Opening the Western Mind

I was watching Senator Jim Webb (D-Virginia) last night on the news say that our country’s intense focus on the Middle East has caused us to neglect other areas of the world. Webb had Southeast Asia in mind, and noted that this is a very important region to us economically. Of course, Webb is right, but I would argue that our Mesopotamian myopia has had some other interesting side effects, beyond intensifying the glaring hatreds and competition between the jihadists of all sides – theirs and our own.

If you look closely, some voices of reason are starting to make themselves more widely known. They’re having the effect of teaching the West something about this mysterious, complex, and misunderstood area, and some things about ourselves. Sara Robinson over at Orcinus recently posted Why People Hate America?, which was triggered by this recent Pew poll, and was largely based on the writings of Ziauddin Sardar, who is…

…an orthodox British Muslim of Pakistani parentage…one of the UK’s more visible public intellectuals. In recent years, Sardar has made a career out of explaining the Muslim world to the Brits, mediating and translating between the Western and Near Eastern cultures on the pages of the Observer and The New Statesman and frequently on BBC news shows as well. (It’s interesing that nowhere in the US media do we have a similarly trusted Muslim media figure who can help us bridge the most important cultural chasm of our times. Wonder why that is?) A iconoclastic outsider, Sardar is unsparing in his critiques of both cultures, issuing insights, warnings, and alternatives on either side that have made him indispensable to a European audience that increasingly sees itself caught in the middle.

I encourage you to read her whole post (as well as the comments). We have had the invaluable Juan Cole for some time now, and it’s good that others are gaining a wider audience, even if this is at times, only through blog writings such as Sara’s.

In a doctor’s office on Monday, I came across an aging issue of Time Magazine, which featured Queen Rania of Jordan. In typical, brief, upbeat, and to the point Time Magazine style, the Queen was asked Ten Questions, and I found some of her answers to be freshing and hopeful:

Q: Do you think that women will ever truly have equal rights in the Middle East?

A: Absolutely, I believe they will. I think that mind-sets are changing in the Middle East. Poll after poll is showing that men see the value of greater female participation and empowerment. We still have a long way to go, but Islam should not be used as a scapegoat. The obstacles that face women today are more cultural. It’s not about the religion.

Q: Will the Arab world ever be free of the kind of mindless violence occurring in Iraq?

A: The Middle East is not just about Iraq. The Middle East has both challenges and opportunities. Many countries in our region are experiencing a massive economic boom. It’s a very youthful region, and the young by nature are hopeful, optimistic and innovative. The world shouldn’t overlook our successes and achievements.

Q: What is the biggest negative about the U.S. invasion of Iraq?

A: The civilian suffering. This conflict has spared no one. It’s incredibly sad to see such a proud and great country broken.

Q: What’s the solution to the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians?

A: First, start with will on both sides–not just the political kind but the kind that comes from the conscience and the heart. To achieve a lasting peace in the Middle East takes guts, not guns.

I was so impressed with these answers, but of course it’s difficult to know how widely held they are, and how much influence people like the Queen have in this region. Her outspokenness and quiet wisdom is emblematic of the rise of the feminine, worldwide, over the last century or so. Our country is part of this, beginning with the suffragettes earlier in this century, followed by the energizing of the feminist movement in the 60s and 70s, and culminating recently in the election of women to high office, such as Nancy Pelosi, and, in the future, possibly our first female president in 2008. I hope to write more about this shortly, and I hope I can do it justice.

Not Funny

[Update: MSNBC dropped Imus altogether. Maybe they’ll do something really outrageous and put a real news program on in that time slot? I’m not holding my breath.]

[Another update: Don’t miss the Steve M. smackdown (figuratively speaking) of Little Lulu.]

Some time in the mid to late 1970s I was working for a small book publisher in Cincinnati. One of the contracted authors was a professional after-dinner speaker; this guy made a living traveling around the country entertaining Kiwanis and Lions and Elks. He was especially prized as a humorist, and my employer was publishing a collection of his tried-and-true jokes.

So there I was reading his manuscript, but I wasn’t laughing. Mostly, I was appalled. At least half of the “jokes” were aggressive and nakedly hostile put-downs of women. There was a whole section devoted to Ugly Wives, for example. And then I came upon an anecdote about a fellow buying a fishing rod. The punch line revealed he was buying the rod to beat his wife.

I blue-penciled that puppy out of the manuscript faster’n you can say “male chauvinist pig.”

The author complained to the managing editor, saying that I had no sense of humor. The managing editor, also a woman, read the “joke” and backed up my decision. It stayed out.

The truth was, if I’d deleted everything in that manuscript I found offensive there wouldn’t have been enough material left to fill a moderately sized pamphlet, let alone a book. (As a junior staffer, I didn’t have the authority to request the amount of revision I desired, which involved stuffing that manuscript someplace where the sun don’t shine.) But at the time, most of this “humor” was representative of much “humor” we’d all seen on television and in movies. It was mainstream stuff, in other words, although less so in the 1970s than it had been in the 1950s and 1960s.

