Men Are Natural Leaders, You Say?

On a way-too-constant basis, you hear someone say something that sounds a bit like this, “I am not sexist, I just believe that men, naturally, have the traits needed to *insert masculine-identified role here*” Sometimes a person might be talking about a certain job or us this to justify why they feel women should stay at home while men go out and work.

These individuals tend overuse their own idea of sexual selection. Their theory starts with the idea that a long, long time ago, when humans were in their most primate-like state, women realized that they put much more time into the care of their offspring while men were, often, off reproducing with many other females. Because of this (so it is said) women became much more “choosy” in who they reproduced with. Evolutionary psychologists, and their followers, believe that it was this fastidiousness that led men to compete with each other; the winner getting the opportunity to mate with the deciding female. Through the years, these “victorious” men passed on stereotypically-masculine traits like aggression, competitiveness and courage, allegedly leading all men to be inborn leaders.

So, here are the issues with all of the above:

Most of the “science” behind this idea has taken place in America.

If  leadership is innately-male, this would be the same for all cultures (with insignificant variances dependent on the culture, of course) but this is simply not the case. Anthropological evidence suggests that 1/3 of small-scale societies treat men and women as equals, even if their responsibilities are slightly dissimilar. Examples of this can be seen in Koraput, Vinatinai, and in several villages in the South Pacific and Southeast Asia. The  absence of patriarchy in primitive communities raises red flags in regards to the validity of this “men are hard-wired to be leaders” theory.

Reproductive success and survival of BOTH sexes would have depended on both mates acting as “providers,” not just the male.

The time frame that evolutionary psychologists use to base their theory off of was a time when hunting and gathering were the only sources of food. Traditionally, women would gather and men would hunt. We know that hunting was quite the difficult task, involving finding the animal, killing it (which was often unsuccessful), skinning/cleaning it- the list goes on. Because of this, it was much more realistic for these primitive communities to live mostly off of gathered food. This means that it was usually women who “brought home the bacon” (or should we say “brought home the berries!”) This goes against every idea that men must be natural providers, as it was the women who were depended on.

So why is it, then, that men are seen as intrinsically dominant? As more complicated economies developed, so did more complex roles- a lot of them taking place outside of the home. Because men were not responsible for gestation and nursing of children, it was obvious that they would leave the home to fill these new roles and with the physical size and upper body strength of many men, they had advantages in taking labor-type roles, giving them control over many resources, and social power in general. Once this new gender hierarchy began, it snowballed from there. Free from childbearing and care-taking, men continued to occupy roles that gave them wealth and power, while women were pushed further into confined domestic roles.

Supporting the idea that the psychological differences between the sexes are not natural at all,  social psychologists Wendy Wood and Alice Eagly, propose that these differences are actually a product of the roles that men and women are expected to fill in society. With these expectations, each gender develops behaviors that are appropriate for their given roles. If we were to assume that this theory is correct, it would make more sense to see that women do not often display overtly leader-like traits because society simply doesn’t expect them to. (An infuriating thought to say the least.)

It took 10,000-12,000 years for this overwhelmingly sexist theory to develop. Patriarchy is not the product of human nature, it is a product of economic advancements and social constructs. Period.





Intersectionality is a term that Kimberle Crenshaw brought about in 1989, while writing her prolific essay, “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color.“Although the existence of intersectionality, itself, has been around since humans developed the absurd ability to discriminate against other humans, Crenshaw originally coined this term to capture the congruity of black feminism to anti-discrimination laws. She used the following analogy to help individuals gain a better understanding of the term:

Consider an analogy to traffic in an intersection, coming and going in all four directions. Discrimination, like traffic through an intersection, may flow in one direction, and it may flow in another. If an accident happens in an intersection, it can be caused by cars traveling from any number of directions and, sometimes, from all of them. Similarly, if a Black woman is harmed because she is in an intersection, her injury could result from sex discrimination or race discrimination. . . . But it is not always easy to reconstruct an accident: Sometimes the skid marks and the injuries simply indicate that they occurred simultaneously, frustrating efforts to determine which driver caused the harm.

Intersectionality is, now, used to describe the interaction of various power structures (homophobia, classism, ageism, etc.) in the lives of minorities, in addition to Crenshaw’s concentrated definition that honed in on sexism and racism.

A prime example of intersectionality is Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s nonsensical and purely ridiculous Matriarch Stereotype. In 1965, Moynihan conducted a “study”to show that the decline of the nuclear family, within the African American community, would continue to disrupt their progress toward equality, both socially and economically. He felt that because so many African American women were having children out of wedlock (therefor raising children in female-headed households) these women were undermining black men and allowing them to relinquish their responsibilities as husbands and fathers. This was the cause, Moynihan believed, of the overwhelming rates of poverty in the African American community at the time.

