Michele Bachmann versus Frederick Douglass

I’ve been following this whole thing where Michele Bachmann thought it was a really great idea to sign this conservative Marriage Vow pledge as part of her campaign for presidency and the subsequent blowup because of the racist statements therein, specifically:

Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an
African-American baby born after the election of the USA’s first
African-American President.

Coincidentally, I’ve also been reading Frederick Douglass’s autobiography, where he talks about his childhood in slavery and his loving interactions with his two parents:

My father was a white man. He was admitted to be such by all I ever heard speak of my parentage. The opinion was also whispered that my master was my father; but of the correctness of this opinion, I know nothing; the means of knowing was withheld from me. My mother and I were separated when I was but an infant—before I knew her as my mother. It is a common custom, in the part of Maryland from which I ran away, to part children from their mothers at a very early age. Frequently, before the child has reached its twelfth month, its mother is taken from it, and hired out on some farm a considerable distance off, and the child is placed under the care of an old woman, too old for field labor.

Douglass also talks about the other horrors of growing up a slave, like not having clothes or enough to eat and witnessing terrible violence and the pain of being a piece of property and being denied education, but since Bachmann’s pledge is about marriage and having two appropriately opposite-sex parents who eschew porno and that sort of thing I’ll wait for another post there.

So let’s talk about what Bachmann is doing with this bullshit.

Bachmann wants to make out like slavery was this mutually beneficial arrangement where white people kindly took care of black people in exchange for room, board, and familial support so that black families can stay together, which they clearly couldn’t do without the benevolence of white people’s guidance.

Notice what the statement is about in specific: not the state of children in poverty in America, but the state of black children. And this is not about perceived declines since the 70s or the 80s or even the Clinton era, but about Obama’s America: black children are apparently in dire straits worse than slavery because there’s a black man in the white house, and everyone knows that black men can’t care for black children the way concerned white people can! That’s why there are all these black single mothers and slavery was better, right?

Next up it’s going to be about how staying with your master who raped your mom and sold her away from you offered quality father-son bonding experiences.

Bachmann is of course already backsliding on this and trying to disavow having said anything racist. She insists that this isn’t what she signed, but I can tell you two things here: first, this thing about black children being better off under slavery is the first paragraph after the preamble so it’s right there at the top, and second, if Bachmann is like any other attorney I have ever met in my life she reads everything that comes in front of her compulsively, which means she read this. She also has handlers and political advisors and other assistants that give her advice and guidance and none of them said “hey don’t sign this cause it’s kind of racist or otherwise doesn’t fit in with the public image you’re trying to project” because this is exactly the image she wants to project. The world Bachmann wants us all to live in is a white supremacist heteropatriarchy where the chosen few have a lot of privilege and the rest of us need to know our place.

Under their heels.


I do not care if you think I’m pretty.

I’ve been following the blowup over Rebecca Watson of Skepchick posting a video blog piece where for two seconds she talks about being at an atheist conference where she talks about how much she doesn’t like being sexualized and hit on at these things and then she says she’s going to go to bed now and some guy followed her into the elevator and asks her to coffee at 4am, because somehow that’s supposed to be non-threatening.

Which was also covered in Salon, and Forever in Hell does a piece on rape culture that’s fairly solid, Shakesville did a good breakdown and a link to the original video with transcript, and Rebecca Watson posted a followup to the whole thing.

There was another link I wanted to post from Fugitivus, but I didn’t bookmark it and now I can’t find it. In this post she talks about how women are expected to be sweet and complaint and polite and not hurt men’s feelings but know when there’s real actual danger and suddenly become total hardasses who do exactly the right thing and get away to safety and there’s somehow supposed to be this clear line between the two kinds of situations and there’s not. Anyway, it’s really good and if anyone else has the link I’d appreciate it.

So what I keep thinking about with all of these critiques is that they all seem to be written by straight women, with this set of assumptions that I just don’t have about society. And I thought it would be worth my time to organize my own thoughts about my experience of gender socialization in rape culture with respect to queer identity and nonstandard gender identification.

Growing up my parents taught me to be afraid of strangers, specifically strange men. My parents also attempted to feminize me, which didn’t work very well, and they absolutely assumed that I was straight.

