Joansdatter’s ethical guide is the NASW Code of Ethics, to which she has sworn an oath to uphold. Here are a few notable excerpts:
The primary mission of the social work profession is to enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty. A historic and defining feature of social work is the profession’s focus on individual well-being in a social context and the well-being of society. Fundamental to social work is attention to the environmental forces that create, contribute to, and address problems in living.
Social workers promote social justice and social change with and on behalf of clients. “Clients” is used inclusively to refer to individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities. Social workers are sensitive to cultural and ethnic diversity and strive to end discrimination, oppression, poverty, and other forms of social injustice. These activities may be in the form of direct practice, community organizing, supervision, consultation administration, advocacy, social and political action, policy development and implementation, education, and research and evaluation. Social workers seek to enhance the capacity of people to address their own needs. Social workers also seek to promote the responsiveness of organizations, communities, and other social institutions to individuals’ needs and social problems.
The mission of the social work profession is rooted in a set of core values. These core values, embraced by social workers throughout the profession’s history, are the foundation of social work’s unique purpose and perspective:
dignity and worth of the person
importance of human relationships
The Code outlines these six core values as follows:
Ethical Principle: Social workers’ primary goal is to help people in need and to address social problems.
Social workers elevate service to others above self-interest. Social workers draw on their knowledge, values, and skills to help people in need and to address social problems. Social workers are encouraged to volunteer some portion of their professional skills with no expectation of significant financial return (pro bono service).
Value: Social Justice
Ethical Principle: Social workers challenge social injustice.
Social workers pursue social change, particularly with and on behalf of vulnerable and oppressed individuals and groups of people. Social workers’ social change efforts are focused primarily on issues of poverty, unemployment, discrimination, and other forms of social injustice. These activities seek to promote sensitivity to and knowledge about oppression and cultural and ethnic diversity. Social workers strive to ensure access to needed information, services, and resources; equality of opportunity; and meaningful participation in decision making for all people.
Value: Dignity and Worth of the Person
Ethical Principle: Social workers respect the inherent dignity and worth of the person.
Social workers treat each person in a caring and respectful fashion, mindful of individual differences and cultural and ethnic diversity. Social workers promote clients’ socially responsible self-determination. Social workers seek to enhance clients’ capacity and opportunity to change and to address their own needs. Social workers are cognizant of their dual responsibility to clients and to the broader society. They seek to resolve conflicts between clients’ interests and the broader society’s interests in a socially responsible manner consistent with the values, ethical principles, and ethical standards of the profession.
Value: Importance of Human Relationships
Ethical Principle: Social workers recognize the central importance of human relationships.
Social workers understand that relationships between and among people are an important vehicle for change. Social workers engage people as partners in the helping process. Social workers seek to strengthen relationships among people in a purposeful effort to promote, restore, maintain, and enhance the well-being of individuals, families, social groups, organizations, and communities.
Ethical Principle: Social workers behave in a trustworthy manner.
Social workers are continually aware of the profession’s mission, values, ethical principles, and ethical standards and practice in a manner consistent with them. Social workers act honestly and responsibly and promote ethical practices on the part of the organizations with which they are affiliated.
Ethical Principle: Social workers practice within their areas of competence and develop and enhance their professional expertise.
Social workers continually strive to increase their professional knowledge and skills and to apply them in practice. Social workers should aspire to contribute to the knowledge base of the profession.
I’m frustrated and depressed. Most of the women at the center have never been to school or studied a different language, unlike their brothers and husbands. They have been coming to English classes now for more than a year and still do not know how to conjugate the verbs “to be” or “to have,” not to mention any of the other useful verbs in the English language. And then there is the problem of getting them to understand how to use the verb “to do” in combination with other verbs, as in “do you have a toothbrush?” or “she does not live at that address.” If they cannot progress beyond this very rudimentary level, then how am I going to teach them to think critically about gender, which is what I imagined I would be doing with them?
I had this lovely fantasy of getting them to talk about their relationships with their husbands and their sons and daughters and asking them why they go along with certain customs. For example, if the family is having meat for dinner, then usually only the men will get some. Why do they regard women whose husbands have abused and abandoned them as fallen women? Why do they think it is so shameful for a woman to get divorced? I had imagined having stimulating and revealing discussions about these and other, similar questions in class.
