July 13, 2006

Meet Judge Sarah T. Hughes

Running slightly late this week, sorry about that. But we have a great Texas lady to profile - Judge Sarah T. Hughes. She's best known as the person before whom President Lyndon Johnson was sworn in right after Kennedy was shot - that's her in the glasses in the famous picture taken aboard Air Force One. But really, that's the very least of her achievements.

Born in Maryland, Sarah attended Baltimore public schools and then graduated from Goucher College. She began her legal career working full-time as a police officer working primarily with juveniles, while attending George Washington University Law School at night. She was one of only two women in her law school class. In 1922 she married fellow lawyer George Hughes and they moved to Dallas, where he began a law practice and she began to run smack into the widespread discrimination against women in legal professions. She practiced law with her husband until she obtained a position with another firm. Not a great position, mind you - they didn't have a secretary, so they allowed her to use their outer office and threw a few cases her way. What a bunch of princes.

Hughes began to get more involved in politics, and in 1930 was elected to the first of three terms she spent as a state representative. In 1935 she became the first female district judge in Texas. In that position she fought for the rights of women to serve on juries and for juvenile justice reform. When she was appointed, one state senator publicly commented that, "She ought to be home washing dishes." She responded that the Senator probably would not hold his position "if his charming wife had been home washing dishes instead of campaigning for him." Sassy!

Continue reading "Meet Judge Sarah T. Hughes" »

July 11, 2006

Action Item: Tell Disney that racism sucks, yarrrr

So like a gazillion other people in the US this weekend, Sweet Feminist Boy and I went to see the new Pirates of the Caribbean flick. I really dug the first one. Good banter! Fun sword fights! Tough heroine who's openly critical of the stupid, oppressive female wardrobe of the era! Clever, swashbuckling, girly-man heroes! Johnny Depp in eyeliner! What's not to like? Warning!! Spoilers ahoy!

Would that the second one had been as fun. Not nearly as much banter, our heroine had much less to do, and then there was the massive dose of racism. I was irritated by the treacherous and disposable people of color who all suddenly get killed while their white companions survive, and REALLY annoyed by the Token Wise Black Person being a voodoo priestess. And the CAC Review (hat tip to Flooded Lizard Kingdom) does a great job of calling Disney out about the Wicked Cannibal Savages who, in their comical ineptness, fail to roast Depp's Jack Sparrow over an open fire:

A trailer for the film clearly shows the Caribs roasting live people on spits and holding captives to be eaten...in a stark reminder of some of the most vile imperialistic imagery produced in the early colonial era. Such images are getting a new lease on life thanks to Disney, which with the resources that rival those of a colonial power, has now dedicated itself to popularizing and internationalizing images of the Caribs as "cannibals..."

Let us keep in mind that such depictions were used to enslave and murder the ancestors of today's Caribs, there was never anything innocent or "fun" about these portrayals. In addition, generations of Carib descended school children in the Caribbean have been taught that their ancestors were savage cannibals. Shame over ancestry was inculcated as a matter of routine. In my own field research experience, I have encountered individuals in their forties and fifties who told me very directly that the main reason they did not wish to self-identify as Caribs is that people in the wider world see Caribs as cannibals, as inhuman man eaters, and they found the stigma unbearable. Disney is playing its part in centuries of ethnocide.

Oh, those humorless people of color, wanting to be portrayed as... uh... people.

This all sounds very familiar to me. It smacks of anorexics who starve themselves because they hate the idea of growing up to be women. Or of Asian women who surgically alter their eyelids so as to conform to Western standards of beauty. Or of African-American people who bleach their skin and straighten their hair after being told that their natural color and texture is 'nappy' and unacceptable. That there, folks, is internalized oppression. What's that I hear? I think it might be someone with privilege asking why this is a big deal.

So glad you asked. (more analysis, plus the names and addresses of the people you should write to and tell them they suck, after the fold)

Continue reading "Action Item: Tell Disney that racism sucks, yarrrr" »

July 8, 2006

Everyone should read this - white folks especially

Shannon over at Egotistical Whining has written a fantastic Racism FAQ. She uses the familiar equation that power + prejudice = racism, but goes on to say:

Q) But I don't have any power! or I don't get any advantages.

A) The power is structural. So if one is rewarded for their degree of whiteness by getting the benefit of the doubt or having their money assumed good in stores, that is an advantage, and that is power. If someone sees your white skin, they assume you're automatically smarter, better and more normal than people of color. That's power.

Q) But it's so hard to not be racist/what can I do to not be a racist?

A) There are two general rules: shut up and listen and don't be an asshole. You'll learn a lot of other things on the way, but those two rules are the key.

Love it. Reminds me of something a social worker I know used to say, a two-sentence summary of diversity training: "Some people are different from you. Please deal." I know, easy to say, hard to do, but if you keep these few things in mind and try to act accordingly, in my book, you can't go too far wrong.

