Lavender scurred.

This month, University of Chicago Press is offering David K. Johnson’s excellent The Lavender Scare for free download as an e-book.  You’ll need Adobe Digital Editions to view it, which you can also download for free.  Links to both can be found on UCP’s site.

In The Lavender Scare, Johnson details the largely hidden history of the gay men and women fired from federal employment for being “security risks” during the Cold War.  He begins during the 1930s, when Roosevelt’s New Deal drew many young men to Washington, giving rise to a gay subculture in the capitol.  Moving on to the well-worn territory of the McCarthy-era red scare, he describes the close association in the public’s mind between the State Department and homosexuality, and the purges of federal employees who moved somewhat openly in gay Washington, sought out same-sex partners at the city’s cruising spots, or were merely suspected or accused of having same-sex desires.  Although the ostensible reason for their firing was that they would be susceptible to blackmail by foreign agents, Johnson unpacks the anxieties about gender, sexuality, and invasion that inhered in the gay panic on Capitol Hill.  In this atmosphere, simply having been fired from the State Department cast aspersions on one’s sexual proclivities (see above cartoon).  Furthermore, he shows that this “lavender scare” outlasted what we think of as the red scare by about a decade, lasting well into the 1960s, and that this persecution in part fostered the homophile activism that predated the Stonewall Rebellion in 1969.

If you like Johnson’s book, you might also want to check out Lee Edelman’s playful essay “Tearooms and Sympathy, or, the Epistemology of the Water Closet,” which offers a more cultural studies-inflected take on the meanings behind police surveillance of gay cruising spots in Washington, D.C.  The PBS website also has a copy of a committee report on the employment of homosexuals in federal government from 1950, which gives you a sense of officials’ slippery reasoning for the firings.


Thursday listenings.

Yeah, so I took like a month and a half off from blogging.  Deal with it, people–I’m a busy man.  So here’s some stuff I’ve been listening to:

1. How Was Your Week? with Julie Klausner


This lady wears many hats–author, podcaster, comedienne, actress, feminist–and all of them are hysterical.  If you listen to this in public, you will laugh out loud and people will give you strange looks.  You won’t care because you’ll be laughing.  Hard.  Be sure to check out the episode in which she interviews Neko Case.

2. “Never Will Be Mine”–Rye Rye + Robyn

Seriously, what’s going on with Rye Rye?  When M.I.A. signed her and “Bang” came out, it sounded like she might be poised to become the next hot lady emcee, but not much has happened since.  Hopefully this track (in which she samples Robyn’s “Be Mine”) is a good portent of things to come.

3. Tuesday Night Music Club–Sheryl Crow

Love this, y'all.

When I was 11 or 12, this was in heavy rotation on weekends at my dad’s house, but for some reason my familiarity did not yield contempt.  I cannot say the same for Bob Marley’s Legend.

Hypocritical and appalling, indeed.

Via Jezebel:

Because buying light bulbs is totally like getting an abortion, am I right, ladies?  Paul tells Hogan that it’s “hypocritical and appalling” that she and other members of the Obama administration support one kind of choice (women’s access to abortion) and not another (consumer access to wasteful appliances), although he himself favors a constitutional abortion ban.  Never mind that the government has been in the business of regulating consumers products for over a century, and most people think of things like the Pure Food and Drug Act as a good thing–I’m pretty sure no one ever died because he didn’t have access to a toilet with a really high flushing capacity.

Head-desking for purity.

False, the enemy is Ross Douthat.

Want to know why monogamy matters?  The New York Times’ resident arch-conservative Ross Douthat is here to tell you, pulling together a couple recent studies to argue imply that 1) today’s young people are waiting to longer to have sex, 2) this makes them happier, and 3) abstinence-only education is responsible, and we should fund more of it.  Douthat says:

“In 2002, the study reported, 22 percent of Americans aged 15 to 24 were still virgins. By 2008, that number was up to 28 percent. Other research suggests that this trend may date back decades, and that young Americans have been growing more sexually conservative since the late 1980s.”

