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Democracy. A word and an ideology that have spawned revolutions and wars ever-lasting. And yet, as July 4th rolls around, even someone as jaded as I can admit there is something quite extraordinary about the idea of democracy. A place where informed citizens are given the chance to both represent themselves and pursue happiness, at least in its property-acquisition form. The shift from "subjects" to "citizens" that heralded the French and the American Revolution was a promise, not a reality, but nonetheless a compelling one that for the first 150 years seemed increasingly possible. And who was this citizen? At first, a property-owning white male, but as time went on, all white men, then all men, then women. And these citizens were different from subjects. Subjects bowed to the authority of the state; citizens were the state. Subjects behaved in courtly ways in front of the king; like barbarians when out of the court. Citizens, highly disciplined by new forms of power, were always civil.
These promises of democracy sound quaint these days in the US, with a populace so uninformed that they are easily misled by demagogues and charlatans into acting in the most undemocratic of ways. And what is to blame for the breakdown of civility and citizenship in America? I'd like to blame it all on Fox News and the likes of Glenn Beck and Rush LImbaugh, but the truth is the erosion of American democracy predates the appearance of fascism. America the Undemocratic began with the destruction of equal opportunity that was contained in the educational system. As the 20th century progressed, education became the engine of American democracy. Taking children and young people out of factories and mandating public high school educations lifted an entire generation of Americans out of sweatshop labor. After World War II, the GI Bill sent tens of thousands of working men into universities. By the 1970s, the American educational system was increasingly open to women and/or Black and Latino Americans.
And then a little revolution called Neoliberalism came along and democracy came to screeching halt. We didn't realize it at first. The seeds were planted, but it was only decades later that the undemocratic impulses of Neoliberalism would bear fruit. Today, your chances of going to college if your parents didn't are lower than they have been at anytime since before World War II. To make matters worse, if you go to college, you will probably have to take on large amounts of debt and the poorer you are, the more likely you are to drop out of school before you even finish your degree. In fact, half of all student loan recipients never receive a degree.
The result: a population that believes that Evolution is just a theory as is global warming, but whole-heartedly embraces the belief that space aliens and illegal aliens are here to destroy our lives.
And what is to be done? Unlike two centuries ago when France followed America in a democratic revolution, now the US would do well to follow France's lead in fostering democracy. Instead of Rousseau, our leaders should read the latest government decree on democratizing higher ed. At this point, fewer than 10% of the students at the top universities in France, the Grandes Ecoles, are from the poorest strata of French society. In the near future, nearly 30% of the Grandes Ecole students will be from Frances poorest families. This will radically shake up France's ruling elite, which is both overwhelmingly white and from bourgeois backgrounds.
Imagine such an experiment in the US. Suddenly places like Harvard and Stanford or even Middlebury College where I teach, would not be primarily for young Americans with so much privilege that they spend thousands of dollars on elite SAT tutors, go to private high schools that cost more than my annual salary, and spend their summers doing prestigious internships. Instead, university students would be the smartest among us, not necessarily the best prepared. Although elite schools like mine would have to do more basic instruction to get students ready to study- more writing classes, research instruction, etc.- the student body would be more dynamic, more diverse, and yes, far more DEMOCRATIC.
And then, when American students left these top universities and went on to take jobs in finance or education or medicine, to take over as America's ruling elite, they would be there not because their parents could afford the time and money to groom them for leadership, but because they were smart and hard-working enough to merit such a role. That would be a truly democratic revolution.
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All fascist regimes take knowledge seriously. The Nazis loved them a book burning. What better way to create an ignorant populace and a scared-shitless intelligentsia than to put it all in a bonfire, throw some gas on it, and make knowledge disappear. The Soviets were so anxious to control every bit of knowledge in their populace that writers took to publishing underground, a few copies at a time, circulated somehow among hundreds of thousands of people.
It was only a matter of time till the sort of nasty, ugly and yes fascist tactics of the far right wingnuts would stop any and all critical discourse in US universities. Nothing makes the end of knowledge more obvious than last weekend's graduation speech by Sandra Soto, an associate professor of gender and women studies at University of Arizona. If you watch this [youtubevid id="qSppVDbEZkg"] you'll see that as Professor Soto attempted to make a very reasoned statement about the need for civil debate around important issues like immigration, the audience starts to boo and shout her down. Someone yells "That's right, this is Uhmerica... bitch."
