Wednesday, October 07, 2009

For Jamie Leigh Jones

I have written of her case in the past, but here's a short summary with the reason for this post:

Today, the amendment offered by U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) to stop funding defense contractors who deny assault victims their day in court passed the United States Senate by a vote of 68 - 30

Last Thursday, Sen. Franken introduced an amendment (S.2588) to the FY2010 Defense Appropriations Bill that would restrict funding to defense contractors who commit employees to mandatory binding arbitration in the case of sexual assault. The legislation, endorsed by 61 women's, labor and public interest groups, was inspired by the story of Jamie Leigh Jones, who watched the vote from the Senate gallery today.

Jones was a 19-yr-old employee of defense contractor KBR (formerly a Halliburton subsidiary) stationed in Iraq who was gang raped by her co-workers and imprisoned in a shipping container when she tried to report the crime. Her father and U.S. Rep. Ted Poe (R-Tex.), worked together to secure her safe return to the United States, but once she was home, she learned a fine-print clause in her KBR contract banned her from taking her case to court, instead forcing her into an "arbitration" process that would be run by KBR itself. Just today, Halliburton filed a petition for a rehearing en banc in the 5th Circuit Court, which means that Jamie's fight is far from over.

Good for Senator Franken! And good for us. No military contractor should be outside of the laws of all countries.

The vote distribution in the Senate is fascinating. The NAYS appear to consist of only Republican men. Those are the people who think that Jamie Leigh Jones SHOULDN'T be allowed to have her day in court but that the people who put her into a packing crate to stop her from reporting the crime are the ones who should decide on the credibility of her case. Funny how that goes, eh?

This offers one great example why having more Democrats in the Congress does matter for women's rights. Though Republican women might do, too.
Links to the current story from Eschaton. For more of my posts on this topic, check here, here and here.

Wednesday Good News

Ada Yonath of Israel is one of the three winners of this year's Nobel Prize for Chemistry. She's the fourth woman to have won the prize. The last one was in 1964.

For why this is good news for women, check out my post below on the winners of this year's Medicine Prize.

Gender Politics! Grumble, grumble.

I watched a video interview of Leonard Cohen's opinions the other night. I searched it out on purpose, because there are hints in his lyrics that not all is OK with Leonard and Women. Women must be spelled with a capital W, because we are a mythical beast for Leonard, one he can adore or despise, put up on a pedestal and turn into something that only exists in the context of his love. (I still like many of his songs and want to stress that he's most likely a lot less objectifying than many famous male singers of the 1970s era.)

In the middle of the long interview Cohen talks about the difficulty of writing lyrics in a time which is all about gender politics and other kinds of politics and some extreme form of political correctness. He skates glibly around whatever he actually intends to say, as any good marketer would, but I suspect that he does not care for feminism.

All this set me thinking why other times would not have been about gender politics. Is it gender politics ONLY when women fight back, so to say? Read the Bible and you find gender politics, read the Koran and you find the same. Read old law books and you find them again. They have always been practiced, of course, and part of the rules of those politics traditionally has been NOT TO NOTICE THEM.

That's pretty important, I think. It's still true that the usual way to move across gender-based rules in a society is not to really question them, not to really notice them. That may be why the noticer and the questioner get bashed. Then it's those people who are seen as practicing gender politics.
My apologies for not noting down when the relevant bit comes on the video. I want to stress again that I like Cohen's art and I'm not singling him out in any particular way, just using the interview to point out how we frame matters in the culture.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Tonight, on David Letterman...

Suzie has already written about the case, but the basic message bears repeating: Bosses harvesting their subordinates for sex is almost always a bad idea.

What happens if the boss proposes sex and the underling refuses? Will the underling be later punished for that refusal in the form of fewer raises or promotions or even a speedier firing? And what will an underling thinking about all this do when such a question is popped to her (or even to him)?

It's that dratted power-over stuff again. I understand that not all cases are like that. I also understand that people can fall in love or in lust all across those rungs in power ladders. But there it is, the basic reason why Letterman should have taken the trouble to go out to singles bars or something (when he was still single, that is). And no, this is not all about sexual morals in some old-fashioned sense of the term.

