The Media Assault on Women and a Lecture on Gender

The Mis-representation of Women in the Media, Or, Insidious Violence Against Human Beings Gendered Feminine is the subject of today’s rant, and it is prompted by Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s  documentary, Miss Representation.

We’ve seen many of these images before, of course, but not while thinking about them as Newsome allows us to.  She skillfully juxaposes the pornographic male gaze with a more honest look at actual women and girls.  Seeing these images out of context, away from the narratives that lull us to sleep, or encourage us to buy products, or vote the way particular corporate interests direct us to think about ourselves as women or men, allows us to understand how they damage us.

Distorted and insulting portraits of women as sex objects for men to use, deride, revile, and torment with abandon express the fantasies of adolescent porn addicts.  Sut Jhally makes a similar point in his compelling Dreamsworlds 3: Sex and Power in Music Video. These phantasms of the misogynist mind do real harm because they seep into the collective unconscious and register there as accurate, acceptable, even laudable.  That is why we see eleven year-olds vamping up in sexy outfits and heavy makeup and housewives taking up pole-dancing, or imagining that such activities are appropriate and authentic means of self-expression, even artistry, and that dressing and behaving like slaves will garner them genuine love, affection, companionship.

These perverted images do not directly rape women, but they do a symbolic violence that is as devastating and long-lasting as rape, and this symbolic violence, this grotesque representation of women as sex-starved sluts desperate for male attention, or as “bitches” or “dykes” when they refuse to defer to men and stand up for themselves, leads to actual, physical violence.  This symbolic violence encourages men to rape and to brutalize women, and then trivializes these horrific crimes.

Media symbols of degraded femininity do real violence not only because they broadcast a particularly narrow and misogynist message, but also because they reinforce the underlying patriarchal structure of our society.  They reiterate the male/female dichotomies that organize our culture and guide the way that we learn to understand ourselves narrowly as masculine or feminine, rational or irrational, subject or object, light or dark, good or bad.

As my favorite Spinster Aunt at I Blame the Patriarchy notes, femininity is not inherent or natural, but rather a way of being that is acquired, developed, within a patriarchal and heterosexist culture:

That’s right. Femininity is not a natural expression of femaleness. It is not an hereditary, hormone-based fascination for fashion, submissiveness, mani-peddies, baby-soft skin, or catfighting. It is not a fun-loving lifestyle choice. Femininity is a rigid system of behaviors imposed on us by the Global Accords Governing the Fair Use of Women as a means to control, subjugate, and marginalize us, entirely at our expense, for the benefit of the male-controlled megatheocorporatocracy.

Some people believe that

the practice of femininity is but one facet of an exciting smorgasbord…of lifestyle choices available to today’s busy autonomous gal-on-the-go. They feel that “choosing” feminine conduct is an act of feminist rebellion, on the grounds that the choicing is entirely the chooser’s own personal idea. They aver that femininity can be an expression of a woman’s personal personality, and that it is “fun.” It is irrelevant, apparently, that femininity just happens to align precisely with the pornified desires, yucky fetishes, and vulgar business interests of the entire dudely culture of domination.

…It’s so much easier to go with the flow and comfy up with the familiar old gender stereotypes than it is to come to grips with the fact that our woman-hating world order enforces femininity with a rigorous system of hollow, joyless rewards and uncompromising, murderous punishments, and that the enforcement of feminine behavior is a global humanitarian crisis.

Twisty has it right. The enforcement of feminine behavior–feminine as defined by the media who pander to adolescent porn-addled male fantasies, which the media reinforces and sustains in order to perpetuate itself–is a global humanitarian crisis because women constitute more than 50 per cent of the global population and women across the world have been under siege for thousands of years, since patriarchy was invented.

Feel like watching another video?  Check out this great ad by the Dove Self-Esteem fund:

Feel better now?  No?  The director is sending an message, but also shows us how the media assaults us in order to manipulate us! It blasts away at us every day all the time.  Actual men assault actual women every day, all the time, too.   Officially estimated, men rape women and girls every 15 seconds in this country, and 1 in 4 women has been or will be sexually violated in her lifetime.   But when you consider the whole picture of Intimate Partner Violence, it is no overstatement to say that every single second of every single day multiple men demean, insult, harass, beat, rape, and assault women or girls they know.

I volunteer at the Women’s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh, which is one of the oldest and best-respected institutions of its kind.  Please consider supporting them. They need your help very much.

Because of the economic crisis in this country,  battering has increased at the very same time that funding for crisis shelters has dried up.  The GOP’s war on women and disingenuous and foolish campaign to slash federal money for all agencies that offer support, medical assistance, and psychological care for women (Planned Parenthood, WIC and Head Start are all under attack) will make the situation worse.  This is not to say that poor people commit domestic violence at higher rates than the rich.   Men of every station, race, income level, and education batter and abuse women with impunity in this country.   The media, which makes billions of dollars portraying women in disturbingly demeaned and perverted roles, encourages this criminal abuse.

Speak out.  Represent yourself, in all your complex gender-bending beauty.

not a happy I heart women post

Right, so today is International Women’s Day and all over the country and the world women stood on bridges to celebrate.  Nice symbolism.  Bridges lead from one place to another. They unite places otherwise separated and bring people together.

Think about it, though.  For all our progress–some might even say because of our progress–women seem to be standing on some pretty shaky bridges these days.   Yes it’s lovely that the Secretary of State is a woman and I do like Ms. Clinton but wish it were possible that we could call her Ms. Rodham.  Remember how she had to change her name to make conservative politicos in both parties comfortable enough to vote for her HUSBAND?  She had to do that not so she could get elected, but rather so HE could, and so that she might snug into the quaint and mostly decorative “First Lady” role.  This the voters demanded, apparently.

