Family Ties That Bind

I haven’t written much here in the last while because of my other commitments. I chair a Museum board of directors and we’re very busy right now with governance reviews and all kinds of other activities. I’m also involved in an affordable housing nonprofit and other community organizations. It’s funny, but, on the one hand, when I don’t write for a while I feel restless and more anxious than usual. On the other hand, when I do write or draw or paint or sculpt, I often feel guilty for being so self absorbed. It’s not rational to feel this way, but that’s the way it is and I’m not about to get psychiatric help for it. At my age, I’ve learned to accept some of my more irrational feelings knowing that my frontal cortex is not completely in charge of my feelings and behaviour.

Besides, there are great alternatives to psychoanalysis or psychiatry, family time being one of them. I know that family time for many people means tension, pain and sorrow. That’s not true at all for me. My family is the glue that holds me together. We don’t always agree on everything as a family but on the important things we do agree. We absolutely all agree in the healing power of family connection. As a sociologist, especially one influenced by Norbert Elias, Thorstein Veblen, and Emile Durkheim among others, I understand the power of human connections. The absence of closeness, touching (physical and psychical), and interdependency can lead to early death in children and lifelong stress and anxiety in adults. We need other people, it’s as simple as that. Elias goes so far as to say that we as individuals don’t exist. We exist only on the social level. Everything beyond our most basic physical, tropismatic activities like peeing and pooping are social and even those activities are shrouded in social valuation. We don’t exist in society only in the present either. Our social connections go back a long way and often in ways obscure to us in our current mindscapes.

All that said, for two weekends in a row now, I’ve spent time with family. We don’t live close to our daughters and their families so if we want to get together we have to travel or they have to travel. It takes a substantial effort and it costs money. This past weekend my daughters came over from Vancouver with their families to where we live on Vancouver Island. We have three grandchildren under the age of ten and they make great house guests. One of our daughters and her husband also brought along one of his brothers and his wife. They all came to help us old wounded elders get a new porch built on the house and do a lot of gardening and related work. Without them our acre of gardens would soon revert to a natural state and we would be compelled to seriously consider downsizing. I’m just not yet ready for that.

The weekend before, Carolyn and I travelled to Vancouver to stay with one of my daughters and her family so that we might all attend a Mother’s Day Brunch event that one of my older sisters puts on every year for the family and friends. The whole family was not in attendance (I still have thirteen brothers and sisters as well as countless nieces, nephews, cousins and assorted other relatives) but it was well attended. My sister puts on a spread fit for kings and queens. Lots and lots of great food on offer. So much love goes into that event. My grandchildren had never experienced it before so this was a first for them.

I could go into more detail about each event, but the point is that on both weekends the spirit that reigned was one of helpfulness, caring and sharing. I’m not the most effusive guy out there, but I know that even if we’re not always on the same political wavelength, we know the value of family solidarity and togetherness. I’m also not given to maudlin outbursts. This is as close as it comes. However, I need to acknowledge my deep-seated need for human connection and love. That need, my family fulfills to my heart’s brim all the time, every day but especially on weekends when they come to help build a new porch! I pity people without family support no matter how one defines family.

Unfortunately, when our natural families do not or cannot provide us with the love and support we naturally crave as humans, we sometimes turn to other types of family in the form of gangs, politically or religiously extreme groups or we turn on ourselves and die inside like children in orphanages who literally died from emotional deprivation, neglect, or suffered hospitalism (See Rene Spitz’s study of Hospitalism). That’s the downside to our craving for connection.

My Life as Teacher, Writer, and Artist: Part 1.

I haven’t written in these ‘pages’ for a while because I’ve been working on my ‘art’ blog and getting ready for a printmaker’s show on October 27th and 28th in Cumberland at The Convoy Club where 10 printmakers including me are showing our works and offering them up for sale. Check out my other blog at: https://rogeralbert.blogspot.com. There’s a page on it that includes most of my prints.

