Sunday, May 27, 2012

Fundamental human rights

-The Atlantic had a piece recently by Talia Minsberg about Israel's new skinny-model ban. The comments go in precisely the two directions we'd expect: fury that Israel's being mentioned in a context other than chastising it for being the most evil country ever to exist, and complaints from those with BMIs under 18.5 about how unfair it is that they could not, in theory, work as models in Israel. Never mind that they're probably too short, old, plain, and not in Israel for this to apply to them, and never mind that without government or industry intervention, thus far high-fashion modeling has, for a while now, effectively only been available to those with BMIs under 18.5. (Frame of reference: "A five-foot, seven-inch individual, for example, must weigh at least 118 pounds to work as a model in Israel.") As if there's some kind of fundamental human right to have you or images of yourself held up as beautiful, one that we can ignore when it's an entity other than the state doing the enforcing.

-The great debate over straight women's presence in gay bars has resurfaced once more, now that an L.A. bar - one that evidently features chiseled go-go dancers - banned "straight bachelorette parties." (Presumably lesbian bachelorette parties wouldn't be held there in the first place.) The bar is doing so because - and this is reasonable enough - they think it's offensive to use gay bars as a place to celebrate marriage, when gay marriage is not yet legal across the nation. Reasonable, but quite possibly a noble-sounding pretext to exclude women from the establishment. (Does every straight bachelorette party identify itself as such?)

And if it is a pretext, so what? Do groups of women have a fundamental right to go to gay bars? Maybe, maybe not. Ethically I suppose it would depend on what kind of gay bar it was. No idea where the law stands, not terribly curious, not my concern here. There are plenty of great reasons a gay bar could give to keep some/all women out. Most notably, the purpose of the bar is for men to be among men, which would still be true even if gays could marry across the galaxy.

What is my concern - and I said this the last time this came up - is that critics of women-in-gay-bars keep acting like the only reasons straight women would go to a gay bar are a) to avoid unwanted sexual advances from men, and b) because they think of gay men as fashion accessories or zoo animals. It would seem that the more obvious reason for their interest in these locales is that they're chock-full of individuals of these women's preferred sex. This ogling is not - as Gawker's Louis Peitzman claims - about gay men as novelty items. Some women will enjoy seeing men kissing men, just as the equivalent is true. But this is fundamentally about it being appealing to a heterosexual woman to be in a great big horde of men. But a straight woman - all the more so a self-proclaimed "bachelorette" - surely cares only about handbags, shoes, and avoiding dirty, hair-mussing sex.

18 comments:

PG said...

I remember an earlier incarnation of proposed bans on women/ bachelorette parties from gay male strip clubs, mentioned in a DC gay-oriented weekly (the now-defunct Washington Blade?) back in 2002-ish. As I recall, the issue described there was that the women in groups tended to behave in ways that differed from and disturbed the regular clientele: they got very drunk, occasionally to the point of puking; they made a lot of noise, often screaming at the performers; they would get bored waiting for the single toilet in the ladies and insist on being able to use the men's; etc. Basically, they were frightening off the regulars to an extent that made their patronage actually a net loss for the business. (Also, a setting that was designed for a marginalized group probably has non-monetary reasons to be concerned if that group is made to feel uncomfortable by a member of the majority.)

Apparently the way a gay male regular behaved at these places was to order a few drinks over the course of the night, quietly appreciate the dancers, and express that appreciation in the form of folding money, rather than "Woo hoo, take it ALL off!" and grabbing at the posing pouch. So the version of this problem a decade ago seems to have been *overly* sexually expressive women.

Or maybe this was just true in DC, which tends to be the home of more behaviorally conservative gay *and* straight men than LA. All my gay friends in DC are lawyers (albeit some not currently practicing) or federal government employees, and the type of people who would resent having a bunch of loud, nauseated drunks of either sex disturbing them.

Phoebe said...

PG,

I'll break this into two parts.

First, like I said, I don't think there's necessarily anything wrong with a gay bar excluding women. If women don't get what the bar is for, whatever that means, even if it just means their mere presence, so be it.

