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This blog has been silent too long. I’ve had some health issues affecting my hands; maybe I’ll write about them eventually, but for now let’s just say I’ve recovered enough to tentatively revive this blog, though probably on a low scale.

It’s Caturday; and since the Kittywampus hiatus coincided with an issue that put the word “pussy” in the mouths of the journo-commentariat (they’re still trying to spit out the furballs), it seems only fitting for this blog to support those three brave Russian feminists who are now serving a jail term for questioning the rottenness of their state.

Sure, we’ve got our own rottenness here in the U.S., too. When was the last time the pundits or politicians spared a thought for Bradley Manning? Why do I find far more Canadian sources than U.S. ones on this week’s deportation of war resister Kimberly Rivera from Canada and her arrest at the Canadian border? How can the Obama Administration possibly justify its defense of the NDAA?

But see, it’s not a question of ignoring abuses of the rule of law at home while highlighting abuses abroad. We can deplore the state-sanctioned violence against Manning even as we condemn Russia’s sentencing of Pussy Riot for being loud and insulting in a cathedral (their real crime was criticizing the state).

At the New York Times, Vadim Nikitin wrote last month that Western supporters are simply jumping on a bandwagon, merely [u]sing dissidents to score political points against the Russian regime.” This is too facile. The Russian regime is profoundly anti-democratic. It deserves to have points scored against it. While I respect his point that using dissidents as pawns is a game that goes back to the good ole Cold War days – and thus ought to come under scrutiny – the fact is, Putin is gutting what remains of Russia’s fragile democracy.

Nikitin also joins a number of North American feminists in decrying some of Pussy Riot’s most overtly offensive stunts – in particular, those involving public sex. I will gladly concede that I do not see the political or artistic merit or utility of such stunts, while I definitely do see how they would just reinforce the objectification of women to most casual observes.

But none of these caveats present a roadblock to supporting Pussy Riot, and Nikitin insistence that they’re dealbreakers strikes me as disingenuous:

You can’t have the fun, pro-democracy, anti-Putin feminism without the incendiary anarchism, extreme sexual provocations, deliberate obscenity and hard-left politics. … Because what Pussy Riot wants is something that is equally terrifying, provocative and threatening to the established order in both Russia and the West (and has been from time immemorial): freedom from patriarchy, capitalism, religion, conventional morality, inequality and the entire corporate state system. We should only support these brave women if we, too, are brave enough to go all the way.

Actually, even though I’m not a hard-core anti-capitalist, the Pussy Riot program all sounds pretty good to me. But Nikitin creates a false dilemma. You most certainly can support Pussy Riot in their moment of persecution without agreeing with all of their stances or tactics. We do this all the time, as when we defend the right to freedom of expression for people whose speech we find abhorrent.

The three band members made eloquent closing statements at their trial, showing that they understood, deeply, that this wasn’t a case about punk music constituting blasphemy. The stakes were nothing less than authoritarianism, human rights, freedom of artistica and political expression, and the state manipulation of media. Pussy Riot knows this. We too should recognize it – and dwell upon the ways in which the U.S. government, too, is systematically eroding liberties and making martyrs of dissidents. The rule of law hangs in the balance, not just the freedom of three young women, and not just in Russia either.

And so, by the great power invested in my by this blog, I hereby declare today Anti-Authoritarian Caturday.

Authoritarian kitteh courtesy of Cheezburger.

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I’m coming out of dormancy to sound an alarm at the behest of Daisy Deadhead and ballgame. These two friends of mine have sniped at each other at times but agree 100% on this: The Internet as we know and love it is in serious danger.

Congress is considering an atrocious act, PROTECT IP (S. 968)/SOPA (HR. 3261), that would enable censorship of any website that provides copyrighted material. Those sites could be summarily shut down at a judge’s order; they could only be restored through litigation, which is bloody expensive. Not only the big guys like Google, Facebook, and YouTube would be affected. Itty bitty startups could be stifled, and even humble catty blogs such as mine could be shuttered.

I once celebrated the end of a basement flood by playing “Bridge over Troubled Water” on my piano and posting it to Kittywampus 1.0 (the old Blogger version). Perhaps fortunately, the link to that stellar performance is dead (has Box.net stopped serving bloggers?). Were it still live, I’d be committing a copyright violation – not that I imagine Simon and Garfunkel give a rip. Every mommy blogger who posts her child singing Lady Gaga could be shut down. And what of all the copyrighted content that we routinely embed, from SNL to Jon Stewart?

Here’s the bottom line (from the video below):

The ugly details, including potential five-year jail sentences:

What to do? Spread the word through your blog, Facebook, or Twitter account. Bay at the moon. And contact your congresscritter. They’ve not gotten much pushback, so they need to hear from worried citizens. I just called all three of mine.

I hope to get back to more regular blogging once I get my workload under control. Let’s not allow the Internet to be broken in the meantime!

Update 11/16/11, 2:45 p.m.: Daisy has lots more detail on SOPA/PROTECT IP.

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Almost daily, I get email from friend-of-the-blog Lisa Simeone on novel ways that the national security state is eroding our liberties. But today, Lisa herself was the poster girl for the corrosion of liberty – and I read about it first on Alternet, then at War Is a Crime, not in one of Lisa’s emails. It’s typically, really, that Lisa is all about the principles while setting aside her private worries. Now, though, they’ve become a national cause celebre.

Lisa has been fired from her job as the host of the documentary program Soundprint, which is carried by NPR affliates. The reason? Her involvement in the October 2011 movement, a peaceful protest against militarism and corporate greed, which has joined forces with Occupy DC. Lisa was targeted by The Daily Caller, which accused her of conflict of ethics and possible ethics violations, suggesting she was bound by the NPR ethics code. But first, Lisa was only a freelancer, not an employee, and was evidently never warned that she could lose her job due to political activity. Moreover, Soundprint’s statement seems to have a pretty tenuous relation to reality:

Soundprint is a journalistic program and Lisa’s leadership role as a member of the steering committee and a spokesperson for the October 2011 protest activities, associated with the Occupy DC movement, conflicts with her role as the host of a documentary series. Soundprint adheres to the highest standards of journalism which include maintaining appropriate distance from marches, demonstrations and other political activity. These are standards held by many other journalism organizations, including National Public Radio.

Fine, but look at Soundprint’s current program: the tale of a deaf septuagenarian who wants to learn to fly, and a tribute to Sir Edmund Hilary. It’s obvious that Lisa couldn’t be objective about Hilary! Never mind that he died three years ago; were he still with us, he’d definitely be in the 1%! Lisa introduces the story, and I’m listening really hard for her left-wing invective. Listening … oooh, straining a bit … Wait! She just called him a “humanitarian”! Surely that has a political subtext?

Lisa’s other radio job, hosting the nationally-syndicated World of Opera program, is hanging in the balance as well, though so far it looks like its sponsoring station is resisting pressure from NPR.

Lisa points out in her interview with War Is a Crime that NPR is applying a wildly inconsistent standard, allowing some of their regular employees who actually report on current events to pontificate on Fox:

“I find it puzzling that NPR objects to my exercising my rights as an American citizen — the right to free speech, the right to peaceable assembly — on my own time in my own life.  I’m not an NPR employee.  I’m a freelancer.  NPR doesn’t pay me.  I’m also not a news reporter.  I don’t cover politics.  I’ve never brought a whiff of my political activities into the work I’ve done for NPR World of Opera.  What is NPR afraid I’ll do — insert a seditious comment into a synopsis of Madame Butterfly?

