The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) – an international organization of parliamentarians - released its annual review of Women in Parliament last week at the United Nations, showing a record number of women winning Parliamentary seats around the world.
Overall, there was a 1.5 percentage increase last year in the number of women holding seats in government worldwide. Rwanda has the most, with women now comprising over 60 percent of its Parliament. Latin America recorded the highest electoral gains, with Ecuador, Grenada, and Argentina now among the 39 countries in the “above-30 percent club,” meaning women comprise over 30 percent of their government.
Unfortunately, almost no progress was reported in Asia and Pacific, and the United States and Canada are way behind. The US ranks 83rd out of the 189 countries surveyed, with women filling only 18.5 percent of seats in Congress [PDF].
“The record-breaking increase of women in national parliaments in 2013 is encouraging, but we are still far from equality,” said current UN Women Executive Director and South African politician, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. “Around the world, women are excluded from parliaments by discrimination, violence, party structures, poverty and a lack of finance.”
Because quotas have been one of the tools successfully used to improve women’s access to political leadership, the IPU report calls for more ambitious and detailed quotas. “Temporary special measures like quotas are working, and UN Women will keep supporting the efforts for women, political parties, governments and civil society to increase women’s political leadership and participation,” Mlambo-Ngcuka added.
Media Resources: United Nations News Centre 3/7/14; Center for American Women and Politics, Women in the US Congress 2014; Inter-Parliamentary Union
The National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) released its 2013 census report documenting the continued, dramatic need for domestic violence services and a lack of adequate resources for domestic violence shelters and programs that are struggling to help victims in need.
“Domestic Violence Counts: Census 2013 Report” was conducted by surveying domestic violence programs on a single day, September 17, 2013. Eighty-seven percent of identified domestic violence programs participated. On just that one day, 66,581 victims received services from programs across the United States. Over half of those found refuge in emergency shelters or transitional housing, including 19,431 children, while others received non-residential assistance such as counseling, legal advocacy, or children’s support groups. In addition, 20,267 hotline calls were answered, providing support, safety planning, and other resources.
Although thousands of victims were assisted, almost nearly 10,000 requests for some kind of service went unmet. Over 60 percent of denied requests involved the need for housing, which many shelters and programs could not provide because of a lack of resources and staff. Lack of resources is directly related to reduced government funding and decreases in private and individual donations, even as the demand for services has increased, in part because of mandatory domestic violence screening required by the Affordable Care Act.
“Every day in this country, victims of domestic violence are bravely reaching out for help, and it’s essential that they have somewhere safe to go,” said Kim Gandy, President and CEO of the NNEDV. “We have made so much progress toward ending violence and giving survivors avenues for safety. But continued program cuts jeopardize that progress and jeopardize the lives of victims.”
When victims reaching out cannot receive the necessary services, 60 percent of programs report that victims return to their abusers, 27 percent report that victims become homeless, and another 11 percent report that they end up living in their cars. One in four women in the US experience domestic violence during adulthood, and three women are murdered every day by an abuser. [PDF].
Advocates for victims of domestic violence have called on members of Congress to allocate an additional $40 million in funding to support domestic violence programs through the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act and $147 million for the comprehensive criminal justice response to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking through the Violence Against Women Act.
Media Resources: National Network to End Domestic Violence; ThinkProgress 3/7/14; Feminist Newswire 1/16/14
Across the country, state legislatures are moving to restrict access to abortion to the point of elimination. Though the courts have already struck down several such statutes, including Arizona’s 20-week abortion ban, a wave of new laws is currently making its way through the legislatures of several states, including Arizona, Oklahoma, South Dakota, West Virginia, Georgia, and Alabama.
Last week, the Georgia State Senate passed a bill that would prohibit state-sponsored insurance from covering abortions, with no exceptions for rape or incest and a narrow exception for health issues. On the same day, Alabama advanced four separate anti-choice provisions that would make it more difficult for minors to obtain abortions, extend the waiting period on abortions, ban abortion after six weeks, and require women to receive more counseling about alternatives before terminating a pregnancy.
“We know that state politicians want abortion to be illegal, and they aren’t always able to do it outright,” Gretchen Borchelt, director of state reproductive health-care policy at the National Women’s Law Center, told RH Reality Check. ”So what they are doing is pushing restrictions that make abortion more unaffordable, or interfere with a woman’s ability to get access to abortion.”
A similar six-week abortion ban has already been put on hold by courts in North Dakota for overstepping Roe v. Wade. Meanwhile, West Virginia’s House passed its own 20-week abortion ban in late February.
Targeted regulations of abortion providers (TRAP laws) currently working their way through the legislatures in Arizona and Oklahoma threaten clinic operations more directly. Oklahoma’s new bill, which was overwhelmingly approved by the Oklahoma House of Representatives last Thursday, would instate rules for clinics requiring their doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, a provision similar to the one passed over the summer in Texas and now causing dozens of clinics to close. Arizona’s state House has also approved a new bill that would allow for unannounced inspections of abortion clinics within the state, which may be used by public officials to harass abortion providers.
Finally, in South Dakota, a number of new laws have been introduced on the subject of reproductive rights. In addition to last month’s proposal for a 7-week abortion ban, the state has proposed legislation that would ban sex-selective abortion. The bill passed the House two weeks ago and is presently up for debate in the state Senate. South Dakota’s House also approved a change last week that would prohibit any pregnancy help center not just from discussing abortion, but from discussing adoption or providing referrals to adoption agencies.
Media Resources: ThinkProgress 3/5/14, 3/13/13; WSAZ 2/26/14; Reuters 3/5/14; RH Reality Check 2/12/14, 2/25/14, 3/4/14, 3/5/14; Seattle Post-Intelligencer 3/5/14; New York Times 1/13/14, 3/4/14; Feminist Newswire 2/19/14, 3/6/14
Although 20 years have passed since the government instituted legislation requiring adequate female representation in medical studies, a recent study finds that a significant sex and gender gap still persists in medical research.
