Notes and Comment Blog

The tricky question

May 25th, 2016 9:33 am | By

I’ve been wondering about this. Jeannie Suk in the New Yorker on “the looming Title IX crisis”:

…on May 13th the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (O.C.R.) and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division issued a Dear Colleague letter announcing to the nation’s schools that, under Title IX—the 1972 law banning sex discrimination by schools that receive federal funding—transgender students must be allowed to use rest rooms that are “consistent with their gender identity.”…

In chastising North Carolina, the Justice Department explained that if non-transgender people may use bathrooms consistent with their gender identity, then denying transgender people access consistent with their gender identity constitutes discrimination on the basis of sex. Similarly, the Dear Colleague letter states that the federal government “treats a student’s gender identity as a student’s sex for the purposes of Title IX.”

That’s the part I’ve been wondering about, that last bit – the assertion that the feds treat a student’s gender identity as a student’s sex for the purposes of Title IX. I’ve been wondering about it because potential problems occur to me. It seems like an awfully large claim to make in a Dear Colleague letter.

These interpretations of federal anti-discrimination law are new and surprising. It is not at all obvious that the “sex” in sex-discrimination law means not sex but gender, let alone “an internal sense of gender,” as the Letter says.

It’s not at all obvious, but despite not being obvious, it is in a sense mandated – that is, it’s imposed via strong social pressure.

But it is also reasonable to interpret sex-discrimination law to prohibit discrimination against transgender people. Given that single-sex bathrooms have never been seen as constituting sex discrimination, the tricky question is whether limiting them based on biological sex, rather than gender, does indeed discriminate on the basis of sex.

And what will follow from deciding that it does.

Quite apart from a possible legal right, it is reasonable to think that the appropriate bathrooms for transgender people to use are ones fitting their gender identities. But the parents’ rhetoric of federal overreach on Title IX is not off base. It is of course unexceptional for the federal government to enforce federal law. But, unlike the Education Department’s many regulations, the Dear Colleague letter is not law, because it wasn’t enacted through legal procedures, involving public input, that federal agencies must follow when making law. The Education Department’s rule that schools must provide prompt and equitable grievance procedures to hear complaints of Title IX sex discrimination results from that required process and is legally binding. But the agency chose not to have such a process for its missive on transgender students.

It just put out an executive branch fiat, and from what I can gather via lawyer friends and lawyers who say things on the internet, that’s…let’s say a tad high-handed. High-handed apparently equals non-binding; lawsuits will litter the scene.

This is a familiar but controversial O.C.R. strategy. Its last Dear Colleague letter about Title IX, in 2011, said that sexual violence is a form of sexual harassment and is therefore sex discrimination. It detailed how colleges and universities must discipline perpetrators and prevent such incidents. It too came with a threat to cut off federal funds, and O.C.R. proceeded to investigate hundreds of schools for noncompliance.

I remember that, and I remember thinking it seemed fair enough. Fair enough isn’t the same as legally binding though.

Whether or not the federal government acted unlawfully, it has now set in motion a potential Title IX collision course between its directives on sexual violence and on bathrooms. Schools attempting to comply with the federal bathroom policy have at least two possible ways of doing so: allow students to use sex-segregated bathrooms and locker rooms based on their gender identity, or move away from sex segregation of such facilities. The latter, gender-inclusive arrangement, which was in place in my college dormitory more than twenty years ago, is not uncommon on campuses, and a social movement to desegregate at least some portion of bathrooms is growing. Some colleges have made every bathroom on campus open to any gender, and this solution could well become a practical choice at K-12 public schools.

But there is also a growing sense that some females will not feel safe sharing bathrooms, shower rooms, or locker rooms with males. And if a female student claimed that a bathroom or locker room that her school had her share with male students caused her to feel sexually vulnerable and created a hostile environment, the complaint would be difficult to dismiss, particularly since the federal government has interpreted Title IX broadly and said that schools must try to prevent a hostile environment.

I must say, “there is also a growing sense that some females will not feel safe sharing shower rooms with males” seems laughably understated. Why would college girls feel safe sharing shower rooms with college boys? In this world of nonstop rape threats all over Twitter?

Continuing to have segregated bathrooms could also put schools in a bind on Title IX compliance. According to the federal government, a transgender girl who is told to use the boys’ locker room, or even a separate and private stall, instead of the girls’ facility, has a claim that the school is violating Title IX. A non-transgender girl who’s told she must share a locker room with boys may also have a claim that the school is violating Title IX. But would she not have a similar claim about having to share with students who identify as girls but are biologically male? Well, not if her discomfort and “emotional strain” should be disregarded. But this week, in a letter, dozens of members of Congress asked the Attorney General and the Secretary of Education to explain why they should be disregarded. The federal government is putting schools in a position where they may be sued whichever route they choose.

It’s not clear to me why the girls’ discomfort should be disregarded, especially given the fact that girls are told to feel “discomfort” in a long list of situations that fall short of getting naked in a room with naked boys. Girls are told to feel “discomfort” about drinking too much in a bar or going to a boy’s room or wearing a sexy top – so why would girls be expected to override their “discomfort” with taking all their clothes off and showering in a room where boys have taken all their clothes off?

The debate around which bathrooms transgender people should use has given rise to deeper questioning of why we even have a norm of gender segregation for bathrooms in the first place. But a push to make those spaces open to all genders comes up uneasily against feelings of female sexual vulnerability and their effect on an equal education or workplace. To make things more complicated, the risk of sexual assault and harassment of transgender females in male bathrooms is a salient reason for providing access to bathrooms according to gender identity, while many worry about transgender males being sexually bullied in male bathrooms.

The common denominator in all of these scenarios is fear of attacks and harassment carried out by males—not fear of transgender people. The discomfort that some people, some sexual-assault survivors, in particular, feel at the idea of being in rest rooms with people with male sex organs, whatever their gender, is not easy to brush aside as bigotry. But having, in the past several years, directed the public toward heightened anxiety about campus sexual assault, the federal government now says that to carry that discomfort into bathrooms is illegitimate because it is discrimination.

