Tag Archives: Gender

Human Evolution and Patriarchy

The May 4, 2012, issue of the journal Science includes three briefs from the annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, one of which has a few choice words about telomere lengths. In case you hadn’t heard, studying telomere length is all the rage now as it apparently has some correlation to longevity. I don’t know. The whole thing seems fuzzy to me. Remember when neutrinos were going faster than the speed of light? That didn’t last long now did it?

As these creased and dog-eared magazines get passed back and forth at our family dinner table I had my brilliant wife (a real scientist) on hand for questioning.

“So is this telomere stuff for real?” I asked her.

“Mmm-hmm,” she said with a shrug. “It looks that way.” So there you have it, from the seat of authority.

Let’s refer to the Science journalist here:

Telomeres are repetitive sequences of DNA that prevent the ends of chromosomes from unraveling, much like the plastic tops on the ends of shoelaces. As cells divide and replicate, telomeres get shorter and eventually can no longer prevent the fraying of DNA and the decay of aging. Recent studies have found a link between living to 100 and having a hyperactive version of telomerase, an enyzme that keeps telomeres long.

If you’ve got long telomeres on your chromosomes then genetically speaking this is beneficial and improves your chances at living a long life. But what factors determines telomere length?
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Matrilineal Patterns in the Book of Genesis

In honor of Mother’s Day this year I’m sharing notes from a lecture I give in my Introduction to Anthropology course. Kinship, I tell them, is the kernel of the discipline. Families are at the center of our lives, they make us who we are. So its interesting to note that in different cultures people have different ideas about who counts as family, what their roles ought to be within the collective, and what sorts of rights and obligations they ought to have over one another.

We spend some time doing kinship diagrams. I show them my family and lead them through exercises where they chart their own families. Such diagrams are passe I guess, but for me they hold quirky charm not unlike the lost art of diagramming sentences. I can throw them up pretty quickly on a white board and we use them in class to help visualize social relationships.

Students find patrilineal descent, which flows from fathers to offspring, to be somewhat intuitive. After all they behave in a similar way to our tradition of passing down surnames and students can anticipate how patrilineality might coincide with a a socio-economic system that favors powerful fathers and husbands. But matilineal descent which flows from mothers to offspring are strange to them, its illogic manifest most clearly in the responsibilities for discipline granted to resource providers such as uncles and brothers, with weaker bonds ascribed to biological fathers.

Matrilineality seems exotic to students, but in fact some examples of it can easily be found in one of the most ancient charter documents of “Western Civilization.” Bereishit (Genesis), the first book of the Torah (Old Testament).

I don’t know if you’ve ever just sat down and read a whole lot of the Bible. My knowledge of it is fairly limited. I am familiar with Genesis which is distinguished by its engaging mythic narratives that rewards rereading. These incredibly evocative and powerful stories caught the imagination of underground cartoonist R.Crumb and inspired him to complete a fully illustrated Book of Genesis. The Crumb illustrations, thick and fleshy, help out to humanize the characters especially for people who aren’t already familiar with the stories.

Now granted, what I’m about to do is not the usual way one reads Genesis. I’m only doing this in order to make some points about matrilineality, not to claim some sort of religious insight.
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Illustrated Man, #8 – Sita Sings the Blues

The history of womankind is a broken record as the same damn things keeping happening over and over again. At least that seems to be a major theme in Sita Sings the Blues, an incomparably unique animated feature that combines ancient Hindu mythology, a 1920s blues singer, and one artist’s failed marriage to tell the story of a every woman who lets a man walk all over her.

This is a true labor of love, rendered mostly in Adobe Flash, by the artist and cartoonist Nina Paley. Paley has made the complete feature available for free under a Creative Commons license. Now that the music rights have cleared for Annette Hanshaw’s soundtrack the film is also available on DVD and if you like what you see there’s merchandise for sale so appreciative audiences can support the artist.