Although I think it would be a bit odd to justify a ban on the basis of women's tendency to use the men's room if the women's room is occupied, unless this particular men's room was known to serve another purpose than toilets. And it's always entering dangerous territory to say 'group X acts like so' at bars.* And while gays are a marginalized minority, women are, in different but related respects, a marginalized group as well. Some of the Gawker commenters minded how "shrill" (the word one used, but others also made similar points) women can be. If the problem is drunkenness and inappropriate behavior, the bar could perfectly well ban those, even if that ends up impacting female customers 99.99% of the time.

Long story short, even if it's fine for a gay bar to exclude women, there's no need for the justification given to further offend. That the bar is for men to meet men would seem enough to keep out women; that gays can't marry everywhere in the country would seem enough to keep out hollering bachelorettes.

Bringing me to the second part: "So the version of this problem a decade ago seems to have been *overly* sexually expressive women."

Here I absolutely disagree. Given prevailing assumptions about female heterosexuality, it's assumed that this kind of behavior is a great big joke. A play on male sexuality. Think 'I'm a Samantha!' uttered, inevitably, by a woman who's only ever slept with her husband-to-be, and even that for her is a chore. The hollering is not presumed to be about women actually being turned on by good-looking men, let alone (horrors!) two or more of them making out. Whereas at a strip club, presumably, it's assumed that men would, physiologically, want to sleep with the strippers. It's presumed to be sincere.

*A bar in Princeton bans anyone wearing a hoodie - make of that what you will.

PG said...

And it's always entering dangerous territory to say 'group X acts like so' at bars.

Sure, but that's actually why I'd find it more problematic for the strip clubs to deny all women admission, rather than saying that women on a party are not allowed. It's much easier administratively to say at the outset "X events that tend to degenerate into inappropriate behavior are simply not allowed," than to try to expel the inappropriately-behaved (who often do not depart easily and quietly) once they have started misbehaving and annoying the regulars.

I don't think I've ever been to a gay-oriented strip club, but the one time I went to a strip club featuring male performers that was oriented toward female viewers (near the Galleria, if you ever need to kill time in Houston), they were not making out with each other. It was massively cooler than most strip clubs oriented toward straight men, not just for the obvious reason that I'd think that as a straight woman, but also because it was more burlesque style. (In a sexy way, not in a "dude I don't need your junk 'comedically' shoved in my face" Tigger way.)

Although I think it would be a bit odd to justify a ban on the basis of women's tendency to use the men's room if the women's room is occupied, unless this particular men's room was known to serve another purpose than toilets.

I think it bothered the regulars to have women in their restroom. Keep in mind, at least as it was described in DC strip clubs, a lot of the clientele are not hot young things (who presumably are more likely going to gay bars and dance clubs), but older men out on what would otherwise be a fairly lonely night. I don't think it denies the marginalization of women to say that they have a set of social options that were historically not available to that generation of gay men.

A play on male sexuality.

Is it supposed to be a play on male sexuality as enacted in public spaces like construction sites, or on male sexuality as enacted in het-male-oriented strip clubs? Because if the latter, it's very far off base. Decent strip clubs (i.e. the only kind I've ever been in) have strong rules against touching or harassing the women who work there, and a guy who was yelling at the performers would be seen by other patrons as gauche.

Phoebe said...

OK, I've never been to a strip club of any kind, but have been to gay/lesbian bars, typically with friends of these orientations. So I defer to you on these matters. As for the rest...

I don't think a gay bar banning all women, not just bachelorette parties, is engaging in 'group X acts like so.' They're merely saying, 'group X is by definition not part of this bar's desired clientele.' Women - shrill or witty, loud or quiet and respectful - are not of romantic interest to gay men. If the purpose of the bar is for men to meet men, that's a fine reason for the bar to keep out women.

But if the issue really just is not wanting bachelorette parties, that ban isn't 'group X acts like so,' either, because bachelorette parties by definition celebrate that a woman is getting married, and by common sense would not, if the woman getting married is marrying a woman, be celebrated at a gay-male bar. (Gay-mixed, sure.)

