Gender & Sexuality

Burying Camelot

Mimi Alford's memoir marks the end of America's Kennedy fetish.

(Bettmann/Corbis/AP Images)
The publication last month of onetime JFK mistress Mimi Alford's Once Upon a Secret: My Affair With President John F. Kennedy and Its Aftermath provoked a variety of reactions. I wonder how many people shared mine, which was, "Bon voyage." Why? Because I figure Alford's book almost has to be The End. The torch has been passed and then some to a new generation of Americans. Few of its members give much of a damn about presidential peccadilloes half a century old. Barring the discovery of Marilyn Monroe's lost diaries, it's not inconceivable that America is finally done with its Kennedy fetish. As the elderly Tolstoy —or was it Sophocles?—once celebrated the loss of his sex drive, "At last I am freed from a cruel and insane master." There will, needless to say, be other books—most likely, a whole slew of them next year, the 50th anniversary of that day in Dallas. But that's a dimming industry's last hurrah, no longer reflecting any real public craving. Maybe the counsel for the defense...

Where Was the Outrage Over Texas's Sonogram Law?

(AP Photo/Richmond Times Dispatch/Bob Brown)
Pro-choice advocates around the country cheered Wednesday, as Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell withdrew support for a pre-abortion sonogram bill . The bill had risen to national attention, even earning a spot on The Daily Show. Critics focused on a particularly disturbing detail of the measure—most women having abortions have them early in the pregnancy, too early for the usual "jelly on the belly" ultrasound. So the bill mandated transvaginal sonograms, in which a probe would be stuck inside a woman's vagina and she would be offered a chance to see the fetus before she could terminate the pregnancy. "During the entire wand-forcibly-inserted-in-your-most-private-area experience, you still have complete and total control over which way your head is turned," The Daily Show's Jon Stewart told his guests. The focus from national media, social media, and bloggers all likely helped to force McDonnell into changing his position. At the same time many protested the Virginia effort, Texas this...

Fun With Amendments And Companion Bills

(Flickr/Arlen)
When male legislators draft and vote on punitive bills that aim to limit and punish women's sex lives—er, I mean, reproductive rights—if they contemplated choosing not to carry every accidental conception to term, what's an outvoted gal legislator to do? Well, some of them have been brilliantly illustrating the unfairness therein by having fun with proposed amendments. As far as I can tell, it started in Oklahoma. You recall the proposed " spilled semen " amendment, by which Oklahoma state legislator Constance Johnson offered an amendment to the state's "personhood" bill that states that "any action in which a man may ejaculate or otherwise deposit semen anywhere but in a woman's vagina shall be interpreted and construed as an action against an unborn child." Why stop at conception? If reproduction is holy, keep all those sacred potential-life bits from being wasted! There's no stopping an idea whose time has, er, come. Next, as the Commonwealth of Virginia discussed forcing women to...

Trying to Win Beyond Virginia

I wrote earlier this week that Virginia's mandatory ultrasound law was proving to be highly unpopular. But though many its Republican supporters were clearly spooked by the level of opposition, I didn't think it very likely that Governor Bob McDonnell would withdraw his support. Happily, I was wrong. McDonnell came out against the provision, and it will presumably be deleted from the final legislation. This is good news. But supporters of reproductive freedom should temper their enthusiasm. There's a flip side to the factors that made the ultrasound bill unpopular—the burdens on abortion that fall primarily on women who have less representation in the political process and don't involve bodily invasion will be much harder to defeat. It's also important to remember that several other states have mandatory ultrasound provisions that are as bad or worse than the one that almost passed in Virginia. Irin Carmon's excellent account of the victory in Virginia contains these thoughts from the...

The Way the Girl Scout Cookies Crumble

(Flickr/juverna)
Between the Susan G. Komen controversy, the birth control panel, and Virginia's efforts at pre-abortion sonograms and personhood bills, you may have had enough of the culture wars and the fight against women. Well, tough—this week brings yet a new and bizarre episode. Indiana state Representative Bob Morris sent a letter to his colleagues urging them to oppose the resolution celebrating the Girl Scouts' 100th anniversary. In his letter, leaked to the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, Morris didn't mince words . He writes that the Girl Scouts "promote homosexual lifestyles" and partners with Planned Parenthood: Nonetheless, abundant evidence proves that the agenda of Planned Parenthood includes sexualizing young girls through the Girl Scouts, which is quickly becoming a tactical arm of Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood instructional series and pamphlets are part of the core curriculum at GSA training seminars. Denver Auxiliary Bishop James D. Conley of Denver last year warned parents...

