Saturday, October 09, 2010

Cynical Nihilism Defines Corporate Culture And The Media That Serves It [Anthony McCarthy]

That Lou Dobbs would become a news item this week wasn't something I knew last week when comparing his role in the anti-Latino erruption that has fouled politics and society to the incident of anti-Semitic speech by Rick Sanchez. Now we know that while he was railing against illegal immigration and those who employed illegal immigrants, especially those from Latin America, those very people were tending his landscaping and taking care of the prize-winning horses his family owns.

If I had the time and skills I'd do an analysis of the two stories in the media, but it's my impression that the coverage of the hypocrisy of the voice and face of the anti-Latino backlash has been vastly more sympathetic than that of Sanchez. Consider the role in public life of the two men and the incidents that have embarrassed them. Sanchez's one-time descent into anti-Semitism on a talk radio show most of us have never heard of before, hasn't fueled laws like the one in Arizona that requires police to racially profile Latinos and others. It won't become a wide-spread and ugly campaign of the kind that was fueled by the years and years of Lou Dobb's CNN powered campaign. I haven't heard of Rick Sanchez being asked to address any mass meeting on the basis of his diatribe, though Lou Dobbs was scheduled to address a Republican-teabagger election season event today. Anyone who thinks that it wasn't his part in Latino bashing that got Dobbs the invite is lying.

These incidents open up so many of the serious and dangerous issues facing the ongoing fight for justice that it could generate a large number of posts. I'll go into one, very briefly. I watched Lawrence O'Donnell's show in which he had on Dobbs and Isabel Macdonald, the reporter who broke the story in The Nation. It became clear that Macdonald is quite good in print but she's not a performer in the way that Dobbs is. That is almost certainly why Dobbs would only talk to her on air, where he can use his skills to fudge and obfuscate instead of address fact. That is one of the biggest problems with broadcast and cable, which are more about performance than facts. Macdonald isn't a polished, experienced, performer which will be exploited in the cover up job. I guess that her gender will figure in that attempt as well.

In looking at what's being said about this, the constantly repeated lines are that Dobbs doesn't seem to have broken the law, himself, that he didn't directly hire the people who, we are apparently supposed to believe, he didn't notice were doing menial chores at his estates and with his prize horses. But the charge wasn't that Dobbs broke the law and that assertion has become part of the smoke screen. Isabel Macdonald's article shows that there was a serious case of Dobbs having low paid, illegal workers doing his grounds keeping and taking care of the show horses his family owns during years in which he was whipping up a national frenzy against illegal immigrants and the people who employ them. I haven't heard him deny that was the case, as he kept pointing out that he'd obtained their services from contractors. It's clear in the article that Dobbs and his adult daughter could hardly have not noticed that the people doing their work were Latinos and working in industries which employ large numbers of illegal immigrants, requiring them to work horribly long hours at very low wages and without much in the way of protection or benefits. Dobbs, working as a journalist covering exactly those issues for years and years, can't claim to be ignorant of these issues. His ADULT* daughter certainly doesn't get to claim she was unaware of her father's show.

But, as this develops, the Republican-teabaggers will overlook Dobb's hypocrisy and the fact that many of the same politicians and media figures who use hatred of Latinos employ low-paid Latinos, many of whom are almost certainly not here under exactly legal conditions. The news media will also bend over backwards to cut Dobbs slack, notably supporting him in exactly the way it didn't support Sanchez or other low-level, especially, minority people working in journalism. Dobbs made millions of dollars a year from his promotion of bigotry and there is nothing that wins the media over more than someone who has millions of dollars. And the media aren't bothered one bit by how they did it.

One of the most important things I've learned by watching the teabaggers is that it isn't that they're ignorant, it isn't that they believe the lies they're sold, it's that they don't care if what they hear and what they spout are lies, they don't care about the truth, they don't care about morality. The teabaggers are a completely nihilistic phenomenon fueled by a cynically nihilistic media and the corporate interests that harnesses them. They have no moral core, they value nothing except wealth and the power that is useful to getting more of it. That is the real movement that Lou Dobbs is a poster boy for, but he's just one of many who could serve that purpose.

The small, mostly poorly paid effort to report fact is really not the same thing as the corporate media. The people who do that should be aware of the fact that they not only have little in common with the corporate-electronic media, but that their work will be attacked by that same media. The more factual it is, the less convenient it is for their owners and masters. Real reporters need to realize that to protect themselves and the integrity of their work. They should develop the performance skills necessary to do that as well.

Note: The Tea Party has been carefully cultivated by the media, all you have to do is compare how every small PR event the teabaggers mount is covered by the media as compared to huge rallies of progressives such as the one in DC last week.

* Before I read the story the impression I got from the media was that she was a teenager. I would like to also compare the media treatment of rich adults in their 20s with poor kids in their teens and younger when they get into trouble.

Do Daughters Stink?

JP sent me a link to an article about the question why couples seem more likely to get married and stay married if they have sons rather than daughters:

Not only did researchers find that couples with sons are more likely to stick together, unmarried pregnant couples were more likely to have shotgun weddings if the baby was going to be a boy and divorced mothers of boys are more likely to remarry and stay remarried.

Does this mean that daughters are matrimonially risky and sons are marriage saviors? Not so fast, psychologists say.
The article is pretty good, actually, and well worth reading because it gives a much more considered view of the evidence.

