Women's History Month Edition: Misogyny at CPAC, Death Penalty for Women Who Get Abortions, Record Levels of Despair for Teen Girls, "Scandoval" Breaks Internet, Carole King Saves the Day, and More
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A college teacher friend of mine used to begin his critical thinking class by writing this on the white board: “Are you a feminist?” After a show of hands, he divided the class into those who’d said yes and those who’d said no. Then he asked the question they should have all asked before raising their hands: “What is the definition of feminist?”
Turned out, many who had proclaimed they were not feminists struggled with a definition. The answers ranged from, “women who want more rights than men” to “women who don’t want to be mothers” to “I can’t be a feminist because I’m a man.” Then he gave them the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition: “Belief in and advocacy of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes expressed especially through organized activity on behalf of women's rights and interests.”
Discussion followed, not about whether or not women were oppressed, but about why they had chosen their side, including why some thought you had to be a woman to be a feminist. Some men were uncomfortable being labeled by a word that was related to the word “feminine.” The question was then rephrased: “Based on this definition, who is a feminist?” Most of the non-feminist side walked over to the feminist side. Then they began discussing the issues.
The lesson: not only is the word “feminism” tainted with factual inaccuracies, but it is burdened with social insecurities created by a culture desperate to ensure men’s favored status. This sends a mixed message that men are strong protective figures who guard society’s rights but are fragile when it comes to sharing those rights. That some men and women both reacted negatively to the word “feminism” without knowing what it meant tells us that the propaganda efforts to contaminate the word have been effective.
The question is: how is that possible?
Is it the primitive reality that most men are physically larger and more powerful than women and that—if they chose—they could impose their will by force. “If they chose” is the implied threat, even if never employed. In the second season of True Detective, cop Ani (Rachel McAdams) explains why, after being molested when she was young, she trained herself to become so proficient with a knife: “the fundamental difference between the sexes is that one of them can kill the other with their bare hands.”
The numbers don’t add up. Women have been 51.1% of the U.S. population since 2013. They make up 50.7% of our college-educated labor force, and that percentage is increasing annually. So, the question is, how can a minority of the country suppress the rights of a majority?
The first way you do it is by claiming their rights aren’t being suppressed (the same way you claim there’s no systemic racism). This only works if you ignore facts, statistics, experts, and even observation. I’m not going to present all the evidence here because it’s too overwhelming. Pay differences, health care differences, glass ceilings—it’s all out there. Perhaps the most damning evidence is how quickly red states jumped on the opportunity to pass laws taking away a woman’s right to make choices about her own body. If such a law was passed restricting men’s right to choose what to do with their bodies… well, we already know that would never happen.
The second way you marginalize a majority group is by enlisting numbers from that group to suppress themselves and their peers. You convince them that they are better off wearing the harness because at least then they’ll have a direction and a purpose, even if that direction and purpose is determined by someone else holding the reins. Of course, you frame it in much more enticing terms: queen, princess, goddess, etc. You glamorize it with fancy clothes, shoes, and jewelry. You offer validation—but at what price?
In 1991, Susan Faludi’s Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women presented convincing evidence that there was a media-driven backlash against women because of the social and political gains they had made. She argued that the strategy was “blaming the victim” by implying the feminist movement caused the problems facing women. Here we are, 32 years later, and we see another resurgence of the same strategies, the same backlash.
Maya Angelou’s famous autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, gets its title from the third stanza of a poem by a Black writer from the late nineteenth century, Paul Lawrence Dunbar:
I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,
When he beats his bars and would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart's deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings –
I know why the caged bird sings
What we must come to understand is that the cage imprisons us all, including the cagers. We are locked together in the irrational world in which fear is our bars. No one is free unless everyone is free. It’s that simple. It is up to all of us to bring about this universal freedom so that everyone gets the opportunity to thrive. What they do with that opportunity is up to them.
Politics: What Conservatives Think of Women
Daily Wire Host Michael Knowles Delivers Hate-Filled Speech Amid Campus Uproar (The Daily Beast)
SUMMARY: “Transphobic political commentator Michael Knowles delivered a hate-filled speech at the State University of New York at Buffalo Thursday evening despite ongoing protests leading up to the controversial event and even the school’s president condemning ‘dehumanizing rhetoric.’
