Trafalgar Square, London, England; January 21, 2017
It’s International Women’s Day — wear red in support of women striking for equality, and if you’re a woman who can strike today, please do!
Here’s a quick primer on the day.
We have one month left before we’re in 2017, and although it’s tempting to just curl up into a ball until it’s over, we know that we need to prepare to live in a Trump world. (For the many people who see how this year has just pulled back the mask on what wasn’t all that well hidden to begin with – I hear you. I’m sorry it’s taking some of us so long to figure it out.) Okay, so let’s live in this world, let’s make it as good as we possibly can, and let’s do it together.
I used to be a weekly churchgoer, and the rhythms of the church year still echo in my life. The season leading up to Christmas is called Advent. Advent is a time of preparation, during which Christians prepare for the coming of the savior of the world. They prepare for the end of the world as we know it and the arrival of a better world we can barely imagine. This year, we are preparing for what certainly feels like the end of the world, and it’s hard to see anything beyond it. Trump is the opposite of a savior, no matter how he brands himself in his populist speeches. So this year we need to prepare ourselves to be our own saviors, to save ourselves from what we’ve allowed to happen. (I’m speaking mostly to my fellow straight white cis folks here – people of color and queer folk have been doing the heavy lifting since forever.)
This election seems to have served as a wake-up call for many of us. It’s not right that it took a loss that will devastate so many lives and alter the fabric of our democracy to serve as such, but here we are. So now what? is the question I see most frequently on Facebook, Twitter, in the news. There are a lot of good answers out there, from better thinkers than I. Read them, discuss them with friends and family, take action.
But for what it’s worth, here is my “what now?” response. Advent is a time of preparation, so let’s prepare. For each day of December, I’m going to take concrete action that makes me more prepared to resist the Trump presidency, or that offers some resistance now, or that contributes something good and kind to the world. Some of these actions can be done anywhere in the world, and some are US-specific.
I also think it’s important to do a mix of overtly political and more community-building or “good deeds” type things. Especially if you haven’t been politically active before, you may find this a little intimidating, but what we’ve seen from the way Trump’s campaign was run, and now after the election, is that white supremacy, misogyny, xenophobia, and homophobia play a prominent role in people’s political decisions and everyday lives. Coaching Little League builds community, yes, please keep doing that — but also see how you can assist your local Black Lives Matter chapter, to build community in that way as well. And artists — keep creating, always. Artists are vital.
Will you join me for this month? Especially for people who wouldn’t normally consider themselves political, or who don’t have much experience with activism, I tried to make this an accessible collection of things to do that will show how easy it is to fit these things into our busy lives, and how it’s not that scary to do.
If you have suggestions, please comment. Share this with anyone you like. The key is to take action, and to do it together. So call your mom, talk to your coworker, make a new friend, and go all in. As Angela Davis recently said, “How do we begin to recover from this shock? By experiencing and building and rebuilding and consolidating community. Community is the answer.”
Here is where I was going to put the calendar, but I can’t get it to embed. So please click through to the Advent Calendar for Social Justice. Be sure to click on each day to see notes and useful links with further info for each action item.
This calendar is intended as a helpful tool for people who want to do something, but aren’t sure where to start. I hope it will help you sample different ways of taking action, so that in the new year, you’ll be better prepared to really dig in to volunteering, donating, and organizing roles. I’d love your feedback. I consider it a live document and will adjust it as necessary.
Shout-out to Liz and Emmett for providing excellent advice and action items.
Resources for Educating Yourself and Taking Action:
Accomplices Not Allies
A List of Pro-Women, Pro-Immigrant, Pro-Earth, Anti-Bigotry Organizations That Need Your Support
Oh Crap! What Now? A Survival Guide
Opportunities for White People in the Fight for Racial Justice
“We’re His Problem Now” Calling Sheet
What Educators Can Do to Support Undocumented Students
What to Do Instead of Calling the Police
Organizations Fighting the Good Fight:
American Civil Liberties Union
Black Lives Matter
Council on American-Islamic Relations
National Center for Transgender Equality
National Coalition for the Homeless
National Disability Rights Network
National Women’s Law Center
Showing Up for Racial Justice
Southern Poverty Law Center
Sylvia Rivera Law Project
The True Colors Fund
Dearest fellow travelers, let’s talk bodies and how we talk about them. Just a bit! The subject of one’s weight and beauty is fraught with social pressures, personal histories, and private traumas. I’ve talked a little about how my own fatness affects my ability to travel, and I will probably post some more about that in the future. But for today, I wanted to share my new favorite way of stopping damaging body-shaming talk in its tracks. You can use this on yourself, your friends and lovers, even casual acquaintances. Ready for this amazing secret??
