Polswatch

Outlining a Progressive Future

Should We Abolish Sex Descrimination from Sport?

At the start of 2009 Caster Semenya was virtually unknown. Now, she is one of the most famous athletes in the world, not only due to great running, but also her identity. After her victory in the World Championships, Semenya was forced to take ‘gender tests’, which after being leaked revealed that she is intersex. This has created a huge debate over the rights on intersex people and has led many to ask the question ‘what is the use of the sex binary in sport?’

The justifications for the sex binary in sport range from the idea that women cannot deal with the aggressiveness of men in competition to that sex discrimination is no different than ‘weight classes’ due to inherently different abilities that women have compared to men[1]. Sex discrimination is justified through the idea of ‘fairness in competition’.

However, this is extremely problematic. Firstly, it leaves out people such as Caster Semenya, who don’t fit into the set sex binary. Semenya, and other intersex people, expose the myth that there are only two biological sexes. There is actually significant diversity among humans in sex definers such as genitals, reproductive organs, chromosomes, and hormones. The rigid male/female sex binary does not fit the reality of sex and gender diversity. This leaves intersex athletes with the options of either giving up competition or undergoing intrusive medical procedures to ‘correct’ the issue. Second to this, sex discrimination in sport perpetuates the image of men as being ‘more athletic’, ‘stronger’, ‘faster’ and better in a whole range of ways than women. This greatly enhances the societal image of women as being ‘the weaker sex’.

But isn’t this true? Aren’t females in general not as strong as males and therefore not able to compete as well in sports?  There are two problems with this idea. First, even though testosterone does advance muscular growth (and only when work is involved), its levels differ naturally within all people, leaving many with different physiques than what is expected from a member of their sex. A general separation based on a sex binary, therefore ignores many of the physical differences that exist within all sexes (something that separation based on factors such as weight or height would not do).

Second to this, even if males are in general ‘stronger’ than females, this does not mean that they are more athletic. Strength should be just one element in the definition of skill in sporting competition, something that current sporting competition forgets. Too much emphasis is now placed on strength in sport (e.g. the increasing role of a strong serves in tennis), perpetuating the image of females as being ‘less athletic’ by focusing athleticism around a predominately male attribute.

The stereotype of the weaker ‘sex’ is a prevalent and destructive one. To remove it we must remove sex discrimination in sport and allow people of all sexes to compete freely using an array of skills as the tester of athleticism. We can no longer accept the image of women as being the ‘weaker, less athletic sex’ or an imaginary binary determining what athleticism is. Removing sex separation and discrimination in sport would be more inclusive for intersex athletes, and address sexist attitudes to women. If we really want to create ‘fairer competition’ we must stop assuming someone isn’t good enough because they don’t have a pair of testicles and focus on people’s actual skills instead.


[1] Tannsjo, T (2000) Against Sexual Discrimination in Sports in Tannsjo, T & Tamburrini, C (eds.) (2000) Values in Sport. E & FN Spon, London

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November 19, 2009 Posted by | Analysing the Left, Human Rights, Options for a Progressive Future | Leave a comment

Is Obama Scared of Tacking Action On Queer Rights?

Alongside healthcare is was pinned as one of the key issues that created chaos for Bill Clinton in his first years, lead to the rise of the right and the eventual Democratic defeat in the 1994 mid-term elections. The issue was allowing queer people to serve in the military; a debate that lead to the development of the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy, which allows queer people to serve, but not openly. Now, in 2009, Barack Obama seems to be scared that if he tackles the same issue head on, along with many others important to the queer rights movement, he will also succumb to the same fate of Clinton in the 90’s.

Obama has always had good rhetoric regarding queer rights. Throughout his campaign and presidency he has promised action on a majority of the key issues on the queer agenda, including repealing the two most controversial queer policies; the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy and the Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA) (which federally defines marriage being between a man and a woman and allows states to refuse to recognise same-sex marriages performed elsewhere). Obama has also agreed to sign laws that will enhance hate-crimes legislation, ensure queer adoption rights and outlaw discrimination in the workplace. However, in the first six months of his presidential tenure very little work has been done on achieving these key issues. Not only has there been no legislative action on any of these items (except hate crimes legislation), Obama has also caused frustration through refusing to sign an executive order halting the enforcement of the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy until it is officially overturned. This leaves open the question, is Obama just talk on queer rights or is he scared that tackling the issue will cause him political problems?

