Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Abortion Ban II: Where'd all these chickens come from?

An excellent guest post - which I completely agree with, by the way - by Kelsey, about the state of abortion rights in South Dakota:

In reference to the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X once said it was a case of "chickens coming home to roost." He was severely criticized for intimating that Kennedy was a victim of the violence that he was complicit in. People don't like it when you criticize their heroes.

So some people who feel like we had some giant pro-choice victory on November 7 might not like my suggestion that this newest abortion ban is chickens coming home to roost. This week, I've had a number of people tell me that they cannot believe another abortion ban has been introduced. Honestly, I would've been pretty surprised if it hadn't. For months, all we talked about was exceptions. Lawns all over South Dakota screamed, "No Exceptions! No Exceptions!" We were told we couldn't go out on a corner with signs that said "Honk for Choice." No, hold this "Honk for No Exceptions" sign instead. And now we're surprised that the other side is claiming that the election was not a mandate on a woman's right to choose, but a mandate on exceptions. Gee whiz, who saw that coming? I'll tell you who: everyone. I can't even count how many conversations I had where someone was like, "I'm sort of worried that all this talk about exceptions is going to lead to the antis introducing a ban with exceptions next session." Good call, guys.

Now, I know it seems a little counter intuitive; a ban with exceptions kind of defeats a lot of the arguments the antis trotted out during the election (weren't they moaning that you could 'drive a truck through' a health exception?). But they feel like they've got something to prove now, so they're going to go through with it, regardless. It's going to have a helluva time getting through the Senate and if did pass through some miracle, I'm sure there would be a legal challenge and an injunction before you could say Jack Robinson, but let's not get too comfortable, okay? The disbelief I'm hearing right now makes me worry that people think the fight's over and believe me, it's not. A lot could happen in the months to come and we need to stay, dare I say, vigilant. And next time (no doubt, there will be a next time), can we come up with something a little more ballsy than "No Exceptions"?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Yes. I have bronchitis. Further, I am going out of town for a few days, so expect my posting to be a bit spotty.

But in the meantime, Kelsey promises a guest post to come soon, and check this out, courtesy of Wide Lawns.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Updates on abortion legislation 'round the country.

First, here's a link to a blog post about a terrifying story: the story of Amber Abreu, 18-year-old Massachusetts resident, who has been arrested and may be charged with manslaughter for using Misoprostol to cause an abortion. Read the whole thing and follow the link to the news story - it's preposterous. And check out the very very long list of links at the end.

And second, here's a guest post by Keepaskingwhy on...

North Dakota's State Legislation on Reproductive Rights

ND still has 2 abortion related bills pending. Our legislature meets every other year and typically runs through April. Here's the info on the pending bills:

HB 1466: Passed the House 61-26. This bill is being called the "trigger bill" because it only goes into effect upon the overturning of Roe v. Wade. This was the only bill with this requirement. The bill makes abortion illegal except to save the life of the mother. No exemptions for rape or incest. Felony for anyone who assists in an abortion but during testimony it was indicated that woman was not included (bill is a little vague in that area). This bill had some democratic support in sponsorship and passage on the House side.

SB 2400: This bill has not had a hearing yet. Gives rights of citizenship to born and preborn as identifed in the ND state policy on abortion and child birth.

Three previously filed bills were defeated last Friday. I won't go into a lot of detail on them except to note them:

HB 1464: Failed on House floor 49-39. Bill was vague and there was a lot of confusion as far as its effect. Added in multi-fetal abortions as being restricted. Lots and lots in bill about materials, videos, etc. to be shown to a woman seeking an abortion.

HB 1489: Failed on House floor 69-20. Strongest worded bill filed. Outlawed abortion, period. No exemptions. Although there was some dispute in the hearing, appears to provide for prosecution of woman as well as anyone else who assisted. Also appeared to make birth control illegal. Sponsors stated it was designed to be a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade by addressing the items noted by Blackmun in Roe v. Wade. This hearing was particularly offensive. I'm paraphrasing but one of the sponsors essentially said that we need to make abortion illegal no matter what because women are too easily influenced by others. In other words, we need big, all-knowing men like him to protect us from making our own decisions about what's best for us. Bleh.

HB 1494: Failed on House floor 60-29. This bill restricted use of public funds for genetic testing. Bill was very vague and confusing. During testimony it came out that focus of the bill was to prohibit genetic testing where there is no cure. Ex., down's syndrome. Since there's no cure, there's no need to do testing because knowing would then influence the woman into possibly having an abortion. While testing in which there is a cure (ex. spinal bifida), should be allowed so could be fixed in utero. The big insurance company here was against this bill because it would be impossible to implement with changes in medical testing, etc. (ND Leg Session only meets every other year). Plus, there has been no issue regarding any insurance company forcing an abortion as a result of genetic testing results.

There was also SB 2312 which we wondered if meant as a way to restrict abortions but was found to not be abortion related at all.

On all these bills, it was the usual cast of characters as far as who was for and against.

The State of South Dakota came up a lot in these hearings and all the press SD got last year really helped in the defeat of HB 1489 in my opinion. The ND Legislature didn't seem to want the national attention of publicly challenging Roe v. Wade (although they have no problems with the national attention and ridicule we get from having a cohabitation ban which makes it illegal for the opposite sex to live together).

That's the report from your northern keep that other stuff in your state. We've got our hands full as it is up here!

Thanks, Keepaskingwhy! Feel free to post updates at any time - and I'm still open to guest bloggers for news on SD's new proposed ban (and for news on abortion legislation across the nation. God, that sounds like a slogan, doesn't it? "Plain(s) Feminist: News on Abortion Legislation Across the Nation." Sheesh.)

Another abortion ban.

I'm still sick.

I will refer you all here for updates re. the new ban.

And - I am looking for a couple of guest bloggers on this issue. Keepaskingwhy, let me know if you'd like to do a post on what's happening in ND. Anyone else who is up on SD happenings (*cough* Kelsey *cough* Anna), let me know if you'd be willing to write an update, analysis, parodic play, ironic poem, etc.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Help out a feminist!

Can we all get together to help out a colleague of mine who wants to show her class what kind of treatment feminists often receive on the internet?

I've been scouring the blogs to find examples of trolls, hate mail, etc. to send her. Many feminist bloggers filter out the crap so it doesn't get through. However, if you know of any sites where there is hate mail still up in response to feminist postings, or if you are a blogger and have some hate mail you'd be willing to forward, would you please let me know? You all can paste it into the comments or you can email me privately.

Thanks in advance!

He used to be the next president of the United States.

"We have to find a way to expand the limits of what's possible." - Al Gore
"Become the change that you wish to see in the world." - Gandhi

Al Gore came to speak here the other night, and despite my bad cold and what turned out to be horrendously uncomfortable bleacher seats, I went to hear him.

The thing I liked second best about his talk was that it was scheduled opposite the State of the Union address.

The thing I liked best about his talk was listening to someone smart talk about the state of the union.

(They opened with the national anthem. I am one of those people who usually stays seated if I can get away with it. I'm not sure why this is. I think that the crux of the matter is that I think it's an empty show, and I don't like being told when and under what circumstances I should be patriotic, and what that should look like. I can get away with it in New York, but here, not only does everyone stand - everyone SINGS. And the person behind me clearly was a soloist in her church choir, so I got an earful.)

