You know, I consider it a testament to feminism that misogyny is becoming so darn sneaky.

At first blush, this article actually seems to contain something which might resemble actual sympathy towards women and the complicated relationship we have with our bodies. It’s patronizing, granted (“All right, fellow dudes, time for me to do a little explainin’ about the ol’ ladybrain!”), but it seems almost sincere, really. Guys don’t get what it’s like to live in a female body, argues the author, one William Leith. They aren’t steeped in the same toxic brew of incessant marketing campaigns, impossible standards of thinness, and photo manipulation; they’re “not at the mercy of corporate manipulation on remotely this scale.” He even goes so far as to acknowledge the iconic significance of the female body and its function as an aesthetic object subject to the cultural gaze. The guy’s no Germaine Greer, but I’d call that Feminism 101.5, at least. And he isn’t wrong that women are simply held to a higher standard, and yeah, most guys don’t get it because they aren’t really required to.

So what should we do with this knowledge of the unique pressures to which women are subjected?

Uh, revert to gender essentialist crap about our caveman ancestors, I guess:

But why are women so much more vulnerable to pictures of perfect bodies than men?

In his book The Evolution of Desire, the American psychologist David Buss goes some way towards explaining why this should be so. Since the Stone Age, he explains…

Whew, I was starting to worry that all of this beauty stuff was cultural! Evolutionary psychology to the rescue! Why don’t I go ahead and sum up the rest for you, so you can spend that extra three minutes, I don’t know, eating a delicious cupcake, instead of having to ingest the regurgitated chunks of pseudo-science ejected by Mr. Leith.

It turns out that women are right to be insecure about their looks, because men value youth and beauty because FERTILITY, DUH, and guys just don’t understand that pressure because women are (of course) hard-wired to prefer older dudes. So if you’re a man, you don’t have to do anything other than, um, age? And possibly learn how to spear mastodons in a very manly way? Or something? It’s totally biological, is the thing, and wow, it kind of sucks to be female, doesn’t it? Let’s hear some sympathy! Let’s try to understand why the ladies have meltdowns by reading some Naomi Wolf and completely missing the point about how beauty is a fucking social construction, subjective and ever-shifting so as to more easily trap each woman in her own private purgatory of obsession, despair and, above all, consumption.

Pieces published in mainstream media outlets which purport to explore the destructive power of the beauty ideal always, always fall back on the Just-So School of Social Critique: yep, the status quo sure is unfortunate, but we’re just kinda hard-wired this way and there’s nothing to be done about it, so tough bananas. Because an acknowledgement of the fact that the ideal is culturally mandated would raise a whole host of scary questions about why it exists, and to what purpose, and for whose benefit.

What’s interesting to me—and this is why I decided to write about this here, because sexism in the Telegraph isn’t really a rare enough occurrence to warrant firing up the keyboard—is that feminist theory seems to have penetrated the mainstream enough that it’s considered wise to acknowledge the pressures women face to obtain physical perfection, but articles like this one make it clear that there’s a certain line that just can’t be crossed. Which, to me, throws the whole farce into even sharper relief than avoiding the subject altogether would. Drum up sympathy for the impossible position women are in, sure, but suggest that this position is anything but inevitable? Out of line. Thank god for evo psych! How would we walk that tightrope without it?

But, really, what the fuck do I know? I’m just a feminist, hard-wired to be grumpy and critical of all of the poor William Leiths out there, emissaries from the land of Female Neurosis sent to educate the benighted citizens of Dude Nation. Me? I’ll probably die alone. Trampled by a mastodon.

Look carefully at the title of this article.

Then read the article itself.

Am I missing something here, or is this headline in no way supported by the actual content? The headline claims that Zoe Williams hacked Facebook and is now in jail after falsely accusing her ex of rape. But the story itself only states that she falsified a Facebook message from her ex to herself which “threaten[ed] her if she did not drop the rape charges.”

And this therefore proves that the rape accusation is false? This proves that he didn’t rape her? What?

