Gender & Sexuality

Rick Perry's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Nostalgia

Rick Perry has tumbled from the top of the polls over the past two months with some polls this week putting him behind Newt Gingrich. Perry is the epitome of the Tea Party conservative on most issues, yet his slight divergences on immigration and an HPV vaccine mandate have convinced primary voters that the Texas governor is a RINO. How's he going to bounce back? By appealing to the vilest desires of the GOP base. During an interview with ABC News' Christiane Amanpour, Rick Perry offered some homophobic musings: When asked whether he'd reverse the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, Perry accused President Barack Obama of appeasing "his political base" and said he would "go back and sit down with your commanders in the field and have that conversation." It was a "political statement" from Perry's vantage. But that political base that Obama supposedly appeased was the vast majority of Americans. According to one poll taken right before Congress voted to repeal the law last...

Is Gay Marriage on the Line in Iowa?

It's Election Day, though most of the country won't notice. Beside a handful of referendums with wide-reaching consequences, there are few contested elections, and the two big-ticket contests—gubernatorial elections in Kentucky and Mississippi—aren't in question. But one small state Senate election in Iowa could have a significant impact on the LGBT community. Republican Cindy Golding is facing off against Democrat Liz Mathis in the state's 18th District. The special election was triggered when Republican Governor Terry Branstad appointed the incumbent (a Democrat) to a state board earlier this fall. What's so important about a single Iowa Senate seat? Democrats currently hold a 26-24 majority in the chamber, so the election will decide which party controls the legislative body. And if Golding wins, the Republicans will likely use their new majority to begin the process of repealing Iowa's same-sex marriage law. Since the Iowa Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage rights in 2009,...

Herman Cain and the Problem of Serial Harassers

What is it that turns a person into a serial predator? Is there something about power that makes some men think they can take whatever they want, or are there men who just don't recognize women as human? Make no mistake: Real sexual harassment is predation. My rule has long been that if I hear one allegation, I wait to hear the evidence—might be true, might be false. If I hear two serious allegations in which women took the risk of bringing the charge publicly, I assume there are more. Someone smart at the Associated Press must know that rule, because their reporters have turned up a third allegation of sexual harassment against Herman Cain: A third woman considered filing a workplace complaint against Herman Cain over what she deemed aggressive and unwanted behavior when she and Cain, now a Republican presidential candidate, worked together during the late 1990s, the woman told The Associated Press on Wednesday. She said the behavior included a private invitation to his corporate...

How Far We Haven't Come, Episode #1707

Remember "The End of Men," the concept that the future belongs to women, because women are more prepared for today's economy? Well, it hasn't hit us yet. Even when women are better educated, men earn more, at least in most parts of the workforce. As Motoko Rich reports at The New York Times , Even with the same college and professional degrees, men earn more than women . And among so-called creative class workers like architects, teachers, artists, engineers, bankers and journalists, men earn much more than women , even though more women hold such jobs. It’s similar at the bottom end of the scale. According to a report issued Thursday by the United States Government Accountability Office, a higher proportion of women finish high school than men, a milestone that is a minimum requirement for any job mobility. Women — especially younger women — are also completing bachelor’s degrees at higher rates than men. Yet they represent a higher proportion of low-wage workers, defined in the...

How Far We've Come, Episode #407

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Back in the mesozoic era of LGBT rights—probably about 1985 or so—I remember reporting for a local gay newsweekly on a young woman in a less-than-affluent Boston suburb who was demonized for trying to take her girlfriend to the prom. She struck me as a little unstable and troubled, as anyone would have had to be to risk the harassment and death threats that hounded her. And even though I was the snotty anti-prom type during my high school years (see under: poet ) and went with my best friend to a Greek Orthodox Easter midnight mass instead of my high school's prom, I was in awe that this teenager would take that on. I hope that my impression was wrong, and that she ultimately fared well. I thought of her when I saw this item on a California lesbian couple at Patrick Henry high school, where the crowd cheered insanely as they crowned the pair homecoming king and queen. Neither one appears especially butch, but those titles were the only ones available. They're absolutely adorable, just...

Does David Brooks Understand Market Economics?

