Things to Read

A sampling of I’ve been reading that I may or may not get around to blogging about but are worth a look.

The problem with the law isn’t too many lawyers, it’s fixing law school.

Language, education and Rachel Jeantel.

What it means to be privileged.

Video of the chaos facing patients as they enter an abortion clinic.

Does having sisters make boys more likely to become Republicans?

The royal baby’s birth cost $15,000. That’s still only half of the average American birth cost.

Detroit is like America.

Microaggressions and management practices.

How do doctors choose to die?

What declining participation in the workforce might mean for the economy.

Why do some ideas go viral when others don’t?

Ayn Rand killed Sears.


Newsworthy uteruses

Unless you’ve been living under rock, you’ve probably heard that Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, has given birth to the royal baby, a new prince for Britain.

Naturally, I wish all due congratulations to Kate, Wills and the new baby — however one feels about the royal family or the press attention, a wanted new baby is a happy event and it’s certainly not the baby’s fault that the media are doing round the clock coverage.

A smaller story that you may have missed in the royal baby avalanche is the Dubai pardon of Marte Deborah Dalelv. Dalelv, a Norwegian woman, had reported her rape to the authorities in Dubai, and was then charged with having sex outside of marriage.

So what do Dalelv and Princess Kate have to do with each other?

Not much, I’m sure. I know nothing about either woman (though in Kate’s case I’m sure one could find out all sorts of information, some of it possibly even true) but they have both been subject to headlines for one reason: their reproductive system.

How often does this happen?

When women are the subject of news stories, how often it is tied to our reproductive systems — to the right to control them, to the right to autonomy, to the endless criticism over a choice to have or not have a baby. How many times do our uteruses and vaginas take center stage?

Imagine a world where the most newsworthy thing about a woman generally has nothing to do with what’s happening between her legs. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Narratives of consent

I mentioned before that I’ve been watching “The Fosters” on ABC Family. As far as family shows go, I don’t generally have high expectations on messaging around sex; the line shows have to walk not to run afoul of the morality police is pretty fine.

So I was pretty shocked when the most recent episode did a better job of handling consent than I have seen any show do in a long time. Warning: spoilers ahead, for those who aren’t up to speed.

In one of the most recent arcs, 15-year-old Jesus had sex with his girlfriend Lexi, and his moms found out about it when he was trying to get the morning after pill for her. One of the moms, Stef, gave Lexi the pill over other mom Lena’s objections (not because of the pill but because she’s Lexi’s principal and it put her in an awkward spot). Lexi’s parents are over-protective and religious and when Jesus’s jealous twin sister Marianna spilled the beans, they freaked out  and Lexi ran away when faced with being sent to boarding school in Texas. (To be fair, I cannot really blame her for this.)

None of this is particularly ground-breaking, and it almost overshadowed the really interesting storyline; the way that Lexi and Jesus were handling the whole thing.

Growing up on late 1980s to early early 2000s TV, narratives around sex and consent generally play out in a way that is standard for our culture. The guy pushes for sex, the girl gives in or ‘stays strong’ and refuses. Having sex is viewed as somewhat flipping a switch — once you start, it’s a thing you’re doing from then on, and female characters who try to change their mind are generally called a tease or worse. And talking about sex is unsexy in this narrative; characters don’t talk about boundaries or limits, they passionately fall into bed together, assumed to be on the same wavelength and following the same cultural script.

This storyline? Did none of those things.

To be sure, Lexi and Jesus got caught up in the moment — but Lexi, the teenage girl, was the one taking things farther and there was a (brief, but present) conversation about being sure. Afterwards, the show gave us yet another conversation between Lexi and Jesus, where she says that she felt like it was too soon, and she didn’t want to have sex again — and he was perfectly okay with that. They talked about what had happened and their relationship and it wasn’t a fraught, drama-filled event. It was just a conversation.

Even more telling was the conversation between a recently reconciled Lexi and Marianna, her best friend. As Marianna was helping Lexi hide from her parents, they talked about what had happened, and after curiously asking what it was like (and then regretting the TMI on her brother), Marianna asked Lexi if they were going to keep having sex.

That conversation blew me away.

