An image from a recent Vice magazine photo spread. That's supposed to be Sylvia Plath, getting ready to put her head in the oven.
Throughout its existence, Vice magazine has attempted to cultivate an image of edgy rebelliousness, with provocative covers and journalism that runs less to "Here are stories you need to know about" and more to "Check out this crazy shit that's happening somewhere!" Which is fine, but it has a definitely male perspective, which is one of the reasons people were shocked when the latest issue of the magazine featured a photo spread of models re-enacting the suicides of famous female writers like Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf. The caption below each photo described their method of suicide, along with credit for the clothes the models were wearing. The most disturbing shot was probably that of a model posing as Iris Chang with a gun pointed at her head, but the most tasteless had to be that of the one portraying Taiwanese author Sanmao, who hanged herself with a pair of stockings. They included a fashion credit for the stockings wrapped around the model's neck.
After what one might have thought would be entirely predictable criticism, Vice pulled the photo spread off their web site and issued a brief apology, which was itself a rather un-Vice-like thing to do. (The photos, along with a lengthier description of the controversy, can be seen here at Jezebel.) So did they do the right thing by pulling the photos? And should they have apologized? I'm a little conflicted, but since we seem to be seeing a lot of these kinds of mini-controversies lately—someone says something others find offensive, then we debate whether they should have said it, whether they should apologize, and where the boundaries between provocative art/entertainment and just being a jerk are (see here on the question of rape jokes in standup comedy)—let me give this a shot.
When I was around six years old, I begged my parents for a younger sister. When she failed to materialize, I dreamed up Shelly, who showed up in family portraits I drew in art class with a frilly dress and a Pebbles ponytail. When friends came over, I told them she was with the babysitter. At school, I bragged about my bottle-feeding skills. After my teacher made a concerned phone call about my lies, my mother—a journalist and feminist activist who had me at 42—sat me on her lap, and we had a surprisingly candid conversation about why she wasn’t going to have another baby. In her late 40s, she could have copped out and told me that biology wouldn’t let her. Instead, she brushed a curl from my face and said: “We’re happy with just you.”
Would you lose your job if, for a few months, you had to run to the bathroom more often than your coworkers? Or your doctor told you to carry a water bottle and drink as often as possible? Or if you were told you couldn’t lift more than twenty pounds for a few months?
Fifty years ago today, in 1963, Congress passed the Equal Pay Act. The idea was simple: Men and women doing the same work should earn the same pay. Straightforward enough, right? Change the law, change the world, be home by lunchtime.
The Pew Research Center is out with a big survey on the public's views on same-sex marriage with lots of interesting things, most of which are continuations of the trend we've seen for a while. But the most interesting findings come from their question about whether people think that marriage equality is inevitable. As you might expect, most of those who support it are optimistic about their preferred outcome, with 85 percent saying it's inevitable. But much more striking, a full 59 percent of those who oppose same-sex marriage say it's inevitable. No wishful thinking here.
“We’re watching society dissolve around us, Juan, what do you think?”
“Something is going terribly wrong in American society and it’s hurting our children.”
“This is a catastrophic issue.”
You may have heard these outcries last week, if (heaven forfend) you were watching Fox News, or, more likely, reading any of the ladyblogs that snickered about the hysteria coming from the four-dude panel convened by Lou Dobbs. The apocalyptic finding about which they were opining? Here’s The New York Times report on it:
Four in 10 American households with children under age 18 now include a mother who is either the sole or primary earner for her family, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of Census and polling data released Wednesday.
Women supporting their own children?! Say it ain’t so!
Unless you live in Connecticut or read the right-leaning press, you probably haven’t heard this story. Two men in Glastonbury, Connecticut, a couple who adopted nine children and lived in a fabulous remote Victorian, are accused of abusing at least two (and maybe more) of their boys. Let me get this on the record: If true, this is nothing less than horrifying. I’ve written enough, here and elsewhere, against the sexual abuse of children that I hope I can leave that reaction as is, for now.
