Sunday, March 28, 2004

The U.S. Air Force Academy thinks that boys will be boys. Cadet Doncosta Seawell was arrested for sodomizing a wheelchair-bound woman, and his consequence was--you guessed it--he was sent back to the Academy to continue his education. Three months later, he was accused of rape by another cadet.

Seawell, a senior cadet flight instructor and academy boxer, was expelled in October of 2002 and sentenced him to two years imprisonment for the attack on the civilian woman. A couple of months before he assaulted her, he threatened to fly a glider through the Academy dining hall.

Every year or so, we hear horror stories about rapes and other sexual assaults within our military academies or among U.S. soldiers. Every time we hear such news, the military promises to "do something," but nothing is ever done. Who can forget the words of former governor Jesse Ventura, about the horrible Tailhook incident--"much ado about nothing." That seems to be the prevailing attitude.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

If you are a feminist (what a ridiculous thing to have to say--if you think women should have equal social, economic and political rights) and you watch C-Span, then you've probably noticed something overtly sexist in the Senate roll call. Only the women who are married or who do not use their husbands' names are referred to as "Ms." The others are referred to as "Mrs." By using honorifics in this way, the Senate has reverted completely to the era when we thought it was our business to know a woman's marital status.

Granted, the use of "Ms." in the roll call doesn't tell us which women are married and use their own names and which are single, but the discrimination is nevertheless present because the majority of them are married, and that information is being broadcast.

It always amazes me that there are still people who think it is fine to tell the world a woman's marital status, but not a man's (read the wedding engagement section of any newspaper). What is especially interesting is that most of those women get the honorific wrong, too. If your name is Barbara Smith and you marry Sam Jones and take his name, you are not Mrs. Barbara Jones. The honorific "Mrs." is correctly used only with a man's name; i.e., you are Mrs. Sam Jones (which is really demeaning--you lose even your gender in that one). Hence, the honorific "Ms." is the only correct one for married women who are using their first names.

I read an article the other day in which the author said that a lot of women who keep their family (she used the offensive term, "maiden") names fudge a bit and go ahead and use their husbands' names for school functions and things like that so that people won't be confused and so that everyone will have the same name. Are teachers so stupid that they are confused by different last names within a family? And what is the obsession with everyone having the same name? Are we that tribal in the 21st Century? Judith Martin once said that if the same last name is going to be used in the family, it should be the mother's, not the father's, because the divorce rate is so high, and the children almost always end up with their mothers.

Some people reading this may be thinking, "Why is this such a big deal?" or "Political correctness is out of control." It is a big deal because a woman's marital status is none of your business unless she chooses for it to be, or unless we are also going to reveal a man's marital status. It is not "political correctness" to treat people decently and to end the second-class status of oppressed people. We make these changes in a lot of ways, and language is one of the most important.

Which brings me back to the U.S. Senate. Want a "more important" problem? Here's one for you: More than half of the people in the United States are women, but there are only 13 women in the Senate.

Monday, March 22, 2004

This White House is something even Lewis Carroll would find mind-boggling, so consistent is it in saying one thing and meaning the total opposite. And nowhere does this trait come through more dramatically than in the area of Standing Up to Our Enemies.

First there is Saudi Arabia, our dear friends (which is to say, dear friends of the Bush family for many decades), 15 of whom blew the hell out of the Pentagon and the World Trade Center in 2001. The people who let 14 girls burn to death (and beat potential rescuers) in a school because the girls did not don black robes and headscarves while they were ablaze and trying desperately to escape.

Then there is Pakistan. Pakistan, according to the White House, is our friend, yet it is common knowledge that al-Qaeda practically has kiosks in the open air market within its borders. Last month, Bush's friendship got put to the test when it was discovered that Pakistan's top nuclear scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan, had sold Iran and North Korea information on building atomic bombs. Since you're either for us or against us, it would seem that Pakistan is having some difficult being "for us."

But the plot thickens. Oh, does it. The White House, not surprisingly, has known for a long time about Pakistan's nuclear ties to the Axis of Evil. However, it was hardly becoming for Bush to say anything about it since the vice president of the United States has known about Pakistan's activities since 1989, when he was George H. W. Bush's Secretary of Defense. To have made the activities public would have cut aid from Pakistan, who was an ally in the U.S.'s fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan.

