Thursday, July 23, 2009

Ladybrain Review: Adoption Rights for Mothers

An Atlantic City, N.J. woman is suing the New Jersey Department of Children and Families for opening her decades-old adoption file, allowing her biological child--a product of rape--to find the mother against her will.

This lawsuit is especially relevant in light of the recent efforts among adoptee-rights groups like Bastard Nation to open up files for adoptees, which advocates see as tantamount to constitutional rights.

I can't fathom what adoptees go through in the way of wondering about their health records and identity, but as a women's rights advocate I am deeply disturbed that such invasions of privacy would be allowed and encouraged. If you read about the Atlantic City, N.J. woman's case, the agency who helped arrange the unwelcome reunion did so without a court order, and took the woman's non-response to a request for contact as a go-ahead and "more or less did what they had to do."

This case mirrors the abortion debate in that, ultimately, pro-life advocates are putting the rights of a fetus above the rights of a woman. Similarly, adoptee rights advocates, although their curiosity is certainly understandable, are putting their rights above the rights of their biological parents' privacy. It's as simple as that.

No woman who has been terrorized by sexual violence should be forced to face the product of that violence, especially after she generously went through with the pregnancy--a serious emotional investment after she had already been through a rape. (Read this woman's account of two unwanted pregancies, one aborted and one carried to term and given up for adoption.) If it were me, I would terminate the pregnancy, no question.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Reviewed today: a movie trailer, and adoption.

Below, I have embedded the trailer for Orphan.

See. Told you I embedded it. Now I'm going to talk about it. Typically that's what I mean when i say "review." I'm really just going to hold forth, basically, on a given topic. I shall bloviate, if you will. Today, I shall bloviate about this trailer, adoption, and various other things, a few of which are a little depressing.

Trailer first: Did you see that? The trailer is kind of pretty and eerie and scary, and I like at least one of the actors, and the little kids are adorable, except when they're being assholes or devil-children. But it bothers me to see them literally demonizing a little kid. A vulnerable one, at that. I, myself, am adopted. I think adoption is awesome and necessary. I was lucky enough to get adopted by a great family when i was an infant, but for various reasons this doesn't happen for all kids. Kids who are in state-run or religious organization-run homes, or who are in foster care need to be adopted too. Badly.

There's already a lot of fear out there, surrounding adopting older children. Some of the fear and nervousness is legitimate. If you're taking on the responsibility of an older child (almost certainly one with a tumultuous past) without a little nervousness and self-reflection, then you're an idiot. I would hope, though, that the fear would be of the "do I have the resources, emotionally and otherwise, to give this child a good crack at a healthy life?" variety. Not the "will this child turn out to be a possessed demon who kills my biological kids and burns shit down?" variety.

I'm sure in the actual movie it will turn out that this particular child is the product of satan, or some freak medical experiments, or whatever, and thus shouldn't be considered a representation of ALL kids in foster care. But I probly won't see the movie. Most people won't. But I bet a hefty chunk of Americans see the trailer. And all you see in the trailer is a precocious, artistic, slightly awkward, introverted little girl turn out to be a total monster. I was a little girl of the books-for-friends variety, myself, and I was one determined couple away from ending up in the foster system (as is true of many adopted infants). For one thing, I object to the idea that the smart, quirky girl turns out to be a homicidal maniac. It's also frustrating to see a major motion picture capitalize on the fear of an already vulnerable group of people -- Although obviously this is ridiculously common; see Smalls' post, below, regarding Bruno.

I probably would have had a negative gut reaction to this trailer anyway, as an adoptee and a former quirky girl, but these stories from my adopted hometown of DC really bring the point home. Foster kids need permanent homes, and the agencies that try to place them need so many options that they get to be choosy, and they need to watch out for this kids a whole hell of a lot better.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Ladybrain Review: Journalism 101

As a pseudo-journalist and John Cusack enthusiast, I had to share this video with you.

