Gender & Sexuality

Time to Protest, Sleeping Beauty

In an important article at Salon last week, Linda Hirshman suggests that the past month's ferment on contraception in particular, and reproductive health generally, might reawaken the women's movement. While I'm not sure I agree precisely on her analysis of how feminism went to sleep to begin with—Hirshman doesn't definitively assign blame either—she's absolutely right in this: For 40 years, women, the majority of the population and the majority of the electorate, have been the Sleeping Beauties of American politics, slumbering obliviously while vigilant and relentless adversaries surround their rights with a thicket of thorn trees. She suggests that "women" didn't see the danger in the Hyde Amendment, which may be true. Feminists at the time were outraged by it, but by then were effectively being boxed in by other powers. And she's absolutely right to identify some of the smart young feminists who have been working in the past decade to wake us all up, using new tools, tactics, and...

Just Your Average Marriage

(Flickr/sushiesque)
The national media hasn't paid much attention to Iowa since Rick Santorum's caucus victory, but numbers released over the weekend tell an important story for national progressives. The Des Moines Register —the most respected state pollster during caucus season—asked Iowans about their feelings on same-sex marriage and found that a 56-percent majority are just fine with the state's current laws on same-sex unions and oppose any effort to amend the state's constitution. Only 38 percent would support an amendment to overturn the 2009 state Supreme Court's ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in the Hawkeye State. It was more of a wash when the Register asked whether Iowans personally opposed the court's decision. A slight plurality oppose it—36 percent opposed to 30 percent in favor. But 33 percent don't have particularly strong feelings about the issue and oppose efforts to change the law by a 3:1 margin. The numbers have largely remained steady since the last time the Register asked...

Reproductive Rights: I've Got Some Good News and Some Bad News

(Flickr/WeNews)
It's hard to relax these days (though I still haven't tried yoga.) Take the current fight around reproductive rights. Pro-choice advocates of women's health have heard plenty of good news in the past few days. The trouble is, it's almost always been tempered by bad news. See what I mean: Pre-Abortion Sonogram Debate After days of protests and media coverage, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell backed away from a state bill last week that required sonograms 24 hours before an abortion. Much of the criticism from pro-choice advocates focused on how the bill would require very invasive transvaginal sonograms for those women seeking an abortion early in the pregnancy. McDonnell explained he was opposed to requiring transvaginal sonograms and couldn't support the bill as written. The bill's opponents cheered. Now it seems likely Virginia will pass a less-extreme version of the bill—while Alabama may pass a bill more similar to Virginia's original. Virginia lawmakers have revised their...

All the Scary Ladies

An effort to silence women in the military is meant to empower the radically conservative clergy in Israel.

(AP Photos/Oded Ballilty)
The Israeli military has to face a lot of threats. Iran. Hezbollah. Rockets from Gaza. Women soldiers singing. If that last item seems out of place, it's because you're reading this in America (where, it's true, presidential candidates can portray contraception as a danger to civilization) instead of reading it in Israel. Here in Israel, the threat posed by female vocalists to religious liberty has been a regular topic in debate of military policy in recent months. As framed by one side in the dispute, the question is whether Orthodox Jewish soldiers must attend army ceremonies at which they'll hear women sing, even if they believe that such a performance is an utterly unkosher act of public indecency. Framed by the other side, what's at stake are basic military values of discipline and unity. The army's insistence on men hearing women sing is such a serious attack on religious freedom, according to one prominent far-right rabbi, that "we're close to a situation in which we will have...

The Obama-ization of Everything

Man, those guys really don't like me.
For the last few years, liberals have been pointing out that conservatives radically shifted their opinions about certain ideas once those ideas were embraced by Barack Obama. The two biggies are an individual mandate for health insurance, which was conceived by conservatives at the Heritage Foundation as a way to get (nearly) universal coverage while maintaining the private insurance system; and a cap-and-trade system for reducing harmful emissions, which was conceived as a way to use market forces instead of government regulations to achieve an environmental good. All kinds of conservatives liked those ideas, but once Obama advocated them, the ideas became not just disfavored but presented as something so vile and socialistic they could only have been coughed up by Joe Stalin's decaying corpse. That happened a couple of years ago, but now we're in an election year, so it's only going to get worse. And watching the entire conservative universe get pulled toward opposition not just to...

