Gamble Everything for Love


The Sufi poet rumiRumi (1207-1273) ,who was known as Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhī (Persian: جلال‌الدین محمد بلخى‎) and Mawlānā/Molānā  (Persian: مولانا‎) wrote:

Gamble everything for love,
if you’re a true human being.

If not, leave
this gathering.

Half-heartedness doesn’t reach
into majesty.  You set out
to find God, but then you keep
stopping for long periods
at mean-spirited roadhouses.

working


ImageI drove home with groceries from Costo, arriving at 1:30 pm, with dread and sorrow in my heart, worrying that he, they, would still be sleeping.  I have this bad habit, or sense that is true, that it is the girlfriend who drags him down, and who keeps him up late into the morning hours, and who prevents him from following his normal diurnal rhythms.  Surely many if not most mothers have had these suspicions about girlfriends who don’t quite measure up.  I am not proud of myself.  But it was with dread that I came up the back steps into the yard, and with surprise that I greeted y son, standing on the ladder, scraping away.

He has taken a job from me to earn money to help pay his way where he lives.  And the job is not as easy or as quick as the thought it would be.  And he took his time getting to work. But he did get to work, today, before I got home, and he worked steadily at it, all day, taking occasional breaks from the sun and the heat.  And when he thought he was done and I pointed out that there was way, way more to do, he didn’t complain, but set about the work, and worked well after dinner time, until just now, 8:20pm.

I told him, “hey, that was good work.  You worked hard, and I’m proud of you.”  He was tired and heading for the shower.  It was the first time in a long time that I have complimented him in a way that he could and would accept.  He took it in and acknowledged the good in him. Because he knew it wasn’t bullshit, knew I wasn’t trying to build up his ego.  He worked hard and got the credit for it, and that was good for him and for me.

It is a platitude but there is nothing like honest work, done well and appreciated.  I felt we both succeeded tonight.  Small steps. Perhaps you would laugh at me–or at him–because you don’t understand how difficult it can be to do anything at all when you are depressed, and how even the smallest movement feels like an achievement.

Nothing is more difficult to treat than depression, because depression is an illness in the brain, a faulty logic, a disaster in the motherboard of the brain, a crossing of circuits that no genius can fix.  We don’t understand it, depression, and therefore we have nearly no sympathy for it.

On Pantanjali, the Self, and why I practice and teach yoga


The aphorisms composed by the Hindu siddha guru Pantanjali, who flourished in India during the second century B.C.E., are among the oldest and most revered scriptures of yoga teachings. Yoga was originally a practice of meditation designed to awaken higher consciousness about the universe.  In the Sutras, Pantajali explains that the purpose of yoga is to “disarm the causes of suffering and to achieve integration” of the self with the universe (Yoga-Sutras of Pantanjali, translated by Chip Hartranft, Sutra 1-9). Ignorance of one’s true nature is the source of suffering (dukha), he says.  This ignorance (avidya—lit. “not seeing”) is an inability to understand that there is no such thing as a separate, individual self.

The concept of an isolated self, or ego, is a construction, produced by experiences and reinforced by cultural conditioning.  In other words, the “I” is the sum  of conditioned responses to experiences—good and bad—that reiterate the false impression that there is any other way to be.  One imagines that one’s self is always either an active agent or passive victim, the hurter or the stricken.  Resistant to change, the “I” dwells in the inertia or tamas, stuck in a polarized sense of a self that exists only through the experience of opposition, of “me” vs. “them”, “self” and “other,” as well as in false notions of the self as divided into similarly opposed arenas of “goodness” and “evil,” “acceptable” and “unacceptable.”

To move past this dukha, suffering, born of avidya, ignorance, we need to engage in action, Kriya.  But energetic effort is only useful if it is expended in the right direction, towards sadhana, realization.  Thus, for example, action taken in response to anger or guilt or self-righteousness will not take us where we want to go.  It leads into more suffering, not away from it.

In 2.12-16 Pantanjali considers the causes of suffering (samskara), which can either affect us immediately or lie dormant for a while.  A dormant or latent cause of suffering can be activated by a weaker, more trivial experience of unpleasantness, which allows the older “root” to erupt and overwhelm the mind and body.  Yoga helps us to break down this conditioned experience.

Moving through the postures (asanas) day after day, week after week, we experience the impermanence of all emotions, abilities, and states of being.  Some days I am strong.  Some days I am weak.   Most days the practice of yoga itself allows me to tune in to what I am experiencing.   When my mind and body, reason and emotions, are integrated, I recognize that my “self” or sense of an “I” is not fixed or even definable.   Rather the “I” is a pattern of consciousness that shifts and moves continuously, always in response to one thing or another.

The regular tuning into the body and the mind through practice allows me to distance myself from my habitual understanding of myself as a “self” existing in opposition to an ‘it” or an “other.”  Thus I recognize that we are all connected beings.  My experience of aversion, or opposition, to others itself is a fleeting body/mind energy, a pattern, an acquired habit of interpreting reality, and not necessarily a necessary way to be.

