Saturday, June 11, 2011

Sugar Ray Leonard's Claim of Sexual Assault And Why I Have A Hard Time Believing It [Anthony McCarthy]

The Olympic gold medal winner and professional boxer, Sugar Ray Leonard has written a memoir in which he says he was the victim of a gay sexual assault when he was 20. Here is how the New York Times reported it:

Two pages later, Leonard delivers the book's bombshell while indirectly addressing a growing concern in the sports industry at large. He reveals publicly for the first time that he was sexually abused as a young fighter by an unnamed “prominent Olympic boxing coach.”

Leonard writes that when the coach accompanied him as a 15-year-old and another young fighter to a boxing event in Utica, N.Y., in 1971, he had the teenagers take a bath in a tub of hot water and Epsom salts while he sat on the other side of the bathroom. They suspected “something a bit inappropriate” was occurring but did not want to question a strong male authority figure.

Several years later, Leonard describes sitting in a car in a deserted parking lot across from a recreation center, listening intently as the same coach, said to be in his late 40s, explained how much a gold medal at the 1976 Olympics would mean to his future.

Leonard was flattered, filled with hope, as any young athlete would be. But he writes: “Before I knew it, he had unzipped my pants and put his hand, then mouth, on an area that has haunted me for life. I didn’t scream. I didn’t look at him. I just opened the door and ran.”

He adds that when he first decided to discuss the incident in the book, which is written with Michael Arkush, he offered a version in which the abuser stopped before there was actual contact.

“That was painful enough,” Leonard writes. “But last year, after watching the actor Todd Bridges bare his soul on Oprah’s show about how he was sexually abused as a kid, I realized I would never be free unless I revealed the whole truth, no matter how much it hurt.”

Later in the Times piece, after citing the numerous incidences of his violence - especially against his first wife - , adultery, drug and alcohol abuse this is said:

Greenburg speculated that it was counseling that helped him finally come to grips with the sexual-abuse episode of his youth.

“Having to hide a situation like that made it worse, I would think,” he said. “You have these dirty little secrets, and you feel as a man, and one in a tough-guy world like boxing, that you can’t share it with anyone. I would think that would probably affect every aspect of his life.”

I've had several discussions about this in the past couple of days with straight men and women who uniformly take what Leonard says at his word. One, a lawyer, said that it had a ring of truth to it. I'm afraid that as a gay man who is intimately familiar with what it's like to have been gay during the time in question and who remembers 1976 very well, I am having a very hard time believing it as reported.

My first problem with what he's said is that Leonard has refused to name the man he is accusing, even though he says that the man is dead. Not naming the man carries a number of problems.

This casts suspicion on any boxing coach in his late forties who might have been in contact with Leonard during the Olympics and who might have had some connection with him five years earlier. I have no idea how many of those there are but I do know that raising suspicions of this kind should be avoided when possible. Leonard could clear up that much by naming the man he's accusing and ending the possibility of innocent people being hurt*. Furthermore it reinforces the picture of all gay men as sexual predators. "A gay man" doesn't assault someone a specific man does. If that man can be named, he should be and he should face the consequences of his actions, those shouldn't be left hanging as a finger pointed at all gay men.

Leonard could possibly dispel any likely doubt by naming the man and seeing what other people could say of him. It's possible that there were other, credible, incidents. Or it could risk none of those coming forth and casting doubt on what he said happened.

But, unlike many, many of other stories of sexual abuse by older men on younger men and boys, Leonard's doesn't seem probable to me because of the facts he alleges.

First, as things stand, he claims that the assault took place shortly before his all important match at the Montreal Olympics, in the context of a conversation in which the coach was telling him of the importance of winning gold. He says that he had suspected the coach had sexual interest in him since he was fifteen, so for about five years.

I have a hard time imagining that a very middle aged gay man would have chosen Sugar Ray Leonard to make a sudden, un-negotiated, physical sexual assault against just as he was about to win a gold medal in BOXING. Boxing, repeatedly and skillfully and forcefully hitting an evenly matched opponent in the face and head in order to inflict damage up to and including knocking him unconscious. Boxing is not track and field, it's not gymnastics, it's the training and practice of how to do physical damage to someone. No matter how physically attractive Leonard was, the possibility that he might beat you to a bloody pulp if he didn't welcome your entirely unannounced, unapproved physical advance would have made him an unlikely man to choose to make one on.

His identification of a boxing coach who had been associated with him for at least five years also gives me problems. For someone who had been cultivating an athlete for five years, watching them climb up the extremely steep hill to even get to the Olympics, knowing that any upset could quash their hopes of even getting a bronze, I can't imagine them taking the chance of coming on to their athlete during the very weeks in which they could ruin years of investment of their work and hopes, ruining any benefits that could be gotten from having coached an Olympic champion. Especially if he had the chance to make that advance for the five preceding years. I can't imagine an Olympic coach making their first and only actual sexual advance on an athlete in that context. I can't imagine him risking his professional standing. In 1976 any credible rumor of an Olympic boxing coach coming on to his unwilling athletes half his age would have been the end of any career in sports. In the media atmosphere of the mid-70s, especially the sports media, risking an athlete pressing charges would have be enormous.

Several of those who objected to my doubts pointed out that the alleged attacker was a boxing coach. But he was a boxing coach in advancing middle age, hardly a match for a young man about to win Olympic gold, someone who had systematically fought and won against increasingly able and skilled opponents in peak condition to reach the stage when he was about to fight against another, super elite boxer. I'd guess that an experienced boxing coach who had seen what Leonard had done to other boxers might have had more reason than most to not want to risk provoking an attack by him in the summer of 1976. There were far less dangerous men to come on to in Montreal that week.

The wider context of my having problems with the idea of a gay man doing that in 1976 is directly due to the fact that it was and remains possible for someone to beat or murder a gay man and to either get off without charges or to have a murder charge reduced to manslaughter by claiming a sexual assault. In many cases the mere allegation of an unwanted, gay sexual advance could get a man out of a charge of assault before it went to court. It was common knowledge that many gay bashers got away with it by telling that kind of story to the police and prosecutors.

If you doubt that is the case, there are law review articles debating whether or not the use of the "Gay Panic Defense" should be allowed to be raised by the defense in murder cases** or if that practice should be abolished.