I've done a fair number of intense interviews for my college paper and for my current job at a non-profit publication, but I've never made quite as much an ass of myself as this dim-wit. Sheesh, she's making us all look bad.

But the clip brings to mind the following notion:

I wonder if my high anxiety when I'm interviewing politicians, organization leaders, z-list celebrities and indie rockers is laced with the idea that, at all costs, I must avoid seeming like a vapid girl, because that's what people might expect of a young woman.

I try to combat this with lots of research and general lack of squeals. If we're all held as examples of our sex in general (and by "we" I obviously mean women) then let's be as brilliant as possible, and celebrate those among us who are examples of what women can be without regard to objectification.

Ladybrain review of: maybe, probably having mono

I am exhausted. All the time. I've had this lingering sore throat bullshit going on. Swollen tonsils, difficulty swallowing, etc. So, after the near-fruitless adventure of navigating the cesspool that is the American medical system, laced with a good amount of procrastination, I finally got a doctor's appointment. This was so fucking hard to do. So hard. And I work for a non-profit; they practically pay me in insurance. I cannot imagine trying to get any sort of halfway decent medical care while un- or under-insured. I don't know that I'm qualified to write on the travesty that is our healthcare system, so I'll leave that for another day (or a better informed author), and move on to my anecdotal experience.

My doctor, once I could finally find one who would take me, was quite good. And thorough. He had all these adorable, just-finishing-med-school, white-coated helpers. He was patient with them and explained everything he was doing, and politely questioned their conclusions, to make them think things through. My scared looking lab-coat helper was a dude named Luke. Luke was adorable. He also didn't bat an eye when asking me about my dating habits and sexual activity. After hearing my symptoms and the duration, he understandably had an interest in who I've been swapping fluids with. He scrupulously avoided male or female pronouns, and when I decided to just clear the air and tell him I swap saliva with women, he launched into a very matter of fact and rather informative talk on the safe-sex practices best suited for lesbians. Of course, how to keep yourself safe (even if you're a lesbian) should be taught in, you know, schools, before people are likely to be sexually active, as opposed to doctor's offices, to people in their mid-twenties, but that's another rant.

So, in addition to being scheduled for blood work, they checked to see if my spleen was enlarged (apparently if it is mono, I've just been BEGGING for a ruptured spleen by continuing to box for the last two months), and had me do this crazy EKG, breathing mask, riding a bike test. To see if I have blood vessel constriction around my heart. This is apparently rather common, and presents as fatigue. If someone my age, in good shape, comes in to a good doctor complaining of two months of illness and fatigue, they take it rather seriously, it seems. So I left the doctor's office covered in EKG pads, looking like a robot, or a riveted pair of jeans (the clinician said she suggested that I take them off in the shower due to the strong adhesive. they were so visible through my shirt that i ripped them off at the bus stop).

So here's the long and short of it, everybody. Mono: it sucks. Final verdict.

It made me realize something, as I was dragging my ass home from the doctor's office, looking and feeling like I'd been shot at and missed, and shit at and hit. It was this: Being a woman takes a lot of energy. I got street harassed three or four times on my way home. This is common in my neighborhood. But yesterday, I didn't even have the energy to flip them off. I didn't even have the energy to debate with myself over whether or not flipping them off was a good idea. I felt too exhausted to brush my hair, when i got out of the shower. Shaving my legs was out of the question. I didn't have a snappy comeback when I was riding my bike to work this morning and a car decided I was too slow off the line after a stop sign, and thus prevented him from making a right turn, for about .4 seconds. He called me a stupid bitch, and I just rolled on, barely perturbed.

Normally, my armor from all of the things that make me feel shitty for existing while female is 50 percent umbrage/feminist awareness and 50 percent compromise and compliance trying to fly under the radar (hence the leg shaving). But my recent exhaustion and near-apathy has been a kind of armor, too. A tempting, easy kind. But here's the thing: it SHOULD piss me off to be called a stupid bitch for basically no reason. It SHOULD piss me off that I can't walk around my own neighborhood without being cat-called and hissed at. And the people doing these things should know that it's entirely unacceptable.

