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27 February
a liberal case for bush. sorta.
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Maybe I should vote for Bush.

It would be a dangerous bet, of course, but I'm thinking that in four additional years, assuming we're all so focused on him that we forget to vote reasonable folk into the legislative branch, he might really succeed in turning the country into something resembling a military theocracy. At which point everyone will feel dangerously and radically liberal, both in comparison and response to the government.

In other words, things will have gone so dramatically to hell that middle of the road Americans will find themselves wondering why gay people and women and people of any non-white color are still such second-class citizens. Why they themselves still feel like second-class citizens. And then, maybe, we'll have a brilliant groundswell of liberalism.

Alternately, nothing dramatic at all will happen, because liberals will be so pissed they actually start turning out to run for and vote for state-level positions and legislators, who then block every idiot idea W releases.

Meanwhile one of the left-leaning candidates from this year's Democrat pool will have had additional time to build a grassroots liberal organization with even a tenth of the lobbying power of the Christian Coalition in the early 1990's. And either that candidate or Hillary Clinton (who, let's face it, is totally running for president as soon as she reasonably can) will win in 2008. So the country will swing to the left-of-center position (or lefter) that reflects the true feeling of most people who can vote, and we might have the added bonus of a chick president and a return of the eight year party that was the Clinton I regime.

Look. It's pretty clear that the country swings left to right and back every four to eight years. So, if the choice is either Kerry, followed by a Bush-like clone, or Bush again, followed by someone truly liberal - or at least interesting - the risk of the latter option might just be outweighed by its rewards.

That said, I'd still have an easier time staying home in November than casting a vote for Bush.

[this entry was originally posted in my livejournal]


25 February
who's going to the march?
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I've been remiss in getting to the local meetups around the March for Choice/Women's Lives/whatever, but I think locals from Virginia are mostly taking big tourish buses up to DC for the March on 4/25.

I'm curious what other bloggers are doing, though. Are you joining up with a local delegation? Going it alone? With some friends?

I have a small group of local friends all planning to go, and maybe to stay over on Saturday, get a big hotel room or something. I'd like to meet up with others, but I'm not really about the tour bus. [Bad experiences. Smells.]


18 February
kick his ass, that's what.
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Morgaine writes the kickassyist subject lines for her WHB topics; i.e. What's a sister to do about Big Brother? (about the Bush administration's erosion of reproductive freedom, that is).

I think the NARAL, Planned Parenthood and NOW generally have news and action lists that you can join, and then use to stay informed and take slacker action (i.e. send emails and faxes that you don't even have to WRITE). Slacker action networks are a big deal.

Getting more choice-friendly politicians into minor offices would also help. The president, however visible, is hardly the only person making decisions that impact choice, health care, privacy rights, etc. It's equally important that your legislators, state and federal, be protective of abortion and other rights. So, if you have time or money, you damn well ought to be looking out for these local/state elections every year. I'm entertaining the idea of getting involved, or at least giving to, campaigns for liberal folk in other states - ultimately, even if Virginia sucks ass, my right to choose will be protected if other senators & representatives vote in my favor. If you're interested in doing the same, check out Emily's List and get busy. People on the "other team" are historically very, very good at supporting right-leaning candidates across the board.

And every conversation you have about choice or related subjects with a semi-sympathetic person is an opportunity to shift that person's perspective a bit. My dad and I, for instance, regularly tease each other about his willingness to vote Republican despite his general disagreement with both Bushes. I'm holding out for the day when this eventually shifts him towards my side. It'll happen.

What about when the candidates are there, though - when they aren't running? I don't think we've even scratched the surface of the civil disobedience possibilities around this issue. Certainly, women exploiting their health insurance to give friends the morning after pill is a start. But there is a lot more we could do. We could be more present at clinics, countering the anti-choice folk who sometimes congregate there. We could leaflet around anti-abortion "pregnancy crisis centers". We could stage imaginative protests of company health insurance that doesn't cover contraception by bringing dolls to the doctor or the office. There are so many possibilities.

And honestly, I know I haven't done enough here. I could do a lot more.


16 February
nannies & class
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I picked up a copy of The Atlantic Monthly at an airport last week out of curiosity over the cover article, "How Serfdom Saved the Feminist Movement". You'll have to leaf through a copy yourself to read the whole thing, but there's an interview with its author on the Atlantic's website, which serves almost as an abstract for the article proper.