And look, now, after we thought we were done, at least for a while, with that demented,  logic- and syntax-challenged, gun-toting white wacko who calls herself “feminist” while training her rifle’s cross-hairs on democratically elected politicians who support all women’s right to sovereignty over their bodies, we’re suddenly beset with a radical extremist Christian who is going around the country spreading hatred for Muslims.   Have you tuned into Brigitte Gabriel yet?  Apparently she grew up in Lebanon and lived in Israel for a spell yet typically greets her audiences by screaming “Yee-Haw!” into the microphone.  Then she launches into a well-rehearsed rant against Muslims who, she says in an all-capitals sort of way, are TAKING OVER THE COUNTRY and INFILTRATING AT EVERY LEVEL OF PUBLIC AND PRIVATE LIFE:

“America has been infiltrated on all levels by radicals who wish to harm America,” she said. “They have infiltrated us at the C.I.A., at the F.B.I., at the Pentagon, at the State Department. They are being radicalized in radical mosques in our cities and communities within the United States.”

Remind you of anyone? I think she learned it from the guy who is infamous for having spread his paranoid fever with statements such as:

“I have here in my hand a list of two hundred and five (people) that were known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping the policy of the State Department”

You guessed Joe McCarthy, right? Right.  This woman draws enormous crowds of fawning American Islamophobics, who write letters to her such as the following, which her organization, Act! for America sponsors on its website:

Now you are doing the right things to help this once great country try to regain it’s center. You are an awesome individual with such a sincere heart. And that brain of yours. You always know just what to say.

First of all, the proper punctuation of the possessive “it” is “its” not the “it’s,” which is a contraction of the verb “to be.”  Not clear whether this grammar problem stems from Act! for America or from the enthusiast who is awed by Brigitte’s brain.   In either case the quotation doesn’t convey a strong sense of intelligence and education.  Here’s more testimony from a loyal follower, who wrote this on ‘The Tea Party Platform“:

It was a distinct privilege to be among those at the Faith Bible Church in Arvada, CO on August 10, 2010 to listen to Brigette Gabriel.   It was an honor to later have the opportunity to meet her.  I walked away from that meeting with far more than her book,They Must Be Stopped, her 55 minute DVD and a lapel pin.   I walked away with a sense of urgency that should be felt by every American who wishes to preserve his/her way of life.

This follower explicitly stated that Gabriel preaches the following points:

  • The single goal of muslims is to replace our republic with a government based upon islam.  Their goal is islamic control.
  • There are a large number of active terror cells in this country already in place.   Some cities have a large number of active members.  Among those cities is my home, Denver.

By the way, Brigitte changed her name, too.  It seems “Nour Saman,” her real name, was way too Ay-rab for her radical Christian and right-wing Jewish audiences.  (Why the Aryan ‘Brigitte’?) And let’s take a look at her erudition.

Willing to bet that these audiences would characterize the following statement, which Brigitte allegedly made, as “just what to say”?

The difference, my friends, between Israel and the Arab world is the difference between civilization and barbarism. It’s the difference between good and evil [applause]…. this is what we’re witnessing in the Arabic world, They have no SOUL !, they are dead set on killing and destruction. And in the name of something they call “Allah” which is very different from the God we believe….[applause] because our God is the God of love.

Oy, vey! This hits on so many levels of “what not to say” that even my Republican grandfather, who rolled over in his grave the day I applied to work for Senator Alan Cranston (D-CA), must be kicking the sides of his coffin.  You don’t go around saying that some human beings who name their higher power with a different name than you do have “no soul” unless you’re trying to dehumanize them.  And we all know that dehumanized “things” are lot easier to kill than human beings.  There is “our God” who is the god of love and “their God” who is the god of hatred and therefore “our God” won’t mind if we exterminate them. All in the name of love, of course.

This woman is an alleged apologist for the Phalange group, Kataeb, and the terrorist group, the South Lebanon Army (SLA), who carried out the slaughter of thousands of Palestinians, most of whom were women and children, in the notorious Sabra and Shatila camps.

The veteran Middle East journalist Robert Fisk described what he found there this way:

there were women lying in houses with their skirts torn torn up to their waists and their legs wide apart, children with their throats cut, rows of young men shot in the back after being lined up at an execution wall. There were babies – blackened babies babies because they had been slaughtered more than 24-hours earlier and their small bodies were already in a state of decomposition – tossed into rubbish heaps alongside discarded US army ration tins, Israeli army equipment and empty bottles of whiskey.

This woman, who has been accused of defending this holocaust of innocent Muslim women and children, thrills American women and American men, with statements such as:

a practising Muslim who goes to mosque every Friday, prays five times a day, and who believes that the Koran is the word of God, and who believes that Mohammed is the perfect man and (four inaudible words) is a radical Muslim.

Has this woman heard of Indonesia?  Does she know any American Muslims?  Does she really want me to believe that the lovely Indian woman I recently met, a physician in her 70s,  a volunteer, like me, at the Women’s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh, and a Muslim, is a radical?

Muslims who believe that the Koran is the word of God and who believe that Mohammed is the perfect man do not share my beliefs but that does not make them radicals Muslims.   A Christian or Jew (or Buddhist or Jain, for that matter) who is so intolerant as to equate all Muslims with murderous terrorists does, however, fall into the category of “extremist” in my book.

Particularly when that woman encourages Americans–who are raving mad for her–to consider all Muslims “soulless” beings.  The name of her book, “Because they Hate,” more accurately describes her followers than the people she’s going around denouncing.

