Political Roundup

Tenacious Feminist: political roundup with comfort kittens

Morning, all. There’s an awful lot going down this week and it’s only Tuesday morning. I’m going to give you all a quick roundup of current political fires and their implications. Pardon the swears.

Georgia Election

Today’s the runoff election in Georgia between Jon Ossoff (D) and Karen Handel (R). Now we’re all for supporting other women, but we’re not about supporting women who would oppress other women. Handel is a nightmare for civil rights, who sees her Christianity as a reason to oppress gay people (see video here where she condescendingly avoids a question about Georgia protections for LGBTQ people, and here’s a Slate piece on her opposition to gay adoptions). Ossoff, on the other hand, has spoken about his support for LGBTQ issues. It’s a major stakes election with serious implications for the national arena. Godspeed, Jon Ossoff.

Gerrymandering
orange kitty
Sleepy orange cat knows gerrymandering is garbage.

The supreme court decided yesterday to take up a case regarding gerrymandering, the heinous practice of reorganizing voting districts to benefit one particular political party. Gerrymandering has been used to dilute, for example, the voting strength of certain areas. A neighborhood whose demographics and voting history might suggest leaning Dem can be split, its parts then added to larger areas that lean Republican, drowning the Dem voice. Gerrymandering, regardless of who it benefits, is just wrong and linked to oppression of women and minoritized voters. To quote the Washington Post, “The court accepted a case from Wisconsin, where a divided panel of three federal judges last year ruled that the state’s Republican leadership in 2011 pushed through a redistricting plan so partisan that it violated the Constitution’s First Amendment and equal rights protections.”  Here’s hoping.

Islamaphobia in Virginia

A young woman in Virginia, Nabra Hassanen, was kidnapped and murdered on her way to her mosque after getting some middle-of-the-night snacks with a group of friends. Virginia is currently not going to prosecute the case as a hate crime but as an incident of road rage. The murderer came upon Hassanen and a bunch of her friends in the street, got into an argument with them. As the kids dispersed, he caught Hassanen and beat her with a bat. Her body was found in a pond.

Let’s not kid ourselves: even if Hassanen’s murderer did not intend his “road rage” to be a hate crime, his victim was a Muslim woman. She wore a headscarf, so both her gender and relgious identities were visibly performed. The crime belies the US’s (and the west’s more generally) growing problem with Islamaphobia and its ongoing problems with violent misogyny. Few consider yet where the two intersect.

And in the UK

Similarly, a British man drove his car into a group of Muslims, killing one and injuring several, in the UK. The UK, for all of its many problems, is at least wise enough to consider this attack a form of terrorism, unlike the US where ‘terrorism’ is a term that only applies to people of color.

Domestic Violence
gray kitten
Angry gray kitten is fed up with this trash.

Last week’s shooting at a baseball practice in Virginia by a man who had volunteered for Bernie Sanders has led in totally expected directions. The right claims the left supports such action (they seem to forget they’ve labeled the left as gun-taking, so, uh) and leaves out altogether that this jackass had a record of…wait for it…violent misogyny! We know that domestic violence often portends still further violence, but the way the right has dropped that bit of information suggests that they don’t consider domestic violence a problem or a harbinger of anything.

But of course, these are the same people who encourage curtailing the Violence Against Women Act (45 has big plans to gut related budgets and his minion, Sessions, is no fan of it). I think you could make a pretty good case that America’s lack of f**ks given about women has dramatically increased at the federal level since January, not that it was ever spectacular to begin with. This country pretty much accepts violence against women as a given. Such violence can be both blatant, as in the case of husbands hitting wives, and subtle, as in the fallout from medicine-related decisions.

The Senate “Health Care” Act
kittens
These kittens likely get better maternity and neonatal care than most Americans and are sorely disappointed in us.

Which gets us to point 6, the nefarious plotting of the “health care” act by the Senate. In case you haven’t followed that story, there are 13 people planning a replacement act for the ACA behind closed doors in the Senate with the intention of ramming the bill through with only a few moments of debate or time for senators to read it. The plotters are all white. They’re all men. They’re all conservative.

Such actions, besides being in violation of basic precepts of American democratic functioning, yet again speak to the ways in which the system gives no f**ks about women and people of color, nevermind when these pieces intersect. This is a bill that’s going to be awful for most Americans. Its construction and framing suggest a particular “f**k you” for anyone outside white maleness. And white maleness is a political identity–it’s only normative because we have accepted it as so. When we fight against “normativity,” resistance follows from more than just the white men themselves.

Call It What It Is.

To that end, the WaPo had a pictorial essay last week that got on my nerves. “New poll of rural Americans shows deep cultural divide with urban residents” offered more fodder for the “it was economic anxiety” explanation of the last election while leaving largely unexplored the implications within the piece about race. More rural people see limited opportunities, it essentially says at one point; more rural people blame immigrants, it says at another. Most rural people are white, it goes on. Further, it claims, “the largest fissures between Americans living in large cities and those in less-dense areas are rooted in misgivings about the country’s changing demographics and resentment about perceived biases in federal assistance.”

Connect the dots, people. What the WaPo outlines is indeed economic anxiety, but we can’t untether that anxiety from racial animosity. People often deeply internalize such sentiment regardless of no validation via experience or evidence. This sh*t is getting so old. (full disclaimer: I grew up in a rural area, albeit in a wealthy, northern state.)

And to wrap it up…
disbelieving cat
This cat just can’t even believe it.

In case you missed it, Bill Cosby, despite admitting he drugged women, and the cop who murdered Philando Castile, as video so clearly shows, are both going free. The layers here of fame/race/misogyny are deep and troubling.

And that’s your political roundup, folks. While a lot of progressive change is happening, the regression is fierce. We’re going to have to resist over the very long haul and do what we can to be educators for change. I find this a challenge, myself, but it’s the responsibility of all of us who believe in equity, freedom from violence, and civil rights to keep going.