When I was 12 or 13, strange men started coming on to me. It was obvious when this started happening, and it wasn’t something that could be mistaken for something else. It continued through my teens with men trying to chat with me, touching me on the bus to get my attention, leaning in close to make sure I could hear them. It was a false casualness where they didn’t need to do that. I started wearing my walkman everywhere and I usually had a book and did not invite conversation. And let me make this really clear: I was not an early bloomer or a really attractive teen or anything like that, especially on the younger end of it. I was a tiny, skinny, awkward kid. I did not dress sexy. I did not dress mature for my age. I did not even dress femme. My peers often could not tell my gender and would ask me in class if I was a boy or a girl. I started dyeing my hair and dressing really punk in high school, and I was pretty obviously gay. I did not shave my legs or armpits. I was dirty and skinny and androgynous.

Men did not hit on me because I was pretty. They hit on me because I was out alone.

I learned to be wary of men I didn’t know in a way that all my mother’s paranoia about strangers could never have imparted.

Initially I thought somehow that obvious signs of disinterest would be a deterrent: that I am queer, that I was a filthy punk kid, that I was ten to forty years younger than they were, that I wasn’t at all femme, and above all, that I was giving off every signal I could think of that I wanted to be left alone.


These men often started with something falsely harmless: Hey, can I talk to you? and would go on with increasing demands that if I said no to at any time the response was somewhere between but I’m just being friendly! and screaming at me that I was a horrible bitch for wanting to go on about my business and not shoot the shit with them for an indefinite amount of time, get coffee, give them my phone number, hang out with them somewhere more private… they’re just being friendly, right?

Even when they’re not friendly like that with other men, or anyone besides young women who are alone.

But if I tried to make an exit, I was being rude. No matter what my own schedule or priorities were like. And if I didn’t get out of the situation and something bad had happened, then it would have turned into something where I should have known better.

So over time I have become wary of men who make approaches like this. I am wary of men who get in my space or try to get me alone or catch me when no one is around. I am wary of men who just want to chat! or are just being friendly! or don’t respond to my obvious signals of disinterest or think they should talk to me about my appearance.

And I want to be clear about this, I’ve encountered plenty of men – and women, and people of other genders – out in public who really do just want to say hi. They say hi, how’s it going, how bout that weather, hope you’re having a good day. And then they go on about their business and don’t press me about mine.

They don’t get in my space. They don’t approach me only when I’m alone. They don’t talk to my chest. They don’t lean in close even when I can’t hear them okay, they speak up. They don’t tap me repeatedly on the arm to talk to me when I’m clearly involved in listening to my headphones. They say hi and go on about things.

I’m happy to say hi to them. I’m cool with people who are trying to be friendly. If they’re actually trying to be friendly, and not pretending to be friendly for some other reason.

It’s not a majority of men. But it is only men who do this, it is only men who are oriented toward women, it is only men who are typically masculine.

There have also been a number of men who felt it was their business to police my behavior, who scream at me that I should shave my legs or my armpits, grow my hair out, have fewer tattoos, dress in a way that is more pleasing to them. That I should appreciate their flattery.

Because it’s flattering to be screamed at by strange men, apparently, especially if they’re more than twice your age and a hundred pounds bigger, about how well I fit into their notions of appropriate femininity.

Why should I be flattered to have the attention of people who I find totally unappealing, who invade my space, who criticize or fetishize my looks, who yell at me in public, who care so little about whether I am interested or how I feel about their approach, who don’t even care whether I like men?

Who don’t care about my obvious discomfort, who scream that I’m a bitch when I tell them anything other than what they want to hear, even when it’s excuse me, I have to get to work.

Why is that supposed to be a compliment?

These guys would be totally offended if another man treated them the way they’re treating me, and would expect everyone to understand why that was. But because I have a female body, it’s supposed to be different for me. I’m supposed to care how men think about me and whether they desire me, for some reason. I’m supposed to be into being valued for being decorative and it’s supposed to be a compliment that these strangers want to interrupt my routine to tell me that I’m hot or something.

They never tell me they think I’m a supergenius.

If I wanted to meet men, I’d go to a straight bar. I’m sure that many men who frequent straight bars could use a lesson in etiquette too, but at least that’s an appropriate venue to approach strange women to chat.

I just want to get my fucking groceries, see my friend, get to work.

