Monday, January 30, 2006

Melancholy Monday: Stand Up and Be Counted

Tomorrow we find out if Alito is confirmed to the Supreme Court and replaces Justice O'Connor. In the meantime, the MSM is fortelling the futility of Sen. Kerry's attempt to filibuster. This is enough to make any feminista pretty melancholy.

David Kirkpatrick's piece in the NYTimes today doesn't exactly cheer me up.

Judge Alito's confirmation is also the culmination of a disciplined campaign begun by the Reagan administration to seed the lower federal judiciary with like-minded jurists who could reorient the federal courts toward a view of the Constitution much closer to its 18th-century authors' intent, including a much less expansive view of its application to individual rights and federal power. It was a philosophy promulgated by Edwin Meese III, attorney general in the Reagan administration, that became the gospel of the Federalist Society and the nascent conservative legal movement.

What this should read is a "less expansive view of its application to individual rights and a more expansive view of executive power." The Dems who do not join Kerry in the filibuster have just enabled the complete takeover of the government by this conservative movement.

There is no time to be nice now. Most Dems have failed to stand up to principle and tried to look conciliatory and reasonable to get elected. A lot my conservative/Republican friends tell me that it is "smart" for Dems (like Casey Jr. here) to champion some conservative principles to get elected these days. Nonsense.

The flawed presumption here is that the mainstream leans more right than left. What is really true is that the mainstream is too crunched for time to explore how effectively the conservatives have manipulated and used the MSM to continually frame issues and beat up on liberals. I share the sentiment of my fellow progressive bloggers who expose that the media does not have a liberal bias, it is objectively pro-GOP.

Consider Peter Daou's analysis of how the MSM manipulates the center:

A single storyline is more effective than a thousand stories. And a single storyline delivered by a “neutral” reporter is a hundred times more dangerous than a storyline delivered by an avowed partisan. Rightwingers can attack the media for criticizing Bush, can slam the New York Times for being liberal, but when the Times and the Post and CNN and MSNBC echo the ‘Bush stands firm’ mantra, it adds one more brick to a powerful pro-Bush edifice.

These narratives are woven so deeply into the fabric of news coverage that they have become second nature and have permeated the public psyche and are regurgitated in polls. (The polls are then used to strengthen the narratives.) They are delivered as affirmative statements, interrogatives, hypotheticals; they are discussed as fact and accepted as conventional wisdom; they are twisted, turned, shaped, reshaped, and fed to the American public in millions of little soundbites, captions, articles, editorials, news stories, and opinion pieces. They are inserted into the national dialogue as contagious memes that imprint the idea of Bush=strong/Dems=weak. And they are false.

What’s so dumbfounding to progressive netroots activists, who clearly see the role of the traditional media in perpetuating these storylines - and are taking concrete action (here, here, and here) to remedy the problem - is that Democratic politicians, strategists, and surrogates have internalized these narratives and play into them, publicly wringing their hands over how to fix their "muddled" message, how to deal with Bush’s "strength" on national security, how to talk about "values." It’s become a self-fulfilling cycle, with Democrats reinforcing anti-Dem myths because they can’t imagine any other explanation for the apparent lack of resonance of their message. Out of desperation, they resort to hackneyed, focus-grouped slogans in a vain attempt to break through the filter.

It’s simple: if your core values and beliefs and positions, no matter how reasonable, how mainstream, how correct, how ethical, are filtered to the public through the lens of a media that has inoculated the public against your message, and if the media is the public’s primary source of information, then NOTHING you say is going to break through and change that dynamic. Which explains, in large measure, the Dems’ sorry electoral failures.

So, this is a melancholic plea to all Democratic, Moderate or Liberal Senators out there: Filibuster. Stop worrying about how this will make you look later. Start doing something NOW to halt this insanity. ACT. Stop looking at polls. Stop considering how this will affect your seat. At some point we need to stop doing damage control and actually stand up for what we believe in.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

MMF Word Cloud

Via LGM, I discovered this nifty link.

Michael Berube on Academic Freedom

You cannot afford to miss this post by Penn State Professor Michael Berube on the state of Academic Freedom in higher learning.

Here is a taste of what you'll find in this post, and what happens to be my favorite paragraph:

THE PRINCIPLE OF ACADEMIC FREEDOM stipulates that “teachers are entitled to full freedom in research and in the publication of the results, subject to the adequate performance of their other academic duties”; it expressly insists that professors should have autonomy from legislatures, trustees, alumni, parents, and ecclesiastical authorities with regard to their teaching and research. In this respect it is one of the legacies of the Enlightenment, which sought—successfully, in those nations most influenced by the Enlightenment—to free scientists and humanists from the dictates of church and state. And it is precisely that autonomy from legislative and religious oversight that helped to fuel the extraordinary scientific and intellectual efflorescence in the West over the past two centuries; it has also served as one of the cornerstones of the free and open society, in contrast to societies in which certain forms of research will not be pursued if they displease the General Secretary or the Council of Clerics. But today, the paradox of these legislative “academic bills of rights” is this: they claim to defend academic freedom precisely by promising to give the state direct oversight of course curricula, of departmental hiring practices, and of the intellectual direction of academic fields. In other words, by violating the very principle they claim to defend.

Are Gender Preferences in Hiring always Sexist?

A good friend of mine, at another college, is in the middle of a job search for a new faculty member. Every member of his department is a man, and he expressed to me that he would prefer to hire a woman.

They have 4 excellent candidates to bring on campus and half are men and half are women. The front runner is a woman from an excellent PhD program, who gave a grand slam presentation, impressing everyone with her scholarship, energy and teaching skills. The whole department has unanimously decided to extend her the offer. So, my friend's wish to hire this woman should be soon fulfilled, right?

Not necessarily. The candidate is getting offers from more than one excellent school and so he is crossing his fingers and hoping they did a good job attracting her to his college. This worries my friend a great deal because it means they will go back to the pool and the resulting hire might be a man and not a woman.

What I think is worth analyzing here is that my male friend specifically wanted to hire a woman. When he said this to me I knew why (which I will get to in a moment), but I felt a bit uncomfortable. As I put my finger on why this bothered me, I quickly realized it had everything to do with the political drift of the country, and specfically how it is impacting colleges, and nothing to do with his preference for hiring a woman.

If my friend had been a mortgage banker and expressed that he wanted to hire a woman--something my brother often says to me--I would be less uncomfortable. When my brother says he is particularly interested in hiring women, I know that, in part, this has to do with profits for the company. He has recognized specific talents of his female employees in their dealings with brokers. These talents make them the highest earners of his sales team. When they make money, he makes money, the company makes money and the shareholders make money.

In that particular framework--higher profits--choosing a qualified female over a qualifed male rarely leads into a divisive and animated conversation about "reverse discrimination." Making profits is a rather respectable motivation in the largely politically conservative world that my brother inhabits.

When my friend expresses that he wants to hire a qualified female candiate over a qualified male candidate it raises the ire of the social conservatives, determined to prove that education has become feminized and slanted against boys and men.

But to judge my friend's preference as sexism--i.e. malicious discrimination against men--belies that the one making the judgement lives in a rather ideal world rather than the real world I find myself in. To explain what I mean, let me first clarify why my friend prefers to hire women.

Not only are the faculty in his department all men (and white, middle class, American), but the majority of majors are also men.

One might argue that the reason that more men are attracted to this major than women is because men are better suited to excel in this subject matter compared to women. Plenty of people have made this move, in part because it is so elegant and simple. If men are better at this subject, and we can demonstrate it through a biological study of the sexes, then we don't really have to tackle the more complicated questions about overt and/or unintentional, structural sexism.

In the case of my friend's discipline there is absolutely no evidence that men are more talented at grasping the material than women. (I am asking readers to trust me since I cannot reveal the discipline here for obvious reasons).

The reason my friend prefers to hire a woman is because he has noticed what a difference the presence of female faculty has made in other departments for attracting women majors into the field. As someone who teaches Philosophy, which is still a field largely dominated by men, I can attest that having not only one woman, but three in my small department has a profound impact on attracting women majors. We have almost equal numbers of men and women in my department, which is not true in the majority of Philosophy departments in the United States. In my career as a student, I have been rather lucky to work with some women mentors, but that was the result of a conscious choice to change from one Ph.D. program to another. Before making that choice, I had never been in a Philosophy department with a tenured woman professor.

