Mouse rant blog vent mouse.

Saturday, July 31, 2004

Maybe this is part of the inclusiveness thing

BushCo demanded that a photographer provide information about her racial identity before she could photograph the constantly constipated Dick Cheney. Apparently, her name didn't sound Anglo enough or something.
But hey, let's give them the benefit of the doubt. Sure, they are clearly a bunch of fucking racists. But maybe they are racists who are trying to be better people and they thought that if everyone would be kind enough to break down their racial heritage before meeting the President or the Vice President, they would be better equipped to "tolerate" all this strange diversity better.
Nah, they are just mean bigots.

Baby bumps?

I had never heard the expression "baby bumps" until I read this Salon story about the recent obsession with celebrity pregnancies. No one says "baby bumps", do they? Usually, the word "belly" will suffice--odds are that when you're speaking about a woman's pregnant belly, the person you're speaking to already knows she is pregnant. "Baby bumps" is the kind of cloying nonsense that makes me want to buy People Magazine and use it for toilet paper.
But once I got over the fingernails on chalkboard reaction I had to the term "baby bumps", I had even more to get irritated about. The question this article tries to answer is, "Why is there a recent onslaught of pregnant women all over the gossip rags?" The answer seems clear to me--we're in the midst of a media backlash against women, and just as celebrities are used to make the rest of us feel not attractive enough, not rich enough, and not talented enough, they are now being used to make women feel not pregnant enough. It's the logical extension of the nauseating Super Mommy interviews with celebrity moms that Susan Douglas and Meredith Michaels mock mercilessly in The Mommy Myth. You know the articles. They're the ones where the talented and beautiful actress cradles her perfect baby and claims that nothing in the world is more wonderful than motherhood, that it's pure ectasy all the time. Lesson: if you don't want to be a mommy more than anything in the world and/or if you don't love every minute of it, then you are doing something wrong.
The onslaught of stories about how much celebrity women love being pregnant fits quite nicely into news cycles that are trendy right now. Young brides are adored in the gossip rags more than ever. Scare stories that push down the age at which women can consider themselves fertile get headlines. (Remember how not that long ago, we were all warned that if you have passed 27 without having a baby, you're taking a huge risk? I'm turning 27 in a month and I still get zits. Don't tell me I'm entering menopause.) And, as this story points out, that Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt haven't started making babies yet is considered scandalous, as if there's something really unusual about a couple who wishes to be alone together for a few years before they start expanding the family. The message that they are sending out to an audience that is presumably mostly female is loud and clear. Girls, remember, while it's fun to put on fancy clothes and play at a career (like, say, actress), don't forget that your true calling is marriage and motherhood.
That sort of analysis is strenously ignored in this article. The writer only barely touches on it towards the end of page three, with a couple of sentences complaining about the requiste statements that the new celebrity mom makes about how being a mom is all-consuming and all-satisfying. But before the feminism gets all out of control, she returns to her main thesis, which is that the pregnancy stories are well-liked because women are catty and like to see beautiful stars get fat like normal women.
It's strange that this would be her theory, because the entire fourth page of the article pretty much refutes the idea that female readers are using pregnancy to cut celebrities down to size, since it's all about how pregnant celebrities are usually portrayed as radiant and sexy, far beyond what mere mortal women can pull off, especially while pregnant. If the readers really liked the pregnancy stories because they want to see Gwyneth Paltrow get fat and develop varicose veins, why on earth would they pick up a magazine that emphasizes pictures of how gorgeous she looks while pregnant?
But if I'm right, and the whole pregnant celebrity thing is just more of the same old True Womanhood crap, then the image of the radiant pregnant celebrity makes perfect sense. It's all about making pregnancy as appealing as possible while also setting up impossible standards for the readership to aspire to. They have a good reason to hype the idea that pregnancy is sexy. The woman's media has pushed the idea that a woman's primary goal in life should be as sexually attractive as possible for a long time now. By doing that, though, motherhood got seriously de-emphasized in the big money women's media, since getting pregnant is contrary to the sexy-at-all-times message. This is nothing more than trying to tie sexiness and motherhood together and thereby get a better grip on the female audience's attention.
The question of course is why? Why is there such a full-on press for women to be both sexy and perfect mothers, the younger the better? Are marketers evil people who are conspiring to hurt women? Of course not. They are trying to turn a buck and they are just as lazy as the rest of us. Women spend more money than men, so they are bound to get more marketing attention paid to them. I have no doubt that marketers long for the days when they could address all women with domestic imagery, as it made their jobs much easier. But now the market is fragmented. They can't assume as they used to that single and/or childless women would respond to domestic imagery with longing, and they probably have good reason to believe that married women and/or women with children don't respond to the constant onslaught of images of impossibly sexy single women. And, to make it more complicated, women jump around from one demographic to another. A loyal Cosmo reader of 3 years ago might have lost interest when she got married and had a baby, but that doesn't mean that she picked up a Ladies Home Journal subscription instead. Marketers have a good deal of interest in creating a single feminine idea that speaks to the insecurities of as many women as possible all at once, which in turn, keeps them buying the magazines and the products they advertise.
Enter the Sexy Celebrity Mom, a combination of the standard Good Mother imagery from Ladies Home Journal and the Sex Object imagery from Cosmo. The Sexy Celebrity Mom loves babies and being domestic, but she also knows that just because she's married and a mother (or mother-to-be) doesn't mean that she can relax a little in the man-pleasing department. Male sexual attention is difficult to get and hang onto (at least in the advertising world), and so it's doubly important to be well-dressed, well-waxed, and well-made up when you are pregnant. All favorite female anxieties are addressed in one fell swoop.

Friday, July 30, 2004

Friday show recommendations

The very thing you don't come to Mouse Words to see--what I think is going on this weekend in Austin that's worth checking out. Nonetheless, they've stuck me at the front desk again, I'm bored, and so here you go.
There are too many things to do tonight. I haven't decided what shows to go to, but I know I'll probably be spending way too much money. First off, a great and very weird band called Skeleton Key is playing Emo's, closing the show on the inside stage I do believe. If you're going to Emo's, they are much cooler than I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness. (My friends and I keep threatening to start our own emo band called I Went To The Store, But It Was Closed.) All night tonight at Room 710 is a benefit to raise money for a safe ride program in honor of a man named Handsome Joel who was killed by a drunk driver nearly two years ago. Playing are Honky, the Lower Class Brats, and the Dickens. At Headhunter's, Amplified Heat is closing the show. If you haven't seen these guys, do--they rule, they are just fantastic.

Friday cat blogging

The theme of today's cat blog is love, as you can see.

That, or the theme is that my bed gets made pretty much only when I change the sheets. However you'd like to see it. Posted by Hello

When a fetus is a citizen, but the mother is not

Through Echidne, we find that some lawyers are trying to use the Unborn Victims of Violence Act to argue that a fetus conceived inside the United States has equal protection rights and that the container, I mean mother, should be allowed back to the U.S. for care. Not for her health, of course, but for her all-American fetus.
I sympathize with her and her family for trying every trick in the book to get her the best care possible, of course.
But if we really truly are going to redefine the beginning of human life to conception, we are going to have some serious problems. Already, there are people who think that a baby's birth is a film-worthy event. We don't want to encourage them to film the conception.

The wingnut carnival in Crawford, TX

The wingnuts and liberal supporters descended on Crawford, TX for the screening of Fahrenheit 9/11. Our student newspaper, The Daily Texan, sent a reporter, who wrote it up somewhat like Man vs. the Wingnuts.
Enjoy the photo of the young lady holding a sign accusing Michael Moore of profiteering. Presumably, she will be voting the Bush/Cheney ticket, since neither of them has any financial interest in any companies that might be making money off the war in Iraq. Especially not Cheney and Halliburton.

Liberal agitator Will Ferrell

Here's fake Bush commercial starring Will Ferrell. Enjoy!

Putting on a show

   Apparently, the discussion at Feministing about Amy Richards' story is still going on--it's very interesting.  I was particularly interested in what Katha Pollitt had to say about past laws that required women to put on a song and dance to get an abortion:

   Back in the 1960s, before Roe v Wade, some states experimented with partial legalization. There were hospital panels, and pregnant women made their case. it was a very humiliating experience. For example, sane women had to say they were insane. Sometimes women who got their abortions had to consent to be sterilized--there were male doctors on those panels who really enjoyed their power over women. --Katha Pollitt
   I have pointed out before, I but I guess it bears repeating, that the issue at hand is enforcing proper female behavior.  As Pollitt points out in this thread, there is a standard abortion story where a woman makes her case as "deserving" an abortion because she still lives up to the proper standard--self-effacing, wanting motherhood above all, self-sacrificing and a victim of forces beyond her control.  Richards is in charge of her life, see motherhood as just part, not all of her life, and isn't going to apologize for it.  If you force some kind of self-sacrficing statements by law or by social custom, you'll get a bunch of lies.
   Of course, some people push for the lies and some are pushing for female silence:

   Again, if this is so problematic and complicated and the choice should be left up to a woman, why write about this? We wouldn't even be debating about this if it weren't being offered up for public inspection. I agree motivations are none of our business, or the state's business, so why explain about them?...I don't wonder about her motivation for the abortions, I wonder why she thought writing about this would help the majority of women. Especially when she immediately put down large numbers of women who have chosen to stay home and raise their children, shop at Costco, and even buy -god forbid- mayonaise. She made a mistake using sarcasm on such a serious subject matter.  --Lisa
   The only acceptable reasons for speaking out are to praise others or portray yourself as self-sacrificing, apparently.  Otherwise, the proper feminine stance is silence.   If your story cannot function to either praise others or help others, there is no reason to tell it.  I can only imagine how many stories by male writers would be shut down if that was the standard.  Goodness, magazines would have no text at all.
   Some people keep working the assumption that mandatory counseling could be a positive thing, if run properly. 

