Gender & Sexuality

Back Off, Masculinity Patrol

This Olympics, we witnessed the results of an American gender revolution. Did you notice all those American women athletes who excelled on the field? As Amanda Marcotte noted here with pride and praise, our gals have clearly shaken off the pressure to overcompensate for their athleticism by playing sweetly feminine off the field. Once upon a time, you had to be seriously gender-nonconforming— i.e. , a lesbian—to risk your feminine credentials by playing sports. (Based on an entirely unscientific but extremely appreciative view of some of the other women's soccer teams, I would guess that dykes are still the ones venturing onto the field in some countries like, cough, Japan.) American women clearly know they can be strong, powerful, and kick some ass on the field. American girls can, from a very early age, play with trucks, wear pants, and run, kick, and throw without sanctions. As I've written about here several times, however, boys have no such freedom . Their behavior is overseen by...

Thrown Away for Being Gay

(Letter image courtesy of thinkprogress.org)
Over at ThinkProgress, Zack Ford quotes and verifies a letter from a father disowning his son for being gay. Here’s an excerpt: Don’t expect any further conversations with me. No communications at all. I will not come to visit, nor do I want you in my house. You’ve made your choice though wrong it may be. God did not intend for this unnatural lifestyle. If you choose not to attend my funeral, my friends and family will understand. Read it in full . It’s heartbreaking. Yes, I often celebrate here how much LGBT rights are winning. But here’s what we haven’t won: safety for children growing up in families that have been taught to consider their own offspring an abomination if they were gay. About ten years ago, when I was doing public speaking on marriage equality, I found myself talking to LGBT college kids across the country. The best part was getting to spend time with the kids who volunteered to pick me up from the airport and ferry me to and from my hotel. But I was stunned by how...

It's Official: Vibrators Are Mainstream

No matter what the politicians do, acceptance of women's sexuality is here to stay.

(Wikimedia Commons/Eva Kröcher)
While jokes about porn and casual references to male masturbation have made their way into mainstream culture, female pleasure—and especially masturbation—has typically been a touchier subject. But August 7, 2012 might be the day that female sexuality finally became a “mundane fact of life.” That’s when Trojan—the company that made its name selling condoms— inaugurated a line of vibrators by giving 10,000 of them away on the streets of New York City from hot-dog carts emblazoned with cheeky slogans such as, “Getcha vibes here!” According to company representatives, the giveaway is part of an effort to normalize vibrator use. As Bruce Weiss, vice president for marketing at Trojan, told The New York Times , “What we’re doing is taking something like a hot dog cart that is so everyday and so mainstream ... We’re showing people that vibrators are mainstream.” The shift toward accepting female sexuality has been a long time coming. Almost as soon as the sexual revolution kicked off in the...

The Boy Scouts' Learning Curve

(Flickr/David Blumenkrantz)
Since the Sandusky horror story first broke, we’ve seen a lot of articles exposing horrific behavior from the 1970s and 1980s. Serial abuse at the Horace Mann School. Philadelphia sprtswriter Bill Conlin 's long history of molesting children. Surely, there are more to come. This week's news comes from The Los Angeles Times, which has published an explosive, in-depth account of how the Boy Scouts of America have responded over the decades to child sexual abuse: by keeping a central file of volunteers banned for molesting Scouts, with detailed information about the relevant allegations and investigations. The headline, subhead, and introduction (the “nut graf,” in the lingo) suggest that the system failed: Boy Scout files reveal repeat child abuse by sexual predators Los Angeles Times review of Boy Scout documents shows that a blacklist meant to protect boys from sexual predators too often failed in its mission. A Los Angeles Times review of more than 1,200 files dating from 1970 to...

Female Firsts at The 2012 Olympics

A slideshow of women who are taking the year's biggest athletic event by storm.

AP
With the addition of women to the Olympic teams of Saudi Arabia, Brunei, and Qatar, the London Olympics mark the first time that every country participating in the Games is sending at least one female athlete. Many of them are only high school or college students, but they've overcome obstacles ranging from ultraconservative opposition to civil war to participate in the 2012 Olympics. The Prospect takes a look at the women who are breaking ground—and in some cases, national records—in fields from judo to shooting. Slideshow Female Firsts at the 2012 Olympics

Who Said Women Can Have It All?

