Rereading Susan Faludi’s Backlash

This is a cool idea. If you’ve never read Susan Faludi’s bestseller Backlash, published in 1991, now’s a good time to do it. The book was groundbreaking because it documents the backlash against feminism that began in the 1980s and continues today, especially in terms of reproductive rights, but also in other ways.

Matter has started a summer book club, where different writers talk about each chapter of Backlash, and readers are invited to join the conversation, of course. Irin Carmon kicked off Chapter 1, and Donna Shalala, Roxanne Gay, and Rebecca Traister discuss Chapter 2 here. New responses to subsequent chapters will be released each week until the end of the summer. Have fun with this classic!

Using Humor to Counter Anti-Choice Protestors

The assault on women’s reproductive rights in the U.S. has been relentless in recent years, but women are fighting back and doing it with humor. Lady Parts Justice, established in 2012, offers info on reproductive laws and setbacks in all 50 states and includes humorous videos.

There’s also this story from The Daily Dot about how one couple decided to use humor to counter anti-choice protestors. This is especially relevant given the U.S. Supreme Court’s rejection of a Massachusetts law requiring a 35-foot buffer zone around clinics. One pro-choice couple in North Carolina decided to join protestors at a local clinic––but with very different signs.

Countering placards screaming “babies are murdered here,” the couple held signs with messages like “Bring Back Crystal Pepsi,” “I Like Turtles,” and “Weird Hobby” with an arrow pointing toward the anti-choice protestors. Obviously we need more than just mocking to reverse the dangerous trends of recent years, but this approach offers a fresh way of calling out the obnoxious, intrusive behavior of these particular anti-choice folks. Read the full story here.

On Kids Alone in Parks: We Need a Larger Collective Response

Responses to the arrest of Debra Harrell, a single, black mother who allowed her 9-year-old daughter to play unsupervised in a park, are largely individual. Stories have focused on Harrell herself, obviously, so that we can understand her situation: unable to afford child care, she allowed her daughter to play in a park so that she could work her shift at McDonalds. She was then arrested, and her daughter was taken into protective custody.

People are rightly outraged at the injustice against Harrell, and have focused on how viciously U.S. society distorts children’s safety through the corrupted lenses of race and class. Jonathan Chait in New York decries Harrell’s arrest and tells of letting his kids play in a park unsupervised, with no consequences (he is white). In her lovely article ‘What Black Latchkey Families Stand to Lose,” Stacia Brown also shares her opinion and personal experience, to make clear exactly what is at stake when people report women like Debra Harrell.

We need these stories because they help to bridge the chasms of lived experience in U.S. culture. We will never resolve issues of race and class if people do not fully hear each other.

And I’ve got my own personal response filtered, of course, through my identity as a single, white mom. Like Chait, I, too, recently let my daughter play hide-and-go-seek in a park with another kid. Adults were watching from across the street, but later that day, my daughter told me that, while she was hiding under a bush, a cop walked by and asked if she was okay because he didn’t see anyone else around. She said she was fine, and that was the end of that. He didn’t ask where her parents were or come looking for me.

There you go, anecdotal evidence at its best. It’s not the same situation as Harrell’s, but for me, it confirms the double standard: a cop perceived my daughter, who is younger than Harrell’s, as sufficiently supervised, and his perception was at least partly informed by race.

The public outrage about Harrell’s arrest has spurred a crowdfunding campaign to help her to regain custody of her daughter (Harrell is reportedly out of jail now). This is a great idea because it will help Harrell with her immediate legal fees.

What interests me, though, is how virtually all the responses, rhetoric, and action I’ve seen (like here, here, and here) are limited to the individual realm. I found one article on Vox focused on the overall problem of childcare in the U.S. But mostly it’s, “Was Harrell right or wrong? What’s my experience with this issue? What can we do for Harrell?”

