Confessions of a Gay Male Feminist: June 2007 function isEmailAddr(email)

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Answer to All of Their Problems

Many Australians and members of the international community were in a furor recently as Prime Minister John Howard announced a radical new plan to "improve" the health of Australian Aborigines. PM Howard's plan stems from a recent report surmising that Aboriginal health is completely inadequate and the current, rural Aboriginal community is run rampant with illiteracy, poverty, child abuse, and alcoholism. Howard's solution is to ban all alcohol, pornography, and restrict access to welfare until conditions improve.

Needless to say, many of the Aborigines whom are affected by this scheme were not happy, as no Indigenous Australians were actually consulted when crafting this solution.

Unfortunately, it is true that the Aborigine population in Australia is grossly under served and unhealthy. The most alarming statistic is that the life expectancy for the Indigenous population in Australia is around 65 years old for Aboriginal females -- seventeen years less than non-Indigenous Australians.

There are many factors that have influenced this decay in Aboriginal health. Like the Native American Indians in the US, the Aborigines were victims of an aggressive and brutal imperialism by the European colonists. In the early 1900s, it was decided that Aboriginal children who could pass as white should be taken from their families and raised in white, civil society (see the film Rabbit-Proof Fence). It wasn't even until the 1960s that Indigenous Australians were granted citizenship. Today, their numbers amount to a small percent of the population; many of whom live in impoverished areas or on land reservations (similar, again, to American Indians), and racism targeted at Aborigines runs rampant.

Needless to say, PM Howard's get-healthy-quick solution is probably not going to solve 200 years of violent imperialism, especially when he refuses to admit that the Aborigine population was ever mistreated in the first place.

Howard's hope is that by banning alcohol, alcohol abuse will disappear (because that's exactly what happened during prohibition in the US). Welfare will now be tied directly to a student's attendance in school. If an Aboriginal child misses so many days of school, the parent(s) will not receive as much money from the government. And the ban on pornography will hopefully eradicate children's access to such a demoralising medium and decrease their desire to have sex with each other, while also curbing the sexual abuse at the hands of adults.

Ultimately, instead of redirecting funds to increased education about responsible drug and alcohol use and sex education, or any ounce of community development, the government has decided to just outlaw those things it deems to be contributing factors in hopes of seeing results. And isn't it just typical that pornography should be on that list. Catherine MacKinnon should be proud to know that, despite her long-term failure in other parts of the world, John Howard and his conservative party members still view pornography as one of the principle causes to a population's degradation.

Apparently white Australians know how to handle their porn and booze responsibly since they have absolutely no health or social problems whatsoever.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

To Cut or Not to Cut

The Associated Press published an article recently reporting that male circumcision rates in the US have dropped. Not only have they dropped, but there has been a drastic decline in the number of circumcisions performed on American newborn boys -- from 90% in the 1960s to around 57% today. Doctors and public health officials attribute this fact to several factors: an increase in the number of immigrants who share differing opinions regarding circumcision; as well as a general attempt by all Americans -- especially women and mothers -- to reclaim the body as one's own over the last fifty years. Consequently, cutting of a male-bodied baby's foreskin is viewed as a violation of that baby's privacy (similar trends have been noted in intersex babies).

I have always been on the fence about circumcision. I, personally, am circumcised and don't believe I have any residual repressed feelings over the loss of my foreskin at birth. However, I have also dated someone who did not get circumcised until he was 20 years old -- a procedure he chose to undertake out of feelings of inadequacy in comparison with other "cut" men. Although he said that the aftermath of the operation was the most painful time in his life, I did and do admire -- perhaps envy -- his ability to chose how he wants to present himself to the world.

My reason for being on the fence about the issue was that I had always been under the impression that male circumcision was a means of preventing disease. I was shocked to learn that its health benefits are minimal, and "since 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics has not endorsed routine circumcision." Recent studies in Africa, however, suggest that circumcised heterosexual men have a lower prevalence of HIV than uncircumcised men. But based on what the AP chose to tell me about the study, I would be suspect of the evidence that attributes such a sharp decline in HIV infection rates to the simple act of cutting off the foreskin.

