Feminist movement to end sexist oppression actively engages participants in revolutionary struggle. Struggle is rarely safe or pleasurable.
--bell hooks, Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center

I've written in various places--in Catching a Wave, in an unpublished essay called "The Feminist Free for All"--about the fact that feminism demands a commitment, a willingness to work and struggle. One of my major political beliefs is that it's not enough to call myself a feminist or claim that label when it's easy. If it's going to mean something, I have to back it up with what I do. As a poster in my office says, "It's not enough to be compassionate. You must act."

It was in that spirit that I decided to speak about my abortion to the ABC reporter last week. Biffle has written so sweetly here about the weight of that decision. He knows that it was scary because I left two voice messages on his phone while I was trying to decide, and I'm sure my anxiety was audible--"Biffle, I think I'm going to do this!" He's right that I've gotten hate mail for far less than that, so I did the interview knowing that, as I told colleagues only half-jokingly, someone might firebomb the office.

So it's been an absolutely wonderful surprise that in the past week, there has been no backlash whatsoever. Instead, here's what I've gotten: a dozen emails from people I know and people I don't, saying they saw me on TV and thanking me. An anonymous phone call from a woman in Alabama who said, "I just wanted to tell you that you were so brave." Applause from a room full of students.

As I've been reflecting this week on what I wanted to say about the interview, I realized that what I'm experiencing is the other side of the commitment to feminist struggle. Although bell hooks says that struggle is rarely safe or pleasurable, I'm recognizing that sometimes it is. Maybe not safe, but certainly pleasurable. Satisfying. Sometimes you stick your neck out, and what you get is not hate mail but a standing ovation.


Breaking news from SC

I've just been speaking to the South Carolina Coalition for Healthy Families in Columbia. I actually called about something else, but here's what they told me:

The ultrasound bill is going before the State Senate's Medical Committee tomorrow morning, and they're asking for testimony from MDs as well as from other professionals with an opinion about this issue. They know that it's incredibly short notice, but if you're available, consider attending the session, which will be Wednesday at 9:00 a.m. in room 308 of the Gressette Office Building. South Carolina Coalition for Healthy Families will compensate for mileage. Brandi Parrish is the contact person, at 803-929-0088.

You can go to www.scstatehouse.net to get directions to the building and to see the text of the bill, which is #84.

The person I talked to asked me to spread the word that the situation is desperate. The Greenville News has reported that Senator Bryant, who proposed the ultrasound bill, was so encouraged by how quickly it was approved by the House that he's considering introducing an amendment that would require that all women having an abortion have to view their ultrasound at a crisis pregnancy center.

We need to call our senators. Senator McConnell and others are concerned about the constitutionality of this bill and will respond to calls (his #, by the way, is (803) 212-6610). This is not the time to sit back and think that others will do it.

Quick update: I just called Senator McConnell's office and talked to his administrative person, who was so glad I called! She said everyone in their office opposes the bill, and they're eager to get evidence of opposition from constituents. She said it would be wonderful for people who have an opinion on the bill to email Senator McConnell at sju@scsenate.org.


Alison on the News

Alison is still away on her trip to a conference, and is probably unable to blog. Besides, due to her well-developed sense of decorum, she's not really able to talk about what needs talkin' about, viz her appearance on the news the other night. That's where I--with no sense of decorum--can step in....there's so many things, though, i don't know where to start...

First things first: That sure was brave of her! Alison has gotten to see first hand what a nasty bunch the protestors can be when she's acted as an escort for the abortion clinic here in Charleston. And then we've also gotten to see the (unpublished) comments here on the blog
promising special-places-in-hell, we-know-where-you-lives and other oldies but goodies. She knew this stuff, but she did it anyway. Way to go Alison!

Lemme tell you what's really great about what she did: Although it wasn't mentioned in the story, ABC contacted Alison as "the expert." They wanted her opinion on the ultrasound legislation as a member of the establishment. In between their call to her and the actual interview, however, she called me and said "i think i'm going to talk about my own abortion on television."

So not only was she not acting "the expert," but it was Alison herself who suggested the change in focus for the interview. (Unfortunately, at that point, the story for some reason became "a random woman and her abortion" and not "college professor talks about new legislation and her own abortion." I don't know why--maybe it has something to do with what i mention below--but they only threw the "women' studies professor" part in there like an afterthought.)

