Monday, April 28, 2008

You are not normal, nor am I, nor is anyone

The New York Times reports on a growing slavery scandal. I mean, that is what we call using people as chattel. I'm not saying this about any one party involved. The people taking the picture wanted to trade off of the actress' fame to sell magazines, the people who want to control the actress by saying "parents should be concerned," want to control the actress.

What's been forgotten is that Miley Cyrus is, at 15, a young woman, and as a young woman both her sexuality and her availability are part of what she must trade on. Being an actress, they are virtually her stock and trade. The tension between the role and the person is precisely what draws people. "Who is she?" Men ask. "Why does She have the hold over men she does?" Women ask. She is gendered, because that is the presentation.

The reality is that 8 year olds should not be being asked to be 15 year olds, but a 15 year old should not be being asked to be an 8 year old either. Especially not a 15 year old who must behave as an adult in order to be capable of surviving in the entertainment industry. Miley Cyrus can talk to girls as they cross over into the first veil of womanhood, there are others that she has not crossed yet. This is no small thing, that first collision between self and what will be a live riding waves of hormones is no small thing. Men have their own transitions to make, but plea for gender equality though we may, nature had other plans in place. What we need is not gender neutrality, nor even equality, but personal place. The variations and the mean must be understood.

Variations? Mean? I suppose I must now talk about what I think to be an important, and misunderstood, idea. That is that in common thought we have "normal" and "abnormal," and sometimes we admit of things as "borderline." This is the wrong way to think about this issue.

In any population, about almost any trait, there will be central clusters that can be seen as "mean" or means. There will, around them, be variations. Mean and variation exist in relation to each other. The mean does not deny the existence of variation, and variation does not deny the mean. The mean of human sexual intercourse between people is heterosexuality. The variations are numberless. However most erotic behavior exists in a monosexual context. We are erotic with ourselves far more than we are erotic with another person. This too is a mean, sexual intercourse with another person is, in fact a variation on the long running erotic life we have with ourselves. That's why relationships are such work.

From the stand point of nature, normal and abnormal are wrong. Instead there is the mean of the moment, which is normal. There are variations which are clearly non-adaptive, most of which perish quickly, in fact, so quickly as not to be noticed in most cases. But then there are variations which might be adaptive, or are aspects of adaptive behavior expressed in other ways, or even more adaptive than the present "normal." I've searched and read, but found no good discussion. The word that I've heard a few times, and am going to adapt, is "perinormal." Peri means "around." The "perimeter" of a square is what you get for measuring "around." Perinormal variations are then, not abnormal, but they aren't normal either.

So, what we call rl "homosexuality," with my caveat that I think rl labels are not good descriptions of norms right now anyway, is not normal. But it is by no means abnormal. The genetic cocktail that makes a man attracted to men, or a woman attracted to women, and then causes them to express that as their identity, consists only of traits which are present in the norms, but in different combinations. These traits, in the combination that make up what our society expresses as homosexuality are, perinormal. They form means around themselves that are just like the dominant or prevalent mean of the moment. There's nothing wrong with a gay man, or lesbian woman. It's not a disease to be cured, nor a condition to be endured, but a variation to be lived.

Some variations which are genetically stable are not acceptable in the context of our society. Pedophiles are abnormal because they are parasitic. They take a condition in our genetic nature, namely that children take a long time to develop as sexual beings, but have sexuality present, and exploit it as a weakness. The pedophile destroys the group by destroying its future. The trait is abnormal not because it will die of itself, but because the group that allows it will fall apart. Such traits can be described as "anti-normal," in that they are destructive to the formation of a norm around which a group can survive.

Variation being what it is, if a person consists only of mean traits, that too is strange. Everyone is mean in some ways, and departs far enough from the mean in other ways. This is the resiliency we need. Because the mean of the moment is the most fit, for the time when it's individuals were born. But conditions can change very fast. The rabbit that breeds quickly maybe best off in the clover days, but the one who husbands resources may be the one that survives the winter. The mean of the moment, can become perinormal with the single burning of an epidemic of a disease, or the turning of the climatic screw.

So why start out with a fifteen year old actress? Because the change from childhood to sexual adulthood has means, and it has variations. Both must be taken into account for a person to emerge on the other side. Breasts develop early, breasts develop late. Some women develop large breasts early, others are smaller until the develop more later. Image so often hangs on this, and yet so much is based on what your genes tell your body to do. There is a local race to puberty, but the reality is that race is largely determined by genes, and by body fat index. And it isn't healthy to either delay unduly, or accelerate unduly, that moment. Dancers tend to start menstruating late, because the discipline discourages the accumulation of body fat, girls in households that eat more junk calories reach puberty early, because their body accumulates fat earlier.

A fifteen year old actress, almost whatever her diet has been, is probably on one side of the biological line, and is certainly expected to behave as she is, regardless of whether menarche has been reached. She can't be a role model for 8 year old girls, who, mostly though there are exceptions, aren't there yet. But will be soon. And no one can be a total role model.

What angers me is that there are some adults who want to force a role model on their children, rather than seeing their children as they are. They want to enforce a false mean, which is, anti-normal. Societies cannot long survive attempting to amputate parts of their children's psyches in order to have a doll which rationalizes and justifies the parents decisions in life. That goes both ways. Sexualizing to early for the sake of selling some lipstick, or attempting to desexualize for the sake of misinterpretations of what are texts from a brutal and sexist age, and yes, I am speaking about the Bible, are both wrong. They do violence to the girl, and to the woman she is becoming, and will be as an adult.

That is why the whole affair stinks. Look at each party manipulating the situation, from Disney with its faux-wholesomeness, (Can that be a portmanteau? Fauxomeness?), to the parents groups who want 15 year olds to be 8 year olds, to the magazine, who is exploiting the fact that men much older that 15 want fresh virgin flower, at least in their monosexual lives. Look closely. None of them are concerned for the mean or the variation. All of them are concerned, instead, with pressing hard at some button they can press, to extract power or fame or money. They want to reduce the variations down to that one response, of lust, greed, or power.

I've come to the conclusion that one thing that has to be really dramatically altered is consumerism. I don't think consumerism in its current form can survive, and still have a feminist future. Consumerism eats at us. It pushes old evolutionary buttons very hard, but in doing so it genders where there is no need to be gendered, it reduces our identities to chick culture, and to a round of gathering nuts and berries off of clearance racks. And chattering about it. And I love to shop.

When I was helping a friend search for a computer to buy, I was struck how "man-centric" the presentation of the material was. It isn't that computers are only used or owned by both genders, it isn't that we don't both, in the end, want the same thing, a machine we can use to do the things we want, but will be able to do the things that we don't quite know we want to do yet. It is that the presentation of the material was unholistic, without taking into a good account things like style, visual and ergonomic appeal. My hands are not your hands, the keyboard that works fine for you maybe way too large for me. I struggled with a hand me down keyboard, whosekeys required far too much force to press, and which was far too large for me to reach common key combinations. It was a horror, and I hated every word I wrote with it.

Yet this was about the thing that the stores made it hardest for me to select in replacement keyboards... none of them were hooked up to actual computers. I had no idea what the response of a machine would be to my typing.

The Miley Cyrus flap is an example of how this process of reduction to a single button goes wild. In the urge to make it so that only one kind of information is available about something, positive, and within the little target, the players involved have tried to turn all of us into birds trained to peck for seeds.

It's not right.

It's not normal.

It's not working.

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