April 4th, 2008
Editor’s note: Last week, we began a discussion on anthropological views of marriage, with special attention to its implications on same-sex marriage. Patrick Chapman, biological anthropologist and author of the forthcoming book, “Thou Shalt Not Love”: What Evangelicals Really Say to Gays (Haiduk Press: 2008) began the discussion. That post was followed by a response from Glenn T. Stanton, director of Global Family Formation Studies at Focus On the Family and co-author (with Dr. Bill Maier) of Marriage On Trial: The Case Against Same-Sex Marriage and Parenting (InterVarsity Press: 2004). This past Monday, Dr. Chapman kicked off round 2 of the discussion, and today Mr. Stanton offers his rebuttal. I’ll return next week with some final thoughts.
I am happy to engage this discussion another round and am thankful to Box Turtle and Professor Chapman for their continued participation.
I see the headline on this exchange as “Anthropologist and Evangelical Researcher Disagree on Much”, which sounds like a good Onion headline. But I do believe this has been an opportunity to let two people with very different views carefully explain their positions and allow others to eavesdrop into and comment on the conversation. That is worthwhile. As we close this exchange, I want to thank Dr. Chapman for his clarity and kindness. And to Box Turtle for hosting the exchange in a very professional, remarkably fair manner. I say that with all sincerity.
Let me start by addressing an accusation he makes about Focus on the Family at the close of his last post. He says:
The organization, generalizing from Stanton’s methodology and the recent article that began our conversation, is more concerned about fitting anthropological studies into its predisposed bias than an honest appraisal and reporting of the research. (emphasis mine)
Actually NOT doing this is exactly what prompted me to write the paper under discussion. As I explained here in my first response to Chapman, I went to read leading anthropologists a few years ago on their explanation of marriage in light of gender and sex. Let me say this very clearly: I did not find what I went to the texts expecting to find. I went to this literature expecting to find and truly hoping to learn about the great diversity of gender-manifestations I always hear about from my many Women’s Studies friends.
I fully expected to have these anthropologists explain to me either the subtle or overt realities of how we in the West understand male and female are not so in other cultures. To that end, I anticipated they would employ great energy in explaining how our “he/she” categories don’t work in some/many non-Western cultures. But that is exactly what I did not find.
I found relentless talk about male/female and the only qualifiers offers were for 1) class differences for marrying couples in various cultures, and 2) the different tasks male and female perform in various cultures. But these were relentlessly about male and female together and absent of talk about “spectrums” of gender.
Even a full, careful read of a journal article on, as its title explains, “interpreting gender in Bugis society” (a society Chapman referred to as evidence in his first post) offers no explanation of anything but male or female (in either “sex” or “gender”) in the entire article. As previously noted, the article does mention what it calls “male transvestites” but only as a “very small percentage of the population.” If there are other genders among the Bugis, this anthropologist either failed to recognize them or failed to report it. Being a professor from University of Wisconsin, Madison, you think she would be keen to such subtleties if they existed. I understand they are quite sensitive to “heterosexism” at her institution. I will check out the Graham-Davies book that Chapman referred to on the subject.
This leads to perhaps our discussion’s biggest point, the “elephant in the room” that we are both feeling and describing different parts of.
Sex and gender
Chapman concludes from reading my response that I do “not comprehend the implications of, or difference between, sex and gender” and then proceeds to explain it to me. Goodness, anyone who has paid the slightest bit of attention to our national discussion on sex-roles over the past few decades gets the difference. My problem is I just don’t accept all the rhetoric that Gender- and Woman-Studies Departments accept and blather as established truth. I think this new understanding of “gender” is a cultural construct, which I will explain in just a bit.
Chapman then goes on to carefully explain to me that it is a mistake to assume that “all biological males are gendered masculine and all biological females are gendered feminine.” I know what the sentence means, but I don’t know what it means in practice.
Do you really believe that I think there are ways that all men and ways all women act? That is ridiculous. But equally ludicrous is the idea that it is silly-talk to speak of essentially-male or essentially-female qualities, even across cultures. If this were true, we would all need guides to point us to the males and females in cultures different from our own. When I travel around the world, I do this discerning on my own and have never had anyone correct me or had my supposed “ethnocentricism” embarrass me in a cultural faux pas. I have little trouble discerning who the men and women are, even when they are performing outside their “prescribed roles.” Please!
Let’s look at this more closely.
There are two sexes: male and female. I don’t see intersexed persons challenging this, as they are people who are “inter”…between the two, but typically identify relatively well as either male or female. This has been my experience with intersexed people I know. The Intersex Society of North America explicitly does not regard intersex as a third gender.
“Gender” is a much softer, less precise term than “sex”. If we use John Money’s classic, but new-fangled, definition of “sex is what you are biologically; gender is what you become socially”1 gender here is understood to mean how you see yourself and how society forms you with regard to your sex. Given this definition, I would posit that there are some 6.5 billion different genders, because to be honest, we all understand and express our sex in different ways. Let me speak from my experience.
I understand that I live out my maleness in ways very different than many males. In any given sports season, I could not come close to conversing intelligently about how the season is going. I have no interest in hunting, NASCAR or eating chicken wings at Hooters. However, I could tell you what is currently on display at the local museum or what was on Ovation last night. I am like Niles and Frazier Crane. My buddies kid me about this.