“Sex-Specific Medical Research: Why Women’s Health Can’t Wait” by researchers at the Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Jacobs Institute at George Washington University Hospital finds that scientists still fail to account for differences between males and females. This discrepancy persists through all stages of research and affects the ability of general practitioners to provide proper care to women.
According to Dr. Paula Johnson, one of the authors of the report, studies either fail to include enough women or fail to break down the results by sex. This is particularly problematic because diseases and medications impact men and women differently. “The science that informs medicine routinely fails to consider the impact of sex and gender, and this occurs at some of the earliest stages of research — from animal to human studies,” said Johnson.
In response to this report, presented at the Women’s Health Summit in Boston on Monday, Senator Elizabeth Warren has publicly stated her intention to push for new laws that would create greater oversight for federal agencies and ensure greater representation of women in medical research. She aims to mandate that the number of women represented in a study is proportional to the number who have the disease.
Feminist scholars and advocates in the 1970s and 80s had pointed out that women (and even female animals) were excluded from most clinical studies and lobbied for a change in the prevailing practice. When this medical research gender gap gained public recognition, women’s health advocates, feminist activists and scholars, and women members of Congress fought hard for change. In a hard won victory, President Bill Clinton signed the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Revitalization Act of 1993, mandating that women and minorities be included in clinical studies funded by the NIH. The FDA also reversed a policy that women of childbearing age could not be in clinical trials for drug approval, and the FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention established women’s health offices in 1994, as reported by Mary Jane Horton in the Ms. magazine Winter/Spring 2014 issue.
Media Resources: Brigham and Women’s Hospital 2014; Boston Herald 3/4/14; The State Column 3/4/14; Fox News 3/3/14; National Institutes of Health; Ms. Magazine Blog 3/3/14
The US Senate blocked passage of the Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA). The 55-45 vote on the bill, sponsored by Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), reflected a bipartisan majority, but MJIA did not receive the 60 procedural votes needed to break a filibuster and progress.
“I always hoped we could do the right thing here – and deliver a military justice system that is free from bias and conflict of interest – a military justice system that is worthy of the brave men and women who fight for us,” said Senator Gillibrand in comments delivered after the vote.
MJIA, S. 1752, would have removed the prosecution of sexually violent crimes in the military from the chain-of-command and given the responsibility to independent military prosecutors. It was originally an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014 (NDAA), but Senator Gillibrand re-introduced it as a separate stand-alone measure. The Armed Services Committee and the Pentagon heavily opposed the bill.
Senator Gillibrand also thanked the effort and commitment of those who had helped her champion the bill, including especially survivors of sexual assault in the military. “We owe our gratitude to the brave survivors who, despite being betrayed by their chain of command, continue to serve their country by fighting for a justice system that will help make sure no one else suffers the same tragedy they did Their struggles, sacrifice and courage inspire me every day. They may not wear the uniform anymore, but they believe so strongly in these reforms that for a full year now, they marched the halls of this Congress, reliving the horror they endured, telling their stories, in hopes that no one else who serves our country has to suffer as they did. Tragically, today the Senate failed them.” The Senator vowed, however, that “we will not walk away, we will continue to work harder than ever in the coming year to strengthen our military.”
After voting against MJIA, the Senate then voted to advance the Victim Protection Act of 2014, which would expand upon reforms passed last year – such as prohibiting defendants from using evidence of their good military character to fight charges – but would continue to allow commanders to handle sexual assault within their ranks.
President Obama in December called for a year-long review of military sexual trauma and the steps being taken to reduce it. The 2014 NDAA also included provisions to address military sexual assault. Under the 2014 NDAA, an individual in the military who sexually assaults another will face dishonorable discharge, and commanders will not be able to overturn jury decisions. Legal assistance will be provided for victims, and retaliation against a victim will be punished.
Media Resources: RH Reality Check 3/6/14; Senator Kirsten Gillibrand Press Release 3/6/14; OpenCongress; Feminist Newswire 12/23/13, 1/2/14, 2/10/14
Do corporations have a legal right to track your car? If you think that is a purely academic question, think again. Working with groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, states are considering laws to prevent private companies from continuing to mass photograph license plates.
This is one of the backlashes to the news about mass surveillance. However, this backlash is now facing legal pushback from the corporations who take the photographs and then sell the data gleaned from the images.
In a lawsuit against the state of Utah, Digital Recognition Network, Inc. and Vigilant Solutions are attempting to appropriate the ACLU’s own pro-free speech arguments for themselves. They argue that a recent Utah law banning them from using automated cameras to collect images, locations and times of license plates is a violation of their own free speech rights. Indeed, in an interview, DRN’s counsel Michael Carvin defends this practice by noting, “Everyone has a First Amendment right to take these photographs and disseminate this information.”
He argues that a license plate is an inherently public piece of information.
“The only purpose of license plate information is to identify a vehicle to members of the public,” he says. “The government has no problem with people taking pictures of license plates in a particular location. But for some irrational reason it has a problem with people taking high speed photographs of those license plates.”
The analogy to an individual’s right to take photos only goes so far, though. Vigilant’s website notes that “DRN fuels a national network of more than 550 affiliates,” its tracking “technology is used in every major metropolitan area” and it “captures data on over 50 million vehicles each month.”
“This is a complicated area where we are going to need to carefully balance First Amendment rights of corporations versus individuals privacy rights,” says ACLU attorney Catherine Crump. “The mere fact that an individual has a First Amendment right doesn’t mean that right is unlimited. There are circumstances under which the government is free to regulate speech.”
Crump cited the Fair Credit Reporting Act and laws regulating the dissemination of health information as examples of legal privacy-related restrictions of speech rights.
