Gender & Sexuality

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...

Personhood Bill Dead in Virginia

Update: Virginia's personhood bill is now dead for the year . The bill, already approved by the state House, passed out of a Senate committee this morning and headed to the floor. But the Republican-dominated Senate voted to send the bill back to committee and carry it over to next year. It's the second big win for pro-choice advocates in Virginia this week, after Governor Bob McDonnell retracted his support for a bill requiring pre-abortion transvaginal sonograms yesterday. "By vote of 24-14, HB 1 is rereferred to Senate Ed & Health and carried over for the year," tweeted Democratic Senator Mark Herring triumphantly. "Translation = Bill is defeated." This morning, less than 24 hours after pro-life advocates saw a big victory over a Virginia pre-abortion sonogram bill, a Virginia Senate committee voted to move the controversial "personhood" bill forward . The bill, which would have changed the legal definition of "person" to include fertilized eggs and fetuses, passed the House...

Ho-Hum, Another Day, Another DOMA Defeat

Earlier this week I wrote about how quickly gay people are winning, just at the same time that women are losing. Speak of the devil! Yesterday, ho-hum, yet another federal district court judge ruled that a key portion of the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional, in Golinski v. Office of Personnel Management . Karen Golinski is a lawyer who works for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco (nice touch, yes?). She got married during the six months that California had a gender-neutral marriage law, between the California Supreme Court ruling that made it possible and before Prop 8 passed and added a constitutional ban to the law. (California is really just too exciting. Its crazy politics and the earthquake fault line are the only two good reasons I've found not to move there.) Golinski applied to add her wife to her health insurance benefits. Her boss at the Ninth Circuit said yes. But here's the hitch: Golinski worked for the federal government, which, because of DOMA, cannot...

Today in Ridiculous Scapegoats for Violent Crimes

(Flickr/Guille Damke)
Last night, over at my alma mater—the University of Virginia—jurors came to a verdict in the George Huguely case after nine hours of deliberation. Huguely, who played lacrosse for the University, was convicted of second-degree murder and faces 26 years in prison for the 2010 beating death of his former girlfriend, Yeardley Love. The murder and the trial revealed the extent to which domestic abuse—i.e. serious physical violence—is a reality for too many students, obscured by a pervasive culture of silence. Keep this in mind as you read this column from Washington Post blogger Alexandra Petri, who uses George Huguely to bemoan “hook-up culture” and alcohol use: This is a story of growing up in a world where people sand off life’s edges on your behalf. Where parents and institutions exist not to protect you from mistakes, but from their consequences . […] The setting is a character on its own: the college campus, where hook-up culture runs rampant and you are expected to drink four times...

Congressional Battle Ready

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat who is making her second run for Congress, lost both her legs when her Black Hawk helicopter was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade in 2004. Duckworth first ran for Congress in 2006, but lost to Republican Peter Roskam. Now, the EMILY’s List candidate looks poised to win her primary in the Illinois 8th, and the seat in November. A 48-year-old Iraq War veteran, Duckworth has based much of her platform on veterans’ advocacy—a cause that was sparked by her first-hand experience recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. I talked to Duckworth about a range of issues, but it was Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s comment about women in combat that sparked the greatest reaction. Duckworth, the daughter of a veteran, joined ROTC over 20 years ago, as a graduate student, and chose to fly helicopters because it was one of the few combat positions open to women at the time. She went on to become one of the first women to fly combat missions in...

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...

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