Obligatory comment on this week’s outrage that broke the internets.

Historiann1990Once upon a time, a privileged white guy with writing gigs at various legacy mags and a prominent perch now at New York Magazine wrote an essay warning darkly of today’s “P.C. Police” on our college campuses and the internet because people sometimes say mean things about him and his writer friends (who also have sweet gigs at legacy magazines) on Twitter or in the comments on his articles.  (Or something.)  Full disclosure:  I’ve mentioned his work exactly once on this blog, and it was only to give him a nod of agreement.

There have been a number of serious and productive responses that point out the folly of Jonathan Chait’s claims about the “dangers” of “liberal P.C.,” but also agree with him that arguments among putative liberal allies can be aggravating and sometimes turn on absurdities á la “the Judean People’s Front” or the “People’s Front of Judea,” such as Megan Garber at The Atlantic, or J. Bryan Lowder at Slate.  In other words, they grant that yes, people on the internet are sometimes major jerks.

Yes, people are a-holes in general, and people with blogs are probably on average bigger a-holes than most.  But, for the most part, straight, white guys on campus or on the internet just get criticized or maybe called names, or get told to “check your privilege.”  White men don’t (for example) regularly get calls for their rape and murder, or death threats if they show up to give a speech on a U.S. college campus, which is the kind of thing that happens to feminist women writers on the internet.  A lot. Continue reading

Beyond the Binary: Trans* History in Early America

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Fall 2014 special issue

Rachel Hope Cleves has a detailed and interesting report on a panel she convened earlier this month at the Annual Meeting of the American HIstorical Association in New York City over at Notches: (Re)marks on the History of Sexuality. This panel was an outgrowth of a special issue of Early American History she edited for Fall 2014 on the subject of Beyond the Binaries:  Critical Approaches to Sex and Gender in Early America.

Cleves describes each of the four panelists’ contributions, describing their work on flexibly-gendered or trans* people and describing the conversation among the panelists and the audience on the salience of gender binaries as well as the value of reading trans* identities into the more distant past of early America.  I thought this exchange was particularly interesting on the question of viewing early America as a “golden age” of gender flexibility and trans* possibilities:

Questions from the floor followed, sparking productive disagreements. Questions from Kathryn Falvo, Maddie Williams, and Jesse Bayker, pushed [Sean] Trainor’s observation of the optimistic bent of the special issue. Trainor suggested that variations in the expression of masculinity in early America need not be treated as “assaults” but could be understood as tolerated iterations. [Greta] LaFleur stressed that her attention to the wide-range of non-binary gender expression in early America was not optimistic but intended as a corrective to the paucity of alternative stories. She announced herself willing to work in the speculative mode, not just the declarative. [Scott] Larson went further, insisting that he felt an ethical imperative to make bold claims for trans* history, and to escape the “land of caveats” in which academic history often operates.

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Whatever the reason, it’s your fault.

Via Theresa Kaminski on Twitter (@KaminskiTheresa), we find this McSweeney’s article, “Reasons You Were Not Promoted That Are Totally Unrelated to Gender” by Homa Mojtabai  To wit:

You’re abrasive, for example that time when you asked for a raise. It was awkward and you made the men on the senior leadership team uncomfortable.

You don’t speak up. We’d really like to see you take on more of a leadership role before we pay you for being a leader.

You’re sloppy. Like when you sent that email with a typo. You need to proofread your work.

You’re too focused on details. Leaders need to take the 50,000-foot fighter pilot view. No, I never served in the armed forces, what’s your point?

You’re not seasoned. Oh, wait, you’re 35? Well, you look young. Maybe if you were more mature, like if you were married or had kids (why don’t you have kids, by the way? We’re all a little curious) then we could envision you as being a leader in this organization.

Oh, you do have kids? Well, we’re concerned about your ability to balance everything and you look really tired all the time and I feel guilty asking you to stay late so I just ask good old Tom who’s a great guy and simple and easy to talk to.

You’re argumentative. For example, right now you’re upset that you didn’t get a promotion and you’re asking for concrete examples of what you can do better. I really don’t want to get into the nitty-gritty and you should trust my judgment anyways.

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Anti-abortion legislation failed because Republicans aren’t really “pro-life.”

reallyuglybabyI’m sure most of you have heard that the new congress failed to pass their anti-abortion bill Wednesday:

They almost made it, but then the GOP coalition fell apart—not on wavering opposition to abortion overall, but on the technicalities. Like many such proposals, the bill would have allowed for exceptions in a few limited cases, such as rape. This bill made rape an exception, but only if a woman reported it to law enforcement. As Ed O’Keefe reports, that set off alarms for a bloc of female Republican lawmakers. They worried that the rape-reporting restriction was too strict, and that the bill would alienate young voters and women from the party. And so Wednesday evening, GOP leaders abruptly yanked the bill. Instead, the House passed a less restrictive bill Thursday, permanently banning federal money from going to pay for abortions. A ban already exists, but it has to be renewed every year.

The rape exemptions always mystify me:  if fetal life is worth preserving, then isn’t all fetal life worth saving, regardless of the circumstances of its conception?  Why should we hold innocent fetuses responsible for their fathers’ crimes?  I have taught at more than one Catholic university, so I’ve heard and seen it all when it comes to “pro-life” arguments, but this question always struck me as really, really simple:  if you’re “pro-life,” how does a rape exemption make sense unless you believe somehow that fetuses are evil and deserve the death penalty because their fathers are rapists?  (Most Americans gave up on original sin, like 200 years ago or so.  Get with the program, “pro-lifers!”) Continue reading

There are no founding mothers, just embarassing aunties and cleaner-uppers: the care work we demand of women and no one else

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Eve Ensler

This story, of Mount Holyoke College cancelling a performance of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues because it was deemed exclusive of transwomen’s experiences, is a perfect example of the care work we expect of women, their institutions, and feminism, and of no one else.  We never demand that men’s or male-dominated political movements or institutions serve absolutely every other social justice issue first, second, or third, before they can work on their announced and preferred issue or issues.  This is only a demand we make of women and their institutions and political movements, because we expect this kind of care work from women and not from men.

On a related note:  the message here is just shut up.  Stop talking.  Stop acting like your experience is relevant to anyone else.  Shut up, already!!!  Stop talking about vaginas!  As though any one monologue–get it?–could presume to represent everyone’s experience.  The title of the play is very intentionally The Vagina Monologues, with the “s” indicating that there is more than one experience recounted here.  But somehow, we see the word Vagina, and we stop thinking and start screaming “SHUT UP!!!” Continue reading

“Who can you trust?”

Stressed out?  At the end of your rope?  You have to hear this story by Mary-Claire King on the Moth.  King is the American Cancer Society Professor in the Department of Medicine and the Department of Genome Sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle.  Her name probably sounds familiar to you because she was the discoverer of BRCA1, the gene she named that proves that breast cancer is inherited in some families.

I had the honor of meeting King a few times in the 1990s because one of my best friends from college was her microbiology Ph.D. student.  We had a fascinating conversation about mitochondrial DNA (the kind you get from your mother & can use to trace the maternal line), and the possibilities it opened for learning more about Native American history and early American history in general. Continue reading