Notes and Comment Blog

The clitoris: exclusionary and problematic

Jun 3rd, 2016 5:03 pm | By

Susan Cox at Feminist Current reports an odd exclusion:

Lady*fest, a feminist festival scheduled to take place June 22nd – 25th in Heidelberg, Germany, has declared the clitoris “exclusionary.”

The festival, which features workshops, lectures, and art, had initially planned to include topics like, “clitoris/glitzoris” and “masturbation” as part of their art exhibition, but protocol documents from the last planning meeting now explain that the clitoris is “problematic,” because it refers to female anatomy.

Well excuuuuuuuse the fuck out of me – should we all get them chopped off then? Does that idea sound vaguely familiar?

I can’t wait for our trans racial allies to start saying black skin is “problematic” because it refers to something about black bodies.

Except of course I can wait for that, I can wait forever for that, because it would be grotesque and disgusting. Why do so many people think it’s perfectly all right when it comes to women?

The festival organizers have stated that, due to being a “queer Lady*fest,” it shouldn’t empower “only certain groups,” such as those with clitorises, and that the festival will not be “excluding any groups” by referencing female anatomy. Lady*fest claims these actions embody their policy, which translates to, “be tender to all genders,” and that being mindful of how female anatomy offends people will provide “a safer space to all human beings by applying awareness.”

So then why have a “Lady” fest? Why have feminism? Why not just give up struggling and join the MRAs when they cry, “I’m not a feminist, I’m a humanist”? Why not just spell it out that you think women are the only truly privileged people on the planet, and should be taken down a peg or ten?

Naida Pintul, a radical feminist and former organizer of Lady*fest who lives in Heidelberg, is critical of the decision. She told me via email, “Female anatomy has become a taboo.”

“This is a postmodern version of the same old hatred of female bodies and their biology. Once again, we are not supposed to talk about the reality and the consequences of having our female reproductive organs.”

We’re not supposed to talk about abortion as a women’s rights issue. We’re not supposed to talk about pregnancy as something particularly relevant to women. We’re not supposed to destigmatize the vulva by having vulva cupcakes at festivals.

Initially, the decorating of “vulva cupcakes” was planned as an activity to celebrate and destigmatize female anatomy. This event was also cancelled by festival planners on account of vulva cupcakes not being “inclusive” of everyone’s identity.

Erase all the women.

The other day I commented on a post by a male friend about George Tiller in response to someone who made a sarcastic remark about how great abortion is. The following exchange happened:

Me: If you need one, it fucking well is.

Male friend: I support the availability of abortion only in the most extreme cases. Like when a woman is pregnant and doesn’t want to be.

A woman: Like when a person is pregnant and doesn’t want to be, yep.

A woman found it necessary to jump in and correct the guy who said, wittily, “I support the availability of abortion only in the most extreme cases. Like when a woman is pregnant and doesn’t want to be.” A woman thought that was necessary and worthwhile. A woman thought it was wrong to talk about pregnancy and abortion as something to do with women.

This shit has to stop.

Bowling for cats

Jun 3rd, 2016 11:24 am | By

Cats sleeping in awkward positions:

Is that theft of services or rape?

Jun 3rd, 2016 10:46 am | By

Darren Geist at Rolling Stone has 5 reasons to be wary of Amnesty’s position on prostitution.

In its report, Amnesty frames prostitution as sex work, pimps as legitimate sex business operators and johns as customers. This approach to prostitution is irresponsible and has been opposed by more than 600 leading organizations and individuals in the women’s rights, human rights and anti-human trafficking fields.

But they can all be called whorephobic and dismissed.

The first reason is that decrim will increase sex trafficking.

Prostitution has been decriminalized or legalized in several countries, and the results have been clear: Sex trafficking and criminal activities have increased or, at best, remained constant. Even Amsterdam had to impose greater restrictions on its prostitution industry to deal with rising crime. Denmark, where prostitution was decriminalized in 1999, has four times as many sex-trafficking victims as nearby Sweden, even though Sweden’s population is 40 percent larger.

These conclusions are backed up by three recent studies of global databases. All three — a World Development paper, University of Gothenburg study and NYU School of Law report — found that decriminalizing drastically increases the demand for prostitution by reducing the associated stigma and costs.

It’s not hard to see why that might be. If cocaine were available at Safeway next to the aspirin and Ibuprofen, more people would buy it.

Next, decrim will make life worse for prostitutes.

Prostitution’s decriminalization typically has a race-to-the-bottom effect where prostitutes are pressured to offer more for less. Prostitutes in Germany, for instance, often put in 18-hour days and live in the rooms out of which they work — hardly a healthy environment. Prostitutes also end up offering a wider range of risky services, including unprotected sex, anal sex, group sex, BDSM and acting out torture or rape fantasies. In New Zealand, women in brothels have reported that “men now demand more than ever for less than ever. And because the trade is socially sanctioned, there is no incentive for the government to provide exit strategies for those who want to get out of it. These women are trapped.”

But it’s whorephobic to say that.

And then there’s the issue of consent, aka “agency.”

Over the past several years, consent to sex has been a hot topic of debate — but Amnesty largely ignores its complexities. What counts as voluntary prostitution is highly contested. We know that prostitutes are predominantly from disadvantaged and vulnerable communities. We know that entry into prostitution is often preceded by prolonged and repeated trauma, that rape was the first sexual experience of most prostitutes, and that a majority of prostitutes were victims of child sexual abuse. We know that many sex traffickers groom their victims, fostering romantic relationships with them before leveraging those attachments into commercial exploitation. We also know women who enter into prostitution do so at a very young age. While exact numbers are impossible, several controversial studies have put the average age of entry between 12 and 14; others have found that the majority entered prior to 18, and an international study found that 47 percent entered before age 18. Under the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act, any minor — person under 18 — in prostitution is a victim of sex trafficking. Yet in Amnesty’s framework, regardless of a prostitute’s history of exploitation or age of entry into sex work, prostitution is considered consensual from the day she turns 18.