“The Young Americans for Freedom, a student organization devoted to conservative ideas, hosted Knowles on campus, where the political pundit was supposed to give a speech on ‘How Feminism Destroys Women (And Everything Else).’ However, he rambled on for about 10 minutes about the so-called ‘confusion’ of transgender people, his dissent on gay marriage, and ridiculed a slew of publications’ recent reports—including The Daily Beast—for slamming his transphobic views.
“‘Feminism has made everybody miserable, especially women,’ he said with a smirk.
“Knowles, 32, claimed that feminist teachings could make another woman miserably enlightened as she stirred ‘from the slumber of her oppressive serenity.’
“…‘I think women understood the world a lot better before feminism,’ he said. ‘I think women were obviously much happier before feminism. I think women understood the relationship between men and women and their own nature much better before feminism.’
“…The thespian-turned-political pundit then talked in circles about whether or not women having the right to vote was a good or bad thing.”
MY TAKE: Now we know why the word “feminism” has such a bad reputation—because conservatives have been shaming it for decades. The men do it because they fear the competition that challenges their power in jobs, politics, and the home. Women do it because they fear being forced outside a traditional comfort zone endorsed by friends and family. The Big Lie here is that women who would prefer to stay home and raise a family will be shunned and ridiculed for not also pursuing a career. The truth is that feminists only want women to have the opportunity to choose whatever path they want, whether it’s staying home, pursuing a career, or both. They want to help and support women in doing what they choose. For that to happen, though, equal opportunities must exist.
From Knowles’ speech, we can see that this is not the conservative agenda. Of course, not all conservatives are this shallow, misinformed, inaccurate, or illogical, but enough of them embrace this misogyny to keep passing laws restricting women’s rights.
For example, Missouri's House of Representatives started their new session by tightening its dress code — but only for female lawmakers. Reported NPR: “Republican state Rep. Ann Kelley proposed an amendment that would require women to wear jackets — defined as both blazers and knit blazers — because ‘it is essential to always maintain a formal and professional atmosphere.’” It passed.
The concern here isn’t the sad, sexist, trembling teen-boy drivel that Knowles spouts, it’s that he is emboldened to say this publicly because there is a welcoming audience. He said this at CPAC to fire up people for the coming elections, when they will vote for candidates to restrict voting, decimate education, and take away women’s rights.
RELATED: Matt Gaetz’s New Staffer Identifies as a ‘Raging Misogynist’ (The Daily Beast)
SUMMARY: The newly hired congressional counsel for Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), election denier Andrew Kloster, describes himself as a “raging misogynist” and is intent on proving it through his social media. Kloster also “currently faces a charge for assault that causes bodily injury against a family member, according to court records in Collin County, Texas. The class A misdemeanor carries a maximum sentence of a year in jail and a $4,000 fine, as long as the defendant has no previous domestic violence charges.”
His tweets are too numerous to reprint here (read them in the article), but here’s a representative selection:
“On Jan. 16, 2021—10 days after the attack on the U.S. Capitol and four days before Donald Trump left office—he posted, ‘Keep calm and respect the patriarchy.’”
In response to a woman who tweeted that women don’t need lip injections: “You know what I need? I need a woman who looks like she got punched.”
“I’m 100% women respecter precisely because I’m a raging misogynist. I’m so kind you’ll want to kill yourself and die, which is the goal.”
He bemoaned the end of Nancy Pelosi’s tenure as House Speaker—specifically the loss of “prime time Nancy juggz.”
“(1) slaves did everything (2) white ppl didn’t free the slaves. Conclusion: slavery was voluntary.”
“Slaves built america. Therefore,,, Slaves owe us reparations.”
MY TAKE: It was just a couple weeks ago that Matt Gaetz invited accused murderer Corey Beekman to lead the Pledge of Allegiance before the year’s first Judiciary Committee hearing. Beekman was also accused of shooting his girlfriend Katlin Buck while her two young children were in the house. Buck refused to testify. Then Gaetz tried to attack intelligence experts with a propaganda report from China, which he didn’t realize it was. Now, he’s hired Kloster. Remind me again who Gaetz represents, because it sure isn’t women.
