The Sydney Morning Herald: Hillary Clinton presidency would spark a backlash

The Sydney Morning Herald: Hillary Clinton presidency would spark a backlash

I have a piece today in my hometown paper, The Sydney Morning Herald, about the promise and peril of Hillary Clinton – or any other woman – running for President:

My grandmother turned 100 years old this May. Grandma Belle, a New Yorker born and raised, is five feet flat, and she is formidable; she does the New York Times crossword every day, she plays a mean game of Scrabble, and she brooks no nonsense from her five grandchildren, all of them women. Belle was born six years before the 19th Amendment granted American women the right to vote, and the sheer amount of American history that has unfolded in her lifetime boggles the mind.

Earlier this month, Hillary Rodham Clinton went to Iowa, which suggests that a Clinton presidential candidacy in 2016 is all but inevitable. It seems that a Clinton win is highly likely. As a feminist, I yearn for a woman to run for president, and I yearn for a woman to win. Whether or not it happens in 2016, it will happen. And it will, without question, be a watershed moment, and I will shed tears. I will think about my grandmother, born before suffrage, and about my mother, who was among the first women to benefit from the wave of inclusion that swept through  the United States’ most prestigious educational institutions in the 1960s and 1970s. I will marvel at how far the US has come since my grandmother was born, and I will envy the little girls being born on that day, who will grow up having never known a world in which the US hasn’t had a female president. And then I’ll think, “oh God, here come four to eight years of virulent sexism”.

If a female president is all but inevitable, so too is the cultural backlash that will follow her campaign and her victory.

You can read the whole thing here.

The Sydney Morning Herald: Biceps, beauty standards, and Michelle Obama

The Sydney Morning Herald: Biceps, beauty standards, and Michelle Obama

I had a piece published in The Sydney Morning Herald last week, about the spike in upper arm surgery that has been partly attributed to First Lady Michelle Obama:

My first reaction, as a feminist, is to lament that tens of millions of people, 91 per cent of them women, are getting plastic surgery to “fix” the “flaws” on their bodies: their small breasts, their wrinkles, their “unacceptably” un-toned arms. We ought to bemoan the power of the feminine beauty ideal, so narrow that the only way to approximate it is to slice oneself open, and so compelling that people are willing to collectively spend $11 billion a year for that slicing.

And yet, there is something remarkable about Michelle Obama, an African-American woman, being considered so attractive that women will undergo surgery to resemble her. In a country where African-American women have for so long been considered unattractive by default, this is, in some ways, a mark of increasing racial equality.

In the US, as in Australia, the dominant idea of feminine beauty is white. The faces – and bodies – of “beautiful” women in America are still, overwhelmingly, white. A glance at the newsstands in any given week is greeted with a host of white starlets, with the occasional splash of colour. Only a handful of black actresses have won Academy Awards in the nearly century-long history of the event. Vanity Fair’s annual “young Hollywood” issue is notoriously, outrageously devoid of people of colour. The runways at New York Fashion Week are similarly lacking in melanin. The Miss America pageant didn’t start admitting black women until the 1970s, when its prestige was already waning, and it didn’t crown its first black Miss America until 1984. Only six other black women have won the title since. The black women who make it in the mainstream tend to be fair-skinned, with “Anglo” facial features and slight frames, like Halle Berry. Some will argue that megastar Beyonce is an exception to this rule, and they are correct, but only because Beyonce is exceptional in almost every way. As a rule, beautiful is white, and anything else is considered “exotic”, or in the case of dark-skinned black women with “typically black” facial features, outright unattractive.

You can read the whole thing here.

The Sydney Morning Herald: Republicans tune in to coded racism

The Sydney Morning Herald: Republicans tune in to coded racism

I have a piece in The Sydney Morning Herald today, about Mitt Romney’s prescription for the gun violence that plagues America, and the way Romney spoke about it in this week’s presidential debate.

When Mitt Romney was asked a question about gun control in Tuesday night’s presidential debate, the second of three tete-a-tetes he’ll have with President Barack Obama, he talked at first about laws. He said he wasn’t going to implement any new ones, and focus instead on better enforcement of the ones already in place. And then something odd happened. He started talking about single parents.