Williams admitted to fabricating the Facebook message, but I see no evidence (either in the Huffington Post article, or the Telegraph piece it links to) that she confessed to also having fabricated the allegations themselves. Her attorney made the following statement: “She felt the police were not taking seriously the complaints of rape she made to them, so she decided to invent this message and sent it to herself in the hope that it would strengthen her complaint.” Knowing what I do about the criminal justice system and rape cases, I misdoubt that she and her charges probably were, in fact, treated dismissively by the police (as most rape charges are, regardless of their merit or lack thereof). Which means her fabrication of the Facebook message is entirely in keeping with a narrative in which the rapes actually occurred.

That said, it’s also in keeping with a narrative in which she accused him falsely. I’m not claiming that the rapes did occur, either. I’m mostly interested in the open-and-shut tone of the media coverage and how little there is to support it; without a very careful reading of what Williams actually said versus what’s implied, anyone reading these pieces would come to the conclusion that she admitted to making the whole damn thing up. Rape coverage in mainstream media is uniformly terrible, of course, but I find this example particularly illustrative of our society’s willingness to believe that women who make rape accusations are all lying sluts who want to ruin a man’s life out of petty female vindictiveness.

You see a similar dynamic at the intersection of rape and mental illness. Victims with mental health issues may make claims of rape or sexual assault which sound bizarre or are clearly impossible (e.g. claims of being raped “psychically”, or by aliens, or by government agents who can walk through walls), and rape crisis advocates may simply shrug and funnel them to mental health service providers. But that the claimed assault is impossible does not necessarily preclude that a real sexual assault may have occurred in some other form. This may be the victim’s way of processing the trauma from the event, or it may be the only way she’s capable of expressing what was done to her. And yes, it’s possible that she wasn’t actually assaulted. But we can’t write off certain victims simply because they don’t act the way we think victims should.

Aside from the complicating factor of mental illness, rape victims may also be, quite simply, assholes. They may be dishonest, or manipulative, or cruel, or bigoted. They may be verbally abusive to health professionals or advocates. They may be volatile and angry and rude. In other words, they may be flawed human beings. Because, as it turns out, flawed human beings can be raped too.

I know next to nothing about Zoe Williams. And I don’t really need to know anything about Zoe Williams other than those things which are demonstrably true: she made an accusation of rape against her ex. She hacked his Facebook account to send a message to support her claim of rape. She admitted to having done this and is now serving four months in jail for, presumably, defamation. In a society where women who reported rape to the police could expect to have their charges taken seriously, yes, her actions would be quite damning, but we don’t live in that society. And while the falsified message should of course be thrown out of court (and no doubt would have been, had the case been pursued), its existence really doesn’t prove a damn thing one way or the other.

I do understand the argument that her actions call her credibility and integrity into question. But immoral liars can still be raped; shouldn’t the facts of the case, rather than the plaintiff’s character, be the determinant of guilt or innocence? I reject the idea that unblemished virtue should be sine qua non of one’s designation as a believable victim, that any woman who has ever told a lie (or who is not a white middle-class modestly-dressed virgin who’s disinclined to drink heavily) can therefore be safely presumed to be lying about having been raped.

Because if I were a rapist, that would make it very easy for me to select my victims, wouldn’t it?

I was lucky enough to see Angela Davis speak at San Jose State a few days ago. What an amazing woman. Also, I thought, an excellent speaker: careful and deliberative in her word choice, which I appreciate, and her commentary was interesting and thought-provoking and even amusing throughout. I forgot to bring something with me to take notes on, but when I got home afterwards I figured I’d do my best to write up a summary, both to help myself retain it and to detail it for those who might be interested.

The bulk of her talk centered on social justice and organizing, with a particular focus on the evolution of our understanding of freedom. She stressed the importance of always allowing for our notion of what freedom means, and who is worthy of it, to be challenged and expanded. In fifty years, will we look back on this period and wonder how transpeople, or immigrants, or the disabled, could have been treated—even by social justice activists!—as less worthy of that freedom? How can we ensure that our movements are truly all-encompassing and continue to evolve with our understanding of equality?

