Celebrate Easter by Protecting Women’s Rights to Their Own Bodies


And don’t forget that the GOP and all the others who want to kill Planned Parenthood are against Planning For Parenthood.  They don’t want us to be able to plan our pregnancies.  They want to force us to bear unwanted pregnancies; they want to keep us poor, and unfree, and oppressed.  Here’s what one woman is doing to make a difference.

I wish US Senator Patty Murray were my Senator, I think


Here’s what she wrote to one of her constituents, who published this letter on his website:

Dear Mr. Colletti:
Thank you for contacting me to share your support for women’s reproductive rights.  It was good to hear from you.
One of my top priorities as a Senator – and as a mother – is to ensure that all women in this country are able to make decisions about their bodies and their health. I believe the government must not interfere with a woman’s private decisions, and it is imperative that Congress remains vigilant in protecting this right.
In the 112th Congress, anti-choice Members of both chambers have introduced a number of bills that would place dramatic restrictions on reproductive health services.  These bills would endanger women’s health by severely limiting their access to affordable reproductive health services. It would prohibit women from using their own personal funds to buy insurance that covers abortion, as well as raise taxes on businesses that offer abortion coverage in their insurance plans.  In addition, the House Republicans’ proposed budget for the remainder of the fiscal year would completely eliminate Title X funding for family planning and teen pregnancy prevention.
This assault on women’s health is wrong and would be truly devastating if actually enacted.  It is an extreme agenda that restricts health care options for women and does nothing to further our goals of getting our economy back on track.  I have worked in my leadership position, as well as a senior member of both the Senate Appropriations Committee as well as the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee to fight against these attacks.  Cutting off these important programs and services would be absolutely wrong and I will continue to do everything I can in the Senate to fight it.
I believe that in these tough times our focus should be on getting the economy back on track and people back to work, not putting insecurity back into the lives of millions of women.  It is time that we move our economy forward, and not pull women’s health care backwards.
Again, thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with me on this important issue. I want to assure you that I will continue to monitor all anti-choice legislation that comes before the Senate. If you would like to know more about my work in the Senate, please feel free to sign up for my weekly updates at http://murray.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?p=GetEmailUpdates.
Please keep in touch.
Sincerely,Patty Murray
United States Senator

Isn’t that AWESOME!!!  Gee, why aren’t more people in the US Senate speaking out in strong pro-choice terms as Patty Murray?  And why don’t we pay more attention to the heroes valiantly standing up against the War on Women?  I’d like to read about them.   But does Patty Murray says stuff like this out loud?  Does she publish articles or editorials or speeches in which she defends women’s rights out loud, as it were, are there any videos of her?  I couldn’t find any.  She’s not on Emily’s list of candidates, and she doesn’t show up in this video of women speaking rather tepidly, if you ask me, about their support for women’s rights:

Only Boxer rises to the level of passion demonstrated by Rep Jackie Speier:

or Rep. Gwen Moore:

The media–and I am also guilty of this–pay loads of attention to the lurid details of the latest wacky yet scary and very serious threats to women’s reproductive freedom and autonomy–but very little attention to the people who actually say things I want to hear.

And do you know what else I want to know?  WHO ARE THE PRO-CHOICE SENATORS?  Do you know?  It took me a darn long time to find a list.  I’m too stupid, it seems, to figure out how to access this information at the NARAL site.  I couldn’t find it at Planned Parenthood, either.  I found it on the concisely titled blog, STFU Sexists, and it is not clear where the author obtained the information, but it’s a start:

PRO-CHOICE SENATORS BY STATE

Please reblog this list so that as many people as possible can have this information at their disposal. Call your senators every day and tell them that you stand with them and thank them for their continued support of women and reproductive rights, and to filibuster the anti-choice attack on Planned Parenthood. 

  • * – Denotes a mixed voting record on reproductive rights
  • If your state does not appear on this list, you have no pro-choice senators. Please refer to the list of Anti-Choice Senators by State

