An Inclusive Litany


Letter to the editor, the Village Voice, February 18, 1992:
In her review of Nancy Friday's most recent book on women's sexual fantasies ["Different Strokes," January 14], Judith Levine says of sex books she looked at as a child, "Some were even kinky, like the illustrated handbook on sex for the disabled."

Disabled people having sex is per se "kinky"? Sex "for" the disabled? (Rather than between people expressing their sexualness?) "The disabled"? (A phrase that objectifies, connotes radical differences and distance.)

Articles in the Voice specifically about disability (most recently, by Nat Hentoff and Mary Johnson) have tended to respect and understand disability. But frequently, offhand remarks appear in other articles and in reviews that demonstrate an absence of recognition that disability is political, not an oddity or an individual misfortune. This is a curious, harmful absence in people presumably on the left. I attribute it to the depth of terror disability arouses in non-disabled people, as well as the profundity of personal change needed to acknowledge that there is such a thing as ableism, and to learn about, recognize, and challenge its manifestations.

I'm not asking for censorship of such remarks, but I am asking for editing that sends a piece back to the writer pointing out ableism, and asking the writer whether he or she wants to stay with what they've written. As it is now, readers never know when they are going to be hit with a piece of flying mud.

—Eleanor Smith

Judith Levine Replies:
I regret very much having committed an offhand act of ableism. Ms. Smith is correct that prejudices of the body run deep, and I thank her for calling me on mine.

World Wrestling Federation officials testified before New Jersey legislators that pro wrestling is fake and as entertainment should be exempt from state regulations governing violent sports. The rival National Wrestling Alliance insisted in its testimony that pro wrestling is a legitimate sport.

Auditors from the Board of Education, while visiting Cook County Elementary School in Syracuse, Utah, noted what appeared to be a pattern of segregation by sex of students in the lunchroom. The children filed through the lunch line randomly, but when it came time to sit down, the girls chose to sit with other girls, the boys with other boys. Ruth Kunkel, Cook's principal, says "The little girls think: 'Sit with a boy? You've got to be kidding.' That's all it is." Subsequent experiments to try to get the children to sit together failed, so the board decided that the segregation was caused by the kids themselves, not by school employees.

Speaking to two Newsweek reporters on the presidential campaign trail, Bill Clinton revealed that if he's "always smiling and trying to make it look easy," it's not because he's a slick politician, it's because he was "raised in that sort of culture where you put on a happy face and you don't reveal your pain." If he seems eager to please various special interest groups, it's because he was raised by a sometimes violent alcoholic, and so he "hated overt conflict."

The Duval County, Florida, school system has placed Snow White on a restricted list because of complaints that the story contains "graphic violence." Elementary school children who wish to read it will have to present a note from their parents.

The San Francisco Zoo has offered an adults-only tour for $15, highlighting sexual relationships among animals. Among the high points were mate-stealing penguins, lesbian geese, and monkeys using a hormonal contraceptive implant similar to the human Norplant device. Because of over-enrollment, special tours were offered on Valentine's Day.

In Atlanta, three members of the "Board of Astrology" turned up as the result of a financial disclosure law aimed at government officials. Though the Associated Press could find no record of such a board at City Hall, they concluded after interviewing its three members that the board administers tests and licenses to prospective astrologers.


When George Bush wanted to refer to the lyrics of a song by the country group the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, he instead referred to them as the Nitty Ditty Nitty Gritty Great Bird.

[Ed.: Among presidents, such a questionable mode of expression was by no means unique to Bush. At the height of the Cold War in 1963, President John F. Kennedy made a famous speech in West Berlin: "All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words, Ich bin ein Berliner." Although inclusion of the article, ein, made the phrase translate roughly as "I am a doughnut," German crowds enthusiastically cheered Kennedy's ringing declaration of principle.]

The Whole Earth Review, Fall 1991:
How about a whale film entitled Talking to Beluga? Instead of the usual gang of whale scientists, why not ask a few creative artists up to the Arctic and film them attempting to communicate with one of these fascinating, beautiful, most intelligent, and least known creatures on the planet? Invite a guitarist, a rap musician, a ceremonialist, a synchronized swimmer, an ice sculptor, a psychic, a chanting Tibetan lama. A tap dancer on a metal raft. Or a neon artist. Be sure to let the whales themselves initiate the interaction.

In an essay published in the women's studies journal Signs, poet Adrienne Rich defined "compulsory heterosexuality" as "the enforcement of heterosexuality for women as a means of assuring male right of physical, economical, and emotional access." However, the essay was later criticized by feminists Ariane Brunet and Louise Turcotte for attacking compulsory heterosexuality, rather than heterosexuality per se.

