Ten Questions with Caroline Biggs

{This month features Urban Theorist/Feminist/Fashion Socio-Historian Extraordinaire Elizabeth Wilson. Author of dozens of books and countless articles, she has earned quite the international following for her groundbreaking scholarship on fashion, urbanity, and modernity—and the lifelong devotion of at least one budding academic-fashionist. <3}

Describe yourself in one word.

Energetic

 To date, what do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

Bringing up a daughter. 

What or whom has been your greatest source of inspiration?

My partner.

What quality in others do you find the most admirable?

Kindness. 

What quality in others do you find the most deplorable?

Spiritual Meanness

What are your three favorite texts?

Marcel Proust, A La Recherche du Temps Perdu

Walter Benjamin,  Arcades Project

Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights 

If you could spend one day in history, when and where would it be?

A day during the Russian Revolution

Finish the thought: “Feminism is . . .”

The recognition that men and women are equal.  [Discussion of presumed innate or learned psychological and other differences is irrelevant to this truth].

What is something about you others would be surprised to know?

In lots of ways I am quite conservative.

 What are your words to live by?

The stiff upper lip is much underrated.

 

{Endless thanks and admiration for Elizabeth Wilson. xx}

{Photo courtesy of The Idea Store.}

Researching New York : A Sneak Peek at This Year’s Conference

  {Director of the Women’s History Program at Sarah Lawrence College, Rona Holub, shares the abstract for her upcoming presentation at this year’s esteemed “Researching New York” conference series.} 

In Defense of a “Noble Metropolis”: The Irish and German Immigrant Response to New York State’s Attack on Home Rule in New York City, 1857

In April of 1857, the New York State Legislature passed new laws, regulations, and charter revisions that threatened the very fiber of the social and political lives of the poor and working class immigrants of New York City.  Part of this effort involved the dissolution of the city administered Municipal Police and the creation of the state run Metropolitan Police Force. Members of these two separately appointed and administered forces beat each other up at city hall in New York City on June 16, 1857.  The question of who was in charge of the city hung in the air.  On July 4, 1857, mass violence broke out in New York City followed by major civil disorder on July 5, July 12 and 13.  The July violence involved “gangs” and mostly Irish and German residents of the city.  These violent incidents were connected.  Politicians, nativists, and moral reformers in New York State had formed a coalition and set out to stem the tide of immigrant political power.

The violence that broke out, beginning with the Police Riot itself, was a reaction to the imposition of one set of values over another, over the belief that one way of life was better than another,  that one religion was better than another, that political power belonged in the hands of some people but not others.  Contemporary newspapers generally emphasized the “gang war” nature of these outbreaks.  Clearly these disturbances represented much more than gang rivalry and turf wars.  Such spontaneous civil disturbances, often represented as “merely” gang driven episodes sparked by  “criminal elements,” had political overtones.  People who felt that their freedom and ability to govern themselves was being undercut by the state rebelled.  They reacted as “true” Americans, as “freemen,” whose rights were being usurped.  They conveyed a narrative in which they asserted that they should have the same rights as other white male citizens to govern themselves.  It is not a coincidence that at least two of the riots were apparently started by members of the Dead Rabbits, a pro-Democrat, Irish gang attacking members of the Metropolitan Police Force.  The new force represented the powers that hated, derided and attempted to enforce their mores and values on the immigrant population and control the political processes of the city.  The residents of the wards where violence broke out reacted in protest against what they deemed as the usurpation of their rights.

Thus, the violence between the police forces in June and that which erupted in July are connected and represent anxieties, fears, and a wide array of interpretations of self interest among the growing multitude of people entering and living in the city.  This paper describes the events of this month-long period of violence and disruption and interrogates its meanings.  It proposes as well that how these events came about and were handled might have impacted the worst civil violence ever to occur in the city which took place six years later, that is, the Draft Riots of 1863.  Could these have been prevented or at least diminished had the meanings of the 1857 riots been understood and the events addressed differently?

{Researching New York 2011–Upheaval & Disaster, Triumph & Tragedy: Aftermath will be taking place at the University at Albany, State University of New York, November 17 and 18. For more information go to nystatehistory.org.}

Big Smelly Ol’ Apple

John Walker is a Sarah Lawrence graduate who really likes the internet a lot.

You know how when you’re in your first real (read: high school) relationship, and you celebrate one-month “anniversaries” because you think that’s what grown-ups in love do?  Well, hop aboard the Inane Train, because this weekend marks my one-month anniversary of living in New York City. (read: Bushwick)

Ah, the Big Gay Apple, a truly cosmopolitan melting pot where people of all cultural backgrounds can come together as an integrated collective of individuals.

For many of the city’s residents, accustomed to such highly valued levels of diversity found in urban life, it must be difficult to imagine living in some intolerant, backwoods town.  I did just that this summer, and let me tell you that rural Wisconsin is, like, SUPER racist.  OH, and homophobic, too!  They just don’t. get. it.  They just don’t understand what it’s like to respect the differences of others, as city dwellers do.

Can you even picture what life is like even just a couple of hours upstate?  All the white people!  All the straight people!  It’s like they’re trying to section themselves off from those not like them.  That’s one reason why I, and really all who move to New York City, have chosen not to section myself off from those unlike me.  Living in a self-constructed bubble would do nothing but fuel ignorance and hatred among people.  Thank God urbanites actively counteract such things.

The spirit of the Civil Rights Movement lives on, and the progression of positive cross-cultural interaction is astounding.  These days, it is pretty unbelievable that people of color were denied such fundamental human rights and dignities due to the race.  I mean, it’s not like they were gay or anything.  Like most progressive NYC residents, I often go entire days without seeing color.  If only the rest of the country could be like New York when it comes to race relations. (Especially the South!  So racist!)

