Spain: The Most LGBT-Friendly Country in the World

The results might be surprising, since — compared to the likes of the Netherlands or Scandinavia — Spain rarely comes to mind as being particularly pro-LGBT. But the conclusion comes from an extensive 40-country survey conducted by the reputable Pew Research Group which asked respondents to discuss the morality of various issues, ranging from marital infidelity and divorce, to gambling, premarital sex, and abortion.

Of the Spaniards interviewed, 55 percent said homosexuality was morally acceptable, compared with six percent who said it was unacceptable and 38 percent who answered that it’s “not a moral issue” to begin with. These results actually match with another Pew study from 2013, which similarly concluded Spain to be the most LGBT-tolerant country in the world on the percentage of participants who believed homosexuality should be accepted by society.

The following graph shows the results of the top ten countries to be pro-LGBT, followed by the U.S. and Chile (courtesy of PolicyMic and the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project).

The famously LGBT-friendly nations of Northern Europe weren’t part of the survey, although I imagine they’d make up most of the top ten as well. Although a predominately Catholic country, Spain’s high ranking reflects a generally relaxed attitude towards homosexuality and other social mores, which coexists with a fairly high rate of Catholic identity (perhaps more culturally than piously nowadays). The country was among the first to legalize same-sex marriage in 2005, and hosts some of the largest pride parades in the world.

After the U.S. was Brazil, Mexico, Israel, Poland, and Greece. The fairly high ranks for Japan, Italy, and Argentina may seem surprising, given that these countries are generally viewed as being socially-conservative by developed-world standards (and of them only Argentina has legalized same-sex marriage, in 2010).

However, attitudes in these societies, as elsewhere, are changing — although viewing the rest of the countries polled would suggest they’re only high relative to the lowest-common denominators. Moreover, just because one doesn’t see homosexuality as immoral, doesn’t mean they don’t have stereotypical or negative views about it in some other sense (regarding gays as effeminate, lesbians as man-haters, etc). Of course, progress is progress even if there’s a ways to go.

The PolicyMic article makes the following assessment:

It’s important to note that the rankings are based on percentage of respondents who classified homosexuality as morally unacceptable. The United States had a surprisingly high number of respondents claim homosexuality was morally unacceptable — 37% — however, another 35% claimed it was “not a moral issue.”

Meanwhile, the Czech Republic had the highest overall percentage of respondents claim homosexuality was morally acceptable, edging out Spain with 56%. However, 14% of Czechs surveyed said it was unacceptable.

Countries with the lowest tolerance, according to the survey, included Ghana and Russia, where 98% and 72% of citizens replied that homosexuality was morally unacceptable, respectively.

The lowest-scoring countries after Ghana were Jordan, Egypt, Palestine, Uganda, and Indonesia — none of which are entirely surprising, given the correlation between high rates of religiosity and negative perceptions towards LGBT people. However, relatively secular places (by global standards) such as China, South Korea, and Russia were also in the middle-to-bottom part of the list. Attitudes towards gays, lesbians, and other marginalized groups are influenced by many different factors beyond religion, some of which may be unique to the country in question.

There are many other caveats and observations that can be made, but I sadly do not have the time to offer them. As always, please weigh in at your leisure.

Daily News Wire – 6/28/12


An Epidemic of Body Image Issues?

From The Guardian:

Body image is a subjective experience of appearance. It’s an accumulation of a lifetime’s associations, neuroses and desires, projected on to our upper arms, our thighs. At five, children begin to understand other people’s judgement of them. At seven they’re beginning to show body dissatisfaction. As adults 90% of British women feel body-image anxiety. And it doesn’t wane – many women in their 80s are still anxious about the way their bodies look which, Professor Rumsey explains, can even affect their treatment in hospital, when their health choices are influenced by aesthetics. Many young women say they are too self-aware to exercise; many say they drink to feel comfortable with the way they look; 50% of girls smoke to suppress their appetite – is it too strong to suggest that these things, these anxieties, are slowly killing them?

