Acts of Courage

And, as with other news stories in past weeks and months, I am returning to Emma Watson’s address at the UN on Saturday for another piece of discussion, through another lens of analysis.

I know that during the time I am returning again and again to this particular well, that there are many other stories I am leaving untold — it is that fact which sometimes leads me to have such vivid fantasies of winning the mega-millions and writing all the livelong day. Nevertheless, I find for myself that there is a value in looking deeply at one event from multiple lenses, rather than always popcorning to report on event after event according to the formula so brilliantly summed up by Kate Harding, back when she shuttered up Shapely Prose:

By last spring, I became increasingly aware that I was doing a lot of “Stock Intro A + Stock Feminism/Fat Acceptance Points B and C + Free-Form Outrage Interlude + Stock Conclusion D = done for the day,” and that is really not the kind of writing I want to be doing.

Rather than throwing myself over too strongly into “wind-up doll of feminist outrage mode,” I believe that by looking deeply at the multiple facets of one thing, I am sometimes better able to point to all the unconscious workings and cultural patternings that so interest me about the world and the patriarchy.

(And by “so interest me,” I mean “that I hope to name clearly in the vain hope that speaking the name of the Thing forces it to magically self-destruct like in the fairy tales.“)

Continue reading “Acts of Courage”

Serving the Same Old Meal

Last night I wrote about Emma Watson’s speech at the UN on Saturday for the launch of the HeForShe campaign — generally applauding it all, but doing my usual unpacking-complicated-things routine.

What I didn’t talk about* was the fact that when I clicked on the link to the news story/transcript of the speech, Facebook offered up two “related links” for my consideration.

One was the actual site of the campaign, which made sense to me. The other was a fashion report on what Watson wore to Saturday’s event, which made my blood boil.

Continue reading “Serving the Same Old Meal”

Peeping Thomas

Tucked in the back of the Philadelphia Art Museum‘s modern galleries is a peculiar, enigmatic piece by Marcel Duchamp. Etant donnes was the artist’s final work*: he spent the final two decades of his life working on the piece after telling the world that he had retired from art-making. Upon his death, the work was discovered and, as per the stipulations of Duchamp’s will, installed at the PMA never to be moved or lent out to other sites.

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Avert Your Eyes

I lead a strange sort of double-life when it comes to things popular and pop-culture-like. On the one hand, I feel as if I live my life on the “geek culture” fringe — as evidenced, I’m sure, by past references to Comic-Con staples like Joss Whedon, True Blood and Game of Thrones. There’s lots of big “mainstream” hits and trends — Survivor, American Idol, Real Housewives all spring to mind — which have in their own time and place saturated the airwaves, and yet which I have never ever seen. Quite frankly, sometimes my monastic schedule, with its endless cycle of work, write, study, sleep, even keeps me from staying up-to-date on geek culture. (This many weeks later, and I still haven’t seen Guardians of the Galaxy. Guess that’s another membership card I’ll be handing in…)

On the other hand, my continued engagement with mainstream morning news (GMA) and print journalism (Entertainment Weekly) means I have a pretty good sense of what the pop culture trends and happenings are, moment to moment.

Continue reading “Avert Your Eyes”

On Modulations and Tone

(Quick hit: another proposal due tomorrow, and also much in the way of packing/preparing for the house-sitter. Still, since these grounds will be semi-fallow for a stretch of time, I am compelled to put something up, even if it’s more quotes from others’ writing than words of my own.)

tone_police_sheriffAs I’ve been expressing my outrage over various current issues during the last several weeks, I’ve been aware of a delicate push-pull within my system around the issue of tone: how to speak strongly without “going overboard.” In short, being just a little tiny bit invested in tone policing myself.

Obviously, that investment has only been a few pences’ worth — I know what bullshit tone policing is:

The tone argument is a form of derailment, or a red herring, because the tone of a statement is independent of the content of the statement in question, and calling attention to it distracts from the issue at hand. Drawing attention to the tone rather than content of a statement can allow other parties to avoid engaging with sound arguments presented in that statement, thus undermining the original party’s attempt to communicate and effectively shutting them down.

And, therefore, I don’t do a whole lot of policing myself. But I do a little.

For example, I know I’ve said the phrase “morally repugnant” a few times in the last week as I’ve been responding to SCOTUS’ shenanigans. Plenty strong of a description, I suppose. But a step or two shy of the word I hear in my head to label these decisions and the misogynist world-view they embody: evil. (Yeah, I went there.)

