Posts filed under ‘Politics’

Poetic Justice

How fitting is it that the last poet laureate of the Bush reign is a married lesbian?

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18 July 2008 at 8:51 3 comments

Anthropology Projects Ripped from the Headlines

The New York Times recently published two articles on gender and sexuality, both of which cry out for further ethnographic elaboration.

In the first article, Choe Sang-Hun reports on how the growth in economic opportunities for women along with government-sponsored public awareness campaigns have helped stem the centuries-old South Korean preference for male children. It would be interesting to see what anthropologists could reveal about the changes in attitudes and family life that contributed to and resulted from these changes.

The changes in South Korea also beg the question of what will happen in China and India where similar preferences for boy babies are resulting in increasing gender imbalances. So far it seems that a lot of the attention paid to this issue has focused on the potential for increased violence when the surplus young men come of age. There will no doubt be a raft of other less sensational social and cultural changes as well. (via Broadsheet)

Then this week Nicholas Kulish reported from Berlin on gay and lesbian Muslims. Part of the anti-Muslim backlash in Europe has been based on the accusation that these immigrants don’t share the tolerant values of their new homelands — a thinly veiled (and, albeit, sometimes justified) accusation of religiously based sexism and homophobia, which renders gay and lesbian Muslims invisible. Fatma Souad, a transgender performer originally from Turkey sums up the perils of a doubly stigmatized identity: “Depending on which part of Berlin I go to, in one I get punched in the mouth because I’m a foreigner and in the other because I’m a queen.”

Of course, anthropologists interested in the intersections of sexuality and ethnicity/religion don’t need to go to Berlin to do fieldwork. Back when I lived in New York, Irish gays and lesbians fought a long and bitter battle with the main Irish fraternal organization over inclusion in the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade — a dispute that centered on the role Catholicism should play in defining Irishness.

3 January 2008 at 22:21 Leave a comment

Sounding Off

Yesterday Mark Liberman at Language Log posted about a Christian Science Monitor article by Matthew Rusling, an American expat living in Japan. Since Rusling picked up Japanese intonation and idioms from his Japanese girlfriend, he unknowingly picked up speech patterns that native listeners interpreted as female.

I had a similar problem the year I lived in Sweden, although I ended up sounding like the someone of a different age, rather than a different gender. Since I was attending classes at a folkhögskola — roughly equivalent to an American community college — I spent a lot of time listening to and talking with people in their late teens and early twenties.

By the end of the year, my Swedish was fluent, but it was fluent teenage-speak, which must have sounded ridiculous coming out of the mouth of a thirty-something woman with a vaguely American accent. Imagine a middle-aged immigrant in this country speaking fluent, American slang with a non-native accent, and you’ll get the idea — something like Dan Akroyd and Steve Martin’s two Czech brothers, the Wild and Crazy Guys of Saturday Night Live fame.

Of course it didn’t help that my classmates were always trying to get me to say things that they knew sounded goofy — either because they knew it was something I couldn’t pronounce quite right or because it was up-to-the-minute hipster slang. Even three years later, some of my Swedish friends will still try to get me to pronounce the words for frogs (grodor) and sprouts (groddar), two pronunciations I have a particularly hard time with.

One last point about Rusling’s original article and some of the responses to the Language Log post. Two other anglophone men mentioned similar problems with learning Japanese. One even concludes “…Just resign yourself to talking like a little girl for the rest of your life and hope to God that no one beats you up.” The underlying message is that, for men, sounding like a woman opens you up to ridicule, if not violence.” Interesting that, apparently even in Japan, the country that brought us the onnagata (male Kabuki actors, often renowned, who play female roles), one of the worst transgressions a man can commit is doing something that might cause him to be mistaken for a woman.

8 November 2007 at 23:00 Leave a comment

Signs of Hope

After a slew of news stories about U.S. states and counties attempting to declare English the one official language within their borders, it was a heartening to read this item from the New Zealand Herald.

The New Zealand government recently voted to add New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) to the country’s list of official languages, along with English and Maori, entitling NZSL speakers to interpreter service in all legal proceedings. They’ve also begun creating teaching materials so that middle and high school students will be able to study NZSL as a second language in public schools.

15 March 2007 at 22:46 Leave a comment

All the President’s Slime Mold Beetles

A few months ago, my boss found something brown and fuzzy growing out of the molding in one of the offices at work. When she called me in to look at the mystery growth, I realized it was a slime mold (I knew there was a reason I took those botany classes in college) and headed off to try to find it on Google.

Before I could figure out what kind of slime mold it was, I got distracted by this Cornell University news release. Apparently two entomologists named three new species of slime mold beetles after Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld, among others:

The entomologists also named some of the new species after their wives and a former wife, Pocahontas, Hernan Cortez, the Aztecs, the fictional “Star Wars” villain Darth Vader (“who shares with A. vaderi a broad, shiny, helmetlike head”), Frances Fawcett (their scientific illustrator) and the Greek words for “ugly” and “having prominent teeth” and the Latin word for “strange.”

Strangely enough, the scientists said this was a tribute

10 March 2007 at 23:44 Leave a comment

Religion in a Time of Crisis

As soon I read the first sentence of this New York Times article on the resurgence of religion in China, I thought of one of the postdocs at work who researches the resurgence of shamanism in Mongolia since the collapse of socialism. Reviving the old religious practices gave the people she studied a way of coping with and explaining economic crisis.

Sure enough, as I read further, I came upon a similar hypothesis about the Chinese revival:

Chinese experts say the growing popularity of religious belief has been driven by social crises involving corruption and the expanding gap between rich and poor.

Naturally, I’m now wondering how much of the US’s current bout of piety has to do with our own wealth gap and sense of economic uncertainty.

4 March 2007 at 23:26 Leave a comment


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