Gender & Sexuality

Exporting the Anti-Gay Movement

How sexual minorities in Africa became collateral damage in the U.S. culture wars

(Brian Stauffer)
I n October 2010, a banner headline ran on the front page of the Ugandan newspaper Rolling Stone : “100 Pictures of Uganda’s Top Homos Leak.” Subheadings warned of these people’s dark designs: “We Shall Recruit 1,000,000 Kids by 2012,” and “Parents Now Face Heartbreaks as Homos Raid Schools.” One of the two men pictured on the front page was David Kato, an outspoken leader of Uganda’s small human-rights movement. Inside the newspaper, his name and home address, along with those of other LGBT Ugandans, were printed. The article called for the “homos” to be hanged. Three months later, after numerous threats, Kato was bludgeoned to death in his Kampala home. Police said the motive was robbery, but human-rights advocates did not believe the official story. At Kato’s funeral, an Anglican priest condemned homosexuality. Kato’s death was international news, making him the highest-profile victim of the anti-gay hysteria that has enveloped much of sub-Saharan Africa over the past decade...

The Madwoman in the Attic

Awhile back, I wasted an evening watching the 2011 film version of Jane Eyre , something that every former lit major should avoid. I loved the novel for its depiction of the vivid, rich inner life of a proud introvert who is passionately engaged in her life despite the fact that she knows it to be outwardly pathetic. The movie, unable to reproduce the character's inner liveliness, reduced the story to a melodramatic and utterly unlikely romance between a poor orphan and an arrogant nobleman. I had wasted marital chits on a movie that I hated as much as my wife knew she would. (Sports movies, here we come. Sigh.) Watching the movie sent me back to Jean Rhys’s astonishing Wide Sargasso Sea , which I remembered as an imagining of Bertha Rochester’s backstory, asking how, exactly, did the madwoman in the attic get there to begin with? I’ve lately been stripping my bookshelves, getting rid of novels I know I won’t read again, like Rhys’s earlier sharply drawn portraits of women I have no...

Six States, Six Fates for Pro-Life Bills

(Flickr/SMN)
As states around the country consider legislation to limit access to abortion and reproductive rights, the outlook isn't bright for women's health advocates. Here's the latest from five states: Through a tied-vote, the Iowa Senate defeated a measure that would stop public dollars from funding abortions in rape and incest cases. Iowa currently allows tax dollars to fund abortion procedures for low income women if there's a danger to the life of the mother or if the pregnancy came through rape or incest. The House already approved the bill earlier in the week. In Tennessee, the state House has approved a measure that creates criminal penalties for harming embryos. The state can already prosecute someone for harming a fetus, but those laws don't include the first eight weeks of pregnancy. Of course that may be because, in the first eight weeks, many don't know they're pregnant yet and many embryos die from a variety of natural causes. The bill passed 80-18 Thursday in the House and now...

Republicans Keeping Anti-Gay Views in the Closet

(Flickr/Willamor Media)
As polls in favor of marriage equality trend upward, politicians are pushed into an awkward corner. The Prospect 's Paul Waldman explained earlier this morning how the incentives just aren't there yet for Democrats to go out on a limb and support same-sex marriage; favoring civil unions probably captures enough of the vote. But at the same time, Republicans have to struggle with the divide between their base, which wants constitutional amendments barring any legal recognition for LGBT couples, and the wider public, whose views soften each passing month. As I noted earlier this week, it's already created a divide between Romney and some of his high-dollar donors. Now it looks like an issue state-level Republicans will have to grapple with as well. North Carolinians will vote next month on a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. The Charlotte Observer reports that one major candidate has done his best to duck the issue: He’d rather talk about something else – say, the...

Why More Democrats Aren't Coming Out for Marriage Equality

One of the few pro-marriage-equality Senate candidates. (Flickr/Edward Kimmel)
American public opinion on same-sex marriage has been steadily moving in the direction of support for marriage equality for some time, and recently some polls have shown a majority of the public in favor ( see here for example). Politicians, however, have lagged the public on this issue, none more visibly than Barack Obama, who is famously "evolving" on the issue. One presumes that evolution will reach its higher stage some time after he gets re-elected, but you'd think that candidates running for lower offices might be a little more willing to come out in favor of marriage equality, particularly since it's so obvious that such a position will only become more popular over time. But as Jonathan Bernstein tells us , that doesn't seem to be happening, at least when it comes to Democratic Senate candidates. "The web sites of the 10 Democratic candidates running as challengers or for open seats show that very few of these candidates are eager to jump on this particular bandwagon. Only two...

