Saturday, August 08, 2009

Goodbye To All That (by Hecate)

Atrios is right, of course, that, in one sense, our culture's obscene treatment of women hurts men, as well. And, yet, reading his post today, I couldn't help remembering what Robin Morgan had to say when women seized Rat and Morgan penned "Goodbye to All That."

And let’s put one lie to rest for all time: the lie that men are oppressed, too, by sexism—the lie that there can be such a thing as men’s liberation groups. Oppression is something that one group of people commits against another group specifically because of a threatening characteristic shared by the latter group—skin color or sex or age, etc. The oppressors are indeed fucked up by being masters (racism hurts whites, sexual stereotypes are harmful to men) but those masters are not oppressed. Any master has the alternative of divesting himself of sexism or racism; the oppressed have no alternative—for they have no power—but to fight. In the long run, Women’s Liberation will of course free men—but in the short term it’s going to cost men a lot of privilege, which no one gives up willingly or easily. Sexism is not the fault of women. . . .

Friday, August 07, 2009

When God Was A Woman (Posted by Hecate)

Weekend (by res ipsa loquitur)

Here are some weekend suggestions.

Volver on video. A terrific story about mothers and daughters. And if you're beached out and just want to stay in, watch Simon Schama's Power of Art (also on video).

Walk in the woods at a local park. Try this one.

Swim: pools, lakes, ponds, the ocean -- whatever you like and can reach. I'll be here.

Lay a blanket under a tree, pour yourself a refreshing beverage, get the August 3rd and August 10th issues of The New Yorker, and delve into Ian Frazier's two-part mega-article about his road-trip across Siberia. Abstracts here: Part I, Part II. Not That Kind of Girl and the new Pynchon also look interesting.

Cook. Here is a recipe into which you can incorporate the surfeit of zucchini and/or yellow summer squash (plus some herbs) from your garden.

1 lb. whole wheat spaghetti or linguine
4 medium zucchini (or 2 each of zucchini and yellow summer squash)
1 large onion, sliced thin
3 Tbl. olive oil
1/4 cup Parmesan
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
A fresh herb from your garden (1 tsp. minced thyme or a 10 slivered basil leaves or 1 Tbl. chopped parsley (flat leaf or Italian, whatever you like))
salt and pepper

Cook the pasta
al dente. Meanwhile, peel the squash with a vegetable peeler. Discard the peel. Then, with the peeler, peel "ribbons" of squash lengthwise until you reach the seeds. Set the ribbons aside and discard the seeds. Heat the oil and add the red pepper flakes. Cook for one minute. Add the onions and sautee until they are soft and translucent just beginning to show traces of brown. Add the ribbons of squash. Sautee for all of one minute, then add the squash and onions to the drained hot pasta. If it needs a bit more fat, add 1 Tbl. of butter or olive oil. Toss gently, adding the herbs, and finally, the Parmesan. Add salt and pepper to taste, plus more Parmesan, if that's your preference.

Transrace and transgender (by Suzie)

History yields all sorts of examples of people who have taken on characteristics they associate with a different race, such as white minstrels who mimicked blacks, white teens who adopted ghetto styles, and people of color who passed as white.

For now, and for the most part, I’m going to focus on people who move from a privileged position to an oppressed one: men becoming women, and whites becoming people of color.

In her online preface to “Racechange: White Skin, Black Face in American Culture,” Susan Gubar sees various motivations for whites. In some cases, they are making fun of a different race. Other times, they get pleasure – maybe a sense of freedom or rebellion or solidarity – by doing something they associate with the Other.

In the progressive blogosphere, a man or woman can say that a woman isn’t a woman if they don’t like her politics (as happened with Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin). They can criticize another man for being too much like a woman (he has no balls!). And it’s OK for a man to dress like a woman for a laugh or a drag show or the transition to becoming a woman.

A person of color can question another POC’s credentials as a member of their race (Is Obama black or black enough?) but a white liberal shouldn’t. Nor could a white liberal criticize another white by comparing him to a person of color. It’s not OK for a white liberal to put on blackface, although we do adopt aspects of other cultures that we like.