Let me stop right here and repeat that. Today it is being debated whether or not to allow defendants in a MURDER CASE to claim they, usually brutally, killed a gay man because he made a pass at them. Today. Never mind in the mid-1970s.

In the mean time, right now, it is quite possible to use a claim of gay assault to get off on a very brutal killing, in which the physical evidence doesn't support the defendant's story that a sexual assault took place. Not in the deep South, in Illinois. the first state to decriminalize gay sex.

I will be writing about this apparently little known part of the law. Little known by straight folks, apparently, but very well known to gay men. Just as women can become the accused in a rape case, gay men murdered by straight men can be blamed for their own murders, qualified for unofficial capital punishment for doing something straight men do to women every day. I will be writing about that more, soon. It seems to be unknown to a considerable part of the straight, liberal, self defined non-homophobic, blogosphere.

* When Scott Brown said that he had been abused at a much younger age I said, a number of times, that he should have named the man, who, as far as I know, he hasn't yet. I don't remember anyone who was critical of me making the same point at the time.

** As the law now stands, a nonviolent homosexual advance may constitute sufficient provocation to incite that legal fiction, the reasonable man, to lose his self-control and kill in the heat of passion, thus mitigating murder to manslaughter. The author argues that this homosexual-advance defense is a misguided application of provocation theory and a judicial institutionalization of homophobia. Provocation defenses have their origin and rationale in tangled theories of justification and excuse, both of which divert attention away from the killer and onto the behavior of the deceased victim. The homosexual-advance defense appeals to irrational fears, revulsion, and hatred prevalent in heterocentric society, focusing blame on the victim's real or imagined sexuality. In allowing the defense, the judiciary reinforces and institutionalizes violent prejudices at the expense of norms of self-control, tolerance, and compassion that ought to reign in society. The defense affirms homophobia and undermines the ability of courts to produce fair verdicts by creating a lower standard of protection against violence afforded to an identifiable class of victims. The author concludes that we ought to expect more from our courts: judges should hold as a matter of law that a homosexual advance is not sufficient provocation to incite a reasonable man to kill. Murderous homophobia should be considered an irrational and idiosyncratic characteristic of the killer rather than a normative social aspiration incorporated as the homosexual-advance defense into the standards that govern jury decision making.

Note: It seems to me that a lot of the people who I've discussed this with seem to believe that the problems Leonard had with violence, drugs, alcohol and other things as an adult are attributable to this one incidence he alleges. I don't buy that at all.

A far more obvious motivation for him hitting his first wife is in his training in systematic violence, the brutality of boxing which he practiced professionally and for which he was lauded and which made him a hero to millions of people.

I can't imagine that not instilling a sense of permission in at least some elite boxers. Boxing is permitted, systematic and intended brutality. When a boxer practices brutality outside of the ring it should be the first thing suspected as a motivation, not an incident which could be as much an attempt at self-exoneration as it could be a factual account of what would be considered quite differently, by society and the media if it had been a man doing the equivalent to a woman.

Even if every word Leonard said about this incidence is true, that doesn't excuse anything else he's admitted he did.

Friday, June 10, 2011

For Fun

Women Are A Geographic Location And Other Anti-Abortion Billboard Stories

Remember the billboard campaign aimed against African-American women? The same campaign is now used against Latinas:
I just wrote about the increasingly common view that women are just places in which fetuses may happen to live.

Speaking of anti-abortion billboards, remember the one which was too much even for the forced-birth movement in general? The one which was all about men's rights:
It's my belief that fathers should have a say regarding pregnancy. Women have all the power when it comes to pregnancy. The men get no say when a woman wants to go and have an abortion without the say of the father. I believe that is wrong because men are 50 percent of the result of the pregnancy. They should have an equal right to their unborn child and decisions regarding it."
More news on that story:
Greg Fultz, the New Mexico man who took out a billboard to shame his ex-girlfriend for allegedly having an abortion, has a violent, almost psychotic Twitter history.
Fultz made news this week when he purchased a billboard in the town of Alamogordo in which he accused his ex-girlfriend of having "killed" his baby. She claims she had a miscarriage and has filed a civil suit to have the billboard taken down, and though a judge has recommended he remove it until a decision can be made, it remains up.
If the tweets in that article indeed are by Fultz the man is a highest degree misogynist. Examples (be forewarned that these are bad):
"What do you tell a woman with two black eyes? Nothing. She's already been told twice."
"What does a battered woman do when she comes home from the hospital? The dishes, if she knows what's good for her."

He is Ba-a-ck! Santorum the Talibani

A man with a mission, he is, running for president and all. One of his messages is this:
SANTORUM: When I was leading the charge on partial birth abortion, several members came forward and said, “Why don’t we just ban all abortions?” Tom Daschle was one of them, if you remember. And Susan Collins, and others. They wanted a health exception, which of course is a phony exception which would make the ban ineffective.
One of the greatest minds of the twelfth century, perhaps, but right here and now his candidacy amounts to an insult to all women, as a minimum.

Though he isn't too strong on science, either. But he dearly wants a very small government, though only if it can be had in the middle of those fundie religious camps where women do as they are told. That's what family and faith mean to him. We should not forget that while using those euphemisms.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

The Posts I Didn't Want To Write. On Weiner. Part IV: Broader Media Analysis

For the purposes of this post, the term "media" will not be limited to only newspapers and sites of that sort but will also cover political blogs. I will, however, discuss the latter separately from the former, to the extent that I can distinguish between the two.

My initial idea was to address the way Andrew Breitbart, a circus figure among the conservatives, was invited to speak at Weiner's press conference. It was not Breitbart's press conference, and he was not meant to speak there. But the journalists in the room invited him to speak. Or rather, to rant.

And the circus was on! Later all the three rings had simultaneous events. In one ring the women Weiner had contacted were ripped apart by certain types of political blogs. The case of Gennette Cordova is the one I have most evidence about. She did not invite Weiner's underpants picture and she was not pleased to receive it.