   If mandatory counseling weren't run by those opposed to abortion, would you see some value in it? I am reading more and more about women who do regret their abortions. If mandatory counseling, again, by those who are not opposed to abortion, were to run it, could you see that as at least lessening those who later come to rue their decision (and in some cases turn into solid pro-lifers, not like me, sort of quasi where the heck am I people?) --Rachel Ann

   I think that's a good idea. i also think group discussion among patients is a good idea -- a lot of women think their abortion is justified but other women are just sluts. I think it's good for women to articulate to themselves what they are doing -- that way, they will be less likely later to deny their agency. --Katha Pollitt
   I find it interesting that people only cough up the idea of mandatory counseling when the decision is outside the preferred female mode of behavior (in this case, welcoming all pregnancies with open arms).  No one will ever suggest that women who want their babies go into immediate counseling so they also know what they are signing up for--though that's not a bad idea, really.  But since counseling is still tied to the notion that there's something wrong with you mentally in this country, it's not realistic to expect that forced counseling will come off as anything but demanding that women justify themselves when they want an abortion.  I know how I would feel if I was forced into counseling to get an abortion.  I'd be angry that they thought that I was some dumb bitch who couldn't think through things for myself.  Pollitt addresses that, too, that it's just a way to infantilize women.

   Read the whole thing, it's interesting.

   Feministe has some great thoughts on the discussion well worth reading, too. 

Kerry's speech last night

   He played to his strength, which is his no-nonsense attitude.  I mean, of course he had the nonsense that politicians spout in their speeches, but surprisingly little of it.  After it ended, my boyfriend, who hadn't really had a chance to hear Kerry speak at length, like most of the country, said that he really appreciated not being spoken down to, not being bombarded with sentimental crap.  Kerry spoke to the audience like they were adults who would appreciate what he had to offer.  The little shout-out thing at the end didn't work--that's not Kerry's strength. 
   I love that he defended his wife.  Real men don't need sniveling cowards for wives to look like real men.  I love that he addressed their children as "ours"--that reflects the real family values in America today, a willingness to take on stepchildren as your own.  These are going to be things that the right wing attacks Kerry on--that his wife isn't mealy-mouthed, that their marriage, which is like more marriages nowadays than not, is weird somehow.  I hope people don't buy that crap. 
   He stayed on message about his service record. If anything is going to bring voters over, that will be it.  He didn't shy away from the xenophobic slurs that are thrown at him, instead reminding people that a President who can deal with foreign countries dipolomatically is a plus, not a minus.  I don't think there's that many who would truly disagree with that.  Overall, a great speech.

   Did anyone else see the great takedown "The Daily Show" did on the racist media response to Al Sharpton's speech?  Hilarious.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Partisanship takes a very, very strange turn

   This morning, listening to the raunchy morning DJ's de Austin, TX I heard one of the oddest arguments yet.  The local DJ is outspoken against Bush, which apparently is causing much vitriol in his direction.  Randomly this morning, he mentioned that he thought that Kerry's daughter is a good-looking woman.  He wasn't even particulalry morning DJ nasty about it, just mentioned it in passing.
   And he got phone calls!  Defending the hotness of the Bush daughters!  WTF?!
   Despite the opinions of Ann Coulter, etc. I will go out on a limb and say that I think there are good-looking members of both parties.

Take a Prozac

   That's the new Republican advice for the crappy job blues. 

   Too bad one of the things that makes a job crappy is not having health insurance to cover that Prozac. 

   But hey, there's always alcohol.

Via Atrios.

Threatening dildos banned in Alabama

  The federal courts okayed a ban that can only be understood when you consider that your average dildo is probably 8-9" long whereas the average penis au natural is 6" long.
   Meanwhile, the supposed inadequacies of women are still dealt with by putting women under the knife. 
  Normal people continue to mate despite the prevalence of dildos and the refusal of many women to even consider plastic surgery.

Via Wonkette.

Liquid condom?

   While I'm all up for new methods of birth control, this just seems screwy to me.  Even if the liquid condom works, the sales pitch is just off:

In the meantime, Traylor, who runs his own Denver marketing firm, has his sales pitch down pat. "It adds the fun back into the sex act," he says of his invention.
   Since it was such a tedious bore before, you know. 

   I'm not going to even address the ridiculousness of the sexual assault charges in Colorado being chalked up to "shenanigans".  If you think that's all this is about, you deserve to have liquid condom bits stuck to your genitals.

Reminder: People who don't make money don't spend money

   It's common wisdom in the upper echelons of Corporate America that the little people shouldn't get paid squat because they don't deserve squat because they only contribute the labor and stuff that makes businesses money. 
   Well, the little people do more for corporations than simply contribute hard work for crappy pay.  They also spend money on things many corporations sell, keeping them in business.  However, if the little people don't make money, they don't spend it.  Don't believe me?  Well, Wal-Mart is feeling the pinch
   The irony is that Wal-Mart has been actively trying to push down wages and drive people out of real jobs so they can be dinky part-time Wal-Mart employees for a long time now.  They've been extremely successful at this.  I just hope for their sake that the long-term plan really was to lower the number of people who can afford to shop at Wal-Mart so low that they run out of business. 

Easy listening continues to haunt us

   In all the debates that have blown up lately over abortion rights, one thing has really surprised me--how many men are neither pro-choice nor pro-life but more strictly anti-women's rights.  I was under the impression that the pro-life movement had wooed most of the men who had a problem with women's rights over to their side, since they offer the ready-made excuse:  No, we're not against women's rights, this is about saving babies!  (Anti-feminists that are fighting wage equality have the same type of excuse--claim you're all for equal pay for equal work and then fight to keep women out of higher-paying jobs.)
   But the inherent problem with the pro-life stance is that if abortion is made illegal, men cannot take advantage of it as easily.  After all, if a woman wants an abortion and her boyfriend wants one too, then he's getting punished for having sex too!  I've always wondered how men who were "pro-life" dealt with that problem.  Some really are pro-life and they figure they'll just suck it up and take care of babies they didn't want.  And of course, there are the hypocrites that are well-represented in leadership positions in the right who decry abortion in public knowing that even if it's illegal they will be able to pay for it if need be. 
   For everyone else, there is a hole.  And I've learned what's filling it up these past few days--a hazy concept of men's rights.  The idea is that if a man impregnates a woman, he has a right to tell her what to do with it.  You can see examples here and here.  The logic is that since any child born is half the father's responsibility, he has 50% ownership rights to the pregnancy, which only seems to mean that men have total veto power over a woman's right to an abortion.  It's not really more complex than that; the legalistic crap is all to obscure the question of what to do when a woman wants one thing and her man wants another.

   Thinking about all this, I've decided to blame Paul Anka.  Not only is "Having My Baby" probably the worst song ever written, it reinforced the most unscientific belief that men make babies and women just carry them.  We can only be grateful that he didn't decide to make the song part of a series explicating the number of situations where, out of sheer feminine love of men, women do the work that men will be laying claim to.  Think of the horror if he had--"Making My Dinner", "Cleaning My House", "Raising My Children".  Well, for one thing, karaoke sure as hell would not be nearly as fun.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Too much bride for just one cake

   From Roy Edroso, we have the pleasure of Stephen Moore declaring Boston to be the new Evil Liberal City.  (When, oh when, will it be Austin's turn?)  And from his rant, we get the pleasure of finding out that yes, the evidence that same-sex marriage is ruining life as we know it is finally in:

   Don't be fooled by the spinmeisters. These people are not middle America. When you go into the bakeries, you can actually purchase wedding cakes with two brides on the top.
   Clearly, life as we know it will never be the same.
   He then gives us a list of the most evil people in the world, all gathered into Boston, the Gates of Hell--trial lawyers (how dare they hold corporations accountable for their actions!), school teachers (how dare they teach your children to read!), politicians (since the Republican party has none of those), college students who use financial aid (only the rich should get a college education), and a lobbyist (since the Republican party's non-politicians never speak to lobbyists).  We then learn that all liberals are Red Sox fans and there is something called a drive-by abortion.
   The good news is that he says that Kerry won't actually push forward the Republican-lite economic policies that Clinton did and the progressives in the Democratic party hate.  And this means that we shouldn't vote for him because? 

Keeping Teresa Heinz Kerry under control

   Now, why would someone want to do that?  Well, some people wish that her husband's handlers would, at least according to Joe Conason

"Who’s in charge of keeping her on message?" demanded David Broder of The Washington Post.
   If you wonder why John Kerry doesn't care if his wife tells a reporter for a Scaife rag to shove it (besides the obvious--that he doesn't care to control what she says), the rest of the article makes it very clear.  Scaife has spent his money in part to smear Kerry and his wife and mock their relationship.  I'd tell him and his people to shove it, too.

Dating--it's ugly work, but someone's got to do it

   Dating is awful, but it's only the second worst thing compared to being single.  That's MSN's advice to this young lady who has "prioritized" dating but has not yet managed to get someone to marry her.  Indeed, finding a husband in this economy is almost as hard as finding full-time work.  And finding a husband who has full-time work--forget about it.

