Abortion and Pregnancy Loss: A Pro Choice Critique of Pro Choice Language

By Robin


 

I’m going to start this off by clarifying up front that I am, and always have been and will be, fiercely pro choice. If you’re reading this hoping that my personal tragedies have helped me see the error of my wicked feminist ways, you are on the wrong blog. However, in the wake of both my miscarriage and stillbirth in the past year, I have come to realize that the pro choice movement has a serious language problem that is likely causing us to lose significant numbers of people who might otherwise support reproductive rights.

Just over a year ago, prior to finding out about my first pregnancy, I read Life’s Work, by the incredible Dr. Willie Parker. If you haven’t read him yet, stop and go do that. He talks about this issue more eloquently than I will ever be able to. An abortion provider who has dedicated his life to ensuring that women have access to safe abortions, Dr. Parker discusses his journey through medical school and practice as a black man with deeply held religious values, and how this led him to view abortion rights- being pro choice- through a moral rather than scientific lens. He talks about how he feels it is morally necessary to provide women, especially poor women, women of color, women who are oppressed in intersectional ways, with the same opportunities that men are given to determine the course of their own lives. This stuck with me, and I thought about how many times I had used scientific arguments to debate with people about abortion rights. What good does this do in a world where science increasingly has little power to dissuade people from their strongly held (incorrect) beliefs? (Looking at you, anti-vaxxer, climate change deniers, and Flat Earthers.)

“It’s just a clump of cells.” “It wasn’t viable outside the uterus.” “It’s a fetus, not a baby.” I’ve used these phrases myself, and I’ve used them often. And they’re true. But they’re also not true, at least not when you’re the one experiencing loss of a wanted pregnancy. I have listened to people I like and respect say things like “I was always pro choice until my friend/my sister/I had a baby, and now I just don’t know.” And I didn’t understand how that could be. Then I lost one pregnancy at twelve weeks, when the risk of miscarriage is supposed to be at its lowest. When I was supposed to be able to relax and be excited and start planning for my baby and announce my good news to everyone I knew. And sitting in the ER bleeding through my pad and underwear and pants, passing blood clots the size of my fist, in excruciating physical and emotional pain, it didn’t feel like I was losing a nonviable clump of cells. I was losing my baby. I lost all of the hopes I had for being a mom, I lost the ability to take it for granted that pregnancy is a time of joy and excitement, I lost the ability to smile and nod my head in the future when someone asked “is this your first pregnancy?” I struggled with that for a little while, because of course I still believe that my fetus didn’t have rights that can or should supersede mine. I don’t believe that the heartbeat I heard that changed my whole life and broke my heart into pieces when it stopped means that everyone who finds themselves pregnant should feel the way I felt. But I did feel left out by language that dismissed my loss. And I can see how someone with less strongly held convictions could be pushed away by that.

In my second pregnancy, I was very vocal about the impact my first loss had on my perspectives on pregnancy and reproductive rights. It was a relatively easy pregnancy, but it was also terrible in the way that all pregnancies are terrible. I felt vulnerable every moment of every day. My body kept changing in ways no one tells you to expect. I kept a running list of symptoms that no one tells you about, and told all my friends to seriously reconsider pregnancy if they were on the fence, because even when it’s desperately wanted it fucking sucks. I was fatigued beyond anything I’d ever felt before. I couldn’t eat for three months because of nausea and severe food aversion. I lost weight, I had round ligament pain, I couldn’t sleep. I bought a pregnancy pillow and fought every instinct in my body to force myself to sleep on my left side. I avoided deli meats and ibuprofen and counted kicks and went to so many appointments I lost count. I had to pee constantly, which made my demanding job even harder to manage. My brain got so foggy I made serious mistakes at work, and I had trouble holding up my end of conversations. I was constipated and my whole body was sore and my nose was constantly stuffy and I was coughing all the time. My skin dried out, my feet and ankles swelled so much I had to buy and wear compression socks. My gums bled every single time I brushed my teeth. My hands fell asleep throughout the day due to carpal tunnel syndrome. I constantly worried about childbirth and the permanent changes it could bring to my body, both cosmetic and functional. And I was afraid, the entire time, that something would go wrong. That I would have to see another still, silent sonogram. I hated all of it, and the only thing that got me through it was that I loved and desperately wanted my baby. I told anyone who would listen that no one should have to endure  this unless it was one hundred percent their choice. Because no one should. Pregnancy is not just a thing you go through and then go back to your life unchanged, regardless of whether you go home with a baby that you need to care for.

At 36 weeks exactly (two weeks ago today), I was worried about decreased fetal movement. I went in for a checkup, and there was no heartbeat. My entire world shattered in a way I’m barely beginning to come to terms with. I went through two days of induced labor and finally a C-section, which again, are things no one should have to endure unless it is unequivocally their choice. And I delivered my son. My baby. Who died. Except he wasn’t, legally speaking, a baby. He was a fetus, according to all the hospital records and state forms and funeral home contracts. And while I understand and agree that this is necessary, it’s still a special kind of pain to realize that my baby, who I held and kissed and grieved for and will spend the rest of my life mourning, was not a person.

So the next time you talk to someone about why abortion rights are critical, think about the language that you’re using. There are people who feel that a heartbeat at six weeks means that fetus is a baby, and you’re not going to science them out of that. Talk about how even though my son was viable and desperately wanted, at the end of the day I am a person and he was not, and that even though that is painful it is necessary. Talk about the morality of forcing a woman to endure nine months of her body not truly being her own, and putting herself through pain and the risk of death for a choice someone else made for her. Think about the way you use language, and how deeply it can wound even the people who are on your side, and how quickly it can shut down those who aren’t and make it impossible for them to listen. There is room in this debate for feelings and morality and grief and loss. There is room in the pro choice movement for people who believe that a fetus is a baby. There is room for us to acknowledge the complexity of our arguments. There is room for nuance.