But it's just so exhausting sometimes.

Monday, July 20, 2009

So much for the gay version of Target Women

When I saw the premiere of new Infomania segment "That's Gay," I thought it was going to be the gay "Target Women." Awesome, right?

If you haven't seen the fantastic Sarah Haskins' "Target Women," I have some homework for you. It's due immediately.

A funny, insightful look at how these shows about women do no favors for women, cool. Way to go, Sarah. (Also see her segments on yogurt, pube-trimming and milk, among others.)

The first few "That's Gay" segments, hosted by "resident gay person Brian Safi," were pretty good, although very white-gay-dude focused and not nearly as funny as "Target Women."

But the most recent segment, where Safi makes a pretty dum-dum endorsement of Bruno as a figure gay people should rally behind, was a big ol' turnoff.

Safi briefly touches on the fact that GLAAD has panned the film, but never mentions why, and then just goes on a semi-ridiculous interviewing spree asking street people if they agree that Bruno is the new Malcom X. Color me scandalized. This is supposed to be one of those, "OMG he said Bruno is like Malcom X and that's radical, ZOMGLOL." It's hilarious because it makes no sense and because he has the balls to say it, I guess.

What Safi failed to mention is that GLAAD and many other gay rights advocates aren't embracing the film because a straight comedian is doing his best imitation of a ridiculous, can't-take-him-seriously gay dude. Safi wants all the gays to rally behind a mostly inaccurate caricature of his entire orientation. I notice that Safi dresses and speaks like a relatively normal person--I'm not sure why he'd be so enthusiastic about someone who is reducing his lifestyle to any and all stereotypes in the book. After seeing Bruno on a few episodes of Da Ali G show, Sacha Baron Cohen can get plenty of "the joke is on America" utterances without being that flamboyant.

The gay rights movement and its allies are trying to normalize the gay lifestyle so that major human rights goals like equal marriage rights, adoption, and protection from discrimination and hate crimes are within spitting distance. Portraying a gay dude as a sexually predatory pervball who has sex in a hot tub with his small child nearby isn't doing favors for anyone.

So when Safi urges us that "the rest of America needs to change, not us!" I'm not sure exactly what he's talking about. Ninety-nine percent of gay people would have to change to even be like Bruno, and since almost none of you fit this ridiculous portrait, maybe you should wake up and smell the homophobia.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Ladybrain Review of: Being tall (part one)

I'm tall. I'm not crazy tall, or anything, but I am taller than your average man, even in the United States (by about a tenth of an inch). Now, maybe my ladybrain just can't handle the nuanced implications of my tenth of an inch height infraction, but it sure seems like men notice it. Especially the shorter ones.

One time, at my job, a respected volunteer leader in our organization came to our national office. He was being introduced to people, desk by desk. When my boss brought him around to meet me, I thought it polite to stand up and shake hands with him. I was at a normal hand-shaking distance, so it's not as if i was looming over him or anything, but when he saw that I was a couple of inches taller than him, first he looked down at my feet (I was wearing flats), then he looked back up and me, and cowered.

I'm 24. I'm in a relatively low-level position at my organization, he's being shown off as a guest of honor and this man actually cowered. After catching his recoil, he puffed his chest out, shook my hand, started talking loudly and quickly to my boss, and strode importantly away. Interestingly, my boss, who is a few inches taller than me, didn't seem to have the same effect on him.

Ladybrain verdict on tallness: Terrifying (to certain men).

As an interesting side note, a (very tall, very qualified) female colleague of his asked him for a recommendation for a full-time position with our organization and he made all sorts of bizarre excuses as to why he couldn't recommend her. None of which implied in any way that she did a bad job, but it understandably made our search committee slightly uneasy. She narrowly missed getting the position.

