Saturday, February 14, 2009

Have a happy, healthy Valentine's Day

by Shannon Mercer, Student Global Aids Campaign

This past week the Student Global AIDS Campaign sat at a – rather well decorated—table in Frist, selling Valentine's Grams with a message:

In America around 40,000 people are infected with HIV every year. Nearly half of these infections occur in people under the age of 25. While abstinence is the only way to guarantee 100% protection, safe sexual practices, such as using condoms, are also essential in curbing this epidemic. On Valentine's Day and on any other day of the year, please protect yourself and others from unwanted STD's like HIV/AIDS. Be educated; Be aware; Be safe and have a Happy Valentine's Day.

And yes, we did sell condoms.

Despite the seemingly controversial nature of this fundraiser we received great press from the Daily Princetonian and had only positive reactions from students during the tabling process. Why? Because there is nothing inherently wrong with educating people about safety.

There was a time when it was acceptable to write sexual education off as a way to instruct others in immoral behavior. This is not that time. AIDS is, more so than any other affliction, our generation's disease. It is our problem to fix. But, we can't fix it if we assume that people will simply abstain from intercourse.

In 2007 alone there were 2.5 million new infections to add to the 33.2 million people worldwide living with HIV (UNAIDS). Last year 2.1 million people died because of this unthinkable epidemic and what do we do as a nation? Should we talk about abstinence? The President's Emergency Plan for AIDS relief (PEPFAR) allocated (as of its July 2008 re authorization) around $48 billion over a 5 year time period to support treatment, prevention and education about the HIV/AIDS epidemic. In 2006 the initial PEPFAR budget earmarked about 33% of prevention funds for abstinence-only education in the 15 countries it contributes to. This proposal was an outrage to organizations like the Student Global AIDS Campaign, the Institute of Medicine, and the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Because of this, the allocation of funding to abstinence-only education was eliminated in 2008. In the countries that PEPFAR money benefits you cannot afford to limit sexual education to a sentence: Premarital sex is wrong. You have to eliminate the pervasive rumors that raping young babies will cure you of AIDS, that AIDS is not transmitted sexually and that AIDS is not a problem. The only way to do that is to get beyond the abstinence spiel and tell people more. Abstinence is not the answer; education is.

More recently the Hawaii House Committee on Education passed two sexual education bills: the first rejected the allocation of funding to abstinence-only education and the second placed government funding in the hands of programs that emphasize pregnancy and STI prevention. State representative Marilyn Lee is quoted as saying, "The bottom line of what these bills are saying is abstinence-only education has been shown to be ineffective and many states have rejected it."

It seems that more and more people are choosing to put their lives in the hands of facts:

Fact: Global rates of HIV infection are increasing steadily.

Fact: CDC funded education programs in the U.S. have contributed to the leveling out of the HIV infection rate since 2000.

Fact: The CDC recommends condoms for the prevention of HIV/AIDS transmission (along with the prevention of other STIs).

We are not saying that abstinence is wrong. In fact, the SGAC still advocates that the only way to guarantee your total safety from STIs like HIV/AIDS is abstinence. We are saying that abstinence-only education has been proven ineffective. In order to save lives people must be taught that they have safe options during sexual intercourse.

We cannot afford to be naïve about pre-marital sex. It will happen. It happened in barns and attics in puritan towns, it happened in my pre-colonial Pacific culture -- where women were allowed to visit "bachelor huts" to gain valuable practice for their future married lives, it most definitely happened in 1960's and it is happening now. What's important to recognize is that now, with diseases like AIDS, there are more risks to leaving people uneducated. Whether you believe in abstinence or not, our responsibility is to preserve and protect health and life.

Encouraging people to seek deeper meaning in their relationships is wonderful: intimate conversation, a romantic dinner, spiritual connection. Handing someone a condom does not preclude the prioritization of these experiences. Handing someone a condom does not encourage "random hook-ups". Handing someone a condom most definitely does not support unhealthy emotional and spiritual practices. This Valentine's Day the SGAC hoped that, in the offering of condoms and prevention education, we would be allowing people to send messages of friendship and love: I care about you, protect yourself. There is absolutely nothing wrong – morally or otherwise – with that.

So, if you decide to take a walk down Nassau Street hand-in-hand with the person you love today, having a condom on your dresser back in Dodd will not cheapen the experience. What it does mean: if faced with the decision to have sex you'll be equipped to maintain your personal responsibility.

Be responsible and caring. I hope you have a love-filled day.

If you want more information please visit the sites below:

The Amplify movement

CDC basic HIV/AIDS statistics

2007 UNAIDS epidemic update

Avert.org's factsheet on PEPFAR

Pepfar.gov's results page

Institute of Medicine's PEPFAR evaluation

U.S. Government Accountability Office

Washington Post report on AIDS infection rates in the U.S.