Moynihan’s Matriarch theory illustrates the importance of the term, intersectionality, because not only did these women have sexism and racism working against them, but also their classism. With intersectionality in mind, we see that the aforementioned elements of oppression (sexism, racism, classism) were actually the culprits behind their struggle to shift out of their low-income situations while Moynihan’s theory simply rationalizes the oppression of these women.

To get less specific, though, let’s think about trans women of color, a gay individuals with disabilities, single mothers who struggle, financially- whatever the case may be. Does it make sense to ask any of these individuals to choose which part of their identity deserves to be liberated?

Every issue that we see- sexism, the wage gap, or the alarming rate of trans women of color being killed- they can all be related back to the presence of intersectionality. These injustices will not dissipate if we, as advocates, as feminists, as allies, are only fighting against bits and pieces of the puzzle. By refusing this theory, we are leaving out a substantial amount of individuals suffering. In order to truly understand, and attempt to successfully dismantle systematic oppression, we must fight for all or we are fighting for none. This theory must be included in our rhetoric, so that we may truly make a difference.



Is Radical Self Love a Dangerous Concept?

Shocking concept, I know, but stick with me here.

Here’s the thing, I am all for women feeling empowered and loving their bodies. However, the issue with this boomin’ “self love movement” is that it seems to imply that we have control over this sort of thing. It’s not so black and white. A person’s insecurities flow and change, depending on millions of factors, most of them out of their control. If it was as simple as deciding to radically love yourself, I am sure that most of us would have made that decision by now.

Life is very short. Insecurities are a waste of time.” This is an actual quote, written by Diane von Fürstenberg, an American Fashion designer. And while I am quite sure that good ol’ Diane meant no harm in this- because, yea, life is short and yeah, I’m sure we could find better things to do with our time than to spend it being hard on ourselves- to proclaim this in such a simplistic way can lead one to ponder why they can not, simply, shake these ingrained feelings of self-criticism and insecurity. Those of us who find it more difficult to join this movement, start asking ourselves “why can’t I just feel comfortable within my own body?” ” Why can’t I just stop wasting time on these insecurities?” Which, ironically, leads to more insecurities and feeling that there is something inherently wrong with us.

Another pattern within this movement seems to be the overwhelming amount of white, middle class, hetero, cis women who push this way of thinking. The idea that loving yourself is something you can just choose to do, without the realization that many people face more barriers than you, is just selfish and calls for a serious check of privilege. People of color, queer and trans people, poor people, disabled individuals and individuals with mental illness. These people face more oppression and external discrimination, making it even more difficult to “just learn” to radically-self-love.

This movement has many sweet intentions and I am all about being kind to yourself, but we must step back and look at the bigger picture. Let’s talk about racism, ableism, sexism, transphobia, socioeconomic inequality, oppression. Let’s understand that these attitudes and prejudices hold a large part of responsibility. Let’s work together to dismantle these factors before we promote the idea you must make the decision to love yourself.


LGBTQQI Health Disparities

As a queer woman, I feel like it is quite obvious that us LGBTQ folks have had it pretty tough. Although the world is changing, ever so slightly (same-sex marriage being legalized in America, same sex-adoption legal in every state, etc), we are still up against more than just hatred and naivety. The actual depth of  what we are fighting, and the product of this fight, is unthought-of by many. Equality in healthcare is a big one.

Why is this important? LGBTQQI individuals are twice as likely to be uninsured and often forgo seeing a doctor due to fear of discrimination or harassment, leading to worsening health and sometimes death. If we are not guaranteed the same quality of care, we are automatically at a disadvantage to living a healthy life.

The discrimination we face, alone, is linked to an increase in the likelihood of psychiatric disorders, substance abuse and suicide. In addition to this this, the societal stigma that we face leads to extreme intolerance from health care workers and a lack of access to our basic human and civil rights. Much of the mental illness that LGBTQQI individuals face is theorized to result from “minority stress,” where an LGBTQQI person experiences internalized homophobia, depression and anxiety. This type of stress can can intersect with race, ethnicity and social class, dependent on the person, magnifying the symptoms of these disorders and illnesses. In addition to these illnesses, the CDC states that “Negative attitudes” toward LGBTQQI people, increases their risk for “experiences with violence”,  which makes our access to quality healthcare even more crucial.

