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Aug. 26 2015 1:21 PM

The Duke Student Who Doesn’t Want to Read Fun Home Explains Himself

Earlier this week, we learned that a group of college freshmen are refusing to read Fun Home, Alison Bechdel’s memoir about her father, because the book is dirty and has boobies in it. Now one of the complainers, Brian Grasso, has an op-ed in the Washington Post in which he explains that his refusal to do his homework has more complicated moral—biblical!—underpinnings. 

“The book includes cartoon drawings of a woman masturbating and multiple women engaging in oral sex,” he writes. “If the book explored the same themes without sexual images or erotic language, I would have read it. But viewing pictures of sexual acts, regardless of the genders of the people involved, conflict with the inherent sacredness of sex.”

Right, because the book is dirty and has boobies in it.

This op-ed raises a number of important questions, starting with how Grasso knew the book had boobie pictures without looking at the boobie pictures, since Fun Home doesn't exactly advertise “Hot Lesbian Sex Scenes!” on the cover. But here's what's really confusing: I was told by a huge cover story in the Atlantic this month that it's liberals who are ruining academic freedom on campus. The real censorship, I was told, is to warn students about violent or explicit material that you then expect them to read anyway. Free speech is under assault, I was informed, because student unions decline to pay for the comedy stylings of Dennis Miller or goofy novelty song acts. But nobody mentioned the students who are literally refusing to read books because the Bible told them not to.

Are there liberals and feminists who go overboard and demand censorship? Yes, that is a thing that has happened, and we should push back against it. But this incident is a reminder that the majority of threats to education and academic freedom come from the right, from the attempts to suppress science education to “abstinence-only” programs to attacks on schools teaching kids about the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Fun Home is not a pornographic book. It's a shame that Grasso and his fellow conservative Christian students objectify women's bodies to the point where they think all nudity equals porn. The sex scenes in Fun Home portray, in a secular way, what one might call “the inherent sacredness of sex.” Bechdel's youthful sexual encounters are seen as life-affirming and full of joy—the kind of joy she fears her repressed father never had the chance to experience. Grasso may see all female nudity as nothing more than “titillating content.” If so, that's all the more reason for him to read Bechdel's book and consider the possibility that sex—complete with nudity!—can be about intimacy and human connection and so much more. But first he needs to chill out and do his homework.

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Aug. 25 2015 10:53 PM

The Weather Channel’s New Show for Geeks Has an Unsung Hero, and She’s Stuck Behind a Bar

This week the Weather Channel, mainstay of bored insomniacs and families on vacation in Florida, debuted a new weekday prime-time live show about the weather. Problem is, the show, Weather Underground, is set in what appears to be a 40-year-old storm chaser’s parents’ basement and features highly gender-normative interactions between its slew of male meteorologists and its single female presenter, Sarah Dillingham.

Dillingham is working on a master’s degree in atmospheric sciences and appears on-camera during every segment of the two-hour show.* She frequently chimes in with expert analysis worthy of a co-host (and considers herself one in her Twitter profile). Yet she wasn’t credited as such—or mentioned at all—in the Weather Channel’s press release announcing the show’s launch. Host Mike Bettes introduced her as “the brains behind the bar.” For most of the show’s first two episodes, Dillingham stayed behind that bar.

She only got to lounge in one of the set’s leather recliners during the 89th minute of the premiere, during a user-chosen segment called “Flirting With Fall.” On Tuesday, Dillingham was left out of a round-table discussion in the show’s final minutes when Bettes asked each of the three meteorologists in-studio what they’d learned from the preceding two hours of weather nerdery.

As Angela Fritz, a meteorologist for the Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang blog, wrote to me: “At numerous points, the men all sat around in recliners with their iPads while Dillingham stayed behind the bar. Was she serving them drinks? Maybe a couple pizza bagels and a dark and stormy? The message was strong—but I'm not sure it's the message The Weather Channel intended to send.”

After Monday night’s premiere, I briefly chatted on Twitter with Dillingham, who said she and her colleagues were “ecstatic” about the first episode. “We're still trying to figure out new positions to try with the set,” she said. “I'm also monitoring live weather and advancing graphics during discussions so I can't be separated from the bar often.”