Anyway, let's break down this bravery:

1: talked about her own abortion on television when she's learned, firsthand, the opposition often behaves like irrational fools.
2: voluntarily changed the course of the interview.
3: talked about something deeply personal on television.
4: did not take the perfectly acceptable course of "being the expert."


Now, as for my two cents, I want to parse the bravery contained in #4:

There is, what i consider, an easily critiqued rift between the college professor and the average american. (Or, as the vast, right-wing conspiracy has been able to so effectively spin it: a rift between the "academic elitists" and Godly, Loving, Human Beings Like You.

This artificial rift between education and true Americanism has come in handy for folks that want to curtail any meaningful dialogue when it interferes with their agenda. It has been used, for example, to downplay suspicions of an unjust war, deny ecological dangers, and encourage feelings of hatred around issues like the one which alison was speaking.

While this rift has been handy at keeping people who don't usually ask questions from waking up and asking questions, it has, of most importance here, been very effective at encouraging the educated and the question-askers to actually play that role of elitist.

And the rift likes it this way.

It isn't popular for the educated to get their hands dirty these days. Currently, academics like to leave the work in the trenches for Hollywood and people like Al Gore and Michael Moore. It's too difficult and dangerous to make an actual stand.

Alison, however, did not play that game. In a rare, but true, mix of academia and social responsibility, she put her own personal experience and beliefs out there for people to see.
I hope i act as courageous if i'm ever put in a similar situation.


A day in the life of a Women's and Gender Studies director

Here was my day today:

7 a.m. Walter and I clean up inexplicable explosive diarrhea (product of Baxter)
8:30 a.m. Show up late to very important meeting
10:30 a.m. Show up on time to another very important meeting
12:15 p.m. Phone call from ABC News: "Can we interview you about the ultrasound bill the state legislature is considering?"
12:16 p.m. Do research on the legislation. Find quotes from women who've had abortions saying, "If I'd only been able to see an ultrasound image, I never would have done it."
12:17 p.m. Decide I'm going to talk about my own abortion. On TV.
1:15 p.m. The interview happens
1:55 p.m. Walk to class while the camera guy films me, for b-roll footage
2:00 p.m. Teach class
4:00 p.m. Drive minivan full of students to Chattanooga to present our research at the Southeastern Women's Studies Association Conference.

The interview aired tonight--here's the online version: http://www.abcnews4.com/news/stories/0307/407491.html
(Seems to work better with IE than Firefox.)

I feel pretty good about it, except for the images of viable fetuses they were showing on the screen while I was talking about non-viable blob-like embryos.

And now, while the students are downstairs mingling with a rock band they met in the hotel, I am going to bed. It's 2:34 a.m., and I will certainly have more things to say about abortion--and my decision to out myself on television--after I've rested.


Back Up Your Birth Control Day

As the title suggests, today is Back Up Your Birth Control Day, not an officially sanctioned national holiday, but soon to be. Now that I'm a full-fledged feminist blogger, I'm up on all these things. The basic idea here is that emergency contraception is available over the counter for women 18 and up, and thank god for that. Back in my day, we didn't have any fancy emergency contraception--we just had to take a bunch of birth control pills and vomit for 48 hours if we'd had unprotected sex. These kids today don't know how good they have it.

Emergency contraception is not the same thing as the abortion pill. The abortion pill (actually a series of pills) induces a miscarriage. Emergency contraception is essentially a stronger dose of the birth control pill which, if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, prevents you from ovulating, or if you already ovulated prevents the sperm and egg from getting together, or if that's already happened prevents them from implanting. (Can you believe I wrote all that without looking anything up? My mind is a vast repository of useful information.)

Here's a place to go for more information: www.backupyourbirthcontrol.org.


Benya hasn't gotten much press lately, but she's much bigger than she was in the initial pictures we posted here of her miniature little fuzzy puppy self. Now she's getting lanky, and she's starting to get some of her adult fur. Don't trust that cute expression--she's probably been snacking in the litter box.

I like this picture because it allows me to imagine that her ears are going to stand up eventually.


Hubrique, Part 1 1/2

In that last post I said "tomorrow," but i was wrong. Not only did i get kinda busy in the mornings, but i also decided to do something else: I decided to think a little bit.

Occasionally, I'd like to say something viable on here and not just make little attempts at funny rants. Currently, i'm still thinking, but if you want to know where i'm headed, i'll provide you with this link to an op-ed in Charleston's alternative weekly, The City Paper.

Have fun. I'm sure i will soon tire of thinking and will be back with a new attempt at a funny rant.


Hubrique, Anyone?