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How To Build Robots and Alienate People

how to build robots and alienate people

According to some technology news sources, the day of sex robots is upon us. I for one, do not welcome our silicon soulmates.

I consider myself an ardent futurist, the rare modern-day believer in the power of technology and the potential of progress. I am not the sort who fears artificial intelligence and robotics. I look forward to a utopian future full of human/machine interaction. However, there is one way that I feel that humans should not be interacting with robots, and that is as a replacement sexual partner. Rather than humanizing machines, this technological development will mechanize and degrade humans in the eyes of users. The interest of heterosexual males in sex robots is a symptom of a patriarchal society and rape culture and is a serious concern for women and modern feminism.

Born Sexy Yesterday

The trope ‘Born Sexy Yesterday’ is a theme, prevalent especially in fantasy and science fiction, in which a female protagonist enters a story in an adult, sexualized physical form, but with the brain of a child. The ignorant woman drops into some manner of conflict in a confusing, chaotic setting, and the male protagonist of the story rescues the naif, educates her, and brings her up to speed. Of course, in the process, the young woman and the heroic father(ish) figure fall in love (and have sex, onscreen or off). Leeloo, the orange-haired female lead of The Fifth Element, and Quorra from TRON: Legacy are just two of many examples.

At first this seemed to me a corollary to the fairy tale princess, or even the ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’ trope, penchant for oddly colored hair included, but upon further examination, it is something more sinister. The dream girl in this case is a COMPLETELY blank slate. Everything this woman knows, or at least the important stuff, is provided by the male hero. Every step in the education of our sexy newborn is a series of unlockable achievements that culminate in her ultimate status as a sex partner. It is a video game in which the ‘win screen’ is male sexual fulfillment.  

Enter the Sex Robots
Samantha
Samantha, from Digital Trends

Sex robots are the exact sort of ‘gamification’ of the quest for sex illustrated in the ‘Born Sexy Yesterday’ theme. Rather than a fully passive object, the ‘bot requires a series of interactions or steps for ‘activation’ but not truly for the purposes of teaching it, or actually interacting with it in a meaningful way. Instead, it  is rather for the purpose of ‘unlocking’ intercourse. These are simple devices, more machines than robots, so the ‘game’ is rather easy to ‘win’  

“Samantha” will allow sexual activity only after a kiss and a few other physical interactions registered by pressure sensors. “Harmony” can hold a superficial ‘conversation’ before sex and can simulate orgasm “on command”. This is not even treated like a Non-Player Character goal in a well-designed video game, where the ‘needs’ of others factor into the gameplay. The user need not complete any task other than “command” simulated female sexual response. There is no alternate goal, all paths lead to sex with a semi-animate humanoid for the satisfaction of a user.  

It is a Nintendo with Benefits

If this particular type of human/machine interaction continued indefinitely in an isolated ‘couple’, it would likely be harmless to the society at large.  One could argue that a sex bot may even be helpful for people who don’t interact well with others. However, no human exists in such complete isolation. The person who has sex with a robot/thing will eventually interact with another person.  Being habituated to the program of the type described, in which the interaction with a sex robot by definition always resulted in the end game of sex, bodes ill for the relationships of the user with actual women, whom he may see similarly as objects for sexual consumption. Young users would be particularly susceptible. Youth access to sex robots is not unimaginable in a world where the average age of first exposure to pornography is 11. ‘Sex-gamers’ may have difficulty realizing that the real world and the world they inhabit are not a game.  

A Step Closer to Black Mirror Territory

We already live in a world where some men view women as little more than sex objects. Such objectification runs rampant in the male-dominated online communities of gamers and trolls.  What then of a future in which an actual ‘sex object’ designed to look like a woman exists? It seems entirely possible that, consciously, unconsciously, or in some combination of the two, the sex-robot user, would come to see women in a similar way, as a game in which the objective is to ‘unlock’ sex by going through superficial motions. It is troubling that someone would view another person in this way. It is also troubling that the sex-robot user would likely be in for a rather rude awakening. What then would be the result?  What would be the outcome of being confronted with the truth that women are not simply programmed to be the recipients of hetero-male sexual attention?

Men whose primary social interaction is of the digital variety have committed violent acts, claiming lack of sexual attention as their motive. In an online video, Santa Barbara mass-shooter Elliot Roger’s claimed he wanted to punish women for rejecting him and as part of his spree, opened fire on a sorority. He was a member of a misogynistic online group for the purposes of picking up women, and other members of his virtual community mirrored his violent ideas. Other mass shooters in recent memory have blamed their violent deeds on not having a girlfriend or even “the growing power of women”. They invariably post their misogynist manifestos to sympathetic online onlookers.

Men who believe they deserve access to sex often perpetuate sexual abuse of women. The seamier areas of the net abound with this type of thinking. Misogyny abounds in the online ‘troll’ community: trolls threaten women who have ideas they dislike, or who have ideas at all, with violence and sexual assault. The crowd-sourced, voyeuristic dating service created by Jon Hamm’s character in the “White Christmas” episode of Black Mirror is not too far from today’s dark internet underbelly. It is not unbelievable to think that further acts could be committed by frustrated men with an oversimplistic, oversexualized view of women, further amplified by the availability of always-‘willing’ sex toys.

Building a Better Geek-Trap

Further adding to the potential creepy Black Mirror-ness of all sex robots is that they can be designed to user specifications. Appearances are exaggerated to the point of fetish.  Impossibly large breasts, anime eyes, MPDG hair colors, and other options can be customized and ordered. Once again, this warped view of female perfection based on an immature, fantasy-based hetero-male ‘ideal’ is unrealistic and contributes to a view of women as sex objects that must conform, in this case physically, to the desires of others. These unrealistic female proportions abound in anime, video games, and science fiction/fantasy entertainment. This is not to say these genres and misogyny are inexorably linked. In fact, the best of this genre is in fact highly progressive and even empowering of women, but there is a trend towards viewing women unrealistically in these media outlets.

