Sunday, 26 May 2013

Indiana - Sex in America

Although he was a very well-known figure during the 1950's, I might never have heard about Professor Kinsey's research into sexual behaviour, had it not been for Bill Condon's movie Kinsey (2004) starring Liam Neeson.  As part of my research, I also read Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy's Alfred C.Kinsey - A Biography: Sex, the Measure of all Things (1999), a very sympathetic portrayal of this ground-breaking scientist.

What's so embarrassing about sex?

The study of sexual behaviour is a fascinating subject area, incredibly relevant when trying to understand other people's cultures - yet, it is an area of study that carries a lot of 'baggage'; taboo, ignorance, (a)morality and downright animosity.  I don't consider myself to be a prude, but I did feel a bit self-conscious reading Kinsey's biography on public transport (with the word Sex prominent on the cover).  Strangely enough, the only other time I've felt like this was when I was doing research on alleged cannibalism in the South Pacific.

What is it about sex that shocks people so much?  Surely, it's an incredibly important aspect of human culture that every one of us is involved with?  Well, coming from Ireland, a nation that was incredibly sexually repressed when I was growing up (although I hope things have moved on a bit since then!), I can really relate to the sexual repression that Kinsey fought against for most of his adult life.  People suffer terribly because of the sexual laws of their particular society and not much of it makes sense.  Understanding another culture's attitude towards sex, means understanding the historical/cultural values that have defined 'morality' in that particular society.

Kinsey's crusade

Cerne Abbas giant from Wikicommons
Despite the importance of his work, Kinsey was questioned, undermined and morally castigated in ways that few other scientists have had to endure.  Perhaps if he'd stuck to his first great passion, the study of gall wasps, then he might have had a much quieter life, as just any other professor in Bloomington, Indiana! I'm sure, he wouldn't have achieved as much fame with his study of gall wasps, as he has done through his research into human sexual behavious and perhaps he wouldn't have lost his own sexual inhibitions and explored his own sexuality, as he did? 

From what I've seen and read, it seems as though he was an eccentric character; stubborn, passionate and determined in his pursuit of a greater understanding of this key area of human life.  He may well have been ahead of his time and despite the constant attempts by the religious 'right' to turn back the clock, Western society, in general, seems to be moving forward in terms of understanding human sexuality, although there is still a long way to go.

Misconceptions about sex

One of the most interesting things I learned from reading Kinsey's biography was that the 'missionary position' - woman on her back, man lying on top, facing her - such an accepted 'norm', certainly in Anglo-Saxon culture, is perhaps the most unnatural position for a woman to start with.  Kinsey got interested in sex research because of problems he had with his own wife, when they first got married.  For many women, the first experience of sex was off-putting, painful because of the deeper level of penetration that the missionary position permits.  Kinsey argued that a much more natural position for male-female couples is 'woman on top, man on his back' - this way the woman can control the level of penetration and do what feels most comfortable and enjoyable for her.

I realised that the 'traditional' missionary position is something that has been imposed on male-female couples by a male-dominated, religious society.  As with female castration in parts of Africa, the missionary position was encouraged, to ensure that women didn't enjoy sex too much and also because this position reinforces man's dominating role over his female partner.  Not surprisingly, it worked and many of our mothers and grandmothers led lives that were sexually unfulfilled.

Anyone's crime?

The Death of Hyacinth by Alexander Kiselev
One of the things that shocked people so much, when Kinsey's studies were published, was the high percentage of people, particularly men, who had engaged in sexual activity with the same sex.  This was during a time when sodomy, which included all homosexual acts and many heterosexual ones (eg. oral sex) was a felony or serious crime, in every American state.  Kinsey was distressed when he visited 'sex offenders' in prison, many of whom had been convicted for performing oral sex or engaging in homosexual acts - his study showed that 'everyone's crime is no one's crime', ie. it was hypocritical for society to imprison people for sexual acts that were so widespread in the general population. 

Gay or Straight?

Kinsey didn't believe, as many people still do, in a simple 'gay/straight' dichotomy - instead he pioneered a 'spectrum' of sexuality, a six-point scale to indicate whether someone was more attracted to their own or the opposite sex.  Given the harshness of sodomy laws at that time, I personally feel that it was important for society to first embrace a 'dichotomy' and recognise same-sex relationships - although our choice of a life-long partner hardly seems relevant to our choice of sexual partners and I tend to agree with Kinsey that we are all born bisexual and learn our sexual behaviour as we mature. 

Punishing people for their sexual choices is, quite simply, barbaric and I'm really happy to live in a world where same-sex relationships are sanctioned by many (mostly Western) societies.  However, I've never really believed in the 'genetic' argument, as to why someone is gay and I also find it hard to believe that someone's sexuality will remain the same throughout their entire life. 

When Kinsey studied gall wasps, he discovered that no two specimens were exactly the same - he also caused a lot of controversy by his 'expansive' approach to taxonomy.  Like Kinsey, I also believe that each person's sexuality is unique - although the straight/gay dichotomy helped late-20th century society find a place for same-sex relationships, I still think we have a long way to go, in terms of really understanding human sexual behaviour.

Sex and War

Detail, Bathers at San Niccolo
My theory on society's sexual phobia is that the society/community leaders fear the powerful energy of sexual release.  People have risked life, limb and career to find sexual satisfaction and it's an impulse that every culture/society struggles to control.  Sex is used as a weapon in times of war, as a motivating factor in terms of achieving fame and success (how many musicians started writing music because they wanted to attract sexual partners?)  Sex is even promised as a reward in the after-life for people who can remain 'pure' in this life. 

