Author Archives: Paul Heilker

Myers, Kristin, and Laura Raymond — Elementary School Girls and Heteronormativity: The Girl Project

Myers, Kristin, and Laura Raymond. “Elementary School Girls and Heteronormativity: The Girl Project.” Gender and Society (2010): 167-88.

Myers and Raymond’s study looks at the behavior of elementary school girls (from age 5 to age 11) in creating their own structures of heteronormativity amongst themselves. To study this, researchers created small groups of different ages to track the behavior of girls as they are prompted to talk about things that are important to them and other girls their age. What is interesting about the study is that the researchers did not make reference to boys—the girls brought up boys on their own. The girls constructed heteronormative standards to which they subjected themselves and others.

Examples of heteronormative behaviors the girls brought up were talking about heterosexual crushes even though no boys were mentioned or present. They were vulnerable to each other and pledged to keep each other’s secrets. This vulnerability is an example of the girls constructing heteronormativity. Women are taught from the time they are girls to be the opposite or social complements of men in order to partner with them sexually. The authors write, “’Just as the fish does not know that it lives in a wet environment,’ so too are we unable to recognize the pervasiveness and effects of heteronormative messages” (168). Thus, from a young age, girls are subjected to pressure to pair up romantically with (“have a crush on”) a boy.  The girls used language in ways that indicate their awareness of this expectation. They used terms such as “my” to claim a boy as their own, and “hottie” to refer to celebrities. Thus, the girls might talk about having crushes on one of “their hotties.” Simply spending time with a boy might garner teasing that the two are “dating,” but by affirming it, the two can avoid that teasing. The girls use heterosexualized terminology to validate even nonsexualized interactions; no such parallel exists for relationships with female friendships. From this, the article posits, one can conclude that even though boy/girl friendships may not be romantically motivated, they are shaped by heteronormative pressures. Boys, too, are not oblivious to this pressure, and “hit on” girls by using pick up lines on them, even if their attention is unwanted.

Other ways girls co-constructed heteronormativity amongst themselves, were by deciding what actions (dating, kissing, sex, etc.) were “appropriate” for what ages, and by using “gay” and “lesbian” in intolerant and pejorative ways, despite the girls’ tolerance of intimacy between girls.  One important difference the study finds between the young girls’ construction of heteronormativity as compared to older girls’, is that the younger girls’ constructions always worked out to their advantage, unlike older girls. The study concludes that more research will need to be done to discern why this may be the case.

I thought this study was interesting for a number of reasons. The first was that I realized even within heterosexual relationships and contexts, heteronormativity still uses violent language to describe relationships—we call liking someone a “crush” and refer women being approached by men as being “hit on.” This use of violent phrases to explain something like love already sets up romantic and sexual relationships as a power differential, frequently with the male in the more dominant position. Even if no physical violence is being done to one or both partners in the relationship (although I would posit, using words that are descriptive of physical harm like “crush” in innocent contexts normalizes physical violence later on by linguistically representing relationships in terms of power transfers), violence is done to whichever partner is giving up their autonomy.

Another aspect of heteronormativity the article mentioned was how our culture refers to children’s sexuality and “mimicking” adults, and that later on, children experience a “sexual awakening.” The girls knew that desirability in the eyes of boys was a “good” thing, part of their construction of femininity and a part of the bonding process between them, evidence of heteronormative pressures. The rejection of anything “lesbian” is in keeping with heteronormative structures, and, in my opinion, so is the decision-making about what is “appropriate” for them. Heteronormative tradition requires men to be heterosexually active, aggressive, and predatory, and women to be modest and virginal. Thus, the emphasis on actions being “appropriate” is a way of constructing femininity among the girls. The use of the word “appropriate” is violent in several ways; it can be used to delegitimize or stigmatize girls’ feelings or desires, especially if those feelings or desires are homosexual or otherwise break with the sexuality and gender roles prescribed for girls even within heterosexuality. It seems to me that discussions of what is “appropriate” is closely related to “slut-shaming,” a form of violence in which women who have a number of sexual partners are mocked and degraded. This has both immediate and far-reaching implications. On the individual level, the discussion of “appropriateness” is violent because it can cause emotional damage or social isolation, but on a grander scale, the discussion of what is and is not “appropriate” for women of all ages is related to political discussions about abortion and birth control. Women lose control over their own bodies because having sex outside of marriage is seen as “inappropriate” (but only in the context of femininity, as the article implies). Furthermore, the standards on what “appropriate” behavior and dress for women is contributes to victim-blaming in contexts of rapewhich I would argue that the article in part suggestsis derived also in part due to the violent ways we describe relationships, and the ways we describe and glorify masculinity.

–Jessica King

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Myers, Kristen — “Cowboy Up!”: Non-Hegemonic Representations Of Masculinity In Children’s Television Programming

Myers, Kristen. “‘Cowboy Up!': Non-Hegemonic Representations Of Masculinity In Children’s Television Programming.” Journal Of Men’s Studies 20.2 (2012): 125-143. Web. 2 Mar. 2015.