South Carolina GOP lawmakers propose death penalty for women who have abortions (The Hill)
SUMMARY: Twenty-one Republican lawmakers in South Carolina are considering a change to the state’s criminal code that would make a person who gets an abortion eligible for the death penalty.
The bill being considered in South Carolina, dubbed the South Carolina Prenatal Equal Protection Act of 2023, would redefine “person” under state law to include a fertilized egg, giving it at the point of conception equal protection under the state’s homicide laws, including the death penalty.
“The bill provides an exception for a pregnant person who underwent an abortion ‘because she was compelled to do so by the threat of imminent death or great bodily injury.’ It also provides an exception if the procedure is needed to avert the death of a mother ‘when all reasonable alternatives to save the life of the unborn child were attempted or none were available.’
“The bill does not provide an exception for rape or incest, a point that Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) took aim at on the House floor last week. Mace has blasted her party for its restrictive abortion policies.
“‘To see this debate go to the dark places, the dark edges, where it has gone on both sides of the aisle, has been deeply disturbing to me as a woman, as a female legislator, as a mom, and as a victim of rape,’ Mace said.”
MY TAKE: Yes, the death penalty. If you read my introductory paragraphs to this newsletter, you’ll remember me commenting on the idea that one of the main historic reasons that women can be suppressed despite their numbers is sheer physical force. This kind of intimidation by threat of violence is the same basic idea. Do what we say or we’ll kill you. It is thinly disguised domestic abuse.
The righteous excuse that they are protecting life lacks any logic for the reasons I have laid out in previous posts. But the most important part of the argument is deciding when the government has the right to compel a person to do something that is life-threatening, such as going through a pregnancy, when they don’t want to.
RELATED: Arkansas lawmakers OK anti-abortion monument at Capitol (AP News)
SUMMARY: A monument marking the number of abortions performed in Arkansas before Roe v. Wade was struck down would be built near the state Capitol under a bill lawmakers sent to Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Tuesday.
The majority-Republican House approved by a 60-19 vote a proposal allowing the creation of a “monument to the unborn” on the Capitol grounds. The bill, which the Senate approved earlier this month, requires the secretary of state to permit and arrange the placement of the monument.
MY TAKE: As philosopher George Santayana said, “Those who do not learn from the history are doomed to repeat it.” After all the discussions, protests, and death threats over Confederate memorials, Arkansas Republicans want to make the same mistake again by insulting and alienating women who had to make agonizing choices. One of the most painful times of their lives doesn’t require a public display for them to have to relive their trauma. Nor do we need a monument to shame women or to celebrate the removal of their basic rights. It is a monument to enslavement under a different name.
RELATED: Texas man sues ex-wife's friends, alleging they helped her get abortion pills in violation of state law (NBC News)
SUMMARY: A Texas man is suing three friends of his former wife, alleging that they helped her obtain abortion medication in violation of state law after the Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade last year.
MY TAKE: What makes this lawsuit so insidious is the attempt to undermine a woman’s support system of friendships in order to isolate her and make her feel even more powerless and alone. Women are being put on notice that if they help their friends, they can be prosecuted. The long-term effect is to make women more dependent on men. Clearly, anti-abortion laws that make this possible are about a lot more than abortion; they are about returning women to submissiveness.
RELATED: Five women denied abortion care in Texas sue state over bans (The Guardian)
SUMMARY: Five women denied abortions in Texas, along with two doctors, have sued the state after they were refused abortion care despite experiencing severe complications with their pregnancies.
“None of the plaintiffs’ fetuses had a chance of survival. The state’s abortion bans are supposed to allow for the procedure in cases where there is a fatal diagnosis for the fetus, as well as when the pregnancy poses substantial harms to the pregnant person’s health."
“And yet, under the overlapping abortion bans in effect in Texas – which threaten doctors with losing their medical licenses, hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and up to 99 years in jail for providing abortion care – the plaintiffs claim they were not given the healthcare they needed and were entitled to…”
MY TAKE: It’s encouraging to see people fighting back against the Republican war against women. The real war here isn’t just against women, it’s against reason. Conservatives believe they can defend every destructive decision by claiming the moral high ground. No evidence, no logic, no facts required. We’re right because we’re good; we’re good because we’re right.
This must not stand. It is the basis for every discriminatory law and hate crime (aren’t they the same thing?). This is the opposite of morality: it is merely people imposing their beliefs on others. These five women are fighting back. We can’t let them do it alone.
