Friday, January 30, 2009

Women Want ...

I never commented about the New York Times Sunday Magazine article about "What Women Want" because I a) didn't read the article because I felt it would only make me mad, and b) Jill said everything much better than I could say it. Here is my advice: The article doesn't say anything particularly new, so instead you should read Mary Roach's much more awesome book, Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex. That is all.

Legislation Affecting Women: Bush v. Obama

All I have to say is that Jill's post is genius.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Lilly Ledbetter's Act

The very first bill Obama signed into law is a law about pay equity. That's pretty astonishing on one level -- that the very first priority for this administration is to ensure women who experience pay discrimination have an opportunity for legal recourse.

On the other hand, the bill is minor. It corrects a definition of when pay definition occurs. It doesn't prevent pay discrimination, it just allows an opportunity for objection. It also comes at the same time that Obama himself requested that funding for increased access to birth control be removed from a bill (sure, I understand the political argument for removing it, but I think by bending on this now he'll find it much harder to fight for this kind of stuff, including other kinds of health care reform, down the road) that's designed to stimulate the economy.

Women, especially women of color, are heavily burdened by work and family responsibilities. Finding work life balance for women is so difficult, and there is little support put in place, either by employers or by the government. I want to be happy for the passage of this bill, but it's also frustrating to see such a minor bill celebrated. We still have such a long way to go.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Women in the Priesthood

I haven't seen Doubt, but I understand it deals with some of the sexism in the Catholic Church in addition to the questions about child abuse perpetrated by priests. I just ran across this story from last month (via Skepchick) about a priest, Roy Bourgeois, who is fighting for women to be allowed into the priesthood.

Catholicism has long held some stereotypes about men and women in faith. Bourgeois is attempting to say that women can be spiritual guides just as well as men. He's gotten a great deal of support from the Catholic community (including this letter) and continues to be ignored by the Vatican.

It's not surprising that the Vatican is entrenched in stereotypes or that they're unwilling to consider women for the priesthood, but it does make me wonder what the Church would be like if more women were given higher positions in the Church. Would the Church still have such a strong anti-birth control stance? Would they still block aid to women in the developing world over disagreements about abortion? Perhaps, but it's hard to say what impact a diversity might have in an organization.

Secretary of State or Sexy Crimefighter?

Via Matt and Spencer, this is a doozy. The National Interest has decided to portray three extremely qualified, professional women in public offices as, you guessed it, a spinoff of Charlie's Angels. Matt astutely puts it this way:
Hillary Clinton graduated from an elite law school, was a staffer on the Hill, a partner in her husband’s successful political career, a United States Senator, and a formidable presidential candidate before becoming Secretary of State. Susan Rice is a Stanford graduate, a Rhodes Scholar, a McKinsey consultant, a National Security Council staffer, the youngest-ever Assistant Secretary of State, top foreign policy hand on a winning presidential campaign before becoming Barack Obama’s UN Ambassador. Janet Napolitano was a federal prosecutor, a state Attorney-General, and a twice-elected governor before taking the helm at the troubled Department of Homeland Security.

Naturally, The National Interest thinks an analogy to the sexy crimefighters of Charlie’s Angels would be an appropriate analytical frame.
This goes to show that no matter how accomplished or professional a woman is, she is often depicted in a sexualized way.

Teens Not as Risque as Some Might Have You Think

Yesterday the New York Times had a story about teens and sex. Thank goodness it's not another article about how teens are having more sex and we really need to be teaching them not to. Instead, the article attempts to counter all those myths about how teens are hypersexual.

In fact, the article argues that teens today are less active sexually than they have been in the past. But what's interesting is the grammatic switch the Times presents:
A 2002 report from the Department of Health and Human Services found that 30 percent of 15- to 17-year-old girls had experienced sex, down from 38 percent in 1995. During the same period, the percentage of sexually experienced boys in that age group dropped to 31 percent from 43 percent.
Apparently girls "experience sex" but boys are "sexually experienced." Awesome. (h/t)

Soundly, though, the article points out that teen pregnancy isn't up because teens are having more sex, it's because they're having more unprotected sex. This is probably brought about by all the preaching about how unreliable condoms are. But in the words of former surgeon general Dr. Jocelyn Elders, "I think we need to get over our ideas about how condoms will break. We know condoms will break, but the vows of abstinence break far more frequently than latex condoms."

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Lilly Ledbetter's Fight

Today I have a piece up in Comment is Free about how the legislation touted by many as a big achievement for closing the pay gap, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act that Obama is expected to sign this week, is merely one of many things Obama needs to do to right the Bush legacy. To really address pay discrimination, more action needs to be taken:

The Ledbetter act is certainly legislation to be celebrated by feminists and equal rights advocates everywhere, but in many ways the legislation is just one remedy in a long list of injustices done in the last eight years and a minor step up in the battle for equal pay. After all, the law only returns to what was practiced before the court's decision and gives women the right to sue.

