What if those bruises are just “decorations”? Thoughts on Breaking Dawn’s Morning-After Scene featuring a bruised (and feathered!) Bella Swan

With the wide release of Breaking Dawn: Part 1 looming, what scene are you most anxious to see?

If the stars and attendees at Comic-Con are any indication, most people name the wedding or the birth scene. Not me. I am most anxious to see the morning after scene. And, I do mean ANXIOUS, not EXCITED, as I have trepidation regarding how this scene will be handled. Though Bella admittedly WANTS sex with Edward, does she also want the bruises that result?

There has been much debate regarding if the morning after scene represents sexual violence, violent consensual sex, hidden messages about women being “punished” for sexual desire and so on. As a recap, here are some details from the book:

Before Edward and Bella do the deed, when they are standing in the moonlit ocean, he says “if I hurt you, you must tell me at once.” This quote lends credence to those who argue we cannot place blame on Edward, as do other quotes where Bella notes she does not remember ever feeling pain.

As in the above parody, Edward is let of the hook for causing so many “decorations” on her body.  While Bella seems to relish her newly “decorated” body, he feels remorse, saying to the waking Bella the next morning: “How badly are you hurt, Bella? The truth—don’t downplay it.”

Bella assesses her body, noting “stiffness, and a lot of soreness” and “the odd sensation my bones all had become unhinged at the joints,” but also notes her happiness on “this most perfect of mornings.” Here, we could read this as understandable post-sex session soreness and equally understandable post-multiple-orgasm euphoria.

The problem is though, Bella is not just sore, she is covered in black and purple bruises – bruises which cause Edward to say “Stop acting like I’m not a monster for having agreed to this” and “Look at yourself, Bella. Then tell me I’m not a monster.”

To this, Bella “followed his instructions unthinkingly” (as she does all too damn often in the books!) and at first only focuses on “the fluffy white snow” that clings to her skin and hair. It is only at Edward’s insistence she looks at her arm that she has “large purplish bruises” that “blossom across the pale skin.”

Here, Edward is again presented as the kind, caring guy, and she as the oblivious, feather-covered sap. Sure, she is blissed out in post-coital mode, but must she speak of her bruises in flowery terms (“blossom”)?!? This description problematically suggests, as does the later use of the term “decorated,” that Bella’s body is beautifully and lovingly MARKED by Edward, harkening to the age-old notion of woman as man’s property to mark on as he pleases – the one that the institution of marriage they just entered into is historically based on.

As Bella looks at the bruises that “trail” up to her shoulder and across her ribs, Edward places “his hand against the bruises on my arm…matching his long fingers to the patterns.” So, indeed, he has quite literally marked her with his handprints, turning her body into a decorated object of “violet blotches.” However, Edward is not held up as the baddie here and Bella is presented as the happiest she has ever been.

Edward does not share her euphoria though, insisting “I’m… so sorry, Bella…I knew better than this. I should not have–…I am more sorry than I can tell you.” So, flipping the traditionally gendered script, he has morning after regrets, she does not.

But might we read her euphoria as more indication that she does not take sex seriously enough – that she is a “bad girl” who wants it too much and is punished for her desires? Or, are we supposed to read her as a sexually liberated, kinky vixen who likes her sex rough? While both readings are tenable, given the strong pro-abstinence messages of the saga, the religious underpinnings of the text, and the “sex is dangerous” message that permeates the books, the first reading is more apt.

Further, Bella is not really presented as sexually confident or in the know – she has to ASK if Edward enjoyed it, and says incredulously to his insistence that he most certainly did,  “Really? The best ever?” That she asks this “in a small voice” only furthers the notion that she is sexually naïve, small, and silent – or, in other words, a “good girl” gone bad – a bruised apple, so to speak.

Perhaps no other scene in the saga so crosses the lines between sex as bad, sex as enjoyable, Bella as good girl or Bella as slut. Yet, the representation of Edward and his acts are not complicated – while Bella’s sexual desires are left open to reader interpretation (we can read her as punished for her desires or read her night of headboard busting as a sexual triumph), Edward is framed as full of remorse and dutifully goes off to cook her enough eggs for two (hint hint).

After his departure, she stares in the mirror (as depicted in the above parody), thinking about how she will hide the bruises: “There was a faint shadow across one of my cheekbones, and my lips were a little swollen, but other than that, my face was fine. The rest of me was decorated with patches of blue and purple. I concentrated on the bruises that would be the hardest to hide—my arms and my shoulders. They weren’t so bad. My skin marked up easily….Of course, these were just developing. I’d look even worse tomorrow. That would not make things any easier.”

Recall that Bella is concerned with hiding the bruises not for others (they are on a deserted island!) but for Edward’s sake. So, she puts on a white cotton dress “that concealed the worst of the violet blotches” and trots off to the kitchen for her scalding hot eggs.