I find that part hard to understand. It is discrimination, of course, but so is refusing to go to a boy’s room for fear of assault. Why are girls being told to be hypervigilant and self-effacing in all public spaces except rest rooms and showers? Why is fear of attacks and harassment carried out by males being made into a reason to put females at risk? It all seems quite incoherent.

First, do no cheating

May 24th, 2016 3:00 pm | By

Maybe it’s time to do something about the hypertrophied financial “industry” that has an unfortunate tendency to break the global economy ever few years?

On Tuesday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) headlined an event that launched a new coalition calling itself “Take On Wall Street.”

The group includes lawmakers like Warren, Reps. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), labor leaders like the AFL-CIO’s Richard Trumka and the AFT’s Randi Weingarten, as well as civil rights groups, community groups, and the organizing giant Move On. It aims to put pressure on lawmakers at all levels to pass stricter rules governing the financial system.

Operating on two principles — “No cheating, and no pushing the risks on taxpayers,” as Warren put it — it’s making five key demands: breaking up the biggest banks; ensuring access to non-predatory banking products, including through the United States Post Office; ending the carried interest tax loophole that allows hedge fund managers to use a tax break for investment income on the income they make at work; reining in executive bonuses; and imposing a financial transaction tax.

It seems like a good idea to me. They award themselves too much money, and they break everything.

In her remarks, Warren noted some of the accomplishments that have been achieved under the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, particularly the $10.1 billion in consumer relief brought about by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. But she argued that things have to go further. “We have made a lot of progress under the Dodd-Frank financial reforms,” she said. “But we’ve also got a lot more to do.”

In particular, she called for a reinstatement of a “21st century Glass-Stegall,” a law that previously separated riskier investment banking activities from commercial deposits, and to “break up the big banks.” Given that banks have grown larger and more concentrated since the financial crisis, she warned that taxpayers are still not free from the possibility of having to bail them out again in the future. “Dodd-Frank imposed some discipline, but let’s get real,” she said. “Dodd-Frank did not end too big to fail.”

Too big to fail should end. Enough already.

A rare and humiliating moment

May 24th, 2016 12:13 pm | By

In Bill Cosby news:

There is enough evidence that Bill Cosby assaulted a woman just over a decade ago to bring a criminal case against him to trial, a judge ruled Tuesday.

Defense attorneys have tried to get the charges thrown out, arguing that a deposition Cosby gave for a civil suit could not be used against him and that the prosecution is politically motivated. District Attorney Kevin Steele charged Cosby after defeating former DA Bruce Castor, who had declined to prosecute the case when it initially emerged. That decision became an issue in the election.

“The underlining theme of these, and each of those charges, that based upon what he did to the victim and giving her the substance he gave her she’s incapable of consent,” Steele said during Tuesday’s hearing. “What we’re dealing with is what happened on that night in his house.”

The allegations had already been aired in documents. Still, the public recitation of the details by attorneys and police officers, with Cosby forced to take them in from a defendant’s chair, marked a rare and humiliating moment in Cosby’s downfall.

If he didn’t do it, that’s very sad. If he did, then it seems only fair. If he did do all or even some of the things he’s accused of, he did quite a lot of humiliation of women over the years.

The deck always stacked

May 24th, 2016 10:39 am | By

Clementine Ford explains the double bind that women are caught in. We’re taught a long list of don’ts that are all about rape-avoidance. If we get raped or otherwise assaulted or abused anyway, we get scolded for recklessly disobeying the Don’ts List. (Have you ever noticed how the Don’ts List is a kind of abstraction of purdah and hijab – or how purdah and hijab are still with us in the form of all these don’ts? Of course you have; it’s obvious.)

The great irony is that women, chided as we are for behaving as if we might have the right to move through the world like autonomous adults, are also punished whenever we take overt and declarative steps to actually enforce the preventative measures expected of us. A good example of this comes in a recent news story detailing the Mother’s Market in the Indian province of Manipur. Dating back to the 16th century, the market is reserved solely for the use of women and acts as a safe and sexual harassment free zone for local women to gather, commune and do their shopping. Despite being established by women as a means of taking back control of their safety (as we’re so often directed to do), it’s still treated by far too many people as some kind of misandrist nightmare in which the men of India (and by extension, the world) are subjected to horrifying sexism and exclusion.

Gee – why would women and girls in India want safe zones? I just can’t imagine. It must be pure unmotivated prejudice against men.

The deck is always stacked against us. Do the ‘wrong’ thing, and we’ll be blamed for being silly enough to invite risk. Take preventative measures (and worse, talk about what those measures might be), and we’ll be blamed for lumping all men into the same box and perpetrating equal if not greater sexism against the poor, beleaguered blokes out there who don’t deserve to all be tarred with the same brush by feminists who are probably just upset no one wants to fuck them.

It’s our own fault for being women.

Maybe possibly

May 23rd, 2016 5:38 pm | By

Portland schools won’t be teaching “skepticism” about climate change from now on.

In a move spearheaded by environmentalists, the Portland Public Schools board unanimously approved a resolution aimed at eliminating doubt of climate change and its causes in schools.

“It is unacceptable that we have textbooks in our schools that spread doubt about the human causes and urgency of the crisis,” said Lincoln High School student Gaby Lemieux in board testimony. “Climate education is not a niche or a specialization, it is the minimum requirement for my generation to be successful in our changing world.”

The resolution passed Tuesday evening calls for the school district to get rid of textbooks or other materials that cast doubt on whether climate change is occurring and that the activity of human beings is responsible. The resolution also directs the superintendent and staff to develop an implementation plan for “curriculum and educational opportunities that address climate change and climate justice in all Portland Public Schools.”

