Quick thoughts from Alison

I have been informed by several parties that it's time for me to blog. My brother asked if the reason I've been absent is because of all the hubbub and vitriol about my "Choosing Us" essay (Hubbub and Vitriol should be the name of a band).

The answer is no. I firmly believe that if I'm not pissing people off, I'm not doing my job--and this essay has sure as hell pissed people off. To date half a dozen conservative blogs have picked it up and had posts about what a selfish, unChristian, unwomanly, soon-to-be-rotting-in-hell crackpot I am.

The selfish, unChristian, and unwomanly parts I agree with, by the way.

Hundreds of people have commented and said nasty things that don't bear repeating here. But rest assured, I am gathering this data. I'm collecting it all for some sort of writing project down the road. Here are some patterns I've noticed already:

  • They are obsessed with "Walter." They often call him "Walter," with his name in scare quotes, as if I made him up. Obviously he's either a figment of my twisted feminist imagination (in which case it was an immaculate conception, which makes the abortion oh-so-much worse), or he's some fully emasculated little feminist girly-man that I've created.
  • They seem very disturbed by the fact that the act that led to the conception was "a hushed fling on the bathroom floor." They quote that in their comments and their emails to me. I'm not sure what bothers them about this--the fact that a married couple has fun, secretive sex? The fact that it wasn't missionary-style, in a bed? The fact that I'm talking about sex at all?
  • They can't abide my selfishness. They call me selfish--this is the term that comes up most often--as if it's inherently obvious why this is bad. More than bad--it's an insult. I'm supposed to feel chastised because they've called me selfish. But of course I'm selfish! Contraception and abortion and having children are all selfish decisions--they are decisions we made and make because they affect the quality of our own lives, and the directions we want our lives to take. Getting an education is a selfish decision, driving a car--selfish, trying to pay as little tax as possible--selfish, having a blog in which we share all our inner thoughts--most assuredly selfish.
Okay, that's all I've got for now.


Feminism 101

Well, the fallout from Alison's abortion article continues. I try not to look at what people are saying, but just like when a person plays "see food" or there's some particularly grizzly roadkill, i can't help but look: It's just too compelling.

Mostly I look just to feel superior, although every once in a while someone will say something helpful or thoughtful. Mostly, however, it's the usual suspects of God and his special needles just for us, hell's a-waitin', Alison is a monster, and the new but wildly creative Walter has no balls.

I have resisted the urge to comment and correct fallacies (e.g. the libel concerning my balls), subliminated most of the feelings of superiority into empathy and love, and have stuck to the clinical "market research" attitude i like to use when taking the temperature of conservative America. However, out of the jangly bunch of comments made, one in particular just really grabbed my attention. So here, for your reading pleasure and edification, i offer the author H's very special non-paraphrased understanding of feminism and feminists:

I regularly read several radical feminist blogs and message boards — feministing.com, iblamethepatriarchy.com, womensspace.org, etc. ... (they amuse me — I have a slightly twised sense of humor).

I assure you such selfishness and callous indifference is not uncommon among feminists — generally, the more radical they are, the more self-centered and obnoxious they become. Many are so selfish or mentally scarred (many have been driven to radical extremist feminism because of horrible abuse at the hands of an ex, a father or a stranger) that they can do nothing but live by themselves. Others are lesbians — and some are “political lesbians” or “lesbian separatists” ... i.e. they aren’t actually attracted to women, they’re just so anti-male that they must choose between a relationship with a woman or being a hermit. Generally, they are a pitiful group in need of serious psychotherapy ... not the extremely unhealthy bitch-fest they participate in on these boards.

For the scant few that are in heterosexual relationships, their relationship is exclusively about their satisfaction and what their husband does for them. There is little give and take, and their castrato is on a very short leash. Should he say anything even remotely sexist, he’ll be the topic of conversation on webboards for months — and he’ll be called abusive, patriarchal, a rapist, etc.

Their sex lives (they talk about EVERYTHING on very public message boards) are exclusively about their own pleasure. They do nothing specifically FOR their spouse or partner unless there is something in it for them. THEY control the sexual spigot — and if their husband doesn’t stop at the first sign of trouble, he’s a patriarchal rapist. Any sex that requires ANY urging on their husband’s part is rape. Any act that they don’t find appealing (such as an act that Ms. Lewinsky specializes in) is off limits, and a male that would dare request such an act is a rapist.