Taking Anti-LGBT Discrimination Seriously

(Flickr/Zolk)
U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey White's recent opinion holding a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional presents an interesting contrast to Judge Stephen Reinhardt's recent opinion on California's Proposition 8. Reinhardt, trying to maximize the chances that his opinion would not be overruled and therefore create a bad Supreme Court precedent, wrote a cautious and narrow opinion closely tailored to the unique facts of the case at hand. Judge White, conversely, wrote a broad (though clearly argued) opinion that would have much wider implications. Whether White's opinion can survive further appellate review remains to be seen. But on the merits, he provides a very compelling argument that the legal subordination of people based on their sexual orientation should be considered intolerable. Contemporary equal protection law evaluates state classifications by applying various levels of scrutiny. Racial classifications are subject to "strict" or "heightened"...

Don't Sterilize Trans Folks

(Flickr/PhotoComiX)
We've talked at length, here, about the fact that for some minority of folks, sex and gender don't line up. Some girls have a boyish swagger and a killer pitching arm. Some boys adore nail polish and glittery princesses. Sometimes—not always—those butch girls and pink boys grow up to be lesbians or gay men. Sometimes—less often, although no one knows the real rate—they insist that the only way they can be comfortable and happy is to change their sex entirely. No one knows why, any more than we know why some people are math whizzes and others can't do arithmetic, but the phenomenon has long been noted in a wide variety of cultures, from the Hawaiian mahu to South Asia's hijra . (Check out PBS's map of transgender identities. I don't know their sources, but I do recognize a number of references I've found previously in the anthropological literature.) So I was shocked when Joseph Huff-Hannon of AllOut told me that 29 European countries—including some Scandinavian countries we generally...

Republican Family Planning

It only took about an hour into the 20th Republican debate Wednesday for the candidates to find something they could agree on. After sparring over the fine details of earmarks, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum agreed that it’s all right for women to serve in the military but birth control, well, that’s a slippery slope that leads to the breakdown of society. Supporting the right of women to serve in the armed forces, itself a completely irrelevant debate considering 167,000 women are active-duty military , while trying to limit access to birth control, betrayed a profound ignorance on the way that women lead their lives. Even the way moderator John King posed a viewer-submitted question over contraceptives to the candidates, asking them if they “believed” in birth control, seemed to suggest that contraception is some form of rare unicorn that exists only in the imagination. The candidates’ answers were even more surreal. Gingrich skipped answering the question...

Personhood Bill Dead in Virginia

Update: Virginia's personhood bill is now dead for the year . The bill, already approved by the state House, passed out of a Senate committee this morning and headed to the floor. But the Republican-dominated Senate voted to send the bill back to committee and carry it over to next year. It's the second big win for pro-choice advocates in Virginia this week, after Governor Bob McDonnell retracted his support for a bill requiring pre-abortion transvaginal sonograms yesterday. "By vote of 24-14, HB 1 is rereferred to Senate Ed & Health and carried over for the year," tweeted Democratic Senator Mark Herring triumphantly. "Translation = Bill is defeated." This morning, less than 24 hours after pro-life advocates saw a big victory over a Virginia pre-abortion sonogram bill, a Virginia Senate committee voted to move the controversial "personhood" bill forward . The bill, which would have changed the legal definition of "person" to include fertilized eggs and fetuses, passed the House...

Ho-Hum, Another Day, Another DOMA Defeat

Earlier this week I wrote about how quickly gay people are winning, just at the same time that women are losing. Speak of the devil! Yesterday, ho-hum, yet another federal district court judge ruled that a key portion of the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional, in Golinski v. Office of Personnel Management . Karen Golinski is a lawyer who works for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco (nice touch, yes?). She got married during the six months that California had a gender-neutral marriage law, between the California Supreme Court ruling that made it possible and before Prop 8 passed and added a constitutional ban to the law. (California is really just too exciting. Its crazy politics and the earthquake fault line are the only two good reasons I've found not to move there.) Golinski applied to add her wife to her health insurance benefits. Her boss at the Ninth Circuit said yes. But here's the hitch: Golinski worked for the federal government, which, because of DOMA, cannot...

