a bird and a bottle

Not Gonna Knock Knocked Up
June 10, 2007, 10:28 pm
Filed under: feminism/s & gender, frivolity, funnies, media, news, reproductive justice, sexuality

Well, color me surprised.

knocked up

I was already to write a post deriding Judd Apatow‘s new film Knocked Up. I haven’t seen Apatow’s other work (Freaks & Geeks, the 40-year-old virgin), so this was not what you might call an educated opinion, but I figured that a movie called “knocked up” couldn’t be good. The phrase knocked up just rings of misogyny.

But I was pleasantly surprised. SF and I saw it last night. A.O. Scott was right. It was funny. It was sweet. And, for the most part, it lacked the misogyny that often pervades the two genres with which it toyed: so-called chick flicks and stoner movies.

I was nervous about the film’s treatment — or lack thereof — of abortion. I had heard that the film sort of glosses over it. Apparently, the topic was interesting, and obvious enough, to make its way into the NY Times Styles section this week. While it’s true that “abortion” is never uttered in the film, the issue is not ignored either. More than that, what (admittedly little) conversation there is about abortion in the film seemed to me to be a fairly biting satire of our inability to talk honestly and apolitically about abortion in the U.S. And the film’s general treatment of pregnancy, reproduction, and birth (in a very impressive Stan Brakhage-esque scene) is often much better than the Hollywood standard.

And I’m not alone in my relief: Amanda Marcotte’s review at her new blog Unsprung echoes a lot of my thoughts.

Still, I can see why some pea-brained conservatives seek validation for their misogynist political opinions from the previews of the movie. From the preview, the movie seems like a wet dream for anti-choicers, a story of an uppity bitch who gets hers by getting trashed and sleeping with the wrong guy, which leads to punishment-by-pregnancy. Add in the college Republican fantasy of being able to trap a wife through pregnancy, and you’ve got a bit of anti-choice propaganda. Those folks will be sorely disappointed by the movie, unless they’re too dumb to pick up on the not-really-subtle subtleties, particularly with the way that the movie sides with Alison’s right to have her own life and career despite being pregnant.

All of this praise doesn’t mean I don’t have a bone to pick with the film. And that nit to pick is this: why is it that the only people who actually sorta kinda talk about abortion in the film are men? Ben’s (the guy who gets Katherine Heigl’s Allison pregnant) stoner friends are the ones who get closest to saying the word “abortion,” while Allison’s mother says only that Allison should “get it taken care of,” or something to that effect. One of Amanda’s commenters also picked up on this; she sees it as yet another example of the “father knows best” mindset. I’m not so sure. Maybe it just speaks to the fact that it’s easier sometimes for men than for women to talk about abortion — and to pontificate about it. But maybe I’m just being too optimistic.

Whatever the case, I was impressed by the film. Anyone else seen it and have an opinion? I’d love to know…


Prisons as Tourist Destinations?
May 12, 2007, 2:29 pm
Filed under: criminal justice, is our children learning?, media, news

I love it when the Times avoids real social commentary by sidelining articles in the styles or travel sections. Yesterday, for example, the Times had an article in the Escapes section about prisons. Prisons? In the friday travel section? Well, yes, because it’s not about prisons today, per se, but rather about how prisons of the past have become tourist attractions.

Turns out, prisons around the country are becoming big tourist destinations and, in some places, big business. Alcatraz has, of course, been a big draw for quite some time (and is now owned and operated by the National Park Service). Turns out, the conversion of Alcatraz into a park and museum was the top of a much larger trend. Today, it’s one of many prison parks.

There’s a lot of good that come out of this — particularly, education about life inside a prison and about the errors of the U.S. penological past. But, because these museum/theme park prisons are not often political entities, the lessons that can be learned today are often notably missing. For example, Eastern State Penitentiary, the prison on which the Times article focuses and which was the subject of Dickens’ musings, was built around the idea that rehabilitation could be found only through solitary life. All incarcerated men were in solitary confinement for the duration of their sentences. Of course, this proved effective not as a rehabilitation tactic but as a way to ensure that people went insane. Today, in Supermax and other maximum security prisons, people often remain in solitary for months if not years on end. Should we really still believe that this is makes penological sense?