And that’s treated as “respecting” the prostitute’s “agency” – which I think is a perverse way of looking at it.

And then there’s the rape culture reason, which I’ve always considered all but undeniable. If prostitution is okie doke, then rape becomes just a property crime.

Amnesty’s embrace of commercial sex feeds rape culture by trivializing sex, weakening gender equality and treating sex as something that can bought and sold. But sex is — and should be — treated differently from other activities. It is a uniquely personal and private act. Rape is categorically worse than other forms of assault precisely because it is a more intimate violation. The human rights push against anti-sodomy laws was also grounded in a belief that sexual activity deserved special protection.

Decriminalization of prostitution will lead to bizarre (and morally troubling) legal problems. If a client and prostitute reach an agreement for services and the client “exceeds” those agreed-upon services, is that theft of services or rape? If police are investigating the incident, should they, at first instance, treat it as a contract dispute or a sexual assault? These problems are created by Amnesty’s framework, in which sex is treated as just another commodity.


The final item is yo, this is economic libertarianism, and since when is that a left thing?

The government prohibits a wide range of economic activity, and groups like Amnesty usually advocate for robust regulation because of concerns about labor-right violations, work conditions and abuse of workers. But in this case, Amnesty proposes a decriminalization of an industry known to be highly dangerous, rife with corruption and violence, frequently if not by definition sexually exploitative and at a high risk of sex trafficking.

Not to mention harming mostly women, for the sexual pleasure of mostly men.

Amnesty’s proposal perverts human-rights and women’s-rights principles. It sacrifices the concerns and welfares of the vast majority of prostitutes, who are caught in an exploitative and brutal industry. As a result, Amnesty has staked out a position that will be a boon to pimps and sex traffickers, and will do great damage to the human rights of the men, women and children caught in the sex industry.

Especially the women and girls.

Stoic in court

Jun 3rd, 2016 9:36 am | By

Won’t somebody please think of the rapists? At least the white, handsome, star athlete ones?

A former Stanford University athlete convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman was sentenced to six months in county jail and probation in a case that has shed light on what advocates say is an epidemic of violence on college campuses.

Brock Allen Turner, a 20-year-old swimmer who dropped out of the elite California university last year, appeared stoic in court in Palo Alto on Thursday, two months after a jury convicted him of multiple felonies, including assault with intent to rape an intoxicated woman.

Turner, who is from Dayton, Ohio, was arrested on the Palo Alto campus on 18 January 2015 after two Stanford graduate students spotted him lying on top of the victim outside of a Kappa Alpha party behind a dumpster. When officers arrived, the woman, who is not a Stanford student, was “completely unresponsive” and partially clothed, with a blood-alcohol level three times the legal limit, according to police.

She was resting. She was unresponsive because she was thinking about something. And resting.

The two witnesses who were biking past that evening said they saw Turner “thrusting” on top of the motionless woman and that they intervened and held him until police showed up.

Turner, who had a blood-alcohol level that was twice the legal limit, testified in court that he could walk and talk at the time and acknowledged that the victim was “very drunk”. He claimed that he did not intend to rape the woman and that the encounter was consensual.

Sadly for Turner, the victim doesn’t agree that the “encounter” was consensual.

After a jury convicted Turner of sexually penetrating an intoxicated and unconscious person with a foreign object, prosecutors asked a judge to sentence him to six years in California prison. Probation officials had recommended the significantly lighter penalty of six months in county jail, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

The judge, Aaron Perksy, cited Turner’s age and lack of criminal history as factors in his decision, saying, “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him … I think he will not be a danger to others.”

After the hearing, Santa Clara County district attorney Jeff Rosen slammed the sentencing, which will likely result in Turner spending three months behind bars – a fraction of the maximum 14 years he was potentially facing.

Yes but he’s an athlete. He was at Stanford. He’s white. Each item is worth several years off his sentence.

The high-profile case intensified scrutiny of rapes at US colleges and comes at a time when national leaders and activists across the country have increasingly raised alarms about the culture of sexual violence on university campuses.

A recent White House survey found that 10% of female college students experience some form of sexual assault and that only 12.5% of rapes are reported.

Turner’s case attracted significant attention in part because criminal prosecutions of campus rape cases are rare. In recent years, there have also been growing concerns about the ways in which universities protect athletes accused of sexual assault.

But athletes are the whole point of universities. Of course universities protect them…male athletes, at least.


Jun 2nd, 2016 5:34 pm | By

Unlike me, Anna Merlan at Jezebel didn’t like Jimmy Carter’s opinion piece on prostitution and decriminalization. She didn’t bother to be especially honest about it though.

Writing for the Washington Post, Carter editorialized that sex work is bad and oppressive. He’s against Amnesty International’s call to decriminalize all aspects of adult, consensual sex work, because he doesn’t think consensual sex work is real.

Some assert that this “profession” can be empowering and that legalizing and regulating all aspects of prostitution will mitigate the harm that accompanies it. But I cannot accept a policy prescription that codifies such a pernicious form of violence against women. Normalizing the act of buying sex also debases men by assuming that they are entitled to access women’s bodies for sexual gratification. If paying for sex is normalized, then every young boy will learn that women and girls are commodities to be bought and sold.