ALASKA
Lisa Murkowski – 202.224.6665
Mark Begich – 202.224.3004

CALIFORNIA
Barbara Boxer – 202.224.3553
Dianne Feinstein – 202.224.3841

COLORADO
Michael Bennet - 202.224.5852
Mark Udall – 202.224.5491

CONNECTICUT
Richard Blumenthal – 202.224.2823
Joe Lieberman – 202.224.4041

DELAWARE
Tom Carper* – 202.224.2441
Chris Coons –  202.224.5042

FLORIDA
Bill Nelson – 202.224.5274

HAWAII
Daniel Inouye – 202.224.3934
Daniel Akaka  – 202.224.6361

ILLINOIS
Dick Durbin – 202.224.2152
Mark Kirk* –  202.224.2854

IOWA
Tom Harkin – 202.224.3254

LOUISIANA
Mary Landrieu – 202.224.5824

MAINE
Olympia Snowe – 202.224.5344
Susan Collins – 202.224.2523

MARYLAND
Barbara Mikulski – 202.224.4654
Ben Cardin – 202.224.4524

MASSACHUSETTS
John Kerry – 202.224.2742

MICHIGAN
Carl Levin – 202.224.6221
Debbie Stabenow – 202.224.4822

MINNESOTA
Amy Klobuchar – 202.224.3244
Al Franken – 202.224.5641

MISSOURI
Claire McCaskill – 202.224.6154

MONTANA
Max Baucus – 202.224.2651
Jon Tester - 202.224.2644

NEVADA
Harry Reid – 202.224.3542

NEW HAMPSHIRE
Jeanne Shaheen – 202.224.2841

NEW JERSEY
Frank Lautenberg – 202.224.3224
Bob Menendez – 202.224.4744

NEW MEXICO
Jeff Bingaman – 202.224.5521
Tom Udall – 202.224.6621

NEW YORK
Chuck Schumer – 202.224.6542
Kirsten Gillibrand – 202.224.4451

NORTH CAROLINA
Kay Hagan – 202.224.6342

NORTH DAKOTA
Kent Conrad* – 202.224.2043

OHIO
Sherrod Brown – 202.224.2315

OREGON
Ron Wyden – 202.224.5244
Jeff Merkley – 202.224.3753

PENNSYLVANIA
Bob Casey – 202.224.6324

RHODE ISLAND
Jack Reed – 202.224.2934
Sheldon Whitehouse – 202.224.2921

SOUTH DAKOTA
Tim Johnson* – 202.224.5842

VIRGINIA
Mark Warner* – 202.224.2023
Jim Webb – 202.224.4024

VERMONT
Patrick Leahy – 202.224.4242
Bernie Sanders – 202.224.5141

WASHINGTON
Patty Murray – 202.224.2621
Maria Cantwell – 202.224.3441

WISCONSIN
Herb Kohl – 202.224.5653

WEST VIRGINIA
Jay Rockefeller – 202.224.6472

Yemeni Women’s Rights


I was glad to see that the NYTimes had the sense to publish this letter from TAINA BIEN-AIMÉ, Executive Director, Equality Now, about a recent article that misrepresented women’s rights in Yemen.

Offended Yemeni Women Protest President’s Remarks” (news article, April 17), you noted that Yemen’s conservative customs concerning women are not legislated as in neighboring Saudi Arabia. To the contrary, in many ways sex discrimination in Yemen is sanctioned both by law and in practice.

The Personal Status Law calls for wife obedience, allows marital rape, reinforces stereotypes about women’s roles as caretakers within the home and severely restricts women’s freedom of movement. The recent remarks made by President Ali Abdullah Saleh condemning women’s participation in public protests as being un-Islamic reflects the secondary status given to Yemeni women.

The Yemeni government must not only repeal all discriminatory provisions in its law, but also take steps to end discrimination by enacting laws that will protect women and girls, like setting a minimum age for marriage and supporting women’s equal participation in public life.

The face of the Yemeni uprising belongs to  a 32-year old mother of three.  Tawakul Karman (also spelled Tawakkol: her name in Arabic, توكل, means “trust”) has been cheered by students and others calling for the end to President Ali Abdullah Saleh‘s autocratic regime.   The activist and chairwoman of Women Journalists Without Chains has been leading sit-ins and demonstrations calling for greater civil rights, education and economic opportunities.  Ms. Karman, who belongs to the main opposition party,  Al-Islah, has also spoken out against the rise of religious fundamentalism and violence in her country.
In the 2003 parliamentary election, Al-Islah won 46 seats. As of 2010, 13 of Al-Islah’s parliament members are women, including Karman.  She removed her niqāb (face veil) at a human rights conference in 2004 and since then has called for “other women and female activists to take theirs off.”

Blood and Eggs at Passover and Easter


Many people celebrate the return of the growing season at this time of year without understanding the historical origins of the rituals they observe. This post revamps a column Lefthandofeminism wrote last year at this time to explain how men pushed women out of these holidays.

Christians have a feast day called “Easter,” on which they honor a murdered god and his miraculous return to life through the power of the Father.  This story reinterprets the much earlier, Babylonian myth of Osiris restored by Isis, who was called “the Giver of Life,” mother of the sun, and “oldest of the old.”

Jews celebrate a kind of renewal of life during Pesach, or Passover, and recall the time when the Destroying Angel “passed over” those houses whose doorways had been sprinkled with blood, but killed the firstborn sons of all others, giving Pharoh yet another powerful sign that he should release the Jews from captivity.

Blood and eggs feature prominently in both Easter and Passover.   Christian children hunt for and devour eggs that a magic rabbit has hidden, and Jews place a roasted or hard-boiled egg, the Beitzah on the Seder plate to commemorate and mourn the sacrifices that they used to make in the destroyed Temple. But the Beitzah also symbolizes the joyful return of life at springtime.

A tradition that appears to predate Judaism and Christianity, whose traces have lingered in the Middle East, Asia, and Old Europe, is the honoring of women’s power to give birth, symbolized again by blood and eggs.

Persians have exchanged red-colored eggs to celebrate the beginning of their solar year for millenia.

The oldest origins of Easter began in rituals for Eostre, or Ostara, a Saxon goddess associated with the Moon.  The moon-hare was sacred in both eastern and western ancient practices.

The Saxons, the Irish, and the Persians  all kept a movable feast on the first day of the week after the first full moon of the Spring equinox.

Bohemians also had a ritual on the day after Oestre Sunday, which was a “Moon-day,” in which village girls sacrificed the “Lord of Death” by throwing him into the water and singing,

Death swims in the water, spring comes to visit us,

With eggs that are red, with yellow pancakes,

We carried Death out of the village

We are carrying Summer into the village.

Detail of ancient Mesopotamian so-called "Ishtar Vase" from Larsa, early 2nd millennium BC. The pubic triangle and belly-button are heavily emphasized, while the breasts were crudely scratched in as an afterthought.

Some scholars believe that Isis and Astarte are Egyptian and Syrian names for the same moon goddess whom the  Europeans worshipped.

Lefthandofeminism finds this plausible but unlikely, given the traces of goddess worship in many different cultures across the globe, and her well-trumpeted lack of faith in any deity at all.

Lefty argues with Gerda Lerner in The Creation of Patriarchy that ancient peoples devised mythical explanations for patterns that they perceived in the universe.   Patriarchy began to rear its hideous head approximately in 2,500 B.C.E, but it did not become institutionalized until much later.  Human beings have been “human” or homo sapiens, with roughly the same brain capacity and instincts, for 200,000 years.   For most of human history, different peoples invented and worshipped both masculine and feminine deities.

Archaeological evidence strongly indicates that human belief in feminine deities as creators of all life is much older than the current, dominant myth that a male father-god brought forth everything that exists.