Image

Gelek Rimpoche

Tibetan Buddhist lama Rimpoche Nawang Gehlek relates a wisdom from seventh-century Indian pundits, who said “You can look carefully at suffering itself to see if it can be corrected or not.  If it can be corrected, put all your effort into correcting it.  If there’s nothing to be done about it, why be unhappy?  The unhappiness only adds more suffering to the suffering.”  Like the Buddha, who lived approximately 400 years before him,  Pantanjali recognized that suffering is unavoidable.  Like the Buddha, he also believed that “suffering that has not yet arisen can be prevented.” What does this mean?  Hardship, pain, dukkha, is unavoidable, but we often add to our own suffering by shooting what the Buddha called the “second arrow.”

The Buddha once asked a student, “If a person is struck by an arrow, is it painful?” The student replied, “It is.”The Buddha then asked, “If the person is struck by a second arrow, is that even more painful?” The student replied again, “It is.” The Buddha then explained, “In life, we cannot always control the first arrow. However, the second arrow is our reaction to the first. The second arrow is optional.

The first arrow is the suffering itself, however it came about.  We experience a loss, someone is cruel or rude to us, we experience an injustice or a trauma.  We cannot control that, but we can control how we react to the first arrow.   If beat ourselves up about how we feel, if we blame ourselves for being weak, or indulgently feel very sorry for ourselves, we shoot the second arrow at ourselves.

We don’t have to do this.  Why do we do it?  Because we are conditioned to think of the self, the “I” as a fixed and determined entity.   If we simply accept the suffering, acknowledge that it is there without imagining that this particular experience of suffering somehow defines who the “I” is, we can prevent extra suffering.

The conscious, patient, focused practice of breathing and moving through asanas allows us temporarily to step aside from our punishing habits, the products of ignorance, avidya, and to glimpse what it feels like to refuse to send the second arrow.

I don’t agree with Pantanjali that the goal of yoga is to allow purusha to see itself (2.20), or to realize some absolute truth about existence.  My practice of yoga does not carry me further towards salvation or to the understanding that the “phenomenal world exists to reveal” (2.21) “fundamental qualities of nature” (2.19), which exist somehow somewhere else, in some abstract realm of purusha, perfect, “pure awareness” (Hartranft, 27).

No.  For me, yoga is both a means and an end, a dynamic method of awakening whereby we understand anguish (dukha), let go of its origins or causes, realize that dukha ends, and cultivate the path, the method of awakening itself.

As Stephen Batchelor, a former Zen and Buddhist monk who now leads a secular Buddhist group in England, writes,

The Buddha was not a mystic.  His awakening was not a shattering insight into a transcendent Truth that revealed to him the mysteries of God.  He did not claim to have had an experience that granted him the privileged, esoteric knowledge of how the universe ticks.”  Buddha did not found a religion.  He taught a practice for actively awakening, an ongoing, conscious effort to free ourselves from habitual impulses and irrational, false illusions.

This is how I understand yoga.  Yoga is an ongoing, conscious effort to awaken, not to any particular truth, but rather to free ourselves from the need for fixed truth.

My intention is not to proselytize or preach, but rather to guide people to find sthira and sukha, strength and ease, to “come home” (as Tara Brach likes to say) to whatever is actually going on in the body and mind by moving, breathing, stretching, and resting in various positions, asanas that stimulate awakening.

Of Gods and Humans


I’m watching Of Gods and Men.  It’s about a group of French Trappist monks who chose to stay in their community rather than flee to safety during the Algerian civil war.  They were kidnapped in 1995 by terrorists, but their death was never explained.  Some have argued that Algerian soldiers killed them during a botched rescue attempt.  The first part of the movie shows the monks selling their own honey and vegetables in the market, offering medical care and advice to the locals, who are mostly Islamic.   When fundamentalists come to their town, the town leaders come to consult with the monks.  When the terrorists come closer and begin to kill all foreigners, the monks refuse military protection.  The Algerian army, in fact, is just as brutal and violent as the terrorists.   This beautiful movie highlights the monks’ incredible forbearance and dedication to peace.  It is a portrait of truly peaceful Christian practice, so unlike the practice of our mostly Christian, elected representatives, who wage war around the world and who never cease to find reasons to kill and main and destroy in the name of freedom.  But the film also highlights the peace and love that are central to Islam, as well, showing the daily lives of the people, their friendliness, their vulnerability, and their civility.  The terrorists are presented as men at odds with Islam, men who hardly know the Koran and who have a simplistic and militaristic interpretation of scripture.  They are not unlike those among us who vote for bombs and landmines and hatred for people who don’t worship the same god.