Whilst there are probably a number of reasons for Obama’s inaction, it seems almost certain that the biggest thing holding him back is a fear of a similar backlash to what Clinton received. Although Obama has been positive about queer rights, he often does so in a hidden manner, leaving positive actions largely unannounced and speeches to queer activists out of sight from the media. In other words, Obama is attempting to give the queer community exactly what it wants, but is attempting to do so in a way that won’t outrage his conservative adversaries (who he believes could make a political issue out of it).

Obviously, this is having a number of effects. First and foremost it is now delaying the attainment of extra rights for queer people. Second, and possibly more damagingly, it sends a clear message that discussing queer rights and taking positive action in a strong manner is still a difficult area for progressive politicians, therefore leaving others cautious about taking positive action in the future. By not standing up and fighting loudly for these rights Obama is saying that it is still okay for there to be an opposition to queer rights and is making this opposition legitimate, in turn creating further equality problems in the future. Last, As long as Obama continues to delay, he will be making it harder for him to make the changes as required. With political landscapes changing quickly, opportunities to change policies can often be lost quickly and as long as Obama continues to delay he will make it harder for these policies to be changed. It is therefore important that continued pressure is placed on the Obama administration to affect these changes sooner rather than later, before it becomes too late.

For more information on these issues and to help place pressure on Obama to take action you can visit the Human Rights Campaign at www.hrc.org

The Courage Campaign (http://www.couragecampaign.org), which is a California based campaign is also doing a lot of work on queer rights, with a special focus on overturning proposition 8 and the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy.

July 19, 2009 Posted by | Analysing the Left, Human Rights, Monitering the Left | , , | Leave a comment

California Supreme Court Upholds Prop 8.

In news today from California, the California Supreme Court has ruled to uphold Proposition 8, therefore ensuring that same-sex marriage stays illegal in California until at least November 2010. The ruling came after a court battle that saw opponents of proposition 8 argue that the proposition was illegal as the measure revised the states equal protection clause of the constitution to such an extent that it should have been counted as revision to the constitution, which would have required legislation to be passed in the California State House of Representatives. The court made a 6-1 ruling arguing that it was not their duty to overrule the ‘will of the people’ in this situation. At the same time however, the court made a 7-0 ruling stating that all same-sex marriages completed during the time it was legal in California will stay legally married.

This ruling sets up an interesting battle in California for 2010. There is no doubt now that the gay rights movement will now take its campaign back to the ballot box in 2010 with a proposition to overrule Proposition 8. With the extremely close victory for Proposition 8 and what is considered to be a changing tide in the United States towards a more open mindedness about same-sex rights, this will set up an interesting battle and one that could see the gay rights movement have its first win at the ballot box.

In the long run this could be more beneficial for the gay rights movement. If they had won today there was a good chance that there would be a backlash within the community who saw this as ‘activist judges’ who were overruling the will of the people. However, if they manage to pull over enough people to claim a victory in 2010 it will be claimed to be proof that the tide is shifting in the United States towards a society more willing to accept same sex marriage. This could create a situation where politicians could begin to feel even more comfortable in supporting same-sex rights, therefore promoting further action in the future. 

Whilst this ruling will ensure that same-sex couples will continue to suffer now, this vote could have a silver lining that will see stronger action in the future.

May 26, 2009 Posted by | Human Rights, Options for a Progressive Future, Uncategorized | , , | 3 Comments

Same-Sex Marriage Bill Signed in Maine

In more same sex marriage news, a new same sex marriage bill has been signed in Maine today, making it the fifth state to legalise same-sex marriage (following Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa and Vermont).

This comes as the anti-rights organisation, ‘the National Organisation for Marriage’ has attempted to step up its campaign with this add. The add is using new anti-rights star ‘Miss California’,  who has risen to fame after she was criticised by a Miss USA for her anti gay stance. Again, there is so much wrong with this add that it is just hard to start talking about it. So, instead of doing so I am going to let David Shuster from MSNBC do it for me in this great interview of a member of the National Organisation for Marriage. It really shows how ridiculous this organisation is how steeped in lies and misinformation their campaign is.