I often wish someone would research the stand-up comedy routines presented on such venues as the Ed Sullivan Show and analyze how much of it amounted to complaining about women. Mothers-in-law, women drivers, nags, and of course ugly wives were the meat and potatoes of comedy in those days. A comedian — always male, of course — had only to say “my mother-in-law!” or “women drivers!” and roll his eyes, and the audience would howl. Thanks in large part to second-wave feminism, by the late 1970s television comedy had mostly moved on to other topics, but our author from the rubber chicken circuit was still telling the same jokes he’d been telling for twenty years.

And if he’d published his joke collection a decade earlier, the fishing rod story would have stayed in, and it’s unlikely anyone would have had second thoughts about it.

By now you’ve guessed I’m going to talk about Don Imus. Yes, but I also want to look at the use and abuse of put-down humor generally.

For some reason, in the years after World War II American society went on a woman-hating binge. You might remember that in The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan cataloged considerable differences in the way women were portrayed in popular culture in the 1950s to early 1960s (Mystique was published in 1963) compared to the 1930s. Women in the 1950s were seen as considerably dumber (remarkably, even women’s magazines were “dumbed down” in the 1950s) and more helpless. About the same time it became trendy among psychiatrists to blame all manner of pathologies on bad mothering and to declare that a woman who wasn’t interested in being a housewife and mother must be neurotic and needed psychiatric help.

I honestly don’t know why this was happening, but I remember it well. And as I remember it, second-wave feminism began as a backlash to the postwar put down of women and only later expanded to challenge sexism throughout human history. It’s also clear to me that the pervasiveness of misogynist humor in those years helped keep women “in their place.” Believe me, the wife jokes you might have heard the late Henny Youngman or Rodney Dangerfield tell were mild compared to what was common fare in the 1950s, and those two gentlemen — Dangerfield in particular — usually told their jokes in a way that made the joke on themselves as much as their allegedly ill-favored wives. (Dangerfield sample: “My wife and I were happy for twenty years. Then we met.”) The jokes of the day carried the subliminal message to women that we’d better not be ugly, or shrews, or nags, or assume competence in anything but cooking and housecleaning.

This morning I googled “psychology of humor” and came across this book, big chunks of which are available for reading online. Humor is a social phenomenon, it says, that can be employed to many ends, both beneficial and malicious. It’s common for people to express genuine hostility in the form of teasing, for example. “Some of the social functions of humor can also be quite aggressive, coercive, and manipulative,” it says at the bottom of page 17.

Some researcher in the 1930s made the brilliant discovery that Jews found anti-Jewish jokes less funny than did non-Jews (page 51). On the other hand, the text continues, a survey done in 1959 claimed that an audience of blacks laughed at anti-black jokes as much as a white audience did. (It doesn’t say if a black or a white comedian was telling the jokes; seems to me that would make a big difference on how the audience perceived the humor.) And I see on pages 51-52 that some guy named Cantor in 1976 “found that both female and male college students showed greater appreciation for disparagement humor in which a male had the last laugh at a female’s expense, as compared to jokes in which a female disparaged a male.” Somehow I suspect that wouldn’t be true now.

But I think that illustrates the damage put-down humor can do. Women (or a racial minority) raised in a culture in which women are pervasively ridiculed are likely to internalize that ridicule and see themselves as worthy of ridicule. And those women in college in 1976 had been raised in a culture that had relentlessly ridiculed women. I don’t doubt that generations of vicious racist humor had a psychological impact on African Americans as well.

Like my author from years ago, Imus probably thinks some people have no sense of humor. But there’s a big difference between Imus insulting the political and media elites who are guests on his program and calling the Rutgers women’s basketball team “nappy headed ho’s.” If he and his defenders can’t see that, there’s something seriously wrong with the lot of them.

It’s a plain fact that expressions of malice are often disguised as humor. I found this in a Psychology Today article:

This aggressive type of humor is used to criticize and manipulate others through teasing, sarcasm and ridicule. When it’s aimed against politicians by the likes of Ann Coulter, it’s hilarious and mostly harmless. But in the real world, it has a sharper impact. Put-down humor, such as telling friends an embarrassing story about another friend, is a socially acceptable way to deploy aggression and make others look bad so you look good.

When challenged on their teasing, the put-down joker often turns to the “just kidding” defense, allowing the aggressor to avoid responsibility even as the barb bites. Martin has found no evidence that those who rely on this type of humor are any less well-adjusted. But it does take a toll on personal relationships.

The author of this piece and I disagree on the alleged hilarity of Coulter. Coulter’s “humor” is about as close to pure hate speech as “humor” gets. Real humorists don’t wish for people to be poisoned or assassinated, for example. There may be a fine line between “poking fun” and hate speech. But when you go from, say, Bob Hope’s “Carter wants to go to Washington. He’ll feel right at home there – he was raised on a nut farm” to Coulter’s “We need somebody to put rat poison in Justice Stevens’s créme brulée,” I say you’ve crossed that line.

