Gender & Sexuality

"One Thing I've Learned: We're All Vulnerable."

You want another reason I hate presidential campaign season? It obscures real problems, the very problems the election is about . Okay, so that’s the same gripe I had yesterday . So let me introduce you to someone who's not just griping, but is doing something about it. Harold Pollack is a health policy analyst who, despite his terrifyingly smart and accomplished credentials , has an extraordinary ability to see social policy the way ordinary humans do: as a series of needlessly frustrating encounters with indifferent bureaucratic machinery. Over and over, he tells the stories of how ordinary human beings of limited abilities or limited means get dropped by the systems our society set up to help them. His stories have a liberal heart—in the sense that he clearly believes societies have a responsibility to help the weakest and most vulnerable—but contain no apologies for system failure. He lets the stories speak for themselves. And that is an extraordinary skill. For quite some time,...

Laura Is a Punk Rocker

The lead singer of Against Me! changes gender and challenges the male punk scene.

(Flickr/Kmeron) Laura Jane Grace and Against Me! take the stage in Belgium earlier this summer. O n a sticky night in mid-June, the four members of Against Me! walked onstage at Amos’ South-end, a narrow, two-story club just past the edge of downtown Charlotte, North Carolina. Three wore some variation on the plain black T-shirt. Laura Jane Grace, the band’s singer and star, had on skinny pants and a sleeveless black blouse that let the crowd see her lean, muscled arms, which were covered in tattoos. At big arena shows, bands prime the audience with flashing pyrotechnics and a video intro. At dingy punk clubs, the options are limited, though a well-selected walk-on can help. This summer, Against Me! chose the opening snippet from “Gonna Fly Now,” the tune that played while Rocky Balboa trained to fight Apollo Creed. The use of Bill Conti’s trumpet riff—instantly evoking a hokey, inspirational montage—by a pop punk band with self-proclaimed hints of outcast rebellion (even though their...

So Much For The End of Men

Do you know what I dislike about presidential election campaigns? Okay, a lot of things. But among my gripes is the way presidential campaigns overshadow all other news, at least in the U.S. media. For months, the candidates’ every cough shoves everything else off the front pages and top-of-the-hour news summaries. Major news gets downgraded to fewer inches and minutes; other news simply disappears. Remember Syria , where there’s a civil war going on that in which people are battling a dictator? Did anyone notice that a new study links BPA – a chemical used in plastic food packaging –to childhood obesity? Oh, never mind, Paul Ryan got an intelligence briefing. And his eyes are blue. Yes, I get grumpy about it. I’m just not enough of a junkie to want to parse polls all day; it’s too much like debating sports scores, which are boring. I care about the election, but only because I care about the underlying issues— which are what I want to hear about, please. What kind of underlying...

Dems and Reproductive Rights: BFFs

(Flickr/Progress Ohio)
Guest-posting at Nate Silver's 538, Mark Smith makes a point that is not made nearly often enough. Pundits talk about the potential costs of Roe v. Wade and the Democratic Party's embrace of womens' reproductive freedom—lost votes among social conservatives who might otherwise be more sympathetic to Democratic economic policies. But as Smith points out, there's another side to it: relatively affluent states such as Washington that have gone from swing states to solid blue states in large measure because of Republican positions on cultural issues. In 1980, as Smith notes, "Ronald Reagan over-performed in Washington relative to his margin of victory in the nation as a whole." But a Republican Party committed to overruling Roe v. Wade is simply not going to be competitive in Washington. It's not just Washington. Democratic liberalism on social issues is a crucial reason why states like California and New York—both of which Reagan carried twice—have become electoral college locks for the...

Going to the Courthouse, and We’re Gonna Get Married

This morning, the Supreme Court did not decide to take Perry v. Hollingsworth, the California Prop. 8 case. According to the conference schedule, the Justices were supposed to discuss it yesterday. They didn’t actively decline to take it; they could still make a decision to hear it in the months to come. But at least for today, no news is good news. Let me explain. This year, almost every expert I’ve spoken to or seen believes that the Supreme Court will hear argument on some aspect of the marriage-equality question. What many LGBT advocates most profoundly hope is that SCOTUS will take up one of five current challenges to DOMA, the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act—and will decline to review the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Perry. Although both the DOMA cases and the Prop 8 case touch on marriage for same-sex couples, the issues are quite different. In the DOMA cases, couples who are lawfully married in their home states—Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Vermont, and California (for a...

What Makes An Activist?

F aced with being despised and threatened, the normal human instinct is to hide. You keep your head down. You pass, if you can. If you can’t, you try not to draw attention to whatever it is about you that your government and your neighbors believe is evil. Throughout history, those who’ve tried to pass have had mixed success. Think about the maranos and conversos, the Portuguese and Spanish Jews who, facing the Inquisition, publicly converted to Christianity but privately still observed Jewish law. Or the light-skinned African-Americans who, during the long horror that was Jim Crow, left behind their darker relatives and became white . Or those East Germans or Czechs or Russians who hated the Soviet system but kept their heads down and their mouths shut, and tried to get by. But there’s always a troublemaker who can’t keep her mouth shut. Faced with hatred, she defies the government by agitating on behalf of the despised identity, working to change not herself but society. That’s the...

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...

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