A Class Act

While waiting in line, a woman sporting a Louis Vuitton handbag exclaimed to me that she was absolutely enamored with my purse. It’s black lace, with unexpected gold zipper detailing over the front. “Where did you get it?” she asked. I replied that I could not remember: it was some random place in the open market and the bag had cost $12. I actually didn’t notice that her bag cost a couple of thousands, until she sighed, “Your purse is so unique. I’m so tired of all these styles I get that start to look the same.” I peered at her handbag as she said this then, and then I bristled.

I tried to understand my reaction when she was being perfectly kind.

She meant well. I know it even now. But essentially she was complaining to a working class woman of being tired of designer handbags. Maybe I’m misplacing her too. For all I know, she could have saved up years for that handbag; although, from her cavalier attitude about how all her bags are the same—an allusion to multiple—I doubted this.

For her benefit, I entertained the excuse for her (that I’d misplaced her) anyway. After all, I’m often mistaken for upper middle class, and that misunderstanding is frustrating to me. I don’t know what it is about myself. When I confront people who’ve told me they get this impression, they usually point to the way I dress, the way I speak, or some other reason I find irritating. “It’s just that you’re so… classy!,” they say while I tastefully swallow down the retort, “Well that wasn’t.” They think it’s a compliment to tell me I’m not like the others in a truly not-like-other-girls-esq way.

The working class are artists, for your information. Highly cultured. Inventors and visionaries. And it’s also just as outstanding not to be either traditionally “classy” or well-educated. These things say nothing about a person’s conduct, character, or knowledge at all.

“In my home city,” my mother said to me yesterday, “the poor never arrive as guests to your home empty-handed. It is always the wealthy who come to dine offering nothing in return, unless the host, too, is wealthy like them.”

Raise the wage for Jesus.

I have a lot of hair. Piles and piles of hair. It’s gorgeous when I can muster up the energy between work and class and guest lectures and conferences and writing and playing piano and dancing in my bedroom and non-alcoholic pina coladas to take care of it. And there’s so much of it; I’m convinced that I must have the strongest most elegant neck in the world to be able to still lift up my head. My neck must be the envy of gazelles to haul hair this heavy. If I stood on a boat I would surely sink it. It’s exhausting to take care of so much hair. I like to pass the responsibility to someone else. In this case, it’s my hairdresser, Jesus.

Jesus lives around Brentwood, over an hour’s drive from where he works in Palo Alto. I don’t actually know how much Jesus makes, but it could not possibly be enough. When Jesus washed my hair I was amazed at the strength in his hands. He actually asked me if he was scrubbing too hard and I was like, “Oh my God. Harder.” It was as though until this point every strand of my hair had been on fire at the roots, a raging flame fueled by the angry thoughts of patriarchal injustice, smothered with Jesus’s magical tension-releasing hands.

No, my hair has never literally been on fire. Although, I do have enough of it to fuel a fire for centuries. If the sun ever goes out, ask for my hair. I also have enough to bury objects in it, but please don’t tell the TSA.

Not only is it expensive to be a woman, it’s so incredibly dull, in the sense that one must sit for an hour or more in one place just to get her hair done, particularly if she possesses extraordinary amounts of it. As a woman I associate getting ready with necessary discomfort. Waxing legs is painful. Dressing hair is mind-numbing. Sometimes, if either goes on long enough, it’s either painfully mind-numbing or mind-numbingly painful. I’m sure someone will make the claim that these measures don’t need to be taken—but they do. Women don’t do these things because they’re luxuries; we do them to survive.

When I saw Jesus, for the first time a necessary measure was a pleasurable experience. The long round-brush strokes against my head were like a massage. Even the part that is typically the most annoying—which is the hairdresser trying to clip the remaining hair out of the way, because this usually requires at least two attempts due to the thickness and massive amounts—was satisfying, as Jesus would tug, twist, and place like it were meant to be a spa treatment. Jesus tugging at my hair was the best thing that’d happened to me all week. Certainly, Jesus was named after Prophet Isa, who could perform miracles. I’m assuming, of course; maybe he was named after his great grandfather. Either way, someone please give this man a million dollars.

By the way, as a result my hair looked the best it’s ever looked. I looked like a million dollars. I actually never use that phrase, but it was convenient to use in this context, because of the literary connections.

California recently raised the minimum wage to $15/hr, which frankly isn’t enough to live in the Bay. It especially won’t be enough in 2022, which is when the raise actually goes into effect. We should raise the wage for Jesus, who should receive an annual income of exactly one million dollars.

