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29 July 2013

"techniques of interrogation"

I'm reading about Brazil this week in my history class. We're focused on the human rights violations during the military regime from 1964-1985. One of the books we've read from for this section is A Mother's Cry: A Memoir of Politics, Prison, and Torture under the Brazilian Military Dictatorship, by Lini Penna Sattamini, the mother of a man who was tortured by that dictatorship. And then I read this:

"U.S. policy to Brazil shifted significantly only when President Jimmy Carter (1977-1980) took office and prioritized human rights standards in foreign policy considerations. By then, human rights had become a household term in the United States, and Amnesty International had been recognized as a world leader in the campaign against the use of torture. Lina Penna Sattamini's call that we must never forget is not merely a convocation to remember the past. It is also an appeal to denounce the ongoing uses of those techniques of interrogation that almost took her son's life."

Ok, admittedly, there's a lot wrong with all that. Like, of course the US didn't want to distance themselves from Brazil because of human rights violations - we were sponsoring them! Duh. We could start there and talk for hours about how f*ed up that all is. But that's not what this post is about; I'll leave that discussion for the essay I have to write for class.

This post is about my personal beef with the above quote.
- Yeah, I'm that important (to myself).

I've mentioned this once or thrice in this blog before, but I don't talk about it a lot. There's not much to talk about, really, but if you aren't in on the secret, you might disagree. See, I used to be an interrogator for the US Army. It wasn't that long ago, and it wasn't for that long. I was in five years (and one month, twenty days, but who's counting?), and only did one deployment. I was a Sergeant when I got out, but I was just a Specialist when I was deployed. In civilian-ese, that means I was pretty low-ranking. That worked out in my favor, as I saw it. The way the Army works, the higher you get in rank, the more time you spend behind a desk instead of doing the fun stuff. During my one year in Iraq, I conducted over 300 interrogations. (Whoa! Sounds like a lot of yelling, eh? Not really.) 

So anyway... Whenever I hear interrogation being conflated with torture, I get a little testy.

I'm not going to address specific historical instances of the US' involvement in or use of torture, because I can only speak for my own experience. I know full well that, historically, we're not necessarily the good guys. I mean, see above for goodness' sake - we were teaching the Brazilians how to do it!

What I am going to address is this (repeat after me):
Torture is not a technique of interrogation. 
Torture is torture. 

And if we could just get that through our thick national skulls, it would settle a lot of these pesky "enhanced interrogation techniques" questions that we just can't seem to figure out.

Interrogation is a methodical questioning of a subject, to get information.
Even the dictionary agrees with me!

There is NOTHING about 'causing harm for the sake of getting them to say something' - because, you know, torture doesn't even work as a form of interrogation (occasionally and in very specific short-term situations, sure, but, just - no, for any number of reasons, it doesn't work). It works great as a scare tactic, because it's f*ing scary.

Wanna know what I've found works best in an interrogation? Talking to people as though they were actually people. Being honest with them. Being kind. If they come in there thinking you're an enemy, show them you're human, too. That works really well. In my book, the "enhanced interrogation techniques" involved me being kind and bringing the subject a fatty cake.*

*Fatty cakes, in civilian-ese, are any of the American delicacies which fall into the "Twinkies & crap" category.

25 July 2013

Escondido Falls

A few evenings ago, from the foot of the falls...

This morning, my back to the falls, looking out over the trail.

Little ferns, but they totally look like a mini pine forest!

So much beauty, so little time... 
I love Arizona.

24 July 2013

shopping for crafty goodies!

My mom and I went to a discount fabric store today.

We had no plan, no list.

A dozen or so yards later, we emerged victims of the Shopping Disease victorious despite the knowledge that we had skipped an entire section of the store. It was awesome.

I'm now well-stocked to do more sewing. I'm also ready to make more jewelry, because I did that supply run last Sunday. ("Oooooooo pretties!" was heard in the bead section of the Red Buffalo Exchange in Tombstone; it might have been me.)

Oh! AND I finished the apple wood rune set I was making - pictures to come! - and I'm starting on a beautiful red leather bag for them. Very excited!

23 July 2013

Dos Erres, Guatemala: an essay on the connection between language and violence

So, this isn't my best academic work. Not even close. As you can see from all the notes at the end, my brain wanted to take this farther. It's been a battle to complete it without turning it into a massive research project. But it's overdue, so I'm turning it in and moving on to the next piece. 