Weather Underground is an attempt to soothe the nerves of potential Weather Channel buyers and amounts to a major re-think of its weekday primetime live coverage. The Weather Channel’s parent, the Weather Company, is owned by private equity firms that may be forced to split up the company’s digital and broadcast divisions if on-air ratings don’t rebound. Clickbait-heavy weather.com is now estimated to be worth more than the television network that launched it. From a business standpoint, the Weather Channel is best summed up as an efficient vehicle to sell prescription drugs to older men. A whopping 73 percent of its primetime viewers this year are over the age of 50. So far in 2015, just 66,000 people in the crucial 18-to-49 demographic watch the network during primetime on average.

With Weather Underground, the Weather Channel is betting on hordes of geeks—its original audience back in the ’80s and ’90s, before the network began a misguided experiment in reality programming—to boost viewership. It might work. The network’s other science-heavy offering, Weather Geeks, a Sunday-morning talk show about meteorology, launched last year; it has outpaced the tepid ratings growth of the network as a whole. According to data supplied by the Weather Channel, the audience for Weather Geeks is up 19 percent over the same period last year.

A big reason why cable television is struggling is because it has a very low value-to-time ratio. On a whim, I asked Twitter what single word came to mind when people thought of the Weather Channel; among the replies: “repetitive,” “useless,” “advertisements,” “boring,” “lame,” “sensatio(ad break)nalist.” I didn’t see much that reflected hope for the future of wall-to-wall weather coverage on cable TV. Dillingham, however, does give me hope—and I’d feel even more hopeful if the Weather Channel gave her a show of her own, and let some guy tend the bar instead.

*Correction, Aug. 26, 2015: This post originally misstated that Sarah Dillingham has a master’s degree in atmospheric sciences. The degree is still in progress.

Aug. 25 2015 1:37 PM

Josh Duggar’s Brother-in-Law Speaks Out Against Him

Not everyone in the Christian right, it seems, is cool with straying husbands who pop off a “My bad!” without questioning his role as head of the family—one who expects his wife “to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband,” as per conservative Christian teachings. While the head of the Southern Baptist Convention is busy blaming frigid wives for philandering husbands, one man of note has publicly declared that he's sick of all of it.

That man is Daniel Keller, brother of Anna Duggar and therefore brother-in-law of Josh Duggar, right-wing lobbyist and eldest son of the Duggar clan who has been the center first of a child molestation scandal and then an adultery scandal when he was outed as an Ashley Madison user. When Jessa Duggar, another of Josh's sisters, posted on Facebook about the importance of forgiveness, Keller clearly had enough.

keller_1

Screenshot/Facebook

Another Facebook user sympathized with Keller, writing, “I'm more concerned with the secrets and ‘confessing’ after being caught than the actual sin.”

Keller agreed, and noted that he told Anna she could stay with him so that Josh would see actual consequences for his actions. “I have told her I would pay for her to move out here w me and pay for her kidz,” Keller wrote. “I don't think josh will see that this is a big deal and be truly broken till that happens. I beat my life on the fact that josh has not co.e to true brokenness yet.”

But, Keller laments, his family is against his recommendations. 

keller_2

Screenshot/Facebook

“Maybe Anna's parents really believe their marriage can be saved,” another person replied to Keller. “They don't seem like people that care what others think.”

At this point, he gently reminded this poster that Anna's parents are his parents, too, and “trust me that is ALL they care about.”

As I wrote back when the first Josh Duggar scandal broke, there's been a seemingly endless string of incidents in which prominent far-right Christian leaders, such as Doug Phillips of Vision Forum and Bill Gothard of the Duggar-beloved Institute in Basic Life Principles, have been accused of sexual abuse. These kinds of incidents can drive people out of the fold. There's been hints before that Daniel Keller and his wife, for instance, are not down with his parents' extremist views. There's Vyckie Garrison and the folks at Homeschoolers Anonymous who are leaving fundamentalism and creating support communities for other people who want to flee. 

