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

The ABC of ABCDs

So most of y’all will know what ‘ABCD’stands for; if not, the term was coined to fit a collective experience of growing up as a brown face in a white space. ‘American-Born-Confused-Desi’ was a 1999 film about the plight of our parents in wanting to see their newly Americanized kids reaping the rewards of the old South Asian proverb: ‘health, wealth and wife.’ It’s an acronym for the generational divide that whilst not being specific to the South Asian/American diasporic community, is almost exclusively attributed to it. In this article I want to redefine the ABCD term and challenge old notions of what it means to be born brown in America.

Feminists Should Support Immigration Reform

Some people find it difficult to understand why immigration reform would be considered a feminist issue, but feminism and other human rights efforts are not mutually exclusive. Feminism is about fighting against inequality, exploitation, violence and ignorance, and the fight for one marginalized group is not so different from another. Thus, feminists should come out in support for immigration reform.

On Being A Good Lebanese Girl

Or a good Greek girl. Or a good Indian girl. Or a good Mexican girl. Or a good any-ethnicity-that-has-ever-been-shoved-down-your-throat-ever girl.

I want you to meet Charlie. Charlie and I met each other just a little over a year ago—but I can’t believe it’s only been that short. He was holding an appletini and talking about fashion. I was drinking a Brooklyn Lager and talking about politics.

“I mostly write about the Middle East—it’s a little bit personal because my family is from there”

“Oh my god, me too. Where from?”


“Me too!”

That night, we talked about everything. We talked about fashion in Beirut. We talked about drag queen names—he said he would be, “Anya Knees.” We talked about Lebanon. I made him tell me stories about living there. We talked about our music. We talked about our culture. We talked about our families. We talked about our mothers. We talked about our traditions. We talked about that we were both Greek Orthodox. We talked about our recipes and our food—we talked a lot about food.

Our first date, just the two of us was a Middle Eastern restaurant in the East Village called Moustache. We only fell more in love.

Charlie is a self-proclaimed “Good Lebanese Girl.” He was born in Beirut—and came to the United States in 2006, when the country was rocked with instability as the Israeli Defense Force bombed the southern part of the country. His family went to California, where they opened a Lebanese restaurant that he worked at—later, he moved to New York City to study fashion design.

Once a month, Charlie drags me out to “Habibi Night”—a night of music and dancing for gay Arabs—or as he calls them, “gayrabs”—living in New York City. We dance. We celebrate. We get in conversations about our backgrounds with strangers and exchange stories.

On other nights, we’ve stayed in—cooking food and talking about our opinions on religion, traditionalism and how it’s affected our families and everyone else around us. We’ve talked about the differences of being Lebanese-American and being American, and how when we meet another one of our bretheren we feel more at home. Some of these conversations have taken place in his tiny studio apartment, underneath his gigantic Lebanese flag. Other times they have happened at other friends’ apartments, typically while wearing blonde wigs.

Recently, Charlie decided to move back to Lebanon—his parents had moved back there, and Charlie was both looking for a change and responding to a longing that he had felt since he left. I was nervous about him—he isn’t out to his family, and he was moving home to a country where homosexuality is illegal. Last time he was in Lebanon, he was younger and hadn’t come out yet—and despite the fact that it is painted as the progressive country of the Middle East because women can wear mini skirts, there are still many arcane laws and customs.

For our last dinner before his departure, we met at Moustache for old times sake. He looked stylish and fabulous as always—reading the Arabic written on the walls out loud to me. Equal parts gay and Lebanese, embracing and never compromising all elements of his identity. I couldn’t help worrying about him—as the country of our origins once again flirts with instability, all I wanted to do was hold him close.

But the time came to say goodbye. As I walked home, missing him since the moment we parted ways, I thought about our friendship, our heritage and our identities. Neither of us are exactly the ideal good Lebanese girl. I moved far away from my family, am twenty-one years old and don’t have a child with another one on the way and no intention of making this happen for a while. I am outspoken on a variety of topics, curse like a sailor and am most likely inadvertently offensive. I have no embroidery skills. Charlie is gay, a connoisseur of fine drag queens and fashion, is not and will never date a woman. However, when we are together, we talk about our heritage. We talk about our families, we talk about how politics shaped our lives—and brought us together to New York City, only to discuss the layers of history of another place that we identify with. We talk about how our identity has changed how we articulate our passions—fashion and politics. We dance. We celebrate our culture. We imagine meeting again in Lebanon.

We call our families everyday. We discuss and obsess over our heritage. We piece together our stories. We are proud. Our heritage and culture matters to us.

We are the perfect good Lebanese girls.

Immigration Good + Bad

The good news is that Obama announced an initiative that would stop the deportation of immigrants who came here as children and have either completed high school or served in the military. The bad news is that by many measures, children in immigrant families — 9 out of 10 of whom are U.S. citizens — aren’t doing as well as children of U.S.-born parents. Children of immigrant parents are less likely to complete high school, more likely to live in poverty, less likely to have health insurance and significantly less likely to become proficient in English by the 4th grade (and if a child isn’t proficient in English by the 4th grade, it’s unlikely they’ll ever catch up).

