Getting Sick in Nepal

Friday, June 24, 2011

Bad scare this morning.  As soon as I got through the orphanage gate, Bipin rocketed himself at me and landed with his legs around my waist and his arms around my neck.  Rupus was right behind him, and then Gorima, Nirmala, and Anura were on me.  Only Krishala stayed behind.  She was sitting on a mat in front of the door.  She has been complaining of headaches and stomach trouble for the last few days, and I have been worrying about her.  Now she was very ill, hot with fever and a racing heartbeat.  I don’t have a cell phone, so I had to walk over to Sugandha’s house, where I hoped to find Pete, one of the fifth-year medical students volunteering here as part of a third world medical course.  He had already gone to the hospital, so I borrowed Sugandha’s phone to call Kat and Maria, Pete’s classmates,  who came straight away.  In the meantime, at my prompting, Bimila had called Tej, who called Gehlu.

Kat and Maria examined Krishala, who had a stiff neck, a fever, and extreme sensitivity to light.  These are classic signs of meningitis, which can kill within hours.  Gehlu came a few minutes later, propped her up in front of him on his motorcycle, and roared off  to the hospital.  We checked there about an hour later, but could not find Krishala.  Hospitals and clinics are notoriously bad here (the doctors don’t come in when it rains, for example), and we could not get a straight answer from anyone.    The staff could not seem to understand why we were concerned about a little Nepali girl, not another westerner.  Finally we tracked down Gehlu, who could tell us nothing because the results of the tests had not come back yet.  He told us that the doctor did not think it was meningitis, however.  We went to check up on Krishala, and she did seem a little better. There was nothing that we could do until we got the lab report.

I taught my class at the women’s center.  Deelu, who is very wonderful but also very demanding, insisted that I start to teach them math, so from now on Fridays will be math days.  I hated math when I was a kid, so I was happily surprised to find that I enjoyed teaching it.  Most of the women can do easy addition and subtraction, but only a few can multiply and divide.     I gave the two advanced women more difficult problems to solve.  In addition to other topics that I never thought I’d end up teaching, I’m instructing the women in basic business skills.  I’m trying to show them how they can make money by borrowing, investing, and repaying, and reinvesting.   Like all things in Nepal, it will take time to get this program underway.  We are beginning from a rudimentary level.

Nothing moves quickly.  I’ve been pestering the landlord to turn on the water and clean the apartment where the women’s center is for over a week.  Shreezanna, who directs the sewing classes and manages the center, simply laid a plastic floor covering over the cement and set up shop.  I want to wash the floors first, but I need some help.  The whole center is still really dirty—the kitchen is covered in construction dust and the toilet is filthy.  I had brought a bucket and some Lysol-like stuff and started to clean the bathroom during our break.  Devi, Menuka, and Rayphati would not allow this.  They snatched the bucket and rags out of my hands, and within twenty minutes had all the tile, ceramic and chrome gleaming.  This was a miracle, since the toilet is a squat-style contraption on the floor, and workers had ground the dust and dirt into the groves where you stand to go.  Their cleaning was truly remarkable.  The Nepalis are nothing if not industrious, but it can be difficult to get them to start or finish a project.

Speaking of projects completed, I got my kurta suruwal back today.  It was finished a couple of days ago, but I wanted to have it taken in at the waist.   I had bought fabric in Kathmandu and brought it to the women at the center.  They charge very little for their services, but they also double the price in order to benefit the women who are learning to become seamstresses.  So, it cost 200 rupees (about 3 dollars) to sew each kurta and suruwal, but I paid 400.  These women will likely be the first entrepreneurs to take advantage of the micro-credit program that I’m setting up.

In my new Kurta Suruwal on an Elephant at Bhaktabur

After class, I took a bus—the wrong one, of course—into Kathmandu to meet Kat and Maria for lunch.  I ended up walking for long stretches without having any idea where in the city had I gone, asking people in my broken Nepali the way.  Finally, one young man in a motorcycle helmet told me to get on a bus that was just pulling up, and so I did.  It took me a little closer to my destination, Thamel, but I still wandered and begged for directions for another half hour or so.  Getting lost is never really a problem, because people are friendly and kind, and taxis are plentiful.  I don’t like to spend the money on a cab, since the buses cost about 15 cents and I’m trying to get my bearings by walking.  I finally arrived at the restaurant, La Dolce Vita, a touristy joint that claims to serve the best Italian in Nepal.