Gore's main points were that our democracy is broken, that the citizens are no longer informed and involved and our representatives are no longer interested in ideas and information. His charge to us is to change the system, to educate ourselves and to take an active role in our government. And while the environment is clearly the central issue for Gore, the dissolution of American democracy is also of critical importance.

Gore avoided castigating the current administration for these problems, cleverly sidestepping direct accusations. He never pointed to Bush and said, "it's his fault." But he did note that, at some point, "we got away from a politics based on a rule of reason and a well-informed citizenry in the driver's seat," moving instead to a political system in which, "instead of reason and knowledge playing the principle role, money does."

Sadly, Gore did not talk much about his movie. That meant that he didn't say much beyond the basics about the problems we face or how we might solve them. Personally, I found this frustrating - I would have like to have more information and to have been given a suggested first step. I mean, it helps. Otherwise there's that panicky paralysis that sets in whenever we find out about some new ill in the world that needs to be healed and the task is just too great.

But what I'm left with from Gore's talk is that we can't solve these problems, environmental or governmental, with our usual responses. We have to shift the paradigm. If making or losing money is the main issue in all of our deliberations, then we are doomed.

Now. Native American activists and traditionalists have been saying the same thing for centuries. There's a reason why the Haudenosaunee practiced direct democracy. It meant that everyone had a voice. If some of the tribe wanted to go to war, they all had to sit down and talk about it, and everyone was heard, and if everyone wanted to go to war, then they went to war. But if only some of the people wanted to go to war, they didn't go to war. We took our system of government from the Iroquois, but we shifted from a direct to a representative democracy. A representative democracy is easier. It means that you don't have to listen to all of the people, just to the majority of the people, and sometimes not even to them (witness the 2000 presidential election). The whole purpose for the electoral college, after all, is because the founding fathers didn't trust the common folk enough to vote intelligently, and so they built in a failsafe by which the elite could temper the popular vote.

(Which is ironic when you look at some of our past presidents. Andrew Jackson, for instance. As one of my professors said: "A dumbass."

...I guess that goes for the current president, as well.)

Further, Native Americans made (and continue to make) decisions with an eye toward the future. The rest of us do not. We tend to think about which MP3 player or flatscreen monitor to buy - and not so much about how the manufacturing of these MP3 players and flatscreen monitors and the disposal of broken or outdated ones will affect the environment (say, by leaking lead) that we leave to the seventh generation yet unborn.

I'm not romanticizing Native American culture here - just saying that what we've got isn't working, and this other thing? Looks like a good way to start thinking.

Doesn't it?

A system of government in which each voice, each vote, really does count?

An environmental approach that weighs policies on their future impacts rather than their revenues?

That, my friends, is something I could get patriotic about.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Pro-choice v. pro-choice.

First, here are links to the most recent blog blow-up. Go read them.

All set? OK, then.

I'm going to leave aside the questions of who behaved badly and how and all that. What I thought was interesting about all of this was the different pro-choice positions that were displayed.

What does "pro-choice" mean? The most general definition that pretty much everyone who calls herself "pro-choice" would agree on is the belief that women should make their own reproductive decisions, specifically regarding abortion and birth control. In more recent years, the movement has begun to address larger issues of reproductive rights, including forced sterilization, forced abortion, access to good prenatal care, etc. However, the basic focus has remained on abortion rights.

When a woman says that she is pro-life but then declares that she believes that abortion should be safe and legal for all women and that it is a personal decision, I read her as saying that she finds abortion morally repugnant but that, at the end of the day, she is pro-choice. Because, in essence, she supports leaving the choice up to the individual woman.

This is no small thing. In fact, many women I've met share these feelings. What they feel is a serious concern about abortion, an uneasiness, a conviction that abortion is a tragedy. Some point out that they themselves would never have an abortion. And yet, at the same time, they still believe that women need to be able to make these decisions independently.

Some of these women may call themselves pro-choice and simultaneously express these misgivings. Some may not even call themselves pro-choice but may take the exact same position as the pro-choicers. The end result is the same: women who support women's rights to make personal decisions about our bodies.

What I got from Rootie's post was that she was, essentially, pro-choice, though she didn't want to use that label. But as long as she supports a woman's right to have an abortion, she's supporting choice.

But for Jane Awake, this was not enough. Jane felt that this need to qualify was part of the problem; it gave credence to the notion of abortion as murder and as necessarily a horrible (though sometimes necessary) decision. To Jane, using "pro-life" language, even while supporting pro-choice positions, is not pro-choice.

And to an extent, I can see Jane's point. When we talk about abortion in SD, we generally add a disclaimer along the lines of, of course, having an abortion would be a terribly difficult decision. Of course it would be a sad thing, but sometimes it's for the best.

The reality, of course, is that different people have different reactions, and for the record, none of my close friends who've talked to me about their abortions have ever regretted them. And none thought twice about having them in the first place, either. I'm not saying that no one has regrets or second thoughts - just that these things aren't part of everybody's abortion experience.

But see, this is scary. The "pro-life" side paints women as reckless, having abortions for fun and using them as birth control (which implies regular abortions and careless use of actual birth control). So if we say, "abortion does not have to be a big deal," we're playing right into their hands and being loose women with no morals (after all, we don't think killing our babies is a big deal!).

But if we get all moralistic and look down at the ground and talk about how sad it is that this is sometimes an option...well, that plays into their hands, too. And I can understand Jane's frustration.

Of course, many in the pro-choice movement do find abortion problematic and disturbing, as well. These women should not be forced to repeat rhetoric. They, too, are entitled to their feelings.

Some women say, "I would never have an abortion." I've felt that way. And, in fact, a couple of years after writing it publically, I was able to think up scenarios in which I am pretty sure that I *would* have an abortion. But perhaps more to the point, as Jane reminds us, many, many women say they'd never have abortions and then have abortions. The truth is, you don't know until you get there what you might do in a theoretical situation. Meanwhile, the "I'd never have an abortion" statement can act to divide women, and it infuses the whole thing with a sense of "I am morally correct and good, and I would never do such a horrible thing, but I guess I support your right to do it." Conversely, though, it can also allow someone who is empathetic toward other women but, for religious reasons, convinced that abortion is murder, to find a middle ground where she can be at peace between the opposing sides.

For many, saying "I'd never have an abortion but" is simply speaking the truth as they know it to be.

And then, of course, there are the women who have had an abortion (or three) and who have since become "pro-life," which means that when the chips were down, they got to make a choice, and now they are damn sure going to try to prevent anyone else from having that option. But I will say this: those women who say they've been hurt by abortion? I think we in the pro-choice movement ought to listen to them. Because, as one prominent abortion researcher (who has never found a link between abortion and the myriad ills the pro-life movement tries to link it to, and who spends her time debunking crappy pro-life "studies") said to me, if reputable studies ever *do* show that there are women who are suffering as a result of their abortions, then we need to research this so that we can treat them.

Not so that we can criminalize abortion.

Isn't that delightfully sane?

The bottom line for me is that my morals are not dictated by the "pro-life" movement, and I don't have to please them. I think we need room in the pro-choice movement for anyone who supports our goals, regardless of what they call themselves and of what language they use to talk about abortion.


Since I began working on this post, a discussion started up in the comments of one of my earlier posts, and I'd like to address it in this thread, as well. One person repeatedly made comments that suggested that the pro-choice movement is, and feminists are - and this is not her terminology, so if I have misunderstood, I hope she will clarify - essentially anti-reproduction.