(Emphasis mine.)

It’s curious to suggest that decriminalizing sex work would lead to a wholesale devaluation of womanhood, but other aspects of Carter’s argument aren’t new.

You see what she did there? Se casually translated what Carter said into something else – she bolded his words, just as I did, but then she misrepresented them. He didn’t say “decriminalizing sex work would lead to a wholesale devaluation of womanhood”; he said something more interesting than that, and less easy to brush aside. Maybe that’s why she ignored it in favor of something sillier and more banal.

Explain to me why he’s wrong. Why is he wrong to say that normalizing the rental of women for sex will teach boys that women and girls are commodities to be bought and sold? Why wouldn’t it do that? If it becomes legal to buy and sell access to women, isn’t that teaching boys that women are a category of people who can be rented? Not simply paid to do some work, but rented for access.

But then again – human beings do have a long history of rising above prejudices of that kind, and treating everyone as an equal no matter what cues their society gives them.

Cue hollow laughter.

Moran on Bazelon

Jun 2nd, 2016 5:07 pm | By

Rachel Moran says there’s a lot wrong with Emily Bazelon’s NY Times Magazine piece about the decriminalization of prostitution.

Bazelon’s mischaracterization of the issue of prostitution, in my opinion, was confirmed and reaffirmed in her article in ways too numerous to document here. Her piece has had to be corrected three times (including her contention that Dutch prostitution is confined to Amsterdam, when it is, as any European could tell you, countrywide.) U.S. psychologist and academic Melissa Farley, who was quoted in Bazelon’s article, has filed a demand for correction of Bazelon’s misquote of Farley; as of this writing (June 1, 2016), the New York Times has refused to correct it.

Bazelon also stated that there had been no reported cases of trafficking in New Zealand, somehow managing to miss that on April 14, 2015, Naengnoi Sriphet was sentenced to 27 months in prison by Auckland District Court for recruiting women from Thailand to work in a “massage parlour” in Auckland.

Bazelon’s fact-checker contacted me to ask whether it would be fair to say that I believed Amnesty International had taken its pro-decriminalization stance from pimps and sex-traffickers. I responded that it would not be fair to say so without qualifying that statement, and I reminded her of what I’d told Bazelon several times already: that Amnesty International had taken their cues from the Global Network of Sex Work Projects, then co-chaired by Alejandra Gil, who has since been convicted and is serving a 15-year sentence in a Mexican prison for sex trafficking.

Bazelon ignored my conversation with her fact-checker and attributed to me a one-line fragment of what I’d said, making no mention of the Global Network of Sex Work Projects, Gil or her sex-trafficking conviction.

That’s crappy. Surely it’s an important piece of information, that Rachel Moran says Amnesty International had taken their cues from a group co-chaired by a convicted sex trafficker.

Then there’s the account by Sabrinna Valisce that Bazelon omitted entirely.

It is to be hoped, going forward, that institutions of influence will pay attention to voices of experience from within these regimes. Sabrinna Valisce fought long and hard for what she believed to be right when she campaigned to pass New Zealand’s Prostitution Reform Act. She was subsequently violated and abused within the same system she fought for. It took courage for her to publicly admit she was mistaken. Now that she is speaking out about it, we owe it to her—and to women around the world—to listen.

But that would be such a downer.

Every young boy will learn that women and girls are commodities

Jun 2nd, 2016 11:16 am | By

Jimmy Carter in the Washington Post:

It is disturbing that some human rights and public health organizations are advocating the full legalization of the sex trade, including its most abusive aspects. I agree with Amnesty International, UNAIDS and other groups that say that those who sell sex acts should not be arrested or prosecuted, but I cannot support proposals to decriminalize buyers and pimps.

Some assert that this “profession” can be empowering and that legalizing and regulating all aspects of prostitution will mitigate the harm that accompanies it. But I cannot accept a policy prescription that codifies such a pernicious form of violence against women. Normalizing the act of buying sex also debases men by assuming that they are entitled to access women’s bodies for sexual gratification. If paying for sex is normalized, then every young boy will learn that women and girls are commodities to be bought and sold.

Emphasis added.

I’d love to know how the libertarian feminists get around that – really know how they do, not just hear their babble about “agency” again.

Carter prefers the Nordic model.

Critics of the Nordic model assert that mature adults should be free to exchange money for sex. This argument ignores the power imbalance that defines the vast majority of sex-for-cash transactions, and it demeans the beauty of sexual relations when both parties are respected.

Sex between people who experience mutual enjoyment is a wonderful part of life. But when one party has power over another to demand sexual access, mutuality is extinguished, and the act becomes an expression of domination. As author and prostitution survivor Rachel Moran explained in her book, “Paid For,” once money has exchanged hands, a woman must deliver whatever service the customer demands.

Check out Rachel Moran on Twitter to see her passion on this subject.

In May 2015, when the Carter Center held a global summit to end sexual exploitation, sex-trade survivors, including Moran, described their painful journeys through exploitation. They told of the abuse they suffered — abuse that should be understood as torture. They expressed their determination to speak not only for themselves but also for those who are either too traumatized to come forward or who perished as a result of homicide, suicide, drug abuse or disease. They compare their movement to the abolition of slavery, an institution that once also seemed like a permanent fixture in society.

Prostitution is not the “oldest profession,” as the saying goes; it’s the oldest oppression.

Those survivors told us that they once believed that selling sex was their choice but that this attitude was a requirement for survival — that only once they were fully free from the fetters of the trade were they able to fully understand their lack of choice.