But note the odd focus in the above quote: It must be something that daughters do or don't do that causes divorces! That NEVER occurred to me when I first read about the research. My thoughts were about whether men value sons more than daughters and whether both men and women think that divorce is worse for sons than daughters. It's not to my credit that I never thought of the possibility the above article later mentions: That daughters might provide more support to a divorced mother than sons and thus might make divorce easier for her.

But check out the comments to this article. Several of them interpret the article as meaning that daughters in fact cause divorces, by their behavior, by being pampered little princesses and so on. Some others argue that you can never have several women in one household because women can't get along. This despite the fact that the divorce does NOT reduce the number of women in the household because in the vast majority of cases it is the mother who gets physical custody.

So it sounds like the sameoldsameold misogyny again. In the comments, I mean. The article itself is not bad.

You're A Whore

How did you feel about that title? Did it make you angry at me? Did it seem nonsensical? Did you think it was funny? Were you like "whatevah"?

I'm asking those questions because of the recent news that someone in Jerry Brown's campaign in California called his opponent in the governor's race, Meg Whitman, a whore:

The comment came after Brown called the Los Angeles Police Protective League in early September to ask for its endorsement. He left a voicemail message for Scott Rate, a union official. Brown apparently believed he had hung up the phone, but the connection remained intact and the voice mail machine captured an ensuing conversation between Brown and his aides.

With evident frustration, Brown discussed the pressure he was under to refuse to reduce public safety pensions or lose law enforcement endorsements to Whitman. Months earlier, Whitman had agreed to exempt public safety officials from key parts of her pension reform plan.

"Do we want to put an ad out? … That I have been warned if I crack down on pensions, I will be – that they'll go to Whitman, and that's where they'll go because they know Whitman will give 'em, will cut them a deal, but I won't," Brown said.

At that point, what appears to be a second voice interjects: "What about saying she's a whore?"

"Well, I'm going to use that," Brown responds. "It proves you've cut a secret deal to protect the pensions."
I'm also asking about all this because several liberal/progressive men didn't see where the problem is. After all, Meg Whitman sells away her principles so she is a whore.

Now distance yourself from this particular example and note that I'm not advocating that anyone would vote for Meg Whitman in these elections. What I want to discuss is the use of insults such as calling a woman who is not a sex worker a whore. Or even calling a woman who IS a sex worker a whore. The two terms are not identical. The former term is neutral and descriptive whereas the latter is filled with contempt and loathing and moral judgments.

Why is this particular term picked among the many possible insults? What is it about the idea of a woman selling sex that is so horrible*? Consider that the vast, vast majority of female sex workers sell sex to male customers. Every single one of those men is exchanging money for sex. Yet we don't even have a good insult for them in English (Finnish has the term "whore-buck", buck as in male goat).

Then consider that it appears to be mostly men who use the insult "whore." Is it the idea of having to buy sex that they are really angry about? I don't think so, because another common insult is the term "slut" and a slut isn't taking money for sex. She's just having lots of it (though probably not with the person calling her a slut).

My tentative conclusion is that these insults are based on the old idea that good women don't have much sex and certainly not sex with many men. Any woman who violates that rule deserves our loathing and our contempt. Of course any man who violates that rule is a stud and deserves our congratulations.

It's the old double standard peeking through layers and layers of other stuff.

But that's not really what makes calling Meg Whitman a whore so dangerous in political terms. It's the fact that any woman can be called a whore or a slut or a bitch when she deviates (or is suspected of deviating) from established gender norms, and women know this.

It is this knowledge deep inside women that those liberal guys I mentioned earlier don't get. That's the reason why calling Meg Whitman a whore will backfire. Women know that there, but for the grace of goddess, go I.
*This post is not addressing any of the problems of prostitution from a feminist point of view or sex trafficking or sexual slavery. There's clearly much that fills us with horror in those topics, but what I want to do with this post is ask the questions in isolation of the actual sex markets and how they work, to get at something different.

Friday, October 08, 2010

How not to comfort people (by Suzie)

In “Grilled Cheesus,” this week’s episode of “Glee,” the father of a high-school glee club member goes into a coma after a heart attack. The son feels anger, guilt, grief. His friends hope to comfort him by changing his worldview to theirs.

"Although Kurt has announced he’s an atheist, three friends sing him a spiritual song. Three sing and pray at his father’s bedside until he kicks them out. TVGuide:
Later that day, [best friend] Mercedes approaches Kurt, saying that she doesn't know how to be around him during this time because of his inability to connect to the spiritual world. He apologizes for pushing his friends away. She hopes that he'll come with her to church, where they will be dedicating their worship to Burt.
Sue, the glee club’s nemesis, wants to stop all the singing about God. But guidance counselor Emma says:
What is wrong with you? … There is a boy in that glee club that might lose his father. How could you get in the way when the only thing anybody is trying to do is give that poor child just a little bit of comfort?
Co-creator Ryan Murphy says: "Sue's an atheist, but I love that she doesn't want to be. She and [Kurt] are both saying to the world, 'Prove us wrong: If God is kindness and love, make me believe in God.' "

Please do not try this in the real world. If you believe in God, don't assume your atheist friends are secretly longing to be converted.

Kurt ends up understanding that his friends mean well and sings “[What if God Was] One of Us” with them. (In an earlier solo, he sang the "Across the Universe" version of "I Want to Hold Your Hand." I’ve embedded a film clip of T.V. Carpio singing it to another cheerleader.) Thus, the person who needs comfort must reassure others. The person who is in the minority among his friends and in the larger society, must learn to respect and tolerate their views, even though they make little attempt to understand his.

