Sexy Feminists Read: Sally Koslow’s ‘With Friends Like These’

friends-coverSally Koslow’s latest novel, With Friends Like These, tackles one of our favorite topics: the challenges of female friendships, especially as we grow up and grow older. We talked to Koslow(who graciously read at our recent Readings & Rubdowns series) about how men, marriage, and real estate can come between even the best of pals — and she gave us some very wise advice about nurturing our girl-on-girl friendships. (She is a very smart lady.)

You’ve said you wanted to show female friends growing apart over issues other than the traditional ones (i.e. men!). Can you talk about some of these other issues and why you chose them instead?

Whenever a commodity is scare, people will compete for it. In today’s world
where jobs are hard to come by, it’s not uncommon for friends to covet the same
position, especially since many of us met one another through our work. One of
the situations in With Friends like These focuses on a professional opportunity.
A second situation connects to kids: one spot at an excellent kindergarten that
two sets of parents would jump over a desk to get for their child. Again, with American schools not as strong as they once were, it’s a sign of the times that parents may come to blows over who gets into an excellent school. I know parents of high school seniors who refuse to divulge where their child has applied to college for fear that their friend’s kid will apply to the same school and be the stronger candidate. The third conflict in the novel arises over real estate. This may strike you as odd, but talk to any residential broker and you’ll discover it isn’t unusual for people who know one another to secretly chase the same appealing, well-priced house or condo.

Why is it so hard for women to remain friends over the years?

Women are pulled in more opposing directions than are men. We all simply have too many obligations and not enough time for ourselves. If something’s going to give, it will be friendship. Women also often have conflicted loyalties. There’s pressure for us to tell one another everything. We may want hold back if we feel that revealing intimacies would hurt our romantic partner, but some women get testy if they sense that girlfriends aren’t spilling their guts.

Did writing about evolving friendships give you any insights into how to handle your own?

Writing With Friends like These made me think about friendship almost obsessively. Some of the rules I developed along the way:

1) If a friend goes passive-aggressive on you, work things out. If necessary, impersonate grownups.

2) If you’re upset by something a friend does/says, react ASAP. The longer you ruminate, the more likely you’ll explode, which will lead So-So Friend to think you are the creep while she steeps in denial about her questionable

3) The ability to show compassion is possibly the best trait of all in friendship. If coupled with humor, nurture that friendship with profound care.

4) Show up. Show up again. Sometimes tit for consistent .75 tat is good enough.

5). Think before you gift. Don’t be the kind of person who buys a pregnant woman a belt.

6) Offer to accompany your friend to the biopsy and when asked to donate to her worthy cause, cough up.

7) Give advice and opinions in the sweet spot between innocuous and judgmental.

Any advice on dealing with a, let’s say, less-than-perfect friend?

Not every friendship is meant to last forever. The purpose of some is to teach a lesson. When a friendship starts to crumble, learn your lesson, and then think hard about putting the friendship on life support. Prolonging may ultimately cause hurt, while a gentle fade-out can be an act of kindness or at least relief.

Marriage and kids can often force friends to grow apart, even when they don’t want to. How do your characters deal with this? Is there any way to avoid it?

This is a toughie and my characters react to such obstacles with variable success. We all have to be extra generous when it comes to assessing our friends’ children and partners. Keep your observations to yourself.

Do you think real friendship can survive over decades? How?

You have to be smart about selecting the friends in which you invest emotions and time. After that, you have to be lucky, and hope you and your friends grow in the same direction and continue to respect one another and find each other interesting as the years pass. If you pick the right friends, relationships can last forever. I look at my mother-in-law. She’s had many of her friends since they were in their 20’s and when they’re together, they giggle like they’re 17, not 87.