What did Professor Soto say that might have elicited this response?
What we so desperately need -- and yes this does put the class of 2010 at a particular crossroads -- is for you to bring every critical thinking skill at your disposal, and then some more, to bring all of the substantive knowledge of history, diverse cultures and societies, ethics and politics -- bring all of these to the table.
The new Arizona law generally known as SB 1070 is considered the strictest anti-immigrant legislation in the country and is explicitly intended to drive undocumented immigrants out of the state. One reason it has instigated a boycott is because to a whole lot of people, myself included, it appears to not only invite but require the police to engage in racial profiling. Before we had a chance to fully get our heads around the implications of either 1070 or of the subsequent boycott, our governor signed HB 2281, which is intended to eliminate any Ethnic Studies classes from public and charter schools in Arizona.
Wow- sounds crazy to me. Oh no, wait, sounds like she's asking people to think carefully about these issues, to bring all their critical thinking skills, supposedly the point of an education, to the table to figure out how to respond to important issues. So the correct response to a call for non-hysterical debate is to try and shut the speaker down- at least under fascistic regimes. And that is just what the audience of our future leaders did- or at least tried to do- since Professor Soto continued speaking despite the outbreak.
This was a graduation speech- a professor, a teacher, a researcher- making a call for more civility and more debate. According to an article in Inside Higher Ed,
Since the talk, Soto said she has received a barrage of e-mail messages, many of them hateful and some of them potentially threatening. Many such messages have also been posted on YouTube and on local Web sites that covered the speech.
Welcome to the University of Glen Beck, a world where any call for a more reasoned and critical debate, a more just and humane world, is seen as sedition. Instead of debate, we should get angry, shout each other down, and never ever listen to someone with whom we disagree. Welcome to the end of knowledge.
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In the rather privileged and isolated world of academe, a binary and rigid gender system is seemingly a thing of the past. Decades of feminism and feminist scholarship have shaped students' ideas about what they can and cannot do. Women can be scientists; men can be stay-at-home parents. Women can play rugby; men can decide not to play sports.
In addition to feminism, a growing transgender movement on campus means that things like gender neutral bathrooms and getting to choose what name and what gender signifiers are on your transcript are increasingly commonplace.
It's not that college campuses feel "post-gender," but they definitely feel post-gender-binary.
And yet loosening our ties to gender might mean we can no longer respond to patriarchy when we see it. No longer feeling "solidarity with our sisters," most women (and men) don't know what to make of news stories like these. After all, words like "patriarchy" fell out of fashion with 3rd wave feminism's insistence on giving women subjectivity and a role in creating the systems in which they live. Patriarchy also seemed increasingly difficult to pin down given post-modernist ideas about the lack of a fixed and stable gender subject.
But surely patriarchy is a word we must revive- even if we say it is not about men per se - when confronted with the misogyny mixed with male privilege that seems to be running rampant off of college campuses. For instance, in Iran "bad" women are being blamed for causing earthquakes. According to a CNN report,
The prayer leader, Hojatoleslam Kazim Sadeghi, says women and girls who "don't dress appropriately" spread "promiscuity in society... When promiscuity spreads, earthquakes increase," he says in a video posted Monday on YouTube, apparently of him leading Friday prayers in Tehran, Iran, last week.
In Mexico, a pregnant 10-year old, who was raped by her stepfather, is being forced to give birth to the child despite serious risks to her health. Because of the Catholic Church's vocal opposition to abortion in Mexico and the rise of conservative groups, this is hardly the only case of forced pregnancy on a child.
This girl is much more than an isolated case," said Adriana Ortiz-Ortega, a researcher at Mexico's National Autonomous University who has written two books on abortion in Mexico, "and there is much more influence now from conservative groups that are trying to prevent the legalization of abortion."
As I wrote back in February, similar forced pregnancies are happening in Nicaragua as a result of state-Church alliances that define "real Nicaraguans" as opposed to abortion and abortion-rights activists as "foreign."
Meanwhile, back on the post-gender campuses that I inhabit, sexual assault is a constant threat and is nearly always committed by a particular gendered and sexed body and most of the time on a differently gendered and sexed body. At a nearby university, there are details coming out about a particularly brutal assault on a young woman by two men, the 9th reported on the campus this year. On my own campus, a variety of stories of sexual (and gendered) assault float in and out of public discussion, although few are reported to police. The underreporting of sexual violence on college campuses is a national problem. Why so few sexual assaults on campus are reported to police is unclear- partly it is an effort to protect the survivors of such assaults from a judicial system that is, for lack of a better word, patriarchal and partly it is because sexual assault is not seen as fully a crime because of what can only be called patriarchal attitudes by campus administrators.
