Friday, June 27, 2008

Rape myths, take 1,089,398,123,302

International Planned Parenthood had this article about an 11-year old Romanian girl who is flying to Britain to get an abortion after being raped by her uncle. Romania has a 14-week abortion cap and this girl didn't know she was pregnant (or was too afraid to say anything considering she'd been threatened) until she had passed the time limit. The interesting point to me was the comment that one of the Romanian officials made about her case:

"The fact that the pregnancy stemmed from rape was not taken into account by the panel, for two reasons," explained Vica Todosiciuc, head of the Cuza Voda maternity section in the northeastern city of Iasi.

"One, because rape has not been proven. And two, because the penal code does not allow for any exceptions," he said.

I think it's important to note that, even though the Romanian courts were not going to make any exceptions, the head of the Cuza Voda maternity section still felt the need to perpetuate rape myths as a reason to limit abortion access.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


So, I wanted to write a small bit today about politics today. Surprise, surprise.

I have a lot of close friends who are really invested in the concept of "going green." They grow their own food, work for green companies, patch their clothes, ride their bikes everywhere, plant trees, use cloth shopping bags, and basically do every personally empowering thing that they can think of to help reduce green house gas emissions. And I think this is really admirable, I do. The combination of these actions conveys a mindfulness and a sincere dedication to preserving things that matter; it shows a commitment to individual integrity and accountability that is oftentimes not seen in our society. I give props where props are due.

But none of them are interested in politics.

Oh sure, they'll give the occasional fist shake when George Bush, the GREAT EVIL ONE, is brought up in conversation. The Bush Administration has become this sort of Star-Warsian Evil Empire, dividing the world into cozy black and white geometrics that are so familiar, so comforting- especially when you are one of the good guys. But they don't keep up to date on local issues, know none of the local politicians, don't participate in rallies or citizen lobbying, don't write letters, don't follow specific bills or resolutions, and don't really read the newspapers.

I think there's a fundamental disconnect there. I mean, these incredibly caring motivated people are working their asses off to save the planet, one recyclable can at a time, and yet the area in which they would have the most power to affect REAL change, they shie away from.

It may be that they don't understand how powerful the political scene is. They see the Evil Empire and assume that all is lost on the political front and it's some sort of Orwellian everyman scenario where rag tags and rebels unite in grassroots struggle against the man, unified in one unspoken common desire for human betterment and global salvation. This may explain the overwhelming excitement about Obama (even though they have no idea what his positions are on any of the issues, much less the issues themselves). In posing as the opposition to the Evil Empire, Obama is a sort of political savior come during the apocalypse to save us.

Or maybe they are entrenched in post-hippy historical apathy toward anything political. They've heard myths the size of Paul Bunyan which posit that, no matter what you do, Big Oil or Big Pharma or Big Energy or Big Government will overpower any opposition movement with their money and lawyers and finesse. It's discouraging to listen to these myths (or actual stories), and one starts to feel completely disempowered and angry. The anger leads to apathy, the belief that we'd be better off without government all together and why can't we all just get along?

It may also be the fact that, up close and center, politics is a pretty boring business. Billions of pages of paperwork and minutiae, obtuse windbaggy senators obfuscating the benefits of this tort reform and that tax law until all the righteous energy is depleted by sheer boredom. Up close and personal, it's not a glamorous business.

It makes me sad though. Not sad in the, "kids these days just don't care" sort of way. These people care! They're just so busy searching for change that they don't see the $100 bill sitting in front of them. With all the brains and the motivation and the dedication directed in the right direction, we could really make a change. We could really get things done around here, do some clean up. It would take long-term commitment, and some boring afternoons, but we could really make things better. I keep thinking about this FISA bill that I've referenced in the prior post. If my friends were political, and they yelled and shook their fists at their elected officials (and their friends did that in their states, and their friends, and so on), all these Democratic lilly livers who are prepared to roll over and allow civil rights violations would be forced to listen. They'd be forced to stand up for the people they represent, the loud angry conscience in their ear, and do what's right...or else.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Blood boiling

EVERY SINGLE TIME I think we might be heading for change in this country, I read some bullshit like THIS and immediately go get my head examined for feeling so previously optimistic. Earlier this week, I talked about the new TSA body scans that render all passengers essentially naked in front of security guards, and how this was an invasion of personal privacy. Well, my friends, THIS TAKES THE CAKE.

