Avast! Feminist Conspiracy!

Saturday, December 30, 2006

"Saddam Ruins EVERYTHING!"

When News Trumps Celebrity Gossip

Perez Hilton -- as the celebrity gossip most feared by Hollywood likes to call himself -- has posted the following at PerezHilton.com:

He's dead....and he killed our piece on 20/20 last night!!
Our segment had just begun. We were literally speaking our first sentence:
"Lindsay Lohan is....."
And, then, BAM! Interrupt the broadcast at 10:25 PM to announce his hanging.
They couldn't wait 30 minutes for the 11 o'clock news????
Thankfully all the folks on the West Coast got to see it!
Why does Saddam have to ruin everything???

Tongue-in-cheek whining by a flamboyant fame-seeking celebrity gossipmonger? In this day and age one never knows for sure. But note: Many visitors to his site responded that Perez talking about Lindsay Lohan was the only reason they had tuned into 20/20 last night. That is, his rant wasn't satire.

As for me? Tabloid junkie that I am, even I was reloading the Drudge Report repeatedly at that time last night. The Walter Cronkite of Our Era was hard at work breaking news first, highlighting all of the details in red as fast as he came to know them, featuring not one but two sirens blaring the news of Hussein's execution.

I just wanted to give everyone interested in analyzing the politics of U.S. society and culture from a more accurate feminist perspective a real-time snippet exposing truths about where our society and culture really are as we close out 2006.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The absurd illogic of the "pro-family" types


I haven't commented on the issue of HPV vaccination for girls before, partly because it's had a lot of attention from other feminist bloggers and I had little to add to their excellent examinations of the issue, but also because most of the more nonsensical debate about it appeared to be confined to the far-right media, which I generally ignore most of the time. But now that even the Guardian is repeating some of the more offensive right-wing objections to the HPV vaccination, I feel moved to comment.

First, some quotes from the article.

The government's expert advisory body on vaccination, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, is now studying proposals for an NHS-funded mass vaccination scheme which would eventually replace the current screening programme under which women are summoned for smear tests every three years to check for early signs of cancer. Senior Department of Health sources said the best age for immunisation was 12 or 13, before most children become sexually active. Ministers are said to be looking positively at the idea and planning is well advanced.

The move will be controversial with some parents, who fear the jabs will encourage unprotected sex or send confused messages about the right age for girls to lose their virginity.


[Professor Alex Markham] said the vaccine was 'most effective when given to women prior to any exposure to the virus', meaning before they started having sex.

However Hugh McKinney of the pressure group the National Family Campaign questioned the wisdom of immunising such young girls. 'Vaccination against cervical cancer makes full sense to bring down occurrences of this dreadful disease. The only question is at what age is this most appropriate, and many people will question whether 12 years is too young to be undertaking a vaccination programme that is important for when girls become sexually active,' he said.

'It could be seen as helping to promote or encourage sexual activity in girls before they are physically or mentally mature.'

As a woman - or rather, as a human being - I find this kind of logic pretty hard to follow. Maybe Mr. McKinney's daughter isn't having sex at the age of 12 - good for her. But plenty of other people's daughters are, and wagging a finger at thh health professionals who aim to protect them from cervical cancer isn't going to change this. In fact, my concern is that 12 may be too late for some of the vulnerable girls who need this vaccine the most.

The most ridiculous aspect of McKinney's argument is that, taken to its logical conclusion, it would be better for a woman to die of cancer in her forties than to have engaged in sexual intercourse before the age of consent, which is a quite telling piece of misogyny that sums up a great deal of right-wing "pro-family" [sic] rhetoric.

But another point, which I haven't seen widely remarked upon, is that I can't imagine the HPV vaccine having any effect whatsoever on the age girls start having sex, because HPV, as dangerous and unpleasant as it may be, is not by any means the worst thing you can catch from sex. Are these "pro-family" [sic] types so confused about this vaccine that they think it protects women from all sexually transmitted diseases? If not, why are they making such a fuss?

