The Good, The Bad, The Ugly and The Interesting: A Massive Round-Up

There’s a lot going on in the news right now, and I wish I had the time to give each of these their own post. But alas, the internet at my house isn’t working, which means I have to do this all while I’m at school. And while I’m at school, I need to be sort of studying, and so blogging has to take a back seat to book-learnin’. Hence, about 20 items that are each interesting and important enough to merit individual mention. I know it’s long, but I hope you’ll read them all.

The Good

I *heart* Chen Guangcheng. This man is what bravery looks like: He’s a blind civil rights activist living under house arrest for challenging China’s one-child policy.

Nature has already taken away Chen’s sight. Now the government is trying to remove his voice as well as his liberty and legal rights. Chen’s landline has been cut. Mobile phone signals are blocked. Lawyers who try to visit have been beaten up. The state media are forbidden from investigating the case.

Chen is not allowed to speak because the authorities are embarrassed by what he has to say. Last September, he was abducted off the streets of Beijing by family planning officials and police from Shandong. He said they wanted to stop him launching legal action on behalf of the victims of forced abortions and sterilisations in his municipal district of Linyi. According to civil rights campaigners who worked with Chen, more than 7,000 people among Linyi city’s 4 million people were forced to undergo sterilisation operations in the first six months of last year. Women who already had two children were reportedly made to have abortions if they became pregnant again. If they went into hiding, their relatives were punished with detentions, fines and study sessions. Their lawyers allege that some people were beaten to death because they attempted to resist the operations.

China is a frightening example of what happens when reproductive rights are ceded to state power. I’m filing this under “the good” not because China’s policy is good, but because Chen is such a powerful figure and activist.

Dan Savage – Would you want your daughter to marry an “ex-gay?” Hilarious as usual, Savage lays it out on the conservative Christians who claim they want to turn gay men straight, but squeal in rage when a gay man plays a Christian character in a decidedly pro-Christian movie.

Frankly, I can’t help but be perplexed by the criticisms of Mr. Allen from the Christian right. After all, isn’t playing straight what evangelicals have been urging gay men to do?

Straight audiences are watching and loving “Brokeback Mountain” — that’s troubling to evangelical Christians who have invested a decade and millions of dollars promoting the notion that gay men can be converted to heterosexuality, or become “ex-gay.” It is, they insist, an ex-gay movement, although I’ve never met a gay man who was moved to join it.

This “movement” demands more from gay men than simply playing straight. Once a man can really pass as ex-gay — once he’s got some Dockers, an expired gym membership and a bad haircut — he’s supposed to become, in effect, an ex-gay missionary, reaching out to the hostile gay tribes in such inhospitable places as Chelsea and West Hollywood.

Sidenote from me: If, like Dan Savage, you haven’t gone to see Brokeback Mountain, GO SEE IT. It will tear your heart out. It’s beautiful. Get off the computer, leave work, go to the theater now.

Sometimes I wonder if evangelicals really believe that gay men can go straight. If they don’t think Chad Allen can play straight convincingly for 108 minutes, do they honestly imagine that gay men who aren’t actors can play straight for a lifetime? And if anyone reading this believes that gay men can actually become ex-gay men, I have just one question for you: Would you want your daughter to marry one?

Evangelical Christians seem sincere in their desire to help build healthy, lasting marriages. Well, if that’s their goal, encouraging gay men to enter into straight marriages is a peculiar strategy. Every straight marriage that includes a gay husband is one Web-browser-history check away from an ugly divorce.

If anything, supporters of traditional marriage should want gay men out of the heterosexual marriage market entirely. And the best way to do that is to see that we’re safely married off — to each other, not to your daughters. Let gay actors like Chad Allen only play it straight in the movies.

Word. More Dan Savage goodness here.

Women, Islam and Iraq: One woman says it’s possible to reconcile religious law with women’s rights.

In many Islamic countries, reformers have largely abandoned attempts to replace sharia with secular law, a route that has proved mostly futile. Instead, they are trying to promote women’s rights within an Islamic framework. This approach seems more likely to succeed, since it fights theology with theology — a natural strategy in countries with conservative populations and where religious authority is hard to challenge. Now that the United States has helped midwife an Islamic state in Iraq, U.S. officials would, for similar reasons, be wise to move beyond their largely secular interlocutors. If Washington still hopes to create a relatively liberal regime in Iraq, it must start working with progressive religious Muslims to advance the role of women through religious channels.

