Snickers: only sometimes heteronormative

A number of people are up in arms about this Snickers commercial that ran during the Super Bowl:

If you haven’t read about the controversy, stop and think about it for a moment. Is this ad:

  1. Heteronormative / homo-hostile because it depicts homophobia, or
  2. Homo-positive because it depicts homophobia negatively

My money is actually on b). This ad depicts homophobia, but the protagonists are basically neanderthals: they’re unkempt, pudgy, working in a crappy garage on a crappy car, and evidently idiotic enough to rip out chunks of their own chest hair to demonstrate their heterosexuality. The ad is meant to be funny, and it’s meant to be funny because we’re supposed to laugh at these pathetic people. Laugh at them, not with them. Notice there’s a difference between depicting homophobia and conveying a homophobic message, which is why I’m trying to use the alternate terms of heteronormative, homo-hostile, or homo-positive.

When I saw the ad, I was surprised and happy that during the Super Bowl, homophobes were depicted as knuckle-dragging losers that we should all laugh at. I thought it was quite positive for the gay-rights movement.

Now, in fairness, this ad alone isn’t the whole story. This is the ad that ran during the Super Bowl, but Snickers had a bunch more material on their website with alternate endings featuring violence, and NFL players’ reactions to the ads (think: disgust at the idea of two men kissing).

I don’t approve in the slightest of any of the additional material; the violent endings promote the idea that violence is a rational outlet for homophobia, and showing NFL players grimacing uses national heroes to convey the idea that gay people are contemptible. But other bloggers have said it better than me; head over to AMERICAblog or Towelroad or This Modern World for discussion of the alternate endings and players’ reactions.

But, the Super Bowl ad itself, it seems to me, is thoroughly unobjectionable.

(mostly via)

Update: Jonathan Trenn makes a good point in a comment: to the extent that you identify with the two blue-collar males here, you may well be offended at the depiction of blue-collar men as brutish simpletons.

The non-gender-role-inverting Superbowl ad

Did you catch this Superbowl ad for Chevy?

On its surface, this looks like a gender-role-inverting spot. The “car wash” setup, of course, is usually used as an excuse to show barely-clothed models, as in this recent spot with Paris Hilton (barely SFW):

…so, the Chevy commercial is a playful inversion, right?

I couldn’t help noticing, though, that most of the men featured in the ad are unattractive, pasty white guys (plus one skeletal senior citizen). I’ve got nothing against pasty white guys per se (I’m not the self-loathing type), but this makes the ad quite unlike the female-models-in-bikinis genre: in the Chevy commercial, the women are decidedly not attracted to the car washers (even though a few attractive men show up). In fact, they’re mortified. The Paris Hilton spot, though, is a gratuitous excuse to show Hilton in a skimpy leather outfit, and ogling her is the whole point. We are meant to take her sexual attractiveness seriously. In the Chevy commercial, the sexual cues are comedic, not serious at all. It’s so impossible to view the car-washer guys as actual sex objects that not even the female characters in the commercial take them seriously, never mind the intended audience.

I think, curiously enough, that this ad, which at first glance seems to be inverting gender roles, is actually reinforcing them. It would be genuinely subversive to actually present men analogously to the hot-babes-carwash setup. Mens’ prescribed gender role is decidedly not that of objectified, depersonalized objects. Men are the locus of sexual aggression and power in a patriarchal society; women are the objectified sexual ornaments.

This ad doesn’t dismantle those roles at all; since the men aren’t to be taken seriously as sexual ornaments, they’re just imitating women, which makes the ad more like someone performing in blackface, or a man being “funny” by putting on a tutu and mincing around. The only acceptable way for men to appear in this situation is for them to be part of an obviously over-the-top spoof; hence, for example, the dramatically decrepit old guy. I actually think that the audience is meant to imagine women in bikinis, since they are the obvious opposite of pasty white guys taking off their shirts. For bonus points, the fact that the men are behaving as women in such a preposterous way conveys, like blackface, that women’s role as ornaments is essentially risible.

There’s another aspect to this, too: homophobia. Imagine what the spot would have looked like if it had actually been analogous to, say, beer commercials: the car-wash men would have been imposing, oiled, muscular guys in Speedos. Wouldn’t that be, well, kind of… gay? Here’s a comment left on YouTube, from someone complaining that not all the guys shown in the ad are completely out of shape:

I would have to agree with Sean. It would have been funnier with all the guys out of shape… What kind of football loving guy wants to watch other guys strip?

I do have to say the old guy was the funniest.

The ad is meant to be funny, not to be an actual presentation of men as sexual ornaments. It’s not funny for there to be any attractive guys in there at all! Besides, no “football loving” (read, heterosexual) male wants to see partially-clothed attractive men; that’s gay!

This ad is like cultural aikido: it lulls you by appearing to be taking apart our entrenched gender roles, but is actually just reinforcing them further.

Proposed terminology change

Yesterday was Blog for Choice day. It was also maiken-was-sick day.

