Monthly Archives: March 2011

It’s Ok To Be A Tomboy But Not A Sissy. Why?

Screen-Shot-2012-09-05-at-9.43.22-AMEvery quarter I ask my women students if any of them had been tomboys when they were little. Many hands enthusiastically shoot into the air. The women often have fond memories of their time climbing trees and digging in the dirt.

Then I ask men students if any of them had been sissies. The class bursts out laughing. One hand might sheepishly creep up.

One man claimed the question was unfair since the word “sissy” is stigmatized but “tomboy” is not.

Actually, there isn’t a non-stigmatizing word for a boy who acts like a girl. And there’s a reason for that. Any boy who acts like a girl takes himself down to a lower status. He becomes demeaned.

A girl who acts like a boy, on the other hand, doesn’t harm her social standing. At least not until she gets older and the behavior takes on lesbian overtones.

Another student thought I was exaggerating the problem. For his term paper he asked men and women on campus whether they had been tomboys or sissies, and whether they had ever thought about being the opposite sex.

When he asked women if they had ever wanted to be a man, or wondered what it would be like, many said they had. When he asked about being tomboys when they were little, they often reminisced on that happy time.

But when he asked men whether they had ever wanted to be a woman, or been curious about what it might be like, stunned reactions were the rule: “What!? Are you serious?” When he asked if they had been sissies when they were young, men turned an angry eye and asked, “Are you looking for trouble?”

He’s lucky to have finished his research and still be alive and in one piece.

This is just one of many examples of how we “gender rank” men above women in our society.

What difference does it make?

Devaluing females and femaleness ends in all sorts of problems: Women expect less for themselves, including pay and power in relationships. In societies and subcultures where masculine is valued over feminine we find higher rates of rape, wife battering, gay bashing, daughters-for-sale, and female infanticide.  STDs are more widely spread. Women’s sexuality becomes repressed. The list goes on.

Gender ranking. It’s all about empowerment and disempowerment. But as we become more aware of the problem, we can create change.

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“Cock” vs “Down There”

When I ask students what they call a penis and a vagina in everyday words, two responses stand out: “cock” and “down there.”

The difference is telling. Cock: Cocky, proud, boastful, swaggering, self-satisfied. Image of a strutting cock, er, rooster.

But “down there”? Unspeakable. Embarrassing. Shameful.

Male sexuality is something to brag about, while female sexuality is something to hide.

The difference is reflected in Zestra’s difficulty getting ads on TV for a product that arouses women’s sexuality – while songs of “Viva Viagra” fill the airwaves.

The New York Times reports that TV networks, national cable stations, radio stations, and Web sites like Facebook and WebMD have all resisted airing ads for Zestra. Some agreed to broadcast ads in the early morning when most people are asleep. Others wanted disclaimers: “Not for people under 18.” Most felt that no amount of tweaking could make the ad suitable.

Many stations want to remove the words sex and arousal. Yet “An erection lasting more than four hours” is O.K.?

The manufacturer believes the resistance comes from our culture’s discomfort with women’s sexuality.

Meanwhile, normal processes of the vagina are shrouded in secrecy. Ads for one brand of sanitary napkins simply said, “Modess … Because.” Ok, that was the 70s. But even today women are embarrassed when tampons fall from their purses. Ever hear anyone say they had a “visit from Aunt Flow” when their period started?

Because female sexuality is deemed dirtier, more evil and more unspeakable, insulting slang for the vagina packs a bigger punch than slang for a penis.

Call a man a dick, and you’ve called him an idiot. Dictionary definition of dork: a whale’s penis. So a dork is a giant penis – an even bigger idiot.

But a cunt cuts deeper, moving into deeper disgrace.

Whether “down there” or “cunt,” it’s just degrees of shame.

We think that women will enjoy sex as much as men? In this atmosphere? It’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Georgia Platts

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A version of this article was originally posted on Sept. 30, 2010

Inflaming Feminazis: BEING Powerful? Or just FEELING Powerful?

