Al-Anon


Just back from my first al-anon meeting.  Mostly women, mostly 40+.  One woman, whom I liked especially, let it be know that her husband was in the next room with 37 years of sobriety.  How depressing.  They’ve been going to AA meeting for 37 years, and that is why they are still married?

What bugs me most about the whole AA/Al-anon program is the god stuff.  Every single person who spoke today talked about god.  One woman said that the only way she could get through each day was by praying, to god.  Who, she then said, has everything planned out, and therefore all she needs to do is trust in “HIM” and things will be fine.

What a philosophy!!! To believe there is a “higher power,” a being, a MALE being, who has set it all up exactly as we find things, and who loves us, and that is why we are all suffering so much.  More unbelievable is the notion that one has only to trust in this god, and “let go” and all will be well.   In other words, one has absolutely no other responsibility for one’s existence and that of one’s children and loved ones but to thank god endlessly for being there.  The utterly illogical assertion that this god has also allowed things to go absolutely haywire intentionally–the wars in the Congo, where children are raped and forced to murder daily; child sex trafficking in Pittsburgh and other fine cities in the U.S.,; wars from which our young people return irrevocably damaged by trauma; the Holocaust; the genocide of the Armenians; the persecution of women who dare to think for themselves in countless countries across the globe; the devastation of the environment and wildlife; the slaughter of elephants for their tusks and wolves for sheer greed and bloodlust–all of this has been preordained and meant to be…and we humans should simply sit back and thank god and feel grateful for all that “HE” has done for us.

There is absolutely no evidence for a creator of any kind, and the concept of a god, or gods plural, is mythological.  So I find it exceedingly taxing to sit among a group of credulous human beings who tell me that all my problems and worries will be taken care of if only I have faith in what I could never possibly believe in.

I tried to open my heart and mind and listen to these people.  When they mentioned “god” I consciously attempted to make the leap between my notion of breath, or ruha, or life-spirit that abides in the universe, being, with their concept of god.  I found many of their comments moving, especially when they referred specifically to their individual worries.  They did not share much in this vein.  Most of the discussion tonight appealed to me quite a bit, since it concerned their thoughts about what the phrase, “one day at a time,” means, and nearly everyone spoke about their efforts to stay in the present and to be happy with what they could be happy about, in spite of all their cares.  I was moved to tears on more than one occasion.

I could not join in with them, not even on this abstract heart-open to open-heart space level, with them, when they recited the Lord’s Prayer at the end.  I know this prayer by heart, as they say, and can speak it without thinking, as I did when I was five.  But now that I am in my fifties, I’ve had a long time to think about it.  Aside from all the “thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory,” business, which is perfect hogwash, there is also the particularly disturbing line, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive those…”, which is often translated as “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  The language is financial, having to do emotional and social/spiritual obligations that have, since the very earliest Church fathers, such as Augustine, been construed in terms of money, property, exchange.  The ancient idea is that god, this mythical deity, allowed humans to live in exchange for their perpetual bond to him (this deity having been imagined as masculine, since the culture that produced this myth was patriarchal), which would only be paid off, redeemed, as the term went, when the human fulfilled his or her duties sufficiently to be reunited with the father, had paid off the original debt, which came about at birth.  It’s a fairly bizarre way to understand the relationship between humanity and a creator, but the concept has been with us for a long time.  It comes from our history of enslaving one another, and selling girls or women to men as “concubines” or “women” (there is actually no word for wife or marriage in the early scriptures). Not a pretty history.

I’ve written extensively about this in my unpublished manuscript, not that that makes any difference right now.  The point is, all of my intellect rebels against the mythological beliefs that underlay al-anon.  Believing in a creator god who has benevolently dispensed all that has come to past, including my son’s tremendous lostness, forlornness, and profound pain, psychological distress…this is not going to help me.  This DOES NOT HELP ME FIGURE OUT HOW TO HELP MY SON OR MYSELF.

Still, I’m not giving up. There are no secular groups in Pittsburgh.  I need to talk to other parents who have gone through what I’m going through.  I need help.  My partner doesn’t want to talk about it.  He doesn’t want to talk about anything “dark,” as though by refusing to countenance grief and sorrow these emotions will simply never occur.  I’m profoundly lonely.

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.

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.