On average, women still earn less than 80 cents for every dollar a man earns, and the gap becomes even greater for women of colour. The kinds of legislation that might address that pay gap are much more difficult battles to fight. To examine paycheque discrimination in a real way, we need to begin to think about greater pay transparency and more family-friendly workplace policies.

Go ahead and read the whole thing.

Access to Birth Control

This debate over the family planning money in the stimulus package is silly. Sure, it's easy for conservatives to paint this as a petty attempt to get money for "evil Planned Parenthood," but here's what's really going on.

Birth control is widely popular and supported by most Americans. Social conservatives have passed regulations that say Medicaid, the health care for the poorest children and mothers in America, must obtain a waiver from the federal government to be covered for birth control -- something covered by most insurance providers who aren't Medicaid. Legally, this is simply eliminating the waiver -- and bureaucracy -- and allowing Medicaid to do something it's already allowed to do. The money allocated is just to make the change.

But social conservatives are freaking out. They, apparently, only want wealthy people to have access to birth control. What conservatives fail to point out in their protests over federally funded family planning is that ultimately this is about class. The poorest Americans have no choice but to turn to government subsidized health care -- something that's becoming increasingly unaffordable for most Americans. When we're talking about government subsidized family planning, what we're doing is giving poor people the same access to reproductive services that middle-class and wealthy people already have.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Rant: That Miss America Crap

Richard Abowitz in the L.A. Times asks an excellent question: Why does Miss America still exist? Or rather, why is it still televised? It must still maintain respectable rankings, but at the risk of being entirely predictable, I find the pageant dull. Abowitz was right when he called it an extremely dated form of sexism. Besides the women in those skimpy outfits all look exactly the same.

Sure, we might get a funny YouTube video of Miss South Carolina stammering, "I personally believe that, um, U.S. Americans ..." but that's only entertaining for about thirty seconds. Who can possibly suffer through hours of that crap? It's moronic. Not to mention that it attempts to award the most "perfect" woman, who doesn't drink, smoke, get pregnant (because we want to maintain the illusion that she's a sexless sexpot), or even have an opinion that's worth a damn.

My Attempt to Know Things About Culture

I have an interview with Tim Westergren, co-founder of Pandora, up at Campus Progress today. Enjoy.

Big Love: Family Planning Episode

I know most people probably don't watch Big Love anymore because it's been more than a year between seasons, but I'm still totally into it, even as a feminist I should object to everything it stands for. Last night's episode might as well have been called "Family Planning" because of all the (spoilers ahead) reproductive talk.

At the beginning of the episode, we also see third-wife Marge and Bill in the middle of their "marital duties" and Marge begging Bill to "pull out." Marge has just had a baby and isn't ready to have another. I should take a minute here to note that pulling out is not a recommended form of birth control for anyone who doesn't actually want to get pregnant. It also puts you at just as much risk of STDs as if you didn't pull out. Marge asks Bill, "Why can't Nicci have the next child?"

Marge gets suspicious about the fact that second-wife Nicci, who came from the Mormon compound, hasn't been pregnant in over 4 years. It turns out that Nicci is more than reluctant to go through another pregnancy -- she has secretly been on birth control the entire time. Finally, after some shame from her husband and sister wives, she stops taking the pills. When hauled into a fertility clinic, she admits to the gynecologist that she's been on birth control. The gyno (a dude) asks Nicci to be honest about whether or not she wants to have more children and adds that it's her choice. Nicci objects that she's never had a choice about anything in her life. When the doctor asks her if she wants another prescription for birth control, Nicci nods.

To me this is a big message about coercion of having a large family. Oftentimes women that most strongly desire control over their own reproduction are women that already have children. They don't want to have more for one reason or another, and might lie to their husbands (and, in this case, their sister wives) about taking birth control. Both Nicci and Marge have both had two and three children respectively and don't want more. But their religion points to the role of women as child-bearers.

Additionally, Marge voices a desire to go into sales, something she discovers she has a knack for. She is restricted by the family, and first-wife Barb says that they all agreed it was Nicci's turn to work. Barb herself in this episode is terrified of a return of cancer, something that caused her to have a hysterectomy seven years earlier. She dares not tell anyone but her husband until the results of the biopsy return.

Finally, the oldest daughter, Sarah, is sobbing at the end of the episode. At her feet is a book about options for expecting mothers. Sarah, who became sexually active at the end of last season, breaks up with her boyfriend because she's not in love with him and tells her parents she wants to go to college out of state for nursing. Sarah, because of her conservative Christian upbringing (even if she wasn't raised as a polygamist until late in life, her family had always been a member of the LDS church before), is unlikely to have an abortion. I'll be interested to see how they deal with Sarah's pregnancy moving forward. She has always been one of my favorite characters on the show because she protests her family situation.

When Will the Recession Affect "Breastaurants"?

No one goes to Hooters for the wings. I hate to admit an old friend of mine once dragged me there just after high school and the food was terrible.

