Hello, we’re back, and what happened

Nice to be back (ObBritcatchphrase: to see you, nice). Sorry it was for so long, I hope the few of you who saw some updates on Twitter felt reassured.

So what happened? For some arcane reason there are barriers to automating payments from PayPal to our hosting provider, meaning Jill has to do that manually, and currently she’s travelling in India for work and only has sporadic secure internet access. So in the absence of timely payment, our hosting provider suspended our hosting account. Once Jill could securely access PayPal to send some dosh to our hosting provider, then they reinstated our hosting. So that was simple enough.

What’s not so simple is the sustainability of keeping the blog running on the current hosting package, because at the current level of pageviews the advertising is no longer covering our hosting costs. Jill and I are investigating cheaper hosting options for the blog, but it might take us a while to get it all sorted out, because as a consequence of being a blog started way back in 2000 (and for so many years had multiple posts daily), the database is so enormous that the logistics of transferring to another server (especially if we decide to go with wordpress.com or similar) are not as simple as they would be for the average blog. We will keep you informed once we actually have a plan and a timetable.

Posted in Admin, Blogging | Tagged | Leave a comment

Open Thread with Siberian Husky and Leaves

This Siberian husky “helping” his human rake the autumn leaves features for this month’s Open Thread. Please natter/chatter/vent/rant on anything* you like over this weekend and throughout the next four weeks.

So, what have you been up to? What would you rather be up to? What’s been awesome/awful?
Reading? Watching? Making? Meeting?
What has [insert awesome inspiration/fave fansquee/guilty pleasure/dastardly ne’er-do-well/threat to all civilised life on the planet du jour] been up to?

* Netiquette footnotes:
* There is no off-topic on the monthly Open Thread, but consider whether your comment would be on-topic on any recent thread and thus better belongs there.
* If your comment touches on topics known to generally result in thread-jacking, you will be expected to take the discussion to #spillover instead of overshadowing the social/circuit-breaking aspects of this thread.

Posted in Life, Politics, Popular Culture, The Cultural Canon | Tagged | 61 Comments

Boring, technical post about winter Feministe series…

As noted earlier this week, posts and comments have waned and waxed in regularity as of late, for various reasons. One is that most staff are part-time, with a predictable decrease in commenting activity as a result – no shock there. But a more structural reason, as both commenters and commentators have pointed out, is the nature of blogging in recent years. Most activity now takes place on blogging platforms, i.e. daily aggregators like BuzzFeed and Gawker, rather than on individual blogs. As winter approaches, we can’t promise more frequent posts – but we can promise more regular ones, based on this tentative roadmap for winter…

During summer, when we weren’t mocking rape culture, we were posting gaming vlogs with vaguely feminist themes. The vlogs themselves weren’t great, but served as creative practice for a project we’ve developed for months – an ongoing series of feminist videogame reviews, slated to start this winter. But we chose to practise first with vlogs, so we could make sure we knew what we were doing. We won’t bore you with lessons learned – if you’re interested, here’s our Tumblr post on the subject.

Why feminist game reviews? Isn’t Anita Sarkeesian doing a pretty good job on that front, despite claims by critics that her efforts to encourage women in gaming make her a fascist threat to civilisation?

Yes, Sarkeesian does commendable work, but it’s tangential to what we’re developing. She and her FemFreq team review genres, not games. And even when her videos are 30 minutes, they touch on 50+ games at a time – leaving little time to truly analyse any single title, no matter how pivotal it is to geek feminism or gaming. And frankly, seminal games like Half-Life and BioShock deserve more than 30 secs of analysis.

That’s why we’re doing this. We’re not competing with Sarkeesian’s work but complementing it, filling gaps where in-depth analysis is needed or deserved.

Do we intend to review every game out there? Hardly. For the first season, we’ll look at 10 significant games over the past decade, from 2004’s Half-Life 2 to 2014’s The New Order. (Anyone who’s played either title understands exactly why they deserve to be on a feminist list, but that’s a topic for another day.)

Each episode will be at least four minutes, divided into four sections…

OVERVIEW: What’s the game about? What’s its importance to gaming culture?

VISIBILITY: Does the game feature anyone besides beefcake white guys made of guns and steroids? We’re not just talking about women’s visibility but also POC, LGBT folks, religious people and the disabled.

AGENCY: Sure, a game may feature women and other non-traditional characters, but how much agency do they have? Are they on equal footing with the hero, or merely victims to be rescued?

PROGRESS: How has the game contributed to the progress of gaming diversity? Or has it, at all?

Each section has its own colour-coded theme. For example’s sake, here’s an orange theme in action…


We’ll also include behind-the-scenes development details about each game, to nullify the sort of accusations levelled at Sarkeesian that she’s not a real gamer who understands the industry. And to neutralise claims that we’re not hardcore gamers but filthy casuals, we’ve made sure to play every game on highest default difficulty (meaning difficulty levels that don’t require unlocking or secret codes.)

So that’s how we’ll do the first season. We do have ideas for crowdsourcing future seasons by releasing all our templates for free to the feminist blogosphere – but for now our focus is on this season, as we work to set the bar for others interested in doing feminist game analyses.