Did Scar-Jo Ok This?

Finally, what are the likeness or intellectual property rights related to sex robots?  An episode of the animated program Futurama lightheartedly tackled the issue of illegal downloading when the main character Fry downloaded the likeness and personality of actress Lucy Liu into a generic robot body, much to the chagrin of the real Lucy Liu, or at least her head.

Dude.
Scarlett Johansson robot, Wired

An experimenter recently created an interactive automaton of actress Scarlett Johansson, allegedly to ‘fulfill a childhood dream’.  What then, are the rights of the real Johansson? What say does she have regarding the robot’s likeness? It is an extension of stalking, and one that is entirely without legal protection for the victim. It is also telling that Johansson has roles in many recent films popular with that may in fact be the prime sex-robot audience. She plays Black Widow in Marvel superhero films, which have been criticized for their marginalization and objectification of female characters.  Black Widow is excluded from the toy line and the tee-shirts, but gets a bootleg sex robot? Go figure. Geek culture does not have to be antifeminist, but often is so, and recently seems to be taken a sharp turn in that direction. It is also linked with the online community and its less-than-progressive elements.

No Ghost in the Machine

In addition to all of the above concerns, what of the actual emotional needs and psychological growth of the gamer? The argument that this interaction is harmless and merely a different type of relationship is incorrect. Any relationship with a sex robot is merely an echo chamber, worse than the most insular online communities.  It is a singular voice, mirrored and parroted back. The interaction is narcissistic to the extreme, and will merely reinforce ideas of the user, even dangerous or counterproductive ones such as I earlier noted.  

In a real relationship between humans, both parties synthesize new ideas which enter the conversation. The parties can dissolve the relationship if new ideas prove too difficult to accept or incorporate. With sex robots, there is no introduction of new ideas.  What can be provided by a subhuman intelligence programmed to fulfill orders, and which cannot even leave the bedroom under its own power? There is no ‘relationship’ with a sex robot.  There is a static interaction, from which one party is incapable of leaving. The worst elements of a socially marginalized male with unrealistic, fantasy-based views of women and a fragile sense of his own masculinity could be frighteningly amplified in this situation.

Feminism, Humanism, and Sex Robots

The ramifications of a world in which sex robots exist is a feminist issue, and as such it is inherently a humanist issue. Objectification and oversexualization of women is an issue in today’s world which has the potential to be exacerbated by use and misuse of technology. We cannot afford to be push it off until the late stages of development, as early adopters and adapters are already on the scene.  The future is now, and the future, like it or not, will involve human interaction with robots. It may begin by having some rather strange conversations. Not having these conversations would be a mistake. We must lay down guidelines for the future development of human/machine interaction, not only for the development of devices, but for the retention of our humanity. We are on the verge of a great technological change for our species, but we will have to pay serious attention to the best of what makes us human.

Today’s guest contributor prefers to remain anonymous. His professional work is firmly grounded in science and he has a decades-long love for the possibilities of science fiction as science reality. Except for sex robots. 

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Wynonna Earp, I Love You

What makes a show feminist? Is it the perspective it takes? The way in which women interact with each other, as well as with male characters? The dialogue? The “female gaze”? Today I’m going to sing the praises of a show you’ve quite possibly never heard of—Wynonna Earpa fabulous feminist show on SyFy that has all of these things, plus some.

“Well, sure, that makes sense”: Worldbuilding and Mythology

The premise of the show is this: Wynonna (Melanie Scrofano) is the latest in a line of heirs of Wyatt Earp. It is her job to defeat the Revenants, demonic reincarnations of the people Wyatt killed as a nineteenth-century lawman. They resurrect every time a new heir comes of age. She lives—of course—in a town called Purgatory, and she’s a hard-drinking mess who takes to her new task reluctantly. Recruited as a deputy by the ultra-classified Black Badge branch of the U.S. Marshalls (think Mulder and Scully, Western-style), she is the only one who can put the Revenants down, using Wyatt’s original gun, Peacemaker.

By now I’m sure you’ve got an eyebrow raised. After all, you note, Wyatt Earp didn’t even have children! He had no heirs! Ssh! Stop thinking so hard!

Eye Candy Everywhere
Wynnona and Waverly Earp
Wynonna and Waverly Earp

Wynonna’s circle is small. Her main ally is her sister, Waverly (Dominique Provost-Chalkley), who may be my favorite character, as she uses her historical knowledge to fight demons. Wynonna’s other allies are her Black Badge boss, Dolls (Shamier Anderson), and Doc Holliday (Tim Rozon), granted “eternal longevity” by a heinous witch. Both of the men are eye candy in different ways (you might not dig Doc unless you’re into that Tim Olyphant in a cowboy hat kind of look).

In contrast to so many shows with female eye candy, however, these characters are also well-developed. Imagine. This kind of setup plays with the idea of the female gaze; instead of the male gaze (in which most people and things are set up in a way to convey and create male pleasure), women are clearly in control.

 

What, your body doesn’t move like that?

And while I haven’t read the comic book on which the series is based, a quick eyeballing of one of the original renditions of Wynonna will suggest some serious differences.

Wynonna herself is shamelessly sexy, and she self-consciously wields her sex appeal as a tool on at least one occasion—when that doesn’t work, she sends in Doc to do the same. It’s that kind of playing with expectations which makes the show charming and resonant. It’s willing to take risks in departing from the usual women-and-men playbook, risks they pay off in spades.

 

“When I See Something I Like, I Don’t Want to Wait”

The sexual tension on Wynonna Earp contributes further to its feminist perspective. You might be expecting Wynonna and either of her male sidekicks to be oozing the stuff, but in fact the thickest sexual tension on the show is between two women: Waverly and a new cop—Nicole Haught (Katherine Barrell). That’s right—the cop is Haught (pronounced hot). My husband calls

Officer Haught
Officer Haught

them HaughtWave. (You’re welcome.) It’s a refreshing change from the usual pace of these kinds of shows, and the dialogue between Waverly and her boyfriend, Champ, compared to her dialogue with everyone else gets to the point quickly: women are more than just pretty things.

