Politics, feminism, culture, books and daily life.
So here it is, Superbowl Sunday, or as I prefer to call it, Focus on the Fetus Sunday. If you support women's right to decide for themselves when and if to continue a pregnancy, don't just get mad at the TV set when the Tebow ad comes on, get even. Donate $5 or $10 dollars (or, of course, more) to the National Network of Abortion Funds. This is the umbrella organization for all the local funds across the country which help low-income women find and pay for their abortion care. These funds, which are run by local volunteers, face a stream of need that just never goes away. Just this week I got this urgent e mail from the Equal Access Fund of Tennessee:
LAST MINUTE EMERGENCY SITUATION
Is there any way you can possibly pitch in on this bad situation for avery young patient? She is a 15 year old from a small East Tennesseetown who is pregnant by an adult neighbor of her family! I have beenon the phone with the daughter and the mother for hours this week asthey debated the religious and ethical aspects of what is going on.They have never considered abortion and this is very difficult forthem both.
Her mother, while not supportive of abortion in general, is trying herhardest to understand and deal with what is going on with herdaughter. They are a poor family and need $400 more than what we have currently in the fund to make the trip out of town to get her seen intime...
I only have 24 hours to figure this one out and have turned to yousince you have been a great supporter in the past. I have arrangedwith a friend to use their Paypal account for this one time eventbecause it is very timely and dire. If you can help, let me know and Iwill get that account information for you.
We have only a short time to pull this together.
Thanks in advance. I am trying anything I can to help this family.
Put yourself in that girl's shoes for a minute, and then think how many girls and women right now are in the same position. Think what it is like to face bearing a child against your will because you lack a few hundred dollars.
Fortunately, EAF was able to help that girl. But what about all the others?
Please make a donation to the National Network of Abortion Funds here.
Special ties to New York? Donate to the New York Abortion Access Fund here.
I'm a little late on this, but if you've been wondering how and where to donate to Haiti relief work, have meant to give but haven't yet done so, have given already but can give more ($10?), you can't do better than give to Partners in Health. Founded by Paul Farmer with the conviction that health care is a human right, PIH has been working in Haiti for nearly 25 years, building a grassroots organization that has become a model for health care for the poor in the developing world. PIH knows the people and the culture and how to get things done. It's in Haiti for the long term as well as the immediate crisis. It will be there long after the media spotlight has moved on. That's particularly important because, unlike the 2004 tsunami in Asia, the earthquake has left tens of thousands of survivors with terrible injuries that will require long-term help.
I've set up a donation page that makes giving incredibly easy. All amounts are welcome. My goal is to raise $1000, but if by some miracle you visit my page and that goal has been met, don't worry. You can still donate! No amount is too small.
Just click on this link.
It only takes a minute to set up your own personal fundraising page, by the way. Just go to my page and click on "Create your own page now!" in small print under the box with the thermometer. Set your own fundraising goal, post to your facebook page/blog/website, e mail your friends.
Friday's The Globe and Mail has a good followup to my column about Nazia Quazi, the young Canadian-Indian woman who has been unable to leave Saudi Arabia for two years because her father controls her exit visa and Saudi Arabia doesn't recognize women as legal adults. Human Rights Watch just took her case a few weeks ago.
There's been a new development since my column appeared: the Embassy has told Ms. Quazi to send an itinerary for her departure. What that means is unclear, because she still doesn't have a passport and there is still the matter of the exit visa – but it has to be a positive sign.
Human Rights Watch: you definitely want them watching your human rights.
Surveying a decade of feminism in 1000 words was clearly beyond my powers of compression even after I'd jettisoned the whole world outside the United States. Several people wrote to remind me of things I'd cut or forgotten. More highlights--good, bad, odd -- of the no-name decade:
In 2007, Nancy Pelosi became the first woman speaker of the House. In 2009, Elana Kagan became the first woman Solicitor General. Also in 2009, Michelle Obama became the first African-American First Lady, ensuring full employment for style journalists, who devoted five million womanhours to analyzing her clothes (fabulous? over-the-top? What, she wears dresses?) and that vague shimmering ladycloud known as her "role." Elsewhere in government, women inched forward : In 2000, there were three women governors. Now there are 6, (down from a high of 9, what with Sarah Palin quitting and all). In 2000, women held 22.5% of seats in state legislatures. In 2009, they held 24%.
