Sunday, June 28, 2015

"He's not bisexual, he's just not ready to say he's gay" and why we can stop pretending bisexuality isn't real

Ok, so the majority of this post was actually written for a different purpose, but I'm kind of proud of it, so I'm going to just paste it here. For a quick intro, it was written for an assignment looking for a story about sexuality based on empirical research.

It is clear that some people identify themselves as bisexual, otherwise the concept would perhaps not exist, but many people within both straight and LGBT communities question or deny that a person can actually be bisexual. Two articles recently published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior took on the task of establishing the reality (or possible lack thereof) of bisexuality. In one, bisexual and straight men and women rated the sexual attractiveness of photos of male and female swimsuit models1. In the other, gay men, lesbians, and bisexual men and women rated their feelings of sexual attraction toward pictures of swimsuit and lingerie ads, half featuring men and half featuring women2. In both studies, bisexual men and women both showed no preference for either men or women1,2. When compared to straight people, the bisexual participants’ ratings were similar for opposite-sex models; logically, the ratings on same-sex models were quite different1.. Conversely, when compared to gay people, the bisexual participants’ ratings were similar for same-sex models and very different for opposite-sex models2. It’s possible to think that these studies only show that people are good at pretending to be bisexual, as they reported their own feelings of attractiveness toward photos of both genders. However, another study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior recruited gay, straight, and bisexual male participants and measured their genital arousal – which is arguably very difficult to fake – and had them self-report feelings of arousal to sexual film clips3. Bisexual men showed no difference in genital arousal or feelings of arousal between men and women. Interestingly, they showed increased genital arousal and feelings of arousal to clips including two men and a woman – bisexual clips3. A growing body of research shows that female genital arousal is partially unrelated to sexual preferences, so a similar study could not be conducted for women. Thus, the physical response in bisexual men coupled with the subjective response in both men and women provide plenty of evidence that bisexuality is a reality.

My sources:
1Lippa, R. A. (2013). Men and women with bisexual identities show bisexual patterns of sexual attraction to male and female “swimsuit models”. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 42, 187-196.
2Rullo, J. E., Strassberg, D. S., & Miner, M. H. (2015). Gender-specificity in sexual interest in bisexual men and women. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 44, 1449-1457.

3Rosenthal, A. M., Sylvia, D., Safron, A., & Bailey, J. M. (2012). The male bisexuality debate revisited: Some bisexual men have bisexual arousal patterns. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 41, 35-147.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Is the way that police treat black teens an issue of race?

Ok, so, it's taken me a while to get back here, but the conversation around the recent situation in McKinney, Texas brought me back. The difference I see in how people perceive instances of possible police brutality is usually not what happened in a situation or on a video. Instead, it's usually how people perceive those events as either acceptable or unacceptable that causes disagreement. Some people think that police brutality against black teens is obviously a "race issue"; some people think that "all" people experience difficulty with police. Some people genuinely perceive young, black people as dangerous to police officers when they move, unarmed, toward police officers during a moment of brutality or they "talk back" to police officers instead of following orders. These people may say that all would be well if these kids would just "sit down and listen to orders". Some people, however, would say that this is ridiculous, because they see this logic as positing black youth and young adults as inherently more dangerous than other people. These people may argue that white teens are often able to talk back to police officers without fear of harm. I want to get down to how I feel about all of this, and why.

First, I want to bring in some history. Why? I would argue that our history certainly shapes us, and I feel it's very important to establish why I believe this is an issue of racial prejudice. To me, I am not "making this into a race issue"; the United States' long history of interactions with black people makes this into a race issue. Let's begin with slavery, where primarily African people were taken from their homes, families, and towns to be stripped of their culture and their very humanity so that they might become free labor. Slavery was abolished 150 years ago, yes, but that leaves nearly 90 years of the United States' foundation rooted in free labor from black people. Slavery was abolished via the 13th Amendment, which has the following wording: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." Now, I recognize that our legal system is based in the involuntary detainment of people who have been convicted of crimes, but this wording right along the abolition of slavery is uniquely placed. It implies that in order to gain back that free labor, one need only convict former slaves of crimes, and that's exactly what happened. "Jim Crow laws", as they're now called, specifically targeted black people; they effectively gave former slaves two options: have most rights usually available to citizens of the US removed, or go to prison. Until just 50 years ago, when these laws were eliminated, our judicial system overtly targeted black people, disproportionately making them into "criminals". (If you need/want a more in-depth look at how our judicial system has historically targeted black people, feel free to read some Angela Davis, specifically Are Prisons Obsolete?) If that's our history, where are we today? Is this history still relevant?