Many critics have praised the show as being well-balanced in its depiction of religion. Some atheists were pleased to be mentioned at all. Others were outraged, as I was. My outrage stems, in part, from my experiences as a cancer patient, when some Christians are convinced that they will console me through conversion.

Sunday and yesterday, I went into the small, sort-of ER at the cancer center. The Sunday RN did his job and nothing else. I was the only patient in the place. I was vomiting and crying in pain in my cubicle while he regaled the staff with humorous stories. Yesterday's RN treated me like a person, not just an inconvenience, joking with me, while she headed off the pain and nausea. This reminded me that caring can be shown in many small ways -- it doesn't require a full gospel choir.

Friday critter blogging (by Suzie)

Here is Sebastian the Chihuahua at attention.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Just Shout Louder

This Rachel Maddow interview with a Republican called Art Robinson (running against Peter DeFazio in Oregon) is an example of that tactic in debates. Robinson keeps shouting louder and louder. Then he spices that up with condescension.

Would he have done the same with a male interviewer?

Today's Giggle Time: The Hundred Most Powerful Women

Forbes has given us a list of the hundred most powerful women in the world. That the list makes any feminist go and bang her or his head against the garage door is just an extra benefit of the new way of defining power Forbes now uses:

The new system mixed an earnings component with a "buzz factor," as opposed to past lists focused more on wealth and executive position.
Great! I look forward to the list of the hundred most powerful men in the world on the basis of "buzz factor"! Except that we will not get that, because power is a serious matter when discussed in men. When it comes to women power can be most anything you wish it to be. Or so it looks.

So what does this wonderful new way of defining power accomplish, other than making the whole concept a little bit laughable?

Well, it ranks seven female presidents of this globe below the first 61 women in the rankings and no female presidents above that number. It puts a First Lady (Michelle Obama) in the top position and the First Lady of an American state (Maria Shriver, California) above all female presidents and the Prime Minister of Australia (Julia Gillard)!

The lesson is that women gain much, much more power by associating with powerful men than by trying to get power themselves! Such a good lesson to teach our daughters.

And if you do want to go for that brass ring of power all on your own, why bother about politics? You can just develop a lot of buzz factor! I can't help feeling that the changes were made so that the list would include more of exactly that: outrageous performers, beautiful bodies and so on. Never mind if the women listed actually have power. It's much more fun this way. And much less feministy which is a very nice side-effect.

Power is difficult to define, I know. But this list corrupts even the faintest attempts to do just that and essentially makes a joke of the whole idea that women could wield real power.

The list is really about fame and celebrity status. The people who created it and then decided to call what it measures "power" should be ashamed. So I think.

Today's Action Alert

Concerns the New York state case where a juvenile counselor (who appears to have worked for the judicial system) confessed to raping one juvenile and sexually harassing two others:

Simmons continued to prey on teenagers in his custody until 2008, when a 15-year-old girl came forward to say he had sodomized her behind a locker in the girls holding area, which he stocked with condoms and cookies. Investigators believe the assaults go back a decade to the rape of a 13-year-old in the holding area.

"Just the tip of the iceberg," Assistant District Attorney Amir Vonsover said in 2008, when Simmons was indicted for three sex assaults.

On Sept. 27, Simmons appeared in court and pleaded guilty to raping Ashley and sexually assaulting two other teens.

He received probation.
Getting just probation seems to be based on plea bargaining. You can protest here (I haven't checked if you have to live in New York state to do so).

That 2000 Dollar Deductible...

Rand Paul has proposed a 2000 dollar deductible for Medicare recipients.

The interesting bit in that video:

"I'm not talking about changing the deductible for anyone who gets Medicare currently," Paul told Cavuto. "But I am saying younger people -- probably 55 and under."

"We need people who will stand up like adults, admit to the problems, and try to fix these problems," Paul added. "Not on the backs of current senior citizens, but on the next generation that comes forward."
Paul later stated that he doesn't support higher deductibles for Medicare. Perhaps not even on the frail backs of future senior citizens?

Deductibles are a popular conservative nostrum for anything that ails health care in general. They make the price of medical care unsubsidized until the subscriber has spent the size of the deductible. What this means in the present case is that seniors on Medicare would have to spend 2000 dollars out-of-pocket before Medicare would step in at all. For those seniors whose sole income comes from Social Security (and many women are in that group, due to traditional gender roles) spending 2000 bucks on medical care each year is a lot of money. Might mean not eating or not heating.

Still, perhaps the deductibles could be adjusted by the Medicare recipient's income level? But even in that case they would be unlikely to drastically reduce Medicare total spending, simply because most of that is linked to hospitalization. By the time a person is ill enough to be admitted to a hospital that 2000 deductible has become irrelevant.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Scandinavian Music Group: Vieläkö soitan banjoa?

A nice song. Do I still play the banjo?


After coming across this article while searching for something else I suddenly remembered all my encounters with flashers or exhibitionists. Most of them took place in the large park I crossed at night on my way home from the university (yes, I was really stupid to walk that way on my own). Suddenly a guy would stand up from the bushes wagging his penis at me. This happened many, many times.

But the case I remember the best was having lunch at a cafe and looking up only to see a man ejaculating while staring at me eating. He was standing in an enclosed doorway which had a glass wall to the cafe. One of my rare moments of pure red rage took over, and I ran out and then chased him down the street. So.

The reason for my rage was of course the fact that he was using me as his masturbation aid.

