Sunday, December 28, 2008

Mildred Loving, whose marriage ended miscegenation laws in 1967

Mildred Loving passed away this year. This is a great story about the Loving case, which the Supreme Court ruled on in 1967 and did away with miscegenation laws. A great ending--Mildred Loving comes out publicly in support of gay marriage on the 40th anniversary of the 1967 ruling.

New York Times, December 28, 2008
Mildred Loving | b. 1940

The Color of Love

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Contextualizing Anne Alison's sarariman...

"Between 1986 and 1991, Japan had expanded by roughly the equivalent of France’s gross domestic product, then $956 billion. Japan was also outshining the United States, whose consumers bought most of its products and whose military provided its protection. In fact, its rise seemed to coincide with America’s slide...Then the double bubble turned into double trouble when both burst at the same time...The notion of Japan as a threat, a ninja-like adversary along the lines that Michael Crichton described in “Rising Sun,” suddenly seemed silly. No one worries much about Japan taking over the world today. When we wring our hands, it’s China we fear." Read the entire article here.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Women opting to become men in Albania

I had never heard of this practice, until I read this AP article, which appeared in my local paper. (This is from The Salt Lake Tribune, Oct. 6, 2008.) It's yet another example of the cultural construction of gender. One of the most famous examples is women among the patrilineal Nuer, who, if they have no brothers, sometimes take on the male role and take a bride, whose children (by a biological male) belong to the patrilineage of their (biologically female) father.

Tradition of 'sworn virgins' dying out in Albania

By Elena Becatoros
The Associated Press

SHKODRA, Albania - Drene Markgjoni spent 12 years in a hard-labor camp, punished for her fiance's attempt to flee Albania's regime, then one of the world's most repressive and isolationist.

She swore she would never suffer like that for somebody else again.

She pledged to forgo sex and marriage for the rest of her life, and declared herself a man.

That was six decades ago. Now 85, with close-cropped white hair, dressed in a man's blue striped shirt and black trousers, she greets visitors with a manly handshake. The way she walks, her confident gestures, everything about her is masculine.

Only her voice - soft and feminine - reveals her to be one of the last sworn virgins in Albania: Women who dress, act and are treated as men.

"I am happier like this," she says. "I don't regret it at all. Not a hair on my head does."

In this strongly patriarchal society where for centuries women had virtually no standing, sworn virgins enjoyed the same rights and respect as men. They could inherit property, work for a living and sit on the village council, although without the right to vote.

The privileges came at a price. They took an oath of celibacy and could never have sexual relations. And they could never go back to being women.

There are no official figures, but Antonia Young, a research fellow at the University of Bradford in Britain who has studied the practice for more than a decade, estimates that Albania had about 100 sworn virgins in the early 1990s. That number is now almost certainly much lower, as the practice and the women die out.

The reasons for becoming a sworn virgin can be practical - the head of the family dies with no male heir. Or they can be emotional - the woman does not want to marry the man chosen for her.

In Albania, particularly in the impoverished rural north, it was practically inconceivable for a woman to remain single and live alone.

But by becoming a man, Markgjoni was free. She could earn a living and eat and drink with men instead of being restricted to the kitchen. And she could adopt two habits denied to a traditional Albanian woman: smoking and wearing a watch.

She says she has worked in carpentry and farming, and in construction in her youth when, she proudly exclaims, she carried concrete slabs with the strength of two men.

Markgjoni still works, though now her job is less physical: making rosaries for her Catholic church in the northern town of Shkodra.

"I have had much more respect with my people, my family," she says.

The practice of sworn virgins stems from the Kanun, medieval laws handed down orally for generations before being codified in the early 20th century. It transcends religion, with sworn virgins found among Albania's majority Muslim community as well as the minority Catholics and Orthodox Christians.

In Albania's male-dominated society, a woman had virtually no rights: According to the Kanun, "a woman is known as a sack, made to endure as long as she lives in her husband's house." She could not inherit property, and work was limited to child-rearing and household chores.

Anthropologists stress that the tradition of sworn virgins, with its emphasis on celibacy, does not equate with homosexuality, which did not become legal in Albania until the 1990s.

"It's kind of the opposite extreme," says Young. "In one way, sworn virgins support patriarchy, because they support the feeling that you've got to have a man at the head, and this woman can be a man."

On the other hand, Young notes, "this would be a way round for a woman who had homosexual inclinations."

Traditionally the decision to become a sworn virgin turned on social reasons like not having enough men in the family, but recently it has become more a matter of the woman's choice, Young says.

With a deep rumbling voice and a distinctive swagger, Diana Rakipi, a security guard at a clinic in the seaside town of Durres, explains she always had a masculine outlook.