SF Talking Points: Crazy Things Can Happen When You’re Fertile, A Site For Lady Journalists

3186775396_444aa08876Are We Really “More Like Mammals”?Adding to the recent evolutionary psychology trend, the study of “relationship maintenance,” an experiment conducted at Florida State University revealed some new things about how males react to ovulating women. According to the results, single males find fertile women more attractive, and men who are in a relationship with another woman find them less attractive. John Tierney of the New York Times wrote about it at length, taking it upon himself to draw quite a few conclusions from the bit of data available. Like, the men in relationships didn’t find the woman as good-looking as the others did, “…presumably because at some level they sensed she then posed the greatest threat to their long-term relationships. To avoid being enticed to stray, they apparently told themselves she wasn’t all that hot anyway.” This seems a bit dicey, because really, who knows why they didn’t find the woman attractive? They weren’t asked. Tierney goes on try to make sense of this, saying,

“Natural selection favored those who stayed together long enough to raise children: the men and women who could sustain a relationship by keeping their partners happy. They would have benefited from the virtue to remain faithful, or at least the wiliness to appear faithful while cheating discreetly.”

Libby Copeland at Slate’s XX Factor points out, though, that other evolutionary psychologists have posited that women want mates who are stable providers, while men just want to spread their seed. Hence, it seems that Tierney is attempting to have it both ways — which is kind of weird and contradictory. Copeland writes,

“But those are two entirely different scenarios. It’s one thing for the male subjects in the Florida State study not to find the ovulating woman attractive; another to find her attractive and want to cheat with her discreetly. If we can’t trust that this study distinguishes between those two desires, what conclusions can we really draw? How much can we believe that we’re seeing into the minds of these male subjects?”

Tierney’s article also cites previous “relationship maintenance” research, that has shown that when women are fertile, they’re “more interested in going to parties and dance clubs,” they dress better, and if they work at strip clubs, they make better tips. They are also more turned off by their partner if he is not that sexually attractive, and will want to shop around for another sex partner to make more attractive babies. “But this sort of infidelity is risky if the woman’s unsexy long-term partner finds out and leaves her alone to raise the child. So it makes sense for her to limit her risks by being unfaithful only at those times she’s fertile.”

Though this is supported by some data, mainly that women are hornier right before their period, it seems to me that Tierney is taking a lot of liberties in his interpretation of it — especially for a journalist, not a scientist. Is this article meant to prove that both men and women want to “spread their seed,” as it were? Or is it just a mix of overzealousness with a pinch of lofty but largely unfounded statements?

Ann Friedman Founds Website Dedicated to Women’s Writings: As I’ve mentioned in previousposts, female journalists are grossly underrepresented in big publications like the New Yorker, Harper’s, The Paris Review, etc. And while the stats that prove it, which VIDA, a women’s literary organization, compiled, made headlines and got women in the field sufficiently riled up, it seemed that unless you were a bigwig editor there wasn’t much you could do but keep writing. Alas! Ann Friedman, former deputy editor of the American Prospect and current freelance writer, realized that — but she also realized that by gathering the best of recent nonfiction writing by women and putting it all in one place, that just might be the extra push editors need to hire more female journalists. So she started the Tumblr Lady Journos! Hooray for women like Friedman who won’t take “inequality” for an answer — especially when the talent is out there, it just hasn’t been fully recognized yet.

Women’s Rights Are Bittersweet In Tunisia: It’s certainly worth celebrating the state of womankind in Tunisia. They have more rights than any other women in the Arab world: they were one of the first Arab countries to grant women the right to vote, they acquired abortion rights the same year as U.S. women, polygamy is against the law, more Tunisian women graduate from university than men, the ratio of male-to-female seats in Tunisia’s Parliament is more in favor of females than in France’s Parliament, and “miniskirts as common a sight as the Muslim head scarf in Tunis’s cityscape,” as Katrin Bennhold writes for the NYTimes. Still, their many advances toward equality doesn’t completely protect women from many of the groups that seek to oppress them. “The big unknown in Tunisia, Egypt and beyond is how fundamentalist — and how popular — Islamist groups who in the past were no friends of women’s rights still are,” Bennhold writes, referring to Iran and Afghanistan as Arab countries whose women once dressed like Westerners (Iran) and were allowed to attend college (Afghanistan). But hopefully in the case of Tunisia, where women have been educated and granted equal opportunities for decades, they won’t stand for any kind of reversal of their rights.