It Gets Better on MTV

(Flickr/soundfromwayout)
Has it really been only 17 months since advice columnist and provocateur Dan Savage and his spouse Terry Miller brilliantly launched the It Gets Better Project ? As you may know, Savage was disturbed by a rash of gay teen suicides—and about the fact that despite how much progress the LGBT movement has made for gay adults, teenagers just coming out were still as isolated in their own despair, tormented by their peers, and not necessarily supported by friends, family, or school or religious authorities. Savage persuaded Terry to create a video with him about how much life transforms once we escape childhood and high school—and the brilliant project went viral. Last night, MTV aired an "It Gets Better" broadcast, which I haven't seen; you can find the trailer here . Pegged to that broadcast, Mother Jones posted an interview with Savage yesterday that's worth reading. My favorite bit: MJ: Okay, given your sordid past with Rick Santorum , I have to ask how you feel about Santorum's recent...

Luck Not Be a Lady

You know those odd moments in animated cartoons when a character's head seems to be boiling and popping, one eye getting bigger, then smaller, and so on? As a journalist who focuses on gender and sexuality, that's how I feel lately: happy, sad, shocked, celebratory—all at the same time. As I've said here over and over, it's just a spectacular time to be openly gay. Last week, as Jonathan Capehart noted in the Washington Post , was " a big gay week for same-sex marriage." Washington passed a marriage-equality bill and Maryland seems poised to do the same—a bill has passed the House, where it stalled the last time legislators tried to push it through, and now awaits a vote in the Senate and the governor's signature. In both states, marriage equality will probably go to the ballot. Some of my sources say it has a better chance at winning in Washington, where advocates have been doing field organizing on LGBT issues for decades and have already done a lot of the face-to-face education and...

A Probe Too Far

The anti-choice strategy of using piecemeal abortion regulations that, taken together, substantially restrict access has been all too successful in many states. One reason for this is that, whatever their lack of policy merits , regulations like waiting periods and parental involvement requirements tend to be popular. Focusing on whether abortion should be legal is favorable terrain for supporters of reproductive rights, but focusing on specific regulations regrettably tends to favor opponents of reproductive freedom. One interesting thing about Virginia's appalling mandatory transvaginal ultrasound law is that unlike many of the schemes cooked up by anti-choice forces, it is proving to be highly unpopular. The Republican governor Bob McDonnell is still overwhelmingly likely to sign the bill, but has suddenly become notably restrained about defending it. What explains the public opinion victory for the bill's opponents? I would guess that two factors are relevant. First, there's the...

A Tale of Two Gay Marriage Bills

(Flickr/Fibonacci Blue)
Last week, state legislatures in New Jersey and Maryland both passed measures to legalize gay marriage. In Maryland, Governor Martin O'Malley pushed hard for the measure and was largely credited with its success. In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie killed the effort with a stroke of his veto pen. Democrat O'Malley and Republican Christie are both seen as future leaders of their respective parties—which means depending on political winds, gay marriage can either be a feather in their cap or a millstone around their neck. O'Malley had political winds with him as he embarked on the effort to make Maryland the eighth state to recognize same sex marriages. (Actually, when he started pushing this year, Maryland would've been the seventh—Washington state since passed a similar measure.) O'Malley was a vocal proponent, mentioning the effort in his state of the state address and meeting with lawmakers to push them over the line. It was in some sense a political risk—gay marriage failed last...

Honest Defenders of Forced Penetration

(stgermh/Flickr)
So far, it’s been a little odd to read defenses of the bill—passed by the Virginia House of Delegates last week—to require “trans-vaginal ultrasounds” for women seeking abortions. Supporters conscious of public opinion argue that it is strictly a means to provide information and guarantee the safety of the mother. “The only way that they can determine the age of the fetus at an early age is by performing a trans-vaginal ultrasound,” said Delegate Kathy J. Byron, the Republican lawmaker who sponsored the House version of the legislation. This, of course, isn’t the point. Whether or not a trans-vaginal ultrasound is medically necessary is separate from the fact that this is an involuntary procedure, forced by the state, and performed for political reasons. The issue here is consent , and the simple fact is that the state should not be allowed to stick something inside your body for the sake of preventing a legal and legitimate medical procedure. This doesn’t come as a big surprise, but...

The Fashion Week Bill of Rights

Two veteran runway models work to bring safe labor practices to the glamour industry.

