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

No indictment in the death of Sandra Bland

Trigger warning: racist violence and death, police racism

The Texas Grand Jury has decided there will be no indictment in the death of Sandra Bland against anyone–not any of the police officers, not any of the jail officials or workers, nobody. They decided it was perfectly plausible that after she was stopped for changing lanes without a signal who had a new job, and then was arrested after Brian Encina, the officer failed to follow proper procedures and claimed she assaulted him, she “became despondent” and hanged herself with a plastic bag because her family couldn’t come bail her out immediately.

Encina’s dashcam footage didn’t show Bland assaulting him; it did show evidence of what we can call extreme irregularity, with visual objects vanishing and reappearing even though the audio proceeded uninterrupted. It showed Encina demanding that Bland put out a cigarette and ordering her out of her car for reasons that he declined to specify. It showed him trying to pull her out of her car. It showed him pulling out his taser and screaming that he would “light her up.” According to witnesses and Bland herself, Encina slammed her head into the ground. And she was arrested, we’re told for “kicking” Encina.

Yeah, well, I would kick someone who assaulted me, too.

I feel completely confident in saying that this is all bullshit, and that if Sandra Bland had been a white woman, she would have gotten a ticket. If that. She should never have been taken from her car in the first place, and her blood is on Encina’s hands even if she did commit suicide, which I don’t trust for a moment. And now the entire racist legal system that declines to indict, as well.

Disappeared children

Tomorrow is Columbus Day in the United States. Christopher Columbus was a sadistic, murderous slaver, and that’s all I have to say about him.

I’d like instead to talk about the women, the Grandmothers and Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, and the children they searched for. A military junta ran Argentina in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and, as detailed in this NYT article, disappeared, tortured, and murdered 10-30,000 people it called “terrorists,” as defined by the junta: “One becomes a terrorist not only by killing with a weapon or setting a bomb, but also by encouraging others through ideas that go against our Western and Christian civilization.” They also made a concerted effort to kidnap the children of dissidents and give them to those loyal to the junta to raise; the junta murdered their parents, sometimes keeping the mothers alive long enough only to deliver (and with my own birth experience so fresh in my mind, I am having a visceral reaction, shaking and tearing up thinking about it, about my son taken from me). About 500 children were taken.

The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo began protesting silently, wearing white headscarves and carrying photographs of their disappeared children, marching across from the presidential residence. Within a year, hundreds of women had joined the protests, garnering international attention during a time when fear of any public opposition had silenced so many. Members of the group were abducted, tortured, murdered, but the protests continued.

The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo are a group devoted to finding the lost children and reuniting them with whomever remains of their families of origin.

It’s a horrifying, depraved series of events. And as tonight shades into tomorrow, let’s not forget the children taken from their parents and brutalized in an attempt to erase their past and their identities: I am talking, of course, about the American Indian Boarding Schools deliberately run to eradicate American Indian cultures through the 1970s. Parents were required by law to “educate” their children and coerced into sending their children away, food rations and supplies withheld until parents consented. Many children were separated from their parents and cultures throughout their entire childhoods. Parents were not allowed to remove their children from the schools. Children were abused, suffered, and died. In a 1928 report, Native Nations children were found to be dying at six and a half times the rate of other children.

Taking children has long been a tactic of torture toward poor people (parents entering the poorhouse in the nineteenth century) were separated from their children), PoC, and political dissidents. And it’s a feminist issue. The NYT article talks about the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, but it’s also a reproductive justice and reproductive rights issue. The ability to bear and raise children in safety and peace regardless of wealth, race, and political creed is a women’s rights issue.

By the way, the US has yet to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child, because this country.

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.

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.

Amnesty International, CATW, a bunch of celebrities, and decriminalization

[Content note: sex trafficking and sexual abuse]

Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, Lena Dunham, Emily Blunt, and numerous other celebrities, along with former sex workers and victims of sex trafficking and women’s rights advocates, have signed a letter from the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) criticizing a policy currently under discussion within Amnesty International. The policy, which Amnesty plans to introduce at a meeting in Dublin in August, promotes decriminalization of sex work to protect sex workers’ rights, health, and safety.

Philosophy, liberalism, and race: Falguni A. Sheth in the NYT

I found this interview in the NYT the other day about the philosophy of liberalism and its dependence on racism to be fascinating (let me hasten to say that nobody who has read Engels on the Irish, for example, could possibly say that radical leftism is not similarly based on racism). I do think it’s more important in the context of the US to understand the relationship between liberalism and racism because the US is a nation-state that is more or less based on liberal philosophies that largely can’t bear to hear any indication that such philosophies might be fallible (What did the founding fathers intend? Well, who gives a fuck what a bunch of rich slave-owning gentile white men intended? I’m not convinced they were bearing my best interests in mind.).

Criminalizing trans people

So, a Florida state representative, Frank Artiles, has introduced a bill to criminalize somebody using any bathroom or changing room or locker room but the one corresponding to that person’s assigned sex at birth. It doesn’t matter how they’re presenting, how they identify, whether they’ve had surgery, whether they’ve had their sex legally changed (as far as I’m concerned, only one of these should matter, and it’s the second one)–you follow your birth certificate or you are subject to a year in jail and a $1000 fine.

Such a bill would do nothing but turn trans people into criminals simply for living their lives like we all do, and, it is specified, leave them and facility owners vulnerable to civil suits that could be brought by anybody “lawfully” in a single-sex facility.

