Archive for October, 2007

The other’s sex

October 31, 2007

Gay men deprive women of their sexual point of view. Let’s get this clear. The point is not that gay men are not interested in women, sexually. Most women are not sexually interested in women either. The point is the sexual interest women and gay men share: men.

For centuries, even throughout the Middle Ages, it was acceptable for a male artist to portray both males and females, and not infrequently to portray them as sexually desirable (Think of all those paintings of Saint Sebastian). There were, of course, no female artists. But even when the arts separated themselves from religion, art remained a male domain, with dire consequences.

Girls and women as objects of sexual desire are being portrayed primarily by heterosexual men. Boys and men, however, I primarily portrayed by gay men, not heterosexual women. That seems odd. Think about it: when you see a painting of a naked girl, you assume the artist is a heterosexual man, when you see a painting of a naked boy, you assume the artist is gay. Why is that?

Part of it is simply that we (men and women) are afraid of female sexuality. Male sexuality (hetero- and homosexual) has found its expression for thousands of years, we’ve learned to interpret it, we think we know what it is. Female sexuality lacks such forms of expression. And since its primary object, men, is already being used by gay men to express their sexuality, it is even harder to develop a female point of view.

But isn’t there art that expresses female sexuality? – Yes, there is. Unfortunately the clearest example is not Frieda Kahlo, but Leni Riefenstahl. Apart from the more straightforward moral objections to her work, she is now also being accused of “stealing from gay Sergej Eisenstein”. Of all the things one might accuse Leni Riefenstahl of, this seems to be the most ridiculous. Unsurprisingly, the accuser is an artist, and a gay one, too. But the point is all too clear: girls, it is us, gay men, who get to portray men as sexually desirable, not you!

Death – still a bad idea

October 29, 2007

To be dead is presumably not so bad. There’s the pain and fear of the process of dying, of course. But once you’re dead, that’s over, so nothing to worry about. But even if you choose wisely and avoid at least the pain, there is still the prospect of death, which might be worse than dying.

The prospect of death is of course daunting throughout our lives, but it seems we do a pretty good job of ignoring this fact for the most part. It is not just that we ignore the sheer fact that we are going to die one day, it is that we usually comfort ourselves by thinking that death, thought certain, will not meet us in the near future. Near future is here loosely defined. It can mean: at least 5 years, or at least 20.

Crucially, it has to be long enough to make our current projects worthwhile to us. When thinking about whether or not to learn a new language, meet a new partner or move to a different city, we assume quite naturally that such a step will enhance our lives, we do not normally  consider that we might die before being able to enjoy the fruits of such an effort. We do not think that it is too late for us to engage in such an activity. It is this innocence that much of our lives depends on and that we loose when we have to face the prospect of dying soon. This real prospect of death is frightening. Once this naiveté is lost, life is only towards death.

made like no other™

October 28, 2007

Should we be surprised to find that a company trademarking this claim would have a similarly simple (-minded) “philosophy”? (And why do companies seem to think that they need a “philosophy” anyways?) The result, in any case, is a circular philosophical claim (that their product can only be called by their company name) and tasty ice-cream.  Oh, and in case you were wondering: it is a U.S. based company!

Women and War

October 26, 2007

How bad an exaggeration would it be to claim that two world wars did more for gender equality than the entire women’s lib movement?

The absence of men forces women into production; war shifts the gender balance toward women, as man are being killed in combat, as a result no all women can expect to marry, which used to put an end to a woman’s career. With share in production and responsibility come political claims, and they are being heard because now the state needs the female workforce – the right to vote is being granted.

An interesting question arises now about the case where women are part of the army: if men and women have both share in combat, does that increase gender equality, or is the movement brought to a halt?


October 24, 2007

In a recent post on academic freedom, Stanley Fish expresses his dissatisfaction with the assessment a subcommittee of the AAUP gives of the following hypothetical example:

“”Might not a teacher of nineteenth-century American literature, taking up ‘Moby Dick,’ a subject having nothing to do with the presidency, ask the class to consider whether any parallel between President George W. Bush and Captain Ahab could be pursued for insight into Melville’s novel?””

The subcommittee seems to defend the practice of asking suggestive, politically laden questions, Stanley Fish disagrees. His main reason is that such a question invites, given the character of Captain Ahab, negative views of George W. Bush. He hastens to add, of course, that a suggestive question inviting positive views would be equally objectionable.

What he does not seem to consider is the fact that a comparison can have a negative result. One might well compare George W. Bush and Captain Ahab (or any other literary figure) and come to the conclusion that they do not have very much in common at all. True, the question suggests that you should be able to find similarities, but you could nevertheless answer the question in the negative, based on textual and empirical evidence. Learning to recognize that questions often suggest their answer and resisting the urge to follow the direction they are pointing to is an important ability students should acquire.

This makes quite clear that while it seems indeed appropriate to put limits on what may be asserted as true in a classroom, it is far from clear that similar restrictions should also hold for questions.


October 23, 2007

Sport as an activity of the masses is not just a modern phenomenon, it’s a phenomenon of modernism. The idea that exercise can produce a new kind of man, can act as a balance to our everyday activities, can change who we are, that’s all very modernist. It is driven by the idea that it is possible to reinvent man, it is possible because of the rediscovery of the body after it had been hostage to Christianity for centuries. Unsurprisingly, all the ideology-driven movements of the 20th century promoted exercise and used sport as a recruitment tool. The Olympics, reinvented at the dawn of modernity, are only the most prominent example.