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Jon Stewart destroys the conservative response to Michael Brown’s death.

LGBT women are poorer and less healthy than other Americans.

The life of a woman lumberjack.

Personhood advocates in Colorado are trying yet again to get voters to accept the measure — this time using a new tack.

Women on scales in stock photos.

The NRA launches a sexist attack against the leader of Moms Demand Action.

The true cost of birth control.

A new report by the Girl Scouts Research Institute shows that South is the worst region of the United States to raise girls.

UPS workers say “Hands up, don’t ship.”

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“It’s OK to sit one out.”


(Photo credit: AP Photo/Sid Hastings)

Like many people I know, I’ve been consumed with the news coming out of Ferguson, MO over the past few weeks. It’s hard to look away when a Black child is killed in the streets and all signs point to the police officer responsible for his death getting away with it. Add to that a city under siege for exercising its right to assembly, and this is perhaps the biggest news story of the year on American soil. It demands our attention.

And not just our attention, our outrage. Our support. It demands that we show up and let the family of Michael Brown and the community that held him dear know that they are not alone. It demands that we show other Black children that, yes, their lives do matter. We do care.

But if I can confess something: it’s really hard to keep doing that.

At any given moment, the number of injustices that could similarly demand our attention are too many to count. And for all of us committed to certain ideas around justice/freedom/equality and ensuring we live in a world that reflects those principles, there exists a desire to join the fight wherever it lives. But it’s draining.

I’ve attended a couple rallies/marches in support of Michael Brown, and each time I’ve found I couldn’t fully participate. Every time the chant “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!” overtakes the crowd, I’ve gotten quiet. There’s something unsettling about knowing that won’t save me.

Moreover, we have been here before. Undoubtedly, we will be here again.

“It’s OK to sit one out.” 

I emailed someone whose presence during this time had made it possible for me to find some semblance of strength and be able to show up. She thanked me for saying that, but added, “…it’s also ok to be weak. It’s ok to sit one out. It’s ok for it to hurt and to pause before you jump into the fray.”

It’s easy to lose sight of that. The level of injustice we face makes us have to jump from tragedy to tragedy, hoping to finally uncover some truth of our humanity to the people who still refuse to believe us. We want so desperately for each one to be a turning point, the one where the injustice becomes so apparent everyone gets on the same page and is ready for it to end. We have to believe that moment exists somewhere or else it all becomes pointless.

But getting there, walking through so much death and dehumanization, fear and repression, tear gas and armored cars, takes its toll. Particularly when an issue feels so deeply personal.

“Self care” is something so many of us preach but find difficult to practice. I feel guilty tuning out and watching “The Avengers” for the 100th time while people I know are gearing up to ride down to Ferguson and engage in some real community building.

But… it’s OK to sit one out.

Not that I have. I’ve written about this, attended the aforementioned rallies, done radio/TV that has consisted of yelling at people who refuse to see Michael Brown’s humanity. And it took those pauses, those moments of reflection and weakness and tears, to get to the point of feeling up to any of that. This one hurts in a way I’m not sure how to deal with.

So it’s as good of a time as any to remind writers and activists who feel similarly fatigued — it’s OK. You are allowed to take a step back. You’re allowed to catch your breath. You’re allowed to take care of yourself.

Because while we’ll always need people on the front lines, if the same people keep showing up over and over again, never taking any time for their own rejuvenation, they will wither away. It’s a courageous thing to be a martyr for the cause, but who will be the brave souls who survive and build the next world that we want to see?

“I got you. OK?”

That’s how my friend’s email ended. I’ve said that countless times, “I got you.” Here, it was more than reassuring. It reflected a political reality. We have to show up for one another and also allow people their time. We have to care for one another, wholly. I should also note that this message came from a Black woman and served as a reminder that Black woman are constantly and consistently showing up for Black men, and it’s time Black men did the same in return. They need their time to step away from the front lines, too.

