Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘women’

by Julia

This evening, the French Embassy in Washington, DC, along with L’Alliance Française, hosted an event honoring the new translation of Simone de Beauvoir’s watershed feminist masterpiece, The Second Sex. The appearance of the translators, Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier, drew an incredibly well-dressed crowd. On the first real fall evening in DC (finally!!), the women wrapped themselves in scarves and belted long cardigans, all sporting incredibly simple but striking outfits. (I’m not sure myself whether some of us chose to channel Simone, or whether we all just showed up emulating her because her influence on our lives is so great that it subconsciously permeates our habitudes.)

It’s hard to believe with such a significant work that it has not been translated into English since Howard M. Parshley attempted it in 1953. Parshley’s version, for lack of a better word, butchered the original text. He eliminated over 100 pages of text, most of which centering on examples of women in literature or Marxist-feminism. Parshley also deconstructed de Beauvoir’s grammatical structure by splitting up her paragraphs and altering punctuation for the benefit of appealing to larger English-reading audiences. By cutting out the difficulty and glossing over the philosophical concepts, Parshley deprived the English-speaking world of a just treatment of Simone’s largely philosophical musings on the female condition.

The significance of The Second Sex is well documented elsewhere, so I’ll just spend a moment highlighting the parts most relevant to the new translation. The Second Sex centers on the idea of this dichotomy of human experiences, specifically pertaining to men and women. The book is at its core a deconstruction of the myriad myths that cause women to be seen and see themselves as “other,” secondary, and dominated. (A lot of these myths stem, no doubt, from their perpetuation in her relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre.) The Second Sex was originally published in two volumes, translated respectively by Borde and Malovany-Chevallier as “Facts and Myths” and “Lived Experiences.” Both of these volumes analyze the myths surrounding women’s lives from every perspective: biological, psychological, economic, literary, philosophical, anthropological, linguistic, etc. This characteristic is one of the many reasons why The Second Sex remains such a wonderful entry point into feminist consciousness for many women and men.

The overarching myth that the translators wanted to maintain and emphasize was that of economic monism – the idea that men are better-suited to economic prowess than women. This myth is perpetuated through the aforementioned fields of human experience such that women are subjugated to men in every social (and even biological) encounter. This myth – that men are the producers and women are reproducers – rings true even today, when we see women playing into the same system that subjugates them, thereby reproducing.

(Side note – one of my favorite quotations works well here: “I don’t want to reproduce, I want to make something entirely new.”)

Borde said her most crucial task in this translation was putting the philosophy back in the text (M.A. Simons famously documented this silencing in her 1983 piece.) Simone was a student of Hegel and Heidegger, and her understanding of “subject” was much more nuanced than Parshley could recognize. His translation of “subject” bent toward the idea of “subjective” and “personal,” rather than that of the greater of the two states of being – the subject being the one with complete freedom of choice (rather than the object). This complete glossing-over of the philosophical significance of Simone’s etymology has ramifications for one’s overall impression of the text as a whole. After all, the modern feminist movement was largely built on this text – one wonders how the second wave feminists might have treated class difference and economics differently had the original intent of Simone been conveyed into the English translation (sigh).

The goal of the new translation was to discover the original intent of Simone de Beauvoir and convey her voice as written in 1949. The new version is completely unabridged – this means keeping Simone’s pages-long paragraphs and unconventional punctuation (mostly, the semicolon). (At the event tonight we all toasted, “Vive la point-virgule!”, a poke at Simone’s affinity for the oft-abused and misunderstood punctuation.) But this adherence to the original intent has extremely rewarding results, namely, conveying the logic of her grammatical choices, which have great philosophical significance.

In French grammar, words are assigned a gender (masculine, feminine, or neutral). Simone recognized that assigning genders to the very language we use probably was not an accident, and the translators did not gloss over the significance. (I should mention here that I’ve studied French my entire life. My mom taught French to high schoolers and is fluent, and I went so far as to minor in French in college.) The gender of words in French (or other languages) is something foreign to English-speaking students of the language. I remember coming up with mnemonic devices for French grammar lessons in middle school, most of which centered on the idea that the words en féminine that didn’t follow normal patterns were usually the “sad” words: la mort, la guerre, la bataille – death, war, battle (also, interestingly, all of the words for sex organs are female). Of course, there’s the obvious that for the majority of French words, the masculine is the default, and to make something feminine, one must somehow modify the word (usually adding an “e” to the ending). This is one pattern that English-speakers can recognize: Waiter/Waitress, Host/Hostess, and the most obvious, Man/Woman.