Blog for Choice Day - January 22, 2007

So, one day late, brief note on the topic: after reading a bunch of pro-choice posts around the blogosphere, I propose an official terminology change.

I think the term “pro-life”, when used by the “pro-choice” crowd, should be replaced by “forced-birther”. As in, “oh, he’s just a forced-birther”, or “that’s a bunch of forced-birther nonsense”. Because really, “pro-life” means “in favor of forced childbirth” for women who want to terminate their pregnancy.

And if you think about it that way, who the hell thinks they should have the right to force random women to go through with a traumatic and potentially dangerous experience because of their own arbitrary moral code?

Crazy forced-birthers.

What did sexism in entertainment look like in the 50s?

Like this:

I think the worst part is these two lines towards the end:

Don’t want a girl who’ll sit there and talk too much /
Just want a doll with a lotta lotta places to touch

OK, that second line is almost certainly not what the lyrics actually are. But I’m damned if I can make out what Dean Martin is saying at 2:52.

Via Pandagon.

WaPo used “catfight” too

I’ve (mostly) stopped being surprised by what Fox News passes off as journalism, but I was dismayed that the Washington Post actually used the word “catfight” as well to describe a recent disagreement between Rep. Jane Harman and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Catfight aftermath: Rep. Jane Harman is still quite irked that House Speaker-designee Nancy Pelosi nixed her for chairman of the House intelligence committee — and she’s not exactly being stoic about it.

Lois Romano, the author, ran an apology defense uh… something or other in her most recent column:

We heard a number of complaints last week because we used the word “catfight” to describe a disagreement between two distinguished members of Congress — Pelosi and Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.). To those who civilly articulated reasons why the term is inappropriate, we say: Point taken.

So, it was inappropriate, yes? Perhaps it would behoove Lois to actually say so and apologize?

What’s wrong with this picture?

Yes, that’s a real screenshot.

Via Feministing.

On the fragility of comfortable privacy on the web

Well, I suppose perhaps it was inevitable. I experienced my first serious discomfort today with having so much information about me online.

Ill-advisedly, I got into a tangle on the radical feminist blog “I Blame the Patriarchy“. The bone I foolishly chose to pick was about whether it was, in fact, a good idea to pre-emptively castrate some schmuck who had written an email in stunted English in which he asks how he can avoid being a rapist, and says that “when women’s and girls are very open, I could hardly control myself.” While this doesn’t sound at all reassuring about this fellow’s future as an upstanding citizen, I thought that actual forced castration might be going a little too far, given what was known of the situation. Apparently, that was an outrageous suggestion.

You can read the whole debacle here if you’re bored and have a lot of time. It goes on for a while. I might have more to say about the issue, and why reaction was so violent and nasty, at a later time, when I have calmed down a little and gotten some perspective. In the mean time, though, I would like to talk about an issue tangential to what was actually being debated.

I was surprised at the level of hostility I ran into, but I was even more surprised when a handful of commenters decided it would be a good idea to leverage the information available about me on the web to make fun of me. So, in the course of the afternoon, I was treated to someone wondering out loud if I had secretly been hoping for a son instead of a daughter:

I continue to read that the child is named Ryan….Ryan Marie.

Are you familiar with Kathleen Parker, a columunist who goes to very great lengths to support everything that males do? And to make excuses for everything that a male does wrong? I refer to it as the “Katey P” Disease…and I think you just might suffer from it.

Were you disappointed that Ryan wasn’t a male? Have you been so throughly dipped and fried in Patriarchy that you are willing to come onto a Radical Feminist blog and spout off about how rapists’ nuts need to be defended?

– slade [an anonymous pseudonym]

slade carries on some more in a later comment about Ryan’s name. One of these is plenty, I think, to get the flavor, and if anything, the later comment is even more vicious, so if you care you can go look it up. As if this weren’t enough, someone dug up a link to a self-portrait on my photoblog, and had some fun with that:

I’ve done better [at taking pictures] with a Canon TX. I used to just love getting A1 with my TX while the guyes (check the shot) always had the big penis I mean lenses, the most expensive camera, wore those dorky pseudo-military hats. Oh geez, perhaps I could send him a pair of fingerless mittens?

– Pony [another anonymous pseudonym]

I can only assume “Pony” didn’t read the image comments where I mentioned I was suited up to go snowboarding. Oh, well.

I just love that shot of him on his blog. How long do you think he had to hang in front of the mirror to get everything just so. The stubble, that hat, squint, no the other eye, umm no this lens is too small the other, and that way, I look more…dangereuse. Har. Poseur.

– Pony

My initial reaction was to be surprised and taken aback that anyone would go off searching for personal details about me just to fuel personal attacks. My second reaction was to be angry. My third reaction was to consider why I was feeling angry, since after all, all this information is readily available online, and more besides, and I have nobody to blame for it being there but myself.