There was a slight increase in numbers of women in the military and a big increase in reported Sexual abuse and rape. As Rep. Jane Harman put it at a 2009 congressional hearing, "A woman in the military is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire in Iraq."
Perhaps it's just my flickering memory, but the discourse around feminism seemed livelier than in the 1990s. Some important books that sparked debate and discussion: Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich, The Feminine Mistake by Leslie Bennetts, Get to Work by Linda Hirshman, How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America, By Cristina Page, America's Women and When Everything Changed by Gail Collins, A Jury of her Peers by Elaine Showalter, Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy, Stiffed and The Terror Dream by Susan Faludi, Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, and the Means of Reproduction by Michelle Goldberg.
In 2009, President Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, restoring the status quo overturned by the 2007 Supreme Court decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear, which narrowed the ability of women to sue employers for sex discrimination in pay. Also in 2009, the stimulus included incentives for states to change their unemployment insurance rules in ways that make it easier for women to qualify: benefits will now be available to workers who leave for compelling family reasons (including domestic violence when the abuser follows his target to work), to workers seeking part-time jobs, and to workers who made less money than was the case under the old rules. Historically, unemployment benefits rules have, in effect, excluded many women, with the result that in 41 states unemployed men were more likely to receive benefits than unemployed women. (For more, see Mimi Abramowitz's report in womensenews. ) Toward the end of the decade, paid Family Leave became law in California and New Jersey, with Washington on the horizon. This may not seem like a lot, given that there are 50 states, but California is huge--as of 2007, if it were a country it would have the 10th largest economy in the world. And New Jersey has more people than the nine smallest states. And speaking of employment, women now make up 45% of union membership. Plus, the Great Recession puts end to all that chat about the Mommy Wars, because it turns out you can only stay home with your kids if your husband has a job. Who knew?
The Today sponge returns to the drugstore shelves.
Tina Fey became SNL head writer and huge star, thrilling smart girls everywhere. On the other hand, in 2007 Don Imus called Rutgers women's basketball team "nappy-headed hos" and is fired for about two minutes.
In 2009, Anna Quindlen retired from Newsweek. Ellen Goodman announced the end of her syndicated column – the only column by a liberal woman in wide distribution.
Goodbye, Rosa Parks, Shirley Chisholm, Betty Friedan, Tillie Olsen, Barbara Seaman, Wendy Wasserstein, ,Susan Sontag, Coretta Scott King, Grace Paley, Eartha Kitt, Carolyn Heilbrun, Mary Travers, Octavia Butler, Rita Arditti, Deborah Howell, and, much too soon, the remarkable poet Rachel Wetzsteon.
One very irate reader complains in the bletters section that Palestine is missing from my donations column. MADRE, which partners with sister organizations around the world, supports Midwives for Peace, which train new midwives and provides safe birthing kits for women in the West Bank. I mentioned this cause in my description of MADRE's work, but the reference was cut for reasons of space. Read more about Midwives for Peace here.
As long as I'm updating the donations column, here's some new information about groups from previous years:
HEARRT (Health Education and Relief Through Teaching). This group works in Liberia, where last time I checked something like 50 Liberian doctors were serving five million people. The money Nation readers sop generously gave in 2007 went mostly for reproductive health education for teenage girls. These days HEARRT focuses on child health, emergency care and training midlevel providers. Help them out with a check to 4 Research Drive, Suite 402, Shelton, CT. 06770.
Health in Harmony. The environment is another area missing from this years column. Not enough space! never enough space! Health in Harmony is a twofer: Rural Indonesians protect the rain forest and preserve wildlife habitat in West Kalimantan and get excellent low-cost health care in return. Just starting out when it appeared on the list in 2007, Health in Harmony got a big helping hand from Nation readers. Check out this PBS video about its work here. http://healthinharmony.org/
Happy Holidays from Berlin, where it's cold and snowing and beautiful.
The school year is well underway, and most of you know how savage the budget cuts have been. Excellent teachers who care about their students –yes, they exist! --are struggling along without proper books, supplies, and equipment. Classroom libraries lack books, science labs lack materials, art programs lack the most basic supplies-- like paint!
In wealthy suburbs, affluent parents help fill the gap, but schools in low-income neighborhoods can't raise extra funds that way. Result: We expect students to achieve more than ever – and that's a good thing – but we don't provide the tools they need and too often can't afford to purchase for themselves: review texts for AP classes, graphic calculators, class sets of novels, even basic items like notebooks.