Thus, the treatment of Simone de Beauvoir’s famous quotation – On ne naît pas femme: on le devient – is critically altered in the new translation. The translation of this sentence hinges on the translation of the word “femme.” In French, “la femme” can mean “woman,” “the woman,” “wife,” or “maid.” Without the article, “femme” tends to convey more of the idea of “woman” as an institution – a construct of femininity as determined by society. Adhering to de Beauvoir’s intent is key to the significance of the phrase. H.M. Parshley’s translation reads:

One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.”

Borde and Malovany-Chevallier translate the phrase as follows:

One is not born, but rather becomes, woman.”

This key treatment of the lack of an article is crucial. Clearly, Simone was not talking solely about the biological evolution into a physically mature woman. No, she was focused on the idea of “woman” as shaped by society.

After the English translation was published in late 2009 (in England, early 2010 in the United States), critics came out of the woodwork to jump to pick apart Borde and Malovany-Chevallier’s effort (including this inane review from the New York Times Book Review). I’m sure some of the critiques are warranted. The translators had previously worked on cookbooks and textbooks – definitely nothing this philosophical. And Toril Moi has an excellent analysis in the London Review of Books. However, the bigger picture is significant to keep in mind. The translators told the story of an Iranian woman who approached them at one of their stops on this book tour. She thanked them for helping to share Simone’s words with a new generation of women, for, she said, “reading this book made me realize I wasn’t insane.” The Second Sex is applicable to all societies and all eras of women – la lutte continue (the struggle continues). If the most important thing is to be free, then to be free necessitates understanding one’s condition. No work better addresses women – as constructs, biological beings, mothers, wives, workers – than The Second Sex, and I have such great respect for these women for toiling to provide as authentic a translation as possible.

The last question of the evening came from one of the outnumbered men in the room who asked whether if, given the advances of women over the past sixty years, any parts of the original text perhaps felt dated or irrelevant. Malovany-Chevallier softly replied, after a long pause, “very little.” She then reminded us of the story included during one of Simone’s long biological analyses, that of the relationship between the ovum and the sperm. Both equal gametes, the ovum’s job is to lay in wait for the sperm, endeavoring to create the best home for the future union. Simone remarked, “It might be rash to say that a woman’s place is [from the very start] in the home, but some people are rash.”

Indeed, there are many many myths remaining regarding women and people working had to perpetuate them. The myth of a woman’s place in society as beneath a man is manifested in many of our daily interactions, and to have a new translation of The Second Sex available is wonderful. To have one that rightly emphasizes the nuanced ways in which sexual hierarchy dominates our interactions – particularly economic – is truly revolutionary.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

by Julia

An investigation by The Baltimore Sun reports disturbing news about the Baltimore City Police Department and its handling of rape cases at every point in the investigation. As a proud Baltimore native and a staunch advocate for women’s rights, this upsets me greatly.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • 4 in 10 emergency calls alleging rape end in on-scene officers dismissing the case, concluding no further investigation is needed. These cases never make it to detectives or prosecutors.
  • More than 30 percent of the cases investigated by detectives each year are deemed unfounded, five times the national average.
  • The number of rapes reported in Baltimore has dropped by 80% over the last 15 years. The FBI reports the national rape rate over the same period of time has dropped by only 8%.

“Of the 194 reports of rape or attempted rape last year,” 62 (32%) were determined to be unfounded. In the vast majority of these cases, police say the victim recanted her story after initially seeking police involvement. If 40% of rape allegations are called “unfounded” in the field, and then 32% 0f those cases that do make it to investigators are delegitimized, the number of women who are suffering in silence from the emotional and physical toll of sexual assault is inexcusably high.

The Baltimore Sun, June 27 2010

A common response to rape allegations – whether in large cities or on college campuses – is that the women are lying, either to punish the alleged rapist, or to detract attention from infidelity, etc. But the facts surrounding rape allegations tell a different story. “Studies suggest the percentage of rape claims that are false is between 2 percent and 8 percent.” In an editorial in Sunday’s paper, The Sun puts it this way:

It is often too difficult for rape victims to come forward, to report their crimes and to see to it that their attackers are brought to justice. The problem is not that women routinely make up rape allegations — who would willingly submit themselves to such unjust public humiliation?

