Monday, July 21, 2008

Moving Hell

I hate packing. I hate moving. I don't want to ever do it again. I wish I could say that I will never have to do this again, but . . .

I am in the middle of travels. Half of my stuff is in route up north. Some is still in my soon-to-be-sold house. And, some with me.

I hate stuff.

And, no matter how much stuff I tried to get rid of for this move, I still have too much stuff.

What kills me is that half--literally half- of our Pod was books. WTF? Who needs that many books?

Ok, so to cheer me up. Tell me some funny moving stories.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Inevitability of the Male Ego?

I started watching Denis Leary's show, Rescue Me, the other day after hearing an interview he did with Terry Gross. I remember he addressed the male ego as one of the motivations for the plot--that is the difficulties men find themselves in because of their male ego. Because I am fascinated with all things gender, I had to rent this show and take a look. I can honestly say that I am glad that I did, but what I have discovered has left me in a sort of quandary.

What I think the show does well is explain why men--especially men in very stressful lines of work such as firemen--don't have much capacity for intimacy. We follow the life of Tommy--as played by Leary--and thereby learn that he is haunted by the friends he lost in September 11th and by several children who died while he was trying to save them. He actually sees their ghosts, which is not as cheesy as it sounds, since it works well to demonstrate how ever present these losses are to Tommy. We begin to understand why Tommy wants to end his sobriety and drink again--to cope with all of these ghosts. We get a better understanding why his marriage is failing.

Overall, I think the show does a pretty good job making the male ego sympathetic, even though in real life my experiences with the male ego have made me unsympathetic and angry with men. Even when I am able to understand why some men withdraw, why they find intimacy so impossible, why they drink to cope . . . I have been unwilling to forgive them their flaws. But, the gender studies prof in me wants to get a better handle on the forces shaping men--at least the general dude on the street--so I can see it as part and parcel of all gender relationships.

But, here is my quandary. Much of the literature in gender studies comes from sociologists. And, for most sociologists, human behavior and human identity are a product of institutions. If men are sexist, it is because of sexist institutions. If we want to liberate women, we focus on changing those institutions and then men and women's attitudes will follow.

This sort of analysis can both be devastating and hopeful. The devastation follows from the realization of how pervasive gender roles are in all our institutions; the work of reforming those institutions seems overwhelming. The optimism comes from a worldview that gender roles are malleable and thereby we are not inevitably locked into harmful gender roles, such as the average heterosexual male in the U.S.

And, yet, I watch Rescue Me and I think: wow, this is the way it is with men and women. Sure, I am being uncritical here. And, sure, this is largely about straight, white, men and women--working class and professional class. But, I cannot help but watch this show and think--is the lesson of this show that sociology is not what will liberate us? Perhaps, what will liberate us is that we all get a bit more compassionate and understanding of the inevitable stresses and forces acting on men and women--quite differently--which lead to the end of relationships, male violence, and self-destruction?

Do we get better?

Monday, July 07, 2008

Pro-Choice is a Moral Position

Kate Michelman (former Presdient of NARAL) and Frances Kissling (President of Catholics for Free Choice)--both Obama supporters--co-wrote the following piece, "Are Democrats Backpedaling on Abortion Rights," in Salon, published yesterday. I am not yet sure what their response is to Obama's recent interview with Relevant Magazine. But, what they do write here is worth quoting:

What then should Democrats and Sen. Obama do?

We need not wait for either the Democratic convention or the election to move forward on reducing the need for abortion. Two perfectly good bills are languishing in Congress. One, the Prevention First Act, was introduced by Sen. Clinton; the other, the Reducing the Need for Abortion Initiative by Rep. Rosa DeLauro and Rep. Tim Ryan, a pro-life Democrat. These bills need to move forward and perhaps be consolidated. (The Clinton bill does more for family planning, and the Ryan-DeLauro bill more for women who want to continue pregnancies.) Sen. Clinton is in a perfect position to make that happen, and we will work with her on that goal. Moving these bills before the election will give us a yardstick by which to measure members of Congress' commitments to meeting women's needs while recognizing their rights.