Now, if I were constructing the rules of the world, all governments would be secular and religion would be placed squarely outside of the political sphere. But, sadly, I was not put in charge. And if the Iraqi people want a religious government — and it would look like they do — then it’s important to recognize that, while still protecting the people whom that government could potentially oppress.

Some scholars, however, have continued to search for Islamic answers to the questions of modern life. Contrary to the claims of secularists who deny the compatibility of Islam and modern notions of women’s rights, Islamic attitudes on the question actually vary quite widely. According to “Islamic feminists,” Islam is actually a very progressive religion for women, was radically egalitarian for its time, and remains so in some of its Scriptures. They contend that Islamic law has evolved in ways that are inimical to gender equality not because it clearly pointed in that direction, but because of selective interpretation by patriarchal leaders and a mingling of Islamic teachings with tribal customs and traditions. Islamic feminists now seek to revive the equality bestowed on women in the religion’s early years by rereading the Koran, putting the Scriptures in context, and disentangling them from tribal practices.

Among the pioneers of Islamic feminism are the Moroccan writer Fatema Mernissi and the Pakistani scholar Riffat Hassan — although neither is entirely comfortable with the label. In fact, many religious progressives prefer to distance themselves from the term “feminism” and the Western cultural baggage it brings. These scholars simply see themselves as Muslims pursuing rights for women within an Islamic discourse. Their movement already spans the globe, is growing, and is increasingly innovative. Many of its leading lights are actually men, distinguished Islamic scholars such as Hussein Muhammad in Indonesia, whose high status gives them particular credibility.

These women are amazing. They re-define feminism within their own cultural contexts, and they throw a big fat wrench in the argument that Islam and feminism are antithetical. It is, of course, disturbing that the movement is being given higher status only when its proponents are male, but that’s the system. It sucks, but at least these Muslim feminists have strong male allies.

The Islamic feminists tend to focus their work on the sensitive area of family law, since it is the area of jurisprudence that has the greatest impact on women’s daily lives — and since it also leaves much room for interpretation. Take, for example, the Koran’s stipulations on inheritance. One contested verse states that on her parents’ death, a daughter should receive half of what her brother inherits. Progressives, however, point out that at the time of the Prophet, giving a woman any inheritance was a radical departure from Arab practice. (Indeed, it was a radical notion in much of the West as well until the twentieth century.) The progressives also note that the rule made sense in traditional Islamic societies, where women had no financial obligations, only financial rights. But today, they argue, when many Muslim women do earn a living and men do not always provide the necessary support, it is important to adapt the law to changing circumstances.

It’s great that they’re taking on family law first — it’s one of the more thoroughly fucked-up legal standards out there, and one that has affected nearly every society in the world; see this Human Rights Watch report (and let’s keep in mind that property rights in the U.S. haven’t always been exactly egalitarian).

The rules on veiling are similarly inconclusive. Progressive Muslims point out that nowhere does the Koran actually require the veiling of all Muslim women. Veiling was simply a custom in pre-Islamic Arabia, where the hijab was considered a status symbol (after all, only women who did not have to work in the fields had the luxury of wearing a veil). When the Koran mentions veils, it is in reference to Muhammad’s wives. The “hijab verse” reads, “Believers, do not enter the Prophet’s house … unless asked. And if you are invited … do not linger. And when you ask something from the Prophet’s wives, do so from behind a hijab. This will assure the purity of your hearts as well as theirs.” In the Prophet’s lifetime, all believers (men and women) were encouraged to be modest. But the veil did not become widespread for several generations — until conservatives became ascendant.

What all this suggests for Iraq is that sharia is not inherently inimical to women’s rights. It also suggests that the question of who gets to interpret sharia is critical — especially on areas such as gender equality, where the letter of the law is vague.

Read the whole article. It’s worth it.