Although there is no “LGBTQQI-specific illness”, many statistics and/or studies address the facts; Individuals who are on the LGBTQQI spectrum have a higher rate of mental illness(as addressed above), they are 2-4 times more likely to smoke cigarettes, there is a higher rate of breast and cervical cancer, and we are at an increased risk for eating disorders, the list goes on. All of these elements, combined with a doctor’s lack of education in the LGBTQQI population, is a recipe for a sickening disaster.

Regarding mental healthcare, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is used as a tool for assessing and diagnosing psych patients, listed homosexuality as a”mental disorder” until 1987 (it was partially removed in 1973 and completely removed in 1987).  However, “Gender Dysphoria Disorder” (or simply, being transgender) remains in the DSM. This is a big deal, mostly because as long as this is in the DSM, transgender people are considered to have an “ailment” due to the fact that they do not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. This perpetuates a dangerous attitude towards an entire population of trans people, affecting their encounters with medical professionals.

The fact is that doctors are obligated to remain unbiased and deliver culturally competent healthcare, but there is an obvious shortage of health care providers who are educated in cultural competency in LGBTQQI health, specifically for transgender individuals. In fact, the IOM (Institute of Medicine) proclaimed, “medical schools teach very little about sexuality in general and little or nothing about the unique aspects of lesbian, gay, and bisexual health, and it is rare for students to receive any training in transgender health.

Sexual desire and gender identity is very fluid and there is a large spectrum of LGBTQQI identities. Also, sexual orientation and gender identity are not specifically asked on most national or State surveys, (although this is a good thing. like, get out of my business, am I right?). Because of these things, it is difficult to see how many people are actually affected by the cultural incompetence in the world of healthcare.  However, let’s just think for a second- Do you know of a gay, transgender or intersex person who has been harassed, questioned, judged or made to feel unsafe or straight up awkward in a hospital or healthcare setting? For most of us, unfortunately, the answer is yes.

Now, what can healthcare workers do about this, in order to hold themselves more accountable for our health, as LGBTQQI people? We can ask that all health care settings be inclusive safe spaces; a place where we feel genuinely welcome. Screening recommendations for breast or prostate exams, must be modified for individuals who have undergone hormonal treatments or surgery, we should be asked what pronouns we would like to hear from medical staff, and we should not be made to feel anything other than the gender we identify with. Psychologists must be better trained at giving us options to cope with the external attitudes of society, that often extinguishes our passion for life. There should be training on cultural sensitivity and LGBTQQI populations and the psychological and physical illnesses that we are especially susceptible to, including how to prevent these predispositions and they should be asked to constantly keep themselves in check on personal beliefs that may act as barriers to providing LGBTQQI individuals with the best care possible. On top of this, health care workers just need to learn to be polite! It’s not that hard, y’all.

Queer Music and Its Impact

The LGBTQQI community has continuously struggled for equality and justice. With the rise in popularity of music, much of America is slowly starting to join in solidarity, or at least acknowledge the necessity for equality. Because music plays such an important role in the lives of the listeners, music can be used as a tool; introducing, fostering and reinforcing open minds.  I will share with you a basic history of LGBTQQI artists and music that is responsible for the rise of tolerance and acceptance, both socially and legally.

It all started in the mid 1920s, during a period called the Pansy Craze.. A string of underground clubs, called speakeasies, began popping up all around America, many of them being safe houses for gay performers and listeners. Gene Malin, Bert Savoy and Rae Bourbon, three openly gay performers in NY, were known to perform at these types of clubs. Ma Rainey, an out lesbian at the time, wrote a song in 1926 called Prove It On Me. She sings, “I went out last night with a crew of my friends. They must have been women ‘cause I don’t like no men.” In 1926, Merrit Brunies and His Friar’s Inn Orchestra wrote a song called Masculine Women, Feminine Men. This was an important song because it was one of the first instances where heterosexuals sang about androgyny. Duke Ellington, and Fats Waller were two examples of straight people who were known to sing and “hang around” gay people, exemplifying open mindedness in the 30’s.