Uh oh, biological essentialism!

by Josh Franklin

I've been following the debate about the recent Prince column "An Anscombe Valentine's Day", and I honestly can't bear to read the word "oxytocin" one more time. A perplexing comment posted by one commenter, a member of the Anscombe Society, reads: "Certainly the physiology of sex is more complex than oxytocin; I'm certainly no biologist and I know that. But this hormone is the one with by far the most profound consequences for the psychological consequences of sex. Of course innumerable pleasurable endorphins are released during sex, but that is merely a momentary, fleeting sensation." Well, I'm no biologist, but I'm not going to take an argument about biology seriously when it's prefaced like that. What's surprising about this comment is that it seems to make explicit the lack of real biological knowledge among most of those who make arguments based on biology.

Biology is deployed constantly in our discourse on gender. Biology is the justification for defining men and women as distinct and stable groups, the justification for heterosexuality, and the justification for making generalized judgements about how all women must think, act, feel, or experience their lives. The truth is that all of these questions are open, to some degree, from a biological standpoint. Nevertheless, these scientific 'truths' are consistently deployed to reinforce a variety of sexist ideas, and the oxytocin 'truth' seems to be very fashionable right now.

As I understand it, feminism is very concerned with this kind of oppressive deployment of knowledge. Part of the emancipatory mission of feminism is deconstructing the limiting notions of identity imposed by the misconstruction of scientific truth. That's why I was a little bit uncomfortable as I watched The Vagina Monologues last night. To hear over and over again that a vagina is more than something that you have, but rather something that you are, something that defines you, an integral part of your identity, was a bit jarring after a long indoctrination in feminism, a school of thought that says that we are not defined by our biology. The production was quite moving and the sense of community reaching across such a wide cultural expanse was powerful. However, I'm worried that making such a big deal about The Vagina is counterproductive.

As a person with a penis questioning my relationship with masculinity, The Vagina Monologues are a bit discouraging. As Franki titled her piece earlier this week, "No penises, please!"; The Vagina Monologues specifically identifies males and excludes them. I'd like to note that this exclusion ignores the ostensibly complex construction of gender; apparently we can be defined by our biology.

I don't want to suggest that having a vagina is a meaningless experience. But where that experience is constituted by a complex intersection of biology, sociocultural circumstances, and individual being, The Vagina Monologues seem to want to recast that nuance in the simple terms of biological essentialism. I applaud The Vagina Monologues for breaking an unfortunate silence; I just wish they had done it in a way that encouraged us to reconsider and explore our own gendered individuality, rather than locking us again into biologically reified binary categories.

Roses are red, condoms are clear, and the idea is king

by Chloe Angyal

My father is an amazing man. A barrister (that's Australian for trial lawyer), a mediator, a writer and a damn fine parent, he's always available as a sounding board, and for sound advice. And as you can see from the attached photo, he doesn't mind posing for silly photos with me at the zoo.

I've had a tough week this week. I spent my nights rehearsing and my days falling asleep in class (in front of a Pulitzer Prize-winning professor, no less). I've been a little on edge, with a performance approaching and my thesis deadline creeping slowly but unstoppably nearer. I've shocked myself with my own ability to be behind on reading just two short weeks into the semester. I've brandished a vibrator on stage in front of a theater full of people (I told you you didn't want to miss The Vagina Monologues). In short, I've had the kind of week that requires a good, long chat with my endlessly wise and insightful dad.

My father firmly believes that the idea is king and that the messenger should never be shot. Here at Equal Writes, we write about ideas every day, and sometimes, we write about them from very personal viewpoints. We spend our days writing academic papers and our nights writing opinion pieces. I love this arrangement and I wouldn't change it for anything. But the idea should be king, even in op-ed writing, and that is what we strive for here at Equal Writes.

Earlier this week, I called Brandon McGinley, a member of the Anscombe Society, an "anti-sex lunatic," based on the comments he gave the to the Prince when it covered the Student Global Aids Campaign's distribution of condoms. It was wrong to target McGinley personally, and I regret doing so, because the messenger should never be shot.

I stand firmly by my statements that McGinley's stance on condom distribution on campus (and, indeed, in the world), is wrong. But I shouldn't have allowed our focus to stray to a particular person and away from the dangerously inaccurate stance he holds. It's not about him, and it's not about me; it's about the ideas, and the arguments and the scientific proof. Because in this case the idea, our idea, is king, and I shouldn't have fallen back on personally targeting anyone when reason and scientific evidence are so clearly on our side (more on that later, from SGAC representative Shannon Mercer).

For allowing our focus to stray, I apologize. For my opinion, and for my commitment to fighting ignorance and sexism, I do not. For fighting ignorance and sexism, no one should ever apologize. That is what we strive for here at Equal Writes.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Judy Horacek, feminist cartoonist

Judy Horacek is an Australian cartoonist and children's writer. Her cartoons are now available in greeting card form, like the one my parents recently sent me (click the photo to enlarge it).