It’s unfortunate that queer people are still discriminated against.  Hello! It’s 2011!  At least New York, in the wake of legalizing same-sex marriage statewide, offers a safe haven for we, the not exactly heterosexual.  But I know that someday, in the not too distant future, discrimination will finally come to an end.  It’s really on its last legs right now.

Until then, we’ll always have New York City, a post-racial, post-gender, post-asldjl;kadvl;knsalkkjlsdlksklsslk

/satire

Ok, I think you get the point.  Racism isn’t southern, homophobia isn’t rural, and we shouldn’t be dummies about it.

Hey, I never said I was a creative-writing student.

Real talk now: Here’s my true list of pros & cons regarding living in NY instead of rural Wisconsin.

PROS

-       I like being able to make out with guys on the regular.  New York fulfills this need.  I never said I was a role-model.

CONS

- New York actually smells really bad.  I literally dry-heaved the second I stepped out of Grand Central in September.  By removing myself from NY for the summer, I’ve lost all funk tolerance.  As someone who is used to smelling bad (also on the regular), I’m not even being dramatic.  Don’t believe me?  Go to an idyllic heaven, like rural Wisconsin, for 4 months, and then plop yourself right back into Midtown.

            {If you want to learn more about hate crime statistics in New York state, check out the NY State Division of Criminal Justice Services’ “Hate Crimes in New York State: 2010 Annual Report,” available at http://criminaljustice.state.ny.us/crimnet/pubs.htm}

On Being a Woman: and The Eyes that Never Sleep

{K. Reece is a writer with a BA from Wellesley College and an MFA candidate at Sarah Lawrence College. She is the assistant editor at Sarah Lawrence magazine.}

Even above the overstimulation and freneticism that characterize this city, what jarred me most in my move to New York was the proximity to such astonishing wealth. These people were April Wheeler’s “golden people,” as Richard Yates describes in Revolutionary Road. “I still had this idea that there was a whole world of marvelous golden people somewhere,” April says, right before cheating on her husband. “People who knew everything instinctively, who made their lives work out the way they wanted without even trying, who never had to make the best of a bad job because it never occurred to them to do anything less than perfectly the first time.”

I imagined that I’d found them, and my proof was the alligator-skin loafers of a well-tailored woman I saw at a New Yorker festival reading, streamlined tuxedos adorning dapper men on the lit steps leading up to Lincoln Center after an opera, the towering and ornate apartment buildings on the upper east side complete with doormen, and the large, thick paper bags from Barneys and Bergdorf’s that gorgeous women hustled into the taxis of bored drivers on Fifth Avenue.

My years of subscribing to Vogue became unnecessary. All I had to do now was park myself outside the Plaza Hotel to see those glossy pages in three-dimensions, high-definition.

It only took me a few months, though, to realize that I actually don’t find such wealth attractive. The things that seemed to make this city so infamously rich were rarely that which could be bought by money, which I no longer had anyway.

And I found I loved the things in New York that I’d always loved. The forgotten brick wall behind a gas station I pass on the bus that had been painted mint green, and is now weather-beaten, peeling, a stunning combination of tiny stacks of white and gray rectangles. Trash and broken umbrellas. The old man with a grizzled white beard selling used books on the corner of 110th and Broadway that schools me in pronouncing Nabokov’s name when I ask if he has a copy of Pale Fire. A pile of sea blue glass on the shimmering pavement of the sidewalk that looks like a tiny lake, each perfect square of glass a still wave, with edges that sprawl and curve back. The things other people don’t usually look at, the moments that pass quickly—the unlovely things.

But ultimately, I’m irritated by this city because none of that exists. Everything has been looked at. Nothing escapes someone’s set of curious or appreciative or critical eyes.

I was once waiting for a friend in the 96th street station when I spotted a bright red balloon stuck in the rafters. It bobbed poetically, trying to escape but only knowing how to float up, further into its captivity. Streams of people flooded by through the station’s doors underneath it, oblivious. I wished for my camera, until I looked horizontal again, and saw a young woman aiming her own to the ceiling.

On one of my train rides, a young woman with a twisted satin headband and black leather gloves balanced a cup of coffee on her lap with the same hand that held her quilted purse. With her other hand, she held up a hardcover book with a tattered ivory cover. Her large bottom lip hung low, her mouth gently open with concentration. A redheaded girl next to her, petite with two shopping bags and no makeup, noticed me noticing the other woman. And I watched her notice everyone in the train, her green eyes restless and careful. You can tell how new someone is to the city by how wide their eyes get on the train, by how much they look, and by the amount of novelty that registers in their features.

You can be anyone here—and also, no one. A guy outside my apartment in Harlem asked for my phone number three times, not because he was being persistent, but because he didn’t remember having seen me before. The third time, I finally turned to him and pulled out my phone, typed in “Gordon” and showed his number to him.

“Don’t you remember? You gave me yours because I refused to give you mine? A long time ago.”

He smiled, and scratched his temple.

I shook my head and turned to walk away.

“Well damn, girl!” he said finally. “Call me sometime.”

When I lived in Harlem, I would walk four blocks to get on the subway.

Regardless of the weather, plenty of people—mostly men—constantly populated the sidewalk. As with most men on the streets and my block, I refused to make eye contact, feigning indifference to the way they would stand outside the shops on Broadway with their shoulders cocked at a northern angle. One group of men often stood outside a bodega on 139th, and they made it their occupation to watch women walk. Each time I passed them, I wouldn’t look down or away, but straight ahead, often missing their eyes by less than a foot of air.

The sky wasn’t available in Harlem as it is in Brooklyn, where I live now, and where buildings and apartments often don’t grow above three or four stories. And on the sidewalks, men tend to keep their eyes to themselves. People don’t move as fast in Brooklyn, it seems, and my eyes can move enough to notice flecks of oil on the wet streets, some pooled in concentric circles of magenta, electric green, and deep orange. Rough lines of red spray paint speak a language on some of the sidewalks and streets, and all the crosswalks are faded.

