Best of the Week
of Aug. 2, 1998


Here are the most intriguing cross-cultural exchanges either begun or advanced during the week of Aug. 2, 1998, as selected by Y? These postings, as well as "Best of the Week" entries from previous weeks, also can be found in their respective archives, which we invite you to browse. There, you will find questions that have received answers, as well as questions still awaiting responses. We encourage you to answer any questions relevant to your demographic background, as well as to ask any provocative question you desire. Answers posted are not necessarily meant to represent the views of an entire demographic group, but can provide a window into the insights of an individual from that group.

First-time users should first make a quick stop at our guidelines pages for asking and answering questions.

THE QUESTION:
RE86: Every time I see a woman in traditional Islamic dress, I wonder why female genital circumcision is practiced in some cultures. What purpose could it serve? Do many Muslim sects condone this practice? What do Muslims in America think of it?
POSTED AUG. 6, 1998
Jonathan A. <
jdames@intrex.net>, Raleigh, NC
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THE QUESTION:
SO64: My three-year-old son loves to play with Barbies and likes to be "the girl" whenever he and his brother role-play. He plays with girlfriends' purses and high heels and loves pink. Are these early signs of homosexuality?
POSTED AUG. 5, 1998
P.S.K., 28-year-old mother of two boys, FL

ANSWER 1:
I have a nephew who is four. He played with Barbies and wore high-heel shoes. I think it is natural curiosity for kids to do this.
POSTED AUG. 6, 1998
E.J., 33, gay male <
ej2130@aol.com>, Tampa, FL

FURTHER NOTICE:
For people who view with horror a kid's emerging queer identity, the reassuring response is "Oh, it's just a phase. He'll grow out of it." And that you'll see that these behaviors will, indeed, diminish or even disappear. But that's often because he's getting negative reactions for his gender-contradictory behavior. He's being peer-socialized into stereotypical male gender behavior. Does that mean he's no longer a gay-oriented kid? Not at all. It means he doesn't want to be teased and tortured for his "girlish" behavior. I can remember going through this process with my little fellow sissies. We continued to do the Barbie Trip in private.
POSTED AUG. 7, 1998
Max H., gay man, Oakland, CA

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THE QUESTION:
GE46: Why do women still often expect men to wear condoms, now that most drug stores sell female condoms?
POSTED JUNE 17, 1998
J.L.C., single white male <
colburnj@sprynet.com>, Laguna Beach, CA

ANSWER 1:
Female condoms cost considerably more than male condoms, and you get fewer per package. I haven't tried them for this reason, but I've also heard they provide even less sensation for both partners than the male condom, and are messier and more complicated to use. If your concern is with having to purchase condoms on your own, find a woman willing to share the cost.
POSTED JUNE 24, 1998
C.E., 32, single white female, Knoxville, TN

FURTHER NOTICE:
There was a free trial sample of them when they first came out. My boyfriend and I tried them, and they're awful! They are difficult to use, take a lot more time and dexterity than male condoms, and frankly, are quite noisy.
POSTED JULY 21, 1998
Julie D., 31, middle-class professional, San Diego , CA

FURTHER NOTICE 2:
Women have to wear diaphragms, take birth control pills, get IUDs and find foams and sponges just so that our partner doesn't have to wear that thin layer of latex. Now they've come up with female comdoms so that we can further carry the contraceptive burden and men can relax and enjoy the ride. I think I'll be willing to wear the female condom when they come up with a man who is willing to take a pill everyday, have a shot once a month or get some little piece of copper implanted in their testicles.
POSTED AUG. 6, 1998
Tara, 20, female <
TaraSLO@aol.com>, CA
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THE QUESTION:
R398: I am curious to find out what white people think of the multiracial movement and people such as Tiger Woods who are unwilling to identify solely as African American. Would whites be willing to let biracial people identify themselves as white?
POSTED AUG. 5, 1998
S.T., African American (biracial) <
salteee@aol.com>, Milwaukee, WI

ANSWER 1:
I am a 30-year-old black woman who thinks it's great Tiger Woods acknowledges both his parents. One of my pet peeves is biracial people who acknowledge only one side. If both parents are mostly black (no other races in the gene pool for many generations), the kid is black. If the kid has a Chinese father and a black mother, the kid is Chinese and black. You can't be half one race and half another.
POSTED AUG. 6, 1998
C. M. Hunt, St. Louis, MO