Lastly, one needs to look at this clip from Rachel Maddow, who on top of pointing out lies, bigotry and misinformation points out the stupidity of the organisation. This one is for those who want a laugh!

May 6, 2009 Posted by | Analysing the Right, Human Rights | , , , | Leave a comment

Further Advances for Gay Marriage in the United States

The issue of gay marriage seems to be one that I keep coming back to recently, but again there have been further advances in the United States. Last week the Senates of New Hampshire and Maine (both relatively small states in New England) both passed legislation legalising gay marriage. For both states it looks likely that the lower houses will pass similar legislation soon ensuring that gay marriage becomes law. 

In my opinion the United States is now reaching what Josh Marshall describes as a tipping point regarding the issue of gay marriage and will soon see many more states adopt similar legislation. Whilst only four states currently have legalised gay marriage (Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont and Iowa) it now looks certain that Maine and New Hampshire will join that list soon and legislation has also been introduced and backed by Governors in New Jersey and New York (which is important as both states are large). Adding to this the fact that for the first time the number of people polled who support gay marriage has surpassed the number of people opposed and I think we are seeing a major shift in the US. This shift is the outcome of years of hard work by the gay rights community and whilst I suspect that we will see an increased campaign by the anti rights community I think we will see many more advances for equality in quick succession in the coming year.

May 2, 2009 Posted by | Human Rights, Monitering the Left | | 1 Comment

Fighting for Paid Parental Leave

In developing news in Australia, the Greens are to introduce legislation into the Senate to set up a Government funded paid parental leave. In an e-mail to supporters, Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young wrote:

Women in United Kingdom and Japan have it. Women in Estonia, Sweden, Canada and France have it. But women in Australia still don’t have access to a government-funded paid parental leave scheme. 

We’re closer than ever to getting a paid parental leave scheme. Eighty-two percent of Australians support it. The Productivity Commission says it will be good for women, good for babies and good for the economy. Even Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says it’s time to ‘bite the bullet’ on paid parental leave, but he still hasn’t made a commitment. 

Today I announced that the Greens are taking action on this important issue. I will be introducing a Bill for a government-funded, 26-week paid parental leave scheme – and we need your support to make it law. 

This announcement comes after a long campaign from the union and women’s’ movement to have paid parental leave written into law and is important as it will force the Government to show its hand on whether or not it supports a Government funded paid parental leave. After the election the Rudd Government seemed almost certain that it would adopt a paid parental leave scheme, but after it was not put into the May budget in 2008 and with statements that have seen the Government wavering in its support (apparently due to the Global Financial Crisis), it is now unclear as to whether we will see paid parental leave introduced in 2009.

Why should we be fighting for paid parental leave?

Paid parental leave is an essential component to any industrial relations scheme that has any desire to see the gap between the earnings and opportunities between women and men be bridged. Reports now show that women in Australia potentially earn 1 million dollars less over their lifetime than men. Whilst these figures are due to a mix of reasons (including the continued sexism within the workforce) the issue of childbearing and the sexism that continues to result from this issue is still a major problem. By introducing a paid parental scheme the Government goes someway to reducing this problem. It gives women better opportunities within the workforce and ensures that having a child does not stop women from being able to continue along their desired career path.

The Importance of it being Paid Parental Leave

One of the most important factors of this legislation (and the proposals that I suspect will eventually come from Labor) is that it moves away from paid maternity leave and discusses paid parental leave. Whilst we are never going to change the fact that women will be the ones who are required to be the child bearers, society is now finally questioning the idea that women should be sole person who is responsible for raising a child. By discussing this as paid parental leave rather than paid maternity leave and by giving men the opportunity to access this service to raise children we ensure that we do not revert back wholly to a situation where women are seen as the only ones who should be responsible for raising a child. This creates a fairer system where the parents have the opportunity to discuss and decide on their own how responsibilities should be split, rather than being told that it is the woman’s job to raise the child.

Second to this, introducing paid paternal leave over paid maternal leave creates a fair system for those who don’t fit into the heteronormative ideals of how families should work. By introducing paid paternal leave over paid maternal leave we ensure that those LGBTI couples who have children and those who adopt children are all given the opportunity to ensure that they can be at home to look after their children in their early stages, whilst not being punished in the workforce. 

