The letter I just sent to Michigan House Speaker Jase Bolger
Dear House Speaker Bolger,
First, I’d like to tell you how flattered I am that the Michigan House of Representatives has taken an interest in my uterus. It’s really sweet to know that you’re dedicated to protecting my womb and its contents from, say, doctors who would try to coerce me into an abortion, because maybe that really is a thing somewhere. And I totally understand how you might like to be able to pass laws concerning my reproductive organs without actually having to hear about my reproductive organs, or Representative Lisa Brown’s reproductive organs, or any female genitalia of any kind. Let’s face it: “vagina” is a pretty gross word. I don’t like it much either, to be honest.
But here’s the thing. I’m not sure that we can really talk about women’s reproductive health without talking about women’s reproductive parts, and I’m thinking that maybe women should be able to participate in that conversation. I’d like to suggest a compromise. Instead of telling Representative Brown to sit down and shut up and let the menfolk do the talking, you offer your colleagues a choice of friendly, utterly non-threatening euphemisms for all that stuff “down there”. To facilitate this compromise, I’ve prepared this list for you:
- Honey Pot
- Vertical Smile
- Pearly Purse
- Tunnel of Love
- Lady Jane
- Gentleman’s Pleasure Garden
- Nature’s Tufted Treasure
- Fancy Bits
- Mrs. Kitty
- The Downtown Dining and Entertainment District
- Naughty Bits
- Goody Wagon
- Cream Puff
- Magic Cave
- Her Majesty
- Hot Pocket
Please accept this list as my thanks for HB 5711, HB5712, and HB5713.
Here’s the thing about women: They are, by their very nature, loose.
While men are like tempered steel—hard, unchanging, complete, perfect—women are in a constant state of flux. They are fluid, unfinished, always becoming. They are permeable, designed to be penetrated by men and inhabited by babies. They bleed without being cut.
Women are, obviously, dangerous—to themselves, to everyone else.
Women need fathers. They need husbands. They need careful governance and physical restraint, male-defined codes of behavior and the sheltering walls of the domestic sphere.
These ideas are as old as Aristotle and as current Rush Limbaugh’s attempted slut-shaming of Sandra Fluke. Critics—myself among them—have noted that Limbaugh’s attack had nothing to do with Fluke’s actual testimony, but this excellent piece reminds me that, yes, of course it does. A woman speaking as a public citizen is, in Limbaugh’s worldview, essentially the same as a woman making herself sexually available, and a woman who assumes her own sexual agency is, by definition, undiscriminating in her pursuit of partners. She is out of control.
Consider the word “slut” itself. When it entered the English language in the fourteenth century, it meant an untidy or slovenly woman, and we can still find it used that way in Victorian literature. But the shift from that sense to current usage was a minor one given that a woman who is sloppy in her housekeeping will, of course, be sexually sloppy as well. All female sins can be reduced to same one: a refusal to allow men to define and control female sexuality.
Or maybe it’s this: a refusal to accept that a woman is defined and controlled by her sexuality. When Limbaugh cast Fluke as a whore, he was putting her back in her place—the place where he wants her to stay, the place where he has the power to tell her what she is and what she should be. Limbaugh ignored the content of what Fluke had to say because the very fact of her saying anything at all was, as Bady points out in the aforementioned essay, a threat to his privilege. It is, in fact, a threat simply because it calls attention to that privilege (and, by extension, the privilege of the Congressmen who also chose not to hear Fluke speak). When men like Limbaugh call women sluts, it’s because they’re afraid of them.
They should be.
Our Babies, Ourselves
When I first saw the cover of November 28 New York Times Magazine, I was eager to read Alex Kuczynski’s story about having a child via surrogate—not so much because I am especially interested in infertility, but because Kuczynski is a writer I love to hate. I was pretty sure that her first-person narrative was going to give me plenty of fuel for my antipathy.
I was pretty much right, but, after a couple of pages, though, I thought to myself, “This is only going to make you crazy and filled with spite, and then you are going to feel guilty and conflicted about the spite because you don’t actually know what it’s like to want a baby and not be able to have one, and that’s just no fun at all.” (I still have not processed all my thoughts and more instinctive reactions to Sarah Palin; indeed, I doubt that any feminist has, and I believe that there could be a whole women’s studies conference devoted to collectively navigating that cognitive and emotional thicket). So, I closed the magazine, but not before I looked at all the photos, which were—as has been noted by the Public Editor and others—outrageous.