“I was just thinking I needed another man to tell me what to do today, and here you are. Awesome.”

Which gets to the next point: some of the writing on this show is fantastic. Wynonna is no damsel—we’ve watched ten episodes and she’s only been in active distress once, but because she’s the only one who can use Peacemaker, she always has to save herself, a refreshing change. Doc once remarks, “She ain’t anybody’s but her own,” which pretty much sums up Wynonna’s self-reliance at the end of the day. The female characters are legitimately strong and complex, rather than just one trope (strong) or the other (vacant/undeveloped/always in distress).

In addition to the above, check out this delightful snippet:

Champ: How can somebody so pretty be so smart, huh?

Waverly: Because they’re not mutually exclusive.

It’s that kind of feminist writing that might remind viewers of early Buffy the Vampire Slayer and keep them coming back. If you’re into campy feminist demon westerns, this is the show for you.

Available on Netflix, Season 2 of Wynonna Earp starts June 9 on SyFy. All images belong to them.

 

 

 

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‘Liberal Anxiety’ is not the Problem, Colonial Feminism Is: a Response

A response to Salon’s “Stop Making ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ about Your Liberal Anxiety”

We haven’t yet spent much time talking about basic feminist principles that undergird the philosophy and movement here in the US, but today I want us to launch a bit ahead and talk about its relationship to colonial and post-colonial feminism. 45’s trip to Saudi Arabia, Ivanka Trump in tow to talk about female “empowerment,” and a Salon article on The Handmaid’s Tale moved this topic to the front of my list. They’ve all introduced problems we can label as colonial feminism, and here I’ll talk about what that means, particularly in the context of feminist movements over time and that Salon piece.

Second- and Third-Wave Feminism, Highly Abridged
A women’s march in the 1970s. Library of Congress photo in the public domain.

American feminism, particularly in the 1970s’ second wave, suffered from a narrow vision that limited its impact. Chiefly, it was white women’s feminism and middle-class feminism which got the most traction, leaving the needs of women of color, working-class women, and so on out of the conversation. We’ll delve into all of this further later, but in a nutshell, what the movement was missing was intersectionality. Interesectionality is the idea that people have multiple variables to their identities beyond just “woman” and that such elements shape their needs and goals as women. Missing that, second-wave feminism did not represent many issues beyond those women of the white middle-class.

Third-wave feminism is generally much better at intersectionality than second-wave was, but still struggles with using that lens to see the rest of the world. Such a problem often gets bound up with a “savior complex” that centers, intended or no, on implicitly white goals.

So what’s Colonial Feminism?

Here’s how the problem usually goes: we know what we want here at home in terms of feminist goals. To summarize, without intersectional contours or details, the umbrella generally includes political, social, economic equality, as well as reproductive health access. (Again, these are just the big elements—we’re not getting into, say, the problem of rape culture, what it means when people can’t recognize pay disparities based on gender and race, or even the basic constructs of power here in the US. All are topics we’ll talk about later, but not here.)

Then, we look overseas and we see other women, many of whom live in situations less feminist than our own. Saudi Arabia is usually a good place to look as its misogyny is so blatant, but other countries—other women—often get the same gaze from Americans. And then we assume they must want our values as their values, and when we seek to “help” them, we often do so with that lens firmly in place. In doing so we don’t ask those women what their feminism might look like, what their values are, what their goals might be. Thus the feminist lens we use is a colonial one. We assume they a) want our help and b) want it on our terms and thus we embody a colonial ethos, reminiscent of political colonialism in which people (white men, chiefly) told people in other countries (usually POC) what they wanted, and that it was good for them, through their white, colonial lens. Yes, there’s a huge difference between actual colonialism and a colonial feminism, absolutely—but the comparison makes sense for our purposes here.

Corley’s Take
From Hulu.

Salon published an essay on Saturday titled, “Stop Making ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ about Your Liberal Anxiety” that got me thinking about all this. It’s written by Deirdre Corley, who’s got some editorial experience at publications like the Hairpin; this essay appears to be her first out there on its own. I feel kind of bad pulling it apart, but here we go. The gist of what she’s saying is that we shouldn’t spend time writing think pieces on the ways in which we see the Handmaid’s Tale in our current US or speculating on its possibilities when women live in Gilead-ish societies now. Those societies should be our focus.

To wit:

“For a title that has received a more thorough exploration of its meaning and place in society than most, rarely are the lines drawn to other modern societies outside the U.S. where people, and women in particular, are suffering Gilead-level oppression (or worse) at this very moment. It seems that Americans now only have one lens to view things through, and it’s tinted orange.”

Now if she were encouraging women in or from those societies to pen their own think pieces, she’d have a nice point. But the problem is that what she says next about Saudi Arabia can be taken to be more broadly applied, and that’s where the trouble begins:

“Clad in robes, blinkered by headpieces, unable to travel without an escort, and barred from controlling money or property, the women of Gilead look quite a bit more like the women living under Saudi Arabia’s guardianship system than your modern American woman does or likely ever will.

While women in Saudi Arabia gained the right to vote in 2015, the mix of state and socially sanctioned rules they live under mean they still require the permission of their male guardians to travel or use most social services. They’re even banned from driving cars (though not bikes any longer). When thinking of the kingdom’s dress code for women — which includes the form-covering abaya and head-covering hijab, often paired with a full-face veil — it’s difficult not to draw a parallel to the Handmaids’ robes and face-obscuring hats. This, from a functioning, recognized state that recently received a seat on the U.N. Women’s Rights Council.”

Linda Sarsour. By Festival of Faiths from Louisville, United States. CC license.

