Heterosexism in a Scientific Study of Lesbian Attraction

a White woman, shot only from the upper torso, holds candles arranged in the colours of the LGBTQIA or pride flag

An evolutionary psychology study that gained much media attention in May 2017 claims to show women’s sexual attraction to other women is the outcome of evolution, specifically for the pleasure of heterosexual men. The study was reported widely as ‘homosexual women evolved for men’s pleasure.’ Journalists have not read the study nor linked to it. The study is published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences. The study is led by Associate Professor Menelaos Apostolou. The team is based at the University of Nicosia, with apparently only one woman co-author.

Here, I show why the study is flawed and why the conclusions are premised on dangerous heterosexism. Heterosexism is the prejudiced belief that heterosexuality is ‘natural’ and ‘normal,’ and that heterosexuality uniformly structures all aspects of social life.  Heterosexism also presumes that gender is a binary (there are only two groups, men or women), and excludes the lived experiences of transgender people. Heterosexism brings to light the social construction of sexuality, and in this case, the values and social dynamics that impact on what is taken-for-granted about heterosexuality.

I focus my discussion on cisgender heterosexual and homosexual people as the authors of the study have presumed men and women can either be homosexual or heterosexual, to the exclusion of other gender and sexual identities. They have done this without explicitly saying so (it is a facet of heterosexism to reinforce binaries, because variations of sexuality disrupt the idea that heterosexuality is natural and normal). Experiences for transgender lesbians would vary, however, the authors presume a gender binary in thinking about lesbian desire.

With these cautions in mind, let’s dive into the study.

Continue reading Heterosexism in a Scientific Study of Lesbian Attraction

Sociology of Indian-Australians and the Diwali Festival

I’ve been away for work for awhile now, and hope to bring you more on this soon. For now, I thought I’d share with you a post I had planned to  publish weeks ago, but haven’t been able to finish until now. Let’s talk about the sociology of Indian people in Australia, with a case study of the Hindu festival of Diwali in Melbourne.

Indian migration to Australia has a long history, dating back to the 19th Century,  with early records showing the British brought Indian servants (noting this may have included forced servitude). At the time of colonial Australia’s first Census, there were 1,800 Indian people in Australia. Today, Indian-Australians represent our fourth largest migrant group and they are also the biggest growing migrant group next to China, with their population doubling in the past decade, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

In the most recent Census of 2016, over 455,000 Australians were born in India, corresponding to 1.9% of our population, though this does not include the second-generation (their children born in Australia).  Together with Nepalese-Australians, Indian people make up 76% of the Hindu population in Australia (noting that Hindu people make up only 1.9% of our national population).

Indian families gather at Diwali: Indian Festival of Light Oct 2014. Federation Square, Melbourne, Australia
Diwali: Indian Festival of Light, Federation Square

Continue reading Sociology of Indian-Australians and the Diwali Festival

Sociology of the Day of the Dead

Latin girl wears a painted face for Dia De Los Muertos

This video by Eddie G provides an engaging Mexican-American introduction to El Día de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead). Eddie G captures how one community celebrates the dead, as just one step in the “pyramid of life.” In describing the symbolism of the colours of a symbolic altar, one woman says:

[In Spanish] “The yellow is the beginning of life. The red is the momentum of the blood. Green represents settling down, starting a family, working, and helping the community. Blue represents the sky. The elders reminiscing and talking about their memories. That’s all we have left. The top is white. That’s death. “

The Day of the Dead has grown in popularity in the United States and in other places outside Mexico. Non-Mexicans may be attracted to the colourful costumes, the skulls, face-painting and the “cool” allure of death. Yet the significance of this spiritual festival is more than just about death. It is a symbol of post-colonial struggles and a celebration of life.

Education researchers Dafina Lazarus Stewart and Adele Lozano (2009) see that the Day of the Dead is an important tradition that can help introduce students to intercultural experiences. In particular, it is an opportunity to learn about Mexican culture and draw connections between cultures of resistance amongst various other Latin American traditions, as well as a way to better understand the links between various Latin youth social movements around the world. The researchers write:

The concept of resistance is an important cultural/ political aspect of Día de los Muertos. Although the Latina/o population consists of diverse groups, most share a history of colonialism and oppression. It is commonly believed that Indigenous populations in Mexico refused to back down when the Spanish colonisers tried to force them to relinquish their annual Día de los Muertos ritual (Brandes, 1998). Many Latina/o college students are aware of this spirit of resistance and may draw parallels to their own struggles to pursue higher education in the face of institutional racism, financial hardships, and marginalisation within the academy. Día de los Muertos can serve to empower students as they recognize the importance of resistance, connect with their spiritual selves, and reaffirm the value of their cultural traditions…

The researchers note that to an outsider, the Day of the Dead seems to hold a morbid fascination with death and the occult. In fact, this festival actually draws on symbols of duality and profound spirituality, both of which are central to Mexican culture: “death is viewed as a continuation of life through the open acknowledgement of the reality of a spiritual, nonmaterial existence.”

