On June 4th, one hundred years ago, congress passed the 19th Amendment which gave women the right to vote after it was ratified by the states one year later. While the amendment was a huge step for women’s rights, it did not protect them against discrimination. It did not guarantee equality with men. That brings …
Tag: women’s rights
Aug 03 2015
I don’t know about you, but if I never have to read another piece that mentions the Koch brothers in the first sentence that would be fine with me. Oops. It seems so unnatural to do so, especially during a hot summer of so much fun, except for the police killings, right wing terrorism, ongoing Greek tragedy, and countless other bummers that are absolutely ruining my beach blanket bingo.
But I generally assume their will to power must be confronted by mine at every opportunity. And because their will to power (collectively including that of their amazing retinue of bought and paid for attendants) is way bigger than mine, it’s going to be pretty miserable if I spend much of my time dreaming of how to bring down their kingdom, but I do it anyway.
They alone (and they are not alone) also have a huge head start in cultural hegemony, with a massive perpetual intellectual propaganda campaign involving not only think tanks, billions of dollars, binders of semi-famous dead and living capitalist economists and other scholars, and a famous dead mercenary woman with a cool first name who wrote two incredibly awful but famously anti-altruistic novels in the 1940s and 50s followed by decades of mostly inhumane essay writing, but also by a famous and imposing dead German philosopher whose name until recently I could neither spell nor pronounce.
I suppose I should on some level study up. Instead, what a major part of me really feels compelled to do down deep on hot summer days with the planet melting is to ignore my anti-capitalist comrades, to practice the fine art of chilling out, which apparently involves working on thinking more happy and grateful thoughts, appreciating family, friends, and neighbors more, and whimsically watching life drift by with the thermostat turned way down. And I think on some level those ultra-rich superior brothers know that, which disturbs my reverie-potential even more. So, in truth, for me, it is much easier to want to fight them compulsively with all my meager energy and will to power, every single waking minute until, like the Black Knight in Monty Python, I can fight no longer, the assholes.
But I awake need more than my compulsions, even my compulsion for fighting the power. I awake need to be both among the familiar and a small hopeful part of nurturing a better world. I awake do not wish to be a human commodity waiting on economic growth to trickle my way or anyone else’s, but neither do I wish to be the silly Black Knight.
I awake am not, and you are not, to use the term in Le Gauchiste’s piece last Sunday, “homo oeconomicus.” I awake want to be unchained, and I awake want others to be as well.
But how can we take power away from the Koch brothers and those like them without saying their names with the repetition of a liturgy, becoming fixated on their power and our lack thereof, and even routinely employing martial metaphors in our theory and practice? I am not talking about “eliminationist” language, which of course is disgusting, authoritarian, and rightly verboten. I am talking about the language “of force,” using imagery we may routinely feel justified if not compelled to use, but which we sometimes would prefer not to use on some internal level.
Perhaps sometimes to be squeamish is to be healthy. I may be hesitant, but I cannot simply stay inside and ignore the cries and gasps of my brothers and sisters on the outside who cannot breathe. In that situation, I have no choice, if I am to be moral, but to go outside and to join some way in the revolt against the hands and ropes literally around their throats.
Interestingly, Dr. Fanon’s full quote begins with, “When we revolt it’s not for a particular culture.” Revolution is not culturally, much less genetically, predestined, and neither is it designed in advance to implement this or that 10-point plan. “We revolt simply because, for many reasons, we can no longer breathe.”
If I am not of the particular culture that is the oppressed group outside my window, I cannot pretend to be in a position to lead them in their time of greatest need, to tell them what their priorities should be, or to attempt to move their gaze from the hands and ropes around their necks back to the Koch brothers, income inequality, global warming, TPP, or even to the holistic and fundamental need for global system change from anti-human unsustainable capitalism to deep democracy with economic, social, and cultural, as well as civil and political, rights for all. It is their breath being lost in that moment, not mine.
