Sunday, March 09, 2008

'Baby Jessica' Valenti (Dona)

In high school, if you had called me a feminist, I would have been insulted. As a young woman who knew where she wanted to go college, what profession she wanted to go into, I had little use for feminism. I thought it was stupid, inane and the most trivial thing in the world.

Then I got to college and was paired with Ava. Just looking at her books worried me. Actually, looking at her worried me. She's gorgeous enough to be a model. To which she'd always say, "I'm too short. Dona, do you know how tall models are?" Who cares how tall they are, she was (and is) cover girl beautiful.

And there were the books on top of it. All of these feminists books. I grasped that more from the fact that they were all written by women than from knowing the names of any authors.

Very quickly, I was surprised to find out that she had a well developed sense of humor and that she didn't take any crap. She took very strong stands on very serious issues.

She never tried to 'convert' me but probably every other month, I'd be asking her, "Why do you call yourself a feminist?"

She's patiently explain and it sounded wonderful and exciting, needed even.

But I had a huge wall of reluctance.

There was a reson for that and I'll ease into that by noting a non-journalism professor, a woman, with a bunch of giddy girl groupies around her. So 'nurturing' and 'helpful' and so beyond the course she was responsible for.

I worked weeks on a presentation. Having been a journalism major, I grasped the importance of being solid on your facts. A woman got up and gave a speech, one she'd later admit she made up, on the difficulties of being multi-cultural (she was just White). It was a lot of feelings (which she'd later admit she made up) about how hard it was for her being half-White and how her Native American mother (again, she had no Native American mother) bleached her hair blonde and how she (the daughter) saw it as a form of a cultural suicide. Even not knowing the whole thing was a pack of lies when presented, I did notice that there were no facts (not even a statistic on the number of Native Americans in the US) and that all she shared was childhood stories (again, false ones).

The professor applauded her and praised her "deep research" and how "deeply" she went "into our culture."

I gave my presentation and the professor looked bored throughout. When I finished, my major "note" was, "It would be better if you smiled more." For those who fear I'm leaving out serious criticism, that was the only criticism I received in class. When I learned I'd made a C on the presentation and spoke to the professor, I was told that my hair would look better "swept back, to show off your face." Such was the "critique" that resulted in my C. (The only C I have ever 'earned' in my academic life.)

I was furious before I learned of my grade and not really sure what "smiling" had to do with a presentation or, more specifically, what it had to do with a presentation on the Bhopal chemical disaster?

Griping to Ava later the day, I made the mistake of stating the professor was a feminist. Ava quickly corrected me. Yes, the professor claimed to be a feminist but Ava explained that was just the woman's excuse for doing nothing.

And there it was. Why I had run from feminism.

There are serious issues and there are ways to approach non-serious issues that require critical thought but what I saw in high school and in college, outside of Ava, that passed itself off as feminism was the equivalent of a sorority that couldn't come up with a critical thought if they pulled an all nighter. They thought that anything that happened to them -- whether it was who they dated or who wouldn't date them -- was a topic to gab about non-stop and then pass off as feminism even if you might term it all just a gossip session -- especially if you termed it that.

If Oprah hadn't covered an 'issue,' then it was an 'issue' to the gals.

And I really thought that was feminism for the longest. I was reminded of that when I read Jessica Valenti's "The Sisterhood Split"at The Nation. There are points in the piece I could agree with, many of which have been made here some time ago and the bulk of which came from Ava, C.I., Elaine, Kat and Betty most likely.

But between solid points made here (like acknowledging divisions), there was all the crap that Valenti -- or as I like to think of her, "Baby Jessica" -- is so infamous for. This is the woman who didn't know how to dress when meeting a former US president and then wanted to act shocked and whine because the breasts she elected to showcase became a source of talk among the right-wing. I would have no problem had she said, "Yeah, I've got two breasts. I like them. So what?" Instead, she wanted to play weak sister, damsel in distress and moan, "Not fair! Don't talk about my breasts!"

Dress the way you want, however you want, but don't play injured party when it's commented on. Take pride in your choices.