Trivial Question Of The Day

How many have found this site blocked as pron? (Must write vewy cawefully...) I've now been told about my new-found status by two people. (For this honor, I'd like to thank Ares who is an asshat,...)

The Scorched Earth Party?

That would be the U.S. Republican Party, according to two articles I recently read. Paul Krugman, from whom I stole the title of this post, writes about the transmogrified Republican Party in his recent column:

How did one of our great political parties become so ruthless, so willing to embrace scorched-earth tactics even if so doing undermines the ability of any future administration to govern?

The key point is that ever since the Reagan years, the Republican Party has been dominated by radicals — ideologues and/or apparatchiks who, at a fundamental level, do not accept anyone else's right to govern.

Anyone surprised by the venomous, over-the-top opposition to Mr. Obama must have forgotten the Clinton years. Remember when Rush Limbaugh suggested that Hillary Clinton was a party to murder? When Newt Gingrich shut down the federal government in an attempt to bully Bill Clinton into accepting those Medicare cuts? And let's not even talk about the impeachment saga.

The only difference now is that the G.O.P. is in a weaker position, having lost control not just of Congress but, to a large extent, of the terms of debate. The public no longer buys conservative ideology the way it used to; the old attacks on Big Government and paeans to the magic of the marketplace have lost their resonance. Yet conservatives retain their belief that they, and only they, should govern.

Earlier, Neal Gabler wrote something similar when discussing right-wing political beliefs as a religion:

The tea-baggers who hate President Obama with a fervor that is beyond politics; the fear-mongers who warn that Obama is another Hitler or Stalin; the wannabe storm troopers who brandish their guns and warn darkly of the president's demise; the cable and talk-radio blowhards who make a living out of demonizing Obama and tarring liberals as America-haters -- these people are not just exercising their rights within the political system. They honestly believe that the political system -- a system that elected Obama -- is broken and only can be fixed by substituting their certainty for the uncertainties of American politics.

As we are sadly discovering, this minority cannot be headed off, which is most likely why conservatism transmogrified from politics to a religion in the first place. Conservatives who sincerely believed that theirs is the only true and right path have come to realize that political tolerance is no match for religious vehemence.

My mind linked the two theses together, to come up with this:

The Republican base prefers their own rule to a destroyed country which they in turn prefer to the rule of the Democrats.

There are certainly Democrats who have corresponding (reverse) preferences, but those are never the Democrats in power. That group is sorta jello-like and wobbly, so as not to come across as bipartisan. (Imagine a fight of sharks against blobs of jello...)

This may not make much sense, but I'm trying to see how Krugman's and Gabler's arguments go with the oft-heard argument that "the left" should not start behaving like the right, should not become intolerant just to fight back. But what IS the tolerance of intolerance? Karl Popper, to the pink courtesy phone, please.

I do believe that the articles I have quoted above are right when they state that the Republican Party has not just drifted to the right but leapt there with all their might (while throwing the money bags over, first, of course). That's the way they stopped being a permanent minority: By enlisting populist policies of the lowest common denomination (fear and hate the Others!) and by energizing the fundamentalists. Those are the tigers they now ride. Seems like they are stuck up there, for the time being, because the tigers are hung-g-ry.

These developments are not completely inexplicable. Neither is the Democratic Party free of blame in all this. But I still think that the muddy middle is not large enough, interested enough or informed enough to make a real difference in these politics of division.

Monday, October 05, 2009

How I'd Like To Live

Like this, except with less stuff.

It's not going to happen. Like all junctions in life, once you took the turn marked "Sally Army Furniture: Excellent Quality Available Only in Depression Brown" you are kinda stuck and will not be able to throw everything out and start again. Also, where would my spiders live if I let all that light in?

But it's always fun to dream about a different life.

Good News Monday

The three winners of the Nobel Prize in Medicine include two women:

Three Americans won the Nobel prize in medicine on Monday for discovering how chromosomes protect themselves as cells divide, work that has inspired experimental cancer therapies and may offer insights into aging.

The research by Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Carol W. Greider and Jack W. Szostak revealed the workings of chromosome features called telomeres, which play an important role in the aging of cells.

It's the first time two women have shared in a single Nobel science prize. Over the years, a total of 10 women have won the prize in medicine.