There is no question much hostile rhetoric is being flung from all partisan sides these days, and some of this rhetoric is in the form of humor. Bob Geiger puts together a wonderful selection of political cartoons every Saturday morning, which I usually link to. I’m sure righties find many of these cartoons offensive; frankly, some of them aren’t the least bit humorous, even to me, but they make valid points. It’s also true that much humor is in the eye of the beholder. But I think political cartoons should be judged by the point they make. Is the point true? Or is it just about mocking someone the viewer doesn’t like?

I love the way Mike Luckovich draws George W. Bush — a furious, strutting little man with big ears (here’s another example). Luckovich captures the essence of the inner George Bush, IMO. On the other hand, now that Nancy Pelosi has been labeled Public Enemy Number One by the Right, the righties are going all out lampooning her. Here’s an animated GIF making the rounds today. It’s not just hateful; it’s also dishonest. The point it’s trying to make is a lie. Righties might drop by here and call me a hypocrite for approving Luckovich but not the dumb GIF. I don’t think so, but that’s me.

This is a huge topic that would take a lot more blog posts to full explore, and I’ve gone on way too long. To close, I give you Colbert —

Update: Well, I thought I was done, but I guess I have to keep writing — Today’s question is if what Imus said about “ho’s” is bad, isn’t it just as bad coming from rapper?

Kevin Drum gets it

A slur aimed at specific people is obviously different than a generic slur in a rap song, but it’s not that different. If one is offensive, so is the other, and it’s hard to argue that the cesspool of misogyny in contemporary rap has no effect on the wider culture. It’s not that this excuses what Imus did. It’s just the opposite. If we’re justifiably outraged by what Imus said, shouldn’t we be just as outraged with anybody else who says the same thing, regardless of their skin color?

Exactly. On the other hand, Fontana Labs writes,

Data point: the thought police of the academy have managed to mold my psyche to the point where Imus’s remark is genuinely, viscerally unpleasant to me, both in its stupid racism and the way it pollutes what should have been a moment of enjoyment and pride for the Rutgers team. On the other hand, I can listen to mainstream hip-hop without cringing at, or feeling indignation toward, the sex and the violence. What explains this awkward conjunction of attitudes? One hypothesis: I’ve accepted, at some level, the presence of lyrics like these as features of the genre, and in doing so I ignore them.

Back in the 1960s we talked a lot about “consciousness raising.” We’d lived in a culture in which sexist and racist rhetoric was ubiquitous, like air. We read and heard things all the time that would be shocking now, and thought nothing of it. It took a lot of work and a lot of courage on the part of civil rights and feminist activists to get people to realize how bleeped up that was, and how damaging it was. Essentially the rhetoric was being generated by a dominant group to keep subordinates “in their place.” And I don’t see what’s different about sexist rhetoric in rap music. Ignoring this stuff isn’t necessarily a healthy sign.

Update2: A rightie blogger is calling TBogg out for writing this of Condi Rice:

Oh oh….looks like a pouty Brown Sugar is going to ask Daddy to buy her another pair of Ferragamos. Or invade another country.

Racist? Or just a fair slam of Condi Rice? The rightie argues,

… of course, Ms. Rice not being authentically black or even authentically female, she’s just getting what she deserves, because the Rules of PC only apply to the Right. The Left, regardless of who is in power, is *always* speaking truth to power and therefore exempt from any such considerations.

But Tbogg doesn’t say she isn’t “authentically black or even authentically female.” The “Ferragamos” remark reminds us of Condi’s shoe shopping while New Orleans drowned; that’s a fair slam. “Invade another country” is a fair slam also, given the role Condi played in stampeding the nation into Iraq. The question is, is it racist per se to mention Condi’s skin color in any way? I would argue the “brown sugar” remark is more sexist than racist, because it implies that Bush is her “sugar daddy.” But I think calling her “brown” is only an insult if you think there’s something wrong with being brown. If Condi were caucasian would mention of her red hair or blue eyes have been an insult per se? I don’t think so. Maybe I’m wrong, though.

Pandagon Under Attack

Pandagon is under attack and has been pulled off line. Amanda has set up a redirect site and has posted about the hate mail she has received from “Christians.”

Kevin Hayden suggests we all publish Amanda’s post so that the haters can’t follow her everywhere. The problem with this is that the hate mail contains words I do not publish here on Mahablog. From anybody. Well, here’s most of it:

Whenever the site is up, we get slammed and it goes down. I have to suspend the site until the fervor dies down. At this point, I think it might be a few hours before the Lookie Lous give up refreshing the site. In the meantime, here’s the latest post I wrote about all the “Christians” who have written me in the past week:

Update: To correct misinformation in the comments, I was not “fired”. I offered my resignation and it was accepted.

Because I had the nerve to be critical of the Catholic church’s stance on birth control and abortion—nevermind their political opposition to distributing condoms to fight HIV, a stance that has helped usher thousands and possibly millions to their untimely deaths—I’ve gotten a number of letters from people who call themselves “Christians”, as Bill Donohue also calls himself. Christians are people who are supposed to follow the behavior and teachings of Jesus Christ. I mention this, because it seems to me that therefore, when Christians are contemplating an action that is morally questionable, it appears they should consult the Bible before acting.