This article details how media, especially television, take part in writing gender scripts, a key component of heteronormativity. In particular, the article discussed hegemonic masculinity, which includes hyperheterosexuality but excludes women and girls. According to Myers, “Boys reject femininity in order to establish their dominance, and they must continually degrade girls and feminize other boys so as to maintain their status—even as they pursue girls sexually” (128). Part of this degradation includes what the article refers to as “fag talk”—using words like “pussy,” “fag,” and “girl” to mean weak or unmanly. This kind of talk both explicitly and implicitly enforce sexism and homophobic attitudes. (127)

Recent television shows have shown primarily non-hegemonic masculine figures—boys who do not embody the hypermasculine ideal of masculinity. These boys are associated with feminine, or at least, non-masculine traits: some are scholarly, gentle, clean and unaggressive. These males could have the potential to invert expectations for masculinity; however, the article argues, the examples of non-hegemonic masculinity are used as jokes, reinforcing the hegemonic masculine ideal. The article gives several examples of where boys’ behavior is policed by hegemonic males, who are held up as superior. There is an obvious hierarchy, and hegemonic males are at the top. The hegemonic males are fit, good-looking, and successful with girls. In one example, the article quotes the hegemonic character Zack, from Disney show The Suite Life on Deck: “When the lions are out hunting gazelles, they don’t attack the strong healthy ones. Oh no. They attack the weak ones. The ones crying and eating ice cream.” (135) Feminizing boys, or policing their behavior by telling them to “Man up!” is central to the shows’ humor. Incidences of males breaking out of the traditional gender roles are used as comedic fodder—for example, in the Nickelodeon show iCarly, the protagonist’s older brother, Spencer, in one episode has to cross-dress to assist his sister in an endeavor, to disastrous results—whereby the gender binary and gender roles for males are again reinforced (136). Homoeroticism, too, is portrayed as something to be mocked and derided—the shows do not consider it thoughtfully or in a new way. Additionally, the non-hegemonic boys will occasionally cross into hegemonic masculinity in order to take control of a situation. In an episode of Disney’s Hannah Montana, non-hegemonic Oliver takes on a hypermasculine persona to attempt to promote his friend Miley to single men on the beach.

Myers’ article offers a number of opportunities to look at the way American culture uses language to enforce heteronormativity. Particularly disturbing to me was the predatory language used to describe exploiting women by hegemonic masculine figures. Part of the way children learn about culture is through mediathus, in part, they learn language and violence through media. The glorification and perpetuation of the idea that women are to be hunted and outsmarted to their disadvantage through joking discussions between role models on a children’s show is scary. The example given in the article where Zack compares asking a girl out to a lion hunting weak (for women, this means insecure) gazelles is a nearly perfect example of language simultaneously creating and reinforcing violence through the social structure of heteronormative gender roles. It not only creates the idea that men ought to be predatory and domineering, but also that women are inherently weak and susceptible. (When taken to their extreme, such jokes can even imply that women ought to be weak and susceptible in order to be properly feminine.) By presenting this idea in the form of a joke, the show enforces that this behavior is ultimately harmless, to be expected and the natural way of society. Such predatory language forms violent bases for relationships and gender expression from a young age.

The description of “fag talk” was also critical to me in demonstrating how heteronormativity is a violent system, as it stigmatizes both homosexuality and femininity. If our culture finds it acceptable to talk about those who do not fit into masculine gender roles by jeeringly calling them “girls” or “gays,” is it any wonder that those groups are restricted in society? By treating groups such as girls or gay people as the butt of a joke, and as synonymous with weakness, incompetence, or any other trait seen as undesirable, the language used in “fag talk” does violence to those groups by othering and deriding them. It creates expectations that members of the named groups must then overcome or otherwise bypass before they can have the same social treatment as those who are promoted through “fag talk;” namely, hypermasculine men.

I was startled at how explicit some of the messages being sent to children were:before reading Myers’ studies, I expected most cultural messages about masculinity to be implicit and children’s television to be, if not groundbreaking, then at least harmless in their portrayals of masculinity. That I had never questioned what was being idealized through children’s media is evidence of how pervasive and at times invisible heteronormative structures and expectations can be. It is sinister, in my eyes, that these ideas are being indoctrinated through children’s programming, which is a much more direct and targeted means of relaying messages than other cultural structures.  Language functions in a dual way, both creating and reinforcing heteronormative violence. It modifies the way we can conceptualize (and thus, how we can enact) abstractions such as gender expression and romantic and sexual relationships. The current language we use creates a frame of violence for our thinking, through which we then act. Thus, language not only creates the violence, but then is used once the violent structures are in place to reinforce it, through jokes, analogies and sayings.

–Jessica King

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Cruz, David — Getting Sex “Right”: Heteronormativity and Biologism in Trans and Intersex Marriage Litigation and Scholarship

Cruz, David. “Getting Sex ‘Right’: Heteronormativity and Biologism in Trans and Intersex Marriage Litigation and Scholarship.” Duke Journal of Gender Law and Policy 18.203 (2010): 203-222.

In this article, Cruz explains how cultural rhetoric presents gender as a “truth,” a biomedical fact that can be discovered. He explains that under this idea, one can be “right” or “wrong” about their gender. The article poses several questions: What is the definition of a “man” and a “woman” in terms of marriage? Is it enough to simply identify a certain way, or must one also have corresponding genitals? Is gender contained in one’s chromosomes? Their presentation? Their actions, beliefs, and attitudes? Is it intrinsically tied to other aspects of one’s identity, or can it be independent?

The article cites the language in several court cases dealing with trans and intersex marriage litigation.  In one particular example, it examines the case of Karen Ulane, an employee at Eastern Airlines who was fired after openly transitioning to female at work. She sued Eastern Airlines on basis of discrimination based on sex, while the opposition countered that the true reason she was fired was not because of her sex, but because she is transgender (206). The article also details instances of trans people being denied custody rights and inheritances. The question of whose authority should be considered dominant in defining gender (medical professionals’, judges’, lawmakers’, society’s, or individuals’?) is considered, particularly in light of the fact that many of the cases of courtroom violence against trans people happened to trans people who had their legal sex changed on their birth certificates and driver’s licenses. The birth sex of the trans person in question was often taken to be their “true” sex, regardless of their legal sex or their identity.

