Gender & Sexuality

Not a Fluke

(AP File Photo)
My heart broke over the weekend when I read, over at DailyKos, " I've spent the past 2 days trying to convince my 16 y/o she is not a 'slut.'" (Thanks to Garance Franke-Ruta for the pointer.) Until I read that article, I have been focusing my attention on the good news: The assault on reproductive rights, from Komen and Santorum on, has finally made clear that the attacks on abortion are really just the front line of a greater assault on contraception and women's health. I've been assuming that this shock wave will mobilize young women, showing them that they cannot take feminist gains for granted. But the heartbreaking story told by "Beantown Mom"—in which a crew of mean girls viciously bullies a fellow high school student who's taking the Pill for health reasons—reminded me that there are real-life consequences to the vicious language used to describe those who use contraception. (Perhaps Rush Limbaugh can be persuaded to start a reparations fund to pay for the viciousness that he...

What's Behind the Slut-Shaming

The Tree of Death and Life, Berthold Furtmeyr, 1481
As leading Republicans have been asked about Rush Limbaugh's typically despicable attacks on Sandra Fluke—the law student who testified before congressional Democrats about the importance of health insurance coverage for contraception—they've offered some pretty weak responses. Mitt Romney said that when Limbaugh called Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute," "it's not the language I would have used." Perhaps he meant that he would have called her a "harlot" or a "trollop." Rick Santorum, whose opposition to contraception is well-established, said that Limbaugh was "being absurd, but that's, you know—an entertainer can be absurd." Before we move on to this week's controversy, it's important to note just what kind of venomous beliefs this episode has brought to the fore. Republicans are insisting that this isn't really about contraception, it's about religious freedom. But for some people, it's about something much more fundamental: the dire threat of uncontrolled female sexuality. Limbaugh...

A Social Network of One's Own

Pinterest is quickly becoming the safest place for women to socialize on the Internet.

(Flickr/GoodNCrazy)
I initially visited Pinterest after hearing its praises sung for being a remarkable organization tool with a social component, but all I saw at first were pictures of clothes, interior-design ideas, and cheesy photography coupled with “inspirational” mottos and prayers. Few things make me hit the “unsubscribe” button faster than seeing a black-and-white picture of a lake emblazoned with pabulum about living life to the fullest, but my hostile reaction belied a bit of the internalized sexism in the heart of even the most stalwart feminist. After all, I love fashion and design, so why wouldn’t I want to see more of it if not for the fear that it might be too girly? It doesn’t take long for a blog-loving feminist to find the ugliness of the “ew, girly!” reaction. Women dominate on Pinterest— around 70 percent of users are female —and the site drives more traffic to commercial sites than Google+, YouTube, and LinkedIn combined. Pinterest's popularity means that the male-dominated world of...

"Marriage Equality" Coming to the Dem Platform Soon

Last night my editor emailed me, asking if I wanted to comment on a press release from the national group Freedom to Marry, which announced that still more of President Obama's campaign co-chairs have signed on to FTM's campaign to add marriage equality to the Democratic Party platform. The Advocate had the scoop : U.S. senator Michael Bennet of Colorado joined California attorney general Kamala Harris and U.S. representatives Jan Schakowsky of Illinois and Charles Gonzalez of Texas in favoring Democratic platform language that affirms marriage rights for same-sex couples. Organized labor's representation on the committee — the AFL-CIO's Maria Elena Durazo of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor — has also indicated her support for adding to the platform. All five are among the 35 national cochairs tasked with on-the-ground outreach and advising the campaign on key issues. FTM launched this campaign with a stunning "get": House minority leader Nancy Pelosi was the first endorser...

Ken Mehlman's Regrets

(Flickr/Kat Ruddy)
In 2005, the chairman of the Republican National Committee went before the NAACP and told them that the "Southern Strategy" the GOP had been employing for the previous few decades was, for all its political benefits, a moral misjudgment. "I am here today as the Republican chairman to tell you we were wrong," he said. That chairman—Ken Mehlman, the campaign manager of George W. Bush's 2004 re-election—didn't get a lot of love from conservatives for what became a virtual apology tour (he gave multiple versions of the same speech to African-American audiences), and it didn't seem to have any impact on his party. And today, Tom Schaller interviews Mehlman about same-sex marriage, and hears similar notes of regret about the way Bush's 2004 campaign used the issue as a wedge to paint visions of a homosexual threat and get conservatives to the polls: "At a personal level, I wish I had spoken out against the effort," he says. "As I’ve been involved in the fight for marriage equality, one of...

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...

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