Living in a post-gender world that is simultaneously patriarchal may seem impossible, an oxymoron written on the body and lives of academic sorts like me. But I think post-gender might be the correct response to patriarchy- an absolute refusal to locate ourselves on either side of the gender binary so that humans with any sort of body parts and any gender expression can join together to say that bodies- of whatever gender- deserve protection from state interference in the form of forced pregnancy, hate speech in the form of blaming "women," and violence.
In this post-gender world, we must all be "sisters" against patriarchy, even if we have a penis.
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Increasingly we visually driven post-moderns cannot distinguish the Imaginary from the Real. At this point in time, my alma mater, Franklin and Marshall College, has morphed into a brand of clothing that is extremely trendy in most major cities of Europe and Japan. While living in Shoreditch- a hip section of London- for a few months this winter, I was overwhelmed by the number of Franklin and Marshall sweatshirts. When I finally asked someone whether they had gone to my college, they answered
What, you mean there's really such a place as Franklin and Marshall? I just bought it because it's American prep, you know? It reminds me of what an American college would be like- but I never thought it was real."
When I tell people in Europe that I went to F and M, they ask "The clothing brand?" How did this happen? According to a recent article by Kathy Matheson,
Franklin and Marshall the company was founded by a pair of entrepreneurs in Verona in 1999, more than 200 years after Franklin & Marshall the college was founded in Lancaster by a gift from Benjamin Franklin.
Giuseppe Albarelli and Andrea Pensiero were inspired to create their high-end sportswear by an authentically old F&M sweatshirt they found at a secondhand shop in London. They began replicating and improvising on that classic collegiate look, not realizing Franklin & Marshall was an actual U.S. college.
Hmm, interesting that these two young entrepreneurs had no access to an internet search. But still, my alma mater will benefit from having its name used for sportswear. A scholarship fund for an actual F and M student is being established by the faux college wear.
But what are the broader consequences of becoming the school that is now a brand? Will incredibly hip kids from Rome or Tokyo decide to go to F and M because they love the brand name? The company's website features a variety of pretty and very white young people- blonde hair, tan skin. The men are huge- rugby or American football players; the women are rail thin. There is a nostalgia about it all- a vintage truck, scenes from somewhere vaguely like the American West (NB: the actual Franklin and Marshall is in Lancaster, PA). These young cyphers of American elite educational institutions sport the uber-preppy styles- plaid shorts, polo shirts, dark blue or bright red sweat shirts with Franklin and Marshall in white letters- that the company is now famous for. There is even a faux insignia.
The motto of the company is apparently
For Franklin and Marshall the word vintage refers to the continued search for clothing and personalization in order to express one's identity.
The dizzying mix of the postmodern search for authenticity through consumption is made more real by a button that allows the consumer to then click on the website for the actual Franklin and Marshall College.
What is real and what is not in this mix? There seems to be a real fetishization of whiteness and wealth and privilege on this site. The youth on the website are untroubled by "urban" scenes. America is white and in open spaces. This is interesting since most the youth wearing the sweatshirts in Shoreditch were Black. Like earlier appropriations of privilege by the less privileged- think Tommy Hilfiger- perhaps Franklin and Marshall the brand represents the knowledge that the way to get into the ruling classes is to be born to the ruling classes. To go to schools like F and M and meet "others like you" and then have careers like everyone else in your family: lawyers, doctors, professors, etc. Perhaps also the fact that this is a brand that has taken off everywhere but the United States (Bloomingdales tried selling the brand but no one wanted it here in the US) means that first world young people are yearning for a time when America was still a Superpower and young white college prepsters were preparing for a secure future.
Whatever it means, it certainly is a sign that elite educational institutions in the US are now easily branded-something the schools themselves are constantly trying to do anyway. F and M the school can now sell itself as "hip" in the same way that the school I teach at now, Middlebury College, sells itself as "green." It also means that when Ben Franklin started Franklin College a few hundred years ago, to educate what he saw as the highly ignorant local inhabitants of Lancaster, he could not have envisioned a time when higher education and business joined together to sell a product. But perhaps he would have been in favor of such a wise use of resources. As an apologist for both the Protestant ethic of penny pinching and the capitalist spirit of seeking wealth, Franklin might have favored saving a penny in school advertising by letting a clothing brand do it for you. So now when people ask me if I graduated from a clothing brand, I will say, "Yes, yes I did. And now I teach at a lifestyle brand."