The only way I know that you support these special editions of my newsletter (Black History Month, Women’s History Month) is if you subscribe. Your subscription means you want me to keep doing them.
Kareem’s Video Break
I know I’ve shown this clip before, but there’s nothing like watching the complete abandonment and confidence in Wednesday’s dance to inspire one to be themselves.
Teen Girls Report Record Levels of Sadness, C.D.C. Finds (The New York Times)
SUMMARY: “Nearly three in five teenage girls felt persistent sadness in 2021, double the rate of boys, and one in three girls seriously considered attempting suicide, according to data released on Monday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The findings, based on surveys given to teenagers across the country, also showed high levels of violence, depression and suicidal thoughts among lesbian, gay and bisexual youth. More than one in five of these students reported attempting suicide in the year before the survey, the agency found.
“The rates of sadness are the highest reported in a decade, reflecting a long-brewing national tragedy only made worse by the isolation and stress of the pandemic.
“‘I think there’s really no question what this data is telling us,’ said Dr. Kathleen Ethier, head of the C.D.C.’s adolescent and school health program. ‘Young people are telling us that they are in crisis.’”
MY TAKE: When you look at the political agenda of conservatives, you see a pattern of trying to mold children into nostalgic versions of 1950s kids that existed only in the idealized movies, TV shows, and the blissful ignorance of parents. They imagine 16-year-old Kim (Ann-Margret) in Bye Bye Birdie giddily singing about becoming a woman:
How lovely to be a woman
And have one job to do:
To pick out a boy and train him
And then when you are through
You've made him the man you want him to be...
Life's lovely when you're a woman like me!
However, current attempts to recreate that snow globe life today are damaging to our kids. For example, attempts to curb sex education in high schools only resulted in increased pregnancies and STDs (“Abstinence-Only Education Is a Failure”). Conservative insistence on denying LGBTQ+ rights and support have increased suicide and hate crimes. The watering down of education institutions will make their kids less competitive and, well, less educated.
It’s much worse for girls. Boys are encouraged to become anything they want. Technically, so are girls. But the reality is that society has thrown an extra backpack onto their shoulders and loaded it with bricks of expectation: looks are more important than brains, athleticism is okay as long as you don’t show muscles, competitiveness is not attractive, and so on. Sure, we have lots of books, shows, movies, songs, and positive programs that say otherwise, but all young girls have to do is look at the systemic misogyny, revenge porn, peer pressure to be special but not too special, dress codes that demand “femininity,” weight-shaming, and every other pressure that is a loud and persistent thrum beneath the positivity. All the “Girl Power” posters in the world won’t change the truth that they see every day.
We can’t treat grown women as second-class citizens and expect girls to be hopeful about their futures. At least on a subconscious level, they already know that even if they do everything that is expected of them, they will still not be seen as or treated as an equal.
Pop Culture: Why “Scandoval” Matters
‘Vanderpump Rules’ Cheating Shocker Is Breaking the Internet (The Daily Beast)
SUMMARY: Cheating scandals within the Bravo universe are rarely ever devastating. Real Housewives fans often anticipate them. And it’s rarely a surprise when one of the guys on Southern Charm or Vanderpump Rules is caught making out with someone who isn’t their girlfriend. However, some explosive infidelity rumors involving Vanderpump Rules’ longest-standing couple are currently breaking Bravo fans’ hearts on social media.
“According to TMZ, VPR star Tom Sandoval has allegedly cheated on his girlfriend of nine years, castmate Ariana Madix, with none other than his co-star and the couple’s friend, Raquel Leviss. Now, a Page Six exclusive is claiming that the two had been inappropriately communicating ‘for months’ and ‘want to be together.’”
MY TAKE: Forget the cheating. That’s not the real story. It’s a reality show Passover question: Why is this betrayal so different from all other of the show’s betrayals?
First, we need context. Bravo was named #1 cable network among female viewers, targeting 25-to-54-year-old women as well as the LGBTQIA+ community. Their audience is 36.07% male and 63.93% female. To smugly dismiss the appeal of Bravo reality shows with an I’m-more-intellectual-than-though attitude is to miss how these shows help some women negotiate their various roles and deal with the stereotypes thrust upon them.