This fact might seem irrelevant to a reader unsympathetic to feminism. Why should it matter who teaches you a subject? The gender of the professor has nothing to do with the content of the course? Right?

Well, yes and no. For some very tough and determined female students, the fact that everyone who teaches your classes is male will make no impact on your choice to study the subject. Moreover, the fact that your parents knew nothing about the subject you want to pursue and didn't encourage your intellectual curiosity about it won't matter either.

But, many young girls who never see women in a profession, or whose mothers or fathers do not encourage her to pursue this profession, won't naturally gravitate towards the field.

Many young girls grow up with countless messages--some very direct, others indirect--that conspire against them studying a field or pursuing a career. I cannot tell you how many young female students I have had who say that logic is too hard and that they just aren't analytic. They make this pronouncement long before they have ever taken a course in logic or Philosophy. When I succeed in talking some of these young women into my class and give them a brief introduction to argument, fallacies, or formal logic, they are often amazed at their interest and talent in the area.

I have also had many female students amazed that someone who looks like me (whatever that means) teaches Philosophy. This reminds me, btw, of a line from Immanuel Kant about women who try to study Philosophy:

“[Women] who have their heads stuffed with Greek, like Mrs. Dacier, or carry on profound disputes about mechanics, like the marchioness of Chastelet, might have a beard to boot . . .” [Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime (1763)]

It is in this context that I claim that anyone who thinks my friend's preference to hire a woman is malicious sexism is living in a different reality than I am. Prefering to hire a very qualified and talented female professor over a male is, in some ways, similar to my brother's desire to hire female salespeople: it is good for "business." A female professor might bring in a broader pool of students into the major.

Having a young female professor teach a subject like Philosophy (my field) however, does not guarantee, by any means, that more women will enter the field. It does not even guarantee that some of the indirect sexism will be rooted out. When I say indirect sexism, I have something like this in mind: the presumption that men are naturally better at doing Philosophy, e.g. formal logic, abstract reasoning, linear thinking, etc.

The presumption that men are better suited at Philosophy than women are has been around since the inception of Western Philosophy. Women were considered too emotional, too vain, too frivolous, or too mercurial to take up a demanding and rigorous field like Philosophy. For 2500 years, almost every canonical figure of Western Philosophy has made this claim. Tradition changes slowly.

The result of presuming that women cannot do something, and then directly preventing women from doing it, for about 2450 0f the 2500 years in which folks have been doing it will leave a mark. But, once you allow women into a profession and more and more enter, the presumption that women cannot do something will slowly fade away.

In the years that data has been collected about the number of women earning Ph.D.s in Philosophy in the United States (1949-Present), the number of women getting Ph.Ds has increased from 18% to 33% in 2004. This is good news to me. The number of women getting the highest degree possible in the field of Philosophy has nearly doubled in roughly 50 years, and that is despite the fact that everyone from the Pythagoreans to my undergraduate Philosophy of Language Professor said that women cannot do Philosophy.

Having women role models in field that was formerly prohibited to women certainly helps to combat a rather long standing and entrenched view that women cannot do X.

So, there are good reasons to prefer a qualified female candidate over a male that have nothing to do with a conspiracy to prevent men from succeeding in the classroom. The history of education, particularly the institutions of higher learning, have actually kept women out and conspired against their success both directly and indirectly.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Friday Round-Up, Sorta

I promise to take some time to say something witty myself. But, for now, these two pieces are really quite good:

The Happy Feminist:Feminism 101--What is Feminism?
HF, in her usual unflappable and utterly readable style presents the basic axiom of feminism: "The only thing you have to believe in order to call yourself a feminist is that ensuring women's freedom and equality of opportunity in all spheres of life is a crucial priority. That's it."

Pandagon: Suffragists wanted you tied to the stove . . . Amanda takes on Kate O'Beirne, the new highly paid anti-feminist who wants to make the tired and ahistorical claim that the early suffragists were pro-life. Amanda exposes how problematic that argument is. It makes me sick inside to know that neo-con women appropriate Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton for their anti-woman policies, which they disengenously disguise as pro-life.

Get Your Giggle (Google) On

This will make you laugh.

Gimme a Break

I am glad I discovered this post on Shakespeare's Sister. I am starting to be convinced that the Neo-Cons hired the most inept of the identity politics folks--the ones whose rather fascist thinking basically turned off sane liberals--and then hired them over at the Heritage Foundation.

These tactics would send conservatives in convulsions if used by the left. Moreover, it is precisely this picture that they paint of the left that galvanizes their base to want a white boy like Scalito on the bench.

Sickening.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Was New York Really Denied a Legislative Process?: On Abortion

I read Eyal Press' heartfelt meditation on his father, the abortion doctor. I was going to refrain from commenting on it, because, I find many of the points he raised to be above reproach: (a) the abortion war has detracted energy away from real issues of poverty and joblessness (b) that abortion doctors live under constant death threats (c) that less physicians are willing to become abortion doctors because of the violence. If you haven't read his piece, click here to read "My Father's Abortion War."

Over at Lawyers, Guns and Money, Scott discusses how Press makes use of the "countermobilization myth," something that didn't sit well with me either. First you should read how Scott characterizes this myth here (he wrote this post to take on David Brooks, of course). Mahablog has a thoughtful analysis of Press' article here.

The moment that Press falls into the countermobilization myth is here (where he is describing the slow building of the pro-life movement in Buffalo, NY):

The relative calm can be traced partly to the fact that the revolt against Roe v. Wade took time to build. Few people in Buffalo appreciated at the time that by removing the issue from the legislative process, the Supreme Court would leave millions of Americans feeling that they were denied a say over what they viewed as a life-and-death matter. By short-circuiting a debate that was only beginning (not unlike the issue of gay marriage today), Roe would escalate the very conflict it was designed to quell.

While I think the Lemieux is the expert on these things and has a more nuanced analysis of what is wrong with this paragraph, I was a bit confused when I originally read it. My confusion stemmed from the fact that in my understanding of the history of the repeal movement, New York state was a state where the pro-lifers and pro-choicers did in fact battle out the issue in the legislature. New Yorkers were not short changed by Roe. Perhaps other States were, if you want to buy into the countermobilization myth. But, New York Catholics were quite mobilized and organized during the legislative repeal process. The punished Democrats and Republicans alike for voting for repeal.

Get a copy of Lawrence Lader's Abortion II: The Making of the Revolution. Lader was a founding member of NARAL and details the different state fights: Hawaii, California, and New York. His chapter on New York was quite informative, since he demonstrates how Nixon's "Southern Strategy" was finessed during the repeal movement in New York. Nixon tried to win over the Catholics who were registering as Republicans before entering Mass as a protest against the repeal movement. The Catholic church, with all its wealth, was mobilizing a really loud and aggressive anti-choice campaign, making them the more powerful tax free lobbying group around.

I may have some of these details a bit off, since I loaned my copy of the book to a friend. Perhaps someone out there can weigh in here. Did New York really get deprived of a legislative process over the legalization of Abortion?

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Spectre of of Specter's Anti-choiceness

From CNN:

Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pennslyvania, an abortion rights moderate, said part of the reasoning for his vote for Alito was to ensure the judge's support crosses ideological lines when it comes to abortion.

"I think it is important for Judge Alito have supporters who favor a woman's right to choose, so that he does not feel in any way beholden to or confirmed by people who have one idea on some of these questions," said Specter, who has been criticized by abortion rights supporters for his Alito support.

Well if that isn't the most self-serving rationalization that I have ever heard . . .

First of all, it's stupid. How likely is a Alito to feel less beholden to the anti-choicers with lone Specter sending a message that he, too, has voted for him?

Secondly, I keep reading in the paper that Specter is "pro-choice" or an "abortion rights moderate" but I see so little evidence of it. He has voted to confirm all of Bush's appointees. I suppose he does it to stave off another challenge from the uber-right Pat Toomey. But, please. Why doesn't he just drop the charade that he actually cares about a woman's right to choose.

UPDATE: Check out what Scott Lemieux writes about Casey Jr. and his endorsement of Scalito.

