How 9/11 Changed America

I’ve heard people say that they think 9/11 brought us closer as Americans. They point to the way we responded to the crisis when the towers came down: all those who willingly risked (and sometimes lost) their lives in order to bring others to safety. I’ve heard about the bravery and courage of so many on that day, it’s hard to not be stirred by their stories.

But the way we respond to something bad in our lives doesn’t just mean how we respond at the moment the bad thing happens. It also means how we respond afterward, when the sky has cleared and the dead have been buried (those who could be found, that is). I’m proud of the Americans who reached out to help after 9/11. But I’m not proud of what we have become since then.

Before 9/11 we thought we were invincible. We thought nothing could touch us. I understand that 9/11 changed that belief and made us paranoid about it happening again. I’m not saying that those fears are unfounded. But instead of making us more empathetic about all the world’s people who experience similar (or worse) tragedies, we adopted a “Poor me!” attitude. 9/11 was horrible and shocking, but it pales in comparison to things that happen daily in other parts of the globe (or even our own nation).

It’s normal when you’re anxious to try to find a target for your fears. If you can identify the enemy, it gives you something to focus on. We were anxious after 9/11 and we needed to know how to protect ourselves from it happening again. I understand that. But I don’t think that excuses the distrust and hatred of not just Muslims, but of anyone who is “different.” Do you think it’s an accident that people are more emotional about immigration than they used to be? We think we’ll be safe if we keep all foreigners out of America (except for, of course, the acceptable ones).

Ten years ago, conservatives were critical of liberals, but they weren’t as outspoken as they are today. And they were more civil, even during political campaigns. Now conservative talk-show hosts say the most outrageous and hateful things they can think of, and no one blinks an eye. (That’s not entirely true: there are plenty of people who don’t like it, but we don’t have the voice conservatives do.) And it’s not just the pundits like Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Glenn Beck and Laura Ingraham, it’s also the politicians. Judging by the last presidential campaign, I shudder just thinking about how uncivil the conversation will be this time around.

I’m also appalled at how willing people are to give up their individual freedoms. Homeland Security is our country’s “secret police force.” They have powers we don’t even know about. We have no idea to what extent they can snoop around in our lives and it’s all legal. We can be detained without reason or with no representation. All it takes is the suspicion that we might have something to do with terrorism.

And to make matters worse, we’re just supposed to sit and take it. Protesting is compared to committing treason. Right after 9/11, even comedians toned down their political satire; they were that afraid of being branded as unpatriotic. I remember a hush over the country, as if everyone was tip-toeing around the elephant in the room: the reactionary policies of a paranoid President and government.

Has America learned anything in the past ten years about courage? Courage to stand up for our convictions, to speak our minds, to fight for what we believe is right? Have we learned anything about charity, about helping others, even at great cost to ourselves?  And most of all, have we learned anything about tolerance? Are we more aware that we are all interconnected? Has the world become smaller for us, or is America still the center of our universe?

When the towers came down on 9/11/01, it was like a nuclear bomb went off. And ten years later, we’re still dealing with the fall-out.

[Cross-posted on my other blog, I, Muslimah.]

Co-ed Wrestling: Feminism Gone Wrong?

Here’s the scenario:

It’s the Iowa state wrestling tournament and Joel Northrup and Cassy Herkelman are supposed to compete in a wrestling match. Except the match doesn’t happen, because Northrup defaults to Herkelman on the grounds that he can’t/won’t wrestle her because of his religious faith.

Perhaps Northrup is sincere, but the whole thing smacks of sexism. After all, Northrup knew going in that he might have to wrestle a girl at some point in his high school wrestling career: Iowa’s wrestling teams have been coed for two decades. It’s just that it’s not often that a girl makes the cut all the way up to the state championship. (In fact, Herkelman and Megan Black are the only two girls who have made it so far.)

Secondly, I’d be really surprised if Northrup’s religious upbringing didn’t teach him that homosexuality is a sin, in which case you’d think that he would object to wrestling a homosexual as well.  (Shades of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the military.) But supposedly that’s not the same thing. It’s all right for guys to pit their brute strength against each other (even if one is homosexual), but it’s definitely not okay for guys and gals to do so.

This story has received a lot of media attention for two reasons:

1) Northrup has been cast as a “religious hero” by commentators with similar religious backgrounds.*

2) The case has called into question how Title IX is applied in school programs.