Similarly, if one is being deported, or one’s parent or spouse is, in that moment, nothing else matters. Or, if a woman is being forced to abandon control of her own body because of someone else’s religion or brutality, the invasion of her person, her human dignity, and her most personal liberty and privacy is being violated, which cannot be condoned or made to wait.
While never forgetting root causes, I need to join them, follow them, take whatever solidarity positions in the masses they prefer me to have. I may even catch some words or glances of misdirected hostility or suspicion from time to time, because, THEY CAN’T BREATHE and can’t be expected always to speak or see clearly and fairly in their agony toward those who fit the outward description of the oppressor group who show up in peaceful support. Within strict limits of my right and duty to protect my own person, I should be tolerant and forgiving of their occasional minor mistakes that result from the confusing plight for which they did not ask.
And indeed, if I am not in the oppressed group, I may make mistakes too–some of my “fighting words” and show of support from time to time may not be helpful or revolutionary but rather inauthentic, presumptuous, or pretentious. While self-flagellation helps no one, neither does grandiosity.
More broadly, even from a revolutionary perspective, by being a fighter all or most of the time when I want or need more than anything to be a lover, am I not thereby becoming in some way part of the system I detest? I want to have a clean conscience as regards my friends and even my enemies as much as possible, but it is more than that. I awake want to reject holistically the system that has been foisted upon us, but even “to reject” at every turn is to live in contrast to that system rather than in freedom from it.
I am guilty as charged in some or all this and raise this complex issue of “just means” in all sincerity. In fact, I recently, ironically rather haughtily, stated as such in a religiously-themed piece I published at Daily Kos, which thankfully only a few of my best buds read (which may be the same with this here piece!): “[I] don’t claim to be pious and admit to being something of a fighter out of a sense of obligation, but with words only.”
In my opinion, apathy, not confrontation, is the social disease of our time. Faced with the seeming choice between allowing myself to be apathetic and risking imperfect confrontation, I often feel obligated to do the latter in part because so many choose the former. But is that wise? Is that the best I can be doing as a species-being?
We won’t get any modicum of heaven on Earth without raising a lot of hell. We still live in a “fighting age” and need to put on our “fighting clothes” (shout out to JayRaye and the Hellraisers like Mother Jones who are daily chronicled in Hellraisers Journal). But how we each choose to raise hell must be personally authentic to the time, place, and particular Hellraiser, with justice in the service of love not unforgiving fanaticism.
Many of us would prefer to stay in our caves, preferably a well-appointed man or woman cave. Nonetheless, caring humans crawl out even when we do not have to, blink at the uncaring sky, and seek out peace, liberty, and justice for all or at least for those we see before us being choked by “the man.” In that case, our duty is to do whatever we can to stop the choking. Our solitude and circumspection may have to wait.
But they cannot always wait. We must in general follow our bliss even as, when duty calls, we “confront,” “battle,” and “defeat” the “foes” who are the beneficiaries of divide and rule. Not always an easy balancing act. Even to begin to describe the system is to risk a migraine and to expose our own disproportionate political-economic weakness as individuals in it–a bubble-driven system powered by financial gimmickry, non-dischargeable consumer debt, production based on profits and not human need, and environmental destruction; the unsustainable but seemingly unstoppable use of non-renewable resources; the exploitation of labor and the reserve army of the unemployed; and prejudice and discrimination by “race”/ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, place of birth or other happenstance that has nothing to do with one’s infinite value as a beautiful human being; and which, in a workplace and on a street near us, is reinforced not only by institutionalized state violence but also by cultural hegemony.
Pass me the bong. As bad as the global system is, we the people, taken off the farm and often wedged into inhumane living conditions, are not at all inclined to or interested in external violence. Stress results in massive self-medication involving alcohol and other drugs, at its worst a form of internal violence. However, right wing terrorists who say, for instance, that they are trying to provoke a two-way “race” “war” are not only grotesquely immoral but also liars. It is a one-way war of right wing terror and police violence against people of color. The former (and sometimes the latter) hope to dehumanize African Americans and to encourage other lone wolves and small groups of racist killers. They do not seriously expect that African Americans are going to engage in retributive racially murderous acts.