I really do wish that catcalling from construction sites were like this. But that could just be because I love Scrabble.

Feminism in Iran

by Elizabeth Winkler

The New York Times featured an exciting article this morning about growing feminist awareness and action in the conservative Muslim theocracy. The article cites increasing education levels (60 % of university students are now women) and the ‘information revolution’ as key factors in contributing to Iranian women’s attempts to regain control and equality in their lives. The internet and satellite television in particular have been instrumental in providing windows into the lives of Western women and the possibilities of gender equality.

Today, one in five Iranian marriages ends in divorce, a fourfold increase in 15 years. While the West tends to deplore increasingly high divorce rates, in Iran, these numbers are a positive indicator: women who are beaten, tortured, forced into polygamous marriages (or even marriages they simply didn’t want) are now turning more and more to the courts to fight for divorce and custody of their children.

Nevertheless, equality and freedom remain distant realities for the vast majority of women. Despite the progress made by various activist movements, girls can still be forced to marry at 13, men can ban their wives from working, can engage in polygamy, and are granted custody of children over the age of 7.

Women inherit only half what their brothers do (making life as a divorcee often impossible to sustain), and their court testimony is worth half that of a man (muffling any legal action they attempt to take before it even begins). On top of all this, stoning continues to remain inscribed in the penal code as the punishment for adulterous wives, and a woman who refuses to cover her hair faces jail and up to 80 lashes.

Private and public: setting an example

by Chloe Angyal

Friend of the site Keith Griffin has a column in the Prince today about public reactions to Michael Phelps' drug use, A-Rod and steroids, and most importantly, Chris Brown's domestic violence against his girlfriend Rihanna:

I initially struggled to grasp the gravity of it all, and with good reason. We come from a generation of presidents, both former and present, who have admitted drug use and still went on to hold office. Baseball players like Barry Bonds, though heavily scrutinized after allegations of steroid use, enjoyed continued success. Singers like R. Kelly and Bobby Brown (no known relation to Chris Brown, as far as we know) continued producing records after their sexual and violent escapades, respectively. Yet to this day, the tradition of holding both political and popular figures accountable lives on.

This time, the pundits went to work right away, speculating on Phelps’s 2012 Olympic prospects, A-Rod’s Hall of Fame eligibility and the end of Chris Brown’s career and good-guy image. That brought me to a fundamental question: Where do we draw the line between holding these figures accountable and altogether killing their careers?


My answer is: we don't. We hold them accountable by killing their careers. The public, as Keith notes, has the enormous power to make or break these people. But we also have the enormous power to set a public and memorable example, a precedent, of the consequences of domestic violence. And that example shouldn't leave average men, men who aren't in the public eye, thinking, "Chris and Bobby got away with it; I will too." It's not about vindictively destroying their livelihood, it's about setting an example for what will happen to men who beat their wives: it will not go unnoticed. It will not be rationalized, justified and forgotten. It will not be excused, by the society or by the law.

This is not the time to feel sorry for people with "an inability to live private lives." This is the time to send a message to them, and to the world, that America does not tolerate violence against women, no matter how famous you are, no matter how great a track you can lay down. The public, Keith tells us, has great power in this situation, and I recommend that we use that power, as swiftly and as forcefully as possible, to make it clear to every American man that violence against women is unacceptable.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

No penises, please!

by Franki Butler

Tonight I will perform in my third production of The Vagina Monologues at Frist Film and Performance Theater. While I have many issues with the monologues, I remain committed to the mission of the show: to highlight women’s issues that otherwise go unmentioned, and to provide aid for women in need while doing so.

Not only is The Vagina Monologues a play about women, but it also allows female performers a chance to shine. I was asked by a male acquaintance the other day why men weren’t allowed to audition for this particular production of The Vagina Monologues. When I pointed out that the monologues were written about women, to be performed by female actors, I was then asked if there were no monologues about transgendered individuals. I replied that there were, and that they were being performed by women. While I would never dream of speaking for our director and her casting decisions, I think that the rationale for this is solid, from a couple different points of view.

From a theatrical standpoint, there’s the dearth of roles for women on this campus. One of the biggest struggles Princeton’s theater community faces is casting – it produces a number of shows requiring strong male leads, but has a relatively small stable of suitable/available/willing male actors to cast. Meanwhile, women outnumber men on audition sheets at least 2:1, and are either turned down because there are so few female roles or cross-cast as men, if the production lends itself to such an interpretation. While I have no problem with cross-casting – and actually love the different dynamics it can create when done with thought and purpose – the fact remains that roles that allow female actors to explore female characters are few and far between. While the women in The Vagina Monologues certainly aren’t characters on the level of, say, Rosalind from As You Like It or Mama Rose from Gypsy, there’s value to be seen in an all-female production. That’s not to say that an all-male cast of The Vagina Monologues wouldn’t be interesting, but it would also create a different message, and that’s not the show we’re trying to do.

