Archive for September, 2009

Via Ann at Feministing, I came upon Dana Goldstein’s excellent analysis of why a public option sans reproductive health coverage is doomed. She notes that while our congresscritters are under pressure not to fund abortions with taxpayers’ money, women will be less likely to choose the public option if it excludes abortions and other basic reproductive care:

After all, the typical woman spends five years of her life pregnant, or trying to become so, but a full 30 years avoiding pregnancy. Without good reproductive-health coverage and strong buy-in from women — who use more health care than men — it is difficult to see how a public plan would gain strength over time.

(Read the rest here.)

And there’s more: Women with private insurance may find their plans dropping reproductive care, whether due to market forces (as Ann implies) or conservative lawmakers’ meddling in insurance regulation (as Dana suggests).

Really, though, this whole debate rests on false premises. While the Hyde Amendment has prohibited Medicaid from covering abortions for over 30 years, abortions are already financed indirectly by taxpayer subsidies. Anyone with an employer-sponsored health plan gets their insurance tax-free. That’s a massive federal subsidy. Ann cites a NYT story that claims 50 percent of employers offer abortion services among their health benefits.

So taxpayers are already subsidizing abortion for women of the more prosperous classes. It’s just those poor women who’ve been excluded – ironically, the very same people whom anti-choicers demonize for having too many children. (I’m not advocating eugenic abortions for the poor, just noting the logical and fiscal inconsistency of many dogmatic foes of abortion.)

Up ’til now, even after a quarter-century of supporting abortion rights, I’ve tended to think, “Get reform passed, and then we’ll worry about specific services.” But Dana has convinced me that this isn’t just a distraction, though the ‘wingers will surely conflate public subsidies for reproductive health with their phantom death panels. This is a matter of reproductive justice for poor women, and a sustainable system for all Americans.

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I had the following phone conversation with my dad this afternoon:

Dad: I meant to call you last night.

Me: Oh, that’s all right, today is my birthday.

Dad: Oh, what day is it?

Me: The 29th.

Dad: And when did you say your birthday is?

Me: Today.

Dad: And what’s the date today?

Me: The 29th.

It was one of those conversations where you have to laugh about it later with siblings, because otherwise you might have to cry.

I have to admit, though, that even I didn’t remember it was my birthday until nearly noon. Such is the course of my days lately.

But then I got a really awesome present, although it wasn’t technically a present at all. Lately I’ve dreaded spending time in my office because it’s so cold – often in the low 60s, and I am a tender creature. A colleague told me that there are space heaters available for our offices, and she gave me one. I plugged it in, cranked it up to high, closed my office door, and just basked in it.

Later, my older son’s soccer team played their first game, and all of a sudden these fourth-graders are playing real soccer! With clever passing, good position play, and generally amazing teamwork! I said it was the most fun I’ve had watching soccer since Germany nearly made the finals of the 2006 World Cup – and I meant it.

Now my work is done and the champagne is cold. That is all I have to say, until I’m one day older again.

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Tuesday Recipe: Sungold Quiche

I’m past the peak of my tomato season. Even the cherry tomatoes have slowed way down. It almost doesn’t matter because I’m too swamped with work to make a real meal. (Today was quesadillas, sandwiched between teaching, soccer, homework, and another tidal wave of student emails.)

But this quiche was wonderful just a few weeks ago, so I want to mention it before the season is over entirely.

First things first: You will have planted Sungolds at the start of your growing season. :-) Go out into your garden and harvest them. They’re sweetest when they’re orange, not just deep gold. Alternatively, check a local farmer’s market; they’re usually available at our Athens Farmer’s Market, in season.



  • One 9-inch pie crust
  • 1 small onion
  • 3 eggs
  • Approximately 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup fresh corn
  • 3/4 cup grated cheese (I’ve used Swiss or cheddar, depending on my mood)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • A generous handful of chopped basil


I typically start with a Marie Callendar frozen crust. You can obviously make a crust of your choice, but Marie’s are pretty good, and it’s way better than never making pies on a worknight. Purists might scoff, but then, those purists might not have grown those tomatoes from seed! I guess I’m just my own kind of purist.