“This sudden concern with my political activities is also surprising in light of the fact that Mara Liaason reports on politics for NPR yet appears as a commentator on FoxTV, Scott Simon hosts an NPR news show yet writes political op-eds for national newspapers, Cokie Roberts reports on politics for NPR yet accepts large speaking fees from businesses.  Does NPR also send out ‘Communications Alerts’ about their activities?”

Yep, knowing Lisa, I think Madame Butterfly is about to be Occupied. (But there likely won’t be any tents involved. Like me, Lisa enjoys, needs, appreciates, and once again NEEDS a decent bed at night. I sometimes think a good mattress is one of the top three secret clues to vitality in one’s 40s and beyond.)

But seriously: It remains a mystery how Soundprint arrived at the conclusion that Lisa’s activism collided with the NPR ethics code. NPR denies having even contacted Soundprint. And vice versa. How to explain? Might I smell a whiff of Breitbart and his ilk? The earliest smear job I found on Lisa s a piece by Neda Samnani at Roll Call, dramatically dated “October 18, midnight,” insinuating that of course Lisa committed an ethical breach, because if she’s on radio, then she must be, well, a reporter.

Horseshit.

Ethics codes have a place in journalism, but Lisa was not exactly committing journalism. Lisa was doing cultural programming. Nor are ethics codes the be-all and end-all of media ethics. If they’re relevant to Lisa’s current work, they must equally apply to Ira Glass and Garrison Keillor at Lake Woebegone. The last time we heard about Keillor’s religious prejudices, there were consequences! ripple effects! an article in Salon … and not a blip in his contract.

So much still is shrouded in obfuscation. I am hoping Lisa will find time to fire off one of her emails, just like she does whenever she sees someone else’s rights being abrogated. I’m sure she’s pretty overwhelmed. There could also be a lawsuit brewing.

Given that we may need to wait on the facts, it’s half-past midnight (see, we can do her detractors one better – nay, 30 minutes better!). It time to rally to her cause. I just wrote the following to NPR:

I know Lisa. She’s whip-smart and highly principled. Her work is consistently thoughtful, fair, professional, and easy on the ears. I was thus dismayed to hear that Soundprint fired her for her engagement in October 2011.  Despite her history of activism, she hasn’t let her personal politics bleed into her professional work.

I’m so pleased that WDAV has not yet bowed to pressure to fire Lisa, who has done nothing wrong. Please support WDAV in their loyalty to Lisa. And while you’re at it, might you ask Soundprint to reconsider their hasty decision to fire her? There’s a difference between a reporter who covers hard news and a radio host of cultural programming. Lisa’s work falls in the latter category. I respect the reasons why NPR has an ethics code (even though I also know that real media ethics are more complex than a mere set of rules). However, as a freelancer who didn’t report on hard news, Lisa should not be muzzled in her private life as a citizen in the name of “objectivity.” Doing so just makes her former employer/client appear petty and, frankly, scared of right-wing bloggers and pundits.

Bring back Lisa Simeone! [Okay, I admit to trying to play the diplomat. "Horseshit" tends not to fly as an actual argument, except from my dissertation advisor who made it work beautifully.]

You can contact NPR here. To their credit, WDAV seems to get it (way more than NPR does!), as you can read here. Thankfully, comments are running overwhelmingly in favor of Lisa. But don’t hesitate to add yours, too, if you’ve appreciated her comments here or her work elsewhere.

And also: Hugs to you, Lisa. Count me among your friends and fans who love you and will stand with you – chin up and boobs out, as a friend of mine loves to say. Brava, for your passion, commitment, principles, and love of liberty. This panic from our overlords? I read it as a sign that we’ve got them rattled.

I hope you’ll weigh in once the worst of the madness subsides. Until then, sending hugs and virtual chocolate while posting madly on Facebook about this travesty.

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It’s true I didn’t friend Anthony Wiener on Facebook, but I did follow him on Twitter. His voting record on feminist and LGBT issues is impeccable. That adolescent picture of him on Twitter? To die for! Weiner is funny and self-deprecating, in a profession where the ability to laugh at oneself is rare.

So I followed Weiner (even though I follow very few folks on Twitter). And one day, in the midst of congressional horse-trading (uterus-trading??) on Planned Parenthood, I boldly tweeted him this:

I didn’t call him my boyfriend, straight up. Just a simple declaration of love! Nor did I keep tweeting him. Nor did I look him up on Facebook (much less call him my boyfriend there). But I could have! Just look at the guys I’ve called my boyfriend on or off line. Jon Stewart. Stephen Colbert. Hugh Laurie. Our school’s superintendent (as documented for Internet-posterity on this here blog). And, in fact, Anthony Weiner joined this boy-harem of mine after the White House Correspondent’s Dinner. Good thing the tomatoes on my Twitter icon only give a glimpse of my face. Had I displayed my true hottness, who knows? I might have become sext-partner seven.

When the scandal broke, I thought it was complete bunk. I mean, Breitbart! BREITBART!! The man is a sleazy, lying, slimewad on a stick. The most pernicious consequence of this scandal won’t be that we lose a strong progressive voice in Congress and cable TV (though that seems inevitable, and lamentable, in the short run). It’ll be the rise in Breitbart’s fortunes.

Breitbart has made a career thus far of slinging political spaghetti against the wall and hoping it will stick. Unfortunately, his spaghetti has not been made of good ole North Dakotan durum wheat. It consists entirely of fecal matter. With each lob of it, he has discredited himself further. Even the mainstream media was starting to see through his tricks, and that’s saying a lot.

Until now. Much like the National Enquirer, which booked a permanent gain in credibility when it busted John Edwards hiding an affair and a child, Breitbart just scored. From here on out, no matter what vile lie Breitbart propagates, the media won’t dismiss him as a liar and propagandist. Breitbart comes out of this a huge (and undeserving) winner.

As for Weiner, considering that his missteps were private and (as far as we know) legal, I’m glad he’s refusing to resign. Those conservatives lawmakers who call him “creepy” forget about their own David Vitter, still a senator after being busted with a DC prostitution ring, engaging in clearly illegal activity and allegedly donning a diaper to boot. They ignore the fact that sexuality is changing. For young people – as well as those immersed in the new social media – sexting is not a kink but merely a new way to express one’s sexual impulses.

I suspect that Weiner truly believed that his activity was really just “frivolous.” That somehow, because it took place in cyberspace, it wasn’t real. Fidelity to one’s marital partner is one of the few values on which most Americans agree, and yet many of us fail to live up to our ideal. People seem to reconcile lapses in one of two main ways: 1) “This isn’t real because it’s online/at a conference/with someone I could never love” – or 2) “Yes, this is wrong, but my life will be hollow without some pleasure to relieve the drudgery and self-abnegation of my daily life.” I’m guessing that Weiner falls into the first group. I also suspect that these two rationalizations are gendered, with men tilting toward #1 and women toward #2, with lots of exceptions, of course. (Readers, if you have other interpretations – or other theories about how people rationalize infidelity – I’d love to hear them.)

In the end, it’s up to Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, to decide what Weiner’s online dalliances mean. She’s the one person who has been seriously wronged here. She didn’t give him carte blanche to flirt with women online and send them pictures of Weiner’s weiner at full staff. While it’s true that some people have open relationships, that’s a moot point here (and Amanda Marcotte only creates a distraction by bringing it up). Weiner and Abedin obviously did pledge monogamy; otherwise, why the public apology to her? I applaud Abedin’s refusal to perform the aggrieved wife for the ravenous gossip machine, and I hope she’ll find future happiness, whether through a fresh start or through Weiner making amends.

