Thursday, January 24, 2008

weltschmerz wow


"That girl? Her eyes speak for us all," as they're saying at The Rude Pundit, where I got this priceless photo.

I assume it was part of a photo set taken by an official White House photog and then taken down off the White House website? Does anyone have a source on it?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

blogging for choice!

It's Blog for Choice Day. (Read about it here too.) That means Roe v. Wade gets a 35th birthday... and it's not looking so good. Tons of brilliant people have posted brilliant things chock full of information and the power of their own experience all over the web -- those links above are a digest of some great writing on reproductive justice, gender, and self-determination. Another clearing-house of reproductive rights news and info is here.

Last year, this journal entry by artist and sex-ed activist Heather Corinna was my blog-for-choice citation on my livejournal, because I didn't have a proper blog. It's still great... But the intervening year for women's rights in this country has been one of the most dismal yet. Anthony Kennedy's opinion in Gonzales v. Carhart in April was truly one of the most infuriating, weltschmerz-inducing things that happened to me in 2007 -- and that is saying something! I wrote about it then:

If you look at the language in the Kennedy opinion today, it's really, really disturbing. I for one am glad to learn that the new test for demonstrating that a group deserves to have its constitutional rights protected is apparently whether a law is "unconstitutional in a large fraction of relevant cases" -- excuse me, wtf?!! I thought the idea that we should worry if ONE person would be left out was part of the whole reason for constitutional rights in the first place. How many, I wonder, is a "large fraction"?? I love how he basically acknowledges that this ruling results in an unconstitutional burden, risk, and deprivation of autonomy and privacy in SOME cases, just not apparently a large enough "fraction."

Also, I love how it says this decision "does not impose an undue burden" on exercising your constitutional right to end a pregnancy, but also reflects the state's "legitimate, substantial interest in preserving and promoting fetal life." [So the state regards itself as having a legitimate interest in women who want to have abortions, not having those abortions. Just great--but we knew that from Planned Parenthood v. Casey.] I love how it says that if there's major uncertainty in the medical community about whether prohibiting this procedure "creates significant health risks" -- well, that's no problem! The legislature now has the right to decide definitively in the face of medical uncertainty, settling it once and for all. Doesn't that make you happy?!

Also, check this -- probably the most grossly offensive part of the whole idiotic opinion. It totally reveals the egregious presumptions from which Kennedy is writing:
"It is self-evident that a mother who comes to regret her choice to abort must struggle with grief more anguished and sorrow more profound when she learns, only after the event, what she once did not know: that she allowed a doctor to pierce the skull and vacuum the fast-developing brain of her unborn child, a child assuming the human form." All of which lead up to this (unsurprising) statement, now the law of the land: "the government may use its voice and its regulatory authority to show its profound respect for the life within the woman." But not, it's abundantly clear, for the woman herself.
--------[end 2007 weltschmerz / begin 2008 weltschmerz]

Yep, I was pissed, and I'm still pissed. Salon has a great interview right now with an abortion doctor who's written an amazing-looking book called This Common Secret, about the real people she serves -- it's really worth reading. All these other brilliant bloggers-for-choice have done a fabulous job of showing the facts and the consequences of this bullshit rollback of human rights in the area of women's bodily self-determination... but I'm pissed off. So this is my day-late Election-Year Weltschmerz Blog for Choice, and in it I am going to say exactly what I think, and it causes me great weltschmerz that the terms of public discourse have been so co-opted that my position sounds extreme.

Abortion has been around forever, and it is not "rare," no matter what centrist Democrats would like to think. Around 40 percent of women in American will have an abortion at some point in their lives! (I can't even get with some of the stuff Frances Kissling of Catholics for a Free Choice says about this. I appreciate all the work she's done, but some of her rhetoric is still rooted in moral, which is to say religious and prescriptive, thinking about abortion as a choice.) We need to have it around! ABORTION IS GOOD.

