Katha Pollitt

The Tired Myth That Progressives Lack Empathy Is Hardly the Problem

If I have to read one more article blaming liberal condescension toward the red states and the white working class for the election of Trump, I’m moving to Paris, France. These pieces started coming out even before the election and are still pouring down on our heads. Just within the last few weeks, the New Republic had Michael Tomasky deploring “elite liberal suspicion of middle America” for such red-state practices as churchgoing and gun owning and The New York Times had Joan Williams accusing Democrats of impugning the “social honor” of working-class whites by talking about them in demeaning and condescending ways, as exemplified by such phrases as “flyover states,” “trailer trash,” and “plumber’s butt.” Plumber’s butt? That was a new one for me. And that’s not even counting the 92,346 feature stories about rural Trump voters and their heartwarming folkways. (“I played by the rules,” said retired rancher Tom Grady, 66, delving into the Daffodil Diner’s famous rhubarb pie. “Why should I pay for some deadbeat’s trip to Europe?”) I’m still waiting for the deep dives into the hearts and minds of Clinton supporters—what concerns motivated the 94 percent of black women voters who chose her? Is there nothing of interest there? For that matter, why don’t we see explorations of the voters who made up the majority of Trump’s base, people who are not miners or unemployed factory workers but regular Republicans, most quite well-fixed in life? (“I would vote for Satan himself if he promised to cut my taxes,” said Bill Thorberg, a 45-year-old dentist in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. “I’m basically just selfish.”) There are, after all, only around 75,000 coal miners in the entire country, and by now every one of them has been profiled in the Times.

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Why I’m Ready - and Excited - For Hillary

My women college classmates (Radcliffe ‘71) aren’t so excited about Hillary Clinton. An e-mail to our New York City potluck group elicited distinctly modified rapture. They’re bothered by her high-priced speeches and the aura of favor-trading and favor-banking around the Clinton Foundation. They don’t like her Wall Street connections, and they don’t like Bill (a k a the “ick” factor). Plus, she’s not progressive enough. “It’s all so old and tired,” wrote one; “she’s been running forever.” “I’m definitely excited about the prospect of a woman,” another chimed in. “I am weary, not excited, about her in particular, and find it sad that she’s our best hope.” I should mention that these women are demographically much like Hillary (Wellesley ‘69) herself: prosperous, white, highly educated, sixtysomething feminists and professional women. You would think these women, of all people, would be jumping for joy at the prospect of someone so like themselves winning the White House.

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Katha Pollitt: Ending a Pregnancy Is a Common, Normal Event in Women's Lives - Let's Talk About It That Way

The following is an excerpt from Katha Pollitt's new book Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights(Picador USA, 2014). Reprinted here with permission.

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Pope Francis: Sexism With a Human Face?

Pope Francis seems a lovely man. He washes the feet of prisoners, drives a Ford Focus and lives in the Vatican guesthouse instead of the isolated papal apartments. He even calls people who write him with their troubles. In July, he made headlines when he said of gay priests, “Who am I to judge?” Most recently, he astonished the world with a long interview in America, the Jesuit magazine, in which he said the church is too “obsessed” with abortion, gay rights and birth control and risked becoming a “house of cards.”

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What Is Wrong With Our Education System? Almost Half the Population Doesn't Accept Evolution

The following article first appeared in The Nation. For more great content from the Nation, sign up for its e-mail newsletters here.

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Attachment Parenting: More Guilt for Mother

Was it just a few weeks ago that Time ran a cover story claiming women were poised to become “the richer sex”—getting more education than men, working up a storm and, in one out of four marriages, bringing home the fatter slice of bacon? That was followed by Katie Roiphe’s fact-free Newsweek cover story alleging that women have become so weary of being in charge, they long for men to dominate them in bed. Well, never mind all that. Now, according to Time, women are giving up on careers to embrace attachment parenting—breast-feeding their kids till age 3 or more; having Baby sleep in your room, if not your bed; and “babywearing”—carrying your baby in a sling every minute of the day and never, ever letting it cry. Corner office? Bondage and spanking? Turning yourself into a human kangaroo? It’s hard to keep up.

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6 Reasons You Should Give to an Abortion Fund

The following article first appeared on the Web site of The Nation. For more great content from the Nation, sign up for its e-mail newsletters here.  

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Dangers of a 'Submissive' Wife in Chief: Is a Vote for Michele Bachmann Really a Vote for Her Husband?

The following article first appeared on the Web site of The Nation. For more great content from the Nation, sign up for its e-mail newsletters here. 

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After Budget Showdown, Women Under the Bus

The following article first appeared on TheNation.com. For more great content from TheNation, sign up for their email newsletters here.

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Why Are Conservative Women Drawn to the Tea Parties?

There are lots of conservative white women voters in America. In 2000, white women went for Bush by one point; in 2004, 55 percent chose Bush over Kerry; and in 2008, after all we'd been through, 53 percent chose McCain over Obama. In a way, when we feminists and progressives talk about "women voters" in that rah-rah EMILY's List way, we are buying our own propaganda, because really it's women of color, especially black women, who push "women" solidly into the Democratic camp. By speaking so generally about "women" -- whom pundits subdivide into silly pseudodemographics like "waitress moms," "security moms," "Sex and the City voters" and so on, each of which receives a specially crafted message -- we make it hard to see right-wing women as anything but bizarre exceptions or (more kindly) as women just waiting for the brilliant appeal to some self-interest they didn't know they had.

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Why Are Pedophilia-Hiding, Child-Abusing Church Fathers Allowed to Write Laws About Women's Bodies?

My favorite moment of the whole child abuse scandal in the Catholic Church was when Father Klaus Malangré suggested that Peter Hullermann, the redoubtable German pedophile priest, might be sent to work in a girls' school. No boys, no molestation. Or, in churchly language, no occasion of sin. Problem solved! Plus, the good father would spend his life warding off female cooties. Malangré must not have heard about priests -- and they do exist -- who abused both male and female children. Nor had he learned the lesson of Watergate: the cover-up is worse than the crime.

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Prochoicers Took a Hit to Help Pass Heathcare Reform -- It's Payback Time Now

If healthcare reform becomes law, you can thank prochoicers. In the end, forced to decide between sacrificing abortion coverage and voting down coverage of everything else for 30 million people, abortion-rights supporters took the hit. Prochoice representatives, who had vowed to vote against any bill that restricted access to abortion more than the infamous Hyde Amendment has already done, will have reversed themselves and voted for it. (Don't kid yourselves, the Senate bill is a major blow to abortion rights. As antichoice evangelical David Gushee told followers stuck on Stupak: "Accept victory while you can get it.") NARAL, Planned Parenthood and NOW stepped back. You can call prochoice leaders hypocritical or cowardly or feeble or excessively deferential to the president's agenda. But one thing you can't call them is selfishly obsessed with their own political purity. That would be the antichoicers--the Catholic bishops, Bart Stupak, Ben Nelson. They were the big evil babies who were willing to let millions suffer and 45,000 people die every year unless they got to deprive women of their reproductive rights.

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The Democratic Party: Whose Team Is It, Anyway?

You know what I don't want to hear right now about the Stupak-Pitts amendment banning abortion coverage from federally subsidized health insurance policies? That it's the price of reform, and prochoice women should shut up and take one for the team. "If you want to rebuild the American welfare state," Peter Beinart writes in the Daily Beast, "there is no alternative" than for Democrats to abandon "cultural" issues like gender and racial equality. Hey, Peter, Representative Stupak and your sixty-four Democratic supporters, Jim Wallis and other antichoice "progressive" Christians, men: why don't you take one for the team for a change and see how you like it?

