Category Archives: Politics

Pipe Dream: Pro-Life Pro-Choice Alliance

As pro-choice activists gather to defend Planned Parenthood funding under Title X the same exhausted fight over abortion rages on, one fraught with violence, anger and divisive rhetoric. You are either for women or against them, support babies or want to kill them. We scream our positions until we become deaf to anything but our own messages.

One pro-life person on Twitter said this:

can hear the #nyc4women rally from my window. Those words are loud and empty…. #prolife

We must ask ourselves how a woman could find a rallying cry for women’s rights empty. What in that message is missing? Continue reading

The Privilege of Pleasure: OSU and Tristan Taormino

A few weeks back I wrote about access to sexual information and how social privilege informs the sexual conversations we can access. The current controversy over OSU, Tristan Taormino and the Modern Sex Conference contains an excellent example of this dynamic in play.

You may have heard the hullabaloo over OSU’s decision to uninvite Tristan Taormino from delivering the Modern Sex Conference keynote speech. In response to public criticism OSU sent out a press release and today their spokesperson, Todd Simmons, commented on the situation in an Examiner article. In that article, part of his defense for the decision rests on the assumption that taxpayer dollars cannot be used to pay “somebody who describes herself as a pornographer”.

The thing is, pornography is not illegal and there is no statute I am aware of in Oregon state law that restricts the use of taxpayer fees in this way. He goes on to say that private universities such as Yale and Harvard had every right to book her because they are using private monies.

Welcome to the privilege of pleasure and sexuality.

This is the same general dynamic in sex education. Any groups using public money or grants (outreach organizations, public schools) restrict their conversations to the most conservative common denominator. Never mind that many OSU students want her to speak. Why should public university students have a choice in their education? That right is apparently reserved for private university students.

The way social hierarchies and privilege play out in every aspect of  our lives never fails to amaze me. Private high school students can have unquestioned access to issues about sexual orientation, gender, pleasure and agency while programs in public schools are vulnerable to moral panics and content restrictions. This serves to reinforce a sense of access and privilege in the world.

In a way, I understand why OSU administrators made this decision. Social conservatives don’t usually attack private universities on curricula or education issues. These are institutions for grooming the social elites and their attacks would go nowhere. But a public university is a much easier target to grapple with because of who they serve: the general public, the middle and working class.

At this juncture, I highly doubt they will rescind and reinvite Tristan. The only thing I can hope is the next public university that wrestles with a decision like this will take a chance and defend the intellectual freedom of their student population.

Emergency Contraception is Not an Abortion

The FDA recently approved (found via washingtonpost.com) a new Emergency Contraception called “Ella” and for some reason its prescription-only availability is being labeled as “controversial.” The only controversy I see are special interest parties using scare-tactics and misleading statements to compare this drug to RU-486 (mifepristone), an abortificant.

Let’s be clear: Continue reading

How To Protest Creepy TSA Searches

Creepy TSA
image via http://roguejew.wordpress.com

The TSA search practices have got to stop. Aside from being a complete invasion of privacy, the way they go about violating our personal space is wholly creepy. In light of the most recent reports of the TSA actions re-traumatizing a rape survivor and making a woman cry on her honeymoon, I’ve compiled a humorous little protest guide. Continue reading

STI Test Innovation: US vs. UK

In STI testing news over the weekend, the FDA halted over-the-counter sales of a testing service offered through Rite-Aid called Identigene and UK residents may soon be able to buy a cell-phone chip that, after spitting or peeing upon, can be plugged in and test for STIs.

First: how is the US lagging on this insanely cool nanotechnology? Consumers in the US only have access to urine-sample kits sent into a lab for processing. (I wrote about one such private service earlier this year.) The future of STI testing may be arriving soon, but not on this side of the pond.

Second: there is a big conceptual gap evidenced in these government agencies concerning STI testing.

Snip from the NYT Blog:

F.D.A. officials said they needed to first confirm the test was accurate.

There are “a lot of social implications if there is a false result, as you can imagine,’’ said Dr. Sally Hojvat, director of microbiology for the medical device division at the agency.

Another concern of the F.D.A. is whether people who test positive will have access to a doctor. Mr. Smith said Identigene has doctors on contract who will approve each test ordered and release the result. But he said the company could not ensure the doctors would talk to patients.

Snip from the Guardian:

Prof Noel Gill, head of HIV and STIs at the Health Protection Agency, the government agency that monitors infections and advises on containment strategies, said: “HPA surveillance has shown that the impact of STIs is greatest among young people and we hope that the application of new technology will help to reduce transmission of infection in this age group.