Merry Christmas, I Fixed “Love Actually” For You

By Robin


 

It’s that time of year again. That magical time of year when watching Love Actually multiple times a week isn’t just acceptable, it’s encouraged. Despite its flaws (mild transphobic/homophobic jokes, fat shaming, the whole Jamie and Aurelia plot line, trying to portray the late, great Alan Rickman as unlikeable) this holiday classic has held up surprisingly well over the years. The only part of this masterpiece that has remained impossible to watch is LAURA LINNEY AND KARL. Laura Linney, playing Sarah, is desperately in love with Karl, the “enigmatic chief designer” at whatever nondescript yet hip office she works in. After being pressured to “do something about it” in a series of increasingly inappropriate professional mentoring conversations, she takes Karl home after the office Christmas party. Their much-anticipated tryst (and the most physical, non-simulated action we see any characters have) is cruelly interrupted by Sarah’s ubiquitous cell phone, which shrilly blasts that one ring tone that all the prank shows used in the early 2000’s. It’s her brother, who has severe mental illness, lives in a (hospital? Nursing home? British equivalent?), and has been the source of all the mysterious phone calls she has received throughout the movie and been repeatedly chastised for always taking.

She takes the call, explains her caregiver role to Karl, and then ultimately leaves to be with her brother during his emotional crisis. AND EVERYONE’S HEART BROKE IMMEDIATELY AND FOREVER. I’m sorry for making you relive such a painful memory. But don’t worry, I’m going to fix it. You see, this isn’t actually a tragic story of missed opportunity and the soul crushing nature of caregiving. It’s the story I’m convinced was unfolding while we weren’t looking (because we were all collectively sobbing and shouting “just look at his abs, Laura! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD JUST TOUCH HIS PENIS!”). Because here’s the thing: Karl is actually the worst. Sarah’s true love is someone who sees her dedication to her brother as the beautiful and admirable thing it is.

First, I’m going to go ahead and push back on the implied narrative of Sarah as the put upon caregiver who begrudges her responsibility to her family. During my most recent viewing, I noticed for the first time that Sarah keeps a picture of her brother on her desk at work. This is deeply touching for me, because I don’t know anyone who decorates their desks with things they feel obligated to or trapped by. Homer Simpson didn’t paper his office wall with pictures of Maggie to remind himself of his crushing and onerous obligation to feed his family, he did it to remind himself that he’s working hard so he can help someone he loves. Likewise, Sarah keeps a picture of her brother at work to remind herself why she’s working incredibly late hours, taking all those phone calls, and keeping the cheerful tone in her voice during every interaction. She genuinely loves her brother, and when she tells Karl she’s “happy to do it”, she really means it. When she starts crying after swapping melancholy “Merry Christmas”-s with Karl on Christmas Eve, SHE calls HER BROTHER for comfort. SHE seeks solace from HIM. Her smile when they hug, after she gives him a scarf she clearly knitted with her own two hands? That’s the realest smile we ever see on her face. That’s not obligation. That’s LOVE.

Okay, that aside, I’ll move on to Karl’s many failings as a human being and as a potential partner for Sarah:

  1. Sarah and Karl have worked together for over two and a half years. They both routinely work late and are often the last two people in the office. She keeps a picture of her brother on her desk and takes tons of personal phone calls. We see that she responds quite openly to her brother (“I’m not sure it’s possible to get the Pope on the phone tonight, darling”), so people in the office have definitely figured out at least the gist of what her whole deal is. So WHY HAS KARL FAILED TO NOTICE?? Their boss tells Sarah in their first conversation that Karl “knows” about her pantsfeelings for him, and he clearly reciprocates these feelings, so why has he not put in the bare minimum effort to get to know her? Not cool, Karl.
  2. When she takes the phone call mid make out and then explains all this deeply personal stuff to him, he says “That’s fine, life is full of interruptions and complications”, then immediately tries to continue fucking her. I’m sorry, if I was about to bone someone and they took a call from a distraught family member and explained to me that this person counts on them and also they’re an orphan and in a relatively isolated situation in a strange country, my immediate reaction would be more along the lines of “wow, that sounds really rough, do you need to talk anything out” and less “well, can’t let a good erection go to waste, can we?” In this moment, Karl hears her say “hold up, the person I love most in the world is in pain” and he just continues trying to get his dick wet without skipping a beat. Not cool, Karl.
  3. They start making out again and the phone rings. She hesitates, clearly wanting to answer, and Karl asks her “will it make him better?” When she says no, he then tells her to ignore the call. OH, SO IT’S ONLY OKAY TO GIVE THE PEOPLE WE LOVE OUR SUPPORT IF IT WILL FIX THEM?? That’s a pretty fucked up view of relationships and also mental health issues, Karl. Not cool.
  4. She does answer the phone, and says “no, I’m no busy”. First of all, that’s once again not obligation. It’s clearly the result of the brother feeling guilty about taking up so much time, and habitually worrying that he’s disturbing her while she’s “busy”. Her response isn’t resentment or resignation, it’s the “how many times do I have to tell you, I’ll never be too busy to take your call” that I’ve heard from every parent, partner, and caregiver I know. Second of all, Karl shoots her this WOUNDED look, which is completely unwarranted. Yeah Karl, she kissed you for a minute and it was exciting. You’re hot and all, but this is important shit. She’s not “busy” because you inexpertly took her dress off. You don’t get to look offended that someone’s mental health crisis is interfering with your impromptu day trip to Fucktown. Not cool, Karl.
  5. It’s pretty clear that Karl never had a follow up conversation with Sarah after all this. Again, it’s just a shocking lack of regard for the person you supposedly have feelings for. So your romantic whirlwind got interrupted by real life. It happens. (I feel like someone in this movie said life is full of interruptions and complications??) So check in. “Hey, I had fun the other night and I’m sorry the night ended awkwardly. I think it’s really cool that you’re so supportive of your brother. That must be hard with no other family around. Wanna grab tea and chat about it? Do you need anything?” You can’t just ignore her and then mope on by with with a passive aggressive “Merry Christmas”. NOT. COOL. KARL.

Okay, so now that you’re all on board with Karl being a literal garbage human, let’s move on to the hidden romance we all missed. There is one person who is visibly impressed with Sarah’s devotion to her family, her calm and loving approach to supporting her brother, and her cheerful smile even when things feel heart wrenchingly impossible. Next time you watch this movie, pay close attention to the guy who works at the hospital where her brother lives. Watch how he starts off looking at her brother as a possible threat, and leaves looking at her like she’s a miracle worker. As someone who has worked in environments like that, I can tell you it is fucking rare to see family answer calls at all hours, show up in the middle of the night, and spend Christmas Eve entirely with their loved one in that setting. It is not something that goes unnoticed. That man works every day with people whose families have thrown them away. Don’t expect me to believe for one minute that he’s not blown away to see someone happily carry out this duty. He’s working there on Christmas Eve, he sees the tenderness in that hug and the hand knit scarf she gives her brother. He sees her being willing to sacrifice whatever she needs to in order to continue being her brother’s source of comfort. There is no way that doesn’t lead to romance. If Colin Frissell can find love in Wisconsin, Sarah can find love that fits into her life along with the caregiving role she has chosen for herself. As the movie is constantly reminding us, love actually is all around.

Everyone else in the movie gets, if not a happy ending, at least a resolution in the “one month later” epilogue. Laura Linney’s character is the only one who doesn’t even show up in the airport in that scene. This used to make me incredibly salty, but now I’m okay with it. Where would she need to be flying to? Everyone she loves is right there.

Maybe don’t show your dick to women, and other things men need to fucking do right now


By Casey


 

I’m frequently reminded of the September 2016 Reductress article, “10 Men We Can Still Admire, As Far As We Know,” in which the brilliant satire website lists ten* male celebrities who, as far as we know, haven’t committed any heinous acts against women. It’s just one of many times where their brilliant writing team manage to blur the lines between reality and fiction because, on the whole, cis men are trash and I’m tired of the overwhelming majority being varying degrees of awful, yet riding on the coattails of a noble few who aren’t. It’s like they’re back in college, having to complete a group assignment, but instead of having a group full of people who don’t pull their weight, it’s just a bunch of cis dudes showing their dicks to unsuspecting women, while one dude is just there, treating women with dignity. By no means is this a recent phenomenon, either, it just seems like maybe possibly there might be something resembling consequences for deplorable acts committed by beloved people.**

I looked this post up again after Thursday’s brilliantly written New York Times piece about the five women who bravely brought forth sexual misconduct allegations against comedian Louis C.K., which was then followed up by his pseudo apology on Friday. These allegations, now confirmed by the comedian himself, aren’t particularly new–other outlets, including the now defunct Gawker, picked the story up a few years back. I do and did find this particularly galling because Louis C.K.’s comedy was a useful tool for helping powerful people better understand their privilege. His bits on White privilege and, both tragically and ironically, how men are single handedly the most dangerous threat to women made me want to believe that he was one of the good ones, fighting the good fight for the oppressed. Unfortunately this, combined with his talent and the half apology, will be what will allow otherwise decent allies to turn a blind eye once again.

I know that it’s psychologically satisfying to separate the artist from the artform. For fuck’s sake Woody Allen manages to keep having his projects greenlit year after year, despite allegations of sexual abuse from his adopted daughter, actually marrying his stepdaughter, and generally writing different variations on the same, tired ass stories again and again. If that’s what helps you sleep at night, that’s on you. But at what point do we start listening to victims? At what point do their lived experiences take precedence over a film, a joke, a book, a song? Why does the merit of their contributions outweigh the safety and security of their victims? I’m over the apologists and the Devil’s advocates out there, crying well actually, and not all men. I have a better idea: stop abusing people. Stop showing people your dicks. Stop groping. Stop harassing. Stop excusing bad behavior. Stop silencing anyone who speaks up. Start holding each other accountable. If you don’t, kindly get the fuck out of my way because I’m done with you.

 

*This list includes acclaimed astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson about whom sexual assault allegations resurfaced last month. To date, Dr. Tyson hasn’t made any sort of statement confirming, denying, or even acknowledging these claims.

**I shan’t hold my breath for anything resembling consequences for acts committed against marginalized communities–women of color, the LGBT community, poor people, anyone experiencing mental illness or substance issues, etc. With exception of a precious few, this is receiving attention because predominantly White women have come forward with these allegations. This doesn’t invalidate their accusations or  make their experiences any less heinous, but it does require us to have a deeper conversation about why every marginalized voice isn’t being heard.

TERF Wars: Prescriptive vs. Descriptive Feminism


By Robin


I had an interesting experience the other day. I got into a Facebook argument (I know) with a friend of a friend of a friend (I know) about feminism (I KNOW, mistakes were made okay?).  This debate took place because the friend of a friend had posted a petition calling for a boycott of Teen Vogue’s recent article about the basic how-to’s and why’s of anal sex. The friends of this friend of a friend were all arguing some pretty odd things: that this amounted to forcing young women to engage in unwanted anal sex, that anal sex is inherently painful, degrading, and undesirable, and most bizarrely that the lack of mention of clitoral stimulation and the referral to people as “prostate havers” and “non prostate havers” was…female erasure?

It was at this point that I should have realized that nothing good could come of confrontation and walked away. But dammit I am an optimist and someone who does not cotton to transphobia or people who are against positive sex education. So I helpfully and politely pointed out that referring to “prostate havers” and “non prostate havers” is a way to be inclusive to trans folks. After all, not all people with prostates are men, and not all people without prostates are women (I mean, even setting aside trans men, some cis men have to have their prostates removed and that doesn’t make them magically stop being men). This, as you might imagine, did not go well. I was called, among other things, an MRA (men’s rights activist, which is ridiculous because this is actually me every day), and a TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist, also preposterous, because I was literally arguing against TERFS about their…TERFing? TERFitiude? TERFocity?). I was even told that intersectional feminists like me want to create a hierarchy that places men’s rights above those of women??? This, you might recognize, is ludicrous given the actual meaning of intersectionality.

Intersectionality, coined by civil rights advocate/feminist scholar/lawyer/badass Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, is a way of describing how different identities come together to result in unique experiences and oppressions. The basic idea is that two members of the same oppressed group (for example, women) will face some similar struggles based on that shared identity and different struggles based on other identities (race, sexual orientation, ability). In short, the way a black queer woman moves through the world is different from the way a straight white woman moves through the world. Both will experience gender discrimination, but only one will face homophobia and racism as well. This is NOT, as is popularly suggested by anti feminists, a way to establish who is “most oppressed”. The Great Audre Lorde herself famously said “There is no hierarchy of oppressions”. No true intersectional feminist is here for Oppression Olympics. What we are here for is a fight against the systems of oppression that supports ALL of us in all our glorious differences. When Lorde says there is no hierarchy, she describes how it does no good to her as an activist to fight for queer rights if the queer movement does not support her blackness. Likewise, there is little point in her participating in black activism that refuses to acknowledge her queerness or support her feminism. She writes that she cannot separate her identities, as they are all a part of her. All issues of social justice are feminist issues, because women are affected by all of them. If you are engaged in a discussion with someone and they start to get salty about how your experiences differ, or start trying to engage you in Oppression Olympics, that’s your cue that this probably isn’t going anywhere helpful. I find I get a lot of push back on this from White Feminists, usually in response to them being called out for ignoring the intersections of sexism and racism, or sexism and really anything else.

I did eventually walk away from the ever-increasing ridiculousness of the Facebook comment argument, because by the time that kind of name calling comes out you know you’re not getting anywhere, and I felt I had made my point. Plus I was hangry, which never lends itself to productive conversation. However, this nonsense percolated around in my brain all day. How could someone call themselves a feminist and be so bigoted and hateful? How could anyone argue that an article that doesn’t include information about clitoral stimulation (amid lots of others that do) claim “female erasure” with a straight face? How can radical feminists argue that trans women want to rape them while simultaneously minimizing the epidemic of violence against trans people? I let all these thoughts simmer for a while and pretty soon I had come up with my favorite thing in the whole world: an analogy.

There’s a debate that comes up in linguistics about whether the field should be prescriptive (telling people how they should communicate) or descriptive (documenting how people actually communicate). You see this rear its head every time a new slang word is added to the dictionary, and is described by someone with far more expertise than I will ever have on this subject here. Basically, there’s a struggle between people who think language is rigid and fixed and should be strictly maintained in terms of right and wrong, and people who think language is fluid and malleable and should be allowed to evolve and grow. (I used the word “hangry” earlier, so no points for guessing which camp I’m in.) I see this applying to gender theory as well. We have our radical feminists/TERFs, who argue that gender is a strict binary defined by biological sex, and that trans women somehow usurp “real” women’s experiences and struggles. Then we have our intersectional feminists, who aren’t jerks and believe that gender is a social construct totally separate from biological sex, and that we have to be inclusive of trans peoples’ experiences in order to truly be advocates for justice. (Again, no cigar for guessing which school of thought I subscribe to.)

It’s not that prescriptive linguistics (feminism) is inherently evil or bad, more that it’s outdated and limiting and can result in people being hurt and left out of crucial discussions. And descriptive linguistics (feminism) is not just a bunch of hippie liberal morons with no sense of decency or morality, they’re just new and excited about all the possibilities. The one came from the other, and took it further. Improved on it. Saw ways to include more voices. Wants to broaden the discussion.

I think this analogy bears out well when looking at the example of the “cotton ceiling” and how it was twisted by TERFs to create fear and backlash against trans lesbians. Basically, there’s a common idea circulated among some TERFs that trans women want to force cisgender lesbians to have sex with them. This fits in well with the TERF narrative of trans women as “men” who want to dominate and rape cis women. The problem is, it simply isn’t true. No one is saying people aren’t allowed to have preferences, or that you should force yourself to have sex when you don’t want to. What trans women are saying (to cis men as well as cis women) is that it is imperative to examine WHY we have these preferences, and to explore them and the ways they might be rooted in transphobia/transmisogyny. Much like people of color throw shade at white people who won’t date them because of “totes not racist” preferences, or how I roll my eyes at people who “just aren’t attracted to fat people at all”. Trans people, particularly trans women, face incredible amounts of stigma, invalidation, and even violence from their romantic partners. Obviously you don’t have to be attracted to everyone. You don’t have an obligation to sleep with anyone (prescriptive). But you can’t pretend that socialization in a world that prioritizes thin, white, cisgender, able bodies didn’t help shape those preferences. You do have an obligation to examine your biases. You do need to take note of how your environment shaped you and what that might mean for you and your relationships (descriptive).

So, the next time you hear a TERF doing their TERF thing, think critically about what they’re really saying. Are they setting rules and strict boundaries that leave people out? Are they using pseudo science to back up their hateful claims? (Looking at you, Laci Green.) When you hear intersectional feminists sharing their stories, think about that too. Think about how freeing it is to describe our lives rather than limit them. To embrace new ideas and new ways of connecting and being in solidarity with each other. Think about feminism like language, something that grows and breathes and changes with each generation. Something that has historically left people of color, poor people, non-native speakers behind but is stretching to include them. And remember that just as every non progressive movement has given way to something better, TERFs too shall pass.

 

 

Ghost Stories and Other Reasons You Don’t Want to Invite Me to your Party


By Casey


I have enough self-awareness to know, without anything remotely resembling doubt, that I’m the worst party guest you’ll regret inviting to your small gathering. I’ll very likely demand to bring a friend* just so I have someone I feel comfortable chatting with. Left to my own devices it’s likely I’ll have any or all of these conversations with strangers:

  • Culturally appropriate domestic and sexual violence prevention and services, complete with the latest Department of Justice statistics
  • Running
  • How much I hated Gone Girl (both the book and the film)
  • Mountain Lion sightings in Lower Michigan
  • Scottish Terriers, presidential dogs, canine allergies, and my recently departed Scottish Terrier, Drama image1
  • My miniature panther masquerading as a housecat, Dartanianimage2
  • Ghosts

Yes that’s right: ghosts. And before you try to tell me all the logical reasons why ghosts don’t exist, know that I don’t care. My religious views are best described as apathetic atheism with a pinch of passive superstition. Unless we’re talking about Tom Waits, I don’t believe in God, Heaven, Hell, or souls that could be left behind to deal with unfinished business. Moreover, I’m highly critical of organized religion—especially Christianity—and all the shit storms they’ve started over the years in the name of faith. And even though I only have a very basic understanding of science typical among those in the Social Sciences, I’m still far more willing to put my faith in science than general woo. Your microwave will leave you with shitty tasting food but definitely not cancer, you don’t need to go on some ridiculous cleanse unless you get your jollies from shitting your pants and being hungry all the time (which sounds terrible), and anti-vaxxers are a deadly combination of willful ignorance and assholery. Yet despite all this I remain steadfast in my belief in ghosts, even if all logical evidence points to the contrary. At the very least I know that if I’m wrong I haven’t done any undue harm to anyone else, unlike that measles outbreak at one of my favorite grad school diners, or conversion therapy.

Recently I’ve been reading Sherman Alexie’s latest memoir, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me . A common theme throughout his writing is walking between two worlds but never quite fitting comfortably into one or the other. This is a common point of contention between himself and his mother, about whose life and death are the subject of the memoir. Laudably, Mr. Alexie recently cancelled much of his book tour, citing that this book and subsequent tour brought up too many painful memories to continue. In the book he talks about how he doesn’t believe in ghosts, but sees “ghosts” all the time in the form of small reminders of his mother. Many cultures have teachings tied to ghosts, spirits, and the supernatural. These ghost stories still serve practical purposes, ranging from pure entertainment to cautionary tales of the types of people and situations that can lead to harm. They provide a link to the past and help to keep cultural practices alive. For marginalized communities with a long history of colonization, these ghost stories, for lack of a better term, can be seen as an act of resistance against Euro-Christian powers meant to assimilate and destroy. They are a way to proclaim that we are still here, despite attempts to get rid of us. Odd as it is to think about, our reverence for our dead is part of what keeps our cultures alive today. For instance, consider New Orleans Voodoo Queen Marie LaVeau’s lasting legacy: she was a mixed race woman in the South alive during the 1800s who managed to rise to prominence across all socioeconomic statuses. While it’s hard to parse out what is fact or fiction about her life, what remains is that she was able to gain enough trust (fear?) from the social elite to obtain the status she had, using ancestral knowledge as a healer and voodoo practitioner. Whether or not her legacy is comprised of tall tales, the stature she has within New Orleans history is still incredibly relevant. In a lot of ways it doesn’t matter whether or not she was possessed by spirits, her immortality extends far beyond the hot mess that is American Horror Story: Coven.

As a small child I had two imaginary friends. There was Sneaky, who was some sort of magically growing and shrinking, shoe shaped creature who I know definitely didn’t exist and only proves that, even as I small child, my obsession with shoes was very real. Then there was That White Girl, a temperamental girl a bit older than me, dressed in a white Victorian dress, who would run around in my mother’s garden and would occasionally slam doors in the house. That White Girl stories are some of my mom’s favorite creepy anecdotes to share from my childhood. It’s very important to note here that my mother is about as skeptical and scientific as they come, but still gets the willies talking about her First Born’s strange connection to the spirit world. In that sense ghost stories are fun. They’re fun to tell and they’re a whole lot of fun to listen to. In my adult life I’ve gone on at least two walking ghost tours in major cities (for the record, nothing paranormal happened). I’ve listened to every episode of Snap Judgment’s Spooked special and am impatiently waiting for the latest installment this fall. I’ve seen enough episodes of Haunted History, My Ghost Story, Klingon Ghost Adventures starring Worf, son of Mogh, and the inaccurately titled Celebrity Ghost Stories to give me all the anecdotal evidence I need. Knowing the lore behind some of America’s most famous haunted locations made reading Colin Dickey’s Ghostland even more interesting. For instance, did you know that Sarah Winchester of Winchester Mystery House fame wasn’t actually being haunted by all the ghosts of people killed by a Winchester rifle, but rather kept adding onto her home because she rather enjoyed architecture and, as an added bonus, used constant home renovations as an excuse to never entertain visiting relatives? (Author’s note: I mean, there could have been ghosts, or she could have just been an eccentric introvert who didn’t want her  family visiting all the time and touching her stuff.) Abandoned prisons, defunct hospitals and asylums, battlefields, crime scenes—places where some sort of traumatic event took place—tend to have their own ghost stories. I admit that I can’t even begin the explain the existence of ghosts on some logical level. I don’t know what they would even be or why they’d stick around. That said, even if you don’t believe in ghost stories, it’s important to acknowledge that history as a way to show respect to those who have been historically mistreated while striving to not repeat the mistakes made by our ancestors. Whether or not you believe in ghosts is irrelevant, though what is important is looking at the meaning behind the stories and what that represents. 

So, do you have any ghost stories? I’d love to hear them sometime.  

*This friend is very likely Robin. We’re unfriendly, awkward, and will likely eat all your snacks. 

The Mummy, Reboots, and the Brendan Fraser of our Hearts


By Robin


 

Brendan Fraser recently gave a fair minded and even handed review of the reboot of The Mummy, starring Tom Cruise and Fucking Grace from Peaky Blinders. In his review, he astutely pointed out the issue I think most of us knew instinctively when we first saw the trailer: there is simply not enough Brendan Fraser in this newest Mummy iteration. (Author’s note- I am decidedly less skilled at establishing the veracity of celebrity gossip than I am with real news, mostly because I don’t know what constitutes a reliable source for actors’ quips and they rarely turn up on NPR’s fact checker. If this story is not true, please leave me to my happy delusion.)

I wholeheartedly agree with Brendan Fraser’s key points, and I decided to show my undying support of this fine gentleman by purchasing a DVD box set of the Holy Trinity of the Mummy Franchise starring Brendan Fraser, The Brendan Fraser of my Heart. This was especially exciting to me, because I did not, until that fateful Amazon search, realize that this was in fact a trilogy. I had been happily watching The Mummy and The Mummy Returns for years, never knowing that the gloriously ridiculous, sadly-bereft-of-Rachel-Weisz-but-still-utterly-charming The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor was at my fingertips. When my bounty finally arrived I watched all three movies in one day, and was reminded of several things.

First, the brilliant thing about each of these movies is that everyone is totally slumming it, but also acting their hearts out. Arnold Vosloo is soulful and evil and sensual in that way that 90s villains were legally required to be. That scene were (SPOILER ALERT) Ihmotep watches Evy pull Rick to safety and pleads with Anck-Su-Namun  to show their love to be equal, nay, superior to that of these insolent peasants’ and she screams “NAI” and RUNS AWAY AND LEAVES HER ETERNAL LOVE TO DIE and his eyes tear up and he recognizes the beauty of true love you don’t have to murder or dominate/end the world for but just show up for each other and be tender and vulnerable and then he gives Rick that “we understand each other, you and I. Go live your life with this good woman who loves you, and let my folly be a lesson for the ages” look and casts himself into the fiery arms of hell? Brings a goddamn tear to my eye every fucking time.  And in Dragon Emperor, not only Jet Li but MICHELLE YEOH were both giving Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon-worthy performances, for a movie that had to resort to CVS brand Rachel Weisz and was very technically not even about mummies but Terra Cotta Warriors. Respect.  Seriously, go back and see if you can find one actor, in any role, who doesn’t seem to be giving it their all.

Second, there simply aren’t enough mummy movies. I don’t really have more to say about that. I don’t have like, evidence or anything. Just a deeply held belief. Zombies, ghosts, werewolves, demons, and vampires have all had their day in the sun, but mummies are left shrouded in mystery. I’ll see myself out.

Third, and most importantly, Brendan Fraser is a perfect human being. This isn’t really something I ever forget, but is something I like to be reminded of anyway. He is golden and earnest and such a deeply gentle man that they had to put him next to John Hannah to make him look remotely intimidating. He is roguish without playing into toxic masculinity, he is charmed by women riding camels with ease, and he is a dedicated and supportive father. He’s just very soothing to watch on screen is my point, and yes I know he’s not young and lithe anymore but Tom Cruise is also old now and besides that he’s much weirder. He’s got nothing on the sheer goodness of Brendan Fraser.

Heartbreakingly, I also discovered that there were plans for a fourth movie which John Hannah’s character insinuated would be set in Peru. I know you all realize what this means. We were cruelly denied Inca Mummy Girl with Brendan Fraser! Maybe he could have met Buffy! Or Giles! In my perfect world this would have led to a decades-long series of movies in which Brendan Fraser travels the world, battling mummies from dozens of different cultures. We could be watching the Mummy 2017: Brendan Fraser Fights Celtic Bog Mummies, but noooo, Tom Cruise and Fucking Grace from Peaky Blinders needed to make a PG-13 horror movie. (Side note from my life: When I asked my partner to read an early draft of this piece, the phrase “celtic bog mummies” reminded him of something he read about making bog butter, and we had a lively conversation that consisted entirely of him trying to explain bog butter and me refusing to engage and insisting that “butter” is code for “mummy”. The he calmed me down by showing me pictures of a baby flamingo while I made some very undignified noises.)

Another reason to revisit the original Mummy trilogy is to have a perfectly good excuse to re-watch the Scorpion King, an excellent piece of cinema starring Future President of the United States Dwayne The Rock Johnson and some other people having a goofy, fun, action adventure-y time. I have always refused to watch the Scorpion King sequels because they do not star Future President of the United States Dwayne The Rock Johnson, a position I may have to reconsider because during my STRENUOUS RESEARCH on this subject I discovered that Billy Zane is the villain in one of them. Which seems redundant given that it is Billy Zane; I suppose I should just say Billy Zane is in one of them. Point being, the first Scorpion King movie is a national treasure, and although I understand that Brendan Fraser is in no way personally responsible for the creation of that film, I’m still grateful to him for it.

I don’t really have a final point to make, I’m just so happy about Brendan Fraser and good bad movies and B or even C list actors who give things their all. Maybe the point is that instead of getting upset about remakes and reboots, which seem to be a fixture of modern movies that isn’t going anywhere, let’s take these bizarre and largely terrible new takes on our very silly favorites as an opportunity to remember why they were our favorites in the first place. Let’s remember a simpler time, when Brendan Fraser was The Brendan Fraser of our Hearts and Future President of the United States Dwayne The Rock Johnson was just plain old Dwayne The Rock Johnson and everything was gentle and sweet and deeply earnest. Or maybe my point is, does anyone want to come over and watch all four Scorpion Kings movies with me? They should be arriving on my doorstep any day now…

 

 

Obligatory and Important Discussions of Modern Indian Identity and Passing Privilege

By Casey


“If you walked into my office I would just assume you were White.”

That was what a man at a domestic violence conference in the Midwest felt the need to share with me while I was presenting at a conference four years ago. My presentation topic? The prevalence of domestic violence in Indian Country. It’s a good time to note that my entire (admittedly relatively short) career has been in domestic violence advocacy and prevention services. The overwhelming majority of research and writing I did in graduate school was on domestic violence in Indian Country. At that time I had been in my job for close to a year, working as a DV program coordinator in a Tribal community. Not to mention I am, you know, Native American. I wouldn’t venture I’m some sort of expert in much of anything, but I definitely know my shit well enough to speak with some sort of authority on the topic. Without a doubt I know way more than he ever will, yet he still felt the need to interrupt my presentation with that bit of White nonsense. I knew then, as I know now, that I shouldn’t let it bother me. I should be confident enough in my own skin, even if that skin isn’t what some people consider “Indian” enough. That the myth of the vanishing Indian keeps us stuck in the past—revered for our bravery, but gone the way of the dinosaurs, the dodo bird, and the black rhino. Yet four years and countless microaggressions later, I still cringe whenever I’m reminded of this moment.

Fast forward to June 2015, when Rachel Dolezal, a woman who had built an entire life and career around her Black identity, was outed by her very White parents as being White. Around that same time, the internet also caught wind that Cherokee scholar/activist Andrea Smith was not actually Cherokee, after a now-deleted Tumblr post by Washington State University graduate student Annita Lucchesi entitled “Andrea Smith is not Cherokee” went viral. This last bit wasn’t particularly newsworthy. Andrea Smith taught at and was denied tenure by my alma mater in 2008. I took a few of her classes and was somewhat familiar with her from the Native community on campus. I was kind of under the impression we all silently agreed we didn’t think she was actually Cherokee, but decided to be polite and not talk about it. Both these incredibly bizarre instances of ethnic fraud gave me a lot to think about. Two years later, I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the motivations for claiming (and ultimately profiting from) identities that don’t actually belong to you. What I find most galling about all this how it silences marginalized voices. For all the Pretendians out there, there are, doubtless, actual Native Americans, fretting over whether or not they’re “Indian” enough—whether or not they’re doing enough to preserve their language, protect Native families, learn their cultural teachings, make badass regalia, and if they can even be taken seriously doing these things because they don’t look, talk, or act “Indian” enough. White privilege is being able to float in and out of different cultures without consequence, while those within the cultures feel they have to fight every day to defend our rightful claim to that culture.

This isn’t to say those of us more phenotypically European Indians don’t experience some unearned White privilege. In order to hold others accountable, we must also be held accountable and called out from time to time. Thanks to my father, likely the most South Boston-Irish man to ever live in the Midwest, no amount of melanin from my olive-skinned Potawatomi mother will ever make it okay for me to go out in the sun without some SPF-30 on hand. Despite my penchant for back sassing strangers, it’s also highly unlikely I’ll ever be the victim of police brutality, get pulled aside for a random bag check by airport security, or followed too closely by retail associates in stores because I fit the profile of someone they think would shoplift. My skin tone wasn’t a barrier for me moving into the upper class neighborhood I’ve lived in for the past three years, and my problematic AF neighbors will likely never call the police on me for suspicious behavior. I also have a Master’s Degree from an elite institution. Based on how abysmal educational outcomes are for Native American students, this is kind of a big deal.

Identities are incredibly complex. The important thing to remember is how to be secure in your own without appropriating one that doesn’t belong to you.

Not My Patronus: Why JK Rowling is No One’s Ally


By Robin


No matter when you’re reading this, there’s a decent chance that JK Rowling has made headlines this week. Maybe she’s retroactively made another “dramatic” reveal about some side character in Harry Potter, or maybe she’s signed off on yet another spinoff movie, play, or textbook-turned-novel. Most likely, though, she just tweeted something. Oh, forgive me, JK Rowling never just tweets. She “comes to the defense”, she “shuts down”, she “slams”, “blasts” or “brilliantly takes down”. She’s “epic”, “perfect”, and a “savior”. Except, she isn’t.  Look, we all love a good Twitter burn. It’s satisfying, it’s funny, and I think we can all agree that Black Twitter is a gift from the heavens. But tweeting alone is not activism, and it is especially insulting from someone who has the financial and social means to create actual change.

As of this writing, Rowling’s net worth is unknown. We do know that she gives a fair amount of money to charity and that at in 2012 she dropped off of the  Forbes list of billionaires (although it was more due to taxes  than her charitable donations, and she was not, as was widely reported, the first billionaire to do so).  I will just take a moment to point out that paying one’s fair share of taxes according to the law is not heroic, but a fucking legal requirement. I don’t care that other rich people find shady ways to dodge their tax responsibilities, she’s still just doing what’s mandated. It’s “heroic” in the same way a man not cheating on his wife on a business trip even though all his coworkers cheat on their wives all the time and this hot woman TOTALLY flirted with him is heroic.  You know what? I’m not impressed that Rowling donated 16% of her fortune to charity. I’m not impressed because she made that money by refusing to stand up for her alleged ideals, and is now using Twitter as a way to pretend she’s down for the cause. I’m not impressed because she made that money by appropriating other peoples’ cultures and perpetuating stereotypes and keeping LGBTQ people and people of color out of sight.

My annoyance with Rowling as a self-styled ally began way back when she first amazed her loyal followers by announcing that she had “always thought of Dumbledore as gay”. Well, cool, but she didn’t write him as gay. She didn’t share this headcanon with the actors portraying him, or with LGBTQ fans desperately looking for representation in mainstream media. And this was in 2007. Harry Potter had been a cultural force for years. The fifth movie was out, and Rowling already had a massive fortune. To say, long after the fact and only after you can be reasonably sure that your personal finances won’t be affected, “oh yeah, he was always gay, totally” is not being an ally. Rowling did the same thing in 2015 when she responded to a woman of color being cast as Hermione in a play by implying that she intentionally left Hermione Granger’s race unspecified in the books. Again, it’s great (I guess?) that she accepts a WoC take on Hermione, but there’s a world of difference between saying “well, I never said she HAD to be white” and actually writing a black character. Oh, and where was she when it was time to use her considerable clout to have a WoC cast as Hermione in the MOVIES? Where was she when Lavendar Brown was recast as a white girl after having been played by two black actresses? Rowling could have used her influence to demand that the casting of the movies match the incredibly progressive image she supposedly had of these characters (Neil Gaiman recently did so for the adaptation of American Gods). Hell, she could have at least insisted that a known abuser not take a major role in the film adaptation of “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”. Instead, she quietly took her money and declined to say anything on the matter unless someone else said it first and it proved popular. This is not what allies do.

I could go on with countless examples of how Rowling contradicts her actions with her tweets (like when she denounces sexism but signifies silly, stupid, or evil women in her books as liking pink and being girly, or when she “comes out against fat-shaming” but continues to use being overweight as lazy writer’s shorthand for being cowardly, sloppy, or greedy), but I’d rather discuss the more concrete ways she enriches herself at the expense of others. The most egregious example of this is her recent foray into straight up colonialism in her webseries “History of Magic in North America”. When informed by actual Native American writers and activists that her representation of their cultures was offensive and inappropriate, her response was SILENCE. Silence, from a woman so ready to troll the president of a country she doesn’t live in, so ready to say “sure, why not?” when others read a radical agenda into her work, so willing to tweet to her 10.8 million Twitter followers about definitions of a travel ban in another country (which conveniently allows her to ignore devastating immigration policies where she actually lives), rather than do anything concrete to help the estimated 65 million refugees and displaced persons in the world. This is not an ally. This is an opportunist looking to maintain a certain public image without doing the work of an ally.

I could go on, but I think this is a good summary of my biggest beefs. So, what’s the takeaway? Why do I spend my energy and time ranting to anyone who will listen about this? Because everyone needs to be held accountable. Because it’s exhausting to see “Dumbledore’s Army” used as a rallying cry for resistance to injustice while knowing that the mind behind that literary resistance doesn’t actually care about the things she preaches. It’s exhausting to hear my peers fawn over their latest Pottermore personality quiz results without knowing or caring that their entertainment comes at the expense of Native communities. And it’s exhausting to see someone whose primary weapon lives exclusively in a tiny bubble of social media be held up as a shining example of activism. If you’re going to be an ally, look to actual marginalized communities for ways to help. Fight for others’ rights all the time, not just when it’s convenient. Listen to the perspectives of women of color, queer women, poor women. Make sure you are actually being helpful, not just preserving your own image. Look to anyone but yet another rich white woman.  And, maybe, don’t join Dumbledore’s Army. Resist in a way that includes everyone.

Why a blog?


By Casey


Welcome to Migwetth Kvetch (#migvetch for the young and social media savvy, or those among us who enjoy word play). Robin asked me if I wanted to write the introductory piece, explaining why we decided to start this blog. Self-important asshole that I am, I naturally jumped at the chance.
Recently, I was bemoaning the lack of mainstream Native American writers and noted that what the world really needs is a Native American Roxane Gay–someone who could write about privilege, intersectional feminism, race, class, and popular culture, from an indigenous perspective. There are plenty of excellent Native American writers, (more than just Sherman Alexie or Louise Erdrich, though both very talented), there are plenty of women of color writers, but I have yet to find any author whose work spoke to me the way Roxane Gay’s does. From this, Robin and I decided to embark upon this journey in blogging to help fill in some of the gaps in intersectional feminist blogging. We spend a lot of time bemoaning the present state of the world and figured we’d put those words to paper (well, virtual paper. Virtual paper? Sure, we’ll go with that). At the very least this will be our chance to bitch to a larger audience. Here’s hoping this is as entertaining for you as it is for us.