Office Hours (for my students in feminist theory and rhetorical criticism)

Resistance to the regulation
of women’s bodies
grows in the red chair.
We prepare for world traveling
where, like Maria Lugones said,
we learn to love each other,
to listen for the contexts of oppression,
to avoid the arrogance of the therapist,
to study the words
–and other actions–
of women resisting the colonization of everything,
including ourselves,
to recognize, like Vandana Shiva said:
The seed is both metaphor and
real life.


Happy Birthday, You’re Not a Person

Today is my birthday. North Carolina voters just decided I’m not fully human. Here is a response.

Whereas miscegenation
queered the rite’s unstable battle,
today another state banned endogamy,
the joining of like to like, ironically
as ever calling difference into being.
Not so much for domestication
but facing inhumanity ratified
by popular declaim,
I become monstrous in public,
skin peeling back to reveal
the fat melting off muscle
as my joints fail I topple first in
supplication then prostration
limbs spread apart in the face of
you who vote on the humanity of others.
My heart lands beating on the dry desert floor
and my parts strive for each other and on the way
find random dessicated limbs
a horned bony mask,
auto parts, twisted gutters,
railroad ties
odd ends
of rusted steel dragged through the dust to
fabricate a new miscegenated body
an unnatural cyborg warrior
the aftermarket subject.

Didn’t we always wish that
in the movie
Linda Hamilton were the one with the forbidden microchip
the indestructible frame and hardened heart
to save her self and the world?
A postapocalyptic mutation,
my arms and hands rattle with ugly vengeance.
If you think that I am less than fully human
I will show you how
very right you are.

Why Marry at all? A poem by Marge Piercy

Why marry at all?

By Marge Piercy

Why mar what has grown up between the cracks
and flourished like a weed
that discovers itself to bear rugged
spikes of magenta blossoms in August,
ironweed sturdy and bold,
a perennial that endures winters to persist?

Why register with the state?
Why enlist in the legions of the respectable?
Why risk the whole apparatus of roles
and rules, of laws and liabilities?
Why license our bed at the foot
like our Datsun truck: will the mileage improve?

Why encumber our love with patriarchal
word stones, with the old armor
of husband and the corset stays
and the chains of wife? Marriage
meant buying a breeding womb
and sole claim to enforced sexual service.

Marriage has built boxes in which women
have burst their hearts sooner
than those walls; boxes of private
slow murder and the fading of the bloom
in the blood; boxes in which secret
bruises appear like toadstools in the morning.

But we cannot invent a language
of new grunts. We start where we find
ourselves, at this time and place.

Which is always the crossing of roads
that began beyond the earth’s curve
but whose destination we can now alter.

This is a public saying to all our friends
that we want to stay together. We want
to share our lives. We mean to pledge
ourselves through times of broken stone
and seasons of rose and ripe plum;
we have found out, we know, we want to continue.

Speech by Silky Shoemaker to Queerbomb (alternative pride gathering) June 4

Loved this–political, funny, celebratory all at once.

This night has been a long time coming. Im so glad we’re all here to celebrate our wild and beautiful queer identities. Tonight we proclaim who we are and what we love, without shame or apology or beer commercials.

Pride is strength in what we love and it is what we make it, together. And now we show Austin that we can make it without money or corporate sponsors or exclusionary tactics or billboards. Without fear of sex or bodies, of filth or poor people, without fear of speaking the truth.

As “the Gays”, we have an incredible lineage of radical, courageous ancestors who literally put their lives on the line to exist in this world. To exist in flaming, exuberant queerness. Their struggles have paved the road we walk tonight. And when we take to the streets for pride, we carry their torches in honor of the work they have done, the lives we have lost, and the work we still have left to do!

