Why Marry?

13 04 2009

With all the talk that’s been going around about gay marriage and the benefits of marriage (and in some academic circles, the idea of abolishing marriage or using alternatives to marriage), I thought I’d try just for fun to brainstorm a list of reasons why people marry.  I’m not pro- or anti-marriage; I actually think that everyone, gay and straight, should have the option to marry but should also have another option that allows for certain benefits and obligations without the label or the full legal package of marriage.  This is just sort of an interesting thought experiment.  Feel free to add your own in the comments!

  1. Economic/social status conferred by marrying a particular person.  This might take the form of a bump up in an individual’s class in some societies, money or property passing through the marital relationship (whether by virtue of laws that dictate how property can be owned by a married person or through a gift like a dowry), social connections based on the spouse’s personal and business relationships, family connections that lead to a step up in business or otherwise, etc.  Also falling under this category would be unique benefits that come from the spouse’s abilities: example, marrying a woman who’s great at hosting parties gives a man a business advantage.
  2. Economic/social status conferred by virtue of the institution of marriage.  These are benefits that accrue by virtue of simply being married, regardless of the individual spouse.  Being married in some societies is/was a symbol of adulthood.  There might be tax benefits due to marriage, or other tangible economic benefits.  In the modern U.S., for example, there are plenty of people who marry because of health insurance benefits or tax situation.
  3. Legitimacy of/benefits for children.  In many societies, marriage was/is the only acceptable environment for child-rearing, so getting married would benefit the child as well as the parents.  If divorce is acceptable, this is also a common reason not to get a divorce.  Benefits range from economic incentives to avoiding social stigma for the child.
  4. Legitimating sex.  Marriage is often the only social acceptable relationship in which sex can take place, and also once a couple is married, they tend to escape sexual scrutiny.  Whatever your kinky sexual preferences, the law and society are likely to ignore them within the “sanctity” of the marital bed.  
  5. Avoiding suspicion.  A related reason to marry is that a particular culture may look at young single individuals with suspicion.  If marriage is the social norm, then there is a lot of pressure to marry, and to do what’s expected.  This may include family pressure, peer pressure, etc.  I’m also thinking of those who do have something to hide, like gay men and lesbians who would marry one another in the 1950s and continue to have sex with other people, or gay individuals throughout history who married someone of the opposite sex in order to keep others’ eyes away from their sexual encounters with the same sex. 
  6. Love/companionship.  Especially in modern times, it seems like love is a big reason to get married.  Society tells us that once you find that “one true person,” the logical next step is to propose.  It makes sense to mark companionship with a legal relationship, and this also ties in with some of the benefits – for example, if you love someone you may want to be sure they are taken care of when you die through the inheritance laws.  Marriage also shows others that you’re serious, and serves as a sign of long-term commitment.  

Others?  I’m sure there must be many more; this is just off the top of my head.

Iowans are good folks

6 04 2009

I’m surprised and encouraged by the positive response I received when phone banking for One Iowa today.  Along with those supportive of same sex marriage, I also got a number of people opposed or unsure, but who were opposed to changing the constitution and willing to call their representatives to tell them that.  I also talked to several people who actually wanted to discuss the issue and know my opinion.  And as a bonus, I learned that we have an awesome LGBT resource center I knew nothing about.  I’m going to a potluck tomorrow and an art show on Friday there.

In other news, please remember that some of us have to pay for each and every text message we send or receive.  I get so tired of people who text me four or five times in quick succession either in response to my dialing a wrong # or when they have the wrong #.  If someone texts you something that doesn’t require a response, remember that sending “ok” in reply may be costing them money!

Holy Mackerel!

6 04 2009

Visit msnbc.com for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

Yay! Contracts!

Construction of the Female Body in Gynecology

4 04 2009

I attended an interesting talk today at the CRT at 20 conference on the topic of medical education and cultural competency, focusing especially on women of color’s experiences with gynecology.  I started thinking about a tangential topic that I think is sometimes overlooked in LGBT studies: lesbians’ experience with sexual and reproductive health care services.  