For International Women’s Day some Pittsburghers stood on a bridge to draw attention to the plight of Afghan Women, who happen to be Muslim and therefore members of the same “soulless” zombies  that Brigitte Gabriel is urging Americans to hate and fear.

We’re standing on some shaky bridges–and women like Brigitte Gabriel and her followers are working hard to undermine them completely.  How should we understand such extremism?  Doris Lessing, who almost always builds bridges, has this to say in Prisons We Choose to Live Inside:

Anyone who reads history at all knows that the passionate and powerful convictions of one century usually seem absurd, extraordinary, to the next.  There is no epoch in history that seems to us as it must have to the people who lived through it.  What we live through, in any age, is the effect on us of mass emotions and of social conditions from which it almost impossible to detach ourselves. Often the mass emotions are those which seem the noblest, best and most beautiful.  And yet, inside a year, five years, a decade, five decades, people will be asking, “How could they have believed that?” because events will have taken place that will have banished the said mass emotions to the dustbin of history.  To coin a phrase (8).

The very same people running wildly after Brigitte Gabriel today will probably disown her in the future.  But for now, they have caught the fever, the mass emotions of suspicion and fear and xenophobia that afflict so many Islamophobic American men and women today.   It would be nice if these extremists would stop building bombs under the bridges, these way-stations between groups of human beings who are different from one another, people who might actually like to get to know each other and who would surely get along better if they had ways to reach one another.

 

I had two abortions and I am not ashamed

Though you have done nothing shameful,
they will want you to be ashamed.
They will want you to kneel and weep
and say you should have been like them.
And once you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness.
They will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach. Be ready.
When their light has picked you out
and their questions are asked, say to them:
"I am not ashamed." A sure horizon
will come around you. The heron will begin
his evening flight from the hilltop.

From "Do Not Be Ashamed" by Wendell Barry

When I was 17 years old I decided to have sex with my first serious boyfriend, who was very nice Catholic boy at my public high school.  He was sweet and we were in love.  My parents, a doctor and the daughter of a doctor and a nurse,  were really cool and had been quite open with me about reproduction and sex since I was about 3, but I still didn’t want them to know.  It wasn’t really their business.  I was going to have sex and I knew the consequences.  I didn’t want to get pregnant and I didn’t want to contract a disease, so we were going to use contraception.  We did what lots of my peers did.  We went down to Planned Parenthood for free contraception, which we got after going through some mandatory sex education classes.   We had to wait about a week, I guess, in order to get started.  We waited.  We protected ourselves most of the time.  But we were in love and heat and so we slipped once or twice.

My mother was the one who figured it out.  I had been throwing up in the mornings for a couple of days, and she announced, in a matter-of-fact and slightly disgusted voice: “you’re pregnant.”  Of course I was going to have an abortion.  My parents were certainly not going to let me have a baby, and I knew I wasn’t ready.  I had taken care of my sister since she was born and had a very good grasp of how much work, money, and commitment was involved, and I knew I wasn’t old enough to take it on by myself.  Being pregnant felt a lot like being infected with a horrible disease.  I was sick and wanted the source of the nausea out, fast.  I didn’t think I had a “baby” inside of me.  I knew very well that, at about six weeks, what was growing was a mass of cells about 1/6 of an inch long and presently much more like an insect or a worm than a human being.

My parents were Seventh-Day Adventists from a medical family who themselves had come from pragmatic farm folk.  An abortion of a human fetus in the first trimester was not a lot different from the abortion of an unwanted litter of kittens: regrettable and sad, but necessary.  Unfortunate, not tragic.  My parents made me and my boyfriend pay for the procedure to teach us to be more careful in the future.

I was, for the most part.  But I was also extremely fertile, I guess, because I got pregnant again, at college, with my second serious boyfriend.  That time, I recognized the symptoms all by myself and escaped the serious disapproval and lectures that would have come from my mother and father.  They would not have berated me for having sex, or for having to get another abortion, but rather for being careless and stupid.  They didn’t need to scold me about this, because I had already internalized them well enough to lambast myself.  I felt that I had been reckless, irresponsible, and foolish, not just with my own life but also with life itself, with the potential life growing within me.  I did not choose lightly or cavalierly, but also did not think that I had been immoral or that it terminating it was anything like murder.  I had been thinking a lot about infanticide, ironically, since I was currently reading all of Euripides and had become especially enthralled with Medea.  I toyed romantically and self-destructively with the idea of myself as a Medea but never really believed my own hype.

My problem was that I was broke.  I had the luxury of attending school full-time without having to take a job for expenses, but my parents sent me only the bare minimum that I needed for books, pens, paper, and food.  So I had to figure out a way to pay for the abortion without having to tell my parents.  I was really, really lucky.  My scientifically minded, pro-choice Republicans parents would have excoriated me for my idiocy and made me feel a lot worse than I already did, but they weren’t going to disown me or treat me as a pariah, as many much more conservative parents would have done.  Also,  in California during the early 1980s it was still possible to get a state-funded abortion if you could prove that you had financial need.  I did.  The State paid and I went on with my life.  I found the procedure somewhat grisly, and emotionally exhausting and very, very sad, but I really didn’t think I had done anything particularly evil.  It would have been far worse to give birth to a child and release him or her into the uncertain fate of adoption, or try to take care of a kid that I resented and wasn’t mature or economically steady enough to support in a positive and wholesome environment.

