During my spring break I went to the Cherokee Nation to volunteer with students. During that trip we had several people come talk to us about Cherokee culture. One of those speakers said something that stuck with me. He explained that there is no word in Cherokee that translates into the word “love.” He said the close there is to a translation is a word that basically means, “I’m stingy with your existence.” I really like this idea. Basically they think of those they really care about as people they do not want to lose. They also want to be around them. In short, they are “stingy” with that person’s existence. I like that better than “love.”
I wrote this while waiting to serve on a jury selection panel:
I’m sitting in the courthouse just outside a courtroom waiting to be part of a jury panel to determine whether I will be selected to serve on an actual jury. As I sit here, litigants walk back and forth and in and out of court rooms. Despite my training as a sociologist I find thoughts flickering through my brain when I see the litigants. For instance, a young black man with his middle aged mother was accompanied by a security officer and his defense attorney. As I eavesdropped on the conversation it seemed as though the young man was indignant that he even had to be here. I didn’t catch any details, but I couldn’t help but wonder if the security guard was there to protect him or to protect me from him. My biases suggested the latter, not the former. A group of about 5 young Hispanic men just walked through the waiting area. Given their dress, tattoos, and hairstyles, my biases were again triggered and I immediately thought that they must be friends or family of a defendant. I, of course, don’t know that, but the biases lead my thought processes that way. If I, a sociologist, can’t keep these biases from popping into my head, why would I be surprised that others have similar biases, more openly express them, and even act on them? I recognize them for what they are and actively counter process them. But they are obviously deep-seated.
I don’t get out much. It’s kind of sad, especially considering I’m a sociologist (meaning I study people), but I attribute it to the fact that Debi and I are both workaholics and introverted. Ergo, being around large groups of people is pretty rare for me.
I mention that to introduce a couple of incidents from my volunteering trip in May. We flew in and out of Las Vegas, and, on the last day of our trip, we spent the evening walking the streets of Law Vegas. I’ve been to Vegas a few times before; it was always an obvious place to stop on my way from Utah to California. Perhaps I don’t remember it during my earlier trips or perhaps it has become more pervasive but one of the things I noticed right away were the gangs of mostly Hispanics (I’m assuming because they will work for cheap) on the sidewalks and corners handing out flyers advertising women. I’m actually in favor of legalizing prostitution, so prostitution itself doesn’t bother me. But several aspects of this operation did. First, they were very intrusive in targeting men. I happened to be in a group with 10 young women and was surrounded by them most of the time, so it was awkward and annoying to have people pushing in to our group to offer me brochures over and over. I was also annoyed that they were just targeting men and that they were targeting pretty much any man, regardless of who he was with. They didn’t offer them to women. Why?
While I’m sure their primary customers are men, what about lesbian women? Or do they not hand them to women because they think women would be offended? And why are there not people offering women brochures advertising men? (The obvious answer is because men are easy and women don’t have to pay for sex; it’s relatively easy for women to find a willing partner.)
But I was also intrigued by who was handing these brochures out. It was, as I noted, mostly Hispanics. Are they Catholics and opposed to prostitution but still handing out the flyers? How do they feel about this? They have to be aware of what they are doing as the flyers included pretty clear pictures of what was on offer, so how do they justify this in their mind? Is this simply a reflection of their poverty and the fact that desperate people are willing to do just about anything for money?
So, that bothered me. But something else bothered me as well.
As it got later, different people, all men, started approaching the women in my group and offering them free entrance into night clubs. Now, I’ve only ever been to a couple of night clubs (not my scene at all), but I think I know why these guys would be out on the streets of Vegas trying to get women into their clubs: more women will attract more men which will result in greater profits, offsetting the loss of comping women admission fees. I get that. But this also bothered me. It’s basically open discrimination against one sex – men.
Additionally, this is discriminatory against non-straight individuals. I tried to make this point to one of these recruiters.
As a recruiter approached my group on a street corner and asked the women in the group if they wanted a bracelet to get them into a nightclub for free (which they all declined), I turned to him and said, “And what if I’m gay?” It stopped the recruiter dead in his tracks and he didn’t know how to respond, so I pressed on. “You’re trying to get the women into the club to attract men, but couldn’t I do the same thing if I’m gay?” Now the recruiter seemed genuinely creeped out. He stammered a very uncomfortable, “No,” then dissolved back into the throngs of people on the sidewalk.
The students with me were initially shocked by my outburst, but as soon as the recruiter left they laughed and thought it was funny.
Yes, it was funny. And, no, I didn’t really think he’d give me a free bracelet so I could get into the club. But my point was really to get him to think about the assumptions he was making and the discriminating he was doing. Of course my outburst won’t change anything, but I wanted to see how he would respond.
Heteronormativity is still widespread in the US. And, while it is often a safe assumption to make that everyone is heterosexual (since about 95% of people are), I think it’s time we stop assuming heteronormativity. My desire for this won’t change the intrusive and obnoxious targeting of people on Vegas sidewalks, but there are practical reasons for this. In fact, my not assuming people are heterosexual probably saved two interviews I did for my research. I was interviewing nonreligious people and wanted to know about their social network. I specifically asked, “Do you have a significant other?” rather than asking about husband or wife because I didn’t want to assume my respondents were married. And, in the follow up question I asked of those who had a significant other I was very careful to ask, “What is his or her name?” regardless of the respondent’s sex. While I might still offend someone who is asexual or has a partner who is something other than male or female, this question left open the possibility of either a male or female partner regardless of the participant’s gender. Two of my respondents hesitated when I said, “What is his…” until they heard me say, “…or her name?” Both were females living with their female partners. And both participants seemed to issue a sigh of relief when I included “…or her?” Thus, the fact that I did not assume heterosexuality helped my two lesbian respondents feel more comfortable in responding to my questions.
