Posts Tagged ‘ymca’

Go Get ‘Em Tiger: Women Still on the Sidelines

Sunday, February 24th, 2013

Until I was 18, I went to Catholic school.  I was surrounded by religion, but more importantly, priests were a huge presence.  They taught religion classes, waved to us in the hallways, and presided over school Masses.  They were people we were taught to look up to, role models who were the epitome of kindness and gentleness.  They were the ones closest to Jesus, as far as I knew.  Besides that, everyone seemed to like them.  I still remember Fr. Merkel riding his bicycle down the school hallways talking like Donald Duck.  When I was younger, I was very much influenced by my faith and by church members and officials.  So, of course, when I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, first-grade me said, “A priest.”

That dream died hard and fast.  I was told that I could not be a priest because I was not a boy. To a 7-year old, this was a harsh reality check.  Girls couldn’t even be altar servers.  The most I could do at church was sing (which I can’t do) or say the readings at school Mass (which got old).  I wanted a more active role in the church, which was such a big part of my life growing up.  So when freshman year of high school rolled around and my church announced that they would start training girls to be altar servers, I was pretty excited.  I was one of the first female servers at my church, and I thought I did a pretty good job.

That is, until grade-school sexism made an appearance.

Here I was, 13 years old, a high schooler, getting ready to serve Mass when this 10-year old boy altar server comes up to me and tells me I should just go sit down with my family and let him serve alone.  He then proceeded to preach that on the Catholic food chain, priests were above deacons, who were above boy altar servers, who were above girl altar servers.  My reaction can be summed up as:

...Really?

…Really?

I had been hit not once, but twice by this idea that girls couldn’t do everything boys could do.  Back in first grade, I guess I could see why girls couldn’t be priests.  The Catholic church was founded on the idea that we had a male Messiah, who was followed by twelve guys for a few years, then left his ministry in the care of his right-hand man, Peter.  From there we get only male Popes, cardinals, and priests.  We come from a long tradition of patriarchal leadership, and Catholicism isn’t the first to place these kinds of restrictions on women.

According to Thekla Ellen Joiner’s book Sin in the City, Protestant evangelicalism during the 1880s through the 1920s tended to gender men and women and place them into separate spheres.  Men dominated the public sphere, working to make a living and having leadership roles in the community, while women played happy homemakers and took care of the house and children.  These roles don’t come as much of a surprise even in 2013.  The idea of a stay-at-home dad may be wishful thinking for some women, but advertisements still insist on following this formula: stupid dad/husband doing something ridiculous until the mom/wife shows up with a smile and a solution:

Oh those kooky dads.  This dad is even pushing his media-based gender role on his son.

So the morality of these women during the revivalist period in Chicago was based on their “willingness to sacrifice herself for her husband and children,” which “assured her moral commitment to both her family and her country.”  Do it for America, ladies!  This “sacrificial femininity” should be nothing new to us.  Take the Young Stranger by the Hand also emphasized this idea of wives sacrificing their husbands for a greater good.  These are the women who stood by their men, who hung out at the YMCA all day, every day.  These women gave up time with their husbands because these men were considered moral authorities in a public sphere, whereas the women were left to decorate or cook in the private sphere.  Their moral role was to educate their children to become moral citizens.  You know who these women are?

“I’ll just wait here while you save the world.”

Mary Jane Watson is a sacrificial woman.  Yeah, they still exist.

According to Out of the Mouths of Babes, women preachers were accepted by the 1920s.  Then came the flappers, who were the embodiment of youth and radicalism.  Then came World War I, and women had to become more independent to take care of their families while their husbands were away.  But then the men came home and women are still trying to create an even playing field.  We can haggle over equal pay and rights for women, and in many ways things have improved. But those pesky gender roles are still firmly in place.  From Mary Jane to Lois Lane to Hilary Clinton, America has seen history march on with men still planted in leadership roles while their women watch from the sidelines, begging for a chance to break out of their gender roles.

Here’s hoping the winds of change will blow.

 

 

 

Cruise Control? Not so much.

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

Okay, so feel free to disagree with me, but a lot of this text seems to focus around miscommunications and confusion of goals at the YMCA. And a lot of these have to do with false assumptions. These include but are not limited to:

1.    Christians are wholesome.

False: Christians TRY to be wholesome. But hey, Christians are people, and people are whole, not wholesome (which, if you think about it, is an oxymoronic word in itself).

2.    Providing sex education will make young men MORE restrained and less likely to engage in sexual acts with other men.

False: Maybe this would have been true if the Y had been less demanding of the men who held positions within the organization, particularly the secretaries. Maybe if they’d gotten to spend more time with their wives, too, they wouldn’t feel such strong homoerotic bonds.

3.    However, in contrast to that previous observation, another assumption the Y held was that homosociality was just as “dangerous” to society as homosexuality…

False: From a 21st-century standpoint, neither is particularly “dangerous. But going along with that…

4.    Similarly, there was the assumption that the “scare” of rampant homoeroticism and homosexual desires being acted upon in the early 20th century were equivalent to homosocial bonds.