Filming Against Odds: Undocumented Youth “Come Out” With Their Dreams

By Anne Galisky, cross-posted at On The Issues Magazine.

“Papers”is the story of undocumented youth and the challenges they face as they turn 18 without legal status. More than two million undocumented children live in the U.S. today, most with no path to obtain citizenship. These are youth who were born outside the U.S. and yet know only the U.S. as home. The film highlights five undocumented youth who are “American” in every sense but their legal paperwork.

Bronze Bikinis for Beneficence

Well, Labor Day weekend is coming up, and if you live in Atlanta and don’t have room to fart in Midtown with the addition of 40,000 tourists dressed like stormtroopers, you know what that means: DragonCon. And if you’ve ever been one of those 40,000 tourists, pressed tit-to-bare-back with a chick in a bronze bikini top and a big, plastic neck chain, you know what that means: Slave Leia Watch 2011.

It’s always a good time. Unfortunately, Slave Leia Watch 2010 ended without an official tally, as the then-new release of Prince of Persia made it difficult to distinguish Slave Leia from Princess Tamina at a quick glance. (Hint: If she’s accompanied by an embarrassed-looking guy in a leather breastplate and Keith Urban’s castoff hairpiece, it’s Tamina.) But seeing as how this year’s sci-fi hottie of choice wears a black leather glow-in-the-dark bodysuit, 2011 should be an easier time.

And for 2011, it’s going to mean something. This year, the traditional count of the traditional (objectifying, not terribly imaginative) go-to sexy cosplay classic will turn into a donation to a deserving charity. I’m having trouble, though, deciding on a charity–I’m really lousy at that part–so I thought I’d put it to the brilliant crowd at Feministe for advice.

Option 1: Planned Parenthood. Obviously a solid call, and certainly they could use the help as the government decides that men’s health care is health care, but women’s health care is something extra that isn’t worthy of federal support.

Option 2: Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres. I really respect the work they do anyway, but staggering situations like the current one in Somalia make the need for donations that much more urgent.

Option 3: Southern Poverty Law Center. The SPLC is challenging the shameful new “papers, please” immigration law in Alabama. I figure they need all the help they can get.

The pledge: I’ll donate $5US for every woman I see dressed as Slave Leia at this year’s DragonCon, and $10US for every Rebel Leia (or dude Slave Leia), to the charity of your collective choice. Vote for your favorite organization or suggest one of your own in comments, and I’ll provide a final count next Monday night-ish after the dust has settled.

There Are No Perfect Accusers.

The big story in the news today is the release on Dominique Strauss-Kahn as the sexual assault case against him teeters. The New York Times features a breathtakingly victim-blamey article about the accuser’s credibility, detailing the ways in which she is not a perfect human being:

The sexual assault case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn is on the verge of collapse as investigators have uncovered major holes in the credibility of the housekeeper who charged that he attacked her in his Manhattan hotel suite in May, according to two well-placed law enforcement officials.

Although forensic tests found unambiguous evidence of a sexual encounter between Mr. Strauss-Kahn, a French politician, and the woman, prosecutors now do not believe much of what the accuser has told them about the circumstances or about herself.

Since her initial allegation on May 14, the accuser has repeatedly lied, one of the law enforcement officials said.

There’s no indication that she actually lied about being raped; instead, it turns out that she has lied about other things in the course of her adult life (shocking stuff, I know), and her actions immediately following the alleged assault. Here’s what she lied about:

According to the two officials, the woman had a phone conversation with an incarcerated man within a day of her encounter with Mr. Strauss-Kahn in which she discussed the possible benefits of pursuing the charges against him. The conversation was recorded.

That man, the investigators learned, had been arrested on charges of possessing 400 pounds of marijuana. He is among a number of individuals who made multiple cash deposits, totaling around $100,000, into the woman’s bank account over the last two years. The deposits were made in Arizona, Georgia, New York and Pennsylvania.

The investigators also learned that she was paying hundreds of dollars every month in phone charges to five companies. The woman had insisted she had only one phone and said she knew nothing about the deposits except that they were made by a man she described as her fiancé and his friends.

In addition, one of the officials said, she told investigators that her application for asylum included mention of a previous rape, but there was no such account in the application. She also told them that she had been subjected to genital mutilation, but her account to the investigators differed from what was contained in the asylum application.


The housekeeper admitted to prosecutors that she lied about what happened after the episode on the 28th floor of the hotel. She had initially said that after being attacked, she had waited in a hallway until Mr. Strauss-Kahn left the room; she now admits that after the episode, she cleaned a nearby room, then returned to Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s suite to clean there. Only after that did she report to her supervisor that she had been attacked.