Since I have returned from Nepal I have reclaimed my sense that we are all united in a great web of being, of aliveness and no longer identify myself as an atheist.  Love is our greatest resource, the power most essential to our nature as well as the link between us all.  We are not singular and cut off from one another.  We only exist with one another, in relation to one another, and the relationship that we have with one another when we are being true to ourselves is loving.  We are true to ourselves when we treat each other with love and compassion.   Everything else about us—guns, violence, hatred, oppression, war—is against our truest nature.

Since I have embraced this essentially spiritual way of understanding the world, which was always very basic, if buried, in me, my attitude towards other believers, especially Christians, has changed.  I’m no longer angry.  I still disapprove of the many heinous crimes that Christians have committed and continue to perpetrate against other people.  I still dislike the masculinism underlying the Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam), the ancient and arbitrary division between Self and Other that recognizes men as subjects and women as objects, but I have given up the burden of burning indignation.  My fury and resentment hurt me more than objects of my fury.  As Donna Farhi relates, “harboring resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”

The Dalai Lama was asked how he could feel loving kindness for the Chinese, who invaded his country, destroyed most of the monasteries, murdered thousands of Tibetans, and were continuing to repress and eradicate his people and culture.  He was silent for a long time, and finally answered that he distinguished between the act and the agent.  He could repudiate the actions of the Chinese but still feel compassion for the Chinese agents who brutalized his people.  They are suffering greatly, after all, because they have strayed so far from their true nature.

I am learning to separate terrible acts from their agents, who deserves my compassion. Patriarchalism and masculinism injures all of us.  What difference does it make whether we acknowledge a creator or not, if we all honor the essential divinity of the cosmos and dedicate ourselves to loving kindness?

I have felt a great deal of regret for my often disrespectful attitude towards other people’s faiths.  I was not always kind to my former partner Tim, who probably would have been a priest or monk in an earlier era.  He is well named.  Timotheus means lover of God.  His spirituality was one of the things that drew me to him most, so it is ironic that I should have dismissed his belief in Christ as his savior so rudely and thoughtlessly as I did at times.  I do not share his faith, but I respect it and identify with him as a person of spirit, a person who actively searches for deeper meaning.  He understands that we are not here simply to indulge our selfishness, but that we have souls and that our lives have greater significance.  Our different ways of understanding the divine should not divide us.  We are all looking for the same sense of refuge, belonging, and love.  That Tim and I were unable to find it with one another is sad, but not tragic.  Nothing lasts forever, and what we had was very important and beautiful.  Our love has not disappeared, it has only changed, shifted in focus.  It is not always easy for me to hold onto this truth, and it takes real work, prayer, and discipline to get through the tough moments.  I feel sadness, grief, and pain.  But I also feel lighter and freer as I let go of my attachment to him and discover the deep roots of my love for him, my sincere desire for him to be happy and well.   It’s going to be hard to pay my heating bill this winter.  I keep catching myself searching for quick fixes, as though a new romance or compelling passion will soothe the discomfort I feel facing the future alone.  The answer, the solution to my longing and unease in this world is not going to be found outside myself, not in another person, not in a new relationship, not in a new accomplishment, not in a more sculpted body, not in the publication of books, not in the acquisition of a well-paying and glamorous job, but rather only through a slow and steady practice that brings me in tune with my true self.

My true self is not the crazy tangle of thoughts and emotions that continuously run through my mind, nor my ever-changing body, but rather the silent, neutral witness of my experiences in the world.  It is this quiet aliveness, this prana, the shimmering vitality that I share with all other sentient beings, the life-force that courses through the forests, the oceans, the mountains, the rocks, the sun, the fiery core of our planet, the rivers, the plains, all plants, all organisms, even the stars themselves, that is my truest ground of being.  This is what Rainer Maria Rilke calls “the infinite ground of our deepest vibration.”  As he wrote,

Be in front of all parting as though it were already behind you,

Like the winter just gone by.

Because among winters is one so endlessly winter.

Only by over-wintering does your heart survive.

Be and know at that time the state of non-being,

The infinite ground of our deepest vibration

So that you may wholly complete it this one time.

Sonnets to Orpheus, 11.13.

Nepal: Microcredit, Politics, and the Professor


Temples to Shiva at Pashupatinath

13 June  2011 Around 8pm. Well! What an astonishing day.  After I wrote the bit above I went to the women’s center, where I mostly observed Dalina, a volunteer from the Czech republic, teaching a small group of women to write and speak some English words.  Their English is rudimentary but still better than my Nepali, and I think that the experience will be mutually beneficial.  After Dalina finished her lesson, we started a conversational role-playing game which brought us all to the floor laughing.  Then I met with Tej, the director of VSN, to discuss how I can best use my time here.  He would like me to teach in their school because of my credentials, but I prefer to spend my time developing and expanding their women’s program.  I have proposed that we set up a microcredit loan program for poor, unattached women.