And if you decide to sport your breasts while meeting Bill Clinton, don't whine that someone commented about it. Their critiques weren't "rape," it wasn't an "assault," it was noting that you made a poor clothing choice (and Baby Jessica must agree since she got so bent out of shape over the whole thing) and then adding the usual right-wing spin (which does include sexism) to the mix. But at the heart of it, Baby Jessica made a clothing choice and then, when criticized, wanted to whine.

That's really all Baby Jessica does most days but, every now and then, she works herself up enough to throw a tantrum. It's always a tantrum about how bad Mommy is. Baby Jessica's been launching that attack for some time now and one of the things that offended many of our readers was that Ms. magazine allowed her to do so on the pages of their 35th anniversary issue, that, in the midst of a celebration, we got to hear from the freakish-sullen daughter.


Baby Jessica's big beef is that she's not leading the feminist movement -- thereby sparing the world from the 'feminist' discourse on drunken nights and cheap sex. (Or maybe cheap nights and drunken sex?) She seemed to just know that her really bad book was going to sweep the book industry, was going to set her up as the voice of feminism and, as Ava and C.I. have noted, "What's more feminist than using a headless, nude female body to sell your bad writing?"

They were being sarcastic and you kind of get the idea, from Baby Jessica's writing, that's a point that Valenti would need explained to her.

At one point, her den mother Katha Pollitt (another huge embarrassment but as least Baby Jessica can claim, rightly, to be good looking) attempted to set her somewhat straight but Katha's a bit like a 58-year-old musician trying to stage a 'comeback' via whatever the musical flavor of today is: Always worried about catering to the pre-teens.

If you're going to attack the feminist movement, the place to go is The Nation and that's where Baby Jessica launches her attack. It's all about how Baby Jessica should be leading and how mean people are and blah blah blah. At one point, she tosses out Rebecca Walker as a positive example. I respect Alice Walker but, after the daughter's last book, Rebecca's a joke to me. Maybe she'll come back from that groaner, Naomi Wolf managed to return to her strength after the groaner that was (mis)conception. But reading Rebecca's book, I thought, "What a spoiled, ungrateful child. And what a cowardly one." On the latter because as a Mommy Dearest-type book, it really didn't hold up.

Neither does Baby Jessica's nonsense. I'm speaking right now of "The Sisterhood Split," but you could file her entire body of work under nonsense.

Baby Jessica shakes the bars of her playpen and cries, "It's no secret that Clinton's candidacy has caused waves in feminist circles. Media outlets from the Wall Street Journal to the Washington Post have reported on the rift between feminists voting for Clinton and those supporting Obama."

Baby Jessica, no feminist can support Barack Obama.

Anyone who claims otherwise is lying.

Barack Obama used homophobia to scare up votes in South Carolina.

Feminism doesn't support or endorse homophobia.

Times change and we all (hopefully) progress. (So maybe someday Baby Jessica can go to the big girl toilet all by herself.) But we're not dropping back into the 90s, we're talking about his current presidential campaign. He announced homophobes (Mary Mary, Donnie the 'recovered' gay and others) would be onstage at a campaign event. The protests came in. He refused to remove the homophobes. Donnie launched an attack as only someone so self-hating could do. The campaign bragged "we got what we needed." That's not feminism.

That's not a feminist candidate.

Barack Obama cannot be supported by feminists.

I know Naomi Wolf is supporting him and I'll put that off on the fact that she's rediscovering her radical roots (good for her) and confused by some of the people around her. Barack Obama has made no speech on abortion or on women's rights. By contrast, Hillary's made many and, in the New Hampshire moment when her eyes moistened and her voice shook, she was speaking about the very real danger to women's rights.

Baby Jessica takes Robin Morgan to take for "Goodbye To All That (#2)" (Women's Media Center). Morgan's piece is an amazing piece of writing and a needed one. It will be a feminist classic for years to come. When feminists look back on this period from a distance and try to figure out what happened, Morgan will stand tall long after she's gone because of the points she makes.

Baby Jessica has never answered (even when e-mailed) the question of how she, an alleged feminist, can support a candidate who traffics in homophobia. That's really not surprising because she can't tell you why she supports him to begin with. Hopefully, when she's out of nappies, she'll begin to use compound sentences and attempt complex thought.

But for now, she's happy to toss her bottle across the room, scratch at her diaper rash and jut out her lower lip.