Ladybellies are Public Property

I began reading a much-lauded book the other night, The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs, when my ladybrain was confronted with the obvious notion that pregnant women's bellies are open to the public for rubbing, like statues of mascots at any given state school.

Give me luck, testudo.

But regardless of Jacobs' likening strangers touching pregnant women's bellies to petting a dog in the seventh line of the fucking book (is that a record?), I won't be rubbing any such thing, for good luck or anything else. I would expect some pepper spray in the face, and I will surely do the same if a stranger's hands start reaching for my tummy.

I've never allowed my facial hair to grow before, and it's been an odd and enlightening experience. I've been inducted into a secret fraternity of bearded guys--we nod at each other as we pass on the street, giving a knowing quarter smile. Strangers have come up to me and petted my beard, like it's a Labrador retriever puppy or a pregnant woman's belly.

Introduction, The Year of Living Biblically

Would I be surprised to see sexism in the Bible, considering it was written solely by men? Absolutely not. But this research project into the "good book" will probably sit on my shelf forevermore because of this ridiculous implication. My ladybrain doensn't know any better than to avoid media that set this kind of tone on the opening page. I hate to think where he goes with "be fruitful and multiply."

Monday, July 13, 2009

Time Magazine and Marriage

[Trigger warning for the RH Reality Check link]

Last week’s Time cover story (“Why Marriage Matters" by Caitlin Flanagan) got this young, married woman all in a huff. It was little more than an insulting, under-researched, undeveloped rant, leading nowhere and leaving out much. Even the partial-theories Flanagan did present weren’t answered or well thought out.

For an essay that started out about male politicians’ infidelity, and for one that was supposed to tell us how to fix our “most sacred institution,” there were no explanations as to why infidelity would be such a problem (after all, some statistics show that 50 percent of married people in the United States have cheated, or will) or what we could do to prevent it (including teaching men to treat women better in general—not use one as a prop and others as objects for sexual gratification). When discussing the topic of adultery, Flanagan uses two recent examples to basically prove that adultery exists (wow) and that the behavior of these two individuals was particularly embarrassing (Mark Sanford and John Ensign).

Why not then discuss why they would be cheating? Is it because power corrupts, irresistible temptation, a disrespect of women in general, a cop out explanation that boys will be boys? Why not explore the booming, billion-dollar porn industry and its clear objectification and control implications? Why not talk about how the internet age has changed cheating, what with new havens for insta-porn, cyber-sex, cyber-stalking and sexting making headlines every day. A heavily advertised, millions-strong social networking website called Ashley Madison specifically markets to people already in relationships, looking to cheat sub rosa. It’s an E-Harmony for adulterers, for Pete’s sake.

Instead, the essay stops at the obvious: Cheating is selfish, humiliates the betrayed partner and also hurts any children involved. That all seems pretty clear, but then the author goes on to discuss how children are hurt by the lack of marriage in general—either because their parents never got married or because of divorce.

After the several examples of embarrassing infidelity in the opening paragraphs, right after Flanagan writes that infidelity is selfish and humiliates women, she goes on to basically make the case for staying in a marriage at all costs. Think of the children! There’s no mention of why people would get divorced, one of which is abuse (and sometimes, as reported by RH Reality Check, abusers use children to keep victims in abusive relationships). Another reason is adultery, as Flanagan mentions multiple times but never talks about as actually leading to divorce. It is, after all, a breach of marriage vows. Some people can work through it, but some can’t. Since Flanagan spends the rest of her piece telling us how we’re hurting our children by depriving them of married parents, I guess she doesn’t want the cheated-on women of her opening paragraphs to file for divorce.

To be fair, since this is an attempt at a feminist critique, Flanagan does write that women are hurt by divorce, too. She says that one of the reasons that marriage is the best option for hetero families is the financial security of women. The thing is that women’s financial security wouldn’t be so tumultuous if there was gender equity in the workplace and the classroom. The collapse of marriage wouldn’t harm women’s financial security if sexism was dead in all its forms. But essays like this really do their part to further all the sexist claptrap. We’ve got a lot of work to do.

