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Archive for February, 2011

Here’s an item from the annals of “no shit, Sherlock!” science: A UCSF study shows a stunning decrease in unintended pregnancy and abortion when women are dispensed a year’s supply of birth control pills at once. What’s stunning is not the basic trend line, but the magnitude of the study’s findings. Science Daily recaps it:

Researchers observed a 30 percent reduction in the odds of pregnancy and a 46 percent decrease in the odds of an abortion in women given a one-year supply of birth control pills at a clinic versus women who received the standard prescriptions for one — or three-month supplies.

Can I rephrase those numbers? Pregnancy declined by nearly a third, and abortion by nearly half!

This is such an an simple yet elegant idea, you’d think it would have occurred to someone decades ago. It’s also a politically charged idea in an era where Planned Parenthood is having to fight for its very existence.

Insurance usually issues a maximum of a three-month supply of any medication, including birth control pills. This is true even for medication that people clearly have to take for the rest of their lives, such as thyroid pills. (I haven’t been on the Pill in years, but I still sometimes come close to running out of my thyroid meds.) The situation is often tougher if you have to buy the Pill through a community clinic:

The findings of this study have implications for women using oral contraceptives across the country. Most oral contraceptive users in the United States get fewer than four packs at a time; nearly half need to return every month for resupply, according to a 2010 study published in Contraception.

Obviously, the requirement to physically show up at a clinic is most likely to hit poor women – and it will be most onerous precisely for these women, whose low-wage employers are unlikely to grant them time off for medical matters. As is so often the case in reproductive health, this is a social justice issue. I really hope this study will get the attention it deserves.

I adore this quotation from the project’s principal investigator:

“Women need to have contraceptives on hand so that their use is as automatic as using safety devices in cars, ” said Diana Greene Foster, PhD, lead author and associate professor in the UCSF Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences. “Providing one cycle of oral contraceptives at a time is similar to asking people to visit a clinic or pharmacy to renew their seatbelts each month.”

Of course, some Americans object to seatbelt laws – and even seatbelt use – as an infringement on their liberty. But I’m not talking about laws to require use of the Pill; I’m only saying that women should have access to it.

While we’re on the automotive analogy, isn’t the Pill more like a reliable set of brakes?

And wouldn’t the conservative attack on access be akin to sabotaging someone’s brakes?

 

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Potty Humor Caturday

As you might imagine, my seven-year-old loved this.

The gray tabby midway through the clip looks quite a lot like Grey Kitty – including her expression of pure confusion.

(Click here if you can’t see the clip.)

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Elton John as a Swamp Flower?

This weekend I took the kids to see “Gnomeo and Juliet,” a trippy retelling of Shakespeare’s tragedy using … garden gnomes. Since the soundtrack was all Elton John, the kids needed to meet him in his ’70s finery. It doesn’t get much finer than his appearance on the Muppet Show. You tell me, please, if he’s supposed to be a bird, a flower, or some other critter entirely.

(Click here if you can’t see the clip.)

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First things first: If you’re local to SE Ohio and already know why you should contact Jimmy Stewart today and give him an earload on why SB 5 is bad for Ohio, why here’s his phone number! (614) 466-8076 – and email! SD20@senate.state.oh.us – I’m sure he’ll delight in hearing from you. [Update, 2/21/11, 9:50 a.m.: Stewart's office is closed for President's Day - gah! My plan is to leave a voicemail and send an email today, then follow up with a call early tomorrow.]

If you don’t know why SB 5 is evil, or why you should mix a call to Jimmy with your morning Joe, or what sort of earload you might deliver … well, read on, preferably with said Joe in hand.

We here in Ohio do not have a governor who has been parodied as a Mike Myers character – yet.

We don’t have 70,000 protesters as Madison did on Saturday – yet.

But we do have a fugly bill, S.B. 5, that makes Wisconsin’s anti-union agitators look like they’re playing bumper cars while we’re up against John Kasich’s Monster Bus Madness. Where Wisconsin’s legislation (as far as I understand) preserves the facade of collective bargaining, Kasich is going to kill collective bargaining dead for state employees. Be alert for the speeding gubernatorial bus at the end of this otherwise turgid passage! (It’s underlined, so you’ve got no excuse to miss it.)

Here’s the relevant legalese:

Sec. 4117.03. (A) Public employees have the right to:

(1) Form, join, assist, or participate in, or refrain from forming, joining, assisting, or participating in, except as otherwise provided in Chapter 4117. of the Revised Code, any employee organization of their own choosing;

(2) Engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid and protection;

(3) Representation by an employee organization;

(4) Bargain collectively with their public employers to determine wages, hours, terms and other conditions of employment and the continuation, modification, or deletion of an existing provision of a collective bargaining agreement, and enter into collective bargaining agreements;

(5) Present grievances and have them adjusted, without the intervention of the bargaining representative, as long as the adjustment is not inconsistent with the terms of the collective bargaining agreement then in effect and as long as the bargaining representatives have the opportunity to be present at the adjustment.

(B) Persons on active duty or acting in any capacity as members of the organized militia do not have collective bargaining rights. Employees of the state, of any agency, authority, commission, or board of the state, or of any state institution of higher education do not have collective bargaining rights. The state, any agency, authority, commission, or board of the state, or a state institution of higher education shall not bargain collectively with its employees.

At first glance this passage seems incoherent. There’s a lot of lahdeedah about procedures for collective bargaining, only to have it become red asphalt in the final scene! (Eerrrrrrrg. That’s me. Run over. Damn, that bus was big.) The apparent contradiction melts away when one realizes that local public employees are in a different category from those of us who work for the state. The local folks – including teachers – won’t be sitting pretty, either, but in principle they retain access to collective bargaining; it just won’t help them much, thanks to a set of arcane new rules in the spirit of Wisconsin’s. (Progress Ohio lists local public employees’ proposed tribulations.)

