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


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

Single-blind, double-gendered study reveals sex bias in student evaluations

taintorimaginarymenThis is brilliant! (Well, more like a LOLsob). From Amanda Marcotte at Slate:

One of the problems with simply assuming that sexism drives the tendency of students to giving higher ratings to men than women [in students’ course evaluations] is that students are evaluating professors as a whole, making it hard to separate the impact of gender from other factors, like teaching style and coursework. But North Carolina researcher Lillian MacNell, along with co-authors Dr. Adam Driscoll and Dr. Andrea Hunt, found a way to blind students to the actual gender of instructors by focusing on online course studies. The researchers took two online course instructors, one male and one female, and gave them two classes to teach. Each professor presented as his or her own gender to one class and the opposite to the other.

The results were astonishing. Students gave professors they thought were male much higher student evaluations across the board than they did professors they thought were female, regardless of what gender the professors actually were. When they told students they were men, both the male and female professors got a bump in ratings. When they told the students they were women, they took a hit in ratings. Because everything else was the same about them, this difference has to be the result of gender bias.

Continue reading

A little slice of Yellowstone on Wilshire Boulevard

labreaI took a little break from thinking about history yesterday to think about prehistory instead with a visit to the LaBrea Tar Pits and the Page Museum.  The photo above shows what a dig there looks like–a jumble of different animal bones encased in solidified tar.

The open, ongoing digs were interesting, but I had no idea how active the site still is.  The Page Museum’s perimeter is full of bubbling tar seeps that will still entrap small animals and permit your children to cover themselves in tar!  For realz.  Keep an eye out for traffic cones on the lawn alerting you to an open seep.  It’s extra-cool, because this Yellowstone National Park-like seismic activity is all happening on Wilshire Boulevard in the middle of Los Angeles, on the same campus as the LACMA. Continue reading

“Worlds of Rape, Words of Rape:” Sharon Block on UVA Prez Teresa Sullivan’s public statement on gang rape

No time to blog today–instead do not walk, run! over to Nursing Clio to read Sharon Block’s analysis of the UVA gang rape story and UVA President Teresa Sullivan’s victim-denying and victim-blaming public statement, which focused on the harm to Mr. Jefferson’s University and its “dedicated Student Affairs staff” instead of the victims of rape.

Once again, as Block described so brilliantly in her 2006 book Rape and Sexual Power in Early America, the harm of rape is to men and to historically male institutions like universities, the law, the courts, fraternities, and the like.  And even women–just like Teresa Sullivan!–participate in blaming women victims and protecting men and male institutions.  Yes, indeed:  Block’s book demonstrates that in Anglo-American law then and now, rape is a crime so horrible that it never happens, unless its perpetrators are even more marginal than its victims. Continue reading

“Only after a man” called Bill Cosby a rapist did anyone listen: on rape, history, and epistemology

Barbara Bowman says that Bill Cosby raped her in the 1980s, when she was seventeen years old. When she told people about the assaults at the time, she was told that she was crazy, or a liar:

Back then, the incident was so horrifying that I had trouble admitting it to myself, let alone to others. But I first told my agent, who did nothing. (Cosby sometimes came to her office to interview people for “The Cosby Show” and other acting jobs.) A girlfriend took me to a lawyer, but he accused me of making the story up. Their dismissive responses crushed any hope I had of getting help; I was convinced no one would listen to me. That feeling of futility is what ultimately kept me from going to the police. . . .

I didn’t stay entirely quiet, though: I’ve been telling my story publicly for nearly 10 years. When Constand brought her lawsuit, I found renewed confidence. I was determined to not be silent any more. In 2006, I was interviewed by Robert Huber for Philadelphia Magazine, and Alycia Lane for KYW-TV news in Philadelphia. A reporter wrote about my experience in the December 2006 issue of People Magazine. And last February, Katie Baker interviewed me for Newsweek. Bloggers and columnists wrote about that story for several months after it was published. Still, my complaint didn’t seem to take hold.

Only after a man, Hannibal Buress, called Bill Cosby a rapist in a comedy act last month did the public outcry begin in earnest. The original video of Buress’s performance went viral. This week, Twitter turned against him, too, with a meme that emblazoned rape scenarios across pictures of his face.

While I am grateful for the new attention to Cosby’s crimes, I must ask my own questions: Why wasn’t I believed? Why didn’t I get the same reaction of shock and revulsion when I originally reported it? Why was I, a victim of sexual assault, further wronged by victim blaming when I came forward? The women victimized by Bill Cosby have been talking about his crimes for more than a decade. Why didn’t our stories go viral?

Unfortunately, our experience isn’t unique. The entertainment world is rife with famous men who use their power to victimize and then silence young women who look up to them. Even when their victims speak out, the industry and the public turn blind eyes; these men’s celebrity, careers, and public adulation continue to thrive.

So little changes in the history of sexual assault that it’s almost like it’s impervious to change over time, and it’s not just in the entertainment industry of course.  Powerful men exploit their access to young, powerless women, girls, and boys.  On the rare occasion that a young, powerless person speaks up, she’s told that she’s crazy, she misunderstood, she’s to blame, and omigod do you know what this might do to his career?  Continue reading