But it’s silly to say that the public at large was victimized by Weiner’s conduct. I can’t get too worked up about Weiner lying to the media and the country about entirely private behavior. I can’t even care much about whether he sexted during “work hours” because congresscritters – like professors – are rarely truly off the clock. If the public is screwed, it’s due to the power of special interests and corporations in Washington, not Weiner’s private fantasies.

The other genuine victim here is the final recipient of Weiner’s sexy tweets, college student Gennette Cordova, who appears not to have invited any sort of sexual attention. She has my compassion, too. She didn’t ask for the media circus. If indeed Weiner sent her his famous crotch photo out of the blue, then it’s harassment and a demonstration of sexual entitlement that clashes with Weiner’s perfect congressional record on women’s issues.

To my mind, though, there’s reasonable doubt that Weiner really sent that photo to Cordova. As Joseph Cannon argues, the only way to make the scandal go away was to confess to the real dalliances. (Via here.) Having admitted those indiscretions, it would be difficult for Weiner to argue credibly that he hadn’t sent Cordova his underwear shot. Cannon has explained the evidence for a third party having uploaded the picture to Twitter. Moreover, Breitbart evidently has possession of a photo of a naked, erect Weiner, which means – as Cannon again notes – Breitbart can essentially blackmail Weiner. Cannon can’t (yet) prove his case, but I think it’s plausible.

In addition, sending a sexy photo without prior contact completely breaks the pattern. With his consensual partners, Weiner first made conversation and flirted. Only after establishing a flirtation did he proceed to send them pictures. The fact that those flirtations escalated quickly and even recklessly shows that Weiner had developed a comfort level with sexually-charged online relationships. As one of his partners, Megan Broussard, said, “This is something that’s regular, he’s done all the time, he’s comfortable.” But sending women photos without prior flirtation was not his regular modus operandi. Add to that the fact that a gaggle of conservatives were gunning for him on Twitter, and Weiner’s confession regarding Cordova looks ever more contrived.

Weiner’s other sext-buddies, including Broussard, appear to have been completely consensual. But the now-public evidence for this raises other troubling questions. His entire Facebook exchange with a Las Vegas woman, Lisa Weiss, has been reprinted at a gossipy site called Radar. How did these screen shots become public in the first place? Were they captured when Weiner’s account was hacked (as he claimed a few weeks ago)? Was Weiss coerced or paid or even blackmailed? How secure are everyone’s Facebook transactions?

The other question is why women have now “come forward” to describe details of their consensual relationships with Weiner. What induced them to do so? They will be subjected to slut-shaming in the media.Private details of their fantasy lives have been made public. Why is Broussard giving interviews to ABC news? Is it really, as she claims, to shield her toddler daughter? As a parent, I don’t buy it. At three, her daughter is too young to understand any of this, and she won’t be protected Broussard releasing oodles of photos and electronic messages – quite the opposite. So is Broussard just responding to our reality-TV culture and grabbing her 15 minutes of fame? Could she, too, have been a target of blackmail?

Above all, how did Breitbart get his paws on compromising private photos in the first place?

The end of the FB conversation between Weiner and Lisa Weiss indicates machinations to put these women under pressure. This section of their chat is not reproduced as screen shots at Radar, but is included at the very end of the pdf transcript:

So yeah, Weiner behaved stupidly. He committed a breach of private ethics. He hurt his wife. He left himself open to the machinations of his enemies. He was so reckless, even I could have become one of his Facebook girlfriends.

But behind the scandal is a problem of bigger proportions: right-wing propagandists who have already shown no compunction about lying and now prove willing to stoop to blackmail and coercion. Weiss writes: “someone contacted me about u …” Who is that someone? Breitbart? Drudge? One of the wingnut Twitter conspiracists who were out to destroy Weiner? (See also a similar article at the NYT if you want a “respectable” take on these Twitspiracists. They look no better there.)

This right-wing smear machine – and not Weiner’s dick pics – is what constitutes a real threat to democracy.

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Yesterday I heard through non-blogging channels that breast cancer has claimed the life of Plain(s) feminist. Those of you who followed her blog know that she wrote with wry wisdom and understated courage about her struggle with the disease – on what chemo feels like, the politics of breasts and wigs, and (my favorite of the series) how not to talk to someone with cancer. She wrote one of the best critiques I know of the extremes in the childfree movement. She offered a nuanced analysis of why all heterosexual intercourse is not rape. Her writing was sage, careful, passionate, and always, always compassionate. (Think it’s impossible to be both measured and politically engaged? Plain(s)feminist managed the trick!)

I met Plain(s)feminist just once, at the National Women’s Studies Association conference in 2004. We talked about the politics of motherhood, and we danced wildly at the Saturday night party. We talked about breastfeeding as experience and as a political act. She was smart, serious, and fun – someone I wished I could get to know better in a more relaxed setting. (When I later made the connection between her real-life identity and her blog, my first thought was: of course!) Her son was just a baby then, as was my second son, the Tiger. When she wrote about Bean on her blog, her deep love for him always shone through. He must be about 8 now.

Her family has requested privacy, and so I’ve said I won’t break her pseudonymity on this blog unless they express a wish (through her friend who is dealing with former students, colleagues, and the like) to publicize her identity. That makes it hard to talk about her academic accomplishments, which included excellent feminist analysis on motherhood. But without in any way denigrating those accomplishments – and recognizing that I mostly knew her through her words alone – I have a feeling she’ll be remembered above all for a life filled with love, compassion, and a commitment to justice.

One of her most touching posts dealt with grief and loss, five years after 9/11. Her words speak to us now:

There is no reason in tragedy. I don’t believe in a God who takes a mother away from a four-year-old child or who traps someone’s daughter/father/brother/lover in a burning building – and I wouldn’t *want* to believe in such a God, anyway. But I do believe that the kind of love that we sometimes show each other in the face of such tragedies is holy.

And that’s it. Five years later, this is what resonates with me – not why “they” hate “us,” or what it means to feel safe, or who is to blame, but that we have to comfort each other by sharing our suffering, by loving each other enough to feel each other’s pain.

That is where I see God in all of this. And while that’s not enough right now, it’s not a small thing.

May this god – the potential for love dwelling in all of us – bring comfort to the many people who will miss and mourn Plain(s)feminist, and especially to her husband and dear little boy. My heart goes out to them.

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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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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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I’ve been very absorbed in family commitments and the terrible political news, but I didn’t want to miss my bloggiversary AGAIN, for the third year in a row.

This blog started as a space to stash thoughts and material for teaching. Within the first month it outstripped my own intentions. Blame its feline inspiration, which – like the patron cat of this blog, Grey Kitty – is hard to steer or discipline.

Three years into this experiment, with 958 posts and oodles of thoughtful comments (thank you!!) to show for it, I think it’s time to celebrate – with a purrito for each year I’ve been at this. (The two grey kittehs’ markings remind me of GK.)

(From ICHC? of course.)

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I’ve been so serious these past two weeks, it’s time to take a brief break to gloat. As my long-time readers know, neither of those modes is my usual. I’m not typically a single-minded terrier, and I try not to be too smug. But sometimes The Kitty just has to pounce on an injustice when it’s fresh and new and potentially reversible. The TSA debacle pushed all of my buttons: Possible harm to my kids? Check. Sexualized violence? Check. Creating novel forms of bodily experience? Ugh – check. Trampling the rule of law? Checkmate!

So let this be my “Moment of Smug,” to paraphrase Colbert. Over the past few days, my post debunking the right-wing meme of TSA favoritism toward Muslim women drew thousands of hits – with this result:

In case you can’t quite read the graphic – and even if you can (because hey, I’m gloating!) – my post, “Not Exempt,” is the first listed on Google after the breaking news links. The first. Number one. Nummer eins. Woo hoo!

