Monthly Archives: October 2012

Sweet, nice, polite – and wrong

I went to my staff, and I said, “How come all the people for these jobs are all men?” They said, “Well, these are the people that have the qualifications.” And I said, “Well, gosh, can’t you find some women that are also qualified?” And so we took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet. I went to a number of women’s groups and said, “Can you help us find folks,” and they brought us whole binders full of women.

-Mitt Romney, in response to a question about equal pay for women

You’re probably thinking, Oh God, this “binders full of women” thing is getting so old! PLEASE don’t make me read another blog post about this!!! Well, I have two things to say: (1) You don’t have to read any further if you don’t want to. And (2) If you do choose to read further, you’ll perhaps get another slant on Romney’s attitudes towards women – and towards LGBTQ people – that hasn’t yet been addressed (at least, not that I can see). So here goes.

Lots of people have noted the “women as commodities” subtext in Romney’s comments. And a few journalists and bloggers have pointed out that, by seeking out women’s groups and asking them to “help us find folks,” Romney used affirmative action in his hiring practices. But it’s the attempts at damage control Romney engaged in the day after the debate, when he was back on the campaign trail, that disturbed me even more than the original “binders full of women” comment. These are the statements in question (again, he’s referring to women in the workplace):

This president has failed America’s women. They’ve suffered in terms of getting jobs, they’ve suffered in terms of falling into poverty. This is a presidency that has not helped America’s women (emphasis mine).

Mitt Romney doesn’t engage in Archie Bunker-style sexism. But he does seem to view women as “things” – fragile, delicate, suffering “things” that need to be cared for. This is a much more subtle, insidious, and dangerous form of sexism – and it’s a form of sexism that is inextricably linked with homophobia and transphobia.

In 1996, Peter Glick and Susan Fiske wrote a landmark paper titled, “The Ambivalent Sexism Inventory: Differentiating hostile and benevolent sexism,” published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. In their paper, Glick and Fiske made a distinction between two different kinds of sexism. Hostile sexism involves overtly negative attitudes towards women – your garden-variety sexism, if you will. Benevolent sexism, on the other hand, is like a wolf in sheep’s clothing – it sounds complimentary and positive, but it conveys the assumption that women need men’s protection and care. Moreover, benevolent sexism is less likely than its hostile counterpart to be taken seriously as sexism.

A perfect example of this happened to me recently: One morning in one of my classes, I couldn’t get the video equipment to work properly. After trying a couple of things that didn’t work, and then pausing a moment to consider my next action, two male students jumped up in an attempt to “come to the rescue.” While I’m grateful that they got the equipment to work in relatively short order, there was something about the incident that just felt wrong. It could be read as two students being polite and helpful, or it could be read as the knights in shining armor coming to rescue the helpless princess.

So why get all upset about knights coming to the rescue, if it ultimately gets the video equipment up and running? The consequences of benevolent sexism are made abundantly clear in a later paper published by Glick and Fiske. This paper, titled, “Beyond prejudice as simple antipathy: Hostile and benevolent sexism across cultures,” surveyed 15,000 men and women in 19 different countries and found that, in countries where benevolent sexism was prevalent, women had lower participation rates in politics, while men had longer life expectancies, higher literacy rates, more years of education, and more purchasing power than women. In effect, benevolent sexism and tangible gender inequalities go hand-in-hand.

Benevolent sexism, as it turns out, also goes hand-in-hand with homophobia. In a study published in the Journal of Adolescent Research, Rachael Robnett found that people who endorsed benevolent sexist attitudes were also likely to hold traditional marriage values – including supporting the idea that marriage should only be between one man and one woman. In addition, a recently published dissertation study showed that men who hold benevolent sexist attitudes are also highly likely to have negative reactions towards effeminacy in males (and, not surprisingly, are also likely to be homophobic). But here’s where thing get really interesting. In a 2008 study published in Sex Roles, Julie Nagoshi and her colleagues found that benevolent sexism (among other attitudes) is associated with homophobia and transphobia – more so for women than men. And a 2010 study that investigated attitudes towards same-sex adoption also found differences between men and women: For men, hostile sexism was associated with negative attitudes towards same-sex adoption – but for women, it was benevolent sexism that led to these attitudes.

So, let’s recap: Benevolent sexism is dangerous because it’s linked to gender inequities. Benevolent sexism is dangerous because of its association with homophobia and transphobia. But one of the most dangerous things about benevolent sexism is that many women don’t view it as sexism; in fact, they may find it to be quite palatable. And once they drink the proverbial Kool-Aid, they’re more likely to find other forms of gender-related oppression – such as homophobia and transphobia – to be acceptable as well.