Skepticism should be part of science education, but there are plenty of areas where fruitful questions and competing hypotheses can be explored without wasting limited school time on pseudo-controversies. Also, it’s better not to use materials paid for by corporations with an interest in particular conclusions.

Bill Bigelow, a former PPS teacher and current curriculum editor of Rethinking Schools, a magazine devoted to education issues, worked with 350PDX and other environmental groups to present the resolution.

“A lot of the text materials are kind of thick with the language of doubt, and obviously the science says otherwise,” Bigelow says, accusing the publishing industry to bowing to pressure from fossil fuels companies. “We don’t want kids in Portland learning material courtesy of the fossil fuel industry.”

In board testimony, Bigelow said PPS’ science textbooks are littered with words like might, may and could when talking about climate change.

“ ‘Carbon dioxide emissions from motor vehicles, power plants and other sources, may contribute to global warming,’ ” he quotes Physical Science published by Pearson as saying. “This is a section that could be written by the Exxon public relations department and it’s being taught in Portland schools.”

The kids now in school are going to have to deal with climate change, so it’s only fair to give them a decent education in the subject.

Don’t do us favors

May 23rd, 2016 12:14 pm | By

Last week Muirfield golf club voted not to admit women. Sounds like a good idea, but it means they don’t get to host a big championship.

GOLF CHIEFS have stripped course Muirfield of the Open Championship after its members threw out a proposal for women to join the East Lothian club in a move branded “simply indefensible” by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

The decision by members of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, which owns and runs the club, also drew the ire of Prime Minister David Cameron who said the move was “outdated.”

Yeah, women have had time to learn to play by now.

Henry Fairweather, the club captain, and his committee had recommended that women should be offered membership on the same terms as the men at the 272-year-old allowed in the club. However they were left to rue the decision of a minority of fellow members as the proposal failed by just 16 votes at the end of a two-year review of the membership.

You can’t blame them though – all those high squeaky voices would ruin their concentration.

Within minutes of Mr Fairweather announcing the result of the vote in front of the Muirfield clubhouse, the R&A announced it would not be taking The Open back there under the current membership set-up.

“The R&A has considered today’s decision with respect to The Open Championship,” said Martin Slumbers, chief executive of the St Andrews-based organisation that runs golf’s oldest major, which has been staged 16 times at Muirfield, most recently in 2013, when American Phil Mickelson claimed the Claret Jug. “The Open is one of the world’s great sporting events and going forward we will not stage the championship at a venue that does not admit women as members.”

Kate Smurthwaite wrote in the Indy about Muirhead’s Boys Only policy three years ago.

The thing is I’d never heard of Muirfield Golf Club until today and the nearest I’ve been to a golf club in my life involved trying to get the ball over the miniature bridge into the little windmill.  When I raised the subject this morning on Facebook the overwhelming reaction seemed to be that the R&A (the sport’s organising body, I had to look that up) are tangentially doing all us girls a favour by keeping us away from something we’re not interested in.

Well that is not the point. That’s like telling Rosa Parks “the back of the bus is actually safer if there’s a crash”. It’s why gay rights activists want marriage as well as things-that-look-like-but-aren’t-actually-marriage. Equality is not about making “good” choices on behalf of other people, it’s about giving them the freedom to make the same good or bad choices as everyone else.

I don’t want golf clubs deciding how much dessert I can eat, either.

Welcome to Wahhabiland

May 23rd, 2016 10:56 am | By

Fascist theocratic Saudi Arabia is having good success in making over Kosovo in its own hideous image. They’ve funded the building of scores of Wahhabi mosques since Kosovo was rescued from Serbian oppression in the 90s.

Since then — much of that time under the watch of American officials — Saudi money and influence have transformed this once-tolerant Muslim society at the hem of Europe into a font of Islamic extremism and a pipeline for jihadists.

Kosovo now finds itself, like the rest of Europe, fending off the threat of radical Islam. Over the last two years, the police have identified 314 Kosovars — including two suicide bombers, 44 women and 28 children — who have gone abroad to join the Islamic State, the highest number per capita in Europe.

They were radicalized and recruited, Kosovo investigators say, by a corps of extremist clerics and secretive associations funded by Saudi Arabia and other conservative Arab gulf states using an obscure, labyrinthine network of donations from charities, private individuals and government ministries.

And yet the Saudis hate Islamic State, because they want to be the khilafah themselves. They don’t seem to be going about this very thoughtfully.

After the war, United Nations officials administered the territory and American forces helped keep the peace. The Saudis arrived, too, bringing millions of euros in aid to a poor and war-ravaged land.

But where the Americans saw a chance to create a new democracy, the Saudis saw a new land to spread Wahhabism.

“There is no evidence that any organization gave money directly to people to go to Syria,” Mr. Makolli said. “The issue is they supported thinkers who promote violence and jihad in the name of protecting Islam.”

They just don’t think it through, do they. Train people in Wahhabism and then watch stupidly as they ally with rivals instead of the Saudis.

Kosovo now has over 800 mosques, 240 of them built since the war and blamed for helping indoctrinate a new generation in Wahhabism. They are part of what moderate imams and officials here describe as a deliberate, long-term strategy by Saudi Arabia to reshape Islam in its image, not only in Kosovo but around the world.

Saudi diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks in 2015 reveal a system of funding for mosques, Islamic centers and Saudi-trained clerics that spans Asia, Africa and Europe. In New Delhi alone, 140 Muslim preachers are listed as on the Saudi Consulate’s payroll.

This is very unfortunate. Whether it results in lots more Wahhabism or lots more ISism or lots more freelance murderous Islamism, or all three, it will mean lots more violent reckless humanity-hating theocracy in the world, and that’s bad. Very, very bad. There’s nothing good about Wahhabism; not one thing.