Many Saudi women have worked for change in that nation to weak results (in contrast to Ivanka Trump’s claim that the country is great about women’s rights, a comment she made after they gave her foundation $100M). And while you and I would firmly reject a state-mandated dress code, the way in which Corley talks about that dress code implies that the dress is the problem, rather than the existence of the code itself. After all, plenty of women wear conservative dress by choice and don’t feel “blinkered” by those choices. Further, because of the nature of this essay, she’s implying (however unintentionally) that conservative Muslim dress is the real problem, Again, this approach disregards that many women choose hijabs, and some even choose burkas, as a reflection of their faith, and still fight a feminist mission. Linda Sarsour is a stellar example here, as is this 2015 HuffPo piece.

Thus…

When Corley makes her argument, even as she takes pains to say it’s about Saudi Arabia, she is, however unwittingly, indulging in a colonial feminism in which the (white, non-Muslim) American way is implied as superior to a Muslim way. If we’re not to express our “liberal anxiety” through analysis of The Handmaid’s Tale, it’s because our life is still far superior to others. There’s a condescension here that ignores the extremely difficult lives plenty of American women lead, some in rigid religious circumstances, others hamstrung by the ways in which the systems of power we have limit certain women’s access to power, control and opportunity.

Lastly, Corley implies that we can’t care about both the erosion of our democracy AND the status of our sisters in other countries. We can worry about both, but let those women lead the way in determining what solutions to their oppression might look like.


(Incidentally, I feel like there’s an essay in here on the intersections of colonial feminism and conservatives who insist 45 isn’t the problem because some countries have Sharia law. Maybe someday.)

(Also, look at Iran pre-1979: they, too, didn’t think a fundamentalist revolution could happen in their cosmopolitan country—a little “liberal anxiety” guarding our values is rarely a bad thing.)

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For the Love of Rosa Diaz

Rosa Diaz
Image from IMDB.

If you don’t watch “Brooklyn 99,” you’ve shortchanged yourself by missing out on Rosa Diaz. Diaz, played by Stephanie Beatriz, is a take-no-shit detective with a deadpan take on pretty much everything. What I particularly love about Beatriz’s character is the way she turns stereotypes about women on their head. She’s deeply uncomfortable with emotions (as am I, so I adore this about her). Children baffle her, and she treats them like foreign objects. Best of all, she’s rarely lacking in self-confidence. She’s a loyal friend and intense lover, but rarely reveals these things about herself. Beatriz plays her to perfection.

Detective Rosa Diaz, Tenacious Feminist salutes you as a hero to feminists everywhere.

You’ve got a few minutes to kill until the 99 starts–entertain yourself with these Rosa Diaz gems, collected at Buzzfeed.

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Don’t Waste Time: The Handmaid’s Tale’s Easy Authoritarianism

handmaids, authoritarianism
Check out this photo of women in Texas surrounded by men with guns, and you tell me the likeness to elements of episode 3 isn’t eerie. Property of The Advocate, http://bit.ly/2pDVc5a

I’d avoided watching episode 3 of The Handmaid’s Tale for a while because I knew what it contained: visual depiction of how easily the revolution established authoritarianism in what became Gilead. Having read the book, I knew this part was coming, but watching it during these particular weeks felt that much more ominous than when I read it for the first time, twelve or so years ago.

In case you don’t know the story, here’s how it goes. There’s an attack on Congress, leaving few alive. It’s labeled a terrorist attack, and people step into the vacuum and establish martial law “for the duration” (in quotes because it’s a pretty quintessential thing to say in times of war). The constitution is suspended, allegedly temporarily. And before long, as adherents to the coming revolution multiply, surfacing here and there (in episode three there’s an aggressive guy in a coffee shop visited by June and Moira), the executive orders also multiply, and no one’s protesting in large numbers in the streets until it’s too late. The show does a good job of showing isolated adherents and protestors in the flashbacks to the earliest stages of the revolution; mass protests don’t even quite erupt when the government declares women working illegal and they’re all summarily fired. It’s when women lose access to their money—all electronic, like ours often is—that people take to the streets. By then there are men with machine guns everywhere, and they’re not afraid to use it to make their revolution more permanent.

Anyway.

Margaret Atwood once said there was nothing in the book that hadn’t already happened in our world, and I’ll be damned if 45’s America isn’t giving her additional fodder for a sequel. I’m a bit dramatic, I realize, but let’s be honest—there’s only so much separating one coup from another, one dictatorship from a different one. We were out in the streets for the first several executive orders, but where have we been lately? As EOs come down limiting LGBTQ rights in the name of “religious liberty,” where are we? And last week’s health care bill, which deliberately and carefully (or, alternately, stupidly and unthinkingly—I’m not sure which is worse) placed women in second-class citizenship for being women, making their health care easily more expensive?

As I’ve said to students time and again, why do we call things like reproductive care “women’s issues,” whereas we’re all supposed to be concerned about, say, prostate cancer? Why aren’t “women’s issues” everyone’s issues, which would foster a more egalitarian health and social system?

I’ll tell you why. Because once we do that, we can’t charge women more if they’ve been raped, or if they’ve carried a baby to term, while also defunding Planned Parenthood—which gives women wide access to contraceptive care, cancer screening, and abortion services. As a bill, the AHCA condemns women for existing: all stages of our life are now more expensive. And we’re paid less in the process.

Where are the people in the streets? We cannot make the same mistake as the women who became Handmaids. We cannot assume—as our dear leader fires those investigating him and people like Paul Ryan, who would rather institute Atlas Shrugged than stand up for his country, support him—that the country’s systems are going to save us. We cannot just be Twitter warriors. It’s important that we come out for major, planned marches, but we also need to be out there ALL THE FUCKING TIME. I say this as I’m firmly ensconced in my office, typing away, drinking a cup of cold coffee. I realize my hypocrisy.

But I’ll never be a fucking Handmaid, and neither should you.

If you want to protest in real style, you can knock out these easy tutorials for a cape and a bonnet and join others out there in Handmaid gear (note how that article is in HuffPo’s ‘Women’ section and scroll back up to ‘women’s issues’ in this post).


