Welcome to our new and improved SheKos.
Last November, when Democrats once again tossed reproductive rights under the bus in the name of bipartisanship and Blue Dogism -- how's that working out, by the way? -- several men and women of Daily Kos felt the need to initiate an ongoing conversation about women, a conversation in which we could explore the culture, history, and politics that comprise women's experiences. Too often, a conversation focused on women only occurs in reaction to an incident -- whether it's the passage of anti-woman legislation or the disappearance of a cute blonde or Sarah Palin twittering that she's the victim of sexism because people think she's an idiot. But the conversation fades away, and the dialogue returns to the default of the straight, white male perspective, even among progressives.
We'd like to change that.
Each week, SheKossacks will bring you stories and analysis about a variety of subjects that affect and portray women's lives -- in the work place, in the home, in the Democratic party. Because we know there is no one feminism, no singular woman's experience, we will always strive to find a way to give voice to a range of experiences. We welcome suggestions, submissions, and new perspectives. We welcome thoughtful conversation and heated (but respectful) debate. We seek to learn as much as to educate.
Please join us.
If you've never read through the platform of the Democratic Party, well... you're probably not alone. The thing weighs in at a whopping 59 pages of long, dense paragraphs. However, I highly recommend that you download it and spend some time poring over it. Chances are, you'll be surprised at just how explicitly it outlines its promises to Americans - particularly its promises to women.
Case in point, from page 50:
The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay, and we oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right.
That would seem to be pretty unequivocal, wouldn’t it? Given that this is the official position of the Democratic Party, wouldn’t you think that anyone running or serving as a Democrat would either be personally aligned with the pro-choice agenda or, if not, would agree to keep his or her personal reservations out of policymaking and not be an obstacle to the party’s fulfillment of this promise to women?
And yet, a Democratic congressman from Michigan, Bart Stupak, saw fit to introduce an amendment to the House health care bill that didn’t just reinforce the Hyde Amendment (which restricts public funds from being used to pay for abortion services, thereby ensuring that poor women’s access to abortion is curtailed); Stupak’s amendment actually would have extended Hyde’s reach beyond the lowest economic strata of women by effectively keeping insurance plans that cover abortion off the exchange created by the bill.
Yes. A Democrat deliberately worked against the explicit promise of his party platform that states that women have a right to abortion regardless of ability to pay. It's bad enough - DEPLORABLE enough - that congressional Dems commit this specific betrayal each and every year with the annual renewal of Hyde. But what Stupak did was to quite deliberately and brazenly take that betrayal to a new height, stunning in its utter disregard for his obligations as a Democrat - and for no other reason than the fact that he is personally against abortion. He therefore elevated his personal beliefs above the promise the Democratic Party has made to women – a promise he tacitly agreed to uphold by calling himself a Democrat.
He wasn’t alone, by any means. Sixty-four other House Dems voted to add the Stupak Amendment to the bill. And in the Senate, Democrat Ben Nelson of Nebraska fought to include Stupakesque language in his house’s version of the health care bill. In the end, Harry Reid negotiated to get Nelson to accept a version that left the question of abortion coverage up to the states.
What is clearly, desperately needed at this moment is a revitalization of women’s advocacy, as noted by the recent front page storyby my colleague Angry Mouse. Women are justifiably angry about these amendments, but the situation calls for something other than furious rants, declarations of not voting in November, or promoting a third party. It calls for a strategy for organizing and applying pressure, both to Democrats already in office and to those who will run on the party’s platform in the future.
Whether this challenge will be taken up by any existing or new advocates remains to be seen.
Humans have lived in violent societies perhaps since their time began, and there is no question that a discussion of violence is not a trivial matter. That complexity ultimately means that some forms of violence get marginalized over others. Women are disproportionately affected by two of these minimized crimes: sexual assault and domestic violence.
We do not talk about these subjects openly or comfortably -- there is a deeply personal element. Having sex is part of most everyone’s personal life. Getting mugged is not. When we read about the latest corner hit, we imagine ourselves in the victim's shoes and feel terror for him. And when we hear about acquaintance rape, most of us have an uncomfortable yes/no experience that comes to mind. An experience that biases our ability to stand in a victim's shoes. People judge, and those who suffer remain silent -- for many reasons.