America needs “to tell our kids that before they have babies, they ought to think about getting married to someone”, he said. People were confused: wasn’t the question about gun laws? Why was he talking about “the benefit of having two parents in the home?” Why, if we want to bring down the stunning levels of gun violence in America, do we “need mums and dads helping raise kids?”

The people who were confused were the people who don’t speak Republican. Those who speak the language, who are attuned to the dog whistle racism of the American right – the coded language that speaks only to certain audiences – understood Romney perfectly. Yes, he said “parents”, and no, he didn’t mention any specific racial or ethnic group, but one needn’t be a psychic to know what he meant. What he meant was that poor black single mothers living in urban areas don’t raise their kids right. And that’s why, he claims, of the 13,000 homicides committed in the US last year, almost 9000 of them were committed with firearms.

You can read the whole thing here. And I have to say, there is something really thrilling about knowing that when my parents wake up in the morning, they’re going to go outside, get the paper, open it up on the kitchen table, and see an article by me. It makes me homesick, but happy.

The Sydney Morning Herald: The culture wars are back

The Sydney Morning Herald: The culture wars are back

I have a piece in The Sydney Morning Herald today, about the return of culture war politics in the American Presidential campaign:

‘The feminist agenda … encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practise witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.” So says televangelist Pat Robertson, the man the Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, chose to stand alongside at a campaign event last weekend in Virginia. Robertson is notorious for blaming the September 11 attacks on gays, abortions and civil liberties advocates. And during the next day’s broadcast of his show The 700 Club, Robertson told a man to move to Saudi Arabia if he wanted his wife to respect him as the rightful head of the household. ”I don’t think we condone wife-beating these days,” Robertson said, but ”you could become a Muslim and you could beat her.”

At that same Virginia Beach event, Romney seemed to suggest that, if re-elected, President Barack Obama would remove the phrase ”in God we trust” from American coins. Obama has proposed no such thing, but Romney came out strongly against the imaginary policy. ”I will not take God off our coins and I will not take God out of my heart,” he said.

Between Romney’s appearance with Robertson, his implication that Obama does not have God in his heart, and concerted Republican efforts this year to roll back reproductive rights, one thing is clear: the culture wars are back. In truth, they never really went away. But Republicans were certainly pretending they had.

You can read the whole thing here.

The Sydney Morning Herald: Let’s end this for good, man to man

The Sydney Morning Herald: Let’s end this for good, man to man

I have a piece in Monday’s Sydney Morning Herald, about what men can do to prevent sexual assault:

Australian sport has a women problem: its men won’t stop assaulting them. After dozens of incidents of brawling, public urination and worse, footballers in particular have become notorious for their bad behaviour off the field.

But it is the repeated arrests and a handful of convictions for domestic and sexual assaults in the past two decades that are the most distressing.

Even one of our golden boys of the pool, Grant Hackett, is embroiled in a very public he said/she said marriage breakdown precipitated by a drunken rampage in October. He denies an allegation in a police report that he threw his wife, Candice Alley, across the room.

This is why men like Clint Newton are more important than ever.

You can read the rest here.

The Sydney Morning Herald: Feminism for dads

The Sydney Morning Herald: Feminism for dads

I have a piece in Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald, about how feminism changed fatherhood for the better.

Thanks to feminism, my relationship with my father is entirely different to the one he had with his late father. When I was a little girl, it was dad who did my hair for Saturday morning ballet class. Until I was 15, when I finally mastered the art myself, he was the ballet bun master-in-chief in our house. Thanks to feminism, my father and I can talk about our feelings, something men of his generation could rarely do with their dads. Might things have been different had I been a boy? Possibly.

The American sociologist Michael Kimmel, the author of Guyland and a leading thinker in masculinity studies, says that even when they have sons, fathers who had children during or after the women’s movement are determined to do things differently than their dads did. And they’re succeeding: he argues, American dads today are more likely to hug their kids and to tell them that they love them than in previous decades – regardless of the child’s gender.

You can read the whole thing here. And happy early Father’s Day, America!