Wednesday, June 27, 2012


We're still uncomfortable with women's bodies:
In the year 2012, female athleticism still causes overt anxieties.

Why is that? I propose it’s for the same reason that a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy -- or even prevent one -- is still controversial in our society. As with reproductive rights, female athleticism brings forth social anxieties about women exerting mastery over their own bodies. The female body has been positioned for so long as an object that exists for other people’s use that contemplating a woman using her own body for her own purposes unsettles, whether it’s a woman controlling her fertility or a woman using her body to compete in an arena, sports, which was previously considered only the domain of men.

The way this anxiety is expressed has changed over the years. In the past, women’s reproductive abilities were framed against their athletic aspirations, in much the same way the right still tends to see tensions between women’s reproductive control and capacity. (Look, for instance, at the ready assumption on the right that a woman being pro-choice means she’s intrinsically anti-motherhood.) While fears that athletic women aren’t “real” women have faded somewhat, there are still traces of that belief in modern athletics, from the overly defensive femininity displays of the WNBA to the risible and outdated practice of gender-testing female athletes competing in the Olympics. It seems the fear of stereotypes about women and athletics cause the powers that be in athletic competitions to feel like they have to prove that their athletes are “real” women in the way that men competing in athletics never feel they have to prove their maleness.

The summer Olympics are starting in a month, which means anxieties about gender and athleticism are about to hit a semi-regular fever pitch. Watching women use their bodies to compete and win instead of to submit and serve just sends a lot of people spiraling off, and they don’t know how to handle the pressure. One strategy to put female athletes in their place is to aggressively sexually objectify them, and try to replace their obvious self-mastery with old models of women-as-objects-for-male-gratification. Alyssa Rosenberg chronicled an already egregious example of this at the Bleacher Report, where anxious male writer Thomas Delatte was so discombobulated by the idea that women might use their bodies for their own ends instead of just as objects of sexual display that he went so far as to argue that a certain soccer player should switch to volleyball simply because he prefers the skimpier volleyball uniforms. As the games draw closer, we can expect more of the same; anxious men who fear women controlling their own bodies using “jokes” and sexual objectification in an attempt to undermine those women.

It’s not just overt sexism that undermines female athletes, however. The anxiety produced by seeing women so in control over their own bodies expresses itself in subconscious ways, as well. As researchers at the University of Delaware found, sportscasters talking about the Olympics have very different frameworks when discussing male and female athletes. Male athletes who win were usually described as earning their victories through ability, but when female athletes win, the focus was on luck. In other words, men were granted their mastery of a sport, but women’s fortunes were framed as something outside of themselves. The fear of a woman controlling her own body runs so deep that it’s uncomfortable to even speak of it out loud, even for people who otherwise probably don’t think of themselves as particularly anti-feminist.

Understanding this anxiety around female athletes gives us a great deal of insight into why the topic of reproductive rights is so hard for our society to speak about honestly. It’s easier to advocate for women’s rights if you frame them in terms of women’s service to others, such as saying women need abortion and contraception so they can be better partners, mothers, and workers than to say something as discomforting as, “Women need reproductive rights so they can control their own bodies and therefore their own destinies.” We shy away from talking about women taking charge of their bodies to feel pleasure, and instead prefer to speak of women accessing health care so they’re better at their duties. We know we live in a society where people still squirm with unnamed discomfort at watching female athletes enjoy sports and winning for their own sake, and so certainly talking about women’s right to enjoy sex for itself is difficult to pull off.

But we’re never going to have equality for women as long as we dance around the issue of women’s right to totally own our own bodies, and to use them for our own ends instead of only for the ends of others. One place we can start is with this summer’s Olympics. Take this occasion to praise women for their strength, their athleticism, and above all, for their autonomy. If we can get used to talking about women’s relationships to their bodies in this way, then talking about sex and women will just become that much easier.

Everyone's talking about that Anne-Marie Slaughter piece on women having it all and feminism; this piece (which I already shared with half of my readership over email) offers what I found to be the most illuminating take on it:
Slaughter is a victim not of feminism, but of a sort of reinvigorated momism, the belief that mothers must sacrifice themselves and all their needs for the well being of their children or risk raising sociopaths. This neo-momism is sometimes called “helicopter parenting” (although it’s not parents as much as mothers who engage in it) and is linked to the trend among middle and upper class families to produce adult children who are unable to launch independent lives.

Slaughter’s neo-momism, like momism, will not lead to better lives for women or their children. Instead, a real and sustained commitment to feminist principles will.

When I was a young woman I asked Rayna Rapp, a successful professor, feminist, activist, and single mother how she could possibly do and be all these things. I asked her because I wanted to grow up to be just like her. Her answer has always structured my work and my home life. She said:
Oh, I just do everything half-assed.
I wish Slaughter had learned that lesson of feminism — that it is not the job of women to be “perfect” mothers or “perfect” workers, but to be good enough mothers and workers. We must change the structure of work in this country. That part Slaughter gets right. But we must also change what we think of as good mothering from “perfect” to “half assed” because children who are not the center of the universe of family life but rather just one among many moving parts grow up to be adults and that is a very good thing for everyone.
Another good take on the piece and the myth of being able to have it all.

Those who wage the War on Women are afraid of vaginas:
[T]he epicenter of the so-called conservative war against women seems to reside in the vagina. Conservatives are against comprehensive sexual education that would teach young people age-appropriate information about their sexual and reproductive anatomy, including the correct medical and anatomical terms for body parts. Information on sexually-transmitted infections that would preserve and protect these body parts are also taboo. Conservative legislators also want to prevent women from receiving contraceptive coverage through their health insurance providers while asserting the primacy of the conscience of religious employers and lawmakers over the conscience of women. The same state legislators who can’t say, or even hear, the word “vagina,” whether in Michigan or Texas, apparently do not feel the same compunction against legislating invasive and mandatory vaginal probes. (In women’s best interest, of course!).