Second, we need to understand the significance of pop culture, not just in reflecting society, but also in revealing what’s ahead. They are the high-beam headlights on a dark, twisty road. We may only see hazy outlines, but we can see where to go and what to avoid.
Reality shows don’t illuminate the reality of everyday lives. Most viewers are savvy enough to understand the reality is skewed. Scenes are set up, sometimes reshot. But that too is a reality. Despite that manipulation, we see a version of reality that is even more interesting: people desperate for fame and public validation trampling through each other’s lives completely clueless that the refined personas they think they are projecting are not in their control at all. Just like real life.
And the consequences of their clumsy, petty, arrogant, kind, loving, contradictory stumbling are very, very real. Divorces are epidemic on all the Real Housewives shows. It seems to be in the DNA of the women who choose to join. They’re either looking to show the world how strong their relationship is in order to induce envy, or looking to make a career for themselves so they can divorce with an income and public support.
What makes Vanderpump Rules different is that when it launched in 2013, its cast was younger Millennials in their twenties and thirties working at a posh restaurant/bar under the oversight of now-former Real Housewife Lisa Vanderpump. They worked, they played, they got drunk, they fought, they lied, they cheated on each other. Entertaining, sure. But it also captured the zeitgeist of Millennial angst and aimlessness. Everyone was a wannabe actor, model, rock star—but the audience knew that this was as far as they would ever go. This was their pinnacle of artistic achievement. That gave the show a melancholy and tragic edge.
A Pew Research poll showed that of the oldest millennials nearing 40, only 30 percent lived with a spouse and a child in 2019. In 1968, 70 percent of those nearing 40 were living with a spouse and a child. That statistic isn’t necessarily bad news; after all, it’s better to be alone than with someone you don’t want to be with. But most of us agree it’s preferable to be with someone you love than alone. It’s a driving goal.
Over the ten years it’s been on, VPR at times implied that hope. Wild child Lala seemed to find love and maturity with her older film producer boyfriend. They even had a child. Then that all fell apart under a cheating scandal and business fraud accusations. And Katie and Tom Schwartz’s rocky marriage still seemed to show flickers of real love and devotion—until they divorced last year. Finally, Tom Sandoval and Ariana Madix, together for nine years, provided the foundation of hope that mature relationships based on love and mutual respect were still possible. Until it wasn’t.
And so the internet went crazy with disappointment and sadness, not just for Adriana, but for themselves as a generation that is, compared to previous generations, dating less, having sex less, marrying less, and having fewer children. It didn’t just break the internet, it broke a lot of viewers—64% of them women.
Kareem’s Jukebox Playlist
Carole King: “So Far Away”
There are so many reasons to feature Carole King in this edition of my newsletter celebrating women. She has written or co-written 118 pop hits on the Billboard Hot 100. Her 1971 album, Tapestry, held the record for most weeks at No. 1 by a female artist for more than 20 years. She’s won four Grammys and a lot of other prestigious awards.
That’s not my main reason for including her today. Most important, she’s a deft songwriter and powerful singer who provided the soundtrack for female empowerment in the 1970s when the movement needed a smart and sensitive voice. But I also admire her personal story of how she came to find her own voice. After an early marriage to Gerry Goffin, they collaborated on such standards as “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” and many other hits.
After their divorce in 1968, King struggled to launch her solo career until she hit with Tapestry. A very fictionalized account of this appears in one of my favorite movies, Allison Anders’ Grace of My Heart (which features a song “Boat on the Sea” that captures the struggles of finding one’s voice—and having the strength and courage to use it).
Why “So Far Away”? I know there are many more popular selections, but there’s a bluesy longing in this song that appeals to me. I also like seeing James Taylor sitting in with her, both of them embracing sincerity and hopefulness of the seventies.
Kareem, thank you for this, especially showing how the word feminism has been twisted from its real meaning, about young girls today being depressed to the point of considering suicide thinking about their future as they see how women are being abused by conservative lawmakers, even threatening the death penalty for women who have had an abortion. “This kind of intimidation by threat of violence is the same basic idea. Do what we say or we’ll kill you. It is thinly disguised domestic abuse.” Your blog needs reading, and rereading - so much to think about. Thank you.
Carole King is a national treasure, much like you, Kareem.