One of the women in the class is, in fact, divorced, but she doesn’t want any of the other women to know. This woman’s husband beat her before taking off and leaving her with three children. She gets by on the earnings her 13 year-old son brings in. She can’t reach out to her sisters for emotional support, because the women have internalized the cultural codes that stigmatize all women who have cut themselves off from their husbands. The underlying, unconscious assumption is that women do not count in and of themselves, but have value only in relation to men, who alone have inherent value. So, a woman who stands alone in society is valueless, without worth, and should be treated accordingly. The very few Nepali women who have gone to college and established careers are beginning to challenge these assumptions, but they must fight their own and their families’ deeply-ingrained beliefs. Women who marry work 40+ hour weeks and then cook, clean, and cater to husbands, sons, and father-in-laws. Women who wise up and reject this drudgery are shunned. It is an appalling situation that does no one any real good.
Yesterday I visited an important Buddhist shrine, Namo or Naya Buddha, with two other volunteers, Shannon and Darima, and a group of Hindu women from the Women’s Center. I teach these Nepali women English, and they taught me more about Nepali spirituality than any book or article I’ve read. They don’t think of the Buddha as a god–he is “very different,” they said, from Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma, Saraswati, Durga, and the rest of the Hindu pantheon. They think of him as a “wise man.” He is buddamani, sage. So why do they venerate him with all the same emotional intensity as they bring to Ganesha and others? Because they are Nepali. The following are notes from my journal during the day. Headings have been added.
2 July 2011
I’m on a bus with Menuka, Devi, Susshila, Dilu, Ambica. They are taking Darina, the other teacher at the Women’s Center, and me somewhere towards Banepur to place called Namo Buddha. Shannon is coming along for the ride because tomorrow is her last day in Nepal and she and Darina have become very close. It is raining, of course. This bus looked suspicious decrepit when we boarded it. It did not seem to bother Dilu, who tends to take charge, that the driver’s head was halfway into the engine. The last bus ride that started out this way was supposed to take only one hour but actually took 6 because the bus kept breaking down.
I’m very pleased to be going anyway, since this is my first outing with my new Nepali friends. I love women but would not say, as I was about to say, that I like women better than men. Sometimes I trust them more, but not always and not finally.
As I get older, I find comfort in the similar experiences and challenges that women have and suffer because we are women: menstruation, childbirth, menopause, hormonal shifts, surges, stress, discrimination, catcalls on the streets, harassment, come-ons, rape, stares, the policing of the body, its clothing, gestures, and locations. Not all women will admit or talk about it. Some women are ashamed to be women; some deny and some repress.
Not all women become mothers, of course, or get to keep and take care of their children. But we all as women share the common lot of women. We all live in cultures that, to various extents and in different manners, insist that we dress, behave, and move through the world as women. Those who resist these codes are brave. If they survive and thrive, we celebrate them, but not generally during their lifetimes. What do we call the ones who defy their cultures’ policing of the body and mind and who then fall into poverty, isolation, and depression? weird, insane, unnatural, or evil.
We’re climbing through endless terraces of rice fields doted with brick houses. Many of the houses are habitable only on the ground floors. These send up aspiring columns of brick or concrete that bristle with steel reinforcing rods. Many roofs in the city are flat, which is useful for hanging laundry or creating gardens with potted plants. In the country, where there is room, roofs are peaked. Susshila touches her palms together as we pass a giant stature of Shiva, who holds his trident and looks benevolently over the valley. She says this place is called Sagar, or something like that. The bus strains up the mountain and we go through a small village where a butcher displays flayed carcasses of unidentifiable animals on stone counters and rocks.
The sun breaks out and I want to mention it, but have to look up the word, surya, for sun. Suriya the sun-god is one of the oldest Indo-European deities, along with Chandra, the moon, Indra (war, storms and rain), and Agni (fire). My book is wrong about the word for sunny. Gamlagyeko is the correct term. It is not yet gamlageko but the surya has come out.
I see women bent under loads of bricks carried with a forehead strap, dark-skinned children standing in dirt lanes between fields, corn in patches everwhere. Women wearing red headcloths and ragged red saris are planting rice in the rain. A butcher shaves the hair and hooves off of a headless goat. A shirtless man washes himself by a concrete cylinder. Now we are arriving in a larger town, driving down a broad street bordered by 4 and 5 story buildings. Dogs forage in spread-out mounds of garbage lining the road. This is Banepa.
We have boarded a crowded bus. The Nepalis sit three to two seats and push towards the back, where all the spots are claimed. Darina and Shannon are complaining that the trip is taking too long. We have gotten on our third bus. The women told them that we were going to someplace far away. Menuka said that it will cost 1500 rupees to get into Namo Buddha, and this has really set Shannon and Darina off. They say, “I’m not paying that,” and want to go home. Darina is sick with a bad case of gastrointestinal dis-ease. Shannon has been traveling too long and longs to get back to the States and her boyfriend. Darina understands that the women have high hopes for this journey and doesn’t want to disappoint them, but she looks miserable.
