Monday, January 29, 2007

This could be fun!

Found via Wood's Lot is the following new online journal:

Affinities: A Journal of Radical Theory, Culture, and Action

Affinities is a web-based journal that focuses on groups, movements, and communities that set out to construct sustainable alternatives to the racist, hetero-sexist system of liberal-capitalist nation-states. We are interested in questions such as: What kind of experiments are out there, beyond the state and corporate forms? How are they working, what obstacles are they encountering? How do we build lasting culture(s) of resistance and (re-)construction? As one of the goals of Affinities is to acknowledge and strengthen the links that exist between academic, activist, and artistic communities, we are committed to publishing academic and activist writing, as well as other forms of radical cultural production.


Sunday, January 28, 2007

Defying the cold

Nearly 400 Minnesotans defied the 0 degree weather and marched against the war on Saturday. It was unbelievably cold, with clear blue skies letting any heat float away and the winds forcing their way between hats and scarfs to chill us to the bone. And still, 400 people came out to protest the war in Iraq in Minneapolis, Minnesota in the dead of winter.

We arrived at Bethany Lutheran Church on Franklin and 25th in the Seward neighborhood. The minute I went outside I decided I didn't have it in me to stay outside for more than 5 or 10 minutes.

But then I went out and joined the crowd and the people just kept on coming. I had my hand-clicker and started counting at 1:05 and came up with 265 people. Then I talked with friends from the Military Families Speak Out committee and chatted with other activists for a while. At 1:30, I did another count and came up with 365. One activist for every day of the year!

I finally gave up and went back to the church where at least 40 people were trying to get warm. So I believe we're safe in saying that 400 people participated in this latest antiwar event.

At the church, I counted 307 people. The speeches were inspiring, especially Rick's speech for Military Femilies Speak Out. He spoke about a Marine who tried to have himself committed to the VA in St. Cloud for mental health issues. He was told he was No. 26 on the waiting list. So he went over to a friends house and shot himself to death.

Well, you know, just fuck you, America and fuck you VA for doing this to a young man with a caring wife, a 6-month old baby and a life ahead of him. You fuckers stole this young man's life for your crazy imperial fantasies.

Wake up, America. We really can't export our problems overseas. Because our soldiers come home and they bear the scars you've forced them to endure. And another family has to feel the pain of your fucked up ambitions.

Sami returns in March

My friend Sami will be back in Minnesota in march. Here's the flyer I made today for his event.

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This Tuesday night

Cindy Sheehan will be in town. I made this flyer quite a while ago. Almost 800 tickets have already been sold for this event.

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Friday, January 26, 2007

Say No to War this Weekend

There are over 75 events planned in the U.S. to say no to war and call for the immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops in Iraq. You can find the entire list here.

I'll be out with local activists tomorrow beginning at 1 p.m. at Franklin and 26th Ave South in Minneapolis. Come on out and make your voice heard!

These kind of actions are fun for so many reasons. You get to express your anger and outrage. You get to see the amazing creativity of fellow activists as they create and display their own banners.

You can listen to the voices of your neighbors talking about why this war must end at an open-mike session after the rally.

If you can, make an effort to get out and protest this weekend. The troops deserve our support by bringing them home and taking care of them when they return.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

March 18 flyer

OK, getting this one ready to hand out at the antiwar demo this weekend. This is loosely based on an idea from the a flyer for the Bay Area. Let me know if the "Q" works.

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Monday, January 22, 2007

I am not exempt

I hereby acknowledge I am capable of being a racist, sexist, homophobic , transphobic, classist, ablist, agist shitstain.* I've probably done all kinds of racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, classist, ablist, agist shitstainy things in my life and gotten away with it.

*Please feel free to fill in the prejudices I haven't listed.

I do not exmpt myself from these sins. I admit them, and in my better moments I try to learn from them.

Even so, because I am white, a U.S. citizen and capable of picking up some of the nasty shit that surrounds me, I will probably do something racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, classist, ablist, agist and shitstainy in the future. Although I make a concerted effort to avoid it, I'm not going to say it can't happen.

When I do act like a bigot, I hope somebody calls me on it. I hope I can hear that message and learn from it.

I've attended a lot of anti-racist and anti-homophobic training. The issue of power is always discussed. "Racism" is definied as a system that has real power to make life difficult for people of color. By employing and supporting racism through bigotry and hate speech, I could and would make life more difficult for people of color.

