Why Get Married?

RingsWhen you get into debates and discussions about same-sex marriage, there’s an opinion you’ll almost certainly hear if you wait long enough:

“Why should anyone get married?

“Why,” the argument goes, “should the state be involved in people’s private romantic and sexual relationships? Why should personal commitments be a public matter, something people throw big expensive parties for so their friends and families can watch? Why should people make promises to stay together for the rest of their lives — promises with legal responsibilities attached, no less — when they know that so many marriages end in divorce? Why are we spending time and energy fighting for same-sex marriage? Why aren’t we abandoning the institution of marriage altogether?”

As someone who is married (Ingrid and I are among the roughly 18,000 same-sex couples in California who got our weddings in after the courts legalized same-sex marriage and before Prop 8 eradicated that right), I’d like to try to answer that question.

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Thus begins my latest piece on the Blowfish Blog, Why Get Married? To find out why I think the institution of marriage has value, and why I want to participate in it, read the rest of the piece. (And if you feel inspired to comment here, please consider cross-posting your comment to the Blowfish Blog — they like comments there, too.) Enjoy!

Atheist Meme of the Day: Atheist Activism Is Not A Waste of Time

Scarlet letter Today’s Atheist Meme of the Day. Pass this on; or don’t; or edit it as you see fit; or make up your own. Enjoy!

Attempts to persuade people out of religion are not a waste of time. Rates of atheism are going up at an astonishing rate, all over the U.S. and around the world. And many atheists say that they were, at least in part, persuaded out of their beliefs by atheists’ arguments against religion. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

Greta’s TV Interview on “Ask An Atheist”

Ask an atheist

My television interview with “Ask an Atheist” is up!

“Ask An Atheist” is a local cable access TV show in Seattle, which also broadcasts (and archives its shows) on the Internet. When I was on my Pacific Northwest speaking tour earlier this month, I had the fun and privilege of being interviewed for their show. (Usually they do their shows live: but because I happened to be there on Sept. 12, when they really wanted to air their 9/11 conspiracy theory segment, they decided to go ahead with that program and record their interview with me for a later date.)

We got into some really interesting topics in this interview — parallels between the atheist movement and the LGBT movement, what sparked the so-called “new atheist” movement into its current activist incarnation, how atheists can create empathy and forge alliances with other social change movements, the importance of coming out, how atheists can fight myths and misconceptions about us, the limits of our ability to make common cause with believers, anti-atheist bigotry among progressive believers, the atheist alternative to ecumenicalism, why there’s no such thing as “atheist fundamentalism,” whether it’s worth debating with hard-core believers, making atheism a safer place for people to come into when they do leave religion, and more.

Video below the fold, since putting it above the fold mucks up my archives. Or you can watch it on the Ask an Atheist website.

[Read more...]

Atheist Meme of the Day: Believers Should Understand Cognitive Errors

Scarlet letter Today’s Atheist Meme of the Day. Pass this on; or don’t; or edit it as you see fit; or make up your own. Enjoy!

If you care whether the things you believe are true — including religious or spiritual beliefs — you should understand cognitive errors and biases that commonly lead the human mind to false conclusions. And you should be willing to subject your beliefs to rigorous scrutiny, to filter out these biases as much as possible. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

How Sexism Hurts Men, Part 2: Why Do I Care?

This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog.

Undateable-book-cover So why do I care?

I devoted yesterday’s post to a silly pop-culture book, Undateable, which gives straight men snarky- but- sincere advice on how to make themselves attractive — no, strike that, tolerable — to women. I devoted the column to all the ways this book reinforces a rigid, narrow, absurdly unattainable vision of acceptable manhood, instilling men with anxiety and self-consciousness about their masculinity while at the same time exhorting them to be confident.

Today I want to answer the question: Why do I care?

Why do I care about sexism and gender normativity in ephemeral bits of pop culture fluff?

And why do I care about how sexism hurts men at all? With all the grotesque ways that sexism and gender normativity hurts women, why would I spend my time worrying about how it hurts men?

Us-magazine-cover-775317 Let’s take care of the “pop culture fluff’ part first. I care about how pop culture fluff reinforces sexism because… well, that’s one of the primary ways that sexism gets reinforced. Pop culture is the sea we’re all swimming in. Seeing how women and men are depicted on TV, in movies, in pop songs, in advertising, in video games, yada yada yada… this is a huge part of how we get our messages about what it means to be a woman, and what it means to be a man, and what’s expected of us as one or the other. Sexism is diffused throughout our culture. It’s not like there’s a Central Office of Gender Propaganda we can picket. If we have problems with how gender norms enforced, we have to respond to it one piece at a time.