Almost all working people, regardless of our race or ethnicity, first and foremost want peace and security for ourselves, children, elderly, and other vulnerable persons with whom we may come into contact and will not purposely engage in violence except as a last resort. In short, except for the terrorist who is exercising a bloodthirsty and hateful will to power, every normal human instinct is to walk or even run away from a gunfight. That is why stand your ground laws are not only completely unnecessary but also causative of violence. They pretend people are in harm’s way who are not in order to sell unnecessary guns that cause unnecessary injury and death. We may chafe at and hopefully do protest injustice, but we do not use violence unless truly exceptional circumstances are presented–unless, that is, we are among those mercenaries engaged in state-sanctioned local or international police action or those desperate who have been unable to find lawful employment and get caught up in the illegal non-prescription drug industry.
But how do we ourselves also avoid wallowing in the toxic language of hate?–for there are things to hate. Should we avoid the intellectual exercises and temptations involved with understanding and refuting the intellectuals and propaganda gurus of the powerful? Must we ourselves eschew aesthetics, intellectual development, and intellectual pleasure? How can we engage in the study that leads to greater ability to engage in argumentation against the philosophers of the powerful, such as Nietzsche and Rand, without becoming mesmerized or coopted in the process?
I will not link to “The Atlas Society” website, but in a 3/5/11 piece by one Stephen Hicks, the many differences in the two are, to my view, overwhelmed by their similarity in rejecting socialism and aid to society’s losers and exalting “the hero”:
In politics, they agree that contemporary civilization has very significant problems, and that socialism and the welfare state are nauseating; but while Nietzsche has good things to say about aristocracy, slavery, and war and bad things to say about capitalism, Rand says the opposite. Finally, they share the same exalted, heroic struggle sense of life–although Nietzsche adds to that a strong dose of bloodthirstiness that we do not find in Rand, while Rand regularly adds a strong dose of anger that we do not find in Nietzsche.
We have no choice but to “fight the power” and the ideas they use to blind us to the fact that they are not actually engaged in exalted, heroic struggles but mass injustice to maintain their system of divide and rule by any means necessary for the purpose of controlling the world’s resources for their own profit-taking and capital accumulation. However, we refuse to lose sight of what makes us beautiful, which has nothing to do with how we look or winning spelling contests, or our fighting ability
or winning anything else, from awards to games to wars to battles for interpretation of our history.
True allies respect the disrespected:
“I cant speak on it ’cause I’m not gonna see it,” [Spike Lee] tells VIBETV. “All I’m going to say is that it’s disrespectful to my ancestors. That’s just me…I’m not speaking on behalf of anybody else.”
We must also respect ourselves and our own imperfect humanity. Permanent deployment is deadly, including participating in endless political battles against mercenary politicians, pundits, think tanks, and advertising gurus who wish to define and commodify us at so many dollars per vote under a “First Amendment” that speaks not the language of justice in the service of love but the language of money in the service of more money. And it is not simply a matter of getting back to the future either. Our ancestors made horrible mistakes too, often of tribalism, paternalism, sexism, and other forms of division and social hierarchy, so that to awake is not merely a retrospective cultural event.
So not only the will to power but also power itself as an end or a means to money stinks with the stench of greed, selfishness, and death. We absolutely don’t want to become like the Koch brothers.
But is there an easy, or at least emotionally cathartic way out? When we awake, as we must, should we try to make being a loser “cool”?
That “loser as coolness” commodity was produced and sold two decades ago to great aesthetic effect … seems like yesterday
We should refuse to be purchased by a consumer culture that can even package the language of the desperate and their would-be allies for commercial purposes. Surely the stuff of revolution is more than adoption of a certain fashion consciousness. Signs of solidarity must be more than proudly affecting the pose of “losers” in some kind of kubuki show of support for those who truly suffer from the grosser forms of injustice.
