Within living memory.

suffragette force fedWithin living memory, the unalienable right of a particular class of Americans to vote had not yet been legally recognized by the American legal system. That particular class of Americans represented fully half of the country’s inhabitants.

They were women.

Now, I will grant you that applying the phrase “within living memory” to a 94 year old fact is a little bit of a stretch — but there are American women alive today who were born into a world in which women couldn’t vote, and plenty more who were raised by such women.

Ninety-four years ago today, that all changed, with the US Congress voting to pass the 19th Amendment: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”

Some history:

Between 1878, when the amendment was first introduced in Congress, and August 18, 1920, when it was ratified [by three-quarters of the states, as all Constitutional Amendments must be], champions of voting rights for women worked tirelessly, but strategies for achieving their goal varied. Some pursued a strategy of passing suffrage acts in each state–nine western states adopted woman suffrage legislation by 1912. Others challenged male-only voting laws in the courts. Militant suffragists used tactics such as parades, silent vigils, and hunger strikes. Often supporters met fierce resistance. Opponents heckled, jailed, and sometimes physically abused them.

So, yeah. To the women in positions of cultural, social, and/or political power who declare themselves “not a feminist, or anything,” even as they live and work in a world to which they would not have any access were it not for the work of our foremothers and -fathers, I say: If you’re not a feminist, I’d like you to grab a time machine and go back to 1919 to explain to the suffragettes why, exactly.

I’m sure they’d love to hear it. Just as soon as they have a moment to spare.

For more on Miss Paul (above), click here

Obama, Hagel, feminism and the Middle East: A progressive’s dilemma.

Obama-hagelAs a born-and-bred Progressive and long-time advocate for both Israeli-Palestinian peace and women’s rights, I’m used to having to pick my battles. My positions are to the left of pretty much every national leader for whom I’ve ever had the opportunity to vote, in Israel or the U.S. Barack Obama was the first candidate to even come close.

Whatever the President’s opinions were and may still be regarding Israel/Palestine, though, they’ve come to seem of little importance, as his actions have thus far been little but repeats of mistakes made by past Administrations.

On the question of women’s rights, however, the record is much more to my liking: the Lily Ledbetter Act, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor on the Supreme Court, health care reform, his consistent refusal to treat rape as anything less than a crime—these policy decisions and public attitudes are making America a better place for women and girls (and men and boys), right now, today.

So the record is mixed, as far as I’m concerned. Which brings us, of course, to Chuck Hagel.

From the moment that Administration sources whispered the name “Hagel” into the ether, the neocon wing of Hagel’s own party came down like a ton of bricks, spinning anti-Israel and anti-Semitic conspiracies as fast as their words could spin. It was untrue, it was ugly, and it was never really about Israel—it was and remains about the neocon vision for American power, a vision that Chuck Hagel neither shares nor respects.

As I wrote last month, I’ve long appreciated Hagel’s approach to Israel/Palestine, and his preference for diplomacy over war more broadly. As a lifelong Illinois Democrat, I don’t expect to agree with a Republican from Nebraska on much, but I’m certainly glad that we could at least agree on that.

This week I learned, however, that Hagel and I don’t agree on a whole lot else.

Far from being a feminist, in the Senate Chuck Hagel acted to prevent servicewomen from having access to abortion (even at their own expense) if they’d been raped and impregnated, and that frankly horrifies me; the Republican Party’s willing dehumanization of women generally and callousness toward rape survivors specifically is a big part of what got me so involved in Democratic get-out-the-vote efforts this fall. Like other progressives, I’m also nervous about Hagel’s positions regarding the civil rights of LGBTQ Americans, particularly (as Rachel Maddow and my colleague Sigal Samuel have noted) when the Pentagon is poised to deal with so many LGBTQ-specific issues.

But this is where I come back to the guy who hired him: Barack Obama.