And what’s the reason? Well, to keep the poor little cis ladies safe, of course: to reduce “the potential for crimes against individuals using those facilities, including, but not limited to, assault, battery, molestation, rape, voyeurism, and exhibitionism,” or, in Artiles’s example, to prevent cis men from going into women’s bathrooms to be voyeurs. Artiles admits that this is not actually a thing that has happened, but you never know. I’m not sure what Artiles’s record is on violence against cis women in general, but he’s clearly willing to, at best, accept trans people as collateral damage in his effort to combat an imaginary scourge. Speaking as a cis woman who worries quite a bit I have to say that this particular danger has never leapt to my mind as a priority to worry about.

If one were really worried about cis men harassing cis women in bathrooms, I just want to point out, one could draft really pointed anti-harassment legislation that would cover voyeurism.

There’s also the issue of how anybody would enforce this bit of legislation. Would people be asked to drop their pants for inspection at the door of every restroom? Carry around birth certificates? Would cis mothers of small cis boys be forced to send their kids into the men’s room alone lest they taint the sanctity of the ladies’ room with a tiny penis? I can’t help but think that these issues alone will make sure the bill won’t pass and that Artiles is showboating, but that does not lessen the transphobia he is advocating and using, and he ought to be ashamed of himself.

This week in US juridical misogyny…

1) You’ll be interested to know that if you get fired for breastfeeding, that is not an instance of sex discrimination, according to a ruling from the Eighth Circuit Court that the Supreme Court has decided to let stand, because, well, man can lactate. It’s been known to happen. They just mostly don’t. So, you know, no problem. Also, if your supervisor tells you that you should be at home with your baby, well, he could say that to a man, too, so that’s also not sex discrimination.

A lawyer has linked us to the following: “Just as one final follow-up, here’s a snopes article on the misleading headlines:” Thanks! And sorry I didn’t catch that.

Let’s just get this out there: yes, it is possible for some cis men sometimes to lactate, if they make it a goal and work toward it. The same is true for trans women, and that’s fantastic, in my book, because I have known trans women to whom that would have meant a lot. And trans men certainly can lactate.

That said, I highly doubt the Eighth Circuit Court could give two shits about trans people. Call it my innate cynicism if you must, but I doubt they even thought about trans people. When it comes to cis people, the vast, overwhelming majority of people who lactate are women. End of story. The vast majority of people who are lactating regularly, intensely, and in a way to support a baby are going to be cis women, and then some trans men. Nobody tells men that they should be at home with their babies. Nobody uses men’s reproductive functions to torment them, by, say, refusing a lactating woman access to a room in which she can pump, causing her pain, anxiety, and possible injury (I’ve known women who’ve developed mastitis–it is incredibly painful). This is a throwback to the Rehnquist court, when it was ruled that pregnancy discrimination wasn’t sex discrimination because if a man got pregnant, he’d be subject to the same conditions. And if Rehnquist was contemplating the plight of trans men, I’m the lowest form of life, an anti-vaxxer.

I don’t know how this happened, legally speaking, and I don’t care. It’s a fucking travesty. It reminds me of the title of an opinion piece that ran in the NYT a week or so ago: “Should the Supreme Court Take into Account How Its Rulings Will Affect the Real World?” YES IT FUCKING WELL SHOULD. I don’t see the virtue in adhering to any old document, be it the Bible or the Constitution just for the sake of textual fidelity. This is the REAL WORLD, and we have to live in it, and it needs to be as reasonable as possible.

2) Purvi Patel, in Indiana, is facing up to 70 years in prison for the mutually exclusive “crimes” of having an illegal abortion (feticide) and felony neglect of a dependent minor. The latter charge, of course, requires a live minor, whereas feticide requires a dead fetus, so perhaps you, unlike the Indiana jury, can see the problem here (this is one of the problems with not requiring logical reasoning as a skill in high school). And that’s not even getting into the problems of any kind of abortion being illegal (aside from the kind forced on a pregnant woman against her will–but I know how much juries in this country hate to acknowledge that a woman’s desires matter). Patel’s crime was to order abortifacient drugs on-line and then have a miscarriage/stillbirth. For this she could spend the rest of her life in prison. Not in El Salvador. In Indiana.

What the linked article doesn’t address is how the police got called into the situation in the first place. Patel went to a hospital for heavy vaginal bleeding, and admitted to the doctors that she had been pregnant and had miscarried. So who called the cops? Isn’t there an issue of doctor-patient confidentiality here? Is the lesson that women who do this shouldn’t go to the ER for help, but should just let themselves bleed to death rather than risk public humiliation and decades in prison?

And what about Patel’s race? I wonder what the racial make-up of that jury was, whether it was easy for them to see Patel as some kind of monstrous, exotic child-murderess because she is neither white nor Christian? And where is the father of the fetus in all this? What kind of scumbag lets a woman face this on her own without taking responsibility for his share in her ordeals?

Time magazine: I can’t even.

Time magazine’s annual poll of the year’s “worst words” looks for words that make you “definitely cringe,” even “exhale pointedly,” even “seek out the nearest pair of chopsticks and thrust them through your own eardrums like straws through plastic lids.” And it asks people to “vote another word off the island” (and if I never hear that phrase again, I’ll be okay). This year’s poll includes bae, basic, bossy, disrupt, I can’t even…, influencer, kale, literally, om nom nom nom, obi, said no one ever, sorry not sorry, turnout, yaaasssss, and… feminist.