The story unfolds in multiple layers, each taking place at divergent moments in history and represented with its own animated style. We begin in present-day San Francisco, portrayed here in squigglevision, with the couple, Nina and Dave, in domestic bliss. Dave’s sudden departure for a new job in India foreshadows the impending end of their relationship. Paley juxtaposes this with the epic myth of Sita and Rama, presented as gouache paintings come alive. Interrupting or narrating the story is a third form, a trio of shadow puppets commenting on the myth. These characters exist out of time. Finally the signature sequences are done with computer animation as a cartoonish Rama and Sita act out their story with Sita singing the words of Annete Hanshaw’s blues. Although visually set in the myth the audience is experiencing creative expressions from the early twentieth century America and encouraged to note the similarities between the two.

“I never knew how good it was to be a slave to one who means the world to me,” she sings.


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Any Other Naked Woman

Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s lawyer, Henri Leclerc:

At these parties, people were not necessarily dressed, and I defy you to tell the difference between a naked prostitute and any other naked woman.

Gayle Rubin, in her famous essay “The Traffic in Women”

Marx once asked: “What is a Negro slave? A man of the black race. The one explanation is as good as the other. A Negro is a Negro. He only becomes a slave in certain relations. A cotton spinning jenny is a machine for spinning cotton. It becomes capital only in certain relations. Torn from these relationships it is no more capital than gold in itself is money or sugar is the price of sugar.” One might paraphrase: What is a domesticated woman? A female of the species. The one explanation is as good as the other. A woman is a woman. She only becomes a domestic, a wife, a chattel, a playboy bunny, a prostitute, or a human dictaphone in certain relations.

[h/t to Aaron Bady]

Illustrated Wimmin, #4 – The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For

In this occasional series, Illustrated Man, I will explore the intersection of anthropology and comic books, graphic novels, comic strips, animation, and other manner of popular drawn art.

Alison Bechdel crashed the party on American literature’s main stage with Fun Home (2004) a stunning graphic memoir about coming of age, coming out, and discovering her father’s own closeted gay identity. It received rave reviews and was featured at the top of a number of end of the year best book lists and, with the close of the ’00s, reappeared on some best of the decade lists. And rightfully so, there wasn’t a more monumental nonfiction comic book in a decade that will be remembered for an explosion in top notch comic output. There hasn’t been a more significant comic memoir since Maus (1986).

My own encounter with Fun Home began on the Eastern Band Cherokee reservation as I was conducting the ethnographic field research for my dissertation. I was cast in a theatrical production as a soldier in Andrew Jackson’s army and one of my fellow Indian killers was a bohemian epileptic artist named Pat working his way back to Florida from Knoxville. Like Capote’s villain from In Cold Blood he traversed America’s highways with a library in his trunk: Zizek, Baudrillad, and a borrowed copy of Bechdel’s novel.

After I settled in Newport News I discovered Fun Home in the stacks at my public library and got hooked on Bechdel’s beautiful ink lines, hyper-literary self reflection, and slightly neurotic gallows humor. I was anxious to get my hands on more of her work and I soon learned I had a lot of catching up to do. Before achieving celebrity status Bechdel was already a star in the gay and lesbian community for her biweekly strip, Dykes to Watch Out For, first published in 1983. A nearly 400 page retrospective was released in 2008 as The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For.

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Why Thin Is Still In

Here is a guest blog by Ashley Mears, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Boston University:

Why Thin is Still In

In her new documentary, Picture Me, Columbia University student Sara Ziff chronicles her 4-year rise and exit through the fashion modeling industry, zooming her personal camcorder onto supposedly systemic abuses—sexual, economic, and emotional—suffered by fashion models.  Among the many complaints launched in the film is an aesthetic that prizes uniformly young, white, and extremely thin bodies measuring 34-24-34” (bust-waist-hips) and at least 5’10” in height.  It’s an aesthetic that many of the models themselves have a tough time embodying, pushing some into drastic diets of juice-soaked cotton balls, cocaine use, and bulimia—in my own interviews with models I discovered similar, but not very common, practices of Adderall and laxative abuse.  It’s also an aesthetic that has weathered a tough media storm of criticism, set off in 2005 with the anorexia-related deaths of several Latin American models, and which culminated in the 2006 ban of models in Madrid Fashion Week with excessively low Body Mass Indexes (BMI).  And yet, as a cursory glance at the Spring 2011 catwalks will reveal, thin is still in.  In fact, bodies remain as gaunt, young, and pale as they did five years ago, and it’s entirely likely that in another five years, despite whatever dust Picture Me manages to kick up, models will look more or less the same as they do now. Continue reading

Your own private griot

[Reposted from the SLA Blog.]