Let's talk history for a brief moment shall we? Venture with me, if you will, back to 1971, and the Nixon era of conspiracy theory, spying, wire-tapping, insanity. Nixon, complete and total power-hungry mental patient that he was, became convinced that people were out to get him (because, you know, they'd LIED about the war in Vietnam and he'd hidden the fact that he'd BOMBED Cambodia) and expose him for a the lying, murderous fraud that he was. So he took out hits on his "enemies," spying on them, listening to their telephone conversations, breaking into personal information in order to find any evidence to use against them. You know how that story ends. America was never the same and to this day, the view is that politicians are by and large corrupt and dishonest.

The Bush Administration, juxtaposed against Richard Nixon, is much smarter when it comes to political hits and personal invasions of privacy. Rather than go all underground, they'd much prefer to make it LEGAL for them to access the bank accounts, private email, phone records and LIBRARY records of private citizens. Which is exactly what they have just done. Mass surveillance with no checks and balances is now in place for at least the next five years. A big thank you to the Democratic party for their participation in the generalized rape of citizen privacy.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

It's a little late....

I just wanted to write a short review of Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy which, after years of hounding via Marty, I FINALLY picked up two days ago and finished yesterday.

I'm writing this because I'm about to go digging for reviews on it, looking for people to bring up the strengths and weaknesses of the book, to ask questions, to reveal more information. I do this with books and authors I adore. And I ADORED this book.

My background is a confusing amalgamation of conflicting stories. I was raised a devout, orthodox Mormon- a religion which socially (though, I believe is doctrinally conflicted about the subject) holds ultra-conservative ideas about women's roles. And yet, somehow, I emerged from my teenage years, a feminist. I'm not sure if it was a response to the church or because of it. Though I no longer affiliate in a religious sense with the LDS church, it's in my bones- most born-and-raised post-Mormons will agree with me that it just doesn't leave you.

So coming out of the church and into the rest of the world has been a bit of a difficult transition at times. Feminism was something I could get behind, something I could believe in, something that I was convinced was of universal value. But the concept of "raunch feminism" which Levy discusses in FCP, has always remained an uncomfortable enigma to me. I never understood the whole womenwanttobelikemenandthusmustbesexisttowardsotherwomen. Maybe it's due to the Mormon church's emphasis on the differences between men and women (I think I must have blocked the part about women being subject to men, and men getting all the power), but I've never wanted to be a man. Oh I went through a phase in high school where I wanted to be seen as one of the guys and reviled everything girly, but it was short-lived and in the end, I just emerged wanting just to be a woman, except, you know, with POWER. I fundamentally believe in the awesome beauty that is our sex. Not in a pretty way, a pink-dresses-tea-sandwiches sort of way, but I have always seen women as this strong amazing force to be reckoned with.

Raunch feminism has always seemed like a big fat lie, and Levy hits the nail on the head with this book. The most fascinating and pertinent part of all of it to me was her careful emphasis on the fact that women do not enjoy this type of flaunted sexuality, aside from the occasional milk-toasty power trip. Why? Because it's not real power and it's not real sexuality. It's not about pleasure- it's about sex and the connection of sex to money and the connection of money to power and the sad realization that, even today, women do not have access to power that works outside the rules men have created.

In an odd way, it reminds me of Queen Elizabeth I, the "virgin queen" who parlayed her sexuality (or rather, her status as a marriageable woman) to her own benefit by allowing herself to flirt with and be courted by the world's more powerful (and power-hungry) men. It wasn't about the pleasure, it was about maintaining her sovereignty over the most powerful country in the world. She had to use men, had to lure them with the possibility of marriage (and dominance, and power) in order to keep herself aloft. She used her weakness as a strength because she had to. Because it was the 16th century and women were still property. She had to act like a man and like a woman at the same time in order to achieve what she most wanted: power. And this raunch culture today, this ideology that somehow believes that women have got to be women acting like men but still being fundamentally women, is much the same. Except, Elizabeth's solution was genius- political survival in a world she was never supposed to inhibit. Women today have Civil Rights laws and independence and personal sovereignty- so why are we still acting like it's 1575?

Levy's theory is that it all comes back to the feminist split on sexuality- a divide that I am still trying to navigate personally. We still haven't figured out a way to negate power politics in sexuality and thus, sex becomes commodified and utilized and all the great amazing things about it are muted.

I would recommend reading it, if for no other reason than to identify the parts inside each of us that believe in raunch culture- the part of me that cringes when I go to a bar because I'm wearing more clothes than 3 typical bar girls put together and feel like an overdressed frump, the part of me that wants men, all men, to want me because that means I have some power, the part of me that still strives to appear unaffected and bored, rather than enraged when I hear misogynist comments from acquaintances and people I love. Who wants to live that way? Read it and let's make a change.