(AP Photo/Charles Sykes)
At the height of the 1990s supermodel boom, Linda Evangelista famously said of herself and her catwalk colleagues, “We don’t get out of bed for less than $10,000.” While Evangelista and her cohort, which now includes household names like Gisele Bundchen and Heidi Klum, commanded six-figures for their photo shoots, the reality for most working models then and now is that they earn close to the minimum wage and face long hours in unregulated working conditions. Models, many of whom are teenage girls, are also vulnerable to sexual harassment and pressure to pose nude. Tired of the exploitative conditions they faced as models, runway veterans Sarah Ziff and Jenna Sauers are launching Model Alliance , to coincide with Fall 2012 New York Fashion Week, which wrapped up this week. The nonprofit aims to bring protections to the industry and has partnered with the Fordham University Fashion Law Institute to craft the regulations. “There is a sense that fashion is frivolous, and that encourages...

Is Aspirin a Contraceptive?

Nope. He was saying: Ladies, keep your legs shut. 

Honestly, the last couple of weeks, I've started to wonder: Is the Republican Party committed to a full-employment program for pundits focused on gender and sexuality? Every day, my jaw and the floor have had yet another encounter. Yesterday there was Foster Friess , the Santorum backer, saying that "aspirin between the knees" prevented pregnancy. I don't know about you, but I had to check to find out what the heck he was talking about . Was he saying you can use aspirin as a spermicide? As a post-coital douche? Nope. Apparently it was an old joke, before my time (and I'm old), that if a woman tried to hold an aspirin between her knees, she couldn't open her legs wide enough for some boy to get in. Wow. My mother just told me—this must have been back in, oh, 1973—that for people who needed it, Planned Parenthood could be very helpful. Turned out that I was just realizing I didn't need it, but I appreciated her vote of support. And somehow I never got to say anything about Fox...

Round Two in the Repro-Rights Fight

Flickr/WeNews
We've had a fun-filled few weeks in the repro-rights battles, haven't we? For one thing, Susan G. Komen revealed itself to be anything but politically neutral by trying to sidle out of funding Planned Parenthood's breast cancer screenings—and in the process, publicized the fact that PP is the women's health services provider of last resort for hundreds of thousands of women who need contraception, pap smears, STD and HIV tests, prenatal care, and, oh yes, abortions. For another, we watched as the Obama administration stood up for contraception as preventive health care that, under the Affordable Care Act, should be fully paid for by your health insurance, with no extra co-pay—even if you are a janitor, phlebotomist, bookkeeper, lab technician, administrative assistant, or processor who works for a hospital, social service agency, or university that happens to be affiliated with a particular church. (By the way, the contraception isn't "free." Jane pays through the nose for her health...

Pre-Abortion Sonograms Make Their Way Into Law

(Flickr/Travis Isaacs)
The Virginia Legislature has been busy passing legislation to limit abortion and promote pro-life agendas. I wrote Tuesday how the state House passed a bill changing the legal definition of "person" to include fetuses starting at conception . But the body also passed a measure requiring women seeking an abortion to first have a sonogram 24 hours ahead of time. The state Senate already passed an identical measure and the state governor has said that he supports the initiative—which means it will almost definitely become law. The measure requires a medical professional to administer the sonogram and then offer the woman the chance to hear the fetal heartbeat and listen to a description of the fetus. Because abortions occur early in pregnancies, these ultrasounds aren't the ones most people imagine with a bit of jelly smeared on a woman's stomach. No, these require a more invasive procedure: a transvaginal sonogram . A probe—with a lubricated condom covering it—is inserted into a woman's...

What Is Sex For?

(Flickr/multi.phrenic)
What is the purpose of sex? Who should be able to have it, and at what cost? Apparently, that was on many minds on Valentine's Day. That's when the Prospect 's indefatigable Abby Rapoport told us that the Virginia House just voted to go full-steam ahead on a personhood bill, which will define life as beginning from the very second that a sperm bashes its head into an ovum. Yesterday, too, in the state of Washington, opponents of same-sex marriage launched their effort to repeal the state's newly signed marriage-equality law. Washington's gender-neutral marriages won't begin, at the earliest, until June 7, after a "standard enactment period" that puts new laws on hold for a bit. According to the Chicago Tribune , Opponents were led by Roman Catholic bishops and other religious conservatives. "Marriage is society's way of bringing men and women together so that children can be raised by, and cared for by, their mother and father," said Joseph Backholm, head of the Family Policy...

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