Rape victims often feel ashamed to report their allegations to others in large part because they may have been partaking in activities that are either illegal or embarrassing at the time of the assault. Most experts on sexual assault agree that when victims recant their previous allegations, it is to avoid further emotional turmoil, especially in cases in which police investigators are questioning them in a way which makes the victims feel their stories are not being taken seriously. Victims report being interrogated by detectives while in the ER just after receiving rape kits – some women are even threatened with lie detector tests or cell phone record and video footage investigations. After undergoing such intense questioning, is it any wonder that some women would choose to recant their stories and attempt recovery on their own, rather than having to undergo scrutiny?

Rape is different from other crimes. Not only does it involve a violation more profound than any other crime but it also comes with a social stigma that forces victims to relive the pain again and again. No one suggests that a victim of a carjacking was really asking for it. No one asks whether an assault might really have been consensual. When a robbery victim is on the witness stand, the most private details of her life are not dissected under cross examination.”

The issue of determined a rape as “unfounded” in Baltimore is further complicated by high rates of prostitution and drug usage. One woman reportedly recanted an account of rape because she was “tired of people thinking they can do what they want to people because of her situation being a prostitute.” The message to police should be crystal clear: a victim’s activities at the time of an alleged sexual assault have no bearing on whether or not a crime occurred. Every case should be treated seriously, regardless of whether a woman was high, drunk, disabled, involved in prostitution, wearing a short skirt, walking in a bad area…etc. As to consent, the absence of ‘no’ is not ‘yes.’

Baltimore and Other Cities

There is an egregious disconnect between the reported number of sexual assaults in the city, and, in all likelihood, the number of actual rapes per year. Baltimore is one of only two cities in the nation in which homicide rates are significantly higher than reported rapes (the other is New Orleans, where a similar investigation is being conducted). Baltimore’s reported rape rates match up with relatively low-crime cities like Toledo and San Francisco, while our homicide rates more closely match Detroit and Philadelphia. [see graph]

A group of 50 detectives is responsible for all of the rape and child abuse cases in the city. (The Sun’s investigation uncovered that Detective Anthony Faulk Jr. is responsible for one-fifth of the unfounded reports, shelving 14 cases last year (the next highest “unfounded” case rate among the detectives is six) I would love to sit down and talk to this guy…) According to city procedure, officers in this unit must file chargers before the Baltimore state’s attorney office gets involved with the investigation. This recent rape statistic story has unearthed a longstanding conflict between the Police Department and the prosecutor’s office about who has “charging rights” in sexual abuse cases. Sometimes, there isn’t physical evidence of sexual assault (non-consensual, non-violent sex between a couple could be an example in some cases), and the only thing the police can go on – the only “proof” – is the woman’s word. This shows how vitally important the initial interaction between the victim and the police is in fully prosecuting a rape case.

Other cities (such as Philadelphia and Pittsburgh) have dealt with the changing nature of investigating sexual assault, as departments become more educated on the ideas of affirmative consent. Departments with relatively good sexual assault response programs often dispatch specialized units to respond to 911 calls. These departments also have specific classifications for sexual assault allegations which are later recanted by the victim – these reports are filed away and can be reopened if/when the victim decides to prosecute. These departments have it right – the focus should be on prosecuting the rapist – not on blaming the victim or making her feel uncomfortable for not having “evidence.”

The Next Step

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has ordered an audit of police procedure and statistics following The Sun’s investigation. As I’ve written previously, Rawlings-Blake has been a solid advocate for women’s rights in the past. Last year as City Council President, Ms. Rawlings-Blake ordered all Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) in Baltimore City to clearly display that they do not offer referrals or services for abortion or contraception. Baltimore was the first major city in the US to enact such a policy. Just last month at a Take Back the Night event in Baltimore, the Mayor spoke out about the importance of recognizing and reducing sexual assault, stating, “The number of women living with the long-term affects of sexual assault is much higher than reported.”

The Sun also reports that a task force has been created to further investigate the procedures of the department as well as look into the cases that have been deemed “unfounded” in the past. On Tuesday, it was announced that a rape hotline would be implemented to encourage victims to come forward with rape allegations by reducing the anxiety surrounding a police interrogation. Until police are adequately trained in dealing with rape reports, outsourcing sexual assault cases to experts is the right call.