Later I will probably post some comments on how lesbians experience sexual and reproductive health care generally and differently from heterosexual women.  Just now, though, I had a thought about the construction of the female body and how badly this jives with feminism and with lesbianism.  

There has been a lot of talk among feminists about how the female sexual organs are reduced to their reproductive function, and how women’s sexual pleasure can be effectively erased from a discussion about women’s anatomy.  My thought is that the woman’s body is sexualized, but it is sexualized only with reference to the man/the male body.  

When you think about this part of the body, it’s likely that one of your first thoughts concerns the vagina.  My guess is that gynecologists and other health care professionals see the vagina in two ways: as a receptacle for the penis (focusing on sexual health, contraception, disease, etc.) or as a passageway for a child (focusing on pregnancy, fertility, etc.)  I think this is also true of the culture in general.

One problem is that the vagina is, for many women, not the site of sexual pleasure (or not the sole site), and so there is a separation between health and pleasure.  I would posit that it is difficult to celebrate and enjoy the experience of health and health care when it is separated in this way from sexual pleasure.  I think most of us experience our body in vastly different ways in the bedroom and in the doctor’s office.  Another problem is that it makes the healthcare experience irrelevant for lesbian women, especially lesbian women not interested in giving birth.  Our concerns may be difficult to express because society and our health care experiences have not given us a language to express them.  I know that I find the gynecologist fairly irrelevant to me – I get an annual pap smear and I get birth control for migraines, but that’s it.  My doctor is not necessarily someone I trust, nor do I associate him with my overall health.

I think that this disconnect may also have something to do with why lesbian women often do not go in for services such as pap smears, mammograms, and STI tests.  STIs are often conceived of as a penis-in-vagina consequence.  Even if we know that STIs can be transferred through any fluid contact, the lesbian community tends to see barrier methods as weird.  If not weird, they’re just a pain.  I’d guess that many of us haven’t asked our health care provider for advice concerning sexual health.  I’ve had experiences with a female gynecologist who told me I only needed pap smears if I were having sex with a man, and a female resident whom I asked about sexual health and she said she didn’t know anything about STI risks.  I’ve also had a lot of frustrating experiences when I’m talking with a health care professional about PCOS and he or she tells me repeatedly about my fertility options and forces literature on me, even though I say that I am not interested in having children, ever.  I was even once told “oh, you’ll change your mind.”  I find this condescending, and the lack of agency makes me fearful of healthcare. 

I’m not sure exactly how this could be fixed, but I do think that in anatomy courses and wherever else medical students learn about the female body, the woman should be construed as a whole person, and her experiences of her body considered fully.  I want health care professionals to think of women’s sexuality in terms of her own body, and all of it – not in terms of a penis and a vagina, plus possible “alternatives.”  I also think that healthcare professionals need to learn how to have effective dialogues that do not make assumptions about sexual practices or reproductive choices.  I don’t know how we get there, but I hope it’s where we’re going.

Some preliminary thoughts on the Varnum opinion

3 04 2009

At the moment, I’m in a fabulous and fascinating conference on CRT and ignoring it because I’m so excited about this opinion.  More thoughts to come, but I wanted to post a few initial observations.

1) The opinion was unanimous, and they applied intermediate scrutiny (not dismissing strict, but not reaching it because of the result under intermediate).

2) The language is absolutely beautiful.  Let me share my favourite quote: “Our responsibility… is to protect constitutional rights of individuals from legislative enactments that have denied those rights, even when the rights have not yet been broadly accepted, were at one time unimagined, or challenge a deeply ingrained practice or law viewed to be impervious to the passage of time.”  YES!  The whole history/tradition thing was a big deal in oral arguments, and I’m so glad that the Court continues to embrace an evolving notion of equal protection under the Iowa Constitution.  Iowa has an amazing history when it comes to equal protection, and this is just another example.

