Just for Kicks

Classes start in earnest this week, so I can tell the next few days I'm going to be scrambling around getting used to the new schedule and so on. More to come on what I'm actually taking. I also have a backlog of more "serious" posts I want to write, including a couple of book reviews. I'll try to get to them, slowly but surely, over the next few weeks. But meanwhile, in honor of returning to library school, here's a bit of satire:

Area Eccentric Reads Entire Book

The Onion

Area Eccentric Reads Entire Book

GREENWOOD,IN—"Instead of spending hours on YouTube every night, Mr. Meyer, unlike most healthy males, looks to books for gratification," said one psychologist.

And here I thought my bibliomania was, well, kinda normal. Shows you what freakish circles I travel in!


When Abortion was Illegal

As a follow up on Blog for Choice day . . .

I posted this (in a slightly different form) on a comments thread over at feministing yesterday, and thought perhaps some of you would be interested in it as well. Another reader wrote:
It wasn't until I read Back Rooms : Stories from the Illegal Abortion Era that I truly understood the importance of being pro-choice. We have to share those horrific, graphic, terrifying stories and images with kids, because the pro-life movement has some pretty ghastly images that work in scaring kids into a pro-life stance. Why don't we use the same tactics? Do we not want to stoop to their level?

I wrote in response:

Part of the success of the movement to legalize abortion in the mid-20th c. came from the fact that women were able to deploy those images . . . and many more people in that era (just after the advent of the pill, remember) had personal stories about women in their family who had attempted home- or back-alley abortions and been damaged or disfigured.

Since abortion has been legalized, the number of unsafe abortions has (thankfully) dropped significantly . . . though of course not been eliminated. But I think it's more invisible than it used to be to those in the decision-making positions. White, middle-class women with money aren't flying to Cuba for back-alley abortions, they're able to drive to the next state to the clinic of their choice.

. . .I'm not necessarily for using the shock tactics of the anti-choice movement, since they often involve using misleading images and false information. But I do think we can do a better job of highlighting the bodily risks to women--and the impact on their families--if the country continues to strengthen anti-choice policies.

Here's an amazing audio documentary that was honorable mention at the Third Coast Audio Festival this year:

The Search for Edna Lavilla (Australia)
by Sharon Davis and Eurydice Aroney with sound engineer
Russell Stapleton

In 1942 Edna Lavilla Haynes died from a backyard abortion. After her death Edna was never mentioned again. More than sixty years later Edna’s granddaughter looks for clues - a search that leads through police files and government records and down Sydney’s back alleys of the 1940’s, where one in four pregnancies ended in abortion and sometimes death.

The Search for Edna Lavilla first aired on ABC Radio National’s Radio Eye.

It can be found online at this website, currently sixth story from the top and it's about fifty minutes long. Really amazing stuff.


In which I have fun, not all political

Contrary to popular belief expressed in some circles, I do actually know how to enjoy myself outside of feminist politics. This weekend visiting friends in New York City, in addition to making a pilgrimage to Judy Chicago's The Dinner Party, dropping in at bluestockings radical bookstore, attending a lecture on women's literary societies in the early republic, and seeing The Business of Being Born on the big screen, I took part in the following non-political activities:
  • I visited the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens.
  • I visited St. Patrick's Cathedral.
  • I visited the New York Public Library, where I got to see the original scroll of "On the Road" and other papers from Jack Kerouac's personal papers, newly open to the public.
  • I learned how to drink scotch.
  • I played (and lost) a game of Super Scrabble.
  • I watched a documentary, a Parker Posey film, and an episode of Big Love.
  • I helped prepare a gourmet meal, including chocolate bread pudding with "naughty whisky sauce" . . . yum yum!

You can check out the photos at picasa or watch a small version of the slide show below:

Now it's back to the academic realm . . . my first history class convenes in 3 1/2 hours.


Blog for Choice: The Radical Idea that I am a Person

Today is the 35th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision and NARAL Pro-Choice America has asked all of us in the blogosphere to write posts about why it's important to vote pro-choice. Welcome to Blog for Choice Day 2008. Here are my thoughts.