Luckily, I happen to have a Bible laying around this house, because even though I’m not a Christian, I was an English major, and it is important to Know Your Ancient Mythologies if you are reading poetry. And I flipped to this passage that seems to have solid advice on what to do if you’ve got some asshole dragging a woman in front of an angry crowd and yelling, “SINNER!”:

    The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

Granted, I don’t think criticizing the church for policies that hurt families and even get people killed is a “sin”, but my letter writers do. But I thought I’d bring up this story for two reasons. One, I’ve always been impressed by the subtext of the story. I suspect, strongly, that this story is part of the reason that Christianity was so attractive to women in its early days, because this sort of random misogynist scapegoating is all too real in a patriarchy, and this story must have touched a lot of women at the time, who would be impressed with Jesus’ unwillingness to play into such misogyny. In fact, from everything I understand, much of the history of Christian misogyny is one 2,000 year long backlash against early female power in the church.

I’m also impressed by how so many people who claim to follow Jesus have basic reading comprehension problems when they regard this story. (Not all—for instance, some fellow Pandagonians take their faith seriously enough to read the Bible and try to follow its precepts.) From my mailbag:

    I pray that I had some small part to play in your “resigning” from the Edwards campaign you libelous fraud!

That’s from a Vivian Thomas, who also wants me to know that I’m a worthless hag.

    Catholics are concerned about killing unborn children, you stupid bitch. Chop away if it suits you, but we don’t
    have to accept that as moral. That’s why it’s called a religion. Look into it.

Frankly, if I were a churchy person, this “Look into it” thing would insult me, since R.R. from Tallahassee, FL is all but saying that religion is his excuse to declare his misogyny “moral” so he doesn’t actually have to think and decide what his morality is for himself.


    after reading your vile screed against Catholics and the Holy Spirit, I just had to see what you looked like. (I envisioned you eyebrow-less, with no visible pupils, and a blank, dead stare.) I see I was correct about the blank, dead stare, but other than that you’re not too bad. I then thought maybe you were mad at God (and by proxy Catholics) for making you ugly, but now I’m figuring you’re just mad at him for making you a woman.

Annette D’Amato is somewhat right, that I’m angry—but not that I’m a woman, but that people like her have such uncalled for contempt for women. But I am impressed that I gave her a small bit of education. Contrary to what people have been telling her, feminists are not demons without eyebrows (she missed the boar’s teeth and snakes on our heads), but human beings.

Andy Driggers from Dallas, TX was also so moved by my criticisms of religious anti-choicers, that he wrote:

    Problem with women like you, you just need a good fucking from a real man! Living in Texas myself, I know you haven’t found that real Texan yet. But once your liberal pro feminist ass gets a real good fucking, you might see the light. Until then, enjoy your battery operated toys b/c most real men wouldn’t want to give you the fucking you deserve b/c the shit that would come out of you ears.

Reminder: Donohue was claiming to be so hurt by my “bigotry”. Yet, for some reason, his supporters write me and they are more interested in telling me that my womanhood is repulsive to them. Interesting—almost as if his claims to speak for Catholicism were in fact dog whistles to scare people about women’s equality.

As I told some close friends in the days that Donohue was on the news, spraying code words about “get the feminists” (which explains why he roped Shakespeare’s Sister into this, even though she really had nothing to do with any of this—except she’s pro-equality, which is what is really what offends Donohue and all the people who gave that anti-Semite airtime), a good half of my hate mail could be summed up, “You have a pottymouth, you stupid [bleep].” An example, from Paul Bernard of Scottsdale, AZ:

    i like the way you trash talk i don’t particularly want to have sex with you but i would like a blow job.

Right wingers right now are pretending like sexism has nothing to do with me, which is an argument that works if you think a) men get emails about how they need to suck a dick on a regular basis and b) that there’s nothing whatsoever sexist about allowing men to curse but hitting the fainting couch if a woman does.

Bud Phelps, another person who opposes “bigotry”, as defined by right wing shill Bill Donohue.

    It’s just too bad your mother didn’t abort you. You are nothing more than a filthy mouth slut. I bet a couple of years in Iraq being raped and beaten daily would help you appreciate America a little. Need a plane ticket ?

Time to wake up and smell reality—real bigots follow the siren call of the fascist right wing. Why would they even bother with liberals and all our equality and human rights and other tedious ideas?

Romanco De Leone was also moved by Donohue’s poignant claims about insulating the Catholic church from legitimate criticisms.

    [bleep bleepity-bleep]

But I shan’t belabor the point. I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of the hate mail the Bill Donohue’s “Christian” campaign against me has inspired. This is all stuff from days ago—I’ve gotten more than 100 since. Hell, from the looks of my email from last night, I’ve had more than 100 in the past 12 hours from self-proclaimed Christians who want me to know that I have hurt their feelings and this has nothing, nothing whatsoever to do with their own misogyny and tendency to witch hunt.

Gordon Meacham forwarded something else posted at Pandagon before the attacks — “a tongue and cheek template for a IRS form, providing reference to the specific section of the tax code that Mr Donahue has probably violated with his recent actions.” See it here.