I’m really lucky.  No one shamed me.  No monsters stood outside the clinic and screamed names at me.  No judge forced me to develop a fertilized egg that I didn’t want in my body.  No one wrote nasty letters or emails to me.  No one denounced me.  No one made me feel bad about myself for taking what I knew was the most responsible and ethical decision for me at the time.  No one threatened to kill me or the doctor who performed the operation.

The next time I got pregnant I meant to.  I got really sick again–but it was, as a dear friend and ob-gyn told me, “a good sick.”  I did not enjoy being pregnant.  I felt invaded by an alien life form.  I had been invaded by an alien life form, albeit one who shared some of my genes.  But I choose to bring it to term, and I was very lucky that he turned out to be healthy and beautiful and himself.  I was ready for him–although it still seemed too soon.

If you have had an abortion, please do not feel ashamed.  You have done nothing wrong.  Do not listen to those who would take your light away.

Current anti-woman legislation and the rise of Christian extremism

Bush Decides Upon “Handmaid’s Tale Look” for Women in Photo Op

Christian extremists have not quite taken hold of the country, but they pose an emergent, lethal threat to women, men, and children in the United States of America. They do not constitute the majority of Americans, who largely trust women to make their own decisions about their reproductive health. Nevertheless, a vocal and fiercely religious minority have gained ground in state and federal legislatures and in right-wing media conglomerates such as Fox News and Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal, which host women-haters and homophobes on a regular basis. The overwhelming majority of Americans believe that contraception is good for society, and most think that in most circumstances abortion should be legal.  The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which opposes contraception, and a variety of evangelical Protestant organizations have helped to elect politicians now in national and state offices.  The legislation that these Christian extremists support would severely harm women, girls, children and men by preventing them from receiving vital STD screenings, routine gynecological care, contraception, and information about safe sex. They also present dangerous precedents for legalizing excessive government intrusion into private life.  They would allow the State to regulate human bodies as it has never done before and force women to remain pregnant, even if the pregnancy would kill them. Consider the most recent legislation that candidates supported by Christian extremists have proposed or passed in Congress:

  • The Pence amendment:  the continuing resolution on the national budget, which was passed by the House, includes an amendment that would eliminate all funding for Title X family planning, even though none of this money funds abortions.   The Congresswomen and men who voted for this resolution officially declared their opposition to programs that currently provide poor women with gynecological care, pap smears, HIV and other STD testing, cancer screenings, contraception and information about safe sexual practices.
  • H.R. 358, also known as the “Let Women Die Act,” sponsored by right-winger Joe Pitts (R-PA) and 137 other Representatives, encourages emergency rooms to let women die rather than perform abortions that would save their lives, urges providers to refuse to offer training or referrals related to abortion, and, most infamously, redefines rape in such a way that would exclude most sexual attacks.
  • H.R. 3, introduced by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and 209 co-sponsors, would require the IRS to monitor and impose tax burdens on Americans whose PRIVATE insurance covers abortion. As NOW observes: ” In testifying in favor of this bill in committee, a representative from the Catholic bishops proudly supported revoking abortion rights even in cases of rape. You read that right — and isn’t that rich, coming from the very men who have consistently protected sexually abusive priests?”
  • H.R. 217, sponsored by Christian extremist Mike Pence (R-IN) and 168 other Representatives, is another version of the Pence amendment.  It may die in Committee, but it will live and become law the U.S. Catholic Bishops and other Protestant groups have their way.

Recent action promoted by Christian extremists in the State legislatures

  • South Dakota: Be grateful if you don’t live in South Dakota, where Christian extremists tried to legalize the assassination of abortion providers and have shut down all but one abortion clinic.  On Tuesday the House passed a bill (49-19) that would force women who go to this last refuge to endure “counseling” designed to discourage them from having an abortion.  The decision to terminate a pregnancy is agonizing enough for most women who must make it, but South Dakota extremists want to make choice even more unpleasant for women by imposing a 72-hour waiting period between the time that they meet with their doctors and have an abortion.  If this bill passes,  State will incur approximately $1 million in legal costs defending it in court.
  • Nebraska: The Christian extremists nextdoor have introduced a bill nearly identical to the one that stalled in South Dakota, defining the murder of anyone who supports abortion a “justifiable homicide.” State Senator and devout Protestant Mark Christensen,  who opposes abortion in all circumstances, including rape, introduced this legislation,  L.B. 232,  this week.  Melissa Grant of Planned Parenthood told the Nebraska State Judiciary Committee that this bill “authorizes and protects vigilantes, and that’s something that’s unprecedented in our society.”
  • Virginia:  A state Senate bill introduced today would effectively close 17 of the 21 abortion clinics in Virginia by redefining all facilities that provide first-trimester procedures “hospitals” and subject them to a slew of cumbersome and unnecessary regulations.  These providers are already subject to state regulations but this bill would impose burdensome stipulations that similar medical providers in the state do not have to meet.  This legislation is likely to pass.
  • Pennsylvania:  The State of Pennsylvania unfairly requires teens under the age of 18 to get their parents’ consent before having an abortion.  If they are unable or afraid to get their parent’s consent, they can bypass the regulation by going through the courts.  The legislation does not grant the judge to force a teen to remain pregnant against her will, but a recently elected Allegheny State Judge thinks it does.  Judge Philip Ignelzi recently ruled that a girl just shy of her 18th birthday may not have an abortion, even though abortion is still legal in this country.  We must not underestimate the great psychological and physical burden that this judge has just imposed on a young woman in our supposedly free country.
  • Georgia: Woman-hating State Representative Bobby Franklin (R), who wants all rape victims to be called “accusers,” introduced legislation that would not only label all abortions “fetal murder” but require the police to investigate every miscarriage as a potential homicide. Hospitals would be required to keep records on and investigate every single spontaneous death.  A Uterus Police? What’s next? A regulatory apparatus to test the daily flow of women having their periods to insure that they haven’t unwittingly discharged “baby” parts, also known as fertilized eggs or zygotes?
  • Florida: Republican candidate for Mayor of Jacksonville and devout Baptist Mike Hogan confessed, in a Catholic Church in Mandarin that he would not bomb an abortion clinic “but it may cross my mind.” The congregation applauded.

