Dreaming for Women

On Saturday, my niece graduated from high school. Her school is very young, and it’s meant to be small. Her graduating class was 13 people. Twelve of those people were women.

They heard a commencement address on the subject of dreams. The speaker quoted Benjamin Franklin and Ralph Waldo Emerson, spoke of the failures Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Edison met on their way to success, and praised the work of Mozart and Michael Jordan in mastering their crafts.

It mentioned not one woman. So I will.

The truth will set you free. But first, it will piss you off. –Gloria Steinem

The fact of the matter is, ladies, you deserved better. You deserved a speech that recognized you have your own unique challenges to face in finding and following your dreams, and you deserved a speech that didn’t make you feel you were the first of your gender to chart this path. You aren’t. Many women have come before you and accomplished great things. You’ve just learned that, like them, your biggest challenge may be in being recognized for what you manage to do.

Yet it is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the submerged truth sometimes comes to the top. –Virginia Woolf

You were given some advice to put aside distractions and listen to your dreams to find out what they really are. This is excellent advice. However, the toughest distractions aren’t the sort of thing that will go away when you turn off the TV. Much harder to set aside are the voices of all those people around you who think they know what you want better than you can. They mean well, some of them, but they don’t know you as well as you do. And you are the person your dreams must satisfy.

If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we are not really living. Growth demands a temporary surrender of security. –Gail Sheehy

Also, it is hard for many of the people who love you to understand that you must grow up and find your own way. That doesn’t mean you have to leave them behind, but it does mean they can’t protect you anymore. The world can be a dangerous place in which to be a woman, and there are those who want to make it a more dangerous place for those women who dare to strive and challenge and be independent.

You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don’t try. –Beverly Sills

The problem with this is that not striving to follow your dreams doesn’t make the world a significantly safer place. There are costs to living a small, frustrated life as well. Stress is bad for you in large doses, but the stresses of challenging yourself and your world are often balanced by the joys those challenges bring, both in themselves and in meeting them successfully.

Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage. –Anais Nin

Meet people. You don’t have to like them all, and they don’t have to like you, but you’ll never find the people who fill the odd gaps in your heart if you don’t find odd people. You won’t find the people who share your “odd” interests. And you won’t find the people whom you can help like no one else can.

Visit places that are unlike the places you grew up. They’re not as far away as you might think. Go as a visitor instead of as a tourist. Learn how and why things you don’t do are done, even if you have to ask stupid questions. You don’t have to move in, but every possibility you’re exposed to is food for your dreams.

The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any. –Alice Walker

Following your dreams will get you into trouble. One sort or another, you can’t avoid it. When this happens, particularly when it happens simply because you are a woman pursuing your own dreams instead of someone else’s idea of what you should be doing, you have resources. There are laws and rules on your side. You have rights. You will have to fight to get them, but there are also people on your side who will fight for you and with you. Accept their help. It doesn’t mean that you’re weak; it means that these people understand that we are stronger together.

Courage is like a muscle. We strengthen it with use. –Ruth Gordon

Following your dreams will wear you down. It will be tiring. Sometimes it will hurt. You will have times you just don’t feel you have the strength to keep going. You have more than you know. Never quit while you’re tired. Cry, swear, throw things. Rest, because you’ve already done more than you or most of the people around you are giving you credit for, but don’t quit. Once you’ve got your strength back, then you can decide whether it’s time for a new dream, but you’ll be amazed how often all you needed was the rest to make you strong again.

Some women choose to follow men, and some women choose to follow their dreams. If you’re wondering which way to go, remember that your career will never wake up and tell you that it doesn’t love you anymore. –Lady Gaga

Despite the makeup of your graduating class, I can promise you that men are not rare in the rest of the world, if it’s even a man you’re looking for. The good ones are worth stopping for and appreciating at least briefly, but there are more of them than you’ve been led to believe. Similarly, there is more love out there than you can imagine now. Not all of it comes in romantic pairings, either. If you make time in your dreams for people, and set aside the people who exist only to fill your time and get in the way of your dreams, you don’t ever have to worry about being alone. Don’t listen to the people who tell you you can’t have it all.

Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world. –Harriet Tubman

Now, go. Dream.

Dreaming for Women

The Good Bad Girl

I’ve been watching the DC comics reboot commentary without much personal stake. It bothers me that the universe is losing Oracle in a redesign touted as promoting diversity, but at a slight remove. I’m not part of the audience for these comics. Watching a bunch of white guys of a certain age decide that they knew how to increase their appeal to everyone else was painful but predictable.

Then, while following a link from Bug Girl, I saw this.

The wonderful thing about Harley’s original design is that it’s inviting, welcoming even. If you saw her on the street, you wouldn’t expect her to suddenly draw out a gun and steal all your money. The general public would be won over with her megawatt grin until her mallet knocked them unconscious. If you put the new Harley in a city, people would start asking if Marilyn Manson was shooting a new music video, pedestrians would avoid her all together and the police would be called. She’s more intimidating and easily more suspicious than the original.

Uh-uh. You don’t mess with my Harley Quinn.

Yes, my Harley Quinn, for two reasons: No comic book character stays static, and Harley’s been part of several reimaginings. At least one has had a very different Harley origin story, which includes a female Joker. A few show us an older, grown up Harley. I’m not talking about those.

More importantly, Harley is mine because she’s a beloved part of my id. You see, Harley is such a pretty little anti-feminist’s nightmare.

No, really. What is Harley before she meets the Joker? We know what kind of practice and injury and self-denial goes into being a gymnast. More work and self-denial puts her in a profession that is all about helping others, thanklessly. And all of it done coming out of a family where the men are allowed to fail but Harley is supposed to remain a “good girl.”

Then comes the Joker. Our little Harley falls in love, exactly as she’s been told good girls do. And there is hell to pay.

Harley adopts Mr. J’s ends as her own–and gets in his way helping him, when she isn’t showing him up. After all, she doesn’t have to be crazy to do what she does. It all makes sense in her world. She idolizes Mr. J, creating a fictionalized, idealized Joker in her own mind that he can never live up to. She maddeningly maintains her cheer when things are going wrong for him. She is so perfectly devoted to him that he has to kill her to get rid of her–or try, at any rate, since she insists on staying alive.

For all her mayhem, Harley remains the quintessential good girl, and I love that this only makes her all the more terrifying and formidable. Harley is the bit of me that looks out from under her eyelashes and says, “Yes, I can be exactly what you want me to be. I can follow those rules and present the front that you require. You’re going to hate it.”

That isn’t this Harley. I don’t know what this Harley is. Maybe she’ll give us something else we need in the place of that chaotic, amoral creature we’re told we should aspire to be. But if we lose our good girl in the process of remaking the bad, then we’ve lost too much.

The Good Bad Girl

Saturday Storytime: Six Months, Three Days

I’ve known Charlie Jane Anders tangentially for years through WisCon. I cheered when she co-edited She’s Such a Geek. I’ve enjoyed her nonfiction writing on io9, particularly the occasional movie review. Somehow, I’ve missed her fiction until this week. I’ve got to fix that.

This story is, amid whatever else Charlie Jane intended it to be, a meditation on making our own way in a world of other people’s expectations. More than that I will not say. You’ll just need to read it.

The man who can see the future has a date with the woman who can see many possible futures.

Judy is nervous but excited, keeps looking at things she’s spotted out of the corner of her eye. She’s wearing a floral Laura Ashley style dress with an Ankh necklace and her legs are rambunctious, her calves moving under the table. It’s distracting because Doug knows that in two and a half weeks, those cucumber-smooth ankles will be hooked on his shoulders, and that curly reddish-brown hair will spill everywhere onto her lemon-floral pillows; this image of their future coitus has been in Doug’s head for years, with varying degrees of clarity, and now it’s almost here. The knowledge makes Doug almost giggle at the wrong moment, but then it hits him: she’s seen this future too — or she may have, anyway.