Again, these are necessary and valuable, but it’s also as if we can’t bear to raise the dire need for collective change, so we limit ourselves to the personal in both responses and solutions. Why? Do we feel too hopeless to advocate (again!) for reasonable, affordable childcare solutions for working moms, especially when we see things like yesterday’s Senate filibuster blocking the Hobby Lobby legislation fix?

Is it too tedious to repeat the obvious––like sending another email about how it’s time (right now!) to get big money out of politics? Is it too risky to repeat a larger truth that everyone already knows?

Individual stories and solutions are valuable but limited and, in a weird way, show how we’ve internalized the relentless privatization that makes the U.S. so hard on everybody, especially on working families. It will never be possible to crowdfund enough money for all the moms who are criminalized for living in poverty.

So I’ll be the uncool one and just say it: we need a collective, public response. We need to force this issue and demand legislation that supports working mothers.








Kudos to the Church of England

In the context of the U.S.’s regressive laws and culture on women, it’s great to hear some good news from across the Atlantic: the Church of England has voted to allow women to become bishops (they were allowed to become priests 20 years ago). Check out these sweet pics of celebration and joyous faces. It’s lovely to have something to celebrate about women’s rights, a much-needed respite from the sad reality that a centuries-old religious institution “has more modern views on women than [U.S. supreme court justice Antonin] Scalia.”

Mishandling of Rape Allegations, Again

Yet another story of rape on a college campus in upstate NY where the administration allegedly grievously mishandled the case. The report in the NYT is unusually detailed and shows, as Joyce Carol Oates tweeted, that the “value of investigative reportage can’t be exaggerated.” The victim was incredibly brave and identified herself for the story but, sadly, now regrets having reported the assault. Her lawyer appears in a video denouncing the college’s handling of the case. Let’s hope that all get their due justice. Read the full piece here.

Celebrating Notorious RBG

Here’s a fun article by Rebecca Traister in The New Republic  on the rise of “Notorious RBG” (Ruth Bader Ginsburg, for those not in the know). Traister describes how Tumblr made it possible to celebrate powerful, older women like Ginsburg, Hillary Clinton, and Wendy Davis in terms of the cult status of hip-hop stars––and how it could influence upcoming elections.

On Karl Ove Knausgaard’s “My Struggle”

Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard’s has written a six-volume autobiography called My Struggle, the first part of which was published in 2009 in Norwegian, with the first three books published in English translation in the past several years. The first book received a glowing review in The New Yorker and books two and three were likewise praised in The New York Times.

All these reviews have noted the minute detail with which the author chronicles his everyday life, and in the Times’ review of book three, Rivka Galchen raises the issue of gender:

If “My Struggle” — which is arguably most engrossing when it describes the care of children in what feels like minute-to-minute detail — were written from the point of view of a woman, would it be the literary sensation it is?

She answers “I don’t think it would be,” but for her, the more important gender difference is actually part of the story itself:

That cultural norms are obtuse about men and women in such different ways is an essential part of Knausgaard’s predicament; he changes diapers, he cooks dinner, he is said to be pretty good-looking, he doesn’t talk about sex all that much — he often feels perceived as too feminine.

In contrast, Katie Roiphe’s commentary, published yesterday in Slate, takes the view that the cultural discrimination outside the book does matter. She, too, wonders

what would happen if the literary sensation were written not by the handsome Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard but by Carla Olivia Krauss of Cobble Hill, Brooklyn.

Her answer is that readers and critics would find the author “narcissistic, well-traveled, self-indulgent.” But, refreshingly, she doesn’t use this as an excuse to reject Knausgaard’s work, in part because it’s more complicated than a simple male-female divide:

I am not trying to make the point that male readers and critics would dismiss Carla, which they would, but that female readers and critics would as well. I mention this because of the enduring fantasy of a shadowy male literary establishment that discriminates against women writers, when in fact the discrimination is much trickier and more pervasive than that.

Well, I would hardly call the male literary establishment shadowy; it is, in fact, rather blatant, but Roiphe’s point that both men and women enact discrimination against women is also valid. Read her full commentary here.

