E.J. Graff

After Jerry Sandusky

(AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)
I’ve listened to many women’s stories of childhood sexual abuse. I don’t know why they choose me as their confidante—it’s not my story—but once they start talking, I feel an obligation to listen. And so I cried with recognition, last month, when I read a story that Barry Bearak in The New York Times wrote about Quanitta Underwood, a young woman who’s hoping to represent the U.S. in Olympic boxing—because I have heard precisely this story, more than once. Bearak captures the experiences of Quanitta and her older sister as they tried to cope with their father’s regular forays into their bedroom: Quanitta pinched her eyes shut when her father entered the room, but she could imagine the presence of his familiar silhouette. She felt his weight sink into the bed while his hands traveled beneath the covers. As Quanitta feigned sleep, her father groped her sister and often rolled on top. Azzad Underwood was a forceful man, not so much in size as in manner. He was a welder by trade but gave...

What’s Right with This Picture?

Getty Images
Lately, I’ve been very Eeyore-ish about women’s lives. There’s plenty of reason for that. Ruth Rosen nicely lays out the backlash against women’s reproductive lives in her article about the current counter-reformation , as she puts it, against women’s bodily autonomy. Of course, any attempt to roll back women’s reproductive rights is an attack on women’s economic independence, since women can only control their educational and financial lives if they can control their fertility. (Did I mention here that a recent new study showed that women with access to the Pill in the 1970s were making 8 percent more in their fifties? That can be the difference between retirement and working the checkout line when you’re 70.) But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s the wage gap, which is closing only because men lost so much more in wages during the recession. There’s the “ mancovery ” that Heather Boushey delineates, in which men are getting their jobs but women are not. There’s the byline...

You Want to Kill Bad Guys? Prove That They’re Bad.

Last week, I took a break from my regularly scheduled gender beat to be grieved , as a citizen, about the Obama administration’s newly announced policy that asserted, as Charlie Savage reported in the New York Times : … that it is lawful for the government to kill American citizens if officials deem them to be operational leaders of Al Qaeda who are planning attacks on the United States and if capturing them alive is not feasible. A friend called me to argue with me about my recoil, saying that surely I had misunderstood. There is a process, my friend argued, a very reasonable one: Administration officials define someone as a terrorist who’s an imminent threat to the U.S., and are reviewed by a Congressional committee. So I went back and checked. That’s not what Holder said. He outlined some possible scenarios that would justify extrajudicial assassinations of American citizens, but he did not limit the President’s power to those scenarios. And he said that the administration would...

Moms Behaving Badly

(Flickr/cali.org)
I hate these stories. A couple in love decides to start a family. They do. Their bond cracks under the strain of parenting (parents, y’all know exactly what I’m talking about). As they break up, instead of putting the child’s well-being first, one of them tries to keep the other one entirely out of their child’s life. In this case, both parents are women, “law enforcement officers,” according to the AP. In order to have their bond to their child be mutual from the start, one donated her eggs and the other implanted the embryo and bore the child. When they broke up, the birth mom took the child to Australia. The bereft ova-mom hired a private detective and tracked her down. Now they’re in the Florida courts, where the ova-mom is insisting that they were both parents all along. You didn’t, by any chance, think that lesbians are nicer when breaking up than heterosexuals are? Ha! Don’t get me started. If only they could have gotten married! One major reason for marriage is that it...

Be Thankful for No More Lysol!

Some good news and some bad news for your International Women’s Day. The good news: you no longer use Lysol as your spermicidal douche. I mentioned that Lysol was once marketed as a Plan B earlier this week in my post about Rush’s extremely odd way of seeing women’s lives. In the ‘great minds think alike’ category, Mother Jones has taken that farther, offering you a social history slide show of the actual Lysol ads that upped women’s anxieties about their marriages and offered to increase marital intimacy—and led to poisonings and death. Here’s some more good news: The gender wage gap has closed to its lowest point ever: 82.2 percent. But there’s bad news: That’s only because men’s wages have fallen farther than women’s during the recession—and because so many more women’s wages are already at the legal minimum that they can’t fall as much. Here’s the key paragraph from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research March 2012 report : Both men and women’s real earnings have declined since...

No Contraception? Seriously?

The amazing Ann Friedman has put together a must-see online narrative about the contraceptive flap. Looking at it’ll take you about five minutes, and it will make your (international women’s) day. I promise. Here’s the only thing I have to add.

Separated at Birth?

Is it just me? Something about Ron Paul just reminds me desperately of Dennis Kucinich. That irrepressible grin, the don’t-bother-me-with-the-facts ideas, the feeling that they’re bouncing on the heels behind the podium—anyone agree?