Look Elsewhere . . .

I got separated from my computer last night. Long story. But, I have borrowed Za's computer to link readers to some good writing elsewhere.

First, you must go to Echidne of the Snakes, who is an economist, to read her three part series on The Gender Gap in earnings:

Part I: Theories
Part II: Empirical Evidence
Part III: Addressing the Wingnuts

Second, Jill has an inspired post up at Feministe here, where she takes apart, limb by limb, the unfortunate op-ed by William Salaten printed in the NYTimes.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Melancholy Monday: An Activist's Guide to Beating the Blues

Act One: Blue Sunday

I woke up yesterday in a funk. It was raining, I hadn't done any good writing in days, and I was feeling a bit disoriented from a difficult conversation with a friend. I considered just staying in bed since, after all, it was Sunday. Aren't we suppose to take a day of rest? But, I knew better than to let my slightly depressed mind rationalize a day of hibernation, which would most likely lead to a full blown depressed state.

I used the excuse of my promise to publish a piece for the Roe anniversary as the appropriate instrument to push me out of bed and into the shower. After I wrote up my piece, feeling a bit less haggard, I forced myself to my local UU service to interact with my lefty, free-thinking, spiritual community. The service was a real downer, it really was. Two members of our community had lost parents and so our minister waxed on about how death is really a part of life and we need to confront death to live more fully. I wanted to just crawl back under the covers.

The chairs were pushed back to make way for the coffee and danishes and I contemplated bolting for the front door. A few friends, however, put themselves between me and my bed and boy, did the day take on a dramatically different hue.

"Are you going down the square for the Roe rally," friend #1 asks.

"We cancelled the rally because we police told us we couldn't a permit without liability insurance," I replied.

"I know," responded the other friend, "but we aren't going as a group anymore. We are going to exercise our free speech and celebrate a woman's right to choose."

"Can we do that?," I asked, very intrigued. "If I go with you, will we attract the cops or get in trouble."

"Well, we might," replied friend #2 (who is a lawyer).

I thought about it for 20 seconds and said: "Ok, let me get my sign and I will meet you there."

* * *
Act Two: Rally for Roe (20 minutes later with my "my body is not public property" sign in the town square.)

I pull up to a meter right in front of a group of 5 people, huddled together with their "No Alito," "Save Roe," "Honk for Choice," and "Dad 4 Choice" signs. I only knew two people there, but I was happy to be among the brave souls, willing to show up and stand up for Roe on a Sunday morning. We started to spread out and partner up (two to each corner), when another friend showed up with a car full of signs that she had just made up. Then, three women from church walked into the square and picked up signs and joined in. Before we knew it, about 15 of us were out there.

We knew that we could not have more than 19 people, without violating the borough code. But, none of us figured that would be a problem.

We were wrong.

A swarm of former students strutted into the square, on their way to the coffee shop to wake up after a long night of catching up with old friends. The minute they saw us there, they jumped right in and grabbed signs. At the high point of our little rally, we had probably 25 people.

We were starting to get some thumbs up, supportive honks and cheers from cars working their way through the traffic circle. My mood was really picking up.

I hoisted my sign high up in the air, stood tall, and looked directly into the eye of all drivers moving past.

Believe me, we got some sour puss faces too. One man, who was in the passenger seat of a truck was clinking his knife against the window to give us a clue into his position. I turned to my friend Yehudi to say: "Did you just see that?" He responded with a joke to try to ease my mind.

A few minutes later the cops showed up. The chief of police was yelling at an older couple, both over 65, bravely holding their signs. He looked really pissed off and was moving his hands wildly in the air.

The two ladies across from me looked for some direction. I assured them that a lawyer was to their right and that we still had our 1st Amendment rights. No sooner than I had uttered this, did a police officer cuff a nice man in front of his wife and children right across from me. The man tried to reach for his keys so that his wife could drive their children home, when the cop threw the cuffed man on his patrol hood. I then watched the cop shove him into the back seat and drive off.

Oh shit.

The chief of police sidled up to me and my two friends and started his intimidation tactics on us. My young student asked him to clarify why, exactly, we were being shut down, when the police threated to arrest him if he spoke another word.

Now I was pissed.

Another cop showed up, and before we knew it, we were all getting screamed at to leave.

We huddled on one corner together, with our signs down, and discussed what to do. That's when I realized that the reporters were there. And, that one of them had a photographer who had caught the cop shoving the nice married man into his backseat, in front of his kids, because he had dared to express his views openly.
* * *

Act Three: The Post Rally Reflection

Both our local papers covered the incident. The low quality, right-leaning one misreported key details and only quoted the chief, who accused us of willfully violating the law and disobeying the borough ordinance.

The other paper gave a much more balanced and interesting presentation of what happened, including further details of the arrest.

I was so damn proud of our effort and energized from the rally, that I allowed myself to be talked into heading down to D.C. to rally some more for Roe in front of the Supreme Court.

Before we left, a really militant and scary looking pro-lifer was walking up and down the street calling each of us murderers. I tuned him out. But, my well-meaning, earnest former students tried to have a civil dialogue. As expected, the conversation went nowhere. When they asked him a question, he responded by calling them murderers. He then whipped out his cell phone to call up his network. They assembled a few minutes later in front of the courthouse in town.

While we were driving to D.C. my students were reflecting on their encounter with Daniel, the pro-lifer. They were pretty dumbfounded by the experience of having hostile police screaming at them as well. They were seeking out some way of reconciling what had happened.

When they turned to me to ask what I thought, I snarkily summed up: "Well you see, Daniel is our version of the Taliban. The police, empowered by laws to prevent terrorism, have shut down our peaceful rally, and denied our free speech. But, thank goodness we are fighting that war in Iraq to preserve our freedoms from religious zealots."

We turned to other topics, enjoyed the drive, and I felt alive.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Happy Birthday Roe, and Thank You.



6 weeks after my brother was born, my mom went back to the Army doctor who delivered him to get an IUD. My father was about to finish his time in the Army and start his medical residency in the States. My mother's doctor explained all about IUDs and why they were preferable to European women than traditional birth control. She agreed to get one implanted.

Unfortunately, the IUD didn't work. My mom found herself pregnant shortly after the IUD procedure. It turns out that the physician who implanted the device had done so too quickly and it became lodged in the uterine wall. My mom remembered a friend of hers who was in similar predicament and knew that the risks of the pregnancy to her health, the developing fetus, and her ability to have more children were not good. My mom was also a nurse, and trained to think through risks and outcomes.

After much deliberation, my mom decided to schedule both an abortion and the removal of the IUD device from her uterine wall. Abortion was not yet legal all over the country, but there were places you could get one in California.

Just recently my mom and I were talking over her views of abortion and in the course of the conversation, it became abundantly clear that my mother's ability to get a safe and legal abortion lead her on a significant odyssey and transformation in thinking about what it means to have the right to get an abortion.

Before my mother found herself in a position to get an abortion, she was certain that she found it utterly repulsive for anyone to get one. Her views had been informed by a previous boyfriend, who, in the light of day, was a principled conservative who disapproved of premarital sex, birth control or abortion, but by night, after a few drinks, confessed to her that he had to scrape together money to get his college girlfriend abortion. He wanted to "fix" the situation. This drunken confession deeply disturbed my mother, who would routinely say during my early childhood that getting an abortion as a form of birth control was totally wrong. Her anger was directed mostly at the cavalier way in which the man had just walked away from a responsibility.

She would say this even after her own abortion.

"How did you feel about your abortion," I asked my mom. "Did you ever feel regret, or disappointment, or depression." My mom paused for awhile and then said "You know, I have never felt any regret. I saw my decision as the best medical and moral decision I could make as a young mother with two infants." The fact is that if my mom had continued the pregnancy, she faced the following bad outcomes: (a) rupture of her uterine wall, which would mean she could never get pregnant again, (b) a very premature baby, who may go on to have a host of horrific health consequences including lung disease/respiratory problems, digestive failures, etc., and (c) excessive hemorraghing, which threatened her own life. If she were to avoid the worst outcomes to her own health by continuing the pregnancy, but still had a premature baby, she was looking at both an emotional and economic drain, which would compromise the quality of life for her existing young children.