And then there’s the trans monologue specifically. Though I understand the inclination to believe that a transgendered woman could be played by a cisgendered man, such a belief ignores an important fact: transgendered women are women. While there would be an undeniable power in seeing someone who visually and psychologically codes as male discussing a desire for female identity, I feel that there’s also a slight insult. A strong actor could certainly carry it off, but there’s also the fact that you’re essentially putting up a guy in drag and telling him to speak about a complex relationship with a body part he neither has nor desires. It’s a valid theatrical exercise, but it lacks a certain authenticity. It puts a man in control of a uniquely female space. While the ideal casting of the monologue would have transgendered women playing transgendered women, I think that the casting of cisgendered women is an acceptable second choice.

Male allies are welcome and appreciated in the world of pro-woman activism. I’d love to see an all-male production of the monologues; I think it could do some fascinating things. This, however, is not that production. This is our space, and I think we’re justified in keeping it as such.

The Vagina Monologues are being performed tonight, Friday and Saturday at 8pm. Tickets are free with Tiger Tickets and can be purchased at the Frist box office.

You're selling WHAT?!

by Peale Iglehart

This week, my friends and I have been selling clit cookies. Just your average blend of butter and sugar, a strategically-placed M&M or Reese’s Piece, and a healthy sprinkle of shock value. Reactions have been predictable: "The vagina (or in this culinary case, the vulva)?!" "We don’t really like to think about it, let alone look at it, or eat baked goods that look like it."

The vagina is to the female body as Voldemort is to the wizarding community. It’s “she-who-should-not-be-named.” It makes most of us—regardless of our gender—pretty uncomfortable. That’s the point of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues, which is going up in Frist Performance Theater this weekend: Thursday February 12, Friday February 13, and Saturday February 14 at 8PM.

If you cringed at the sight of the clit cookie, or even if you didn’t, think about seeing The Vagina Monologues this weekend. (It’s directed by Equal Writes’ very own Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux ’11!) As The New York Times put it, “ The monologues are part of Eve Ensler’s crusade to wipe out the shame and embarrassment that many women still associate with their bodies or their sexuality. They are both a celebration of women’s sexuality and a condemnation of its violation.”

Sounds pretty awesome—and much-needed. And because I know a lot of people have reservations about it: the show, while certainly eligible for scrutiny, is not about man-bashing. It’s about lots of different women struggling with that powerful, frustrating, hushed-up, mysterious part of our bodies: the—shhh!—VAGINA!

And in case you needed a little more prodding to take a chomp of those cookies, all proceeds from them and from ticket sales benefit Womanspace shelter in Trenton, NJ.

So take a peek at The Vagina Monologues this weekend. Maybe when the curtains close, all of us—women and men—will blush a little less at the sight of those cookies.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

O'Reilly responds to complaints about his sexism, ageism

by Chloe Angyal

Ok, I'm only going to write a few lines about Bill O'Reilly, because the man is an idiot who barely deserves our attention. I'd be ignoring him completely if the ass-kicking feminist blogger Courtney Martin hadn't been on his show tonight. Forgive the totally offensive title of the below video - it was the only video footage I could find. That said, "libtard" is one I haven't heard before. Right wing nuts are so inventive.

So first of all, O'Reilly calls the Women's Media Center's response to his "jokes" about Helen Thomas "political correctness gone mad." As though it's an outrageous and overly-PC to demand that he speak respectfully about one of the White House press corps' most legendary reporters. (Also, calling something a "joke" isn't a get-out-of-being-offensive-free card).

Then, he describes the organization Media Matters, an organization much like the WMC, as "hoping to harm people with whom it disagrees." Because that is something that Bill O'Reilly would never do. Next, he shows a montage of Helen Thomas espousing liberal (read: filthy, unpatriotic) views, after which he says, "attagirl." Attagirl, seriously? Did you just walk off the set of Mad Men? Who even says that any more? And to a respected woman reporter, no less?

Finally, Bill proclaims that he can't possibly be a sexist or an ageist, because just last week he was accused of being a racist. Well, I've got bad news for you, Bill. You can be all three at once. And Bill, you are all three at once. Ladies and gentlemen, presenting Bill O'Reilly, winner of the prestigious "Once, twice, three times an asshole" Award. Congrats Bill, congrats.