What she knows about the culture of the country she claims to represent wouldn't fill an action toy's gym sock. That's why Michele Bachmann—who announced she was retiring from Congress a couple of days ago—probably has no idea that she was played by one of the greatest actresses in Hollywood history two years before her own birth.
I mean, of course, Mercedes McCambridge—the witch-hunting villainess of Nicholas Ray's 1954 Johnny Guitar. In later life, she also voiced Satan in The Exorcist, but let's not stoop to such low-hanging fruit. McCambridge was a formidable performer, and she understood the hysterical roots of Bachmann's political persona better than our own Michele ever will.
On the oak-lined streets of the West Village in New York City—the home of Stonewall, the birthplace of the American gay-rights movement—or among the gym bunnies in Chelsea, gay people are allowed to feel safe. In case the same-sex couples with pastel cardigans walking their dogs aren’t enough, the chipped rainbow decals on the storefronts are there to remind you: You own this space. Going home to Tennessee or Michigan might be another thing, but here you can forget that somewhere out there are people who don’t know you and want to hurt you.
Angelina Jolie—a woman with some of the world’s most famous breasts—has explained in a thoughtful New York Timesop-ed this week why she's had them prophylactically removed and replaced. Jolie’s mother died young, after a decade living with ovarian cancer; when Jolie herself got genetically tested, she learned that she had a BRCA1 genetic mutation that gave her an 87 percent chance of getting breast cancer. To protect her children from losing their mother too young, she opted for surgery, which she describes in some detail.
Last month, Rhode Island came over into the marriage equality column. Last week, it was Delaware. Yesterday, it was Minnesota. There’s progress expected in New Jersey, Illinois, and at the Supreme Court. Pick your favorite cliché or metaphor about winning—being on a hot streak, passing the tipping point, bending the arc of history—and feel free to apply.
And yet few Americans are aware that in 29 states, you can still be fired for putting a same-sex partner’s picture on your desk, or rejected for a job because the hiring manager doesn’t like homos. That’s right—it’s perfectly legal in most of the country to fire, refuse to hire, demote, or otherwise discriminate against someone for being gay.
Despite twin bombings at the Awami National Party offices in Karachi this Saturday—an inauspicious start to polling day—Bindiya Rana, one of Pakistan’s first transgender candidates, remained optimistic. Rana’s spent the last several weeks canvassing the alleys of district P.S. 114, handing out self-printed promotional material between concrete buildings under tangles of telephone wires. After several tense months—130 civilians have died in pre-election violence—she was deterred by neither the danger or her slim chances of winning. “The important thing is to face this world very boldly,” she said.
In Pakistan, gender issues have historically been prone to violence—Malala Yousafzai made international news when she was shot on a school bus by the Taliban last year—but overall women’s rights have been slowly improving. The country appointed its first female foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, and data from the Election Commission show a 129 percent increase in the number of female candidates since 2008. At 22.5 percent of its electoral body, Pakistan now has more female officials than the United States does. But improvements haven’t trickled down to many of the country’s female citizens; in 2008, Pakistan had 564 polling districts where not a single woman voted.
It’s even worse for Pakistan’s transgender community, estimated to include 50,000 people.
The real scandal this week around military sexual violence isn’t the release of the latest in a string of Department of Defense (DOD) reports to show stunning levels of sexual assault—hell, even the DOD estimates 26,000 actual incidents compared to the 3,374 reported incidents. It’s not the fact that this year marks the third in a row to show an increase in sexual violence (under law, DOD has published them yearly since 2004), or that the latest report “found that among the one-third of women who reported sexual-assault allegations to a military authority, 62 percent suffered retaliation for speaking up.” It’s not even the arrest, two days before the report came out, of the officer in charge of sexual assault prevention programs for the Air Force on sexual battery charges.