It presented consent as an ongoing discussion, without the slightest hint that because Lexi consented once, she was consenting to things going forward. It wasn’t assumed by anyone involved that one decision determined all future choices — and it was done in a completely normal and natural way.

To add another layer on top of that, Lexi and Marianna’s differing experiences were both presented in a relatively neutral light. The only negative light on Lexi and Jesus having sex was the fact that they didn’t think ahead enough to have safe sex. Lexi wasn’t portrayed as suddenly being a slut or a bad influence because she had sex, and Marianna wasn’t portrayed as being naive, a prude or facing peer pressure because she had’t.

To be sure, this arc wasn’t perfect. A lot of time was spent on the dueling ideals of the parents, with Stef and Lena’s belief of providing kids information on safe sex and hoping they make good choices running up against Lexi’s parent’s belief that information is encouragement and kids should be strictly controlled. I wish more had been said about the idea of parents controlling a daughter’s bodily autonomy. And the pregnancy scare is a bit overdone as a trope, but not entirely unrealistic either.

But I was still shocked to see a family show doing a better job of addressing consent than most adult shows I’ve seen, and doing it in a natural, matter-of fact way. They didn’t hit you over the head with moralizing about the Importance Of Talking or Saying Yes Once Doesn’t Mean You Always Will. It was normal and natural (well, as natural as you can get in a TV show that is still suffering from some uneven writing and acting) and I wish more shows would take a page out of this book.

No justice for Trayvon Martin

Like many people, I am disappointed and angry over the acquittal of George Zimmerman. Like many people, I am also not at all surprised by the verdict.

I don’t have a lot to say on this matter, largely because I think most of it’s already been said more eloquently by others, and particularly by people of color who can speak to what it means to be black in America.

I would, however, like to call out one meme I’m pleased to see — We Are Not Trayvon Martin.

It’s tempting, I think, as a white person outraged at this verdict, to want to stand in solidarity, to say that we are all Trayvon.

But we aren’t. That’s the point.

I’m a white girl. I can wear a hoodie and walk around a rich neighborhood and have no fear of the cops, the neighbors, of an arrogant, wannabe cop with a gun and tiny measure of authority. The color of my skin means that my default is presumed innocence.

I am not Trayvon Martin. But I don’t — and shouldn’t  — need to be to recognize that Trayvon Martin (and others like him, killed because of the color of their skin) deserved life, dignity, and justice.

Everyone deserves those things.

It’s not about everyone being the same. It’s about everyone being different and deserving basic human rights anyway.

Must see lesbian TV

It’s Friday, so let’s take a little break and talk pop culture. This summer, ABC Family has premiered a new TV show, The Fosters, that I’ve been watching with an eagerness that is, frankly, almost embarrassing.

The Fosters centers around the Foster family of lesbian couple Stef and Lena, their three children and the two new foster kids they’ve taken in. (Yes, the pun is groan-inducing.) In many respects, it’s your standard family drama — the teen shenanigans of Brandon, Jesus, Maria, and Calle and the pre-teen problems facing Jude — all served up with a dose of moral lessons and problems that resolve in an hour.

But it’s also incredibly unique, because we’re getting that does of family-friendly entertainment in the wrapper of a lesbian, interracial family. Lena is mixed-race, and adopted siblings Maria and Jesus are Hispanic, while Stef, Brandon, Calle and Jude are white.

I’m 30 years old, and I can’t recall seeing either of those things on my TV before, in a central character. LGBT characters are interracial families show up, of course, but usually as a Very Special Episode with a lesson about Tolerance and Diversity.

The show isn’t perfect, of course. The writing sometimes lags, many of the plot points are so predictable you can call them four episodes out and the show hits you over the head with the lesson of the week. I have a weak spot for cheesy family drama, but the heavy-handed morality always makes me grit my teeth and I’ve often wondered if it was just because I didn’t share the views. Now I can say for sure that even when the morals are ones I agree with, it’s the lack of finesse and heavy hand that makes me cringe.

Mostly, though, I’m excited for what this show means. I still want to see more diversity in queer characters on TV — not everyone aspires to a more traditional family model in life, regardless of sexuality — but I also can’t imagine what it would have been like to sit down and see this show as a kid or young teenager. I realized I wasn’t straight by my early teens, but I didn’t see any models of what that looked like for my future. I wonder how it would have felt to be able to turn on the TV and see two moms raising their kids and having a ‘typical’ family life?