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Julie & Julia: Women Excelling at Work

Katha Pollitt's new book of poems, The Mind-Body Problem, has just been published by Random House.

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"Please Pray for Us During These Terrifying Days": A Sobering Letter From Kabul

Editor's Note: This post was written before the Afghanistan election.

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Media's Whiplash on Michelle Obama: From Fist-Bumping Radical to Mom-in-Chief

Someday we'll get beyond obsessing about 
first ladies -- and by "we" I mean the sort of journalists who use "we" to mean "the vast majority of Americans" when it is usually just themselves and their friends. Meanwhile, Michelle Obama is getting more bouquets from the media than any woman in public life since Mother Teresa. Her clothes, her looks, her height (six feet!), her curves, her delightful combination of warmth, simplicity, charm, dignity, humor and smarts.

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Is It Morally Wrong Not to Send Thousands Each Year to the Developing World?

The gods of publishing must have had a good laugh when they arranged for the philosopher Peter Singer to bring out The Life You Can Save:Acting Now to End World Poverty in the middle of the worst global economic crisis since the Great Depression. First Worlders have a moral obligation to give away thousands of dollars -- thousands! -- a year of personal income to eradicate Third World poverty? Right. Even when Americans had jobs and 401(k)s, they weren't exactly emptying their wallets for the 1.4 billion people who live in absolute destitution -- $1.25 a day or less -- in the developing world. How much harder to get people to give when money is tight, so many are broke and even those who are doing all right are worried and afraid for their future.

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Barack Obama, Feminist in Chief?

"Can't we just be happy for five minutes?" my daughter asks when I tell her about the criticisms Barack Obama is getting from some feminists I know. "It's not that I don't care about sexism. I do! But we have four whole years to complain." Inauguration day is over a month away, but on e-mail lists I belong to, Obama's already chauvinist in chief. He made sexist theorizer Larry Summers director of the National Economic Council. He's turned Michelle Obama, a top-notch lawyer, into a stay-home helpmeet and fashion plate. Barbara Walters's interview with the Obamas comes in for special opprobrium: Barack interrupted Michelle, patronized her ("When Mama's happy, everybody's happy") and on the all-important question of what kind of puppy they would get the children, said it wasn't going to be a (uh-oh) "girly dog" like Walters's beloved Havanese. Not the best choice of words, although I'm with him on little yappy dogs. When I watched the interview on YouTube, I thought the Obamas were great together: affectionate, teasing but respectful, funny, smart, delightful. Barack came across as probably the most involved father to sit in the Senate, let alone the White House, in 200 years. Yes, he interrupted Michelle, but she also interrupted him -- and Walters interrupted them both.

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Sayonara, Sarah Palin

And so we bid farewell to Sarah Palin. How I'll miss her daily presence in my life! The mooseburgers, the wolf hunts, the kids named after bays and sports and trees and airplanes and who did not seem to go to school at all, the winks and blinks, the cute Alaska accent, the witch-hunting pastor and those great little flared jackets, especially the gray stripey one. People say she was a dingbat, but that is just sexist: the woman read everything, she said so herself; her knowledge of geography was unreal -- she knew just where to find the pro-America part of the country; and don't forget her keen interest in ancient history! Thanks largely to her, Bill Ayers is now the most famous sixtysomething professor in the country -- eat your heart out, Ward Churchill! You can snipe all you want, but she was truly God's gift: to Barack Obama, Katie Couric -- notice no one's making fun of America's sweetheart now -- Tina Fey and columnists all over America.

She was also a gift to feminism. Seriously. I don't mean she was a feminist -- she told Couric she considered herself one, but in a later interview, perhaps after looking up the meaning of the word, coyly wondered why she needed to "label" herself. And I don't mean she had a claim on the votes of feminists or women -- why should women who care about equality vote for a woman who wants to take their rights away? Elaine Lafferty, a former editor of Ms., made a splash by revealing in The Daily Beast (Tina Brown's new website, for those of you still following the news on paper) that she has been working as a consultant to Palin. In a short but painful piece of public relations called "Sarah Palin's a Brainiac," Lafferty claimed to find in Palin "a mind that is thoughtful, curious, with a discernible pattern of associative thinking and insight," with a "photographic memory," as smart as legendary Senator Sam Ervin, "a woman who knows exactly who she is." According to Lafferty, all that stuff about library censorship and rape kits was just "nonsense" -- and feminists who held Palin's wish to criminalize abortion against her were Beltway feminist-establishment elitists who shop at Whole Foods when they should be voting against Barack Obama to make the Dems stop taking women for granted.

So the first way Palin was good for feminism is that she helped us clarify what it isn't: feminism doesn't mean voting for "the woman" just because she's female, and it doesn't mean confusing self-injury with empowerment, like the Ellen Jamesians in The World According to Garp (I'll vote for the forced-childbirth candidate, that'll show Howard Dean!). It isn't just feel-good "you go, girl" appreciation of female moxie, which I cheerfully acknowledge Palin has by the gallon. As I wrote when she was selected, if she were my neighbor I would probably like her -- at least until she organized with her fellow Christians to ban abortion at the local hospital, as Palin did in the 1990s. Yes, feminism is about women getting their fair share of power, and that includes the top jobs -- but that can't take a back seat to policies that benefit all women: equality on the job and the legal framework that undergirds it, antiviolence, reproductive self-determination, healthcare, education, childcare and so on. Fortunately, women who care about equality get this -- dead-enders like the comically clueless Lynn Forester de Rothschild got lots of press, but in the end Obama won the support of the vast majority of women who had supported Hillary Clinton.

Second, Palin's presence on the Republican ticket forced family-values conservatives to give public support to working mothers, equal marriages, pregnant teens and their much-maligned parents. Talk-show frothers, Christian zealots and professional antifeminists -- Rush Limbaugh and Phyllis Schlafly -- insisted that a mother of five, including a "special-needs" newborn, could perfectly well manage governing a state (a really big state, as we were frequently reminded), while simultaneously running for veep and, who knows, field-dressing a moose. No one said she belonged at home. No one said she was neglecting her husband or failing to be appropriately submissive to him. No one blamed her for 17-year-old Bristol's out-of-wedlock pregnancy or hard-partying high-school-dropout boyfriend. No one even wondered out loud why Bristol wasn't getting married before the baby arrived. All these things have officially morphed from sins to "challenges," just part of normal family life. No matter how strategic this newfound broadmindedness is, it will not be easy to row away from it. Thanks to Sarah, ladies, we can do just about anything we want as long as we don't have an abortion.

Third, while Palin did not win the Hillary vote, the love she got from Republican women, including very conservative, traditional women, shows that what I like to call the feminism of everyday life is taking hold across the spectrum. That old frilly-doormat model of femininity is gone: even women who stay home and attend churches that bar women from the clergy thrill to the idea of women being all that they can be and taking their rightful place in the public realm. Like everyone else, they want respect and power, and now, finally, thanks to the women's movement they despise, they may actually get some.

Finally, Palin completed the task Hillary Clinton began: running in different parties across a single political season, they have normalized the idea of a woman in the White House. It is hard even to remember now how iconoclastic Hillary was -- how hard it was for her to negotiate femininity and ambition, to be warm but not weak, smart but not cold, attractive but not sexy, dynamic but not threatening. Only a year ago, it was a real question whether men would vote for a woman or, for that matter, whether women would. Palin may have been unfit for high office, but just by running she showed there was more than one mode for a female politician. After almost two years of the whole country watching two very different women in the White House race, it finally seems normal.