[Just a note about printmaking: the works offered up in this show include relief prints (woodcuts, linocuts), intaglio prints (drypoint and etchings), collographs, and serigraphs (silkscreening). All of the prints are hand made. No digital prints allowed. All of the work is complex, but some is more complex to execute than others. For example, one of my pieces called Van Duesen Dead Ivy is multi-stepped in its making. It starts with a drawing I did of ivy that I was particularly struck by on a trip to Van Duesen Gardens in Vancouver. It had been growing up a large fir tree and got very large before someone cut the vines off at the bottom of the tree in order to save the fir tree from being choked by the offending ivy. My pencil drawing was then transferred to a 15X20 inch copper plate that had been coated with resist. Resist is a material that prevents the areas covered by it from being etched by ferric chloride. I had to transfer every line, every feature of my drawing to the copper using a variety of sharp metal tools. It’s not necessary to dig into the copper at this point, just remove the resist from selected lines and areas so that the ferric chloride can etch the copper. Once the copper has had its bath in the ferric chloride, it’s ready for printing. Printing itself is a very physical activity. It requires spreading ink on the plate then wiping all of it off again. Well, not all of it. Only the ink that has not settled where the acid has etched away the copper and where the plate needs to remain white. The ink is wiped off the plate with newsprint, a physically demanding task for a plate this big. Once that’s done, the plate is placed on a press bed, paper is placed on top of the print followed by a sheet of newsprint than three blankets. If all goes well, a print is born. If all does not go well, it’s back to the drawing board… The ‘art’ cards I’ve made for this show are very simple linocut prints but each is still made by hand. I should do a YouTube video showing the process of etching but there’s a lot of them out there already. Still, that’s no excuse. There’s a lot of blogs out there too yet I still do this.]

Printmaking, particularly intaglio printmaking, requires heavy presses so I didn’t start printmaking until I had access to a printmaking studio at North Island College. Most of the ‘art’ work I have done over the years involves painting. I have done many paintings and drawings over the years. I make prints now, but I also draw using pencil and pen, I paint in oils, acrylic and watercolour and I’ve done a bit of sculpting in wood. I’ve been drawing and painting since the 1970s; printmaking and sculpting are more recent additions to my repertoire. I’ve been printmaking for a mere 30 years or so and sporadically at that. Art work has not been a central part of my life until recently.

My main adult occupation was as a college sociology instructor. That paid the bills. Writing has been a large part of my career too. I wrote television scripts for two Knowledge Network telecourses for which I was the instructor. I wrote all kinds of research reports and manuals. My ‘art’ has been with me a long time, and now that I’m retired from teaching I can spend a lot more time at it, but I could never have made a living as an artist. I’m mostly self taught although I have taken courses over the years in the art department of my college and with independent artists. I don’t hesitate to call myself a sociologist (I have the credentials). I do hesitate to call myself an artist even though I do a lot of things that artists do. I need to explain this further in another blog post. I’ve read many books on art and art history but the nature of it still eludes me. It’s clear to me that looking at a painting I’m not always looking at a work of art. Oh, I have some sense of what it is, its origins and connections to other aspects of culture, but I’m still not convinced I fully understand it.

I was not destined to be a teacher, writer, and artist. In fact my social class at birth almost precluded access to those adult pursuits. My father was functionally illiterate although highly intelligent and capable. My mother had a grade eight education in a rural school at a time when academic achievement was not considered very important for girls. As she entered adulthood, she was too busy raising children (I have fourteen siblings) to engage in any sustained artistic activities even if she had wanted to. We had very few books in the house as I was growing up. We got a television set in 1956 and that became the centre of family life after church and cards.

