Saturday, July 18, 2009

How Our School Texts Are Created

Funnily enough, they evolve, and mostly in Texas, because the Texas school system is such a big buyer of books and the publishers don't want to make many different versions. So the objections of Texas fundamentalists can affect what many, many American children learn at school. Weird, eh?

Here's a story about some of the stuff that they discuss down in Texas:

The Dallas Morning News reported last week that conservative "experts" advising the state of Texas on school curriculum are arguing that the state's social studies and history textbooks are giving "too much attention" to some of U.S. history's most prominent civil rights leaders. David Barton, one of the so-called "experts," claimed Hispanic labor leader César Chávez "lacks the stature, impact and overall contributions of so many others." A colleague on the panel agreed, also singling out Thurgood Marshall for exclusion:

"To have César Chávez listed next to Ben Franklin" – as in the current standards – "is ludicrous," wrote evangelical minister Peter Marshall, one of six experts advising the state as it develops new curriculum standards for social studies classes and textbooks. [...]

Marshall also questioned whether Thurgood Marshall, who argued the landmark case that resulted in school desegregation and was the first black U.S. Supreme Court justice, should be presented to Texas students as an important historical figure. He wrote that the late justice is "not a strong enough example" of such a figure.

Goddess knows what they do about famous women (probably none of them count as famous) or about gender roles and such.

In The Series Of First Women

These seem worth following. Here's one:

More history was made at the White House on Thursday when President Obama climbed aboard his waiting helicopter: An all-female Marine Corps crew was taking him to Andrews Air Force Base.

It was Maj. Jennifer Grieves' last day in a rotation that made her the first female pilot of Marine One, the presidential helicopter.

To honor her achievement, Thursday's three-person crew was made up of women — another first.

The pictures have nothing to do with the topic, though of course Sasha is a female and might be meeting her first teacup. Pictures by Doug.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Senate approves hate-crime legislation (by Suzie)

Gender, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity would be added to hate-crime legislation, under a measure passed yesterday by the Senate. Obama has promised to sign it into law. The act is named after Matthew Shepard.

You can read more here. Just remember that hate-crime statistics generally do not include gender now. I wrote about this in May. You may want to check out that post, plus the excellent comments.

ETA: links I left in comments in May. RAINN discusses rape as a hate crime. Here's a good law review article on why rape should be a hate crime.

In 1999, Sen. Ted Kennedy said rape should be prosecuted as a hate crime only if "gender animus" could be proven (or else it was done because of another bigotry, such as bias against gays). The conservative Concerned Women for America responded that all rape involved hate (although it opposes the classification of "hate crime" for any crime.)

Here are Lexia's comments from May:
Of the 45 states and DC that have hate crime laws, all of them cover race, religion and ethnicity. Only 28 cover gender. Again, more cover sexual orientation - 32. Source data here.
Thurgood Marshall's unworthy successor as lead council for the NAACP, Jack Greenburg, said, "Domestic violence is as American as apple pie, and you just wonder whether the federal courts can handle it." The quote was published in "Legal Times" during the passage of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act. Referenced here.
For men of any race, creed, color or sexual orientation, the greater the pervasiveness and degree of violence, the greater the urgency to eliminate it. For women and only for women, the inverse applies: It's too big a problem, so it's insoluble, so help us fight male violence against other men or shut up.
For a brief period from 1995 or so till 2000, rape was classified as at least a civil rights violation against women. In 1994, the Violence Against Women Act was passed after a "mountain of evidence" and years of congressional testimony showed that male violence affects the lives of almost every woman in America.
In 2000, VAWA was eviscerated by the Supreme Court in "U.S. v. Morrison." (Opinion) (Dissent here and here) ... VAWA had been opposed by federal judges from its inception, because women's rights were violated on such a massive scale the judges didn't want that clogging up the courts and keeping them from important business.

The other legal bastion of protection from violence and hate because of the body a person was born into, the 14th amendment, was ruled out for women in Gonzales v. Castle Rock in 2005.

Friday critter blogging (by Suzie)

This is an old photo of Tom telling Willie to back off; he's tired of Willie's kitten foolishness. It may be hard to see Tom's white paw, bright in the sunlight, reaching out for Willie.