As far as household roles, a feminist literature professor, who I liked very much, tried to convince me that I lived by strict gender roles, whether I realized it or not. As proof, she asked me her discussion-ending gotcha-question. “Glenn,” she asked, “who cleans the toilets in your house?” I had to be honest. “My wife has seldom touched a toilet brush in her life.” I told her. I clean the bathrooms. Nor does she mop the floors. She cooks, and I do the dishes. She does the laundry. We both change diapers. We have women who work full-time here at Focus and Family and do so in plain sight without the slightest bit of recrimination from Dr. Dobson. Some of them are even vice-presidents and directors, oh my! Does this mean we are gender-benders?
Being or thinking this way does not mean we are either the least bit confused nor staunchly rigid on what masculinity and femininity are, but only that we recognize there are different ways to be genuinely male or female. But — and this is a huge one — the fact that there are no incarnated golden feminine or masculine archetypes in the world does not mean these two ways of being human don’t exist in real, discernible ways or that we can’t talk meaningfully across cultures about what male and female are, either in what were are physically, biologically and psychically.
This is my problem with this new use of the term “gender.” That it is used as a way to imply that male and female are no longer adequate terms to describe sex-based human experience. I don’t find this in my diverse life experience, nor did it appear to me, that the anthropologists I read did either.
Name-calling and other things…
I was struck in both of Chapman’s responses his ease and confidence in making conclusions for me about what I believe. Professor Chapman, I am many things, but I am neither a naÃ¯ve realist nor an ethnocentrist. If I were, I would find no value in the work of the anthropologists, for their specialty is explaining to us differing human experiences in diverse cultures.
You also explain, ala Stephanie Coontz, that historically “love is irrelevant” to marriage. This is the silliest thing she says in a book full of silly things. If she wants to say that love has not always been the sole or primary force in marriage that it is today, that point is hard to dispute. But to believe that marriage has always been a relationship solely about either class-cohesion or -advancement or about the transfer of land or material goods is deeply mistaken. The human heart didn’t grow warm in just the past 150 years. It has always felt and reacted to love, rejection and developed jealousy. These have always played a part of human relationships, including marriage and parenting, because it is profoundly human.
Regarding Murdock’s writings and the word “typical” in relation to his explanation of family being “a married man and woman with their offspring.” I read this word to mean it is usually this, while some families are single-parented because of death or desertion and some do not contain children. The reason I came to such a conclusion is that he discusses these different family forms in his book, but not homosexual marriages. The good scholar that he is, he stated the typical and later discussed the atypical. He explained these atypical families as variations on the heterosexual family. I did encounter discussions of same-sex marriage as rare from other scholars, and I address those in my paper.
In the occasions that Chapman cites instances of “same-sex marriage” he explains that couples must represent both female and male social qualities, regardless of their biological sex. I don’t doubt these are socially legitimate marriages, but he explains, “Relationships must follow the heterosexual model” in Samoa. That is the very point I made and when I have encountered the rare instances of same-sex marriage in other cultures. So do we both agree that there are no examples in past human experience, in any culture, is something looking like homosexual marriage where men as men and women as women are allowed to marry each other, regardless of what their “gender” might be? If I understand Chapman’s posts correctly, the societies he mentioned do place gender restrictions here.
Children and Well-Being
Let me end with what I think is the most important point: what this means for children of tomorrow.
First, I did not say that children do better in two-parent homes than single-parent homes. You put those words in my mouth and denounced it as a non-sequitur because SS homes are two-parent. What I do say in many of my books is that children who grow up with their own mother and father do markedly better in every important measure of well-being, compared to their peers growing up in single, cohabiting, step- or divorced homes. Children in SS homes are not, but definition, growing up in homes with their own mother and father.
He mentions the Lamotrek as a society where “same-sex couples” raise children with “no evidence of harm to the children or society.”
Two questions here. 1) What does “couple” mean in this context, especially in your explanation of frequent change of residence in their culture? We have a similar thing in the U.S. with children increasingly being raised by their mother and grandmother in the same home. It happens in other cultures also. The “same-sex couples” in Lamotrek should be clarified. 2) Regarding harm, which you say didn’t exist, was any study done on how these children actually fare compared to children in other family forms? The book you cite was published in 1965 and sociology was just starting to look at how family formation impacts child well-being in the West. It is doubtful Alkire did such an analysis because of this, but also because it is not the anthropologist’s task to make judgments about the quality of what a culture does, but only what it does.
Finally, the numerous research reports coming from sociology and psychology indicating that father-love is more impactful in some important child well-being measures than mother-love does not imply that children with two fathers would do extra better. The fatherhood effect is not cumulative. Scholars who have done work on fatherhood and child development explain that fatherhood is consequential in many ways, but primarily as it contrasts with and complements motherhood in important and unique ways.2
It’s been fun.
Glenn T. Stanton
P.S. Just watched the woman-who-changed-via-hormone-
she-still-has-her-uterus on Oprah today.
2. Henry B. Biller, Father and Families: Paternal Factors in Child Development (Westport, CT: Auburn House, 1993).
John Snarey and George Vaillant How Fathers Care for the Next Generation: A Four Decade Study (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993).
Ross Parke, Fatherhood (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996).
David Popenoe, Life Without Father: Compelling New Evidence That Fatherhood and Marriage Are Indispensable for the Good of Children and Society (New York: The Free Press, 1996). [BACK]
Round 2: Stanton Replies to Chapman
Round 2: Chapman Replies to Stanton
Glenn T. Stanton Responds to Professor Patrick Chapman
An Anthropologist Critiques Focus on the Family’s “Anthropological” Report on Marriage
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