If you’re at all a fan of cheesy family-friendly drama, definitely check out the Fosters. It’s available on Hulu, so you can watch online if you don’t have cable and the network will still get the views for numbers, which is going to be important with a show like this, where they are taking a risk. So check it out!

The politics of women’s bodies

The Center for Investigative Reporting published an article over the weekend detailing the fact that California prisons sterilized nearly 150 female inmates without following proper state procedures. Some of the women who were had the surgery say they were coerced into it by prison doctors who suggested it. The reason? To save the state money.

This stands out as a particularly sharp contrast to the restrictive laws around reproductive rights that are being passed right now in Texas, Ohio and North Carolina. But both of them have one thing in common, and that’s the effort to control women’s bodies and choices.

It’s also particularly interesting to note that for women who aren’t in prison, being sterilized can be incredibly difficult. I’ve heard many stories from childfree women who have sought tubal ligations, only to be told by doctors that they weren’t eligible for the procedure. They were too young, they didn’t have children already, they might change their mind or meet a partner who wanted kids.

The message of course, is clear. If you’re a woman considered to be ‘desirable’ to society, you must have children. It is not up to you to prevent them (via easy access to birth control), elect not to carry to term (via abortion) or opt out of the game entirely (via sterilization). Even if you think you know what you want, you must be protected by doctors and bow to the will of a hypothetical future partner who may want to have kids.

On the other hand, if you are not ‘desirable,’ if you are someone that is seen as a drain on the system, you shouldn’t be allowed the choice to have children. There’s an implicit argument against rehabilitation there as well;  this is a permanent procedure that will impact a woman’s life long past the time when she has served out her sentence. The assumption, presumably, being that she will never really turn her life around.

In both these scenarios, women are pawns, shuffled around by others who claim to be advocating for their best interests. Yet here’s a radical idea; women actually know what is in their best interests. And ALL women, free or imprisoned, are worthy of the dignity of bodily autonomy and the ability to make their own choices regarding the size of their families.

I also can’t help but wonder. How big would the outcry be right now, if the inmates that were sterilized had been men?

The risks of oil

Over the weekend, a train carrying crude oil derailed in Quebec, resulting in an explosion that killed five and resulted in many more missing.  Explosions and fires destroyed part of the downtown district where the train went off the rails.

This is a tragic incident, and I’m sure the coming days will yield much more information around the cause of the crash.

But it’s unlikely it will lead to any real conversation about the risks we take for energy. Which is a shame, because now is a good time to be talking about such things. President Obama still has to issue a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry crude oil from Canada to the Gulf, through America’s heartland.

We have this tacit kind of agreement in our culture; we don’t talk about the cost of the energy that makes our first-world lives possible. (Including mine, sitting here in my climate-controlled apartment, typing this on my laptop with power readily and cheaply accessible.)

We don’t talk about the dangers of transporting crude oil in routes that go through cities and towns, a potential hazard in someone’s backyard. We don’t talk about the environmental impact, pretending that we are removed from the ecosystem and not a part of it, somehow immune to any dangers. After all, what’s a few birds or fish? We don’t talk about the impact of spills or the risks or technology as our thirst for oil leads us to try something, anything — deepwater drilling, fracking — to get more oil from the Earth.

I’m not suggesting that we can quit fossil fuels cold turkey. But the idea that this boundless supply of energy is going to keep going forever isn’t helpful either. Yet there is no conversation about the risks and any effort to discuss alternatives is derailed. If something isn’t perfect for every solution, we shouldn’t pursue it all, tends to be the argument. Solar panels won’t work everywhere, nor will wind energy or geothermal or anything else, so it’s a waste of time and money.

We’ve become spoiled by the way that oil has become a monolithic source of energy, we can only see the idea of one solution going ahead. The idea of something less cohesive, of a patchwork of alternative energy sources chosen because they work best for a locality or region is somehow unthinkable.

I’m not sure why this is. Is it fear of the unknown? The influence of corporations who aren’t interested in anything that won’t grant them a monopoly? A simple inability to imagine something that isn’t a copy of what we’ve already done? I don’t know, but I wish we were thinking a lot more about it.