She mentioned that her generation tends to look down on today’s youth, to condemn them for their apathy, for their lack of involvement and organization and activism. But she continues to place her faith in the younger generations; she contrasts their greater understanding of the connections between racism and homophobia and sexism and all forms of oppression with that of the activists of the 60s, who had a much more limited view of who truly deserved civil rights. She’s also impressed by the tech-savviness of the younger generation, by their utilization of the internet and social networking as powerful organizing tools. She feels that young people are still passionate and motivated, but that their activism simply looks different from what her generation might expect.

My friend Juliet, who saw the talk with me, pointed out that Davis remains “the inveterate optimist”. Powerful interests have tried to silence and intimidate and imprison her; she’s been targeted by counter-intelligence programs, fired for her political associations, even put on trial for murder. But she’s still an idealist. And her idealism isn’t blind, but rooted in pragmatism and an understanding of history.

She used Obama’s election to illustrate the danger of blind idealism. So many pinned their hopes and dreams on his election, which she believes is characteristic of the American desire for messiah figures. We designate and elevate one particular charismatic individual and wait for him (always a him) to effect change, rather than acknowledge that, historically, change has come from the unnamed organizers and activists and citizens, those forgotten by the historical record. Martin Luther King, Jr. may be the name most associate with the civil rights movement, but the Montgomery Bus Boycott was successful as a result of the collective actions of female service workers. How many of their names can we recite now? But we need to acknowledge them, not least because we need to remember that the poor and the powerless have agency, and that, collectively, they can challenge even the most powerful interests.

But once we’d elected Obama, we felt we’d earned the right to rest on our laurels, no additional action needed. We waited—avidly, impatiently—for him to dispense justice and realize equality. And what did he do? Increased troop presence in Afghanistan. And where was the outrage? Where were the protests and the marches? We had failed to hold our messiah accountable.

And, in the end, “What good is it to have one black man in the White House when we still have a million black men in the big house?” Davis spent some time discussing the prison industrial complex, which is self-perpetuating insofar as it devours the resources that could be used to prevent the future incarceration of young people who can see no future for themselves. She allowed that there is a need to remove from society those criminals who have committed acts of violence, but this, of course, excludes the majority of the incarcerated. She cited a fairly alarming statistic: eighty percent of the women in prison are there on drug-related charges. She then flatly stated, to wide applause: “They should all be released. Now.”

She mentioned that prisoners are often voracious readers; as she put it, this is often the first real chance many of these men and women have to truly live a life of the mind. She contrasted this to the reality of university, particularly graduate, education. Today’s graduate students feel intense pressure, almost from the beginning of their studies, to market themselves, to publish, to professionalize and monetize their academic path. A main culprit of this shift has, of course, been the privatization—and subsequently the increased costs—of education. Education is now financed by sizable loans which need to be repaid; students therefore see themselves as, primarily, future members of the workforce. Thus has education become a commodity. She commended the success of the March 4th protests, particularly the use of the internet to broaden the scope of the movement from the local to the national stage, and shared a pretty amusing anecdote about how, when she was a young activist, a planned national protest had to be cancelled because the group didn’t have enough money to make the long-distance calls needed to organize the demonstrations.

Many of the questions posed after the discussion were quite thought-provoking. One questioner challenged her on whether we can really hold students accountable for (what some see as) their lack of activism given the barrier she’d mentioned. If students are expected to focus so heavily on professional development (and on working to pay their way through school), is it therefore fair to judge them for their inability to devote themselves to political activism? She clarified that she intended not to reproach younger generations, but to acknowledge the difficulties they face. And she believes they’ve risen to the challenge in their own ways, by changing the feel of activism from something deadly serious to something fun and accessible, something that incorporates art and music and humor and joy. She implied that youth has something to teach even the most hardened civil rights veterans: “After all, we told you to give up on the idea of electing a black junior Senator named Barack Hussein Obama to the White House.”

