Tag Archives: Women’s Rights

Venice Beach declares war on our infantile obsession with nudity

Originally published by The Los Angeles Times:

Nekkid Ladies

Not many people are aware of it, and few exercise the right, but it is legal for women to walk around topless in New York City and other cities. (A bare-chested New Yorker even got $40,000 from the city to settle her lawsuit alleging harassment by the NYPD for her nudity.)

Now, if the Venice Neighborhood Council gets its way, toplessness will become legal somewhere more pleasant than the gritty, often slush-filled streets of the Northeast: Venice Beach.

“I think this is a serious equality issue, and I’m not going to shy away from it,” Melissa Diner, the Venice council community officer who sponsored the resolution told the Los Angeles Times’ Martha Groves. Diner said she hoped to “start a conversation about not only wanting to show our nipples on Venice Beach, but about what else people want to see.”

“Venice Beach was founded and designed around the European culture of Venice, Italy,” the neighborhood council said, “and … topless [sun]bathing is commonplace throughout Europe, much of the rest of the world and many places within the U.S.”

In many states and municipalities, the legal basis for prohibiting the exposure of female breasts falls apart because public lewdness laws are specifically targeted against genitals, which obviously breasts are not. Aside from the inherent gender discrimination of anti-toplessness statutes, the widespread social acceptance of breastfeeding in public beginning in the 1970s and 1980s, and the fact that many American travelers see that topless sunbathing in other countries don’t spark riots of sex-crazed males, exposes — pun intended — the utter absurdity of such laws.

So, yes, it is an important political, social and cultural issue. It’s a question of equal rights, body image, addressing the problem of oversexualization driven by, among other things, advertising. But it’s also a matter of maturity.

I’ll admit, when I first read the headline about Venice considering this change, I giggled. Sorry, that’s the 14-year-old boy I used to be. But then after thinking about it for two or three minutes, I shook it off and got serious.

Which is not unlike what happened the summer that the dorms at my college, Columbia University, converted from single-sex, all-male to coeducational. The showers were old, no curtains, one big room. The first female students moved in before they got around to putting in individual shower stalls.

One morning I stumbled in bleary-eyed to the shower, and found several of my new female classmates taking showers. Yes, I was surprised. I was 19. Then I found a spot on the other side of the room, lathered up and got over it. Within a day or two, it wasn’t a big deal.

As Nathaniel Hawthorne so brilliantly documented, America’s original sin, alongside slavery, is Puritanism. Four hundred years after the first colonists arrived in America — people who were so uptight that they couldn’t get along with the British — it’s time that we declared war against our infantile societal obsessions with nudity, especially female nudity.

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Ellen Pao vs Kleiner: What It Means to You and Silicon Valley

Originally published by ANewDomain:

Ellen Pao’s gender discrimination lawsuit has the tech world talking about what it will mean if she wins a verdict against her former employer, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm.

It’s a crazy case. Among the highlights: an office affair gone wrong, with the jilted married guy accused of retaliating against the jilting single woman; a company ski trip for bros before hoes; juicy revelations about huge salaries and ridiculous work hours, including putting in time during a honeymoon.

So what does it mean?

Maybe it’s about the power of money.

ellen-pao“What’s Really at Stake in Ellen Pao’s Kleiner Perkins Lawsuit,” asserts Emily Bazelon in The New York Times, is the tantalizing possibility of “a cultural shift” in Big Tech, infamous for its young white male-dominated “bro” culture. (They used to call that “frat boy”crap.)

“As the kingmakers who decide which start-ups survive, they have the leverage to make the industry more receptive to women and their ideas or continue to reinforce the ‘brogrammer’ norm,” she writes. (Disclosure: Bazelon edited some of my work in the 1990s.)

Or maybe this lawsuit is about the tightrope women have to walk in the American workplace.

“The real drama is in the more mundane charges, about slights familiar to any woman in any workplace that are rarely aired in public, much less in a courtroom,” Claire Cain Miller writes, also in the Times. “Ellen Pao, a former junior partner, was told that she didn’t speak up enough and was too passive — but also that she spoke up too much and was pushy and entitled.”

Could Pao v. Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers be about the paucity of women?

“What is really under examination in this trial is the question of why there are so few women in leadership positions in Silicon Valley. At stake is any hope that the tech world can claim to be a progressive place, or even a fair one.” That’s David Streitfeld. Also in the Times.

Three different takes in the same paper!

Here, let me help make things more confusing — with yet another interpretation of why it matters.