What happened to her next is disgusting. First, the press invaded her campus:
Media outlets from all over the world are calling and sending emails to staff at Whatcom Community College after a lewd photo was sent to a student from the Twitter account of a New York congressman.
Students at the college are being careful about talking to strangers on the campus, said KIRO 7 Eyewitness News North Sound reporter Lee Stoll.
WCC student Kelsey Rowlson said the campus has had a lot more visitors than usual this week.
"(The) 'Today' show was here today and then 'Good Morning America' called yesterday, … New York Times," said Rowlson, laughing.
This is a private individual, mind you. And here are the consequences, as she wrote about them some time ago:
The last 36 hours have been the most confusing, anxiety-ridden hours of my life. I've watched in sheer disbelief as my name, age, location, links to any social networking site I've ever used, my old phone numbers and pictures have been passed along from stranger to stranger.
My friends have received phone calls from people claiming to be old friends of mine, attempting to obtain my contact information. My siblings have received tweets that are similar in nature. I began taking steps, though not quickly enough, to remove as much personal information from the Internet as possible.
Not because I "was exposed as Weiner's mistress" or because I "was responsible for the hack," as Gawker has suggested. I removed my information because I, believe it or not, do not enjoy being harassed or being the reason that my loved ones are targets of harassment.
I have seen myself labeled as the "Femme Fatale of Weinergate," "Anthony Weiner's 21-year-old coed mistress" and "the self-proclaimed girlfriend of Anthony Weiner."

It's like being pecked to death by vultures. Those labels she mentions appear to come mostly from the right-wing blogs. A summary can be found here, though I should warn that the quotes are sexist and racist and just plain nasty. Vultures. Did I already say that?

And this is what Cordova has stated more recently:
But Ms. Cordova said that, for her, the last two weeks had brought an unwanted frenzy of media attention and, she said, misperceptions about her involvement with Mr. Weiner.
“I’ve had a really hard time trying to fight these implications that I’ve been involved in an inappropriate relationship with a married congressman,” she said.
She has struggled to stay out of the limelight, leaving college and completing class work by phone and e-mail.

So what "right-to-know" argument could ever justify this treatment and the costs to her? But I guess it's all circus for the callous among us.

Another ring of this circus has been busy writing about Huma Abedin, Weiner's wife. Does her possible pregnancy make what her husband did worse? Should we take over her defenses now that she is in a fragile state? Is she going to stand by her man? Is she an opportunist climber who just wants to hang onto the power he has. Or is she the more powerful of the two in that marriage (well, that piece is actually quite good)? How is she reacting to all this (still a stunning brunette, it seems)? And on and on and on it goes.

And what's happening in the third ring? Ah. Chris Matthews, who did back-pedal from this argument later in the same show:
FEEHERY: I think we all feel for his wife right now. You know, Democrats think back to Gerry Studds…
MATTHEWS: He says his wife knew. He laid it out on her.
FEEHERY: Which is terrible. Terrible mistake.
MATTHEWS: But maybe she’s party responsible if she knew about it?
MACMAHON: She’s not responsible.
FEEHERY: She’s not responsible. Come on, that’s ridiculous.
Near the end of the broadcast, Matthews backtracked: “Putting a bit of the blame on her, I don’t think that’s fair. I hope I didn’t give the impression that I agreed with that. I certainly don’t. This is his problem. People love people, they marry them despite their faults.”

For what it’s worth, Weiner did not say that his wife was aware of his recent conduct and only told her that he’d been lying about it this morning.

Well, it was worth a try, right, Chris? He always does try to blame the wives.

The Womb Wars Get Worse

The forced birthers are changing their message. No longer are they trying to ban abortion just for the benefit of the silly women who don't know what they are doing. The pretense is over.

The newest personhood amendments aim to define a fertilized egg as a person, no matter what the circumstances. Thus, the carrier of the egg being raped is unimportant. The deep questions elicited by the assumption that there are two people in one body are unimportant. The crucial questions of women's equal rights under such a scenario are unimportant. What matters is the fertilized egg.

In fact, any violence against women appears to be permissible when the protection of the zygote is at stake. One forced-birther has written a whole movie with such a plot:
Kenneth Del Vecchio, a Republican candidate for New Jersey state Senate and a producer of conservative-themed films, is premiering a psychological thriller this weekend with a pro-life twist: Three pregnant women, who intend to have abortions, are kidnapped and forced to carry their pregnancies to term.
Here is a clip from it:

Fascinating, isn't it? Especially the idea that all this will turn out to show us how wrong abortion is. My guess is that the women will develop a Stockholm syndrome and end up loving their jailers for the wisdom of preventing them from aborting and for the wisdom of removing their freedom altogether.

Whatever. The stronger message this plot gives me is that Del Vecchio does not count women among human beings at all! The aquaria can be locked up for the necessary time period.

Speaking of aquaria, I came across this comment recently:
as it advances, medical science is revealing in greater and greater detail the life of the baby living in the womb...
And right after I came across this as the motto of a forced-birth site:
Social justice begins in the womb.
Notice the aquaria aspect there? We are slowly inching away from the fact that the womb is not like, say, Costa Brava, where someone lives. Let's change that last quote to make that clearer:
Social justice begins inside the woman.
Or inside Cathy or Natasha or Jane.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

The Posts I Didn't Want To Write. On Weiner. Part III: Political Analysis

(This is going to be the weakest of the posts, mostly because I have so little patience with politics as games and warfare. The comments are there for a purpose, such as to fill in the holes I leave.)

Several angles again: First, there is the question what Weiner's acts (however they are interpreted) mean for the Democratic Party in its attempt to restrain the Republican political moves towards a world combined with income-based feudalism for a few and anarchism for the rest, except for the smattering of fundamental churches to keep that anarchy from hurting the lords and ladies on the top. Well, assuming that the Democratic Party wants to slow down our travels in that direction.

The news on this are bad. We now talk about Representative Weiner, not about the Bryan budget or the general attempt to drown the government (and most Americans) in a bathtub. Weiner might be thrown overboard, and the real reason is that he truly acted in the most stupid imaginable manner. He knew how the American media are. He knew how the Republicans are. He must have known that nothing on the Intertubes is really private. In short, he hurt his team.*

The second angle to this question is the old IOKIYAR: It's OK If You Are A Republican. This means that we compare cases across the political aisle to see if the treatment of those cases is neutral or not. An example of a different treatment:
Meanwhile, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus has vocally called for Weiner’s resignation.


Fox News host Greta Van Susteren asked Priebus about this double standard last night, but Priebus refused to address it and Van Susteren, not surprisingly, allowed him to evade the question:
VAN SUSTEREN: Is there a difference with Senator David Vitter, I mean, with the whole — with his whole little prostitution — he’s on a prostitution client list. Is that different?
PRIEBUS: Well, I don’t know if it’s different.
VAN SUSTEREN: Well, nobody called –
PRIEBUS: Frankly, I’m not relitigating the David Vitter situation.