Preheat the over to 425. Chop the onion and saute it. While it’s cooking, whisk together the eggs, milk, salt, and pepper. Stir in the cheese, onion, corn, and chopped basil. (I used fresh corn shaved off a cob left over from the previous night’s dinner.) Pour the egg mixture into the pie crust and place the whole tomatoes as desired. I used a few red cherries here for the color contrast. I often end up bailing out a bit of the egg mixture, since I don’t really measure anything properly.


Turn the oven down to 350 at the start of baking. Bake for about an hour, or until the filling is set, taking care not to get the crust too dark.


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I was really struck by this opening paragraph to an article by Tracy Clark-Flory at Salon on the difficulty of raising a gender-neutral child:

A Swedish couple has refused to reveal the sex of their 2-year-old to anyone — except those on diaper duty. When word got out about their decision to eschew personal pronouns and sex-appropriate clothing, the parents made international headlines. The mother explained her thinking to the press: “It’s cruel to bring a child into the world with a blue or pink stamp on their forehead.”

I’ll admit that if my sons played with Barbies, I’d worry for their safety. For a long time, until he was about six, the Bear claimed purple was his favorite color. I was totally down with that. I like purple, and he had this great purple T-shirt with an orange stegosaurus printed on it. Purple can be spun in a boyish direction. It’s even socially okay for boys to like sparkly stuff. Hey, what kid doesn’t like coins? I’ve encouraged them to nurture and snuggle their stuffed animals, which they do without any urging at all; I haven’t bought them baby dolls because I always thought they were freaky, especially when their eyes rolled back into their heads and got stuck there. But oh, Barbie! That could get a boy beat up.

So this quotation from the Swedish mother really made me think. What if one of my sons was seriously gender variant? How would I navigate that? I feel like I’ve learned a lot from and about transgender and genderqueer people during the past few years. Whatever understanding they gave me would have come too late, though, if one of my sons had appeared to be clearly transgender at the point when they entered school and started to experience bullying. Heck, even now I don’t think I’d be thoroughly prepared to provide all the support they’d need, though I’m sure their dad and I would be their fierce defenders.

These Swedish parents have been sensationalized in the press as performing weird experiments on their child. What they’re doing is is reminiscent of X: A Fabulous Child’s Story, Lois Gould’s feminist short story from the early 1970s that speculated about how kids could be raised free of gender constraints. Less radically, it recalls that flagship children’s TV program of 1970s feminism, Free to Be, You and Me.

(There’s a lot of pathos in this, what with young Michael Jackson singing “Will I be on the moon?” You can view the clip here if you’re not seeing the embedded version.)

Really, when you think of it, isn’t the true scandal that we press children into little gendered boxes, regardless of their own inclinations? Does that rise to the standard of abuse, especially for those kids who are shaped more like spheres than like cubes – that is, children who are gender variant or intersex? I’m curious what you think, dear readers.

(And I realize that it’s a mark of cis privilege to even be posing this question in the first place. Nonetheless, I think it’s worth discussing, because I’m willing to bet that 80-90% of parents don’t question it much at all.)

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In response to the comments sparked by my post last week on reverse racism, I’d like to let Stephen Colbert have the final word. But first, I’ll try to be concise for a change and offer the two best reasons I know for not using “racism” to refer to hatred or prejudice against the dominant race:

1. It’s very useful to have a term that describes prejudice which is also backed by social power. If “racism” denotes this configuration, we can then talk about its systemic impact and not just its interpersonal effects.

2. “Reverse racism” has long served to deflect attention away from discussions of systemic racism, even when people of good will use the term. It tends to imply that racial hatred toward whites is as big a problem at the societal level as is racial hatred toward people of color. It also tends to derail the discussion. That’s just what’s happening in the United States right now, with people like Glenn Beck claiming that Obama is a “racist.” Clearly, Beck’s claim is a cynical exercise in demagoguery. However, the same effect occurs even when the person who raises the specter of “reverse racism” bears no ill intent.

