Justice Ginsburg is right about Roe

It looks like my writer’s block is over.

The NYTimes has an editorial about Ruth Bader-Ginsburg’s thoughts on Roe v. Wade.  This is prompted by her tepid approach to marriage equality and that a grand sweeping ruling may become the new political football that provokes a backlash.  I’m not sure that’s true in this case because as I wrote in my previous post, the right has some potentially good reasons for trying to steal the gay voting bloc away from Democrats.  They may try to present marriage equality as a fait accompli to their more religious base that is dying out anyway.

At any rate, half of the gay population is already in the privileged class simply because they are men.  As long as they kept their sexual orientation under the radar, there was nothing stopping gay men from partaking of all of the benefits of being male in this society.  In a way, I think the success of marriage equality depends on men standing their ground and refusing to give up those privileges.  The fact that lesbian couples may also benefit is just icing on the cake.  So, maybe Ginsberg’s concerns are less grounded this time around.  Besides, what are the Bible Belt states going to do?  Become more obstinate, belligerent and Republican than they already are towards gay couples?  Is that even possible?

But it’s a different story when it comes to Roe v. Wade.  My theory is that Roe dealt a huge blow to the movement for women’s equality because once it was decided, many women had the mistaken idea that the battle was won.  Instead, Roe became the political football for BOTH political parties.   It’s the primary criteria for which party voters decide they belong.  It’s the fear tactic that Democrats use to corral women to vote against their economic interests as much as it is the tactic that Republicans use to rally their constituents to feel power and control over other people’s lives.

Not only is Roe a political football, it has had major repercussions in setting back women’s equality.  Because abortion has been such a cultural hot potato, we tend to see women as a collection of body parts, primarily reproductive body parts.  We are uteruses and vaginas and breasts and all of our discussion is about who gets to control those body parts.  I am not a man or a male hiring manager but I have to wonder what crosses men’s minds when they see a female colleague.  Do they consider her intelligence, determination, ingenuity and hard work or do they secretly thank god that they weren’t born with ovaries that are subject to religious and governmental regulation?  There are things the state can compel or forbid a woman from doing that men don’t have to worry about.  I cannot believe that this doesn’t have an effect on how women are perceived in all the various aspects of her life.  Maybe if she were a bit smarter, she wouldn’t have to put up with that.

I do not agree with the NYTimes editorial board that women wouldn’t have won their reproductive freedom without Roe.  This is going to sound weird but when I was on the cusp of puberty back in 1970 when New York allowed abortions, feminism was vibrantly alive and kicking, unlike 2013 when it’s barely visible, tepid and calling yourself a feminist is outré and derogatory.  You younguns don’t even know.  You had to be there.  Women were on a roll. I was brought up in a religiously fundamentalist household and yet I was a raging feminist back in the early 70s just like many of my friends.  The world was our oyster and we could do anything. The zeitgeist was definitely and defiantly feminist.  Roe brought that to a screeching halt.  If Roe had failed, there would still have been states where you could have gotten an abortion and the fight would have intensified, not slackened because the effects of abortion restrictions elsewhere would still be vividly real.

So, if Bader-Ginsburg’s concerns are that Roe short circuited the political drive and momentum for women’s full equality, then I totally agree with her.  There were a million reasons why Roe should have been decided as the law of the land but the best one is that women are free and equal persons whose rights should not be abridged simply because they have different genitalia.

Instead, what we have is a hollowed out right to abortion and no equality because we stopped fighting.

Dump Roe.  Revive the ERA.

Wednesday: Family and Medical Leave Act already compromised

I don’t know how I missed this.  It didn’t seem to get the attention that Slutgate got.  On March 21, 2012, the US Supreme Court voided part of the Family and Medical Leave Act, one of the jewels of the Clinton Administration from 1993.  In a 5-4 decision, the Court has decided that states can not be sued for violations of the leave act.  It’s an ugly ruling. From the NYTimes article on the decision:

In a 2003 decision, the court allowed suits against state employers under a part of the law that concerned leaves taken to care for family members. The case decided Tuesday concerned a part of the law that entitled eligible employees to take leaves to tend to their own serious medical conditions.