“This is an exciting research and development consortium which will develop new technologies that both improve and expand testing for STIs. As innovations become available, the HPA will co-ordinate large-scale evaluations within a network of collaborating STI clinics,” Gill added.

While there is no way to ensure with either technology that users will seek medical treatment, there is also no way to ensure a patient will take the antibiotics given to them. (Or follow any of a health professional’s advice. How many times has your dentist told you to floss?) The level of control exercised by the FDA on this matter seems mistrustful of consumers and favoring doctors. In contrast, the message from the UK agencies seem to simply be: “We’ll do whatever we can to get you tested.”

Personally, I don’t think the FDA should be restricting the public’s access to reliable STI tests. The most important thing is that the tests are accurate, accessible and results come with information on how to obtain treatment.

 

Feminism is not Misandry. Seriously.

Aside from crazy Halloween parties and the SF Giants winning the World Series, this weekend also saw the first anti-feminist conference, held in Switzerland. Lately, I’ve seen some men’s groups popping up that equate feminism with an all-encompassing hatred of men. Let’s set the record straight.

Feminism? not so much. (image via http://urbansurvivalguideformen.com/)

What Feminism is Not

  1. A hegemonic ideology. The stories we hear about feminism tend to fit the accepted schema (Socialist Feminism, Separatist Feminism and PostModern Feminism) but, in truth, feminist theories are highly divergent.
  2. A movement to destroy men. Social power is not a zero sum game. The reason this idea persists is because a) media gives the mic to the most radical viewpoints (Teabaggers anyone?) and b) people increasingly tend to focus on news items that confirm, not challenge, pre-existing beliefs.
  3. A conspiracy among women. Put five people in a room and have them order one pizza. Getting that small group to unanimously agree on pizza toppings is enough of a struggle. Getting hundreds of thousands of people to agree on how to ensure women’s rights is a never-ending argument and a far cry from conspiracy.

Putting Feminism Into Context

The one thing I think anyone calling themselves feminist will agree on: women have a right to agency, a right to make decisions about their lives. In short: CHOICE. And the forgotten fact attached to this is that women have historically (in some parts of the world, currently) not had a say in their lives.  Continue reading

Why the Alexa Di Carlo Thing Matters

A wise friend once said, in reference to dating, “It sucks to put your trust in an untrustworthy person.”

Truer words could not apply to the Alexa Di Carlo scandal. I think this paragraph from Expose A Bro, the blog that is outing Alexa as Thomas “Pat” Bohannan, sums up the accumulated violations pretty well:

Bohannan wasn’t just harmlessly getting his kicks maintaining an anonymous blog where he could live out fantasies of being a desirable woman. He knowingly spread lies about sex work, advocated unsafe sexual practices, had sexually-inappropriate online interactions with underage youth, all the while passing himself off as an academic and trusted adult who is trained in human sexuality. (Refuted here.) He used bold-faced lies about his qualifications to try and discredit real sexuality activists, and laughed at their setbacks. He stole images from real models and passed them off as him– implicating these innocent bystanders as suspects in his activities. He bullied one activist by harassing her via email, and gleefully celebrated the demise of a valued sex workers rights publication, $pread Magazine. He threatened to expose another sex blogger. He purposefully mislead and misinformed his large online audience about important sexuality issues. He tricked escorts into talking to him and having sex with him by using “Alexa” to vouch for him as being a safe and respectful client. (More escorts are talking privately about feeling violated by having had sex with this con artist.) He ran a “sex education” message board where minors trusted him enough to share nude photographs of themselves.

Providing sex education for young people is difficult enough as it stands: dealing with fundamentalist groups determined to eradicate any talk of sex in schools, worrying losing your job for uncensored sex discussions, struggling for legitimacy in academia, making your voice heard above the din of bad advice from recognized experts and even defending oneself from personal character attacks.

So when someone makes a fake identity and starts doling out sex information using false credentials, this job gets much, much harder.

And when young people come forward about this person soliciting nudie pics from minors? Sheer litigious rage bubbles forth.

(I’m not even going to get into a discussion about the deplorable way Bohannan allegedly used the false sex worker identity to gain the trust of actual sex workers so he could employ their services. Wrong. Really, really wrong.)

There are some people that insist this person was never using fake credentials, simply mentioning living in San Francisco and going to some graduate program here.

No. I’ll just put that notion to rest with some screengrabs after the jump. Continue reading

Have You Heard of Bayard Rustin?

Today, on the anniversary of the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington, many will recall Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s enduring “I Have a Dream” speech or the historic numbers for this peaceful demonstration in our nation’s capitol (Others are more likely discussing that one political provocateur from Fox News who is having a little rally today in D.C.) I want to take a moment and remember one of my heroes, a man usually forgotten by history.