Generally, we all feel some sort of weird in our own bodies. Maybe we think we’re too fat, too skinny, too dark, too light, too too too something–we’re always some measure off of an impossible beauty standard so deeply ingrained that we almost think it’s natural. I have a lot of thoughts about that, and a lot of websites to direct you to, but despite appearances to the contrary, I don’t like to spend all my time pontificating. I have a set amount of pontificable time. The rest is spent reading Kate Atkinson novels and imagining myself into Cary Grant movies.
But just because I’m not pontificating doesn’t mean I think it’s okay for us to go around hating on our own bodies (or those of others, but that’s a whole other conversation). How do I shut down body shaming without making the person feel yelled at, or shamed, or condescended to? How can we take a moment of body shaming and turn it into a gentle reminder to love your body, without preaching? The answer: humor! (AS ALWAYS.)
My friend told me about a roommate she had who turned her world around on this one. My friend is usually comfortable with herself, but she has her bad days, as we all do. Whenever she’d get down on herself about her thighs or her hair or her skin or whatever, her roommate would look at her lasciviously and say, “Are you flirting with me right now?” in a super exaggerated way. She’d even flutter her eyelashes a little and pucker up her lips. Every single time, my friend would laugh and carry on with her day.
It’s perfect! It’s absurd and non-confrontational, while also gently pointing up the absurdity of endlessly stressing over perceived body flaws. It doesn’t offer any of the usual reassurances — “no, that doesn’t make your butt look big,” “just eat yogurt for the next week and you’ll feel so much better,” “I have a new moisturizer you should try, it only cost $3,000” — but it is reassuring nonetheless. It reassures the stressed friend that what they see as a major flaw or even minor annoyance is actually nothing at all, a triviality, a reason to relax and have a laugh. It’s like saying, “I wasn’t focusing on your body but if we’re going to, let’s enjoy it!” It takes a moment of anguish and turns it into a moment of connection and fun.
So the next time you’re despairing your love handles, or your friend is bemoaning her chest size, make a funny face and a dramatic gesture and say, “Are you flirting with me right now?” I bet you laugh and move on with your life, in that beautiful body of yours.
#1: Author Joanna Russ died on April 29th. She wrote science fiction and literary criticism, and I have The Female Man waiting in my Goodreads queue. Another one of her books had the best book cover:
#2: Zadie Smith has shared the shortest, most to to the point, list of ten rules for writers at the Guardian:
1 When still a child, make sure you read a lot of books. Spend more time doing this than anything else.
2 When an adult, try to read your own work as a stranger would read it, or even better, as an enemy would.
3 Don’t romanticise your “vocation”. You can either write good sentences or you can’t. There is no “writer’s lifestyle”. All that matters is what you leave on the page.
So far I have #1 down! Excellent. (Read the rest here.)
#3: The Rejectionist has a delightful (as usual) post on using female characters’ deaths as plot devices:
Racking up the (hot, slutty, dismembered) Lady Character body count to prove just how Depraved your serial killer is: NOT APPROPRIATE
The Lady Character randomly kills herself/is murdered solely to add Dramatic Interest to a Conflict between two Gentlemen Characters (aka the “Christopher Nolan”): NOT APPROPRIATE
I love that she named that last one. (Read the rest here.)
“The people making the rules are not the people in the kitchen.” So says my friend Leah as she explains the intricacies of kosher to a group of us as she prepared the Seder dinner for Passover on Monday. No mixing of meat and dairy, of course, but also why only matzo should be used and not regular flour, what fermentation is allowed and what is not, and so on. Some of it conflicts, or doesn’t apply to modern day life, and when we point this out, that’s when Leah points her chopping knife at us and says, “exactly.” Later, after we’ve finished the Haggadah and dug into our meal, someone asks about the rules on the Sabbath. Leah’s friend says that not only are you not allowed to turn lights on and off or make any money transaction, you can’t carry anything on the Sabbath. So, she points out, if you have a baby, you can’t carry your baby for a whole day. To get around this rule, you must be in an eruv, or ritual enclosure established by rabbis, in order to carry things on the Sabbath; this provides a literal loophole from the rule, allowing you to do basic things like care for your child. Again, Leah says, “the people making the rules are not the people in the kitchen.”
Those people making these difficult, impractical rules are, of course, men. Despite the fact that more women than men are religious worldwide, far more men than women are in positions of power and authority within any given religion (okay, except maybe for Wicca). Despite the egalitarian messages promulgated by the major world religions, every single one of them has something to say about the inferiority of women. Every single one of them has fought, or continues to fight, women’s desire for full inclusion. Roger Ebert, on his endlessly interesting blog, wrote a piece about this last December, and I encourage you to read the whole thing. He points out a couple different ways in which Catholicism in particular keeps women subordinate, and links to some videos with different takes on the issue in Buddhism, Catholicism, and Judaism.
