Sonnets to Orpheus II, 29


Stiller Freund der vielen Fernen, fühle,
wie dein Atem noch den Raum vermehrt.
Im Gebälk der finstern Glockenstühle
laß dich läuten. Das, was an dir zehrt,

wird ein Starkes über dieser Nahrung.
Geh in der Verwandlung aus und ein.
Was ist deine leidendste Erfahrung ?
Ist dir Trinken bitter, werde Wein.

Sei in dieser Nacht aus Übermaß
Zauberkraft am Kreuzweg deiner Sinne,
ihrer seltsamen Begegnung Sinn.

Und wenn dich das Irdische vergaß,
zu der stillen Erde sag : Ich rinne.
Zu dem raschen Wasser sprich : Ich bin.

Quiet friend who has come so far,
feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,

what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.

In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
the meaning discovered there.

And if the world has ceased to hear you,
say to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water, speak: I am.

translation by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows

On my way home from work yesterday


A woman burdened with stroller, purse, and bags, and dandling a little girl, about 15 months, was waiting for the bus in the rain at Steel Plaza on Grant Street. She didn’t have an umbrella, and it was coming down steadily, turning to snow.  Businessmen in expensive woolen coats, secretaries getting off work, lawyers in black, and young men in hoodies stood by, dry and comfortable.   She pulled the blanket around her baby’s head and cooed softly to her.  I watched and wondered if she would be offended.  Finally, I simply offered: “Would you like to share my umbrella?”  “Yes, please!” she enthused.  So I held it the purple arc over her and her child, and she taught the girl to say “umbrella.”  Then her bus came, and I walked her to the door.

Some Thoughts about Feminist Teaching and Feminist Advocacy


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.

Love Your Body Poster Winner


Kyla Hollis - Grand Prize Winner Arvada, Colo.

 

For more than a decade, NOW Foundation’s Love Your Body Campaign has been calling out the fashion, cosmetics and advertising industries for promoting unrealistic images of women. The campaign encourages women and girls to celebrate their bodies and reject the narrow beauty ideals endorsed in the media.

Every year the Love Your Body poster contest receives hundreds, sometimes thousands of entries. Now, we’re ready to be inspired in a whole new way. The Let’s Talk About It project, inspired by NOW Foundation’s partnership in National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, is a new way for YOU to help lead a spirited discussion about body image issues.

If you’re tired of being bombarded by retouched pictures telling you how women should look, if you’re done with advertisers portraying women as objects to be consumed, if you’re ready to talk back, then join us. Make a video telling the world why you’re embracing the real you.

Sexist Science in the New York Times


Sigh.  Nicholas Wade shows great promise.   At least he knows better than to refer to human beings as “man,” unlike many other New York Times science writers.  In a recent article, Wade shares recent discoveries about ancient human development that contradicts the common androcentric myth that has dominated scholarly discussions since Darwin.  Although these discoveries corroborate feminist arguments that ancient hunter-gatherers lived in egalitarian societies, Wade reiterates many of the sexist assumptions that have distorted our understanding of our species’ history.

Paleoanthropologists often assume that our early human ancestors lived very much as modern chimpanzees do now, in a male-dominated social hierarchies.   Recent research, which Wade eagerly shares, suggests that ancient humans coöperated with one another far more than chimps were ever able to do, and that this coöperation stemmed from human’s unique ability to recognize blood relatives in other tribes.   Chimpanzee males tend to stay in the group to which they were born, while chimpanzee females disperse to other groups.  Because chimpanzees don’t recognize their sisters and other female relatives in neighboring groups, they frequently fight with one another, often to the death.

Wade has been reading the work of Bernard Chapais, a primatologist at the University of Montreal who argues that because early human hominids could recognized their kin in neighboring groups, they tended to coöperate with one another instead of fighting.  This coöperation allowed them to learn from one another and to build complex knowledge, which, in turn, led to cultural and technological advancements.

The problem with Chapais’s theory, at least as Nicholas Wade recounts it here, is that he hasn’t been able to give up the chimps-as-model theory entirely.  He argues that “the two species’s social structure could scarcely be more different” and yet maintains that ancient hominids were male-dominated, as modern chimps are.  According to Wade, Chapais believes that the first human tool that made a difference was a weapon, and that only men had them.  This makes absolutely no sense at all, and in fact presupposes that hunter-gathering females stood around stupidly while men invented and used tools, when it is far more likely that human males and females together discovered tools in order to trap, dig, cut, and, kill.