Is it time to end heteronormativity?
In case you were wondering what effect Obama’s health care legislation (Affordable Care Act) will have on Medicare (’cause I’m sure everyone was wondering this), I have some visual aids for you. I create these for my Introduction to Sociology class for the chapter on aging. But the change was so dramatic I figured others might want to see what is going to happen.
In the 2009 report by the Social Security Administration, they reported that medicare was already paying out more than it was receiving in taxes, but the trust fund and interest on the trust fund were making up for the shortfall. However, the trust fund assets would have been exhausted by 2016, at which point the amount that would be paid out to those making claims on medicare would be about 81% of what they were supposed to get, and that percentage would drop down to about 50% by 2036, then continue to fall to about 30% by 2080. This is depicted in the figure below.
The blue bars indicate how much would be paid out and the red indicates the use of trust fund reserves and interest that would be used to make up the shortfalls in taxes.
With the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, the picture changes dramatically (per the Social Security Administration’s report). Now, while we are currently in a shortfall and using reserves and interest, there will actually be a surplus from 2015 through 2019 (when the recession ends), at which point we’ll again have a deficit. Trust fund reserves will be used up by 2028 or so, but people will still receive about 84% of what they are supposed to. That will decline to 77% by 2050, then climb again to 89% by 2084. Here’s how things look graphically:
Whether you agree with the legislation or not, it’s hard to argue that it didn’t go at least some way toward addressing the problems facing Medicare.
Our neighbors to the east of us recently moved out (they were renting). In the last couple of months before they moved out, we think they adopted a young cat. They may not have and the cat may have just showed up recently, but it seemed to spend a lot of time in their yard, so we think it was their cat. Anyway, them adopting a cat would not, in itself, be a problem except they neglected the cat. It was left outside all the time and often wandered into our yard. And when they moved, they didn’t take the cat with them. Searching for food and companionship, the cat came over to our house. Now, if you know Debi and I, you’ll know that is a problem. We don’t hate other animals, but we’re also not fans of having animals as pets. It’s just not our thing. So, while I felt sorry for the cat, I wasn’t about to adopt it. And since the ownership status of the cat was in question, the first day or so of the cat trying to sneak into our house simply annoyed me but didn’t spur me into action to try to find it a home.
However, this kind of came to a head one evening when I was watching Toren and Debi was out of town. Toren and I were walking around the yard looking at some work we had done on the house (we just got new windows). The cat, probably hungry and certainly longing for attention, kept trying to brush up against my legs. I fully recognize my brutishness here, but, as I said, I’m not a pet person. The first couple of times the cat brushed up against my leg, aside from it scaring Toren who was originally walking with me, it didn’t bother me. But the cat got aggressive and was pushing through my legs. On one of these attempts to brush my leg I think I stepped on one of the cats paws and, in obvious self-defense, the cat clawed my leg (I was wearing my work clothes, which means I had on thin dress socks that had no chance against the cats claws). Now, rather than being sympathetic but mostly indifferent to the cat’s plight, I was annoyed. I was carrying Toren and didn’t want to drop him but also didn’t want to step on the cat again and didn’t want to get scratched. What to do? Using my foot, I tried to push the cat away. The cat would have none of it. It came right back (like this cat).
I got a little more aggressive, which escalated the cat’s response, and it clawed me again. Now I was getting angry. I pushed the cat away with my foot a bit more fervently:
It was at this point that something interesting happened: Toren started to cry. Toren wasn’t hurt in any of this and he had no specific reason to cry from pain or anything else. The cat hadn’t clawed him. Why was he crying, then? My best guess is that he felt sympathy for the cat and found my efforts to push the cat away with my foot disturbing. My lack of sympathy for a distraught cat upset my 17 month old toddler! Now, anyone who has had a child will know that kids at 17 months are not likely to have had advanced training in ethics or even had an intelligible conversation about the morality of human relations with other animals. We have started teaching Toren what things are right and wrong in our house (e.g., don’t throw your cheerios; don’t play with the DVD player, etc.), but this situation was completely novel. Toren had never been exposed to interactions between humans and cats. He has been around a few dogs, but not many, and he had certainly never seen anyone “fervently” push a cat away with his foot. Thus, in a completely novel situation, Toren determined that something immoral was happening and it bothered him so much he started to cry. Fascinating!
What this means, then, is that, assuming my interpretation of this incident is correct, my 17 month old son has an innate sense of morality and found my behavior in this situation disturbing. There is empirical evidence that this is the case (see here). I had read about this, but never observed it in action. Thus, this was a fascinating incident for me to observe. This also supports the idea that morality is, at least in some people, biologically programmed. Most humans (the exceptions being sociopaths) have at least a basic, innate sense of morality; it does not have to come from religion or philosophy!
For those interested, I eventually extricated myself from the cat and its claws, fought my way into our house (the cat tried to get in), and called animal control. It was after hours and no one answered. I was going to call again the next day they were open, but the cat disappeared and has not returned.