It was great to be eating penne pomodoro with what looked like real basil leaves on top, but I won’t be going back there again.   I could not finish my meal because I got sick halfway through it.  I thought I had simply eaten too much and needed to walk it off.  When I started to collapse on the street, Kat and Maria rushed me into a café, where I threw up into an airplane sick-bag that Kat miraculously whipped out of her backback just in the nick of time.  Then they lay me out on three chairs and pressed a cloth with ice in it to my forehead, wrists, neck, and cheeks.   I felt like a complete idiot.  There I was, pale white woman with golden hair in a green and red kurta, having a fainting spell.  Somehow it seemed so cliché.  But Kat and Maria insisted that this sort of things happens all the time.   When I sat up I was still quite nauseous and dizzy, but Kat produced an anti-emetic from her magic bag.  They said I had become dehydrated, which made some sense.  I still wanted to blame the food.

Of course the monsoon broke just as we tiptoed out into the road to go home, and there were no taxis available.  When you don’t want one, taxis pull up and pester you every five minutes.  We took a bus, but had to change at Ratna Park, where we waited like beggars in the rain for the bus to Pepsi-Cola.  After we were thoroughly soaked we snagged a cab, which cost us another 400 rupees, leaving both Kat and Maria broke.  They had each changed $20 and spent every cent.  It is true that one can live here very cheaply, but not if one is going to tourist restaurants and taking taxis and fainting in cafes where bottled water costs 10 times the price it should.  At any rate, by the time we got home the anti-emetic had kicked in and I felt a lot better.  I took a shower and headed over to check on Krishala.  The report had come in and Gehlu had rushed her back to the hospital.  She did not have meningitis, thank goodness, but rather a viral infection of her tonsils.  I found her shoveling dhal bhat into her mouth with the other kids at the kitchen table.  On the refrigerator were the medicines that the doctor had given her.  She was fine and would get better.

There is an even happier ending to this story.  While Kat and Maria were examining Krishala, they noticed that the children have no toys whatsoever, not even so much as a ball to throw.  They told their parents, who now want to donate some money to buy toys.  They are planning to give the toys to the children at a party.  Since so few of the kids know when they were born, Kat and Maria want to celebrate all of their birthdays at once.  They want to have cake, and candles, and lots of presents individually wrapped.  It’s a grand idea.  I wish I had the money to get each of them something really wonderful, bicycles, for example.  I would love to teach them how to ride.  If you have any ideas, or want to give, please let me know.

Please Help Laxmi

Laxmi on the porch near the kitchen

Click here to donate to this wonderful woman:  HELP LAXMI NOW

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


			

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.

 

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?

The Women the President forgot to mention

It just wasn’t the most stirring speech I’ve ever heard, and the even the wacko response from the tea-party did not liven things up much.  Ho-hum.  Does the president really think that a rhetoric of “competitiveness” is going to set us back on the road to prosperity?  As Paul Krugman points out, this may be good politics but the diagnosis is wrong.  A bipartisan committee has proven that the economic catastrophe we’ve all been suffering through was preventable.  What brought misery upon most of us was not lack of competitiveness but rather

widespread failures in government regulation, corporate mismanagement and heedless risk-taking by Wall Street”

Widespread failures in government regulation, corporate mismanagement, and heedless risk-taking have severely hurt both sexes, but women have borne the brunt of the Great Recession.  And women are still suffering.

Women LOST jobs while men gained from July 2009 to December 2010.  In fact, the National Women’s Law Center reports that women lost 99.6 percent of the 257,000 jobs cut from the public sector. MORE AND MORE WOMEN have been unemployed for a long period of time.

When women lose their jobs and become economically vulnerable, they are much more likely to become victims of domestic violence.

Now, more than ever, women need our support.  Please give what you can to your local Women’s Shelter.  If you live in Pittsburgh, please donate to the Women’s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh.  It’s one of the oldest and finest facilities of its kind in the nation.

Patty’s Story, Or, Why Women Stay with their Abusers

When she got pregnant and wanted to keep the baby, the father of the child said he would have her beaten until she miscarried.   Terrified, she hid from him.  She eventually went back and stayed with him after the baby, a girl, was born.  She stayed for years, even after he began to hit her.  She was smart, educated, and never thought that she’d become one of “those women.” How did she join the substantial numbers of women in our country–one in every four–who have suffered domestic violence?

He was wealthy and powerful.  She was 20 and just out of school and landed a job working as his secretary.  He quickly became the center of her world.  He isolated her from her friends and family.  He owned the car she drove and the house she lived in.  He was her boss.  During the beginning of their relationship, she thought that his demands on her time were an expression of his love for her.  She did not recognize the patterns of emotional and financial abuse closing around her.

