Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Carnival of Feminists #32...

...is up here.

For the record, I'm often disappointed in the Carnival. I had thought that the point was to direct folks to new writing, but every cycle, I see the same blogs listed, over and over, including some of the A-list blogs that, presumably, one can easily find without needing a guide to feminist blogging. Oh, well. There's still good stuff at this one.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Overheard conversation: Who sez there's a generation gap?

Several elderly women are drinking coffee and chatting.

First woman: "She's off again on some trip. She gets away with murder. She can do anything she wants and he gets stuck with it."

Other women: "Tsk tsk."

Second woman: "Well, you know...this younger generation...they're different. These young women are very independent. It seems like they just pick up and go when they want to go somewhere. And you know...sometimes I think, why couldn't it have been that way when I was that age?!"

Just so you know what one looks like...

...here is an example of a feminist response to the recent Britney Spears scandal.

Friday, February 23, 2007


I recently finished Gilbert Hernandez' Sloth after picking it up during Christmas and then getting separated from it by a mountain of work. I enjoyed it, and I thought it was pretty good. That's all. I'd recommend it, but I won't gush praise like some reviewers seem to be doing. It had an interesting and somewhat surreal storyline, as many of his stories have, but I didn't think it was quite as original or brilliant as some others did.

I also picked up Jennifer Camper's Juicy Mother tonight and realized that, somehow, I'd never finished it (I got it several months ago). Parts of this collection I found disturbing - not sure exactly why - but it includes many of my favorites, including Alison Bechdel, Ariel Schrag, Leanne Franson, and Camper, herself. I particularly enjoyed Camper's "Ramadan," a reflection on identity, specifically, Arab, Muslim, lesbian, American identity. That story alone is worth buying the book for. And when I did a search on Amazon for the book so that I could add the link, I found that Volume 2 is coming out this summer, which I will be sure to pick up.

I wrote about Katie Hnida's book, Still Kicking, a while back. Sadly, I haven't been able to read it. It is so poorly written that I can't get past the first few pages. I really want to read her story, but the thing reads like a Lifetime drama or a made for t.v. movie. I just don't have the patience. I should not have to read a description of Mom as "the day-to-day glue that holds our family together." I just shouldn't. It's not Hnida's fault. She should have had a better editor or a ghostwriter who could have cut out the cliches (and I know there's an accent mark over the "e," but I can't figure out how to insert it).

Other than that, I am reading book manuscripts and other stuff for work. I hope to start in on more of my Christmas (!) book stack soon.

What I learned today.

Thanks to Neil Gaiman, I've learned that "bollocks" does not refer to "ass," as I previously thought, but to "balls." I'm delighted to know this, as I can now use the word properly.

My British readers are laughing at me RIGHT NOW.

(Seriously, wouldn't you love to see Neil Gaiman's treatment of rogue librarians who've gone over to the dark side?)

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Back to our regularly scheduling programming: Cat funk.

This all started a couple of weeks ago, when I came home one day to find spots of what looked like blood on the rug - and spots of what smelled like pee on the New Green Chair*.

I followed the blood trail to find more blood - fresh blood - in one of the cat beds. Around the same time as this discovery, Mr. Plainsfeminist discovered one of the cats peeing - just a little - on the comforter.

All of this seemed to add up to a cat urinary tract infection (UTI), so off went cat and I to the after-hours emergency vet.** The blood had come from her nipple, which they said was not unusual - sometimes, when a cat has a UTI, it will bite at its abdomen, where it hurts. But to be sure, they needed a urine sample from her.

Getting a urine sample from a cat is not a simple task for the layperson. With a dog, you can probably manage to capture some of the...uh...flow with a baggie while the dog is going, though you risk getting dog pee all over yourself, or at least your hand and, possibly, shoe. With a cat, however, it's more complicated. Cats use litterboxes, so one thing you can do is to buy little plastic beads that are 'specially made for just this instance. You fill the litterbox with the beads, and then you wait. When the cat has peed, the beads don't absorb the liquid, nor do they break down. You then take the pee to the vet. This is assuming that you only have one cat, or that, if you have two cats, only the right cat will pee in the right box. Not the case in our home, which means locking the right cat with the right box in the bathroom and hoping for the best.

OR, if you're me, you leave the cat at the vet and hope she'll just pee there. Because, if she doesn't pee, the vet has two options: she can force the cat to pee, which involves squeezing the bladder (ouch), or she can use a syringe to extract pee directly from the bladder through the abdomen (OUCH).

Well, I left her there overnight, she eventually peed on her own, and the urine analysis did indeed show that she had a UTI. I picked her up the next day, along with her prescription, which Mr. Plainsfeminist, being skilled at cat-medicating, got to administer. So for two weeks, the cat was happily back at home, no longer peeing or bleeding on things, and life was fine.

But when the antibiotics were all used up, the vet wanted another urine analysis to be sure she was completely better. So, back she went, for another overnight stay (actually, more like 30 hours, because cats are very good at refusing to cooperate with these sorts of things). This time, they had to extract the pee from the bladder with a syringe, and this must've been traumatic for her, because when they handed me to her, the smell hit me before anything else.

Now, cat funk comes in a few varieties. The two I'm most familiar with are "cat butt weird smell" and "cat piss stink." "Cat butt weird smell" is not the same as simple "cat butt smell." When cats are frightened, they emit some weird odor from their nether regions that is very fishy and unpleasant. This odor, like "cat piss stink," is hard to get rid of. The smell that overpowered me in the vet's office was "cat piss stink," which is worse because it evokes images of the worst gas station bathrooms and subways in the country. And of course, since any cat-related odors travel from cat to person very easily, she immediately got cat piss stink on my coat.

What was most disgusting, however, was that I was very cognizant of the fact that my hands, after taking the cat and putting her into her carrier - reeked. Not only did they reek - they were sticky with cat pee. And I'd only held my cat for a couple of seconds. The receptionist who had handed the cat to me, who had held the cat close to her body for the walk from the back room to the front office, immediately sat down at her desk and picked up a pen and started writing receipts. I asked to wash my hands. You'd think she'd have said, "yeah, I'd better wash my hands, too." But no. She pointed me to the sink and went on dealing with clients - handing them change, receipts, etc.

I shudder to think what else she might have done at her desk without having first washed my cat's pee off her hands.

So I arrived home with a stinky, traumatized cat. I couldn't just let her out of the carrier, though, because then there'd be sticky cat pee stink all over the rugs, the beds, and maybe even all over the New Green Chair. So I headed into the bathroom with her, fully prepared to give her a bath.