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Facebook is evil. Facebook will save us. Which of these two statements is true? And what if they both are?
Let's take two somewhat recent examples from the world of education to examine these seemingly contradictory propositions.
FB is evil. A professor recently got suspended from teaching for making a joke about students on her FB page. According to a report in the Chronicle of Higher Ed,
Gloria Y. Gadsden has been reinstated to her job at East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania. The associate professor of sociology returned to work on Wednesday after being cleared by a psychologist.
Ms. Gadsden was placed on paid administrative leave after a student complained about two comments she had made on her Facebook page: "Had a good day today, didn't want to kill even one student.:-) Now Friday was a different story ..." and "Does anyone know where I can find a very discrete [sic] hitman, it's been that kind of day."
I am not fond of Prof. Gadsden's comments. I do not see my students as the enemy or even a homogenous group. Some students annoy me, of course. Some colleagues annoy me too. And I am sure I annoy them. But mostly my students, like my colleagues, are a group of fairly reasonable people who are trying their best to participate in this thing called "higher ed."
I also try not to create any false separation between "students" and "everyone else." Some students are my friends, some my colleagues and collaborators, some I never speak to outside the class room, but I try to be as respectful and helpful as possible in the class room with everyone.
Perhaps this is why, when I was fired by my college a few years back, students (past, present and future) rallied together to create a FB page to figure out how to save my job. They came up with organizing ideas- like letter writing campaigns to board members and taking over the president's office hours to talk about the issue- and wrote testimonials to me and actually turned the process around. These students, no, not students, these human beings also made me extremely grateful to have them in my life, not because I got my job back, but because I learned that the job was rather beside the point.
But now the plot thickens. Although my guess is Professor Gadsden and I are similar in many ways- like being female and sociologists, there is one major difference between our experience of academe and our students. I'm white. Professor Gadsden is Black. Gadsden has written openly about how difficult it is to be Black in predominantly white institutions like the ones she and I both teach in.
To what extent does her experience of her students as Other have to do with their experience of her as Other? What is the effect of being one of a handful of Black faculty at institutions that are all far more white than the general population? I am going to speak anecdotally here, but I have heard many faculty members who are from racially underrepresented groups talk about how they feel the need to exert their authority in the classroom because white students were constantly questioning their expertise. This is particularly true for female faculty of color.
How could it be otherwise when we have a fair amount of data from social psychologists like Claude Steele that shows that white Americans (even ones who consider themselves "liberal" or "not racist") tend to see people of color as "less qualified" than whites?
And so I am left with the knowledge that part of my bond with students is a highly racialized one. I see them as fully human because they see me that way. I see them as highly competent because they see me that way. I don't separate myself from them because I am like them. And so FB saved me even while it put a Black colleague's career at risk.
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I can see that there will be a lot of interesting things to come out of the supposed health care bill for weeks, even months to come. The law was way too long for anyone to know what the hell was going on with it. Yesterday I wrote about how the law will finally put an end to banks making huge profits off of student loans. Today I found out that the law sets aside $250 Million a year for the much debated and more or less discredited Abstinence Only Sex Education first dreamed up by Neocons, but put into play during the Clinton years.
Known as Title V and having received over a billion dollars in the past decade, Abstinence Only Education teaches American teens that the only safe sex is married sex- since apparently married sex means no other partners are involved (yes, ironic that Bill Clinton should have done this). Since Abstinence until marriage is the "only way" to avoid STDs and unwanted pregnancies, teens are encouraged to wait until they're married to have sex.
The effectiveness of Title V education is not widely studied, but some reports indicate that it has had no effect on teen sexual practices except to diminish the use of condoms (since the teens are trying not to have sex when they have sex and therefore come unprepared). The US still has more teen births and higher levels of sexually transmitted diseases among teens of any industrialized country. Teen pregnancies began to rise again at the height of Abstinence Only education programs. And we have generally created a generation of teens too conflicted about sex to put a condom on it. A 2007 federally mandated report found that Abstinence Only programs did not influence sexual behavior, but they did have an impact on sexual smarts. Students who underwent abstinence programs were much more likely to be unsure whether a condom was effective at preventing STDs.