At least she has a seat. Ambica is sitting on Susshila’s lap. The rest of us are standing and have been standing for almost an hour. Once we get going we will travel for yet another hour, so we will be weary when we arrive. I don’t know where the bus driver is. Few of the Nepalis appear to be distressed or impatient. Ah, here is the driver. He has started the engine, but still we sit. At last we are leaving the filthy city of Banepur.
We climb through a village where I see a tall, thin, grey-haired woman in Tibetan dress, which is much plainer than the Hindu style. Tibetan women wear long dark skirts and vests over along-sleeved blouses, and tie horizontally striped aprons around their waists.
The family next to me has brought cucumber from a vendor outside. It looks and smells delicious. I dare not touch it.
We have been climbing a winding, steep dirt road and seem to have come up 2 or 3 thousand feet. But bus rolls into a deep pothole and everyone hears tearing metal. The driver cuts the engine and the ticket-takers jump out to inspect. No damage is found, and we crawl forward. I have finally found a seat, which I am sharing with Menuka. It is quite uncomfortable but better than standing.
We get off the bus at an inauspicious crossroads—a muddy track bordered by brick shacks. We head down a dirt trail and I am worried that Shannon and Darina are going to be very angry because there seems to be nothing here. Signs of civilization ahead include an outdoor restaurant where the chickens are pecking around the frying pans on top of the stove. A battered sign reads, in English: “We serve hygienic, fresh food here.” There is a somewhat clean squat toilet with a door. After we use it a ragged boy with a Dalai Lama medallion appears from nowhere and shouts at us to pay the fee. Devi gives him 30 rupees. He still complains, so she throws some coins into his palm. We head down the hill and pass under prayer flags that lead us to a medium-sized stupa. This is Namobuddha, then. This is looking better.
Lunch: Amazing food: channa (round, red beans), roti, tharkari (curried vegetables), roti (fried bread) and chura (beaten rice), ladu (Nepali sweet cakes), and coffee-chocolate candy which we wash down with Mountain dew and sweet Nepali tea. We westerners cannot believe that they brought so much to eat, and are even more surprised and grateful when we find out that they have gotten up at 4:30 in the morning to cook it all. Menuka pays for the tea. Shannon says that she feels better and that she always gets cranky when she is hungry. Darina has a serious stomach ache and cannot eat much, but she soldiers on.
After we eat we visit the small stupa. I make an offering and light a butter candle, then round the shrine, spinning prayer wheels as I go. I join the Hindu women at the inner temple of the stupa, and offer prayers. Menuka pour a handful of rice into my hand and give me some marigolds and a white, silken scarf. I throw the rice around the Buddha inside and give the flowers and the scarf to the old man who tends the shrine. He tucks the blossoms into the statue’s knees, drapes the fabric around the Buddha’s neck, and then blesses me with a tika, a smear of red powder that he mixes in his hand, combines with some of the sacred orange smear on the Buddha, and then rubs into the crown of my head. He also pours holy water and flower petals into my hands, which Susshila shows me to throw over my forehead and hair.
We go to another shrine nearby, removing our shoes as we enter. Inside there are three relatively large Buddha statues and a frightening looking demon who looks like Bhairab, the angry manifestation of Shiva. I have no idea which bodhisattva this is, but I make an offering here, on impulse, and hope for strength to manage the stormy changes that seem to be coming my way.
End of journal. Continuation of the Story
We walk up a very steep hill bedecked with thousands of prayer flags. Many of the women fall behind and finally it is only Shannon and I puffing towards the summit, where we find expansive views of the valley in all directions and a line of Buddhist shrines. The red, yellow, blue and white flags festoon the top and lead down the hillside on a path that I am eager to follow. We wait for our companions. They, however, refuse to take another step, so I content myself with what purports to be the holiest spot at Namobuddha, the site where a young prince—who may have been the Buddha himself—encountered a starving tigress and her five cubs. She was about to devour a small child, but the prince offered his own flesh instead. His sacrifice transformed him into a boddhisattva. After he died, legend says, he was reincarnated into Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha himself. The Tibetans call this place Takmo Lujin (Tiger Body Gift). Namo Buddha means Hail to the Buddha.
I feel especially moved by this place, because tigers have always been my favorite animal. When I was little I had a giant Steiff tiger named Suzann who guarded me while I slept. She had glowing green eyes and was nearly as big as I was. I made up the story that she protected me so that I would not feel afraid of her. I say a sincere prayer to the tiger spirits of the mountain and move on with my friends, who have gone ahead.