If full legalization is adopted, it will not be the “empowered sex worker” who will be the norm — it will be the millions of women and girls needed to fill the supply of bodies that an unlimited market of consumers will demand.


Women and girls as commodities to be bought and sold.


Jun 2nd, 2016 10:59 am | By

The Catholic mafia at work

Jun 2nd, 2016 10:48 am | By

Speaking of fascists…the Catholic church spent 2 million dollars lobbying against a New York law that would make it easier for victims of child sex abuse to sue their attackers. Tell me again about how religion is all about compassion. Tell me again about the connection between religion and morality.

The state’s Catholic Conference has hired some of New York’s most influential lobbying firms, including Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker, Patricia Lynch & Associates, Hank Sheinkopf, and Mark Behan Communications. They spent more than $2.1 million from 2007 through 2015 lobbying against the Child Victims Act and for or against other bills, according to state records.

The Child Victims Act, introduced by Democratic Assemblywoman Margaret Markey, would eliminate the statute of limitations that currently requires victims to file civil lawsuits by age 23. It would also give those who can no longer sue under current law a one-year window to file a civil suit.

And the Catholic church considers it appropriate for the Catholic church to try to block that, for self-interested reasons.

The New York Catholic Conference filings show they hired lobbyists to work on issues of “statute of limitations” and “timelines for commencing certain civil actions related to sex offenses,” among other topics. These reports come after Cardinal Timothy Dolan, head of the New York Archdiocese, was criticized for not wanting to talk about the allegations of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church or the Child Victims Act, the New York Daily News reported in a separate story earlier this month.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan thinks it’s very unfair for news media to talk about child rape in the Catholic church at all.

“They are willing to spend limitless money in order to basically keep bad guys from being accountable for their actions,” Melanie Blow, chief operations officer of the Stop Abuse Campaign, told the Daily News. “I think they’re doing it because they don’t want to have to pay out settlements.”

In New York, the Catholic Conference has said it does not oppose victims getting justice but wants any new laws to ensure the same rules apply to both public and private institutions. New York Senate Republicans oppose the one-year window for victims who are already past the statute of limitations.

Bollocks. It wants to protect its own.

Not even a dog whistle

Jun 2nd, 2016 10:21 am | By

Saletan on Trump’s open racism:

Republicans who have sworn allegiance to Donald Trump—the majority leaders of the United States House and Senate, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, and numerous governors and members of Congress—don’t think this country can return to the racism and fascism of the 20th century. They want us to believe that Trump will respect the norms of the post-Holocaust, post-segregation era because they support him. In truth, their capitulation should alarm us. As other countries have learned, the first step in the descent to racism and fascism is to become numb to them. Over the past week, we’ve received fresh evidence that the numbing process is underway.

Most Germans didn’t think Hitler was going to be what he went on to be. That was a big mistake.

On Friday, at a rally in San Diego, Trump claimed that the federal judge who is hearing the fraud case against Trump’s real-estate “university” isbiased and corrupt—in part, apparently, because the judge is “Mexican.”

Trump has previously portrayed people as biased or untrustworthy, based purely on Latino ancestry, on at least four occasions. Last summer, after retweeting an allegation that Jeb Bush “has to like the Mexican illegals because of his wife,” Trump defended this claim on the grounds that Bush’s wife—who had been an American citizen for more than 35 years—was “from Mexico.” On Dec. 12 and Dec. 29, Trump suggested to Republican audiences in Iowa that they shouldn’t vote for Sen. Ted Cruz because “not too many evangelicals come out of Cuba.” In February, Trump accused Gonzalo Curiel, the judge in the Trump University case, of conspiring against him, calling Curiel “Spanish” and “Hispanic.” When Trump was asked to explain the connection between the judge’s alleged bias and his ethnicity, Trump said: “I think it has to do with perhaps the fact that I’m very, very strong on the border.”

Trump’s attack on Friday continued in this vein. “I have a judge who is a hater of Donald Trump,” he told a crowd in San Diego. “His name is”— at this point, Trump, having raised his voice like a drum roll, held up a piece of paper and pronounced the name carefully, gesturing for effect—“Gonzalo Curiel.” The audience booed, and Trump let the moment soak in, shaking his head in solidarity. Trump told the audience two things about Curiel: that he “was appointed by Barack Obama” and that he “happens to be, we believe, Mexican.” After railing against Curiel and the lawsuit for more than 10 minutes, Trump concluded: “The judges in this court system, federal court—they ought to look into Judge Curiel.”

Let’s recap. At least five times in the past year, the candidate who is now the Republican nominee for president has implied that certain public officials are suspect, or are acting against the national interest, because they or their family members are Latino. This isn’t a complaint about illegal immigrants. It’s not even a dog whistle. It’s a straight-up appeal to prejudice. It’s about the color of your skin, the sound of your last name, and where your ancestors came from.

We’ve seen this before. Let’s not see the whole show again.

The hard work of remembering and debating

Jun 2nd, 2016 9:34 am | By

The Guardian tells us Spain has not faced and struggled with its fascist past the way other countries have – that Franco distorted that history for 40 years and then Spain just carried on in the same direction.

Even some of Vázquez’s friends are unsympathetic to his quest for documents. “I’ve got friends in Madrid who say, ‘What’s the point? Just leave it’,” he says, but he has no intention of doing that, believing that Spain has a long way to go before its accounts with the civil war are settled.

He reserves particular ire for the memorial of the Valle de los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen). It was claimed by Franco that this grandiose basilica, crypt and monument – built near Madrid, in part by Republican prisoners, and inaugurated in 1959 – would represent a “national act of atonement”. Franco himself is buried there.

