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I Blame the Kyriarchy

Happy May Day. As people around the world celebrate the struggles of laborers, and as many immigrants and supporters of immigrant rights set off on protest marches around this country, I wanted to link you to one of my favorite blog posts of the last week: Sudy’s explanation of kyriarchy, a concept coined by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza.

It’s a useful neologism for an idea that comes up a lot: multiple, overlapping, shifting pyramids of power. Try to focus too hard on just one, try to figure out with some kind of precision exactly which individuals are at the top, and you lose sight of the entire awful kyriarchy, that has any number of ways to crush people. It’s another trick that power structures play to distract you. I’ve heard this kind of concept discussed before — some people I know just use the word “hierarchies” to talk about this, and in some feminist writing this is what “patriarchy” means. But I like the word kyriarchy, not least because it doesn’t just focus on “fathers” as the top of the pyramid.

For me the word summons up a bizzare image of holographic, floating, disappearing and reappearing ancient step pyramids. Because that’s how complex the overlapping of power can be, and how surreal. Sometimes we talk about this stuff like patriarchy, white supremacy, or homophobia is a bunch of craggy old white guys having a meeting down the street where we can kick the doors in and turn over the table piled high with money and blood. Too bad that the history of oppressive cultural attitudes, social enforcement, the accumulation of religion and greed and control and security is never that simple. But don’t think I mean it’s all ideology either. Kyriarchy kills. Don’t let it slip behind you when you’re not looking — or under your feet.

How Marriage Inequality Affects Transgender Spouses

There are several things that bug me a lot about this NY Times article on a married couple that stayed together through one partner’s transition as a transwoman. There’s referring to the transwoman, Denise, by masculine pronouns and her birth name to reference past events where she did identify as female but had not yet had sexual reassignment surgery. There’s the very equation of surgery with transition — one is accepted as a woman only through virtue of a vaginoplasty, not only with regards to the law, but also in terms of how her gender is treated by the newspaper (and vice versa for a transman). Since not all transgender people choose to have surgery, and since not all people determine their very identity based off of their genitals, it’s insulting and obnoxious, and a big part of the problem that the paper is trying to examine. (Not to mention how the story is run, of course, in the Fashion and Style section.)

But with all of that being said, there’s some interesting material in there about the legal status of transgender individuals who are married.

The Brunners were already married when Donald became Denise. Transsexuals who marry after surgery pose a different set of questions, and there have been a number of custody, probate and other cases with decisions all over the legal map.

Urging the United States Supreme Court to tackle the issue in 2000, lawyers for Christie Lee Littleton, a Texas male-to-female transsexual suing her husband’s doctors for wrongful death, noted the confused landscape: “Taking this situation to its logical conclusion, Mrs. Littleton, while in San Antonio, Texas, is a male and has a void marriage; as she travels to Houston, Texas, and enters federal property, she is female and a widow; upon traveling to Kentucky she is female and a widow; but, upon entering Ohio, she is once again male and prohibited from marriage; entering Connecticut, she is again female and may marry; if her travel takes her north to Vermont, she is male and may marry a female; if instead she travels south to New Jersey, she may marry a male.”

The Supreme Court declined to take the case.

The New Jersey reference stems from a 1976 case in which an appellate court ruled that a man needed to pay support to his ex-wife, who was born male, essentially saying that sex is determined by current status, not DNA. But a 2004 Florida case took the opposite tack: a female-to-male transsexual who married a woman and then divorced lost custody of the children, as the marriage was declared invalid since both were born the same sex.

In other words, these couples face huge legal hurdles from spousal rights over property and medical decisions to parental rights over the children they help raise. Overnight, they can go from being a legally married couple with full spousal rights to legal limbo. And overnight, two people can go from unable to become legally married to entirely free to fill out a marriage certificate.

Of course, this wouldn’t be an issue if there was marriage equality. While marriage equality certainly wouldn’t solve all transgender issues (or LGB ones for that matter), and wouldn’t solve the problem of ensuring that the government recognizes the correct gender identity of all people, it would help protect already-married couples like The Brunners just as much as it would help same-sex couples who want to become legally married and same-sex couples with civil unions that occupy a legal gray area.

I just so happen to be lobbying at in Albany tomorrow for Equality and Justice Day, and marriage equality is on the table, along with an expansion of anti-discrimination legislation to include gender identity. I’m excited to be going and optimistic that we have an LGBT-friendly new governor in NY. There will be some cool stuff going on, so hopefully I’ll have something interesting to report when I get back.