The article poses several more questions: Does the problem with trans/intersex marriage litigation lie with the law’s interpretation of marriage or of sex/gender? Cruz asks whether gender identity can be said to be protected under the First Amendment as an ideology, the way religion is, in light of the characteristics gender identity possesses (for example, that it is a means of social organization, and is handed down from a higher, extra-human authority source, be that God or Nature) that overlap with religion.

This article brings up some excellent court cases that exemplify heteronormative violence being done to those who deviate from the accepted gender binary—the implication of the Ulane court case being that discrimination against trans people is legal. The numerous questions Cruz poses in the article about the way we construct our social reality seem very closely related to our use of heteronormative language to do violence to those who do not conform to the structures put in place. The authority figures in place (here, the court justices) have decided that a certain way of living is “right,” and have interpreted the language of the law in a way that limits gender-nonconformists, such as transgender men and women, from enjoying the full legal protections they ought to be entitled to as United States citizens.

An interesting point that Cruz brings up is that the English language (the language used in the US and in its court decisions) itself is inherently limited. It is technically correct to say “his or her” (as though those were the only options) rather than the gender neutral “their” in a number of circumstances. This kind of limitation shapes the way we can see the world, and makes it that much more difficult to perceive injustices when they occur, as we assume that is simply the “natural” way of things. Galtung says that all those who benefit from violent structures are implicit in violence if they do not attempt to dismantle the structures. Here, those who conform to and benefit from a gender binary created in part by the limitations of the structures of the English language, then magnified by the language chosen in the legal system, also do violence by continuing to adhere to language that inherently limits others’ options for self-expression and identification.

The following quote, taken from the language of a court decision, highlights the issue of language and heteronormativity: “Sex is clearly an essential determinant of the relationship called marriage because it is and has always been recognized as the union of man and woman. It is the institution on which family is built, and in which the capacity for natural heterosexual intercourse is an essential element.” (205, emphasis mine). The language of the court decision not only states that marriage is not a social construction that could be altered (“is and has always been”), but that it also must be between a man and woman, which raises the question Cruz asks in the article—What makes a man a man, and a woman a woman? In addition, by calling “natural” heterosexual intercourse essential for marriage, the language of the decision delegitimizes homosexual marriages and completely erases asexuals. Two cisgender asexuals—a male and a female—could “pass” as heterosexual, but under the current language used by the court, their marriage is equally as invalid as homosexuals’ because they may not necessarily have sex. The heteronormative language used by the court is violent because it creates strict guidelines for what relationships and gender identities may be, and simultaneously rewards those who conform while punishing those who do not by denying them the same legal consideration provided to their gender-conforming peers.

–Jessica King

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The Asexual Agenda — Asexuals Aren’t “Just Like Everyone Else, Minus The Sexual Attraction”

“Asexuals Aren’t ‘Just Like Everyone Else, Minus The Sexual Attraction.’”  The Asexual Agenda. 5 Apr. 2014. Web. 17 Feb. 2015.

The article discusses the ways in which asexuality (a deviation from the heteronormative standard) is explained to those who do not experience it, or are not a member of the queer community—the community generally the most knowledgeable about various gender and sexual orientation identities. The article argues that defining or describing asexuality as being “just like everyone else, but without the sex bit!” or “heterosexuality lite” is harmful for a number of reasons. The language combines sexuality and romanticism, which creates invalidation of the aromantic (that is, one who does not experience romantic attraction to others, but may experience other forms of attraction) identity.

Further, the article continues, the explanation that says that asexuals are “just like everyone else” fails to define who “everyone else” is. Is the ephemeral “everyone else” those commonly represented by the media: white, cisgender heterosexuals? The presentation of asexuality as a watered-down version of another sexuality leads to the invalidation of the asexual identity and erases asexual experiences. The homogenized view of asexuality gains respect because it fits neatly within heteronormative standards, but at the cost of an identity—it is the intentional downplaying of differences in order to make a deviation more palatable.

The last common analogy used to explain asexuality that the article discusses is the “cake” analogy. The analogy goes that some people like cake, and want to eat it; others do not—the second group in the analogy are asexuals if the “cake” in question is a sexual relationship with another. This analogy, the article argues, suggests that someone’s asexuality is an easily-removed component of their personality, and ultimately as trivial as someone’s food preferences.

This article differs from others, as it is a blog post rather than an article from a scholarly journal. It is useful, however, because it indicates closer to real-time how these issues are being discussed in knowledgeable circles separate from academia. Here, the voice is not that of a researcher, but of a blogger who is a member of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Intersex and Asexual/Aromantic (LGBTQIA) community, to use the most fully inclusive acronym. I think the article itself, completely separate from the topics being discussed, is a really great resource because the language is a mixture of the accessible and casual (the author regularly refers directly to their own experiences, opinions and personality and speaks directly to the reader) as well as more specialized language to the LGBTQIA community. It is much easier to read than academic articles (though obviously much more prone to bias) and is more representative in my eyes of what an average, moderately informed person within (or even just interested in) the LGBTQIA community might read.

In terms of heteronormative violence through language, I think the article is really rich with examples and explanations of why that violence is really relative. By comparing asexuals to “everyone else” no only do asexuals—perhaps unwittingly—erase themselves and their own experiences, but also alienate themselves from the rest of the LGBTQIA community. After all, if asexuals are exactly like the cisgender, heterosexual majority aside from one small, easily overlooked difference, what need do they have of the queer community? And for that matter, can they even truly call themselves “queer”? This language is a form of violence because it puts asexuals in a position where they may feel forced to alienate themselves from the support that might be most helpful for them in a world dominated by heteronormative rhetoric, the queer community, in order to preserve their safety or reputation, while simultaneously mitigating and erasing a large part of their identity and personality through language.