When their daughter was born, Patty wanted to file with the court to ensure that he would support the child. He talked her out of it.  He needed to control the situation completely.  She believed him when he said he would take care of her and her child, but her fear grew.

Four years later, the little girl discovered her father strangling her mother.  “Daddy!” she screamed.  He threw her mother onto a cement floor, knocking her out.

When their daughter began telling people in the neighborhood that her daddy hit her mommy, Patty tried to hush her.  She was afraid of what he would do to her if he found out.  But then she realized that she didn’t want her daughter to grow up thinking that it was normal and acceptable for men to treat women this way.  She enrolled in counseling sessions at the Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh.  With the help of their legal services team, she began the long fight for her freedom.

He fired her.  He took the car.  He took the house.   She faced homeless and poverty, but she refused to live in fear any longer.  Patty found a job at a church, and later took another position in a law firm.  Thanks to her determination and the support she received from the Women’s Center and Shelter, she extricated herself from her abuser, and eventually bought her own house and her own car.

Why didn’t Patty leave earlier?  It’s simple.  He had terrified her.  Thank goodness she found help for herself.  Thank goodness for the fantastic people at the Women’s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh.

Domestic abusers like Patty’s boss and partner terrorize and erode their victims’ self-confidence in many ways without bruising their bodies.

  • They isolate them from friends and family by pretending to care for them more than anyone else ever could.
  • They threaten to withdraw their affection from the woman who has no other support system.
  • They dominate their lives by controlling their finances, by setting themselves up as the sole source of income, the sole source of food, shelter, and clothing.
  • They treat their victims like children, encouraging them to think that they are helpless or too stupid to take care of themselves.
  • They react jealously whenever their victim shows the slightest interest in other human beings, particularly other men.
  • They demand that their victims demonstrate their devotion continuously, with greater and greater displays of affection.
  • They belittle their victims through allegedly harmless “jokes,” negative innuendos, and put-downs.
  • They deliberately manipulate their victims with guilt trips in order to keep them under their thumbs.

The most telling sign of an abusive relationship is fear of your partner. If you find yourself walking on eggshells, worrying that the slightest mishap will set your partner off into a rage,  the chances are that your relationship is abusive.

If you believe that you are in an abusive relationship, please do not hesitate to reach out for help.  Immediately call the WC&S 24-hour hotline:  412-687-8005. Someone will help you.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-7233

Note: Patty recounted her story at the 2010 Spring Clothes Out Fundraiser for the Women’s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh.  You can read more about her in the Summer 2010 issue of Rosewood.

Feminist Discovers New Love for the Steelers

It has been hard for me to cheer for the Steelers ever since we found out that Ben Roethlisberger sexually assaulted two women, and that he wasn’t going to be prosecuted for the crimes.  But I’ve just found a reason to root for them with full-throated passion.

No, not because they’re poised to win the Division Finals, but rather because of William Gay, who lost his mother to domestic violence, and has spoken out about it to help the Women’s Center and Shelter of Pittsburgh.  Listen to William Gay here:

What is domestic violence?  According to the National Institutes of Health,

Domestic Violence is control by one partner over another in a dating, marital or live-in relationship. Domestic violence occurs in every culture, country and age group. It affects people from all socioeconomic, educational and religious backgrounds and takes place in same sex as well as heterosexual relationships.

Domestic violence is difficult to quantify because the crime is often under reported and police and social service agencies have no uniform method for collecting statistics.  We know that it is pervasive in our culture and that most perpetrators of domestic violence are male.

One in four women has been a victim of domestic violence.

(Sources: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and The National Institute of Justice, Extent, Nature, and Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence, July 2000;  The Commonwealth Fund, Health Concerns Across a Woman’s Lifespan: 1998 Survey of Women’s Health, 1999; Matthew R. Durose et al., U.S. Dep’t of Just., NCJ 207846, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Family Violence Statistics: Including Statistics on Strangers and Acquaintances, at 31-32 (2005), available athttp://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/fvs.pdf )

Domestic violence includes verbal abuse, intimidation, isolating a person from friends and family, emotional and financial control, and routine “joking” that amounts to putting another person down.   Abusers are often charismatic and deceptive, seemingly caring and considerate when friends and family around, and frightening and violent when they have their victims to themselves.  People who have suffered domestic violence commonly speak of their abusers in terms of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”

I’ll be cheering loudly for the Steelers this weekend.  Whoever you’re rooting for, I urge you to be like William Gay, and work to support the Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh, which provides a 24-hour crisis hotline, temporary shelter, counseling and support groups, advocacy and support services for women victims of domestic violence and their children.

