With advocates like this, who needs hate radio?

It will surprise few people who pay attention to American politics that Sarah Palin is a world-class hypocrite. But her recent foray into the politics of language and disability have proved that her hypocrisy is dyed in the wool, an amazing contradiction of terms: openly disingenuous, profoundly committed to shallowness. She’s taken one of the easiest to understand (if not to implement) tactics of social justice activism — avoid using slurs — and turned it into an operatic denial of her last ounce of intellectual integrity.

Here’s the background: according to the WSJ, last August, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel called a group of liberal activists “fucking retarded” to their faces. He has since apologized to the head of the Special Olympics and disability activists (who, not incidentally, have rarely been even named in the articles about the apology — but that’s another post altogether). Sarah Palin comes into this because she publicly called out Emanuel on Facebook:

Just as we’d be appalled if any public figure of Rahm’s stature ever used the “N-word” or other such inappropriate language, Rahm’s slur on all God’s children with cognitive and developmental disabilities – and the people who love them – is unacceptable, and it’s heartbreaking.

A patriot in North Andover, Massachusetts, notified me of Rahm’s “retarded” slam. I join this gentleman, who is the father of a beautiful child born with Down Syndrome, in asking why the Special Olympics, National Down Syndrome Society and other groups condemning Rahm’s degrading scolding have been completely ignored by the White House. No comment from his boss, the president?

As my friend in North Andover says, “This isn’t about politics; it’s about decency. I am not speaking as a political figure but as a parent and as an everyday American wanting my child to grow up in a country free from mindless prejudice and discrimination, free from gratuitous insults of people who are ostensibly smart enough to know better… Have you no sense of decency, sir?”

Mr. President, you can do better, and our country deserves better.

Notice, however, that Palin is not actually mad at Emanuel; she’s mad at President Obama. Why? Because he has said nothing about an incident that occurred without him, half a year ago, for which a public apology has been issued. Don’t get me wrong — it would be amazing if the Obama White House takes this opportunity to make a serious, public effort to commit further to the needs of PWD. But Palin’s immediate redirect from Emanuel to Obama smacks of… well, something other than a desire to “stop the r-word,” as a recent campaign enjoins us.

Sady at Tiger Beatdown brilliantly analyzed Palin’s political performance a few days ago, in a post I cannot recommend enough. Here’s Sady’s conclusion, which comes after examining her own reasons for eliminating certain slurs from her diction [ed. note: I snipped some of this quote after posting because I didn’t realize how long it was till I hit “publish”]:

Because here is the thing: it is the ability to communicate concepts and define the reality of a situation from which the power of words is derived. When they become pure noise – divorced from reality, divorced from concepts, used at odds to the concepts and realities they should be defining – that’s when this all gets hairy. I can’t say “that’s so gay” because it makes me sick, because I know what it means. I started working to eliminate “retarded” from my vocabulary a while back, because I thought about it and now I know what it means. But it’s when someone like Sarah Palin can score points by saying that the word “retarded” is wrong, although her career is based on a politics that is measurably bad for a lot of disabled people (and, you know, everyone else) that I start to get worried.

[…]

There is no purpose, behind her Facebook post and her call-out of Emanuel, beyond continuing a program of obstructing a Democratic agenda and the current President. It’s precisely as duplicitous as the cries of “sexism” in the right during the primaries. Is there sexism in the Democratic Party, and in the treatment of Sarah Palin? Fuck yes, there is. Was Rahm’s use of the term ableist? Is there ableism in the left?  Was the response to the ableism handled poorly? Fuck yes, to every single one of those questions. But pointing that out when you know that your own party and/or political agenda isn’t going to prioritize social welfare programs which would help the disabled, when they’re trying to make universal access to healthcare impossible, when you don’t have a compassionate stance on the issues of unemployment and poverty to which disability is inexorably linked, when you are opposing abortion rights and charging victims for their rape kits, is just about the most disgusting corruption of these legitimate issues – these issues about which I care immensely – that I can imagine. Palin’s response isn’t about ableism, or about Rahm Emanuel; if it were, she would be talking about Rahm Emanuel and ableism, rather than sneakily using both subjects to get in a jab at Obama. Palin’s response is about Barack Obama and Sarah Palin.