I don’t want to get screamed at, either because I’m hot or because I’m a bitch. It’s actually a lot like the anti-queer harassment I’ve gotten in the street. I’ve never had anyone threaten to “fix” me with a rape, but a lot of men find that I’m out queer either distasteful or else they think it’s a show for their pleasure – the issue in either case is that I am making my self and my sexuality about something other than them, the same line of thinking many men have where they will only leave me alone if I say I have a boyfriend and not if I say I’m just not interested in men at all, the valid escape being another man’s claim and not my own autonomous interests.

I feel that the heterosexism and homophobia I have experienced here are facets of sexism and a heterosexist form of social control in that it is about the dominance of heterosexual men and their insistence that all women fit into predetermined roles for heterosexual women, where expressing hate for the rest of us is somehow a separate and more acceptable thing even though in truth it is often more frightening to have huge men screaming anti-lesbian epithets at me than to deal with the creepy guy on the bus who wants to tell me how sexy my feet are, not that I wish to downplay the creep factor there in any way.

I also feel like the response I get from many of the men in my life is defensive and not constructive, but I’m not like that a moment before the standard creepy defense but you’re pretty as though that justifies other men’s creepy behavior, as though my appearance makes men lose all control and they can’t help saying horrible things to me, a shifting of blame onto my appearance when it is utterly clear that my appearance is not the issue at all but their relative social power and right to demand that I, a queer anti-gender person who is obviously disinterested in their sexual attention, conform to their requirements for straight feminine gender normative beauty.

There is nothing in this for me.

I do not care if you think I’m pretty.

The war on drugs and the doctor-patient relationship

The first time I became aware of the criminalization of disease was in high school, when I found out that there are two kinds of glaucoma, and with one of them you can go blind a little more slowly if you smoke marijuana.

There are doctors out there willing to quietly look the other way while a patient in their care uses marijuana to treat something like glaucoma or the nausea from chemotherapy, appetite loss from hepatitis C, anxiety, seizures, insomnia, anorexia, back pain from muscle spasms, gastrointestinal issues, post-traumatic stress disorder, HIV, or a lot of other things because they see doing what works as part of patient care or their duty to their patients is paramount or the war on drugs should be fought somewhere other than their office.

Unfortunately, our government does not agree and is more than happy to fight the war on drugs pretty much wherever, regardless of whether that is appropriate or conducive to other goals. Think for a moment about who you want making decisions about your healthcare, a trained and licensed medical professional who knows about your condition and personal history and who has the appropriate critical thinking skills to diagnose and treat you, and who is concerned about your health and welfare and what the best outcome is for you, or a cop, who has a degree in criminal justice, a gun, a baton, handcuffs, and a mandate to win the war on drugs.

What’s a cop going to do if I have cancer, arrest it?

It’s messed up when doctors have to break the law or conspire to break the law in order to treat their patients, to have to tell their patients that the only treatment is illegal, that our government has decided that the war on drugs is more important than their health.

Doctors are under increased pressure and regulation due to the war on drugs. Most of this is couched in terms of preventing substance abuse. It’s common for clinics that treat chronic pain to require contracts that lay out the terms of treatment, to require drug tests from their patients, ensuring that they are taking only what is prescribed, and to insist that no other care providers will prescribe pain medication. Patients caught violating these terms are discharged, regardless of how much pain they are in. Because the pain of people who break the law doesn’t count.

This creates a divide between doctors and patients. Rather than just having the obvious legitimate concerns about addiction and appropriate care, doctors now have to worry about being prosecuted for overprescribing or prescribing to the wrong person. This also pushes doctors toward prescribing less effective or less appropriate medications for pain. Patients who want to ask for more effective treatment are then caught between pain and the fear of being denied and classed as drug-seeking. This is particularly aggravated in patients who do not have health insurance.

A fair few people who do not have health insurance end up going to the emergency room for care. The ER is a pretty stressful environment. It’s supposed to be for emergencies, but with huge numbers of Americans uninsured and for those unable to afford a visit with a primary care provider, that has changed. The emergency room is a place where they can see a doctor, so when they really need one that’s where they can go. Understandably the emergency room is not happy about people who want to see them for low cost general care especially when they are trying to deal with actual emergencies, but if that’s where you can go, that’s where you go.