But why do I care at all?

Sexism, and the enforcement of gender roles, hurts women way more than it does men: from economic inequity to literal, physical abuse. Why would I devote a whole two-part mini-series to how sexism hurts men?

Rick and chip My first reason is my most personal, and my most visceral: I have men in my life. I have male friends. Colleagues. Family members. Members of my assorted communities. People I know on the Internet.

I care about these people. I feel compassion for them. I don’t want them to suffer. I see how this gender- normative stuff hurts the men in my life: how it makes them crazy, how it undermines their confidence, how it makes them anxious and self-conscious, how it makes their relationships harder. I don’t like it. I want it to stop. Now, please.

What’s more, I have male children in my life — and it kills me to think of them growing up with this bullshit. It kills me to think of Charlie and Tanner and Teague and Wyatt growing up with the barrage of rigid, nitpicky, absurdly narrow, bizarrely irrelevant, schizophrenically mixed messages about Being A Man. It’s a stupid, pointless burden, and I don’t want the male children in my life getting it piled onto their shoulders — or having to do unnecessary work unloading it. Learning to be a good person is hard enough without all that crap.

Justice There’s an ideological reason, too. I see a tremendous amount of gender inequality and injustice in the world; I oppose it passionately, and work hard to overturn it. But I don’t want it “fixed” by making things worse for men. I don’t want to make the world more equal by making things suck as badly for men as they do for women. Yes, we live in a world where women are besieged with a ridiculously narrow, frequently contradictory vision of idealized womanhood. I don’t want to “fix” that by turning the lens on men, and forcing them into a vision of idealized manhood that’s just as unattainable. That’s not the equality and justice I’m fighting for. Fuck that noise.

Machiavelli And finally, I have my hard-nosed, self-centered, Machiavellian reasons for caring how sexism hurts men, and for fighting against it:

It helps women.

Partly it helps women because it makes men easier to be involved with. Not just romantically and sexually, but as friends and colleagues, family members and community partners. Men are a lot easier to get along with when they’re not constantly trying to prove how manly they are. Men are a lot easier to get along with when they don’t feel a constant need to be competitive and macho, when they’re not storing up a load of resentful silence about what they need and want, when they don’t feel threatened by powerful and intelligent women, when they don’t always feel like they have to take the lead in sex and love, when they can express their emotions, when they can ask for help. Men are a lot easier to get along with when they stop worrying so much about being men, and spend more time paying attention to just being good people.

Besides… well, as a friend once put on a bumper sticker on her truck, “Feminists Fuck Better.” And that’s true of both feminist women and feminist men. Men who aren’t locked into rigid gender roles are a whole lot more fun in the sack. They’re more inventive, more willing to experiment, less performance-oriented, less goal-oriented, less self-conscious, less threatened by women who are sexually knowledgeable and experienced, more playful, more expressive, more relaxed, more emotionally present, more genuinely confident (as opposed to fake, macho confident), more open to a wider range of sexual possibilities. And I hope I don’t have to explain how all of that is good for women.

And caring how sexism hurts men is good for women… because it advances the cause of feminism.

I passionately believe that feminism will do a whole lot better if we can get more men on board. There is a limit to how far feminism can go if we can’t convince men that there’s something in it for them. People are self-interested; our empathy and altruism and concerns for justice will only take us so far, and for most of us, there’s only so much we’re willing to sacrifice to make the world a better place.

We support men in feminism But if we can convince more men that sexism hurts them, too — that patriarchy and rigid gender expectations are making their lives harder, that it’s screwing with their heads, that it’s screwing with their relationships, that it’s placing a burden on their shoulders that’s unfair and unnecessary, that both men and women who aren’t locked into rigid gender roles tend to be happier and more satisfied, that feminists fuck better — feminism is going to get a whole lot further.

And that’s good for all of us.

Atheist Meme of the Day: Modern Theology is Bunk

Scarlet letter Today’s Atheist Meme of the Day. Pass this on; or don’t; or edit it as you see fit; or make up your own. Enjoy!

“You haven’t studied modern theology” is a terrible argument against atheism. Many atheists have studied modern theology… and found it very much wanting. It either dresses up the same old bad arguments in prettier language, or it defines God so abstractly it’s indistinguishable from atheism. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

How Sexism Hurts Men: “Undateable”

This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog.

Undateable-book-coverIf you were to read a book, written by men, giving straight women advice on how to turn themselves into acceptable romantic partners
— a book consistently advising women to adhere to a rigid, narrow window of traditional gender roles if they hope to find and keep a man — what would be your reaction?