I've never done this before, by the way, and I should add here that if ever one has to give a cat a bath, this is definitely the cat to do it with. My *other* cat once got her claw stuck IN MY ARM when I was trying to put her in her carrier and she was trying to get away. She was headed one way, the claw was stuck in from the other direction, and I had to somehow get her to back up or else watch her flay my arm. But *this* cat is very easy to handle. I put just enough water into the bathtub so that one end was still dry, grabbed a handful of rags, deposited her into the dry end of the tub, held her with one hand, got the rags wet, and wiped her down a few times with the sopping rags. Then I let her go, and she squished her way around the bathroom, panting (in retrospect, I should have probably used room temperature water instead of warm water). Then, I used some dry rags to wipe her down (along with the floor). I let her out, threw the rags into the wash, let the bathroom (which smells of wet cat and more faintly of pee) air out, and wiped the stink off my coat.

I still have to clean the cat carrier, but I took a break first to write this.

*It's not so new anymore, but it's new compared to the other furniture in our home, and we protect it accordingly: "No food on the New Green Chair!" "No climbing on the New Green Chair!" "No reading the newspaper on the New Green Chair!"

**I've had several UTIs myself - I won't allow my cat to suffer with one through the weekend. Besides which, I didn't want any more pee and blood on things, especially the New Green Chair.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Childless Marriages (The HORROR!!)

OK, if you didn't get it already, and most of you will, the title is a joke: I don't think childfree* marriages are frightening or scary (the phrase, "childfree marriage," in fact, makes me think of quiet evenings involving wine and pleasant conversation in a tidy room). But I chose the title because I followed an interesting-looking link at the CFEZ board to a thread on why CF marriage frequently aren't taken seriously.

I thought it was a really interesting and (for me) eye-opening conversation - people wrote about being told that their marriages aren't marriages unless they have children, which is something I've only ever heard from feisty fundies. People also wrote about having others try to fix them up on dates, knowing full well that they were married but taking the "no kids" to mean that the relationship wasn't solid or committed.

Come to think of it, that's pretty much how religious folk who think sexual orientation can be "cured" treat queer people. I've heard of both of these things happening in exactly that context.

So I'm curious - those of you who are married and don't have kids: do you feel that your marriages are taken less seriously than you expect? Those of you who do have kids: did the way others treated your marriage change when you had kids? And this goes for those of you who aren't married, as well - does having kids, or would it, do you think, change the way that others see your relationship? And does any of this differ between same-sex and different-sex couples?

I do remember, pre-kid, being asked a lot if I had kids and getting surprised reactions because I didn't (which I found annoying). And often the questioner would provide a handy reason as to why I hadn't had a kid ("oh, well, you're still in school," or "you're young - you have plenty of time". I found these comments odd, since the conversation seemed to be taking place entirely in the questioner's head - I wasn't talking about kids, wasn't engaging their questions about kids, wasn't feeling sad or anxious about not having kids, but clearly the questioner was having issues). But I haven't noticed that my marriage is treated differently with kid than without kid, and I was married without for more years than I've been married with. I will say, though, that my relationship definitely got taken more seriously when I got married than it was before, which pissed me off for all of the obvious reasons.

One really interesting comment on the CFEZ site suggested that the rationale for the notion that a marriage must produce children comes from the fact that so many people stay together "for the kids," so that lots of people have come to see marriage as about kids...

Any thoughts?

*I used "childless" rather than "childfree" in the post title on purpose, because I doubt very much that those upset by the very idea of marriage without kids would get the distinction.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Update on yesterday's post.

If you're wondering what all the fuss is about, my buddy Stuff Daddy has it here.

I've gotten several hits from the community he mentions, and the abusive comment I mentioned yesterday (but did not post) came from there. They feel that I won't publish anything I don't agree with, which BritGirl and the other childfree people (and some childed) who commented on my other childfree posts will be surprised to hear. I'm sure Renegade Evolution can sympathize. Interestingly, on their own site, the policy is to disallow any posters who are not childfree specifically because they don't want to have to defend themselves or their beliefs (or, I think, their hateful language - I'm not talking about "breeder," either - go to Stuff's site, and see for yourself). But at any rate, I've never deleted comments because I disagree with them, and I think Aus Blog would back me up on this, as well. I've only ever deleted a handful of comments. In re. to comments on the Childfree thread, I deleted an abusive one that appeared just after I'd posted that I would delete abusive comments. I also deleted another by the same author that re-posted all 40+ of the comments on that thread (it was just confusing as hell, and she had posted another comment that was more clear, which I left). I did not post the one she sent me to complain that I was unfair in not posting her abusive comment because she didn't call me any names (she did) because I addressed her concerns on the front page (I haven't gotten any hits as of last evening from their site to my front page, so I doubt she's read it).

I haven't bothered to respond to this group (of two commenters, by the way) beyond yesterday's post (which, as I said, they haven't read). The reason I haven't responded will become clear if you follow the links from Stuff Daddy. After reading what's been said about me in their own forum, I don't see how it is possible that they would respect me enough as a human being to actually want to talk with me about anything, much less about this. And I don't feel like participating in a "discussion" purely to fuel more talk on their site about what a "sanctimonious" "moo cow" and horrible parent I am. They can do that without me. But even if I did feel like talking to them, what would I say? "Hey, you've got me wrong - I'm an ally!"? I am an ally to childfree people, generally. But after this? I'm no ally of the people on that site.

But I will say more about why I don't think a discussion is possible.

As just one example, I made a distinction between temper tantrums in public and normal kid behavior. Perhaps I wasn't clear enough about this, but I was trying to separate a real tantrum from, say, fussing or something that is easily resolved. So I said that in the case of a tantrum, parents needed to remove the child from the situation, and that in the case of normal kid behavior, people needed to suck it up. What I was thinking was that, for example, babies fuss if they're hungry, kids fuss if they're tired, etc. Not that the parent should let it go - most parents carry around bags of kid stuff for dealing with just these situations. As is clear from reading all of the other stuff I've written about this - which the folks from that forum haven't done - I think parents need to "do something" about these situations. My point was merely that it's unreasonable to expect that babies will never cry and kids will never fidget, and that, yes, people need to be patient, just as people are patient with other annoyances (including people who walk slowly in front of you in a long line, or, for that matter, the angry woman at the gate who threw her water bottle on the ground in a fury when they wouldn't let her take it on board (nearly hitting me, for which she apologized profusely - just as parents often apologize for their kids' behavior)).

This has since been turned into the comments that Stuff Daddy quotes, in which I am expecting childfree people to worship the sun shining out of my newborn's ass.

I also questioned a commenter's statement that kids should not be allowed to sit on planes or on public transportation. I called this attitude entitled. I wondered why I was not allowed to take my child on a plane, and why Andi, the commenter, was entitled to make that decision, and why her preference for travelling without a child on board took precedence over everyone else's needs.