When we read about any of the atrocities humans have committed against other humans, one question dominates our thoughts: How could human beings do these things to other human beings? The answer, in small part, lies in the words we use. In the case of Dos Erres, Guatemala, the words killed, and words allowed killing to continue.
The descriptions given by the Guatemalan soldiers', of their training and culture in the Guatemalan Kaibiles (whose job and training is similar to that of the US Army Special Forces), gives the first hints to how words have shaped events. In the broadcast, “465: What Happened at Dos Erres,” from This American Life, two soldiers from the unit which perpetrated the Dos Erres Massacre are interviewed. During this interview, one of them describes the training of the unit. In this description, any military person might recognize the themes from their own training: each level or branch of military training has a sense of pride in itself which is encouraged from the top down, and inculcated from the bottom up. This pride is not based on being the most ‘humane’ unit; it is based on being the most effective unit in their missions. Effectiveness, in a military mission and within the military culture, is related to completion of the task, but it is also related to brutality in the sense that the ‘best’ soldiers are thought of as those who are able to divorce themselves from emotion – a weakness when it shows – and do the task, no matter the obstacles. Brutality is also encouraged in that the one emotion which is not considered weakness is anger, and violence as an expression of anger is acceptable, even a sign that the person is fully engaged with the military culture. At its best, this culture provides governments with a cohesive unit that is willing and able to act decisively to complete a mission. At its worst, a culture like this does not allow for the humane aspects of humanity; within its worst actions, an act of humanity is revolutionary, and takes revolutionary courage. Any counteraction makes the actor stand out as ‘against’ the unit – a very difficult and dangerous place for an individual to stand.
Euphemisms are integral to how we – how humans – talk about these events. In this case, the euphemisms are covering the horrific nature of what the Guatemalan government – the government which the US put in place and encouraged – has done to its own people. But the importance of euphemisms in this event goes beyond how we talk about it now; in no small way, euphemisms allowed the genocide to happen. The use of euphemisms begins with the training of nearly every military in the world, which encourages one unit to stand taller than others, and develops a troop mentality which places anyone not in the unit, below the unit – a less productive, less worthwhile human being.1 (This is a hypothesis is supported by research conducted in the studies of the psychology of warfare.2) Incrementally, the stain of ‘otherness’ becomes more pronounced as the social distance from the soldier’s unit becomes greater. As the ‘otherness’ becomes more pronounced, euphemisms for groups of people become more pronounced as well. As language influences thought (and vice versa), speaking of other people as lesser, provides a psychological basis for treating other people as lesser. This is how hate crimes happen; this is how genocides happen; this is how the atrocities committed by our own troops, happened. 3
In Guatemala, the ‘otherness’ which became euphemized was drawn most prominently along racial lines. Indians by any name were seen and treated as lesser humans, or as Rigoberta Menchu described, as less than a dog (Menchu, 2010, p109). Menchu’s testimony in fact is so laden with the effects of racism that it is, I think, impossible to select any one chapter from her book which does not show some reflection of the racism which Indians in Guatemala faced; her comparison of her treatment with that of a landino family dog is just one of the more direct and obvious examples. For the military commanders, then, it would have been a simple thing to use the racism already present in Guatemalan society to instigate the soldiers’ willingness to treat Indians inhumanely – even for those soldiers who were Indians themselves.4 In all likelihood, the commanders would not have even made that choice consciously – it was ingrained in them, too, though they certainly saw things differently than Menchu and other Indians did. Ricoardo Falla, in The San Francisco Massacre, July 1982 (p. 374), elucidates it this way: “Though variations occur, the basic truth remains. Some testimonies pass through second and third hand sources, but they should not be dismissed because some data is mistaken or numbers changed.” There are conflicts in the testimonies of the Guatemalan people; the truth remains, that their culture was so violently divided by race, that the massacres were in some ways, only the next step.
The Guatemalan culture was full of euphemisms which softened the reality of their government’s war on its people. People weren’t “murdered” by their government, they were “disappeared” – a description which clouds the murders with mystery, as though the people were just gone, not murdered. From the perspective of the persecuted, softening the reality probably was beneficial. They didn’t need their words to remind them of the horrors they were facing, and the mind can only take so much. However, when these events were communicated to the rest of the world, euphemisms worked to soften the perception of violence happening in Guatemala. American people (for example) were hearing that it was bad, but not that it was violent, horrifying, or atrocious. It was easier, then, for foreign people to look away, to not demand some sort of intervention. Of course, the American people didn’t know how involved their government already was, or how their government was involved. The layers upon layer of subterfuge concerning American involvement in the Guatemalan genocide acted euphemistically; words, intentionally softened and twisted, masked the reality in Guatemala. We talked about “rural pacification” (Intent to Destroy, Guatemalan Reader, p 362), and the chances that “repression” might be successful (We Cannot Confirm nor Deny, Guatemalan Reader, p379). The Guatemalan embassy’s letter to the US Secretary of State (October 22, 1982; Guatemalan Reader, p 383), even as it decries rumors of atrocities committed by their government, highlights their “civil defense patrols” – a tidy euphemistic name for the groups of Indians forced to commit acts of violence and vandalism against their neighbors.
Looking specifically at the Dos Erres Massacre, we can delineate the ways in which euphemisms worked throughout this event. In the instructions given to the Kaibiles, the village of Dos Erres was described as a communist enclave that was aiding the rebels; the village was positioned against the Guatemalan government and was helping the same rebels who had killed some soldiers. That wasn’t true, but the Kaibiles didn’t know that. Though this wasn’t specifically a use of euphemisms, it provides the basis of anger in the minds of the Kaibiles through the use of intentionally inaccurate descriptions. The Kaibiles shared the embarrassment and retributive passion sparked by hearing of the deaths of their fellow soldiers – a lesser group of soldiers, but still higher in rank than non-soldiers. This same ranking might have discouraged the Kaibiles from hearing the denials of the villagers; when a lesser person declaims what a higher person has said, the higher person is believed. It’s easy to imagine that the Kaibiles’ perception of the villagers as lying about the supposed aid to rebels might have increased the Kaibiles’ anger and desire for retribution. The next step – the escalation of anger into violence – was already part of the culture and training of the Kaibiles.
Fifteen years later, it was the Kaibiles’ cook, Favio Jerez, who proved to be the “weak link” in the unit’s code of silence; he was the first to confess. (Habiba Nosheen, What Happened at Dos Erres) His ‘weakness’ that allowed him to break that code and confess was that he had never been a full member of the Kaibiles’ culture, having not completed more than two weeks of the training. Favio, spared the indoctrination of Kaibiles culture, was able to see through the euphemisms to the humans on the other side.


