Category Archives: sexism

Zero Shame Game

At the Washington Post, Patrick Welsh wrings his hands over the more supportive treatment pregnant teens and teen moms are receiving from some school districts. He is dismayed that teen moms are openly flaunting their motherhood.

The somber statistics about teen motherhood are the reason the day-care center, run by the local nonprofit Campagna Center, was opened in T.C. Williams two years ago. The idea is to keep the girls in school, let them get their diplomas and help them avoid the kind of fate described earlier. I’ve been a teacher for more than 30 years, and I want the best for my students and to help them succeed in every way possible. I know that these girls need support. But I can’t help thinking we’re going at this all wrong.

On the surface, Alexandria seems to be striving to stem teen pregnancy. Every high school student is required to take a “family life” course that teaches about birth control, sexually transmitted disease and teen pregnancy. The Adolescent Health Center, a clinic providing birth control, was built a few blocks from the school. The city-run Campaign on Adolescent Pregnancy sponsors workshops for parents and teens. But none of this coalesces to hit the teens with the message that getting pregnant is a disaster. And within the school, apart from the family life class, the attitude is laissez-faire, as if teachers and administrators are afraid to address the issue for fear of offending the students who have children.

Once a girl gets pregnant, though, the school leaps in to do everything for her. But I wonder: Is it possible that all this assistance — with little or no comment about the kids’ actions — has the unintended effect of actually encouraging them to get pregnant? Are we making it easier for girls to make a bad choice and helping them avoid the truth about the consequences? 

Heavens! Helping people without censuring them? As one nurse observes, “There is zero shame.” Zero shame! Ooooh God, Nooooo! How can we expect people to act more like us responsible middle class types if we don’t instill them with self-loathing?

In fact, as you no doubt suspected, these people are bringing it on themselves. (Aren’t they always, those lazy, shiftless people?) Our anguished writer cites the same school nurse to dredge up the “pregnancy pact” myth spread last Summer by a high school principal in Massachusetts. Say, whatever happened to that story? Oh, that’s right — two weeks after Time.com fomented another reason for adults to fear their irrational teens, it was refuted. By the mayor. So whatcha bet that the school nurse in this article has no direct knowledge of such a pact among her students; that she overheard some “buzz” somewhere (conservative talk radio? news headlines next to her email? an opinionated colleague?); and that she parroted this bit of conventional wisdom for the benefit of our gullible writer?

And if you detect a slight trace of racial privilege mingled with the classist overtones, your nose will soon get out of joint. Welsh notes that overall teen pregnancies have dropped significantly:

The birth rate among teens, after falling 36 percent since 1990, went up 3 percent in 2006, the first increase in 15 years. And most of the rise is due to pregnancies among Hispanic girls.

Sensitive liberal guy that he is, Welsh hastens to note that white teens get pregnant, too, but it’s a class thing, and where he lives, class translates into ethnicity. Fair enough. Poverty and disadvantage hit people of color a lot harder than people of, um, non-color. But this is the point where Welsh starts dredging up the “pregnancy pact” myth and quoting high school students of, um, non-color whose disapproval is hard to conceal. These Hispanic teen moms “are living in a dream world” so says a girl in AP English. I was relieved (surprised, too) that Welsh got around to talking to at least one of the young women he spends so much time discussing with other people.

I’d be less than honest if I didn’t admit that I’m torn about T.C’s teen moms and the Tiny Titans center. As upset as I get at the recklessness I see in some of the girls and their boyfriends, I can’t begrudge someone like Cynthia Quinteros the help she needs to raise her one-year-old son. “If it wasn’t for the day-care center, I would have to quit school to take care of Angel,” says the 16-year-old. “My mother is a single mom, and my brother is 11. My mom has to work.”

Cynthia’s days are grueling. She gets up at 6 a.m., feeds and dresses Angel and is at school by 7:50. She drops Angel off at the center, eats breakfast in the cafeteria and heads for class. Her mom picks her and the baby up at 3:15 p.m. At home, Cynthia eats, plays with Angel, starts homework and then leaves at 4:50 for her supermarket cashier’s job. She gets home at 10:10, does a little homework and goes to bed.