Abortion is sacrosanct. To them a fetus is unworthy of any consideration whatsoever. I have LITERALLY read the quote ... [paraphrased] “I step on cockroaches without a second thought, why should I be worried about a glob of cells?” They have referred to fetuses “using” their body “without their permission”, and have likened them to rapists. They are without conscience — a well oiled machine of narcissism.

Honestly — I pity these people. They are immeasurably and uniformly unhappy. They take any bad thing happening to any woman anywhere VERY personally (to the point of having to have “trigger warnings” on any news articles about a rape or murder — so that they won’t accidentally read something that literally tears their life apart). They can be set off into seething rage by anything from a beer commercial, to a Hooters restaurant, to an unwelcomed come-on at a bar.

They live in constant disproportionate fear of men — fear of being raped, murdered, beaten. They fear catcalls. They fear what men are THINKING about them — because “that guy may have just watched pornography and now he’s mentally raping me”. They disdain anything society considers beautiful or healthy as entirely patriarchal beauty constructs. They are cold, callous, calculating — and pretty much entirely incapable of being in a relationship with a non-doormat.

In essence ... they have become matriarchal - and they embody a mirror image of everything they disdain in the supposed “patriarchy”.




Mars Attacks!

This morning Alison found that she'd been spammed by Jesus' Army of Condemnation. Probably in reaction to yesterday's "Blog for Choice" day, lots of people (who are evidently using their actual names, which is nice for a change) have hit her with e mails describing the temperature in hell.

Here's a mild example:

Dr. Piepmeier,
What will you do with Walter if he gets cancer and becomes a burden too your furture?
What will Walter do with you?
Take a being and toss it in the river.
Paul A. D--- Jr.

Well, lemme answer that:

Mr. D----:
I hope to goodness if i get cancer the choice of what to do with me will remain in the capable hands of me and/or Alison. In other words, if i get cancer i hope to either be able to choose to seek the treatment i see fit, or choose to die with dignity. Please--in your egotistical efforts to legislate your oppressive morality upon people who may not see the world the way you do--please don't require me to stay alive, hooked to tubes or pumped full of drugs. Also, please don't make me your unwitting poster child as was done with poor Terry Schiavo. I wonder if she would have approved of the use of her crippled body to forward someone else's agenda?


Blog for Choice Day Today is the 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, probably the most important women's rights Supreme Court ruling in my lifetime. Biffle accuses me of being a single-issue voter, which I'm not, but I definitely use candidates' stance on Roe v. Wade as a litmus test for their approach to women's rights. As I've said here before, a woman's reproductive capacity affects every other aspect of her life, without exception. If a woman isn't able to control her own reproduction, then she has no control over her life. And if a candidate doesn't believe that I should have control over my own life, then that candidate doesn't deserve my vote.

I don't know what to say about this that I haven't said here already. This is an issue I care about, and regular Baxter Sez readers know I've talked about it a lot. I've had an abortion, and I don't regret it. Biffle and I are in the process now of considering procreating--actually inviting a little blastocyst to stick around--and I'm well aware of what a big decision that is, how it will affect everything (even as my friends with kids assure me, laughingly, that I have no idea). So on this anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I'm grateful that (at least for now--at least as long as we keep candidates in office who respect women's reproductive rights) I have the right to choose--to choose not, as well as to reproduce.


Just Thought It Was An Interesting Find...

Tonight i googled "Socialism is of Satan." Here's how i came to do that: I've been having a daily and on-going discussion with Someone here lately. Someone has very conservative beliefs. Today i started a conversation by saying something like this:

"I think that one of the things that makes us so politically untenable is the fact that the Christian Right wants to legislate morality (he's very opposed to the notion that gay people be given any rights in our country and so therefore opposes any law that works toward those rights and supports most regressive laws). But here's my problem: I find that if one wanted to spot any theme in the New Testament, homosexuality would be way down on the list, you know? However, i find all kinds of scriptures that speak to ideas of "giving things up," generosity, and a general distrust of the accumulation of wealth. If you're gonna legislate morality, why not pick one of the major themes like that instead of focusing on sex?"

Well, the answer, roughly, was that Socialism is of the Devil. It is part of the New Testament's plan that we accumulate personal wealth as an "incentive." Socialism destroys lives like those of the people living in France and Canada. etc. etc.