Vitter was not made to resign. Note also that the Vitter case was objectively worse:
The Louisiana Republican senator faced an ethics complaint in 2007 after turning up in the phone records of a prostitution ring. The statute of limitations had passed, so he faced no criminal charges. He was re-elected in 2010.
The Republicans may have changed their willingness to support politicians like Vitter, who knows. But that does not remove the hypocrisy factor: Conservative "family values" (hah) politicians should walk their talk because they insist that others do.

The third angle to this topic is the trickiest one. Why is it that certain types of behavior elicit this response and other types of behavior do not? For instance, a politician can clearly carry water for one industry and get re-elected over and over, by voters who are hurt by the acts of that industry. And if these kinds of scandals are all about the conservative type "family values", why is Newt Gingrich, with his terrible record of disposable wives running for president?

Or in other words, what should be private in the lives of politicians and what should not be? What is it we think we learn from these cases (when they are not about a crime, breaking the law in general, misusing public funds or hypocrisy)?
*He was obviously an utter, utter asshat to his wife. But that has not disqualified Gingrich, for example.

Social Security Under Attack Again! Pay no Attention.

Here is something that gets no attention because of the Wienergate:
House Republicans on Friday introduced legislation that would allow workers to partially opt out of Social Security immediately, and fully opt out after 15 years.
Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), who chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee, and several other Republicans introduced the Savings Account for Every American (SAFE) Act. Under the bill, workers would immediately have 6.2 percent of their wages sent to a "SAFE" account each year.
Back to killing Social Security! Those guys work hard, I must admit. Bush just tried doing this, unsuccessfully, and here we are again.

But look at the proposal! Calling those accounts "SAFE!" As far as I can tell, they are going to be totally unprotected accounts in the financial markets.

This is really interesting to think about. First, risk will be passed back to the individuals. There will be no guarantees that the money will still exist when the individual retires. Second, the current system works as an income transfer program, giving more to the poor than they contributed and less to the wealthy than they contributed. Guess what this proposal does to that aspect? Third, guess what will happen to the existing system when those with the highest personal incomes opt out. It will be killed.

The impact on women is particularly interesting. It is of the same paradoxical type as those conservative initiatives which cut off all help for poor women with children and then demand that abortion be made illegal.

The similarity is in the fact that women who behave the way the conservatives wish them to will suffer. A woman choosing to have the child under difficult economic conditions might then lose it to lack of health care and income assistance. And if the traditional income-transfers of the current Social Security system die, it is those women who follow the conservative rules by staying at home who will suffer. Not just them, of course, as women earn less, on average, but it is astonishing that these paradoxes are sorta hidden from the general debate.

Other examples of them abound: Cut back on nursing home care and have the women care for the elderly and the sick at home. Cut back on money for schools and have the women teach the children at home. It's a double-whammy because the people losing their jobs in those industries are also mostly women.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

The Posts I Didn't Want To Write. On Weiner. Part II: Feminist Analysis

As I mentioned at the end of my first post in this series, the crucial question in the Wienergate for a feminist is certainly about the women receiving the "lewd" pictures. If they were not willing participants, then Weiner's actions are sexual harassment. Right now I have not found evidence of this.

The second aspect has to do with Weiner's marital vows. Now, marriage can be a very gender-unequal institution. It has historically been so and it still is so in many countries. If this was true of Weiner's marriage, I would have feminist concerns about Weiner's behavior, because his wife might not be able to leave him, should she wish to do so, or she might only be able to leave him at great psychological and financial cost to herself.

Even in the United States some marriages are like that (among isolated religious groups, say). But I doubt that Weiner's marriage to Huma Abedin, an aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is like that. Abedin has her own income and the divorce laws do not discriminate against her because of her gender. One could argue that Weiner has violated the marital contract, of course, but the marital contract in this case is not loaded against women. How Abedin decides to act here is her business.

I guess the case could be used to argue that alpha males are just wired to post pics of their gray underpants to all women and that we must accept this behavior. I haven't come across these arguments in the last few days but I'm sure they will be coming.

That argument can be dangerous because it usually fails to draw a clear line between mutually voluntary behavior and sexual violence. It's also a silly argument as I have written more times than anyone wants to read.

Finally, there's the argument that women don't get turned on by pics of pecker bulges:
We polled some women. Really, they would like to see . . .
“I would like a photo of a made bed,” says Kathryn Roberts, who works at a law firm in Washington. “I would take rose petals, but I want them on top of a made bed.” And not that fake kind of made, either, where the comforter is smooth but the sheets are a jumbled mess.
“Or laundry,” adds her friend Andrea Neurohr.
“Folded laundry,” elaborates Roberts. “Maybe in a wicker basket.”


Not all women like this, of course. This is the part where we call up an expert, who affirms that there is a great diversity in what women find arousing.
“There is a great diversity in what women find arousing,” says Marta Meana, a renowned psychologist who studies women’s sexual function at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. She would never want to make blanket statements about what does or does not put wind in one’s sails.
“But,” she says, if you look at the empirical literature, it does indicate that the majority of women are not as aroused by pictures of” naked man-parts.

This piece is meant as humorous, I think, but it can provoke all kinds of responses. For instance, perhaps women are not sexual creatures but wish to be paid for sex by having the chores done. Or rather more realistically, perhaps these complaints have something to do with the unequal division of household chores and how being dead-tired isn't likely to turn a woman on.

It's hard to interpret empirical evidence about what turns heterosexual women on or doesn't turn them on. For one thing, this society teaches us, from a very young age, that all sexuality, really, is coded as naked or partially dressed women. Those images are everywhere, from movies and television to billboards by highways.

After a while it wouldn't be too surprising if we all agree that heterosexual women's sexuality isn't very visual and if all women themselves connect sexuality to visual images of women's bodies, even heterosexual women. In this culture, at least.

It could also be that women just aren't turned on by pictures of penises or pecs or whatever, and that this is how it would be even if billboards and magazines and newspapers focused on naked or semi-dressed men. It could be. But I don't think we are going to test these alternative theories anytime soon.