See? He’s a nice guy! He’s “torn”! He doesn’t “begrudge” Cynthia. He’ll even go into details about her “grueling” day — and, indeed, he chose the right word. But it doesn’t take him long to revert to ethnic stereotypes — and with Cynthia’s corroboration: a lot of her friends “actively tried to get pregnant” (but not Cynthia; she missed a Depo shot one day.) And according to a medical director, “most of these girls and their families see no problem with being unmarried and having a child at 16 or 17.”

Waiting for the “drain on public services” argument? Here it co-oo-omes!

Most of the mothers are in free and reduced school-lunch programs, and few have insurance. So when they get pregnant, a whole tax-supported industry kicks into action: The Health Department assigns a nurse to the girl, a group called Resource Mothers is notified to pick girls up at school or home and drive them to doctor’s appointments, and the Campagna Center plans day care for the child. The school dietitian plans nutritious meals for the mothers. The federally funded WIC program provides free formula, milk, cheese, peanut butter and the like to the teens and their babies. In Virginia, girls from 13 on up are eligible for free reproductive services — prenatal care, hospital visits and delivery.

According to a study by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, teen childbearing nationwide cost taxpayers $9.1 billion in 2004. Teens 17 and under — the ages of most of the girls at T.C. — account for $8.6 billion of that total, or an average of $4,080 per teen mother annually.

Welsh repeatedly singles out Latina teens and “the rising birth rate among Hispanics” as sources of trouble for befuddled and overworked social workers, educators and health officials. Get it? They are a burden. They’re a drain on tax dollars that should be going to bailing out the financial industry or failing to reconstruct countries we’ve bombed into chaos and desperation. Damn these poor people and their grubby demands!

Look, no matter what age a woman becomes a mom, our society is not prepared to support the needs of children. Period. If “shame” needs to be directed at anyone, it’s the opponents of universal health care, education and a living wage. It’s the unthinking voters who have consistently clamored for tax cuts and psuedo-patriotic war-mongering. We’re momentarily in a “season of Hope/Change/Transformation/Whatever” but all along there have been these undercurrents of resentment against Hispanics and of frustration with our broken social safety nets. An article like this only feeds the fire.

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Daddy Bears, Mommy Bears

In Tom Schaller’s talk with Republican pundit-strategist-talking heads, media consultant Alex Castellanos discusses how the election was good news and bad news for Republicans:

There was some good news this election and that is, it takes a lot to elect a Democratic president in this country. How much worse can it get? To elect a Democratic president, you have to have an unpopular Republican brand, you have to have an unpopular Republican administration, you have to have gas that’s hit five bucks a gallon, you have to have a housing bubble pop. And then that’s still not enough, then you have to have an economic meltdown. McCain was tied coming out of the convention until the economy melted down. And that’s still not enough. Then you have to have a Democratic candidate who moves toward the center and proposes tax cuts for 95 percent of Americans, who says oil drilling might be OK, who says that what the unpopular president is doing in foreign policy and defense is terrible but he’s going to keep the same people. The secretary of defense, General Petraeus. Even Bush’s policy of preemption in Iran. Barack Obama said he would do anything, anything, anything to keep Iran from getting nuclear weapons.

That’s the good news. [But I also said that] if we took refuge in [how hard it is to] elect a Democratic president, it would be false comfort. Because we still don’t know where the Republican Party is going. And I don’t think our problems are ideological. I think America is still a center-right country and that’s why Republicans frankly hung in there. Look, the president is a daddy-bear job. He’s the guy who’s supposed to lock the door at night, bring in the paycheck for the country; he’s the head of the American political household. That’s why Republicans have done well electing presidents and why Democrats have done well electing the mommy bear to Congress and to the redistributing job. Redistributing public money to help people. Our problem is generational. And by that I mean, and I think Reihan hit it on the head, it’s a very different country. What used to be this silent majority is now the silent minority and the old Republican appeals are not enough.