But – again – if she knows how to use the language, she wins. Because she is able to sound, for a moment, like the people who are genuinely engaged in talking about disability, and the structure that punishes and hurts people with disabilities. Which is where language debate gets scary. Because if we put forward, for one second, a language debate that isn’t irrevocably tied to structure – if we focus on language apart from the actual change that needs to happen – everything we care about gets stolen and re-purposed in the service of something else. Words have power. For example, they can be used to tell a pretty enormous lie.

Bra-fucking-va, Sady. Sarah Palin has a personal stake in fighting ableist language. So do I. If Emanuel hadn’t apologized for calling people “fucking retarded,” you can bet I would be writing an angry post about it. But Sady is right: oppressive language is irrevocably tied to oppressive social structures. That’s why the language is oppressive in the first place. It’s awful to say something is “retarded” because the punch of the word is based on the equation of “disability” and “bad.” If people with disabilities weren’t systematically devalued in our culture, told that they’re less than human, that their bodies are grotesque and their minds pathetic, that they are a burden to able-bodied people and that having access to basic rights is an outrageous affront to hard-working small-business owners — to pick just a few of the abelist messages that are commonplace — then no one would say “retarded” anyway. Because it wouldn’t have any impact as an insult. Which is why Sarah Palin’s call for President Obama to fire Emanuel rather than, say, hold a summit with disability advocates, is clearly about political one-up-man-ship: it lets Palin look like she cares about PWD, in a broad sense (just like voting for Palin allowed certain right-winger to look like they cared about women in politics), without doing a goddamn thing with her political power and her cultural capital to make our culture less oppressive of them.

So clearly, Palin was already showing her ass and joining the race for Miss Hypocrite USA 2010. But it took a little help from professional evil man Rush Limbaugh to expose how miraculously mercenary she is. Rush Limbaugh, as I’m sure you all know, makes a living by being hateful. So when he got the chance, he upped the “retard” ante:

Our political correct society is acting like some giant insult’s taken place by calling a bunch of people who are retards, retards. I mean these people, these liberal activists are kooks. They are looney tunes. And I’m not going to apologize for it, I’m just quoting Emanuel. It’s in the news. I think their big news is he’s out there calling Obama’s number one supporters f’ing retards. So now there’s going to be a meeting. There’s going to be a retard summit at the White House. Much like the beer summit between Obama and Gates and that cop in Cambridge.

So. No surprises here, just the usual hate. Limbaugh defends Emanuel because he’s bashing liberals via ableist language, and he goes the extra mile, calling an upcoming meeting with PWD a “retard summit.” If Rahm Emanuel should be personally fired by the President, Limbaugh should at least retract what he said, right? Or apologize to Palin herself, since she’s been a guest on his show? Surely if something is hurtful when it was reported in the WSJ six months after Rahm Emanuel said it, something more vicious is hurtful when Rush Limbaugh broadcasts it instantly to millions of listeners, right?

Sarah Palin, this morning on Fox News Sunday:

“They are kooks, so I agree with Rush Limbaugh,” she said, when read a quote of Limbaugh calling liberal groups “retards.” “Rush Limbaugh was using satire … . I didn’t hear Rush Limbaugh calling a group of people whom he did not agree with ‘f-ing retards,’ and we did know that Rahm Emanuel, as has been reported, did say that. There is a big difference there.”

I’ll give you a moment.

Sarah Palin, who posted this on her Facebook page: Just as we’d be appalled if any public figure of Rahm’s stature ever used the “N-word” or other such inappropriate language, Rahm’s slur on all God’s children with cognitive and developmental disabilities – and the people who love them – is unacceptable, and it’s heartbreaking, thinks it’s fine when Rush Limbaugh did it because he was talking about “kooks” and did not say “fuck.” Sarah Palin, who claims to want her son Trig to grow up free from gratuitous insults of people who are ostensibly smart enough to know better, thinks it’s somehow not unacceptable or heartbreaking to call someone a “retard” if you don’t actually do it to their face.

