Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

Rich white man declares victory for feminism

Here is Ross Douthat explaining why a billionaire, anti-choice zealots, and right-wing extremists hijacking U.S. politics is a victory for vaginas everywhere.

When historians set out to date the moment when the women’s movement of the 1970s officially consolidated its gains, they could do worse than settle on last Tuesday’s primaries.

I’ll give him points for a hilariously hyperbolic opening. Make your case, sailor.

It was a day when most of the major races featured female candidates, and all the major female candidates won. They won in South Dakota and Arkansas, California and Nevada. They won as business-friendly moderates (the Golden State’s Meg Whitman); as embattled incumbents (Arkansas’s Blanche Lincoln); as Tea Party insurgents (Sharron Angle in Nevada). South Carolina gubernatorial hopeful Nikki Haley even came in first despite multiple allegations of adultery.

But mostly, they won as Republicans. Conservative Republicans, in fact. Conservative Republicans endorsed by Sarah Palin, in many cases. Which generated a certain amount of angst in the liberal commentariat about What It All Meant For Feminism.

The question of whether conservative women get to be feminists is an interesting and important one. But it has obscured a deeper truth: Whether or not Palin or Fiorina or Haley can legitimately claim the label feminist, their rise is a testament to the overall triumph of the women’s movement.

Yesterday, I wrote about media pundits’ propensity to portray the extremely old and familiar as fresh and exciting. They do this to sell papers, drum up website hits, and to appear insightful and necessary. Maybe a handful do it out of boredom, or stupidity, believing what they are seeing really is something revolutionary.

In reality, there is nothing more sexist than assuming any woman’s political victory — regardless of the type of woman — is a progressive step forward for the feminist movement. Women are people, and people are a diverse bunch. It still matters what kind of woman wins the election. And the kind of women that won these races are either preposterously wealthy, staunch anti-feminists, or a healthy combination of both.

What happened on election day is an old story: rich, mostly white, right-wingers won. Oh, and they also happen to be girls. Hooray.

Basically, it will take more than Douthat calling this a victory for feminism to make it so.

California

Meg Whitman, the billionaire former eBay chief executive, won the Republican nomination for governor after spending a record $71 million of her money on the race. Quite simply, Whitman bought her victory, and this has nothing to do with the bonds of sisterhood or feminine strength. This is corporatism in a skirt.

In fact, Whitman herself seems to hate the notion of feminism. At least, she certainly doesn’t want anyone calling her such an offensive term. When asked if she is a feminist, Whitman replied, “I am a big believer in equal rights for all people … in a level playing field.” But she said, “I’m not a big label person.”

This could be NOW’s new slogan: Taking action for women’s equality since 1966…or whatever…we’re not big label people.

Arkansas

I know when Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony were taking on the male-dominated establishment, what sustained them was the thought that one day Blanche Lincoln (D-Walmart) would squeak out a victory despite being a corporate whore.

Apparently, it doesn’t matter than Lincoln is a turncoat Blue Dog Democrat, who voted with Republicans to allow warrantless government surveillance, the invasion of Iraq, and shot down the public option. All that matters is the stuff between her legs, which sort of goes against the whole notion of “feminism,” but nevermind. A girl won!

Nevada

And then there’s Sharron Angle. I’ve written about her support of the right-wing extremist fringe, but Douthat skims over such silly details for the sake of preserving his narrative i.e. Things Are Super Awesome For Women Right Now. He’s going to jam this premise down your throat even though women earn around 79% of men’s median weekly salaries, and Congress just passed a healthcare bill that dramatically diminishes a woman’s right to choose the fate of her own body.

Angle proposed a bill that “would have required doctors to inform women seeking abortions about a controversial theory linking an increased risk of breast cancer with abortion.” (The abortion-causes-breast cancer theory is a myth, and was spread, in part, to discourage abortions). But I hear lying to scared, pregnant women for the sake of controlling their bodies is all the rage right now in the neo-feminist movement.

South Carolina

Other than the novelty of having survived not one — but multiple — allegations of adultery, Nikki Haley is extremely typical of the right-wing fringe. She has a 100 percent rating from the anti-abortion S.C. Citizens for Life group, and she calls on her website for the deportation of illegal immigrants. Oh, and if any of her white supremacist base, who may confuse her for a “raghead,” were concerned, don’t worry. She converted to Christianity.

Modern Republicans have grown wise to the fact that they’re never going to defeat feminism. Try as they did to shame, humiliate, and dismiss feminists as a bunch of ugly, barren spinsters, who refuse to shave their legs and can’t land a man, the propaganda campaign didn’t stick. Now, they’re left with only one option: hijack the movement.