With regard to the pro-choice movement, it is common for "pro-lifers" to understand "pro-choice" to mean "always choose abortion." This is because it is politically expedient for their movement to portray us this way. But it is also because it is difficult for some people to grasp that they can be both in favor of women making their own choices AND ALSO not need to want to abort their own - or all - pregnancies.

It seems a simple enough point that it should not need to be stated at all, much less clarified. But I have run into this again and again, in the form of slogans such as "your mother was pro-life" (which, in fact, she isn't); the implication here seems to be that, because she didn't abort *me*, she must be pro-life. This of course makes no sense. If the pro-choice motto were "always abort," there'd be no choice involved.

I also encountered it last fall when I met a pregnant woman - who was pro-choice - who did not want to sign the petition to put the abortion ban on the SD ballot. She gestured at her belly as a reason, yet in her other discussions, she seemed to support abortion rights for women. But for some reason, she felt a contradiction between supporting them publically and being pregnant.

And, I have run into this misperception many times from students, who often call pro-choice "pro-abortion" and have no inkling that very many of the women I've met in the movement have not had abortions, believe they never will have abortions, and think of abortions as a horrible thing (and now I'm back, nearly, where I started).

What I always notice, by the way, whether at marches in Washington, D.C. or at the clinic or on the picket line, is that, unfailingly, there are always mothers there with me, some with big maternity "choice" (with an arrow pointing to their bellies) t-shirts, and some who want their daughters to have better options than they did.

And I also wanted to point out, again for the record, that while there are some schools of feminism that have argued against "breeding" (particularly in the 1970s, but less so thereafter), there are also schools of feminism that are centered in the notion of motherhood as integral to the female experience. Further, women of color feminist theories have, for the most part, focused on woman as mother and in relation to family and community. Indigenous concerns about women's status are, in part, closely tied to the roles of those women as mothers of the next generation. Environmental feminism explores things like environmental racism (for example, the storing of depleted uranium on Native American reservations) and the effects of toxins on mothers and children. I can think of a couple of radical feminist blogs that are all about women as natural nurturers and mothers. And feminists who worship the Goddess and/or Gaia also celebrate women bearing life.

As far as I'm concerned, anyone who supports reproductive rights (which includes the right to reproduce) is part of my movement - no matter what she calls herself or how she talks about it.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Good Lord, I am horribly sick.

I have been taking Zicam, Emergen-C, and doing everything I'm supposed to do except sleep, and I feel awful. (I tried to sleep, but I couldn't. I was up until at least 3:30 watching old episodes of NYPD Blue.)

Mr. Plainsfeminist and Bean are out buying me special tissues with lotion in them for my poor, red nose (and some Claritin). And while I'm waiting for them, I want to share a book with you. Several years ago, I came across it in a Walden's Books, and I thought, "this would be a perfect book to buy for my child." Since I didn't have a child then, I didn't buy it, but once he was born a few years later, I started looking for it. The problem was, I didn't know the author or the title, so I kept finding myself in bookstores asking about the book "with the kid who meets the cloud on top of the Empire State Building, and he draws all these great designs for the clouds?"

I should have been asking at the libraries. The bookstores don't stock the same titles for more than a couple of months.

And also, I convinced myself that the title was something like Cloud Nine or Cloud Thirteen. I knew there was a number in it, anyway.

So fast forward a few more years, and I finally found it, thanks to a recent children's book review in the New Yorker.

And here it is: Sector 7.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Coming soon...

It's nearly midnight, I still have papers to grade, and I've got a cold that has just suddenly blown up and made me miserable - red, stuffy, runny nose, hacking cough, sneezing...I'm going to go take a Claritin.

Anyway. So I'm not doing a real post tonight, but in the next few days you can expect a post on yesterday's pro-choice blog blow-up (I'm not going to continue the war, but I do have some things to say about it, and yes, this time I will provide links) as well as one on Al Gore's talk tonight (which I attended instead of watching W's State of the Union address, and which, I'm guessing, was far preferable).

Stay tuned, and keep commenting on the previous posts if you'd like. I'll be back soon.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Blog for Choice

Driving home today, I was thinking, "geez, I should really blog for choice and be part of the whole thing, but I've written so much about this issue over the last year that I'm kind of out of ideas."

And so I picked up Bean from daycare and took him with me to a Roe v. Wade celebratory dinner presentation - a get-together that we had to leave shortly thereafter because Bean wouldn't stop crawling under the table and through the folding chairs, kneeling a couple of times on the edge of the tablecloth, nearly pulling the whole thing off along with the fancy goblets of ice water.

So...yeah. I took my child, whom I chose to have, to a pro-Choice celebration, and then we didn't have the option of staying because 5-year-olds have trouble sitting still at these things. When Choices Collide.

But I'm so very glad and grateful that having him was a choice - that I got to choose to have a baby, and that I got support to have him, and that I had access to medical care when things looked dicey. And that it was not a pregnancy that I was forced into, or one that I didn't really want, or one that was unduly threatened by environmental toxins (as are those of so many women of color due to environmental racism), and that I didn't spend my pregnancy dodging gunfire and landmines (as do so many women around the world) and that, after the miscarriage and all the scary stuff, Bean made it safely into the world.

Here's to real options for all women. ~clink~


I'm always disheartened whenever I read a piece on the childfree movement. It's not that I think everyone should have kids. To the contrary: I'm actually really glad that there exists such a movement because most people, women especially, feel that having kids is something they're supposed to do, whether or not they want to, and that if they don't, they will be missing out. And those women who know that they don't want kids are not taken seriously - they are told, repeatedly, that they'll change their minds. Or that it will be different with their kids, when they have them, and all the things they think will be annoying or boring really won't be. Or, finally, that there must be something wrong with them if they do not want to do something as normal as have children.

But why is it that "childfree" keeps morphing into "keep that kid away from me - I don't like kids, and I shouldn't have to put up with yours!"? (Disclaimer: I know that there are many childfree people (perhaps most?) who don't have this attitude. I am writing about those who do. Perhaps this faction gets the most media attention for the obvious reason that they are the extremists of the movement - I don't know.)

Before I had a baby, I thought other people's babies were a pain. I didn't like hearing babies cry on airplanes. And then when I had one, it wasn't that I suddenly found baby cries charming - not at all. It was simply that I realized this was just part of life, part of the way kids develop, and that there is nothing that can be done about it. In the same vein, I stop myself when I'm de-planing and getting worked up about how slowly the elderly woman ahead of me using a walker is moving. I mean, she's mobile. That's a big deal. And my impatience is really not the most important thing in that moment. Disability, too, is the way people develop. It's nearly inevitable, and so our attitude should be about making society comfortable and safe for babies, children, people with disabilities (who I am not comparing to babies nor children) - everyone. Shouldn't it?

Yes, crying babies can be annoying. But you can get used to them. If you want to, that is. I used to have a fair number of students in my classes with thick accents, and it was clear to me that the other students couldn't understand them. But I could. Why? Did I have some amazing talent for understanding accents? No. I simply had a job to do. As the teacher, it wasn't ok for me to stop listening because I couldn't understand. I had to listen harder, better, and more patiently. And what I learned - really, this was very surprising to me - was that I could learn to understand thick accents. And what that made me realize was that this meant that my students had simply been giving up and not listening because they didn't want to make this effort.

They didn't care enough or think that the student had anything to say that was worth listening to, so they stopped listening.

The childfree movement seems, often, to soar right on past making it acceptable not to have kids to making it acceptable to make derogatory comments about kids, and then further, to making it acceptable to not want to be around kids. Ever. And this I find as discriminatory as those students who weren't interested in what the student from India had to say.