People of color do not have access to the power that is white racism. Therefore, the bigotry and hate speech of people of color is not racism. The word racism defines the system.

Bigotry is an illogical hatred for a different group of people. Anyone, including people without power, can participate in bigotry and hate speech. Hate speech has different effects, depending on where one exists on the power spectrum, but it still is logically defined as hate speech and bigotry.

Yesterday, I read a different argument over at Heart's space. This argument equates racism, bigotry and hate speech and says only the powerful can exhibit this behavior.

In this specific instance, the discussion was about hate speech toward transgendered people. Please click on over and read the whole piece, because I don't want to speak for Heart. She explains herself quite logically and doesn't go all academic on the reader, as some of us do.

You can read it here.starting at thread #208 by Heart. Here's a short quote from a follow up:

When a radical feminist female uses insulting words in the direction of transwomen, she understand this to be no different from using insulting words in the direction of males. It might be rude, crude, and socially unacceptable, it might be insulting, but it isn’t hate speech. It’s not discriminatory. Because given power differentials as they exist between males and females, females aren’t situated socially so as to be able to discriminate against males, or to be bigoted towards males or to be phobic against males. To the contrary, our experience as females is that males *are* to be feared because they hurt females and to say so, and behave accordingly, is not “phobic,” it is based on female reality.

I completely disagree with this theory. I believe it to be fundamentally flawed.

First, I believe, as I said above, that all of us are capable of hate speech and bigotry. These are the actions of individuals, not systems, and although they do not reach the level of racism, they still suck and ought to be avoided. By all of us.

Second, and more problematical, is that Heart claims that women have been harmed by men, therefore hate speech and bigotry toward men is merely an accurate description of the way men behave.

Obviously, I agree that men have and continue to harm women in all sorts of ways. I'd be a fool to disagree.

However, bigotry and hate speech is always illogical. It's illogical because we can never accurately define a group of human beings that is exactly one thing or another with no exceptions.

So, again, I am not exempt. And I hope my readers will call me on it when I do fuck up in the future.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

I have a different approach

In an argument between a radical feminist and a transgendered woman, Heart wrote the following:

…to be born into the world female is to experience a certain kind of brutality at the hands of men from the moment of one’s birth and in an ongoing way, until we die. All of us born female know this brutality, recognize it, and have made our way against it and in the face of it. It is reflected in women’s art, writings, medicine, spirituality, specific traditions and practices, herstory, stories. It is evident in the way we encounter one another and in the way we encounter men and society just in general. Whatever women have created, whatever ways women have been in the world, have made for ourselves in the world, all of it has been touched by the brutality of our subordination as females, and that is the experience out of which we all, as females, must necessarily speak and do our own work. To be less than conscious here is to deny the facts of women’s subordination and is to actively disrespect women and our struggle for full humanity and so is to participate in our ongoing subordination. To appropriate our lives and experiences, or our writings, our work, is deeply disrespectful (and some other things worth talking about for a long time) in the same way other kinds of appropriation along the lines I’ve already mentioned are deeply disrespectful. Appropriation wherever it happens makes resistance to having been colonized and brutalized that much more difficult and real revolution and the upending of patriarchy that much more distant and out of reach to us.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot for a reason that is specific to my own life. I am the youngest of three children. I am the only girl. My parents were married for 15 years before I was born. My birth changed everything.

My father is dead now, but when he was alive he was diagnosed as a sociopath. This means that he can tell the difference between right and wrong, but he just doesn’t care. He was raised by an incredibly mean-spirited mother. She followed child-raising theories by the infamous Dr. Watson who believed children should be forced to fit into your lifestyle, not vice versa.

Dad managed to get by in life for many years. He was a successful college professor and administrator. He was a charming and funny man. He was also a successful con artist who never got caught.

That all came to an end one day in 1956 when he was startled to find he was capable of creating a girl child. From that point on, things went straight to hell. I was the trigger that sent him off the rails. From the day I was born.

You can imagine the details and they aren’t important. The first 20 years of my life were fucked up. The next 10 years were a time of painful growth and hard work to create a different kind of life for myself.

I lived in a world in which every system failed. The legal system failed me. The clergy failed me. The health care system failed me.

Nevertheless, I was loved. When it mattered, there were other people: friends, relatives, teachers and neighbors, even strangers. These people reached out a hand when I needed it. Every time they helped me, I grew stronger. Every time they gave me hope, I was able to survive another day.

