Systemic Bias and the Single Girl

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I sometimes call myself a spinster because it’s my word to use. I’m a grown woman, single by choice. Call me an aromantic. No, really, do so – it’s a word I’ve accepted after exploring the realm of asexuality and aromanticism, which get little attention in dialogue of sexual diversity and can be pathologized by simplified concepts of evolutionary biology. As I get older the prejudice against me as a single woman is only going to increase. What’s wrong with me that I can’t find a man? What traumatizing experience did I have that turned me off relationships? What is lacking in my physiology that hinders my biological drive for mating and partnership?

(The answer is nothing, by the way.)

I’m lucky enough to have a family that at least doesn’t speak openly about its opinions and prejudices against single women. I’m lucky to be able to work at a job that pays well enough to support myself. But those personal benefits aren’t present for everyone, and any disadvantage asexual or aromantic people might face is from systemic bias. It’s not only embedded in our culture, but written in stone in the law and applied to the economy that single people should face consequences for a lifestyle choice, no matter how healthy and natural the orientation away from sex and partnership actually is.

Culturally, it’s not hard for anyone to see how much value is placed on sex, romance, marriage, and offspring. All of those are implied in the word “family” (though small advances have been made towards greater acceptance of childfree couples or unmarried parents). Legally, everything becomes an inconvenient ambiguity when you don’t have a spouse to default as your next of kin. Tax laws are framed around marriage. Economically, most housing is designed for couples and families. Home prices are cashing in on the dual income standard. Newer developments have dual sinks in the bathroom and dual closets in the bedroom, or as many bathrooms as bedrooms assuming that there will be children living with parents. There are heterosexist implications as well, especially where same sex marriage and adoption are legally prohibited, and they tend to stick to the narrow definition of a nuclear family that doesn’t accommodate multi-generation households. The legal definitions of “family” are very subjective to our culture, and yet they’re applied in objective ways. We’re led to believe that it’s the natural way, and recognition or accommodation of any other family structure under the law is seen as unfair.

Sex and romance are ubiquitous in popular culture and the media. It’s what sells, and there’s a lot of money to be made off of not only ignoring but outright stigmatizing asexual and aromantic people. Characters portaryed as such are at best in the background with beta personalities, but they’re frequently the joke. A single person’s life without weekly dates and sexual adventures has no stories to tell, especially for women. Main characters who don’t have romantic interests are portrayed as psychologically broken, or it’s merely a symptom of an overarching mental condition, like the neuroatypical Sherlock, or sociopath Dexter who started out in a relationship that was part of an overall guise. Even those characters are white men.

In feminist critiques, sex and sexuality is ever present. It’s absolutely an important aspect of patriarchal structures and gender inequalities, and this overlaps with the stigma and structural barriers to single, asexual, and aromantic women (or all genders, really). But so much of popular feminist dialogue revolves very specifically and exclusively around heterosexual dynamics that occur within the context of romantic relationships, sexual desire, or sexualized behaviours. Other conversations within feminism are LGBT inclusive, and examine dynamics within same sex relationships, and the broader oppression of LGBT people and lives by the cissexist and heteronormative establishment. Again, this is very important to the overall discussion around the harm patriarchy imposes on individuals and their personhood, but it doesn’t invite asexual and aromantic people.

Even LGBT dialogue can turn their noses up at the voices of asexual and aromantic people. In the elaborated acronym LGBTTQIA, the A is often assumed to mean ally, and it’s specified as such even by some LGBT organizations. It gets very complicated when you include multiple dimensions of asexual and aromantic orientations, because while some people don’t want sex they might still be homoromantic, biromantic, or heteroromantic. Aromantic people might still be sexual to varying degrees – grey-sexual is a common term for someone somewhere between asexual and sexual (or allosexual, as it is often referred to). I’m sometimes sexually interested in men, making me hetero-grey-sexual, and beyond desire to have sex I still do experience aesthetic and physical attraction to men. This saves me from the stigma and persecution of homo- or bi- orientations, whether romantic or sexual. So how much of a place do I or people like me really have in the LGBTTQIA dialogue?

This is skimming the surface of a deep issue that permeates the institution of medicine, workplaces, money, religion, and social rites. It’s like a Freudian Inception – our society is so obsessed with sexual undertones that we base our understanding of existence on sexual undertones, and we see a lack of sex in life to be unhealthy no matter what the individual genuinely desires. Aromantics aren’t cold, emotionless people unable to maintain meaningful social relationships. Asexuals aren’t stunted adults who are missing some kind of hormone fundamental to basic health. It’s also not black and white – I mean, I literally used the word grey to describe my own sexuality – and actions that may or may not include sex or relationships don’t make an asexual or aromantic person a fraud. Sex and relationships are still a means of survival, and asexual and aromantic people are physically and mentally capable of participating as a compromise or in their best interest.

