, most beauty pageants. And that standard boils down to, “girls who have clearly had sex are not appropriate representatives.” You could be the prettiest (by the pageant’s standards), the most talented, and so on, but the pageant isn’t about just that–you also have to be free of any proof that you are not a virgin. Although you can be sexy, we don’t want to know if you were sexual.

It’s also interesting that future Miss Navajos may have to prove they were female at birth. I looked for a similar requirement for Miss Americas, but couldn’t find a full list of eligibility requirements, so I don’t know if they have it or not. This could be useful for discussions of gender in Native American communities. As is well known, many Native groups had a more fluid, or at least expansive, idea of gender than the current mainstream binary of male/female; many groups had a “third gender,” often referred to as berdache. While this is interesting and makes it clear that our current gender system is just one way of thinking about gender, I find discussions of berdache often devolve into simplified “American culture is oppressive and homophobic, while Native tribes allowed people to just be who they are and didn’t confine or stereotype people based on gender rules.” Anyone who has talked to American Indians who are gay, lesbian, or transgender can tell you there is homophobia within Indian groups. To imply that all Native American tribes are accepting of the GLBT community both greatly simplifies the role of the berdache (which didn’t exist in every tribe) and assumes that tribes have not been affected by homophobic trends in the larger American society of which they are also a part. Whatever traditional Navajo conceptions of gender might be, apparently for the purpose of selecting Miss Navajo Nation, the mainstream binary view of gender (you are born male or female, and that’s what you “really” are for the rest of your life) may be used as an official eligibility requirement.

In any case, it’s very interesting how this Navajo pageant manages to both challenge and conform to elements of the mainstream Miss America-type pageant model.

Thanks for pointing the pageant out, Macon D!

This is a picture of the illustration on a “sturdy station,” an infant changing table I found in a women’s bathroom (click on the image for a closer look).

I thought it nicely illustrated a number of normative expectations/social constructions:

1. Families include two parents.
2. Those two parents include a male and a female.
3. Males don’t have eyelashes.
4. Males are (at) the head of the family.
5. Females are the primary caretakers of children. While the male is looking ahead, the female is either looking at the baby or looking at the person using the changing table (and is, therefore, identifying with the person using the changing table who is, presumably, also female).

This poster was affixed to a tree on my block:


NEW!  This ad for sea monkeys, found at AdFreak, portrays them in a nuclear family (mom and dad, son and daughter):


Ed L. sent us this British ad for McCoys crisps (chips, here in the U.S.), which reinforces gender boundaries. Not only are men not supposed to like (or perform) ballet, but even knowing a small fact about it makes a man so unmasculine that he’s no longer worthy to hang out with other men. Also, at the end we learn they’re “Man Crisps.”

Thanks, Ed!

Also, Rick T. and Penny R. sent in this Snickers ad, which features Mr. T mocking and shooting at an effeminate male speedwalker:


According to Mr. T, the speedwalker is “a disgrace to the man race” and “it’s time to run like a real man.” After having Snickers shot at him, the speedwalker does, indeed, run. And then the tagline: “Snickers: Get Some Nuts.”

The A.V. Club reports that the ad was pulled from the air in Britain after complaints that it was homophobic. The A.V. Club article has three other Snickers commercials starring Mr. T, including this one:

Here we learn that “It’s time to teach you fools some basic man rules,” which consist of the following:

Men like sports, girls in cars.
Men don’t go to fancy cocktail bars.
Real men have fun when they out.
They don’t go to wine bars to pose and pout.
So fools, you better change,
or you face is somethin’ I’ll rearrange.

Apparently real men do like poetry, anyway.

This would be good for a discussion of gender and the policing of masculinity, as well as the way that men who cross those boundaries–or even stray near them–risk ridicule or even outright abuse (if they’re lucky, Mr. T might advocate just pitying them, not actually rearranging their faces). It’s also useful for a discussion of what type of man is defined as a “real” man–apparently only men who like sports and girls, don’t drink wine, and know better than to pose. While this clearly excludes gay men, it also excludes many straight men. There’s a certain class element here–presumably “real” men drink beer, not wine, a drink generally more popular among those with higher incomes. All those men–gays, wine-drinkers, and pouters–just need to get some freakin’ nuts.

Thanks, Rick and Penny, for sending it along!

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

Since we’ve been on the topic of language (see yesterday’s George Carlin post), I thought I’d add something sent in by Z of It’s the Thought that Counts, who first read about it here. The conservative Christian organization American Family Association has a website called OneNewsNow where they post various news stories. Apparently the website has a filter to automatically replace the word “gay” in any news stories with the word “homosexual.” This became apparent when a news story about an athlete named Tyson Gay was posted with his last name changed to Homosexual in both the title and the text. Here is a screenshot (found here) of the original post from OneNewsNow:

The story has since been corrected. But as FriendlyAtheist points out, they have not corrected “Rudy Homosexual” in this sports story (thanks to Jon for the screenshot):

What is the symbolic power of saying “homosexual” instead of “gay”? What is the cultural difference between those two words? Is it an attempt to keep the focus on sexual activity? For some reason “homosexual” sounds more derogatory to me, but I’m not sure why–probably just because it’s used more by those opposed to gay rights, so I’ve come to associate it with an anti-gay ideology.

This might be interesting for a discussion of discourse and language in political movements generally, as well as conflicts around gay and lesbian issues specifically. Groups always try to frame issues to make their position sound more appealing, and a major way of doing this is through language. Think of debates about abortion–the differences between “pro-abortion” and “pro-choice” as well as “pro-life,” “anti-abortion,” and “anti-choice,” are symbolically meaningful, and different groups choose to use some of these terms rather than others in an effort to make themselves seem appealing and rational and the other side unappealing and radical. I suspect something similar is going on with “homosexual” vs. “gay.”

Thanks, Z!
UPDATE: In the comments to this section, Sanguinity made some great points about the differences between “gay” and “homosexual”:

“Homosexual” is the clinical term, and was used to pathologize gays and lesbians — it’s meant to invoke all that psychiatric-illness stuff. Also, the term focuses on sexual behavior, completely sidestepping romance, relationships, communities, cultures, and other sympathy-generating aspects of pershonhood. Additionally, by focusing on behavior above identity, it allows one to write entire articles with the implicit assumption that being gay is a choice: i.e., one isn’t gay, one chooses to engage in homosexual activities. That last item is especially important — while “gay” and “homosexual” may look like synonyms, they aren’t quite. “Gay” is a noun; “homosexual” is an adjective.

Thanks for the elaboration, Sanguinity!