How did this total waste of money sneak into the bill, despite the fact that Congress itself has investigated the Abstinence Only education programs and found them a waste of tax payer dollars? Two years ago, the Waxman Report found that these programs mislead teenagers (for instance, teens were told that half of all gay male teens are HIV positive and that touching someone else's genitalia can lead to pregnancy and that condoms often fail to prevent the spread of HIV). The anti-sex, anti-sanity GOP, that's how.
Republican Orrin Hatch (R-UT) snuck this huge waste of money into the bill and despite calls by Henry Waxman (D-CA) and others to take it out, it stayed in because the Democratic leadership was too busy to worry about it. Over at Reality Check, James Waggner says
Boy, does that ever smack of the “dog ate my homework” excuse. There was no rationale for keeping this amendment in the bill. Hatch is a Republican who opposes health care reform so there was no political need to placate the author of the measure. Taking Title V out of the bill would have saved a quarter billion dollars over five years and Democrats were desperate for savings so they could show that the bill would reduce the federal deficit.
But the problem is, despite Title V's stupidity, no politician in this nation of sexual puritans wants to be seen as pro-sex, let alone pro-teen-sex. Until we as a nation of really uptight people admit that teens are sexual beings, that they will engage in sexual activities, and that it's best if they do it with as much information and contraception as possible, programs like Title V will continue to get passed, with no one taking responsibility for it and yet, no one doing much to stop it.
The misbehavior of Congress in passing more Abstinence Only ed is like two teens, groping in the dark, wracked with guilt, and kinda forgetting to put a condom on it. And now we the taxpayers are stuck footing the bill while our children pay the price of being miseducated about sex.
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A major victory was scored for economic justice and just plain old common sense this week when Congress finally put an end to the biggest rip off of college students ever seen: the Student Loan Industry. As we all know by now, Sallie Mae and Fannie Mae were not helping students as much as burdening them with high-interest student loans, paying financial aid offices to misdirect students to these "products" rather than lower-interest federally funded programs, and then shoving money into Republican lawmakers pockets so that no reform would pass.
Thankfully, Democrats and principled Republicans who actually believe in the market, not the market pumped full of taxpayer dollars, got together and passed reform with the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010. According to an article by Alexander Zaitchik,
This means an end to nearly four decades of corporate welfare for the government-created -- but now fully privatized -- icon of the industry, Sallie Mae. The savings to be had from terminating this subsidy -- estimated at between $60 and $70 billion over the next decade -- will go toward shoring up the Pell Grant program (which helps low-income Americans attend college), health care programs and deficit reduction. Where the Department of Ed has long paid private loan companies like Sallie Mae and Citigroup to issue and manage government-backed student loans, the department will now make all federal loans directly, without the help of a middleman, through its own Direct Loan program.
This is a major victory for the Dems and the Obama administration and they should be talking about it as much as possible. If heath care reform left most of us with a sense of the blahs, the reform of the for-profit higher education industry should have us dancing in the streets.
At the core of any democracy must be an educated and critical citizenry, something that higher education can create. More importantly, at the core of any democracy must be the possibility of "making it," of actually moving up through economic and social hierarchies as the result of hard work and stamina. For decades higher education provided a way for Americans to do that. But for the past 25 years, with students from the middle and working classes graduating with tens of thousands (often hundreds of thousands) of dollars in debt, higher education has become a form of indentured servitude- indentured to debt service with no chance of getting ahead. Worse, half of all student loan borrowers don't graduate- so now they have debt and no diploma.
This will now end, partly. The government, at least, has set the stage for real educational reform. Now universities must do the rest and if they don't, the federal government must look into regulating university salary scales in the same way it must look into Wall Street pay packages that are subsidized with our tax dollars.
The ugly truth of higher ed under the Neoliberal economy is that it has become "for profit" with an elite tier of over paid "executives" (presidents, vice presidents, provosts and deans), a few "superstar" faculty who are sought after with salary packages that are far too high for the good they produce, a dwindling core of middle management (tenure-track professors) and a growing number of day laborers (adjunct professors with no job security and usually no benefits who work for a fraction of the pay that tenure track faculty work for).