Baltimore needs to utilize every possible avenue towards protecting rape victims moving forward. 911 response teams need to be trained to respect every victim and treat each allegation seriously. Investigators need to learn how to tactfully question victims to gain information about the situation, and when to it is time to stop questioning. If rape victims cannot trust their government to take them seriously in their allegations, how can we even begin to think about ways to reduce rape occurrences in our city? Rape victims are violated in the most extreme way. It is now the city’s job to convince residents that they “won’t be victimized again by a callous, cynical police department” and to take action to treat rape victims with the respect that should be afforded to citizens who turn to the law for protection.

Read Full Post »

by Julia

This is a paper I recently wrote for my Sociology of Gender class here at Maryland. Limited to 5 or so pages, I had to cut out a ton of elaborations on some of these concepts, but this topic is something in which I’m super interested (and probably would have written my thesis on, had I not been applying to law school last fall). I thought it was pertinent to the topics on this blog, so yea!  (Also, it’s so much more fun to write papers with links.) I encourage comments/questions!

In the decades since the second wave feminists rallied Washington for equal rights, American women have certainly achieved great bounds in education and professional advancement relative to men. While many in society cite these measures as sufficient for deeming feminism irrelevant and unnecessary in an age of such “equality,” these economic measures of women’s equality are, in fact, continuations of patriarchal controls. The gendered institution of capitalism – which through clever marketing purports to be a liberating product of sexual revolution and empowerment – is just another means of reinforcing female subordination through social, political, and economic means. The increased position of women in the labor force is not a sign of liberation, but rather a reproduction of masculine hegemony under the guise of economic choice. The marketing of particular fashion and beauty products to women “appears to displace traditional modes of patriarchal authority” (McRobbie 2007:718), in that, through their increased earnings and prominence in the work force, women can buy products which supposedly liberate them. Capitalism in general works to subordinate one class of people to another through limited access to means of advancement. Capitalism as a gendered institution allows women to advance only to the point at which they believe they have real choice – in their spending patterns, their job options, their life plans. In reality, capitalism serves to reinforce the patriarchal ownership and control structures of society all within the false discourse of women’s liberation and economic choice.

Gendered institutions are established and advanced through a variety of social regulations. Capitalism is no different from other gendered institutions like religion, education, the media, or families. It is both constructed and regulated by formal laws, cultural practices, and discourses. This paper will focus on the latter two categories as a means of reinforcing capitalism as a gendered institution. As mentioned previously, the wide dissemination of discourses surrounding of women’s liberation and putative equality (through both job opportunities and consumerism) is, paradoxically, a means of securing gender retrenchment (McRobbie 2007). One need only look to the myriad products marketed towards women in a way which pretends to be liberating, but is really reinforcing gender stereotypes surrounding behavior, appearance, and (perhaps most important) proper roles in society.

Philosopher Nina Power writes that in this 21st century interpretation of feminism as consumerism, “the desire for emancipation starts to look like something wholly interchangeable with the desire to simply buy more things” (2009: 27-28). She continues that, “stripped of any political quality [to, perhaps, challenge or overturn the patriarchal economy], feminism becomes about as radical as a diamanté phone cover” (2009: 30). Indeed, many of the products recently marketed to women all carry the mantra of liberation – freedom from under-arm hair (Dove deodorant), menstrual cycles (Seasonale), or even pesky stomach aches (probiotic yogurt)– yet they all serve to reinforce the patriarchal domination over women’s bodies and tendencies through compulsory femininity. [1]

Consumerism for modern women is centered not only around the myth of liberation, but also is deeply intertwined with the sexualization of female consumers. McRobbie discusses the myth in great detail, but the discourse can be summarized as follows: “to secure a post-feminist gender settlement, [women must sign] a new sexual contract” (2007: 721). What McRobbie means by this is that the “supposed liberation of women comes in the form of sexualized products [while] wrapped in discourses of individualism, consumerism, and empowerment[2]” (Evans, Riley, Shankar 2010: 115). The recent trends of young girls with Playboy icons on their school supplies, middle-aged women taking pole-dancing aerobics classes, vajazzling, the compulsion to get Brazilian bikini waxes – all of these appear to be means of self-liberation, and the realization of the goals of second-wave feminism. However, these specific purchases are merely the “choices” which capitalism as a gendered institution designs for women to keep them slightly subordinated, while female consumers believe these purchases are either signs of achieving equality or means of advancing towards it. These sexualized products used by women “employ the signifiers of patriarchal and objectifying practices to produce the signified meaning of liberation, assertiveness, and power” (Evans et al. 2010: 120). These dominant consumerist discourses support the theory of social constructionism. Women’s sexuality is not fixed – it is a site of struggle – but capitalism works as a gendered institution to perpetuate the myth that a certain, hyper-sexualized type of woman is the paradigm to which all other women should aspire.