This is a Feminist Issue Too

Sean Bell

It’s been a year and a half since Sean Bell and his two friends were shot 26 times by five NYPD officers. Bell was to be married later that day. He and his friends (who both survived) were unarmed. It seems likely that they didn’t even realize they were being confronted by plainclothes police officers, as opposed to being carjacked at gunpoint.

This morning, all of the police officers got off scot-free. They didn’t even receive a token “reckless endangerment” conviction, perhaps because the presiding judge was of the opinion that “Carelessness is not a crime.” Really? Somehow I thought that’s what reckless endangerment and manslaughter charges were all about. I guess police can’t commit those crimes. If shooting 31 times — including pausing to reload — into a car full of unarmed men doesn’t qualify, I’m not sure what does.

There was no jury, just the judge, who acquitted the three cops on the grounds of faulty prosecution.

Justice Arthur Cooperman said he found problems with the prosecution’s case. He said some prosecution witnesses contradicted themselves, and he cited prior convictions and incarcerations of witnesses.

He also cited the demeanor of some witnesses on the stand.

In other words, how dare you bring witnesses to testify against police officers who have run afoul of the criminal justice system before? They’re too sketchy to be in my courtroom. Seriously… isn’t this the crux of the problem? A blatant example of who is listened to in our courts and who gets the shaft? This is exactly why it’s horrifyingly unsurprising that cops walk.

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Illinois Court Rules Against Forced-Sterilization of Disabled Woman

Good news:

Disability rights advocates and medical ethicists praised a precedent-setting ruling Friday by the Illinois Appellate Court denying a bid to sterilize a mentally disabled woman against her will.

The woman, identified only as K.E.J. in court records, isn’t capable of raising a child on her own, but her guardian failed to prove that sterilization would be in her best interests, a three-judge panel in Chicago ruled unanimously.

[ . . . ]

The ruling was the first appellate opinion on the issue in Illinois.


“It’s extraordinarily significant” because it guarantees the disabled a court hearing, said Katie Watson, a Northwestern University professor who wrote a friend-of-the-court brief in the case on behalf of about two dozen medical ethicists.

[ . . . ]

K.E.J., 29, suffered a brain injury as a child when she was struck by a car. As a result, she cannot be left alone to operate a stove or perform most household chores.

The woman lives with her aunt, who was appointed as her guardian in the mid-1990s. In 2003, the aunt filed a “petition for tubal ligation” in Cook County Probate Court, arguing that her niece had a bad medical reaction to other birth-control methods.

At a bench trial in 2005, K.E.J. testified that she hoped one day to have children. “I will love taking care of them,” she said. “I will love, you know, to see how they grow.”

Seeing our atrocious history on forced sterilization in this country, I’d say that this ruling is oh, several decades overdue. I personally found both Pregnancy and Power and Killing the Black Body to be excellent primers on this subject as well as great books (but I’m sure that there are other great books I haven’t read that focus primarily on this issue — if you know them, leave the titles in the comments). But the simple version of the facts is that for many decades, America participated in and promoted forced sterilization of those who were deemed unfit to pass on their genes. That included women of color, the poor and those who were referred to as “feeble-minded” — disabled women (the phrase was also used to justify sterilization of other socially-scorned women, like those who were promiscuous or sex workers). Many people believe that this is still happening, like with the Norplant situation several years back (also covered in Killing the Black body), and there is more or less undeniable evidence that it is still happening to non-English-speaking women and the disabled.

We often treat disabled people as though they are undeserving of certain things in life, and sexuality and parenthood are pretty high up on that list. I do not think that being unable to raise your children on your own makes you unworthy of giving birth to and raising children. And I certainly don’t see any justification for a forced-sterilization of a woman who has made it clear that her wishes are otherwise; we need to see it as equally heinous to forced-birth and forced-abortion. By it’s very nature, a fundamental right is not conditional, and believing in reproductive justice means believing in it for all. And so I applaud the court and congratulate disability activists on this win; I can only hope that the success continues.


What Hillary Can Teach Lady-Lawyers


This article makes me want to stab something. Registration is required, so I’ll excerpt most of it here. It’s one attorney’s take on what “woman lawyers” (am I the only one that hates when the word “woman” is used instead of “female” in these situations?) can learn from Hillary, and the moral of the story seems to be that Clinton should teach us to take our sexist knocks. The “lessons” Clinton has taught us:

Stereotypes are tough to shake, and they can help and hurt women lawyers. The rap on Clinton, almost from the beginning, was that she was too tough and played hardball — a not altogether undesirable attribute in a president. But then she had her misty moment in New Hampshire, and all of a sudden she’s back in the hunt.