Examining these risks, my mother and father decided it was the best decision to both remove the IUD and get a dilation and curettage. She registered at a hospital in a rather conservative area, who agreed to do both procedures and sent my brother and I to our grandparents house. When the operation was over, the physician returned to tell her that he had successfully removed the IUD and "the other thing went well too." That was the last, and only conversation, that my mother had about the termination of the pregnancy.

Trained as a nurse, my mother immediately noticed how coolly and indifferent her post-operative nursing care was. It was clear that they did not approve of what she did, even though she was a married woman facing a risking pregnancy. But, the nurses didn't even know that much, because they simply ignored her.

This response to my mother was totally disturbing. Since this experience, my mother has dedicated her life to advocating for the importance of nurses in helping patients recover quickly from illness. Nurses, in her view, are charged with the responsibility of attending carefully to both the emotional and physical needs of patients after and during illness. If my mom was recovering from any other operation, she was certain they would do this. What made her operation so different?

This question took her over 25 years to understand. After my brother and I entered school, my mom finished her Masters and specialized in child development. Her first job was to monitor families who had premature babies, to see how the child was developing and what resources the state could give them to help them cope. After years of making home visits in impoverished areas and trying to help struggling, working class families cope with their premies, she started to get a glimpse into the profound obstacles and problems as many of these families faced. She started to reflect on the sort of harsh judgment she heaped upon "those people who get abortions as birth control," realizing that her quick judgment of others was probably the same sort of emotional trigger that lead the nurses to ignore her while recovering from her abdominal surgery and abortion.

The last job my mom held, before becoming a union activist (I told you this is an odyssey, she started out a committed anti-abortionist Republican), was the Office of Family Planning. My mother started to implement a program in her state that encouraged doctors and clinics to routinely ask if their patients had experienced physical or mental abuse in their homes. On one visit to a family planning clinic, a nurse blurted out to my mom how disheartening it was to see this one Latina woman come back time and again for an abortion. The nurse wanted to vent that this was such irresponsible behavior, which was sentiment that 20 years earlier my mom might have shared.

My mom then asked the nurse if she had ever talked to her about why she kept finding herself pregnant after her abortions. She encouraged her to be non-judgmental in her approach and try to start a dialogue with her about how birth control worked for her, her attitudes toward pregnancy etc. My mom left the clinic.

Several months later, when my mom returned to check up on this site, the nurse flagged her down to tell her about her experience talking with the patient who kept getting multiple abortions. It turns out that each time she would leave the clinic with birth control, her husband would find it, beat her, and then try to impregnate her. When she would show up to the clinic, and someone would tell her that she was pregnant, they would then tell her, by state law, all of her options: adoption, abortion, continue the pregnancy. With little sense of any control over her body, her home, or her well-being, she would choose to terminate the pregnany before her abusive husband would find out. During the pregnancies she had carried to term, his beatings only intensified.

After having this conversation with the patient, the nurse, who formely had assumed that she was facing a irresponsible woman, was now telling my mom how she had creatively brainstormed with her colleagues to find a form of birth control that would be effective and that she could hide from her husband. They gave her depo shots and then referred her to a battered women's clinic.

The last time my mom and I discussed abortion, when she shared that story with me, she pointed out how popular IUDs are among Mexicans. She said, "its a largely Catholic population, where men are also very controlling of women's bodies." She paused and then said: "No one should be forced to get a form of birth control that is easy to hide from their spouses or male partners. They should be free to make any and all decisions about their sexuality."

My mother's commitment to women's health and her compassion for all women's stories has inspired me to write this blog entry on the 33rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade. I am thankful that my mom was given a safe and legal abortion so that she could be the inspring mother towards my brother and I that she was. I am also grateful that she dedicated her life to understand and care, as a nurse should, about all women and their health risks--emotional and physical--and strive to help others become more compassionate as well.

Koufax Awards: New Best Blog

Soon it will be time for you to go over to Wampum and vote for your new favorite best blog. Hint: Mad Melancholic Feminista.


UPDATE: I was wondering why there was nowhere to vote over at Wampum. Eric, in the comments, points out that in my exuberance, I misread the post. The voting won't begin for awhile.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

I Couldn't Resist

Via Broadsheet

I discovered this online review for Kate O'Beirne's Women Who Make the World Worse: And How Their Radical Feminist Assualt is Ruining Our Schools, Families, and Sports:

"I think it's her frequent attacks against the television show, 'Sex [and] the City,' that I value most about this book," reviewer "Gen. JC Christian, patriot" writes. "By promoting the myth that women should enjoy sex, that show has done more to destroy the institution of marriage than even homosexual unions. I think most men will agree with me when I say that there isn't a woman alive who isn't thoroughly repulsed by sex. Telling them that it should be a pleasant experience rather than a vomit-inducing one only serves to cause them to resent their husbands when the impossible isn't delivered. Hopefully, this book will help destroy that myth."

Tell me this is a parody. Such a good laugh.

Psychopharmacological Gender Engineering

I did a bit of writing the last few days before coming down with death cold. Now, I am quite comfortably sitting in a Panera, listening to good Jazz, and hence feeling perky enough to actually share with my readers bits of what I am working on. I am not sure if this will be the beginning of the book, but it was helpful to juxtapose my mother's experience with my own.

“Imagine that we have a medication that can move a person from a normal psychological state to another normal psychological state that is more desired or better socially rewarded.” –Peter Kramer, “The Valorization of Sadness: Alienation and the Melancholic Temperament,” The Hastings Center Report.

“ . . .in the bioscience discourse of depression, the personal is not political, the personal is biological.”—Bradley E. Lewis, “Prozac and the Post-human Politics of Cyborgs,” Journal of Medical Humanities. (56)


In 1973 my parents moved with two small children from Germany, where the Army stationed my father, to Sacramento, so that my father could set up his medical practice. My mom was a nurse, but chose to stay home and raise my brother and I, while my father put his energy into building a new medical practice. Not long after we had settled in my mother made a visit to her gynecologist, which, she often tells me, was her primary physician in those days. Upon completing her examination, he turned toward my mother, who seemed a bit tense and anxious, and asked her how she was doing. “How do you think I’m doing with two small children under three and a husband trying to start up a medical practice?,” she snapped back. To which her gynecologist responded: “Why don’t I write you a prescription for Valium to help ease your anxiety.”

Almost twenty years later, I found myself facing a nurse practitioner at a gynecology clinic at the university where I was pursuing my Ph.D. Before starting the examination, she was taking my history and noticed that I seemed rather agitated. At the time I was incredibly overwhelmed with my coursework and a bit raw from the ruthless environment of my graduate program. When she asked me how I was doing, I began to talk a little about my worries over upcoming papers when tears began flowing. She immediately wrote me out a prescription for Zoloft and told me that I would feel much better in two weeks.

The differences in my situation from my mothers’, at the time we both found ourselves full of anxiety and confiding in our OBGYN doctors, reflect, to some degree, the feminist gains that women made over the twenty years before I embarked on a Ph.D. in Philosophy. I did not grow up with the expectation that I would seek out a well-situated husband and raise children in the suburbs, but rather that I would take my place alongside men in the professions. My mother re-entered the workforce as soon as I started kindergarten and began to embrace the feminist ideals of egalitarian families and an identity outside of self-sacrificing motherhood. Both she and my father encouraged me to stay single and unencumbered as long as possible while pursuing my professional goals. Like the dutiful daughter that I was, I heeded their advice and singularly molded myself after my favorite female intellectual, Simone de Beauvoir.

Yet, despite following a wholly different life path than my mother did, I found myself face to face with a similar socializing force: the physician armed with the latest psychotropic medication designed for treating female distress. The women of my mother’s generation were the primary consumers of sedatives like Valium or Miltown to ease their anxiety, while the women of my generation are written prescriptions for Selective Serotonin Re-Uptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) like Prozac, Zoloft, or Paxil. The cultural narrative on these medications differs in what they promised my mother’s generation as compared to my own. Valium promised relief for women overwhelmed with childcare duties and tedious domestic routines. It was a pacifying drug that enabled women to cope better with their prescribed roles as domestic goddesses. Prozac, on the other hand, was a liberating drug. It promised energy, assertiveness and vivaciousness. The drugs for female distress had changed with the times.