Another questioner asked how he could ensure that he avoided abusing the power he’d been bestowed through his activist work. She answered that the truly effective leaders are those who have scrupulously represented their constituencies, who have remained connected to the desires of the people. The abuse of power can be avoided by working closely with the groups one represents, by truly hearing and respecting their voices, by allowing oneself to be challenged and informed and changed by their struggle.

Another questioner, Fred Hershaw (whom she knew personally and described as one of the activists most dedicated to securing her freedom during her trial), drew a parallel between the Dred Scott decision and the current rhetoric around immigrants’ rights, and she acknowledged the similarity and briefly discussed the new immigration bill in Arizona and its function as a justification for racial profiling. “What does it mean for a person to be illegal? And we’re all immigrants. We’re all motivated by a desire for a better life.” And, as she pointed out, most immigrants are simply fleeing the poverty in their own countries, the poverty which exists as the grim offspring of NAFTA and global capitalism. Immigrants’ rights, in her view, is the most important civil rights movement of our generation.

If I’d had the guts, I would have asked her about the issues Brownfemipower discussed in her post on Feministe, about the convergence of sexual violence and our designation of certain bodies as “illegal”, particularly as it relates to the law in Arizona. This new legislation has particularly ominous implications for immigrant women, who face the threat not only of racial profiling but also of sexual assault and rape by law enforcement, and I would have been interested to hear her thoughts on how feminist and anti-racist organizations can best address that. But, alas. I was too intimidated.

I think I’ve summarized her talk fairly well here, though I’m sure I left some important things out. I didn’t really add any of my own commentary, so it’s fair to assume that everything written above (save the paragraph preceding this one) originated with her comments, though obviously I paraphrased like crazy. At any rate, I hope that this will be interesting reading to some!

Brownfemipower has a great guest post up on Feministe about citizenship and sexual assault. I can’t possibly do it justice with a summary, so I recommend clicking through and reading the whole thing.

I found this bit particularly poignant: “[Ending sexual violence] will require taking a good long look at what many feminists are deeply invested in: a nation/state response to sexual violence.” This is painfully apt in that quite a lot of anti-rape activism assumes that there is, and should be, a place for the criminal justice system at the table of proposed solutions. We struggle over how to make the police and the courts more responsive to sexual assault, how to support victims through the process of reporting and trial, how to draw media attention to abysmally low conviction rates. But these methods offer no recourse to the women most susceptible to sexual violence: those designated as illegal—whether in the technical or figurative sense—by the state. And as BFP points out, that designation, in addition to excluding them from traditional (read: white, middle-class) avenues of obtaining justice, also renders them vulnerable to state violence (including re-victimization should they report their assaults).

Of further concern is that when the system is responsive, it’s often in the service of destroying communities of color. Turns out that relying on a white-supremacist and patriarchal system to administer justice to victims of white supremacy and patriarchy is darkly ironic at best.

I think there’s some recognition of this in mainstream feminist activism. I know my advocacy training touched on the additional barriers faced by immigrants and women of color in seeking services. It was framed as a bit of consciousness-raising to get us to think about why, for example, not every victim of violence would jump at the chance to get the police involved. And most activists have a vague understanding of the limitations of the justice system, if only because we see how it fails even the “good” victims.

But these issues were presented as largely tangential; there was no real in-depth criticism of our approach as a whole. There was no discussion of whether our investment in making the criminal justice system more responsive to sexual violence might actually serve to reify said system’s power and, by doing so, increase the vulnerability of the populations both excluded and targeted by it. A courtroom victory is seen as a triumph by activists, but doesn’t that just legitimize the role of the state in meting out justice?

There have always been people excluded from that system, and they’ve had no choice but to develop their own methods of recourse and survival, e.g. models of community/restorative justice, or the testimonios BFP mentions in her post. But these forms of activism receive little recognition by mainstream organizations working to end sexual violence. I’m a certified sexual assault advocate, and I’d never heard of them until I started reading bloggers like BFP. In this as in so many things, we white feminists tailor our approach to the women who look like us, at the expense of the women who don’t.