Like other parts of the law, what the court called the “self-care provision” was drafted in gender-neutral terms. The question that divided the justices was whether the law nonetheless meant to address sex discrimination.

The case was brought by a man, Daniel Coleman, who had worked for the Maryland Court of Appeals. Mr. Coleman said the state had violated law by denying him sick leave.

Maryland argued that the federal law did not apply to it because states, as sovereigns, are generally immune from lawsuits for money. In the 2003 decision, Nevada Department of Human Resources v. Hibbs, the Supreme Court rejected a similar objection from Nevada to a suit under a family leave provision.

[...]

Justice Ginsburg, joined by Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, said the entire Family and Medical Leave Act, or F.M.L.A. “is directed at sex discrimination.”

“Indeed,” she wrote, “the F.M.L.A. was originally envisioned as a way to guarantee — without singling out women or pregnancy — that pregnant women would not lose their jobs when they gave birth. The self-care provision achieves that aim.”

The whole law, she said, was “an appropriate response to pervasive discriminatory treatment of pregnant women.” It avoided singling out pregnancy leaves, she added, to avoid discouraging employers from hiring women.

“It would make scant sense to provide job-protected leave for a woman to care for a newborn,” Justice Ginsburg added, “but not for her recovery from delivery, a miscarriage, or the birth of a stillborn baby.”

Justice Ginsburg wrote that Tuesday’s decision was narrow or, as she put it from the bench, “at least the damage is contained.” Suits for money under the self-care provision are still allowed against private employers, she wrote, and other kinds of actions remain available against state employers.

Sooooo, you can take leave, unpaid, to care for your newborn but not to take care of yourself?  Plus, if you work for the state and you get fired for taking care of yourself (let’s say you had a complicated delivery or a stillbirth) you can’t sue the state for damages.  Theoretically, they could just fire you for not leaving the wee tot in the care of some baby nurse and getting back to work immediately, right?  You still have the right to take unpaid maternity leave but not to recover from it, have I got that right?

It should be clear by now that the worst offender on the Supreme Court is not Antonin Scalia.  It’s Anthony Kennedy.  I think Jeffrey Toobin was pretty accurate when he described Kennedy in The Nine.  He said that it took Sandra Day O’Connor to knock some sense into him.  He isn’t really a swing vote.  O’Connor, being a conservative herself, was able to talk him out of what could have been a disaster on a previous abortion bill.  But without a conservative woman on the court, Kennedy has no reason to listen to a single thing the other female justices say.  He’s into pompousness.  He loves flattery and he’s a narcissist who revels in the very idea that his one vote could mean joy or misery for millions of Americans.  He’s the Supreme Court version of He-Man standing on his desk shouting, “I have the power!”.  He’s the Joe Lieberman of justices.  Not the brightest crayon in the box but probably a bit more qualified than Thomas.  The more liberal justices will never have a chance as long as Kennedy is around.  You’ll always know where the four uber conservatives stand but as long as there’s a fleeting hope that you will be able to appeal to Kennedy’s 1950′s view of the world, that’s who all of the arguments before the court need to be pitched and we have seen time and time again that he just doesn’t think women are fully human or something.

So, here’s where we are in 2012:

1.) We have one party that is full of screaming maniacs who are definitely appealing to the white male vote and doing all they can to get women out of the workplace during tough economic times.

2.) We have another party that is also appealing to the white male vote.  Ohhoo!  You thought they were going after female voters?  No, no, no, nooooo.  See, once women got scared by Republicans acting like the Taliban, the Democrats assumed that women would come flocking to them.  So, now that they have females in their “done” pile (or so they think), they can cross women off their list of voters to get.  THAT’S why their response to the Republicans off the charts misogynism has been so tepid.  They don’t want to scare the men away.  Ladies, when are we ever going to learn to make them put their money where their mouths are before we sign on?  As long as they think you are going to their side out of fear of the Republicans, they don’t have to do anything for you.  They’ll just sit back and call Republicans meanies on your behalf and let the decimation of your rights continue with little interference.