3) I loved their basically saying that it’s absolutely ridiculous to argue that there’s no classification being made here because gay people can marry someone of the opposite sex just like straight people.  Thank you!

4) They also did a great job on the procreation/child-rearing arguments, which were a big focus of this case.  Dennis Johnson gets big credit for the way he argued this point, and the Court bought it.

Finally, if you’d like a step-by-step breakdown summary of the ruling, you can read my article:

iowa supreme court mandates same-sex marriage

Excuse me a minute while I squeal…

3 04 2009


A line between OCD and highly organized – where do you get your news?

1 04 2009

I had breakfast the other day with an engaging woman whose company I quite enjoy.  You might call it a date, but it shared characteristics with a successful therapy session.  I recommend sharing a meal with a student of creative writing – they’re very observant, and far better listeners than myself, I suspect.  The conclusion that my breakfast companion reached was a fairly obvious one, but not something I’d noticed before.  Apparently I like order.  Or rather, I really like order.  So there’s probably some link between my feeling very good and accomplished about having packed twenty boxes already, carefully numbered to match a detailed inventory that indexes what’s in each box, and my habit of collecting thousands and thousands of recipes and “to read” books on my computer – just in case.  “Just in case the Internet goes away?” she asked, incredulously.  I shrugged.  It could happen.  Websites die, don’t they?  It might be a little excessive, though, that after copying all the recipes into a computer program, I keep the old ones on a Word document and leave the newer ones in a special bookmarks program – just in case the computer program spontaneously crashes, and the developer has died.  (I also keep the recipe file and the install file for the program, as well as the software license, backed up on an external hard drive.)

All right, so it’s time to admit it.  I’m a control freak.  When I try to relax more, I do it by controlling the control.  I have been known to plan periods of spontaneity.  But I’m okay with that.  Here’s my question.  My latest fear has been that I will miss the news, and be uneducated or ill-informed.  I don’t have a TV, or time to read magazines or the paper, so my news comes from the Internets.  Tonight, I admitted to myself that I really will never have time to read the New York Times or Le Monde in full, so I took them off my Reader, and I added the Daily Beast’s “Cheat Sheet” feature, as well as signing up for Slate’s newsletters so I don’t forget to check Slate.  Any other tips, nifty programs, websites you recommend for staying on top of things?

A depressing thought: If I read a book a week until the day I die, I’ll still only be able to read 2,600 books.  That’s less than my current to-read list.

Man, I need to go to London

1 04 2009

Seriously, if I can get a decent job, I’ll be looking for cheap tickets. I wanted to see my friend Kate anyway, and now this exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery, a museum I intended to go to a few years ago when I was going to go to London to see the Decemberists, but ended up missing when I decided to stay hermit-ed in Ireland. The committee that chose the “gay icons” for this exhibit includes Ian McKellen, Sarah Waters, and Allan Hollinghurst. I have to flail a little.

Quick Hits from Slate

1 04 2009

The link’s mysteriously disappeared, but there was a headline on Slate this afternoon that said something like “Bye Bye Bipartisanship” and I almost cheered in the middle of class. Yes, bipartisanship wins elections, and it’s good in some areas. Really, I think the whole two-party system itself is the problem. But like Rachel Maddow, I’m pissed off when the Democrats finally get the presidency and a *strong* majority in Congress, and we’re hesitant to, you know, pass liberal legislation. Social programs, anyone? Healthcare? Education? Obama ran on those things, and I understand that they take a backseat to the economy, and I understand that some of them are worked into the budget and the stimulus package, but really. What’s with this new coalition of moderate Dems? What’s with all this spirit of cooperation? You can cooperate if you want to get on *our* horse.

Also, I enjoyed this explanation on WiFi versus cell phones in airplanes and the navigation issues involved. It makes me think of one of my favourite early West Wing quotes, a Toby classic: “We’re flying in a Lockheed Eagle Series L-1011. Came off the line twenty months ago. Carries a Sim-5 transponder tracking system. And you’re telling me I can still flummox this thing with something I bought at Radio Shack?”