RBG, HUAC, and Beyonce: favorite things this week (26/52)

In terms of equality , there’s been a lot to celebrate this week.

supreme_court_abortionFirst, the Supreme Court decided that the regulations that Texas implemented state were illegal. You might remember Wendy Davis, she of the pink tennis shoes and the 11 hour filibuster? These regulations are what she was protesting. Her protest was ultimately unsuccessful, and in 2013 the Texas Senate Bill 5 implemented regulations such as the doctor having admitting privileges at local hospitals and that the clinic meet the same standards as other surgical health-care facilities. Texas had 41 abortion clinics before the bill was signed into law, today there are 18. The Supreme Court decided that the regulations presented an undue burden.

The inestimable Ruth Bader Ginsburg commented on the decision, which I quote at length. Because it’s RBG:

The Texas law called H. B. 2 inevitably will reduce the number of clinics and doctors allowed to provide abortion services. Texas argues that H. B. 2’s restrictions are constitutional because they protect the health of women who experience complications from abortions. In truth, complications from an abortion are both rare and rarely dangerous… Many medical procedures, including childbirth, are far more dangerous to patients, yet are not subject to ambulatory surgical-center or hospital admitting-privileges requirements [such as] tonsillectomy, colonoscopy, and in-office dental surgery.

Given [these] realities, it is beyond rational belief that H. B. 2 could genuinely protect the health of women, and certain that the law would simply make it more difficult for them to obtain abortions. When a State severely limits access to safe and legal procedures, women in desperate circumstances may resort to unlicensed rogue practitioners, faute de mieux, at great risk to their health and safety. So long as this Court adheres to Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers laws like H. B. 2 that do little or nothing for health, but rather strew impediments to abortion, cannot survive judicial inspection.

transgendermilitaryAnd if that wasn’t enough to make your little heart swell three sizes, the Pentagon kept the goodness rolling by ending the ban on transgender people being able to serve openly in the military.  Defense Secretary Ash Carter said

Americans who want to serve and can meet our standards should be afforded the opportunity to compete to do so. Our mission is to defend this country, and we don’t want barriers unrelated to a person’s qualification to serve preventing us from recruiting or retaining the soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine who can best accomplish the mission.

So happy 4th of July weekend! It’s been a good week to be an American.


A friend mentioned this podcast in passing last week, and I’ve gone all in. I started with the second season, which is all about HUAC Blacklist, and flew through seven episodes in the past few days.

Fun fact: John Garfield sold diaphragms in New York before he went to Hollywood. Who knew?

Favorite episodes (so far):
Tender Comrades: The Prehistory of the Blacklist
Blacklist Flashback: Bogey before Bacall
The African Queen: Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn and John Huston
He Ran All The Way: John Garfield

Highly recommended. Add it to your rota and get a little smarter. (Also, politics are terrifying. I’m not sure I’m politically savvy enough to draw connections between Brexit, Trump’s proposed wall and his whole general insanity, and the conservative climate that led to HUAC… but listening to this over the weekend seemed very appropriate, as political rhetoric continues to spin out of control.)

Beyonce’s BET performance.

Beyonce sang “Freedom” from her album Lemonade at the BET awards. The performance starts out in a nearly dark auditorium with a thumping, martial beat. As the Formation dancers, in tribal paint and hair styles, march down the aisle, a recording of Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a dream” speech is played over the loudspeakers. The stage is a shallow pool of water that the dancers and Beyonce march through as she begins the anthem, and as she gets to the chorus, which swells into a powerful demand for freedom and a removal of chains, the dancers run, legs churning to create arcs of water that catch the light, flashing an image that is somewhere between water and flame and is wholly entrancing. Beyonce’s bodysuit has long fringe on the arms–when she holds her arms out straight, in front of the golden splashes of light, she looks like a Phoenix, strong and sure and utterly unconquerable.

Holy hell, was that powerful. I’m wondering how and if I can/should include some (and what part?) of the amazing #lemonadesyllabus in my next class. Truth? I feel presumptuous talking about race in class. I occupy a privileged position in our racist society, so I’m always at a remove from any experience of racism. I don’t have the authority of the standpoint. But I suppose that’s the point of assigning readings, not just lecturing all the time: it lets me cede the floor to brilliant women of color who know about racial oppression in ways that I can only abstractly understand. And a little more bell hooks on the syllabus? Not a bad thing.

What’d I miss? What’s been making your week wonderful? 

In My Opinion: The Ides of March (or the girl, the abortion, and the aftermath)

The first half of this post is straight-up plot summary. If you haven’t seen the movie yet and don’t want to know any spoilers, skedaddle.

I saw The Ides of March last Friday; for the most part, I absolutely loved it. It’s much more cynical than most of my favorite movies, but it was so well done that I couldn’t resist. It was directed by George Clooney; the cast that the power of his name gathered is fantastic.

