Gender & Sexuality

Obama, Black Voters, and Same-Sex Marriage

Registering voters during a Mardi Gras parade in Louisiana. (Barack Obama/Flickr)

On Twitter, I’ve been in something of a friendly back-and-forth with The New York Times’ David Leonhardt about the African American vote and President Obama’s support—or lack thereof—for same-sex marriage. In its most recent survey, NBC News and the Wall Street Journal found that 49 percent of Americans favored same-sex marriage, while 40 percent opposed. What’s more, for 54 percent of Americans, the question of support or opposition wouldn’t make a difference in how they voted.

Romney's Spine, Or Lack Thereof

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)

Ahead of the likely celebratory night for Mitt Romney's supporters, I wrote a cautionary note this morning about why neutral observers shouldn't take Romney's success in the Republican primaries as a sign of they accept him as a moderate. Instead, Romney has gained his spot in the party by aligning himself with every conservative whim.

Winning the Battle, Losing the War

(Flickr/VCU CNS)

Pro-choicers, for obvious reasons, were inclined to celebrate when Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell backtracked on a bill that would have required women to obtain transvaginal ultrasounds before obtaining an abortion. Finding an arbitrary abortion regulation that was actually politically toxic feels like a major victory, especially if it could translate to other states.

Not a Fluke

(AP File Photo)

My heart broke over the weekend when I read, over at DailyKos, "I've spent the past 2 days trying to convince my 16 y/o she is not a 'slut.'" (Thanks to Garance Franke-Ruta for the pointer.) Until I read that article, I have been focusing my attention on the good news: The assault on reproductive rights, from Komen and Santorum on, has finally made clear that the attacks on abortion are really just the front line of a greater assault on contraception and women's health.

What's Behind the Slut-Shaming

The Tree of Death and Life, Berthold Furtmeyr, 1481

As leading Republicans have been asked about Rush Limbaugh's typically despicable attacks on Sandra Fluke, the law student who testified before congressional Democrats about the importance of health insurance coverage for contraception, they've offered some pretty weak responses. Mitt Romney said that when Limbaugh called Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute," "it's not the language I would have used." Perhaps he meant that he would have called her a "harlot" or a "trollop." Rick Santorum, whose opposition to contraception is well-established, said that Limbaugh was "being absurd, but that's, you know – an entertainer can be absurd." Before we move on to this week's controversy, it's important to note just what kind of venomous beliefs this episode has brought to the fore. Republicans are insisting that this isn't really about contraception, it's about religious freedom. But for some people, it's about something much more fundamental: the dire threat of uncontrolled female sexuality.

Limbaugh is indeed an entertainer, and he's an entertainer who understands his audience very well. Does anyone think that when he called Fluke a "slut" that millions of his listeners didn't nod in agreement? The real threat, as Limbaugh sees it, the thing that must be shamed and ridiculed, is the idea that a woman might be in control of her own sexuality. As Limbaugh said, "So Miss Fluke, and the rest of you Feminazis, here's the deal. If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex. We want something for it. We want you post the videos online so we can all watch." In other words, her sexuality is only acceptable if it can be placed in a context where it exists for his pleasure and not hers...

A Social Network of One's Own

Pinterest is quickly becoming the safest place for women to socialize on the Internet.


I initially visited Pinterest after hearing its praises sung for being a remarkable organization tool with a social component, but all I saw at first were pictures of clothes, interior-design ideas, and cheesy photography coupled with “inspirational” mottos and prayers. Few things make me hit the “unsubscribe” button faster than seeing a black-and-white picture of a lake emblazoned with pabulum about living life to the fullest, but my hostile reaction belied a bit of the internalized sexism in the heart of even the most stalwart feminist. After all, I love fashion and design, so why wouldn’t I want to see more of it if not for the fear that it might be too girly?

"Marriage Equality" Coming to the Dem Platform Soon

Last night my editor emailed me, asking if I wanted to comment on a press release from the national group Freedom to Marry, which announced that still more of President Obama's campaign co-chairs have signed on to FTM's campaign to add marriage equality to the Democratic Party platform. The Advocate had the scoop:

Ken Mehlman's Regrets

(Flickr/Kat Ruddy)

In 2005, the chairman of the Republican National Committee went before the NAACP and told them that the "Southern Strategy" the GOP had been employing for the previous few decades was, for all its political benefits, a moral misjudgment. "I am here today as the Republican chairman to tell you we were wrong," he said. That chairman—Ken Mehlman, the campaign manager of George W. Bush's 2004 re-election—didn't get a lot of love from conservatives for what became a virtual apology tour (he gave multiple versions of the same speech to African-American audiences), and it didn't seem to have any impact on his party.