Another unfortunate side effect that using these analogies to explain asexuality is so-called “gate-keeping” within the LGBTQIA and even the asexual community. Asexuality is a spectrum that encompasses a number of different specific sexualities and can exist with other queer or marginalized identities—an asexual might be a person of color, transgender, homoromantic, disabled, etc. By other measures, for example, a trans, homoromantic asexual would be firmly within the queer community. A cisgender, heteroromantic demisexual (one who can feel sexual attraction toward another person ONLY after a strong emotional bond has been formed), though, because they can appear heterosexual may not be “queer” or “asexual” enough for others in the community. By emphasizing how “normal” and “like everyone else” asexuality is, this attitude of identity policing is encouraged among those who may not be so easily able to hide within heteronormativity. This leaves some members of the asexual community effectively without the kind of support they might need. Their experiences are sufficiently different from heterosexuals that the language used within heteronormative contexts would be alienating. This would be especially true when considered in the context of masculinity, where discussions of how “hot” girls are—the sexual nature of such comments being implied—are encouraged. They also might not find support in the LGBTQIA community because they have been described as “normal” or “heterosexual lite.”

The forcing of asexuals to the outer fringes of societal awareness by using language that diminishes their identity or causes their erasure is violent. It denies them ability to express their experiences as distinct from that of others without being questioned and invalidates their identity. Similar to the argument that bisexuals are just “confused” or “halfway in the closet,” the simplifying of the asexual identity implies that asexuality is simply a phase or quirk, rather than a true identity and a major aspect of a person’s personality. This language limits asexuals’ ability to express themselves, their experiences, and their sexuality without fear of repercussions (for example, not being taken seriously or being treated as an outsider). It also further normalizes the idea that heterosexuality is “normal” and preferable, to the point where anyone whose identity differs must prove how like heterosexuals they are: this is heteronormative and violent.

–Jessica King

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Gomberg, Paul — Patriotism Is Like Racism

Gomberg, Paul. “Patriotism Is Like Racism.” Chicago Journals 101.1 (1990): 144-50. Web. 26 Jan. 2015.

Gomberg argues that “patriotism is no better than racism” (144). He appeals to Stephen Nathanson’s definition of moderate patriotism as “preference […] for one’s nation, its traditions and institutions, and one’s fellow nationals, but within the limits of morality, that is, provided one does not violate the ‘legitimate needs and interests of other nations’ and their nationals” (145). In other words, patriotism should be directed inward at one’s own country, without infringing upon other nations.

Gomberg further argues that “moral regard is universal – all count equally and positively in deciding what to do [… and] in conflicts between nationalities the moral universalist will not patriotic” (145). For Gomberg, there is an incongruency between moral universalism and patriotism; they cannot exist together. Patriotism, by its very definition, requires that one must put the needs of his or her own kind above the needs of others, and this is contradictory to moral universalism, in which “actions are to be governed by principles that give equal consideration to all people who might be affected by an action” (144). According to Gomber, “the patriot will fight for the national community while the moral universalist will not” (145). This is problematic because in order for patriotic acts to be moral, they cannot differentiate between kinds, and that is exactly the purpose of patriotism, to favor your kind over others: even “the moderate patriot [would] be more committed to the preservation of the institutions and traditions of his or her own nationality than to those of other nationalities” (146).

Gomberg takes his argument one step further by arguing that patriotism uses this differentiation in kinds to be a sort of racism: “favoritism toward a more prosperous nationality or discrimination against nationals from poor nations contributes to a morally objectionable inequality […] favoritism toward one’s compatriots is as objectionable as ethnic favoritism” (148). Gomberg also uses an example to illustrate his point that patriotism is like racism, asking readers to “consider the imperative, ‘Buy American!’ which is certainly prescribed as a patriotic duty […] the effect of the imperative, ‘Buy American!’ is likely to be increased national antagonism” (149). Though this is a very simple example, it has the desired effect for Gomberg; promoting one nationality over others, as a part of your patriotic duty is nothing less than nationalism and racism. Gomberg sums up his thoughts on this idea by saying that “if we try to allow patriotism and forbid racism on the basis of a universal morality that makes racial discrimination a violation of a fundamental right but makes discrimination based on national citizenship permissible, the universal morality with this structure looks implausible and arbitrary. We want to know by what criterion we decide what is on the list and what is not” (149).

Paul Gomberg also believes that the “most plausible strategy for defending patriotism is to argue for an indirect universalism, either utilitarian or Kantian: in order to realize universal principles (promoting well-being and respect for human rights) we need social norms that bind people together, and those norms create special relationships, with corresponding special duties. Hence universal principles can be realized on through relationships that require preferential treatment […] A genuine universalism is possible, but only as a result of a struggle against patriotism and nationalism” (150-1). In summation, Gomberg believes that the only way to achieve universal moral principles is to eliminate the ideas of belonging to a certain nation, and endeavoring not only for the well-being or rights of the people who reside in that certain nation, but the world as a whole.