Sen. Obama will also have opportunities to show leadership. If and when Wallis approaches him to talk about abortion reduction, Obama should point him to the record of the Democratic Party on preventing pregnancy, honoring a woman's right to choose and supporting women who need economic help in raising children. That's worthy of praise, not criticism. He could call on Wallis to become a supporter of family planning for all women, and to defend the progress women have made on their journey to full and equal rights.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of Wallis' self-described search for a moral statement on abortion is his apparent ignorance of the moral basis of a pro-choice position. Thirty-five years of safe and legal abortion, and solidarity with the millions of American women who have had abortions, have led to pro-choice values that are sweeping in their scope. Women of color, in particular, have had a profound impact in defining "choice" by insisting on situating reproductive choice within the much larger context of jobs, healthcare, human dignity, child care and educational opportunities for low-income women -- to make pregnancy and motherhood a real choice for everyone; to make sure abortion is a choice and never a grim default and, when it is a choice, is safe and legal and never stigmatized by Democrats. Obama's skills could be used to enlist Wallis and others to support this expansive vision of women's rights and well-being.

Finally, Sen. Obama needs to set the tone within the Democratic National Committee as well as within his campaign and reach out to women. The development of a women's rights policy must be as high a priority as a plan for world peace and an economic agenda. While both men and women have a stake in women's well-being, women's preeminent role in developing policies that affect their lives must be a central commitment of the senator and the party.

As feminists who have proudly and enthusiastically supported Obama for some time, we are convinced that this is exactly the approach he will take. And while this approach is as old as feminism, it will be a breath of fresh air in the party.

I have highlighted the paragraphs that contain the most crucial point that needs to find its way to the Obama camp. Pro-choice is a moral position. Pro-choice is part of a larger reproductive rights movement that is wholly commensurate with the Democratic platform: better jobs, affordable health care, better and affordable education, safer communities, etc.

I think all of us are hoping that Obama will make good on his promise to change the way things are done in Washington. This DOES include changing the existing frames on the abortion debate. Not only do we need to make it clear--as Michelman and Kissling point out--that pro-choice is a moral position, but we also need to remember that there are folks who are anti-abortion-such as Wallis--who, nonetheless, are sympathetic to the work pro-choice activists are doing to promote human dignity and well-being for all people, especially low-income women.

Has anyone seen if Michelman and Kissling have responded to Obama's interview?

Sunday, July 06, 2008

So Much for Obama Changing the Way Things are Done in Washington: Is Obama Anti-choice or Pandering?

There is nothing like a candidate's comments on late-term abortion to compel me to post. Many of the readers of this blog have probably already been clued into the fact that Obama gave an online interview to Relevant Magazine about his views, including abortion. From what I gather from the website, Relevant is a progressive Christian magazine and hence not the favorite periodicals of the wingnuts and moral majority. I am genuinely sympathetic to these folks and so I am all the more disappointed by how Obama handled the question on late-term abortions.

Strang: Based on emails we received, another issue of deep importance to our readers is a candidate’s stance on abortion. We largely know your platform, but there seems to be some real confusion about your position on third-trimester and partial-birth abortions. Can you clarify your stance for us?

What Obama said to the question was:

Obama: I absolutely can, so please don’t believe the emails. I have repeatedly said that I think it’s entirely appropriate for states to restrict or even prohibit late-term abortions as long as there is a strict, well-defined exception for the health of the mother. Now, I don’t think that “mental distress” qualifies as the health of the mother. I think it has to be a serious physical issue that arises in pregnancy, where there are real, significant problems to the mother carrying that child to term. Otherwise, as long as there is such a medical exception in place, I think we can prohibit late-term abortions.

The other email rumor that’s been floating around is that somehow I’m unwilling to see doctors offer life-saving care to children who were born as a result of an induced abortion. That’s just false. There was a bill that came up in Illinois that was called the “Born Alive” bill that purported to require life-saving treatment to such infants. And I did vote against that bill. The reason was that there was already a law in place in Illinois that said that you always have to supply life-saving treatment to any infant under any circumstances, and this bill actually was designed to overturn Roe v. Wade, so I didn’t think it was going to pass constitutional muster.

Ever since that time, emails have been sent out suggesting that, somehow, I would be in favor of letting an infant die in a hospital because of this particular vote. That’s not a fair characterization, and that’s not an honest characterization. It defies common sense to think that a hospital wouldn't provide life-saving treatment to an infant that was alive and had a chance of survival.