This is our first project to truly take advantage of online video. With vlogs we’ve posted in the past, we admit we could have done those as simple blog posts – we only did them as vlogs for technical experience. But we feel feminist game reviews are actually easier to do as videos, rather than as blog posts. The footage we use will take centre stage in backing up our claims about feminism in different games, versus most vlogs where video is basically background noise. We’re moving away from that now.*

I’m personally excited about this project, and not just because it’s cool. In the past I’ve worked mostly on the technical aspects of videos, such as their editing and design. But this will be the first project where I’m also the creative lead. If it turns out to be an underwhelming mess, I’ll be the one most at fault.

Got suggestions or criticisms, with regards to our plans?

* To be fair, we’ll likely post a couple spoken-word vlogs before our feminist review series is ready for winter, part of a deal we worked out with some younger siblings. They help with capturing game footage for us, and in return we help them with their own vlogs, where they talk about why they think girls like yoga pants or join ISIS. Life is interesting.

Posted in Admin, Feministe Feedback | 2 Comments

If your cause is solid, you shouldn’t have to lie about it. (Yeah, there’s more video.)

When I was little, in our house, lying was basically the worst offense you could commit. Honesty was a huge thing then, and it remains a huge thing for me now. That’s one reason all of these attacks on Planned Parenthood have been especially heinous to me — the lying to get undercover footage, the misleading editing to create violations that were never committed, the video Carly Fiorina lied about seeing. And now there’s more footage, more Carly Fiorina was right! footage, showing an abortion, unless it doesn’t, but no it totally does, or at least it looks like an abortion, but okay that’s not important because Planned Parenthood is evil.

The part of the “Human Capital” video — the one that Fiorina claims shows the thing that it doesn’t show — that’s closest to what she described during the debate comes about six minutes in. While no part of the video shows “a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says, ‘We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain,'” we do get the following:

1. Footage of a fetus moving slightly on a metal background
2. Interview footage with Holly O’Donnell, a former procurement tech for StemExpress (a third-party contractor working with Planned Parenthood), describing in detail a traumatic experience in which she had to procure a brain from a fetus after an abortion*
3. A still photo of a fetus in someone’s cupped hands

Of course, the video was edited in the signature misleading style of the Center for Medical Progress, cobbled together from various unrelated sources — the interview footage was filmed by the Center, the fetus footage was credited to the Grantham Collection and the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, and the photo at the end was not, in fact, from an abortion but was a photo of a previable premature delivery used without permission of its parents.

On Tuesday, Gregg Cunningham, founder of the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, released the fetus footage in its soundless, 13-minute entirety. He was unwilling to reveal the date, location, circumstances, or source of the video, and is “neither confirming nor denying” that it had anything to do with Planned Parenthood. But he does insist that the video depicts an abortion, performed at an abortion clinic to remain nameless.

Dr. Jen Gunter, an actual OB/GYN, disagrees. As someone with actual training and experience in the field, (and backed up by the nine colleagues she consulted on the matter), she says that everything — from the patient prep, to the delivery, to the clamping of the umbilical cord, to the non-delivery of the placenta at the end, to the type and width of the bed, to the presence of a support person in the room — points to, in fact, an 17- to 18-week pre-viability premature delivery. This is coming from someone who has actually seen those in person.

Until Cunningham reveals the actual source of the video — right now, he’s standing behind we can’t tell you, but it’s totally an abortion, cross my heart — we have no way of knowing for sure. But we already know that the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform isn’t afraid to co-opt someone else’s tragedy (and, in this case, compound that by posting close-up video of an unwitting woman’s genitals on the Internet) to make a point. It’s striking evidence that they seriously do only care about “life” when it’s still in the uterus — at the very moment it leaves the vaginal canal, it becomes nothing more than a prop.

The anti-choice lobby wants so desperately for Planned Parenthood to be actually cutting up live babies for sale on the black market that that’s what they allow themselves to see. It doesn’t matter if they have to fabricate. It doesn’t matter if they have to blatantly lie. It doesn’t matter if they have to twist some family’s tragedy to suit their purpose. Their cause is righteous, and we’re the monsters. And that’s why Cecile Richards was dragged in front of Congress, defending Planned Parenthood against accusations that they’re selling baby parts on the black market, and it’s why Planned Parenthood’s federal funding is perpetually on the chopping block — because standing between millions of women and the crucial healthcare they can’t get anywhere else is definitely pro-life and not monstrous at all.

*Several bloggers have said that the fetus O’Donnell references here is the same one that she described earlier in the video, tapping on the chest to make the heart beat; her descriptions of the fetuses in question, and the cut in the middle of the interview footage, make it more likely that she’s talking about two different events that have been edited together for dramatic effect.

Posted in Health, Law, Medicine, Reproductive Rights | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

A whiny, unprofessional, and arguably unauthorized rundown of the current status of Feministe

I want to jump in to clarify the situation here at Feministe, and it is at the risk of sounding whiny and defensive, but so it goes. I also want to make it clear that I speak only for myself, and EG and tigtog and Echo Zen might be grinding their teeth and locking me out of the system as they read this (which would be their right):

Up until a recent while ago, Feministe was helmed largely by Jill, a Professional Feminist. She was able to approach Being A Feminist as a full-time job, assisted by other bloggers, many of whom could only approach it as a part-time job, but it was generally okay because there was enough work to go around and enough workers for the work to go around to. When Jill was offered (what I assume was) a more prestigious and better paid full-time job as a Professional Feminist, she took it, which was great and cool, and that it left Feministe without any remaining Professional Feminists is not her fault. Regardless, the blog is currently driven by an assortment of people who are professional in other fields, and although you might think that several part-time bloggers should be able to add up to the content level and engagement of at least one full-time blogger, that’s (sadly) not the way the math works. (And that’s not even mentioning when one or more of those bloggers has to drop back for whatever reason and “several” turns into “one.”)