Investing in women (by Suzie)

Investors often do not realize the power they have to move the needle on issues like gender empowerment. Every investor—and most of us are investors, if we have retirement plans—can tell their portfolio manager or plan administrator that they wish to vote their proxies in favor of gender equity, which means voting for shareholder resolutions on diversity disclosure and withholding votes from all-male boards of directors.
This quote comes from Joe Keefe, CEO of Pax World Mutual Funds, at the “Gender Equality as an Investment Concept” seminar in May in Washington, D.C. Pax describes its Women’s Equity Fund as “the only mutual fund in the U.S. whose focus is on investing in companies that invest in women."

When I worked for a newspaper owned by Media General, employees got stock as part of retirement plans. Some of us would add a note each year to our proxy, arguing to put a woman on the board. I don’t know if that helped, but it’s better than doing nothing.

Misanthropic men in movies and TV (by Suzie)

A friend lent me the first season of Showtime’s “Queer as Folk,” which ran from 2000 to 2005, and depicted gay friends in Pittsburgh. Watching it, I understood why porn has gotten more and more extreme. At first, I was amazed by the graphic sex scenes in every episode, and then I grew bored.

The misogyny among the gay men also bothered me. (I’ve written about this before.) Tops (the ones who penetrate anally or receive orally) often are depicted as strong and masculine while the bottoms are associated with the feminine. The tops definitely get more respect. Those who are more stereotypically feminine are subject to more ridicule from other gay men.

My last complaint has to do with the title of this post. The character Brian is a narcissist: a handsome, talented, high-earner who is cold, arrogant and manipulative. His friends Michael and Lindsay love him; the teenager Justin falls in love with him; and others consider him a friend. Brian gets praised when he finally sulks his way into doing something right.

It reminded me of “As Good as It Gets,” where an “obsessive-compulsive, misanthropic bigot” ends up with a beautiful, younger blonde because he finally does right. This is why I can’t get into “House,” where another selfish and arrogant man still wins praise. The anti-heroes of both of these pieces also are sexist, but that just seems part of their rebellious charm to some viewers.

Can you imagine women in any of these roles?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Reading Is Good For You!

Even if it's an old telephone directory and you really need to taste it. Pic by Doug of Sasha.

I have a special treat in store for you soon, my dear readers. Katha Pollitt has kindly agreed to be interviewed about her new book: The Mind-Body Problem: Poems. And you can ask her questions, too! So all poetry lovers, watch this blog in the next few days.

Class Wars, Take 34,567,890

I've always found it very hilarious that we are supposed to only see class wars when the lower classes fight, because in reality class wars are an ongoing business, and mostly they are waged by the powerful against the rest.

The propaganda is everywhere. For instance, I'm sure you've heard how very hard the rich work and that's why they deserve their incomes. The poor don't work, not at all, and no rich person has ever inherited all that dough.

Then there's the argument that all the societal wealth comes from the rich working so hard. If they decided to 'go Galt' then nobody would have those cushy minimum wage jobs any longer and wouldn't we cry then! So better not try to tax them back into poverty!

Anyone who argues differently is a) a communist, b) a welfare queen and c) just unwilling to pull herself up by those stiletto heels. Something of that sort. Yet none of this is interpreted as another battle in the class wars.

I thought about all this when I read some of the reactions to the new plan to use an extra tax on the high-income people to fund some of the health care changes the Obama administration is working on. Even if that extra tax is very small in percentage figures, those old arguments crop up.

One argument that is less and less founded in reality these days is the one about capitalists being the risk-takers who deserve high incomes because they are always just one misstep away from going bankrupt. The service they provide is supposed to be the carrying of risks in ways which allows for more innovation and more of those cushy jobs for the rest of us.

But the other side of that argument should be that a) workers don't have to carry that same risk and b) that the market is allowed to punish bad entrepreneurs by actually making them face the consequences of poor luck or bad decisions.

Neither of those is what I see happening, rather the reverse. If workers are left with so much of the relative risk from the failing economy and outsourcing via globalization, and if entrepreneurs get golden parachutes and big bonuses, who is it who is carrying the risks here? Hmh?

How Old Is Too Old?