In her now classic 1989 paper on language and political economy, Judith Irvine talked about situations where language doesn’t merely index political and economic relations in the way that accent is linked to class in Shaw’s “Pygmalion,” but where speech acts are themselves a form of political and economic economic activity. Her example is that of the Wolof griot “whose traditional profession involves special rhetorical and conversational duties such as persuasive speechmaking on a patron’s behalf, making entertaining conversation, transmitting messagesto the public, and performing the various genres of praise-singing.” She discusses how while not anyone can be a griot — you have to be born into the right caste — it is the “most talented and skillful griots” who “earn high rewards and are sought after by would-be patrons.” Irvine then goes on to discuss not just the verbal skill of the griot, but “cases where a verbal statement is the object of exchange.” It is worth quoting this discussion in full:

Recently there appeared a cartoon in the New Yorker magazine, entitled “Flattery getting someone somewhere” (M. Stevens, 28 July 1986). “You’re looking great, Frank!” says a man in business suit and necktie to another, perhaps older, man with glasses and bow tie. “Thanks, Chuck! Here’s five dollars!” Bow Tie replies, handing over the cash. The joke depends, of course, on the notion that the exchange of compliments for cash should not be done so directly and overtly. We all know that Chuck may indeed flatter Frank with a view to getting a raise, or some other eventual reward; but it is quite improper in American society to recognize the exchange formally, with an immediate payment. A compliment should be acknowledged only with a return compliment, or a minimization, or some other verbal “goods.” If it is to be taken as “sincere,” it is specifically excluded from the realm of material payments.

Some cultural systems do not segregate the economy of compliments from the economy of material transactions and profits, however. It is doubtful, for example, that the cartoon would seem funny to many Senegalese. With a few suitable adjustments for local scene, the transfer it depicts is quite ordinary. There is, in fact, a category of persons-the griots-specializing in flattery of certain kinds, among other verbal arts. The income they gain from these activities is immediate and considerable, often amounting to full-time employment for those whose skills include the fancier genres of eulogy.

I remembered this article because something I read made me wonder about the claim that it is “quite improper in American society to recognize the exchange formally, with an immediate payment.” It was a piece in the Washington Post by sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh entitled “Five myths about prostitution.” The second of these five myths is that “men visit prostitutes for sex.”

Often, they pay them to talk. I’ve been studying high-end sex workers (by which I mean those who earn more than $250 per “session”) in New York, Chicago and Paris for more than a decade, and one of my most startling findings is that many men pay women to not have sex. Well, they pay for sex, but end up chatting or having dinner and never get around to physical contact. Approximately 40 percent of high-end sex worker transactions end up being sex-free. Even at the lower end of the market, about 20 percent of transactions don’t ultimately involve sex.

Figuring out why men pay for sex they don’t have could sustain New York’s therapists for a long time. But the observations of one Big Apple-based sex worker are typical: “Men like it when you listen. . . . I learned this a long time ago. They pay you to listen — and to tell them how great they are.” Indeed, the high-end sex workers I have studied routinely see themselves as acting the part of a counselor or a marriage therapist. They say their job is to feed a man’s need for judgment-free friendship and, at times, to help him repair his broken partnership. Little wonder, then, that so many describe themselves to me as members of the “wellness” industry.

So here we seem to have a situation where Americans do pay to be told how great they are. The difference, of course, is that this activity is illegal, and it is private. While a woman at a Japanese hostess bar may be paid to listen and make complements in a public setting, in the US this activity seems to have been relegated to the private sphere – between the man and his griot.

“Homophobia in Africa is not a single story”

Not a topic I know much about, but Keguro Macharia’s criticism of Madeleine Bunting’s Guardian post about Malawi’s conviction of a gay couple to 14 years’ hard labour, jibes with the gut-anthropological-reaction I had when I read her piece. (He also links to what look like some interesting books on the subject.)

Without a locally based understanding, rooted in a history of Malawi and a grasp of its cultural politics, we cannot comprehend what is at stake in the case. Discussions that frame the case as Malawians opposing westernisation tell only a very partial story.

