To Terry O’Neill

Marjorie Murphy Campbell

Online Letter to Terry O’Neill

President, National Organization of Women

Dear Ms. O’Neill,

Every feminist thanks you for taking a stand against the brutal attack on 14 year old Pakistani Malala Yousafzai.  Malala was targeted to be killed by the Swat Valley Taliban for her advocacy for education for girls.  The Taliban took responsibility for the October 4 assault in which the assailant boarded a bus, called out for Malala by name and then shot her in the head.  Malala did not die, and continues to improve in a hospital in London.  

The Taliban has justified this cold-blooded attack, which you rightfully decry, citing the Quran, Shariah law and religious precedent:    

“If anyone thinks that Malala was targeted because of education, that is absolutely wrong, and propaganda of media. Malala was targeted because of her pioneer role in preaching secularism and so called enlightened moderation. And whomsoever will commit so in future too will be targeted again” …It is “not just allowed … but obligatory in Islam” to kill such a person involved “in leading a campaign against Shariah and (who) tries to involve whole community in such campaign, and that personality becomes a symbol of anti-Shariah campaign.” 

At the core of Malala’s objectionable “preaching,” lays her young love of education and her conviction that girls, like boys, have a right to attend school.  Malala wanted to become a doctor – an ambition that evolved into an activism so that all girls would have the opportunity to become doctors.  It was this activism – on behalf of the equality and dignity of all girls – that motivated the Taliban to silence Malala.  It was this activism – in a culture where Malala’s own mother refused to be photographed because she is a woman – that motivated the Taliban to send a brutal, horrific message to all females who would seek their dignity and equality in spite of systemic oppression and discrimination based upon the condition of being female.

Malala’s bloodied body is the cruel reality of misogyny – the distrust, dislike and oppression of a person for the condition of being female.  Every feminist joins you, Ms. O’Neill, and NOW in recognizing that “Throughout the world, countless young girls are robbed of their childhood through violence, forced marriage and lack of access to health care or education.”  Whether these denials of basic human dignity to the female arise from religious beliefs, customs, or even by consent of females, depriving females of fundamental human liberties should give rise to objection from all feminists throughout the world.  To ignore the violence and indignities encourages and condones a disdain for the autonomy and equality of the female.  It is brave of you to take this stand when doing so might trigger violence against you, just as threats have been made against journalists who have dared to cover the story over objections of the Taliban. 

In this we can join together, progressive feminists, new feminists and feminists of all waves.  Physical attack, forced marriage, revenge attacks and genital mutilation – all of which occur with frightening frequency throughout the world – warrant our efforts to work together and demand education and legal parity for women.

As you note in your statement, these problems are not limited to particular countries or parts of the world.   Our work can and should begin within our borders. encourages you and NOW to exercise your voice for the basic dignity of all females, that no female is denied her fundamental autonomy for the condition of being female.   It is vital that those of us fighting and struggling for the dignity of our gender dialogue on the scope of degradation of the female – including females aborted due to sex selection, females used and degraded in pornography and prostitution, females reduced to indentured pregnancies, and females killed as “incidents” by drones and military strategies.  If we do not insist that the condition of being female is never a justification for destruction and exploitation, that – in fact – the condition of being female is as worthy and equal to that of the male – then we will fall short of creating a world where the female can live with the same respect and dignity of the male. 

That all too often it is women themselves perpetuating, encouraging and commercially profiting from the destruction, humiliation and exploitation of other females does not change the nature of misogyny.  We must engage this struggle aware that violence and discrimination against women comes not only from highly visible misogynist men of radical groups like the Taliban, but from other women as well.  Ayaan Hirsi Ali offers a startling account of the role of women in oppressing their own gender in her memoir Infidel and the chilling narrative of her genital mutilation and physical abuse. 

Women themselves can think of femaleness with distrust, dislike and hostility, certain that men, maleness and masculine attributes and ambitions are superior to the female. Consider, for example, the widespread abortion of females for sex selection.  This is destruction wrought by women against the female fetus because she is female.  Commercialization of reproduction – fueled by demands from older, less fertile women – is creating a vast and lucrative industry that seeks to reduce the younger, fertile female body to a commodity, rivaling the dehumanizing and objectification that unchecked pornography has nearly normalized in a Western world shaped by male demand for sexual exploitative entertainment.  In India, a reproductive industry flourishes off the indenture of impoverished women for nine months of paid, regulated, commercial pregnancy.  In each of these instances, the female is subject of violence, discrimination and exploitation based upon the condition of being female, regardless the gender of her oppressor.  Education is critical, as you assert, not only to empower girls, but also to give women the intellectual tools to break from traditional customs and modern cultural practices that offend and destroy the female.

We must not let politics or the pressures of commercial interests blind us to these forms of degradation and violence.  To ignore any form of discrimination and violence nurtures and perpetuates a  dangerous drift to denigrate the female – her body, her attributes and her autonomy – as inferior and less worthy of protection within a male paradigm.  We must combine our resources to say “No” to all discrimination and oppression against the female. We must join efforts to say “Yes” to Malala’s dream for the education and life-long dignity of all females throughout the world.  As you astutely ask, “If a 14-year-old girl can risk her life standing up to the Taliban, what actions can we take here in the U.S. to advance the rights of girls?”  Creating dialogue and forging cooperation between feminists is a good place to start.


Marjorie Campbell

Pretty Pajamas

Elizabeth Hanna Pham

One of my favorite pieces of marital advice I’ve ever heard was given to me by my friend when we were just teenagers looking at clothes in my closet. She said, nonchalantly,

My mom told me that the secret to marriage is to make sure you always wear pretty pajamas.

