E.J. Graff

E.J. Graff writes on social-justice and human-rights issues, particularly discrimination and violence against women and children; marriage and family policy; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender lives. She is a resident scholar at the Brandeis Women's Studies Research Center and the author of What Is Marriage For? The Strange Social History of Our Most Intimate Institution (Beacon Press, 1999, 2004).

Recent Articles

The Opposite of American

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
The Sikh temple shooting , which left seven dead including the shooter, has left me feeling more shaky than the shooting in Colorado, which seemed more random. I write that even though the skeleton of these stories is roughly the same. One man with a grudge takes semi-automatic weapons and opens fire at a public or semi-public event where people are gathered for some socially acknowledged purpose—education, work, politics, entertainment, worship. Some people die. Others are wounded. The gunman may or may not have the presence of mind to execute himself. Or he may choose to be martyred, putting himself in line for police to kill him. The gunman’s race and age vary, anywhere from 12 to 50. In the U.S., the majority of such gunmen are white, disproportionately (although just slightly) to their numbers in the population. They are overwhelmingly male. Sometimes the gunman has a personal motive for making others suffer: He lost his job, or girlfriend. Sometimes his motive is putatively...

Friday Poetry Break: When I Heard The Learn'd Astronomer

From Walt Whitman : WHEN I heard the learn’d astronomer; When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me; When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them; When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room, How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick; 5 Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself, In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time, Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars. (With thanks to Kevin Franck for the suggestion!)

Sally Ride's Right to Remain Silent

Astronauts of the STS-7/Challenger mission (Wikimedia Commons/NASA)
I’ve been startled by certain gay men who have petulantly demanded that it wasn’t enough for Sally Ride to be an astounding feminist hero, a role model for all girls; she also should’ve stood up for the gays. Andrew Sullivan ( and others ) had a tantrum about her postmortem announcement, as if coming out were the central patriotic duty of everyone who loves someone of the same sex: I'm not so understanding. We can judge this decision in the context of Ride's life. Her achievements as a woman and as a scientist and as an astronaut and as a brilliant, principled investigator of NASA's screw-ups will always stand, and vastly outshine any flaws. But the truth remains: she had a chance to expand people's horizons and young lesbians' hope and self-esteem, and she chose not to. She was the absent heroine. #Srsly? As if being lesbian or gay were a more important—or even equally important — identity than, say, being the first American female astronaut? Imagine what it must've been like to be a...

RIP, Sally Ride

Sally Ride (Wikimedia Commons/National Archives and Records Administration)
Yesterday, the day before Amelia Earhart’s 115th birthday, Sally Ride joined the skies for a final time. At 61, she died of pancreatic cancer—a horrible disease. Back in 1983, it was thrilling to watch her smash the American gender barrier as she zoomed into space. When she headed off into the final frontier, it was not as it was with the subordinate Lieutenant Uhuru on the Enterprise—the closest analogue there was at the time—but as an equal astronaut. Ride strode up to the Challenger as if she belonged there—which, of course, she did. She had degrees in physics, astrophysics, and English—what an underachiever! When she saw a NASA newspaper ad seeking astronauts, she applied and got the job. Sally Ride was one of a host of exhilarating barrier-smashers in that decade when young feminists like me thought all barriers would soon come crashing down, from Sandra Day O’Connor to Geraldine Ferraro. Of course women could do anything, including fly to the stars! It’s funny now to read The...

This American Darkness

(Wikimedia Commons/David Levy)
If there’s anything that illustrates the term “kneejerk liberal,” it would be the immediate assumption, this weekend, that the Batman shootings required a national debate about gun control. As has been reported elsewhere, Friday’s “assailant” (I profoundly respect Steve Erickson’s refusal to do him the honor of using his name) used not just a semiautomatic rifle, gas canisters, a rifle, and a pistol in a theater, but also jury-rigged bombs to boobytrap his own apartment. (The Associated Press reports that he's refusing to talk to police, so he's at least minimally sane, realizing there is no way to explain what he's done.) Yes, banning assault weapons and all the rest would be useful. So would background checks, the end of gun-show loopholes, and so on. But it wouldn't have stopped this particular killer, who had nothing in his record to suggest he was troubled or troubling. It wouldn't have stopped others like him. Anonymous shootings and public bombings for some obscure and...

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