As a precaution from being frauds, do members of the left then need to adopt cultural austerity? Do we need to stop reading all books other than our chosen school of socialist thought and lose what little sense of humor we still have? Will doing otherwise lead us down the slippery slope to being poseurs? Of course not. We should not try so hard to “fight” “the winners” in their own fixed games that we either adopt the tokens and terminology to which we have been assigned or only speak with our own insider terms of reference.
The advertisers and other mercenaries working for the ruling class have decided all manner of linguistic packaging to keep us enticed and preoccupied when all the while inside the packages there is very little there there. “Mystique” itself is such an impressive French-sounding word. But we should not adopt an anti-intellectual pose any more than we should adopt the pose of “loser.”
Still, when we unwrap the supposedly precious intellectual commodities of the ruling class, when we touch those rings of power, we should be careful and realize that, like Frodo Baggins, there is nothing so special or moral about any of us that makes us beyond temptation.
Let us begin to be awake by giving up our craving for acceptance in the supposedly glamorous world of waiting for Mr. Übermensch. Let us not be so occupied with the minds of our enemies that we are unable to free up our mental energy away from that which does not make us more loving global citizens, including the “correct” spelling and pronunciation of the names of mercenary intellectuals we are expected to admire. Let us not be taken in either by their brilliance and mental dexterity or our own.
We do not want to become one of the ruling class or one of their mercenary class who gets to stand nearby in the high places, feed our betters grapes, and wave fans over them in their exalted, heroic struggles.
Jul 13 2014
Recent Supreme Court rulings highlight the persistent presence of misogyny in the US.
Megan Amundson, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, expressed her anger over the Supreme Court’s message that “women are second-class citizens, not capable of making our healthcare decisions without the interference of our bosses and complete strangers on the street,” and she encouraged the crowd to send a message back.
This was the most striking language in the buffer zone ruling, to me:
petitioners are not protestors; they seek not merely to express their opposition to abortion, but to engage in personal, caring, consensual conversations with women about various alternatives.
Unbidden strangers given the rights of “counselor.” Since when is anyone who wants to talk to me considered my counselor? Why is the word “consensual” in that sentence? Patients haven’t consented to this counseling. They are hounded by it. This kind of distortion of someone’s behavior and giving it a title which then affords them rights, when they are really just harassing people would never happen if the recipients of said counseling were white males. Where is the autonomy of the woman in this interaction? This is codified misogyny.
In a country which claims to be “democratic” and to believe in “liberty”, how is it that autonomy is not fully respected for all people?
It would seem that something overrides our belief in the respect of the individual which should be inherent to a democracy and our commitment to privacy when it comes to personal liberty. Could that be capitalism?
Will you join me for an exploration of the linkages between capitalism and misogyny?
Jul 01 2014
Considering it has sided with corporations in so many of its rulings over the last few years, the out come of the last two rulings by the US Supreme Court for this session were predictable down to the vote.
As in its decision in Citizens United, in a five to four vote, the court rules that just like people, corporations, too, have religious beliefs.
Supreme Court Rejects Contraceptives Mandate for Some Corporationsby Adam Liptak, New York Times
The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that requiring family-owned corporations to pay for insurance coverage for contraception under the Affordable Care Act violated a federal law protecting religious freedom.
The 5-to-4 decision, which applied to two companies owned by Christian families, opened the door to challenges from other corporations to many laws that may be said to violate their religious liberty.
Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., writing for the court’s five more conservative justices, said a federal religious-freedom law applied to for-profit corporations controlled by religious families. He added that the requirement that the companies provide contraception coverage imposed a substantial burden on the companies’ religious liberty. He said the government could provide the coverage in other ways.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the court’s four-member liberal wing, said the contraception coverage requirement was vital to women’s health and reproductive freedom. Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Elena Kagan joined almost all of the dissent, but they said there was no need to take a position on whether corporations may bring claims under the religious liberty law.
In an Illinois case with another 5 – 4 ruling, the justices ruled that in-home healthcare workers who are paid by the state cannot be compelled to pay union dues.