Liberal Democrat MP Jo Swinson (who has succeeded in pulling a number of L’Oréal ad campaigns for being unrealistic) is one of a growing group of people whose campaigning indicates that it’s something worth worrying about. Last year I attended every session of her government inquiry into body image, the results of which were published in a report this month. She cited research showing how current “airbrushing” culture leads to huge self-esteem problems – half of all 16- to 21-year-old women would consider cosmetic surgery and in the past 15 years eating disorders have doubled. Young people, she said, don’t perform actively in class when they’re not feeling confident about their appearance.

It is research backed up by a new documentary by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, Miss Representation, about the under-representation of women in positions of power – women who are high “self objectifiers” have low political power. They’re less likely to run in politics, and less likely to vote: if value lies in their imperfect bodies, they feel disempowered. The long-term effects, the piling on of pressures one by one, like a dangerous Jenga tower, means women’s – and increasingly men’s, 69% of whom “often” wish they looked like someone else – lives are being damaged, not by the way they look but by the way they feel about the way they look. It’s complicated.

Even researching such a thing is tricky. The truth feels slippery. “Why,” I asked the psychotherapist Susie Orbach (who, since publishing Fat is a Feminist Issue in 1978, has become a loud and public voice in the conversation about body image), “when I know that beauty is subjective, that nothing terrible would happen if I put on weight, when my desk is covered in annotated research on bodies, do I still feel bad about the way I look?”

“Because none of us lives in a vacuum,” she said. Simply acknowledging the pressure doesn’t eliminate it. “We don’t even know we hate our bodies because we take that for granted.” She sighed. “When I wrote FiFi there was a pretty bad situation,” she said, “but the women of my generation have given birth to… this.” To my generation – 60% of whom feel ashamed of how they look. But before anybody begins to deal with this, this crippling western-worldwide anxiety, it’s important to try and work out why. How did we get here?

It’s a long article, but I encourage you to read the rest. This is a serious issue that deserves more scrutiny and debate. While body image problems are nothing new to humanity, the nature of modern society – with its emphasis on personalization, impressing ever-wider social circles, and consumerism – may be taking it to a whole new level. For example:

Today the web ensures that we are drowning in visuals: we’re no longer comparing ourselves to “local images” – our friends – instead we’re comparing ourselves to social-networked strangers, celebrities, and to Photoshopped images, of which we see around 5,000 a week. I always bristle a little when “airbrushing” or Photoshop is blamed for the rise of body-image anxiety. It seems too simple. While I was impressed by Jo Swinson’s campaign to ban airbrushing in advertising, I did cheer, a little, when I read Tina Fey’s thoughts: “Photoshop itself is not evil,” she wrote. “Just like Italian salad dressing is not inherently evil, until you rub it all over a desperate young actress and stick her on the cover of Maxim, pretending to pull her panties down. Give it up. Retouching is here to stay. Technology doesn’t move backward. No society has ever deindustrialised.”

As each generation will be irrevocably mired in this sort of environment – as the article states, there’s no going back in this regard – it’s going to mostly come down to adapting and changing our attitudes in response, which is never easy.

A Better Life Index

This chart is from the OECD’s “Better-Life” index, which goes beyond the traditional (and often limited) variable of GDP and instead factors in 24 other metrics, such as life satisfaction (as measured by surveys), availability of housing, quality of education and infrastructure, etc.

Notice the gap between the richest and poorest within each country as well (especially in the US). Needless to say, some of these findings may be disputed or controversial. Click the hyperlink to see a more detailed report for each country, as well as those nations left out in the chart.

Source: The Economist

Another Child Commits Suicide Due to Bullying: A Reflection

I’m not one to make any exaggerated pronouncements whenever a disturbing trend begins to emerge, but I’m tempted to call this recent spate in bullying-related suicides something of an epidemic.

Suicide rates are already rising in many parts of the world, with particular growth among younger people. Like most social and psychological phenomena, the causes are complex, but the well-documented cases tend to stem from social pressure, especially abusive behavior by peers both in person and, increasingly, online.

