Gender & Sexuality

Is That a Boy or a Girl?

Photo courtesy of Andy Kopsa
Is that a boy or a girl? I’ve never felt comfortable with laws against hate crimes or with designations of particular groups as “hate groups,” which seem to me to come way too close to banning thoughts. After all, any assault is a hate crime. If a man beats someone nearly to death, what does it matter if he did it because she’s his girlfriend and he’s enraged that she spoke to another man, or because he spotted some stranger on the street kissing another girl? Whether he yells, “you cheating bitch” or “you fucking dyke,” aren’t his rage and his fists equally dangerous? And I believe so profoundly in individual liberty to believe and say anything, no matter how disgusting or repulsive someone else might believe it to be, that designating a group a “hate group” has troubled me profoundly. Call those groups liars, sure. Educate with the facts. But I’ve been queasy about the harsh categorization. But as I’ve learned about Mich’s beating in Kampala, which I wrote about here yesterday, I’ve...

What We Talk About When We Talk About Abortion

A British case is wrongly roped in the reproductive rights debate

(AP Photo/Adrian Dennis)
M onday, a court in England sentenced 35-year-old Sarah Catt to eight years in prison after she pleaded guilty to administering a poison with intent to procure a miscarriage. She was 39 weeks pregnant—a point, by anyone’s measure, at which healthy fetuses are viable—when she induced labor and disposed of what she claims was a stillborn. She has yet to reveal the location of the body, which throws suspicion on her statement that the baby was born dead. Either way, the story is another example of the sad but thankfully rare occurrence of a woman giving birth in private and committing infanticide, abandoning a baby, or improperly disposing of a stillborn—though it does happen. In 1997, a New Jersey teenager gave birth at her prom and tried to cover it up by killing the baby, and in 2011 a 25-year-old woman smothered her two newborns rather than let her parents know she had given birth. The problem is that what Catt did doesn’t have much relationship to the cluster of medical procedures...

One Day in Uganda

(Photo Courtesy of Andy Kopsa)
Two weeks ago, I heard from Andy Kopsa, an American reporter in Uganda whom I know glancingly as a colleague. While in Kampala reporting for The Washington Monthly on U.S. funding for faith-based organizations there, Kopsa found herself helping “a trans woman [who] was beaten to a pulp”—and who, Kopsa told me, had difficulty getting appropriate medical or police attention, again because she was trans. The beating was brutal, as you’ll read below. One man started it, and bystanders joined in. The police wouldn’t help. Doctors wouldn’t help. All these things are shocking to Americans. But as you will read later in this series, the only thing that stands out about this incident is that the transwoman, Mich, was willing to seek help. Uganda may not have passed a death penalty for homosexuality , but if LGBT people can be beaten ferociously and refused medical care, a kind of death sentence is in place nevertheless. Information for this week's three-part series comes from on-the-ground...

Newsweek: Is Asking Inane Questions the Future of Journalism?

Was Mussolini Right? "He made the trains run on time," they said about Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, and it was more than just a cliché. It was a statement about a government that works, a government that means what it says and does what it wants. Sure, there were some problems with the treatment of dissidents. But some very smart political analysts are asking a question that would have been surprising just a few years ago: Is it time to give fascism another try? To be clear, no one is proposing a Fourth Reich. This isn't about Germany in the 1930s, and it isn't about genocide. It's about fascism as an economic program, where the government stops being ashamed about merging with corporate interests. It's the ultimate pro-business position, and that's why the wonks proposing a new look at an old philosophy have a catchphrase sure to draw adherents: "Fascism means jobs." If they're right, it could remake the American political landscape over the next decade. Our Future Is...

Bowties Are Cool, but So Are Kickass Female Characters

How women are portrayed in the BBC's Doctor Who

(AP Photo/ Donald Traill)
(AP Photo/ Donald Traill) Actors Matt Smith and Karen Gillian are seen on location filming "Doctor Who" in New York on Wednesday, April 11, 2012. F or fans of the BBC’s reboot of the long-running sci-fi series Doctor Who , the beginning of season seven this September has a lot on offer so far: The Doctor in full badass hero form, a new potential sexy genius Companion, dinosaurs on spaceships, and Daleks, the villains that have been fan favorites since nearly the beginning of the series. The show, which had its first impossibly long run from 1963 to 1989, got a reboot in 2005. The new version, while retaining the goofy time-travel plots and the monster-of-the-week elements, has a 21st-century spin. In the years between the first and second series, comic-book movies had become summer blockbusters. Battlestar Galactica and Buffy the Vampire Slayer had shown that superheroes and spaceships could make for critically acclaimed television. The new Doctor Who positions itself in this world of...