As Women’s History month winds down I’d like to ponder the difference between being powerful and merely feeling powerful. Too often people chase the feeling and give up the real thing.

I sensed the phenomenon in a highly publicized event last year.

Last October a Yale fraternity chanted “No means yes, yes means anal” in front of the campus Women’s Center. One man concluded it was all meant to stir up feminazis. “The sole purpose of that building,” he opined, “is to give hatemongering academic feminists a base to spread their propaganda and recruit new members… They most likely (chanted there) because feminazis always go out of their way to harm men. Just about every policy implemented by academic feminazis is meant to incite misandry and marginalize men.”

Interesting tactic. “Who looks worse?” I asked.

“The guys will come across as arseholes, but they don’t care. All they care about is stirring up the feminazis.”

The commenter has a blog which seems to have the same goal. I just don’t know whether any feminazis go to his site so that he can stir them up.

Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt that his theory could be true. Do you think the Yale frat staged a blow to feminism? Or to sexism, instead?

While some seek to feel strong by chanting rape fantasies, real rapists and wife batterers are involved in the same loop. They want to feel powerful, so they beat down a woman or invade her body. Or both. They feel dominant in the moment. But their potency is actually pretty limited. And the acts are only destructive, not constructive.

Any time gang members beat or kill someone they probably feel formidable. But in the long run, how mighty are they sitting in jail, or dead?

A few early feminists made the error of feeling powerful over the real thing when they spewed man-hating rhetoric. In the moment they likely felt pretty tough. But the strategy did not create real muscle and feminists at large gave it up. For the effect was to repel potential female and male allies, alike.

Now we are left with the brand “feminazis.”

To all of the above I ask, why don’t you do something with your efforts and your lives that are both powerful and constructive, instead of beating others down in a basically weak attempt to feel better about yourselves?

And next time you seek power, consider whether you are being powerful only in your own head.

Georgia Platts

March is Women’s History Month

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Women Want Casual Sex? Yes and No

Women want casual sex as much as men, says one study. No they don’t, says another.

Which is it?

Maybe you’ve heard of this project: strangers approach students on college campuses and propose a one night stand or a short-term fling. Women almost always decline, but a lot of men accept.

Standard conclusion: evidence supports evolutionary psychology which claims women are picky, wanting faithful men with good genes, who will provide for their children. Men, on the other hand, will have sex with as many women as possible to better “spread their seed.”

But wait. A new study found that women were as likely to accept casual offers as men. So long as the possible partners were Brad Pitt or Johnny Depp.

Neither Brad nor Johnny propositioned real live research subjects. Rather, men and women were surveyed on a variety of scenarios.

Would you like to have sex if a stranger propositioned you in broad daylight? Survey says women find this set-up is no more appealing on paper than in the real life original study. Real or imagined, men were much more likely than women to accept.

What if fears of violence were removed? Women were asked if they’d like to have sex with their best male friend. Not really. Men were much more interested in sex with a female friend.

How about sexy men who seemed non-violent. Johnny Depp or Brad Pit? By all means, YES!!! Just as interested as men were in having sex with Angelina Jolie or Christy Brinkley.

Researchers queried on a variety of factors that might drive appeal or repulsion, including assumed sexual capability, status, warmth, faithfulness, likely gift-giving, or worries about danger, STDs or mental illness.

For women, nothing much affected their feelings other than worries about violence, or most especially, sexual capability.

For the most part, women said “no” to strangers and good friends because they didn’t think they’d enjoy sex with them very much. And they said yes to Johnny and Brad because they thought they would.

Still, another survey found that large numbers of women regretted one-night stands. While 80% of men had positive feelings, only 54% of women did. Displeased women felt used or worried about their reputations, while the men felt even more confident after these encounters. Lead researcher, Professor Anne Campbell of Durham University (UK) explained, “What the women seemed to object to was not the briefness of the encounter but the fact that the man did not seem to appreciate her.”