What about transitioning to another race? That seems pretty rare, with the exception of those who have fabricated American Indian pasts or taken on an Indian identity for spiritual reasons. White people (like me) can be ridiculed even for claiming Indian heritage, even if it’s true, even if we weren't the ones who hid it originally, even if we didn't make up the rules on who gets to claim tribal membership.

Consider Alice Echols’ review of Carol Cohen McEldowney’s “Hanoi Journal 1967” in the July/August 2008 Women’s Review of Books:
Before arriving in Hanoi, she admits something about Vietnamese revolutionaries “touches the most romantic stirring in me – the feeling that makes me wish to be Vietnamese (and, at other times, black).” This sort of transracial identification verges on the parodic (indeed filmmaker John Waters offers an affectionate send-up of it in Hairspray), but it was not unusual among white youth of the sixties, even if it is considered so politically retrograde today that it’s rarely mentioned in memoirs of the period.
Why would it be so unacceptable for whites to become another race, if it’s acceptable for men to become women?

Last year, an NPR piece on transgender included an interview with Toronto psychologist Ken Zucker, who specializes in gender identity issues. I have various disagreements with him, but I was intrigued by his idea of a fictitious “racial identity disorder.”
Suppose you were a clinician and a 4-year-old black kid came into your office and said he wanted to be white. Would you go with that? ... I don't think we would," Zucker says.

If a black kid walked into a therapist's office saying he was really white, the goal of pretty much any therapist out there would be to make him try to feel more comfortable being black. They would assume his mistaken beliefs were the product of a dysfunctional environment — a dysfunctional family or a dysfunctional cultural environment that led him or her to engage in this wrongheaded and dangerous fantasy.
I think the same would be true if a white child said he wanted to be another race. (See my previous post for an example.)

In another post, I argued that it would be hard to isolate cultural influences when searching for a biological basis for transgender. When a boy wants to wear a dress or play with baby dolls, how do we determine whether he’s driven by biology or culture?

Similarly, we live in a society that assigns all sorts of cultural stuff to race. It’s conceivable that a white might be born thinking like a “right-brained, subject-oriented” African who has a different meter and tonality, as described by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright last year. Some whites feel so alienated that they move to other countries where they feel more at home. How can we say there is no biological basis to that, if there’s a biological basis to gender?

Until I have more evidence, I believe race and gender are social constructs. For the most part, scientists continue to move away from the idea that different races think and act differently because of biology. But the idea that men and women have different brains seems to be quite popular these days. Maybe that’s why liberals accept transgender but would be less accepting of transrace.

Perhaps the medical response to intersexed children – in which they had to be either one sex or the other, with genital surgery determining which sex – paved the way for gender reassignment surgery among transgendered people. The same dichotomous thinking does not exist in regard to race in the medical world.

Unlike genitalia and gender, ancestry has been used to determine race, not necessarily physical attributes. Thus, Walter White, executive secretary of the NAACP (1931-1955), was seen as African-American because he had black parents, even though he was a white-skinned, blue-eyed blond, as was his mother.

Sexuality and gender are tightly linked. Maybe white liberal acceptance of differences in sexuality led to the acceptance for transgender. Many white liberals believe that people are born desiring one or both sexes, or that sexuality is so strongly ingrained that people can’t be forced to change. On the other hand, many white liberals would be embarrassed to say they find one race attractive and not another.

How do you make sense of all of this?

Becoming transracial (by Suzie)

Imagine a white boy who talks, dresses and acts in ways associated with black people. He says he hates his body; he feels like he’s really black. His parents take him to counseling, but finally conclude that he’s transracial, and they allow him to transition.

He starts speaking African American Vernacular English; he changes his walk and gestures to those he considers typical of black people; he gets salon treatments to change his hair; and he wears dark makeup. As an adult, if he has the money, he will get medical treatment to darken his skin and plastic surgery to alter his facial features. If he doesn’t have the money, he will still expect people to accept him as black. If they don’t, they will be discriminating against him, based on classism, in addition to transphobia.