Let's see what Wikipedia says about exhibitionism:

Exhibitionism, colloquially referred to flashing, is behavior by a person that involves the exposure of private parts of their body to another person in a situation when they would not normally be exposed, with a tendency toward an extravagant. The act may be at least partially sexual or intended to attract the attention of another or others, or to shock. Some people have a psychological compulsion to sexually expose themselves. The condition is sometimes called apodysophilia[1] or Lady Godiva syndrome. In some situations exposing in public is a crime of indecent exposure or public nuisance. Though the offence is not often prosecuted, it is taken especially seriously when the exposure (flashing) is to children and women.

Public exhibitionism by women has been recorded since classical times, often in the context of the women's shaming groups of men into committing, or inciting them to commit, some public action.[2]
Wow. Just wow, even with the warning that the factual contents of the post are disputed. If you read the whole thing you get the idea that flashing is mostly what women do.

I looked up the debate on the article and found most comments even more staggeringly weird, except for this one:

The definition is wrong, as are the illustrations. As clear from any dictionary (Merriam-Webster, OED, American Heritage), exhibitionism only refers to the sexual practice of displaying one's private parts for the purpose of self-arousal of the individual performing it, in front of involuntary observers. Not to public nudity in general. Use of the word for other types of situations is metaphorical and derogative. It's absurd to regard every woman in history that reportedly appeared nude publicly for one purpose or another as an exhibitionist. The images are also irrelevant, because they clearly show erotic "flashing" by professional models in porn context, intended not to stimulate the flasher but the public. A man with a long coat in the woods would be a more appropriate illustration.
I could be wrong, of course, but I doubt that the parks are full of female exhibitionists or that women bare their genitals to unwilling observers in order to masturbate. Perhaps the phenomenon I'm thinking about is something quite different than exhibitionism?

More News On The Gender Wage Gap

I found this yesterday:

--A new fact sheet released today by the Institute for Women's Policy Research, based on data from the US Bureau of the Census, shows that in 2009 median annual earnings for employed women were $36,278, compared with $47,127 for men, a female- to- male-earnings ratio of 77.0 percent (making for a gender wage gap of 23 percent). This gender wage gap deteriorated slightly in 2009, from a level of 77.1 percent in 2008, after peaking at 77.8 percent in 2007. For Americans employed full-time year-round, there is no evidence that men are doing worse in the recession than women earnings-wise.

"More effort to stimulate the economy and create jobs that pay decent wages regardless of gender or race is desperately needed. Women, especially those who support families on their own, would benefit from equal access to good jobs and equal pay"

The gender wage gap is stark for women of color. For full-time year-round employees, white women earned only 75 cents for each dollar earned by white men, but African American women only made 62 cents for every dollar earned by a white man, and Hispanic/ Latina women earned only 53 cents.
You can see the actual statistics in Table 1. of this publication (pdf) (left-click to enlarge the table):

A few things should be kept in mind when looking at that data:

First, these are gross figures. They do not tell us what causes these gender and race/ethnicity differences in earnings. The figures have not been standardized for actual working hours (such as overtime), occupation, industry or the worker's education or experience levels.

Second, part-time workers are excluded altogether. Women are much more likely to work part-time than men and part-time workers have lower hourly wages than full-time workers.

Table 1 above chooses to relate women's earnings to the earnings of white non-Hispanic men in the rightmost column. Those comparisons tell us that Asian-American women do best in that comparison and Hispanic women/Latinas worst.

I decided to play with the numbers in that table a little more. For example, we can look at the gross (unstandardized) race/ethnicity gap for each sex. If we use the white non-Hispanic men's earnings as the denominator and treat those earnings as if they equal one dollar, then African-American men make 73 cents, Asian-American men one dollar and Hispanic men/Latinos 61 cents.

Likewise, if we set white non-Hispanic women's earnings as equal to one dollar, then African-American women make 83 cents, Asian-American women 1 dollar and 10 cents and Hispanic women/Latinas 70 cents.

Once again, remember that the above figures (which are obviously really percentages) are not standardized for education etc. and therefore are not direct measures of race discrimination. Still, those numbers are interesting, especially when we compare the effects of race/ethnicity between men and women.

What about the gender gap in wages by race/ethnicity? If we set the men's earnings in a particular race/ethnicity group as one dollar, then women in that same group earn 75 cents if the group is white (not Hispanic), 85 cents if the group is African-American, 82 cents if the group is Asian-American and 87 cents if the group is Hispanic/Latino. Note that the gender gap is the largest among non-Hispanic whites.

Finally, we can simply rank the dollar figures in that table. Asian-American men have the highest average earnings, white non-Hispanic men the second highest, Asian-American women the third highest and so on. An instructive exercise.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Hollaback Has A New Address

Hollaback is the website which lets women react to street harassment. Check it out.

I was surfing the net the other night and came across all sorts of really woman-hating comments in the threads at places which aren't supposed to be woman-hating (those sites exist, too, and if you are interested check out what YesMeansYes found), and it occurred to me that having a site like Hollaback, but just for those types of comments would be fantastic. People could report the comments and the name of the site which allowed them to fester in their bottom for weeks, months or forever. Over time the site would grow and grow and grow and perhaps then someone would take my concerns over this cyber-misogynism more seriously.

What do you think of that brilliant idea?
After thinking about it, I decided not to publish a sample of the comments I collected because they are awful and will make everybody who reads this feel dirty. But I will do so in the comments if my dear readers wish it.

Today's Ur-Stupid Statement

Not written today but a few days ago in an article about how the number of women in the Congress is likely to drop this year, for the first time in three decades.