We are in for a long fight. The systems of oppression are deeply entrenched and many people are heavily invested in their maintenance. There will always be a fight somewhere that requires our sacrifice.

It’s OK to sit one out.

MychalMychal Denzel Smith is a Knobler Fellow at The Nation Institute. 

Counterpoint: I don’t think Taylor Swift’s new video is racist


Last week, our very own Chloe Angyal took Taylor Swift to task over her new video, which features women of color twerking. She argues that these Black and brown twerkers are used as props in the video to highlight Taylor’s whiteness. She explains:

“There’s lots I could say about this video, but I want to compare two dance sequences, and focus on them, because I think they’re really telling. The first is the ballet sequence, with the dozen ballerinas, all of whom appear to be white, in Swan Lake style tutus and headdresses. The second is the hip hop and twerking sequence, with the half dozen Black and brown dancers in denim shorts, leopard print jackets, and chunky gold jewellery…

Compare that to the twerking sequence, when Swift is surrounded by dancers who all appear to be of colour. Again, she’s dressed the same as them, and has her hair tightly braided. But this time, while they’re all dancing, she’s either trying to dance like them (adorkably, of course; everyone knows that Princess Taylor doesn’t really twerk), or she’s gawking at them. There is honest to god a shot in which she crawls between a bunch of Black and Brown women’s legs and gazes up, wonderingly, at their shaking asses.

So Taylor Swift is not a pure white dancing snowflake swan princess ballerina, but she really wants you to know that she’s still white. That’s what I take away from this video.”

And she isn’t the only one who feels that way. Earl Sweatshirt took to Twitter to air some of his grievances as well.

Me? As a Black woman, I disagree. I think it is really important to contextualize this scene within the broader theme of the video. Swift is celebrating individuality and the inability to fit into any one clique. She visually represents this in the video by using different types of dancers as the symbolic cliques. They include: ballerinas, interpretive dancers, break dancers, some futuristic movers and shakers, a dope hand dancing dude, ribbon dancers, cheerleaders, and twerkers. As Chloe mentioned, Swift sets herself apart from all of these different subsets of popular American performance and culture. And the truth is that twerking is a part of that culture because Black American culture is still American. Keeping that in mind, I would have found it more problematic had she not included twerkers; especially given all of the mainstream coverage the dance has garnered recently via her pop star colleagues, I think it would have represented a devaluing and erasure of Black female art forms.

Because Black American culture is a part of American pop culture, I think it is important to recognize that twerking does not represent a “no fly zone” in which white people are not allowed to ever mention nor reference it. This is not about banning any certain race from twerking; all I ask is that you be good at it and remain conscious of your position. Black folks have very valid reasons to be on the defensive about cultural appropriation and the commodification of Black bodies. But every reference a white person makes to Black culture is not racist.

This is probably a stretch, but I thought Taylor Swift was actually pushing back against the idea that as a pop star today she should be utilizing images of Black female bodies in order to maintain relevance in the industry in this video. But don’t hold me to that.

Avatar Image Sesali understands that sometimes it ain’t that deep.

Cosmic Unfairness

I want to share an instance of a really egregious cosmic unfairness, people. As you are well-aware, I keep posting with the speed of an unhinged bunny here. Posting and posting, posting and posting.

And then my sister – who has zero interest in writing, blogging, being in the public eye, etc. – writes something on her LinkedIn page and immediately goes viral with that very first article when she never even wanted to become famous. The article gets so much attention that it is even picked up by a very major magazine. It just also happens to be a magazine I love and read all of the time.

I have never felt envy and resentment of my sister, never. She is younger, thinner, richer, more psychologically healthy and has much better clothes than I do. She can wear heels when I’m doomed to flats. She has her own company and a beautiful daughter. And even our mother just told me that she passionately wanted my sister to be born in a way she never felt about me.

And I never felt envy of any of this.