   You name it, I've tried it! I joined not one, but two online dating sites. I've tried speed dating. I've hired a matchmaker. I asked my friends to fix me up. I went on a "singles cruise" to Mexico. I joined two local singles groups (a volleyball league and a hiking club) and participated in several outings with them. I have been on more blind dates than I can count. The result? Nothing. A few nice evenings here and there, but mostly it has all been futile. I feel that I have tried everything and I just didn't meet that one special person to spend my life with. At what point should I just give up?
   I have no idea what she means by "give up".  When you give up dating, does that mean that you turn down every guy who asks you out, no matter how much you like him?  Or does it mean just giving up with the matchmaker sites, etc.? 
   I think they faked this letter.  This woman claims that she has been trying for an entire year and hasn't yet found someone to marry.  Who thinks that dating works like this, that you set aside a year of your life, find someone, marry him, and then voila!  It's done.  If this is a real person, she is setting herself up for some serious disappointment, because even if she finds that magical being "The One", she will find that her work isn't done.  You know, relationships take work, blah blah blah. 
   The advice that she gives--what can I say?  Brillance.

   I see only two options: give up or keep trying. If you truly want to find a man with whom you can happily spend the rest of your life, then the answer is obvious. You have to keep trying. Yes, at its worst, the search for a wonderful mate can be frustrating, time consuming, lonely, painful, and/or heart-breaking ... but it is a means to an end. You endure it because the end result is worth it.
   You too can achieve the holy grail of someone who feels comfortable farting in front of you.  Why would you want to give up?
   The columnist then compares dating to pregnancy and childbirth.  I'm not kidding.

   I am reminded of pregnancy and child-birth as I write this. As the mother of three children, I endured (collectively) 27 months of nausea and discomfort being pregnant, several months of bed-rest, plus 3 severely painful deliveries ... all because I wanted to have children. And do you know what? I could barely remember that pain once they were born.
   Okay, we've all had bad dates that felt like they went on for 27 months, but I think this is a little extreme.  After all, you can't drink during pregnancy, and in dating, it's practically a requirement. 
   Maybe she means that in order to catch a man, you need to make like you have morning sickness and throw up alot.  Or maybe she just means that dating involves lots of bed rest, which is something that I can totally agree with.
   She then proposes that the young lady approach dating like it's a business project of sorts.

   You need a plan. If you've joined two online dating services so far, pick a third now. Get feedback from friends about your online profile to make sure it's effective. You've tried speed dating? Try it again, and try a few different agencies. You've joined two local singles groups? Pick two others to join now, perhaps something totally different than sports-related groups (how about a church group or a wine-tasting club?). You've asked all your friends for fix-ups? Ask them again, ask your work colleagues, ask your neighbors, and even ask your great-aunt Mildred.
   Forget aunt Millie!  She's always holding out on all the good young men she knows.  It's like pulling teeth getting a recommendation from her.  But work colleagues are a great idea--god knows how much people appreciate being bugged to cough up phone numbers of single friends, especially when they are at work.  And don't forget to treat your dates like you are interviewing them for a job!  People love that, you know.

   There is no such thing as "having tried it all" in the love business — you need to forge ahead, keep your chin up, and try again. After all, you know the alternative.
   The alternative is the mail-order bride sites.  But you shouldn't resort to that unless you haven't managed to get married in two whole years.

Rachel Greenwald, M.B.A., is the author of The New York Times Best Selling book Find a Husband After 35 Using What I Learned at Harvard Business School.

   I didn't know that they were teaching that husband-finding course at Harvard.  I guess they thought it was appropriate after they were forced to go co-ed. 
   Anyway, I am looking forward to Greenwald's next book instructing men over 35 how to find wives.  Presumably, the first piece of advice is not at the Harvard MBA program, which is only 35% female

Is the rhetoric on the left really as inflammatory?

   I'm listening to Air America, and a caller just came on to say that he thinks that they are just as bad as their counterparts on the right with the yelling and insulting and rudeness, etc.
   They sat there politely and listened to him.  When they tried to reply him, he tried to get off the phone and didn't want to discuss what he just said. 
   Indeed, we are just as bad.

Random thought about bloggers

Well, one thing is for sure--since the Democratic Convention is first, all the "Wow, bloggers are at a national convention" stories will be featuring liberal bloggers.  By the time the Republican Convention comes around, the blogging story will have burned itself out, and right-wing bloggers won't get a comparable boost from the national media. 

Tuesday, July 27, 2004


   August Pollak clarifies his position on the pro-choice T-shirt.  Others who have really solid feminist understanding have concurred.  I am forced to rethink how strongly I came across supporting the T-shirt.
   My initial opinion was formed of two very strong opinions that I hold very dearly.  1)  Subversive messages require subversive media and 2) The pressure on women to hide their sexual/reproductive histories is so strong that it causes almost complete breakdown of communication between women. 
   Point one is pretty important.  Despite the great hopes of many cultural critics, subversive messages require subversive media.  Point to a mainstream medium that has forwarded a subversive message, and I can guarantee you they are echoing/ripping off a subversive artist or journalist.  The only way to get your message across in the mainstream media is to subvert their methods without their knowledge, an increasingly difficult task.  Subverting mainstream media by introducing subversive messages through the prism of other media is the duty of media pranksters, and there are some pretty great ones they've pulled off.  
   The other point is that women are isolated from each other to such a strong degree that outreach of any sort is an uphill battle.  This is something that is particularly difficult for liberal and especially feminist writers and activists to understand, since we tend to keep in touch with each other.  I see that completely understandable prejudice working in Pollak's post:

As far as "other options to advertise that women do this and are not alone" I can think of countless alternative ideas right off the top of my head. Websites. Advocacy campaigns. An infinite number of different messages. Jesus- what would be a better message to say women aren't alone? How about making the shirt say "You're not alone" with the Planned Parenthood logo? "We're here to help?" "I support your choice?" Anything else?
  I am not in this to fisk a blogger I like a lot, but I think it's critical for better understanding.  Let's try to imagine what it's like for a woman who isn't a feminist activist or writer who is nonetheless pregnant and doesn't want to be.  Other ideas.  Websites--Google "abortion" and see what you get--well, you get a bunch of cleverly disguised pro-life sites.  (See what I'm saying about how subversive messages need subversive media?)  Advocacy campaigns counter-acted by advocacy campaigns that openly push evocative stereotypes that we cannot counter by publicizing obvious antidotes to those stereotypes because it's too in-your-face.  T-shirts that say, "You're not alone?" or any other messages are not good at counteracting stereotypes.
   Think about it--you have been told your whole life that only sluts (or lower-class women) get abortions.  Despite your best efforts at contraception, you get pregnant by your long-term boyfriend.  How is "You're not alone" going to speak to you?  Even women who aren't super well-educated aren't dumb--if that woman wearing that shirt looks like a "good" woman, all that says is that she supports you getting an abortion.  Nothing about that says that she, yes, even she the golden girl, has had an abortion. 
   Those stereotypes are powerful.  Tonight a couple of really, really smart women I know who are completely pro-choice were repeating stereotypes about women who use abortion as a primary method of birth control.  When I challenged them, and pointed out that it's a myth that most women who have them are hardly relying on them as contraception, they just ran over me.  Some women do it--they have abortions 3, 4 times a year.  I didn't know what to say, except to lamely say that it's silly to blow a rarity out of proportion and that anyone who knows anyone who has had an abortion should know that it's not something that anyone would choose as a birth control method, but that fell on deaf ears.  These are women who have tons of friends who have had abortions, and they still cough up these stereotypes.
   Imagine women who don't move in circles that generally support that choice, or even women's sexual expression at all.  And that's more women than not in this country. 
   I'm not saying that T-shirt can fix this problem.  But what subversive media does better than anything is reaching out to audiences who otherwise have no access to that message, often because the authorities in their lives forbid it.  I cannot myself imagine where I would be if my friends and I hadn't spent our teenage years listening to music, snatches of life on the outside we would find one day when we were set free.  It didn't take much for us.  For a woman who is pregnant and desperate not to be, it may not take all that much to convince her that yes, good women do it.

I have a Texas accent

   I'll admit it.  I drawl a little bit, though not much.  I speak quickly for a Texan, but that's a personality thing that doesn't necessarily come across in other parts of the country.  Southern accents are handled strangely by the mass media; they are either charming or a sign of ignorance depending on the circumstances.  They are almost never a matter-of-fact issue. 
   Mark at Language Log deals charitably with what seems like really prejudiced assessments of certain accents by a Christie Vilsack, who is speaking at the Democratic Convention tonight.  She kind of implies that Southerners all sound drunk:

"When I ask for directions, I can't understand the slurred speech of southern Americans, who are so polite and eager to please," Vilsack said.
   Gracious be!  Okay, kidding.  Texans actually don't have the stereotypical heavy drawl of Southerners, ours is more lilting and we enunciate pretty clearly.  Still, the stereotype of the ignorant Texan has so much power that people I know who have pretty solid accents themselves cringe when the Shrub demonstrates how much he can sound like a good ol' boy from Midland.  "He makes us sound so ignorant!" people will say.  I mostly just scoff--his accent is way too thick, he's playing it up for votes.
   But the accent I defend.  There is nothing wrong with having a Texas accent--we rule, what's the problem?  Anyone who considers our accents to be a sign of ignorance is ignorant himself.
   Texas accents are one of the fetishized ones, either being adored or castigated.  Whenever I leave the state, my accent draws attention that is generally positive.  And often highly sexualized.  Apparently, some men have a "thing" for a woman who says "y'all" and "fixin' ta".  Sometimes I do wonder if men realize that they are just as likely to meet the brassy Texas broad as they are the humble, Laura Bush-type, but then I feel mean.  Of course they like the brassy Texas broad--who doesn't?  Texas men don't do so well.  They are stereotyped as rednecks, and the Shrub's endless photo-opping only reinforces this stereotype.  I can assure you that Texas men are no more or no less dumb or mean than men anywhere else.  That is to say, you get your assholes and your nice ones. 
   We're fine the way we are--pick on our laws, our politics, whatever, but leave the accent alone.  And I feel the same about New Jersey and all the other places and people that are stereotyped because of their dialect.  If we all sounded the same, it would be perfectly boring.  People fret all the time that TV is somehow ruining our localistic cultures.  One of the best ways to support local cultures is to celebrate, not denigrate the diverse accents.