But since I won’t participate in romantic relationships, I face consequences in my everyday life. It’s easier to get by as a single woman here and now than in eras when financial independence and sexual freedoms were aggressively blocked off for my gender, and I’m grateful for that. But all things are not equal, in culture, in the economy, and in law. If I punch someone in the face for saying “Oh, you’ll find someone” too many times, I’ll be charged with assault. What’s the deal, huh?

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One Giant Leap for Womankind

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The title is an exaggeration – this doesn’t apply to the majority of women (and we should be glad for that), but it applies to the underlying misogyny that can affect any woman at any point in her life. It’s using sex as a means to dehumanize, for perverse reasons of power.

I’ve fallen far behind in catching up with Boardwalk Empire and I don’t know when, or if, I’m going to get back on that track. But the theme of the show – of the era of Prohibition in the United States of America and the way it enabled criminals and made alcohol problems worse – is relevant to this, just as it’s relevant to anti-drug laws. If you ban taboo behaviour you put it in the same arena as outright criminal, like violence and extortion and child abuse. Legalized alcohol means the industry is visible and can be regulated for quality control, and age restrictions can be imposed. If drugs were legalized the income made from them could be taxed, and the purchasing of them could also be taxed to contribute to social programs or law enforcement to control the damage substance use can inflict.

Now onto sex work. “Legalize. Unionize. Regulate. Tax.” I translated my stance on this to those four words a few years ago, as both what should change and in what order. The Supreme Court of Canada ruling against existing laws enforceable in the sex trade gives the Canadian government one year to revamp them into ways that aren’t contrary to the legal framework of Canada including its guaranteed freedoms and human rights codes.

First of all: brothels are illegal. Brothels are organized and contained environments in which the sex trade can be facilitated, and they can provide safer environments both for clients and for professionals. If brothels are legalized in the first step, the workers in them can unionize to ensure that they have a say in the conditions of their work. Their union can also work in conjunction with the brothel employers to provide benefits and services crucially needed by people currently involved in the illicit sex trade – addictions services, legal counsel to go through effective avenues of getting abusive people out of their lives, and family care services among many more useful resources to workers in the industry. Brothels are centralized and can be more easily regulated. Both clients and workers can be required to go through screening processes for health reasons to minimize risks that are hugely present in the illegal sex trade. Age limits can be better enforced when adults can work there legally. And prices can be controlled as well – much like with alcohol and cigarettes (and marijuana and perhaps other drugs if our governments get any sense knocked into them over the next five or ten years), imposing a vice tax on the services can generate valuable revenue to fund law enforcement against what will still be illegal. Sex crime enforcement can be better funded and focused on what are serious problems – child abuse, sexual assault, enslavement, human trafficking, and the rest of the array of crimes that are illegal in their own right outside of regulated sex work.

The world’s oldest profession is a tool of misogyny if it is illegal. Women’s sexuality is governed by the taboo, yet men can participate in these activities without any emasculation because much like in having a faithful wife and chaste daughters it is controlling the body and sexuality of a female as a practice of male power. That women’s groups are speaking against this ruling is surprising to me: feminists should unite in giving dignity to all women and not chastising those who by choice or necessity make their living from sexual services and skills. Male prostitutes can also assert their dignity when their practice is legitimized under the law. They often have the same problems of drug abuse and mental illness brought about by their own persecutions – perhaps by sexuality, by race, or by family abuse. They too are victims of the patriarchy, of being dominated by other men as a means of emasculation and establishment of power.

Lastly, and I will try to keep this contained into a few sentences as it’s a giant issue deeply and complexly woven into Canadian society and elsewhere in the colonized world, there is the contribution this can make to racial equality as well. Sex workers are disproportionately people of colour, of groups subjugated to dehumanizing abuse on a grand unspoken scheme. This is not by things inherent in their own cultures separate from the white supremacy that colonialism imposed. Part of the unionizing and regulating of a legal sex trade should involve supporting ways out of the business for people who never wished to work there. When it’s still illegal and conducted through organized crime, sex workers are prisoners; and much like in actual prisons, it’s very racially skewed. Support equality for sex workers. Support equality for all.