Dominated by a giant cross and built at the behest of the dictator, who devoted his life to cleansing Spain of godless Marxists, the Valle de los Caídos has never come close to being a site of national reconciliation. A few weeks ago, in a historic ruling, a judge ruled that the remains of two Republican victims of summary executions could be exhumed and reburied in “dignified” fashion somewhere else. “That place is a scandal,” says Vázquez. “It is simply a fascist memorial. It’s unacceptable.”

Another father in the Fossar group has reluctantly come alone. Sergio Lobo wanted to bring his 12-year-old daughter, Candela, but she backed out. “She says they’re not teaching her about this at school. She doesn’t feel like she understands enough,” he says. (Candela is not alone: a major survey a few years ago found that 69% of 14-to 17-year-old respondents said they had received little or no information about the civil war.)

The history of slavery and Jim Crow used to be very inadequately taught in US schools. Imagine how bad the teaching must have been, to make Gone With the Wind so popular as novel and then movie – not to mention Birth of a Nation. Spain should turn away from that example.

Two things torment Lobo: the disappearance without trace of his grandfather and the sense that his daughter’s generation will grow up in ignorance of the bloody times that claimed his life. “Why haven’t we done what other countries have done?” he asks. “Why haven’t we done what Germany did and performed the hard work of remembering and debating? Why don’t the schools do more? I try with Candela, but it’s very difficult.

“The fact it is left to an Englishman to take guided tours of this place tells you something. We have just stuck a bandage on top of the wound and forgotten about it. It won’t do. Here in Catalonia all the talk is about independence from Spain. Yes, that’s all well and good. But first things first. I fear that my daughter will not be able to tell her daughter about what the civil war really was.”

There is no museum in all of Spain devoted to the Civil War.

“It is pretty astonishing,” says Paul Preston, the eminent British historian of 20th-century Spain, “that there isn’t a museum that tries to give the whole picture and represent all the sides to the civil war.” Preston sits on the international board of the Association of the International Museum of the Civil War (Amigce) which has formally asked Barcelona’s mayor, Ada Colau, to provide a suitable building for such a museum. The project, which would be self-funding and non-profit, has the support of the Orwell Society in Britain and the relatives of International Brigaders around the world. It has also received a remarkable letter of support from the National Socialism Documentation Centre in Cologne, the largest regional memorial site for the victims of Nazi Germany.

But Spain is not Germany. The legacy of the past is more contested and considerably more complicated. “It is still so Manichean in Spain,” says Preston. “It’s still very much ‘those not with us are against us’. And there are still a lot of people who think Franco was wonderful.”

There are still a lot of people who think Hitler was wonderful. There are still fascists everywhere.

Abroad the Spanish Republicans’ doomed struggle against Franco and the fascist powers of Germany and Italy was commemorated in the work of writers such as Orwell, André Malraux, Ernest Hemingway and Victor Serge. The world remembers a noble fight to safeguard a fledgling democracy from the fascist menace of Franco, backed by Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.

But during the decades of the Franco dictatorship, a counter-version of history was prosecuted with ferocious energy, one in which Nationalist soldiers stepped in to save old Catholic Spain from the alien, hostile forces of atheism and communism. “Spain suffered 40 years of national brainwashing and terror,” says Preston. “The aim of that war had been to destroy as many Republicans as possible. And under the Franco regime you saw the institutionalisation of his victory.”

Yes, well, Hitler and Mussolini and Quisling all lost and were killed. Franco survived and stayed in power, and in the Cold War he became an ally of the quondam Allies. That’s one of our shames.

Over the past decade or so, the new spirit of inquiry has generated an outpouring of books, films and documentaries about the civil war. In the former battlefields of Aragón, Catalonia and Castile, searches conducted by Emilio Silva’s Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory, founded in 2000, have led to the recovery of the remains of nearly 2,000 victims of Francoist killings. Like the fictional narrator of Soldiers of Salamis, Silva went looking for the past, beginning with the location and exhumation of the remains of his own grandfather from a ditch in north-west Spain. His work helped to launch a memory movement, focused on reclaiming the lives erased from the history books during the Franco era.

Then, in 2007, the Socialist prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, went far beyond what his predecessors were willing to risk in the 80s and 90s. Though opposed by the conservative Popular party, Zapatero passed a Law of Historical Memory – a kind of legislative riposte to the pacto de olvido. The new law formally condemned the Franco regime, gave recognition to victims on both sides and offered support to their relatives. It also decreed that overtly Francoist symbols were to be removed from public buildings and spaces.

Ah now what does that sound like? The move to get rid of Confederate flags and other monuments in the US. We do have so much in common…

Nearly 10 years on, that last injunction is still the source of bitter controversy. In December, Manuela Carmena, the new mayor of Madrid and the first leftwing incumbent of that post for 24 years, announced that 30 street names in the capital with a connection to Franco were to be changed. Amid fierce resistance, it still hasn’t happened. There are still, it seems, two Spains when it comes to re-examining the civil war.

Nevertheless, according to Faber, something fundamental has changed. “The old argument that Spain is different from other countries in how it deals with issues like the mass graves no longer holds. Even rightwing parties no longer feel they can be on the wrong side of history. I talked to Silva recently and he said he feels that the ‘commonsense’ view has shifted. Before, the feedback over exhumations would be about misgivings over stirring up the past. That kind of blowback isn’t happening any more.”

Now if we can just manage not to elect a fascist president in the US…

The real numbers could be double or triple that

Jun 1st, 2016 5:03 pm | By

The BBC has a new horror

At least 2,234 Indians have contracted HIV while receiving blood transfusions in hospitals in the past 17 months alone, say officials.