FURTHER NOTICE:
I think the multicultural movement is a good thing because it allows people like Tiger Woods to acknowledge both their parents instead of just one. People who are say, half-white and half-white are biracial; they are not black and not white, they are both. I think biracial people are a group to themselves because they receive flak from both sides. Someone who is white/black may be told by a white person that they're black, while a black person may tell this same person they're not black enough. This is a shame. People should be allowed to be themselves without anyone telling them what or who they should be.
POSTED AUG. 6, 1998
Hayley, 28, white, Chicago, IL

FURTHER NOTICE 2:
I am a white woman with multiracial children. My husband's father is Chinese and African, and his mother is Mestizo. My husband grew up ignoring the question "What are you?" and my kids get asked that all the time, also. I am glad there is a multiracial "movement" so that people can become more knowledgable about mixed-ethnicity and its associated issues. However, I have told my kids they can call themselves anything they want (I call them American) but that they should not use their heritage to get anything (scholorships, etc.) because they are not financially disadvantaged. Also, when a cop or judge or hiring manager sees them, they probably pass for "white-enough."
POSTED AUG. 6, 1998
S.Y., Oakland, CA

FURTHER NOTICE 3:
I think the more important question is "Would white people be willing to identify themselves as multiracial?" White people think of themselves as purely "white" and then speculate on the "what are they?" of people of color as if it were office gossip. But the myth of pure whiteness is a great lie. My "white" Klansman father was Irish, Portuguese, Native American and black. White folks need to come to terms with their own murky racial identities before we try to lay out definitions for people of color.
POSTED AUG. 7, 1998
Max H., white Melungeon , Oakland, CA
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THE QUESTION:
GE60: I was a topless dancer for a year and quit nearly a year ago. How and when, in a relationship, is it appropriate to reveal this? How do men feel about dating former topless dancers?
POSTED AUG. 4, 1998
J.P., 20, white college girl, San Antonio, TX

ANSWER 1:
You don't ever have to reveal this detail about your past unless you want to. There's no compelling reason to reveal everything about your past to a casual boyfriend. Of course, it could be dishonest to enter into some sort of commitment (i.e. marriage) without revealing such details. Other than that, it's none of his business who you were then, as long as he likes who you are now.
POSTED AUG. 5, 1998
Cory S., Tampa, FL

FURTHER NOTICE:
Up front, before you even get serious about dating.
POSTED AUG. 5, 1998
Female, 41 <
tampa123@hotmail.com>, Dade City, FL

FURTHER NOTICE 2:
As a man, I firmly believe you would be sought after because you know how to treat a man the way we like. I have many friends who are dancers and love all of them.
POSTED AUG. 5, 1998
Luis P., Tampa, FL

FURTHER NOTICE 3:
I am a nudist and nudity is fine with me. But when you should bring it up is up to you. When you really get to know your man, you should be comfortable with him and he should accept you. There will be prudes, and if you find one, let him go or keep your mouth shut.
POSTED AUG. 5, 1998
Doug J., 70 <
YUGGY@juno.com>, Lutz, FL
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THE QUESTION:
R363: What are black people's opinions about why eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia are not very prominent in their culture? It seems to me that even in two middle-class families, one black and one white, the girls in the white family are much more concerned about their weight and are into dieting than are the girls in the black family.
POSTED JUNE 28, 1998
Charlotte, 16, white, <
fleure_@hotmail.com>, Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada

ANSWER 1:
Throughout my life, I have watched many of the women in my family jump from diet to diet (and spending quite a few dollars) with little or no success. Some women in my family are just naturally thin, just like any other. I have heard studies that conclude that black people are on average heavier than others, which I believe is a cultural thing - much of traditional "soul food" is very fattening. You will find a lot of pork and fried foods, which may have a lot to do with the high incidence of heart disease and the like within the race. Furthermore, sitting down to a big meal with family always had a significant value, and as a child, we were always encouraged to eat plenty.
POSTED JULY 17, 1998
A. Moore, 29, African American <
Moore29@aol.com>, Orlando, FL

FURTHER NOTICE:
Anorexia and bulimia occur in the black culture, though at a far lower rate, the reason being the extra weight is not unacceptable in body consciousness. Many foreign black societies value women with more weight as a sign of beauty and fertility, and some of that may still linger in current black culture.
POSTED JULY 20, 1998
JayJay, 44, black female, <
Lady_Jackie@yahoo.com>, Dayton, OH