While enthusiasts of Prozac, such as Peter Kramer (1993) and David DeGrazia (2000), laud Prozac as a feminist drug, other cultural critics, such as Jonathan Metzl (2003) and Bradley E. Lewis (2003) warn of the conservative forces buried within the pharmaceutical advertisements promising that Prozac makes women more attractive spouses, better humored mothers, and more assertive and efficient workers. Is Prozac a boost to the feminist cause, or another, albeit clever, instrument of patriarchy? To what extent was my encounter with psychopharmacology different from my mother’s?

At the heart of this question is a more profound philosophical question about the relationship between technology and human goals. How should human beings meaningfully use technology to improve their lot? When should we restrict biotechnologies that promise to make us better than well? And, how do we reconcile our long held views of what human beings are like and what new technologies reveal about the nature of the self?

We live in the Prozac Age, a time when pharmaceutical innovations promise to cure us from a variety of unattractive and embarrassing personality tics. We are barraged daily by major media sources—television, the internet, radio and news sources—that teach us to see our personalities as far more malleable than previously believed. We are taught to see our unease in social situations, our profound stress with balancing work and parenting, or our alienation with modern society as “chemical imbalances” unjustly conspiring against the desire to reach our fullest potential. The Prozac Age presents to us a simple solution to what seems like intractable and complex social problems. Why worry about our dwindling time with family, our long commutes, or insane work schedules when there are pills that can help us better cope with these greater demands? Why devote seemingly wasted hours to community activism, when an anti-anxiety medication might do the trick?

Quite a bit of ink has been spilled in debating the ethical permissibility of using antidepressants, and other biotechnologies, as enhancement drugs. With hindsight, both my mother and I see the interaction with our physicians as instances of peddling enhancements, rather than treating illnesses. Neither the hectic demands of parenting, nor the intense pressure and stress of graduate school really constitute sickness. Yet, our physicians translated our appropriate responses to difficult social environments into treatable medical phenomena. Both the Valium and the Zoloft were intended to help us better achieve a prescribed social norm. What was normal for women raising young children in the early 70’s certainly is not the same normal for a young, single, aspiring professional living at the beginning of the 21st Century. The pervasive cultural message my mom received was that irritability and agitation in mothers is a mental illness; the post-women’s movement message waiting for me was that an emotional reaction to stressful, competitive work environments is a mental illness.

While the notion of what “normal” adult women should be like had adjusted to reflect the expectations of the sphere where white, middle-class women were more likely find themselves, a common, deeply entrenched attitude about women and femininity persisted. Stressed out, overwhelmed, and complaining women are irritating. My mother’s generation were encouraged to be less willful and more pleasant, while my generation, which had succeeded in breaking into the male dominated professions, better start acting a lot more like men if they were going to make it. Psychotropic medications, whether sedatives or SSRIs, are inextricably intertwined with cultural notions of norms, particularly gender norms.

Friday, January 20, 2006

A Modest Proposal: The Mommy Bill

I am fighting off a nasty cold and mostly lying around watching old episodes of Sex and the City. That sort of luxurious waste of time that a sabbatical can buy, also gave me some time to think through an interesting proposal.

I am still fairly preoccupied with the "Mommy Wars" issues. I was thinking back to David Brooks' rehash of the well known figure of the self-sacrificing mother.


Among the adjectives that patriarchy uses to depict the figure of the mother is: self-sacrificing, selfless, nurturing, devoted, and dutiful. Contrast this with the images and phrases we associate with the soldier: making the ultimate sacrifice, heroic, patriotic, and valorous.

Could we consider the figure of the mother to be equivalent to the figure of the soldier in patriarchal thought? Do both roles perform equally valuable tasks? Are both also of equal necessity for the perpetuation of our institutions, at least as they are currently run?

I can imagine that many conservatives would happily say "yes" they are equivalent and equally valuable roles that men and women perform. Well, let's be clear, they are roles very strictly tied to biological difference. Women are mothers and men are soldiers. Right?

Why, then, does the federal government give educational grants to soldiers and not mothers? It seems to me grossly unfair. I think we need a "Mommy Bill."

How do mommys with grown children find funding for employment now? Welfare, if they find themselves divorced. And, no one who needs to use Welfare to get education is looked upon with the sort of dignity they deserve for having raised children.

Let's see the social conservatives put their money where their mouths are. If you really value motherhood, then give women some remuneration for their services that carries with it the honor associated with the G.I. Bill.

Now Doesn't That Just Figure . . .

What does it mean to score 97% on Gender, btw?


The Wicked Queen
You scored 43 Kindness, 50 Morality, and 45 Wisdom!

Even royalty can go sour, just like a poisoned apple.
Although you are a Queen and therefore already have power,
you desire to be the best. You seek to eliminate
those more beautiful than you. You have a moderate sense
of morality and would have the potential to be a strong ruler.
Just be aware that your vanity could be the death
of you if left unchecked, try to be content with what
you have and look for a handsome beefcake,
like Gaston, to make you happy.



My test tracked 4 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:

free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 33% on Kindness
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 83% on Morality
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 47% on Wisdom
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 97% on Gender


Here is the link to the quiz.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

I saw myself in her...

Today was a slow day at work. I have to say that I was relieved when I went down the ER this morning and saw a clear board…. The first time since I’ve started that I’ve encountered an empty emergency room. I retreated to the office to work on chart notes, and told the BA to page me if I was needed.

I hadn’t even gotten through my first chart when my pager went off. A 15 year old girl had come in by herself explaining that she had been raped by her neighbor the night before, while over at his house for their daily tutoring session. She was failing math, and her neighbor had offered to help her with her homework after school.

They were going to do a rape kit, and the attending physician asked if I would prep her for the procedure with the intention of staying with her during it. I hesitated, trying to imagine how I could walk into that room, and explain in terms that she would understand how her doctor was going to come in and examine her body for scratches and bite marks, and hopefully find enough semen to be able to charge the bastard with rape. I tried to imagine how I could sit next to her while medical professionals and police officers asked her if the man ejaculated, or if he used a condom, all the while jotting down her responses and nods of her head on their clip boards.

I made up my mind to swallow my own self pity, my self doubt, thereby venturing into territory that I knew all too well. I knew that having been through this myself would work for me because I knew exactly what it was like, and yet it would work against me for the very same reason.

I sat and talked with this young girl about school, music, and the snow that had been piling up outside since her arrival. She smiled slightly at this, admitting how she hoped that school would be cancelled tomorrow. I didn’t ask her to reveal the details of what happened, but they came pouring out of her at a seemingly uncontrollable rate following an awkward pause which indicated to us both the end of the small talk.

She confessed feeling stupid, confessed feeling like she should have been able to defend herself, confessed that she blamed herself for not leaving sooner, for not recognizing the signs.

I saw myself in her.

It was then that I knowingly crossed a professional boundary, and admitted that I understood what she was going through, because I had been there. I usually try not to reveal too much about my personal life to my patients or their families, I'm there to support them, not to add my own antecdotes. And yet I didn’t feel that there was anything more appropriate than to expose such a personal, painful, piece of myself for my patient in that moment. I remember what it’s like. And following my assault, all I wanted was someone who understood how I was feeling. I felt that if nothing else, I could give that to this young girl who was feeling so incredibly alone.

I went through the steps of the rape exam with her, and told her that I could stay if she wanted me too, to which she just nodded. So I stayed, and although it was excruciating to do so, I have never felt that my job was more necessary than I did in those moments.

While walking home from work tonight, all I could think about was what would become of this young girl. I wonder whether or not justice will be served, I wonder whether justice can ever be served in these situations? Even if her attacker is handed a prison sentence, it will never be for quite long enough.

As I walked, I must have passed by a dozen people, all rushing home at the end of their day. I cringed as each walked by, literally closing my eyes tightly for a moment as they passed. Tonight, I admitted to this young girl that I had been a victim of sexual violence. What I chose to leave out was that as a result I go through every day afraid of it happening again, something as simple as walking home from work has become my personal gauntlet. And I have to wonder whether or not my patient will face the same in years to come.