So thanks, Sarah. And now, please -- back to your iceberg.

McCain Opposes Contraception -- Pass It On

I realize it's not as world-shaking as the caricature of the Obamas on the cover of the New Yorker, which has the high-end media in a total tizzy. It's probably not even as important as the raunchy joke Bernie Mac told at an Obama fundraiser last week, which was bumped from the tizzy list by the New Yorker story. But can't the commentariat take a break from itself and let the world know how much John McCain opposes birth control? Vastly more people rely on contraception than read the New Yorker or know Bernie Mac from mac 'n' cheese. They might like to know that when it comes to contraception, McCain is no maverick.

Here's the story. Last week, Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard who has been helping McCain look bright-eyed and estrogen-friendly, told reporters that women wanted more choice in their health care plans; for example, it bothered women when plans covered Viagra but not contraception. Big mistake! McCain had voted against a bill that would have required plans to cover birth control if they covered prescription meds at all, like, um, Viagra. McCain's nonresponse when queried about this by a reporter was astonishing. As posted on YouTube, he squirms and grins and smirks (Viagra! Embarrassing!) and fumfers about evasively. "I don't know enough about it to give you an informed answer," he manages to splutter, "because I don't recall the vote. I've cast thousands of votes. ... It's something I've not thought much about."

So. John McCain is so opposed to contraception that he voted against requiring insurance plans to cover it like other drugs, and either so indifferent to women's health and rights or just so out of it that he doesn't even remember how he voted. That's the way to show American women you really care.

This is not a trivial issue. There's the basic unfairness of not covering these essential, even life-saving drugs and devices so fundamental to women's health and well-being, and the added insult of denying coverage while men are lavished with cut-rate erections. And there's the craven submission to religious extremists that moves the politics of that denial. It's a pocketbook issue, too: A year's worth of contraception can cost a woman $600. That's a lot of money. Is it too much to expect the next president of the United States to understand that? Now that every politician in America prides himself on knowing the price of a gallon of milk and talks like he's just finished doing the week's shopping for a family of 10?

The story heated up the blogosphere, but a Nexis search at the beginning of this week found only 61 mentions in print and on TV, and most of those were passing references in stories about McCain's bad week (Phil Gramm calling Americans "a nation of whiners" obsessed with a "mental recession" got most of the attention) or focused on the effect that Fiorina's off-message remark will have on her vice presidential chances.

Where is the discussion of the real issue, which is that for more than 20 years John McCain has voted against contraception every time it came up and -- now he tells us! -- doesn't even care or know enough to explain why. Women -- and men -- need to know where he stands on this issue so basic to health and human flourishing if they are going to make informed decisions in the polling booth. But so far the media has refused to present McCain's anti-contraception record as a big, coherent story that tells us a great deal about who he is and what policies he would pursue in the White House.

Maybe the New Yorker could do a cover about it. Then the media might find it interesting enough to discuss.

Feminists for McCain? Not So Much.

Are there feminist Hillary supporters who hate Obama so much they'll vote for McCain just to show the Democratic Party how ticked off they are? Yes, and I get e-mails from all five of them. Seriously, I'm sure there are female Hillary Clinton voters who will go for John McCain in the general election, but I don't think too many of them will be feminists. Because to vote for McCain, a feminist would have to be insane. Let me rephrase that: she would have to believe that the chief -- indeed the only -- goal of the women's movement is to elect Clinton, not to promote women's rights. A vote for McCain would be the ultimate face-spiting nose-cutoff. Take that, women's equality!

Not that the media will help women get it. As Eric Alterman and George Zornick exhaustively document elsewhere in this issue, the mainstream press is doing its best to persuade us that McCain is a moderate -- barely distinguishable from Barack Obama -- even on abortion rights, one of the brighter dividing lines between the parties. In the Providence Journal five days after Clinton suspended her campaign, columnist Froma Harrop was typical: "Would McCain stock the Supreme Court with foes of Roe v. Wade? ... The answer is unclear but probably 'no.'" After all, in 1999 he told the San Francisco Chronicle editorial board that he "would not support repeal" of Roe because women would seek unsafe, illegal procedures. Since the Democrats will control Congress, Harrop figures, "McCain would probably choose a cipher" rather than get bogged down in the abortion wars. This fake shrewdness, buttressed by much use of "probably," "seems," "may" and "my guess is," has as much value as a bet by a drunk in a bar. We all have our hunches -- usually they magically line up with our wishes and preferences, in Harrop's case, her support for Clinton. By the end of the column she's castigating Obama for his "present" votes on abortion bills in the Illinois Assembly, and by the time she's finished, you'd never know that NARAL and Planned Parenthood give Obama 100 percent ratings and McCain a big fat zero.

How anti-choice is John McCain? Let's leave the psychological tea leaves out of it and look at his record. In his four years in the House, from 1983 to 1986, he cast eleven votes on reproductive issues. Ten were anti-choice. Of 119 such votes in the Senate, 115 were anti-choice, including votes for the ban on so-called partial-birth abortions and for the "gag rule," which refuses funds to clinics abroad that so much as mention abortion. In 1999, the year he said he opposed repeal of Roe on health grounds, he voted against a bill that would have permitted servicewomen overseas, where safe, legal abortion is often unavailable, to pay out of their own pockets for abortions in military hospitals.

His record on contraception and sex education is just as bad. He voted against a 2005 budget amendment, sponsored by Senator Hillary Clinton, that would have allotted $100 million to reduce teen pregnancy by means of education and birth control. He voted to require parental consent for birth control for teenage girls and to abolish Title X, which funds birth control and gynecological care for the poor. He voted against requiring insurance companies to pay for prescription contraception, when they pay for other prescription drugs -- like, um, Viagra. The beat goes on, and on. With a handful of minor exceptions (he voted to confirm pro-choice Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher after voting against pro-choice Dr. Joycelyn Elders), he has a just about perfect anti-choice record, including votes to confirm the Supreme Court nominations of Thomas, Roberts and Alito.

As for his 1999 pro-Roe remark, he has retracted it many, many times. Here he is on Meet the Press, May 13, 2007:

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Thank You, Hillary, for Opening the Door for Other Women

Hillary Clinton came this close. In fact, as of this writing, she hasn't formally conceded. Nobody really understands why: why she stuck it out this long, given the math, and why she gave such a grudging, graceless version of her stump speech after the South Dakota primary clinched the nomination for Barack Obama. Suggestions I've heard are not very flattering: she hopes to whittle down her multimillion-dollar campaign debt with donations from the deluded die-hards screaming Denver! Denver! She wants the number-two spot. She's a crazy narcissistic rhymes-with-rich. Maybe she's just ticked off because pundits have been trying to hustle her off the stage ever since her third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses.

Some think Clinton's loss, and the psychodrama surrounding it, will set women back. I think they're wrong. Love her or loathe her, the big story here is Americans saw a woman who was a serious, popular, major-party candidate. Clinton showed herself to be tough, tireless, supersmart and definitely ready to lead on that famous Day One. She raised a ton of money and won 17.5 million votes from men and women. She was exciting, too: she and Obama galvanized voters for six long months -- in some early contests, each of them racked up more votes than all the Republican candidates combined. Once the bitterness of the present moment has faded, that's what people will remember. Because she normalized the concept of a woman running for President, she made it easier for women to run for every office, including the White House. That is one reason women and men of every party and candidate preference, and every ethnicity too, owe Hillary Clinton a standing ovation, even if they can't stand her.