From here we follow a narrow path up the spine of the mountain to another sacred spot, where we again give rice, flowers, silk, and money. Menuka seemed to have an endless supply of scarves. Susshila, the holdest and most overtly religious of the group, brings out her chrome offering bowl, her waxed wicks, and incense, as she does at every holy spot. She circulates the burning flame and smoke three times over the sanctuary while murmuring a prayer. Menuka waves the heat and light from the butter lamps over her head. All the women pay their respects by raising their hands to their foreheads, setting money, and pouring rice into the center of the shrine. Before we enter, we walk clockwise around it turning prayer wheels. I join their venerations out of curiosity as well as spiritual need. Shannon and Darina stand apart and watch.
We still have not reached the highlight of our journey. a spectacularly beautiful, enormous, and seemingly brand-new monastery, the Thrangu-Tashi Yangste Gonpa, which at first glance looks like an expensive resort hotel.
The Tibetans have thrived in Nepal and they like to spend their wealth on monasteries. Inside we find a large and elaborately painted rectangular passageway with columns decorated with tiger heads and lotus flowers.
We remove our shoes and follow a young monk up to golden doors, and then wait with him for an older monk, who opens the great doors to the great hall, drawing a gasp from all of us. Inside we see a huge, vaulted temple with six huge, golden Buddhas serenely staring down over rows and rows of prayer benches, silken banners, drums, and exploded thangka-like wall paintings, some of which are still in process. There is the customary large photograph of the Dalai lama on the central dais, where we leave more rice, scarves, bills, and prayers. We linger for a long time but not long enough for me. As we leave monks begin to arrive and to sound cymbals, drums, and chants.
Back downstairs in the open passageway that runs beneath the temple, I copy out the following text from a newspaper entitled “The Voice of the Young Monks” and dated July 2011:
Today we collectively are facing so many environmental crises such as global warning, natural disasters, extinction of animals, population growth…
Now we cannot simply rely on current economical and political systems to solve the problem, because to a large extent they themselves are the problem. The critical element of our problem is lack of awareness, which brings us to Buddhism.
Buddhism offers a precise solution to the environmental crisis by showing the method of cutting the self [off] from clinging. The delusions of a separate self, which does not exist and is empty in nature, still because of which we become obsessed with things that we hope will give us control over situations, especially the competition for power, sex, and fame.
The syntax gets a little convoluted there at the end, but the message is clear enough.
I think all of us have been renewed by our visit to Namo Buddha. I feel more at peace with myself than in a long time. It has been a welcome escape from the tensions of the VSN project, which have been particularly taxing lately.
Here the journal ends.
Returning home through the language haze
The journey back to Pepsi-Cola was so arduous, the buses so crowded and steamy, that we decided to walk the last short leg home. This turned out to be more difficult for some of the women than they had expected. Shannon and Darina, anxious to get home, sped ahead and were soon lost in the mud, dust, cows, motorbikes, vendors, bicycles, dogs, and mayhem of the busy road. I also longed to rush towards my room, but remained with my hosts, who had taken us so far to see wonderful sights. I had happily spent most of the day with them anyway, listening to their chattering, picking up words were I could, and building my vocabulary. While Darina and Shannon and spent most of the day talking to each other, I had made the effort to speak to my friends in their own language. They were not very good students of English, after all, and if I was going to get to know them I would have to do it in Nepali. But this long, voluntary language lesson had exhausted me, and I was eager to retreat and recoup.
To my dismay, Ambica lived on the road we were walking along and invited everyone in for cold drinks. It would have been rude to refuse, so I spent yet another hour in a language haze, following the women’s tone and facial expressions more than what they said.
Dogs and Men
Ambica’s son has a beautiful German Shepherd puppy, with whom I fell in love. The son—I never did catch his name—said he was going to get rid of him because the dog does not bark and is too obedient. To my mind, this made the dog perfect, but the son wanted an animal to scare unwanted visitors. He spoke pretty good English and launched a barrage of questions at me, which I was glad to escape. He insisted that I come back again soon and often, to see the new, better dog. I demurred and explained that Americans do not like to drop in on people without warning. Throughout this interchange his mother, Ambica, said nothing. She remained silent not only because her English is weak, but also because in Nepal women have very little say about what their sons do. The husband rules the house and in his absence, the eldest or only son takes over as lord.
Nepali women are strong, like women everywhere, but they use their strength to endure and cooperate with their subordination, instead of resisting it. If they work a full-time job, they come home to cook, clean and cater to the men in their families. A good wife presses her forehead to her husband’s feet. She marries a man from a collection of suitors from her caste whom her parents have selected. Then she moves into her husband’s family and never return to her mother’s house again.
