31 May 2005

Younger and wiser

My eleven-year-old sister not too long ago was listening to a discussion between my mom and me about a certain genderqueer college student back home who had received hate mail from a conservative group on campus. She asked why they would do that. I gave her an honest but a little flip answer, and she pressed the issue. She was not asking a rhetorical question. She seriously wanted to understand why anyone would be bothered by someone who was not a boy and not a girl. I ended up providing a fairly long discussion of privilege, power, and threatening the status quo, and I think she started to intellectually understand. But this kind of ... not homophobia exactly, nor classical sexism or misogyny ... bigotry just didn't really make sense.

My sister also continues to find baffling the idea that anyone would be bothered by the idea of two men or two women being married. This bafflement, also, is not rhetoric: the idea simply doesn't make sense to her.

Her middle school includes in its curriculum a number of books about what it was like to be Black in the South under Jim Crow. I think she sort of understands institutional racism, and she was reading one of these emotionally challenging books around the time that she asked about this genderqueer college student. In our discussion we compared that racism to modern institutional homophobia and sexism, and that bigotry to modern bigotry. I do feel like it's important for her to know and understand these things, and yes, she's fully capable to doing so as a precocious eleven-year-old, but it's almost a shame to introduce such issues to her. Wouldn't it be wonderful if everyone shared her innocent bafflement?

To her credit, my sister is bothered by immediate things, and understands that they're problematic. She has often complained about a certain response from many of her friends: "Yes I support same-sex marriage," these eleven- and twelve-year-old girls say, "but it's not like it matters to any of us." My sister doesn't quite articulate the problem with this attitude yet, but she recognizes that there's a problem, and I've tried to suggest both a way to understand it and a way to counter it.

My sister, as I said, doesn't seem to mind that there is college student who is neither a boy nor a girl. It seems that in my sister's world-view there are a number of distinct genders, including:
  • boys. Boys are weird, annoying, and sometimes have cooties.
  • girls who are older than my sister. Girls who are older than my sister are cool.
  • girls who are younger than my sister. Girls who are younger than my sister can be fun to play with, especially when my sister can pretend that she has a younger sister, but sometimes they get annoying.
  • big brothers. Big brothers are boys, my sister reluctantly admits, but they aren't as bad as _boys_, and only very rarely have cooties.
  • friends. My sister's friends are all smart, all come from upper-middle-class families with educated parents, and all play basketball. And some of them are starting to notice my sixteen-year-old brother (who is objectively cute, a star debater, sings, and has a steady girlfriend).
  • grownups. It's not clear whether grownups are actually real people or if, like teachers and her friends' parents, grownups are just there to make snacks and discuss homework.
  • Daddy.
  • Mommy.
In the abstract there are "boys and men", "girls and women", and "people who aren't either boys or girls", and in the abstract most grownups fit into the first two categories. But in practice they are all in the third category, and even the definitions of "Mommy" and "Daddy" have more to do with the actual people and less to do with their genders.

There used to be other categories. "People with beards," if my memory is correct, was one of them, and "babies!" might still be another. My sister knows that girls and boys can't play in the same sports leagues because boys are weird and annoying. My sister is also fully aware of other gender-based segregation or specific integration, and generally approves of the affirmative-action kind and disapproves of the classical sexism kind. We live in a pretty white town, one with a not-entirely-positive record on institutional racism, but I think the only role that race plays in my sister's actual life (almost all her classmates are white) is that they have some sort of Native American cultural appreciation programming each year in school.

I wish gender and race played less of a role in my life. Instead, I regularly enjoy laughing with my Indian and Latino friends about spicy food, and Jewish jokes are not uncommon around here (gay jokes are even more common). I often make comments about how "boys are weird", and even though my gender distinctions are accompanied by informed feminist commentary, I wonder whether they need to be made.

I would rather be proactive, intentionally finding male friends to dance with to remind everyone that social dance need not be gendered, or intentionally supporting female friends who want to be math or CS majors. We still need to be sensitive to race, to whether and how it correlates with other social and economic dimensions. But it's been years since I've attended an anti-racism, or even an anti-sexism, workshop, and I'm feeling behind. And there's something very attractive about a romanticized eleven-year-old outlook: race doesn't exist, boys have cooties, girls are either cool or little-sister material, and no one else has a gender.

