In defense of the sanctimonious women's studies set || First feminist blog on the internet

Lost (“lost”?) children and families torn apart at the border

One of the biggest stories currently under discussion is the Department of Health and Human Services allegedly losing track of nearly 1,500 immigrant children placed with host families. In many cases, the story is that the Trump administration has separated those 1,500 children from their families at the U.S. border and lost track of them. As in most complicated situations like this, there’s some stuff there that’s right, and stuff there that’s wrong, and stuff there that’s conflated with other stuff. On Twitter, attorney Josie Duffy Rice sorts out the details and provides insight on what the hell is actually happening with all of those kids.

How to help with Texas — and what doesn’t help

Watching Hurricane (now Tropical Storm) Harvey ravage the western Gulf Coast, with no apparent intention of leaving before the entire region is under water, and feeling helpless? Reasonable. When what people need is to be literally boatlifted from their flooded homes, it’s hard to sit hundreds of miles away and feel like there’s nothing you can do to make anything better. But you can! There are things you can do to help.

Week 1 in the Trump White House: So that happened.

In case the blackening of the skies, shaking of the earth, and disembodied screams of the damned didn’t clue you in, Donald J. Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States one week ago today. (Just kidding; as Trump himself will tell you, there were no blackened skies because the rain stopped and the sun came out the moment he started speaking.)

An Invitation for Meaningful Dialogue

There’s been a lot of talk lately about dialogue and understanding. Liberals just need to try to understand conservatives, They say. People get defensive when you call them (or, more often, even just imply that they might be) bigots, They say. If we want to get anything accomplished, we need to meet conservatives halfway, (in which “halfway” is usually defined as “on their side”), They say. Generally, the response from the liberal camp is, “Fuck that shit.” You can’t reason someone out of a position they didn’t reason themselves into. It’s hard and unsatisfying, and maybe the New York Times needs to do a Dialogue and Understanding piece about people who are being asked to take on that struggle. That said, dialogue can happen. Here’s how.

The guilt that comes with having no sympathy

A lot of attention has been paid to the mystery of why, God, why, and how, and why again, any marginally intelligent person could support. How has a man who is completely unsuited, in character, temperament, knowledge base, intellect, and home training, to be the president of the United States make it as far as he’s made it? The obvious answer is that there are a lot more bigoted, closed-minded, hateful, ignorant people in the electorate than we’d originally thought possible. But we, as a society, don’t generally like to think of people that way — for all the whining about “PC culture,” we give a lot of passes to be people who absolutely don’t deserve them — and so we’ve sought out other options.

That’s where we’ve gotten “>so many articles profiling the “realTrump base — salt-of-the-earth, working-class white voters who are stumbling into a new world of multiculturalism, who are suffering from economic woes, and who just want some support for their very real problems. And yet, for all of that, I haven’t been able to escape the feeling that they need to cry themselves a river and canoe on home.

Thoughts on nail salons

Thinking about the 1909 Shirtwaist Strike got me thinking about immigrant women workers today. You may have read these NYT articles about the exploitation and abuse of undocumented immigrant women working in nail salons in New York City. What these exposes have to say is appalling, but not unexpected, to my mind–how did we think all those salons were surviving charging twenty-five bucks for a manicure and pedicure? Pixie dust? Of course they’re getting by through the time-honored method of screwing over women with few options.

I have not seen anything written by the women who work in these salons themselves. Well, that’s not too surprising. As the articles note, most of them are in the country illegally–they don’t want to draw attention to themselves, lose their jobs, and have INS Homeland Security called on them. So I don’t know how the workers themselves would like the rest of us to approach this situation.

I do know that this is a women’s issue, and therefore a feminist issue. The workers are women. The people who go to these salons? Mostly women. And not particularly rich women. So what is a feminist approach to the situation?

I’ve seen many people, sometimes men with an air of superiority to those frivolous women who insist on pretty nails say, well, don’t get manicures or pedicures then, do your own nails. Leaving aside the feasibility of this for any given woman (when I was in my final trimester, after a month of not being able to cut my own toenails, I asked my mother to do it for me because I couldn’t stand it any longer), this is an example what I think of as “purity politics.” It doesn’t actually effect change. It just keeps your own hands clean. If that’s what you want, that’s fine–you are not tainted by being part of the immediate exploitation of immigrant women workers in nail salons. But it’s not sustainable in the long run (try eating food in the US without being part of a chain of exploitation and abuse), which is why purity politics always turns into one-upmanship, and more importantly, it doesn’t actually help the people being exploited. Your personal decision not to get your nails done changes nothing, and even an organized boycott would probably only kill business to the point that these women would lose their jobs. Well, that doesn’t help them. They’d still be an inherently exploitable population due to their undocumented status, and they’d just end up being exploited in another industry.

I return to the Shirtwaist Strike. What about unionization? It’s not as though nail salons are inherently more exploitative environments than, say, coal mines.

And here we see how anti-immigrant, xenophobic policies work hand-in-hand with capitalist exploitation, by creating an underclass of people who have no legal recourse to exploitation. And the established unions have gotten very comfortable working within a legal framework, to the point that if an established union helps these workers organize, they will end up jobless and/or deported again, because established unions require legally registered workers.

So I started thinking about legality. The employers have dived into illegality, of course, by employing undocumented immigrants. Why must the solution be a legal one? What if the workers organized themselves with or without the covert help of the established unions and struck for contracts? How could such a contract be enforced extra-legally? Well…gangs and organized crime seem to do it. Employers who broke a contract could find their windows smashed, for instance. Employers who called Homeland Security on striking employees could find their places of business destroyed (I don’t mean fire, I mean more smashing). Of course, this brings us back to the association between organized labor and organized crime, and I realize there’s a reason for that association. When you are fighting capitalist exploitation backed by the force of the state, as you are in this situation, you need lawyers, guns, and money at the ready. You need to be backed up by force yourself. And who has lawyers, guns, and money to bring to the table? Organized crime does.