Wait, aren’t mommy bears supposed to be the more protective of their cubs? Either way, the archaic gender roles grafted here upon government responsibilities are profoundly paternalistic, very “nanny state.” Whether nanny is nursing the citizenry or is locking the door and guarding it with a shotgun, if this kind of framing of the role of government is at the base of Republican thinking, then the party has bigger problems than it acknowledges.

Castellanos’ description of the conditions and the pragmatic centrism that pushed Obama to victory is not innaccurate; it’s just not complete. He neglects the significant voter turnout, higher than in any previous election in the last 50 years, and the importance of citizen involvement in the process. Citizens were not looking to install a new set of parents. We were trying to make government more responsive to our basic needs, to use government as a means to an end, a collective tool for larger social benefit. I don’t know if that translates into a necessary “center-left” or “liberal” mandate. But voters want health care, jobs, economic stability, and a secure and mature-minded foreign policy. We can’t get it at Wal-Mart. The private sector in general — from the health insurance industry, through the finance and investing industries, to, say, Blackwater — is sorely lacking as a provider of our economic and national security; indeed, much of the private sector has been turning to government for help, too, sucking the public coffers dry and putting us further in debt.

We turn to government for help because it is the one institution which we have some control over; theoretically, it is answerable to us. Eight years of blustering, chest-thumping incompetence has finally convinced the “low-information” segment of the voting public (at least for now) that what we really need is a serious-minded competent leader who knows how to listen, to evaluate conflicting data, and to act strategically. I don’t rule out the future possibility of another cowboy-affectin’ politician riding in on a white horse of xenophobic paranoia; nor am I blind to the instances when Obama has done some chest-thumping himself during the campaign season. Indeed, presidential campaigns will continue to have some element of the penis-measuring contest, the gender politics of which candidates of either sex will feel compelled to negotiate. For now, however, this weird psychological aspect has succumbed to more pressing needs.

As the country becomes more ethnically and culturally diverse, as gays and lesbians assert more political power, as issues of gender become more recognizably fluid, as certain baby boomers with their 1950s hang-ups about the proper roles Mom and Dad fade away (i.e., die off), as more men become nurturing fathers and more mothers become principal “bread-winners” — maybe, just maybe, the United States of America will grow out of its current Daddy Complex. Are either Democrats or Republicans remotely prepared for that?

Is “Douchebag” Sexist?

From Ann at Feministing:

It’s pretty easy to see why this evolved as an insult. Douchebag is funny because it’s anachronistic. It was a device once promoted for health reasons, but as science has marched on, douching is generally just thought of as an embarrassing (and definitely not-talked-about) product for women who are paranoid about good old-fashioned vagina smells. If we’re honest, we also laugh at it because it grosses us out. (Call it the bro-ish side of some feminists, myself included.) Like Dodai at Jezebel, I’m not calling for a ban on the word. Just asking feminists to think about it a bit more before saying it. To consider whether using “douchebag” as an insult is just another way of saying “everything associated with vaginas is icky!”

No, it’s saying that some things associated with vaginas are icky. Some things associated with just about every part of the human body in general and male or female bodies in particular are icky. Smegma, anyone? Spooge? I don’t think there is anything misogynist in acknowledging that some of the fluids emitted from the female body can be a little gross. Genuinely gross. And as such they form a legitimate basis for insulting someone.

“Douchebag” is funny not only because it’s icky, but because it sounds funny. Take care of the sound, the sound will take care of the sense, as Lewis Carroll once said. Not always true, but in cases like this, it works. How about “ass-hat”? Does anyone really know what that means? No! But it sounds funny. Dickhead, butthead, shithead, and my son’s favorite, poopyhead — a lot more sound is at work than sense.

Does the word’s relationship to female anatomy or to anachronistic female hygiene put it off limits*? Ann provides a thoughtful discussion of the history of the douching practice and how social attitudes varied depending on the marital status of the woman performing it. Shorter version: it’s okay if you’re married, but single women who do it are sluts. Pretty reprehensible stuff — but, sadly, just about anything a single woman did was viewed as having slut potential. “Naughty” nurses and secretaries, especially; teachers and librarians, not as often, but they pop up even now as part of sexual fantasy. Personally, I deplore the slut-shaming as much as the sexist assumptions regarding single women. But I don’t think “douchebag” inherently connotes either of these stupid ideas. Moreover, I feel there is a risk made in the opposite direction: by putting female bodies or anything associated with them completely out of bounds as the basis of ridicule, would we not be putting them on a pedestal, idealizing them beyond their human qualities.