I had lived with a person who took the low road every single time he had a choice. And yet the world contained people who made the right choice and they transformed my life.

I can’t sum this up with a cutesy rebuttal to Heart’s assessment of growing up female. I disagree with focusing on the pain. I know I would not be alive today if I hadn’t seen the hope, the promise, and the beauty that is one person helping another.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

For background:

Heart's accusation that Little Light has appropriated the cultural property of radical feminism in her poem, the seam of skin and scales. Heart has posted Robin Morgan's in total at her site, but she might have to edit it since it is a violation of copywright.

I just posted this at Heart's place. I realize I made a lot of statements without explanation and I'll make an attempt to add those here, since I don't want to clutter Heart's blog with words that disagree with her.

Here's a part of my post #165 at Heart's:

Heart wrote: “What we are supposed to do, as females, is — still, in 2007 — be quiet about what pertains specifically to us as females, about what we believe violates us. I can frame my resistance to appropriation as carefully as possible– doesn’t matter. ”

For the record, I disagree with your original post because:

1. I disagree that Robin Morgan was the first to make the comparison between monsters and feminism. Shelley, Perkins Gilman and Angela Carter are all part of the same tradition. I believe Morgan recognizes and acknowledges that in her other writing.

2. I disagree that Little Light’s poem uses the monster metaphor in the same way Morgan did..

3. I disagree that Robin Morgan’s words are the property of a certain kind of feminism. While Morgan is a radical feminist, she and her writings are accepted and celebrated by all kinds of feminists. I think that’s a wonderful.

4. I disagree that feminist writers benefit from owning certain words, metaphors, etc.

5. I disagree that Little Light’s goal on her blog or in her poem was to colonize women.

I have not asked you to shutup. In fact, I’ve asked you to speak more and to clarify so I can understand your point of view. Disagreement with you on this issue does not spell hatred of women. I have read comments from many people in many places that disagree with you without “going over” to the side of your enemies. And I think it’s sad that you do not see us and do not support us.

OK. More to come. I need to look at the threads more closely and do that thing I was afraid I might: compare the two poems like the English major I used to be before I dropped out of college and joined the working class -- one of the best decisions of my life because I absolutely hated college and I pretty much love my craft.

10:42 pm -- Edited to add a comparison of the two poems

Comparing the poems:

Morgan speaks from a place of sheer exhaustion:

"Listen. I’m really slowly dying
inside myself tonight….

"Well, I am dying, suffocating from this hopelessness tonight,
from this dead weight of struggling….

"Do you understand? Dying. Going crazy.
Really. No poetic metaphor….

"Oh mother, I am tired and sick."

Morgan desperately wants to be in another place, but sees that reality as a far-off dream:

"I want a woman’s revolution like a lover.
I lust for it, I want so much this freedom,
this end to struggle and fear and lies
we all exhale, that I could die just
with the passionate uttering of that desire….

"Just once in this my only lifetime to dance
all alone and bare on a high cliff under cypress trees
with no fear of where I place my feet…."

"Sweet revolution,…"

Morgan believes the only way overcome her exhaustion and reach her desire is through pain:

"…to admit suffering is to begin
the creation of freedom….

"You’ve already taken me away from myself
with my only road back to go forward
into more madness, monsters, cobwebs, nausea…

"May my hives bloom bravely until my flesh is aflame
and burns through the cobwebs.
May we go mad together, my sisters …."

Little Light’s poem, on the other hand, rejoices in her struggle, in her refusal to give in to the pain:

There are a million and one ways out of this body, and I have clung to it, tooth and claw, despite an endless line of people and institutions who would rather I vacate the premises, and have sometimes been willing to make me bleed to convince me they're right…

"I have looked leaving my body in the eye and I have said, in the end, hell no….

"I will cling fast to this life no matter how far you drive me, how deep, with how many torches and pitchforks, biting back the whole way down. I will not give you my suicide. I will not give you my surrender…."