You can help! On my Giving Page at www.donorschoose.org you can chip in to help buy a cello for an elementary-school music class in Mississippi, a class set of Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man" for an AP English class in Washington DC, review books for an AP psychology class in New York City, art supplies for "at-risk" middle-schoolers in North Carolina --and much more.
We hear a lot about ineffective, ill-prepared teachers, but the ones who put themselves out on www.donorschoose.org are the ones who desperately want their students to succeed and who, through no fault of their own, need our help to get the tools to do their job.
Can you help? You can give any amount -- even $5! Small donations add up. No funds to spare right now? Send the link to your lucky friends, post it on your blog or Facebook page.
Every child should have an opportunity to play a musical instrument, read great books, take challenging courses, and learn in a safe, well-equipped classroom. You can help make it happen!
BONUS: send me your receipt for $50 or more for a project on my Giving Page and I will send you a signed copy of The Mind-Body Problem, my new book of poems.
UPDATE: Thank you, Kelli from Santa Clarita, who is helping to purchase copies of "Guns, Germs and Steel" for a Global History honors class in a NYC school where 90% of the students qualify for free lunch. And thank you, Laura from Ithaca, who donated to fund review texts for an AP calculus class in a NYC high-poverty school AND also to buy paint for an art class in a high-poverty North Carolina middle school that focuses on "at risk" kids.
Note to commenters: It's great that you know all about what's wrong with the public schools (sarcastic eye roll), including teachers' poor "preperation" (like in spelling?), but what about chipping in to help kids who are in school right now and who have no say in school budgets or education policy or the priorities of teachers' unions?
You can light a candle AND curse the darkness. How about it?
The Facebook Causes application is running a contest among its member do-good organizations. Every day, the group that has the most individual donors that day wins $1000; runner up gets $500. The grand winner–most individual donors by November 6–wins, get this, $50,000! The runner-up gets $25,000 and the five next highest gets $10,000 each. Not too shabby!
Now here's the thing: MADRE, the women's rights organization, has joined the contest to raise funds for its work protecting women's rights workers in Afghanistan, where as I'm sure you know many have been threatened with death by the Taliban. MADRE needs your help to win one of these these generous prizes. Can you help? Yes, you can! The competition is for donors, not money totals, so all you need to do is go here and donate $10. In fact, you can donate $10 once a day every day from now till November 6th. If Madre wins even one day, it will get $1000, which is a significant amount. Today, October 15, by 3pm , would be a great time to donate, because with just a few more donors MADRE would beat an anti-choice group, Make Abortion UNTHINKABLE, for second place. That's $500 for women's rights, or $500 to take them away. Which should it be?
Please check this contest out, Facebookers, and be generous. Don't delay, because each day's mini-contest ends at 3 pm.
Read all about MADRE's work at www.madre.org.
Saturday, October 3, was Reunification Day, the anniversary of the formal reuniting of East and West Germany in 1990. Here in Berlin the big event was a weekend-long outdoor spectacle involving Die Riesen, giant marionettes created by the French street theatre company Royale de Luxe. Some two million people turned out to watch a huge little-girl giant and an even more enormous grown-up-man giant dressed as a deep-sea diver wandering in search of each other in various neighborhoods. It was meant as a 'maerchen" or fairy-tale, although no one seemed to know the story of the little girl and the deep-sea diver. Something about separation and reunion, anyway. Since it was a beautiful warm blue-sky day (one of the few! it rains a lot here) my husband and I set out to find them. We walked and walked through the Tiergarten and stood in a huge crowd on Unter den Linden but the promised giants didn't appear and eventually we had to leave. (Two bits of local anthropology you'd never see in New York: at the street fair stretching along Unter den Linden you could buy many kinds of alcoholic beverages, including schnapps, and just stand about pleasantly drinking; the great lawn in the Tiergarten, along which the crowds walked, was littered with the bicycles people had used to get there. Unlocked bicycles.)
My German teacher, Ursula, whom we ran into later, said the problem was that the little girl giant was kaputt. Sehr traurig! But late that night we saw the two giants at the Brandenburg Gate, sleeping. The little girl giant was sleeping on the big man giant's lap. You could hear them breathing very quietly. It was strangely moving.
In other news, Garrison Keillor reads my poems much better than I do:
You can find these and more in my new book of poems, TheMind-Body Problem, recently published by Random House. I'll be quiet now.