Very slowly, I am learning about how women live within these strictures. One of the women at the center, for example, is divorced. But she tells everyone else that she is married, because even these seeming friends of hers would shun her if they found out the truth.
Finally it was time to go. Susshila split off a few steps down the road, and Dilu and Menuka accompanied me to Sugandha’s house, where I gratefully collapsed, finally alone, onto my bed.
All in all it was a very good day—ramaylo cha—as I learned to say. I made better friends with the women from the center as well as with myself. We had made a pilgrimage together and it was very good. Hail to the Buddha and to Nepali women!
I’m very worried about Laxmi, the woman who has been working at Sugandha’s house. As I reported before, she was living with relatives in Pepsi-Cola until quite recently. They moved away, leaving her homeless. I do not know why they did this to her. It is unthinkable for a Nepali family to abandon one of their own and yet it happens all the time. Most of the children in the orphanages have been abandoned or rejected by their parents, usually their fathers. Husbands abandon their wives when they become pregnant, or if the children from her body fail to be male. In this powerfully patriarchal culture, women do not count for much.
Laxmi came to the attention of VSN only because she has been attending English lessons at the orphanage, where the women’s group has been meeting. She is my age, 50, very gentle and kind. When she first arrived she had a strong, full-bellied laugh and a direct gaze. Now, only a week later, she is withdrawn, downcast, and somewhat frightened. She is also very, very anxious. Sugandha arranged for her to live with her sister, but the sister’s generosity has expired, and Laxmi again has no place to sleep. In my very broken Nepali and her weak English, I discerned that she will spend the night at a friend’s house tonight, and that the friend’s house is very far away. Before she could set out on this journey, she needed to eat. She receives two meals of dhal bhat (rice and a watery lentil soup) per day, at 10 am and at 8pm, after the volunteers have eaten. For this she spends the entire day, beginning at 6 am, cleaning and waiting upon the family. She has no source of income. I would like to help her find a secure place to live and a more reliable and dignified way to earn a living.
I have donated an amount of money to set the women’s group up in their own headquarters. These funds will pay a year’s rent on a large flat. I want this place to become a shelter for women like Laxmi, women who have suddenly found themselves cast out, good women who need help.
Right now the apartment stands empty. We need to bring in furniture, a counter-top gas range, a refrigerator and basic household items. Most important of all, we need beds, mattresses, pillows, and sheets. It is vital that we provide a safe harbor where Laxmi and others like her can recover from the trauma that they have undergone, and begin to rebuild their lives.
I am still in the process of bringing this project about, but Laxmi cannot wait. She needs your help now. Any amount that you can give will go directly to her. She is a very strong and capable woman, but she has suffered a severe setback and needs support to get back on her feet again. Please give as much as you can. Your money will help her through this crisis. There are no overhead costs. Every cent will go this deserving woman who needs your help. Please click to HELP LAXMI NOW
I have begun volunteering my time and skills at the Women’s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh in their legal advocacy program. The work is challenging, fascinating, and compelling. Working here I feel the same exhilaration that I have when leading discussion on feminist topics in the university classroom. This is the work I want to do. In many ways it is more satisfying than teaching, because I know that everything I do or say will immediately affect another person’s life. This factor also makes the work daunting and pleasantly challenging.
In the classroom, I teach women and men to think critically about the formation and practice of gender in the world. I ask them to consider the structures and institutions that have shaped their identities and their choices in the world: their families, their churches, their schools, their governments, their workplaces.
As a legal advocate, I work to support women who have suffered intimate partner violence and taken the first step to protect themselves and her children. I guide each woman through the confusing and intimidating legal system. I urge her to make her own choices, after thinking critically about her options and their consequences. Obviously, the woman sitting and weeping across from me with blackened eyes and broken facial bones neither needs nor deserves a lecture on gender and prejudice. What she needs is my support, my compassion, and my discretion. I have to set aside my own prejudices and cultural expectations, and respect her as the person who best knows what will keep her safe, and what she really wants. (Note: I am not yet fully trained in this job, and therefore am only describing the position as I understand it after observing other advocates in action.)
So, here’s how I see the parallel, the similarity, between what I do in the classroom and in the anterooms of the court: in both places I am trying to get people to think for themselves and to understand that they have choices about how they live in the world. Of course, when teaching people to think about gender and sexuality as social constructs, identities created and enforced over a long period of time, I am asking them to consider themselves on an abstract and esoteric level. When I am working with women as a legal advocate, I am teaching them to think about the court system, the laws pertaining to their situation, and the consequences of their and their abusers’ actions, so I am working on a much more concrete, practical level. But in both situations my single, driving goal is to enable each individual to speak and choose for herself. In both situations I am working to support the subjectivity, the active agency, of another person.