Consider this recent heart wrenching tragedy:

Rachel Ehmke, a 13-year-old seventh grader in Mantorville, Minn., died April 29 after hanging herself at her home. The months leading up to the tragedy were a whirlwind of peer abuse instances, her parents say.

Now following Rachel’s Friday funeral that was met with widespread community condolences, Rick and Mary Ehmke are speaking out against the bullying they say their daughter endured at Kasson/Mantorville Middle School and online.

Rachel’s family and friends say the teen fell victim to school bullying last fall when her chewing gum was stuck to her textbooks and the word “slut” was scrawled across her gym locker, the Austin Daily Herald reports. And while she was outgoing, athletic and friendly, the same group of girls reportedly threatened Rachel and kept calling her a “prostitute,” though she had never kissed a boy, according to KMSP.

Two days before Rachel’s death, an anonymous text was sent to other students at the school, KARE reports.

It was pretty explicit. Something to the effect of that Rachel was a slut and to get her to leave the Kasson-Mantorville School, forward this to everyone you know,” parent Chris Flannery told the station.

But after the text was reported to authorities, it was traced to someone who wasn’t a student at the school, according to Minnesota Public Radio. The district’s bullying policy prohibits threats both in person and online, and promises investigations within 24 hours of any reported bullying.

This wasn’t kind of bullying we popularly imagine, the sort of “boys will be boys” or “girls will be girls” kind of behavior we expect among unruly, still mentally-developing kids. This was outright abuse, because as far as we can tell at this point, the girl did nothing to merit this kind of treatment. This wasn’t part of a larger feud or a personal misunderstanding. It was a concerted, deliberate, and persistent effort to attack her and her reputation without any apparent motive (not that it would be any more justified if there was one).

A beautiful and unique human being is now lost forever because of the wanton cruelty of others, at least one of whom wasn’t even part of her school. The worst part is that Ehmke had to come to terms with another common and underrated challenge with bullying:

Rachel reportedly pleaded with her father not to mention the bullying to school officials, for fear of worsening the situation. A note that her parents found after her death read, “I’m fine = I wish I could tell you how I really feel,” alongside a picture of a broken heart, according to KMSP.

In almost every one of these circumstances, the victim refrains from taking action on their bullying for fear of reprisals. The most prevalent concern, especially for boys, is the perception of weakness or cowardice – “telling on someone” is a serious infraction in youth social norms.

So the social pressure is two-fold: not only are you repressed for being who you are (or not being who others want you to be), but you must bear with the subsequent suffering in silence, lest you get even more ostracized. This makes the agony of bullying even more unbearable, and the mental and emotional strain is what ultimately leads some to death.

Now this is where many people will make the inevitable claim that kids like these are too sensitive or even cowardly. In fact, the upward trend in bullying-caused suicides is being seen as a reflection of how weak-minded and spineless our younger generations are. The problem isn’t the cruelty of others, which has always existed, but the fact that kids don’t know how to take it anymore, due to softer parents, an overly sensitive culture, and other societal factors.

While it’s true that bullying has always been around, we need to keep in mind that the psychological and social context has changed considerably. We live in a world where personal image is everything, and people have all sorts of venues in which they can make themselves known – and from which they can be judged, attacked, and discriminated against.

In a society that places ever more importance on how you’re perceived, and that has made social interaction of some kind ubiquitous and nearly unavoidable (even if it is electronic), the kind of merciless assaults on your self-worth that Rachel endured can literally kill you. This is especially true of young people whose values and worldviews are still underdeveloped, and where peer pressure is even more pronounced and influential.

Furthermore, we need to consider that there is increasing evidence that certain preexisting biological and neurological factors increase one’s likelihood to end their lives (or to endure other pre-suicidal mental illnesses). People with lower levels of serotonin in the brain, for example, have a much higher chance of killing themselves. When someone points out how plenty of people get bullied, yet only a few kill themselves, it’s not evidence that those few were especially sensitive; it could very well be that they happened to have had the innate biological and psychological factors that bullying ended up being triggering.