Many people are focusing on the fact that her story about the immediate aftermath of the rape has changed. But that’s not uncommon — many rape victims continue to go about their business after being assaulted, and in a state of shock do things that many people don’t believe seem to sufficiently reflect trauma. And rape victims, of course, are also aware that a showing of “not-traumatized-enough” behavior damages their credibility. It’s not totally out there to think that this woman wanted to be believed, and so she omitted the parts of story that she knew would make her less believable. Now that it’s all on the table, though, it looks even worse.

None of this is good, but it also doesn’t mean that she wasn’t assaulted. We’re also talking about a woman who is an immigrant, who is of color, who is poor, who comes from a country where authority figures (including police officers) have slaughtered and tortured citizens and are widely distrusted, and who currently lives in an area with large immigrant and poor populations who are targeted by local police. I’d be pretty surprised if she felt totally comfortable around the NYPD and if she trusted the American justice system. Hell, she has friends and loved ones in jail — she’s not new to this circus, and I doubt she’s under the impression that law enforcement officers are routinely on the side of people like her. While I’m sure the prosecutors told her to be totally honest with them — and that’s what prosecutors do in these kinds of cases, because it’s much better to have all of the bad information out there so you can deal with it on the front end instead of being surprised by it at trial — I can understand why she might not have disclosed that she was involved with drug traffickers (if that’s even the case). It also looks like she might have lied on her application for asylum, at the instruction of an unethical attorney, when she was desperate for legal status. That doesn’t justify lying, but it does provide some necessary context.

All of this leads prosecutors to believe that she’s probably not a credible witness, and that DSK’s attorneys will destroy her on the witness stand. They’re probably right. Rape accusers seem to be treated with different expectations of perfection than people who report other crimes. Granted, this case is particularly high-profile, which means that prosecutors no doubt want it to be open-and-shut, making the accuser’s imperfections all the more troublesome. But I have a hard time believing that a woman with the exact same past would be considered too lacking in credibility had she accused someone of robbing her apartment or mugging her or beating her up. I have a hard time believing that if a man was punched in the face by a stranger on the street that prosecutors would drop the case if it came to light that the victim had cheated on his taxes seven years ago.

Even though these aren’t the typical “she’s a slut” attacks (although I’m counting down the minutes until someone suggests she’s a prostitute who had sex with DSK for money), there’s still an unreasonable level of virtue that we demand from any woman who says she was raped. This woman, like a lot of folks, has lied to save her own ass under dire circumstances. She called someone in jail to discuss the pros and cons of going forward with the rape accusations — something that sounds questionable unless you consider that the incarcerated person may have been her closest confidante, and I would certainly have that exact same conversation with my best friend if I were thinking of getting embroiled in a criminal case. There’s still physical evidence of sex, and physical evidence of assault. But it doesn’t matter, since she owns five cell phones (DSK owns seven) and lied about an unrelated issue and has some shady friends. Nothing that has come out about her indicates that she wasn’t raped. It just indicates that she’s no longer our ideal victim, and that’s enough to prevent the case from going forward.

My issue actually isn’t with the prosecutor’s office (although it is a little bit) so much as the media response. Even progressive media outlets are making egregious logical leaps, suggesting that she’s probably lying because, well, she just probably is. The reason it’s nearly impossible for the prosecution to pursue these charges, even though there’s no evidence that she lied about anything related to the actual events surrounding the alleged crime, is because we live in a culture where rape victims need to be flawless in order to be believed. We live in a culture where it’s damn near impossible for any woman, when her life is held up to the light, to be considered innocent. We live in a culture where we think it’s even reasonable to question a rape victim’s “innocence” in the first place. We live in a culture where accusers of high-profile men undergo even more scrutiny than usual from a media hungry for a story and playing by an old rule book. And we live in a culture where the public destruction of every woman who makes a rape accusation is used as fodder in subsequent rape cases, establishing a cycle where we believe that women must be lying because the women before her were lying, so we feel justified in going out of our way to find any scrap of evidence that might indicate she has ever done anything ever in her life that we might find unsavory even if it has nothing to do with the case at hand, and then we use that to determine that she’s not credible, and then we use has as another example of how women lie about rape. And then powerful men are even more emboldened and feel more justified in treating women like garbage.

Under the kind of scrutiny this woman has endured, I would surely be deemed a bad victim. I wonder how many of you would be “good enough” to be credible in a high-profile case against a powerful man.

This woman’s life is going to be irrevocably changed after this. I’m not clear on what her immigration status is, but given that her asylum application was from 2004, it sounds like it was granted and she’s here with asyluee status. It’s not a stretch to think that this could mean deportation proceedings for her, and that the entire life she’s built here could be gone.

She’s going to pay an awfully large price for this. Women who report assault in the future are going to suffer the consequences of being human beings with spotty histories and personal imperfections and character flaws and terrible past decisions. And we’re going to collectively wonder why men feel like they can assault women without repercussion, and why so few women report being raped.