Then there is the difference between being sent a picture of a vulva and a penis, especially if the recipient didn't want them and they came from someone unknown or at least not the recipient's sexual partner. Given the differences in sexual violence, the latter type of picture is more likely to convey menacing undertones.

The Posts I Didn't Want To Write. On Weiner. Part I: The Background

As Lewis Carroll wrote:
“"The time has come," the walrus said, "to talk of many things: Of shoes and ships - and sealing wax - of cabbages and kings”
So I am the walrus and the topic of the day is pictures of peckers and pecs and Representative Anthony Weiner who sent them.

The time has come to talk about that because the media has decided to do. Oh yes. The unemployment may still be 9.1%, the forced-birthers are introducing amendments everywhere to make a zygote more important than the aquarium it swims in, wars are happening. But it's time to talk about penises. As a nation.

I look at this deep wiener question from three angles: First, is there anything in this topic for a feminist goddess to chomp on? Second, what are the political implications of the Wienergate? Are all wieners deemed equal? And third, how is the media doing here? Was it a good idea to ask Andrew Breitbart to take over Wiener's Moment of Public Humiliation press conference and did they ask sane questions?

Here is a rough summary of the events so far:

A picture of a man's gray underpants with a possible bulge was sent from Rep. Weiner's Twitter account in late May:
The photo in question was a close-up shot of a man's underwear, which was tweeted from Weiner's account Friday night. The picture, addressed to a Seattle college student's Twitter handle @GennetteC, was visible to all of the congressman's followers.
Weiner's office over the weekend said the congressman's Twitter account was hacked, but on Tuesday, Weiner resisted answering questions about the incident.

Weiner denied knowing the young woman or sending the picture.

Then Andrew Breitbart, a wingnut cooperative, published more pics of Weiner's body, sent to young women:
Conservative publisher Andrew Breitbart published a series of alleged photographs of the congressman Monday that he said Weiner emailed to an unidentified young woman, including a shirtless photograph. In addition, tabloid website posted a sexually explicit Facebook exchange allegedly involving Weiner and an unidentified woman that the website claimed took place in March.
And one of those women came forward:
And Weiner's admission came as ABC News prepared to release an interview with 26-year-old Meagan Broussard, who provided the news outlet with "photos, emails, Facebook messages and cell phone call logs that she says chronicle a sexually-charged electronic relationship with Weiner that rapidly-evolved for more than a month, starting on April 20, 2011."
As the quote states, by that time Weiner had admitted sending the photos and so on. Though as a joke and something that mostly took place before his marriage:
Weiner, who appeared in a ballroom at a New York City hotel, said he sent the initial photograph as "part of a joke," and that he deleted it in a panic after he realized it had been sent to the public. He said his decision to lie to the public was a mistake.
"I was trying to protect my wife, I was trying to protect myself from shame, and I really regret it," he said. He said she knew about some of the online relationships before they were married.
Next came the press conference where Weiner confessed to having had various Internet relationships and apologized to his wife:
A teary Rep. Anthony Weiner apologized on Monday for having "inappropriate" telephone and email conversations with six women over three years, though he said he did not break any laws and would not step down.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi immediately called for an investigation of Weiner's actions.
The New York lawmaker admitted he posted a photograph of his bulging crotch on Twitter, saying he had lied when he previously characterized the photograph as a prank.
"The picture was of me, and I sent it," he said.
He also said he had several "inappropriate conversations" that he described as "explicit in nature" with half a dozen other women over three years - including after he married his wife, Huma Abedin, an aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He said he had not met any of the women.
Andrew Breitbart entered the room at the press conference. The journalists present asked him to step up to the podium so he did, before Weiner entered the room. Breitbart gave a speech and raved and ranted.

Then the Republicans asked for Weiner's head:
A top Republican called on Democratic U.S. Representative Anthony Weiner to resign on Tuesday, saying Congress cannot afford to be distracted by the sexually charged photos and tweets he sent to women.

House Republican Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia became the first top U.S. lawmaker to say that Weiner, an outspoken liberal who easily won a seventh two-year term in the House of Representatives last year, should step down.

"I think he should resign," Cantor told reporters during a trip to Virginia.
And the Democrats were angry:
The Democrats said his sexual indiscretions took the spotlight off an unpopular Republican plan to cut the Medicare healthcare program for the elderly.
"Just as we get a boost from the Republican's Medicare plan, Weiner effectively changed the topic" to his flirtatious tweets and photos of himself, another aide said.
Were the women receiving these communications willing participants? That is the crucial feminist question here. I am unable to find evidence of any who were not but such evidence may be forthcoming. It's actually the important part of the whole story for the feminist analysis which comes next.

Awful News From Syria

ADDED LATER: It turns out that all this was a scam by a married American man who lives in Scotland. My apologies for reporting on it.

Amina Arraf, a Syrian blogger has been abducted:
A blogger whose frank and witty thoughts on Syria's uprising, politics and being a lesbian in the country shot her to prominence was last night seized by armed men in Damascus.
Amina Arraf, who blogged under the name Amina Abdallah, holds dual Syrian and American citizenship and is the author of the blog A Gay Girl in Damascus, which has drawn fans from Syria and across the world.
She was kidnapped last night as she and a friend were on their way to a meeting in Damascus. The kidnapping was reported on her blog by a cousin.
"Amina was seized by three men in their early 20s. According to the witness (who does not want her identity known), the men were armed," wrote Rania Ismail.
"Amina hit one of them and told the friend to go find her father. One of the men then put his hand over Amina's mouth and they hustled her  into a red Dacia Logan with a window sticker of Basel Assad."

She has faced violence in the past and so have other bloggers in Syria. It is unclear what group abducted her. Amina's cousin:
"Unfortunately, there are at least 18 different police formations in Syria as well as multiple different party militias and gangs. We do not know who took her so we do not know who to ask to get her back. It is possible that they are forcibly deporting her," she wrote.

I hope she is unharmed.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Two Posts I wrote for Eschaton

They might be of interest here, too. The first one is about deep questions, such as whether ketchup is a vegetable or a major continent. Anthony McCarthy also wrote on the same topic, pointing out the hypocrisy in the Republican policies.

The second one is an equally pondering one, asking when an economic recovery is not a recovery.

The Peonies

This is a draft for a short story I wrote some years ago. You might enjoy it at the peony time of the year. Or not, given that it's a bit O. Henryish.