Also: You can click here to find out how your Congressional representative voted on the bill to defund Planned Parenthood. AND THEN you can send him/her a personalized thank you message from the PP website. (That is, if they voted against it.) So don’t be shy! It’s important to thank our politicians once in a while when they do good things — so they can keep doing them.

Top 5 Feminist Sci-Fi Heroines

leiaIn outer space, no one can hear your sexism.

As a lifelong sci-fi fan I’ve always gloried in the many rich portrayals of women in leadership roles, from captain of a starship to leader of a resistance army. Whether the constraints of the genre somehow free writers and show creators to take on gender in a new way, or whether sci-fi geeks are just more forward thinking, it works out well for the audience of female fans who want to see themselves in characters who are more than just bystanders.

To that end, here are the Top Five Feminist Sci-Fi Heroines:

1. Leia. Star Wars‘ princess took crap from no one, not even an eight-foot-tall Wookie. When she wasn’t blasting her way out of captivity on the Death Star right alongside her would-be rescuers, she was leading an underground rebel army on Hoth and strangling Jabba the Hut with her own leash. A Jedi by birth, she became a leader by virtue of difficult, secretive work, and without her there would have been no Rebel Alliance. And when she finally did hear a declaration of love from sexy Han Solo, it was prompted by her pulling a concealed weapon and killing the stormtrooper threatening them both.

starbuck2. Starbuck. While the modern iteration of space drama Battlestar Galactica had a number of fantastic female characters — flinty, courageous president Laura Roslin; conflicted Sharon Agathon, who lived a Cylon double life; strange, sexy Caprica Six — the most visible, complex and ultimately triumphant story of the series was that of Lt. Kara Thrace, the female reminagining of the original series’ kickass pilot, call sign Starbuck. This hard-drinking, high-flying, water-walking Viper jock packed a lot of punches into her petite blonde frame, and while her cockiness could grate, it was also justified by her chops in the cockpit. She spent most of the series fighting for survival, and in the end she led the fleet of what remained of humanity to its new home after a devastating nuclear attack. Her mindset is best described in recounting a scene in which she shot one enemy and then pointed a gun at another, smiling wolfishly. “Follow me,” she taunted him. “Please.”

delenn43. Delenn. Babylon 5‘s leading female character had roots in her species’ religious community, but her badassery was not to be denied. The Minbari warrior’s army fought Earth to a standstill and then made peace, and Delenn underwent a metamorphosis to share part of herself, literally, with the human race. When her new friends on the Babylon space station were threatened, she showed up in a ship and announced that the only people who had ever survived her type of attack were behind her. “You are in front of me,” she said. “If you value your lives, be somewhere else.” Played by the stunning Mira Furlan, known to other geeks as Danielle from Lost, her courage on behalf of all of her people, human and Minbari, was an audience’s inspiration.

4. Aeryn. Viewers of Farscape first met Aeryn when she pulled off her helmet, having finished solidly kicking the ass of series hero and American astronaut John Crichton. Over the show’s four seasons, Aeryn grew from a closed-off soldier for the genocidal Peacekeepers to an ally of the prisoners she was stranded with, fighting for their right to determine their own futures. In the process, she found hers, and love with Crichton, but that didn’t diminish her strength. Pregnant with his child and going into labor in the middle of a firefight, she grabbed a gun back when he tried to take it away from her. “Shooting makes me feel better!” Oh, Aeryn, never change.


normal_zoe_015. Zoe. Second in command of Serenity, the Firefly-class spaceship carrying a gang of thieves and mercenaries, Zoe Washburn is the strong and silent type. She met Captain Mal Reynolds while fighting for independence against the evil Alliance, and their browncoat friendship endured. Described by her pilot husband as being able to kill a man with her pinky, Zoe’s the one everyone else on the crew fears.