And yes, we do solicit guest posts, and yes, we have approached other bloggers to join as staff bloggers and/or contributors. Our guest post contributions generally run 1:2 people with actual contributions and people who would love to contribute a quality and researched post about email automation software that would pertain to the readers of our blog/website. We’ve discussed in the past problems associated with finding bloggers who want to join the staff. Trust me that we aren’t sitting here dog-paddling because our brand is so teddibly exclyusive that we can’t let just any old riff-raff post their applesauce on our hallowed blog*.

As a result, posting has been down. As a result of that, commenting has been down. Moderation has been spotty. So has guest-post-sifting. Sometimes, it comes down to posting a quick link dump twice in a week because a half-finished post of substance had to be set aside in favor of activities that will actually pay the bills. Sometimes, it comes down to forgetting to post a Shameless Self-Promotion Sunday and then not bothering to do it at all because we only get a handful of links, and they’re almost all by people who never otherwise engage anyway. (Sometimes, it comes down to everybody being legitimately overwhelmed except for one blogger, who had a really long day and has half a season of “Castle” to catch up on and feels really guilty for not doing her part, but not enough to put down the remote and the Chardonnay.)

Again, I can’t speak for any past or present Feministe associates, but I personally would love to have the time to follow the up-to-the-minute news and do primary research and deluge our cherished readers and commenters with hot and cold running content and original insights. There are a lot of things I would love to have in life. (I would love to have not bought a salt-belt car. I would love to drink beer and, like, play darts or something with Anna Kendrick.)

So in the future, when conversations run to “why has posting been down?” and “why are there fewer comments?” and “why is my comment still in moderation?” and “what should we get Caperton for Christmas?” and “you know, Feministe used to be so awesome. I miss awesome Feministe,” feel free to link to this post. The answer is, “Yeah, I miss Awesome Feministe, too.” I remember writing for Awesome Feministe, and it was a genuine thrill. I think Feministe is still pretty good, particularly for what we’re working with. And believe me that writing for Doing What We Can Feministe is still good, or else I would stop doing it. But the blog has changed in the way things sometimes change, and while I really, really, really hope that we can bring it back to its former glory, for now, this is the new normal. And I am sincerely sorry that we are currently unable to provide otherwise. And I hope you’re willing to stick around for what we are able to provide, and I hope we’ll be able to provide more in the future. Thank you for being a friend.

*Re-reading this, I cannot ignore the fact that “posting one’s applesauce” sounds like it should be an inappropriate euphemism for something.

Posted in Admin | Tagged | 20 Comments

More blatant lies about Planned Parenthood: The video that Carly Fiorina didn’t see

[Content note: Graphic, if factually questionable, description of purported abortion]

At the Republican presidential debate last Wednesday, Carly Fiorina made waves with an incredible and impassioned story, describing hidden-camera footage of (purportedly) a Planned Parenthood clinic (purportedly) showing “a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says, ‘We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.'” It was a very dramatic moment, recounted with great intensity, and one can only imagine how painful it must have been to watch that footage.

If it existed. Which it doesn’t.

There’s no such scene in the 12 hours of hidden-camera video shot inside two Planned Parenthood clinics by the Center for Medical Progress*, and it’s not in a video provided by her campaign the next day, a “Human Capital” video also produced by the Center. There’s stock footage of fetuses, and there’s fetus footage procured from a different anti-choice organization, and there’s an interview with a former tissue procurement tech who contracted with Planned Parenthood, and there’s a photo of a stillborn fetus used without permission of the mother, so maybe Fiorina could argue that it was all so vivid that she could imagine a situation happening like that, or that she misconstrued footage to think she heard it described, except for the part where she insisted that no, seriously, guys, I totally saw that.

To George Stephanopolous on “Good Morning America” the next day:

No, I didn’t misspeak and I don’t know who you’re speaking about in terms of watching the tapes but I have seen those images.


Well, you know, there’s a lot of commentary about these tapes being doctored. In fact, that’s what the mainstream media keeps talking about, is the tapes and their origin. Rest assured I have seen the images that I talked about last night. Rest assured that human lives are being aborted fully formed in order to harvest body parts.

And then tripling down on Fox News Sunday:

[Host Chris] WALLACE: First of all, do you acknowledge what every fact checker has found, that as horrific as that scene is, it was only described on the video by someone who claimed to have seen it? There is no actual footage of the incident that you just mentioned?

FIORINA: No, I don’t accept that at all. I’ve seen the footage. And I find it amazing, actually, that all these supposed fact-checkers in the mainstream media claim this doesn’t exist. They’re trying to attack the authenticity of the videotape.

Just in the interest of complete and utter fairness ad absurdum, I will accept that it’s possible that Carly Fiorina is holding out on us, and she actually does have that footage on her iPad and refuses to show it to anyone else because she’s testing us all to see who her true supporters are, like some gruesome Doubting Thomas kind of deal. I cannot prove that it isn’t the case or rule that out as a possibility.