Starting tomorrow, instead of all-TSA all-the-time, I’ll be going back to a broader mix of posts. But for a few sweet moments, I’m going to savor my ascendancy over Fox News. Yes, I realize my post floated to the top of Google mainly because 100,000 other posts all regurgitated the same right-wing distortion, while I offered a fresh view. In spite of this, I know many readers merely sought to confirm their wingnutty views. (From my comment spam folder: a commenter with the clever handle “fuck you” tells me to “get fucked.”)

Never mind the haters. I’m still tickled that my information rose above the scum of Islamophobic disinformation. I guess I assumed disinformation always wins because it never fights fair. Some of us feel an inconvenient obligation to the truth, which hobbles you in the fight. It’s lovely to see that sometimes the truth does rise to the top. I’m happier yet that my post might have planted a few seeds of awareness in the minds of people who were sincerely questioning.

Thanks to my readers – old and new – for hanging with me! I’m not dropping the TSA story. You can expect updates when I feel moved to provide them, but they’ll be jumbled in with my usual mishmash of sex, feminism, parenting, kittehs, and any stuff that catches my fancy or pisses me off. For those playing along at home, I’ve put together a list of my TSA posts to date:

Also, if you’re not reading Cogitamus, do pop over there. Lisa Simeone has been covering the abuses of the security state in depth for years. Her co-bloggers are excellent too – among them litbrit, who like me wants Sarah Palin to explain her “wild ride.”

It remains to be seen if the TSA will really be forced to revamp their policies. So far, they seem terrified of losing face. In the meantime, though:

(Smug kitteh from ICHC?)

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Frustrated private kitteh from ICHC?

Raw Story (via Alternet) is reporting a new level of privacy violation on the web:

New software released by Cisco Systems Inc. on Wednesday makes it much easier for banks, retailers, and other businesses — including your employer — to monitor the mountain of data on social networking websites such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

The new SocialMiner software tracks the status updates, forum posts, and blog posts of customers and potential customers in real-time, giving businesses immediate information about consumers’ opinions and preferences. It’s pretty cheap, too: “It can also be purchased for use with a non-Cisco contact center system, Cisco officials say. In each case, SocialMiner costs $1,000 for the server and $1,500 per agent license.”

(More here.)

Now, if we lived in Europe, relief might be in sight. The same article notes that the EU is moving to stiffen privacy protections on Google, Facebook, and more. When I conducted historical research in Germany, archivists insisted on denying access to hospital records that were 80 years old, beyond the horizon where they must remain private. I suggested blacking out names, and they did that for me. (We were all very reasonable about this, but then, Sungold Research Inc. is not a profit-making corporation.)

Americans like to think of privacy as their prized value, but actually German law is far out in front of us. Folks learned from those little experiences with the Gestapo and the Stasi. I’d expect Germany to set the tone for European legislation.

For us stateside bloggers, the extension of data mining reminds me that a layer of pseudonymity, however thin, can avoid a host of hassles. If you’re a professional writer looking to promote a freelance career, then pseudonymity might cost you. The rest of us are likely to be hit by a storm of spam. (Does a product like Spam, almost fully alienated from nature, come to us like the weather? Or am I confusing this with “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”?)

Alternet poses the problem as employers snooping. That’s not my worry. My program chair is aware that I blog. I just don’t want to receive even more penis spam, aimed at my nonexistent penis!

Anyway, the rise of data mining strikes me as another good reason to play a tomato on the Internet. This is a very fine day to be “Sungold.”

 

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A couple of folks have asked me off-blog if I’m okay in the wake of my post last Monday when I wrote, “I’m wound up, worried, and sad about a bunch of things I can’t write about here.” I’m sorry I tripped some alarms. There were several students of mine involved in deep, severe crises last week. They pushed most other thoughts out of my head. I couldn’t find a way to talk about their various plights publicly while maintaining their privacy and confidentiality. Their stories point to some broad social problems, so they’ll probably inspire me to write about them in some way, maybe just with a time lag to shroud identities.

Anyway, I am okay. Overworked and overtired, but okay.

And I has a moonflower. In fact, I have heaps of them. They’re five to six inches in diameter. They open in the evenings and close during the day – the opposite of morning glories, with whom they share heart-shaped foliage.

How could I not be okay?

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It’s really cool to see a New York Times op-ed co-authored by Rebecca Traister and Anna Holmes. Women are still underrepresented on op-ed pages, and these two have the distinction of getting their start online (at Salon and Jezebel, respectively). Maybe this is the start of feminist bloggers storming the NYT?

Their piece – “A Palin of Our Own” – makes the incontrovertible point that progressives have done too little to celebrate high-flying female politicians. (Echidne lays out why Traister and Holmes are right about this.) They note that this has concrete policy implications that harm women, especially regarding abortion rights. If women weren’t considered marginal and disposable, Nancy Pelosi could have passed a health care bill that safeguarded access to abortion. So far, so good.

But do we lefties and feminists really want a Palin of our own?

It’s not the shooting-wolves-from-helicopters that puts me off. (Well, okay, that too.) Most of all, I’m disturbed by the idea that we should emulate Palin’s character and style. Palin’s distinguishing features are her willful ignorance, reckless disregard for truth, contempt for the reality-based world, and plain old playground-variety spite. Traister and Holmes write:

Imagine a Democrat willing to brag about breaking the glass ceiling at the explosive beginning, not the safe end, of her campaign. A liberal politician taking to Twitter to argue that big broods and a “culture of life” are completely compatible with reproductive freedom. A female candidate on the left who speaks as angrily and forcefully about her rivals’ shortcomings as Sarah Barracuda does about the Pelosis and Obamas of the world. A smart, unrelenting female, who, unlike Ms. Palin, wants to tear down, not reinforce, traditional ways of looking at women. But that will require a party that is eager to discover, groom, promote and then cheer on such a progressive Palin.

(Read the rest here.)

Anger has its place – you betcha! (Yes, I’m still pissed that I can’t employ Northdakotanisms any more without people thinking I’m aping Palin.) But unlike Palin, progressives aren’t trying to appeal to people’s basest nature. If we recruit and foster female politicians who speak “angrily and forcefully about [their] rivals’ shortcomings,” we’re just going to get into a mud wrestling match with Palin and her Mama Grizzlies. The end result? Everyone’s covered with mud.

I’m not convinced that Twitter offers much hope, either. Sure, lots of liberals and lefties use Twitter. Heck, I’m even on Twitter! The Ceiling Cat is on Twitter! The presence of all that goodness doesn’t change the bedrock fact that it’s easy to convey simplistic ideas in 140 characters. You need more space to develop an argument. And really: Would Palin’s tweets get so much media exposure if they weren’t so unrelentingly stupid?

That said, Palin has lobbed the F-word back into public discourse. Now it’s our job to catch it and reclaim it. “Feminism” has never been the property of any faction within it. As I argued back on September 4, 2008 – long before the feminist blogosphere ever discussed whether Palin deserves to be a feminist – she is a feminist, of a sort. The history of feminism includes activists who were also anti-abortion and anti-choice, as well as people who were deeply racist or homophobic. After all, the history of feminism is bound up with the history of the Western world, not a thing apart. There has always been a subset of feminists who reduced the movement to “equal opportunity to compete with men” and to hell with the collateral damage (poor women, lesbians, women of color, even mothers). Palin can definitely claim those feminists as her ancestors.

