Today we’re going to talk about Hope Hicks. She’s yet another outgoing part of the rapidly-imploding presidential administration, announcing her resignation a few days ago after being interviewed by a congressional committee. While Hicks was, arguably, in a very powerful position (especially at her very young age), the administration turned her into a mother-figure to the president, doing emotional labor on his behalf rather than letting her do her actual job. This, I think, is yet another window into the creepiness, the backwardsness, of this administration. Continue reading Hope Hicks: Babysitter to the Chief
The nation’s political situation feels, when I’m not optimistic, like the nation is wrecked. It’s never been perfect, but it’s always had fantastic ideals worth striving for. It has always proclaimed it was exceptional for its freedom, its liberties: a point I always thought was nonsense (we’re not exceptional, we’re like much of the rest of the world) but the country’s dedication to an ethos of liberty and justice feels utterly abandoned lately. Combined with my busy schedule and the financial exhaustion of the two kittens when they were in the vet’s weekly, well, I’ve kind of abandoned my frugality. I’ve been wrestling with unfrugal politics. Continue reading A Personal Impact of Awful Politics: I Haven’t Been Frugal, and I Miss my Kitchen
Things have been happening so fast at the federal, state, and personal level that I haven’t had the wherewithal to process and post much in ages. Two special-needs kittens are exhausting, as it turns out, between vet visits and adjusting them to overnight sleeping (rather than locking them into a room of their own, they now have the run of the house overnight. This isn’t great for non-kittens). My job has been busy and parts of it have been kind of draining. Politics here in our state are garbage (we need a budget to make up for decades of unfunded pensions which have left us a multi-billion-dollar hole, and the GOP and some Dems here suggested gutting the state’s public higher ed as a solution). And 45 et al are, well, their own form of draining and exhausting.
So. here we are.
Arguing that we don’t deserve to have health care gutted because the Kochs promised big bucks if the GOP does it–that lives are worth more than their money. Waiting for Mueller to begin publicizing indictments as our president raids campaign funds for his own defense, which certainly suggests a lot of somethings. Plus natural disasters. Shit is wearisome.
So much goes on in an average week that it’s hard to remember that what happened last week still matters even as this week piles it on. Many people are quick on the draw, posting their thoughts as stuff happens rather than after digesting it, as a consequence of this pacing. I’ve debated on the pointlessness of writing on last week’s stuff, but since that stuff still matters, onward I forge.
Let’s talk about Title IX, which Betsy DeVos plans to dramatically alter following an announcement last week.
Title IX guarantees sex and gender parity in higher ed so long as the institution receives federal funds in some way. Initially developed to give women access to sports at co-ed schools. Women’s teams were few and far between at most universities, chronically unfunded and seen as irrelevant. Title IX has also become an important tool in addressing sexual misconduct on college campuses. This is a new phenomenon, developed after then-president Obama issued a “Dear Colleague Letter” arguing that parity in higher ed included access to educational spaces, and that having to attend class, for example, with one’s rapist meant that women (overwhelmingly it’s women who are assaulted) did not have parity of access.
Title IX developed protocols for university reporting of sexual misconduct on college campuses, stemming the tide and tradition of universities shielding such information from public or federal scrutiny. Many universities downplayed sexual misconduct–this includes everything from harassment to assault–and women faced all kinds of other harassment for reporting. So women rarely reported. Since the Title IX changes, university protocols to remove the allege assaulter from spaces (this can go as far as expulsion) has led more women to report assault, and schools like the University of Connecticut had to face a real reckoning when its rates of assault became public.
Reckoning is good.
Reckoning forces change. And it created spaces in which women who long hid the rapes and groping to speak out, which many women avoid because of the backlash she often faces–anything from social ostracization to public doxxing to the usual blame-the-victim garbage.
Well, Betsy DeVos wants to do away with all that.