And today, Tom Schaller interviews Mehlman about same-sex marriage, and hears similar notes of regret about the way Bush's 2004 campaign used the issue as a wedge to paint visions of a homosexual threat and get conservatives to the polls:

"At a personal level, I wish I had spoken out against the effort," he says. "As I’ve been involved in the fight for marriage equality, one of the things I've learned is how many people were harmed by the campaigns in which I was involved. I apologize to them and tell them I am sorry. While there have been recent victories, this could still be a long struggle in which there will be setbacks, and I'll do my part to be helpful."

I have to be sympathetic to Mehlman, who came out as gay after leaving politics. As a closeted man back then (though his sexuality was widely rumored at the time), and one who had reached the apex of any political operative's career (running the president's re-election campaign) at only 38, it would have been a lot to expect him to stand up and say, "We shouldn't be doing this." The GOP has a long history of tolerating closeted men, so long as they stay firmly in the closet, but once you're exposed you're cast out (see Craig, Larry). Had he tried to change the campaign's course, he could well have destroyed his political career.

But I'll bet that within a decade or two, as support for same-sex marriage spreads, it will become the majority opinion even within the GOP. At that point—just as they do with race today—they'll do what they can to whitewash their history and pretend that they were the real advocates of equality all along.

Right to Know Versus Right to Withhold

In the debates over pre-abortion ultrasound bills, advocates often say such measures are vital to ensuring that women have all the relevant information. The argument is often based in part on the idea that abortion providers make money off of the procedures—and therefore may try to trick women into terminating their pregnancies. The reasoning also assumes that when deciding to have an abortion, a woman should know the physical details of the fetus, like how many fingers and toes have developed.

Blunt Amendment Fails in the Senate

(Flickr/Stacy Lynn Baum)

For a brief moment yesterday it looked as though some GOP senators were ready to step back from the ledge, and reject their party's assault on women's rights. A handful of Republican senators were hesitant to endorse the controversial Blunt amendment, which would allow any employer—both secular and religious—to reject covering individual aspects of health insurance they find morally questionable, not just contraception. Even Mitt Romney expressed opposition to the bill when an Ohio reporter explained the implications before his campaign quickly realized they had defied party doctrine, and issued a clarification, which reversed Romney's earlier statement.

Thursday Miscellany

Let's start with the Eeyore.

Yesterday I wrote that women don't count—at least, not to the news media. Right after I posted that, I learned that Katha Pollitt wrote about the same recurring problem last year, brilliantly, of course. One of her key points: if you want more women writers, you need more women editors. Do read her piece. It's depressingly relevant and, of course, funny: 

Santorum Beats Dan Savage

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)

Rick Santorum came up short in Michigan on Tuesday night, but it was of no matter. After months of turmoil he'd achieved a primary goal of his presidential campaign: his Google problem. That's right. When normal, God-loving Americans direct their web browsers to Google and type in the former Pennsylvania senator's last name they are no longer greeted by as the first result.

Are Republicans Backing Away from the Contraception Fight?

(Flickr/Stacy Lynn Baum)

Senate Democrats think they have Republicans backed into a corner. In response to the hullabaloo around the Obama administration's decision on covering contraception in health-care plans, Missouri Senator Roy Blunt has offered an amendment to allow any employer—not just religiously affiliated organizations—to refuse to cover any health-care service—not just contraception—based on "religious beliefs or moral convictions." The battle over reproductive rights has already allowed Democrats to paint Republicans as antagonistic to women and, needless to say, Senate Dems are gleefully forcing a vote on the measure tomorrow to get their opponents' extremist take on the record.

Do Women Count?

Yesterday, after I made some snarky comment, a friend asked me if I was Eeyore. The truth is, I'm a mash-up of Eeyore and Tigger. Tigger bounces up and down gleefully whenever I talk about gay rights. But today I'm talking about the ladies again, so get ready for Eeyore. 

Virginia Passes Sonogram Bill After All


In the end, even Jon Stewart couldn't kill the Virginia ultrasound bill. After more than a week of protests and national attention, the state Senate passed an amended version of the measure Tuesday afternoon which will require women seeking an abortion to get an ultrasound 24 hours ahead of the procedure. The Senate did unanimously pass an exemption for victims of rape and incest, but other amendments fell flat, including one to mandate insurance coverage of the sonograms. The House has already passed a version of the bill and it appears now to be headed for law.