If, however, what the bar doesn't want is groups of badly-behaved women, bachelorette-affiliated or otherwise, but is committed to letting in women who are not badly-behaved, it kind of has to ban bad behavior, including among men. That, or ban women altogether, without mentioning behavior.

"Is it supposed to be a play on male sexuality as enacted in public spaces like construction sites, or on male sexuality as enacted in het-male-oriented strip clubs?"

The former, which is in and of itself a performance of desire that isn't necessarily assumed to be evidence of actual desire.

PG said...

If the purpose of the bar is for men to meet men, that's a fine reason for the bar to keep out women.

Agreed, but that's why I don't think strip clubs and bars can be treated as interchangeable (I may have been derailing from your post in my first comment, as I was focusing on strip clubs and not bars). I don't think I've been to a gay strip club, but from what I understand they're not set up to enable patrons to interact with one another, rather than with the performers. So long as women are there to watch and interact respectfully with the performers, they're reasonable to retain as clientele. At the point that they are there to engage in their own performance of cat-calling desire, they are not clientele the business wants. And the disruptiveness of women in groups (not just women celebrating impending nuptials) is a pretty common complaint.

Phoebe said...

Bar, strip club, social chess club, whatever the particularities, it would seem that if the goal is to keep out groups of women, banning all women or all inappropriate behavior (with a defn of what that is) would be the least offensive way to go about this. I'm sure the law varies depending the place/situation, but law aside, it's not hard to wrap your head around why an establishment catering to gay men - even one not explicitly about pickups - might want to be male-only.

Re: the "disruptiveness of women in groups," though, that Miami after 40 post, though, is some heavy-duty misogyny. One woman, once, didn't tip, once, at least as far as this guy could tell. (Even if they didn't tip the dancer, which it doesn't seem he can know because maybe they did later, he's decided they also didn't tip their waiter/bartender?) And women have a tendency to giggle more than men, to have high-pitched voices that read as irritating to misogynists, and to be less jaded about male nudity than gay men who frequent a strip club. From this he concludes, "It was at that moment I was glad I never dated women." What a lovely person.

An instructive post, though, because there is that pervasive stereotype about how gay men love women. When in fact gay men are men, some men aren't but some are misogynists, and a misogynist not forced to deal intensely with women on account of being sexually and romantically attracted to them is well-situated to be one heck of a woman-hater. And this is a useful message to get out, I suppose, because the groups of straight women - well-behaved or not - going to gay establishments probably do imagine (from the fact that all their male friends in high school were gay, or from "Will and Grace" and "SATC") that gay men always adore them.

Phoebe said...

Also, more misogyny: http://miamiafter40.blogspot.com/2012/05/straight-men-i-salute-you.html

Out of respect for gay men, it's probably best not to allow this blogger to represent them.

PG said...

An instructive post, though, because there is that pervasive stereotype about how gay men love women.

Although oddly enough, in the post you link (I found the one I linked through a Google search and hadn't ready anything else on the blog), the blogger asserts that "as a Gay man I love women." He evidently buys into the stereotype -- or will hold it up as cover, assuming readers buy into it -- while also feeling entitled to complain about certain behaviors that he identifies as particular to women. I concede that I personally have never hung out with a guy who expected me to carry his bag.

I'm not sure to what extent (attempting) humor about "women are like this," where "this" is something negative, makes someone a misogynist. Chris Rock is somewhat prone to misogynistic humor about women; for one example coming immediately to mind, he says that men lie more often ("I was at the sports bar" when he was actually at a strip club) but women tell the biggest lies ("It's your baby"). But I would be reluctant to assume that he's therefore a misogynist.

Phoebe said...

If your best defense of this post is that it's intended to be funny, I'm afraid I'm not convinced. Maybe it's that the difference between misogyny and pushing-the-bounds-of-PC humor is talent? The way a really good comedian can do this while at the same time conveying goodwill, or, conversely, an equal dose of meanspiritedness directed towards all?

