Gender & Sexuality

Right to Know Versus Right to Withhold

In the debates over pre-abortion ultrasound bills, advocates often say such measures are vital to ensuring that women have all the relevant information. The argument is often based in part on the idea that abortion providers make money off of the procedures —and therefore may try to trick women into terminating their pregnancies . The reasoning also assumes that when deciding to have an abortion, a woman should know the physical details of the fetus, like how many fingers and toes have developed. That's why—in a messaging win for social conservatives—the pre-abortion sonogram requirement is often called a "Woman's Right to Know" legislation. But, Kansas Republicans may spoil all the fun. The state House is working on legislation that would allow doctors to withold information if it will help prevent an abortion, as well as requiring doctors to tell women that abortions increase odds of getting breast cancer—a theory many public health organizations reject. Forget right to know—the...

Blunt Amendment Fails in the Senate

(Flickr/Stacy Lynn Baum)
For a brief moment yesterday it looked as though some GOP senators were ready to step back from the ledge, and reject their party's assault on women's rights. A handful of Republican senators were hesitant to endorse the controversial Blunt amendment, which would allow any employer—both secular and religious—to reject covering individual aspects of health insurance they find morally questionable, not just contraception. Even Mitt Romney expressed opposition to the bill when an Ohio reporter explained the implications before his campaign quickly realized they had defied party doctrine, and issued a clarification, which reversed Romney's earlier statement. Any qualms with the legislation evaporated when it was put to a vote this morning. The measure failed 51-48, but Republicans voted with their usual lockstep discipline. Soon retiring Senator Olympia Snowe was the lone Republican opposing the measure and three Democrats—Ben Nelson, Joe Manchin, and Bob Casey—crossed the aisles to join...

Thursday Miscellany

Let's start with the Eeyore. Yesterday I wrote that women don't count —at least, not to the news media. Right after I posted that, I learned that Katha Pollitt wrote about the same recurring problem last year, brilliantly, of course. One of her key points: if you want more women writers, you need more women editors. Do read her piece. It's depressingly relevant and, of course, funny: I've written so often about the dearth of women in high-end magazines, including my own home base, The Nation , over so many years, and to so little effect, that sometimes I see myself, sitting at the kitchen table in some year like 2050, enjoying a nice bowl of reconfigurated vitamin-infused plastic bags, and over my phlogistatron will come the headline "Study Shows Men Write 85 Percent of Articles in Interplanetary Media. Martian Weekly Editor in Chief: Where Are the Women?" Who's winning the economy—men or women? Bryce Covert wrote an important piece for The Nation about the myth of "the mancession"...

Santorum Beats Dan Savage

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Rick Santorum came up short in Michigan on Tuesday night, but it was of no matter. After months of turmoil he'd achieved a primary goal of his presidential campaign: his Google problem. That's right. When normal, God-loving Americans direct their web browsers to Google and type in the former Pennsylvania senator's last name they are no longer greeted by spreadingsantorum.com as the first result. Created by sex columnist Dan Savage in response to Santorum's comparison of homosexual relationships to man-on-dog sex, the Web site coined a sexual neologism, redefining Santorum's last name as " The frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the by-product of anal sex." Thanks to enthusiastic fans, the simple webpage sat atop the Google rankings for years, bedeviling the politician at every turn. "Savage and his perverted sense of humor is the reason why my children cannot Google their father's name," Santorum wrote in a letter last year, and his eldest daughter Elizabeth told...

Are Republicans Backing Away from the Contraception Fight?

(Flickr/Stacy Lynn Baum)
Senate Democrats think they have Republicans backed into a corner. In response to the hullabaloo around the Obama administration's decision on covering contraception in health-care plans, Missouri Senator Roy Blunt has offered an amendment to allow any employer—not just religiously affiliated organizations—to refuse to cover any health-care service—not just contraception—based on "religious beliefs or moral convictions." The battle over reproductive rights has already allowed Democrats to paint Republicans as antagonistic to women and, needless to say, Senate Dems are gleefully forcing a vote on the measure tomorrow to get their opponents' extremist take on the record. The Washington Post 's Greg Sargent checked in with a few Republican senators and found that some are hesitant to endorse the amendment ahead of tomorrow's vote: A spokesman for Senator Susan Collins confirms to me she’s still undecided — with less than 24 hours until tomorrow’s vote. On MSBNC just now, Senator Olympia...