1 As a former soldier, I want to make it clear that what I’m describing is the worst case scenario; it is the most extreme form of the mindset which lies at the base of military cohesion development. In most cases, the mindset I’m describing is not elevated above that of light-hearted teasing of other military units as being ‘less hardcore.’ Certainly, any unit I’ve ever served with has retained its culture of humanity, tempering the degree of dehumanization to the level of semantics – a far cry from a mindset which would allow for the destruction of another human being.

2 Lt. Col. Grossman, author of On Killing: the Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society (2009), does a compelling disposition on how this works, going into far more detail than I have the space for here. See Section IV – An Anatomy of Killing: All Factors Considered, in particular, for relevant discussion. Lt. Col. Grossman includes a selected bibliography of his references, which is no less of a comprehensive resource for being ‘selected.’

3 The examples which come to mind immediately are Matthew Shepard (hate crime), the genocides in Rwanda and, of course, Guatemala, the human rights violations at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq (crimes of American troops), and stories of war crimes by American troops in Vietnam and Afghanistan. Each and every one of the perpetrators in any of these crimes, was likely able to act as they did because they didn’t see the victims as being of equal humanity.

4 People who have been bullied, are more likely to bully others. There are numerous resources for this; Olweus (2013) is one.


Embassy Guatemala. "We Cannot Confirm nor Deny." In The Guatemala reader history, culture, politics, edited by Greg Grandin, 378-385. Durham N.C.: Duke University Press, 2011.

Falla, Ricardo. "The San Francisco Massacre, July 1982." In The Guatemala reader history, culture, politics, edited by Greg Grandin, 373-377. Durham N.C.: Duke University Press, 2011.

Grandin, Greg. "Intent to Destroy." In The Guatemala reader history, culture, politics, edited by Greg Grandin, 361-365. Durham N.C.: Duke University Press, 2011.

Grossman, Dave. On killing: the psychological cost of learning to kill in war and society. Boston: Little, Brown, 2009.

Nosheen, Habiba, and Ira Glass. "What Happened At Dos Erres." This American Life. (accessed July 19, 2013).

Olweus, Dan. "School Bullying: Development and Some Important Challenges." Annual Review of Clinical Psychology 9 (2013): 751-780. (accessed July 22, 2013).

22 July 2013

the Dos Erres Massacre

I'm researching the Dos Erres Massacre in Guatemala right now, for a history class. It happened in the early 80s.

It's fucking horrific. And it's just one part of a larger horrific series of events, that we (the USA) pretty much put into action, encouraged/funded, all while publicly denouncing it. Cuz that's how we roll. (It's fucking disgusting.)

Did you know about this? I didn't. My history education up til now really, really sucked.

Here's an NPR radio broadcast (good old Ira Glass) about it, published just last year:

I'll post my expanded thoughts on this later, when I'm done with them. 

preliminary thoughts on gender after my hysterectomy

I feel stronger; I feel whole in a way I never have before; I feel more complete, less scattered.

I think this is an unusual reaction to having an organ removed.

Yesterday I went to Tombstone (Arizona) with my mom, a friend of mine, and our kids. Walking through town, I felt myself standing taller than usual. My core felt reinforced; my core felt as though I needed no reinforcement.

I feel as though the divide between the female and the male inside me has receded. I am neither, or I am both, or I am a woman - I don't really, truly know. But the conflict is gone, regardless. I am me.

Archer says the timbre of my voice has dropped; I speak more readily and more directly. To him, I sound more masculine, only minus the grumpiness that often comes along with my masculinity.