I believe that Paul Gomberg puts forth a very interesting and strong argument. As a philosophy major, I enjoyed reading about the ethical side of patriotism, and how our current conception of patriotism can be considered a violent act. Gomberg has convincingly argued that as patriotism is defined here (a preference for one’s nation), it is not only used as a justification for racism, but nationalism as well. I believe that in order to achieve a more non-violent definition of patriotism, we must move to alter the definition of patriotism from “a preference for one’s nation over others” to something that doesn’t force people to support one nation while condemning another. It seems difficult to imagine, however, that patriotism could survive without being attached to some national identity; it doesn’t seem plausible that patriotism could be extended beyond devotion to the nation where you reside to a more encompassing, universal identity. After reading Gomberg’s article, my main question is whether or not patriotism can be defined simply as one’s preference for humankind? But even then, it seems that you are disregarding the needs of everything else on this planet, and still acting selfishly; for example, if patriotism were preference for humankind in general, and not just one’s nation, that would demand that your actions put the needs of humankind over the needs of all other living things. And yet, that does not eliminate patriotism as being a violent act, as per Galtung’s definition of violence. The needs of all the sentient animals and the environment would be secondary to the needs of all humankind. What, then, could be a better conception of patriotism?

–Sapna Singh

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Fincher, Megan — US Activists Answer: What Is Patriotism?

Fincher, Megan. “US Activists Answer: What Is Patriotism?” National Catholic Reporter, 3 July 2014. Web. 24 Feb. 2015.

Through the lens of the National Catholic Reporter, author Megan Fincher explores the different answers US activists offer when asked “What is patriotism?” Fincher believes that “for most Americans, the word patriot probably does not conjure up images of peace activists throwing blood onto nuclear facilities, black men and women refusing to get up from segregated lunch counters, or journalists exposing classified government documents,” and she explores that idea that if it doesn’t, then maybe it should. Fincher also derives her meaning of patriotism from a speech given by President Obama about his ideas on “U.S. dissidents,” where he argued that “patriotism can never be defined as loyalty to any particular leader or government or policy […] When our laws, our leaders or our government are out of alignment with our ideals, then the dissent of ordinary Americans may prove to be one of the truest expression of patriotism” (1).

The rest of Fincher’s article consists of excerpts of interviews with various US citizens, and she asks most of them two questions: “What is patriotism?” and “Are you patriotic?” The answers, though mostly similar, reflect some deviation from what Fincher’s and President Obama’s conceptions of patriotism are. For example, one individual chose to define patriotism as “loyalty to the human race […] not to any single nation” (1). Another considered it “a sentiment of identification with fellow citizens seeking to serve their best interests in the context of the universal common good” (2). These two definitions of patriotism reflect a common understanding seen in discussions about morality, where an individual feels some duty to a collective group, such as “the human race” or all of their “fellow citizens.” This duty to other humans is reflected by the rejection of that form of patriotism which calls for “love and devotion to one’s country,” on the grounds that “my country is neither more precious nor responsible than any other country” (2).

One interviewee flat out rejected all notions of patriotism as something to be desired, supporting his claims with quotes from Samuel Johnson and William Lloyd Garrison, in which patriotism is defined “as the last refuge of scoundrels” (2). Furthermore, he argued that especially in America, patriotism is impossible, as “America will not allow her children to love her. She seems bent on compelling those who would be her warmest friends to be her worst enemies […] I will continue to pray, labor, and wait, believing that she cannot always be insensible to the dictates of justice, or deaf to the voice of humanity” (2). In this conception of patriotism, a country which does not respect values of justice or humanity is one in which any semblance of patriotism cannot exist.

Another interviewee considered the idea of defining patriotism to be unfavorable, as he “tend[s] to resist labels [as he] find[s] them restrictive and, frankly, unhelpful.” This interviewee was one of the few who, after defining his own conception of patriotism, still believed that “the true patriots are not people like me,” finding true patriots to be those who are most committed to their communities (3).

Interestingly enough, another individual interviewed by Fincher considers patriotism to be “simple love of the country one gets born into.” This seems to be the opposite of what most people consider to be patriotism, so far as Megan Fincher’s article is considered. However, he returns to the more normative conception of patriotism when he says that “it’s when it gets stood on its head and defined as love of one’s own country, to the exclusion of any other place, and then moves into the modes of ‘we’re No.1’ and ‘hate everyone else’ that patriotism becomes stupid and dangerous.” Another person agrees with this conception of patriotism, saying that “a patriot is a person who loves the land and the people from whom they stem. A patriot seeks what is truthfully best for that land and its people” (3).

The final distinct conception of patriotism in Fincher’s article is from an individual who thinks that she cannot, in good faith, label herself to be patriotic, “because the word and concept have been so manipulated.” Real patriotism, for this activist, is “challenging [your] country to rise above its baser instincts […] by doing civil resistance” (4). This conception falls in line with the general idea that “patriotism is love of country, and not love of government policies […] freedom of conscience, freedom to speak and act, freedom to choose our paths, [not] ‘my country, right nor wrong’” (5).

Though Fincher did not qualify her findings, from my reading it seemed that most of activists she interviewed seemed to agree that blind faith in one’s government is not what patriotism truly is. I agree with this conception of patriotism and with her idea that “for most Americans, the word patriot probably does not conjure up images of peace activists throwing blood onto nuclear facilities, black men and women refusing to get up from segregated lunch counters, or journalists exposing classified government documents” (1). I agree with Fincher that most people probably don’t consider acts of resistance to be patriotism, but personally, I do. Patriots, in my opinion, are those who actively engage with their government and its policies, whether it be through peaceful protests or intellectual debates with fellow citizens. Furthermore, I think my view on the most non-violent form of patriotism can be succinctly described by President Obama: “when our laws, our leaders or our government are out of alignment with our ideals, then the dissent of ordinary Americans may prove to be one of the truest expression of patriotism” (1). In other words, I agree with Obama’s idea that each citizen is performing his or her civic duty by ensuring their government sticks to the agreed upon ideals of liberty and justice for every member of the nation. It is when government is deviating from these ideals that the citizens must act, and I think that is what truly constitutes patriotism.

