Friday, January 22, 2010

Blog for Choice: Depression Edition

Today is the 37th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade. It's also Blog for Choice Day, sponsored by NARAL Pro-choice America. Pro-choice bloggers and activists write about what choice means to them and go about making resolutions for the coming year; in many ways, it's a kind of New Year's for the pro-choice movement. But I've been putting off writing my post this year -- not because of a change in my convictions, but because I'm feeling more and more depressed about the outlook for reproductive choice and justice in America.

The thing that people tend to gloss over on a day like today, when pro-choice activists are resolving to fight (and anti-choice activists march through the streets with photos of fetuses) is that we already live in a country where it's pretty difficult to get an abortion. Thanks to the Hyde amendment, which has been around almost as long as Roe v. Wade, women cannot use federal government funds to pay for an abortion. And though an early-term abortion is relatively inexpensive -- a few hundred dollars -- for the poorest of the poor, this is often an insurmountable price when the entire cost of an abortion is more than they have to live on. The Hyde amendment, as my colleagues Larry Korb and Jessica Arons wrote, also ensures that women in the military, who risk their lives for the rights of Americans, have terrible reproductive health care and virtually no access to abortion when deployed to war.

Furthermore, late this last year, as the health care debate seemed close to closing (and now seems as if it may be stalled forever), Representatives Bart Stupak and Joe Pitts decided to introduce the most restrictive abortion legislation in a generation, that would eventually eliminate private insurance coverage of abortions. In some ways, though I was angered by the amendment, it seemed fitting that finally, middle-class women whose abortions are covered by their employer-sponsored insurance, would face some level of financial difficulty in obtaining an abortion (even if it is largely a matter of convenience). Don't get me wrong, from a pro-choice perspective, the Stupak-Pitts and Nelson amendments are unacceptable in health care reform. But. I think they are a strong reminder of exactly how bad things are from a pro-choice perspective in this country. We're fighting for a status quo that's already bad.

I don't even think I need to mention that one of the few doctors who was willing to actually perform abortions was murdered in cold blood and his shooter actually had the nerve to plead manslaughter. Although I guess the silver lining is the judge knew to call such a plea bullshit.

The thing that we always forget about the abortion debate is that this is an issue that is fundamentally about class. Women with a certain amount of money and privilege will always have access to abortion -- even if it were to be made outright illegal in this country. But disadvantaged women have it much, much harder. Women's abortion rights have been drastically rolled back over the years. As a writer at RH Reality Check, I wrote regularly about the various ways states were trying to rollback the right to abortion: introducing waiting periods, TRAP laws, ultrasound requirements, personhood amendments, and more. Even on television and in TV shows, it has become taboo to discuss abortion.

I hate to sound so pessimistic, but I honestly think pro-choicers lost more of this battle than we like to believe. Here's hoping that the coming year in reproductive rights will prove me wrong.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Chuck Klosterman City

The Fake Hipster says that she's obsessed with Chuck Klosterman (although her use of "bandwagon" implies that there somehow is one). I have to admit, I have been enjoying Klosterman's work of late too. I've been reading all of his books the last couple of months and am currently finishing up Killing Yourself to Live, which I'm really enjoying. This may also be in part because I strongly identify with the idea of growing up in a desolate area of the Midwest listening to classic rock radio.

I do not, however, believe that Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs is Klosterman's strongest work. Reading it recently, it just seems ... well, dated. There's a long essay about how not that many people he knows actually use the Internet, which is weird because the book was published in 2004. I'm pretty sure people were aware in 2004 that most people would be using the Internet to do all kinds of things that didn't include porn.

Interestingly enough, there's a forthcoming film adaptation of Fargo Rock City, the book that I would argue is still Klosterman's best work, although I might put Killing Yourself to Live as a close second. So, with that, here's my list of Klosterman's work in my totally arbitrary order of preference:
  1. Fargo Rock City (2002)
  2. Killing Yourself to Live (2006)
  3. Chuck Klosterman IV (a 2007 collection of his previously published Spin and Esquire essays)
  4. Downtown Owl (his 2009 novel)
  5. Eating the Dinosaur (2009)
  6. Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs (2004)
Though Klosterman certainly has his flaws -- in one book he confessed he "used to be" anti-abortion but now "doesn't really care" about this issue and his female characters in his novel are somewhat flat -- but it's refreshing to see someone who's so honest about his perspective. He admits openly in Live that he's actually not much of a reader and this is why intellectuals won't ever take him seriously. He also is willing to acknowledge that he was wrong in the past about his opinions. He almost sounds like a blogger -- even though I'm pretty sure Klosterman despises blogs.

Monday, January 4, 2010

It's Not So Easy

The Economist has a piece about the changing nature of business for women. Like just about every time the Economist tries to take on gender issues, they don't exactly get it right. The story is largely a trend piece filled with stereotypes.

The author starts with the "tough as nails" female stereotype about women who can't ever be wrong (read: emotional) or they'll never get ahead. The piece goes on to say that "new feminism" claims women are "wired" differently and that women prefer "transformative" leadership styles as well as "matrix structures" in the workplace. (The sentence where the author says, "You need to audit the entire building for 'gender asbestos'—in other words, root out the inherent sexism built into corporate structures and processes" is hilarious, as if workplaces just need a biochemical spring cleaning.)