Now on the surface what she suggests doesn’t sound entirely crazy, and some intelligent women are even defending her points. She argues that rule-by-letter isn’t good governance, that a systemic approach would be better. Ok. She argues that schools expelling alleged assaulters violates our innocent-until-proven guilty legal system. But here she’s missing several key points.
- School isn’t necessarily public space. Schools have their own rules and policies. Schools can and should be subject to federal and state laws, but what DeVos is referring to is our legal system. Should the alleged assaulter go straight to jail? No–that person is entitled to a trial like everyone else. But if schools feel that an alleged assaulter’s presence is violating Title IX’s argument for equal access, then they have the right to take what actions they choose.
- DeVos rooted her point of view in the claims of Men’s Rights Associations. These people are BATS (the We Hunted the Mammoth archive can fill you in). They see men, usually white men, as being on the losing end of our society, a society which has shriveled because of feminism. They regard women with hostility at best and brutal animosity at worst. They argue not just that expulsion and the like isn’t fair, but that women mostly fabricate allegations of assault–thus, assaulters are expelled for fraudulent reasons. DeVos herself has even said that some 90% of campus assault allegations are really just break-up and drunk sex, regretted.
WE KNOW THIS ISN’T TRUE.
The costs of claiming assault are often so high that, as noted above, women don’t often report it when it happens. Only a very tiny sliver (2-10%) of assault allegations have been proven to be falsehoods or unsubstantiated (though there’s no common definition of those terms used): to say otherwise is to perpetuate a myth. What we have, then, is a proposal to make assault less punishable by the colleges and universities themselves and compelling women to repeatedly cross paths with their assaulter until a legal trial–which can take years to even get started–concludes. Should this be shocking, given that the man who hired DeVos bragged about sexually assaulting women? Nope.
It feels like we have our eyes on more balls than we can handle right now (pun firmly intended). Exhausting though it is, we have to keep at it. We have to engage in a public discourse on all of this stuff–assault, health care, election veracity, saber rattling–so that we don’t come to normalize what isn’t normal. Treating women like gossipy, threatening demons used to be normal–it’s not anymore and we shouldn’t go back there. If we stop being appalled that 45 publicly calls foreign leaders “rocket man,” we’ve begun to allow the erosion of our basic system.
We deserve better than 45 and his horse-people of the government apocalypse. I’m being dramatic, but the stuff that’s going down–lots of it in the name of making money, holding on to power, and erasing Obama’s legacy–is apocalyptic to a lot of people. Take time to breathe so you don’t wear out. We need you in this conversation.
We won’t go quietly back to what was.
2017 is the year I’m abandoning the NFL. I’ve been a dedicated Patriots fan for years (born and raised) and an avid Fantasy Football player. I’ve swallowed a lot of garbage–turned deliberately aside–in order to keep watching and playing. But this is the year that ends. Here’s why:
- The NFL gives no fucks about women. On occasion they pay a little lip service, like last year’s campaign against domestic violence. Or they slowly add women as sideline reporters, which took both network and NFL changes. These things are good, but they’re not enough. The NFL, at best, slaps the wrists of those accused of domestic violence, but that’s not even common. Vice reports that 44 current players, ready to start the season, have been accused of physical or sexual assault. Players can pretty much do anything short of kill someone and still have the NFL’s blessing, so long as you still play well. Then there’s the cheerleaders: they work hard, they’re athletic, and they’re paid peanuts. Having cheerleaders on the field is thus solely about exploitation–the NFL could pay them better, but doesn’t.
- The treatment of Colin Kaepernick has been awful. He’s been effectively blackballed after protesting police violence by kneeling during the national anthem. So, if I understand this correctly, this is how things work: fighting dogs is ok but protesting racist state violence is not. For shame.