More importantly, it is crucial that we recognize that an incorrect conception of patriotism is, in itself, a violent act, per Galtung’s definition of violence (anything that limits or prevents us from reaching our full physical and mental potential as human beings). For example, if one were to claim that true patriotism can exist in “a country which does not respect values of justice of humanity,” there would undoubtedly be limitations placed on the citizens, and therefore, according to Galtung, that would be an act of violence. Even the idea that “simple love of the country one gets born into” constitutes true patriotism is an act of violence. Requiring that all citizens “love” their country, without question, is limiting to those who do not subscribe to this conception of patriotism. By defining patriotism with a binary, where you only have one of two options, is very limiting, and therefore violent. It doesn’t allow people to have a full range of options to choose from, and anyone who doesn’t adhere to the majority opinion is alienated.

–Sapna Singh

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Madhok, Diksha — The Word “Feminist” Is Already in Decline

Madhok, Diksha. “The Word Feminist Is Already in Decline.” Quartz. 17 Nov. 2014. Web. 02 Mar. 2015.

In November 2014, Time magazine published their annual poll to have readers vote on “which word should be banned from the English language forever because it is so cringe-worthy that it makes you “seek out the nearest pair of chopsticks and thrust them through your own eardrums.” The word feminist was included on that list of words “alongside 14 other contenders such as “om nom nom nom” and “obvi.” The magazine received enough backlash for their decision to include the word “feminist” on the list to be forced to apologize shortly afterwards.

However, Diksha Madhok thought Time was onto something even with their mistake. The author wrote an article for the online news outlet Quartz in response to Time’s poll, remarking on the decline of the words feminist and feminism. Madhok did her own research through “Google’s n-gram viewer [which] allows armchair historians to trawl for phrases in millions of books digitized by the search giant.” After searching for the words (up until the year 2008, as the data does not span past that year), Madhok found: “The words feminist and feminism have been seeing a steady decline since 1996 in the English corpus.” The graphs she included show that the word feminist makes up just below 0.00150% in 2008 compared to 0.00257% in 1996, while the word feminism decreased from a 0.00095% usage in 1996 to a 0.00055% usage in 2008. However, while words for feminism have declined, Madhok notes that misandry, which means “hatred of men,” “has had a pretty good run in the last five years.” The writer goes on to elaborate and give examples

Many people assume—incorrectly—that feminism means hatred or dislike of men. On the Facebook group, Women Against Feminism, many users, mostly women, have posted their pictures with banners that read: “I don’t need feminism because I love my boyfriend” or “I am mom to 3 boys.”

This month, actress Salma Hayek said: “I am not a feminist…. I believe in equality.”

Madhok concludes the article by asserting that “Feminism is simply the radical notion that women are people” and by raising the following question: “Could the diminished usage of the term mean women have actually attained equality? If only…”

The article by Madhok brings up an unfortunate trend that’s been growing over the past couple years. The word feminist, while once the term for an individual following a movement to grant women equal rights as men, has suffered from pejoration. The semantics of the word have been degraded to mean something along the lines of “a woman who hates men.” Now women will not associate themselves with the word because they think it’s harmful to men. In fact, nothing about feminism is harmful to men unless those men value their own superiority and privilege over other people’s rights. Critics of feminism don’t understand that the movement is about equal rights for both men and women. Now, instead of looking at the movement behind the word for what it is, women bully each other for being “feminist.” All this does is spread unnecessary hatred based on ignorance. Madhok offers examples of women posing with banners which say “I don’t need feminism because I love my boyfriend” or because “I am the mom to three boys,” which implies that women who desire the same rights as men hate men and are doing a disservice to them. This is yet another way for the progress of women’s rights to be stalled, because instead of focusing on issues such as equal pay, or women’s health care, women are pitted against each other over men’s feelings getting hurt for being called out on the privileges awarded to their sex. This is violent to women because by taking the value away from feminism, it implies women are lesser human beings unworthy of basic human rights. Women who have internalized this mindset will never be able to reach their full potential.

–Ashley Stant


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Melvern, Linda — The Hate Radio: Radio-Télévision Libre Des Milles Collines

Melvern, Linda. “The Hate Radio: Radio-Télévision Libre Des Milles Collines.” A People Betrayed: The Role of the West in Rwanda’s Genocide. Cape Town: NAEP, 2000.  Print.

The Radio Network Radio-Télévision Libre Des Milles Collines (RTLMC) began broadcasting in Rwanda in June 1993. The station was known as “rowdy” and diplomats dismissed it as a joke. Noel Hitimana, was drunk during some of the broadcasts and would make crass remarks. The radio station did not actually broadcast factual reports, and catered to the unemployed, delinquents and gangs in the militia. Ferdinand Nahimana was largely responsible for the style of the RTLMC. RTMLC began broadcasting at a time when radios suddenly became cheap and widely available in Rwanda – therefore the broadcast had a large audience that was very entertained. However, RTMLC was “founded by Hutu extremists.” Its list of shareholders consists mainly of businessman, bank managers, journalists, army officers and government officials. The president was the largest shareholder. The purpose of the radio station was to launch a propaganda campaign against the Tutsi. RTLMC broadcasted the names of certain government opponents, and said that those individuals “deserved to die” (71). According to the RTMLC, the Tutsi were lazy foreign invaders who refused to work. French and American ambassadors were against taking action against the RTMLC. The U.S. ambassador said that the U.S.A. believed in freedom of speech. The president of the board of directors of RTLMC, Felicien Kabuga, also financed Kagura, a weekly newspaper that was known for carrying hate propaganda about Tutsis. For example, in 1990, Kagura published the famous Hutu Ten Commandments which were basically instructions on how to mistreat Tutsis. The Belgian ambassador, Johan Swinnen, warned Belgium that RTMLC was destabilizing the country and even wanted all broadcasts to be intercepted and translated, but there was not even staff to carry this out.