Bayard Rustin: Civil rights leader, gone but not forgotten (image via jrcla.org)

Continue reading

Politicians and Privileged Prostitution

Ain't no party like a politician-prostitute party (image via Sugar Daddy Blog)

In a tabloided media world, few things hit harder than a sex scandal. Mistresses, gay escorts, faux-lesbian bondage clubs and high-class call girls rock and sometimes sink political careers.  Men in power apologize to constituents, often flanked by their dutiful wives, while pundits wag fingers over the increasing moral decay of our prostitute populated nation.

But is moral depravity endemic to cultures accepting prostitution?

Not at all.

Attitudes towards prostitution (like attitudes towards all sexual variations) swing with the changing tides of culture. Sometimes tolerated, sometimes weaved centrally into social fabric, prostitution has always existed in some form.

The forms prostitution takes reflect the social structures of the society in which they exist. In contemporary culture high-priced escorts sit atop the hierarchy relatively untouched by the law, while women working on the streets (particularly women of color) bear an inordinate burden of arrests. Ancient Greeks had their own structure with hetairai (courtesans, much like modern day escorts) and concubines for privileged male citizens. The Roman Empire had a similar structure, though prostitution was less accepted in Roman culture than in Greek.

In our culture that condemns and outlaws prostitution, the level of public ire raised by dalliances between men of power and prostitutes depends on the type of prostitute. White, educated women found through private escort services (such as the women hired by David Vitter through the DC Madame) generate a relatively low level of interest (unless the prostitute involved goes public, as in the case with Eliot Spitzer) while male escorts or women working in the street cause moral outrage and media calamity. (For more on social sexual hierarchies, read Gayle Rubin’s seminal essay “Thinking Sex”).

Social privilege in the sex-for-hire industry mirrors the social structure of privilege. Media glamorizes the heterosexual encounters between white, educated women and men of power while denigrating homosexual affairs and relationships with women on the street. When the public reproaches a politician’s sexual indiscretions, the righteous indignation is just as much over the affair as the type of sex sought.

This post is dedicated to my friend Andy W. for his financial contribution towards running this blog. Thanks Andykins!

Screw Critical Thought. Blame Women, Feminism, or Men.

In Ur Societiez Feminizin Yer Menfolk

My friend Lydia W sent me an email with the subject heading: terrible article you could have a field day with.

I clicked on the link. I read the article “Are Women Feminizing Men?“. My response was simple:

“I almost started crying when I read this.”

Matthew Fitzgerald (author of Sex-ploytation: How Women Use Their Bodies to Extort Money From Men, an evidence-free rook, aka rant book) managed to spit out some of the worst sexist stereotypes in two tiny pages with nary a source to back up his claims.

Blanket statements about human nature applied to one gender? Check.

“typical female hypocrisy”

“women — shrewd and manipulating as they are”

“[Women] use [power] for sexual blackmail…”

Painting men as sex-centered simpletons? Check.

“Let’s face it: A man’s needs are pretty minimal. All he really asks for is regular sex and a cold one.”

“most guys will do just about anything to get laid.”

Power-Crazed Women

He seems to think that women are mad with power and that our uterii are staging a media takeover, saying “far more influential are movies like Mel Gibson’s cotton candy pander-fest What Women Want”.

Really? Let’s take a peek at the top grossing films of the last decade.

TOP TEN FILMS OF THE 2000s

(unadjusted domestic gross totals)

  1. Avatar (2009)
  2. The Dark Knight (2008)
  3. Shrek 2 (2004)
  4. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006)
  5. Spider-Man (2002)
  6. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)
  7. Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005)
  8. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
  9. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
  10. The Passion of the Christ (2004)

Every last one was a male-centric plot line. Nearly every last one is an action movie. All of them were directed by men, produced by men and starring men. Women are a minority behind and in front of the cameras. (For insight as to why, read this Salon’s roundtable with 10 powerful Hollywood women).

Power-Hungry Women?

So what’s the real dirt on women and power in this country? Gender equality isn’t as equal as this guy is shouting about. Yes, women are making gains in education but at a time when educational systems are crumbling. Yes, women make up 52% of the workforce but in low paying positions. In the Forbes top ten richest there are two women from the Walton Family (Wal-Mart) but their wealth was inherited.

Really, the U.S. ain’t doing so hot with gender equality. According to the World Economic Forum, the U.S. ranks #31 out of 115 for equality. Read the WEF report here, relevant snip below:

The Global Gender Gap Report measures the size of the gender inequality gap in four critical areas:

  1. Economic participation and opportunity – outcomes on salaries, participation levels and access to high-skilled employment
  2. Educational attainment – outcomes on access to basic and higher level education
  3. Political empowerment – outcomes on representation in decision-making structures
  4. Health and survival – outcomes on life expectancy and sex ratio

The Index’s scores can be interpreted as the percentage of the gap that has been closed between women and men.

