Immigration and violence against women

The latest battle around immigration will concern the citizenship rights of children born to “illegal” immigrants, today’s New York Times predicts.   It seems some loud-mouthed policymakers in Arizona and other states want to deny the right of some babies born in the US to be Americans.    While the obvious argument against this misguided, anti-immigration strategy is that it arises from a racist, xenophobic desire to keep hispanic, asian, and other people out, I want to discuss the ways in which we should understand it as yet another expression of misogyny and patriarchal politics.

Consider the site of this particular battle: pregnant women.  The current effort to deny citizenship to the offspring of certain children is a direct and bold effort to manipulate women’s reproduction.  White men, such as Russel Pearce, who achieved notoriety for introducing the legislation that makes it a crime to be an “illegal” immigrant in Arizona, want to harras, demonize and punish women for giving birth where and when he says they should not.  In an email quoted by Virilatino, Pearce fulminates:

“If we are going to have an effect on the anchor baby racket, we need to target the mother. Call it sexist, but that’s the way nature made it. Men don’t drop anchor babies, illegal alien mothers do.”

The wacko vision is that women deliberately enter the country and “drop” their babies, which become “anchors” that will allow hordes of relatives to slip in and steal jobs from Northern Americans.  There are a number of different and perfectly innocent ways that an immigrant can be charged with “illegal” status, but Pearce and his nasty, misogynist cronies want to “target” all women who fall into this category as though they were a herd of deer or rabbits.  They’ve declared open season and armed their rifles.

As the law currently stands, in this country as well as in a number of other new world nations, the citizenship of a person is determined according to jus soli, a Latin term meaning “right of the soil.”   Meddling reactionaries want to change the law so that citizenship will be determined according to jus sanguinis, which literally means “law of blood.”  They want effectively to overturn the 14th Amendment, which says that it doesn’t matter who the mother is, or what the race, class, or ethnicity of the child is,  but only where that child is born, that confers citizenship.   This important protection was hard-won against racists who wanted to prevent the descendants of African slaves from becoming Americans.

In the battle against undocumented and “illegal” immigrant mothers and their children today, just like in the battle against African-American slaves and their children before the Dred Scott decision, women are considered to be little more than animals that men impregnate, control, and move around for their own benefits.   Why and how a woman has come into this country, or stayed here, or, more importantly, why and how she has become pregnant and then decided to go through with the pregnancy, do not interest the men and women who want to change the law.  Their overriding concern is to limit and control the reproduction of immigrants in order to protect the interests of what they call “natives” (and they don’t mean native Americans).  By Pearce’s own admission, the best way to do that is to “target the mother.”

Let us  return to the opening scene from today’s NYT article:

NOGALES, Ariz. — Of the 50 or so women bused to this border town on a recent morning to be deported back to Mexico, Inez Vasquez stood out. Eight months pregnant, she had tried to trudge north in her fragile state, even carrying scissors with her in case she gave birth in the desert and had to cut the umbilical cord.

“All I want is a better life,” she said after the Border Patrol found her hiding in bushes on the Arizona side of the border with her husband, her young son and her very pronounced abdomen.

Now imagine what Pearce and his gang want to do to this woman:

What is Gender?

The people in this cartoon are “doing gender.”  What does this mean? What is gender?

Gender is an embodied social program, an ideological construction of the body that we do not simply perform in language and gesture,

but also inhabit and experience somatically (from the Greek, soma), in the body .

Gender is durable, although not inevitable, because it is produced and reproduced through symbolic and physical violence that privileges a purely relational, yet rigid, conception of masculinity that is sustained over against rigid conceptions of femininity.

The privileging of masculinity over femininity is wholly arbitrary–it makes no sense and might just as easily have been reversed, had certain factors in our history been different.

The patterns according to which we have interpreted our anatomies and behaviors come from culture, not nature.  Gender is a historically constructed way of responding to biology, sure.  But it is also a historically determined way of responding to  established practices of culture.

Historians and evolutionary psychologist believe that the invention of agriculture made an enormous impact on the way that human beings think about masculinity and femininity.  See, for example, the work of Christopher Ryan.

Gender is enforced and reinforced through symbolic and physical violence.  We all undergo a certain degree of symbolic violence, and we experience it directly whenever we “apply categories constructed from the point of view of the dominant to the relations of domination, thus making them appear to be natural,” as Pierre Bourdieu explains in his stellar book, Masculine Domination (p. 35).

So, for example, when women view themselves through the constructed categories of ideal femininity in, say, women’s magazines, and perceive themselves to be hideously fat and unattractive because they do not have the elongated and emaciated bodies of the models featured there, then they are experiencing symbolic violence.

Or, when we learn, from our parents, our media, our teachers, civic leaders, and preachers, that women are less able to do math or philosophy or auto mechanics or law than men, and unconsciously choose believe these fictions, and make choices in our lives because we have accepted them, then are experiencing symbolic violence.

We see ourselves through the categories that are present in our culture. And because our culture is patriarchal, organized according to a scheme of perceptions in which things masculine are considered to be higher or better than things feminine, the categories (for example, categories of the perfect female body) through which we see ourselves are also the expression of that patriarchal order.