I trust the President’s feminism, which I believe has been proven time and again, and while I will agree that Obama’s dedication to LGBTQ rights is less well established, I do believe that it is solid (though it should be noted that as a straight woman, I don’t have to live with the consequences of the President’s positions on these issues, and thus my awareness of them is likely not as keen as that of Americans who do). On the other hand, I am deeply concerned about Obama’s policies in the Middle East.

It is my opinion—and I cannot stress this enough: I do not pretend to know for sure—that a Defense Secretary Hagel serving under President Obama the Feminist will find that his opportunity to oppose basic human and civil rights for women and/or LGBTQ Americans will be sharply limited by his boss’s policies and positions, whereas President Obama the Failed Two-State Facilitator might have appointed a Defense Secretary Hagel precisely in order to help create movement on the ground regarding Israel and Palestine (and Iran) that will lead to real, desperately-needed change in the region.

Do I love the pick? No, and I love it even less now that I know more about Hagel’s record. But I still like Hagel better than Michele Flourney, for reasons that speak very directly to the Defense Secretary’s primary mission, and I do think that as an official in the Obama White House, there’s greater potential for him to do good, than harm.

None of which is to say that we shouldn’t hold the President’s feet to the fire on these issues, because we should—indeed, I hope the Senate questions Hagel very closely at his confirmation hearings. In a democracy, it’s the job of citizens and our elected officials to insist that government reflect our highest values, and I’m pretty sure that “equality for all” is top of the American list.

And of course, my cautious optimism might be proven wrong. But for the time being, I remain an American-Israeli progressive feminist peacenik who is cautiously optimistic about Chuck Hagel. So it goes.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

What feminism isn’t about: Cabinet headcounts.

obama feminist

UPDATE 1/14/13: Please note that Joe Scarborough [see below] apologized this morning to Mika Brzezinski , and it was an entirely warm and human moment, and that’s a nice thing to see.

Feminism is the radical notion that women are people and as such, have an innate right to the same human and civil rights enjoyed by other people.

To the extent that we have mostly failed to incorporate that fact into the norms, mores, culture and laws of humanity over the vast sweep of our shared history, it’s good to practice a kind of affirmative action that seeks out and advances women of skill. When conditions beyond your control mean that you start the race a mile behind everyone else, at a certain point, it’s only fair that you be given help in making up the difference.

But that help is not, unto itself, the realization of feminism, nor is it the only thing necessary to realize feminism in human society.

I say this because there is a flap being made about the fact that President Obama’s second Cabinet is shaping up to be a very male (and very white, it should be noted) group.

Some Democrats are behaving as if the President has betrayed us, and some Republicans are suggesting that the whole “Obama is better for women” thing was so much mendacious diversion, because look! It’s a sausage fest up in the Oval Office! Joe Scarborough went so far this morning as to yell the following at his Democratic co-host Mika Brzezinski (and then later snap his fingers at her! [Yes, really! Video below]):

For Barack Obama and his team to savage Mitt Romney for a month off of an offhanded comment that really meant nothing, and here we are on something that matters. And you’re forgiving him, while you lit into Romney for a month, and the media lit into Romney for a month, and now you all are hypocritically, and I will say it, hypocritically giving this man a pass because he’s a Democrat that you’re cheering for.

Scarborough’s reference was, of course, to Romney’s “binders full of women” comment, which, had it been an isolated moment of poor phrasing would, in fact have been “an offhanded comment that really meant nothing.”

But here’s the damn thing, aggrieved progressives and conservatives alike: That comment was neither offhanded nor meaningless, because it reflected the Republican Party’s oft-expressed and acted-upon attitude toward the rights of Americans who happen to be women, and feminism is more than a headcount.

The feminist movement (to the extent that there is one thing that can be called that) is about bringing women’s humanity to bear on every aspect of life, and as I have noted on several occasions, President Obama has spent his Presidency expressing his dedication to feminist values. Over and over and over (and over and over) again, he has done the work and forwarded the ideas necessary to actually change the reality in which women and girls live, to not pay lip service to our humanity but to acknowledge and act on it.