Congrats to Courtney for staying calm and cool and calling him out when he started to do his "where were you, madam?" bit. She's a courageous lady, and I don't mean that the way Bill O'Reilly means it, in the "I'm so scary that I'm surprised a person devoid of testicles will take me on" kind of way. And congrats (and thanks) to all of you who signed the WMC petition, demanding that O'Reilly apologize to Helen Thomas. He did - he sent her flowers, which, as he humbly pointed out, surely made this "her best Valentine's Day ever." Attaboy.

Student Global AIDS Campaign: give love, give health!

Tomorrow, the Student Global AIDS campaign is selling Valentine's Day present packs at Frist. There are several different packages, and the choices are:

Condom + AIDS Ribbon + Candy + Message
Condom + Candy + Message,
or Candy + Message.

All proceeds will go to Partners in Health, an organization that provides healthcare to the poorest of the world's poor. Check out today's Daily Princetonian article on the project here, and enjoy the bit where the anti-sex lunatic claims that handing out condoms won't stop the spread of STIs. Except that, um, it will. That is one of the things that condoms do. I bet he also doesn't think that candy is delicious. Except that, um, it is. That is one of the things that candy is.

F*ck my infidelity

by Angie D.

Last night, to the detriment of my thesis, I discovered an amazing website: FMyLife.com. If PostSecret and Some E-Cards had a baby, it would be this delightful dose of Schadenfreude and comic relief. People from around the world send in juicy, horrific, or revolting tidbits explaining why their lives suck, and then proclaim "FML," shorthand for F*** My Life.

While reading, I stumbled across gems that reminded of times I have felt a similar need to scream profanities and point out life's unfair ironies:

"Today, I cut myself of a bandaid box, while trying to get a bandaid out for another cut. FML"

"Today, I was in the car with a group of my girl friends discussing sexual experiences when I looked down and realized my Blackberry had dialed the family I babysit for and had left a five minute voicemail. FML"

It seems clear there is some catharsis in sharing these F*** My Life experiences and there is certainly humor (if not healing) to be gained from reading them.

Yet as I kept going, I noticed a striking number of FMLs reported incidents of infidelity. I'm curious, is the standard response to finding out you've been cheated on (or finding out you've been caught), to throw up one's hands and proclaim F*** My Life and then share the story with thousands of websurfers? And is it enjoyable for readers to gawk at the misdeeds and failed relationships of others?

"Today, I texted my boyfriend saying hi. His response, "I got your best friend pregnant". FML"

"Today, my wife left me the following voicemail: "Alex, last night was amazing. You took me to places I've never been to before. I can't wait to see you tonight after work." My name is Rob. We haven't had sex in two years. FML"

"Today, my fiance told me that he no longer loves me, that he still has feelings for an ex. The wedding is off and he needs to the ring back to give to the right woman. FML"

"Today, my husband found the box my morning after pill came in. He had a vasectomy 10 years ago. FML"

I can't deny that I love the forum. And its anonymous format probably provides posters with a needed outlet for frustration, while allowing readers to indulge in the type of voyeurism that affirms "my life isn't so bad… and if it is, at least 38, 914 people's lives suck too." (Number is made up.) But it's still a little worrying that infidelity and is portrayed as humorous. And that the perpetrators of infidelity (those who are cheating on their significant others) feel self-pity (insinuated by "FML") upon being caught. It's unclear whose side the reader is supposed to be on. And it's upsetting that such disrespect of one's partner is flaunted so cavalierly. Unfortunately, I say that even as I chuckle (guiltily) at:

"Today, I woke up next to my girlfriend. When she asked me to pick up her thong from behind my bed I realized there were two. I didn't pick up hers. FML"

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The personal is political - so get personal!

This Friday, the Princeton Pride Alliance is celebrating love in all its forms in an unconventional way. In an attempt to reclaim public space for expressions of queer love and to raise awareness about the heterosexist nature of Valentine's Day, they're holding a kiss-in. A kiss-in is like a sit-in, but with more tongue. Here's a message from Fiona Miller of the Pride Alliance:

"We're going to assemble as many lesbian, gay, bi, trans, AND straight couples as we can to have a little smoochfest. We want people to do whatever they're comfortable with -- kissing, hugging, holding hands, or just standing with us in solidarity. The more people who are willing to make out the better, obviously, but it's open to everyone. The purpose of the kiss-in, which will be explained on a flyer we'll be handing out, is exactly that of the LOVE=LOVE posters -- we want to reclaim public space for our couples, literally, and raise awareness about the invisibility many LGBT couples face on this campus."

As you might remember (or not, if you're not a crochety old senior), the LOVE=LOVE posters were all torn down a few years ago, but I'm hoping that this year will be a different story. I think the kiss-in is a phenomenal idea, and I'm so excited to see everyone come out in support of love of every kind.

This Friday at noon, outside Frist. See you (and your loved one/makeout buddy/total rando) there.

Bill O'Reilly is a schmuck

But we already knew that.