Since the 1960s and the “sexual revolution,” companies have had to work harder to convince “liberated” and working women that their products are still necessary to women’s advancement and happiness. The cultural practices of buying products are further purported to be individual choices, but they actually align with a very specific narrative of capitalist society. Women are so conditioned “to think that [their] behaviors are individual (a degree is an ‘investment,’ starting a family is a ‘personal choice’), that [they] miss the collective and historical dimensions of [their] current situation” (Power 2009: 34). Capitalism works only when certain groups (workers) are subordinated to other groups (owners). Applying an intersectional analysis, Evans et al. realize that gender discrimination is evident in capitalism, but so is racism and classism (and it has been that way since the industrialized period). Capitalist owners subordinate lower classes through their monetary prowess and alienate workers from each other through manufactured compulsions towards competition amongst themselves. It is also pertinent to recognize the power of the patriarchy in shaping how capitalism works to not only subordinate women but also to alienate them from each other and their collective voice.

In this way, capitalist corporations have created a subtle discourse within society that there is no longer any place for feminism – that women can simply work to buy themselves freedom. This is particularly dangerous because it also supports the narrative that critical thinking about one’s condition is no longer necessary. McRobbie writes that “the attribution of apparently post-feminist freedoms to women most manifest within the cultural realm […] becomes, in fact, the occasion for the undoing of feminism” (2007: 719). What goes often unconsidered in this narrative is that waged work is required for this consumed emancipation. Women have always been laborers – only recently has a percentage of their work been recognized as worthy of pay – but now, this waged labor is even less of a choice because of capitalism’s pressures to consume certain products as well as the lack of sufficient social services to allow women real choices, like parental leave. With the dominant narrative that women’s freedoms are intrinsically tied to products comes the inevitable commodification of women’s bodies.

This dangerous narrative has catastrophic consequences for the subordination of women within the economy: “The particular commodity, with whose bodily form [women] the equivalent form [the product] is thus socially identified, now becomes the money commodity, or serves as money” (Marx 1867: 80). This compulsion to consume products in this particularly “post-feminist” and highly sexualized sense is especially challenging for those with fewer resources. There exists a feeling that one must consume in order to fit the feminine – nay, American – ideal (Hong 2006).  Those who feel that they must work just to consume these products of subordination are experiencing patriarchal capitalism on multiple levels – by purchasing sexualized products, lower-class women are experiencing a false sense of empowerment, but because they are working just to consume, they are essentially becoming the aforementioned Marxist commodities.

Post-feminist consumerism exists in a manner which creates an entire commodity culture (Jameson 1991). In this way, “culture” precludes any possibility for true gender equality – it is so saturated with the importance of capital that individual attributes are intentionally ignored. The myth of individualism and liberation intertwined with the consumption of products reinforces the power of capitalism as a gendered institution – designed by men, it is no wonder that capitalism works tirelessly to continually appease women with fun products so they will not truly question the structure of the economy which continually pays them less for equal work and which allows few choices for women outside of the household. It is difficult to tell what products capitalism will develop next to perpetuate its constructed myth of gender equality. What is certain is that, as long as capitalism exists as a major institution of the patriarchy, it will work tirelessly not only for class stratification, but also gender stratification – these are the processes through which the system survives. Touting the recent advancements of women in education and the work force is not sufficient – until sexist capitalism is no longer consumed and supported by financially successful women, it will continue to construct and reinforce a commodity culture which relies upon the subordination of the class of women.

Bibliography:

Evans, Adrienne, Sarah Riley, and Avi Shankar. 2010. “Technologies of Sexiness: Theorizing Women’s Engagement in the Sexualization of Culture.Feminism Psychology. 20:114-133.

Hong, Grace Kyungwon. 2006. The Rupture of American Capital: Women of Color, Feminism, and the Culture of Immigrant Labor. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Jameson, Fredric. 1991. Postmodernism or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Marx, Karl. 1867. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. New York: Random House, Inc.

