Ancient Reproduction Practices

Bioarchaeologist Kristina Killgrove and her colleague, Ancient Historian Sarah E. Bond, have embarked on a wonderful initiative to bring peer-reviewed science to the public. The Ancient Studies Articles Podcast was recently launched. It features Kristina and Sarah reading aloud interdisciplinary ancient studies, in order to make the field more accessible to visually impaired people. This is an innovative and exciting project that I hope will bring ancient studies to new audiences, and perhaps inspire other fields. This post gives an overview of the project and a summary of the first podcast on the scientific development of contraception in 6th Century Byzantine. Continue reading Ancient Reproduction Practices

Gay Rights are not Equatable to Racial Segregation

This entertaining video was really popular last year. Although seemingly clever, it draws on a problematic comparison between same-sex marriage discrimination in the present day and racial segregation laws that were firmly in place in the USA until the civil rights movement in the 1960s (as well as in South Africa, Australia and around the world). This comparison between gay marriage and racial segregation has become increasingly common amongst well-meaning activists, including in litigation cases before the USA courts.

The link between racial segregation and gay marriage has also been evoked elsewhere, such as in the UK, with activists and academics arguing that not allowing gay marriage is similar to racist policies of the 1960s. This race-sexual discrimination argument is usually made by White activists who aim to illuminate the similar struggles of inequality faced by all minority groups.

Racial segregation and gay marriage might be similarly categorised within the rubric of human rights issues that everyone should be invested in protecting. The problem with drawing a direct link between both issues is that this ignores the distinct historical relations that different minority groups have faced over time, and it also obliterates the legal intricacies of racial, sexual and gender discriminations. Equating racial segregation to gay marriage also ignores the complex interconnections of discrimination as they are lived by different subgroups.

Continue reading Gay Rights are not Equatable to Racial Segregation

Compulsory Heterosexuality

Paper People is a short Australian documentary film by young aspiring film maker Francis Haddid. It centres on teenager Jessica Barlow’s advocacy to change the way magazines portray women. Barlow started The Brainwash Project to provide alternative stories about girlhood that aren’t reflected by mainstream commercial media. Barlow was inspired by American Julia Bluhm, who petitioned Seventeen Magazine to stop photoshopping pictures of women. Consequently, Barlow led a Change.org campaign to get Cleo Magazine to stop using digitally altered images of young women. She met with the editor Gemma Crisp in Sydney, showing her the 20,000 signatures she’d collected. Barlow reports that the meeting was strange and she wasn’t sure that Crisp was listening to everything Barlow had to say. Continue reading Compulsory Heterosexuality

Rethinking Gender and Sexuality: Case Study of the Native American “Two Spirit” People

 

By Zuleyka Zevallos, PhD

Sociology and anthropology have long used the experiences of “third sex” cultures, such as the Native American Two Spirit people, to teach students about the social construction of sex and gender. In many cultures around the world, people are allowed to live their lives beyond conventional binaries; they need not adhere to the biological sex they were born into. These people are usually revered and there are special circumstances where individuals are allowed to shift their gender position. These groups, including the Two Spirit people, are used as examples in the sociology of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersexual (LGBTQI) issues. Recent scholarship, however, has questioned this practice, demonstrating that social scientists are applying Western concepts to misappropriate the Two Spirit phenomena.

My post gives a broad overview of the social science concepts of gender and sexuality. I then discuss the spirituality, gender and sexuality of Two Spirit people as well as the history and culture that informs their social position. Let me put my analysis in context: I am not Native American nor am I a transgender person. I identify as a *cis-woman of colour (*that is, my biological and gender identity align). As a sociologist who has researched, published on and taught gender and sexuality courses, I seek to explore how Western social scientists, queer theorists and other social activists have misappropriated the Two Spirit experience to highlight social causes.

I propose that social science needs to move forward from our dominant understandings of the Two Spirit experience. My aim is to start a conversation about how we might expand sociological understandings of gender and sexuality using this case study. How do we best communicate the social construction of gender and sexuality to students and to the public? I argue academics and activists need to be mindful that, even with the best of intentions, misappropriation of cultural traditions of minority groups is dangerous. This perpetuates historical practices that have silenced Indigenous experiences. There are better ways to appreciate and form solidarity with Other cultures. This begins by listening to the way minorities speak about their own experiences, rather than projecting our seemingly-progressive perspective onto Others.

I begin by giving a background on what inspired this post as an example of public sociology. Public sociology describes how we produce sociology for mass audiences outside academia. My focus here is on how we use sociology in the classroom and in social media. It is vital to the longevity of our discipline that sociologists explain our key concepts to general audiences. At the same time, I see it important that we publicly own up to, and invite a public discussion about, the changing dynamics of power which influence social theories. We also need to take responsibility for the way we teach and publicly discuss social science ideas. This means being more critical about the ways in which social science ideas are produced and disseminated, especially via social media.