And thus we become complicit in the same system we claim to want to destroy.

Fandom’s a fascinating thing, isn’t it?

It’s been years since I’ve been involved (former Lord of the Rings geek here), but I still remember my fandom days surprisingly clearly. As with so many things, this particular experience really looks different when I reflect on it now with a feminist perspective.

And after doing that, I have a theory, half-baked and rooted mostly in my own experiences though it may be. And I doubt it’s particularly original, either. So, here, have some caveats, I guess? At any rate, my theory is this: female-dominated fandoms have the potential to contribute to the subversion of gender roles and the weakening of patriarchy, while simultaneously reinforcing other forms of hierarchy and certain ugly social dynamics. (I also have this theory that Jared Padalecki is much hotter than Jensen Ackles, but that’s hard to prove, statistically.)

So, first off, a claim which I’m (fairly) sure will be uncontroversial: many of the popular female-heavy fandoms coalesce around movies or TV shows starring attractive male actors. Twilight, Lord of the Rings, Lost, Supernatural, even Harry Potter (creepy though it is to acknowledge this given the age of the fandom and the ages of the actors): there’s a common thread here, and that thread is the pretty, pretty boys.*

This, in itself, is subversive. Women motivated by their desire for men (as opposed to men’s desire for them)? Unpossible! So straight off you’re seeing a rejection of the typical feminine role. If you’ve never spent a day or two poking around female fandom, it can be quite enlightening, because lady behavior in online communities can be unbelievably dirty. Yes, it’s often objectifying. No, I’m not obligated to complain about it. I might be if female desire were catered to in society such that men were viewed primarily as objects rather than as full human beings—you know, the current situation in reverse—but until then, I just can’t be bothered to care about the plight of hot male actors. Come talk to me again after the revolution.

The second element of subversion in fandom is the creation of strong female friendships. Online communities often lend themselves to the formation of relationships that persist far beyond whatever shared interest drew participants together, and certainly fandom’s no different, though I think it has the potential to be more influential in this regard than other, more narrowly-targeted communities. Pop culture has a broad reach, after all. And anything that draws women into each others’ orbits and connects them in a supportive way is a threat to patriarchy.

The third element of subversion is the inspiration to creativity. Fandom has spurred many a non-writer to pen fanfic, many a non-artist to create fanart. MST3Ks** and satire abound. Some women cut their writerly teeth on fandom and become very influential bloggers or authors outside of it (cleolinda being the most famous example). And fangirls produce some of the best material you’ll ever read on the analysis and criticism of pop culture. It’s not that I think creativity, itself, is intrinsically subversive of femininity (in fact, I think creativity is gendered as feminine in many ways, at least to the degree that it remains unthreatening and unmonetized). But fandom gives women a way to find their voices, to realize that their talents and opinions matter. And the communities it creates are places to receive feedback and encouragement. These are the necessary ingredients for empowerment. They don’t guarantee it, but the potential is there.

These elements combine to become particularly powerful in the context of fandom because it can be deceiving at first, in that it feels reassuringly conventional. In the end, fandom is still centered on 1) male actors (“actor” used here in both senses of the word), and 2) pop culture, considered a “safe” interest for women in its triviality. Because feminism and political consciousness in our society are demonized, people will often reject them as concepts simply out of a desire not to be tarred with an unflattering brush. Fandom is a gateway drug. Even the most feminism-shy among us probably won’t see the danger in giggling with our girlfriends over a celebrity crush. And if we stumble over some type of awareness in the process, well, who could have predicted that?