All around Kosovo, families are grappling with the aftermath of years of proselytizing by Saudi-trained preachers. Some daughters refuse to shake hands with or talk to male relatives. Some sons have gone off to jihad. Religious vigilantes have threatened — or committed — violence against academics, journalists and politicians.

It’s nightmare world. It’s the handmaid’s tale.

How Kosovo and the very nature of its society was fundamentally recast is a story of a decades-long global ambition by Saudi Arabia to spread its hard-line version of Islam — heavily funded and systematically applied, including with threats and intimidation by followers.

And yet Saudi Arabia is an ally of the US and the UK and Canada. It’s suicidal.

The article goes on to give a lot of detail. It will turn your hair white.

Vulgar pictures

May 22nd, 2016 6:21 pm | By

Heather Saul in the Independent reports on a thing some women are doing in Iran:

Women in Iran are cutting their hair short and dressing as men in a bid to bypass state ‘morality’ police who rigorously enforce penalties for not wearing a hijab.

A number of women have shared photos of themselves in public with their hair uncovered on Instagram and other social media.

The women have cut their hair short in some images and in others are dressed in clothes more typically associated with men.

That’s not being trans, or gender nonconforming, or gender fluid – it’s surviving. It’s trying to avoid being stopped, and harassed, and arrested, and fined, perhaps beaten, perhaps put in jail for a few hours or days. It’s an attempt to escape being a target, as women are in Iran. It’s an effort to avoid persecution.

Women are struggling against the hijab, but the authorities are just bullying them harder.

A politician was disqualified from Iranian parliament after photos purporting to show her in public without a headscarf emerged, despite her insistence they were fake.

This week, eight models were reportedly detained for posting “vulgar” pictures on social media with their hair uncovered. One was pictured apparently making a public apology on state TV.

All this fuss and bullying and violation of rights simply because the women don’t want to wear a piece of cloth wrapped tightly around their heads and necks. It doesn’t seem like something any authorities should be meddling with.

In a photo that provoked a particularly strong reaction on Instagram, a woman took a selfie while driving in her car with short hair, without a hijab on, as a man on a scooter rode past.

In another, a girl appears with short hair and wearing a shirt and jeans. The caption next to the picture reads: “I am an Iranian girl. In order to avoid the morality police, I decided to cut my hair short and wear men’s clothes so that I can freely walk in the streets in Iran.”

Freedom freedom freedom.


May 22nd, 2016 5:56 pm | By

It’s the done thing in my neighborhood for shops to put messages on sandwich boards outside. The cupcake one suggests cupcakes to go with the weather or the holiday or the news or whatever else strikes them.

A couple of blocks north, where there’s slightly less foot traffic, a little clothing boutique I hadn’t noticed before had one this afternoon that said

Give a girl the perfect shoes, and she can change the world.

I was sorely tempted to go inside and ask if I could punch whatever genius came up with that.

Jamais ici

May 22nd, 2016 1:04 pm | By

The Independent has also noticed the dismissive attitude to sexual harassment in France.

There was a time when France sniggered at the sex scandals that periodically enlivened British or American politics. “Jamais ici”, they would say. “We are relaxed about sex, unlike the prudish and hypocritical Anglo-Saxons.”

Except that the issue never was “sex” as such, it was sexual harassment. News flash, sophisticates: unilateral “sex” isn’t sex, it’s abuse or assault. If French women were ever “relaxed” about being assaulted or harassed, they were making a mistake.

But the male-dominated world of French politics, for so long immune to scandal, is abruptly having to deal with serial accusations of its own forms of hypocrisy and prudishness. Last week Denis Baupin, the vice-president (deputy speaker) of the national assembly, resigned to fight allegations that he had groped or sexually harassed eight female colleagues in the past 15 years. He denies the accusations en bloc.

He would say that, wouldn’t he.

Last Tuesday the finance minister, Michel Sapin, one of the most senior members of the government, was forced, after serial denials, to admit that he had behaved in an “inappropriate” way towards a female journalist at the Davos international forum last year. The woman bent over to recover a fallen pen. It is alleged that Mr Sapin reached out and twanged the elastic of her knickers.

Is that sex? Don’t be schewpid.

Exactly a year ago, a group of French female political reporters blew the whistle on the repeated sexist comments and behaviour of the country’s male politicians. In an article in the centre-left newspaper Libération, they said that they hoped that the Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair three years earlier had “started a new era”. “We hoped that the macho habits, which symbolise old fashioned politics and attitudes, were on the way to extinction. Alas no,” they wrote.

The article listed dozens of examples of sexual harassment, and sometimes outright sexual blackmail, practised by older, male politicians and government officials. An unnamed politician and “friend of President François Hollande” was quoted as saying that he only “liked journalists with big breasts”. A member of parliament door-stepped by female TV reporters was reported to have said: “You are street-walking, Are you looking for a client?”

Image result for maurice chevalier

An overriding view that women should laugh it off

May 22nd, 2016 12:36 pm | By

French women MPs are protesting sexism from colleagues.

Isabelle Attard, a French MP from Normandy, stood outside the French parliament flanked by dozens of protesting female politicians and feminist campaigners. Armed with placards and loudspeakers, they demanded an end to a dangerous French taboo: the everyday groping, harassment, sexist comments and sexual assault that women are still subjected to in parliament by male politicians.

Attard, 46, an independent MP in Calvados, is one of eight women who came forward this week with allegations against the Green MP and deputy speaker of parliament, Denis Baupin, ranging from harassment to sexual assault.

Between 2012 and 2013, Baupin allegedly sent Attard and other MPs barrages of lewd daily text messages in parliament, ranging from “I like it when you cross your legs like that” to proposing during meetings that she become his lover or texting her that he liked it when she resisted.

But but but this is France, home of the oohlala, surely nobody minds that kind of thing there. Didn’t they invent sex or something? Aren’t French women supposed to flirt right back, like good sophisticated girls?