We-Wah, a Zuni Berdache, from New Mexico, who was born biologically male but lived as a Two Spirit woman. via Chicago Whispers
We-Wah, a Zuni Berdache, from New Mexico, who was born biologically male but lived as a Two Spirit woman. via Chicago Whispers

Continue reading Rethinking Gender and Sexuality: Case Study of the Native American “Two Spirit” People

Fighting Homophobia in AFL

Jason Ball started a Change.org campaign to end discrimination of gay people in the Australian Football League (AFL). His campaign has hit a high today – his advocacy is featured in a key newspaper after he received a phone call from the CEO of the AFL saying they’ll broadcast “Say No to Homophobia” ads during the preliminary final. Ball has played amateur footy since he was five. He writes:

“It’s a blokey culture — and gay slurs are a regular part of games and training. It’s a horrible reminder that you’re different, reviled and unwelcome. It felt like the footy club would be the one place I could never come out.” 

Sign his campaign here: http://www.change.org/afl

The “Cult of the Clitoris”: Policing Women’s Sexuality in England During WWI

By Zuleyka Zevallos

Cult of the ClitorisThis story is engrossing: Maud Allan was a Canada-born dancer who found fame in Germany in the early 1900s. She performed in the Oscar Wilde play, Vision of Salome, famous for “the dance of the seven veils.” When Allan was in her 20s, her brother was executed for killing two girls. She changed her name to escape this notoriety but later found herself the subject of infamy, drawn into a litigation case defending her name against charges of “sexual perversion.” Allan’s artistic sensuality and the fact that she was a lesbian were weaved into a conspiracy plot involving the highest office of British parliament. The Daily Mail recently reported on Allan’s life as a new play is being produced in San Francisco which is based on this salacious court case.

Allan’s story makes an excellent historical case study of the criminalisation of femininity and homosexuality in Britain at the end of World War I. I discuss the contradictory meanings of Allan’s dancing and her embodiment of the character Salome, a figure that has come to represent the dangerous qualities of female heterosexuality. The cultural significance of Allan’s dancing and her court case takes on multiple meanings in light of Allan’s reality as a lesbian woman in the 1920s.

I use Allan’s story to examine the history of the clitoris and its cultural mystique in relation to cis-women’s* bodily experiences of pleasure in connection to dancing and sex. Continue reading The “Cult of the Clitoris”: Policing Women’s Sexuality in England During WWI

Representations of Black Gay Men on American Television

I don’t wholly agree with this researcher’s argument that the gay male characters in The Wire and The Shield challenge stereotypes of gay Black men. Yes, as Lewis notes, these men are represented as being “hyper masculine”, which is the opposite of mainstream portrayals of gay men as “effeminate”. At the same time, these characters problematically play into other stereotypes of Black men as violent drug criminals, or as being “on the down low” (not publicly identifying as homosexual). Lewis includes some interesting clips from Noah’s Arc, essentially arguing that some presentations of gay black men is better than none, as they encourage Black communities to discuss and move past their fear of gay masculinity. This “micro lecture” is worth watching and debating.

Unpacking the Gendered Symbolism of the Sistine Chapel

By Zuleyka Zevallos

Unpacking the Gendered Symbolism of the Sistine ChapelToday I spent a great deal of time playing around with the Vatican’s virtual tour of the Sistine Chapel. For an art and sociology of religion nerd such as me, the 360 degree view of the Chapel was loads of fun. Nevertheless, this got me thinking about the history of Christian art and, in particular, Michelangelo’s contribution to Western ‘high art’ culture. I am interested in how Western European art of the Renaissance period set up women as The Other of men, and how this gender binary continues to influence dominant discourses of divinity within mainstream Christianity.

Elizabeth Dodson Gray offers a feminist critique of the history of patriarchal depictions of divinity. She argues this form of patriarchy is best exemplified by the system of meaning behind Michelangelo’s design of the Sistine Chapel. Dodson Gray’s central point about ‘the process of naming the sacred’ helps to unpack the narrative behind the Sistine Chapel’s most famous work. Dodson Gray argues that throughout most of modern history, men had greater power in constructing discourses of The Sacred. As a consequence, symbols of God were constructed as synonymous with being Male. Until women began offering feminist critiques of religious signs and texts, religious imagination largely ignored women’s knowledge.  Continue reading Unpacking the Gendered Symbolism of the Sistine Chapel

Making asexuality more visible

A BBC News article features the story of 21 year old Jenni Goodchild who identifies as asexual, meaning that she has no interest in having sex. She talks about how this impacts on her relationship with her boyfriend who is not asexual. Goodchild is a romantic asexual, which means that despite her lack of interest in sex, she does enjoy the intimacy of being physically and emotionally involved with her partner. Aromantic asexuals are not interested in sex nor in experiencing emotional and physical intimacy with another person within an intimate relationship. The article features British sociologist Mark Carrigan. He talks about the marginalisation that asexual people experience in British society, and how the activism of The Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) has helped to lift the social status of asexual individuals. Carrigan says that as asexuality is discussed more publicly, this may ultimately change how societies understand the complexity of human sexuality: 

For instance there wasn’t a concept of heterosexuality before there were homosexuals,“ says Carrigan. "It was only when there were people calling themselves homosexuals that it made sense for anyone to think of themselves as heterosexual.
If it is true that up to 1% of the population are asexual and more people are aware of them, will that change how ‘sexual’ people think about themselves, because there is not really a good word to refer to people who aren’t asexual.