Ebert’s main question is why do men have the upper hand in all religions, and his answer is bluntly, because they can. I think patriarchy’s roots are a little deeper and more complex than simply “men can physically overpower women so their word is always final,” but on some basic level, he’s right. Men have had power in just about every group of humans the world over for thousands of years, and frankly, once you get used to power, you’ll do a lot to cling to it rather than share it more fairly.
As you may recall, I’m not a particularly religious person anymore, but boy howdy was I when I was younger. I liked that there are rules, and that you have to follow them or suffer consequences—my middle school bullies suffered many agonies in my mind for their un-Christian behavior. I liked that there was a plan, that someone was in charge and knew what was going on, because I had no idea why the world functioned as it did and that freaked me out. And perhaps I had an easier time of reconciling my religious beliefs with my growing, changing mind because I went to a fairly liberal Episcopalian church. The main priest during my formative years was a woman, and I didn’t question whether that was the norm until an evangelical classmate told me my congregation was going to hell because it was led by a woman.
That stroppy boy got me thinking and questioning more deeply about the similarities and differences between his branch of Christianity and mine, and whether there were too many upsetting similarities for my comfort level. By the time I finished college, I was no longer a practicing Christian. Now I’m a Creester, showing up to Christmas Eve and Easter services only, tuning in for the beautiful music, the comforting liturgy, and the familiar community of people who raised me.
There’s the part that means so much to so many, and explains in large part why women remain committed to their religions despite the regular reminder that they are less than; it’s the community. My parents have found a community of kind, irreverent people at their church, and they wouldn’t leave them for the world. They are bound by a common belief system, but even within that there are varied thoughts on any topic you can name, from when to kneel and cross yourself to the divinity of Jesus himself. For them, it’s not how precisely they agree on every topic, but rather the willingness to return week after week, year after year, to ponder spiritual questions and share their lives with one another. They’re a beautiful group of people and one I’m proud to know and be an ancillary part of.
Still, it is ironic (yes, truly ironic) that the major religions, which have done so much to keep women down in every possible way, are full of women who defend those religions, attend their services regularly, and make them central to their lives. In that sense, religion is not the opiate of the masses that Marx so famously referenced, but rather the biggest power play ever made, and the greatest trick men ever played on women. If I think too much about the particulars, I get real furious real fast.
Which is why so many women take religion into their own hands. They return to the original texts, they seek out alternative histories and commentaries, they share what they’ve learned with one another. They ordain themselves. They convince the governing body of the religion to change its mind and ordain them. They nurture the communities they hold so dear and seek relentlessly to find an honest place in their lives for the religion that means so much to them.
While I find it difficult to reconcile the very real oppression of women by the major religions of the world with my desire for a spiritual life in a larger community, I understand the desire to do so, and I understand the women who continue to go to services and profess belief in a faith that excludes them on a basic level. This week is Passover and Easter, and as we go through Holy Week (as it’s known in the church), I’ll be thinking of the women who grapple with these issues in their religious lives. I’ll be thinking of Mary Magdalene, the first person to see Jesus after he rose from the dead. I’ll be thinking of Miriam, the prophet some fill a glass of water for during Passover for her essential role in the liberation of the Jews. I’ll be thinking of the women who are in the kitchen and making their own rules.
Photo from http://www.lib-art.com/tag/catches.html
Welcome back to another round of The Headly Surprise! Today’s honoree is Vera Farmiga as Alex in Up in the Air. This 2009 film follows middle-aged Ryan (George Clooney) as he crisscrosses the country firing people for companies too chicken to do the firing themselves. It’s a bleak premise, and the movie carries that feeling throughout, not least because Ryan is, by nature and by habit, kind of a dick. He gives lectures on how to stay emotionally disconnected from others, and he has a trunkful of reasons why his job is helping people rather than devastating them. Of course, Ryan is played by the puppy-dog eyes and aww-whatever-I-did-I-promise-not-to-do-it-again-baby half-smile of George Clooney, so we can’t totally hate him.
Our wayward hero meets Alex in a VIP airline lounge, and they bond over car rental discounts and credit card miles before having a passionate night in Ryan’s hotel room. They sync their calendars to meet up again in various cities around the country, as both their jobs keep them almost perpetually on the move. All goes well until Ryan’s young colleague Natalie lectures him on using Alex instead of committing to her. [**SPOILER ALERT**] Ryan feels inspired to ditch his emotionally stunted viewpoint, and he surprises Alex at her Chicago home in one of those grand romantic gestures that the movies have primed us to receive for decades. But uh oh! Alex is furious that he’s shown up, since she’s married with two kids, and he could ruin her home life with any displays of affection. Ryan returns to Omaha and his previous life a bit sadder and, of course, a bit wiser.