In his weekly back-and-forth with Gail Collins at The New York Times " Opinionator" blog this week, David Brooks finds a backhanded way to blame a woman for being forced out of a job by her supervisor's sexual advances. He doesn't seem to realize that his comment blames anyone who asks for compensation for an employer's negligence or harm: David Brooks: Now we turn to ethical issues. My first question, and this is a genuine question, concerns the victims. Let’s detach ourselves from the specifics of the Cain case and consider a general question: If you are the victim of sexual harassment, and you agree to remain silent in exchange for a five-figure payoff, should any moral taint attach to you? In the old days, somebody who allowed a predator to continue his hunting in exchange for money would certainly be considered a sinner. I’m reluctant to judge people in these circumstances, but I’m inclined to agree. Am I missing something? Well, yes, he is...

Are You Pink- or Blue-Brained?

(Flickr/TZA)
Think that single-sex education is a sensible idea, since boys and girls learn so differently? Think again. In Slate recently, neuroscientist Lise Eliot , who researches child brain development, and social psychology professor Rebecca Bigler explained their recently published peer-reviewed article in Science , which examines an “overwhelming body of research on the topic.” They had three main findings: “Decades of research on academic outcomes from around the world has failed to demonstrate an advantage to single-sex schooling, in spite of popular belief to the contrary.” “Thousands of studies comparing brain and behavioral function between adult men and women have found small to insignificant differences, and even smaller differences between boys and girls.” “Single-sex schooling facilitates social stereotypes and prejudice in children.” If facts, not ideology, have any hope of carrying the day, this article should be essential reading in the Mars/Venus-at-school debates. Part of the...

Anti-Abortion and Pro-Choice?

(Flickr/ClinicEscort)
Last week, I asked: So what if I hadn’t been born? In response, Rachael Larimore at Slate kindly took up my offer to discuss, as she puts it, “the lightest of topics”: abortion . You will not be surprised to learn that we differ on some core points. First, she believes that embryos are human beings. Here she writes: … this photo of a 10-week-old embryo clearly shows limbs and eyes and organs and a brain. It might look like an imagined Roswell-esque alien, but if it’s not human, I don’t know what is. Rachael, I disagree. I see an embryo, the size of a pinkie, that couldn’t survive even in the most intensive NICU. It doesn’t have a working brain, internal organs, or lungs that could function under any circumstances. It’s a mush of rapidly dividing cells with enormous potential to be a human, if nothing intervenes, like a miscarriage or a D&C. But to me, that uninhabited scrunch of cells is no more human than an acorn is an oak tree. And so I don’t agree that “it’s barbaric to kill 1...

Speaking of Cultures Unfriendly to Homos ...

.... Uganda is reintroducing the bill that would impose the death penalty for being gay. The Open Society Institute (OSI) hosted a photography exhibit last spring called "Being Gay in Uganda" that showed Tadej Žnidarčič's powerful portraits, in which each individual is shown from the back. I had walked into OSI in New York for another purpose entirely when I saw what looked like the backs of some very cute women. (There were men too, but, well, I didn't notice them at first.) When I walked over to look more closely, my heart dropped through the floor. The short interviews—in which these people told of essentially being hunted and hated in their daily lives—nearly made me cry. It's heartbreaking to think that, just by standing still or walking, these people are visible targets. And they're targets, specifically, of religiously incited hatred. In January 2010, The New York Times reported on how three American evangelicals spoke against gay people at a conference attended by thousands—...

No Homos Need Apply

Am I hopelessly cynical, or what? According to the online outlet Newser, a Georgia Baptist college, Shorter University (Motto: "Transforming Lives Through CHRIST"), has some specific expectations for its employees: The conservative Christian university is demanding that its 200 employees sign a "Personal Lifestyle Statement" rejecting homosexuality, adultery, and premarital sex, the New York Daily News reports. Those who don't sign the pledge face losing their jobs. "I think that anybody that adheres to a lifestyle outside of what the biblical mandate is would not be allowed to continue here," the school's president says. Drinking alcohol in front of students or in public is equally verboten. Being active members of a local church is mandatory. I found this story amusing, thinking: Well, what can you expect of an institution that's dedicated to a particularly doctrinaire religious teaching? Then I read this story in the GA Voice, a Georgia LGBT news outlet, which was contacted by a...