Because family connections are everything in this society, a woman who has no husband and who has somehow become disconnected from her relations almost always finds herself in a very vulnerable economic situation.  Laxmi, for example, our cook, has never been married, has no children, and no family or village connections to help her.  She was living with some relatives, but, as best as I can understand, they moved to American and left her homeless.  She came to Sugandha, who arranged for her to live nearby and to cook for the family.  He does not know much more of her story because she has worked for him for a little more than a month.  He has promised to sit down with both us to translate while I ask her questions about her life.

Laxmi is precisely the sort of women whom I would like to help.  There are many women in similar situations—some of them have fled abusive husbands, others have been disowned for some act that the family considers dishonorable, and others have fallen on hard times through other means.  Tej seems to be quite excited about this project.  Obviously, we have much more to discuss, since neither of us has any experience with microfinance.  I welcome any suggestions from you, my readers.  I will be researching the topic and making an effort to learn as much as I can.

There is so much for me to learn here, my brain sometimes feels as though it will explode. Today, for example, began and ended with a lecture from two different men, Sugandha and a professor of American literature, philosophy, and religion, whom I met in a local shop, about Hindu cosmology and the caste system.  Both of them emphasized what must be an elementary concept, namely that there can be no life, no generation, without death and destruction.  The Mahadeva, or great god, manifested himself in three forms, Brahma, the creator, Vishnu, the protector, and Mahesora, sometimes also known as Shiva, the destroyer.  Shiva is by far the most popular god, as far as I can tell.   He is figured with snakes and a trident-like staff.  There must be thousands of temples to Shiva in Kathmandu, and in every one of them Shiva is represented by a ligna, or phallic stone.  So, the bringer of death and destruction is also the god of the sex act that brings life into being.

Linga in temple to Shiva at Pashupatinath

Shiva is often seen with Parvati, his wife or lover, sometimes in an explicit sexual embrace.

Vishnu and Parbati at their temple in Durbar Square, Kathmandu

The apparent contradiction between life and death is also seen in the important goddess Kali, who is a manifestation of Durga, the great mother goddess.

Kimberly Kali

The delightful professor whom I met in what we call the general store is called Baikuntha, which means “heaven,” Poudel.  He looks to be about 58 or 60, with short, steel-colored hair, tan skin, high cheekbones and large, dark eyes.  He is smaller than I am, about 5’ 4, sturdily built and still quite fit.  We struck up a conversation about his studies of Native American mythology, and I gave him my card.  He  invited me to his home, where his wife served us some cucumber slices and banana.  She brought us sweet lemon tea when we went up to his study, which was a light-filled room at the top of the house, where there were three single beds pushed against the wall.  One of them was covered with stacks of books, the others were scattered with pillows and were obviously designed for lounging and reading.  There were more books on shelves in an adjoining room.  We knelt in on cushions on the floor, directly facing one another, and talked about yoga, his current fascination with Chinese culture and language, and  the current political situation in Nepal, which is very uncertain and flammable.

The country is still reeling from a ten-year civil war between the Maoists, who rose to power in the hills, and the Nepali army, which owed it allegiance to the King.   The war ended in 2006, after more than 14,000 people died.   In 2008 the Maoists won an astounding victory in the Constituent Assembly elections, winning over a third of the total seats and forming a bloc larger than either of the other political powers, the Congress party and the Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML).  A Hindu monarchy was declared a secular republic.  Since then feuding between the former adversaries, the Royal National Army and the People’s Army, as well as party in-fighting and corruption all around, has prevented the government from writing a new constitution.  The deadline for a final constitution was set for 28 May 2010 came and went and still the politicians could not cease fighting amongst themselves.   A crisis about this dire situation was recently averted when lawmakers agreed to extend the deadline for yet another three months.  I will still be here when that dates arrives.  Since I have been reading about this stiutation online and in the newspapers, it made me happy to find someone knowledgeable with whom to discuss it.

What I like best about Baikuntha, perhaps, was that he is the first Nepali person who had the nerve to complain about the infernally loud music that has been blasting into the neighborhood for the past eight days.  It was an enormous relief to meet someone else whom the noise was driving insane.  He was also humorously disdainful of the priest and all the “ridiculous activities” that have been going on at the makeshift temple.  He said that the priest was preaching a narrow and imprecise interpretion of the Vedas that could appeal only to the most uneducated Hindu people who think that, in order to be good Hindus, they need do nothing more than dumbly listen to Sanskrit verses that they cannot understand, cover themselves with red powder, dance a bit and go home.  This confirmed my own sense, when I sat for an hour or so among the priest’s swaying acolytes, that they were alarmingly glassy-eyed.

According to the professor, true spirituality requires a great deal of thought and questioning, and does not consist in blindly following a dogma.  I agreed with him, but he did most of the talking.  He also very generously invited me to stop by his house at any time to visit him, or to share meals with his family.  He even said that I could live with them if I wanted to.  I very politely thanked him and said that I was happy at Sugandha’s house.