I don't feel particularly masculine, now. I only feel strong. 

18 July 2013

"Even the Rain"

Have you seen this movie? 

It's about the Water War in Bolivia, which happened exploded in Bolivia in early 2000.

Yeah, I hadn't heard of it. With any luck, you're better educated than I am.

I just wrote a brief essay about this, for a class. Now I'm going to proselytize and tell everyone that they should watch it, because it was a) well done, in my opinion, and b) a serious eye-opener for me. I think it might open some other people's eyes, too.

The movie's available on Netflix (streaming), or you can buy it on amazon. There's a crappy version (which happens to not have English subtitles, if - like me - you need those) on youtube, too. Seriously, check it out.

Here's what I wrote about it, since I know you're curious:

There is a recurring theme in the history of Bolivia since their colonization by Europeans; it is a theme of racial superiority representative of the hegemonic ideologies of the colonizers. This theme is artfully highlighted in the film Even the Rain (2011), which follows the efforts of a fictional film crew attempting to create a dramatic documentary of Christopher Colombus’ invasion and subjugation of the Taino people. To save on the cost of production, the film crew is working in Bolivia, where a casting decision leads them right into the middle of the Water War, a very real internal political crisis that occurred in Bolivia in early 2000. Using this backdrop, the viewers are led to see the connections between Columbus’ actions, and the actions of the foreign film crew, and the Bolivian government.
The director of this film crew has striven to use Columbus’ exact language (from his journals and letters), so that they might remain as close to the reality of the Spaniards’ actions as possible. Early in the movie, a scene begins (at 0:25:47) in which we see the film crew acting out a speech given by Father Montesinos, who was, as the director says, “the first voice of conscience against an empire (0:29:19).” Father Montesinos railed – against the Spaniards’ treatment of the Native peoples, demanding that the violent and dehumanizing practices (including not just slavery, but the particularly brutal methods of enslavement and debasement for which Columbus’ occupation of the Bahamas is now known. Sandwiching the scene with Father Montesinos’ speech, we see what’s going on in Bolivia at the time: the beginnings of the Water War, when communal wells were being locked against the people who’d dug them, and the first of the public protests.  
In that first protest scene, we find the actor cast as the lead Native role, “Daniel,” leading the protests. Cinegraphically, Daniel is set up as the ‘first voice of conscience’ in the Bolivian Water War.
While Daniel is clearly aligned on the ‘side’ of the Natives, and the Bolivian government – which sought out and supported the privatization of their country’s water – is clearly aligned with Columbus’ ideology, the film crew itself is torn. In their conversations with each other, it’s clear they are sympathetic to Columbus’ victims, and to the impoverished Bolivians (despite the crew’s disagreement over what their involvement should be, their sympathies are nonetheless made clear over the course of the movie). However, the conflict over what their role should actually be comes out early, and in such a way that they are forced to consider how they might be involved on a grander scale, intentionally or not. At 0:32:40, we see the executive producer, “Costa,” helping the actor cast as Columbus to rehearse his lines. The actor’s lines roughly quote a letter from Columbus, written in 1493 from the Bahamas (the difference in the lines and the letter is so slight, that it is likely to be only a difference of translation). He is speaking of the Taino people. “They are so naive and generous with what they have,” say the lines, “that they never refuse anything. Whatever they have, if you ask them for it, they will give it to you, inviting the person to share it with them... With just fifty men, you could subdue them, and make them do whatever you want.”  Then, in the very next scene (beginning at 0:35:05), Costa condescendingly tries to convince Daniel to stay out of the protests, then discusses the low cost of production while on a phone call, saying, “two fucking dollars a day and they feel like kings.” Moments later, the audience it reminded of what Costa has just said when Daniel reiterates Costa’s words back to him: “two fucking dollars, no? And they’re content.” Daniel forces Costa to see his own condescension, by repeating Costa’s words back in English – which Costa had clearly assumed Daniel would not understand. These scenes, and these words, all illuminate the disregard the ruling classes may have for the ruled classes, whether it be Spaniards versus Natives, rich versus poor, or employer versus employee.
The disregard humans hold for ‘others’ is probably more universal than what ‘haves’ hold for the ‘have nots,’ but it is in relations of power that these prejudices are most evident. In Even the Rain, it is the conversation between the film crew and a governing official, who appears to be the Mayor of the city, that the extent and nature of the government’s disregard for its citizens is fully elucidated. The scene begins at 0:51:58 and opens with the chants of protestors echoing in the background. “A little domestic row,” the presumed Mayor says, “Nothing for you to worry about.” One of the actors responds by comparing the scenario to the infamous “let them eat cake” of Marie Antoinette; of course this is an escalation, prompting the Mayor to defend his administration’s actions. His defense, though spoken in various terms, ultimately rests on the supposed racial inferiorities of the “Indians” he blames for causing the unrest – even as he references the “long history of exploitation” of Bolivian Native peoples – and his listeners are intended to share his implied racial superiority. He characterizes them as primitive, stone-throwers in the global economy. “It’s the cult of victim versus modernity,” he says. That statement calls to mind the goals of Columbus and other explorers, who sought to ‘bring civilization to the barbarians’ they encountered. It was thought though, that any Native peoples found were too barbarous, too cognitively ill-equipped, to truly reach ‘civilization’ at the level of the Europeans. The Mayor says as much, saying that if they were allowed, “these Indians [would] drag us back to the Stone Age.”
Even the Rain shows how the behavioral patterns created by the actions of the dominant governing bodies in Bolivia are representative of the same hegemonic ideologies under which European colonizers operated in their ‘discovery’ of the Americas. The overlapping stories keenly illustrated the racial themes which have survived hundreds of years in the histories of Bolivia and much of the Americas. The viewer is forced to ask – what happens next? The dust settled and the government of Bolivia was forced to reconsider privatizing their water, but is this progress? It seems that, given the country’s history (then and since), no real lesson has been learned. The heart of the problems, illustrated so well in Even the Rain, have not yet been acknowledged, and thus will continue to plague Bolivia.