Princesses, Prince Charmings, and Fairytale Weddings

3230818186_de40786867Ours is a culture that is obsessed with the idea of women as royalty. Not in the lofty, noble sense that would imply that we are treated like royalty, i.e. deserving of respect and veneration — but in a more media-influenced, rhetorical sense that is simultaneously vague and totally particular. Terms like “princess” have pretty much been stripped of any traditional meaning (except thesubmissive part) and replaced with that of being hyper-feminine, pink-loving, spoiled, and completely appearance-reliant. And this royal, girlie-girl language is peppered throughout our cultural dialogue without any seeming awareness of what it may be inspiring. We still call little girls “princess.” Grown-up women dream of finding “Prince Charming.” Even if you are, say, the former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and you are being interviewed by an (apparently sexist) talk show host like Piers Morgan, you can expect questions like, “Do you dream of a fairytale wedding?”, and “Are you high maintenance?”

So when I decided to read Peggy Orenstein’s new book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter, it wasn’t because I’m trying to navigate the world of Bratz dolls and Hannah Montana for my own offspring. I’m only 20 years old and do not have or currently want offspring. I wanted to read it because I’ve watched the show Toddlers and Tiaras. I saw Piers Morgan’s cringe-inducing interview with Rice. I babysit a 3-going-on-4 year old who just adores anything pink, fairy-like, princessy, butterfly-laden, or all four combined — and the extremity of it all led me to wonder what I liked when I was a child, how that translates to who I am now, and how her (and all other young girls’) intense girlie-girlishness will inform who they become. Although Orenstein doesn’t come to many definitive conclusions herself about what to make of it all — which is partly why the book is so good — I found out a lot of stuff about the new culture of sugar, no spice, and everything nice.

For one, arguably the most important moment in the timeline of girlie-girl culture was the launch of the Disney Princess brand: separate female Disney characters from different movies that were grouped together in one line of products. A marketing ploy. The plague of Princess was upon us in 2000, when former Nike exec Andy Mooney came up with the idea after seeing a bunch of girls in homemade princess dresses at a Disney on Ice show. By 2009, Disney Princess had made $4 billion in sales.

And yet, Orenstein writes, “Part of the genius of ‘Princess,’ Mooney admitted, is that its meaning is so broadly constructed that it actually has no meaning.” But she is not satisfied with that answer. Clearly, Disney Princess (and the many other irresistible, but questionable, brands that promote the same things and affect girls in similarly unhealthy ways) has some meaning if it is making such an impact. And one thing that I know for sure about this generation, after reading Cinderella Ate My Daughter, is that image is being prided over most other things under the guise of girls now being able to “own” their looks, their sexuality, etc. But when it’s everyone’s top priority, it’s more likely that their preoccupation with appearance is not for their own benefit, but to please others.

“Though appearance shouldn’t dictate how [girls] are treated by others — let alone their self-worth — it does. Talent? Effort? Intelligence? All are wonderful, yet by middle school, how a girl feels about her appearance — particularly whether she is thin enough, pretty enough, and hot enough — has become the single most important determinant of her self-esteem (which, by the way, makes self-esteem itself a trickier concept than most people realize; it is not an inherent good but must be derived from appropriate sources). If Princesses, Moxies, and Mileys are not responsible for that exactly, Lord knows they reinforce it.”

While Orenstein starts with the goal of finding out the who/what/where/when/whys and the effects of the princess and pink phenomenon, other questions surface, and she ends up tackling more problems than you might have expected upon flipping open the book (which is hot pink, sparkly, and — unfortunately — looks from far away like teen chick lit). She dives into most issues after recounting situations with her daughter Daisy when she either didn’t know what to do, or regretted whatever decision she ended up making. When Daisy spots a sticker on a mailbox, for example, with an unflattering caricature of Hillary Clinton, proclaiming, “THE WICKED WITCH OF THE EAST IS ALIVE AND LIVING IN NEW YORK,” and asks what it says, Orenstein mulls over how to explain it to her — or if she should. Because the bleak truth is that, no matter what you look like, whether you’re Hillary Clinton or Sarah Palin, your looks are going to be just as important as anything else if you are a female in the spotlight. (This brings to mind the current obsession over Michelle Obama’s fashion statements.)