41 years ago when Stonewall Riots lit up the lower east side of Manhattan, no one apologized to their board of trustees afterwards.
They did not consider themselves “too freaky” or “too vulgar” or “unsuitable for families”. Even though that is exactly what the world wanted them to think. They were queers of color, they were trannies, they were activists and organizers. They were sex workers and drag queens and passing butches. They were backroom cocksuckers and bitter old queens and underage twinks. They were drunks, loudmouths, and perverts— tired, disappointed, and angry. And they fought for their right to exist in just these ways, and more! (So every time you see a bitter old queen at Charlie’s, you can thank Sylvia Rivera.) They fought to be unapologetically extravagant in their queerness and irrepressible in their demands!

We will be told again and again to make ourselves presentable, to hide behind closed doors, to button up, butch up, hush up, pay up— to sell out our values for mainstream acceptance. BUT this is wrong! and its also BORING!

They will say we should do it in the name of normalcy or decency or that its the only way to get it done. And especially they will say “Do it in the name of families.”

But my family is right here. Im reclaiming that word. (Again!) Because my family is built around respecting and honoring each other in our many facets, in the beauty and dignity of our varied experiences. And in this shared family we inherit a responsibility from the faggots and bulldaggers of yore, our flaming foremothers and forefathers:
To remember that the freedoms we have were built on the radical activism of others. When they took to the streets with broken bottles and high heels in hand they made room for pissed off transsexuals in bad wigs, (and more!)

When ACTUP members chained themselves to the walls of the NYStock Exchange they demanded the world see us: as living, breathing, fucking, dying human beings in need of affordable medicine and basic compassion.

When we pass out free condoms its not just to say “Be safe,” its also saying “We’re not ashamed” “We will still find power in how we make love.”
When i think of Queerbomb, I think of us all making love. BIG GAY LOVE out on the streets! And i think its heroic. Im so proud to march with you all tonight. To honor our history and build a future. To bridge and overlap movements for freedom and justice and good looks.

In the words of Sylvester, “You make me feel mighty real!”
Lets march!!

The quiet desperation of academic women

This study came as no surprise to me!
It resonates with my experience as a faculty member; although none of my male colleagues, Chair, or Dean is intentionally sexist, there are broader institution and cultural patterns that make some barriers to women’s accomplishments seem like common sense. The discussion of how women bear a disproportionate burden (as do faculty of color and queer faculty, in my view) of the service work at research universities,  the  perennial problem of work-family balance  (because women, even professional women, still do 70% of housework and childrearing labor), and the significance of micropractices and inequities that most people would not automatically recognize as sexist are important lessons for faculty, administrators, and students. (At UT, there is no maternity leave–like the woman whose story appears below, women must “schedule” their pregnancies to coincide with research leaves–during which one is still required to do research–or semester breaks.) Read on!

June 12

‘Quiet Desperation’ of Academic Women

Interviews with 80 female faculty members at a research university – the largest qualitative study of its kind – have found that many women in careers are deeply frustrated by a system that they believe undervalues their work and denies them opportunities for a balanced life. While the study found some overt discrimination in the form of harassment or explicitly sexist remarks, many of the concerns involved more subtle “deeply entrenched inequities.”

While the study was conducted, with support from the National Science Foundation, at the University of California at Irvine, the report’s authors and most of those who were interviewed for the research state that they don’t believe the problems discussed are unique to Irvine. The women interviewed who had worked elsewhere or discussed such issues with colleagues elsewhere portrayed their concerns as entirely typical of what goes on at research universities. And the authors – also at Irvine – stress that they don’t view the campus as exceptional.

While some issues in the report mirror concerns raised in other venues (such as the difficulty for women in particular of balancing work and family responsibilities), others receive more attention here than elsewhere. For example, service responsibilities are seen as a significant source of both sexism (women receive more of the assignments) and career roadblocks (the service work doesn’t count for tenure).