In that case, being warm helped Clinton, but had warmth and likeability been the gist of her campaign, she would have been sunk. Obama has been able to be likeable from the get-go because, as a man, he doesn’t have to prove his toughness.

Women lawyers should follow suit. They don’t have to be likeable or warm or nurturing to get the job done. In fact, for most of them, that would work against them — and their clients’ — interests. But, when the timing’s right, a bit of femininity doesn’t hurt. In fact, it can work greatly to women lawyers’ advantage.

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Intern Auctions in Albany

This is disgusting:

Up until just a few years ago, lawmakers would go “window shopping” for interns at the start of every legislative session. In a practice that went on for decades, the interns would be corraled in a Capitol newsstand, and legislators would take their pick.

The hanky-panky even has its own lexicon: There’s the “Bear Mountain Compact,” which says that what goes on north of the state park just outside New York City stays there. Lobbyists, staffers and reporters who seek to enhance their influence by bedding powerful lawmakers are known as “big game hunters.” And the men who sleep with the women lawmakers are “boy toys.”

“Unfortunately, many of the people who seek public office are flawed people to begin with and the environment in Albany just tends to bring that out,” said Paul Clyne, former district attorney in Albany.

Clyne issued a scathing report in 2004 on the internship program at the Capitol, famously saying he would never let his daughter become an intern. The report led to reforms in the program, including an end to fraternization between lawmakers and interns outside the office.

“There was a lot of hitting on us and boundaries being crossed,” said one young woman lobbyist who was part of that scene for years.

An internship is not a cattle call. And as Digby points out, this is more than just offensive — it’s sex discrimination. And heads should roll.

[T]his truly is beyond the pale and should be a matter for investigation. If politicians who corralled a bunch of women into a newsstand to be chosen for jobs in legislators’ offices based on their sexual attractiveness to the disgusting pigs they were going to work for are still in office today, they should be exposed. That’s not consensual behavior, that’s sex discrimination. This practice apparently went on until 2004, and there’s no excuse for it.

I’m not surprised that extramarital sex goes on in political capitals, where people from far flung parts of the state or the nation are brought together, away from their normal social and private circumstances. It happens in show business too, for similar reasons — fame, power and fortune create a whole bunch of incentives that don’t necessarily exist in people’s everyday lives.

But this article indicates that lobbyists are selling their bodies for political consideration and that lawmakers used the intern pool (at least until recently) as their own private whorehouse. It’s institutional, not personal. That’s called corruption and discrimination and it’s not the same thing as consensual sex between two adults. This is more like some kind of sexual plantation.

The Gays Are a Bigger Threat Than Terrorism

And gays are a cancer that will destroy our young people and destroy this nation.

Some random crazy? Nah. An Oklahoma State Representative:

The video is right: This is what they say when they think we aren’t listening. When they’re talking to larger audiences, they moderate the language and talk about “family values” and “protecting marriage.” But that isn’t their actual belief. Make no mistake: This is about hate and bigotry. And I’m damn tired of having to pretend that their arguments against marriage equality and basic civil rights for LGBT people have any merit. I’m damn tired of having to say that “good people can disagree about this issue.” At the end of the day, this is bigotry. It is hate. And we’re hearing it, even through the code words.

Come on… why do you have to make such a big deal out of racist, sexist behavior?

This is what happened when Tamara Nopper got on a plane recently:

Shortly after sitting down, an older white man sat in the seat next to mine. He then proceeded to spread his legs wide open as if, to quote a wise person I know, “he thought he had balls the size of pumpkins.” In response to the uninvited pressing, I requested room for my legs. The man then proceeded to imperiously point his finger to the floor to emphasize that his feet were within the boundary of his seats. He never addressed the fact that his legs were spread beyond them so as to invade my space and press up against my body. Instead, he said to me, “You’re a big girl.” Talking on my cell phone, I interrupted my conversation to calmly tell the man “Don’t fucking talk to me that way.”

With his right hand, the man reached across himself to grab my left arm. With my arm in his grip, he looked me in the eyes through his glasses and replied, “I’m going to slap you in your mouth.” I freed myself from him and then stood up.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

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