3.) If you want to keep your job, don’t get pregnant.  Ever.

4.) If you don’t want to get pregnant, emigrate.

QED, women are fucked under both parties.

Recently, I was over at Violet’s place reading her comments section and I think her commenters, some of them may be readers here, are onto something.  Basically, the reason why women’s rights are getting eroded under Obama and why Hillary Clinton faced so much opposition among party activists is because there is this little cadre of guys in the Democratic party for whom war is THE issue.  There is no other issue that gets their attention quite so much.  Just because the hopes and dreams and civil rights of 53% of the American public are under attack does not mean that they will be deflected one iota from concentrating all of their attention on war and torture.  Now, that is not to say that war and torture are not important but I think we have given this tiny group of latent sexist assholes enough of a platform to express their views.  It’s  time they stopped bogarting the mic and realized that they are undermining their own causes when they depress and demotivate their female sympathizers.  It’s not all about them.

They are our Anthony Kennedys.

Ruth Bader-Ginsburg, Red Tent Feminists and PF Flyers

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Ruth Bader-Ginsburg knows what it’s like to be the only woman in the room and she tells us all about it in a piece in the NYTimes today on The Place of Women on the Court.   I’d advise reading the whole thing in the July 12 edition of the New York Times Magazine.  The link above seems to be a shortened version of the post I read this afternoon and you may not get the full flavor of Ginsburg’s feminism.  Ginsburg may come off as soft spoken but she wields a big stick.  She knows herself in the best Greek tradition and she wants you to know it too.  She is a person who expects to be recognized as such.

She has some interesting and counterintuitive thoughts on feminism as well.  This Q&A was particularly revealing:

Q: What do you think about Judge Sotomayor’s frank remarks that she is a product of affirmative action?

JUSTICE GINSBURG: So am I. I was the first tenured woman at Columbia. That was 1972, every law school was looking for its woman. Why? Because Stan Pottinger, who was then head of the office for civil rights of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, was enforcing the Nixon government contract program. Every university had a contract, and Stan Pottinger would go around and ask, How are you doing on your affirmative-action plan? William McGill, who was then the president of Columbia, was asked by a reporter: How is Columbia doing with its affirmative action? He said, It’s no mistake that the two most recent appointments to the law school are a woman and an African-American man.

Q: And was that you?

JUSTICE GINSBURG: I was the woman. I never would have gotten that invitation from Columbia without the push from the Nixon administration. I understand that there is a thought that people will point to the affirmative-action baby and say she couldn’t have made it if she were judged solely on the merits. But when I got to Columbia I was well regarded by my colleagues even though they certainly disagreed with many of the positions that I was taking. They backed me up: If that’s what I thought, I should be able to speak my mind.

Q: Is that another example of how you’ve worked with men over the years?

JUSTICE GINSBURG: I always thought that there was nothing an antifeminist would want more than to have women only in women’s organizations, in their own little corner empathizing with each other and not touching a man’s world. If you’re going to change things, you have to be with the people who hold the levers.

Ohh, Ruth.  You are my kind of feminist.

Now, I am going to probably offend some people I hold dear and I sure as heck don’t want to dismiss their observations but the idea that men somehow envy women because of some unique quality that we possess is just dead wrong.  Maybe it was true 5000 years ago when men didn’t know the specifics of reproduction but it hasn’t been that way in a long, long time.  The history of women and their religions and the long lost matriarchy may be a very interesting subject but what motivates most people, both men and women, is power.  And since time immemorial, men have had more of it.

I attribute it to upper body strength.  Women are easily overpowered by men physically unless they are trained in self defense.  We can still see the results of the physical subjugation of women in countries like Sudan and Afghanistan where rape is used as a weapon of mass destruction.  But even in more developed societies, the physical strength advantage translates into anachronistic customs, transmitted through scripture and years of cultural indoctrination.  Men are worth more.  They get more attention in school, more opportunities to excel.  They are more believable.  They get better projects, more praise, bigger promotions.  As a result, they earn more and have more authority.  It’s just the way it is.