I would like to think that I helped prepare my patient for her rape exam, and yet I know that I couldn’t prepare her for what she may face tomorrow, or next year, or even ten years from now. And I don’t know if anyone can prepare her for that.

UPDATE: I was reading a dated post by Lauren at Feministe this morning and found a thread to a piece that she wrote 2 years ago on rape. It is AMAZING, please please go read it here.

Behold: The New Carnival of Feminists

Lauren has collected some excellent posts for the 7th Carnival of Feminists up at Feministe. The focus of this issue is feminism and popular culture.

This is a truly fabulous collection with quite elegant presentation. Go read it now!

Old Boys Club

I cannot help but write a few words about Ted Kennedy's public renouncement of his membership in the Owl Club. He has opened himself up for this attack given his line of questioning with Alito during the confirmation hearings.

But, this is not what interests me.

What bothers me is that women are left with these sorts of politicians to represent our interests. It's still an old boys network in Congress. Very few women run for Senate or House seats, even fewer get elected.

Maybe there are lots of women out there who are satisfied with a lot of male millionaires from Ivy League colleges representing them. And, perhaps many women don't mind that these politicians actively participate in exclusive male clubs wherein major deals are brokered with no woman in sight.

But this woman is sick of it.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Katha Pollitt Schools Tierney

Via feministing, I discovered this delectable and gratifying swipe at NYTimes' editorialist, John Tierney.

Go Katha Go:

The conservative spin on the education gender gap is that feminism has ruined school for boys. "Why would any self-respecting boy want to attend one of America's increasingly feminized universities?" asks George Gilder in National Review. "Most of these institutions have flounced through the last forty years fashioning a fluffy pink playpen of feminist studies and agitprop 'herstory,' taught amid a green goo of eco-motherism and anti-industrial phobia." Sounds like fun, but it doesn't sound much like West Texas A&M, Baylor, Loyola or the University of Alabama, where female students outnumber males in about the same proportion as they do at trendy Berkeley and Brown. Even Hillsdale College, the conservative academic mecca that became famous for rejecting federal funds rather than comply with government regulations against sex discrimination, has a student body that is 51 percent female. Other pundits--Michael Gurian, Kate O'Beirne, Christina Hoff Sommers--blame the culture of elementary school and high school: too many female teachers, too much sitting quietly, not enough sports and a feminist-friendly curriculum that forces boys to read--oh no!--books by women. Worse--books about women.

For the record, in middle school my daughter was assigned exactly one book by a woman: Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God. In high school she read three, Mrs. Dalloway, Beloved and Uncle Tom's Cabin, while required reading included male authors from Shakespeare and Fitzgerald and Sophocles to (I kid you not) James Michener and Robert Adams, author of Watership Down. Four books in seven years: Is that what we're arguing about here? Furthermore, I don't know where those pundits went to school, but education has always involved a lot of sitting, a lot of organizing, a lot of deadlines and a lot of work you didn't necessarily feel like doing. It's always been heavily verbal--in fact, today's textbooks are unbelievably dumbed down and visually hyped compared with fifty years ago. Conservatives talk as if boys should be taught in some kind of cross between boot camp and Treasure Island--but what kind of preparation for modern life would that be? As for the decline of gym and teams and band--activities that keep academically struggling kids, especially boys, coming to school--whose idea was it to cut those "frills" in the first place if not conservatives?

If the mating game worked fine when women were ignorant and helpless and breaks down when they smarten up, that certainly tells us something about marriage. But does today's dating scene really consist of women who love Woolf and men who love Grand Theft Auto? College may not create the intellectual divide elite pundits think it does. (Just spend some time looking at student life as revealed at www.facebook.com if you really want to get depressed about American universities.) For most students, it's more like trade school--they go to get credentials for employment and, because of the sexist nature of the labor market, women need those credentials more than men. Believe it or not, there are still stereotypically male jobs that pay well and don't require college degrees--plumbing, cabinetry, electrical work, computer repair, refrigeration, trucking, mining, restaurant cuisine. My daughter had two male school friends, good students from academically oriented families, who chose cooking school over college. Moreover, as I'll discuss in my next column, sex discrimination in employment is alive and well: Maybe boys focus less on school because they think they'll come out ahead anyway. What solid, stable jobs with a future are there for women without at least some higher ed? Heather Boushey, an economist with the Center for Economic Policy and Research, noted that women students take out more loans than their male classmates, even though a BA does less to increase their income. The sacrifice would make sense, though, if the BA made the crucial difference between respectable security and a lifetime as a waitress or a file clerk.

Why My Sabbatical Is Looking Good

One of my best friends called me today to ask if I was ok since I hadn't posted to my blog lately. I was tickled by her response to my lack of blogging because it illustrates to me how you can really build an audience who wants to know not just what you think, but how you're doing.

I apologize for my lack of blogging the last few days. I have returned from my adventures in California and brought back with me a head cold. I was pretty much out of commission yesterday and today I stuck to my writing plan. I didn't check emails or attempt to blog until I had put in my 2 hours of writing and attended to other errands.

I didn't get much on the page, but I did make a start and I think I know where to begin tomorrow, which is good. I very much like the office I have chosen to work in because it is really quiet and the people are great. If I need a break, I am sure to have a nice exchange with someone. If I need to work, people respect that.

After making dinner and ripping open bills tonight (yes, I am still incredibly jet-lagged so I am off by 3 hours), I checked email. The chair of my department sent along a link to this website. His message was entitled: "be glad you're on sabbatical . . ." I read the email and immediately went to the website to check it out. I have no idea if this is for real. I am simply too exhausted to do some real sleuthing here. But, if it is real, it is absolutely disturbing.

I guess when your President thinks it is legitimate to wire-tap its own citizens in the name of national security, then a group of conservatives can pay students to take notes about the "radical" positions that professors are making in class and expose them to this witch-hunt organization.

Another friend sent along this article discussing the state hearings on "liberal bias" in college classrooms. I couldn't agree more with this point:

William E. Scheuerman, vice president of the American Federation of Teachers, said universities fear the prospect of government micromanagement.

"Merely the threat of government intervention is enough, believe me, to frighten college administrators and some faculty so they are less likely to raise tough questions," he said.

Compound the threat of government intervention with the ruthless tactics of groups like Bruin Alumni Association and you have the opposite of free speech or free inquiry in establishments of higher learning. But that's the point isn't it? This administration and its enthusiastic supporters, like David Horowitz, don't believe that we have a right to openly criticize and challenge their policies.

I find it hard not to see how these organizations aimed at muzzling the voices of dissent and free exchange in this country are anything but a ministry of propaganda. My colleague who is from Sri Lanka commented on my chair's email that the Tamil Tigers used these exact same tactics at home, and hence, this is why he has fled his country to seek safety and the right to criticize the tactics of warloards and the government in Sri Lanka.

Yes, I am indeed grateful to be on sabbatical for a time. I plan to write a book that says exactly what I think, much of it will be critical of the conservative forces in our country, and I am finally free from the kind of unAmerican censorship of my ideas. When I come back to teach, I am hope that I don't lose the verve that I just starting to regain in this break from teaching.

UPDATE: See Jill's post at Feministe "Conservatives Supporting Anti-Intellectualism Since 1945." Also see Amanda's post "Smarty-pants strawfeminists, crisis pregnancy centers, and backlash justifications."

Monday, January 16, 2006

Melancholy Monday: Skin Deep

A few months ago I was introduced to a 15 year old young woman, whose oncologist had requested that I visit her to address issues that she was having dealing with her hair loss following her first round of chemotherapy.

Addressing the issue of hair loss with younger children is oftentimes as simple as explaining to them why their hair falls out, and introducing hats, scarves, and helping them write letters to their classmates and friends to explain that they would look different when they returned to school. I had one child who used to love having his head painted, as any other child would enjoy having sports logos and animal faces painted on their cheeks at carnivals.

However, the subject is far more delicate when the patient is an older child or teenager whose self image is inherently dictated by that of their peers, and with any deviation from the norm being viewed as essentially devastating. When a 1 5 year old girl loses her hair, it’s difficult to convince her that hats or even wigs are acceptable bandaids. It’s amazing how hair loss can be more devastating to a young woman than the diagnosis that caused it. The pain that they experience from feeling ugly, from feeling different from their peers is viewed in their eyes as the greater tragedy.

