Wednesday, May 28, 2008

"I am never again voting for a male candidate."

What (some) feminists are saying:

“This election represents a turning point for me. I am changing my registration to the Green Party. And I am never again voting for a male candidate except in the unlikely event that a male candidate meets the conditions I outline below. I will vote for pro-choice women from any party…” –V (full text below)

“No more votes for men. No more. My entire professional/public life has been about, because of, by, for, and of "men," and now I'm finished.” -TH

“Maintaining a unified party front is not my responsibility as a voter; it's the party's responsibility.” -E

“In the electoral college system my vote means nothing and I'll probably cast it for McKinney, but I'm doing what I can for Obama and/or Clinton in the purple state 20 minutes north of here.” -M

“This is the hill I am prepared to die on. I'm not voting for men anymore.” -S

“There are 16/100 women U.S. Senators.

There are 87/535 women representatives.

There are 8/50 women governors in 2008.

There have been 0/43 U.S. Presidents.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. I do not believe things cannot change. This is my attempt at changing them”. –TH

“I may change my registration to Green, too. I think you might be better off doing that as an initial move. It's going to be a lot more obvious to the Dems that women are deserting them if they start registering en masse for the greens than simply by voting green.” -A

“VP? Many think she should turn it down. Women have had to work subordinate to less qualified junior men too often. It usually isn’t a good idea, and I don’t see this situation as an exception.” –O

“I urge [those of you] who think that feminists shouldn't vote with their feet and EXIT from the Democratic Party's base to think again. This primary campaign has made it clear that the male leaders of the Democratic Party feel they are under no obligation to feminist women who make up part of the Democratic base.” -Vera

— — —

“I do not care which person is your candidate. I don't care what you think of Hillary Clinton as a potential president. What is being done in the press is akin to a pack of rabid 7th graders trying to haze the nerdy girl in school simply because they can. It has nothing to do with her qualifications -- it has to do with gender, and these lemming pundits think that it's perfectly acceptable because everyone is doing it, including women like Andrea Mitchell and Anne Kornblut.
Treat her with disrespect simply because she is female, then you are treating every woman, everywhere, with disrespect. And we are not putting up with that shit.” -- Christy Hardin Smith, Firedoglake

— — —

Deborah Tannen: The Hillary Factor – why she can’t win.

— — —

From the Washington Post interview with Hillary Clinton (2008/5/19):

Q. One of the stories that has been well documented over and over again is basically how you've been treated by the media. Can you talk about that a little bit, because I get the idea that it's really pissed off a lot of women.

A. "I think it has. I think it's been deeply offensive to millions of women.

Q. Do you think this has been a particularly racist campaign?

A. I do not. I think this has been a positive, civil campaign. I think that both gender and race have been obviously a part of it because of who we are and every poll I've seen show more people would be reluctant to vote for a woman to vote for an African American, which rarely gets reported on either. The manifestation of some of the sexism that has gone on in this campaign is somehow more respectable or at least more accepted. And I think there should be equal rejection of the sexism and the racism when and if it ever raises its ugly head. But it does seem as though the press at least is not as bothered by the incredible vitriol that has been engendered by comments and reactions of people who are nothing but misogynists.

Q. Isn't that how it's always been though.

A. Oppression of women and discrimination against women is universal. You can go to places in the world where there are no racial distinctions except everyone is joined together in their oppression of women. The treatment of women is the single biggest problem we have politically and socially in the world. If you look at the extremism and the fundamentalism, it is all about controlling women, at its base. The idea that we would have a presidential campaign in which so much of what has occurred that has been very sexist would be just shrugged off I think is a very unfortunate commentary about the lack of seriousness that should be applied to any kind of discrimination or prejudice. I have spent my entire life trying to stand up for civil rights and women's rights and human rights and I abhor wherever it is discrimination is present.

— — —

Using my vote as a protest

“[…] I'm a registered Democrat and I've never voted for a Republican. I've also sent money, every year since I could first afford it, to the Democratic Party. I've sent money to every Democratic presidential candidate for the past several elections. When I worked on Capital Hill, I worked for a Democrat. I worked in the campaigns of two Democratic candidates (male, naturally).

This election represents a turning point for me. I am changing my registration to the Green Party. And I am never again voting for a male candidate except in the unlikely event that a male candidate meets the conditions I outline below. I will vote for pro-choice women from any party.

I feel as though I've spent most of my life working for men, helping them to advance their careers and obtain promotions and raises that I seldom see. My ideas have been appropriated, I've seen twenty- and thirty-something CEOs spend their start-up's money on questionable entertainment (guess what kind), and I've reported to many men who didn't have my smarts OR my experience. When I worked for a member of the House of Representatives, I was constantly harassed, culminating in the day I was locked in a closet and told that I couldn't come out until I "showed my legs" (I always wore pants, you see). That's the main reason I left Washington, many years ago, and decided that a political career was not for me.