My grandparents migrated from Québec and New Brunswick in the early 20th Century to homestead in north-eastern Alberta. They weren’t farmers by training, but free land had its appeal. They were tradespeople and entrepreneurs. My paternal grandfather was an accomplished blacksmith and my maternal grandfather was much more inclined to start a small business than farm. He eventually ran a bakery in Bonnyville, Alberta and later, after moving to British Columbia, he owned a grocery store. Later, he returned to agriculture to some extent with a quite successful blueberry farm in Abbotsford. My father, in spite of his illiteracy, was able to rise to management positions in the lumber industry, nothing high level, but still, he became a foreman and operations manager of a fair sized wood remanufacturing plant. More important, he was a virtuoso with tools, both creating them and using them. I have no idea how he did it, but without any formal math or engineering skills, he could grind planer knives to very demanding specifications and in a variety of profiles.

I grew up in a small three bedroom house in Coquitlam. I never felt poor but I knew that we weren’t rich either compared to our doctor and dentist or even some of our neighbours like the mayor (reeve) of Coquitlam. Of course, they weren’t wealthy either on the order of a Jimmy Pattison or other corporate magnate. As I grew older, however, I came to fully understand my class position. More on that later.

So, in terms of employment my family life did nothing to prepare me for my life as a college teacher. Higher education was not a consideration in my early teens. In fact, I actually started working in the lumber industry during the summer when I was fourteen years old when my father got a job in a picket fence manufacturing plant in South Surrey, BC. and continued to work in mills and lumber yards for a few years. In a sense I was much better prepared to work in the lumber industry than at a university or college. Partly what turned me away from the lumber industry was an industrial accident requiring lower back surgery. Fortuitously, after I recovered from my surgery, I undertook a one day occupational and psychological testing program as a means of figuring out what my aptitudes might be. A couple of weeks later I got the results of the day’s testing and one of the results was that I had the aptitude to become a writer and maybe an anthropologist. Well, then, I had something to go on. I applied to attend Simon Fraser University but was turned down because of my poor high school record. So, I turned to Douglas College in New Westminster where I was accepted. I did very well there in terms of grades and after a couple of years applied to SFU and got in. Both of my degrees are from SFU.

Strangely enough, although my family had no way of relating to my career choices, it did prepare me for a sensitivity to art. Some of my siblings are wonderful at drawing and painting and one of my uncles was a brilliant artist but made a living painting street signs for a couple of different municipalities. What my family did for me without doing it deliberately at all was show me that art could infuse my life even if I couldn’t make a living at it and that artistry can be found in the studio, in the darkroom, but also at the forge, in the garden, and in the woodworking shop as well as in the kitchen.

In many ways I have had an idyllic life. I’ve had the privilege and opportunity to do so many things. Of course I’ve had my share of trauma being human and all that, but I’ve also had the privilege of learning and studying with some very fine teachers over the years and my years of teaching have been a wonder. I’ve read thousands of books, mostly in sociology and related disciplines, but I’ve also read many books on art and art history as well as novels and stories from which much learning can be had. I’ve been able to travel, canoe and hike in some of the most beautiful places on earth. I have a beautiful home. I have my family. What a gift my family has been. Nothing I say about my family can be enough. No words can express the love I feel for everyone, Carolyn, my children, their children, my brothers and sisters, their children and their children. We don’t always agree on everything, but that’s okay. Everyone’s road is different. Sometimes we do share the road. At other times not so much, but that doesn’t diminish the deep connection I feel for everyone in my family. They give meaning to everything that I do every day. On top of all that, I have my community in the Comox Valley, especially in Cumberland. I feel firmly connected to it and the natural environment here. I know about evolution and the temporality of life; I know that my life is meaningless in the cosmic sense, but I don’t live in the cosmos, I live here and now. I know that it’s a bit of a waste of energy, but I get angry at the utter disrespect some people show towards others and the natural world in which we live. Yes, I do feel love but I also feel anger. I’ve thought about this a fair bit because sometimes I feel anger welling up inside of me and I have some trouble explaining why. Anger is a very complex emotion and it is not easy to explain or dissect. I’ll give it a try though in a post coming soon to a computer near you!