After our conversation in his airy study, he invited me to Nepali tea at the local tea shop, and that is where he answered my questions about Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, and the caste system.  I found everything he had to say very interesting.  As he explained it, uneducated Hindus believe that caste is a permanent, inherent condition, but in fact a person born into a Brahmin caste who does not act like a Brahmin can easily degenerate into a Dalit, or untouchable, whereas a person born into the Dalit caste who behaves ethically and strives to do good in the world, to work on behalf of others, will be reborn as a Brahmin.  Nevertheless, he also said some to my ears uncharitable things about the fourth caste, the Shudra, to which my very generous and kind hosts, Sugandha and Sova, as well as the director of VSN, Tej, belong.  He naturally was born a Brahmin, as his surname indicates.

This conversation took place in the café, which sits on a corner and open on all sides to the street.  As we perched on stools and drank our hot tea in the humid afternoon, Nepali children passing by would interrupt the professor’s lecture to say “Hello!  How are you? What is your name?” to me.  I get this greeting nearly everywhere I go.  It always comes with large smiles and usually with a hand or two, or four, outstretched to shake, and I always stop to talk.  Baikuntha didn’t seem to mind, and picked up everytime exactly where we left off.  One little boy simply stood and stared at me for about 10 minutes.  Perhaps he was trying to understand our conversation.  Nepalis are unabashedly curious, and do not hesitate to ask strangers their age, marital status, and weight.

At any rate, I am tremendously happy to have met Baikuntha, because I know that I will learn a lot about Nepali culture and politics from him.  He has already lent me one book, on the “art of tantra,” which is a serious spiritual practice and nothing like what most Westerners assume.  I want to read it to understand the discrepancy between the highly erotic art on many of the mandirs, or temples, and palaces, and the sexually repressed contemporary society.  He has offered to lend me more so that I can learn about the multitude of Hindu gods and goddesses and better comprehend how Hinduism and Buddhism coexist in Nepali society.  He has also promised to bring me to the university and has also invited me to give a lecture in one of his literature classes.  The only thing that displeases me were his rather prejudiced opinions about the Shudra caste, which contradicted all that he had said about the fluidity of character.  Since I had just met him, and he had been so kind, I did not challenge him when he disparaged all Shudras.  I will have to ask more pointed questions the next time we meet.

But here is how he left me today.  He said that it was remarkable that I had given up my job as a professor and come to Nepal to volunteer.  And that if I stayed and studied the culture and the language that this a alone would be a great achievement.  It was nice to hear.

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!

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.

Dr. Nawal El Sadaawi: Brave Egyptian Feminist, in Liberation (Tahrir) Square


“I feel I am born again,”  Dr. Nawal El Sadaawi told an American reporter, who bumped in to her in Tahrir Square.  The 80-year old woman along with thousands of other peaceful demonstrators, was planning to spend the night in the square.  Like everything else she has done, this was a brave and bold decision.  Mubarak’s monsters, the secret police, were then roaming the streets with nail-studded boards, hunting photographers, journalists, and human rights activists, and beating anyone who tried to make it into the Square.

Dr. Sadaawi, a fierce feminist, novelist, medical doctor, psychiatrist,  has faced down imprisonment, death threats, attempts to strip her of her nationality, and the persecution of her family, all in the name of liberty for all human beings.   For nearly half a century she has campaigned against female genital circumcision– genital circumcision (a bloody practice in which a girl’s clitoris and inner labia are sliced off with a knife, often without painkillers).  Because she spoke out against this barbaric practice, and published a non-fiction book, Women and Sex, in 1972, that mentioned it, the Egyptian Ministry of Health fired her from her position as Director of Public Health.  The government charged her with crimes against the state and jailed her for three months in 1981.  Death threats in 1993 forced her to flee her country. She returned to Cairo in 2009.  Since then, officials frightened by her thoughts on religion have attempted, unsuccessfully, to strip her of her nationality and forcibly to dissolve her marriage.

She has long advocated the separation of church and state, arguing that religious beliefs oppress women and impede democracy.   She founded the Global Solidarity for Secular Society out of her conviction, which I share, that religion should be separate from all public education and laws.   In an interview with The Guardian, she explained,

I am very critical of all religions…We, as women, are oppressed by all these religions.…

There is a backlash against feminism all over the world today because of the revival of religions…We have had a global and religious fundamentalist movement.

And what does feminism mean for her?

For me feminism includes everything…It is social justice, political justice, sexual justice . . . It is the link between medicine, literature, politics, economics, psychology and history. Feminism is all that. You cannot understand the oppression of women without this.