However, actual logic would indicate that she’s just flat-out lying, over and over, which is shocking in no way at all, because flat-out lying is how this whole thing has rolled since the first doctored Planned Parenthood videos were released three months ago. And while I usually dig being right and saying “I told you so” (and to say otherwise would be a flat-out lie), I really hate that I was right when I posted before that the completely unsubstantiated accusations against Planned Parenthood, despite being investigated and discredited multiple times, are still going to haunt Planned Parenthood for years. Because anti-choice activists want so badly for it to be true that they’re unwilling to accept the reality that it’s not.

One of the most amazing, disturbing parts of this is that there are Fiorina supporters who watched the “Human Capital” video and insist that they saw the exact same scene that Fiorina claims to have seen — while the footage persists in not existing. A very specific scene, described in graphic detail. A conversation that she swears happened word-for-word as she recounted it. Unequivocally not in the video cited by her own campaign, and yet deluded anti-choicers watch it and swear that they also saw something that was not there to be seen. It would be a curious and intriguing psychological study if the impact that it’s having weren’t so dire.

And it is dire. While Senate Democrats did manage to block a bill that would ban abortion after 20 weeks (based on the medically debatable claim that fetuses feel pain at 20 weeks’ gestation), federal funding of Planned Parenthood is still under attack. This time, it comes in the form of a short-term spending bill introduced by Senate Republicans to avoid a government shutdown October 1. The bill is almost certain to fail when it comes up for a procedural vote Thursday, to be replaced by a rider-free continuing resolution, but what it shows is that Republicans were essentially willing to hold the country hostage — telling us that we can have our funding, but we’re going to have to give up the functions of our government to do it.

It can’t be said enough that, under the Hyde Amendment, Planned Parenthood cannot and does not use federal money to perform abortions, except in very specific and dire circumstances. The funds Republicans are trying to withhold support contraception, STD testing, cancer screening and prevention, well-woman care, and countless other services that would otherwise be unavailable to some of the most underserved and vulnerable members of our population. But anti-choice activists, supporters, and legislators are willing to withhold medical care from low-income communities, perpetuate out-and-out blatant lies, and shut down the government itself to destroy Planned Parenthood. It’s how they show their respect for the sanctity of life.

*Not to be confused with the Center for Medical Progress at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, which is a legitimate and non-lying-outright organization championing the importance of medical progress.

Posted in Health, Law, Medicine, Politics, Reproductive Rights | Tagged , , | 9 Comments

Interview with Debbie Reese

After I did my last post, about representation in children’s literature and Debbie Reese’s blog, American Indians in Children’s Literature, it occurred to me…why not interview Debbie? She’s incredibly smart and well-read and knows what she’s talking about in ways I can’t even begin to. And she said yes! I am incredibly grateful for the time she took to give such thoughtful responses. Thank you so, so much, Debbie. So, here is the interview:

1) Let’s start with the good: what are three books you would recommend, fiction or non-fiction, adult or children’s, to readers interested in finding nuanced, respectful, accurate depictions of American Indians?

Because most of what children bring to school with them is a stereotypical, monolithic, long-ago-and-far-away idea of Native peoples, my first choice—for children or adults—is Cynthia Leitich Smith’s picture book Jingle Dancer. It is tribally specific, set in the present day, shows dance as something reverent (for Native peoples, dance has significance beyond American society’s concepts of dance as entertainment or performance), conveys the significance of extended family, includes a traditional story presented as a normal part of our experiences, and with the character who is a lawyer, shows us as more than artists and storytellers.

In his The People Shall Continue, Simon J. Ortiz gives readers an expansive history of the continent that came to be known as North America. He names many Native Nations, starting with our creation stories and moving to our trade networks and conflicts, and then he moves forward in time to colonization and what that meant to our nations. He doesn’t flinch from brutal federal policies like the boarding schools that sought to destroy our nationhood by taking our children and though it was published in the 1970s, its ending is applicable to today’s society. He points to the destruction that capitalism is doing to all of us, and calls for all of us who have been marginalized and oppressed to stand together to fight greed so that, of course, humanity will continue. The People Shall Continue is also a picture book but its message is one that readers of every age can—and should—embrace.

A third book that comes to mind is Louise Erdrich’s The Round House. Too many people in the U.S. are not aware that Native Nations (there are over 500) have diplomatic agreements (treaties, contracts) with the federal government. In practice, this means that we are sovereign nations, and that we have police departments and court systems on our reservations that impact who is prosecuted and where that prosecution takes place. In The Round House, a crime is committed. But where it happened is the crux of the story. Who has jurisdiction? Erdrich’s powerful story helps readers understand our sovereignty. Though she has written for children, The Round House is for older teens and adults.

2) How did you come to start AICL? How has it changed and blossomed since you first began? How have various readers—librarians, teachers, children, parents, Native American or not, responded? (I’ll ask about writers later)

I launched it the summer my daughter was away for the first time. Learning the ins and outs of blogging occupied my mind during her absence, but the decision to blog was based on an interest in two things.

First, I had reviewed for Horn Book and got into terse conversations with editors about two of my reviews. One of those conversations was revisited a few months ago at Read Roger , the blog of the editor at Horn Book. That recent conversation captures why I think blogging is important. In short: my perspective has value and ought not be edited so that it conforms to language and frameworks that overtly or subtly marginalize diversity of experience, culture, and history.