Supreme Court Ruling Allows Some Public Workers to Opt Out of Union Fees by Steven Greenhouse, New York Times
The Supreme Court ruled narrowly on Monday that some government employees did not have to pay any fees to labor unions representing them, but the court decision declined to strike down a decades-old precedent that required many public-sector workers to pay union fees.
Writing the majority 5-4 opinion, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. concluded that there was a category of government employee – a partial public employee – who can opt out of joining a union and not be required to contribute dues to that labor group.
Justice Alito wrote that home-care aides who are typically employed by an ill or disabled person with Medicaid’s paying their wages would be classified as partial public employees, which would not be the same as public-school teachers or police officers who work directly for the government.
Because states often set wages for partial public employees like home-care aides and because unions often do not conduct collective bargaining for them, these aides cannot be required to pay union fees, Justice Alito wrote. He wrote that requiring these home-care aides to pay would be a violation of their First Amendment rights.
Jun 11 2014
The president of the National Organization for Women, Terry O’Neill told Media Matters that The Washington Post needs to dump George Will for his column downplaying the prevalence of campus sexual assault and suggesting some college efforts to curb it “make victimhood a coveted status.”
The column has drawn complaints from numerous women’s rights groups and prompted National Organization for Women President Terry O’Neill to call for Will’s ouster Tuesday.
“George Will needs to take a break from his column and The Washington Post needs to take a break from his column, they need to dump him,” O’Neill told Media Matters in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon. “It is actively harmful for the victims of sexual assault when that kind of man writes a piece that says to assault victims, ‘it didn’t happen and if it did happen you deserve it.’ That re-traumatizes victims. I can’t believe that Mr. Will has had this experience if he would put out such a hateful message.”
“We want him to back off and we want The Washington Post to stop carrying his column.”
O’Neill later added, “That is absolutely the kind of further attack on victims that just does such extraordinary harm … The media blaming women for the horrific rape of violence against women and sexual assault it is really shameful.”
Since Will’s column, the newspaper published an article titled “One way to end violence against women? Stop taking lovers and get married.”
The women’s rights group UltraViolet has started a petition telling The Washington Post to fire George Will
The Washington Post actually just published an opinion piece mocking sexual assault survivors and saying that women want to be raped.
The author, conservative columnist George Will, goes so far as to write that colleges are making “victimhood a coveted status” by taking public steps to curb sexual assaults on campus.
He even implies that non-consensual sex is not rape, when in fact it’s the very definition of rape!
George Will makes his living writing columns that many people disagree with. But his latest column has gone too far. Rape is a serious crime–accusing women of making it up and arguing schools shouldn’t be addressing sexual assault puts both women and men at risk. By publishing George Will’s piece, The Washington Post is amplifying some of the most insidious lies that perpetuate rape culture. It’s not just wrong–it’s dangerous.
Tell The Washington Post:
“Rape is real. No one wants to be a victim. Fire George Will.”
Jun 18 2010
Apr 01 2010
Last night I attended a Happy Hour/meet up pitched by an outreach advocacy group called Women, Action, and the Media. The organization’s stated object is to combat the still-shockingly vast degree of gender inequality that exists in the field and in so doing move towards complete parity. Moreover, the gathering was designed in particular to network, as the group itself notes, media makers, activists, academics, and fundraisers. I agree very strongly with the sentiment, so I decided to attend in order to see what other people had to say. My hope was that I might have some interesting, enlightening conversations. Suffice it to say that I was not disappointed. Yet, I nonetheless began to get a greater picture of the challenges facing not just women’s rights but also those of all those who are a part of the media to some degree or another. Many of these pitfalls standing in our way have nothing to do at all with sexism and or even the Old Boy’s club of the mainstream media.
Welcome to Washington, DC, a world of think tanks, non-profits, and journalistic enterprises. One could also call it paradise for the Type A personality, the person who enjoys regimenting his or her life with military precision. It is heaven for those who enjoy having each and every hour in the day filled with something and who learns to divide his or her attention between the task at hand and glancing down at a Blackberry. In this town, it often seems like everyone meets someone for a drink after work, but only for an hour or so, since there’s always something else terribly important to do after that. Many of the movers and shakers present were very much indebted to that sort of lifestyle, the basis of which I have frequently been critical because it seems designed to produce inevitable burn out, if not a heart attack. But I digress.