Nevertheless, Lefty also thinks we should bring back the old rituals.   Instead of duly noting the passing of time in reverence to a male deity and his son, who are said not just to represent but also to be the origin and end of all life, we should spend  time meditating on the role that women play in creation and birth?

If the whole Judeo-Christan myth about the beginning of the cosmos makes little sense, even if you remember that it was invented by a relatively primitive and credulous group of people, that’s because it  is the transmutation of much older, Mesopotamian stories.  Some of these earlier myths include many of the same elements–the tree of life, the serpent, the prohibition of eating from a certain plant as are found in Genesis.  Only the religious tradition that these stories developed, and from which they grew, considered divine creativity to be fundamentally feminine.

Akkadian Cylinder Seal showing the tree of life 2330-2150 B.C.E.

Even in 700 B.C.E., when men had largely achieved the total manipulation and exploitation of women’s reproductive capacities–a feat that took millenia–even these arch-patriarchal people still respected women’s gestational and life-giving powers as sacred.

It was the ancient Hebrews who institutionalized patriarchy by divorcing divine creativity from feminine procreativity.  This did not happen overnight. The scriptures that Christians call the “Old Testament” recount hundreds of men having hot flashes about idolatry, particularly the worship of the old Mesopotamian gods and goddesses, of whom Astarte/Ishtar and Asherah were the most important and therefore the most hated.

Easter demonstrates the catholicity of the Church, its ability to adapt ancient customs in divers locations to Christian myth and to suppress the beliefs upon from which those customs developed.   However persuasive the Christians have been , early and late, dearly held practices and stories do not die easily.  That is probably why the name of for the goddess, Oestre, who symbolized fertility is still with us, not only for the holiday, but also as the name for a fundamental fact  of life.

“Oestre “also is the source of our scientific term, estrous, from the Latin Oestrus and the  Greek οἶστρος).  Wikipedia defines the estrous cycle as follows:

The estrous cycle comprises the recurring physiological changes that are induced by reproductive hormones in most mammalian placental females. Humans undergo a menstrual cycle instead. Estrous cycles start after puberty in sexually mature females and are interrupted by anestrous phases or pregnancies. Typically estrous cycles continue until death. Some animals may display bloody vaginal discharge, often mistaken for menstruation, also called a “period”.

In the great s/f novel The Left Hand of Darkness, all people of the planet Gethen experience estrus cycles, or periods of “kemmer,” which come and go.  As Le Guin observes,

Consider: Anyone can turn his[sic] hand to anything.  This sounds very simple, but its psychological effects are incalculable.  The fact that everyone between seventeen and thirty-five or so is liable to be…’tied down to child-bearing’ implies that no one is quite so thoroughly ‘tied down’ here as women, elsewhere, are likely to be–psychologically or physically. Burden and privilege are shared out pretty equally; everybody has the same risk or choice to make.  Therefore nobody here is as free as a free man anywhere else.

Consider: There is no division of humanity into strong and weak halves, protective/protected, dominant/submissive, owner/chattel, active/passive.

Imagine how extraordinary our world would be if, instead of obediently rehearsing these polarities in the liturgies of the Jewish, the Christian, and the Muslim traditions,  we celebrated this time of year differently?

Not for a second does Lefty mean to suggest  that we all start worshipping the Moon.   Indeed it would be nauseating were women to begin identifying themselves with the heavenly body that male theologians and misogynists have for too long associated with the son/sun’s mirror.  We ought rather to spend the holiday reconsidering our myths, and recovering our history by talking about how the rituals and beliefs have oppressed one half of humanity for thousands of years.

Look, there are many ways to experience redemption–a term that recurs throughout the Hebrew scriptures and means, very simply, the recovery of a thing that had been alienated.   Patriarchal theology alienates women from the sacred.  It therefore alienates women from men, men from women.  In my view, the hierarchical paradigm that patriarchal theology enforces also alienates human beings from animals and the earth by insisting that one should rule over the other.  Can we please redeem each other, restore ourselves to sanity. starting now?

Being an atheist does not mean I do not value the rich symbolic and mythological traditions that human beings have developed over time.  We made those traditions, but they also made us. We understand ourselves the way we do because of those traditions, and by virtue of how we come to terms with them.

So here’s an idea: what if we were to celebrate Eostre and the estrous in Easter by recognizing our commonality with mammals, who, like us, give birth by virtue of the blood that softens our wombs and ebbs and flows in us, like the river of life?  What if, instead of lording it over mammals and all other animals, or granting supremacy to those who do lord around, we celebrated our mutual dependence on one another and on the planet from which all life springs?

We should especially celebrate  the oestrus, the gadfly that, by stinging, moves the more bovine among us out of the mud, where we are wallowing.

Let us also remember that the figural meaning of estrus and oestrus is “Something that incites a person to passionate, esp. creative, activity.”  O, so it turns out that feminine sexual desire and creativity are still associated with one another in language! Let’s all be gadflies tomorrow and incite one another to passionate bursts of creative activity.

My boyfriend’s father, Joe, an incredibly loving and patient man, very recently died.   Joe was a devout Catholic.  His  son, by boyfriend, became an Episcopalian when the Catholics  refused to grant him communion because he had been divorced.

My friend stands in need of redemption, of recovering his unity with the father from whom he began, now that that beloved father is gone.  In other words, the  son has a psychological need to recoup (redeem) as much as he can, at whatever price.   And this all makes perfect sense.

Still, some prices are too high.  A feminist has a hard time knowing where to draw the line between sympathy for the  son and sympathy for the daughter, who has, after all,  been rather left out of that psychological-spiritual communion for all these years.

We are feminists and we love and have friendly understandings for our sons (and for our partners, male and female, who have lost their fathers).  Our sympathy does not enervate our just irritation.

Go, gadfly!

The Family Court Crisis in the US


Jennifer Collins wrote the following column about the tragic flaws in the system that supposedly protects victims of domestic violence.  The story she tells is distressingly common.   Find the original story at this excellent website.