What concerns me here isn't whether this dude, in his heart of hearts, loves women, hates women, whatever, because that's unknowable, certainly to someone who's just glanced at his blog. The post itself is misogynistic in the same way as, if someone started holding forth along these lines at a party. (It's fine and well for you, in a contrarian blog comment, to come to this dude's defense. I sort of doubt you would defend that piece of writing in any other situation.)

And keep in mind that the post is more than just 'women are like so' humor - it's 'women are like so and have no redeeming qualities'. I suppose there's a sense in which a gay man performing a 'women are like so' is in a more challenging situation, because there isn't the same, implied 'but we gotta love them' built into it. Thus, perhaps, this blogger's choice to tag on the cute stereotype about how, as a gay man, he loves women. When there's not a heck of a lot of indication that this particular gay man does.

PG said...

I guess I wouldn't take what he said as a sign that he's a misogynist if he said it at a party, either. After all, the post in question began with:

That is until I decided to take my mother and aunt to Spain with me for a week. I'm not complaining, their company was extremely enjoyable and the two of them were quite content to "do their own thing" most of the time.

So evidently it's not that he thinks women have no redeeming qualities; he specifies that at least two of them can provide extremely enjoyable company. He's just exasperated by this one particular quality of women wanting men to carry stuff for them. I could write a post about my exasperation with my father and my husband for being able to look into a refrigerator and not see things unless they are put in the main compartment, on the shelves directly at eye level (albeit eye level being different due to nearly a foot of height difference). I could generalize this to other men (as I have been told this is not a trait peculiar to the men in my life, yet is not one I've ever observed in adult women). I don't think it would be fair for some dude to read that post and then call me a misandrist.

At a party, I was recently talking to a fellow South Asian American woman about her dating life and we started joking about a FOB (Indian immigrant who is "fresh off the boat") who had been very awkwardly hitting on her. A white friend standing nearby asked us to clarify the abbreviation, and we cautioned her that she, as a white multi-generational American, should never use it at all, and that we, even as children of immigrants, wouldn't use it in front of people whom we don't know well and who are immigrants. I don't think my South Asian friend and I are xenophobes (though we're probably not as conscious of our privilege as native-born Americans as we should be). There's some space for unPC humor in venues like parties and personal blogs that would be totally inappropriate if stated as a serious claim.

Also, I wouldn't be surprised if, as a gay man, he assumes that he's not "laughing down" when he makes fun of women (i.e. the way in which a Wall Streeter who makes fun of an unemployed Occupy protester is "laughing down," mocking someone with a lower place in the socioeconomic hierarchy). It's the whole interlocking oppression thing that makes saying who can make fun of whom complicated.

Phoebe said...

First bit: we just disagree. Prefacing a rant like his with a 'nothing against women, but' disclaimer doesn't excuse the rant that follows.

"Also, I wouldn't be surprised if, as a gay man, he assumes that he's not "laughing down" when he makes fun of women"

Strongly disagree. Or, rather, I totally agree that this might be his mindset, but it's a really messed-up one to have. Gay men are, first, men. However vehemently out he may be, in most situations, he's registering as a man full stop. It would be not unlike if I said that, as a Jew (who is plenty 'out' and obviously Jewish but will register as white in most situations), I know what black people go through, and thus am free to use the n-word, etc.

PG said...

a 'nothing against women, but' disclaimer doesn't excuse the rant that follows.

That might be close-enough-to true of the first post I linked (with the "as a gay man I love women") but not at all of the post you did. You paraphrased that one as 'women are like so and have no redeeming qualities,' which simply isn't what he said.

Really, you read a man saying, "These two women were great company, but they did this one thing that drove me nuts, and I noticed lots of other women do it too," as "women are the suck, and since I'm gay, not in a good way"? That's awfully harsh.

It would be not unlike if I said that, as a Jew (who is plenty 'out' and obviously Jewish but will register as white in most situations), I know what black people go through, and thus am free to use the n-word, etc.

