September 30, 2003

Stupid Conservative Myth #6

Time to demolish another dumb dittohead delusion:

Liberals believe that gender roles are artificial, but being homosexual is natural.

It isn't necessarily a myth that liberals believe this, but it is a myth that the belief is mistaken. I'm coming into this one with a fair bit of ignorance, so I took my own advice and got myself educated a little bit. I read this definition of gender roles on the web, which sounds reasonable:

The behaviors, attitudes, and activities expected or common for males and females. Whereas sex roles are essentially biologically determined (ensuring successful reproduction and forming the basis of sexual division of labor, in which women are associated with childrearing), gender roles (behavior that is considered žmasculineÓ or žfeminineÓ) are culturally determined. In the United States, for example, men are generally expected to be independent, aggressive, physical, ambitious, and able to control their emotions; women are generally expected to be passive, sensitive, emotional, nurturing, and supportive. These traditional gender roles frequently come under attack, especially from women.

Clearly, if gender roles are culturally determined, then they are "artificial" (nurture, not nature) things. It seems to me if we could show that definitions of masculine and feminine behavior vary a lot from culture to culture, then that would demolish the first part of the myth. The pioneering work on this subject was done in New Guinea by Margaret Mead who studied several different tribes which were not in contact with one another and found that their gender roles varied remarkably. Mead argued that cultural factors are at least as important as biology in determining these roles. Without knowing much else, I am inclined to believe Mead's general hypothesis, but I could probably be educated further on this.

With less confidence, I would also venture forth with the hypothesis that gender roles reflect the conservative "control-freak" side. I find the (stereotypical) conservative obsession with the military, abortion (more on that next time), censorship, corporal punishment and child discipline in general, religion and the state, the drug war, the 50's, etc. to all be similar in the sense that they reflect a conservative's desire for control and conformity. To be fair, I think a lot of the liberal instinctive opposition to these conservative ideas is just as knee-jerk.

I recall visiting Texas A&M once for an academic conference (it was a few yeras ago, so some of my details may be off ... sorry about that). It is a very conservative school with a strong military presence on campus (big ROTC program). Their Memorial Building was built in memory of various people who have died (can't recall if they were all veterans or alums or what). When you enter that building, which is really one of the hubs of campus, there is a big sign that greets you at every doorway that says "Hats Off!" The sign instructs you not to enter the building without taking off your hat, out of respect for the deceased. My thinking was, "Sure, fine, I can respect that," but I also wondered why make a big fuss.

Why *force* people to take their hats off? What's the conservative kick with conformity? Isn't it possible to show respect in your own way without having to follow orders? Anyway, I think the conservative support for "traditional" gender roles is part and parcel of this whole theme. Deep down, they feel that women should stay at home when they have babies, breastfeed, etc. The whole "barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen cooking my supper" thing.

So what about homosexuality and the ever-so-popular "natural laws". What the hell are natural laws anyway? Can someone recite them all? Is it just stuff from the Bible? Well, I know that homosexuality is found in other species besides humans, so it seems "natural" in that sense.

My favorite argument against homosexuality is something like: Hey, if everyone were homosexual, the species would die out! Well, yeah, but are homosexuals trying to convert the whole species? Gimme a break! Last time I looked, even though homosexuality is becoming more and more prominent, the population of the Earth is still increasing just fine. Even in countries where homosexuality is accepted as part of the "spectrum" of normal. So that whole argument really reeks of insecure paranoia.

So I'm stuck here, because I can't even see a rational reason to support the statement that homosexuality is not "natural" somehow. I can't really argue both sides successfully. Oh well, makes for a relatively short refutation of the myth and leads us to item #6 that you must believe in order to be a good conservative:

Women should know and stick to their proper subservient place in the social order.

I covered their beliefs having to do with homosexuality earlier in another item. I'll publish the complete list plus a few more when I'm done with the series. I keep thinking of new myths to debunk, though, so it may go as high as 30 or 40. I'll finish the original list of 20 first, of course. Next up is capital punishment and abortion.

Posted by Observer at September 30, 2003 07:09 AM

Comments on entries can only be made in pop-up windows while those entries are still on the main index page. Sorry for the inconvenience this causes, but this blocks about 99.99% of the spam the blog receives.

Having grown up on & around military bases, I arrived at adulthood with a fair amount of instilled homophobia simply from that general culture. I had to unlearn that later in life, though "unlearning" turned out to be more or less the realization that that particular form of intolerance was more work than it's worth. I mean, if you're going to chain people to the back bumper and take them for a drag across the desert, pick a truly obnoxious group of people dedicated to ruining others' lives, like telemarketers or company-raping CEOs.

Posted by: Feff on September 30, 2003 10:26 AM

I have a lot of thoughts about all of this, but not enough time to really get them down here in the comments. I'll try to be brief. Which means I may make a few logical blunders or maybe even offend someone due to time constraints.

I'm a liberal and I believe in the importance of gender roles. I do believe that children, infants and toddlers especially, are better off if they have a mom at home, even if it's half day. I do believe that breastfeeding is better than bottle feeding. I do believe that stay-at-home moms and 2-parent homes are consumately important to the wellbeing of kids (as long as the parents are not abusive, etc.). So, in some ways I sound conservative. But I don't have these beliefs because I think women are inferior or subservient. I just believe that children should come before income and careers.