I have made up a word. Hubrique. It means excessive pride at your barbeque.

Now note i said at your barbeque, not about your barbeque. If you happen to make an excellent barbeque--and i mean, in particular, if you use a smoke-producing, slow-cooking method for the preparation of pig meat, almost assuredly a shoulder cut, pulled apart into strips, and are, furthermore, not referring to beef, ribs, or just a sauce--then i'm not talking about you. Go ahead, you're alright.

No, i'm talkin' about the people that, more than likely, are eating the above-described barbeque. Not to put too fine a point on it, but a Hubrique is precisely a barbeque, thrown by a person or people, in order to be excessively filled with pride.

Now the reason i can make this fine distinction about certain types of barbeques is that, during the warm months here in Charleston, a musician eats more barbeque than you can shake a stick at. Every gig i play it's more barbeque. I'm even thinking about naming one of the days of the week "Barbeque." Tuesday, Wednesday, Barbeque.

Already (and it's only March!) i've been to so many barbeques, and eaten so much barbeque, that i easily differentiate between, say, the "pre-wedding barbeque" and the "post-wedding barbeque" and, at this point, have moved on to such supra fine distinctions as "the pre-wedding barbeque involving mostly friends," "the post-wedding barbeque involving mostly family members," and "the sad wedding barbeque where everyone thinks that this marriage is a mistake" etc. These distinctions continue--to push an already tired comedic device to its horrible death--through such categories as "the office barbeque no one wants to be at," and "the church barbeque where everyone wishes they were drinking beer" until you finally reach, way down the list, Ta-Dah! The Hubrique.

The Hubrique even has it's own theme song:

Oh, Hubri-Q!
Oh, Hubri-Q, honey, I love me,

Now, having explained all that, i want to tell you about the mother-of-all-Hubriques , but i'm out of time.

Coming tomorrow: The Hubrique at I'on.


Ruining my reputation

Alright, people, I just googled myself--a habit that Biffle has encouraged me to engage in on a regular basis and that isn't nearly as much fun as it sounds--and guess what was the first thing on the list?

The shaved cat tuxedo post.

Dammit. I am going to lose all my academic feminist street cred if I become associated with cat tuxedos. You people need to start linking things to my leg shaving post, or the name change post, or something.

Something Actually Blog-Worthy?

This just in: A friend of mine (an adult man that rides a skateboard, but we can make fun of him later) just told me today that skateboarding has been made illegal on the streets of downtown Charleston. He was "caught" last night, and although told he would be let off the hook this time, in the future, if caught skateboarding again, he would be fined $250 and have his board confiscated.

Now, I do not have a "skateboarding is not a crime" bumpersticker on my car, nor do i plan to put one there. Like the grown and curmudgeonly adult that i am, i find skateboarders and skateboarding kind of obnoxious, loud, and funny looking. However, also like most grown and curmudgeonly adults, i can get concerned when it starts to hit close to home.

See, my buddy wasn't grinding away at marble stairs, or skinning the paint off of public handrails. He wasn't jumping off of steps in a city park full of tourists. No, he was riding one of those really long skateboards down the street to his place of employment.

Now, here's where it starts to get really interesting: My friend, in true skateboarder fashion, did not give in easily. He told THE MAN this is crap. So is bicycling illegal?

THE MAN evidently said "not yet, but bicycles are next."

Surely this is hogwash?


South Carolina and The Angel Oak

I am a jaded human being. I have a hard time being joyful these days. I recently said to a professional in the mental health field that i'd "lost faith in humanity." I laughed after i said it, but i did it a little too loud and gave myself away.

I'm hoping (as is said by so many parents) it's a phase.

I figure it is. On the jade-o-meter i still have a ways to go before i bottom out. One way i know this is true is that i still find babies cute. And, of course, puppy dogs. I marveled at new sprouts of growth on a tree the other day in the park. There's still hope. I guess it's just the big, grown-up, human people that bother me so much.

All of the ones that wanna sell me something after they act like they're my friend. The ones that say they want to be helpful out of one pocket and then hurt hurt hurt with what comes out the other. The folks that profess to really love Jesus but hate half his brothers and sisters here on earth (and sometimes half his brothers and All of his sisters). The really jarring part, of course, is the process of recognizing that i'm right in there with them. And, also, to think "wow, i've come so far" only to find i'm halfway through--and that, down the road, the learning curve gets even steeper.