My generation, who are now in their late twenties, grew up when HIV and AIDS were seen as a chilling, shameful death sentence, but one that only affected people in Africa or gay men. (This was wrong and ignorant, but it's the message we were given.) And yet when I was high school student in the early 1990s, my classmates and I were terrified of AIDS. We had it drummed into us pretty effectively at school (amid the predictable guilt-trips about how you shouldn't really be having sex at all) that you absolutely must use condoms, always, always, always, because pregnancy (which initially was what we feared the most, as one girl after another mysteriously disappeared from our classrooms and was later spotted pushing a pram in the street, looking downtrodden and miserable), was just about the nicest serious consequence of unprotected sex, considering AIDS was out there.

Now that HIV and AIDS are more effectively treated but far more widespread, I can hardly see that the situation can have changed. I know it's a somewhat different situation in America, where right-wing pressure has substantially altered the politics of condom promotion and distribution, but even in liberal Britain, where contraception may be obtained for free from the NHS, I don't think immunity to HPV will result in teenaged girls deciding to have sex earlier and/or without protection when the threat of HIV and AIDS is still out there. In any case, the reasons a teenager starts having sex are more complicated than that. And anyhow, who needs the NHS to "promote or encourage sexual activity in girls before they are physically or mentally mature" when there are pole dancing kits for children, Playboy-themed school stationery, television and the internet out there... and that's before we even get into the existence of hormones, other teenagers, peer pressure and low self-esteem!

As a feminist, I hope probably as much as most conservatives do that teenaged girls will love themselves enough to start having sex only when they truly, profoundly want to, with partners who love and respect them. But that's about where our similarities end. It's not our job, or the NHS's job, to invent morality for teenaged girls, or make their decisions for them. We cannot stop girls having sex, regardless of the railing of conservatives, and we cannot protect girls from the emotional pain that may result from their decisions, but if there's any way we can protect their health, I would consider it immensely immoral even to enter into this offensively ignorant debate with conservatives. "Pro-family" [sic] types are big on talking about the consequences of sex, which leads me to assume that they'd rather these consequences were as horrible as possible than actually to save any lives, which is ironic given that these same people are always calling themselves "pro-life" [sic] too. The inhumanity of people that would punish a mature woman with cervical cancer because of sexual activity in her childhood is astounding. How "pro-life" and "pro-family" is that?

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Travel writing that could use some feminist advice

Book review of Embracing the Dragon: A woman's journey along the Great Wall of China (Wellington: Awa Press, 2004). Cross-posted from At the Bay.

I guess I should have been warned by the girlie-looking pink dragon on the cover that this wasn't going to be my kind of book. The pink dragon itself is not Greeks' fault, but gosh, what a depressing read. The author, a young woman who embarked on an extraordinary project no Western woman had attempted before - walking some of the most remote and dangerous parts of the Great Wall of China - has written a a book that isn't so much about China as it is about her hopelessly mismatched relationship with Nathan Gray, a young man obsessed and possessed by the Wall. This strikes me as a disappointingly wasted opportunity for some really interesting travel writing, but the narrative does, unwittingly, reveal a cautionary tale that all adventurous, romantic, bookish young women should think about before they hitch their dreams to someone else's.

If Greeks were a better writer, this tale of a dangerous expedition by two high-spirited, hot-tempered New Zealanders could have been more skilfully interwoven with the counter-tale of their volatile erotic relationship, perhaps even using the treacherous landscape as a metaphor for the casual cruelty of her lover, but somehow it never quite works like that. Greeks veers between hackneyed descriptions (a woman's mouth predictably makes "a perfect 'oh' of surprise", merchants in a market are "eagle-eyed", the water in a much-needed shower "cascades in cool beads of silver", houses "crowd together like a mouthful of crooked teeth") and lengthy soliloquies about how her illnesses and how her man done her wrong, but photographs are few, and really compelling descriptions of the extraordinary landscape even fewer.

But I was not unmoved by Embracing the Dragon. What woman who's been through a bad relationship can fail to sympathize with Greeks' absorbing desire for everything to "be all right", her heart-wrenching willingness to forgive Gray's insensitivities and unkindnesses, and her contradictory urges to get the hell away while she can? Who doesn't feel a twinge of familiar, uncomfortable pain at her hopeful eagerness when Gray makes one of his increasingly rare shows of affection? Who hasn't made the mistake of trying to make someone else's aspirations their own, and hoped and hoped and hoped to change that person's unattractive qualities, and suffered endlessly at their little put-downs, their little gestures of uncaring, and their ingratitude at the sacrifices we have made for them? Who hasn't tried to portray the man who rejects us as an immature creep incapable of love?