I'm not saying that everyone has to enjoy spending time with children. Anne Lamott once said that being the mother of a young child was so boring that it made her want to throw herself down the stairs. Even those of us who have kids don't always enjoy spending time with them. But children nevertheless deserve the same generosity and respect that we would give to anyone else.

Radical lesbian feminist and separatist Julia Penelope, in her book, Call Me Lesbian, wrote about arriving on board a plane and finding a woman with a baby in Penelope's seat. The woman looked up at her, smiling, not at all apologetic. Penelope interpreted this as a moment in which the "breeder" was privileged, completely unaware that she was taking up space not meant for her.

In the years since I read Penelope's piece, during the time when my own son was a baby, I often wondered if I might ever encounter Penelope on a plane trip, and whether my baby might be in her seat. Penelope saw her own rights as completely central: Her right to sit in her assigned seat. Her right to not have to interact with a breeder and child. Her right to not have to look at a baby as if it were cute. (I wonder if it ever occurred to her that the woman might not have been able to afford two seats and was simply hoping the seat next to her was empty so she'd be able to set the baby down and rest her arms. Or that the airline might not have been able to get her two seats together.)

Not wanting to have a child is a choice that is all too often not validated, and that is a real problem: the childfree movement is right to be pissed off, and I fully support people who choose not to be parents (hell, I do more than support them - I encourage them!). But not wanting to associate with children is, first, a disturbingly entitled position: "I am so special that I should be allowed to construct my life in such a way that I do not come into contact with those I find undesireable." But it is also a prejudice. It is determining that there is a whole class of people that one does not want to be around, by virtue of their age.

In what other situation would it be socially acceptable to reject an entire group of people in this way? I can't think of a single one.

Here's a link to a childfree blogger I absolutely agree with - well, except for the thing about parents getting unfair benefits and abusing them - but I suppose it happens. Hmm. More on that later, I think. But anyway - methinks that her piece on one problem with childfree is also very applicable to some of the blogwars that have been happening lately...

And, FWIW, here's the quote that got me pissed off about all of this - from Bitch Magazine, helpfully posted on someone else's site:

And then there’s Adrienne Frost’s book, I Hate Other People’s Kids. Many people who describe themselves as childfree are quick to profess that they love children and are devoted aunts, godparents, babysitters or teachers. Frost is not one of them. From the very first sentence of her book (“I hate them with a vengeance… and I hereby give you license to hate them too”), Frost is unequivocal in her contempt not just for children but for a culture that increasingly resembles a vast Toys “R’ Us. And like cafĂ© owner Dan McCauley, she speaks not only for the childfree movement but also for anyone who cares about manners and discipline. (And that goes not only for children: Frost aims much of her vitrol at parents themselves, as in the chapter “Have you Met My Vagina?” in which she berates new parents who force others into watching the “D-grade porn” of their birthing videos.)

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Ah, the Abortion Wars are back!

Thanks to CHAD for the continued reporting on what's heating up in SD this legislative session. Get ready for more legislation designed to control women's uteruses.

Man, I hope the rest of the Leg is too smart to go down this road again.

But there is an opportunity to do something about it. Thursday, February 1 is the second annual Women 4 Women Day in Pierre. There are free buses leaving from Sioux Falls and Rapid City. If you want the opportunity to lobby your elected officials - and lemme tell ya, last year I was really intimidated about approaching them, but this year? This year I'm spittin' mad and ready to give them a piece of my mind! - then join us!

(So who's going? I'm bringing my knitting - who's with me?)

Friday, January 19, 2007

Why race is not sex.

This is a response to the way that race is used as an analogy to argue that transwomen are not women because, just as one cannot change one's race, one cannot change one's sex. (And let me apologize in advance, should I say anything someone else has said first that I didn't know about.)

First of all, the vast majority of humans are born members of a sex. We are then assigned a gender on the basis of our genitals, and the gender roles that follow are socially constructed (we know this because they differ historically and culturally). But we are born into bodies that are sexed.

We are not born with a race. The race that we are assigned is socially constructed (we know this because racial categorizations differ historically and culturally). Our bodies do not hold essential racial truths. For example, people who are considered to be Black can have light skin, European features, straight hair, or blue eyes - or all of these at the same time. There are no essential racial charateristics that hold true for all Black people, or for all people of any racial group.

Further - in the early part of the 1800s, the Irish came to America and found that there was a racial caste system. Guess where they fit in? They were not white. They were called the Black Irish, Smoked Irish, N------ turned inside out. They were not thought of as property (as were enslaved Blacks), and so they were thought of by white Americans as lower on the racial status ladder than enslaved Blacks. The Irish were the ones who were brought in when you had really dangerous and unpleasant work to do, because if an Irish worker died, well, at least he wasn't anyone's property. Italians and Hungarians, as well, were not considered white when they first got here. That all of these groups (and more) are considered white today just proves that notions of race are social, not essential.

Moreover, there are anti-whiteness activists who argue that, indeed, it is not only possible for whites to reject their whiteness, it is obligatory. They see whiteness, not as a simple social category, but as a category that affords privilege and power at the disadvantage of those who do not get these same benefits. They see whiteness and the belief in whiteness as buttressing the entire racist project - and they suggest that one way to undermine systematic racism is for whites to refuse to be perceived as white (by, for example, telling people that they are Black).

How well this works in individual situations depends on those situations - but at the very least, it does make people who think they're white, THINK.

So what does this have to do with sex and gender, you ask? Well, as race is not immutable, it is not a good analogy to make when one is trying to justify reserving sexual identity for those born with certain body parts. There are and have been societies in which one's genitals do not determine one's gender - one's role in the community does. In this society, as well, sex does not always determine gender. For example, in the queer community, there are any number of genders, regardless of sex. Butch and femme are just two genders, available to both men and women.

But let's say that we apply the definition of "woman" to only those people who are born with certain female body parts. What happens to the term if transwomen, then, are allowed to claim it?

Well, what does happen? When I was in college and transphobic, I felt really upset at the idea that (as I saw it then) some man could be part of my community, that he could claim my gender identity and experiences. And this was upsetting to me, in no small part because I was just claiming my feminist and my women's space.

I don't remember what it was that turned me around. Possibly it was that I met some transgendered people and it was no longer a theoretical issue any longer. Interestingly enough, only *one* of the transgendered folks I know has ever acted in ways that ever brought out the "man taking over women's space" demon that I thought I had exorcised. (And that was still just bigotry on my part, as I've known lots of women who've been just as insistent about their issues as this one transwoman has been.) Meanwhile, of the lesbian separatists and the radical feminists I've known? Lots and lots have shouted down other women, silenced men and women and lesbians and bisexuals. And you know what that tells me? That behavior isn't gender-based or genital-based. A person can be an asshat regardless of whether s/he pees standing up or sitting down.

My assessment: the anti-trans stuff I've been reading in the feminist blogosphere is born of fear and anger. Both exist for very rational reasons. Being a woman, being subjected to all kinds of assault on a regular basis, justify fear and anger. But - not toward all members of a group indiscriminately.

There also two other fears involved here. The first is that, if we open the door and let everyone into our movement, we will not be safe. We do not believe that we are capable of working in coalition without risking ourselves. Indeed, there is always risk in coaltion, but refusing to move forward and stagnating (by which I mean reproducing the same feminist theory that's been coming out of certain portions of the feminist movement for the last thirty-five years) is not a good place to be.