This mentality is so frustrating, and yet understandable when one considers the society in which we live, and the emphasis that is placed on molding oneself in an effort to look like everyone else. In a society where women pay to have indicators of their ethnicities smoothed out and cut away, where women are constantly looking at their reflection only to notice the things that they’d love to change. The chin that could be tighter, the acne scars and sun spots that could be lightened, the lips that could be fuller as to create an exquisite pouty expression, the lines that could be injected with fat so as to create an illusion of youth.

But what image is the ideal and who creates that ideal? What is the picture that exemplifies the beauty that all of us try to attain? Is it attainable, or is it so elusive in its nature that with each surgical enhancement, each waxing, each make up application, we become less and less satisfied with our own reflections?

For who among us has not at some point in time succumbed to the propaganda, looked in the mirror and felt ourselves to be wanting? Wanting because our skin was too dark, or our noses too wide, or our hips too large, or because our hair wouldn’t grow and never blew in the wind, or just because we never seemed to measure up… wanting. Yeah, that sums up what happens to women in this country when it comes to the beauty thing. ‘Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?’ Most of the time when the question is raised, the answer isn’t you. In fact, most women rarely (as in almost never) look in a mirror and are satisfied with what they see. You are either too short or too tall, too fat or too thin. Your eyes aren’t the shape, size or color that is considered beautiful. Your hair doesn’t blow in the wind or drape on your shoulder, or fluff out on the pillow. You have too much butt or too little. You worry because you have skinny legs or thunder thighs, 32 A’s or 36 DD’s. You worry above gravity sending nipples downward, about time and wrinkles, stretch marks and cellulite... And for beauty’s sake millions of women in this country today walk around with silicone time-bomb breast implants. Women are made to feel insecure because their breasts are too small, insecure because they were disfigured by cancer surgery.” (an excerpt from Marcia Ann Gillespie's article "Mirror Mirror")


My 15 year old patient went back to school following her treatment, where she was relentlessly taunted by her peers because of her hair, which was about an inch long by the time she returned to school. Her classmates called her a dyke.

A young woman who should feel empowered by her ability to survive instead feels like an outcast in her own skin because of society’s preconceived definitions of beauty. Her mother recommended that she try wearing a wig, and my patient showed up to her appointment at the hospital last week wearing a wig that required her mother to take out a loan from a friend to purchase. All of this so that strangers wouldn’t stop and stare at her when she was in the mall, and then franticly pretend as if they weren’t when she returned their gaze, all of this so she wouldn’t deviate too far from the image of what we as Americans, and as people consider beautiful, so that she would fit neatly into the conventional albeit undefinable ideal of beauty.

For Those Who Need Reminders . . .

I have a few links to some excellent posts written about feminism and why it matters.

  • Why Feminism (again)? at Mind the Gap
    I was finding myself thinking a great deal of these things this past week as I travelled with two young men and talked to them about boys and relationships. Feminists do learn that sex is a pleasurable thing to share with whomever you wish to share that with, and that more than often means men or women who care about the sexual pleasure of thier partner.


  • Men Are Attracted to Sucessful and Feminist Women at The Happy Feminist
    I can certainly attest to this. In fact, what I find to be even more fascinating is how many really politically conservative men have been attracted to me. I have, sadly, had to put my phase of dating conservatives behind me, since their hope to convert me was always dashed and their persistance nonethless annoyed me.
  • Saturday, January 14, 2006

    The Legacy of Secrecy and Shame

    I promised to post some of my reflections about the interviews. I am discovering that the need to process this trip is overwhelming and all my impressions about what I have discovered thus far are really just impressions.

    While I made the trip out to the CA to begin uncovering the story of Dr. Young, a country doctor who performed numerous abortions from 1938-1962, I unearthed a great deal about the mysterious dynamics of families. So far the legacy of Dr. Young has been secrecy and shame for his children, at least the ones I spoke too. They walled themselves from processing the gravity of what their father chose to do, and tried to build lives that were less radical. They are both hardworking dedicated parents, who have given much of themselves to care for their children and spouses.

    While both Dr. Young's son and daughter knew that he had performed abortions, neither of them really grappled with the fact that a man dedicated to his community went to jail in for 25 months in order to protect the nurses that worked for him from ambitious DA's looking to make fame by convicting an abortionist. His father was charged with murder because a young woman died after recieving an abortion. However, what is clear from Dr. Young's writings is that he did not perform her abortion, but plead guilty--to the surprise of the D.A.s--in order to stop them from investigating into the activities of his nursing staff. He was eventually charged with providing abortions and involuntary manslaughter. When he got out of jail, he dedicated himself to clearing his name and regaining his license.

    Buster, his son, only really knew the extent to which his Dad had been a pioneer for the inchoate pro-choice movement when a stranger called him to inform him that his father was being put in jail. He accepted his Dad's imprisonment reluctantly, and has probably never really talked to anyone about how this impacted his life.

    When his father got out of jail, he never went to hear him speak at conferences promoting the repeal of abortion laws, nor did he participate in the kind of activism that consumed the last ten years of his father's life.

    He has chosen to finally speak about what his father did because after years of not speaking about this to anyone, including his own son, he has realized that the only way to be faithful to his father's legacy is to share his prison notebooks, manuscript and any stories that he has. He is encouraging us to talk to more of his relatives, and gather whatever stories we can.

    Interviewing children about the sort of people their parents are has turned out to be an incredibly complex endeavor. Buster, the youngest son of Dr. Young, is profoundly ambivalent about the kind of man his father was. On the one hand, he idolizes him, and on the other, he consciously distanced himself from him because he felt abandoned.

    Dr. Young dedicated his life to tending to the spiritual and physical health of his community. He would work all hours of the days, and return home exhausted and depleted. When Buster was born, and his wife had fallen to rheumatoid arthritis, he was too overwhelmed to tend to him. He farmed him out to a nice couple in the country who gladly tended to Buster. In his gratitute, Dr. Young returned the favor by providing them free health care for the rest of their lives.

    Buster lived a good life. He has a wonderful family. But, he moved as far away as he possibly could from his father. He inherited all of his father's writings, and from what I could gather from the interview, he never read these materials nor shared them with anyone.

    His sister, Eula, absolutely abhors abortion. She is a fundamentalist Baptist, who thinks of abortion as murder and all women seeking abortions as deserving jail time. She finds young people crass and sexually deviant these days. She knew her father performed abortions, and yet she does admire what a good doctor he was and how profoundly he cared for his community. She also confessed that she has never told anyone what her father did. She has not read his writings, nor does she intend to, for she dislikes reading anything but the Bible.

    I am left now with more questions and puzzles. I am in possession of the writings of an absolute pioneer. A man who went to jail for his convictions and staked his whole reputation on the belief that a woman has the right to decide when she is ready to be a mother.

    Dr. Young mused regularly on where religious faith could meet scientific thinking. He read everything he could get his hands on, and tried to help his small community educate themselves to avoid poverty and desperation. He donated the public and school libraries and gave financial support to many town members who sought to attend school.

    His children have inherited his overflowing kindness and hospitality, and yet they demur from publically tackling the kind of profound moral dilemmas that continue to face women who find themselves pregnant and unprepared for motherhood. Buster supports that his father did the right thing, but he also believes that abortion is a trauma and a sin that only the Lord can cure.

    I intend to keep researching the story of Dr. Young, but I can't help but be in awe of the utter mystery of families. Do we ever really know our parents outside of the earliest images we form of them when we were tiny children? Can we ever see our parents through the eyes of others, who praise or condemn them? For Eula, Dr. Young's activities were a deep sin and perpetual source of embarrassment. She loved him and loves to speak about him, and yet I can see how she had to protect her childhood adoration of her father from the damning judgments that her Bapist community handed down on his activities. Certainly children never want to see their father through the eyes of a condemnatory community, particulary if it is their community.

    Buster, on the other hand, did not find himself called to join his father's cause, because he was dedicating himself to provide for his family, specifically so his wife would not have to work. He felt a deep sense of familial duty that took precedence over the national cause his father played a significant part.

    I wonder how Buster will transfrom as the process continues. I also wonder what will happen to me.