In 1931, Jean Malin wrote a song called I’d Rather Be Spanish Than Manish. This song was about his obvious flamboyance and the fact that he was not ashamed of it. In 1935, Bessie Jackson, a bisexual woman, performed a song called B.D. Women Blues. The B.D. in this song stands for “bull dykes” which means masculine lesbian. She sings about the beauty of these Bull Dyke women and their heart-breaking ways. During this time, despite the rising popularity of gay artists, homosexual and bisexual relationships were still too underrepresented in popular music to make a dent. Cole Porter, a famous gay composer, wrote many songs about other men, and America interpreted, and even performed, these songs as straight love songs (Starr and Waterman 546)

The 1940s to the 50s showed a dramatic decline in out, gay artists, as society decided being gay was wrong, however, some LGBTQQI artists continued to stand by their sexuality. Billy Strayhorn and Dick Voynow were famous, gay jazz musicians. Voynow was a jazz bandleader in the 1930’s and became a record executive in the 1940’s. Two straight singers, Ruth Wallace and Nan Blackstone, were both outspoken allies who wrote songs in support of gay people. Elvis wrote a song called Jailhouse Rock that hinted towards homoeroticism in the prisons (Corte). In the 50’s, Ray Bourbon, a female impersonator and vaudeville performer, wrote a song called Let Me Tell You About My Operation. Although Ray never actually had gender reassignment surgery, this song was significant as it publicly spoke of trans people. A few other gay musicians of the 50s were Little Richard, who called himself “the king of rock and roll…and the queen too,” James Booker, a gay R&B musician who worked with Fats Dominoe and BB King and Frances Faye, a famous cabaret/show tunes singer and pianist and out lesbian.

During the 1960’s the number of LGBTQQI artists was at its height. Big Mama Thornton, who was an openly gay blues vocalist, made Billboard before Elvis did. Mick Jagger, David Bowie, and Gary Glitter were three bisexual artists who were very well known and Dave Davies, of The Kinks was openly gay. Lesley Gore, a self proclaimed lesbian, was at the top of the charts with her song It’s My Party in 1963. This decade came to a head in 1969 when The Stonewall Riots occurred.

Following The Stonewall Riots, queer music of the 70’s was more politically charged. Dusty Springfield, singer of the popular song Wishin’ and a Hopin, came out as bisexual when she said to the Evening Standard, “I’m perfectly as capable of being swayed by a girl as by a boy. More and more people feel that way and I don’t see why I shouldn’t.” In 1960, Jose Sarria wrote a song called A Good Man is Hard to Find. Sarria then ran for board of supervisors in 1961, 12 years before Harvey Milk. LBJ, Don’t Take My Man Away, written by Minette, was the first song by a female impersonator that was not a parody. Lavender Country, America’s first gay country band, wrote a song in 1973 called Back In the Closet Again. They sing, “It’s a bummer being gay when I’m back in the closet again…” Also in 1973, Chris Robison put out the first openly gay rock album. In 1975, Valentino wrote a song called I Was Born This Way, which says, “I’m happy, I’m carefree and I’m gay. Yes I’m gay.” During this decade, Freddie Mercury, Elton John and Long John Baldry came out of the closet.

The 80’s and 90’s continually progressed, in regards to openness for the LGBTQ community. Some of the most mainstream queer artists of these two decades consisted of Grant Hart and Bob Mould of Husker Du, Rob Halford of Judas Priest, Derran Hayes of Savage Garden, Ani Difranco, Linda Perry of 4 Non Blondes, Fred Schneider of the B52s, and the band The Pet Shop Boys. Although Boy George was not out yet, he popularized the androgynous look, helping normalize homosexuality without even coming out. Jill Sobule came out with a song called I Kissed a Girl, which was #67 on the charts; the first obviously gay song to make the charts. In 1983, Holly Near and Ronnie Gilbert wrote a song called Singing For Our Lives after Harvey Milk was assassinated. This song is still performed at festivals to this day. Elton John was very close with Princess Diana and when she passed away in 1997, he performed Candle in the Wind at her funeral. This represented “a watershed moment in which the straight world acknowledged the cathartic power of a good old-fashioned queer tune.” These were crucial times for queer hip-hop, specifically because gay and tolerant hip-hop artists were extremely scarce, even more so than today.

The 2000’s have been the most revolutionary time for the LGBTQQI community and current popular music is comprised of many gay artists and allies. Jay-Z, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, and Brittany Spears have spoken out against homophobia and Macklemore performed his song, Same Love, with Mary Lambert at the 2013 VMAs as 33 same-sex couples got married on live TV. Laura Jane Grace, of Against Me! came out as transgender, Boy George, Ricky Martin, Chuck Panozzo of Styx, Frank Ocean, and Lance Bass of NSYNC were a few of the most popular artists to come out as gay. Queer-friendly hip-hop is also prevailing, despite the majority of mainstream hip-hop being influenced by homophobic male artists. Some of the top queer hip-hop artists consist of Qboy, Angel Haze, Johnny Dangerous, Big Freedia, and Cakes Da Killa, and the scene continues to grow.