The information was revealed by the country’s National Aids Control Organisation (Naco) in response to a petition filed by information activist Chetan Kothari.

God damn. That’s appalling.

The highest number of patients who had been infected with HIV as a result of contaminated blood in hospitals, were from the northern state of Uttar Pradesh with 361 cases, Mr Kothari’s RTI (Right to Information) query revealed.

The western states of Gujarat with 292 cases and Maharashtra with 276 cases rank second and third respectively.

The Indian capital Delhi is at number four with 264 cases.

“This is the official data, provided by the government-run Naco. I believe the real numbers would be double or triple that,” Mr Kothari told the BBC.

Under law, it is mandatory for hospitals to screen donors and the donated blood for HIV, hepatitis B and C, malaria and other infections.

“But each such test costs 1,200 rupees ($18; £12) and most hospitals in India do not have the testing facilities. Even in a big city like Mumbai, only three private hospitals have HIV testing facilities. Even the largest government hospitals do not have the technology to screen blood for HIV,” Mr Kothari said.

Ohhhhhhhhhh god – they don’t screen the blood.

I have no words.



Jun 1st, 2016 4:43 pm | By

Iran’s Holocaust Cartoon Contest announced the winners at a closing ceremony on Monday. Here’s the winner:

Look closely at the drawer: the words are “Shoah Business.” The thing at the top is the front entrance to Auschwitz.

A huge intellectual dead-end

Jun 1st, 2016 4:04 pm | By

Meghan Murphy has thoughts on Everyday Feminism’s ridiculous withdrawal of Alice Dreger’s article, calling it news from the modern day witch hunt.

I don’t use the term “witch” lightly here. The McCarthyist campaign against women, particularly, who fail to toe the party line when it comes to feminism and gender is very much comparable to the witch hunts that extended throughout much of the 20th century. Women are quite literally being silenced and persecuted for speaking out against a kind of dogma that naturalizes the idea that innate gender identity exists from birth, as well as for the crime of understanding that, historically, women’s oppression has been directly attached to their female biology.

As feminists and as critical thinkers, it is our responsibility to push back against the silencing and censorship of women’s voices. It is neither wrong, nor dangerous, to question the idea of innate gender identity or the existence of a gender binary, created and enforced through patriarchy. It is unacceptable that a purportedly feminist publication would buy into and support this kind of smearing, which only serves to further entrench a culture of fear, effectively discouraging their young readers from thinking for themselves and exploring ideas critically.

Damn right.

I think the culture of fear is starting to erode though. There are too many of us pushing back now for it to continue to thrive.

Emily Nussbaum for one:

This is ridiculous & infuriating & a huge intellectual dead-end.

Helen Lewis:

Women still have to fight so hard to be heard. I hate the idea that one controversial opinion gets you cast out.
It’s BS. It’s wrong but it’s also harmful: it makes journalism & debate & feminism itself more paranoid & narrower.

@evrydayfeminism is so wrong! A movement without room for @alicedreger is so much the poorer. @helenlewis

Mind you, there is a school of thought that says Everyday Feminism is just a long-form parody.

Everday Patriarchalism

Jun 1st, 2016 2:47 pm | By

Hoo-boy – it’s Alice Dreger’s turn again. Everyday Feminism asked her if they could republish a popular article of hers, she let them, they posted it – and then they unposted it. I bet you can guess why – no that’s silly, guessing has nothing to do with it. We know how things go right now, without guessing. Alice tells the story:

A few months ago, the blog site Everyday Feminism contacted me because they wanted to reprint my wildly popular essay, “What If We Admitted to Children that Sex is Primarily about Pleasure?”

I wrote back with some terms. They had to credit Pacific Standard for making the essay go viral. They had to mention my two most recent books. And they had to pay me a little something.

I should have known this was going to be a bad experience when the editor contacting me told me that “we may also make changes to the content, particularly changing the wording to be inclusive.” Really—I was going to be policed for inclusivity, huh? In response to this, I required that they get my permission before changing anything. . . .

Frankly that would make me want to tell them oh no you won’t, you can’t republish it after all. But Alice is much nicer than I am.

So they republished it, and then whammo, it disappeared. Alice guessed the reason, and she was right.

Today by email, from Josette Sousa, Program Coordinator for Everyday Feminism, when I wrote to ask “wtf”:

What happened was that we decided to pull the article from circulation shortly after it went up. When we asked permission from it we weren’t aware of some of the articles you’ve published on trans issues and after a reader brought it to our attention and we looked into them. We then realized that while we very much valued the information in the article on teaching children that sex is about pleasure, the views expressed in several of your other articles directly conflicts with the work we’re trying to do in Everyday Feminism. For that reason, we decided to pull the article.

So supposedly something I’ve written about trans issues is so terribly offensive, Everyday Feminism doesn’t dare publish a piece by me on talking to your kids about sex!

Censorship atomic bomb style.

Everyday Feminism is a bad joke.

A number of my fellow feminists have pointed out that today, women like me can subject to silencing simply on the basis that they have supposedly said something that is anti-trans rights, even if they have not. Anyone so labeled also gets labeled a “TERF”: trans-exclusionary radical feminist.

I’ve pointed out repeatedly that I’m no such thing. Take this article, for example (from a decade ago!). Take this report I helped author. Take this book I co-edited.

But it does no good. Because as soon as you assert anything that someone with the trans identity card claims is anti-trans, you are stripped of your rights to be a sex-positive feminist talking about sex ed at a feminist website. At least in the case of “Everyday Feminism.”

Well, once they tell you, you know.