July 6, 2006

Action Item: Call for investigation into murders of Guatemalan women

The good folks at Amnesty International do a lot for women's rights around the world. They're currently working to increase awareness of and efforts to prosecute and prevent the terrible wave of sexual assault and murder of women in Guatemala. Literally thousands of women have died, and almost nothing has been done about it.

Here's what you can do:

July 5, 2006

Meet Minnie Fisher Cunningham

This week's feminist foremother is Minnie Fisher Cunningham. UT alumna, adoptive mom, political strategist, and organizer extraordinaire, New Waverly-born "Minnie Fish" was a lifelong activist. Her father, a former Texas State Representative, gave her early training in politics by taking her to meetings with him. The pay inequity she experienced while working as a pharmacist pushed her to work for women's right to vote. In 1913, she reactivated the Galveston Equal Suffrage Association and began working for the vote. She became president of the Texas Equal Suffrage Association in 1915. After the failure of a suffrage bill in the state legislature, she changed her tactics and worked to allow women to vote in state and local primaries. Texas passed such a law in 1917.

Cunningham and her fellow suffragists were such successful advocates, they became known as the "petticoat lobbyists." They persuaded the state legislature to ratify the 19th Amendment in 1920. This success got her noticed, and she was recruited to go to Washington, D.C., to help in the efforts to get the amendment ratified nationwide.

After its passage, she continued her activism. She was a founding member of the League of Women Voters. Back in Texas, she ran against a Klan member for a U.S. Senate seat, and then was appointed to several offices, including the leadership of the Texas Agricultural Extension Agency and the federal Agriculture Adjustment Agency. She ran for governor in 1944 and lost, but continued to work for progressive goals and inspire young activists like Liz Carpenter and Billie Carr until her death in 1964.

For more info:

Some wedding stories and some marriage stories - not the sucky kind

NOW's national office has started an Equal Marriage Story Bank. It's a lovely collection of stories from same-sex couples and allies - even some that talk about the ceremonies. I am a huge sap, so I'm all 'awwww...' Sniffle.

Got a great story? C'mon, share with the group.

July 2, 2006

Call to action: Support the last abortion clinic in Mississippi!

From our sisters over in Mississippi:

Dear NOW Activist,

Threats to reproductive freedom and justice have never been so systematic and coordinated, and the lives and health of Mississippi women never faced such peril. The Jackson Area National Organization for Women (NOW), along with the Mississippi ACLU and the MS Reproductive Freedom Coalition are organizing an action around the upcoming hostile visit by Operation Oppress America (this is what they actually do), during the week of July 15-22, 2006.

Year after year anti-choice bullies travel across the country terrorizing clinics, their staff and patients and each time, the pro-choice community continues to show support for women, feminist issues and safe legal access to reproductive health care, free of government and religious intrusion. As an organization with a strong pro-choice foundation, NOW stands firm on reproductive freedom. We are committed to preserving a woman’s right to choose.

July 15-22, 2006, Jackson, MS will be invaded by ‘Operation Oppress America’ and several other self-righteous, right-winged Christian fundamentalists, who use a nationwide network of churches to organize a series of actions against abortion providers and harass women visiting the clinics. They have chosen the Jackson’s Women Health Clinic-the only provider in Mississippi.

Continue reading "Call to action: Support the last abortion clinic in Mississippi!" »

June 30, 2006

Pride Month linkage

As we wind up Pride Month, I want to share some of my favorite queer reads of the month:

Also, some queer blogs I recommend:

  • Alison Bechdel - Author of the delightful comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For. She's not super prolific, but she's such a fantastic writer. I love the FAQ (now I know that wasn't a disposable diaper in strip #440!), and it's nice to be able to read the newest strip online.
  • Blac(k)ademic - A wonderful writer who really connects the dots of racism, classism, sexism, and homophobia.
  • Mombian - Subtitled "Sustenance for lesbian moms," it's chock full of great parenting advice, wonderful recommendations for queer-positive kids' books, and more good stuff.
  • Susie Bright - This woman turns me into a blushing fangirl. She writes about sex and sexuality with guts and integrity. Smart, irreverent, incisive, frank.

Is "choice" the right word?

Lynn Harris over at Broadsheet started a great conversation about reproductive rights language. The comments section gets pretty interesting.

I've heard both sides of this argument, and they both have merit. Some feminist folks take the position that no one is pro-abortion, how could anyone be actively for something that's so hard, but it has to remain a safe, legal option; so they use the choice language. The hardcore folks, like Eleanor Smeal, say that refusing to talk about abortion is letting the anti-reproductive rights folks define the debate - a big strategic mistake; so they stick with abortion rights language.

Longtime Texas activist Peggy Romberg of Women's Health and Family Planning Association of Texas has a good way to put this, I think. She says that the pro-choice position is the moderate compromise - that one end of the spectrum is the anti-choicers who want to outlaw abortions, and the other end of the spectrum is people who would force women to have abortions. We're in the middle - abortion should be safe, legal, and accessible, and the decisions should be left up to individuals. This is accurate, and it's also a smart rhetorical move - when you've got China on one end and Randall Terry on the other, yep, we look quite sane and reasonable by comparison.

