Saturday, March 31, 2007

2007 Borah Symposium: Women, War and Peace

Anyone in the area should take note that the 2007 Borah Symposium is focusing on the subject of Women, War and Peace. The series of lectures will be kicked off tomorrow at 7:00 at the Kenworthy theater in Moscow with a screening of The Shape of Water, followed by a discussion with the filmmaker Kum-Kum Bhavani. Lectures will also be held on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday - check out the schedule for details. Other speakers include Mary Robinson, the first female president of Ireland, Sister Lorraine Gaseau, a noted peace negotiator, and Cynthia Enloe, who I'll confess I'd never heard of, but I'll trust Samhita that she's pretty amazing.

And if you plan on going, email me so we can get a cup of coffee and talk about what we learn!

Death and Destruction

If you didn't see it, read yesterday's NYT front page article about a family's fight, and ultimate loss, to keep their home in Baghdad in the face of sectarian power struggles. There was one death - the family's matriarch was murdered for seeking the protection of US forces against the sectarian violence - but it removed three generations of the Sunni family from their home in a primarily Shiite neighborhood.

The number of dead in Iraq only begins to tell the story of the destruction that war has brought to the country.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Sex: female. Gender Identity: Kinda.

I got caught up in a tangent in the thread following a recent (and excellent) post of piny's at Feministe on the subject of the nature of gender identity. The tangent is a common one that arises when transpeople discuss gender identity (also see piny's subsequent discussion of the breed of tangent that I was participating in) in a crowd that includes the cisgendered. When it comes to gender-allegiance, whether amongst trans- or cisgendered people, I've always been confused by the sort of thinking expressed by commenter preying mantis:
I know I’m a woman. I close my eyes and think of myself and I am a woman. I do not need a mirror or a chromosome test or monthly bleeding to tell me this. Is it because I have a “feminine soul” or whatever you want to call it? In a sense, I suppose. There is something that says “You are a woman,” and would continue to say this even if I somehow sprouted a penis overnight. In the sense that “You are a woman” == “You behave this way and want these things,” absolutely not. I’m an aggressive person, but I am still a woman. I have absolutely no personal inclination to nurture children, but I am still a woman. I’m not a great fan of pink as a color, but I am still a woman. And so forth. I don’t need a gender stereotype checklist to figure out what I am.

I left this comment (actually in response to a reference to a transeperson's feeling of gender, but probably more appropriate to the comment abve) on the subject:
The idea of “feeling” gender or sex seems really strange to me. I kind of feel like I’ve lived a pretty un-gendered life, as things go, and I would have no idea where to begin to describe what was womanly or manly that wasn’t connected to physical traits and social experiences. “Woman” is a description of what I am, and hinges on the phenotype I ended up with, but I feel like it’s just a name for the phenomenon of walking around with these organs and not a constituent part of what I am. Mess around with my genetics or my organs or the way I fit into society, and I’d be different, yeah, but that should be obvious anyway. I think of it kind of the way I conceive of classification of animals into species - it’s something we’ve imposed on the world around us as a means of understanding and sorting differences. The hard-and-fast rule that two animals of the same species can reproduce together and animals of different species cannot has its exceptions. We do our best to cram the natural world into the spaces we’ve set up for thinking about it, and sometimes the fit isn’t so good, but that’s really our problem, not the platypus’. I’m personally fine with having an imperfect definition of species, since we’ve gotten so much use of it.
piny here attests to the fact that our imperfect system of gender classification really is inadequate, however, so it’s time to change our thinking, because I’m not about to ask that people change their nature and physicality just to suit the inadequate system we use for thinking about differences amongst people.

Ia sense, I'm arguing that perhaps we do need a "gender stereotype checklist" to figure out what we are. In return, commenter sophonisba posed this question:

So, there are people like Mnemosyne who feel a powerful identification with their birthsex and trans people who feel an equally powerful identification with a sex they ought to be, all on one side.