Can We Talk About Sexual Harassment?

(Patsy Lynch/Rex Features via AP Images) Herman Cain addresses charges of sexual harassment at the National Press Club yesterday. We’ve just inched past the 20-year anniversary of the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings, which electrified the country and educated employers and employees alike about the newly enshrined civil-rights violation called “sexual harassment.” Now Politico brings us another iteration of the did-he-or-didn’t-he game—this time, about Herman Cain. Here’s what already bothers me about this conversation: It’s all about electoral politics. Will this hurt him with his constituency ? How will Cain play this ? How will it be played by Fox & Friends? Do Iowa primary voters care? Unlike that round 20 years ago, this is not going to be a discussion about sexual harassment. Call me a crank, but I think sexual harassment matters. Let’s recall the origin of the tort. [Insert unforgivably professorial harumph here.] The 1964 Civil Rights Act banned discrimination based on...

Girls, girls, girls!

Over at New York magazine, Emily Nussbaum has written the perfect introduction to the new, fiery, sardonic, savvy generation of feminists who are making change online and in the streets. Nussbaum checks in with both the feminist blogosphere and the controversial “SlutWalks,” a series of anti-rape marches that have caught imaginative fire. The title has been hotly debated—but as young feminist leader Jessica Valenti has noted, it sure has gotten the attention that organizers wanted. Nussbaum writes: SlutWalk launched in April, sparked by the outrage of Canadian activists after a cop told female students to “avoid dressing like sluts” in order not to be victimized. The idea was to take the sting out of the insult with a Spartacus-like display of solidarity, to put blame back on the attackers. Since April, there have been marches all over the world, including in Mexico, Germany, and South Africa, but this Manhattan march feels fired up with local frustration, the climax of a year of...

Women and Wal-Mart

Do you remember the big Wal-Mart class-action case alleging that the behemoth retailer systematically discriminated against women, which the Supreme Court tossed out ? (Technically, the SC said the case was too big and the plaintiffs too disparate to be bundled together and tried in a single lawsuit because they all had different situations and complaints). The Court made this flat declaration at the early stage called “motion for summary judgment”—before the plaintiffs had a chance to present the evidence that they had a common complaint. Brad Seligman , the longtime employment lawyer who has been crusading against workplace discrimination for decades, has filed the first of what he says will be a series of regional lawsuits raising the same issues for smaller groups of plaintiffs. Seligman took his winnings in earlier anti-discrimination lawsuits to start the nonprofit Impact Fund, precisely to fund these kinds of cases. Keep your eye on these.

More on the Abortion Debates: What if Your Mother Had Aborted You?

Yesterday I posted "So what if I hadn't been born?" In reply, noted reproductive rights thinker Frances Kissling sent along her own very moving essay along these lines, published a few years ago in RH Reality Check: " What if your mother had aborted you? A daughter's perspective. " As she says, I feel a need to turn that question around and to ask instead: What if your mother's life would have been significantly happier and healthier if she had not had you? If you as a fetus had the capacity to make decisions, would you have given your life for your mother's life, health and happiness? My mother, Florence, the last of seven children in a harsh Polish immigrant family, left home at 17 and came to New York City. She got pregnant, chased the soldier who impregnated her and ended up with me. As you might imagine, she was an interesting and difficult person. Frankly, she never should have had children. She had her good qualities, but mothering wasn't one of them. And she had a miserable...

Help! I Married a Jock!

(Flickr/Varsity)
Somehow I married a jock, which puts me in a mixed marriage. I was the English major who scorned the sports crowd; to our clique, jocks were way down there, below, oh, caterpillars. (We didn’t particularly care about what they thought about us.) My wife has made it clear that the jocks felt much the same way about us dorky creative types; when she hears about my college antics, she groans, I can’t believe you were one of those people! Exactly how I feel. In so many ways, we are a very unlikely pair. As in any mixed marriage, my jock and I try our best to accept the other’s incomprehensible culture—and turn to others for understanding. My longtime best friend and I together buy season tickets to performances from the local troupe, the Actors' Shakespeare Project ; we're perfect companions as we analyze and assess performances in detail, analyzing whether this Lear or that stage set compares well with the other one we saw a decade ago. On game nights (which, to my shock, is every night...

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