Attard says non.

Elen Debost, another politician in the party, allegedly received about 100 messages of serious sexual harassment from Baupin such as: “I am on the train and I’d like to sodomise you wearing thigh-high boots.” Baupin resigned this week as deputy speaker of parliament and a judicial preliminary inquiry was opened. His lawyer vehemently denied what he called “mendacious, defamatory and baseless” charges.

Attard said France could no longer let male politicians break the law and harass and assault women every day as if such behaviour were a joke or a form of gallantry. “I hear people using this phrase: ‘Well, it has always been this way in France, you know.’ I don’t believe that. It has to be possible for mentalities to evolve. France is no worse than elsewhere, but other countries deal with it far better than us, denouncing and punishing this as soon as it happens.”

But, we are told, that’s because those other countries are so much more childish and puritanical than France.

The clearest sign that French politics has a problem came on the night the allegations against Baupin broke. Aurore Bergé, a politician for Nicolas Sarkozy’s rightwing party Les Républicains, was at a local council meeting. During a break in the voting session, one male politician told her: “When I see you, I want to do a Baupin to you.” Another politician made an obscene sexual pun on her name.

Bergé denounced this and was interviewed on the main nightly news bulletin by the state broadcaster France 2. After detailing the men’s actions – which fall unambiguously under the French legal definition of sexual harassment – the male journalist interviewing her asked: “Have you ever experienced real harassment?”

It’s good that a man was on hand to keep things in proportion.

Bergé said: “Since I spoke out, dozens and dozens of women told me they have experienced similar harassment but weren’t in the position to speak out – because in France there’s an overriding view that women should laugh it off. And yet what starts with words, then gestures, can escalate to assault.”

Plus the words and gestures are not themselves harmless – they’re a not very subtle way of telling women they’re there not as colleagues but as sex-treats.

A former women’s minister said she had been sexually assaulted by a senator in his office in 1979 and wished she had spoken out earlier.

A former ministerial assistant described how, more recently, aged 25, she had been raped by a superior. A journalist told how a female politician, picking something up from the floor at a local council session, was told salaciously by the mayor: “Ah, you’re going under the desk,” to guffaws from other politicians.

Even this week, when a female MP in parliament raised the issue of harassment, rightwing male MPs began loudly jeering “aaaw” as if to a child. Crucially, after the Baupin allegations broke, Michel Sapin, the Socialist finance minister, apologised for “inappropriate” behaviour towards a journalist last year at Davos as she bent down to pick up a pen. A book had accused Sapin of pinging the journalist’s knicker elastic, but the minister said: “I … put my hand on her back,” insisting it wasn’t harassment.

You know…that’s not about sex, it’s not about pleasure and fun, it’s not about eroticism – it’s about humiliation. Guffaws; jeering; snapping a woman’s underpants because she bends down – that’s childish schoolyard humiliation and bullying. It’s a power trip. It’s an expression of contempt. It’s ugly as fuck.

Far from the notion of a supposed French culture of seduction and sexual conquest, academics say that much of the blame should fall on the plain sexism and inequality of French politics. France is the country that had the biggest gap between all men getting the vote, in 1848, and women being allowed to vote, almost a century later, in 1944. Most political power is still held by men, who have 73% of the seats in parliament.

I guess political power is more of a guy thing.

Caroline De Haas, a high-profile feminist and former government adviser, said sexual harassment was not unique to France, but in French politics it was happening with a sense of impunity and “an absence of understanding of what violence is to women”.

She felt there was at least less jeering from senior men than during the Strauss-Kahn case, when the belittling of rape and sneering sexism of some leading French thinkers became clear. One senior journalist dismissed the alleged attempted rape of the hotel worker as “troussage de domestique”, a phrase suggestive of French aristocrats having non-consensual sex with servants. The criminal charges against Strauss-Kahn were dropped.

The centre-right MP Pierre Lellouche was quoted by RTL radio this week as declining to comment on the Baupin case, saying: “I comment on important matters, not girly stuff.”

And not in front of the servants.

Do women even go out?

May 22nd, 2016 10:56 am | By

From PRI’s The World in November 2014:

More than half of women [in Bombay aka Mumbai] don’t have indoor toilets. In a typical Mumbai slum, there are something like six bathrooms for 8,000 women. Sometimes those bathrooms have collapsed, have dogs or rats living in them, or simply have no water.

Sarita, who works as a cook, gets to a bathroom maybe three times a day — if she’s lucky. She wakes up at 5:30 every morning to line up to use the facilities.

“I leave home at seven and I have to wait until I get back home — sometimes it’s nine hours, sometimes 12,” she says. “My stomach hurts when I hold it, but what can I do? Men can go anywhere, but where can a woman go?”

Another thing having to hold it does? It motivates people to drink as little as possible – which is very unhealthy, especially in a hot climate.

According to government figures, Mumbai has 3,536 public restrooms that women share with men, but not a single women’s-only facility — not even in some police stations and courts. Enter the Right To Pee movement, a coalition of NGOs fighting for more — and safer — toilets for women.

There’s a mistake there. If there’s not a single women’s-only facility, then the rest of the sentence should read “not even in police stations and courts” – it can’t be some police stations and courts when you’ve just said there’s not a single one in the whole city.

Deepa Pawar, an activist from a women’s rights organization called Vacha, has collected horror stories over the past three years about how the lack of toilets hurts women in Mumbai.

Some women get bladder and urinary tract infections from holding in their urine, while others simply don’t drink water all day to avoid the bathroom. Many women are raped or assaulted each year when they leave their homes to find a toilet, and those who find toilets safely can face other risks — scorpions, rats, infections.

And there are the larger societal issues as well: “The number one reason that girls drop out of school is because there are no toilets,” Pawar points out.

“We want to be able to take care of our basic needs like men do, and not like animals,” she says. “These are basic, human rights — the right to dignity and the right to mobility.”