There are several ridiculous conclusions in the paragraphs that followed this opening thesis, all of which draw unfair and short-sighted views of families, and none of which have much to do with adultery, especially given the fact that many publicized, political affairs don’t end in divorce.

Flanagan starts off writing that “few things hamper a child as much as not having a father at home” and quoting a researcher who says that her research has found that neither she, nor any woman, can play both the role of mother and father to her children, that “mom may not need that man, but her children still do.”

Flanagan’s argument that children suffer enormously without fathers implies that some traits and behaviors only ever come from one sex, specifically because they have one set of reproductive organs and not the other. The specific support, behavior and guidance that must come from the male, biological father are never specifically mentioned. That begs the obvious question: What exactly does a father bring to the table that a mother doesn’t? It’s one of many questions that go unanswered in this essay. The fact that women also cheat (the omission of this fact may be part of the slut or saint dichotomy so often used to depict women—the fact is, married mothers also cheat and have sexual urges) and the effects of a motherless upbringing on a child is also never mentioned. These omissions and the fact that Flanagan makes sure to quote a researcher who identifies as a feminist seems pretty halfhearted—she’s clearly valuing these mysterious, unnameable fatherly contributions far more than anything a single mother could hope to give. Otherwise, why wouldn’t you explore the psychological effects of children who grow up without mothers, due to divorce, death or flight?

What Flanagan’s argument misses is the fact that men and women’s roles in marriage, partnership and parenting are changeable, and not determined by our physical parts—they’re social constructs. That’s the difference between gender and sex. Flanagan is not only saying that men and women have certain roles, she’s also assuming (by never mentioning kids without mothers) that women are the caretakers. All of this reaches one conclusion: Men and women play certain roles that are already laid out for us. According to this essay, there is little room for deviation. A man wouldn’t be nurturing, and he’d never say “just wait until your mother gets home.”

But by assigning specific gender roles to men and women, Flanagan is insulting not only straight couples who don’t subscribe to traditional sex roles, but also homosexual parents, who fill in masculine and feminine-prescribed roles every day as adoptive or biological parents.

Nowadays the homosexual family structure is downright commonplace. By so completely going with the gender flow, and by omitting this obvious example of a two-parent household, Flangan is insulting them and any of their allies. I guess it never occurred to anyone editing or writing this story that many of the benefits of a two-parent household come directly from the simple notion that two heads are better than one. Of course a family with two partners, helping each other in a stable, loving family unit would be a more solid foundation for a child than one parent who is struggling financially and perhaps emotionally. A gay woman could throw a baseball around with her son to help him practice for little league, and I’m sure she could also cook up a mean apple pie.

Sometimes moms are deadbeats with no parental instincts. Sometimes all dads want to do is play tea party. In most cases, women are assumed to be the primary caretakers and given full to near-full custody of kids that a crushed dad never sees. Sometimes a dad gets partial custody even though he’s abusive. Sexism hurts everyone, so let’s set aside this notion that sex and gender are the same thing. No matter what standardized tests ask you for, male and female parts don’t bind you to identities.

Later, Flanagan quotes someone from the (no joke) Institute for American Values saying “Children have a primal need to know who they are, to love and be loved by the two people whose physical union brought them here. To lose that connection, that sense of identity, is to experience a wound that no child support check or fancy school can ever heal.” I guess that leaves out adoption, those kids are just out of luck. How many thousands of even straight couples adopt children, and love them just as much as they would biological progeny, despite them not being the result of “physical union.” Also, that euphemism is one of the most shudder-inducing for procreating I’ve ever heard.

But what of co-habitation? Flanagan writes that even a man who acted married (again, the emphasis is on the fathers) would be a solution to non-marriage, except that non-married couples are by nature volatile, citing a researcher who says the most basic issues of people living together wouldn’t have established sexual fidelity. As someone who co-habited with my partner before we got married, I beg to differ. I seriously doubt that anyone in a co-habitating situation hasn’t covered that one yet. I don’t think any cheating conversation has included “Oh, wait, we were exclusive?”