It is great to see that we are now seeing more and more action on this issue in Australia and I look forward to this legislation or something similar becoming law in the near future. I call on the Government to adopt this legislation in the next budget and take the next step in ensuring that discrimination within the workforce for women and parents is finally put to an end. 

 

April 29, 2009 Posted by | Human Rights, Options for a Progressive Future | , , | Leave a comment

The Gay Storm is Coming – Let it Rain!

 

When I first saw this video I thought it was so stupid that I wouldn’t bother putting up a post about it. However, with a number of parodies of the video now emerging, I cannot help myself but to write a post about this. The video is an add released by the ‘National Organisation for Marriage’ (NOM), which targets gay marriage in the United States. It uses the analogy of a ‘storm brewing’ (gay marriage), which is threatening to take away the freedoms of non-gay people. You can see the video here.

There are a few things that strike me about this video:

  1. The absolute bigotry of it and the people involved (the use of the ‘storm of gay people making people scared’ is probably the most bigoted part of this ad).
  2. The usage of ‘freedom’. Knowing that there are no logical arguments against gay marriage this add is now trying to shift the issue towards a discussion of gay marriage as ‘taking away peoples’ rights’. There is no real discussion of how same-sex marriage does this, but rather a bunch of statements that make no sense (i.e. the California doctor). The anti gay movement is obviously doing this as they know that in the long run they are going to lose the battle if they just use religion as a reason for objecting to gay marriage. They are therefore using the term ‘freedom’ as a new way to try to hold onto those who are changing their minds about same-sex marriage. However, instead of being an effective campaign tool, using ‘freedom’ makes this campaign look both ridiculous and hypocritical (given that this campaign is trying to refuse people from freely being able to marry who they love).
  3. Describing Same-Sex Marriage Advocates as going beyond same sex marriage: The ad doesn’t in any way describe how same-sex marriage advocates are going beyond advocating same-sex marriage and I still have no idea what they are talking about. What I do know however, is that talking about same-sex marriage advocates’ going beyond same-sex marriage simply adds to the ridiculous nature of this ad.
  4. The use of the doctor, the mother and the churchgoer: These ones are interesting as they make no sense (doctor), argue for the same-sex movement (mother), or again, make no sense (church goer).

Doctor: Call me ignorant but I still can’t see how having same-sex marriage would force a doctor to choose between their job and their faith (unless she is talking about a situation where she was forced to let a member of a same sex couple make decisions about their partners health, in which case it’s none of her business and if she has a problem with that she deserves to lose her job).

Mother: Yes, gay people do want children to be taught that being gay is okay. What is your point?? Teaching children acceptance of all people should be something that we are promoting, not something we are discouraging.

Church Goer: Given that New Jersey doesn’t allow gay marriage, I’m not quite sure how the state could punish a church that doesn’t accept it (although they should).

For some more discussion on these three people, check this video.

Overall, this is a typical bigoted, hypocritical and disgusting anti LGBTI ad. However, through lacking any logical arguments, facts or ideas (just like the anti-gay movement as a whole); this ad is also simply ridiculous and stupid.

But, we have hope.  Through parodying the ad (the one I have provided a link to is my favourite and notably contains the actor who plays Elliot in Scrubs) and pointing out the ridiculous nature of NOMs arguments a group of comedians, actors and activists are joining those already committed people around the world to fight for a better and fairer future for same sex couples and an end to the bigotry of groups like NOM. It is great to see parodies like the one above and to see the gay rights movement continue to grow (to the extent where the anti-gay movement are now becoming scared enough that they are moving towards using such ideas as ‘freedom’ as a reason to be anti-gay) and I look forward to seeing the continued targeting of the anti-gay movement in the future until it falls.

April 23, 2009 Posted by | Analysing the Right, Human Rights | , | 2 Comments

A One Child Policy for Australia?

 

Ex-Democrat MP for South Australia has recently called for the implementation of policies similar to a one-child policy for Australia (through having such things as paid maternity leave and the baby bonus only be available for a woman’s first child). Sandra Kanck, who now heads the group ‘Sustainable Population Australia’ has argued that such a policy is important to reduce the strain on Australia’s resources.