According to the Prison Policy Initiative, white people are 64% of the US population and 39% of the incarcerated population, while black people are 13% of the US population and 40% of the incarcerated population. This means that black people are five times as likely to be incarcerated. Beyond that, according to the Center for American Progress, one in three black men is imprisoned at some point in his life. Among women, black women are three times as likely to be incarcerated as white women. In the younger population, 40% of incarcerated youth are black, and black students are arrested and referred to law enforcement more often than white students. If we look at specific crimes, these disparities become even greater; with drug-related offenses, 5 times as many white people report using a drug, but black people are incarcerated for these offenses 10 times as often, according to the NAACP. There are many other statistics I could list, but I believe that all of these numbers are sufficient to show that there is still a great disparity in the way black and white people experience our judicial system, and this likely spills over into how black and white people experience police officers, as many recent events display. I see race as a huge factor in police brutality and all interactions with the judicial system, and this is based on the facts of our history and our current judicial system.

As for whether instances like the situation in McKinney should be seen as police brutality, I believe that police should not use force unless absolutely necessary. It is never necessary to pull a gun on a group of unarmed, nonviolent teenagers. If I concede that the teenagers in McKinney were being "rowdy", even that their refusal to leave the neighborhood may have deserved an arrest, though I do not completely believe these things, I still fail to see how violence was necessary in this situation. No one is put in danger by a group of teenagers arguing with a police officer. The young woman who was slammed to the ground and who the police officer put his weight into did not threaten anyone. She, along with a number of other young women, shouted back at the police officer. Verbal refusal to cooperate should not be met with physical violence. When young men come to defend their friend, who has been thrown to the ground, and they do not threaten an officer or attempt to attack an officer, when they just get in his way of violently throwing around a young woman, they do not deserve to be threatened with a gun. Young people may not be perfect. They may run from police, and they may talk back to police and refuse to follow orders, both of which are illegal under certain circumstances, but it must be inexcusable for a police officer to threaten and use violence to subdue nonviolent youth.

Finally, a disclaimer: racial discrimination happens in a lot of ways in the United States, and it happens to all people of color; however, police brutality seems, to me, an issue primarily of antiblackness, and it's easiest to compare their situation to that of white people, the most privileged racial group, so that's why this post focused on only black and white people.

Prison Policy Initiative:
Center for American Progress:

Monday, April 27, 2015

#NotAllMen & other misguided ideas

I've seen a lot of things recently that seem like they're coming from a good place, but when I look at them more closely, they don't help anything at all. One of these things is #NotAllMen. When people talk about feminism, gender equality, and especially violence against women, men often get uncomfortable. They often feel blamed or like they're being "guilt-tripped". This feeling is understandable when you're hearing statistics like 92% of child sexual abuse on females is perpetrated by males, 98% of female rape victims report male perpetrators (and 51% of those perpetrators were current or former intimate partners), and that women who live with other women romantically are statistically twice as likely to be victims of intimate partner violence from a man than a woman. But this feeling isn't reasonable, because if you look closer at what those statistics say, they aren't saying that all men are rapists or abusers. They're saying that most people who are victimized are victimized by men. Very few people in this conversation are saying that most or all men are bad people.

With that said, there is a difference between men abusing women and women abusing men. We live in a culture where women make less money than men even when we control for men and women in the same positions, and it gets a lot worse when we talk about how much less women of color make. This sends an implied message that as workers, women are worth less than men. We live in a culture where over and over in media, women are used as objects, placed in a sexualized context in order to sell products to men. This sends an implied message that as consumers, women are worth less than men. We live in a culture where men are informed about sexuality, and they have their sexualities encouraged, and they are encouraged to pursue women, while women are "protected" from sexual information that could threaten their innocence, and they have their sexualities shamed, and they are encouraged to be passive in romantic and sexual relationships. This sends an implied message that as sexual beings, women are worth less than men. I can think of many more examples, but I think that relatively intelligent readers can find the trend: in many areas of society, women are repeatedly told that they are less valuable than men. This information is often not relayed explicitly, but it is embedded within many of the practices and beliefs that we live with every day. This valuing of men above others privileges the beliefs and practices of men over all other gender identities.

So, no, most men are not directly perpetuating abuse or oppression against women. But the idea that people can live within a hierarchy that privileges them while disadvantaging other groups of people without either contributing to the disadvantage of those people or challenging the hierarchy rubs me the wrong way. If no one challenges the status quo, it will always be upheld. Often in our culture, if not enough people who benefit from the status quo challenge it, it will continue to be upheld. We all should be able to understand how that works, so if you benefit from the status quo, and you know that others are disadvantaged by the status quo, yet you do not challenge that, you are indirectly confirming that their oppression is acceptable. You are sending the implicit message that their oppression is "worth it" to you, because you are comfortable where you are. No one is calling you a rapist because you are a man, but if you refuse to either acknowledge, challenge, or work to end rape culture, you are doing something wrong. You are complicit in the continuation of a system that perpetuates violence that happens more often to women because they are disadvantaged in that system. Not all men are rapists or abusers, but all men who focus on their own innocence rather than challenging the bigger problems in our culture are a part of the problem.

This is a much longer post than I planned on, so if you stuck with me, thanks.