If a rapist escapes justice for long enough, should the world hand him aget-out-of-jail-free card? If you're Roman Polanski, world-famousdirector, a lot of famous and gifted people think the answer is yes. Polanski, who drugged and anally raped a thirteen-year-old girl in 1977in Los Angeles, pled guilty to the lesser charge of unlawful sex with aminor and fled to Europe before sentencing. Now, 32 years later, he'sbeen arrested in Switzerland on his way to the Zurich film Festival,prompting outrage from international culture stars: Salman Rushdie,Milan Kundera, Martin Scorsese, Pedro Almodavar, Woody Allen (insertyour own joke here), Isabelle Huppert, Diane von Furstenberg and many,many more. Bernard-Henri Levy, who's taken a leading role in roundingup support, has said that Polanski "perhaps had committed a youthfulerror " (he was 43). Debra Winger, president of the Zurich Film Festivaljury, wearing a red "Free Polanski" badge, called the Swiss authoritiesaction "philistine collusion." Frederic Mitterand, the French culturalminister, said it showed "the scary side of America" and describedPolanski as "thrown to the lions because of ancient history." Frenchforeign minister Bernard Kouchner, co-founder of Doctors WithoutBorders, called the whole thing "sinister."
Closer to home, Whoopi Goldberg explained on The View that hiscrime wasn't 'rape rape,' just, you know, rape. Oh, that! Conservativecolumnist Anne Applebaum minimized the crime in the WashingtonPost. First, she overlooks the true nature of the crime (drugs,forced anal sex, etc), and then claims "there is evidence Polanski didnot know her real age." Talk about a desperate argument. Polanski, whowent on to have an affair with 15-year old Nastassja Kinski, has spokenfrankly of his taste for very young girls. (Nationeditor-in-chief Katrina vanden Heuvel, who tweeted her surprise atfinding herself on the same side as Applebaum, has had second thoughts:"I disavow my original tweet supporting Applebaum. I believe thatPolanski should not receive special treatment. Question now is how bestto ensure that justice is served. Should he return to serve time? Arethere other ways of seeing that justice is served? At same time, Ibelieve that prosecutorial misconduct in this case should beinvestigated.") On the New York Times op-ed page, schlocknovelist Robert Harris celebrated his great friendship with Polanski,who has just finished filming one of Harris' books: "His past did notbother me." This tells us something about Harris' nonchalant view ofsex crimes, but why is it an argument about what should happen inPolanski's legal case?
I just don't get this. I understand that Polanski has had numeroustragedies in his life, that he's made some terrific movies, that he's76, that a 2008 documentary raised questions about the fairness of thejudge (see Bill Wyman in Salon, though, for apersuasive dismantling of its case.). I also understand that hisvictim, now 44, says she has forgiven Polanski and wants the case to bedropped because every time it comes up she is dragged through the mudall over again. Certainly that is what is happening now. On theHuffington Post, Polanski fan Joan Z. Shore, who describes herself asco-founder of Women Overseas for Equality (Belgium), writes: " The13-year-old model 'seduced' by Polanski had been thrust onto him by hermother, who wanted her in the movies. The girl was just a few weeksshort of her 14th birthday, which was the age of consent in California.(It's probably 13 by now!)." Actually, in 1977 the age of consent inCalifornia was 16. Today it's 18, with exceptions for sex when oneperson is underage and the other is no more than three years older. Shore's view--that Polanski was the victim of a nymphet and her schemingmother--is all over the internet.
Fact: What happened was not some gray, vague he said/she saidKatie-Roiphe-style "bad sex." A 43-year-old man got a 13-year-old girl alone, got her drunk, gave her a quaalude, and, after checking the dateof her period, anally raped her, twice, while she protested; shesubmitted, she told the grand jury "because I was afraid." Those factsare not in dispute--except by Polanski, who has pooh-poohed the wholebusiness many times (You can read the grand jury transcripts here.) He was allowed to plead guilty to a lesser charge, like manyaccused rapists, to spare the victim the trauma of a trial and mediahoopla. But that doesn't mean we should all pretend that what happenedwas some free-spirited Bohemian mix-up. The victim took years torecover.
Fact: In February 2008, LA Superior Court Judge Peter Espinosa ruled that Polanski can challenge his conviction. All he has to do iscome to the United States and subject himself to the rule of law. Whyis that unfair? Were he not a world-famous director with boatloads ofpowerful friends, but just a regular convicted sex criminal who had fledabroad, would anyone think it was asking too much that he should gothrough the same formal process as anyone else?
