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O’Donnell’s pubic region and the call for comprehensive sex education

This week, as Gawker featured an article about Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell and the sexual encounter she had a few years ago, to include a revelation that O’Donnell does not shave her pubic region, both the right and left quickly condemned the article – the right out of a desire to garner sympathy votes and the left, out of feminist desires to further gender equality.

While this is to be expected from both sides, the Gawker incidence is also a good opportunity to do two things – call for support of comprehensive sex education and further examine porn culture, which many feminists, I included, believe is responsible for a great deal of the plights women face.

Perhaps the most telling of the article is the expectations of sexual partners to look a certain way – a product of porn culture, to be sure. While, of course, we each are entitled to having preferences in the physical attributes of our partners, an important question remains: are the expectations of how our partners should look and behave a manifestation of pornography? That is, without pornography and the social constructs of what a naked woman should look like, would we be having this conversation about the status of Christine O’Donnell pubic region? Further, if men are affected by pornography, how are women also affected by pornography? Just as O’Donnell’s partner “lost interest” — or, more specifically, probably lost the ability to perform because she did not look like a porn star underneath, are women’s sexuality and ability to feel good about their bodies also affected by pornography?

But it isn’t just how women and men are affected by pornography from a personal context that feminist lens need to be applied. If our lives and personal conducts are somewhat affected by the media we consume – pornography in this case – how else are we affected in our interactions with one another? Do racist messages that often come in pornography affect the way we see those of a different color than us? Does pornography teach us to value young women for their bodies, but not their minds? Could it be possible that, implicitly, we learn from pornography that features women being bought for sex, then kicked off “bang buses” that women are disposable? If pornography only features certain types of sex acts, does it also mean that pornography limits the imagination within sexuality, thereby limiting what we consider intimate? By no means am I advocating, of course, that the sex acts depicted in pornography aren’t erotic or stimulating – I, however, posit that the message pornography sends is harmful to both gender and race relations, as well as our intimate lives. It is pornography, the vehicle that allowed men to make women’s bodies public property, that is also responsible for the objectification of O’Donnell’s body.

Yet, another point worth examining is the author’s assumption that if a woman chooses to make out, or to take off her panties, that the next automatic step is sex. This expectation, too, is the reason that many rape cases are bore on casual dates, as alarming statistics point out. Women – and men – should be able to set the limitations of their sexual comfort levels without ever having to go beyond what they wish to do. Sure, O’Donnell’s decisions were respected – but such mindset – the belief that making out automatically leads to sex – makes one wonder how many young people, and especially young women, have been labelled as a “tease” for having put an abrupt stop to an explosive sexual situation. Further – how many of them didn’t get their wishes respected? After all, faulting women as teases also makes them more liable, and thereby, making it much easier to not respect their wishes. It is a mindset that treats sexual intercourse as a “decision” yet everything else as merely “teasing.” That is – women empowerment – and the rights of women to be liberated, are only valid if women made the “right” decision- to have full-on sex – anything less and she gets labelled a “tease.” To put it more bluntly, how many have started out the night with an innocent crush, meaning only to make out, yet end up coerced or forced into sex against their intentions?

It’s no secret that the majority of us, as teenagers growing up, learned more about sex from pornography than we did in school. How many of our first sexual experiences, then, were modeled after porn? Further, how many young women – because society still dictates that men must always be the ones to initiate and push for sex – were pushed further than their comfort levels? Even more broadly, how then, can we define rape when messages about sex are muddled by fictional acts and situations? How many young girls – also the recipients of pornography’s messages, did not know they could or had the right to say no, and that by choosing to engage in a certain sexual act, they did not have the responsibility to also go further to other sexual acts?

By no means am I advocating that pornography should change and include pro-feminist messages of consent and mutual respect. I am, however, advocating that the assault on Christine O’Donnell points to one thing – that we need programs of comprehensive sex education, that will talk about consent and respect, safer sex and intimacy, body image and expectations of partners, boundaries and choices. Only in doing so, only in providing young people with said programs, can we prevent another future politicians from the mean-spirited attacks that O’Donnell had to endure.

Sadly, rather than embracing comprehensive sex education, O’Donnell has stood against it – and will continue to do so. Although it would be profoundly unfair and anti-feminist to say O’Donnell reaped with she sowed, it is acceptable to say her stands – and by default, her candidacy – is harmful to herself as well as women and men everywhere, because the politics she subscribes to has allowed a culture of misogyny — all you have to do for real-life evidence is read the Gawker article.

Why ending DADT must wait
October 18, 2010, 4:01 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , ,

Earlier this week, when the Obama administration decided to challenge a ruling that effectively stopped Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, I was critical of it for not being in touch with the American public and its liberal voting base. I was wrong. After giving the issue much deeper thoughts, I’ve come to the conclusion that the White House, from both a practical and intellectual perspective, did the right thing.