Those interviewed in the report even go so far as to criticize the NSF program that sponsored the research because it also urged Irvine to create “equity” positions in which faculty members – typically women – helped to review searches to be sure that diverse pools and perspectives were being sought. “To paraphrase one participant who wished anonymity: ‘They’ll not get the next promotion, or the next raise. And it also made them lightening rods for all the frustration on campus that women are getting special treatment. So it was a perfect example of service that helps the institution but really hurts the individual.'”
The article, “Gender Equity in Academia: Bad News From the Trenches, and Some Possible Solutions,” appears in the new issue of Perspectives on Politics (abstract available here <; ). The authors are Kristen Monroe, a professor of political science and philosophy at Irvine and director of its Interdisciplinary Center for the Scientific Study of Ethics and Morality, along with three graduate students in political science at Irvine: Saba Ozyurt, Ted Wrigley and Amy Alexander.

The analysis opens with a review of the national statistics in which women’s gains in the graduate student population are gradually diminished as academics advance to first jobs, to tenure, and to senior positions. Most of the analysis focuses on summaries of the in-depth interviews conducts with the women at Irvine, who came from a range of disciplines and seniority levels. Here are some of the highlights:

Unintended bias and outdated attitudes: Many of the women in the study described a steady stream of comments, some of them ostensibly offering support, that suggested that the older men who made them didn’t really understand how to interact with women in a professional manner. These men generally had no clue that their attitudes were either patronizing, sexist or both, the report says. One woman is quoted as describing a job interview in a top department in which an African American scholar took her aside and said, “This is a great place for people like you and me, if you know what I mean, honey.” The report quoted the woman as noting the irony that “he simply did not realize that it might be as inappropriate to call a 26-year-old woman ‘honey’ as it would be to jovially slap a black man on the back and call him ‘boy.’ ”

Devaluing positions once women hold them: At Irvine, as at most research universities, the last decade has seen a significant change in the number of women serving as committee chairs, department chairs, deans and administrators in a variety of capacities. And the women interviewed for the study praised this development, crediting women in various senior positions for being mentors or going to bat for their younger counterparts. But the women – across disciplines – described a pattern in which once a woman was named to a more senior position, others treated it as more service-oriented and less substantive. The paper dubs this trend “gender devaluation,” saying: “When a man is department chair, the position confers status, respect and power. When a woman becomes department chair, the power and status seems diminished.”

Service and gender: Those interviewed reported some protection for junior faculty women, but said that among the senior faculty ranks, women were picked disproportionately for service assignments, especially those that are time-consuming. Then those same women are criticized for not doing more research, and the theoretical credit awarded service is never to be found.

Family vs. career: As in similar reports, women reported intense pressure – well beyond that faced by their male colleagues – with regard to having children, raising them, and also caring for aging parents. Many women reported strong reluctance to take advantage of policy options that might be helpful, fearful of how they would appear to male colleagues, and women reported regret and some dismay over choices they made to avoid confronting colleagues with their needs for more flexibility. One woman interviewed described having a child this way: “I was determined that I would drop that baby on Friday, teach on Monday, and nobody would ever know. That’s what I had to do. That was just how I felt like life had to be. Indeed, my first child was born ten days after I submitted my final grades. I did have the summer off. I went back to teach in the fall, but by that September my first book was due at the publisher, and it all got done. That’s what one had to do. That’s what I felt. I was a competitive bitch, and that was what I felt I had to do in order to make as statement about who I was.” (She added that she took a different attitude with her second child’s arrival four years later.)

Activism vs. making it work: Generally, the women interviewed described the offices and services designed to help them as places that were focused on legal and technical issues, and given that many of their frustrations weren’t legal, they didn’t rely on these services. In addition, the women interviewed – citing in part a desire not to have their careers hurt – tended to focus on figuring out informal ways to deal with problems, rather than seeking policy changes. Women are “extremely adept at detecting the academy’s cues,” the study says. “Many feared backlash and retribution if they agitated openly for change.”