You can donate money, items (needed: new clothing, especially size 14 & up, pajamas, socks, underwear, bras, especially larger sizes, slippers, casual shoes, baby soap, lotions, toiletries, journals and notebooks for women), or your time.

Bikram Day 26: the back and the belly and the mind

What I’m liking best about bikram these days is the yogatalk in the locker room afterwards.  Today I mentioned that sivasana is still incredibly painful for me and elicited a chorus of similar complaints and advice.  The consensus view is that I don’t know how to stand or sit properly, like lots of women.  What I need to do, the women in the locker room said, is tilt my pelvis back while tucking my butt under and pulling in on my stomach muscles.   A number of them demonstrated, in various states of undress, standing and kneeling on the floor.

It’s not like I haven’t heard this before.  My wonderful Iyengar teacher in Hotchkiss, Nancy, suggested that I think about my pelvis as a bowl of milk.   I need to tilt the bowl back, bringing the front rim up, so that I don’t spill the liquid that I’m carrying in it. This is an old metaphor.  As the lover says to the beloved in the Song of Songs,

Thy navel is like a round goblet, which wanteth not liquor: thy belly is like an heap of wheat set about with lilies.

According to the naked and sweaty women in the locker room at my yoga studio, combined with the advice I got from my wonderful Iyengar teacher in Colorado, my back pain, which is sometimes so debilitating that I can hardly move, comes from not having enough respect for my belly.

So where does this leave me?  How do I continuously focus on how I’m holding my self, my spine?   I don’t know if I can do this, but I will try.

What I am noticing now on day 26 is not physical.  I haven’t lost an ounce and I can’t see that I’ve tightened up in any one of my muscular areas.  My arms still look flabby, damn it.  I’m still drinking a couple of glasses of wine every night.  But I am eating less junk food, and I do notice that I’m craving healthier meals.  Yesterday, for example,  I did a double class–four hours in a 90 degree room, three of them holding poses–and afterwards I wanted to eat green stuff.  But the greatest noticeable benefit is psychological.  I feel calmer, more centered.  I feel more self-confident and less anxious.

For example: today I sent off my book proposal. This is a huge achievement.   I’m embarrassed to admit how long I’ve been working on it.  Something about the commitment to yoga made it possible for me to make a commitment to myself in this way.  After years of anxious hiding,  I finally said to someone, “hey, this is my theory, and it is mine, and you should pay attention to it.”  Also: “My ideas are interesting and worthy of publication.”  And, “I’m not going to sit on this for one more minute.”

What is the connection between this locker-room lesson about the belly and the back and  my having sent out something that I have been sitting on and fretting over for 10 years?  The sending out of the proposal is a kind of birth, a kind of delivery of what is within me to the world.   This gesture, so long guarded against, so long feared, has helped me to relax.  But I wonder if I would have been able to make this vital move if I hadn’t also been going through the same 26 spine-altering poses for the past 26 days.

Tonight I practiced yoga with a woman who I have had trouble accepting, even though I have also been very touched by her.  When I first met her, I felt resentment, competition, and dislike.  Tonight my anxiety, or discomfort in the world, abated a bit, and I was able to see and accept her with much more compassion than before.  I caught myself comparing my ability to do the poses with hers, and tried to let this ridiculous competitiveness go.  Tonight she was rather noisy and self-centered and vain and domineering.   I sensed that her not very likable behavior was coming from pain and misery.  She’s very confessional and at the end of class she mentioned that, just before it, she had been weeping in her car.   Christmas is coming on and she just broke up with her boyfriend.  None of her family is here in Pittsburgh.  She doesn’t know quite how to get through the holiday.

Why did it take so long for my heart to soften and to see her as a human being whom I actually liked and wanted to help?  Is it not because I get into these habitual and rigid poses of the mind, not unlike the habitual and rigid poses of the body, that ultimately bring me pain?  Isn’t this guarding of the heart, and these customary ways of holding the body and the mind, a way of dwelling in dislike and distance and alienation from other people? I experience this alienation from other people as a form of pain.   I don’t know how I learned to hold myself in these ways, and it doesn’t matter.  What matters is that I learn to change the way I carry myself in the world, not only in relation to other people but also in relation to myself.  The old habits of rigidity and separation may once have protected me from pain, but they can also increase the discomfort, the stiffness, that makes the movements of my body and mind excruciating.