Status Update

– Watching the first episode of the first season of The Wire for the first time and loving it.

– Putin still hasn’t reappeared.

– This is the most productive spring break ever and it will still continue for 5 more days.

A War on the Word “Women”

In an unexpected development, The Nation published a reasonable, intelligent article:

Abortion funds, which offer help paying for an abortion when Medicaid or insurance won’t, have become a thriving hub of grassroots feminism. They draw hundreds of activists, young and old, to donate countless hours to provide direct service and advocate for better funding for abortion. In the past few years, a number of the funds have quietly removed references to “women” from their messaging in order to be more welcoming to trans men and others who do not identify as women but can still become pregnant.

Oh, Lordy. Yes, let’s flush reproductive rights down the toilet in the name of a weird fear of using the word “women.” There is obviously no greater danger to abortion rights today that the word “women.” Just saying it aloud makes reproductive rights whither and die.

I’m going to argue here that removing “women” from the language of abortion is a mistake. We can, and should, support trans men and other gender-non-conforming people. But we can do that without rendering invisible half of humanity and 99.999 percent of those who get pregnant.

It’s not just a mistake. It is absolutely egregious that mentioning women and using the word “vagina” now has to be censored. The assault on reproductive rights victimizes women. Period. If anybody is upset by that, they should call their representative in the Congress and express their outrage about the rollback of reproductive rights. It’s not the word “women” that’s the problem. 

It is very curious how nobody is in any hurry to get rid of the word “men” in order to prove how inclusive and intersectional they are. In my Spanish classes, I routinely outrage students when I tell them that if an a group of a billion women there is a single man, according to the rules of the Spanish grammar that entire group becomes male. Every time I deliver this statement, there is an outburst of anger in the classroom that I use to direct the conversation to the issues of sexism. But it seems like there are people who believe this is not just an archaic language rule from an enormously sexist culture. For some, this is an attractive approach to reality.

There has not been a greater obstacle to gender equality than women’s incapacity to control their reproduction. For millennia, this has been THE problem women everywhere encountered on the road to freedom. Just like the message of “Black lives matter” should not be watered down by the ridiculous “All lives matter” response, the message of “Women’s reproductive rights matter” should be allowed to exist on its own:

Once you start talking about “people,” not “women,” you lose what abortion means historically, symbolically and socially. It becomes hard to understand why it isn’t simply about the right to life of the “unborn.” After all, men get pregnant too!

If it’s OK for several major languages to refer to a group as masculine just because there is a single man among a billion women, then I’m sure the world won’t end if, in the context of reproductive rights, a couple of men have to “suffer” the intolerable burden of being called women. 

The war on the word “women” goes to extreme lengths and ends up twisting itself into hugely idiotic contortions. If there is a difference between this position and the tantrums idiot MRAs throw because the word “feminism” makes them feel queasy, I’m failing to see it:

One organization tweeted that one in three “people” has had an abortion—actually, if we’re talking about people, it’s more like one in six. When the actress and feminist advocate Martha Plimpton organized an abortion-fund benefit lightheartedly named “Night of a Thousand Vaginas,” some activists were outraged, because some trans men don’t like that word (“birth canal” or “front hole” are favored alternatives to the V-word). Trans men should refer to their genitalia however they like, but it’s hard not to feel that there’s something seriously awry when women, who only got to call their genitals by the proper term in public a decade or so ago, are supposed to stop naming them in order to avoid offense.

The sulky narrative of “hurt feelings” is once again trumping the really desperate need for genuine political activism.

But thank you, The Nation, for finally publishing a meaningful article. Maybe I will renew that subscription after all.

My Name Is Immigrant

And I’m not talking in any silly metaphoric sense. I mean, literally, my name means “immigrant.”

Do you know how I always say that the only collective identity I recognize is that of an immigrant? Now I have found out the history of my last name and it has all been explained. 

As you know, I don’t have my father’s last name because it is very Jewish and living in the USSR with such an obviously Jewish last name was not a good idea.

However, the last name I do have isn’t really my mother’s last name either. The very Ukrainian last (and first) name of my Ukrainian grandfather was Russianized when he went into a military school in Russia in the late 1930s. The actual last name of my grandfather means “a refugee, an immigrant, a person who escapes.” And where was that part of the family escaping from? The structure and the history of the name tells us that they came from the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

My grandmother’s last name was also Russianized. Originally, it has Romanian roots. 

This means that everybody in my family on all sides kept moving to the East, generation after generation. And then I subverted that centuries-long family tradition by making a radical move to the West. But the need to keep moving that’s hidden in my name will keep propelling me forward.

People weren’t even allowed to keep their own Ukrainian names, both first and last. And by the way, both of these Ukrainian grandparents are Holodomor survivors.

And then the Russians keep asking, “But what good did that independence even do for you?” Do you know how hard it is to explain what good it did for the bizillionth time in a row (often to the same fucking person) with a polite and reasonable face?

So bye-bye, Russians*. And hello, my Romanian and Austro-Hungarian sisters and brothers.

* I have conferred the title of an honorary Ukrainian on N, so it’s all cool.

The Shame of University of Oklahoma

Members of a fraternity at the University of Oklahoma were recently filmed chanting that they’d rather see a black student lynched than as a member of their clan. The now viral video of dapper, privileged white men shouting, “There will never be a nigger at SAE, you can hang him from a tree” reminds us of our greatest national shame. The chant has been roundly condemned as abhorrent. But after university president David Boren announced the expulsion of two students leading the chants, prominent legal scholars from the right and left have come to their defense. The university is a public institution, they say, and punishing the students for what they said—no matter how vile—violates the First Amendment’s commitment to “uninhibited, robust, and wide-open” discourse.

I believe that a much better response form the school would be to make a public statement saying, “We haven’t managed to keep our fraternities civilized, so they are disbanded forthwith. We apologize for sponsoring extremist organizations on campus.” Just throwing out those two individual pieces of garbage will solve nothing. If the university can’t make fraternities serve the cause of advancing academic goals, they have no business being on campus.

All of these vapid discussions about free speech, legal scholars, etc. are distracting everybody’s attention from the obvious solution: universities should be about education. Trying to make them about anything else leads to trouble. 

Friday, 13th

Today is Friday, the 13th. Some people say this makes the day unlucky but I disagree. N and I got married on Friday the 13th, and the marriage has been absolutely blissful. All of the problems we had in the relationship just ended on the day we got married. I know it sounds weird but it’s the truth.

This means we totally need to celebrate Friday the 13th this weekend. I’m going to make a really special dinner tomorrow. Pictures to follow.

Harper Isn’t All Bad

I never thought I’d have a good word to say about Harper but I guess miracles do happen:

Stephen Harper doubled down Tuesday on his aversion to face-covering veils worn by some Muslim women, calling them the product of a culture that is “anti-women.”

In Canada – and especially in Quebec with its immigration policy tilted heavily towards French-speakers – this is a real problem.