We probably laughed and didn’t talk much about it, but it forever stuck with me.

Around the same time I was looking at pictures of myself from when I was about four years old and I noticed how unique my outfits were.  Almost every other picture I was in a princess gown or an animal costume or a vintage dress from my great grandmother.  It was the age when we would play dress up just because.  The age when you assumed you were beautiful and adorned yourself as such.  The age when you didn’t question if it was appropriate to wear ruby red slippers to school.  The age when you dressed totally impractical, and yet you never thought twice about it. Nearly everything you did was impractical.  And how freeing such an outlook was.  Little girls in their princess dresses have such confidence, such happiness.  They’re so human and they’re so beautiful. But what happens?  Somewhere along the way they put away their personality and don Abercrombie jeans so as to win approval of girls and the sexual attention of boys.  And through this process, they lose something so precious.  They may even forget to wear pretty pajamas.

Too often, we think of beauty simply as a means to an end.  And that is the problem with the little girl who grows out of dress up.  She forgets what it was like to dress up just because.  Dressing up becomes simply a tool for getting something.  Her own beauty becomes meaningless, except for whatever it can do for her.  And so we hear of the married woman who “gives up.”  The married woman who stops caring about what she wears or what she looks like.  She’d found her guy, checked off her list. Now what else was there to do besides watch TV and live vicariously through other people trying to check off their lists?

But here is where my friend’s mom’s advice comes in.  Always wear pretty pajamas.  We are instinctual beings.  We are animals.  And so there is a natural explanation for why the eleven year old begins to see her beauty as a means to an end.  But we are more than animals.  We appreciate beauty for more than its practicality.  Beauty lifts us to heights beyond the realm of instinct.  Beauty nourishes us and gives meaning to our lives.  Beauty enchants us and gives us hope.  And one of the greatest things anyone can ever have in their marriage is hope.

Therefore, if you want your marriage (or relationship, or just your life in general!) to be full of hope, if you want it to be transcendent, if you want it to be more than instinct, do the things that don’t make sense.  Do the things that aren’t practical.  The things that are beautiful just because.  Like pretty pajamas when you’re sixty-five.  Like pretty pajamas when you’re nine months pregnant.  Like pretty pajamas when you may feel entirely unattractive.  Like pretty pajamas because you’re beautiful and because your beauty, not just your sexuality, is what gives you purpose and meaning, and it is what in turn, enchants a man, even when he has, in the world’s terms, gained everything he can practically gain from you.  When the practical has expired, when instinct has been fulfilled, it is beauty that must remain to keep us going, to give us reason, even more reason to live and to love.

I’ve made a rule for myself that I will always light a candle when my husband and I have dinner.  There have been many times when I have said oh but we’re eating really quickly or ahh the table is a mess or I’ll light a candle after I clean everything but every time I make such an excuse, I know in the back of my head that I am making a mistake, that I am depriving us of something, perhaps incredibly simple, but something perhaps more important than the meal itself.  Precisely because we don’t need candles.  The animal says, we just need to eat.  But the human recognizes that the things we need most are the things we don’t need.  The things we need most are the things that are impractical.  The things that are simply beautiful just because.  I used to always wonder why my mom insisted that we “set” the table with pretty napkins rather than plain old paper towels.  Wouldn’t paper towels be easier?  But now I understand. When I light a candle, it gives meaning to the meal I cooked.  And it tells my husband, or my husband tells me when he lights a candle (which he is much better at doing!) that we’ll love each other beyond what makes sense.  We’ll love each other even when our bellies are full and our senses satisfied.  That we’ll dance around the kitchen just because and that we’ll continue to hold hands even when our children are grown and our hair is grey. Because that’s the kind of love that means the most.  That’s the kind of love that sets you free—the kind of free that you were when you were four years old.  The kind of free that makes you human.


Marjorie Murphy Campbell

I need to get this off my chest:  my husband is not my best friend.  He’s never been my best friend and never will be.  I experience some envy of the young brides and long-married wives who contentedly call their spouse “my best friend.”  Facebook has a site called “My Husband Is My Best Friend” with over 170,000 “likes”! I don’t doubt that some husbands are capable of female-friendly friendship.  But mine is not and, well, his relation toward me is not anything I recognize as friendship, not in terms I understand.  I am not complaining.  For me, not being best friends is the cornerstone of our marriage – and I love my marriage just the way it is.

In fact, my marriage – to this man who is most definitely not my best friend – rescued me from a foolish pursuit and restored my sense of self as a woman. 

In my youth, I adopted progressive feminism’s delirious ambition to “level” the playing field between the sexes by coaxing and coercing women into behaving more like men.  I gave this pursuit a long, honest try, even as I grew skeptical whether being more like a man was actually making me happy.  But I plucked away at the enterprise.  That is, I plucked away at it until I married a man.  Coming into close quarters with my “feminist” goal horrified me, and finally disabused me of my own agenda.

Husband is a verb – “to manage, especially with prudent economy” – that describes mine better than the noun.  Just calling him spouse, partner or companion says nothing about him.  He could call me the same, his “spouse or partner or companion,” as if we are just alike, friends who got married.  Husband, in its verbiage, works better by hinting there is difference between us.  In my marriage, it works especially well because my husband wears his tendency to manage, direct and control all things with pride and tenacity.  He is stereotypical “male” in this way – the kind of overbearing Alpha male that caused my own mother to comment “I’ve never cared for men like that.” 