One of the most remarkable things about the phenomenon taking place in Egypt right now–and across the Arab world–is that the movement has no clear leaders.  What drives it is not a set of rules, or laws, or religious commands, but rather a something much deeper and more humane than this, something deeply human, the longing to be free, to be able to live peaceably with one another, to embrace, to love, to work, to eat, to walk, to be alive in the world without dictators, or oppressive rules that crush the spirit, without barbarism.  The people, men, women, old, young, have come together to celebrate the beauty of their connection to one another as Egyptians, yes, but also as human beings, each one of whom has an inherent right to dignity, to liberty, and to think for one’s self.

When asked, in 2009, why she continued to write and speak out so controversially, in spite of the persecution and the violence that has been her reward, Dr. Saadawi said,

I cannot stop. There is no way back.

The people of Egypt are calling for their freedom.  There is no way back.  The will die for their liberty.  How can we not support them?

Tawakul Karman: Brave Muslim Feminist Arrested in Yemen


Tawakul Karman at an anti-government rally outside Sanaa University. Photograph: Khaled Abdullah/Reuters

What is happening in Yemen and why should we care?  Tawakul Karman, a feminist activist was arrested today for her role in student demonstrations against the government last week.  She and her husband, Mohamed Ismail al-Nehmi, were making their way home yesterday evening when the police came for her.  He has no idea where she is.  “Maybe at the central prison, maybe somewhere else, I don’t know.”

Tawakul Karman is the president of Yemen’s Women Journalists without Chains and a member of the Islamist opposition party, Islah.  She has frequently criticized the brutal, militarized government of Ali Abdullah Salah, who has dominated Yemini politics since 1978.

With two civil wars, an Al-Qaeda presence and 40 percent unemployment, what else is President Saleh waiting for? He should leave office,

she is reported as saying in Yemen Post.

Karman has led sit-ins every Tuesday to protest the government’s repression of civil rights, particularly women’s rights.  She has called for “allocating 30% of the posts of governors, cabinet members and ambassadors to women and establishing a binding law ensuring a fair and equitable share in legislative assemblies for a real participation of women,”[Source: Hiwar] and has attacked the Minister of Information for persecuting the media in general and for attempting to prevent her organization, Women Journalists without Chains (WJC), from publishing a newspaper and sponsoring a radio, in particular.   She has also advocated taking off the veil.  In a recent interview by WJC, she said:

I discovered that wearing the veil is not suitable for a woman who wants to work in activism and the public domain. People need to see you, to associate and relate to you. It is not stated in my religion [Islam] to wear the veil, it is a traditional practice so I took it off.

Until today, her outspokenness has brought the usual intimidation.  In that same interview, she stated,

I was threatened to be imprisoned and even killed. So far, the threats have not been fulfilled although I consider that taking away my right to expression is worse than any form of physical violence.

Will we hear from Tawakul again?  Probably not, unless the international community speaks out.  The government of  Ali Abdullah Saleh is not friendly to women  dissidents.

On January 13, 2011, just ten days ago, government security forces fired live bullets and molotov cocktails into a peaceful demonstration of women in Hadramawt and Lahij provinces. Security forces killed Nouria Saleh Maktoof, by running her down.  They severely injured Zainab Shakir Bin Thabi with bullets in Hadramawt province, and maimed Nathra Salih with bullets in Lahij province.  [Source: Women Journalists without Chains]. WJC condemned these acts:

The organization announces its full condemnation of the oppression and assault perpetrated on the peaceful demonstrators by the security forces, and considers it state violence directed against women, and a grave violation of the fundamental right of citizens to assembly and freedom of expression, which are basic human rights. It considers this state terrorism and official state violence clashing with all local and international agreements and charters guaranteeing these rights and Yemen’s pledges to respect and protect these rights

These are very strong words, words that clearly make the government of President Saleh deeply uncomfortable.  But will they be heard?  What change can women activists like Tawakul Karman and her sisters in the WCJ really bring about?

What is going on in Yemen is not that different from what has been happening across the Arab world for the past 40 or 50 years.  A long-entrenched government of quasi-secular dictators whose power depends on the military, propped up by western powers, now faces a passionate outburst by its long-oppressed populations.  Unfortunately, the voice of these justly angry people is not the voice of Tawakul Karman, which is currently in danger of being snuffed out in some dark prison, but rather the voice of Islamic fundamentalism.

I’m not quite sure why Karman has allied herself with Islah, which is also known as the “Reform” Party in Yemen.  The official name of this political party is  “Yemeni Congregation for Reform” (al-Tajammu‘ al-Yemeni lil-Islah), which was established shortly after the 1990 unification of North and South Yemen,  “to be a lively continuation of the modern Yemeni Reform movement and a framework for all who seek to reform and change the current situation to a better one guided by Islamic faith and Shari’a.” [Source: "Political Action Program of the Yemeni Islah Party", cited by Anahi Alviso Marino].