To be clear, I’m not saying the minimum wage should be raised to a living wage because Jesus is awesome (it’s likely he does make a little bit more than that); we should raise the wage because an hour of someone’s time should be valued enough to recognize that they need to be able to live. We should raise the wage for Jesus, my hairdresser, and for the Prophet Isa, who would be opposed to paying people close to nothing for their services—spectacular, or ordinary.

You have the right to bear children.

You have the right to bear children. No one may enter your body and alter the state of your existence with an entitled twist of cold medical instruments. If you are impoverished, you have the right to bear children. If you are disabled, you have the right to bear children. If you are of color, you have the right to bear children. If you are transgender, if you are intersex, if you are not heterosexual, if you are diaspora embodied, if you are ill, if you cannot read this, you have the right to bear children. You have the right to bear children in a country that is not yours. You have the right to bear children who may “burden” society for 18 years. You have the right to bear children of men who resemble you. You have the right to bear children of men whose hearts have been crushed by the weight of distress. You have the right to bear children of women in male bodies. You have the right to bear children you cannot afford. You have the right to bear children who are disabled, of color, transgender, like you. You have the right to bear children. You have the right to love, and you have the right to bear children.

And once they have been birthed, your children have the right to exist.


on the student debt crisis

There is one. It’s a crisis by which I am decidedly unaffected. I will be graduating this spring with a B.A. and zero debt.

I chose my university according to my budget.

I won’t be paying my own (nonexistent) student debt, but with taxes, I will probably be paying yours. Irrespective of that, and despite the fact that I feel I made a decision and that forgiving student debt is unfair because other people made a different one and would not face the consequences of their decision with such a proposal, I would in no way criticize any student who chose an extremely expensive, prestigious school despite inability to afford it. This is because in all rationality I know that, unfortunately, my sentiment that an action to partially or entirely relieve someone of student debt is somehow “unfair” is a result of a false sense of threatened security: as though the more students who are in inconceivable degrees of debt, the more advantage I have in this economy.

That is, of course, untrue. The perception that in order for someone to be financially successful, someone else has to be unsuccessful, is an economically false one. And it’s exactly how people who accumulate their wealth by screwing over other people want me to feel. The reality is that people who can not afford expensive, prestigious schools are people like me. And the best way to ensure that people like me don’t get in the way of people like them is to turn me against myself–is to make me feel that helping you out because you made a different decision, because you didn’t compromise on your educational dreams for money, is somehow unfair. The reality is I don’t actually have an advantage. (Who am I kidding? I’m just like you.) The reality is even if I had an advantage it’s one I would have had unfairly, gained from a system whose premise is to force people like to me to choose between something that is vital to financial security and compromising that security, like a Catch 22. With education. With something that is, according to how our nation functions, supposed to be a civil right. In fact, it’s one that you can’t even opt out of practicing. It’s a civil requirement.

The reality is I graduated high school with all the promise of anyone who would attend an expensive, prestigious school. The reality is my high school English instructor, upon discovering that I would choose not to attend an expensive, prestigious school, insisted, “But Nahida, you’re a thinker,” with a tone of great distress. “There is a difference.”

Yeah, there fucking is a difference. I’m convinced the crap people tell you about how your school is just as good as an Ivy League are either (1) trying to make themselves feel better with delusion or (2) attending an Ivy League with the aforementioned false belief about economic success.

Elizabeth Warren is proposing a bill that give students the same rate as the bankers. (Which in some cases is ZERO PERCENT interest.) Which is like, the most OBVIOUS MOVE IN THE WORLD. The reality is, we have all been screwed over beyond an extent we even realize. By people who do exactly that to make money.

Once upon a time (and I don’t even WHEN!) when someone became wealthy, their community prospered with them. I don’t think that’s ever demonstrably been true, but when bankers and big business are claiming it is and that’s why they should get off on taxes and receive subsidies, you bet I’m sure as fuck going to hold them to that golden standard. And when it’s clearly not happening you bet I’m going to cut off their unearned advantages. Because when that doesn’t happen, it means the people who are accumulating wealth are doing it illegally. They are leaning on the support of your taxes and your labor, and they are not contributing to the prosperity of our civilization in return. You don’t need to gain over someone’s loss–not when you earn your money honesty. You can even forget treating students like bankers. Goddammit, treat bankers like ME.