The second fear is that, if we let everyone in, then we will have to change ourselves, and that might mean setting aside some of our feminist theory so that we can work with people who are significantly different from us. We might have to work with people we hate! And what kind of movement would that be?! Anti-porn activists working with prostitutes to fight domestic violence? Transmen working with radical feminists on Take Back the Night? Lesbians and Trade Unionists fighting for decent pay? Well, why the hell not?

And finally, there is this: if *anyone* can call themselves a woman, then what does that mean for the integrity of the definition that applies to biological women? Or, alternately, if a woman who sleeps with men can call herself a lesbian, then what does a woman who is completely devoted to women and would never think of sleeping with a man call herself? ...Or...if same-sex couples get married, then what does that do to the meaning of marriage for heterosexuals?

(I'm actually more sympathetic to the desire to claim identity labels and to keep the definitions somewhat "pure" than I sound here - but it's hard to avoid taking this argument to its natural conclusions.)

At any rate, it's 2007. It's time to stop reinventing the wheel and start getting on with the job.

~climbing down from soapbox~

Thursday, January 18, 2007

A bedtime story for feminism.

After following the continuing feminist blogsplosion for a while (no, I'm not gonna link because that way lies madness), I've been thinking of a story...

Once upon a time there were several kick-ass women who knew that the way things were weren't right and who wanted to change things. They also knew that the only way to make a real change would be to start with themselves. So, they all moved into a house together and started writing some radical feminist theory and tried to create a true, egalitarian, feminist life.

One of them was a writer. And she was a good writer. But because she had a strong talent for writing, she was not allowed to write. She had to downplay this skill and allow others in the group to do the writing. So she gave up her writing.

Do you know what this means, to be a writer and to give up your writing in the pursuit of a greater good?

Do you know what it means for your sisters to *ask* this of you?

Some of the women in this house were caring for the young child of another woman, a woman who had left. And they loved this child dearly, and the child loved them. But others in the house insisted that these women were simply serving the patriarchy by taking care of a child, by being mothers, and so they, believing that this was what they needed to do for the greater good, gave up the child.

I'm sure you can imagine what this meant, for the child and the mothers.

There were many other instances in which these women, deep in their feminist theory, ended up hurting each other. Badly.

These women were The Furies. The writer who wasn't allowed to write became a well-known photographer: in the absence of words, she turned to images. Another woman became a well-known advocate of international women's rights. Yet another became a famous novelist.

And when I heard some of the members speak eleven years ago, they were still moved to tears when they remembered that child. They talked openly, and with deep sadness, about what they had done to each other and to themselves. Not all of the members of the group showed up - an illustration, the speakers said, of just how damaging that time was for them on a personal level.

The theory they wrote was brilliant.


At the end of the day, I'd like a movement whose members can co-exist somewhat peacefully. That's all. It doesn't even have to be happily ever after.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The New Year's story.

I won a turkey. Me, someone who never wins anything: I. Won. A. Turkey. And so I invited some friends over on New Year's Eve to eat it.

Now, I have never before cooked a turkey. I have assisted my mother and my mother-in-law in preparing and roasting the bird, but I have never been the one in charge, never been the one to direct the turkey-cooking activities.

And so Mr. Plainsfeminist went to the supermarket on Thursday with the winning certificate and returned home with the 20-pound frozen turkey. Into the fridge to thaw.

Now: some people, and the instructions that come with a frozen turkey, say that you can defrost the thing by leaving it in the refrigerator. In my own defense, I'd like to note that this has NEVER been true at any of the Thanksgivings I've attended. Our turkey-related holidays have always been characterized by a turkey that threatens not to thaw out in time to be cooked.

And so, two days later, I took that turkey out of the fridge and I set it on the counter.

I poked it. It seemed to yield. I realized that I couldn't tell how frozen or thawed it was without taking off the plastic and feeling around inside. So I removed the plastic covering, immediately getting anxious about e coli and salmonella as one or two drops of blood dripped from the wrapping onto the counter and floor. Once the plastic was off, I discovered that the outside seemed thawed, but that the inside, as far as I could tell from poking my hands around in there up to my elbows, was a solid block of ice. After some thought, I rewrapped it and stuck it back in the cold oven the oven (I have two cats, and sitting it on the kitchen counter didn't seem like the best idea.).

About five or six hours later, I couldn't stand it anymore - I was worried about leaving it unrefrigerated. So, back it went into the fridge from 3:00am until 9:30 the next morning, when Mr. Plainsfeminist took it out. At 11:00, I checked it again - still frozen, or so I thought. As I was once again fishing around inside there, trying to find the missing innards that usually come packaged in a paper bag, a large chunk of ice suddenly came out in my hand, and I realized that the bird had been completely thawed for some time, but that a chunk of ice in the cavity had been sitting there fooling me.

So now the question was: do I cook and serve this bird that has been thawed and unrefrigerated for hours? Or do I toss it and send Mr. Plainsfeminist to the store at the eleventh hour to get a nice pot roast for the crockpot?

Well, I did what anyone else would have done: I called my mommy. And my mommy said, "well, I'm sure it's fine. You didn't take the plastic off, did you?"

Um...yeah. Yeah, I kinda did.

"Oh, well, I think it will be ok. ...the outside isn't soft, is it?"

Well, yeah, actually, it's soft.

"Oh. Well. Well, I'm sure it will be ok. It *is* cold to the touch, right?"

Mom, I've just had my hand inside the bird's ass for some time, wrestling out chunks of ice. I have no sensation in my hands., but actually, come to think of it, it does feel kind of warm.

"Oh, just cook it. It will be fine."

Meanwhile, I'm lookin' at this bird, at its yellow, puckery flesh, and now that it's not frozen, I realize that it is, in fact, a corpse. A turkey corpse. A dead, probably-already-rotting-because-I-neglected-to-refrigerate-it corpse.

I knew right then I could not eat it, not once I'd seen it as a cadaver full of salmonella, rotting away on my countertop. But what of my guests?

I am obsessive compulsive. Can you guess what I did?

The pot roast was delicious.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Random thoughts.

*I think it says something about my priorities that I spent all my downtime over the last few days reading the entire archive of Liliane.

*I somehow managed to climb three flights of stairs without spilling Bean's lemonade from Chuck E. Cheese, which was riding on top of the take-out box of pizza. But as soon as I tried to open the apartment door, I dumped it all over the carpet.

*You know that commercial for some t.v. network that involved people calling some phone answering bank that will help them determine if a real-life situation is indeed funny and if it's ok to laugh? I want there to be such a place that I can call to report people who say things - in public - like: "You know that white people NEVER would name their kids Jesus. But Hispanics do that all the time." (said with evident disgust in her voice, like what's WRONG with these people, anyway?!) and then: "Shaniqua...what the hell kinda name is THAT?" Yup - I want a call-in number for the hopelessly stupid and insensitive so that I can ask if it would be ok to thwack them with a big stick or something.

*For some reason, everyone else's kid manages to get out of gymnastics class without having to first run back out onto the floor to hug the stuffed lion by the bar, get a drink of water, run upstairs and come back down again, run over to say "hi" again to the teachers, get another drink of water, check the gumball machine for errant gumballs, fall on the floor in a pretend faint when I threaten that he must put his shoes on NOW, have a silly attack in which I must put his coat on him...and his socks...and his shoes...while he is kicking and trying to run around in circles. Just once I'd like to leave without whispering threats through gritted teeth. Just once.