The Duggars have been the vanguard of a movement, as RedState founder Erick Erickson recently explained to audiences at the Gospel & Politics conference hosted by the Southern Baptist Convention, to push Christian conservatives to have big families so they “will eventually breed” liberals “out of existence demographically.” It's a nifty idea. But it depends on keeping your children in the fold for life—something that is easier said than done. 

Aug. 24 2015 5:27 PM

Scott Walker Has a Lady Shirt for Lady Patriots Designed Just for Ladies  

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker—who has framed the fight for equal pay as "pit[ting] one group of Americans versus another," who has called abortions performed to save a woman's life the result of a "false choice," who has indicated support for forcing C-sections on women who require a medically necessary abortion, and who has cited his assault on teachers' and nurses' unions as preparation for taking on ISIS as president—has a gift designed just for the ladies.

It's a shirt! It comes with joy. To use the shirt, you jump up and down in a field. Look how happy she is! The shirt comes in three colors, including Reagan Red. 

But hark—how is this shirt just for ladies? One lady of Slate speculated that it might have a roomier fit for when a lady patriot becomes pregnant—with joy, and also with a fetus whose existence is worth more than her life upon conception, and who might thereby feel empowered to purchase a shirt of her own, presuming the fetus is a lady, and also a patriot—but then we saw this disclaimer:

slim

Another lady of Slate used Google to compare this shirt Designed Just for Ladies with other products and experiences Designed Just for Ladies. The search results included:

• a ladies’ day out at a winery at which you learn to paint a flower bouquet

• a “special course” at a firing range ("Collared shirts or high neckline suggested”; the firing range also offers bachelorette parties)

• steel blue work boots

• a church’s special service called “She Speaks"

So we don't know! We accept the mystery. Who could be opposed to joy? I'm going to go find a field.

Aug. 24 2015 4:33 PM

This 13-Year-Old Proves That Intersectional Feminism Just Isn’t That Hard

Teen actress Rowan Blanchard, best known for starring in the Disney channel reboot Girl Meets World, just proved once and for all that intersectional feminism isn’t really all that difficult to grasp.

Being a young celebrity feminist can be treacherous in this day and age, as Taylor Swift found out earlier this summer during a short-lived Twitter spat with Nicki Minaj. In the exchange, Swift revealed a huge blind spot to the experiences of women of color and eventually apologized, because this intersectionality stuff is HARD, you guys.

“Swift only recently had her feminist awakening, but she’s making up for lost time,” one Swift apologist wrote in L.A. Weekly. “ … [T]he path from realizing that it’s OK to call yourself a feminist to being a knowledgeable, outspoken, intersectional feminist is not an easy one, and everyone takes that journey at a different speed.”

I imagine that Blanchard, who is just 13 years old—younger even than Swift was when she moved to Nashville to pursue country stardom—might disagree.

In response to a question on her Tumblr about “White Feminism,” the teenage actress posted a short essay over the weekend that very simply lays out what it means to be an inclusive feminist. She may be young, but Blanchard nailed it, recognizing that being a feminist and an ally means listening, learning, and being empathetic. 

“I have made a very big point at making sure my personal feminism includes everyone—and educating myself and discussing these topics have really helped,” Blanchard writes.

She goes on to stress that feminists can and should adopt issues such as police brutality and racial disparities into their sphere: “The way a black woman experiences sexism and inequality is different from the way a white woman experiences sexism and inequality. Likewise with trans-women and Hispanic women.” It’s true! 

Blanchard gains further credibility by quoting feminist theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw, who first introduced the term intersectionality, and by noting fellow teen actress Amandla Stenberg, who herself has spoken about being a black feminist. She’s amplifying the words of others and actually listening to what they have to say. She signs off with a call for further conversation on the topic, saying, “We need to be talking about this more. Discussion leads to change.”

Sure, there are dozens of excellent books on the topic that Taylor Swift and other white lady feminists should read, but even as they work their way through that curriculum, it’s easy enough just to listen—and see what you hear.  

Aug. 24 2015 3:53 PM

The Link Between Sad Puppies and Donald Trump

They've seen the world they knew and loved crumble under their feet, undone by diversity, feminism, and “political correctness.” Over the weekend, they tried to hold an event intended to celebrate the populist everyman. Instead, they watched in horror yet again as democratizing mobs stole away their privilege.