Would your feminist sensibilities be horrified? Would you be writing angry letters to the publisher, or posting angry rants about it on the Internet? Would you mock it as a hilariously campy example of ’50s and ’60s social propaganda… and be shocked to realize it had actually been published this year?

So what would you think of a book written by women, giving straight men advice on how to turn themselves into acceptable romantic partners… which consistently advises men to adhere to a rigid, narrow window of traditional gender roles if they hope to find and keep a woman?

Barbie If you’re a feminist — and I’m going to assume that if you’re a regular reader of this Blog, you’re probably a feminist — you’re familiar with how social programming guilt-trips and fear-mongers women into rigid and sexist gender roles. It’s not like it’s hard to find examples of it. It’s freaking everywhere. But I think we’re less familiar with how social programming guilt-trips and fear-mongers men into rigid and sexist gender roles. Our feminist sensibilities aren’t on as much of a hair trigger for male gender-role propaganda. And when this propaganda is subtle, I think we often overlook it.

But we have a magnificently un-subtle version of it in a new book: Undateable: 311 Things Guys Do That Guarantee They Won’t Be Dating or Having Sex. Based on the website of the same name, Undateable is an advice book, funny and snarky but with a sincere intent, about common failings straight men have in the dating department: things men wear and say and do that, without realizing it, make them entirely unacceptable to the opposite sex.

Van Now, I will admit: Parts of this book are superficially funny, and a fair amount of its advice I agree with. Or rather, since one of my main objections to the book is “Who the hell cares what these women or anyone else thinks, who died and made them the arbiter of manhood?”, it might be more accurate to say: A fair number of these authors’ preferences are ones I share. (I don’t like sandals with socks, either.) But I find a huge amount of this book utterly baffling. Many of its “Don’ts” seem entirely neutral, random to the point of being surreal. Don’t own a van? Don’t play video games? Don’t be lactose intolerant? It’s as if the authors were advising men, for the sweet love of Jesus, whatever else they do, if they want women to date them and have sex with them, don’t eat green beans. And for me, many of the “Don’ts” in this book are actually positive “Do’s.” Making the whole exercise even more perplexing. (I like colored sheets, and body piercings, and guys who go to Star Trek conventions. So sue me.)

Much more to the point, though: Taken together, these 311 pieces of advice on how to forge yourself into a dateable guy paint a picture of acceptable manhood — not idealized manhood, not even desirable manhood, just base-level tolerable manhood — that is so rigid, and so narrow, it rivals anything any woman has ever read in any stupid, shallow, “20 Tips On Catching a Man” women’s magazine. It’s so narrow, Odysseus himself couldn’t navigate through it. It’s so rigid, it’d make the manufacturers of Viagra jealous.

The primary thrust of this book is that men ought to be manly — but not too manly. They can’t be girly or sissy… but they can’t be macho gorillas, either. They have to find a perfect, razor-thin window of perfect masculinity. And they somehow have to not be self-conscious or anxious while doing it…since that’s not very manly.

Men firm fix extra strong hold styling gel This narrow window of masculinity crops up most obviously with the advice about appearance. Men have to not look like they care too much what they look like — but they can’t look like they’ve let themselves go, either, or like they’re entirely unconcerned with how they look. (And they obviously have to care enough about how they look to follow the advice in this book.) Signifiers that we typically think of as female are right out: no jewelry, gelled hair, dyed hair, “man-purses,” “girlie” sunglasses, (the phrase “girlie” crops up in this book with astonishing frequency), etc. In fact, injunctions against femininity are probably the most common in this book — and they’re easily among the most venomous. But signifiers that are too obviously masculine are also nixed: sports jerseys are out, camouflage jackets are out, excessive body hair has to be trimmed, shaved, or waxed. (Except eyebrows and chest. You can’t wax your eyebrows or shave your chest. Just back, neck, nose, and ears.) Jeans can’t be too slobby… but they can’t be too tailored or embellished. And no colorful flash — not even Hawaiian shirts. (Quote: “Instead, go with a polo shirt or a long-sleeved, lightweight cotton oxford shirt in white, pale blue, or a mild stripe.” In other words: Boring, boring, boring, boring, boring.)