This was out of 115 countries. When I read about women’s lives in other parts of the world, I really want to cry. Rape, honor killings, systematic abuses, minimal autonomy. Horrifying. We so often forget that in our own country, women have only really been making gains over the last century. Women around the globe need a leg up after centuries of unequal treatment. Please read this article in the New York Times about women’s rights around the world.

So to the haters out there: women’s rights are still an issue. We’re making progress, but not enough. I struggle to understand why people (usually men) direct such vitriol at women trying to succeed in life.

What boggles my mind even further is that Matthew Fitzgerald’s writings center around women as shrewd manipulators using sex as bait. I read his book’s Amazon reviews to get a feel for his audience and what I saw…well, it’s disturbing to think he’s right about any people in the world. But what he says resonates with some. In half of the reviews people exclaim “OMG! Women are totally like that!” but the only women I’ve seen use their bodies for financial gain were sex workers. So, women of the world using sex for manipulation: stop lying. Go ahead and be a sex worker. It’s OK. Just be upfront and tell the guy you’re fucknig him for rent money or a new purse.

And to the guys complaining/writing about those women: stop dating them. There are plenty of women that enjoy their financial freedom. There are also women that enjoy sex for its own sake.

At the heart of his writing, and much of the anti-feminist parading as anti-misandrist writing, is a very true frustration.

Are Equality Policies Rooted in Sexist Thought?

“The modern man walks around on eggshells, afraid of saying the “wrong thing,” scared of showing his natural sexual interest to a woman, scared of being scorned, humiliated, or even fired — scared of his own true self.”

Exaggeration (and heteronormative) but a phenomenon I see with some men of my generation. They’re…. Peter Pans? No. Hesitant is a better word. Prone to inertia. And I think the writer is on to something when he points out the role of politically correct speech and sexual harassment charges.

Before you get all riled up: sexual harassment is serious. Anyone in a position of power manipulating an underling sexually deserves punishment. But the way we lay out the law sometimes hinders equality and political correctness can be an ineffective solution.

I am thankful to have laws that prevent my higher-ups from sexually harassing or coercing me. But I resent a law on the books stopping someone from calling me “babe” or “chick”. I’m a grown woman and I should be able to easily say “Stop it”. If I have to, take the matter to a higher-up and keep pursuing it. There is something creepily paternalistic about some of the sexual harassment guidelines, particularly when schools use suspension as a behavioral intervention for inappropriate touching. I am also frustrated with a world that lumps flirting with sexual harassment, that pegs any sexual move from a guy as predatory and aggressive. Sexism underlies these policies. We assume men to be sexually aggressive and women always dislike sexual attention and need outside intervention. The regulations are necessary but we need to look at ineffective and harmful aspects of these policies, lest our solutions create more problems than answers.

Which leads me to an uncomfortable question, still unresolved in my own mind: when we create policies to spur equality through encouraging preferential treatment for disadvantaged groups, should those policies only be short term? By carving them in stone will we, over time and gains in equality, have laws with unequal treatment? And are we sending the message that women need this protection permanently? We certainly need to give a leg up to historically oppressed and disadvantaged people but at what point can we resume an even playing field? Do permanent laws of preferential treatment hurt in the long-term and uphold racist and sexist ideals?

The Blame Game

Whatever the answers to the above questions, one thing is certain: we cannot sit and point fingers at other groups or nebulous ideologies. Yes, it’s comforting name our monsters but ultimately misleading. Men are not at fault for all the world’s problems. Women are not at fault for the current masculinity crisis and anxieties. Feminism (whatever you think that is) has not ruined gender relations. Agitated, yes, but that needed to happen. The old gender order wasn’t working.

But when we agitate a cultural bedrock like gender roles we need to think critically about how to reconstruct gender relations in society. Some would say eradicate gender, but I disagree. You will find cultures with two, three, four, five or six genders but you will not find gender-less socieites. So while I feel so sad when I see inflammatory, gender-stereotyped, sexist analysis that plays the blame game, I know it’s a mistake to write it off wholesale. Just because someone else won’t engage in critical thought (or provide any evidence to back their claims) doesn’t mean the frustration isn’t valid.

The problem is not feminism or women withholding sex. It’s that we need a new construction of masculinities, alongside femininities, that deal with harmful aspects of male gender while encouraging men to shine and succeed in life. We need to deal with the sexist man-bashers of every gender. We need to deal with restrictive gender roles in general because the times, they’re a-changin’.