Girls drop out of school because there are no toilets. It’s enough to make you despair.

Pawar says the government simply lacks the will to fix the problem. “The government has manpower, resources, strategy, authority,” she says, but no accountability.

And along with apathy comes gender bias: “When we approached the authorities, they asked us, ‘Do women even go out? Where do they have to go?’”

Ah well, good point – women are basically just things that cook and spread their legs, and they need to do that at home. Problem solved.


May 21st, 2016 6:09 pm | By

Calvin Klein gets rich and richer by advertising his stuff in ways that degrade women, because the degradation attracts attention and thus multiplies the effect of all of Calvin Klein’s advertising. That’s what the Huffington Post quotes a scholar saying, at least (and I don’t doubt it).

What ad is it this time? An upskirt one. Geddit? That’s great because it’s something guys do stealthily without the consent of the women and girls whose skirts they peer and photograph up.

Commenters voiced their disapproval on a number of aspects of the ad, including how Kristin’s youthful appearance prompted many to confuse her for a minor (she is 23,  for the record). They also took issue with the pose itself, which mimics the often-exploitative upskirt shots found on pornography sites. Both Kristin and photographer Harley Weir have stood by the image despite negative feedback, but the National Center on Sexual Exploitation consequently launched a petition urging Calvin Klein to suspend the campaign, stating the image glamorized sexual harassment:

Up-skirting is a growing trend of sexual harassment where pictures are taken up a woman’s skirt without her knowledge, or without her consent. Not only is this activity a crime in many states like New York, Washington, Florida, and more, but it is also a disturbing breach of privacy and public trust. By normalizing and glamorizing this sexual harassment, Calvin Klein is sending a message that the experiences of real-life victims don’t matter, and that it is okay for men to treat the woman standing next to them on the metro as available pornography whenever they so choose.

But, the HP says mournfully, we can complain all we want to, but doing so only motivates Calvin Klein to do it more, because it makes him even more money. Ok, so I’m part of that work to make Calvin Klein even more money. Whatever. He’s also even more notoriously a scum bag.

A sex tourism destination

May 21st, 2016 5:06 pm | By

Here’s something I didn’t know – Montreal is numero uno in North America in prostitution. Meghan Murphy writes:

A film by Ève Lamont called The Sex Trade (Le commerce du sexe) reveals that the situation in Quebec is much worse than many had imagined (myself included) — more women are sold in prostitution in Montreal than anywhere else in North America.

Lamont interviews pimps, johns, strip club owners, law enforcement, porn producers, and, of course, the women who work in the clubs, the massage parlours, on the street, and out of apartments and hotels in la belle province. A police officer explains that Montreal has 30 strip clubs and 200 massage parlours, never mind the escorts and street prostitution. In most all of these places, trafficking and underage prostitution exists. All this has made Montreal a sex tourism destination for American men.

It’s great for pimps and club owners, not so great for prostitutes.

…the women who sell sex and work in strip clubs rarely profit from prostitution. The clubs make thousands off of the women who work there, making them pay an $70 or $80 “bar fee” at the start of their shifts, never mind all the income the club receives from the men who pay cover and buy overpriced drinks. As one woman who has been working in strip clubs since she was a teenager says, at least 80 per cent of the women in the clubs are working for pimps.

And the work isn’t as much fun as the fans of “sex work” claim.

“Did I end up in prostitution by accident? No,” says one woman. “My grandfather started abusing me when I was four. He was part of a network of pedophiles, so he let his friends start raping me when I was five.”

She worked both as a hotel escort and on the street, saying her time as an escort was much worse. “You’re in a room, the guys are often wasted when you get there, and they think because they’re paying they can do whatever they want,” she says. “They get mad because you won’t do a golden shower or whatever.” She compares this to the men who picked her up on the street and “just want to come and go home,” whereas “the guy in the hotel wants to realize his fantasies.”

Many prostituted women echo these sentiments, saying that johns pay for sex so they can play out the degrading fantasies they wouldn’t (or can’t) subject their girlfriends and wives to.

Porn is inarguably a factor here. In a talk by Gail Dines featured in the film, she says that “porn drives prostitution.” Men watch more and more extreme stuff and lose the ability to get erections with “real women.” They want to play out the stuff they are masturbating to online, and even the most basic porn today is violent and degrading. Most women, of course, don’t want to have painful anal sex, be gagged with their boyfriends’ penises, or called degrading names by their husbands. So where do men go for “porn sex,” Dines asks? “You’re only going to go to those women who can’t say no. And who are those women who can’t say no? Trafficked and prostituted women.”

But hey, those women are empowered, right?

No one helps

May 21st, 2016 4:41 pm | By

Tarek Fatah tweeted this yesterday. It’s painful to watch.

I especially hate the way she hugs the yellow bag to her for comfort for a few seconds, as if it were a teddy bear – she’s so alone and so comfortless.

Four stolen years

May 21st, 2016 12:04 pm | By

It’s hard to call it good news when a wrong that never should have been committed is terminated after four years, but…all the same: Maria Teresa Rivera is out of prison.

A woman has been released from jail in El Salvador after spending four years behind bars accused of having an abortion, according to Amnesty International.

Maria Teresa Rivera, 33, was jailed in 2011 and sentenced to 40 years in prison for aggravated homicide after having a miscarriage.

But today, Amnesty International said a judge ruled there was not enough evidence to prove the charges against her, ending what had been the longest ever sentence imposed on a woman in the Central American nation for an abortion crime.

Ms Rivera had been accused of aborting her pregnancy by hospital staff after suffering complications that left her unconscious and bleeding heavily in her home.

It’s nothing but uninhibited unabashed hatred of women.

El Salvador has some of the most sadistic punitive misogynist abortion laws in the world.

The practice has been illegal under all circumstances since 1998, even when the pregnancy is the result of rape, incest or when the life of the woman is at risk.