Tango_4_silhouette But the sliver-thin window between “macho gorilla” and “girlie man” applies to behavior as well. Men can’t be bad dancers… but they can’t be too good of a dancer, either. They can’t be heavy drinkers… but they can’t be lightweights. (And they can’t order “girlie drinks.”) They can’t be aggressive drivers… or sissy drivers. They have to exercise… but not too much. And they can’t diet. Dieting is girly. I am not fucking kidding you. Quote: “Men are supposed to lose weight by exercising, not by acting like a woman.” Who cares whether it works or not. Although the authors obviously do care whether it works. Being fat is high on their Don’t list. Men can’t be fat. They just can’t manage it by diet. That’s girly. And they have to be assertive and dominant — it’s news to me, but apparently women like men who “TAKE CHARGE” (all-caps theirs) and make all the plans for the date — but not too dominant. And again, not so assertive that they ignore the advice in this book and make their own damn decisions about this stuff.

Tattoo-T-Shirt There are some fascinating exhortations about class in this book as well — exhortations that make the link between class and masculinity vividly clear. In order to be dateable, men have to not give off signifiers that they’re blue-collar or working class. No jacked-up cars; no clothing with skulls or tattoo art; no going to shooting ranges. But at the same time, they can’t be too intellectual or urbane. And no nerdiness at all: no Star Trek conventions; no Dungeons & Dragons or World of Warcraft; no Renaissance Faires. (In other words — nix to practically my entire circle of friends. Most of whom, I might point out, are in relationships. With other Trekkies/ D&D freaks/ Renfaire nerds.) Apparently, ideal manhood — no, strike that, even just barely acceptable manhood — means being comfortably middle-class… and staying firmly within that class. No mobility for you, pal. Upward or downward.

Money_in_hand Plus the authors of this book are obsessed with money and maleness to an almost comical degree. Men have to pay. Period. They have to pay on the first date; they have to pay on every other date; they can’t use half-off coupons on dinner dates; they have to pay for valet parking. It’s like reading Emily Post from the 1950s. If I might offer my own “Don’t” to the ladies who authored this book: Don’t be freaking hypocrites. Women cannot demand equality and liberation, and then demand that men pay our way. At full price.

Nipple_piercing_ring And, of course, expressions of sex and sexuality have to be carefully monitored. Men definitely can’t look too sexless. Roughly half the book consists of advice on not seeming sexless. But at the same time, they can’t express their sexuality too overtly. No body piercings; no leather pants; no use of slang terms for masturbation. (Dead giveaway as to the authors’ attitude towards sex: “Not that the word masturbation is so delightful…”) And no “prepping for sex.” You know what? I don’t like mirrored ceilings or satin sheets, either. I sure as hell do like men — and women — with dildos, buttplugs, lube, whips, ropes, nipple clamps, bondage cuffs, massage oil, and so on. For me, or for them. Or for both of us. I like men — and women — who care enough about sex to make it a priority in their life. I like men — and women — who honor sex enough to consciously prepare for it, instead of pretendi
ng that it sprang on them by accident
.

But here was the kicker for me. Here was the “Don’t” that kicked this book up from Mildly Annoying But Sort Of Funny to Prime Example Of Everything That’s Wrong With Gender In Our Society.

Lydia closeup If you want to be a dateable man — if you want to be manly enough to deserve a woman (although not too manly!) — you can’t have a cat.

I repeat: You can’t have a cat. Well, you can if it belonged to your dead grandmother, or if you found it on the street and felt sorry for it. But deliberate cat ownership — going to a pet store or a shelter and acquiring a cat on purpose — is verboten.

You can’t have a cat.

You can’t have a CAT?!?!?

What. The. Hell. Is wrong with these people?

What makes them think that masculinity is so delicate, so easily disturbed, that owning a cat will undermine it? What makes them think modern masculinity is so fragile that the entirely normal, even fundamental human activity of loving animals — and the entirely reasonable decision that you like cats better than dogs — puts it into peril? What makes them see this obvious signpost of “nurturing and willing to make a commitment” — qualities that modern straight women are famously looking for in men — as so repulsively feminine it renders men completely unfuckable?

What. The. Hell?

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Now. I will freely acknowledge: I, and my social circle, are probably not the audience for this book. There’s probably not a big market for books on How To Get Nerdy, Kinky, Non-Monogamously Married Bi-Dyke Sex Freaks To Date You. There is almost certainly a significant population of women — fairly mainstream, fairly conventional, middle-class urban and suburban women — who will read this book, laugh uproariously, and nod in vigorous agreement with everything in it. And there are almost certainly other women who will vigorously agree with parts of this book and vehemently disagree with others… agreements and disagreements that will be the complete opposite of my own.