The tulips were pushing up from the black soil. They looked like knives, Bruce thought. From his window he could see sharp green knives piercing the cold soil all over the front yard. The tulips were Rosie's. She had planted them last fall, pushing the bulbs into the soil one by one, leaning on her crutches.

There was a list somewhere. A list about the tulips, what they were called and what plants would rise up around them. Bruce knew that he should look for the list; Rosie had spent what little strength she had left to write lists about all her plants, lists about the tasks of gardening, even lists telling him what to anticipate, what to look for, how to enjoy the beauty of her garden. He wasn't ready to look for the lists yet.

The house was silent. Bruce took his breakfast dishes back into the kitchen and then climbed up the steep stairs to the top of the house. There he had his study, his lair as Rosie had called it. The walls were covered with bookshelves and the shelves with books he loved. This is where he had escaped family Thanksgiving parties and rowdy grand-children's visits. This was where he used to relax, put his feet up and lean back in his old armchair while listening to the faint sounds of pre-dinner clatter Rosie was making in the kitchen downstairs. All was well in the world.

Now, of course, nothing was well in his world. He took down a favorite volume about the Civil War and opened it randomly. The words were just words printed on the paper. He put the book back in its place and turned around. He could see the back yard from his high window. Green knives in the back, too. He turned on the television set and sat down for another day of existence.

Some weeks later he noticed the first buds on the tulips. Most of them were plain green but a group near the dining-room window sported buds which shimmered darkly through the green. Were they infected with something, Bruce wondered? Rosie would have known. Her lists might tell him. He should look them up. He spent the day vacuuming, doing laundry and buying groceries. At night he put on a cardigan and opened the door to Rosie's room, her study. It was cold and smelled stale. He turned on the light and saw the lists she had left him, neatly stacked on her desk. The top one was about tulips.

He sat down to read.
"The ones under the dining-room window are called 'Queens of the Night', Bruce. They are as black as tulips come."
That explained the color of their bulbs.
"They are beautiful. I planted them in the middle of yellow-leaved hostas for contrast. The hostas are probably not up yet."
Bruce couldn't remember about the hostas. It wasn't something he normally noticed. But he would check tomorrow.
"They are stern, these tulips, and sad. But they also have a flame of life in the middle, a kind of sexiness as the name suggests. Do you remember New Orleans, Bruce?"
He couldn't read any further that night.

The following weekend Bruce's son came to visit with his young family. The house was full of children's laughter and cheerful-sounding conversation. Bruce wanted to ask his son about the tulips but couldn't get the topic introduced. They spent the afternoon out, and Bruce came home tired. The sun was setting and its rays struck the now open black tulips with a malicious glee. Bruce glared at them. His anger was quite impartial; he was angry at the tulips, his son and Rosie. He was angry at the idea of gardening. Gardening was what Rosie did.

That night he couldn't sleep because of the heavy meal they had had in a noisy restaurant. He took the tulip notes to bed with him and continued reading.

"The ones in the back yard are lily-shaped tulips. Their petals are tipped. I always thought of them as butterflies trying to take off. The most beautiful ones near the fence are called 'Ballerinas'. You'll see why when they flower: They look just like dancers in their tutus standing on point."
'Ballerinas', Bruce mouthed. What did he have to do with 'Ballerinas'? Who invented these idiotic names in the first place?

"They should flower at the same time as the bleeding hearts behind them. The bleeding hearts should echo the pink in the tulips, or so I hope. Oh Bruce, I so wanted to see them together! I know that you don't care for such things but won't you watch out for them, for my sake?"

Bruce turned off the light and lay there, his eyes filling with tears of anger. How dare Rosie do this, play him like a violin? She always fought unfairly, and now he couldn't even point that out to her.

In a few days all the tulips were in flower. The garden looked deceptive, as if Rosie was still there to care for it. Bruce made notes of the heights of the different varieties and counted their blooms. He tried to appreciate the color harmonies and contrasts, but for this he had to take Rosie's list out and to study it sitting on the front steps. Neighbors passing by complimented him on the tulips. He didn't want to remind them that he hadn't planted any himself. Then he became worried about the upkeep the tulips might require. Surely Rosie used to do something to them every spring?

He looked up her list of garden tasks. It was written differently, it was businesslike with chores, tools and times listed in a table. This was Rosie, too, her cool, professional side. Still, Bruce read through the list twice seeking in vain for a more personal note. He was impressed by the sheer volume of physical labor needed for gardening. Rosie never asked for his help.

He began the following morning with the cleaning of the flowerbeds, raking and aerating the soil. He carted compost from the pile by wheelbarrowfuls and spread it across the beds. His shoulders ached and sweat trickled down his nose. The earth had a deep smell. He didn't know if the compost was spread to the right thickness and he wasn't sure if he hadn't removed something from the beds that was supposed to stay, but he slept well that night.

It rained in the morning. The rain pelted the windows and smeared the view through them with tears. The tulips stood up against the grayness like so many colored flags, like soldiers in gaudy uniforms, refusing to bend in the face of the inevitable. Bruce cracked the window open. The smell of wet earth and green leaves drifted in, mingling with the rain and the soreness in his muscles.

He suddenly missed Rosie so much that his body felt stretched thin, pulled infinitely long until it reached the borders of the realm of the dead, until he turned into an insistent throbbing of one desperate thought, this thought knocking on the sealed doors of the dead, asking for Rosie O'Leary. The pain was unbearable, not bearable, but he bore it anyway. After a few moments, or an eternity, it receded, and Bruce stood there looking out into the rain again. He hated being alive.

Later that day he moved all Rosie's lists up to his study and arranged them in an order that seemed logical. He took the top one, titled 'Late Spring-Early Summer' and sat down to read it in his armchair. The rain drummed on the roof. It was almost cozy in his den, warm and dry. He shuffled the papers in his lap and a faint whiff of Rosie's perfume touched his nose. It pierced him for a second.

"You are going to hate the weeding, Bruce. I always hated it. The weeds crop up so fast this time of the year and you can't let them win, that's how you are. That means an aching back, my dear. There is some liniment for that in the medicine cabinet. I am sorry for your pain, but the weeding will do you good."
Bruce grimaced at the thought and turned the page.