Palinofeminism is screamingly reductive. It’s all about claiming a woman’s right to compete in a man’s world – something liberal feminists have historically demanded – though in order to reap its benefits, you have to be, well, pretty much a clone of Palin. But the very narrowness of Palinofeminism offers an opportunity to redefine feminism, for those of us who are broader of mind and bigger of heart. Feminism can and must oppose poverty, racism, cissexism, homophobia ableism, ageism – the whole panoply of oppressions that make people less than they could be. Feminism needs to be about ending gender-based oppression, and yes, that includes practices and norms that harm men, too.

We need to seize the moment, now that Palin has dragged feminism back into public view, and put forth an inclusive, compassionate vision of a United States where everyone has equal access to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

How we achieve that, I’m not quite sure. I’m just a marginal university instructor in Appalachia with a small (albeit smart and loyal) blog readership. But I suspect that publishing more feminist op-eds is a great place to start.

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My Wonky Computer

I probably should know better than to wade into a controversy when my computer is acting wonky, but no. I don’t. Earlier this evening, here’s how my screen looked after it froze and I relaunched it:

This lovely image has appeared several times in the past week, but this time I couldn’t go back to normal simply by restarting a couple of times. I had to unplug it, remove its battery, and hold down the start button for five seconds. Since then, it’s acting happy, but I’m not deceived into believing it’s really okay. So this is to say if I disappear without warning, it’s not because I don’t care. It’s because my machine is kaputt. I’m supposed to fly back to the U.S. on Wednesday, and I’m trying to –

oh hell, I just had to restart again! Okay, so I’m trying to nurse my machine along until I can get it to a tech back home who knows me enough to trust me to say I haven’t abused it. I also have a kaputt CD drive, and I want my AppleCare coverage to cover it. Because honestly, I have treated my computer with love and kindness. It is my auxiliary brain. I only do bad things to my real brain. But you might just find comfort in a glass of wine, too, if your computer looked like this.

In the meantime, if anyone knows what the Stripes of Death mean on a MacBook Pro (vintage spring 2008), I’d be most grateful. They are usually preceded by a freeze-up that gives me lots of pixilated, groovy, pastel colors. But those groovy colors herald one heck of a bad trip. :-(

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Via Echidne, I took one of those silly internet quizzes, this one purporting to correlate one’s own humble prose with that of famous dudes. (I suspected they were all dudes because I took it multiple times and did not turn up Margaret Atwood, to my overwhelming sorrow. A commenter at Echidne’s subsequently turned up a discussion elsewhere of the dudeliness – and whiteness – of the allowable matches.)

First my truly shameful revelation: my latest post on Sarah Palin’s wild ride churned up “Dan Brown” as my famous-dude counterpart. It’s enough to make a gal stop dabbling in conspiracy theories.

Otherwise, though, I came out as “David Foster Wallace” and “H.P. Lovecraft.” I am churlish. Despite my assumption that Atwood was off the list, in fact other commenters at Echidne’s did match Atwood’s style. So why, in the name of the holy Magdalene, do I resemble Dan Brown, even if only on the margins? I’ve read virtually all of Atwood’s corpus, including lots of obscure early poems. (Circe, anyone?) From David Fucking Foster Wallace, I’ve read not a word. Maybe it’s time I began?

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

All I know of H.P. Lovecraft is that he wrote horror and sci fi, which are not my bag. Otherwise I couldn’t distinguish him from H.R. Pufnstuf.

(Image from here.)

Knowing that most of my readers are writers of some stripe, I’m curious how y’all might come out. Go here and run your blog posts, lab reports, or Great American Novel through the robot. Leave your results in comments; post ‘em on your blog. If you’re anointed the new Margaret Atwood, just be kind enough to refrain from gloating. For what it’s worth, the robot thinks Atwood writes like James Joyce.

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(Squabbling kittehs from ICHC?)

This morning began with the Tiger waking the Bear by pelting him with stuffed animals. An hour later, he rammed him with a desk chair – “accidentally,” of course. By 11 they were fighting over a toy. I was calculating the days until school begins. And wallowing in self-pity.

(More intransigent sib-kittehs from ICHC?)

So we fled the apartment, ran a couple errands, visited a playground. As my boys were romping happily on the play equipment, a woman rolled up with a one-year-old in a carriage. She turned slightly, and I saw it was actually a double carriage. She was ferrying year-old twins with a striking resemblance to Cabbage Patch babies (and I mean that in a nice way). The carriage was like the Queen Mary. She was rolling this whole ensemble through deep sand. She was patient and cheerful. I spoke with her and she did not make me feel like a loser for wondering how she manages.

I stopped feeling quite so sorry for myself.

By the end of the day, I’d seen no fewer than six sets of twins being strolled through Berlin. Whatever challenges my two bring, at least they aren’t doubled. Also, I had some great one-on-one time with the Bear this afternoon, which reminded me that they’re each marvelous company when they’re not together.

Now, if they could just get some sleep. It’s 11:40 Central European time, and the Bear popped out of bed again, for the eight time tonight. And you wonder why my blogging has been slow the past few months? It’s not just interference from teaching (and now the World Cup); I have two kids who went on sleep strike sometime last winter. Maybe they could take a page from the LOLcats on snoozing, too?

(Sleepy kitteh from ICHC?)

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Megan Carpentier, whose usual blogging gig is at Jezebel, just published a scathing critique of Women’s Studies at the Huffington Post. Her piece is misleading and unfair. It represents her one bad experience as standing in for the entire field of Women’s and Gender Studies. It paints WGS as a bastion of intolerance, authoritarianism, white privilege, and regressive body politics. Full disclosure for those of you who aren’t regular Kittywampus readers: I teach in WGS. But my investment in academic feminism doesn’t nullify Carpentier’s biases.

First off, if Carpentier’s goal was constructive criticism, why on earth would she publish this piece at HuffPo? She has a big platform at Jezebel. Not as big as the HuffPo, granted, but plenty big. The Jezebel commentariat includes lots of people who’ve taken a class or two in WGS. They would have discussed Carpentier’s complaints in productive ways. The HuffPo commentariat are much more of a mixed bag, including many who are outright hostile to feminism. (The same can be said for other progressive online communities, sad to say; Salon’s letter section can be a real cesspool of misogyny.) So far, Carpentier’s post has attracted remarkably constructive responses – nearly all of them from people who teach in WGS! Funny thing: none of them bear any resemblance to the rigid ideologue Carpentier blames for alienating her from feminism.

There’s only one plausible reason for publishing this piece on HuffPo instead of Jezebel: page views. And bashing feminism (in any of its variants) has proven to be a great way to advance one’s career. At least, it’s currently working pretty well for Susannah Breslin, as it has for Camille Paglia, Katie Roiphe, and countless other ambitious women writers.

But back to to Carpentier. The heart of her beef is the professor who taught the one and only WGS course she took in college. Let’s take as given that her prof was every bit as awful as Carpentier claims. Some people are authoritarian when they get in front of a classroom. Some don’t like it when their students ask hard questions. Apparently Carpentier’s prof had more than her share of insecurities:

For my professor, the challenge [of dissenting opinions] seemed to be more than she was willing to take. There was no Socratic give-and-take that I’d come to love about my other classes; I was supposed to accept that she was right, I was wrong and that what she said was feminist gospel.

Of course it’s not good practice to shut down students. Very occasionally it may be necessary. I’ve done it a few times when people insisted that racism is dead, or that rape victims bring it on themselves. I won’t allow outright hate speech in the classroom, and I won’t allow intolerance to go unchallenged. Over the years I’ve had a smattering of complaints in my course evaluations that I don’t recognize students’ opinions as equal to my own; for every such gripe, I get at least 20 statements like, “Professor is so open to students’ ideas.” Generally speaking, those who complain are likely to be the same folks who aren’t willing to entertain the idea that sexism – or even more so, racism – still exists.