“One could argue that the privacy implications of a private individual taking a picture of a public place is sufficiently less than a company collecting millions of license plate images,” Crump says. “Especially with technology becoming more widespread and databases going back in time, there may be justification for regulation.”
The Wall Street Journal reports that DRN’s own website boasted to its corporate clients that it can “combine automotive data such as where millions of people drive their cars … with household income and other valuable information” so companies can “pinpoint consumers more effectively.” Yet, in announcing its lawsuit, DRN and Vigilant argue that their methods do not violate individual privacy because the “data collected, stored or provided to private companies (and) to law enforcement … is anonymous, in the sense that it does not contain personally identifiable information.”
In response, Crump says: “This is the same argument that the NSA made in the face of public outcry about its collection of telephone metadata, The argument was essentially, we’re not collecting information about people, we are collecting info about telephone numbers. But every telephone number is associated with an individual, just like a license plate is.”
The courts could follow corporate personhood precedents and strengthen First Amendment protections for private firms. Alternately, the courts could more narrowly rule on whether individuals’ license plate information is entitled to any minimal privacy protections.
Either way, the spat epitomizes how the collision of free speech rights, the desire for private and the expansion of data-collecting technology is raising huge questions about what is—and is not—public.
The US Senate blocked President Obama’s nominee to lead the Civil Rights Division within the Department of Justice.
Senators voted 47-52 yesterday in opposition to Debo Adegbile, a highly qualified attorney who worked in private practice at the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison before holding several leadership positions at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, including Director of Litigation, Acting President, Director-Counsel, and Special Counsel, and serving as senior counsel to the US Senate Judiciary Committee.
Adegbile is a voting rights expert. He has twice defended the Voting Rights Act before the US Supreme Court, including in Shelby County v. Holder, the case in which the Court, by a 5-4 vote, invalidated the preclearance formula – meant to protect against pervasive discrimination in voting - in Section 4 of the Act. The Civil Rights Division enforces the Voting Rights Act and other federal laws that protect the right to vote.
Those opposed to the Adegbile’s nomination claimed they were concerned about the NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s representation of Mumia Abu-Jamal on an appeal during Adegbile’s tenure at the organization. Abu-Jamal was convicted of the 1981 murder of a Philadelphia police officer and sentenced to death. After his conviction, NAACP LDF represented Abu-Jamal in an appeal focusing on the propriety of the sentencing instructions given to the jury. A federal court twice sided with Abu-Jamal, finding that his constitutional rights had been violated and commuting his sentence from death to life imprisonment.
President Obama issued a strong statement calling the failure of the Senate to approve Adegbile’s nomination “a travesty based on wildly unfair character attacks against a good and qualified public servant. Mr. Adegbile’s qualifications are impeccable. He represents the best of the legal profession, with wide-ranging experience, and the deep respect of those with whom he has worked. His unwavering dedication to protecting every American’s civil and Constitutional rights under the law – including voting rights – could not be more important right now.”
Barbara Arnwine, President and Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, commented that the Senate vote “reflects a larger and extremely troubling attack on civil rights taking place on the Senate floor and Capitol Hill. The day that a nominee of this caliber is blocked for supporting voting rights, diversity programs in higher education, and the equal protection of all citizens in the criminal justice system, signals a moment in our history that we as Americans must take a hard look at the direction we as a democracy are headed.”
Civil Rights groups also expressed concern about the Senate’s improper use of the Mumia Abu-Jamal case to defeat the nomination. “Today’s filibuster should concern every person who care about our justice system,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “Every person deserves adequate legal representation. Our system won’t work if talented attorneys refuse to represent unpopular clients.”
Media Resources: Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law 3/5/14; Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights 3/5/14; Slate 3/5/14; The Washington Post 3/5/14, 11/14/13; The White House 3/5/14; Feminist Newswire 6/25/13
Three more abortion clinics in Texas have been forced to close this week, thanks to extreme restrictions passed last summer.
Texas had 44 abortion clinics just 3 years ago, but only 19 have survived the onslaught of restrictive laws so far. If the laws are not changed or blocked by courts in the next few months, Texas could be down to only 6 clinics in September, a frightening number in a state where there are currently about 70,000 legal abortion procedures each year. The abortion clinic closures, coupled with the closing of some 55 family planning clinics after Texas cut their funding, has already created a crisis in availability of reproductive health services. Already, experts, such as Amy Hagstrom, Founder of the Whole Women’s Health, are reporting that some Texas women are resorting to dangerous self-induced or illegal abortions.
“As a result of additional provisions of this law, the number will likely decrease to six as of September 1,” Charlotte Taft, the director of the Abortion Care Network said in a statement. “Services will only be in the largest cities. There will be hundreds of miles without any safe abortion care. With a population of nearly 27 million people, this is a state of emergency for Texas women.”
The law in question, HB 2, passed last summer and has been kept in place after several ongoing court battles. It restricts the prescription of medication abortion, bans abortion after 20 weeks, requires abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles, and mandates that facilities where abortion is performed meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers.
Of these regulations, the admitting privileges requirement and surgical center standards are the most onerous. The admitting privileges requirement is a catch-22 law. The abortion clinic doctors have simply been refused admitting privileges. Doctors are not receiving admitting privileges because of political pressure – and some doctors cannot receive them because they have to be flown in from other areas because of threats to local doctors. What’s more, in the rare case of a complication requiring hospital admission, the hospital must admit the patient, whether or not the doctor has admitting privileges at that hospital. In addition, the surgical center standards impose high costs for unnecessary structural and operational changes, and very little time to adhere to them.