Her silence would indicate that she supports homophobia but before that scares off people from her really bad website, let me be clear that I don't think Baby Jessica knows about the homophobia because she knows so damn little to begin with.

Is it the latest in feminism for a man to go on his wife's job interview? Somehow that's another detail about Barack Obama that doesn't bother Baby Jessica. Her candidate of choice has nothing to offer women but that doesn't bother Baby Jessica either because by choosing him she can say, "Check me out boys!" -- and grab a lot of flashy publicity. And perpetuate the myth that there's a feminist split as a result of women with higher principles supporting Barack Obama.

I live in the Bay Area now (at C.I.'s) and the LGBT community is neither a hidden nor minor 'note' in the community. In last week's "Roundtable," I made a point to state clearly that we do not support the self-loathing lesbian Laura Flanders. That was due to the fact that a friend in grad school, who is a lesbian, had been checking out this site and seen praise for Flanders. As I noted in the roundtable, you'll find a lot of praise for Flanders at this site. However, those days are gone as a result of her refusal to call out Barack Obama's use of homophobia.

It's not a minor issue and it's certainly not in the Bay Area (where the graffiti is much more graphic than the one piece that Ava and C.I. quoted). When KPFA elected to present her as an 'expert' in their 'debate' coverage, the KPFA blog had at least four people calling out her silence on homophobia. When you grasp how few people were posting on that blog, that's a significant number. If you don't live in a straight-straight world and actually know a wide-section of LGBT persons, it's a rare week that Flanders' silence doesn't come up. (She hosted a show for years in the Bay Area and, at that point, was publicly out of the closet. Going national appears to have forced back in with all but the gay press today.)

I would love for Baby Jessica to be around a group of aware and proud lesbians and have to explain to them how she reconciles her support for Obama with his use of homophobia. I'm sure that would be quite entertaining and Baby Jessica would probably wet her diaper, shake her rattle and scream.


Right now, reproductive rights could be abolished with the next Supreme Court appointee. I don't just mean abortion, but abortion as well. But Baby Jessica and the 'feminists' supporting Barack Obama -- including the Mud Flap Gals' den mother Katha Pollitt -- don't seem at all concerned about that. Considering that Obama's floating in the press the fact that, if he became president, he would appoint Republicans like Chuck Hagel to his cabinet, you'd think the so-called "Feminist for Obama" would be alarmed. But maybe, as with everything else in the world, they don't know Hagel's anti-choice positions? Well, you can only learn so much from beer-soaked marathons of Sex in the City, right? Roe v. Wade and other reproductive rights hang in the balance but "Feminists for Obama" are more than happy to get behind a presidential candidate who will not talk about abortion.


His 'record' as a state legislature includes voting 'present' to avoid having a record. The lie is that it was the strategy NOW's Chicago chapter wanted but that chapter has corrected that lie put out by a former member who was not president when the 'present' votes were made. That's a really weak record and, in fact, 'present' wasn't required for his district which is a liberal one. Equally true is that many men have done a flip-flop on abortion when running for president and that pre-dates this election cycle. But some 'feminists' are willing to roll the dice on the issue of reproductive rights?

Thanks, Baby Jessica, and, when it's outlawed, I'll assume you'll show up at my door with the coat hanger should I need an abortion.

It's equally alarming that Barack Obama belittles Hillary Clinton's record which is a decades and decades worth of activism. But that doesn't bother 'feminists' for Barack. They seem to go into giggle convulsions whenever their Dream Date smears Hillary (and all women) by suggesting she's nothing more than the man she married. I guess Bill was being 'generous' when he 'allowed' her to do the legal aid work and when he 'allowed' her to accept the appointment (appointed by then President Jimmy Carter) to the board of the United States Legal Services Corporation?

But isn't it 'funny' and all the rage to laugh at (and contribute to?) those smears of a woman's public record of work?

For myself, Iraq is a HUGE issue. I know it's not to the Mud Flap Gals or Katha Pollitt. The Mud Flap Gals can only mention Iraq if it's an Abu Ghraib trial they read about where a woman brought a copy of book entitled C**t to the hearing -- which they find amusing. Katha Pollitt's been completely useless on Iraq and only mentioned the gang-rape and murder of Abeer (by US soldiers) after a long-pressure campaign following nearly a year of silence on the topic. (When she finally did acknowledge Abeer, it was in a half-sentence. Robin Morgan, by contrast, wrote a widely circulated column.)