The Holly Collins Case: recognizing the Family Court Crisis in the US


A few months after Holly Collins turned 22 years old she opened the front door of her family home in St Louis Park, Minnesota to Hennepin County Child Protection investigators. They made it known that they were aware of her husband’s abuse to her and her children, specifically citing a recent fracture to her little boy’s skull. This young mother was warned that if she didn’t flee immediately with her children and file for an Order For Protection her children would be removed from her care as well and there would be a procedure of Failure To Protect charges filed against her.  This is one way to force a battered woman to leave her abuser and protect her children.

One may think it is a bit harsh to threaten an abuse victim with criminal charges but perhaps necessary to protect her and her children.

It is incomprehensible that as a result of the Order For Protection, which was granted and forbade Mark Collins from abusing his wife and children, the father was simultaneously granted unsupervised visitation with the very children he abused.

This girl, barely a woman couldn’t understand the ramifications of the family court system.  Holly Collins sought out the Child Protection Investigators who forced her to take her children away from their abusive father and went directly to the Child Protection office in a panic begging them to protect her children. “This is why I stayed” She wept “At least I could protect the children MOST of the time. Now my children have to go alone with him and there is no one there to protect them.”

The child protection desk agent was sympathetic but explained that once this battered woman took actions to protect her children and left her abuser the case was then transferred from Juvenile Court to Family Court and it was her duty as a mother to get the family court judge to protect her children.In the meantime Holly’s young children would return from court ordered visitations battered and bruised. Holly’s little boy was treated by their pediatrician for injuries sustained from his father‘s abuse.  The doctor’s report documents the bruises to the young lad and clearly states “Mother will be alert for abuse potential situation.”

For 5 more years Holly Collins was alert and vigilant to protect her children but time after time and one court hearing after another Mark Collins somehow managed to convince the judge that Holly was trying to “Alienate” him from his children’s lives.

Eventually a family court judge instructed Holly to take the children to the Boston Children’s Hospital to be evaluated by the Child Abuse Trauma Team and he simultaneously ordered a custody evaluation.

Both Dr. Eli Newberger and the entire investigative team at the Boston Children’s Hospital found that the children and their mother were severely abused by the father.  Back in Hennepin County the Family Court Investigator also confirmed domestic violence but conceded that Holly’s fear of her husband was (although unwittingly) indeed interfering in the children’s relationship with their father.  And just like that custody was reversed to the very man who terrorized, beat and battered this woman and her children.

Holly eventually fled the country with her children and was the first American citizen granted asylum in the Netherlands.  After 14 years in hiding she was found by the FBI. After a lengthy investigation ALL international and domestic kidnapping charges were dismissed.  When questioned by reporters in the lobby of the Minneapolis Court House Holly Collins responded that the biggest mistake she ever made was leaving her abuser.

Is this really the message we want to send to abuse victims?

Katya’s Story


The horrific summary appeared in the Guardian:

When they assessed her case, British immigration officials knew that Katya, a vulnerable 18-year-old from Moldova, had been trafficked and forced into prostitution, but ruled that she would face no real danger if she was sent back.

Days after her removal from the UK, her traffickers tracked her down to the Moldovan village where she had grown up. She was gang-raped, strung up by a rope from a tree, and forced to dig her own grave. One of her front teeth was pulled out with a pair of pliers. Shortly afterwards she was re-trafficked, first to Israel and later back to the UK.

There is no question that Katya is a victim of heinous violence and crime.  But the reporting of her story in the passive voice, re-victimizes her by keeping the focus on what people did to her, as opposed on who kidnapped, raped, sold, prostituted, and tortured her.  This representation in language mirrors the attitude that society and the judicial system has towards women, so often the objects of hideous violence, and men, so often the perpetrators of hideous violence against women.   The media–both the producers and the consumers of newspapers, blogs, documentaries, television programs, and tweets–greedily gobbles up stories about terrible things done women, but generally fails to follow up on, name, or draw attention to the people who do these things.  When was the last time you read or heard a news story about a trafficker or rapist brought to justice?

Katya’s story–what happened as well as the way that it is narrated–mirrors a serious problem in modern society.  That problem is masculinism, the arbitrary set of beliefs and practices that privilege masculine beings over feminine beings.  The judicial system, the police, and the media actually do very little to bring attention and punishment to the people who kidnap, sell, and torture women, because they don’t really consider these crimes to be very serious.   And why?  Because the victims of these crimes are women, and women–especially poor women–don’t count as subjects, as self-moving, autonomous persons endowed with the same degree of reason and dignity as men. They tolerate the enslavement of persons whom they do not believe to be as human as they are.  People are eager to read the lurid and grisly details of crimes committed against women, but not eager to take the steps necessary to stop it.

As Katya herself has asked,

“Just look around you – see how many girls there are like me. They are coming all the time. I see them every day – in tube stations, all made up, early in the morning. Maybe for you it is difficult to see them, but I see them,” said Katya (not her real name), in an interview in her solicitor’s office. “I think the police should work better to stop this. Why don’t you shut down saunas and brothels? Then there would be no prostitutes, no pimps.”

Katya is now 26.  She was 14 when Traffickers kidnapped her from her village and forced her to work as a prostitute in Italy, Turkey, Hungary, Romania, Israel and the UK.  She earned no money, only punishment and humiliation for her labor.  When the police raided the London brothel where her slavers forced her to work, they arrested Katya.  She was afraid to tell them how she came to be there, because the Kosovan Albanian man who sold her told her that he would punish her family is she said anything.  Although they knew that people had trafficked her, the police allowed her enslaver to visit her nine times in jail, where he intimidated her further.  Although immigration officials knew that a gang kidnapped her in her Moldovan village, they sent her back to it, insisting that she would not be in danger there.  Her slavers found her a few days after she arrived.  Here is what they did to her:

“They took me to a forest and I was beaten and raped. Then they made a noose out of rope and told me to dig my own grave as I was going to be killed,” Katya’s court statement reads. “They tied the noose around my neck and let me hang before cutting the branch off the tree. I really believed I was going to die. They then drove me to a house where many men were staying. They were all very drunk and took turns to rape me. When I tried to resist, one man physically restrained me and pulled my front tooth out using pliers.”