Unlike Wisconsin, Ohio is not exempting police and firefighters, and this may cost the Repubs dearly. Several Republican senators have already balked at this, realizing who lines their pockets. Other State Senators, such as Jimmy Stewart from my neck of the woods, realize that anti-union votes won’t go down well in dying coal country, where unions once secured not just a decent living but also self-respect and community. (See Friday’s Dispatch article for a list of wafflers, and contact them if you can! Or better yet, check out Plunderbund, which dishes up the list of fence-sitters with verve, style, and snark.)

The Ohio bill also tries to out-badass its neighbor to the north by hiking health insurance premiums more steeply. Again, the legalese from SB 5:

Sec. 124.82.

(F) A state employee who receives insurance under this section shall pay at least twenty per cent of the cost of the premium assessed for any insurance policy issued pursuant to this section that covers health, medical, hospital, or surgical benefits.

Wisconsin public employees, by contrast, will be forced to pay at minimum 12.6% of their healthcare coverage. We already pay around 10% – not counting deductibles and other tricks for evading the current cap.

I realize that there’s enormous populist anger at the thought that any public employee would receive benefits while many private employees are completely shorn of them. The solution, though, isn’t to hollow out state employees’ benefits. By that logic, we’d all soon be earning minimum wage. The strategy has got to be expanding collective bargaining and revitalizing unions to ensure that all employees receive decent pay and benefits. (A single-payer healthcare system would, of course, solve half of these problems. A girl can dream.)

There’s also populist resentment of public employees getting paid more generously than those in the private sector. Professor Rudy Fichtenbaum, labor economist at Wright State, just decimated this preconception in his testimony before the Ohio Senate, opposing SB 5. Basically, Fichtenbaum notes that state employees have amassed a whole lot more education and training than their private-sector counterparts. Controlling for education, studies find that public employees actually earn less than those counterparts. Seriously, if you have even a passing interest, read Dr. Fichtenbaum’s testimony, which is lucid and very, very persuasive.

It is those “coddled” public sector employees who teach our children, or our neighbor’s children. It is they who determine whether Ohio will nurture innovators and informed, critical citizens, or whether we will have to try to compete with Sri Lanka – on their terms. (I’m still trying to figure out who’s coddled, by the way: those who stay up emailing students from 9:30 to 11:30 and then write about politics until after midnight, perhaps?)

What’s at stake here is nothing less than my adopted state’s economic future. As long as the marginal tax rates for rich Ohioans remain unchanged, we have no moral right to fatally undermine unions, pull the plug on the middle classes, and sell our children’s education to the lowest bidder.

Which brings us full circle. If you’re moved to contact Jimmy Stewart, please do it today (Monday) as the vote will likely take place on  Tuesday. He’s no doubt waiting for your calls. (614) 466-8076 or SD20@senate.state.oh.us. Sen. Stewart is also Majority Floor Leader, the #3 position in the Senate, so folks outside of his home base (the 20th district) might feel free to contact him, as well.

Oh, and if you can make it to Columbus, Ohio, on Tuesday afternoon (Feb. 22), there will be a massive rally starting at 1. Word is that SB 5 will come up for a vote that day. I’ll be in my classroom, preparing the rising generation to compete with Sri Lanka, but I am thrilled to hear that some students and  colleagues will make the trip. Wish I could join them!

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This week I’m reading Michelle Goldberg’s masterful The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the Future of the World with one of my classes. In it, Goldberg traces the history of foreign aid for women’s health – especially reproductive health – from its Cold War, Rockefeller/Ford/Guttmacher beginnings to the present era.

In 2011, well into the second decade after the UN International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, you’d think we’d be well along the path blazed there: foregrounding women’s need for education and autonomy. Nuh-unh!! Instead, the proponents of women’s reproductive autonomy in developing nations and the Global South face constant friction and opposition from groups funded by the Radical Christian Right in the U.S. This trajectory toward radical rightwing interference is lucidly, chillingly described in Goldberg’s book. It’s as though women’s bodies became a proxy war for the tensions over reproductive rights and justice back here in the U.S.

And now, with the House of Representatives today voting to defund Title X funding, that proxy war has come home. For details, see excellent recaps by Lindsay Beyerstein and Jill Filipovic. The legislation wouldn’t affect abortions – except to inflate their numbers by making birth control less accessible to poor women and young women. No, the target here is broader. It’s a war against all women, but especially those who are poor.

When I was young and underinsured, I too turned to Planned Parenthood, and I’m forever grateful for their services. Some women are transiently poor, like I was. Many struggle with poverty throughout their childbearing years. All of us deserve affordable access to basic services like a Pap test.

I believe this even though – or especially because! – I had a few dodgy Pap test results in my early twenties. Those diagnoses of “cervical dysplasia” scared me. Cone biopsies were threatened. The cellular abnormalities resolved on their own, as HPV usually does. Had I progressed toward cervical cancer, Planned Parenthood might well have saved my life.

All women deserve preventive care, and that includes the prevention of pregnancy. This is sooo not rocket science.

Odds are good that the Senate won’t stand for the House’s crap. Still, I’m appalled that a majority in the House signed onto it. While some members may try to hide behind a figleaf of fiscal responsibility, that’s balderdash, as Amanda Marcotte argues:

Of course, rhetoric that attacks federal funding for contraception as a state-subsidy for promiscuity obscures the fact that continuing Title X is one of the more fiscally sound things the government can do: Research from the Guttmacher Institute demonstrates that every dollar spent on family planning saves the government four dollars down the road.

(Read her whole piece – it’s excellent.)