Others have found emotional connection to be extremely important to women. Women who respond to my blog constantly say they enjoy sex, but that it needs to be with someone they care about.

Maybe the truth lies somewhere in between. I need a strong emotional connection, myself. But I’d make an exception for Brad or Johnny.

Is my general preference due to evolutionary psychology? I doubt it. American Indians and Tahitians were promiscuous before European contact, so I don’t think monogamy’s in the genes.

In the western world women’s sexuality is repressed by negative messages from parents, friends, religious instructors, words like slut and whore, and worries about reputations. The threat of sexual violence can make sex seem fearful, while the act of sexual violence can make sex seem abhorrent. Since women are the sex objects, we don’t have sexy men to focus on. Instead we too often dwell on ourselves, distracted by how good or bad we look. All of this makes emotional connection an important component for many women.

My conclusion: Women are as biologically capable as men of wanting casual sex. But a lot of women want a lot more.

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Gay Marriage Helps Families

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has introduced a bill that would repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which bans same-sex marriage. It would also give married gay couples the same federal benefits as straight couples.

We’ll likely hear the usual response from the DOMA crowd: Gay marriage hurts families.

Actually, gay marriage helps them.

Without marriage, children of gays and lesbians are not protected by the Family and Medical Leave Act, which gives parents precious job-protected time to care for a new child. These kids aren’t guaranteed child support should their parents separate, either. They may miss out on social security or inheritance if a parent dies. They may not even be allowed to visit a sick mom or dad in the hospital. Shouldn’t children of gay and lesbian couples be protected, too?

Some worry that kids with gay parents will be mocked. But don’t most kids undergo teasing? Kids are laughed at for all sorts of reasons: glasses, religion, height, weight, a crooked nose, poverty, an unusual name. I know of one African American boy who has two lesbian moms. But the first time he was taunted it was for being black, not for having lesbian parents.

A few years back a gay couple who were fostering special needs children wanted to adopt to create a real family. At the time, Florida forbade gay adoption. When the children were asked if they feared being mocked for having two dads, they said no, they just wanted to be a family.

But what about the kids’ social, emotional and intellectual health? Studies show that these children are indistinguishable from others. Some will be surprised to learn that there is no difference even in gender identity, gender role behavior, or sexual orientation.

Others worry that gay marriage will lead to higher rates of divorce. Really? I know several people who have gotten divorced because one spouse was gay, the other straight. The partnerships were unstable and the eventual breakups weren’t good for families. There are many reasons this can happen, but stigma and the illegality of gay marriage certainly factor in.

Meanwhile, gay suicide rates are four times those of their hetero peers. As gay marriage – and gayness itself – become less stigmatized, these young people will be less inclined to take their own lives. And parents will be less likely to lose their daughters and sons to these tragic deaths. And that’s good for families, too.

Gay marriage hurts families? I can’t figure out how. Unless it’s patriarchal families that are the concern. Lesbian and gay marriages both upset the dominant-husband, subordinate-wife model. So gay marriage may indeed hurt patriarchal families that promote gender inequality. I’d say that’s a good thing.

Georgia Platts

This article originally appeared in the Ms. Magazine Blog March 18, 2011

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500 Calories + Pregnancy Hormones = Perfect Body

Pregnancy hormones plus 500 calories a day equals the newest diet fad. Theoretically, the hormone injections allow the dieter to starve without hunger pangs.

Susan Yager, on faculty at New York University’s Department of Nutrition, called it “one of the loopiest and most dangerous ideas ever.” Even if it does work, it’s not sustainable, she says. Once people get off the injections, most will return to their usual weight.

This is the latest in a long line of nutty fads. We’ve got the grapefruit diet, liquid diet, cabbage soup diet, lemonade diet, acai berry diet, and even a tapeworm diet, to name a few.