Oh, those silly kids

One of the comments to my post about the HPV vaccine mentioned that it was nice to see a “younger” voice on this blog, so that’s what I want to post about now, while the maha-in-chief is still in Washington.

A few links. Sadly, some of these are behind subscription walls.

My mother has said to me that the feminist movement is effectively dead, but, although I think the movement has lost some of its oomph for sure, I like to think it’s still flailing and kicking somewhere. Perhaps on college campuses: Salon’s Broadsheet reports that an organization of anti-feminists is opening up chapters on campuses all over the country:

These young women read Danielle Crittenden and Christina Hoff Sommers, attend conferences key-noted by Ann Coulter and Elaine Chao, spread jittery but false gossip that Lynne Cheney is a donor, and host 80’s dances in honor of Ronald Reagan’s birthday.

Kinda sends shivers down your spin, dudn’t it?

Broadsheet crows that this is a sign that women’s movements are enjoying a “a vibrant, exciting renaissance” among college-aged women. I hope that’s true; certainly when groups emerge to oppose you, it’s a sign that you’re doing something right.

But, so, young people. There’s a vicious cycle at work wherein young people don’t participate politically and therefore their interests aren’t represented or talked about and therefore they don’t want to participate. It means us 20-somethings get slandered a lot for being lazy or entitled.

Young women in particular are left out of the conversation. A friend of mine recently pointed to MoveOn‘s most recent campaign as an example. Ten issues were voted on and narrowed down to three big ideas: “Health care for all, energy independence, and restored democracy.” Worthy goals, certainly, but of the ten issues originally presented to us, not one of them dealt with the eroding rights of women — access to abortion and birth control, which you may think is a pet issue, but which I think is key to women’s autonomy and equality, and that’s a hell of a big deal to me. Or equal pay, for that matter. Or better family policies, like access to childcare and better maternity/paternity leave… and these are “women’s issues” in the public discourse, I guess because “family” still falls in the women’s sphere — that’s some progress, eh? All that is right up there with health care for everyone and whatever “restored democracy” means, for me. (Energy, too, insofar as I’d like for us to find sustainable and renewable alternatives before we all bake, but I don’t own a car, so “gas prices are too high” is not really a motivation for me to advocate anything.)

Ah, but how do you get those pesky kids to vote?

One last link, while we’re talking about gender issues: Everyone’s favorite cabbage argues that girly books make boys not want to read. And we’re back on the whole “male and female brains are wired differently and so boys and girls excel in different subjects” nonsense debate. Last I checked, Brooks was not a scientist, so I don’t see how not liking Jane Eyre gives him the authority to make suppositions like that. And the whole debate ignores how kids and their teachers are socialized. But why am I so angry? I should not expect so much from the produce aisle.

When Mom’s away, the kids will play

So my mother runs this here blog, and she sent me an email before she left for YearlyKos saying that I should post some links and things for you people so that you don’t get bored in her absence.

And you may already know me as the daughter partly responsible for last fall’s blog re-design (so, yes, you can blame all the display glitches on me, thanks) and the occasional subject of posts on diaper rash or whatever. I also blog, but I think the only people who read my blog are my friends, so it’s kind of neat to annex this blog for a few days, since it reaches a much wider audience. I hope I don’t blow my audition.

Yesterday’s big news was the death of Zarqawi, but I don’t really want to post about that, particularly since a) it won’t make much difference in the war effort, and b) we could have got him without going to war, and that whole debate makes me weary. Also, I generally don’t really feel qualified to say much about Iraq, since my knowledge of the subject is limited, so lets talk about things I am familiar with: women and science! (But feel free to talk about Zarqawi in the comments if that rocks your boat.)

I want to preface this by saying that this discussion has been kicking around on the feminist blogs for a while, but my perception here is that the demographic here skews a little differently, so I hope you learn something new!

The big story this morning is that the FDA approved the HPV vaccine. Under any other circumstances, a vaccine that prevents cancer would be cause of celebration and ticker tape parades and all that, but because the disease prevents a cancer caused by a sexually transmitted virus that mainly affects women, we have to stop and talk about it.

So first, congrats to the FDA for being less stupid about the HPV vaccine than they are about emergency contraception.

But second, boo! to the conservatives that would block the administration of the vaccine. Arthur Caplan at MSNBC points out:

[T]he best time to vaccinate is just before women become sexually active. And that is why this new cervical cancer vaccine is sure to be ethically controversial.

Some conservative religious groups and family-values advocates believe that the best way to prevent any sexually transmitted disease is to teach young people to be abstinent until marriage. They don’t want HPV vaccine offered to young women because it will encourage, in their view, sexual promiscuity. Or they only want the vaccine discussed by parents not in schools or in the doctor’s office. But there is a big flaw in this reasoning.

Even though a woman may remain chaste until marriage she may marry someone who wasn’t. She would still be at risk of infection. Given that risk, the case for getting schools, doctors, public health departments involved even if you are someone who wants to keep all talk of sex in the home starts to become very strong.