Although I will not bring up the topic of gender as an abstract concept when I’m working with a woman who has been beaten, stalked, harassed, raped, stabbed, assaulted, or threatened by an abuser, she will often raise questions about sexual prejudice and common myths about how men and women are supposed to behave. She will often say, “I don’t have to take this,” or “he thinks he has the right to control me,” or she will name some of the common insults that men hurl at women in order to demean and manipulate them. One doesn’t need a college education, or even a high school degree, to understand that when men physically or emotionally abuse women, they are acting out of contempt for women.
Obviously, intimate partner violence is not limited to heterosexual couples, nor is the male partner in a heterosexual relationship always the aggressor, but men commit the overwhelming percentage of intimate partner violence incidents against women. As the Pennsylvania Coalition of Domestic Violence states,
Domestic violence can happen to people of all racial, economic, educational, religious backgrounds and in heterosexual and same gender relationships. While both men and women may be victims of domestic violence, research shows that the overwhelming majority of adult victims are women and that domestic violence is a major cause of injury to women.
The underlying cause of intimate partner violence–and victims’ greatest enemy–is masculinism, the wholly arbitrary and erroneous belief that male beings are inherently superior to female beings and that, therefore, men justly have greater political, social, economic, legal, spiritual and psychological rights than women.
Unlike in Saudi Arabia, where women are not permitted to vote or drive, women in this country enjoy many of the same privileges that men do. What we often forget is that women had to fight hard for these rights. We still have not managed to elect a woman to the Executive branch, and very few State governors are female. The GOP is currently waging a “war on women” and seem to care more about shutting down funding for programs that provide medical care, food, shelter and education primarily to poor women than about any other political agenda. A right-wing, mostly Christian minority has recently had great success in rolling back women’s hard-won right to sovereignty over their own bodies. These “forced-birthers” want to force women to bear children against their will, even if pregnancy will kill them, and have introduced legislation to make the murder of an abortion provider a justifiable homicide. As Amanda Marcotte notes, “It’s hard to overstate how much Republican energy is invested in bringing the uteruses of America under right-wing control.”
Moreover, we too often forget that our male-dominated legislature still actively opposes adding this language to the Constitution of the United States of America:
Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article. Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.
Yes, that is the entire text of the Equal Rights Amendment. Finding it hard to believe that we have still failed to pass this protection against sex discrimination? Consider this also unbelievable fact: every 30 seconds, a man batters a woman in the United States. See if you can figure out the connection.
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.
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.
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?
There is a lot that is right about Tony Porter’s “A Call to Men” speech, also a lot that is wrong. See also the website. What is right is the message that normative masculinity is rigidly identified with violence and domination and masculinist oppression, Normative masculine men are fundamentally insecure and spend their whole lives proving that they are “men” by punishing, persecuting, and shaming others who appear to be “less masculine” than the most violent and powerful.
I like what he says. I preach what he preaches. I want my son to hear this. But I’m bothered by the racial undertones. How do you respond to them? Did you notice them? Did they bother you? Do you know why? I’m trying to figure out why they bother me. ESPECIALLY because I like the message.
What creeps me out is that the deliverer, the prophet, is preaching to mostly white women of a certain class. It’s called “A Call to MEN” and here’s this black guy calling to an audience of mostly white women. The camera searches and searches for the random dark-skinned women, as though to say—“see! he appeals to black women! we can prove it!” What’s up with that?
Alas, he corresponds in some ways to racist stereotypes that liberals have. We aren’t a bit surprised to find out that he grew up in the “tenements” of New York City, since, after all….he’s Black, and that’s a romantic image for us Northerners, in a sexy West Side Story way. But also he’s astute, and right (as in correct, as in just) and he is in fact delivering the truth about gender relations. He’s a boundary-transgressing animal. He makes us uncomfortable.
His message about gender may be a truth that has been obvious to you since you were born, or maybe only after a revelation, in a college film class, for example. You got a dose of “good news” which meant not “the news that Christ was born,” but rather, “a refreshing dose of rationality in a sea of violently emotional and sometimes frighteningly violent thinking, a.k.a. the Truth, or its closest approximation so far.
News. He spreads it. It is good. But the context in which he dispenses (his seed?) troubles me. The gender relations of this gender-conscious video bother me, actually, much, much more than its race relations. I thought I was going to see a rally from a man to men, some kind of masculinist ideology-fest at which men were reinforcing with one another, muscling themselves up in defense against the feminizing threat of wimpy-ness or small-penis-nes. So I tuned in. It sounded fun. But what I got was this quite different animal.