Coincidentally, it would have also been the end of a $1.4-billion sale of F-16 fighter jets, equipped to deliver nuclear weapons, to Islamabad. It turns out that Cheney really wanted to sell these planes, so much so that intelligence analyst Richard Barlow--who wrote the Pakistan report and has reported that Cheney lied to Congress about Pakistan's nuclear capabilities, was forced out of his job.

And finally, we have Myanmar. On July 23, 2003, Bush signed a bill and issued an executive order that contained a ban on imports from Myanmar (Burma) in order to exert pressure on that nation's government to initiate democratic changes and to do something about its human rights record. How soon we forget! Only last week, you could order from the Bush-Cheney campaign website a cool fleece pullover with a tag that reads "Made in Burma."

Next time someone decides to restore morality to the White House, we should all get a big warning.

Friday, March 19, 2004

Marin Alsop, conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and a popular guest conductor in the U.S., was on Fresh Air this week. Terry Gross asked her to talk about the difficulty of being a woman in a profession heavily dominated by men.

Alsop replied that since physical gestures are interpreted so differently, depending on whether they are made by a man or a woman, it was hard for her to develop a persona as a strong conductor without appearing "aggressive." Appearing aggressive, of course, is considered sinful in women.

Then the conversation took a disturbing turn: Alsop advised young women conductors to be take care with their gestures, to find a way to convey emotion without having their gestures misinterpreted.

Oh, Marin, how could you? That's not much different than the old 1960's admonition, "Have a nice tennis game, dear, but make sure you let the boy win." Every time we teach girls and young women to be something that they are not in order to avoid sexism, we are locking them in a smaller and smaller prison. Sexism is a reality; we in the U.S. know that it is not going to go away, and it is our job to teach girls and young women to be themselves and confront bigotry, not find ways to adapt to it.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

There is a terrible crisis in Rhea County, Tennessee. They have gay people living there! But these are no slackers, the Rhea County officials--they have decided to ban homosexuality. On Tuesday, Commissioner J.C. Fugate introduced the measure, which would make it a crime to be gay. The county commissioners passed the measure 8-0, to a roomful of applause.

But why stop there when you can do even better? Fugate then proposed a measure that would ban gay people from living in the county. "We need to keep them out of here," he said. Whether the ban also includes bisexual people is unknown. Maybe Fugate didn't think it through. Maybe he will have to look up the word in a dictionary with lots of pictures. And then, what about families and friends of gay people? Will they have to leave also, or will they just not be allowed to have their friends and relatives live with them or visit them?

The vote on the second measure doesn't take place until April. In the meantime, the commission has to finely tune its gaydar in order to find all of the doctors, judges, community leaders, church members, neighbors, sons and daughters who are gay, so they can be thrown into jail.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

The assaults on gay, bisexual and transgendered citizens just keep coming. The latest is from the office of the new Special Counsel, Scott Bloch. Bloch, using a ridiculously literal and narrow interpretation of a 1978 law, has announced that gay and bisexual federal employees are no longer protected from adverse personnel actions.

(One cannot help but wonder how an employer would go about determining who in her employ was bisexual. Is there some kind of test to figure out who is hip and experimenting and who is a pervert?)

According to Bloch, a new Bush appointee, there is a viable distinction between discrimination based on sexual orientation and discrimination based on conduct. In other words, as of this week, you can be fired for being gay (but not for attending a gay pride event--isn't that good to know?). Former Special Counsel Elaine Kaplan called Bloch's interpretation "absurd."

I call it just another loving kiss on the diseased ass of the religious right.

Monday, March 15, 2004

Oh, that Cheney family...aren't they a riot? Dick hides in the basement, runs the country, and collects huge checks from Halliburton, contrary to his agreement not to have any financial dealings with them. Mary, his gay daughter, has suddenly become mute when it comes to her father's opposition to equal rights for gay citizens. But most interesting of all is Lynne, who in 1981 wrote--get ready--a lesbian romance novel! Her book, Sisters, apparently is about as bad--and as funny--as genre novels can get.

Lucky for us, author and radio personality Laura Flanders is celebrating the release of her new book, Bushwomen: Tales of a Cynical Species by presenting a theatrical version of Cheney's romance novel.