FURTHER NOTICE 2:
Three of my students in my high school psychology class did research on this topic, and also followed up with a survey of whites and blacks. Although this is not, certainly, the best scientific data, what they found was: 1) African-American magazines used models with more positive, realistic body images than did the typical "general public" or perhaps "white-oriented" magazines, giving black girls a more realistic role model. 2) Black girls, in their survey, were not concerned with body image the way white girls were. Most of my students, upon hearing this, felt it is time to stop bowing down to what Madison Avenue says whites should be. Maybe the youth of our country are catching on, and black high self-esteem will start to carry over to whites in America.
POSTED JULY 26, 1998
Sue O., white high school psychology teacher <
obriens@vcss.k12.ca.us>, Thousand Oaks, CA

FURTHER NOTICE 3:
It is a well-established fact that African-American little girls and young women have a much healthier body image than their white counterparts. Differences in cultural standards and definitions of beauty account for a far healthier and more confident self-perception among African-American women. There's been a huge study on this based on the disparities between black and white girl statistics on eating disorders.
POSTED JULY 27, 1998
Donika, white female <
donikam@hotmail.com>, Charleston, SC

FURTHER NOTICE 4:
I think some of it has to do with the racist past of the United States. First, the very nature of racism places a great deal of emphasis on what one looks like. Women go to great lengths to look a certain way. Kids imitate this. Second, the racist past of this country has influenced many black parents to teach self-respect first and foremost and to emphasize education and self-reliance. What you look like is rather immaterial.
POSTED AUG. 5, 1998
Christopher T. <
HeJeeps2@aol.com>, St. Louis, MO

FURTHER NOTICE 5:
Black women have a naturally denser build than whites or Asians. Even very thin black women will appear to be heavier than a thin white woman. We are hippier, with larger buttocks and thighs. Most black women know they will never look like supermodels no matter how thin they can get, so we are more accepting of our body structures. It's also more acceptable to be heavier in the black community. Black men don't reject women for a few extra pounds. Black children who are overweight are teased like in other cultures, and the grossly overweight are still frowned upon, but a young girl 30 or 40 pounds overweeght could still be thought of as very attractive.
POSTED AUG. 5, 1998
Kelli, 42, black <
Kelli98070@AOL.com>, Baltimore, MD

FURTHER NOTICE 6:
Being raised in a house full of women who cooked and literally slept in the kitchen, over a hot stove, I can say that anorexia and bulimia were never discussed. My mother and aunts stressed the importance of eating three square meals a day. There was a mentality of "you need meat on those bones" to be healthy. I've had white girlfriends who were slimmer than me (5'3, 108 lbs), but who often felt they needed to lose weight because their hips were too big or they hated their legs. Lest we forget, in society, throughout the media - TV, magazines, etc. - it's all about being 5'9 and 98lbs. That's a lot of pressure on a young girl. I am a 26-year-old black female and feel good about being slim. These are serious conditions that parents need to talk with their children about. Being thin is not always in. But then, neither is obesity.
POSTED AUG. 7, 1998
Slim-black-female <
a_veal@hotmail.com>, Atlanta, GA
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THE QUESTION:
GD18: Why does is seem to be OK for TV shows to make fun of Italians or the Irish or whomever, but that when it comes to making fun of Jews, it becomes a huge issue?
POSTED JUNE 17, 1998
Ana B., 27, American, New Haven, CT

ANSWER 1:
If you think television is stereotyping/mocking one group more than another, that's what you'll inevitably see. But consider a recent episode of (I think) "Suddenly Susan" where one character lied to his sexy new girlfriend that he was Jewish so she would date him. He goes to her parents house and they are loud, crass, etc., the worst kind of Jewish stereotypes imaginable. I've heard "Seinfeld" described as a Jewish minstrel show, and who can forget "Saturday Night Live" and Mike Meyers' obnoxious Linda Richman character - for a while this was the only overtly Jewish female on television, and she was played by a man! Also, consider Stan's Jewish parents on "South Park" - one of the many comic stereotypes used on that show, though I find it the least offensive since everyone gets slammed on "South Park."
POSTED JULY 22, 1998
Jewish guy, 38, Chicago, IL

FURTHER NOTICE:
The persecution of the Jews in World War II is looked upon by historians and the public as one of the greatest horrors in history. With that in mind, one would not imagine reviving the spirit of dehumanizing Jews, even in the form of simple jokes or comments.
POSTED AUG. 1, 1998
Roy L., 16 <
ThinkingStar@yahoo.com>, Clarksville, TN