False: It is simply that the centuries had different ways of defining what was considered to be “erotic” and what was “good clean fun” in terms of men being around each other/craving each other’s company/expressing longing for being in close proximity to other men’s bodies…

…Sorry this is so scattered; there’s just a lot to say about this piece. Anybody else get a kick out of that one chauvinist who claimed that men were at the Y to get “real work” done, whereas at the YWCA, women do domestic things, such as “make food”? Or for the studies of gay pornography that trace their roots back to these early fitness manuals? That was extremely interesting to me, and I will tell you all why tomorrow…

I do think Gustav-Wrathall could have woven more of a religious context into this, but considering his background as an ex-Mormon may not have proven especially applicable to this scholarship, I do not count the absence of his religious input as a devastating drawback in terms of the work overall.

Cruise Control? Not So Much.

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

Okay, so feel free to disagree with me, but a lot of this text seems to focus around miscommunications and confusion of goals at the YMCA. And a lot of these have to do with false assumptions. These include but are not limited to:

1. Christians are wholesome.

False: Christians TRY to be wholesome. But hey, Christians are people, and people are whole, not wholesome (which, if you think about it, is an oxymoronic word in itself).

2. Providing sex education will make young men MORE restrained and less likely to engage in sexual acts with other men.

False: Maybe this would have been true if the Y had been less demanding of the men who held positions within the organization, particularly the secretaries. Maybe if they’d gotten to spend more time with their wives, too, they wouldn’t feel such strong homoerotic bonds.

3. However, in contrast to that previous observation, another assumption the Y held was that homosociality was just as “dangerous” to society as homosexuality…

False: From a 21st-century standpoint, neither is particularly “dangerous. But going along with that…

4. Similarly, there was the assumption that the “scare” of rampant homoeroticism and homosexual desires being acted upon in the early 20th century were equivalent to homosocial bonds.

False: It is simply that the centuries had different ways of defining what was considered to be “erotic” and what was “good clean fun” in terms of men being around each other/craving each other’s company/expressing longing for being in close proximity to other men’s bodies…

…Sorry this is so scattered; there’s just a lot to say about this piece. Anybody else get a kick out of that one chauvinist who claimed that men were at the Y to get “real work” done, whereas at the YWCA, women do domestic things, such as “make food”? Or for the studies of gay pornography that trace their roots back to these early fitness manuals? That was extremely interesting to me, and I will tell you all why tomorrow…

I do think Gustav-Wrathall could have woven more of a religious context into this, but considering his background as an ex-Mormon may not have proven especially applicable to this scholarship, I do not count the absence of his religious input as a devastating drawback in terms of the work overall.

Oooohhhhhhh….So THAT’S What the Village People Were Talking About

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

It has long been said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  This was proven to be true (religiously speaking) in John Donald Gustav-Wrathall’s book Take The Young Stranger By The Hand. Originally built as gyms to attract young men to expose them to Christianity and  sexual purity (pg 30), the YMCA was created to fulfill the task of creating Christian men who were morally clean and physically fit so that they would be ready for Christ’s second coming. I find it terribly ironic that the intent of the YMCA to stamp out homosexuality, undermine feminism, and to provide a stable spiritual environment while teaching men to live their lives with high moral standards was the farthest away from what the YMCA ended up becoming. From the unmarried “secretaries” to the “examination rooms” to the YMCA turning a blind eye to what was going on in order to avoid admitting failure of their original Christian goals, the Y was one of the safest spaces for men to connect to other men sexually.  The YMCA was the perfect cover for “cruising” because only “real or normal men were there” (pg 172). Men took advantage of the YMCA’s fear of being uncovered as an institutionalized environment of homosexuality to participate in the “sexual frenzy” happening on the “gay turf” (pg 158). This also allowed married men to have other men around them a lot without being considered gay because they were married to a women. It was like having a beard before there was even a cool slang term for it.  It’s not like you can blame them when a previous President of the United States had rumors flying around that he was gay. If it’s alright for Abraham Lincoln to do it, then why can’t they? Although the classical Greek philosophy of the male teacher & student relationship demonstrated in the secretary and young man relationship occurring in the YMCAs around the country slowly faded over time, it will forever be engrained in the memories of the world thanks to The Village People. After all, if Paul McGuinness hadn’t recalled that in the Embarcadero YMCA in the 1970’s being “a sex place” with “people masturbating naked, people tied up, people in uniforms, cowboys, and a man wearing a leash like a dog” (pg 180), The Village People might never have known what to wear.