Here is the response that I got:
YOU are not the center of the universe. YOUR CHILD is not the center of the universe. Most people who actually PARENT their chidlren know if the kid cries, you take it outside. And if your kid is crying on the plane, don't sit there and act like you either a) don't hear it or b) think we all should think it's cute. Because I'm pretty sure 99.9% of the time, the kid did NOT need to travel. Unless your mother is dying, you did NOT need to be on the plane. Period. And trust me, if you were in the seat next to me beaming up at me with your holy progeny in your lap like I was supposed to fall down fawning all over it, I WOULD have asked to be moved.

All creatures can reproduce. Acting like it's some miraculous feat is stupid. Get over yourself, already.

Have all the kids you want, but RAISE them - DON'T drag them everywhere you go whether appropriate or not, DON'T act like we should all think your DNA replicants are the bestest thing on the planet, and DON'T act like you are more special, or entitled, than the rest of us. Because you know what? You're not.

What's of interest to me is the great acrobatic leaping and bounding from assumption to conclusion. I love, particularly, the assessment that children (and parents) don't need to use public transportation; that public transportation has been designed solely for the use of the childfree; that parents, in general, think their children are the center of the universe; and, of course, that I, personally, do not "PARENT" my child. (There's also the whole, "I'M not entitled - YOU are!" deal.)

These comments speak volumes (and I even left out the part where babies and mothers were compared to drug addicts, among other "undesireables"). As do those on the site from which these commenters came.

What's bizarre to me is that the comments smack of exactly the same behavior that people seem to find most upsetting in children. This is nothing short of a temper tantrum. It's not a reasoned argument - the commenter is stating many of the same claims I made in that post, in related posts, and in comments, and is simultaneously blaming me for taking an opposite position to the one I took. It's not a civil argument - it's name-calling, it's obnoxious. Do adults not have the responsibility to rein in their own unpleasant behavior? Or is it only children's unpleasant behavior that is the problem?

Anyway - comments, as always, are welcomed. I will post any that do not come with embedded insults.

Oh, and speaking of insults, I think it's interesting that the folks on the site in question call mothers "moo cows" and babies "sprogs," but I haven't seen any insulting names for fathers yet. As a feminist, I have to wonder why that might be. Is it simply that they feel that mothers behave badly and fathers don't? Is it a subtle misogyny? Is it that they most often see the sprogs with their moo cows and not their moo bulls? I'm curious.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

If an *adult* has a temper tantrum, does that make it OK?


I will delete abusive posts from now on. People are welcome to come here and disagree. They are not welcome to come here and throw a tantrum or make personal attacks.

I deleted a comment that included name-calling and hostile language. The fact that its author doesn't feel that it did illustrates somewhat the difficulty we're having in engaging in conversation.

If you want to post a civil comment, without embedded insults, please do.

Comment moderation is on.

Oh, and since there was a question about this: please feel free to curse if you feel moved to do so.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Chief Illiniwek RETIRING!!!

Oh, this is the best news I've gotten to post in some time. A while back, I blogged about the U of Illinois' unpleasant tradition of using a Native American mascot. Well, as of now, that tradition is history:

"To members of the campus community,
A decision has been made regarding the Chief Illiniwek tradition. For more information, go to: www.uillinois.edu/chief...."

Which says... [NOTE: it doesn't anymore; it's been updated. But the following information is still correct.]

Chief Illiniwek Will No Longer Perform

NCAA to lift sanctions on Illini athletics

URBANA—The University of Illinois today announced that Chief Illiniwek will no longer perform at athletic events on the Urbana-Champaign campus after this season’s last men’s home basketball game in Assembly Hall on February 21.

As a consequence, the University will immediately become eligible to host post-season National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championship events.

In a February 15, 2007, letter to the University, the NCAA stated that "[o]nce this action is taken, the university will be immediately removed from the list of institutions subject to the NCAA Executive Committee’s policy regarding Native American mascots, nicknames and imagery at NCAA championship events. Continued removal from the list is conditioned upon the university’s future non-use of ‘Chief Illiniwek’ and the related Native American imagery in connection with university

"Assuming the announced changes are affected and assuming such use does not reoccur, the university will be in full compliance with the policy," the letter stated. "Accordingly, the policy will not preclude the university from hosting or participating in NCAA championship events, should the university be otherwise eligible."

The NCAA letter was signed by Bernard Franklin, senior vice president for governance, membership, education and research services.

U. of I. Board of Trustees Chair Lawrence C. Eppley said today’s announcement marks a critical step toward finishing the work of the consensus process. "This step is in the best interest of the University and is consistent with the Board’s previously stated goal of concluding this year its consensus process regarding Chief Illiniwek. Among our objectives was recognizing the goal of having high integrity athletic programs and student athletes who have the opportunity to compete at the highest levels," Eppley said.

"We made and met many friends through the consensus process. And while people differed on their opinions of the Chief, the overwhelming majority of those voices put their love for the University ahead of their opinion on the Chief," Eppley said.

"The Chief Illiniwek tradition inspired and thrilled members of the University of Illinois community for 80 years," Eppley said. "It was created, carried on, and enjoyed by people with great respect for tradition, and we appreciate their dedication and commitment.

It will be important now to ensure the accurate recounting and safekeeping of the tradition as an integral part of the history of the University. We also have the responsibility to work together to capture and put to good use the goodwill created by the tradition and to maintain other great traditions like the Three-In-One for decades to come."

The Chief Illiniwek tradition began in 1926 in conjunction with the Marching Illini, the nation’s premier marching band. Criticism of the tradition intensified in recent years, although the symbol and iconic halftime performance remained popular among alumni and the public. The Board of Trustees’ consensus process for resolving issues regarding Chief Illiniwek was underway when the NCAA Executive Committee established its policy in August 2005. During two rounds of appeals by the University to the NCAA over its policy, the NCAA rescinded its objection to the names "Illini" and "Fighting Illini" but retained Illinois on its non-compliant list because of the Chief Illiniwek name, logo and the performance. The University exhausted the NCAA appeals process last April and since then has been banned from hosting NCAA championship events on the Urbana campus.

For more writings on this and on race-related issues at UIUC, check out this blog. See also this one - note that the Oglala Sioux have requested the return of the "Chief's" outfit, which is in fact a Sioux outfit.

I think that this is perhaps a more important moment than many people realize. When I first came to Native American Studies, I remember thinking that some of the ongoing struggles in which Native peoples are engaged were, simply, unrealistic. I mean, you can't really change nations, can you? And then something like this will happen - the right pressure is finally brought to bear, and the University is forced to end a tradition that it fought tooth and nail to protect, that it insisted had nothing to do with religious desecration. Thanks to the NCAA who have forced the University (among others!) to abandon its racist "tradition"; to Charlene Teters, who put herself in the line of fire to fight against the use of Native American mascots, not only in Illinois, but nationally; to Jay Rosenstein, who documented her struggle; to the Oglala Sioux who have demanded the return of the Chief's "authentic" outfit; to all the activists who have persevered until now. This sets a precedent. This is a moment that helps us believe that change is possible, that struggles for sovereignty and the honoring of treaty rights can succeed.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Check me out on a new blog.