- Those two things are really more than enough for me after years of pretending like they don’t bother me. But the unwillingness of the NFL to deal with its head injury problem–and the amount of damage their lack of concern has led to–is disturbing. I get why they like big hits–big ratings, especially in a season that competes with basketball, America’s most popular sport. And players know that head injuries are a risk of the job. However, the NFL has hidden behind an “it’s not so bad, let’s not talk about it” ethos for years. It has to stop.
- And here in New England, Robert Fucking Kraft. Sure, he’s built a great team and he seems like a charismatic enough guy. But supporting 45–giving him a Superbowl ring with his own name on it recently–is disturbing. What’s the line at which he says “yeah, not anymore”? Kraft’s got lots of African American players on his roster–45’s response to Charlottesville didn’t shake him up in some way, make him wonder at his own ethics? If he hires all these guys and has no trouble with 45’s response, we should start to pull apart his motives. He’s there to make money–he doesn’t give a shit about the players themselves, either as individuals or groups. It’s appalling.
The season starts soon and it’ll be weird not to have my usual background sounds on while I work on the couch on Sundays. I love football. I’m going to miss it. I’ve got family ties built around it that I’ll miss this fall. But the NFL owes the people far more than it has given, and it needs to do more to renounce its misogynistic, racist ways before I come back. Here’s hoping for 2018.
I think you all know me enough at this point to know that I don’t avoid contentious issues and that I like to argue. I am a teacher by trade, so I see it as my mission to educate when I can, regardless of audience and situation. This means I do a fair amount of arguing, for example, about feminism and politics. I use various theories as both example and support. Lately the amount of work I’ve been doing on this front has been mammoth, and I’ve figured out that even for me, there’s a point at which I have to walk away.
A Sucker for Punishment?
Those of you who follow me on twitter have seen glimpses of this process. A good friend invited me to join her in a group founded for cross-political discussion but without namecalling or harassment. I thought this was a great idea, as I’ve been wanting to understand how people who voted for the current president feel now that he’s been in office a bit. I wanted to know why they felt as they do–not just their feelings, which, frankly, I don’t have much patience for, but what those feelings were grounded in. So, if someone said “he’s great!” I wanted a “here’s why–examples 1, 2, 3.” And specifics, too. Not just “he’s good for America” or somesuch. I like sources.
At first it was fun, mostly because I like to argue. I like to marshal my sources and ask questions. But it slid downhill fairly quickly and has ended in a bit of a tire fire when I made the decision to walk away.
The “Red Pill”
After spending an inordinate amount of time in this group daily (friends and I noticed that it was only those of us on the liberal side who tended to be so invested and so attacked), repeated invocations by the group’s founder that we should all watch a “documentary” called “Red Pill” put me pretty close to the edge. The poster insisted it had nothing to do with Men’s Right’s people, that he didn’t know what that was, that we were being intractable by refusing to watch it (we argued it was like a movie about race relations by the Klan–no). We walked him through what the MRA movement is, and we said, yes, there’s some points that make that are valid, only they’re grounded in flaming misogyny (for example, it’s troubling that men have a hard time getting custody because of stereotypes). We shared links about all of this, including a particularly resonant one from Everyday Feminism.
And still, he dug in, got defensive, and would not ground any of what he was saying in evidence.
The convo devolved further as discussion over feminist theory was then “used” against us (“if feminists hate FGM, they must love Trump’s travel ban!”) (he was serious). And those we were arguing with never used sources to make their case, never did their own googling. The whole thing took so much energy. I don’t mind spending lots of energy on discussion, argument, and education, but not when I’m a) unpaid to do so and b) doing so with people who refuse to seek even remotely the same standards of truth, sourcing, and then criticize what sources others provide, all while refusing to even do their own searching.
So. Mr Tenacious and I took a few days’ vacation on the water and when I came back, I decided to walk away. The nail in the coffin was when someone asked why people had a problem with the president’s commission on “voter fraud.” When I gave him an NYT summary, he said the NYT was unreliable. For one thing, he just wanted a summary of facts and reasons–why would this have been a problem? For another, he refused to google. He also refused to say why the NYT was unreliable. I threw my hands in the air and called it a day. (I have had real issues, incidentally, with the NYT lately. But they’re reliable for reporting.)