Little Light hangs on because the way forward is not pain, but solidarity:

"There is too much to do, too much to love, too many who need one more of us to say hell no and help them say the same…

"…because this is a monster's creed. It is for the cobbled-together, the sewn-up, the grafted-on. It is for the golden, the under-the-earth, the foreign, the travels-by-night; the filthy ship-sinking cave-dwelling bone-cracking gorgeousness that says hell no, I am not tidy. I am not easy. I am not what you suppose me to be…

"This is for the Gorgons and the vampires and the chimaeras, for Cybele and Baba Yaga, Hel and Ashtoreth, for Lamia and Scylla, for Kali and Kapo 'ula-kina'u. This is for all of them with teeth…."

"My monstrousness is not a place of shame. It is a strength…."

Little Light’s desire is not the dream Morgan lusts for, it is a reality she can create and demands to have acknowledged right here and right now:

" It is time. It is time to say that we are beautiful in our fierceness, and that we are our own. We are not the rejected of what we can never be. We are what we were meant to be. We are not pieces of wholes thrown together incorrectly. We are not mistakes….

"I am throwing my head back, here, and saying it: no more being afraid. Hell no.

"I am choosing to stay here, and it is mine to choose. And if that means changing shape, if that means putting together the unexpected, that is any monster's ancient right."

Therefore I see Morgan's poem as an expression of despair, pain and a stoic determination to go forward knowing the dream is a long way away.

I see Little Light as refusing to acknowledge the pain, to chose love and solidarity and to rejoice in our differences.

These are two very different viewpoints of life as we live it now and of what the future holds for all of us.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Are you a dube of The Patriarcy?

It’s good to see Donna writing again at The Silence of Our Friends. On the topic of the latest battle between women calling themselves radical feminists and feminists of other stripes, Donna wrote:

The complicated part and the part that has these women annoyed, disgusted, and angry is that some radfems have declared themselves the arbiters of who is and isn't a feminist. Those women who choose and enjoy presenting themselves in what could be considered a traditionally feminine way and/or in traditionally feminine roles must be kept out of the feminism clubhouse. I'm not sure how this can be viewed as anything but as stifling as the patriarchy, our choices are still being constricted, but now it's by the matriarchy.

I think this is a great summation of the way a lot of us view discussions about makeup, dresses, sex with men, etc. The problem is, as soon as we begin talking this way, the response of radfem women is: "I don’t have the power to kick you out, so quit pretending I do! All I’m doing is expressing an opinion! Why are you trying to suppress my right to speak?"

I have to say, I can see good and bad points on both sides of this debate, even though I would imagine my current label to be sex-positive, pr0n-tolerant feminist.

In one of these discussions, I read about a woman who lost an employment discrimination lawsuit when she was fired for not wearing makeup in her job as a bartender. The details don’t really matter. What matters was several women were pissed that they HAD to wear makeup in order to keep their jobs.

Bear with me as I explain why my situation may differ from that of many women involved in these discussions.

I work in a corporation in the Midwest in which corporate dress, including makeup, is strongly encouraged. Yet I choose not to wear makeup. Every day I see maybe a thousand women at work and my guess is less than 12 of us make the decision to not wear makeup.

I experience zero discomfort over this decision, although I expect some of my co-workers may feel differently. But I can also walk down the streets in this metropolitan area and see dozens if not hundreds of women who also do not wear makeup.

Do I live in a lesbian utopia? Nope. But I do live in a state that until very recently was overwhelmingly devoted to agriculture. So the women who were and are valued here are strong, skilled and no-nonsense farmwomen. Flannel and denim clothing, leather gloves and steel-toed boots, strong arms and backs are the attributes of an ideal farmwoman. If you bothered with make-up it was gone after the first few hours of hard labor.

So my decision to not wear makeup is not seen as the choice of a militant feminist, but the choice of a powerful woman who has worked hard at good and honest labor. That makes the decision easy for me. Probably far easier than it would be for a woman living in New York City or Los Angeles.

It is hard for me to empathize with women who wear makeup resentfully or women who choose not to wear makeup but experience that decision as a source of daily tension.

Then again, I experienced that tension when I attended my 20th high school reunion. I had to force myself to not wear makeup – to not change my behavior just to fit in with that crowd. When I arrived, I realized I was the ONLY woman there not sporting stylish clothing, hairstyle, makeup, etc. I felt damned uncomfortable. I can’t imagine experiencing that feeling every day.

Which is to say, making the decision to be femmy or butch has different effects for different women in different environments.

I think it is useful when radical feminists ask us to question our decisions about how we dress or whether we wear makeup and why. Unfortunately, their appearance of being gatekeepers at the clubhouse of feminism makes it hard to respond in a way that is helpful in advancing the women's movement.