"Childbirth is, by definition, a loss of control over the body . . . but in the hospital, the surrender is usually of the body to the provider. Women often lose control over what's done to the body, rather than over what the body does."

--Jennifer Block,
Pushed: The Painful Truth About Childbirth and Modern Maternity Care (165) [1].

Today, I am terrified of being pregnant or giving birth in the United States. I am not frightened of the physical experience of being pregnant. Nor am I intimidated by the difficult moral decisions I may face if that pregnancy is unplanned or if something goes tragically wrong. I am not afraid, as Jennifer Block so eloquently puts it, to “lose control over [what my] body does” when pregnant. No.

What wakes me from nightmares, sweating, in the early hours of the morning is the knowledge that, as a pregnant woman, I will lose my right to determine what is done to my body. What knots my stomach is the knowledge that, under current legal precedent, when I become pregnant I could be stripped of my rights to bodily integrity—including the ability to consent to or refuse medical procedures. What terrifies me is the knowledge that as a pregnant woman I could, at the discretion of a doctor or a judge, be treated as an individual whose medical decisions and right to self-determination have no merit, whose personhood is less worthy of consideration than the personhood of the developing child I carry within my body.

I didn’t always feel this way. When I hit puberty and began to menstruate I was awed (as I still am) by my body’s new capacity to sustain pregnancy and give birth to a child. The women whom I knew and read (thanks Mom!) described women’s reproductive lives in feminist terms: they placed women, their laboring bodies, and their self-determination at the center of pregnancy and birth narratives.

Over the last twelve years, however, I have been forced to recognize how fragile my right to bodily integrity and self-determination is. I have gotten the message loud and clear from politicians, judges and activists: My personhood is conditional. My body is not my own. I am one broken condom, one impulsive sexual encounter, one sexual assault, one anti-abortion, conscience-ridden pharmacist away from becoming less than a person in the eyes of the law.

The modern political and legal struggle over abortion rights, and reproductive rights more broadly, has developed a hyper-focus on the question of fetal rights [2] and the definition of when life begins [3]. We have forgotten to consider an equally important question: regardless of how we determine when human life and constitutional rights begin, when do women’s basic human rights end? I ask this question of anyone who supports anti-abortion, fetal rights policies: do I somehow become less of a person in the eyes of the law the moment I become pregnant?

The right to bodily integrity is fundamental to our social contract here in the United States. The belief that we are all separate beings, existing within our own skin, and that no one has the right to violate our separateness without our consent, has been built into our legal framework. This respect for the human right to bodily integrity is so profoundly important to our legal and social framework that it actually supersedes our right to live. No one can be compelled against their full and free consent to give of their body for another human being--even if that other human being will die as a result of consent being withheld.

As Jennifer Block writes, “there is never a situation where the court can compel an adult to undergo a medical procedure for the perceived benefit of another human being” (255). We may make the case that it is the ethical thing to do, to donate blood or to put our own lives at risk to rescue someone from drowning. But despite making a moral argument that it is the right thing to do, we don't compel individuals to perform these tasks: they must make the final decision themselves. At no point does their body cease to be their own.

Yet pregnant--and even potentially pregnant--women find that this basic right to bodily integrity is routine breached by medical professionals, politicians, and judges who determine what they may or may not do—or choose not to do--with their bodies. Marsden Wagner, former Director of Women’s and Children’s Health of the World Health Organization, documents in Born in the USA [4] the way in which pregnant women’s decisions regarding their own medical care are routinely ignored. Women who have expressly stated their desire for non-interventionist births are subjected to drugs without their knowledge, mutilated by unnecessarily episiotomies, or denied the right to attempt vaginal births after cesarean section. These practices are contrary to basic legal rights nationally and many human rights standards worldwide.