Here's a tip to O'Reilly and to schmucks of his ilk: when you make fun of a highly qualified and respected woman's age and appearance, it just makes you look like you're afraid of highly qualified and respected women. Which you are. You're afraid of Helen Thomas and Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama, and any other woman who challenges your chauvinist, heteronormative worldview. Which is awesome, because that means you're afraid of me.

Chloe 1, O'Reilly 0.

Want to hear an apology from O'Reilly? Sign the Women's Media Center petition demanding that he apologize to Thomas, and to women everywhere.

An open letter to Ms. Magazine

by Chloe Angyal

I was thrilled to see that Ms. Magazine’s recent special issue celebrated the inauguration of Barack Obama, and I join the magazine in its delight at the arrival of a President whose rhetoric and policies are so encouragingly pro-women. Obama’s presidency is a turning point in America’s history, and a turning point in American women’s history. If the stirring cover of that special issue is to be believed, Ms. has accurately recognized Obama as a man who can be depended on to defend women’s rights, who is willing to put women in positions of power, and who understands that with the health and progress of women in America will come the health and progress of the country as a whole. In short, Ms. has accurately recognized Obama as a male feminist.

It is disappointing, then, to see that Ms. has failed to review one of the most important works of male feminist writing to be published in recent years: Guyland, by Michael Kimmel. Kimmel, a giant in the gender studies field, has produced a work of great importance, a work that, though it focuses on young men, is essential reading for men and women alike. Kimmel understands that young men and the culture in which they are becoming adult men cannot be understood in isolation from the young women with whom they interact every day. He recognizes that “girls have to contend with Guyland just as much as guys do. Just as Guyland is the social world in which boys become men, so too is Guyland the context in which girls become women.” As a result, his analysis addresses how the current trends among young men affect young women – their friends, sisters and girlfriends – and how young women can protect themselves and the men they love from the worst of Guyland.

Male feminists are few and far between and should be celebrated wherever they are found. Kimmel, one the most prolific and respected male feminist writers working today, has produced a truly significant work, one that will find an avid audience among the readership of Ms. For as Kimmel himself notes, feminism is the antidote to Guyland. It is feminism, the expectation that a man should be “ethical, emotionally present, and accountable to his values in his actions with women — as well as with other men” that will allow women and men alike to survive and remake Guyland, to remake society, into a more just and equitable place.

Printing Rihanna's name: "fair game"?

The Huffington Post reports that "The Los Angeles Times went where other news organizations would not: it identified pop singer Rihanna as Chris Brown's alleged assault victim."

This is not, the HuffPo points out, standard procedure. But the author of the article, Andrew Blankstein, claimed that the "public nature" of the case made Rihanna "fair game". This is despite the fact that the LAPD refused to confirm her identity, citing state laws meant to protect victims of abuse.

Since when does a woman's fame make a difference in terms of her right to privacy? But Blankstein apparently could not resist, and he was fairly blatant about his desire to publicize the case by attaching Rihanna's name - he claimed that one of the reasons that he named Rihanna was because of "the backdrop of the Grammys."

There is little enough respect for victims of sexual and domestic abuse in this country. Let's not add to it by discounting rights to privacy, simply because the victim was just on TV.

There's a lively discussion about this happening at Feministing, too.

To blame, or not to blame?

by Jordan Bubin

I’m going to have to disagree with Christina – I very much think we ought to be “judging” Nadya Suleman, who recently gave birth to IVF-conceived octuplets, making her a mother of fourteen. I’m not even interested in any ulterior financial motives she may have had; completely apart from any hope for book deals,or something of that ilk, Suleman's actions were reprehensible.

Before we even consider Suleman’s ability to care for the kids, think about her non-financial motives. Christina claims “it is very much worth pointing out that Suleman went into this last IVF treatment hoping for only one more child,” because we wouldn’t be questioning Suleman’s “if she had given birth to only one or even two children instead of eight.” I disagree.

I’m under the impression that fertility clinics exist, at least theoretically, to aid those who can’t otherwise have children. I don't think that they ought to exist so that, if I’m in the mood, I can order a couple extra children. Of course we can’t deny the legitimacy, in general, of a wish to have children, and I don’t think it’s at all ethical to legally limit the number of kids someone may have. But it’s also unethical, from an individual perspective, to have kids, eight of them, just to make yourself feel better.

If you’re feeling down, I suggest exercise, or maybe a beer, before going to the extreme of creating life. It seems a generally acceptable precept that we ought not use other people merely as a means to an end, and having kids for the purpose of, say, fixing a marriage, or because one has a bad childhood, seems to me like maybe it fits in that category.

And hey: If she only wanted one kid—why not adopt?