Anyway, this is all so much a flight of fancy. I’m not there. I’m not doing the work. I don’t know how the culture and experiences and background of the workers affects what they do or the solutions available to them. I just know that unless, say, amnesty and residency is offered to nail salon workers involved in organizing a union, which is unlikely, those workers are caught in a terrible bind and I don’t see a good way out. At this point, all I can really suggest is that if you are someone who goes to nail salons regularly, tip really really well, tip in cash, tip directly to the person doing your nails.

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.

You’re a lesbian? Prove it.


That’s what you have to do if you’re seeking asylum in the UK. Perhaps your family and your partner of 20 years have been killed. Perhaps you’re sentenced to stoning in your country of origin. Perhaps you jump through the necessary hoops and produce private, personal photographs and even a video of your sexual activities.

Is that good enough? Have you proven you’re a lesbian yet?

Apparently not to the government prosecutors of the UK.

Maybe you foolishly took measures to try and save your own life in Nigeria–tried to live undercover, married a man, even had kids (I mean, everybody knows lesbians can’t have kids, right? And real lesbians have never dated a man ever in their lives. Hey, maybe if you just explained you were bisexual, that sentence of stoning would be commuted!). Maybe you made the, um, “mistake” of “looking feminine” in Nigeria, either because you were femme or because you didn’t want to be killed. (Everybody knows lesbians never look feminine, right?)

A judge is ruling on Aderonke Apata’s case in weeks.

In my opinion, this is about the intersection of misogyny, homophobia, heterosexism (ever had a penis in your vagina? that penis is so powerful that it makes you straight no matter what else you’ve experienced.), anti-immigration sentiment, and yes, racism. It’s about the devaluing of a woman’s life, the dismissal of her trauma and of her identity because her lesbian experience doesn’t conform to some prosecutorial ideal, because she’s black, and because she’s an immigrant. Apata’s lesbianism is on trial, and 10 bucks says it’s not other lesbians who are ruling on it. (That wouldn’t make it OK, but there’s something particularly grotesque about a bunch of straight people sitting around passing judgment on whether or not somebody is a “real” lesbian and deciding that she doesn’t measure up to their bigoted white-centered stereotypes.)

Asylum for Aderonke Facebook page.

UK taxes are paying for these insults, just as my taxes go to the right-wing’s faith-based initiatives here in the US and the racist war on drugs and suchlike. And yet forced-birthers whine that they shouldn’t have to fund abortion because they “morally object” to it. Well, I morally object to any number of things in my own country, and what the UK is doing to Apata.

Punished for fleeing abuse


Nan-Hui Jo, a South Korean woman, came to the US to study. She met her former partner, Jesse Charlton, and had a child with him, a little girl named Vitz Da. And in 2009, after suffering repeated violence and abuse, in an effort to save herself and her daughter, Jo took her child and went back to South Korea. Charlton sent her threats, including one of employing a “nasty bounty hunter,” and publicly admitted his violent abuse of his former partner, including that he grabbed her around the throat and threw her against a wall.

Upon her return to the US in 2014 (nothing I’ve found has said why), Jo was immediately arrested and separated from her daughter. She was tried for child abduction and the trial resulted in a hung jury. The DA has opted for a retrial, ignoring the violence and abuse to which Charlton subjected Jo. And even if she is found not guilty, she will be subject to immediate deportation and thus continued separation from the daughter she tried to protect.

This case is at the crossroads of so many of the important challenges facing feminism today: the racism and xenophobia towards a foreign woman of color, who is being accused of trying to use Charlton for a green card (never mind that she fled back to South Korea); the lack of options facing women, particularly those who are not US citizens, in escaping abuse; the incredibly high rates of abuse incarcerated women have experienced; the persecution of women who attempt action to save themselves and their children from abuse; the refusal of our legal system to recognize that a man who abuses the mother of his children is no fit parent. It seems to me that, as with the case of Marissa Alexander, we as feminists need to support Nan-Hui Jo and make crystal clear the traps she has been caught in.

More details can be found here, at the Korean American Coalition to End Domestic Abuse’s site.
A Facebook page in support of Nan-Hui Jo can be found here.

Here is a Tumblr feed giving a play-by-play of what is happening in the courtroom.

Various actions and petitions can be found at these sites.

Quick News Hit to File Under: You have got to be fucking kidding me

Content note: the Holocaust; anti-immigrant sentiment

So, apparently some German authorities have had a brilliant idea!  What to do with all these asylum seekers?  Where can we house them?  What to do, what to do…

Oh, hey, look, we have these empty barracks over here?  They haven’t been used since 1945!  (Do you have a sinking feeling yet?)  Why don’t we just put these people in a former satellite camp for Buchenwald, which used to house–by which I mean imprison–around 700 people the Nazis used for slave labor?  What could possibly go horribly wrong?

I personally cannot leave aside the utter disrespect for genocidal suffering that was not even a full lifetime ago.  And in light of Germany’s increasing racist anti-immigration sentiment, this is a horrible idea.

I have little more to say except this: some history can’t be rehabilitated.  Some structures cannot be repurposed.  Slave quarters.  Concentration camps.  Some things either have to serve as memorials or be obliterated and replaced.  But storing people–actual human beings with hearts and souls and imaginations–in a place of immense suffering while other people decide if they have rights is unacceptable.  How could they possible feel with those echoes all around them?