I don’t mind that my husband is an Alpha male and incapable of being my best friend.  He is, after all, my husband:  my one-of-a-kind, stand-alone, close call with being male.  He’s exactly what I needed to unfurl my female self which had curled up in shame and deference to my feminist agenda.  He is both amazing and terrifying and I am happy to keep it that way.  I would not have become the wife (and mother) that I am without his maleness regularly confounding me, annoying me and astounding me. 

What he lacks in empathy (which he once described as “Greek to me”), he supplies in courage and resolution. His enormous capacity for technical detail and reasoned analysis leaves little room, or interest, for emotive and interpersonal connection (which he, literally, entrusts to me).  He cannot fret over – what he calls “remote” – risks because then he could not set off on motorcycles, road bikes, downhill skis or 4-wheel drive vehicles with his like-minded males friends to “have some fun.”  Nor can he worry about offending “sensitive” people, the type who would forbid his weekly night of steak, cigars and brass banter with the “boys.” 

It is beyond dispute that, were I to try to join him in his ways, I would be an utter and complete failure.  I would cry, tremble or hug when my empathy got the better of me.  I would say “thank you,” “I’m sorry,” and “I forgot to tell you . . . “ only to derail a deal he’d patiently and purposefully assembled over weeks.   I would (and have) endangered others and crashed at speeds I had no business attempting.  I have stomped out of his steak dinners in dismayed disgust.  In other words, if my husband is the man I once longed to be, my ambition was a waste from the start.

My marriage is a great relief to me.  I don’t have to be a man to level the playing the field.  My husband can be the man he is and I can be the woman I love to be.  I can supply empathy, nurturing, connection, patience and listening in all the creaky joints, knowing with passionate certainty that my husband needs me in order to be the best man he can be – just as much as I need him to be the best woman I can be.  That’s a level playing field. 

Our field is quite lively, level and loving, I think most people would say.  We have spirited play, and tremendous exchange, between ourselves.  Often, we are amazed at how entertaining and provocative our differences are.  We often opt to be alone together because it’s fun.  I’d say, we are like two halves of a heart.  He’d probably say it’s more like a flame and a good cigar. 

To give you an idea, here’s one of our favorite stories. 

Over several evenings in the company of friends, my husband noted that I came away with far more personal information about the lives, troubles and joys of the people with whom we had just spent several hours.  While always more versed in their new audio equipment and current reading, he felt challenged to come away with something more, something personal that he alone found out and could share with me for a change. 

After our next evening out with Dr. Bill and his wife, my husband prodded, “Did you know that Dr. Bill is taking a sabbatical?”  

I shook my head “no.”  My happy husband described our friend’s plan to take leave from his medical practice and move abroad.  Grinning, my husband poked, “You did not know any of that, did you?  Ha!  She didn’t tell you, did she?” 

I paused, feeling sorry for him, and responded lightly, “No, she didn’t mention the sabbatical.  But, honey, did Dr. Bill tell you that they are getting divorced?”  He sulked the rest of the way home.

No, my husband is not my best friend.  He’s my … husband – and I am his wife.  Our marriage is built upon our differences, and I hope and pray it stays that way.

Diana Wynne Jones

Henry Karlson

Diana Wynne Jones died on March 26, 2011.  I had only come to know of her work in 2004 when Hayao Miyazaki turned her novel Howl’s Moving Castle,  into an animated film.  After seeing the film, I decided to find out what I could about the author, and in the process, I discovered one of the greatest writers of the 20th century.  

Jones’ book, Reflections on the Magic of Writing, gives some interesting insight into the ideas which lay behind her work.  While she was regarded as a “children’s author,” she was really writing books to be read and enjoyed by anyone, like C. S. Lewis did before her, and J.K. Rowling and so many have done after.  While there can be, and should be, much which is said about her fiction, what I found interesting is that the challenges she faced as an author reflected the kinds of challenges she faced as a woman.  As both an author and woman, she grappled with expectations which she felt pressured to meet and follow, whether or not those expectations made any sense. That she wrote “children’s fantasy” was often seen as something unsuitable for a woman – just as she had discovered in her youth that being the hero of a fantasy was largely reserved for boys. 

In essays like “The Heroic Ideal: A Personal Odyssey” and in lectures from her “Whirlwind Tour of Australia,” Jones expressed the difficulty she had creating a feminine heroine for her stories.  She was afraid that such heroines would not be universal – girls might like such stories, but would boys?  She loved classical myths and legends and grasped at any feminine hero she could find – Spenser’s Britomart, for example, and the Ballad of Tam Lin.  slowly, in her works, she introduced strong feminine characters, sometimes wiser or more powerful than the masculine “hero.” 

But Jones, like society generally, had to come to accept the possibility of a feminine hero in a story which could be enjoyed by everyone.  She saw it could be done – others were creating and presenting feminine heroes to the broader audience.  In her own efforts, Jones realized that there was an aspect of herself she had to confront, the reality of being a woman and being comfortable in her own skin.  Creating a story of a feminine hero was as helpful to Jones’ personal growth as it was to children’s literature: 

“About ten years ago, boys started being prepared to read books with a female hero.  I found everything had gone much easier without, then, being able to say how or why.  Females weren’t expected to behave like wimps and you could make them the center of the story.  By that time anyway, I found the tactile sense of being female stopped bothering me – which may have been a part of the same revolution – and it was a release.”  (Jones, Reflections on the Magic of Writing, 147). 