I can't say I'm surprised that Texas is the number-one place for Hooters competitors to spring up, but this article from the Star-Telegram is a rather unfocused look at "breastaurants." First it talks about how Hooters has more or less enjoyed a monopoly on the, ahem, sub-genre of restaurants. Then it talks about the restaurant, dubbed Twin Peaks (sigh, the '90s David Lynch-produced television series will now never be the same) is set to open in a vacated Ruby Tuesday space on Thursday.

It also notes that, "men — typically 21 to 58 years old, in Twin Peaks’ case — will flock to such places." Um, ok. So apparently once men hit 59 they are done with the "breastaurants"? It's obvious that such places cater to straight, white men with a certain attitude about women, but the age estimation is just weird. It also astutely quotes a lecturer at Cornell's trade school for restaurant and hotel administrators saying "Sex sells." Wow, that is some hard-hitting journalism.

The article goes on to note that overall casual dining consumption is down. One of the executives at Hooters notes, "Families make up about 10 percent of the Hooters clientele. The male/female customer ratio has changed from 80 percent/20 percent in 1991, when McNeil joined the company, to about 68 percent/32 percent now." The fact that they're trying to sell Hooters as a "family-friendly" joint is kind of sick.

The article also notes that social conservatives in Arlington, TX tried to prevent Hooters moving in by holding up its liquor license. How did they deal with it? "Hooters gave away free beer for several years before gaining its liquor license." The bottom of the article also points out the locations of the new and old restaurants that cater to "younger, male clientele." Ugh.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Personhood Conference

I wrote up my experience at the personhood conference for RH Reality Check. You should go over and check it out.

The Personhood Conference, organized by the American Life League, enlisted speakers from a variety of segments of the pro-life movement, including a rising star, Kristi Burton. Burton is a 21-year-old woman who spearheaded the campaign for a state constitutional amendment in Colorado that sought to define life as beginning at fertilization. Burton says the Colorado personhood movement projects a "positive message," unites pro-lifers, and doesn't personally attack pro-choice activists.

Although Burton may say she leads a new way, the overall message of the conference was conflicted. She said she promotes a positive message, but two of the other speakers at the conference, Lila Rose and Alan Keyes, both presented very traditional messages from the pro-life movement.
Go ahead and read the whole thing.

Friday, January 23, 2009


Sorry posting has been absent today. I went to a pro-life conference today for a forthcoming RH Reality Check piece and had to catch up on real work when I got back. I'll be working on that piece tonight. More posts to come.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

More Roe v. Wade Stuff

I have a piece over at Campus Progress today about how the pro-choice movement needs to really commit to reaching out to communities they traditionally haven't. Such reaches will only strengthen the cause.
[T]he reproductive rights movement is incomplete. Many people believe the movement, with its obsessive discussion of choice, Supreme Court justices, and slogans like “Keep your rosaries off my ovaries,” seems to be speaking past some key groups that could—and should—be its strong allies. These groups—people of color, young people, and straight men—all tend to think of feminism as we know it as something purely under the domain of white, relatively privileged women. If the movement hopes to achieve broad victories during the Obama administration, it must better engage these constituencies. If it doesn’t, it will have wasted this once-in-a-generation opportunity to truly make an impact on as many people’s reproductive lives as possible.
I also went down to the Supreme Court today and took some pictures of the rather small rally of anti-choice activists that were gathered there. One thing I noticed was that the group was mostly white, and seemed to be either of the boomer generation or high school kids. There were few Millenials to be found. For more, you should see Annika Carlson's 2006 piece on how the anti-choice movement relies on indoctrination of young people through "hip" culture. The problem is that the movement ends up ultimately being based on a lack of substance.

Back to Violence

Today a van, apparently driven by a male anti-choice activist, crashed into a Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Paul today. This seems incredibly stupid. After all, what person thinks to himself, "Van v. building? Van totally wins!" It's also a deviation from the anti-choice movement's recent kill-them-with-kindness strategy.

Sarah Stoesz is the CEO of Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, South Dakota, and North Dakota and I interviewed her for this piece for RH Reality Check. She's one of the few people in the pro-choice movement that is willing to make the language less divisive and have real discussions with people about what making the choice to have an abortion -- one often made by women who are already mothers -- really means. Sarah will be part of a live discussion on RH Reality Check today, which you can see by going here.

First Mom

Michelle Obama's page on has these first two lines:

When people ask Michelle Obama to describe herself, she doesn't hesitate. First and foremost, she is Malia and Sasha's mom.

But before she was a mother — or a wife, lawyer, or public servant — she was Fraser and Marian Robinson's daughter.

The matter is up for debate among feminists, obviously. It's a tough space that many women struggle to negotiate in life. Are women mothers or are they professionals? Which comes first? For many women who have children, being a mother is their first and foremost responsibility, and understandably so. Besides, Michelle Obama hasn't worked in roughly two years, and her primary responsibility has been taking care of Sasha and Malia on the campaign trail.