Abortion is NOT in itself "sad;" in further news it is neither "selfish" NOR "selfless." Any of these emotions or value judgments that might be present in the set of circumstances around a particular abortion inhere in the circumstances, NOT in abortion as a medical procedure. Abortion IS the act of a person doing what is right for her in the area of life with THE greatest consequences: reproduction, parenthood, personal life, family life. This aspect to it, that it is the act of a person acting in her own interest, is what makes it a morally good act. It is specially serious because pregnancy is serious -- without an abortion, pregnancy makes TWO people (2, remember?) PARENTS. Responsible for a child.

I don't know about everyone else (actually, I do know about a lot of folks, hence the weltschmerz), but I believe that what's good for a society grows out of what's good for its members, on every level. If I got accidentally pregnant right now, I would in overwhelming likelihood have an abortion. And the only thing I'd feel guilty about is that because I live in New York and am privileged, I could make that happen for myself when so many women can't.

And no, a fetus is not a "member of society." (If Colorado decides it is in November, I will scream.) A baby is a member of society. After it's born! (Remember those? We don't hear as much about them in the news these days, unless it's to beat up on women who are fucking them up by doing _____[fill in blank].) Whether a woman wants to abort a fetus or have a baby is up to HER, and no one else. Whether some fun factoid about fetal development (yeah, I loved the movie, but Juno's "It has fingernails!" really pissed me off -- for one thing it's totally untrue, Juno was nowhere near 20 weeks, which is when it gets fingernails) is a charming, moving aspect of the mystical creation of a life taking place inside an expectant mother -- or a totally irrelevant, oppressive, disingenuous, propagandistic ploy to force a woman to abide by the decision-making framework of someone who is NOT HER -- depends on whether the woman wants to carry the pregnancy to term and give birth, or not. And nothing else.

I think a lot of our fucked-up-ed-ness around abortion comes out of this weird dual nature. It is at once a medical procedure like any other that should be the province of health-care providers, and it should be criminal to interfere with it for political reasons. At the same time, because of the physical capacity to reproduce that has been used by men to subjugate women for most of human history, we have this situation where women's ability to exercise the basic human right to bodily self-determination depends on this medical procedure and all the whole modern medico-juridical apparatus standing around it. On one hand, modernity is nice that way. Safe abortion, less risky than pregnancy and birth, exists. On the other hand, patriarchy advances along with progress, devising up-to-the-minute modern and postmodern ways to keep women -- all over the world -- down.

So, this January 23rd, after a full day of reading about the legal and policy issues in play, I say: FUCK THAT. Fuck the new anti-choice ploy to get young men who might otherwise realize that being pro-choice benefits them on their side by masquerading as touchy-feely pro-compassion faux-emo men's movement shit (which when you scratch it, is usually sexist!). Fuck the apparent new romantic-comedy genre of people who decide to go through with unwanted pregnancies and it all turns out fine (there's way more to be said about this, but fuck it until we have a genre where people get abortions and are happy and it all works out ok in the end!). And fuck Anthony Kennedy and the horse he rode in on. (And Hang On, Stevens.)

And work like hell -- everyone -- for the Democratic nominee for president, because we're already stuck with the 5 who are on the court now and their insulting excuses for jurisprudence, some of them for another couple of decades, but another 4-8 years of Republican judicial appointees would usher in an era of violence to all kinds of rights that I truly just don't want to imagine.

Monday, January 21, 2008

brushing up on women's political history

On Sunday evening as I was walking with my husband, T., to the station in Philadelphia, where I would board the train back to New York, we were debating talking about what Hillary Clinton's win (?in some terms but not others?) in Nevada might mean for the Democratic party and our chances of winning the general election in November. T. was expressing, as he does, the criticisms of Clinton that come out of a position typically (though not exclusively-I have been known to say this too sometimes) articulated by lefty white men for whom economic class tends to be the salient factor in how they judge the world around them (you know, in their college-age incarnation, the guys in Che shirts?), to wit: that Clinton's running for president in the first place is a signal of egregious "decay" for the republic. That electing her and bringing about a 'Bush, Clinton, Bush, Clinton' presidential succession would pile on nepotism on top of disgusting nepotism, that it would bespeak a total breakdown of our supposed-to-be-meritocratic electoral system, that it would be a long-ish slide down a slippery slope into outright hereditary political dynasty like they have in England or some shit, that it would be a black mark on America's name, like we don't have enough of those already.