Here’s a cloak tutorial. It calls for fleece but you could likely make it out of shirting or other red fabric. https://www.fleecefun.com/long-hooded-cloak-pattern-free.html

And here’s a bonnet tutorial. To make it look closer to those on the show, you’d skip the trim and the chin strap, get rid of a little of the bulk in the back, and consequently have fewer pleats. http://www.sunsetfamilyliving.com/pioneer-bonnet/

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The House Hates Women and their Pesky Bodies: the AHCA

Warning: Many, many swears

Yesterday was a long day for a whole host of reasons, least of which was the passing in the house of that bullshit bill they claim is about “healthcare.” I know it’ll likely die a swift death in the senate, but that it was passed at all—many people evidently not bothering to read it, but the general facts of which were easy enough to find—reaffirms the bullshit contained in the executive order we talked about on Tuesday. Women are second-class citizens in this country. (as are disabled people, seniors who are not wealthy, people with asthma, you know, most of us).

No War on Women?

Many people presented the bill yesterday as preserving the preexisting conditions rules that the ACA created. What they left out—and what became popular knowledge in the last couple of days—was that the MacArthur amendment to the original AHCA bill stated preexisting conditions can now be charged ENORMOUS surcharges and states can refuse to cover them. There’s also a sneaky provision in there that suggests insurance companies can get rid of out of pocket maximums. This combination guarantees that the rate of bankruptcies for healthcare reasons will skyrocket, once again, if this bill becomes law.

What are particularly galling are the conditions on the list of those considered preexisting.

For example, pregnancy. C-sections.

Let’s break this down. The people who passed this bill are the same people who go on about the horribleness of abortion rights, so at this point they are all about fetus preservation but not actual birth circumstances. They want to gut welfare, generally speaking, but want to cause women who have children to be gutted by their insurance plans. How can we raise kids—which costs serious money—if birthing them is a preexisting condition that costs a serious fortune on an annual insurance basis? The surcharge for pregnancy is $17000! We cannot afford to have kids, we cannot afford to not have kids. There is so much wrong with this situation, including that such conditions carry on ad infinitum–get insurance 30 years after having kid, that pregnancy is still a preexisting condition.

Next, a c-section—the modus operandi of many maternity wards—itself comes with a surcharge. Preferred by—ready?—insurance companies because it is allegedly less risky (which is generally nonsense, since it comes with all the complications of surgery), it is now also WORTH MORE TO THE INSURANCE COMPANIES when women have them. These bastards. These sick fuckers.

Let’s not forget that pregnancy is hardly a “condition” like cancer—it’s the basic ability we have to continue the HUMAN FUCKING RACE. Most women have children. This bill tells women to suck it, for being women.

But Wait, There’s More

But we’re just getting started, aren’t we? Because also on this list of pre-existing conditions are RAPE and DOMESTIC VIOLENCE.

This makes me so angry I can hardly type. Being abused is not a FUCKING CONDITION. It is not a lifestyle choice, like, say, smoking, that leaves you with terrible health outcomes. Making rape and domestic abuse preexisting conditions continues to victimize the victims of that violence, and will—quelle surprise—disproportionately harm women. What the changes mean, in practice, is that women will report rape and domestic violence less often, because they cannot afford the premiums for doing so. And the abusers, then, walk free.

Given that our current president joked about his abuse of women, WE SHOULD NOT BE SURPRISED BY THIS PROVISION. Our president is a chronic sexual assaulter, and now women may be compelled—LITERALLY—to pay for his abuse, or say nothing of it and save their hard-earned cash.

Know what’s not on the list? Prostate cancer. Erectile dysfunction. Color me shocked.

But hey, these guys seem really well-informed, so I guess we shouldn’t criticize.

Here are some sources:

http://nymag.com/thecut/2017/05/under-new-healthcare-bill-rape-is-a-pre-existing-condition.html?mid=twitter_nymag

https://twitter.com/lnlinder/status/855620193615323137/photo/1

http://www.cbpp.org/research/health/amendment-to-house-aca-repeal-bill-guts-protections-for-people-with-pre-existing

 

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This Isn’t My Idea of Religious Liberty

Free penguin!
Stock photos for “freedom” are hilarious.

Let’s talk about “religious liberty” orders.

I love the phrase “religious liberty.” It’s a great historical phrase. At one point, in a day when dissenting sects were anathema to the state religion, religious liberty was a rare thing. Hell, even in our current day, mosques are burned to the ground and those who worship in them likely hold their religious liberty tightly to their chests. But the phrase “religious liberty” has been used in the last several years as a mask for rigid homophobia in the name of sectarianism; it blatantly contradicts our constitution in multiple places and yet people trot it out as though it’s necessary for constitutional protection. The latest incarnation—an executive order anticipated tomorrow—is undoubtedly like state orders that have recently passed, designed to disproportionately impact gay citizens and which has implications for all of us.

Recent History

Religious liberty orders grew apace when gay marriage became legal. They work like this: if a person feels that serving someone or doing something is against their religious beliefs, they are spared from having to serve that person/do that thing. Most orders “liberated” homophobes from, for example, having to bake a wedding cake for gay clients if that homophobe felt their religion prohibited them from doing so. (A well-known case in Oregon, which didn’t have such a law and made a baker pay a fine, seems to have inspired many since 2015: (See this LA Times story)

This line of thinking, that those providing service should do so in line with their beliefs, is the same one that formed the basis of the Hobby Lobby SCOTUS decision of 2014, which impacted women. If you don’t recall, let me help: Hobby Lobby did not want to provide contraception coverage for women in their health care plans as per the ACA’s requirement. Their argument: Doing so was against the Hobby Lobby’s owners’ religious beliefs. Providing that coverage was, Judge Alito wrote, a “substantial burden” on the Hobby Lobbyers, who felt—contrary to most scientific belief—that contraception prevents a fertilized egg from implanting.