The First Lady is an ill-defined role. It's not an official capacity, but the power of celebrity it brings can do a mountain of good -- just look at the example set by Eleanor Roosevelt. No one begrudges celebrities like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt for using their celebrity to muscle attention to global issues, but with the First Lady we almost expect it. It is an office of celebrity inextricably linked to public policy. She is famous because her husband is the chief decision maker of policy in this country. It's almost impossible to avoid that.

The difference is the different representation of men and women in public life. It is extremely rare for men to write such words of parenthood in their biographies, especially in the first lines of them. Usually family falls somewhere at the bottom of the biography, and their professional accomplishments are listed first. I'm not saying one way is right over the other, but the discrepancy really illustrates how men and women's public lives are perceived differently.

The Battle Over Creationism in Texas

I missed this story in the New York Times yesterday, but the battle over creationism in Texas is heating up again. Clearly, the implications for this debate are big, since Texas is the largest producer of school textbooks in the country.

A while back, Texas adopted some weird language that directed teachers to explore the "strengths and weaknesses" of a scientific theory (read: Darwin's theory of evolution). The problem is that this language has nothing to do with science and ignores the fact that scientific theory is very strong and has lots of evidence. Basically, it is the creationists way of attempting to undermine facts. It's true that most teachers ignore the "strengths and weaknesses" doctrine when teaching science, but it seems weird that we would teach something that is unscientific rather than teaching evidence and the scientific method. No wonder we're lagging in science and math when we're struggling just to allow science to be taken seriously by schoolchildren and teachers.

Blog for Choice Day: Pro-Choice Hope for a New Administration

Blog for Choice DayToday is the 36th anniversary of the infamous Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade. It is a very important day to both pro-choice and anti-abortion activists, but most of America is preoccupied with the release of the Oscar nominations. But despite the public's inattention to the subject of abortion access, it is one of the foundations of freedom in our country today. As Ruth Bader Ginsburg laid out in her dissent of the court's decision in Gonzalez v. Carhart, a case that confirmed the so-called Partial Birth Abortion Ban as constitutional, women must have control over her reproduction to have full and equal access to citizenship.

The list of tasks for this new administration is long, but today is a day for many pro-choice activists like myself to ask the administration to make choices about women. My list is long as well, mostly because women's health has been under attack for the last eight years.

1. Rescind what is known as the "global gag rule." This regulation, one of Bush's first acts in office, withholds funds from any group that also provides abortion services or includes abortion as an option for women seeking family planning, even if the U.S. funds aren't used for abortion itself. This has caused massive budget cuts in organizations like Planned Parenthood International. When clinics like these shut down, women in third world countries often have no where else to turn to for family planning or other medical care.

2. Repeal the Hyde amendment. This is a domestic law that forbids federal funds from getting used on abortion services. Although many may not want "their" tax dollars used for abortions, abortions, like other kinds of health care to poor people, are extremely difficult to fund privately and repealing this amendment would do more to increase access to family planning to poor women than almost any other action.

3. Fully fund Title X. Family planning funds have remained roughly stagnant since the beginning of the Bush administration. Just to get the funds to where they were, adjusted for inflation, in 2000, the Obama administration must allocate more than $700 million (the previous administration allocated $300 million), and even that number doesn't do enough to hire translators or bilingual staff at family planning clinics, increase the service to women who might require more attention, or allow family planning clinics to open in states where there may be so few.

4. Restore U.S. funding to the UNFPA. As Michelle Goldberg outlines in her forthcoming book, antichoice activists used false allegations of UNFPA officials using coercive abortion practices in China to de-fund the United Nations Population Fund. By restoring funding to the organization, it would show the world that the United States is willing to become a leader on family planning again.

5. End funding to abstinence-only programs in the United States. Such programs have been proven, through study after study, to be ineffective at reducing teen pregnancy or delaying age of sexual initiation. Our young people deserve the information they need to use condoms and other contraception when they do decide to become sexually active.

6. Begin looking at ways to increase access to abortion and family planning services, rather than just stopping the losses. Many women today, especially women in southern states where abortion is unpopular, have a serious lack of access to abortion and family planning clinics. The most recent study shows that more than 87 percent of counties in the United States don't have an abortion clinic and Mississippi and South Dakota only have one in the entire state.

7. Include women's reproductive health care in any future reforms to the health care system overall. Women use health care very differently than men. Women visit doctors more often and spend more on prescriptions because of birth control and other contraception. Pregnant women often aren't covered under individual insurance plans, and even if they are, they pay more for marginal care. Women need to be fully included in future health care reforms.

8. Make reproductive health something that everyone cares about. There is often an urge to allow reproductive health groups to be the ones to care and talk about access issues, but reproductive health and family planning affects everyone. By leaving the burden on certain groups to talk about these issues, they often become ignored or marginalized in public discourse. They are considered less important or serious than other issues like foreign policy or the economy when reproductive health and rights is intricately linked with these issues.

9. Become a world leader on reproductive health and rights. Women around the world suffer from the inequalities of their societies, are subjected to rape as a weapon and are forced into child marriages or genital cutting before they can make the decisions for themselves. By becoming a world leader on addressing these issues, we can show the world that we are a humanitarian nation once again.