Some who follow these regimes, are obese. Others aren’t, but are desperate to get skinny, skinny.

What else can you do but go on crazy diets if you want to resemble today’s insanely slim supermodels? They go on crazy diets, too.

Victoria’s Secret Angels are considered the ideal, but how do they create their angelic bodies? One jumped rope and ate nothing but spinach, chard and kale to lose 20 pounds, post-pregnancy. Another described the routine as “killing ourselves” in unending runs, lunges and squats. One supermodel’s big cheat was eating “a whole head of lettuce.” Many use drugs to deal with the stress of starving. These women have unusual genes in the first place, but still go diet-mad.

Naomi Wolf says the expectation that women’s bodies must be gaunt yet full breasted, though rarely found in nature, was once assumed to be the eternal and transcendent ideal. It seemed important beyond question to somehow live up to that standard.

Wolf wrote The Beauty Myth twenty years ago. Today things have changed and stayed the same. A lot of women and men now get it – that the ideal is a myth and not descended from heaven. But others don’t.

Some women still diet to extreme and feel compelled to go under the knife to correct their natural but, in their minds, “deformed” breasts.

One might hope the insanity of the means would clue us in to the insanity of the end. But too often it doesn’t.

Georgia Platts

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Charlie Sheen: Winning. But Is He Happy?

Charlie Sheen is obsessed with winning, as in, “The only thing I’m addicted to right now is winning…” “Just winning every second…” “Winning, anyone?…” “Duh, winning!”

What’s winning? To Charlie it’s sleeping with all the attractive women he can buy, and treating them anyway he wants. When he abuses women does “beating” carry a double entendre – batter and win?

Two trains of thought prevail on the source of happiness. One side advocates freedom. The other, deep bonds.

Charlie, the libertine, seeks the former. Devoid of moral or social restraint, he feels more deserving of freedom than others. After all, the libertine’s liberty comes through other’s bondage.

Winning. Conquering. Total liberty as burden heaps onto others.

While your classic libertine could indulge in rape, murder and mayhem without much thought for the victims (think Marquis de Sade), Charlie may actually experience some, uh, “concern for others” (quotes indicating irony) seeking to believe his victims enjoy it, too. A little narcissism can help with that: I’m feelin’ good, so you must, too.

When Andrea Canning asked in a 20/20 interview how he thought the women felt, Charlie explained, “I expose people to magic. I expose them to something they’re never otherwise going to get to see in their normal, boring lives.” 

Let’s see, death threats, beatings, shooting, a rampage. Magic, indeed.

It helps when others are things – objects, sex objects – to be treated anyway you want. Yet as the “thing” becomes dehumanized, so does the dehumanizer.

Charlie Sheen: part libertine, part narcissist. Either way, it’s all about himself. Me, me, me without any real concern for you.

Yes, two perspectives prevail on the roots of happiness: freedom versus deep bonds. Social research suggests that deep connection is what actually creates bliss

In fact, some see addiction as arising out of deficiencies in deep spiritual bonds, whether the craving is for drugs/alcohol, sex, or thrills. Sheen may be exhibiting each of these. Making us wonder how joyful he really is.

Some suspect Sheen is mentally ill. If former child star, Todd Bridges, is right there may be a connection between drugs and this illness. In a discussion on The View this week, Bridges said that stopping cocaine use led him into “cocaine psychosis,” which he believes Sheen may be experiencing now.

Of course, Charlie thinks he’s fine. He’s winning. And he repeats it so often that you have to wonder who he’s trying to convince.

What is happiness’ source? Deep connection? Total freedom? Treating others like objects to be used, abused and tossed away? Drug use?

Winning and happy? That depends on your pursuit.

Georgia Platts

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The English language has more than 1000 words that sexually describe women or their body parts. Here are a few:

Babe, nymph, nymphomaniac, bimbo, fox, dog, beaver, freak, super freak, knockout, melons, tomatoes, whore, ho, dumb blond, shapely, pussy, boobs, hussy, slut, buxom, trim, troll, femme fatale, skank, goddess, jugs, bush, poontang, tart, loose, tramp, butch, bitch, Lolita, Betty, sex kitten, temptress, beast, promiscuous.