That’s sheer hatred of women.

In a statement released after the decision, America’s director at Amnesty International, Erika Guevara-Rosas, said it was a victory for human rights.

“She should have never been forced to spend one second behind bars,” she said.

“Her release must be a catalyst for change in El Salvador, where dozens of women are put in prison because of an utterly ridiculous anti-abortion law which does nothing but put the lives of thousands of women and girls in danger.”

I think “revolting” is a more apt descriptor than “ridiculous”…

The market for flesh will grow

May 21st, 2016 11:26 am | By

Sanctuary for Families, an anti-violence-against-women group, posts some responses to Emily Bazelon’s article on prostitution in the NY Times magazine last weekend.

Last weekend, the New York Times Magazine’s cover feature asked the question: “Should Prostitution Be a Crime?” 

The article courted controversy and failed to include the viewpoints of survivors, activists and service providers who know firsthand the deep harm and gender inequality perpetuated by the commercial sex industry. 

Today, the Times published letters in response to the article. Here are a few letters that didn’t make the LTE page, among them critically important perspectives from survivors that were left out:

To the Editor:
Re: Should Prostitution be a Crime?

If the small group of privileged “sex workers” highlighted in Bazelon’s article have their way, and prostitution is decriminalized around the world, every boy will grow up knowing it¹s acceptable to buy a body whenever he feels the urge. The result? The market for flesh will grow, delivering a windfall to traffickers and pimps and putting millions more women and girls in harm’s way. The standard PR line of the commercial sex industry is that we in the anti-trafficking community “conflate” consensual prostitution with trafficking. No, we don’t. Prostitution is the marketplace and trafficking is a primary way that product is delivered to buyers. It’s economics 101. Grow the market and trafficking increases.

Bazelon blithely disregards the harm inherent in prostitution. I’ve seen it up close, having been Director of the Human Rights Clinic at Mount Sinai. The stories from survivors of the sex trade are horrific. The violence in prostitution is staggering. The resulting physical and mental health problems are crushing. We need to adopt the Nordic model, which decriminalizes the prostituted person but criminalizes the traffickers, pimps and buyers. Creating an open market place for the use and abuse of women and girls (and men and boys) would be one of the most shocking human rights violations of our time.

Holly G. Atkinson, MD, FACP, FAMWA
Co-Director, Physicians Against the Trafficking of Humans,
American Medical Women’s Association
Past President, Physicians for Human Rights

Should we think of that kind of violence as just the downside of an exciting, well paid job like football or hockey? No, I don’t think so.

To the Editor,

Since 1990, I have worked with thousands of prostituted women and girls. Unlike the woman highlighted in the photo spread of “Should Prostitution Be Legal” (May 5, 2016), the vast majority of people I have worked with have been  African American women and girls and have stated that if they had any choice but prostitution, they would leave “the life” immediately.

In prostitution, purchasers don’t care about the pleasure or pain of the purchased. She exists as a hand, mouth, genitals, anus – not a human being. Sex buyers pay for the right to direct her to do whatever brings him to orgasm, no matter how humiliating the act. She is paid to play out the fantasy that she has power. In reality, she has none.

We can and should remove penalties imposed on people in prostitution, while implementing laws that hold pimps and buyers accountable. The women used in prostitution deserve our support, but we cannot continue to tolerate or promote this exploitive institution.

Vednita Carter
Founder and President, Breaking Free
Minneapolis, Minn

One from the ED of the group posting these:

Re: the New York Times Magazine cover story Should Prostitution Be a Crime.

As a former judge and prosecutor, and now as the executive director of Sanctuary for Families, I have seen thousands of victims who have been exploited in the sex trade. Many of them were lured in by pimps and traffickers, most as children. Others have ended up in prostitution when conditions of extreme poverty and prior sexual abuse leave them with few options.

Ms. Bazelon inexplicably omits the experience of these victims, almost exclusively women and girls of color and undocumented immigrants. Instead, her primary focus is on the comparatively privileged, adult, mostly white “sex worker” as reflected in the cover photo, which creates a falsely benign picture of the world’s most brutal industry.

Prostitution is almost invariably a condition of gender inequality and frequently a violent and lethally dangerous form of abuse inextricably connected to sex trafficking. People in prostitution should not be criminalized and must be provided with services. If we fail to hold traffickers, pimps and buyers accountable, the sex trafficking industry will continue to expand, destroying the lives of new generations of victims.

Hon. Judy Harris Kluger
Executive Director
Sanctuary for Families

Why is the New York Times prettying up the reality of prostitution?

Read all the letters.

Return of the “chastening instrument”

May 21st, 2016 10:09 am | By

A public Facebook post:

They’re back…..

Run out of business by “external pressure”, the Christian marketers of nylon child whipping devices are back in the business of selling child-abuse implements for profit. When a parent in New York was arrested for abusing his child with a nylon “whipping stick”, I interviewed a young man who described his experiences growing up with one of these in the house — and watching his parents use it to train his toddler sister to automatic obedience “like a dog”.

They stopped selling their “chastening instruments” in 2006 because of – cough – “external pressures” (like attention from law enforcement maybe? or just critical outsiders?). Now they’re selling them again, but strictly on a private basis and without a website or ANY internet exposure. Emphasis theirs.

In case you’ve forgotten – the blue spanker is 9″ long, 1.5″ wide and 3/16″ thick. It’s made of virtually indestructible polyurethane. It’s very flexible. You can hide it in a purse, a back pocket, or (giggles) a diaper bag.

8 bucks per. We also make some narrower ones that are fabulous for whipping toddlers – call us for more info, because we’re too squeamish to write it down here.

Checks only, payable to Steve Haymond.