Diversity But… well, actually, that’s exactly my point. Here’s what my wife Ingrid said when I was ranting to her about this book: “There are a million different ways to be a man, and there are a million different ways to be a woman.” And we each need to find out for ourselves what being a woman or being a man means for us… and how we want to express that. Yes, fashion is a language, with a common vocabulary; and yes, we should have a basic familiarity with that language so we can be sure we’re saying what we want to. We don’t want to say the sartorial equivalent of “My hovercraft is full of eels” when we’re trying to say, “Please direct me to the railway station.” Ditto manners. But if we’re going to make contact with people who we, personally, will connect with — people whose feelings about masculinity and femininity are simpatico with our own — we need to have the courage and confidence to say, “Here is who I am”… and not, “Here is another sheep in a blue polo shirt who’s insecure about his masculinity and is terrified of being abnormal.”

And you know the weird thing? In theory, the authors of the book actually agree with me. Sort of. In the introduction, before they get to the Litany of Bad Manhood, they say this:

There may be a few of you who read this book and think, Who the hell do these women think they are, telling us what to wear, what to say, and how to act? I’ll do whatever the f*** I want. To that we say, GOOD FOR YOU. Seriously. As one of our guy friends said, “Everyone’s got the right to develop their own swagger.” And we couldn’t agree more. If you love your bowling shirts and think your pinkie rings are hot, then keep wearing them and tell us to go jam it. Because in the end, what women really love is a guy who knows what he likes and has the balls to stick to it. So guys, listen closely, because this is what you really need to know:

THERE IS NOTHING SEXIER THAN A MAN WITH CONFIDENCE.

Okay. Fine.

So why the hell did they write this book?

Why do they tell men to develop their own swagger… and then spend 184 pages describing the exceedingly narrow window in which that swagger can take place?

Why do they tell men to be themselves, do what they like, and tell the world to stuff it… and then write a 184-page how-to manual for anxious self-consciousness, describing in detail how the things men like are appalling?

Why do they tell men to have confidence… which they then spend 184 pages undermining?

I have no idea.

But then, I’m obviously an idiot.

After all, I like men with cats.

Atheist Meme of the Day: Intuition Is Not Good Evidence

Scarlet letter Today’s Atheist Meme of the Day. Pass this on; or don’t; or edit it as you see fit; or make up your own. Enjoy!

“I feel it in my heart” is not a good argument for God. Intuition is valuable, but it’s deeply flawed, and when it comes to figuring out what is and isn’t true about the non-subjective world, it needs to be backed up by carefully gathered, rigorously tested evidence. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

Don’t Feed the Stars!: Celebrity Bodies and Gossip’s New Schizophrenia

Dont-feed-stars“It’s sort of awful. Yesterday for lunch? Spinach… and some seeds.”

“I swear by almost nothing for breakfast. Mugs of hot water!”

“The other day I realized as long as I’m in this business, I’m going to be hungry.”

“I hate dieting… I’m hungry all the time.”

These quotes aren’t from a medical journal. They’re not from a psychology book on body image in modern society. They’re not from a Lifetime Channel docudrama on eating disorders.

They’re from an Us Weekly Magazine half-page celebrity puff piece (Sept. 13, 2010, Page 18), titled “Don’t Feed the Stars!”, on how “these celebs admit it’s a diet struggle to keep their fab figures.”

Encapsulating the celebrity gossip magazine’s bone-deep schizophrenia about dieting and body size… in one neat sentence.

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Thus begins my latest Media Darling column on CarnalNation, Don’t Feed the Stars!: Celebrity Bodies and Gossip’s New Schizophrenia. To find out more about the celebrity-industrial complex’s freakishly self-contradictory attitude towards diet and weight loss — and the deeply mixed messages it sends the rest of us about food, beauty, bodies, and sex — read the rest of the piece. (And if you feel inspired to comment here, please consider cross-posting your comment to Carnal Nation — they like comments there, too.) Enjoy!

Greta Reading at Perverts Put Out, Sat. 9/25

Perverts put out If you’re going to be in SF this weekend, come hear me read! I’m going to be doing a reading this Saturday, Sept. 25, at Perverts Put Out, the legendary series of local Bay Area sex writers and performers. On the eve of the Folsom Street Fair, Perverts Put Out! takes kinky spoken word to the next level with the “SM 201″ show. It’ll be me plus Meliza Bañales, Robert Lawrence, Thomas Roche, Stephen Elliot, Lori Selke, horehound stillpoint, and fabulous co-hosts Carol Queen and Simon Sheppard.

Important note: This episode of Perverts Put Out will not be at the usual place. It’ll be at The Center for Sex and Culture, 1519 Mission St., near South Van Ness, in the beautiful and historic South of Market district of San Francisco. Sliding scale of $10-$15. Start time is 7:30, and it tends to fill up and begin more or less on time, so don’t arrive fashionably late. If you’re in San Francisco, come by and say howdy!