The three clinics that closed this week were located in communities with high poverty rates and many uninsured or underinsured residents. Two were in the Rio Grande Valley, one of the poorest areas in the United States, which now does not have even one reproductive health clinic left. Rio Grande women will be forced to travel two and a half hours to reach the nearest abortion clinic. The dozens of clinic closures in Texas have had a significant impact on low-income and rural women who often do not have the money or means of transportation to travel long distances to a clinic.
Media Resources: The Houston Chronicle 3/5/14; RH Reality Check 3/5/14; ThinkProgress 3/6/14; Associated Press 3/6/14; The Center for Reproductive Rights 3/6/14; Rachel Maddow Show 3/4/14; Feminist Newswire 11/1/13, 11/5/13, 11/20/13, 11/27/13
The US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) is currently investigating Michigan State University (MSU) for its potential mishandling of sexual assault cases.
A student who was allegedly sexually assaulted in an MSU dorm room in August 2010 by two student athletes filed charges against the university under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination in education on the basis of sex. Campus police investigated the alleged rape and brought information to the county police department, which declined to prosecute. MSU has not provided any information to the press concerning whether or how the student’s charges were addressed through any on-campus disciplinary process.
Occidental College professors Caroline Heldman and Danielle Dirks report in the Winter/Spring 2014 issue of Ms. magazine, that 1 in 5 women in the US will experience a rape or an attempted rape at some point during her years in college. Unfortunately, many universities have mishandled sexual assault cases and now face investigations, most recently the University of California at Berkeley. To improve this situation, President Obama recently created an inter-agency task force to develop recommendations for universities to prevent campus rape and for federal agencies to hold accountable schools that do not adequately address sexual violence.
Media Resources: Lansing State Journal 2/25/14; Detroit Free Press 3/3/14; Feminist Majority Foundation Education Equality Toolkit; Ms. magazine Winter/Spring 2014 issue; Feminist Newswire 1/22/14, 3/4/14
Dr. Nasrin Oryakhil, president of the Afghan Family Health Association, was among 10 women honored this week by the US State Department with an International Women of Courage award.
Dr. Nasrin, a doctor of obstetrics and gynecology, operated an underground women’s health clinic in Afghanistan during the Taliban regime, providing urgently needed maternal health services, including emergency obstetric care. “Sometimes in the evening, Taliban members would barge into her clinic and beat her, demanding her to stop working and start praying,” relayed Deputy Secretary of State Heather Higginbottom, presenting the award. “But she continued working, praying only that God would bring change to her country. One night, after the Taliban assaulted her, Dr. Nasrin went on to perform 17 surgeries.”
Among her many accomplishments, Dr. Nasrin, directs the Malalai Maternity Hospital in Kabul and founded the first clinic for obstetric fistula repair in Afghanistan there. Dr. Nasrin is a member of the Afghan Women’s Network and also leads the Afghan Family Health Association, which provides a variety of services to women and girls, including reproductive health programs, a youth hotline, and shelters for women.
Accepting the award, Dr. Nasrin expressed that “the hope of women around the world one day will be materialized when they find themselves in an environment that truly recognizes and appreciates the real essence of being a woman and a mother.”
Since 2007, the US State Department has honored 70 women from 49 countries with the International Women of Courage award in recognition of their work advocating for women’s rights, human rights, and peace.
Media Resources: US Department of State 3/3/14; Voice of America 3/4/14
When I was in my early twenties, and not any kind of writer, I was trying to impress a guy who loved Saul Bellow’s novel Herzog. He loved the eponymous protagonist’s voice, his enraged missives to the culture, the way the book was “all about discourse.” Well: I went out, and I bought Herzog. And somewhere in the middle of Herzog, I realized that it was not just “all about discourse.” It was also “all about hating women.” The ex-wife was vicious and castrating, the girlfriend was sexually available yet pathetic, even random women on the street had “bitch eyes.” It was around the point in the book when Herzog reflects, “Will never understand what women want. What do they want? They eat green salad and drink human blood,” that I realized that I didn’t want to finish it.
Which put me in a tight spot. If the man I was interested in asked me about the book, I would have to say that I quit reading it; if he asked me why I quit, I would have to give him a reason. So, the next time it rained, I opened a window and put Herzog out on my windowsill, and I left it there until it was ruined, so that I would have an excuse. I believed it was smarter and more appropriate to destroy a book and lie about it than to admit that the book’s sexism had turned me off.
There are a lot of Herzog moments in No Regrets: Three Discussions, the new “small book” published by the magazine n+1. The book is built around three conversations among three different groups of female writers about reading: what they read when they were younger, what they didn’t read, why it mattered or didn’t. Stories about reading supposedly “great” dudelit only to feel hurt or repulsed come up repeatedly: No Regrets editor Dayna Tortorici says that she consciously read the “boy canon” as a teenager in order to overcome her twin afflictions of being from Los Angeles and being a woman, and will “never forget reading Bukowski’s Post Office and feeling so horrible, the way that the narrator describes the thickness of ugly women’s legs.” Elsewhere, the conversation turns to Henry Miller (Elif Batuman: “he compared women to soup” ), Portnoy’s Complaint (Emily Witt: “I cannot read another passage about masturbation. I can’t.”) and On the Road (Sara Marcus: “I remember putting [it] down the first time a woman was mentioned”).
It’s intensely validating to get outside confirmation that seeming “intellectual” and demonstrating basic self-respect can come into direct conflict for female readers: If you admit to disliking a “great” book simply because it seems to actively hate your entire gender, you’re perceived as petty, “personal,” an identity-politics philistine who values gender-based axe-grinding above aesthetic or intellectual concerns. If No Regrets makes it all right for even one young woman to admit that Kerouac gives her a headache, it’s doing the Lord’s work.