No, I'm not talking about Donald Trump putting on a George Wallace act for 20,000 adoring Alabamians. I'm talking about the Hugo Awards, a set of honors for excellence in science fiction handed out every year since 1955 at the World Science Fiction Convention, known colloquially as WorldCon. This year, a group of mostly straight white men—threatened by the increasing amount of attention paid to women and people of color exploring progressive ideas in sci-fi—tried to hijack the Hugos. Calling themselves the Sad Puppies, with a more viciously right-wing spin-off called the Rabid Puppies, they exploited the Hugos' open nominating process to stuff the ballot box with writers they perceive as friendly to conservative interests.

The effort did mean that the ballots people voted on were front-loaded with Puppy-favored writers, but the whole stunt ultimately failed. “Not a single Puppy-endorsed candidate took home a rocket,” Amy Wallace at Wired writes. “In the five categories that had only Puppy-provided nominees on the ballot—Best Novella, Best Short Story, Best Related Work, and Best Editor for Short and for Long Form—voters instead preferred ‘No Award.’ ”

Wallace spent a lot of time interviewing Puppies, of both the Sad and Rabid variety, about their motivations. It all sounds very familiar. Just replace the words sci-fi with America or mainstream media, and the Puppy rationalizations are indistinguishable from what you'd hear from Donald Trump and his supporters: that they are simple, good-hearted men whose Earth has been ravaged by racial minorities, queers, and feminists, all of whom have less merit than most any straight white guys but who are boosted unfairly by the affirmative-action agenda of politically correct hipsters and cultural elites. Wallace explains:

They say their beef is more class-based; [author Brad Torgersen] says his books are blue-collar speculative fiction. The Hugos, they say, are snobby and exclusionary, and too often ignore books that are merely popular, by conservative writers. The Sad Puppies have a name for those who oppose them: CHORFS, for “Cliquish, Holier-than-thou, Obnoxious, Reactionary Fanatics.”
On the phone from the Middle East, where he is currently deployed, Torgersen lamented what he called “the cognitive dissonance of people saying, ‘No, the Hugos are about quality,’ and then at the same time they’re like: ‘Ooh, we can vote for this author because they’re gay, or for this story because it’s got gay characters,’ or, ‘Ooh, we’re going to vote for this author because they’re not white.’ As soon as that becomes the criteria, well, quality goes out the window.”

As Jeet Heer at the New Republic notes in a piece about Donald Trump, this kind of reactionary rhetoric is often framed as populist, but it is in fact “the voice of aggrieved privilege—of those who already are doing well but feel threatened by social change from below.” So it is with the Puppies. Far from being the bullied outsiders who can't catch a break, the guys are doing pretty well by themselves. Brad Torgersen and Larry Correia, the authors who organized the Sad Puppies, both sell a lot of books; Correia has made the New York Times best-seller list. Theodore Beale, an author who organized the Rabid Puppies, grew up as the son of a wealthy CEO. Now Beale owns a sci-fi publishing company—which just so happened to publish a huge chunk of the books that got Puppy nominations. 

In other words, just as Donald Trump is a rich white guy who acts like he's put upon because he has to listen to women's opinions and share his country with Mexicans, the Puppies are privileged men who think that the world is coming to an end because people who don't necessarily look or act or write like them are winning awards that they want for themselves. Like Trump, the Puppies managed to get a lot of attention for this temper tantrum. But while faux-populists always portray themselves as a silent majority, they usually prove to be simply a mouthy minority. 

Aug. 24 2015 1:11 PM

The Ashley Madison Hack Is a Peephole Into “Traditional” Christian Marriage

When Christian conservatives talk about “traditional” marriage, they often don't just mean a man-woman marriage, but one in which each spouse has different and supposedly complementary roles. “Male and female were created by God as equal in dignity, value, essence and human nature,” explains the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, “but also distinct in role whereby the male was given the responsibility of loving authority over the female, and the female was to offer willing, glad-hearted and submissive assistance to the man.” In exchange for the wives' submission, husbands take responsibility as moral leaders who look out for and protect their wives, a role commonly called “headship” in Christian-right circles. 