George Morrison, an operating engineer supervisor in New York City, received $400,000 a year because his union contract specified he be paid overtime rates whether he was at work or not. Morrison, a supervisor at the Battery Park City housing development project in lower Manhattan, was entitled to receive unlimited overtime pay beyond his eight-hour workday if any union members worked overtime. Because a supervisor did not have to be on the site, Morrison was paid around the clock during times he was in Mexico, the Caribbean, Europe, and South Carolina. Without overtime, his earnings would normally have been a mere $60,000 per year.

The city of Somerville, Massachusetts, distributes food from the Federal Surplus Food Program to senior citizen centers, and gives whatever is left to soup kitchens and homeless shelters. After city officials learned that extra food was missing, it hired a private investigator who found that four employees of the Somerville Public Works Department put 22 pounds of butter into a car. The city considered this to be stealing and fired the two main culprits. Another retired, and the fourth was suspended for five days.

The Somerville Municipal Employee's Union filed a grievance against the city, saying department supervisors had taken food in the past and that the city did not have a written policy saying the practice was unacceptable. An arbiter found in favor of the two fired workers, and ordered the city to rehire them and pay them back wages, about $25,000 each.

Somerville's mayor, Michael Capuano, sent a letter to city workers clarifying the city's policy. He wrote, "Simply put—if you steal, you will be fired. I apologize to you for having to state such an obvious policy to all employees... I trust you, but an arbiter has ruled that the law says I must take this action if the City is going to take action against the very few thieves among us. Thank you for your understanding."

A federal judge ruled, on First Amendment grounds, that the public library of Morristown, New Jersey, could not bar homeless people due to bad hygiene or because they intimidated other library patrons by staring at them.

Two days after the ruling, the Morristown Headquarters Plaza Hotel offered to enroll 41-year-old Richard Kreimer, the homeless man who originally filed suit against the library with the help of the ACLU, in its job program for the homeless. Kreimer refused. He decided instead to stay in the library, even after he had won almost $250,000 in his lawsuit. "Now that I've won the library suit," Kreimer exclaimed, "my demands will go higher. To the victor belongs the spoils."

From Marilyn Frye's essay titled "Oppression," anthologized in Paula Rothenberg's Racism and Sexism: An Integrated Study:
The statement that women are oppressed is frequently met with the claim that men are oppressed too. We hear that oppressing is oppressive to those who oppress as well as to those they oppress. Some men cite as evidence of their oppression their much-advertised inability to cry. It is tough, we are told, to be masculine. When the stresses and frustrations of being a man are cited as evidence that oppressors are oppressed by their oppressing, the word "oppression" is being stretched to meaninglessness; it is treated as though its scope includes any and all human experience of limitation or suffering, no matter the cause, degree or consequence.

Frye also comments on the practice, among some men, of opening doors for women:

The gallant gestures have no practical meaning. Their meaning is symbolic. The door-opening and similar services provided are services which really are needed by people who are for one reason or another incapacitated—unwell, burdened with parcels, etc. So the message is that women are incapable. The detachment of the acts from the concrete realities of what women need and do not need is a vehicle for the message that women's actual needs and interests are unimportant or irrelevant. Finally, these gestures imitate the behavior of servants towards masters and thus mock women, who are in most respects the servants and caretakers of men. The message of the false helpfulness of male gallantry is female dependence, the invisibility or insignificance of women, and contempt for women.
[Ed.: Complaining of exclusion, oppressed groups monopolize by forming their own exclusive clubs based on their oppression.]

Jan Kerkhoven, a Stanford doctoral student in education, was excluded from a class in feminist methodology after proposing a project that included both men and women as subjects of research. Kerkhoven, who believes repression of women is linked to "dehumanization," was excluded for being "not sufficiently committed to a gender outlook on social reality." Kerkhoven is male.

The exclusion sparked lunch meetings of the feminist studies department, talking about "how to deal with uncooperative and disruptive male students." "I definitely wasn't a disruptive student," Kerkhoven replied.


Associate Editor Howard G. Chua-Eoan discusses serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer in Time, August 19, 1991:
There is a "logic" too to Dahmer's crime. Raised in a culture that condoned racial prejudice and despised homosexuals, Dahmer appeared to believe he could preserve a place in mainstream society—with all its furtive hopes of family, friends, and future—by destroying the evidence of his homosexuality. He killed his "lovers"—mostly blacks—dismembered them, and in some cases, may have devoured their remains. Crime is a logical, if messy, quick fix to the shortcomings of society. Is that the lesson then? That we get the criminals our societies deserve? Yes, of course.