But enough pontificating. Stephen Colbert makes some similar points, and he’s a lot funnier than me.

posted with vodpod

Update, 9/28/09, 9 a.m.: I bungled embedding the video on the first try (WordPress isn’t very friendly to embedded media), and alert reader Michael wondered if I’d meant to embed the following Colbert clip. I’m including it, too, because it documents how the “reverse racism” meme took off last summer. (Thanks, Michael!)

posted with vodpod

If you can’t view the clips (they don’t show up on my Google Reader), the first one is here, and the second one is here.

Update, 9/28/09, 3:30 p.m.: Mom’s Tinfoil Hat has a thoughtful post on this same theme. Check it out!

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Actually, everything is getting away from me. And it’s doing so a lot less cutely than this, which my boys pronounced the Funniest LOLcat Ever. I didn’t quite LOL along with them – maybe because it’s just, um, a hair’s breadth from being a metaphor for my life?


From I Can Has Cheezburger?

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The charity Rethink Breast Cancer, which just produced a moronic video to “raise awareness” of breast cancer? Or LA Times reporter Dan Neil, who thinks this ad, entitled “Save the Boobs,” is a swell idea? (I think something may be rising and swelling, but I highly doubt it’s awareness.)

Jeff Fecke of Alas has already laid out the main reason why this ad is objectionable: However compelling breasts may be, and however much pleasure he may take in them, they don’t trump the well-being of the whole woman.

I can think of a few more gripes. The ad implies that the breasts are worth our sympathy are big, bold, and bodacious. Those of us who have A and B cups, or who don’t choose to wear skimpy bikinis, or whose sexuality is just more private – well, our breasts just don’t command that sort of “awareness.”

The breasts that deserve care are obviously young. They haven’t nourished babies. They haven’t drooped due to the changes of pregnancy, nursing, or just plain old gravity and time.

I’m trying to imagine how I’d feel if I’d undergone a mastectomy or lumpectomy and then seen this ad. I had a breast cancer scare that went on for about a year. I had lots of time to wonder if a lumpectomy would leave my left breast completely misshapen; indeed, if anything whatsoever would be left of it. Peggy Orenstein has written of the scars left by just lumpectomy and radiation, and her experience sounds to be fairly common among us small-breasted women. Maybe I’d be self-confident enough not to care. More likely, I’d already feel insecure about my scars, and an ad flaunting “perfect” breasts in the context of breast cancer would feel like another blow.

Does raising awareness really require an ad that might lower breast cancer survivors’ self-esteem?

For that matter, is there any sentient adult in American who’s not already “aware” of breast cancer? Even my young sons know about it. They comment on the pink Yoplait lids and worry about the Bear’s teacher, who’s undergoing treatment.

I’m not sure we need more “awareness.” What we need is research targeting more effective, less harsh treatments that go beyond the “slash, burn, and poison” paradigm that we’ve had for the past half-century. We need a better understanding of breast cancer’s pathogenesis, including the role of toxins and other environmental factors. We need to hear the stories of women undergoing treatment. We need to unveil the brutality of treatment, not just so patients know what to expect, but also to light a fire under the asses of the legislators and other government officials who can choose to fund research, or not. And we need this not just for breast cancer, but for cancer in each of its ugly guises.

Instead, we get this drivel from Dan Neil in the LA Times:

If this were a Budweiser commercial, the bluestockings, psalm singers and family focusers would be going completely mental, but in this case the morals police have no grounds to object unless they want to come off as somehow pro-breast cancer.

In recent years, the increasing frankness of breast cancer PSAs has been a bright spot of adult sensibility in what is Americans’ generally neurotic relationship to the female anatomy. Bear in mind that our national dialogue was brought to an inane standstill when Janet Jackson’s breast was briefly exposed during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show. Compared to the “Save the Boobs” spot, Jackson might as well have been wearing a burqa.