I’ve been lucky thus far not to have anyone outside of myself pull the tone policing card on my writing. If that had occurred, I’d probably have responded with an explanation of the ways that anger is justifiable, appropriate, and even inevitable in situations that reveal the many injustices of the kyriarchy. To quote Do or Die:

Living in a world that reminds you daily of your lesser worth as a human being can make a person very tired and emotional. When someone says something oppressive . . . it feels like being slapped in the face, to the person on the receiving end. The automatic response is emotion and pain. It’s quite exhausting and difficult to restrain the resulting anger. And, frankly, it’s cruel and ridiculous to expect a person to be calm and polite in response to an act of oppression. Marginalized people often do not have the luxury of emotionally distancing themselves from discussions on their rights and experiences. 

[. . .] Now, I’m not saying it’s okay to be abusive, or oppressive in response to a person who fucks up. But anger is valid. Anger is valid, anger is important, anger brings social change, anger makes people listen, anger is threatening, and anger is passion. Anger is NOT counterproductive; being “nice” is counterproductive. Nobody was ever given rights by politely asking for them. Politeness is nothing but a set of behavioral expectations that is enforced upon marginalized people.

And this is all true to my understanding of the world and of human psychology, and of activism and social justice work.

But a day or two ago, I happened across something that puts even another lens on the occasional necessity of outrage and outraged speech.

If you speak about injustice and privileged people get offended, people will condescendingly explain to you that things are easier to hear if you are nice, and that you are more likely to convince people if you speak to them respectfully.

This is true, and often important to keep in mind – but people who say that to you in a conversation about injustice are usually missing the point.

They’re ignoring something fundamentally important about addressing injustice: Sometimes, the goal is not to convince privileged people to treat others better. Sometimes, the goal is to convince marginalized people that the way they are being treated is unjust and that it’s possible to resist.

Now, I’ll admit to the smallest bit of discomfort about the phraseology around “convincing marginalized people . . . that it’s possible to resist.” Something about it rings a bit too close to “white savior” territory for my liking.

Nonetheless, there’s a piece of this that’s really opening my perspective. What are the ways my writing is for the public (it is in a public forum after all), and what are the ways I am the primary beneficiary of my words? How does my writing help me overcome the habits of self-silencing?  Are there times I’m hoping to change minds and hearts, and other times where I have no expectation to “convert” disbelievers but simply need to sound a rallying cry for myself, my friends, my allies? Or sometimes a paradoxical mixture of both those strands?

What my purpose for writing isn’t an either/or but instead is a plurality, a yes/and?

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Image credit: http://thetonepolice.tumblr.com

The Elephant in the Closet

Who knew my response to Burwell v. Hobby Lobby was going to turn out to be a tetralogy? It’s like I’m channeling Douglas Adams when So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish came out. (pour one out for my homies)

Where was I? Oh yeah, the unexpected tetralogy. The elephant in the closet.

prochoiceMy other posts and link roundups have said a lot about the bad science and reasoning in the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision, about the slippery slope of its implications for other targets of prejudice, and the catastrophic implications of the decision insofar as what it suggests about women’s rights and women’s bodies. But I’ve (unconsciously) sidestepped the hot-button issue at the heart of it all: a woman’s right to have an abortion.

Yes, the Supreme Court precedent of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby is now being used to challenge a women’s reproductive rights right pretty much across the board, but the case started with the dividing line the Green family wished to draw between most contraceptives and the four they (incorrectly) believed to be abortifacients. Yes, that belief is factually incorrect, but it does starkly highlight the moral boundary that the Green family (and many other individuals) wants to live within. “This far, but no farther. Preventing pregnancy is okay, but we will not support abortion.”

I’m sure I could find my usual bouquet of articles to quote and synthesize in that way I do when I’m thinking through an issue and saying my piece about it. But that’s not where my head and heart are at tonight.

Instead, a highlighted link to one single article on A is For by actress Martha Plimpton. It’s a long read, and a rich one — Plimpton interweaves the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision with McCullen v. Coakley in a way I have thus far been unable to do, and uses both of these SCOTUS decisions as backdrop for a longer discussion of the state of, and absolute need for, abortion rights in the country. Rather than trying to summarize it all, I’m just going to recommend you head on over and read it in its entirety. (Content note: the article includes the famous post-mortem image of Gerri Santoro first printed in Ms. Magazine in 1973. Be prepared.)