Thinking about Rape and #Lara Logan


While it is tiresomely predictable and lamentable that the knee-jerk reaction to the rape of a woman journalist has been to blame the victim, it is more distressing to me that so few commentators on the commentary have discussed the cultural conditions that permit and even encourage men to prove their manhood by beating, raping and violating women.   Over the many years that I have taught English to university undergraduates and graduates, I’ve been discouraged and stunned by the number of women who refuse to call themselves feminists and who adamantly insist that they have never been the victim of discrimination on the basis of gender.  A primary objective of most of my courses has been to show them how deeply misognynist and masculinist American culture is, and how we still live very much in a culture of rape. I have written about that here in relation to the Congo and Ben Rothlisberger and also recommend this article on the subject.

Misogynist means “woman-hating,” of course.  Masculinism is the arbitrary belief that masculine beings and characteristics associated with masculinity are superior to feminine beings and characteristics associated with femininity.  For a discussion of gender as a construct, please see this article.   We live in a masculinist culture in which many men are taught that they can only prove that they are masculine and superior to other people by dominating weaker persons, especially women.  Rapists violently and sexually assault their victims’ bodies and minds, often inflicting tremendous physical and emotional pain, in an effort to gain an illusory sense of themselves as powerful and manly.

They many people who blame a rapist’s victim for bringing the violence upon herself are also violently assaulting women, often including tremendous emotional pain.  This is not physical, but, rather, symbolic violence.  Violence inflicted through words that convey a deeply-rooted scorn for women as well as for all male beings who don’t measure up as “manly” in a masculinist culture.

Here what Echidne of the Snakes has to say about the case:

For what this is about:

On Friday February 11, the day Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak stepped down, CBS correspondent Lara Logan was covering the jubilation in Tahrir Square for a “60 Minutes” story when she and her team and their security were surrounded by a dangerous element amidst the celebration. It was a mob of more than 200 people whipped into frenzy. In the crush of the mob, she was separated from her crew. She was surrounded and suffered a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating before being saved by a group of women and an estimated 20 Egyptian soldiers. She reconnected with the CBS team, returned to her hotel and returned to the United States on the first flight the next morning. She is currently in the hospital recovering.”>

I wish her full recovery from the assault. I hope that she approved the publishing of these details by CBS.

Now for the topic of this post, disgusting as it is: The comments wherever the sexual assault is discussed, especially on non-moderated comment threads. The majority of those comments are the vilest of the vile. Here is an example for those who wish to wade in the filth themselves. I advocate a Hazmat suit and excellent mental health as prudent precautions.

The loathsome comments are of two major types: The first type describes Muslims or Arabs as animals and so on. The second type, the one I’m going to analyze here, consists of victim blaming. It is Logan’s fault if she gets assaulted, in short.

There is a third type, too, which is about the desire of the commentator to join in with the gang rape of various too uppity women in the public eye or a wish that some other female celebrity had been assaulted instead.

And what about the victim blaming? Let me count the ways:

1. This experience teaches women that there are jobs women just cannot do. They get raped if they try and should stay at home, reporting on high school football games. I include that example because I came across it three times in the first 200 comments linked to above. Thus, women can be reporters but only about something which doesn’t let you advance very far in your career or truly compete with men. And the reason is not the women themselves but what can be done to them by some men. Thus, it is the victim who should pack her bags and go home, while the assaulters don’t get told to do that.

2. This experience teaches women that gender equality is impossible and that they should accept it and not to try to horn into the military services, for instance. Sorta like vive la difference but from a misogynistic point of view. Something like a sexual assault is Just The Way Things Are, and we should all be reminded of the value of traditional gender roles. Except, of course, in the case of Muslims who shouldn’t have them.

3. Logan is good-looking and blonde. She should expect to be assaulted under those conditions.

4. She dresses seductively. She should expect to be assaulted under those conditions.

5. What happened to her was a proper revenge for all her years of spouting liberal dogma and her assumption that she can just flit about in a man’s job.

Comment threads to posts about sexual assault will get a large number of comments from disgusting individuals, naturally, and I am not arguing here that what I describe would be based on a random sample of all readers of the piece. But even given the biased sample, the number and quality of the comments makes me want to give up my membership in the human species. Though people with the opinions I have outlined already think women are not full members of the species.

It is not just the comments threads which are full of woman-hating and inhumanity. Check out this post to get another eyeful of victim blaming.