Chapais’s narrative, as related by Wade, distorts our early ancestors’ history in order to reinforce the ideology of contemporary patriarchy.  Patriarchy is an androcentric and male-privileging social structure that developed slowly over about 3000 years, sometime after the advent of agriculture (roughly 10,000 years B.C.E.).   According to this distorted narrative (and I don’t know whether the distortion comes from Chapais or Wade or both),

It was a tool, in the form of a weapon, that made human society possible, in Dr. Chapais’s view. Among chimps, alpha  males are physically dominant and can overpower any rival.  But weapons are great equalizers.  As soon as all males were armed, the cost of monopolizing a large number of females became a lot higher.  In the incipient hominid society, females became allocated to males more equally. General polygyny became the rule, then general monogamy.

This trend led to the emergence of a critical change in sexual behavior: the replacement of the apes’ orgiastic promiscuity with pair bond between male and female.  With only one mate, for the most part, a male had an incentive to guard her from other males to protect his paternity.

Do you spot the problems here?  Chapais-Wade assumes that weapons were distributed among men who used them to “monopolize great numbers of females,” whom they “allocated to males,” without ever asking why ancient human females would have allowed themselves to be monopolized or allocated, or how ancient males might have gone about this?  The silly argument further assumes that in ancient human society, just like contemporary chimpanzee society, only women leave the group.  This assumption directly contradicts the research of Kim Hill, a social anthropologist whom Wade quotes.  Hill and a number of other anthropologists have also argued that a better model than modern chimps for ancient human society is modern hunter-gatherer society, in which both males and females leave their birth-groups.

Hill posits that ancient humans developed knowledge and culture because they were able to recognize and coöperate with their relatives, male and female, in other tribes.   Yet Wade assumes that only women left, and that they had no choice in the matter:

The bands who exchanged women with each other learned to coöperate, forming a group or tribe that would protect its territory from other tribes.

In other words, the way Wade tells the story, human women started out as the property of men in patriarchal social structures.  Cooperation took place between men, the subjects, who traded women, their objects, between them.  Far back in our history, ancient human men discovered how to dominate and own women.  Feminist scholars postulate that the domination of women took place over a very long period of time, and that the subordination of women had something to do with the manipulation of women’s reproductive capacity.   But there is no evidence for, and no good reason to believe in, the relatively modern myth that men have always dominated women.

Since modern and recent hunter-gatherer societies tend to be far more egalitarian than agricultural peoples, and much more so than modern chimpanzee society, it makes much more sense to assume that ancient human cooperative networks took place between clans in which many different social patterns developed, based on the personality and abilities of various individuals, male and female.  Women may have been the prime leaders and movers at certain times, while men may have guided the clan at other times.

Patriarchy did not become fully established as an institution until human beings invented monotheism and divorced creation from procreation. That is, they separated the ability to create the world, previously ascribed to both male and female gods, to a male god alone.  We have the ancient Jews to thank for this particular division of masculine from feminine agency, but their precursors, the Assyrians and Babylonians, had gone a good way toward disenfranchising women from the rule and government of the state.  They also began to bar women from symbolic practices, such as painting and writing, with which humans recorded and interpreted their history early on.

It is because we can look back and mark the stages of government and religious belief that led to the strengthening and institutionalization of patriarchy that we know that it did not simply emerge, full-blown in humans when they separated from apes.   We can’t with certainly assume that modern chimpanzee culture is structured as it is now 100,000 years ago, either.

In fact, for those persons who still cling to the idea that humans are apes and who argue that modern chimp society is the right model for our ancient forebears, there is the pesky argument about the bonobos.  Human beings are genetically far closer to Bonobo monkeys, who are far more likely to settle social tension between themselves through sex than war, than to chimps. So why don’t they base their assumptions about ancient human society on the bonobos? The reason that this version of the story of human development has not become as popular is that it does not confirm the mythology of permanent masculine domination as well as the chimp version.

I am convinced that human beings evolved from apes.  But it makes little sense to say that our ancestors, who split off from apes long ago and followed their own evolutionary path, must have been identical to a contemporary manifestation of the apes from which we split off millions of years ago.  Our assumptions about our history should look at human models, not contemporary apes, for clues to our behavior and social structure.