HPV vaccine to receive priority review from the FDA. Let’s hope they don’t screw around with political agendas they way they have with emergency contraception. This vaccine could save the lives of thousands of women — and while the most ridiculous slut-shaming godbags on the far right would like to see this vaccine barred because it might “enourage” sex and women who have sex deserve to risk death for it, I have faith that good will win out here.

Break the law and refuse to do your job? Don’t expect sympathy from me. And good on the judge who will uphold the sanctions against you.

The Bad

Well this is a surprise: Black women in poor communities are less likely to be up-to-date with cervical cancer screenings. Cervical cancer is the fifth most common cancer among African American women, and women living in poor areas have a 71% greater chance of dying of the disease than wealthier women. Pro-lifers say, let ’em die!

File again under “Nothing New Here”: Anti-choice activists try and make life a whole lot more difficult for women. It’s USA Today, which basically equals third-rate mass-consumption journalism, but at least there’s an article on it.

Lack of birth control increases the abortion rate in Uganda. Again, nothing to see here — this is becoming so obvious it’s painful. And yet the baby-loving “pro-life” movement continues to tell people, “Just don’t have sex!” Oh, and abortion is illegal in Uganda — that doesn’t stop it from happening.

Based on surveys, the scientists estimated that 297,000 abortions are performed each year in Uganda, a nation of 26 million people, despite their illegality.

That comes out to an abortion for 54 of every 1,000 Ugandan women aged 15 to 49, well above the rate in East Africa in general, where 31 of every 1,000 women have an abortion each year.

Because of poor medical care, some 85,000 women a year — or 15 of every 1,000 women aged 15 to 49 — are treated for complications from an abortion, the surveys found.

I’ll say it for the millionth time: Anti-contraception and pro-abortion-illegalization is not pro-life. It kills and maims women and girls. It destroys families. It leaves born children without their mothers. It is anti-woman, anti-child, and the epitome of cruelty and immorality. And while I should be used to reading things like this by now, it gets my blood boiling every time.

And speaking of misdirected morality, Catholic hospitals in New York are apparently taking a stand for their version of “compassionate healthcare”: Refusing to offer emergency contraception to rape survivors, despite being legally obligated to do so.

While 7 percent in the overall study said emergency contraception is available upon request for all women, another 20 percent of respondents either tried to evade the calls, hung up on the callers or, at times, scolded them, according to the poll.

“The results were mixed at best, and devastating at worst,” said Catholics for a Free Choice president Frances Kissling. “Women of many different religions seek emergency care at Catholic hospitals, in part, because of their reputation for compassionate, quality care. That the Catholic hospitals we surveyed would turn women away in their time of need … is not only a violation of the law, it is a violation of their mission.”

So it goes like this: Woman is raped. Woman does not want to get pregnant after being violently attacked. Woman calls her local hospital. Woman gets hung up on.

What’s the response from these compassionate conservatives? Hide their heads in the sand:

Dennis Poust, a spokesman for the Catholic Conference of New York State, said he was unaware of any sexual assault victims who have come forward and said they’ve been denied services.

“Until they do? I’m not going to take this seriously,” he said. “They’re not a Catholic organization. Their mission is to undermine the church.”

State Health Department spokesman Robert Kenny said there have been five complaints of hospitals denying access to emergency contraception since January 2005.

Two of those complaints charging inadequate service and care for sexual assault victims were verified, Kenny said. The incidents, both reported in April, occurred at Erie County Medical Center and St. Vincent’s Midtown Hospital in Manhattan, he said.

So now that there have been verified complaints, can we expect him to take this study seriously? I doubt it.

According to the Catholics For a Choice study, staff at St. Clare’s told test callers emergency contraception is not provided under any circumstances — including rape — nor are referrals available for doctors elsewhere who may dispense the pills.

St. Clare’s has the area’s third busiest emergency department, said its spokeswoman, Ceil Mack, who questioned the study’s truthfulness: “Did they really call? What evidence is there? We have a very appropriate policy to address the needs of women who have been assaulted. We follow a protocol that is consistent with Catholic teaching and also able to meet the needs of women.”