Many political pundits are saying that women voters could decide this presidential election, which may very well be the case. But the degree to which women (and men) voters buy into benevolent sexism is what will really impact  women’s rights – and the direction of the LGBTQ civil rights movement.

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Filed under covert homophobia, homophobia, human rights, intersectionality, LGBTQ, overt homophobia, psychological research, sexism, stereotypes, transphobia, Uncategorized

Two flannel shirts

This week, we have a guest post from Mark Blair, who lives in eastern Kentucky, in the Appalachia region of the U.S. Mark’s story – which includes being gay in a rural environment, participating in the leather/bear community, and being part of the older gay demographic – will be included in my upcoming book, Fringe: On the Edges of the Mainstream Gay Community. This particular segment of his story that’s featured this week is HIV – more specifically, HIV in the 1980s, in a rural Appalachian hospital.

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I met Jon in a leather bar in Cincinnati, Ohio. He was passing through on his way back home to Detroit after visiting his mother in Kentucky. I was there to help a friend break up with his boyfriend. Jon and I had what is called a “Daddy/boy” leather relationship, since I was 15 years older than him. He moved into my house in the middle of rural Appalachia.

Five years after he moved in and we began our relationship, he became ill. He told me he was HIV+ right after we met, but we fell in love anyway, and that just became another facet of our relationship. Our doctor had put us in a private room (it really was a double, but our doctor knew that no one would put anyone else in there – so it worked out great for us). This was the late 80’s. When I came to the hospital from work I always would say hi to the nurses in the nurse’s station, and they were always very friendly. Giving them chocolate helped.

When Jon was in the hospital for his third week, I came out of the elevator (as I always did) and said hi to the nurses. They greeted me coldly, which I thought was odd, but I just continued down to the room. I asked Jon why the odd reaction, and he said that Mary – one of the nicer nurses – came in his room this morning. She was fiddling with the IV and other things, and then she said, “I know you’re not a hemophiliac.” She then asked if he had experimented with drugs.

“No,” said Jon.

Mary continued to ask some other questions, until finally Jon figured out what she was aiming at. At one point, Mary said, “We all think it’s so wonderful that your father is there for you. He’s so supportive.”

Jon laughed. He said, “He’s my husband. ‘Daddy’ is just a name he calls me, and he calls me ‘boy.'” He then added, “I’m gay. I got the virus 8 years ago when I was 18, when it was just called GRID.”

“Oh,” Mary said, and then quickly left the room.

The cold shoulder treatment began. This was a Catholic hospital. Jon and I started trying to figure out another hospital to go to, and how we would talk this over with our doctor. And then one day, Mary and another nurse came in, and we prepared for the worst.

After mumbling and random conversation, they both apologized for their and the other nurses’ and staff behavior. They said they were just surprised when Jon told them. Mary said that she and the rest of the staff had never seen so much love and caring between two people. They said they had thought about a lot of things, and they asked us to forgive them. From that point on, they treated us like family. After we had been going to the hospital for about a year, two of the nurses told us that they had left their church because they could not take the sermons about homosexuals. They said they had seen love and sacrifice, and they knew that their minister was wrong.

A year and half later Jon died. That Christmas I got an invitation to the hospital’s nursing and staff Christmas party. They told me that I gave as much care as anyone in the hospital, that I deserved to come to the party, and that they did not want me to be alone so soon after Jon died. They collected some money and bought me two flannel shirts as a present. That was many years ago, and I am not that size any longer, but they still hang in my closet, to remind me that compassion that can be found in places you wouldn’t ever expect.

Mark H. Blair

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Thank you, Mark, for sharing your story.

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Filed under BDSM, coming out, health, HIV/AIDS, homophobia, LGBTQ, relationships

Queering the null hypothesis

When psychologists conduct research studies, they engage in what’s called “hypothesis testing”  – they articulate an informed prediction regarding the outcome of the study, and then they test that prediction. Most researchers play it safe – the informed prediction they usually come up with is called the “null hypothesis,” which means that no relationship exists between two or more phenomena, or that no treatment effect exists. For example, a scientist might be studying whether or not there’s a relationship between two or more phenomena – let’s say, between socioeconomic status and school achievement. If the study reveals a connection between these two factors, we can “reject the null hypothesis” – and, for a researcher, this usually results in uncorking a bottle of champagne and jumping for joy. Editors of research journals tend to be much more interested in studies that reject a null hypothesis – largely because studies that dispute the status quo are far more interesting than those that don’t.