I thought my eyes were open. But this past year has opened my eyes wider. I had truly underestimated the amount of woman-hating that the combined media and political punditry of our culture could produce.

So here's what I expect of the party to which I have shown allegiance all these years. I expect the leaders of the Democratic Party to stand up and loudly decry and reject the misogyny we've seen in this primary campaign. Barack Obama will soon be the leader of the party. I expect him to speak out and show that he understands that misogyny is a huge problem. I expect him to serve the women of this country, especially the women who have been hurt and disappointed by this primary campaign, by pointing out sexism and misogyny whenever and wherever it shows up. I need to see some sign that he gets it.

Here are the conditions under which I'd vote for a male candidate: He must give a speech similar to Hillary Clinton's statement to the UN's fourth world conference on women, in which she proclaimed that "women's rights are human rights." He must object, loudly, publicly, and often, when some misogynist sexist media tool refers to a woman as a bitch, or compares her to a nagging ex-wife, scolding mom, or punitive schoolteacher, or comments on her clothing, hair, thighs, age, or lack of "femininity," or suggests that she's got male organs, or says she is too aggressive, too argumentative, or too ambitious. In short, I will only support a male candidate who shows me that he understands that misogyny is poisoning our political discourse.

Whatever one thinks of Hillary Clinton, she is a leader of the Democratic Party and has worked as hard or harder than anyone on its behalf. She has given up a lot to lead a public life. The nearly all-male Democratic Party leadership owes it to her to express indignation at the way she has been treated by commentators in the press, television, and Internet, and by individuals within the party and within some campaign organizations.

If the nearly all-male Democratic Party leaders do not indicate in some effective way that they understand and reject a system by which women leaders are attacked, mocked, and undermined, then they do not deserve the support they have had from feminists, and I hope that millions of women depart, en masse, from the Democratic Party.” –Vera

“I urge [those of you] who think that feminists shouldn't vote with their feet and EXIT from the Democratic Party's base to think again. This primary campaign has made it clear that the male leaders of the Democratic Party feel they are under no obligation to feminist women who make up part of the Democratic base. Feminists can always be counted on to suck it up and vote Democratic. But I think feminists have got to get angrier, make that anger visible, and become a lot more strategic.

California is a perfect place to start. Obama will carry California. He doesn't need the votes of radical women like myself to do that. I am free to use my vote for another purpose: making my EXIT from the Democratic Party. My individual action will be noticed only if it is part of a larger movement, and I suspect that it will be. I would like to be part of a movement that makes the Democratic Party leadership wake up and realize that if they want our votes, they must show us that they take us seriously.

It's not correct that third party movements are pointless and ineffective. In the U.S., a shift in the focus of a major party occurs when a third party, or some other phenomenon (such as the recent rise in identifying as Independent), becomes a vehicle for carrying away some segment of the party's base. That sort of thing makes a party straighten up its priorities. If, in California, there's an increase in women registering as Green and a commensurate decrease in women registering as Democrat, the Democratic Party may notice.

Furthermore, if enough people lend money and energy, a third party can win office on the local and state level. The Democratic Party has communicated to me that I am excluded from the political conversation taking place on the national level; I'm only needed when it's time to cast my vote for the man who's going to protect me from government-owned uterus laws. On the state and local level, however, I could help elect some Green candidates who stand on a party platform that's much more aligned with my views.

Here's a portion of the Green Party's platform: "Since the beginning of what we call civilization, when men's dominance over women was firmly established until the present day, our history has been marred with oppression of and brutality to women. The Green Party deplores this system of male domination, known as patriarchy, in all its forms, both subtle and overt - from oppression, inequality, and discrimination to domestic violence, rape, trafficking and forced slavery. The change the world is crying for cannot occur unless women's voices are heard." *

This primary election has been an incredibly painful show to watch. But up until now, I always believed that attempting to vote strategically, as a feminist, would have been tilting at windmills. Now something has happened to mobilize our anger. It's a nascent anger, and I hope at least some women will step up to nurse it along until it's big enough, and powerful enough, to be HEARD.” -Vera

— — —

I am never again voting for a male candidate. -Dawn Coyote

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Homophobia persists at the American Psychiatric Association

Homosexuality was listed in the original, 1952 edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association, as a “sociopathic personality disorder”. In the 1968 revision (DSM-II), it was removed from the list of “sociopathic personality disorders” and listed instead with the “sexual deviations.” In 1973, homosexuality was officially “depathologized”, and listed in the DSM-III as a disorder only when it was ego-dystonic – it was only considered a problem worthy of diagnosis and treatment when a person’s sexual orientation was dissatisfying to them, or caused them significant distress. Through the subsequent three revisions (we are now to the text revision of the fourth edition of the classification system), treatment for ego-dystonic homosexuality has been permissible under the diagnosis, “Sexual Disorder Not Otherwise Specified”, which is appropriate for individuals who experience “marked and persistent distress about sexual orientation”.