The leak of user data for millions of subscribers to the cheating site Ashley Madison shows us what this call to male responsibility and protection can look like in practice.

Pastor Ronnie Floyd is the head of the Southern Baptist Convention, which endorses the view that a “wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband” in exchange for a husband handling the “the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect, and to lead his family.” Floyd is also the pastor of Cross Church in Springdale, Arkansas, frequently attended by the Duggar family, whose eldest son turned up among Ashley Madison's users.

This past Sunday, Floyd's sermon explored all the ways that sexual liberation is ruining marriage. Floyd was happy to bag on gays, divorcees, and cohabitants for destroying a hallowed institution, but he really zeroed in on how a cheating spouse's behavior can be laid at the feet of the cheated-upon spouse for not giving it up whenever sex is demanded. People reports that one way to prevent infidelity, according to Floyd, is:

... keeping both husband and wife happy through “sexual contact,” which may only be put on hold for “focused prayer.” However, Floyd warned, if a husband or wife fails to keep his or her partner happy sexually they are opening themselves “up to the attack of the enemy.” 

“And that enemy is going to take your spouse away from you,” he said. 

“Both men and woman have their sexual needs met by someone, somewhere, somehow.”

Prior to this sermon, People reported an anonymous source close to the family predicting that Anna Duggar, Josh's wife, would be under pressure to “absorb some of the blame” for Josh's wandering eye. Not only does it appear that the source was right; the blame was dished out in the most obnoxiously public way possible. 

The story of Sam and Nia Rader, a couple of conservative Christian strivers who are trying to break into the competitive and lucrative family-values video-blogging market, is also illustrative of how the “male responsibility” part of the traditional-marriage bargain works in real life. Not long after he became Internet-famous for supposedly fishing his wife's urine out of their toilet, “surprising” her with the resulting positive pregnancy test, and then weeping over their self-diagnosed “miscarriage” three days later, Sam turned up on the Ashley Madison list. He immediately put out a videoin which he explained how his behavior is safely in the past.

“I have sought forgiveness from God, and he has forgiven me, so I have been completely cleansed of this sin,” he explains. The video is called “FORGIVEN.” It's so easy!

Sam Rader's skills at providing moral leadership, taking responsibility for his actions, and reading God's mind were on display again over the weekend: He got kicked out of a Christian vlogger conference, which some attendees said was due to his threats of violence against other attendees. Rader denied the accusation, telling Gawker that he is the real victim. “What happened was there was a couple of fellow vloggers who had ridiculed our family on Twitter regarding the method we were mourning the loss, our miscarriage on Twitter,” he said. “If I made a threat, it was to the one person, and it was, ‘You need to watch out before he messes with my family.’ ”

Nia Rader is (fittingly) seated behind Sam in the “FORGIVEN” video. “It’s unfortunate that it's being dug up right now, but you know, our marriage is worth fighting for,” she says of the Ashley Madison revelation. “Marriage is the real deal, and it’s been sealed, and it’s worth fighting for.” A beautiful statement, no doubt. But in a traditional Christian marriage, who's the one doing most of the fighting?

Aug. 21 2015 4:40 PM

First Female Soldiers Graduate From Ranger School. Now They’re Waiting for the Army to Catch Up.

On Friday, Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver became the first female graduates of the U.S. Army Ranger School. Beyond the dozens of pounds of weight expected to be carried by the course’s grads, these women shouldered an extra burden as they struggled to change gender expectations and break the “camo” ceiling.

Griest, who has served as a military police platoon leader, and Haver, who was a pilot on an Apache attack helicopter in an aviation brigade, entered Ranger School with 17 other women but were the only two to complete it (one more is repeating a prior phase), although not without serious setbacks and renewed determination. Even after the women were sent back to repeat parts of the training, they continued on successfully to complete the grueling nine-week course, which, according to the Atlantic, is known as the most “physically and mentally demanding program in the Army.” And if you want a peek into what earning that Ranger Tab really means, the magazine on Friday published the extreme requirements it demands.