Ellen Pao’s case is really about accountability.

The Silicon Valley that emerged after the dot com crash of 2000 has been a cultural and legal Wild West, dominated by companies run by executives who don’t think the rules apply to them.

Every human resources hack knows that gender discrimination is strictly prohibited under federal law. That’s been true for decades.

Google, the biggest tech employer, has a 70 percent male-30 percent female workforce. (It’s 79 percent – 21 percent for “leadership” positions.) Men in the Valley earn 61 percent more than women with the same job and qualifications. It’s actually getting worse.

Numbers like that lead to one obvious conclusion: the bros aren’t even trying. Because they’re not worried about the EEOC, or PR, or anything at all.

The rules-are-for-peasants mentality was epitomized by late Apple chief Steve Jobs, who famously parked in handicapped spaces. “He seemed to think the blue wheelchair symbol meant the spot was reserved for the chairman,” Andy Hertzfled wrote.

As I reported late last year, tech companies violate federal laws against age discrimination even more brazenly than those concerning gender — which is saying something. Many tech ads overtly state that anyone not “young” need not bother to apply. Electronic Arts had no employees over age 35.

And they’re just as bad on race. Whites and Asians are radically overrepresented; Latinos and blacks, if and when you can find them in Silicon Valley, are paid less than whites for the same job.

It’s not just legal stuff. Silicon Valley firms ignore the golden rule of business that the customer is always right. For the Valley, the customer — you and me — are sources of data and money to be exploited and drained dry without so much as a thank you.

Got a problem with Facebook? Too bad.

They don’t have a single customer service rep you can telephone for help when, say, your creepy ex-boyfriend posts photos of your intimate moments.

Facebook also resets the default on your “privacy” settings to “public” without asking. Nice respect for the fundamental American right to privacy.

Sorry, Mark Zuckerberg — I could have just as easily picked on any other company. Nothing personal.

Back to Ellen Pao.

If she wins, which is by no means certain, it will not mean that Silicon Valley will begin treating its customers with respect, or hire people over age 35. What it will mean is that they have to follow the same rules as the rest of us — or pay the price.

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The High Price of Abortion Rights

Hillary Clinton supporters are resurrecting an argument made by Obamabots to progressives: Despite her support for right-wing policies like NAFTA and voting for war against Iraq, liberals should vote for her because she might get to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court that might determine whether abortion remains legal. I’m pro-choice, but I’m nauseated by the thought that the right to an abortion necessitates voting for someone like Hillary Clinton, who has the blood of millions of innocent people on her hands.

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Women’s Bodies, Corporate Property

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that corporations may be guided by their religious beliefs in determining which types of contraception, if any, women employees may be covered for under their work-provided insurance. They may also decide whether to pay for abortions if and when those forms of contraception fail.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: No College, No Job. College is Expensive. Is It Any Wonder Students Turn to Porn?

http://www.slate.com/content/dam/slate/blogs/xx_factor/2014/Duke_porn.jpg.CROP.promo-medium2.jpg

Everybody’s talking about — scratch that. Culture is too atomized for everybody to be talking about anything.

Lots of people who don’t usually cop to knowing about, much less watching, porn — writers at high-end intellectual magazines, columnists for The Washington Post — are talking about Belle Knox, the Duke University freshman who embraced her outing as an adult film actress in an eloquent, feminist theory-imbued attack against slut-shaming.

Social media has responded as you’d expect: lots of mean slut-shaming that proves Knox’s point that “We deem to keep women in a place where they are subjected to male sexuality. We seek to rob them of their choice and of their autonomy. We want to oppress them and keep them dependent on the patriarchy.”

Tabloids and gossip sites are reveling in their usual witches’ brew of judginess and salacious intrigue.

Big corporate media is reacting like George C. Scott finding out his daughter is a whore. Considering that the average age of a journalist is Old Enough to Be Knox’s Mom or Dad, knee-jerk Talibanality comes as little surprise, though quite unpleasant to watch.

About that Post columnist:

Ruth Marcus, Old Enough to Be Knox’s Grandma and apparently a freelance psychologist, calls Knox a “troubled young woman.”

If Marcus hates the sin and not the sinner, it’s hard to tell. Her column drips with condescension and contempt.

“Methinks the freshman doth protest too much,” writes Marcus. Because, you know, like, 18 years old is mature enough to decide which Arabs to shoot, but not to have sex for money.

“Even more heartbreaking is listening to Knox’s still little-girlish voice describing how she’ll tell her parents. ‘I don’t want to,’ she told the Duke Chronicle last month, in the whiny tone of a child told to go to bed.”