Hm. I see why you think these are "not unlike," but it does ignore the important social commonality between gay men and straight women, i.e. of "femininity" being deemed inferior to "masculinity." (Supposedly there are certain Born This Way similarities between gay men and straight women, and between gay women and straight men.) Gay men are lower in the hierarchy relative to straight men in a way that's connected to the way straight women are lower than straight men. Heck, gay men and their straight wannabes, the metrosexuals, carry handbags, aka messenger bags. They presumably just don't go around asking other people to carry those bags for them.

That connection doesn't really exist for black people and Jews, since their negative stereotypes are practically antonyms to one another. From what I understand, Jews are going to take over the world with a tiny powerful elite; people of African descent -- and/or Muslims, per Mark Steyn? -- by sheer mass of numbers. (I think the only places where people fear Jews in numbers are pockets of the northeastern U.S. with enough large Orthodox families to take over school boards and such. Which does not really a world-changing event make.)

Phoebe said...

-Accept that we had different interpretations of that post, its tone, its mean-spiritedness.

-That it takes a *study* to show the similarities of gay men and women suggests that homosexuality is at most quasi-visible, much like... Jewishness. Whereas it's generally evident if someone's black or a woman. Claiming you get where someone marginalized is coming from if your category is only quasi-visible (and in many cases, utterly invisible) is a problem. That misogyny informs homophobia doesn't mean that gay men go through life experiencing the world as women or anything close.

-Re: stereotypes, the ones you mention are indeed out there. But it's more accurate to think of stereotypes as a Venn diagram. Jews and blacks: vote Democrat, aren't thought to be "real" Americans, farmers. They live in cities, are thought to be prone to violence (a new one for Jews, but Israel...), to take "our" hard-earned tax dollars (again, Israel), to feel sorry for themselves, complain, the women are unappealing and incapable of getting a man, etc. There are also plenty of opposite stereotypes, as you note. Meanwhile, with gay men and women, again, according to stereotype, they like shopping, and according to reality, they tend to like men. But keeping with stereotype, gay men are thought to be sexually insatiable party animals, all but a handful of women to be frigid killjoys. Gay men represent counterculture, women the forces of religious conservatism/bourgeois values.

PG said...

That it takes a *study* to show the similarities of gay men and women suggests that homosexuality is at most quasi-visible, much like... Jewishness. Whereas it's generally evident if someone's black or a woman.

I assume you mean Jewishness as an ethnicity and not a religious affiliation? Anyway, the point I was making was not about how obvious sexual orientation was compared to the obviousness of sex/gender, but that there's apparently a biological similarity between homosexual men and heterosexual women. (Which to my knowledge doesn't really exist for Jews and blacks). Moreover, it's a similarity that's visible and part of how people detect whether a person is male or female, straight or gay.

That misogyny informs homophobia doesn't mean that gay men go through life experiencing the world as women or anything close.

It depends on what you mean by "experiencing the world as women." The subordination of women in the patriarchy is strongly linked to perceiving women as objects of desire. To invert this order and regard men as objects of desire is a threat to the patriarchy. The terminology of homophobia (in regular life and in all-male environments like prisons) is largely synonymous with the terminology of misogyny.

The trouble with a Venn diagram is that someone who thinks in stereotypes generally still has other shaping biases. The average kind of person who objects to Israel and U.S. aid to it (i.e. a progressive) generally doesn't have the same beef with the social safety net and African Americans' disproportionate use of it. You have to get to a fairly small group of white supremacists and hardcore libertarians (i.e. well beyond Ron Paul in isolationism) to find those two views in the same person.

Whereas the sexist and the homophobe are more-often-than-not the same person. For example, concern about having both a mother and a father in a child's family life intrinsically depends on the belief that there are always such significant difference between "mother" and "father" that a child who has two mothers or two fathers is lacking something important. It's not just that misogyny informs homophobia; it's that you can't make a big deal about whether a man loves a man or a woman, without first making a big deal about intrinsic differences between men and women.

Phoebe said...