I’ve heard people tell friends of mine who went to Harvard and Duke and are inconsolably distressed over their debt that they shouldn’t have chosen these schools to begin with. Why the fuck not? They made amazing grades and did amazing things. What doesn’t entitle them to that kind of education? (Say it: class; admit that’s what you want–the poor out of your precious schools.) The perfect debtor is much like the perfect victim: nonexistent.

I didn’t want to go to Duke or Harvard. I would have been living in New York. And I would’ve returned to California, but the experience–living alone somewhere unfamiliar and having to function daily that way–would’ve taught me an invaluable amount of independence.

I didn’t do it for my education because I would have had to pay interest on loans, which is Islamically illegal, but I would in no way criticize any student who chose an extremely expensive, prestigious school despite inability to afford it; I know what it’s like, not in this but elsewhere, to risk all stability to relentlessly pursue a passion.

Why Anti-Choice is Pro-Genocide, and Uncomfortable Things about Birth Control

Incorporated into the recent war on women is the acknowledgement that women of color, expressly black women, have been sterilized against their will and made to struggle for their reproductive right to produce a family. There have also been—and are—imperialistic efforts to constrain and control the populations of developing countries through untested and dangerous drugs. While third wave feminists have liberated women with the birth control developed in scientific innovation over the past couple of centuries, how women of color and white women relate historically to birth control shares only the theme of the right to bodily autonomy—while white women were fighting for the right to not become pregnant, women of color in the West, who were often sterilized against their knowledge and consent, were fighting for the right to have a family. And though women in developing nations are perceived as complicit in their ingestion of drugs to prevent pregnancy, the extreme position of disadvantage in which they consent hardly qualifies as empowerment, particularly when these drugs are untested and distributed for the purpose of population control rather than improving the welfare and lives of women.

In the United States, the Republican Party has secured their agenda of policing women’s bodies with a particularly racially preposterous angle: charging that sexism within Asian communities leads to frequent sex-selective abortions in Chinese and Indian immigrant families. I’m thinking, specifically, of Trent Franks, who alleged that “sex selection is demonstrably increasing here in the United States, especially but not exclusively in the Asian immigrant community,” championing feigned concern for the welfare of girls of color despite the fact that a vast majority of Republicans voted against the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994.

Franks is also infamous for his statement in 2010 that because of abortion, “far more of the African American community is being devastated by the policies of today than were being devastated by the policies of slavery.” He is not a black American, but is apparently self-elected to be a spokesperson.

Forced sterilization against women of color, and knowledge of it, has been misappropriated and employed as political weaponry by the very side positioned against women’s choice, urging women of color to vote against abortion rights, even by twisting their own cultures against them via highly questionable allegations constructed on stereotypes, and to forfeit the right to their bodies, rights which have historically been unrecognized, for not only black American women who’ve become the center of feigned conservative concern for anti-abortionist agendas, but overwhelmingly for Native American women.

However as Andrea Smith indicates (in her chapter “Better Dead than Pregnant”) the unavailability of the right to abort a pregnancy has yielded the result that “Native women feel even more pressure to agree to sterilizations or dangerous contraceptives to avoid the traumas of unwanted pregnancies,” as colonization of Native bodies continues through regulation and control. Contraceptives have been tested on Native women, as well as women in developing countries, resulting in cancerous growth and even death, to both ensure these methods are safe for women in the US and to prevent Native women, who are viewed as parasitic and unclean, from having children and continuing the race.

This strategy of ethnic cleansing has been used and is used during the most inhumane of wartimes, in which women are raped as to be ostracized from their communities since they are then viewed as contaminated by the enemy, and are even continued to be raped by their “rescuers” who harbor an extreme hatred of them. So it is no surprise then, with what role rape plays in war, that the same approach is employed in attacks against Native women, as their reproducing bodies are viewed as threats, and their ability to give childbirth is perceived as something that must be destroyed. Among all other ethnicities in the United States, Native women are the most likely to be sexually assaulted by members outside of their race, and are sterilized out of their consent and informed will when they are most vulnerable. These operations are prescribed for everything from complaints of headaches to stomachaches. A woman informed by a doctor at Yellowknife Hospital that she was worried about getting pregnant underwent a sterilization only to discover the culprit of the headaches was a brain tumor. A doctor at the same hospital once screamed at a Native woman for complaining about her stomach hurting, assuming she had been pregnant. And these operations are prescribed even under the guise of tonsillectomies, as two 15-year-old girls were told they were getting their tonsils removed and were actually sterilized. Native women such as the Inuit women at Yellowknife Hospital have also been forced to endure abortions without anesthesia, one doctor stating coldly, “This really hurt, didn’t it? But let that be a lesson before you get yourself in this situation again.” These attacks on the reproductive rights of Native women are, as Smith states, “frontline strategies to the continuing wars against Native nations.” To engage not a painful history but a contemporary era of women of color tormented by sterilizations to favor rightwing politicians in the pretense of allowing these women to have families when in reality anti-choice polices render the onslaught of forced sterilizations is disgusting to say the least: it is a method of genocide.