Alex’s Headly Surprise status rests in the way the movie handles this big reveal. There’s no commentary on how her cheating is immoral, or how it makes her a bad mother. In fact, the movie does a neat job of setting Alex up to be a Manic Pixie Dream Girl character, there to help Ryan find himself without having her own personality, needs, or desires; it then inverts those expectations by showing that this part of her life, which is so central to Ryan and the movie, is merely in her periphery. Her real life is with her family, and Ryan, fond as she is of him, is just an escape.
And she made no bones about that. Sure, she never told Ryan she was married, but from their first encounter, she sets up their boundaries so they’re both on the same page; she wants a no-strings-attached, uncomplicated, passionate affair. This is what Ryan wants too, and it’s why they work so well together, at least until he starts to fall in love with her. Then Natalie gives him that push over the edge into acknowledging his feelings and suddenly he doesn’t just want a passionate affair anymore.
About Natalie’s speech: she’s not wrong to tell a grown man to stop leading a woman on and tell her how he really feels and take steps toward building a life with her. She just happens to be wrong in this instance because she doesn’t know what Ryan does, namely, that Alex explicitly said what she did and did not want. Alex even expresses this at the end of the movie, saying how surprised she is at Ryan’s hurt, since she never said she wanted more than what they had and she’d thought they were on the same page with that.
This is a wonderful example of listening to what a woman says instead of listening to what you think she means, or what you want to hear. We are far too ready in these United States to dismiss a woman’s words as game playing or indecisiveness, rather than her actual thoughts and feelings. This has very real and dangerous consequences, of course–see all the men who stalk women who have told them they aren’t interested, or the men who rape women who say no, or the legislators who tell women that they don’t really want an abortion no matter what they say. There are other, less physically harmful, consequences to this line of thinking, too, like assuming a woman must be coyly angling for a commitment when she says she needs no such thing. This robs women of their agency and reinforces the idea that they’re untrustworthy, scheming beings instead of autonomous individuals fully capable of making their own decisions and expressing their own desires. If our needs and wants aren’t heard when we plainly state them, it’s no wonder some women start speaking in the code that’s expected of us, just to eventually get the desired result one way or another.
Anyway, Ryan is clearly upset by what he sees as Alex’s betrayal, but he doesn’t argue with her that she was anything but upfront about their relationship. The film honors her character as a three-dimensional person who makes the possibly ill-advised decision to cheat on her husband without punishing her explicitly. It hurts her to lose Ryan, but we get the sense that her life will carry on without him pretty well, and she’ll maybe think of him wistfully in a hotel here and there. That kind of complex characterization is rarely afforded to women who cheat in film; they’re usually shown as sluts or too simpleminded to make up their minds about which man to love more. Alex knows which man she loves and builds a life with, but she’s not above finding some good times on the side as she travels for one-third of the year. She’s not perfect, but she’s not a devil, and for that, she earns The Headly Surprise.
All right, dearest fellow travelers, let’s get real political. There are now bills actually under consideration in these United States that explicitly call for women to die, and the worst part is we as a country aren’t even paying attention. “Stop exaggerating, Lisa,” you may be thinking, but check out HR 3, the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” the purpose of which is to codify the Hyde Amendment and make abortion access virtually impossible for poor women, or HR 358, the “Protect Life Act,” which intends to establish so-called “conscience clauses” in the case of abortions that would save the woman’s life. [By the way, if you are already convinced about this topic, skip to the end, where I list easy steps you can take to make your voice heard. As the blog post title says, you can afford those five minutes, because we can’t afford to go back 40 years.]
You may have read about an earlier version of HR 3, which sought to redefine rape to mean only “forcible rape,” as opposed to statutory rape, rape of incapacitated or mentally handicapped people, incest, or date rape. So basically, the last forty years of feminists educating people about the many different and terrible ways men can force themselves upon women and other men without physically holding them down or threatening them with a weapon — those years of work were going to be swept aside and rapists, who already hold too much power over their victims, would now hold all of it. Thanks in large part to pressure from groups like the Feminist Majority, NOW, NARAL, and Planned Parenthood, as well as the Twitter campaign #DearJohn, spearheaded by Sady Doyle and aimed at telling House Speaker John Boehner just how reprehensible the bill is, the forcible rape clause has been removed.