Second, as a former schoolteacher, I know that teachers—who are already underpaid—use their personal funds to buy a lot of the items in their classrooms. Memberships in professional associations are expensive! Few of my fellow teachers (Native ones at the Native schools I taught at, or Latino/a ones at the public schools where I taught) could afford to join or attend professional conferences. That means they don’t have access to the research and writing that can help them in their professional development after they graduate from college. A glance at attendees at any professional conference tells us that, in particular, people of color are notably absent. With a blog, I could make my work available at no cost to anyone.

3) You state beautifully why this work is so important (Dr. Fryberg’s research etc.). What other kinds of changes need to happen to address falling graduation rates and high suicide rates, as well as negative self-image, among NA youth?

Stephanie’s empirical research is very important because it documents the impact stereotypical images have on Native and non-Native people. In the U.S. we tend to laud science, and that ought to prompt publishers, writers, booksellers—anyone, really—who is involved with children’s books and textbooks, to change course in terms of what they’re doing. Instead, the response is to cry censorship and violation of the First Amendment, as if a shift to factual portrayals is a threat to the country and to freedom.

4) You’ve done a lot of important work, from this blog to your years as a professor at the University of Illinois to your years teaching elementary school. You must have gotten significant pushback. What kind of resistance have you met with, and how have you addressed it and coped with it, both practically and emotionally (if that’s not too personal a question)?

People resist my critiques by defending some aspect of the book they think is more important. One example is Touching Spirit Bear. It misrepresents Tlingit people but because it is about a bully who faces his bullying nature, people choose to look away from the misrepresentations. Ignoring them means that Tlingit—and Native people—are thrown under the lets-not-bully bus. There’s a fleet of busses like that. The Weetzie Bat bus (LGBTQ), the Mosquitoland bus (mental illness), The True Meaning of Smekday bus (biracial protagonist), the Walk Two Moons bus (coming to terms with death), The Miseducation of Cameron Post (gay conversion camps)… There are others, but those are much-acclaimed and award-winning books that elevate one topic, people, or theme while looking away at misrepresentations of Native peoples.

I counter defenses of those books by not backing away from my critiques. We count, too. More importantly, our children count, too. One coping mechanism is to keep images of my daughter, her cousins, and their children in my head. Knowing that they’re likely to be asked to read these books gives me the tenacity I need to keep going.

I also have a circle of friends who I turn to when I need to blow off some steam, and I often have to walk away from my computer for a while before responding. Another coping mechanism is the emails I get from readers thanking me for the blog itself, my perspective, or, a specific review.

And I got a huge boost in July when Cree Metis artist, Julie Flett, wrote to me about an illustration she was doing for an article in Teaching Tolerance. The article is about Native history. Julie read the interview, saw my name in it, and wrote to tell me she wanted to include an illustration of someone reading to children. That someone is me! As I read her email I was stunned—in a good way. I have no words to describe how that felt. I’ve said delighted, and tickled, and humbled, and honored, but none of those convey what it meant to me. As we talked more, she asked about a book that I could be reading, and I thought of Simon J. Ortiz’s The People Shall Continue (described above). The article with the illustration came out last week.

5) I’ve always been impressed how open you are to dialogue with writers. I know you’ve had a variety of responses from them over the years. What is a typical response? Do any stand out, for better or for worse?

They range quite a bit! Some will doggedly rebut my critiques, while others clearly think about what I said and respond in a way that signals a change in their thinking. An example of the former is the extended dialogue I had with Rosanne Parry about her book, Written In Stone. As that dialogue shows, she was not open to my critique, but I think the entirety of the conversation offers a lot to other writers who read it. An example of a better response is the interactions I had with David Arnold about his book, Mosquitoland. At first he blocked me on Twitter, but later, unblocked me. He responded to my critiques, and—I think—changed the title of one of his songs, based on our exchange. Because his book was out, he couldn’t change it but did say he is talking with fellow writers and editors about it. I don’t have evidence that he is actually doing that, but I hope he is. I have a tag at my site for posts that include an author’s response:

6) Have you noticed any trends in the literature you review regarding gender? Or gendered trends in the responses you get from readers and/or writers?

I haven’t studied either one in the work I do on my blog. I did find, in my dissertation research, that most depictions of Native peoples in the children’s books I looked at (for the dissertation) were male. Even if the character was a girl, she was shown being a male. And of course, it was a stereotypical depiction. A good example of that is the image of Grace (in Hoffman’s Amazing Grace) as Hiawatha—Longfellow’s Hiawatha, that is! There was, in fact, a person named Hiawatha. He is a key figure to the Iroquois people and is nothing like Longfellow’s Hiawatha.

7) One very selfish question–for those of us who are not NA and do have children, what resources do you recommend if/when we have to speak to a teacher about a racist reading, or Thanksgiving-related activity, etc.?

Like so many Native people in Education, I feel weary just thinking about that holiday and the questions I’ll be fielding! A few days ago I got the first one for this year. A librarian wrote to say that teachers in her school are trying to do a better job with the way they re-enact the first Thanksgiving. They want to move away from stereotypical costumes the kids wear. They want accuracy in the costumes. At first glance that seems a good move, but it strikes me as similar to all the efforts to make mascots better by having them be more accurate in how they represent a particular Native Nation. Both (Thanksgiving reenactments and mascots) are creations borne of a White point of view. Both mean well, but both ask Native people to come onto a White stage, to perform in a White story. Another example: when the Lewis and Clark bicentennial rolled around, people wanted to reenact that, too, and wanted Native Nations along their route to dress up and greet Lewis and Clark.