The book covers nearly every corner of modern girlhood — from real, valuable reporting at a beauty pageant that shows you what Toddlers and Tiaras doesn’t: the humanity of the people involved, toTwilight, to our obsession with weight, to the underlying messages in fairy tales, to social networking. It becomes ever more apparent that the new girlie-girl culture is less bright and pink and hopeful and more of a dark, grim, overgrown forest. Because the people marketing not just these products, but a certain lifestyle, to little girls know that parents will take the easy way out. They will buy the marginally less sexy version of a Bratz doll — a Moxie Girlz Doll — because at least it’s not as bad. Since we’ve become numb to consumerism and to what’s appropriate these days, we are less hesitant and more likely to be taken advantage of. And while it may not affect us directly, we who have already learned a certain cynicism about advertising and the media, it has the potential to undo many of the important strides that have been made in the last half-century to advance the roles of women in the world. And that’s by targeting future women.

Orenstein won’t preach to you. Since she doesn’t have all the answers, she keeps asking questions. She’s not afraid to admit when things seem blurry to her, or to make sense of them out loud (well, on paper). And this persistence, this unwillingness to find an easy solution is what makes her reliable. And while at times it seems disheartening that the author seems to keep getting snagged by new obstacles, it also feels like she is the best possible guide through this unfamiliar, uncharted territory.

Rihanna: Taking Sexy Feminism to the Extreme

rihannafm_606x900-1Rihanna’s turning out to be quite the complicated figure, isn’t she? The gorgeous girl who gave us one of the greatest pop gifts ever in “Umbrella” once seemed headed for pretty-woman-who-sings-dance-hits-with-little-meaning territory; then, she became national news in the most unfortunate of ways, by being beaten by then-boyfriend Chris Brown at a pre-Grammy event two years ago. Now she’s emerged as a fascinating presence in pop: Yes, she still dabbles in those fluffy dance tunes (see her duet with Drake, “What’s My Name,” performed quite sexily at last night’s Grammys), but she’s made going pantsless into an act of empowerment (with a strong assist from Gaga and Beyonce, of course). And, more than anything, she also packs the occasional single with an unexpected truckload of meaning.

Case in point, her newest single, “S&M.” Though she certainly pushed some buttons last year with her Eminem collaboration “Love the Way You Lie” — in which she sings, “Just gonna stand there and watch me burn/But that’s alright because I like the way it hurts” — her latest challenges listeners to process her personal life and artistic expressions at a whole different level. First, there’s the (extremely singable) refrain, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but whips and chains excite me.” Then, there’s the video, which plays as both a critique on the media coverage of her troubles (reporters are shown gagged at a press conference while she’s trapped under cellophane against a wall, and she walks gossip blogger Perez Hilton on a leash) and, more provocatively, her penchant for S&M (she’s shown tied up, in latex, and wearing a Playboy Bunny costume, among other scenarios). There’s no actual sex, and everything is art-directed to the hilt, giving it a heightened, pop-art vibe — it’s hardly realistic. And yet it’s been banned in 11 countries and protected by an 18-plus filter on YouTube. The song itself has been relegated to evening-play-only on many radio stations, and she wasn’t allowed to perform it at the recent Brit Awards. All this hysteria seems a bit overblown, to the point where it’s hard not to suspect a bit of sexism. Women are objectified constantly in rap and rock videos by male artists, yet apparently aren’t allowed to express specific desires themselves. Remember Justin Timberlake’s once-omnipresent “SexyBack,” in which he sings, “You see these shackles/Baby, I’m your slave”? That, it seems, was just fine. As Charlsie at College Candy points out, it’s likely no one would have trouble handling JT in such an oversexed video. And it must be noted that “Love the Way You Lie” — in which Eminem raps about tying a girlfriend to the bed and setting it afire — was praised widely, played without restrictions, and featured at the Grammys. I support this — I see it as a nuanced look behind the cycle of domestic violence, and a discussion-provoker. But why can’t Rihanna express her kinkier side as well?

It might be because of a feeling some bloggers have expressed — that the song and video are hypocritical for a woman who ultimately pressed charges against Brown for his assault against her. (I won’t dignify any of those with a link here, but they’re out there.) This line of thought, however, is exactly what makes “S&M” more than a fun song about fetish. There couldn’t be anything more dangerous than the assumption that a woman who likes a little bondage in the bedroom deserves to be beaten. It’s a she-was-asking-for-it argument taken to a skewed extreme, and it’s a controversy she could have chosen not to court. Instead, she put her complicated feelings into song and made a danceable pop tune that happens to challenge some serious assumptions along the way. And by the way, is she also saying something pretty interesting about the relationship between media and celebrities by equating it with S&M?