"My favorite moment of late spring was always the opening of the peonies. I never planted them, they came with the house, and I don't know what they are called. They have these small hard buds, like hands held in a tight fist against fear or anger, and ants crawl over them, seeking the sweetness in them. I could never decide if it looked like a horror film or the prelude to some erotica. The first spring when we moved to the house, remember, when the children were tiny?, I wanted to pull the peonies out because they gave me the shivers, but there was so much to do that I never got around to it. Now, of course, I am grateful for that, for the next stage is the opening of their buds and that is worth everything. They opened for us all those years, love. All those years we had together."

Bruce was crying now, his body releasing the sobs in tune with the rain on the roof. He stumbled up and leaned against the cold window panes, crying.

When the rain slowed down his tears also did and he was able to stand straighter again. He didn't really want to go back to the list but he wanted to know about the opening of the peonies.

"The buds break open when you're not looking. Perhaps they just can't take the stroking of the ants any more, or perhaps the mild night wind blows them open. Anyway, one morning when you go out there they are, these gigantic, blowsy, crushed flowers, like white-and-pink silk, straining to open even more towards the sun. It is so sensual, Bruce. You must touch them, put your senses in your fingertips and lips and touch them. And then you must inhale their scent. Hurry, for they won't last very long.

I miss your body, Bruce. Even in this hell of pain, with my body being pulled apart by the final crunching of death's teeth, I want you. I know that you can't want me now, I understand. But you will want me when I am dead and the peonies will help."

When Bruce went to bed that night the sheets felt like Rosie's hands on his chest. The air was heavier, moister, than usual, and as he drifted asleep he turned to Rosie's side of the bed trying to pull her into his embrace. He dreamt about naked flesh and sex and woke up half-guilty half-relieved.

The spring speeded up. The tulips stretched their petals wider and wider and then dropped them. Other flowers took their place. Bruce fertilized and weeded, staked and weeded, watered and weeded. His muscles ached and he couldn't get his nails clean. He now knew Rosie's early year lists by heart and had started reading her gardening books. He wasn't going to be a gardener; that was what Rosie did, but he wanted to do this one thing for her. When his daughter who lived in France called him he told her all about the garden. She seemed pleased.

Then the peonies opened. It was just like Rosie had written. Yesterday they were all holding their closed fists up to the sky, today they were bending down, heavy with blossoms both celestial and obscene. Bruce looked around to make sure that nobody was looking and then buried his face in them. They were scented with innocence and hope and the smell of love and frenzied couplings. They caressed his face, their silkiness a thousand remembered nights with Rosie. Bruce stood there, half-crouched, while his body filled with longing, grief and desire. That moment Rosie was there with him, one with him, and also saying goodbye to him.

He spent the whole day with the peonies, until a hunger made him so weak that he barely made it back into the house and to a gigantic supper. After supper he moved Rosie's gardening books up to his study and selected a volume to read. He wanted to buy something new for his garden. A rose bush, perhaps.

Meanwhile, in Saudi Arabia, Women Apologize For Driving

At least according to this article:
JEDDAH: Wajnat Al-Rahbini, a Saudi actress who was arrested after driving her car Saturday along Jawazat Street in Jeddah, expressed regret for her actions and apologized to the Interior Ministry.


On May 21, police detained 32-year-old divorced mother Manal Al-Sharif after she was caught driving her brother's car in in Alkhobar. She was first arrested after uploading a video on YouTube in which she talked about the challenge of having to rely on drivers. Al-Sharif was released last week after appealing to high officials with a promise not to do it again.


In the city of Bisha, police arrested another woman, aged 48, for driving car. A large number of people gathered when police and Haia officials stopped the woman at a school. The woman was released after taking an undertaking that she would not do it again.

From the Annals of How To Maintain Gender Inequality. Subsection: Religious Policing.

I should note here that the laws of Saudi Arabia do not ban women from driving. It is religious fatwas which do that.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

A Guest Post By Anna: A Literary Canon of Women Writers, Part Three: The Fifth Century to the Seventh Century

(Echidne's note: Part One of the series is here, Part Two here.)

The Middle Ages are generally considered to be the fifth until the fifteenth century, for the record, but of course I couldn't do that all in one post. So here is a beginning.

Aelia Eudocia Augusta (c. 401-460 CE) was the wife of Theodosius II, and a prominent historical figure during the rise of Christianity during the beginning of the Byzantine Empire. She wrote a poem entitled The Martyrdom of St. Cyprian in two books, of which 800 lines survived, and an inscription of a poem on the baths at Hammat Gader.  Her most studied piece of literature is her Homeric cento, which has been analyzed recently by a few modern scholars, such as Mark Usher and Brian Sower. It is the longest Homeric cento and has stories from the book of Genesis and New Testament stories about the life of Jesus added to it, showing the mix of Eudocia's Greek upbringing and her Christian faith. She had to convert in order to marry the Emperor. She impressed Theodosius II with her eloquence as well as her beauty, despite her poverty; she had been left only 100 coins in her father's will, though he gave much more to her brothers. Aelia Eudocia Augusta is a good source for those interested in the literary output of those raised in ancient pagan faith who became Christian. She is an understudied poet and has been neglected due to lack of complete and authoritative text.

Tumāḍir bint ʿAmr ibn al-Ḥarth ibn al-Sharīd al-Sulamīyah(575-645 CE), usually simply referred to as al-Khansā’, is the best known female poet in Arabic literature. In her time, the role of a female poet was to write elegies for the dead and perform them for the tribe in public oral competitions. Al-Khansā’ won respect and fame in these competitions with her elegies for her brothers, Ṣakhr and Muʿāwiyah, who died in battle.The contemporaneous male Arabic poet al-Nabighah al-Dhubyani said of her: "al-Khansā’ is the finest poet of the jinn and the humans."

Layla Bint Abullah Bin Shaddad Bin Ka’b Al Akheeliyya, or simply Layla Al Akheeliyya (c 600s CE) was a famous seventh century Arab poet who was renowned for her poetry, eloquence, and strong personality as well as her beauty. Layla depended highly on her poetry for income, and it provided her with connections to rich and powerful people.

Princess Nukata (c. 630-690 CE) (also known as Princess Nukada) was a Japanese poet and wife of Emperor Temmu.  Thirteen of her poems appear in the Man'yōshū, which is the oldest existing collection of Japanese poetry, compiled some time after 759 AD during the Nara period. The Man'yōshū is one of the most revered of Japan's poetic compilations, and is widely available in English.