And then there are people like me, who don’t, on the other. We exist too. I don’t feel anything wrong with my being a woman, but there sure isn’t anything cosmically right about it, either. Why can’t we accept that the answer to “Do we naturally and inevitably have a powerful identification with one gender/sex or other” is, some of us do, and some of us don’t?

Which I answered with this:
I think the answer to why I can’t just accept ...that some people feel their gender more than others is that as feminists, we’ve all had a lot of experience seeing artifacts of gender demonstrated as societal constructs. Wanting to bear children isn’t universal amongst women, etc. It could be that I’m (in some ways) so gender-deaf that I don’t know what to look for, but from where I sit, I don’t know what actual human truth beyond experience someone identifies with when they identify with their gender.
If I'd lived my whole life as a brain in a jar, I wouldn't know where to begin to identify with a gender. I think that's why I've always identified so strongly as a feminist - I can't understand what actual, meaningful difference between men and women there is to peg discrimination to. I understand that differences in experience can lead to misunderstandings, but ultimately I imagine that a person would have to actively deny a woman's obvious personhood to treat her like an object (for example).

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Less writing

More hand-holding otters.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


I just haven't had a lot to say lately. So watch this video - it's cool.

Disagreeable word use

At Huckleberries Online, a news item about a Marine ban on tattoos was posted with this question:
Do you agree with the ban?
This kind of setence construction has always bothered me. My understanding of the term "agree" is that it involves a consensus between two parties, usually human. When someone says "I'm hungry," and their companion says, "I agree," the words sound to me like the person is saying, "Yes, I agree that you are hungry," when in fact they probably mean, "I am also hungry." There are uses of the term that don't include people, for instance, "There is significant agreement between the data in the two papers," or "The clam chowder did not agree with my sensitive stomach," but my understanding is that these are metaphorical uses of the term. Further, there is sometimes a mismatch of person and non-person "agreements," but I've never seen it happen any other way than to say that "[object/non-human-entity] did not agree with me," rather than a person agreeing with the non-human party/object.

What would make more sense to me in the quoted sentence above, is "Do you approve of the ban?" or even, "Do you agree with the Marine officials that this ban is necessary?" I'm just curious if anyone else has this sense of the term "agree," or if I've misunderstood its meaning. I realize that on the whole, I still know what the writer meant, so I don't plan on pressing the issue exactly - it's just bugged me for quite some time.

Sunday, March 25, 2007


If you follow the banner ad at Andrew Sullivan's blog, you can subscribe to The Atlantic for $15/year. Pretty sweet deal.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

What's wrong with this sentence?

From a story about an abstinence-promoting club at Harvard:
True Love Revolution members say the problem starts with the university. They say Harvard has implicitly led students to believe that having sex at college is a foregone conclusion by requiring incoming freshman to attend a seminar on date-rape that does not mention abstinence...
Ohhhh yeah, because you only get raped if you're a slut. Glad to see that reinforced.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Happy back up your birth control day!

Today, NARAL Pro-choice America is celebrating Back Up Your Birth Control Day by promoting awareness of emergency contraception and how to access it. See Vanessa's post at feministing for more information on EC, but also don't forget that every once in a while, it's a good idea to reassess how your birth control regimen is working for you, and what steps you could take to make it more reliable.

In keeping with the spirit of the day, I thought I'd share what I do, as a user of oral contraceptives.
  1. I take my pills right before bed and leave them in my night stand. When I first started using oral contraceptives, I tried taking them in the mornings, and felt uncomfortable with the idea of maybe oversleeping and taking pills at dangerously inconsistent times.
  2. My partner is on guard to remind me to take my pill every night. I forget everything, even things I do every day. I can accept this fact. I even forgot to pack a lunch today and had to eat crappy overpriced campus food. A reminder is always useful.
  3. I keep backup methods of birth control in my nightstand. What I've got on-hand right now is the sponge, which I actually haven't had occasion to try, but I'm willing to give it a go someday.
  4. I store my pharmacist's number in my phone. If I've missed a pill or have questions about how a course of antibiotics will interact with it, I give them a ring. I've been using the same pharmacy for several years now and have built up a good relationship with the pharmacists who work there, but even if you haven't any pharmacist is likely to answer your questions about using medication. Find one that will provide answers and keep their number close at hand.
  5. (Possible TMI warning) I look on the bright side. A week where I've missed the pill doesn't have to be abstinence week or condom week - it can be oral sex week! Can't complain about that.