It seems that despite what the one study in Africa suggests, the primary reason for newborn male circumcision in America is social stigma. Every post-modern, feminist-influenced television series (i.e. Sex & the City et al.) includes some mention of the pros and cons of being with a circumcised man. Likewise, pornography -- especially gay male porn -- makes sure to mention whether or not the stars are "cut" or "uncut" -- and "uncut" seems to have garnered its own special category alongside BDSM and fetishes. Online hook-up ads typically feature the same information, just to avoid any surprises when your partner(s) drops his pants.

What does surprise me, is that while there has been such a vocal movement to reclaim one's body, little is done with regards to a newborn's rights. This surprises me since the anti-choice activists like to remind us that life begins at conception, but they are the first to prescribe an anaesthetic-free procedure to alter that "saved" baby's life upon entering the world. Similar attitudes are often enforced upon intersex children. Perhaps it isn't the baby the anti-choice fighters want, but rather, the eighteen years of legalised control over another human being that comes afterwards.

If I do have children -- which inofitself would be shocking -- I think I would like to let them make up their own minds regarding their body. If the health benefits are inconsequential, why would I want to alter their bodies just for the sake of aesthetic value? They can do that when their older, in between getting a tattoo and their nose pierced.

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Get SiCK

In somewhat of a follow-up to my previous post, I thought it would be informative to spread the word of a new film that will soon be released. Although I update my "Current Viewing" monthly, this is the first time I have dedicated an entire post to promoting a film.

Unless you have been living under a rock for the last decade, you know of Michael Moore. He is the man responsible for some of the most prolific and controversial documentaries ever, including Roger and Me, Bowling for Columbine, and Fahrenheit 9/11. Although his sensationalist tactics have been criticised by all but the most progressive of us, he has brought a new level of public awareness to issues and policies that would otherwise be ignored.

His newest film, SiCKO, highlights the inequalities that currently exist in the US healthcare system. And unlike Fahrenheit 9/11 -- which had its validity as a legitimate documentary debated endlessly by political pundits -- there is no denying that the US has the worst healthcare system of any westernised nation (and believe me, I am constantly reminded of that fact in my public health courses).

So, in a first for me, below you will find the trailer for SiCKO. If you have trouble loading it, it is readily available for viewing on YouTube. And, just to make it more difficult for you to avoid, here are the release dates of SiCKO around the world:

USA - 29 June 2007
Australia - 16 August 2007
Canada - 29 June 2007
France - 17 October 2007
Germany - 11 October 2007

Now, of course, just watching the trailer will not do much in getting the US healthcare system changed. Luckily, there are a few options for my American friends. First, when the movie is released, go see it! Make SiCKO's opening weekend box office rival Spider-Man 3's or Pirates of the Caribbean. Although not the best way of promoting positive social change, it will send a message to lawmakers that Americans do care about the health system.

A better, and more direct route, of course, is to contact your Congressman directly and tell them that you're ready for a change and the current healthcare system in America is inadequate and unacceptable.

We have a long way to go before anything resembling universal healthcare in US is enacted, but by rallying together and crying out for a change, we can get there that much faster.

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Friday, June 15, 2007

The New Imperialists

I have finally completed my first semester. I am officially halfway done with my MPH degree and I am ecstatic. Uni really takes its toll and I can honestly say that if this program were any longer than a year, I would quit.

At this point in time, I feel that I can look back an evaluate what I think of my degree and of public health, in general. Although my work experience has been in the public health sector, my academic interests -- as you all know by now -- lie within the realms of anthropology and gender & sexuality. Fortunately, I have been able to infuse my previous academic [and personal] interests into many of my current assignments.

As I sat in my final class for the semester, listening to another endless debate about health equity, I couldn't help but wonder: Are public health practitioners really so altruistic? Is public health -- especially international and minority focused -- really another form of imperialism that we have all learned to despise?

My musings are borne out of my own belief system and observations I've made since beginning my degree. I am entirely in favour of practices and promotions that alert people to the dangers of cancer, unsafe sex, and non-communicable diseases. However, it is at many of my colleagues' insistence that I feel uncomfortable crafting public messages that warn about the dangers of smoking, overeating, and using illicit substances. Although I recognise that these are detrimental habits, I don't especially feel comfortable being the one to go into a community and proclaim, "I know what's best for you!"