The needs of children are being neglected so badly in this country that our children are consuming 90% of all ritalin produced in the world. We've been brainwashed by the pharmaceutical and medical inducstry into thinking that we can put our kids in the hands of an institutional daycare, babysit them with TV and videogames, let them eat total crap, and force them to behave like miniature adults (productivity over imagination in schooling) without any consequences. We've got the magic pill, so we don't face the causes. We just treat the symptoms.

Sorry, got off topic. Women are not subservient, but it's not about that. If you want to be a career woman all your life, have all the "stuff" you want, and not be tied down to a house, don't have kids. It's a harsh statement, and people get all huffy when it is said. But the kids didn't ask to be brought into our society's selfish lifestyle. We did that to them. Think about that. WE did that to them. WE are responsible for this problem. Not the kids, not the schools, not the TV or the food industry or daycare or even the producers of Ritalin. The parents did this, and we think it's just hunky dory. That's frightening.

Granted, there are many moms who have to work, but there are a lot of moms working 40-60 hours a week out there because of socio-economic egotism, not just to put food on the table. So, in short, women who want to be "equal" to men as far as careers go should take responsibility for that and not bring children into the mix until they are ready to give up the career and the expensive house, etc. Kids need moms, not daycare. Lastly, stay-at-home moms are truly powerful people in our society. The idea that women who make this choice are somehow inferior to career-oriented men (and women) is absurd. It's another myth perpetuated by the NOW generation.

As far as homosexuality goes, I think it is natural for 10% of the population. That's about the number it's been for decades, if not longer. It's not becoming more prominent (i.e. more are "becoming" homosexual) - it's just more visible and accepted in our time.

Posted by: Perkusi on October 1, 2003 08:33 AM

For the record, I wasn't really trying to argue for/against the validity of the traditional gender roles we have here in the US, just trying to figure out whether they were genetic or cultural. They seem cultural to me.

In a better world, I would think that stay-at-home moms would be subsidized well enough in America so that going without a working income would be do-able, allowing a single mother to raise healthy, safe, well-adjusted kids. But that will never happen while conservatives are calling the shots. They're too worried about the mythical cadillac welfare queen or the mythical girl who gets pregnant so she can get another $100 per month from the gummint.

As for homosexuals, I meant "prominent" in terms of publicity and so forth. I do think homosexuality is genetically based, which means the percentage of the population far enough over in the sexuality spectrum to be considered gay is probably pretty constant. If the numbers are indeed constant while homosexuality gains more and more acceptance in various societies, that kinda goes against the whole "recruiting" idea, which is how conservatives think people become gay.

In order to validate their beliefs, then, conservatives are in the curious situation of hoping that the percentage of self-declared homosexuals rises over time (of course, I understand that there are other biases in such a statistic).

Posted by: Observer on October 1, 2003 09:35 AM

I actually think gender roles are genetic. Sorry dudes, but you don't have working mammary glands. Women's bodies are programmed to breastfeed. The fact that many moms choose not to do so is simply a sign of the odd culture around them, not genetic disposition. Even in cultures where women work hard labor (i.e. third world countries, tribal cultures, etc.) they do so with their little ones in tow. (and they breastfeed on the job. How many moms in the "advanced" world get to do that?)

My point is that "nurture" IS "nature" in this case. Even in working-mom homes, moms are seen as the nuturer, the kisser of boo-boos, the cooker of meals, the cleaner of clothes, the teacher of cultural duties (how to graciously give a birthday present to a not-so-liked classmate is an acquired skill!), and the doler of day-to-day discipline. Fathers are seen as the protectors, the teacher of sports and trades, the keeper of tools and other powerful items, and the guy who will REALLY lay down the law if you do something awful. These roles are not purely cultural ("nurture"). They are developed out of millions of years of human genetic code ("nature"). Sure, there are some homes in which the roles are slightly altered, but in the vast majority of intact households these gender roles still hold true. (let's not even get started on single-parent households. Egad.)

In short (yeah, I know, I'm never short when it comes to these kinds of discussions :-D), women's brains and biology are genetically disposed toward birthing and nurturing children and maintaining a living space, while men's brains and biology are disposed toward protecting the living space and providing the material needs of the family. I think far, far too many people wish to deny this particularly important genetic framework of the human condition. NOW (and other "progressive" women's organizations) has made an artform of this denial, and our society has bought it hook, line, and sinker - so much so that anyone who stands up for what is truly best for children is portrayed as some kind of mysogynistic idiot. (It's just as bad as the Bush admin's idea of "repeate it enough and the masses will believe it" syndrome.)

As you alluded to, Ob., in an ideal society (for children at least), mothers would be revered and supported by the culture, not expected to give up their most important function for the sake of trying to keep up with the Joneses or looking good when compared to a male coworker. Mothers with school-age children would be allowed to work at times that coincide with school hours without being penalized by denying them the same rights and benefits as their non-parenting colleagues.

But that is not where we live just yet. For now we're stuck comparing women to men as if they are truly the same. But they aren't. Denial of this fact is making it harder for women to have "equal" rights, in all honesty. The only way women get "equal" treatment is if they give up their most basic instinctual role as mothers. In short - that sucks.

Posted by: Perkusi on October 1, 2003 04:40 PM