Any government that is founded on a religious platform, even a Buddhist platform (look at what the Buddhists have done to the Tamils in Sri Lanka), is going to end up persecuting someone, particularly women.  Consider the transformation of Iraqi society since our catastrophic invasion.  Women who used to work and move through society in secular clothing have been banned from their jobs and forced to cover themselves with the hijab and burqa.  A similar, tragic  transformation took place in Iran.

To point out that a turn from a secular-tribal patriarchal state, such as existed under Saddam Hussein or Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, to a religious patriarchal state, is a tragedy is not to say that military dictatorships or autocratic states are good for women.  Clearly, they are not.  My argument is that the people will never be free as long as the women are oppressed, and women are always oppressed under religious leadership.

For the last 10,000 years most of the religions that have grown up on this planet have centered on masculine deities and been dominated by male priests, who helped to entrench patriarchal forms of government.  There have, of course, also been many dissident women who have resisted their disenfranchisement, but most of these women have been silenced or controlled and prevented from making any serious challenge to the universal ideology of patriarchy, which states that men are superior to women.

I understand that women feminists and democrats who have been raised within a religion find it difficult to leave it.  And in many countries, including our own, it is simply not possible to make any headway as a politician without espousing the dominant religion.  And yes, I can see the wisdom of a moderate approach, which works to reform a society from within its major institutions, whether they be Islamic or Christian or Hindu, as a means to appeal to the majority of the people.   I can admire reformers who take this path, but I can’t consider this a very clean path.

It’s simply not intellectually honest to sign up for a religion, any religion, that in word and practice continually reiterates the falsehood that masculinity is superior to femininity.

So, we should care what’s happening in Yemen because, like many modern Arab states, it is politically halfway between autocracy and democracy and civil unrest could tip it into theocracy.  The recent calls for greater democracy and freedom for all the people, which are heard all across the Arab world these days, are likely to usher in a “Reform” movement and a religious government, or a theocratic “republic” in which the mullahs and the ministers will suppress women like Tawakul Karman.  Such an outcome would be a terrible irony, of course, since Karman will have helped to bring about the revolution.   We should not support such a revolution, but rather should call for greater democracy and civil rights for women within a secular government.  We should not make the same mistakes in Yemen than we have made in Iran and Iraq.

Tossed in the Waves: Bikram Day 38


Oy!  Yoga kicked my asana today.   I did two classes in a row, beginning at four this afternoon.  Throughout the first part of the first class, I felt sick to my stomach, but found relief by finding my eyes in the mirror and repeating my mantra, “I am.”  In the second session, I felt so dizzy that I had to sit down several times.  Again I found my eyes in the mirror and said to myself, “I am.”  It’s a pretty powerful mantra, as Nisargadatta Maharaj found out.  (And no, I’m not religious.  I agree with Christopher Hill that God is Not Great and that religion poisons everything.  But I also find peace in this simple, secular statement.)

Why was I so tired?  Getting up at 4:30 this morning might have had something to do with it.  Only one train travels non-stop from Pittsburgh to DC and it leaves at 5:20.  My son needed to board it, so I drove him down there.   It wasn’t so bad after we got out the door.

Toxins, mostly residue from sugars, probably also slowed me down today.  I missed yoga yesterday because I had to drive my son’s friend down to McKee’s Rocks in the morning. And since it was my son’s last evening in Pittsburgh, and I don’t get to see him very often, I chose to have dinner with him instead of going to the night class.  I knew I could do a double today.  It was nevertheless not wise to eat mashed potatoes (his favorite) and pasta (my favorite) instead of green vegetables and fish.  Nor was it sensible to indulge in the candied nuts I make very year, or in two glasses of wine.

I don’t regret the wine.  It was a marvelous Bordeaux, dry and round and musky in the mouth.  I do regret the carbs and the sugars.

It’s true what my yoga teachers say every day–that daily practice helps the digestion and keeps the blood sugars regulated.   But it also helps to settle the heart and emotions.   According to my teacher this evening, stress is harder on the body than sugar and other not necessarily healthy things that we ingest.

Today was stressful.  Not because I got up well before sunrise; not because I haven’t been sleeping well for a week.  Not because I’ve been indulging my love of fatty, starchy, and sugary food.  Today was stressful because I parted–only temporarily–with my son.  He’s lived far away from me since he was six years old.   We have a good relationship because we have both made an effort to know each other.   He seems to have adjusted fairly well to the separation, and now that he’s in college it is obviously common and normal to live on his own.   I, however, seem to have a deep wound.  Like an old war-injury, it aches and troubles me, sometimes more, sometimes less.  I know the pain is old, not really relevant to the present.  It’s an emotional reflex, a resurgence of sadness, of loss, of inconsolable heartbreak remembered, that triggers when I have to let him go again.

This dark wave that breaks over me brought me under in yoga today.  I am not talking about something that exists only in my head, in thoughts, in memories, but rather a physical experience, a somatic condition.  The mind and the body are connected.  What makes it bearable, insofar as it is bearable, is that I know that it is just a wave.   I know that I’ll go under and that the current might tumble and toss me more wildly than I might expect.  I also know that if I just go limp during the worst bits, and swim when the surge begins to abate, that I’ll come up and through and out.  The wave will recede, and I will get back on my feet.