Remember that Anne-Marie Slaughter article in The Atlantic about a month and a half ago, whose title—"Why Women Still Can't Have It All"—drove feminists bonkers, while the substance nevertheless rang true for roughly 70 gazillion working parents in this country who are doing the impossible every single day? Rebecca Traister proposed forever retiring the phrase " having it all " here, and I chastised the magazine for the framing. But the article's core idea was right, as I wrote at the time: She’s right about this core truth: Being both a good parent and an all-out professional cannot be done the way we currently run our educational and work systems . When I talk to friends who’ve just had children, here’s what I tell them: Being a working parent in our society is structurally impossible. It can’t be done right, so don’t blame yourself when you’re failing. You’ll always be failing at something—as a spouse, as a parent, as a worker. Just get used to that feeling. Slaughter’s entire...

Abortion: The New Wedge Issue

The GOP's extremism on reproductive rights gives Democrats an oportunity to pick up moderates.

(Flickr/Paul Weaver)
Last Friday, the Obama campaign released an ad in several swing states attacking Mitt Romney for his stance on abortion. “It’s a scary time to be a woman—Mitt Romney is just so out of touch,” says a woman named Jenni. A narrator explains that Mitt Romney opposes requiring insurance coverage for contraceptives, supports overturning Roe v. Wade , and once backed a bill that would outlaw all abortion, even in cases of rape or incest. The ad concludes: “We need to attack our problems, not a woman’s choice.” In recent elections, presidential candidates have been wary of diving into explosive abortion politics; in 2008, only $4 million was spent on abortion-related advertising, compared with $39 million on budget-related ads or $88 million on environmental ones. It's an issue the public remains divided on. According to Gallup, the proportion of Americans identifying as “pro-choice” hit a record low of 41 percent this year, while those describing themselves as “pro-life” hovered around 50...

Olympic Girls Go Bad-Boy

Women at the world's top sporting event are shaking off pressure to be feminine in the public eye.

U.S. Women's National Soccer Team striker Abby Wambach (Twitter/@AbbyWambach)
Athleticism in women has generated social unease going back at least as far as the Greek myth of Atalanta, the princess who refused to marry a man who couldn’t beat her in a footrace and was finally conquered by a “hero” who beats her by cheating. Women in sports flout the feminine not only by being competitive, but by using their bodies for an end other than sex and child-bearing. Since they first started competing in 1900, female Olympians have faced pressure to relieve sexist anxieties by turning up the girliness, even if doing so hurts their performance. In the past, the need to distinguish female from male athletes—and thus preserve their femininity—has led the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to enforce silly uniform requirements like bikinis for beach volleyball and skirts for tennis. Social ideals about femininity have also guided which female sports get the most attention: It tends to be those that highlight beauty and grace, such as gymnastics or figure skating. Note...

Pro-Life Sentences

(Flickr/ClinicEscort)
Dissenting in Gonzales v. Carhart , the 2007 case that upheld a federal ban on "partial birth" abortion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg charged that the majority "refuses to take [Planned Parenthood v.] Casey ... seriously." This inclination, not surprisingly, has filtered down to the lower federal courts as well. Two recent cases conspicuously refuse to take a woman's reproductive rights seriously, and indeed one judge failed to apply Casey at all. The first recent decision , by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, upheld a South Dakota statute that requires doctors to inform women seeking abortions that obtaining one will lead to an increased risk of depression and suicide. The law, which interferes with the doctor-patient relationship and forces doctors to lend the weight of their authority to assertions not supported by scientific evidence, should be considered an "undue burden" on a woman's right to choose and hence invalid under Casey . As the dissenters point out, "In order to be...

The Graceful Ghetto of Women’s Sports

We've become accustomed to seeing female athletes compete in events like gymnastics and swimming, but we're far less comfortable when they play "men's sports."

(Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Navy)
This year marks the first time that the Olympics will feature women’s boxing, news that heartens feminists and strikes fear in the hearts of men made in the mold of Jennifer Lopez’s (fictional) abusive husband in Enough . One would think that female competition in a blood sport like boxing would mean that we’d gotten a smidge closer to the elusive equality of the sexes—and in some ways, we have—but the recent controversy over what women should wear while boxing shows we’re not quite there yet. Late last year, the Amateur International Boxing Association (AIBA), the sport’s governing body, recommended that female boxers wear skirts in the ring in order to distinguish them from their male counterparts. Because upper body toning exercises (like, for example, repeatedly punching something) make an athletic woman’s breasts smaller, the AIBA felt something needed to be done to alert the world to the fact that the fiercely sparring athletes in the ring were ladies. Hence the skirts...