Doug has his sandy hair cut in a neat fringe that was almost fashionable a couple years ago. You might think he cuts his own hair, but Judy knows he doesn’t, because he’ll tell her otherwise in a few weeks. He’s much, much better looking than she thought he would be, and this comes as a huge relief. He has rude, pouty lips and an upper lip that darkens no matter how often he shaves it, with Elvis Costello glasses. And he’s almost a foot taller than her, six foot four. Now that Judy’s seen Doug for real, she’s re-imagining all the conversations they might be having in the coming weeks and months, all of the drama and all of the sweetness. The fact that Judy can be attracted to him, knowing everything that could lay ahead, consoles her tremendously.

Keep reading.

Saturday Storytime: Six Months, Three Days

The Judgment of Rep. Weiner

My former roommate, who was also my maid of honor and has consumed more of my turkey soup than anyone but my husband, left a comment on my prior post on the reaction to Weiner’s “sex scandal” that I think is worth addressing at length (in no small part because she asks me to, and I hate to say no to Shari). So here is the meat of her comment and my reactions.

But there’s a few things Not connected (at least, in my own head yet) to prudery that Still make me want him to step down.

One thing worth noting here is the prudery under discussion isn’t necessarily the prudery of an individual. One effect of the overall background prudery in effect has been to narrow the options and ideas that even come to mind when we think about these issues.

Poor impulse control.

We don’t actually know this. Evidence of a mistake is not always evidence of poor planning. He may have thought this through, decided it made sense for his situation, and still bungled the execution.

Utter lack of concern (or was it freaking AWARENESS of concern) for what his family would go through ‘if he was caught’.

Again, we don’t know this. People who take on “alternative” sexual and relationship arrangements are well aware that there is risk involved. That’s why there’s a closet. That’s why these things are conducted in private. But that doesn’t mean that the risk hasn’t been weighed and found to be more than balanced by the ability to be true to one’s own desires. Let’s face it. If that ability were a trivial thing, human history would be hugely different.

Whether right or wrong – and if prudery is being used as a cultural straightjacket, we can all probably assume Wrong! – he knows that politicians are under intense scrutiny, as they represent other people.

Actually, this is new. I recommend reading Marcotte’s piece on Alternet on this for some recent historical perspective. If you need more examples, consider that Norm Coleman’s mistress was considered non-news for both his Senate campaigns (as, sadly, was his reputation for sexual assault). FDR, JFK, and LBJ’s affairs (to stick to the monogrammed presidents) are matters of history, known but irrelevant during their tenures. You can say times were different then, but that doesn’t explain why Bush the Elder’s mistress was considered only a matter of gossip. To go back further, Cleveland’s possible illegitimate child (actual paternity unknown) was acknowledged in his run for the presidency but not a deciding factor.

Private matters used to be considered private unless they were evidence of hypocrisy and often even then. This is new.

And they are held to high standards. Or, at least, I hold them to high standards – especially of judgement.

Well, except we don’t hold our politicians to high standards. If we did, we’d get serious about the Citizens United ruling so that corporations have a tougher time buying them. We’d do something so people weren’t always talking about voting for the lesser of two evils. We’d hold them accountable for their campaign promises instead of expecting them to be broken.

Holding politicians to high standards only for private decisions that have no impact on our lives is a clear signal of prudery to me. And while any individual may not fit that description, the fact that a consensual dick pic is news and Justice Thomas’s hidden conflicts of interest aren’t stinks of that background prudery.

I’m guessing he thought he could manage any fallout if this ever became public. We see how well That turned out.

Given the historical treatment of extramarital sex in politicians, I’m not sure that was a bad assumption going in. It doesn’t seem to have taken him very long, though, to figure out that nothing but the full truth was going to suffice in this situation.

That amazing level of arrogance in his initial denials screams of his desire for celebrity, without responsibility.