Rakipi, 54, who trades her security guard's cap for a military beret when not in uniform, never felt much like a girl.

"I have never worn a skirt," she says during a break at work. "It was not imposed by anyone for me to do this, nobody made me wear these clothes. I chose it."

Her Christian Orthodox family accepted her decision, and she has enjoyed the respect of her relatives and community ever since, she says, with nobody questioning her right to earn a living as she chooses.

"Nobody dared to ask me why don't I get married," she says. "I am considered No. 1 in my family."

This is the last generation of sworn virgins, according to Aferdita Onuzi, a professor at Tirana's Cultural, Anthropology and Arts Research Institute. In Albania these days, women enter parliament, government ministries, and the police force.

Qamile Stema, of Barkanesh, is one of Albania's last generation of sworn virgins. (HEKTOR PUSTINA / AP)

When Qamile Stema was a child, there were two sworn virgins in Barkanesh, a village perched in the hills above the northern town of Kruje. Stema, the youngest of nine girls, decided to stay and take care of her mother when her three surviving elder sisters married and moved away.

Now 88, dressed in baggy pants with a black waistcoat over her shirt and sporting the traditional white woolen cap of northern Albanian Muslim men, Stema is Barkanesh's last sworn virgin. She has lived a freer, if lonelier, life, she says.

"I have talked with other men, traveled with other men, even teased the women," she says. "Even when I went to dances, I danced as a man."

She has the unwavering respect of her family, she says. She has no regrets.

"I decided never to marry and I don't complain for that decision," she says. "Especially nowadays, all the old people are alone. I am alone. I don't complain. Because their children have left, and they are not different from me, the couples."

Sunday, August 03, 2008

"The XY Games": Jennifer Boylan

An important op-ed in today's Sunday Times on gender tests at the Olympics. Another sign of the increasing recognition of the existence of biologically-based gender ambiguity.

Boylan makes a number of significant and helpful observations:

First, on the non-binary nature of biological sex in human beings. (It's not just male/female.)

It would be nice to live in a world in which maleness and femaleness were firm and unwavering poles. People can be forgiven for wanting to live in a world as simple as this, a place in which something as basic as gender didn’t shift unsettlingly beneath our feet.

But gender is malleable and elusive, and we need to become comfortable with this fact, rather than afraid of it...

Most efforts to rigidly quantify the sexes are bound to fail. For every supposedly unmovable gender marker, there is an exception. There are women with androgen insensitivity, who have Y chromosomes. There are women who have had hysterectomies, women who cannot become pregnant, women who hate makeup, women whose object of affection is other women.

So what makes someone female then? If it’s not chromosomes, or a uterus, or the ability to get pregnant, or femininity, or being attracted to men, then what is it, and how can you possibly test for it?

The only dependable test for gender is the truth of a person’s life, the lives we live each day. Surely the best judge of a person’s gender is not a degrading, questionable examination. The best judge of a person’s gender is what lies within her, or his, heart.

Second, on "XY" females.

Over the past 40 years, dozens of female athletes tested in this manner have tested “positively” for maleness. That’s because these tests don’t measure “maleness” or “femaleness.” They measure — and not always reliably — the presence of a Y chromosome, or Y chromosomal material, which no small number of females have.

The condition, known as androgen insensitivity, occurs in about 1 in 20,000 individuals. Basically, a woman may have a Y chromosome, but her body does not respond to the genetic information that it contains. Some women with androgen insensitivity live their lives unaware that they have it. By any measure, though (except the measure of the Olympic test), they are women.

Third, on transsexual Olympians:

You might think that gender testing at the Olympics is conducted to weed out transsexual women, who might be perceived to have some sort of physical advantage over natal females. Yet this is not the case. Since 2004, the International Olympic Committee has allowed transsexuals to compete as long as they have had sex-reassignment surgery and have gone through a minimum of two years of post-operative hormone replacement therapy.

Fourth, the conclusion:

Maybe this means that Olympic officials have to learn to live with ambiguity, and make peace with a world in which things are not always quantifiable and clear.

That, if you ask me, would be a good thing, not just for Olympians, but for us all.

Unfortunately, Boylan only discusses ambiguous chromosomes, not ambiguous genitalia (hermaphroditism). On this subject, see Anne Fausto-Sterling's "The Five Sexes, Revisited."

Friday, July 11, 2008

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Salarymen Fight Back

Re Anne Allison's Nightwork: Sexuality, Pleasure, and Corporate Masculinity in a Tokyo Hostess Club:

Japan’s salarymen, famous for their work ethic and their corporate loyalty, fueled this nation’s industrial rise. But more recently, they have borne the brunt of its economic decline, enduring lower wages, job insecurity and long hours of unpaid overtime.