Maria del Carmen Bousada has died at 69, leaving behind three-year old twin boys:

Beginning in 2005, Bousada underwent hormone treatments to reverse nearly 20 years of menopause and sold her house to pay for in vitro fertilization at the Pacific Fertility Clinic in Los Angeles.

Slender with dark brown hair, she told the clinic she was 55 — the facility's maximum age for single women undergoing the procedure. When her sons were born in December 2006, Guinness World Records said she was the oldest woman on record to give birth.

Dr. Vicken Sahakian, director and owner of the clinic, said Bousada falsified her birth date on documents from Spain.

When he learned of the deception, "I figured something might happen and wind up being a disaster for these kids, and unfortunately I was right," he told The Associated Press.


There is no U.S. law regulating the age of in vitro candidates, but Sahakian said his clinic won't take older women because "I would like the mother ... to basically survive until the kids reach 18."


Allan Pacey, secretary of the British Fertility Society, said the organization recommends that assisted conception generally not be provided to women beyond the natural age of menopause at about 50.

"The rationale ... is that nature didn't design women to have assisted conception beyond the age of the natural menopause, he said. "Once you get into the mid-50s, I think nature is trying to tell us something."

"I think many people would worry about providing fertility treatment to women in their 60s. I think as a general rule, to embark on pregnancy when you may not see your child go to university is potentially a very difficult situation."

So the article tells us that the main reason women shouldn't give birth so very late in life because they might die before the child is fully grown. It's not a bad argument.

Except that we don't use that argument when discussing men who sire children late in life. Take Rupert Murdoch. He had a daughter when he was seventy and another at seventy-two. It's not terribly likely that he will see either of them graduating from college. Yet I haven't seen articles pointing that out.

The argument that women are post-menopausal for a reason might have made a better case than the one this article adopted.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Pat Buchanan is making it so very obvious that you can say anything at all if you are a conservative dude in this country. For instance:

What they must do is expose Sotomayor, as they did not in the case of Ginsburg, as a political activist whose career bespeaks a lifelong resolve to discriminate against white males to the degree necessary to bring about an equality of rewards in society.

Sonia is, first and foremost, a Latina. She has not hesitated to demand, even in college and law school, ethnic and gender preferences for her own. Her concept of justice is race-based.

Verry interesting. So Pat thinks that justice is a zero-sum game and that in the absence of discrimination against white men they'd be naturally on top everywhere in the society. What with being much smarter and worthier than the rest of us.

I wonder if Pat remembers those times when being black and/or female got you locked out of lots of universities? It's not that long ago, and it certainly helped in making certain that 'white males' are the group from which most of the powerful are drawn. That does not mean that all white males are in power.

But what I found even more interesting is the way the post I linked to discusses Pat's comments: The bit about Justice Ginsburg is simply ignored and the rest of the post talks about race. That Buchanan addressed his barbed comment to women, first, somehow disappeared.

Nets Silent on Sexism of Anonymous Quotes Graham Used

So says Media Matters for America. Perhaps not silent altogether, but it sure is true that sexist assertions are one of those creatures which many pundits can't spot. Is it there or is it not there? How does one earn the reputation of a bully? How many people must call you that? And is there a difference between gals and guys in that? What can a woman do not to be called a bully? And a man?

The standards are different, you know, and because that different standard is still so widely accepted we sorta swim in the sea of sexism without noticing it.


I saw that misspelling recently and immediately thought that it would make a kewl new word (naming is power, after all): Anyone who acts like our previous president is gonna be called georgeous. Not quite sure how to pronounce it, so suggestions are welcome.

Today's Deep Thought

It occurs to me that the Republican questioners at the Sotomayor confirmation hearings confuse 'empathy' with 'sympathy.' It also occurs to me that focusing on whether she has empathy or not is a way to introduce some sexist stereotypes through the back door, so to speak. Women, bless the little dears, are too emotional to be judges!

Of course justice itself is personified as a woman. But that's neither here nor there as surely she wold think just like Lindsey Graham who is unable to be anything but neutral.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Just Because

Picture by Doug, of Sasha. Music by the divine Nina Simone. Bless her.