Some women have looked upon the patriarchy and decided it’s too big.  It’s pervasive, oppressive, demoralizing.  So, they retreat.  They look back upon the golden age when women were mysterious fertile creatures who mystified men and held their own meetings in the red tent.  A community of women, for women, about women.  And there’s nothing wrong with that, if that’s the kind of thing you want to do in your own free time.  But retreating to the company of women and insisting that it be called equal is, as Ginsburg says, antifeminist in the same way that segregation was racist.  Separate can never be equal.  (Prophylactic:  I realize that many women do not see themselves as retreating.  But there are quite a few who back off when it comes to full equality and seem to suggest that women can co-exist in some separate legally protected sphere.  Nah-gah-happen.)

If you want equality, you must stand in the middle of the room of men and demand that they treat you with respect and then hold them accountable if they do not.  Every time they screw up, they must be smacked on the nose with a rolled up newspaper until they are trained to not pee on your shoes.  They aren’t interested in your feminine mystique.  They could care less if El had an Asherah.  All they’re interested is whether they get more of the pie.  If you want your equal share, you have to demand it and act like a person first, woman later.

What Ginsburg didn’t discuss is the role of the post-feminist women who gave their support to Obama over Clinton in last year’s election.  They were equally anti-feminist because they failed to evaluate the candidates on their leadership qualities.  Their ability to turn their back on Clinton and not evaluate her fairly was supposed to somehow prove that they had transcended gender and race.  Instead, they were clobbered by race.  I found this comment by Unree at ReclusiveLeftist that sums it up:

Looking at white people over the last couple of decades, I’ve observed an increasing fraction of them eager to declare their opposition to racism. Especially white women but white men too. Commendable, I thought (and still think).

For white Americans in this demographic, Barack Obama offers a lot. He has carefully kept civil rights in general, and race in particular, away from his voting record and campaigns. He demands nothing from his white supporters. He causes no discomfort.

His greatest gift of all, of course, is fending off feminism. Obama is a boon to fauxgressive dudes and the women who want their favors. White supporters get to keep whatever privilege they now have–economic, gender-based, you name it–along with their self-label of progressive. For the cohort I’m thinking of, anti-racism is the best banner to cover up their misogynous resistance to gender justice. Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin had to pay the price.

I don’t think there is any doubt that women have taken a beating in the past 10 years, first from Republicans, then from the Democrats.  The PF Flyers who have their minds so wide open their brains have fallen out have set us back even farther.  As Ginsburg suggests throughout her interview, the struggle is not over yet and we have to continue to push forward, challenging cultural strereotypes and championing the personhood of women.

Ginsburg holds out hope.  I think she’s right that in the next generation, we are going to see the culture undergo a rapid change, discarding the stereotypes of the past.  There are more women in the workplace, with more education and with greater access to constantly evolving technological innovations.  Our presence and growing expertise will have a profound effect on the way we are perceived but only if believe that we are entitled to it.  Let’s hope that the new leadership of NOW will once again be a visible and vocal presence, demanding accountability for the gross sexism and misogyny of the past several years.   In the meantime, get out there, ladies, and be bold.  Make them take you seriously and whack them on the nose until they get the message.


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Ruth Bader Ginsburg Hospitalized for Pancreatic Cancer

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Our thoughts and prayers are with this outstanding Supreme Court Justice as she recovers from surgery.

It appears the cancer was caught early, which should increase her chances of survival. Her loss would be staggering in its implications.

Here are some great quotes from Justice Ginsburg that show her brilliance, her steadfast commitment to the Constitution and her always passionate advocacy for social justice.

All respect for the office of the presidency aside, I assumed that the obvious and unadulterated decline of freedom and constitutional sovereignty, not to mention the efforts to curb the power of judicial review, spoke for itself.

It is not women’s liberation, it is women’s and men’s liberation.

So that’s the dissenter’s hope: that they are writing not for today but for tomorrow.

The state controlling a woman would mean denying her full autonomy and full equality.

Be well, Justice Ginsburg.

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