When we see ourselves according to these paradigmatic ways of understanding “woman,” we are victims of symbolic violence.  The culture doesn’t need to beat us up–we do it do ourselves every time we compare ourselves to these idealized images of starvation or hyperbolic nymphomania and find ourselves wanting.   We learn to think about ourselves as second, less important than men. We also learn to fear that if we do not look as though we are continually hungering for men, that they will not want us.

This, of course, is complete rubbish, since no one but an absolute ass wants someone around who slavishly caters to their idiotic desires.  And yet there are so many men who can’t seem to stand women who assert themselves, and so many women who slavishly cater, or who spend inordinate amounts of time preparing themselves to be the objects of men’s desires, and little or no time thinking about what their own desires really are.   There are also plenty of men who can’t seem to imagine that women have any legitimate desires whatsoever.

Gender works through a series of oppositions.  Men know themselves as “men” only insofar as they can declare or prove that they are not “unmen” or women.  Over against a denigrated Other, men set themselves up as men, as subject, as powerful, right.  Just as light knows itself to be light only in contrast to darkness, so masculinity is defined over against femininity.  There is no such thing as absolute masculinity or essential masculinity, just as there is no such thing as absolute or essential darkness, or absolute “down” that exists in and of itself without the concept of “up.”  Similarly, men habitually define themselves as men only in opposition to women.

But instead of understanding a reciprocal or equal relationship between men and women, we tend to set ourselves into hierarchical relationships.  That is, we understand gender as an order in which masculine always takes precedence over feminine.   But this doesn’t make any sense.   There is a reciprocal relationship between up and down, or hot and cold, or dry and wet.  You cannot think one term without the other.  That understanding makes it possible for you to see both ideas as concepts, mutually determining ideas, but not as a hierarchy.

(every wonder why the light half is usually on top?)

Yet we generally do not understand these sexual oppositions as mutually dependent and equivalent, but rather as a superior-inferior relationship, in which masculinity is always superior to femininity, always “above” that which is “below” it.  This is false thinking, an illusion of reality that has been enforced by symbolic and real violence.  Women who have defied it have been punished, branded as whores or sluts or witches or monsters or hags.  They have also been subjected to physical punishment, to beatings and rapes and mutilations and murders.  Think of Anne Hutchinson,

or wise women, or people you may know of extraordinary autonomy and intransigence who, because they have refused to play the part of the “good” woman within the patriarchal order, have been slapped down or destroyed.

Anti-choice theocrats and terrorists

As Amanda Marcotte explains in a recent “reality check” blog, the anti-choicers who want to deprive women of the right to make their own health-care decisions are  people who want to force their own theological definitions and morals onto people who do not share their views.    But many of these people are also terrorists who routinely harass, follow, stalk, and badger the healthworkers, their children and their families in order to enforce their woman-hating viewpoint.  People who do this are rightly called terrorists, because terrorizing–and sometimes murdering–supporters of women’s rights, is their principal activity.

Since 1977 there have been 17 attempted murders, 383 death threats, 153 incidents of assault or battery, and 3  kidnappings committed  against abortion providers.

These theocratic bigots have terrrorized pro-choice advocates by setting fires, bombing, and sending anthrax through the mail.  They have also murdered on number occasions (the following statistics are from wikipedia’s article on anti-abortion violence):

In the U.S., violence directed toward abortion providers has killed at least eight people, including four doctors, two clinic employees, a security guard, and a clinic escort.[5]

  • March 10, 1993: Dr. David Gunn of Pensacola, Florida was fatally shot during a protest. He had been the subject of wanted-style posters distributed by Operation Rescue in the summer of 1992. Michael F. Griffin was found guilty of Dr. Gunn’s murder and was sentenced to life in prison.
  • August 21, 1993 Dr. George Patterson, was shot and killed in Mobile, Alabama, but it is uncertain whether his death was the direct result of his profession or rather a robbery.[6] [7]
  • July 29, 1994: Dr. John Britton and James Barrett, a clinic escort, were both shot to death outside of another facility in Pensacola. Rev.Paul Jennings Hill was charged with the killings. Hill received a death sentence and was executed September 3, 2003.
  • December 30, 1994: Two receptionists, Shannon Lowney and Lee Ann Nichols, were killed in two clinic attacks in Brookline, Massachusetts. John Salvi, who prior to his arrest was distributing pamphlets from Human Life International,[8] was arrested and confessed to the killings. He died in prison and guards found his body under his bed with a plastic garbage bag tied around his head. Salvi had also confessed to a non-lethal attack in Norfolk, Virginia days before the Brookline killings.
  • January 29, 1998: Robert Sanderson, an off-duty police officer who worked as a security guard at an abortion clinic in Birmingham, Alabama, was killed when his workplace was bombed. Eric Robert Rudolph, who was also responsible for the 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing, was charged with the crime and received two life sentences as a result.
  • October 23, 1998: Dr. Barnett Slepian was shot to death at his home in Amherst, New York. His was the last in a series of similar shootings against providers in Canada and northern New York state which were all likely committed by James Kopp. Kopp was convicted of Dr. Slepian’s murder after finally being apprehended in France in 2001.
  • May 31, 2009: Dr. George Tiller was shot and killed as he served as an usher at his church in Wichita, Kansas.[9]

We live in a country that has long prided itself for religious toleration.

It has always been very simple: against abortion? don’t have one.  Leave the rest of us alone.  And put the terrorists in jail.