Also, this ad — and a couple more like it — represent one of the few occasions when the male tendency to objectify the female body is put to good use, as opposed to selling beer and premium football cable packages. They seem to answer a question that must have nagged breast-cancer-awareness advocates: How to get men to care? With rare exceptions, men don’t suffer from breast cancer. The earnest, sad-violins spots invoking moms and grand-moms of the past probably haven’t gained much traction among men.

Feminist film theory has a name for the camera’s eye here: The “male gaze,” which is to say, the camera’s view is that of the male spectator and unseen protagonist regarding the female as an object (cf. Laura Mulvey’s “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”). This is the camera’s-eye of pornography and it’s inherently misogynistic. The “Save the Boobs” spot spoofs the male gaze and turns it into something positive.

This isn’t awareness; this is objectification. Dan Neil has some nerve, using feminist film theory as cover! Did anyone see the male gaze being “spoofed” in this ad? Nope, me neither. I’m confident Laura Mulvey wouldn’t, either; she’d just see scopophilia: erotic pleasure derived from a controlling, objectifying gaze, which is male or at least male-identified. And by the way, Janet Jackson got flak because she exposed a nipple, which this ad never does. Women have been showing this much flesh ever since Baywatch, at the latest; it’s the nipple that remains taboo. A niggling point, maybe, but also further evidence that Neil’s critical faculties shut down while watching that ad. Oh, and objecting to this ad on feminist grounds has nothing to do with moralism or neurosis. For me, part of being “sex positive” is insisting that women can be agents of their own desire and not mere objects of men’s lust.

Making breast cancer sexy won’t solve a damn thing. Any of us who’ve lived with cancer, first-hand or in our immediate family, knows that it’s the diametric opposite of sexy. Cancer does its best to replace life with death, vigor with fatigue, comfort with nausea and pain. The pleasures of the body are undermined by alienation from one’s own flesh, which is now treacherous and unreliable.

Indeed, the sexualization of breasts has never helped Americans deal more intelligently with breast cancer. In the bad old days before the late 1970s, the stigma of breast cancer wasn’t just a consequence of cancer generally being hush-hush. It also stemmed from the fact that breasts meant sex, and sex wasn’t often openly discussed before the 1970s.

Titillation won’t bring back the old taboos, but it still trivializes the problem. I don’t think such ads need to be tearjerkers. When cancer takes up residence in your family, black humor can be a saving grace. But this ad isn’t particularly funny, nor is a joke between people who’ve been there. It’s using a deadly disease to justify objectifying women one more time – and if that seems too simpleminded, well, it worked with Dan Neil.

If you’re still inclined to give Neil the benefit of the doubt, here’s one last bon mot from him:

The only people who could object to such ads are advocates for other kinds of cancer awareness. Women don’t gossip behind their hands about the largeness of a man’s prostate as if it’s a good thing. These breast cancer ads are tapping into a built-in constituency that doesn’t exist for other organs. Unfair but true.

Um, no, women don’t chat about prostate size, but most of us know that our male partners’ sexual health depends on a healthy prostate. Damage or remove the prostate, and erectile function will almost always suffer. And dude, if you think there’s not a bipartisan and pan-gender constituency for erections, I’ve got news for you!

But I doubt we’ll see an equivalent ad for prostate cancer awareness in my lifetime. A tanned, muscular young man striding shirtless around a pool … the camera zooms in on his Speedo … women gape at him as his man-parts jiggle … and begin to bulge and rise … the screen fades to white with stark black lettering: “Save the Boners.”

That’s not an ad I’d especially want to see, either. But Neil’s implication that women don’t care about their partners’ sexual health – including erectile function – isn’t just stupid, it’s sexist. It’s also heterosexist, because some of the women who appreciate “boobs” are other women – duh! And apart from sexual politics, it’s plain heartless to focus so much on individual organs, because as much as we might appreciate our partners’ parts, we love them as whole people. When cancer strikes, we want them to survive as whole people. That might be a little hard to capture in a 60-second ad, but ads could at least refrain from sabotaging it. Or am I asking too much?

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