Here’s another radical notion: Part of why this President has so many more men than women to choose from when filling any post rests in the sexism which continues to mark and harm our society, at each and every level, not least the professional level where women continue to suffer systematic discrimination. And for all that, 43% of Obama appointees have been women (and hey now! Valerie Jarrett’s leg is just visible in this by-now infamous but somewhat misleading photograph). Not to mention that if the GOP had not successfully hounded Susan Rice out of the nomination process last month, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation right now — because the optics of a single woman of color would have been magically enough.

I want to see more women in leadership positions. I want to see more women getting better jobs and better pay and better benefits. And (note to the Republican Party) I want to see women treated as human beings, rather than vessels for the next generation and/or lying sluts who spread our legs and cry rape. I want my daughter and son to see these things, and believe me, I’m hoping that the President surprises us over the next week or two with a couple of women. Press Secretary Jay Carney has suggested that we wait until Obama has actually made all of his appointments before we pass judgement, and given the President’s record, I’m inclined to take the suggestion to heart. If I’m disappointed in the end, I will not hesitate to join those holding Obama’s feet to the fire on the issue. That’s my job as an American citizen, and I take it seriously.

But not a feminist? Not good for women? Somehow pulled the wool over our eyes and tricked all us silly, slow-witted, eyelash-batting wimminz? Just stop it.

We are, as I have said before, in the process of actually recreating humanity right now, and there is simply no way in which any such process could ever be easy or smooth.

In word and deed, in promise and in policy, my President has demonstrated his feminism time and again, making the country in which I live and in which my daughter is coming of age a better, more perfect union. And that is much, much more important to me than an Oval Office headcount.


Hereunder you can watch Joe Scarborough act like a damn fool:




As anyone who’s ever seen my Twitter feed knows, Twitter is for me a multi-faceted thing: Clipping service, networking resource, branding device, virtual water cooler, sketch pad. In that latter capacity, I’m forever finding that I’ve just tweeted what amounts to the rough draft of an actual piece, sent out into the world in little 140-character bursts — and lo, I did just that this morning. Only I think the following might also wind up looking like a draft, because I’m still working out my thoughts (blogging [as Ta-Nehisi Coates once wrote] as memoir, not history).

The thinking started when I read a post by Alex Cranz on her site FemPop: “Feminism Isn’t the Problem, the Word Is.”

When I launched FemPop in March 2011 the tagline for the website was “Pop Culture Through A Feminist Lens.” It was accurate and snappy and emblazoned at the top of the site and on all related social media forums. Almost immediately people noticed the phrase. Particularly guy friends and relations.

“It makes me uncomfortable,” was the usual line.

“It just doesn’t jibe with the material,” was more specific. “Your site is for everyone. Feminism isn’t.”

….In February 2012, after yet another explanation from a well-meaning friend that the word was alienating to FemPop’s audience I snapped. I abruptly changed the logo and removed the word “feminism” from its prominent position on the website. I told myself it was an experiment I could later write about. I briefly even deluded myself into believing nothing would change.

Except there was a change, and it was so immediate and immense I actually thought I’d broken something on the website.

Cranz discovered that FemPop’s “bounce rate” — the percentage of visitors who come to one page of a site and then immediately “bounce” away — dropped. Dramatically. Like: CRAZY dramatically.

I changed one word and suddenly visitors felt comfortable poking around. Nothing else changed on the site. There wasn’t a huge redesign and the clearly feminist title of the site didn’t change. I didn’t alter color schemes or suddenly post the best article in the history of the universe. It was still pop culture through a feminist lens–but with a little less feminism on the front page.

To be honest, this shouldn’t have surprised me, and I suppose it didn’t. Not really. I may not get out much, but even in my wee, one-woman office in flyover country, I get a good eyeful of just how problematic the word “feminist” can be. I suppose I found Cranz’s piece more disheartening than surprising.