Hey all - I'm also posting over at Dakota Women. Here's my first post.

Quote of the Day

Thanks to CHAD, whose link to PunkAssBlog I was trying to follow. (CHAD, what's the deal? The page is down. Which post were you trying to link to?) Instead, I came across a post about the recent firing of a Kentucky school teacher because she made a couple of porn videos several years ago.

And here's the awesome quote, from commenter Chris Clarke:
May 11th, 2006 at 7:29 pm

What the fuck is wrong with kids nowadays?

Just last month I was driving through San Jose and saw — again, for the fifth time — an accessible wall with an accessible sign that said “FULK DISTRIBUTING”, with not a speck of spraypaint anywhere on it.

And then this thing happens, and then the whole thing with Diana Blaine’s tits at UCLA, and I’m thinking that young people have lost any semblance of a fucking clue as to how to live right since my day.*

I went to high school and college in the 1970s. In the 1970s, if we learned that an instructor at our high school/college had either filmed porm [sic] videos or published photos of her breasts, we would have enrolled in her damn class.

Bunch of fucking collar-popped losers. I weep for this country.

*Get off my lawn.

The Handmaid's Tale in SD

An interesting take on the new abortion ban.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Jumping on the vagina bandwagon...

It's about that time - time for women all across the country to come together in groups to recite from the sort of feminist bible that is Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues.

There have been plenty of criticisms of Ensler, most notably for her fixation on vaginas as the thing that bonds all women together. Because - and I'll bet some of you may not know this - not all women have vaginas. Some women have had cancer, for example, and had to have their vaginas removed. (If that sounds strange to you, it's probably because we think of vaginas as holes, as the absence of something - but in fact, vaginas are muscular organs, and pretty amazing ones at that.) Other women may be intersex and may not have a vagina at all. And then there are also transwomen, who may or may not have vaginas, who may or may not see vaginas as something that is especially womanly or central to the definition of "woman". (And remember: there are also transmen with vaginas.)

She's also come under criticism because her interviews reflect a mostly heterosexual vaginal reflection. Because - and you probably knew this already - all those people with vaginas? They're not all heterosexual. And, let's face it - queer women frequently have more positive feelings about "down there" than do het women. I mean really - totally different conversation.

But the thing that's been bugging me most about Ensler is her insistence on the word "vagina" when what she and her narrators are talking about are actually vulvas.

The vulva, for the unitiated, would be the "outside part," the part with the labia and the clitoris. (And yes, I was just recently reading on someone's blog - I wish I could remember whose - a question about "innie" and "outie" vaginas. As someone pointed out, an "outie" vagina would be a very, very bad thing. It would be a prolapsed vagina. Ouch.)

And much of what Ensler's narrators are talking about is that "outside part" - hence, NOT their vaginas!

Perhaps this wouldn't bother me so much if not for the fact that there seems to be a real inability for pretty much everyone to call female anatomy by its name(s). We have no problem saying the words, like cunt and pussy, that have often been used as hateful slurs (thank GOD for feminists and lesbians and feminist lesbians who've led us in reclaiming these words). But when it comes right down to it, we can't talk about our bodies honestly.

"Why does it matter?" you may be thinking. Well, think of it this way. Would you ever refer to a scrotum as a penis? I think not. They are clearly two different things. So are vulvas and vaginas. Or, for a better analogy, so are mouths different from lips. And while we sometimes use the shorthand "mouth" to talk about the whole area, we can tell the difference between the lips and the tongue and the teeth and the throat. And we know where the uvula is.

Is it any wonder that we've got a significant population of people who can't find a clitoris on a map when we don't even know the difference between a vulva and a vagina?!

And, incidentally, to that nurse who asked me, when I was recovering from having given birth, if my "bottom" was sore, here's what I should have said:

"No, you nitwit! My 'bottom' is just fine. My 'bottom' did not just deliver a baby. My 'bottom' is perfectly content!"

But of course, I couldn't really correct a nurse, could I? I mean, what kind of vulgar person uses words the medical staff wouldn't even use - you know? And so the silence about "down there" persists, even among medical professionals, whom you'd think would have at least something invested in using proper terminology.

And as for the term "front bottoms": Good lord! Who came up with THAT?! My precious female parts are NOT the equivalent of an asshole!

So, women, I propose we reclaim the vulva. Let's call it what it is. Let's get t-shirts that read "It's a VULVA, you idiot!" And here's a little inspiration for vulvactivism...

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Bloody Brilliant Breastfeeding Blog

Over at The Lactivist, I read about new proposed legislation in Wisconsin to make breastfeeding in public a right (as opposed to simply not illegal) and to levy a fine against those who harass a breastfeeding mother. Somewhat ironically - because, frankly, some of the biggest lactivists I've ever met have also been conservative Christian feminists - the Family Research Institute of Wisconsin has said of breastfeeding, "Just because something is normal and natural — it doesn’t mean we have to condone [it]."

(So - Christians Against Breastfeeding? Interesting.)

The Lactivist wrote what I'm coming to see is a consistently excellent response, from which the following is excerpted:

Am I the only one getting a little sick and tired of this "done with discretion" crap?

There are two issues at play here...

1.) Who gets to define discretion? To me, discretion means that I don't stand on a chair and scream "HEY EVERYBODY! I'M GOING TO BE PULLING MY BREASTS OUT NOW!" before I nurse. To others, it means "covering up" with a blanket or nursing cover. To others, it means pulling the shirt down to cover most of the breast. To others, it means that you shouldn't be able to tell the baby is nursing unless you stick your head up the mom's shirt. To others, it means "don't leave your house you hussy!"

2.) When did people lose the ability to look away? I see a lot of things in public that I don't like. I see teenagers wearing clothes so small that I can tell when the last time they cleaned their belly button lint was. I see women shoving themselves into clothes four sizes too small. I see men that need to invest in belts and suspenders to avoid showing us their own little grand canyon when they bend over. I see people with mullets.

You know what I do? I look the other way. I don't have the right to "not be offended." I have the right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." That's it.

Now beyond that, I really, really REALLY want to know where this magic land is where women "whip it out," "flop it out" and "hang it out" for all the world to see while they nurse. Granted, I live in a state with fairly low rates of breastfeeding, but I have never, ever EVER in my life seen even a smidgen of breast while someone was nursing in public. Not once. (Ok, truth be told, I have a hard time seeing moms nurse in public period...)

Every time I read one of these "done with discretion" comments I go back to that early Lactivist post where I wrote about the women that apparently nurse their children while standing on top of the bar with a tassel attached to the other breast shouting "hey everyone!! look at me!! I'm nursing!!!'