So maybe those 'feminists' for Bambi are just so blown away by the not-so-brave speech he gave in 2002. Am I the only (straight) woman who's gone to bed with a guy who swore he'd rock my world only to find myself thinking I wouldn't have fully undressed, just pulled off my panties, if I'd known the talk was so inflated? (Sadly, the talk was all that was inflated.)

What did he do after that speech? He disappeared it while running for the US Senate two years later. That would be the same period that Elaine and C.I. went to a fundraiser for Bambi eager to donate only to have him tell them to their faces that since US forces were in Iraq, talk of a withdrawal was moot. (As C.I. points out, "It's moot because they are in Iraq? I think talk of withdrawal would be moot if they weren't in Iraq.") That's the same period where he first starts telling the press (with no Republican opponent in sight since Jack Ryan's dropped out of the race) that he's not sure how he would have voted on the 2002 resolution if he'd been in the Senate. He repeats that all the way up until the fall of 2006 yet, in 2007 and 2008, when running for president, he wants credit for his 'judgement.' What judgement? He's stated repeatedly, on the record, that he doesn't know how he would have voted if he was in the Senate.

What judgement?

Once he was in the Senate he voted for the war, he prolonged it. But, running for president, he's for combat troops to be out within 16 months of his being sworn in. In Houston, Texas, he gave a speech that shortened the time line to one year.

And, as C.I. pointed out in Friday's "Iraq snapshot," Samantha Power, while still his advisor, gave an interview to the BBC explaining that Obama didn't mean those words, that he doesn't know what he'll do if he becomes president because things will have changed by then.

Can he make promises to the American people that he doesn't plan to keep? Yes, he can!

So it's really amazing to see all these 'feminists' who support the man. But it seems to be more and more about how much they hate the woman. That seems to be the deciding factor and certainly Baby Jessica will go through life with her Mommy issues.

I need to give credit to Rebecca in here because I left her out earlier on purpose when I was noting statements that have appeared at this site before. That wasn't to short change her. But a lot of the points she makes don't make it up here. Rebecca's point of view (and Elaine and C.I. state that around the time of the attacks on Molly Yard, Rebecca developed this position and has held it ever since), is that there do need to be lines drawn. She thinks entirely too many women who do not stand for equality, let alone support women, have been allowed to use the term feminist. She thinks the movement should have been drawing lines a long time ago. I agree with her. Reading Ms. magazine's 35th anniversary issue, I especially saw the need for what Rebecca advocates. No one needed Baby Jessica's pity-party in the midst of that celebration.

I understand how it came in. They were attempting to be kind and inclusive. Ava and C.I. are the same way. But I really do think lines need to be drawn. On that, Baby Jessica and I agree. But while she sees it as the way she can at last achieve leadership (by default, naturally), I see it as the way for women who really are feminists to stop putting up with the crap of all these weak sisters.

The Mud Flap Gals run a site endorsed by the Charlotte Rae of today's non-movement, Katha Pollitt. And certainly, if you need to know the pressing issue of which starlet was barely clothed in what photo, Mud Flap Gals is your one-stop-source. But if you give a damn about Iraq or anything beyond the push-up bra scene (I'm not sure whether it was Ava, C.I. or Elaine that coined that term to refer to the Mud Flap Gals -- push-up-bra-'feminism' -- but let me give credit), you need to somewhere else.

My parenthetical noted "the need to give credit." That's why I'm writing this article solo. As a group effort what I'm about to address would be stripped out as I move beyond the next three sentences. The Mud Flap Gals are the most ungrateful glory hogs in the world. Baby Jessica's big beef, the source of all her tantrusm, is that she's not the center of the world. I don't traffic in theft or not crediting.

And the reality is the Mud Flap Gals wouldn't now be featured at The Nation were it not for two women: Ava and C.I.

The Mud Flap Gals have a heavily visited site and yet they waste their power day in and day out. When The Nation reduced the number of women they published in 2006, the Mud Flap Gals didn't say a word. Though some young feminists had raised that issue with them. Mud Flap Gals had other things to do.