These are particularly bold moves for a woman who’s chosen not to speak much publicly about the Brown incident. She’s putting herself out there in her art, and letting listeners and viewers interpret for themselves — the act of a true artist and provocateur. The fact that her messages are pretty damn catchy is just a bonus.

The Attack On Planned Parenthood (or, Why Margaret Sanger Is Turning Over In Her Grave)

3783315259_20ee5eb7f7I’m sure you all know that the Republicans of the House of Representatives are making it their mission to wipe away nearly a century of progress of fighting for women’s reproductive freedom and accessibility to nationwide family planning centers. And that it’s all under the guise of, ahem, “fiscal restraint.” But what’s been really unnerving are the secretly recorded videotapes, by an organization called Live Action, of Planned Parenthood employees’ reactions to “pimp” and “prostitute” actors asking about STD and abortion information for underage sex workers. And it’s not because they’re really exposing anything new or scandalous. They’re just sensationalizing to make it seem like they are. Ever since the tapes were released, and heavily publicized, everyone has been all up in arms — either because they’ve fallen for Live Action’s misleading and heavily edited videos that claim to reveal that Planned Parenthood is actually a nefarious organization (because they disclosed young persons’ legal rights), or because they are sick and tired of the right wing media’s sheer disregard for reality.

But these videos aren’t anything new, Amanda Marcotte of RH Reality Check points out. Lila Rose, the President of Live Action, “has been doing this for roughly forever, and it tends to go nowhere, because she uses deceptive editing and blatant lying, and there was no reason for [pro-choice activists] to believe it would be different this time.” Except it was different this time, because these videos ran alongside the most powerful governmental assault on Planned Parenthood that we’ve seen in years.

As I mentioned in a previous post, federal money was used for an infinitesimal number (191) of abortions in 2006, and only in cases of rape, incest, or when the health of the mother was at risk. So abortion is really not the problem; it’s costing taxpayers a mere fraction of a penny each. And if the removal of Planned Parenthood proves successful, what will they do about the 1.85 million low-income women who depend on those clinics? “It just doesn’t come up. There’s not even a vague contingency plan,” Gail Collins writes. “There are tens of millions Americans who oppose abortion because of deeply held moral principles. But they’re attached to a political movement that sometimes seems to have come unmoored from any concern for life after birth.”

This is what will happen if the right-wing runs Planned Parenthood out of business: low-income American women will have to fall back on Medicaid. But, as KJ Dell’Antonia outlines, this is counter-productive — because every dollar of public funding that is spent on family planning services saves Medicaid $4.02 the next year. So why would Indiana Rep. Mike Pence (and the 154 colleagues that are backing him) endorse “an action that would effectively cost taxpayers some $1.2 billion?”

The thing is, it’s not about fiscal concerns. It’s about radical social and, what is considered to some, “moral”, views. It’s about a certain type of man who still, even today, deep down, needs to know that he has some control over women. And about women, who I wish I could say I understood, like Lila Rose. Who for some reason either don’t want the rights to their own body, or have never and will never need to go to a Planned Parenthood — and don’t want any other American woman to have the right to go either. Writes Collins:

“‘Planned Parenthood aids and abets the sexual abuse and prostitution of minors,’ announced Lila Rose, the beautiful anti-abortion activist who led the project. The right wing is currently chock-full of stunning women who want to end their gender’s right to control their own bodies. Homely middle-aged men are just going to have to find another sex to push around.”

If you just watch a Live Action video (preferably one that is unedited, like those that Media Mattershave fortunately unearthed), you’ll know that Rose’s statement is radical and untrue. Thus, the question is not “is Planned Parenthood really promoting underage prostitution?” it’s, “What the hell are we gaining from making people think that they are?”