The book which Jones she wrote – Fire and Hemlockwas a complex work which allowed Jones to borrow many heroic themes and turn them upside-down and inside-out.  The hero of the tale reflects themes found in works as diverse as The Odyssey and Sleeping Beauty.  It is a tragic tale about love and the real expectations of love. There are aspects of the relationship which might seem creepy to the reader, but they are resolved before the end (I say this as a warning as well as to point out Jones dealt with those problems, but to say more would ruin the story). 

Sadly, the story ran afoul of the expectations of critics and many dismissed it.  One critic went so far to imply that he wouldn’t read it since it was clearly written for women! 

In her writing, Jones’ often reflects on “rules” – and how arbitrary or ridiculous they can be.  As a child during World War II, Jones grew up in a rule-bound household.  The difficult relationship she had with her parents and the rules they imposed upon her became the foundation of her criticism of “rules” and her desire to break through rule compliance to find something greater, better as a result.  Jones is not an anarchist:  in her writing and in her life, she believed principles are the primary markers for behavior, while social constructs suffer defects and limitations. Jones acknowledged that rules can represent some element of truth, but one must not confuse them for the fullness of truth itself. 

The best way to understand Jones’ interest in rules-as-subject is through her great work of literary criticism: A Tough Guide to Fantasyland.  In this work, Jones organized all the cliché in the fantasy genre and whittled it down into a “guidebook” to reflect the tone and style of “fantasy novels.”  She concluded that people were writing the same story over and over again – borrowing, ultimately, from Tolkien.  Tolkien himself was not caught in the cliché and transcended the imitators; his purpose was never to establish the “rules” of fantasy writing.  But Tolkien’s writing worked so well, it generated “rules” which allowed other writers to imitate him.  Jones sees the value to the rules, but laments how much is lost when the freedom of imagination that fantasy invites becomes so restricted.  

Jones’ analysis of the “rules” of fantasy writing offers a broader framework to understand how rules of behavior and expectation can generate from a model of excellence into a restrictive and confining set of rules that forestalls development and further excellence.  New Feminists, for example, might look at 20th century feminism and fairly wonder how does one conserve what deserves to be conserved while moving forward?  Have the “rules” of 20th century feminism taken over the lives and expectations of women, thwarting the further “excellent” developments New Feminism might offer?

Alana S. Newman: Shark Tank Girl

Jennifer Lahl

When I first met Alana, I was at Columbia University Law School screening my documentary film,  Eggsploitation.  I had done an earlier screening during the day at Fordham University Law School and noted at both of these screenings “they” were following me.  They being the women who typically attend my screenings to give me pushback and reject and/or discount the message of the film, that “donating” (often times it is selling) your eggs is risky and potentially quite harmful to young women.  These women who follow me around are someway involved in the fertility industry.  They are reproductive lawyers, egg brokers, women who they themselves struggled with infertility and used egg donors and/or surrogates to conceive.  Understandably, these women have issues with the film.

But on this particular night, I noticed in the back of the auditorium, a young woman holding up a card board sign which read, Anonymous Us.  I had only recently heard about this website and the project which was being run by this woman Alana S. Newman.  At one point during the Q and A period of the night, Alana raised her hand and was called upon to ask her question.  She challenged the audience to consider the children being created in this enterprise, the children intentionally created and largely separated from their biological mothers and fathers (in the case of sperm donation) and half-siblings.  Her message resonated with many in the audience.  I chatted briefly with Alana after the screening.  She was off to play music at a gig she had that evening and she handed me her music CD which was packaged in a paper bag.  That music I would later use in my next film, Anonymous Father’s Day, which highlights the stories of donor-conceived people – including Alana herself, one of the people interviewed in this film.

The next day, while reading my google alert news on the film, I was mortified to see Alana referred to as “Shark Tank Girl” by one of the women attending the screening.  This woman maintains a blog on third-party reproduction and had attended my screenings at Fordham and Columbia Universities.  She wrote:

I was civil and level, as neutral as I could be in my questioning until Shark tank girl-well ,I only took one little pot shot, couldn’t help it. I asked is there a model by which ART is practiced elsewhere that they think is done according to their standards and that they would consider acceptable and I got an answer that made no sense-it might have, but it was just blah blah blah, nothing substantive. Which was when Shark Tank girl chimed in on how in other countries there is a homestudy done just like they do for adoption, to see if it’s a home and family fit to be parents. My pot shot was-maybe they also do a better job of screening donors too (this girl supposedly passed through and donated twice herself). I reminded the Panel that I was asking about all ART and not just Donors and that in adoption there are different risks & liabilities for placing an existing child compared to who is entitled by law to have children through any form of reproduction.


Why on earth, I wondered, was this woman calling Alana “Shark Tank Girl”?  I couldn’t imagine an older woman calling Alana by such a pejorative name.  I mean, as an older woman myself, watching another older woman ignore this young person’s very real pain and concerns and calling her names?  So I emailed Alana, who gave me the backstory.  Alana had once been invited to speak at a workshop for people considering having children via reproductive technologies – she felt she had been thrown into a shark tank because her message was not well received and she is seen as an enemy of the infertility industry.

Since then, I’ve appeared on the Dr. Oz, addressing these issues, with Alana in the audience.  And of course “they” were there too.  Alana’s attacker wrote again here:

Shark Tank Girl stood up to say that she is 5 months PG, that she has been an Egg Donor and is a Donor Offspring herself, here at The Dr Oz Show to say that Anonymous Donor Conception is wrong because it strips the child of their rightful PARENTAL connection to, you guessed it, the Donor. A parent and a donor are not the same thing. 