Really?  This has been going on since the late 1980s?  I’m going to go ahead and say that ads like this one might have something to do with it:


There’s also this one:


And another updating this theme for the texting generation:


Since the 1980s, kids have grown up with a slew of public service announcements communicating the same basic message:


Even this would be an improvement (I’m getting a little video-happy here, just roll with it):


Contrast that with this slideshow of safer sex ads from Holland and Germany, where (according to Slate) rates of HIV infection and teen pregnancy are six times lower than those in the United States.  Looking at alternative, sex-positive approaches to sex education, it’s no wonder that people who deviate from the sexual activities and expressions that American culture promotes through institutions like abstinence-only education should experience greater anxiety and unease than those who stick to the script, as it were.  Monogamy doesn’t inherently make all people happier any more than does sexual libertinism–the former might satisfy some, and the latter others.  The point is that we should equip young people with the knowledge to protect themselves and their partners should they choose to be sexually active.  That’s not cynical, that’s realistic–and looking at data from across the pond, it seems to work.  After all, the study that Douthat cites about abstinence-only education, discussed in somewhat greater depth here, only showed that fewer 12 and 13-year-olds who were given a relatively brief abstinence-only education course had engaged in intercourse after two years than those who received a similarly brief safer sex course.  Not that they had lower rates of teen pregnancy or STD infection, they simply reported having sex with fewer partners.  If that’s how conservatives measure success, they’re certainly setting their horizons pretty low.  Maybe they’re the cynical ones after all.


Speaking of the New York Times‘ “Disunion” series, this morning I woke up to see that former Temple professor (and esteemed member of my comps committee) Liz Varon actually had an entry at the beginning of the month on the role of gender in the lead-up to the Civil War.  The piece is called “Women at War,” and rather than rehearse all of her points here, I suggest that you just go read it for yourself.  She goes through some familiar actors–Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Tubman, Preston Brooks, and Charles Sumner–showing on the one hand that individual women played important roles as historical actors throughout the sectional crisis, and on the other that political players in the North and South alike used gendered discourse to tar their opponents across the Mason-Dixon line.  She ends with a call for scholars to popularize women’s and gender history approaches to Civil War history, an overtly “political” move that incensed some readers.  One commenter seemed particularly enraged, writing that Varon’s claims only make sense “…in the halls of academia via its revisionist sisters in gender studies programs.”  He goes on to write in a separate comment that for most of history women have not been important actors, although “[m]aybe if you dig deeply into the Civil War history books you can find a wise Latina woman, who with the richness of her experiences would, more often than not, reach a better conclusion than these flawed white men.”

As a historian of gender I appreciate how often gender studies seems to be trotted out as the prime example of everything that’s wrong (read: liberal) with modern academia.  Underlying this criticism is the idea that gender could only matter in history insomuch as women matter in history, because (duh) only women have gender.  Bringing race into it (Sotomayor confirmation hearings reference FTW!) only underscores the view of many scholars that not only maleness, but whiteness implicitly lays at the foundation of popular ideas about universality and objectivity when it comes to politics.  If anything, this vitriol points to the importance of Varon’s work.

UPDATE: I meant to throw in something Catherine Allgor’s Parlor Politics, which I really enjoyed when I was studying for comps.  It’s a great example of how to recover the political actions of women in a period when they had little to no official voice, and how to situate that within contemporaneous understandings of gender.


Real quickly while I have a few minutes (this week is crazy and it’s only just begun), here‘s a recap by Anna North at Jezebel of yet another Wall Street Journal piece on why America is going to pieces because there just aren’t any good men anymore.  As North points out, and as I’ve argued (or at least implied) here and here, the “decline of man” narrative in contemporary media isn’t just bad because it promotes negative stereotypes about the modern American male.  This refrain is also problematic because it trades in ideas about gender crisis that are, at bottom, anti-feminist and homophobic.  We are meant to be alarmed because they implicitly conflate maleness and nationhood, so that our supposed slipping grasp on maleness can be read as both symptom and cause of the post-boom American failure syndrome, but in the end it’s everyone but the white, middle-class American male who gets scapegoated.

And now, apropos of nothing at all, Thom Yorke dancing to “All the Single Ladies”:

Speaking truth to power.

Via Towleroad, here’s video of Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA) speaking on the House floor last night about the Republican proposal to defund Planned Parenthood, which provides contraceptives and abortions in addition to basic medical care to low income women:

Cutting federal funding to Planned Parenthood would mean depriving millions of women of access to birth control, cancer screenings, and routine checkups.  Many of my female friends (including my roommate) depend on Planned Parenthood for precisely these services, which is why I called my district representative (Chaka Fattah) today to ask that he not vote to support the Republican measure.  Please take the time to do the same.

Everything old is new again.

I get tired just looking at him.

There’s a reason I don’t read the Wall Street Journal, and it’s pretty much the same reason I don’t watch Fox News: I’m not particularly interested in antediluvian op-eds.  This recent article from WSJ is a great example.

The article describes a recent study in which researchers found that women from countries with better healthcare systems preferred less masculine men, which they measured by showing (white) women from different countries two “subtly different” pictures of a man, and asking which they found more attractive.  Okay, right off the bat, those two faces are about “subtly different” as Bill O’Reilly or Michael Moore (fair! balanced!) are “subtly opinionated.”  Moving on to the the text of the article, we find some well-worn ideas about what it means to be masculine, and it’s no great shocker that this entails “fitness, fertility, and dominance,” which are all the by-products of elevated testosterone levels.  I’m certainly not trying to argue that hormones don’t influence behavior, but it seems that a study like this (not to mention the article) reduces an incredibly complex process (like attraction) to a single variable.  That this variable is biological only serves to reiterate and reify old stereotypes about virile primitive masculinity versus decadent overcivilized Western manhood.  In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries such pervasive cultural tropes served as the basis for denying political rights to people of color and justified the imperial reach of America and Western Europe across the globe.  With in mind, perhaps it should be no surprise that here a marker of global class (healthcare, although the U.S. is… well, that’s a different story) is fused with and masked by biology and heredity.

The author keeps the late Victorian gender anxieties relatively at bay until near the end of the article, when she unleashes them with full force:

The big question that comes of the study is this: Is it possible that modern medicine—and by extension modern life—inadvertently devalues masculinity? Possibly. Is the Marlboro Man, that smoking-hot icon of American manhood, under threat of being extinguished? Given American women’s apparently strong masculinity preferences, the answer is no. We are not ready to get rid of our macho men. (Then again, we also have yet to improve our health index ratings.) Yet there are some smoke signals that suggest change is just over the horizon.

Sounds like somebody’s been reading The Strenuous Life.  But the really astounding thing here is just how fabulously the author misrepresents evolutionary process in the very next paragraph:

As the social environment shifts, so may women’s mate preferences. While Stone Age forces once wired women to associate strong cues of masculinity with their children’s chance of survival, times are changing. The promise of improved health care in America could be one example of a shift.

Let’s first just take notice of the implied parallel between “Stone Age” women (were they also tracked through their IP addresses?) and women in the developing world.  That aside, evolution is a slow process–public policy does not have a measurable effect on hereditary traits, at least not in the way the author suggests.  That is to say, healthcare reform is not going to spark an instantaneous shift in American women’s dating and mating patterns such that testosterone and “manifest masculinity” (no relation?) will go into decline.

Or maybe my good friend and sometime-commenter Catherine said it best: “I feel pretty confident we can provide humane medical care to the citizens of this nation without threatening my almost pathological attraction to large burly men.”

Amen, sister.

I… just… there are no words.

Via Historiann, I caught wind of David Brooks’ latest headdesk-inducing column. And, well, really, I have no words.  Okay, that’s not true–I have plenty.  Here they are:

The great thing (there’s only one) about David Brooks is that he seems to lend credence to the joke that the New York Times chooses conservative columnists that make the Right look insane and/or stupid.  And (I’m looking at you, Ben) don’t try to tell me David Brooks is a centrist, because that just goes to show how skewed the spectrum of political discourse is in this country.  Granted, Brooks is no Ross Douthat, whose name alternately makes me think “douche hat” and “doubt that,” but he’s decidedly in the conservative camp.  Case in point: “The Sandra Bullock Trade.”  Now, I’ll admit that I can usually at least find most of a David Brooks column to be the product of a reasonable human mind, and it’s not until the very end that he draws some in(s)ane conclusion.  This one, however, is straight up crazy from stem to stern.  He starts right out by implying that professional and marital success are mutually exclusive–at least if you’re a woman.  Ladies, did you not get the memo that you can either be a happy homemaker or a frigid bitch executive (although middle manager is more likely given that pesky glass ceiling)?  You see, this is the “deal” that Sandra Bullock made–she chose an Oscar over marital fidelity on the part of her husband… or something like that.  Brooks’ opening gambit requires a Wonderland-scale suspension of logic to even approach making sense.