I assume that wasn’t Carpentier’s problem. She paints herself as much more progressive than her professor. But her single experience is not typical. The irony is that WGS classes tend to be far more discussion-oriented than most classes in other disciplines!

To be sure, Carpentier describes her own, personal experience, but its publication on HuffPo – rather than, say, a personal blog – implies that her experience indicates larger issues within WGS as a field. Otherwise, why bother telling her story to the world? Yet it’s absurd to suggest that this one professor stands in for all. As Shira Tarrant points out in comments:

But the experience of “Rich White Lady” feminism taught by your college professor draws from a very small sample size: N=1. No doubt there are problems of competence across all academic disciplines. And none are above critique. However — and with all due respect — it doesn’t take much digging around to know that feminist politics and theory is also taught more deeply and intelligently than what you’ve described.

Exactly! Surely Carpentier knows other people whose experiences vary from her own! Surely she interacts with them all the time on Jezebel! So why not include even a brief “your mileage may vary” disclaimer?

Instead, Carpentier takes the opposite tack by comparing her WGS course to other college classes she’d taken:

A rigorous introduction to feminist theory — where was Friedan? Steinem? Even Paglia ? — was replaced by rambling lectures about personal experience from the professor and books about “Important Women”(mostly white) that ran counter to my academic experiences with structural history in the history department and my increasing interest in stratification theory — and the intersection of race, class and gender in society — that I found so fascinating in the sociology department.

Here her single experience is posed against the history and sociology departments. It’s this comparison that directs Carpentier’s criticisms at WGS as a field. It’s this comparison that frames her individual experience with one apparently disastrous professor as typical of WGS. She never took additional classes in WGS (not that I blame her), but nowhere does she admit that it’s disingenuous to hold up this one professor as representative.

In fact, most of Carpentier’s experiences are remarkable for their extreme atypicality. She tells one anecdote that’s so bizarre it almost defies credulity. If it happened just as she describes it, her professor was not just unpleasant but completely incompetent:

But it was when the professor told us that, one day, when sexism is over, the government could make abortion illegal again, that I truly lost it — both my patience and, as it turns out, the A that I’d been biting my tongue to earn. She presented this nugget of information not as an idiosyncratic view of her feelings about abortion, but as a tenet of feminist thinking about abortion, and it was one that stood in opposition to everything I understood about abortion and its importance to the feminist movement.

If this is accurate, then her former professor really has no business teaching WGS. If Carpentier truly missed an A only due to this incident, she’d have strong grounds to appeal her grade. But it’s precisely this anecdote that shows how unrepresentative this class must have been!

The same is true for the other appalling incident she relates:

We learned about rape culture in a mandatory group discussion of our experiences with sexual assault that didn’t take into account that the survivors in the group might not be ready, willing or able to relate to a group of students and a professor those experiences.

The very act of teaching about sexual assault in any form can be triggering. If someone asks to opt out of class on a day when sexual violence is on the agenda, I’ll always agree – though I’ll also ask to make sure they’re getting the help and support they need. It’s unconscionable to mandate discussion of individuals’ experience. But again, this incident is an extreme outlier. None of my colleagues would ever act this way. It’s just plain unethical.

In one area, Carpentier’s experience does point to a broader problem. She faults her professor for not taking an adequately intersectional perspective. People working in WGS have had their blind spots when it comes to race, class, disability, and so on – which makes them an awful lot like feminists outside the academy. Most of us are trying to do better. Speaking for myself, I’m still growing and learning. I continue to revise my syllabus. I’m still trying to figure out the most effective ways to help students gain an intersectional perspective. I’m a white gal working in a very white institution, so it’s hard, and I don’t pretend that I’ve got all the answers. Humility is the first step toward improvement. But I will also say that I don’t know anyone who teaches WGS by assigning books about Important (mostly white) Women, as Carpentier describes.

As for Carpentier’s other gripes, they’re pretty thin. Not enough theory at the intro level? Well, in my program, we have a whole course devoted to theory. That’s where we read Friedan – not in the intro, where we assign a mix of theory and more accessible texts. Some of my colleagues use Steinem’s “If Men Could Menstruate” in the intro class. Frankly, Steinem is not a theorist! She’s a journalist and a leader. Paglia is not a theorist, either. She’s a self-promoter. Whether you consider her a feminist is a judgment call. If I wanted to assign a critic of WGS, I might consider using a chapter from one of Daphne Patai’s books, I wouldn’t pick Paglia. Her writing is unfocused; she too often goes off on tangents and rants.

Carpentier also hated the journal she was asked to keep. I have some sympathy. I don’t assign student journals, myself. From my perspective, they require an awful lot of reading. They can devolve into navel-gazing unless you specify a lot of structure – at which point, I’d rather use a different form. But even when I give an assignment that requires reflection on one’s own values, I would never grade on “feministiness,” as Carpentier alleges her professor did. My colleagues who assign journals similarly don’t require students to toe a particular political line; they grade on students’ engagement with texts and ideas, or they simply assign a check for work completed. Not one of them uses “feministiness” as a criterion. If Carpentier created a “series of faux-incidents with which to populate” her journal, well, that was her choice, and I’m not sure she can blame her prof for that.

I’m glad that Carpentier reconnected with feminism through activism and blogging. I’m sorry she had a crappy professor. Like Shira, I’m all in favor of discussing how WGS do better in our research and teaching. Self-examination is an excellent thing. But if Carpentier is really interested in improving WGS as a field – and thus advancing feminism – she might start by expanding beyond her sample size of one. Otherwise, she’s only bashing it, not criticizing it constructively. Which, come to think of it, is exactly how anti-feminists respond to feminism in general, including – not least – feminist bloggers.

Update 6/8/10 (very belated!): In comments, Erniebufflo notes that Carpentier’s piece was first published at On the Issues Magazine – a more serious venue than HuffPo, to be sure – and that Carpentier is no longer a full-time editor at Jezebel. She’s still got a platform there, however, and she used it to discuss the HuffPo/On the Issues piece. Her emphasis at Jezebel was markedly different:

I thought she was cracked, but I was 19 and didn’t realize that “feminism” meant many different things to many different people, or that there was more than one way to be a feminist. Having been raised in a religious environment in which we were taught that there was one gospel, one Church and one way of looking at a set of issues, it didn’t occur to me that a political and social movement would or could be more multifaceted. I figured if she was a feminist, and feminists believed that about abortion, then I was obviously not a feminist.

Here, Carpentier makes clear that this prof in fact doesn’t represent feminism-as-a-whole. She observes the difference between her 19-year-old self and the woman she’s become, who now draws finer distinctions. That’s precisely what her original piece needed to do, but didn’t. The tone of discussion at Jezebel was very different, as a result, with the focus shifted off of Carpentier’s “cracked” professor and onto the commenters’ personal evolution toward feminism.

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My most recent lapse in blogging comes to you courtesy of the IRS and

Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, in one of his pensive, sexier moments. (He looks much hotter with less mustache. If hot is a word one can ever connect to Bismarck.)

I’ve finished my taxes. (Yay!) They collided in ways both stressful and funny with my mad rush to prep my Nazi class. (For those not following along at home, that’s a class on the history of Nazi Germany, not a class on how to be a Nazi. Though for those inclined toward the latter, may I suggest the Libertarian National Socialist Green Party – no linky-love for them, nosirree, moving right along! – whom I discovered through yet another unsettling google search.)