There is a lot that I find disappointing in Obama's answer to this question. First of all, I think it is a shame that he didn't practice what his campaign preaches and "change the way politics is done." Secondly, I am disappointed that Obama didn't take the time to further educate the readers of this magazine about all of the real moral dilemmas involved in late-term abortions and the actual percentage of women who seek late-term abortions. Thirdly, I cannot believe that he is so unsophisticated as to offer up a rather Cartesian mind-body dualism--echoing such anti-psychiatrists as Thomas Szasz (who believe that there is no such thing as mental illness, that it is not as serious as physical illness, and thereby does not warrant our concern, interest, and medical attention (read Szasz's classic essay "The Myth of Mental Illness"). Let me tackle each one of these in turn.

Failed to Change the Way Things Work in Washington and Lost Chance to Educate Readers.

We all know that Obama, as a "pro-choice" candidate will get thumped by the religious right in the general election. There is no appeasing these folks. But, there is an opportunity for a real moral dialogue with progressive Christians. Sure, many will be unpersuaded by pro-choice stances and even the stances of pro-choice candidates on late-term abortions, but it is still worth being candid and open about why one holds the position he does. What I read in Obama's response, particularly the line that I highlighted is pandering. The complex decisions that mothers seeking late term abortions must wrestle with have been wholly eclipsed by the religious right's fanatical campaign to overturn Roe v. Wade, using "partial birth abortion" bans as its strategy. The very name of the ban is problematic--invoking public disgust at the practice by consciously making a connection between abortion and infanticide. Rarely in the public debate about late term abortions have there been thoughtful considerations of the reasons why women seek these abortions.

To clarify this, let's take an example from my own life. Some of you may remember a post I wrote concerning my sister-in-law in October. I also wrote a post about my own difficulties with getting a timely genetic screening of my fetus. The point is this. Let's say that you are pregnant, you want the baby, you are dutifully getting pre-natal care, and yet, through no fault of your own, you discover late in your pregnancy, let's say 20 weeks that a test indicates your baby might have Tay-Sachs disease. You need to undergo more tests and those results will come after the cut-off point for late term abortions. You are in a tough situation. If you go for the tests and they conclude that indeed your child will be born with Tay-Sachs, you no longer have the option to abort due to the Supreme Court. If you abort before, you have to live with the decision that it may not have had Tay-Sachs. This dilemma is a product of bad legislation crafted by intolerant anti-choice folks who don't think that a woman (and her husband) are the ONLY people who should have had the right to make that decision. (see Reproductive Rights Prof Blog for more analysis of Obama's position).

Furthermore, late term abortion bans--and Obama seems to be wholly in agreement with them as long as they have a health exception for the woman--do not give a mother the right to terminate a pregnancy wherein the fetus has a horrible genetic disease. So many opponents to late term abortions think that the women seeking these procedures are "loose" and thereby need to be punished for their sinful behavior. They also paint these women as callous, murderous, and selfish. But, the real stories show that these women are anything but. They are facing real dilemmas and the last thing they need is a bunch of politicians who have no real connection to their lives and choices dictating what they should do.

Obama had this opportunity to explain this to Relevant Magazine. Sure, the readers might not have liked his answer, but he would have been changing the way things are done in Washington had he done so.

Either Obama is pandering, which is what I suspect, or he actually believes what he says. If it is the latter, then I am worried. I sincerely hope that he reads the criticism out there now of his recent interview and digests it. If he doesn't believe in late term abortions for mental distress, then as Jan Crawford Greenburg points out, he is expressing views only held by Thomas and Scalia. I doubt these are the justices that Obama really wants to identify with.

Before moving onto my third point, I want to direct you to the Bitch Ph.D.'s excellent argument for why pro-choice candidates should not qualify their support of abortion entitled, "Do You Trust Women?"

Unfortunate Mind-Body Dualism

I wonder if major organizations that advocate for the mentally ill, such as NAMI, will take issue with Obama's statement that "mental distress" doesn't count. One could be charitable and assume that Obama wanted to make a distinction between mental illness and mental distress, but if he did, I am not sure how useful that distinction is. My fear is that what he revealed in this answer is a sort of intolerance to mental illness defenses that many Americans unfortunately hold. Such intolerance is a consequence of our puritan heritage, which sees mental illness as weakness and malingering (acedia/sloth). It is a pervasive view. The upshot is that this view of mental distress turns those who are suffering into folks evading moral responsibility for their own lives. Mental illness becomes moral problems, pure and simple.