In case you haven’t had to go recently, a trip to the emergency room is time-consuming. You will probably have to wait several hours. If you go at a busy time, like on a Friday night, or to a hospital that has a lot of traffic, you will wait even longer. When you do go in, the doctor will not be thrilled to hear that you want a refill on a prescription, that you’ve been taking medication for chronic back pain and you can’t get by without it and you’d call your doctor’s office but it’s Friday night so they’re closed and someone stole your pills today while you were at work. And maybe this is true and maybe it isn’t and you’re just some asshole who wants to get high. Maybe you really do have pain. Maybe you’ve had pain and you’ve become dependent on the medication as a side effect of treatment, and now you have to deal with that on top of whatever else is going on.

So after you’ve had this terrible day and no pain relief and having to wait so long, you will probably be pretty irritable, which the doctor will like even less – not only are you coming in for something your primary care provider should take care of, but you’re taking it out on them. And then you ask for your medication by name and dose amount, and maybe they give it to you. Maybe they explain to you that you need to see your PCP for this. Maybe they decline and write in your record that you were irritable and drug seeking, because knowing what relieves your pain is a sign that you are an addict.

The war on drugs has not recognized that the dangers of not having medication far outweigh the dangers of self-medication, preferring to criminalize people who suffer from chronic pain or other conditions.

Of course this hits hardest people who do not have much in the way of economic privilege, people without money or insurance or access to affordable care, people who have disabilities and can’t work but haven’t been able to get Social Security yet, or people who have disabilities that they are able to keep under control and continue working through only if they have access to care and medication.

And when people do get out of this a little, when they get a job with health insurance or get on disability and get Medicare, their new PCP gets these ER records that say they’re drug-seeking and it’s harder for them to develop a relationship of trust with their doctor, and when the patient sees their doctor take the ER records from a really terrible day more seriously than what they say or any prior records of treatment it’s harder for them to be honest and tell the doctor everything and so the doctor/patient relationship is further undermined and the cycle continues. The war on drugs is not won.

Some citations for people who want article links:
Here’s a 2007 Washington Post article about Dr. William Hurwitz and the reduction of his sentence.

Here’s a 2004 article on the adversarial relationship between doctors and the DEA.

NORML’s intro page on medical marijuana. Whatever you think about NORML’s goals, this has a ton of citations to other sources and they seem to have a solid legal team.

The stuff I’m finding on glaucoma says that marijuana works but not necessarily better than other medications, but what the other medications are or how much they cost or other issues around the studies isn’t specified. I’m also not finding a lot that says what the state of this was 20 years ago, so I’m really hoping that what this means is that treatments for glaucoma have advanced. Here’s a link to a National Eye Institute report on marijuana for glaucoma last reviewed in 2009, and a link to a medical marijuana site where they talk about glaucoma treatment with marijuana being a part of a larger overall plan of treatment.

Here’s a link and another link to some American Medical Association articles about issues they were having with the DEA.

I pulled a bunch of links from Democratic Underground’s messageboard. The comments may be illuminating if you don’t know a lot of people who have chronic pain.

why drug testing people who are applying for assistance is a bad idea

I’m tired of hearing about how people applying for assistance should be drug tested.

The legal argument: This is a violation of the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure. There is no probable cause to justify a search here. This is just stripping away the rights of people who are too poor to protest. It is unconstitutional. I think this is the only thing that needs to be said, but apparently not.

It’s my tax dollars: Please read John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government, which is in the public domain and you can pop it up instantly with Google and read the whole thing. Locke lays out the basic principles around the justification for taxation in regard to serving the common good. Not everyone agrees on what that means, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to pay.

An example: I eat vegan. I think veganism is awesome. I think it would be great if more people ate more vegan meals. I have lots of ethical reasons for pursuing veganism. But, I understand that it’s not legitimate for me to demand that money for assistance never pays for animal products because other people get to make their own choices even if I disagree with those choices. Same goes for smoking, drinking, junk food, etc. It’s not your business what other people do with their lives.

As far as what my tax dollars go to, I am unhappy about bailouts for billionaires, weapons of mass destruction, abstinence-only education and other anti-choice nonsense, foreign aid in the form of bullets, and a whole host of other things. Programs for the general health and welfare of my fellow Americans are things I am pleased to help pay for. I want better funding for assistance, education, healthcare, veterans’ benefits, programs for people with disabilities, and generally to live in a world where we are all afforded real opportunities.