I did read the letters to the editor in the latest issue of the magazine, of which there were many. I found this one to be the most interesting, as it raised some substantive, philosophical issues that hadn’t been addressed elsewhere:
That simplistic formulation of so-called gestational surrogacy (“organ rental,” per Kuczynski) may have helped two strangers leap over chasms they couldn’t have traversed otherwise. But it is a shortcut that relies on denigrating concepts, concepts that have historically led to inhumane treatment. As infertility and intervention increasingly muddy the meaning of the word “mother,” we must traverse that terrain and not take shortcuts.
A woman’s body and the growing being inside her participate in an astounding symphony for about 40 weeks to build from egg and sperm a human that can survive outside the woman’s body. The woman’s feelings, thoughts, meals and actions influence that symphony, helping create what the growing being experiences at every moment. Yet Kuczynski literally reduces Cathy’s whole self to her uterus. This is a disturbing denigration of a beautiful, astoundingly complex phenomenon that builds life and that bonds most living beings and their offspring for life.
After reading this, I wondered what my favorite fertility-challenged blogger would have to say about Kuczynski’s article, and I was surprised—and somewhat chastened—by what I found. It was salutary to be reminded that, while Kuczynski’s wealth made it possible to afford 11 IVF cycles, it probably didn’t do anything to relieve the pain she experienced when those attempts to become pregnant failed. And I know that money didn’t help her overcome the grief of 4 miscarriages. I thought about this, and I also thought about the most elegant line from that very wise letter I quoted above: “As infertility and intervention increasingly muddy the meaning of the word ‘mother,’ we must traverse that terrain and not take shortcuts.” My dislike for Kuczynski—which is, if I’m honest about it, mostly sour grapes—allowed me to take a shortcut through her story. It allowed me to dehumanize her, to ignore her very real pain and the complexity of her situation—a situation I have never had to confront. I like to think that I’m better than that, and it’s good to be reminded that I should be.
If you’re thinking of voting for John McCain…
I know that people sometimes—often, even—behave in ways that conflict with their own self-interest. We’ve all had tragically misguided haircuts. Many of us have a history of pursuing romantic relationships that are, essentially, toxic. And women, blacks, Latinos, gays, and working-class people of all colors and creeds occasionally vote for a political party that, by all reasonably discernible measures, hates them. I know this. Nevertheless, I still can’t believe that there are Hillary Clinton supporters who seriously plan to vote for John McCain in November.
I understand that, as an acknowledged Barack Obama fan, it’s easy for me to say that, had things gone the other way, I would be supporting Clinton right now. But I’m someone who still has bitter memories of the 2000 election—not just the vote-counting debacles and the Supreme Court decision, but also the Nader voters who argued that there was no real difference between George W. Bush and Al Gore. I was not entirely pleased—and occasionally somewhat disgusted—by Clinton’s performance during the primary season, but I still can’t imagine that, right now, I’d be suggesting that McCain is in any way preferable to Clinton.
I know that McCain is a hero in the classic, undiluted sense of the word. I know that he served his country in an unpopular war, and I know that he maintained his integrity when many of his fellows did not. I am aware of his courage and his sacrifice. I am also aware of his reputation as a maverick, a man of principle unafraid to challenge the Republican party, and I would, at this time, like to publicly thank my yellow-dog Democrat husband for not declaring, “I divorce you! I divorce you! I divorce you!” when I made numerous, woefully under-informed comments expressing, more or less, the opinion that McCain might not be so bad.
John McCain really is that bad, and, if you don’t believe me, please allow me to suggest further reading.
A recent item in The New York Observer suggests that, since becoming the presumptive Republican nominee, McCain has moderated his views—and his Senate votes—to appeal to the conservative establishment, while a longer article from The New York Review of Books suggests that McCain’s renegade persona was always more marketing myth than reality. The NYRB piece mentions an episode in which McCain publicly called his wife—the woman whose fortune made his political career possible, by the way—a cunt, which offers some insight into both McCain’s temper and his attitudes towards women. For more on the former—and, given the content of question 7, the latter—try taking the New Yorker’s “Senator Hothead” quiz (I scored 10 out of 15). And, for a poignant look at what it’s like to be friends with a Democrat threatening to vote for McCain, check out my clever and handsome friend Scott Shrake’s recent contribution to the Huffington Post.