We do not yet force women to veil themselves from head to toe, prohibit them from reading, or exclude them from public office, but if Christian extremists who seek to impose their private, religious views on the rest of us get their way, we could soon find ourselves living in a society not unlike the Republic of Gilead imagined in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale Amanda Marcotte, who thinks a lot like I do, already made this rather obvious and somewhat overblown point. Nevertheless it is worth remembering that bad things happen to people who refuse to speak out against injustice. As Offred  (Of Fred) recalls in Atwood’s important 1986 novel:

We lived, as usual, by ignoring.  Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance. You have to work at it. Nothing changes instantaneously: in a gradually heating bathtub you’d be boiled to death before you knew it.  There were stories in the newspapers, of course, corpses in ditches or the woods, bludgeoned to death or mutilated, interfered with, as they used to say, but they were about other women, and the men who did such things were other men.  None of then were the men we knew.  The newspaper stories were like dreams to us, bad dreams dreamt by others.  How awful, we would say, and they were, but they were awful without being believable.  They were too melodramatic, they had a dimension that was not the dimension of our lives (Anchor, 1998: 56-57).

The debate over abortion has much to do with religion, but it shouldn’t.  On one side there are the pro-choice people, who may be Christians or Jewish or Muslim or Buddhist or atheists, but who do not want to impose their beliefs on other people.  They think women have the right to make their own decisions about their reproduction.  On the other side are the extremists who are eager–desperate, even–to impose their religious views on everyone else.  They do not trust women to make their own ethical choices.  Curiously, these very same “forced-birthers” also very often claim to be against the expansion of government and for a fiscal responsibility.  Yet they can’t stop themselves from introducing obviously unconstitutional legislation that would grossly broaden the State’s powers and that wastes everyone’s time and taxpayers’ money in the legal system. This legislation is not only irresponsible, as Rep. Jackie Speiers (D-CA) reminded Chris Smith and other Christian extremists who would have put her in jail for having a late-abortion of a fetus that her uterus had already rejected. “What does this have to do with reducing the deficit?” she asked.  “Nothing at all.” This legislation is not only sponsored by ignorant, bigoted men and women who have nothing but contempt for the black “babies” they claim to be saving, as Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) pointed out during the same floor debate.  Moore thundered:

I just want to tell you what it’s like not to have planned parenthood. … You have to give your kids ramen noodles at the end of the month to fill up their little bellies so they won’t cry. You have to give them mayonnaise sandwiches. They get very few fruits and vegetables because they’re expensive. It subjects children to low educational attainment because of the ravages of poverty.

This legislation imposes the views of a small but increasingly powerful minority of Christian extremists who are only too happy to keep Black women and children down, a small but powerful minority of Christian extremists who believe that God is male and that this deity intended men to have most of the privileges and power in the world because men, more like god than women,  are fundamentally superior to women.   This legislation is not merely the expression, , but also the weapon, of frighteningly hierarchical ideologues whom we tolerate and ignore at our peril.
Wake up from the “bad dream dreamt by others” and take action against religious extremism in America today:

Brilliant Feminists Protest the Women-Hating Legislators Who Deny Birth Control To The Very Same Women They Would Force To Stay Pregnant, Even to Death

Feminist bloggers save my sanity.  And their brilliant arguments against the latest spate of women-hating legislation deserve your attention.  I’m going to be posting a series of notes that call your attention to some of the best feminist responses to the political efforts of the religious right in Congress:

Consider this: Republicans and other Forced-Birthers have been complaining about recent efforts to require health insurance to cover birth control.  You can read about the “robust controversy” in the New York Times, if you like, or you can read Echidne of the Snakes, who notes

The conservatives are very much opposed to contraception, at least in women’s hands. Different groups in the conservative base have different reasons for opposing full coverage of contraceptives. The traditional“stay-out-of-my-wallet” people don’t want to pay for anything which might benefit some “other” group.

Sometimes that is taken to extremes, as was the case with the Republican politician who couldn’t understand why he would have to pay higher insurance premia so that pregnancy care could be covered. He can’t, after all, get pregnant himself! And was presumably born through some sort of amoebic cell division himself.

That covering contraceptives fully might actually save tax-payers money in the long-run is the possible counter-argument to all this. Or I guess we could argue that prostate care shouldn’t be covered by women’s premia, that those of us who don’t drive should not have our insurance premia raised by the care of drivers who got into car accidents, that those of us who don’t ski should not be expected to cover the cost of downhill skiing accidents and so on. The whole insurance system unravels if go thataway.

Rising Steelers Star William Gay, On Intimate Partner Violence

Here we go: Pittsburgh’s Going to the Superbowl.

Thanks to William Gay.   His touchdown in the last game cinched a tense, drawn-out conflict.  The cornerback also tops the list of Rising Sports Stars to watch in February, 2011.

When Mr. Gay  was eight years old, his stepfather murdered his mother.  Although his grief and rage might have driven him to despair, his inner strength–the quality that makes him truly manly, and great, saw him through.