I can handle babies grabbing the straps of my purse. I can even handle the people who play music through their headphones at decibel levels that wound my eardrums. But it’s men’s eyes that I can’t handle. It’s men’s eyes that light a rolling fire of fury under my ribs and between my shoulder blades. Stare unflinchingly as they may, their looks and attention to the curves of my body do not render me an original beauty, not even beautiful. Their eyes make me a cheap thrill, a free thing they won’t remember using. Particularly on days when I feel unattractive, I become aware that despite my vegetarian, pacifistic affinities, I could kill if I had to.

The third of my three best friends got married this August in Montana, where we all grew up. With a sound that can only be described as a guffaw, my mom’s single, fifty-one year old brother told me when he picked me up at the airport after the wedding that at twenty-five, I’m an old maid.

The last night visit in Montana, I went on a date with a boy I’d had a crush on throughout high school. He was older than me, and even though we’d never dated, I was fairly certain he enjoyed the show I performed next to him in Economics with my bare legs, exposed in shorts and short skirts.

Two hours and three beers later, at a bar across from the restaurant we went to, the back of my knee folded over the top of his, we’d somehow moved on from our shared love of Hemingway to politics. He remembered a nickname I had at our conservative, public high school: “fem-Nazi.”

“So you don’t think you have privilege as a straight, white male?” I said, after he told me that his beliefs are shaped by the time he spent in the military, not by where he lives.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“Privilege. You know, that you are afforded certain benefits, and don’t personally have to think about whether you can get married, or get a job, and so you’re not worried about them politically.”

He told me that where he lives, he’s actually a minority because of the Mexican population. But I finally got him to admit that balancing the budget was his political bottom line.

“You see people as economic agents with definable relationships to one another,” I said, speaking with the quickness and abstraction alcohol usually provides me.

But he laughed at my persistence, looked away from me, and took a drink of his beer.

“Well, Kate, you know, you’re making me feel a bit bad about myself. I guess you’re right. I just don’t care that much about social welfare.”

I smiled victoriously at him, but my heart sunk. He was much cuter than I remembered, the right level of hardworking and chivalrous. But this could go nowhere.

Even though he used the word “miraculous” to describe capitalism and expressed disregard for the sacred shades of gray that seduce my emotion and energy, I made out with him in the front seat of his dad’s work truck like we were sixteen.

At one point, I traced the large, convex curve of his bicep, tattooed with a Celtic cross, and he flexed, jokingly telling me that he worked for that muscle, and could take full credit for it.

But aren’t I right? Is it not genuine chance—an arbitrary, and perhaps fortuitous fluke—that I’m not the mother yelling at her crying kid who sprawls on the dirty floor of our quiet subway car; the same subway car that is the bedroom of a man who sleeps now, slumped against the unforgiving metal rails on the left side of the pale blue bench, all of his belongings stacked in a splitting suitcase that also slumps, against a two-wheel dolly—like the ones my father always used to move our boxes into the next biggest house we bought—in Portland, Montana, Phoenix, Cleveland.

I hate that I can’t not pay attention. I hate that I care, and that that care often reflects not authentic benevolence, but insecurity about where my edges touch those of others—what these vague and omnipresent New York audiences see when—if—their eyes travel over me.

[More] Poems from Jamie Agnello

{For our “City Issue,” Jamie is back with three more of her celebrated poems (inspired by the character of Chuck Bass on “Gossip Girl”). What’s more New York City than Upper West Side-Prep-School inspired poetry? You can find more of these linguistic gems at  http://ilikedyoubetterbefore.tumblr.com/ }

Bad News

Look, anyone who trades in

their trust fund for a fanny pack

flies in the face of all that is

holy to Chuck Bass.

If it cost more than 10 grand,

it earns a proper name.

Everyone out there wants to be us.

We are what you aspire to.

You’re gonna tell me that the life

of a YouTube filmmaker

is better than this?

There is no outside world

that I do not show you.

Stop talking.

Start partying.

I’m Chuck Bass.

The Handmaiden’s Tale

Welcome to the Upper East Side.

Little Jenny Humphrey manages

to get my pants off—

and have me not enjoy it.

Quite the accomplishment.

Well, hello, angel.

Beautiful…and mean?

I’ve got chills.

Care to dance with the poor devil?

You’re getting warmer,

which is an achievement

because you’re already hot.

If I was your man,

I wouldn’t need clues to find you.

I’m Chuck Bass.

Victor/Victrola

Alfonso made me an omelet.

I may have washed it down

with a Bellini or two.

Your position in my esteem

has been replaced by your voicemail.

Victory party. Here. Tomorrow.

I’ll send a car.

A burlesque club:

a respectable place

where people can

let loose.

Pure escape.

You’re ten times hotter

than any of those girls.

Why don’t you get up there?

This is the perfect thing.

I’ve been waiting for this.

What happens at Victrola

stays at Victrola.

I’m Chuck Bass.

{Chuck Bass photo courtesy via Giovanni Rufino/The CW}

{Ed Westwick and Taylor Momsen photo courtesy of tengossip via splashnews}

{Victor/Victrola photo courtesy via The CW}

Welcome to R/V October 2011: The Legal Issue

Welcome to the R/V LEGAL ISSUE! We are beyond thrilled with the response and popularity of last month’s POP CULTURE ISSUE—we’ve been linked, quoted, and shared from NYC to Beirut—and readership has grown to numbers that exceeded even our highest hopes! Most importantly, we are having so much fun conceptualizing and creating a dialogue that appeals to a WIDE RANGE OF FEMINISMS and the issues that affect us both historically and everyday.

At RE/VISIONIST, we strive to encompass feminism in its most complex form and appreciate it for what it truly is: multi-faceted, diverse, frequently political, sometimes superficial, often hostile, at-times humorous, and above all, the good fight.  WE [as feminists] are just as variable and diverse as feminism itself and our readers are no exception. Just as there is no single most-important feminist argument, there is no one-way to write about feminism.