I can appreciate that The Economist is opening itself up to workplaces that want to explore new leadership styles (and am encouraged by the fact that more "feminine" styles are actually good for business), but I tend to think that this piece about women in the workplace is just as dangerous as the one where women "never admit mistakes." What's more the article was vague, leaving us to wonder exactly what workplaces can do to be more "transformative."

The thing is, feminism, women, and leadership are not monolithic. While many women might benefit from businesses opening themselves up to "female" leadership styles, there are other women who probably do well with hierarchical structures. By painting women and "new feminism" (what is that?) in a cooperative, woman-friendly corner, they're still putting women in a corner.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Sexism in Skepticism

While we're on the subject, Rebecca Watson, one of the hosts on the pro-science podcast The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, also gets mail. You should go over to Skepchick to read the whole exchange -- note, if you think it's bad at the get go it gets much, much worse as it goes on -- but the fact that Watson is getting targeted for sexist attacks is, unfortunately, unsurprising.

Women are far more likely to be the subject of online attacks that are often sexist and deeply personal. In 2007, tech blogger Kathy Sierra faced personal threats so severe she opted out of appearing at conference where she was supposed to keynote. While the harassment Watson encountered was nowhere near as severe, it's worth noting that this email exchange is not an isolated incident. It's a widespread problem in the blogosphere, skeptical or not.

What's ultimately so sad about this email exchange is that Watson is a fantastic addition to the show and without her, as delightful as the rest of the other podcast hosts are, I probably wouldn't be a regular listener of the show. She's a much-needed addition to the show, recently taking a skeptical look at the outrage over changes in mammogram screenings, something the rest of the hosts might have ignored because they might not read feminist blogs regularly.

For what it's worth, I enjoy Watson's presence on the show. I find it insightful and intelligent. "Eddy," the writer who harassed her, doesn't represent all listeners.

Dating a Lethal Weapon

Wendy Atterberry at my new favorite site The Frisky gets mail:
I have a great new girlfriend who is funny, positive, cute and very sexy. I am so happy with her and I wouldn’t want her to change. But there is one issue: she happens to be a black belt martial arts expert and works part time as an instructor in that area. So basically, even though you could never tell from looking at her, that beautiful 5’7’’ female body of hers is actually, for all intents and purposes, a lethal weapon. [...] I guess this is a stupid male ego thing — think it’s a little embarrassing that my 5’7’’ 130 lbs girlfriend could easily kick my ass any time she wanted. [...] Basically the guy is supposed to be the stronger sex in a relationship, but, because of her martial arts, in our case it’s the other way around. Could this be a problem for us?
Sigh. It sounds like this is a problem for the email sender. One of my best friends from childhood is a third-degree black belt. She got married last summer to someone who isn't in the martial arts. And you know what? They're really happy together. That's it. Other than a few jokes about how she can kick her husband's ass at the wedding reception, it's a total non-issue.

My favorite comment on this post is from ootie, who says, "your girlfriend being good at something does not make you any less of a man, especially something as irrelevant to a relationship as the ability to knock someone out."

Sometimes I become incredibly depressed that we still have to assure men that their masculinity isn't at risk because women are good at some kind of sport or martial art.

Iron Chef America

I should probably mention that I'll be liveblogging Iron Chef America with my blogger pals Spencer Ackerman, Megan Carpentier, and Verena von Pfetten over at Air America tonight. Blogging starts here at 8.

Happy New Year, Responding to the "He Decade"

Happy 2010, all. I had a nice long break and saw two three-day long snow storms in two different states (or "state" in the case of the District of Columbia). I had a chance to read some books, see my family, and watch some movies. Good times.

I'm not going to attempt to write a decade-end post or a decade-beginning post, partly because some have argued the decade isn't over yet and partly because the marking of time is arbitrary anyway. There is, however, "decade wrap-up" piece I wanted to blog about today.

Via hortense at Jezebel, the New York Times has a piece today by Alessandra Stanley on the "self-absorbed man" in the aughts. She presents examples like Don Draper on Mad Men, Dr. House on House, and even referencing Jason Schwartzman in the new HBO series Bored to Death (isn't this just the same character Schwartzman always plays?).

Part of me hates to sum up a "trend" in a decade of television because it all depends on what you watch. If you just watched plot-driven shows like 24 or even Lost, you'd find the argument about the self-absorbed man pretty absurd. Still, I have noticed that some of my favorite characters on Mad Men -- Joan and Peggy -- got shoved to the side while the writers dealt with Don Draper's past, something that I became less and less interested in as the season went on.

But perhaps the most interesting thing about the trend piece is how much it isn't a trend. This piece could really be written about any decade since television was invented. Historically, male characters are typically more complex, more interesting, and more self-reflective than almost any female character. All too often, female characters in television play the hot wife of the dumpy comedian, the hot doctor/lawyer/detective opposite more complex male characters, the evil bitch, or the pretty but stupid sidekick.

It's true that this decade has seen more interesting and complex female characters than ever before: Kara Thrace from Battlestar Galactica, Buffy on Buffy (though admittedly I haven't actually seen the series yet), and Kristen Bell in the title character of Veronica Mars are just a few examples.

But by and large, your average female character usually isn't that interesting. (Anyone remember Gwyneth Paltrow in the first Iron Man movie?) To me the real story is that while female characters have made some interesting expansions in recent years, they are on the whole less interesting than male characters. Hardly surprising, when one considers the lack of female writers.
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