This chapter in this book is about the failure of the West to act in Rwanda reveals an alarming fact: that the incitement against Tutsis was considered by some, including the United States of America, a legal right of the Hutu extremists because of their belief in free speech. However, I object – isn’t using language that dehumanizes the Tutsi (calling them cockroaches) considered violent? The language makes them seem as if they are not even human. This chapter touches very briefly on a huge part of the Rwandan genocide: how language was used by a handful of powerful and wealthy Hutu extremists to incite hatred towards the Tutsi in a large portion of the Hutu population. It was not limited to radio broadcasts – this type of propaganda found its way into print media far before RTMLC was established.

The main takeaway point from this chapter is that sometimes even when violent language is used, it is impossible to actually take the people who used that language with malicious intent and prosecute them or charge them with any sort of crime. The West especially is known for being a major proponent of free speech, and prosecuting anyone for that sort of thing may set a dangerous precedent and cause problems back home. However, it is important at this point to understand the meaning of free speech. What is free speech exactly? It is generally understood as the right to express opinions without any fear of censorship. It was introduced mainly as a move to allow political discourse without any fear of being killed from an opposing party and such. So should it really cover extremists who clearly have every intent to murder those who they are speaking ill of? The reality is that, of course, free speech should not include hate speech. Despite the warnings of the Belgian ambassador that the radio station was causing chaos, no one acted to stop the broadcast in time. By the time that the ambassador was able to convince everyone to analyze the transcripts, there was not enough personnel to get the job done.

This chapter also brings up another point: sometimes things occur in genocides and other tragic events that cannot be measured. It would be very difficult to measure the exact effects that the radio broadcasts had on the genocide, but it is undeniable that it played a major role in the mobilizing of the general Hutu population.

–Beejal Ved

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United Nations — Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide

United Nations.  Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Paris, 9 December 1948, United Nations Treaty Series, vol. 78, No. 1021.

The Contracting Parties agree that genocide is a serious matter that requires international cooperation. Furthermore, the Contracting Parties agree, in Article I, that genocide is a crime they will prevent and punish regardless of whether it happens in times of war or peace. Article II states “genocide means … acts committed with intent to destroy … a national, ethnical, racial or religious group” (280). Article II describes five specific acts that would be considered genocide. The acts are killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately inflicting on the group conditions to bring about physical destruction, imposing measures intended to prevent births and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. Article III explicitly states which acts will be punishable, including “complicity” in genocide. Article IV states that any person committing acts in Article III will be punished, even if they are “constitutionally responsible rulers, public officials or private citizens” (280). Article V states that the Contracting Parties “undertake to enact … necessary legislation to give effect to the provisions of the present Convention” and also to provide penalties for anyone who is guilty of committing genocide. Article VI states that any person who is charged with genocide or other acts described in article III will “be tried by a competent tribunal” (280). Article VII states that “genocide and the other acts enumerated in article III shall not be considered as political crimes” (282). Article VIII states that Contracting Parties may call on the United Nations to take action to prevent and suppress acts of genocide.

Article IX states that disputes between any of the Contracting Parties regarding the “interpretation, application or fulfillment” of the Convention will be submitted to the International Court of Justice at the request of the parties involved in the dispute.  Article X is regarding the date of the Convention, which is 9 December 1948. Article XI details the process of how the Convention will be open to signatures and how Contracting Parties should act accordingly. Article XII says that any Contracting Parties may extend the application of the Convention to any foreign territories it is responsible for. Article XIII details more about the process of ratifying the Convention, and when the Convention will come into force.

Article XIV states the Convention “shall remain in effect for a period of ten years” since it comes into force (284). After the initial ten years, it will remain in place for “successive periods of five years” as long the Contracting Parties have not denounced it six months before the expiration date. Article XV says that if the number of Contracting Parties decreases to less than sixteen as a result of denunciations, then the Convention will cease to be in force. Article XVI describes the means of writing revisions for the present Convention. Article XVII details that the United Nations will notify members and non-members of signatures, notifications, the date when the present Convention comes into force, denunciations and any abrogation of the Convention.

Article XVIII says that the original of the present Convention will be deposited in the archives of the United Nations. Article XIX says that the “Present Convention shall be registered by the Secretary-General of the United Nations on the date of its coming into force” (287).

This United Nations treaty was adopted after World War II, because many people were horrified after the events of the Holocaust and how states were unable to prevent the murder of over six million Jewish persons, homosexuals, gypsies and other marginalized groups. It is important to note that out of the nineteen articles in this Convention about genocide, only seven of them are directly related to the act of genocide and how the international community would respond to the act. The other twelve articles are about the signature and ratification process of the treaty, as well as the processes it needs to go through before it can go into force.

The definition of genocide used in the Convention is “acts committed with intent … to destroy … a group.” This is interesting because it is virtually impossible to truly gauge intent. If Person A is murdered by Person B during a genocide, and Person A happens to be in the group that is being targeting during the genocide, how is it possible to truly know whether Person B was acting in a personal vendetta against Person A, or was part of the genocide? Should Person B charged with murder, or intent to commit genocide? Since there is no mechanism in place to determine or measure intent, it cannot be said.