So, tonight i googled "Socialism is of the Devil." The page i looked at, totally at random was this one. Check out who's quoted in this paragraph:

Socialism Contrary To True Interpretation of Constitution

Furthermore, when Latter-day Saints interpret the Constitution as scripture is interpreted, they also see clearly that the constitutional system, with its free enterprise economy and solid recognition of private property as a God given and unalienable aspect of freedom, is utterly contrary to socialism. Since the two systems are incompatible, faithful Latter-day Saints will reject the popular political philosophy of men and will cleave to the Constitution as written and intended by the Framers. This thought was well expressed by Marion G. Romney, an apostle, a lawyer, and a former Democratic office holder when he reminded Latter-day Saints of their "duty to eschew socialism and support the . . .Constitution as directed by the Lord . . . ."

I imagine that this particular page came up so early in google because it's a popular hit for those looking for Mitt's Mormonism, but it was a fun find nonetheless.


A break from the political blogging

One of my favorite Christmas presents this year was from Biffle. He got me a bunch of bumper stickers. This was an especially thoughtful gift, because Biffle hates bumper stickers--he dislikes any kind of labeling on his body or car. I've always had plenty of them on my own cars, but for most of 2006-2007, he and I were sharing a vehicle, which remained unadorned so as not to offend his sensibilities. However, as you all know, this fall I got my own car, so it was time for stickers, and Biffle gave me lots of good ones.

My current favorite is the one on the upper left. In that font that looks like it's advertising a sports team, it says "Vaginas." I just love it! It's celebratory, assertive without being the slightest bit defensive. It's the kind of bumper sticker whose sense of itself is so solid that it's probably wondering why other cars don't have "Vaginas" written on them.

It's also proving to be an excellent social experiment. When I'm driving around, I can look in my rearview mirror and see the most interesting reactions. A car with two college-aged women in it got visibly excited--pointed at it and did a little happy car dance. A woman in the passenger seat of a truck pointed it out to the man driving, and he looked, grimaced, and made a comment which obviously was not celebratory. The woman got completely pissed off and started giving him what for. Consciousness raising right there in the cab!



In a 1972 speak-out against rape, Susan Brownmiller (author of Against Our Will, the first book to examine rape from a feminist perspective) told a reporter, "Rape is to women as lynching is to blacks. It's a conscious practice of intimidation that keeps all women in a state of fear."

This is a statement I've used in many Women's and Gender Studies classes. I've asked my students to tell me what's wrong with it. Many students like the second sentence--as do I. It's provocative and resonates with many women's experiences. It's the first sentence that's so troubling. My students note that the statement differentiates "women" from "blacks" in such a way as to suggest that all the women are white and all the blacks are men. Women get raped, blacks get lynched, and black women are completely erased from the picture. This erasure is personally/individually damaging to women of color and the people who love them. It also functions in pretty nefarious political ways--it's never innocuous. For instance, Ida B. Wells repeatedly pointed out around the turn of the 20th century that the combined cultural erasure and degradation of black women were used to undergird the practices of both rape and lynching, and that black women were repeatedly victims of both.

The statement is also troubling in its transformation of lynching into a symbol that's supposed to convince us how bad rape is. Lynching was one of the most horrific phenomenons in this nation's history. Historians note that "on the average, a black man, woman, or child was murdered nearly once a week, every week, between 1882 and 1930." Brownmiller attempts to borrow the horror that she assumes her readers will feel about lynching, and redirect it to rape. This terrible practice then becomes a metaphor for something else and loses its specificity--it's used as a tool in service to another idea. And if you're in touch with the reality of a particular horror, you don't want it to become a tool. My friend Eliza made this point in grad school, when she called a moratorium on the use of the Holocaust as a metaphor--for slavery, for the AIDS crisis, etc. Plus, the thing is, rape is awful, too. It's awful on its own terms. We don't have to siphon off some of the horror of lynching to make this point.

Finally, the comparison Brownmiller draws makes rape about gender, and lynching about race, when in fact the identity categories are much more complicated than that. Gender never stands alone--people who have gender also have racial identity, even if that identity is invisible to them because they're white. And vice versa. These categories are intersectional. The concept of intersectionality, a term first coined by law professor Kimberle Crenshaw, suggests that everyone's identity is made up of a number of socially constructed categories which intersect. I'm never just a woman--I'm a white, educated, able-bodied woman in a heterosexual relationship--and my experience of each of these categories is affected by all the others. Brownmiller's configuration doesn't allow for intersectionality. It requires that you choose a team, race or gender.