But now she has to go viral? That makes me envious. Of course, I informed her of my feelings immediately and asked if she were about to come out with a ground-breaking study in the field of Spanish literature, which is not in the least impossible.

Cosmic unfairness, people, cosmic.

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Women of Color In Legal Education

Women of Color In Legal Education

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Carmen G. Gonzalez, Seattle University School of Law, has published Women of Color in Legal Education: Challenging the Presumption of Incompetence in the Federal Lawyer (July 2014). Here is the abstract.

Female law professors of color have become the canaries in the academic mine whose plight is an early warning of the dangers that threaten legal education and the future of the legal profession. As legal education is restructured in response to declining enrollments, tenure itself is coming under fire, and downsizing and hiring freezes are becoming more common. Female law professors of color, who tend to be concentrated at middle- and lower-tier law schools, are particularly vulnerable. But this vulnerability may foreshadow the predicament of all but the most elite law faculty if academic employment becomes increasingly precarious. This article discusses the importance of faculty diversity to the health of the legal profession, and examines the barriers that female law professors of color encounter in the academic workplace. Drawing upon the author’s co-edited book, Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia (Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs, Yolanda Flores Niemann, Carmen G. González & Angela P. Harris eds., 2012), the article sets forth best practices that can be adopted by academic leaders to remove these barriers, to create an inclusive and equitable campus climate, and to ensure that the upheavals in legal education do not sabotage these efforts. The article includes recommendations for the American Bar Association, the Association of American Law Schools, and US News & World Report.


Download the essay from SSRN at the link.

Feminist Law Professors

New Orleans Voodoo: Before and After Hurricane Katrina

When Hurricane Katrina broke the levees of New Orleans and flooded 85% of the city, 100,000 people were left homeless. Disproportionately, these were the poor and black residents of New Orleans. This same population faced more hurdles to returning than their wealthier and whiter counterparts thanks to the effects of poverty, but also deliberate efforts to reduce the black population of the city.

With them went many of the practitioners of voodoo, a faith with its origins in the merging of West African belief systems and Catholicism.  At Newsweek, Stacey Anderson writes that locals claim that the voodoo community was 2,500 to 3,000 people strong before Katrina, but after that number was reduced to around 300.

The result has been a bridging of different voodoo traditions and communities. Prior to the storm, celebrations and ceremonies were race segregated and those who adhered to Haitian- and New Orleans-style voodoo kept their distance.  After the storm, with their numbers decimated, they could no longer sustain the in-groups and out-groups they once had.  Voodoo practitioners forged bonds across prior divides.

Voodoo Priestess Sallie Ann Glassman performs a ceremony at Bayou St. John (photo by Alfonso Bresciani):


Voodoo Priestess Miriam Chamani performs a ceremony at the Voodoo Spiritual Temple:


Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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Feministing Readz: Getting inside patriarchy’s head with Natsuo Kirino’s Out

Out UK CoverWhat if The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo were about ordinary people rather than Jason Bourne-like superwomen and counter-conspirators? Oh, and, if it were actually written by a woman?

Natsuo Kirino answered the question long before The Millennium Trilogy was even drafted. Her 1997 book Out is by no means new, but for a first-time reader it still leaps from the page with an arresting freshness. The issues she addresses in the novel are both depressingly urgent and familiar, and Kirino is a masterful psychoanalyst of her characters’ inner lives.

Out begins as the story of four women who share the night shift at a factory in suburban Tokyo making boxed lunches. When one of them kills her abusive husband, she avails herself of the only resource available to her: her friends on the factory line. Led by the book’s unarguable protagonist, Masako, and bound by a strange solidarity, they proceed to dispose of the body in grisly fashion.

The book embraces its hard-boiled potential early on, and the tension comes almost entirely from the drama around the immediate aftermath of the crime, with rather standard anxieties driving the plot: will one of the conspirators talk? Are the detectives getting too close? Will the body stay hidden?