FURTHER NOTICE 2:
I think there are very few ethnic groups comfortable with having themselves ridiculed on a constant basis. As an Irishman, I am perfectly comfortable with people taking the mickey out of my country, accent and culture, as it can often be quite funny. But when it becomes excessive, abusive or insensitive (such as when all Irishmen are portrayed as drunks and wife beaters) it does begin to annoy. The Jewish people (and I don't want to seem like I'm pontificating here) have had a history that has been overly marred by racism and oppression. I think they have a right to be sensitive about the issue. When you make fun of people who do not, or cannot, appreciate your humor, it can often seem like a very cruel and ugly act.
POSTED AUG. 4, 1998
Agrivaine, Irish-Italian male <
agrivaine@yahoo.com>, Dublin, Ireland
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THE QUESTION:
R393: Where did the notion come from that black men are considered "taboo" by Asian women? Many of us are well-educated, interesting and successful, yet this stereotype seems prevalent. Are many negative images of black men presented in Asian countries?
POSTED AUG. 3, 1998
Jim, African American, Boston, MA
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THE QUESTION:
A24: Why do people feel it is all right to stereotype all teenagers and younger people based on one bad apple? Example: In my hometown, teenagers who came into the local mall in groups of four or more were told they either had to split up or leave. Why don't they do the same to 40-year-olds?
POSTED AUG. 3, 1998
Craig, 15 <
Bonowitz@aol.com>, Des Moines, IA
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THE QUESTION:
SO60: How do straight men feel about other men flirting with them?
POSTED JULY 18, 1998
David, 35, Houston, TX

ANSWER 1:
I think it depends on intent and familiarity. If a gay man knows I'm straight and is seriously trying to pick me up, I'd have a problem with that. But if it's a friend joking with me, that's different. And if it's someone who doesn't know my sexual orientation, I couldn't fault him unless the flirting continued after I told him I was straight.
POSTED JULY 23, 1998
Andrew, 34, straight <
ziptron@hotmail.com>, Huntington, NY

FURTHER NOTICE:
How they react will depend on their attitude about gay people in general. Several of my friends are homophobic and feel anger and often fear when approached by gay men. Personally, I find it similar to having a girl who I find remarkably unattractive make a pass at me. Take it as a compliment, but no thanks.
POSTED AUG. 4, 1998
Agrivaine, straight male <
agrivaine@yahoo.com>, Dublin, Ireland
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THE QUESTION:
GE50: Why do women seem to react negatively when being approached for sex? I am a bisexual male and there is a noticeable difference between the genders. Almost all the men I have approached for sex did not mind being propositioned, but women seem to be offended or turned off. Are women just not as interested as men in sex?
POSTED JUNE 28, 1998
David T., Santa Cruz, CA

ANSWER 1:
I would react negatively when a total stranger (or even an acquaintance, for that matter) approached me for sex. Maybe I can control my urges more than other people, but casual sex is definitely not my thing. I am not going to jump into bed with any Tom, Dick or Harry who asks solely because "I feel like doing it tonight." There is more to sex than urges - there should be love and commitment before I have sex with someone. I am not an animal but a human being who has feelings and intelligence. If someone wants my physical being, he should want my emotional and intellectual being, too.
POSTED JULY 15, 1998
I.C. 32, female, Manila, The Philippines

FURTHER NOTICE:
I need some sort of emotional involvement before engaging in any sort of sexual activity, and many women probably feel the same way. It stems from evolution - females are out to find the best genetic match/father, so they need to get to know him first. Males are out to "sow their oats." Many people of both genders would probably be appalled at having sex with someone they don't know, anyway.
POSTED JULY 18, 1998
Melinda M., Davison, MI

FURTHER NOTICE 2:
Most of us have been taught to elevate ourselves above animals. Any animal can have sex and procreate; evolved humans have formed intricate social systems to deal with the issue, since there are often consequences to the coupling. We are taught to make a big distinction between having sex and making love. One is a simple physiological function, the other involves commitment and a sense of responsibility for any consequences. Like most women, I feel making love brings more satisfaction than simple sex could ever provide.
POSTED JULY 26, 1998
43-year-old white female, Long Beach , CA