If You Invite People To See You As An Object They Will Be Happy To Treat You As An Object [Anthony McCarthy]

Have you ever wondered why you never see female impersonators dressed in sensible shoes and regular clothes? Probably not. Female impersonation isn't really a question of imitating women as real people who are the possessors of rights, they are impersonating depersonalized, unempowered roles. I think just about everyone gets what female impersonation is really about.

It happens that I had a disagreement last week that impinges on the idea of "slut walks". "Boob quake" was an off-hand idea of a college student in response to a stupid thing said by an Iranian cleric, that earthquakes are caused by women dressing "immodestly". I didn't research it enough to see how the cleric explained the horrible earthquakes that The Islamic Republic, with its morality thugs and dress codes, suffered. But that's not my subject, here.

"Boob quake", topless walks and "slut walks" don't strike me as being very useful as political demonstrations. At best they carry a heavy burden of double meaning, one which is inescapably tied with objectification and the utilitarian potential of women as objects. While sexual self-determination is an essential part of both women's' and gay men's liberation that self-determination has to be ALWAYS understood and expressed in the context that all people have a status higher than material objects, that no one is available for use, that sex which reverts to the politics of users using people as objects are unacceptable, it is the exact opposite of liberation, it is the perpetuation of patriarchal privilege. I don't think that any of these forms of demonstration can escape the use of them by the champions of patriarchy of both genders and of any gender preference*.

In the argument I got into I referenced a "topless walk" in Portland, Maine last year. Here is what happened.

The women, preceded and followed by several hundred boisterous and mostly male onlookers, many of them carrying cameras, stayed on the sidewalk because they hadn't obtained a demonstration permit to walk in the street. About a thousand people gathered as the march passed through Monument Square, a mix of demonstrators, supporters, onlookers and those just out enjoying a warm and sunny early-spring day...
... Ty McDowell, who organized the march, said she was "enraged" by the turnout of men attracted to the demonstration. The purpose, she said, was for society to have the same reaction to a woman walking around topless as it does to men without shirts on.

Does anyone who bothers thinking about it really expect that won't be the outcome of this kind of thing? As I said in the argument, I am in favor of laws being unisex and that I favor men being required to wear shirts in public. Both due to aesthetic reasons and because it is impossible for women to go shirtless without it becoming more than a personal choice.

Gay men will never lead free lives until they both achieve legal equality AND THEY REFUSE TO FOLLOW THE NORMS OF PATRIARCHY. While I get the intended meaning behind "slut walks" and the other forms of demonstration, that's not the meaning they will have in the present political climate. I doubt there is anything to be gained by women identifying themselves with a form of stigmatization that covers both women who practice real sexual self-determination and women who are victimized by their inability to practice real self-determination.

* Pornography, by far the largest media and literary presence which gay men are allowed, is, in the majority of cases, an expression of patriarchal power over a subjected man. It is a demonstration that patriarchy is just a subset of economic and physical dominance over people, over all women and over a subset of men who can be used. Allowing that dominance in different variations isn't liberation it's just extending oppression masquerading as liberation.

Yet Another AIDS Anniversary [Anthony McCarthy]

Yet another AIDS anniversary, yet another year when there are no condom ads on American TV as they explicitly talk about geezers' erections and how they can have more of them eight times an hour.

I started counting up the people I knew who died of AIDS, got depressed in the forties and decided not to go that way. Most of those people I knew were gay men who almost certainly got it from unprotected anal sex, though some of them were straight too. Two were straight women who got it from sex with men who identified as straight.

I've written here about how horrified I am that straight anal sex has become more common and has become seen as trendy even as HIV infection rates rise among young gay men who practice unprotected anal sex. As the frat boys at Yale clearly said it, anal sex is seen as a culmination of male privilege so it's no surprise that the major vector of patriarchal propagation, secular commercial pop culture, has promoted it as cool*. About the only thing I can think is that most straight people either didn't know gay men who died of AIDS or who are kept alive only by extremely complex drug therapies which have major health consequences as well.

So, I'm asking you to testify. Have you watched a loved one die of AIDS? More than one loved one? What do you think of the straight anal sex fashion? Please, share your experience and ideas.

* I won't again go into the dominance politics and internalized hatred expressed through anal sex among gay men since the 1970s at this time.

Republicans: Starvation Not Abortion [Anthony McCarthy]

While Republicans around the country are making laws which really end legal abortion in state after state, Republicans in Washington are voting to starve the very fetuses Republicans so hypocritically claim to care about, the women carrying them that they so obviously don't, and the mothers and children who they care even less for.

If House Republicans get their way in the federal budget for fiscal year 2012 beginning in October, nearly 500,000 women, infants, and children could be deprived of basic nutritional assistance. Though Republican leaders justify this decision on the grounds that budget deficits require "shared sacrifice," the tax cuts they recently fought to extend will give away more money to America’s 300,000 millionaires this week than it will cost to adequately fund nutrition programs for all of next year.

That’s the story and the math behind the Republican-led House Appropriations Committee decision to slash the budget for the Special Supplemental Nutritional Program for Women, Infants and Children, or WIC, by $833 million in FY 2012. WIC provides nutritious foods to low-income pregnant women, new moms, babies, and children under 5 who have been identified as nutritionally at risk. The program has done this successfully for nearly 40 years at a relatively modest cost to the federal government, which is why the program has traditionally enjoyed strong bipartisan support.

Nothing could be a clearer, real life proof that Republicans don't care about the abortion issue except as a tool of the dirtiest kind of politics.

When politicians' stands are this much at odds, when the results of an issue they claim to care about so deeply that they have made it the focus of their legislative year is the exact opposite of when it's a matter of financial support, you know that they are lying when they say they care about it.

Conservatives don't care about anyone's babies but their own. They don't care about anyone but themselves and their own.

The only thing Republicans care about in regard to fetuses is in how they can be used to get them power.

That slashing food for poor women and children can be done with little to no outcry in our media while, at the same time, that money and much, much more is handed by Republicans and a tragically unskilled Democrat to billionaires and the rest of the obscenely rich should be a final judgement on our media and our political class. The United States has fallen so far that our government can act like the most undemocratic oligarchies in the third world and it is acceptable to those in control.

We must remove them from control, both the oligarchic power holders and the media that gives them power. Our lives depend on it. It's a ground floor, foundational level definition of who we are.