I alerted you above to Thomas Szasz, who took this view to a new height, and still inspires all sorts of anti-psychiatrists (including Scientologists like Tom Cruise). Such a view that mental illness is not real illness, and thereby not deserving of medical intervention (which was exactly Szasz' argument) is cruel.

I think it would be interesting to see how Obama reacts to further questions about his view of mental distress. Does rape or incest constitute a mental distress? What exactly does he have in mind when he dismisses mental distress as legitimate grounds for an exception to the late term abortion ban?

Mental illness is as real and devastating as physical illness. In fact, the very distinction between the two is untenable unless you have a very naive view of mind as some sort of ethereal God Stuff. The mind is part of the body and thereby is as prone to suffering and illness as the other organs and systems of our mortal coil.

In sum, if Obama believes what he wrote, then his pro-choice credentials are seriously suspect. What he is saying is that (a) we cannot trust women to make the difficult moral decisions before during their pregnancies and (b) that women with mental distress (mental illness) are not to be taken seriously.

If Obama doesn't believe what he is saying, then he is pandering. And, we can really question if he is going to change the way things are done in Washington.

UPDATE: Here is a partial list of other feminist blogs on Obama's interview: Melissa at Shakesville, Bitch Ph.D., Amanda at Pandagon, and Violet Socks at Reclusive Leftist.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

What Would Oscar Wilde Think of Californication?

My husband doesn't usually go for serial TV programs--with the exception of Joss Whedon's Firefly and more recently, though at first reluctantly, Angel. Recently we discovered Californication. Za is attracted to the main character Hank Moody for the same reasons that he revered Spike from Buffy and Angel and Jayne from Firefly. I won't say that there is an obvious connection between these three characters. But, what Za sees, I think, is the unrestrained id. These characters flout convention, act on their impulses, and all with a grumpy wit. I guess Za admires them because they reflect parts of himself--or anyone for that matter--that he is forbidden to be if he wants to be an upright, kind, moral citizen.

I am attracted to Hank Moody, however, for very different reasons and it has bugged me enough that I thought I would write about it here and see what others think. Moody strikes me as a classic Oscar Wilde character--someone like Lord Goring from An Ideal Husband. That is, Moody appears to be a rogue, a real scoundrel and yet, he turns out to be morally consistent and thereby admirable; Lord Goring and Moody have in common a distaste for behaving in accord with convention and good manners in favor of being authentic.

Moody seems like a drunken womanizing bastard from the outset, and yet the more you get to know this character, the more you admire his devotion to his daughter, his ex-girlfriend, his friends, and frankly, to women in general. I particularly liked the scene in episode two (Hell-A Woman) with "Sonja" (played by Paula Marshall from the beloved short-lived show, Cupid) where she asks him to evaluate her naked body. (Remember: this is in the land of fake boobs, vaginal rejuvenation, the worship of youth and particularly youthful bodies, and lots-o-plastic surgery). After making clear that Sonja has real boobs and none of the other marks of L.A. plastic, he says something like "you might be the most beautiful woman that I have seen in a long time." She follows up with something like, "I would really liked to be fucked stupid by a guy who actually loves women." This, then becomes his trademark: he loves women, all women.

*I* was over last night and watched a few episodes with us and she found Hank Moody and the entire show appalling. She asked: what possible redeeming qualities does this guy have? We all scrambled to come up with some: he is only an asshole to people who deserve it, he is devoted to his daugther, underneath it all he is a good guy . . . nothing convinced her. Not even my comparison between Moody and Lord Goring. I was at a loss to explain to *I* why I liked him and the show so much, and so I was inspired to write about it here.

I am curious if there are any other fans out there who either like or hate Hank Moody and why. My impression is still that Hank is not only a sort of existentialist hero, but that he is a feminist. I know. I said it. But, the show never portrays women as mere sex objects, as weak, as dependent on men. The women are all--for the most part--self-realized, complex, and interesting. If a woman appears to be slavish or objectified, it is usually to mock the L.A. fake world that manufactures them.

So what do you all think?