As Melody Rose details, in her book Safe, Legal, Unavailable? [5], in the thirty-five years Roe v. Wade has technically protected women’s right to terminate a pregnancy, opponents of abortion and women’s rights have chipped away at women’s legal standing by creating a systematic network of regulatory policies and legal restrictions [6]. While the developing child--and even the potentially fertilized egg [7]--slowly gains legal rights to constitutional protection, women are jailed to protect a fetus, punished for what they put into, or do with, their bodies [8], forced to continue pregnancies against their express wishes or made to seek the permission to end those pregnancies from lovers [9], estranged parents, or hostile judges [10]. They are denied birth control [11] and punished for its failure. They are denied the right to choose where, with whom, and how they give birth or denied the right to birth at all [12].

An entire class of people are being stripped of their right to bodily integrity simply because of the bodies with which they were born. Increasingly, women are told not only that their rights are less important than the rights of the fetus they carry, but that they are too ignorant or vulnerable to make their own medical decisions. Last year’s Supreme Court ruling, Gonzales v. Carhart [13], is only the latest example of the misogynistic paternalism [14] that has come to characterize the legal and political landscape of reproductive justice. As Sarah Blustain wrote last year in The American Prospect:
The finding of activist conservative judges or radically anti-abortion legislatures, no matter how local, help accrue new definitions of the unborn that make it incrementally easier to successfully ban abortions. Perhaps even more troubling is the idea that these cases could slowly build a new judicial and legislative definition of women, as a childish and barely competent moral decision-maker for whom legal abortion becomes a menacing option from which she needs protection [15].
Access to safe and legal abortion may only be one small part of the landscape of reproductive justice [16], but it is a crucially important one. As Linda Paltrow has pointed out, anti-abortion activists have succeeded--through their focus on fetal rights and paternalistic protectionism--in establishing a precedent of abusive intervention into the lives of women and their families:
At least one federal court has said that sending police to a woman's home, taking her into custody while in active labor and near delivery, strapping her legs and her body down, to transport her against her will to a hospital, and then forcing her without access to counsel or court review to undergo major surgery [cesarean section] constituted no violation of her civil rights at all. The rationale? If the state can limit women's access to abortions after viability, it can subject her to the lesser intrusion of insisting on one method of delivery over another [17]
This is why I lie awake at night wondering if I’m brave enough to become a mother. I know that to become pregnant in the current legal climate will mean that I wake up every morning with the knowledge that my right to bodily integrity may be violated by doctors and politicians who disagree with my medical decisions, and that many judges will uphold those violations in a court of law.

I vote pro-choice because I believe that to legislate away women’s meaningful access to a full range of reproductive options--from birth control to abortion to the right to give birth where, with whom, and however she chooses--is to effectively curtail our ability to participate in the political and social life of the nation [18].

I vote pro-choice because I believe that the freedom of consenting adults to form sexually intimate relationships, whether or not they can--or desire--to have children, is a basic human right, not a privilege.

I vote pro-choice because I believe pregnancy, childbirth, and the decision to start a family should be a responsibility fully and freely chosen, not a punishment for sexual expression.

I vote pro-choice because I believe in women's ability, as women and as human beings, to make practical and moral decisions regarding our health care and family lives.

I vote pro-choice because I believe pregnant women have the same rights to bodily integrity and full and free consent as any other human being.

I vote pro-choice because I don't want to be forced to choose between motherhood and my own human rights.

Most of all, I vote pro-choice because of my belief in the radical notion that women are people.


Why Didn't I Move to Washington?

Just in time for the 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, NARAL Pro-Choice America has released their report Who Decides? that details the state of reproductive rights nationwide. They assign each state a letter grade based on the legal, political, and social factors (such as health coverage for birth control, access to women's health services, and abortion laws). Not that I find it particularly surprising, but here's the performance of a few states I take a personal interest in:
  • Michigan . . . . . . . F
  • Massachusetts . . B-
  • Oregon . . . . . . . . A
  • Washington . . . . A+
Yep. There's a reason why I felt like I was living in hostile territory when I was in West Michigan (and my heart goes out to all of you who are still fighting the good fight). Not that I'll rule out moving back there someday, but sometimes it's nice to imagine what it would be like to live in one of those states that got an A. Like when I'm starting a family, or, I don't know, maybe just being a woman.