To qualify, my skepticism is not directed towards those whose energetically articulated vision was to change the world, which was true with just about everyone I encountered. We need more people who love what they do and are enthusiastic about it. Instead, my reservations focus squarely upon organizational structure. These sorts of outfits build whole galaxies of worthy initiatives, training seminars, and important-sounding programs that manage to exist in complete isolation, totally unknown, to the other 5,000 similar organizations covering much the same ground. True networking does not involve finding ways to achieve a higher paying job or padding one’s nest. Rather, it takes into account the idea that by combining forces and getting on the same page with those covering the same relative territory, gender justice can proceed forward and efforts to encourage it might become a reality.
These days I am not easily impressed when someone rattles off for me the particulars of whatever they’re working on right now. I know they’re not trying to impress me, of course, and I know they really do believe that their initiative to say, encourage media participation for women in third-world countries is going to make a huge impact. On a very limited basis, it will do good, but unless paired with other forces, the plan will be a mere drop in the bucket. Unless serious efforts are made to reach out and build bridges of communication, whatever gets set forth and put into action is just another dot in a sea of similarity. DC, after all, reflects the nature of Congress, whose own esoteria and minutia often end up submerging worthy bills and legislation under the deluge of statutes, procedural measures, and utterly useless proposals.
Sometimes I think the biblical story of the Tower of Babel is meant to illustrate the point. These organizations, like the Tower itself, grow taller and taller and taller, but they don’t grow outward that much, and in so doing don’t easily reach out to others. Instead, they are in love with their own language, just as much as those in the story used their own lingua fresca to serve as a common basis for organization. The Tower of Babel was not built for the worship and praise of a higher purpose but was instead dedicated to the glory of humanity, to “make a name” for the builders. I don’t believe that that DC organizations put forth their agendas with malicious intent, but they nonetheless mirror the way things have always been in Washington, a course of action which has proved to be not especially effective in the long run, a viewpoint currently shared by a majority of Americans. One can work purely to climb the ladder or work to advance humanity’s understanding.
I took liberty with one other issue. Some in attendance last night were well-connected employees for Mainstream Media outlets. They talked excitedly about the ways that newspapers had adopted New Media tactics and as such were hiring lots of bloggers to keep pace with changing times. Again, do pardon my skepticism. I myself have never seen any of these jobs posted anywhere and the few somewhat like it that are advertised are quickly snapped up by those who have impressive credentials. As it is with so much, these sorts of positions are the domain of the well-connected and often the well-heeled, further casting doubt on a system supposedly predicated on the idea of meritocracy. One mustn’t forget that blogs sprung up in opposition to attitudes such as these and for a very good reason.
The system itself is flawed in lots of ways, from the Old Boy Network, to hiring practices which insist a person have exacting credentials to even be considered, to tactics which feign to introduce citizen journalists into the picture while more or less keeping the status quo intact. The intersectionality which we seek within our own movements must be that of both action and intellect, else our own hard work and idealism produce frustratingly minimal results.
But he, knowing their thoughts, said to them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and a house divided against a house falls.
Feb 21 2010
“After my father had selected his place, he found out, like men usually do, whenever they attempt to do anything, that he would be obliged to have some woman to help him…”
Yes, the 150th anniversary of Harpers Ferry is behind us, but I am pleased to see that it has stirred up a growing interest in Old Osawatomie. (Anyone who expected Fire on the Mountain, my home blog where this is crossposted, to lessen coverage of Brown’s contributions to the struggle post-2009 simply hasn’t been paying attention there).
I recently went with John Kaye to a Brown exhibit at the New-York Historical Society featuring a feast of contemporary material, mainly documents, on Brown. Those in the environs or visiting NYC before March 25 are urged to check it out.