Anyway, while awkwardly multitasking between class prep and tax prep, I toted up a list of the books I’ve ordered recently. Then I tacked on the books that are literally underfoot. I didn’t manage to squeeze out a deduction for the IRS, but it was still a revealing exercise:

  • Sandra Harding, Standpoint Theory Reader
  • Sandra Harding, Whose Science?
  • Jaclyn Friedman & Jessica Valenti, Yes Means Yes
  • Katha Pollitt, Learning to Drive
  • Rebecca Kukla, Mass Hysteria
  • Eugene Kennedy, Unhealed Wound: The Church and Human Sexuality
  • Kelly Brown Douglas, Sexuality & the Black Church
  • Clayton Sullivan, Rescuing Sex from the Christians
  • Christine Gudorf, Body, Sex & Pleasure
  • Lisa Duggan, Sex Wars
  • Alice Echols, Daring to be Bad
  • Laura Kipnis, Against Love
  • Mama PhD (anthology)
  • Shulamith Firestone, Dialectic of Sex
  • Simone de Beauvoir, The 2nd Sex
  • Judith Walzer Leavitt, Make Room for Daddy
  • Carole Vance, Pleasure and Danger
  • Ann Patchett, Truth & Beauty
  • Lisa Jean Moore, Sperm Counts
  • Sarah Forth, Eve’s Bible
  • Cristina Mazzoni, Maternal Impressions
  • Laura Kipnis, The Female Thing
  • Margaret Atwood, Flood
  • Barbara Ehrenreich, Brightsided
  • Julia Serano, Whipping Girls
  • Kevin Haworth, The Discontinuity of Small Things (novel of Jewish life under German occupation)
  • Michael Kimmel, Guyland
  • Christopher Browning, Ordinary Men
  • C. J. Pascoe, Dude You’re a Fag
  • Eric Weitz, Weimar Germany: Promise and Tragedy
  • Ariel Levy, Female Chauvinist Pigs
  • Joan Sewell, I’d Rather Eat Chocolate
  • Deborah Siegel, Sisterhood Interrupted
  • Victor Klemperer, I Will Bear Witness
  • Michael Burleigh, The Third Reich
  • Kershaw, Hitler: Nemesis
  • Peter Fritzsche: Life and Death in the Third Reich
  • Judith Grant, Fundamental Feminism
  • Laura Augstin, Sex at the Margins
  • Kristin Luker, Sex Goes to School
  • Jackson Spielvogel, Hitler and Nazi Germany
  • Jeremy Noakes’ four-volume collection of Nazi primary sources
  • Jane Caplan, ed., Nazi Germany
  • Dagmar Herzog, Sexuality and German Fascism
  • Eberhard Kolb, The Weimar Republic
  • Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem
  • William Allen, The Nazi Seizure of Power
  • Maria Hoehn, GIs and Fräuleins
  • Nancy Reagin,  Sweeping the German Nation

See any patterns there? Have you guessed how Limbaugh’s got me all figured out?

Please leave your verdict in comments. First commenter to guess correctly gets a free copy of the map quiz I’m giving on Thursday on Europe in the interwar years. (But not before Thursday. It is embargoed! Super top secret!) Equally attractive prizes may be awarded for extra-creative wrong responses. We don’t do Rice-A-Roni here at Kittywampus, but we’ve got a mondo supply of Bunny Mac.

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Historians are awfully fond of saying “It’s more complicated.” For better or worse, I’m a historian by training and inclination. Consider yourself warned: pedantry ahead!

Even though it’s a decade old, Amy Richards’ and Jennifer Baumgarden’s intro to Manifesta- a quick tour through women’s lives in 1970, the year both were born – is still a great read.  I use that chapter, “A Day without Feminism,” every quarter to kick off discussion in my intro class. Courtney Martin, writing in TAPPED, updates it for the millennial generation:

A tenth anniversary edition of Manifesta, updated and with a new preface added, has just been released by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. And in many ways, our last decade was also a baptismal moment of sorts for women (though it’s certainly been less covered by the mainstream media). To steal a page from Jen and Amy, consider the state of all things feminist in the year 2000: Birth politics is a niche issue. Gay celebrities are a scandal. Feminism is about women, not gender, and most U.S. feminists have never heard of child trafficking or female genital cutting. The notion of a woman, much less a black, president is still more pipe dream than actual possibility. There are no feminist blogs.

Courtney is wonderful. She spoke at my campus a couple of weeks ago, and the students really connected with her. Her youth is one asset in her ability to build rapport (though far from the only one; she’s just a really effective speaker). And it’s always a good idea to take stock of where we are in the flow of history. But here, I don’t think Courtney quite gives earlier waves of feminism their due. I’m not a partisan of any particular wave; generationally, I fall in the trough between the second and third waves. I just think it’s easier to move forward if we can avoid reinventing wheels.

And also, well, the past really is more complicated.

To start where Courtney ended: Yes, feminist blogs are very new, and they rock. The only blogs I knew of in the late 1990s were a few people’s personal online diaries. That was it. But by 2000, there were lots of online communities. For me, Salon’s Table Talk filled some of the needs that blogs now meet. I’d just become a mother, and I remember (for instance) lengthy discussions of Andrea Yates’ murder of her children that helped me place her act in a larger, political context of untreated postpartum depression and fundamentalist Christianity. Of course there were trolls on Table Talk, too, but it wasn’t the nightmare that Salon’s letter section is today. So, while blogs were the best invention since wine and cheese, they also built on existing forms of online community.

The prospect of a female president seemed pretty remote in 2000, but then again, democracy itself was under siege with Bush v. Gore and the foiled Florida recount. But if you rewind a little further, there was a moment way back in 1984 when we had reason to hope. I don’t know that Geraldine Ferraro would have been the right woman for the job, given her inexperience at the time and her racist comments on Obama in 2008. But her nomination did signal new possibilities. As for a black president, Colin Powell flirted with the idea in the late 1990, back before he disgraced himself by telling the UN we had hard proof of Iraq’s WMD. At the time, he certainly seemed a more plausible candidate than Obama did at the start of the 2008 campaign.

Child trafficking? This is an issue that feminists have taken up periodically for almost as long as feminism has existed. In the 1800s it was called the “white slave trade.” By the mid-1990s, there was lots of talk about sex tourism by men who wanted to exploit very young child prostitutes in Thailand. What’s new is that some of us are realizing that men, women, and children are trafficked for purposes other than sex, and that this is no less reprehensible.

Female genital cutting? In the mid-1980s, there was a huge flurry of attention when Alice Walker publicized the issue – and African feminists informed her that she should butt out. Ever since then, Western feminists have been upset about the practice but often unsure what, if anything, they can and should do to help.

“Gender” was a central part of academic feminism by 1990 at the very latest. Scholars like R.W. Connell and Michael Kimmel were studying masculinity. Historians of women were strongly influenced by Joan W. Scott’s 1986 article, “Gender: A Category of Historical Analysis,” which called for intersectional analysis along lines of race and class as well. Throughout the 1990s, most academic feminists continued to emphasize the study of women but also took a relational view, comparing women to men and examining femininity and masculinity. By the time a lot of us renamed our programs “Women’s and Gender Studies,” we were just formalizing a change that had been underway for many years.