10. Develop new methods of contraception. There are many available options of contraception today, but they're not enough. Many hormonal contraceptions make people sick. We need to develop new ways for people to access contraception -- and yes, this includes men.

UPDATE: This list is by no means definitive. I ask you to leave your requests to the new administration in comments.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Women on the Board

Also via Inside Higher Ed, more women seem to be getting a spot on the boards of colleges and universities. It seems the percentage of women has increased from 20 percent in 1981 to 30 percent in 2007. I fear, though that this number may be stuck there. It seems that the number of women among traditionally male-dominated fields does make gains -- until the percentage of women hits about 30 percent and then the gains mysteriously stop. It's historically been the case with women on op ed pages for years.

I'm not sure what causes the stop. Perhaps there's a sense that "some" women are needed, so there becomes a conscientious effort to include women. For some reason, the magical percentage of 30 satisfies that need for the "some." As soon as a few women are on board, the pressure is relieved and the sense of urgency to hire women disappears.

Gen-1 House: Nanny State

I read this article in Inside Higher Ed on this special housing for first generation college students at the University of Cincinnati and, well, it seems a little like life control. The housing for first gen students comes complete with a strict guest policy, a curfew, and is designated an "alcohol-free" zone.

Now, I don't know how strictly these policies are enforced -- most colleges are "alcohol-free" for freshman housing because, well, it's technically illegal for people under 21 to consume alcohol (I think the age should be lowered to 18, but that's an issue for another day). The thing is, among the first generation college students I knew from my college days, this seems like a bad way to try to retain first gen students.

While it may be true that studies show that first gen students benefit from more attention, I tend to think that means more in the way of academic counseling, tutoring, and instructor attention than it means trying to enforce strict social rules on these students' personal lives. If anything, by putting such strict rules on their personal lives, they may find college patronizing and be more likely to drop out. It's not surprising that 18-year-olds might want to be treated like adults, so perhaps we shouldn't enforce such rigid rules.

The White House

Everyone is talking about how awesome the new site is. It is pretty awesome. It even has a blog. But here's my question: why on earth would the campaign turned administration that was built on knowing the best in web technology and grassroots organizing only have a partial RSS feed? That seems like a problem.

About that Party ...

I often have a lot of reporters around me at parties. I had many at my birthday party this weekend. But I didn't expect this to land in the (web)pages of the New York Observer. What I didn't expect was for them to insult my house:

ON SATURDAY EVENING, in a mostly undecorated house in rapidly gentrifying Columbia Heights, some of the city’s young, left-leaning blogger elite were celebrating. Matthew Yglesias, the 27-year-old Think Progress blogger, reclined on a shapeless couch, drinking a can of Miller Lite. On the wall, under a clock that looked to have been lifted from a diner, was a poster of Obama and the words “Yes We Can.” By the stairs, a knot of bloggers discussed a party thrown by The New Republic earlier that evening, featuring a performance by the cellist Yo Yo Ma.

“He was sponsored by pharma,” said one blogger.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa. What?” said another.

“We should’ve gotten Canadian pharma sponsorship like Yo Yo Ma!” said the first, adding, “He played my cousin’s bar mitzvah.”

Okay, so first my beef is a factual one. My house is not located in Columbia Heights. It's just not. I live on Florida Avenue, and it seems to be under dispute which neighborhood it actually falls into (Shaw or U Street), but Columbia Heights is definitely not one of them. If New Yorkers can be picky about their neighborhoods than so can we.

My second beef with the article is more one of taste. Apparently I live in a "mostly unfurnished" house. Um, it's a rental. And we had cleared out furniture for the party. Geez, that's the last time I give reporters from the Observer free beer at my birthday party.

Inauguration of 44

Yes, I went down to the Mall yesterday to see the inauguration of Barack Hussein Obama into the office of president. Yes, it was cold (hey, I'm from Minnesota, though, I know how to layer). Yes, I know others got a better view on television from the warmth of their televisions. But I don't regret going at all, even if I feel pretty sick and exhausted today because of it.

One thing I noticed was that the crowd was excited, but also a lot more subdued than election night. Perhaps the reality had set in and they realized that Obama is president for real now. That probably means that a lot of the crowd will be disappointed. I'm going to give credit to the public. They may be placing a lot of hope in Obama to fix our problems, but the truth is that the last eight years have been so bad for most people that many are willing to be patient for things to get better. They know it won't be overnight.

I'll leave the analysis of the speech to others who are more qualified, but I thought that after all that to-do over Rick Warren one of the best speeches yesterday was actually that of Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery, who gave the benediction. Lowery has been a civil rights leader for a long time, and his speech showed that. It was nice to see homage paid to the leaders of yesterday. If you didn't catch his whole benediction, it's below.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Clowns are Scary.