There's another reason to be grateful to her. Clinton's run has put to rest the myth that we are living in a postfeminist wonderland in which all that stands in women's path is women themselves. Like a magnet -- was it the pantsuit? -- Clinton drew out the nation's misogyny in all its jeering glory and put it where we could all get a good look at it. "Iron my shirt" hecklers. Wearers of Bros Over Hos T-shirts and buyers of Hillary nutcrackers. Fans of the Citizens United Not Timid website (check the acronym). Vats of sexist nastiness splattered across the Comments section of hundreds of blogs and websites. It's as if every obscene phone caller and every exhibitionist in America decided to become an amateur political pundit.

As for the real pundits, thank you, Hillary, for showing us the snickering belittling of women that passes for media commentary: Rush Limbaugh, no Adonis, wondering out loud if "the country" was ready to watch a woman age in the White House; Chris Matthews, Don Imus and Tucker Carlson with their litany of insults -- she-devil, Satan, witch, Antichrist, Lady Macbeth. NPR's Ken Rudin compared her to Glenn Close's indestructible bunny-boiler character in Fatal Attraction. And surely a special prize goes to Keith Olbermann for his indignant, hysterical bombast after Clinton's ham-handed reference to RFK's assassination. Rarely has men's terror of women with more brains than a Bratz doll been on such public display. And, of course, men were what we mostly saw up there on the small screen, yakking and blathering away.

It wasn't just men, though. Thank you, Hillary, for letting us get a good look at female sexism: the catty fashionistas and Style page dingbats obsessing over her clothes, her hair, her weight, her cleavage, her laugh. Air America's Randi Rhodes calling her a "big fucking whore," Maureen Dowd offering up her twice-weekly dose of vinegar and dozens of women writers musing prettily about why they and their friends all hate Hillary. Could it be they're jealous? Not, as novelist Mary Gordon has suggested, of Hillary's bagging of sexy Bill (yuck) but of her unsinkable ambition and drive. Hillary's run upset the carefully balanced apple cart of trade-off and resignation and semi-suppressed frustration that is how women of the professional class accommodate to patriarchy lite.

Please note: I don't claim Clinton lost because she's a woman. (I think it was her Iraq vote, which she could never justify or renounce; assorted strategic mistakes; the bumptious interventions of her husband; and, most of all, that Barack Obama, a prodigiously gifted, charismatic politician, took the banner of change away from her.) The attacks on her may even have helped by making women voters identify with her. In New Hampshire, pols' and pundits' sexist mockery of her "misting" made women rally to her side and revitalized her campaign.

Now those women, not all white and not all working class, are on the political map, and so are the issues that made them identify with Clinton: the glass ceiling and the sticky floor, the inequality built into marriage and family life, sexual harassment and assault, lack of support for caring work -- paid or unpaid -- and, underlying them all, a fundamental lack of respect that over the years can make a woman feel fed up to here. It's an irony of this campaign that Clinton was seen by the pundit class as a kind of über-diva whose attempts to reach out were transparently phony (beer and Canadian Club, anyone?) and yet millions of ordinary women--white, Latino and black--saw their struggles mirrored in hers. I won't deny that there's racism and xenophobia in the mix for some--hatred of Obama as affirmative action trickster and secret Muslim. It's incredibly important for Clinton to do the right thing and rally these women to Obama, and I wish I felt surer that she would rise to the occasion.

She could begin by pointing out that Obama is pro-woman and prochoice and as President will pursue policies to benefit all women -- on labor, healthcare, sexual violence and many other issues. She could tell her supporters a vote for McCain is crazy. She could even tell them that a biracial man in the White House will make it easier for voters to imagine other nontraditional kinds of Presidents -- like the next woman who decides to run.

Whoever that woman is, though, she'd better have the hide of a rhinoceros.

Abortion Rights Déjà Vu in South Dakota

It's baaack. In 2006 South Dakota voters defeated, 56 to 44, a ballot initiative that would have banned abortion even to save the woman's life. Prochoicers cautiously exhaled. Antichoicers got busy. Taking a leaf from polls that suggested a hefty majority would favor a ban as long as it included exceptions for drastic circumstances -- rape, incest, the life or physical health of the woman -- antichoicers have rolled out a new initiative, Measure 11. It contains loopholes, in theory, for rape and incest victims who report the crime to law enforcement and allow collection of their DNA and that of the fetus, as well as to women "at serious risk of a substantial and irreversible impairment of the functioning of a major bodily organ or system." An ominous sign: it was submitted to the secretary of state on March 31 with 46,000 signatures, although only 16,000 were required.

In 2006 activists stressed the lack of exceptions -- you'd force the woman to die? go blind? be paralyzed? bear her father's baby? That argument was persuasive but left the vast majority of women who terminate their pregnancies undefended against the widespread belief that they were selfish sluts who used abortion "as birth control." This is how short-term strategies come back to haunt us. There was always the risk that antichoicers would go for what they could get. As South Dakota's own Leslee Unruh, colorful head of the Abstinence Clearinghouse, told the New York Times, "I have to save as many children as I can."

With 44 percent of South Dakotans supporting the Let the Woman Die ban, what are the chances that the new, supposedly more lenient version will be defeated? Jan Nicolay, co-chair of the South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families, the group formed to oppose the 2006 ban, told me voters will reject the ban when they realize its implications: forcing women to carry to term fetuses that cannot survive, tying doctors' hands in difficult obstetrical situations, "revictimizing" rape and incest victims by destroying their privacy. Not necessarily, replied a prochoice activist who wished to remain anonymous: "To challenge the exceptions you have to get deep into the fine print. We can't have a two-hour discussion with every voter in South Dakota." She pinned her hopes on another popular strategy: appealing to the state's libertarian streak. South Dakotans, I heard again and again, don't like the government telling people what to do. But does that include women who have abortions -- alternately depicted as tramps who waltz to the clinic after a night on the town and as naïve weaklings pushed into decisions they will later regret? Of the prochoice activists I spoke with, only Charon Asetoyer, a Native American community activist and health advocate running for State Senate, talked directly about organizing voters around the classic feminist theme of faith in women to make good decisions, to do what's best for their families.

If "faith in women" sounds old-fashioned, maybe that's the problem. In this fight, the antichoicers have the vision, the grassroots energy and the political momentum (as well as the Catholic and evangelical churches and key legislators in both parties), while the prochoicers are left with abstract arguments and the fall-back position that the ban, if passed, will be enjoined by the courts and eventually found unconstitutional. "This could be a galvanizing moment," said one out-of-state activist. "It's outrageous that a state could even be considering a ban! Instead of thinking about the Supreme Court, the national organizations -- Planned Parenthood, NARAL, the ACLU -- should be mobilizing women. I don't hear anything creative coming from them." Indeed, as of this writing I haven't received so much as an e-mail about South Dakota from a national reproductive-rights or feminist organization.

Local activists may warn that Dakotans don't take kindly to out-of-staters interfering, but defeating the ban is going to take millions -- money that's being swept up into the presidential race and other high-profile campaigns. NARAL's puzzling, no-strings endorsement of Obama could not have come at a worse moment. Not only was it too late to matter, it needlessly infuriated the Clinton-favoring donor base and important state affiliates. Meanwhile, South Dakota NARAL's operation consists of one paid staffer. No one I spoke with was surprised the ban is back. So why aren't the big organizations better prepared for it?