But the thickness of the book’s remainder under one’s right thumb suggests that much more than simple answers to these whodunit questions are forthcoming, and that’s where Out parts ways from standard crime drama in spectacular fashion.

In the back half of the book Kirino reveals herself to be a terrifying tribune of patriarchal psychology: down there in the dark, she gives the reader eloquent tours of nearly every character’s psyche and convincingly founds their motivations in the myriad distortions that both sexism and capitalism ruthlessly impose on people. Remarkably, she does this without sententious moralising, and though astute readers will see feminist analysis throughout the text, one never feels as if she’s doing assigned reading in a Women’s Studies class. Kirino’s skill is in conveying the unpretentious, matter-of-fact obviousness of patriarchy. If sexism is to us like water is to fish, then Kirino eloquently describes the water in a way that is neither obtrusive nor polemical.

Part of how she accomplishes this is by giving readers a story without any real “good guys” to speak of, applying this old noir literary tool to the psychology of patriarchy.

Masako is a fascinating portrait of strength hemmed in by a mediocrity imposed from within and without, but it is she who comes up with the gruesome fashion of disposing of the body that becomes such a central theme in the book. The other characters find themselves drawn in by an admixture of solidarity, helplessness, and poverty—everything from possible life insurance money to the bills in the deceased husband’s pocket are used to buy silence and complicity among the desperately poor women. Truly coming to understand why they do what they do—why one of them killed her husband, why she copes with it the way she does, why each of her co-workers helps her—is where the real joy in reading this book comes from.

It is not an apologia for murder, nor a cheap revenge fantasy in the way so many more hamfisted “feminist” stories tend to be. The crime and its coverup are presented as perverse, almost inevitable perturbations created by the quiet desperation of womanhood in modern society, and yet everyone is—down to their marrow—responsible and culpable for what they do. Kirino excels at describing this in detail that is neither evasive nor scrupulously apolitical.

Kirino’s writing is unabashedly feminist, and she excels herself by psychoanalysing not just the traumas that distort the humanity of the book’s women, but also the men in the story. She manages, for instance, the remarkable trick of making a man who sexually assaults one of the characters into a somewhat sympathetic figure, crushed beneath the weight of racism, the broken dreams of international migration, and his own childlike mentality. Like everything else in the book, Kirino is never out to justify or excuse the crimes she describes—rather, she expertly demonstrates with literary timeline upon literary timeline how an ordinary person can fall so very far so very easily. The nature of the fall, however, is distinctly gendered.

As Masako’s character unravels before the eyes of the reader, one witnesses a rare and profoundly unsettling literary masterstroke, which is accomplished by making Masako’s life something of a duet with a male antagonist (and to name him would, sadly, spoil things a bit much). He is at once a monster–a man whose murders and rapes are far more sickening than those words can convey–and yet also profoundly human. Kirino paints a compelling portrait of the misogynist demon that refuses caricature without flinching from the terrifying, murderous potential immanent to such people. The way this man is compared and contrasted with Masako, and the way they interact, gives the book a stunning heft.

This kind of thing is both rare and necessary. It’s still tragically unusual to encounter a well-written novel that makes patriarchy so three dimensional, and in a way that is not entirely unsympathetic to the way it also distorts and malforms the morality of men, while also not suggesting facile false equivalences.

The book’s major flaw is that one of the four woman is incongruously and inexplicably a relentlessly annoying caricature, defined by her weight, her spendthrift vanity, and little else. As with Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Guinevere in The Mists of Avalon, we’re forced to read a bizarrely sexist cardboard cutout of a female character amidst well-drawn complex characters for no discernible reason. Her character flaws mark her out for fatal hatred from the author in a way that none of the other characters’ myriad sins do. Kirino is able to take us inside the head of a rapist, but is somehow powerless to make this hapless woman, who is central to the plot, come to life.