This is the stupid statement:

Women's gains in Congress have been slow since
Jeanette Rankin of Montana became the first woman
in the House in 1917, three years before women
won the right to vote. Even now, just 17% of
Congress is female.

Beyond bragging rights, does having women in Congress make a difference?
Bolds are mine. The article then goes on to argue that it does because women bring up different issues.

Let's change that last sentence in the quote a little. It may clarify my anger:

Beyond bragging rights, does having Latinos in Congress make a difference?
When did democracy stop meaning anything? When is aiming at a Congress reflective of the actual composition of the country something to do with bragging rights? And where are the bragging rights in any case when so many otherwise comparable (and even not-comparable) countries have a greater representation of women than the United States?

Monday, October 04, 2010

The Opt-Out Government

This case from Tennessee tells us how a libertarian system works:

Imagine your home catches fire but the local fire department won't respond, then watches it burn. That's exactly what happened to a local family tonight.

A local neighborhood is furious after firefighters watched as an Obion County, Tennessee, home burned to the ground.

The homeowner, Gene Cranick, said he offered to pay whatever it would take for firefighters to put out the flames, but was told it was too late. They wouldn't do anything to stop his house from burning.

Each year, Obion County residents must pay $75 if they want fire protection from the city of South Fulton. But the Cranicks did not pay.

The mayor said if homeowners don't pay, they're out of luck.


This fire went on for hours because garden hoses just wouldn't put it out. It wasn't until that fire spread to a neighbor's property, that anyone would respond.

Turns out, the neighbor had paid the fee.

"I thought they'd come out and put it out, even if you hadn't paid your $75, but I was wrong," said Gene Cranick.
In terms of economic jargon, Gene Cranick tried to be a free rider, to get the benefits of the system without paying for them. That can work with some public goods (such as the services of a lighthouse) but firefighting services are not a pure public good. Though they have some of its characteristics, you certainly can be excluded from getting the service as Mr. Cranick found out.

At the same time, imagine what would happen with a purely private firefighting service. Each home owner would have to figure out how many others on that street have paid for the service. If none have, for example, then your house is in much greater danger of burning down (even if you pay for the service), simply because if other houses in the neighborhood start burning nobody will interfere. So the firefighters would wait until your house is surrounded by an inferno of flames before intervening.

Fun and games.
Added: This is unrelated, except for the firefighting bit but a fun example of the incentives and their effect:

I was reading a history book which recounted the story of a group of villages in the 18th century getting together and starting a firefighting service. The men working in it were doing it only part-time but they had to be paid. So the villages decided to pay them per fire put out. You can imagine what happened next.

Who Stole Feminism? Part II

This post is a continuation of my earlier post: Thoughts elicited by Jessica Valenti's article in the Nation magazine, "Who Stole Feminism?" What I wish to do here (well, "wish" is not quite the word when tackling this particular topic) is to discuss Jessica's arguments about intersectionality and, very briefly, the generational wars of American feminism.

The two arguments are somewhat different, although intersectionality in theory allows for considerations of age. Still, I'm going to cover the two topics separately.

First, intersectionality:

Let's begin with a quote from the article:

Conservative women have been trying to steal feminism for more than a decade—organizations like the Independent Women's Forum and Feminists for Life have long fought for antiwomen policies while identifying themselves as the "real" feminists. But their "prowoman" messaging didn't garner national attention until actual feminists paved the way for them in the 2008 presidential election. During the Democratic primary, feminist icons and leaders of mainstream women's organizations insisted that the only acceptable vote was for Hillary Clinton; female Barack Obama supporters were derided as traitors or chided for their naïveté. I even heard from women working in feminist organizations who kept mum on their vote for fear of losing their jobs. Perhaps most representative of the internal strife was a New York Times op-ed (and the fallout that followed) by Gloria Steinem in which the icon wrote, "Gender is probably the most restricting force in American life."

Soon after, Melissa Harris-Lacewell, an associate professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton University, responded in a Democracy Now! segment, "Part of what, again, has been sort of an anxiety for African-American women feminists like myself is that we're often asked to join up with white women's feminism, but only on their own terms, as long as we sort of remain silent about the ways in which our gender, our class, our sexual identity doesn't intersect, as long as we can be quiet about those things and join onto a single agenda."

The argument was not a new one—women of color and younger feminists have often taken white second-wave feminists to task for focusing on gender inequities over a more intersectional approach that also takes race, class and sexuality into account.
The first paragraph is included here to set the stage. For my discussion of it, see Part I. What I want to focus on here is the concept of intersectionality and how it can be used in feminist discourse:

One definition of intersectionality:

Intersectionality is a sociological theory suggesting that—and seeking to examine how—various socially and culturally constructed categories of discrimination interact on multiple and often simultaneous levels, contributing to systematic social inequality. Intersectionality holds that the classical models of oppression within society, such as those based on race/ethnicity, gender, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, class, or disability do not act independently of one another; instead, these forms of oppression interrelate creating a system of oppression that reflects the "intersection" of multiple forms of discrimination.
Ignoring intersections of oppressions can create blind spots in the application of feminist thinking, as demonstrated by the following example:

In the 1980s, Crenshaw was trying to understand why US anti-discrimination law was failing to protect Black women in the workplace, and she discovered it was because the law distinguished between two kinds of discrimination: gendered discrimination and racialized discrimination.

That is, US law distinguished between discrimination against women (on the basis of their gender) and discrimination against Black, Latino, Asian, and Indigenous people (on the basis of their race).