Watch and listen to his amazing story here, and here:

Bikram in the Steel City, Day 75

The Strip, where my yoga studio is located, has been choked with people and cars since Christmas.  Now, just days before the Superbowl, it is jammed with CRAZED STEELER FANS.  Everywhere round, black-and-gold clad Black and White Pittsburghers move slowly along the sidewalks, perusing crowded tables of hats, gloves, socks, tee-shirts, sweatshirts, dog collars, pins, scarves, and, naturally, Terrible Towels.    It’s hard not to get into the spirit, impossible not to smile.  On every street corner Yinzer stores blare “Let’s Go”

In Penn Mac, the great, old-time grocery where you can buy all the cheeses of the world from a plump middle-aged lady who calls you “dear heart,” and choose from the greatest selection of pasta, anchovies, tomato sauces, olive oils, vinegars, salami, and all things Italian, for the best prices in town, you hear this song:

Prestogeorge’s, which has been roasting its own coffee beans and selling fine teas and cheeses for thousands of years, put up a sign that said “NO WISCONSIN CHEDDAR WILL BE SOLD UNTIL AFTER THE GAME”.

A man with bizarre headgear and a Steelers cape was reportedly dancing up and down the streets at six o’clock this morning, crowing with joy.  And we could hear the vendor below our studio calling out, “5 Dollars, 5 Dollars” all through our yoga practice today.  We giggled a lot during sivasana.

So, as you can imagine, it was almost impossible to find a parking spot. I was running late this morning, so I squeezed into a space that I probably would have skipped had I had more time. As I was easing my car into place, I very lightly touched the bumper of the car behind me, and heard an angry shout.  I popped out of my car and apologized sincerely.  The man–as wide as he was tall, bald, and very red–began to curse me out.  “I see you down here all the time and you drive a stupid, shoebox for a car and you can’t drive and you’re an asshole and blah-blah-blah-blah blah.”   “I’m really sorry, but there is no damage,” I said again.  “I don’t give a shit!!!”  he screamed, and continued to insult me, blah-blah-blah-blah-blah.  Then he threatened to ram my car and push it out into traffic.  I told him that I would call the police if did that, and wished him a nice day.

Seventy-four or even sixty days ago, I probably would have gotten into it with him and yelled back. Instead I kept my cool.  I even  felt sorry for him and made the sign of Namaste (it means: I acknowledge the divine in you and in me).  When I told a friend about it in the studio, he said.  “Men are always trying to intimidate women, you know.”  It hadn’t even occurred to me that he was trying to bully me, but that was obviously what had been going on.   I just figured that he was in a lot of pain and decided to take it out on me.  This was not my usual response.  I have a temper, especially when some,”man,” who is really a wuss,  is trying to scare me.   I get pissed off and escalate the violence.  I’m not proud of this.

Yeah, I worried about whether he was going to hurt my car, off and on, throughout class, but not very anxiously.  I was working too hard in some poses to think about anything but staying upright, or lifting, and too tired afterwards to do anything but catch my breath.  I giggled as the Vendor outside interrupted sivasana crying “5 dollars, 5 dollars.” I even bought a Terrible Towel after class.

The mean, red-faced man’s car was gone when I returned to my car.  And he had not rammed it.   I thought about going into the café where he works to complain to his boss, but decided against it.  It would only have escalated the bad feelings.  Plus, I felt great.  Relaxed, loose, easy.  The sun was out. Everybody on the street was excited about the end of the work week, and the coming football game.  Why fight when you can simply walk or drive away?

The Culture of Rape in the Congo

 

In the last few days, Congolese thugs raped 60 women, men, and children.  Sexual violence in the Congo has escalated at a terrifying rate.  Over 15,000 cases of  sexual were reported there in 2009.   And in the first six months of 2010, there were 7,685 cases.  More than half of the victims were younger than 18 years old.  The catastrophic transformation of the region has become so severe that Nene Rukunghu, a local doctor was moved to say, “This is no longer a crisis, it’s becoming a culture.”

What does it mean to say that a crisis has become a culture?  What is a culture of rape? What could possibly sustain such a culture, and what happens to people who live in a rape culture?

Let us begin with some definitions:

Culture, -noun: the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another.

Rape, -noun: an act of sexual intercourse that is forced upon a person.

In a rape culture, dominant human beings sexually force themselves onto others and transmit this “way of living” from one generation to another.  In a rape culture, sexual violation becomes a way of life.

It has long been established that most rapists are men and that rape is an act of extreme violence and aggression, as opposed to an act of sexual desire.  The aggressor inflicts himself on another to get power over another person by humiliating, degrading, and injuring that person.

Rape is a uniquely human act, barbaric but not like other animals’ aggression.  Only human beings rape because rape involves the complex, cultural understanding of “self” and “other” which the act itself reinforces.

Rape is a weapon of war that is used to shatter and erode the morale and dignity of an entire village, community, or people.  The act itself registers differently in different cultures.  It is most effective, or destructive, in cultures in which women are considered to be valuable only insofar as they remain sexually inexperienced and chaste.

This attitude is pervasive in cultures in which women are regarded as the property of their fathers or husbands, as chattel or goods that have a symbolic value that accrues to the owner of that property.  According to this way of thinking, the personal honor of the possessor suffers grievous injury when his chattel, his woman, wife, or daughter, loses her value through unauthorized sexual contact.   This way of thinking dominated Europe throughout the first millennium B.C.E. and is still vigorous in fundamentalist Christian pockets of the United States.