But what if we did talk about these things amongst ourselves? If you choose to be femmy or butch, do you think the decision is easy or difficult? Do you experience problems or benefits because of your decision?

I’ve noticed one rather odd result of my decision. I ride the bus every day. I usually get on before the bus gets crowded, so I’m able to observe the newcomers having to make a decision about which seat to choose when there are no empty two-person benches. It’s not uncommon for women to choose the seat next to me. But I’ve noticed that both young and middle-aged men, when forced to choose from an assortment of seats with one woman each, will choose to sit next to me. I think that I project an image of unavailability that makes them feels safer than sitting next to a more traditionally attired woman. Or maybe I’m imagining it.

So what about you? How has your choice of clothing or makeup affected the way you interact out in the world? Do you feel compelled by your environment to alter your behavior? Would you be able to change your choices on a whim without consequences? Could a butchy woman all of a sudden go femmy and feel comfortable? Vice versa? And does that say anything about the state of feminism today?

Monday, January 15, 2007

Pure Guesswork

Recent news about the rescue of a young boy who had been kidnapped in Missouri, along with the rescue of a young boy who had been captive for 4 and a half years, has got me thinking.

First, yeah, fuck all of you nitwits who ask "why didn't Sean run away?" What part of child abuse do you not understand? I am completely ignorant on the latest data about child psychology, but I saw that kid on TV. Did you not see his deference? Did you not see how he kept his eyes low and kept glancing around, making sure to notice his environment and keep track of the dangers around him? Did you not see the difference between Sean and Ben, who had only been gone a few days? Did you bother to watch?

But what's really made my mind turn lately is the missing child activist community. I've had the pleasure of meeting some local activists and they are just awesome people. This is what group of activists who are aware of the need and importance of community. As a result, their model is entirely different from the law enforcement model.

They depend on and promote community organizing. They manipulte the news media for their own purposes. They provide support for each other because it isn't coming from anybody else.

Activists need to learn from these people and adopt some of their valuable tactics.

The other day, I watched as a woman from Chicago talked about her two missing daughters on one of the morning network shows. She made the point to mention both the abducted and the runaways. It was clearly a tactic on her part. Her missing daughters were quite young and incapable of running away. But she knew enough to support the parents of runaway children as well the parents of children who've been kidnapped or worse. She stepped up to the plate and she was just awesome.

January 27 protest

I made this yesterday for the January 27 protest. Part of a national call by ANSWER

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Friday, January 12, 2007

Some links I've enjoyed

Soviet Roadside Bus Stops

December 29-31, 2006 Ice Storm

A Periodic Table of Visualization Methods

Major suckage

Amidst the joy of an awakening anti-war movement and the thrill at helping in the publication of a literary journal, I am facing a disturbing dilemma.

Yesterday, I attended an event put on by a dear friend of mine. My belief was that she was presenting some new products to be sold in a local co-op for which she volunteers.

Instead, I was treated to a sales pitch from a shyster organization called Young Life Essential Oils.

I cannot express how sad this makes me. This woman is a dear friend who helped me through difficult times. I have respected her for years. And yet, she invited me to this event and pressured me to expend major funds to become a distributor of said products.

She knows me better than most. She understands my anti-capitalist ideals. And yet ... she sat across from me and explained to me how spending enormous amounts of money for an unproven product would transform my life.

I do not know how to handle this. I have respected this woman for years for so many reasons. She is beautiful, creative, intelligent and has taught me so much about life.

I'm not angry at her for trying to sell me snake oil. I am pissed as hell that some shyster can convince this amazing, beautiful, intelligent woman that she should sell this nonsense to her friends.

If anyone out there has had a similar experience and has valuable advice, I'd be happy for suggestions.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

We're not buying it

Well, Bush spoke last night. I didn't listen. I was with a group of activists putting together a mailing for a local literary journal. Lots of fun and interesting conversation.

This morning, we went to the first scheduled demonstration. This one was called by a member of Friends for a Non-Violent World and took place at the office of Senator Norm Coleman. The office is near an intersection over the interstate, so there was lots of traffic. About 200 people were there while we were there from 7 to 8:15 a.m. At 8:30, some of the protesters planned to enter the Senators office and express their demand for immediate troop withdrawal.