The Mind Boggles

In Arizona, you can now take your gun into a bar which serves alcoholic drinks. But you can't drink alcohol if you do that. That's a concealed gun you can take into the bars.

I'm trying to imagine how that would work in practice. Someone walks in and orders a drink. Do you frisk them before filling the order? And what happens when the bar is full of drunks and you just take at face value that they are not armed?

The Audacity of Ross Douthat

He has written a column on the Pope's encyclical. The basic idea is that the Pope got a wonderful idea when he advocated combining income redistribution to the poor with no birth control, and that Americans don't have the audacity to think in such political aisle-crossing ways:

But Benedict's encyclical is nothing if not political. "Caritas in Veritate" promotes a vision of economic solidarity rooted in moral conservatism. It links the dignity of labor to the sanctity of marriage. It praises the redistribution of wealth while emphasizing the importance of decentralized governance. It connects the despoiling of the environment to the mass destruction of human embryos.

This is not a message you're likely to hear in Barack Obama's next State of the Union, or in the Republican Party's response. It represents a kind of left-right fusionism with little traction in American politics.

A "vision of economic solidarity rooted in moral conservatism"? Who is it that one has solidarity with, in that scenario? It's a useful thinking exercise, because ultimately what the Pope advocated is a system where power and resources are more equally shared among men. Men of all classes and races. But the role of women in this system really is as one of those resources that are shared, and banning birth control guarantees that the choice when to have children and how many to have will not be held by the women.

I'm exaggerating, naturally, to make the underlying point clearer, and that point is about power. Who gets to have more self-determination, more rest and ease, more resources. And who does not. It's a devil's contract the Pope is offering, because so many goodies for the liberals and progressives are included in it and the cost is so easy to ignore as it falls upon women.

I call it a devil's contract partly because I doubt that the Pope would ultimately support all practical income redistribution efforts (based on history of the Catholic Church) and partly because the reactions of so many liberals and progressives has been to say "Hey, the Pope is on our side!" But mostly it's a devil's contract because it makes any woman who argues against it look like someone who is willing to sacrifice all the poor of this world for her own selfish little reasons.

Thus, it is important to see that the encyclical is about the sharing of power among more men.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Dr. Regina Benjamin

Is president Obama's choice for the job of the U.S. Surgeon General:

When Hurricane Katrina wrecked the little clinic here in the coastal backwaters of Alabama, Dr. Regina Benjamin laid out medical charts to dry in the post-storm sun and hopped in a pickup truck to check on her patients.

When she had trouble treating the growing influx of Southeast Asian immigrants in the shrimping community because she could not understand them, she went to a nearby Vietnamese pool hall to find an interpreter.

Benjamin, 52, was nominated by President Barack Obama on Monday to be U.S. surgeon general, pledging to take her fight from a rural, impoverished outpost to the top tier of American medicine so that "no one falls through the cracks."

She said she would combat preventable diseases. Her father died with diabetes and high blood pressure, her only brother of HIV. Her mother died of lung cancer because as a girl "she wanted to smoke just like her twin brother," an uncle now on oxygen.

"I cannot change my family's past. I can be a voice in the movement to improve our nation's health care and our nation's health," Benjamin said. "I want to be sure that no one falls through the cracks as we improve our health care system."

Pushed by the diverse patient mix of Bayou La Batre — white, black and, increasingly, immigrants from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos — Benjamin has emerged as a national leader in the fight to close gaps in health.

She became the first black woman and the first doctor under age 40 elected to the American Medical Association's board of trustees, and in 2002 became the first black woman to head a state medical society.

"For all the tremendous obstacles that she has overcome, Regina Benjamin also represents what's best about health care in America, doctors and nurses who give and care and sacrifice for the sake of their patients," Obama said in the White House Rose Garden.

She sounds like a fighter and someone in touch with the health needs of the poorest Americans. I haven't been able to find out about her opinions on issues such as reproductive choice and women's health care issues in general.

Please Welcome

Xan. She has kindly agreed to write on this blog, mostly on Saturdays but also whenever the muse strikes her. She is wise and wonderful and an asset to this community, and I'm very happy to have her here.