Anyone with other tricks to share to correctly and consistently use oral contraceptives - or any other type of contraception - please leave your ideas in the comments. If you'd like to post your list on your blog, I'll link to it. To paraphrase the old saying, effective birth control is part medication and part inspiration. Gimme all you've got, feminist hivemind.


Via Big Fat Blog.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Planned Parenthood's holistic care under pressure

Via Feministing, we learn that Missouri's governor has rescinded a years-long contract with Planned Parenthood to fund cervical and breast cancer screening to low-income women. Ann at Feministing picks up on the poorly-informed reasoning behind the move
"Patients should not have to go to an abortion clinic to access lifesaving tests," Blunt said in a written statement.

But Planned Parenthood of Southwest Missouri said the clinics that participated in the program have never provided abortions.
but fails to note that the governor has not simply cut the money for the screenings (he has actually increased it), and has awarded the contract to other health care providers. While there are still potential problems with the switch (Where are the new clinics located? Will they be accessible to women with low incomes, lacking transportation, or unable to take time off of work?) it's not fair to say that the governor, Matt Blunt, is sacrificing this important program for the sake of taking a political stance.

I don't know a lot about the process of bidding for public contracts, and I would wonder if a governor's pet peeve is enough to make this kind of move (PP does as well - the article says they're evaluating the legal ramifications), but this is action of which reproductive rights advocates need to be very wary. The process of disconnecting public funds from abortion has been long ongoing, and it's gone a long way toward separating reproductive rights issues from other health issues. (I liked stellaelizabeth's comment at Feministing, "maybe next this guy will restrict women from breathing, because they might end up inhaling the recycled air of a woman who has considered abortion. and they shouldn't have to do that.") Blunt is taking things a step further, and making it harder for PP to provide the holistic reproductive health care that it has been making available throughout its history.

Around my household, Planned Parenthood was always considered a force for good, a place where couples and individuals could find the means to take control of their reproductive health and plan their families. Planned Parenthood was where I had my first pap smear and felt the most comfortable seeking birth control as a teenager. I was surprised when I began exploring pro-life propaganda that many don't know or don't care about PP's services beyond abortion. It should be obvious by now that people like Blunt are actively working to amputate female reproductive health care issues like abortion and contraception from the picture of human health.

It's a frightening, bad-old-days goal, and one that advocates for women need to take seriously. When we have people advocating against a cancer vaccine for fear that people would not suffer bodily injury for having sex outside of marriage, and governmental forces that mandate misinformation about sex so that teenagers might fear the wrath of God enough to keep it in their pants, it's sometimes hard to remember that the forces we're fighting aren't always sheer ignorance and misogyny. Blunt is putting a stumbling block in the way of Planned Parenthood's goal of making reproductive choice a reality, and luckily, he's not willing to give women cancer to do it. He doesn't deserve extra credit for not being a caricature, though.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

A three-cheese day

Gorgonzola, feta and pepper jack. I can't think of a better way to measure the quality of your day than by the number of different cheeses you were able to consume.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Infuriating fact of the day

The California Supreme court denied to hear an appeal on a sex discrimination lawsuit, supporting the claim by former clinical psychiatry professor at UCLA. Janet Conney, who worked at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute, was awarded nearly $3 million in 2004 for her allegations that male colleagues made disparaging comments about her appearance and the department discriminated against her for promotions and pay raises because of her gender. Additionally, court documents show that the department directly funded the salaries of men, but women were required to earn their salaries through seeing patients. This all happened as recently as 2001.
Yes, that's 2001, people.