FURTHER NOTICE 3:
Most women I know feel they are subject to more negative consequences from sex than men. For example: The fear of an unwanted pregnancy, the fear of being hurt physically or emotionally by an experience that could turn ugly or violent, the fear of harm to their health, and fear of being ostracized socially or ridiculed if they are permissive. We also seem to be hard-wired by our biology into looking at sex as the outgrowth of a relationship (even if we know it's only a short-term casual one) as opposed to a pure recreational activity. Women need to feel safe and that the man asking looks at them as a person and not just as a convenient release. Some men approach women for sex in a way that women consider rude and crude (but many men don't) and it turns them off. If you are using a "line" you think is original, I assure you she has heard it a million times before and sees right through it - another turnoff.
POSTED AUG. 3, 1998
Susan C., 45, female, Richmond, VA
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THE QUESTION:
O20: To General Motors workers: Why did you strike? It seems you make a good buck. Some might even say you're overpaid. Why do you feel GM owes you more than that? If GM is such a bad employer, why didn't you just quit?
POSTED AUG. 2, 1998
Kevin T. <
kthompso@cei.net>, Little Rock, AR
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THE QUESTION:
R330: Is it true that when fighting, Asian and Mexican gangs more often get "everyone" to jump someone, instead of doing it one-on-one? If so, why is this?
POSTED JUNE 13, 1998
White male, 14, Garden Grove , CA

ANSWER 1:
I think it depends on the courage of the person more than their ethnicity. I have often seen Mexican gang members fight and win when outnumbered. I have seen groups of eight to 10 white fraternity members run from only one or two people. The most cowardly people I have seen are white racist skinheads who fight only when there are at least 10 of them to one of you. Sometimes people join gangs out of fear because they really can't fight that well themselves. But some gang members are the scariest and most dangerous people you hope you never have to fight. This is true regardless of their color.
POSTED AUG. 3, 1998
A.C.C., 32, Mexican, former gang member, San Antonio, TX
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THE QUESTION:
SO15: I seem to notice more gay/lesbian couples showing a little more affection in public than would be accepted by heterosexual couples. Why is this?
POSTED MARCH 23, 1998
Jessica G., 21, straight, Lake Orion, MI

ANSWER 1:
Public displays of physical affection between same-sex couples is not something most of us have grown up with, and not something we frequently see in films or on television. Public displays of affection among heterosexual couples is so common and familiar to us that we often fail to notice it. We think nothing of seeing a man and woman walking down the street arm in arm or holding hands, or kissing or hugging each other as a greeting. Most gay men and lesbians must think about their surroundings and the people around them before making any physical overture to a same-sex partner, friend or acquaintance. To demonstrate affection in the wrong surroundings carries the threat of verbal abuse, physical violence and worse. I do not believe gay and lesbian people show more affection than heterosexuals in public; it is just far more noticeable on those rare occasions when we do. Many people also have very different definitions of "socially acceptable" demonstrations for same-sex couples than for couples of opposite sexes.
POSTED MARCH 25, 1998
Tony T., 31, white, gay, Milwaukee, WI

FURTHER NOTICE:
As a lesbian, I think just the opposite (of Jessica G.'s statement) is true. Perhaps you noticed the homosexual couples because the public affection is still on the outside of societal norms. I think if you took a day at the park or beach and did a tally, the straight couples would still win out.
POSTED MARCH 28, 1998
K.R., 32, Milwaukee, WI

FURTHER NOTICE 2:
There are probably two components: 1) Since any public affection at all between same-sex couples is unusual and socially discouraged, you will notice it more and tend to be more startled by it. It will seem more extreme, even if it's not. 2) Some gay or lesbian couples strive to make a social/political point - we've felt suppressed for so long that once we break out of society's prohibitions, we sometimes can't resist rubbing the straights' noses in it. A possible third reason: Straight people get to practice the art of "what's appropriate where" from the time they're in their early teens. Most gay people don't and may be a bit awkward in delineating new boundaries. ("Is a peck on the cheek enough? Is a massive grope too much?")
POSTED MARCH 28, 1998
Will H.; white, gay, middle aged, Dallas

FURTHER NOTICE 3:
I think straight people should learn to get used to it. As I become more and more comfortable with myself and my environment, I don't really care what people think or see. If you are straight, and you are uncomfortable with this, don't sweat, you are entitled to your opinion. But just stop for a minute and imagine what it would be like if you couldn't hug or kiss your girlfriend/boyfriend without looking around or over your shoulder, making it inconvenient and unromantic. It is a most sad and unfortunate way to live your life.
POSTED AUG. 3, 1998
Robert, 28, gay <
wedbanquet@aol.com>, Sacramento, CA
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