No, this is strictly culture war ammo, just as the Mexico City rule and all the other right-wing meddling into brown and black women’s bodies has to do with ideology and misogyny – not fiscal soundness.

This is merely the continuation of funding politics imposed on the “Third World” – now aimed at women that Chandra Mohanty once called the “Third World” in the United States. This is the redirection of contempt for brown and black women’s bodies to those women living within U.S. borders. Women like me – white, securely middle-class, employed, insured, and slouching toward the end of my reproductive years – will be just fine. It’s poor women of color who will suffer. College students who can’t tell their conservative parents that they’re on the pill. Appalachian women lacking any form of health insurance.

Senate? The ball’s in your court. Please show us that you consider women human beings whose health is as important as men’s – who should have a chance to participate fully in society – and who should not be written off if they lack racial or class privilege.

In the clip below, Michelle Goldberg suggests that the U.S. culture wars have affected women outside the U.S. more profoundly than women here at home. Up until now, she’s been right. As to the future? Well, that might just be up to the Senate.

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Yesterday, as I was trying to figure out how to tell a colleague where to find my blog on the Google, I did a quick test run – and here’s what I found:

This blog has finally landed on the #1 search spot on the google for “kittywampus”! We have finally beat our archrival, Urban Dictionary, and rightly so, for they are chronically short on cats. (Full disclosure: Due to husbandly allergies, my off-screen life is also catless, which saddens me awfully.) Various incarnations of the old Kitty on Blogger follow, just down the list. Ditto for my Twitter account.

Of course, dominating the Google doesn’t always bode well. Just google “santorum” to see why ex-senator Rick’s presidential chances may be incrementally worse than my own.

But for a Kitty to be at the top of a tree? Why, it’s a pretty nice place to perch.

Until, of course, the first responders have to be called to pluck you out of the treetop, as happened once to the patron cat of this blog. But that’s a story for another day.

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Overnight, a wannabe commenter tried twice to post a comment calling Lara Logan a tramp and accusing her of having sex in the streets of Cairo for money.

This person is a known troll (who will never be allowed to post on this blog), and obviously she (or he?) is only one horrible person. Yet she’s one of thousands, at least, as one can easily see by reading the comments at less-moderated spaces. (See yesterday’s post for links to examples. More vitriol – both of the victim-blaming and Muslim-hating kind – can be seen at the WaPo.) Most of those commenters are not semi-professional trolls.

It is demoralizing to see so much hatred and contempt for a victim of a crime displayed so openly, aggressively, and even proudly. I have to wonder what kind of shriveled soul produces such vitriol – and what kind of sick culture nurtures such hardened souls.

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If you haven’t already heard, CBS News correspondent Lara Logan was viciously attacked by a mob of men last Friday during the celebrations at Tahrir Square. She was sexually assaulted and beaten. A group of women and soldiers came to her aid. She flew back to the United States and is convalescing in a hospital (which gives you some idea of the viciousness of the attack).

I am horrified that this happened, and I hope she will heal well, physically and psychically.

You’d think that every reaction would echo those sentiments, but no. Mary Elizabeth Williams of Salon charts just a few of the hateful responses, which range from blaming Islam to blaming Logan herself. Jill has more at Feministe. Some of the blamers suggest Logan should never have been in Egypt – evidently her mere presence provoked sexual assault – and conclude that women shouldn’t do dangerous job. (See for instance the absolutely vile comment thread on Garance Franke-Ruta’s article at the Atlantic.) As Jill notes:

When male journalists are harmed or even killed on the job — and I’d be willing to bet that male journalists are assaulted and killed more often than female journalists — the media narrative is, basically, “He was brave and this is a tragedy.” But when it happens to a woman, the narrative shifts to, “Should women be doing this?”

Funny how no one said that Bob Woodruff shouldn’t have been in Iraq when he suffered brain damage due to an IED that detonated while he was traveling. Nor should they! (Fortunately, Woodruff has made a pretty good recovery.)

As others have noted, the blaming directed at Logan demonstrates how deeply ingrained rape culture is. It shows how eager some people are to demonize Islam (which would merit a post of its own). It reveals some folks’ determination to use the threat of rape to restrict women’s choices. Following that last line of thought to its logical conclusion, we could argue that women shouldn’t be homemakers! Because women are often raped in the “safety” of their own homes! Funny how we don’t hear that argument often, either.

But the blaming exposes one other persistent element of rape culture that I don’t think has gotten much attention: the notion that being raped is even worse than being killed. In what universe is surviving rape worse than dying? Why would we think that sexual assault is worse than shrapnel entering one’s brain? And yet, only if you believe that rape is worth than death does it make sense to “protect” women – but not men – by keeping them out of war zones.

It all goes back to the idea that women’s worth is solely in their sexual purity. A woman who was sullied by rape, under the principles of patriarchy, had better be dead. If she was raped, well, then she just didn’t try hard enough to resist, because a chaste woman would rather die than “let” herself be raped. Apparently these ideas are still alive and kicking – unlike some of the women they have literally condemned to death.

So I’ll say it again: I hope Lara Logan recovers well. I hope she’ll be able to return to work she loves and does well – wherever that work may take her. And I hope for a world where sexual assault is vanishingly rare and is never, ever blamed on its victim.

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Back in the good old days of the Cold War, when I was a kid and all the Soviet missiles were aimed at me and my kin in North Dakota, the domino theory held that if one nation fell to communism, so too would all of its neighbors. The process was liable to end with Minnesota toppling, and then bringing down North Dakota.

I snark, but the domino theory was used to justify all kins of hideous mischief, from American involvement in the Vietnam War to our endless meddling in Latin America.