Today in Ridiculous Scapegoats for Violent Crimes

(Flickr/Guille Damke)
Last night, over at my alma mater—the University of Virginia—jurors came to a verdict in the George Huguely case after nine hours of deliberation. Huguely, who played lacrosse for the University, was convicted of second-degree murder and faces 26 years in prison for the 2010 beating death of his former girlfriend, Yeardley Love. The murder and the trial revealed the extent to which domestic abuse—i.e. serious physical violence—is a reality for too many students, obscured by a pervasive culture of silence. Keep this in mind as you read this column from Washington Post blogger Alexandra Petri, who uses George Huguely to bemoan “hook-up culture” and alcohol use: This is a story of growing up in a world where people sand off life’s edges on your behalf. Where parents and institutions exist not to protect you from mistakes, but from their consequences . […] The setting is a character on its own: the college campus, where hook-up culture runs rampant and you are expected to drink four times...

Congressional Battle Ready

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat who is making her second run for Congress, lost both her legs when her Black Hawk helicopter was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade in 2004. Duckworth first ran for Congress in 2006, but lost to Republican Peter Roskam. Now, the EMILY’s List candidate looks poised to win her primary in the Illinois 8th, and the seat in November. A 48-year-old Iraq War veteran, Duckworth has based much of her platform on veterans’ advocacy—a cause that was sparked by her first-hand experience recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. I talked to Duckworth about a range of issues, but it was Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s comment about women in combat that sparked the greatest reaction. Duckworth, the daughter of a veteran, joined ROTC over 20 years ago, as a graduate student, and chose to fly helicopters because it was one of the few combat positions open to women at the time. She went on to become one of the first women to fly combat missions in...

Burying Camelot

Mimi Alford's memoir marks the end of America's Kennedy fetish.

(Bettmann/Corbis/AP Images)
The publication last month of onetime JFK mistress Mimi Alford's Once Upon a Secret: My Affair With President John F. Kennedy and Its Aftermath provoked a variety of reactions. I wonder how many people shared mine, which was, "Bon voyage." Why? Because I figure Alford's book almost has to be The End. The torch has been passed and then some to a new generation of Americans. Few of its members give much of a damn about presidential peccadilloes half a century old. Barring the discovery of Marilyn Monroe's lost diaries, it's not inconceivable that America is finally done with its Kennedy fetish. As the elderly Tolstoy —or was it Sophocles?—once celebrated the loss of his sex drive, "At last I am freed from a cruel and insane master." There will, needless to say, be other books—most likely, a whole slew of them next year, the 50th anniversary of that day in Dallas. But that's a dimming industry's last hurrah, no longer reflecting any real public craving. Maybe the counsel for the defense...

Where Was the Outrage Over Texas's Sonogram Law?

(AP Photo/Richmond Times Dispatch/Bob Brown)
Pro-choice advocates around the country cheered Wednesday, as Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell withdrew support for a pre-abortion sonogram bill . The bill had risen to national attention, even earning a spot on The Daily Show. Critics focused on a particularly disturbing detail of the measure—most women having abortions have them early in the pregnancy, too early for the usual "jelly on the belly" ultrasound. So the bill mandated transvaginal sonograms, in which a probe would be stuck inside a woman's vagina and she would be offered a chance to see the fetus before she could terminate the pregnancy. "During the entire wand-forcibly-inserted-in-your-most-private-area experience, you still have complete and total control over which way your head is turned," The Daily Show's Jon Stewart told his guests. The focus from national media, social media, and bloggers all likely helped to force McDonnell into changing his position. At the same time many protested the Virginia effort, Texas this...

Fun With Amendments And Companion Bills

(Flickr/Arlen)
When male legislators draft and vote on punitive bills that aim to limit and punish women's sex lives—er, I mean, reproductive rights—if they contemplated choosing not to carry every accidental conception to term, what's an outvoted gal legislator to do? Well, some of them have been brilliantly illustrating the unfairness therein by having fun with proposed amendments. As far as I can tell, it started in Oklahoma. You recall the proposed " spilled semen " amendment, by which Oklahoma state legislator Constance Johnson offered an amendment to the state's "personhood" bill that states that "any action in which a man may ejaculate or otherwise deposit semen anywhere but in a woman's vagina shall be interpreted and construed as an action against an unborn child." Why stop at conception? If reproduction is holy, keep all those sacred potential-life bits from being wasted! There's no stopping an idea whose time has, er, come. Next, as the Commonwealth of Virginia discussed forcing women to...

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