Back to the good news! Hilda Solis, for example

From Ms wire service:

Strong Feminist Chosen for Labor Secretary

Hilda Solis, a leader and fighter for civil rights for women and people of color, has been chosen by President-elect Barack Obama to be his Secretary of Labor.

“I am thrilled by the nomination of Hilda Solis, who has been a long-time strong champion for feminist issues in the House of Representatives,” said Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal. Solis is a former chair of the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues and authored a record 17 anti-domestic violence laws as a California State Senator.


NOW: A cabinet level office on women.

From Now:**

Imagine an Office on Women in the Obama-Biden administration — not just any old office, but one at the Cabinet level, putting women “at the table” in a very tangible way. We can make it happen!

Recently NOW helped organize a coalition of nearly 50 national groups which sent a letter to President-elect Barack Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden urging gender balance in executive appointments and advocating the creation of this new Office on Women. This office would address not only the status of women, but also the many inequities that women face in our society, our nation, and our world. The director would hold cabinet rank and report directly to the president. Establishing this office would be another historic first for Obama and a giant leap toward equality.

Ask Obama NOW: Create an Office on Women

Because women, especially women of color, are differently affected by so many laws and policies — from health care to the economy — it is critical that women be taken into account as the new administration makes key decisions. Women need an advocate at the policy-making table whose specific responsibility is considering and weighing in on the possible impact of these decisions on women’s opportunities for advancement. A Cabinet-level office is the most effective way to accomplish this goal.

I feel myself going into Miss Marple mode.  Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple used her village experience to understand issues with quite different details and scale.  My worries about the NOW idea come  from experience  with universities.  Adding in an office on women can seem like such a great idea.  You have an administration whose understanding of and commitment to women’s issues seems less robust than one would like, so you add a locus of power into the setting.  The problem is: That is not how power gets located. 

It may in fact be that the demand for a women’s office comes from a  kind of thought Wittgenstein criticized.  As he argued, the idea that one might understand how speech carries meaning, for example, by positing an inner speech has been exceptionally attractive, but perhaps illusory.  Similarly – perhaps – the idea that one can move the list of women’s needs from outside the cabinet to inside it by itself may mean little.  If you can ignore over50% of the population, is having one of them sitting next to you going to change all that?  After all, women do already pervade men’s lives.

I’d love to hear what others think.  I’m surprised and concerned that  NOW has come out for what may be an ill conceived plan.

**This is the related web site; the quote above is from a NOW letter.

Warren: A surprising take

From Bob Ostertag in the HuffPo:

…Through years of queer demonstrations, meetings, readings and dinner table conversations, about gay bashing, police violence, job discrimination, housing discrimination, health care discrimination, immigration discrimination, family ostracism, teen suicide, AIDS profiteering, sodomy laws, and much more, I never once heard anyone identify the fact that they couldn’t get married as being a major concern. And then, out of the blue, gay marriage suddenly became the litmus test by which we measure our allies. We have now come to the point that many unthinkingly equate opposition to gay marriage with homophobia…

He then quotes an interview with Warren:

Q: Which do you think is a greater threat to the American family – divorce or gay marriage? A: [laughs] That’s a no brainer. Divorce. There’s no doubt about it.
Q: So why do we hear so much more – especially from religious conservatives – about gay marriage than about divorce?

A: Oh we always love to talk about other sins more than ours. Why do we hear more about drug use than about being overweight? [Note: Warren is quite overweight.]

Q: Just to clarify, do you support civil unions or domestic partnerships?

A: I don’t know if I’d use the term there but I support full equal rights for everybody in America. I don’t believe we should have unequal rights depending on particular lifestyles so I fully support equal rights.

Q: What about partnership benefits in terms of insurance or hospital visitation?

A: You know, not a problem with me.

And he continues:

I have an idea: let’s accept equal rights for all. Equal rights are the issue when it comes to national politics. That’s Obama’s position, and I think he has it right.

Then, for those of you who are truly concerned with marriage above and beyond the issue of rights, you should go to your church, or synagogue, or mosque, and have that battle. In your community of fellow believers. I wish you all the best. And the rest of us can move on to things that matter to everyone, regardless of religious beliefs. Like, say, global warming.

Which brings us back to Rick Warren. Warren is the shiny new star of American evangelicalism. Just one of his many books has sold over 20 million copies. And his books, like his ministry, are all about rallying evangelicals to battle global warming, poverty, and AIDS. He rarely mentions culture war issues like gay marriage…

I am delighted that there is a new generation of evangelicals that thinks the biggest issue isn’t homosexuality but global climate change, AIDS, and poverty. And who “don’t believe we should have unequal rights depending on particular lifestyles.” I am so ready to make common cause with them. I couldn’t care less about what they think of gay marriage.