While these women themselves focused on individual solutions, the overall theme of the report – in considering how to improve the situation of women at research universities – is a call for much more flexibility. Career paths are needed, the report says, that do not presume that the quality of work is based on hours in the lab or office, or time to tenure, or time finishing various projects. In addition, the report calls on universities to assign tasks in a more gender-neutral way, so that service activities aren’t presumed female, and to credit work performed equally – even if women are more likely than men to do that work.

Asked for a reaction to the study, Irvine released a statement criticizing it. “Professor Monroe’s article draws attention to the persistence and toll of sex discrimination on women faculty. Unfortunately, the article cannot to be said to offer original insight into the promise and challenge of gender equity in higher education. The formulation of the problem overlooks research in a host of related issues, such as gender schemas, work-life balance, and leadership development among others,” the statement said.

The Irvine statement went on to cite progress for women on a number of fronts, noting that women on the campus hold such positions as vice chancellor of research and deans of the graduate division and of undergraduate education. Women account for 43 percent of assistant professors, 37 percent of associate professors, and 22 percent of full professors. Those figures are going up in science and technology fields too, Irvine noted, and women now are 37 percent of assistant professors, 31 percent of associate professors and 18 percent of full professors in those disciplines.

The statement added that “Professor Monroe does not appear to be informed about campus and university engagement with gender equity or for that matter family-friendly accommodation policies and procedures.”

In an interview (prior to when Irvine released its statement), Monroe said that she would be interested to see how the university responded and that she hoped it would be positive. She noted – as the reported noted – that many of the concerns expressed in the study didn’t have to do with official policies or programs, but with more subtle questions.

In her career she was helped by good advice she received early on from mentors. She was urged to agree to serve on one universitywide committee and one departmental committee and never more. She was also urged to work from home in the mornings, so she couldn’t be drafted into other meetings, and would always have focused time for research. Monroe said that as a political scientist, she had that option in a way that a lab scientist would not. While Monroe said she was able to have a family while succeeding in academe (in part because of choices her husband made), she said that talking to women about their choices was in many cases “heartbreaking.”
– Scott Jaschik

Texas Socialist Conference November 3-4 2007


Saturday – Sunday, November 3 – 4
University of Texas at Austin

The 2007 Texas Socialist Conference is a two-day event that will bring together socialists and other activists who are involved in struggles across the region — from opposing the war to organizing against the death penalty and more — to discuss how we can rebuild the left and a revolutionary alternative to the messed-up priorities of this system: war, corporate greed and racism.


Saturday, Nov. 3

12:00 PM — Registration begins in the CMA building room A 3.112

1:00 PM — Opening Plenary: Building the Revolutionary Alternative

Guest speaker: David Whitehouse, Co-editor of the International Socialist Review

3:00 PM — Workshops

• How Can We End the War ?
• Credit Crunch and Mortgage Meltdown: The Crazy Economics of Capitalism

6:00 PM — Panel Discussion: The New Movements for Civil Rights

Cases like the Jena Six have shined a spotlight on the deep-seated racism in American society. A panel of activists from the Jena Six solidarity movement, the campaign that saved Kenneth Foster, Jr. from execution in Texas and others will discuss their struggles and why we need a new movement for civil rights.  Speakers include: Claire Dube (Save Kenneth Foster campaign), K.C. Carter (Hip Hop Against Police Brutality), Dana Cloud (UT professor and anti-death penalty activist), and Courtney Morris (student activist).

Sunday, Nov. 4

11:00 AM — Sunday session on “Trotsky’s Marxism”

Plus… a book fare, party Saturday night, and more!

Map to the CMA building:

$5-20 registration (sliding scale). More information:

Supreme Court Decision on Abortion: A Death Sentence for Women–and our Rights?

 This from Newsweek:

My Turn: I Had That Now-Banned Abortion

I needed that now-banned procedure known as ‘partial-birth’ abortion.
Why the Supreme Court’s decision to outlaw it was a dark day for
American women.