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(via Ennis)

Manpacks

I keep the ads running on my Twitter client even though I have license — every so often something jumps out at me. Typically it’s software for optimizing the research experience, but this time it is Manpacks.

The idea behind Manpacks — which appears to not be a joke — is simple: you sign up for their subscription service, and every three months they will send you fresh tshirts, socks, and underwear. The site describes itself as ‘girlfriend approved’ and touts its service as ‘more efficient’ than shopping for clothes, and ‘easier’ because you ‘don’t have to think about it’. I am fascinated by what this says about contemporary masculinity in the US.

What does it mean that a business believes that men are willing to pay to have someone clothe them, and that they are unable or unwilling to decide for themselves that their underwear, socks, and tshirts are too dirty to continue to wear?  To a certain extent the site reflects a sort of passive consumerism in American culture that critics of consumerism have rallied against for decades — the penetration of very basic personal and household reproduction by the market, the obsession with convenience, and so forth.

But the site is clearly also about masculinity — the founders “believe in working with human nature, rather than fighting against it. Encouraging men to more regularly shop for underwear is not the answer.” Despite their claims that the site fosters ‘self reliance’ (by not having to wait to receive socks as gifts) and that men are ‘fully capable’ of buying underwear, but that they do not because it is a low priority, I find the overall message here one that men have trouble keeping track of their cleanliness or appearance.

On the one hand, such an idea is about masculine power and privilege: effortless comfort, not having to deal with the burdens of everyday life, the idea that you are entitled to (or should be able to purchase) a solution to all of the mundane problems in life so you can get on with the real business of living. But too often in contemporary American culture masculine privilege has flipped over into infantilization as men come to see themselves as incapable of even the most basic tasks, reliant on mothers, girlfriends, and of course the market to provide for their needs.

I see Manpacks as part of this broader trend in American society — one that resonates for me particularly as a teacher. It is now widely accepted that men struggle more and more in school, caught between learned helplessness on the one hand and peer pressure to appear effortlessly successful (when, that is, academic success is considered a good thing at all) and women have outpaced men in education and earning (although we still have a long way to go before full gender equity is achieved).

As a professor living in Honolulu who only distantly remember what ‘socks’ are, I imagine myself to be in a different demographic than twenty-somethings who expect a free ride out of life and tons of sex with scantily-clad women who love their choice of light beer. Am I wrong to find something sinister and enfeebling about Manpacks, or did they just catch me checking my Twitter feed at the wrong moment?

Sexual Revolution, Social Change, Political Reform in Iran – Complicated Intersections

(an occasional piece by Pardis Mahdavi)

Exactly one year ago this week, my first book, Passionate Uprisings: Iran’s Sexual Revolution was published. The book, based on fieldwork conducted between 2000 and 2007 with Tehrani youth, looked at ways in which the discourse on sexuality was changing and how these changes in sexuality were linked to a larger social movement as articulated by the Iranian youth themselves. When I began reading the reviews of my book (not recommended for the thin-skinned first time author), my stomach churned. “Is sexuality really political?” some reviewers asked, “do the sartorial changes in youth fashion or behavior have deeper reaching impact?” others wrote, “how deeply do these sexual behaviors penetrate Iranian society?”, “could sex unseat the Mullahs?”  while still others asked (on Savage Minds in fact) “is ‘pretty’ the new protest?”. When I talked about my research with my students, some of the same questions came up. At first, I was frustrated, angry even. What part of my clarifications and caveats had readers and students missed? Then I realized, my mistakes were twofold: 1) I had conflated the idea of a sexual revolution (think sexual revolution a-la 1960s Greenwich Village) with the social movement that was inspiring young people to lobby for social change, and 2) I was describing only a few appendages of a larger “body that was then searching for a head” (as Robin Wright has said) – which it found this past summer in presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mussavi. But let us start with the first problem.