While better laws and more awareness help, some of the most unfortunate trends are maintained by silence. These things are expected to be unspoken -- and those people who try to tell their stories often suffer real consequences. But it is only when people speak up that victims are not alone. Survivors will know then, too. We can raise awareness and take back the night. We can make the world safer. This will allow those who suffer to find a healing path.
We are in a position to improve the odds for women in this regard -- at home and all over the world. But we first have to learn about violence against women, and how it persists from culture to culture. A list of links compiled by Nicholas Kristoff et al. at Half The Sky Movement is a great place to start.
While we discuss how domestic violence and sexual assault affect women today, we recognize that men sometimes fall victim to these crimes. Some of these men get marginalized in an extreme way. Children are profoundly affected, as well. Some children suffer most of all -- from direct violence or its secondary effects. While we use language that speaks to violence against women, we hope to help all of those who suffer from these unfortunate events.
Alice Paul was born on January 11, 1885, to Quaker parents William and Tacie Paul in New Jersey. She attended Quaker schools, which taught and practiced gender equality. Her mother often took her to suffrage meetings.
In 1907, she traveled to England and met some of the country's most militant suffragists, whose forms of protest -- heckling, window smashing, and rock throwing -- were more direct and controversial than the "prayer, petitions, and patience" Alice was used to in America.
She returned to the U.S in 1910, encouraging her fellow suffragists to follow the English model:
The militant policy is bringing success...the agitation has brought England out of her lethargy, and women of England are now talking of the time when they will vote, instead of the time when their children would vote, as was the custom a year or two back."
Alice and Lucy Burns formed the National Woman's Party . During one demonstration, she and other suffragists were arrested for "obstructing traffic." They were sent to the Occoquan Workhouse, where they went on a hunger strike. This led to brutal treatment: they were beaten, chained, and put into rat infested cells. When news of their treatment spread, the public demanded that the suffragists be released, and public sympathy and support for suffrage grew. In response, President Woodrow Wilson changed his position and announced his support for women's suffrage.
In 1919, Congress passed the 19th Amendment and sent it to the states for ratification. In the summer of 1920, the deciding vote was cast in Tennessee by Harry Burns who was a "no" vote until receiving a letter from his mother.
In 1923, Alice Paul wrote the Equal Rights Amendment. It still has not passed.
by pat of butter in a sea of grits
On Sunday, Virginia Heffernan discussed telecommuting in the New York Times. Working from home offers the flexibility to care for children or run needed errands as well as the ability never to have any time that you can't be feeling guilty for not be busy working. Win-win!
Women, of course, have the same complaints about wired culture that men do: anxiety, insomnia, no escape. But working from home does mean avoiding the "second shift," that ’90s horror, in which the workday was said to be followed by a day of housework and child care, somehow all in 24 hours. With the Internet, work and life have become one long shift. But isn’t that what middle-class life is meant to be?
Last week, Arianna Huffington wrote about sleep as a feminist issue, particularly for working women. She says (with, admittedly, very little data cited to back it up):
The problem is that women often feel that they still don't "belong" in the boys-club atmosphere that still dominates many workplaces. So they often attempt to compensate by working harder and longer than the next guy. Hard work helps women fit in and gain a measure of security. And because it works, they begin to do more and more and more of it until they can't stop. But it's a Pyrrhic victory: The workaholism leads to lack of sleep, which in turn leads to never being able to do your best.
You can join her sleep challenge and see whether that helps you in your job.
To start off the reading list feature of SheKos, I thought Personal Politics: The Roots of Women's Liberation in Civil Rights and the New Left by Sara Evans would be a great start. It's a very readable narrative of how women developed into feminist activists after bumping up against the limits of sexism in other movements for justice. It's always great to have a sense of where you've come from, and to see which battles have been won, and which one's we're still fighting.