Relax, Ladies! The Texas GOP Has Your Back

(Flickr/ Planned Parenthood Federation of America)
Texas health officials are telling low-income women not to worry. The Women's Health Program, the Medicaid program serving 130,000 women, will still be there for them. Of course, how it will be paid for and whether enough clinics will be left providing services are still subjects up for debate. The Republican-dominated Texas Legislature cut funding for the program—which offers poor women basic reproductive health services like birth control and cancer screenings—by two-thirds last year. The cuts came out of fear that the health-care providers were too linked with the so-called abortion industry. Just to be safe, conservative lawmakers barred Planned Parenthood from participating in the program. Of course, since the beginning of the program, no public dollars could go to abortions, and women could only participate if they were not pregnant. The results were swift. The budget cuts resulted in clinic closings around the state , and the decision to exclude Planned Parenthood violated...

Are We Equal Yet?

Ladies, we’ve had fun this year, haven’t we? Komen defunding Planned Parenthood sure made PP’s contributions zoom up, and Komen’s zoom down. The Republicans' jaw-dropping attack on contraception has given Obama an absurd lead among women. Katie Roiphe—yes, she who believes that date rape is nothing more than rough sex—has bravely decided that we’re so tired of being in charge, of our success, working gals all wanna be whipped. ( Sigh . Somebody tell dominatrixes, who are making a mint off the high-powered men who really are in charge and do long to be whipped, or so I’ve been told by insider sources). It’s The End of Men! Women are The Richer Sex ! Yeah, right. Sorry to be Eeyore yet again, but as feminist blogger, economist, and minor goddess Echidne of the Snakes puts it , “You get to be the richer sex by earning less, on average, than the other sex earns, you know. A well-known factoid.” Here’s the reality: Today is Equal Pay Day —the day that marks how many more days an average...

Even Romney's Donors Support Same-Sex Marriage

(Flickr/Datchler)
The prolonged Republican primary forced Mitt Romney to take stances on a host of controversial issues to win the allegiance of conservative voters. That could be alienating now that he is moving to the general election. His opposition to reproductive rights, harsh tone on immigration, and deference to Paul Ryan's budget have been the centerpiece of the campaign so far; he has also turned against gay rights, a move that puts Romney out of touch from the increasing majority of Americans who favor same-sex marriage. During debates Romney tried to cast himself as nondiscriminatory in his interactions with LBGT individuals but settled on a hardline opposition to same-sex marriage. "From the very beginning in 1994, I said to the gay community, I do not favor same-sex marriage. I oppose same-sex marriage and that has been my view," Romney said in January. He reiterated that stance in February, disparaging a court's decision to overturn Proposition 8. "I believe marriage is between a man and...

Earth to Ann Romney: The Mommy Wars Are Over

When Hilary Rosen said that Ann Romney never worked a day in her life, the comment was at first touted as an enormous misstep, a jab at mothers, a slip of the lip that could sink Obama's post-contraception-scuffle 19-point lead among women. Do you see it? All I've seen is a little scuffling among pundits who are competing to say that either, a) it's true that Ann Romney has no idea what economic insecurity feels like, or b) Hilary Rosen is an elitist lezzie , or some combination thereof. But you know what? I think the "mommy wars"—which, as I wrote a few years ago, never really existed in the first place, except as a media creation—are over. Most women have to work for their families to stay in the middle class. The situation is impossible for all of us, whether we're working in an office or working at home or taking a few years out of the workforce to manage the house and children and then find it difficult to get back in at a reasonable-enough wage to ensure a decent Social Security...

What Does an Abortionist Look Like?

(AP Photo/Richmond Times-Dispatch, Joe Mahoney)
She’s a single, unemployed mother with three children who finds out that she’s pregnant—just after the father has been sent to prison. She says she is distraught at the idea of hurting her kids by adding another child to the family, giving each of them less money, time, and attention, dragging them further into poverty. But she lives in rural southeastern Idaho, a two-and-a-half-hour drive from the nearest clinic in Salt Lake City—and getting an abortion would require two round trips there, because of the mandatory waiting period. So she takes RU-486, ordered online, self-supervised. She freaks out at the fetus’s size, stashes it on her back porch, tells a friend, and gets reported to the police. And, is promptly arrested for inducing her own abortion. To put it mildly, Jennie Linn McCormack doesn’t sound like the world’s most responsible person—except that she apparently had the good sense to realize she was not going to be a good parent to another child. I haven’t interviewed her...

Was Adrienne Rich Anti-Trans?