The article itself is actually a massive book review, with a narrative that circles around several semi-recent works on the topic of the nanny as feminist icon/problem/whatever (of these, Domestica looks to be the strongest example). In any case, the article does a decent job of presenting multiple perspectives on the shaky practice of wealthy professional women hiring nannies to maintain their careers and the class issues this brings up. While it's clearly targeted at the Atlantic's wealthy professional demographic (and written by someone who is part of same), it takes to task some of the "oh, poor me" schlock written for that demographic recently, which I have to admire.

One thing that I found unsettling, though, is the presentation of the nanny-as-member-of-household concept as preferable to the modern disenfranchised nanny. Flannagan implies throughout the article that it's better to be secure in one's old age than to negotiate for oneself in the present, thus a Reconstruction-era nanny/mammie had things better than your immigrant nanny might. It's a very white, privileged view to take, particularly as most of the books reviewed/cited don't consult the domestic workers who are their subjects as to their personal preferences.

I'm curious, for those of you who have kids or have cared for kids (or have thought about either) - how much does class enter into the picture in your own childcaring interactions?


gay weddings en masse, narf
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The pictures look so happy.

It's about time.


11 February
all feminists are horrid sex-hating prudes
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Earlier this week, Kerri posed a question or rather a series of questions as we're wont to do on WHB about sex.

So. The intersection of feminism and sex.

Yes, there is a legitimate reason why feminists might be accused of being anti-sex. It may not be the only reason, though. The legitimate reason: there have and continue to be sectors of feminism that oppose any sort of power dynamic in sex, particularly penetration. For most of us, sex is about power on some level or other. It's not necessarily a bad thing. So, yeah, sectors of feminists that toss out words like "phallocentric" every other sentence and try to extricate sex from power sure seem against sex as it is today for most people.

But the other reason is that feminists, as a general rule, oppose aspects of the dominant paradigm of sexy. The beauty myth, for one. And that poses a threat to "sexy" as we accept it culturally. I think that and feminists who oppose pornography, sex work, etc. create this image for non-feminists of a monolithic feminist thought police. It's an absurd notion, but like all absurd notions has some connection to realityland.

I am personally, not particularly against porn. I'm not saying everyone needs to partake of things pornographic or other products of the sex industry, but I do think that we distract ourselves from better approaches to sex and sexuality when we fix on questions of decency and exploitation. Kerri, whom I adore for this, is always telling people to go out and make their own when they don't like something. I think prevailing cultural notions of sex are like this. When we avoid them (i.e. by squeamishness about them), we enforce what's already there, when we could be reshaping them.

So, the primary issue I have with sex as an industry is not about possession or objectification of people as sexual beings/objects. Because I think we like to reduce people to objects, we like to trade and label and commodify them. And ironically, I think the same motive that drives the beauty myth and the ability to sell sex and other things by means of sex also drives prejudice in general and our identity politics - thus, I am a Queer Person, I am an Anti-Porn Feminist, I am a Dog Catcher, or you are, or they are and we aren't - ultimately, we like that which can be simplified and traded upon. It's hard to say whether this is a result of our somewhat problematic culture or is simply built into our culture because that's how humans like things.

I do not think banning or not buying porn/erotica is going to change this. Nor do I think that selling sex is any more or less harmful than say, the current furor over fat and the subsequent alienation of more or less everybody from their bodies.

So, my problem with porn isn't objectification, but the object which is sold. Quite a bit of porn peddles the same narrow idea of beautiful that the average women's magazine sells. I am angry and frustrated that the range of readily available sex product is so narrow. I am also angry that so much sex product is designed for and by men, and that so much of what is marketed for women is so damned apologetic about itself. I'm not a vibrator, I'm a bunny, it says in all its pink gelatinous glory, It's okay to have an orgasm, as long as you're discreet about it. These cute little discreet designs are aesthetically pleasing, perhaps, but like all design they say something about what normal is - and what they say about normal is that women are supposed to be discreet and cute and girlish about desire.

That is not alright with me. Maybe the idea is that it will make more women comfortable with sexual desire, though, and I guess that's okay. Maybe getting a pink bunny vibe is just the first step for people who will shortly be demanding porn for the people. Maybe it's part of women's evolution into a people who will not be seen as passive sexual toys to be penetrated.