Read the complete article, from the New York Times, here.

Gay Unions Shed Light on Gender in Marriage (NY Times)

New York Times, June 10, 2008

A growing body of evidence shows that same-sex couples have a great deal to teach everyone else about marriage and relationships. Most studies show surprisingly few differences between committed gay couples and committed straight couples, but the differences that do emerge have shed light on the kinds of conflicts that can endanger heterosexual relationships.

The findings offer hope that some of the most vexing problems are not necessarily entrenched in deep-rooted biological differences between men and women. And that, in turn, offers hope that the problems can be solved.

Next week, California will begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, reigniting the national debate over gay marriage. But relationship researchers say it also presents an opportunity to study the effects of marriage on the quality of all relationships.

“When I look at what’s happening in California, I think there’s a lot to be learned to explore how human beings relate to one another,” said Sondra E. Solomon, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Vermont. “How people care for each other, how they share responsibility, power and authority — those are the key issues in relationships.”

The stereotype for same-sex relationships is that they do not last. But that may be due, in large part, to the lack of legal and social recognition given to same-sex couples. Studies of dissolution rates vary widely.

After Vermont legalized same-sex civil unions in 2000, researchers surveyed nearly 1,000 couples, including same-sex couples and their heterosexual married siblings. The focus was on how the relationships were affected by common causes of marital strife like housework, sex and money.

Notably, same-sex relationships, whether between men or women, were far more egalitarian than heterosexual ones. In heterosexual couples, women did far more of the housework; men were more likely to have the financial responsibility; and men were more likely to initiate sex, while women were more likely to refuse it or to start a conversation about problems in the relationship. With same-sex couples, of course, none of these dichotomies were possible, and the partners tended to share the burdens far more equally.

While the gay and lesbian couples had about the same rate of conflict as the heterosexual ones, they appeared to have more relationship satisfaction, suggesting that the inequality of opposite-sex relationships can take a toll.

“Heterosexual married women live with a lot of anger about having to do the tasks not only in the house but in the relationship,” said Esther D. Rothblum, a professor of women’s studies at San Diego State University. “That’s very different than what same-sex couples and heterosexual men live with.”

Other studies show that what couples argue about is far less important than how they argue. The egalitarian nature of same-sex relationships appears to spill over into how those couples resolve conflict.

One well-known study used mathematical modeling to decipher the interactions between committed gay couples. The results, published in two 2003 articles in The Journal of Homosexuality, showed that when same-sex couples argued, they tended to fight more fairly than heterosexual couples, making fewer verbal attacks and more of an effort to defuse the confrontation.

Controlling and hostile emotional tactics, like belligerence and domineering, were less common among gay couples.

Same-sex couples were also less likely to develop an elevated heartbeat and adrenaline surges during arguments. And straight couples were more likely to stay physically agitated after a conflict.

“When they got into these really negative interactions, gay and lesbian couples were able to do things like use humor and affection that enabled them to step back from the ledge and continue to talk about the problem instead of just exploding,” said Robert W. Levenson, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley.

The findings suggest that heterosexual couples need to work harder to seek perspective. The ability to see the other person’s point of view appears to be more automatic in same-sex couples, but research shows that heterosexuals who can relate to their partner’s concerns and who are skilled at defusing arguments also have stronger relationships.

One of the most common stereotypes in heterosexual marriages is the “demand-withdraw” interaction, in which the woman tends to be unhappy and to make demands for change, while the man reacts by withdrawing from the conflict. But some surprising new research shows that same-sex couples also exhibit the pattern, contradicting the notion that the behavior is rooted in gender, according to an abstract presented at the 2006 meeting of the Association for Psychological Science by Sarah R. Holley, a psychology researcher at Berkeley.

Dr. Levenson says this is good news for all couples.

“Like everybody else, I thought this was male behavior and female behavior, but it’s not,” he said. “That means there is a lot more hope that you can do something about it.”

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Gay Marriage? Useful Hetero Cautionary Advice

From "Happily Ever After," by Annebelle Gurwich, courtesy The Nation.

"Research from University of Southern California sociologist Kelly Musick suggests that most couples will likely spend half of their married lives less happy than they were when they cut the first slice of wedding cake. In fact, debunking that old seven-year-itch theory, participants reported the spark fizzling after only three years. Moreover, the latest census data indicate that singles now outnumber married people in the US, with fewer couples reaching that twenty-five-year milestone, all of which seems to confirm that people are just unwilling to settle for being unhappy."

Read the entire essay here.