Truth be told, most societies are scared of releasing people's sexual energy - sexual liberation is all-too-often linked to a fear of breakdown in law and order.  However, studies of cultures outside the West have shown that sex can, in fact, be a great peace-maker in society - I personally believe that, when people are sexually content, they are less likely to feel frustrated, aggressive, abusive or violent towards society/other people.  Perhaps sexual freedom is the worst thing for a country intent on making war - could this be another factor in a society's instinct towards sexual repression?

Americans and Europeans

Towards the end of his life, Kinsey travelled to Europe - it surprised me to hear that he found Europe incredibly 'liberated' compared to the United States.  I think we Europeans usually assume that Americans are much more liberated in sexual matters than we are - our perception of American sexuality is, all too often, a result of our experience of American movies and TV shows.  The reality, I imagine, is that the US is still a fairly conservative place, on the whole, when it comes to sexual attitudes.  The US seems to contain many of the extremes of human experience - at once, the most liberated/wealthiest/modern country on Earth, at the same time repressed/poor and backward looking?

I've leaving with a trailer for Kinsey - if you haven't seen this movie already, I'd highly recommend it!

Image credits:

All images are taken from Wikicommons, you can find the copyright conditions on the following pages:

The Cerne Abbas Giant

Kiselev - the Death of Hyacinth

Detail of the Bathers at San Niccolo by Domenico Passignano

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Indiana - How I made Pork Tenderloin sandwich

After some research online, I quickly came to the conclusion that Indiana's most traditional dish is 'Pork tenderloin sandwich'.  I find it interesting that some of the main foods that we consider to be typical for the USA, have their origins in Germany.  I'm mostly thinking of the ubiquitous hamburger (from Hamburg), but also of frankfurters (from Frankfurt).  Indiana Pork tenderloin sandwich is pretty much a burger and chips and a variation of the European dish Wiener Schnitzel

I've made Schnitzels before, so Pork Tenderloin sandwich was quite straight forward and familiar to me.  I couldn't find a perfect recipe, as there seems to be some variation in how the version from Indiana is made - I mostly got my inspiration from the following recipe and then improvised.  I didn't want to oven bake the tenderloin, as I didn't have time and I also didn't want to deep-fat fry it, as this is really unhealthy, so I just pan fried it.  Finally, I used pork loin chops, not tenderloin, so traditionalists should stop reading now!

The ingredients

The main ingredients
300g Pork tenderloin (or loin chops, depending on how fast you want to cook!)
4 burger baps
2 pieces of stale bread, to make breadcrumbs
2 eggs
Half a cup of milk
Half a jar of pickled onions
Half a jar of cornichons (or gherkins)
Three healthy dollops of mayonnaise
A box of oven-bake french fries
Garlic salt

How I made Pork Tenderloin sandwich

First you should use a food processor to make the breadcrumbs - it's important that the bread is fairly stale, as this creates better crumbs for the 'breading' of the pork.  Of course, you can buy ready-made breadcrumbs, but I find it easier to make my own. 

Use a food processor to make breadcrumbs

The recipe I looked at recommended adding Garlic salt and oregano to the breadcrumbs, which I think were a really nice addition to the taste of this dish, although I doubt that either of these ingredients is very traditional for the Indiana version!  I also added ground black pepper, but I omitted the salt, as I'm trying to keep down my salt intake. 

Add Garlic salt and Oregano to the breadcrumbs for a non-traditional twist

In a separate bowl, I whisked the two eggs together and then added milk to create a sticky liquid which helped the breadcrumbs stick to the pork pieces. 

Whisk the eggs
Egg/milk and crumbs for 'breading' the pork

If you're using loin chops, as I did, you will need to take the fat off, then cut each chop in half lengthwise and then cut each length into two thinner slices.  The real trick to making tenderloin, or any kind of Schnitzel, is that you need to tenderise the meat and flatten it out into thin slices.  I don't yet have a meat tenderiser, so I used a rolling pin instead.  It's a good idea to cover the pieces of pork in cling film, before you tenderise them. 

Pork chop cut into four thinner slices
Ready to be bashed - sorry, tenderised - by a rolling pin!
The slices of pork after they have been tenderised

The result was a plate full of thin pork slices.

I then dipped the pork slices in the egg/milk mixture and in the breadcrumb mix, then fried them over a high heat.

Add the pork pieces after dipping them in the egg/milk mixture and breadcrumb mix

Fry the pieces until the pork has cooked through

You can choose whichever condiments you like for this dish - my preferences were pickled onions, cornichons and mayonnaise.  If Pulp Fiction is anything to go by, then it's clear that people in the US prefer ketchup on their fries, just like in the UK and unlike Belgium/Germany/France where people use mayonnaise.  I'm not sure why I opted for mayonnaise, but it seemed to fit better with the dish and I enjoyed dipping my chips/fries in the mayo and smearing it over the fried pork. 

Pork tenderloin sandwich with fries
I guess it's a matter of taste.  I found an interesting blog post about the use of ketchup and mayonnaise, which you might also find interesting. 

The finished dish with a selection of condiments
Anyway, the result was delicious - an easy dish to make and one you should definitely try for yourself. 

Image credits:

All photos were taken by me, please feel free to reuse, under the Creative Commons license:

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