Finally, in future posts I want to explore teaching, writing and art in turn as aspects of my life. I want to explore the processes involved in each activity and my journey in learning how to teach, write and ‘do’ art. As well, I will reflect on the philosophical and social underpinnings of each activity. I’m basically embarking on a bit of a retrospective examination of some major parts of my life but, like a good teacher, I expect some of you might just learn a little something by reading my work. It’s a hope I always had as a teacher with respect to my students, and that hope hasn’t died just because I’m no longer getting paid to teach!

 

 

Is Equality Between the Sexes Possible?

Is it possible to have equality between the sexes?

Given the history of sexual relations on this planet, a logical answer would seem to be a resounding NO. But I don’t think that’s so.

Yes, absolutely, I do think that equality is possible. However, it can only be possible when humankind, especially the male fraction of the species, agrees to give up its apotheotic quest for the god-like status of an immortal being. There are hints that there is movement in this direction (more on this later), but we have a long way to go before the bulk of humankind can reconcile itself to the idea that our bodies are all we are and souls do not exist except in our collective conscience.

I sincerely have sympathy for people who want to live forever. Our quest for immortality is the basis for a lot of our sociality. We share a belief in eternal life with others like us. We build institutions and organizations to perpetuate and nurture this belief. It’s an appealing prospect until one begins to read the fine print or we begin to kill each other to defend ‘our’ god against the gods of ‘others’ who dare to try to usurp our vision of the way to eternal life. The way gods work, there can really be only one that is the true god. All others must be pretenders. (This isn’t strictly true. Even one god, the one proclaimed by Moses and Abraham, can be the source of real division, death and mayhem). That said, let’s get to the nitty gritty.

It’s evident that males and females of many species of animal are dimorphic, meaning that the sexes vary in body size, shape and weight, hairiness, and in other easily ascertainable ways. Us humans are significantly dimorphic with males being on average stronger, bigger, etc.[1] So, men and women are not equal in many respects. This has lead a whole lot of conservative thinkers and philosophers going back as far into history as the eye can see to make the logical leap to conclude that these physical inequalities are the natural basis for the social, economic, and political inequality of the sexes. This is patently absurd but it doesn’t stop those who claim a logical basis for their arguments in natural human variation from making their claims on clearly ideological grounds.

It’s certainly true that there is huge variability in male human size, strength and shape. Some theorists might dare to suggest that the Nilotic peoples, especially the Dinka and Nuer, being very tall and thin on average, must be superior to the BaMbuti people of the Ituri Forest in central Africa, who are what we used to call pygmies, and who are very short and compact. The same is true for intra-female variability. The variability of human form is quite evident still, of course, but there is evidence that with international travel and population mixing that the variability that we have seen historically is very slowly attenuating.

Of course, we’ve seen evidence in history that skin colour, eye shape, etc have been significant bases for the imposition of social inequality. We ‘other’ people for all kinds of convenient reasons especially social and economic power. We deny people equality for whatever reason we can dream up or make up as long as it’s in our interests. So, what about the inequality that exists between men and women? Well, I think I’ve repeated it often enough, but it may be worth repeating again. Men have longed for immortality for as far back as we can ascertain. Their literate representatives who have gotten into the history books and have written a huge range of proclamations on the topic going back further than ancient Babylon have been pretty well in agreement that women are a huge stumbling block to achieving the objective of immortality. Women just can’t help but get most of us poor men all lathered up sexually and by that process, take our limited attention away from our focus on our spiritual salvation and eternal life.