Some people think his changes amount to caricature. But he may argue that his behavior is the result of biology. Or, he may feel like he has to adopt certain behaviors to increase the chances that he will be accepted as black, as well as to avoid violence for being transracial. He also says he should be cut some slack because he’s enjoying his new-found freedom. His black critics wouldn’t slam cisracial black people for acting “too black.” Or, maybe black people criticize him because, down deep, they are uncomfortable with their race, he says.

At work and on official documents, he wants to be recognized as black. He attends clubs and committees for people of color. If they don’t accept him as black, he will consider them transphobic. In fact, he feels that he is more oppressed because he is both black and transracial. He will call people of color transphobic if they accuse him of harboring white privilege, and he’ll explain that he never really felt white, and he was harassed by other whites, and so, the concept of white privilege doesn’t apply to him. He expects people to acknowledge their cisracial privilege.
Yes, I know this will make some of you angry because you think I’m being insensitive to black people and transgendered people. (For more on that subject, read this blog post and its commentary.)

I oppose discrimination against transgendered people. I do not have an “irrational fear” (phobia) of them. But I think feminists ought to be able to discuss the claims of some individuals who tie gender to biology because these theories impact our lives. In that context, I think it's appropriate to look at attitudes about race and biology.

Here’s an interesting discussion on the use of the term “cisgender” and the concept of cisgender privilege. For the record, I dislike “cisgender” because the term isn’t readily understandable by most people, and so, I wonder how much good it can do in decentering those who think they are normal. (And the goddess help anyone who thinks they're normal.) I think binaries hurt us, and I don't want to create new ones. I’ve questioned the idea of privilege recently, and will be happy to supply links for anyone interested.

Personally, I don’t feel a need for women-only spaces, but I try to be sensitive to those who do, including my lesbian-separatist sister.

When I was in women’s studies (2000-2001), critiquing feminism was the norm, but we never read anything that questioned transitioning from one gender to another, with the exception of Kate Bornstein. Cisgendered feminists who questioned were considered transphobic.

More of my thinking will come in the next post. ETA: I've inserted a link so that it will be easier to read before you curse at me. The same analogy can be used for different arguments. Please don't assume I'm trying to make the same points as other people who've brought up race.

Friday critter blogging (by Suzie)

This is Chloe the St. Bernard as a (huge) puppy.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Last Thoughts on "I Don't" (by res ipsa loquitur)

I Don't ended sort of abruptly. Martin Luther hit the scene, shook things up, and then -- splat. The End. But I see that the author has a sequel planned, and I'll look forward to the next 400-or so years that when the time comes.

Luther -- he touted love and "constancy" as big plusses of marriage. Actually had some semi-progressive ideas (for the time, anyway) about relations (sexual and otherwise) between men and women. Told couples that embers -- the still-glowing remnants of their passion -- were to be reveled in as much as their fiery predecessor. His ideas about marriage were as radical as the ones he had about the church. I came away from those chapters wanted to drop into a Lutheran service. At some point, I will. Did you know he married a nun he'd busted out of a convent? And that he was a bit of a hypochondriac?

One quibble (or question): how could a book about marriage in this era fail to mention Henry VIII, Catherine of Aragon, and Anne Boleyn?

Benefit of the Doubt (by res ipsa loquitur)

On July 26th, there was a terrible car crash in a suburb just north of New York. You may have read about it due to the sheer volume of carnage it created. A thirty-six year old woman drove the wrong way for two miles on a parkway that snakes through Westchester County before crashing her minivan head-on into an SUV. The only survivor was the woman's five-year-old son. She, her daughter and three nieces died in the minivan, as did an eighty-one year-old man, his son, and their family friend in the SUV.

It was the worst traffic accident in Westchester in seventy-five years, but it's the tangle of family relationships that's made the story top news here for over a week now: a father and son, three sisters, a mother and a daughter, a friend along for the ride -- all dead.

The question was: why?

That's what everyone was asking about the driver, Diane Schuler. Why did she go the wrong way? Why didn't she realize that she was going the wrong way? Why did she ignore the oncoming drivers who flashed their headlights in an effort to alert her to her peril? Why did she drive -- with kids in the car -- after calling her brother to say she was disoriented? Why did she drive when her brother told her he'd come and pick her up? Why didn't she stay put? Why?