My congratulations to all three winners. And a big cheer for the two women among them, because it does matter for all women. Prejudices and perceptions about women as a group are made less harmful by news such as these. It's important to understand that, and I have failed to explain it adequately in my posts. I'm not writing about uppity women and such just because I happen to be a goddess. The toolbox of anti-feminists consists of the same old rusted swords, and one of these is all about the presumed intellectual inferiority of women. It's presumed, by the way, however many times one refutes the argument, but actual examples do help to quiet the murmurs a little.

It's very sad that Joan Robinson died before having a chance to receive the Nobel Economics Prize, by the way. But then of course she couldn't get a full professorship until she was well in her forties. So the world HAS changed.

And What Did She Think Would Happen?

That's what I wanted to know after reading this excerpt from an interview with Sandra Day O'Connor:

Retired Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor says she regrets that some of her decisions "are being dismantled" by the current Supreme Court.

O'Connor, who generally has avoided questions on the substance of the court under Chief Justice John Roberts, made the observation during a wide-ranging and unusually candid panel discussion over the weekend.

Asked how she felt about the fact that the current court had undone some of her rulings, the nation's first woman justice responded, "What would you feel? I'd be a little bit disappointed. If you think you've been helpful, and then it's dismantled, you think, 'Oh, dear.' But life goes on. It's not always positive."

O'Connor, appointed by Ronald Reagan in 1981, was a moderate conservative who often brokered compromises among justices and across ideological lines.

Since she retired in 2006, the court has become more conservative and retreated from some rulings in which she crafted consensus, including on abortion rights, campaign finance and government race-based policies.

After all, Justice O'Connor IS part of the reason why we have an Attila-The-Hun Supreme Court right now. With proper apologies to Attila, of course, who might not have been as conservative as Scalia and his clones are.

Today's Proverb Worth Translating

Like rowing a water-logged boat against the current.

That's a description of having to deal with someone who is all glum and grumpy and down in the dumps. Such as me on my bad-fangs days.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Lecherous Letterman (by Suzie)

This column talks about CBS talk-show host David Letterman, the alleged victim of an extortion attempt. (I stuck in "alleged victim" because that's the descriptor often used for women in sex crimes.)
This scandal threatens to make painful personal incidents public in a major way for a celebrity who has tried hard to keep his private life private.
But a famous boss having sex with subordinates isn't a private, none-of-our-business affair. It raises questions about whether women felt pressure to have sex with him to keep, or advance in, their career. The NYT reports:
Several longtime associates of Mr. Letterman said he has a long history of pursuing relationships with employees, dating to his first days on television on NBC in the early 1980s. At that time he was known to frequently date interns and other young women connected to his show, one associate said.

Weekly Poetry Slam Thread posted by Anthony McCarthy

Post your fresh poems on topical or other subjects, your encouragement or disagreement with what gets posted on the comments.

Feel free to start us off, I’ll post my first one later today.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Losers (by Phila)

In response to the survey that Echidne discussed a few days ago, Mona Charen says it's not surprising that stay at home moms tend to have lower incomes and fewer opportunities:
We knew that women with lower levels of education and skills make the decision to raise their own children rather than seek a low-paying job that would barely cover the cost of childcare. That's not news, and it's not stupid either.
These women aren't "stupid" for staying at home once they realize that they can't break even by working full-time, let alone get ahead? Good to know. Hooray for the land of opportunity.

As if that weren't diabolical enough, Charen cites survey results that suggest many working mothers would like to spend more time with their children, but can't afford to, as evidence that women's throbbing biological urges are trumping the false consciousness of feminism:
Only 28 percent of full-time working mothers rated their parenting as a 9 or 10 on a 1-10 scale, compared with 41 percent of part-time workers, and 43 percent of at-home moms. A strong majority of working mothers (60 percent) say they would prefer part-time work, but only 24 percent achieve this....

Is it so threatening to acknowledge that when women have small children at home, they are less likely to want an 80-hour-a-week job?
It's not threatening at all; it's logical. What's threatening is the idea that this says something about the essential nature of women, as opposed to people who have to work themselves half to death in order to get by.