In short, DADT must and will end – for a myriad of reasons that have been succinctly argued by LGBT advocates, but it must be ended via the proper channels, and more importantly, ended with everything considered, and the proper pieces put in place to support LGBT servicemembers. Unlike the corporate world – the military isn’t a business, it’s an organization in which everyone has a responsibility toward one another – and such great responsibilities cannot be met without carefully examiming all concerns relating to the well-being of gay servicemembers.

To be sure – I support gay rights, as I always have – and it is in this spirit that I stand against ending the policy as we speak. I do not take such a stand as a way to impede upon the rights of LGBT servicemembers, or to, as many have accused the White House of doing, hold the LGBT community as political hostages. I take such a stand because my experiences in the military point to one thing: the military is not logistically ready to cater to and best serve gay soldiers.

Separate but equal isn’t equal, but neither is saying a particular is equal, yet lacking the foundations to help them succeed. As of today, if DADT were to end, young sergeants who are responsible for the training, mentoring, development and welfare of soldiers do not have the skills to work with LGBT members. This is not because gay soldiers are inherently different than straight soldiers, but because they possess different lived-experiences, and thus, have different social needs.

Too many times, young NCOs have to help soldiers deal with personal matters – matters that involve their private lives and navigate them toward the right way. Yet, without any formal training, how are young NCOs supposed to do that, with the confidence they are doing what is best for their soldiers?

The same concept also applies for chaplains and community service personnel, especially trained with helping soldiers with couples counselings. Until those personnel are trained and ready, having gay soldiers serve openly without systems of support in place is not fair for said soldiers, and is a profound neglect of leadership that every soldier deserves.

There are also issues of including gay soldiers – and their needs and concerns – into yearly training, to include prevention of sexual harrassment and assault training. At the current moment, said training is heterosexually-focused, and leaves out a great many situations and problems found within the LGBT community. Until the program is overhauled and changed to include gay soldiers, it is impractical for end DADT.

Then, there is also the matter of medical care and support. Are the training given soldiers including facts about high-risk sexual behaviors as well as safer sex? At the moment, while condoms are widely available on base, what is not available are frank and honest discussions, led by qualified healthcare professionals, regarding the sexual health of soldiers. I take this stand not as an attack on the LGBT community, but rather, because I realize that behind all the talks of celebrating love and respecting all relationships, young soldiers will have sex, whether gay or straight, and the issue must be taken head-on, to protect the health of America’s fighting forces.

Another issue to consider: how to smoothly end the policy without engaging the soldiers who already have negative perceptions of the LGBT community? It’s easy, of course, to say that soldiers should leave the military if they do not like it. But said sentiments are extremely impractical, and further, will create a wedge between soldiers who support LGBT rights and those who do not. In the end, leaders must have an opportunity to hash out, discuss and put in place the tools neccesary to ensure the transition is a smooth one, for all soldiers.

Matters of equality need to also be discussed – does the end of DADT mean the Equal Opportunity Office will include the history of gay persons and achievements as parts of its monthly celebration? If so, to whom should it turn for guidance, and to which extent should be celebrate? Equal Opportunity celebrations within the military are dictated by the law, and thus, the law must also be clear on why, where and when – or if at all – gay rights and histories should be celebrated within the military.

Lastly, there is the issue of the law – while I will leave the judiciary argument for Time Magazine, which did a wonderful job at arguing why a challenge from the Obama administration was important, from a precedence and future cases view points, what I want to focus on are the laws of entitlement. In the states in which LGBT members are allowed to get married, what are their entitlements and benefits within the military, especially for Guard members, who are from those states? Are they entitled to separation pay during combat? Are they entitled to married persons’ rates of housing allowances? In cases of serious injuries, who gets to make the decisions that affect their lives? Will gay marriage only be recognized in duty stations or Guard units in which the state recognizes gay marriage?

These questions, and so many more, regarding how to best serve gay soldiers, must be answered before DADT is ended. We all want to see gay servicemembers get the same rights as the rest of us, but we must also do so correctly, and dot all our I’s and cross our T’s, for if we do not, we’ll create a generation of soldiers who are equal, but on paper only.

Thus the goal of the Obama White House must be, at the moment, ordering studies – as he has done, and to put plans in place, creating Standing Operating Procedures and programs, to let LGBT members serve openly. Only after those plans have been satisfactory shown to be beneficial to LGBT servicemembers should DADT be repealed.

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell must end, but only in due time, for if we end it now, we run the risk of handing gay Americans freedoms, but not benefits and entitlements they need to succeed. Freedom without support is not – just ask the millions of Southern slaves who were freed, yet received nothing to help them achieve true freedom.