I just don't see it folks...

I'll add that I *have* seen breasts in public - sometimes mine. But in South Dakota, which is actually pretty pro-breastfeeding, in my experience, the breasts are never whipping, flopping, or hanging out. At most, there is the tip of a breast which is partly obscured by the baby's head. And many women cover the breast and baby with a blanket - which I think sucks, because the baby gets hot and sweaty and because sometimes one needs to see what's going on in order to ensure a proper latch - but they do it, anyway.

Which doesn't mean that I haven't heard of (I've never seen myself) the occasional brazen boob sighting. Honestly? I think that's fine. If boobs are ok to see in late-night commercials, the front page of newspapers in some countries, on HBO, at the beach, or at bars and clubs, then they're damn sure ok to see glimpses of in public places when they're being used for their natural purposes.

Now, before I get comments about how disgusting breastfeeding is and how breasts are obscene and all that, let me remind you that if you really believed that breasts were obscene, you'd be picketing the mall for selling tops that easily reveal more boob than does a breastfeeding mom. And frankly, in a world where I have to see what kind of underwear the strangers around me are wearing, I would much rather see a baby being nourished by a breast.

Here's what I think: I think the people who object to breastfeeding in public (and sometimes anywhere, because it grosses them out) can't handle the cognitive dissonance of breasts sometimes being sexual and sometimes being maternal. It's the madonna/whore split all there in one body part. And then there are also people who associate any liquids in the body with filth, and so the idea of someone drinking milk that comes from a human breast literally disgusts them. I'm pretty sure, though, that these same people drink cow milk and eat yogurt, ice cream, and cheese, so I'm not really swayed by that argument.

And then, I think that women who have internalized the notion that nice girls must always be modest have issues with the whole public breastfeeding thing. To them, it seems indefensible to purposely be in a position where one might catch a brief glimpse of boob. Some such women are, I sometimes think, perhaps the same women who police other women's behavior and their own, the ones who are comfortable calling other women "sluts" and "whores" if they perceive them as threats or as having stepped out of line. And others are just profoundly uncomfortable with what, to them, feels like it should be shameful.

I'll take this one step further. There are a lot of things we encounter in public that make us uncomfortable. It's one thing to be uncomfortable when confronted with something new that challenges our understandings of social conventions or of biological norms. Now, I'm not equating breastfeeding with a disability, but I do think it's interesting that able-bodied people often have similar reactions to both, particularly when some sort of impropriety is assumed.

Here's a (weird) example. I had a short-lived (because she refused to continue it) discussion with a woman who insisted that farting was entirely controllable and that it was just rude for someone to allow themselves to fart. (Don't even ask how we got started on this conversation in the first place. No, it was not because I farted.) I pointed out that in many cases, people have no control over this sort of thing - people who have had part or all of their colon or intestines removed, for example. People with Crohn's Disease or Irritable Bowel Syndrome. She never responded to this - I don't know why. Perhaps it offended her sense of decorum to even have such a conversation in the first place. But essentially, her sense of decorum left outside all of the people I've just described. These are, then, people whose very bodies thus become shameful and disgusting as a result of societal ignorance and intolerance.

What we immediately think of as gross or disgusting often says more about societal norms, assumptions, and expectations than about whether whatever it is - two people of the same sex kissing, conjoined twins, women with hairy legs - is actually gross or disgusting.

No, I'm not saying that breastfeeding is the same as farting. But I am saying that breastmilk, according to all research, is not just *good* for babies, but it is the *best* food for babies. The World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatricians have stated that newborns should be *exclusively* breastfed for a significant time, and that they should be breastfed for at least a year, and that breastfeeding should continue after that for as long as it is mutually desired (the WHO says that it is beneficial for children to breastfeed for SEVEN YEARS). Given this, and given the fact that we as a society readily accept breasts in both sexualized (popular culture, fashion) and unsexualized (visual art) contexts, it is time for us to get over our prurient obsession with the breast. Particularly when it comes to breastfeeding.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

I *was* going to post about being discouraged.

But I am going to have to save that post for another time. Because I just found this doozy of a statement. All emphasis is mine:

ok, this [last year's abortion ban in SD - PF] is a nail in the coffin to all CF [childfree people] in america.

this chimp in charge [Roger Hunt, maybe?], he is a religous nutter quite frankly, but he listens to the feminists, it used to be women had to have the choice of aborting or not, thats their choice, but the new breed of feminists they want women to have kids, have a job, have everything, without thought of population or standards of living.

In case you missed it - yes, he is blaming feminists for the abortion ban. Not for not doing enough to prevent it, you understand, but for supporting it.

And I guess I should wait until you finish laughing (are you laughing more about that "he listens to the feminists" comment or about feminists supporting the abortion ban?).

Ready? OK.

this is going to make so many women take the extreme measures of coathangers, and suicides and by not regulation the clinics then, you get back to the backroom clinics where the mortality rate was very high. and we all know people dying isnt as bad as a few cells.

i feel sorry for the americans to have this kind of person in charge. there is no choice anymore, these feminists have said you can do it all.. all at once. so you will get more single parent families, more problem children, who have more kids, who are more problematical. and so on and it gets worse when the government bribes these single women, into having kids (as in australia) with tax breaks and so on.

the decline of civilisation (but then again bush's friend beleives in the rapture and has stated that they dont need to do ecology as when everyone gets the rapture it will all be fixed.) damned fundie, breeders, religious nutter.

OK, seriously, where do people come up with this stuff?! ~shakes head~

Thursday, February 08, 2007

I think I may be in this movie.

This is sort of a post to the people who know me IRL. Please don't let it distract you from the much more substantive one below.


I really hope I'm not.

And no, for those of you who are wondering, I didn't have an abortion in the film.

Who benefits from benefits?

Just to let you know, I already wrote a great Valentine's Day post about vaginas, but I'm saving it for closer to the actual holiday.

Now my post for today will probably seem boring. Perhaps I should have waited to tell you about it (I was just so excited!).

Well, anyway: I've enjoyed discussing childfree and childed issues with Brit Girl on her blog for the last little while. Recently, her post on the myths of parenting prompted a brief discussion about the benefits parents do and don't get from the workplace. I am writing this from a U.S. perspective, and Brit Girl is writing with an eye on Canada and the U.K. That may account for some differences in our opinions, but I'm not sure that it does.

I wrote:
One thing - despite all the pressure to reproduce - and I totally agree that this is a breed-oriented society - speaking from the U.S., we don’t do much to help parents. We act like we do, and we pay a lot of lip service to it, but when you get down to it, we’ve set things up so that parents who have jobs (which most parents need to have) are screwed, and their families are screwed.