It seemed to me worth having this dissenting gay view out there for discussion. My initial reaction is that I’d be far more persuaded if it looked like Warren really did support equal rights (other than marriage) for gay people, but that’s kind of hard to believe given his claims (noted by Ostertag) about how they’ll burn in hell.

Excellent argument set to music

You’ve probably seen this, but just in case you haven’t… It’s not often that an excellent argument is put forward in the form of musical theatre. (Though maybe it should be! I sense a New Year’s Resolution coming on…) Anyway, It’s Prop 8: The Musical!

Kara Walker’s Winter

We have said before that Kara Walker’s brilliant images present important challenges for women today thinking about the United States’ slave-holding past, and the position of women that is arguably influenced by that past. 

It is such a treat to find a new piece by her on the NY Times Op-Ed page.  I think we can legally repeat it here, and so it would be such a shame not to share it:

Kara Walkers Winter
Kara Walker's Winter

The Sunday Cat does the cat paddle.

You may have thought you were doing the dog paddle, but maybe it was the cat paddle.



Do be careful if you ever try this.  One comment on the video points that that if the cat can’t get out on its own, you might end up with a freaked out and drowning cat.  Other comments worry about the cat abuse, but the cats don’t look to me as though they are very reluctant.  And it’s right to worry about the cats falling into pools.

“Worshipping women”

“Worshipping Women: Ritual and Reality in Classical Athens,” is at the Onassis Cultural Center in Midtown Manhattan.  The show sets out to address a particularly serious cluster of misconceptions:

The main misconception is the notion that women had a universally mute and passive role in Athenian society. It is true that they lived with restrictions modern Westerners would find intolerable. Technically they were not citizens. In terms of civil rights, their status differed little from that of slaves. Marriages were arranged; girls were expected to have children in their midteens. Yet, the show argues, the assumption that women lived in a state of purdah, completely removed from public life, is contradicted by the depictions of them in art.


There is no more moving image in the show than that of two women, one seated and one standing, facing each other in carved relief on a marble grave stele dated to the fourth century B.C. …An inscription identifies the woman commemorated by the stele as Nikomache. The exhibition catalog suggests that she is the seated figure, the one who has settled in and will keep her place when the other walks away.   The parting is evidently in progress as the women clasp hands and meet each other’s gaze.

Sappho again, and a poem called “Long Departure”:

Then I said to the elegant ladies:

“How you will remember when you are old

The glorious things we did in our youth!

We did many pure and beautiful things.

And now that you are leaving the city,

Love’s sharp pain encircles my heart.”

The article cited above does not say whether the incorporation of Sappho’s poetry is suggested by the show’s curators or not.  A slide show of items from the exhibition is here.

Responding to Warren

HRC (not Hillary, but the Human Rights Campaign) has a petition urging Obama to show restore the trust of the LGBT community by committing to their excellent blueprint for change:

Issue an Executive Order within the first 100 days that reaffirms protections for federal workers based on sexual orientation and expands them to also include gender identity;
Work with Congress to sign Hate Crimes legislation into law within 6 months;
Support only a fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA);
In the first 100 days develop a plan to begin the process of eliminating the failed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy; and
Work with Congress to end unequal tax treatment of domestic partnerships benefits.

They seem to be taking the line that Obama *should* un-invite Warren. But if he doesn’t do this, he needs to do some serious work to show that he actually gives a shit. This seems to me an excellent strategy. If you agree, go sign!

Registrar who refused to register same-sex partnerships loses her appeal

In July 2008, a registrar who refused to register same-sex partnerships (under the UK’s Civil Partnership Act 2004) won her Employment Tribunal case against Islington Council who had taken disciplinary action against her.  The July tribunal agreed with Lillian Ladele that the council had unlawfully discriminated against her because of her religious beliefs.  But the Employment Appeal Tribunal has now overturned that decision, and said that the council had not discriminated against her: the reason for their disciplinary action was her conduct in refusing to register civil partnerships, not her religious beliefs.  It said,

In our judgment, the Tribunal has fallen into the trap of confusing the council’s reasons for treating the claimant as they did with her reasons for acting as she did [but]… these are not the same thing at all.  

As I understand it, the key point was that the council would have taken disciplinary action against any employee who refused to register civil partnerships – it would have made no difference whether the employee refused for religious reasons or not.  So the reason for the council’s action wasn’t Ms Ladele’s religious beliefs, it was that she failed to do something she was reasonably asked to do by her employer.  (You can read the full judgment in the pink news)

This decision is a relief for gay rights campaigners in the UK and has been welcomed by Stonewall.