Don't Fil-A the First Amendment

(Flickr/Alfonso Surroca)
As established by the traditions of Chicago politics, aldermen can assert their privilege to deny permits to businesses who want to do business in their wards. This week, Alderman Joe Moreno said that that he would invoke that privilege to deny a permit to the fast-food chain Chick-fil-A, which is seeking to open a second franchise in the Windy City. According to Moreno , Chick-fil-A should be denied permission to operate in the neighborhood he represents because of the "bigoted, homophobic comments by Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy, who recently came out against same-sex marriage." Boston Mayor Thomas Menino made vaguer threats about stopping the chain from doing business in Boston, although he has since backed off. Moreno is undoubtedly well-intentioned, and he's right that "[e]quality for LGBT people is the civil-rights issue of our generation." But denying Chick-fil-A a permit solely based on the political beliefs of the company's president violates the progressive principles...

Sally Ride's Right to Remain Silent

Astronauts of the STS-7/Challenger mission (Wikimedia Commons/NASA)
I’ve been startled by certain gay men who have petulantly demanded that it wasn’t enough for Sally Ride to be an astounding feminist hero, a role model for all girls; she also should’ve stood up for the gays. Andrew Sullivan ( and others ) had a tantrum about her postmortem announcement, as if coming out were the central patriotic duty of everyone who loves someone of the same sex: I'm not so understanding. We can judge this decision in the context of Ride's life. Her achievements as a woman and as a scientist and as an astronaut and as a brilliant, principled investigator of NASA's screw-ups will always stand, and vastly outshine any flaws. But the truth remains: she had a chance to expand people's horizons and young lesbians' hope and self-esteem, and she chose not to. She was the absent heroine. #Srsly? As if being lesbian or gay were a more important—or even equally important — identity than, say, being the first American female astronaut? Imagine what it must've been like to be a...

Let's Not Make Sally Ride a Gay Icon

Let’s remember her for what she cared about most—women in the sciences.

(Wikimedia Commons/National Archives and Records Administration)
A single line in Sally Ride’s obituary has caused a lot of fuss over the last day—the fact that she spent the last 27 years of her life with another woman. It’s a bit of a shame that the buzz of the public revelation has taken away from what it seems Dr. Ride would have preferred her legacy to be: pushing young women into careers in math and science. It doesn’t appear that Ride’s sexuality was a secret to those who knew her, just to the rest of us, the ones who knew her only as the trim woman in a NASA jumpsuit, sporting a soft halo of '80s hair. That’s exactly what she was to me as a little girl, a name and a picture in a history book: the first American woman in space. Firm evidence that we had been there, done that. Ride embraced that legacy, starting a company later in life that provided materials to make the teaching of science more accessible to young students. She also spoke out about the problem of peer pressure and norms of socialization that led girls away from studying math...

RIP, Sally Ride

Sally Ride (Wikimedia Commons/National Archives and Records Administration)
Yesterday, the day before Amelia Earhart’s 115th birthday, Sally Ride joined the skies for a final time. At 61, she died of pancreatic cancer—a horrible disease. Back in 1983, it was thrilling to watch her smash the American gender barrier as she zoomed into space. When she headed off into the final frontier, it was not as it was with the subordinate Lieutenant Uhuru on the Enterprise—the closest analogue there was at the time—but as an equal astronaut. Ride strode up to the Challenger as if she belonged there—which, of course, she did. She had degrees in physics, astrophysics, and English—what an underachiever! When she saw a NASA newspaper ad seeking astronauts, she applied and got the job. Sally Ride was one of a host of exhilarating barrier-smashers in that decade when young feminists like me thought all barriers would soon come crashing down, from Sandra Day O’Connor to Geraldine Ferraro. Of course women could do anything, including fly to the stars! It’s funny now to read The...

This American Darkness

(Wikimedia Commons/David Levy)
If there’s anything that illustrates the term “kneejerk liberal,” it would be the immediate assumption, this weekend, that the Batman shootings required a national debate about gun control. As has been reported elsewhere, Friday’s “assailant” (I profoundly respect Steve Erickson’s refusal to do him the honor of using his name) used not just a semiautomatic rifle, gas canisters, a rifle, and a pistol in a theater, but also jury-rigged bombs to boobytrap his own apartment. (The Associated Press reports that he's refusing to talk to police, so he's at least minimally sane, realizing there is no way to explain what he's done.) Yes, banning assault weapons and all the rest would be useful. So would background checks, the end of gun-show loopholes, and so on. But it wouldn't have stopped this particular killer, who had nothing in his record to suggest he was troubled or troubling. It wouldn't have stopped others like him. Anonymous shootings and public bombings for some obscure and...

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