This month brings us to the litigious-side of inequality, or rather, institutionalized racism and sexism. Law is arguably the most powerful vehicle for social change—and that can work both ways. Revisiting monumental Civil Rights cases such as Loving v. Virginia, while celebrating New York’s legalization of gay marriage, can make it even harder to comprehend present-day (yet seemingly archaic) legal battles. Even more upsetting is the actuality that gendered and racial inequality exists WITHIN the legal framework—and that a lot of those serving to preserve “justice” are some of the most bigoted-people out there—making it even harder to know whose side the law is really on.

That being said–R/V is proud to feature a law review from co-Editor, Amanda Seybold! We’re also proud to welcome Brianna Leone and Emma Staffaroni to the R/V family as web-editors and columnists–you can see from the weekly links, this month’s articles, and the gorgeous editorial pics why we’re thrilled to have them!

Sexism, like any inequality, has several faces—from Pat Robertson to Britney Spears. Sometimes, it’s as blatant as pay inequity and other times it is so embedded in our understanding of how things are that we don’t even notice. This is why we have to work to cover as many bases as possible; we have to include—not exclude—to keep fighting the good fight.

 

{. . . and it IS the good fight.}

xx

Caroline

The Legal Issue:

{ENJOY!}

Reproductive Justice: A Timeline by Emma Staffaroni

Emma Staffaroni is a first-year Master’s candidate in SLC’s Women’s History program. A ruthless feminist, she slays haters with her pen and then eats them for dinner, covered in cheese. She also enjoys basset hounds, trains, and red wine.

Full disclosure: I am 23. That means that up until the last couple of years, most of the fighting for women’s reproductive rights in the United States took place before my time. When I first learned about Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court case affirming a woman’s right to choose, I was exactly the same age that my mom was in 1973: fifteen. Fifteen is a big age; it is a tempestuous time. It is, in my opinion, a bit too late for a young woman to be learning about the right to choose. Unfortunately, 2003 was right smack in the heart of the “Bush years”, so even though my Connecticut public high school dodged most of the abstinence-only education craziness, our health class still shimmered with overtones of SEX IS DIRTY AND WRONG. My mom and I are thirty years apart, but as fifteen-year-old women we got similar messages from our public education system.

For me in 2003, learning about some court case that legalized abortion thirty years ago might as well have been ancient history. “Cool,” my simple, teenage brain thought. Glad they took care of that! Of course it wouldn’t be until my Women’s Studies classes in college that I’d understand why abortion had been illegal in the first place. Up until around 1930, abortion practices were often crude and dangerous, leading to thousands of deaths. (For that reason, many prominent feminists and suffragists were against the practice – not for any kind of religious reason, but because it was a dirty, scary thing that killed women.) When practices started to improve in the 30s and 40s, mortality rates dropped significantly.  Sure enough, the Supreme Court justices who ruled on Roe in 1973 reasoned that with modern medicine’s advances, legal barriers were no longer appropriate or relevant.

My mom was in college when the Hyde Amendment barred all federal funding for abortions. I was in college when, in the midst of health care reform debates, Representative Bart Stupak (D-MI) and Representative Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) tacked onto the healthcare bill an amendment in their names that would have blocked any federal funds from covering a health plan that includes abortions. The Stupak-Pitts Amendment passed in the House but was shot down in the Senate. Little did I know that it was just the beginning of an onslaught against women’s choice starting with the mid-term elections in 2010. The parallels of history are uncanny – I can almost hear “The Circle of Life” playing.

For lots of women’s rights activists, the politics of the reproductive justice movement feel like a nauseating merry-go-round – in part because it rests on a paradoxical notion of freedom. Roe v. Wade granted the right to choose based on the Constitutional right to privacy. “Privacy,” of course, gets redefined and circumscribed anew with the changing demands of society, technology, and the state. The 1992 ruling of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey is a lesson in this; by evoking language of public health, the court created space for state intervention in women’s experience of reproductive freedom and autonomy. The Casey ruling, while affirming the right to an abortion, also created cracks in the foundation through which state regulation and limitation could seep.

But this tension between individual freedom and state intervention is problematic for many feminists because it vilifies the state’s role in protecting women. Indeed, the entire Bill of Rights is about keeping the government’s nose out of the individual’s business. And yet in so many ways, this view of freedom – the hands-off kind – is precisely that which has eroded the welfare state and placed barriers to President Obama’s full vision of universal health care.

Nevertheless, bodily autonomy is the most fundamental and basic of all rights for a woman. It recognizes her personhood and separates her childbearing capacity from any child-rearing imperative. By isolating the act of abortion from its context, i.e. the woman involved, the anti-choice movement “keep[s] women slaves to their biology,” in the words of Ellen Willis. “They do not concede women the right to an active human existence that transcends their reproductive function,” she writes.

Gloria Steinem takes it even further. In an interview in 2004 before Bush was re-elected, Steinem presaged the destructive effects of another four years of right-wing government. When asked about Bush’s evocation of Christian law, Steinem responded that “pro-life” is not really about religion.

I think the deep reasoning here… is to control women’s bodies as the most fundamental means of production. Because unless you control that process, you can’t make the decisions about how many workers a country needs, how many soldiers, what races should reproduce more than others. The ability to control reproduction is one of the two pillars of nationalism. The other is the ability to control territory. I think this goes very deep and really does not have that much to do with religion. …The cloaking of political imperatives in religious language is the problem.

What the right to bodily autonomy ultimately represents, then, is women’s full participation in democracy. If we don’t own our bodies, then we don’t own our lives. It’s as simple as that.

