Obligatory comment on this week’s outrage that broke the internets.

Historiann1990Once upon a time, a privileged white guy with writing gigs at various legacy mags and a prominent perch now at New York Magazine wrote an essay warning darkly of today’s “P.C. Police” on our college campuses and the internet because people sometimes say mean things about him and his writer friends (who also have sweet gigs at legacy magazines) on Twitter or in the comments on his articles.  (Or something.)  Full disclosure:  I’ve mentioned his work exactly once on this blog, and it was only to give him a nod of agreement.

There have been a number of serious and productive responses that point out the folly of Jonathan Chait’s claims about the “dangers” of “liberal P.C.,” but also agree with him that arguments among putative liberal allies can be aggravating and sometimes turn on absurdities á la “the Judean People’s Front” or the “People’s Front of Judea,” such as Megan Garber at The Atlantic, or J. Bryan Lowder at Slate.  In other words, they grant that yes, people on the internet are sometimes major jerks.

Yes, people are a-holes in general, and people with blogs are probably on average bigger a-holes than most.  But, for the most part, straight, white guys on campus or on the internet just get criticized or maybe called names, or get told to “check your privilege.”  White men don’t (for example) regularly get calls for their rape and murder, or death threats if they show up to give a speech on a U.S. college campus, which is the kind of thing that happens to feminist women writers on the internet.  A lot. Continue reading

Beyond the Binary: Trans* History in Early America


Fall 2014 special issue

Rachel Hope Cleves has a detailed and interesting report on a panel she convened earlier this month at the Annual Meeting of the American HIstorical Association in New York City over at Notches: (Re)marks on the History of Sexuality. This panel was an outgrowth of a special issue of Early American History she edited for Fall 2014 on the subject of Beyond the Binaries:  Critical Approaches to Sex and Gender in Early America.

Cleves describes each of the four panelists’ contributions, describing their work on flexibly-gendered or trans* people and describing the conversation among the panelists and the audience on the salience of gender binaries as well as the value of reading trans* identities into the more distant past of early America.  I thought this exchange was particularly interesting on the question of viewing early America as a “golden age” of gender flexibility and trans* possibilities:

Questions from the floor followed, sparking productive disagreements. Questions from Kathryn Falvo, Maddie Williams, and Jesse Bayker, pushed [Sean] Trainor’s observation of the optimistic bent of the special issue. Trainor suggested that variations in the expression of masculinity in early America need not be treated as “assaults” but could be understood as tolerated iterations. [Greta] LaFleur stressed that her attention to the wide-range of non-binary gender expression in early America was not optimistic but intended as a corrective to the paucity of alternative stories. She announced herself willing to work in the speculative mode, not just the declarative. [Scott] Larson went further, insisting that he felt an ethical imperative to make bold claims for trans* history, and to escape the “land of caveats” in which academic history often operates.

Continue reading

There are no founding mothers, just embarassing aunties and cleaner-uppers: the care work we demand of women and no one else


Eve Ensler

This story, of Mount Holyoke College cancelling a performance of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues because it was deemed exclusive of transwomen’s experiences, is a perfect example of the care work we expect of women, their institutions, and feminism, and of no one else.  We never demand that men’s or male-dominated political movements or institutions serve absolutely every other social justice issue first, second, or third, before they can work on their announced and preferred issue or issues.  This is only a demand we make of women and their institutions and political movements, because we expect this kind of care work from women and not from men.

On a related note:  the message here is just shut up.  Stop talking.  Stop acting like your experience is relevant to anyone else.  Shut up, already!!!  Stop talking about vaginas!  As though any one monologue–get it?–could presume to represent everyone’s experience.  The title of the play is very intentionally The Vagina Monologues, with the “s” indicating that there is more than one experience recounted here.  But somehow, we see the word Vagina, and we stop thinking and start screaming “SHUT UP!!!” Continue reading

When what to my wondering ears did appear. . .

nicholassyrettbut my BFF (and this year, my housesitter), Nick Syrett, who was interviewed on Morning Edition by Renee Montagne on college fraternities sexual assault over the  longue durée.  That guy gets more free media for his book, The Company He Keeps:  A History of White College Fraternities (Chapel Hill:  University of North Carolina Press, 2009) than any university press author I know.  UNC Press must love him.  I was impressed by how scholarly the interview itself was–you can see a transcript here, or listen to the interview yourself.

I don’t think it’s just the commenters at the NPR website, but what is it with the need for members of the general public to tell scholars that their research is either unnecessary or irrelevant?  (I’ll leave aside the commenters who resent “the PC odor around this collective guilt-mongering.”  That’s sadly predictable!)  The majority of the commenters today at NPR (so far!) are appreciative of story and seem to agree with Nick that the connections between fraternities and sexual violence is both longstanding and robust, but then someone like Theresa Younis writes, “Research?  Everybody knows that.”  (Eyeroll implied?) Continue reading

“Worlds of Rape, Words of Rape:” Sharon Block on UVA Prez Teresa Sullivan’s public statement on gang rape

No time to blog today–instead do not walk, run! over to Nursing Clio to read Sharon Block’s analysis of the UVA gang rape story and UVA President Teresa Sullivan’s victim-denying and victim-blaming public statement, which focused on the harm to Mr. Jefferson’s University and its “dedicated Student Affairs staff” instead of the victims of rape.