It's enraging that literary superstars who go on and on about humandignity, and human rights, and even women's rights (at least when thewomen are Muslim) either don't see what Polanski did as rape, or don'tcare, because he is, after all, Polanski--an artist like themselves.That some of his defenders are women is particularly disappointing.Don't they see how they are signing on to arguments that blame thevictim, minimize rape, and bend over backwards to exonerate theperpetrator? Error of youth, might have mistaken her age, teen slut,stage mother--is that what we want people to think when middle-aged menprey on ninth-graders?
The widespread support for Polanski shows the liberal cultural elite atits preening, fatuous worst. They may make great movies, write greatbooks, and design beautiful things, they may have lots of noblehumanitarian ideas and care, in the abstract, about all the rightprinciples: equality under the law, for example. But in this case,they're just the white culture-class counterpart of hip-hop fans whostood by R. Kelly and Chris Brown and of sports fans who automaticallysupport their favorite athletes when they're accused of beating theirwives and raping hotel workers.
No wonder Middle America hates them.
*****The Mind-Body Problem, poems by Katha Pollitt, is just out from Random House.
Am I the only person who finds it hard to follow an unfamiliar poem when I hear it read out loud and don't have the text in front of me? Even when reading to myself at my own pace, I might have to go over a poem several times to really get it, but at a reading, the poems whizz by unstoppably-- no chance of a second hearing, and all the helpful visual cues of print , like punctuation, italics, quotation marks, and even line breaks, are absent. A stray thought enters my head -- I wonder why they painted this room turquoise? -- and in seconds I've lost the thread. (I'm speaking of what you might call "literary poetry" here, poetry written primarily to be read silently, not spoken word, which is intended for the ear from the outset.)
I often find that the poems I've enjoyed most at a reading seem oddly flat on the page when I hunt them down in a book. What made the poem seem striking and fresh was the poet's performance: the energy and especially the humor was in the voice and manner and gestures, not the words themselves. Or it was the story the poem told: the poetry reading as a series of anecdotes, with the poet placing and embellishing each one in his introductions: My uncle ran a chicken farm in Iowa, and when he ran off with the Methodist minister's wife my aunt killed all the chickens and gave them to the nuns, and out of that comes this next poem, "Saint Rooster and the Holy Choir of Hens." it's been suggested, in fact, that the proliferation of poetry readings, and their importance to a poet's career, has actually changed the way poets -- "literary poets" -- write, encouraging verbal simplicity, talkiness, easy emotions, simple narratives, and punchlines. It's the poet as stand-up comedian/tragedian.
Still, you can see why poets would try to shape their art to please their audience -- and notice how we now commonly speak of poetry's audience rather than poetry's readers, which tells you something right there. It can be painful and embarrassing to stand up before a small group of miscellaneous strangers who expect you to entertain them and instead offer poems they might find bewildering, or remote. I've given readings at which I just want to say, oh well, never mind, let's just go have a beer and talk about health care reform.
Wislawa Szymborska's "Poetry Reading" (translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh) may be the definitive account of a reading at its awful, humiliating worst. To paraphrase the old Jewish joke about the Catskills hotel ("The food is terrible!" "Yes, and the portions are so small!"), the audience is not only tiny, it's not even listening. And yet, Symborska disperses her pity, her warmth and her satirical humor so evenly among poets and audience members and even the muse, poor thing, that what in lesser hands would be just another complaint about the world's indifference to art becomes a gesture of understanding, forgiveness, love.
To be a boxer, or not to be there
at all. O Muse, where are our teeming crowds?
Twelve people in the room, eight seats to spare --
it's time to start this cultural affair.
Half came inside because it started raining,
the rest are relatives. O Muse.
The women here would love to rant and rave,
but that's for boxing. Here they must behave.
Dante's Inferno is ringside nowadays.
Likewise his Paradise. O Muse.
Oh, not to be a boxer but a poet,
one sentenced to hard shelleying for life,
for lack of muscles forced to show the world
the sonnet that may make the high-school reading lists
with luck. O Muse,
O bobtailed angel, Pegasus.
In the first row, a sweet old man's soft snore:
he dreams his wife's alive again. What's more,
she's making him that tart she used to bake.
Aflame, but carefully--don't burn his cake!
we start to read. O Muse.
*****The Mind-Body Problem, poems by Katha Pollitt, is just out from Random House.