There are, if you step into a porn shop or look closely at what's available on Cinemax post-prime time, many examples of women being creatures of [sexual, at least] initiative in various types of porn. And certainly women who participate in various aspects of the sex industry have various feelings of power and strength as a result of their work or consumption of others' work. Not all of these empowering things take place in the utopia of independent feminist porn (cause, like everything independent and feminist, it occupies this itty little niche in the culture/industry), and it does seem like the porn has changed a bit over time, incorporating - and sometimes twisting - notions of women that the larger culture has gradually accepted as a result of feminism. Like the sexually aggressive woman thing - it's no longer only the purvey of fetish porn, but of any porn. Of course, it's still a stereotype (like, hot stupid poolboy, for instance), which makes it that much more relatable and saleable.

Back to the sex industry - beauty myth connection, though. There is almost no remotely mainstream porn that does not trade upon the tiny range of size and type that is considered sexy in our culture. I think anyone who is familiar with, say Suicide Girls or That Strange Girl can confirm that independent porn draws heavily on that limited range. Is it progress for a tattooed, pink haired skinny woman with large breasts to be considered sexy? Not so much. The internet is, as the song goes, for porn, though - and I'm glad that there are so many diverse sites out there imparting knowledge and catering to all the weird shit that gets people hot. The very presence of something in the culture normalizes it over time, so maybe sex will get more and more normal.

That said, a lot of discussion of pornography centers on the problem of who is allowed to be sexy, but never on who is allowed to not be sexy. One of the things Kim pointed out somewhere in the discussion is this judgement of women in terms of their willingness to have sex, their perceived value in terms of sexiness being a huge part of their value, period. I do not think porn is more than accidentally related to this - that is, porn doesn't cause or enforce this standard, but is influenced by it - but I do think that conversations around feminism and sex need to recognize that being private about sex, or even asexual, might be perfectly valid choices.

It doesn't matter, for instance, if you have a healthy relationship or not, if your aversion to saleable sex is the result of prudishness on your part or past history or whatever - if you don't want to be exposed to porn, you shouldn't have to be. I don't want to be exposed to diet ads or diet conversations, and I suspect it's much the same feeling to be unexpectedly assaulted with a Slim Fast commercial as a naked breast. It shouldn't be assumed that because I'm dating a guy, at some party or watching television, that I will be okay with these things.

Those of us feminists who consume and enjoy sex products ought not assume that a "good" feminist must also do so. Nor should those who disagree with us assume they have the right to impose their distaste for these things on the rest of us. There is not one feminism, and there is no one "true" feminist take on sex - other than that we should be free to make choices.

In defense of the "pro-sex feminist" as concept and self-assumed title - for every anti-porn feminist who accepts that sex products are a valid choice for others to make, there is another (or at least .5 of another) who calls herself a feminist but believes that every sexual image is inherently oppressive of women and who will declaim this opinion shrilly at every possible opportunity, with the goal of removing all sexual overtones from our culture. And yes, I do mean calls herself, not is. While it's a mistake to generalize about others, there certainly are anti-feminist undertones (i.e. that women are always victimized by porn because we can't defend ourselves against or actively choose it) to some "feminist" anti-porn rhetoric. If you are an anti-porn feminist and I call this other "feminist" an alarmist prude, it is not the anti-porn stance as a whole that I am attacking, but alarmist prudishness masquerading as feminism. The intention of "pro-sex" feminists is to establish a distance between them/ourselves and those who claim feminism without claiming all women's right to sexual choice (in all its variety); while it may be counterproductive to seek that distance over confederacy with other feminists, there is a logic and a history behind that distance.


04 February
replacing sex with food
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Not too many years ago, two women talking on Monday morning about how they had been bad over the weekend might have been referring to some sort of sexual escapade. Nowadays they would most likely be talking about going off their diet and eating something that wasn't on their good food list. From Tech Central Station - read the rest of the article.

This hypothetical situation represents a lot of the issue with the "obesity crisis" for me. It's not really about fat.

I know, I've said it before. And the likes of Jean Kilbourne (despite my annoyance with her doomsdayishness) have said it quite a bit. But I think I have some new insights now.

It comes back, in a way, to education. I'm coming to believe more and more that our current approach to education creates problems for a lot of people around acceptance and good/badness. Obviously, I'm not just talking about school systems, though they're a big part of this - parenting tendencies, media influences, all of these things have a tendency to divide people into gradations of fit with the norm or goodness - essentially, grades.