But sliding in right behind it is HR 358, which explicitly states that if a woman goes to a hospital in a life-threatening situation, and she requires an abortion to save her life, she can be turned away in order to salve the doctor’s conscience. Yes, you read that right: If a doctor decides that he is “pro-life” and it is against his belief system to perform an abortion and therefore end the life of a fetus, he can refuse to perform that abortion, even if that means that the woman carrying that fetus dies. Life-threatening situations aren’t exactly known for allowing a lot of time to find a different hospital with doctors who will perform the operation, and if you’re in a small town with only one hospital, you are out of luck. You are literally DEAD because the government has legislated your death.
How is this not front-page news? How are only progressive bloggers (and let’s face it, almost all of them women, at that) and left-wing websites the ones reporting on this clause? American women, wake up! Your government wants you dead. One hundred and twenty-one congressmen have co-sponsored HR 358. One hundred and twenty-one people in positions of power have outright said that your life does not matter. The best part is that it’s not as if the fetus is going to survive anyway, in these situations. So rather than save one life and unfortunately lose another, these people are encouraging doctors to step back and watch both woman and fetus (mother and child) die.
I know that abortion is an uncomfortable topic. Many women tell me they could never have one, and that’s okay. You have that choice. But it takes more than just telling other women they can have an abortion if they need to in order to truly be pro-choice; we need to support women in all of their reproductive choices, not just look embarrassed and turn the other way and say “oh Roe will take care of that.” Because the truth is that Roe is being chipped away into nothingness, and in its place we have ever more stringent laws put in place by lobbyists and legislators who take advantage of the fact that abortion is an uncomfortable topic.
If I want to have a baby, let me have a baby. If I don’t want to have a baby, don’t make me have a baby. Don’t hem and haw and hedge about which conditions are acceptable and which ones aren’t, or which women should have easier access to what they do with their own bodies. Don’t tell me it’s more complicated than that. It isn’t. I will do what I like with my body, and you will do what you like with yours. Too bad that you don’t like that I have multiple sex partners, but your religious beliefs about what that means for the state of my soul have nothing to do with me, and to force those beliefs on me in the form of law goes against American principles of liberty and independence, not to mention basic morals and decency. I may not like what you do with your body, and you may not like what I do with mine, but that is irrelevant. You’d think small government advocates, of all people, would be able to understand that.
A special note for my male readers: I get that abortion is a topic that makes you especially uncomfortable. It’s much easier to talk about revolutions and the politics of war and unions, since those are all things you can be a part of, whereas pregnancy is not something you are ever going to personally experience. If you’re a progressive man, chances are you’re pro-choice in the same general way that you’re pro-gay rights and pro-environment, but you don’t much go beyond that. Maybe you feel like you have nothing to add, since you aren’t a woman. Don’t take that easy cop-out! It is vital that we have male allies who take it as a matter of course that all women have legal, safe access to this medical procedure. Not to mention legal, safe access to the contraceptives that can prevent such procedures in the first place — as half of the equation that causes unplanned pregnancies, you’d better be campaigning for easier access to birth control (ahemover-the-counterECahem). Don’t kid yourself that women can be part of your labor movement, your environmental movement, your revolutionary movement if they don’t have access to reproductive health services. They can’t be there for you if you won’t be there for them. It’s in your own interest, if that’s the final push you need to get fully involved in this issue.
And if you’re not a man who is generally involved in political issues, well then, there’s this old chestnut: What if it were your sister/daughter/friend/wife/mother? Statistically, you know someone who has had an abortion. Statistically, you know someone who has been raped. Act according to how that makes you feel, according to how you want those women in your life to be treated.
I have followed the Egyptian revolution closely these past few weeks, and I have cheered for the Egyptian people as they have brought about democracy with perseverance, eloquence, and a unified will. Don’t think for a moment I don’t think their fight is important. But let’s bring our attention into a wider focus. Our domestic situation is dire, and we need our own perseverance, eloquence, and unified will to reveal the “culture of life” for what it is — a death sentence for American women.
I know we are all busy and have a lot to do in any given day, but this will take literally five minutes of your life, and as I said in the title of this post, they are forcing us back to days that are, frankly, unimaginable to me and most people of my generation. Give Five Minutes Now, or They’ll Take Us Back 40 Years.
Okay, so a thousand-word tirade has convinced you and you’re fired up. Now what? You know I wouldn’t leave you hangin’, baby. Here are some very simple steps you can take:
1) Write to your representatives. Everybody! If your rep is a co-sponsor of either of these bills, definitely write to them and voice your vehement disagreement. They need to know that a loud part of their constituency does not support their actions. If your rep is a strong pro-choicer, write to them and ask them to be loud in their opposition to the bill, rather than staying quiet on it. We need loud champions in the House and the Senate both. If your rep is somewhere in-between, write to them to urge them to vote against this and all anti-choice legislation.