    Check out Scarleteen: My New Favorite Sex Ed Website

    I am sitting in a Starbucks in Berkeley taking time to process the interviews that I just completed with my team (see this entry if you have no idea what I am talking about). I plan to post in a few hours some preliminary thoughts and observations of what it is like to interview the family members of a small town country doctor who chose to perform 5,000 abortions before abortion was legal. I promise to say some interesting things about this that should appeal to all sorts of people thinking through the issue of abortion.

    While catching up with email however, I ran across a link to this website: Scarleteen: Sex Education for the Real World. I found this website to be so helpful and thoughtful in its approach to educating women and men about sexuality and relationships that I wanted to link to it here.

    I have two young women with me in CA doing this oral history project. Obviously, the nature of this research has opened up important conversations for all of us involved about sex, healthy sexuality, and feeling safe and empowered with your sexuality. Both of these young women are very bright, assertive and passionate about women's issues. Yet, neither are comfortable or sure of how to talk about their own sexuality.

    When I mentioned to them, in passing, that they should feel absolutely good about asking their partners for what they want, and telling any potential partners when they do not want to have sex, one of them said: "really, you can talk about these things with your partner?" I realized that she had never had the opportunity to really talk to anyone in an honest and non-judgmental manner about sex. I think it's kismet that someone sent me the above website at the same time. I am linking to it here so that any of my readers, male or female, progressive or more traditional, can get straightforward information about any question you may have about your sexuality and sexual relationships.

    Friday, January 13, 2006

    Planned Parenthood Accused of Blaspheming Almighty

    Planned Parenthood accused of blaspheming Almighty

    A pro-life group is protesting Planned Parenthood’s sale of a line of “condom key chains’ that include a takeoff on Michelangelo’s famous Sistine Chapel image in which the hand of God gives a condom to Adam.
    The abortion provider is in a “never-ending quest to sexualize everything in our culture,” said Jim Sedlak, executive director of American Life League’s STOPP International.
    read more here

    Thursday, January 12, 2006

    Those Radical Feminists

    Another gem….. Fighting Off the Radical Feminist Assault by Jonah Goldberg. Here's a good bit of the article, read the rest here:

    The great sin of feminism, like all identity politics, is its narcissism. Feminists honestly believe they are speaking for all women; I think this way, I am a woman, I must represent all women. This is, of course, nonsense. For example, you wouldn't know from the conventional public debate over abortion that roughly half of American women are generally opposed to abortion. A large majority of women oppose the NARAL party line of abortion on demand. John Kerry won the overall women's vote by 3 points but lost the white women's vote by 11 points. (This is particularly ironic since self-identified feminists are overwhelming white.)

    When presented with this sort of evidence, feminists trot out various arguments trying to demonstrate that conservative, or otherwise un-feminist, women don't understand their own interests. This is a vestigial Marxist argument known as "false consciousness." If women only understood the truth, the way feminists do, they would agree with feminists. If you doubt the persistence of nostalgic Marxist thinking in feminist rhetoric, check out the reader reviews of Kate's book at Amazon.com. You'll learn that Kate is a self-hating woman and a fascist doing the work of her knuckle-dragging male paymasters. Anyone who's met Kate (or actually read her book) knows this is nonsense on stilts. A successful and independent-minded career woman and proud mom, she's equal parts Joan of Arc and mentoring den mother.

    In the broad mainstream of American life, feminism has become an anachronism with as much relevance as, say, Fabian socialism. But, institutionally, feminists punch well above their weight. Like their brothers and sisters in the New Left, they succeeded in their long march through American institutions, transforming them in profound ways. Many of the changes wrought by the first generation of feminists were important and valuable. But those battles were won a long time ago, and yet the would-be revolutionaries won't lay down their weapons or change their very stale talking points, casting age-old progressive schemes and newfangled feminist ones as essential tools in the battle against "discrimination." And women who don't get on board aren't "authentic" women, just as black conservatives aren't really black.
    The tragic illiberalism of this perspective should be obvious. And it will be to anyone who reads this book.



    I think that Amanda at Pandagon does a fine job of addressing this jewel, read her line by line here.

    Tuesday, January 10, 2006

    Traveling Back to a Time Before Abortion Was Legal

    Blogging will likely be a bit sparse for the next few days. I am flying out with a talented team to interview two of the surviving children of an abortion doctor who went to jail before Roe v. Wade. Before this physician died, he wrote a manuscript trying to explain why he had chosen to become an abortionist in an era when jail sentences and public ruin of your career was a likely outcome.

    The stories he tells of the patients he treated, who finally compelled him to defy the unjust laws that criminalized abortion are unbelievable. There is the woman who got pregnant during an affair, and was so horrified by how by her small town would ostracize her that she drove her speeding car into a ditch. Then, there is a couple who actually opposed abortion, and yet had to seek out an illict abortion because of a dangerous pregnancy. The woman was near death after an opportunist butcher performed a back alley abortion. She was saved only because of the fortuitous intervention of our heroic doctor.

    I will be digitizing many of the notebooks this doctor kept while in prison in addition to interviewing family members.

    The timing of this trip is fateful. While Judge Alito is being considered as Sandra Day O'Connor's replacement, and women's reproductive freedom is in jeopardy, I will be traveling back to a time before abortion was legal. I hope that I only have to make voyage in my imagination and not actually find myself living in a country that returns to the barbaric times of criminalized abortions.

    Another Hearing Started Today: Temple University

    A friend alerted me to this article, from the Philadelphia Inquirer, on the "academic freedom" at Temple University.



    Posted on Tue, Jan. 10, 2006
    Hearing into bias falls short of billing
    The probe of professors said to inject politics into classes at Pa. public colleges drew just one student speaker.

    Inquirer Staff Writer

    Yesterday's hearing on academic freedom at Pennsylvania's public universities was hyped by conservative activists as a "historic moment," in which school administrators would finally be "called to account" in front of state legislators for allowing student "indoctrination and abuse" by leftist professors.

    But the hearing at Temple University did not live up to that billing.

    A professor scheduled to testify about alleged rampant liberal bias at Temple canceled. The sole student to appear before the legislative committee acknowledged he had never filed a formal grievance.

    And Temple president David Adamany testified that in fact no student had made an official classroom bias complaint in at least five years, despite well-developed policies and procedures for doing so.

    "If there are students out there who feel their rights are being abridged, they need to speak up," said Rep. Gib Armstrong (R., Lancaster). Armstrong is the conservative lawmaker who called for hearings and got them approved by the Pennsylvania House.

    Pennsylvania is the only state in the nation to have held academic freedom hearings, but lawmakers in 19 other states have proposed some form of legislation designed to address alleged professorial bias. The hearings at Temple are the second of four scheduled by the state House Select Committee on Academic Freedom in Higher Education.

    Many academics have condemned the movement, and Pennsylvania's hearings in particular, as a new form of McCarthyism that leaves professors with the impression the government is monitoring their lectures.

    "Just as in the 1950s, right-wing forces are attempting to impose political tests on the faculty," Rachel DuPlessis, a Temple English professor, testified.

    Lawmakers first heard from Adamany yesterday. Unlike many of his presidential counterparts, Adamany said he welcomed the hearing. He defended Temple's record, acknowledging only that the university could do more to "make sure that students know of their rights to appeal" when politics leaks inappropriately into classroom discussions.

    Temple senior Logan Fisher, vice chairman of the school's College Republicans chapter, offered several vivid examples of what he considered classroom bias, alleging that a few professors vulgarly insulted President Bush in their lectures. Fisher also said a professor told him, "You're going to have a rough semester in this class," after Fisher disagreed with him over a foreign policy question.

    Fisher also said he had spoken with many students who had similar experiences.

    Asked why he and the other students never filed a formal complaint, Fisher said they feared retribution and felt their grievance would be ignored.

    Democrats seemed convinced that the threat to student academic freedom had been overblown.

    Rep. Dan Frankel (D., Allegheny) said that "for us to pretend there is widespread abuse going on is problematic."

    Rep. Dan Surra (D., Elk) called the hearings a "colossal waste of time and taxpayer money."

    The hearings at Temple conclude today.


    Now, is this a valuable way to spend our tax dollars?