If you combine that predilection towards numerical indications of goodness of fit with a religious tradition that also focuses on sin and purity, I think you have the essence of Americans' twisted fixation on dieting.

It's all about sex, yo. But you know that. It's puritanical fear that indulging in what we like is so very very bad for us, which also abreacts into this need for distance. Sex is for procreation or it's dirty; fill up absurdly on fast food.

But it's better than sex, this food obsession. Because we can talk about it. It's considered perfectly work-appropriate; you can always talk about who has and hasn't lost weight and how much and how, in great detail, you did it. Diet talk is all about grades and numbers, and feels just nosy and prurient enough to satisfy our urges for naughtiness while reassuring us that we're fine and upstanding.

Plus, as I am constantly saying, it's the perfect distraction from anything else we think we can't help - crises personal and global alike.


03 February
are we fighting the same fight?
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I got into a discussion on a complete stranger's LJ post about bisexuality today that was pretty typical of the tension between the gay and bi communities in general. Her contention is, among other things I agree with to varying degrees, bisexual people are better off than gays (particularly legal-rights-wise).

I don't run into that many gay people who believe that bisexuals have it better. I suspect that most gay people (at least those of my cohort and older) have been closeted at some point in their lives, and this gives them the insight that living in the closet feels tremendously, tremendously oppressive. Everyone who is not straight experiences others' implicit assumption of your straightness, for instance. And having been closeted, I think it's pretty easy to see that being able to be legally out and open about your relationships with people of one gender but not another person who you might feel the same about doesn't mean you're fighting a completely different battle than someone who feels they can only be attracted to their same gender.

The fact that I have a male partner now does mean that our relationship is not legislated against, but it does not decrease my experience of being legislated against as a person, as I know that if circumstances change, my relationships could be faced with an entirely different legal status. I would expect that most bi folk don't think of their sexual preference and attraction to people as something they could easily compartmentalize in such a way as to ensure they were always on the right side of marriage law.

I don't contend that bisexual people have it worse than gay folk - but the notion that we aren't fighting the same battles for rights seems absurd.


stupid media kerfuffle
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My co-workers, who are known for a complete disregard of the line between work-safe and its opposite, were - I kid you not - huddled around a close-up photo of Janet Jackson's breast this morning, talking about how icky it was. A bunch of people on LJ have been talking about this in the same context as the most exploitative porn. Yesterday, the Glen Beck guy on the conservative talk radio was railing about second-rate halftime talent wrecking family values, and I was deeply confused as to what he was trying to say (not having seen the Super Bowl, which is NOT covered on NPR). Today he lambasted Howard Dean for saying the FCC ought to focus its attention on other things that could be bad for kids (yeah, like the 6PM news). And Katie Couric thinks it's nasty; Pat O'Brian disagrees.

My personal reaction when I read what had actually happened could be summed up in the following: eh, Justin finally got Britney back for that whole Madonna kiss thing; guess that means he's winning the breakup wars according to whatever that thing was on MTV with the animated boxing gloves. [Yes, my personal reactions are this shallow.]

This is stupid. We don't even need to be talking about this.

And this is why most Americans laugh at anyone of strong political belief, because it will eventually expressed as either the aforementioned talk radio program expressed it, or it will come out in the "feminist" claims that Janet Jackson is yet another symbol of passive feminine sexuality, as she did not rip off her own shirt. Basically, it's people like Glen and the LJ feminist communities that make us all look a bit absurd.

It's just a breast, a body part that all little kids have likely seen. It seems highly unlikely that she was not complicit (I mean, she was the one wearing a snap-off cup with no bra under it).

Get over it, America.

Also. This is related to Kim's male nudity/Justin Timberlake post, at least vaguely. There's this idea that the female body is inherently and entirely sexual if nude, while the male body is only sexual in one part - the penis. Of course, the penis is so intensely sexual that just showing one apart from any sexual situation in a movie is grounds for a more serious rating than the goriest of gory action/horror movies, while a bevy of topless or otherwise near-nude women is just background noise.

I understand that people have different feelings about nudity, and that some people legitimately are just annoyed that they were unexpectedly exposed to boobies when they had no reason to expect boobies during their football game, but the resulting media kerfuffle is wholely unnecessary.

If you're really that upset by nudity, ask why female nudity is used to titillate vastly more, and why unsexual naked body parts are considered worse than real-life or fictionalized gore and violence. And do something about that.


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