"We had a very rich, substantive discussion of abortion here in 2006," insists Sarah Stoesz, head of Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. "By the end of that summer, a lot of prolifers were saying that they were still prolife but could see the complexity of the issue; they didn't want to decide for another woman. People changed." In this reddest of red states, where John Kerry got just 39 percent of the vote in 2004, could abortion be a way into a larger conversation? Stoesz thinks so. "We've been able to show that abortion is not an issue to shy away from but to embrace. In South Dakota the repro-rights movement is leading the progressive coalition."

But come on, South Dakota, we can't keep meeting like this! If enough progressive prochoicers could get elected to state offices, the political culture would start to change -- and not just on abortion rights. A group called WomenRun! South Dakota is promoting a terrific group of Native American women candidates: Charon Asetoyer and Theresa Spry are running for the State Senate; Senator Theresa Two Bulls, the first Native American woman to serve in the Legislature, is facing a primary challenge; Diane Kastner, Lisa Cook and Caitlin Collier are running for House seats. While nationally the Democratic Party is welcoming antichoice conservative candidates, these women are committed to a broad progressive agenda on reproductive rights, education, healthcare, racial equality, economic development and local democracy. Read about them at www.womenrun.org, and make good use of the Donate button (checks can be mailed to WomenRun! SD, PO Box 2983, Minneapolis, MN 55402).

Anti-Feminist Backlash Out in Full Force

Washington University is giving Phyllis Schlafly an honorary doctorate. Let me run that by you again. Washington University, the distinguished 155-year-old seat of higher learning in St. Louis, is giving an honorary degree to Phyllis Schlafly -- archfoe of the Equal Rights Amendment, the United Nations, Darwinism and other newfangled notions, and the promoter of innumerable crackpot far-right conspiracy theories who called the Bomb "a marvelous gift that was given to our country by a wise God." Her eighty-two years haven't mellowed her one bit: last year she blamed the Virginia Tech massacre on the English department; called intellectual men "liberal slobs;" advocated banning women from traditionally male occupations like construction, firefighting and the military; and defended men's property rights over their wives' vaginas ("by getting married, the woman has consented to sex, and I don't think you can call it rape"). The campus is in an uproar, and no wonder. After four years of hard work, female seniors get to watch their school honor someone who thinks they should park their diplomas in the kitchen sink. Washington U might as well bring in mad misogynist Chris Matthews as commencement speaker. Oh. You mean...? No! Yes.

Tell me the backlash against feminism isn't crackling up a storm. I try to keep my eye on the big picture and the bottom line: education, employment, autonomy, power. Surely, I tell myself, the fact that half of all new med students are female is more important than Paris Hilton's omnipresent visage; that a woman has made the first viable run for the presidency says more about the United States than that media clowns like Matthews basically call her a crazy castrating bitch on a daily basis; or that Caitlin Flanagan, smarmy enemy of working mothers (and another big believer in compulsory sex for wives), won a National Magazine Award for reviews and criticism.

But sometimes I think we're truly going backward, as Republican hegemony, conservative Christianity and anti-feminist media propaganda take their cumulative toll. All those judges, all that money, all that shock jockery, all those magazines obsessively following stars' weight and baby bumps: it would be strange if they had no effect. As far as concrete setbacks go, look no further than the case of Lilly Ledbetter, whose right to sue for pay discrimination was denied by the Supreme Court last May. In a 5-to-4 decision, the Justices overturned the standard interpretation of existing law to declare that Ledbetter was twenty years too late: the victim of pay discrimination must sue within six months of the initial discriminatory act -- never mind whether she knew about it (many employers, including Ledbetter's, forbid workers from discussing their salaries; she found out she was paid less than any man at her level from an anonymous tip). Given the realities of life, the Court has given employers the nod to pay women less, as long as they can keep the women in the dark for 180 days. In April a bill to restore women's right to sue failed in the Senate, 56-to-42, because for some reason everything now needs sixty votes to become law. John McCain said the bill would lead to too many lawsuits (hello? all it would have done was restore the law we'd lived with for forty-four years); what women needed was more "education and training." Because right now, women are just too dumb to merit equal pay. As Dahlia Lithwick wrote in a coruscating piece in Slate, if women take this sitting down, maybe they really are dumb.

The suspicion that women are dim would explain why Oklahoma has just passed a law requiring not only that women seeking abortions be forced to view sonograms of their fetuses but that the picture be taken in the way most likely to reveal the clearest picture--often up their vaginas. In other antichoice news, an abortion ban will be on the ballot again in South Dakota, this time with narrow exceptions for rape and incest. And mark June 7 on your calendar -- it's Protest the Pill day, brought to you by the American Life League and other antichoice groups, which claim, despite the evidence, that "the Pill kills babies" by preventing implantation of fertilized eggs. Maybe it's good that the antichoice movement is outing itself as opposed to contraception, as prochoicers have long maintained and not many pundits have noted -- but it also shows that they believe they can come out of the closet and not be dismissed as lunatics. Look for more struggles over government birth-control funding -- already way down, thanks to budget cuts and inflation--as the antichoicers move the goal posts of how "life" is defined.

Yes, women are still making gains in education and -- slowly -- in politics and other areas. But longstanding feminist gains are eroding: battered women's shelters, for example, are closing for lack of funds. And the advances haven't made the difference once hoped for. There are more powerful female Hollywood executives than ever, but as Manohla Dargis pointed out in a splendid rant (her word) in York Times, the movies are relentlessly male-focused: the conventional Hollywood wisdom is "Women can't direct. Women can't open movies. Women are a niche." Culturally, there's misogyny wherever you look: Grand Theft Auto IV, which offers players the opportunity to have sex with prostitutes and kill them, got rave reviews and is expected to have $500 million in sales its first week out. If there's a pro-woman cultural event with that kind of reach and impact, I'd like to hear about it. It certainly wouldn't be Vanity Fair's photo of tween icon Miley Cyrus, clad in nothing but a bedsheet at all of 15 years old -- or the daily media onslaught urging women to focus on their babies like a Zen master contemplating a rock -- when not taking pole-dancing lessons, getting Botoxed or catching up on the latest "studies" purporting to prove that they lack the drive and brains to do anything better with their brief time on earth. Feminism, please call home!

Men of the Cloth: The Vatican Isn't So Far From Fundamentalist Mormonism

Child abuse. Sexual abuse. Women raised to be baby machines controlled by powerful older men in the name of God. These shockers -- and many more -- are flagrantly on offer in the spectacle unfolding around the 139 women and 437 children removed by Texas authorities from the Yearning for Zion Ranch in Eldorado. The YFZ is an outpost of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), a breakaway Mormon cult presided over by Warren Jeffs, convicted in Utah as an accomplice to rape and awaiting trial in Arizona for incest and conspiracy. The visuals are riveting: women in pastel prairie dresses and identical pompadour-cum-french-braid hairstyles weeping for their children in state custody; skinny-necked middle-aged men insisting they had no idea it was illegal to marry and impregnate multiple 15-year-olds. There's a feminist angle, a child-protection angle and a civil liberties angle -- it isn't clear that the children were in immediate danger, and this drastic and clumsy sweep might well cause cultists to isolate themselves even more. The original impetus for the raid -- a desperate phone call from someone claiming to be a 16-year-old girl raped and abused by her 50-year-old "spiritual husband" -- is looking more and more like a hoax.