But fandom’s not all sunshine and rainbows and picspam. For one thing, it’s far from a haven from misogyny. “Comprised of women” doesn’t necessarily imply “not sexist”. This can sometimes be seen in the way that certain female characters are treated. Call it the Hermione Effect; the amount of hatred she engenders is, I would argue, completely excessive given her flaws as a character. This dynamic sometimes extends to female actresses, too: the treatment of Evangeline Lily by the Lost fandom when it was first discovered that she was dating Dominic Monaghan was jaw-droppingly vicious. I won’t say that all female characters or actresses are hated by female fans—that wouldn’t be even remotely accurate (Eowyn, Bellatrix, and Professor McGonagall are a few examples of widely-beloved female characters). But I do think that when a female character or actress is designated as a target, the amount of vitriol directed at her is excessive, and I believe the explanation is sexism. (I also have a theory about why certain characters are designated as targets while others escape unscathed, but it’s still somewhat inchoate at this point and I’m not sure I have the evidence to back it up yet.)

Beyond that, fandom also reproduces other unpleasant social dynamics. There’s certainly a noticeable hierarchy in every online community, female or no. Not just in terms of snobbishness or cliquishness (though those are sadly common and, I think, probably more common in female-heavy spaces due to social conditioning), but also in terms of privileging certain voices over others. RaceFail ’09 is a great example of the kind of gigantic privilege clusterfuck fandom is susceptible to, though I suppose this example doesn’t support my point all that well, as I really don’t know what the gender makeup of the sci-fi/fantasy fandom is. I do think, though, that one would be hard-pressed to argue that male fandom is more prone to privilege blindness than female fandom (in areas other than gender, anyway).

To illustrate, here’s a mea culpa that’s long overdue: I played a non-trivial role, in the LotR fandom, in creating and sustaining an environment that was not queer-friendly (always a sore spot in fandoms dominated mostly by straight women). It’s too long of a story to even think about summarizing here and there’s no handy link to provide, but I need to say it all the same: I fucked up. I thought that because I read and wrote slash, I couldn’t be homophobic. I thought that presuming a person straight until proven otherwise was an assumption rooted in statistics, rather than heteronormativity. I dismissed the legitimacy of genderqueer identification and perpetuated transphobia. I didn’t understand that slash, itself, is fetishizing and that it repurposes queer sexuality for consumption by straight women.

I was wrong. I’m not doing this for cookies—I recognize that it’s easy to admit fault long after the events have occurred, and without directly facing the people you harmed—but because it just needs to be said. And I might as well use myself as an example to prove my point. Interesting that fandom, which played a non-trivial role in my own evolution as a feminist, was also where I fucked up so blatantly and publically. But to acknowledge this evolution, I have to own my mistakes.

At any rate, those are my hypotheses. I’m sure there are people doing proper scholarly work on fandom, and I might try to dig some of it up—I’m curious about how accurate my guesses are. If anyone reading this has anything they’d like to point me to, please do. I’d be just as interested in seeing where I’m wrong as seeing where I’m right.

*Apologies for the heteronormativity; I’m trying to make a larger point about the reversal of gender roles, but I don’t want to seem dismissive of the fact that female fandom does have a sizable queer contingent. Though from what I remember about my time in fandom, many of the most fanatical M/M slashers were queer women, so I think my point probably stands.

**Totally just dated myself here. I doubt anyone still writes these.

bell hooks blew my mind recently.

She’s good at that.

I’ve been reading Rock My Soul: Black People and Self-Esteem off and on for the past couple months.* It’s been educational, though perhaps a little frustrating in a way her work usually isn’t for me, in that the heavy focus on self-esteem sometimes gives it the flavor of a self-help book. But that’s a small complaint. Most of the book centers on the struggle of the black community to achieve stability and emotional well-being in a society plagued by racism and patriarchy, which I find a compelling theme.

The whole book’s been challenging in the best way, but one particular bit really struck me: the discussion of how racial integration was, in many ways, harmful for American blacks, and far from a clear improvement over segregation at the time.

The reason for this was quite simple: integration removed them from an all-black community focused heavily on nurturing their growth and achievement, and forced them instead into the very precarious position of everyday interaction with their white oppressors. hooks writes: “Within traditional segregated southern black folk culture we found refuge from the intensity of white racism. Racial integration brought us face-to-face with the possibility of racist assault or an actual confrontation.”