But what struck me most about No Regrets was the sense of each woman having created her own alternative framework, her own way of reading. Alongside the complaints about the boy canon, there are potential subversive readings of its writers: practical lessons that can be drawn from their work without requiring uncritical worship. For example, Emily Gould is able to appropriate some of the swagger of the “midcentury misogynists” (Roth etal.)—the sense that she, too, might be able to write “a novel that says ... ‘This is what a novel is, and you can like it or you can get off the bus.’ ” Witt is able to use the boy canon to pinpoint the narratives the men in her life are emulating and her own place as a woman within those stories. My favorite idea in No Regrets is Carla Blumenkranz’ concept of the “secret canon,” the unspoken agreement to valorize a particular set of books and authors in order to belong in a given social group. Blumenkranz sees the “secret canon” as exclusionary, and for the most part, I agree—woe betide you if you tell a certain variety of pseudointellectual man-hippie that you didn’t like On the Road—but No Regrets also invites a more liberating possibility: Maybe every woman writer has to create her own “secret canon,” her own list of essential books, in order to survive the male-dominated cultural definition of “great literature.”
Elsewhere in the book, the participants share their own reading lists: books by women that helped them to orient themselves within the maledominated canon or to form their own ideas of what “good writing” looks like. Judith Butler comes up in more than one conversation, as does Chris Kraus’ I Love Dick—a book about “solving heterosexuality” and the self-enforced oppression therein—and the work of Eileen Myles, of whom Marcus says: “I was diligently trying to find some brilliantly written prose that didn’t respect boundaries between fiction and nonfiction and that dealt with young queer women hanging around in cities and fucking up.” It’s a very specific requirement, but might I also suggest some Michelle Tea?
Once one’s own canon is formed, it no longer needs to be a secret: I got No Regrets from Emily Books, an ebook subscription service run by Ruth Curry and Emily Gould (for which, full disclosure, I’ve written reviews). Its appeal is much the same as the reading lists in No Regrets: the sense that every book that comes down the pike is a further elaboration on a very specific, very interesting idea of what good writing looks like.
Which brings me back to the Herzog incident. The power of a personal canon, secret or not, lies in the authority one needs to create it. Women need to trust that they know what’s good, what’s bad, and what serves them intellectually in order to reject or reclaim the books in their lives. This was exactly what I lacked when I destroyed Herzog. I wasn’t stupid, and I wasn’t a bad reader. But decades of socialization had taught me otherwise. There were the disastrous conversations with men about Eminem, the Beats, Judd Apatow; there were the condescending male classmates in college, such as the guy who made a point of sitting behind me and pulling faces whenever I talked because I’d once complained too forcefully about “whiny white guys”; there was the lit professor who made me rewrite a paper three times because it focused too exclusively on sexism and who told me that the purpose of his class was “appreciation” of the assigned readings, not critique. All of this had given me the implicit belief that I was simply not qualified to decide which books were good for me, that I would be seen as anti-intellectual if I decided that a sexist book was not worth my time.
What No Regrets argues for most powerfully is the right of women to reject that line of thinking and to believe that they are qualified to decide what literature should be. It argues for the public claiming of formerly secret canons: the right to create your own vision of what is best in the culture and to have that vision influence what books other people read and value.
The Madison, Wisconsin city council unanimously passed a buffer zone ordinance last week to protect people entering or exiting healthcare clinics, including women’s reproductive healthcare clinics, in the city. The new ordinance will require a 160-foot buffer zone around all healthcare clinics and a floating 8-foot buffer zone around people entering the clinics, with fines up to $750 for those who violate the boundaries.
“No one attempting to access any type of health care should be greeted with physical confrontation, protesters in their face, or forcing leaflets into their hands,” said Janet Dye, Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin. “Madison’s newly passed buffer zone will protect patient privacy and dignity while accessing health care.”
Just after the ordinance passed, anti-abortion group, Madison Vigil for Life, filed a legal challenge to the law, claiming that it violates the First Amendment, and asked a federal judge to issue an immediate injunction. The court rejected that request, leaving the law in place pending the resolution of the case.
Clinic safety buffer zones are also a focus of the US Supreme Court this term. In the coming months, the Court will decide the fate of a Massachusetts law that creates a 35-foot safety buffer zone around women’s reproductive health clinics. The Court heard arguments in McCullen v Coakley in January. The Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) joined other women’s and civil rights organizations to file an amicus brief in support of the Massachusetts law. FMF brought the first lawsuit in the nation on buffer zones to the US Supreme Court in 1994. That case, Madsen v. Women’s Health Center, established the constitutionality of an injunction creating a clinic safety buffer zone in Florida.
Media Resources: RH Reality Check 2/27/14, 3/3/14; Feminist Majority Foundation 1/15/14
Ten Saudi women are petitioning the Saudi Arabia consultative Shura Council to demand an end to absolute male authority over women.
Activist Aziza Yousef told AFP news agency over the weekend that the activists are demanding “measures to protect women’s rights,” as well as the right for women to drive, ahead of International Women’s Day on March 8. They argue that the restrictions women face in Saudi Arabia, which imposes a strict interpretation of Islamic law, are not based in religious teachings.
Saudi women received the right to vote in 2011, but they are prohibited from driving and from working, travelling, and even performing certain medical procedures without a male guardian. In October, over 60 women drove in an ongoing campaign to obtain the right to drive, the lack of which limits their mobility and economic opportunities.
The Shura Council, appointed by the King, advises the monarch but cannot legislate on its own.
Media Resources: Al Jazeera 3/2/14; AFP 3/2/14; Huffington Post 3/5/14; Feminist Newswire 9/26/11, 10/28/13
In spring 2013, a series of posters began to appear in New York City’s Lower East Side. They were simple, pale blue squares, pasted in repeating sheets across the plywood walls that typically surround construction sites in the city. Each posed the viewer one sans-serif question: “What Would Lynne Tillman Do?”