Christina points out that Suleman “has not been (and hopefully never will be) proven unfit” to have all these kids. Maybe she’s never been declared legally unfit—which is a bit of an empty description—but let’s consider the situation: she’s unemployed, and her mother pays for rent and food for the kids. To me, her single status is irrelevant. If Joe from my hometown, aged 18, knocks his 17-year-old girlfriend up (again) while proving himself incapable of keeping a job at the local gas station, I think it’s safe to say he ought not to be having the kid. Again, it’d be a strange world where the state could step in and tell him he’s got to abort the kid (Hi, China) but I don't think I’m out in left field by saying that Joe is an idiot. The same goes for Suleman—if you’re planning on somehow having the wherewithall to raise fourteen kids, it might be good to get a job to feed them first.

The fact that Suleman has claimed she will refuse welfare, in other words, seems more than a little hollow when her mother is paying her rent. As for getting a job? Suleman wants to be a counselor. I’m confident that she’s not someone I need advice from.

In fact, looking at Suleman's situation, you’ve got to wonder what the doctor at the clinic was thinking. On one level, Suleman has six kids, so it seems like a horrible idea to implant her with six embryos—two split—when the American Society of Reproductive Medicine has already established guidelines that doctors should only transfer two embryos at a time, specifically because of the risk of high-order pregnancies.

But on a more basic level, why was the doctor doing the procedure in the first place? If I apply for a loan, they're going to check out my past before they give it to me. If you’re a doctor, what ethical precept are you working under where it’s okay to implant embryos in a unemployed individual with a history of suicidal depression and bankruptcy who already has six kids? I’m not the only one thinks there’s at least some stupidity in the idea; her doctor for the first six pregnancies had apparently hit even their limit, and had refused to do the seventh implantation.

Now that I think about it, she probably couldn’t have adopted—because no sensible case worker would have placed yet more kids into what is in fact the grandmother’s apartment.

In the end, you can’t even defend Suleman’s refusal to selectively abort any of her embryos as “courageous,” as Christina put it. By living for an entire week, Suleman’s children became the longest surviving octuplets in history. In every other case where all eight infants even made it to birth, at least one infant died within a week—in the first known case, they all died within 14 hours. Suleman told NBC that it’s “always” a gamble when one decides to have kids, and that’s one way of putting it. Another is that it’s a miracle her infants are still alive, and that she was, at the time she chose to have all of them, essentially leaving to nature and luck the choice of which would die.

Monday, February 9, 2009

I'm going to have Sex with Your Wife

I'm not quite sure how I feel about this. Why are the wives totally down with this? And what does this say about the ways men and women, married and otherwise, relate to each other?

To quote SNL's own Seth Myers: really!?!

Lady luck: the financial crisis and gender equity

by Chris Moses

The homepage of Britain’s Guardian newspaper recently ran a photo display of twelve executives ‘who made £1bn ($1.5 billion) as banks were bailed out.’ These global money-makers played the wheels of fortune and won while everyone else saw savings spin off into oblivion. Yet rather than bankers, the headline pronounced more generally: ‘Men.’ Just like their ‘Twenty five people at the heart of the meltdown’ (a mere two women among them), these male mug shots serialize an hardly discussed fact at the center of our colossal credit crisis. The hubris of sky-high finance has as much to do with gender as failed algorithms and greed.

The sex of those at the helm is but a small sign of credit’s long history as a thing of fickle romance. If anything, fortune’s latest victims fall in a long line of able men seeking to tame and enchant the capricious turns of economic chance. Since it arose as a means for business and an imperative to exchange, credit has been viewed as a specifically female phenomenon. Hard work by hard men earned hard money—silver and gold impressed with heads of male monarchs—in contrast to the more uncertain funds borrowed in advance, subject to risks in business and upheavals of time. To dally in such trade had no other parallel than taking on a woman’s whim.

As credit became a centerpiece of public, political debate—especially at the turn of the eighteenth century in England—writers emphasized the lady-like nature of credit: hard to satisfy, easy to loose and readily subject to disgrace. The patriarchy reigning in household economies metamorphosed as a way to understand economic forces’ impact on households less certainly under a man’s dominion.

Daniel Defoe, great commentator on economic matters, saw nothing clearer than virginity to describe the stark reality of how a loss in credit meant irreparable change (for the worse).

Credit is too wary, too Coy a Lady to stay with any People upon such mean Conditions; if you will entertain this Virgin, you must act upon the nice Principles of Honour, and Justice; you must preserve Sacred all the Foundations, and build regular Structures upon them; you must answer all Demands, with a respect to the Solemnity and Value of Engagement; with respect to Justice, and Honour…—If this is not observ’d, Credit will not come; No, tho’ the Queen should call; tho’ the Parliament shou’d call, or tho’ the whole Nation should call.

You break it, you bought it—this vulgar view of female anatomy not-so-subtly describes the paradox of dealing in credit. She must be pleasured yet remain pure, she must come when put upon yet remain intact for inspection by uncertain lenders. If you’re undone, if indiscretion or risky flirtation merits negative attention, nothing will redeem your worth in a lender’s world: reputation makes or breaks.