Recycle Brilliance

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Today is the first of my between-jobs unemployment, with tomorrow being the last one as the weekend for somebody who left one Monday to Friday job and will soon be starting another does not count. Actually, scratch that, “unemployment” for policy purposes means someone doesn’t have a job and is actively looking for one. I’m not actively looking for one anymore. I covered that shit when I was still employed.

But I digress. The real purpose of this is to hash out what I JUST POSTED ON TWITTER here, for all of you who for some reason don’t want to read my half-baked (no, not that half-baked – I sleep and eat crap enough as it is) ideas all day.

(Postscript on this one: granted, non-reproductive sexual pleasure is beneficial in times of scarcity or overpopulation, and this is how homosexuality makes evolutionary sense.)

(I think I meant “wrap your mind around that one” but I didn’t notice autocorrect’s error. Let’s roll with it.)

(It’s safe to presume I don’t like Richard Dawkins. As a human being.)

And finally…

(I really do like Bertrand Russell. He was the good kind of intellectual atheist.)

This was all thought up from scratch as I was eating cereal in bed ON A WEEKDAY as nobody has argued with me that female human lips are based around fitting a penis into them. You’re confusing one type of labia with the other. (Yes, “labium” is Latin for “lip” and “labia” is its plural form.) And I’m not even sure the other labia are about sticking the penis in so much as some kind of vulval curtains and/or skin to stretch in those last few inches when pushing out a baby.

I just tweeted these all a few minutes ago, but I thought they should be reproduced here in one stream. The added commentary in the paragraph above also couldn’t fit in 140 characters.

So you’re welcome. Follow me on Twitter to get all of the brilliance I don’t get around to re-posting here.

WTF Democracy Part 2

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A second issue with democracy: sex scandals.

My sexual morals are becoming looser – or at least more sympathetic – as political sex scandals continue to thrive.

That Anthony Weiner continued his technology-based adultery after resigning from congress with the first scandal (which in my opinion he shouldn’t have done – finish the term and let voters decide then if that was the deal-breaker) is only relevant in political terms because of the story in People magazine that he was a changed man. But he was under political pressure to put on that kind of PR because people cared about his sex life to begin with – and they shouldn’t have. He also shouldn’t have stupidly tweeted a picture of his landscape in underwear to someone, but that’s to be weighed against how well he’s served his constituents and how functional he is as a politician. That he was vocal and stood his ground with the people on so many things should be a bigger factor in evaluating his credentials as an elected public servant. That he first lied about the original Weiner Weiner scandal is something to take issue with, but again less important than the non-personal, impactful things he’s told the truth on when others didn’t.

And talking about his wife standing by him through this is really none of anyone’s business. If you think it reflects poorly on her character as weak and foolish then you should listen to a wider range of opinions to see if they sway or enlighten you in any way. His wife is an ambitious person with the career she’s embarked on, serving as an aide to Hilary Clinton when she was Secretary of State. There are a lot of comparisons you can make between her and Hilary Clinton. They’ve both stood by their cheating husbands under public scrutiny. You can speculate about whether this is just for show or make judgments on their strength of character (but I’m pretty sure the evidence would be against you if you think Clinton isn’t a strong woman because she stuck with her husband) but that is just your speculation. And you’re not looking at an alternative answer for why there is still marital solidarity on the surface, and maybe even still at the core of their relationship: it’s an open relationship most strongly tied by factors other than sex.

There was a recent documentary series on Bill Clinton that I only got to watch a few minutes of, but it was on his earlier life and the beginning of his political career, including how he met, married, and worked with Hilary Rodham. There was clearly a passion for politics and principles and change that lured these two to each other and solidified their relationship. Bill of course has a reputation of another passion that lures him to others but that might not be a problem with Hilary. They may have come to an understanding at some point early on, long before the entire country knew about them, that keeps their shared principles and political drives as the primary bond in their marriage. Open marriages are real. They can function. And it seems that people who enter public office or who have the ambition to work their way up to be a high-end public servant just might have more important things to base their marriage on than sex. Hilary may have been a mentor to Huma Abedin in more than just a political role, and Huma should be evaluated from her own career instead of her choice to stay with her husband.

Moving on: Elliot Spitzer. Another shamed New York politician who resigned from a sex scandal looking to take office (a much more boring office) in the NYC elections. He resigned as governor of New York for two reasons: 1) Albany sucks and 2) he was caught with prostitutes. He was forgiven enough to get a gig as a news commentator on CNN and whatever else he’s done with his career since. Lying and covering things up again is a bigger problem than being with prostitutes in and of itself, but what matters most to me is that he is complacent with prostitution being outlawed and stigmas remaining harsher on women who are prostitutes than men who are clients of them. Prostitution should be legalized, unionized, regulated, and taxed to turn it into a profession that contributes to the economy and can maintain healthy and safe environments for sex workers. The adulterous aspects of people like Spitzer using services should, well, see above.