After Art Agnos was voted out as mayor of San Francisco, California state Assembly Speaker Willie Brown immediately gave him a $92,465-a-year post as state unemployment commissioner. Agnos described the position as a "part-time job."

A definition of the word "male" offered by Women & Guns magazine, December, 1991:
A quaint anachronism, once useful for protection of females, but rendered obsolete by contemporary firepower.

Daryl Malone, 29, a happily married father of four, ignited controversy when he responded to his recent firing by Northwest Nevada Telco by filing a protest with Nevada's Equal Rights Commission. He had been passing himself off as a woman on Northwest Nevada Telco's phone sex line, and he alleges that he was fired because of sex discrimination.

Representative Kweisi Mfume proposed the Beeper Abuse Prevention Act, prohibiting teenagers from possessing electronic paging devices and requiring a seven-day waiting period and a criminal background check for adult beeper purchases. Violators would be subject to three years in prison.

To boost its safer-sex awareness program, California's six Claremont Colleges made "glow-in-the-dark condoms" available to all their students. Each of the novelty condoms, which cost $1 apiece, comes with a specific warning that it should not be used as a contraceptive device or to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

Faced with the nation's highest murder rate and a budget deficit of several hundred million dollars, the Washington, D.C., city council spent three hours considering a ban on dogs that have wolf blood.

After receiving complaints from parents of sixth- and seventh-graders, a health teacher at Greenfield Middle School in Greenfield, Massachusetts, has ended her practice of using a vibrator to demonstrate how to use condoms. The vibrator was used as an alternative to a banana.

Roger Valek of Escondido, California, received a letter from the California Department of Toxic Substances Control informing him that the company he had hired to dispose of used lacquer thinner from his auto body shop from 1975 to 1980 had contaminated the environment and that all "responsible parties" were being held liable for the cleanup costs. "Please attach a check or money order payable to the Department in the amount of $7,939,192.48... Thank you for your cooperation," the letter said.

From 1975 to 1980, before there were federal laws regulating the disposal of automobile lacquer thinner, and before the EPA defined what a hazardous waste was, Valek had hired a solvent recycling company rather than dispose of the 18 55-gallon drums himself, which would not have been illegal. He asked city officials for a referral contract and was given the name of Chatman Brothers, the company the city used for waste disposal.

From Beyond Beef: The Rise and Fall of the Cattle Culture, by Jeremy Rifkin:
If there were any lingering doubt as to the powerful symbolism Western cultures still attach to meat and machismo, the statistics linking domestic violence and quarrels over beef are both revealing and compelling. Authorities report that many men use "the absence of meat as a pretext for violence against women." Believing that they are being denied their maleness by being denied their meat, husbands often lash out at their spouses. Their rage is sometimes violent and uncontrollable. Said one battered wife, "It would start off with him being angry over a trivial little thing like cheese instead of meat on a sandwich." Another woman reported, "A month ago, he threw scalding water over me, leaving a scar on my right arm, all because I gave him a pie with potatoes and vegetables for his dinner, instead of fresh meat."

In Greenville, South Carolina, Al Palanza Jr. got a computer-generated letter from the county department of social services addressed to his recently deceased brother. It read: "Your food stamps will be stopped effective March 1992 because we received notice that you passed away. May God bless you. You may reapply if there is a change in your circumstances."


New York City public schools are pioneering a new curriculum item called "emotional literacy training," a concept springing from the innovative notion that schoolchildren can, and should, be taught that shooting their classmates is not the ideal method for settling arguments. Though the idea is so new that it "has yet to gain more than a toehold in the schools," according to the New York Times, it has made some headway in New York City, with the Resolving Conflict Creatively Program. This program trains students to serve as impartial mediators of their peers' disputes; it helps children to create their own "peace pledges," outlining their personal plan for avoiding violence; and it teaches them "strategies like compromise, taking turns and other ways to work out conflicts so everyone feels good about the solution."

In October of 1991, Los Angeles physician Gershon Hepner pleaded guilty to 25 felony fraud and theft charges, admitting to stealing up to $8 million through false insurance claims. Now Hepner receives $266 a month in state disability payments for the stress he says he suffered as a result of getting caught.


Commentator John Chancellor on NBC's "Nightly News," March 12, 1992:
Greenpeace, the public interest organization, believes that the Iraqi death toll, civilian and military, before and after the war, may be as high as 198,000. Allied military dead are counted in the low hundreds. The disparity is huge and somewhat embarrassing. And that's commentary for this evening, Tom.