2) Sign a few petitions opposing the bills. Twitter away about this with the #DearJohn hashtag to raise awareness; don’t let it all slip away under cover of the health care bill, the economic wrangling, or international events.
3) Get out there and march, old-school style! Walk for Choice 2011 is going on in cities all across the country (and even overseas in some places). On Saturday, February 26th, have a hearty brunch, then meet up for a noon walk to bring visibility to this issue in your hometown.
4) Write to your newspaper. Sure, this is about as old-fashioned as it gets, but the fact is that a lot of people still read the newspaper rather than the Internet to get their news, and a lot of voters read that Letters to the Editor section. Get their attention! Something like this: “The current attack on women’s lives in the US Congress is reprehensible and un-American. Rep. Christopher Smith’s (R-NJ) proposed legislation, HR 3, would make permanent a law that prevents women from using Medicare to obtain abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or when their own lives are in danger. This bill clearly affects poor and uninsured women the most, and its passage into law would put an even greater burden on them when they are at their most vulnerable. The bill’s addendum, HR 358, goes even farther in devaluing women. It allows doctors to refuse to treat a dying woman if doing so would mean performing an abortion. We cannot allow the government to legislate the deaths of thousands of American women every year. Both bills are an attack on the American values of liberty, independence, and a dignified life. Our legislators must reject this legislation and introduce stronger protections for women’s health and their lives.”
5) Donate money to organizations that work full-time to ensure women, men, and children have safe access to reproductive health services no matter their income level. Title X organizations like Planned Parenthood are also under attack right now under a different bill, so they can especially use your precious dollars right now.
Here is a fantastic, comprehensive list of resources (scroll down a bit), including ways to donate money, scripts for talking to your congressperson, and how to sign various petitions.
Fighting to survive: HR3, HR358 and the war on womens’ health by Sady Doyle (on how co-sponsors of these bills are literally killing their base, which seems a foolish move)
Denounce Republicans? When there are Democrats co-sponsoring HR 3? by Shannon Drury (drawing attention to the hypocrisy of the DCCC in this situation)
Meet the HR3 Ten: Heath Shuler by Sarah Jaffe (introducing us to the Blue Dog Democrats who co-sponsor these bills)
The House GOP’s Plan to Redefine Rape by Nick Baumann (one of the original articles on the issue)
Abortion does not harm mental health, study says by Alicia Chang (so there goes that argument — spoiler: this is not the first study that has proven this, and not a single study has proven the opposite)
Chipping Away at Roe… and the Definition of Rape by Melissa McEwan (on how this gives rapists a road map on how to avoid conviction)
I used to be a pro-life Republican by Andrea Grimes (on how realizing that abortion could affect her personally changed her views radically)
What Would Shirley Do? by Linda Greenhouse (on Shirley Chisholm’s work to debunk the myth that abortion is “racial genocide”)
Nancy Pelosi brings it: “We have to make this issue too hot to handle.” by Maya (blog handle) (kudos to House Minority Leader Pelosi and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand for starting http://www.stophr3.com/ and acknowledging that this is a serious fight that needs serious fighters)
Anti-Abortion Bills Surging Through Capitol Hill–and States, Too by Miriam Zoila Perez (keep an eye on your state’s legislature, too — denying women their right to choose isn’t just for Nebraska anymore)
The Anti-Choice Suffering Agenda by Thomas Macaulay Millar (if personal anecdotes don’t do it for you, this simple, logical breakdown of how all these laws are clearly about punishing women and not about saving babies will)
House Republican Spending Cuts Target Programs for Children and Pregnant Women by Pat Garofalo (once you are forced to have that baby, don’t expect any support to raise the child)
On Labor by Ta-Nehisi Coates (a heartbreaking story about just how real maternal death is and how fundamentally unfair it is to require women to undertake that risk if they don’t want to)
And finally, a bit of fun:
Felicity Huffman and William H. Macy sing a ditty from the perspective of a good, conservative woman — who still wants the government out of her underwear. Highly enjoyable!
AND MOST FINALLY:
If you’ve read this far, I hope you’re convinced that your action is needed on this issue. I encourage you to leave a comment saying what action you’ve taken, so that we can build a visible record of involved citizens. It’s so easy to say, “Well, other people are working on that,” but I think if we say it right here, we can see just how vital our own voice is in the struggle for human rights, and how simple it is to raise that voice.
Thanks for reading.
That’s right, Alaska, you use conservatives’ logic (and word choice) against them in the abortion debate! (Too bad it didn’t work and the damn parental notification law got passed anyway, but still. This is a thought for future fights.)