Once again, as Block described so brilliantly in her 2006 book Rape and Sexual Power in Early America, the harm of rape is to men and to historically male institutions like universities, the law, the courts, fraternities, and the like.  And even women–just like Teresa Sullivan!–participate in blaming women victims and protecting men and male institutions.  Yes, indeed:  Block’s book demonstrates that in Anglo-American law then and now, rape is a crime so horrible that it never happens, unless its perpetrators are even more marginal than its victims. Continue reading

John D’Emilio: marriage equality “a sad misdirection?”


Marriage is an institution, and what kind of radicals want to live in an institution?

John D’Emilio, queer history founding father and all-around badass, is unafraid to pee in anyone’s Wheaties (even in his allies’ breakfasts) to make a point.  Via Tenured Radical and the Twitter musheen, John D’Emilio is “Thinking About Marriage” over at OutHistory:

When I think of the long history of LGBT activism in the U.S, stretching back to the post-World War II years, I’m struck by how the periods of most creativity, the periods that involved the biggest leaps forward, were those in which activists most clearly challenged common assumptions and core institutions.  The U.S. LGBT movement was launched by a group of gay men who had ties to the Communist Party and who theorized that “homophiles” were a distinct minority with a special role to play in society, based on their difference.  The Stonewall-era gay liberation and lesbian-feminist movement saw the oppression of queers as thoroughly linked to gender, racial, and class inequalities; it believed liberation would come only if one thoroughly re-imagined and reconstructed the nuclear family; and it sought to make common cause with other radical movements.  The radicalism of ACT-UP that AIDS generated by the late 1980s wanted to remake the health-care system in the United States and provoked a community debate about sexuality and pleasure as key elements of human life.  By contrast, the movement for marriage equality aligns itself with an institution that is not only in decline. It is also an institution that acts as gate-keeper for who deserves key benefits basic to a human’s survival – parenting, an income in old age, health care and insurance, and many more.  Significant and exciting as this campaign has often been, it seems a sad misdirection of a social change movement’s limited resources.

From what I’ve seen, marriage isn’t in decline everywhere–it’s mostly in decline among poor and struggling working-class families.  Bourgeois folks meet in college or professional school and enjoy expensive weddings, and they even seem to enjoy their marriages too in that their divorce rate is also pretty low.  Marriage is now functioning almost as marriage did in the ancien régime among aristocrats, as a system that shores up inherited and accumulated wealth and privilege as well as serving as a gate-keeper to middle-class privileges that really should be entitlements for all of us. Continue reading

The scariest of them all? Little boys who want to dress up as girls for Halloween


What would we do without GayProf?

Kate Cohen writes that the most terrifying costume on Halloween is a little boy who dresses up as a Disney Princess or Wonder Woman, at least in the minds of his parents or other adults in his community:

 Would you let your son be Frozen’s Elsa for Halloween? Care.com reports that 65 percent of people it surveyed (note: this could mean 20 people) said “no” to letting a boy wear a girl costume. Or, as a CaféMom commenter put it, “NO WAY AND HE WOULDN’T WANT TO ANYWAY.”

I wish I could dismiss the horror-struck momosphere with sympathetic condescension—man, it must be hard to live in a red state—but I can’t. My dining room table is a progressive enclave within a liberal bastion within the state of New York, and yet, it was there that my 5-year-old son’s declaration that he wanted to be Wonder Woman for Halloween was met with the shocked gasps and nervous laughter of our dinner guests. No one spoke. And then a friend—trembling but determined, like the one kid in the horror movie brave enough to move toward the scary sound behind the door—ventured, “Wouldn’t you rather be Spiderman?”

Sadly, I’m sure she’s right.  I have a nephew who was bullied by neighborhood pre-K toughs because at age three he liked to play dressup and sometimes wore a dress.  Age three!  

Liberal Americans congratulate themselves too much for being gay- or trans-friendly if the notion of five-year old boys dressed as Wonder Woman causes anyone to say anything other than “She is AWESOME!  Who wouldn’t want to be Wonder Woman  Which accessory do you like better:  the bulletproof bracelets, or  the rockin’ boots?”  (I’ll take the bracelets for daywear, but who can resist those boots?)  The only costumes these days that scare me are those asinine male superhero costumes that are padded to make preadolescent children look absurdly muscular.  Would most of us permit our preteen girls to wear giant false boobs in their costumes?  The fake muscles are the masculine equivalent, I say. Continue reading