Recently, Alana has come under fire again for her latest piece calling out the “new sexual predators” as it relates to older women and gay men needing young fertile women in order for them to have a child.  Of course her analogy went over like a lead balloon within the industry.

Here’s what I know about Alana.  She is strong and powerful and gentle and loving.  She has a heart for people struggling with infertility but wants to be sure we don’t harm others, exploit the poor, see or treat children as commodities in our desire to pro-create.  She’s fearless in her willingness to go anywhere and talk to anyone – even if that means being thrown to the sharks.

Fox-Genovese: Baseball

Marjorie Murphy Campbell

Elizabeth Fox-Genovese nurtured and contributed to “difference feminism” in her writing, speaking and thought.  In deference to the season, here is an excerpt from her Feminism Without Illusion:  A Critique of Individualism (1st Ed. 1991).

During the twentieth century the importance of the biological differences between men and women have lost most of their power to explain and justify the social, economic, and political differences between men and women.  The modern technological and contraceptive revolutions have radically reduced the significance of biological difference for most aspects of life.  Modern methods of contraception ensure that women no longer need bear more children that they choose, and most women in developed societies like our own choose to bear few.  Modern technology ensures that there are very few occupations that women cannot perform as effectively as men.  In what way, after all, is muscular strength a prerequisite for pushing the button that will unleash nuclear warfare?  Or for flying a jet bomber?  Women have proved fully capable of becoming astronauts.  There is no biological reason that they should not serve at the highest levels of military command or business administration or political power.

Those who wish to argue from physiology to social role are rapidly being forced to argue that although men are indeed better suited than women to serve in the infantry or in heavy labor, they are hardly better suited to sit behind desks, making important decisions and earning mega-salaries.  One of the most tricking aspects of our society lies in the declining relevance of men’s physical strength to the most important business of life, including the exercise of economic and political power.  In an age addicted to weight lifting and body building, we are loathe to talk very much about this simple fact.  We might even fairly be charged with engaging in a vast cultural deception, but the facts are as inescapable as we seem to find them unsettling.  Men do retain the advantage of physical strength over women, but the significance of the advantage has steadily decreased and is now questionable.  Many men have found this change disturbing, especially since it has been accompanied by a significant increase in women’s potential independence and economic power.

The women’s movement and feminism have permitted us to displace the problem of the declining value of men’s physical strength into a discussion of the differences between men and women.  Typically, many people associate the pursuit of women’s rights with the decline of femininity and the increase of female aggression.  Women, it is said, no longer know how to be women, do not want doors or coats held for them, do not want to be women.  Women who display serious concern with their careers or, heaven forbid, seek advancement in them risk angry denunciations as “power bitches.”  The epithet suggests that when woman pursues a goal with determination, she has automatically removed herself from the category of woman, has, in some way, masculinized herself.  We – women as as much as men – remain deeply uncomfortable with the idea that a woman might want to win, much less that she might want to beat a man.  For when a man beats another man, the contest is accepted as one between individuals, whereas win a woman beats a man, the contest is seen as representative of the battle between the sexes.  Even women, who in general have not been reared to understand the pleasures of winning, themselves remain anxious about the prospect – almost fearful that winning will indeed prove that they are not truly women.

It took me longer than I care to admit to understand that women were entitled to win and that winning could be as much fun for women as for men.  And goodness knows I had an object lesson close to home.  For years, the quality of my life depended upon the fate of the San Francisco Giants, who for the last two decades have proved on balance disappointing, notwithstanding the promise of Will Clark, Kevin Mitchell, and, if all goes well, Matt Williams.  After all these years, I still have not been able to decide if the ignominy of marginally .500 ball is better or worse that the anxieties that attend their occasional, but ultimately unsuccessful, heroics.  Years ago I learned that for a baseball fan the virtues of hard work, courage in the face of defeat, discrete displays of excellence – how, in short, you play the game – matter little, if at all.  The point is to win.  And if baseball infects fans with this passion, what must it do the players?

Among its other virtues, which I think are legion, baseball embodies a dramatization of the beauty and daring of physical strength.  I do not say that it could never be a woman’s game, especially since in 1989, for the first time, a woman made a competitive college baseball team.  But . . . I remain doubtful that many women could ever successfully compete against men for spots in the starting lineup in the major leagues.  I do, in other words, think that baseball will predominantly remain a man’s game, not merely in the sense of men as players but also int he sense of dramatization of an important aspect of male identity.

In baseball, male physical strength indisputably matters, as do physical and moral courage.  Those who doubt the “moral courage” would do well to look into the astonishing career of the Giants’ pitcher, Dave Dravecky, whose pitching arm had a cancer cut out of it but who, in defiance of every medical prognosis, returned to the major leagues eight months later.  A devoutly religious Christian, his determination cost him a broken arm and a renewed threat of cancer that has forced his permanent retirement, but the outcome hardly diminishes the valor of his effort.

Roger Kahn, in his wonderful book The Boys of Summer, poignantly details the dimensions of and like between physical and moral courage and their significance for boys and men who are themselves ball players.  He skillfully interweaves a running account of his own fears, as a child, of the fastball his father threw at him with accounts of the players on the spectacular Dodger teams of the early 1950s.  Suddenly the reader can see and feel what it took for Jackie Robinson, the first black player in the majors, to stand day after day at second base awaiting the tear of cleats on his shins.  Day after day, Jackie Robinson took his place at second base, and day after day he held his ground.  When it was over, thanks to Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey, baseball was integrated.