The phrase “sexual revolution” or enqelab-i-jensi (in Persian) was one that came organically from my interlocutors, and was not one that was placed on them by me or any other academic or journalist. Young people and their parents would talk about a change in the discourse around sexuality and heterosexual and heterosocial relations. This was referred to as their sexual revolution. Thus, when talking about “Iran’s Sexual Revolution” the focus must remain on the phrase ‘sexual revolution’ without detaching the words to ask “is sex revolutionary?” Sex, in itself, is not leading to a revolution. Neither I, nor my interlocutors were trying to claim this, however, a “sexual revolution” refers to a revolution, or perhaps more accurately put, a change, in the way in which we think, act, or talk about sex. To that end, young people and many others in Tehran had achieved their goals in that sex was talked about and thought about in different ways than it had been in the decades before. What is important to note, however, is that this sexual revolution was just one part of a larger movement that my interviewees referred to as a sociocultural revolution or enqelab-i-farhangi. This social movement encompassed behaviors such as pushing the envelope on Islamic dress, sexual behaviors, heterosocializing, driving around in cars playing loud illegal music, partying, drinking, dancing, the list goes on to include basically, young people doing what they aren’t supposed to do under Islamic law. But, many people ask, don’t youth everywhere do these things? What sets youth in Iran apart from their counterparts say in Texas? The answer is this: 1) the stakes are much higher – in Iran, you could get arrested for engaging in these behaviors and the consequences could include long term imprisonment, lashings and other abuse, 2) engaging in these behaviors are often a step for many to becoming politically active. Everything in Iran is political and politicized. The regime in power has politicized Islamic dress, certain types of music, even certain websites. Those violating its rules are harassed, punished, sometimes forced to leave the country. Many young people in Iran have become inspired to engage in political activism through their involvement in these social movements.

This leads us to the second problem, the body looking for the head. During the time I conducted my fieldwork in Iran, a generational shift was taking place. The momentum was building for something, but none of us could quite put our finger on what. Young people seemed to be coming together, deploying 21st century tools around them such as the internet, facebok, Twitter, and seeking to organize through networks around the world. But no one knew exactly what they were organizing for, and what kind of social/political movement they were constructing. What we knew was this: the majority of Iran’s population – urban, educated youth – was disenchanted with the regime. Whether they came to this sentiment through their frustration at not being able to wear what they want, socialize with who they want, prey how they want, or engage in civic society the way they want, they had all come to the conclusion that the current regime was: 1) not representative of them, and 2) was not always acting in their interest. “Why don’t they work on solving this horrible unemployment problem instead of cracking down on what we wear?” asked one of my interlocutors, articulating a sentiment shared by many young Tehranis with whom I spoke. People were frustrated. Educated, restless, youth began turning to the tools they had around them, honing their skills, looking to communicate their sentiments to each other and the world around them through blogs, music, films and a presence in cyberspace. Those of us writing about this large body of Iranian youth focused on different appendages. Some wrote about Iranian bloggers and the blogosphere (Alavi 2005), some looked at music (Levine 2008), some, astutely, tried to look at larger social change amongst the youth (Molavi 2005, Khosravi 2007) For me, I wrote about the sexual revolution, just one part of a larger movement for social and political change.

This past summer, in June of 2009, the body of social change that had been searching for a head finally found one: the fraudulent election of Ahmadinejad, and the figurehead of Mir Hossein Moussavi. Young people (the same ones that spoke of sexual and social revolution a few years ago) began organizing, pouring into the streets in an organized fashion, using their bodies and strategically deploying technology such as camera phones, twitter and facebook to both organize and to speak to the Iranian regime and the rest of the world. Earlier today thousands of protesters marched the streets of Tehran, pumping their fists into the air and chanting “Coup! Government resignation”. Some wore green (to indicate their allegiance to Mir Hossein Moussavi) many did not. Up until now, much of the recent media depictions of the situation in Iran paint a picture of a stolen election, and a discontented public demanding a recount at least, and the installation of their preferred candidate. While the election has presented frustrated Iranians with a catalyst and a reason to protest, what we are witnessing in Iran is not a simple protest over election fraud. Rather, disenchantment with the regime, and the desire to mobilize a civil rights type movement in Iran has been building for many years, encompassing, but not limited to movements such as the sexual revolution, internet revolution and . This election, the overt nature of repression and fraudulent behavior has given many people the window they were looking for to mobilize a movement that goes beyond election politics. While some protesters are in fact expressing frustration at the election fallout, many are asking for an entire overhauling of the system. Would they be happy if Moussavi were installed? Perhaps. But many want more than this, they want to change the system of Islamic jurisprudence, and fundamentally, they want their rights back. While some might see the protests as “calming down” or “dying down”, the reality is that people have tasted the sweetness of voicing their discontent, and they have no plans of backing down easily. We need to listen to the calls made by the chanting protesters, “Coup! Government resignation”.