Nicholas Wade has raised some interesting points along these lines in his recent articles about Drs. Hill and Chapais, but his report about these anthropologists reiterates many myths–that men, not women, invented tools; that men used these tools to dominate and exchange women between themselves–that are not scientifically valid because there is no evidence to prove them. These myths distort history to make patriarchal oppression seem natural and inevitable.  In other words, they perpetuate the social structure in which men have more privileges and power than women, generally speaking.  Obviously, the structure of oppression is also racial and classed with rich, white men at the apex and poor, black women at the bottom, in our country.  Still, the basic structure is androcentric and masculinist, and Nicholas Wade should think more carefully about it.

The Media Assault on Women and a Lecture on Gender


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

We’ve seen many of these images before, of course, but not while thinking about them as Newsome allows us to.  She skillfully juxatposes 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.

While some people believe that

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cooperation in Neolithic Culture and the Implications for Feminism


A new study, reported by the New York Times, dramatically challenges the prevailing, Darwinian understanding of human social development.  Not “natural selection” but cooperative behavior influenced the structure of early human societies. This view has profound feminist implications because it contradicts Darwin’s assumption that early human societies formed around dominant men competing with other men for women.

Early human groups, according to the new view, would have been more cooperative and willing to learn from one another than the chimpanzees from which human ancestors split about five million years ago.  The advantages of cooperation and social learning then propelled the incipient human groups along a different evolutionary path.

Anthropologists have assumed until now that hunter-gatherer bands consist of people fairly closely related to one another, much as chimpanzee groups do, and that kinship is a main motive for cooperation within the group.  Natural selection, which usually promotes only selfish behavior, can reward this kind of cooperative behavior, called kin selection, because relatives contain many of the same genes.

A team of anthropologists led by Kim S. Hill of Arizona State University and Robert S. Walker of the University of Missouri analyzed data from 32 living hunter-gatherer peoples and found that the members of a band are not highly related. Fewer than 10 per cent of people in a typical band are close relatives…

Darwin did not assert that human beings split off from chimps, but rather that we are “descended from some ape-like creature,” (Origin of Species, Penguin, 658).  More than 30 million years ago, our ancestors belonged to the same group that included the lines that would develop into Gibbons, Orangutans, Gorillas, Bonobos, and Chimps.  We are genetically far closer to Bonobos and Chimps than we are to Gibbons, Orangutans and Gorillas.  Modern-day Chimps and Bonobos are more closely related to one another than modern day humans are to either group, although we are significantly closer genetically to Bonobos than we are to Chimps.  There is very little reason to assume that contemporary chimpanzee behavior and social structure offer us a portrait of ancient human societies, but this has not stopped mainstream scientists–nearly all of them men–from doing it.

Scientists are not immune to the gendered assumptions that dominate the cultures in which they acquire their knowledge, as feminist scholars such as Emily Martin, Donna Harraway,  and Londa Schiebinger have repeatedly demonstrated.  The assumption that early human societies resembled contemporary chimpanzee societies, which are dominated by males who remain in the group and fight with males of outlying groups for mates, has helped to codify the erroneous but deeply entrenched belief that male domination is “natural” and intrinsic to the species.

Evolutionary biologists who base their assumptions about human nature on chimpanzee societies have reinforced Charles Darwin’s sexist theory of natural selection, which states that men did the majority of the work in the early struggle for survival in the wild.  According to Darwin, ancient (he says “savage”)  men were far smarter than women:

The chief distinction in the intellectual power of the two sexes is shewn by man’s attaining to a higher eminence, in whatever he takes up, than can woman–whether requiring deep thought, reason, or imagination, or merely the use of senses and hands. (Origin of Species, 629)

Darwin offers absolutely no evidence for this argument other than the specious theory of natural selection, which postulates that the “strongest and boldest men” fought with one another for “wives” and got to pass on their genes, and that

the characters gained will have been transmitted more fully to the male than to the female offspring…Thus man has ultimately become superior to woman (Origin of Species, 630-31)

This unscientific assumption is part and parcel of Darwin’s fantastic belief that men are primarily responsible for survival, i.e., that they furnished food and shelter while women sat around nursing their babies or staring stupidly at their feet.  This view of ancient human society has been completely debunked by studies of ancient and modern hunter-gathering societies, which show that women most likely invented tools for cutting, weaving, cooking, fire-burning, and food gathering. Women are also most likely the ones who invented and perfected traps for small game, which could be set around the dwelling area.  The myth of the cave man hunting down the Mammoth so that mamma and the kids could eat is nothing more than a myth, since archaeologists such as Margaret Conkey and Joan Gero, have shown that hunter-gatherer societies subsist largely on gathered nuts, roots, foliage, fruit, and fish, and that game was a rare addition to a mostly vegetarian diet.  [Indeed, even that most unscientific of unscientific documents that lend credence to the fantasy of original patriarchy suggests that human beings originally eschewed meat: Genesis 1:29-30.] So there is actually much more archaeological and anthropological evidence that women and men contributed equally to survival.