The people who benefited from the Neoliberal university were few and at the very top. The rest of us, including students, suffered the most as the point of higher education became not "education" but the "experience." Universities invested in things like "climbing walls" and perfectly manicured lawns, penthouse apartments in major cities for their presidents and upper management, and far too many "support staff" who do things like hold students hands when they're stressed about exams.
It's time for higher ed to get back to basics. Education requires students and professors and reasonably equipped classrooms, dorm rooms, dining halls, basic support staff and medical services. We do not need upper management making half a million dollars a year or a quarter of a million dollars a year or whatever ridiculous salaries they make. We do not need superstar academics who make similar amounts. Students want a good education from professors who care about them, not people who are in the news. Professors want a livable wage and job security and benefits.
It's time for some real soul searching in academe. If those among us making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year aren't ready to self-regulate themselves, then it's time for faculty and students and even Congress to band together and throw the bums out.
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I'm always of two minds when I read about the horrendous discrimination faced by queers in homophobic institutions like the Catholic Church or the US military. On the one hand, I think: That's so wrong. On the other I think: What the hell are you doing trying to be part of organizations that hate you?
Case in point: a nice lesbian couple decided to enroll their two children in the Sacred Heart of Jesus School in Denver, CO. The children enjoyed their first year there, but were barred from re-enrolling because their parents are lesbians. According to the Archbishop, Charles J. Chaput:
The Church does not claim that people with a homosexual orientation are ‘bad,’ or that their children are less loved by God… But what the Church does teach is that sexual intimacy by anyone outside marriage is wrong; that marriage is a sacramental covenant; and that marriage can only occur between a man and a woman. These beliefs are central to a Catholic understanding of human nature, family and happiness, and the organization of society. The Church cannot change these teachings because, in the faith of Catholics, they are the teachings of Jesus Christ.”
Funny, but I don’t recall Jesus railing against lesbian parents or unmarried sorts. After all, Jesus’ mother was pregnant from someone other than his father and his best friend was a whore. I also rather doubt that the school is kicking out all divorced parents or unmarried heterosexual ones.
But I digress, the real question is not what would Jesus do, but why do queers want to be part of institutions that hold so firmly to the belief that there are straights and gays and gays are sinful or bad for army morale or not full citizens? In other words, what would make queers send their kids to Catholic schools, join the military, or try to get access to marriage?
I will leave it to the psychologists to discuss internalized homophobia and a deep need to be accepted by those who hate us. Being a sociologist, I suggest we keep our eye on something else: social power.
In purely economic terms, there are reasons to join the military, get married and send our children to parochial schools that are much less expensive because they are religious. In a country where income distribution is by far the most unequal in the industrialized world, where access to higher education involves huge amounts of debt for the majority of Americans, and where jobs that pay a livable wage are few and far between without a university degree, the military is one of the few promised paths to future financial well-being. Of course, it’s a promise that is rarely realized- but nonetheless, it is a promise. The same holds for the benefits of marriage- health insurance, property transfer, etc. As for Catholic schools, they’re cheaper than most private schools and the level of education can be quite a bit better than our underfunded public schools.
But it’s not just about money. It’s about privilege and status. It’s also, more fundamentally, about a sense of being a good person. Good people love their country enough to kill and die for it; good people are married people; good people do everything in their power to ensure their children have as many opportunities as possible.
Good grief. Good people should love their country enough to resist illegal wars of aggression, insist that civil rights not be distributed on the basis of marital status, and fight for excellent public education for all our children.
I’m no Christian, but even a sinner like me knows that’s what Jesus would do.
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Utah is an interesting state, a case study in the mixing of conservative Christianity and ultra-conservative politics with CRACK. Nothing else could explain the series of stupid decisions being made about sex, birth control, and the law.
With one of the most shame-inducing "Abstinence Only" sex education programs in their public schools and a majority population steeped in a conservative Christian belief that sex should only be to make babies, Utah must live with the obvious results of teaching young people that they should feel shame and disgust around sexual pleasure. In Utah, you can't even say "Abstinence is the best policy, but if you're not abstinent, use a condom to prevent pregnancy and disease." Instead, "Abstinence ONLY" is what teens get and then they do what teens always do: they have sex.
The results of not having safer sex education are that every day in Utah, 12 teenaged girls become pregnant and they're more likely to get chlamydia than the flu or chicken pox. Ninety-three percent of women in Utah live in counties with no abortion providers. And now, if a woman or girl gets pregnant in Utah and miscarries due to "intentional behavior," the state can send her to jail.