Initial reports said there was no evidence of drugs or alcohol playing a role in this crash, so I assumed -- like many others -- that she'd suffered some sort of stroke, aneurysm, diabetic shock, or the sudden effects of an undiagnosed brain tumor. That's why it was such a shock to learn yesterday not only that had Diane Shuler been drinking and smoking pot, but that she was drunk and high: very drunk and high.

But even after reading news coverage of the toxicology report, I wandered around yesterday and today still not believing it.

So the question remains: why?

That I am still asking this question indicates, I think, some sort of bias or sexism on my part and I'm writing about it because I know you will call me on it and unpack it. I've known my share of people with alcohol and drug problems. They come in all shapes, sizes, ages, classes, and shades. I keep wondering if I'd accept the story if the driver was a man, a black woman, a Latino, younger, not middle class, or if she didn't look like this. Why am I still -- in the face of all this evidence -- trying to give Diane Shuler the benefit of the doubt? Compassion for what may be an addiction? A desire not to pile on? Hope that more information will come forth that will explain her behavior and let her fit more easily into whatever stereotype about white middle class moms rattling around in my head? People have called her "stupid" and "selfish" and "evil" and "callous". All too easy. I can accept a middle class white woman with an addiction, but the part I can't get past is loading those kids up in the car.

Your thoughts, please.

Here, Let's Start A Fight (By Hecate)

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

One Of My All Time Favorites (Posted by Hecate_

The Swan

Did you too see it, drifting, all night, on the black river?
Did you see it in the morning, rising into the silvery air -
An armful of white blossoms,
A perfect commotion of silk and linen as it leaned
into the bondage of its wings; a snowbank, a bank of lilies,
Biting the air with its black beak?
Did you hear it, fluting and whistling
A shrill dark music - like the rain pelting the trees - like a waterfall
Knifing down the black ledges?
And did you see it, finally, just under the clouds -
A white cross Streaming across the sky, its feet
Like black leaves, its wings Like the stretching light of the river?
And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?
And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed your life?

© Mary Oliver. From The Paris Review # 124, Fall, 1992

Picture found here.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Playing with your food (by Suzie)

This photo of a tropical kingbird is by Peter, who said he didn't need any credit because he's not that good (?!). Peter adds: "I'd seen the bird catch the insect, then pound it on the branch a few times. Here it is tossing it in the air to catch it and position it headfirst so it could be swallowed."

Monday, August 03, 2009

How To Handle A Teabagger/Disruptor Rally (by Xan)

The SO had one idea and I had another. They could be used separately or together.

1) We don't want to do the "free speech zone" thing, right? That is not change, other than to change ourselves into Bushites. Ick But..."town hall" meetings have that word "town" in the name. They are intended to let residents, as in constituents, of an elected official engage in face to face communication. And these Baggy people are by all accounts being hauled around from town to town in by their whoremasters. So...what if it was required to show proof of residency at the door to get in? Not anything restrictive mind you--a driver's license, state ID, utility or other bill, anything that proves you live in the district of the person speaking. It's possible that some of the Birther/Baggers are indeed local, so they would get in. That's fine. The idea is to keep out the carpetbaggers, the paid whores for the corporations. Cut their numbers, thin the herd. They find this a grave threat to their bullying ability. It will also give them something to rant about outside, so folks in the venue can engage in genuine dialogue.

2) Sing out, Louise! As soon as the first nutcase leaps to his feet and starts chanting, you stand up and start singing like Harry Carey was on the mike upstairs. "God Bless America" would be a good start--let the oh-so-patriotic persons keep their rant on during that. My personal choice would be "We Shall Overcome." Hell, "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" will do. Ridicule is part of the effort.

Prepare, perhaps, by bringing along a few printouts with lyrics and, if at all possible, a friend or two with a good loud singing voice and a nice set of at least pewter gonads. (Pewter contains brass but also weaker elements. This describes many of us, metaphorically speaking, when it comes to displays of courage along with good humor in the face of incipient stormtroopers.)