The key point is that debates like these inspire me to read Knausgaard’s work––and to encourage the Carla Krausses of the world.

Finer points on Citizens United and Hobby Lobby

First, Jill Filipovic, in her new gig at, gives us 13 Reactions to the Hobby Lobby Case That are Completely Misinformed. Many of them I already knew about, but one that stood out was this:

While Hobby Lobby the company did object to only four forms of birth control, Hobby Lobby the case is about the contraception mandate as a whole, and its holding applies to any closely held company.

For details read the full piece here.

Second, many people understand why Citizens United is unjust. In the Atlantic, Norm Ornstein uses the Hobby Lobby case to elaborate in clear terms on why Citizens United is illogical. One key point: Corporations’ key objective is to make profit, which is never subordinated to their religious beliefs, and this is true for Hobby Lobby as well:

Give the Hobby Lobby owners’ family credit for their deep religious convictions. But if profit-making were truly subordinated to those convictions, which are strongly in opposition to abortion rights, Hobby Lobby would provide paid maternity leave for employees who shun contraception and abortion to have babies. It doesn’t.

Others have made this point by exposing Hobby Lobby’s investments in companies that produce contraceptives. Ornstein’s piece is especially valuable because he uses this case to illustrate the overall flawed thinking of Citizens United. It helped to clarify my thinking on the issue. Read the full piece here.

On “Beyonce Voters”

Jessica Valenti reports in today’s Guardian that the right in the U.S. has come up with a new term for us single voters with lady parts: Beyonce voters!

But this is not the unmarried equivalent to “soccer moms.” According to Valenti, a Fox news panelist defined the “Beyonce voter” as not just single but as women (cue racial coding now) who “depend on government because they’re not depending on their husbands.”

Because, you know, Beyonce is so dependent on the government. For shame!

Says Valenti:

Perhaps the snideness and name-calling is a last desperate resort from conservatives who still haven’t figured out that ‘women’ aren’t a monolith to be labeled and ‘figured out’; women are half the electorate. It certainly seems Republicans haven’t learned their lesson from the last presidential election, when a now-mocked ‘war on women’ narrative ensured the largest gender gap in history–a win brought home by women of color and unmarried women. Now, single ladies, who make up a quarter of eligible voting Americans, could single-handedly hold the Senate for Democrats in 2014.

That’s what I’m talkin about. Read the full piece here.


Amend the Constitution to Protect Women’s Rights

Following up on yesterday’s post, I think it’s a good time to advocate (as so many others have before) a constitutional amendment to protect women against discrimination. At the urging of Maine representative Diane Russell, I just signed a petition to urge President Obama to support the Equal Rights Amendment.

Why do we need this amendment? If it’s not already obvious, especially after this week’s alarming SCOTUS decision on Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby, here’s a few facts: As conservative justice Antonin Scalia acknowledged back in 2011, the Constitution does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex. Some people believe the 14th Amendment does this adequately, but it has never been interpreted that way and, in fact, does not offer sufficient protection.

While Scalia and others believe that laws can be made to offer the necessary protection against discrimination, it is equally true that laws can prevent such protection from happening, and they can be overturned. That is precisely what has been happening for the past several decades with women’s reproductive rights. The decision on Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby is simply another example of that, because it allows specific discrimination on the basis of privileging the “personhood” of a corporation over that of women.

As I wrote yesterday (and as many others have written), even if women are still able to obtain birth control given that the decision applies to only two forms (the IUD and emergency contraception), the decision sets an alarming precedent by allowing discrimination specifically against women, based on a corporation’s religious beliefs.

The fact is, as Martha Burk points out, “none of the rights women have––except the right to vote––are enshrined in the Constitution.” That means that states can overturn any laws guaranteeing equal opportunity for women in jobs, education––whatever the majority wants. The current, aggressive assault on women’s reproductive rights shows exactly how that can and is happening.

Here’s more info about why the Equal Rights Amendment is so important. Support the effort and sign here.