At any rate, it’s counterproductive and callous to write off the psychological anguish of people as a mere matter of personal weakness. If anything, such assumptions only strengthen the motivations of bullies, who often base their actions on this social-Darwinist notion of survival of the fittest. They may even dismiss any responsibility they had for their victim’s death by claiming they were just being cowardly anyway.

At any rate, bullying is clearly a problem of some kind, even if it weren’t driving people into suicide.

Dodge County authorities plan to meet this week to discuss possible criminal charges, the Star Tribune reports. But Rick Ehmke says the family doesn’t plan to press charges against those who bullied his daughter.

“They’re kids. They made some horrible decisions. If these kids would’ve known this would happen I’m pretty sure they never, ever would have done what they did,” Rick Ehmke told Minnesota Public Radio. “Sadly enough, even those kids that know who they are will carry this bag their whole life. That’s a sad thing too, it really is.”

I’d like to think they’d have that much remorse, but who knows anymore. As I stated before, many bullies just see it as survival of the fittest: people like Rachel were too weak to take it, so they had what was coming to them.

He also notes that the school should have taken heavier measures against the bullies when the taunting was first reported in the fall, adding that technology like phones and social media may have worsened an already bad situation by allowing the bully to essentially follow students home.

Words hurt. Word can kill,” mother Mary Ehmke told KARE.

Community members have planned a prayer vigil and walk in Rachel’s memory for 2 p.m. May 19 at Mill Pond in Austin, Minn. The walk aims to show support for the Ehmke family and raise awareness for teen suicide and bullying.

The U.S. Department of Education has identified 16 “key components” in state bullying legislation, including a statement of scope, listing of enumerated groups, process of district policy review, definitions and reporting guidelines. Minnesota ranks last in the country with its state bullying law only covering two of the 16 components, according to an Education Department analysis of state bullying laws released in December. Nebraska ranks second-to-last by covering four of the 16 components.

Statement of scope, one of the most common components of state bullying laws, establishes where legislation applies and what conditions must exist for schools to have authority over student conduct.

According to the Education Department report, Minnesota is one of just three states — alongside Wisconsin and Arizona — that prohibits bullying but doesn’t define that behavior. The state also doesn’t provide for its districts a model bullying policy, and at a mere 37 words, its anti-bullying law is the shortest one in the country:

Each school board shall adopt a written policy prohibiting intimidation and bullying of any student. The policy shall address intimidation and bullying in all forms, including, but not limited to, electronic forms and forms involving Internet use.

So what kind of problem is bullying, and what sort of solutions should be implementing? Is it something that requires legal and political action, as discussed above? Or is it more of a sociocultural problem, as I’m more inclined to believe? Maybe it’s a bit of both?

It’s important to note that many cases of bullying hardly black-and-white: polls have shown that as many kids identify as being both victims and perpetrators of bullying as being just one or the other. The problem seems to be that kids in general are just cruel to each other, period, and that some unfortunate number of them is being pushed to the edge due to preexisting psychological issues – which raises another area of action, namely improving our understanding of mental illness and our ability to both discuss it frankly and treat it.

The sad fact, as with most social issues, is that we can’t save everyone. There will always be immorality, and thus there will always be victims of it. But that doesn’t mean we can’t try to lessen the toll. The question is how we should, or even could, go about doing it.

I personally think that a lot of this comes down to improving the ethics, behavior, and psychological wellbeing of children. We should make the teaching of these values mandatory at every grade level, and have it be far more immersive and intensive. We should expand the counseling services of our schools, which are often the first to get cut or reduced. I’m not saying any of this will end bullying, but it may certainly help. Plus, it’s important to learn these sorts of things in general, not just to prevent bullying.