Money, politics, religion, and the “sanctity of the family” might be the facade that radical anti-women’s rights (because this is beyond abortion now) people hide behind, or naively believe in — but really, it’s about the same old things. Control. Power. Subjugation. Gloria Steinem wrote about Margaret Sanger in a 1998 Time’s 100 Most Important People Of The Century article. What she wrote 13 years ago holds just as much weight in the political sphere today.

“One can imagine Sanger’s response to the current anti-choice lobby and congressional leadership that opposes abortion, sex education in schools, and federally funded contraceptive programs that would make abortion less necessary…As in her day, the question seems to be less about what gets decided than who has the power to make the decision.”

And since the decisionmakers simply reply: “What is more fiscally responsible than denying any and all funding to Planned Parenthood of America?” (Rep. Mike Pence), then, as Irin Carmon puts it, “How can you debate someone who exists in an alternate version of reality?”

Steinem wrote about Sanger, “She taught us, first, to look at the world as if women mattered.”

It seems so simple. So decades later, why can’t we?

SF Talking Points: Italian Women vs. Berlusconi, Foxy News

2576696449_0fffa6bfc8What Italian Women Really Think About Berlusconi: While it seemed, according to recent news, that Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s scandalous sex life was either being accepted or celebrated by most countrymen, Italy’s women do not approve, to say the least. As Elisabetta Povoledo writes in a recent NYTimes article,

“Italy significantly trails European Union counterparts on equality indicators like employment of women or women in leadership positions, and indignant women say the latest scandal highlights a troubling message: the way for a woman to get ahead in Italy is to sell her soul, if not her body, to powerful men.”

According to the article, some 73,500 people signed a petition on the liberal newspaper L’Unità’s website, which asked Italian women to say “enough already” to Berlusconi and his callous and irresponsible behavior. And on February 13th, a nationwide protest promoted by women is scheduled to take place. But perhaps this is a blessing in disguise.

Povoledo continues:

“Decades after a feminist movement helped bring significant changes, including legal abortion and divorce, some argue that Italian women are worse off today than in the past. ‘It’s as if we’ve gone backwards since the ’70s,’ said Antonella Giacobbe, 55, as she attended a recent meeting in Rome of Filomena, a women’s advocacy group.”

It would be much worse if Italian females were only silently angry. Now that they have a concrete issue to rally behind, maybe they will be able to construct a new image for themselves, different from the “veline” (“hot-bodied showgirls who since the 1980s have been the hallmark of Mr. Berlusconi’s television network”) — with whom they complain that they don’t identify at all. And more than that, with enough support they may finally be able to command the treatment and respect that they want (and deserve) as women.

House Republicans Remove “Forcible Rape” From Antiabortion Bill: But not before The Daily Show could demystify the term for everyone! (Watch that video. We all know that the definition of ‘rape’ can be confusing at times, but Kristen Schaal guides us through it, clearing up the confusion between ‘rape-rape’, ‘rape-ish’, and ‘rape-with-benefits’.) Nonetheless, the “No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act” and the terrible sentiments toward women’s reproductive rights in general that the Republican House majority is trying to ease into our country’s dialogue are very dangerous. Not only does the name of the bill trick Americans into believing that the government is gobbling up their money to kill fetuses left and right — when really, in 2006 (the most recent year there is data for), federal money covered only 191 abortions in cases of rape, incest, or when the health of the mother was at risk. As Schaal points out, that adds up to 2/10 of a penny per taxpayer.

So what’s the point? Essentially, if the bill was enacted, another provision would include the imposition of tax penalties on people/small businesses with insurance plans that cover abortions. So more people would get insurance plans that don’t cover abortion. So insurance companies would stop covering abortion. (Irin Carmon’s article for Jezebel provides a more comprehensive outline of the potential — and likely — consequences of the bill.) It’s not that Republicans don’t want rape victims who end up pregnant to be able to choose to get an abortion. It’s that they don’t want anyone to be able to choose to get an abortion.

Fox News Is Grosser Than You Thought: A few months ago I went to see a burlesque parody of Fox News, aptly titled “Foxy News”. I didn’t realize how spot-on it really was. Check out this videocompiled by Media Matters, which proves that Fox is not only your number one source for sensationalist, inaccurate news, but it’s also the one network that upholds family values — like objectifying women, keeping them in their place (you know, the kitchen), as well as looping videos of scantily-clad ladies dancing on a beach in Mexico while reporting completely irrelevant news: the dangers of drug cartels (see 2:11).