Nobody “slipped”

Jun 1st, 2016 11:19 am | By

My former zookeeper side is obtrusive this week. I used to know a few gorillas quite well – not as well as their longstanding full-time keeper, but quite well. I felt very attached to them. Harambe’s death makes me sad and angry, even though I don’t think the zoo could have done anything else.

The police are investigating the family of the boy who jumped into the gorilla exhibit.

That sounds kind of absurd on the face of it – they surely didn’t tell him to jump in, or want him to. But. People can be amazingly irresponsible at zoos…except that irresponsible is too mild. People will go over and around barriers at zoos; that’s what I’m saying. People will ignore all the impediments that are obviously there for reasons, in order to do what they feel like doing. The public was always by far the worst thing about working at the zoo.

That doesn’t apply to a toddler though; it applies to parents. The story I’ve seen is that there were four kids and the boy got in when no one was looking. An accident. Ok but maybe they should have been more careful than that?

A day after police said they’ll investigate the family of a boy who slipped into a gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo, the child’s family spoke out.

“Our child has had a checkup by his doctor and is still doing well,” the family said Wednesday in a statement released by a representative.

That’s good, but Harambe is still dead. That’s not so good.

“We continue to praise God for His grace and mercy, and to be thankful to the Cincinnati Zoo for their actions taken to protect our child,” the boy’s family said Wednesday.

“We are also very appreciative for the expressions of concern and support that have been sent to us. Some have offered money to the family, which we do not want and will not accept. If anyone wishes to make a gift, we recommend a donation to the Cincinnati Zoo in Harambe’s name.”

The continuing to praise God for His grace and mercy part really pisses me off, because it totally ignores the stupid wasteful death of Harambe. Where’s the grace and mercy for him? He wouldn’t be dead if the parents hadn’t lost track of their toddler. You’d think he was a piece of machinery the toddler got to close to.

Cincinnati police said Tuesday that their review will focus on the actions of the boy’s parents and family. It is not related to the operation or safety of the Cincinnati Zoo, authorities said.

“After the review, we will determine if charges need to be brought forward,” police spokeswoman Tiffaney Hardy said.

“If it is determined charges need to be brought forward, we would then discuss it with the Hamilton County prosecutor’s office.” The prosecutor’s office declined to say how long the investigation might take.

Authorities have said the boy’s mother was with the child when he slipped past a fence and tumbled into the moat.

Except I don’t believe it about the “slipping” past a fence. If it were that easy the zoo wouldn’t have gone 38 years without anyone jumping into the gorilla exhibit.

Jane Goodall’s response to the killing highlighted the conflicted nature of the decision to kill the animal.

“I feel so sorry for you, having to try to defend something which you may well disapprove of,” Goodall wrote in an email to Maynard.

Goodall described the killing as “a devastating loss to the zoo, and to the gorillas.”

The zoo really had no choice, but that doesn’t make it any more fun for them.

Major strides

Jun 1st, 2016 9:59 am | By

In Egypt on Sunday a girl died under general anesthetic for a genital mutilation.

Mayar Mohamed Mousa, 17, died in a hospital in the province of Suez on Sunday while under full anaesthesia, said Lotfi Abdel-Samee, the local health ministry undersecretary.

“This is something that the law has prohibited,” stressed Abdel-Samee.

Despite the ban in 2008, female genital mutilation (FGM) is still widespread in Egypt, especially in rural areas. It is practised among Muslims as well as Egypt’s minority Christians.

Christians as well as Muslims think females are dirty deformed creatures.

While 200 million women and girls worldwide have been subjected to the practise, there have been major strides in Egypt, as well as Liberia, Burkina Faso, and Kenya against FGM, according to Claudia Cappa, the lead author of a February UN children’s agency report on the issue.

“The latest figures from the Egypt Demographic and Health Survey show that we’re winning,” the United Nations Development Programme said in a report last year.

“Mothers’ attitudes are changing, too,” UNDP said.

While 92% of mothers had undergone the procedure, only 35% of them “intend to circumcise their daughters,” according to the UNDP report.

Too late for Mayar Mohamed Mousa though, as well as her sister, who was mutilated first and survived.

Guest post: The “you crossed the line” guy

Jun 1st, 2016 9:40 am | By

Originally a comment by Kevin Kirkpatrick on Women interrupted.

I think it’s a direct parallel to the well-documented “racism without racists” cultural trend.

In that vein, I was every bit as disturbed by this guy:

At that point a man at the next table said to the guy, “You crossed the line”.

Just unpacking those 4 words, and the context and brazenness of their usage; it comes across as “Dude. Yes, of course sexual objectification of women is funny… but you gotta be subtle to be funny… you know, with clever entendres, sly winks, and nudges. You aren’t being funny because you’re being too overt.”

Putting myself in his head for a moment, I suspect that this guy actually believed himself to be standing up for the comedian, and for women in general.

I totally empathize with Samantha’s sentiment about the “boldly sexist asshole” needing to be fired along the lines of “Who would even feel safe working late with him around?” I think this is the boss whose overt sexism makes for slam-dunk discrimination lawsuits; who can’t help but make comments like “Oooh, looking good today, Janice! You should wear blouses like that more often”.

On the other hand, the “you crossed the line” guy is the boss who’s going to have that thought, but keep it to himself (taking pride in how not-a-sexist he is for doing so). And who, two weeks later, is going to put Jim, not Janice, in charge of the next big project. Not because he’s sexist, but because he’s pragmatic, and just wants to ensure everyone’s mind stays focused on the job, not on Janice’s chest.


