One reader's rave

"Thanks for the newspaper with your book review. I can’t tell you how impressed I am with this terrific piece of writing. It is beautiful, complex, scholarly. Only sorry Mr. Freire cannot read it!" -- Ailene

Help the Honey Badgers in their fight for freedom of speech and thought!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Not "Off the Top of My Head"

Rather, a post brought to my attention by someone on BiUnity's discussion list gave me the chance to point out something I've known about for a long time but don't get enough opportunity to mention. The occasion was a blog posting by satirist Jon Swift, commenting on a posting by conservative blogger Rod Dreher:

Rod Dreher was shocked by the story of a Texas man whose wife and children were slaughtered by his daughter and her friends. But he wasn't shocked by the brutal murder itself. Murders happen all the time. Big deal. What shocked him was a passing remark by the father who survived the attack by Erin, his little murderess. After he moved his family from the small Texas town of Celeste (pop. 800) to the liberal Emory (pop. 1200) his daughter was subject to the horrors of big city debauchery. "Emory has a lot of bisexual kids; it's like it was almost cool to be bisexual. One of the first things that happened was some girl wanted to be Erin's little girlfriend. And I was like, 'That ain't happenin'.' "

Dreher was understandably shocked by this revelation. "This is a tiny East Texas town -- and there's a bisexual culture in one of them, among the teenagers?" he wrote. "WTF? What do I not get about teenage life these days? What do I not get about the cultural air kids breathe? I am so not going to give my children over to this culture, if I can help it." If for some reason Dreher's children decide to murder him, though I can't think of any reason why they would off the top of my head, at least he'll go to his grave comforted by the thought that he saved them from the evils of bisexuality.

I read Dreher's post and added the following comment:

Rod, your surprise appears to stem from the erroneous belief -- which, interestingly, is pretty common on both the Right and the Left -- that human beings are not really animals but instead are shaped entirely by our culture. (This is sometimes called "cultural determinism," though I prefer to say cultural reductionism to distinguish it from philosophical determinism, which does not imply reductionism.) If you understood that human behavior is largely shaped by our biology, then you wouldn't be surprised by thriving bisexuality in a small town, since it's well established that bisexuality exists in countless species throughout nature (for instance see the book Biological Exuberance), where culture in the human sense, and certainly media culture, is presumably not a factor. The main difference between small towns and big cities, I think, is that behaviors regarded as "deviant" are more likely to be swept under a rug there.

And this may be germane to why the brutal mass murder occurred. The father makes clear that he and his wife would go to considerable lengths to "protect" their daughter from any message telling her that it's okay to do anything they consider "deviant." And there's considerable clinical evidence to suggest that children raised in such a repressive family atmosphere are more likely to develop violent fixations to which their sexuality becomes tied ("vandalized lovemaps" as pediatric psychiatrist John Money puts it). So the violent outcome in this case may actually be an indirect consequence of the same attitudes and parenting style that made them so alarmed about "bisexual chic."

Eric Hamell

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Few Thoughts on the Vagina Monologues

In the process of creating the previous post, I perused the Wikipedia article about The Vagina Monologues and was rather surprised that it said some pro-sex feminists had described them as sex-negative or male-bashing. I had, in fact, been worried before seeing them that this would turn out to be true, but I didn't find them that way at all.

Notably, at a couple points the characters, who I understand to be based on real women, say rather apologetically that their stories aren't "politically correct" -- like the woman who explains that she didn't like her vagina till she met a man who loved to ogle it. It may be considered a sad comment on the ideological climate in some circles, that they would feel the need to make such apologies. But they tell their stories anyway, never mind their "incorrectness" -- and Eve Ensler, the Monologues' creator, didn't censor them. It seems to me that this amounts to an implicit criticism of "PC," not an endorsement of it.

Eric Hamell

P.S. In fact, it occurs to me that the piece I mentioned above, "Because He Liked to Look at It," not only is not male-bashing but appears as a rather direct challenge to the negative critique of "male gaze" that is so central for many idealist feminists.

Squeaky Voices 'R' Us

I just had the first occasion in quite a while to read a children's book -- and probably the first time ever that I read an entire book aloud, since the first book I was able to read.