It strikes me as a huge irony of history that the most notable instance of a regional domino effect is the wave of democratization that swept through eastern Europe in 1989/90. And now the desire for democracy seems to be doing the same in North Africa and the Middle East.

I don’t buy into any teleological approach to history. Democracy is still far from a foregone conclusion in Tunisia or Egypt, never mind Bahrain or Yemen. Still, it’s fascinating to see that the domino dynamic is so much stronger for nascent democracies than it ever was for authoritarian communist states.

Maybe the theory would have been more accurate if we’d added some Legos to it?

(Image by Flickr user John-Morgan, used under a Creative Commons license. I do love those Legos!)

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With my partner a whole ocean away from me, I’m not in a very lovey-dovey mood for Valentine’s Day. That leaves plenty of time to think about what allowed Love to sneak out of courtly ballads and Shakespearean plays and into the hearts of average Americans. And no, it’s not chick lit or rom-coms.

The long answer would involve reading Stephanie Coontz’s Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage – the story of how marriage made the historical shift from an economic arrangement to a partnership from which we expect love and companionship..

Oh, and by now we also expect hot sex for more years than humans used to live, period, from birth to death. Nearly 500 years ago, Martin Luther set us down this road when he rejected the Catholic insistence on procreative sex, and instead embraced pleasure in marriage. Luther liked marriage. He termed it a “hospital for lust.” Bear in mind that in those days, hospitals weren’t in the business of curing; they took the poor and the insane and the unwed-but-pregnant off the streets. They were a way of containing social problems. Bear in mind, too, that Luther thought women’s lot was to be wives and mothers, undoing some of Eve’s screw-up in the garden. Still, there’s a solid though wavy line from Luther to Susie Bright.

The short answer: If we feel free to love today – or to lust outside of of the old “hospital” – we can thank two things: 1) the right to say no to sex, the key prerequisite for sighing a breathy, enthusiastic YES, and 2) reliable birth control with legal abortion as a safe backup. From the Ohio Statehouse to the House of Representatives, these rights are under more ferocious fire than I can recall in the post-Roe era.

But it’s a holiday, and so instead of gloom, let there be satire! It’s the more festive response – and maybe more effective , too. Here’s Kristen Schaal of the Daily Show, mocking the piss out of the “No Taxpayer Money for Abortions” crowd.

I used this in class last week to illuminate rape myths, and students got it like never before. (Does this mean college administrators will one day replace me with a semi-random mix off the tubes?)

And I knew I liked Felicity Huffman anyway (Lynnette is my favorite housewife, of course) but now I’m besotted:

(Via Rachel at Women’s Health NewsIf you can’t see either clip from your blog reader, click on through and say hey while you’re here.)

Take that to your next Tea Party, and sip it!

Happy Valentine’s Day to all, especially to those of you who are celebrating it alone with chocolate, champagne, or blogging. (I’ve only got two out of three but am wondering why I am too cheap to open the champagne sans partner. Wandering off to the kitchen now to rectify what I can …)

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Henceforth, Kittywampus is banning all dudely commenters. Exceptions will be made if you bathe regularly, did not serve in the Boer War, have never called me a twat, and have never insulted the patron cat of this blog, Grey Kitty. Oh, and if you’re that dude who created Hufu, you got banned months ago. (That asshole – one of the AutoAdmit crowed – broke all the above: he abused my dear departed cat, reviled me as “dozy bint,” and called me a cunt. Given his predilection for war zones, he no doubt regrets missing the Boer War and bathes infrequently. He was a gleeful racist too. He has not been missed.)

All joking aside, Twisty Faster really has banned male commenters from her blog, I Blame the Patriarchy. Unless they’re already trusted dudes; then they’re grandfathered in. Or unless they don’t actually identify themselves as dudes; then they can try to sneak in. Reaction in feminist blogdonia has been partly supportive (Jill at Feministe and figleaf) and partly scathing (Clarissa).

I get that Twisty has every right to restrict commenting as much as she’d like on her blog. She already does anyway. I don’t regularly read Twisty because even though her writing is often amusing, her actual ideas are usually predictable once you’ve read a couple dozen of her posts. Also, the comments tend to be an echo chamber. I am quickly bored by any discussion where the first commandment is to police oneself. But hey – her blog, her rules. And while I don’t want to stray into all the pros and cons of same-sex spaces, there are times when a rather homogenous group can make headway on shared issues, and when a same-sex grouping can be productive as a temporary, tactical measure (with the caveat that each person gets to identify his/her/hir sex and gender, rather than having it imposed by fiat).

But it’s not just Twisty who nurtures some hope of creating a safe space – on the Internet? First, that’s just incoherent, because, well, it’s the fucking Internet! This is like expecting privacy while standing in front of the White House, naked except for a feather boa. The Internet just doesn’t do “safe.” (Ask any parent who’s installed NannyNet.)

Best case, the blog owner corralls hateful comments out of the comments section. But believe me, the blog owner will see the bile, and comments will never be a safe space for her or him! Contrary to Sady Doyle’s view, anti-feminist vitriol is not a special treat reserved for the “popular” feminist blogs. We little blogs get it, too, and while it may be less copious, it’s still ugly. It’s enough to be blogging while feminist. Perhaps on a private blog, you could create some sense of safety. But even then, you’d be wise to keep in mind that “safety” is not synonymous with self-censorship.

A “safe space” has some kinship what I try to foster in the classroom (though there’s always a power differential, always the knowledge that students’ work will be graded, which limits how “safe” they can – or should – feel.) There, “safety” has to do with the basic regard for the humanity of the other discussants. You can embrace norms in a small, defined group that actually facilitate conversation because people feel relatively safe and free. This works better when people can look into each others’ eyes, not so well when the community is wholly virtual and can more easily ignore the humanity of their counterpart. It cracks and crashes as soon as a participant expresses a hateful -ism, uses PC-ness to shame rather than educate, or gossips cruelly about a personal revelation. In my experience, “safety” is relative, often fragile and transient, sometimes deceptive, and generally not dependent on group homogeneity.