“Out” is a simple word that casts a very long shadow from the book’s title. Among many other meanings, it describes quest to get “out” and away from the fetters of commodification, fetishisation, or “the problem with no name.” How each woman gets out—or doesn’t—is, in essence, what the book is about, and per its grim diagnosis unspeakable acts are demanded of women who wish to escape capitalism and patriarchy. “Out” has a perilously high price.

The entire story is a sensual experience that brings working class life and its myriad traumas come to life in transcendental fashion. Mirroring is a motif in the story; characters and experiences are routinely played off each other and compared, directly or indirectly. Pivotal scenes are rendered with a compound gaze from the perspective of multiple characters, which really pays off in the book’s climax. This mirroring allows Kirino to make the most of her book’s subject, with commentary emerging in interesting places. The work of cutting up a body is tacitly likened to the alienation and drudgery of working on the factory floor: brutal repetitive work that requires an out-of-body-experience to endure, performed under penurious necessity.

The story owns its Japanese setting but, unsurprisingly, eschews the accumulated detritus of stereotypes and Orientalist clichés about the country, instead giving us a clear picture that anyone in the West should be able to relate to. The gauze of exoticisation is ripped away and we have in its place a perspicacious terror that makes for both a convincing story and a stirring feminist analysis. And, dare I say it, an intersectional one at that. Class, race, and gender all weave their way into Kirino’s bleak story. It’s yet another reminder that we should, as ever, refuse to take those essentialist, cultural relativist bromides about unbridgeable differences between cultures seriously.

Kirino’s lyrical prose reminds us what “human” means in all its darkness, and makes a peerless case for the humanity of women in the process.

Katherine CrossKatherine Cross is not a fan of cultural relativism, in case you couldn’t tell.

Do You Know of Any Light Dishes?

I’m at a loss about what to do for my Housewarming Party. I will have a house full of hungry academics, and I have no idea what to serve them. We are in the midst of an overpowering, tropical, extremely humid heat wave. And I can’t think of any dishes that won’t be too heavy in this weather. I do best with frosty-weather dishes.

Does anybody have any suggestions? But please don’t say gazpacho because I hate cold soups. And I don’t want to serve anything people might splash all over my new furniture.

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identity politics as a narcissistic trend

I agree with this....

“what it happening or emerging is not a disregard but a disbelief in the reality of roots, which creates the delusion or evil that the stem-and-branches are somehow their own root, or their own account.”
This is what happens with critical theory.  But there is an inconsistency with critical theory, too, which shows that no matter how much it tries to disavow its primitive impulses (and indeed human primitive impulses overall) to make them go away, it is all the more victim to them perhaps for that reason.
In critical theory (and believe me, I studied almost nothing else as an undergraduate), all peoples are good and bright and sunny, no matter how vile their practices (for instance female genital mutilation can be seen in a relativistic light), but Western colonialism alone is Absolute Evil.
Well, we they can assert that critical theory is has moved from a darkened mood of ontology into an enlightened one of epistemology and that everything is now just a theory of knowledge and stands without judgment as to people’s purported “essences”, but of course this constant stamping down of the EMBLEMS of colonialism (for instance myself) rather than even its ACTUALITY (the racism that exists in Australia today) is a sign of pathological superficiality.
I will accept that not all of critical theory is pathological, but much of it is, just because its adherents are extremely superficial and wish to increase their status through behavior that is offensively superficial whilst at the same time demanding that others see them as way above and beyond making any judgments about anybody (the demand to be seen as morally angelic).  Identity politicians, in particular, put a lot of demands on you to see them in a certain way, but it is never a two-way street.  They demand from you and they take things, but they never reciprocate in the same manner by giving something back.
Therefore I see identity politics as a narcissistic trend or mood, deceiving people about what actually knowledge is and taking them away from history.


Racial Bizarredom

Crowds of self-righteous white people are piling on the black reporter John Eligon for mentioning, in a beautiful and poignant article on Michael Brown, that Michael “was no angel.” They seem to think that being non-racist involves believing that black people are obligated to be angelic if they want to stay alive.

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