Her torturers then sold her in Tel Aviv, where she was forced to be a prostitute.  She escaped.  They found her again and sold her to a brothel in the UK, where her pimps got £150 (approximately $320) an hour for her labor, and she got nothing.  In 2007 immigration officials detained her again, and again considered sending her to Moldova.  Both times that UK police and immigration officials got hold of her, they treated her as an illegal resident instead of as the victim of sexist criminal activity.  It seems there is “friction” between politicos who are more interested in ridding the country of unwanted foreigners than stopping crimes against women, and the few members of the police force who want to shut down trafficking.

Paul Holmes, the now retired former head of the Metropolitan police’s vice unit, CO14, said in a pre-trial statement that there was already much evidence by 2003 that should have led immigration officials to identify her as a trafficking victim.

“Our doubt about the effectiveness of prompt removal was exacerbated by the fact that our intelligence-gathering and operational activities had highlighted the fact that in some cases, victims that had been removed were subjected to retrafficking and were being discovered for a second time in London brothels or elsewhere within weeks of their original removal,” he said.

The Poppy Project, which “provides accommodation and support to women who have been trafficked into prostitution or domestic servitude,” warns that 21% of the women who came to the charity seeking help had already been sent home and retrafficked at least once.  It also reports that it has noted an increase is the number of trafficked women and who are in the process of being removed.  In its unfathomable wisdom, the UK government has just defunded this project.  All the expertise that the Poppy Project staff have built up over the years, and all the care it has provided, will now disappear.

The UK government, in its deficit-decreasing rage, makes its priorities clear.  It doesn’t care about trafficked women because they’re just women, after all.  Their solution to the trafficking problem?  Deport the victims, and let the traffickers continue to operate.

Katya’s traffickers have not been arrested.  The brothels in London are still open.

The problem is not unique to the UK or Europe.  Thousands of vicious traffickers regularly enslave and abuse girls and women in the United States.  The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) reports that traffickers prey upon at least 100,000 children in the US every year.  They find victims at the most unlikely places, like the Superbowl.    The Human Trafficking Prevention Act of 2000 and many acts that have followed it, has focused almost entirely on foreigners and U.S. children continue to be charged for prostitution.  Representative Carolyn Maloney introduced the Domestic Sex Trafficking Bill in June 2010, but Congress abandoned this measure when the Tea-Partiers and zealous anti-immigration GOPers came into power in 2011.

Refusing to take action against sex trafficking is only one more way that the GOP carries out its War On Women and perpetuates a culture-wide masculinism that assumes that women are less entitled to rights, dignity, and autonomy than men.

Catholic Bishops Actively Oppose Equality of Women, Again


The bishops are all hot and bothered about women in the church again, and, as usual, it is a nun who has driven them to distraction.

People who believe in divine revelation universally agree that revelation is received through language.  Language expresses and is shaped by the culture in which it is spoken.  Language reflects the cultural biases of the people who speak.   Language is continually changing  in response to cultural shifts (witness the recent addition of “lol” to official dictionaries of the English language), but language also shapes culture, influences the way that human beings understand their relationships to one another and the world at large.  Language–a cultural legacy inherited from our human ancestors–probably shapes us more than we shape it.

The Catholic Bishops currently harassing and censoring Sister Elizabeth Johnson, an internationally respected theologian, largely agree with this explanation of language as a culturally conditioned, living mode of communication.  They also agree that divine revelation comes through language.  Yet they perversely and incoherently insist that masculine imagery of the divine in the Bible has nothing to do with human culture, and is simply the direct expression of the deity.  God is male, they insist, and anyone who suggests that we use a gender-neutral language to refer to the deity should be punished.  Never mind that academics, scholars of religion and theologians alike, have been addressing the question of gender, and the choice of pronouns for the divine, with little controversy for 50 years.

A committee of backward-thinking American bishops have accused Elizabeth Johnson, who teaches theology at Fordham University, a Catholic institution, of violating church doctrine because she carries on this half-century of scholarship.  The Bishops oppose all scholars who ask whether or not God is male.

Sister Johnson irritates the bishops because she supports granting women greater authority in the church and because she speaks to organizations that promote same-sex marriage.  She irritates the bishops because she underscores the sexism in the rule that says only persons with a penis can administer the Word and blessings of god.   She irritates the bishops because she points out that men have always controlled the Catholic church and used it as a means to perpetuate patriarchal privilege.   “All-male images of God are hierarchical images rooted in the unequal relations between women and men, and they function to maintain this relationship,” she writes in her most recent book, Quest for the Living God.   This kind of statement really pisses them off, and that is why the bishops want to ban it.

I, for one, am going straight out to get and read her book.  I’m an atheist, of course, for the very reason that the bishops deny: because I think that religion has functioned as a tool of masculine domination.  But I only come to this conclusion because I remain so interested in religious questions and quests.   Silly bishops.

But even sillier, and more irritating, are women such as Helen Hull Hitchcock, founder of an anti-feminist organization called Women for Faith and Family, who actively work to suppress and defame feminist scholars such as Sister Johnson.  These women demonstrate how deeply entrenched misogyny is in the patriarchal institution.  Women who actively work against their own liberation and for their oppression are found in every camp, of course.  They’re free to believe and behave as they like.  What I object to is their arrogant and self-righteous attempt to make everyone else conform to their darkened ideology.