That’s right. They won this case based on NOT SCIENCE. Effectively, they did not want women to control their fertility if Hobby Lobby money was in any way involved, even if people paid in to their premiums (as the vast majority of us do). Such a situation makes a nice preamble to what’s coming. (Here, read about it in the NYT)

Frickin’ Scalia

Now in the past, even Justice Scalia—stalwart conservative—spoke against the potential overreach of religious freedom acts. In 1990 he noted that such acts, “would make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself.” But three years later, under the Clinton White House, congress passed a federal act, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which has been refined and upheld a couple of times, and intends for a strict burden of scrutiny to apply to any claims. During the Hobby Lobby arguments, dear old Scalia insisted—in response to his peers’ questioning whether the women working at Hobby Lobby’s religious beliefs were infringed by having to acquiesce to the owners’—that the 1993 act did not require the parties’ religious objections be balanced. And so, despite the not-science and the selectivity of Hobby Lobby’s lawyers (so people can still eat shellfish, right?), their objections held, and here we are.

This New Order is Awful

The executive order anticipated this Friday looks to be expansive and as an order, well, we’re stuck with it until a court overturns it. A draft leaked to The Nation suggests some serious discrimination will be the result: it “protects ‘religious freedom’ in every walk of life: ‘when providing social services, education, or healthcare; earning a living, seeking a job, or employing others; receiving government grants or contracts; or otherwise participating in the marketplace, the public square, or interfacing with Federal, State or local governments.’”

The Nation continues: “The draft order seeks to create wholesale exemptions for people and organizations who claim religious or moral objections to same-sex marriage, premarital sex, abortion, and trans identity, and it seeks to curtail women’s access to contraception and abortion through the Affordable Care Act.” And, for good measure, “protects the tax-exempt status of any organization that ‘believes, speaks, or acts (or declines to act) in accordance with the belief that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, sexual relations are properly reserved for such a marriage, male and female and their equivalents refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy, physiology, or genetics at or before birth, and that human life begins at conception and merits protection at all stages of life.’”

AAAAGGGHHHHHHHHHAHHHHHHAAAAAAGGGGHHH

The Nation does a solid breakdown of the implications. What this order will do is dramatically expand the ability of individuals, companies, and corporations to refuse to serve (however that applies) ANYONE they feel violates their religious beliefs in some way. That discrimination—despite the blatant violation of our anti-discrimination laws, many embedded in the Constitution—is now sanctioned! Sanctioned! By the highest office in the land. This makes many people second-class citizens and encourages treating them accordingly. Gay people, women, transgender people, all second-class.

It’s giving Mike Pence a break, too—he ended up having to heavily revise Indiana’s order because it was tanking their economy. North Carolina will be so excited to start bathroom policing again, without the NCAA breathing down its neck. This law is designed to boost assholes like Pence. You know, the guy who calls his wife “mother” and won’t have dinner alone with women not his wife.

Keeping Pence in mind, how close could such orders come to “Handmaid’s Tale”-level stuff? Not the full dystopia, of course, but the system that made the dystopia possible. If a bank adheres to biblical prescription that woman is of man and thus subordinate to him, can they prohibit her access to her financial accounts? If I work at CVS and believe premarital sex is wrong, can I refuse to sell contraceptive to women, and leave men in control of their fertility? Can I refuse to sell a house to gay people, forcing them into neighborhoods and situations they may not want? (those neighborhoods would be fly, but that’s besides the point). In “The Handmaid’s Tale,” shit went down because people felt it was temporary, it would pass.

Will 45’s various hookups come under these laws? Can a driver refuse to drive him around because his beliefs that people shouldn’t have sex outside of marriage prohibit him from driving our esteemed president? That would be the only silver lining to this shitstorm.

Especially since, if we impeach him, we get Father in his place. And a Pence presidency scares me in entirely different ways from the one we currently have.

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Ten Things that Feminism Isn’t, Part 1

ten things feminism isn't

  1. Man-Hating.

We’ve all heard this one about feminism. It’s got roots going way back, beyond 1970s women’s lib and into 19th century feminist movements. It’s usually the first shout of the anti-feminists. And it’s fully irrational. Feminists seek an end to sexism (this is the classic definition by bell hooks). If people assume sexism is inherently “men,” well, that’s on them. The only tiny grain of truth embedded in this stereotype is that over time there have been feminists who sought separation, or who argued that one could not be a feminist if one still dated men, etc., but those feminists have historically been a teeny tiny percentage of feminists. They just get all the lion’s share of assumptions. We might wonder why that is.

 

  1. Exclusively about lesbianism.

See point one. Feminism argues that women have a right to their own sexualities and their bodies. Sexuality is a spectrum. All sexual orientations are welcome under the feminist tent.

 

  1. Destructive of the social order.

HAHHAAHAH. Ok, but seriously. This was the argument of women like Phyllis Schlafly, men like Pat Roberts, and others. They insisted that the changes wrought by 1970s feminists, including but not limited to increasing numbers of women in the workforce, led to an epidemic of delinquent kids (since they had to let themselves in their houses after school and were less supervised). PLEASE.

 

  1. Hateful of women who don’t share the ideology.

This line of thinking assumes there is only one definition of feminism, when that’s not inherently true. Not all women identify as feminists, and some women do actively fight against feminist principles. Those women are not hated. Feminism still represents them—we believe all women deserve, for example, bodily autonomy and freedom from harassment. Tami Lahren is a good example for this: conservative firebrand, she spoke openly for years of her dismissal of feminism and feminists, only to find herself fired for saying she believed in access to abortion. As much as I disagree, vehemently, with 99% of what Lahren says, she didn’t deserve to be fired for that particular conversation. The flaming racism, that should have done it.