   That's the sound of my temper when I read this in Feministing

   I can barely pop off an angry rant about this.

   The fact of the matter is that the line between activist/artist/writer/worker/ordinary person is not so cut and dry.  Richards is a feminist activist AND she is a professional writer AND a person who chose selective reduction for personal reasons.  None of these invalidate any of these other facts.

   As Jessica at  Feministing points out, this is a deliberate attempt to invalidate Richards's experience; the implication is that because she is a feminist activist that she doesn't experience things like "real" women do.  The ugly fact of the matter is that by choosing  to tell your story about anything that society wants women to shut up about, you are automatically an activist.  Had they dug up a "real" woman (one who made a choice as if she lived in a vaccum, unaffected by feminism), that woman would have still become a feminist activist for speaking out. 
   Make no mistake, the word "feminist" is an insult because the very act of a woman being honest and speaking out is inflammatory.

Driving the teen pregnancy rate down

   In all the ferocious debate about how to teach kids about sex, with driving the teenage pregnancy rate being the goal of all sides, it's forgotten often that girls who get pregnant in high school often do so with that goal in mind.  All the condoms and/or save it for marriage education in the world isn't going to get through to girls who have it in their heads that they need to be having a baby now.  With that in mind, an interesting post from Avery Tooley, and a right on target quote:

People who can't see the future get caught up in the present.  The pregnancy rates among girls who had solid plans for the future were significantly lower, as was the age of first intercourse.  Obviously, anybody who's active can get pregnant, and sometimes it happens to the girls who have the most to lose, but more often than not,  the girls who are already struggling to see tomorrow wind up with babies today.  I think lack of vision is clearly the culprit here, because not only do the girls fail to see the benefits of forestalling their activity, they fail to see the consequences of having a baby.

   The pregnancy rate has been on a steady decline for decades, and a lot of that is attributable to better education and birth control methods.  But what we neglect is that the teenage pregnancy rate has been going down at the same time there has been a full-on press to teach girls that they have a life ahead of them that is about more than marriage/motherhood.  I went to high school in a small West Texas town where there was a lot of poverty and a huge amount of the students sat around bored, frustrated with having to go to high school when they had a good reason to think education wouldn't translate into a more exciting life or better career.  Girls in particular had nothing to look forward to.  The thinking on waiting to have babies was that it was pointless to wait.  What are you waiting for, after all? 
   Not that all the girls had this mindset by any stretch.  I joke that I grew up in 1957, but the truth is that despite heavy resistance to Title IX, much of the attitude behind it had leaked in.  There was plenty of support to be had if you joined athletics or academic extracurricular activities.  And while the number of girls being seriously prepared for college should have been higher, those who were on the college track were expected to do well and take pride in themselves.  Even for us dumb high school kids, it was easy to notice that girls who the community invested in didn't get pregnant (or if they did, you didn't find out).  I'm fairly certain that the Golden Kids, as I jokingly called the ones who were in college-track classes and extracurricular activities who the teachers all talked about, had sex as much as the more invisible kids.  Golden Kids just had a future that a baby would interfere with.
   The solution to the problem is right under our noses--quit treating some girls like they're nobodies and they might quit having babies to prove that they're somebody to someone.

Via P6.

Ugly--it's all a matter of scale

   BlondeSense gives Ann Coulter hell for comparing her looks favorably to Democratic women at the convention.  I am unsure what convention that Coulter went to, myself, but she seems to have missed the one that I was watching on TV that had a huge variety of people in the crowd, what with the old and young, pretty and not. 
   Out of all the ridiculous stereotypes the right likes to trot out about liberal women, that they are ugly always makes me laugh in astonishment.  Does anyone actually believe this?  Anyone?  During the March for Women's Lives it was downright inspiring to see some right-wingers strain themselves to ignore great beauties who were marching like Cybil Shepard and Ashley Judd.  Or is it just that nothing is uglier than a woman who believes in herself?  

The Democratic Convention

   I watched some of it last night, switching between C-SPAN and PBS, depending on which was more irritating--David Brooks or some of the gooby entertainments that are just a natural part of political events.  My bedtime is early, so I missed Bill Clinton, which I have heard from co-workers was a real shame.  (Yes, we state workers usually go for the Democrats.  We like having jobs with paychecks and stuff.)
   Jimmy Carter was an inspired choice--take that, pundits who whine that the Democrats don't talk up religious values enough!  Without expressly talking about his religious beliefs, Carter was a testament to all the everyday Christians in this country whose beliefs center more around all that stuff that Jesus talked about, like charity, and less about hating gays and loving tax breaks. 
   But I have to say the whole thing with the female Democratic Senators was a real disappointment.  I actually had a bit of hope that the whole thing could be an exercise in making a direct appeal to women voters, talking up why the Democrats are better on women's issues.  Instead, it was the same old treacle about how women need to pay attention to politics for the sake of the children.  To make sure that the voters knew that this wasn't about women, but about children, they finished off the whole thing with a children's choir. 
   Look, the future of children is an important issue and a good selling point to women--and men.  But if the Democrats truly want women to get out of being ghettoized in the party, they need to start addressing female voters as more than just mother bears and start demonstrating that the party regards female politicians as more than mother bear representatives.  For all the talk about attracting women to the polls, they still can't wrap their minds around the fact that there's nothing new about addressing women's concerns as mothers, and addressing women as individuals in their own rights is what is going to make the difference.  Because even mothers of young children have political opinions outside of what is best for their children.  And because many women are not caring presently for their children, either because they haven't had them or their children are grown, and they don't like feeling invisible to their representatives.

But what if you do feel petulant?

   August Pollack is against the T-shirts that say "I had an abortion". 

   I am not against what Planned Parenthood is trying to do. Abortion is a deeply troubling psychological and physical burden for any woman who has to experience it. And there is nothing more important for support in such a decision that comforting and helping women who have to face such a choice. Women should be open about having an abortion and feel they can discuss their experience with other women.
   Indeed, I am imagine that it's downright comforting to imagine women gathering over their knitting needles talking about kids and husbands when one suddenly brings up the March for Women's Lives and everyone quietly and abashedly speaks of their own abortions. 
   In the real world, abortion is hard on some women physically and psychologically, but unfortunately for the "I'm pro-choice, but..." crowd I've had the pleasure to get to know so well lately, it's also a big, fat relief for women who would suffer psychologically and physically way more from childbirth.  But women are only allowed to express grief and shame over these things, not pride for taking a difficult situation into their own hands, relief, or any of the other myriad of things women are not allowed to feel generally and certainly not over abortion.
   For a good number of women, when they become pregnant and are considering abortion, they only have a handful of stereotypes of the "kind" of women who get abortions, carefully chosen by the anti-abortion faction for maximum impact--we all got pleasure of examining one stereotype, that of an over-educated, selfish, smarty-pants broad who doesn't listen to men.  Another one got trotted out on Alas, a Blog yesterday--the racial stereotype of the inevitably black welfare queen whose had 9 abortions, most likely all by different men.  The only stereotype of a woman who has had an abortion that is regularly paired with a face to match is the weeping born-again who had hers young, regrets it now, and is out there marching to make sure that other women don't have the choice she exercised.  A woman who is considering one is therefore confronted with a huge problem--women like me, that is good women who like men and are not selfish, don't have abortions.
   And what about the women in her life that have had one that have stories to counteract those stereotypes so that she is better prepared to make her choice?  Well, she probably doesn't know about her friends and relatives who've had that experience.  Why not?  Well, it's not just something you wear on a T-shirt, you know. 
   I saw this T-shirt yesterday when someone sent me that link in my email.  I laughed and deleted it.  I thought it was probably something meant to be worn only at specific times like an abortion rights march when images speak louder than all the words in the world.  It seems that the principle is the same as the shirts that say, "This is what a feminist looks like"--to shock the audience into rethinking the stereotypes that drive women away from a movement that is only there to help them.  For instance, imagine a woman wearing this shirt to a march that has her husband and kids in tow getting on TV, what that would say to the people in the audience who are bombarded with propaganda about how women who have abortions do it because they hate men and they hate children.  Sure, you can argue that she might do better to get up and make a speech about her experience, but since it won't be broadcast, it might not have much effectiveness. 
   The ugly truth is that those of us who have subversive views need to use subversive media or not be heard at all.