Another anonymous pamphleteer also used lustful penetration to describe credit. How dangerous to ruin her in a fit of first-sight indulgence—greater and nobler needs shall inevitably arise for a truly communal fulfillment.

O how are our Manners depraved! If there be but a door open to wealth, we rush in at it, without the least Demurre… And thus, with men that had no Checks either of Modesty or Conscience, the present Interest that determin’d their Practice, was the Hopes of screwing exorbitant Advantages out of the Publick Necessities of the Nation.

Sound familiar?

Yet another writer, John Briscoe, warned that a woman thus put out to the ways of the world will attract untoward competition.

[A] rich, cunning and coy Mistress…her Favors once lost are hardly recovered, because we have many Rivals, who are jealous, wise and wary, and will be sure to stop the least gap we leave, and hit ever blot we make in our conduct.

We hear echoes in commentary about today’s crisis. Credit is too ‘tight,’ and we can only hope that it will again begin to ‘flow’ and ‘loosen’; we must regain the trust needed to enter this now shuttered market. Yet the present mess arose from being too ‘easy,’ loans unchecked and prudence given over to indulgence—everyone a player. Now it’s back to a subtle dance of responsible betrothal—no wonder the scathing criticism of big boy bankers has sounded a lot like the vitriol of a divorce or the unapportioned condemnation of an abusive husband.

Less a parallel, history reminds us of how gender and sexual difference can shape economic turmoil. Whether it be women’s higher rate of job loss or an imperative to cost-cut in ways that exacerbate difference between men and women—not least the culture of unapologetic conquest and blameless entitlement that shapes banking culture—more than dollar and cents are at stake when times get tough.

Gender equity demands a foundational role in resolving what been so wrong for so long. Give credit where credit is due.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

How many children?

by Christina DiGasbarro

Tomorrow on NBC’s Today Show, the first interview with Nadya Suleman, the woman who gave birth to live octuplets on January 26, will be aired. A few snippets of the interview were aired on Friday’s Today Show to pique public interest. In the five-and-a-half minutes devoted to clips of the interview and some discussion between Matt Lauer and Ann Curry, a veritable host of important issues came up: how important her ability (or lack thereof) to provide for her family is; whether she is receiving so much scrutiny because she’s a single mother instead of in a marriage; what it means to be a good parent; whether her history of using in-vitro fertilization is significant; and, perhaps most saliently, what her motives for having a large family were.

Since it has been revealed that Suleman already had six children before giving birth to eight more, there has been a lot of skepticism about her motives. I’m not sure this skepticism does a whole lot of good, and I’m not sure it’s entirely warranted.

For one, it is very much worth pointing out that Suleman went into this last IVF treatment hoping for only one more child. When, instead, all six embryos (the same number as implanted in her past treatments) took, and two split into twins, she refused to selectively abort any of the children, a courageous decision which I admire and respect. It’s also important to remember that “all [she] wanted was children. [She] wanted to be a mom. That's all [she] ever wanted in [her] life.” While this is certainly not what every woman wants, we cannot deny the legitimacy of this desire any more than we can deny the legitimacy of a woman’s wish not to have any children at all.

She does admit that at least part of her motive for having a large family was to make up for less-than-satisfactory relationships in her childhood. There are, no doubt, unresolved psychological issues for her to deal with, but that does not necessarily besmirch her motives or make her selfish. After all, people have children for a multitude of reasons, most obviously and most often because they want to, whatever the reason for that wanting is. If she wanted all these children just for the sake of having them, or for the sake of the attention she is receiving, and if she then proceeded to neglect the children, that would, without qualification, be selfish; but thus far, that does not seem to be the case.

Ultimately, I don’t think people would be questioning her motives if she had given birth to only one or even two children instead of eight; she certainly would not be in the national spotlight if that had been the case. Questioning her motives, then, comes down to society making judgments about the size of a family—how many children it is appropriate to have in general, how many at one time, etc. Clearly, raising fourteen children is going to be more difficult than raising seven or two; but, since Suleman is more than willing to take on the challenge and has plans to provide for her family, how does it become our place to judge her for what she wants? If the challenge proves too great and she cannot provide even the most basic things to her children, that’s when her family or friends or the child protection services step in, because the welfare and basic survival of a person is more important than what anyone else wants. However, she has not been (and hopefully never will be) proven unfit; and it must be noted that she has already been raising six children, all the while having the same desire for a large family and the same possible psychological baggage that cause observers to cast aspersions on her now. But, unless at some point she proves unable to adequately care for her kids, it’s best to stop questioning her motives and simply wish her well, lest we open the door for public opinion to unduly influence, on principle, the number of children we choose to have.