It was an odd, surreal campaign that posited novelist, short-story writer and critic Lynne Tillman—author of American Genius, The Madame Realism Complex and The Velvet Years, an oral history of Warhol’s Factory—as a larger-than-life figure who warrants a Christ-like level of influence over her readers’ lives. If you didn’t know Tillman’s work, or were only casually familiar with it, the efforts would have seemed nonsensical.
But more than a year later, here we are with a definitive explanation: What Would Lynne Tillman Do, the essay collection. Spanning decades and genres, the pieces in the book include reviews of nearly every imaginable art form. Altogether, it clearly represents an attempt to compile a Bible of Tillman: a complete summary of her take on the world in which we live. And yet, after reading through WWLTD twice, I still don’t have a clear grasp on the apparently mythic presence that is Lynne Tillman. In fact, the more I read the book, the more convinced I’ve become that Tillman’s elusiveness—her failure to definitively cohere into the sort of larger-than-life, archetypal persona that might command its own poster campaign—is the whole point.
Reviewing WWLTD is difficult, in part because of Tillman’s formidable tendency to thwart expectations and frustrate simplistic readings of her work. Although a few of these pieces are wholly personal, such as her recollection of an inadvertently obscene phone call in Dutch and a bit about a disappointing Rolling Stones concert in the ‘60s, her anecdotes are fragmented and strangely oblique. We get little shards of life from Tillman’s reminiscences, but no clear picture of the woman who lived them.
Even Tillman’s cultural reviews or social commentaries tend to swerve from one subject to another or take odd forms. One of the more directly political pieces, an anti-Bush jeremiad, is framed as a “dictionary” of words recently invented by Tillman, forcing the reader to shift focus away from the structure in order to grasp the essay’s message. Later in the collection, a meditation on whether “authenticity” is possible in human relationships jarringly shape-shifts at the last second into a review of the Ryan Gosling vehicle Blue Valentine. Throughout the text, one gets the sense of Tillman holding her readers at arm’s length, cautioning them against assuming that they “get” her, or even thinking that there is anything to “get.” It’s the literary equivalent of a topiary maze: Readers will wander through its odd curves and cul-de-sacs, hunting for a point or a clear revelation that is always, frustratingly, just beyond reach.
But to speak of What Would Lynne Tillman Do in only this way would reduce it to pointless, precious gamesmanship: the sort of thing that might amuse someone looking for textual puzzles, but which would fail to convey any real or lasting value. And WWLTD has far more substance than such an assessment would imply. In fact, its rejection of linear form or coherence points to one of Tillman’s more enduring (and politically relevant) concerns: A profound distrust for the way that our stories—whether they be told through art, media or in person to our peers—belie our lived truths.
Over and over in these essays, Tillman returns to the ways in which narratives construct or falsify human existence. One of the more powerful essays concerns the life of Chris Sizemore—the multiple-personality-disordered woman who was fictionalized in the famous movie The Three Faces of Eve—and her efforts to put together a cured, singular “self” after that movie’s release. Sizemore’s situation is an example of the sort of meta-weirdness that fascinates Tillman: Here is a woman who spent most of her life perceiving herself as a series of fictional characters, who in turn became famous as a fictional character.
But in Tillman’s view, Sizemore (and her fictional counterpart, “Eve”) also come to stand in for the strangeness of being female in modern America. Sizemore “often compares herself with the movie’s Eve, with whom she seems at times to have a kind of sibling rivalry … She presents herself as ‘cured patient, as ‘artist,’ as ‘writer,’ as ‘normal woman, wife and mother,’ to public, family, and friends.” Sizemore is a self-constructed figure of fragmented, false and mediated “selves.” This makes her a strange case, sure—but Tillman also notes that it makes her a pretty typical woman within the patriarchy, continually trying to assemble a “real” personality from a patchwork of inherited roles and expectations.
Throughout WWLTD, Tillman pauses to note the ways that reality is continuously overhauled, re-defined and warped through its representation by artists, politicians and laypeople alike. She praises Warhol’s attempts to capture “truth” through the use of unedited material and points out how Joseph O. Brien and Andris Kurins' 1991 true-crime account of a Mafia boss is deliberately structured to fit the precise and well-worn beats of a typical mob-bust movie. And in one of the stranger hall-of-mirrors bits, Tillman reviews a series of exhibitions about New York’s downtown art scene that feature Lynne Tillman herself. Her alarm at being reduced to a fictionalized, fabricated character—“as if living on a film set or behind glass in a diorama at the American Museum of Natural History”—resonates on a personal level, but it also speaks to her concern at the way reality is subtly transformed into story. Tillman herself confesses to reading accounts of artistic “scenes” to shape her idea of what her life ought to look like; in turn, her role as a representative of New York’s “downtown” transforms her memories for popular consumption, falsifying them in the process.
And such alterations of lived experiences aren’t limited to relatively public figures. According to Tillman, many of those who controlled the political story in the early 2000s (specifically George W. Bush and company) were “pseudoists”: people who warp facts into an all-too-convincing narrative. And, Tillman points out, if everyone trusts that kind of master narrative from the institutions that define “reality,” marginalized people will always be broadly reduced to stereotypes within it, transformed into stock characters who cannot act on their own or command a central place in the sphere of greater influence.
A woman who raises her voice, no matter the reason, is immediately condemned to irrelevance by the narrative of female hysteria; a man of color, no matter who he is, is more likely than a white man to be arrested if his car is stopped by the police. Like the historical version of “Lynne Tillman” who lives in artistic ideas of “Downtown New York,” or “Eve,” the fictionalized incarnation of Chris Sizemore who became more well-known and powerful than the actual woman, the culture's ideas of who we are or what we're capable of can come to dominate and twist our own actual existence.