References

D. Lazarus Stewart and A. Lozano (2009) ‘Difficult Dialogues at the Intersections of Race, Culture, and Religion,’ New Directions for Student Services 125: 23-31.

Continue reading Sociology of the Day of the Dead

Interview: Queer People of Colour, Racism and Dating

A Black man hugs a White man from the back with another man hugging them from the side

I was interviewed on Triple J ‘s ‘The Hook Up‘ program (listen from 1:12:49) about sexual racism in queer communities.

Nat Tencic: We’re talking about racism and the experiences of queer people of colour in dating. And to answer some of those more big picture questions, like why are we seeing this internal minority struggle, we’re joined right now by sociologist, Dr Zuleyka Zevallos. She specialises in issues of gender and sexuality, culture, discrimination and diversity. Dr Zevallos, welcome and thank you for joining us.

Zuleyka: Hi. Thanks for having me.

Nat: I think that first big picture question is something that really interests me: why do we see this happening in the queer community? Why when you’re already discriminated against do you see that next level of discrimination come through so loudly?

Zuleyka: I think for some people it seems counterintuitive because, obviously, queer communitites are facing discrimination along sexual lines. But at the same time, all of us live in the same society that is dominated by whiteness. We have a long history of discrimation against Indigenous communities and against migrant people, especially migrant people of colour. When we look at it in a social context, LGBTQIA communities are surrounded by the same social influences when it comes to race, [same] as straight people.

Continue reading Interview: Queer People of Colour, Racism and Dating

bell hooks on Critical Thinking

“I will not have my life narrowed down. I will not bow down to somebody else’s whim or to someone else’s ignorance.” ― bell hooks

Black American cultural theorist bell hooks’ distinguished contribution to sociology has been to unearth the intersecting issues of cultural difference, race and knowledge within feminism. Starting out as a literature professor, hooks would go on to challenge cultural studies in the early 1980s with books such as Ain’t I A Woman?: Black Women and Feminism and Feminist Theory: From Margin to Centre. Her work shows how women of colour have been marginalised by power structures in society as well as by White feminists who purport to speak about the universal struggle of all women. hooks argued that mainstream feminism silences experiences of race, ethnicity and class.

For the past three decades, hooks has explored the representation of race in popular culture, and how this affects social relations and public education. In the seminal Cultural Transformation video series, from 1997, bell hooks explains the importance of critical thinking for women in general, as well as for racial justice. Her work has been adopted by feminists and cultural theorists around the world. Let’s take a look back at this work and its prevailing resonance two decades later.

Gif of bell hooks talking. Quote reads: 'Critical thinking is at the heart of anybody transforming their life.'

Continue reading bell hooks on Critical Thinking

Sociology of Swearing

Young man wearing sun glasses with a t-shirt that reads 'Let me hear the f*cking bass'

Why is swearing on TV more offensive than graphic depictions of violence?

In December 2011, The then-Australian Minister for Communications, Senator Stephen Conroy, created a media controversy when he swore during a live address on the national public broadcaster, the ABC. This live gaff had me thinking about swearing, the power of ‘bad words’ and the regulatory bodies that set and enforce the standards for television programming. It’s popped back into my mind as I’ve been thinking and reading a lot about power dynamics and the changes in linguistic practices.

Speaking to the National Press Club about the proposed tax for the National Broadband Network, Conroy said:

“If a tax goes up, God, that is sovereign risk, but if a tax goes down, its fucking fantastic. Excuse me – that is fantastic.”

This comment went to air during 12:30 pm and 1:30 pm. As Aidan Wilson (2011) points out, Conroy’s offence was not simply using a ‘vulgar’ word, but also that his address was followed by the ABC’s afternoon children’s shows.

The language guidelines for TV shows can be confusing. Why are some words allowed in some contexts and not in others? It’s not simply a timing issue – some swear words are only allowed to escape the mouths of thespians late at night but not during the day. This makes sense if you’re trying to protect children from being exposed to certain swear words.

The again, some words are generally considered to be more offensive than others – but the social norms on this are not clearly articulated by law.