Battle of the Budget


Well, they’ve finally sorted it, but it’s still a bloody mess. Tea-Party GOPers never really cared about balancing the budget, only about pushing their social agenda down our throats.  And on that note, I love this photo:

So they didn’t quite manage to shut down Planned Parenthood, but you know they’re gonna try again.  Let’s hope the American people wake up soon to the facts–the Tea Party does not care about ordinary, middle-class people, women, and certainly not the poor.  For some good editorials on this subject, see this one from the NYT and this one from the Guardian.

Sexual Assault Prevention Tips Guaranteed to Work


These hilarious and poignant pointers come from my favorite spinster aunt:

Sexual Assault Prevention Tips Guaranteed to Work

1. Don’t put drugs in women’s drinks.

2. When you see a woman walking by herself, leave her alone.

3. If you pull over to help a woman whose car has broken down, remember not to rape her.

4. If you are in a lift and a woman gets in, don’t rape her.

5. When you encounter a woman who is asleep, the safest course of action is to not rape her.

6. Never creep into a woman’s home through an unlocked door or window, or spring out at her from between parked cars, or rape her.

7. When you lurk in bushes and doorways with criminal intentions, always wear bright clothing, wave a flashlight, or play “Boys Who Rape (Should All Be Destroyed)” by the Raveonettes on a boombox really loud, so women in the vicinity will know where to aim their flamethrowers.

8. USE THE BUDDY SYSTEM! If it is inconvenient for you to stop yourself from raping women, ask a trusted friend to accompany you when lurking in shadows.

9. Carry a rape whistle. If you find that you are about to rape a woman, you can hand the whistle to your buddy, so s/he can blow it to call for help.

10. Give your buddy a revolver, so that when indifferent passers-by either ignore the rape whistle, or gather round to enjoy the spectacle, s/he can pistol-whip you.

11. Don’t forget: Honesty is the best policy. When asking a woman out on a date, don’t pretend that you are interested in her as a person; tell her straight up that you expect to be raping her later. If you don’t communicate your intentions, the woman may take it as a sign that you do not plan to rape her.

In other words, the best way to prevent rape is to not rape anybody.

Whither the Revolution for Women in Egypt and Yemen?


Where are the brave, feminist women and men who helped to bring down Mubarak in Egypt, and who have long been agitating against Saleh in Yemen, now?  About a quarter of the million protesters who brought down the Egyptian dictator were women.   Tawakul Karman, who has led anti-government protests at Sana’a University for years, voices the concerns of progressive Yemeni women. Time Magazine and The Guardian call her the “head of the Yemeni protest movement,” but what power does she really have? Will the men–and so far in Egypt they are all men–who rise to power because of these women value or represent their concerns?  To ask this question is not simply to inquire about politics  in the Middle East, but also to consider how deeply entrenched misogynist attitudes and customs will influence the new states to come.

Nesrine Malik, writing for Altmuslimah, argues that the few women who have been featured as central to the Arab uprisings have been “tokenized” and do not represent any genuine egalitarian development in the Middle East:

While the prominence of women in the revolutions has been moving, there is a psychology behind celebrating and glorifying women’s political activity when it is part of a popular push. In these times women are almost tokenised by men as the ultimate downtrodden victims, the sign that things are desperate, that even members of the fairer sex are leaving their hearths and taking to the streets. The perception isn’t that women are fighting for their own rights, but merely that they are underwriting the revolution by bringing their matronly dignity to the crowd like some mascot

It was not a good sign when, on February 11, the day Mubarak fell, groups of men in Tahrir square groped numerous female protesters, and a gang of thugs from the crowd raped CBS journalist Lara Logan.

It was also not good when the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which took over, appointed an all-male panel of legal experts to revise the Egyptian constitution.  A broad coalition of women’s groups immediately demanded that women have a greater part in planning the future state and that at least one woman lawyer be appointed to the panel, but their concerns were ignored.  On March 8, International Women’s Day, thousands of Egyptian women marched in Tahrir Square.  Instead of being celebrated for their heroic role in bringing down an oppressive regime, they were assaulted hordes of hostile men, who soon outnumbered them,  shouting insults and commanding them to “Go home, where you belong.”  Groups of men attacked and beat many female protesters and chased them down the streets.

Egypt and Yemen are ranked 125 and 134 out of 134 countries in a World Economic Forum report on the status of women.  Forty-two per cent of Egyptian and 57 per cent of Yemeni women are illiterate.  Genital mutilation is still practiced in rural parts of Egypt. Women occupied 8 of 454 seats in Parliament in Egypt and no seats in Yemen’s government.   Egyptian men freely grope, harrass, and insult women on the streets without fear of punishment.  The Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights reported in 2008 that the majority of women had been harrassed, most frequently by state security officers.

Amnesty International reports that the Yemeni women “are valued as half the worth of men when they testify in court or when their families are compensated if they are murdered.”  Feminists have recently called for and end to the hideous practice of forcing girls into marriage at very young ages, sometimes as young as 8.  Last year a 12-year-old died from injuries sustained when her 30 year-old husband forced himself on her.  Another, 13, bled to death after her husband tied her up and raped her.  Predictably, top Yemeni clerics have denounced those who have called for a ban on the practice as apostates.

The recent abominable treatment of a very brave Libyan woman, whom Muammar el-Qaddaff’s forces raped, then abducted, isolated, and interrogated for days, has highlighted discriminatory attitudes in that part of the world as well.  The New York Times reports that

Like many traditionalist countries in the region, Libyans often treat rape as a crime against the honor of a woman or her family, rather than as an attack on the woman herself. In some families, a girl or woman who has been raped is cast out or shunned.

The change in the Egyptian regime so far has not made women any safer.

On March 9 the military cleared Tahrir Square of protesters and took at least 18 women into custody at an annex to the Cairo Museum. There soldiers beat or strip-searched these women while other men watched and took photographs.  They also forced the women to submit to “virginity tests” and threatened those “not found to be virgins” with  prostitution charges.  One woman found not to be a virgin by this humiliating “test” said soldiers afterwards gave her electric shocks.