Calls such as this show how dangerous discussion on ‘sustainable populations’ can be when targeted at people’s rights to have children. Having a one child policy in Australia would do no good for the country and would simply create a large amount of social harm. The problems around such a policy are many:

  1. It takes away people’s rights: I strongly believe in the right for one to practice their desired sexual experiences as they wish (as long as consent is provided by all parties) and believe that having children is a part of this experience. I therefore have serious problems with stopping people from having children as I see it as a fundamental removal of one’s sexual rights.
  2. It isn’t needed: Nearly any study in Australia will show you that birth rates are dropping dramatically in the country as young people move away from having a desire to have children. Whilst this isn’t going to create a drop in population at the moment (as death rates are also dropping) in the future it will. This will be an issue for Australia as a smaller young population is required to support the growing older population. No one quite knows how this will work with the current population, but the introduction of a one child policy would only make things worse.
  3. It creates social harm and doesn’t work: If China’s one child policy has done any good, it has been to show us how bad one child policies are. Whilst I cannot predict the sort of problems a child policy or similar in Australia would lead too I can bet that serious problems would begin to occur. Taking away ones right to have children is a huge experiment for a society, which experience has shown will create serious harm. I don’t want this to be an experiment Australia makes.  
  4. It’s not the answer: Most evidence will tell you that if you want to drop population rates all you need to do is create effective family planning measures within a society. Australia has these measures and it is for that reason that we are seeing drops in our birth rates. Adding one child policies on top of these effective methods simply adds a draconian measure that creates a large amount of harm with very little benefit. If we are and ‘Sustainable Population Australia’ are serious are population reduction we should be investing more into effective family planning measures in areas where they are unavailable, which is where we currently see huge growth in populations.

I hope to see Australia and most importantly the environment movement in Australia distance itself from such calls from ‘Sustainable Population Australia’. The solution to the environmental crisis is not to stop people from having children, but rather:

  1.  To invest in family planning for areas where birth rates are growing and
  2.  To invest properly in sustainable policies, such as clean energy and water efficient measures.

‘Sustainable Population Australia’ should be advised that targeting the rights of people to have children is not only draconian but is simply stupid and if they want to create a ‘sustainable population’ it would be much better for them to look at policies that both work and hold onto people’s rights.   

For a more detailed discussion on these issues check out my previous post on ‘The Politics of Population’

April 22, 2009 Posted by | Analysing the Left, Climate Change and the Environment, Human Rights | , , , | 5 Comments

Prosecutions Must Follow the Release of the Torture Memos

Yesterday, President of the United States, Barack Obama released the well known ‘torture memos’  of the Bush Administration which outlined the torture methods that were deemed as suitable for use by the CIA in interrogations of suspected terrorists. The memos outlined a number of methods, including water boarding, leaving someone in a dark room with an insect, leaving someone in cramped conditions and sleep deprivation as some of the acceptable methods for interrogation. 

I fully congratulate President Obama for releasing these memos and ensuring no parts of them were blacked out when they were released. However I strongly agree with Keith Olbermann in his discussion over the need for prosecutions to follow the release of these documents (which President Obama has refused to allow). Without prosecuting those who authorised and participated in these actions Obama has taken the easy road out and has left the door open for these sorts of actions to occur in the future; something that must be avoided at all costs. To create a progressive future one not only needs to acknowledge the shameful actions of the past, but also allow for a society to create a form of ‘justice’ for those who suffered in those actions and it is only through initiating prosecutions that at least some form of justice can be attained. 

April 18, 2009 Posted by | Human Rights, Options for a Progressive Future, Security, War and Violence | | 1 Comment

Vermont Legalises Gay Marriage and Sets a Great Precedent

Yesterday, the House of Representatives and the Senate in the American state of Vermont voted to legalise gay marriage within the state. After the vote was passed, the legislation was vetoed by the Republican Governed, which was swiftly overridden by the state House of Senate chambers (both requiring a 2/3 vote to do so). After the veto was overridden the President pro-tem of the Vermont Senate said: 

“The struggle for equal rights is never easy. I was proud to be president of the Senate nine years ago when Vermont created civil unions. Today we have overridden the governor’s veto. I have never felt more proud of Vermont as we become the first state in the country to enact marriage equality, not as the result of a court order, but because it is the right thing to do.” 