Women are unaccustomed to such tests of physical strength and endurance.  Our models of courage are different, although no less important in their way.  We need only think of Rosa Parks, who quietly, simply refused to move from the seat on the bus that was reserved for white folks.  Women, too, can appreciate baseball.  Indeed I unhesitatingly count myself a fan.  But watching baseball, we are not generally watching our own kind, not shaping our own identities.  As fans, our enthusiasm, like that of men, is for a lived contest between spirit and flesh and for a competition women are unlikely to enter directly.  Why should we recoil?  Why should women not appreciate a specifically male version of the human condition?  Why should we not recognize that, notwithstanding all the changes our world has undergone or may undergo, differences persist and can be enjoyed?


Elizabeth Fox-Genovese’s Feminism Without Illusions: A Critique of Individualism is widely available, now in its Third Edition.

Beyond the Fig Leaf

Elizabeth Hanna Pham

Whenever I say the word modesty it sticks to the roof of my mouth like peanut butter.

It’s a perfectly fine word and it’s not it’s own fault that it has become cliché.  But for whatever reason, its use inevitably hearkens to thoughts of ankle-length khaki skirts and stiff, shapeless button-downs.  For a girl who likes to wear things that look beautiful on her beautiful body, modesty sounds like pretty unappealing.

Now, there have been some good efforts made to make modesty a positive thing and to eliminate the type of reaction that so many of us have to it.  There are stores that have devoted themselves to making modest and fashionable clothes.  And though some have achieved this, unless you were way fashionable before you started preaching, you’re not likely to be taken seriously.  The modest and fashionable stance too often says you can have it all and still be modest!  And while it is true that you can be fashionable and modest, you can’t be modest and have all the convenient advantages that come with being immodest.  And I don’t think we’re helping anybody by telling them otherwise.

The truth is – modesty is difficult.  And it will always be difficult.  It sucks when you want to buy the string bikini but you don’t and then you feel dumb at the pool party.  It sucks when you want to wear the shorter skirt but you can’t because you know you shouldn’t.  It sucks when you go back inside to change because you know better than that and you know that someone you love will tell you that you know better than that if you don’t tell yourself.

And why does it suck?  Well, because I don’t think we were meant to cover up. They certainly didn’t cover up in the Garden of Eden.  The body is a beautiful thing.  And a beautiful thing should be seen and adored.  I know and have heard all this stuff about covering up because you’re beautiful but that hasn’t ever really made sense to me.  We don’t cover up anything else because it’s beautiful.  Sure you would be careful with it and cherish it but there are few things you cover up because they are beautiful or because they are sacred.

No.  We don’t cover up because we’re beautiful.  We cover up because we’re screwed up and we don’t know how to properly deal with something so beautiful.  And we’re likely to screw up the beautiful if we don’t cover it up.

I know that sounds pessimistic.  But I honestly believe that it’s the truth and that we won’t understand how to dress in a way that it is good for us until we admit the truth.  We are prone to do bad things—good things too—but bad things.  And in the wrong context, the beautiful body is tempting.  In the wrong context, the beautiful body can be misused.  And though a misused body at the time makes us feel like we have it all, it actually leads us to lose so much of what we had in the first place.

In the end, nobody “has it all.”  The modest girl is eventually respected and given the choices that usually go along with modesty she probably ends up happier down the road. But she missed out on things.  She missed out on some fun and she missed out on the thrill that comes with promiscuity.  We can’t deny that she missed out on this.  We can’t deny that Sandy from Grease gained something when she switched out her innocent dress for the black leather pants.  She probably did have more fun.  And I don’t think it does any good to pretend like she didn’t.

And yet, Grease is a tragedy.  Fun did come along with the black leather pants. But so, so, so much more was lost.  For the first time, Sandy was misused. What was so pristine while hidden, became marred when finally exposed.  What Danny so badly wanted to see, shattered the minute she stripped off the veil.  It’s not that she couldn’t have ever done so.  But just that it was the wrong time in an imperfect world.  By trying to show Sandy to everyone, Sandy lost everything that everyone wanted to see in the first place.

In the end, although modesty comes with its fair share of feeling awkward and stupid and lame and ugly, modesty is worth it.  In the end, our world is not Eden.  Our world is not perfect.  And so nobody ever is going to have it all.  The best we can do is protect what we do have.  It takes a whole lot of patience to protect something beautiful.  It’s like covering up a painting in a museum.  It feels so paradoxical and ridiculous at times.  And the last thing you want to hear is about how freeing it is and how much you respect yourself once you do it.  Because a lot of the time it doesn’t feel freeing.  It feels stifling. A lot of the time you may respect yourself, but you also feel unattractive.  A lot of the time, for a lot of people, modesty feels like a weight on your shoulders.  Especially when everyone else seems to have nothing covering their shoulders… or stomachs, or legs.