I Like Me, so I Stopped
My departure was a form of self-care. If we can’t dialogue because you refuse to, my refusal to engage is asserting my time is better used for other things. Like watching this Christmas rerun of the Price is Right. One person commented on my final thread that, “I don’t debate in here cause a lot seem to just want to show how educated they are or how much research they do or how much better they are because they can use big words and talk in circles.” Well, I’m out of the circle now. I like myself too much to waste my time here.
If you, like me, are in it (the resistance to this administration, education, feminism) for the long haul, you need to know to pick your battles. You’ll need to self-preserve for a good while, so don’t let people bait you. I’m not afraid of other opinions (though one member of this group suggested I’d prefer Soviet-style media control, lol). But I am afraid of losing my mind.
Take care of yourselves! A key to tenacity is moderation.
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.
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.
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.
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
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…
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.
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.
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)
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.’”
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
In the last several years we’ve talked about a “War on Women,” and were told—repeatedly, endlessly, largely by men but also some women—that such a thing did not exist. And then we saw Hillary Clinton’s campaign (for all its foibles) eviscerated by the press, who refused to condemn the lies of the now-president while running huge headlines about Clinton’s email. And lo, we were then told not to worry so much, because you know, 45 wasn’t really a Republican. He totally believed at one point in abortion rights. Don’t mind his near-fundamentalist vice president. There is no war on women. Then yesterday, he appointed Charmaine Yoest to run the Health and Human Services (HHS) department.
This is some peak wiliness in the War on Women, which clearly still exists.
Yoest doesn’t believe in scientific research. She does believe, however, for reasons unexplained, that IUDs cause deaths. She refers to pro-choice people as the “Abortion Lobby.” She suggests the relationship between birth control availability and abortion is a false one, promoted as a media narrative but a “red herring” the “abortion lobby” uses somehow for nefarious reasons. Oh, and she says abortion causes breast cancer, but has no evidence.
Let’s parse out how all of this stuff works.
First, 45 can claim he is not anti-woman or participating in any kind of war on women because he named a woman to the post. They’ll chuckle at us for even asking. It’s a political tool but a point that many no doubt actually believe: that simply having women present is synonymous with working on behalf of women. While the two can indeed correlate, they do not always, and the correlation is more often than not a political ploy. You see, when we resist—when we call out the appointment of someone like Yoest—politicians can then tut-tut at us for failing to support our fellow women in office. Wily.
The role of the Health and Human Services Department is like an enormous version of the health department where you live, with far more clout. Its job is to maintain and promote the health of its citizens—all of its citizens. It’s also responsible for some service provision, as per the title. The National Institute for Health, a major player in science research, is part of the HHS.
When someone like Yoest—who questions scientific findings based on no rebutting science but on, evidently, her desires—runs the NIH, we have a problem, generally speaking.
Furthermore, her job is to assist all citizens.
Reproductive health care and easy access to contraception is a major part of women’s lives so that they might control their own fertility. Only by controlling one’s own fertility does a woman truly control her life’s potential paths. Charmaine Yoest does not believe in ready access to contraception, and her statements about the IUD suggest a deliberate scare tactic to keep women from long-form contraception. Yoest, it seems, is pro-pregnancy, but not pro-women.
When the government puts women like Yoest in charge of the HHS, it’s a form of gaslighting the rest of us, women who call out the government for its patriarchal chauvinism. Such a move implies (wait for it—it’s coming. No doubt it’s in article comments already) that when we critique her appointment, we are fighting against ourselves. The War on Women hits a new low with such moves, as we fear for both our bodily autonomy and control while also running the risk of descending into infighting over Yoest’s appointment. We will not be cowed.
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.”]
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.
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.
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.