Edited to add:  A friend sent me this story about the shirts.  I am actually still ambivalent about whether or not they are going to be effective in combating the racist and sexist stereotypes they are meant to combat, but they did manage to bring the loonies out, for which we should all be grateful.

   A conservative Canadian journalist for the Ottawa Citizen is quoted as saying, “I think it’s a great idea… In fact, I think they should adopt a whole range of slogans. How about, ‘I eat unborn babies for breakfast…Vote John Kerry.’ Now those would really sell.”
   And don't forget kids, all contraception is the same thing as abortion! 

   “Contraception, in the form of the birth-control pill, is never able to prevent recourse to abortion because it is a form of abortion itself,” they assert. “Contraception, as a means to reduce abortion, is having dire consequences on our population, particularly our youth.”
Planned Parenthood could not be reached for comment.

  The comments section is fun, too.  The anti-abortionists resort to doing exactly what I'm talking about--trot out a bunch of stereotypes about wicked, slutty bitches who schedule their abortions between witchcraft at 3:00 and martinis with the other sluts at 5:00.

If you're going to be in Crawford, TX tomorrow

Here's the information you'll need to reserve your seat to see Fahrenheit 9/11.  Call the Crawford Peace House at 254-486-0099 to reserve your seat. They are asking for a donation of $8 per attendee.  Since it's an outdoor event, they expect to start showing around 9:00 or a little later, after the sun goes down.  The recommend bug spray--I've gone to rolling roadshows and bug spray is a must.

Monday, July 26, 2004

"Shove it"

Teresa Heinz Kerry, who is not running for anything, by the way, told a reporter to shove it.  I think it's funny.  There is only one proper reply to right wingers who whine about this, even though it's petty.  And that reply is, "Well, at least she knows better than to say the F word on the Senate floor."

Texas--working hard to make the world weirder

Here's a few stories about Texas that caught my interest over the weekend.

Texas A&M, who may just suffer from the worst case of me-tooism out of all the universities in the country, is considering trying to wrestle control away of the nuclear weapons lab at Los Alamos from UT.  Austin writer John Kelso has predicts what will happen if they actually accomplish this:  Hullabaloo, kaboom, kaboom. 

Michael Moore, in his quest to be a thorn in the Shrub's side, is going down to Crawford, TX to show Faherenheit 9/11, after some citizens of the tiny town let him know that they don't have a movie theater so they haven't had a chance to see it yet.  Beware--this article relies heavily on the stereotype that small town Texans are all a bunch of ignorant uber-conservatives.  But keep reading and the truth of Texas politics is buried in there, that the struggle for the political soul of the state is still not over.

The police in Austin have decided that they don't have violent enough weapons to deal with protesters, as they have been limited to pepper spraying them and then roughing them up when they hit the ground.  Now they've gotten approval to shoot people with rubber bullets.  Apparently, they think that as long as they promise only to shoot people that are expressing their political views, that it will be enough to get away with this.  After all, many Texas conservatives are convinced that disagreeing with the President is treason nowadays. 
However, I have my suspicions that this is about more than just war protesters.  In the past few years, the cops have managed to embarrass themselves repeatedly by assaulting the party people of 6th Street, the two most memorable examples being the Mardi Gras riots, which the cops clearly started regardless of their denials, and the embarrassing incident where the band Ozomatli, their fans, and a bunch of people who were just standing around on 6th Street were pepper-sprayed for the outrageous crime of dancing and singing in the street.  The latter incident was all the more embarrassing because it happened during South by Southwest, making the cops look like thugs to the entire nation, and causing the city council to offer a formal apology to the band in order to smooth over relations with the concerned music industry.  The police are furious right now that people are questioning their right to assault hippies and musicians with pepper spray, and as usual, their response is to make sure future ass-whoopings are more thorough.  You know, since that always works to fix a bad reputation for violent over-reaction.

And how could I forget?  Local hero Lance Armstrong kicks ass again!  The New York Times has a cute article about how Austinites are choosing to honor this event.  Suffice it to say, the local pink flamingo farm caught the reporter's attention. 

Sunday, July 25, 2004

It's inevitable, so let's deal with it now

The media has been going bonkers over the unfortunate story of the apparent murder of Lori Kay Hacking, who had been pregnant for 5 weeks before her disapperance.  Her husband is clearly a suspect, if no other reason than the statistical likelihood that he did it.  To compound the problem, his stories are all over the place, he's been exposed as a fraud with regards to his education, and he's probably losing his mind and will have to be institutionalized.  All in all, it's a sad, sad story. 
Generally, these trashy murder stories are really not the interest of political bloggers, etc. People get murdered, it's human nature, there's not much of a story, so end of story.  In a way, it's disrespectful to the families of victims to gnaw over the gruesome details daily in public.  But this story isn't likely to go away and it has huge implications for feminism.  So we need to start dealing with it now, before we get caught unaware. 
The coverage of the Laci Peterson murder is reason enough not to lay down when things like this happen.  The right wing exerted so much control over the coverage that after awhile one got the impression that Scott Peterson's real crime was less in killing his wife than killing his child, a son no less.  Her death and the death of her soon-to-be-born child were equated so thoroughly that a subtext grew around the story--Scott Peterson snuffed out not one, but two precious potential lives.  His son was about to be born and his wife was about to be born into her proper role as mother.  Any life she may have had outside that of a glowing pregnant woman was difficult to discern from the coverage, though I'm sure she had one. 
The hijacking of the Laci Peterson murder to accomplish the anti-woman end of legally redefining a fetus as a human equivalent to its mother, and therefore writing into law that a woman's life is more precious if she is pregnant than if she's not, was complete except for one public relations bit.  The problem for the anti-abortion movement was that Laci was pretty much about to give birth when she was murdered--they knew the baby's sex and had the name all picked out already, giving him a character of sorts that they could equate with Laci's character.  (Nevermind the whole life she had behind her to actually develop one.) 
But all of this doesn't mean that they have convinced people that balls of cells no bigger than a fingertip are just as human, if not more so, than the women carrying them.  And I guarantee that they are working up a plan to hijack this woman's story to prove that point, too--that her murder is sad, yes, but that her baby was murdered along with her is a real tragedy.  And that it doesn't matter how far along the pregnancy is.

Feminists need to remember this:  The murder of pregnant women by their husbands or boyfriends who are angry for losing control is a feminist issue.  That which drives a man to kill a woman he has impregnated because she has bucked his authority or made his life more difficult is the same urge as that which causes men to use government authority to bring women's choices back under male control.  The reason that pregnant women are murdered at alarmingly high rates is not that we have lost a respect for "life" because of abortion.  That argument only makes sense if you are considering the life of the fetus.  It has always been a crime to murder women and always will be. 
But if we want to help pregnant women who are in danger of domestic murder, we need not to roll back the respect that women as human beings have, but increase it.  It needs to be well understood by everybody that male control over women is simply unacceptable.  That might make it alot harder for a man to justify murdering a wife who is obstinately pregnant in the future.  By elevating the life of a fetus to equal or better status to that of an adult woman, we are encouraging the murder of pregnant women by giving their attackers more reason to see them as nothing more than incubators for the inconvienent pregnancy. 
The right is going to shove these unfortunate murders at us and blame feminism for them, by implication.  We need to have a good, steady response.  I suggest that we remind anyone who asks that domestic violence is best met with anti-domestic violence leglistation and assistance, not with more laws designed to make inroads against women's choice.  And that women's choice is an essential component to reducing abuse and murder of women, all women, not just the pregnant ones.  Because if women can control the number of children they give birth to, they have more leverage to walk out on men who threaten and abuse them.  And reducing the number of women who feel trapped at home is going a long way to reducing the number of women who die in abusive situations from murder.

The economics of beauty

Wolf Angel remarked in my recent post complaining about shallow, sexist dating advice columns that the question of paying for dates is more complicated than just who pays for dinner, since women often spend so much money on the clothes and grooming that are seen as a requirement for dating by many.  I was actually going to make a comment on that subject, but blew it off because I thought it needlessly complicated my basic point which was that quibbling over dinner bills is stupid when women make on 76% of what men make.  Wolf Angel linked to this article, though, and I was so floored I couldn't drop this subject.  And if blogs aren't the place to examine endless complications, where is the place? 
The other reason that I shied away from the whole issue of who actually pays more for dates is that I am sort of clueless in that department.  I am dimly aware that most women spend alot of money on make-up and hair and bath products and clothes, but as a perennial cheapskate, I don't.  I remain unconvinced that a) expensive cosmetics are much better than Clariol and b) that men even notice or care.  (I realize that it's standard to petulantly exclaim that you spend hours getting buffed and waxed a week for self-esteem, but give me a break.  If all men disappeared tomorrow, I give the buffing and waxing crowd a week max before they quit and take up watching French films in their spare time instead.)  I don't wear make-up most of the time, only for the occassional party, because I think it's counter-productive, time-consuming and it gives me zits.  I buy all my party clothes from the thrift stores (great way to avoid the embarrassment of wearing something similar to someone else!) and I don't have fancy hair products of any sort.  I firmly believe that most people wear too much perfume anyway, that cheap razors are just as sharp as any others, and that Suave's bath products are just as good as anyone else's.  Basically, I never spent oodles of time and cash on getting ready for dates, and that probably just upped the embarrassment I felt when a date insisted on dumping a bunch of money to take me out.
Nonetheless, I still get the basic point--I still probably spent more time and money than my dates on my appearance, even if it wasn't much more.  Many of my girl friends spend even more, sometimes even way more, than I did.  But I didn't expect the numbers that are kicked around in this article.