This is not to say that the proposed solutions for parents in the workplace have always been great for cf people. I think we need a whole workplace revolution that will make *all* of our lives better. But I don’t think the U.S. really values parent-child or family relationships in general. I think it values the labor of employees, and that the encouragement of breeding is in part about creating a labor force and in part about gender roles.

Brit Girl responded:
...much more is done for people with children than for childfree people. While I will agree that the many work envrionments are not tailored around women bringing up children (and yes, this causes all sorts of issues for women who have to work and their families) at the same time many are bending over backwards to create more "family friendly" workplaces. They are doing this because they need to retain workers.

They need to be mindful that they need to support their workers, but they also need to be aware that if they don’t make a profit, the company will be gone.

Which is fine, except that family doesn’t mean person with no kids, or person who is single. It means people with children. People with children have - for example (at my company) - time off if their kids are sick, time off to go to parent teacher meetings, very good health benefits coverage extended to all dependents, subsidized childcare, on-site company childcare, time off if they are adopting kids, preferential tax breaks, tax credits and child benefit, a christmas party for workers children. During March break, childfree people can’t take vacation, because parents are on vacation.

Pregnant women can take up to a year off as maternity leave with all benefits and can return to their substantive grade. Their vacation entitlement remains untouched. This is also the case in the UK. When you consider that, some women are have vacation entitlement of 3-4 wks (depending on years of service) the time off is subtantial. (Vacation entitlement is more in the UK. I was entitled to 5 weeks/year). Employers cannot fill their positions, they must keep them open. Fathers are now entitled to paternity leave - though many don’t take it, mothers can opt to job share, flexible work, or work part time. PLUS there are many other ways government supports parents. In Europe, benefits for people with children are even more generous - depending on the country. Plus companies are sympathetic to parents when they have to dash out of the workplace to tend to a child, or attend a school function or a kid’s sports function. Not for the Childfree. I think you’ll find that even the US has many more benefits for parents as opposed to those without. So I think while it isn’t perfect, it’s more than lip-service.

Contrast that with what is provided for childfree people, or as mercurior says, young men (a pretty vulnerable group btw). We get no extra time off outside vacations and public holidays, even if we are taking care of a parent or a pet. There are signs that is now changing in larger corporations but it still is much less time than people with parents are able to take. Small companies may go under, they don’t have the same luxury of economies of scale. So, rightly or wrongly many won’t hire women.

We get no extra benefits. We can, of course, take a year off - but it will be without pay - unless we use our vacation time. We pay more tax than parents and get no tax breaks, no government support, no subsidized transportation, no subsidized elder care payments. And by the way, I work for one of the most family friendly companies in Canada, and one of the best employers, with over 50% of employees being women. Many in very senior positions. Might be different in the US, but I would guess that good companies still have more benefits for parents than non-parents. Generally we understand - children are demanding, but lately we’ve been getting fed-up at what we perceive as preferential treatment for parents.

And even if they try and make things more "family friendly" and "do more" for parents, childfree people will be even more marginalized as far as the workplace is concerned. In my opinion It’s already tipped far too much in parents’ favour - and we pick up the slack. As you said what’s needed is a more equitable solution - for childfree and childed alike.

I want to discuss these issues in more detail, and this may end up spilling over into another post. So to begin, I want to argue my original point - that while there is a clear expectation that we will all become parents, that the state of parenthood (motherhood, in particular) is a state to which we should all aspire, and that not wanting to be a parent is somewhat abnormal (note that I'm saying this is what's expected, not what I agree with), American society simultaneously withholds the very resources parents need in order to be good parents. And those resources are things like extended and paid maternity leave, flexible work schedules, decent pay, good and affordable health benefits, good and affordable child care, and, of course, JOBS that offer these things in the first place. Most jobs, of course, do not, and so these benefits are not available to the majority of the population.

I will say at the outset that these benefits should not be set up only with an eye toward what parents need. They should be available to all workers; instead of maternity leave, for example, workers should be able to get similar leave for any care-giving (and yes, I would limit this to care-giving or grief leave or something along those lines). Employers should offer flex time to all employees (and studies have shown that flexible work schedules result in employees who are more productive AND more loyal, so it would seem that this would be beneficial for employers). I hardly need to present an argument for decent wage and health insurance, right? I mean, we can understand why those would be necessary. And as for childcare - while I don't think it's crucial (or, in many cases, practical) for employers to provide childcare, providing the other things, like good pay and flex time, would allow parents to work with available childcare in order to find a good solution.

In other words, when we think about improving the workplace for parents, which is absolutely necessary, we should also be thinking about improving the workplace for all workers. Because while childfree workers may not face the same stressors as childed people, we could all benefit from a work environment in which individuals matter, in which employees are treated as if their lives outside the workplace are valuable.

One of the problems, though, is the sense I get, having participated in discussions re. stopping the tenure clock for new mothers (sometimes fathers) on the faculty, is that everyone is simply terrified that someone else might get something that would give them an unfair advantage.

I gotta be honest, here. To me, this sounds a lot like the people who argue that students with documented disabilities shouldn't have extra time to take a test because that gives them more time to write better answers - even when, as has been my experience as an educator - that extra time merely affords them time to laboriously do the work of almost completing the written exam. It isn't the thinking of the brilliant answer that takes the time, often - it is actually writing it down. And it's just small-minded to complain, when faced with a student making his or her way through college in this way, that he or she is getting something extra that someone else is not.

So, yes, at first I was a bit unsympathetic to this claim. And I'll add that, for new parents, parental leave is not a matter of having the time off to enjoy the baby. The experience of sleep deprivation alone is more intense than most people have experienced outside this situation. And then, for mothers, there are all kinds of biological issues to address, as well, as hormone levels change and so on. On top of that, we could argue that babies and mothers need to be together for at least the first several months for breastfeeding and bonding (no, of course I'm not saying that moms can't make other arrangements work). My point: maternity leave is not a vacation, and the time should not be offered up generally to people who want to take an extended trip. It should be offered for care-giving or for other monumental occurrences that necessitate a serious leave of absence.

I had a similarly unsympathetic attitude to those who begrudged parents the kinds of resources I mentioned earlier. But then I heard some stories from an unlikely source - a good friend, a feminist friend, and one who'd been very supportive of me when I had my son. This friend routinely was saddled with extra work due to the family responsibilities of a co-worker who frequently had to miss meetings and so on. And this is not right. Employers need to work out maternity and other leaves so that co-workers do not bear the brunt. It is the EMPLOYER'S responsibility to find temporary help to protect the other workers but also so that a leave does not pit employees against each other.

Let's move on. Brit Girl mentioned subsidized childcare. I may be wrong about this - I am open to being proven wrong - but I think, in cases where people argue that they should get the actual monetary equivalent if they don't use the service, that this is another case of "hey, it looks like someone else got something that I didn't get!" Subsidized childcare means a discount on a service. If you don't have children, why would you need that service discounted? Since childcare is still an expense, I don't think it's reasonable to expect that people without children be given a chunk of change equivalent to the discount. But I do think it's reasonable that they could be offered that same discount to be extended to other care-giving situations - childcare for nieces and nephews, in-home care for elderly parents, etc.