Shakespeare at Roswell

May 20th, 2016 4:12 pm | By

CFI-LA is having an event next Wednesday featuring skepticism about Shakespeare. Oy. Skepticism about Shakespeare is like skepticism about vaccinations, or the collapse of the twin towers, or the moon landings. It’s skepticism turned inside out, skepticism in the service of silly conspiracy theories.

Doubts about the authorship of Shakespeare’s works have been raised over the years, most recently by the Shakespeare Authorship Coalition (SAC). To support those doubts, John Shahan, chairman and CEO of SAC, will speak at Café Inquiry on Wed., May 25, at 7:30 p.m.

In 2007, SAC launched its Declaration of Reasonable Doubt About the Identity of William Shakespeare, first in the U.S. in same-day signing ceremonies at UCLA’s Geffen Playhouse and at Concordia University in Portland, Oregon. Later that year, renowned Shakespearean actors Sir Derek Jacobi and Mark Rylance, who won a Supporting Actor Oscar this year, led a signing ceremony in the U.K. The Declaration has been signed by more than 3,500 people – more than 1,300 with advanced degrees, over 600 current/former college/university faculty members, and 68 notables, including leading academics Robin Fox and Dean Keith Simonton, and U.S. Supreme Court justices J.P. Stevens and Sandra Day O’Connor.

Sigh sigh sigh. Yes lots of people are into it, including lots of people who should know better. Mark Twain was one. But it’s still a silly bit of nonsense.

What it is at bottom, of course, is sheer benighted snobbery – Will of Stratford was just some lower class bumpkin, so how could he have written all that glorious wording? He didn’t go to a university, and there’s no record that he even went to Stratford Grammar School!

True, there’s no record that he went to Stratford Grammar School, but there’s no record that anyone of his time went to Stratford Grammar School, because the records were all destroyed in a fire. And what there is is a mass of contemporary records of friends and colleagues and acquaintances of his, along with some enemies of his. They knew him. If he’d been a thicky who couldn’t possibly have written those plays, they would have noticed – especially his colleagues in the Chamberlain’s Men, later the King’s Men, who were shareholders in both the company and the theater building with him, and fellow players with him, and actors in the plays he wrote. How a beard could possibly have played that role for twenty years or so with nobody noticing that they weren’t his plays is hard to imagine.

Shakespeare was Shakespeare. He wrote the plays. He pissed off Robert Greene by being so good at writing plays while being just a player (an actor). Ben Jonson knew him well, and resented his success, but once he read all the plays together in the First Folio he was struck all of a heap and gave him one hell of a blurb. If Shakespeare had been an empty-headed zero who couldn’t have written the plays, Ben Jonson would have been all over it like a bad rash. Ben Jonson knew very well that Shakespeare was Shakespeare. So did Richard Burbage, so did John Heminges and Henry Condell, colleagues and editors of the First Folio. People at court knew him. The Earl of Southampton knew him. Doubt about the identity of William Shakespeare is not reasonable; it’s fatuous.

Pogge is still at Yale, directing the Global Justice Program

May 20th, 2016 3:07 pm | By

Another one of these: prominent male academic has a long string of allegations of sexual harassment, proceeds on his way regardless.

Thomas Pogge, a protégé, is a Name in global ethics and one of the few who actually has an influence on policy debates.

A self-identified “thought leader”…

Ok there’s one hint right there. If he calls himself a “thought leader” his ego is too big, and guys with hypertrophy of the ego tend to feel entitled to get women by whatever means necessary.

A self-identified “thought leader,” Pogge directs international health and anti-poverty initiatives, publishes papers in leading journals, and gives TED Talks. His provocative argument that wealthy countries, and their citizens, are morally responsible for correcting the global economic order that keeps other countries poor revolutionized debates about global justice. He’s also a dedicated professor and mentor, at Yale University — where he founded and directs the Global Justice Program, a policy and public health research group — as well as at other prestigious institutions worldwide.

But a recent federal civil rights complaint describes a distinction unlikely to appear on any curriculum vitae: It claims Pogge uses his fame and influence to manipulate much younger women in his field into sexual relationships. One former student said she was punished professionally after resisting his advances.

BuzzFeed made many attempts to get him to talk, but got no response.

The allegations against Pogge are an increasingly open secret in the international philosophy community, an overwhelmingly male field in which, many women say, pervasive sexual harassment is an impediment to success.

So many women say that. Check out What is it like to be a woman in philosophy? to read some of their accounts.

BuzzFeed says it has obtained some confidential documents.

In the 1990s, a student at Columbia University, where Pogge was then teaching, accused him of sexually harassing her. In 2010, a recent Yale graduate named Fernanda Lopez Aguilar accused Pogge of sexually harassing her and then retaliating against her by rescinding a fellowship offer. In 2014, a Ph.D. student at a European university accused Pogge of proffering career opportunities to her and other young women in his field as a pretext to beginning a sexual relationship.

Yale knew about the allegations. It offered Lopez Aguilar money to keep quiet, she says.

Eventually, a hearing panel did find “substantial evidence” that Pogge had acted unprofessionally and irresponsibly, noting “numerous incidents” where he “failed to uphold the standards of ethical behavior” expected of him. But the panel voted that there was “insufficient evidence to charge him with sexual harassment,” according to disciplinary records.

We know – it’s she said he said. Oddly enough there are no fingerprints or witnesses or bloodstains.

Professors and students elsewhere sent Yale further allegations but Yale said leave us alone.

Pogge is still at Yale, directing the Global Justice Program and teaching philosophy and international affairs classes on the New Haven, Connecticut, campus.

Because you know what? Global Justice matters – it’s Big and Important and suitable for men, especially men who are thought leaders. Women? Women don’t matter that way. Women are small and silly and trivial, and important thought leader men just can’t be bothered to respect them or treat them as equals or care about the way sexual harassment by an important thought leader might be damaging to them.

Lopez Aguilar filed a federal civil rights complaint last October.

Katie J. M. Baker at BuzzFeed has the details.