Or maybe I just like the part where grownups' only job is to provide for kids.

26 May 2005

Entries to write

So much political bullshit recently, so much to explain why it's bad. But I still have a week or two more of term, so such essays will have to wait. Hold me to writing on some of this, though:
  • Benevolent sexism and the military: Restricting what jobs women may hold in the military should be illegal, not required by law (women, like gays and rich kids, are already restricted from certain posts; Congress wants to restrict them further).
  • Democrats should not have caved on the judicial nominee fight. As argued over at Balkinization, the Right is trying to effect a radical shift in Constitutional law, and they're doing it in the most effective way: by packing the courts. Democrats need to take a hard line. We've allowed too many conservative justices already, and should not have compromised on Justice Owen. We could have simply halted Parliament Congress for the rest of Bush's term. And the Left needs to find some judges of our own and start pushing back.
  • All the many dumb anti-gay things that various republicans are doing. Today, for instance, Wisconsin decided against providing domestic partner benefits to university employees
  • I have a lot to say about the sorry state of the current general American gay male community. Much of it is summed up in the a article about crystal meth and AIDS in The New Yorker.
  • Lastly, I will sometime soon talk about child abuse, Hamlet, and social ills.

15 May 2005

Giuliani for President?

Let's say, for a moment, that it's a few years from now, and the moderate former New York City mayor Rudolf Giuliani is about to wrap up the Republican nomination for President. What should the Democrats do? Granted, I'm not sure the Republicans will nominate someone that moderate, but conservative televangelist Pat Robertson says he likes him, so it's possible. And we should have a game plan.

Certainly we should not run Senator Hillary Clinton against him. Clinton is great, and I would love to vote for her for President, but the only way she would win against Giuliani for the Presidency is if Giuliani embarrasses himself in the 2006 race for New York Senator. (Clinton, of course, absolutely must win reelection in New York if she is to stand a chance in '08.) No, Clinton is out, and in fact I don't think anyone the Democrats could nominate would actually win against Giuliani in the general election, unless he has scandals that I don't know about.

Instead, the Democrats shouldn't even try. Giuliani winning the Republican nomination would be the best thing for liberals and progressives, because it would move the center to the left. We should, indeed, facilitate this move with a radical leftist candidate. One of the things that's been really hard in the last few cycles is that the Republicans keep nominating and promoting hard-core conservatives, and the Democrats try to compensate with moderate candidates. Perhaps this is the right strategy to win the Office --- and even of this I am unconvinced, since a liberal can better muster the troops, although Kerry achieved incredible voter turnout even without Dean's charisma --- but it's a terrible long-term strategy. I'll never vote third-party if it means losing to someone like Bush, but the Democrats can afford eight years under Giuliani if it means pulling the debate back towards progressive and liberal ideas.

Imagine: a high-profile leftist, a Carol Moseley-Braun, for instance, versus a moderate New England Republican. Sure the Republican wins. That's not the point. We get the stamp of the Democratic party on a liberal agenda, and save our resources. Moseley-Braun, if it is she, will be on ballots, and will make the motions of a campaign, but that's not where the Democrat's considerable energy should be focussed. Instead, we forgo an expensive Presidential bid and focus on the Senate, the House, the Governorships, and maybe most importantly, the State Legislatures. We could do it too: the DNC makes it clear that it's Legislature and Senate campaigns that they care most about, they direct money that way, and they encourage people to donate towards those races. By spending many fewer resources on the Presidential campaign, we could instead reverse the current trend towards a single-party government, and reinstate a system of different parties controlling the different branches of government.

It's a viable approach. I'd rather have Giuliani (or even McCain, although I'm less fond of him) sitting in Washington than Jeb Bush, Newt Gingrich, or Rick Santorum. And a more left-leaning country, with more Democrat Senators and Legislatures, gives a better position from which to run for President to Hillary Clinton, Bill Richardson, or younger candidates like Barack Obama.

So let's keep our fingers crossed: Giuliani for President, and Democrats in the Senate.