It’s pretty common to read in historical documents, including the Bible, of course, that any form of pleasure of the flesh is sinful and leads to eternal damnation. In her book Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven: Women, Sexuality, and The Catholic Church[2] Uta Ranke-Heinemann’s focus is on Church writers, theologians, popes and the like. She also, however, goes beyond her analysis of women and the Catholic Church, to consider relations between men and women taken more broadly. She notes that although it seems that proscriptions and interdictions regarding sex are pretty straightforward in historical texts, we cannot assume that everyone was on board with those specialists, philosophers, theologians, etc., who were often celibates and who lorded it over the masses. It seems the masses weren’t always in agreement with the high and mighty and often ignored interdictions even to the point of suffering persecution and social exile.

Of course, it’s really quite ridiculous to expect people to not enjoy sex. Plainly, there are many circumstances where sex is not at all pleasurable, especially for women and even ejaculation can be painful at times for a small minority of men. Still, essentially, sex and pleasure go hand in hand. I (and I daresay most men) would find it very difficult not to feel some pleasure upon ejaculation. Ironically, according to many writers historically men are not supposed to even experience ejaculation (during masturbation or coitus) unless it’s sanctioned by the authorities and only under very socially proscribed situations. In fact, Ranke-Heinemann notes that church authorities even discouraged sex between spouses, some going so far as to dictate time of day, day of the week, months of the year. Needless to say, the Church fathers were only concerned with male sexual pleasure and regulating it, not female pleasure, which they often assumed never existed.

Let’s not fool ourselves either to think that regulation of sexuality is a thing of the past. Female (and male) genital mutilation is still commonly practiced as well as segregation of the sexes. It’s also still common for states to try to regulate what you can do in the privacy of your bedroom.

One last thing before I move on. It’s clear that not all men are misogynists and women victims. Humans will always find ways of sharing intimacy and revelling in sensual, sexual pleasure no matter what the ayatollah, the pope, imam, rabbi, or whoever goes on about how bad it is and how it detracts from our main goal of immortal life in the presence of our preferred deity. It’s also true that women can have just as much of a stake in immortality as men do. The only difference between men and women in this regard is that men have made up all the rules and women must obey or live eternally in hell.

It’s also clear to me that men and women can equally be jerks, self-serving, mean, nasty, and violent. They may choose different paths to meanness, nastiness and jerkiness on occasion, but elimination of the search for immortality will not necessarily do away with the human condition although I really am optimistic that there will come a time when there will be less basis for stupid, vapid, ignorant human behaviour. The elimination of competition for favour in the eyes of God or just for individual specialness, even on the football field, will take us a long way to equality of the sexes. Just don’t expect dramatic results too soon.

It’s also true, I’m pleased to say, that we can love profoundly and unconditionally. Problem is that we do that in spite of all the social forces that work to divide us when they should be working to bring us together romantically, whether it’s woman with man, woman with woman, man with man or a combination of the above. I’m not saying we should abandon all restraint and engage in all out debauchery, but we should all be engaged in figuring out as we go along what we want rather than have the high and mighty do that for us in the name of a false hope of immortality.

Next: how little innocuous things like words, sayings, and practices can reinforce and even exacerbate sexual inequality.

 

 

[1] See de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex for a detailed exploration of this topic. Germaine Greer takes a slightly different look at sexual dimorphism in humans in her book, The Female Eunuch.

[2] New York, Doubleday, 1988.

Frosh silliness and all that…a sociological take.

In Canada.com, Laura Strapagiel writes on September 18, 2013,

Although there is no evidence that student leaders were directed to lead first-year students in a chant endorsing rape, it was part of the oral traditions of UBC’s Commerce Undergraduate Society (CUS), according to a report released today.

The University of British Colombia tasked a fact-finding panel with investigating an offensive frosh-week chant recited during bus trips by first-year Sauder School of Business students and activity leaders.

The chant, which also caused controversy at Halifax’s Saint Mary’s University, went like this: “UBC boys we like them young. Y is for your sister. O is for oh-so-tight. U is for underage. N is for no consent. G is for grab that ass.” In some variations, “G” stands for “go to jail.”