New Line Of Kids Makeup At Wal-Mart to Corrupt 8-Year Olds: And the Atlantic Wire has come up with three reasons why. 1) It’s a gateway drug (“the earlier you start with lip gloss, the earlier you start feeling that lip gloss is for babies,” writes Slate’s KJ Dell’Antonia), 2) cosmetics in general damage self-esteem, and 3) the makeup includes ‘anti-aging’ ingredients — which is just weird.Some think that making a big deal out of kiddie makeup is silly, but I tend to agree. I started wearing makeup when I was 14 because I was too embarrassed of the mountain range-like acne on my cheeks to not want to cover it up — but I always felt kind of gross slathering stuff on my face, and wished I didn’t have to. But once you get used to yourself with makeup, it’s difficult to accept yourself without it, and I personally wouldn’t wish that on anyone. Especially not elementary school girls.

Arguing with Imaginary Women

Jill at Feministe asks a question, in reference to something Slate’s William Saletan is going on about in his usual “other people’s actual lives are my detached and lovely postgraduate seminar” way:

If there are no medical reasons and abortion is fully accessible and the fetus is past the point of viability, then I’m fine with saying no, that woman’s “abortion request” should not be “granted” (gah). But let’s also be clear that the number of women seeking post-viability elective abortions for no medical reason at all who also had full access to early abortion is a really really tiny number. It’s significantly less than the number of women who have abortions after 21 weeks of pregnancy, which is a whopping 1.5% of abortions (or 18,000 total). And Saletan, I think, is talking about abortions which women would want to have more than 24 weeks into a pregnancy. There aren’t statistics on that (at least as far as I can find), but I don’t think anyone would dispute that it’s minimal.

So here’s where I’m confused: Why are we focusing on the tiny number of women who want to have post-viability elective abortions when (a) that’s illegal anyway, as evidenced by the fact that Gosnell was arrested for it so there isn’t really much of an argument to be had; and (b) there are all of these issues surrounding access and contraception use and the demonization of abortion that impact infinitely more women?

We’re debating the rights of some group of theoretical women who want to have post-viability abortions, and who have no medical reason to do so, and who were perfectly able to access abortion earlier in their pregnancies. Why? Seriously, why are we doing that?

Why? Because it’s fun for us to argue with imaginary women. Real women, after all, tend to have stupid things like “actual problems” and “lives” instead of “sets of circumstances I can construct to make them seem like dumb sluts.” If we put half the time and attention into filling societal needs that we presently put into constructing elaborate examples that will get us out of feeling guilty for not giving the least bit of a shit, we would have no worries in this country.

But that’s not how we do things. Our national pastime has become finding the anecdote that will allow us to feel okay about not helping people. Like, lately that’s about all we do, make these paper dolls and put all this irresponsible, stupid, uncaring paper clothing on them specifically so we can set them on fire. We’re focusing on the tiny number of women who conform to this particular kind of messed-up behavior:

But we’ll still be left with some women who, for no medical reason, have run out the clock, even to the point of viability.

Just because if we can find one dumb slut who fits that mold, that will mean nobody will need to have an abortion ever, because that slut is dumb. Because that’s how it works now. One example of a person who is a creep, and the entire system is invalidated and everybody in it can go to hell and die. I mean it, ask anybody about anything, and you wind up with “people on welfare all suck because this one chick in the grocery line yesterday was a bitch to me and she had food stamps,” basically.

You know, until we can come around to the idea that we will have to work with a certain number of assholes in order to help millions of people and guarantee them their legal rights, we will never get anywhere as a society.

So we are talking about a tiny number of women because it is just easier for us. And you know, it never really does ever work the other way, does it? People like Saletan never have to justify every example proponents of abortion rights can come up with of a woman for whom abortion was a necessary and just choice. It’s only those of us on the other side of the issue who have to have an answer for every single daffy set of variables that get pulled out of the bingo ball that day.