Unfortunately, Dick just isn't as into gay issues as Mary and Lynne are. He was one of only a handful of Congresspeople who voted in 1988 against funding for AIDS testing and research at a time when AIDS was considered an exclusively gay problem. He also voted against the Hate Crimes Statistics Act, and he has stated that he would support a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

What a family. Dick appears about a homophobic as they come. Mary runs away when her civil rights are about to be violated by her father. But at least we can count on Lynne for lines like "In the evenings I shall read to you while you work your cross-stitch in the firelight. And then we shall go to bed, our bed, my dearest girl."

Poor Lynne. In 2001, a New York Times reporter asked her about Sisters, and her reply was "I don't remember the plot." Well, who can blame her?

Saturday, March 13, 2004

I'm not a feminist, but..." Part 2

Considering the statement of the North Carolina essay writer (see entry of March 10, 2004): Such thinking is rendered even more peculiar when comparisons are made:

Do you ever hear an African American person say "I'm not for civil rights, but I believe in equal rights for African Americans " (can you even imagine an African American person thinking he had to say he believed in civil rights?!)?

Or a gay person saying "I'm not for gay rights, but I believe in equal rights for gay people?" (Well, we do have to wonder about those Log Cabin Republicans, don't we?)

It is only women who think they have to explain that they are in favor of ending discrimination against their own group, and who then have to further explain that they're not, you know, really serious about it. As for women who say they are not feminists, what do they possibly think they will gain as people by not favoring equal social, economic and political rights? What are they doing to their daughters, not to mention their sons? I doubt that there has ever before been such a large group of deeply oppressed people who either failed to acknowledge their oppression, or decided to embrace it.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning said it best: "If a woman ignores these wrongs, then may women as a sex continue to suffer them; there is no help for any of us--let us be dumb and die."

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

"I have never considered myself a feminist. I've not burned my bra nor carried a sign in the rain, but I do believe in equal rights and recognition for women."

So begins an essay by North Carolina writer Shirley Uphouse in a 2001 issue of a regional literary magazine. The essay itself is feminist in nature, and represents a kind of consciousness-raising experienced by its author. The first sentence, unfortunately, represents the kind of drivel we hear all too often from women: the "I'm not a feminist, but..." routine.

Feminism is a belief that women should have social, economic and political equality with men. Ms. Uphouse and others like her are feminists, yet they don't want to acknowledge it. Why? Probably because they have allowed the news media to define feminism as a ridiculous movement involving man-hating women. But what kind of woman allows the sexist and ignorant news media to define who she is? A typically passive, unknowledgable American woman, I suppose.

The other question the author's statement raises is: If you don't participate on the street level of a movement, are you still a member of that movement? Let's say, for example, that Ms. Uphouse is a registered Republican, but she doesn't attend her Republican state meetings. Does that mean she isn't a Republican? Or perhaps she's an Episcopalian but isn't involved with her church's organizations. Does that mean she is no longer an Episcopalian? Only with feminism are women likely to say "I didn't carry a sign, so I'm not one."

For the record, I did carry a sign in the rain, though I can't see that it did that much good.

And also for the record, there is no record of a bra ever having been burned in the Second Wave of the feminist movement. The news media made it up. But the news media is where Ms. Uphouse and thousands of her peers get their information.

Monday, March 08, 2004

If you are one of those people who doesn't think sexism is alive and well in America, you are not paying attention to the reporting about Martha Stewart. How many men appear in court and have their facial muscle activity talked about on the evening news? Or their clothing critiqued? How many men who are convicted of crimes have panels appearing on television to talk about "what it's going to be like" for them?

The New York Times, that famous "liberal" newspaper, described Stewart as "former chairman and chief executive of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia." Why, oh why, in the 21st Century, is it so hard for the Times to remember that Stewart is a chairwoman? Inclusive language is not "politically correct"--it is common decency. If the Times called Michael Eisner "former chairwoman of Disney," he (and probably eveyone else) would have a fit.

Since America cannot afford women the courtesy of acknowledging their existence, I propose that from now on, all chairpeople be called "chairwomen," all spokespeople be called "spokeswomen," and--when you enter a room full of men, be sure to ask: "How are you gals doing?"

