Gender & Sexuality

Girls, girls, girls!

Over at New York magazine, Emily Nussbaum has written the perfect introduction to the new, fiery, sardonic, savvy generation of feminists who are making change online and in the streets. Nussbaum checks in with both the feminist blogosphere and the controversial “SlutWalks,” a series of anti-rape marches that have caught imaginative fire. The title has been hotly debated—but as young feminist leader Jessica Valenti has noted, it sure has gotten the attention that organizers wanted. Nussbaum writes: SlutWalk launched in April, sparked by the outrage of Canadian activists after a cop told female students to “avoid dressing like sluts” in order not to be victimized. The idea was to take the sting out of the insult with a Spartacus-like display of solidarity, to put blame back on the attackers. Since April, there have been marches all over the world, including in Mexico, Germany, and South Africa, but this Manhattan march feels fired up with local frustration, the climax of a year of...

Women and Wal-Mart

Do you remember the big Wal-Mart class-action case alleging that the behemoth retailer systematically discriminated against women, which the Supreme Court tossed out ? (Technically, the SC said the case was too big and the plaintiffs too disparate to be bundled together and tried in a single lawsuit because they all had different situations and complaints). The Court made this flat declaration at the early stage called “motion for summary judgment”—before the plaintiffs had a chance to present the evidence that they had a common complaint. Brad Seligman , the longtime employment lawyer who has been crusading against workplace discrimination for decades, has filed the first of what he says will be a series of regional lawsuits raising the same issues for smaller groups of plaintiffs. Seligman took his winnings in earlier anti-discrimination lawsuits to start the nonprofit Impact Fund, precisely to fund these kinds of cases. Keep your eye on these.

More on the Abortion Debates: What if Your Mother Had Aborted You?

Yesterday I posted "So what if I hadn't been born?" In reply, noted reproductive rights thinker Frances Kissling sent along her own very moving essay along these lines, published a few years ago in RH Reality Check: " What if your mother had aborted you? A daughter's perspective. " As she says, I feel a need to turn that question around and to ask instead: What if your mother's life would have been significantly happier and healthier if she had not had you? If you as a fetus had the capacity to make decisions, would you have given your life for your mother's life, health and happiness? My mother, Florence, the last of seven children in a harsh Polish immigrant family, left home at 17 and came to New York City. She got pregnant, chased the soldier who impregnated her and ended up with me. As you might imagine, she was an interesting and difficult person. Frankly, she never should have had children. She had her good qualities, but mothering wasn't one of them. And she had a miserable...

Help! I Married a Jock!

(Flickr/Varsity)
Somehow I married a jock, which puts me in a mixed marriage. I was the English major who scorned the sports crowd; to our clique, jocks were way down there, below, oh, caterpillars. (We didn’t particularly care about what they thought about us.) My wife has made it clear that the jocks felt much the same way about us dorky creative types; when she hears about my college antics, she groans, I can’t believe you were one of those people! Exactly how I feel. In so many ways, we are a very unlikely pair. As in any mixed marriage, my jock and I try our best to accept the other’s incomprehensible culture—and turn to others for understanding. My longtime best friend and I together buy season tickets to performances from the local troupe, the Actors' Shakespeare Project ; we're perfect companions as we analyze and assess performances in detail, analyzing whether this Lear or that stage set compares well with the other one we saw a decade ago. On game nights (which, to my shock, is every night...

Moment of Conception

How a radical anti-abortion movement matured

O n April 17, 2007, the Supreme Court upheld a national ban on an abortion procedure known as intact dilation and extraction. Anti-abortion groups, which successfully branded it “partial-birth abortion,” had spent 15 years and more than a quarter-billion dollars getting Congress to pass the ban in 2003. The Court’s 2007 ruling was the movement’s greatest legal victory in decades, a significant step toward overturning Roe v. Wade . But not all abortion opponents were celebrating. Among the unenthused was Brian Rohrbough, president of Colorado Right to Life. Rohrbough belongs to an absolutist wing of the movement that believes in “personhood”—the idea that fetuses are people from the moment of conception. After losing his son in the Columbine High School shootings in 1999, Rohrbough concluded that the legalized “killing of innocent children in the womb” had set America on a path of moral decline that allowed such violence to occur. For Rohrbough, the ban on partial-birth abortion was...

Gals to the Back of the Bus

Jezebel reports that, in Brooklyn, there’s a public bus line where women have to sit in the back of the bus. Men sit in front. Really. Apparently, God made the rule.

So What if I Hadn't Been Born?

When I blogged over at Slate’s XX Factor (now Double X), I grew fond of Rachael Larimore, with whom I agreed to disagree with on almost everything. I am not being sarcastic. Recently, I heard a rabbi talk about the importance of discussing major issues not to convert others—not to win—but to “improve the quality of our disagreements.” I love this concept as a way to improve our public discourse on core political subjects, which are often religious wars in another guise. And so I am going to continue my tradition of disagreeing with Rachael, who recently posted an item titled Pro-Choicers Hate the "What if I Hadn't Been Born" Question. Here's Why. Rachael was responding to Amanda Marcotte’s post about precisely that question . Rachael says that pro-choice arguments rely on the idea that … women should be allowed to abort their unplanned pregnancies because unwanted children grow up poor, neglected, abused or some combination thereof. It can’t allow for the possibility that some “...

Whistleblowers

Somehow I missed the movie The Whistleblower , an action film about a woman in the UN peacekeeping forces who tries to hold her male colleagues and superiors accountable for sexual coercion and abuse of girls, boys, and adults they are supposed to be protecting. (The movie is on my list now.) Women’s E-News reports that a UN screening of the film last week involved a testy exchange between Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the filmmakers, and others who say that the problem continues—and that the way that the UN deals with it is worse than inadequate. Buried in the report is an incredibly disturbing allegation: Movie director [Larysa] Kondracki also noted that top officials in U.N. headquarters should be scrutinized just as carefully as peacekeepers for their moral and legal conduct. "This is not just about peacekeepers on the ground. We have videos of high-level diplomats walking around U.N. headquarters with people they purchased," she said during the forum. If that's true, what hope...

FBI Updates Definition of Rape

In the wake of a fierce and sustained campaign by feminist groups, the FBI is incrementally moving toward an updated definition of rape. The old one, written in 1929, leaves out a lot of what most of us consider to be rape. Here's how Erica Goode in The New York Times wrote up the controversy: The definition of rape used by the F.B.I. — “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will” — was written more than 80 years ago. The yearly report on violent crime, which uses data provided voluntarily by the nation’s 18,000 law enforcement agencies, is widely cited as an indicator of national crime trends. But that definition, critics say, does not take into account sexual-assault cases that involve anal or oral penetration or penetration with an object, cases where the victims were drugged or under the influence of alcohol or cases with male victims. As a result, many sexual assaults are not counted as rapes in the yearly federal accounting. This week, an FBI subcommittee...

Pink October

In case you missed it: Last Sunday The New York Times had a thoughtful examination of the pros and cons of the pinking of America —the Susan G. Komen foundation's marketing of breast cancer awareness and its work raising funds for breast cancer research. NPR took a look at the anti-pink backlash. So I thought it might be a good time to remind everyone of my favorite piece of all time on the pinkness, though, is Barbara Ehrenreich's " Welcome to Cancerland ," which she has since updated with the sharp-tongued "The Pink-Ribbon Breast Cancer Cult. "

Here's to You, Mrs. Robinson!

In Vermont, the governor has nominated Beth Robinson to take a seat the state's Supreme Court. Robinson was the prime mover behind the state's Freedom to Marry movement, and one of three lawyers who brought the groundbreaking state case Baker v. Vermont back in the 1990s. That case led to the state's then-groundbreaking civil unions—and spurred a national uproar about the imminent descent of locusts, plague, and so forth. Robinson led the movement to hold that victory statewide, and then to upgrade it to full marriage rights a few years after Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to offer full equality. Like Mary Bonauto , the GLAD lawyer who's been the architect of New England's steady sweep of marriage wins (and whose carefully targeted lawsuits will be critical in dismantling DOMA), Beth Robinson has mostly ducked publicity. Here's a good profile of Robinson. She's one of the hardworking heroes around the country who've made full LGBT equality seem inevitable—and is...

Marry Me

Yesterday the Washington Post published a nice summary of the various federal lawsuits underway in the court battles over same-sex marriage, a piece occasioned by a panel at the College of William and Mary Law School's Institute of Bill of Rights Law. The panel, according to reporter Robert Barnes, was debating whether the government's political or judicial branch should decide whether same-sex couples' bonds should be recognized as "marriage" by federal law. Given that LGBT folks now -- after years of organizing effort and personal travail -- have some (some!) political traction, shouldn't we be deciding the question in legislatures, not courts? Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III, the well-regarded conservative on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, called the question "wrenchingly hard." He noted the contributions of gay Americans and said it was striking that the movement's aims in the courts is to "partake in the most traditional" of American rights: to serve in the military...

Can Tammy Baldwin Win?

Over at TheAtlantic.com, I look into the question of whether openly lesbian Tammy Baldwin can become Wisconsin's senator. Pop quiz: What's the " L-word" that's likely to hurt her most? Hint: It's not this one . Here's an excerpt: In 1998, Tammy Baldwin became the first openly gay candidate to be elected to the U.S. Congress as a non-incumbent, winning a seat representing liberal Madison, Wisc., in the House of Representatives. Now the leading candidate to become the Democratic nominee to replace retiring Senator Herb Kohl, Baldwin would become the first out U.S. Senator in American history if she wins election in November 2012. And in a kind triumph for the gay rights movement, it turns out "lesbian" isn't the L-word most likely to be used against her in a race defeat either likely Republican opponent, whether Mark Neumann or Tommy Thompson. In Wisconsin, the fighting L-word these days is "liberal" -- and, observers say, that's the territory on which her race will be won or lost. .....

More on the Playboy Club

Here's a follow-up to my mini-review last week of NBC's The Playboy Club : a Daily Beast article, "My Mom's Life as a Playboy Bunny," by Susanna Spier. Spier interviews her mother about what things were really like. Was Hugh Hefner's comment -- that bunnies could be anything they wanted to be -- accurate? Ha. We had only a handful of options, and being a Bunny was a brand-new one. ... Teacher, nurse, stewardess, secretary. Bunny increased our options by 20 percent. It didn't mean we could be brain surgeons. Hef's dots do not connect. So why did she do it? Duh: for the money.

Reading Between the Rights

Nearly 50 years after Griswold v. Connecticut, conservatives think the Constitution protects your privacy.

(Flickr/brains the head)
T his week marks the 46th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court reproductive-rights case Griswold v. Connecticut , in which the Court struck down Connecticut's ban on the distribution and use of contraceptives (at least for married couples). The decision was important not only in itself but because it laid the framework for other important decisions like Roe v. Wade , which came less than 10 years later. It may seem remarkable that a strong 7-2 decision striking down a stupid and unpopular law that the Warren Court's house conservative John Marshall Harlan called the most clearly unconstitutional law he had seen in his career has become such a source of controversy. The attack on Griswold represents the ability of Republicans to selectively use catchphrases to deride concepts in decisions they don't like, even if the concepts themselves are unexceptionable. Justice William O. Douglas' opinion for the Court argued that the Connecticut statute was unconstitutional because it...

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