And me? I spend (to my horror) about $1,150 a month -- $13,800 a year, including manicures, underarm waxing, half-leg waxing and eyebrow waxing twice a month, pedicures, bikini waxing and facials once a month, personal trainer and Pilate's trainer three times a week, a haircut every other month and many girlie products I just can't resist. Over the past few years, I could have put a down payment on a house. But I have nothing to show for it but smooth skin.
I found the whole thing horrifying and definitely not reflective of what most women spend on their appearance.  To me, there is a line between normal, understandable desire to fiddle with your appearance to make yourself more attractive and fiddling with your appearance so much that the implication is that your normal, human body is so desperately inadequate and disgusting that it takes constant work to wipe it out and replace it with a more appropriate, non-human version of the female body. 

"I feel dirty if I'm not waxed," she explains. "It does feel like a part-time job. It's very rare that I feel that I'm in perfect primed condition. Either my nails are disgusting or my roots are showing. It's really time consuming to spend an hour or two every weekend trying to look good."
You couldn't come up with a better quote if you tried.  It's heartbreaking, really--she keeps trying to hang onto the perfect, inhuman beauty but ugly, nasty nature keeps intruding.  Hair and nails keep growing, keep asserting themselves, despite being either completely removed or chemically processed to disguise their natural origins.  It reminds me of one of the basic themes that we studied in writing classes--man vs. nature, except in this case it's woman vs. nature.
(Funny aside--while writing this, the song "Typical Girls" by The Slits came on the radio.  Had a good laugh.)
That women live like this amazes me.  And that it amazes me makes me feel guilty.  I live in a city and run in circles where that sort of intense attention to beauty is looked on with suspicion--if a woman with lacquered hair, perfume and tons of make-up walks into a room it's only a matter of seconds before some guy wonders what she's trying to hide. 
The writer laments that she could have saved enough for the down payment on a house with the money she spends on beauty treatments.  Indeed, it does seem like she's flushing money down the toilet that could be better spent on saving for her future.  But is there an underlying economic reason that women might be inclined to spend so much on their looks.  In other words, is it an investment of sorts?
There is absolutely no doubt that women have traditionally paid unnerving amounts of attention to their looks because the only route they had to improving their fortunes was marrying well.  Beauty was a woman's life work, and just as in any other field, some excelled.  Great beauty wielded correctly could mean lifelong comfort being married to a rich man.  Now more avenues have opened up to women, and as the author points out inadvertantly, the effort and money put towards achieving high standards of beauty can freely be invested elsewhere for financial independence.  You know, like buying your own house.
But we want to still maintain the fiction that in order for a house to be bought, a man must be involved, regardless of a woman's income.  The boyfriend lets that mindset show.

And does he agree that men should pay for the courtship because women have allocated their resources to looking good?
"It is, I guess, a reason to think that way. But not a very good one. There's still the expectation that the male will buy that house anyway, no matter how much, or how little, you spend on personal upkeep."
So if men will "buy that house," by which I think he means "have a relationship with that woman" whether or not she spends $1,500 every second month, does it make sense to do so?

Men take on women as financial burdens, even women who make enough to pay this much towards beauty treatments every two months.  It does make me wonder if this push for ever more expensive beauty treatments is well-received because it undermines the real implications of women's financial independence.  By spending money that could be saved to buy a house on beauty treatments, a woman is signaling to the world that she still needs a man in her life to proceed to things like home-buying while also committing to the myth that male approval is so important that getting it is all-consuming of time, effort and income.

More on girlie men

Norman Solomon has a good article evaluating the reaction to Schwarzenegger's "girlie men" comment, and briefly looking at the history of politicians using homophobic slurs against their opponents.  It's interesting stuff and gives context to the anger at the comment.  Homophobic slurs, once the automatic weapon of pro-war politicians especially, have really fallen out of favor, Solomon points out.
I definitely see the truth in what Solomon is saying, but I don't think homophobic slurs are any less popular amongst the hawkish types than they were before.  What I suspect has happened is that the outcry against France during the beginning of the Iraqi War redirected homophobic slurs into the "safe" outlet of French slurs.  That's why the French were picked on instead of the Germans or anyone else who was against the war, because there is already a ready-made stereotype of effeminate French men.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Left wordless

Avedon Carol sums up exactly why I think Sudan isn't being discussed extensively:

Read the rest of that letter, and read Stupid on how nobody's talking about Sudan. Actually, I'm not talking about Sudan, either. The reason I'm not talking about Sudan is that every time someone mentions Sudan I go, "Oh, God," and then I think about Afghanistan and Iraq and think how Bush and Wolfowitz and the gang have pretty much made The Most Powerful Nation in the World helpless to do anything anywhere because we are stuck in, y'know, this qWagmire and sucked our troops dry to the point where we are now re-drafting people in their 60s who have already been honorably discharged. We have no moral authority and we have no troops to send anywhere else and oh god oh god oh god. So I don't talk about it.
Exactly.  The events in Sudan are horrifying and the Bush administration is downright evil for crippling us so we can't do anything about it.  There's nothing else to say.  That no one is speaking much about it speaks volumes about how unified opinion is on it. 
Still, I have to wonder.  Without constant discourse about Sudan, how can we ever expect to shame people into seeing the truth about how bad things have gotten?  If it can help get things done, should journalists and opinion makers keep talking, even if all they are doing is repeating the same point, that this is horrible and Bush is horrible, over and over and over again?

MSN dating advice--how to set your standards

Today's haranguing at MSN scores the hat trick of bad advice columns--misguided advice, crappy writing, and a pointless swipe at feminism.  Today's topic is the usual admonishment--women, lower your standards!  This week, we learn not to money-grub and actually open our hearts up to the less endowed in the wallet department. 
And as usual, the advice isn't misguided because it's wrong so much as because it's so off-target.  This article is preaching to a common stereotype--shallow women who are more interested in a man's wallet than his good heart.  In the real world, there are far more women who try to avoid this stereotype so strenously that they aren't taking finances into consideration enough.  I don't know any women who turn their noses up to anyone who makes less than 100K a year, but I know lots of women who stifled their own uneasiness about  boyfriends' chronic money problems because they didn't want to be shallow and ended up straining their own finances taking care of those boyfriends.  There's nothing wrong with wanting a boyfriend who keeps his shit together and has enough money to go out once in awhile. 
But this writer, Randy Hecht, is a step above the usual hostile advice columnist on MSN.  For one thing, he is obsessed with the Dutch treat.  He claims that women read too much into whether a date pays for her dinner, making it the litmus to decide how interested he is.  (I always thought men who insisted on always paying were simply invested in the idea of chivalry, actually.)  But though he doesn't say it outright, Hecht seems to be the one with a litmus test--if a woman expects a man to cover her bill, she's shallow.  The Dutch treat--how to show you really care.  He likes the idea of the Dutch treat so much he refers to the struggle over the check at dinner four separate times.
Again, hostile and misguided.  Any woman with an ounce of manners reaches for her purse when the check comes, even if she is 100% sure he will insist on paying.  If the women that Hecht is taking out to dinner cross their arms and stare him down when the check arrives, well, he needs to quit taking Paris Hilton out to dinner. 
And of course, what advice article is complete without a pointless swipe at feminism?

Nobody likes a double-standard. No one can resist one, either, if it happens to work out in her favor....  On the one hand, you expect equal pay for equal work; if you learned your employer was paying higher salaries to men in your position just because they’re men, there’d be hell to pay, and rightly so. On the other hand, you expect your dates to pay the dinner check, the movie tickets, and so on. 
Women--always out for the cash.  Wanting equal salaries and free dinners. 

For contrast, we have an advice article addressed to men about having standards titled "She's great, but...."  Oh boy, do we finally have an article addressed to men about why they need to lower their standards if they're even going to catch a woman?  Not quite.  This article is about whether or not to dump a woman over an incompability.  Their answer--don't be ashamed of having standards.  If the flaw is irritating enough, dump her and move on.  (But what if the flaw is that she always wants to go Dutch and never wants to pay for his dinner?  Oh, dilemmas.)
To be fair, this article is not hostile to women at all.  The writer points out that it's nicer to dump somebody early for an incompatibility than take her on as a project and try to humiliate her into changing.  The writer also takes great pains to characterize the issue as one of incompatibility, and not one of flaws that women need to be correcting. 
Altogether, it's good advice.  If the incompability is a big one, end it.  If it's a small thing, deal with it.  And know the difference between big and small.  This advice should be aimed at both men and women and it's not.  Instead, for women we get an article trivializing a big thing--money, and that women usually make a lot less of it and therefore might have a good, solid reason to avoid dating men who might burden tight budgets.  Better woman-specific advice about dating and money might concentrate more on how to date without breaking the bank with clothes, make-up and yes, Dutch treats in expensive places. 

Friday, July 23, 2004

Selfless or selfish?