Amnesty International has described these forced “virginity checks” as torture designed to degrade women because they are women and called for all medical personel in Egypt to refuse to administer these tests.

Journalist Rasha Azeb, whom the military detained, testified that soldiers  handcuffed, beat, and insulted her.  Before she was released, she heard the screams of the other women being given electric shocks and beaten.

17 women, including 20-year old Salwa Hosseini, were taken to a military prison in Heikstep, where guards tortured them further.  Ms. Hosseini told Amnesty International that

she was made, with the other women, to take off all her clothes to be searched by a female prison guard, in a room with two open doors and a window.  During the strip search, Salwa Hosseini said male soldiers were looking into the room and taking pictures of the naked women.

Let us remember that the men who did this were not working for Mubarak, although such abuses certainly took place under his watch.  These events took place under the jurisdiction of the provisional government.  Will they continue to occur?  Who will stop them?  Will they prompt Egyptians to vote for a more religious order, a rule of Shariah law?

Egyptian women are incredibly strong and determined.  Witness Dr. Nawal El Sadaawi, the determined feminist who founded Global Solidarity for Secular Society and who has been working to liberate women for more than fifty years.  Dr. Sadaawi argues that women need more than what passes for “democracy” in the modern world.  Women will only be free when the underlying roots of misogyny are broken apart and exposed to the light, where they will wither away.  Until men stop learning to demean, degrade, and condescend to women, the political systems that come into place will perpetuate these practices.

Sexism–prejudice–the unconscious or conscious belief that women do not have the same rights to self-determination, to subjecthood, to speaking out, to being visible, to making choices about their own bodies, to moving through public space independently, that men enjoy–this is the underlying cancer that destroys all societies.

Androcentrism, the mistaken belief that the world centers around men and that men should be in charge of women, is at the root of all other forms of oppression, because sexual difference is the first difference, the foundation of the awareness of self and other. Masculinism is a pernicious an evil in the European and American West as it is in the Arab world, and this is why feminists across the globe have reached out to one another.

Until we can learn to live with one another’s differences, whatever they may be (and they might be different ways of being male, different ways of being female, different ways of being sexual, different ways of interpreting anatomies and proclivities), until we can learn to stop forcing human beings to accept extremely rigid and narrow sexual roles (all women must…and all men will….), we will not be free.

The first step towards freedom, real liberty for women and for men, is to separate the state from the church, because nearly all world religions perpetuate the false belief that men are superior to women.   But as we have seen under Mubarak and Saleh and under every US president, setting up a secular government is not in itself enough to eradicate widespread prejudice and violence against women.

The only thing that will bring about the kind of change that we all desperately need is a feminist consciousness and a dedicated belief in the political, economic, psychological, intellectual, and spiritual equality of women.  The revolutionary action that thousands of Egyptian and Yemeni women have taken in the past months has done a lot to remind women–and women are the ones who most of all need to believe, to embrace this truth–that they are inherently as valuable as human beings as men, and that all women and all men, including gay and transgender and bisexual and cross-dressing women and men, possess the same rights to self-determination and social power as the dominant, heterosexual men who currently dominate global politics.

The argument I am making here should be clear:  thousands of lion-hearted women and feminist men have stood up to oppression in general, and against women in particular, across the Arab world.  It is wonderful to see Dr. Saadawi and Ms. Karman get the recognition they deserve after their years of struggle against and persecution by their governments.  I also salute Saida Sadouni, the Tunisian feminist “widely hailed as the mother of Tunisia’s revolution, a living record of her country’s modern history and its struggle for emancipation” and agree with Soumaya Ghanoushi, a writer for the Guardian who argues that Arab women have shattered Western prejudices of submissive, veiled women and

refuse to be treated with contempt, kept in isolation, or be taken by the hand, like a child, and led on the road to emancipation. They are taking charge of their own destinies, determined to liberate themselves as they liberate their societies from dictatorship. The emancipation they are shaping with their own hands is an authentic one defined by their own needs, choices and priorities.

Yes, all of this is true.  But it is also true that revolution may bring about a change in regime but not a change in deeply rooted attitudes towards women, not only in the Arab world, but here at home.  Feminists in Egypt and Yemen have been working hard to bring about truly egalitarian change for many years.  I support them and hope that their cause remains in the spotlight, because their cause is our cause.

Sufism May Save the World


Did you know that “Sufism provides answers to some of the most complex issues in the contemporary Muslim world, where youth comprise the majority of the population”?  This is great news.  Listen to this:

Moroccan youth are increasingly drawn to Sufism because of its tolerance, its fluid interpretation of the Qur’an, its rejection of fanaticism and its embrace of modernity. Young men and women find in the Sufi principles of “beauty” and “humanity” a balanced lifestyle that allows them to enjoy arts, music and love without having to abandon their spiritual and religious obligations.

As an American theologian explains,

Sufism or tasawwuf, as it is called in Arabic, is generally understood by scholars and Sufis to be the inner, mystical, or psycho-spiritual dimension of Islam. Today, however, many Muslims and non-Muslims believe that Sufism is outside the sphere of Islam. Nevertheless, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, one of the foremost scholars of Islam, in his article The Interior Life in Islam contends that Sufism is simply the name for the inner or esoteric dimension of Islam.

After nearly 30 years of the study of Sufism, I would say that in spite of its many variations and voluminous expressions, the essence of Sufi practice is quite simple. It is that the Sufi surrenders to God, in love, over and over; which involves embracing with love at each moment the content of one’s consciousness (one’s perceptions, thoughts, and feelings, as well as one’s sense of self) as gifts of God or, more precisely, as manifestations of God.