The way that Thanksgiving story is told is deeply flawed. It is a feel-good story about America’s beginnings, but it one-sided and glosses over the violence that Native people experienced. Teachers think kids don’t have the wherewithal to hear that story in its completeness, and they think kids will get the truth later. Some will; some won’t! Some will feel something akin to betrayal. James Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me gets at that, but so do the words of Taylor, a 5th grader whose teacher shared with me (with Taylor’s permission) something she wrote: Do you mean all those Thanksgiving worksheets we had to color every year with all those smiling Indians were wrong?

By November of each year, a teacher has had about three months to work with children, teaching them about points of view. By then, the teacher could have read to children, or had them read, books by Native writers that give readers solid information about who we are. By then, the teacher will have students using specific names for tribal nations, and the students will know that we’re still here (I hate saying “we’re still here” but it is necessary). They may even know that we’re very politically engaged, fighting against companies that want our resources and/or pollute our lands! The students in those classrooms will be ready for a more accurate look at Thanksgiving, and they’ll share that new information with others, and there will come a day when the question won’t be a question anymore. It will be the way-it-is. It may be a long way into the future before we get there, but I am optimistic. It will happen eventually, and opportunities like the one you’ve given me with this interview, are a step in that direction. Thank you!

Posted in Education, General, Literature, Politics, Race & Ethnicity, Racism | 5 Comments

Monday morning mood lifter: The best defense

It’s a gray, drizzly Monday morning in Birmingham, Alabama, and I’m grumpy because I stayed up last night reading a book because I was hoping it would get better, and it never did, and I’m perfectly happy to accept a degree of sleep deprivation if it’s for a book that’s actually good, but this is just out of line, but you know what? This weekend, a kid in St. Andrews, Scotland, took down a bigoted street preacher in “the most Scottish way possible“: with bagpipes.

It’s not huge, but it always brightens my day to see bagpipes being used for good instead of evil. Happy Monday.

Posted in Music, Religion | Tagged | 2 Comments

Spillover #31

A red "Keep Calm" poster with the caption KEEP CALM AND STAY ON TOPICComments on our 30th #spillover thread have closed, so it’s time for a new one. Some reminders:

  1. #spillover is part of our comment moderation system for keeping other threads on-topic. It is intended as a constructive space for tangential discussions which are veering off-topic on other threads. This is part of our blog netiquette, which has the general goal of making it as simple as possible for commenters to find discussions focussed on topics of particular interest without entirely stifling worthwhile tangents of sorta-related or general interest. #spillover is also a space for those ongoing/endless disagreements and 101 issues that just keep on popping up.
  2. Commenters are encouraged to respect the topic of each post and be proactive regarding inevitable thread-drift in long threads: we hope that commenters will cheerfully volunteer to take off-topic responses into #spillover so that each post’s discussion gets room to breathe and tangents can be indulged in a room of their own.

More detailed outline/guidelines were laid out on Spillover #1.
The Moderator Team will enforce topicality where necessary, and off-topic commenters who ignore invitations from others to take their tangents to #spillover are one of the reasons commenters might consider sending the moderators a giraffe alert.

Posted in General | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Woman faced with deportation after going in for her gyn appointment

Do you remember the movie Heathers? I doubt it could get made now, but it came out before the modern wave of school shootings, and I watched it over and over again (until my parents got worried and took my copy away from me; then I watched it at my best friend’s house), drunk with the fantasy of a cool boyfriend who offs the popular kids (also, the main character’s name is the mark of a quality story). For that hour and a half, Christian Slater was the cutest boy in the world.

Anyway, there’s a great scene in the beginning when the school’s two king jocks, Kurt and Ram, decide to harass JD (Slater doing his best Jack Nicholson impression), the new kid in town. [content note for homophobic language]

“Hey, Ram,” says Kurt. “Doesn’t this cafeteria have a ‘no fags allowed’ rule?”
“Well,” says JD, “they certainly seem to have an open-door policy on assholes, don’t they?”

That’s what this country’s attitude toward immigration makes me think of. We certainly seem to be OK with home-grown assholes.

Remember doctor-patient confidentiality? It means that unless you represent an imminent danger to yourself or others, what you discuss with your doctors and other health-care providers is between you and them. That way, people won’t suffer and die unnecessarily, contagious illnesses won’t go unchecked, and your doctor can give you the best treatment possible because he/she/ze knows whether or not you, for example, have taken any illicit drugs lately.

Unless you’re in Texas and you’re an undocumented immigrant, apparently, in which case going to your gynecologist and giving a fake ID will get you turned in. They kept her there for hours, people. Hours, so that the sheriff’s deputies could get their shit together and arrest her in a leisurely way. Now her husband, also undocumented, is no longer going to work for fear of deportation and the family, including an eight-year-old daughter, is scrambling for income, while Blanca Borrego faces deportation because she had a fake social security card in her purse, found after her arrest.

Well, that’s great. That’s fantastic. Terrific. It’s not like there’s any reason to want undocumented immigrants to be able to get health care safely. It’s not like they and their families will suffer and die if they avoid doctors for fear of deportation, or that, if their kids aren’t able, for example, to get vaccinations, infectious diseases could spread across any number of populations, maybe even including homegrown white assholes. It’s not like ob-gyn care is essential to a woman’s health.