But in her study of discrimination in workplaces, Crenshaw observed that Black women were discriminated against on both bases – their gender and their race – at once.

So, for example, Black women were the last group to be hired at a workplace she studied – after white women and Black men. When the boss decided to lay people off, Black women were fired because they were the least senior – the last to arrive. But that they were hired last was itself due to discrimination. This group of Black women took the company to court and the judge said, "there's no gender discrimination here because white women weren't fired. And there's no race discrimination here because Black men weren't fired."

So, Crenshaw concluded that discrimination against Black women in the workplace – as Black women – was invisible to legal concepts of discrimination that saw it in terms of "gender" only or in terms of "race" only. Black women's experiences of discrimination were rendered invisible by these ways of categorizing discriminatory practices.

Crenshaw argued that a similar thing happened in US feminist movements. Black women's issues – and the issues facing other women of colour, lesbians, and working class white women – became invisible as privileged white women defined "gender discrimination" and "gender oppression" in terms of their own particular experiences. They then overgeneralized those experiences and claimed they were shared by all women. But they weren't.
Likewise, past campaigns focusing on increasing access to contraception and abortions defined reproductive choice in a way which left out the concerns of those women who at that time faced forced sterilizations.

Clearly, then, an intersectional approach is useful. But what does it mean to use one in feminism? Is it really true that

If the new wave of feminists—the leaders of small grassroots organizations across the country, the bloggers who are organizing hundreds of thousands of women online, the advocates for reproductive justice, racial equality and queer rights—aren't recognized as the real advocates for women, then the future of the movement will be lost.
I'm not sure, and the reason is that lots and lots of women slip through those intersections altogether. Can't there be more real advocates than that list?

It seems to me that a full-blown use of intersectionality would replace all the social justice movements focusing on gender, race, class and sexual preference with one movement. That movement would then push for the removal of every type of oppression simultaneously. Would that be feasible?

I doubt it. Intersectionality seems to me to be indispensable in understanding the experiences of specific groups in the society as well as in theoretical debates. But it would have serious problems as a practical social justice movement, simply because of the enormous tangle of influences it would be expected to battle. And as long as the individual movements addressing gender, race, class or sexual preference exist, they are going to specialize.

At the same time, feminist activists should learn from intersectionality to listen carefully to all groups of women in order to make sure that their concerns are understood and also to make sure that the problems the activism addresses are defined in the most inclusive manner possible.

That's how far I have gotten with respect to intersectionality. I hope to return to that topic in the future. Right now I need to wind down this post by addressing

The generational wars in feminism

Here is Jessica's take on these:

Part of the reason Palin and her cohort are so successful at positioning themselves as the "new" women's movement is because we fail to push forward and support new feminists of our own. This is not to say that younger women aren't at the forefront of the movement—they certainly are. But their work is often made invisible by an older generation of feminists who prefer to believe young women are apathetic rather than admitting their movement is shifting into something they don't recognize and can't control.

For example, in an April Newsweek article about young people's supposed apathy over reproductive rights, NARAL Pro-Choice America President Nancy Keenan suggested that it was only the "postmenopausal militia" on the front lines of reproductive justice. Yet when I asked a NARAL spokesperson about employee demographics, I was told that people younger than 35 make up around 60 percent of the organization. And when they're not ignored, young feminists are painted as vapid and sexualized. Take feminist writer Debra Dickerson, who wrote in a 2009 Mother Jones article that today's feminists are all about "pole-dancing, walking around half-naked, posting drunk photos on Facebook and blogging about [their] sex lives." This insistence that a new wave doesn't exist or isn't worth paying attention to has left open the cultural space for antifeminist women like O'Donnell and Palin to swoop in and lay claim to the movement.


Women vote for their interests—not their gender or age—but they still want to see themselves represented. If the only young women Americans see identified as "feminists" are those on the right, we run the risk of losing the larger cultural battle and the many younger women who are seeking an answer to the mixed messages about what feminism really is. And frankly, if we position vibrant young activists front and center, there will be no question as to who is creating the best change for women.


Feminism isn't simply about being a woman in a position of power. It's battling systemic inequities; it's a social justice movement that believes sexism, racism and classism exist and interconnect, and that they should be consistently challenged. What's most important to remember as we fight back against conservative appropriation is that the battle over who "owns" the movement is not just about feminists; feminism's future affects all American women. And if we let the lie of conservative feminism stand—if real feminists don't lay claim to the movement and outline their vision for the future—all of us will suffer.
What I find fascinating about this is the total absence of intersectionality when it comes to age and gender. Ageisms, of both types, should be among the influences which are entered into that matrix of oppressions, after all.

If you desire something more reasoned, check out Amanda's take and Katha's recent Nation article as well as the Faludi article both Amanda and Katha discuss.

So who is it who stole feminism? I read through the comments to Jessica's article to find out what the back benchers thought. Sadly, many of the commentators at the Nation website are anti-feminists. They argue that feminism was stolen when it focused on baby killing and disrespecting housewives and motherhood, and when Bill Clinton was given a free pass for his sexual harassment of an intern.

Knowing what anti-feminists think about feminism isn't obviously of great relevance. But the disconnect between the message of the article and those comments is worrisome, to say the least. At least both the article and the anti-feminist commentators decided on the same culprits.


Who Stole Feminism? Part I

Who Stole Feminism? How Women Have Betrayed Women is the title of a 1995 book by the anti-feminist writer Christina Hoff-Sommers. She is also famous for writing The War Against Boys. How Misguided Feminism is Harming Our Young Men.