Monday, June 16, 2008

We might as well just start walking around naked

Read this crazy blog over at Pam's House Blend that talks about the new "body scans" in which security personnel are able to view a person's body minus clothing, etc. Meaning, they get to see you naked, all in the name of safety. (Talk about a job for closet pervs)

It's a creepy article and I highly recommend reading it, especially the note about the potential targeting of transgender individuals as terrorists, or "persons of suspicion."

The ACLU is, of course, fighting it. Thank god.

I've been thinking about why this bugs me so much. On our way to San Francisco, we were lucky enough to get the "red flag" on our tickets, which meant we were subject to additional scan. Airport security went through every item in my bag and screened it for bomb material, including every bra and piece of underwear. They opened my bottle of ibuprofen, they wiped my cell phone and took the back off, they even screened my fucking tampons. THEY WIPED DOWN MY TAMPONS PEOPLE.

I normally don't mind the hassle that is airport security. I can stand feeling like a cow standing in a slaughter chute. I can handle the slight feeling of insecurity that comes from standing barefoot and vulnerable as someone looks at my possessions via x-ray. But I felt truly violated by this security check. I was angry and humiliated. I felt like a target, not a potential victim.

Why do we treat people as guilty until proven innocent rather than the other way around? In our desperation to find some semblance of safety, we compromise the thing that actually DOES make us feel safe: privacy. We've all heard the horror stories about mothers being forced to drink their own breast milk, minorities being targeted by their appearance, Muslim people being asked not to fly- gross violations of personal rights that wouldn't be tolerated in any other circumstance (can you imagine the day that some terrorist attack comes via automobile?) And for what? So some bureaucrats can cover their asses?
Studies show that all this airport pomposity doesn't make a bit of difference in actual safety.

Frankly, I think I have a right to fly on a plane without having security personnel dump my underwear out for all to see. I have a right to go through an airport security check without wondering which security guards have seen my areolas.

Monday, June 9, 2008


As a 1930s wife, I am
Very Poor (Failure)

Take the test!

Friday, June 6, 2008

Sex & the City

So on Wednesday night Roommates A, B and me went to see Sex and the City. I've anticipated and worried about this movie for so long that it seemed sort of surreal to finally be watching it. I have loved SATC since a particularly low September in 2006 when I finally started watching them in successive episodes, loving and NEEDING the delicious escape from the gloom doom reality I was facing. I know there's a lot of controversy surrounding whether or not these women represent feminine empowerment or its opposite; I know the show is almost universally hated and feared by men (love to all the men in my life who have sat and enjoyed it with me- you know who you are); I know the movie met with seriously mixed reviews and that the antipathy towards Sarah Jessica Parker has reached new heights in the weeks since its release.

I think because of all the anticipation and worry, the experience was sort of muted for me. I collect essays and my favorite essay of all time, The Loss of the Creature, by Walker Percy deals with the concept that reality doesn't exist when it is viewed through our expectations and perceptions. To some extent, all the reviews and chatter I'd been reading for the past three or four weeks kept running through my head as I was watching the movie. I found myself constantly preoccupied with the questions raised in the reviews. Did Charlotte have a big enough role? What kind of achievement is it really that women over 40 can draw a $55 million dollar opener? How realistic was it that Smith turned out to be sort of an asshole? It made the movie itself sort of a colorful blur of questions, and in the end, I felt I had been cheated out of a good portion of the movie.

Except the forgiveness. One of the major draws of Sex and the City for me has been its consistent attempt to define love- self love, relationships, even love for places and things. It is, I think, the linchpin of what connects viewers with the characters, and there are moments in the seasons of deep deep love, mostly between the women, but also between the women and their men. The movie explored the concept of forgiveness as central to love in a way that was only grazed over in the episodes; it really looked at the tired, angry, painful awful parts of love that can only be surmounted by simply forgiving, even if it means the end.

When I was a little kid, I was obsessed with the Don Henley song, "The Heart of the Matter." I didn't question why I liked it, I just did. I couldn't listen to it enough. When I actually listened to the lyrics several years later, I understood. So I was really excited to hear it in the movie's soundtrack.