Perhaps lawmakers should be required to have a vagina before regulating vaginas because in that case the discussion becomes less ideological and more real. The world looks very different when the vagina lies between your legs instead of between the pages of your law books.

If lawmakers were really concerned about women and their vaginas they would vote for the Violence Against Women Act, which was debated earlier this year in Congress, with Democrats largely favoring and Republicans opposing. The real violation of vaginas is not in saying the word, but rather entering one without consent. Vaginal decorum in state legislatures means not prohibiting the word, but rather appropriating funds to test rape kits to identify sexual assault perpetrators.
Speaking of vaginas and unspeakable words.

Another entry from our Dystopian Libertarian Future: The Privatization of Public Goods. If you liked Ayn Rand, you'll love this!:

KFC became a pioneer in this kind of unconventional ad placement earlier in the downturn, when it temporarily plastered its logo on manhole covers and fire hydrants in several cities in Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee after paying to fill potholes and replace hydrants.


The downturn seems to have prompted more public entities to sell advertising or auction off the naming rights of public places, said Elizabeth Ben-Ishai, the campaign coordinator for the Public Citizen’s Commercial Alert project, which works to curb the spread of commercialization. “We are bombarded by ads everywhere we go, and these are public spaces meant to be reflective of the values of our society, co-opted by the private sector,” she said.

Transit systems across the nation have been particularly aggressive in recent years in trying to sell the naming rights of stations. They are struggling with an estimated $77.7 billion shortfall just to get to a state of good repair, at a time of growing ridership, shrinking state support and budgetary shortfalls.


Such naming deals have grown more popular with advertisers as they try to reach consumers who have grown more adept at tuning out commercials, whether with remote controls or digital video recorders.

“All we’re ever looking for is not only to do something good for the community, but to find another place for eyeballs to be looking at things,” said Jody Berg, the principal of Media Works, a communications company based in Baltimore, who added that the city could find appropriate sponsors in fields like health care, education, sports or insurance.

But the ads would have to raise a great deal of money to avoid the fire company closings, which are expected to save the city more than $6 million a year.
And if you don't live where KFC is willing to pay for much-needed repairs to public infrastructure? Sorry, but that's just the free market at work; if the market isn't willing to give you quality roads, sewage systems, traffic lights and the rest, you just don't deserve it. Silly liberals and your silly public goods.

Facebook doesn't get the concept of privacy:
When I called Facebook on Monday to ask why the company had changed the settings for the display of people’s e-mail addresses without their permission, potentially violating users’ privacy, I was told that the swap was not a “privacy” change, but rather a “visibility setting” change.

I offered a genuinely confused response to Jaime Schopflin, a Facebook spokeswoman I spoke with. “Um, isn’t changing the visibility of something actually changing the privacy setting?” I asked.

“No,” Ms. Schopflin said, explaining that they are two different things.

The company recently changed e-mail address settings to automatically show addresses on user profiles where other addresses were once visible. All of a user’s friends can see that address, even if the user specified that no addresses should be visible on the profile.

To Facebook, the words privacy and visibility may be as different as peas and carrots. But Facebook users and one linguistic expert I talked to seem to disagree.

Jesse Sheidlower, the editor at large of the Oxford English Dictionary, said Facebook’s effort to draw such a distinction was “worse than playing semantics.”

“It is giving a different name to something that has aspects of privacy to it,” Mr. Sheidlower explained. ”Publishing a picture of someone naked might be regarded as a ‘modesty’ issue, but that does not mean that it’s not a privacy issue, too.” He added: “Even Facebook can’t possibly think that doing this has nothing to do with privacy.”

Yes, the EPA can regulate carbon emissions. “The E.P.A. is not required to reprove the existence of the atom every time it approaches a scientific question.”

What drives BPA exposures.

Lead poisoning is keeping California condors from truly bouncing back.

Changing fire regimes — and ecosystems — of the West.

Tracking deforestation, nearly in real-time.

Sea-level rise is happening faster on the east coast.

The NRC on sea-level rise on the west coast.

Linking ozone and cardiovascular problems.

Big Coal is swindling American taxpayers.

Some possible outcomes of the ACA at SCOTUS.

Will Republicans suffer if the ACA is overturned?

She's a true genius, yet even Jan Brewer is completely wrong sometimes.

No, the centerpiece of SB 1070 wasn't upheld; the centerpiece was the section of the law that allowed police to stop any and all brown people for suspicion of being in the country illegally, regardless of whether they'd committed any other crime.

Scalia: Jim Crow laws let states keep out unwanted blacks and that was totally fine, so states should be able to harass unwanted brown people, too.

Scalia loves state sovereignty when it's used to harass brown-skinned people, but hates it when it's wielded to keep elections from being bought and sold.

On the ahistorical nature of Citizens United.

Campbell Brown wrote a shitty op-ed about how Planned Parenthood doesn't support politicians who don't believe in a woman's right to choose. This makes them evil and partisan, apparently.

Wasting federal money on promoting marriage.

Congress' biggest gay-haters. Though without bigots like the odious Steve King and idiotic Michele Bachmann, I'm not sure I believe it.

And the gold medal for dissembling goes to...

The founder of UVA answers some questions on the meaning of education.

Ira Glass: Car Talk repeats are lazy and hold up the next wave of innovative public radio programming.

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