Fine contrarian argumentation, but none of it changes that:

1) Gay men are first and foremost men. The ideological/psychological overlap between homophobia and sexism does not make it so that gay men are incapable of misogyny. (Are women, for that matter, incapable of misogyny? But we tend to accept, esp. w/humor, that making fun of something you are =/= making fun of something you are not.)

2) This post, as well as the strip-clubs one, read to me (you disagree, I get it) as the writing of someone who finds women grating and annoying. I'd never heard of this man/blog before, and came at this inclined not to think it's inherently misogynistic for gay men to want women out of some gay male social establishments.

PG said...

(2) Being a matter of settled different opinions, I won't discuss.

(1) "Gay men are first and foremost men." I think that's also a matter of opinion on your part. Part of the idea behind identity politics is that you may choose which aspects of your identity that you consider most important.

If a black woman said that she preferred Obama to Clinton in 2008 when they were almost identical on most major political issues, because she thought it was time for a black president, I don't think I'd be correct if I analyzed her position as erroneous because she must be "first and foremost a woman." She can legitimately think even as a matter of identity politics that racial politics and alliances are more important than gender ones, at least in the Democratic primary of 2008.

A gay man may think that, especially because his male identity has reduced value precisely because of his gay identity, that the gay identity is primary -- whether just to him personally, or also in how he is treated legally, socially, etc. In politics, there are items that might motivate some men to vote Republican -- such as conservative skepticism of sexual harassment claims, most of which are brought by women against men -- that do not give gay men a similar motivation because they are gay and unlikely to be affected by such claims. Organizing that controversy as men vs. women just breaks down for gay men.

(Are women, for that matter, incapable of misogyny?

Everyone is capable of misogyny, including women. I'm just very doubtful of your statement above that "there's a sense in which a gay man performing a 'women are like so' is in a more challenging situation, because there isn't the same, implied 'but we gotta love them' built into it." The fact that a man wants to have sex with women doesn't mean he loves them at all, especially depending on how he views sex. I don't see any necessary connection between wanting to have sex with Group A and viewing Group A as your equals.

But we tend to accept, esp. w/humor, that making fun of something you are =/= making fun of something you are not.)

They are not the same things, but surely there is broader social acceptance of making fun of something that seems roughly equal to you, or that's higher on the hierarchy, than of making fun of something that's lower. An Indian comic can acceptably crack jokes about Chinese people (particularly in the vein of "here's how we're similar, here's how we're different"). No, Russell Peters doesn't know what it's like to be Chinese, but he really doesn't know what it's like to be in a white majority that largely controls how both Indian and Chinese people are portrayed.

Phoebe said...

"Part of the idea behind identity politics is that you may choose which aspects of your identity that you consider most important."

Not in this context. To explain why, I must resort to the dreaded "privilege": If I, a pasty Jew, were to say I identify more strongly as Jewish than as white, I don't suddenly lose white privilege, even if, as a Jew, I have a touch less of it to begin with. Along very much the same lines, a gay man who identifies more as "gay" than as "man" does not mean he ceases to have male privilege, even if, as a gay man, he has a touch less male privilege to begin with. A gay man can choose to wear a pink feather boa, a Jew Hasidic garb, but this is fundamentally different from being visibly Other and unavoidably so.

That a black woman can choose to feel more "black" or "woman" is a separate matter, because it's immediately apparent that she's both of those things.

PG said...

That a black woman can choose to feel more "black" or "woman" is a separate matter, because it's immediately apparent that she's both of those things.

Only if the only people you count as "black women" are those whom you can immediately identify as such. This is meaningfully smaller than than the full set of "black women" who self-identify as such.

I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree, but I doubt that most theorists of Queer identities would agree with you that gay men simply have a "touch less" male privilege than straight men, in the same way that Jews have a "touch less" white privilege than white gentiles do. Whiteness has incorporated larger and larger groups of people (Irish, southern Europeans, Jews) without a serious threat to what whiteness is; indeed, has done so partly in order to fend off threats from increasingly powerful non-whites. I don't think gay men over time have been more included in maleness, and homosexuality poses an intrinsic threat to categories of sex and gender.