But then I got to thinking: If feminism really isn’t the problem, then maybe it’s ok to let go of the word? If we’ve reached the point where the idea of gender equality, and all the work necessary to achieve that, have been incorporated into our norms and mores — then ok. I suppose we can call whatever that is whatever we want to, and just move on. No need to derail with an apparently infuriating vocabulary choice.

But Cranz’s title, while accurate for her website, isn’t an accurate descriptor of the world in which we live (which, to be clear, Cranz wasn’t suggesting. I’m pivoting off her point).

Feminism is, to re-state the oft-stated point, the radical idea that women are people.

It is, to put it another way, the radical idea that all people are of equal value and should be treated as such.

That’s it. That’s all it is. The idea behind feminism, a word which apparently repulses so many Americans, is the same idea that stands behind the most American of values: Equality.

It makes me angry that so many Americans have gotten it so twisted, and have very little interest in getting it un-twisted. I’m not sure what they think “feminism” means or who they think it’s intended to serve or what it’s intended to do, but the animosity is so great, that it can’t be just the word. I have a very powerful feeling that if the early feminists had called themselves “egalitarians” or “equalists” or “free-to-be-you-and-me-ians,” those words would be just as reviled today.

The problem, then, isn’t the word. The problem is with the ongoing difficulty we have acknowledging the simple fact that women are as fully human as men. This is why we continue to argue over women’s right to bodily autonomy, our right to make independent decisions about our own health and well being, our right to not be assaulted or harassed, no matter what.

America’s problem is not with “feminism,” it’s with feminism. And in light of that, I think I need to hang on to word — despite all the anger and angst and sturm und drang — until we begin to get it a little more right.

PS This is why I chose that image of the President. And this. And this. And this. And this.

Things about me which please me (and even occasionally make me proud).

The other day I wrote about things I do of which I am ashamed.

This shame is based in my personal, and particular, experience with patriarchy and my understanding of feminism, and it’s real, but it’s dawned on me in the meantime that it might have been useful to note that I don’t exactly live my life soaked in shame or guilt. I have moments. The third and fourth things on the list plague me to a greater or lesser degree fairly regularly, but I don’t walk around in a morass of self-loathing. Mostly, on most days, I’m pretty ok with myself.

But if I think about it, expressing shame or guilt — while honest and I think even important (we can’t deal with something until we admit to ourselves that it’s a problem. Hello, daughter of the 12 Step Programs here!) — is hardly revolutionary. In fact, it’s kind of part-and-parcel of the Judeo-Christian (I cannot believe I just used that term) worldview, and — even more problematically — part-and-parcel of Western social norms and mores for women. We talk about what we’re doing wrong all the time, frankly.

What would be revolutionary, perhaps, would be to talk about what we do right.

This came to me yesterday after wandering around at Eat The Damn Cake, through the posts of ETDC blogger Kate & her guest blogger, Anna. Kate has a regular feature at the end of each post that she calls an “Unroast”; in each one, she expresses love for some part of her body or appearance. Recently this has included “Today I love the way I look in baggy shirts” and “Today I love my ankles. They’re an almost exact combination of my parents’ ankles,” both examples indicating a certain looseness and creativity to the idea which I love.

The attitude behind the Unroast (and, frankly, the attitude behind the blog’s name) leads me to visit Eat The Damn Cake frequently. I have even written in response to Kate’s work in the past, but yesterday, it was guest blogger Anna’s posts that really grabbed me.

Anna was veryvery pregnant as she wrote the posts in question, grappling with the reality of moving as a veryvery pregnant person through the world, and these are the two bits that made we want to go out in search of her to ask her to be my lawful wedded wife. The first is from We are already normal (a very pregnant post), the second from We owe it to little girls (emphasis Anna’s):

Women’s bodies. Want to know what normal is? Look around you. Working women. Mothers. Students. Friends. Teenagers. Grandmothers. We are normal already.