Which raises a crucial question: safe for whom? The comments on Twisty’s original dude-banning post troll the waters of transphobia and transmisogyny; on the follow-up, where Twisty affirms that trans folk are welcome (at least until the revolution, after which they’ll fade away), the comments jump right into the deep end of the pool. I am not going to sully my own space with direct quotes, but here’s the gist: commenters compare transness to pedophilia, call “cisprivilege” BS, declare all trans people “nuts,” and deny trans people’s experience – all in the name of radical feminism. At one point Twisty tells people to cut it out, but then Delphyne shows up and the party really gets started, with slams at the third wave, funfems, and sex workers.

By the time the fun’s over, the thread looks like the verbal equivalent of a frat party the morning after, complete with broken bottles and barf in the corner. Commenter yttik sums it up succinctly:

I kid you not, some of the worst patriarchal crap always winds up on this blog, just dripping it’s woman hatred all over the place. This is how women apparently define other women. No wonder we’re screwed.

just a bunch of cum-guzzling pole dancers
nothing but walking uteri and tits
third wave moron bandwagon
fucking dumb
a bunch of old, white, rich, racist women
a fuckhole
a party to human rights violations
white ass (American) women
backstabbing dykes
profoundly stupid and ignorant
step over the cold dead bodies of fucking white ass women-born-women feminists

Yttik is quoting from the other comments; those weren’t terms she personally used, and significantly, some were phrases commenters used to characterize their rhetorical opponents (sometimes fairly, sometimes not). The bile came from all directions, not just the anti-trans faction. But notice a pattern? The shouting match moved from transmisogyny to plain old-fashioned misogyny without skipping a beat.

And it managed all that without a single unauthorized dude in the house!

Twisty does have an actual dude problem, but it’s of a different order than the crap I got from Mr. Hufu. (Which I’m sure she sees by the buckets in her comment moderation queue and deletes on sight.) Twisty attracts men who want to please her, and so they engage in this fascinating yet repellent dance of “I’m so enlightened that I must verbally self-flagellate before your royal Twistyness so that I can become even more enlightened.” At a minimum, they ape her writing mannerisms. They may self-identify as a Nigel – Twisty’s one-size-fits-all name for dudes – and they decry douchiness even as they smarmily demonstrate it. Oh, just go read her example. It really is pretty funny. These guys aren’t standard-issue anti-feminist trolls. They’re not concern trolls. They’re … well, Twisty trolls, her own troll species. They are mutants. And I could see why she’d show them the door.

While she’s at it, maybe she could usher out a few transphobic self-described “radical” feminists, too?

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As glad as I am that Hosni Mubarak is gone, and as happy as I am for the Egyptian people, I can’t help but think that the road to democracy is still long and perilous, riddled with potholes, and – hardest of all – unmarked with signage. Yes, Mubarak has fled, and good riddance. What about Vice President Omar Suleiman, the CIA’s go-to guy for extraordinary rendition? So far his role is unclear, but at least he did not take the reins from Mubarak. And thank God, because he is a torturer. The fact that he’s “our” torturer makes it sicker, not better. But though Suleiman is still on the scene, he’s not running the show. Power is held by a military council.

What comes next? I have zero expertise on Egypt; I’ve just been reading and trying to learn from those who do. But at least two people with a real clue see reason for hope.

Paul Amar at Jadaliyya argues that the military council favors stability. He sees a merging of the military with “national capitalism” in opposition to the neo-liberal cronyism espoused by Mubarak. Amar is reasonably optimistic that the sheer amount of energy in the youth movement, in the internationalists and pro-democracy forces, will prove tempting to the military leaders, opening possibilities for real democracy.

KufiGirl, an American Ph.D. student now in Boston with experience living in Egypt, explains that the army’s leadership was by far the least-bad option. It avoided a Tiananmen-style bloodbath while removing Mubarak from power and clearing the way for new leadership untainted by association with the old regime. KufiGirl makes the important point that in most military coups, the army actively seeks and seizes power. That’s not what happened in Egypt. The army had leadership thrust upon it with the consent of the people. Like Amar, she, too, is hopeful:

Most importantly, the Supreme Council is a group, not a person, and it has no political ambitions the way a single individual would. They announced this morning that they would be meeting the demonstrators’ demands, including the formation of a transitional government and holding free elections to form a civilian government. They also said they will honor all existing international treaties, including peace with Israel. Of course these may be modified by whatever new government comes in, but it’s a positive sign for now because it shows the military understands its place isn’t to be making political decisions.

(Read her whole post here.)

It’s still a long road to true democracy, which is so much more than just “free and fair elections.” After 30 years of brutal repression, civil society will need a chance to grow and flourish in Egypt. That doesn’t happen overnight. But the Egyptian people are demanding real democracy. They deserve democracy. I am humbled and inspired by the words of this protester, who spoke on camera in the early days of the uprising, when every outcome – including the worst – was still possible.

I wonder how many of us US-Americans would be so brave, so willing to risk all, in defense of democracy? I honestly don’t know if I could do it. But we are not called upon to risk our lives in Tahrir Square. We face no real danger if we protest the gutting of civil liberties and the coddling of dictators like Mubarak. The rule of law is under siege in the U.S., but it is still intact enough that we can defend it loudly and without fear of reprisal. Shame on us if we instead choose silence.

Update, 2/13/11, 7:45 p.m.: Corrected to note that KufiGirl is not Egyptian but has spent time living there – thanks, KufiGirl, for the correction in comments!