I’ll just pull one quote over to here:

So many of us seem to have forgotten what life was like before Roe v. Wade, when women were dying in pools of their own blood. Or were being interrogated on hospital gurneys by police while they were bleeding out during a miscarriage. Or being raped by hack abortionists in unlicensed offices. Or needing hysterectomies because of botched illegal abortions. Or having to wait until too late in their terms because they couldn’t get an abortion in time, being forced to abort in filthy, unsafe, terrifying, life-threatening situations.

So many of us are deluded enough to believe—or have been duped into believing—that advances in women’s rights are the result of a curious flight of fancy that some ill-informed, hysterical woman made us think was a good idea for a minute, and not the excruciating reality of life for women before them. “That buffer zone? That was silly!” “That right to terminate a pregnancy? That was just your imagination, you thinking you need that.” “That contraception mandate? Why, you foolish ninny! Who told you you could have that? A LIBERAL? Ha ha! Rights, schmights. Don’t you know your body is public property?” Ridiculous women and their “needs” fucking up everything for all the fun people.

In the Salon piece I quoted a few times yesterday,* Dawn Johnson reminds us that.

The typical American woman wishing to have only two children spends thirty years, three-quarters of her reproductive life, seeking to avoid unintended pregnancy.   Half of all pregnancies in the United States (more than three million a year) are unintended.  More than half of American women will experience an unintended pregnancy.

So you need to be vigilant for a few decades of time, and hope that you don’t end up on the wrong side of those 50-50 odds of  unintended pregnancy.

I was four years old when the Roe v. Wade decision affirmed a woman’s right to have an abortion. I may have a few more years of (hypothetical) reproductive life in these old ovaries, but the basic truth is that for all of my sexual maturity, I have known that I had access to contraception and abortion services if I needed them. Yes, the courts have been chipping away at this right almost since the Roe v. Wade decision was first issued, but the core essence of this right held up for all the years I personally had need of it.

On the other hand, my niece recently turned 18. I don’t know if she’s sexually active yet — and all my over-protective aunt instincts are rising in me to say “I hope she’s not sexually active yet!” But I intellectually understand how, even if she isn’t sexually active right now, she could be soon. Or if she isn’t, she has friends and classmates and future college room-mates who are/will be.

The pace of attacks on abortion rights has only been accelerating in the last few years. Exactly what tattered cloth of choice will my niece and her age cohort be inheriting? They are at the start of those thirty years of reproductive life, and I would guess that most of these young women are starting this journey from the perspective of trying to prevent unwanted pregnancies. But they are doing so when access to contraceptives and abortion services are as difficult, as barrier-laden, and as INaccessible as they have ever been in my lifetime.

What sort of compromised freedom are these young women being forced to inherit? And thirty years from now, will their daughters and nieces have any rights left at all?

* Okay, I’m linking to more than one article. You can take the scholar out of school, but you can’t take schoolish habits out of the scholar…

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Image credit: http://www.gender-focus.com/2013/08/13/my-reality-my-abortion-experience/

 

What Are You So Upset About?

(Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the trilogy. Parts 1 and 2.)

Speaking of things that didn’t take long:

The Supreme Court wasted no time in delivering a message to anyone who thought its Hobby Lobby ruling was limited to religious objections to coverage of purported abortion methods:

You’re wrong.

The day after handing down the Hobby Lobby decision on Monday, the court issued orders pertaining to six pending cases in which employers claimed religious objections to all contraceptive services required under the Affordable Care Act. The court either ordered appeals courts to reconsider their rejection of the employers’ claims in light of the Hobby Lobby decision, or let stand lower courts’ endorsement of those claims.

Or, to put it more succinctly like the editors of the Nation: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Was Right, and We Already Have Proof.

With Tuesday’s orders, the conservative majority has effectively endorsed the idea that religious objections to insurance that covers any form of preventative healthcare for women have merit. . . . The cases that must now be reopened aren’t even based on junk science, just general pious resistance to women’s health services. And at least one of those cases is only tenuously about religious freedom. “I don’t care if the federal government is telling me to buy my employees Jack Daniel’s or birth control,” Michael Potter, the founder of Eden Foods told Irin Carmon. “What gives them the right to tell me that I have to do that? That’s my issue, that’s what I object to, and that’s the beginning and end of the story.” As one judge wrote, “Potter’s ‘deeply held religious beliefs’ more resembled a laissez-faire, anti-government screed.”

jon-stewart-hobby-lobbySo, to take John Stewart one step farther, not only does the sincerely-held-but-factually-innacurate belief of an abstract business entity matter more than the legal and reproductive rights of actual human females, so, too, does the self-serving faux-belief of someone who’s parroting religious language as a justification to deny employees part of their compensation package. (See here for more about the issue of health insurance as earned compensation rather than a piece of corporate largesse.)