Women interrupted

May 31st, 2016 5:04 pm | By

Jen Grant’s account of the sexual harassment that interrupted her act appeared in the Huffington Post Canada.

She starts by explaining that she does corporate comedy, with its strict limitations, because it pays better than clubs. She had a gig at a corporate country club. The organizer was nice, everything was fine.

I get introduced to the stage and within about three minutes I am interrupted by a male (late 30s/early 40s) saying to me: “There’s a 51 per cent chance that my buddy here will have sex with you. and I will take the other 49 per cent.”

Of course I was shocked to hear something like that at a squeaky clean corporate event IN A COUNTRY CLUB. I was taken aback but as a 16-year comedy veteran, I took a breath and tried to push past it and do my best to ignore him. I thought, “Oh great. I’ve got Mr. inappropriate audience dude that I will have to deal with.” It’s not going to be easy to do this show with this guy piping up. I never thought in a million years it would get a lot worse.

Then it got worse.

After a couple more minutes he says in a very “rapey” tone, “I bet you do” following one of my jokes. Women know what I mean when I say “rapey.” It’s that tone that makes you feel like they have verbally taken advantage of you. As he is saying these horrible things, I am embarrassed and feeling small. I am just trying to do my job and I can’t. I felt naked and vulnerable. Anyone who knows me knows I don’t put up with shit normally. I have developed thick skin from doing stand up comedy. You have to!

If she’d been in a club she could have responded and put the guy in his place, but she wasn’t so she couldn’t.

His words were cutting like a knife. I felt off balance and violated. I looked out into the crowd at one of the few women that were in the room (the crowd was 80 per cent male). She looked at me like “what the hell is going on?”

Then about five minutes later (25 minutes into my 45 minute set) he says to me (again with that tone), “Ohhh the things I would do to you.” It’s hard enough to focus on what you’re saying when someone is talking constantly between your jokes but when they are verbally abusive, it’s almost impossible.

I said to the crowd, “Really? Is this really happening right now?” At that point a man at the next table said to the guy, “You crossed the line”.

It’s hard to put into words how I felt at that moment. Scared. Objectified. Threatened. Invalidated.

I felt like I was going to cry. Turned my head for about 15 seconds, took a sip of water, told myself to just plug through, went to talk and my voice was all warbled like I was about to cry. Realized I couldn’t talk because I was so upset. Said into the microphone, “I’m sorry but I can’t do this.” Put the mic into the stand and walked off stage.

In 16 years —

I have NEVER cried on stage.

I have NEVER not done my time.

I have NEVER been abused that badly on stage.

I was not able to do my job because someone was sexually harassing me. As a stand up comic I do not have a Human Resources Department. The stage is my workplace and I was publicly humiliated, objectified and belittled.

When I got off stage I was shaking and bawling. The organizer came up to me extremely apologetic and said she didn’t hear what he was saying because she was at the back of the room. I believe her. She was surprised no one else around who could hear him didn’t say anything. It makes me think of what’s happening in the news this past week with “FHRITP.” Shauna Hunt shined a light on something that’s been happening for a year. Good for her for exposing it because it represents a bigger issue. I hope to do the same with this blog. Words have power. They hurt. They humiliate. They violate. Sexism might be better than it used to be, but it is still alive and well.

Remember that? Remember tv journalist Shauna Hunt and the guy who shouted “fuck her right in the pussy” at her while she was on camera? Remember how that was a thing?

Women are just living breathing targets, that’s all.

Most female comics get that within their first week

May 31st, 2016 4:39 pm | By

A year ago the CBC told us about a very bad man, and a better one:

Saskatchewan-born comedian Brent Butt is rushing to support comedian Jen Grant after she was sexually harassed during a set at a corporate event.

“I have been a standup comedian for 28 years and not once have I been heckled with sexual threats. I also don’t know of any other male comics who have been sexually threatened,” his Twitter statement read in part.

Grant, who is originally from Ottawa and now lives in Toronto, had been hired to do a 45-minute corporate set in a country club in suburban Toronto. According to Grant, within three minutes of taking the stage, the heckling began.

“I am interrupted by a male … saying to me, ‘There’s a 51 per cent chance that my buddy here will have sex with you. and I will take the other 49 per cent,'” she said in a blog post.

It was a corporate gig, so she couldn’t respond the way she would at a club; the rules are different. So he went on and on and on.

“‘Oh, the things I would do to you,'” Grant quoted the man as saying, in what she called a “rapey” voice.

“It’s hard to put into words how I felt at that moment. Scared. Objectified. Threatened. Invalidated,” she said.

Grant walked off the stage in tears, something she said she had never done in 16 years as a comedian.

That’s nice, isn’t it? She was doing her work, and that guy stopped her doing it, by reducing her to the hole between her legs. “You don’t have any talent, or anything to say; you’re not smart or funny or interesting; you’re just a hole.”

So Brent Butt tweeted:

I’ve been a stand-up comedian for 28 years, and NOT ONCE have I been ‘heckled’ with sexual threats. I also don’t know of any other male comics who have been sexually threatened. Yet most female comics get that within their first week. A lot of them hear it on Day 1.

And then again, and again, and over and over, during their entire career. But, heaven forbid, if a female comic ever finally gets fed up with this repetitive, vile, hostile garbage, there’s always some dim asshole who’s quick to tell her she’s being ‘too sensitive’. Well guess what, you dim asshole, she’s not being too sensitive.

You’re being a piece of shit.

Try not being a piece of shit for a while, and I bet that’ll REALLY cut down on the amount of rampant sensitivity you have to tolerate.

That. We’re not being “too sensitive” by responding to repetitive, vile, hostile garbage. We’re not.