*I haven't posted about the Ashley thing because it, like many other issues recently in the news, just makes me sick to my stomach. But I will say that no matter how difficult her parents feel caring for her would have eventually been, no matter how much they think they are motivated by what is best for her, the doctors and the hospital should have put a stop to this insanity immediately. At best, they have no understanding of disability and no respect for people with disabilities. At worst they do not see people with disabilities as people. I am just disgusted and nauseated by this. The crazy Terry Schiavo people made such a fuss over prolonging the life of a woman who was braindead, but it's ok to grossly surgically alter a little girl - who is NOT braindead, no matter what people think about her capabilities - so that she can continue to be a "pillow angel"? Or, maybe now that I think about it, it's all the same thing: people making decisions about other people's bodies and assuming that what *they* want is what those they are making decisions for want / would want. (Sound familiar?)

*Thanks to CHAD for posting this link to more abortion craziness, this time in Georgia. I have to say, the comments include what are probably the wittiest responses to trolls I've yet seen. (I am very disappointed that the comments have been closed.)

Monday, January 15, 2007

In Whose Honor?

In my class on Tuesday, I will be discussing indigenous peoples, particularly Native Americans in what is now the U.S., in my class. And what I like to use for these discussions is a great film by Jay Rosenstein, "In Whose Honor? American Indian Mascots in Sports." The film follows a graduate student, Charlene Teters, at Urbana Champaign, home of the "fighting Illini" and the made-up "Chief Illiniwek," a character invented for the sole purpose of lending a sense of history and tradition to the University's sporting events. Teters confronts college athletics at a university that is, in large part, driven by football. The film also discusses the history of the oppression of Native people in the U.S., and the tradition (since those White mascot-lovin' folk love to talk about tradition) of using images of Native Americans in racist, violent ways.

What many White people don't understand about the Indian mascot issue is that, in general, people do not like being caricatured and presented as mascots. It's a funny thing, I know.

The film explains, carefully and poignantly, that regardless of the intent, wearing ceremonial outfits and Eagle feathers that one did not earn and choreographing dances does not constitute honoring a Native population. In fact, it is religious desecration. It is exactly the same as a sports team dressing up a mascot as Jesus or Mohammed or the Pope and having this person dance around. The only difference is that when White people do it to Indians, they not only insist they are honoring them, but they pout that the mascots are part of their own traditions. Thus, Native people and cultures are perceived as part of America's history, which means then that their history is owned by all Americans. They are not entitled to own their own history, culture, and religion.

Most of the time, when I show this film, students *get it.* Sometimes for the first time, they understand what Ward Churchill was talking about in "Crimes Against Humanity." There are always a couple of students who still aren't clear that what is at stake here is the appropriation of religious beliefs and the use of real live people as decorations, but in general, I think, the film presents this debate in a very powerful way, so that those who come away in disagreement still generally understand the argument.

And so, as I am teaching a course on genocide, and as we are reading Andrea Smith's Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide, and as Smith has a chapter on spiritual genocide, I really wanted to show this film.

When I first saw the film on POV several years ago, I videotaped it for future use in the classroom. After using it for a couple of semesters, I felt guilty and contacted Jay Rosenstein to ask his permission to continue to use my bootlegged copy (I have no budget to purchase a copy - they run $105 - $240). To my great relief, Rosenstein gave me permission to continue using my copy, urging me to have my school library purchase one when I was in a position to do so.

So, last night I went to the video cabinet to pull out my trusty (albeit battered) VHS tape from 8 or 10 years ago.

And it was gone.

I went into school this morning on my way to Bean's birthday party, but the film was not in my office.

I keep obsessively returning to the video cabinet and ransacking it, but I am coming to grips with the stark reality that it is not there. This means that I have lent the film to (gulp) one of any number of people.

If I've lent it to you, I want it back.

In the meantime, I am thinking of showing Whale Rider, which is hardly the same, but which does focus on tradition and spirituality and their central role in the indigenous Maori community.

But I still want it back. Please, if you have it, let me know.

Sunday, January 14, 2007


So the other night, I was working late on the computer, which is just around the corner from the hall closet and the front door. I heard a funny noise in the hallway outside the apartment door. I heard it a few times, and I looked out the peephole, but there was no one there.

I resumed typing.

After a while, I heard a sort of scratching noise, the kind our cats make when they are trying to get into / out of the closet. I peeked around the corner to the closet door, but neither cat was there. Back to typing.

More scratching noises. I got up and opened the closet door, expecting one of the cats to come out, but there was no one in the closet, either.

I realized that the scratching sound was coming from the hallway, just like the earlier noises. And then I heard a "meow." I opened the door just a crack to peek out, and a brown, furry head appeared, pushing the door with such force that for a moment I thought a human hand had appeared to force the door open.

There was a cat in the hallway. A beautiful, cuddly, friendly, purring cat. And we couldn't take it inside, as our two cats have not been getting their feline leukemia vaccinations (on the advice of our vet, who feels they don't need them since they never interact with other animals).

The cat clearly wanted in. Being a little skittish around animals I don't know (even cuddly, friendly ones), I woke up Mr. Plainsfeminist to help me check the cat's collar and figure out what to do. At this point, it was a little past midnight, so there would be no calling the Humane Society or anything like that. Plus, we were pretty sure that the cat lived somewhere in our building and perhaps had snuck out of its apartment when the door was open and no one was looking. To get into our building, you have to pass through the outside door into a foyer and then proceed through a second, locked door. It's possible that someone had taken pity on a poor cat stuck outside in subzero weather and let it into the building, but unlikely.

The collar had a phone number on it, which I called (even at the late hour). If it had been my cat, I would have wanted to know where it is. I probably would still have been awake, worrying about the cat. But also, since we weren't able to take the cat in, I was concerned that someone might let it out of the building (inadvertently or just meanly) before we found the owner. The phone rang and rang, and I left a message with my number; then, we put out some water for the cat and went to bed.

In the morning, there was no sign of the cat. I tried calling the owner again, but the phone just rang and rang. I never received a phone call back, not to say "thanks for looking out for my cat" or even "I did get my cat back - didn't want you to worry." So I guess we can assume that the cat got back to its home. I hope so. I'm still tempted to call the number again and try to find out.

Of course, one time a couple of years ago we found a toddler wandering around in the building and had to knock on doors to find out who she belonged to. Those people have since moved - they were the evil downstairs smoking neighbors - so I can't blame this one on them.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Overheard conversation.

A: "I don't get what eggs and the Easter Bunny have to do with Easter."
B: "Yeah, it's weird. They're turning our kids into atheists."
A: "I just don't get it. What do eggs have to do with Jesus?"
C: "I'm glad I don't have to be Jesus in the play this summer. People were bleeding."

I wish I could say I made this up.

Is there some way we can ban public stupidity?

(If you were wondering, it's all about life and rebirth, in a pagan sort of way with Christ overlaid.)

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Sometimes the internet sucks.

Man, Blogger is getting annoying. Ever since Blogger merged with Google, I have to log in every time I turn around. That's because I already have a Google account under my real name, thank you very much, and so I can't move from checking my email to posting here (or even posting comments on others' blogs) without logging out and then back in again. And sometimes I forget and don't log out and end up almost posting comments under my real name. Not like this blog is super anonymous anyway, but the somewhat-ness of it is important to me.

And I don't know what we really gained by this whole switch to Google, anyway. I can now edit my blogroll without having to play around with code. Yeah, I guess that's good, but I'm not sure it's worth it.