What's Up With Naomi Wolf's Vagina?

Relax, folks. I don’t have any firsthand experience with Naomi Wolf's Vagina , carnal or otherwise. Everything I know about it comes from what other people have told me. And let me tell you, am I ever grateful for those reviews, which tell me I never want to put my hands on it. In fact, as far as I can tell, the entire public purpose of Naomi Wolf, at this point in her brilliant career, is to be the target of other folks’ smart sentences. Let’s start by assuming that you’ve already got the basic outline and flaws of the book from Jaclyn Friedman’s review here . Every review I’ve seen has essentially the same gripes with the book. And can we take for granted that Naomi Wolf’s “feminism,” while it once may have had some political content, has now morphed entirely into narcissism, in which she mistakes her own emotions for meaningful thought? The Beauty Myth, the book that’s the foundation of her outsize reputation, rehashed things that had been written and said before by second-wave...

Ladies to Watch

I've mentioned here before that I'm an enormous fan of rising young editor Ann Friedman, whom I met when she was both an editor here at the Prospect and was involved in WAM! (Women, Action, and Media). Several people told me she was going to change the world, and I have come to believe it. She left the Prospect to become the editor of GOOD magazine, and made making it a must-read location on the interwebs until the owners of that online community changed its direction and fired most of the editorial staff. Since running a magazine wasn't enough to keep her occupied, she also created many smaller online projects that instantly went viral. If you like knowing about folks on the rise, Sam Meier has an excellent in-depth interview with Friedman over at PolicyMic. An excerpt: SM: I found something you wrote recently about work/life stories which target women. ... AF: It’s a self-perpetuating problem. If you say, OK, let’s talk about work/life balance only in terms that are gendered towards...

The Vagina Myth

Naomi Wolf's yoni worship isn't just silly—it's dangerous.

This summer, Michigan state representative Lisa Brown was banned from the House floor when she dared to say the word “vagina” in a debate about proposed restrictions on abortion. Just three weeks ago, Todd Akin revealed what many Republicans believe: If you get pregnant, it can’t have been rape. It’s been a year of politicians trying to force women to have medically unnecessary transvaginal ultrasounds, and “personhood amendments” granting one-celled organisms more rights than women, as long as the cell resides in the woman’s uterus. If there ever were a cultural moment crying out for an impassioned defense of the vagina, it would be now. It’s beyond unfortunate, then, that Naomi Wolf’s new book Vagina: A New Biography is such a failure. Vagina: A New Biography By Naomi Wolf. Ecco Press, 400 pages, $27 Wolf is best known for her 1991 text The Beauty Myth, but more recently has made headlines for claiming that penetrating a sleeping woman represents a “model sexual negotiation” and...

Culture War Is Over

(Flickr/sushisque)
Gabriel Arana T his weekend featured a strange event on the campaign trail. With Pat Robertson seated behind him at a speech in Viginia—that's the guy who says God personally warns him about upcoming world events, believes the September 11 attacks were divine punishment for homosexuality, and thinks feminism leads to witchcraft—Mitt Romney got his culture war on. Romney recited the Pledge of Allegiance and thundered, "The pledge says 'under God.' I will not take God out of the name of our platform. I will not take God off our coins and I will not take God out of my heart." So fear not, America: As long as Mitt Romney becomes president, your pennies and nickels will be safe from creeping atheism. This may tell us more about Romney's strategy for winning Virginia—a state divided between a conservative, rural southern part and a liberal, suburban northern part—than it does about his strategy for winning the country as a whole. But when Romney makes such an appeal, it only serves to...

On Mom-in-Chief

There’s oh so many reasons to hate the phrase “mom-in-chief," the highly criticized phrase that cropped up in the end of Michelle Obama’s otherwise well-received speech Tuesday night. Let’s start with the most obvious, which is it’s yet another reminder that even amongst liberals in the 21st century, women still have to reassure the public that just because they’re independent doesn’t mean they don’t love their children. It’s also another example of how women are still expected to define themselves not by their accomplishments in the world, but by their relationships to other people, in a way men are never expected to do. As Kerry Howley at XX Factor noted , “mom-in-chief” invokes the image of Michelle Obama as “ready to lead legions of subservient moms to do battle against producers of unhealthy snacks.” It adds an extra layer of insult to women’s dignity: Apparently, mother sounds too powerful for sensitive ears, and has to be softened up with mom. If this ship doesn’t get turned...

