Feminist Friday: Melissa Harris-Perry’s new show, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis co-starring in a film about education reform


Our weekend started off on a good note, with one more smart woman on the airwaves. Melissa Harris-Perry, a frequent guest and substitute host for The Rachel Maddow Show, launched her own weekend show on Saturday. She’s already an ace, handling a guest who kept trying to talk over her with polite but determined aplomb, and tackling politics (and a bit of pop culture) with brains and humor.

Harris-Perry’s show is on weekends at 10 a.m. East Coast time, or “godawful early” if you’re on the West Coast. That’s why magical DVR elves exist.

Among the topics Harris-Perry covered was the current gobsmacking debate over women’s health care and access to contraception, because apparently we left that darn time machine running again and it’s 1952.

Case in point: Wednesday’s revolting GOP debate, in which all four candidates practically tore each other’s arms off to prove that they hated contraception and affordable women’s health care the most. At least we can take comfort in the fact that these four rich guys really understand what it’s like to skip those crucial yearly cancer screenings because you’re broke and don’t have health insurance.

Along the way, they pushed the rhetoric on birth control even farther into the Pleistocene era, making it clear that in their minds the only reason women could possibly want contraception, even married women, is because they’re dirty bad sex fiends.

Also Rick Santorum seems to be under the impression that access to contraception causes pregnancy. I’m beginning to suspect that one fateful Thanksgiving while Rick was napping, a prankster relative started pouring yams into his ear and didn’t stop until his head was completely full. Now they’re squooshing around in there and there’s nothing any of us can do about it.

The magnificent Aisha Tyler summed up her frustrations with the candidates a little more succinctly.

As frustrating as the last couple of weeks have been on that point, Jessica Valenti pointed out in The Nation that the GOP war on women’s sexual autonomy is nothing new. It’s just been louder lately.

Speaking of that, I’m proud to have been a part of this video that has been bouncing around the feminist blogs and reminding the folks who have been so busy legislating our loins that turnabout is fair play. Our producer and director (who also co-wrote the short with the cast and a couple of other contributors) are men, proving that you don’t need ladybits to be a good feminist. Just brains.


After I posted that video on Twitter, I heard from a regular correspondent of mine that I’ll call Paul. He and I disagree about a lot of things, particularly those things involving the legislation of ladybits, but he always wants to talk when he contacts me, not yell slogans, and he’s consistently respectful, so I tend to respond. Besides, if I can’t listen to a different perspective every now and then, I might as well go on and fill my own head with yams.

Paul and I went back and forth on whether Sandra Fluke’s testimony on why access to birth control could have made a crucial difference to her friend, was, in Paul’s phrasing, “irrelevant.” His point was that the hearings were only about whether the religious men they brought in felt like their religious freedom was being oppressed, and my point was that the hearings were directly relevant to the 99% of the women in this country who have used birth control.

Paul said that yes, it was maybe sad for those women who need birth control to, say, keep from losing an ovary, but oh, well, And then he tried to move on.

Normally Paul and I stick to theory, facts, and relevant articles, but this time I couldn’t.

I told Paul that I knew that he respected me and thought of me as a person, but that I was concerned because he didn’t seem to see women collectively as people.

He was offended, saying I had just tasked him with “defending personhood” for women. I explained that I was pointing out the fact that he tended to gloss over that personhood, and that when he said “Oh, well!” and blithely ignored something that hurt women as a category, he was blithely ignoring something that could directly hurt me.

And Paul went away.

I am not for a moment suggesting that I won that argument. I can’t possibly know for sure why he went away. But I do think I finally gave Paul something important to think about, or at least a step towards understanding my point of view. I think it forced him, even for just a moment, to look at our argument as something that involved specific, feeling human beings instead of just an abstract concept.

I bring it up because I think it’s especially important to have those troublesome conversations right now, whether we’re talking about women’s rights or LGBT rights. We don’t have to get emotional, and we certainly don’t need to get shouty, but I do think it’s important to get personal.

It’s easy to write off a category of people – we’re seeing that more and more as the election gets closer – but it’s harder to write off an individual person you’ve made a connection with. It’s the Harvey Milk principle: “If they know us, they don’t vote against us.”

Or at least it’s damn sight harder.

We don’t need to be impolite, but we do need to stop this nonsense and hold the line. The other side is hoping to shame us and make us afraid of seeming too slutty, too gay, or too strident, or to embarrass us out of keeping an uncomfortable conversation going.

Let’s be brave enough to keep on talking.

Let’s also get back to the 21st Century and things that are good, shall we?

Always fun site The Mary Sue alerted us to the fact that Thursday was Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day! They also summed up a heartening Intel study indicating that teenage girls are increasingly likely to get interested in engineering and consider it as a career if only someone bothers to tell them about it. So be sure to mark your calendars for next year.

Also on the topic of women and developing those frontal lobes, Indiewire had the joyous news that Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal are starring together in Won’t Back Down, a drama about trying to save an inner-city school. Two fantastic actresses in a smart drama that’s almost certain to pass the Bechdel test. Are you excited yet?

Speaking of film drool, here’s a new clip of awesome to send you to your weekend on a high note of badassery.


Let’s get out there and be brave.

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