That "Who Stole Feminism?" is also the title of a recent article in the Nation magazine by Jessica Valenti may be a pure coincidence. But if it is not, I wonder if the omitted part of Hoff-Sommer's book title should also be taken as given here. That would be the bit about how women have betrayed women.

Jessica's thesis is interesting: Women like Sarah Palin and Christine O'Donnell can call themselves feminists while advocating for a woman-hating culture because old progressive/liberal feminists have essentialized gender:

Sarah Palin opposes abortion and comprehensive sex education. While mayor of Wasilla she made sexual assault victims pay for their own rape kits. She also calls herself a feminist. Delaware GOP Senate nominee Christine O'Donnell has said that allowing women to attend military academies "cripples the readiness of our defense" and that wives should "graciously submit" to their husbands—but her website touts her "commitment to the women's movement." Pundits who once mocked women's rights activists as ugly bra burners are abuzz over the "new conservative feminism," and the Tea Party is lauding itself as a women's movement.

Feminists are understandably horrified—the movement we've fought so hard for is suddenly being appropriated by the very people who are trying to dismantle it. But this co-opting hasn't happened in a vacuum; the mainstream feminist movement's instability and stalled ideology have made stealing it that much easier. The failure of feminists to prop up the next generation of activists, and the focus on gender as the sole requisite for feminism, has led to a crisis of our own making.
I'm not convinced that gender has been treated as the sole requisite for feminism. It hasn't even been treated as a requisite. Indeed, I have always regarded men as completely capable of feminism and welcome them eagerly into the group that is so maligned and hated in this country. The more the merrier, for us masochists.

On the other hand, Jessica doesn't mean me when she talks about feminists in that quote; she means older feminists of the second wave who are still in power in the United States. Well, in power of the feminist movement which doesn't make one very powerful. And probably not of the second wave as most of those women are fairly old now. Pretty much just middle-aged white women. The ones who are in power.

But in what sense is gender the sole requirement even for that group? I think Jessica's answer is here:

Conservative women have been trying to steal feminism for more than a decade—organizations like the Independent Women's Forum and Feminists for Life have long fought for antiwomen policies while identifying themselves as the "real" feminists. But their "prowoman" messaging didn't garner national attention until actual feminists paved the way for them in the 2008 presidential election. During the Democratic primary, feminist icons and leaders of mainstream women's organizations insisted that the only acceptable vote was for Hillary Clinton; female Barack Obama supporters were derided as traitors or chided for their naïveté. I even heard from women working in feminist organizations who kept mum on their vote for fear of losing their jobs. Perhaps most representative of the internal strife was a New York Times op-ed (and the fallout that followed) by Gloria Steinem in which the icon wrote, "Gender is probably the most restricting force in American life."


By pushing a vote for Clinton on the basis of her gender alone, establishment feminists not only rehashed internal grievances—they opened the door for conservatives to demand support for Palin for the very same reason. Unwittingly, the feminist argument for Clinton gave credence to the GOP's hope that the mere presence of a female on the ticket would deliver women's votes.
Ah. I think this is about the horrible pains inflicted on so many of us during those Democratic Primaries. I still walk around with my intestines falling out of my belly wound, and, so it seems, does Jessica. And many, many other feminists.

That Clinton vs. Obama battle left most of us liberals/progressives wounded and damaged, revealed several others as misogynists or racists and demonstrated the great fragility of liberal/progressive support for feminism. Well, at least for the kind of feminism which essentializes gender or counts the number of female presidents the U.S. has had. Which is zero.

But I agree with Jessica that the Steinem quote was ill-advised. Now, gender is certainly the most restricting force in Saudi Arabian life, say. It may even be the most restricting force when viewed globally and when those forces are examined over long periods of time. But I'm not so sure that it's the most restricting force in the United States, overall. At the same time, it IS a restricting force for girls born into fundamentalist families of all types, for example.

Did establishment feminists push a vote for Clinton on the basis of her gender alone? I read widely during those primaries, and I recall that most people were debating policies, experience and platforms. Those feminists who supported Clinton argued that her platform and history showed her a supporter of women's rights. I'd be more willing to entertain Jessica's argument if Obama had ran against someone like Palin and if establishment feminists would still have backed the Palin-lookalike.

How does one define an "establishment feminist", by the way? Do people who write about feminism a lot count or not? Or does the person have to be running a feminist organization to count as one? How long must a person be famous as a feminist to count as part of the establishment? I'm asking because sometimes it is hard to know who these establishment feminists are, given that the whole feminist movement is in tatters and shreds.

This is the part of Jessica's argument I disagree with:

Unwittingly, the feminist argument for Clinton gave credence to the GOP's hope that the mere presence of a female on the ticket would deliver women's votes.
As I have already stated, I doubt that the sole qualifications of Hillary Clinton consisted of her gender, and the latter certainly worked against her among any misogynist voters. I also doubt that feminists had much impact on what John McCain chose to do about his running mate. It was his very own sexist assumption that any woman would do which made him pick Sarah Palin, because although she was fairly inexperienced compared to other possible Republican women, she was the darling of the fundamentalist right. Two flies with one swat.

The Republicans got the idea that lots of American women voters did want to see more women in positions of power and ran with it. Granted, they ran away from feminist thinking, as fast they could, but they still ran. I really don't think the feminist establishment was the cause of that.