Despite the fact that I strongly recommend this book as a starting point, its chief limitation is that it is a narrative that starts of talking about women of all races, but by the end of the narrative it is pretty much the liberation of white women that's at stake. To get a more rounded picture of the timeframe and struggles in question, I would say that Personal Politics MUST be read together with at least one of the following books:
- Meridian, a novelistic treatment of the time frame of Personal Politics by the African-American novelist Alice Walker.
- The inaugural anthology of Black Women's Studies All the Women are White, All the Blacks are Men, BUT SOME OF US ARE BRAVE, edited by Gloria T. Hull, Patricia Bell Scott, and Barbara Smith.
- The overview of Black Women's religious motivations for Civil Rights work by Rosetta E. Ross, Witnessing and Testifying: Black Women, Religion, and Civil Rights.
As I am sure you already know the federal lawsuit challenging Proposition 8 started this week. Much has been written about the trial and whether it is a wise strategy given the current make-up of the Supreme Court. I won't belabor the point. I will say, however, that this trial is revolutionary. It is forcing those who believe that Love and I are less worthy of marriage than opposite-gender couples of legal protections and societal approval to put on evidence in support of that proposition. Our foes must bring out the parade of horribles that will be caused by same-sex marriage...but that is not the only or the most important parade of horribles to be shown in this case.
The plaintiffs will get to present the horribles that go along with being a second class citizen. They can explain the pain of being told that their relationships are not as deserving of marriage as Britney Spears...or convicted serial killers. I don't care about this merely for the ability to vent or for the emotional benefit of telling our truth. I care because of the correlations that I think will emerge between bans on same sex marriage and the ban on interracial marriages struck down in Loving v. Virginia and Brown v. Board of Education.
Testimony presented Monday dealt with the the emotional toll of separate status. One plaintiff testified that he and his partner:
"would love to have a family" but have intentionally postponed fatherhood until they can legally wed because they want their children to have the stability and sense of belonging that comes with being raised by married parents.
If you have not followed the case, please check out some of the live blogs of the testimony. My current favorite is http://prop8trialtracker.com/. If you would like a more in depth discussion of the case and its progress, please join us at WGLB tomorrow at 11:30 eastern.
When I decided to take on the "culture" beat for SheKos, it was a way for me to multitask with my Real Life work as a writer covering the arts. I research and report on so many fascinating women--from the past and today--who have pioneered their fields: literature, music, theater, film and more. I look forward to sharing their stories with you, and seeking out other tales to tell of amazing women we should all know.
This week, I want to feature the ZOMG-she's-so-funny-you're-in-constant-danger-of-peeing-your-pants writer Sarah Vowell. She's long been on my "to-read" list. Maybe you've also seen her on Letterman or Jon Stewart, or heard her on This American Life, but haven't yet had time to page through one of her books? Over the holidays, I finally got to tear into 2008's The Wordy Shipmates, about the Puritans who founded Boston and Rhode Island.
Vowell is a hilarious comic writer AND an insightful historian. Her finely-calibrated hypocrisy meter and acerbic modern eye yield many an LOL moment from the misadventures of the super-sober, self-important white men on a mission from God. But she also has great compassion for their sincerity, and gives them credit when it is due. For example, Roger Williams--the fiery religious zealot--fiercely supported the complete separation of church and state. In the 1630s!
Women, however, definitely played second fiddle to the men running the 17th century show. One thing that leapt off the page was Williams' letter to his wife when she became gravely ill. Instead of a peppy "get well" card or a tearful missive of concern, Williams penned a preachy, condescending text essentially telling his wife how to get ready to die. Which he later republished as a pamphlet, Experiments in Spiritual Life and Health (1652). Nice!
But this passage in the book reminded me that I've come across many more texts over the years specifying how women should behave than I have manuals telling men how to live. Many more. Could all the proscriptions and prohibitions imposed on women's lives have made prescriptive texts a "necessary" cottage industry? "Culture" has a much broader definition than the pursuit of the fine arts. Culture encompasses patterns of belief and behavior: how societies define values and practice them. And it seems that Keeping a Good Woman Down--channeling her beliefs, behaviors, values and practices--has generated a high word count over the years. I'd like to look at some of these issues with you here, too.