Sarah Palin is the worst kind of “ally,” the kind who uses her own status as Super Special Ally to Oppressed Peoples to make herself look good and her enemies look bad without even pretending to care about the actual effect on the people who are actually oppressed. Sarah Palin, like the proverbial white person who has some friends who are black, is the able-bodied person who has some son with a cognitive disability. She’s not advocating for PWD; she’s not advocating for anyone but her own damn self and her right to be on TV every goddamn second.

Sarah Palin, basically, has become Michael Scott, except even more self-congratulatory and less kind.

And less fictional, god help us all.

Friday fluff: What Super Bowl?

So apparently there is some kind of football game going on this weekend? I know this for two reasons:

1. Feminist bloggers keep posting about Tim Tebow (boo) and Scott Fujita (yay).

2. My friend The Urban Gastronome has been posting mouthwatering “game day” recipes. MMMMMM CUPCAKES

Shapelings, are you watching the game? If so, is it because you follow football or because you like the yearly party? I am hoping that you are at a place with your own eating that you don’t need temporary permission to eat nachos or chili or what have you, because you already have a license to eat that whenever you want, no  matter what’s on the tube.

If you’re not watching, what are you doing this weekend instead? Personally, I’m planning on turning some ancient sheets into a bathmat, because our Ikea bathmat fucking MELTED onto our tiles recently. (Ah, steam heat.) Do you have a weekend project? Does it involve football or bathmats or nachos?

Fashion without hatred

There was a time, when I was a teenager and in my early twenties, when I used to think about fashion the way The Guardian‘s Tanya Gold details in a recent article: that it was a foolish realm of fantasy for people who would never give me the time of day.

The oddest thing rescued me from fashion. It was that I got fat. Never mind why; that is a story for another page. But I got so fat that even fashion wouldn’t pretend it could fix me. You can get so fat they don’t actually want you in their clothes. It is bad marketing; if very fat people wear their clothes, thinner people won’t buy them. There was no point rattling through the rails any more, seeking a satin redemption – nothing would fit my unfashionable bulk. I was consigned to M&S smock-land, across the River Styx. And it is lovely here; no heels, no stupid dresses-of-the-moment, certainly no thongs. Fashion has died for me, with an angry little hiss. Ah, peace.

I can look at the clothes on the catwalk now and laugh at their imbecility. They are not for me.

I can’t speak for Gold, but when I felt like this I wasn’t really angry at the gods of fashion, though I felt that “angry little hiss.” I was angry at myself for being insufficiently thin, insufficiently feminine. I was angry at my body for growing too much hair and too much flesh, at my feet for hurting in pointy shoes, at my hands for not being deft enough for perfectly applied eye makeup. This is not to say that I didn’t recognize the harmful practices the beauty industries — including the ones Gold describes, which so many of us have experienced — but my anger was still not borne out of a sense of being harmed psychologically, but of being rejected physically. Why bother, well, bothering when I was clearly never going to succeed? The idea of failing and succeeding at looking a certain, very specific way completely permeated my attitudes about fashion.

My dislike of fashion basically ended when I started taking baby steps toward accepting my body. The more I liked what I looked like, the more interested I got in adorning myself; getting dressed was no longer about correcting my supposed deficiencies but playing with my self-presentation. FJ and I spent some fantastic time in college hitting malls, thrift stores, army surplus stores, anywhere we could get our hands on clothes that spoke to us and fit our bodies, “too fat for fashion” though they may be. Eventually I moved to the Pacific Northwest, where feeling like a freak was as point of pride for many people, and the fashions reflected that. I dyed my hair bright red not out of rebellious angst (as I had done in high school), but because I loved having a dash of red near my face. I got glasses that stood out on my face instead of blending in. In other words, I built my own style, and even became known among my friends as having a strong fashion sense — words that my younger self would have furiously disbelieved. Fashion started to seem less like an enemy conspiracy and more like an artistic world that, like other art forms, has elite circles, everyday practitioners, and a lot of people in between.