Among the attendees were 20 students from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa who got up at 4 a.m. to make the trek to the Twin Cities. These people were simply awesome. I heard one young woman talking to a NBC cameraman. She said, I watched the speech alone and felt so bad that I called a bunch of friends. We all decided we had to take action and that's why we're here this morning.

There were two protests scheduled in the afternoon. One was called by neighbors for peace with about 100 protesters in St. Paul during rush hour. The other was at the Federal Building in downtown Minneapolis. I saw a clip on the news tonight and it looked like about 100 people attended.

Every media report I saw of activists' protest against the war followed up with confirmation that the majority of people in the U.S. and Iraq oppose the government's policies.

Tomorrow there is another demonstration at the Federal Building at 4:30. The slumbering movement has reawakened. Who knows what might happen?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Counter Propaganda Tactics

For weeks now we've been hearing about the President's plan to put more troops into Iraq. Anti-war activists have been seeing this as an opportunity to promote the immediate withdrawal argument.

So last Saturday, when it was clear the Prez was going to speak this week, the local antiwar coaltion, Iraq Peace Action Coalition (IPAC), met and discussed how to respond.

The antiwar movement contains groups with different goals and agendas. There are groups based among students, among the faith communities, pacifists, radicals, neighborhoods, veterans and others.

At this point in time, however, there is increasing activism among the families who have relatives serving in the war. There primary slogan is "Bring the troops home now and take care of them when they get back."

As it happens, the local chapter of Military Families Speak Out (MFSO) has their regular meeting on Wednesday nights. When it looked likely that the Prez would speak on Wednesday, they agreed to invite the press to their meeting and express their viewpoint.

In addition, two emergency demonstrations were planned, one tomorrow morning at Senator Coleman's office called by Friends for a Non-Violent World, and one on Friday afternoon called by IPAC. These demonstrations are a chance to get the word out, to allow activists to vent their frustration with the government's plans, and to put pressure on Congress.

So the last few days we put together a flyer for the demo and wrote several press releases. Tonight we found out that all four local network affiliates took us up on the offer to visit with MFSO. Most of them wanted footage before the speech, so MFSO members got together this morning and afternoon to meet with the press and present their viewpoint.

We just watched the 9 a.m. FOX news. The report was awesome, with the reporter emphasizing and supporting MFSO's mistrust of the President and his plan.

It's amazing what three years of ineffective war can do to the prestitutes. We'll see what happens at 10 o'clock. We heard from a member of MFSO that three local network affiliates were there to watch the speech with them.

Helveticafilm blog is live

At TypeCon in August, I met Gary Hustwit, the director of Helvetica A Documentary Film. Now he's blogging and can be found here.

Here's a still from the film (see if you can spot the Helvetica):

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Ben Barres's work is much better than his sister's

From an old article at the Wall Street Journal

He, Once a She, Offers Own View On Science Spat

July 13, 2006

Ben Barres had just finished giving a seminar at the prestigious Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research 10 years ago, describing to scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard and other top institutions his discoveries about nerve cells called glia. As the applause died down, a friend later told him, one scientist turned to another and remarked what a great seminar it had been, adding, "Ben Barres's work is much better than his sister's."

There was only one problem. Prof. Barres, then as now a professor of neurobiology at Stanford University, doesn't have a sister in science. The Barbara Barres the man remembered was Ben.

Prof. Barres is transgendered, having completed the treatments that made him fully male 10 years ago. The Whitehead talk was his first as a man, so the research he was presenting was done as Barbara.

Being first a female scientist and then a male scientist has given Prof. Barres a unique perspective on the debate over why women are so rare at the highest levels of academic science and math: He has experienced personally how each is treated by colleagues, mentors and rivals.

Based on those experiences, as well as research on gender differences, Prof. Barres begs to differ with what he calls "the Larry Summers Hypothesis," named for the former Harvard president who attributed the paucity of top women scientists to lack of "intrinsic aptitude." In a commentary in today's issue of the journal Nature, he writes that "the reason women are not advancing [in science] is discrimination" and the "Summers Hypothesis amounts to nothing more than blaming the victim."

In his remarks at an economics conference in January 2005, Mr. Summers said "socialization" is probably a trivial reason for the low number of top female mathematicians and scientists. But Prof. Barres, who as Barbara received the subtle and not-so-subtle hints that steer smart girls away from science, doesn't see it that way. The top science and math student in her New Jersey high school, she was advised by her guidance counselor to go to a local college rather than apply to MIT. She applied anyway and was admitted.