She goes on to describe the traumatizing effect of this displacement on black children in integrated schools. Black boys, in particular, often suffered by being funneled into less-challenging courses because their presence was thought to be a threat to white girls. And all black students were suddenly faced with real threats to their physical safety from their white classmates. Integration, meanwhile, was assumed to be a natural improvement for blacks, because, as hooks writes, “[T]he logic of white supremacist thinking had made it seem that black people were longing to be close to white folks.” She isn’t advocating for a return to segregation, mind; she’s simply pointing out the ways in which this transition was psychologically damaging to the black community.

My initial reaction to which can pretty much be summed up as:

Well, shit.

Integration, harmful? The hell you say! Not that I doubted it for a second, of course; the argument is both objectively persuasive and rooted in hooks’s own personal experiences. But it went against everything I’d been taught from a young age: that segregation was wrong, horrible, terrible, because of course black people suffered by not being allowed full access to white (i.e. “real”) society. Integration, by contrast, was intrinsically good. It was supported by the nice white people and opposed by the bad white people. Now that society is only composed of nice white people (the racists all died in 1987, I think), we can all agree that integration was a Good Thing. Complexity is antithetical to self-congratulation, apparently.

Obviously, no one thought to ask black people how they felt about the shift, or made any attempt to include their perspectives in the discussion or in the historical analysis of integration. Ridiculous thought. Do you ask your hamster how it feels about running on the wheel you so kindly provided it?

I’m going to be a bit self-indulgent here (it is my blog, I suppose) and highlight how this lesson about white hegemony illustrated to me how incredibly narrow my own perspective is. I think of myself as self-aware, as willing to challenge racism (both my own and that of others), as educated about oppression and social justice theory. But, hell, I was still raised in a largely white community, taught by white teachers who were reading from textbooks written by white people. There’s so much I don’t know, and I don’t even know that I don’t know it; this is true on this subject and on so many others. It’s a bit scary, yes. But it’s also awe-inspiring.

Because there’s so much for me to learn, and that’s a beautiful thing.

I believe that my main goal, at this point in my life, should be to unlearn the things I’ve been taught. To question my assumptions. I think this is part of the normal process of radicalizing: developing a different intellectual framework for analyzing and making sense of history and the present. I’m a product of white-supremacist, neoliberal education like most other Americans, and my mind is full of dangerous assumptions and blatant lies. Rooting them out takes time and diligence, but I’m fortunate enough to have both, and also fortunate enough to have access to the work of writers and activists who have spent their lives thinking and talking about these subjects.

Sometimes I feel envious of them, of people who seem to have been born into radicalism. How can I ever catch up? But mostly I feel gratitude. Gratitude that, for reasons having to do with the person I currently am and the people who have affected my life, I’m now open to this process, to this shift in my perceptions. I wasn’t always.

I have a secret wish that I might, at some point, affect someone else’s life in a similar way: broaden their perspective, or cause them to question a long-held assumption, or even just help them ask the right question at the right time. I’m no bell hooks and I never will be, but then, most people aren’t. And it’s not even about a desire for self-glorification; the opposite, in fact, in that I want to be a part of something much bigger than me. I want to think that I’m part of the process of change, that I’m helping to spread it like a virus.

Truth is contagious. I want to be a carrier.

*Interesting tidbit about my experience with this book: because of its title, I feel uncomfortable reading it in public. I tend to get paranoid and imagine that strangers assume me to be reading some ridiculous conservative screed about why the intrinsic nature of black people means they’ll always be on welfare or in prison. I worry that racists think I’m one of them. Silly, maybe, but there it is.

I heard we passed some sort of bill related to healthcare, or something? I still don’t really believe it, because right-wing pundits promised me that such a thing was impossible, and people who get invited to talk about stuff on TV are never wrong!