McRobbie, Angela. 2007. “Top Girls? Young Women and the Post-Feminist Social Contract.” Cultural Studies. 21:718-737.

Power, Nina. 2009. One Dimensional Woman. Winchester UK: O Books.


[1] It should also be noted that men also suffer under the gendered institution of capitalism. Nor are they immune to the sexualized consumerism of late. This paper, however, focuses on the group most targeted and damaged by gendered consumerism.

[2] And “often excluding those who are not white, heterosexual, and slim.”

Read Full Post »

by Julia


After months of tea partying, Stupak (“baby killer!!”), death panels, and “bipartisanship,” Congress passed legislation late Sunday night designed to greatly expand health care coverage and combat the tyranny of medical insurance companies. Despite my reservations about the bill, I am confident that this step is significant for millions of Americans in a similar way that Civil rights legislation was to previous generations under Johnson in 1964. President Obama and Congressional Democrats weighed reelection and popularity with the plight of the under-insured – particularly the lower classes – and thankfully, their ideological beliefs trumped potential losses in the 2010 and 2012 cycles. George Packer at the New Yorker writes:

“Civil rights brought an oppressed minority of Americans closer to equality, and—as Johnson knew—was so hated across the South that it was bound to cost the Democrats the region. Health-care reform, if it does what its supporters claim, will humanize a system in which the vast majority of Americans feel trapped. It will redress social and economic, not racial, injustices. Its breadth and potential effect will resemble those of Social Security and Medicare far more than civil rights—programs that became prime instances of popular activist government and tied substantial segments of the electorate to the Democratic Party for decades.”

The reform purportedly will cost $940 billion over 10 years. Not too shabby, recalling that the US budgets $700 billion annually for the military. The real test, of course, is whether the legislation actual delivers on the glossy prediction of increased equality. Among other things, the legislation:

  • Expands coverage to 32 million currently uninsured Americans
  • Bans denial of coverage or higher premiums based on pre-existing conditions (phased in by 2014)
  • Bans higher premiums for women
  • Creates an exchange market in which small business owners can shop for insurance coverage for their employees
  • Taxes households making over $250,000 in order to pay for the expanded coverage to the lower classes
  • Allows young adults to stay on their parents insurance through age 26 regardless of college enrollment
  • Requires everyone to have insurance, either under Medicare/Medicaid or private insurance (those without insurance coverage will pay a $695 annual fine. No word on who exactly enforces this clause…)
  • Closes the Medicare prescription drug donut hole
  • Consolidates all student loans under the government starting in July and greatly increases Pell Grant funds
  • Places a 10% tax on tanning salons (sorry, Jersey Shore)

The bad news:

  • Abortion – a legal medical procedure – is still not covered by federal funds (though, without a public option, this basically maintains the status quo of Hyde.) Jos over at Feministing fears that the incredible silence on the part of pro-choice organizations will lead to a further marginalization of women’s rights, and she’s right.
  • Women insured by private companies will be forced, by the Nelson “compromise,” to pay separately for abortion coverage and the rest of their health insurance. Political scientists predict that this clause will ultimately lead to the elimination of abortion coverage by all private insurance companies. Stellar.
  • The bill lacks a public option. We are very much still at the mercy of insurance and Big Pharma, and anyone who tells you otherwise is greatly deluded.
  • It prevents undocumented immigrants from purchasing insurance through the exchange.

The conversation is far from over. Major props to Ezra Klein for his start-to-finish coverage of the process of health care reform, and to the Tea Party for providing plenty of comic relief. Lest we forget: underneath all of the bantering from both sides about the faults of government-run health care, there are millions of uninsured Americans declaring bankruptcy and in some cases dying for lack of health care. This is unacceptable in any society, and it is about time that the United States takes care of its citizens. Is the legislation perfect? Not at all, especially because it lacks a public option. But passing legislation which begins to establish equality in access to a necessity for survival is something I can and should support. Here’s hoping for continued reform and expansion (and abortion coverage).

Read Full Post »

by Elizabeth

Planned Parenthood has released a fabulous video response to the notorious Tim Tebow Focus on the Family advertisement that is slated to air during the Superbowl. The Planned Parenthood ad features former college and professional football player Sean James and gold medalist Al Joyner delivering a beautifully feminist message:

“Only women can make the best decisions about their health and future…We celebrate families by supporting our mothers. By supporting our daughters. By trusting women.”