The Wild, Wild West of the Web

It's a place where guys in cowboy hats twirl their guns and shit, right? Or a place where nobody knows you're a dog or a giraffe or a minor snake goddess. Everybody is totally equal! Totally. Except, of course, in what they get offered to look at:

This is what I found on the front page of Huffington Post. The story linked to this picture was ranked the most viewed on the site, though if you clicked on the link attached to the pictures you could also vote on men in skimpy clothing. But that's just to make it look gender-neutral which it is not. After all, the semi-nekked guys don't get to be on the front page.

Huffington Post wants to make money and advertising money is in clicks. And what gets clicked is bodies of chicks. By dicks? I'm getting carried away here, but let me just add that I would have thought Huffington Post has female readers, too. I guess their clicks don't have the power.

Sotomayor Confirmation Hearings

Begin today. Jill has a good write-up on some of the Republican talking points. I'm going to pay attention to differential treatment: Whether her treatment in these hearings passes the sex-reversal rule of Echidne. Just think of her as Simon Sotomayor and translate whatever is being said into those terms. If what you get sounds likely then she has not been treated differently because of her gender, always assuming that the issue discussed has not already been transmogrified by such concerns.

As a possible example of the latter, some conservatives have argued (truthfully or not) that Sotomayor lacks certain social skills. Whether such skills are ample among the eight male Justices of the Supreme Court isn't of interest to anyone, perhaps because only women are supposed to be nicey-nicey.

Word Salad

This time in a headline I read over the weekend:

College culture wars: Campuses seek balance.

How do you seek balance in a war? And what, exactly, is the culture people wage war over?

You may know that I hate (hate!) that term "culture war." It's such an odd combination of two different words, both now with muzzy meanings.

Take the word "culture." Many people think that it's about books and music or about which fork to use to eat jellied crab puffs or about something not truly important. Yet in this particular context that word hides and distorts issues of justice, freedom and respect. But because many who write about the so-called culture wars are spectators to them the whole term has taken that spectatorish feeling. Then one can sigh and mutter about the importance to get past such irrelevant crap.

At the same time, culture wars are all about women's rights and lives and about the rights and lives of gays and lesbians. Culture wars are about 'traditional family', about power relationships inside it and ultimately even about money. Because a wife in a traditional family will not have the same earnings capacity or rights as a husband.

To call the debates over all that "wars" places a false equivalency on the debating sides and eradicates the history which we all share and which is not a history of equal treatment of all people. Note also that one side (guess which) in the debate wants to reduce the lives of the other side, whereas that side only fights in self-defense. "War" is a bad term for something like that. "Occupation" might be a better one.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sunday Puppy II

Same puppy as last Sunday. Picture by Doug. Expression by Sasha.

How It Is Done

Roger sent me a link to Pharyngula discussing how gender studies are sometimes popularized so that the meaning is turned upside down in the juicing-up process.

It is an extreme example of the type of bad popularizations. But I have seen the same done in a milder form many, many times, and I have written about that here and elsewhere. It's as if the plot develops in the journalist's mind first and then the bits are added in a way which supports that plot. And where do we get our plots if not from myths, stereotypes and popular culture?

Still very bad, naturally.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan

The final form of the law which regulates the personal relationships of Afghanistan's Shia minority still doesn't look terribly good for women:

The women's rights activist Wazhma Frough, who was involved in the review, said that conservative religious leaders had pressured the Justice Ministry to keep many of the most controversial clauses.

"There have been a few little changes, but they are not enough," she said. "For example, if the wife doesn't accept her husband's sexual requirements then he can deny her food."

According to civil society groups, the law, which regulates the personal affairs of Afghanistan's minority Shia community, still includes clauses which allow rapists to marry their victims as a way of absolving their crime and it tacitly approves child marriage. The law sparked riots in Kabul. Hundreds of Shia women took to the streets in protest. They were attacked by mobs of angry men who launched counter demonstrations outside the capital's largest Shia madrassa.

It is due to be ratified by parliament, which first passed the legislation in March with hardly any debate.

It strikes me that the creators of this law appear to view marriage as a labor contract: In exchange for food give sex! But the particular labor contract seems pretty one-sided as the payments to the worker (the wife) are limited to bed and board, whereas her duties appear whatever the employer (the husband) deems fit.