I know that because I heard about it when writers -- women who were established and women who were starting out, women who were young, middle-aged and old -- brought up the issue. They did so at C.I.'s house. A group of women came over to discuss the issue and ask C.I. if it could be followed at The Common Ills. We (Jim, Jess, Ty, Ava and myself, possibly Kat) were all present for that. C.I. begged off noting that the community had just voted for Iraq to be the focus at The Common Ills and that the year was half-over. But, C.I. asked, looking at us, what if it was followed for 2007 and followed at this site? The women were fine with that as we those of us doing this site.

It could have fallen through the cracks as so many things do here. But Ava and C.I. were in charge of the Christmas 2006 edition (the rest of us were all on vacation) and they addressed the magazine's first issue of the year. They set it up so that we had to track it and, for six-months, we did just that. We published the six-month study at all community sites:

"Are You A Writer For The Nation? If so, chances are you must have a penis," "Are You A Writer For The Nation? If so, chances are you have a penis," "Are You A Writer For The Nation? If so, chances are you have a penis," "Are You A Writer For The Nation? If so, chances are you have a penis," "Are You A Writer For The Nation? If so, chances are you have a penis," "Are You A Writer For The Nation? If so, chances are you have a penis," "Are You A Writer For The Nation? If so, chances are you have a penis," "Are You A Writer For The Nation? If so, chances are you have a penis," "Are You A Writer For The Nation? If so, chances are you have a penis," and "Are You A Writer For The Nation? If so, chances are you have a penis."

We heard from The Nation throughout the six month period, but as the six-month study was due to publish its report (and had been announced, but The Nation also had a passed on e-mail alerting them), the publicity director shows up with an e-mail sent to C.I. promising changes in the offing, promising female bloggers. Promising that and so much more and it was all about to happen. We were addressing the print edition.

We were sick of doing a write up on the individual issues so we asked the women from the summer of 2006 if it was okay to drop that and just publish a year long study? They were fine with that with one adding that if The Nation thought we were dropping it, we might see their true colors. We, in fact, did. The promises of adding female bloggers and adding women to the print edition weren't kept. So we published the year end study and it yet again shamed them, "The Nation featured 491 male bylines in 2007 -- how many female ones?" The answer is 194. It's twice as embarrassing for the magazine to be called out for such a lousy publishing record when their editor is a woman, when their publisher is a woman (it's the same woman, Katrina vanden Heuvel).

Baby Jessica and her co-horts wouldn't have been published at the magazine's website this year without the work of strong women like Ava and C.I. (and, yes, the work of the rest of us involved, male and female, but also the work of strong women involved behind the scenes). But there's never been an acknowledgement or a thank you. Again, the Mud Flap Gals were informed of the problem and informed before C.I. was. They have a site. They blog each day about such pressing issues as whether or not Justy Timberlake is really sexy or just sexy? They could have used their forum to hold a magazine accountable but they weren't interested or they were just scared.

Baby Jessica has no gratitude for any woman -- at least not any living woman. It's what's behind her attacks on Gloria Steinem, Robin Morgan and others. She seems determined to ignore the fact that the smoother road she travels on today came about only due to the work of other women. She wants to be a leader so -- in the name of 'accountability' -- she holds other women accountable. Let me hold Baby Jessica accountable, Ava and C.I. carved out the space for you at The Nation online -- you know it, I know it and let's get it out there so that everyone else knows it. You are an ungrateful brat.

And that's why I had so much trouble with the term feminist for so long. Those are the woman who 'represented' it in my life. The real feminists? I wasn't encountering them. Gloria Steinem, for example, wasn't attending my high school. I didn't know her and I knew only vaguely that she was a journalist. (Women are always stripped of their credit but her essay on advertising's impact on content was so important that it had to be included in my high school journalism classes.) What I was surrounded with were a bunch of ahistorical twits who preached 'sisterhood' but stabbed any woman in the back to get a man or just to look good in front of one. (In fairness and full disclosure, there was a very small group of actual feminists in my high school, four women, that I didn't know personally or know they were feminists, until well after I started college.)