As for the politics of birth, the main difference is that high-achieving women like Courtney who were college students in 2000 are now thirty-ish, with motherhood no longer such a distant possibility for themselves and their friends. But birth has been politicized ever since the Lamaze method was popularized in the early 1960s. When I first started studying the politics and culture of childbirth in the early 1990s, there was already a rich feminist literature. By then, hospitals had introduced birthing suites in an effort to compete with freestanding birth centers and midwives, which had gained strong support from feminist activism. Sure, Ricky Lake gave home birth a famous face, but the issues were already highly visible twenty years ago. With c-section rates skyrocketing past 30% and maternal and infant mortality a national disgrace, we’re arguably losing ground.

So what has really changed in the past decade? Well, homophobia has a much dimmer future than I would’ve imagined ten years ago. While it’s not quite true that “gay celebrities were a scandal” (Ellen had come out and was still loved), famous gay people were much more likely to remain closeted than they are today. But the biggest shift is in young people’s attitudes. Even my most conservative, religious students are apt to take a live-and-let-live approach, or at least they realize that homophobia is incredibly uncool.

Trans issues have also started to get the attention they deserve. Something similar is happening with issues of ability and disability. In both of these areas, blogs are helping render people and experiences visible. They’re still highly marginalized, but the winds of change are starting to shift.

Feminists are also more aware of intersectionality in general. We talked about it in the 1980s already (before the term “intersectionality” was even coined), but change has been slow in coming. Those of us with multiple privilege still fall short. It’s not just unexamined privilege that’s the problem, either. Analysis is a lot more complex when you’re looking at multiple dimension. Political alliances require more effort when you try to bridge and understand differences rather than just ignoring them. The resulting alliances and analyses are a lot richer, though, and I’m hopeful that those of us with relative privilege are increasingly catching onto that.

And yes, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton made history. So did Nancy Pelosi. Their victories might have seemed remote in 2000. But 1970 – Baumgardner and Richards’ benchmark year – they were completely unthinkable.

So yes, history is complicated, often more so than we think. It doesn’t neatly repeat itself or develop linearly. Nor is there any guarantee of progress toward peace and justice. (See, for example, most of the twentieth century, with its nuclear weapons and genocides.) Sometimes there’s cause for celebration anyway.

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There’s a newish blog at my university that’s gotten attention in the local press – all negative – and even got a mention from Courtney Martin at Feministing, though for all the wrong reasons. Courtney didn’t link to it, no doubt due to its nasty content, but I’m local, so I will, because I’m not likely to give it the national exposure it so dearly hasn’t earned. It’s called what’d yOU expect? and it’s run by a couple of local students. (One of the bloggers, “Pooch,” is clearly identifiable through the blog’s Facebook fan page as a female senior; I won’t print her name, but just want to note that this is not the work of douchey dudes. Whether women can be douche-tastic is a subject for another day. Or maybe for comments.)

The premise of the site is to expose the side of the university that’s at odds with the carefully groomed “Bobcat” identity that our leadership is promoting. Of course, anyone who walks uptown on a weekend night (which might come as early as Wednesday) will see that this school remains more about partying than about intercollegiate athletics, even if it was fun to see the team upset Georgetown in the first round of March Madness. What really needs to be exposed here are the many thoughtful, intelligent students who take their studies seriously (whatever their attitude toward drinking). We don’t need more discussion of Beer Pong, unless perhaps through an anthropological lens.

So I actually don’t mind the site’s mission of disrupting Ohio University’s spin machine. The attempt to craft an identity out of a trip to the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl was always doomed, anyway.

What I do mind is the rampant misogyny of the site. Take this post about the perils of hooking up:

This is a true story that has not ever before been told in its entirety. I was a freshman here at OU and wanted to take advantage of what every freshman boy wants to take advantage of their first semester of college… party sluts. I have this theory that freshmen girls are ready to fuck anything that walks their first semester of college because they are new to the environment and have the idea that it is okay to sleep around because everyone does it(not actually the case but it worked out well for me my first year). New to the college environment myself, I raised hell my first couple of weeks on campus. Getting shitfaced every night, fucking all kinds of girls, basically doing everything you are supposed to do during your college years. I was loving life for a good amount of time until one particular night when I met this grizzly bear of a girl.

I’m sure that all of this dude’s former partners would love to know he saw them as “party sluts.” I personally am delighted – just charmed! – to hear that “fucking all kinds of girls” appears to be a graduation requirement. Women’s and gender studies – I’m doin it rong! We should be facilitating hookups, so these dudes can graduate on time!

Oh, and yeah, we’ve never, ever heard a story like this one before. ‘Specially not one that’s true!

Our hero continues:

My good friend got shutout at the last minute by this tease of a girl he was with. (What a bitch right?) So just as I am ready to head home with my depressed and sexually frustrated friend, the fore mentioned grizzly bear grabbed me and pulled me into the dorm. Alright, I know if I had any kind of decency I would have left immediately and walked home with my friend, but fuck it right? I was drunk and gonna get laid, how can anyone be expected to turn that down? So I went in. I went into this “grizzly bear’s” quad and fucked her in front of all three of her either sleeping or pretending to be sleeping roommates. For reasons you can imagine the rest of the night is forgettable. It probably ended with me passed out, sweaty, and naked. Same for the grizzly bear. I woke up, still naked, being smothered by the bear. I think she was dreaming that I was the last cupcake on earth and she was guarding me from a pack of starving Africans.

Oooh, now we’re adding racism to the mix, along with fat-shaming and slut-shaming. Let’s throw in some public humiliation and double down on it – first have sex with a girl in front of the roommates, just like in one of those public-humiliation pornos, and then tell the tale on the intertubes. I guess we can be glad no one took any pictures, but geez! Is that all that’s stopping this encounter from appearing on Youporn? Oh, and the girl was ugly and fat (in case you missed that), but at least she wasn’t a cock-tease like his buddy’s intended target!

This would be a good time for us all to go wash our hands, gargle, and take a long hot shower, preferably with a loofah to scrub away the nastiness of this creep.

So can we extract any meaning from the existence of this blog? I agree with Courtney that there’s a need to talk about what’s going on with casual sex:

We are so hungry to talk out loud about hook up culture–both the sexually empowering parts and the totally sexist parts. We need a space where feminists can really delve into the complexity of this issue, without being labeled, writ large, traitors or female chauvinist pigs. The blog world serves some of that, but it seems like we’re still searching for a more nuanced conversation.

I doubt these juicy campus type blogs are the place to do it, but is there a way to structure such a space that would lead to a real conversation about hook-up culture?

Well, my classrooms often allow for that kind of space. Those conversations are a heck of a lot more nuanced than what I typically see on blogs, but I realize it’s a luxury to have ten weeks with forty people who are willing to explore new ideas in a sheltered space. Obviously there’s a need for more public discussions, too. Online? Hmm. I think feminist blogs can do this, but we only reach a small fraction of young women and an even smaller group of men.

Campus gossip blogs and websites are completely unsuited for this. I don’t think they even support Courtney’s contention that there’s a need for serious conversation on hookups, casual sex, and students’ desires. While I think such a need exists, this and similar blogs deny that need. They make absolutely no attempt to analyze or criticize people’s actions. They make no attempt at basic human decency. They’re all about letting one group of students feel superior to others. They use classic junior-high aggression tactics, being mean to someone who was unlucky enough to trust the post’s author. I enjoy a good snark or rant as much as any blogger, but where mockery and cruelty rule supreme, there’s no space for civil discourse.

In other words, blogs like this one are a symptom of the problems in hookup culture. It encapsulates the misogyny and disrespect for basic humanity that bothers most of my serious students. What’d yOU expect might serve as a cautionary tale, or as a place to start analyzing what’s fucked up about this scene. It’s certainly not going to be part of the solution. We can start conversations about this on feminist blogs, but real change will ultimately have to come through discussions and interactions in the meatworld (so to speak).

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