Silliman notes this in “Policing the National Body” as she writes the contemporary difficulties facing women of color include “the difficulty of maintaining families and sustaining community in the face of increasing surveillance and criminalization.” Compounded with the perspective that women of color are parasites who live off of state welfare and demand government support for their families who grow into criminals, invoking an appropriated reality of forced sterilization to create a mendacious narrative against abortion is sickening and worthy of being classified as evil.

Forced upon women in developing countries, where the colonization devastatingly extends, harmful contraceptives take advantage, under the guise of population control, of women who cannot afford to be pregnant, in order to execute a racist agenda to eliminate “inferior races.” Smith notes that one woman who returned to her doctor regarding a contraceptive implanted into her arm pleaded, “I’m dying please help me get it out,” to which the doctor responded, “Okay, when you die you inform us, we’ll get it out of your dead body.” And as Silliman writes the consistent wrongful incarceration of people of color is the deliberate continuation of binding and controlling them and denying them the manifestation of the basic neoliberal belief that individual rights are located at the core of the individual. Historically women of color, conceived as reproductive threats, have confronted coercive population policies and demanded the safe contraceptives which rightwing politicians are denying them today by misappropriating their narratives.

So I have two points about this: first, where the hell does my birth control come from? And second, have you seen these (super old) pictures of a woman undergoing animal testing to demonstrate how vicious and inhumane it is? I’m not going to post the photos because they are disturbingly graphic, but you can click through to see them.

The point is, we don’t do that to just animals. And I’m sorry to break it to anyone who believes we do. We do that to women of color in developing nations, and I’m a little disturbed by this experiment for multiple reasons: (1) this isn’t solely an experiment (2) the reality wouldn’t happen to that woman (2) is it even possible to execute this without sexualization?

IKEA’s Literal Erasure of Women

The catalogue photo to the left was released in Sweden; the one to the right was released in Saudi. To the right, the woman has conspicuously vanished from the photo.

While I don’t deny that this is indicative of Saudi’s approach to sexual equality–and a degree of very poignant and disturbed reactions followed after I viewed this photograph–and of the erasure of women in Saudi from the face of the earth, I’m furious with those who assert that IKEA is not to blame. Saudi did not ask for women to vanish from the IKEA catalogues distributed in its blasphemous anti-Islamic country, and that is a terrible (and racist) defense of IKEA: the political atmosphere in Saudi is no excuse to assume that sales would plummet if women were shown in catalogues.

To IKEA’s credit, the company did apologize, insisting that they had betrayed their values with the erasure. Frankly, I don’t believe they are really sorry. You can’t make a mistake this massive without demonstrating you really don’t give a fuck. Capitalism without morality–and the anti-thesis of patriotism. IKEA did not betray its own values: it betrayed Sweden’s. This is what happens when corporations forget their roots.

The War On Women, the War Over Us, and the War Among Us

“What you have is, is Mitt Romney running around the country saying ‘Well, my wife tells me what women really care about is economic issues, and when I listen to my wife, that’s what I’m hearing.’ Guess what? His wife has never actually worked a day in her life. She’s—she’s never really dealt with the kinds of economic issues that the majority of the women in this country are facing in terms of how do we feed our kids, how do we send them to school, and how do we worry about their future.” –Hilary Rosen

Very quickly, I have emerged (if temporarily) to comment on the statement made by Hilary Rosen regarding the range of Ann Romney’s experience in knowing what women care about—which, according to Romney, is only economic issues. Rosen pointed out that this was coming from someone who had never worked a day in her life, which would have been fine, if she hadn’t unwittingly actually used those exact words.

This is a Godsend to the Republican party.