Wish You Were Here
Ted’s Closing Comments in a Conversation about the Growing Ugliness of the Democratic Primary We Had as We Went to Pick Up Our Daughter at Daycare
“Well, nobody snatches defeat from the jaws of victory like the Democratic Party.”
“It’s what makes them ‘relatable’ to people like me.”
“They’re the Charlie Brown of political parties.”
Last night I dreamt that I was watching Barack Obama on Regis and Kelly.
Last night I dreamt that I was watching Barack Obama on Regis and Kelly. It was the morning after a Democratic primary, and he was providing commentary as the votes were tallied. He was smart, funny, utterly at ease. He gave no sign that he found Regis and Kelly—the show or the people—ludicrous. Such was his self-possession and grace. He was gracious to his hosts, and they were ennobled by his presence.
Obama’s comportment was impeccable and he was thoroughly charming, but the really remarkable thing about him was his suit. It was made from a buttery yellow and soft teal windowpane plaid. The fabric was slightly iridescent, casting an apricot shimmer whenever Obama moved. His suit looked like the sun rising over the ocean. His shirt was blue-green, a slightly deeper shade of the plaid’s teal, and his tie was broad and rust-colored, picking up the suit’s flickering glow. It was a truly amazing get-up.
Now that I’m awake, recollecting Obama’s magnificent suit, I realize that it reminds me of the outfits sometimes worn by old black men as they promenade on a Sunday afternoon. The only thing missing was the matching hat, and maybe a color-coordinated Lincoln Continental. I would love to have a president who dressed like that.
NOTE: I was reminded of this dream when I read a “Talk of the Town” piece this morning describing a blog set up to collect nocturnal fantasies about the Democratic presidential candidates. Apparently, I’m not alone.
I don’t like Hillary Clinton, but I feel bad about not liking Hillary Clinton, and the reasons why are as follows:
First, I feel like I’m letting Bill down. Seriously, as soon as I realized that I just don’t like Hillary Clinton, I felt bad for Bill. This is, obviously, ridiculous. Fondness for an old president is no reason for choosing a new president. And, moreover: He let me down!
I also feel bad because her likeability has been a campaign issue. Nobody expects male candidates to be pleasant. Requiring that Clinton be likeable is like requiring that she have a sweet, girlish giggle and a nice rack—which would be absurd.
But my lack of liking for Clinton goes beyond the fact that if I was at a party at her house, I would much rather be drinking a beer and, say, watching a cowboy-movie marathon on AMC in the den with Bill than discussing single-payer insurance over chardonnay with Hillary in the living room. I don’t like her because I don’t trust her, for one thing. I think it’s a bit much to call her “Bush-Cheney lite”, but history does suggest that she has ruthless, secretive tendencies that are somewhat reminiscent of the current administration. I find that I am unwilling to endure a national campaign—not to mention at least four years—in which the first two Clinton administrations are rehashed by her many enemies. What she calls “experience”, I call “baggage”, and I get weary just thinking about it. On the whole, I find Hillary Clinton tremendously uninspiring. If she’s the Democratic candidate, I’ll vote for her (I’d vote for a ham sandwich if it was the Democratic candidate), but I won’t be excited about it.
I am, however, excited about Barack Obama. Like, honestly, unironically, seriously excited. And I’m not just excited because, as an Obama supporter, I might one day have the opportunity to chant, “We will, we will Barack you.” It’s not just because Barack Obama carries a picture of me in his wallet. It’s not even because I get to wear this awesome T-shirt.
I’m excited about Barack Obama because Barack Obama is exciting. I think Barbara Ehrenreich captures the pro-Obama mood pretty well in this post. The Bush years have been so tragically, unremittingly awful that I need something new. As a country, we don’t just need good policies: We need a little inspiration. Clinton can argue that “Speeches don’t put food on the table”, but I’m not sure that she’s right. I think that liberal wonkishness alone might not be enough to deliver the kind of real change we need. In yesterday’s New York Times, Representative David R. Obey, who has endorsed Obama, said, “You can’t make much headway on substance until you have somebody who can break through the rancorous atmosphere, build new alliances and cut through old barriers.” I’m not at all convinced that Clinton can do that, and I believe that Obama can. I don’t need a president who’s likeable, but I sure would like to have one who’s exciting.
[THANKS TO RUSTY FOR THE AWESOME LINKS. HE KNOWS WHICH ONES.]
Merry Christmas from Jessica and Frances
Ted sends his greetings, too. He just doesn’t have the sweater.
My Birthday Cake