Being gay was, essentially, illegal in America until the slow breakdown of numerous discriminatory, confusing and hate-filled laws. This deconstruction is mostly due to the change in America’s attitude towards the LGBTQQI community. LGBTQQI people have gone from secrecy and shame to out and proud. From the Pansy Craze to 21st century mainstream music, you see a constant breakthrough of gay musicians and allies who speak for equality. Queer music, with all of its power, has played a large role in the societal acceptance of the gay community and everyone’s right to love.

Women in the Renaissance

Up until the Renaissance, a individual’s life was entirely devoted to the church. In comparison, during the Renaissance, people broke free and began to focus on themselves and the good of humanity. It was a time of self-discovery, education, travel, music and art and with this came a substantial desire for education and expression. During these times, women were also affected in their own way, by the changes in education, ideal beauty marriage and gender roles.

In the beginning, only wealthy women were known to be educated. If you were not wealthy, you had to enter a convent or become a courtesan to learn. If you were a wife or a mother, your education was for the purpose of being a better mother and wife, and only for that reason was it okay for you to be educated. Throughout the renaissance, the priority always remained their domestic role but education became more accepted and, in some cases, encouraged. One example of this was Henry VIII’s oldest daughter who was educated in Greek, Latin, logic, Philosophy, theology, astronomy and math. On the opposite end of the spectrum, some men labeled educated women as “unmarriable” and compared them to female warriors and amazon women. Despite this, women continued to gain knowledge. They were learning how to speak different languages, make art and dance and they also learned how to play instruments. In regards to who taught them all of these subjects; often times it was their husband, father, brother or private male tutor who taught them, as it was still unacceptable for women to teach.

Although there was much change in education for women, marriage remained archaic. Women spent the early part of their lives under their families’, or should I say fathers’, rules and were then passed on to a husband around the age of sixteen. Renaissance girls had no say in who they were to marry and they were passed off at such a young age to ensure that there would be enough time to have as many heirs as they could. When they were married, the husband received a dowry, or payment, for marrying the wife. In this time, marriage was not about love, it was about a gain in wealth and social or political standing. Marriage also meant that the body of the wife was then property of her husband. Once married, if the husband found the wife to be “rebellious” or “disobedient,” abuse of the wife was completely permitted. In the case that her husband died, her age determined where she would be “placed.” If she was young, she would be sent back to her family’s home and if she was older, she was advised to stay with the family of her husband. Regardless of the age, though, a woman never lived alone.

Throughout each time period, the standards of beauty, in regards to women, continued to change and it was no different in the renaissance. During this time, a painter named Botticelli created a piece called Venus and Mars. In this painting, there is a woman (Venus) lying elegantly across from her lover, Mars. Many people thought that Venus was modeled after a woman Botticelli had met, but in reality he painted Venus based on what he envisioned as a beautiful woman. Botticelli’s preference reflected what was ideally beautiful in the renaissance; curves, yellow hair, supple breasts, high forehead, ruby lips and alabaster skin. Dark red lips were achieved with vermilion, hairlines were plucked, hair was lightened with Saffron and onion dyes, mixed with alum and soda and alabaster skin could be made with a mixture of white lead and vinegar. This time period held more realistic expectations, but women would go to more dangerous lengths if her body was not a complete match to the current idea of beauty.

Feminism. There were a handful of women who were already radically pushing the boundaries of womanhood and what was considered “normal” for women in that time period. Lucrezia Marinella wrote a piece of work called “The Nobility and Excellence of Women and the Defects and Vices of Men.” This piece was written in response to a piece that Giusepe Passi created, stating the alleged defects of women. Marinella’s piece consisted of the reasoning behind her thought that women were actually superior to men in many ways, including morally and intellectually.

Isabella d’Este was the wife of Francesco II Gonzaga, the Marquess of Mantua. In Francesco’s absence, and later death, Isabella took his place. Isabella was not only an important political figure but she was a patron of the arts, played the lute and was a very large part in the development of a musical style called frottola. Another example of this is a woman names Laura Cereta. Laura put feminist issues and her friendships with other women in the forefront of her writings. She wrote from a feminist perspective, about women’s education, war and marriage and her pieces were not only intended for women, but for everyone, as to further spread her ideals.

The renaissance was a time for change and exploration and that was absolutely reflected through many women and their perceived roles. Presently, it seems like it was a dreadful time to be a woman, and it’s true. However, it was a nudge in the right direction. It was a time for women to experience education, make music and to create art. It was a time for them to write stories and poems, to speak, rule and start the shift towards being a separate entity to their partners. In some cases, it was even about smashing gender roles completely and fighting for women’s rights.