Oh, wait, it’s exactly like all of those things are true.

And what about the clinic that did this? They can’t comment because, according this article, of patient confidentiality.

Posted in Class, Discrimination, Feminism, General, Health, Immigration, Law, Medicine, Politics, Race & Ethnicity, Racism, Reproductive Rights | 9 Comments

So what went wrong for the slut-shamers?

When a teen is gang-raped and photos of her rape distributed online, the normal human response should be indignation toward her attackers – not toward the victim, for allegedly being a slut who enticed all the boys. Sadly civilisation has a long way to go, but even in the last couple of years, the cultural climate has grown more conspicuously hostile for misogynists who fancy themselves arbiters of women’s sexual worth. Something has changed – but what?

The gang-rape in question happened two years ago, at a time when rape victim suicides were becoming a depressingly regular feature in news cycles.  Rehtaeh Parson’s slut-shaming and death inspired my friend Emily to start her own documentary on the issue, having blogged months earlier on her own experiences in secondary school.

That was 2013. A week ago I suddenly learned she and her team had finished editing UnSlut: A Documentary Film. I’d seen a workprint during its lengthy gestation in postproduction hell – the major question on my mind was how much the world would change by the time the film was released, versus when it was simply an idea two years ago.

But in reality, the premise of her film is as fresh now as it was then. Not because rape culture has necessarily worsened – plenty of observers have argued otherwise – but because more people than ever, from kids to politicians, want to listen. This is not an environment where police can blame rape victims for acting like victims, and expect to escape condemnation.

Of course, cultural winds can change in an instant – just ask Todd Akin and Josh Duggar. So why are said winds blowing in our favour, for now? And why has the national dialogue grown more receptive to our issues?


Three reasons seem likely: 1) politicisation of rape and women’s safety, 2) resulting revitalisation of grassroots feminism, and 3) a presidential administration willing to leverage this into support for tangible action against rape culture.

The politicisation of rape speaks for itself. The 2012 election was the first in U.S. history where rape became a national issue – not because white men like Todd Akin and Rick Santorum suddenly decided they supported rape, but because they foolishly revealed their own party’s platform had been pro-rape for years, with a particular obsession with forcing impregnated victims to have their rapists’ babies.

This national spotlight on politicians’ beliefs, along with their obsession with politicising birth control and women’s bodies, probably had something to do with the electoral massacre that followed. See what happens when you politicise millions of women into realising why they might still need feminism?

This alone didn’t turn the tide against rape culture. What it did provide was human fuel for a seemingly unrelated development – grassroots feminists who, after appealing to the Bush Administration for nearly a decade for help with addressing campus sexual assault, found a new White House that was willing to at least stop obstructing them.

Granted the Obama Administration has been largely supervisory in its approach to sexual violence. Its biggest action to date has been to clean the Office of Civil Rights of political hacks, and staff it with professionals who returned the OCR to its historic role as nonpartisan investigator. This was a noticeable improvement over the office under Bush, who had ordered the OCR to scale back its focus on Title IX, which bans gender discrimination on campus.

Intentionally or not, the Obama Administration set events into motion by re-tasking the office with doing its job. In 2011, the OCR issued a “Dear Colleague” letter to universities, reminding them that refusing to take sexual violence seriously was a form of gender discrimination. At the same time, survivors who’d been trying for years to hold their schools accountable were networking online, sharing and discovering recurring themes in their cases, and organising to file lawsuits. The OCR’s letter was a sign that someone on a federal level was finally willing to enforce the law, if survivors pursued legal options.

With lawsuits came stories. With stories came outrage. With outrage came national conversation around why this was happening. The politicisation of rape back in 2012 had already set the stage for dialogue, for people to connect the dots between society’s contempt for women and the way it treats survivors. We have a long way to go, but the groundwork has been laid – more media than ever treat attacks on women’s sexuality as a serious issue, and blaming girls for being sexually harassed is roundly condemned, rather than treated as serious discourse.


It’s about momentum, the swing of the pendulum. It’ll keep swinging our way if we keep the conversation going.

From our past conversations, I know Emily and her mates made UnSlut: A Documentary Film so they could contribute to the broader, on-going conversation around rape culture. None of us knew if a documentary would still be relevant by the time it was done. I think it still is, and I encourage anyone interested to take a look and even consider organising a screening.

If you have questions for Emily, on her journey to the final cut or thoughts on online feminism’s future, comment below – we’ll follow up in a future Q&A!

Posted in Movies, Rape Culture, Sexual Assault | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Racism, Representation, and Children’s Literature

I teach children’s literature, specifically Golden Age children’s literature (1865-1926), aka Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to Winnie-the-Pooh), and you might notice that those dates in the parentheses coincide with the height of the power of the British Empire. So while students may register for the class expecting light reading about happy children, what they get is heavy reading and detailed discussions of racism and imperialism and its manifestations in the Empire’s children’s literature, including some of the classics we still read today.