Christopher Columbus: The Untold Story. (n.d.). Retrieved July 16, 2013, from
Bollain, I. (Director). (2011). También la lluvia [Motion picture]. Bolivia: Image Entertainment.


I've been holding back.
I made myself catch up on my homework before I posted a blog.
           ^That's something to be proud of, eh?

I've had a post brewing since before I left the hospital.

I went in Monday morning for my surgery, got out on Thursday. Why so long? Well, I kept running fevers at night. The first painkiller they put me on was morphine. Whoa. Big mistake. It didn't actually touch my pain, but it sure did a number on my stomach. Ugh. Let's just skip over that, shall we? They switched me to percocet, and things got better from there. So I came home. Whoohoo!

I love being home.

Before I came home, I had a moment I knew I would write about.

I was laying in the hospital bed, doing a whole lot of nothing. But that's not the important part. What struck me was this: I was happy.

I was happy.

The ever-present undercurrent of depression - wasn't present.

Whoa - didn't want to get my hopes up. Maybe this was post-op elation, or post-morphine relief, or maybe it was just the percocet. No, no I knew better. I've had surgery before. I've had percocet before. The undercurrent has never left. Still. I kept it to myself.

And it happened two more times: in these little moments with nothing going on, I realized I was happy.

At home, I confided in Archer that this was happening. He said percocet is actually kinda a depressant, so it's not likely to be a result of that. I don't know about percocet being a depressant (not that I don't believe him), but I know that I've taken percocet for my back pain many times over the years, and I've never felt a difference in my depression from it. I've never felt a real difference in my depression, period. Not like this. Sure the anti-depressants help, taking it from an 8 to a 4, say, on a 10 scale. But I'm at 0. Zero! WFT?!

I haven't even taken my anti-depressants since the Saturday before the surgery.

Suck on that one a moment, Big Pharm.

Still, I don't want to believe that it could be gone. But I'm not waiting for it to show back up. I'm on guard, like a chihuahua over the last donut: vicious and vigilant. I'm watching my thoughts; when they slip toward old sad habits, I scramble to right them, to set them back on the right path. I won't let myself slide back into depression out of habit. If I do go back there, it'll be kicking and screaming.

Fuck you, Depression. Fuck you.

07 July 2013

*insert jazz hands here*

My surgery is tomorrow morning. It's a partial hysterectomy, which doesn't mean they're only taking part of my uterus. It means they're only taking my uterus and cervix, as opposed to also taking the ovaries. That's a good thing - I'm not ready for menopause. The closer it gets, the calmer I feel. I'm not so 'ok' with the early morning wake up call that's coming, but I'm ok with the surgery which will follow it. I'll be staying overnight at the VA hospital where they're doing my surgery. I have my tablet and keyboard with me (obviously - you didn't think I would type all this without a keyboard, did you?), but I don't know how soon I'll feel like typing a follow up. Probably soon, actually. They don't intend to let me out of bed very quickly, and I anticipate much boredom. Anyway, updates will come as they come. That was really the whole point of this paragraph.

I'm feeling a little loopy tonight. - And this is before the anesthesia!

05 July 2013

Arizona bliss

"Forest" incense, perfect for this rainy day... the smell of the deep wet woods is a piece of memory brought back to my arid present. I love living in the desert; I love it even more during monsoons.

03 July 2013

sex and gender with bodies

In this course, we have been carefully considering the concept of gender, how it is culturally situated, and how it is created through public acts of performing selves, themselves informed by cultural ideologies of gender. Now, for your final post, reflect on what you have learned about the relationship of gender and language—what knowledge have you gained thus far?
After your reflection, consider the relationship of the body to gender by reflecting on Laqueur’s idea that sex and gender are both “staged” according to cultural understandings of them:
  • How does a discussion of the body complicate or enhance a discussion of gender?
  • How does the film Is it a Boy or a Girl enhance our understanding of this relationship? Be sure and bring in examples. 
  • Where would you put the body in a theoretical understanding of gender and language?

The inclusion of biology in the discussion of gender necessarily complicates and enhances the context. Research efforts such as those we see in “Is it a boy or a girl” and Laqueur’s works illustrate, increasingly, the nature of sex, gender and sexuality as interconnected spectrums rather than dualities. So few things in nature are dualistic; it should be no surprise that there is little about humans that is dualistic. If forced to guess, I would hypothesize that the body is the platform for these three things. In one sense the body might be the necessary and hugely influential structural framework for gender and sexuality. Simultaneously, the body might be just the platform, from which any picture might emerge, depending on the other components.

With as much time as I have spent in the genderqueer, transgender, and intersex communities – either because of my identity or through my work – it seems that the body must be an active component of gender and sex (and sexuality). However, it’s equally apparent that the body does not play the role it is assumed to play by our dominant cultural gender ideologies. The role of the body is not cut-and-dry, nor is it dualistic in any sense. Even intersex might not be best described as ‘part boy, part girl,’ as sometimes happens in conversations. Rather, it could possibly be said that we are nearly all intersex to some degree, because nearly all of us fall short of the hegemonic gender ideals – there are no real Barbies and Kens, in other words.

Is it a boy or a girl highlighted the very interesting position that doctors are placed in when a child is born which is visually intersex (not all intersex individuals have external indications of being so – some are not discovered until the autopsy). At 3:52 of part 3 (as viewed on youtube – links below), the narrator begins a discussion of two people’s effort to instigate legislation against sex-assignment surgeries done during infancy. At 4:12, the narrator begins a somewhat-paraphrased quote of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ official position on the practice: in full, that quote is, “research on children with ambiguous genitalia has shown that a person’s sexual body image is largely a function of socialization, and children whose genetic sexes are not clearly reflected in external genitalia can be raised successfully as members of either sexes if the process begins before 2 1/2 years.” The sentiment behind that quote seemed somewhat dated (after all, “Doctor” Money’s work has long been known to be a travesty of false pretenses at best). Some snooping around on the AAP website revealed that they have actually updated their official position on the evaluation and management of intersex ‘disorders.’ Their new policy does reflect the more recent findings concerning the biological basis of gender, and subsequently they no longer support the erroneous claim that “a person’s sexual body image is largely a function of socialization.” (Links to the articles relevant to my findings are listed below.) I was mollified by their updated policy statements; it seems they are moving more toward an evidenced-based approach and away from the previous hegemonic ideology-based approach.

Is it a boy or a girl? – youtube version:

Intersex Society of North America – 1996 stance of American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP):
-          “Research on children with ambiguous genitalia has shown that a person’s sexual body image is largely a function of socialization, and children whose genetic sexes are not clearly reflected in external genitalia can be raised successfully as members of either sexes if the process begins before 2 1/2 years.”
-          At this time, the AAP made the potential fertility of the infant their primary decisive factor in determining the gender of the infant; surgery was performed to “correct” any aspect of the infant’s sex which might cause them to appear other than the sex which was most likely, in that individual, to prove fertile.

-          Still based on potential fertility; removes direct language concerning malleability of gender to social constructs, but indirect language remains and no counter statements are offered (this revision seems more political than functional).

-          Acknowledges limitations sociocultural as well as genetic influences on gender development of intersex people; seems to be a functional step forward.

Also, for more information on John Money’s experiments with gender, this is a decent starting point (after wikipedia):

the makings of men: yes, I'm doing my homework again

The conversation transcribed below is scripted, and is from a TV show called Six Feet Under. The clip (which is available for your viewing pleasure at the bottom of this post - you're welcome) is from the first season, which aired in 2001. The section which has been transcribed is a conversation between a father and son who run, with their family, a mortuary and funeral home. It so happens that the father in this scene has passed away, and is speaking to the son as a sort of ghost. Later in the clip, it is implied cinematically that the conversation happened as part of a dream. Despite the unlikely circumstances of the conversation, and despite the fact that the conversation is scripted rather than natural, it is well-scripted, in that it could very plausibly be a conversation between any father and son who have been unexpectedly reunited. The two men sit across from each other, and share a cigarette as they talk.

1 D:     So I’m walkin a/long one day
2          and this asshole `stops me
3          and /asks me if I’m `alright?
4          He says I got a /look.
5          He’d seen a /man.
6          with that /same look once.
7          a:nd had ignored it.
8          And that man had `jumped out a nine story window.
9          ((high-pitched laugh))
10        .hhhh
11        Do you know the reconstruction `involved
12        in a death like that?
13        hhh-
14        This business gets under your skin.
15        It’s like a fuckin virus.
16        You can even /see it on your /face.
17        `Smell it on you.
18 S:    What the /hell is this place – this music?
19        Since when do you listen to (.) the classics four?
20        What the `hell did you /do here?
21        Who the `hell /are you?
22 D:   So many questions –
23        why didn’t ya ask them when I was still aLIVE?
24        (.2) It’s ok, I couldn’t’ve answered most of them anyway.
25        Unlike now, /now I’m a /fucking prophet.
26 S:    Right.
27 D:   You think I’m kidding buddy-boy?
28        ((Leans back))
29        That’s one of the `perks of being /dead.
30        you know what `happens after you /die?
31        `and (.) you know the meaning of life.
32        ((smiles, quiet laugh))
33 S:    /That seems fairly /useless.
34 D:   Yeah I know.
35        Life is `wasted on the /living.
36        ((puffs cigarette))
37 S:    Ya `coulda told me you were /proud of me.
38 D:   You were never /around for /me to tell.
39        Which was `exactly what I was `proud of you /for.
40        ((short laugh)) therein lies your catch-22 ((laughs more))

D: Dad as speaker
S: Son as speaker
` heavy accent
/ light accent
? rising intonation
. falling intonation
(.) brief pause
(.n) measurable pause
CAPS increased volume
*Transcription begins at 3:26 in the clip, which is from Six Feet Under, season 1.

Of the three characteristics of hegemonic masculinity described by Bird – emotional detachment, competitiveness, and objectification of women – two are evidenced in this scene: emotional detachment and competitiveness (1996, pg. 121). Although Bird first defines emotional detachment as the detachment of a young man from his mother in his process of masculinization (pg 121), there seems to be a certain degree of emotional detachment from other men which is integral in the hegemonic identification of masculinity. Indeed, Bird discusses this aspect of emotional detachment as an identifier of masculinity on the very next page, and we see evidence of this behavior in the conversation transcribed above. Bird describes this emotional detachment as “withholding expressions of intimacy” (pg 122). We can gather from the conversation that the son in particular is aware of an emotional distance between him and his father. In lines 18 through 21, the son expresses his frustration with this distance. His frustration is made more evident by the suddenness of his statements, which are contextually unconnected to the last statement made by his father. This emotional disconnection is verified by the father’s reply, in lines 22 and 23: “So many questions – why didn't you ask them when I was still alive?” From this, we know that these two men didn’t discuss such emotional matters under normal circumstances. Further, in line 37, the son expresses frustration that his father hadn’t expressed any pride in the son. This is another indication of the two men having been emotionally at arm’s length from each other.
The father’s response, on lines 38 and 39, brings us to another point; Bird discussed this in terms of competitiveness, and Willott and Griffin discussed it in terms of successful masculinities: the son wasn't home enough for the father to have a chance to express his pride in his son, which was the source of the father’s pride. Not hanging around at home could be an indication of the son’s independence, which is also an indicator of emotional detachment as a characteristic of masculinity (Bird, pg.125), but it’s just as true that the son’s absence from the family home provides a valuable measure of masculinity in and of itself. As Willott and Griffin found, the ability of a man to spend time away from home is, in some ways, and indicator of his success as a man. Even without the pub as a destination – since this TV show is set in USA, not England, and rounds at the pub are less dominant in American culture than in British – a man still must leave the home (in terms of the hegemonic masculine ideology) in order to be a successful provider. Thus, being away from home is a symbol of success as a man, because being a good provider is a tenet of masculinity in the hegemonic ideal (Willott and Griffin, pg. 117). The son’s success might also be considered a measure of the father’s success; the father is proud of his son because his son has succeeded in displaying himself as a capable provider (by not being home), and the success of one’s progeny can be considered a reflection of the parent’s success in their role. Therefore, the competitive aspects of the father’s statement of pride (lines 38 and 39) are relevant to and evidence of the masculine successes of both father and son.
This conversation as a whole might be viewed as edging over the boundaries established by the same emotional detachment it gives evidence of, but the two men maintain a certain distance even as the content of their speech becomes intimate. Their retained distance is visible in their physical distance – they remain on opposite sides of a sitting area, across a small table from each other – and their emotional controls do not escape them beyond a slight raise in volume by the father (line 23), which is quickly contained. Furthermore, the potentially engaging emotions are laughed at – exactly as Bird found in her studies (pg. 126), when participants told her that “feelings are ‘something for us all to joke about.’” The fact that the single moment of raised volume is acted out by the father, as opposed to the son, is also notable. Bird describes how a man’s relationship to the hegemonic masculinity ideals might change over his lifetime, and specifically mentions that one man, at least, cared less about fitting into that ideal as he grew older.
Overall, this conversation gives us an inverse sense of the ‘Father knows best’ ideology discussed by Ochs and Taylor (1996), in that we’re made to understand that the son knows very little of the father’s life. So, despite the role of the father as the protagonist (in that he is the subject of the story he narrates in lines 1 through 17, and in that the son’s contributions to the conversation are almost entirely questions concerning the father’s past behavior) in this particular conversation, the viewers understand that this has not normally been the case. The son is frustrated by how little he knows about his father, and it seems that perhaps he has never even realized, before, how shallow his understanding of his father is. Thus it’s clear that, while we don’t know whether or not the father was a recipient in previous family conversations, he certainly wasn't the protagonist. This finding is consistent with what Ochs and Taylor discovered about fathers, which is that fathers are typically not protagonists (pg. 102). Even within their families, fathers – as the primary masculine identity in a typical nuclear family – maintain the emotional detachment evidenced in Bird’s research.

Bird, S. R. (1996). Welcome to the men's club: Homosociality and the maintenance of hegemonic masculinity. Gender & Society, 10(2), 120-132.
Ochs, E. & Taylor, C. (1996). ‘The father knows best' dynamic in family dinner narratives. Gender articulated: Language and the socially constructed self. ed. by K. Hall. Routledge. pp.97-121.
Six Feet Under, The Room - YouTube. (n.d.). YouTube. Retrieved July 1, 2013, from
Willott, S., & Griffin, C. (1997). `Wham Bam, Am I A Man?': Unemployed Men Talk About Masculinities. Feminism & Psychology, 7(1), 107-128.

01 July 2013

masculinities - another short academic offering


For this post, consider dominant images of masculinities in the media. For an example, watch the following clip of masculinity in Disney films: Masculinity in Disney.
  • Do these media portrayals follow Willott and Griffin’s discussion of hegemonic masculinity? How so?
  • How do you think dominant ideologies of masculinity will shape everyday performances of masculinity? In your answer, be sure and draw on Willott and Griffin’s and Bird’s descriptions of how men orient to these ideologies in their daily lives.
Next, discuss how you use the discourse marker “dude." Draw on Kiesling to explain how this is an example of everyday performances of masculinity. 
Finally, consider whether or not we are seeing a new type of masculinity in the “bromance” genre. For an example, watch the following trailer for the film “I Love you Man”: I Love you Man. Is this a new type of masculine relationship or does it fit hegemonic masculine ideals? 


Bird, S. R. (n.d.). WELCOME TO THE MEN'S CLUB. Gender & Society. Retrieved July 2, 2013, from
Kiesling, S. F. (n.d.). DUDE. American Speech. Retrieved July 2, 2013, from
Willott, S., & Griffin, C. (n.d.). `Wham Bam, am I a Man?': Unemployed Men Talk about Masculinities. Feminism & Psychology. Retrieved July 2, 2013, from


Disney’s portrayals of males certainly follow Willott and Griffin’s discussion of hegemonic masculinity. If anything, Disney’s male characters provide frighteningly accurate caricatures of hegemonic masculinity in America (and probably, I think, in western society as a whole). In Beauty and the Beast, Gustav’s masculinity is celebrated at the pub – a social location much discussed in Willott and Griffin’s work – and is emphasized by his ability to buy rounds of drinks and the display of his hunting trophies. Both of these are indicators of a man’s ability as a provider, which is an integral aspect of hegemonic masculinity as described by Willott and Griffin.

I know from watching my own son and his friends grow up (and from the work of developmental psychologists such as Erickson, Piaget, and Kohlberg) that children tend to look to those most like themselves when trying to figure out how to behave socially. It’s no surprise, then, that the strongest enforcement of hegemonic gender ideologies come from within homosocial interactions, as Bird’s research suggests. We see this in the way that the men in Willott and Griffin’s study describe the pub as a place where their masculinity can be proven. Their relative masculinity demonstrations concerning their home lives have more to do with what they provide which can be proven to the guys later than how their wives and children perceive them.

Dude: I use “dude” a lot. Too much, according to certain friends of mine. I am more female than not, and I use “dude” to address every single one of my friends at one point or another, regardless of their gender. Perhaps this is an expression of my masculinity, or an indication that I was raised primarily by my older brother in the 80s, which was when “dude” became a mainstream word. It seems equally plausible, though, that my use of “dude” is more an indication of the relative gender-neutrality of the word, in comparison to its gendered history.

I do think that our hegemonic ideals are changing. For example, hunting is still more of a man’s game, but it isn’t a necessary skill for men, as it was earlier in our history. “Metrosexual” was a big thing not so long ago, and it indicated a slightly less “masculine” guy, but the look we once described as “metrosexual” is now the mainstream fashion. I don’t know the ‘bromances’ are new, but I do think the way we talk about them – and name them – is new. There have always been male friendships and ‘brotherhoods’ – fraternal organizations are a huge part of American history – but we have new words to describe them which are indicative of the softening of the lines of masculinity evidenced by, among other things, the metrosexual fashion developments.