Gender & Sexuality

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...

The "Great Man" Theory of Rape

Overlooking sexual harassment and rape for the sake of WikiLeaks' reputation does more harm than good to the organization's name.

(Flickr/Vertigogen and Darryl biatch0)_
(Flickr/Vertigogen) Police in front of the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is currently claiming asylum While the British and Ecuadorian governments continue to maneuver around each other over how to deal with Julian Assange—with each detail breathlessly described by journalists all over the world—one question continues to haunt me: Would any of this be happening if Assange faced charges of any violent crime other than rape? Would Ecuador be offering him asylum if the Swedish government sought Assange for allegedly stabbing two men? Would so many liberal pundits be rushing to defend Assange if he were accused of getting drunk and running someone over with his car? Despite the deep abhorrence of rape all participants in this dispute claim to have, it doesn’t seem likely that they’d be defending Assange were he wanted for another violent crime. Currently, Assange—the founder of open-information website WikiLeaks, which riled the U.S. by releasing...

Ann Romney Loves Women!

Last night, I realized that God invented Twitter specifically so that political conventions would be entertaining to watch. Listening to the speeches last night while watching my Twitter feed was like watching it with a ballroom full of snarky friends, all rolling their eyes and emitting their one-liners. For instance, how very inspiring it was last night to hear that Ann Romney loves women! My corner of the Twitterverse was waiting for her to announce that everyone should look under their seats—everyone was going to get a Cadillac! Tweeters exploded yet again when she noted that she and Mitt started their married lives in a basement apartment—which, she didn’t mention, just happened to be paid for by the sale of stock options. (Even Juan Williams didn’t buy her tale of hardship, saying on Fox News that she looked “like a corporate wife.”) But seriously, folks, my favorite part of her talk was when she explained that she and Mitt didn’t have a storybook marriage—they have a “real...

Don't Think of a Hurricane!

So it’s the last week of the summer, and you’re one of the few in the office who hasn’t escaped for vacation, and the Republicans are failing their God-given duty to offer you some entertainment while you wait for things to speed up again? Some nerve they have! Here are some things to read, and not to read, while we wait for the balloons to start dropping. First, do not go reading all those stories about how Isaac is tracking Katrina , the other famous Republican hurricane. (Five years ago, I gave a little talk about the moral values that were not on display during Katrina’s aftermath here .) And don’t start thinking, in your godless way, that if a potential hurricane were threatening the Democratic convention, certain evangelicals would say it was God’s punishment for believing that women and LGBT folks are fully human. We know that this is not the climate’s angry punishment of those who deny that it is changing. So don’t even let yourself start dancing with thoughts like that. The...

The Misogynist Elephant in the Convention Room

(AP Photo/The Tampa Bay Times, Edmund D. Fountain)
(AP Photo/The Tampa Bay Times, Edmund D. Fountain) The floor of the Tampa Bay Times Forum undergoing preparation or the 2012 Republican National Convention Three days from now, in the hurricane-lashed hull of the Tampa Bay Times Forum, at the temporal cross coordinates of Congressman Todd Akin’s confession and the Republican Party’s communion, we’re finally going to see what’s truly mesmerized this white, middle-aged, male political conglomerate for the last two generations, and that’s the sexual freedom of women. The language has always been there, but until this presidential election it’s been lip service; next Monday, however, when the Republican platform is approved by the party’s convention, all the fear and loathing that women’s sexuality engenders will be splayed in the aisles before an electorate newly alerted to the party’s unforgiving position on abortion courtesy of Akin’s imprudence. The Akin vocabulary, and the platform’s, may be one of “abortion” and “rape,” but those...

What Is Marriage For?

Is marriage, at its heart, an institution that confines heterosexual sex and ensures that every child is born firmly tied to its biological parents, legally, economically, emotionally, and socially? Or is it an ever-changing institution, constantly battled over, whose rules change dramatically over the centuries? Do same-sex couples belong in the Western vision, because of the revolution in marriage law and philosophy over the past 150 years? Or would adding same-sex couples violate its core purpose? What is the purpose of sex? What's the purpose of civil marriage , as opposed to religious marriage? Maggie Gallagher, of NOM fame (National Organization for Marriage), and I disagree profoundly. We discussed these differences in some detail at bloggingheads. Eyebrows are raised, voices get pointed, but neither of us foam at the mouth, although it gets a little close. Enjoy. Don't miss the point around 41 minutes, where I ask her whether she believes in IVF and donor semen. Answer: no. By...

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