What's more aggravating for me is that Tracksy has been down since last Friday. Which means I can't check my stats. Which means that I can't tell how many people are visiting. Which is irritating, and which has the effect of making me feel that I'm talking to myself. (Which I do anyway.)

So in the absense of Tracksy, I tried Google Analytics, which gives me fancy graphs and pie charts and will help me to choose more marketable key words for my post titles, but which makes it difficult to simply find a list of how many visitors stopped by on a given day. Really, it's all bells and whistles, and I don't want them. (Though the pie charts are pretty, and they do lend an air of legitimacy.)

What this all amounts to is that for a while now, I've been considering moving the blog and (gulp) actually paying for my stats. Anyone have any good ideas?

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

I beat City Hall!

Bean's daycare has several 10-minute parking spots in front of it for the convenience of parents who are loading and unloading their charges. I park there twice daily for this purpose.

The parking around the daycare is usually not too crowded. There are several metered spaces on both sides of the two streets (the daycare is on a corner). But for running in and out, obviously, it would be preferable to park in one of the 10-minute spots.

The problem is, there are all kinds of five-year-old things that can cause delays: the child not wanting to leave, the child refusing to put on his/her coat, the child needing to go to the bathroom.

All of which happened on one particular day, and so when we got outside, I found a parking ticket on my windshield. What was especially aggravating about the ticket was that it was given at exactly *eleven* minutes - which suggests to me that the meter person stalked my car and hung around for exactly eleven minutes just in order to catch me.

Since those spaces are meant to be helpful to parents, I was annoyed. I can understand if a car has been there for a half hour, but eleven minutes?

So I went to City Hall.

Contesting tickets is an interesting business. While I was there, I met two other contestors. One was clearly angry and had a 'tude. I don't recall the exact nature of his traffic crime, but I believe it involved turning right on red where there was no right on red allowed. His position was that the traffic ticket policies in this city were terrible and needed to be completely overhauled. He said several times that he loved living here except for the tickets. (Which kinda made me wonder just how many tickets he'd gotten in the couple of years he's lived here.) Not surprisingly, he did not get his ticket waived.

The other contestor was an elderly man who came along with his wife. He had been in a traffic accident and was told by the police officer who responded to park his car at the side of the road. He was sitting with the officer in the police car when the meter person came by and ticketed his car. Also not surprisingly, he *did* get his ticket waived.

(Tangent: For some reason, this man felt compelled to tell me, more than once, that the person who hit his car was a "drunk Indian." I think he thought it was a joke, and he half-whispered it the way that white people here do when they say "Indian." Like an Indian might hear them, and then they might be embarrassed for having said something racist. And then they'd have to get angry because they don't like being embarrassed, and of course they aren't racist; it's just a simple truth, isn't it, that the Indians here are always drunk.

Effing white people.

So he said that the cops arrested the "drunk Indian," because apparently there were laws against being a drunk Indian. And I suggested rather strongly that perhaps the laws were against being drunk and applied to everyone, which was the only thing I could say at that moment that wasn't a profanity. I am terrible at situations like this - I admit it. I need to practice telling people off without resorting to screaming profanities in City Hall, which would have probably gotten me kicked out. The only other thing I could think to do was not to crack a smile at his "joke" but to look at him, stonily, and without comprehension as to why on earth such a racist comment would be funny.)

So then it was my turn. I went in, and I had to stand at a podium in front of a fancy court bench and swear to tell the truth, and then I had to explain that while I was parked for eleven minutes and not ten, I felt that perhaps a little leniency was in order for those parents who parked there and who had the task of wrestling the little monsters out to the car. I wanted to make a point, I said. Secretly, I was hoping that my point would be heard 'round the city and that the new policy would be not to ticket any cars in front of the daycare. Instead, they made an exception for me and waived my ticket, essentially warning me that I should be careful not to park for longer than ten minutes next time. So I did not effect lasting social change, but I did get to keep my $5. (Yes - $5. What can I say? It was the principle of the thing.)

Friday, January 05, 2007

New links.

Check out the new links to the right. One is to Neal Sperling's gorgeous fashion site. I actually went to high school with Neal and had no idea he had such good taste. If I were skinny, I'd wear his clothes. Neal was the Pea in a Pod guy, people. (We had no Pea in a Pod when I was pregnant. I had to be pregnant in Penney's. Sigh.)

The other is to C. Tyler's Bloomerland. She emailed and asked me if I'd be interested in reading her comic. I haven't read it yet, but I've been enjoying the site.

I will probably also be adding some radical feminist sites to the blogroll in the near future, because I am also enjoying reading them, as well. I'm trying to avoid having a tremendously long blogroll - because, when confronted with one of those on a site I'm visiting, I feel overwhelmed - but frankly, it's easier for me to get to all the sites I want to keep up with that way. I still have some blogs up that haven't been updated in months, but they're my buds, so I hate to take 'em down.

UPDATE: I ended up retooling the comics and 'zines list, as well. I'll probably put back the feminist magazine links at some point. Meanwhile, I will continue adding to this list of comics, most of which are by women. I hope it's not confusing that I list some by artist name and some by strip name - ah, you'll figure it out. I hope this list leads you to some new favorites!

Notice, by the way, that I included a link to Best American Comics. I found it especially interesting that out of 30 comics chosen, only about 7 were by women. (I wonder what we'd find if we analyzed the list along racial lines?)

On feminist dialogue.

OK, the blogsplosion I mentioned in my last post has got me thinking.

What kind of feminist am I? I don't generally consider myself to be a radical feminist. While I agree that we live in a patriarchy, I don't see gender as the primary contradiction from which all others (race, class, etc.) follow, which is the basis of radical feminism. I see gender as one contradiction that is interconnected to these others.

And while I used to be vehemently anti-pornography, and then was later vehemently pro-women's-sexual-expression-via-the-medium-of-porn-if-that-is-what-a-woman-chooses (I'm carefully not using the terms "pro-sex" and "anti-sex" because they are about as useful as "pro-life" and "pro-abortion" in defining political beliefs), I think at this point I'd have to call myself a sex radical with a healthy concern about the damaging nature of pornography and the sex industry (not so much for individual women who may choose to do it or even enjoy it, but for women as a class and for men as a class, as well).

My bookshelves are home to thinkers who might not otherwise survive in a room together: Dorothy Allison and Catherine MacKinnon; Wendy Chapkis and Andrea Dworkin; I think I may even have a Sheila Jeffreys book or two in there to match up with Susie Bright. There's Mary Daly and Audre Lorde and Hester Eisenstein. Combahee River Collective and radical lesbian separatists. I love the contradictions of feminist thought and the way that these contradictions force us to think carefully and create alliances and coalitions. (Often, the contradictions prompt schisms, but for the majority of us who are not involved directly in the conflict, they are moments when we regroup and consider what we have in common.)

What I don't love, however, is public trashing. I also don't love "feminists" who use their feminism as a shield and a sword to attack other women. As a bisexual feminist, I've had the opportunity to observe both of these many times. Sometimes the sword has been stuck in my back by virtue simply of my sexual identity. (I think I've written before of the lesbian feminist who was ready to (rather self-righteously) lecture me about my heterosexual privilege but had no clue about her own offensive, racist comments. I appreciated the irony, at any rate.)