I wanted to write about Barbara Ehrenreich's article on honesty and abortion that came rather unwittingly on the tail end of a blogosphere debate about honesty and abortion.  I was beside myself when I read it--she's so articulate, and what she said dovetailed so well into what I said about it.  Summary:  I found the hand-wringing over how Amy Richards didn't fall on the ground weeping and wailing over her selective reduction to be incredibly sexist.  The implication, as Trish Wilson pointed out perfectly, was that there was some sort of litmus test for acceptable and unacceptable abortions, and while everyone has a different line in the sand for those that count and those that are bad, I could tell that the prevailing standard is whether a woman can maintain the proper feminine stance while getting one.
My immediate and repeated point was that if a prevailing social standard developed over the proper feminine reaction towards an abortion, that women would immediately adopt that stance to deflect criticism and make people comfortable.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing--we have lots of social customs for unfortunate circumstances for just that reason, the funeral being the most obvious.  But if you want honestly, well, you have to learn to deal with it.  Ehrenreich has caught onto a social custom that has developed in the meantime, but one that encourages things like the animosity towards Amy Richards.  The social custom was the division between the acceptable/unacceptable abortion, the acceptable one being an abortion performed in the proper selfless feminine stance--that of a woman who aborts her disabled child in order to spare the child, its father, and all of society the burden of living with the disability:

The prejudice is widespread that a termination for medical reasons is somehow on a higher moral plane than a run-of-the-mill abortion. In a 1999 survey of Floridians, for example, 82 percent supported legal abortion in the case of birth defects, compared with about 40 percent in situations where the woman simply could not afford to raise another child.
I read this with trepidation.  I saw her point immediately and agreed with it--she was wisely abstaining from offering an opinion on the "rightness" of aborting a disabled fetus, since that was a separate issue from her main point, which was that distinctions between abortions are inherently false.  Even the supposedly "selfless" ones have a selfish component--you want to live, you don't want to care for a disabled child, it's not time, you want your career.  The degree is different, but the result is the same--an abortion is always about the pregnant woman.  It's such a controversial position, I squirm as I point it out, but it's the truth. 
The splitting hairs began after that, which is fine, since morality is all about splitting hairs.  And, that's the best argument in the whole world for freedom, that some moral questions have no definite answers. 
But my trepidation came from this--the prevailing moral standard that I was detecting was that of the Morality of the Selfless Female.  We accept that women should have a moral right to abort a disabled fetus, but the myth of the Selfless Female is powerful enough that I could see a rapidly forming mass movement emphasizing that a Good Woman would be honored to raise a disabled child, women being so selfless and all.  Unless they aren't right in the head?  That a woman doesn't wish to nurture a child, much less turn her entire being to the task, is generally regarded as a mental illness.
This is an incredibly powerful myth, in part because it's hard to argue against, since selflessness is such a widely admired trait.  The best that you usually hear is that selflessness in not valued in men so it shouldn't be a prerequiste for women.  This argument is great--most of the time, it's more than enough.  But some people are powerfully wed to their belief in the Selfless Female--they are wowed by semi-scientific arguments that women are naturally more nuturing or something--and you'll never get through to them.

But there is an argument that actually makes sense once you moderate it a bit.
My dad is conservative, but like most middle American conservatives, he's nowhere near as conservative as he thinks.  Anyway, he will impart some good advice on me once in awhile, and I refuse to discount it for political reasons.  One of the better pieces of advice was, "Once you own a house, you'll always own a house."  I passed that on just the other day.
But the bit of Dad advice I will pass on tonight seems to fit a conservative agenda, but upon reflection is probably a great guideline for liberal activists and writers.  My dad sez, "The best way to help other people is to take care of yourself first."
Alright, I can hear the objections already, but like I said, it's in how you interpet it.  How I interpet it, and actually how he did (how the Republican party exploits good, solid folk wisdom like that and uses it to support a corporate agenda is a whole 'nother post) is fairly simple.  We are all in this together.  When one falls, we all help to pick a person up.  If you care about other people, you do your best to fall less so that you are available to pick up more.  Actually, one of the reasons that I've settled into the Democratic party is I see that message articulated and acted on.  (How my father can be a union member, a man who actually goes to bat for women more than any I've known and still decry feminism, and an all-around decent guy and vote for the Republicans is a whole 'nother post altogether.  I keep meaning to write it--if you're interested, let me know.)

So where does abortion and Selfless Womanhood fall into this?  Well, gosh, let me tell you!

To me, that Richards had selective reduction was not only not a sign of selfishness, it was a sign of a certain kind of selflessness.  All the praise we heap on the woman who lives in the state of Symbolic Selflessness confuses people.  Selflessness becomes a stance, and has little relation to the practical stance of being in a position to help others.  The perfect example of how to define "selfless" comes to the septuplets born a few years ago to much acclaim, the McCaughey septulets.  There was a lot of fuss made over their selfless decision to have all seven--but I have my questions.
The media characterized the decision to have all seven as the height of maternal selflessness.  But McCaughey wasn't the first to bear seven, just the first to have all of them live.  Even then, the ones born suffered health problems.  She herself suffered a lot during her pregnancy, which these happy stories like to downplay.  Her maternal sacrifice set a gold standard of selflessness.  But how selfless is it, really?  She had all sorts of medical treatment and generosity and she abandoned what family she had for months to have the babies.  I'm sure her life is hard, and so by that standard, sure she's selfless.  But, if she had taken care of herself to begin with, she would have not been a burden on the hospital, her family or the public.
Scarier still, if she had merely six, she wouldn't have been famous and wouldn't have received all the generous help and probably would have had to get welfare--conservative values, anyone?
So, why did she do it?  Well, if you look at it one way, she had extremely selfish motivations.  She knew that by doing this, odds were she was condemning at least a couple babies to painful death, and the rest to health problems and suffering.  She lucked out that it didn't happen, but that doesn't change what she knew going in.  Going in, she knew if she could pull it off, she would be a big Christian hero, widely admired.  Self-righteous smugness is a selfish emotion. 

By my measure, controlling your reproductive potential, mostly by contraceptive but sometimes if need be by abortion, you are being selfless.  You are taking charge of your own life forcefully.  You are offering the children you do have the best possible world.
Many women, contrary to popular stereotype, abort after having children.  A woman I know wished to do it the second time she got pregnant--she cared for one well enough, but two would be back-cracking.  She was afraid that a second would ruin the life of the one she already had.  Is she selfish?

Long post--short point.  Selfless itself is impossible to define.  To me, it's an act of selflessness to destroy two, even though it's hard, to give one a good chance in life.  To others, it's unspeakably cruel.  We can't even decide when an abortion is too "selfish" to be legal or moral.  On top of that, what "selfish" means is indefinable.  That is why it must be a woman's unquestionable right.

Respectful of Otters points out that it may or may not be worse to abort a disabled fetus than a normal one. 

Hollywood elite

This article by Laurie Spivak is a fun look at the interplay between politics and the entertainment industry.  The whole Republican stance on Hollywood is pretty weird but extremely amusing to outsiders.  First of all, the legitimacy of having a stance at all on Hollywood as a political entity is simply ridiculous.  What next?  Having a stance on the publishing industry?  (Don't look now!)  Any two-bit moron can see that the product coming out of Hollywood does not have a steady political or moral stance--for every "daring" program like "Sex and the City", there are tons of hokey but well-loved programs like "Touched by an Angel" and "Seventh Heaven".  (I like "Sex and the City", but I am continually amazed by people who find it unbelievably daring.  For all the supposedly super-graphic dialogue, I have never heard anything that would shock anyone who has actually had sex.)

But the Hollywood that the Republicans talk about is a construct.  It's not the actual town of Hollywood or the entertainment industry at all.  It's a symbol, and not only that, but a deliberately ambiguous one so that each member of their audience can project their own resentments of the product that so dominates our everyday life, a perfect place to tie disparate conservative cultural critiques into one package.  It's my impression that each brand of conservatism means something different when they criticize "Hollywood".
  • To the Christian right, the problem is obvious.  The entertainment industry does not kow-tow to their beliefs or their values.  Women are having sex and enjoying it on TV.  Gay people are shown as happy, normal people and not depression-ridden perverts.  People's lives are not built around church.  You could go on forever.  The Christian right's criticisms are the most amusing, since the very things they have a problem with in entertainment are the only consistently realistic things in entertainment.  You know, since gays are pretty normal, women do have sex and like it, etc.
  • The hazy middle America that they pitch their pseudo-populism to hates the materialism of the entertainment industry--and as a standard-issue middle American, I agree completely.  It's completely fucking ridiculous that any character in a movie whose house is smaller than 3,000 square feet is a scraggle-toothed redneck.  When middle America hears about "elite" Hollywood, they are thinking about how out of touch Hollywood is with the financial scale they live on. 
  • The racist wing that the GOP has to cater to and deny at the same time hates that Hollywood is always pushing what they see as a P.C., wishy-washy view of race relations.  Also, they don't like those preachy movies about segregation in the South.  They think that allowing black people access to media outlets is the equivalent of promoting crime and immorality.  They are particularly open to anti-rap arguments.
  • The older crowd dislikes rap, too, but mostly because they feel like the fashions of music and whatnot have passed them by. 
  • The more educated conservatives are not only open to this silly argument, but I think they invented it.  Anyone who has gone to college knows the collegiate conservatives, piously making elaborate arguments that all boil down to the same general idea--that not too long ago, in the good old days when education belonged only to its rightful owners who just happened to be white and male, things were better.  Time was not wasted on talking about unimportant things like a feminist perspective or how race and class influenced history.  Hollywood is just another expression of the tedious and ridiculous belief that people who are not white men have something interesting to say.  If you have trouble spotting this type, it's the guy complaining that before that movie about Ya-Ya sisters came out, no one had to read this Jane Austen claptrap.