I love the part about asking overworked mothers to rate their's a bit like breaking people's ankles, and then asking them to rate their ability to dance the Charleston. It'd be interesting to see how stringently fathers who work full-time assess their own abilities; my guess is that they might not be quite so hard on themselves. (As always, what's ignored in this argument is the extent to which fathers are at liberty to "opt out" of basic household responsibilities women's work.)

Tellingly, Charen objects to focusing on the working poor because it suggests that "only losers stay home with the little ones." Since these "losers" have no real choice in the matter, their so-called decisions can't really be presented as opting out. Therefore, to understand what the statistics are really saying, we need to ignore these outliers, and refocus our attention on the wealthier, more educated women whose choices actually matter.

The reason they matter is not just that they have money, though that certainly helps. In wingnut-speak, "educated" tends to mean "indoctrinated with unnatural ideas like feminism." If your goal is to detect the rejection of cartoon "feminist" values among uppity career women, it doesn't make much sense to look for it among the disadvantaged.

The best part is, the fact that some women can afford to stay home magically becomes an argument against childcare programs that might enable "losers" to acquire more education or additional skills, and possibly even escape poverty.
Perhaps the true source of anxiety about so-called "opt out" moms is that they tend to undermine a key liberal shibboleth; that the state must provide "quality" childcare in order to do justice to women. If even well-educated, high-earning moms who can afford the best daycare choose to stay at home instead, it rattles.
Sure. If some high-earning moms choose to stay home, even though they can afford the best available childcare, why on earth would anyone want to provide affordable childcare to women who are working 80 hours a week? Let alone to losers who are below the poverty line? If our best and brightest have no need for childcare, what possible use could it be to their social inferiors? Having chosen the "traditional" option from an untraditionally wide range of possibilities, their lives instantly become an object lesson to the underclasses: biology is destiny, and you can't "do justice to women" by expanding their access to childcare, or paying them a living wage, any more than you can do justice to goldfish by housing them in a birdcage.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Hunting my rapist, Part 1 (by Suzie)

I was raped 29 years ago, and I got the most comfort from hunting the guy down. I’ve been thinking about that this week, as I read quotes criticizing the pursuit of Roman Polanski. When I read that his victim wanted charges dropped, I thought about how time influenced my own attitude in the opposite direction.

At 21, I didn’t understand that what happened to me was rape. It was 1980, and “date rape” would be coined later that year, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, although the phrase would take a while to catch on.

He was 32, a handsome professional in the mental-health field. How could I have gotten so drunk on a couple of drinks that he had to carry me into his bedroom? I had cried so hard that my body shook; I cried so hard that he finally stopped without coming. What a baby I had been!

I told few people what happened. Apparently, I did write a former college roommate because I still have her response: “That psychologist gives me the creeps! Can’t he be disboarded or something. What a jerkass, taking such advantages!” Her reaction was common at the time: There were creeps and jerks who took advantage of women. But few used the word “rape” if there was no physical force.

I never thought of going to the police. Even now, very few men get convicted of the rape of an acquaintance, especially when there are no injuries. It’s not surprising that prosecutors dropped charges of forcible rape and sodomy, and let Polanski plead guilty to statutory rape in 1978. I doubt he would have been prosecuted if his victim had been 18. After all, if a psychiatrist who examined Polanski could blame a 13-year-old for being provocative, what chance would a woman have in similar circumstances?

Years passed, and I put my “incident” – as the media might call it – out of my mind. I wrote about the issue of date rape, and I felt sad for friends who didn’t consider their rapes to be real rapes for one reason or another.

Eventually, I began to examine my attitude toward my own rape. I had interviewed the man when I was a newspaper intern, and he worked in a hospital psychiatric unit. He asked me out on a date and suggested we meet first at his apartment, where he offered me drinks. If I drink too much, I feel sick to my stomach – not like that night, where I felt good at first, and then distant. Much later, I would experience that feeling again before surgery.

My rapist would have had access to drugs. But what if he didn’t drug me? What if I said yes? I can’t remember what I did or didn’t say. Then the avenging angel on my shoulder reminds me that his unit dealt with people who were impaired by alcohol or drugs, as well as those who were mentally ill. Surely, he would have recognized when a woman was impaired. Surely, he had been trained in the concept of informed consent. If he meant well, why didn’t he stop as soon as I started to cry? When I was still clearly intoxicated, why did he put me in my car and let me drive home to another city? Why did he not call to make sure I got home safely or to see if I was OK?