Not to mention the pressure a lot of girls feel to have sex anyway, regardless of how much abstinence is emphasized. A new study indicates a lot of teenaged girls have sex when they don’t want to, “and the result may be a higher risk of sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy.” That’s a whole other post about how girls are socialized and expected to behave, but the study speaks to the point that teaching abstinence is not going to prevent the spread of STDs like HPV. (There’s been some buzz recently about teens breaking their virginity pledges as well. So much for that, eh?)

Further, there’s no reason to think access to the vaccine would encourage more girls to have sex anyway. Studies in countries where emergency contraception is available over the counter indicate that there was no rise in sexual activity once the pills became available, so there’s no reason to think an HPV vaccine would cause that either, especially since this one vaccine doesn’t really make women immune to, you know, every other STD plus pregnancy. More to the point, HPV is one of the least talked about STDs (AIDS kind of trumps most discussions) but is also the most common.

But there you have it, folks. For some conservative Christian groups, choosing between cancer and sex, sex is the greater evil.

The other problem is that the vaccine is expensive, and some groups are pushing for administration of the vaccine to be mandatory for pre-teen girls, which begs the question of who will pay for it. And there’s also an interesting ethical dilemma: should we treat a vaccine for a sexually transmitted virus the same as we treat the vaccine for the measles? Or are we framing the question wrong? The Times article I linked to above says that cervical cancer — almost all of which is caused by HPV — is the second-leading cause of death among women worldwide. If that’s the case, why not say we’re administering a vaccine for cancer? Isn’t that revolutionary? Take sex out of the equation.

Heh, my first post on my mom’s blog and I write about sex. Good thing she’s so cool! (Hi, Mom!)

There’s Got to Be a Morning After

More reproductive rights news to follow up “The Daughter Effect“:

Tony Pugh of Knight Ridder reports that Rep. Henry Waxman (da man!) discovered the Bush Administration is not being honest (ah-HEM!) about its morning-after-pill policies.

Internal documents made public Thursday have raised new questions about the federal government’s continued refusal to allow over-the-counter sales of the emergency contraceptive known as “Plan B.”

The documents, obtained by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., show that in February 2004, policymakers at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found no problem in allowing the so-called morning-after pill to be sold without a prescription to women of all ages.

Yet 18 months later, former FDA Commissioner Lester Crawford cited concerns about selling the drug to younger teens as a major reason for blocking the move.

The move prompted outrage from women’s rights groups and Democratic lawmakers, who claimed that the agency was blocking the measure for political reasons despite scientific evidence that showed nonprescription sales of the pill were safe.
One FDA official opposed to the decision resigned.

Here’s the juicy part:

Barr Laboratories, the maker of Plan B, originally sought to sell the drug over-the-counter to women of all ages. Only after meeting resistance from FDA officials and conservative organizations did the company opt to require prescriptions for women ages 16 and under.

The FDA records indicate that the change was engineered by FDA senior officials who worked behind the scenes against the company while appearing to remain neutral.

After mid-level FDA officials made their recommendation to approve Plan B sales without prescriptions, their superiors told them that FDA Commissioner Mark McClellan and other senior managers at the agency “cannot support the non-prescription switch of Plan B,” according to the agency’s records.

By that time, the FDA already had begun urging Barr to seek over-the-counter sales for those 17 and older.

Barr eventually did so, but the request was tabled in August 2005 by Crawford, who claimed the move raised “difficult and novel policy and regulatory issues.” The FDA hasn’t yet decided the matter, and Plan B remains available by prescription only.

However, seven states allow Plan B to be sold over-the-counter. These are Washington, California, Alaska, Hawaii, New Mexico, Maine and New Hampshire.

What I want to know is. when is it going to be the morning after for the bozo Bush appointees in the FDA responsible for this nonsense?

The Daughter Effect

This Seattle Post-Intelligencer editorial needs more attention —

A new report posits what many fathers of daughters already know — that having a daughter can change a man’s political perspective on women’s issues. …

… Having a daughter is likely to literally bring such issues home, forcing lawmakers to view them in real, not abstract, terms. It always helps to put a human face on an issue. It would seem even more so when that face is your child’s.

It may, as well, make it easier to recognize that reproductive choices belong in the personal province of a woman and her family, not the state.

The report is called “Female Socialization: How Daughters Affect Their Legislator Fathers’ Voting on Women’s Issues,” and it was written by Ebonya Washington for the National Bureau of Economic Research and dated January 2006. It is available for download for a $5 fee at the NBER web site. Here is a summary. I also found what might be a preliminary version of the report in PDF format — “Female Socialization: How Daughters Affect Their Legislator Fathers’ Voting on Women’s Issues” by Ebonya Washington, Yale University, May 2005. It may not be exactly the same as the more recent NBER document, but it’s free.

Anyway, Washington looked at voting patterns in the 105th Congress and found that having daughters is a “positive and significant predictor” of how legislators vote on reproductive rights. I skimmed through the Yale version of the report and found these points:

1. The daughter effect is more pronounced in male legislators than in female legislators.

2. Although the daughter factor has some effect across all “gender gap” issues, it is most pronounced in the area of reproductive rights.