Holder Says Killing Citizens Is Okay If You're The Government

I know my “beat” is gender & sexuality. But I’m also an American citizen who loves, and is therefore regularly grieved by, my country. And so today I’m going to talk about something that weighs heavily on my heart: the latest in American “national security” policy, announced by Eric Holder under cover of the Super Tuesday media frenzy. As a young adult, I used to wonder how citizens could stand by why their governments did appalling things in their name—and I assumed that we had learned from those wrongs, and that such things could never happen again. Yes, of course, I wondered about the rise of the Nazis, although for a Jewish child, the Holocaust was almost wallpaper; my mother’s explanation—communicated without explicit words—was that Germans hated Jews, The End. But I wondered more, beginning in eighth grade civics and beyond, about appalling things done by my own country, which I loved. Not just slavery, undertaken by people in peculiar clothes and accents, long ago and far...

Is Roe v. Wade Really Still the Law of the Land?

(Flickr/Steve Rhodes)
The Los Angeles Times has a devastating article about one woman’s reluctant quest to replace Dr. George Tiller, the murdered Kansas abortion provider. The woman’s name is Dr. Mila Means: After his killing on May 31, 2009, the decision to step into his place did not come as an epiphany but rather over time, with sad reluctance. In the past, if her patients with unwanted pregnancies asked where to get an abortion, she sent them to Tiller. After his death, women seeking the procedure increasingly turned to her for advice, often with panicked eyes and voices, asking what to do and where to go. "I didn't have an answer," she said. "I kept thinking one of the OB-GYN doctors would start, but slowly it became apparent no one was going to step up." But Means had no idea what “stepping up” would involve: A letter arrived from an antiabortion activist who befriended Scott Roeder, the man convicted of killing Tiller, after he went to prison. That letter, now in federal hands, warned Means to...

Taxpayers Shouldn't Have to Pay for Your Tornadoes!

(Flickr/koschi)
You might have missed this , what with it being Super Tuesday and all, but yesterday, “Ohio Gov. John Kasich said thanks but no thanks to immediate federal disaster relief Saturday, even as governors in Indiana and Kentucky welcomed the help.” That sound you hear is my mother, a township trustee in a semi-rural exurb in southern Ohio, spitting in disgust. Even at this distance, I can read her mind: Libraries are closing; schools are cutting staff; we worry about paying our firefighters; you’re trying to force state workers’ unions to give up pensions and health care and the other benefits of a decent middle-class job. Sure! The state of Ohio has so much extra money, let’s just turn down getting back some of the money we pay in federal taxes for precisely this purpose ! Meanwhile, in a private email, reproduced here with explicit permission, Katha Pollitt quipped, “If those people want taxpayers to pay for their tornadoes, at least they should put porn videos of themselves online.”...

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. I've been assuming that this shock wave will mobilize young women, showing them that they cannot take feminist gains for granted. But the heartbreaking story told by "Beantown Mom"—in which a crew of mean girls viciously bullies a fellow high school student who's taking the Pill for health reasons—reminded me that there are real-life consequences to the vicious language used to describe those who use contraception. (Perhaps Rush Limbaugh can be persuaded to start a reparations fund to pay for the viciousness that he...

"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 : U.S. senator Michael Bennet of Colorado joined California attorney general Kamala Harris and U.S. representatives Jan Schakowsky of Illinois and Charles Gonzalez of Texas in favoring Democratic platform language that affirms marriage rights for same-sex couples. Organized labor's representation on the committee — the AFL-CIO's Maria Elena Durazo of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor — has also indicated her support for adding to the platform. All five are among the 35 national cochairs tasked with on-the-ground outreach and advising the campaign on key issues. FTM launched this campaign with a stunning "get": House minority leader Nancy Pelosi was the first endorser...

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: I've written so often about the dearth of women in high-end magazines, including my own home base, The Nation , over so many years, and to so little effect, that sometimes I see myself, sitting at the kitchen table in some year like 2050, enjoying a nice bowl of reconfigurated vitamin-infused plastic bags, and over my phlogistatron will come the headline "Study Shows Men Write 85 Percent of Articles in Interplanetary Media. Martian Weekly Editor in Chief: Where Are the Women?" Who's winning the economy—men or women? Bryce Covert wrote an important piece for The Nation about the myth of "the mancession"...

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. The online magazine VIDA just released its count of female:male bylines in influential literary and political outlets—"thought leader" magazines, as they're called. The numbers are absolutely dismal. In The New Yorker and The Atlantic , there are nearly three male bylines to one female. In The New Republic , the byline ratio is four to one. In Harper' s, it's five to one. VIDA's introduction and its press release say nice cheerful things, like, "But we at VIDA aren’t discouraged by this fact—we know that significant cultural change takes time." But time isn't making significant changes. Well, OK, in 2005, the Columbia Journalism Review found that the byline ratio in The New Yorker was 3.5 to one, and in The Atlantic...

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...

Pages