Nov 15 2009
We, on the left, often speak about “How it is possible for people like Palin to get over in this country?” We stand appalled and shocked when Democrats like Stupak make sure women’s reproductive health will not be covered. We don’t understand when they want to force us to reproduce, no matter what our situation; then have to PURCHASE insurance for that child when born, having eliminated CHIP. How do we mentally rectify those who scream about “welfare babies” with their same yells about “no sex education, birth control or abortions?”
There can’t possibly be that many fringe lunatics, I think to myself. They must be just LOUDER. I mean, the Polls say that “the number of people who say they are unaffiliated with any particular faith today (16.1%) is more than double the number who say they were not affiliated with any particular religion as children. Among Americans ages 18-29, one-in-four say they are not currently affiliated with any particular religion.”
I kind of get it, though. Even when you realize you were totally indoctrinated as a child, there is imagery, memories of innocence that remains warm and fuzzy. The general precepts we were taught as children weren’t all bad, you know. Loving God, wanting to be good, sharing, wanting heaven, all the “little children” type teachings they gave us wasn’t all tribal and separatism. That didn’t come until later.
Who can hate an image like this? Yet, rationally, isn’t it creepy to dress children as little “brides” of Christ, with all that implies? Its no less creepy than all those Daddy/Daughter celibacy promise events.
If the feeling of belonging to a community has a gravitational pull, and good memories an orbit; then the doubt and guilt of rejecting these ideologies can be a black hole. It remains a constant like a physics equation.
Even people like me, people who stand strong for the separation of church and state, people who are agnostic at best, people strongly pro-choice, still harbor feelings about abortion. Scientifically we know all the reasons, but still, it is hard to think of any pregnancy as just flushable meat.
This is what makes them hard to beat. Its not the viability of a fetus, its not the denial of the hardships on the mother or child they cannot see. Its vestiges of guilt and childhood training.
Reasonable demographics based on irrational emotional reactions, even in an evolving society shows that we are up against something ingrained.
Oct 21 2009
At least one major network has recently devoted much time to advancing and promoting women’s rights, and it is in that spirit that I offer this post. Gender discrimination, in particular, is complicated to the extreme by the fact that gender as a construct is so loosely and inexactly defined. What constitutes “masculine” as well as “feminine” leaves more than ample room for debate and indeed it varies considerably from person to person. Moving targets are notoriously difficult to hit. We might define gender the same way Justice Potter Stewart famously remarked about pornography: “I know it when I see it.” Perhaps, but looks can be deceiving.
Recently I watched the 1951 Swedish film, Miss Julie, which was based on the play of the same name written by August Strindberg. Strindberg’s tortured psyche and resulting tumultuous love life must certainly have factored in to the equation, as he sees the relationship between men and women as being a combative, loathing affair in which both sexes are driven together only by carnal lust. The two main characters, Miss Julie and her nominal lover Jean, spend the majority of the film variously exchanging insults, spilling forbidden details of each’s dysfunctional childhood, while desperately striving to keep away the barely concealed desire that so strongly pulls them together. This, to Strindberg, is what characterizes every romantic pairing at its basest core. The war between the sexes is just that, war, and a particularly bombastic affair where victory quickly gives way to defeat.
While I might not agree with said statement, I do grant that the playwright does deserve some praise for being ahead of his time to some degree. Power dynamics, particularly those regarding types of privilege are explored in much detail, especially the means by which gender inequality trumps class distinction and vice versa. Miss Julie holds power over her working-class, though highly educated lover because her background is aristocratic. Jean, however, has power over Miss Julie because he is male and is not restrained by upper-class values. Ironically, the aristocracy is shown to create its own needless restrictions and its own cages, and though the working-classes might have less money or influence, they also live lives of greater freedom than their social betters. As for Jean and Julie, their flirtation is as much about control as it is about lust, and in it neither character wins the upper hand for very long. Instead, we the audience are left with a maddeningly unresolved squabble that, by the film’s conclusion, is never really put aside.