Our attitudes influence more than just ourselves. If we’re going to change our body culture, we have to change our habits. Even those that are socially reinforced, even those that can be pleasant and bonding, as negative body talk so often can be.

And finally, we get to my point (which I swear, I have):

If I’m going to speak publicly about my feelings of shame, I should also choose to take the rather more revolutionary step of tooting my own horn. And thus, hereunder you will find a list of things about me in which I find pleasure, and even, occasionally, pride.

  1. I have genuinely taken on-board the notion that if an article of clothing doesn’t work on my body, the problem is not my body, but the article of clothing. This seems small at first glance, but I think it’s actually kind of big. That moment, that moment when you stand in front of a mirror trying to take some piece of clothing (that you have been assured is gorgeous and all-the-rage) and make it look “right” on your own body and it’s.just.not.working — that moment is a moment of such deep intimacy with ourselves, a moment in which it is perilously easy to further swallow the lie that all bodies must look like one kind of body in order to be worthy, a moment in which it is so easy to get angry with our very flesh — it took me more than 40 years, but I have finally reached the point that when I start to hear those voices, I tell them to shut the fuck up, and I mean it. And I’m proud of myself, because it wasn’t easy.
  2. I regularly contribute to the social dialogue about women’s rights, women’s bodies, and the fact that — given that we make up half the world — these are not “women’s issues” but human issues. In fact, there are days when I act like this is a job. I’m not particularly aggressive in my approach (often leading with versions of “I see why you’re saying that, but…”), but I am dogged. I write, I tweet, I confront, I question. I am part of the process by which society is undoing its assumptions about rape, women’s autonomy, our reproductive rights, and the essential human right of all people to make their own choices and live their lives precisely as who they are.
  3. I am raising my children to be aware, thinking feminists. Our family talks all the time — at the dinner table, in the car, while watching TV — about how the world treats people, what society’s expectations are, and whether or not those expectations are fair or just or even reflective of the reality that we see around us — and the husband and I see the fruits of this labor all the time.For instance #1: The girl recently complained that a very cool construction toy she’d gotten for her 8th birthday had no pictures of girls on the box, and when she found one on the instructions, she noted, with sarcasm positively dripping from her voice, that the model had built a princess crown “because all girls ever do are princess things.” For instance #2: The boy prepared this speechin honor of Martin Luther King last year for school (when he was all of 11), writing: “I have a dream that one day no one in this world will be able to push you down, regardless of any stereotypes. I have a dream that in all 50 states Muslim Boys and Muslim Girls and homosexual boys and homosexual girls and rich boys and rich girls and poor boys and poor girls and all of the boys and girls of America will join together and nothing in the world will be able to stop them.”It matters that our girls and boys grow up to be feminist adults, but it also matters that they be feminist children. We need only look at schoolyard bullies to see the impact that children can have on people’s lives — loving, caring, egalitarian-minded children can help heal the world. And of course as their parents, it matters very deeply to us that the boy and the girl gain the tools they’ll need to shake off the world’s damaging messages. I am proud of the way that I am raising my children.
  4. And finally, in the spirit of the Unroast: I love my hair. It’s long, of a vaguely once-was-blonde-now-is-brown color, streaked with bits of silver here and there and now that I’ve stopped using shampoos with Sodium Lauryl Sulfate has returned to the kind of softness and luster it had for almost all my life. It feels like a crown on my head, particularly when I wear it loose, and I love the way that makes me feel.

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles and Feministe.

Things I do of which I am ashamed.

I’m a feminist.

I’m 46 years old, and I have never known myself to be anything but a feminist, in word and in deed. I marched for the ERA as a young high schooler, had a copy of Our Bodies Ouselves when it was still thin, and knew even before I’d started dating that I would keep my own name if I got married. As for work? Well — of course. In whatever field I wanted. And if a man didn’t respect me or these ideas? He had no place in my life. Period.

I was raised by strong women: Two grandmothers who were among that less than 10% of American women who attended college in the 1920s, and a single mother, widowed when I was a baby, who worked hard and had a tool box with her name on it, so that we would remember to put the tools back if we used them.