3. Point #2 is significant because public opinion polls on reproductive rights actually show less of a “gender gap” than some other issues, such as crime, defense, gay rights, and welfare spending. This suggests that fathers’ opinions are not changing just because they are exposed to their daughters’ points of view.

4. The older the daughter, the more pronounced is the daughter effect. It seems to grow over time.

You can glean more about factors and methodologies from the paper. There’s, like, tables and Greek letters and everything. The point is that the mere fact of having daughters, especially daughters approaching reproductive age, seems to have a statistically measurable impact on the way legislators, especially male legislators, vote regarding reproductive rights. (My skimming through the report didn’t tell me how big the daughter effect is; perhaps someone who understands statistical analysis could take a look and explain it. I would appreciate that muchly.)

I wrote recently that “whether one is pro-choice or anti-choice does not depend on whether one thinks embryos are human beings. It depends on whether one recognizes that women are human beings.” The study seems to corroborate this.

Oh, the Humanity

Once upon a time — early 1970s, pre-Roe, I believe — I remember reading a newspaper column written by a fellow who had been opposed to legal abortion. I say had, because he had changed his mind. What changed his mind was a tragedy — his beloved granddaughter, a college student, had been raped.

The young woman didn’t become pregnant. But the episode had made the man think — what if she had. Before Roe, several states banned abortions even for rape victims. For the first time, he reflected on what a pregnancy from rape might do not only to his granddaughter, but to his entire family. Could the family accept such a child? Could he? How would it feel to give a grandchild away? Not just a hypothetical grandchild, but his real, breathing, flesh-and-blood grandchild?

And he considered, for the first, time, how such a pregnancy would prolong and deepen the trauma his granddaughter had already suffered. All his hopes for her — that she would finish college, that she would marry happily and have children — depended on her recovery from the trauma. How could a compassionate and just society not do whatever it took to help her? Yes, babies are precious, but so was his granddaughter!

As I remember it, the man remained uncomfortable with abortion. But he thought on, and he thought about teenagers with poor impulse control, and couples with as many children as they could afford already, and a thousand other circumstances in which people — real people — might choose to seek abortion. Suddenly, for him a woman who sought an abortion was no longer just a hypothesis or an archetype — Careless Woman, Selfish Woman, Woman in a Vacuum. Now he understood these women were real individuals with parents, siblings, husbands, children, and grandparents who loved them.

Today I thought about the man who cared about his granddaughter when I read two posts by Digby — “The Sodomized Virgin Exception” and, um, this other post. What comes through loudly and clearly in both posts is that the anti-abortion rights position is based on an assumption that women aren’t real people — especially women who get abortions. Oh, they’re human in a scientific sense, but they aren’t people. They are archetypes who live in the heads of the anti-abortion righters — Careless Woman, Selfish Woman, Woman in a Vacuum. The same people who imagine embryos can think and feel emotions — and therefore deserve protection — must believe a pregnant woman is just a major appliance.

There are copious anecdotes from abortion providers who say that often the same people protesting outside the clinic one week are patients (or parents of patients) the next week. These people assume that their situations are unique and should be the one exception. They often want the abortion staff to know they aren’t like those other women who get abortions. This inspired the bitter joke that the legitimate reasons for abortion are “rape, incest, and me.” Such people recognize their own humanity (or their daughter’s), but those other women who get abortions are just archetypes who don’t deserve respect or considertion.

I’ve long believed that whether one is pro-choice or anti-choice does not depend on whether one thinks embryos are human beings. It depends on whether one recognizes that women are human beings. Not archetypes, but real, individual human beings. Including women who get abortions.

See also: Amanda M., Echidne and the Wege.

Betty Friedan

Just about everyone alive in 1963 remembers where they were when John Kennedy was shot. In the same way, a lot of us today remember where we were and how we felt when we read The Feminine Mystique.

was published in that pivotal year 1963, although I didn’t read it until 1969. It took some time for second-wave feminism to reach the Ozarks.

The power of Mystique was in its revelation of something we already knew but weren’t yet cognizant of knowing. Her description of The Problem That Has No Name reached deep into our heads. It hauled truth from a deep, subconscious place into the clarity of full consciousness.

Some of Friedan’s speculations on why women had become so marginalized in the post World War II era don’t stand the test of time, to be sure. But though her theories of the cause of the disease may have been flawed, she diagnosed the illness perfectly. Women were moved by Mystique not because they were intellectually persuaded, but because they recognized themselves in its pages.

Patricia Sullivan writes in the Washington Post: “Her insights into what she described as the soul-draining frustrations felt by educated, stay-at-home women in the 1950s, ‘the problem that has no name,’ startled a society that expected women to be happy with marriage and children.” Startled puts it mildly. Mystique set souls on fire.

Mystique was less a catalog of the oppression of women throughout time than an exploration of the way sexual stereotyping and gender roles had changed after World War II, and how as a result women in the 1960s were leading desperately constricted lives. I think you had to be there to understand how much the world has changed since then. Even the most hidebound, conservative traditionalists in America today would be considered “liberal” on women’s issues by the standards of 1963. Although many won’t admit it, in a sense we’re nearly all feminists now.