I will admit that on Real Time with Bill Maher last week, Rula Jebreal made a fair comment that adultery and other acts that would cause public scandal affect political suitability for candidates because of their susceptibility for extortion. This is a very plausible consequence, although I would argue the solution is to stop ruining politicians’ careers because of it. Extortion leads to fraud, embezzlement, and cronyism to meet the demands of those manipulating high political leaders, but even without sex scandals that may have happened anyway. Former Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi did all sorts of corrupt things as the megalomaniac millionaire and has been tried and convicted of fraud AND paying for sex with a minor. If a politician is charged with a criminal act, tried and found guilty, THAT is the kind of scandal that should void his career. (Sadly, in Berlusconi’s case, it really hasn’t.) He’s said and done things that expose how he’s unfit for public service – Il Duce apologist, tax evasion, cronyism including getting his mistress in office – and that’s separate from the reasons his wife sought divorce and made a spectacle of it. But still, with this exposure of character, the public voted for him because he refused to resign. Perhaps the same thing would’ve happened with Weiner as a congressman and Spitzer as a governor.

Mark Sanford, former Governor of South Carolina who went missing on a walk down the Appalachian Trail that later turned out to be a woman in Argentina, got elected into public office again this year. His wife didn’t stand by him. He never apologized for falling in love with another woman and cheating on his wife while in office. He’s also a Republican, as opposed to Weiner and Spitzer, and got re-elected. Berlusconi is also a right-of-centre politician (as a Mussolini apologist would be) and has been re-elected despite scandal. Why is it that the supposedly more accepting and liberal side of the political spectrum gets in bigger shit for this behaviour than others?

On a final short local note of this long run-on sentence, I’d like to bring up a local example. Pro-business Winnipeg mayor Sam Katz got divorced from the mother of his two children while in office then remarried someone decades younger than him. It was a bit of a local scandal, but he hasn’t resigned and I don’t think he lost any supporters for that. He has also been under scrutiny for conflict-of-interest practices with his own businesses and does things for his wealthy buddies instead of the public he’s supposed to serve, so his private life should have nothing to do with people’s opinion of him as a mayor. It certainly isn’t an issue with me and why I don’t want him in office.

Alright, wrapping it up – expecting elected officials to be morally pure instead of caring about their corruption and other political practices in conflict with things that actually affect the public isn’t using democracy very well. It’s holding them to the standards of being without sin, holy and pious, and therefore someone whom a Western Christian-based nation can worship like in absolute monarchies where the rulership is not determined by public interest but appointment from God. It’s not much of a democracy when the empowered people don’t affect the political goings-on but just shame people like Puritans calling for witches to be burnt. Don’t let their sex lives distract you from what elected officials are trying to do to your sex lives – and freedoms and dignity and body in general.

Winnipegication

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I made a spur of the moment decision on my next series to watch – Californication. It was available on Netflix and something about the style of David Duchovny’s hair made it appealing to me. I’m most of the way through the second season and I quite like the show.

It’s like Sex and the City for men. (Coincidentally the two series share an actor, Evan Handler, the bald stocky Jewish guy who somehow keeps managing to land roles in heavily sexual sitcoms.) Obviously this is not in New York, but on the other coast – in L.A., hence the name of the show. The comedy is the conflict that comes out of sexual promiscuity and the strain it puts on real relationships. Using the impression from these shows, giant metropolises (metropoles?) like New York and Los Angeles have a lot of casual, practically anonymous sex. And it makes sense, with the giant populations and moral reputations of these escapes from the “real America”.

What appeals to me about Californication is the bad luck of a big city turning out like a small town. I can relate to that living in Winnipeg, where everyone you meet independently already knows someone you know, and you can’t escape gossip circles if you misbehave or something hilariously embarassing happens. I can relate – well, more specifically, my self-conscious anxieties can relate – to the troubles of everyone knowing someone who knows anyone you do. (Double entendre – interpret as you like.) What I can’t relate to is the short-lived embarassment with no lasting shame.

At least L.A. has the culture where there is no shame. It’s why there are 10 million people in and around there. In Winnipeg we have to apologize for everything, and casual encounters – or even early dating stages of budding relationships – bring about a lot of “sorry”s to friends and partners. It’s almost as impossible for me to escape these existing networks as it is for me to escape myself. What’s worse – going out there, or staying at home?