Archive for the 'Gender' Category

Laura Kipnis

Posted in Gender, Sex on March 6th, 2007

Laura Kipnis is my sort of feminist. Her new book is the most succinct and lucid book on the current state of gender relations that I’ve read. I highly recommend “The Female Thing: Dirt, Sex, Envy, Vulnerability.” She does a great job of spelling out the current struggle between feminism and femininity that often occurs not at the societal level but at the individual level. She has some provocative things to say about a whole host of issues including sex and rape. Definitely a lot there that I want to write more about here.

Marriage on the decline

Posted in Gender, Life on March 6th, 2007

Marriage as an institution has been a hot topic of debate as of late. Most notable has been the increasing struggle over gay marriage, but there has also been the somewhat quieter decline in the number of people getting married. While the divorce rate has stabilized (and actually decreased slightly) lately, part of that may be due to the fact that fewer people are getting married.

The WaPo recently ran an article on the decline of marriage, especially among the lower class. The Post points to statistics showing that increasing it is college graduates with high incomes getting married, while everyone else is resorting to co-habitation.

There are a couple odd statements in the article. One is this:

Married couples living with their own children younger than 18 are also helping to drive a well-documented increase in income inequality. Compared with all households, they are twice as likely to be in the top 20 percent of income. Their income has increased 59 percent in the past three decades, compared with 44 percent for all households, according to the census.

Now, the article has already explained that fewer people are getting married and that only rich people are getting married. If that is the case, then the truth isn’t that married couples are making more money thereby increasing income disparity. It is that poorer people aren’t getting married, which means that the average wage of married couples is going to go up. The Post seems to have put the horse behind the cart here, missing the point of the very demographic information they are quoting. What is true that the increase in income disparity has increased enough (and one real way that it has increased is that earnings among the lower and middle class have been dropping) that only people riding the crest of the wave feel like they are stable enough to risk getting married.

Which I think is probably the largest part of this decline. Stephanie Coontz writes about the changing attitude towards matrimony in her book Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage. One things that she highlighted was that the goals behind marriage have substantially changed from being financial partnerships to being love matches. The result is an increasing sense of unhappiness with marriage: if getting together with someone is about true love, rather than ensuring a higher standard of living, then the grounds for complaint are greatly increased. It is easy to measure financial security. But assigning a value to emotional satisfaction is a much harder and more fraught exercise. One that is continually open to ‘the grass is always greener’ syndrome, among other things.

The change that Coonz highlights here is, I think, reflected in the declining lower class marriage rate. Marriage used to be about financial stability. The new perception of marriage is that it is about love and that love is fleeting. While marriage is not expensive, per se, divorce can certainly be and alimony most definitely is. Since marriage is now considered much more transient it make sense that only people who have the financial stability to survive a divorce are getting married.

Men aren’t the problem with porn (well, not quite)

Posted in Gender, Sex on February 22nd, 2007

Bitch Ph.D. want to know if men are the problem with porn:

Personally, I’m less interested in discussing whether or not mainstream, presumably man-focused porn is aesthetically revolting (no duh) than whether or not the simple fact that men control the industry as both suppliers and consumers is the major problem, and if so why and what does this mean? Do y’all think that men = “the patriarchy”? Is it that men, by and large, fear/dislike women’s “control” of sexuality and this expresses itself in gross misogynistic imagery?

I think that this question looks at the situation the wrong way. First, lets define the “problem” that she’s talking about. I would take her thesis to be that mainstream porn is misogynistic and geared towards an expression of mens’ dominance over women. It’s a thesis which I’m prone to agree with.

But to look at this as a simple cause and effect, that men being in charge makes porn misogynistic, misses the target. There is no necessary correlation between men making porn and the degradation of women. There is a possible correlation between men being the primary consumer of porn and it depicting women as facile sex toys. But the real issue here is the cultural environment that exists that causes this attitude to be the primary one that is reflected.

In depicting the dominance of men and the availability of women all porn is doing is reflecting the culture that has generated it. I would argue that things like the wage gap and the view of women as unable to compete in the business world due to pregnancy and child-rearing have much more to do with pornographic misogamy than the explicit make-up of the industry personnel. I think it is telling that even porn made by women, for women or couples, often buys into many of the same stereotypes that more mainstream porn does, even if they are greatly ameliorated. The dismissal of women is a cultural thing, not necessarily a gender thing.

As a comparison, look at the role of African-American men in the mainstream porn industry. First, there aren’t a lot. Second, they are treated as a novelty, often playing off the “forbidden” inter-racial aspect (Little White Chicks Big Black Dicks) in ways that bring to mind the worst of the Klan’s race-baiting. But is this because white men run the porn industry or because of the way that society perceives black people? Again, I’d argue that culture comes first. Black people are marginalized in general society, so why should porn be different. And despite protestations to the contrary, inter-racial relationships are still not really acceptable to many people and maintain their “forbidden” quality that makes them titillating.

I think it has very little to do with individual men and more with porn, like almost all creative industry, being a reflection of the culture in which it is produced. To change porn, you have to change the culture, not the other way around. Currently our society is predicated around the idea that everyone except white men are substandard citizens. And until that changes, the porn industry won’t change.

Now, if you want to say that our currently social order was crafted by white men and that in that respect they are responsible for the problem with porn, then I’d agree whole-heartedly with that. But to point to the individuals in the porn industry as the root of problem is missing the mark.