Griest’s and Haver’s accomplishments are significant in their own right, but what is especially heartening is the generational connection they feel to the women who will follow them. At their press conferences and interviews this week, the women, who are in their mid-20s, commented on their unique historical place and how it will affect future servicewomen.

According to NPR, Griest said those thoughts inspired her. “I was thinking really of future generations of women, that I would like them to have that opportunity so I had that pressure on myself,” she said. “And not letting people down that I knew believed in me, people that were supporting me.”  

The women’s success also speaks to how quickly minds can be changed about gender roles. While some of their male counterparts were initially skeptical, they grew to respect their female colleagues.

The New York Times printed testimonies by some of the men in their training:

Second Lt. Zachary Hagner said his mind “completely changed” one day as he was growing weary of carrying a heavy machine gun, and others in his group would not help. But Captain Griest stepped in.
“Nine guys were like, ‘I’m too broken, I’m too tired.’ She was just as broken and tired, and took it from me almost with excitement,” Lieutenant Hagner said.

Another one of their colleagues, 2nd Lt. Michael V. Janowski, praised Haver for her strength and trustworthyness:  

“No matter how bad she was hurting, she was always the first to volunteer to grab more weight,” Lieutenant Janowski said. “I wrote about how I would trust her with my life.”

But, as Slate mentioned earlier this week, even with their Ranger Tabs and their hard-won respect, the two new graduates won’t yet be allowed to serve in the 75th Ranger Regiment. Change may come early next year when Defense Secretary Ash Carter reviews the position of women serving in all combat units. While these women may have forged ahead, they’re still waiting on the Army. Let’s hope it catches up to them soon.

Aug. 21 2015 12:22 PM

Calling Their Children “Anchor Babies” Is Just One More Way We Dehumanize Poor Women

The term “anchor babies” has once again reared its ugly head this election season, spouting from the mouths of not just say-whatever Donald Trump but also I’m-my-own-man Jeb Bush and son-of-immigrants Bobby Jindal.

It’s shorthand for the idea that immigrant women purposefully and illegally come to the United States to give birth to their children, thus securing citizenship for their kids and perhaps also a chance to stay in the country themselves (even though in reality they can easily be deported). It gets thrown around whenever conservatives want to question the 14th Amendment guaranteeing citizenship to babies born on American soil.

The phrase, which turns a newborn into dead weight dropped like mooring, implies that these mothers are simply using their pregnancies as vehicles for their own desires. It dehumanizes them. They are transformed from mothers who want to bring life into the world to cherish and nurture it into creatures that use their own offspring to get what they want.

This dehumanization isn’t terribly uncommon, unfortunately. In fact it’s the way we often discuss the actions and choices that poor women and women of color make as mothers. We can’t pretend that using the term anchor babies is a one-off; it’s part of the fundamental way we both talk about and legislate the lives of poor women. 

It’s particularly true when these actions are mere hypotheses with no data or evidence to show that women are actually making these choices. Anchor babies fall into this category. While some immigrants do come to the United States to give birth, they tend to be more affluent, arriving here as tourists with proper legal documents. Children born to undocumented parents make up a tiny slice of all American children. And if a mother comes to the U.S. to give birth in hopes of getting citizenship for herself, she’ll have to wait until her child is 21 and can petition for it.

Another dreamed-up bugaboo has recently popped up: poor mothers who deliberately poison their children to get housing. Maryland’s housing secretary warned a convention audience last week about a mother putting lead fishing weights in her child’s mouth, taking the child in for lead testing, and getting a free place to live at her landlord’s expense until the kid turns 18. When pressed, he said that he had no evidence of this ever taking place, but that “This is an anecdotal story that was described to me as something that could possibly happen.”

The poisonous mother is even more depraved than the mother trying to drop her anchor baby. This mother’s lead anchor roots her in a house, but her actions could kill her child or leave him physically or mentally impaired. Most people would barely recognize someone like that as human. But a poor woman’s poverty is assumed to make her act in barbaric, unthinkable ways to get what she needs. She doesn’t view her own children with the devotion and delight that we expect from any other parents. She is something other.