“We follow a protocol that is consistent with Catholic teaching and also able to meet the needs of women.” So… what does this mean? Because as far as I can tell, there are a lot of folks out there who apparently think that “meeting the needs of women” means breaking the law, refusing to let women make their own medical choices, and cheering for the forced pregnancy team.

Three other local hospitals, — St. Mary’s, St. Peter’s and Seton Health — told callers they offer the medication with a caveat, either requiring a police report be filed, or a pregnancy test be taken, the poll said. Such requirements are not mandated by state law.

Now this is really fucked. Women who have been sexually assaulted have had a lot of power taken away from them, and Rape Survivor 101 dictates that you don’t force or coerce survivors to do something they aren’t comfortable with: This includes filing a police report. Again, in my ideal world rape wouldn’t happen; if it did, rape survivors would be comfortable filing a report and their attackers would always be punished. That isn’t the world we live in, and it’s cruel to only give women pregnancy-prevention methods if they jump through particularly coercive, sometimes emotionally damaging hoops.

The Ugly

Taking Choose Life liscense plates to a whole new level:

The bill is similar to many that have popped up in state legislatures over the past few years: it would have the Department of Motor Vehicles issue Choose Life license plates, with the fees collected therefrom going to Citizens for Life, and to issue Choose Death plates with funds going to the “Department of Mental Health to use for counseling post abortion trauma in females who have had abortions.”

Oh, fabulous! Go read the post at The Debate Link. He says it better than I could.

Who says Fox News is biased? After editing out the standing ovation following Rev. Lowrey’s remarks about Coretta Scott King, Morton Kondracke says that the audience “wasn’t exactly uproarious in its response” to Lowery. No spin here.

And speaking of “no spin,” O’Reilly makes a wee slip when airing his true feelings about Al Sharpton: He’d like to see him “in chains.”

Think women aren’t treated like pieces of meat? How about when supposedly “progressive” films literally brand them beef cattle? And it’s worth looking at who gets “branded” throughout history, because this is a really loaded symbol: Animals. Slaves. Death-camp occupants. And now, apparently, naked women.

Is anyone surprised anymore at the bredth and depth of the lies that the Bush administration feeds us? While people were drowning in New Orleans, Bush was strumming his guitar, yukking it up with pals and patting Michael Brown on the back. Condie was shoe-shopping. Post-hurricane, the administration’s excuse was, “We didn’t know the levees had broken.” Except they did. This is absolutely shameful.

The Just Plain Interesting

U.S. Representatives with daughters are more likely to vote in favor of abortion rights and other women’s issues. No surprise there. But then there’s this:

These ultimate insiders are the daughters of lawmakers, says Ebonya Washington of Yale University. She found that members of the House who have a daughter voted more liberally on a range of women’s issues, notably abortion, than those who did not.

Moreover, the more daughters a congressman had, the more likely he was to vote for reproductive rights. (There were not enough female lawmakers to allow Washington to draw firm conclusions about them.)

Emphasis mine.

Washington analyzed the family composition of the 105th Congress (1997-98), as well as how the liberal National Organization for Women ranked each member based on their votes on 20 women’s issues. The rating scale ranged from zero (consistently voted against the NOW position) to 100 (always voted in accord with NOW’s position).

She found that legislators with all daughters have NOW scores that are 12 points higher than those with all sons. Among those with three children, “each daughter is associated with an increase of nearly 3 points,” Washington said.

It didn’t matter whether Daddy was a Republican or Democrat: Having a daughter seemed to transcend partisanship or ideology to promote liberal positions on these issues — one more way children shape the decisions of their parents, she wrote in a working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

That would make sense — most fathers don’t exactly look forward to the day when their daughters are required by the state to remain pregnant, or treated as second-class citizens.

Then there’s one of the better and more balanced “inside an abortion clinic” articles I’ve read.

National polls have shown a majority of people support at least some abortion rights. But the stigma and shame – at dodging what often would be a life-altering pregnancy – remains strong, said Cheri Daniels, the clinic’s director of nursing who had an abortion at 21.

“I went through what a lot of them feel guilty for – relief,” says Daniels, now 34. “It’s a huge relief not to be pregnant when you don’t want to be pregnant.”

Clinic staff members point to patients like Annette, who can barely make ends meet now.