As an MIT undergraduate, Barbara was one of the only women in a large math class, and the only student to solve a particularly tough problem. The professor "told me my boyfriend must have solved it for me," recalls Prof. Barres, 51 years old, in an interview. "If boys were raised to feel that they can't be good at mathematics, there would be very few who were."

Although Barbara Barres was a top student at MIT, "nearly every lab head I asked refused to let me do my thesis research" with him, Prof. Barres says. "Most of my male friends had their first choice of labs. And I am still disappointed about the prestigious fellowship I lost to a male student when I was a Ph.D. student," even though the rival had published one prominent paper and she had six.

As a neuroscientist, Prof. Barres is also skeptical of the claim that differences between male and female brains might explain the preponderance of men in math and science. For one thing, he says, the studies don't adequately address whether those differences are innate and thus present from birth, or reflect the different experiences that men and women have. Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, who defends the Summers Hypothesis, acknowledges that the existence of gender differences in values, preferences and aptitudes "does not mean that they are innate."

The biggest recent revolution in neuroscience has been the discovery of the brain's "plasticity," or ability to change structure and function in response to experiences. "It's not hard to believe that differences between the brains of male and female adults have nothing to do with genes or the Y chromosome but may be the biological expression of different social settings," says biologist Joan Roughgarden of Stanford, who completed her own transgender transition in 1998.

Jonathan Roughgarden's colleagues and rivals took his intelligence for granted, Joan says. But Joan has had "to establish competence to an extent that men never have to. They're assumed to be competent until proven otherwise, whereas a woman is assumed to be incompetent until she proves otherwise. I remember going on a drive with a man. He assumed I couldn't read a map."

Actually, Ben Barres says there may be something to the stereotype that men are better map readers. The testosterone he received to become male improved his spatial abilities, he writes in Nature, though "I still get lost every time I drive."

Still, there is little evidence that lack of testosterone or anything unique to male biology is the main factor keeping women from the top ranks of science and math, says Prof. Barres, a view that is widely held among scientists who study the issue. Although more men than women in the U.S. score in the stratosphere on math tests, there is no such difference in Japan, and in Iceland the situation is flipped, with more women than men scoring at the very top.

"That seems more like 'socialization' than any difference in innate abilities to me," geneticist Gregory Petsko of Brandeis University wrote last year. In any case, except in a few specialized fields like theoretical physics, there is little correlation between math scores and who becomes a scientist.

Some supporters of the Summers Hypothesis suggest that temperament, not ability, holds women back in science: They are innately less competitive. Prof. Barres's experience suggests that if women are less competitive, it is not because of anything innate but because that trait has been beaten out of them.

"Female scientists who are competitive or assertive are generally ostracized by their male colleagues," he says. In any case, he argues, "an aggressive competitive spirit" matters less to scientific success than curiosity, perseverance and self-confidence.

Women doubt their abilities more than men do, say scientists who have mentored scores of each. "Almost without exception, the talented women I have known have believed they had less ability than they actually had," Prof. Petsko wrote. "And almost without exception, the talented men I have known believed they had more."

Which may account for what Prof. Barres calls the main difference he has noticed since changing sex. "People who do not know I am transgendered treat me with much more respect," he says. "I can even complete a whole sentence without being interrupted by a man."

Write to Sharon Begley at

Tuesday, January 09, 2007


Also from the Casbah (see below). Stop the Catbox!

Your Drag Queen Name Is:

Creme BruLay

This has gotta be a mistake

Found this at My Private Casbah

You Passed 8th Grade Science

Congratulations, you got 8/8 correct!

Seriously, I didn't take much science. In fact I think I got credit for classes I never took in high school. Then when I got to college and took Intro to Biology, I was saying stupid things like, "Wow! You mean we know what goes on inside a cell? Amazing!"

Sunday, January 07, 2007

New flyer to respond to Bush's expected speech calling for a Surge in troops to Iraq:

Photo Hosted at Buzznet

Friday, January 05, 2007

Feminist blogosphere wars

For background, just click on any of the links in the right-hand column of my website.

Over the last few months there have been several intense discussions among feminist bloggers. They have since become known as "wars". We had the blowjob wars, which I pretty much avoided. Then we had Burqagate, which was the first time I really threw myself into the discussions. Then there was the FireDogLake racist/feminist "your betters" battle. The latest has to do with a dust-up between radical feminists and transgendered people.