Lots of bloggers write from behind pseudonyms and take care not to reveal their identity. I have never done that, partly because this blog started out as my personal observations about what it was like to get clobbered by a car and have a titanium rod threaded into my femur, and during my recovery, my only audience was friends and family. Since this blog became political, though, I still never bothered to use a pseudonym because, as I now realize, it never occurred to me that someone would come digging through the information here in anger, or with malicious intent. I’m starting to think now that that may have been naive.

The idea that this afternoon, at least a few people came digging through this site and my photoblog looking for something, anything, that they could use to attack me makes me deeply uncomfortable. Being open about my life, sharing my artistic efforts, and talking about my family are things I felt comfortable doing because I trusted that anyone who cared to stop by would bear me no ill will. I assumed that if I stayed calm and well-reasoned when having discussions elsewhere, nobody would take such great offense that they would make it personal. It turns out, I was wrong.

I’m not sure what to do now. I suppose I could retreat behind a pseudonym, like everyone else seems to have already done, and stop mentioning anything about who I actually am. Or, I suppose, I could just shrug off the feeling of violation that came with people using my daughter and my appearance to attack me.

I know that several people reading are my close friends and that you run blogs under your own names. Perhaps you never participate in discussions where people may go off the deep end, so your risk is lower. I’m not saying not to carry on as you have been, but take a moment to think about the worst case. Are you comfortable with everything that is available about you?

What I found most upsetting out of all of this were the attacks on Ryan’s name, to the extent that I’m wondering if it’s wise for information about my family to be available. Both Laura and I are dismayed that anyone would think to drag a baby into the middle of any this ugliness.

Take a minute to inventory what’s available about you.

Update: Readers have left a series of extremely thoughtful and perceptive comments; please take a moment to go through them.

Confidential to Elena: I’m not editing comments to select only positive ones, as you imagine. Feel free to leave a comment of your own!

Examples of glamor retouching

I think I’ve probably posted this before, but I’m so lazy I’m not even going to check (beat that!)

Photographer Glenn Feron has an entire gallery that shows before and after glamor / fashion shots. You can see the extent to which waist and bustlines, skin, makeup, etc., are altered in post-production for the beauty industry.

Mildly risqé material.

In which Newsweek is out of its frigging mind

Newsweek has gone off the deep end. They’re running a story that appears on MSNBC’s main page as “Pelosi and San Francisco’s Loony Left”, and which runs this graphic immediately under the subheadline of “A City Ripe for Satire” (I’ve split the super-wide graphic into two images):


These are shots from a recent skit on Saturday Night Live, and obviously, that’s not the real Pelosi. But, come on — running a headline about the “Loony Left” and then leading with a graphic that features gay men in bondage? Are we really supposed to understand that this is dispassionate “coverage” of Pelosi’s new-found prominence?

From the article:

While the appearance of a prim, wide-eyed Nancy Pelosi look-alike on last week’s SNL didn’t get as much attention as it once might have, a few cultural truths did emerge.

First, the nation’s first female Speaker is relentlessly, maddeningly poised. [...] Pelosi is becoming known to the public as the woman who smiles through it all, as if posing for her family’s Christmas card photo while the kids pinch each other and the dog chases the cat around the tree.

WTF? Maddeningly poised? Maddeningly to whom? The Republicans? Anarchists? Tourette’s sufferers? And what’s with the Christmas card photo analogy?

The latest round of San Francisco-bashing started on Election Day, when San Francisco voters—80 percent of whom re-elected Pelosi—also got a chance to approve Proposition J, a measure calling for the impeachment of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. Not surprisingly, in a city where Bush won only 15 percent in 2004, nearly 60 percent of San Francisco voters thought impeachment was a good idea. [...]events like these cement the city’s image as the place where the loony left is in charge[...]

WTF? Newsweek ran an article less than a month ago which appeared to report that 51% of all Americans think that the Democrats should assign at least some importance to the task of impeaching the President. Who can call San Francisco the “loony left” for agreeing with the rest of the country?

Describing the passage of a measure in San Francisco that kicked the Junior ROTC out of the city high schools for promoting militarism and homophobia:

Had she popped in to this week’s meeting of her hometown school board, with hippie parents and gay activists squaring off against veterans over the ROTC, [Pelosi] may have found herself scarcely more popular than Donald Rumsfeld

WTF? I’m sure many of the opponents were “gay activists”, but were the others really “hippie parents”? Who even describes themselves as hippies anymore? And if the parents didn’t describe themselves that way (and no quotes are offered), why would Newsweek choose that term? And are school board politics in San Francisco properly summarized as boiling down to loudmouth gays and hippies versus our brave soldiers?

If you go read the article, you’ll find that much of it is, supposedly, concerned with pointing out that Pelosi isn’t part of the “loony left”, and that all this stereotyping pains her and is inaccurate.

But the article undermines its own supposed message by openly promulgating the stereotypes it claims to be discussing.

