A humble little blog about books, information, and other things that are good to know.

Posts tagged ‘sexuality’

Five Thoughts on Fifty Shades

I won’t tell you not to read Fifty Shades of Grey and its accompanying sequels, all written by E.L. James. It’s against every grain of my librarian instinct to try to prevent reading, or to shame people over their reading choices. But I can’t keep silent either.

I’m partway through the book – reading it together with a friend – and I feel like there are a few things I have to put out there that have really troubled me as I’ve worked my way through the story. I’m not looking to turn people off the books, but I do hope that anyone who chooses to read them will do so with a bit more critical thought for having heard what I’ve got to say.

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“Graphic Sex for Twelve-Year-Olds”?

Teresa Tomeo

Image via Endow Groups.

This morning I was listening to Catholic Answers Live, a thing I sometimes do because I like to see how the religion of my youth is motoring along these days. And a recent episode, called “Parents’ Role in Chastity Education”, gave me real food for thought with these remarks:

Basic cable network MTV’s head of programming David Janollari has stated that his network’s goal is to reach out to twelve-to-thirty-four year olds. And what kind of content does Mr. Janollari think is appropriate for the twelve-year-olds he’s targeting? A graphic sex program, of course. In April MTV recruited Dan Savage, author of the tabloid sex column ‘Savage Love’, to lead the network’s new program Savage U. So I’ll just leave it there. Now you can imagine the content on this show.

Guest host Teresa Tomeo was, in part, quoting an article she’d read somewhere, adding her own commentary along the way. I won’t venture to guess which parts she was reading aloud and which were her comments, because that wouldn’t be fair.  But the language, whoever wrote it, says it all – “graphic sex program”, “tabloid sex column”, and that rather sarcastic “what does Mr. Janorelli think is appropriate?” It’s clearly calling on parents to get really worried about pornographic programming for preteens being broadcast all over the filthy airwaves.

It’s time for a little perspective.

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The Graphic Novel Rebellion!

Comic-book child: "Dots are cool, Daddy!"

Image via The Graphic Mag.

Graphic novels have gotten a bad rap in the past. Because so much of the content appears in picture form, they’ve been dismissed as “comic books” and consequently treated as unworthy, thoughtless, and juvenile forms of literature. Now librarians know that graphic novels, like any other form or genre, can be intelligent and thoughtful when done well. (I’ve blogged about this in the past.)

But that’s not the end of the hard struggle for graphic novels.

This edgy form of fiction often deals with some pretty heavy subject matter, which can involve violence, sexuality, or harsh language. And not everybody wants to find that at their local library. You’d think they could just press on and look for something more suited to their tastes, but apparently not: the ALA has released a list of the top ten graphic novels to be challenged, banned, or censored in American schools and libraries.

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Recent Reading Round-Up

A true bookshelf of the mind

Image via Rod Dreher's blog on Beliefnet.

It’s been a busy time of year, and I haven’t had a chance to blog about all my recent reading. So here – in time for Boxing Day book-shopping, if you’re so inclined, or a relaxing vacation-time visit to the library if you’re not – a list of some books I’ve read and enjoyed, but never discussed in their own blog posts.

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Sex and the Soybean

Image created by Jacqueline Chai. Click to check out her work!

Just to make sure everyone knows where my biases stand on the question as a consumer of foodstuffs, I’m allergic to soybeans. I actually cannot eat them because of the protein content. (See phenylketonuria.)

But the librarian in me, which is committed to the value of critical thinking in eliminating misinformation, was fascinated by this article from Macleans.ca about whether soy can cause negative effects in those – especially men – who consume it. These negative effects? Homosexuality, shrinking penises, low sperm-count, and general feminization.

Really? Those are negative effects? Well, that’s the first critical-thinking problem I’d like to nip in the bud.

If you think becoming more feminine is the scary bugaboo it’s being considered in this and other health scares, I’m going to have to burst your bubble right now. The world takes all kinds of people, and it’s dealing in stereotypes that produces heath-myths like this one. Men can be feminine without being gay, gay without being feminine, both or neither or something else entirely. Truth be told, what’s feminine is basically what the society around us says is feminine. If women are allowed to embrace behaviours our society calls masculine – hooray for feminism! – maybe it’s high time men were accepted even when they don’t shy away from our feminine stereotypes.

Web authors like Jim Rutz (from uber-conservative website World News Daily) talk about fears of soy-induced sexual confusion as if it isn’t a normal part of being alive and discovering oneself. Who hasn’t experienced that to some degree? But it’s exacerbated by the rigid expectations of our society, strict rules about what makes us male or female, masculine or feminine – rules that really don’t have any place in a society where it’s okay to be the best and most honest version of yourself.

Penis size? Nobody cares, and most women I know agree that bigger isn’t always better. If soybeans actually shrank penises, well, I know ladies who would be calling on their men to get a prescription! Low sperm count is a legitimate health concern for men who still hope to have kids one day, but we should leave behind the idea that reproductive problems make you less of a man (or woman, for that matter.) And I can understand not wanting to be gay because of the stigma in our society against it, but honestly, the problem there is STIGMA, not soybeans.

Bottom line? If there are health concerns around soy, we should approach them as health concerns. Let’s filter out all these myths about what makes someone masculine or feminine, the ones that make any soybean scare seem threatening, not just to your body, but to who you are at the core. Nothing you ever eat will change who you are. So let’s all relax.

Now, on to the health bit. The scientific consensus indicates that soy can be beneficial. It’s a health food, for heaven’s sake! (Check out the Soy Fears page on Bryanna’s Vegan Feast for a comprehensive collection of soy facts and myths.) The problem is that, in our Internet society, bad news about soy travels way faster than the efforts people make to correct the myths created by bad scientific studies that play into our least scientific social fears.

How come? Well, bad news always travels more quickly; if you’ve got a soy-loving brother, you’re more likely to be galvanized to send him an article about how soy causes infertility than to send him an article that says how soy prevents cancer. Even more, though, soy is a health food and the pressure to live healthy is enormous. If you’re no great fan of soy products, any news that gives you a “get-out-of-soy-free” card is going to really appeal to you. It’s a lot easier to say, “Of course I’m concerned about my health – who isn’t? – but soy has such negative health effects.” It doesn’t look quite so good to say, “I’m concerned about my health, but to be honest, I just really wanted that Big Mac with fries, and supersize it!”

Just think about the irony; Richard Béliveau did. “We eat junk food,” he observes; “we’re facing the biggest obesity problem in the history of mankind, and we question that soy could lead to a health problem.” Weighing soy against some of the fast-food junk we eat, how can we possibly think that the junk food comes out on top?

Well, if junk food just makes us fat, but soy makes us gay, that’s how. We live in a culture that’s so uptight about sexuality. Fortunately, most of the scary stories about soy aren’t scientifically supported. But unfortunately, they pack an emotional punch that makes critical thinking tricky.

And until we get a grip on our fears about sexuality, that’s going to be a problem.

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