I was talking about a lot of things I remember from the Clinton years in this conversation (more on that later), but in arguing about the "dynasty" issue on pure historical hunch, I pointed out that in a certain sense, according to a certain narrative, we have 'always known' that the first woman president would be a former first lady, because -- though it's a sad sign of sexism in itself, not ideal, not truly equitable at all -- that's how the first women in electoral offices in this country have gotten their jobs. I argued, from somewhere in the recesses of my feminist education, that the first woman Senator and the first woman Governor were both widows who were appointed to take their husbands' jobs -- and I was right.

I give you: The Election-Year Weltschmerz primer on women in electoral office in the United States!
First woman governor - 1925 - there were practically 2 at once!
Nellie Tayloe Ross, Wyoming - (info from Wikipedia)
In 1922 William Ross was elected governor of Wyoming by appealing to progressive voters in both parties. However, after little more than a year and a half in office, he died on October 2, 1924, from complications following an appendectomy. The Democratic Party then nominated his widow to run for governor in a special election the following month to succeed him.
Nellie Tayloe Ross refused to campaign, but easily won the race on November 4, 1924. On January 5, 1925, she became the first woman governor in the history of the United States. As governor she continued her late husband's policies, which called for tax cuts, government assistance for poor farmers, banking reform, and laws protecting children, women workers, and miners. She urged Wyoming to ratify a pending federal amendment prohibiting child labor. Like her husband, she advocated the strengthening of Prohibition laws.

She ran for re-election in 1926, but was narrowly defeated. Ross blamed her loss in part on the fact that she had again refused to campaign for herself and for her support for Prohibition. Nevertheless, she remained active in the Democratic Party and campaigned for Al Smith in the 1928 presidential election. She also served as vice chairman of the Democratic Party. Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed her as the first female director of the U.S. Mint on May 3, 1933

Miriam Ferguson - Texas - inaugurated 16 days after Ross, was governor twice!
(from Wikipedia) Miriam Amanda Wallace "Ma" Ferguson (June 13, 1875June 25, 1961) became the first female governor of Texas in 1925.[1] She was born in Bell County, Texas. Her husband, James Edward Ferguson, the governor from 1915 to 1917, was impeached, convicted, and removed from office during his second term. Under terms of the conviction, he was not allowed to hold state office again.[2] After her husband's impeachment and conviction, she ran as a Democrat for the office herself. During the campaign she said she would follow the advice of her husband and that Texas would get "two governors for the price of one."[3] Against what would have seemed insurmountable odds, another Ferguson was elected not only as governor, but the first woman governor of Texas.
During her first administration she averaged over 100 pardons a month, and accusations of both bribes and kickbacks overshadowed her term, resulting in unsuccessful attempts to impeach her. This led to her defeat in the primaries of both 1926 and 1930. However, she ran again in 1932. She narrowly won the Democratic nomination over incumbent Ross S. Sterling. She then defeated Republican Orville Bullington in the general election. Bullington fared stronger than most Texas Republican candidates did at that time. Her second term as governor was less controversial than her first.

First woman Senator - in 1922, Rebecca Latimer Felton served a 1 day term at the age of 87. She is the only woman Senator ever from Georgia. Her husband, who had died 13 years before, had been a US Representative. The governor of GA appointed her to fill the seat of a senator who died, until a special election, in order to win women's votes for himself in the special election. He lost the special election anyway, and the guy who beat him allowed her the honor of being sworn in. She and her husband both were huge populists, temperance, pro-state university, women's suffrage movt. social reformers. They were also deplorable, pro-lynching racists.