What do you think about it? Can we talk about race here? Does the race problem cancel out the feminist message? Do you think it is important to talk about race and gender at the same time? I do.
I mean, surely that was one of the greatest things that our president did for the nationwas to talk about race relations (A More Perfect Union), which have been brutal, indecent, and hard to comprehend, in our country since its founding.
The Europeans who landed here, in search of gold and slaves, neither of which they found, slaughtered thousands of natives deliberately, with swords, and by accident, with disease, in the 1500s. So we Americans were founded in violence, pestilence, and fear. And greed. Yes, also in hope, in a search for freedom from interference by other people with whom we don’t agree. But that quite liberal inclination to seek liberty was not strong in the first settlers who got themselves established here–they were much more repressive and intolerant than most Americans learn. With the goodwives looking on approvingly, the venerable Fathers of Massachusetts burned people at the stake. They whipped Quaker women naked down the streets; they tarred and feathered; they ostracized; they publicly humiliated.
Not all the European invaders were English or Protestant, of course. They were far more diverse than most seem to know. They were Dutch; they were Swedish; they were French; they were Spanish. They were also Natives of that continent, whose ancestors wandered, we think, from the Bering Strait. They were Asian but also maybe Russian and Sami, too. When you start moving back, you realize there is no single blood line, no such thing as a “pure” race; no such thing as race. No such thing as native.
Our family history is rich and complicated. But violent.
Here’s the problem: The”democratic spirit,” the spirit for freedom, seems to have gotten tangled up with the spirit for imprisonment. It seems to have gotten involved with bizarre theocratic notions of American male supremacy, of Judeo-Christian mythology about Adam and Eve; and religious intolerance. You think we’ve evolved? Today’s Puritans have no compunction about compelling their fellow citizens to accept major infringements of their civil liberties without a whimper. These people who use “freedom” like a weapon, a blasphemy, these people who claim to be the “moral majority,” who want to put women back into the kitchen and the kindergarten, these “men’s rights” groups and “white rights” groups, these devils who claim to be angels, …THESE are the people who have mastered the game of self-representation, of marketing, of selling the soul, selling the SELF, self above all, in our country? These people who want to give the top 2 percent of the population the greatest tax benefit? How did they sell that one? Why are still selling it?
We’re the center of capitalism, why has the left let the right control this market? We live here, too. We, too, know how to sell the self to get ahead. We’re just as good, we think, at the game. Except we’re not. We’re not making any progress lately. What is wrong with us?
It’s the age of the internet; yet people are lazy. They mostly want to be fed. So. FEED THEM. Get the slogans out there; advertise, throw all your creativity into the project. OUT PERFORM them. What has gone wrong? Are we stuck in the 18th century? Don’t we know how to sell knowledge?
Don’t get me wrong. I admire the President. It matters that we finally elected a man who defines himself as a Black man. And he is a great man, a well-educated man, an eloquent man, a philosopher, an intellectual (he’s practically French–he’s our Jefferson!). He’s thoughtful. He’s a feminist. He’s by all accounts enlightened in his views about women, race, class, ethnicity. He gets an A plus for human rights. He won the Nobel Prize.
I like him. But why isn’t he standing up against intolerance and bigotry with greater strength? What, in fact, is the difference between fundamentalist Christians and fundamentalist Muslims? None that I can see.
What is good, in Barak and in Tony, is the turn towards the light, the truth.
Too many people seem to think is that the truth is fixed. Therefore. once they find what they think it is, they freeze it in time, and won’t let it move or change with the flow of history and events. We call these people fundamentalists.
But really the truth is not fixed. It is continually in flux, like an amoeba or an energy. It is always changing in response to historical events taking place in a specific environment. These might be events that have uncertain and potentially cataclysmic, world-altering consequences. Like, for example, if Ahmadinajhad and his cronies were to get possession of the nuclear bomb and to set it off. World-altering. But who would you fear more? I’m-a-dinner-jacket or Rick Santorum? Mike Huckabee? Mitt Romney? Re-read The Handmaid’s Tale. Say hello to our possible future. We have to overcome our unwillingness to embrace the product, to sell “the truth.” We need positive slogans.
Or do we? We can’t predict events. But we can predict the way that we respond to them. Do we escalate the violence? Or do we master ourselves? Could we ever really master ourselves as long as we were trying to dominate an Other? Isn’t this the message and the method?