It’s enough to make me want to run screaming through the streets. Party on, Amurrica, with your false narratives of Independence Day and freedom, while you light off sticks of brightly colored dynamite. The country will never be free until all its peoples are free and we’ve got a long damn way to go on that score.

But I digress. Ahem. Where  was I? Oh yeah, having a screaming pigtails moment about the lying liars who talk about this case as if it were about religious freedom rather than misogyny. Me and Ann Friedman, both:

There are two competing narratives about the Hobby Lobby case and how big of a deal it is. To hear the all-male Supreme Court majority and many legal analysts tell it, this . . . will result in a minor inconvenience for a small number of women who work for certain employers or have certain insurance plans or wish to use certain forms of contraception. It may not even be about women at all. . . .

Then there’s my own interpretation, . . . most accurately expressed as an outraged scream, sort of a combination groan-wail, issued while beating my fists against the desk on either side of my laptop.

I love the vividness of that description, and how on-point it is for my own sometimes-inarticulate rage around all many layers of awfulness in this decision. And around the casual misogyny of those out in the public I’ve seen supporting the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision as if it’s a good thing.

There’s not enough time left in the evening to try and point-counterpoint everything that could be said about the misogyny at play here, so I will content myself to a few main threads.

One:What are you so upset about? This is just about 4 specific contraceptives!

Except, as the lede above discusses, it took less than 24 hours for the scope of implication to expand well beyond “4 specific contraceptives.” The LA Times refers to 100 pending cases that have been given fresh life with this ruling, while MSNBC links to a list of 149 companies whose cases to limit women’s reproductive freedom  are active and pending somewhere in the court system. Some of these companies and cases object not only to all forms of contraception, but also to any sort of medical counseling about contraception or abortion. To quote the LA Times, “The floodgates aren’t about to open–they’re already open.” (At the risk of being too self-referential, I said much the same last night.)

And, even if it were just about those “4 specific contraceptives,” there would still be something very wrong with this decision. From Salon:

Women choose among available methods of contraception based on a range and a combination of factors that may change over the course of their lives, including their particular life circumstances, health needs, economic resources, and religious and other beliefs.  Contraceptive methods vary dramatically in their effectiveness, which provides another contributing factor in women’s decisions.  Hormonal IUDs can be forty-five times more effective than oral contraceptives and ninety times more effective than male condoms in preventing pregnancy, based on typical use.

Forty-five times and ninety-times more effective, y’all. That is statistically significant, as they say in the research biz. Also, Cynthia Greenlee in The Root explains the various reasons — biological, cultural, societal — that the contraceptive methods specifically targeted by Hobby Lobby are often the best choices for women of color. Meaning that the negative ramifications of the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision are likely to be most painfully felt by women who are doubly marginalized in the kyriarchy, particularly women of color and those of low socio-economic status.

No, that’s not even remotely a little bit surprising. But it’s still appalling. Which brings me to…

Two: “What are you so upset about? Women can choose to work elsewhere!

I love the by-your-bootstraps boner that so many (predominantly white, male) social conservatives have. We all have free choice on everything, it is said, but then every choice has its associated consequences. You can chose to work somewhere that gives you more contraceptive choices, but then you have to sacrifice the more-than-minimum-wage that Hobby Lobby pays its employees. Or, you can take the higher salary but then you have to live with the paternalistic reproductive oversight of an abstract business entity that has more legal rights than you do as a living, breathing woman.*

An in an abstract, college-freshman Philosophy 101 kind of way, there is some sliver of truth there. We all have choices, and choices have consequences. But to my eyes, this abstracted notion of choice gets very messy once you have to confront the fact that in the really real lived world, it is marginalized (and multiply marginalized) individuals who more frequently face hard choices or have to feel the most devastating consequences of those hard choices. To return to NY Mag:

This idea — that women can always find another way to get the coverage or care they need — underpins just about every recent restriction on women’s health. What’s another 24-hour mandatory abortion waiting period? To a woman who lives 25 miles from the nearest provider, it’s everything. What’s one more tweak to a law about the width of clinic doors? To a clinic that can’t afford to remodel, it’s everything. What’s a minor policy change that means you have to pay full price for that IUD? To a woman who makes $14 an hour, it’s everything.