In the same way President Obama’s victory was a sign that affirmative action is “no longer necessary,” so the victories of a handful of women (be they billionaires, right-wing extremists, turncoats, or militant anti-choicers) herald the dawn of a new feminism: one that is staunchly anti-woman, and represents only a class of wealthy, pro-Business, right wing extremists.

(more…)

Despite the Riots and Threats, I Stand By What I Wrote

Posted in religion by allisonkilkenny on February 14, 2009
EPA)

Calcutta's troubled population is easily stirred up into protests (Photo: EPA)

Drunken Politics’ interview with Johann Hari will air next week.

Johann Hari

Last week, I wrote an article defending free speech for everyone — and in response there have been riots, death threats, and the arrest of an editor who published the article.

Here’s how it happened. My column reported on a startling development at the United Nations. The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights has always had the job of investigating governments that forcibly take the fundamental human right to free speech from their citizens with violence. But in the past year, a coalition of religious fundamentalist states have successfully fought to change her job description. Now, she has to report on “abuses of free expression” including “defamation of religions and prophets.” Instead of defending free speech, she must now oppose it.

I argued this was a symbol of how religious fundamentalists — of all stripes — have been progressively stripping away the right to freely discuss their faiths. They claim religious ideas are unique and cannot be discussed freely; instead, they must be “respected” — by which they mean unchallenged. So now, whenever anyone on the UN Human Rights Council tries to discuss the stoning of “adulterous” women, the hanging of gay people, or the marrying off of ten year old girls to grandfathers, they are silenced by the chair on the grounds these are “religious” issues, and it is “offensive” to talk about them.

This trend is not confined to the UN. It has spread deep into democratic countries. Whenever I have reported on immoral acts by religious fanatics — CatholicJewish, Hindu or Muslim — I am accused of “prejudice”, and I am not alone. But my only “prejudice” is in favor of individuals being able to choose to live their lives, their way, without intimidation. That means choosing religion, or rejecting it, as they wish, after hearing an honest, open argument.

A religious idea is just an idea somebody had a long time ago, and claimed to have received from God. It does not have a different status to other ideas; it is not surrounded by an electric fence through which none of us can pass.

That’s why I wrote: “All people deserve respect, but not all ideas do. I don’t respect the idea that a man was born of a virgin, walked on water and rose from the dead. I don’t respect the idea that we should follow a “Prophet” who at the age of 53 had sex with a nine-year old girl, and ordered the murder of whole villages of Jews because they wouldn’t follow him. I don’t respect the idea that the West Bank was handed to Jews by God and the Palestinians should be bombed or bullied into surrendering it. I don’t respect the idea that we may have lived before as goats, and could live again as woodlice…. When you demand “respect”, you are demanding we lie to you. I have too much real respect for you as a human being to engage in that charade.”

An Indian newspaper called The Statesman — one of the oldest and most venerable dailies in the country — thought this accorded with the rich Indian tradition of secularism, and reprinted the article. That night, four thousand Islamic fundamentalists began to riot outside their offices, calling for me, the editor, and the publisher to be arrested — or worse. They brought Central Calcutta to a standstill. A typical supporter of the riots, Abdus Subhan, said he was “prepared to lay down his life, if necessary, to protect the honour of the Prophet” and I should be sent “to hell if he chooses not to respect any religion or religious symbol… He has no liberty to vilify or blaspheme any religion or its icons on grounds of freedom of speech.”

Then, two days ago, the editor and publisher were indeed arrested. They have been charged — in the world’s largest democracy, with a constitution supposedly guaranteeing a right to free speech — with “deliberately acting with malicious intent to outrage religious feelings”. I am told I too will be arrested if I go to Calcutta.

What should an honest defender of free speech say in this position? Every word I wrote was true. I believe the right to openly discuss religion, and follow the facts wherever they lead us, is one of the most precious on earth — especially in a democracy of a billion people rivven with streaks of fanaticism from a minority of Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs. So I cannot and will not apologize.

I did not write a sectarian attack on any particular religion of the kind that could lead to a rerun of India’s hellish anti-Muslim or anti-Sikh pogroms, but rather a principled critique of all religions who try to forcibly silence their critics. The right to free speech I am defending protects Muslims as much as everyone else. I passionately support their right to say anything they want — as long as I too have the right to respond.

It’s worth going through the arguments put forward by the rioting fundamentalists, because they will keep recurring in the twenty-first century as secularism is assaulted again and again. They said I had upset “the harmony” of India, and it could only be restored by my arrest. But this is a lop-sided vision of “harmony”. It would mean that religious fundamentalists are free to say whatever they want — and the rest of us have to shut up and agree.

The protesters said I deliberately set out to “offend” them, and I am supposed to say that, no, no offense was intended. But the honest truth is more complicated. Offending fundamentalists isn’t my goal — but if it is an inevitable side-effect of defending human rights, so be it. If fanatics who believe Muslim women should be imprisoned in their homes and gay people should be killed are insulted by my arguments, I don’t resile from it. Nothing worth saying is inoffensive to everyone.

You do not have a right to be ring-fenced from offense. Every day, I am offended — not least by ancient religious texts filled with hate-speech. But I am glad, because I know that the price of taking offense is that I can give it too, if that is where the facts lead me. But again, the protesters propose a lop-sided world. They do not propose to stop voicing their own heinously offensive views about women’s rights or homosexuality, but we have to shut up and take it — or we are the ones being “insulting.”

It’s also worth going through the arguments of the Western defenders of these protesters, because they too aren’t going away. Already I have had e-mails and bloggers saying I was “asking for it” by writing a “needlessly provocative” article. When there is a disagreement and one side uses violence, it is a reassuring rhetorical stance to claim both sides are in the wrong, and you take a happy position somewhere in the middle. But is this true? I wrote an article defending human rights, and stating simple facts. Fanatics want to arrest or kill me for it. Is there equivalence here?

The argument that I was “asking for it” seems a little like saying a woman wearing a short skirt is “asking” to be raped. Or, as Salman Rushdie wrote when he received far, far worse threats simply for writing a novel (and a masterpiece at that): “When Osip Mandelstam wrote his poem against Stalin, did he ‘know what he was doing’ and so deserve his death? When the students filled Tiananmen Square to ask for freedom, were they not also, and knowingly, asking for the murderous repression that resulted? When Terry Waite was taken hostage, hadn’t he been ‘asking for it’?” When fanatics threaten violence against people who simply use words, you should not blame the victim.

These events are also a reminder of why it is so important to try to let the oxygen of rationality into religious debates — and introduce doubt. Voltaire — one of the great anti-clericalists — said: “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” If you can be made to believe the absurd notion that an invisible deity dictated The Eternal Unchanging Truth to a specific person at a specific time in history and anyone who questions this is Evil, then you can easily be made to demand the death of journalists and free women and homosexuals who question that Truth. But if they have a moment of doubt — if there is a single nagging question at the back of their minds — then they are more likely to hesitate. That’s why these ideas must be challenged at their core, using words and reason.

But the fundamentalists are determined not to allow those rational ideas to be heard — because at some level they know they will persuade for many people, especially children and teenagers in the slow process of being indoctrinated.

If, after all the discussion and all the facts about how contradictory and periodically vile their ‘holy’ texts are, religious people still choose fanatical faith, I passionately defend their right to articulate it. Free speech is for the stupid and the wicked and the wrong — whether it is fanatics or the racist Geert Wilders — just as much as for the rational and the right. All I say is that they do not have the right to force it on other people or silence the other side. In this respect, Wilders resembles the Islamists he professes to despise: he wants to ban the Koran. Fine. Let him make his argument. He discredits himself by speaking such ugly nonsense.

The solution to the problems of free speech — that sometimes people will say terrible things — are always and irreducibly more free speech. If you don’t like what a person says, argue back. Make a better case. Persuade people. The best way to discredit a bad argument is to let people hear it. I recently interviewed the pseudo-historian David Irving, and simply quoting his crazy arguments did far more harm to him than any Austrian jail sentence for Holocaust Denial.

Please do not imagine that if you defend these rioters, you are defending ordinary Muslims. If we allow fanatics to silence all questioning voices, the primary victims today will be Muslim women,Muslim gay people, and the many good and honourable Muslim men who support them. Imagine what Europe would look like now if everybody who offered dissenting thoughts about Christianity in the seventeenth century and since was intimidated into silence by the mobs and tyrants who wanted to preserve the most literalist and fanatical readings of the Bible. Imagine how women and gay people would live.

You can see this if you compare my experience to that of journalists living under religious-Islamist regimes. Because generations of people sought to create a secular space, when I went to the police, they offered total protection. When they go to the police, they are handed over to the fanatics — or charged for their “crimes.” They are people like Sayed Pervez Kambaksh, the young Afghan journalism student who was sentenced to death for downloading a report on women’s rights. They are people like the staff of Zanan, one of Iran’s leading reform-minded women’s magazines, who have been told they will be jailed if they carry on publishing. They are people like the 27-year old Muslim blogger Abdel Rahman who has been seized, jailed and tortured in Egypt for arguing for a reformed Islam that does not enforce shariah law.

It would be a betrayal of them — and the tens of thousands of journalists like them – to apologize for what I wrote. Yes, if we speak out now, there will be turbulence and threats, and some people may get hurt. But if we fall silent — if we leave the basic human values of free speech, feminism and gay rights undefended in the face of violent religious mobs — then many, many more people will be hurt in the long term. Today, we have to use our right to criticise religion — or lose it.

If you are appalled by the erosion of secularism across the world and want to do something about it, there are a number of organizations you can join, volunteer for or donate to.

Some good places to start are the National Secular Society, the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Science and Reason, or – if you want the money to go specifically to work in India – theInternational Humanist and Ethical Union. (Mark your donation as for their India branch.)

Even donating a few hours or a few pounds can really make a difference to defending people subject to religious oppression – by providing them with legal help, education materials, and lobbying for changes in the law.

An essential source of news for secularists is the terrific website Butterflies and Wheels.

Protect Roe in South Dakota

Posted in Uncategorized by allisonkilkenny on October 29, 2008

From ACLU:

Tomorrow evening we are hosting phonebanking in our New York City office to help the cause in South Dakota by encouraging voters to vote against a state abortion ban. 

Please Join Us!

When: Thursday, Oct. 30, 6:30 to 9 p.m.
Where: 125 Broad St., 19th Floor
New York, NY
RSVP to Ariel at asamach@nyclu.org or 212.607.3339

The votes cast on November 4th will have an enormous impact on reproductive rights in the 21st century. While most of the country and the world will be watching what states go red, and what states go blue, many of our colleagues and allies will also be watching South Dakota, as the state’s residents vote again on a near complete ban on all abortions.

A sweeping ban, like the one on the ballot, would be a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade and would be challenged — possibly all the way to the Supreme Court. As we saw with the Supreme Court’s decision upholding the federal ban on a certain method of performing abortions, we cannot rely on this court to protect women’s right to make fundamental decisions for ourselves and our families. We cannot sit by as the future of reproductive freedom nationwide is threatened in South Dakota.

We hope to see you tomorrow.

Background: New York Times

 

WASHINGTON — After a group of doctors challenged a South Dakota law forcing them to inform women that abortions “terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique living human being” — using exactly that language — President Bush’s appointees to the federal appeals courts took control.

A federal trial judge, stating that whether a fetus is human life is a matter of debate, had blocked the state from enforcing the 2005 law as a likely violation of doctors’ First Amendment rights. And an appeals court panel had upheld the injunction.

But this past June, the full United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit voted 7 to 4 to overrule those decisions and allow the statute to take immediate effect. The majority argued that it is objectively true that human life begins at conception, and that the state can force doctors to say so.

Mr. Bush had appointed six of the seven judges in the conservative majority. His administration has transformed the nation’s federal appeals courts, advancing a conservative legal revolution that began nearly three decades ago under President Ronald Reagan.

I Hate Maureen Dowd

Posted in Uncategorized by allisonkilkenny on October 16, 2008

[This is the piece I wrote for the 2008 Hysterical Festival. Enjoy!]

This piece I wrote is about Maureen Dowd. In case you’re a fortunate person, who is living a life unmarred by Maureen Dowd, let me explain who she is. Maureen is a New York Times columnist. She is 56-years-young, but she still uses her glamour shot from 20 years ago as her photo in the New York Times. Sexy.

Maureen Dowd

Maureen Dowd

Tearing down Maureen at a festival celebrating women may seem like a conflict of interest, but it’s not. I am defending womankind from Maureen Dowd.

Here’s why: she is a terrible writer, a fact hidden from some people because she is also a well-educated woman, who throws around polysyllabic words and crams Classical references into every metaphor even if they don’t really belong there. If the sentence could be: Becky finished her lunch and went to the store, Maureen would write: Rebecca vanquished her brunch and sauntered to the boutique.

She’s pretentious AND she’s not funny despite the fact that she’s sort of the unofficial humorist for the Times, a job I imagine no one assigned her, but which Maureen has nonetheless taken up as her crusade.

I think the New York Times should spend its Maureen Dowd pay allowance on either a real journalist or a real comic, but they need to get off the fence and stop wasting everyone’s time with Maureen Dowd’s creepy half-jokes. Whenever I read one of her awful puns, it feels like some old man is trying to put his cold hand up my skirt. I feel cheated by her terrible sense of humor and her Wikipedia-researched columns.

Here’s the good news: I’m not alone in my hatred for her. A simple Google search of “Maureen Dowd is awful” brings up a ton of great reading material.

For example, Maureen is so slit-your-wrists terrible that students at Oxford had to invent a new term just to deal with reading her work. They call it “The Immutable Law of Dowd” and it includes 3 laws that describe all of Maureen’s articles. The first law is that her writing contains all personality and no substance.

Which brings me to another reason why I hate Maureen Dowd: She won a Pulitzer Prize…but not for her coverage of some tragic war or issues of poverty or famine. Maureen Dowd won the Pulitzer Prize for her coverage… of the Monica Lewinski scandal.

Reading her Lewinski coverage is like reading a child’s explanation of what happened. Here’s her series of Pulitzer Prize-winning articles in a nutshell: Horny dude meets desperate, chubby girl, evil best friend betrays chubby girl, and sex-addict prosecutor ruins everyone’s day. Granted, the Clinton-Lewinsky so-called “scandal” was ridiculous to begin with, but Maureen Dowd’s awful writing should not have been so thoroughly praised. It only encouraged her.

Maureen is also the Queen of bad puns. Just a quick example because I really want you to take this journey with me. When describing Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin, Maureen borrowed from the musical My Fair Lady and massaged the lyrics with hilaaaarious results: “The rain in Spain stays mainly in the Arctic plain.” Pulitzer Prize winner: Maureen Dowd.

And this stuff goes on for an entire page, like twice a week. In fairness to Maureen, I don’t like puns in general. Like when someone tells Sarah Palin to stay the PUCK out of their city, what they really mean to say is stay the FUCK out of my city. Like an adult.

The second Immutable Law of Dowd is that it’s easier to whine than take a stand. The reason Maureen Dowd portrays political figures as shallow caricatures is because it’s easy to paint a whimsical alternate universe than it is aggressively attack reality. In short: Maureen Dowd is an unfunny coward. This second law ties into the third and last Immutable Law of Dowd: It’s easier to be cute than coherent.

I don’t want to fill the room with negativity, and anyway, that isn’t what this is about. What I really mean to say is the following, and really, the whole point of everything that came before it: I hate Maureen Dowd as much as I love and miss Molly Ivins.

In fact, this piece is less a hate-filled diatribe against Maureen Dowd and more a tribute to the late, great Molly Ivins: the scrappiest, most honest journalist and columnist I have ever had the privilege of reading.

I can think of no two women that better illustrate the battle of good versus evil than Molly and Maureen. If we lived in a super hero movie, Maureen Dowd and Molly Ivins would fight with knives on a mountaintop. And in the final moment of the final scene, Molly would tear off Maureen’s head, hold it up triumphantly and shout to the villagers below, “YOU ARE FREE!”

Unlike Maureen’s weekly abortions, Molly wrote brilliant columns and never sullied her readers’ minds with anything less than kick-your-teeth-in wit and fearlessness.

While Maureen’s greatest accomplishment is her Pulitzer Prize for reporting on a blowjob, Molly always said her greatest accomplishments were: having the Minneapolis police force’s mascot pig named after her, and being banned from the Texas A&M campus.

While even Oxford students can’t figure out where the hell Maureen stands on anything, there was never any doubt where Molly stood on the big issues.

She hated George W. Bush’s guts. She once said: “Everyone knows the man has no clue, but no one has the courage to say it. I mean, good gawd, the man is as he always has been: barely adequate.”

She also hated Pat Buchanan. Pat once delivered a famous “culture war speech” at the 1992 Republican Convention, where he railed against “liberals, and supporters of reproductive and gay rights.” Afterward, Molly remarked that the speech, “probably sounded better in the original German.”

When talking about the difference between Maureen and Molly, I really can’t say it better than Molly said it herself: “There are two kinds of humor. One kind that makes us chuckle about our foibles and our shared humanity. The other kind holds people up to public contempt and ridicule.”

Well, I don’t want to chuckle at my government, but I do want them to feel contempt and ridicule. So while I hate, hate, hate Maureen Dowd, I love Molly Ivins, and this is my tribute to her.

It’s up to you to decide which one is the angel of ball-bashing journalism and which one is a shallow, painted clown. But I’ll leave you with the words from the ladies themselves:

This is the last paragraph of Molly Ivin’s last column:

We are the people who run this country. We are the deciders. And every single day, every single one of us needs to step outside and take some action to help stop this war. Raise hell. Think of something to make the ridiculous look ridiculous. Make our troops know we’re for them and trying to get them out of there.

And this is a line from one of Maureen Dowd’s latest columns:

I don’t think Sarah Palin meeting with Henry Kissinger is a sign of the Apocalypse. It isn’t even a sign of the ApocaLIPSTIC.

The decision…is yours.