Saturday, March 06, 2004

Just when you think the obstruction of free speech in America has hit a horrible low, wait--there's something new. The treasury department has issued a warning to publishers that if they edit (fix a typo, capitalize a letter, correct the syntax, etc.) any manuscript from a disfavored nation such as Iran or North Korea, they are "trading with the enemy" and will face legal consequences.

Those consequences, according to existing laws, could mean a fine as big as $500,000 and up to 10 years in jail. For fixing a typo. Publishers can still petition the government for licenses that would allow them to perform editing duties. However, having to obtain a license to aid the ordinary process of freedom of expression is both outrageous and frightening.

There is obviously no end to what this administration will do to destroy Constitutional freedoms.

Friday, March 05, 2004

Now that John Kerry is running for president and The Fog Of War has won an Oscar, there is a lot of national focus on the Vietnam War. All wars carry a hefty amount of mythology, and one of the most powerful myths of the Vietnam War is the one which tells of massive torturing of American soldiers because of the actions of Jane Fonda.

For decades now, soldier after soldier has come forward to say there was no such torture or any other kind of retribution, but right-wing Americans insist on believing there was. Former Senator Tom Hayden, who was married to Fonda, brings up a key issue: Why do we accept the rapes, burnings and torture performed by American soldiers, but condemn a visit by Fonda?

As Hayden points out, Fonda's main purpose was to expose the planned destruction of Vietnam's dikes. George H.W. Bush, ambassador to the U.N., called this charge untrue, but his lie was exposed in transcripts of conversations between President Nixon and Henry Kissinger, who both favored the idea of drowning a couple of hundred thousand Vietnamese people. Those people were spared, largely thanks to Fonda.

For her role in the anti-war movement, Fonda was condemned as a traitor. For his role in lying for Nixon and Kissinger, Bush was awarded by being elected president. What a country.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

If you don't already know that Crawford, Texas is one weird place, try this: There are some mothers there who seem to believe their daughters (and one would hope, their sons, but this type seldom pays any attention to the behavior of boys) will not have sex if they abstain from eating Girl Scout cookies.

Who knew?! Millions of dollars spent on pills, diaphragms, condoms and foam, and the trick is just to avoid those Thin Mints.

Some mothers in Crawford discovered that there is a connection between Girl Scouts and--wait for the revelation!--Planned Parenthood. The local Scouts gave their Woman of Distinction award to a Planned Parenthood executive, and for some time, they have endorsed a Planned Parenthood sex education program for both girls and boys in the community.

A bunch of upset mothers actually pulled their children out of Girl Scouts, and also organized a cookie boycott. The Waco area Bluebonnet Council of Girl Scouts bas severed its relationship with Planned Parenthood, and some Crawford troops have disbanded.

Let me see if I have this straight: Actually provide desperately needed education to kids about sex, and you are "immoral." Pull your kids out of an organization that helps them grow and develop, and do everything possible to stop their peers from raising funds, and you can rest easy, knowing your daughter won't get an STD. Right.

Monday, March 01, 2004

A woman recently called in to the Larry King Show to say that Carrie Bradshaw was her absolute greatest role model. How sad. How scary.

Carrie, for all of her wit and joie de vivre, is a spineless, whining victim of arrested development. We'll let the superficiality--the outrageously expensive clothes, the promotion of animal abuse for shoes, cosmetics, etc.--go for now. No one ever said Sex and the City was about social awareness. No one ever said America was.

But there is the matter of Carrie's personality. Unable to form a relationship with a stable man, she does what thousands of women do--she settles. As delightful as he is, no woman in her right mind would give Big another try. No woman in her right mind would have more than one date with the self-absorbed, sexist Petrovsky, much less run off to Paris with him.

The final episode, which, according to Sarah Jessica Parker, proved that, as Carrie, she was "loved and loving," was an outrage. The "accidental" slap hardly looked like an accident, but Carrie just accepted it. The nastiest part of the final episode, though, was that Carrie was rendered so paralyzed by her dependence on a man that she failed to attend a party given in her honor. For the main character to display this incredible rudeness and lack of character and be called someone's role model is revolting.

All the same, Sex and the City was a clever, funny and endearing show. But when it comes to role models, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte have it all over the insipid, psychologically impaired Carrie.