More from Jessica:

If there was ever proof that the feminist movement needs to leave gender essentialism at the door—this is it. If powerful feminists continue to insist that gender matters above all else, the movement will become meaningless. If any woman can be a feminist simply because of her gender, then the right will continue to use this faux feminism to advance conservative values and roll back women's rights.
I must finally admit to my ignorance here. I'm not quite sure what Jessica means by the term "gender essentialism." It's unlikely to be quite the definition biological determinists would use and more likely to come from the anti-essentialism literature where concepts such as gender are seen as socially constructed and from the intersectionality literature. The latter also gives me one possible interpretation for Jessica's argument about gender mattering more than anything else:

Part of this first step is seeing that people have a tendency to identify with an
oppression, most likely the one they have experienced, and to consider all other
oppressions as being of less importance. In the person’s mind their oppression has a
tendency then to become a master status. This leads to a kind contradiction where the oppressed becomes the oppressor. For example, a black heterosexual woman may
discriminate against lesbians without a second thought; or, a black Southern Baptist
woman may believe that every school classroom ought to display the Ten
Commandments. “Oppression is filled with such contradictions because these
approaches fail to recognize that a matrix of domination contains few pure victims or oppressors” (Collins, 2000, p. 287).

Collins' quote appears to refer to individuals, not to movements, however.

Whatever the correct take of that term, Jessica seems to be arguing that feminists should not prioritize gender over issues of race, class or sexual preference. If they do so they are gender essentialists.

But then other social justice movements might be accused of similar essentialism? Those who work on class issues should not prioritize class over gender and race and sexual preference, and those who work on anti-racism should not prioritize race over gender and class and sexual preference and those who work on GLBT issues should not prioritize GLBT issues over race, gender and class. They would all end up being almost the same movement if you continue with that exercise.

I'd be happy with that outcome. I wouldn't be happy with the outcome of feminists fighting for every cause and the other movements practicing essentialism that favors their own causes, because the effect of that would be to have practically nobody working on those purely gender-related problems such as misogyny, anti-choice groups, fundamentalist beliefs about women's inferiority and Evo-Psycho theories about women's inferiority, to mention a few.

Or to put it succinctly: Misogynists don't practice intersectionality, except to point out that foreign women are more likely to be submissive and hence the need for mail order brides in the U.S.

This does not mean that I would be opposed to intersectionality in feminist thought and debate, quite the opposite. True intersectionality is also very important for feminist activism (more about both of these in Part II of Who Stole Feminism). What it does mean is that I see an important role for some part of feminist research and debate to focus on gender and even to prioritize it.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Just A Joke, Sweetie!

Human Events (a wingnut paper) offers this humorous take on the Women of the DNC. Transcript by

The DNC's brand new calendar: Liberal Women Acting Liberally. The feast of wrinkled flesh begins with Miss January, Susan Estrich.

[Susan Estrich speaking: This is the kind of stuff I detest.]

Her talents include abortions and her hobbies include smoking an entire carton of Marlboro's every day. Or turn to June's pin-up babe, and treat yourself to the beastly, unshaved, Danish carnival of love Janet Reno.

[Woman: Janet Reno came to town collecting all the money.]

Her talents include being a man and one hobby she fancies is killing 76 people during the Branch-Davidian raid in Waco, Texas. Or how about the mesmerizing spiced beef of September, Diane Feinstein.

[Diane Feinstein speaking: I had a Code Pink sleep-in at my home in San Francisco]

Her talents include wearing a helmet that looks like real hair and the hobby she excels most at is smelling like wet dog. Finally, there's Miss December, Alan Colmes

[Interviewer: How many years ago was it you did gay porn?].

who has no talents, but his hobbies include showing up at Star Wars conventions, claiming he played Admiral Akbar in Return of the Jedi.

It's the Babes of the DNC gone wild! Get the new Democratic National Committee Calendar: Liberal Women Acting Liberally, just in time for Christmas.
This is a joke. If you don't find it funny you are without a sense of humor.

The justification for the joke? This:

Certain conservative women are under attack. Why is that, you ask? This election season, FRX wants you to remember that it's not simply the fact that women like Nikki Haley, Christine O'Donnell, and Sarah Palin have defeated and made a fool of moderate Republicans, Democrats, and the liberal kook media. It's not simply the fact that they are accomplished campaigners. Oh, no; in many cases, these women are despised JUST because they are HOT. And let's face it: liberal women tend to be a bunch of hideous chuds.

I find it hard to do an actual analysis of this because it's so incredibly juvenile. Beastly and unshaven? Smells like a wet dog? And adding Alan Colmes to the list of babes of the DNC?

But analyze I must. Note the initial premise: Because the extreme right-wing women are targets of sexism in the media, the proper punishment is NOT to address those who target them using sexism and misogyny, but to extend the sexist and misogynistic targeting to Democratic women in the public eye, too! Now all women are your foot rags, thank you very much.

Next, note the assumption that evaluating the external appearance of women in politics is a correct and right-wing-manly thing to do. Women in politics should be hot. They should be eye-candy. Why bother having them, otherwise? There's your basic tiny sexist trying to make this thing called thinking.

But men don't have to look good. That most men in positions of power are also fairly advanced in age and possibly carry "wrinkled flesh", too, is irrelevant, because it IS irrelevant to a sexist. Men matter as individual, women do not matter, unless they serve as masturbation aids.

You know what annoys me the most here? I could make a reversal of this calendar oh-so-easily. I could say the most disgusting stuff about Republican men in the public eye! In fact, I'm laughing even just thinking about it. But I'm trying to be a good goddess, not a demon-lady. Trying so very hard...