In addition to releasing the panel’s report, UBC announced Wednesday that CUS will be making a voluntary contribution of $250,000 over three years to help fund a “professional position to provide student counseling and education on sexual abuse and violence.”

“After serious consideration, we believe it is essential that the C.U.S. and all FROSH leaders make tangible amends,” said UBC President and Vice-Chancellor Stephen Toope in a statement. “At the same time, the whole UBC community needs to embark upon deeper, transformative and lasting change that would make such chants entirely and obviously unacceptable in our community.”

So, can we come to some (sociological) understanding of what this is all about?  Yes, we can, but it’s not simple.  First thing, there is the chant itself and it’s two variants.  The first variant must be considered as an outright invitation to first year male students to go find an even younger female student to rape.  The second variant is more complex and can be read as a cautionary tale as in ‘if you rape my underage sister you will go to jail.’  Second thing, there is the issue of the UBC administration’s reaction to the events.  Punish the students and embark on a “deeper, transformative and lasting change that would make such chants entirely and obviously unacceptable in our society.”  I’d like the reporter who wrote the piece in Canada.com to follow up in a few months to see just what UBC’s president has come up with to undertake this “deeper, transformative and lasting change.”  I’ll bet nothing comes of it.  I’m sure the UBC administration is hoping the whole thing blows over and soon.  Well, there may be a token attempt at something, maybe a forum or some workshops, but nothing more.   Frankly, I expect most people will forget about this within a very short period of time.

So now what?  Well, the social dynamics that underpin this whole scenario are really quite fascinating.  There are a number of avenues of investigation here.  For instance, the chant itself and its implied assumptions about the nature of sex between young men and women, that is, that men must overcome, forcibly if necessary, a young woman’s need to protect her virginity.  Then there’s the fact that these are young people and young people have always done things that piss off their elders as a way of ‘carving their own path’ in life.  Any talk of rape, especially in a tight-assed university setting is bound to piss off a lot of older people, especially ones with young daughters (I’m still one of those).  Mission accomplished here as evidenced by UBC’s response, which is another issue all in itself. Using the chant to ‘do something naughty’ and create solidarity among students is a related issue and an important one.  I’ll address these issues in blog posts over the next few days.  I’m not offering any solutions here, like Toope is, but rather observations on the nature of morality, ours and others, as it relates to sexuality, in particular, but also to business in a limited sense.  However, this is not a rant about the evils of capitalism, of business or about the evils of anything else.  What I want to do here is comment on the moral context in which such events can occur and how they are treated by the ‘morally upstanding’ among us.  It’s just a bonus for me that the students in question at UBC are business students because today business and the market occupy the moral high ground in our world.  We judge so much of what we do by its effects on the ‘bottom line.’  So, I’ll start with the nature of sexual relations in our world and then move on to other issues like the need for students to stand out yet fit in, and the need for those who occupy positions of moral ‘leadership’ in our world to make sure our world is morally clean and upstanding allowing no breaches of the moral wall that surrounds us all.

Sex.  Much has been written about it.  Confusion abounds.  Procreation by the process of coitus is fairly straightforward to understand.  We ‘have’ sex, we may very well make babies, that’s if we’re a male and a female.  Sex between gays and variations thereof is not procreative sex.  That’s pretty clear, I think.  Procreative sex is about biology, penises, vaginas, sperm and eggs.  That said, procreative sex is regulated in very complex ways and has been ever since we’ve been writing things down and probably way before too.  We’re not the only sexually reproducing species that regulates sexual behaviour, that is who can have sex with who, when and how.  Many species have mechanisms for regulating sex.  We speak of ‘instinct’ when we refer to sex among non-human species, but nonetheless, sex is regulated.  Often, the physically and socially dominant individuals of a species are the only ones to procreate as in wolves and African wild dogs.  Among primates, sex generally goes to the dominant members of the troop, but there is a lot of sex on the side type behaviour.  Among Bonobo chimps, sex seems to be recreational but it also serves a purpose of keeping peace in the troop.  It also serves a procreational function, of course, but paternity is not an issue among bonobos.