I’m all for lying my face off if someone decides that my private business is their public business. Well, actually, I’m not, but that’s mostly because I’m a skewer-with-detailed-truth kind of gal. Still, I completely support it in others. Serving one’s country is not the same thing as giving the American population a free pass into one’s bedroom (or wherever else one wants to flirt or fuck). It’s a pity it didn’t work.

And that kind of judgement in his personal life makes me question his judgement on national issues.

Here Weiner has a record. Twelve years of national record, six years in New York before that. And that record is excellent, particularly on the topics of women’s health (sexual and otherwise) and sexual freedoms. I have no reason to doubt his record because he screwed up using Twitter.

The point at which compulsive behaviour threatens your job – and this qualifies, I think, you need to put it in check.

What’s compulsive? Why compulsive? The fact that you and most of the people you know would need something as strong as a compulsion to behave that way means that this is behavior you find wrong for you. That’s fine, but it’s not a universal. Someone who doesn’t consider this behavior immoral or otherwise wrong doesn’t need to be compulsive to do something natural to them.

Would I be as disgusted if this guy weren’t married? Not quite, because the whole point of marriage is to forsake all others (not discussing polygamy here.), and if you want to do gross tweets, don’t friggin’ get married because your spouse will be understandably pissed. Poor judgement.

Actually, the purpose of marriage is to build a life together and to have that life recognized by your friends, family, and society. Beyond that, it varies. I know a number of people in very strong marriages (some of the strongest I know, but not all, so no use guessing) who never promised monogamy or who decided that monogamy was either not necessary or actively harmful to their marriages.

And really, we don’t ever forsake all others. Marriages happen within a community. We have friends who meet some of our emotional needs so our partners don’t carry them all. We have people around us who share values and interests that our partners don’t. We have flirtations, the vast majority of them without any intent to go beyond flirting. We maintain lots of degrees of intimacy with people other than our partners.

Some people simply find that allowing sexual and romantic relationships with people other than their partners is, for them, a reasonable step in the same direction. They’re nothing like pissed. The people who don’t aren’t necessarily prudes, but deciding that all marriages have to be composed of the same boundaries and arrangements that yours are is a form of prudery.

Also, I’ve seen the picture that was tweeted. It’s not gross. It doesn’t make me want to jump the guy or anything, but I can kind of understand why he wanted someone else to see it.

Single people sexting (especially with that last name)
are opening themselves up to blackmail – poor judgement if they are in the public eye.

There is only a risk of blackmail if there is secrecy. There is more likely to be secrecy in an atmosphere of prudery. If you’re willing to do what Weiner did, to confess when the press decides this is the most pressing political issue of the day, you can’t be blackmailed.

So, no. While I’m deeply concerned at the judgment of the press in this situation, Weiner’s judgment, particularly as a legislator, bothers me not one bit.

The Judgment of Rep. Weiner

Fright N–Ooh, Yum

So, there’s a new trailer out for the remake of Fright Night. It is being passed around because it stars David Tennant’s bare chest.

The passing around prompted Dana to ask, “Does retweeting that David Tennant thing make us sexist pigs?”

Because I live to answer these questions and make these distinctions between sex and sexism, I answered, “As long as we don’t feel entitled to it, I think we’re okay in appreciating it.”

So please, enjoy. Things like this should not be wasted.

Fright N–Ooh, Yum

Prudes and Prisons

After a night without internet, I finally got to catch up on the Weiner “scandal” this morning. All the reaction I had time before work was summed up in three Tweets:

  • Yeah, I’m a bit ticked at Weiner. Mostly for labeling his premarital sexting as “inappropriate.”
  • As for his postmarital sexting? Only his wife can say. And I’m certainly not going to put her on the spot to find out.
  • In other news, has Ginny issued a public apology to Clarence yet for her inappropriate lobbying?

I meant to write a whole blog post about the subject tonight, but Amanda Marcotte has already written it.