There is no complete, Christ-like “Lynne Tillman” on offer in What Would Lynne Tillman Do: No whole and definitive explanation of who or what Tillman is, no charismatic persona to adopt as our personal savior and font of guidance. Lynne Tillman, in this essay collection, is fragmented, mediated, constructed and elusive. But this is, I would argue, a way of pushing the reader toward a more meaningful truth: By trusting stories to show us who somebody “really” is, or who we are, we’re giving away our lives—and the lives of others—in exchange for representations of life.
Two million women and seven million children will now have greater access to a variety of nutritious food options, thanks to the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) expansion of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).
The revision of the program – which provides supplemental food vouchers to low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and postpartum women, and infants and children through the age of five – began in 2007 when fruit and vegetable allowances were introduced, and was finalized last week. Previously, women using the program vouchers could only buy limited basics such as milk, infant formula, eggs, bread and tuna fish, among other items. The comprehensive expansion will allow women to use food vouchers to purchase more whole grain items, yogurt as a partial milk substitute, and fresh produce instead of jarred infant food for older children. It will also boost each child’s fruit and vegetable purchase allowance by 30 percent, or $2 per month, and it will give states and local WIC agencies more flexibility to decide what to offer.
“The updates to the WIC food package make pivotal improvements to the program and better meet the diverse nutritional needs of mothers and their young children,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. According to the USDA, research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has already shown greater health outcomes and lower obesity rates in low-income preschoolers that are possibly linked to these changes.
This is the first comprehensive revision of WIC since 1980, and it coincides with the program’s 40th anniversary. The changes are based on more modern nutrition science and recommendations from the National Academies’ Institute of Medicine and the federal government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans. They will be implemented in phases through April 2015.
Media Resources: US Department of Agriculture 2/28/14; Reuters 2/28/14
Students File Two Federal Complaints Against UC Berkeley for Mishandling Campus Sexual Assault Cases
Thirty-one current and former students filed a federal Title IX complaint against the University of California at Berkeley last week, alleging that the university had discouraged reporting of campus sexual assault, failed to inform victims of their rights, and had mishandled sexual assault cases being heard through the school’s disciplinary process. The complaint comes after a student government ruling last April of no confidence in the university’s sexual assault policies as well as an investigation into four public California universities by the state auditor.
This is the second complaint filed by Berkeley students against the university. An earlier complaint, filed by nine students in May 2013, alleged that the university was purposefully under-reporting sexually violent crimes on campus in violation of the Clery Act. The US Department of Education has yet to respond to the students’ May complaint, prompting, in part, this most recent complaint, which now includes 22 new student and alumni testimonies.
“Neither the Department of Education nor UC Berkeley have made the efforts necessary to address the pervasive culture of sexual violence on our campus,” said Sofie Karasek, one of the students who filed the complaint. “This is not only disappointing; it is also dangerous for the students who attend college here, and is representative of a larger problem: the federal government is not adequately enforcing its own laws.”
Occidental College professors Caroline Heldman and Danielle Dirks report in the Winter/Spring 2014 issue of Ms. magazine, that 1 in 5 women in the US will experience a rape or an attempted rape at some point during her years in college. “But there’s hope and evidence that this situation is changing, as a reinvigorated campus anti-rape movement is burgeoning across the country,” they write. “The tools of this movement – Title IX complaints, the Clery Act, group lawsuits and social media – have effectively brought school mishandling of sexual assault and rape into the national discourse.”
Although UC Berkeley did not formally comment on the complaint last week, Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks issued a statement announcing a new university position created to investigate sexual assault claims and help survivors navigate the reporting process as well as a new policy allowing victims to appeal decisions in their internal cases.
Media Resources: LA Times 2/26/2014; Sacramento Bee 2/26/2014; Huffington Post 2/26/2014; Ms. Magazine Winter/Spring 2014
Marissa Alexander, the Florida woman who was imprisoned for firing warning shots against her abusive husband, will face up to 60 years of prison during her re-trial in July.
Alexander was initially sentenced to 20 years for firing warning shots during an altercation with Rico Gray, her estranged and formerly abusive husband. Nobody was injured when Alexander fired the shots into the air, although according to Alexander, Gray was threatening her life at the time. Alexander’s initial sentence reflected three 20-year sentences to be served concurrently, but Florida state prosecutor Angela Corey will now seek to sentence Alexander to consecutive sentences totaling 60 years in prison.
“Remember that this entire case boils down to a woman defending her life from her husband who attacked her, strangled her, threatened to kill her, whose beatings have sent her to the hospital and likely caused her to have premature labor,” said Sumayya Fire, a Victim Advocate with Free Marissa Now. “Now [Alexander is] facing the very real possibility of spending the rest of her life in prison for that act of self-defense. That should send a chill down the back of every person in this country who believes that women who are attacked have the right to defend themselves.”
Corey unsuccessfully prosecuted George Zimmerman for murder charges after he killed Florida teen Trayvon Martin, but her stance on Alexander has angered many advocates and Florida residents. Like Zimmerman, Alexander is being prosecuted under the state’s infamous Stand Your Ground law, which allows Floridians to resort to deadly violence when they believe their lives may be in imminent danger, and qualifies such actions as self-defense even if no attempt to retreat was made. Unlike Zimmerman, Alexander has been unable to persuade officials in her case that she was acting in self-defense, despite Gray’s own admission that he has previously threatened her life.
A Florida appeals court in September ordered a new trial for Alexander after finding that the trial judge had issued improper jury instructions on self-defense. Alexander, who has three children, was released on bail last year.
Media Resources: MSNBC 3/3/2014; Salon 3/3/2014; US News 3/3/2014; Free Marissa Now 3/1/14; Feminist Newswire 1/14/14, 9/26/13; Feminist Majority Foundation Blog 7/18/2013
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced last week that generic versions of Plan B One Step will now be available over-the-counter to women of all ages.