Because he was a rapist.

I can only imagine what Polanski’s victim thought all these years, as people questioned her honesty. In 2006, when a therapist suggested I come to terms with the rape, I did what any good (former) journalist would do. I decided to investigate.

Next Friday: Let the hunt begin!

ETA: Some people think I'm defending Polanski. I'm not defending him or any rapists. Nor am I under the delusion that the attitudes of the 1970s have disappeared. For those interested in what I've written previously about Polanski, go here and here, and wait for the pages to load.

Friday bird blogging (by Suzie)

Sometimes I wish I could fly away.

(This is a great blue heron, by my friend Peter.)

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Grow A Pair

I heard someone urging someone else to do just that, and that made me wonder what I should grow if I ever were similarly urged. A pair of horns? Bigger divine breasts? A pair of auxiliary eyes in the back of my head? Long corner teeth? Legs instead of a snake tail?

That saying has to do with testicles, of course, and the assumption that testicles equal courage and bravery. Some people use ovaries the same way, such as "that takes ovaries!" or talk about brass ovaries when a woman comes across as daring. But those sayings are slow to change, alas.

Speaking of acts of courage, bravery and possibly foolhardiness, you may have followed the fuss over Representative Alan Grayson's comments on the Republican health care plan. If not, here's a quick catch-up course:

The initial move:

Grayson apologizes (not):

Grayson on CNN:

Hmm. I wonder if he would care to have my children? They're easy as they come out in egg form.

More generally, of course, I'm not sure that rudeness ultimately works. But the Republicans were the ones who suggested the Democratic proposal included death panels and such.

On Opting Out, Again...

The opt-out revolution is what the New York Times invented some years ago, or so I recall. The idea is that highly educated women with wealthy partners opt out of careers in order to stay at home with their children. Note that we are not talking about poor women, or women who have to work to feed those children, or about Any. Kind. Of. Men.. Only about uppity women who have decided no longer to be so uppity.

Here's why this particular trend-making matters to feminism. Let me provide you with the extreme version of what a real opt-out revolution by educated women would mean, one which would truly reverse the trend so far:

If that revolution applied, colleges and universities might ultimately reinstall gender quotas in the sense of a maximum number of women allowed in law schools, medical schools and veterinary schools. After all, those are occupational degrees, and degrees which are today subsidized by the general society in various ways. If women are less likely to ever use their degrees, would they be allowed to be the majority of the students? What about all those poor men they exclude from the education which the women will never even use?

And how many middle-income parents would really consider re-mortgaging their houses just to pay for their daughter's Mrs. degrees? This is an argument that was not at all rare in the past. Indeed, I know a woman in her forties whose parents told her that they would not pay for her college degree as she'd just get married. The money would be wasted, yanno.

Likewise, once potentially powerful women were no longer interested in paid child-care and such, women who really, really need subsidized and good childcare will have fewer advocates, and all those powerful decision-making positions in the society would have far fewer qualified female applicants.

We'd probably also get back all those housewife jokes.

Those are the reasons why the invented trend is about the wealthiest of women, by the way, and not about mothers in general. It is the most educated and wealthiest who, after all, are closest to the top rungs of the societal ladders. If they can be kept away from the top ladder, so can all women and all women's issues. Besides, "opting out" is an incredibly clever way to make childcare once again something that only women do and something that really should be done by a woman alone at home for her own children. Since many women can't afford that option, they can then hate on the women who can and we can have mommy wars and the rest of the society can just chug along without worrying about any of that female crap.

So much for explaining the wider framework of all these weirdly breathless trendlets that the New York Times likes to stuff down our female throats. The widest framework of all is of course the one which assumes that it's up to mothers to take care of their children and of course they have a choice in how they do it but every choice is also wrong.

But they really should have more children and that shouldn't cost the society any money and they really should be at home taking care of those children. On the other hand, that we have so few Nobel Prize winning women is because women are more interested in their children and their families and that's really very admirable but don't come to us complaining about where all the woman award-winners are. If women make the choice of staying at home, they have only themselves to blame for not making the big bucks or the great inventions!