Ryan Gosling is Stephen Myers, an extraordinarily idealistic press consultant working on the presidential campaign of Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney). In the opening scene of the movie, Myers is working on a  sound check just before a debate that is to be televised.  Quoting a speech of Morris’s, he says “I’m not a Christian, I’m not an atheist, I’m not a Muslim, I’m not Jewish. I believe in the American Constitution.” Morris may believe in the Constitution, but Myers believes in Morris. He tells a journalist covering the race that Morris has to become president… that it will change the world for the better if he is elected. He’s very passionate. In fact, he’s a little obsessed.

The events in the movie occur in the five days before the Democratic Primary in Ohio. Early in the film, the importance of the Ohio choice of Democratic candidate is emphasized: as Ohio goes, so goes the nation. The stakes are very high.

Senator Mike Morris is a little remote; as a presidential candidate his actions and words are the focus of everyone around him, everything he does seems a bit modified and constrained by an awareness of this. But he seems to be a basically good guy. Early in the movie, he explains his decision not to allow Senator Thompson, a crooked but extremely powerful politician, a place on his party ticket. He says that there are lines in the sand that you just can’t move. He references several political tactics that he previously had intended not to use, but has since utilized (negative ads being the only one I can recall mentioned, but that type of thing), but says that allowing Senator Thompson on the ticket will put him over that invisible line.

Molly Sterns is a campaign intern, beautifully played by Even Rachel Wood. She’s been working on Morris’s campaign for a while—she reminds a completely oblivious Stephen that they’ve worked together before. He kind of fumbles and asks if she’d changed something. Maybe her hair? She hadn’t.

Upon this triangle of characters, Senator Mike Morris, Stephen Myers and Molly Sterns, the action of the movie operates.

The initial banter during which Molly reminds Stephen of their previous meetings leads to the beginning of a relationship. One night, while they are asleep in bed together, a phone rings, waking Stephen who automatically answers it. When a male voice responds then hangs up, Stephen realizes he has grabbed the wrong cell phone. Stephen laughingly—then insistently—demands an explanation from Molly. She starts getting a little frantic, he calls the number back… and it goes to the senator’s phone.

The story comes out: earlier in the campaign, she took some paperwork up to the senator late at night. They were talking, and then, well, they weren’t talking. It happened only once; she ends up pregnant. Earlier in the day she had called the senator, needing money for an abortion.

Stephen is horrified, not by Molly’s condition (that doesn’t really seem to register), but by the toppling of his idol. He immediately goes into manage-and-suppress mode, telling Molly to make plans to go home, gathering cash for her abortion and plane ticket, taking her to the clinic, promising to pick her up after.

While she’s at the clinic, golden boy Stephen is fired. He made a foolish decision, met with someone from the opposition’s campaign, a journalist is threatening to go public with the information about the meeting. Morris knows about and approved of his dismissal. To Stephen, this is a personal betrayal—everything he believed in has disintegrated. He takes the incendiary story of the pregnant intern to the opposition, but is unable to exchange information for a job.

After calling Stephen several times for the promised ride, Molly takes a cab back to the hotel where she hears about the campaign dramatics that she missed. She panics. She suspects that he’s going to “do something crazy” with her story; hours later, when she is still unable to reach him on his phone, she overdoses on alcohol and the pills she was given at the clinic and dies.

Stephen arrives moments after the body has been discovered. He stares in horror at the twisted corpse on the floor for a few long moments, then pockets her phone and leaves unnoticed. 

Later, the now-unemployed Stephen uses Molly’s phone to call Senator Morris in the middle of press conference about the unexpected and tragic death of the campaign intern. He gets a private interview with Morris in the back of an empty restaurant kitchen. This is the first time in the movie that Morris isn’t “acting the politician”—during the rest of the movie, he’s surrounded by journalists and campaign advisors and interns and press secretaries. But here we see another layer, a deeper layer, of Morris. And he’s still basically a good guy. He’s smarter, he’s more ruthless than expected, he doesn’t plan to let his campaign or his life be derailed by the tragic death of one intern who just happened to be pregnant by him… ok, maybe he’s not a good guy. But it is apparent that he’s just managing the crisis as well as he can—he’d have chosen a different outcome for the Molly situation, and perhaps even the Stephen situation—but this is what he’s got.

The two men, squaring off in the empty kitchen, reminded me of a scene from some old western.There’s a kind of submerged threat of violence (all those knives and bare metal surfaces!) but it’s completely subject to their intelligence. Morris tries to determine what Stephen actually has on him—there is no paperwork, no DNA tests are possible now—but in the end succumbs to the threat to his career.

Stephen successfully leverages his way into his superior’s position (getting him fired) and blackmails Morris into offering the dirty politician a place on the party ticket, ensuring Morris’s presidential candidacy and Stephen’s career. The movie ends as an eerily expressionless Stephen waits in an empty gymnasium to talk to the press about the Democratic Primary results in Ohio.