No matter how far we’ve come (or haven’t) it is crucial for women of my generation to know what women of my mother’s generation witnessed firsthand. It is vital that we see the links between the kinds of attacks on women’s autonomy that followed Roe in the late 70s and early 80s, and the rehashed attacks on Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers we face today. If we want to prevent the current anti-choice movement from pulling the historical rug out from under us, we need to remember our history and keep fighting for it. We must understand why we have the rights we have, and also why they are still in jeopardy.

So, with a little help from the Historical and Multicultural Encyclopedia of Women’s Reproductive Rights in the United States, I’ve put together a timeline of some of the cornerstones of the reproductive justice movement since the 1960s. Starting with Griswold v. Connecticut and leading up to the aforementioned Casey ruling, this will hopefully provide a longer-view of the circuitous route of justice for women in this country. If we want current fifteen-year-old young women to, thirty years from now, still hold the same status as women do today, we best know our history.

Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) – This case came about when Estelle Griswold, the executive director of Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut, opened a birth control clinic. Three days later she was arrested for dispensing contraceptives to a married couple. The Supreme Court invalidated this law by a majority of seven to two, ruling that a constitutional right to privacy protected the right of married couples to use contraceptives. Many amendments in the Constitution created “zones of privacy” that protect one’s home, one’s person, and one’s possessions. These zones would be key for the eventual Roe ruling.

Eisenstadt v. Baird (1972) – This was the step between Griswold and Roe that further articulated privacy. It affirmed the reproductive autonomy of every individual, married or not. This meant that the individual was to be “free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child.”

Roe vs. Wade (1973) - In this ruling, the Supreme Court stated that the rights recognized in Griswold and Eisenstadt are “broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.” This decriminalized abortion in all U.S. states. With developments in modern medicine the laws against the procedure, which had been in place to protect women, were no longer necessary. This decision also established the trimester principle.

Planned Parenthood of Central Missouri v. Danforth (1976) – This was the first Supreme Court ruling on a state law that attempted to restrict and discourage abortions in the years after Roe. The restrictions in this law will sound familiar, as many states have rehashed similar and more draconian laws today. Danforth succeeded in defining viability of the fetus as “when the life of the unborn child may be continued indefinitely outside the womb by natural or artificial life-support systems”; the case also succeeded in requiring abortion providers to keep records for public health officials. Aside from that, the Supreme Court struck down Danforth’s demands that married women must receive the consent of their husbands, which is a term that has held since.

Hyde Amendment (1976)- This amendment prohibits the use of federal funding for abortions. This affects Medicaid recipients, federal employees (1983), disabled women on Medicare (1988), military personnel & Peace Corp volunteers (1979), Native American women (1988), residents in D.C. (1977), and women in federal prisons (1987). There were a few exceptions: when the woman’s life was in danger, when two physicians certified that the woman would suffer long-term damage, and when the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest. In 1981 this changed to only include exceptions for preserving the woman’s life. In 1993 it expanded to include pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. Some states fund abortions beyond the restrictions of the Hyde Amendment.

Planned Parenthood of Kansas City v. Ashcroft (1983) – This case reaffirmed the fundamental right for a woman to obtain an abortion but also clarified the boundaries of that right. The Supreme Court ruled against the Missouri statute that all second-trimester abortions had to be performed in a hospital; six out of nine justices found this unconstitutional. However, the Court ruled in favor of Missouri’s other restrictions, including the most highly contested “two-physician rule.” Missouri did not even require two physicians to be present for childbirth, yet this rule was seen as an “accepted medical practice,” so the Court upheld it. A similar setback was the parental consent ruling, which the Court upheld. Minors would be forced to get parental consent unless they could prove maturity and receive a “judicial bypass.” Ashcroft is seen as both a victory and a setback for reproductive rights. It granted a lot of latitude for states to impose restrictions on the abortion process.

Global Gag Rule (1984)- Ronald Reagan instated the Global Gag Rule or “GGR” which denies family planning funds to any foreign NGO that – with its own non-U.S. money – provides legal abortion services and counseling, gives information or referrals about safe abortion, or even takes part in a public debate that improves access to services.  This has been overturned and reinstated, back and forth, between conservative and liberal presidencies. Most recently, Obama overturned the GGR in 2009.

Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey (1992) – Many believed that this would be the case that would overturn Roe, but it did not. Instead the conservative majority in the Supreme Court weakened the ruling but kept it in place. Southeastern Pennsylvania had instated the 24-hour waiting period, as well as the mandated counseling services. For the first time, the Court accepted the notion that the state had an interest in protecting “the health of the woman and the life of the fetus that may become a child.” This limited the scope of the Roe rights by introducing the “undue burden” standard. Put simply, as long as the state’s intervention does not burden the woman’s right, it is legitimate. (Of course this can be interpreted in myriad ways!) This opened the door for a number of state regulations, most recently the “TRAP” laws or Targeted Regulations for Abortion Providers – laws which actively target abortion-providing clinics with regulations that block their funding and force them to jump through hoops.

 {Battles on the horizon} – Since the 2010 mid-term elections, abortion providers in states like South Dakota and Indiana have faced unprecedented opposition. Women in those states may know that their right to an abortion exists at the national level, but it doesn’t seem that way in their own backyards. For an up-to-date and thorough look at the full extent of regulations across the United States today, check out this comprehensive graph. It is organized by type of regulation: from parental consent requirements, to waiting periods, to mandatory counseling and ultrasounds, to blocked insurance funding. These attacks not only degrade women’s basic healthcare access but they also undermine the legal system. As citizens we want to have faith in the courts, but more often than not individuals with power (e.g. conservative governors) get the last word. What’s next for the reproductive justice movement? What will this graph look like thirty years from now?