By failing to acknowledge the late author's views on womanhood, feminists risk writing trans people out of the movement.

(Flickr/PhotoComiX)
In the last few weeks, many obituaries have praised the revolutionary poet and feminist theorist Adrienne Rich. While these homages are well deserved, what has been largely ignored in considering the legacy of Rich is her history of transphobia. With the exception of a small group of critics, Rich’s ideas about trans identity—and trans women in particular—have gone unscrutinized. It’s indicative of the larger inability within the feminist movement to recognize trans voices. Rich was a tremendous supporter of Janice G. Raymond, author of The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male . Raymond even cites Rich in a viciously transphobic chapter, “Sappho by Surgery,” in which Raymond argues that biological sex is the same as gender ( i.e. , if someone is born with female body parts, they are always a woman). Raymond also suggests that men who go through sex-reassignment surgery are not real women but deviant men who use female bodies to enter female spaces. As a result, they are...

November Dreaming

(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
I’ve been noticing that, since January, the Obama administration has kicked up its attentions to the LGBT communities, announcing one small regulatory change or conference after another. But they’re not delivering the bigger changes that LGBT groups have been agitating for. I’ve been assuming that the goal is to boost turnout in November. Will it work? What kind of small change am I talking about? Well, there’s the White House LGBT conference series. HHS, DOJ, HUD, even the CIA—they’re all putting on some show or other. March saw a Detroit conference on LGBT housing and homelessness , where HUD Secretary Donovan announced new nondiscrimination rules for public housing and mortgage financing, on both sexual orientation or gender identity. No kicking you out of the projects or your Section 8 apartment because you turn out to be queer; no refusing to give you a mortgage because your birth sex is still visible while you’re transitioning. All good news. And soon, the White House will hold...

Approaching Peak Bitch on Television

TV is overrun with unflattering portrayals of women—where's the uproar?

AP Photo
The new TV series GCB —originally titled Good Christian Bitches after the book of the same name—premiered last month on ABC. Don’t Trust the B–– in Apt. 23 will premiere on the same network April 11. Can you imagine a network using “the N word” in a show title? Don’t trust the N-word in Apt. 23 . That won’t happen, but between 1998 and 2007, the use of the word “bitch,” on television tripled , from 431 uses on 103 prime-time episodes in 1998 to 1, 277 uses on 685 shows in 2007. I don’t have the figures for 2012, but I’d be willing to bet that this latest development means our culture is even more comfortable with the term. If you’re about to tell me that bitch is a power term, take a look at what Merriam Webster has to say about it. Definition of BITCH 1 : the female of the dog or some other carnivorous mammals 2 a : a lewd or immoral woman b : a malicious, spiteful, or overbearing woman —sometimes used as a generalized term of abuse 3 : something that is extremely difficult,...

Romney Tries to Master His Problem With Women

(Flickr/Shannon Hurst Lane)
A minor kerfuffle emerged among the political chattering class yesterday over RNC Chairman Reince Priebus' statement that the allegations that his party is waging a war on women were as fictitious as a war on caterpillars. Democrats blasted out press releases, falsely indicating that Priebus had equated women's issues with insect issues, misconstruing an awkward metaphor. Yet the substance of what Priebus claimed was objectionable. The GOP's war on women didn't just spring from liberals' imaginations. It developed when the party decided to turn reproductive rights into a contentious issue, proposing bills in Congress that would have allowed any employer to refrain from providing women with birth control, Mitt Romney declaring his intention to ruin Planned Parenthood, and the tepid response to Rush Limbaugh's offensive descriptions of Sandra Fluke. That disdain for women has been born out in polls; Romney, for example, now trails Obama by 18 percent among women. I might be reading too...

You're Gonna Make It After All

The 20th century's most important hat toss.
The first grownup television show I can remember watching as a wee pup in the 1970s was the Mary Tyler Moore Show, which was a favorite of my mother's (and millions of other women's). It was pretty revolutionary for its time, a show built around a single working woman who was uncertain of herself and vulnerable (and the victim of constant casual sexism), but also smart, competent, and determined to be successful in a world ruled by men. It made Moore probably the central cultural icon of the feminist movement's key period. The show ended its run in 1977, but it was no surprise when Jimmy Carter's re-election campaign in 1980 recruited Moore to encourage women to vote for Carter. Here's the ad she did: If Moore was the central cultural feminist icon of the 1970s, the central political/activist icon was Gloria Steinem, who is still going strong 40 years after she co-founded Ms. magazine. And she's now doing ads for Barack Obama. As Ari Melber observed , the Obama campaign on YouTube is...

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