Against prudery

I don’t want to keep hammering at this, but here’s a link to my Alternet piece on why I’m so concerned about this whole Anthony Weiner scandal. I won’t revisit it at length here; please read the article. My biggest problem is that the pretense of public interest was completely abandoned, and this was just a matter of the “ick factor“. Now that this door is open, and simply making people uncomfortable is considered reason enough to condemn someone and demand their resignation, I’m really worried. My gut feeling on this is that Weinergate really is confirmation of a suspicion I’ve had for awhile that America has quietly become more prudish in the past few years, and this is a very bad thing.


Silly, and unfortunately dangerous, as recent events demonstrate. Because it’s one thing not to be sexually adventurous, but quite another to sit in judgment of people whose sexual curiosities ick you out, whether done out of meanness or defensiveness. And lately, I’ve just generally noticed a trend towards more openly bashing people for seeking pleasure, even and often especially if they harm no one else in doing so.

Read the whole thing. Really. All of it. Chances are good Marcotte brings up at least one thing you haven’t considered as a mark of prudery, and that she makes a good case for it.

There’s also an echo in her post of a Facebook conversation with a friend of mine about a week ago. My friend started it off with this:

The queer movement spent decades trying to convince people that we should be taken seriously because we posed a real threat to the status quo. Now we spend all our time trying to convince everyone that we don’t pose any threat to anything, so the right should stop picking on us, already! I am of the whiplash generation of lesbians.

I will fight the marriage amendment with all my might because I believe that everyone has a right to marry, but I feel like, by getting us to spend all our time fighting for marriage and for open inclusion in the military, the right has recruited us to do the work of dismantling radical queerness for them.

I think she’s wrong about the recruitment. I think it’s more a question of discarding the people and tactics that have taken the gay rights movement as far as it’s come now that the gates appear to be in reach. But like my friend, I’ll fight with the crowd on individual rights issues. Otherwise? I’m hanging out with the drag queens. I’m talking to the leather girls. I’m having drinks with the sex educators and burlesque dancers and poly people.

Why? Because with the exception of a very few other people, these people are the ones who offer me freedom. These are the people who don’t care what is hiding in my email or DMs or with whom I flirt or how many inches of my cleavage or legs or anything else are visible. These are the people who understand the costs of arbitrary rules and who are stirring things up enough that we can figure out what is necessary (compassion and good communication) and what is arbitrary (almost everything else). These are the people capable of having the kinds of conversations that philosophy undergrads only dream of, many of which make it to this blog in one form or another.

So go read about prudery. Then go think about the costs of demanding that rights be granted only if something “isn’t a choice” or if the alternative is death or if granting the right won’t lead to granting another. Think about how narrow this box we’re asking for really is. No matter where you sleep, is that where you want to live?

Prudes and Prisons

Living in the Dark

It’s no secret that my childhood was no sunny idyll. If you’ve managed to miss it, you can catch up some here and here and here. It’s not much fun, though.

I’ve spent much of the last week swapping stories that aren’t going to make it onto the blog with a friend. It isn’t something I usually want to do, but this is someone whose experience was close enough to mine that it really is a way of telling each other we aren’t alone–now. We made it. We may be broken, but at least somebody out there understands why and how and how far we’ve come.

That makes the timing of this WSJ article bemoaning the darkness of modern young adult literature all the more infuriating.

Now, whether you care if adolescents spend their time immersed in ugliness probably depends on your philosophical outlook. Reading about homicide doesn’t turn a man into a murderer; reading about cheating on exams won’t make a kid break the honor code. But the calculus that many parents make is less crude than that: It has to do with a child’s happiness, moral development and tenderness of heart. Entertainment does not merely gratify taste, after all, but creates it.

If you think it matters what is inside a young person’s mind, surely it is of consequence what he reads. This is an old dialectic—purity vs. despoliation, virtue vs. smut—but for families with teenagers, it is also everlastingly new. Adolescence is brief; it comes to each of us only once, so whether the debate has raged for eons doesn’t, on a personal level, really signify.