I'm not trying to be all holier-than-thou, but maybe you can relate when i say i feel a little discouraged when a person at the church social assumes i want to hear the new one about the jewish feminist, gay iraqi and urban musician stuck on a life raft.* When someone uses this as their introduction you already know it's a lost cause to point out they're 53 years old and have a sock stuck down their pants.

Lately I've developed the successful strategy of wincing even as strangers approach. This way I'm not left to choose between feigning deafness or grasping both ears in my hands while shouting LALALA! and running, full-on, into the nearest body of alligator-infested water. Yeah, the wince works, but it leaves me lonely.

There's a lot stuff about this world and particularly South Carolina that needs some fixin', but, to go back to the jade-o-meter, here's something that doesn't:

When the subject of the Grand Canyon comes up, i enjoy telling people, no matter how much they might build it up in their heads before hand, they'll still not be prepared for what they see when they get there. I can now say that about two things.

The Angel Oak, although it is a fixture of the hotel brochure rack, cousin to the go-cart track and boon companion of miniature golf, is one of my favorite things on earth. It is simply a giant tree that has minded its own business for the last thousand or two years. It does not care that it lives in a place currently called South Carolina. The temperature and feel of the air under its massive canopy is so different it's as if the tree has its own atmosphere. Under it i feel almost quiet inside, and not near so jaded.

It is friendly and probably quite happy. The Angel Oak never tries to tell me a dirty joke...well, at least not one i don't want to hear. It chooses to be oblivious to the recent spate of commercialization surrounding it and encroaching on the quiet land it has known for centuries. It is dignified and will probably continue to be so even as car exhaust and the ever-expanding pavement and nearby sewer lines start to choke the life from it. When it starts to leave us, I hope that well-intentioned human intervention is tastefully limited.

I obviously, unabashedly love this tree.

*this particular joke doesn't exist, but i feel certain some of our extra-rabid bible-thumping readers will be able to come up with a version or two.


Other Favorite Berry-isms

A few day ago I mentioned Wendell Berry and the fact that his "making earth" sentence is one of my favorites. Well, it turns out that Wendell is also the author of one of my favorite lists. This list comes from his essay called "Why I Am Not Going to Buy a Computer," (1987) which makes an argument for--you guessed it--why Wendell isn't going to buy a computer.

In the essay he explains that he has a system he likes: he farms with horses, and he writes with a pencil and a piece of paper. His wife (also his editor) re-types everything "on a Royal standard typewriter bought new in 1956 and as good now as it was then." He goes on to explain that "a number of people, by now, have told me that i could greatly improve things by buying a computer. My answer is that I am not going to do it. I have several reasons, and they are good ones."

With his answer to the small computer question he actually addresses a much larger issue: what he calls his "standards for technological innovation in [his] own work." In other words, the test stuff has to pass before he'll buy it.

Now, if Baxter Sez were some glossy rag picked up in line at the grocery store, this bit, for reader-interest reasons, would be turned into a quiz. So, let's do it! Read the following statements. For each one, give yourself a 5 if you answer "agree strongly," a 4 if you "agree somewhat," 3 for "sometimes do, sometimes don't," 2 for "almost never agree" and finally a 1 if you answer "what?" When you're finished, total your score and see which celebrity you are.

1: The new tool should be cheaper than the one it replaces.

2: It should be at least as small in scale as the one it replaces.

3: It should do work that is clearly and demonstrably better than the one it replaces.

4: It should use less energy than the one it replaces.

5: If possible, it should use some form of solar energy,such as that of the body.

6: It should be repairable by a person of ordinary intelligence, provided that he or she has the necessary tools.

7: It should be purchasable and repairable as near to home as possible.

8: It should come from a small, privately ownedshop or store that will take it back for maintenance and repair.

9: It should not replace or disrupt anything good that already exists, and this includes family and community relationships.


money-saving tip

Instead of spending $30 on a tuxedo for your cat, Alison and I suggest this money saving tip: Merely shave your cat and spray paint a tuxedo on him instead. You can't tell the difference from 5 feet away anyhow.


Letter from the director

Women's and Gender Studies has a magazine called Cheek that we publish once a semester. (And I should note here that, regrettably, my dad came up with the name--a fact that he will never, never let me forget). I write a letter from the director for each issue. Since Biffle and I don't have anything blogworthy to write about this morning, I thought I'd share the letter for the upcoming issue of Cheek. It's a bit overwrought, I think, and quite advertise-y at the end, but it says some things that are worth saying:

In the first issue of Cheek, I wrote about community—about the fact that what Women’s and Gender Studies is doing in Charleston is creating feminist community on campus and off. We’re creating spaces of solidarity and support, spaces where we can challenge the oppressive categories that keep all of us from achieving our full humanity.