Beware, breastfeeding mothers

As mentioned in Salon, the Associated Press reports that a woman was kicked off a Delta Airlines flight because she was breastfeeding her baby:

Gillette said she was discreetly breast-feeding her 22-month-old daughter on Oct. 13 as their flight prepared to leave Burlington International Airport. She said she was seated by the window in the next-to-last row, her husband was seated between her and the aisle and no part of her breast was showing.

A flight attendant tried to hand her a blanket and told her to cover up, Gillette said. She declined, telling the flight attendant she had a legal right to breast-feed her baby.

Moments later, a Delta ticket agent approached and said the flight attendant had asked that the family be removed from the flight, Gillette said. She said she didn’t want to make a scene and complied.
“A breast-feeding mother is perfectly acceptable on an aircraft, providing she is feeding the child in a discreet way,” that doesn’t bother others, said Paul Skellon, spokesman for Phoenix-based Freedom. “She was asked to use a blanket just to provide a little more discretion, she was given a blanket, and she refused to use it, and that’s all I know.”

Two details are important here: the mother was seated in the next-to-last row, on the window, and her husband was between her and the aisle. Given all this, how much could she possibly have been “bothering” others, anyway?

I tried to find a statute on indecent exposure in the Vermont Statutes, but couldn’t. The closest I could find was a prohibition on lewd and lascivious conduct:

A person guilty of open and gross lewdness and lascivious behavior shall be imprisoned not more than five years or fined not more than $300.00, or both. (Amended 1981, No. 223 (Adj. Sess.), § 23.)

Unhelpfully, lewdness is defined:

The term “lewdness” shall be construed to mean open and gross lewdness.

It seems unlikely, to put it mildly, that this mother could possibly be construed as being in violation of any of this. Also, the Vermont legislature passed a bill in 2002 declaring:

The general assembly finds that breastfeeding a child is an important, basic and natural act of nurture that should be encouraged in the interest of enhancing maternal, child and family health.

I’m not impressed with Delta here. I hope the mother sues.

Beauty ideals via manipulated imagery

Dove has put out this video as part of their “Campaign for Real Beauty”. It shows the extent of the transformation an image of a model goes through for use on a billboard.

(via Unfogged)

Doctors, contraception and imposed morality

There’s a story over at the Biting Beaver that really made me stop short. Go read the whole thing. Capsule summary: woman in rural Ohio has consentual sex, condom breaks. She spends an entire weekend trying to find a healthcare provider that will dispense emergency contraception to her. She finds plenty that would be able to, but won’t, due to their own self-selected moral criteria for whom they will deign to write prescriptions for.

An excerpt about talking on the phone to an ER nurse about the prospect of having an ER doc write a prescription:

“Well see,” he begins, his voice dropping a little, “the problem is that you have to meet the doctor’s criteria before he’ll dispense it to you.”
“Well, ummm….*clears throat*…So you haven’t been raped?” he asks again.

“No. I have not been raped. The condom broke”. I state, becoming very frustrated at this point and wondering what the hell is going on.

“Ok, well ummm….Are you married?” he mumbles the words so low I can barely hear them.

After more searching:

I was told by every urgent care I called and every emergency room that I was shit out of luck. I was asked my age. My marital status. How many children I had. If I had been raped and when I became uncomfortable with the questions I was told, “Well Ma’am, try to understand that you will be interviewed and the doctor has ‘criteria’ that you need to meet before he will prescribe it for you.”

When I asked about what ‘criteria’ there was that I had to meet, the reply was, “Well, he’s kind of old fashioned”. I was told that I might be able to ‘talk him into it’ anyway and that it can’t hurt to try (except for the fact that each and every time I try it I’ll have to pay $100 co-pay).
I have been asked about my sexual practices. Whether I’m ‘monogamous’ or ‘in a relationship’ if I’m married, if I have kids, how many kids I have, if I was raped or ‘traumatized’ but there wasn’t ONE question about my health. Not one.

This is shameful. I had no idea things were this bad. When pharmacist morality clauses were discussed recently in Seattle, the scenarios floated on radio and talk shows centered on whether or not pharmacists should have to right to decide that they would never dispense emergency contraceptives or abortifacients (these are not the same thing). The question then became whether patients would still have reasonable access to the drugs via another pharmacist who was willing to dispense. As far as I know, there was never any serious discussion of enabling pharmacists, or anyone else, to make up their own moral code for who should or should not get access to drugs.

I think it’s particularly revolting that BB was told more than once that she might be able to “talk the doctor into it”, as though it were somehow the role of a doctor to sit in judgment of a patient’s morality, and as though, in order to obtain medically necessary drugs, it were somehow appropriate for a patient to have to lay out a case defending their virtue and moral rectitude.

When did doctors sign up with the American Taliban?

Misogyny exemplified

Uh… wow.


I’m really not sure what to say about this bizarre and overtly misogynist slideshow from the Italian version of Vogue magazine. It shows fashion models being manhandled by anti-terror police (everything is staged).

Is this someone’s idea of art?