I'm musing about this because many of the criticisms that have come out in the last 24 hours about Steinem's op-ed have made the same critiques that my students make about Brownmiller. Valid critiques. I get them. They're right! And yet I felt so elated when I read Steinem's essay. Why is this? Why do I feel that this election is asking me to choose a team?


More thoughts

Okay, I swear to God this is the last blogging I'm doing today! I must create syllabi for my classes which start tomorrow.

But I wanted to say: I will also have Katha Pollitt's baby.

And I recognize that in my relief, my satisfaction, my warm and fuzzy feelings of somebody's speaking out in The New York Times about the misogyny in this campaign, I glossed over some of the problems in Gloria Steinem's op-ed. Problems like the fact that she overlooked the radicalism of young women (Feministing and Girl With Pen pointed this out) and that she did the whole tired race vs. gender comparison, even though we all know that comparison is waaaay problematic.

Angry Black Bitch would never have my baby if she knew me, because her take on the Steinem op-ed is entirely different than mine. Where I felt validated, elated, she felt "undocumented…as if the history of blacks and the history of women have nothing to do with the history of black women." She cites some of the same historical precedents I do (and Steinem does)--abolition and woman suffrage--but she makes the point that, although black men were given the Constitutional right to vote in 1866, in the South, at least, they weren't given the actual right to vote until the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and '60s. The same for black women, whose 1920 Constitutional right was as null and void as black men's. So while it is true that the laws for black men changed before the laws for women, the implementation for black men and women was much slower.

This relates to another point she makes:

When I consider Steinem's “So why is the sex barrier not taken as seriously as the racial one?” I’m left confused.

What country does Gloria live in where race barriers are taken seriously? I’d love to know…shit, maybe I’ll move there.
Okay, so I can certainly agree that race barriers are not taken seriously. Racism is a huge problem--pervasive, often operating in subtle ways (although in South Carolina not always so subtle), toxic. To the extent that Steinem is implying that we've "solved the race problem" by her comparison, she's way, way off. And this is, of course, one of the reasons that the race vs. gender argument is so problematic--it's often used to imply that we're good on race, so now we need to get good on gender, when in fact we're not good on the issue of race at all.

I think one of the issues here--one of the reasons Steinem was able to make the claims she makes--is that as a mass culture, we seem to at least be able to give lip service to the notion that racism is bad. Just like we were able, in the 1860s, to change the Constitution to say that black men should be allowed to vote, we're able now to recognize that if certain terminology is used, we should all act appalled.

This does not mean that we as a nation are good on the issue of race. As with the 15th Amendment, the text is (sometimes) there, but the implementation isn't.

But it does seem different than how we as a nation are on the issue of gender. In some ways, we don't even seem to offer the lip service opposing sexism.

This is why, as I said earlier, the Obama/Hillary stuff is kicking my ass. It gets complicated. Ultimately there's no way to compare racism and sexism because they get deployed differently in this culture, and then they intersect with other identity categories and change again. My experience of sexism as a white, straight, middle-class woman is in many ways qualitatively different than ABB's experience of sexism.

So it's hard to parse out how Obama benefits from being a man but struggles because of race, and how Hillary struggles because of gender but benefits from being white. And this is the kind of thing I do for a living! I'm going to have to think some more.

Things I didn't get to address in tonight's four-minute TV segment:

  • Examples of the horrific misogyny facing Hillary in this campaign--from the latest "Iron My Shirt" stupidity of some idiots in New Hampshire to the repellent Facebook groups that have formed. I did mention the woman who asked McCain, "What are we going to do about the bitch?" But because they'd asked me not to say "bitch," I referred to the "b-word." Alas.
  • Statistics that show how our hostility toward political women affects the number of women in politics (stuff y'all know--16% of our legislature is female, only 9% of the South Carolina state legislature is female). And I didn't get to suggest that this perhaps undercuts our ability to function as a democracy.
  • I also didn't say, to the caller who questioned Hillary's ability to hold it together as President, that that was one of the arguments people used to claim that women shouldn't get the right to vote. You sexists have had a while--you could at least come up with some new material.

Is it sexist if I say I want to have Gloria Steinem's baby?

This whole Hillary/Obama thing is kicking my ass.

I've been having conversations with friends and family about who I'm supporting and why. I got called into a special "invitation only" meeting with a Pulitzer Prize winning Harvard professor who explained why I should support Obama. And I feel really pulled, like there's too much at stake no matter what choice I make.