In the time since I wrote that article, a lot has happened. South Carolinians overwhelmingly endorsed an amendment to the State Constitution which states that the only kind of family we’ll recognize consists of one man married to one woman. No other model of family—and by extension, of personhood—is valid here. As I am writing this, bills are coming before the state legislature that would extend full civil rights to a fertilized egg (rights, it seems, that the state is unwilling to accord to lesbian and gay couples). Another bill would allow pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions for any drug they disagree with—the kind of bill that nationally targets contraception. And just this spring, a friend who works with rape victims outlined the ways in which the local criminal justice system routinely fails her clients, by belittling their cases, chastising the women themselves, or losing their medical evidence.

These policies, these decisions, hurt people. My colleagues and friends suffer because they are living in a state that tells them that the way they are is not acceptable. Others suffer because of lack of information: I talked with a group of eighteen-year-old women recently who didn’t understand their own reproductive systems. Many of them were taking birth control pills, but they didn’t have any idea how they worked. And I’ve had at least a dozen students in the less than two years that I’ve been at the College of Charleston tell me about their own experiences of rape.

In an anthology of young feminist essays called Listen Up, editor Barbara Findlen describes the experience of encountering injustice: “The moment when sexism steps into your path can be disappointing, humiliating, shocking. It can take away your breath, your hope, your faith in yourself, your faith in humanity. The impact is even greater if you’re not expecting it.” For many of us who were raised on a rhetoric of equal rights under the law, equal opportunity, a level playing field, recognizing the injustice of a homophobic constitutional amendment or a policy that equates an embryo and a woman can have the effect Findlen outlines.

She goes on to say, “Feminism is what helps us make sense of the unfairness by affirming that it’s about political injustice, not personal failure. The feminist movement offers us the combined strength and wisdom of people from all walks of life who are fighting for meaningful equality.” She’s saying that we have feminist community so that we can stand up against injustice. Feminism gives us a framework for understanding inequality and tools for addressing it. And it gives us a community to work together with.

It’s part of our job in Women’s and Gender Studies to do our research, find out the facts, and then speak out. It’s our job to take on controversial issues and be a voice demanding feminism and human rights in the Lowcountry.

As I’ve done some of the behind-the-scenes work for this issue of the magazine, several different South Carolina printers have told me that they’re unwilling to print Cheek if we have articles that advocate for abortion rights, or that discuss the play The Vagina Monologues, or that feature art like that featured on the cover of the last issue. Speaking out is a dangerous business. Some people may refuse to work with us. Others may send us hate mail. But that makes it all the more important that we do it.

Particularly us.

Particularly here.

And we’re doing that work. This spring, Women’s and Gender Studies put on our seventh annual production of The Vagina Monologues. This play, which was performed at more than 1120 college campuses this February, is part of an international initiative to combat violence against women. This year’s Charleston performances reached around 600 viewers and raised more than $7000 for People Against Rape and the YWCA of Greater Charleston.

We have also initiated a College of Charleston/Burke High School collaboration. Girls from Burke have been paired with Women’s and Gender Studies students to write essays on the subject of “My Life as a Girl.” The winning girl will be featured in Skirt! magazine, and we will have a banquet and awards ceremony for all the participants and their families this April. Conseula Francis (assistant professor of English, faculty affiliate of WGS) has spearheaded this effort, which we hope to expand in the fall to bring girls from Burke and Ashley Hall together.

This spring ten Women’s and Gender Studies students will travel to Chattanooga, TN, to present their original feminist research at the Southeastern Women’s Studies Association Conference. They will meet with other feminist scholars from the region and will demonstrate the outstanding work being done in Women’s and Gender Studies classes at the College of Charleston.

In April, Kate Bornstein will be our final speaker of the semester. Bornstein is an author, playwright, and performance artist, with well-known (and widely taught) books, including Gender Outlaw and Hello, Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks, and Other Outlaws. She's also a male-to-female transsexual and a lesbian who talks about the ways in which her own identity challenges our society's traditional gender system. She's interested in providing support for students who feel that they don't fit in (LGBT teens are much more likely to commit suicide that their straight peers) and in educating any student who is confused about what "LGBT" means and what it means to be a transgender person.

We are speaking out, and we invite you to do the same.