800px-VillagePeople1978

YMCA , the Ironies

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

The novel entitled Take the Young Stranger by the Hand by John Donald Gustav-Wrathall takes the reader on an unconventional journey through the YMCA’s not necessarily hidden, but no so obvious history of sexuality.  The unconventional history is based on the formation of same-sex relationships in a time period where men where these men formed an exclusive same sex community steeped in heavy emotional relationships  with one another.  Some of the things that I found interesting as well as ironic was the YMCA’s emphasis on brotherhood yet the early YMCA had specific guidelines for their members.  Specifically, the YMCA catered to Evangelical , young, white, middle class young men.  Those groups were excluded were Catholics, Unitarians, and Mormons, as well as African Americans.  The conduct of YMCA membership was exclusive to all except these groups, some of the reasoning behind this was due to the fact that  being that the YMCA was established post-Civil War era, many northern white male YMCA members wanted to avoid political controversy by trying to bond with their African American brothers.

IT was however, the bonds as the YMCA mantra and anthem indicated was “The tie that binds.”  IT was these intense relationships which were interesting and for me enhanced the religious aspect of the novel itself.

The singleness and the giving up of families reminded me of priests.  Specifically,  the number of years YMCA secretaries fore fitted wives and families or decided to marry later on in life.  As Warthall indicates, on pg. 70 the singleness allowed for YMCA secretaries to devout more time to the YMCA itself…this sounds much life the priesthood.  It is these secretaries who not only devout their lives to God but to the fellowship of young men and their Christian foundation.   But at the same time the YMCA exhibited hypocritical tendencies further in their organization, in terms of the YMCA secretary.

While the overall commitment to the YMCA was important, its members were encouraged to get married at some point or another.  This irony and gesture is made in letters from YMCA secretaries to one another.  For example, take on pg. 72, John B. Brandt’s 1886 letter to W.W. Vanarsdale commenting on the unmarried status of Robert Weidensall who was making fun of Weidensall’s age (being 50) and his bachelor status.   But their is something unique and significant to the YMCA and the reason for singleness.  Primarily, as Warthall states:

“Men in the YMCA who never married were not conforming to the normal gender and sexual roles of their peers.  It refers to the homophobic and aversion to the undertones of the YMCA’s reluctance to homosexuality.  However the goals of the single bachelors and secretaries of the YMCA pointed to a larger factor, –the sexual restraint proved to be a mark of virtue and when I think about a man who was so devoted to a Christian cause that he forefited a wife and family is Jesus. But in the “consecrated secretary  one found that the YMCA in this right was unique.  It was one of the organizations as Warthall points out on pg. 87 that it was initially an organization in which men could give their lives without their sexuality being questioned.

The YMCA handbooks through the years 1890 – 1930 went into detail of the duties a YMCA secretary must adhere to.  pg.89 Where the dichotomy changes over time as the handbook advises the secretaries initially in 1892 for “men with a fondness to women to avoid being labeled as a flirt..” whilst the handbooks of the 1920’s assumed that the men were married!

Given the YMCA’s extensive history it is worth alluding to the fact that the YMCA possessed several contradictions throughout it’s history.

 

Sex Education and the YMCA

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

In one section of the book Take the Young Stranger by the Hand,  John Donald Gustav-Wrathall discusses sex education that took place in the YMCA.  It brought me back to my Catholic school days, all the way back to fourth grade.  We started sex ed (of course it wasn’t called that), and once a week for about a quarter the boys and girls would separate into separate rooms in our parish rectory.  There we would talk about puberty and the changes we would be going through in the next few years.  I never really enjoyed these talks.  I had already had The Talk from my parents when I turned ten, and that was disappointing enough in that I had to sit and listen to my parents talk about sex while my sisters got to have McDonalds at my grandma’s house.  The problem with both Talks I got was that there was hardly any mention of actual sexual intercourse.  All we got was abstinence, menstruation, and baby gestation (abortion was also highly criticized, no surprise).  It wasn’t until high school that we got into bigger ideas like the intimacy of sex, waiting for marriage, birth control, or disease.

What surprised me in reading Gustav-Wrathall’s book was that in the early 1900s, at the YMCA, you could get yourself clean, you could have a good meal, and you could be open about sex education.  Like my high school experiences in sex ed, they seemed determined to make sure there was no masturbation or free sex.  In fact, they encouraged “early marriage,” to keep men from acting on their sexual desires without being married.

One of the more interesting sections of the book discussed the relationship between sin and illness. The book explains that it was assumed at the YMC that if you weren’t healthy, it wasn’t biological, but moral.  I thought that this was more of a past belief, like way in the past.  I was surprised that in early 20th century America, people still believed that their sins could manifest physically.  In the case of the YMCA, young men would be inspected, and if you were considered “abnormal” (I’m not quite sure what constitutes abnormal in the eyes of the Y, though the book seems to hint that it was associated with penial dysfunction of one sort or another), then your perversions needed to be educated away.

It seems that the YMCA made it its mission to “save” its members, young men who they believed to be in danger of falling into temptation.  I guess they thought that if they educated their members, so-called “perversions” would go away.

Based on the subtitle of the book, Same-Sex Relationships and the YMCA, I don’t know if they really succeeded.  The YMCA is apparently still believed to be a hotbed for homosexuality:

Is the YMCA still a homosexual hangout? – Yahoo! Answers

Class Describes YMCAs as Homosexual ‘Brothels’

Which YMCA locations are the most active for gay sex?

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