Via the illustrious Pam Spaulding at Pandagon, a middle school in Ohio hired Derek Dye to dress up as a clown and teach messages of abstinence in the halls. Ew. Okay, full disclosure: clowns terrify me. And rightly so! They have a permanent smile painted on their faces, and the scariest ones try to hug you. Not cool, people. Not cool. Take a look at Dye’s promotional video below:

Ew. That’s all I have to say. This guy reminds me of those pastors who use magic tricks to oversimplify religion. He uses machete-juggling as a metaphor for sex because they both involve risk. Wow, you’re right, Dye. Those two things are exactly the same.

Furthermore, isn’t using magic tricks for 7th graders a little, um, stupid? This is the age at which adolescents try to act cool, and clowns aren’t cool. I can feel the eye rolls from the audience as this guy makes his speeches. Nice try, though. I’m glad he’s getting part of an $800,000 federal grant to perform this shit to middle schoolers.

Cross posted at Pushback.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Advice From a Former Surgeon General

Also, for my RH piece I interviewed Dr. Jocelyn Elders, former surgeon general under President Clinton. The full transcript is posted on Campus Progress.

About Sanjay Gupta

Today over at RH Reality Check I have a piece on Sanjay Gupta, who has been floated as the probable candidate for surgeon general:

Since the Obama administration announced that CNN's Sanjay Gupta, one of People magazine's "sexiest men alive" in 2003, might be the next surgeon general, reactions have ranged from indifferent to outraged. Although Gupta is a neurosurgeon and has been in the public eye for years - he started his "House Call" show on CNN in 2004 - many have been scrambling to figure out what this man stands for.

Two separate controversies have already risen since Gupta's name has publicly been floated as the next surgeon general. First, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman lambasted Gupta's critique of Michael Moore's 2007 film Sicko, saying that Gupta's accusation that Moore "fudged the facts" was, well, just plain wrong. Then Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) wrote a letter to his fellow Democrats urging them to oppose Gupta as surgeon general. Conyers claimed that Gupta would face a "credibility problem," given his lack of experience in the National Health Service Corp and that "it is not in the best interests of the nation to have someone ... who lacks the requisite experience needed to oversee the federal agency that provides crucial health care assistance to some of the poorest and most underserved communities in America."

Many bloggers have already written about Gupta's lack of administrative experience, his opposition to marijuana reforms, and some of his biggest medical reporting mistakes. But little is known about where Gupta stands on reproductive health.
Go ahead an read the whole thing.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Dear John Doe, We're sorry for your loss ...

Well this is depressing. Apparently offering condolences to the families of fallen soldiers has become so rote that it results in printing errors that mistakenly addressed more than 7,000 letters as "John Doe." I once wrote (can't find the link now) before about how Spencer's reprinting of DoD press releases was becoming so frequent it was becoming mundane -- a disturbing product of war. I guess even the army finds condolences mundane.

New York Times' Dripping Cultural Elitism

The New York Times had a piece about how people in Minnesota feel about the contested election that has resulted in the board of elections certifying Al Franken as Minnesota's newest senator. Some are annoyed, others have become more civically engaged. The story reads about how you'd expect a story about such a close election to read. Except, of course, the Times just couldn't help itself from a reference to the state's folksiness, almost dripping with Fargo-esque references:
Like a January wind-chill, the back-and-forth between Norm Coleman, the Republican incumbent, and his challenger, Al Franken, a Democrat — and the forever process of recounting and lawyerly sniping that has gone on since Election Day — is getting a little old even in this capital city of flat-voweled upper Midwest niceness.
God. I mean, I get it. Minnesota is different from New York, but come on. Not that different. The rest of the article reads like a straight news piece about a contested election in any other part of the country. But the Times just cannot give up noting how "cute" and "different" states like Minnesota and North Dakota are. I believe they might call it flyover country. As a Minnesota native, I'm getting tired of it. Stop. Please stop.

Mr. PTA President

Today I saw this item in The New York Times that reported the first-ever male Parent Teacher Association president, Charles J. Saylors. Finally, I thought, fathers are stepping up to the plate to take more of an equal role in parenting (although the news item notes that only 10 percent of the total PTA population are men, growing at a rate of 1 percent per year over the last five).

This list toward the end, however, is a bit misleading:

Why all this effort? Because it is good for children. They do better in school and in life when their fathers are involved. The National Household Education Survey by the US Department of Education found that:

Students whose fathers were highly involved at school were 43 percent more likely to receive As.

Children of highly involved resident fathers were 55 percent more likely to enjoy school than those with uninvolved fathers.

Students with nonresident fathers who participated in even one activity at school were 39 percent less likely to repeat a grade and 50 percent less likely to experience serious disciplinary problems.

Let’s not make the mistake of thinking that fathers are the silver bullet to fix achievement and disciplinary problems. It’s true that more men in the PTA is a sign of increased engagement among men, but the reality is that men that are sensitive to these kinds of gender roles probably aren’t single dads in the same way we talk about single mothers. Fathers who are engaged in the PTA probably also have an engaged wife (or husband) who is helping out. Moms involved in the PTA also tend to have less burdensome workloads or be stay-at-home moms. That means the child is less likely to be impoverished, more likely to have a stable home life, and has more parental attention generally. So it’s good that dads are getting into the PTA, but there’s still a long way to go in engaging men in child-rearing.