This makes Vermont the 4th state in the United States to legalise gay marriage (taking out California, which has recently repealed its legalisation), after Connecticut, Massachusetts and Iowa (which only legalised the act last Friday in a court ruling).

This action in Vermont however, is somewhat more important that those is the other three states as it now becomes the first state in the country to legalise gay marriage through legislative procedures rather than through court actions. This provides a great boost for the gay rights movement in the United States as it shows that winning the right to marry doesn’t just have to come through court actions, which I believe can somewhat hurt the gay rights movement, but can also come through legislative procedures. It is now predicted that in the coming months New Hampshire will pass gay rights legislation (the legislation has already passed the House and is now waiting for Senate approval) and legislation is now on the table in Maine and New Jersey. It is expected that these three states will pass the legislation, ensuring that almost all of the New England area as well as one large state (by population) would have legalised gay marriage. This will provide a great push on the rest of the states in the United States, especially more left leaning (i.e. New York, California, Washington), to start legalising gay marriage.

The Next Hurdle

After proving that they can jump over two large hurdles (the courts and a legislature), the gay rights movement in the United States now has one last hurdle to overcome to prove they can achieve full equality; a popular vote. So far the gay rights movement has only been able to achieve one success when the issue of gay marriage has appeared at a popular ballot (in Arizona 2006, which was then defeated in 2008). With so many popular votes having occurred in the states it is now essential that the movement begins to pro-actively fight the issue at the ballot box. In my mind it is inevitable that the next fight will occur again in the state of California. The issue in California is pretty complex. Proposition 8, passed in 2008, made gay marriage illegal in the state. There is now a court challenge on the proposition, stating that a change of constitution is required for this proposition to be legal. This leaves the gay rights movement with two foreseeable futures:

  1. The court throws out the case forcing the movement to head back to the ballot box.
  2. The court throws out the proposition, forcing the anti rights movement to the ballot box in an effort to change the constitution.

In either case it is likely that the people of California will be voting on the issue again either in 2010 or in 2012. I believe this is a good thing as I believe with strong campaigning the gay rights movement can win California back and in turn prove to the world and to themselves that they can win a majority of the population when it comes to gay marriage rights. This for me will lead to a rapid shift in the United States where more and more states allow gay marriage, in turn forcing other states to do the same.

What Does this Mean for the Rest of the World?

An interesting and final question about all of this is what does this mean for the rest of the world, especially those states that still don’t have legal gay marriage? Let’s look at Australia as an example (noting that legislation introduced by the Greens in 2008 to make gay marriage legal was voted down 71-5 in the Senate). I think having a United States that is rapidly legalising gay marriage will have two effects:

  1.  It will make the United States look more progressive than Australia (and other states), a position many in Australia to not want to see the country be in.
  2. It will give a boost to the gay rights movement in Australia who see that if this can occur in the United States it can occur there.

I think these two things will be important in the future. Whilst, I don’t believe that the Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd really cares if Australia is seen as conservative (as he is a conservative), I think many within his party and within the country do. This, for me will create a greater push to see gay marriage legalised.

Second, I believe that the gay rights movement in Australia has been floundering in recent times with very little strength. I think seeing how effective and strong the movement is now in the United States will give a good booster to the Australian movement, who can now see that achieving universal gay marriage rights is even more possible.

Given the conservative nature of our federal parliament however, it will be interesting to watch how the gay rights movement will aim to achieve this goal. It is clear that gay marriage is not on the table of the Labor Party at the moment and I therefore think that the movement needs to start by creating an actual discussion in the nation about why it should be on the table. This for me could occur through two methods:

  1. Adding to a national pressure campaign, enlisting such organisations as GetUp
  2. Making it an election issue, especially in high density ‘gay seats’, such as Wentworth, Sydney, Grayndler, Melbourne, Fremantle and Melbourne Ports (apart from Wentworth these are all seats where the Greens are getting closer to challenging the incumbent Labor politicians, both at a federal and state level).

Due to the length of this blog I will leave going into these two strategies for another time, but for the moment would like to hear what people think about how the movement can grow in Australia and other states!

 

April 8, 2009 Posted by | Human Rights, Monitering the Left, Options for a Progressive Future | 1 Comment