Of course this is only the start: a lot of this comes down to parenting, as well as to influence of society as a whole. Look at the political and public rhetoric out there, and you see a lot of examples of what we could otherwise call bullying: people demonizing each other, being arrogant, and refusing to hear one another out. We value toughness, hyper-individualism, consumerism, and other behaviors that may encourage a more egoistic and selfish worldview. In many ways, bullying is just a manifestation of the same sort of obsession with competition and success that pervades every segment of society: asserting your social superiority, proving to others you’re the toughest and baddest person around, etc. Might any of this play a role?

These are just my opinions though, and I could be dead wrong. Anyone care to comment or set me straight?

The North Carolina Gay Marriage Ban

The recent referendum that banned gay marriage in North Carolina has reminded me of an important historical parallel: the outlawing of interracial marriage that once existed in several states. It should be noted that in the 1967 landmark case Loving vs. Virginia, which was challenging just such a law, the Supreme Court made the following ruling:

Marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man,” fundamental to our very existence and survival…To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discrimination. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.

Replace any reference to “race” with “sexual orientation,” and tell me if there is any appreciable difference. Also keep in mind that, like arguments against gay marriage, many of these racist laws had religious grounds, which should have no bearing on our constitutionally secular legal system.

And despite popular belief, the fact that North Carolinians directly voted to ban gay marriage doesn’t make it legally or ethically legitimate: if people democratically chose to reinstitute racial segregation, it obviously wouldn’t be any less unconstitutional. We shouldn’t forget that slavery was once popularly supported by the people of each slave state. The 14th amendment protects freedoms regardless of who strips them (though whether gay marriage will be a legally recognized freedom will remain to be seen).

I try to imagine what it would be like if homosexuals were the dominant group in this country, and they decided by matter of personal conviction that traditional marriage is a backward and outdated practice that should be banned. In response to this, wouldn’t proponents of heterosexual marriage make the same arguments they currently reject from the gay community – that people have a right to marry who they want, and that the government shouldn’t be in the business of telling people who to marry?

Aren’t these the same conservatives who claim they want small government, and that the state shouldn’t involve itself in private matters? Clearly they will make exceptions when it’s convenient. That’s why democracies are measured by how much freedom they accord to their minorities, who could otherwise easily be oppressed by the tyranny of the majority.

The Mentality of the Rich

As socioeconomic and political inequality continues to rise in this country, it seems that our society is increasingly being split along two very different realities. Indeed, the rich and poor seem to live on different worlds – literally.

Aside from life experiences that are poles apart, America’s various economic classes are less and less exposed to one another personally (a worrying trend I’ve discussed before). All this manifests through the pervasive psychological and ideological divide that we see across the public sphere, from our media to our political discourse.

It’s also apparent in the arguments made by the very wealthy, and their supporters, in defense of their fortunes and the widening income gap. Critics of inequality, as well as the lower classes as a whole, are accused of not working hard enough themselves, being too envious of other’s success, or even displaying ingratitude for the contributions of upper class.

In fact, anyone who has a problem with the current socioeconomic status quo is considered, implicitly or otherwise, “un-American” (a malleable pejorative if there ever was one).

It’s un-American to worry about inequality or demand a fairer economic system because such concerns defy this nation’s deeply-held values of hard work, individual accountability, and economic liberty. The non-wealthy simply aren’t not tapping into the equalizing opportunities afforded by our presumably free-market. Rather, they want to impose a European-style welfare state, yet another affront to our superior – nay, exceptional – way of doing things.

To be fair, there are plenty of nuances on both sides of this debate. Lest anyone think I’m oversimplifying things or being unfair, let me make it clear that I’m merely focusing on a particular segment of society – obviously, not all wealthy people think this way, nor are all their critics sensible advocates of social justice. So for any rich folks reading this, rest assured, I don’t think you’re a monster by virtue of being financially fortunate, and I’m not rallying an angry mob to take your property.

In any case, I’m wrapping up this post earlier than expected due to a lack of time and energy. I will, however, leave you with a wonderful article from, of all places, (which I’ve recommended before as a pretty good source for knowledge, despite its humorous tone and appearance).