Sometimes neutral words take on a sexual meaning when they are applied to women. Call a man a professional and you’ll likely envision doctor or a lawyer. But say, “She’s a professional” and “prostitute” may be the first thing that comes to mind.

An author was asked to rename a book title before publication. “The Position of Women in Society” seemed too suggestive.

“It’s easy” sounds like a simple task. “He’s easy,” might denote an easy grader. But say, “she’s easy,” and you’ll likely hear “sexually promiscuous.”

One-time courtesy titles, or even high titles, can take on sexual meanings. “Madam” is a polite way of addressing a woman. She may be the female head of household. But she may also be the female head of a house of prostitution. Mistress – another term for the female head of house – is now associated with adultery. “Lady” is a polite title. But “lady of the evening” is not. Even the highest status a woman can gain, “Queen” takes on sexual connotations when applied to a gay man or a “drag queen.”

And notice how these words are demeaning as well as sexual (“gay” is beginning to overcome the stigma, but there’s a way to go). We could add drama queen and cootie queen to that mix.

Even the term boob, slang for a woman’s breast, is defined in the dictionary as, “a stupid or foolish person.” Odd that something so valued is also degraded. Is the appeal of boobs similar to the draw of a dumb blonde?

What difference does it all make?

In their work in anthropology, Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf learned that words affect how we see. The Hopi Indians had no words to distinguish among the past, present, and future. And they had a difficult time with those concepts. Skiers are more attuned than most to different kinds of snow: powder, packed powder, corn, ice, slush, for example. Or, we so often use male terms to describe humanity – man, mankind, brotherhood, fellowship – that when people are asked to think of a person, a man generally comes to mind.

Words dig deep into our unconscious psyches, directing how we see ourselves and others. When we constantly hear sexual and pejorative terms describing women, women come to be sexualized and demeaned in our minds.

The language we learn is neither the fault of the men or the women of our society, in so far as baby girls and baby boys both grow up immersed in these words. What’s important is how we use language once we “get it,” and once we get that it matters.

Georgia Platts

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My Son Likes Girl-Things. Is He Gay?

il_340x270.409005563_ivtpRandom Moms across America think they know: My son has got to be gay. He wears khakis today but wore a dress to school from age 4 to 6; he used to do ballet and still doesn’t like sports; in preschool he was all about playing princess but now is all about Pokemon; and, in spite of the clear gender divisions in third grade, he plays with both girls and boys. I mean, what straight boy is into that kinda freaky gender mash-up?

This mom knows better, and she goes on to remark that, actually, butch boys can grow up to be gay, and fem boys can grow up to be straight.

Interestingly, few moms worry that their little tomboys will grow up to be lesbians.

But this mom gets LOADS of advice on how to turn her son “boyish.” Take away the girly toys and clothes, and enroll him in sports!

So much worry about girly boys.

Yet what we think of as “girl stuff” turns out to be “boy stuff” in other times and places.

Boys shouldn’t wear pink? Years ago the country staged a great debate on whether pink or blue should designate girls or boys. Some advocated pink for boys – such a robust color! Blue is so dainty.

The Cabbage Patch craze of the last generation led a lot of boys to want dolls. One of my little boy cousins got one for Christmas. Today most people would call him a manly man, complete with wife and baby. (And G.I. Joe is a doll, too.)

Ancient Roman men wore skirts, though the one on the left is armored! (A likely relief to some macho men out there.)  Other Roman men wore dresses (robes).

              

And we mustn’t forget men in tights, circa “Romeo and Juliet.”

romeoandjuliet_510pxl

Moving on to the court of the “Sun King,” Louis XIV, we find him wearing lots of lace, ruffles, curls, and color. And gracefully posed!