This campaign is triggering a lot of old neural paths in my brain--like, it's reminding me of 19th c. feminist and abolitionist activism, when some white women (like Susan B. Anthony) said that gender trumped race, and that they weren't going to advocate for civil rights or the 15th Amendment because they were more concerned with (white) women getting the vote than black men. Or even more insidious, the white feminist activists of the late 19th and early 20th c. who supported overt racism (not speaking out about the atrocity of lynchings, for instance) in order to keep from alienating Southern white women.

I don't want to be those sell-out racist white women. I want to be Ida B. Wells, not Frances Willard.

And yet I find that my gut is really with Hillary. Not because I love her politics (although those politics are infinitely better than the current administration--perhaps that goes without saying), but mostly because she's a woman.

Every attack she receives, every time she's vilified in sexist ways (as having a "shrill" voice or having to struggle to keep her emotions in check), something inside me stands up taller and rallies to her defense.

In Gloria Steinem's op-ed piece in today's New York Times, she claims that "gender is probably the most restricting force in American life." As my friend Claire points out, this is an easy thing to say if you're a white woman--but it's a weighty statement that resonates with my white womanly self. Steinem goes on to say,

So why is the sex barrier not taken as seriously as the racial one? The reasons are as pervasive as the air we breathe: because sexism is still confused with nature as racism once was; because anything that affects males is seen as more serious than anything that affects “only” the female half of the human race; because children are still raised mostly by women (to put it mildly) so men especially tend to feel they are regressing to childhood when dealing with a powerful woman; because racism stereotyped black men as more “masculine” for so long that some white men find their presence to be masculinity-affirming (as long as there aren’t too many of them); and because there is still no “right” way to be a woman in public power without being considered a you-know-what.
Every sexist comment on Hillary Clinton makes me want her to be elected that much more. Because one way to change the impossible double bind that faces powerful women--that they have to be assertive enough to be taken seriously, but submissive enough to be seen as appropriately feminine--is to have enough women in positions of power that those ridiculous stereotypes are recognized as ridiculous stereotypes.

I'm not finished with these thoughts, but as I was writing this, Live 5 news called and asked me to be the guest on a Talk Back segment on--you guessed it--how Hillary Clinton's gender is affecting her public perception. So now I have to go get ready.


Orange report

Mrs. Simmons is our next door neighbor. Like Christy Burks, she is unGoogleable, except for this blog. Also like Christy Burks, she's afraid of frogs (I'm not actually certain that Christy Burks is afraid of frogs, but it wouldn't surprise me): when Biffle planted our banana tree, Mrs. Simmons said, "I don't like banana trees. Frogs live in them. I call them frog houses."

However, unlike Christy Burks, Mrs. Simmons has a big, beautiful orange tree growing in her backyard. You may remember that last year, Biffle offered a series of Orange Reports, updating Baxter Sez readers on the progress of the orange that dangled right outside our kitchen window. Because of poorly-timed vacations and the work of some renegade handymen, we weren't able to enjoy any of last year's orange crop.

Not so this year!

The oranges were ripe this weekend. On Saturday we took our ladder over to Mrs. Simmons' yard and picked them all.
Orange trees are covered with long thorns, so Biffle wore work gloves. He picked the oranges and tossed them down to me.

I loaded them all into bags. There were 124 oranges on that tree! Mrs. Simmons gave us 30. I have no idea what she's going to do with the remaining 94 oranges. I hope all her church friends will come over and eat. Speaking of which, any of our Charleston friends who'd like some oranges--let us know!


The world's worst newspaper

I cannot abide the Sunday Post and Courier. Here's an example of the kind of article that was in this morning's paper:

There are some great reporters who work for the P&C, but the paper as a whole is so vacuous! I'm at the point in my life where I'm ready to be one of those people who says, "Did you see such-and-such article in the Times yesterday?" But Biffle and I live in some weird Land the Times Forgot--people a few blocks south of us get it, and people a few blocks north of us get it, but for some reason we can't get The New York Times delivered to our house--even though the person who delivers it drives past our house every Sunday morning.

So we're forced to read op-ed pieces about how great corporate ownership of America is, book reviews that are 150 words long, and think pieces about clowns for Christ.


New Year's makeover

Check out the excellent new masthead Biffle made for Baxter Sez. How many of the book titles can you identify? That Baxter is one voracious reader.

Blogging for choice

Blog for Choice DayAs I did last year, I will be blogging for choice this Jan. 22, the 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Just wanted to let you know (and thanks to Girl with Pen for reminding me!)