But Idries Shah still best defines Sufism:

In Sufism, the shortcomings of the dictionary are exposed perhaps more strikingly than in other fields…A Persian dictionary…says: ‘What is a Sufi? A Sufi is a Sufi”–and succeeds in rhyming the entry: Sufi chist?–Sufi Sufi’st.  This is actually a Sufi quotation.  The compiler does not believe in trying to define the undefinable.  An Urdu one says: ‘Sufi refers to any one of numerous special, but successively necessary, stages of being, open to humanity under certain circumstances, understood correctly only by those who are in this state of ‘work’ (amal); considered mysterious, inaccessible or invisible to those who have not the means of perceiving it.

I find this very hopeful.



Naked Truth


Nuda Veritas, Gustav Klimt

The quotation from Schiller, “Kannst du nicht allen gefallen durch deine Tat und dein Kunstwerk, mach’ es wenigen recht; vielen gefallen ist schlimm,” loosely translated, reads “If your deed and your art do not please everyone, do it as well as you can; pleasing everyone sucks.”

The painting scandalized bourgeois Viennese art viewers because it shows pubic hair.  I see a woman, possibly dangerous, possibly vulnerable, and probably blind.  She stands bare before the viewer, holding a lamp, like a sage, a prophet who leads the way to the truth.

She also resembles the Hermit, the the ninth trump or Major Arcana card in most traditional Tarot decks:

This card is also associated with Joseph Campbell’s description of the hero who “ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons” (The Hero with a Thousand Faces).  The Hermit has gone into the darkness, or the desert, and returned wiser, like Jesus, or the Buddha.

Klimt’s Hermit directly confronts her spectators, looking not at them, but rather within. As in the Tarot, she represents introspection, silence, spiritual knowledge achieved after much suffering.  She is wisdom.

A story  tells of an old hermit who carried a lit lantern around the village and the area day and night, even in daylight. One day the villagers had enough curiosity to ask him “Sir, why do you carry your lantern lit in daylight?” He said, “Because I’m searching for an honest man.”  Nuda Veritas, presenting herself wholly, nakedly, innocently, demands to know which among her detractors is so free from failure that he or she may cast the first stone.

In the Bible, Wisdom is also a woman:

Wisdom speaks her own praises,

in the midst of her people she glories in herself.

She opens her mouth in the assembly of the Most High,

she glories in herself in the presence of the Mighty One…

Alone, I have made the circuit of the heavens

and walked through the depths of the abyss.

Over the waves of the sea and over the whole earth,

and over every people and nation I have held sway. (Ecclesiasticus 24: 1-7)

Wisdom also comes to humanity through a woman.  Genesis 3:6: “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.”  In the Book of Wisdom the narrator, allegedly Solomon, refers to Wisdom as the “designer of all things” (Wisdom 7:21) and says

Although she is alone, she can do everything;

herself unchanging, she renews the world,

and, generation after generation, passing into holy souls,

she makes them into God’s friends and prophets;

for God loves only those who dwell with Wisdom. (Wisdom 7:27-28)

Wisdom is identified with the creative, shaping power of the deity as well as with divine understanding, Reason.  But in Klimt’s picture, the figure represents a wisdom gained through blindness to the world and faithfulness to one’s inner sight.  She stands before us, utterly vulnerable to our gaze, and utterly indifferent to it.  She attends to something other than the voice of the crowd, the world, the critics.  Like Sri Nisargadatta, who said,

All you need is already within you.
Only you must approach yourself with reverence and love,

Klimt’s hermit heroine urges us to say, with her, “I am,” in word, deed and art, and to accept nothing less or more than that.

The Author on her Book


I have just thrown away an entire dumpster full of notes and essays related to the book that I’ve been working on for more than 10 years and that I am having some trouble giving up. I have carted these papers around -from Arlington, Virginia to St. Louis, Missouri, and then on to Pittsburgh and then to Washington, DC, and then to Los Angeles and London. Many papers came back with me from the British Library, where I spent eight hours a day for three months going quietly mad.  These flew home with me to Pittsburgh and some came out to Santa Barbara the summer after my father died and I had to clean up the estate while crawling out of darkness.  I tossed whole chapters, whole years, into the bin.

I feel somewhat as though I’ve just had a miscarriage, or as though I’ve just forced myself to accept that the fetus was dead and I no longer even wanted the child.  I’ve been carrying it, mostly formed, around inside of me for so long, and I’m finally coming to terms with the truth that it has stunted my intellectual, professional, and emotional growth.   It has been a permanent dis-ease, a burden I could not put down, an illness I could not give up.

I put everything else aside–my painting, my political activism, my genealogy hobby, my cooking, my gardening, my social life, my health–in order to “focus on the book.”  For  years after I stopped believing that anyone would ever read it, I’d say to myself: I will do that when the book is done.   But it was never finished!  I didn’t particularly burn to write it, either.  I’m not sure I ever did, but maybe I have forgotten.   It was simply what I had to do, the hoop I had to jump through, in order to get to the next level in my profession.

No book no tenure no job no income no respect no self-esteem no identity no self no thing.

Or so the chain of associations seemed to go.  My entire self-image became fixated, frozen, limited, fetishized, like a shrunken head. It hung leadenly around my neck and bent my back.  I should be rejoicing, not grieving, for I am like Christian at the gate to the Delectable Mountains.

Writing a book and getting tenure are both very fine goals, especially if one is writing a book that one passionately wants to publish, and if one feels well-supported and nourished, in all possible ways, at the tenure-granting institution.  In my experience most people write books because they must, not because they have an important message to share, and spend most of their lives in a state of self-aggrandizement and anxious paranoia.

Still, I am melancholy.  My book was my art for many years, and I am very fond of it.  I think lots of it is very, very good, and innovative, and interesting, and I do burn to share it.  But I do not know quite how, just yet.  I haven’t thrown out all the notes–I’m far too much of a packrat and a historian and a collector to do that.  Perhaps I’ll share it with you here, in pieces, as poems.  Or I’ll publish it privately.  Or send it down a well, or create a massive collage and hang it in my living room.  Or have it compressed and made into a bench.  Or shred it with cheese and make omelets.  Or beads.  Or stepping stones to the next destination.