So, reflecting on the questions “is pretty the new protest?” or “could sex unseat the Mullahs?” some might say no, but a macro look at the situation reveals that this is all part of a process. It is unclear what the future will hold for Iran. What I do know is that these avenues of pushing for social change are roads that lead to networks pushing for political change. I don’t know what the outcome of this post-election aftermath will be, but what I do know is that I need to look more at the big picture, and I need to learn to ask bigger and better questions.

Rorschach Test

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The Henry Louis Gates Jr. affair (“gatesgate”) seems to be some kind of national rorschach test. Gates has portrayed it “as a modern lesson in racism and the criminal justice system.” Or as put more eloquently by Stanley Fish: “The message was unmistakable: What was a black man doing living in a place like this?” (Fish also ties this question to the media frenzy over Obama’s birth certificate.) But others have seen it as a class issue: “He isn’t outraged because he feels he was the victim of racial profiling by the police… He’s outraged because he was the victim of class profiling.” Rush Limbaugh takes a similar approach, as does the National Review. Or even (albeit much less convincingly) gender: “would any of this have happened if the major players had been women?” (Um, don’t you watch COPS?)

But it doesn’t stop with class/race/gender. It is also an issue of civil liberties: “the thing about all of this that creeps me out the most is that so many people are willing to defend this officer who…arrested a guy because he didn’t like his attitude.” Or, “professionalism“: “By telling Gates to come outside, Crowley establishes that he has lost all semblance of professionalism. It has now become personal and he wants to create a violation of 272/53 [the statute authorizing prosecutions for disorderly conduct].”

As mentioned above, most mainstream right-wing pundits seem to be taking the “elitist” tact on this case, but some go even further, arguing that it is reverse-racism: “All he has is a collection of prejudices about the group to which the officer belonged: white police officers. And based on that collection of prejudices, Gates leapt to a conclusion — this police officer is a racist.” Others on the right seem eager to reduce the story to a personal narrative, emphasizing how the cop, “James Crowley has taught a class about racial profiling for five years…”

I don’t get the impression that it is a case which has attracted quite as much attention outside the United States, certainly not here in Taiwan, but I could be wrong. I’d be very curious to hear from our readers how this incident has been portrayed elsewhere.

(Thanks to Carole McGranahan for pointing out the “personal narrative” angle.)

UPDATE: Charles Blow has more on the different experiences of race in the United States and how they affect how one is likely to interpret this story:

Whether one thinks race was a factor in this arrest may depend largely on the prism through which the conflicting accounts are viewed. For many black men, it’s through a prism stained by the fact that a negative, sometimes racially charged, encounter with a policeman is a far-too-common rite of passage.

UPDATE: Another “professional” frame, this one saying that shooting someone for asserting their constitutional rights (instead of obeying immediately) is, in fact, what one should expect from a well-trained police officer:

He is instead concerned with protecting his mortal hide from having holes placed in it where God did not intend. And you, if in asserting your constitutional right to be free from unlawful search and seizure fail to do as the officer asks, run the risk of having such holes placed in your own.

UPDATE: Over at anthropoliteia, a blog devoted to the anthropology of policing, Jeff Martin says this is a teachable moment:

To focus discussion of the event onto the cultural dynamics by which larger issues are made relevant to social action, we can usefully borrow Marshall Sahlins’ concept of the “symbolic relay,” i.e. symbols which are deployed to “endow the opposing local parties with collective identities and the opposing collectives with local or interpersonal sentiments.

Whereas Radly Balko says “If there’s a teachable moment to extract from Gates’ arrest, it’s that arrest powers should be limited to actual crimes.” And Tenured Radical says that what he learned living in an integrated neighborhood “is that white people put black people in danger every day.” Meanwhile, the police released a recording of the phone call to the police placed by the white neighbor.

“Pretty” is the protest?

Jezebel has an interesting post, entitled “In Iran, “Pretty” Is Sometimes The Protest.” She writes:

So, when you see this woman with red fingernails, she’s not just risking arrest for holding that sign, she’s risking it for the shade of her nail polish.