Rosen’s comments annoyed me immensely and immediately. What she meant of course is that Romney had never earned wages (though phrasing it that way would have been equally devastating; those words have an underlying tone of disparagement evident precisely because she is talking to a woman). What she should have said is that Romney has not had to simultaneously raise children and work for wages. I understood Rosen’s intention, but nonetheless can not explain how furious I was with her, and how deeply offended.

Rosen explained herself immediately following the comment, unprompted, as you can see from the quote above, but the damage was done. Including for me. The first time I listened, I missed the reality of what followed that statement. It’s hard to absorb the rest when you have rage pounding at your ears because a woman has just privileged the patriarchal definition of “work” and validated centuries of oppression and injustice.

Naturally this dispute was immediately exploited to expand into the realm of partisan sexism when Rosen was in fact making a class argument. This is because there are men in the world, and men like to distort shit they don’t even care about to conveniently push their political agenda via ramming themselves in places they don’t belong. As if I weren’t pissed off enough already, I was annoyed a second time with the response of Democratic men who apologized for Rosen at once, even stating that she should not have attacked Mitt Romney’s family because “family is off limits.” Let me remind you that sexist bigot Mitt Romney is the one parading his wife all around the country to convince women that he doesn’t hate us (because apparently we’re stupid enough to take her word for it just because she’s a woman), and if a woman wants to make a comment about another woman’s political point and other women decide this is specifically concerning her sex, men need to STFU. We don’t care. Seriously. Shut up. The way Democratic men trip over themselves to apologize is pathetic, entitled, and very telling as to how insecure they are about their own stance on women’s rights. They don’t care about women any more than Republican men—they all care about politics.

Here is what I want to happen: I want Rosen to apologize to Romney—and thus to all mothers who may or may not be paid, and subsequently to me, because who knows what’ll happen in the future—for saying something so horrendous. Language is important. Check it. It creates and contributes to a culture of thought backed by historical bigotry. While this was a forgivable slip, especially considering Rosen herself has raised children, it was so unspeakably insulting given the context of our history and the hard, unrecognized work of housewives. That is WORK. Raising children should qualify as work experience. (Do you know how much women would MAKE if they were paid for half the crap they do?) Additionally, a woman who does not receive wages herself but whose spouse receives wages still has EVERY REASON to worry about the economy precisely because she has children she needs to clothe and feed.

While Rosen apologizes, I want all men—Democratic and Republican—to shut the fuck up and stop making it about whose party is the most sexist. (Really, Democrats? You legislatively won this.* Calm the hell down.)

Then I want Republican women to acknowledge she was referring to class—to mothers who raise children AND work (both in actually raising the children themselves and through paying jobs) and to women without children who are employed—not to women who can conveniently hire people to raise their children for them while they act indignant about attacks on hardworking housewives. Because that is the real issue. And I am interested in getting shit done.

*All GOP presidential candidates have signed the Personhood Pledge vowing to eliminate Planned Parenthood clinics. They introduced bills to redefine rape. Rush Limbaugh has called all women who use birth control whores. When asked why he believes insurance should not over contraceptives but should cover Viagra, Sean Hannity replied, “That’s a MEDICAL problem.” Republicans in the senate voted against Violence Against Women Act; they filibustered the Paycheck Fairness Act. States run by Republicans have introduced legislation to force women to undergo trans-vaginal probes against their will (rape) before receiving abortion and have cut budgets in health care, Social Security, and education that would disproportionately impact women. Republicans did not allow women to testify at the House contraception hearing. Scott Walker has repealed Wisconsin’s Equal Pay Law. Since January 2010 over 400 bills have have been introduced in the House attacking our reproductive rights. ALL Republicans, except for three Republican congressmen and two Republican senators, voted against the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Republican Lisa Murkowski herself has stated she does not understand why her party is making these attacks.

Update: Rosen handled this perfectly.

Hilarious that Republicans are pretending to suddenly care about stay-at-home moms via Huffington Post: “Poor women who stay at home to raise their children should be given federal assistance for child care so that they can enter the job market and ‘have the dignity of work,’ Mitt Romney said in January.”

What? Wait, I thought they WERE working!

Most important job in the world unless you’re poor.

Mitt Romney, however, judging by his January remark, views stay-at-home moms who are supported by federal assistance much differently than those backed by hundreds of millions in private equity income. Poor women, he said, shouldn’t be given a choice, but instead should be required to work outside the home to receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits. “[E]ven if you have a child 2 years of age, you need to go to work,” Romney said of moms on TANF.