Do Women Count?

Yesterday, after I made some snarky comment, a friend asked me if I was Eeyore. The truth is, I'm a mash-up of Eeyore and Tigger . Tigger bounces up and down gleefully whenever I talk about gay rights. But today I'm talking about the ladies again, so get ready for Eeyore. The online magazine VIDA just released its count of female:male bylines in influential literary and political outlets—"thought leader" magazines, as they're called. The numbers are absolutely dismal. In The New Yorker and The Atlantic , there are nearly three male bylines to one female. In The New Republic , the byline ratio is four to one. In Harper' s, it's five to one. VIDA's introduction and its press release say nice cheerful things, like, "But we at VIDA aren’t discouraged by this fact—we know that significant cultural change takes time." But time isn't making significant changes. Well, OK, in 2005, the Columbia Journalism Review found that the byline ratio in The New Yorker was 3.5 to one, and in The Atlantic...

Virginia Passes Sonogram Bill After All

(Flickr/mobeans)
In the end, even Jon Stewart couldn't kill the Virginia ultrasound bill. After more than a week of protests and national attention, the state Senate passed an amended version of the measure Tuesday afternoon which will require women seeking an abortion to get an ultrasound 24 hours ahead of the procedure. The Senate did unanimously pass an exemption for victims of rape and incest, but other amendments fell flat, including one to mandate insurance coverage of the sonograms. The House has already passed a version of the bill and it appears now to be headed for law. Much of the protesting focused on "transvaginal" ultrasounds, highly invasive procedures that would be required to get a clear image of a fetus in the very early stages of pregnancy. Opponents called the bill a "state rape" mandate. The Daily Show even had a bit on it. Public support for the measure tanked and, under pressure, the state's socially conservative Governor Bob McDonnell announced he opposed requiring transvaginal...

Time to Protest, Sleeping Beauty

In an important article at Salon last week, Linda Hirshman suggests that the past month's ferment on contraception in particular, and reproductive health generally, might reawaken the women's movement. While I'm not sure I agree precisely on her analysis of how feminism went to sleep to begin with—Hirshman doesn't definitively assign blame either—she's absolutely right in this: For 40 years, women, the majority of the population and the majority of the electorate, have been the Sleeping Beauties of American politics, slumbering obliviously while vigilant and relentless adversaries surround their rights with a thicket of thorn trees. She suggests that "women" didn't see the danger in the Hyde Amendment, which may be true. Feminists at the time were outraged by it, but by then were effectively being boxed in by other powers. And she's absolutely right to identify some of the smart young feminists who have been working in the past decade to wake us all up, using new tools, tactics, and...

Just Your Average Marriage

(Flickr/sushiesque)
The national media hasn't paid much attention to Iowa since Rick Santorum's caucus victory, but numbers released over the weekend tell an important story for national progressives. The Des Moines Register —the most respected state pollster during caucus season—asked Iowans about their feelings on same-sex marriage and found that a 56-percent majority are just fine with the state's current laws on same-sex unions and oppose any effort to amend the state's constitution. Only 38 percent would support an amendment to overturn the 2009 state Supreme Court's ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in the Hawkeye State. It was more of a wash when the Register asked whether Iowans personally opposed the court's decision. A slight plurality oppose it—36 percent opposed to 30 percent in favor. But 33 percent don't have particularly strong feelings about the issue and oppose efforts to change the law by a 3:1 margin. The numbers have largely remained steady since the last time the Register asked...

Reproductive Rights: I've Got Some Good News and Some Bad News

(Flickr/WeNews)
It's hard to relax these days (though I still haven't tried yoga.) Take the current fight around reproductive rights. Pro-choice advocates of women's health have heard plenty of good news in the past few days. The trouble is, it's almost always been tempered by bad news. See what I mean: Pre-Abortion Sonogram Debate After days of protests and media coverage, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell backed away from a state bill last week that required sonograms 24 hours before an abortion. Much of the criticism from pro-choice advocates focused on how the bill would require very invasive transvaginal sonograms for those women seeking an abortion early in the pregnancy. McDonnell explained he was opposed to requiring transvaginal sonograms and couldn't support the bill as written. The bill's opponents cheered. Now it seems likely Virginia will pass a less-extreme version of the bill—while Alabama may pass a bill more similar to Virginia's original. Virginia lawmakers have revised their...