Bloomberg’s staff deliberately misconstrues the Seneca Indian Nation’s protest of his offensive shoot-em-up comments; whether the cigarettes should be taxed or not is not the issue when a high-profile government official states that another US government official should “get a shotgun” and say “the law of the land is this, and we’re going to enforce the law” to a tribe of people who have been at the wrong end of a shotgun courtesy of the US government too many times to count over hundreds of years. (Via.)
Possibly you’ve already seen this, but somebody decided to make a trailer for a fake movie — and I want to see the full-length. Jane Austen’s Fight Club! (Thanks to Sessily for the link.)
What have you seen/heard/read this week?
UPDATE: I just read this excellent piece by Timothy Egan, which breaks apart who is spreading what lies about Obama and why it matters. Wake the hell up, America; you’re better than this.
Hello dearest fellow travelers. Here’s something new! I thought I’d start a feature that rounds up some of the best and worst of the political/cultural news I run across each week, so you can get even further inside my brain without getting too Malkovich about it. And since usually the good and bad news is still news and therefore always kind of a downer, how about a silly element on the end of it? Something lighthearted, cheerful, adorable, or otherwise Unserious. If you’re already reading blogs with a political or cultural slant, probably you’re running into similar features, and maybe you won’t find much new here. But maybe you will, and then you will feel enlightened. Also, you can put links to other interesting articles in the comments and this blog will become a veritable font of information.
So here we go — the inaugural The Good, The Bad, and The Silly!
Erin Andrews urges Congress to pass a stricter anti-stalking law, one that would include high-tech types of stalking and emotional threats
As is so often the case, human rights are traded for money — prisons are set to profit big time off SB1070
As the Kalamazoo area reels from an oil spill, Democrats decide a majority in both houses and the White House, plus an oil spill disaster in the Gulf that has the country fuming, isn’t enough to actually push through tough energy reform (Via)
Also, check out this site and be sure to place it over your city. It’s truly disturbing. http://www.ifitwasmyhome.com/
What have you run across?
The state of Arizona recently passed SB 1070, which is a terrifying piece of legislation that mandates racial profiling, rewards paranoia and hate, and puts Arizona back at least 50 years. This is no exaggeration. Take a look at that NYT article — this law REQUIRES police officers to demand identification papers from anyone they suspect might be in the country illegally; it makes it a misdemeanor to not carry immigration papers; and it lets any citizen sue local law enforcement if they think this law isn’t being enforced. First we have Driving While Black; now we have Living While Brown.
This is the only law of its kind in the United States, but don’t think that doesn’t mean other states aren’t running to catch up. And don’t think for a second it isn’t racist. Check out Rachel Maddow’s short but effective rundown of the authors of the bill — longstanding members of groups whose explicit purpose is to make sure America’s majority is white. Who are most of the undocumented immigrants in Arizona? Latinos. So a law aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration is aimed at cracking down on Latinos. And how do you determine which Latinos are US citizens, legal immigrants, tourists, etc. and which are crossing the border from Mexico without official approval? No really, how do you tell? Even Governor Jan Brewer, who signed the bill into law, couldn’t answer that question. “I do not know what an illegal immigrant looks like,” she said when asked. But the police are supposed to know and make arrests based on that unknowable qualification? Is this like porn — I know it when I see it? Nope, pretty sure it’s like mandatory racial profiling — all brown people are immediately suspect.
My dad is always concerned that I consider the other side of the matter before taking a stand, which is good advice. So okay, people who support this bill are concerned about what, exactly? Sharing increasingly scarce resources with people who weren’t born here? Talk to your representatives about spreading the wealth a little more evenly. Losing your job to someone who braved brutal conditions, rape and murder on the trip from Mexico to the States? Even fairly conservative groups will agree that many undocumented immigrants do the work you don’t want to do, and in some cases their presence even raises wages. The increasing rate of crime in your state? Take a look at those who say they’re protecting the American way and then talk to me about rising crime rates. But mostly the support for this bill comes from many white Arizonans’ discomfort at the many brown faces they encounter on a daily basis. I hate to break it to you, but you weren’t exactly here first, and you were never really the majority.
I think the reasoning that most kindhearted but ignorant Americans hold is that it’s already illegal for these people to be here, so what’s the big deal if they get caught? Well, a whole lot of people who have every legal right to be here are going to be caught up in this giant net that’s been cast, simply based on the way they look. What if they run a red light, as anyone is liable to do, and they forgot their immigration papers at home? White Arizonans would be ticketed for running the red light and sent on their way. Latino Arizonans will be ticketed, handcuffed, and brought to the police station for holding and questioning while they’re run through the system to see if they’re allowed to be here. Everyday lives will be dramatically circumscribed, as every action is weighed against the possible consequences from a hostile law enforcement body. And that’s just legal immigrants and citizens.