The target and tone of feminist anger

Misogyny, the relentless cultural messaging to women about what their bodies should look like, and all-too-frequently-tolerated violence towards women are certainly serious and worthy issues. No doubt.

But — I flinch to even suggest it, so violent may be the reaction — can this justify unbridled hostility towards men, generally?

I will use a particular post from a feminist blog I read regularly and respect, Unfogged, as an example. It’s a group blog, and one of the contributors, Tia, wrote a long post providing “advice for men about how to act and how to talk about feminism if you want to be a top notch human being in this regard”. The post consists of 10 suggestions to men, with elaborations of each. Here are excerpts that illustrate what I want to talk about.

1) If lots of women say something is important, it is. Your opinion, as a man, about the extent and nature of the problem is not valuable when the specific problem pertains to women’s experience.

3) When you tell us about the male perspective on the issue [...] consider that we already understand. And then consider that the reason it looks to you like the male perspective is being excluded or misunderstood is that we’re actually talking about ourselves, and the effect your actions have on us.

4) Try to pay attention to what’s actually being said. Before you respond to something, think hard about what their actual point is and whether you understand it. If you don’t understand it, ask questions.

6) Don’t say, “Men have problems too! Women are always doing mean things to men! [stamps foot] And we don’t complain about it as much!” [...] We bring up men’s problems because we want things to change. You bring them up because you’re invested in the current system, and you want to tell us we don’t have that much to complain about.

And when you constantly bring up that “men have problems too!” you often indicate that not only do you not understand women’s experience, you don’t really understand that you don’t understand.

8) Remember that the fact that you can construe your position as “moderate” because other people are bigger assholes than you [...] does not argue in favor of the legitimacy of your opinion. [Also, you probably don't understand the women in your life nearly as well as you think you do. They probably haven't talked to you about how they really feel because there] are powerful and profound rewards in our society for women who don’t call men on their bullshit.

9) Do not expect a cookie because other people in the world are bigger assholes than you. Men on Unfogged are mostly somewhat better than average when it comes to women’s concerns, and if I let it, that would make me cry myself to sleep at night.

As a man, I understood this list to be saying something like this (the numbers do not correspond):

  1. When it comes to issues that concern women, your opinion is almost certainly worthless.
  2. We (women) understand your (men’s) perspective, but you do not understand ours.
  3. You probably don’t even understand what we’re saying. If you ask nicely, we might explain it. Maybe.
  4. If women discuss their problems, it is for the Betterment of Society. If men discuss their problems, it is to Further The Oppressive Patriarchy.
  5. Even if you think you are a Nice Guy, you are probably, in fact, an Asshole. Furthermore, even if you think you have a close relationship with women in your life, you probably don’t, because you Wouldn’t Understand them if they really opened up to you, and knowing this, they probably haven’t. Asshole.
  6. Did I mention you’re an asshole?

I can accept point 1). If women want to get together and talk about what it’s like to be women, I can understand that my perspective, as a man, could very likely be extraneous. Not invalid, not oppressive, but extraneous. After all, I’m not a woman, so I can’t talk sensibly about what it’s like to be one.

But items 2) and beyond are a problem.

  • If it’s so tricky for me to begin to understand women’s issues, what makes women magically able to fully grasp (and then dismiss) the male perspective?
  • I’m sure that men sometimes bring up their own problems to minimize women’s. But surely it doesn’t follow that there are No Male Problems of Consequence, and that the only reason anyone would ever bring up male problems is as a club to silence women?
  • I don’t like being called an asshole.

To generalize this even more, posts like this, directed at men, make me hear something like this:

As a man, your opinion is likely to be bad. Not just off-topic, or extraneous, but bad. In the sense of evil. Your perspective is likely to be ignorant and oppressive. You are likely to espouse the continued oppression and subjugation of women.

Because you embody and carry this oppression like an infection, you are bad.

Now, maybe I have yet to lose any feminist readers. Maybe, they are thinking, this is all true: men in our society, due simply to the way they’ve been socialized, are likely to carry and perpetuate a system of thought that subjugates women. This isn’t prejudice, perhaps they would say: it’s just fact.

But it’s the jump from protesting how our society is currently set up to vilifying men themselves, that bothers me. This jump happened when Tia pulled out the word “asshole” and ascribed deliberately malicious motives to men, generally, by accusing them of bringing up their problems “to tell us [women] we don’t have that much to complain about”.

Is it really legitimate to declare men, en masse, as being presumptively in a state of moral culpability, for the crime of being men?

I feel like the subtext in this post, and in some other feminists’ perspectives, is that although a small number of men are righteous, having elevated their consciousness and repudiated the repressive role they were assigned through their socialization, most men are in a state of moral disgrace, wallowing in ignorance, and that those men are reprehensible, and personally, morally, culpable.

To be sure, there are men who are consciously and deliberately cruel, violent, manipulative, and exploitative of women. But I would hope we could all agree that such men are in a small minority, and that we can all rightly condemn them.