Pre-term babies and pre-pregnancy

Slate has an piece today about the US's relatively high infant mortality rate (compared to other industrialized nations), which argues that America's bad numbers are the result of a high rate of pre-term deliveries and not of bad health care. Darshak Sanghavi, the article's author, says quite reasonably that industrialized nations experience the most infant mortality in connection with early births, which are more likely when a couple uses fertility drugs to conceive. I haven't had the chance to do any Googling, but I'm not sure that Sanghavi convinced me that we're killing these infants by spending too much on their health care, but it did make me think back to the whole "pre-pregnancy" health idea that was unveiled soon after the US' infant mortality numbers came to light.

In my post on the subject last May, I discussed my suspicion that the CDC's recommendations were shifting the burden of good health from this country's inadequate and underserving healthcare system onto women who probably aren't risking much when they have a drink or five at some time during their childbearing years. Given what Sanghavi is arguing, it becomes even less believable that women neglecting to take daily folic acid supplements between the ages of 15 and 45 are what's behind the US' infant mortality rate.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Back up your birth control on March 20*

NARAL Pro-Choice America is promoting March 20th as Back Up Your Birth Control day, and spreading information about emergency contraception and how to get access to it. Visit their website to find out how you can help spread the good word and help people have access to birth control they can count on.

*Or do it today if you get the chance - there's no time like the present.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Participatory campaigning

I've noticed an interesting development in the relationship between campaigning and the internet in the early 2008 presidential campaigning. (Have I just been out of it? Let me know if you've seen this in earlier campaigns.) Both John Edwards and Hillary Clinton are reaching out to the netroots to make their campaign about more than just fundraising and doorknocking and explaining why they're the right candidate. Hillary Clinton's campaign is promoting an online petition calling for the resignation of Alberto Gonzalez. John Edwards' campaign provides a petition supporting better health care for veterans - and even has a fancy-schmancy video promoting his "Tomorrow begins today" effort, with the accompanying explanation:

This campaign is about each of us taking responsibility for our country's future — and ensuring America's greatness in the 21st century.

It is a campaign not just about what we can do in the White House — but what we can do on the way.

We all must take responsibility and take action now to:

  • Provide moral leadership in the world
  • Strengthen our middle class and end poverty
  • Guarantee universal health care for every American
  • Lead the fight against global warming
  • Get America and other countries off our addiction to oil
If we want to live in a moral and just America tomorrow, we cannot wait until the next President is elected to begin to take action.

This is an excellent way to tap into the energy of the netroots and really own a position on an issue. You might forget exactly what kind of voting record Barack Obama has on reproductive rights issues, but you'll probably remember if you and he "work together" in signing a petition showing support for one piece of legislation or another. Or, for that matter, you're going to remember Hillary Clinton's call for Gonzalez' resignation more than you might a news story from 6 months ago when she was praising the disgraceful AG. (To be clear, I'm speaking hypothetically here.)

I'm liking it. I think that Edwards is right that there's no time like the present for making things in this country work better - especially if he's going to be spending my (again, hypothetical) donation money this early in the race.

(Thanks to Scott for the Clinton link.)

She lives!

After a six-month disappearance, The Happy Feminist has returned. Go say hi and welcome her back.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Man, the poor get all the breaks

I don't know if I've ever seen a dumber question posed:
If you think it's OK to redistribute income but repellent to redistribute leisure, you might want to ask yourself what—if anything—is the fundamental difference.
While I agree that "leisure time" can be an important measure of quality of life, there are qualifiers that are important, too. For example, if you're in a high-money-earning position, you're a lot more likely to enjoy your job than someone who isn't. Working the counter at a dry cleaner's is not as interesting or rewarding as researching new vaccine possibilities or running a groundbreaking company. And then there's the quality of the "leisure time" (which apparently includes childcare), which I think would be affected by things like your health, or the environment in which you spend it, or the possible ways you can spend it - all things that almost always are affected by income.