When I’m in Pittsburgh I’m immersed in noise. City noise–boom boxes and explosive car radios, trash trucks, jack hammers, car alarms, planes, helicopters, that incredibly irritating back-up sound that goes Beep, Beep, Beep, insanely, driving you insane; trucks driving or idling, for no apparent reason, buses, motorcycles, leaf blowers, people walking down the street who converse by shouting at one another from either side of the road. In the 19th century the steam engine was thought to be a kind of devil, roaring through the world and practically tearing people’s ears off. But it seems to me that the devils of the 20th and early 21st centuries are machines powered by gasoline.
When I “relax” I turn on the television, usually quite loud so that I can hear it over the noise in my neighborhood, and when I go “out” to “relax” and have a drink, I go into a bar where there is usually a television blaring or music drowning out the silence that city people have apparently no ability to deal with. And speaking of bars. It’s annoying enough that there is a television to deal with, but what I don’t understand is why the t.v. always has to be tuned to golf or baseball or football? Why can’t it be Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Six Feet Under or Battlestar Galactica? Let it be CNN or even that republican machine, Fox News. Are city bars only populated by sports fans?
But here, where I am now, I hear virtually nothing but the sound of my own breathing, the dogs, three of them, following me here and there, their panting, the cat meowing to be let in the door that he knows he doesn’t usually go through, the wind, if there is any, the very rare car passing by. If I want to hear something, I can play something on my computer, through itunes. There’s a t.v. here but nothing on. Nothing means: nothing I care to watch or listen to. And the radio isn’t much better. Colorado stations seem to feature NPR most hours of the week, but so much of that programming seems to have to do with authors excessively pleased with themselves, who really don’t have that much to say, in fact. Or that idiotic program, Car Talk, with the brothers whose laughter is so obviously forced it grates. They don’t laugh because they’re amused, but rather because they’re uncomfortable. Or so it sounds. Why would anyone want to listen to the sound of forced, uncomfortable laughter, when one could listen to silence in one’s car or house?
But how rare is it to “hear” silence, to be able to think for one’s self, in quietude? We live in cacophony and wonder why it is that we are continually getting sick from “stress.”
I’m not lonely. There are three dogs here–Bear, Blackjack, and Kea, in order of importance. Bear is a good friend, even though he begs too much. Blackjack snores in his sleep and I find the sound comforting. Kea is always way more excited to see me that I think she will be.
I love being able to do exactly what I feel like doing. I can walk, dance, cook, and drink. I drink as much wine as I feel like drinking. I’ve been cooking a lot and finding that I have lost my taste for meat. It is good to be alone; to be with myself for an extended period of time, in the quiet, without a schedule, without quantification, just being. I go to be around 8:30 and get up at 5 or 6. I live as I want to. It is wonderful.
Being alone in Colorado at night.
I had to go to Hotchkiss this afternoon and didn’t turn back until after dark. Halfway home I stopped along the road, turned off the engine and the lights, and got out to look at the sky. A dog at a nearby farm was barking but it fell silent. So many stars. It had been a long time since I had seen the Milky Way.
It’s hard to comprehend how we could be “in there” when, from earth, it looks as though it is “up” or “out there.” And when I remember that it is not a water-cloud, but a star-cloud, and that the opacity of “out there” is more or less how our “over here” looks to the beings on that side of the galaxy, it’s harder to grasp.
Is it like the relationship between Self and Other? We dismiss or underestimate or simply forget about or try to kill the Other because it is other, because we can’t stand the difference in the color of their skin, or the way they eat, or walk, or express affection, or believe, or vote, or fish. What we’re missing out on when we allow these differences between to divide us is that we are not “here” and “there” but, rather, together, bound up in the same web, the same world. There’s a German word for this, mitsein. It means “being with” So, it is possible to say, in German, not only “ich bin,” I am, which is a pretty powerful thing to say, actually. But it is also possible to say “ich bin mit,” I am with.
As I got back on the road I thought about how insignificant I was, in my tiny little car, soft flesh clothed in an exoskeloton driving along on a capillary. So often I think of myself as the center of the universe, a “me” an individual, isolated sun, and that what I am doing is of infinite importance, and must come before all other things. The sky above seemed so vast, so much greater than this personal scenario, this whole world. But then I thought about the complexity beneath the tires on the road, and beneath and beside the road, all the birds and skunks and snakes and lizards and toads, and the insects that they eat, and the hives and burrows that the creatures build, and the thread-like paths that ants leave, and the smaller ones, the mites, the tiny larvae, all busily going about and around And then I thought about smaller things that you can only see under microscopes, and all the organisms that make up dirt, in which the plants grow. So I felt better.
And when I got home the three dogs were so happy to see me they danced. Blackjack ran around the yard with his enormous teddy bear in his mouth, and Kea wagged her whole back body at me, and Bear was love-dumb as always. I laughed at them and said, “Hello, Friends!”