It’s a trope that’s been with us for some time. It dates at least as far back as the welfare queen, the mythical poor woman who defrauds the government out of anti-poverty funding rather than put in a hard day’s work. She started out as a real woman who stood trial for fraud in the 1970s. But she’s come to mean far more than that, standing in for a poor, usually black woman who has lots of children out of wedlock in order to get more government money.

This image took hold so strongly that it worked its way into legislation. After welfare reform passed in the 1990s and states were given wide authority to change their programs, many instituted welfare caps that cut poor mothers off of additional benefits after they have more than a certain number of children while enrolled. The caps have their origin in the House Republicans’ 1994 Contract With America, which called for “denying increased [benefits] for additional children while on welfare … to promote individual personal responsibility.” Others at the time more explicitly tied the caps to the idea that poor mothers were having extra babies just so they could get extra cash. The welfare queen, then, decided to add more people to her family not out of love and joy, but to cash them in like poker chips.

The legacy of this view remains with us today. Sixteen states give a family no extra money to care for additional children after a certain number. Yet welfare queens look nothing like reality for the people who receive public assistance. They have the same average family size as families who don’t need public benefits to get by. And there’s no evidence the caps work as intended.

These fantasies about poor mothers and women of color that treat them as some other species of human work their way into legislation in other ways. The Maryland housing official who warned against mothers poisoning children told the story to promote limits he wants to place on the liability landlords can face in lead paint cases. And of course anchor babies are doing important work for conservatives trying to make a case to end birthright citizenship, enshrined in the Constitution.

Once these policies get legislated, these mythical, monstrous mothers become canonized into our culture. And they shape the way we view poor mothers, to the point where it’s assumed that they are willfully neglecting and abusing their children when they leave them within sight to take a job interview or in a nearby park while they work. After all, if we believe poor women will poison their children or bring them into the world solely for financial gain, why would we believe that they try to do right by them at any other time?

Aug. 21 2015 11:59 AM

Josh Duggar’s Apology Shows He’s Learned Nothing

Josh Duggar, the eldest son of the Duggar clan of TLC's 19 Kids and Counting, was outed to the nation as a potential adulterer Wednesday, after Gawker found his name on a database of Ashley Madison users that hackers posted online. By Thursday, Duggar, who had previously lost his job with the conservative Family Research Council after it was revealed he had molested underage girls as a teenager, posted his apology on the Duggar family website

“I have been the biggest hypocrite ever,” it reads, in part. “While espousing faith and family values, I have been unfaithful to my wife.”

Or so it reads for now, anyway. As Gawker reports, the apology has undergone a few very public rewrites. “The last few years, while publicly stating I was fighting against immorality in our country, in my heart I had allowed Satan to build a fortress that no one knew about,” read part of the first draft. The second draft had the Satan reference removed but still had Duggar saying, “I have secretly over the last several years been viewing pornography on the internet and this became a secret addiction.” Now the attempts to foist blame onto Satan and Internet pornographers have been removed, with Duggar owning more personal responsibility for what has happened. 

It's good to see that Duggar has decided to take personal responsibility for his own choices. Still, there’s much in this letter that suggests Duggar hasn’t really learned any larger lessons from this whole experience. “The last few years, while publicly stating I was fighting against immorality in our country I was hiding my own personal failures,” Duggar writes.

But by “immorality,” Duggar isn’t talking about sexual abuse or even adultery. He hasn't actually lifted a finger to fight either of those behaviors. During his stint as a lobbyist for the Family Research Council, much of Duggar’s work was focused on fighting the legalization of same-sex marriage. He's anti-choice and has fought against transgender rights. He’s even used his own marriage as a cudgel to bully gay people for being different:

Marriage = Man + Woman. I'm glad to support the corporate leaders defending traditional values! #Chickfila

A photo posted by Josh Duggar (@joshduggar) on

In other words, he’s spent his life trying to stop people from making the best personal choices they can for themselves and their families. It’s good he acknowledges that he’s a hypocrite because he committed adultery while holding himself out as a model of monogamous marriage. Too bad he won’t own up to his even worse behavior, attacking the private and yes, moral choices other people make about their own lives just because those choices conflict with his religious dogma. 

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