By Ilene Jaroslaw

Updated: 4:44 p.m. CT April 23, 2007

April 23, 2007 – It was Friday afternoon at nursery school and Simone
just couldn’t wait until Mother’s Day to give me her present-a tote
bag printed with a photo of the two of us.  When we got home, Toby
greeted me with the card he’d made for me in kindergarten.  We all
looked forward to dad coming home from a business trip.  It was the
start of a perfect Mother’s Day weekend.  I was 40, and I was
joyfully pregnant.  “It’ll be three kids by next Mother’s Day,” I
remember thinking.

When Monday came, I called my doctor for the results of my quadruple
screen blood test from the past week, nothing I really sweated
because a CVS test a couple months before had told us that our baby’s
chromosomes were completely normal. This time though, the doctor said
that one of the screening tests concerned him and asked me to go to
the hospital right away.

The ultrasound technician’s silence told David and me that something
was very wrong.  The doctor explained that the baby had anencephaly,
a neural tube defect.  Large parts of the brain were missing.  Babies
who survive birth may live days or weeks or months, but they perceive
nothing, not even a mother’s touch. There was no mistake, and nothing
to be done.  I scheduled an abortion.  On Wednesday, May 14, 2003, in
the early morning, 17 weeks into the pregnancy, David drove me to the
operating room and I had my abortion.  That night we told Toby and
Simone that the baby did not grow all the parts that a baby needs to
live, and had died.  We hugged and cried.

On Wednesday, April 18, 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court suggested that
women do not fully comprehend the abortion procedure, and thus may
come to regret it.  Not this woman. Four years ago,  I asked my
doctor whether the Federal Partial-Birth Abortion Act, which was then
being considered by Congress, would outlaw the dilation and
evacuation procedure he intended to use.  Yes, he told me, it would.

Before I became a mother, I’d had two uterine fibroid surgeries that
weakened the walls of my uterus.  After the second surgery, my
obstetrician-gynecologist advised that my children would have to be
delivered weeks before my due date by cesarean section to minimize
the risk of uterine rupture.  Toby was born by early cesarean in
1997, and Simone in 1999 also by early cesarean.  Before my abortion,
my surgeon knew that my uterus had undergone four prior surgeries,
and he also knew that I ached for a third child.  I pleaded with him
not to do anything in the operating room that could possibly
compromise my ability to have another child.  My surgeon promised me
he would do everything he could to preserve my fertility, and he kept
his word.  I am forever grateful.  And one day my 2 ?-year-old
daughter will be too.

My health and future fertility depended on the best available medical
care, which in this case meant that I needed the intact dilation and
evacuation procedure, or “partial-birth abortion” to use the
non-medical, ideological term.  This wrongly politicized, legitimate
and standard medical procedure results in the removal of the fetus
with the least probing and instrumentation, greatly reducing the risk
to the woman of bleeding, infection and uterine rupture, all of which
may lead to infertility.

Last Wednesday was a dark day for women, and for the men in their
lives who care about the health, autonomy, freedom and equality of
women in 21st-century America.  The high court took a giant step
backward when it upheld the federal abortion ban, sweeping aside
decades of its own constitutional precedent protecting women’s
health, in favor of ideology.

The Supreme Court decision means that judges and lawmakers may now
dictate to doctors what they can and cannot do in the operating room.
It means that surgeons who want to do what’s best for their patients
do so now at the risk of criminal prosecution.  And it means that
thousands of women will undergo second-best procedures carrying
greater risk; many will face dire health consequences, as well as the
loss of future fertility.  We are now in a country where judges and
lawmakers are allowed to tell doctors how best to care for their
patients.  This cannot stand.

For my daughters Naomi and Simone, for my son Toby’s future wife, and
for all girls and women in the United States, today the hard work of
repealing the federal abortion ban must begin.

Ilene Jaroslaw is a lawyer in New York.

See also: