A Note from the Editor

I went to sleep before the final election results came in last night, too anxious to keep refreshing pages and too horrified to keep looking at a map awash in red. But I’m jolted awake now, at 4 in the morning, with the very visceral and real fear that comes with waking up in Trump’s America. 

I think many of my friends are realizing the extent to which we lived in a blue bubble, an echo chamber where we could reassure each other that the American electorate as a whole valued the same things we do: the equal rights and protection of women, of people of color, of immigrants, the LGBTQ community, the disabled—of every person who is or has been vulnerable in our society. We willfully forgot how many of our culture war victories were won for us by the Supreme Court, where the margin of support has always hung by a thread. Now I understand the fear of conservatives when faced with a lifelong liberal appointee, because I look at the future and see a united Republican government that has either pledged to undo our work, or is too cowardly to stand up to the demagogues who will. 

No matter who won this election, a huge percentage of the population was poised to be unhappy. Deeply so. I am disappointed with, and deeply disgusted by, the portion of the electorate willing to stand behind a vicious con man with no qualifications to speak of, a proto-fascist who has made clear his disdain of those who make up more than half of the nation he will now govern. Still, it happened. Deep down, I think I always knew it could and would happen, though I was afraid to look this fear in the eye. Knowing what we know about the violent, virulent history of our nation, why are we surprised that this history has risen up again? Why are we surprised that, when Trump offered his supporters the promise of a whitewashed future built on the glorious past, they took it? 

I’m tempted to turn away from Trump supporters completely. I’m tempted to say I’ll never, never understand the choices they made that led us to this. It would be easy to retreat further and say, this is an aberration that makes no sense. But to move forward in this new and terrifying world we have to acknowledge how much we underestimated the strength of racism and of blood-and-soil nationalism, to say the least. Even if Clinton had won, Trump’s supporters were not going to go away. As they have shown us tonight, they are a bedrock of American politics, and must be reckoned with. 

I see a lot about moving forward no matter what, and putting faith in American democracy, and galvanizing ourselves for the next fight. Although I am too heartbroken to really feel that fully, I believe it too. I am blessed to be looking at the beginning of my law career next year, and hopeful that I will be able to wade into the fray for those I love, for those who don’t have a voice, for those who deserve more champions than this sorry election has given them.

Justice Sotomayor Dissents in Landmark Fourth-Amendment Stop and Search Case

If you think this case doesn’t affect you, you’re not paying close enough attention.

The implication of the court’s ruling, Sotomayor explained, is that “you are not a citizen of a democracy but the subject of a carceral state, just waiting to be cataloged.”

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor added to her growing list of notable dissents on Monday with a blisteringly fierce objection to a major Fourth Amendment decision. Sotomayor’s dissent touched on individual rights, police authority, and how people of color feel when they’re constantly stopped, searched and catalogued by the state. For good measure, she…

via Sonia Sotomayor cited ‘The New Jim Crow’ in a dissent that’s the best thing you’ll read today — Fusion

Anita Hill Hearings Sparked National Conversation on Sexual Harrassment

“I think it was something that was meant to happen, actually,” Hill explained. “I had an experience to share that went to the fitness of an individual who was going to be sitting on a Supreme Court with a lifetime appointment. It was important, not only to the integrity of this individual, but also to the integrity of the court itself.”

In the years after Hill’s testimony, the number of workplace harassment complaints to the EEOC skyrocketed as more and more people became comfortable with the idea of speaking up. Though Hill recognizes the role she played in sparking a national conversation about sexual harassment, she stressed the fact that there’s still much more work to be done.

via 25 years after accusing Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment, Anita Hill says she’d ‘do it all again’ — Fusion

Reel Women: ’60s Sex Comedies

This month’s Reel Women is dedicated to a brief blip in the generic morphology of the romcom known as the sex comedy. Between the large-budget movie musicals of the 1950s that replaced sex with song, and the notoriously bleak cinematic landscape of the 70s in which, it seems, only Woody Allen bothered to produce romcoms (a sign that the genre was, indeed, on the rocks), the sex comedy reigned with the sugary self-assurance of a pre-Nixon world. With an aesthetic that I can only describe as what mid-century Hollywood imagined middle America imagined New York to look like, it brought glamour to middle class sex.

Dedicated to the sexual exploits of the newly urban and distressingly unmarried boomer generation, the sex comedy—like all romcoms—attempted to deal with a lot of anxieties about gender, sexuality and class by marrying them off. Despite its name, the sex comedy is exceptionally chaste. Although its characters talk more explicitly and soberly about sex than almost anywhere else in American cinema before them thanks to the Hays Code, they never actually move beyond a theoretical discussion of the mechanics of premarital sex. Two decades earlier, audiences saw more bed-hopping in the screwball comedy than they would find in these movies. Instead, sex in the sex comedy is tasked with both emblematizing a new politics of gender parity while also providing the occasion to force those politics back into the home, ensconced within a loving and now sexually-fulfilling marriage.

This month’s Reel Women is dedicated to a brief blip in the generic morphology of the romcom known as the sex comedy. Between the large-budget movie musicals of the 1950s that replaced sex with song, and the notoriously bleak cinematic landscape of the 70s in which, it seems, only Woody Allen bothered to produce romcoms (a sign that the genre was, indeed, on the rocks), the sex comedy reigned with the sugary self-assurance of a pre-Nixon world. With an aesthetic that I can only describe as what mid-century Hollywood imagined middle America imagined New York to look like, it brought glamour to middle class sex.

image002

Dedicated to the sexual exploits of the newly urban and distressingly unmarried boomer generation, the sex comedy—like all romcoms—attempted to deal with a lot of anxieties about gender, sexuality and class by marrying them off. Despite its name, the sex comedy is exceptionally chaste. Although its characters talk more explicitly and soberly about sex than almost anywhere else in American cinema before them thanks to the Hays Code, they never actually move beyond a theoretical discussion of the mechanics of premarital sex. Two decades earlier, audiences saw more bed-hopping in the screwball comedy than they would find in these movies. Instead, sex in the sex comedy is tasked with both emblematizing a new politics of gender parity while also providing the occasion to force those politics back into the home, ensconced within a loving and now sexually-fulfilling marriage.

The postwar decades saw a perfect storm of cultural and political agitation around sex and the sexual practices of heteronormative Americans. Both Playboy magazine and Alfred Kinsey’s second and most controversial report, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, debuted in 1953. Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique was published in 1962, and it became increasingly clear that the happy housewife was a myth and teens and women were having all kinds of sex despite the Leave It To Beaver-ish representations of family life. The Pill was released in 1961, and individual states began rolling back their abortion bans throughout the 60s, eventually culminating in the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision in 1973. Freud’s theories on sexuality were so permanently in the water that you couldn’t throw a stone without hitting a joke—or a straight-faced observation—about Oedipal desire. In other words, despite our vision of the 1950s as a supremely traditional, family-values oriented time—a nostalgic fantasy manufactured by the TV cowboy in the Reagan White House—it was actually as volatile and anxious about the institution of marriage as we are now.

The sex comedy is a pastiche of mid-century gender politics, a precious remnant from the early days of the Second Wave written from the other side. Metabolizing feminist concerns over professional equality, sexual freedom, and unmarried independence, the sex comedy solves these problems through hetero pairing rather than political activity—or rather, the only political activity in these films is marriage itself. In fact, the heroine is both a straw feminist and a romantic lead, seeking equality with her male professional rival while succumbing to the selfsame as a love interest.

This is how the sex comedy goes: an attractive white woman living in the big city with a burgeoning career but a dour love life develops a personal or professional animosity, erotic in intensity, with a faceless man who has made it his purpose to crack her frigid self-possession through tricks, foul or fair. Once the hero accidentally discovers the luscious body belonging to his competition—in this world, the demure, musical comedy stylings of Doris Day are treated as the most sexually inspiring thing in Manhattan—he is forced to mask his identity in order to seduce her. Disguised as a sensitive, gentile, sexually mild drip, he manipulates the heroine into seducing him until his ploy is revealed and she declares that she will never forgive him. But by then, it’s too late. She has succumbed to his charms and is obliged by the power of her own sexual desire to quietly ignore his betrayal and ride off into the sunset with him.

Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor in Down with Love | Image from fanpop.com
Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor in Down with Love | Image from fanpop.com

If you’ve seen Down With Love, a loving, beat-for-beat send-up of the genre, you know the rhythm.

Like most romcoms, these films don’t pass the Bechdel test. In fact, in this world, there is only room for one respectable middle-class girl in all of Manhattan. Every other female character is either a middle-aged maid who provides our heroines with the only thing that will pass for girl-talk in these movies, or they are showgirls, actresses, and French women whose apparently casual sexual relationships with the male lead disqualify them from true femininity. It’s almost as if our heroine wins by default of being the only virginal choice left.

Virginity itself is a strangely ambivalent category in these films. Although the heroine’s relative chastity is the very thing that makes her the heroine, it is also a source of shame or contempt. One of the first exchanges between Rock Hudson and Doris Day in Pillow Talk ridicules the barren bedscape of the heroine, Jan:

Brad Allen: Look, I don’t know what’s bothering you, but don’t take your bedroom problems out on me.

Jan Morrow: I have no bedroom problems. There’s nothing in my bedroom that bothers me.

Brad Allen: Ohh, that’s too bad.

Even more notably, the heroine of Sex and the Single Girl spends most of the movie attempting to hide her virginity from the hero whose purpose it is to ruin her business as a sex therapist by revealing her as a romantic novice. The heroine’s fastidiousness about sex in these films is meant to betray an unenlightened prissiness that is unacceptable even in marriage and must be hijinks-ed away before her sexuality is safely ensconced in matrimony.

The sexual politics of Sex and the Single Girl are even more striking because they are directly tied to the real life cultural landscape. Named after the advice book of the same name by Helen Gurley Brown, who would later go on to found Cosmopolitan magazine, it follows the exploits of a woman named Dr. Helen Gurley Brown (Natalie Wood) who writes an advice book called Sex and the Single Girl. Her book, which advises single women to own their desires and have affairs with married men, is a controversial sensation and attracts the attention of a tawdry magazine journalist (Tony Curtis) who wants to write an exposé proving that Dr. Brown has never taken her own advice. Turning the book into a sex comedy means turning Brown herself, an instrumental figure in the Second Wave, into a naive priss in need of a husband. These movies trope feminism in order to reify tradition, celebrating the new sexual freedoms afforded to white middle-class women at the same time that they seek to put them in their place.

Meanwhile, male sexual dysfunction is a crucial plot device. In their attempts to seduce the heroine, the heroes of these films always adopt an impotent, sexually unassuming persona. Through a series of phone calls in Pillow Talk, Brad convinces Jan that the sensitive cowboy he is pretending to be is gay—“there are some men who…how shall I put this? Well they’re very fond of their mother. They like to share bits of gossip. Collect recipes.” This conversation is made all the more cruel by the fact that Rock Hudson was gay in real life. And Tony Curtis’s Bob shows up to Dr. Brown’s office as an impotent patient in need of therapy in Sex and the Single Girl. It seems that without an impotent straw man, the empowered straw feminist is neither empowered nor, finally, transformed into a wife.

These films seem to want to turn masculine vulnerability into a farce—it becomes simply a role played by a cocky alpha—in order to protect masculinity from true vulnerability. The type of vulnerability, say, made possible by a feminist politics. Although the trajectory of the sex comedy is from career woman to wife through the crucible of normative sexuality, it must get there by queering the masculine. A recurring gag throughout Pillow Talk involves Brad hiding from Jan in the office of an obstetrician where he distractedly attempts to make an appointment and convinces the doctor that he is, miraculously, a pregnant man. The last shot of Pillow Talk is not of the happy couple, but of Brad being dragged into the doctor’s office after cheerfully declaring that he’s “going to have a baby!” He may have gotten the girl and returned to his alpha persona, but, the movie seems to say, he is still a little queer.

In the Wake of Hobby Lobby: Abortion and the Satanic Temple

The Satanic Temple is suing the state of Missouri for religious freedom – specifically, for the right to have an abortion without the added burden of MO’s 72-hour waiting period. This isn’t quite a first for the Satanic Temple; in the past, they have pushed for the right to display “Satanic” holiday decorations on government property as long as Christian groups could do the same. According to their website, the principle behind both their holiday displays and the current case is calling out the hypocrisy of religious freedom, which often seems to apply to Judeo-Christian denominations above all else.

So what do abortions have to do with Satanism?

If you don’t remember last summer’s terrifying Supreme Court ruling, “Hobby Lobby” (the informal name for “Burwell v Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc) was the case in which the Supreme Court decided that, since corporations are basically people, “closely-held” religious organizations could deny their employees health-care coverage that extends to certain forms of birth control. Here are a few links to refresh your memory.

 Hobby Lobby Wins Contraceptive Case

 Hobby Lobby 101

What The Hobby Lobby Ruling Means for America

The Satanic Temple is suing the state of Missouri for religious freedom – specifically, for the right to have an abortion without the added burden of MO’s 72-hour waiting period. This isn’t quite a first for the Satanic Temple; in the past, they have pushed for the right to display “Satanic” holiday decorations on government property as long as Christian groups could do the same. According to their website, the principle behind both their holiday displays and the current case is calling out the hypocrisy of religious freedom, which often seems to apply to Judeo-Christian denominations above all else.

So what do abortions have to do with Satanism? First, it is important to note that the so-called Satanic Temple is not, in fact, full of devil-worshippers. The tenets of the Satanic Temple involve:

  • One should strive to act with compassion and empathy towards all creatures in accordance with reason.
  • Beliefs should conform to our best scientific understanding of the world. We should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit our beliefs.
  • One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.

It is under this last listed tenet that the Satanic Temple is suing (although the phrase “inviolable body” appears elsewhere in their self-description). A woman identified as Mary Doe is the subject of the law suit; like many women in the many states with highly restrictive abortion laws, Mary could not afford the extra costs imposed by the mandated waiting period. Arguably, this is one of the purposes of the waiting period in the first place. The Washington Post writes:

In Missouri, women seeking an abortion at the one open abortion-providing clinic in the state have to make two trips to the clinic, 72 hours apart: The first is to receive counseling that “includes information designed to discourage her from having an abortion,” the Guttmacher Institute says, and the second after the required waiting period is for the procedure.

Whatever one’s religious beliefs, waiting periods are an added difficulty; in states like Missouri, with only one abortion clinic, or Texas, with few abortion clinics spread through much of the state, women either have to find a place to stay – which often means coughing up non-existent hotel funds – or make a long drive twice. Either scenario requires taking time off work, finding childcare (61% of women seeking abortions are already mothers), or both. These factors can amount to a prohibitive financial strain on women – and if you cannot afford childcare for 72 hours, an additional child would be, at the least, extremely difficult financially. In Mary Doe’s case, according to Slate,

Mary has the money for the abortion, but she doesn’t have the estimated extra $800 that she needs to travel to the only abortion clinic in the state, in St. Louis, a trip that will require gas, hotel, and child care.

 

The Satanic Temple succeeded in raising the funds for Mary in a day, but they also went further, helping her draft a letter outlining the reasons that the 72-hr waiting period is a burden on her (and their) beliefs. The core of the letter reads:

  • My body is inviolable and subject to my will alone.
  • I make any decision regarding my health based on the best scientific understanding of the world, even if the science does not comport with the religious or political beliefs of others.
  • My inviolable body includes any fetal or embryonic tissue I carry so long as that tissue is unable to survive outside my body as an independent human being.
  • I, and I alone, decide whether my inviolable body remains pregnant and I may, in good conscience, disregard the current or future condition of any fetal or embryonic tissue I carry in making that decision.

This letter initially targeted the clinic itself, which, as Slate points out, is not a great legal strategy; “The clinic, too, is being victimized by the regulation, and they’re not the authorities standing between Mary and her abortion.” The letter’s demands were rejected, but since then, the Satanic Temple has wised up – or, perhaps, has just finally succeeded in getting the funding necessary to go for the big guns.

On May 8th, the Satanic Temple filed a petition for injunction against Missouri governor Jay Nixon. There are a few questions here. Will the case succeed? And, more importantly, what kind of influence will the case have, whether or not it does? That is, what kind of precedent will it set?

The Washington Post interviewed University of St. Thomas law professor Thomas Berg, who believes that “the Satanic Temple’s proposal essentially relies on the same question one would ask to determine whether the 72-hour waiting period violates the earlier decisions at the Supreme Court: Does the law impose a substantial burden on the individual seeking an abortion?” Berg told the Post that “if 72 hours is a substantial burden on religious conscience, it’s also a substantial burden under the privacy decisions.”

Interestingly, when the federal Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA) was initially passed in 1993, a number of Catholic and pro-life groups worried that RFRA would be used for exactly this purpose – claiming a religious right to abortion – although they probably did not predict the involvement of the Satanic Temple.

The RFRA was drafted in response to a 1990 Supreme Court case in which some Native American men were fired from their jobs for using illegal peyote for ceremonial purposes. Democrats and Republicans alike were angered by the ruling, and, a truly bi-partisan bill came into being (once upon a time, “bipartisan” could be more than just a buzzword). But, as the conservative National Review reflects, both the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the National Right to Life Committee were opposed to the RFRA. Both groups worried that “that under the RFRA women could claim the right to an abortion as a matter of religious belief,” and both groups advocated for an amendment to the bill that would specifically prohibit abortion-related claims. Due to this conflict (not so bipartisan after all?), it took three years – from 1990 to 1993 – for the bill to pass, and it was the newly-elected President Clinton who signed it into law.

Since then, RFRA has been used toward more conservative and traditionally Christian ends, the Hobby Lobby ruling being perhaps the most notorious example. The RFRA is a federal law that cannot be applied to states, so many other similar cases instead fall under the First Amendment. As the RFRA was designed to give more protection for religious exemptions than the Court has said is available under the First Amendment, First Amendment cases will look different than Hobby Lobby. However, there has certainly been a trend at both the state and federal level towards an understanding of “religious freedom” as the right not only to freely practice religion, but to use one’s religious values in a discriminatory manner (see, for example, what’s been going on in Indiana).

So will the Satanic Temple’s suit hold water in court? If the Satanic Temple is regarded as an established religion by the court (which, based on its previous success in Florida, seems likely), it seems this would be a yes; given that one’s “inviolable body” appears in three of the seven central tenets of the Temple, it does seem that a 72 hour waiting period – especially a financially prohibitive one – would prove a “substantial burden.”* But the more important question here is, what kind of precedent will this set? What will it mean for reproductive rights?

If, for example, it is found that the 72-hour waiting period placed a substantial burden on Mary’s religious freedom, this would be great – for established members of the Satanic Temple. Don’t get me wrong; my first thought on hearing about this suit was “Awesome. This underlines the hypocrisy of Hobby Lobby, where the “religious freedom” of the corporation is permitted to intrude on the religious freedom of the employee. Yes!”

But if it takes proof of a substantial religious burden to gain the right to an affordable, accessible abortion, what happens to everyone else? What about atheists, or Reform Jews, whose religion has no bearing on abortions? Even more concerning, what about devout Catholics, whose religious views might prohibit abortions? Even the most ardent pro-lifers can find themselves in situations in which abortions are medically necessary, life-saving procedures, or financially responsible choices made on behalf on their already existent children (61% of women who have abortions are already mothers).

Another concern: if this suit should succeed, how will it play out in the public eye? While the ­fight-the-patriarchy radical inside me cries, “who cares?,” the rest of me acknowledges that the way the public perceives abortion is very important to its legal future. While, as noted above, The Satanic Temple is, in fact, devoted to personal freedom, personal responsibility, and scientific accuracy rather than actual Devil-worship, the name itself will evoke darker images in the public imagination, and the last thing the pro-choice movement needs is an association between a woman’s right to decide what happens to her body and devil-worship. This is not sacrificing infants to Beelzebub, and we do not need anyone to make that association.

This is a fairly unique case, but it is neither the first nor the last in a series of reproductive-rights cases to raise religious freedom issues – sometimes involving the religious liberty of the person most directly involved, and sometimes the religious liberty of some other participant , like the employer in the Hobby Lobby case. From here on out, I will document some of the more interesting, concerning, or impactful cases and pieces of legislation involving the relationship between reproductive rights and religious rights.

*Updated 05/27/15 to reflect Mary Doe’s membership in the Satanic Temple