First let me note that it’s been a long time since I’ve felt part of an internet community. I was involved in TV fandom when I first came on the internet and I got into some spectacular dust-ups. I became associated with a particular message board that specialized in discussions between people who disagreed with each other. We became famous for challenging the "in-group" of the fandom; the people who ran the conventions, those with connections to particular cast or crew members, etc. Friendships were formed and broken. It was a good place to be for quite a while. But then 9/11 happened and I returned to more activist politics. My activist self and my internet persona were at such odds that I finally had to break away.

So I’ve spent a few years using my blog to track local activist efforts. Blogging is a great for this. In the 80s and 90s, we were too busy to keep track of our work, so a lot of what we did is lost to history. I appreciate a place to post an on-going scrapbook of our activities.

Lately, however, I’ve begun to get more involved in the internet community by reading and commenting on blogs by women and men whose ideas challenge and intrigue me. It seems to be a bit unfair of me to do so, however. Most of these bloggers produce a tremendous amount of thoughtful and well-written commentary on their own blogs. I have not returned the favor here. There is a wonderful method of communication on the internet in which an idea begins in an essay on one blog, then is quoted and expanded on at another blog, then another. To fully track the progress of an idea or an argument becomes a dance of clicking from one blog to another and back again.

That is what happened with the transgender discussion. For background go to Bitch|Lab and follow her link to the SmackDog Chronicles roundup. A heated discussion began on Twisty’s blog that included some virulent anti-trans comments by a radical feminist name Luckynkl among others. All of a sudden the years-long discussion between radical feminists, lesbian separatists and some members of the transgender community exploded all over the place.

Now I need to explain something about myself. I’m a mixed up bastard child. I grew up in the country and in the city and in the suburbs. I grew up upper-middle class, and lower-middle class and poor. I was brutalized by one parent and adored and supported by another. I was intelligent and well schooled and na├»ve and ignorant. I crossed boundaries and was totally accepted and was totally ostracized. It was both wonderful and bewildering.

Above all, I have had the benefit of awesome friends and family. I have had the benefit of people who saw a needy, confused kid and decided to reach a hand out. Because of that, I will forever be an activist. I will do whatever small thing I can to make the world a better place. I will believe that making the effort to form a community can make a difference.

At one time I was at the very pit of despair. That helps me recognize when I am relatively safe, relatively secure and therefore capable of reaching out to someone else who is not so safe and secure.

This seems important in the current discussion. Because the political differences between radical feminists and transgendered people has immediate and profound effects on individuals who have a lot to contribute to the world but are feeling less safe and secure.

First, let me speak to the radfems. I discovered radical feminism when I became involved in local Take Back the Night marches and also when I attended the Michigan Women’s Musical Festival. It was a life-changing experience for me. I had been involved in the Central America movement, the labor movement and the abortion rights movement. But entering into women-only activist spaces taught me something precious.

It was a space in which I didn’t have to explain. It was a space where my particular experiences were neither shocking nor unbelievable. Although my childhood sucked in many ways, there were people who had it worse who had also survived and made a place in the world. And there were others who did not have to experience the horrors in order to understand and give support and believe the unbelievable.

So I have a certain soft spot in my heart for these people.

Plus, I’ve had to experience activism in sexist environments. I’ve experienced activism in racist environments. I’ve experienced activism in classist environments. And I watched my mother suffer discrimination her entire god damned life. So I understand frustration.

I came to know what does work and what doesn’t work. And when it comes to finding ways that do work, the radical feminist community has done more than most to provide creative and positive solutions to difficult problems. I owe them a lot for that.

The transgender community, on the other hand, is something new to me and they challenge my assumptions. Transgendered people understand what it’s like to be an outsider and have chosen new and interesting ways to deal with outlaw realities. I’ve been incredibly lucky in that I have spoken my ignorance and been aided toward understanding.

In all of this, I’ve accrued a bit of currency in the blogosphere. I’ve seen myself quoted and linked. I’ve seen my comments picked up and repeated. This has real value in the internet world and I am definitely digging on it. Darn it all, I like that people seem to like me.

OK. Call me Sally Field.

Next post, I promise I’ll destroy all this sweet talk and mention what drives me crazy about radical feminists and transgendered people. Meanwhile, I’ll just don my flying nun hat and float on out of here.