I've written before about the evils of fundamentalist Mormon polygyny, which is thought to have some 10,000 followers in closed communities in Utah, Arizona, Nevada, South Dakota and Texas. I will never understand why the people who attack Islam as oppressive to women have nothing to say about the FLDS. The cultural relativist arguments they reject when applied to foreign countries are even less applicable here: Everyone in the story is American, supposedly living under American law. Yet for decades state and local authorities have looked the other way when girls are pulled out of school to be "home-schooled," i.e., prepared for marriage to their uncles, and teenage boys are kicked out of the community so as not to compete with the elder men. Indeed, in areas near FLDS communities, public services have been infiltrated by their members: the public schools teach their religious doctrines; the police are on the lookout for girls and women who try to escape.

Still, appalling as is FLDS's extreme male dominance, there was another news story unfolding at the same time that had certain affinities but got a very different slant: Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the United States. What a lovefest! We heard endlessly about Benedict's intellect, charm and elegant red shoes. "Cat Lovers Appreciate Soul Mate in Vatican" made the New York Times most e-mailed list. How little the Pope had to do to win applause as a wise conciliator: Having begun his reign trying to suppress the priestly pedophilia scandal, he met with the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) and reminded Catholics that homosexuals and pedophiles, while both bad, are not the same. Having kept in the liturgy a prayer "for the Jews" so that God might "enlighten their hearts," he visited New York's Park East synagogue, where the rabbi did not similarly call on Catholics to give up their worship of Christ.

But what about women? Oh, them and their messy bodies! As blogger Dana Goldstein pointed out, only Barbara Boxer said boo when Republican Senator Sam Brownback, who supports a constitutional amendment banning abortion, proposed a resolution welcoming the Pope in coded antichoice language and asserting that religion, not the Constitution, was the foundation of our government. (Boxer led a movement that held up the vote for three days until the wording was changed).

Where were the tough questions about the church's absolute ban on contraception, condoms, divorce and abortion -- even to save a woman's life? If it was up to Benedict, we might be more stylish than the plural wives of the FLDS, but we'd be trapped in marriage and have fifteen children just like them. In the United States the Catholic church has lost some of its moral authority -- thank you, pedophile priests -- but it has more temporal power than you might think. Around 12 percent of US hospitals are church-affiliated, which entitles them to refuse modern reproductive healthcare to women. The church is the major opponent of the drive to make health insurance plans cover birth control, forcing women to pay up to $600 out of pocket every year for contraceptives. Along with evangelical Protestants, it is the main force behind every attempt to restrict abortion, defeat prochoice politicians, make contraception and the morning-after pill harder to get, promote false and sexist abstinence-only education and discourage the use of condoms to prevent HIV by spreading unfounded doubts about their effectiveness.

Catholic charities do a lot of good, but the Vatican is a major obstacle to the advancement of women's human rights. In Nicaragua and El Salvador it recently won a total ban on abortion that has already led to dozens of deaths. In Chile it defeated President Michelle Bachelet's plan to give out emergency contraception gratis. In Italy, Poland and elsewhere in Europe it works night and day to make abortion illegal or hard to obtain. In AIDS-plagued Africa its opposition to condoms, contraception and abortion rights has cost millions of lives. None of this is as titillating as pastel-swathed "sister wives" and their vast log-cabin dormitories, but it affects almost everyone on the globe. FLDS men have many wives and the Pope has none, which goes to show there's more than one way to keep women pregnant and in their place.

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Vacation From War. The Bosnian Initiative Frankfurt is a German group that brings together Serb, Croat and Bosnian children for two weeks of fun, safety and friendship. The program now includes young people from Israel and Palestine, who get to know one another beyond stereotypes. $150 makes you a godparent, but donations of any amount are warmly welcomed. Make checks out to "Vacation From War" and mail them to me at The Nation, 33 Irving Place, New York, NY 10003.

Sweatin' the Quran

I was all geared up to write a column fulminating against Harvard for setting up women-only hours in one of its gyms because apparently some Muslim women students felt more comfortable exercising away from the eyes of men. Kowtowing to religion! Validating Islam's obsession with female -- and only female -- modesty! Denial of equal gym time to men! When I was an undergraduate, Harvard kept women out of all sorts of good stuff, like convenient places to eat on campus. Until a year before I got there, women were banned from centrally located Lamont Library, supposedly to discourage canoodling in the stacks. All the gyms on campus were single-sex back then, not that I knew where they were. In short, I'm very conscious of the ways single-sex arrangements have historically given men the lion's share of whatever is being divvied up.

Unfortunately for my life as a casuist, I made the mistake of asking my ever-sensible daughter and her friend Lindsey, both college juniors, what they thought. They thought women-only gym time was fine. "It's only six hours a week, Mom," said Sophie. "And the gym is the least used one on campus." What about the principle? "I think it's hard to be a Muslim girl in a co-ed school," Sophie answered. "If this makes it easier, they should have it." "Well, I don't know that it's especially hard for them," Lindsey put in -- here followed a lengthy discussion of the social lives of Muslim and Orthodox Jewish girls. But say you were a male student, I asked, and you showed up to work out at girls-only time? "Well, I would just come back later," said Sophie, or go to another gym. Honestly, Mom, what's the big deal?" So it doesn't bother you that Harvard is making a special arrangement because of religion? "Well, it isn't really doing that," Lindsey said, "because any woman student can use the women-only hours, and Muslim women don't have to use them if they don't want to."

Right. Why hadn't I thought of that? The Harvard gym controversy looks like it's about religion, but really it's about whether women (or men) should have a little bit of separate space in a co-ed university.

But that's not so exciting. Few would be writing about this handful of single-sex gym hours if the request had come from, say, overweight women or shy women or the club of virgins recently written about in the New York Times Magazine. Some co-ed campuses have single-sex dorms -- Cornell has one for women -- to say nothing of sororities, fraternities and single-sex societies like Harvard's ghastly final clubs. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Orthodox Jewish women at Queens College of CUNY asked for one hour of women-only swimming, a request seconded by other women; now Queens has a weekly pool hour for women and one for men as well. Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, St. John's College in Santa Fe, and Kalamazoo College have all experimented with women-only gym times or classes. None of this has aroused a lot of interest from the national opinion industry. Maybe the women writers are too busy exercising at Curves, the ubiquitous women-only chain, while the men writers are off at their Elks lodge.

But this situation is different: it involves Islam (violent, oppressive, sexist) and Harvard (multicultural twits). When I put "Harvard Muslim girls gym" into Google I got 151,000 hits, including articles from as far away as Japan, and bloodcurdling references to Sharia and honor killings, horrified descriptions of women using treadmills in veils and chadors ("a black, woolen blob, an anachronism of the first degree"), calls for lawsuits and physical invasions of Muslim-girl gym time. Martin Luther King was invoked, as were Title IX, feminism, slippery slopes, appeasement, Nazis and did I mention Sharia?

Well, I shouldn't be so superior, because some of those thoughts went through my mind, too. That is what living in our time does to you: intelligent people go in a flash from "Art history major wants to work out in peace" to "What about those gays they executed in Iran?" One minute Martin Amis is turning out a stream of smart, ambitious novels; the next he's writing about Muslims taking over because Europeans don't have enough babies. I get e-mails every day from people who have been driven round the bend by fear and contempt and self-righteousness. To them, a housewife in a head scarf might as well be a suicide bomber; a taxi driver listening to an Arabic station is probably getting tips on how to murder his sister. It's as if all their lives they've been waiting for a socially acceptable hate-object to come along so they could enjoy the psychological satisfactions of racism without technically being racist.