Other ideas? We need to come up with a solution to this, and pronto. Yes they are being portrayed in the media fairly unsympathetically, but they're being shown as (1) sincere, as their sponsorship by insurance-industry front groups is mentioned all too briefly and (2) effective. Damn these reps who are giving up, shutting up and fleeing the scene. They should resolve, as you already have (right?) to stay as long as it takes.

Black Women Academics (by Prometheus 6)

Five months ago Rutgers University had a conference titled, "Black Women Academics in the Ivory Tower." The entire proceedings of the conference is on a pretty massive You Tube play list, and it covers a lot of intellectual ground.

This one is an example selected because it relates directly to my primary interests, and because I met Dr. Williams at a historians' convention in 2002. She was presenting on the material in her book "The Politics of Public Housing, Black Women's Struggles against Urban Inequality," which documents Black women in public housing in Baltimore not just as subjects of examination, but as real participants, responding to local events in local terms in ways that shaped local policy. For reasons that she gets into in this talk, titled "Obscured lives, hidden histories," it was all new to me.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Sunday Art Blogging (by res ipsa loquitur)

Sharon Core: Early American, Peaches and Blackberries (Raphaelle Peale), 2008.

Believe it or not, this is a photograph. Sharon grew those fruits. Larger image here. Another image and more information on the "Early American" series here.

Images from Sharon's "Thiebauds" series here. She baked all the cakes she photographed

No No Square (by Liz)

In May, a group of cheerleaders took the stage at a state-sponsored, state-funded event called "The Abstinence Works! Let’s Talk About It! Teen Summit" at the Coliseum in Jackson, Mississippi and chanted:

Don’t touch me there!
You know this is my no-no square.

No no square? That can't possibly be effective. But what do I know? It's been a long time since I was in high school. Back then a cheerleader favorite was:

Go bananas
Go go bananas
Go bananas
Go go bananas
Lean to the left
Lean to the right
Peel your banana
And uh! (insert chest and hip thrust here) take a bite.

In this video from Stuart Productions you can catch highlights of the summit. It includes comments from the ACLU, which has filed a complaint about the event, and from a Judge John Hudson who tells the 5,000 person crowd that, ""The rules of abstinence begin with our Creator."

God and Abstinence from Stuart Productions on Vimeo.

Twenty five years ago, where I grew up anyway, teens weren't getting any sex education. We were just blithely offering to share our bananas. Today's teens don't seem to be getting the facts either. Here's a sampling of what we’ve been teaching our teens:

- That saying no now will lead to a long, happy marriage later. (Yes, marriage is that easy.)
- That sex outside of marriage is destructive. (Same sex marriage not allowed in your state? Oh well.)
- That there is a battle of the sexes. Boys and girls have different urges and agendas. (Boys are raring to go but girls require time and effort to get turned on.)
- That if you already had sex, don't worry. Second virginity is an option. (Hmm, we get nine lives. Do we get nine virginities?)

Where do kids learn that marriage is not a magic pill? It requires work. And by the way sex can be good or it can dangerous in any kind of relationship: married, unmarried, heterosexual and homosexual. That whether you come from Mars or Venus, sex should satisfy both of you and not harm either of you. And that sex doesn't have to be all or nothing -virgin and whore are not the only options.

A Google search "wait have sex" led me to "Alive With Love" the website of Karen Oh, the Heart Whisperer. In a letter to young women, Karen describes sex this way, "The male puts his penis inside a woman's vagina. He has an orgasm causing him to ejaculate, and sometimes, she has an orgasm...That's sex, the simple biology."

That's right girls. Sex is about males having orgasms. And sometimes, you might luck out too. And this from a relationship and dating expert who promises to "bring you the love and romance you seek." If I were a teenage girl, that would be all the advice I'd need. No sex for me, thank you very much. I can wait for that. Now, what to do about the boys?

This past week The Senate Appropriations Committee voted to end funding for abstinence-only-education programs. The bill will include money for comprehensive sex-education. Let's hope some of it goes to creating curriculum that is free of sexism and offers modern, realistic options for teens.