Cross posted at Pushback.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Self-Empowerment? Really?

Apparently this week is Women’s Self-Empowerment Week. That’s right, the week most people tend to devote to signing up for gym memberships and making long lists of things they ought to be doing is the same week that women everywhere should feel “empowered.”

I’ve always had a real problem with the word empowerment. I find it all too self-help-book-aisle and sort of feel like it’s one of those words that doesn’t really mean anything. Ultimately, empowerment is about power. If you don’t have any power, you probably don’t feel very empowered. For many women, telling them they should feel more empowered is a sick joke as they work overtime to pay off their mountains of bills and hope they don’t get sick because they don’t have health insurance or paid sick leave.

In other words, all too often it isn’t a “power of positive thinking” mindset that gives us power, it is our powerful circumstances and accomplishments. Telling all women, some of whom have pretty cushy circumstances and others who have pretty terrible ones, that they should feel empowered is silly. Rather than setting aside a week on the calendar for them to reach into their “self-empowerment” bag, maybe we should work on a social safety net that will give women the tools to make a good life for themselves.

Cross posted on Pushback.

Black Market Abortion Drugs

Via Dana Goldstein, this New York Times article on immigrant women's use of misoprostol, a drug designed to treat ulcers, for self-induced abortions is on the rise in immigrant neighborhoods in New York. The women are getting charged with illegal use of the drug and imprisoned. Dana points out that these women shouldn't be punished for their lack of access to medical treatment -- the drug is legal with supervision of a doctor and often prescribed in conjunction with mifepristone, or RU-486 -- and desperation.

To me this article just shows that access to abortion is vitally important for everyone. If women don't have access to a doctor for medical treatment, they will just turn to illegal means of obtaining the drug and risk dangerous side effects of using it. The black market for abortion drugs will always exist as long as they are illegal or inaccessible. Those who pretend making abortion illegal will stop it are kidding themselves. People need to use these drugs safely and with a doctor's supervision.

What Does Feminism Mean to You?

Via Jess McCabe at F-Word, this photo project is interesting. Flickr user ycguitar814 asked people at the University of Buffalo to write what feminism meant to them, and the responses were interesting. I'd love to see the project expanded.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

On the Agenda: Comprehensive Sex Ed, Repealing the Hyde Amendment, etc.

I have a new post about the legislation Congress should (and shouldn't) look at in this upcoming session over at RH Reality Check. Take a look.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Is a Little Bit of BDSM All Bad?

The latest issue of Bitch (a feminist magazine which I've had for a couple weeks but haven't taken a look at until this weekend) recently sparked a controversy on a feminist listserv in which I participate. I'm a little late weighing in on this -- much of the debate happened early last week, while I was finishing up my vacation, but I think it's a relevant enough topic to still weigh in on. The argument erupted over a cartoon on page 43 of the noir-themed issue.

The comic, titled "The 'Nightmare' Zone" by Jennifer Cruté, depicted an artist who seems to be fantasizing about finding herself in hell, tied up, and with a white man wearing a devil hat holding a paddle. The comic's main character says, "Hey! Wait a minute! I was good all of my life! Shouldn't I be in the other place?" The man in the devil hat responds, "Oh baby! This is the other place!" The white man smacks the main character on the ass with the paddle and in the final frame of the comic, she seems to be in a state of euphoria, with a devil character on one side riding a dildo and an angel charactor on the other winking. To further put the cartoon in context, it is part of a full color section of the magazine devoted to "my dark confession" in which "five comic artists reveal their secret loves, lives & lust."

In other words, this is a depiction of a dark fantasy the cartoonist went out on a limb to share. The reaction by one woman on the listserv was obvious one of concern. She wondered how far we are supposed to go in terms of sanctioning violence against women even if it is in the name of sexual fantasy.

Her concern is one that many feminists struggle with. Rape fantasies and submissive sexuality are really complicated places to negotiate as a feminist. This essay from a recently released book on the subject (Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape edited by Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti) is worthwhile and I recommend anyone read the whole thing.
BDSM (for my purposes, bondage, discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism) makes a lot of people uncomfortable, and the concept of female submission makes feminists really uncomfortable. I can certainly understand why, but I also believe that safe, sane and consensual BDSM exists as a polar opposite of a reality in which women constantly face the threat of sexual violence.


But when you throw a little rape, bondage or humiliation fantasy into the mix, a whole set of ideological problems arises. The idea of a woman consenting to be violated via play not only is difficult terrain to negotiate politically, but also is rarely discussed beyond BDSM practitioners themselves. Sexually submissive feminists already have a hard enough time finding a voice in the discourse, and their desire to be demeaned is often left out of the conversation. Because of this, the opportunity to articulate the political ramifications of rape fantasy happens rarely, if at all.
Ultimately, what was depicted in the cartoon was fairly tame, especially by BDSM standards, and the comic clearly noted how risky such a fantasy is -- I might even argue that it addressed some guilt over even having such a fantasy. I know that we tend to come from a culture that has a very repressed sexual past. This kind of sexuality isn't for everyone. It's complicated, especially for feminists that work on increasing agency of women and it becomes difficult when some women use that agency to ceede sexual power.