But, no matter what you might think of how our society is currently organized, and how it socializes boys and girls, is it right to hold culpable men who carry no malice or ill will of their own towards women?

I mean the question sincerely. Is it legitimate to blame them?

Addendum: I expect this post to be controversial, so much so that I wrote to Tia to ask her opinion before putting it up. She hasn’t had time to compose a complete reply, but says that I have gravely misunderstood her. Fair enough; I look forward to any eventual commentary.

I would, though, emphasize above all that I don’t mean this post as a critique of the prima facie content of Tia’s post. Tia’s post is a list of advice to men when talking to feminists, and it’s probably reasonably good advice. As I tried to highlight by laying out how I “heard” Tia’s list, I mean to address the subtext of her post.

One point of legitimate disagreement could simply be over whether there is, in fact, any subtext that looks anything like what I’ve described here. Maybe I’ve imagined it. Maybe I’m over-reacting. Maybe I’m projecting. I see these all as legitimate possibilities.

But to those that will say that Tia never called me an asshole, or said that men are in a state of moral culpability by default: yes, I understand that. But in the same way that men telling women on the street to “smile, honey” don’t actually say “you are an ornament and you exist to please men”, I heard more than Tia said.

Brangelina to marry when gays can

It’s true:

Brad Pitt, ever the social activist, says he won’t be marrying Angelina Jolie until the restrictions on who can marry whom are dropped.

Angie and I will consider tying the knot when everyone else in the country who wants to be married is legally able,” the 42-year-old actor reveals in Esquire magazine’s October issue, on newsstands Sept. 19.

Plan B is not an abortifacient. Pass it on.

Plan B is widely opposed. Why? Well, if you’re a fundamentalist Christian, you might be under the impression that Plan B either prevents the implantation of a fertilized embryo (which you regard as a Human Life), or that it dislodges an implanted embryo.

The latter is certainly false. The former is almost certainly false as well.

A science blog explains. The full post has nice graphics and lots of detail, so I encourage you to go read it.

[Plan B] is a form of birth control that tells the woman’s ovaries to hold off on releasing any eggs for a short while. It’s called emergency contraception, because it is used by a woman who has, for whatever reason (rape, a broken condom, misplaced enthusiasm, second thoughts, anything) had unwanted sperm in her reproductive tract, and she wants to make sure that this isn’t the moment her ovaries happen to pop a follicle.

Plan B is not an abortion.

Plan B doesn’t help if one is already pregnant, and it doesn’t affect any implanted zygotes. Pregnant women produce progesterone naturally.

Straightforward enough, right?

Well, so why does the FDA material on Plan B say this?

3. How does Plan B work?

Plan B works like other birth control pills to prevent pregnancy. Plan B acts primarily by stopping the release of an egg from the ovary (ovulation). It may prevent the union of sperm and egg (fertilization). If fertilization does occur, Plan B may prevent a fertilized egg from attaching to the womb (implantation). If a fertilized egg is implanted prior to taking Plan B, Plan B will not work.

And why does the Canadian Physicians for Life group say this?

[Plan B] may prevent ovulation or, if fertilization has occurred, it may ruin the implantation of a newly conceived human being.

Everyone agrees that Plan B has no effect on an implanted embryo. But what about the possibility that it can prevent implantation?

Although it could possibly be the case that Plan B interferes with implantation, our best current evidence is that it does not. Since it’s pretty darn difficult to prove a negative, it’s misleading to go around saying that Plan B may prevent implantation.

This Population Council report has a summary of an animal study done by Reproductive physiologist Horacio B. Croxatto
of the Chilean Institute for Reproductive Medicine in Santiago, Chile:

The researchers found that levonorgestrel inhibited ovulation totally or partially, depending on the timing of treatment and the dose administered. However, the drug had no effect on fertilization or implantation when it was administered shortly before or after mating or before implantation.

(also available as HTML)

The American Academy of Family Physicans sums it up this way:

Some individuals may consider these hormones to be abortifacients if they interfere with implantation. However, the proven mechanisms of action consist of inhibiting or delaying ovulation. These hormones will not dislodge an implanted embryo.

Wikipedia says:

Recent studies in rats and monkeys have shown that post-ovulatory use of ECPs do not have any effect on pregnancy rates. Studies in humans have shown that the rate of ovulation suppression is approximately equal to the effectiveness of emergency contraceptive pills, suggesting that might be the only mechanism by which they prevent pregnancy.
Because of the difficulty of studying pre-implanted embryos inside the uterus and fallopian tubes, both sides of this debate concede that completely proving or disproving the theory may be impossible.

It seems fair to conclude that our current best evidence is that Plan B does not interfere with implantation.

Why is this important? In a nutshell, it obviates any principled objection to Plan B from anti-abortionists. Even if you believe that human life begins at fertilization, which is a pretty extreme view to take in the first place, there is still no reasonable objection to Plan B being widely available, since all available data suggests that it does not interfere in any way with implantation.