“Treatment” for homosexuality is a sad chapter in the history of mental health treatment, with vestiges of such abhorrent practices as aversive conditioning (including plethysmograph-triggered genital shocking following exposure to homoerotic stimulus) still found in select backwaters of the mental health treatment world. But the religious prohibition against homosexuality has ensured that individuals will continue to experience profound conflicts about their sexual preference, and practitioners (almost exclusively affiliated with a major religious institution) have continued to devise methods for “treating” homosexuality.

The most prevalent model, “Reparative Therapy”, was developed by Joseph Nicolosi, director of the Thomas Aquinas Psychological Clinic. Though this approach was roundly criticized as a religious intervention operating under the guise of mental health treatment, a thriving population of conflicted gay Christians seeking relief from their “sinful” orientation provided the impetus for a cottage industry in “treatment” for their homosexuality. This approach soon came under fire, however, after a variety of high-profile cases in which parents had sought “treatment” for their adolescent children, eventually leading the American Psychological Association (the other “APA”) to draft a resolution in 1997 decrying this re-pathologizing of homosexuality, and disavowing coercive treatments for this supposed “disorder”.

But proponents of “Reparative Therapy” have remained active, and have generated some sympathy among powerful professionals, most notably Dr. Robert Spitzer, who as chair of the committee revising the third edition of the DSM was instrumental in the de-listing of homosexuality from the catalogue of mental disorders.

One of the most vocal of the remaining proponents for Reparative Therapy is Dr Kenneth Zucker. Needless to say, news that he has been appointed chair of the committee on Gender Identity Disorders for the fifth revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders has created some outrage among members of the LGBT and mental health communities, and interested members of the public.

If you feel the same way, please join us in protesting this appointment, and mitigate the insanity that apparently persists at the American Psychiatric Association.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Reading Whitman

The year is 1993; it is summer; I am in Taiwan. I have recently bought a copy of Leaves of Grass. It is very hot, and at first I am very reluctant to sing the body electric. I had read a few poems in high school and seen Dead Poet’s Society, and Whitman had always reminded me of Rococo revival, of class oral reports that lasted way too long, of Steven Spielberg movies, of anything that involved a great deal more inspiration than perspiration. I believe in editing. I thought Whitman didn’t.

Still, the English-language offerings in the city where I lived were limited, and at the time I could not handle Taiwan. Later I would learn to read; I would study calligraphy and learn about hot springs, order better food and find nicer lodgings. I would in the woods meet a bamboo python. I’d hang out with art dealers.

All that was later, pre-Whitman. For the moment I am deliriously unhappy as I read:

Of Life immense in passion, pulse, and power,
Cheerful, for freest action form’d under the laws divine,
The Modern Man I sing

And I think, once again, “Who is this clown?” He reminds me of the American bike-dealers who had lived in the city for decades and never bothered with a word of Chinese. The words seem more than ugly – they seem rude and stupid and delusional. I still think that.

But then I read “Vigil Strange I Kept On The Field One Night”, about spending the night next to a dead friend. It finishes

Vigil for comrade swiftly slain, vigil I never forget, how as day brighten’d
I rose from the chill ground and folded my soldier well in his blanket,
And I buried him where he fell

I decided I could handle depressed Whitman.

The Civil War gave Whitman plenty to brood over. It induced a phantasmagoria of a different order from his earlier work. The Artilleryman’s Vision, for example, describes a peacetime moment of hallucination for the artilleryman:

The skirmishers begin, they crawl cautiously ahead, I hear the irregular snap! snap!
I hear the sounds of the different missiles, the short t-h-t! t-h-t! of the rifle balls

This battle is more horrifying in retrospect, for the war never ends. Whitman is a poet of predawn visions. His language creates an alternate world that is sometimes fantasia and often hell. I’d always imagined his reveries as obnoxious, public affairs, chants before the crowd in the matter of preacher or cadre. In Taiwan I came to think of him differently, as a poet of the moments when nobody else is around, when talking about yourself is talking to yourself, when sense and nonsense are not entirely clear.

That’s what I felt like for a time in Taiwan. I was awake at the wrong hours, speaking the wrong language, moving in nonsensical rhythms. It lasted about three months. It rained a lot. I tried to teach English, tried to learn Chinese, tried to pay attention to the world at hand. It was useless. I was mostly alone, and all I had with me was Whitman. I couldn’t generate his passion, but in those moments when it felt like I was beyond any point of contact, it was nice to have a travel companion. Finally, after three months, I moved, and began to talk to people instead of myself, or Whitman. I’ve always been grateful for his help.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Dylan on a stick

The more interesting aspect of Dylan Watching the last four years or so hasn't been his new music, which is fine if a bit cornball and relying too much on the songwriter's reputation for a passing grade, but rather in how well, how brilliantly he's managed and manipulated his image and mythologies. Chronicles, the assumed first volume of an ongoing memoir, had him writing clearly about his influences and his struggles as an up and coming folkie in Greenwich Village in the Sixties, an intelligence that maintained a bucolic trace that never let on too much, too soon about what his fandom wanted to hear about.

I actually enjoyed Tarantula and still parts of it brilliant in ways that would have been interesting if Dylan had continued writing for books, especially the riffs on Aretha Franklin and the odd fellows who suit her, and especially the poem about the end of Bob Dylan, recited at the beginning of Todd Hayne's recent fantasy I'm Not There. As for film making, at least he's allowing professionals, Scorsese and Haynes, to put his accounts together. Masked and Anonymous, a film he takes credit for directing, should be canned and left on the bottom storage shelf of the dampest storage garage on can find.

I don't think that manipulating his reputation so much in recent years makes Dylan less of an artist, only that it's been the most ingenious expression of his art of late. The self-construction of his persona is crucial to his ability to write songs in the manner he did. The work does stand by itself once we deal with the albums and not the reputation, but like Miles Davis there is a context of rigorously maintained mystery about them that can't really be separated from the work.

Actually, I think Dylan's albums of new material in the nineties and the 2000s are among the best writing in decades, a sure recovery from the depressing drift of his work in the eighties. Love and Theft and Modern Times are the writings of an artist who has let his masks slip a little, allowed his defenses to open just a tad and allowed his thoughts to develop a clear, if haggard voice. None of the lyrics approaches his genius from his best work, but then again Davis never produced some quite like Kind of Blue after that, nor did Mailer attempt to write another Naked and the Dead. While I'm bored unto death with the packaging and repackaging of him as cultural icon, I do admire his willingness to move on to the next music to be written and played, regardless of what others might make of it.

He wasn't about to give away the core and cause of his mystique, and seemed determined to with hold more than he would reveal, a shrewd and measured use of his charisma and allure. The Martin Scorsese directed miniseries for PBS No Direction Home was, of course, a feast of obscure footage and interviews with Dylan and his fellows as they recalled his rise to stardom and their time basking in Bob's cold glow, but again it was a production underwritten and controlled by Dylan, with Scorsese being only the hired gun to bring it too market. Now, finally, thanks to NetFlix, I've seen I'm Not There, director and co writer Todd Hayne's movie that deconstructs, in several overlapping narratives derived from Dylan's factual biography and his self-mythologizing, with a series of actors including Christian Bale and Cate Blanchett taking turns doing impressions of the reclusive icon. I turned it off forty minutes into the DVD , my prurient interest in Dylan and the manner in which he continues to add layers to what's left of his charisma finally exhausted. It’s not that the various versions of Dylan here aren't good or canny; the actors are good mimics who imitate Dylan's accents and affectations from the differing periods of his life, from the days when he wanted to be Woody Guthrie and took to adding a twang to his speech and dropping his g's like were seeding an apple grove, to the citified version of himself, post Greenwich Village and Gerdes Folk City, when the media discovered him and he made himself another cryptic sage with a bag full of self-cancelling aphorisms perfect for the age of McLuhan. Blanchett gets this ideal of Dylan down perfectly, an angular, shock-theatre hair do, a firm, scowling face, a constant attack of the amphetamine jitters.

What brings it down is the lack of a story line that would make this fanciful and hard to take fan letter into something that would inspire my willing suspension of disbelief. There is something about Dylan’s fan base that nears a cult identity, and one picks it up from time to time when a writer starts speaking in a stream of Dylan’s, where song titles and oddments of phrase, riveting and hackneyed, substitute themselves for a real argument; you know the audience reading the stream just nods and grooves on the heaviosity it all. I posted about Dylan’s problematic Pulitzer a month ago, and the only response was from a writer who’d self-published a novel where the character names and the major plot lines are taken straight from Dylan lyrics. I haven’t read the book, but I would imagine it to be at least as annoying as the Beatles film Across the Universe, where a plot is contrived from that band’s lyrics to offer us up—what else?—a tour of the most over-studied clich├ęs of the Sixties. That I was getting the references this movie was making in the course of its unraveled narrative style made the matter more frustrating; it was depressing to realize that one had to be a Dylan obsessive to follow any of this at all. There has always been something cultish about Dylan's fans, but this, among other efforts since the start of the 21st century, is too close to the songwriter asking to be adored and coo'd over. He is willing to remind us again and again and yet again if we missed it the first time that he was a genius poet of the juke box, and we, a generation priding ourselves collectively for being so bright and hip to the Man’s trick of co opting our best ideas, seem more than willing to let this guy sell us our own memories.