Some of the acts described as punishable by the international community are not immediately clear. For example, Article III states that “complicity in genocide” is a punishable act. But it is not stated what complicity means in the context of genocide. Would a child who stood by idly while his family was murdered be complicit in genocide simply because he did not do anything to prevent it? Or does complicity only apply to persons who are at least eighteen years of age? The vagueness of this particular aspect of the Convention means that many people will either be accused of being complicit, and the ones who were actually complicit (such as local leaders and politicians) will get off easy. The lack of specificity widens the group of complicit people far too much.

This is not the only part of the Convention that is ambiguous. Article I of the Convention states that Contracting Parties will “prevent and punish” genocide. Although the methods of punishment are a bit clearer – Article VI states that anyone who is charged with genocide will be subject a trial – it is not sure exactly how Contracting Parties will “prevent” genocide. In order to fulfill this obligation, a Contracting Party may simply use diplomacy with another state that is committing mass acts of violence. A different Contracting Party may see armed intervention as a method of prevention. The deliberate use of vague language here suggests that it was done so that each states did not have to commit to actually doing anything to prevent genocide – it is included in the Convention simply because it reads well.

Furthermore, although a treaty is legally binding, it is well known that the U.N. does not have the means to enforce it. Although a state can legally be tried for failing to prevent genocide and punishing those who commit it, it is unlikely that the U.N. would the steps to do that. It would be impossible to try all of the parties who are signatories. Therefore the use of language in the Convention on the Punishment and Prevention of the Crime of Genocide is deliberately left vague so that there is no absolute or single obligation that the Contracting Parties have to fulfill.

–Beejal Ved

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Hiskey, Daven — Why Are Women Called “Sluts,” “Dames,” and “Broads?”

Hiskey, Daven. “Why Are Women Called Sluts, Dames, and Broads?” Today I Found Out RSS. 31 Aug. 2012. Web. 09 Feb. 2015

This article is written in response to a reader’s question: “Why are women sometimes called sluts, dames, and broads?  Where did these words come from?” The author objectively gives the original meaning of each word with examples of some of the first usages and then a timeline of when and how the words’ definitions began to change.

The exact origin of the first word, slut, is not determined, but the author speculates that it “may have come from the German schlutt, meaning “slovenly woman” or the Swedish slata, meaning “idle woman”. In his diary written in the late 17th century, Samuel Peyps uses the term slut when describing his housemaid: “Our little girl Susan is a most admirable slut, and pleases us mightily, doing more service than both the others and deserves wages better.” This is because the term “was commonly used with the original meaning, that of a ‘messy, dirty, or untidy’ woman or girl.” It was not until modern times that the word slut took on its well-known meaning as a slur towards “promiscuous” women.

The word dame popped up in the 13th century, as a French word meaning “wife / mistress,” which in turn came from the Latin domina, meaning “mistress of the house, lady.” The term was also synonymous with “female ruler.” However, Hiskey says, “Around the early 20th century in American English, dame started to be used as synonymous with the generic word woman and gradually over the course of the last century in American English has come to have derogatory connotations, despite its illustrious origins.”

Later in the 20th century, the word broad began being used to describe women, perhaps due to their “broad hips.” In the 20th century, broad was also slang for a meal ticket, and would later be used to refer to prostitutes in reference to them being “a pimp’s meal ticket.” According to Hiskey, the word “gradually changed somewhat in the century since with broad slowly coming to be less used as a derogatory term and more used just to be synonymous with ‘woman.’”  This change is evident in a quote from Frank Sinatra where he said “Calling a girl a ‘broad’ is far less coarse than calling her a ‘dame.’”

The article ends describing the recent movements where women have tried to “take back” the words slut and broad and put a more positive spin on the derogatory words.

The article by Hiskey is helpful in explaining the origins of harmful words which perpetuate violence against women. It raises the question as to why initially innocuous words used to describe women are constantly spun to be used against them as time progresses. It is almost as if women are not allow to be described in a positive light, such as with the original meaning of the word dame which was used to empower women. The grandiosity of that word was taken and instead used to denote ordinary women as if they could not be powerful or “female rulers.” It is also disturbing to learn that when being referred to as a broad a woman is in reality being called a “meal ticket,” as if she is nothing but another piece of meat. The word slut is especially prevalent in modern society to describe women deemed to be “promiscuous.” Based on the original definition of the word, it can be interpreted people see women’s sexuality as something dirty. However, the word slut is commonly used even if a woman is denying sexual advances, so perhaps people think women are dirty no matter what? Perhaps if people understood the origins of these words they would come to a better understanding of their connotations. It is especially interesting that women desire to “take back” these derogatory words. If women are trying to take back these words, it means we generally accept their current derogratory meanings.

The three words are used to demean women and keep them at a lower status than men. Apparently, being called a “woman” is too respectful, so some people found a way to take the pride out of language. The replacement words are damaging to a woman’s self-esteem and identity. The word slut is especially harmful in a modern context. The slur is an overused way to label a woman and make her feel shame for doing something a man would not be reprimanded for. Women will go to extreme lengths of inhibiting themselves, by such ways as choosing not to wear an outfit they like, or talking to certain people, especially men, just so that they will not be categorized as a “slut.” This is violent by keeping women from reaching their full potential. Every woman who has ever been called a “slut” is a living, breathing human being shut down by another person for doing something that person finds unacceptable.

–Ashley Stant

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