The chapter closes with her asking “You aren’t going to touch me again while we’re here, are you?” to which Edward answers “I will not make love to you until you’ve been changed. I will never hurt you again.”

Once again, Bella’s wants are refuted and Edward calls the shots. But, Bella’s insistence there is nothing to worry about regarding her bruised body, the bitten pillows, or the busted headboard can be read as a failure to recognize the dangers of sex with an uber-strong vampire – or, to put  it another way, for her, the danger sex poses for females like Bella but NOT males like Edward.

A sex positive message? A pro-consensual violent sex is sexy message? I don’t buy it. More like punishing silly, oblivious Bella for wanting it too much… And her punishment is only just beginning given that her pregnancy is hardly a “blessed event” but one filled with pain, broken bones, and the promise that “the creatures” like the one in her womb “use their own teeth to escape the womb.”

And how will the film present the birth? Will Bella scream in “a blood-curdling shriek of agony: and then vomit “a fountain of blood”? Will we hear the “crunching and snapping as the newborn monster” tear through her “from the inside out “ and the “shattering crack” as her spine is broken?

No doubt, we will see the gooey scenes of her loving her “little nudger” and her going ga-ga over the newborn Renesmee. But, I do wonder if the more horrific details of Bella’s pregnancy and delivery will be included, and, if so, if there will be any indication that this is her “punishment” for her sexual transgressions. I doubt it – instead, in keeping with the traditional happy ending message the saga ultimately upholds, pregnancy and motherhood will be framed as her reward…

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What if the Pope recognized his need for Sex Ed 101? Musings on Benedict’s Condom Comments

Pope Benedict said in a new book that condom use can be used by male prostitutes seeking to stop the spread of AIDS. This “exception” is based on the notion that such sex is non-reproductive and thus the condom acts as “disease prevention” rather than contraception.

This is because contraception, according to him, is akin to murder. When asked about the churches stance on contraception and abortion, he said “How many children are killed who might one day have been geniuses, who could have given humanity something new, who could have given us a new Mozart or some new technical discovery?”

Hey, guess what, Mr. Pope? Sperm are NOT children, nor are eggs. (Nor, for that matter, is an embryo or fetus.) Pretty scary that someone who equates contraception to killing children has so much global sway. Guess it’s not surprising giving his heinous 2009 comment that condoms CONTRIBUTE to rather than HELP PREVENT the spread of AIDS.

So, I am wondering, can pedophiliac priests also wear condoms?  Does he comment on THAT in the new book? And isn’t this RAMPANT problem more akin to “killing children” than using contraception for fuck’s sake?!?!?!

What if Homophobia was Resisted Twilight style?

The following piece is cross-posted here. As it argues, Twilight is a rampantly heteronormative series. Yet, given its concurrent rampant popularity, why not seize the opportunity to consider the ways  the Twilight cultural phenomonon can be used to furtheer discussion about gender, sexuality, racism, classism, etc? This is the aim of my forthcomign book, Seduced by Twilght (which, by the way, I just secured an agent for yesterday — woo-hooo!)

Ah, more proof that the U.S. is still a homophobic nation. Just what we don’t need. Maine’s rejection of a same sex marriage law earlier this week means that  attempts to legalize gay marriage have now been shot down in 31 states. As such, I thought it fitting to post a few thoughts about heteronomativity, homophobia, and Twilight.

Poking around Google, I found almost no posts that consider the heteronormativity of the series. One exception is Emily Rutherford’s “Heteteronormativity, Again; or, the Experience of Reading Twilight.” As Rutherford writes, “…there is no homosexuality in Twilight. Despite the obvious ambiguity of Edward’s sexual appeal, there are no gay couples in Forks, WA. There are no explicitly gay vampires. Bella herself doesn’t experience same-sex attraction.” As she further argues, “For all that it confuses clear-cut sexualities; for all that it builds upon and complicates our traditional notion of the innocent love story, it is still profoundly and aggressively heteronormative.”

As for the widespread heteronormativity the book upholds, all characters are represented as heterosexual and hetero-monogamous marriage is presented as ideal. Amongst other types of diversity depicted in the series – race, class, age, (dis)ability – there is not one single non-hetero character nor even a nod to the fact that not everyone on the planet is hetero. Given that Meyer’s is Mormon, a belief system that is notoriously heteronormative, it is hardly surprising that heterosexuality is represented as the unquestioned norm.

In addition to the series’ seething heteronormativity, the practice of buying the books and related products results in profits for those institutions that want to bolster heterosexism. Profits from the series are funneled to the Mormon church through the practice of tithing – such funds are used in various ways, but one of them is to prevent same sex marriage laws from passing (as with California’s prop 8). Here are some relevant portions of a piece I wrote on this topic:

Meyer has on multiple occasions stated that, in accordance with her Mormon belief, 10% of all  her profits for all things Twilight go to the Mormon church. (See, for example, The Advocate).