Rape, or any outlawed sexual experience, not only depletes the putative value of the woman, it also allegedly pollutes the honor of her father or husband.  In many cultures the rape of a woman is thought to pollute the honor of that woman’s entire family or tribe.  If you don’t already know about this, you should.  Introduce yourself to the topic with this video:

In order to recover their lost dignity and standing in the patriarchal community, the family or tribe will shame and ostracize the victim.  This practice was widespread in Bosnia and Serbia during and after the wars in that region, where rape was routinely used as a weapon of mass humiliation.  In aggressively patriarchal cultures, it is felt that male/tribal honor can only be restored through the murder of the victim.

In other words, patriarchal cultures are barbaric.  They are founded on the mythical belief that women are inherently inferior to men, and that therefore men have the right to own and control women.  Women do not have the right to own themselves or to make their own choices about their sexuality in these barbaric cultures.

Rape is an ancient means by which men have destroyed the mental and physical health of women to dominate and control them, but it is more fundamentally the crude method by which men seek to elevate themselves above other men.  By damaging the goods, and more importantly, the honor of another man or another group of men through rape, a man crudely proves that he is more powerful, more masculine.  Men in patriarchal culture are caught up in a mass illusionary game of quien es mas macho.

When men rape other men, they “feminize” their victims, treat them to the ultimate indignity to gain weaken their enemies and gain power over them.  But the rape of a man’s wife or child, especially if it is performed in front of him, also effectively emasculates that man.  He is forced to experience his own puny effeminacy in the face of other, allegedly more masculine men who have the power to take, degrade, and supposedly destroy, his woman or children before his eyes.

The rapist pathetically and barbarically “proves” his masculinity–his strength, his power, his honor–to himself and to his fellows, who also must engage in the same barbaric acts to sustain the fiction of their collective superiority over the people, the women, the men, and the children whom they are terrorizing.  For this reason, the rapist is completely unable to tolerate or even imagine how he might feel if someone were to rape his sister, or his mother, or his daughter.

Consider the frightening self-delusion  of the rapists in this video:

In the culture of rape that has grown up, tragically, in the Congo, men pass on to the next generation the perverted understanding that a man is only a man if he can out-man other men by raping their women.  But this culture is itself the natural expression of a culture in which men believe that men are superior to women, and that they have the right to possess, control, and govern their inferiors.

It is common to blame the crisis that has developed in the Congo on the Belgians, who brutally colonized the area in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  Certainly it is true that the whites committed many terrible crimes as a result of their own racist and sexist assumptions.  But the culture in the Congo had gone wrong long before the whites came.  It went bad when masculinism–the arbitrary belief that masculinity is superior to femininity–began to infect African culture, probably about 6,000 years before the current era.

One could certainly say–as Andrea Dworkin did say–that all masculinist culture is rape culture. One in four women in the United States has been raped.   In any society in which men and women have internalized the arbitrary myth that masculinity is superior to femininity, a rape culture develops.  It does not always exhibit itself in the brutally overt violence that we are seeing in the Congo.  As explained very well in one of my favorite blogs, Ben Roethlisberger, the degenerate quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers, is a product and producer of rape culture.

At home as well as in the Congo, human beings–mostly men–appear to be degenerating utterly into something that we shudder to call human.  When gangs of children who themselves were kidnapped, raped, and tortured commit these very same crimes against other children, and against women and men who fall into their paths, the myth of masculinity has taken then down a very dark and deadly road.

The good news is it is simply a myth, a perversion of human culture.  We have the power to imagine and built a better world.

Extreme Plastic Surgery, "Artificial" Sex, and the Insane Death of Carolin Berger

Today’s post began as a response to ECHIDNE of the snakes. who brought Carolin Berger to my attention

She was a German erotic actor who died in her sixth breast enlargement surgery, at the age of 23:

She went under the knife for the last time at the Alster Clinic and was having 800g (28oz) of silicon injected into each breast.  But her heart stopped beating during the operation. She suffered brain damage and was put into an induced coma.The tabloid’s headline read: “The senseless death of Big Brother star Cora shocks the whole of Germany. “(Her) frail, 48kg (106lb) body struggled against death for 224 hours. She lost. Cora is dead. …Her previous five operations were reportedly done at a private clinic in Poland which refused to admit her for a sixth time.

I kept going over those weight numbers, the amount of silicone to be injected into her and her body weight. Then I started thinking about the widespread impact of heterosexual pron on what women’s breasts should look like and how we now regard artificial breasts as really the natural ones, how seeing a very thin woman with very large breasts on television now looks normal, in the sense of averages. Porn has also affected the shaving of the pubic hair.

If it has done all that, surely it must have had some impact on general interpretations of sexuality and on the roles women and men take in sex?

I think that the cultural turn towards increasingly artificial bodies would indeed affect sexual habits and roles.

Women who are willing to alter their bodies dramatically are likely to engage in degrading and humiliating acts that do not sensually stimulate themselves, but, rather, their partners.  Of course, being able to excite their partners would theoretically also get them off.  Presumably, they would be more stimulated by partners who fit the roles that they have learned to find exciting–wealthy, powerful, dominant.  These are the very men for whom they are mutating their bodies, after all, the men for whom they (think they) live, presumably.

Or would it be more accurate to say that these women live entirely in the Gaze, permanently disconnected from themselves as subjects, and utterly and only aware of themselves as objects?

I think that porn alters the mind and sexual experience because the culture has prepared the mind to alter.  We are all subject to deep and long patterns of dominant-submissive  behavior that are not at all “natural” in the sense of being permanent and unalterable.

In other words, it has not always been this way.  We have been humanoid, Homo Sapiens, upright, intelligent, and communal, for approximately 100,000 years.  Only about 10,000 years ago did human males begin to figure out how to dominate human females. Human females learned how to cope with that arbitrary and unnatural situation in various and often freakish ways.

Sexual desire is very malleable, easily manipulated–we know this.