The California Supreme Court overruled the state insurance commissioner by allowing insurance companies to flee the state's tightly regulated market without first finding other insurers to take over their customers.

The Harvard Divinity School placed recycling bins around campus to collect paper. The bins were originally labeled "white" and "colored." After someone anonymously relabeled the latter bins "paper of color," the school relabeled all the bins "bleached paper" and "dyed paper."

David Stratman, former Washington director of the national PTA, wrote in the Boston Globe that "[c]reating 'tough, measurable' standards for student performance in the face of enormous inequalities in school programs across the state legitimizes inequalities and blames the students who have been victimized by them." That and other reforms, wrote Stratman, are part of an "attack on public education" intended to "crush the hopes and self-confidence of young people" so that if "they have less fulfilling jobs and less rewarding lives" they will "blame themselves instead of the system."


The Public Broadcasting System broadcast "Stop the Church," a documentary that reported favorably on the disruption of Catholic worship services by homosexual activists, a protest that led to the desecration of the Host at New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral.

Letter to the editor, the New York Times, February 4, 1992:
The widespread, persistent and increasing loss of wild birds (a high estimate of 976 million fatalities) from window collisions (not just winter feeders, but through the year, particularly during migration) contrasts sharply with the relatively meager losses from such catastrophes as oil spills, pesticides and collisions with vehicles. You did not go far enough in "Windows Near Bird Feeders Can Pose A Deadly Threat" (Science Times, December 31, 1991).

The Fish and Wildlife Service's Office of Migratory Bird Management introduced me to the expert on this subject, Dan Klem, when I was preparing a booklet on backyard bird problems. Dr. Klem, an Associate Professor at Muhlenberg College, may be the only ornithologist to consider "plate glass predation" worthy of study. The results of his nearly two decades of research have been published in journals, including an article on prevention techniques for Living Bird, the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology's popular magazine, in 1985.

Dr. Klem's studies show that the scare techniques you mention, falcon silhouettes and owl decals, do not significantly reduce window deaths.

Homeowners can prevent a major cause of bird killing by requiring architects to use angled or nonreflective glass and by retrofitting windows with an external covering. Now that I know it's not just a few birds, I've chosen to cover my killer windows with bird netting.

—Heidi Hughes, Vice President, American Backyard Bird Society

The National Council of Churches and several United Nations agencies have endorsed maps that use the Peters Projection over those that use the Mercator Projection. German mapmaker Arno Peters has denounced the widely used Mercator Projection as an example of "European Arrogance," since, to render most of the earth's land mass as accurately as possible, it makes the Northern Hemisphere appear relatively large compared to the Southern Hemisphere, which has less land mass and population. This makes Greenland appear to be the same size as Australia, even though Australia is more than three times the size of Greenland.

The Texas Education Agency, which heavily influences textbook content nationwide, now requires a disclaimer placed next to the Mercator Projection and inclusion of comparison with other maps. "In our society," one critic claimed, "we unconsciously equate size with importance and even power, and if the third world countries are misrepresented, they are likely to be valued less." A spokesman for the National Council of Churches' publishing organization commented, "The political implications of this map are true, whereas the political implications of the Mercator map are false."

It has always been known that the Mercator Projection represents the earth's geography inaccurately—indeed, any two-dimensional projection of a spherical surface will be inaccurate in some way—but it is only recently that political implications have been attached to this fact. The Mercator Projection shifts its midpoint latitude line up from the equator, while keeping both latitude and longitude lines straight. The Peters Projection also keeps navigational lines straight, but while attempting to render area sizes equally, it grossly distorts the shape of land masses. Equatorial continents such as Africa and South America appear tall and thin, while polar regions appear short and wide.

Other projection methods address the problem by bending navigational lines. The Robinson Projection, used by the National Geographic Society, keeps latitude lines straight but bends longitude lines outward. The Van der Grinten Projection adapts this approach by bending latitude lines downward towards its center in an attempt to keep polar areas from receding into shapelessness. (One map using the Van der Grinten Projection sets the earth "upside-down"—that is, with Australia, South America, and Africa on "top"—to challenge students' orientation and prioritization of continents.) Employing a radically different method that solves many of these problems while causing others, the Interrupted Sinusoidal Projection cuts the earth into orange-peel-like segments, each segment joined at the equator. The Fuller/Dymaxion Projection divides the sphere into triangular segments, all of which are connected in a seemingly haphazard way that makes it difficult to orient one's self relative to other segments, and scrambles perception of latitude and longitude.