Peter Nicolas, The Sneetches as an Allegory for the Gay Rights Struggle: Three Prisms, 58 N.Y. L. Sch. L. Rev. 525 (2014), https://digitalcommons.law.uw.edu/faculty-articles/287
New York Law School Law Review
gay rights, social dominance theory
In this essay, I invoke both versions of Dr. Seuss's The Sneetches as an allegory for the modern struggle for gay rights in the United States viewed through three different prisms. The first and most obvious of these prisms is the battle between the heterosexual majority and the gay minority represented by the two groups of Sneetches. Members of the majority seek to distinguish themselves with markers of social acceptance such as marriage, parenting, and military service, as well as access to certain other markers of social acceptance, including the ability to donate blood and become members in private organizations such as the Boy Scouts. The second prism is the struggle between two different minority groups—gays and African Americans—with members of the latter group rejecting the former's efforts to draw analogies to its own civil rights struggle. Finally, the third prism is the struggle between two different sub-groups within the gay minority: assimilationists and nonconformists. The latter is critical of what it views as the former's insecurity in seeking mere formal equality by erasing valuable differences that set gays apart. Indeed, in this last struggle, some non-conformists have come out against the rights of gays to marry or serve in the military.
Part II of this essay provides an overview of Social Dominance Theory, which posits that humans are psychologically predisposed to develop and maintain group-based social hierarchies. Part Ill uses The Sneetches and the insights of Social Dominance Theory as a way of explaining the first prism—the struggle between the heterosexual majority and gay minority. Parts IV and V use these tools to explain, respectively, the second prism—the struggle between African Americans and the gay community, and the third prism—the struggle between assimilationists and nonconformists within the gay community.
Part VI explores the question of who in the battle over gay rights is represented by Seuss's Sylvester McMonkey McBean. In this essay, I demonstrate that as one changes focus from the main story about the struggle for gay rights (the first prism) to the stories of the two sub-battles within that struggle (the second and third prisms), the groups represented by the Star-Belly and Plain-Belly Sneetches change on a superficial level. Yet, on a deeper level, I demonstrate that each group involved in these struggles—African Americans, assimilationist gays, and non-conformist gays—simultaneously internalizes the discriminatory impulses of the Star-Belly Sneetches and the insecurities of the PlainBelly Sneetches.
Relying on the insights of Social Dominance Theory, I conclude that The Sneetches is not merely a story about a struggle between different classes within society, but also about a struggle within each of us as individuals. These insights provide each side in the battle over gay rights with a reason to further reflect upon possible subconscious motivations for both its positions and its methods of advocacy, and to reconsider both in light of those reflections.