Yes, terrible crimes against women, gays and secularists are committed in the name of Islam; yes, many Muslim countries have poor human rights records; yes, Muslim fundamentalists say, and sometimes do, horrible things. I've never favored the kind of multiculturalism that looks impassively on the abuse of women because "it's their culture." I was appalled by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams's proposal for separate Sharia courts for British Muslims and by Noah Feldman's support for that idea in The New York Times Magazine: that seems like a recipe for denying Muslim women equal treatment in divorce and other family matters. But what does any of this have to do with Muslim women at Harvard? They weren't taken out of school at puberty to cook and clean, like the home-schooled Pakistani girls in California featured in a recent news story; they aren't being shipped off to the old country to marry their cousins; I doubt very much if their college plan is to have ten children and bring the caliphate to Martin Amis's neighborhood. You might as well say that Harvard's Catholic students have all been molested by priests and will go on to abuse children too. Except nobody does say that.

I'm not totally sold on single-sex gyms. To be fair, there should be equal single-sex time for men as well. Maybe that's a good idea -- not only women are shy about their bodies -- although it might mean, in practice, that men get the better hours and facilities, because separate usually doesn't mean equal. But let's get a grip. Osama bin Laden and burqas and fascism have nothing to do with six hours a week of man-free exercise time for any female student, regardless of race, creed or national origin.

John McCain May Be Old, But He's Still the White Guy

Liberal smarties and sophisticates are having fun mocking John McCain , but assuming he gets the nomination, he will a formidable candidate. He may look like a grumpy old man -- specifically, as my friend Kathleen Geier joked, the grumpy old man who yells at kids to get off his lawn -- or the nutty old uncle who rags on everyone at Thanksgiving before passing out in front of the football game. But that's another way of saying McCain is a familiar, indeed family, character. It does not require an imaginative stretch to get John McCain. How many voters know someone like Barack Obama?

McCain is white, male, patriarchal, a war hero with decades in the Senate. So what if he's old? In politics old can be good ( for men), especially to the older voters -- older white voters -- who dominate the polls. Besides, McCain's not so old that he couldn't get himself a much younger trophy wife, and even if Cindy McCain looks brittle and unhappy and like she hasn't eaten in a decade, she is always there by his side, a visual reminder of his manly prowess. McCain is brash and sly and seemingly unguarded, unlike the famously self-protective Hillary Clinton, and he loves to schmooze with reporters, who adore him and like most of the rest of America, refuse to see how conservative he is. It's like they're saying, Oh go on, Uncle John! you're just saying you love Sam Alito to get me riled up!

Obama v. McCain could be change/youth/black/exciting/internationalist against experience/maturity/white/steady/superpatriot. Put that way, it could come down to how many white male Democrats, who might vote for Hillary, won't vote for a black man, let alone one whose middle name is Hussein. They won't care about McCain's favors for business --too complicated, and anyway everyone does it -- and they certainly won't care if he had an affair with lovely lobbyist Vicki Iseman, as the New York Times sorta-kinda suggested. They might like him even better for that.

We've been patting ourselves on the back a lot for having a black and a woman vying for top spot on the ticket of one of the two major parties. November will tell us whether or not we have really come all that far.

A Campaign to Stop Stoning

Iranian judges apparently didn't get the memo about the moratorium on stoning issued in 2002 by Ayatollah Shahroudi, head of the judiciary. According to Amnesty International, nine women and two men are currently in prison awaiting this cruel and barbaric punishment, which is usually meted out for sexual transgressions.

In May of 2006 a man and a woman were reportedly stoned in Mashhad and the government has officially confirmed the stoning on July 5, 2007 in the village of Aghche-kand of Jafar Kiani, convicted of "adultery" along with Mokarrameh Ebrahimi, with whom he had two children. She has been sentenced to stoning also and is currently in prison with one of her children.

In the most recent case, two sisters, Zohreh and Azar Kabiri, have been sentenced to stoning for "adultery." (This sentence came after the ninety-nine lashes meted out for "inappropriate relations," which came after a trial notable for its lack of due process). Equality Now has the whole horrific story, with addresses of officials to address letters calling for a ban on stoning and the decriminalization of "adultery."

The Iranian activist group Stop Stoning Forever has been pressing for a ban since the 2006 stonings. It was their network of volunteer lawyers, in fact, who identified the prisoners facing this punishment, and took up their cases. So far they have saved four women and one man; the sentence of another woman has been temporarily stayed.

The courage of these activists is breathtaking; several are currently under indictment for participating in a demonstration in support of women's rights. You can sign Stop Stoning Forever's online petition here.

Women Living Under Muslim laws has more information about the Stop Stoning campaign, and a sample letter about the case of the Kabiri sisters.

The Weepy Witch & the Secret Muslim

The media are hopelessly sexist and relentlessly trivial. So much we've learned from the mass hysteria over Hillary Clinton's "emotional moment" in New Hampshire. (Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist Robert L. Jamieson: "She morphed into a 'compassion brand'--like, irony of ironies, Kleenex"; New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd: "Can Hillary Cry Her Way Back to the White House?") Even Southern charmer John Edwards couldn't resist observing that a commander in chief needed "strength and resolve"--a view echoed by Fox commentator Dick Morris ("There could well come a time when there is such a serious threat to the United States that she breaks down") and given full misogynous display by nationally syndicated cartoonist Pat Oliphant's "Madam President Meets the Bad Guys," portraying a dumpy, tearful Hillary surrounded by Osama, Kim Jong Il and similar. All this fuss over a welling of the eyes so brief that if you blinked your own you'd miss it. I have moments like that every day! This was the Dean Scream all over again: a nano-nothing whipped into a self-congratulatory media typhoon.

In the 24/7 chat room, reality never dawns: the narrative is tweaked, not junked. Thus, when Hillary dared to win the New Hampshire primary although pundits had already gleefully hustled her off the stage, the script was quickly rewritten from Tears Sink Woman to Tears Save Woman: 46 percent of women voters, the silly dears, supported a "humanized" Hillary, according to exit polls. (Bill Maher: "They wanted to see the robot cry.") But maybe women supported Hillary this one time to protest cable blowhards like Chris Matthews, who capped his long career of insane Hillary hatred with this zinger: "The reason she's a front-runner is because her husband messed around." Or perhaps, as Susan Faludi and Gail Collins suggested, middle-aged women see in Hillary a calm and competent multitasker like themselves. Lost in the kerfuffle: Hillary won not only among women but also among voters over 40 and those without a college degree.

I've written many times about sexist attacks on Hillary Clinton as an old, ugly, castrating witch-and-what-rhymes-with-it, but Gloria Steinem's New York Times op-ed in defense of her, "Women Are Never the Front-Runners," was not helpful, to put it mildly. "Gender is probably the most restricting force in American life," Steinem wrote. "Black men were given the vote a half-century before women of any race were allowed to mark a ballot, and generally have ascended to positions of power, from the military to the boardroom, before any women (with the possible exception of obedient family members in the latter)." Yes, black men got the vote first, although they could be lynched for using it. Shirley Chisholm, the black Congresswoman who ran for President in 1972, did famously write, "Of my two handicaps, being female put many more obstacles in my path than being black." But Barack Obama is only the third black senator in the modern era; Deval Patrick is only the second black governor. It may be true, as Steinem suggests, that "the sex barrier [is] not taken as seriously as the racial one." But that doesn't mean the racial barrier really is less serious. It just means that the public expression of racism is beyond the pale in a way that the public expression of misogyny is not.