Brit Girl also mentioned time off - for sick children, for school meetings, for vacation. It is absolutely unfair not to allow all workers the same time off. Now - in my experience, when I have had emergencies come up, I was able to use my sick time or my vacation time or, sometimes, I would work through a few lunches to pay back the time I took. I think a more generous allowance of time off - for everyone - would be helpful in most cases, however. And when it comes to scheduling vacations, I'm going to take a hard line. Parents should not have their vacations given priority due to school scheduling. There is no reason that anyone *needs* to take a vacation, anyway (see? told you it was a hard line.). If it conflicts with school, too bad. There is ample time for that in the summer.

I also want to speak to the tax breaks. This actually really disturbs me because it's not an issue of, "oh, you have a kid? Hey, let me give you some money." It's an issue of, "oh, you have another mouth to feed/person to clothe/take to the doctor/etc. That's expensive. Let's arrange to lower your taxes slightly." Having a child means paying more money. The tax break attempts to ease this burden. Childfree people will still have more money at the end of the day, given equivalent income, than childed people. What's the problem? It's a lot like the single tax. The government used to give single people a break, realizing that they were paying more (for example, in rent) with relation to income than were married couples. But then the right wing got all freaked out about what they called a "marriage penalty" or "marriage tax," and guess what? Now there is no longer an eased burden for single people, who often continue to make less income than do dual-income couples. So the argument that childed people get a tax break doesn't really interest me. Figure out what it costs to take care of a child, and compare that to the tax "break," and see where you end up.

Finally: I think this business of comparing pets to children is particularly frustrating. They are not the same. And frankly, I thought they were, until I had a child. Now, I know saying that might make me sound like an asshole, but bear with me. I don't think that childfree people love their pets less than childed people love their kids. I do, however, think there is a qualitative difference in these relationships. Even if I'm right, though, it wouldn't matter, because the fact is, when you love someone or something, then you love them, and being told that your experience of love is different than someone else's is absolutely unhelpful. But I just want to make the point that saying - as a former friend once said to me - that she was in love with her new puppy, and she was sure I knew what she meant because I had a baby - is not going to win you any points with parents. (And really, how would you feel if someone said that to you about your boyfriend, or sister, or mom?) Nor is it going to help either of you understand each other any better.

One more point about the pet thing - I know exactly why someone who doesn't have a child would say this. I've felt it. I've said it myself. I'm trying really really hard to avoid saying, "you don't know until you experience it," but at the end of the day, that's all I can say. I'm sorry that sounds so patronizing - that is certainly not how I mean to come across.

Now that I've got that off my chest, let me add that there's no reason why health benefits couldn't be extended to veterinary care for dependent pets, or leave to care for sick animals, and so on. I think perhaps I draw the line at a tax break for dependent pets, but only until we restructure our tax system to tax the wealthy and no one else. Then, I'd be fine with it, and I would certainly list my two cats along with my son as dependents.

I'm sure I have more to say, but that's all I can think of at the moment. Let the comments begin. (I mean, really. Let them begin. Delurk.)

UPDATE: Just as I went to post this, I noticed that Brit Girl had also posted something on this topic. There is good conversation afoot!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

What do you do when...

...you're reading bedtime stories to your kid, and all of a sudden, you hear the people upstairs having sex?!

I didn't see that one coming...

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Leslee Unruh: Cool with Cancer

I've just taken down my Christmas tree and assorted decorations. I'm doing a load of laundry so that when Bean goes to school tomorrow, people won't worry that he lives in filth. I did enough dishes to run out of hot water; the rest are sitting in what is probably now greasy, cold water, but at least the water is soapy. And I am even changing the sheets on my bed (I'd do Bean's, too, but he's got so many stuffed animals on there right now that I don't have the energy to bother. I'll get to his tomorrow.).

In a minute, I'll finish my syllabus and begin my class prep for tomorrow. So for now, here's a great column that had me rolling:

"Leslee Unruh loves cancer. Unruh, founder of the Abstinence Clearinghouse objects to vaccinating children against a disease that she claims is, "100 percent preventable with proper sexual behavior. Premarital sex is dangerous, even deadly. Let's not encourage it by vaccinating 10-year-olds so they think they're safe.'' Now, I know whenever I get my tetanus booster, I run around barefoot in fields of rusty nails because I assume I'm safe, but I have a feeling I'm in the minority there."

And if you're here in town, Avera McKennan is doing a special presentation on the vaccine for girls 11-18 at the YWCA on 69th and Ralph Rogers on Saturday the 10th from 10-noon. At first I wondered what sort of a presentation this would be, but then I read further and found that they'll be offering FREE IMMUNIZATIONS following "brief talks on the hour"!! Avera, it seems I may have misjudged you. (Well - not that it isn't easy to do. But still.)

And also: this vaccination is only the first of three that are needed. The other two are also free through Avera Women's Specialty Clinics (605-322-8920).

Seriously. It's nice to see a Catholic hospital doing something good for women in the area of reproductive health.

Edited to add: I would feel remiss if I didn't also link to this criticism of the HPV vaccine. While the site she links to initially is a biased, anti-vaccine site, I am aware (as the parent of a young child) that we (parents, but society in general) are rushed into vaccinating even when there are substantial risks involved. So I have a healthy suspicion of vaccines, though we do vaccinate in our family (on a slowed timeline, usually one vaccine at a time rather than the grouped ones). Anyway - I can't vouch for the veracity of this, but when it comes to vaccinations, the issue is so polarized that it's difficult to suss out what it true and what is false (hence the link).

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Marcel should have won.

Yeah, I'm coming in late here, but only because I left on Thursday and was busy getting ready for my trip on Wednesday night - and consequently missed the finale of Top Chef. When I woke up this morning, however, Bravo was re-running it, so I finally got to see it.

What's been most fascinating about this second season to me, as someone whose lack of cooking skills were recently displayed here, is both the creativity many of the chefs displayed and also the way that having someone to gang up on seemed to make it so much more fun for all of them. And the person they ganged up on was Marcel, who really deserves a lot of credit for behaving in such a mature fashion in the face of this.

Yes, Marcel was my favorite. I don't like reality show contestants who bully others or who are just mean, which is why I hated Susan Hawk, Will and Mike Boogie, Puck, and Jeffrey (who was so awful that he made another contestant's mother cry and shows little understanding of what exactly he did to her). And in Top Chef, contrary to the claims the other "cheftestants" (thanks, Television Without Pity, for the term) made, Marcel was the one who was bullied.