Human beings are funny. Their bodies are funny. And gross. And weird. And awkward. Zits, farts, dangly bits, hairs, snot, phlegm — as biological beings, we contend with these strange, uncomfortable aspects of our bodies. We have developed lotions, cleansers, trimmers, and other methods to manage them, if not completely eliminate or hide them (and in the process making some people very rich.) The same holds true for those things unique to female and male bodies: pricks, tits, twats, balls and all the wonderful fluids they bring forth. They all serve important functions, but they can be quite embarrassing. And embarrassment, discomfort, inconvenience, grossness — these are the basis of humor. Not the most sophisticated variety, to be sure, but unless you are a total snob (and thus likely trying to distance yourself from your body and all its problems), you should recognize the value of humor derived from our most intimate experiences. Nothing especially “bro-ish” about that.

* Yes, Ann states that she is not trying to ban the word. And the discussion is certainly worth having — hence, my engaging in it. But for some folks it’s a short step from raising the question to calling for a ban, so I feel it’s necessary to address that possibility. Back to whence ye came

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War is a Feminist Issue

Quin at Punk-Ass Blog must have been in the midst of some migraine-inducing flame wars recently, because why else would one need to spell out for people that “Anti-War IS Feminist“?

Being anti-war and being feminist are not mutually exclusive. After all, it’s impossible to support gender equality for women who you’re killing, or even for whom you’re just creating a constantly life-threatening environment. War zones, even once they’re ex-war zones, are where rights for women go to die.

By all means, go read the rest of the post. By turns funny, outraged and pertinent. Plus some heartbreaking photos to bring the point home.

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Funniest Comment I Have Read Today

Dan Solomon commenting on MightyGodKing getting creeped out by a Time Magazine article on so-called “purity balls”:

You know, if you wanted further proof that these people live in a world very different from our own, you could really just look at the fact that nobody involved thought twice about making everybody say the words “purity balls” over and over every time they wanted to reference these things.

At some point I want to do a cartoon on this phenomenon (do-doo-de-dodo!), cuz wow is it completely fucking weird. Even furries could look askance at it.

But it IS Stupid

Ezra Caraeff addresses the question, “Is this ad homophobic?” I agree with his negative assessment:

Now if the campaign focused on any of the other hundreds of outlandishly gay moments in sports (a quarterback’s hands delicately placed beneath the ass of his bent over center while awaiting a snap, baseball’s dugout buttslaps of approval, or this joyous celebration between two teammates) and declared them to be “ain’t right,” then we’d have a real problem. But this ad’s copy is based on the fact that the player in the image just got dunked on. Dunked on so badly that his opponent’s balls are now at chin level. Gay or straight, I assume no one wants an uninvited sweaty pair in their grill–now if it’s invited, well, that’s another story…

In other words, it’s a matter of consent. One thing that homophobes don’t get is that sexual relations between two people of the same sex have no impact whatsoever on the lives and sexual practices of straight people. Homophobes fear (strangely) that a queer person, sex crazed for the genetalia of the same sex, will be unable to control themselves and start doing something “gay” at them (like, say, “OMG! That gay dude’s gonna cornhole me! ONOZ!”), and thereby undermine their precious heterosexual identity. For reasons most likely rooted in Ye Ole Patriarchy, homophobes forget that mutual consent is at work in homosexual relationships just as much as in heterosexual relationships — or, really, it should.

So does this ad have a potential homophobic reading? Well, sure, who knows what stupid homophobes are going to read into this. But how about intent? Or reasonable doubt? Or an alternative explanation? I think Ezra has it right. Put it another way, just cuz I’m straight, doesn’t mean I want some random vagina in my face.

Xanthony Xuxx

On a whim I picked up a copy of A Spell for Chameleon by Piers Anthony about a month ago. I read it. I … liked it? Well, sure, if you set aside the adolescent misogyny and the utterly pretentious prose and the too convenient magic.