First woman Senator to serve a term - 1932 - (from Wikipedia)
Hattie Ophelia Wyatt Caraway (February 1, 1878December 21, 1950) was the first woman elected to serve as a United States Senator. Hattie Wyatt was born near Bakerville, Tennessee, in Humphreys County. She married Thaddeus H. Caraway and moved with him to Jonesboro, Arkansas where she cared for their children and home and her husband practiced law and started a political career. Her husband was elected to the United States House of Representatives as a Democrat in 1912 and served in that office until 1921 when he was elected to the United States Senate where he served until he died in office in 1931.
Arkansas Governor Harvey Parnell appointed Caraway to serve out the rest of her husband's unfinished term. She was sworn in to office on December 9, 1931 and was confirmed by a special election of the people on January 12, 1932 becoming the first woman elected to the United States Senate. (see also: Rebecca Latimer Felton).
Caraway made no speeches on the floor of the Senate but built a reputation as an honest and sincere Senator. She served a total of 14 years in the United States Senate, from 1931 until 1945, as a member of the Democratic Party. When she was invited by Vice President Charles Curtis to preside over the Senate she took advantage of the situation to announce that she would run for reelection. Populist Louisiana politician Huey Long travelled to Arkansas on a 9-day campaign swing to campaign for her. In 1938 she ran again for reelection against John L. McClellan and was victorious after receiving support from a successful coalition of veterans, women, and union members. She ran for a final time in 1944 and was defeated by J. William Fulbright. After leaving office she was appointed to the Federal Employees Compensation Commission and to the Employees Compensation Appeals Board .Caraway was a prohibitionist and voted against anti-lynching legislation along with many other southern Senators. She was generally a supporter of Franklin D. Roosevelt's economic recovery legislation.


I think it's interesting that these scenarios always seem to carry some kind of catastrophe -- the reigning male elected official is impeached or dies, leaving the ship of state rudderless, so to speak. This seems to create the circumstances under which people will elect a woman - perhaps drawing on some old-school virtuous-'savior' mythology? And also just a sense that the world is temporarily turned upside down, so why not this, too? There definitely seems to be a precedent for women in office coming out of disorder and crisis.

The first Senator to be elected outright, not appointed first, was Gladys Pyle in 1938 from South Dakota, also the first Republican -- she was never married, either -- and she was STILL elected in a special election to fill a vacancy caused by a senator's death, though not her husband's. (She had served in the state House and run for governor previously, though; she was a huge suffragist leader).

The first Democratic woman Senator to be elected, rather than appointed, was not elected until 1987 (!!). She is also a confirmed bachelorette - Barbara Mikulski from MD, who is still in there, the longest serving woman in the Senate.

I think it's interesting that if Clinton is elected president, it will be unlike any of these "firsts" in that a woman would be elected with a spouse who is alive -- although on a narrative level, the death of Bill Clinton still kind of lingers as a presumptive condition of her being in office, in a way that would kind of creep me out if I were him. (If I thought they were CRAZY as well as power-hungry, I would worry that he was planning on spectacularly staging his own death in the run-up to the general election....!! I do not think they are crazy, though.)

It may be that the most concrete gender 'progress' that we would see with a Clinton presidency, in terms of how women attain political office in this country, is that the previously-serving husband would not, in fact, have to die -- only to serve a previous term -- for a woman to get elected.

According to the set of tropes that emerges when we look at "firsts" of women in political office, Clinton's election would indicate -- maybe not "decay" as the Che-boys, who are justifiably angry about the obscene inequalities in opportunity and privilege in this country, call it -- but a crisis-level of disorder, power vacuum, uncertainty... a real sense of the world turned upside down and all the precedents gone, which was what was required for these other women to occupy these offices. If Clinton is nominated and/or elected, might that mean that according to a certain reading of the event, the whole Bush administration was experienced as a catastrophe on the order of a president dying in office?

I would argue, as I did to my husband on Sunday, that a former first lady becoming president is in nowhere near the same ballpark of corruption or 'decay' as a father/son presidential succession like that of the Bushes, which bespeaks no such crisis or revolution, no break with the patrilineal system that has been going on since, like, forever. In fact, I find it really sketchy that a first-lady succession is being tarred with the same brush of "dynasty" as Bush I/Bush II. It's actually pretty offensive to compare these "firsts" to the whole normative history of father/son succession, all the back into ancient times. Actually, sons have always inherited fathers' power. Wives inheriting their husbands' power has been a quirk of progress-couched-in-patronizing-caution or non-progress-vaunted-as-progress or... something. But it hasn't been the business of privilege as usual.