The piece, titled “Six Things Rich People Need to Stop Saying” by David Wong, pretty much analyzes and rebuts some of the prevailing arguments I alluded to earlier. I think the writer makes some valid points, as it even gets into the often overlooked psychological dimension of this whole issue. Please share your own views on this, whatever your socioeconomic class.

Terrorism That’s Personal

Just a warning, the images of this link are very graphic, displaying the horror of terrorism on a human level, rather than the usual political one. As the intro states:

We typically think of terrorism as a political act.

But sometimes it’s very personal. It wasn’t a government or a guerrilla insurgency that threw acid on this woman’s face in Pakistan. It was a young man whom she had rejected for marriage. As the United States ponders what to do in Afghanistan — and for that matter, in Pakistan — it is wise to understand both the political and the personal, that the very ignorance and illiteracy and misogyny that create the climate for these acid attacks can and does bleed over into the political realm. Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times op-ed columnist who traveled to Pakistan last year to write about acid attacks, put it this way in an essay at the time: “I’ve been investigating such acid attacks, which are commonly used to terrorize and subjugate women and girls in a swath of Asia from Afghanistan through Cambodia (men are almost never attacked with acid). Because women usually don’t matter in this part of the world, their attackers are rarely prosecuted and acid sales are usually not controlled. It’s a kind of terrorism that becomes accepted as part of the background noise in the region. …

This the horror millions of women must live in fear of every day.

How Inequality Harms Societies

Richard Wilkinson, a British researcher specializing in public health, argues at a TED talk that income inequality has a detrimental affect on society, correlating with high levels of violent crime, teen pregnancy, obesity, and other socioeconomic dysfunctions; by contrast, he claims that equitable societies tend to have more social cohesiveness, better physical and mental health, and an overall high quality of life.

This same argument formed the crux of his 2009 book, The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Betterwhich aimed to detail the “pernicious effects that inequality has on societies: eroding trust, increasing anxiety and illness, (and) encouraging excessive consumption.” Wilkinson’s argument has polarized analysts, winning many plaudits but also garnering much criticism for his apparent methodological flaws. He presents his data and addresses these critiques at his website, the Equality Trust.

I’ll leave you to decide whether his assertion has any merits. I’ll be reading his book soon, so perhaps I’ll share my own thoughts as to whether it was convincing. Personally, I found the TED talk to be compelling, but I could very well be biased in this regard, given my egalitarian sensibilities. As always, I welcome any opinions, on both this issue and the credibility of the argument.

Unconventional Wisdom

We were not born critical of existing society. There was a moment in our lives (or a month, or a year) when certain facts appeared before us, startled us, and then caused us to question beliefs that were strongly fixed in our consciousness-embedded there by years of family prejudices, orthodox schooling, imbibing of newspapers, radio, and television. This would seem to lead to a simple conclusion: that we all have an enormous responsibility to bring to the attention of others information they do not have, which has the potential of causing them to rethink long-held ideas.  — Howard Zinn

One of the things I’ve always stressed on this blog (if not elsewhere) is the importance of keeping an open mind to any and all ideas that come your way. Far too often, even the most creative and well-educated of us can remain deeply entrenched in “comfortable” ways of thinking, avoiding ideas that are controversial, peripheral, offensive, or otherwise alien.

On a collective scale, these widely-accepted concepts become conventional wisdoms, the sort of things that almost everyone agrees are unquestionable or obvious (aka common sense). Many conventional ideas merit this widespread acceptance, though many others can also be incorrect and dated, with their continued widespread acceptance becoming detrimental. These flawed and irrelevant ideas remain in place only because people take them as a given, and are generally too afraid to challenge established or popular ways of thinking.

Thankfully, Foreign Policy, which rarely shies from challenging the status quo, has opened up the floor to some very interesting arguments and debates. Though the article in which these were published is a few months old, most of what is discussed remains topical now and into the future.

You may not agree with all the conclusions, but that doesn’t make them any less worthy of consideration. Speaking for myself, I came away with my thoughts thoroughly provoked (especially from the economics-related topics). As always, please feel free to share your feedback on any one of these.