Also, there’s a danger to opening prisons up as theme parks. They become Disneyfied (to borrow a term from SF). Take this example from the NYT article:

At the Crime and Punishment Museum in Ashburn, Ga., visitors can eat lunch at the Last Meal Cafe, which has, the museum’s Web site proclaims, “meals to die for.”

Get it? Yeah. Because wolfing down a greasy burger can help a person really understand the American prison system. Or can help some company make a buck. There’s also this:

In just about every prison tour, there seems to be at least one poster child whose bad behavior helps bolster ticket sales, and the more notorious, the better. Al Capone is featured at Eastern State. The Wyoming Territorial Prison Museum in Laramie, Wyo., which gets 20,000 visitors a year, highlights the fact that Butch Cassidy was imprisoned there for stealing horses.

If Al Capone knew he was Pennsylvania’s Mickey Mouse, he’d be rolling over in his grave.

So what’s the takeaway here? To me, it’s the lost opportunity to really re-examine the failings of American criminal justice. As the article notes, some visitors view the prisons like they do a car accident — it’s impossible to look away. But as SF noted in an email to me, that’s the wrong analogy. The better comparison is to a torture museum, which have become popular around Europe. This stronger connection, of course, exposes the fatal flaw: torture is illegal across Europe while the tortures of the U.S. prison system persist.

More Stories from Men/Dads

update: via Jill, here’s a woman’s story of abortion. It’s sad and moving and also joyful and energizing.

The Supreme Court’s shift in abortion jurisprudence with its decision a few weeks ago in Gonzales v. Carhart has gotten a lot of press both in traditional MSM and on blogs (including this one). That’s to be expected given the politically explosive nature of the abortion debate and the love of the media for all things inflammatory.

What’s interesting, though, is how many of the stories and posts to follow the decision have been about men’s experiences as fathers, fathers-to-be, and would-be dads.

Take, for example, today’s LA Times opinion piece by Dan Neil — a touching and, at this point, familiar story.

Neil writes about his and his wife’s desire to have children; she underwent IVF to conceive, and ended up with too many fetuses (four when they could only have or handle two). So they reduced her pregnancy — a euphemistic term for selective abortion when a woman carries too many fetuses as a result of IVF or other fertility treatments. Neil writes well – he’s totally unapologetic (rightly unapologetic) and is concerned about the world his two female daughters-to-be will face once they’re born in light of the Supreme Court’s rightward shift and the fact that 9 of the 10 GOP presidential candidates profess to want to see Roe overturned.

I read the story, and felt for Neil and his wife; both their sadness and their relief at reducing the pregnancy. But I couldn’t help but wonder if men are the new face of abortion rights. Is it men whom we must ask to defend abortion rights now against a court and a rightwing political movement led mostly by men?

And if so, isn’t it a sad state of affairs that there is such contempt for women in this society that we need men to be the public faces of the fight for our reproductive autonomy?

A Transgender Shelter in NYC? Great! The Times’ Article about it….Eh.
May 2, 2007, 9:04 am
Filed under: media, news, NYC, sexuality

Kudos to the NY Times for running an article today about Carmen’s Place, a shelter for transgender youth in the city. The shelter, a second-floor apartment in an Astoria, Queens building, houses young men and women, many of whom are teenagers and most of whom work as prostitutes on a nearby “tranny stroll.” It’s run by a man named Father Braxton, who leads the residents in prayer each morning and locks the door at 2AM each night. Disappointingly – but not surprisingly – this small apartment may be the only shelter for transgender youth in the entire city.

At first, I was impressed by the article and by the reporter’s sensitivity — using the proper pronouns (so often male to female transgender people are wrongly called “he”). But that positive impression was short-lived. Because this article, perhaps typically, couldn’t resist painting its subjects as sad, abused, superficial, desperate young women. The article’s entire second page is a litany of short biographical sketches of the women: growing up in broken homes, subject to sexual abuse, desiring love and affection. Maybe I’m wrong, but the article seemed to me to say: these women don’t have to be this way; it’s their upbringings that have created their gender confusion.