And if you believe that human life begins at implantation, the case is even more open-and-shut. Plan B does not interfere with an implanted embryo. It never causes an “abortion”.

So there.

P.S.: Don’t confuse Plan B, an emergency contraceptive, with RU-486, a genuine abortifacient, which causes an emplanted embryo to be dislodged.

Women, men and smiling

Yesterday, I wrote about the privilege of being male, particularly Barry Deutsch’s “Male Privilege Checklist“. One of the privileges was:

44. Complete strangers generally do not walk up to me on the street and tell me to “smile.”

Meg asks:

Seriously, men don’t get told to “Smile”? I thought that was a gender-neutral thing.

I haven’t often been told to “smile”. But here, I’m referencing something that I’ve read about but never experienced, since I’m not female. Consider this comment thread on Bitch, PhD, about the readers’ experience of misogyny:

I had a male co-worker today tell me to smile (again). While I do work retail, and being positive when you are on the floor is part of the job description, he isn’t my boss and I wasn’t upset or frowning, I just didn’t have a 60 watt bimbo smile plastered on my face at the time (and there wasn’t a customer in sight - it was, like 9:30 in the morning).

I then frowned at him, because my reaction to people ordering me to be happy it annoyance. Instead of dropping it he continued to try to “coax” me into smiling. I managed to refrain from throwing something at him.

The guys I work with never walk around with the 60 watt smiles most of the women put on their face when helping a customer. Most of the men simply put on normal “pleasant” expressions, but no one ever tells them to smile except for our managers - for whom it is part of the job description - and even they only do it when they are addressing a mixed group, never individual men.

Jenny K

I once had a random man on the street say “Hey Baby, smile, it can’t be that bad!” Well, I had just had a wisdom tooth removed. When I opened my mouth blood came pouring out. The look on his face was PRICELESS!


We shouldn’t accept accusations of being “humorless” because we are legitimately angry. I never saw the “smile!!!” comments as examples of sexism (I don’t know if it really qualifies as misogyny) but now I have a new interpretation - idiot man comes along and sees a woman as an ornament who would be prettier smiling, not realizing she is a complete person who may have reasons to not smile. What should we say back to these f*ckers? I feel like an angry response won’t get through to them since they don’t respect a woman’s emotions anyway…. Obviously acting happy would encourage the behaviour. It happens way to often to just ignore it. Arg!!!


I always knew it infuriated me to the point of murderous rage when a man said this to me on the street, I never got precisely what about it (other than the presumptiousness of the commenter that I need to smile for him) that was that made me want to punch Mister Smile fo’ Me Baby until I read this passage from Anna Fels’ book Necessary Dreams: Ambition in Women’s Changing Lives(p.134)

“Smiling conveys a reassuring message of accommodation to others; it is the facial equivalent of speaking softly and tentatively in order to appear pliant. Animal ethnography has raised the startling possibility that frequent smiling may actually serve as a stereotyped gesture of subordination. Studies of rhesus monkeys foudn that when nondominant monkeys worry about an attack by a dominant animal, they convey their nonthreatening, subordinate status by lowering their bodies to appear shorter and smiling–an expression known as the “fear grin.”

dorothy rothschild

WRT: “Smile girl!” comments - I always just say, deadpan, “I only smile for people I like.” Sometimes I add a huge, sarcastic smile for extra. That usually confounds them and then they go away.


RE. “smile honey”, my most common response is a cold, calm “NO”. If the person is obtuse enough to ask “Why not?” i inform them that they are not the expression monitor and if i want to smile i will. Their opinion will have no effect on the matter.


I can’t think of a single time anyone has told me on the street or in a store to “smile” if I was frowning. I think I would be somewhat surprised if someone did. On the other hand, it sounds like women often have encounters with people (men) who want to control/affect their expression/demeanor.

Thinking about it a little bit, I can completely see how this fits into a pattern of (some) men automatically perceiving women as being ornaments, and that a frowing ornament is out of place.

Is this consistent with your experience?

The privilege of being male

Barry Deutsch at Atlas offers “The Male Privilege Checklist“, a list of privileges that men automatically enjoy in modern US culture. Here are some that resonate with me:

12. If I have children and pursue a career, no one will think I’m selfish for not staying at home.

14. Chances are my elected representatives are mostly people of my own sex. The more prestigious and powerful the elected position, the more likely this is to be true.

I would add that unfortunately, my elected representatives are mostly useless. I guess no system of hierarchical oppression is perfect :-)

16. As a child, chances are I was encouraged to be more active and outgoing than my sisters.

17. As a child, I could choose from an almost infinite variety of children’s media featuring positive, active, non-stereotyped heroes of my own sex. I never had to look for it; male protagonists were (and are) the default.

18. As a child, chances are I got more teacher attention than girls who raised their hands just as often.

I worry about all of these for Ryan Marie. We’ve already instituted a Disney ban, but finding appropriate female role models will be an uphill battle, I fear.