“So often what an abortion really is to her and her family is survival,” Baker says. “(With another birth), you can go under and you’ll take the child with you.”


The clinic operates very much as a business, turning a profit to provide the services, says Sally Burgess, the executive director. But she still dreams of a day when society talks without shame about sex and risk, responsibility and diligence, eliminating most of the need for abortion clinics.

“Wouldn’t it be better for women to have the education that they need, the contraception that they need, the healthy sex lives that they should and prevent unintended pregnancies?” Burgess said.

Burgess is absolutely correct. The only issue I have is with the first paragraph: “The clinic operates very much as a business.” Well no kidding. Would they write, “The hospital operates very much as a business”? It is a business, and there is no shame in paying for a medical procedure. Of course, in my ideal world these medical procedures would be free or at least covered by insurance, but this is our healthcare system. Why the surprise when healthcare clinics are run like the businesses they are?

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About Jill

Jill began blogging for Feministe in 2005. She has since written as a weekly columnist for the Guardian newspaper and in April 2014 she was appointed as senior political writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
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16 Responses to The Good, The Bad, The Ugly and The Interesting: A Massive Round-Up

  1. JeffL says:

    Think women aren’t treated like pieces of meat? How about when supposedly “progressive” films literally brand them beef cattle?

    It’s a horrible, offensive image, but it’s also spot on. The image is accusing the MPAA of doing the branding.

  2. Tony says:

    Well this is a surprise: Black women in poor communities are less likely to be up-to-date with cervical cancer screenings. Cervical cancer is the fifth most common cancer among African American women, and women living in poor areas have a 71% greater chance of dying of the disease than wealthier women. Pro-lifers say, let ‘em die!

    Gotta love it. 90% of cervical cancer is caused by HPV (human papillomavirus). This virus is transmitted by skin to skin contact mid torso to mid thigh. Note: condoms will not stop this virus. Among high school girls with one sexual partner, the rate of HPV is 48%.

    So on the one hand, you bitch about cervical cancer screenings (most of which would be unnecessary had they not been having “safe” sex as described by Planned Parenthood), and then hand them condoms to set them up for it.

    Talk about pegging the irony meter.

  3. piny says:

    It’s a horrible, offensive image, but it’s also spot on. The image is accusing the MPAA of doing the branding.

    But unless they’re attempting to make an explicitly feminist argument about how sexuality is only punished when it’s woman-centered–which I doubt–it’s sexist to use an anonymous woman’s flank as shorthand for risque content. The image of sexuality pictured and thereby reinforced is a misogynist one: the woman is an object on display. The use of the woman’s body is a dehumanizing one: that’s a human being, not a projection screen.

    Also, the violence and mutilation being pictured and attacked is not violence against and mutilation of that woman. The film is attacking censorship, i.e. violence against and mutilation of an artist’s creation: the picture of an anonymous, naked, objectified woman. The woman pictured is not reacting, not in pain–the image doesn’t even bother to show her face. That’s because we’re not meant to think of a person being hurt, but of an image being destroyed. That body isn’t supposed to have a personality inside it. There’s no crime against her here. It’s a little distasteful, don’t you think, to use the picture of a mutilated woman to communicate outrage over a different kind of harm to someone else?

    The fact that the image says something important about the MPAA’s crimes against civil liberties, which certainly effect women and which may or may not be disproportionately used against them, does not mean that the people who designed the poster were conscious of all its implications.

  4. piny says:

    Aaaarrgh. Affect. I mean, affect. Stupid man-juice make piny dumb stupid man.

  5. piny says:

    Gotta love it. 90% of cervical cancer is caused by HPV (human papillomavirus). This virus is transmitted by skin to skin contact mid torso to mid thigh. Note: condoms will not stop this virus. Among high school girls with one sexual partner, the rate of HPV is 48%.

    You know what’s ironic? The last link is about the campaign to prevent those high-school girls from getting the HPV vaccine which would prevent HPV and, as you say, the overwhelming majority of cervical cancer deaths that occur in this country every year.

    Also, please link when you throw numbers around. Makes them so much more informative.