Charming.

Marcus goes on. Who could stop her? “She mentioned rough sex, which requires an unpleasant discussion of what kind of pornography we’re talking about here and the increasingly violent nature of the Internet-fueled pornography trade. These are not your father’s Playboys. Letting a man ejaculate on your face is not empowering under anyone’s definition of the term. It’s debasing.”

Two things.

One: bukkake predates the Internet. If Marcus doesn’t know that, or how to Google, she should have spoken to or been edited by someone who does.

Two: what’s sexy and what’s empowering are purely subjective. Knox describes feeling “fear, humiliation, shame” — not from her work, but from neo-Puritan assholes on the Internet giving her a hard time. “Doing pornography fulfills me,” she writes.

Part of respecting women — of being a feminist — is taking them at their word. Thus, in the absence of evidence that Knox is lying or insane, I choose to believe her.

So. Why did Knox become a sex worker? Her answer: “If Duke had given me the proper financial resources, I wouldn’t have done porn. My story is a testament to how fucking expensive school is.”

Media gatekeepers are ignoring it, but this is the real/big story.

Each year in the United States, 12 million freshmen take out student loans. By the time they graduate (or not), they wind up owing $26,000 — plus several times that amount in compound interest payments. In many cities, that’s more than the cost of a house.

Duke University charges Belle Knox $61,000 a year in tuition, room and board. I don’t care how many hours she could have put in at Starbucks; the only way a typical college kid can generate $250,000 in cash over four years is to think outside the box.

Knox isn’t alone. Many college students work as prostitutes.

When I attended Columbia University, I met many students who cut moral and legal corners to make their bursar bills.

I knew students who were call girls, including one who brought her clients to her dorm room to save on hotel rooms. Topless and nude dancers weren’t rare at Columbia. A close friend took advantage of his room’s southern exposure to grow pot plants; he sold his stash out of a deserted Butler Library stack full of 17th century Italian folios. Another pal was banking six figures as a cocaine dealer (it was the ’80s.)

I discovered that one of my classmates was sleeping in the park. There was nothing left after he paid tuition.

One of my buddies, now a minor success in Silicon Valley, had a unique racket. He climbed outside locked campus buildings using grappling hooks. Yes, like a ninja. He entered the chemistry and physics department storerooms through the windows. He then sold the chemicals — including radioactive stuff — to an oily man who worked at the mid-Manhattan consulate of a nation that did not get along with the U.S.

I won’t mention the guy who sold his poo in the Village.

Reagan slashed student financial aid during my freshman year. To pay my way sophomore year, I broke laws.

If I knew then what I know, I wouldn’t have done it. Going into debt or risking jail to pay exorbitant tuition at an “elite” school like Duke or Columbia is insane. You can get an excellent education at any number of cheaper, no-name schools. You can save tens of thousands of dollars by attending a community college for two years, then transferring for junior year; the name on the diploma is what matters.

But that’s the point. I was 18. Like Knox. There’s a reason the military recruits 17- and 18-year-olds. They don’t know anything. I still can’t believe when my mom drove me to the bank to sign the student loan agreement. I was 17. Seriously? I couldn’t vote or drink.

I thought Manhattan was Long Island.

Americans hear a drumbeat of “unless you attend college, your life will suck” propaganda the first 18 years of their lives. Their parents say it. Their teachers say it. Their guidance counselors and the media say it. The college/university industry spends millions to advertise the message that the more you spend on tuition, the more you’ll earn during your lifetime.

The President says it too.

Everyone says college is a must and that expensive college is better than cheap college. Of course Belle Knox and young Ted Rall and 20 million new suckers every year believe it.

Ruth Marcus concludes: “Knox’s pathetic story wouldn’t be worth examining — exploiting? — if it didn’t say something deeper about the hook-up culture run amok and the demise of shame.”

Wrong.

Belle Knox has nothing to be ashamed of.

The real sluts are the cash-whore trustees of Duke University, who are sitting on top of a $6 billion endowment, and the overpaid college and university officials who have jacked up tuition at twice the inflation rate year after year.

(Support independent journalism and political commentary. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Coverage of the anti-NSA Protest is an Example of a New Way to Disseminate Government BS

Redirection to Water Down the Potency of Dissent

On Saturday, October 26th several thousand people gathered near the Capitol Building in Washington to protest National Security Agency spying against Americans. As juicy news, it didn’t amount to much: no violence, no surprises. Politically, it marked an unusual coalition between the civil liberties Left and the libertarian Right, as members of the Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party movements stood side by side. But that’s not how it was framed.