Second Night of the DNC: TV and Twitter Review

The early part of last night’s DNC TV show couldn’t match Tuesday night. As I wrote yesterday, that first night rocked out over the body issues: health care for all, equal pay for women, open LGBT military service, repro rights, equal marriage laws—the human values of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. The speakers preached, and the crowd roared. The night was, as Robert Kuttner writes, a full-on embrace of the social issues that the Republicans have been attacking for decades. You hate homos? We love them! You think women are lying sluts? We believe in women’s integrity! It was awe-inspiring and energizing. Last night’s implicit theme was It’s The Economy, Stupid. Union dudes and CEOs stood up and explained—well, I couldn’t tell you what they explained, exactly, because one after another, they were so boring that my eyes rolled to the back of my head and my wife insisted that we turn it down the volume to “inaudible hum.” As Molly Ball (@mollyesque) tweeted, “The...

First Night of the DNC: A TV & Twitter Review

Did you watch it last night? It was an amazing night of TV, of Twitter (that instant snark convo), and of politics. My twitter feed was full of journos saying to each other: Wow, there’s a lot of energy here! Don’t you feel more buzz than in Tampa? I thought this was supposed to be the dispirited convention, but these folks are excited. You could see that in every breakaway shot of the convention floor: Folks were cheering, nodding, yelling back in witness. Over and over again, the Dems boasted proudly about standing up for health care, equal pay, LGBT rights (including the freedom to marry), and yes, reproductive rights, without apology. (CNN political commentator Erick Erickson got roundly swatted for tweeting, "First night of the Vagina Monologues in Charlotte going as expected.") Whoa. Way to respect your lady viewers! But he was right about this: The Dems were indeed standing up for the ladies’ power over their own bodies and paychecks. Up on stage, the speeches were just on fire...

Gay Rights Are Women's Rights

As predicted, when the Democratic National Convention rolled out its platform today, we learned that one of the planks calls for marriage equality , along with a call for federal protection from being fired for being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. The marriage-equality plank signals a significant shift in the Democratic Party, a decision to work on behalf of me and my gal, for which I am deeply grateful. (Cue a gleeful Tigger, remembering how this would have sounded like science fiction to the Ohio 15-year-old with my name who was terrified when she realized that she was falling in love with another girl—terrified that she might be, you know, like the gym teacher .) Marriage equality won't exactly solve the problems of Darnell “ Dynasty ” Young, the Indianapolis teen who was kicked out of high school for carrying a stun gun after he discovered, painfully, that t he masculinity patrol is still alive and well. Dynasty’s mother bought him the stun gun when his high school did...

Poll Spells Trouble for Iowa Judge

(Flickr/Serdar Kaya)
It looks like another Iowa Supreme Court justice may lose his job this year. Conservatives are once again railing against one of the judges who legalized same-sex marriage in Iowa. Bob Vander Plaats, a prominent social conservative on the local scene who led an anti-retention campaign against three of the state's supreme court justices in 2010, announced last month that he was spearheading an effort to make sure David Wiggins doesn't succeed at the polls this November. A Public Policy Polling survey from last week indicates that Vander Plaats's plan is working. Among likely Iowa voters, 38 percent would like to retain Wiggins, while another 38 percent want to send him home. While at first glance that tie might seem positive for Wiggins—in 2010 two of his colleagues lost by 8 percent, one by a ten-point margin—the dynamics don't favor Wiggins. Many of those likely voters supporting Wiggins might not vote in the retention election—judicial retention votes were notoriously under the...

Gabby Douglas: No Poland Spring Girl

Racial stereotypes keep the gold medalist from the choicest endorsement deals.

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong) Gabby Douglas performs in the floor exercise event during the preliminary round of the women's Olympic gymnastics trials. Gabby Douglas had me at the first release move. The gymnast who would become the breakout star of the 2012 Olympics wasn’t even officially part of the American Cup all-around competition in March. She was an alternate beside the more accomplished Jordyn Wieber and Aly Raisman, only allowed to show her routines to gain experience. But when I saw Gabby perform on bars, she launched herself into the air, higher than any woman has ever done, her ponytail sticking straight up as though reaching for the sky. By the time she came back to earth, I was a fan. Gabby has a history of beating low expectations. Even after she qualified for the Olympics and headed to London, legendary gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi picked the dependable Wieber to win at the Games, telling The New York Times : “Gabby is a flame, a beautiful flame that can shine and glow but...

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