And while we're on the subject of maps and rankings, Mapping Our Rights: Nagivating Discrimination against Women, Men, and Families is another interactive report on human rights in the United States. It was put together by Ipas, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and SisterSong and includes a greater diversity of important factors, such as the right to gay marriage and the legal status of midwifery. The results are thus more complicated, but tell a roughly comparable story. Ranked from 1 (most favorable) to 50 (most hostile) we have:

  • Michigan . . . . . . . 43
  • Massachusetts . . 11
  • Oregon . . . . . . . . 10
  • Washington . . . . . 2
I don't know what they're drinking up there in Washington state, but whatever it is, I wish they'd share it with the rest of the nation. I'd say they were just living too close to Canada, but then again so are the Michiganders and that doesn't seem to have helped.

I think these three happy uteri live in Washington . . .

. . . and thanks to Radical Doula for the head's up on the NARAL report.

Book Round-Up 2007

Finally getting around to posting this . . .

Although I'm not a big fan of the ubiquitous New Years Resolution (though the tradition has just scored points for giving me the opportunity to use one of my favorite words, "ubiquitous"), I always enjoy year-end round-ups that let you look back on reflect on all the awesome (and heinous) things that have happened in the past twelve months.

Being me, naturally, these reflections usually have a lot to do with reading. So, in the spirit of the season, here is my top ten list of favorite fiction and non-fiction reads of 2007. Many of which, you will notice, have already made appearances on the FFLA in the past few months. If I've posted about the titles previously, I tried not to be overly-long-winded here.

Eligible for the top ten was any book I read for the first time January 1 through December 31, 2007--that is, they did not have to be new releases, just new to me. I was going to do top tens of each, but I didn't have quite enough to split it (blame the dearth on grad school). So I shaved a few titles of and made it just ten.

And it's "favorite" rather than "best" intentionally: I really think taste in literature is so extremely subjective, that it would be hubris on my part to assign "best" to anything here. Let's just say, they rocked my world, and it's just possible they'd rock yours too!

The following are arranged alphabetically by author.

Favorite Reads of 2007:

  1. War for the Oaks, Emma Bull. Minneapolis rock musician Eddi McCandry is dragged into an ancient faery conflict by an enigmatic phouka.
  2. Inkheart, Cornelia Funke. A middle-grade novel about a girl and her father who discover they have a special, and dangerous, talent for words. Special note: I encourage you to check the book out before the film version hits the screen (though I'm excited about that, too).
  3. Spending, by Mary Gordon. "Whose idea was it that there are a series of rooms and that the real room, the room of vision, is the one past love?"
  4. The Towers of Trebizond, Rose Macaulay. A novel about British travelers in Eastern Europe, in the spirit of P.G. Wodehouse and Gerald Durrell. " 'Not important,' said aunt Dot, dismissing the Trinity, her mind being set on the liberation of women . . .'"
  5. Wicked Lovely, by Melisa Marr. I've read this book several times now, and the heroine just keeps getting better and better.
  1. Pushed: The Painful Truth about Childbirth and Modern Maternity Care, by Jennifer Block. A health journalist's take on the medical profession's profound inability to understand how to support pregnant women and birthing mothers.
  2. Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: The Frightening New Normalcy of Hating Your Body, by Courtney E. Martin. A political and personal feminist manifesto on women's relationship to their bodies--even if you think you've read everything there is to read on disordered eating, you should check this out.
  3. Reluctant Capitalists: Bookselling and the Culture of Consumption, by Laura Miller. I'm geeky enough to have devoured this geeky tome on the culture and economic dynamics of the 20th century book business. (Just so you know I read stuff unrelated to feminism . . .)
  4. Safe, Legal, Unavailable?: Abortion Politics in the United States, by Melody Rose. Everything you need to know about the politics of abortion law since Roe v. Wade.
  5. The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary, by Simon Winchester. Who knew that the composition of a dictionary could make such an absorbing story?