None of these women ever took guff from anyone, none ever felt (or demonstrated to me, at any rate) that they should shrink themselves or their opinions to fit the world around them. I grew up knowing of Grandma Hauser’s bitterness that she’d been called home from college to tend to a sick mother when there were three healthy brothers at home, and that Grandma #2, known to us as Queenie, had been a flapper at a time that her sister was busy learning to keep house. The subtext to it all was always: You have every right to be who you are, and when the world tries to tell you different? Push the hell back.

I was lucky.

And yet, I am still a product of much more than that. I still move in the world as-it-is, not the world as-I-dream-it, and much as I am the first to say that the world used to be worse, I will also freely admit that we have a long way to go. I have a long way to go.

I’m a feminist. And there are things that I do, regularly, that I think feminists probably shouldn’t do.

  1. I don’t leave the house without make-up. This one isn’t that bad, I figure. It’s decorative, and I actually mostly enjoy it. Make-up is fun, bottom line. But I know (because I have access to the deepest recesses of my brain, even if sometimes I wish I didn’t) that even on days that it’s not fun, even on days when it’ll make me late to take the five minutes I need to apply the layers — I’m going to take those five minutes, because I worry what the world with think of me otherwise. The look I achieve is minimalist, entirely natural (people often express visible shock when they hear that I wear make-up at all), but that just further proves the point that I’m using it as camouflage, not artistic expression.
  2. I shave my legs and underarms. I have none of the above-suggested ambivalence about this one. I’m pretty confident that this is moronic. I know feminists have a variety of opinions on this (as on all things), but I can only be the feminist that I am, and this feminist firmly believes that the removal of the hair that serves as a secondary sexual characteristic, indicating that I have gotten through puberty, is a concession to the patriarchy, pure and simple. It’s about the assumption that straight men like their women to look like little girls. Which, you know, I’m kind of opposed to that sort of thing. And yet, I find my hairy legs and pits truly, deeply unattractive. That part of my mind is throughly colonized. So I carry on. But when my daughter watches me shave — as little girls will — she not infrequently gets a wee lecture in which I tell her that if she decides to never do this crazy thing, I’ll think that’s kind of cool.
  3. I feel guilty about eating. I know I shouldn’t. I talk and write about how women have to heal their relationship with food. I don’t participate in those conversations that women seem to be forever having in which they beat themselves up for having a damn piece of cake, and I try to frame the damn cake in a positive way when I can. And I never, ever express this guilt out loud to anyone but my husband, in private. I do not need to add to the ambient noise, to the very problem from which I suffer. Most importantly, my son and daughter will never hear it from me, because I want them to shake this illness that plagues our society. Instead, I encourage them (with the assistance of their most excellent father) to listen to their bodies, to eat for enjoyment as well as health, and to love the bodies (tall, broad, and strapping) that the good Lord gave them. But the guilt? I feel it. It’s there, and I hate it.
  4. I look in the mirror and love my body only grudingly. Like 90% of people, my body doesn’t correspond to the ideal with which we are inundated, and to which we are constantly compared. The ideal with which we as a society shame each other and ourselves. My bra size has only grown with pregnancies and my middle years, and my middle bits are a combination of scarred (two emergency C-sections + one major surgery to remove an enormous tumor — you can read all about it here, if you’d like!) and mushy, and there are days when all the kind words that I share with others, the things I say out loud to my daughter and son, and the unabashed lust of my husband — the best, most honest man I have ever met — matter not in the least. I wish my body were… different. I love it, sure, but kind of like you love the lame dog who does her best and is really sweet, so you forgive her for being so damn slow on walks.

I am a better feminist than I once was, and I think that — as a direct result of how they are being raised — my son and daughter will be better feminists than their father and mother are.

But it’s not easy. And there are days when it’s damn hard.

Crossposted to Angry Black Lady Chronicles and Feministe.

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