The Inherent Contradictions of the Social Conservative Worldview on Gender and Sexuality

As she so often does, Amanda Marcotte has noticed something in the Christian conservative worldview that I’ve never seen pointed out before.  The tabloids are apparently having a minor freak-out over the gender presentation of one of Angelina Jolie’s children, you see, and in order to present an “expert voice on parenting,” Life & Style Magazine went to Focus on the Family’s Glenn Stanton, of all people.  Britney Spears was apparently otherwise tied up and didn’t have time to comment, I guess?  Anyway, reacting to the fact that little Shiloh is going through some sort of tomboy phase, Stanton had this to say:

Says FotF’s Glenn Stanton, “Little girls have never been women before. They need help, they need guidance of what that looks like.”

Uh huh.  I can’t top the reaction from Andi Zeisler at Bitch Magazine, so I’ll just quote that for you:

Oh, how right you are, Mr. Stanton! Let’s make sure this poor misguided tot gets to spend some time with a traditionally feminine woman—say, one with long silky hair, pillowy lips, bountiful curves, perhaps even one considered the hottest sex bomb Hollywood’s ever seen! But where oh where are we going to find a woman like that for Shiloh to emulate?

Heh.

So anyway, off ran Amanda Marcotte’s brain, and she noticed that there is a huge, glaring contradiction in the teachings of Focus on the Family and similar groups on gender, gender presentation, and sexuality.  I’m going to excerpt a good bit, and then you should read the whole thing:

[W]hat’s really interesting to me is that social conservatives want to have it both ways—they argue both that gender is innate and unchangeable, and that it’s learned.  When feminists criticize domestic sexism, conservatives are all about how gender roles are natural and fixed—and in complete opposition to each other.  That men are naturally boorish pigs and women are naturally nurturing, so women who resent being told to nurture people who can’t even be expected to show gratitude are bucking nature and need to learn to live with our debased roles.  But then they turn around and say things like Stanton did, which is basically to admit that femininity (they also believe this about masculinity) is a learned behavior, and not only that, but it’s a long, hard process learning your gender.  You’ll hear from conservatives that boys are naturally drawn to trains and girls to dolls, and then they’ll flip around and tell each other that it’s extremely important to steer your children towards the “right” gender roles.

Their homophobia is clashing with their sexism, and showing how intellectually bankrupt both positions are.  Social conservatives portray homosexuality as a “choice”—which makes sense.  They want gays to get in the closet, and they’re just portraying that as authentic heterosexuality.  But in order to argue that it’s a choice, you have to position homosexuality as a serious temptation and gays as simply very weak people who give in.  If you buy into that argument, then you start to see homosexuality as a temptation that preys on all people, and your job as a parent becomes about shoring your child up to resist that temptation. Focus on the Family has long taught its followers that homosexuality can be warded off with strict teaching of gender roles.  In other words, they’ve been forced to make explicit what they’ve always pretended wasn’t true, which is that gender roles are learned and performed.  The irony is that the one avenue where they’ll admit gender roles are learned is the one avenue where they’re not actually going to have as much influence as they think.  Forcing a little girl who wants to be a tomboy into dresses is not going to make her not be a lesbian, and also that many lesbians prefer to present a feminine manner to the world.  And a lot of little girls allowed to be tomboys grow up straight.

What groups like Focus are unable/unwilling to grasp is that concepts of gender and sexuality are actually unique for each of our lives, and they can’t handle that reality.  Even if one were to grant that their “god” created us (I do not, obviously), they can’t stand the fact that the humanity they think he created simply doesn’t fit into artificially proscribed gender roles.  I was talking to someone the other day, whose high-school aged son recently came out, and the father was apparently doing some of that all-too-typical “If I had only introduced him to more guy stuff, this wouldn’t have happened” thing, and I said, “Actually, even if he had, and the kid turned out to be the most talented football player in the state, he would simply be a gay teen who happens to be the most talented football player in the state!”

It’s ludicrous.  The teachings of James Dobson and pals are so stupid, so completely unaccredited by any real parenting experts, that it’s obnoxious to have to spend time refuting them, but the sad fact is that lots of normal garden-variety Evangelicals read his titles for advice.  In his book Bringing Up Boys, Dobson actually spends a significant amount of time talking about “preventing homosexuality” by enforcing strict gender roles.  It’s laughable to us, because we know that homosexuality isn’t a disease to be prevented.  It’s a simple fact that homosexuality exists, and it bears no relation to a person’s gender presentation, or how well they fit into societally proscribed gender roles.  The only thing Dobson can really teach parents to do is to make their gay kids hate themselves so much that they’re driven to depression, general unhappiness, inauthentic living, and in some cases, suicide.  (I’m never quite sure whether that’s not Dobson’s actual goal in the first place, the insipid dog-abusing monster.)

So yeah, Focus, etc., are wrong on all counts.  In the world of actual human beings, most of us, if we’re honest, are sort of a composite of the characteristics ascribed traditionally to “male” and “female.”  Likewise, there are many, many kids who go through experimental phases where they like to dress up like the opposite gender, and most of these kids just sort of outgrow it.  Others, as they mature, find themselves to be transgender.  Still others find themselves somewhere in between the two!  And others, and others, and others… It’s the same with sexuality.  All you have to do to realize this is to spend five minutes in a large gay or lesbian bar and do some people-watching.  Sure, there are those who conform to stereotype.  Others don’t.  Still others find themselves somewhere in between.  The point is that the reality of gender and sexuality is complex, and those like Glenn Stanton will always be wrong as long as they insist on interpreting the world though a disproven, black-white, good-evil, male-female dichotomy that doesn’t exist in the real world.

Anyway, three cheers to Amanda for picking up on yet another example of extreme cognitive dissonance in the Christian conservative worldview.  There are so many, it’s hard to keep track sometimes.

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Tags: Amanda Marcotte, Angelina Jolie, Christian conservatives, Focus on the Family, gender, gender presentation, Glenn Stanton, homophobia, homosexuality, James Dobson, sexism, sexual fluidity, sexuality, transgender

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