True, nobody's likely to compare Obama to Kleenex; there will be no cartoons involving watermelon and fried chicken. Instead, as his campaign becomes more of a threat, opponents will try to remove his "postracial" mantle. Already, e-mails circulate claiming he's a secret Muslim who took the oath of office on a Koran--indeed these rumors are so widespread MSNBC's Brian Williams asked Obama about them in the Nevada debate. Hillary's campaign strategist Mark Penn, and Hillary supporters black billionaire Robert Johnson and Representative Charles Rangel, have reminded the world of Obama's self-confessed teenage drug experiences. (The Clinton campaign claimed that when Johnson referred to Obama "doing something in the neighborhood--I won't say what he was doing, but he said it in the book," he merely meant community organizing. Yeah, right.) Most recently, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, mainstreaming attacks that have been bubbling for weeks in the right-wing blogosphere, floated the question of anti-Semitism because Obama belongs to a black megachurch run by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., whose house magazine last year honored Louis Farrakhan. "It's important to state right off that nothing in Obama's record suggests he harbors anti-Semitic views," Cohen writes, before going on to suggest exactly that. "I don't for a moment think that Obama shares Wright's views on Farrakhan. But the rap on Obama is that he is a fog of a man. We know little about him, and, for all my admiration of him, I wonder about his mettle." (In fact, Obama has denounced anti-Semitism many times and has said of Wright, "We don't agree on everything.") Meanwhile, Mitt Romney practices Mormonism, which until a 1978 "revelation" explicitly preached black inferiority and is still explicitly sexist in about a thousand ways. Mike Huckabee gets a free pass from the media for being a Southern Baptist minister who in 1998 went on record supporting the denomination's new doctrine of wifely submission.

Barring an Edwards upset, the Democratic Party is going to nominate either a white woman or a black man as its presidential candidate. This is indeed a testament to how far we have come. Still, it wouldn't take much innuendo and truth-twisting to turn Barack Obama into the Muslim Al Sharpton--surely no more than it's taken to turn Hillary Clinton into the lesbian Lady Macbeth. That's why it's crucial not to get into an oppression sweepstakes. If the campaign becomes a competition between race and gender--Frederick Douglass versus Elizabeth Cady Stanton, as one New York Times graphic put it--the winner on election day will be whichever white man the Republican Party nominates.

Pop Culture Pregnancies, Teen Edition

Teens getting pregnant: bad. Teens having babies: good. If this makes no sense to you, wake up and smell the Enfamil. It's 2008! The hot movie is Juno, a funnyquirkybittersweet indie about a pregnant high school hipster who gives her baby up for adoption. The hot celebrity is Jamie Lynn Spears, 16-year-old sister of Britney and star of Nickelodeon's Zoey 101, who's pregnant and having the baby because she wants to "do what's right." The teen birthrate, after falling for fourteen years, is up 3 percent, a phenomenon perhaps not unrelated to the fact that abstinence-only sex ed, although demonstrably ineffective at preventing sexual activity and linked to higher rates of unprotected sex, is the only sex ed taught in 35 percent of our schools. (Although maybe teens are having babies for the same reasons grown women are -- the birthrate for adults is up, too.)

Written by a woman, Diablo Cody, Juno has been called the woman's answer to Knocked Up, Judd Apatow's hugely successful tribute to accidental fatherhood. Apatow's men are sweet, wisecracking slackers, boys who just want to have fun -- porn, pot, fantasy baseball; the women are tightly wound taskmistresses, life's wet blankets. (I thought this dynamic was pretty obvious, but when Knocked Up star Katherine Heigl observed in Vanity Fair that the movie was "a little sexist," all hell broke loose. How ungrateful! Didn't she know actresses are supposed to be seen and not heard?) In Juno, the pregnant girl is the central figure, a witty oddball who drives all the action, beginning with the sex; neither the boy nor her father and stepmother, a well-meaning but rather oblivious pair, much affect her decisions. Thus, Juno goes for an abortion alone, without even telling her parents she's pregnant. In real life, this would most likely have been impossible, because nearly all states in the Midwest (where the movie is set) have parental notification or consent laws. But it's a big advance in realism over Knocked Up or Waitress, last year's other celebration of unplanned pregnancy as the key to getting your life together, neither of which so much as mentioned the A-word. Juno flees the clinic waiting room, grossed out by a punk receptionist who offers her some boysenberry-flavored condoms ("they make [my boyfriend's] junk smell like pie") and given pause by a pro-life protester classmate who tells her her fetus already has fingernails. She decides to give the baby to a deserving couple, and remarkably her parents go along with this.

Juno is a witty, moving but not sentimental film that made both women I saw it with cry. Juno herself is a prickly, winsome, complex and original person: she wears work shirts, plays the guitar and has a luminous intelligence and a pixielike nonsexy beauty, and that is a way young girls are almost never portrayed in films. Still, and maybe this is why I remained dry-eyed, I couldn't get over my sense that, hard as the movie worked to be a story about particular individuals, not a sermon, it was basically saying that for a high school junior to go through pregnancy and childbirth to give a baby to an infertile couple is both noble and cool, of a piece with loving indie rock and scorning cheerleaders; it's fetal fingernails versus boysenberry condoms. To its credit, the film doesn't demonize teen sex; still, a teen who saw this movie would definitely feel like a moral failure for choosing abortion. Do we really want young girls to feel like they have to play babysanta? The mother in me winced at Juno, that wisp of a child-woman, going through the ordeal of pregnancy and childbirth.

Juno is sensible enough to realize she's just a kid and makes the choice that not long ago was forced on middle-class white girls. These days, 29 percent of pregnant teens have abortions; 14 percent miscarry; of the 57 percent who carry to term, less than 1 percent give up the baby. Paradoxically, the women's movement destigmatized single motherhood and thus helped make a world in which some of the old justifications for abortion no longer seem so forceful. Now it's abortion that is a badge of shame and "irresponsibility."

But feminists aren't the only ones over a barrel here. It has been amusing watching the anti-choicers squirm as they laud Jamie Lynn Spears's "life-affirming decision" to add a new member to pop culture's most notoriously dysfunctional family. Even Mike Huckabee -- the candidate who protested that he was too busy to keep up with the NIE report on Iran's nuclear program -- called it a "tragedy" before adding, "Apparently, she's going to have the child, and I think that is the right decision, a good decision, and I respect that and appreciate it." Off the campaign trail, Jamie Lynn has been getting a royal slut-shaming: a football player could probably have killed someone and gotten less criticism -- as long as he didn't kill a baby, that is. Especially a really cute one. Or a dog. Even the New York Times ran a front-page story about how "disappointed" are the parents of the young girls who adore Zoey 101. As if it's unusual for 16-year-olds to have sex. Maybe if so many parents didn't have the idiotic idea that "perfect" girls like Zoey actually exist, they would talk to their daughters about birth control instead of assuming, as Jamie Lynn's mother did, that Jamie was "conscientious" because she always met her curfew. Mama Spears's parenting book has been put on hold, reportedly replaced by a million-dollar baby-photo deal made by Jamie Lynn.

Just to bring the whole reproductive carnival full circle, Florida's "Choose Life" license plates, of which more than 40,000 have been sold, have raised more than $4 million for low-income single moms. But there's a catch: only women who choose adoption qualify. A woman who wants to keep her baby can just go starve in hell. Since only a handful of women want to give away their babies -- even among pregnant women who plan on adoption, 35 percent change their mind once the baby is born -- the money is just sitting there. Maybe someone, someday will make a movie about that.

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