In the same paragraph, Flanagan also introduces, for the first of several times in this essay, the wife-woman-nags-man stereotype. It’s a familiar stereotype, and in this case it is used to presume why a co-habitating father might move out. We know from Flanagan’s previous arguments that this is the start of the horrible absent-father breakdown of the family. It seems likely, though, that if a man is run off by the responsibility of being a father (by a woman’s nagging or maybe, just maybe, something else) maybe he’s not the type of person who would be a good role model in the house, even if he was there full time.

As a crow-bared transition to bring up another pop culture marriage mess, Flanagan throws in a thumbs-up for her own husband, who didn’t leave or divorce her when she was going through chemotherapy. Congratulating him for doing the right thing through chemo shouldn’t be necessary—that’s his job, his vow. I’m sure no one congratulated Flanagan for changing diapers when her kids were young. Also, how refreshing and consistent of Flanagan to choose “she” as the pronoun for the life-sucking chemotherapy (“chemo, she will beat you down”).

The thumbs-up-to-my-great-marriage transition leads to the discussion of the now famous Gosselin family, of Jon and Kate Plus 8 fame. Flanagan says she admires and is comforted by Kate Gosselin as a “bossy, sexless power mom.” How Flanagan knows that Gosselin is sexless (remember, they have eight children) or why powerful moms are sexless isn’t clear. Again, she seems seeped in the saint or slut dichotomy that denies anyone but tainted women a sex drive.

In discussing the Gosselins’ public family turmoil, Flanagan admits that her facts on the Jon and Kate Plus 8 drama come from tabloid trash culture, whose star publications regularly dish out settlement money for libel. Yet still Flanagan’s interpretation relies on facts from the tabloids, along with her own sexist interpretation of what went wrong. Flanagan writes that Jon was driven to his alleged infidelity (which he denies in interviews on the show) by boredom at being bossed around by his wife. It’s an interesting way that Flanagan found to turn the tables on who is to blame—turns out, Kate drove him to it.

To start wrapping the essay up, Flanagan makes a few amazing claims in this partial quote, that “the game-changing realities of birth control, female equality and the fact that motherhood outside of marriage is no longer stigmatized…” as an aside.

I beg to differ on all counts, naturally. Politicians attempt to limit birth control and honest sex education at every turn, citing morality, and abusers limit access to birth control to keep women in submissive, abusive relationships (again, see the RH Reality Check story). Women still make only 77 cents to the dollar that men make for the same work as of 2007, so female equality isn’t even within spitting distance, no thanks to articles like this one. Further, Flanagan undercuts her claim that unwed motherhood is no longer a stigma by saying earlier in her essay that an “astonishing” 39.7 percent of births are to unwed mothers. Two of those women are my sisters—both of whom found themselves pregnant at 21. Color me scandalized. They’ll be fine, and so will their kids.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Don't Drink Poison

I’ve always been a fan of advice columns, ever since the days of Charlie Brown and Lucy’s “the doctor is in” days. It’s fascinating to see people’s often fucked-up views of proper behavior, and to compare paid columnists’ advice to my own. Unfortunately, I’ve found that this particular medium is rife with horrible assholery, particularly women giving horrible, sexist advice to or about other women.

Some time ago, I read some heinous advice in The Slate’s Dear Prudence column, and I wrote to the author to complain. Her ridiculous response inspired me at first to just stop reading her column, but then I had another idea—I would read it religiously every Thursday, and shit all over her sexist advice, and any other maddening arguments I happen to find in print or broadcast media.

The mission of this space and countless other feminist media criticism blogs is to illuminate what’s in front of you. So here's some advice for you.

Don’t drink the Kool-Aid without realizing it’s spiked with arsenic. Don’t read, watch and listen to poison without knowing what it’s saying.