But the cool thing about weights is that they make us stronger.  And the higher we hold them, the prouder and taller we stand, the stronger we get. In an imperfect world, we’re all weak.  And so it’s going to hurt to get stronger.  But strength is such a wonderful thing!  It is the strong person who later looks back and is thankful for the weight that was placed upon him.  It is the strong person who one day will look back and not regret all of the things he “didn’t have” because he has something better now.  Modesty hurts now because the beautiful isn’t meant to be covered.  But better the beautiful be covered in order to keep it beautiful than disclose everything and allow it to be tainted. Perhaps one day we will reach a place where we are not imperfect.  Perhaps one day we will not need to worry about being responsible for tempting other people towards something bad, or tempting ourselves towards something bad. I hope we get there.  But until then, we have to protect the beautiful.  We have to protect the men who belong to other women.  We have to protect the men who belong to us.  We have to protect each other from the tendency towards jealousy and vanity.  And we have to protect ourselves.  The body is beautiful and it’s so fulfilling to adorn it and to show it off.  And so I think modesty will always be a word that sticks to the roof of my mouth.  But eventually I have to, along with my pride, swallow it, and be thankful for the nagging in the depths of my heart and thankful for the weight on my shoulders, for these things have saved me from myself, and have brought me to places and people that cherish me and eventually to a husband who adores me in a way that far surpasses whatever thrill I could have gotten otherwise.

Body Parts for Sale

Jennifer Lahl

A recent 9th Circuit case legalized the selling of bone marrow, fueling interest, again, in expanding what body parts people can buy and sell.  The sale of human eggs and sperm are already legal – what is next?  Does the creation of a class of persons who generate income by sale (or rental) of their body parts represent advancement for humanity?  ‘We don’t allow people to buy and sell human beings, that’s slavery,’ says Dr. Robert Klitzman, director of the bioethics program at Columbia University. ‘Should we allow people to buy and sell human body parts?'”   

Jennifer Lahl’s personal interview with a young woman who sold her eggs to make money offers one “seller’s” perspective. (Editor’s note.)

Lahl: You saw an ad in a local paper looking for African-American egg donors.  The ad offered $6,000 for selling your eggs.  Why did you decide to do this?

Shavonne:* The clinic stated that if my cycle completed, I would receive the total sum of $6,000.  I thought it was a harmless way to make extra money, according to the minimal side effects that they presented during my orientation.  I was 28 years old, and the money motivated me to do this.

 Lahl: When you went to the clinic for the initial screening, you told me that you were one of the only young women there who asked a lot of questions about the risks and the procedure.  How were your questions received?

Shavonne: I was surprised that no one else had any questions at all and that I was the only one asking questions.  I think the clinic personnel felt a little annoyed with me, since I asked so many questions.

Lahl: After you had agreed to sell your eggs, the couple wanting your eggs changed their mind and no longer wanted your eggs.  What did the clinic ask you?

Shavonne: They asked me if I’d be willing to donate my eggs to embryonic stem cell research, and I agreed to that because I didn’t mind them being used for that.

Lahl: So you went ahead with the egg donation procedure, and you had your eggs retrieved on Thanksgiving Day, 2006!  Why that day?  And tell me about how you were feeling at this time.

Shavonne: I took a drug called Follistim to super ovulate me.  The retrieval went fine, but not too long after that my stomach started to swell, and every time I leaned over I could feel my ovaries “plop.”  I went to see the doctor, and he told me I had OHSS, and he then said, “We see girls like you all the time.”  I looked 4 months pregnant.  They told me to go home and eat a lot of protein.  My mother was staying with me at the time, and one night my stomach was so swollen and I could hardly breathe.  My mother said, “That’s enough,” and took me to the emergency room.  The nurse stuck a needle in my stomach, and it was a loud pop I could feel, like a balloon was popped.  She stuck a bag on the end of the needle to drain the fluid, and the bag filled with 2 quarts in about 5 minutes.  She had to quickly put another bag on and some of the fluid spilled on the floor.  She filled the next bag too—in all, 4 quarts were drained out of my stomach.  I stayed in the hospital for 2 1/2 more days while they drained more fluid.  I had a lot of pain in my abdomen.  The staff at the hospital would shake their head at me and took pity on me, because I was an egg donor and they said they saw this a lot.

Lahl: How are things for you now and how is your health?

Shavonne: It took a year and a half to clear up the medical bills.  My menstrual cycles are few and far between.  I was pregnant in 2008, but I lost the baby.  I hope to have children some day, and every time I do have a period, I get really excited because I rarely have them anymore.

Lahl: You told me about your girlfriend, who donated her eggs to her sister, but her sister never used the eggs.  Can you tell me any more of her story? Did she have the same health complications and end up in the hospital with OHSS, too?

Shavonne: Yes, she wants to tell you her story too, so please call her.  Her sister never used the eggs and never offered to pay her medical bills after the OHSS.  She had the exact same symptoms as I had, but the difference was, instead of admitting her to the hospital and draining the fluid, the doctors turned her away.  She had to let the fluid naturally drain from her abdomen.  She said that it took a few months to move around with ease and no pain.  She also stated that she looked 4 months pregnant and had severe lower abdominal pain.  She is currently unable to claim the eggs that she donated and was never compensated monetarily because of her relationship to the receiver.  She also has had a miscarriage since her donor complication.

Lahl: You contacted my colleague, Dr. Jennifer Schneider, because you found her article written about her daughter’s death.  Why did you want to tell your story?

Shavonne: I wanted to share my story because I am still confused and hurt by the situation.  It was a helpless, humiliating experience for me, and I had a hard time finding any information regarding complications from OHSS on the Internet.  I have read many stories regarding young women developing cancers and becoming infertile, and think that this information should be available to the public.  Even after I asked the questions, in the back of my mind I kept thinking that I would be in that small percentage of women, and I was.

Lahl: What would you say to a young woman thinking about donating/selling her eggs?

Shavonne: I would tell these young women that the money is not worth the health risk.  Should they proceed, I would explain the process and my story, and then tell them to do their own research.