Also, I would point out that people are not raised by their spouses -- wives are not raised by their husbands. Powerful political couples like the Clintons, like the Doles, like the Feltons and Caraways before them, etc., are individuals who each come from their own set of circumstances and help each other out as adults; no matter what you think of Clinton's dependency on President Clinton, it's not a 1-way bestowing of advantages from the cradle. To equate this with Bush I/Bush II is basically to consider a wife as tantamount to her husband's child -- it tacitly assumes that her activities and capacities and what she can and can't accomplish are utterly shaped and determined by him. It implies that any woman who was married to Bill Clinton would be the Democratic front-runner for President 8 years after he left office. That's a pretty preposterously sexist underpinning to the whole "dynasty" objection.

As I said to T. on Sunday -- no, the first-lady-successor thing is not ideal, it's never been ideal, but in American politics it does seem to be how it goes. The list of women senators, representatives, and governors serving after successful husbands -- and true, also fathers, just as sons have always done -- is huge. Part of my point is illustrated by the fact that by being elected to the Senate when her husband was never a U.S. Senator, Hillary Clinton was still a ground-breaking politician (she's also the first woman from NY). The year she was inaugurated, 2001, was the year that the historical balance tipped and for the first time more of the (only 35, ever!) women Senators to serve in the whole history of the US had been elected than appointed to their seats. 2000 was the first time a woman has ever defeated a male incumbent Senator.

What's also interesting is that every single one of these women has ended up being boldly progressive in some ways, even if controversial, and even though unconscionably conservative in other ways, in her public service career. And maybe there's something culturally specific about that - i.e. no total tool-of-the-patriarchy Margaret Thatchers for us (perhaps because our actual conservative power structure is too dependent on retrograde gender ideologies for their power to ever nominate a woman, period).

Though it is deeply upsetting that several of these "first" women are so appalling on the issue of race... it feels like a warning sign from history: white women's "firsts" have, in fact, carried out discourses of 'white feminine virtue' versus 'black male savagery'. It's not like they ever campaigned for their offices, but you can't separate the anomalous gender positions in which they found themselves from their racist language.

It's not some activist fiction that the language white women have used to assert our right to participate in politics -- and when we have attained that right, the language in which we have performed and participated in politics -- has actively oppressed and sold out black people, especially black men. It's what happened.

White women's racism -- and everyone else's racism accumulating around white women, as it has always done -- is a specter that haunts what's happening now. More on this later.

Weltschmerz, mine and yours

Well, that's nice -- I have a blog. I hope that its name doesn't tread too intrusively on the toes of a very nice-seeming graphic artist in Ontario, whose bookseller/community activist friends I've seen in the blogosphere. I just found out about this guy's existence checking to see whether there was already a "weltschmerz" blog. There is a comic strip -- his book is entitled Weltschmerz: Attack of the Same-Sex Sleeper Cells (see link above), which is about the best title for anything, ever. This one does not equal it, because nothing ever could.

Weltschmerz literally means "world-pain," which is what I start to feel building up every four years, when conditions and trends I've successfully repressed to a level at which I can live a pleasurable life come roaring back to the forefront of my consciousness with a vengeance. This blog is the outlet for my election-year crazies, and for various other forms of weltschmerz.

The term, weltschmerz, appears to have been coined by a late 18th/early 19th-century German guy I had never heard of, Jean Paul, a politically-engaged educator and novelist who didn't make it into the canon. Wikipedia, apparently borrowing heavily from Encyclopedia Britannica, says about him:

"But in working out his conceptions, Jean Paul found it appropriate to express any powerful feeling by which he might happen to be moved. [ed.-I don't know if the encyclopedia entry-writer meant "inappropriate," or what this sentence might mean...] He made it his style to use seemingly out-of-the-way facts or psychological notions which occurred to him. Hence every one of his works is irregular in structure and his style lacks directness, though never grace. His imagination was one of extraordinary fertility, and he had a surprising power of suggesting great thoughts by means of the simplest incidents and relations."

As a totally-by-chance epigram for this blog, I like that.