But by eliminating the option of expressing or discussing such a fantasy in an alternative feminist magazine especially seems to further ghettoize such fantasies. It urges such people to keep it closeted, hidden, and never to talk about it. I'm glad that Cruté was brave enough to share her fantasy, and that it sparked a debate among feminists. The more we talk about these things, the closer we might get to actually negotiating some space in the public discourse for them.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Over the Counter Birth Control?

Via Feministe, (I'm also several weeks behind on this) England is experimenting with distributing non-prescription birth control. Many other countries distribute birth control pills over the counter, including Australia and Brazil, but here in America, some of the leading voices that protest the move to over-the-counter, are women's health advocates. It's something I never really thought about before because here women having to go to the doctor for hormonal birth control pills is Just The Way It Is.

Many young women, however, are afraid of having a visit with a gynecologist appear on their parents' insurance and risk sex without birth control (sometimes even without condoms, but that's a separate issue). I agree that it's a worry that women won't visit doctors as much if birth control is available over the counter, but men often go years without going to the doctor. Women should still be encouraged to visit the doctor regularly -- especially for STD testing, but hormonal birth control is a medication that's been around much longer than many other over-the-counter drugs. Perhaps it's time to subject it to the natural evolution of medication.

Treating the G.I.s

One of the better Iraq War movies to be released (although overall they're all pretty bad) was In the Valley of Elah, a film that used the detective murder-mystery format to explore the issue of post-traumatic stress disorder gone wrong in returned Iraq soldiers. The movie depicted soldiers who were willing to dismantle the body of their fellow soldier, and a young veteran who strangled his wife to death. The theme was revisited yesterday in the vacuum of New Year's Day reporting by a New York Times article that examined violent crimes committed by returning soldiers.

In particular, it focused on a military base in soon-to-be-Secretary-of-the-Interior Ken Salazar's state of Colorado. The article talks of nine cases murder by the base's soldiers, five in the last year alone. Add to that the overall national statistics of murder by veterans, suicides, rapes, and domestic violence and it's no wonder that people are concerned. The article didn't address if rates of violent crimes are higher among soldiers than they are among the general population, but my guess is they're probably not (although rates of suicide among former soldiers tend to be higher than among the general population). I'd like to see an analysis of this done so if you know of one, please, leave it in comments.

The key to investigating PTSD in soldiers is that what we figure out there might help us with other kinds of criminological and sociological work. If we can figure out what drives a person to suicide or murder when we know of a traumatic event like combat, it may help us treat and eventually prevent suicide, murder, rape, and domestic violence in the general population. After all, some of the prosthetic limb research done by the VA has lead to cutting-edge technology for others who lose their limbs in more everyday occurrences like car accidents. When we develop effective new treatments for veterans, everyone wins.

The reluctance is that treating PTSD is expensive, and there's no clear way for every person that's effective. Therapy is costly, especially for a population that largely comes from lower and middle classes who probably can't afford it on their own. But the more we begin to look at mental health treatment as part of the holistic health care we promise veterans, the more clues we unlock for preventing some of the most atrocious crimes known to humanity.

Part-Time Dr. Mom

Via Chronicle's news blog, apparently female doctors are having the same problem, well, every woman in America has. They want more work-life balance, and some articles in Academic Medicine explore the possibility of part-time work for doctors during their parenting years. But while a part-time policy might keep more women in academic medicine during their parenting years, there's always the downside of the part-time parent "some women report that they are taken less seriously and are less likely to be promoted or granted tenure if they work part time."

So the strategy for increasing women in academic medicine is the same strategy for increasing women in every industry. Work-life balance is good for everybody: moms, dads, kids, even single people. Devoting so much time to work often makes people less productive in the long term. But the stigma of part-time work remains. I'll be the first to admit, sometimes I tend to grimace at people making sure they take all their vacation time or grabbing personal days when I'm the one picking up the slack. But I have to remember that I take vacation time too, and when I'm gone others pick up my slack. If we weren't suck a work-obsessed society, maybe it'd be a good thing. We'd all be happier, there'd be less burnout, and ultimately, you'd increase gender equity in the workforce.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year!

Welcome to 2009! (God, I can already tell it will take me several months to automate "09" when writing the date.) Apologies for the lack of posts -- I was on vacation in my chilly home state of Minnesota for the holidays. After spending some time relaxing, with family, and celebrating the new year with friends, I'm once again ready to turn my attention to righting gender inequalities and providing general snarkiness again.

Catch me tomorrow morning on Jezebel's last-ever Crappy Hour, featuring pretty much everyone that's participated in the feature since it started. It should be awesome.

UPDATE: The crap-tastic hour is posted now. I, unlike Spencer, thought the experiment worked pretty well, and I'm sad to see this feature go.
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