I also support maintenance programs for addicts. Addiction is a disease, an impulse control disorder and often at least in part a response to having had a shitty, high-stress life. There is no reason to punish people who are sick, and the folks who think that maintenance is a reward for bad behavior can feel free to do my job for a year and see the people I see and what they’ve been through and how debilitating addiction is and how hard it is to quit. Addiction is not about morality. I have low tolerance for addicts in my personal life, but I think the best thing for them and for our society is to offer them help to quit and in the alternative maintain them and keep them from breaking into my car to steal my fucking shitty stereo or whatever other horrible things they have to do.

Follow the money: This is in effect going to be another giveaway for politicians’ already-rich friends as people who are attempting to get assistance will have to pay for the drug screenings themselves – the plan is not to have the state cover anything, but to impose a greater burden on people who are already struggling to keep food on the table. This money will line the pockets of yet another rich person and will doubtless yield a high number of false positives, requiring people in dire straits to spend even more money they haven’t got to redo the tests. Any save in state money will effectively be given away to private enterprise at the direct expense of people who need help the most.

This is in fact a slippery slope: If this goes forward, it will continue. I don’t want to have to pee in a cup every time I get my driver’s license, and I certainly don’t want to go to the DMV if I have to deal with a private company urine-testing people. Someone whose interest in their bottom line is not going to be concerned about sanitation or accuracy as long as they get paid, and I’m not up for handing out cash to some private company so I can complete my business with the state.

But I had to get drug tested for my job!: The actions of a private company are not the same as the actions of a governing body administering an entitlement program. It’s also bullshit for your employer to piss-test you unless having clean piss is part of the job itself, but that’s not covered by the Constitution. Learn the difference between public and private.

But I picked myself up by my bootstraps!: That’s awesome. Really! Good job. However, if getting out of poverty means getting out of the bottom 30% or so, then not everyone can ever get out because there will always be a bottom 30%. This argument builds on the idea of a permanent underclass that isn’t allowed any slack, whose position is used to reinforce itself. I want to see a world where everyone can have a decent life and not just have poverty turn into more of a punishment than it already is.

They could quit if they really wanted to: Yes, quitting is so easy! I’ve noticed that with my friends who want to quit smoking, how all it takes is for them to be like “wow I want to stop now” and then the next thing I know… they’re still smoking because the withdrawal was too terrible. Quitting seems not to be very easy. It’s certainly not as easy as being a dick about other people’s issues.

They should be in treatment: Wouldn’t it be great if treatment programs were available to anyone who wanted help quitting? I would love that.

Using drugs is illegal: So’s beating your partner. There isn’t a psych test required either, and I must say I think beating your partner is a lot more serious than smoking up. On a more obvious note, the laws against drugs aren’t designed to prevent welfare fraud or as a test to see who is eligible for assistance, so this argument isn’t directly applicable anyway any more than denying benefits to jaywalkers would be.

It offends me: wow, I bet you don’t do anything that offends other people. I bet you’re straight-edge vegan hardcore and give all your money to non-offensive charities and have a negative carbon footprint and glow in the dark. Oh wait, what I actually bet is that you just want to feel like you’re better than someone else. It’s always different when you do it, right?

They’re just lazy: Actually probably a lot of the people you see that seem to fall at first glance into this category are having such bad luck finding jobs in this economy that they’ve given up and gotten pretty depressed, or are disabled in some way that is not visible to you. It’s easy to say that people are in this position because they’re lazy, and it’s an obvious defense mechanism now that our economy is so shitty – we all want to tell ourselves that it can’t happen to us because we work hard, or whatever. But the truth is it could, and responding to our neighbors’ distress by spitting on them and telling them that they’re lazy when some huge fucking corporation moved their job overseas and laid them off and there’s no other work, every shitty Wal-Mart job has 400 overqualified applicants, well, I don’t think it’s that that person is lazy.

On a practical note: Marijuana is fat-soluble. Even if you quit the moment you lose your job and know you’ll have to apply for assistance, you will still test positive for about six weeks. Cocaine, heroin, meth, all that water-soluble stuff? You’ll test clean in a few days. So in some ways this is about punishing people who use the least harmful drug out there more than people who do much heavier stuff.

Who is really being punished by this: It’s easy to say that this is about individual adults since only adults can apply, but many adults apply for assistance in order to provide better care for their children. Further, many assistance programs are only available to people who have kids, like TANF or WIC, so making drug testing a condition of receiving benefits would necessarily be adopting a policy of punishing children for their parents’ behavior. Kids always have to pay for this, but making it a matter of policy is cruel.