In fact, despite the notorious anti-fat norms of most of the fashion world, it was an interest in fashion that led me to live body acceptance in my everyday life rather than just giving it lip service. I joined the Fatshionista community on LJ, got voraciously addicted to outfit posts, made several incredibly stylish and intelligent friends, and realized that the politics of fashion weren’t only something that happened to me without my consent when I put on clothes.

All of this is basically a long-ass way of introducing a wonderful response to Gold by a fashion blogger I think is just phenomenal, Tavi of Style Rookie. You may have heard of Tavi; she’s been getting a lot of press lately because she is a popular and charming style blogger who is also 13 freaking years old. 13! What were you doing when you were 13? Granted, I am 100% positive that if blogs had existed when I was 13, I would have had one — but I can guarantee you it would not be fashion-positive, much less fashion-forward. (It would have featured a lot of terrible poetry, is what it would have done). Here’s part of Tavi’s response to Gold’s lament:

Ms. Gold speaks about how she discovered fashion at 13 and then dressed in a way she knew she was supposed to dress. “How I enchanted. How I belonged. I thought I looked just like the effortlessly beautiful girls at school. Except I didn’t. And, very soon, I realised that I didn’t. All that weekend job money and childish angst and still I looked like me. That was the first seduction – and the first betrayal.” I don’t believe Ms. Gold “discovered” fashion; she discovered middle school and teenagerdom. She said that before that, she dressed as Andy Pandy and was happier.

I find the idea of dressing as Andy Pandy pretty awesome. It’s creative and it’s fun, and that sounds fashionable to me. What Tanya Gold and many others, including myself, hate is the everyone-has-to-look-the-same-and-also-sexy philosophy, which is NOT fashion.

This is by no means written with the intentions of a personal attack on Ms. Gold, but rather, a kind of response to this idea that I see coming up often. I think that the problem with fashion isn’t fashion, but how others decide to see it. The same “fashion” magazines that offer advice about pleasing men might decide that fashion isn’t for overweight people, but it’s Tanya Gold’s fault for believing it, and if she really wanted to have fun with clothes she could. Same goes for the idea that clothes HAVE to make you look sexy. Not if you don’t want to! Isn’t that amazing!

Don’t you wish this girl were your niece or your friend’s daughter? She’s seen through the sexyface plastic facade of fashion advertising — the part that uses the desire to conform to sell you things — to the part where people get to have fun with their own looks, and all before starting high school. Instead of desperately apprenticing herself to grownup sex appeal, as girls are pressured to do younger and younger, she creates an outfit (to pick just one recent example) as an homage to Edward Gorey.

T is for Tavi, whose hair is now blue as a Na'vi

My friend Coco perfectly summarized Tavi’s great appeal for feminist fashion-lovers: “What I love most about Tavi – and I’ll be heartbroken when it changes, as it will most certainly change – is the fact that she is still very much a child who is enjoying her childhood. She dresses like a 13 year old girl with fantastic and interesting style, as opposed to a miniature version of an adult woman. She rejects the notion that fashion is for making us sexier and rejects that being sexy is the objective in womanhood at all. In today’s culture where we make thongs for 8 year olds, and “boyfriend jeans” for toddlers, this is positively radical.”

I agree. While I have great sympathy for Tanya Gold’s rejection of the mandates of fashion, I think Tavi is a great face for personal creativity and self-respect in style. Fashion is not just about what gets pictured in “women’s magazines,” which are by definition handbooks in compulsory femininity. Style blogs are, I think, a great antidote to the orders “to buy a dress, and a bag and then perhaps some stupid, unnatural shoes and feel a kind of brief, bright burst of self-acceptance, which always evaporated as soon as I was home,” as Gold puts it. You don’t have to buy those things. You don’t have to be sexy. You don’t have to be pretty. You don’t have to look like everyone else — in fact, you don’t have to look like anyone else but your own damn self. You can wear a character from My Neighbor Totoro as a brooch and look like a million bucks. You get to decide what fashion means to you.