June 28, 2006

Inaugural edition: Women's History Wednesdays

New Feature!

Every Wednesday we'll shine a spotlight on our Texan feminist foremothers. Why?

  • Because women are consistently underrepresented in our history books
  • Because we need to know how far we've come
  • Because we can find inspiration for today's battles in those of times past
  • Because those who don't know their history are condemned to repeat it

To kick off the series, I'd like to introduce y'all to one of Texas' first feminists, Helen Stoddard.

Continue reading "Inaugural edition: Women's History Wednesdays" »

June 26, 2006

How pregnancy can keep you pro-choice

I take it for granted that everyone interested in women's issues should read Respectful of Otters, home of the very smart, thoughtful, compassionate Rivka. She's recently started posting again, after a hiatus for the birth of her first child, and I rejoice to see her back in the blogosphere. Her recent post about pro-choice motherhood is just stunning.

...my personal experience with pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood has strengthened and deepened my conviction that abortion is a valid choice that must remain safe, legal, and available.

Continue reading "How pregnancy can keep you pro-choice" »

June 25, 2006

The great oral debate

So there's been this raging controversy in the feminist blogosphere about whether women performing oral sex on men is inherently degrading. Normally I'd stay out of a discussion like this, because 1) it's not exactly a burning political issue; and 2) boy, did I get enough of these kinds of pointless arguments as an undergraduate. Just thinking about M., who actually wrote a thesis on whether a feminist could justify doin' it in the missionary position, makes my eyes start to roll back into my head.

But with so many people having so many strong reactions about it (162 comments at Pandagon! Over 200 at instigating blog I Blame the Patriarchy!), I can't resist commenting. I realize that many people don't give a damn or might be offended, so my take is behind the cut.

Obviously I'm speaking for myself here, as I'm pretty sure Texas NOW has no official position on this particular subject.

Continue reading "The great oral debate" »

Lots of women support Hillary - does she really support us?

Everyone knows that Hillary Rodham Clinton is the presumptive Democratic nominee for 2008. The conventional wisdom is that she'll have massive support among women, but Women's eNews says that might not be so. Some feminist groups are not thrilled by many of her votes in the Senate and some of her issue positions.

Clinton has teamed up with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada who opposes abortion rights, to introduce legislation aimed at preventing pregnancy by enhancing access to contraception and reducing health care costs. Critics see the bill as an attempt to shift the debate away from the controversial issue of abortion rights.

"I would like Senator Clinton, as I would like all pro-choice representatives, to start any conversation about reproductive justice and reproductive health by saying, 'I support access to safe, affordable, legal abortions,' period," said Melody Drnach, action vice president at the Washington-based National Organization for Women.

Amen, sister. I think the Prevention First strategy is a good one for advocacy groups, especially in more conservative states. Big props to our friends at Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America for this very smart campaign. But as an issue position for a presidential candidate, it irritates me. It's a very Third Way position to take, which is not necessarily a bad thing. But given all the attacks on choice in the states, I want to hear federal candidates flat-out say whether they do or do not support a woman's right to choose. Supporting reproductive freedom is not a liberal position! What's more conservative than saying the government has no business legislating your personal decisions?

Continue reading "Lots of women support Hillary - does she really support us?" »

June 23, 2006

Happy birthday, Title IX!

Title IX, the landmark legislation that prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender by institutions that receive federal funding, is 34 years old today.

The fine folks working on educational equity at Education Development Center have an excellent history of Title IX on their website. Here are some highlights:

  • The whole deal got kicked off when Dr. Bernice Sandler noticed that President Johnson's executive order forbidding gender discrimination would apply to colleges and universities with federal contracts or funding - and that's most of 'em
  • Rep. Martha Griffiths of Michigan gave the first speech to Congress about gender discrimination in education.
  • Rep. Edith Green of Oregon, chair of the subcommittee that dealt with higher ed, drafted the initial legislation and held the first congressional hearings on women and education. In one of those cool instances where everyone acted right, Rep. Green listened to the concerns of African-American leaders concerned about the practicality of adding gender stuff on to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act; she proposed a whole new section, which is where we get the name Title IX.
  • The jackasses in the Reagan-era Department of Justice tried to limit the application of Title IX. Congress smacked 'em down with the Civil Rights Restoration Act, and then the Supreme Court affirmed the liability of institutions for the acts of individual employees and ruled that plaintiffs could sue for monetary damages. So yeah, y'all got to take us seriously.

We're not done yet. Lots of stupid adminstrative rules still exist that mean women's sports still get less funding than men's. There's still a huge lack of support for women in traditionally male fields. Women don't leave these fields because they can't do the work; they leave because they're not welcome and the workload is tailored for single men.

But. For today, I'm celebrating the fact that some smart, badass ladies saw a problem, took an opportunity to fix it, and gave us the legal stick (and later the carrot) we could use to demand equal rights in education.