Second-wave feminism started out as a movement of mostly educated and reasonably affluent white women. It caught some flack for that, but as I remember the suffragette movement was also fueled mostly by educated and reasonably affluent white women. This is possibly because it took some education and some affluence to launch a women’s movement at all; poorer and less well educated women were too crushed by circumstance to even think about movements.

Also, originally, it focused a great deal on marriage and family issues, on taking on the roles of wife and mother without completely losing yourself in the process.

I heard Friedan speak once, at the University of Missouri ca. 1972. She said one thing I still remember — I never said marriage and children weren’t important things in a woman’s life. I said they weren’t the only things in a woman’s life. Sullivan of WaPo continues,

Friedan’s was a voice that was loud, insistent and sometimes divisive. She split with NOW in the 1970s after she came to believe that the organization focused too many resources on lesbian issues and that too many feminists hated men. Her 1981 book “The Second Stage” prompted some feminists to denounce her as reactionary.

I’m not so sure she split with NOW as was driven out of it. In the 1970s, I well remember, many NOW chapters became more radicalized, which alienated many of the same educated and reasonably affluent white women who had embraced second wave feminism in the 1960s. I don’t know how much of this was the fault of feminist leadership, or whether it was just another aspect of the “eating their own” frenzy the American Left was experiencing at the time. In any event, Friedan’s concerns about how to be a wife and mother and feminist at the same time became passé.

When the Equal Rights Amendment went down to defeat ca. 1980 the feminist movement splintered into myriad feminisms; IMO there really hasn’t been “A Feminist Movement” since except in the imaginations of righties who continue to demonize it. Yet by then American women had accomplished much to break the constraints of the 1950s.

Betty Friedan died of congestive heart failure yesterday. She was 85 years old.

What else can I say, but —You did good, Betty. Thanks.

Because Jonah Goldberg Won’t Go

A rightie at NRO supports the troops — from a distance — but only the male ones. NRO’s Kathryn Jean Lopez clucks with disapproval at this Washington Post piece by Anne Hull, “When Mom Is Over There.”

“[Y]ou really need to get yourself Women Who Make the World Worse to see how we got to the point where we’re deploying moms to Iraq,” sniffs Lopez, referring to a new book by celebrated right-wing airhead Kate O’Beirne. Lopez links to an interview with O’Beirne, who calls women serving in war zones “a disgrace.”

The Mom at War is Master Sgt. Angela Hull, Anne Hull’s sister-in-law. Anne Hull writes,

Angela is chief controller of the air-traffic control tower at Kirkuk Regional Air Base in northern Iraq. She did not graduate from the Air Force Academy or come from a long line of military heroes. Angela was 22 and working at the Stouffer’s frozen-food factory in her home town of Gaffney, S.C., in 1987 when she rebelled against the smallness of her life and joined the Air Force. She advanced the slow, hard way, from refueling aircraft at 30,000 feet to learning air-traffic control to commanding towers. In Kirkuk, she supervises 10 controllers in the base tower while serving as first sergeant to a squadron of 48.

But “women can’t and don’t meet the male physical standards,” says Kate O’Beirne.

I’d like to see O’Beirne explain physical standards to Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester of the 617th Military Police Company, who was awarded a Silver Star last June. According to the American Forces Press Service:

Hester’s squad was shadowing a supply convoy March 20 when anti-Iraqi fighters ambushed the convoy. The squad moved to the side of the road, flanking the insurgents and cutting off their escape route. Hester led her team through the “kill zone” and into a flanking position, where she assaulted a trench line with grenades and M203 grenade-launcher rounds. She and Nein, her squad leader, then cleared two trenches, at which time she killed three insurgents with her rifle.

When the fight was over, 27 insurgents were dead, six were wounded, and one was captured.

Kate O’Beirne finds Sgt. Hester disgraceful, even though her physical standards seemed perfectly adequate.

I realize we ladies are smaller and have a reduced capacity for upper body strength compared to men, and I have no doubt there are many war situations in which women generally would be at a disadvantage. I also realize that it’s hard on a family for Mom to be away. But isn’t it hard on a family for Dad to be away? Do O’Beirne and Lopez believe that husbands and fathers play a less critical role in family life than wives and mothers? I thought conservatives were into fatherhood these days.

I believe we should leave it to the military, not Kate O’Beirne or Kathryn Jean Lopez, to decide who is qualified to be a soldier and who isn’t. I’m told that our military activities in Iraq require smarts as much as brawn, if not more so. And in the past year the military often fell short of recruitment goals, causing the Army to lower its standards on aptitude tests. Are we supposed to replace smart, well-trained women for (possibly) less smart and less-well-trained men in order to satisfy Kate O’Beirne’s sense of propriety?

And if Ms. Lopez wants women serving in Iraq to be replaced by men, she could start by kicking her colleague Jonah Goldberg in his lazy butt and telling him to enlist.

Further — if we don’t want moms and dads going to war, maybe we should be a little more circumspect about starting wars, hm?