I had a really bad image of what feminism was. On my end, I can pin some of that off to youth and the ignornace of youth. (Not that I'm full of wisdom today.) But I can also lay the blame on what passes for feminism, the push-up-bra types who seem to confuse their right to say "yes" to sex over and over with feminism. (As an unmarried woman sharing my bedroom with my lover, Jim, I'm no prude, nor virgin.) Unlike the push-up-bra set, I am now smart enough to grasp that this put-out-to-please-and-be-desired impulse was also an issue at the start of the second-wave of feminism in this country and that the desire for male approval is always an issue.

Apparently gender is so suspect (when it's female) today, that they must rush to support a man who is not going to end the illegal war, who is not strong on reproductive rights, who is untested and has no record to speak of. And they must support him over a woman*. That's how they'll prove they're not thinking with their vaginas!

Every week, Ava, C.I. and usually Kat are out on the road, speaking to groups about the illegal war, and when I'm lucky enough to go along, Kat always refers to it as their own version of the American Doll Posse (a nod to Tori Amos). As much as this feature is a rejection of what (little) Baby Jessica has to offer, it's an embrace of those who have come before me. bell hooks, Gloria Steinem, Robin Morgan, Dolores Huerta, Susan Faludi and many other living (and living it!) women as well as many women who have long since passed. (Matilda Joslyn Gage is a current obsession of mine.) It's also an embrace of the women in my life which starts with my mother (a huge supporter of Hillary) and includes my wonderful friends.


As one who works the e-mails account for this site, there's one message that comes in over and over that I'll boil down as "Okay, I get it now." It comes in from people of all ages and it's always regarding Ava and C.I.'s TV commentaries. With a healthy dose of humor, they cover television each week (no vacation for them since this site started) and that humor always keeps people coming back, yes. But it also has allowed for more 'awakenings' than I can count.

We're not allowed to praise them in more than a sentence in joint-features. They don't like the praise, they don't want the praise. When we started, for about a month, the TV commentaries were done by all of us. It was clear that Ava and C.I. were what people were responding to. All the e-mails of praise would cite a line and Jim would usually say, "They're praising Ava and C.I. again." So, though this was supposed to be a group writing site (this is one of the few solo features in three years this site has been up other than Jim's notes to the readers), we wisely turned it over to Ava and C.I. They accepted (unwisely, they'd say today) but with a condition: If the site's not about individual writing, don't give them a byline.

We stuck to that for a couple of weeks but once they were solely responsible, the TV commentaries took off and the praise from family and friends was too frequent. For some it may have been a drag to say, "Thank you, but actually, Ava and C.I. wrote that by themselves." I never saw it that way. I was always thrilled to respond to a compliment by stating, "Wasn't that incredible? Ava and C.I. wrote that." But, point, we began crediting them (over the objection) and I want to credit them now.

Jim loves what they do period but, due to his own interests, he loves it more if they're covering news or public affairs programming. They do a wonderful job of that, they bring "a feminist perspective" (never "the," as they've repeatedly noted, "a") to television commentary regardless of what they do. But the audience they reach with their pieces on entertainment television is huge.

An "awakening" e-mail came in this week on their reviews of "TV Review: The Bull of Malibu" and "TV Review: The Simple Life" -- two reality shows that a reader since 2007 had just discovered. Along with giving credit, I note that because I want to be clear that I'm not insulting pop culture criticism. That's not my beef with the Mud Flap Gals and never has been because what they do isn't pop culture criticism. Sometimes they rise to the level of the most basic cricitism (a man is fully clothed on the cover of Vanity Fair and he's surrouned by nude women! -- if they hadn't caught that, I'm sure the world would have never noticed) but it appears to be a struggle and they have no framework or perspective to offer. Ava and C.I. bring a feminist perspective and framework to what they tackle and the most often cited example this week (possibly because it's either back on air or about to be) is their review of "TV: Aftermath leaves an aftertaste.".

Baby Jessica wants to have her fit that she's not been annointed leader of the feminist movement. While Ava and C.I. have no interest in assuming any leadership, let me note that at least they would have a body of work to point to. It's about acknowledging your power and using it. Feminism isn't about doing nothing and, until the Mud Flap Gals grasp that, the push-up-set will remain a dead-end.


*I'm focused, in terms of electoral politics, in this article on the Democrats. Certainly the strong support for Cynthia McKinney speaks well of the Green Party.
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