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Here’s the backstory: Up to now about 20 percent of breast cancer patients – those found to have cancer in the lymph nodes under their armpits – had those nodes cut out as if they were little balloons that could carry metastases to anywhere in the body. And indeed, sometimes cancer spreads via the lymph nodes, which is why they had to go. Or so thought any responsible oncologist.

For the women who undergo extensive axillary dissection (that is, cutting under the arms and removing the nodes), the risk of complications goes up. They are more vulnerable to infection, but more importantly, many of them get lymphedema – painful, chronic swelling of the affected arm due to the inability of the lymphatic system to remove excess fluid from the limb. It’s miserable, disabling, and disfiguring. It can be progressive. It has no cure. You don’t want to have it. Women can also suffer nerve damage, shoulder pain, and limited mobility of the arm. (All of this goes for male breast cancer patients, too.)

But the medical thinking was: We need to cut out any microscopic cancers to minimize the risk of recurrence. What patient would risk her life to buck that logic?

Now, the sun has set on this thinking. A major new study has proven that for properly selected patients – those with tumors smaller than two inches whose cancer has spread to the nodes – axillary dissection and all of its attendant ills is not necessary. It confers no survival advantage. None! Chemo and radiation – which are de rigeur for anyone with nodal cancer – seem to work equally well if the nodes are left in peace. I have not looked at the study, but what I read in the New York Times was highly persuasive and well reported. (Were I the patient, I’d definitely want to scour the scientists’ original article.)

The new recommendation is irrelevant to most early-stage patients, whose disease has not yet spread to the nodes (which can be ascertained by examining a couple of likely suspects with “sentinel node biopsy”). Nor will it help those people diagnosed with more advanced disease. None of the patients in these two groups should be treated with axillary dissection anyway, under normal circumstances. But boy, it could make life after cancer a whole lot more comfortable for the folks who fall in that 20% – for whom lymphedema often became a painful lifelong reminder that they’d had cancer and it could recur at any time.

Will doctors actually take the study’s findings to heart? That’s where I’m skeptical. Axillary node dissection just met its Waterloo. But will breast surgeons – indoctrinated by education that says more treatment is better, and anything less is irresponsible – continue to fight the old battle? I’m afraid they will, and not just because I cynically think they fear lawsuits. (Any sentient doctor should fear lawsuits; they’re part of the landscape by now.) No, I worry that habit will prevail, along with the conviction that doing something is always better than doing nothing. The New York Times report that major cancer centers and a few individual doctors are changing their protocol:

But Dr. Carlson said that some of his colleagues, even after hearing the new study results, still thought the nodes should be removed.

“The dogma is strong,” he said. “It’s a little frustrating.”

Patients may need to push their doctors. We can ask them about our options. If they’re unwilling to question from old methods, we can find another doctor. I’m not in that position right now (thank my stars), but I’ve had multiple scary mammograms. If I do get cancer, I’d hope for an aftermath where my body wouldn’t bear more scars than necessary.

The rage expressed in the NYT comments section by women who live with those reminders – unnecessarily, they now know – is justified, even though their physicians did the best they could with the knowledge they had. But now that we know more? I wouldn’t want to live with that pain and rage if it could be avoided. Life after cancer poses enough other challenges.

 

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In my offline reading this week, I came upon an argument for the allure of big boobs. The writer stated that all men prefer large breasts – and that women with small ones risked being misread as men.

Well, I’ve never been mistaken for a man, even though I’m decidedly not one of those gals who – as Susan once said of Edie on Desperate Housewives – enters a room several minutes after her breasts. The only time I was taunted for looking boyish, I had short hair and was five years old. Most of us lesser-breasted girls endured some teasing in junior high and beyond, but we were teased very specifically as girls. (Of course, no one escaped: the busty girls just had to deal with other forms of harassment. And everyone’s bra strap got snapped, sooner or later.)

Now that I’ve reached an age where gravity is an irresistible force and the flesh no longer an immovable object, smaller breasts have some real advantages. Who’d have thought that in seventh grade?

As for all men desiring large breasts? I doubt that’s true, either, though I think it’s still a widely held preconception. It may well be that some college-aged men, having grown up with ubiquitous access to porn, really do expect DDs or more. Even back in my youth, some men were fixated on size: the “breast men” of yore.

But all men? I started to do the math, and I realized that if all heterosexual men insisted on larger-than-average breasts, half of them would be left without a partner. It would be worse than China! Men would have to discover a dude-bro version of Lake Wobegon – one where instead of all the children being above average, all the boobs would be bigger than a C cup.

Back here in the real world, though, most men ultimately seem more interested in whole women, not just their parts. At least, that’s been my experience and observation. Yours, too, I hope?

Echinacea in Berlin’s Tiergarten, July 2010; photo by Sungold

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Just after 10 this morning I got an email from the campus police, reporting that a gunshot had been heard in or around one of the dorms at 6:15 this morning. One student – who had been videotaping himself – had caught it on tape, and the police confirmed that it was indeed a gunshot. A second person also reported the sound.

It’s now nearly 3 p.m., and though I’ve been checking the university’s emergency page, there’s been no further information from the police. Probably everything will be just fine. But it’s disquieting that the initial safety alert came nearly four hours after the incident, and that updates are so slow in coming. I don’t live on campus and I spent the day working at home, but my neighborhood is a five-minute walk from the area where the gunshot was reported.

More to the point, I worry that someone obviously has a gun on campus, despite their being banned in all campus buildings. I worry even more that this person has ammo and chose to use it. I can’t think of any benign explanation.

I also worry that Residence Life staff were going door to door, checking on dorm residents. What on earth is an unarmed R.A. supposed to do if she or he actually finds a student with a gun?