" I got the call today
That I didn't wanna hear
But I knew that it would come
An old, true friend of ours was talkin' on the phone
She said you'd found someone
And I thought of all the bad luck,
and the struggles we went through
And how I lost me and you lost you
What are these voices outside love's open door
Make us throw off our contentment
and beg for something more?
I'm learning to live without you now
But I miss you sometimes
The more I know, the less I understand
All the things I thought I knew, I'm learning again
I've been tryin' to get down
to the heart of the matter
But my will gets weak
and my thoughts seem to scatter
But I think it's about...forgiveness
Even if, even if you don't love me anymore
Ah...these times are so uncertain
There's a yearning undefined
and people filled with rage
We all need a little tenderness
How can love survive in such a graceless age?
Ah...the trust and self-assurance that lead to happiness
They're the very things - we kill I guess...
Ohh pride and competition
cannot fill these empty arms
And the work I put between us
you know it doesn't keep me warm
I'm learning to live without you now
But I miss you, baby
And the more I know, the less I understand
All the things I thought I'd figured out
I have to learn again
I've been trying to get down
to the heart of the matter
But everything changes
and my friends seem to scatter
But I think it's about...forgiveness
Even if, even if, you don't love me anymore
There are people in your life who've come and gone
They let you down, you know they hurt your pride
You better put it all behind you baby; cause' life goes on
If you keep carryin' that anger, it'll eat you up inside, baby
I've been trying to get down
to the heart of the matter
But my will gets weak
and my thoughts seem to scatter
But I think it's about forgiveness
Even if, even if you don't love me
I've been tryin' to get down
to the heart of the matter
Because the flesh will get weak
and the ashes will scatter
So I'm thinkin' about forgiveness
Even if, even if, you don't love me anymore"

It perfectly defines my concept of love. I'm not a flowery kiss kiss girl. I haven't ever believed that romance is simply composed of holding hands and singing kumbaya as you walk on a beach. But I do think it's about forgiveness. All love. No matter who you love, you love 'em long enough and they're gonna hurt you at some point, and you will most likely hurt them too. That's what we do unfortunately. But forgiveness is essential to it all, no matter how it ends up.

This is a sort of cheesy superfluous post. I just wanted to say that I loved the SATC movie for showing the tired portion of love, the part that climbs the high mountains and walks over the rough patches and comes out on the other side. I don't give a shit about their shoes and their fancy apartments and how fantasy-land it all is- the part about forgiveness? That part is spot on.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

If everyone is doing it....

Lately I've been reading and thinking a lot about comprehensive sexual education vs. abstinence education, and just WHAT my reasoning is behind why I believe in the former over the latter. A lot of screaming has been happening between the camps lately (in my neck of the woods as well as nationally) and it's led me down a few paper trails doing a little research on the matter. Today, for example, I read a recently published research article entitled, "Trends in Premarital Sex in the United States, 1954-2003" (study found in this link). I am not done with it, but the general synopsis states that basically everyone has premarital sex, and that that hasn't changed with time. Mainly, when reading research studies, I am looking for bias, sample size, research methods, accreditation, publication, etc. Basically, I want to make sure the findings are legit. This study, it seems, is pretty legit, but feel free to check it out for yourselves and report otherwise.

Yesterday, I went the opposite direction and started reading through the website and some of the studies on the Parents for Truth
website, an abstinence-education website/group. Interestingly to me, the website has a part of their FAQ section that addresses the fact that nearly everyone has premarital sex:

8. With most people having sex before marriage, isn’t the “abstinence until marriage” message unrealistic?

The fact that many individuals have sex before marriage and 1 in 3 births are outside of marriage does not diminish the benefits of waiting to have children until marriage, nor does it mean we should abandon the goal of changing the cultural norm for this behavior. In fact, historically, if a cultural behavior or norm is in conflict with the desired outcome, efforts are redoubled, not discarded. For example, a generation ago, smoking was a desired, normative behavior, but today smoking is almost universally viewed as undesirable and unhealthy - proof that cultural and social norms can and do change.

Similarly, although growing numbers of Americans are overweight, efforts to encourage exercise and healthy eating habits have increasingly become public health priority messages. We do not capitulate our highest public health standards based on the unhealthy choices of a majority, but on standards that promote optimal health outcomes in the population. Overwhelming social science data reveals that children who are born within a committed married relationship fare better economically, socially, physically and psychologically.19 In terms of child outcomes, the facts are clear – waiting until after marriage to have children is indisputably in the child’s best interest. Further, most teens are not sexually active and more and more teens are choosing to be abstinent, proving that the message of abstinence increasingly resonates with youth.20 Amplified efforts to link the personal benefits of abstinence with the positive effects for children born from a marital union are warranted and necessary if positive changes in cultural norms are to be realized.

I have quite a bit to say about this answer, and I think it has helped me format the reasons that I support comprehensive sexual education.