There are many problems that arise with human sexuality. One is that we have a long gestation period and it takes a very long time to raise an infant to self-determination and adulthood.  Procreative sex has its consequences and can be very expensive in time, effort and resources.  That problem is compounded by the fact that men and women can be attracted sexually to a number of other men and women.  There’s no evidence to suggest that human beings are naturally monogamous and a lot to suggest otherwise.  Another thing is that closeness, physical contact, nasty experiences with members of the other sex, neurological wiring and many other factors mean that humans, like bonobos, are often quite happy to have sexual relations with members of the same sex or with whatever comes along, animal, vegetable or synthetic.  Some of the most popular porn sites on the internet are bestiality sites.  A popular practice among some men is to have life size sex dolls.  Is sex with a sex toy still sex?  Well, we sure talk in those terms.  So, humans are, let’s say, open to possibility when it comes to using their sexual organs.  I coined the term ‘monosex’ when I taught a course on love and sex a few years ago, to describe masturbation and the fact that many people prefer it to anything else.  Apparently we don’t even need partners.

Of course it’s very important here to separate love and sex.  Love is a sentiment of emotional attachment that can, but needn’t have anything to do with sex.  Romantic sex is not always loving sex, although we generally think of romance and love as intertwined.  Love can exist in many social situations and describe relationships between mothers and children, men and women, men and men, women and women, men, women and flags, football, sausages, cars, sunsets, pets, forests and a pretty close to infinite number of other things.  We ‘love’ all kinds of things.  Sex describes one way of expressing love, but it also goes way beyond that and often has nothing to do with love.

So, sex is all over the place and procreative sex is a particular variant that ends up producing offspring and those little guys are essentially considered property.  Randall Collins in his book Sociological Insight refers to offspring as generational property.  Other forms of property he identifies that are regulated by marriage contracts are domestic property and erotic property.  Erotic property is exclusive rights over another’s body for sexual purposes.  Domestic property refers to pots and pans, houses and cars.  The point here is that sex is regulated in our world or rather what derives from sex is regulated.  For as long as we know, sex has been regulated to achieve certain social ends.  Who one can have sex with, when, where and how are all regulated by mores and laws in our society and in one way or another in all societies now and historically.   Morality is the context in which sex is regulated.  Although it’s clear that sexual mores are broken all over the place all the time, we still feel the pressure of sexual ‘propriety.’  Although things are changing we know that extramarital or extra-relational [my new term, I think] sex (cheating) is bad.  We know that pre-marital sex is bad.  We know that children are not supposed to be sexual, neither are old people (yuck!).  Most important, we know that children and adults are never to engage in sexual relations under any circumstances.  We know that sex in public is bad.  We also know that people do it for the ‘thrill’ of it.[1]  We know that both parents have a responsibility to raise their offspring.  We all know these things but we also know that these things don’t count as much in real life as they do in ideological terms.

So, I’ve put this off long enough.  Young men and women are sexual by nature.  Biology gives them the tools to have sex pretty early in life.  In our world, however, it’s not morally acceptable for them to engage in sex until they’re told it’s OK.  We have rules around how young people are to behave sexually and celibacy is it!  We don’t know when exactly it’s ok to have sex as a young person.  Waiting until marriage doesn’t cut it anymore.  It’s now a matter of ‘let’s discuss it when it happens.’  We’ll make the best of it.

However, the crux of the situation for me is the moral responsibility that is placed on young women to protect their virginity at all costs or at least to avoid the label of ‘promiscuous’ or ‘slut.’  Young women are supposed to suppress their sexual drives and be ‘responsible.’  This automatically sets up an adversarial relationship between young men and women.  Women must protect their virginity.  Young men must respect that and suppress their own sexuality.  But, for many young men, the challenge is that of a safe-cracker. Conquest is big on their minds!  They’re supposed to be real men, after all, aren’t they?   Can I get into her pants?  Young male bodies are telling them to carry on, get it going.  Damn the torpedoes!