But at what point does the subject who is experiencing sex as an object, and nothing but an object, utterly lose herself (or himself)?  At what point does the long-objectified self break down completely, in severe depression, catastrophic phobias, or addictions, or bizarre, disfiguring and self-destructive behaviors?

Coralin Berger seems to have broken down in the last sort of way.  We can imagine that she at one time had a sense of herself as a person, a girl, a young woman, before she became obsessed with her body, or, rather obsessed with the notion of herself as a body, a body that needed, in her eyes, continually to be improved.

We can speculate about the forces that influenced the way that she came to think of herself.  They are the forces that influence all of us: the family, the church, the schools, the juridical system, the economy.  There is also the increasing power of the media that manipulates our sense of ourselves as women, as men  (for some good examples, check out About Face and the film Generation M).  Each one of us resists these forces to the best of our abilities.

My question is: at what point do these forces drive us completely insane?  At what point does the self who struggles to think independently break down so completely that there is nothing left but a shell, thin, brittle, and driven to the operating table for the sixth and final fix?

Tawakul Karman Update

Yes, yes, it’s all very wonderful (and I sincerely mean this) that Tawakul Karman has been released from prison.  And I admire and respect her call for greater freedoms of expression and for her leadership of Women Journalists for Change.  It’s hard to stand up to a government that forces women–look at them–to shroud themselves from head to toe.  Look, it’s currently the fad in academic feminist circles to defend the veil and to stand up for it, which is kind of weird.

Obviously, women, all women, everywhere, ought to have the freedom to wear a veil if they want to, and I can understand the sense of freedom that one might have while walking around anonymously in public.

But the problem is that there we are not talking about women making the choice to wear the veil, but rather about a culture in which women who choose to take the veil off are made to feel like sluts.  Imposing the veil on women is an ancient way of manipulating and controlling women in public.

Are the women in the photo above, Tawakul Karman’s supporters, wearing the veil to dodge police cameras or for cultural reasons?  Either way, they are wearing it out of fear, fear of what would happen to them were they to show their faces and bodies in the world.  Are women are wearing the veil because they “choose” to, or because they fear what will happen to them if they don’t? Karman shed her veil.  Her followers may not have the luxury to do the same.

Just so you know where I stand, I think that the idiot-brained American bigots who have shamed Muslim women and girls in this country for wearing the veil are uncivilized barbarians and assholes who ought to be fined, jailed, and made to do long and tedious hours of community service for their crimes.  And the French!  The French have always been stupidly self-centered about their culture.  If a woman wants to drape herself in black, let her.  If she likes to cover her hair, so be it!  We don’t go after Orthodox Jews who cover their hair with wigs.  Why harrass Muslim women?  Let people be as they wish to be, as long as they aren’t hurting anyone.  And no one is hurt by my neighbor’s headscarf.

In response to more than 5,000 protesters, many of them women, Yemeni authorities released activist Tawakul Karman yesterday, but quickly arrested lawyer and human rights activist Khaled Al-Anesi, who had been defending Karman.  Al-Anesi was arrested as he tried to reach the attorney general to explain why Karman’s arrest was illegal.  Security forces rushed him and carried him, along with a number of other human rights activists, to prison.

Both Al-Anesi and Karman are reported to be in good spirits and hopeful for political change.  Speaking at a rally after her release, Karman said,

We will continue our struggle until regime change happens in our happy country. We will defend order in our country, we will defend the system, the constitution, the law. The Jasmine Revolution will continue until the entire regime goes.

Karman is pressing for President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has dominated Yemeni politics for more than 30 years, to step down.  Parliament has recently considered changing the rules of terms limits, which would allow Saleh to appoint himself president for life.

More than 1000 civilians protested the crackdown on freedom of expression outside the office of the general prosecutor. Among the protesters was Naif al-Qanes, a leader in JMP and the chairman of the political administration in The Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party.  He was beaten and arrested this morning.  [Source: Hood].

Where these protests for greater freedom of expression in Yemen will lead is hard to say. Saleh is clearly concerned, if not frightened by the civil unrest and the outrage that his government’s arrest of Karman has sparked.  This morning’s New York Times reports that President Saleh, perhaps in response to these civil protests, has raised military salaries and cut taxes in half.  A “Jasmine Revolution” that would bring about greater civil liberties and a more democratic government would certainly be a good thing, especially if such a government were able to rid itself of  Al Qaeda in the region.   The current administration in Yemen makes a show of cooperating with the US, but has not so far managed to rout the group out.

Yemen is a poor country governed by tribal powers and characterized by powerful, traditional cultural patterns.   It is an unlikely spot for the blossoming of calls for greater civil rights, freedom of expression, and greater civil liberties for women by women.  Tawakul Karman has blossomed here, and inspired thousands of women to follow her.  She leads an organization called “Women Journalists without Chains” in a society in which women are frequently silenced and shut away.

To say this is not to argue that American women, many of whom voluntarily enslave themselves to men for economic or emotional reasons, are significantly more enlightened.  Nevertheless the educational, political and economic freedoms for women are much greater in this country than they are currently in Yemen or many other Muslim countries. That American women fail to make use of these freedoms is quite another problem for a later discussion.

We are talking about Yemen.  We are talking about a culture in which women are expected to remain silent and in which we see women speaking out and calling for greater freedom of expression.  This is important.  I am writing about it because I am hopeful and because I admire this activist.  I remain troubled by her affiliation with Islah, an apparently fundamentalist party that would subject the country to a narrower, Muslim (Shariah) rule of law.  I worry that the rise of  this party could set women back.   But for now, this woman is not stepping back.