One of the books we talk about is J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, originally published under the title Peter and Wendy in 1911. I loved this book as a child—I read my copy to shreds. I’m talking literally; my childhood copy is now held together with packing tape. I still love many things about it: the quality of the writing, many of the things it has to say about childhood and adulthood, the ambiguity of the narrative voice. And it is racist as fuck. And its racism is both unacceptable and inextricable from what it has to say about childhood and adulthood, and the racist ideology on which it rests is a large part of what justified—and continues to justify—the genocide of Native Americans. What is a Native American kid supposed to think about this book, about its status as a classic? When I was in sixth grade, my elementary school staged the 1950s musical as the school play, calling the Indians “Leaf People” in an absurd effort to mask the racism. What was a Native American kid supposed to think about that, that one of the best public schools in NYC would do that? And what did it teach the rest of us? It taught me that adults couldn’t actually address what was going on. Not once did any of the teachers try to engage us in any discussion about how the play portrayed Native Americans.

Questions of representation, particularly in children’s literature are never just academic. And one blogger I particularly admire who always maintains that thought front and center, is Debbie Reese, a Nambe Pueblo Indian woman, who is a founding member of the Native American House and American Indian Studies program at the University of Illinois. She’s taught at public elementary and Indian schools and on the university level. She holds a PhD in education and has earned numerous honors for her publications, teaching, and other achievements, and is a consultant for groups that wish to improve their understanding of and approach to NA issues and texts. She runs the American Indians in Children’s Literature blog, and is as kind as kind can be. On this blog, she specializes in promoting children’s and YA literature that has accurate, respectful, nuanced portrayals of Native Americans, often written by NA authors. She also engages in cultural criticism, discusses classics that are still read and recommended for children, like Little House on the Prairie, and critiques contemporary children’s and YA literature that perpetuates the harmful anti-NA stereotypes and ideology that justify genocide, that contribute to, well, let me give the floor to Debbie and quote from AICL:

I believe that these seemingly innocent books actually play a significant role in the lives of Native children. Dr. Stephanie Fryberg, a research psychologist, has conducted studies of the effects of stereotypical images on the self-esteem and self-efficacy of Native students. She’s found that these images have a negative impact on Native students.Research studies on the graduation rates of Native students show that Native students drop out of school at greater rates—and increasingly greater rates—than other population groups. Dr. John Tippeconic and Dr. Susan Faircloth published a study in 2010 in which they state that over the course of their years in school, Native students gradually disengage from school. In their discussion, they suggest this happens because Native students do not see themselves reflected in the school curriculum. More recently, studies have shown that Native youth commit suicide at much higher rates than white students. As I write, many tribes are launching initiatives to address the sky high rate of suicide among Native students. Given these studies, I believe the books Native students read in school play a significant role in how Native students fare.

One of the things that has always struck me about Debbie’s site is how positive it is, and how she is always open to dialogue with the authors whose work she praises and/or criticizes. When authors respond, she always elevates their comments to the body of the blog post, so that the reader has immediate access to the author’s perspective. She is unfailingly generous of spirit, in my opinion, anyway.

But voicing objections to racism make you a target, and Debbie’s come in for her share of targeting. Authors in particular can be incredibly publicly defensive about their work, and she’s been called “too angry,” told she has “too much power.” Sound familiar? Any time a woman, a PoC, a Native American takes issue with white supremacist or patriarchal ideology, we’re “too angry.” Criticizing texts is read as “attacking.” And “too much power”—what power is that? The power to speak up and on occasion, be heard? Merely not being silent is too much power. This reads as projection to me, and always has: Disproportionate anger, attacks, unjust power—whom do these qualities really attach to? Who are the real aggressors here? The representatives of a settler state/way of life or the NA woman bearing witness to what is happening?

Here’s another example of a NA woman refusing to be silent about NA genocide. Despite her behaving like a model student: doing research, citing facts, and disagreeing intelligently, civilly, and firmly with what her professor had to say (I have no problem with a student disagreeing with me as long as they are doing so based on research and/or textual analysis rather than gut feelings), her professor found her voice so threatening that he dismissed the class, accused her of “making him look like a racist,” and tried to expel her from the course. What an embarrassment to a profession that is supposed to be about intelligent debate! I don’t say this often, but I hope he isn’t tenured, because there are any number of deserving scholars who don’t fear a smart, passionate student and who could make the most of that position. I daresay some of them are Native American.

So this is a post in support of all the NA women—and men, and children, and all NA people—who keep fighting the genocide of their people and the lies used to justify genocidal policies and actions. Even speaking up is hard.
I also admire Debbie’s teaching. You can read an article in which she and an equally excellent colleague, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, talk about ways of teaching problematic texts. I’m a very traditional teacher—it’s me, a blackboard, chalk, a book, and talking for an hour and fifteen minutes after I take attendance. I deeply admire teachers who are more inventive than that.

Me, I barrel ahead with the direct method. I assign a relevant chapter from Kate Flint’s The Transatlantic Indian, about Edwardian ideologies about Native Americans and how they dovetailed with the genocidal policies of the US, and we discuss the way those ideologies support Peter Pan’s narrative about childhood. And I try to always keep in mind whom I’m teaching for. I teach Peter Pan the way I do so that when the NA students Debbie is thinking of get to college, if any take my class, they’re not driven away from or alienated by the education they’re offered. And because the way I teach Peter Pan gets to an important truth of the text, too. There’s a hard truth in there about how our classics are often underpinned by the ugliest, the worst our society or culture or nation has done, and I don’t want to be one of those adults who can’t discuss it.

Posted in Discrimination, Education, Literature, Politics, Race & Ethnicity, Racism | Tagged , , , | 17 Comments