I can’t imagine how rape and other variant of sexual assault are not more common under these circumstances and why young people in the prime of their youth at university would not want to challenge the moral prescriptions that define their sexuality.  Young men and women chanted the Y.O.U.N.G. chant at St-Mary’s university and at UBC (and on many other campuses, no doubt).  This is, in my mind, a protest against contradictory social mores.  The reaction of the university administration as protectors of the dominant moral code in our society underlies the seriousness of the proscriptions we impose on young people and their inherent sense that there are serious issues with them.

Obviously not all young men and women are conflicted about sexual mores.  Some of them are staunch defenders of social proscriptions against extra-moral sexual relations.  There is a lot of diversity in the population.  That said, all youth are pressured to conform to social mores under the threat of rejection, opprobrium and shunning.  Young people have a strong need to ‘fit in.’ That may mean going along with the Y.O.U.N.G. chant or opposing it depending on what group is strongest in its pull to conformity.  But I’ll leave that to another time.


[1] There are porn sites dedicated to public sex.

You’re doing weddings now?

Well, yes.  I officiated at a wedding yesterday.  It was my first time so, like the first time I had sex, it was a little awkward.  However, I think it went well enough.  The groom seemed to be happy enough about the way the ceremony unfolded and that’s really all that counts.

I’m not at all qualified to conduct weddings, at least not legal ones.  When one of my former students approached me to do this,  I explained that I couldn’t legally marry him to his love.  He said that he didn’t care about that, that he didn’t want any preachers or government person marrying him and that he wanted me to do it.  He said I was suave and well-spoken and that he wanted me to do it.  I had my doubts about my suavity (is this a new word?) and about my well-spokenness (again, my term).  Still,  he insisted that this is what he and his partner (I don’t like this word) wanted.  OK.  So I accepted to do it but I wasn’t sure how to do it.  In the end, I explained to those present, many of who had no idea what they were about to witness, about why I was officiating not being able to actually legally marry them.  I said that because my former student and his love (for lack of a better word) had been living together for some time and already had a baby together that the state already considered them married, so why be redundant and have some unknown marriage commissioner come and ‘legalize’ their marriage relationship?  I argued that this wedding was not about legalities, but about community, about the coming together of two people I consider ‘naturally’ in love.  When they are together it’s obvious how much they love each other.  There’s no strain there, no tension, just acceptance.  Now that’s something to celebrate!  That’s the idea I tried to convey to those present.  I’m not sure everybody at the ceremony ‘got it,’ but that’s to be expected.  This wedding was a mixture of conventional and not so conventional features.  It would not be surprising for some people to be a little confused. No signing papers afterwards but there were vows, people sat in rows in front of the three of us, standing by a small gazebo close to a beautiful beach in an amazing setting in Royston, BC.  There were mothers, grandmothers, assorted brothers, sisters, children and other family members and friends there doing what they would do at any church wedding.  Still, nothing legal about this ceremony.  It’s not uncommon these days to have a wedding on the beach or at some park-like outdoors venue of some sort.  It is uncommon to have a former sociology teacher with no obvious credentials or qualifications to do it, officiate.

This wedding ceremony is a first to my knowledge.  Nothing legal about it and in that I think it marks a new way of getting married.  Because of current law in this province, people living common-law are considered married for all intents and purposes after a very short time, especially if they have children.  So, the legal aspect of the conventional wedding ceremony is somewhat redundant, yet people still want their union to be legitimate and recognized by their community.  This ceremony provided the legitimacy and the community recognition of this wonderful relationship without the redundancy that would be there if a marriage commissioner had presided over the event.  In that sense it was more ‘real’ than most conventional wedding ceremonies and I was quite proud to be a part of it.