The full extent of my apprehension towards public health came recently during a debate with a colleague over nutrition. Having been in the country over the weekend, my colleague and I noted the number of overweight people in our midst. I, however, felt that there were many extenuating circumstances -- like socio-economic status, for one -- that contribute to one's so-called obesity and expressed my feelings that judging a group of rural or poor-urban people for being unfit was "classist." She vehemently disagreed and said that "these people" should simply grow their own food and/or buy organic. How people of a low socio-economic status were supposed to do either of these things was not answered when asked to be explained.

Although I do still enjoy the principles of public health, overall, I look around the classroom and find myself wondering, "Are we really just a bunch of white people trying to educate the local savages? How are we any different than the European colonists who are responsible for so much of the inequality the currently exists in the world?" And while many of my colleagues are supposed to be like-minded and progressive, they are also the first to condemn smokers, non-vegetarians, and those who are slightly overweight.

I might not be disheartened enough to seek a career change, but I am certainly starting to question my desire to carry on in this particular field.


Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Pornography or Abstinence

It seems that the CNN-gods heard my cries and have, again, answered my prayers. Unfortunately, I am now calling it quits with this news-source.

Over the weekend, published an article criticising the prevalence of porn in our "look-at-me" culture, and its negative impact on society -- in particular, young girls and women. The article had some valid points, here and there, but overall was written out of a sex negative, uninformed belief system.

To quickly sum up the article, it highlights the integration of porn into our society, shifting from a shameful art form into one that affects everything we do. Throughout the article, quotes are lifted from "experts" decrying this hyper-sexualisation and its negative effects on young women who hope to emulate the latest stripping singing siren. It also discusses the negative effects of using your looks and sexuality as a confidence builder, rather than developing other facets of your personality.

I am going to start by doing something I rarely do, namely, stating what I agree with in the article. Although, as faithful readers will know, I embrace open sexuality whole-heartily, I do agree that it shouldn't be a person's only means of drawing attention. What the article failed to mention is that the very successful porn stars (Jenna Jameson, Annie Sprinkle, Aiden Shaw) are successful because they used porn as a vehicle to delve into other entrepreneurships. The only difference is that they did so without white-washing their so-called "raunchy" images.

Additionally, I do have a bit of trouble justifying the nudity of franchises such as Girls and Guys Gone Wild. Again, I entirely support someone making the decision to enter a career in the sex industry -- or even just try it out -- but approaching drunken individuals, who have already lost much of their sense of reason due to alcohol and asking them to bare all for the camera is not the same thing as making a sober, informed decision about entering the sex industry.

Lastly, I frankly do think that young children (12 years or less, in my mind) worrying about their bodies and dressing provocatively is somewhat misguided. Thinking back on my own life, I was not at all sexual until high school and am living proof that getting a "late" start in exploring one's sexuality still leaves plenty of time to do so.

What irritates me most about an article like this one is the unsaid stance taken by the author that, we, as a society, all know that porn is bad. Nothing good can come of pornography and the sex industry, and that is something we supposedly all agree upon. That one-third of internet users who accessed pornographic websites last month were just all disturbed perverts. And the $8 billion that the US sex industry generates each year is unaccounted for -- the money just magically appears every week.

Although I agree that young children shouldn't being trying to emulate adults (which is a belief also existing on the social construct that children shouldn't be sexual), we have given them only two alternatives to explore their sexuality: Pornography or Abstinence. We decry their desire to mimic what they are exposed to, yet, parents and schools enforce a notion of abstinence-only-until-marriage. There is no safe, respected middle ground that adolescents are encouraged to explore as their bodies grow and their libidos increase. And given the choice between sexual freedom and a youth free from sexual exploration, I certainly would prefer the former.

What we need is a concerted effort made by parents, teachers, politicians, and producers to promote the notion that, while it may not be everything, sexuality is not something to fear.

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Sunday, June 03, 2007

My Terrorist Act is Better than Your Terrorist Act

Since moving to Sydney, I have typically relied on as my US-news source (not that the Australian media isn't oversaturated with US news stories, already). I have used CNN's website for some time as a place to quickly skim headlines and read about the major event happening in the States. My doing so, I must admit, has been at the expense of much teasing from friends, who -- like me -- have noticed a shift in CNN's values to mirror those of FOX News' sensationalist tactics (of which I have occasionally highlighted in the past).