Lahl: What do you hope will happen when others hear your story?

Shavonne: I hope that my story and all others will give these women a great depth and detail as to what really happens when you donate, and the causes and risks associated with the medication and procedure in general. My research had gaps in it because the stories of the complications were just not available.

*name changed to protect identity

This article first appeared as “Market Competition Collision: Eggs Needed for Research” in the online newsletter of the Center for Bioethics and Culture.   

Humanity First

Henry Karlson

We live in a constantly changing world.  There is little to no social stability left.  People are finding it difficult to have proper relationships with each other.  We are becoming increasingly self-centered.  We are finding ourselves in our own constructed worlds and finding it difficult to interact with the world at large.  More and more, people interact with mechanical devices, shifting hours of focus to remote and often unreal associations, away from a reality that is lost in front of them.  While we are trying to find ways to remain in contact with each other, for the most part, all the artificial connectivity is increasing our sense of loneliness, giving many a sense of detached malaise which they cannot overcome. 

Rapid changes and expansion in technology drive much of this destabilizing and focus on virtual, constructed reality.   While technology delivers much good to humankind, its immediacy blinds us to consider and study the long-term consequences of the tools we use.  Are we giving due consideration to what we are doing, and wisely pondering the dangers of our creations?   As we become increasingly accustomed to the quick, ever-changing environment we find ourselves in, we lose perspective, tossing in a sea of rapid change, with little to no anchoring, and without a center which we can hold onto if the waves throw us under.

Technology has made many of us look at each other in an instrumental sense, through a hermeneutic which makes us consider each other as objects able to be manipulated for our own gain.  We have come to believe that we should find a way – the fastest and easiest way – to get what we want and ignore the longer term consequences of our actions.  At best, we put off the ramifications of our acts to the future, hoping we can create something to deal with the problematic consequences as they arise. 

By failing to anticipate and safeguard ourselves from natural harms, we fall apart, not only as a society, but as persons.  We lose all sense of purpose except the immediate attainment of what we want.  Without future vision and meaning, for ourselves and societal role, we lose sight of the dignity of others and, ultimately our own personal dignity.  We allow ourselves to become another thing to be manipulated, so long as we believe our immediate desire can be satisfied in the process of such manipulation.  Just as we use others as tools to construct the reality we want, we willingly become the tools of others.   

While we are not completely bound to the environment, our social climate influences us – more so when we are focused upon fulfillment of immediate desires with apathy or disregard for the adverse or negative impacts of various technologies.  

Consider today’s prevailing sexual ethic.  In some quarters, we have turned sexuality into pure technique for pleasure, seeking to create sex as a constructed reality for receiving physical pleasure while apathetic or even disdainful toward the meaning inherent in human sexuality.  Was birth control technology simply incidental to an inevitable depersonalization of human sexual relations or did the technology itself drive the shift in perspective and objective?  I would argue that it is the latter.  While society clearly views birth control devices as a positive good, reliance on this technology, as an immediate end in itself, has cultivated and driven the depersonalization of sexual relations.  The elimination of intimacy and creation of new life as inherent in sexuality has broadly reconfigured sex as a pleasure-seeking engagement, where persons can use each other as tools of pleasure – a blatant depersonalization of society impossible without birth control technology.   

Technology requires wisdom to use.  Without caution, even that which can be for good will turn on us and lead to devastating results.  The solution is not an outright rejection of all technology:  we have been given the gift of reason and the capacity for prudence.  Society is changing and changing for the worse due to our foolishness, but this does not mean we are too late. We need to examine where we are today, and to re-establish true human community, to value real interactions with each other.  We can and should continue to seek out the good in technology, but we should understand that all goods are limited and generally have unforeseen consequences which undermine and tarnish the “good” – call it the “dark” lining of a seemingly lovely, white cloud. 

For example, consider what is missed – what does not happen – when we attach ourselves to a computer screen.   Each member of a family is looking at their own individuated screen, creating their own mini-reality.  They are entirely disconnected from each other, save greetings in route to the bathroom or kitchen.  The dark impact of this disconnection is most evident upon human sexuality, as individuals seek to practice and heighten sexual pleasure through virtual experience on a computer.  Human sexuality is cut off from its full and proper good use, not by contraception, but by removal of all real, interactive contact.  Through technology, people spend hours alone, seeking to heighten the pleasures of a sexual feeling and climax, without regard to their own personal dignity being noticed and embraced.  Without such dignity, sex itself is lost.  Baudrillard predicted this outcome in Forget Foucault:

While psychoanalysis seemingly inaugurates the millennium of sex and desire, it is perhaps what orchestrates it in full view before it disappears altogether.

Technology has put sex into full view with pornography, leading to an artificial shell, a construct which is a shell of the real, perverted and rather self-destructive.  How can anyone think this is a good?   Those who promote free sex as the outcome of modern analysis do more than destroy the family: they promote the destruction of sex itself.

What kind of future will be left for humanity if we allow our innate humanity to be lost to our technology?  What kind of persons will we be?  Those who love humanity, those who believe in the dignity of the human person need to be more aware of the consequences of their actions.  The caution suggested by environmentalists, for example, might sometimes be extreme, but need not go unnoticed, however shortsighted the interests of some environmentalists.  There are good reasons to believe we can and are harming our future through negligence.  We see it in the destruction of social mores around us.  It is time to take such concerns seriously and try to embrace our humanity.  We must not let the objects of our creation get out of hand and control us.  We must have hope.  It is not too late.