Victorian romantic nonsense. Childhood wasn’t a happy, sheltered period then for more than a handful of privileged kiddies, and it still isn’t. Despite what a view from the WSJ might want you to believe, kids deal with an amazing amount of crap: unhappy parents, parental substance abuse, poverty, neglect, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse, unreasonable and/or unreachable expectations, anxiety, depression, bullying. And that’s just counting the kids who aren’t somehow “weird.” Few of us makes it out unscathed, and none of us make it out completely ignorant.

Jackie Morse Kessler (one of the scary dark authors mentioned in the article) does a good job of translating adolescence into numbers in her response:

According to the Cornell Research Program on Self-Injurious Behavior in Adolescents and Young Adults, “12% to 24% of young people have self-injured” and “about 6%-8% of adolescents and young adults report current, chronic self-injury.” According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, “about 1 in 10 young people will self-harm at one point.”

One in 10. So in a classroom of 30 teens, 3 of them either are or will self-injure.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 10 million females and 1 million males suffer from anorexia or bulimia, and another 15 million suffer from binge eating disorder.

I was one of those 10 million females.

CyberMentors indicates that “as many as 70% of all young people have experienced some form of bullying” and “1 million kids are bullied every week.”

Let me repeat that: One million kids, every week, are bullied. This is not okay.

Nor is it okay to deny that these kids and these stories exist in order to maintain your sunshiny, simplistic, privileged view of what their childhood should have been like (particularly when all you really need to do is ask someone to help you find the cheery books of your own adolescence). That just makes you one more abuser, even if you wrap your denial in concern:

Yet it is also possible—indeed, likely—that books focusing on pathologies help normalize them and, in the case of self-harm, may even spread their plausibility and likelihood to young people who might otherwise never have imagined such extreme measures. Self-destructive adolescent behaviors are observably infectious and have periods of vogue. That is not to discount the real suffering that some young people endure; it is an argument for taking care.

Well, now, you see, this is the sort of thing that actually gets studied. In fact, Dr. Madelyn Gould has made a career of studying the almost purely young adult phenomenon of suicide clusters. And what she has to say is somewhat different:

But the most significant and critical red flag that predicts adolescent suicide risk, according to Gould and other researchers, is the presence of an underlying mental health problem. In teens, that’s most commonly depression, anxiety and alcohol or drug abuse.

“Even in the context of someone else’s suicide, without that underlying vulnerability, they’re not going to go on to attempt suicide or die by suicide,” Gould says.

Are there reasons to take care when creating a book like this? Of course there are, but that isn’t the argument being made in the WSJ. That argument is that things like this should remain hidden, that they shouldn’t intrude on a parent who wants a happy book for their little angel (who is, of course, absolutely not hiding anything scary from said parent).

They were hidden when I was younger. What I had then was “oh-em-gee, growing up is so weird and embarrassing” books by people like Judy Blume (which would have been wonderful had my main problem been embarrassment, and which I’m happy to know exist for those kids) and a handful of read-this-and-be-defined-by-the-issue books. I read adult books to find what I needed–books where broken people did things despite being broken. Luckily for me, my parents had a large and good library of this kind of book. Most kids I knew in situations like mine had to go without.

Now, though, many of those books are classified as young adult. More books like this are being written for young adults and put places where they can find them easily. And, having had the good fortune to talk to a number of young adult authors and editors, I can assure that these people are taking extreme care with their material and their audiences. While it may not be the case in book reviewing, people who make books for young adults don’t get very far by not knowing their audience or by treating them with disrespect.

So instead of concern trolling and wishing for a return to a nonexistent better past, maybe the WSJ reviewer (whose name, I admit, I haven’t bothered to look up for this post) should read a few more of those books. Maybe, just maybe, it’ll help her develop a better understanding of the needs of those kids. And who knows, maybe even a touch of empathy.

Living in the Dark

Saturday Storytime: The Grammarian’s Five Daughters

And a week after the Tiptree Awards, perhaps my favorite short story by any of the Tiptree winners. Eleanor Arnason has a lovely habit of breaking tradition in the most matter-of-fact way possible. I recommend this story at the slightest opportunity. An excerpt:

Finally, the bag was empty except for nasty words. As slimy reached out a tentacle, the third daughter pulled the drawstring tight. Slimy shrieked in pain. Below it in the bag, the worst adjectives rumbled, “Unjust! Unfair!”