I've also experienced the sword and the trashing whenever I've spoken up for taking an anti-racist approach to a feminist analysis of things like burquas and FGM. The response from certain academics has been that I am a horrible person who thinks FGM is just fine. (I hope it's obvious that this is not the case.) In fact, the word "nuance" on this list - as in, "can we talk about this in context, please" or "can we avoid saying huge generalizations like 'Islam is an oppressive religion,'" or "can we have a critique of the sex industry without implying that all women who work in it have a false consciousness" - seems to prompt responses about how horrible we are because we don't care about women's oppression under fundamentalist Islam, the sex industry, etc.

The danger here is that when we focus only on what another culture is doing that is anti-woman or anti-humanitarian and we don't look at the broader context, we are being ethnocentric and the other culture in question surely sees that. No, of course I'm not saying that we shouldn't be working to end FGM. I'm saying we should 1) do this by following the lead of women organizing within their own cultures against FGM, so that our response is sensitive to cultural practice. FGM is perceived as a mark of cultural preservation. (Wouldn't it make sense to prevent efforts to end it from looking Western?) and 2) also look within Western cultures to see what we've screwed up. I think, for instance, it's beneficial to wonder why we are all, across cultures, so insistent about cutting genitals. What does that say about us as a civilization? (and notice, would you, how I can ask this question without suggesting anything at all about the relative brutality of these practices? Which is something I've also been erroneously accused of.) And we must on all fronts avoid seeing or presenting ourselves as the Great White Hope, which I think we do all too often.

The insistence on placing others' feminisms into a box and dismissing them is not helping the movement. We can't really afford to take an all or nothing approach. I'm not talking about selling out. I'm talking about what we are really doing with our time when we aren't arguing with each other. We have been fighting the sex wars since 1982 (in the U.S.). We have been fighting white-centric tendencies since white women imagined (we didn't invent) feminism. Isn't it time to move on? Can't we get over drawing these lines in the sand?

I'm sure there will be more to follow - perhaps something that deals more with the dialogue part of my title and that isn't written in a sleepy fog at 2 in the morning...

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Feminist New Year's Resolution

(No, this is still not my New Year's story post. That one is coming later.)

There have been many times in my life when I've pondered the question of how far one must go to assist a person who is suffering. Specifically: is it ethical to go out to eat instead of sending my money to help feel starving people elsewhere in the world? Is it ethical to rent videos and buy clothes I don't need and essentially be a consumer when I could instead donate my money to Amnesty?

Whenever I get into this discussion with other people, they give me a list of reasons why it is perfectly reasonable to not substantially alter one's living arrangements in order to help others. Often, these reasons touch on whose responsibility it is to help (never ours - always someone else's). Other times, the reasons are related to whether or not our donations of money, food, etc. would make a lasting difference (generally, I'm told, it wouldn't).

But it's pretty clear that this is crap, isn't it? I mean, either we help each other, or we don't. The reason we don't give until we have to give something up is that we don't want to. We would prefer not to see our own responsibility. I am just as guilty of this as the next person.

So my resolution for 2007 is to be more responsible. I'll start by doing a whole hell of a lot more to aid humanitarian efforts in Darfur.

I've been reading around in the feminist blogosphere recently, and several of the bloggers have gotten into a big fight over trans, porn - you know, the kinds of issues that feminists have been arguing about for decades. But none of these blogs seem to be focusing on global issues or human rights.

This has been a criticism of white feminism for years and years. It's not so much a race thing as it is a national thing: as "first world" feminists, we are not always concerned with or even aware of what is going on in the rest of the world. And when I do a quick circuit of the major feminist organizations in the U.S., they are focused on reproductive rights (not just for American women, but still).

And I just can't take it this time - not when women are being raped and slaughtered with their children. It's not that feminist theory is unimportant, it's that I keep thinking of the divide between a privileged feminism and a desperate feminism. And if we're arguing over porn and trans, if we're focused narrowly on reproductive rights in the face of a fucking genocide, then it's a privileged feminism, indeed.

I'm not saying that feminists shouldn't be arguing about these things. I'm saying that right now? We should all be working together to save our sisters and brothers. Why the hell isn't this a feminist issue?

I am pointing the finger at myself as much as at anyone else. It is already much, much too late.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Happy Blogiversary!

It was one year ago today that I began this blog. When I started blogging, it was because I lacked the confidence to call myself a writer. Prior to this blog, I have only rarely shared my non-academic writing with others. To give you an idea: the last time I read my non-academic work in public, I was so nervous that my entire body shook. I really didn't know if it was good enough to read in public. And I felt uncomfortable calling myself a writer when I had not taken a creative writing class since middle school.

I felt inauthentic. And yet, writing is what I did. All the time. And I wanted to see what I could do, and if anyone would be interested in reading what I wrote. I was hopeful that the nature of blogging - generally short, frequent pieces - would help me to share my words with an audience without freaking out too much (at that point, I was planning to blog daily, and I figured that the deadlines would just force me to perform).

A year (and a week-long writing workshop in June) later, I have much more confidence. If a writer is one who writes, then I am that thing. And I have become much less anxious about writing less-than-perfect posts. In fact, I've written some crappy ones, I've made typos and grammatical and spelling errors, and I'm ok with that. Blogging has helped me write better, faster, and less self-consciously.

But I also rather unexpectedly found a community in blogging. I've found blogs I love to read, and now that's what I do with what used to be my evening television time. I've made blogfriends. I've had real-life friends stop by my blog, and I've stopped by theirs. Our conversations, begun in the blogosphere, have continued over coffee.

At times, I get anxious about how many people are reading and whether or not I need to adjust my topics in order to attract new readers. It can be difficult to write what I want to write and not be swayed by what I think someone else might want to read. It's one thing to write for yourself when you think no one is paying attention, and quite another when you know someone is reading your words.

I've also wrestled with (and felt slightly inadequate about) the open focus of this blog. At first, I figured I'd just share stories and insights from all parts of my life and interests, and that the one thing that (maybe) would be consistent would be that all of this would be through the eyes of this particular feminist, mom, and academic. (The name of the blog plays on the idea that these are the thoughts of just a plain ol' feminist, as well as a feminist who who lives on the Plains.)

But then, for a while, I got involved in local politics and focused especially on abortion. After the election, I felt burned out on abortion politics (though it's a topic I will continue to discuss from time to time) but unsure of where to turn. To make matters more confusing for me, several local political blogs had in the meanwhile added me to their blogrolls, and I was worried that if I didn't keep talking about local political issues, they might drop me. (I didn't start a blog to be linked to, but once you are linked, it's extremely depressing to be de-linked.)

More recently, I've begun exploring the feminist blogs, all of which focus more intently and narrowly on feminist theory than I ever could. (I took Women's Studies classes for more years than I want to tell you, and I have had quite enough of this kind of theorizing. Well, not really - I love posting on their blogs and I will occasionally theorize here. But I just can't do it every day. Plus, it's too close to what I do in real life.)

And finally, when I did a couple of posts on knitting a little while ago, I picked up a whole bunch of new readers, which made me wonder if I should make knitting a more concentrated focus. But I am still, for all my efforts, a beginning knitter, and while I expect knitting posts will be featured here from time to time, this is not the place for real advice.

So, the reality is that I have never seen this blog - or me - as having any one driving interest. I'll continue to write without focus for now (or with many foci - whichever). And I hope you'll keep reading.

I began this blog last year with a New Year's story. I have another to share with you, and it would be fitting to post it now, but I have class beginning tomorrow and much to do, so it will have to wait for another day.

Wishing us all peace in the New Year,