25. I do not have to worry about the message my wardrobe sends about my sexual availability or my gender conformity.

27. The grooming regimen expected of me is relatively cheap and consumes little time.

It is difficult to adequately convey how little male engineers worry about gender and sexual messaging generated by their clothing, or pay much attention to grooming. We should all be thankful they, for the most part, reliably cover all essential portions of their body at all.

30. I can be loud with no fear of being called a shrew. I can be aggressive with no fear of being called a bitch.

In fact, as far as I can tell, being able to yell louder than others is often (unfortunately) an advantage in my line of work.

32. I can be confident that the ordinary language of day-to-day existence will always include my sex. “All men are created equal,” mailman, chairman, freshman, he.

34. I will never be expected to change my name upon marriage or questioned if I don’t change my name.

Laura and I discussed who, if anyone, was going to change their name when we got married. We had a similar discussion about Ryan’s last name when she was born. In the end, both Laura and I kept our own names, and Ryan has my last name. My defense is that my last name is fairly rare, and I am from a very small family, so I was particularly unwilling to part with it. Laura, on the other hand, frequently has trouble naming all her (50+) cousins.

I remain bothered that Ryan and Laura don’t share a last name, though.

37. Most major religions argue that I should be the head of my household, while my wife and children should be subservient to me.

38. If I have a wife or live-in girlfriend, chances are we’ll divide up household chores so that she does most of the labor, and in particular the most repetitive and unrewarding tasks.

Would that it were so :-)

39. If I have children with a wife or girlfriend, chances are she’ll do most of the childrearing, and in particular the most dirty, repetitive and unrewarding parts of childrearing.

OK, maybe things balance out, after all. Although I do all the diapering whenever I’m around. Still, breastfeeding doesn’t look too fun.

44. Complete strangers generally do not walk up to me on the street and tell me to “smile.”

Apparently, this actually happens.

And, of course:

46. I have the privilege of being unaware of my male privilege.

Bloggers without a clue

I think everyone in the universe is linking to this story.

In a nutshell:

The Onion, satire “newspaper” extraordinaire, ran an “article” in 1999, written by “Miss Caroline Weber” (not a real person) featuring passages like this:

I know, I know, I’ve heard all the arguments: Abortion stops a beating heart. It’s a child, not a choice. Every life is precious. Well, I don’t care what the pro-lifers say… I am totally psyched for this abortion!
So, to all of you pro-lifers who are trying to rain on my parade, keep it to yourself, because I don’t have the time for that kind of negativity. I’ve got an abortion to plan, and I just know it’s going to be the best non-anesthetized invasive uterine surgery ever!

So far, so standard. Except over at March Together For Life, apparently someone lost the plot and posted a critique under the title “Murder Without Conscience”, of the “viewpoint” expressed in the Onion article. Apparently satire is lost on this person:

Miss Weber, you have killed your child, which you admit is a baby/human being, intentionally. That does make you an admitted murderer. I’m not going to “condemn you to hell”, I’m going to pray for your forgiveness and for the suffering which you will endure when you realize what you have done. Every baby you see from that moment on is going to wake you up to the realization that you killed your child.

There are approximately one bazillion comments to the blog post, mostly along these lines:

Dear sir,

While I am uncertain that you have a central nervous system of sufficient complexity to register high-level emotions such as embarrassment or shame, I still must implore you: please, please, please… no matter how many people on this comment thread cast doubt on your mental capacities or call you “asshat” it is imperitive that you never delete this entry. You have accidentally written the funniest thing in history.

Johnathan Swift and Voltaire working together for a hundred years could not surpass you.

This must be preserved for posterity.

Now, everyone, including me, expected the original post to disappear post-haste. Not so. The original author wrote a new entry in their own defense:

Satire? Was the article aiming at the women who have the abortions or the people who believe it is better to save lives than kill them?

It was aimed at anyone who would think that an abortion is enjoyable or something that any sane woman would look forward to.

Hmm, let’s look up the term satire:

“witty language used to convey insults or scorn; “he used sarcasm to upset his opponent””

Either way, I think I did a good job of turning the “satire” right back at them, don’t you?

Um, no.

Update: The story has gotten tons of play, culminating in this article on Salon. Apparently in response to all this attention, the original blog entry on March Together For Life was updated with a disturbing image. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. If you still want to read the original post, it’s here.

More abortion bans brewing

Not wanting to be left out, Mississippi has an abortion ban (well, near-ban) in the works; a bill in that state has passed the House Public Health Committee and is heading for a vote in the full House.

The bill that passed the House Public Health Committee on Tuesday would allow abortion only to save the pregnant woman’s life. It would make no exception in cases of rape or incest.

South Dakota lawmakers passed a similar bill last week that was intended to provoke a court showdown over the legality of abortion.
The lawmaker who introduced the near-ban, House Public Health Committee Chairman Steve Holland said he acted because he was tired of piecemeal attempts to add new abortion restrictions each year.

I’m looking at you, Republican voters.