Continue reading Sociology of Swearing

Racist Scaremongering as Social and Political Control

On the 8 August 2018, only four days after I published my last post on the social construction of migrant youth deviance in public spaces (Zevallos 2018a), there was an incident whipping up racist fear of ‘Sudanese gangs’ in the area where I went to school as a youngster. I had flown home for a workshop and then visited my family. They told me how the local gossip grapevine and local media were misreporting the event. Initial word-of-mouth said that between 200 to 300 Sudanese youth gathered at Watergardens Shopping Centre and were starting trouble, throwing rocks at police. While Nine News (2018) reported 20 to 30 kids vandalised property, ABC News (2018) reported up to 50 young people had come for a fight ‘over girlfriends.’ Riot police confronted the youth, and blocked the area. The next day, my family saw police on horses patrolling the Coles supermarket carpark (!).

All of this to stop Black children from gathering together in a public place.

In a week where we saw Nazi language used in the Australian Parliament, let’s delve into the use of scaremongering as a social control mechanism that reinforces political strategy.

Continue reading Racist Scaremongering as Social and Political Control

The Social Construction of Migrant Youth Deviance in Public Spaces

Silhouette of figures wearing baseball caps with the sunset in the background

This cartoon below by Charles Barsotti is a good illustration of the social construction of group deviance in public spaces. This cartoon points out how some social groupings can be given negative labels, such as a “cult.” The beliefs or the practices of particular socio-economic groups can are treated with suspicion by a dominant group where they do not conform to society’s norms, values, behaviour or appearance. Non-conformity can lead to the creation of stereotypes; that is, labels that simplify specific qualities of some people as typical of the group they belong to (hence the cartoon, where one wolf says to another, “We’re a pack, not a cult.”).

In most circumstances crowds that “blend in” and meet society’s standards of “acceptability” escape the stigma of social deviance. Cases where “ordinary” groups might be negatively labelled by authorities might occur during times of civil unrest, such as during political protests, or due to other political cycles, such as the lead up to an election.

Racial minority youth are often labelled as deviant simply for being in public. In the case of Aboriginal youth, even something as routine as being in a shopping centre is mired by harassment by security (Perry 2018: Powell 2018). In another example, Muslim girls have been forced to leave a school excursion at a public exhibition centre because other visitors felt “uncomfortable” (Foster 2017).

Let’s take a look at this problem of stereotyping racial minority youth in public spaces, focusing specifically today on migrant minorities. We’ll examine how labelling these youth as “deviant” keeps society from paying attention to pressing social problems, such as structural inequality and interpersonal gender violence.

Continue reading The Social Construction of Migrant Youth Deviance in Public Spaces

Interview: How to Deal with Microaggressions

Image of a Brown woman in the background with white paint smeared over her eye area

I was interviewed by SBS News on microaggressions. Below is an excerpt featuring my comments.

“When people point out the impact of microaggression they also hear ‘I didn’t mean it like that’ or ‘can’t you take a joke?’” says Dr Zuleyka Zevallos, an applied sociologist who has studied microaggressions in Australia. She says confrontation isn’t the best way out of these situations.

“There’s a lot of psychological stress when you’ve been injured by their comments and then they tell you what you experience is invalid.”

The best way is get the other person to be reflective. “Questions stop the other person because they have to think, rather than be defensive.”

“And you shouldn’t expect a minority to always speak for themselves, it’s on all of us to tackle together.”

Another effective way is to express disappointment if it was done by someone you know well.

“We know from research most people hold a positive view of themselves,” says Dr Zuleyka [sic].

“When you say “I always thought you were a reasonable person” or “I can’t believe I’m hearing this for you” it turns the mirror around.”

Read more on SBS News.

Learn more on racial microaggressions on my blog.

Indigenous Women’s Leadership

This past week, Australia celebrated NAIDOC Week (8-15 July), a time to recognise the leadership, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Originally standing for National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee, NAIDOC Week has historically reflected the ongoing resistance to genocide, assimilation and land dispossession, famously culminating in the annual Day of Mourning in 1938 (a protest against Australia Day on 26 January). The NAIDOC committee emerged in 1956, and has in recent decades coordinated local and national events and awards to promote Indigenous excellence. This year’s theme is Because of Her We Canpromoting the multiple leadership roles of Indigenous women for their families and communities, as they push for social justice and human rights at the local community and national levels.

I share with you two events I attended that highlight the role of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in academia, journalism, business, law and social policy. Continue reading Indigenous Women’s Leadership