As a feminist, however, what I found most appalling is the presentation of Miss Julie’s mother. She was not a part of the original play and was instead added later by Alf Sjöberg, whose screenplay also fleshed out the character of the count considerably. A woman who comes across as a sadistic parody of first-wave feminism, her character reads like a laundry list of male privilege paranoia. For starters, she broaches propriety by being unwilling to get married because she does not wish to be seen as her husband’s property. Loathe to give birth or to be a mother, she nonetheless becomes pregnant, while plainly hating the child that emerges from her womb. Her daughter is forced to dress in boy’s clothing, forbidden to play with dolls, or to embrace even the most modest of female gender roles. All of this is meant, as the playwright asserts, to prove that women are equal to men. However, these draconian tactics lead to much misery and confusion for the child who finds traditionally male pursuits like hunting or plowing a field either perplexing or impossible. She is therefore raised as a boy would be, learning the same chores and same societal obligations as would a male offspring, though the implication is that gender role distinctions to some degree exist for a good reason. The mother’s designs even fall upon the workers of the estate. Women servants are required to perform men’s work and men servants are required to perform women’s work. Neither does so competently and before very long the family is nearly penniless. It is then without much surprise that Sjöberg notes how much Miss Julie’s mother hates, fears, and mistrusts men and seeks to pass along this same perspective to her daughter. The mother’s belief in radical feminism crosses the line from empowerment into misandry and it is this gross distortion of feminism that still finds its way into modern conservative discourse, particularly in the bluster of Rush Limbaugh’s frequent rantings about so-called femi-nazis.
Returning to the film, it is at this point, unsurprisingly, that the established patriarchy attempts to re-establish control and save the day. Her husband, Miss Julie’s father, is a well-meaning and kind-hearted count who patiently tolerates his wife’s behavior until he takes a firm look at the balance sheet. At this point, he insists that a more traditional means of both raising a child and conducting business will be employed. He liberates his daughter from boy’s clothing, dressing her in what he believes to be gender-appropriate fare. He arm-twists his wife into a marriage ceremony and exchange of vows, much to her extreme distaste. However, he fails to take into account her perfidy and bitterness, as she sets fire to the estate, forcing the family to take on more debt and leaving them without a place to live until the Count finds the means to rebuild. She then suggests that her husband should borrow money from a close personal friend, one that she happens to be having an affair with, no less. The money borrowed is secretly her own that she has hidden away, but she lies deliberately to entangle her husband into an economic arrangement that could have been otherwise avoided. The Count discovers what she has done, but due to the insidious nature of the transaction cannot file charges or seek justice.
Strindberg’s own views were frequently perplexing and capricious. At times in his life he advocated for women’s suffrage but also made misogynistic statements that completely negated his original position. He was, quite unsurprisingly, married three times, each of which ended in bitter, acrimonious divorce, due in large part to the fact to the fact that he was hypersensitive and highly neurotic. It is easy for us to come down harshly on those who make anti-feminist statements or who state shocking offensive opinions. Criticism is always justified, but I try to, as best I can, take into account the circumstances and the state of mind of those who make patently inappropriate public as well as private statements. Words do matter, as do statements of brazen misogyny and unrepentant sexism, but without excusing such behavior, I do seek to find its root in an effort to formulate a solution. The past several months have shown a marked uptick in what seems like a perpetual cycle of insults, retorts, charges, counter-charges, and the like. I know this sort of behavior goes along with the territory but I still wonder about the ultimate impact. Whether our dialogue is somehow coarser now than before I can’t say and whether our children are more or less inclined to violence is a matter of debate, but the fact remains that so long as we fail to seek a common humanity, we’ll always be at war, not just with our enemies, but also with ourselves.
Dec 25 2007
X-posted at Kos
Genia over at SistersTalk did some very interesting research on the candidates in regards to the topic of Domestic Abuse. And I thought to myself…why is this the first time someone raised the issue? Why did it take a blogger to pull this into the light? Was it the Corporate Media’s fault? Was it our fault? Did we all turn our backs on this issue?
Then I thought about how difficult it was to raise cash recently for Pretty Bird Woman House when compared to other fundraising drives…