It relates to a Juan Cole piece, “Class v. Culture Wars in Iranian Elections” in which he pointed out that “the Iranian women who voted in droves for Khatami haven’t gone anywhere…”

I don’t know enough about class and gender politics in Iran to say much about this. The fact that the women in these pictures often conform to Western notions of glamor, including fair skin, had struck me in the media coverage about the elections, but I hadn’t thought about it beyond that until I read Jezebel and Juan Cole’s posts. What do you think?

UPDATE: Thanks to Gregory Starrett for mentioning Pardis Mahdavi’s new book, Passionate Uprisings: Iran’s Sexual Revolution. Here is an interview with her:

Gender, Fieldwork, Asia

I’m in the midst of assembling my ‘ethnographic research methods’ syllabus, and one way that it is structured is that, in addition to the normal reading we are also reading a short piece in which people describe their field experiences. That way, students will have a chance to get a sense of what can happen during fieldwork. In the course of cruising around for examples, I came across an interesting piece by Sharon Chalmers entitled “My Queer Career: Coming Out As A ‘Researcher’ In Japan”:http://intersections.anu.edu.au/issue7/chalmers.html. The piece charts out the history of her involvement in Japan as a fieldsite as the country and herself move through various phases of awareness/acceptance/engagement with queer identities, only to have the fieldwork go through a crisis as Chalmers stops being someone who shares a lesbian identity with her informants and starts being someone who studies them.

Ultimately, I don’t think I’ll teach it because I already have too much sex on the syllabus, but I thought I’d mention it here since it’s open access — in fact “Intersections”:http://intersections.anu.edu.au/, the journal it appeared in, is all open access, and it looks like it has some nice stuff in it if you study gender and sexuality in the Asia-Pacific (I don’t, so I’m just guessing). But I just thought I’d share.

Bathroom Semiotics

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(Photo by oltremara)

Sensemaya has a great post about the semiotics of gender identification in bathroom signs, in which bathroom signs are divided into groups according to how they depict gender: coital metaphors, genital shapes, body shapes, comparative urination, gender transference from animals to humans, reference by material possession, direct portrayal, culturally specific references, arbitrary/conventional symbolism, etc. With pictures, of course.

(via Alanna Shaikh)

Why is emergency contraception interesting to think with?

[UPDATE: Formatting issues preventing this article from displaying properly have been fixed! – Ed.]

I promised that the next post would be about emergency contraception in Egypt, but I couldn’t resist first writing about EC more generally and describing debates about EC in the U.S.

From rape treatment to mainstream contraception

For more than four decades, medical researchers have known that there are methods you can use after sex to prevent – not terminate – pregnancy. Emergency contraception (EC) was first researched in the 1960s by physician-researchers trying to find a way to prevent pregnancies in survivors of sexual assault. They experimented in giving rape survivors high doses of regular oral contraceptive pills (OCPs). Later it was established that inserting a copper-bearing IUD after sex was even more effective at reducing pregnancy risk.

Remember that this was during the pre-Roe v. Wade era so there were political reasons for looking for a way of preventing pregnancy, rather than expecting to be able to resort to abortion, for women who got pregnant after sexual assault. But of course there are also enduring religious and public health reasons for wanting to find ways to prevent pregnancy, rather than end it with abortion.

Increasingly, knowledge about this contraceptive technique filtered out to a wider public and in the 1970s through the 1990s, there was an underground movement of women and doctors spreading the word about do-it-yourself emergency contraception. You just take several pills from a regular pack of birth control pills within 5 days after sex.

(There’s a website run by Princeton University’s Office of Population Research that tells you exactly how many pills to take depending on what brand of Pill you’ve got, and as far as I can tell, this website was actually the first health information website on the Internet.)

Even though this form of contraception has been known for decades, it’s only in the past ten years or so that emergency contraceptive pills (ECPs) have become more widely known and marketed as a contraceptive option for all women, not just rape survivors. There’s been a global movement to introduce “dedicated products” worldwide and to lobby for them to be made available without prescription. (A “dedicated product” is when emergency contraceptive pills are packaged and marketed specifically for that purpose. Activists have long argued that this is an important improvement on the DIY culture of cutting up packets of pills because it increases awareness of EC and lends the method popular legitimacy.)

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