Today I awoke to read about the Democrats' recent debate (which showed the strongest support of queer rights ever, even though Dennis Kucinich is the only one who actually supports gay marriage (the others support civil unions)); Rosie O'Donnell's new tell-all book; and a brief article on the uncovered terrorism plot against New York's JFK Airport.

In conjunction with their story on terrorism, CNN featured the following poll: "Would the destruction of John F. Kennedy International Airport by terrorists have as much emotional impact as 9/11?"

What an absolutely ridiculous question! I must admit, poll questions like these are what get me to go back to on a daily basis. I don't even know where to begin analysing a question like this.

First, how could someone even begin to anticipate their emotional state following the destruction of a public place?! Likewise, circumstances could change for a person between the destruction of the World Trade Centre and another location. The person might have family working in this second place, yet knew no one who died on 9/11. It also seems to me that it is implied that the loss of life at JFK Airport wouldn't be as great as 9/11, so it wouldn't make it just as tragic. Similar to the fact that the London bombings didn't kill as many people, so the impact of those explosions didn't linger as long in the collective consciousness as the destruction seen in 2001 (at least in the States, I must clarify).

Overall, I felt like this poll question was almost a dare to the terrorists. As if the writers at CNN were saying, "You had your time in the limelight, terrorists. Nothing you can do will ever be as memorable as 9/11. We'd like to see you try and be as destructive as you were a few years ago." So not only does the poll question belittle any past and future acts of so-called terrorism, but it also subtly provokes any future terrorists to plan more heinous acts against unsuspecting citizens.

Perhaps next week CNN will ask, "Would you really care if another hurricane hit New Orleans?"


Friday, June 01, 2007

I am Violated by Your Words

I am finally almost done with this semester, so you should expect regular updates starting again. The good news is that during this mini-hiatus of mine, I have found lots of inspiration to infuse my writing with.

Over the last thirty years, we have seen a rise in the number of sexual harassment cases gaining public and legal attention. Feminism is often credited with this shift in values, as most "victims" of sexual harassment are women. Indeed, turning unwanted sexual advances into a prosecutable offence has made the workplace safer for everyone, especially women and minorities who, before, had no choice but to ignore the sideways glances and sexually-laced comments.

However, I recently began thinking: Is prosecuting a set of "crimes" on the basis of their sexual meaning subtly promoting a sex negative value?

In our society, when a stranger (or acquaintance) compliments your eyes or smile or outfit, you smile and thank them for noticing. You don't scream, kick them in the groin, and call the police. So how do the phrases, "lovely breasts," or "nice ass," change the sincerity or meaning of the compliment? Clearly this individual finds something attractive about you, so what does it matter if (s)he is complimenting on what's below the neck, rather than what's above?

I assume that the criminalisation of such sexually-laced remarks was brought up out of fear that words lead to actions. Once a man comments on a woman's appearance he is just one step away from raping her in a dark ally. Yet, we know that this is clearly not always the case. I would like to bring up another parallel scenario. When on a date with someone and he leans in for a goodnight kiss, but the date was awful, this might seem like an unwanted sexual advance. But more often than not, this does not lead to sexual assault nor does it lead to legal troubles. The hesitant partner simply says, "Goodnight," and goes home (at least that's how I have reacted when met with this situation myself).

Although, I think, sexual harassment was coined and criminalised in an effort to give a voice to the defenceless, I think we must ask ourselves why we really think an act should be illegal. Is verbal sexual harassment really as damaging as sexual assault? Or has this system of legal barriers been put into place to promote a sex negative view, similar to the one in place thanks to the criminalisation of prostitution? Keep in mind, although many moderate individuals back sexual harassment regulation, the prime lobbying groups were and are the same people calling for the criminalisation of pornography and sex work.

While I will -- to some extent -- continue to conform to societal values and refrain from telling a co-worker that I want to suck him off, I'm wondering how I would react if someone were to say the same to me? Knowing myself, I know that I wouldn't be filing charges.

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