Phew, that’s a lot of plot summary. And I just focused on the information that I needed. Stephen’s boss, Philip Seymour Hoffman, was brilliant as the honorable guy that gets stabbed in the back. Paul Giamatti was perfect in the slightly smarmy and completely untrustworthy role of opposition press consultant. Marisa Tomei is a manipulative journalist who is also just being used. There are other ways to tell the plot of this movie that would focus on all of their machinations, but I wanted to talk about… you guessed it… the girl, the abortion and the aftermath.

I was most interested in Molly Sterns. While not entirely thrilled with the presentation of her situation, it was rather well done. She wants an abortion and (gasp) she’s not a raging nymphomaniac—she seems normal. Let me restate that, once more, just to let it sink in. Because that’s a rather shocking statement: she’s a normal girl who wants an abortion. I love that they didn’t demonize that decision. She wasn’t presented as a “bad girl” or particularly “fast” or “forward” (what does that even mean?) or anything other than a cute girl interested in a hot guy at work. The dialogue with Gosling—as they flirt back and forth, as she invites him for drinks at her hotel, as their budding relationship progresses—could have been lifted from any workplace romance movie.

Even after we know that she’s pregnant, her presentation didn’t change. She admits that she was a little drunk when it happened—but not that drunk. It was just a stupid mistake.

And even—get this, because it isn’t what I expected—it isn’t some episode of deep-seated guilt after the abortion that drives her to suicide. It’s fear that her story will be used—that she will be used—as a political maneuver. And it’s a very rational fear. Stephen tries to do just that. In fact, Stephen does do just that. Her corpse becomes a noose that Stephen dangles above Morris’s head. But all of that is separate from the abortion. She didn’t kill herself because she got an abortion. She didn’t need an abortion because she was a slut* (Kudos, George.)

In a larger sense, I hate how used she is in the movie. She is this intelligent and beautiful girl who turns out to be so much less important than what she means politically. But that’s kind of the point—my discomfort with her end is assumed. I’m gonna be pissed when Stephen, who was sleeping with her barely fifteen minutes ago (screen time), tries to sell her story. It’s a huge betrayal. It’s an acknowledged betrayal. We’re supposed to understand how completely he’s been shattered by the depths to which he sinks.

I thought the movie was great. As I mentioned earlier, it’s not my usual fare. Honestly, I watched Mr. Smith Goes to Washington later that night to kind of restore my faith in… whatever I have faith in. But the movie was so well done. Gosling didn’t overplay his emotional disintegration—it’s just kind of there, behind his eyes. It’s rather wrenching. Clooney is this suave figurehead of a candidate until the moment when he’s fighting for his career and the façade cracks away to reveal the human inside. Fantastic. And I hate that Molly was basically a trading card. But I love that she wasn’t a crazy, slutty trading card.

And that’s my opinion.

*I’m consciously employing this rather loaded term to designate society’s conception of the type of girl who might need an abortion. Hopefully it’s obvious that I don’t agree that only “that type of girl” might need an abortion, nor would I ever use that word for an individual, regardless of sexual choices. But it’s effective in describing the space in which sexually active women have been conscribed.

Why it matters: the pro-choice movement

Ever wonder why every politician invariably weighs in on the pro-choice/pro-life debate? Why feminists are still—38 years after Roe v. Wade—defending  a woman’s right to plan the timing of her family?  (or her right to not have one?)

@nineteenpercent, via Feministing.com

Here ya go. Trust me, you want to watch this.

And just in case you want some more information…

Cristina Page’s 2006 book How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America: Freedom, Politics and The War on Sex is a great resource. Rather than strictly focusing on the abortion debate, Page exposes the finances of the biggest anti-abortion groups… and shows that they spend much more money on anti-conception than on anti-abortion.

The obvious question is why, if an individual or group is morally opposed to abortion, that individual or group wouldn’t just as ardently support universal access to contraception. The answer is that it isn’t abortion that is the true target, but sex. The anti-choice groups publically focus on the conservative-friendly, emotionally-charged issue of abortion, but privately fund groups that lobby for restriction of sex education in schools, restriction of access to contraception, restriction of funding for facilities that provide healthcare to women in need. 

It’s an obfuscation of the issue: equate abortion (complete with falsified information about fetus development and photo-shopped pictures) with sex education, with Planned Parenthood, with contraceptives, and those unfamiliar with the issue will believe it is all one and the same.

Explain the issue, illuminate the true agenda of the anti-choice movement—sex only within marriage—and only the most conservative of the righty’s will stay with it. 

And while I totally and completely support your right to decide when and where to have sex, I also totally and completely support my own right to decide when and where to have sex. And my right to decide to put off the baby-making until I’m good and ready. Until I’m able to support him, her or it. And I believe down to my bones that every woman should have that choice—the right to decide what her life holds and when her life holds it, the right not to make a mistake at age 16 that prevents her accomplishing that which she wishes at age 20. 

Basically, it’s all about the right to choose.