First, and foremost, I want to give props out to the writer of these FAQ's for using the very good tactic of linking abstinence education to smoking cessation and end-obesity campaigns. Smart move. Basically, this is an amazingly effective paraphrasing of the old "jumped off a bridge" argument your mother used to make when you'd tell her, "But mooooom, everybody's doing it!" (Unless you were me, and then you didn't even bother because you knew, KNEW, that your mother didn't give a damn about what everyone else was doing-unless it related to being Mormon and Mormonism) Pairing the abstinence campaign up with successful other public health campaigns lends it an air of righteous indignity.

Ok, on to to the serious portion of my thoughts. This answer states that most teens are not having sex and that abstinence education can take credit for that. To be fair, the research study above didn't specify an age that most people start having sex, so it is entirely possible that teens are not having sex (though I sincerely
doubt it). However, as far as the abstinence message of waiting until marriage- no matter what age, the VAST majority of people are getting down and dirty before a ring appears. So, even if teens aren't having sex at the time of education, they will be having sex at some point, most likely before they're in the "safe" zone that these people like to call marriage.

The answer states that talking about how children born into two-parent families are better off shows the positive aspects of abstinence education and provides incentive for teens. Trying to be fair to them, I can agree that baby-hungry teens would do well to learn that it's better to be married when you have a baby, but I highly doubt that a non-existent child's well-being is really going to provide sufficient motivation for teens to keep it in their pants.

It's not that I'm against abstinence. I think people, teens in particular, benefit from not having sex earlier than they are ready to. It's just that I see that as simply one component of the concept of sex, which I believe is one of the most important topics that teens/adults/anybody has to deal with. I'm serious.

Abstinence people want to emphasize that sex is a BIG FUCKING DEAL. And I totally agree. Sex IS a big fucking deal. That's why I think that sex education should be comprehensive. It's hard to know when to start teaching teenagers about sex, but truthfully, it has to be in this time frame that the discussion is opened. There's a forum for it. Teaching the abstinence until marriage education does a disservice to everyone, and not solely because, according to statistics, it isn't a viable reality.

Teaching teens about sex in a manner that includes contraceptive use, STI information, pregnancy information, relationships including homosexual relationships, and biological information isn't simply information that is needed to navigate the hormonal waters of adolescence. We teach our children the basics when they're young because we want them to have those skills to use throughout their lives. It's the same with sex. At no other time is there an organized forum for giving information about sex. Learning about sex in an educational environment prepares teenagers for a lifetime of sexuality. Not giving them comprehensive information about sex does a disservice to the adults they will become.

The abstinence only campaign that emphasizes that oral contraceptives fail and that condoms don't always work and that abstinence is the only way to truly remain "safe" make sex seem frightening and unnatural (not to mention immoral). They are right that sex is never safe. Sex is NEVER safe. It's not safe when you're a teenager and it isn't safe when you're a married adult. However, part of teaching teens how to be responsible adults entails teaching them that every decision has associated risks and ways to minimize risks. Contraceptives reduce risks of pregnancy and STI's and they do so very effectively. Not teaching about these options essentially leaves teens (adults) open to more danger. It's like driving a car. Going the speed limit and wearing a seat belt and practicing defensive driving help reduce the risk of injury and accident, but they don't completely nix the fact that driving a car is a risk. Not teaching people to put on their seatbelts because you don't want them to drive a car seems sort of cruel. (How'd ya like them analogies? Like how I added a public health campaign to my argument?)

Comprehensive sex education is better because it doesn't marginalize people's sexuality. Abstinence only education's emphasis on waiting for marriage before sex is a tremendous slight to teens who are homosexual, transsexual and transgender. It posits marriage as the only socially acceptable option for sexual expression, disregarding those for whom marriage isn't a legal option, a desired option, or a possible option. It effectively sends a message to teens that if they do not fall into the desired canon, that they are somehow less of a person and that their sexual relationships will never be as meaningful or as worthwhile, not to mention depriving these teens of information regarding their differing sexuality.

I think sex education shouldn't just be a presentation that kids attend before lunch one day. I think it should be a required class in high school and that it should cover topics ranging from the biological aspects of sex to relationship issues to technical aspects of sex such as contraceptive use and Pap smears. I think there should be sections on pregnancy and sections on homosexuality and sections on rape and sexual abuse and sections on consent. I think there should be an emphasis on the emotional aspects included in sexual relationships. I think there should be talk about men and women's roles and societal conceptions of sexuality, pornography, etc. I want MORE not less.

I am rannnnting!

P.S. Bill Watterson, on the infinitesimal chance that you ever read this blog, I know you hate it when people use Calvin and Hobbes for their own devices. I'm sorry. I couldn't help myself. I just love them so much.