Photoshop’s greatest hits

It’s nothing most of our readers haven’t seen before, but Newsweek has a refresher course on the “biggest airbrushing scandals” of the 2000s. Consider it a visual illustration of the impossibly narrow standards of beauty that we’ve been talking about this week (and note especially how the women of color involved have had their skin lightened to fit that epically narrow ideal).

ETA: For shame, Newsweek! Looks like you got the “inspiration” for this piece — along with many of the examples — from our friends at Jezebel. Thank heavens for the mainstream media, doing all that original reporting, am I right?

Friday fluff: Tiny crafts

As those of you on Ravelry know, I’m kind of an obsessive knitter. I mostly do scarves, hats, and sweaters, but lately I’ve been charmed by the idea of making really small items that only take a few hours to do. Just this past week I’ve been making washcloths (shapes like stars and fish and other cute things) and kitty toys (filled with catnip — I cannot even sew them shut before my cats try to steal them away).

I think one reason this kind of tiny project appeals to me is that my attention span is completely shot right now due to grief and winter-induced depression. Crafting makes me feel better, but I can really only do an hour or so at a time before my brain starts going in spirals or I need to do something else.

Do you have tiny projects for the times when you don’t have a whole scarf/painting/letter in you? What small activity lifts you up for a few minutes at a time? What do you do with your itty bitty bouts of creativity?

Bonus: a great poem about a tiny painting.

Links: Golden Globes backlash, or This one goes out to the ladies

Those of you who hopped on our Golden Globe live-blogging adventure on Sunday (which was way, way more fun than I expected — GIVE YOURSELVES A HAND) might be interested in the following posts on Jezebel about (sadly predictable) sexist reactions to various women at the show:

James Cameron & Kathryn Bigelow Used To Be Married — Get Over It

‘You Don’t Put A Big Girl In A Big Dress’: Dissing Christina Hendricks

And, my personal favorite: Paper Devotes 363 Word Article To Mo’Nique’s Leg Hair

Basically these are all iterations of a theme: woman dares to look “different” (i.e., boobs, leg hair) and/or succeed artistically, must be put in her place. Well played, media journalists. What daring provocateurs you are.

In which I am defeated by a billboard

I hate this ad.

Doesn't this make you want to... buy a dress?

I stood waiting for a bus the other day while another bus idled in front of me. It had this ad on the side, bigger than life. I stared at this passive, anonymous woman, done up all ’80s-retro so you can pretend she’s not even in the present, much less someone with thoughts and desires that might conflict with your own.

There are a lot of reasons to hate American Apparel. So, so many (NSFW on all those links). But for some reason, seeing this image around town — even though the woman in it is more clothed than many others in AA ads — makes me especially sad and especially angry. To me, this looks different from the usual despicable American Apparel visual language for women’s clothing, which is of amateur porn; this looks like a woman impersonating a blow-up doll. She’s ready for you (and by you, of course, I mean Manly Straight Man You, not Woman Who Might Want to Buy a Pencil Dress You) to climb right on top of her and yank that ponytail to kingdom come. And you don’t even have to look her in her stupid eyes — they’re conveniently covered up to disguise any trace of personality!

Women are represented as sexual objects so frequently in our culture that it often barely registers for me; I walk past ads with tits and ass galore and just go “hmmph” as I go about my business. But every now and then, some image wakes me up temporarily to just how fucking disposable women are in ads, in songs, in films, in books. I take off my “just make it through your day blinkers” and look around me in horror. I don’t know why image in particular jolted me any more than another — it might have just been the amount of time I had to look at it — but I can say unequivocally that seeing this image in public made me feel unsafe. There’s no other way to put it.

This ad, like so many others, has a message: women are here for your sexual amusement. Stare at them. Talk to them. Touch them. They’re just waiting for you to do it; they put their hair up so you can grab it. They wear heels so you can ogle their legs. They’ll do whatever you want, and you don’t even have to look them in the eyes.