I guess what a woman in such a position doesn't always realize is that perhaps adventurous men don't want us to follow them on epic journeys. Perhaps men don't want us to make sacrifices for them or to make their goals our goals. Perhaps relationships would function a great deal better if women made our own epic journeys and followed our own adventurous instincts, rather than casting ourselves in the rĂ´le of helpmeet or supporter to someone else's adventures. It's hard to love the subservient and the dependent - and who is less suited to do so than a professional explorer? How frustrating, how maddening it must have been for Gray, an experienced traveller, to embark on this tremendous journey with a lover who has impulsively quit her job and shown up in China with no guide book, no phrase book, and no language skills, thus needing his protection as if she were a helpless baby. As Greeks comes to this realization herself, the sadder and sadder I felt for her. In some ways, her journey is a lot of women's journey, and sends a strong feminist message about how we place ourselves in a position of dependence on men to our peril and our heartbreak.

Postscript: You can read Nathan Gray's side of the story in First Pass Under Heaven, published by Penguin, 2006.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Woman hating is the new funny

Christopher Hitchens certainly thinks so, and I'm inclined to think that Boston.com agrees with him wholeheartedly.

In perusing the "Odds and Ends" section lately, I have been noticing a disturbing trend for some time now. The tone of the section is supposed to be light and humorous, and yet many of the articles in the section involve violence against women or sex work or other realities of our lives that are decidedly un-funny - at least, when viewed from nearer than, say, a million miles away> It can only be even more of a laugh riot when the women aren't from a first-world nation.

This story is just one example. "Sex worker" Sa Rida allegedly stabbed "client" Suon Da because he refused to wear a condom, or so the article avers. I know, it's already a hilarious premise. But the true comic genius, well, she's in the details.
[Deputy Police Chief] Koam Roeuy said Suon Da had paid Sa Rida $1.20 to have sex with her. But after Suon Da repeatedly refused to wear a condom, Sa Rida gave up and left the room.

Suon Da chased after her, demanding his money back and slapping the woman, Koam Roeuy said. Sa Rida responded by stabbing Suon Da in the stomach, he said.

"The woman was trying to prevent the transmission of diseases such as HIV," Koam Roeuy said. "But now it will be up to the court to decide her fate after she inflicted injuries on another person."
Could it be any more amusing? I mean, I don't know how much $1.20 buys you in Cambodia, but you know, it can't really be all that much. So that's just rolling me in the aisles already. And despite the articles bizarre focus on the stabbing, as if that was the crime, it would seem that Sa Rida was protecting herself against rape and/or further violence against her person when the alleged stabbing was committed. Hilarious! Suon Da's entitlement to do what he wanted and when and how to Sa Rida because he paid her for sex...well, I have to stop, I am laughing too hard to keep typing.

And the giggles just keep on coming.

In looking over recent articles, it seems that even the most innocuous articles in "Odds and Ends" can't seem to refrain from dabbling in some thigh-slapping misogyny. Let's see - just today, we have an inept shoplifter, female, a hysterical mother who couldn't handle a mere rodent in her Christmas tree, and a pregnant woman who delivered her baby on a plane - but don't worry, an ob/gyn was there. Look a little futher back, and you'll find a father who drives a car into a school building, a cat-murdering ex-boyfriend moving back in with his ex-girlfriend and her remaining cats, and a man who is in jail for threatening three 15 year old kids and their parents over the phone. Further on still, you may find the tale of a carjacker whose plans were foiled by a quick-thinking woman who sprayed the assailant with gas. (How long will it be before this ends up on one of those horrid women's crime prevention e-mails, I wonder? "If approached while pumping gas, be sure to douse everything in sight with it!")

Seriously, could it be any funnier if it tried?

As Borat's comedy instructor might say at this point: Not!

So I think I'm starting to understand Hitchens' point after all. I guess being the punch line kind of precludes me from getting his jokes.