So I'm ranting here. It does a goddess good sometimes. I'm ranting, because we refuse to see that bringing up children is a time-consuming and necessary task, and at the same time we also demand that this nonexistent task (!) be done silently, quietly and without much money by mothers, and they are the ones to bear almost all the costs of this. If these mothers then point out that they can't be in two places at the same time we ask them to make a Sophie's Choice and to chuck out one part of themselves altogether. With very little empathy for those making that choice because they are rich enough to afford it.

Anyway. Here's the impetus for this rant:

A first census snapshot of married women who stay home to raise their children shows that the popular obsession with high-achieving professional mothers sidelining careers for family life is largely beside the point.

Instead, census statistics released Thursday show that stay-at-home mothers tend to be younger and less educated, with lower family incomes. They are more likely than other mothers to be Hispanic or foreign-born.

Census researchers said the new report is the first of its kind and was spurred by interest in the so-called "opt-out revolution" among well-educated women said to be leaving the workforce to care for children at home.

Too bad that they didn't design the sampling frame so that they could answer that question, by the way. To find out the characteristics of SAHMs doesn't tell us the reverse: What percentage of the women with children in each social class are SAHMs. It could be that the original Census data does that answer, but they are not telling us what it might be here.

Gah. I really, really hate this topic. It's classist, essentialist and a major example of how we reverse everything about a topic so that we can bash on one group of women (usually either wealthier SAHMS or wealthier mothers in the labor force) while ignoring vast groups of women altogether. And all men, most naturally.
To understand my irritation a little better, read, say, the comments attached to this post. Then multiply reading comments like those by a thousand and you might get where I sit. The topic disintegrates into woman-blaming and anger and then turns into mummy wars.

Echidne, All Sand-Papered

That's what happens when you read rough shit every day. You get a sore skin, even under all these snake scales. That's what happened to me concerning the Roman Polanski case and that was one reason I didn't want to write more about it. The other reason was that I already did write about it, and what I wrote was very fine, indeed. Even rather path-breaking. Honest.

But it took enormous amounts of intellectual and emotional energy out of me and so I'm exhausted and my eyes ain't shining the way snake eyes should and my goddess tiara is askew on my poor bald head. And what I wrote will have exactly zero impact on the general conversation about Roman Polanski.

That will remain the same old merry-go-round where the same arguments pass by and have zero impact on the next argument passing by:

Was the mummy the real guilty party? Was poor Polanski trapped? Think of his horrible life before: his wife murdered his parents lost in the Holocaust! The lawyers made a deal and reneged! He was right to flee! But he fled and broke the law! He admitted guilt! But was the mummy the real guilty party? Was poor Polanski trapped...

I have followed so many of those in the recent days.

But of course child rape is never acceptable. Here is the statement I have supported:

The Women's Media Center (WMC) calls on the media to focus their coverage of Roman Polanski's recent arrest where it belongs: on the crime he committed, the rape of a child. Originally indicted in 1977 on six felony counts, including rape and child molesting, Polanski and his attorneys reached a deal in which he pled guilty to having "unlawful sexual intercourse" with a 13 year old girl. He fled the country when it was reported that the judge in the case was going to give him more time than the 42 days served which had been agreed to in the plea bargain.

Because the Grand Jury minutes are unsealed and publicly available, there is ample information for anyone wishing to investigate the facts. Despite this, numerous mainstream media outlets have chosen to depict the Polanski case as somewhat unresolved, hinging on a "murky" issue of consent. These outlets represent the case as clouded by the victim's forgiveness, prosecutorial misconduct, the family's alleged opportunism, and other elements of the story which have no bearing on the key fact that the case is about the rape of a child.

Too often, the media is complicit in misrepresenting or silencing the victims of sexual assault. The Women's Media Center calls on the media to report the unfolding story of the Polanski arrest and possible extradition with clarity and specificity. The rape of a child is at the heart of the case. That is not disputed, and should not be represented as subjective.

Carol Jenkins,
President, Women's Media Center

None of this rant is to be taken as a blog policy, by the way. I'm eagerly looking forward to Suzie's writings on the topic and people are naturally free to discuss it as much as they wish.