Undocumented immigrants (“illegal immigrants” confers illegality on a person’s very being and thus dehumanizes them, and anyway is less accurate than “undocumented immigrants,” so I won’t use it) face grave consequences for simply being out on the street when a police officer happens along and decides to take a closer look at them. The category of “undocumented immigrants” encompasses a whole host of people, including people who were brought here by their parents when they were young and know no other home than the States, people who are escaping brutal regimes and couldn’t gain refugee status but are still terrified to return to their homeland, and women who are escaping the more commonplace but equally terrifying regimes of their brutal partners. “Undocumented immigrants” does not equal “job-stealing criminals.” It equals “people.” It equals “you or me in a different situation, in a different stroke of luck or fate.” The consequences for undocumented immigrants under this law is families being ripped apart, wretched treatment in detainment facilities, forced deportation, and uncertain and dangerous futures. That’s the big deal if they get caught.
This law is not “misguided,” as President Obama has called it. It is hateful and wrong.
So what do we do about it? This roundup at Feministe has some suggestions. The May Day rally I attended in Daley Plaza certainly united people in a loud, strong voice against it. Even some law enforcement officials are outright refusing to obey the law. Write to your Congressperson and Senators; encourage them to work on strong immigration reform legislation in this next congressional session. Write to President Obama and tell him “okay job on health care, we’ll see if Wall Street reform works, now let’s get to immigration reform.”
And since this is a travel blog, as my friend Pam suggested, let’s consider the travel implications. It might seem a small thing, but I do believe every stand we take matters. Representative Grijalva has called for a convention boycott of his own state in protest of the law, and the city of San Francisco has already voiced its support. I’m just one traveler, but I can keep my money away from Arizona and its repressive ways. This isn’t even the only racist law they’ve instated recently — ethnic studies courses are now banned as treasonous, and the state Department of Education is removing teachers who speak with too thick a Spanish accent (even though a study shows that accented teachers might be better for their students). This is a state intent on enforcing a very narrow definition of “normal” and “acceptable,” and it is a state that needs to be stopped. Whatever we can do to turn back this tide of racism, xenophobia, and hatred, we must do. Of course, there are many people in Arizona and out of state who have worked tirelessly for years for human rights in Arizona, and there was a big push from a lot of groups prior to the signing of this law to stop it before it got to the governor’s desk. Unfortunately, their calls for reason and basic decency went unanswered in this case, but that doesn’t mean that’s the only answer they’ll ever get. Americans are scared, and scared people often do stupid things. We must help people see that fear is not the right way to live, or the right way to vote.
And that’s where travel boycotts come in. Pam asked me to consider the ethics of traveling to repressive places, and what I’ve come up with is this: There are varying degrees of repression in every single human-occupied place on this planet, so of course I can’t avoid them all, nor would it be right to do so. But I can refuse to support local economies with my money and my high praise if I find their laws reprehensible. This is a work in progress kind of rule, but I think it comes down to agency and power (as so much does). The residents of Burma, for example, have agency, as every human being does, but they have very little real power, because the ruling junta has it all. The brutal laws of Burma are terrible, but I might still visit there to aid locals (if they wanted me — not all foreigners are welcome, since Americans especially can cause more trouble than they’re worth there). A boycott of Burma might hurt the residents more than the state, and the residents haven’t yet been able to oust their repressive government in favor of another.
The residents of Arizona, on the other hand, have agency AND power. They have the power to nominate and elect legislators who will pass just laws and protect the interests of ALL residents, documented and undocumented alike. Instead, an unfortunate majority of Arizonans has elected cowards, racists, and calculating fearmongers to lead them, and so we get laws like SB 1070. I will not visit a state that elects such people. I will not give money to citizens who support such legislation. This is rough for the many, many Arizonans who work so tirelessly for equality and justice, but I think it is an important statement to make against those who work for the degradation of fellow humans. Arizonans have the power to change their government, their laws, and their way of life, and so I will hold them responsible for doing just that. I have a very good friend in Tucson, but I don’t think I can visit her until her fellow residents have worked out some of their problems. People are rightfully quoting the “First they came for…” poem, but as Problem Chylde says in a brilliant and impassioned post, “We no longer wait for them to come. First we fight.”
What do you think? What is the ethical approach to visiting repressive states? What is the right response as a traveler to unjust laws and fear-filled populations?
P.S. I know I’ve used the word “racist” a lot in this post, and I know that makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Generally I agree with Jay Smooth when he says that you need to address the action rather than the sentiment behind it, but sometimes you have to call a racist a fucking racist.