Conservative reaction to The Bill What Shall Not Pass has been fun to watch; as my gentleman caller tweeted, “Every Republican speaker in the House has a world-class sad.” If the right is good at anything, it’s offering a united response, even if said united response is flying the flag of the Republic of Whinelandia. I think they dropped the Waterloo thing, though. Probably a good idea. Because, as the lefty bloggers (and even David Frum) have been quick to point out: whose Waterloo, guys?

(Bonus hilarity points: McCain going on the record with threats of “no cooperation for the rest of the year” from the GOP. Shit. America’s screwed. Next thing I know, someone will close my Swiss bank account with the 10 million Euros in it, force Clive Owen to break up with me, and take away my pony.)

Progressive and radical reaction to the bill has been pretty mixed, from what I can tell. Not surprising. There’s something in it for optimists, pessimists and pragmatists alike. I don’t believe I’ve yet seen anyone take the position that passing it was worse than not passing it would have been, but that says more about how utterly broken our current healthcare system is than it does about the bill’s strengths. A bill that gave everyone a $50 Viagra subsidy and required that the CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield be whacked in the head with a Styrofoam bat would have been an improvement over the current system.

Here are a few of the more interesting takes on the subject I’ve seen, thus far:

1. Noam Chomsky takes the “better than nothing” position but, predictably enough to anyone familiar with his work, is very quick to single out the bill’s function as a giveaway to the insurance industry. And rightly so. Reasonable people can disagree on whether the bill will help individuals or improve society as a whole, but no one can deny that it’s beneficial for insurance companies. They’ve already seen a spike in their stock prices. Some of their worst excesses have been curbed, but mandatory coverage with no real competition is still money in their pockets.

I do appreciate Chomsky’s point that the public option had widespread public support, and that it’s, er, suspect that “widespread public support” somehow did not translate to “political support”. Makes it pretty clear who our elected leaders are (and are not) working for, doesn’t it?

2. I kind of love this statement by Planned Parenthood and the fact that it focuses on the real, tangible ways that women will be helped by reform, rather than the meddling of the anti-choice Democrats. Make no mistake: Stupak deserves no end of criticism for his role in the process and for the fact that the resulting Executive Order, while largely symbolic*, still amounts to the President’s signed agreement that women are dirty sluts. That’s not something we should take lightly. But its importance also shouldn’t be overstated, not least because Stupak ended up with egg on his face and has been giving hilarious interviews where he tries to convince reporters that no, really, the EO is like totally meaningful and it totally doesn’t just say “Meet the new law, same as the old law. Signed, President Obama.”

The bill, as it stands, represents a real improvement to many womens’ lives. But this runs the risk of being overlooked given our tendency to trivialize anything we view as relating primarily to women, whether helpful or harmful. Shady insurance practices often hurt women more than men due to gender discrimination; reform’s a clear improvement in this respect. Feminists have an obligation to ensure that this reality is part of the discussion, as Planned Parenthood is doing.

Their statement didn’t mention this, but I think there’s also room for optimism in that Stupak’s proposed ban has likely had the unintended effect of increasing awareness of the Hyde Amendment and its effects. And his antics really highlighted how gross it is to see a bunch of old white dudes sitting around in expensive suits and fervently discussing fetuses.

Oh, and the “babykiller!” thing was just awesome. Thanks, Rep. Neugebauer!

3. This post by Glenn Greenwald was actually written before the House vote, but it’s still a good analysis of the tactics used by the Administration to get reform passed, as well as a bucket of cold water on the head of anyone who thinks that passage somehow represented a marginalization of industry interests. Closed-door dealmaking with the drug and insurance industries to make the bill palatable to their tastes is what got this thing passed, and there’s room to disagree on whether this was necessary, but as Glenn says, there’s no doubt that it’s what happened. Celebrate the historic nature of the bill, yes. But let’s not pretend that its method of passing wasn’t business as usual.

So those are my thoughts, or, at least, my thoughts on the thoughts of other people much smarter than I. More later, perhaps.

*Katha Pollitt disagrees on this, but doesn’t elaborate, unfortunately.