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 which prohibits sex discrimination in any program or activity at educational institutions that receive federal funding. Although Title IX affects all areas of education, it has come to be most famous for the huge impact it has had on girls’ and women’s sports.

Title IX has popularly been construed as meaning that academic and sports funding have to be equal for men and women. But it has also come to mean that neither sex can be prohibited from participating in a program that is dominated by the opposite sex.

It wasn’t that long ago that women were considered to be intellectually inferior to men which meant that men and women could not compete with each other academically. But since that belief has been (mostly) debunked, there has been relatively little hoopla about the mixing of the sexes in academic programs.

Sports, however, are a whole other ball game (no pun intended). The argument goes that males and females just aren’t equal physically; therefore, they can’t be on the same team or compete against each other. But should it be “can’t” meaning “not allowed to” or “can’t” meaning “unable”?

It’s hard to argue with the statement that women don’t usually have the physical strength that men have. However, wrestling is a sport where physical strength is not a major component. Also, the combatants are matched weight-wise.

But the question is, if a girl does meet the physical requirements of a given sport, why shouldn’t she be allowed to compete with the boys?

We used to think that the military was the last bastion of sexual discrimination. Now it appears that it’s the sports world.

* Read Ms. Blog‘s article about the religious world’s response to Northrup’s action.

House Republicans Jeopardize Women’s Health Care

Last Friday (Feb. 18)  House Republicans voted 240-185 to ban federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

I find this incomprehensible. Planned Parenthood is a respectable, indispensable source of health care for low and middle income women that has been around for 95 years. For some women it is their first, and sometimes only, contact with gynecological health care. Since we still don’t have universal health care in this country, that’s not likely to change any time soon.

Planned Parenthood is not an abortion mill. Only 3% of its services have to do with abortion counseling and procedures. That means that most women who walk into a Planned Parenthood facility do so for birth control, breast exams and Pap smears, and testing for STDs.  [Planned Parenthood’s 2008-2009 annual report states: “For the three million patients our doctors and nurses saw, we provided contraception (36 percent of our total services), testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections (31 percent), cancer screening and prevention (17 percent), and abortion services (three percent).”]

Estimated savings from this proposed bill are $347,000. That’s peanuts in a $3.6 trillion dollar federal budget, but one-third of the yearly income for Planned Parenthood. Where is that money going to come from if the federal government withdraws its support? But if the fact that Planned Parenthood offers abortion services at all bothers some people, then why not cut the amount being given to Planned Parenthood by the amount of its income that comes from abortions: 3%?  Why take away all federal support of an institution that provides essential health care for over 3 million women a year.?

Ironically, those who argue for limited government intervention are more than willing to put the government in charge of what women can do with their bodies. Government should never be about restricting choices, but about freedom.

Some argue that the private sector will have to pick up the cost of abortions. What that means is that all women should have to pay for their abortions completely out of pocket unless they’re victim of rape or incest or their health is compromised by a pregnancy. Because more and more health insurance plans are refusing to pay for elective abortions, and some won’t pay for abortions under any circumstances. In some instances, women are being forced to buy additional riders for abortion coverage. That’s ludicrous. Women don’t plan to have abortions any more than they plan to get cancer.

If these lawmakers were really concerned about cutting the budget, they should be for, not against, abortions. For example, one of my daughters recently had a D&C after a miscarriage. It cost $4600. If she had had an abortion when her baby’s abnormalities were first diagnosed, it would have cost approximately $350-950 at Planned Parenthood. [Source here.] If she had not had a miscarriage or an abortion, but her baby had been born with severe complications, it would have cost a great deal more.

Conservatives like to cite the irresponsibility of single mothers and “welfare queens” as one reason why our federal budget is so high. And yet they are willing to severely cripple the effectiveness of one organization that helps women to be more responsible about when or whether they will have children. Shame on the House Republicans and anyone else who votes for this proposal.

Read Rebecca Traister’s excellent article about this issue here.

What Motivated Ginny Thomas?

Whether you believe Anita Hill or Clarence Thomas, it still seems weird that, almost twenty years after Hill made sexual harassment allegations against Thomas, Thomas’ wife, Virginia (Ginny) is still seeking absolution for her husband. The message* that she left on Hill’s office phone at 7:30 on a recent Saturday morning makes her seem like a woman who “doth protest too much.” She sounds like a woman who desperately needs confirmation that her husband was innocent and she knows that the only way she’ll get it is if Hill admits that she “did something” to the Supreme Court Justice.