  6. Gabriel Malor says:

    Pro-lifers say, let ‘em die! [NOTE: you link to Katha Pollitt’s “Virginity or Death!” article.]

    This bothers me. You’ve just painted all “pro-lifers” with the same brush. Click on the link to see what the hubbub is about and you’ll see that Pollitt does the same. She takes one quote from a woman who works at the Family Research Council and spins it into all out demagoguery slamming conservative Christians. (Similarly–predictably?–if you look up the New Scientist article that Pollitt is cribbing, you’ll see that author do the same thing.)

    An interesting fact that only took two minutes of googling to turn up is that the quote in the article, presented as FRCs position, is NOT their position on the HPV virus. For the FRC press release on the HPV vaccine, go here. The part that interests me most: “We believe that adults must be provided with sufficient information to make an informed, free choice whether to vaccinate either themselves or their children for HPV.” They go on to note the benefits of abstinence.

    Why did three authors–who we would hope are presenting objective arguments in favor of their positions–have to rely on just one quote (the same quote repeatedly) in order to make their point? Why would they? Is it because we all just know that those evil conservatives are trying to get women killed?

  7. piny says:

    The press release came out six months after the article was written, and Maher is not “some woman.” she’s an FRC policy analyst.:

  8. piny says:

    I think this was Pollitt’s source material. At the time she wrote the article, the FRC was content to have Maher speak for them.

  9. Kyra says:

    It’s a horrible, offensive image, but it’s also spot on. The image is accusing the MPAA of doing the branding.

    True. However, if that’s the case they should’ve featured a naked man being branded, since the MPAA seems to be much harsher on male nudity than it is on female nudity. (Can you imagine Titanic keeping its PG-13 rating if it was Jack lying naked on the couch being drawn by Rose instead of vice versa?) Women, after all, are the sex class, and we have to prevent impressionable young people from seeing men objectified onscreen in the same manner. (But why do I have the feeling that the people who made this movie don’t mind the censorship of male nudity so much as they want female nudity to become more accepted and available?)

  10. piny says:

    The press release came out six months after the article was written

    Sorry. This should be five months. The NS article appeared six months prior.

  11. other ryan says:

    Piny, I’m waaaay out of the loop and just now catching up on two months of blog-reading, so I have to express congrats to you for joining feministe here. Like I said the first time I read a comment from you – yours is a voice that deserves a big box to stand on.

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  13. other ryan says:

    It shoudl read “promise” …as in “I promise to use spellchecker in the future…”

  14. Jill says:

    It shoudl read “promise” …as in “I promise to use spellchecker in the future…”

    Emphasis mine, to point out that you clearly should not be trusted.

  15. kate says:

    It is interesting how so many people seem to not understand the severity of the image of the women being branded. So many reduce the women’s body to just a symbol. Headless, faceless, nameless ass and tits. Hollywood speaks volumes in that poster about its true position about what really ires it.

    Such imagery disgusts me and reminds of how movie moguels see women as nothing more than merchandise and their tirade about censorship is in truth limited to their frustration in being limited by the religious right in their ability to exploit women as far as they wish.

    As for catholic hospitals. I was a scared pregnant teen who went to give birth at a catholic hospital and was circled by cold, tongue clicking, head wagging nuns all night in a 1950’s style maternity room left vacant save for sinning whores such as they deemed me. The catholic church does little for the advancement of women, damn little and much to keep it in check. In respect to those of the catholic faith I will stop right here with that.

    My ex husband gave me HPV and if I HADN”T gone for an abortion to keep out of more desperate poverty with the man who didn’t believe in condoms, I would have had it for who knows how much longer? Poor women of all colors die of diseases the insured middle class and uppers have long forgotten about. Down here its just another day.

    The right has no problem with the notion that handing out condoms encourages wanton sex,(and according to a poster here, spread of HPV), but with the same mind they say that making guns easily available doesn’t lead to more mindless killings?

    Women can’t have the tools to have safe sex, but men had damn well better have whatever killing tools they so desire.

    I like Al Sharpton and I’d love to see him and O’Leilly in a true debate forum. Would be like watching a verbal wrestling match between the Gorilla and Mouse Man. Now that folks, would be entertainment.

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