So I guess the answer is no. I hesitate an affirmative because there were certain elements I liked. The natural selectivity of a world suffused with magic was a wonderful pseudo-intellectual conceit, the kind of head game that makes good escapist fiction enjoyable (and, no, just because I call it “escapist” doesn’t mean I’m snobbing it out; I draw a cartoon about a pig, for fuck’s sake.) It had the promise of interesting rules and thaumaturgic properties.

More interesting was the character of Chameleon herself — certainly more so than the milquetoast protagonist, Bink. Chameleon has personality, wit, resourcefulness, and a serious existential problem (well, for a magical creature.) Without spoiling anything for the random person who hasn’t read the book yet reads my blog (most of my friends are better SF/Fantasy readers than I am), I’ll say that her condition would have been really interesting to explore from her point-of-view as she undergoes her month-long changes.

Does Anthony explore this in any depth? No. He makes Chameleon a trophy for Bink, a woman who won’t challenge him for too long, keep him entertained and laid without complicating his life too much with a will of her own. In the second novel in the series, Chameleon’s condition, which had already had strong associations with the menstrual cycle, becomes an all-out bitch-on-the-rag impetus to drive Bink out on the road in search of more adventure. I put down the second novel (whose title I didn’t bother to remember) after 20 pages. I was done.

My better read SF/Fantasy friends tell me Anthony’s misogyny only gets worse as the series progresses. I don’t get it. Certainly womanhood, femininity and other aspects of the sex are worthy of exploring in fictional allegories of the human condition; indeed, worthy of satire, too, as part of the general human folly. But that’s not what Anthony does. He’s just a sexist dick. Some woman somewhere in his past pissed him off (wittingly or not) and so every woman character and reader afterwards must suffer the collective punishment meted our by his sniveling, sniggering stereotypes.

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You Mean, Like Gwen Ifill?

FoxNews commentator (I think it’s Cal Thomas sans mustache) includes Maxine Waters, Cynthia McKinney and news anchors among a list of “angry black women.” Not that I think such a description applies to any of these women (nor, for that matter, Michelle Obama, the subject Thomas discusses), but at least they would have had opportunities to express anger or outrage in a political forum. That’s what politicians do, after all. But when the hell do any news anchors express anger?

Oh, here we go!

Thomas video found via TerrenceDC at Pam’s House Blend, who has some smart observations on this “angry black woman” meme.

In Contempt (6/10/2008): Genderized

6/10/2008 cartoon snippet
Clicky clicky clicky clicky clicky clicky!

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Who’re You Calling “Other”?

Jill at Feministe responds to a Clinton candidacy autopsy in the Washington Post by Linda Hirshman on the future of feminism. By all means, read the whole thing, because there is much for the brain to munch on; but I liked this bit here where Jill responds to Hirshman’s thesis that feminism got bogged down by concerns of race, class, and sexuality, inhibiting strategic alliances among various groups:

But my main concern comes at the way the issues are split into authentic “feminist” issues and those “other” issues that those “other” women are trying to integrate into feminism. It’s a question of who feminism belongs to, and who is entitled to set out its goals and concerns. I view feminism as a collective, where women of all backgrounds can set the agendas and push the movement forward. I don’t think feminism has to be a unified force on all fronts; I don’t think it’s main purpose is to get the right Democrats elected. Electing progressive politicians is a crucial goal for some parts of the feminist movement, but it’s not the be-all end-all to the movement. And since I see feminism as ideally offering equal space for women of all backgrounds, I don’t see why middle-class white women’s issues are more purely feminist that the issues raised by poor women or Black women or Hispanic women, or any other group of women. The issues that disproportionately effect middle-class white women are also issues colored by race and class — but because they’re the dominant race and the dominant class, that gets glossed over. It seems to me to be an unfair double standard. And it seems to me that white middle-class feminists shouldn’t be doing the same thing that the white guys have always done: We should not be telling other women to forgo their issues for the ones we deem important. We should not be telling other women to wait their turn. We should not construct a movement that assumes “woman” to only represent one narrow construction of womanhood.

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