Update, 2/10/11, 4:30 p.m.: I spoke with a police officer at the OU men’s basketball game last night. (There were two officers posted very prominently – which I hadn’t noticed at past games.) He told me that while they had no further information, whoever created the noise wasn’t likely to do it again just for kicks. He further said it was still possible the sound came from some source other than a gun. All very reassuring – but then he casually mentioned having taken guns away from people on Court Street, where students go bar-hopping, on numerous occasions. So much for feeling safe again!

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My deepest apologies to any turnips who feel slighted by the previous post’s title.

In so many, many way, turnips have far more to offer than John Kasich. For one, turnips are strikingly prettier than Kasich, as evidenced by the photo in my last post. For good measure, here is more documentary evidence of their comeliness:

(Photo by Flickr user wikioticslan, used under a Creative Commons license.)

I shall refrain from posting a photo of Kasich here because I like my blog to be visually pretty even when I write about doom and gloom. (Srsly. This has been Kittywampus policy from the get-go.) Besides, his mug was all over the banner ads on Alternet (!!) throughout the fall, and I’d be just as happy if I never saw it again.

Another way turnips are unlike Kasich: They have never once threatened to run their bus over anyone, having no bus at their command and also being rather timorous vegetables. Quoth Kasich:

“If you think you’re going to stop us, you’re crazy. You will not stop us. We will beat you … This is our chance. Please leave the cynicism and political maneuvering at the door … If you’re not on the bus, we’ll run over you with the bus. And I’m not kidding.”

John Kasich, Republican and governor-elect of Ohio, said at a luncheon for state lobbyists.

By comparison, turnips are more likely to roll with you. They’ll never roll over you – nor roll you over. They are political naïfs: earnest and unassuming, with their feet planted firmly in the earth, their convictions deeply-rooted.

That hasn’t stopped Margaret Atwood from proposing a turnip for Prime Minister of Canada. Atwood declared: “I’d vote for a turnip if it was accountable, transparent, a parliamentary democrat, and listened to people.”

Sounds about right.

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(Image from Flickr user Ali Graney, used under a Creative Commons license.)

Less than a month in office, Ohio’s new governor, John Kasich, has given us plenty of reason to doubt his integrity. He tried – and failed – to keep media away from his inauguration. That was a silly little thing, really, but it portends a new era of secrecy in governance. The legislature took a cue from Kasich and imposed onerous requirements on recording committee hearings. I expect that any day now, we’ll hear that Kasich is governing the state from a secure undisclosed location.

Then Kasich started driving his bus over state employees. He appointed a raft of (all-white) cronies to help him run the state and gave them pay raises. He fired attorneys who were life-long state employees, not political appointees, simply because they had voted Democratic. (No link on that one; I heard it from the niece of one of the purge’s victims.) At the same time, Kasich cut mailroom staffers’ salaries by 21%. Such is the new era of fiscal responsibility in Ohio.

Secrecy paired with cronyism and contempt for the little guy … where have we seen that combo before? Um, yeah … George W. Bush. Good times. Brownie, Brownie, where are ye when we need ye?

But what I’ve really come here to talk about today is The Stupid. The wonderful blog Plunderbund (which I gleefully plundered for the links above) has revealed that along with all his other sterling qualities, Kasich ain’t none too smart, neither. As Modernesquire reported, Kasich officially proclaimed Martin Luther King Day to be March 17.

(Image via Plunderbund – and no, it’s not photoshopped.)

I suppose we can toast racial equality with a glass of green beer? And route a St. Paddy’s Day parade from Selma to Montgomery? Yes, I realize some poor sodding staffer made the error. Kasich signed off on it. The buck stops … oh, right, the buck may never reach Kasich, because he’s gutted the state mailroom. Good planning, dude.

In another shining moment, Kasich advised Ohioans last week on how to weather the storm. The worst of the weather hit north of my house, but had I been less lucky, I would have been prepared, thanks to my governor’s memorable words:

So, if you need to go somewhere, to a neighbor or whatever, you’re going to need to prepare – extra blankets, some candles – I’m not a big fan of candles, but uh, make sure you can control them and blow them out.

(Plunderbund has it all. Oh, do they ever!)

I get that candles can be a safety hazard, especially if you trip over them as, er, ummmm, some governors fall over their words while trying to sound authoritative. But did I miss some super-secret lesson on blowing them out (maybe the boys got it while we girls got the Menstruation Talk)? Is there a special blowing technique? Does it help if you sing “Happy Birthday” first? And what if I want to blow out all but a couple of candles, so that I can have a couple of boyfriends?

Fortunately, Stephen Colbert picked up on Kasich’s turnip-esque intellect and pilloried it – and his racism, to boot:

(Click here if you don’t see the video in a blog reader.)

(Via Plunderbund, of course. Have I mentioned their awesomeness yet?)

Here’s hoping Colbert has bookmarked Plunderbund. For all the horror the Kasich Administration threatens to deliver, it also promises to be an endless seam of comedic gold. God knows we’re are going to need some laughs.

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Would you leave your gravely injured mate on earth while you blast off for several weeks in outer space? Today came reports that Gabrielle Giffords’ husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, may be planning to do just that in April. Salon describes Kelly’s choice – to fly, or to stay home and support his wife through rehab – as “a troubling predicament.”

Really? I’d say that if this is a predicament, my brain is a porous pickle. (Which, incidentally, is possible.) Your partner gets shot, through the brain, and a large arc of skull is removed to prevent brain cells from dying due to swelling. Minimum spousal duty according to Sungold: you stick around at least until the missing piece of skull has been replaced. This takes months. In the case of CBS newsman Bob Woodruff, doctors waited four months before reopening the wounds and placing a prosthesis. Until the patient has a complete skull again (whether composed of their own bone or, like Woodruff, a synthetic material), she wears a bulky helmet to protect the brain.