The shaman, a tall, handsome person, was nearby, trying on various adjectives. He/she/it was especially interested in masculine, feminine, and androgynous. “I can’t make up my mind,” the shaman said. “This is the dark side of our new condition. Before, we had clear choices. Now, the new complexity puts all in doubt.”

The sound of complaining adjectives attracted the shaman. He, she, or it came over and looked at the bag, which still had a tentacle protruding and wiggling.

“This is wrong. We asked for an end to starkness, which is not the same as asking for prettiness. In there — at the bag’s bottom — are words we might need someday: sublime, awesome, terrific, and so on. Open it up and let them out.”

“Are you certain?” asked the third daughter.

“Yes,” said the shaman.

She opened the bag. Out crawled slimy and other words equally disgusting. The shaman nodded with approval as more and more unpleasant adjectives appeared. Last of all, after grim and gruesome and terrific, came sublime. The word shone like a diamond or a thundercloud in sunlight.

“You see,” said the shaman. “Isn’t that worth the rest?”

“You are a holy being,” said the daughter, “and may know things I don’t.”

Keep reading.

Saturday Storytime: The Grammarian’s Five Daughters

What We Accept

Gallup has released the results of their 2011 Values and Beliefs Poll. While they’re framing the results in terms of U.S. self-image and controversial topics, I want to take a minute to do a straight ranking. What do we, as a nation find most and least morally acceptable?

Divorce (69% find morally acceptable)
The death penalty (65%)
Gambling (64%)
Medical research using embryonic stem cells (62%)
Sex between an unmarried man and woman (60%)
Buying and wearing clothes made of animal fur (56%)
Gay or lesbian relations (56%)
Medical testing on animals (55%)
Having a baby outside of marriage (54%)
Doctor-assisted suicide (45%)
Abortion (39%)
Cloning animals (32%)
Pornography (30%)
Suicide (15%)
Cloning humans (12%)
Polygamy (11%)
Married men and women having an affair (7%)

It’s an…interesting list. Spending extra money to execute prisoners is more than twice as “morally” acceptable as pornography as a whole. Suicide is three times as “right” with a doctor’s help. Having multiple partners only becomes half again as acceptable if it’s part of a codified arrangement.

It’s a simple poll, of course. There are shades of gray, definitional issues, and overlapping demographics reflected in these numbers. But it’s still interesting to look at our ranked moral judgments.

Just as interesting is to see the generational differences that are shifting the political landscape on these questions. Here are the same issues, ranked for just the 18-34 year olds polled.

Divorce (72%)
Gambling (71%)
Sex between an unmarried man and woman (71%)
Medical research using embryonic stem cells (66%)
Gay or lesbian relations (66%)
Having a baby outside of marriage (62%)
The death penalty (56%)
Buying and wearing clothes made of animal fur (55%)
Medical testing on animals (47%)
Doctor-assisted suicide (46%)
Abortion (44%)
Pornography (42%)
Cloning animals (36%)
Polygamy (19%)
Cloning humans (18%)
Suicide (14%)
Married men and women having an affair (8%)

Almost everything is seen as more morally acceptable. Sex and non-heteronormative relationships come out much further ahead, except for marital infidelity. The big losers are the death penalty and medical testing on animals. Given the anomalous answers between fur and animal testing, however, I suspect at least one of those numbers isn’t stable over the long term.

I don’t know that I have anything interesting to add on the topic, except to note that there is very little in the way of underlying principles that could explain results like this. Oh, what an odd, inconsistent nation we are when it comes to moral judgments. Mine too, since there isn’t anywhere on either of these rankings that I could personally draw a line between yes and no. In fact, there are only about half a dozen where I could accurately answer anything other than, “Well, it depends.”

What We Accept