This message of choices– and the acknowledgment that Mrs. Tebow’s decision not to terminate her pregnancy was a choice itself- is clearly a direct response to the criticism the Tebow ad received.  Sure, Focus on the Family is anti-choice, but the push to pull the ad is counter-productive. What both Focus on the Family and  Planned Parenthood are expressing is the need to “protect the right of women like Pam Tebow to make their private reproductive choices.” And hurrah to Planned Parenthood for doing so in a positive, pro-choice manner!

Read Full Post »

by Elizabeth

“Gosh, I step away for a couple of years and there’s no telling what’s going to happen,” Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor joked recently in a speech at Georgetown University. Following Tuesday’s decision to strike down bans on corporate spending in elections, it seems that truer words have never been spoken.

Last Sunday’s Politics Daily online show, Woman UP, discussed O’Connor’s palpable absence on the Court, a feminist issue in two senses. First, without O’Connor’s the Court has made several 5-4 decisions with remarkable implications for women’s rights in America. Further, O’Connor’s early retirement to care for her ailing husband sparks a familiar dialogue on women as caretakers, often at the expense of their careers. The Woman UP panel, consisting of Jill Lawrence, Patricia Murphy, Emily Miller, and Bonnie Erbé, made evident that SCOTUS would have very different dynamic– and certainly a better one– had O’Connor not been made to retire.

The very first woman on the Supreme Court, O’Connor was a law school graduate who’d been offered secretarial jobs. But as a Reagan nominee who Grew up on a Cattle Ranch in the American Southwest, O’Connor was often criticized for never quite fitting the image of a modern feminist. Her husband was known to have spent his days in her chambers while she worked, and O’Connor herself notably delayed her career until her three sons were in school. On her clerks’ door she left a Xerox of her hand with a note that read, “For a pat on the back, lean here.”

But O’Connor was a justice who, after listening to colleague Antonin Scalia constantly rail against affirmative action, responded, “How do you think I got my job?” A pioneer and most often the swing vote, she helped to protect several key policy issues for women’s rights. Though O’Connor allowed certain limits to be placed on access to abortion, she supported the fundamental right to abortion protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In Planned Parenthood v. Casey, she used a test she had originally developed in City of Akron v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health to limit the holding of Roe v. Wade. Though the decision limited the scope of its protections, Casey upheld Roe; writing the plurality opinion for the Court, O’Connor famously declared, “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State.”

O’Connor’s decision to retire in 2006 inevitably disappointed some.

Some criticized her decision to step-down because of her husband’s health as anti-feminist. Others lamented the loss of the crucial, protecting fifth vote. In 2007, O’Connor told Newsweek that she had did not intend for her career on the high court to end as it did, noting that she probably would have worked until she died or became incapacitated, like most (male) justices. “Most of them get ill and are really in bad shape, which I would’ve done at the end of the day myself, I suppose, except my husband was ill and I needed to take action there,” she said.

While, I certainly wish she had stuck it out, O’Connor’s resignation and heavily weighed absence are a reminder that even for the women of country’s nine elite, life/work balance is an elusive concept. As the Woman UP panel contends (and about which they argue whenever defensive and ignorant-seeming Emily Miller speaks up), is that no male judge has ever been forced to early retirement because of his wife or family. Indeed, it seems those “family issues” that force so many male politicians into resignation are really, well, just their own stupidity in having extramarital affairs.

Though we can’t say for sure that women would have been absolutely protected if O’Connor had kept her seat, Jill Lawrence outlines four contentious 5-4 decisions from 2007 alone that likely would have changed with O’Connor’s vote. Among them are the Lily Ledbetter decision and the Gonzales partial-birth abortion ban.

O’Connor has been quite vocal about last week’s 5-4 decision on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which overturns federal restrictions on corporate campaign contributions. She says the ruling essentially reverses the 2003 opinion she helped write and threatens the independence of state courts. She told CNN, “It has the effect of turning judges into these politically elected figures in arms races, if you will, by people with the means to support them.”

Even though O’Connor refused to identify herself as a feminist, her decisions and beliefs suggested a jurisprudence we certainly miss.  O’Connor, who will be 80 in March, was, and is, at the top of her game- and as Jill concluded her piece, “that makes it all the more painful that she’s on the sidelines.”

Read Full Post »