Anti-feminism '08

So I still haven't decided whom I would rather see win the Democratic Primary (since Michigan's primary is so FUBAR-ed, it's not really a question of who I actually ended up marking on my absentee ballot), but there've been some great on-line pieces regarding how Hillary Clinton did in the New Hampshire primary and the media's reaction to it that I thought I would round up and post here for any of you who are interested (hi Lyn!).

Feminist activist Gloria Steinam wrote an op-ed in the New York Times that provoked a lot of blog discussion about the intersections of race, gender and age in the primaries. "What worries me," she writes, "is that [Barack Obama] is seen as unifying by his race while [Hillary Clinton] is seen as divisive by her sex."

Rebecca Traister of Salon.com wrote a powerful piece on the sexism directed toward the Clinton campaign and why it matters--whether or not you're a Clinton supporter. Her conclusion?: "Here's a message from the women of New Hampshire, and me, to Hillary Clinton's exuberant media antagonists: You have no power here."

And lest you think it's only the women who have anything to say about the anti-Clinton hysteria, Jon Stewart has this observation: "I'm glad no one here ever sees me get a flu shot."

Plus, I can't shake the echo of this blog post by a father whose daughter asked him who the first woman president was. While I would not vote for a woman simply because she was a woman (I had zero interest in Elizabeth Dole's candidacy), in a field where most of the Democratic front-runners seem basically acceptable, what weight should I give the chance to vote into office the first woman president--if only so the answer to this question won't have to be "well, there hasn't been one yet"?

I'm particularly troubled by the way "women voters" (who of course are a singular entity, ha ha) are being painted as wishy-washy, fickle (read: "hormonal") girls who are reacting emotionally (read: "for shallow, irrational reasons") to the sexism of the media and Clinton's political opponents. The "women are voting for Hillary Clinton" post-NH storyline--regardless of whether it is true or not--has turned into another story about how reactive and emotional we women are, rather than a story about how legitimate our reaction against misogynist vitriol is, in the polls and elsewhere! The hatred directed toward Clinton as a woman is a stark reminder of the way all of us are still judged on the basis of our sex and gender. To respond to such hatred with anger, sadness, and activism is not irrational.


Another Reason American Education Sucks

It really pisses me off when people moan and groan about the state of American education vis a vis the rest of the world without questioning what kind of educational system we're comparing ourselves to. This satirical news story from The Onion takes it to a whole new level.

Report: American Schools Trail Behind World In Aptitude Of Child Soldiers



There's an ad campaign up around Boston right now for Sony's new electronic "book" device, extolling its virtues over the traditional printed word. Here is my personal favorite:

Like many great ideas, I suspect this particular ad campaign has one (or more) librarians behind it, since early versions of the ad simply read:

One can only imagine that members of my future profession had, shall we say, some constructive criticism for Sony's PR firm. I believe version 2.0 is greatly improved (though it still doesn't convince me that anything is sexier than a book).


From the (Portrait) Archives

Happy 2008!

I returned to Boston on New Year's Eve, just past ten in the evening, after the second 24-hour train ride in less than ten days. At the time, I was of the most emphatic opinion I will never travel again. Since I have plans to head down to New York City at the end of January, this will manifestly not be the case . . . but it was definitely the sentiment of the moment. The best New Year's present ever was being able to crawl into bed and sleep horizontally between clean sheets!

This week, I am spending my daylight hours working at the MHS, and I thought I would share with you this childhood portrait of e.e. cummings which resides on our second-floor landing. Artist Charles Sydney Hopkinson painted little Edward in 1896, when the future poet was only two years old.

The MHS has an extensive portrait collection, since the donors of family papers tended to be the sort who also had the funds to commission paintings. My friend Jeremy says it sometimes makes him feel like we work at Hogwarts, and that the portraits might someday start talking back to us. That is a disquieting thought, since most of them are much more imposing than e. e.