Miscegenation: A Law Review

Until the Supreme Court’s 1967 decision in Loving v. Virginia, interracial marriage was legally banned in a few states in this country.  Although we may look back and say to ourselves how can that be? That was so recent! the changes in legal thinking that made eradicating all miscegenation laws from the books were actually quite remarkable.  Rather, it was not so much that the legal arguments changed, it’s that the opinions of the Justices in charge of making the decisions changed, and luckily for the better. On the brink of the Court’s landmark Loving decision, two law professors wrote companion pieces of sorts, which were published in the Virginia Law Review.  Alfred Avins’ “Anti-Miscegenation Laws and the Fourteenth Amendment: The Original Intent” takes a strong stand in defense of banning marriage between the races, while Walter Wadlington’s “The Loving Case: Virginia’s Anti-Miscegenation Statute in Historical Perspective” argues that anti-miscegenation laws violate the Constitution and should be struck down.

An issue found in both articles is the lack of attention given to black female agency, in the sense of a black woman’s autonomy over her own fate, particularly as it comes to marital choices.  This is an aspect of analysis that is largely ignored by the authors, who choose instead to write about the laws from the perspective of the white male.  This may stem from a number of factors—including the professions of the authors (lawyers), the drafters of the laws (white men) and a general lack of case law brought to the courts by black women.  These constraints should not automatically yield an assumption that female agency may be ignored, however.   Unfortunately, the professors do not approach the issue of miscegenation law from the position to view it as an inability for a black woman to maintain a certain status in her life.  Rather, they approach it from the male dominated stance, which, while not necessarily lessening the importance of the analysis, does limit it in some respects. 

Alfred Avins, “Anti-Miscegenation Laws and the Fourteenth Amendment: The Original Intent”

One of the best parts about being a student of history is stumbling across that one document that really makes the reader stop, sometimes gape, and really say “huh.” [The one piece that unlocks not only the writer’s personal beliefs, but also the sentiments of the era.]  That, for this reader, was Professor Alfred Avins’ “Anti-Miscegenation Laws and the Fourteenth Amendment: The Original Intent,” which was published in the Virginia Law Review in 1966.[1]  Not only does the article offer incredible insights, albeit one-sided, into the Congressional debates over miscegenation law during Reconstruction and the ratification of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution—but it also serves as an invaluable insight into the legal world during the 1960s at a time when conservatives were doing everything they could to preserve the racism that was so prevalent in the South. This racism was ultimately eliminated, at least as far as marriage was concerned, only one year later with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Loving v. Virginia.[2]  In many respects, the article serves as both a primary and secondary source, making it a true gem among the scholarship about miscegenation law.

The article itself was written and published while Loving v. Virginia was making its way up to the Supreme Court.  On July 29, 1966 lawyers for the Loving’s had submitted an appeal to the Supreme Court asking for the Court’s intervention on a Constitutional question.  Professor Avins’ article was published in the November 1966 issue of the Virginia Law Review, and the state of Virginia filed its response briefs with the Supreme Court on November 18, 1966.  The Court announced that it would hear the case on December 12, 1966 and oral arguments were scheduled for April 10, 1967.  Given these factual circumstances, it is no wonder that Professor Avins, a law professor at Memphis State University, used such strong language in the opening paragraph as “it requires no special perspicacity to see that anti-miscegenation laws are in jeopardy.”[3]  Right from the start Avins makes it clear that the article, published in the very state whose anti-miscegenation law was coming under attack, was a vehement defense of the states’ right “to draw distinctions between the races.”[4]  Despite the fact that it is nearly impossible for Avins to have researched and written the entire article in the amount of time it took for the Lovings’ case to get from the Circuit Court of Appeals to the Supreme Court, it is clear that there was enough discussion surrounding the Lovings’ case that Avins article, while not necessarily a direct attack on the Lovings’ case, was in many ways a response to the potential change in the legal and political environments.

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967) was groundbreaking for its representation of interracial marriage

Avins’ main argument is that the Fourteenth Amendment was never meant to cover marriage between the races.  After chiding the Supreme Court for overstepping its boundaries and noting that the Court should not have the final say on the scope of a Constitutional provision, he turns to the intent of the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment, arguing that “once the original understanding and intent of the framers is ascertained” any further questions about the scope of the Amendment should be laid to rest.[5] Avins looks to transcripts from the Congressional debates over the Reconstruction amendments in order to reach his conclusion about the true scope of the Fourteenth Amendment.  He also notes that “present day attacks on these laws involved no new constitutional principle, and it cannot be said that they involve any questions to which the framers did not in fact address themselves in 1866.”[6]  If that’s not a blatant criticism of the Lovings’ case and potential threats to miscegenation law, what is?

In order to make his case, Avins uses block quotes from many of the Senators and Congressmen who were debating just how many rights to extend to the newly freed slaves after the conclusion of the Civil War.  These quotations themselves are invaluable, particularly as they pertain to female agency, to the study of U.S. miscegenation law as a whole.  Avins argues that miscegenation was only even considered because it was a rhetorical tool used to try to stir up trouble around the proposed extensions of rights to the African-Americans in the 1860s.  One of the arguments against the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection was the fear among Democrats that enfranchising black men would lead to more interracial marriages.[7] Along that same line, the Congressmen argued that the Fourteenth Amendment would not touch state miscegenation laws because “the white person [is] equally denied the right to marry the negro.”[8]  This logic is precisely what the state of Virginia relied on, and the Court rejected, in the arguments in Loving; Avins’ intention is clear: don’t rock the boat.

Looking at the combination of current events and historical analysis, Avins’ article becomes much more than merely a descriptive assessment of the Fourteenth Amendment.  It becomes an insight into a world that was on the brink of change and one law professor’s last minute attempt to maintain the status quo.

Walter Wadlington, “The Loving Case: Virginia’s Anti-Miscegenation Statute in Historical Perspective” 

From the opining lines of Professor Walter Wadlington’s 1966 article “The Loving Case: Virginia’s Anti-Miscegenation Statute in Historical Perspective” it is clear where Wadlington stands on the pending miscegenation issue.[9]  He calls Virginia a state “which regularly recalls with glowing sentiment the story of how one of her early white sons married an Indian princess” and notes that it is “with symbolic irony” that the state’s highest court reaffirmed Virginia’s commitment to strict legal codes against racial intermarriage.[10]  In what can only be considered the companion piece to Professor Alvin Avins’ “Anti-Miscegenation Laws and the Fourteenth Amendment: The Original Intent”, Wadlington examines the historical background of the law that was at issue in Loving, namely the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, as well as the ideologies that contributed to the changes in the law.

Wadlington starts his analysis as far back as he possibly could in Virginia law, looking at statutory law from what he calls the colonial period, noting that the first statutory ban on interracial marriage was probably recorded in 1691.[11]  He notes that the punishment for being found guilty of sleeping with a slave was banishment from the colony, but he does not push the idea further ideologically.  He does not include an analysis of why banishment was the favored punishment or even why there was a punishment at all. He does not mention that, as Barbara Fields would note, the act of sleeping with a slave essentially rendered the white partner a slave as well, thus blurring the line between slave and free, and between the races.  Perhaps as a law professor that never occurred to Wadlington.  It may also have to do with the fact that at the time of the article’s publication many still believed race to be immutable.

Wadlington’s historical journey continues through the “present” miscegenation statute, which was enacted in 1924 with very little fanfare.  He does spend a great deal of time contemplating what he calls “the Pocahontas Exception” to the bar on interracial marriage and relationships.  He points out that there was an actual exception to the 1924 Racial Integrity Act, which permitted marriages between white people and those who were “no other mixture of blood than white and American Indian.”[12]  He posits that this exception was meant to protect the descendents of Pocahontas and John Rolfe and leaves it at that.  What he does not do is make a connection between the somewhat privileged and troublesome position that the Native Americans have occupied in much of American law and race politics.  He sees no connection between this exception and the section of the Dred Scott case in which Chief Justice Taney directly addresses the issue of whether or not Native Americans are analogous to African Americans.  In Dred Scott Native Americans are held to not be citizens of the United States, but for different reasons than the African Americans, based on logic that essentially stems from class rather than race.  The same could be argued of this exception to the Racial Integrity Act, that where the act seeks to protect race, it is contradictory and really seeking to protect a privileged class.

After all the historical legwork, Wadlington finally gets to a discussion of the Loving case, which had been scheduled for oral arguments at the time of this article’s publication.  Not only does Wadlington put forth the arguments that would support overturning the miscegenation bans, he also debunks the pro-miscegenation statute arguments, most of which were set forth by Professor Adkins in the same issue of the journal.  In fact, he actually cites Avins’ article in his own footnotes.  If ever there was an illustration of the conversational nature of academia, it is with the two articles.  It almost seems that Wadlington is speaking directly to Avins with a tone one would reserve for a child who declares her intention to dig a hole in the back yard all the way to China.

This is most clear in the brief but elegant conclusion, in which Wadlington states that while “it is possible that the original miscegenation bans served a legitimate purpose at a time when Negroes were essentially an alien part of the community…neither can we justifiably perpetuate those laws under the changed circumstances of our world.”[13]  He clearly seeks to lay to rest the originalist argument that the framers of the 14th Amendment could not have meant for it to apply to interracial marriage and to further the belief in a breathing and adaptable Constitution.  He closes with a powerful call to the Judiciary, with what is perhaps the best line in the essay: “…the Supreme Court should not make it clear that bans on interracial marriage have no place in a nation dedicated to the equality of man.”[14]

{Loving photo courtesy of harpyness.com}
{Pocahontas photo courtesy of williamsburgprivatetours.com}

[1] Alfred Avins, “Anti-Miscegenation Law and the Fourteenth Amendment: The Original Intent”, Virginia Law Review, Vol. 52, No. 7, (Nov 1966), pp. 1224 – 1255

[2] Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967)

[3] Avins, 1224.

[4] Avins, 1224.

[5] Avins, 1225.

[6] Avins, 1226.

[7] Avins, 1230.

[8] Avins, 1232.

[9] Walter Wadlington, “The Loving Case: Virginia’s Anti-Miscegenation Statute in Historical Perspective”, Virginia Law Review, Vol. 52, No. 7 (Nov 1966), pp. 1189 – 1123

[10] Wadlington, 1189.

[11] Wadlington, 1191.

[12] Wadlington, 1202.

[13] Wadlington, 1222.

[14] Wadlington, 1223.

Law, Order, and Sexism: Testimonials from the Law Firm

Emma Staffaroni is a first-year Master’s candidate in SLC’s Women’s History program. A ruthless feminist, she slays haters with her pen and then eats them for dinner, covered in cheese. She also enjoys basset hounds, trains, and red wine.

 

 

Behold, a great irony: sexism in the profession of justice. Re/Visionist asked a few women to share their stories of experiencing sexism within the legal profession. The anonymous women below have given their testimonies in order to raise consciousness about the complex (but straightforward) ways sexism can pervade the legal workplace.

I.

I worked in a law firm in Manhattan dedicated to women’s rights in employment. However, it was run by two men – that’s right – two men. All interns, administrative assistants, office managers, and attorneys at the firm were women. Although there were many women working at the law firm, the two head lawyers never allowed any of the hard-working female attorneys to be a partner in the firm.  They also treated their employees poorly – sometimes yelling and speaking condescendingly to the females. One of the attorneys started a blog and wanted those who contributed to use pictures of themselves at the beginning of each post. One intern felt compelled to participate but albeit uncomfortable about providing a photo because she felt her writing should stand alone. When she gave a photo of herself, he sent it back and requested a close up of her face because the photo was taken of her from “too far away.”

After about a year, I left my position as an administrative assistant after an argument between the head attorney and me about my disappointment in him not fulfilling in what he alleged to be.  He purported to be a feminist attorney trying to help women, but he treated his employees and his clients terribly and underneath his feminist mask he was just a patriarchal male attorney in lower Manhattan.

II.

When I worked at the firm there was (and still is) a dress code that was especially enforced for us underlings. The girls always got lectured if a skirt or pants were too tight, whereas the boys could pretty much do whatever they wanted. They would look all wrinkled and messy, and they never got chastised. Also tasks were delegated to us [based on gender]: girls were generally asked to do most of the filing (unless there was a huge amount and then the boys would help). Guys did more of the physical or technological stuff. Also some of our fellow couriers/service techs who were male would just expect us to do certain tasks, like copy jobs.

III.

We were at trial in New Jersey.  All of the attorneys and litigation support staff stay in the same hotel.  We had a holiday weekend and a few of the attorneys and staff went to the hotel bar for some drinks and appetizers.  Everyone had a little bit too much to drink, and on our way up the elevator back to our rooms, the lead attorney on our case grabbed my ass walking out of the elevator.

IV.

After graduating from college I decided to paralegal at a Manhattan law firm hoping to reach a decision on whether or not I wanted to attend law school. I found it interesting that a vast majority of the paralegals at my firm were women in their early-twenties who had recently graduated from top colleges. All of the attorneys, except one, were men. I once asked the head unit attorney why he only hired women and he answered that women were smarter and “more able” to get the job done correctly and efficiently. There is no doubt in my mind that women are smarter (kidding), but I took this to mean that women are non-threatening, especially when it came to prepping for court motions or depositions, and it made him feel superior.

During my first year at the firm I started to notice that younger women who dressed in tighter, shorter, more provocative clothing received bigger cases and more important tasks within the office. This translated into these paralegals traveling with attorneys to depositions and motion proceedings. Women were clearly not valued for their mind or their talents alone, but rather for their bodies and how they looked.

After rebelling against this stereotype for about a year and not receiving anything of great importance in terms of work, I realized that in order to get the leading cases or recommendations that I needed for school, or even just to have attorneys know who I was, I needed to step it up with my outfit choices and start taking pride in my appearance. I basically realized that I would need to work within this patriarchical system – something that I was taught NOT to do in my past Feminist Political Theory classes – to get what I needed out of my stint at the law firm.

As I started to confidently strut the hallways wearing more shoulder-baring tops, shorter and tighter skirts, and heels (ALWAYS heels- never flats), I was noticed by more attorneys in the office. Not long after I was placed on trial team and given more important and serious work to do. I was given more opportunities to travel with different attorneys and work on different cases. Despite the fact that I knew using my sexuality or gender to get ahead was ultimately wrong and against my beliefs, I figured I was only staying at this male-centric law firm for a couple years I would try to get what I needed out of this position. My lesson from this job is that no matter how many women are graduating from law school these days, the legal field is still very male dominated and misogynistic. Women are not valued for their minds alone, but most importantly, their looks. My intellectual capabilities were secondary to my attractiveness and appearance.

V.

Sometimes less really is more. On my first day of observations as a legal intern I had the opportunity to view a custody case in Family Court. Before the proceedings, the Judge asked me to introduce myself and describe my legal interests. At recess, opposing counsel approached and congratulated me, seemingly intrigued by my interests. After uncomfortably staring in silence when every facet of Small Talk was exhausted, he finally commented, “I hope to see more of you… and even less of your skirt.” That single sentence possessed more power than he could have envisioned. In several words, it undermined my past, present and future abilities. More importantly, it solidified my decision to pursue law.

 

We invite you to share your stories below in our comments. Let women know that they are not dealing with this alone.

The Criminally Camp

 

John Walker is a Sarah Lawrence graduate who really likes the internet a lot.
 
 

True life: I’m enamored with Patty Hearst.  Heiress to the Hearst publishing fortune, hostage of the radical, yet ragtag, Symbionese Liberation Army, and later urban guerilla amongst the group’s ranks, the woman’s appeal seems evident, at least to me.  I guess notoriety might be a more appropriate word, but in my eyes, the events of Hearst’s past transcend the planes of basic morality.  She is a superstar, and I will not be dissuaded.

Though, sometimes I wonder why I am so drawn to the more “colorful” characters in history (like a moth to a crackpipe. #prose).  What does it say about me that I find Patty Hearst an electrifying figure, regardless of her complicity with the actions of the Symbionese Liberation Army?

I guess I am able to see Patty as a camp icon due to one of the very tenets of camp, as defined by Susan Sontag.  In Notes on Camp, she writes: “Things are campy… when we become less involved in them, and can enjoy, instead of be frustrated by, the failure of the attempt.”

Well first of all, I wasn’t born until 1988, so the entire Patty Hearst saga is pure legend to me.  In dealing with what the curious case of Patty Hearst (née Button) represents in American politics and culture, I could be upset by the failure of the SLA to make any lasting change on America’s rigid class system.

At the same time though, the image of Patty toting the weapon in front of the blood-red Symbionese Liberation Army flag is just so dramatic; I feel the tension, I feel the class warfare, I feel the pageantry (Junior Miss Anti-Amerikkka).  Also, it is so fun to view Patty’s, albeit temporary, rejection of her wealthy family as simply an extreme example of what every “different” kid from the suburbs does.  You know, become a vegan, call your parents problematic, rob a bank with a semi-automatic weapon, the usual.

Similar to the ways in which I value Patty Hearst, I deeply appreciate Tammy Faye Bakker (later Messner).  When I see Tammy Faye, I see a kind-hearted set of wilting eyelashes, not the hypocrite who “televangelized” trusting people out of their money.

Valerie Solanas not only authored the fabulously misandric SCUM Manifesto, but attempted murder on Andy Warhol.  THESE TWO THINGS SHOULD NOT MAKE ME LOVE HER, AND YET I DO.

 And is it just me, or does convicted serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer look like Ian Somerhalder’s babely blond brother every now and then?

OK, that was awful.  Awful and TRUE.

Death to the fascist insect that preys upon my irony!