We all know that reality t.v. is scripted and that it is edited in such a way as to maximize any possible drama. So why, then, do we have no examples of Marcel's egregious behavior? Over and over we hear from Sam, Ilan, Elia, and Betty that Marcel thinks he's better than everyone else. But we never actually see Marcel do or say anything of the kind. There is one scene in which the others are laughing and ridiculing him behind his back for having business cards that read "the next Top Chef" on the back. And yes, that is a bit pretentious, but not unforgiveable. Other "cheftestants" did far worse, like Betty being a raging asshat and cursing him out for no reason, or Sam refusing to help him plate his food because Marcel, who was struggling to get his food *cooked*, couldn't stop to help Sam plate.

I think what really happened is that Marcel didn't actually do anything. Ilan, Marcel's most hateful opponent, suggests this when he says, "'On the first day of taping, when we were waiting to go on camera, Marcel said to me in his little ridiculous voice, ’Lights, camera, action, yeah?’ I wanted to elbow him,' Ilan recalled." Um...yeah. Because those are really fighting words in chef language, I guess.

This idea that Marcel didn't deserve such hostility is borne out by one Top Chef Producer who noted in her blog that even the production team doesn't see any reason why the others dislike him so intensely. As she speculates, "living communally under the strict control of the production team has reduced the chefs to a bunch of kids in camp egging each other on to bully the unpopular brainiac. Pretty soon they'll be flushing his head down the toilet ... mark my words." And that's exactly what happened: just a few episodes later, Cliff was holding Marcel down in a full nelson so that the others could shave his head (and his "friend," Elia, was laughing but had taken a firm moral stand not to get involved).

Reading around online brings me to much the same conclusion. Here is an interview with Marcel in which he talks about why his fellow competitors had such problems with him. You'll note that he continues to be pretty generous, considering how they treated him. And this piece quotes him as saying that Ilan, his nemesis, is now trying to make nice.

Meanwhile, former "friend" Elia keeps making the rounds, doing interviews in which she continues to say that Marcel cheated, though she doesn't have any proof of this or even any specific examples except to say that he "obviously" hired someone to hack the popularity polls (note the responses to this claim in the comments of the linked page. You can also read a transcript, if you prefer.). Even judge Tom Colicchio notes that she didn't seem to understand what "cheating" meant: "when Elia made claims last week that Marcel had cheated, my feeling was -- back it up, or back down. In answer to our questions (only a fraction of which made it into the episode) it became clear that Elia was alluding to Marcel’s antagonistic behavior -- in typical fashion he had managed to irritate the other chefs to an extent they considered unprofessional and undermining -- but English is not Elia’s first language, and she fell back on the word cheating."

And so, this finale has left me with - I have to say it - a bad taste in my mouth.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Worst. Taxi ride. Ever.

I touch down in a new city, tired from my several hours of travel, and walk out to the taxi stand. The first driver in the line is driving a van. When I ask if he's a regular taxi or a hotel shuttle, he grunts and opens the door. I get in, surprised by his brusqueness.

He is listening to what I imagine is a conservative radio show. The host is railing about the mayor of San Francisco, who has apparently slept with the wife of one of his friends (and employees). The employee has resigned, but has made some sort of statement - perhaps it is his resignation letter that has been made public - of support for the work he did with the mayor.

My driver scoffs. "What kind of a man would do that? If he'd slept with my wife, I'd'a killed him. And then her! What kinda man resigns and writes a supportive letter?!"

"One who wants to salvage his career?" I suggest.

He nearly spits out the words. "Career! Who gives a shit about a career! The man slept with his wife! He should hunt him down and shoot him like a dog!"

I'm surprised. I'm not used to having such opinionated taxi drivers. He seems a little off, and the tirade that follows is unsettling. I consider asking him to let me off at a corner, but I have no idea where I am or if I'd be able to find another cab. He continues to spew forth venom for some time, and my pointed silence is no deterrant at all.

Finally, a lull.

"How long have you lived here?" I ask, hoping to change the subject and to learn something about the city in which I will be interviewing.

"Ten years," he says.

"You must like it here?" I ask.

"I hate it," he says, before launching into another tirade about various community leaders who are, he says, "queers" and "child molestors." I bite my tongue, take a deep breath, and say, "what?" "They might as well be," he says, and complains about some program that would reduce child abductions but that the city did not want, and then goes on about there being too many "queers" in town. He complains as well about the road repairs, which have resulted in "squiggles" of patching on the pavement. "Tacky!" he says, and when I do not respond, he insists, "don't you think it's tacky?"

"I suppose I'm used to it," I say. "It's the same way at home." I'm hoping he'll take the hint and shut up rather than offend me.

"Guess they're tacky there, too," he says, not the least bit concerned about my feelings.

I hear a bit more about child abductions, which, to hear him speak, you'd think were the major problem in this city (though none of the many parents I will speak with over the next two days will mention this topic at all).

I am anxious to get out of the cab. I'm also preparing a lecture in my head - something about "being a queer, I really don't appreciate your tone." But then he says,

"I guess no one realizes until they have a child taken."

Something in his tone pulls me up short. Carefully, I ask, "Did you have a child taken? This seems very personal for you."

He has. His girlfriend took his then infant daughter (now grown) away and has prevented him, with the help of a boyfriend and a gun, from seeing her.

I find myself wondering which came first: did his behavior result from or cause the child's abduction?

"That's just awful," I say, with real feeling.

And I step out of the cab.

And the tip?

What would you have done?

Thursday, February 01, 2007

I miss her already.

So, Molly Ivins has died of breast cancer.

I remember when I was just out of college during Bush the Senior's tenure, and Molly Ivins' column was featured regularly in the Hartford Courant (which is, by the way, still the best paper I've had the privilege of reading on a daily basis). I used to read hers, along with Ellen Goodman's, and I'd think, "ok, maybe the world isn't going to hell in a handbasket just yet. There are still thinking people out there."

I have often thought of her mockery of the Texas "Lege," particularly when I hear of some new foolishness our own "Lege" is up to. (Which means I think of her almost constantly.)

I remember particularly Ivins' commentary on how it was that Ann Richards (who also died within the past year, sadly) had won the Texas Gubernatorial election in 1990. Richards' opponent was a nasty guy. He liked to say that if a woman was being raped, she should lie back and enjoy it - that's the kind of guy he was. Well, Richards and her opponent were at some function - perhaps a debate, perhaps some other televised event - and she cordially reached out her hand to shake his. He refused.

I wish I could find the exact quote, but Ivins wrote something like "That decided it. Bubba could tell rape jokes, but Bubba wasn't rude to no lady." And Ann Richards won the election.

I will particularly miss Ivins' insightful, sharp wit. She had a gift for cutting through the bullshit. We relied on her voice to speak for all of us - and we needed her to do it. She did it so well.