That's because, after attending a performance of The Vagina Monologues last month, I volunteered to read a book-on-tape as part of the Penn Women's Center's Week of Service. I just came from doing so. The book was Squizzy the Black Squirrel: A Fabulous Fable of Friendship, written by Chuck Stone with illustrations by Jeannie Jackson. It will be one of 35 books-on-tape to be donated by PWC to a women's and children's shelter run by Women Against Abuse.

I volunteered this particular form of service because reading aloud is one of the things I'm good at. And I chose that particular book because squirrels were my favorite animals when I was little. (Although, when my mother told me she'd run out of bedtime stories and I would have to invent a character for her to tell new ones about, I made it a zebra named Stripey. Hence my username.)

Eric Hamell

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Support Ethics Education for Freedom

The Woodhull Freedom Foundation recently forwarded this from the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S.--


Tell Superintendent Ed Turlington: Teach Respect!
Reinstate Teacher Debra Taylor!
A number of organizations have been monitoring a school controversy in Grandfield, OK where a teacher was recently suspended for teaching The Laramie Project, an award-wining play about the murder of Matthew Shepard, a young man in Wyoming who was killed because he was gay.
Debra Taylor, who teaches the Ethics and Street Law class, was using pieces of the play to help her students examine how hatred and intolerance can be justified by attitudes within a community, a church, or in the home. Midway through the unit, Superintendent Ed Turlington told her to stop teaching the material. She held a mock funeral for the play to give her students closure and was subsequently suspended. She has now accepted a resignation agreement, as she feared that she would otherwise be fired.
Her students are standing behind the play and their teacher. “She always taught us to speak our minds and have our voices heard,” said one student. We need to tell Superintendent Turlington that Debra Taylor is a dedicated teacher who is willing to confront issues of respect and acceptance for all people regardless of sexual orientation and that she deserves to be immediately reinstated.

Tell Superintendent Turlington: Teach Respect! Reinstate Teacher Debra Taylor!
Advocates in Oklahoma, Texas, and surrounding states are strongly
encouraged to call or email in support.
TAKE ACTION NOW…call Superintendent Turlington at
580-479-5237 or send an email to and tell him:
“Debra Taylor did not deserve this kind of treatment. Young people need dedicated teachers willing to confront issues of respect and acceptance for people of all sexual orientations. She should be commended for creating a safe space for all her students and should be reinstated immediately.”

Ricci Joy Levy, Executive Director
The Woodhull Freedom Foundation
1325 Massachusetts Avenue
Suite 700
Washington, DC 20005
p: 202.628.3333
f: 202-330-5282
Direct Line: 610.212.5555

Affirming Sexual Freedom as a Fundamental Human Right.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Another Lie Gets Repeated on NPR

This time it's the one about the Sandinistas' having supposedly lost when they "finally" let the Nicaraguan people vote. Here's what I just wrote Morning Edition:

In your story this morning about the upcoming Salvadoran election, you said, "No leftist candidate has ever won a presidential election in Central America." This is false. The Sandinistas won Nicaragua's elections in 1984.

Perhaps you forgot about them because the US government refused to recognize their legitimacy. But independent observers called them free and fair. In fact, as documented in Ed Herman and Noam Chomsky's book Manufacturing Consent, they were marked by better guarantees of ballot secrecy and other prerequisites of legitimacy, than were the much-touted elections held in other, US-backed states in the region during the same period.

Eric Hamell

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Counter Ageist "Warnings" Before Broadcasts

In the first post I made to my other blog, SexFreedomAction, I listed several "everyday things you can do to combat sex-negativity." Another kind of "everyday action" against sex-negativity is prompted by "warnings" like the one I heard at the start of a segment on Weekend Edition Sunday, saying it was "inappropriate for children" because it dealt with sex. I sent them the following message:

Your story concerning a novel about an SS officer opened with a warning that the segment was "inappropriate for children." This statement was false and dangerous.

There is no evidence that information about sex is harmful to children. On the contrary, there is considerable evidence that hiding such information puts them at increased risk for psychosexual problems, and makes them more vulnerable to abuse.

If you feel the need to insure yourselves against complaints by erotophobic listeners, may I suggest you adopt the approach taken by Ira Glass of This American Life? When sexual subject matter is coming up, he advises listeners that what follows "mentions the existence of sex." This warning allows people to indulge their irrational fears without according them any legitimacy.

If you heard this segment too but didn't think to register an objection, it's not too late. (And if you didn't hear it you may be able to online at Sadly, there are sure to be plenty of future opportunities to do so as well.

Eric Hamell