The way U.S. media outlets chose to cover the march provides a fascinating window into a form of censorship they often use but we rarely notice: redirection.

The message of the marchers was straightforward. According to the British wire service Reuters, the protesters carried signs that read “Stop Mass Spying,” “Thank you, Edward Snowden” and “Unplug Big Brother.”

USA Today reported another sign —  “No NSA mass spying” — and that  marchers chanted “no secret courts” and “Hey hey, ho ho, the NSA has got to go.”

The message of the marchers was unambiguous: they demanded that the NSA stop spying on Americans, or be shut down. If the signs and the slogans and the things marchers said weren’t clear — “this isn’t about right and left — it’s about right and wrong,” USA Today quoted Craig Aaron — the group that organized the event is called “Stop Watching Us.”

Not “Keep Watching Us, Albeit With Increased Congressional Oversight.”

Stop laughing. I know, I know, no one in the history of protest marches has ever called for half-measures. U.S. Partly Out of Vietnam! Somewhat Equal Rights for Women!

Yet that’s how the media covered the anti-NSA event.

First line of USA Today‘s piece: “Thousands rallied against NSA’s domestic and international surveillance on Saturday by marching to the Capitol and calling for closer scrutiny of the agency as more details of its spying are leaked.” [My italics, added for emphasis.]

Associated Press headline: “NSA spying threatens U.S. foreign policy; protesters demand investigation of mass surveillance.”

MSNBC: “‘Stop Watching Us’ sees a chance to reform the NSA”

It is true that “Stop Watching Us” sent a letter to Congress. But there’s no way for a fluent English speaker to interpret their statement as “calling for closer scrutiny” or “reforming” the NSA. “We are calling on Congress,” the group wrote, “to take immediate action to halt this surveillance and provide a full public accounting of the NSA’s and the FBI’s data collection programs.”

Unambiguous.

“Stop Watching Us” didn’t call for “reform.” Nor did the October 26th matchers. They called for the NSA to stop spying on Americans. Some of them called for the NSA to be closed.

No one called for less than a 100% end to domestic surveillance.

USA Today lied about the rally. So did the AP. As did MSNBC.

They did it by redirecting a radical, revolutionary impulse into a moderate, reformist tendency.

The U.S. is an authoritarian police state with democratic window-dressing. Stopping NSA spying on Americans would fundamentally change the system. There’s no way the government, or its mainstream media outlets, would voluntarily give up their info trolling. What they might do, however, is “pull this back,” as Al Gore said. “I think you will see a reining in.”

Categorizing strong political views of swaths of Americans as weaker, more moderate and watered down than they really are is a relatively new tactic for American media gatekeepers. Until recently, the standard tool of the U.S. censor when confronting dissent was to ignore it entirely (c.f., the 2003 protest marches against the invasion of Iraq and the long time it took for them to cover the Occupy movement of 2011). For activist groups and protesters, this might seem like an improvement. Which is what makes it pernicious.

Getting covered by the media isn’t always better than being ignored. If your radical politics get expressed in public as moderate reformism — and you tacitly acquiesce with this misrepresentation by your silent cooperation — you’re serving the interests of the system you oppose, making it appear open to reform and reasonable, and you less angry than you really are, though neither is true.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. Go there to join the Ted Rall Subscription Service and receive all of Ted’s cartoons and columns by email.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

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The First Step

After their defeat in the 2012 presidential race, the Republican Party reassesses its history of anti-Latino rhetoric, as well as racism, sexism and homophobia. They seem ready to be quiet about their beliefs, not to change them.

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Rape as God’s Will

Republican Mitt Romney’s campaign says he still supports Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock after Mourdock said “God intended” pregnancies that result from rape. The campaign has not asked Mourdock to pull a TV ad featuring Romney. Mourdock, who has been locked in one of the country’s most expensive and closely watched Senate races, was asked during the final minutes of a debate Tuesday night whether abortion should be allowed in cases of rape or incest. “I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God. And, I think, even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen,” Mourdock said.

This time: I explain Republican science.

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Los Angeles Times Cartoon: Porn Teacher

I draw cartoons for The Los Angeles Times about issues related to California and the Southland (metro Los Angeles).

This week: A science teacher at an intermediate school in Oxnard, California was fired after students claimed to have seen her in a porn movie. No one asked why children were watching porn movies, which is illegal. (Acting in porn, on the other hand, is legal.)

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