While she has not made any public statement regarding Prop 8, her tithing to the church supports institutionalizing discrimination against those who are not heterosexual. By extension, a percentage of the multi-billion dollar Twilight industry went towards the Mormon Church, an institution that played a huge funding role in initially getting Prop 8 on the ballot, and then kept the funding in plentiful supply in order to grow support for the Yes on 8 camp. The success of this campaign, which relied on dollars and dogma, would not have been possible without the big money that came from the Mormon Church and other religious donors.

….

Meyer’s silence about the issue of homophobia in her church in general, and Prop 8 in particular, comes across as deafeningly loud –it speaks volumes, showing support for discrimination via economic buttressing of an institution that helped California, the state I live in, to etch inequality into law. So much for the sunshine state – so much for dazzling, sensitive vampires…Guess it’s ok for a lion to love a lamb, but not for a man to love another man.

Unfortunately,  such homophobia does not only exist in the USA, but plagues the globe. As evidenced by a Twi Crack Addict piece posted last week, Wales is one such place. The piece, “Wolfpack Poster Removed from South Wales Cinema for being Homoerotic,” reports that a theatre in Cwmbran, South Wales, removed the wolfpack poster because it was “too homoerotic.” Given the rampant heteronormativity of the series, this accusation seems a bit ironic, especially given that the wolf characters are the only ones to give voice to their homophobia in the texts.

For example, in Breaking Dawn when Quil says to Jacob “I don’t notice girls anymore,” Jacob jokes ““Put that together with the tiara and makeup, and maybe Claire will have a different kind of competition to worry about.” Here, Jacob insinuates that Quil’s tiara-wearing antics might lead to some non-hetero ‘competition.’ Quil laughs in response, making kissing noises at Jacob and asking, “You available this Friday, Jacob?” Ah yes, homosexuality is SO FUNNY – especially in a book that presents heterosexuality as the ONLY option with a message that screams “Be hetero! Get married and have babies!”

In Breaking Dawn Leah also teases Jacob about his heartfelt goodbye to Quil, snickering “Thought you were going to make out with him.” Yeah, cuz it’s so homo-esque for a male to care about his guy friends. Leah might as well have said, “Hey, wolf boy, grow some hetero balls and put your focus where it should be – on the ladies!”

The inclusion of various homophobic sentiments from the Native American characters seems to go above and beyond Meyer’s staying true to her Mormon roots into the territory of actually mocking and deriding homosexuality. Further, the fact that the Quileute characters are the only characters to voice their homophobia is ironic given that native culture is historically far more accepting of diverse expressions of gender and sexuality. Such sentiments would be far more realistic out of the mouths of Meyer’s demi-god Mormon-esque vampires.

I am wondering if the above poster would have been removed if it featured shirtless white men instead — if it depicted the Carlisle, Edward, Jasper, Emmett pack? (Who are of course not referred to as a pack – think about the racial implications of that!) I would venture a guess that the poster would be less likely to be accused of homoeroticism if those pictured were white – partly because hegemonic, normative masculinity is linked  to whiteness, and partly because (due to a global system of racism) it’s easier (and more common) to discriminate against non-white men.

The ubiquitous shirt-lessness of the “wolf pack” (written about in my earlier post here) is linked to this notion of hegemonic masculinity and whiteness. White males, more often associated with mental activities and acumen, are often less sexualized (as explored by scholars such as Jackson Katz). Raced, or non-white men, and working class men, are more associated with their bodies and bodily activities. The fact that the male Quileute, as both raced and working class, are often depicted without clothes accords to this sexualization of males who are deemed as “lesser” – either due to race or class. Yes, I know they “run hot” in the books because of their wolf identity, but this alone does not explain why all the actors portraying them are photographed shirtless far more often than their white actor counterparts…

Finally, the removal of this poster due to its “homoerotic” message is ridiculous and repugnant. It smacks not only of homophobia, but of sexism (if those pictured were half naked women, there would not be a problem) and racism (speaking to the fear of the “Other” and of women or men finding raced Others attractive). As you go about being repeatedly seduced by the series and its offshoots, I hope you will once in awhile pause and think about these more troubling aspects. By voicing our discontent about those aspects of the book, the fandom, and the franchise that trouble us, we can bring homophobia (and other discriminatory ideologies) out of the closet. And, by discussing such regulatory ideals often and vociferously we can bring some progressive sparkle to the Twilight table.

This is partly my intent with the parodies from Twi Kids Trio – many who wrote to me thus far about the first skit noted their favorite scene was Jacob sitting on Edward’s lap (and, by the way, if you watch the skit, please leave comments or feedback on You Tube!). Future parodies will continue to mock the cult of masculinity and nod to the latent homoeroticism that heteronormativity attempts to deny. As per the theories of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, homoerotic elements pervade the majority of literary texts. They may be deeply hidden and denied in Twilight, but often that which is most strenuously resisted is also ardently, if shamefully, desired. Don’t know about you, but I find it quite fascinating to ponder a queer version of Twilight… doing so makes the hand-holding abstinence and virginal purity message seem all the more antiquated, and, yes, discriminatory.

What if we are a fanpire nation, allowing the passage of Prop 8 via our Twilight obsessions?

I have been absent from blog-land for some time now, immersed in teaching, grading, research, parenting, etc. I was spurred to post today due to the appalling decision yesterday regarding Prop 8 that has blighted the sunshine state in which I reside.

Part of what has kept me from blogging is my current research/writing project – a feminist analysis of the Twilight phenomenon in relation to girl culture, abstinence-only education, the hyper-sexualization of females, and our corporate capitalist patriarchal world of Christian, white, male, hetero privilege.

This project was born via the intervention of one of my very favorite feminists – my ten-year-old daughter. She wanted to read the series and find out what all the fuss was about, so we read it together. I expected to be disturbed by it, I expected to hate it, yet I was surprised on both counts.

I was DEEPLY disturbed by it – but not only or mainly for the reasons I expected (more on this later).

And I did hate the series in many ways– but I also became fascinated by it – I could not put the damn books down!  (more on this later, too)

For today, I want to focus on Prop 8 and what it represents – the continuing homophobia and heteronormativity of our culture– and how the mega-profitable Twilight franchise helped to enshrine such hatred into law.

As Dancin With Your Mouth Open posted back in November of 08,

With the huge boxoffice success of “Twilight,” it grossed over $70M domestically, this past weekend, not only is Stephenie Meyer making tons of money so is the Mormon church. Stephenie Meyer, described as the “the Mormon Anne Rice,” does what any good Mormon does which is called tithing. Tithing is a requirement in the Mormon religion and it’s usually 10% of their earnings. So, with all the talk about the Mormon church being a huge supporter of Prop 8, it seems like “Twilight” and Stephanie Meyer are contributors as well.

Meyer has on multiple occasions stated that, in accordance with her Mormon belief, 10% of all  her profits for all things Twilight go to the Mormon church. (See, for example, The Advocate).

While she has not made any public statement regarding Prop 8, her tithing to the church supports institutionalizing discrimination against those who are not heterosexual. By extension, a percentage of the multi-billion dollar Twilight industry went towards the Mormon Church, an institution that played a huge funding role in initially getting Prop 8 on the ballot, and then kept the funding in plentiful supply in order to grow support for the Yes on 8 camp. The success of this campaign, which relied on dollars and dogma, would not have been possible without the big money that came from the Mormon Church and other religious donors.

Can we finally admit that rather than a separation of church and state we have a MARRIAGE between church and state – they are like the perfect couple, supporting each other via campaign contributions on the one hand and tax exempt status on the other.

In terms of the fanpire’s role, their obsession with all things Twilight has further lined the pocketbooks of a Church that is unashamed of its homophobia. Even those of us who are not members of the growing legions of fanpires, those of us who merely read the series and watched the movie and yet can still somehow sleep at night without dreaming of Edward, have contributed to Meyer’s tithing, and, by extention, to the success of Prop 8. To be honest, I didn’t consider this component of purchasing the books until a friend mentioned it to me, and I feel the fool for NOT realizing it. (Then again, it seems even going to see Milk helped those in support of prop 8).

How in a world where homophobia is the norm can one NOT contribute to it? I think not contributing at this time is an impossibility  —  our culture has it set up so we all must contribute, even if only subconsciously.

Yet, I find tithing, from whatever religion (as not only Mormons tithe), particularly abhorrent when used in such ways. Not only is it tax-exempt but it  is used (as in this instance)  to turn prejudice and discrimination into law in the name of religion. How ironic given the frequent complaint from the Mormon Church that they are discriminated against for their religion, that they are the Christain ‘Others’!

Meyer’s silence about the issue of homophobia in her church in general, and Prop 8 in particular, comes across as deafeningly loud –it speaks volumes, showing support for discrimination via economic buttressing of an institution that helped California, the state I live in, to etch inequality into law. So much for the sunshine state – so much for dazzling, sensitive vampires – instead, we have Prop Hate funded in part by Ms. Meyer and her adoring fanpire. Guess it’s ok for a lion to love a lamb, but not for a man to love another man.

What if you could buy social justice? (Part 2: The One True Religion: Consumerism)

(To read part 1 of this post, go here.)

A couple weeks back, I finally got around to watching What Would Jesus Buy, an anti-consumerist documentary that follows Reverend Billy Miller and his “Church of Stop Shopping” choir as they tour the U.S. in the consumer-frenzied run up to Christmas. The film begins with images of crazed, stampeding shoppers and various news channels reporting on “Black Friday,” as well as other Christmas-induced shopping mania.

It is the perfect film to watch at this time of year as we enter the manic descent into the mindless consumerism of the holiday shopping season and the directive to buy, buy, buy is everywhere. This directive comes through the mailbox via catalogues, through the television via ads, even via one’s email inbox via messages about “lowest prices of the season.” In general conversation, people pepper their speech with Christmas shopping “must-do’s” or share news of recent “bargains.”

As a professor quoted in What Would Jesus Buy clarifies, Christmas successfully convinces us to buy because it “combines commercialism with this true feeling of love and affection.” Or, in other words, we have come to associate the giving and receiving of gifts with love – the better the gift, the more gifts, the more we are loved – or so goes the loving-through-buying narrative, a narrative that translates into 5 million tons of extra waste generated from the holiday season via all the wrapping paper, packaging, etc (and this is in the US alone).
Yet, where all the stuff we buy during the holiday season will go is not a question we as consumers are encouraged to ask. This point is made clear by the “stop shopping counselor” featured in What Would Jesus Buy. Noting that many people are quite literally addicted to shopping, she encourages breaking the cycle via asking questions such as: “Do I really need this?” “Where will I put it?” While we don’t tend to consider where purchased items will go in the short term, neither do we think about where they will go long term.

The “disposing” side of consumption, so well captured in the film The Story of Stuff as well as in the garbage filled earth featured in Wall-e, is not a side we are prompted to think about. In fact, even given the popularity of the “go green” and “save the planet” paradigm we are now in, we are encouraged to SHOP to save the earth – BUY more green products, PURCHASE a hybrid car, GET re-usable shopping bags! This is not to say that these directives do not have their merit on some level, but that we are rarely given directives to NOT BUY, to STOP CONSUMING, let alone to consume less.

Driven by what the film refers to as the familiar god of “buy now pay later,” we are very reluctant to give up our consuming habits and instead create more palatable alternatives, ways to keep shopping that make us feel better about doing so while simultaneously doing nothing to stop our consumerist mindset. This is hardly surprising given the deification of consumer capitalism in the United States. It is, I would argue, the one true religion – the one that speaks to (nearly) all US citizens, that transcends race, class, gender, sexuality, and belief- the worship of the dollar and the joy in spending that dollar is the foundation of the “American Dream.” We are, as the story goes, a country where the streets our paved in gold, where anyone can make it, where Joe Six-Pack can become a millionaire!

Even in times of national crisis we are encouraged to identify as consumers, rather than as citizens. And, just as GW directed Americans to go out and shop post-9/11, so to are we being encouraged to buy our way out of the current economic crisis. As Anthony B. Robinson writes in “Articles of Faith: Consumerism is a greedy society’s religion”:

“House Minority Leader Boehner, a Republican congressman from Ohio, celebrated the recent passage of the economic stimulus package by saying, ‘The sooner we get this relief in the hands of the American people, the sooner they can begin to do their job of being good consumers.’ Your title: ‘consumer;’ your mission: ‘buy stuff.’ Echoes of the president’s call, amid the crisis of 9/11, to get out and ‘shop.’

We learn this lesson of ‘good consumerism’ our entire life span in the US. As children, Disney hawks its wares to us, promising hours of endless fun and adventure. As tweens, we have entire genres of film, television, and music marketed to us – not to mention a whole slew of fashion and techno gadgetry. With college and the era of one’s first credit cart, we are tantalized with cars, stereos, and endless dorm/apartment ‘needs.’ As we enter the ‘real’ world, we are prompted to buy houses bigger than we can afford, cars bigger than we need, vacations we cannot pay for, and enough clothes and accessories to outfit a small country. As we age, we are incited to think about devices that can supplement our slowing bodies (purse finders and lights that turn and off with a clap!), as we near death’s doorstep, we are not allowed to go gently into that good night, but are tantalized with designer coffins, special headstones, and snazzy urns. Not consuming is, in US parlance, tantamount to being dead.
This is why, to Robinson’s question “Is it too much to suggest that consumerism has become a kind of alternative faith, a religion of sorts?” I would answer “Heck, NO!” Consumerism is the most popular, and most impervious to critique, of all US faiths! As What Would Jesus Buy makes clear through its witty conflation of faith and shopping, Wal-Mart has become our Temple, Disney our Church, the mall our place of worship.

Stay tuned for the next installment of What if you could buy social justice, “The Temple of Wal-Mart.”

What if “traditional” wasn’t used as a catch all term meaning ‘good’ or ‘natural’? (Or, what ‘traditions’ should we vote to perpetuate come Tuesday…?)

If you have been on this planet long enough to learn how to read, you have likely come across phrases such as “It’s tradition” or “We’ve always done it this way, it’s a family/community/religious tradition” or “traditional family.”  In sayings such as these, the word ‘tradition’ is used to indicate something is good, right, natural, worth doing, etc. People say things like, “I will go to my mother’s for the holiday, it’s tradition” or “traditional recipe” or “American tradition.”

While there are many bad traditions, we don’t tend to talk about these things as traditional. For example, it’s quite traditional for many whites to raise their children to be racist and/or deny white privilege. Yet, we don’t tend to speak of the “white racist tradition.” It’s also tradition for boys and men to learn to degrade and objectify women — sometimes they learn this from their fathers, sometimes from their friends, and certainly from popular culture. Yet, we don’t speak of “sexist tradition.” It’s also tradition for the USA to rely on an exploitive labor system and an economic set-up that favors the very rich. Yet, we don’t say “the USA’s traditional to use slave labor” or “the tradition of keeping all the wealth in the hands of white male elites.” We don’t say these things because traditions are assumed to be good, to be things worth keeping.

Lately, the word ‘tradition’ is being thrown around a lot in relation to heteronormative concepts of family and marriage. Here in California, the “Yes on 8” camp (or, in other words, the we support homophobic hate crew) use lines such as “protect the traditional family” or “protect the tradition of marriage.” Here, ‘traditional’ is used as a synomym for “the right kind,” as in, “protect the right kind of marriage, not that crazy gay kind.” Notice that the Yes on 8 crew does not uses phrases such as “support homophobia, it’s tradition” or “it’s traditional to hate and exclude others who are not like us,” or, “save traditional marriage – keep the man in charge and the woman as property.” No, none of these “traditions” are named as such.

And, as a post at Straight Not Narrow notes, the Yes on 8 crowd seems to interpret the need to “keep traditions” quite differently than how Jesus might have characterized tradition. As the post notes, in the book of Mark, Jesus contrasts “the traditions of men” from “the commands of God,” and, not surprisingly, suggests that God’s rules are the ones to follow, not human traditions. Here is the quote from Mark 7:8-9:

You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.” And he said to them: “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions.”

Now, I don’t personally believe in the bible, but for those that do, doesn’t the way Jesus characterizes tradition here not jibe with how the Yes on 8 crew is using the word? Tradition in the above is characterized as bad, as willful, as going against God. Huh, I may be on to something there. If “the traditions of men” are going against “the commands of God,” then upholding “traditional marriage” (as the Yes on 8 crew is doing) is actually hubris – it is taking the stance that “my tradition” or “my belief” is better than everyone else’s – including that of God, Jesus, etc.

A story about a ballot measure introduced in Olympia, Washington puts the hypocrisy surrounding the “traditional marriage” in stark relief. As reported at the SeattlePI back in 2007:

“Proponents of same-sex marriage have introduced an initiative that would put a whole new twist on traditional unions between men and women: It would require heterosexual couples to have children within three years or else have their marriages annulled.”

Gregory Gadow, who filed the I-957 proposition, claimed the initiative was filed “in the spirit of political street theater” with no real intention to actually put this into law, but rather  “to get this on the ballot and cause people to talk about it.” (See the full story here.)

Such “political street theatre” makes it abundantly clear that “traditional marriage” is touted as a good thing without much analysis as to what this really means. While it is ‘traditional’ for most marriages to result in children, does this mean that marriages which don’t are no longer real or valid?

Ideas surrounding “tradition” also circulate around California’s Prop 4 initiative. The Yes on 4 camp, that would like to limit reproductive rights, uses the platform of protecting “traditional family values.” However, as anyone who doesn’t live with their head stuck up their backsides knows, the ‘traditional nuclear family’ model in the US is rife with heinous and hypocritical ‘traditions.’ For example, the tradition of seeing the women in the family as servants, as property, as items to barter or ‘give away’ to men/future husbands. Or, the tradition of valuing sons more, of putting male’s education/goals etc first. While these traditions are thankfully waning, they are by no means under threat of extinction. If Prop 4 passes (and if the even more draconian Prop 11 in South Dakota passes(see here for more on Prop 11)), the ‘tradition’ of controlling women’s bodies and their reproductive capacities will be strengthened – or, in other words, we will be moving BACKWARDS in terms of equality, social justice, and reproductive freedom.

“Tradition” has also been used in the presidential campaign to promote racism and sexism. As Obama threatens the ‘tradition’ of white male rule, he has been targeted in extremely racist ways that feed on the tradition of white supremacist views that are still prevalent in this ‘free’ country. And, as the sexist coverage of both Clinton and Palin reveals, any woman, even when she is a right-to-lifer, weapon/oil/war loving darling of the right, is framed as a threat to the tradition of male/power privilege.

While some traditions are good, (like calling your dad on father’s day, or eating meals together as a family, or voting!) others, (like sexism, racism, homophobia) are abhorrent. While all people should have equal rights and privileges, equal opportunities, the right to marry if they choose, the right to control their own reproductive capacity, the right to run for office without being targeted by racist/sexist campaign propaganda, all traditions are certainly NOT equally good or right.

Thus, when something is touted as good because it is ‘traditional,’ let us all pause and think about what traditions we want to perpetuate and what traditions need to be axed. The ‘traditional family,’ ‘traditional marriage,’ and ‘traditional leaders,’  are not actually altogether good traditions, but traditions that work to limit access to privilege and power and that disenfranchise women, people of color, and non-heterosexuals.

Up with feminist, progressive traditions and down with traditions of hate! And, please, please consider what traditions you would like to perpetuate when you vote come Tuesday…

What if the numbers of supporters of “Yes on 8” in California are indicative of the de-volution of the USA?

The USA has undergone a massive dumbing down in the past decade (not that we were ever the most intelligent of nations, mind you…). A confluence of factors has led us to a state where we think it is just hunky-dory that we have a Vice Presidential candidate that peppers her speech with “You Betcha,” winks at the crowd, and knows wolf killing like the back of her hand but can’t name more than one Supreme Court Case.  Likewise, many don’t seem too bothered by the huge educational and intellectual discrepancies between the Mcain/Palin ticket and the Obama/Biden ticket. (As various versions of the educational background comparison posts peppering the web reveal, M/P are the flunkies and O/B the grads. See, for example, here and here.) Yet, it would be ELITIST if we elected someone really intelligent. We need to vote for “real Americans” (gag) – you know ones who don’t like them city folks, think community organizing is for liberal commies, and love ‘em some weapons to kill wolves, bear, and Asians (on McCain’s anti-Asian racism, see this book). Plus, it’s so much easier (and apparently more fun) to focus on skin color and celebrity cavorting. The VP candidate on Saturday Night Live with Alec Baldwin telling her “she is way hotter in person”? Cool!

I wonder how many other countries around the world that actually still value education, intellectual debate, ‘high’ culture (rather than Girls Gone Wild and The Man Show) look at us in horror. “How did that sad nation avoid evolution?” they must wonder. “How did a nation run by man-children (the top of which brags that he doesn’t read) ever get so much power?” Of course, as they read papers and news magazines, as they follow world news and exercise their brains, they surely see how this has happened – it is a case of a bully and his gang using threats, lies, and fear to takeover the playground (or, in this case, the world).

And how funny that a nation that is de-volving rather than evolving in such obvious ways is currently on the rampage to DENY evolution and act as if we were all prancing around with dinosaurs 6,000 years ago. Perhaps our own failed evolution here in the US has led us to be more prone to denying evolution exists –  a denial many would like us to teach to children – you know, because the bible is such a nicer story with neat Saints and stuff – it is far more useful to learn about Eve’s fall rather than scientific mumbo-jumbo. Who needs to know evolutionary science when there are so many more important things to teach – like sexism, prejudice, and out and out hate?

I can hear the cries from the Yes on 8 bible band that “Teaching children religion is not about teaching hate!” Oh really? Well, the Christianity I see evidence of in mainstream society is all about hate – hating gays, hating sex, hating science, hating other religions (especially Islam). It is about teaching children that “God loves us all,” but HE really only loves heterosexuals, Americans, Christians (aAnd loves men more –wait a second, is God gay? Come to think of it, isn’t there quite a bit of homo-eroticism in the “good book”? All that male bonding and male love…Was the last supper actually a gay dinner party? Looks that way according to some of the paintings I have seen…Anyhow, I digress.)

I know not all religions teach hate, I know many churches are working to progress ideas about “loving one another” (regardless of sexuality or nationality), and I personally know many religious people who are kind, good-hearted, non-judgmental, and anti-racist/sexist/homophobic. Yet, if I were to judge religion via what I have seen in my region surrounding Prop 8 and Prop 4, as well as via news coverage of these Propositions, I would have to say that, in these cases, religion is being used to spread hatred and lies.

I recently drove passed an entire cadre of Yes on 8 sign wavers. Many of the signs read “Vote yes on 8. Protect religious freedom.” How is a homophobic law based on denying rights to all people equally ‘protecting religious freedom’? Oh, I get it – they mean the freedom to hate, to judge, to disqualify any deemed “Others” from fair and just treatment.

I assume the misleading tag-line about religious freedom is referring to the false claim that priests will be FORCED to marry same sex couples if Prop 8 fails to pass. Yes, hordes of lesbian on motorcycles will roar down church aisles, tie up unsuspecting priests, wrap them in a rainbow flag, and force them to marry non-heterosexuals.

Perhaps the “Yes on 8” ideology is a case of “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” (The famous Shakespeare line that indicates one is objecting so strongly that one loses credibility. The phrase is often used to indicate that someone’s ‘protest’ points out their guilt. Or, that their objection is denial based – meaning, they are protesting something based on guilt, complicity, or to distance themselves from their true actions/desires.) In other words, are the Yes on 8 people so busy “protecting marriage” because they themselves fear their own sexuality and desires? If the ‘love between a man and a woman’ is so damn natural, why does it need laws to ‘protect’ it?

All that being said, the good religious voices (or, in my book, the one’s that care about social justice for all) are being pretty well silenced by the religio-crazies. As Rabbi Elliot Dorff notes,

“Much has been made recently of faith leaders expressing support for Proposition 8, California’s measure on the November ballot that would eliminate the right to marry for thousands of committed gay and lesbian couples. Speaking less loudly – or perhaps ignored by media outlets hungry for controversy – have been the voices of thousands of other clergy members: Episcopalians and Methodists, Quakers and Unitarians, Muslims and Buddhists, and Reform, Reconstructionist, and Conservative Jews.”

So, why are the voices of No on 8 clergy members not heard – or at least not heard as widely – as the Yes-on-8-We-support-hate group? Well, I think this again has to do with the whole de-volving of our culture. We have de-volved into a society that thrives on controversy, on soundbites and headlines rather than analysis, on ‘extreme news’ that functions to grab attention rather than to educate. How ‘extreme’ is it to claim that if marriage is going to be a right, it needs to be one all people can partake in? It’s so much more exciting to focus on how a priest is going to be forced to marry two men or how teachers will be giving lessons on homosexual lovin’ to 5 year olds…

Yet, the claim that any clergy member will be forced to do anything by Prop 8 is an outright lie. As Dorff further notes:

“under California law, no pastor, rabbi, priest or imam from any denomination can be forced to marry a same-sex couple against his or her will.  Religious groups and clergy members have a constitutionally protected right to celebrate or refuse to celebrate religious marriages based on the tenets of their particular faith…

…Unfortunately the proponents of Prop 8 are using falsehoods and scare tactics to try and sway voters. As I said above, there is NOTHING in Prop 8 that would affect any religion or religious ceremony.”

The Rabbi also does a fine job of elucidating how Prop 8 wouldn’t protect or bring about “religious freedom” (as it claims), but, rather, would curtail religious freedom:

“…Proposition 8 would prevent thousands of faith leaders like me from following the dictates of our own denominations and consciences by not allowing us to marry gay and lesbian members of our communities. It essentially accepts only the interpretation of some denominations, but not those of many others, about what constitutes the “sacred” institution of marriage. That means the government, and not our own faiths, is telling us whom we can marry.”

As for the other claim, that Prop 8 will hinder “educational freedom” and teachers will be forced to instruct children about homosexuality, well, this one is preposterous too. As if all schools will bring in a “it’s great to be gay” rainbow colored pamphlet the day after 8 fails… yeah, right. Plus, wouldn’t it actually be useful for the at least 10% of kids that are not heterosexual to learn about homosexuality? Or should we just burn the kids exhibiting non-heterosexuality at the stake right now? I am sure James Dobson would provide the wood at no cost…Fannie’s Room points to the hypocrisy surrounding this “we can’t teach kids about same sex marriage” camp as follows:

“It’s not okay to teach kids about same-sex marriage but it is okay to promote dishonest propaganda and asinine slippery slope arguments in order to vilify same-sex couples as playing a key role in the End of the World!”

Yes, apparently dishonesty is fine and dandy as long as its done in the name of the children, in the name of “traditional marriage.” Apparently all those biblical injunctions to be honest, to love they neighbor, to treat others as you wish to be treated, well those can all be set aside when it comes to same sex love. As the post here reveals, the “Yes on 8” ads are chock full of not only misleading information, but of downright lies. Oh, is THAT what they mean by “protect religious freedom” – they mean protect the freedom to lie to get what they want? Huh. (Furthermore, the ‘traditional marriage’ issue is fraught with complexities that neither side of the  Prop 8 divide is regularly addressing  —  the institution of marriage itself is questionable and problematic in many ways. The continuing construction of women as property within marriage, as well as the state sanctioned control of marriage, is perhaps something we should also be considering. However, if we are going to keep this flawed institution, everyone should be allowed to take part. For more on this line of argument, see my earlier post here.)

The Yes on 8 crew that live in my neighborhood are so blinded by the light of their own hypocrisy that they fail to see that their lovely little signs illustrate a same sex marriage image along with the ‘protect marriage’ logo. The sign is intended to represent a man and a woman (characterized by her skirt) holding hands above two children (one presumably a boy as he is in pants and bigger, the other supposedly a girl, smaller, next to mom and also in a skirt – so, yes, in ‘traditional families’ females must wear skirts! This law I am sure is somewhere in the bible. I will have to check here). Anyhow, when the sign is viewed through the sunlight (as it invariably is in San Diego) the mother’s skirt from the other side of the sign shows through and thus it looks like both adult images are wearing skirts. It looks like two women in skirts holding hands to celebrate ‘protecting marriage’!! Ah, poetic, illustrative (and, if you are so inclined to believe, divine) justice!

Please Californians, don’t do our supposedly progressive state wrong, vote no on Prop 8.