The law, signed into effect yesterday, was supposedly a more careful one than the original bill that could have sent women who miscarried to jail for any "reckless" behavior. However, the new law represents the real possibility that women could be prosecuted for miscarrying. According to Democratic Senator Ben McAdams,
the revised bill still sets a dangerous precedent that would "open up a Pandora’s box" of unintended legal consequences that will be hard to reverse. "Even the word 'knowingly' will result in unintended consequences."
So why is the media reporting that the new law won't send women and girls to jail for miscarrying? According to the AP story,
The version of the bill Herbert signed excludes language in an original version that opponents feared could lead to pregnant women who have natural miscarriages or miscarriages while engaging in activities like skiing being investigated for criminal homicide.
But in fact both Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union continue to voice concern that the version passed will make any woman who miscarries a "potential criminal" who would have to "prove" her innocence.
Instead of reporting on the dangers of the Utah law, the media is spending a lot of time reporting on the rather sad criminal case that inspired its drafting: a 17 year-old girl who paid a young man $150 to beat her up so that she could terminate her 7-month pregnancy. The beating did not result in a termination of the pregnancy (the baby was born and subsequently adopted), but it did result in prosecution for both the young woman and the man who beat her.
A fascinating story, full of tragedy, but the real story is the effects of the Christian Taliban on this country and particularly our young people.
Barred from the knowledge of how to control their fertility or keep their bodies free of sexually transmitted diseases, steeped in shame about having sex in the first place, fed a steady media diet that both makes everything about sex and also makes sex a problem, young people act rashly, stupidly even, and then pay the price of STDs and unwanted pregnancies. Now, in Utah, some of them will also go to jail.
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Ah, urinary segregation. The moment at which, according to Jacques Lacan, we learn whether we are boys or girls. Do you go into the room with the icon of the person in pants or a skirt (so we also learn the sartorial signifiers of sex and gender as well). And of course it's a perfect system of sexual socialization: because everybody has to pee, everybody has to choose a gender. But just one.
Now, according to the Christian Civil League of Maine, those crazy "homosexuals" and their "homosexual agenda" are trying to destroy this basic foundation of gender difference. According to a statement in the Bangor Daily News,
The Christian Civic League of Maine believes that these new guidelines are not merely an error in judgment on the part of the Maine Human Rights Commission. Rather, they represent the latest effort by the homosexual lobby to impose their confused views of sexuality on society at large.”
At issue is an effort by the Maine Human Rights Commission to do what is being done throughout the country: deal with binary urinary space in a country with a growing number of transgender-identified citizens. In Maine, a young female-identified student was denied access to a girls' bathroom because she was born male. But whatever you may think a transgendered person's "true" identity is, it is not "simply" what sex they were assigned at birth.
And despite what the Christian Civic League of Maine thinks, these are not issues of sexuality (desire), but of sex (male/female) and gender (masculine/feminine). In other words, there is a diversity of gender expression going on in our schools and throughout the country and the binary urinary space of his and hers bathrooms is no longer able to accommodate how Americans live and pee.
And although many of us may believe that "we have always had his and her bathrooms and we always will," that is clearly wrong. We didn't even have bathrooms or outhouses until fairly recently in human history. Humans went more or less wherever, without the benefit of toilet paper or much privacy, let alone a strict binary urinary segregation.
The Maine Human Rights Commission, despite the panic, seems interested in keeping binary urinary space in place. They'll still have boys and girls bathrooms, but you can enter based on your gender expression rather than the sex assigned at birth. I have to say this seems like a bad idea, for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which is it still forces a binary notion of gender onto an increasingly gender-diverse society.
But what is the answer to urinary segregation? Every year I pose that as a final-exam question in my course on gender. The question is posed in the future: "Twenty years from now you are an architect and have to build a large building. What will you do about the bathrooms?" And every year students come up with ingenious designs for how we'll go in the future.
Generally the students imagine circular rooms with a variety of closed stalls: urinal (which biological females can use thanks to those clever plastic urinary devices like the She-Wee), wheelchair accessible toilets, toilets, toilets with baby changing table, etc. In this way, urinary space becomes about what you need to do rather than gender expression.
But what to do with bathrooms as they already exist? I would argue we let the students decide. For the most part, younger Americans have grown up with far more diversity of gender expression and thus they're far less panicked about peeing.