This latest anthropological study corroborates the view that, for 90 per cent of the time that human beings have been human beings–100,000 years, we lived in hunter-gathering groups of diverse and distantly related men and women who shared power and work equally.  Instead of assuming that contemporary chimpanzee society illustrates ancient human society, it studies contemporary hunter-gatherers for evidence of how our ancestors lived and developed.  The Darwinian myth imagines that humans banded around dominant males who selected their kin through fighting, and that humans, like chimpanzees, cooperate with one another in the group but are largely hostile to out-lying groups.   (This story never made sense to me, since I could never understand how human beings could survive and develop complex cultures through war-mongering, which is essentially suicidal.) What Kim Hill, Robert Walker and their associates have suggested makes is far more believable.   Contemporary hunter-gatherers, both male and female move around from tribe to tribe.  Moreover, as primatologist Bernard Chapais has shown, the pair bond between a human female and male allowed people to recognize their relatives, which is something that chimps cannot do very well.  Family members that disperse to neighboring bands would recognize and cooperate with one another, instead of fighting with one another, as chimps do.

Cooperation, not competition, is key to survival and development.  As the NYT reports,

Hunter-gatherers probably lived as tribes split into many small bands of 30 or so people. Group selection could possibly act at the level of the tribe, Dr.  Hill said, meaning that tribes with highly cooperative members would prevail over those that were less cohesive.  …

A hunter-gatherer, because of cooperation between bands, may interact with a thousand individuals in his tribe.  Because humans are unusually adept at social learning, including copying useful activities from others, a large social network is particularly effective at spreading and accumulating knowledge.

While this study in particular does not speculate about power-sharing between men and women in ancient human societies, it corroborates the argument that male domination of women is a relatively recent development in human history.  The oldest Neolithic cities that we have unearthed, in Catal Höyük and Asikli, indicate that thousands of people lived together without any centralized architecture and no division of labor.  They were sedentary but not necessarily agricultural, and they traded with distant cities.  Figurines of voluptuous female bodies have prompted some scholars to maintain that the societies that lived in these cities 6,000 and 7,000 years B.C.E. were matriarchal, but Gerda Lerner and other feminists have made a much more convincing argument for an egalitarian civilization.

Trigger Warning: Rant against the patriarchy


Do you ever just feel like screaming?  Do you think that 435 mostly white and mostly Christian men should decide when life begins?  Should 435 mostly white and mostly Christian men decide what constitutes a rape?  Should 435 mostly white and mostly Christian men, none of whom are medical physicians, decide whether or not a woman’s menses constitutes a miscarriage and whether or not that miscarriage constitutes a murder?

Would it make you more comfortable to hand these decisions over to 100 mostly white, mostly Christian men?  Or to nine mostly white, mostly Christian men?

Who do YOU think ought to determine when life begins, whether or not a person has been raped, and whether or not a mass of cells in various states of development has more political right to life than the woman or girl without whose body those cells would not survive?

Do you really believe that 50% of the population has lesser rights to sovereignty of the body than the other half?

Well, the GOP–or most of it–thinks so. They are male and female.  Most of them are Christian. Most of them are white.  Why should these people force their sexist, religious beliefs on the rest of us?

Doesn’t it make you want to scream?

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 call 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, regales and 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.

Still Breathing: Bikram Day 101


March 2: Ja, yesterday I reached my goal, but I passed the milestone that I really cared about today.  There’s a tradition at our studio to come the day after you’ve hit 100 classes in as many days.  The congratulations I got today were fewer and quieter (yesterday Sherie Dyer, who is awesome in general, made this awesome celebration sign for me:

My boyfriend took a photo of me with Sam, who is a Pennsylvania yoga champion, holding the sign, and Kasper van den Wijngaard, who is a world bikram yoga champion, doing his classic scorpion. He took another one of me with the whole class.   I will post these photo when I get my digital fingers on them.  After the photos were taken, Sam put the poster in front of my mat so I could stare at it for 90 minutes).

Today I felt as though my practice was genuinely beginning today, because I had come to the studio not to meet the challenge, but rather simply to practice yoga.  Tomorrow I will probably feel the same way.  As though my practice is only just beginning.