E.J. Graff

Are You Eating Fish Caught By Slaves?

(Flickr/sarahalaskaphotographs)
According to sociologist Kevin Bales, who founded and directs the new abolition group Free the Slaves , an estimated 27 million people are enslaved around the world today—more than were ever enslaved at any single time in history. The United Nation's International Labour Organization estimates are a more modest 12.3 million —which is still a shocking number of people forced to labor against their will, unable to walk away, for no compensation. Much of the reporting on this phenomenon has been on women forced to work in the sex trades. But the U.S. State Department reports that many more people are enslaved in far more ordinary endeavors: mining coltrane, growing cotton, domestic servitude, and fishing in the south Pacific. Ben Skinner , whom I'm honored to call my colleague at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism, is the foremost reporter on the particulars of this horror. His book A Crime So Monstrous: Face to Face With Modern Slavery , offered an in-depth look at both...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

Colbert Explains Contraception And the War On Religion

Stephen Colbert can't say that, can he?! Stephen Colbert Explains the Catholic Church and Contraceptives The comedian describes what Obama's birth control plan looks like to conservative Catholics. It involves a banana and a guillotine. The Colbert Report Get More: Colbert Report Full Episodes , Political Humor & Satire Blog , Video Archive Log in or register to post comments

Happy Valentine's Day ... And Don't Forget to Tip Your Waitress

(Flickr/Adikos)
As is true for roughly, oh, 72,000 working parents a day, I'm home today with a sick child. Okay, I made up that "statistic." But here's a real one: 70 percent of all U.S. children are growing up in households with all adults employed. And one-third of those working adults have no paid sick days—almost all of them working for the lowest of wages, who cannot afford to miss even a day of washing dishes or waiting tables. Fortunately, my job is relatively flexible. I can stay home, and I won't be penalized if this isn't my most brilliant Prospect post of the year. But if a waitress's child gets sick, either that child will go to school anyway, or some family member or friend will be drafted hastily to take him in, or the waitress will stay home and lose wages that family really can't afford to do without. Last year, Heather Boushey and Joan Williams wrote a report that should have gotten much more attention than it did, called The Three Faces of Work-Family Conflict: The Poor, the...

Roland Martin and the Masculinity Patrol

This weekend at The New York Times, Charles M. Blow, one of our great social-issues columnist, tackled the controversy over Roland Martin's Super Bowl tweets last weekend: This week, Roland Martin, a bombastic cultural and political commentator was suspended by CNN from his role as a political analyst on the network for Twitter messages published during the Super Bowl. One message read: “If a dude at your Super Bowl party is hyped about David Beckham’s H&M underwear ad, smack the ish out of him! #superbowl.” Another read: “Who the hell was that New England Patriot they just showed in a head to toe pink suit? Oh, he needs a visit from #teamwhipdatass.” Blow assumes good will and good faith on the part of Roland Martin—and still holds him to account for being part of the masculinity patrol . No matter how jovially, mocking deviation from a narrow vision of manhood has real-world consequences, as Blow explains perfectly: Words have power. And power recklessly exerted has consequences...

Obituary for a Singer

She wasn't as famous as Whitney Houston. Her singing was the kind best appreciated quietly, inside the mind. The shy, Nobel-winning poet Wislawa Szymborska died on February 1, 2012, at the age of 88, having given the world a handful of absolutely perfect sentences in perfect order. Her work makes me think of poet W.H. Auden's famous line that the purpose of poetry is, "by telling the truth, to disenchant and disintoxicate." The news of poetry moves far more slowly than the news of celebrity singers, so I only learned of her death this past weekend. In her honor, then, here is one of her poems, the one I read aloud at least once a year: Could Have It could have happened. It had to happen. It happened earlier. Later. Nearer. Farther off. It happened, but not to you. You were saved because you were the first. You were saved because you were the last. Alone. With others. On the right. The left. Because it was raining. Because of the shade. Because the day was sunny. You were in luck --...

Don't Spill That Semen!

(Flickr/robertelyov)
When does a cell become a person? That's been widely up for debate with the "personhood" movement, whose goal is to "protect the pre-born" by passing state laws and amendments that define that first moment of sperm-egg contact as full personhood. But why stop there? Why not before the two cells meet? The handwritten semen amendment. Over in Oklahama, state legislator Constance Johnson—my new hero—has introduced 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." Here she explains why: The Personhood bill would potentially allow governmental intrusion into families' personal lives by policing what happens to a woman's eggs without any similar thought to what happens to a man's sperm. My amendment seeks to draw attention to the absurdity, duplicity and lack of balance inherent in the policies of this...

... And Still More Marriage Equality

It might be February, but wedding bells sure are in the air this week. Yesterday, Washington's state legislature passed a marriage bill that Governor Chris Gregoire has said she will sign. It will probably be battled at the ballot box, but I told you this week what I think about that—and the marriage-equality forces think that they're ready to hold the victory among voters. So instead of celebrating that victory, I'm going to pass along a moment of sadness. Robin Tyler has been an out-and-proud lesbian activist for decades, making things happen around the country. She and her wife were the first to marry in Los Angeles, during the brief period when California allowed marriages. And so she's made a small splash with the announcement that she and her wife will be getting divorced after 18 years together. They weren't really the "poster girls for the cause" that the news media wanted them to be. Tyler explains her position well: We didn't want to get married to be perfect. We are human,...

Why Should the Government Enforce Catholic Church Beliefs?

Flickr/Kim TD
When I was growing up, we had an infinite supply of Catholic babysitters, who all came from families of 7 or 9 or 12. If Margaret stopped babysitting, Mary stepped right in. Once Mary got too old, there was Anne. That was no longer true for my baby sister, born 14 years after me. By the 1970s, those Catholic families had mysteriously stopped adding a new child every year. Now we all know what happened to those families: After 1968, en masse, they rejected the Catholic Church's ban on contraception. In her column today, Gail Collins explains that, now, the Catholic hierarchy is furiously trying to get the U.S. government to come in and enforce its beliefs. Is it really the role of a secular government to take sides in internal theological debates between a church and its members? No one in the administration is making it mandatory for Catholics (or non-Catholic employees at Catholic institutions) to take the Pill, whether for contraception or for the myriad reasons that women try to...

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