But all she has really accomplished is to bring the charges out into the open again, with the result that people too young to remember the Senate hearings have had their curiosity piqued. Now a whole new generation will remember Clarence Thomas for his alleged sexual harassment of Anita Hill.

Is Thomas so tortured by what happened  that she can’t let it go? Is she obsessed with Anita Hill? Why hasn’t she been able to move on? Or is she trying to get publicity for her own political activities?

In January, Thomas formed a lobbying group known as Liberty Central, which will be able to rake in corporate money to finance the fight against what she calls President Obama’s “hard-left agenda.”  She is a fan of hard-line conservatives like Rush Limbaugh,  Glen Beck and Laura Ingraham and she just loves the tea partiers.

Maybe she’s trying to send some kind of message that people like Anita Hill are enemies of conservatives like her and her husband. She might think that bringing it up again will cause other conservatives to get fired up about what liberals try to do to conservatives (although I don’t even know if Hill could be considered a liberal). If so, her plan could backfire: it might cause liberals to get fired up about what conservatives are trying to do to them.

Or maybe she’s just a kook.

The New York Times article about this is here.

*”Good morning, Anita Hill, it’s Ginny Thomas. I just wanted to reach across the airwaves and the years and ask you to consider something. I would love you to consider an apology sometime and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband. So give it some thought. And certainly pray about this and hope that one day you will help us understand why you did what you did. OK, have a good day.”

My Thoughts on Conservative Women

On the surface, it would seem that being conservative is a natural default for women. Since they are the ones who bear the children and who rely heavily on men to provide for them,  you could say that it’s not in their best interest to rock the boat politically and socially.

Some women blame feminism (and liberalism) for taking away the safety net that women traditionally had beneath them. There was this tacit agreement among men and women that as long as women stayed home and took care of the household and the children, men would do all they could to protect and provide for the family unit. Even though some women did work for pay, it was assumed that they would stop doing so as soon as a man came into their lives. A woman who purposely took on the male role deserved what she often got: economic insecurity and no help with housework or child-raising.

In other words, if women would just stay in their place, men would be more likely to stay in theirs, to both sexes’ mutual benefit.

In my opinion, many conservatives are motivated by fear of change and the unknown.  They feel much more comfortable sticking with the way things have always been. They have trouble entertaining the idea that the world is a different place than it was a hundred, or even twenty, years ago, and therefore might require different solutions to age-old problems. (Not to mention solutions for new problems.)

Conservative women tend to live in the past. They think that life would be simpler and more secure if things would return to the way they used to be. They don’t like to think about things like globalization, world peace, social injustice and gender equality. All they want is to be left alone to take care of their families and their homes. They’re not interested in changing the social contract by making it easier for women to work outside of the home (affordable, quality child care, flex-time, personal days to take care of family members) because they don’t believe that their place is outside of the home in the first place.

When conservative values team up with a distrust of government, as they so often do, what we get is a government that is unresponsive to women’s needs. Stay-at-home moms and full-time homemakers need protection, too, especially because they are so vulnerable. Forty years ago, it was uncommon for a woman to get credit in her own name or to get a portion of her husband’s retirement in case of a divorce.

Women who don’t work out of the home should be just as protected as are women who do. (I’ve read of cases where the mother actually lost custody because she didn’t have a job.) Part of the problem is that housework and child-raising are not considered to be “real” work.

It’s understandable that when women who stay home see that their contribution is not valued, they tend to get defensive. They feel threatened by all the concessions made on the behalf of “working” women. Often in their efforts to get respect, they over-emphasize conservative values. They don’t see that changes also need to be made in the way government responds to them. For instance, full-time homemakers should get credit for working when it comes to Social Security benefits. They should be treated the same as people who are self-employed.

Conservatives aren’t likely to push for changes like that because of their emphasis on less government intervention. But sometimes it is only through legislation and official policy that wrongs such as these can be corrected.

I think most women have a conservative streak, if only because of their strong attachment to their children and their homes. But they shouldn’t let that blind them to injustices that need to be addressed, in the home as well as in the workplace.

Why Do We Put Up With This??

It’s not that O’Reilly is a conservative—it’s that he’s a nasty conservative. I was appalled by his behavior in this video. Is that the kind of role model we want for our children?  One woman wrote in and asked him that very question because of the way that he says “Shut up” so often. His answer: “I’ve only said it once.”

I’m surprised that conservatives, most of whom I’m sure are caring people with traditional values (like the importance of being courteous), will put up with this. Why is he still on the air?