I would define the fundamental difference between the way leisure time and income affect quality of life in terms of power. Increased income generally means increased power over how you spend your time and how you live your life. Increased time that one might spend sitting in front of the TV does not.

In related news, The Onion has an article about Slate this week.

Sunday, March 11, 2007


...the lousy little neck of the person who invented that fricking widget that shows a picture of the page linked to when your mouse rolls over a bit of hyperlinked text. How is it useful to see a minuature version of the page you're curious about? As too-lazy-to-even-click-a-link tricks go, I much prefer the one at Plastic where when you roll your mouse over a reply to a message, the first 20 or so words pop up. That actually conveys information.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Pataha Flour Mill

Living in the same area for twenty years makes a person sort of cocky. Here I sit, day after day, bored in the knowledge that I've done all there is to do around here. I've been to all the theaters and museums (even the boring ones, like the McConnell Mansion). I've been up Kamiak Butte and Moscow Mountain, and sensibly refused to swim at Spring Valley.

But, of course, I'm wrong. There are streets in Moscow I've never walked and parks I've never visited, and I even have a little secret: I'm not sure where Idler's Rest is.

So it shouldn't come as a surprise to me when I find out about things like the Pataha Flour Mill. Pataha is a tiny town that sits to the East of Pomeroy, Washington, not too far South of the Snake River. On the outskirts (such as they exist for towns as small as Pataha) of the town exists an old flour mill - from the late 1800s, which has recently been bought and is currently being restored by a local pastor. The flour mill has been converted into a museum and restaurant. There are no prices on the menu - you pay by donation - and then you get to wander around the museum looking at old curios (there's an impressive camera collection dating back to the beginning of the 19th century, and a cool cattle-brand collection too) and fearing somewhat that the whole thing might collapse in on you at any moment.

My camera chews through batteries like you wouldn't believe, so the only pictures I got were of the food, which was delicious. Andy and I both had BLTs and caramel apple pie for dessert (if you're curious, we wrote a check for $35, and the service was excellent). I'll have to go back sometime for more pictures, but for now: doesn't this pie look good?

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Not getting it

I saw this in the WSU Daily Evergreen the other day, and was totally astonished. It's an ad from Campus Recreation (that I finally got around to scanning, badly).


(More later - I have to run.)

MORE: So obviously, someone at Campus Recreation doesn't exactly get what is meant to be accomplished by Body Image Awareness Week. I'd be interested to see if they would like to write an article for Modern Jackass about the importance of maintaining a healthy body image, in fact.

When I first started getting serious about changing my thinking about my body, I started having fantasies about what a body-friendly gym would look like. It seems like there is so much emphasis on the idea expressed in that image - that we need to change our bodies, that we need to quantify them and judge them to be responsible and healthy - that it's not necessarily a mentally-healthy environment.

In my body-friendly gym, there would be no scales. What do we need them for? No one leading an aerobics class would remind us that "swimsuit season" is coming. There would be fitness classes geared toward people whose bodies are different - classes for the disabled, for example. Even a person's size can significantly change their experience of a class. I've found out (the hard way, having gained a fair amount of weight over a period when I was really into pilates) that having a belly makes pilates harder. And I'm sure that aerobics is a lot harder for someone who has 50 or 100 more pounds to move around than most of the class participants.

Mostly, I'd like a gym where a person's current body was what's being worked out and enjoyed. No matter how hard you work, you're not going to lose actual pounds or gain actual muscle mass during any gym session. I'd like the emphasis on a future, perfected body to take a backseat to the things a person can appreciate about their current body.

What would your body-friendly gym look like?

Somebody's Fi(RED)

Who could have guessed that charity doesn't turn a profit? I especially liked this quote
"The Red campaign proposes consumption as the cure to the world's evils," said
Ben Davis, creative director at Word Pictures Ideas, co-creator of the site.
"Can't we just focus on the real solution -- giving money?"