The American founding fathers had considerably less glitz, but they still wore more color, lace, ruffles, and curls than most men today would be caught dead in. They also hired instructors to help present a more graceful appearance. One of my male students asked, “Ok, but what did the manly men wear?” This is what they wore!

In more modern times, Scottish men can still be partial to skirts, though they call them kilts. Below are traditional and more recent versions of the garment.

           

Judges, priests, and scholars also continue to wear “dresses” today.

                               

Perhaps the most surprising expressions of manhood come from a culture entirely different from our own: the Wodaabe of Nigeria in Africa. There, men adorn themselves with makeup and jewelry. Because white eyes and teeth are part of the beauty ideal for men, they often roll their eyes and show their teeth to show off these features.

                       

In our own time and place there’s Rod Stewart, who seems to be strongly hetero by all accounts. But check out these shots:

        
                                                                                 © Chris Walter

There’s a difference between sex and gender. Sex is biologically-based. It’s made up of our genes (xx for girls, xy for boys), hormones (testosterone, estrogen), anatomy (vagina, penis, breasts, etc.). But gender is all made up. Or what cultures make up to mark biological differences.

If clothing, makeup, jewelry and toys aren’t naturally “boy” or “girl” things, how can doing “boy” or “girl” things mark sexual orientation?

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Charlie Sheen: Celebrating a Bad-Boy Who Abuses Women

Charlie Sheen got fired. Until now he seemed to be rewarded more than punished for bad behavior, including a history of violence against women: He shot a fiancée in the arm, he hit a woman who wouldn’t have sex with him, he was arrested for beating a girlfriend, a porn star locked herself in a hotel bathroom as he went berserk, two of the women he married filed restraining orders against him after he issued death threats.

But right now I’m less concerned with Charlie’s behavior than with our own. Why did this abuse bring him greater celebrity than shame?

As Jezebel founder Anna Holmes pointed out in a New York Times piece, offense at abuse depends on the sort of women abused. Porn stars, prostitutes and suspected gold digging wives aren’t sympathetic. 

But sometimes violence against women just doesn’t seem like a big deal. Eminem had a huge hit and huge accolades for “Love the Way You Lie,” which highlighted Rihanna singing “I like the way it hurts” as Eminem chanted, “It’s like I’m in flight, High of a love, Drunk from the hate,” while Megan Fox got beaten up in the accompanying video. The song garnered critical acclaim, including Grammy nominations for Song of the Year and Record of the Year. In fact, going into Grammy night, he led with ten nominations, including Album of the Year. No one seemed too bothered about eroticized abuse.

Oscar felt pretty hip awarding “It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp” a few years back. Isn’t “owning,” degrading and beating women all part of the pimping life? But hey, it’s all good, as they say.

Or, Super Bowl audiences sat shocked when Justin Timberlake ripped off Janet Jackson’s bodice, revealing a bare nipple. Few cared that choreographed “slapping around” led to the grabbing and ripping. Abusing women is acceptable. But nudity is horrifying.

Then there’s Smack a Slut Week which runs October 3rd – 7th, and can be celebrated “anywhere you like, by, you guessed it, smackin’ sluts,” as The F-Bomb put it. Just a joke? One study found that men discriminated against women more after hearing sexist jokes.

Even the red hat from Devo’s “Whip It” video, depicting a man whipping the clothes off a female mannequin, is now a part of the Smithsonian collection. Accepted, mainstream stuff.

I won’t even get into the eroticized violence so often depicting women freshly killed in high fashion ads.

My first cue that Charlie had a sadistic streak was a news report that he alerted police to a “snuff” film in which a killing that followed sex looked a bit too real to him. Now, he seems to get off on harming women in real life.

Meanwhile, the rest of us stand by, barely noticing. Or celebrating Sheen’s behavior. He’s a bad boy. It’s a lot of fun, and no big deal.

Georgia Platts

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