For me, staying home would be, um, a no-brainer. But can Kelly really help his wife? Salon reports:

Research shows a strong social support network — family, friends, church or similar — is crucial for rehabilitating patients and improves the outcome.

But that doesn’t mean a spouse has to be there 24-7, 365 days, said Dr. David Lacey, medical director of acute inpatient rehab services at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina.

“You also have to look at what’s normal for the couple,” Lacey said. “If it were my parents who had almost never been apart for the entire 50-some years they were married, all of a sudden changing that structure would be a pretty dramatic impact.”

But what’s normal for Kelly and Giffords, through their three-year marriage, is spending a few weeks apart at a time — he in Houston, she in Washington or her home state of Arizona. However, Kelly, 46, kept vigil at her side in the days immediately after the Jan. 8 shooting in Tucson. The rampage outside a supermarket left six dead and 13 injured.

But nothing is normal when one partner is struck by a devastating illness or injury. Three weeks of normal life is not the same as three crucial weeks in rehab. Indeed, nothing is normal now about their previously independent relationship. Giffords will rely on her husband as caregiver-partner for a long time to come. Perhaps forever. It’s hard to feel indomitable, I suspect, when your brain is protected by thin skin and a helmet. It’s hard to feel enterprising when your mobility is highly restricted.

I don’t know Congresswoman Giffords or her husband (obviously!), but I’m irked by the presumption that Giffords ought to be game for her husband taking off, because that’s the kind of gal she’s always been. She’s not that gal now. Salon, again:

Mark Kelly has said he’d like the decision to be made jointly, with his wife’s opinion, if possible.

A former NASA colleague, Susan Still Kilrain, said if she can, Giffords will tell him to go.

Kilrain, in 1997, became the second American woman to pilot a space shuttle. Then, she was single. She recalls how Ashby’s wife, Diana, urged him to continue with his mission training despite her cancer.

“She really wanted him to stop sitting around and waiting for her to die,” Kilrain said. “All the wives would feel that way, and his wife (Giffords) seems to have a very big support system.”

That said, there’s no way Kilrain would resume training under the Kelly-Giffords circumstances. Women, she noted, tend to be the caregivers. She points to her own life story: She stood down from space flying after her first child was born, and quit NASA in 2002. She’s a stay-at-home mom to four children, ages 4 to 11.

“Me personally? I wouldn’t fly,” Kilrain said from her home in Virginia. “But I certainly would definitely respect his decision to fly. I wouldn’t second-guess that in a minute.”

For me, this type of decision isn’t just Monday-morning quarterbacking. I’ve been on both sides of this decision (minus the cool space stuff). And guess what? I didn’t fly. Nor did he.

When my husband fell terribly ill in Berlin, we stayed on for months while he completed treatment. I didn’t think once of taking the kids and flying back to the States. I dropped out of teaching (without any pay) for six months. Good thing, too, because the treatment was about as perilous as the disease. He needed help, as much as I could provide while also keeping the kids together, body and soul. I needed to be near him. We needed each other. Believe me, you don’t want to be on the other side of the world – or even out of this world – if your partner is gravely ill. That bit about “in sickness and in health”? It’s a vow that expresses the (temporarily) healthy partner’s need, too, to provide care and support and closeness. It’s not just about the sick guy.

Then, turnabout: Two years ago, when an MRI report suggested I likely had MS or vasculitis in my brain, my husband was scheduled to attend a conference in Germany. He was worried about leaving me, and so he asked my doc what he would do. “I’d stay home,” said my doc. And so my mate canceled his trip. Fortunately, my brain managed not to explode. (We still don’t know what was up, but we’re pretty sure it’s neither MS nor vasculitis.) My husband could have made his trip safely, after all. He would have worried the whole time, and I would have quivered in fear, again responsible for the kids but without knowing if they could count on me. I was also just plain sick – very sick. I say he made the right call. He says he doesn’t regret it.

I question whether we should applaud wives for playing the martyr, struggling against long odds and terrible pain while their partner achieves a dream. We do not expect quite the same of men, nor should we. Instead, how about if Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly make a mutual decision that isn’t swayed by these cheering squads who seem to hope Giffords will gamely wave him goodbye? (That image conjures up the anniversary of the Challenger, which just passed, and how those brave families on the ground sometimes don’t get their astronauts back.) Maybe they’ll decide that he should fly after all. But if he stays with his wife, I can’t imagine how he could ever regret it.

Really. It’s not a predicament. It’s a no-brainer. (That cheap witticism is sure gaining mileage, yes?) If you do what’s least likely to cause regrets, the prognosis for future happiness and harmony will be better. You don’t need a neurosurgeon, astronaut, or even a small-potatoes blogger in Ohio to say this. Most of us know it as soon as we reflect on who and what we truly love.

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So every time I’ve logged into Facebook recently, this ad keeps popping up:

I do like handsome men! I do like men a few years older than me! (Emphasis on: a FEW.)

It’s just that … I’m 47. Only 47. I’m still years from qualifying for the senior meal at Denny’s or Bob Evans. And yet, I’m being hit up on behalf of “Mature American Men,” aka dudes old enough to be my dad.

This is all academic since I’m not on the market. But if I were, and if I went for guys younger than me, I’d instantly be branded a cougar. Evidently, the men my age are supposed to pair off with women 15 years younger. What’s left is the contingent at the Senior Citizen Center. Should I be suddenly single, I’d better spiff up my pinochle skills.

I would love to know if men in my general age group are targeted similarly. “Meet sexy senior women – hot grannies!” Sure, that’s a niche market. I doubt it’s advertised on Facebook. I think you have to go looking for it.

What say you, men between 37 and 57?

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