Maybe I read it wrong. Maybe I’m being uncharitable. But I still found it objectionable.

Violence Against Abortion Clinics Up; Media Attention Still Nonexistent
April 27, 2007, 9:40 am
Filed under: civil rights, education, media, news, politics, reproductive justice, wingnuttery

Via WIMN’s Voices:

Yesterday, an explosive device was found at an Austin, TX women’s health clinic. A clinic that performs abortions, of course. The place was shut down, people evacuated, and even a portion of the highway roped off.

Oh, didn’t hear about it? Yeah, didn’t think so.

There’s a reason for that — the nonexistent (or trifling) media coverage of violence against women, particularly when such violence brushes up against politically touchy subjects like abortion.

With the exception of this short AP article (mainstream national media did cover the spree of abortion provider shootings in Buffalo, NY and bombings around the country in the 1990s. But that was ten years ago. One would particularly expect the news antennae to go up over this violence and attempted violence today, with the fear level ratcheted up and the 24-hr coverage of terrorism, war, and anything else violent or salacious.

So why is it that stories about violence against women and women’s health is being ignored? Is it the politics? Or just a sense that because we don’t make a big deal out of it, the news machine doesn’t have to?

WIMN’s Keely Savoie suggests that the lack of news media attention is harming all feminist causes, and making feminists who do make a stink seem like chicken littles (or worse, like the stereotypical shrill women’s libber). Zuzu posits that there’s a real, actual, danger in the MSM non-reaction to such violence, and that it was also reflected in the lack of action after the first shooting at Virginia.

I’m not sure that I buy these theories. But I am disturbed by the lack of national concern about such violence.

Let’s Match
April 19, 2007, 9:37 pm
Filed under: activism, media, news

Tomorrow, in memory of the lives lost at VT on Monday and in the hopes that such tragedies can be avoided in the future, students will wear the Hokie colors — maroon and orange.

Here’s the call for solidarity from Tech’s school paper:

College students across the country have united to declare Friday, April, 20 “Orange and Maroon Effect Day.” Students are creating groups on Facebook to announce and spread word about the day-long memorial. A student at Virginia Commonwealth University created the group, writing that the point of the group is to get everyone to wear Tech’s colors and show support.

“We are all part of the Hokie Nation now, touched by their tragedy and one in their healing.”

I encourage you to take this easy step to show support for a community in mourning and trying to heal.

(hat tip SZE)

Why Gonzales v. Carhart Matters

One of the most common comments I’ve seen around the blogosphere (sometimes from trolls, sometimes not) since yesterday’s ruling is that the decision doesn’t matter — that it only affects one procedure which is performed very infrequently. As I noted in a post yesterday, the decision matters a lot. In large part, its impact will come from the fact that it sanctions abortion restrictions that don’t have an exception for women’s health.

Another big reason (or rather, several reasons) this case matters is (are) clear in today’s L.A. Times article, aptly titled “Anti-abortion activists Look to Build on Court Victory“. Based on an interview with Operation Rescue‘s head (OR is Randall Terry’s baby), the article is a bullet-point list of the wingnut anti-choicers’ plans in the wake of Gonzales v. Carhart:

— Ban all abortion of viable fetuses, unless the mother’s life is endangered.

— Ban mid- and late-term abortion for fetal abnormality, such as Down syndrome or a malformed brain.

— Require doctors to tell patients in explicit detail what the abortion will involve, show them ultrasound images of the fetus and warn them that they might become suicidal after the procedure.

— Lengthen waiting periods so women must reflect on such counseling for several days before obtaining the abortion.

It is far from certain that the Supreme Court would uphold all these proposals. But anti-abortion activists clearly feel momentum is on their side.

In particular, they’re pleased that the court upheld an outright ban — with no exceptions — on a surgical procedure performed in the second trimester, when the fetus is too large to be evacuated through a suction tube.

Still think Gonzales was an unimportant blip?

(via Scott)