All the Scary Ladies

An effort to silence women in the military is meant to empower the radically conservative clergy in Israel.

(AP Photos/Oded Ballilty)
The Israeli military has to face a lot of threats. Iran. Hezbollah. Rockets from Gaza. Women soldiers singing. If that last item seems out of place, it's because you're reading this in America (where, it's true, presidential candidates can portray contraception as a danger to civilization) instead of reading it in Israel. Here in Israel, the threat posed by female vocalists to religious liberty has been a regular topic in debate of military policy in recent months. As framed by one side in the dispute, the question is whether Orthodox Jewish soldiers must attend army ceremonies at which they'll hear women sing, even if they believe that such a performance is an utterly unkosher act of public indecency. Framed by the other side, what's at stake are basic military values of discipline and unity. The army's insistence on men hearing women sing is such a serious attack on religious freedom, according to one prominent far-right rabbi, that "we're close to a situation in which we will have...

The Obama-ization of Everything

Man, those guys really don't like me.
For the last few years, liberals have been pointing out that conservatives radically shifted their opinions about certain ideas once those ideas were embraced by Barack Obama. The two biggies are an individual mandate for health insurance, which was conceived by conservatives at the Heritage Foundation as a way to get (nearly) universal coverage while maintaining the private insurance system; and a cap-and-trade system for reducing harmful emissions, which was conceived as a way to use market forces instead of government regulations to achieve an environmental good. All kinds of conservatives liked those ideas, but once Obama advocated them, the ideas became not just disfavored but presented as something so vile and socialistic they could only have been coughed up by Joe Stalin's decaying corpse. That happened a couple of years ago, but now we're in an election year, so it's only going to get worse. And watching the entire conservative universe get pulled toward opposition not just to...

Taking Anti-LGBT Discrimination Seriously

(Flickr/Zolk)
U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey White's recent opinion holding a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional presents an interesting contrast to Judge Stephen Reinhardt's recent opinion on California's Proposition 8. Reinhardt, trying to maximize the chances that his opinion would not be overruled and therefore create a bad Supreme Court precedent, wrote a cautious and narrow opinion closely tailored to the unique facts of the case at hand. Judge White, conversely, wrote a broad (though clearly argued) opinion that would have much wider implications. Whether White's opinion can survive further appellate review remains to be seen. But on the merits, he provides a very compelling argument that the legal subordination of people based on their sexual orientation should be considered intolerable. Contemporary equal protection law evaluates state classifications by applying various levels of scrutiny. Racial classifications are subject to "strict" or "heightened"...

Don't Sterilize Trans Folks

(Flickr/PhotoComiX)
We've talked at length, here, about the fact that for some minority of folks, sex and gender don't line up. Some girls have a boyish swagger and a killer pitching arm. Some boys adore nail polish and glittery princesses. Sometimes—not always—those butch girls and pink boys grow up to be lesbians or gay men. Sometimes—less often, although no one knows the real rate—they insist that the only way they can be comfortable and happy is to change their sex entirely. No one knows why, any more than we know why some people are math whizzes and others can't do arithmetic, but the phenomenon has long been noted in a wide variety of cultures, from the Hawaiian mahu to South Asia's hijra . (Check out PBS's map of transgender identities. I don't know their sources, but I do recognize a number of references I've found previously in the anthropological literature.) So I was shocked when Joseph Huff-Hannon of AllOut told me that 29 European countries—including some Scandinavian countries we generally...

Republican Family Planning

It only took about an hour into the 20th Republican debate Wednesday for the candidates to find something they could agree on. After sparring over the fine details of earmarks, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum agreed that it’s all right for women to serve in the military but birth control, well, that’s a slippery slope that leads to the breakdown of society. Supporting the right of women to serve in the armed forces, itself a completely irrelevant debate considering 167,000 women are active-duty military , while trying to limit access to birth control, betrayed a profound ignorance on the way that women lead their lives. Even the way moderator John King posed a viewer-submitted question over contraceptives to the candidates, asking them if they “believed” in birth control, seemed to suggest that contraception is some form of rare unicorn that exists only in the imagination. The candidates’ answers were even more surreal. Gingrich skipped answering the question...

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