So, you can see that when they say that the Republican party is a big tent, they mean that they are open to all sorts of people who have no tolerance for art that does anything but reinforce their own viewpoint.  This is what they mean by "Hollywood elite".  (Middle America still has a point--the materialism is ridiculous.  However, it only bugs them because they are materialistic, and it makes them jealous.  Sorry--I get to call them out on it, because them is me and I know.)

A star gets target because their fame irritates as many of these groups as possible.  That's why being a hip hop artist will score a home run of right wing condemnation.  That's why female artists are more likely than male artists to get singled out for abuse--it's not just because they are female, but that they are brings in the loathing of the "intellectual" conservatives and the Christians, so it helps.  But no matter who the symbol is, the absolute most important thing is that Hollywood is powerful and elite so that the GOP can position itself as the rebels. 

Now I have to quarrel with Spivak's ideas.  That the GOP's actor-politicians are all B-listers isn't a weakness at all--it's the perfect way for them to straddle the hypocrisy she points out, that they both trash Hollywood while recruiting Hollywood types to run for them.  By using B-listers, they are both tapping star power while still positioning themselves as outsiders.  I have actually heard Limbaugh rant about how having conservative politics will get you on a mysterious Hollywood blacklist where you never get A projects again.  One could make an argument that Ah-nold is an A-lister, but let's be honest.  He was sliding into B-list territory, and he joined into politics before his fame disappeared but after he realized he was never going to get back on the A-list either.  Same with Charleton Heston.  And Tom Selleck.  And Dennis Miller.  Reagan was always on the B-list.  Hell, the Republican party will keep you in some kind of career long after you lose all your regular box office appeal, so everyone wins.

Does this mean that the Democrats should shun their heavy A-list Hollywood support?  Not at all.  In fact, the hipper and more prominent, the better.  The only people that the A-list drives away would never vote for the Democrats anyway, so catering to them is a waste of time.  But bright, cool, hip, lovable A-listers can do exactly what the Democratic party needs to get done--get non-voters to vote.  That's why it irritates me about people nit-pick when rock and hip hop stars and young movie stars lend their name and talents to the party--they nit-pick because they think it's fluffy and pointless.

Well, I strongly disagree.  Art and politics not only can but should influence each other.  The bored apolitical hipster stance sucked the very life out of indie rock--we need to fucking learn.  If Outkast's music means something to a lot of people, and Outkast volunteers to drum up support for Kerry by playing a fundraiser, I'm not going to say that it's stupid or shallow.  Right there, you are insulting the people who get something out of Outkast and that inspires them to vote.  Art is political by definition--don't dogpile on people who make that truth explicit.

I was always interested in politics, but punk rock radicalized me.  Punk puts forth a collectivist ethos that manages not to be drippy or overly serious.  You can be part of a collectivist political punk movement, and not have to hold hands and love everyone.  The simple fact that it's out there, that there's a gathering place where one's angst and anger has vent, energizes people and gets their asses, believe it or not, to the voting booth.  And with humor--whenever I make my "vote, you won't be sorry" case to someone, I always tell them how it's so fun to show up wearing an obscene T-shirt or something else offensive to vote, since the voting booth is the one place where people are totally obliged to treat you like an equal.  Hip hop is even better at this, since there are hip hop artists that garner a lot of respect who never waver or sway from their political goals.

1968 Democratic Convention

If you haven't heard the series on NPR's "All Things Considered"  where Walter Cronkite recalls important stories he covered, with lots of clips, you're really missing out.  Today he recalls the 1968 Democratic Convention.  The timing is obviously inspired by the upcoming Democratic Convention.
Listen to it--it's something else.  It's impossible to listen to this and not think about how crappy our media coverage has gotten, how many sacred cows have developed that the media won't touch.  One of the big sacred cows is police brutality towards protesters.  Nowadays, it's covered up--on this tape, you hear the commentator actually criticize the police.  It's clear that the cops are, if not starting the violence outright, escalating it by attacking peaceful protesters.  The crowd is yelling, "Sieg Heil" at the cops and it's clear that the reason that they're doing it is because they are taunting the police, who are attacking them with tear gas and nightsticks, calling them Nazis.  The commentators are trying to be even-handed, but their sympathies are clearly with the protesters.  Of course, it didn't help the police's cause that they were treating the press like they were just a bunch of worthless thugs themselves, no better than "hippies". 
Still, I couldn't help but reflect on how it would be if the 1968 Democratic Convention was covered by our modern press.  There wouldn't be a whiff in the mainstream press of any suggestion that the police started the fighting and the ruckus.  (Yes, I'm aware that the press gleefully covers police brutality--but only if it's an isolated incident with some sort of twist to it.)  They certainly wouldn't describe the police as "looking for a fight", no matter how true it was. 
They employed an equivalent to "free speech zones" at the 1968 Democratic Convention.  I don't know if that escalated the violence--but it seems to me that it may have made things worse.  By positioning the protesters as caged animals, it encouraged the police to view them as wild animals when they inevitably broke through the police's boundaries.  The press would probably be sympathetic, no doubt echoing the official line that protesters have to be separated from the convention, because of (fill in a 1968 equivalent of terrorists--Communists, probably). 
The protesters yelling, "Sieg Heil!" would be shown repeatedly, and probably with no mention of the police brutality context.  Pundits would gleefully point out that protesters hate America and no doubt love Nazis.  Polls would be taken repeatedly to show that the American people support the police overwhelmingly.  It would be forgotten within days, except when brought up by pro-war pundits as an example of how hating the war means anarchy and hating America.
I mean, I know a lot of that went on.  But I was absolutely floored by the reporting on this program, the willingness to point out institutional failures, to hold actual leaders responsible for bad decisions.  The person listening to these clips would be under no doubt that it was the police department itself that was not only falling down on the job, but willfully violating their duty to protect the peace by instigating fights with the loathed hippies. 
Contrast that to the fallout over Abu Gharib.  Yes, there were a lot of major journalists that pointed to leadership problems going up to the President, but I am still reeling over how fast that got buried and the whole thing got pinned on a few bad apples.  It's a great strategy, to always sacrifice a few "bad apples" and let the institutional abuses thereby go unchecked.
Anyway, I'm not media analyst and I'm a bit tired to boot.  But the introduction of this part of the program showed exactly how weaselly our major media is, even NPR, which is the best of the bunch in a lot of ways.  The 1968 Democratic Convention is a ghost haunting this election season, and I think that they chose to tell the story of it for that reason.  Good choice.  But then they decided to cripple the impact of the story by saddling it with the 2004 Democratic Convention, even going as far as to make a couple jokey comments about how the Democratic Convention will go off easier this time.
No shit, Sherlock.  The 1968 Democratic Convention isn't haunting the modern Democratic Convention.  No, the ghost of it is gathering over New York City and preparing to haunt the Republican Convention.  The Democrats got us into a phony war with a bunch of lies last time.  This time it's the Republicans' turn. 
The administration is all but spelling out that they expect protesters at the Republican Convention to be treated like terrorist sympathizers.  Hell, the entire choice of time and place to have it is meant to echo dramatically as a reminder that 9/11 somehow belongs to the Republican party.  The pundits are lined up, ready to remind the audience that protesting the President is protesting our very right to safety.  Fox News is no doubt thoroughly prepared to find the weirdest, most obnoxious protesters they can find and do a quick montage of only those people.  Let's hope that the cops aren't being whipped up to hate the protesters, but I'm not holding my breath or anything.  A million strong are expected and they are going to be corralled into a small area far from where they can make the statement they came all that way to make.  And once the cops start cracking skulls, we can hope that journalists are there actually bothering to show that the cops are the ones causing and escalating the violence--but again, I wouldn't hold my breath.  Because the first journalist to criticize the NYPD will probably be the first to get stoned by the right wing punditry who will wrap themselves in the events of 9/11 and declare the NYPD above criticism. 
I hope it's not that bad.  But I just don't see how that minefield is going to be avoided.

There's been a lot of talk lately about professional journalists vs. bloggers, with opinions all over the place.  Elayne Riggs recently weighed in on the whole issue.  And she's right.  In the mad dash for liberal bloggers to get the coveted Democratic Convention press credentials, what's been lost is that the convention is going to be pure canned, pre-chewed stories.  There's not much there that won't be covered by the major journalists really.  Not that everyone who's going should do anything less than a stellar job, of course.
What journalistic strength blogging has isn't going to be scoring chances to be with the big boys.  It's going to be in its accessibility to the ordinary people, not only gathering their stories but also giving a voice, and more importantly, an echo chamber to the things that ordinary people are talking about.  Steve Gilliard makes a good argument about how blogging's very ordinariness is its strength, because it's forcing the power brokers to pay attention to the little people.  So, it's really kind of silly to be bickering over getting an okay from the mainstream press--we don't need another branch of the mainstream press, we already have enough of them.
What liberal bloggers who want to make a name for themselves should realize, in my never humble opinion, is that they won't be making that name at the Democratic Convention, taking the same notes on the same speeches as everyone else.  Go the Republican Convention and join the protesters.  If and when the protests turn ugly, you can be there, taking pictures and otherwise gathering evidence--show how this administration treats protesters, prove that the cops were the instigators!  That's where bloggers can prove their value. 

Alright, that's all I'm saying about the politics of blogging itself.