 

  1. It’s only for white people.

We’ll spend a lot of time down the road getting into intersectionality: the idea that we bring different parts of our identities to what we do, and that, in order to be truly representative or inclusive, we must consider all of those parts. One of 1970s women’s lib failures was in having, as a public banner, concerns that were largely only white, middle-class women’s concerns. Pay parity with men, for example, was a tremendous issue for those women. However, for women on color in the movement, only when all POC were paid more would parity with men be a key issue—parity with whites overrode it. Recognizing that different women have different needs and incorporating those needs into feminist thinking and policy points is a key part of feminist action.

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“Ordinary is What You’re Used To”: The Handmaid’s Tale, Episode 1

handmaid's tale frontispiece
photo credit: hulu.com

Rather than a review of the first episode of The Handmaid’s Tale, I’ve decided to take an element and talk about it in the context of our current political climate. I figure hot takes and warm takes and cold takes are all over the internet right now, so it doesn’t need another from me.

[In short, I felt the episode did much of what I remember the book doing: it pulls you into this terrifyingly plausible world by juxtaposing the Handmaids’ recent pre-revolution past with their horrific present, the change documented not just by the clothes worn, the greetings shared, and the wariness of all, but—subtly—by the growth in Offred’s hair. You get a sense of how much time has passed when you see it’s grown six inches.]

[Also: I’m assuming that you have a basic understanding of the story, but if not, here you go. Offred (Elizabeth Moss) is the main character, a woman who is a Handmaid in this post-revolutionary world, living in the Republic of Gilead. The revolution comes when birthrates fall precipitously and many women have become barren, a problem chalked up to the environmental crisis. Women here are entirely the property of men and fall into five categories—Wives, who are generally infertile and married to powerful men; Handmaids, who are fertile women compelled to be breeders; Marthas, women who for reasons I can’t recall are basically the cooks, housekeepers; Aunts, who are the strict, cruel teachers and enforcers of the Handmaids; and Un-women, women who don’t fall into these categories and were sent to have short, brutal lives serving in The Colonies, cleaning up toxic waste. Moira (Samira Wiley), dear friend of Offred, saw her wife sent there in a “dyke roundup.”]

That Said

For this post I’m taking a quote from one of the Aunts—Lydia, head Aunt—who presides over indoctrination at the Red Center, the place Handmaids are taken to be, essentially, broken: “Ordinary is what you are used to.” This phrase serves as her consolation to terrified women sitting in the Center. This concept forms the core of most dictatorships, large and small. People are remarkably adaptable. We can face tremendous, horrible, life-shattering events and find a way to navigate what’s replaces them. Over time, those events lose the sharpness of their edges and what remains simply become the way of things.

handmaid's tale
June, pre-revolution
Photo credit: hulu.com

At the opening of The Handmaid’s Tale, we see Offred trying to escape the revolution by fleeing through the woods of Maine, seeking the Canadian border. She’s on the run with her daughter, Hannah, and her husband, Luke. What had once been their normal has now become illegal; freedom of movement has been suspended, and women deprived of all citizenship and forced into their new roles. Men with machine guns are everywhere to keep them in line, and the Eyes—secret watchers who report infractions to the authorities—make even private conversations impossible. Offred—whose original name, June, is revealed in this episode, in contrast to the book’s silence on the topic—is hunted down by men in full military gear. The new regime forbids her independence, her clothes, her role as mother to her own child. And so they seize her.

It’s a meaningful shift: what was once normal is illegal. Ordinary life ceases. And then, in a fully ordinary way—albeit a deeply repressive one—life goes on.

We can tut-tut that such a shift is the stuff of traditional dystopias.

But we can also look around us right this very minute and see the ways in which our lives are subtly changing, and how we’re beginning to take them as ordinary. We might be horrified, we might protest, but life continues, at least for many of us, more or less as it was prior.

And in a parallel of sorts, we can see the ways in which this shift—the acceptance of a new, dystopian ordinary—revolves around the silencing of women and in our case, people of color.

The large dystopian present has to do with 45 (my synonym for He Who Shall Not be Named): on any given day (see @Amy_Siskind on twitter for a weekly roundup) he engages in any number of acts that would have landed Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama in endless investigations, but which only seem to infuriate some of the people, some of the time. That’s how revolutions, however slow, however negative, can happen. Most people don’t care. Change happens, and suddenly our ordinary is different, as a consequence of apathy.

For example, look at the accelerated pace of ICE raids.

The ways agents stalk their prey—and that’s exactly how many treat the people they’re looking for, as prey—at their homes, schools, churches, even in court. Where once law-abiding (albeit undocumented) residents had been widely tolerated as a battle not worth picking, the same people now find their everyday has changed dramatically. Like June, they have to watch their backs, their children, some not even leaving their homes lest an ICE raid bust up their family. We now have stories of families running for Canada, through the woods, to secure their safety. The raids, which often seize parents and put them in detention centers [Red Center, anyone?] essentially force kids into foster care. That, in fact, burdens the system—a system people claim is fraught because of undocumented people. It’s terrible, and it’s becoming ordinary, particularly as many Americans can go on as though it’s not happening.

In the meantime, we watch our government become a source of cash into one man’s personal coffers as he turns the now-widely-understaffed branches into his own nepotistic advantage, leaving our country woefully unable to negotiate diplomacy, nevermind pursue the wars he’s consistently threatening (note, too, the presence of war in The Handmaid’s Tale—also in 1984—both not coincidental). And while many of us wave our signs, call our representatives, white America sees most of its lives undisturbed, and many are unwilling to rock the boat.

In episode one, Moira comments to June, in a flashback to the Red Center, that this nightmare in which they lived couldn’t last long—things would go back to normal. Lest we also see our own “reproductive dystopia” worsen, we shouldn’t make the same mistaken assumption.

J.

The Handmaid’s Tale, episodes 1-3, are currently available on Hulu. “Reproductive Dystopia” is from Moria Weagle, “We Live in the Reproductive Dystopia of the Handmaid’s Tale,” The New Yorker, 4.26.17, http://bit.ly/2plZIru.

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