But I bet you didn’t read this blog post today because “Research Methods in Psychology” was your most favorite class in the world. (If it was, my apologies.) But it’s relevant to my discussion today – and so, whether you wanted it or not, you got a mini-crash course in research methodology. And that’s because, when it comes to LGBTQ research, in many cases it’s desirable NOT to reject the null hypothesis.

Consider this: In 1957, psychologist Evelyn Hooker published a study titled, “The Adjustment of the Male Overt Homosexual,” which compared the mental health and psychological well-being between gay men and heterosexual men. At that time, the conventional wisdom was that gay men, by definition, were psychologically damaged. And guess what? Hooker’s study failed to reject the null hypothesis – she found no difference in the psychological adjustment of gay men and straight men, and this finding was pivotal in the removal of the homosexuality diagnosis from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. In this case, failing to reject the null hypothesis was grounds for uncorking the champagne bottle.

Fast-forward to 2012. Today, much of the research seems to focus on relationships in the LGBTQ community – and the desirable outcome, at least when it comes to supporting public policy efforts like same-sex marriage, is the null hypothesis. No differences exist between heterosexual relationships and same sex relationships.

No differences?

We know, in fact, that quite a few differences exist between same-sex and opposite-sex relationships. Some of those differences put same-sex couples in a more positive light – for example, in a comparison of 40 same-sex and 40 opposite-sex couples, renowned researcher and couples therapist John Gottman found that gays and lesbians engage in different arguing behaviors than their heterosexual counterparts. During arguments, gays and lesbians are nicer, less belligerent,  less domineering and less fearful than heterosexual couples, and gays and lesbians use humor more often when arguing. In their conclusion, the authors noted that “heterosexual relationships may have a great deal to learn from homosexual relationships.”

But that’s not the full story. Several studies, including one conducted by Larry Kurdek (who has since died), indicate that same-sex couples, particularly gay men, have a higher breakup rate than their heterosexual counterparts – perhaps as a result of ongoing homophobia, highlighted by the lack of legal recognition and protections for same-sex relationships. Same-sex couples are also more likely than heterosexual couples to engage in consensual non-monogamous relationships, including open relationships, polyamory and polyfidelity, casual sex, “friends with benefits,” and so on.

But some of the most disturbing differences involve intimate partner violence. A recent study, published in the September 2012 issue of the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, compared patterns of intimate partner violence among four groups:  heterosexual men and women, bisexual men and women, gay men and lesbians, and men and women who have had sex with members of the
same gender but are not identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. What they found was this:

  • Compared to heterosexual women, lesbians, and women who have sex with women, bisexual women were significant more likely to have experienced intimate partner violence.
  • In 95% of intimate partner violence annual incidents reported by bisexual women, the perpetrator was a male intimate partner, indicating that the violence occurred outside a same-sex relationship.
  • Gay men had elevated risk of experiencing intimate partner violence compared with heterosexual and bisexual men, and men who have sex with men but do not identify as gay or bisexual.
  • Almost all (97%) of the annual incidents of intimate partner violence incidents occurring to male victims involved a male intimate partner.
  • Binge drinking and a history of psychological distress predicted intimate partner violence, but these factors did not explain disparities between bisexual and heterosexual women or between gay and heterosexual men.

Most research, prior to this study, failed to reject the null hypothesis, if you will. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), “experts believe that domestic violence occurs in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community with the same amount of frequency and severity as in the heterosexual community.” But this new study, led by Nadine G. Goldberg and Ilan H. Meyer of the Williams Institute at UCLA, suggest otherwise. For some reason, bisexual women and gay men are more likely to be victims of intimate partner violence than any other group. A clear rejection of the null hypothesis, you’d conclude.

But what if we looked at the data from a different angle? Most research studies tend to focus on who the victims are – not the perpetrators. In Goldberg and Meyer’s research, the violence that gay men experienced was perpetrated by men. Among bisexual women, men were the perpetrators of violence. In countless studies investigating intimate partner violence in heterosexual couples, the violence was perpetrated overwhelmingly by – you guessed it – men.

If the focus is placed on perpetrators rather than on victims, then we’re looking at a clear failure to reject the null hypothesis. So why are LGBTQ relationships framed as “the problem” when the common denominator is the sex of the perpetrator?

Maybe heterosexual and LGBTQ relationships aren’t so different after all.

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Filed under bisexuality, HIV/AIDS, homophobia, human rights, LGBTQ, psychological research, relationships, same-sex marriage, sexism, Uncategorized, violence