A choice isn’t really a choice when you can’t find another job, or when it’s the end of the month and the checking account is empty and the morning-after pill costs $50 without insurance, or when the only approved birth control methods won’t work for you. For decades, activists have invoked a woman’s “right to choose” — choose when it’s the right time for her to have children and when it’s not, and to choose which contraceptive method to use in the meantime. In theory, women are still allowed to make these choices in America. In practice, though, to choose you must have options. Health insurance is one of the things that guarantees options and access. Freedom, as the conservatives say, isn’t free. For a choice to be a true choice and not a default, sometimes we have to subsidize it.

Salon makes much the same point:

Almost one-third of women report that they would change their choice of contraceptive method if cost were not a factor.  That’s tens of millions of women. . . . Especially for women of limited economic means – like the full-time minimum wage worker to whom Justice Ginsburg referred who cannot possibly afford a month’s salary for an IUD – the religious views of their bosses (or the bosses of their spouse or parent) may now trump their own religious beliefs, as well as needs that flow from their own health, family, and life circumstances. . . . Justices and their families, one expects, will not struggle with the choice between an IUD or new shoes and a winter coat for their children.  Or confront the inability to purchase any of the above.  But thanks to the Court’s ruling, more women are likely to experience such harms – at least unless and until the other branches of our government act to protect women from the imposition of their bosses’ religious beliefs.

(Quick word nerd sidebar. Isn’t it just so fun when legal and social positions that are all about restricting women’s choices and freedoms get couched in the language of “Everyone has choices”?!? More screaming pigtails for me.)

And speaking of choices, let’s move right along to my third and final thread, before I run out of gas.

Three: “What are you so upset about? Just keep your legs closed!

Ah yes, here’s the final nail in the choice-consequence coffin. Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and its limiting of contraceptive options is to be praised because it means that immoral women will no longer be able to indulge in the sin of consequence-free sex.

Lest you think the phrasing in my header there is offensively overwrought, check out this piece over at Cosmopolitan** which excerpts many, many offensive comments and tweets that say things exactly as rude as “just keep your legs closed” — and many, many ruder things besides.

Demanding that women close our legs and calling us whores for planning our pregnancies confirms the feminist suspicion that opposition to contraception and abortion is less about “life” than it is about a sense that sexually active women are doing something wrong and should be chastened for it. . . .

For women, having an opinion on the Internet virtually guarantees you’ll face abuse, often the sexualized kind. But it’s especially rich seeing misogynist and sexually hostile commentary come from the very people who claim women are just being hysterical when we characterize the Hobby Lobby case as misogynist and hostile to sex.

If nothing else, the virulence of this rhetoric helps ensure the misogyny and retrograde societal values at play show through whatever veneers are being used as covering. To return one last time to Ann Friedman in NY Mag:

My rights feel very much scare-quoted — not rights at all, but a veneer of choice. The medical care that is critical to my ability to live and work — and, yeah, have consequence-free sex — was dismissed by the Supreme Court as relatively unimportant. . . . You don’t choose to need a liter of new blood. You do, however, choose to have sex — if you’re a woman. And so contraception, the majority of justices say, is different. The implication is that women can freely choose to either abstain from sex or have lots of children, which most of us understand is not a choice at all.

Or, as my friend Alice Isak observed: “You women, with your slutty, slutty bodies. Always thinking you should get to use those bodies as you see fit, just because you happened to be born in them!”

So, given all of this, is it okay for me to upset now?

Oh never mind, I don’t need anyone’s permission: I’m upset. More than than, I’m justifiably outraged.

* Yeah, I’m repeating myself. That’s ‘cos the stupidity of this detail especially pisses me off. To quote John Oliver’s response to the question of whether corporations are people who can exercise their religious rights, “No, no they’re not. Okay, we’re done. Are we done here? Are we done? I feel like we’re done. . . . Apparently, we’re not done.”

** Okay, I will betray my own prejudices here in saying 1) I never thought I’d be linking to anything from Cosmo, and 2) if Cosmo is deconstructing and analyzing the misogyny in something, then that something is pretty epically fuckin’ misogynistic.

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Image credit: http://mediamattersforamerica.tumblr.com/post/80883909916/jon-stewart-gets-this-totally-right-hobby-lobby