The FDA removed age and point-of-sale restrictions on Teva Pharmaceutical’s Plan B One Step in June 2013, but the agency also gave Teva a three-year protection from generic competition, meaning that generic versions of the emergency contraception (EC) could only be obtained behind the pharmacy counter and only be obtained without a prescription by women over 17 years old. By retaining these restrictions, the FDA effectively limited access for low-income women and girls.
Kathleen Uhl, Acting Director of the Office of Generic Drugs in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Center for Drug Evaluation and Research announced the policy shift, stating that the FDA would lift the restrictions on generic competitors of Plan B One Step effective immediately. Although generic pills will have a label indicating the medicine is intended for people 17 and older, ID is no longer a requirement for access.
“This is a significant leap forward in obtaining full over-the-counter status for emergency contraception and we commend the FDA for this decision,” said Jessica Arons, President and CEO of Reproductive Health Technologies Project. “EC can be used safely and effectively by people of all ages and it should be available without unnecessary and arbitrary barriers.”
Media Resources: ThinkProgress 3/3/2014; NPR; 3/2/2014; Department of Health and Human Services; Reproductive Health Technologies Project 2/27/2014; Feminist Newswire 6/11/2013
All those rights Americans cherish, those fundamental human and political freedoms protected by the U.S. Constitution, Republicans contend those aren’t really inalienable rights or anything solid or permanent like that.
See, according to the GOP, some Americans are sub-citizens who don’t deserve rights equal to those enjoyed by, well, the right-wing. Republicans think they’re right, and anyone who disagrees doesn’t deserve rights.
Republicans managed to highlight that perverse plank in their political platform over the past several weeks as they proposed—and sometimes actually passed—legislation limiting the fundamental rights of specific groups of American citizens. That includes gay Americans, African-Americans, and Americans who are members of labor unions. Right-wingers sought to seize from these Americans their rights to vote, protest and live free from discrimination.
Let’s start with A for Arizona, home of the “show me your papers,” law that requires Americans who look Hispanic, say the great grandchildren of people who legally immigrated from Mexico a century ago, to provide documents proving citizenship if police accuse them of jaywalking or speeding or some other minor crime. No one asks white looking Americans to authenticate their citizenship.
Last week in Arizona, right-wingers in the legislature tried to extend that kind of discrimination to gay people. Republicans passed a bill that permitted businesses to refuse to serve gay people if the shop owner contended his religious beliefs would be offended by selling a hair brush to a gay man or by completing a lesbian’s tax return.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed that attempt at legalizing discrimination. But right-wingers in at least five other states—Georgia, Idaho Mississippi, Missouri and Oklahoma—continue trying to legislate sub-citizenship for gay people.
Unlike Brewer, the Republican governor in Ohio, John Kasich, late last month signed legislation stripping rights from minorities. The law eliminates what Ohio called the “Golden Week” when citizens could register to vote and simultaneously cast an in-person absentee ballot. The intent of de-gilding Golden Week was to disenfranchise African Americans, who in 2008 accounted for 77 percent of early voters in Ohio.
Ohio also moved one of the state’s most heavily used early voting locations from downtown Cincinnati to a neighborhood that voting rights advocates say is significantly less accessible to low-income and disabled voters.
One Republican election official, Doug Priesse, explained why the right-wing is restricting voting: “I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban—read African-American—voter-turnout machine.”
Other Republican-controlled states are curtailing early voting as well, including Georgia and Florida. Elizabeth Poythress, president of Georgia’s League of Women Voters said the Peach State’s proposed slashing of early balloting would “silence the voices of those least heard and rarely listened to in Georgia—the poor, the elderly, racial and ethnic minorities, the young and the disabled.”
Those Americans might think twice before exercising their right to protest the right-wing’s war on their rights. That’s because at least four states want to revoke the basic rights of assembly and protest for workers who happen to belong to unions.
This is not even Boston Tea Party stuff where protesters trespassed and destroyed property. This is walking in circles with signs at the front gate of an employer—including the entrances to corporations that lock out workers who are willing to labor under the terms of an expired collective bargaining agreement but whose offer to continue working was rebuffed by bosses.
Right-wingers in Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi and Michigan all put forward bills that would outlaw picketing at a private residence and demonstrations interfering with the entrance to a place of employment.
Federal law already prohibits protesters from blocking entrances. This would add “interfering.” And this would prevent union workers from demonstrating at the home of a CEO.
It might be a little annoying to a CEO if some workers marched in a circle with signs outside his mansion, but making protests personal is an American tradition as old as the Boston Tea Party, when the “Sons of Liberty” violently demonstrated at the homes of British colonial officials.
The right to protest was so important to the founding fathers that they protected it in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. But right-wing lawmakers in Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi and Michigan want to take that right from members of labor unions.
Republican Jeremy Durham introduced the bill in Tennessee and explained that he felt he had to restrict the civil liberties of union members to prevent workers from organizing and collectively bargaining for better pay and benefits in his state. Here’s what he said: "Tennessee unions quietly added 31,000 members in 2013, representing the largest percentage increase in union membership in the country. I just feel like if that's such a growing part of our economy that we need to take some preemptive measures."
In Michigan, the proposal to take away union members’ right to picket was introduced by Republican Tom McMillin, who has, however, used his First Amendment right to protest at abortion clinics.
Even the website of Right to Life Michigan stresses the freedom of citizens to protest, stating: “The U.S. and Michigan constitutions protect the fundamental free speech right of citizens to peaceably speak, assemble, picket, and distribute leaflets in public places.”
But McMillin and his right-wing buddies in Tennessee, Georgia and Mississippi think that workers who join unions should lose those rights.
No rights for union members, gays, African Americans, the disabled or young or old or poor, says the right-wing. No one’s rights are safe in their hands.