But in any case, Brooks spends the rest of the column detailing some recent research on the correlation of happiness (however defined) to both income level and personal relationships.  Okay, sure, I’ll buy it.  But–and maybe I’m just speaking as a starving graduate student here–since when is income the sole measure of professional success?  Plenty of people go into professions (gee, like academia) precisely because they derive personal satisfaction from such work.  Does that mean personal relationships don’t matter?  Of course not.  But along a similar line, even the research Brooks cites looks at a range of interpersonal connections that go way beyond marriage, including group activities and having dinner with friends.

The point that Brooks ends with is that governments should focus less on generating prosperity and more on making their constituents happier.  This is an interesting point to make given Brooks’ earlier point that growing inequality hasn’t led to greater unhappiness.  What if, for example, the state focused less on improving the material conditions of its richest citizens and directed tax revenue back into urban districts?  It makes you wonder just whose happiness these sociologists are measuring.

Speaking of the social sciences, Brooks uses it in extremely uncritical fashion here: “If the relationship between money and well-being is complicated, the correspondence between personal relationships and happiness is not.”  Actually, I think the correlation between personal relationships and satisfaction is worth some consideration.  Could it be that our culture (of which his column is a part) places such a high premium on marriage that other forms of interpersonal connection seem unsatisfying by comparison?  Of course not–this is “the age of research”!  The facts speak for themselves, or at least they seem to naturalize constructed social realities, and they give dudes like Brooks the appearance of empirical imprimatur when they dispense conservative canards, like the one that says a woman can either choose work or home, but never both.

Here’s something that sucks.

Perhaps you’ve seen the latest series of Dockers ads, imploring today’s men to step up and “wear the pants.”  The man-centric campaign actually rolled out a few months ago; I figured it had foundered on the shoals of its own ridiculousness until a link to the “Men Without Pants” commercial showed up in my Facebook sidebar.  I’m not sure what Pantsformation is, but it has replaced “Man-ifesto” from a previous version of the Dockers website:

It feels a little like shooting fish in a barrel to bring a critical eye to this, but here goes.  The lynchpin sentence seems to be “But today, there are questions our genderless society has no answers for,” which trades in the old anti-feminist canard that combatting gender inequality leads to the “unsexing” of both men and women.  The monstrous specter of androgyny-cum-thwarted-adolescence in the previous sentence underscores this point.  References to disco and the “foamy non-fat latte” suggest that homosexuality, laced with effete European masculinity, additionally threatens the ideal American man, rolling gender presentation, sexuality, and national identity into a single package–no pun intended.

What I find interesting (besides the “Shop Women’s” link at the end of ad) is the commercial short I mentioned above.  It features a group of (mostly) paunchy, pantsless men marching through a field, singing about their lack of pants.  They are the replaced by a trim, muscular, bekhakied male figure, the clear antithesis to the emasculated others.  Their literal softness represents a loss of (implicitly national) strength which, coupled with their “pantslessness,” conveys a clear message: loss of male privilege goes hand in hand with the loss of American prestige.

The nation has often, if not always, been represented in explicitly gendered terms, and throughout the modern age the human body has presented a handy metaphor with which to delineate the boundaries of political and national belonging.  Dockers is certainly not the first to perceive a threat to masculinity, but they offer interesting evidence of this in their reference to a 2006 article in the Journal of Clinial Endocrinology and Metabolism that indeed demonstrated an age-independent decline of serum testosterone in men over about a decade and a half.  This may very well be true, and the authors of “A Population-Level Decline in Serum Testosterone Levels in American Men” suggest that environmental factors may be the cause.  However, the Dockers campaign features a video on its Facebook (I couldn’t find it anywhere else) that purports to explore this “crisis” (how else could you describe it?) by having an actor travel the country doing “manly” things: riding a bull, killing a deer, and pumping iron at the Jersey Shore.  By framing clips of wo/man-on-the-street interviews discussing the state of men’s lifestyles (men are obviously a homogenous group) with the crisis represented in the above article, the video makes the most dubious of all possible propositions: that larger cultural changes, like disco-dancing, latte-drinking, and feminism, have weakened the hormonal foundation of masculinity.

Is this not ridiculous?  Leave your thoughts in the comments section.