I’m feeling rather beached now.  But I still love the ocean.

Can we talk about race? On Obama and Tony Porter.


There is a lot that is right about Tony Porter’s “A Call to Men” speech, also a lot that is wrong.  See also the website. What is right is the message.

I like what he says.  I preach what he preaches.  I want my son to hear this.  I want him to memorize every word.  But I’m bothered by the racial undertones.  How do you respond to them?  Did you notice them?  Did they bother you?  Do you know why?  I’m trying to figure out why they bother me.  ESPECIALLY because I like the message.

What creeps me out is that the deliverer, the prophet, is preaching to mostly white women of a certain class.  It’s called “A Call to MEN” and here’s this black guy calling to an audience of mostly white women.  The camera searches and searches for the random dark-skinned women, as though to say—“see!  he appeals to black women!  we can prove it!”   What’s up with that?

Alas, he corresponds in some ways to racist stereotypes that liberals have.  We aren’t a bit surprised to find out that he grew up in the “tenements” of New York City, since, after all….he’s Black, and that’s a romantic image for us Northerners, in a sexy West Side Story way.   But also he’s astute, and right (as in correct, as in just) and he is in fact delivering the truth about gender relations.  He’s a boundary-transgressing animal.  He makes us uncomfortable.

His message about gender may be a truth that has been obvious to  you since you were born, or maybe only after a revelation, in a college film class, for example.  You got a dose of “good news” which meant not “the news that Christ was born,” but rather, “a refreshing dose of rationality in a sea of violently emotional and sometimes frighteningly violent thinking, a.k.a. the Truth, or its closest approximation so far.

News.  He spreads it.  It is good.  But the context in which he dispenses (his seed?) troubles me.  The gender relations of this gender-conscious video bother me, actually, much, much more than its race relations.  I thought I was going to see a rally from a man to men, some kind of masculinist ideology-fest at which men were reinforcing with one another, muscling themselves up in defense against the feminizing threat of wimpy-ness or small-penis-nes.  So I tuned in.  It sounded fun.  But what I got was this quite different animal.

What do you think about it?  Can we talk about race here?  Does the race problem cancel out the feminist message?  Do you think it is important to talk about race and gender at the same time?  I do.

I mean, surely that was one of the greatest things that our president did for the nationwas to talk about race relations (A More Perfect Union), which have been brutal, indecent, and hard to comprehend, in our country since its founding.

The Europeans who landed here, in search of gold and slaves, neither of which they found, slaughtered thousands of natives deliberately, with swords, and by accident, with disease, in the 1500s.  So we Americans were founded in violence, pestilence, and fear.  And greed.  Yes, also in hope, in a search for freedom from interference by other people with whom we don’t agree. But that quite liberal inclination to seek liberty was not strong in the first settlers who got themselves established here–they were much more repressive and intolerant than most Americans learn.  With the goodwives looking on approvingly, the venerable Fathers of Massachusetts burned people at the stake.  They whipped Quaker women naked down the streets; they tarred and feathered; they ostracized; they publicly humiliated.

Not all the European invaders were English or Protestant, of course.  They were far more diverse than most seem to know.  They were Dutch; they were Swedish; they were French; they were Spanish.   They were also Natives of that continent, whose ancestors wandered, we think, from the Bering Strait.  They were Asian but also maybe Russian and Sami, too.  When you start moving back, you realize there is no single blood line, no such thing as a “pure” race; no such thing as race.  No such thing as native.

Our family history is rich and complicated.  But violent.

Here’s the problem: The”democratic spirit,”  the spirit for freedom, seems to have gotten tangled up with the spirit for imprisonment.  It seems to have gotten involved with bizarre theocratic notions of American male supremacy, of Judeo-Christian mythology about Adam and Eve; and religious intolerance. You think we’ve evolved?  Today’s Puritans have no compunction about compelling their fellow citizens to accept major infringements of their civil liberties without a whimper.  These people who use “freedom” like a weapon, a blasphemy, these people who claim to be the “moral majority,” who want to put women back into the kitchen and the kindergarten, these “men’s rights” groups and “white rights” groups, these devils who claim to be angels, …THESE are the people who have mastered the game of self-representation, of marketing, of selling the soul, selling the SELF, self above all, in our country?  These people who want to give the top 2 percent of the population the greatest tax benefit?  How did they sell that one?  Why are still selling it?

We’re the center of capitalism, why has the left let the right control this market?  We live here, too.  We, too, know how to sell the self to get ahead.  We’re just as good, we think, at the game.  Except we’re not.  We’re not making any progress lately.   What is wrong with us?

It’s the age of the internet; yet people are lazy.  They mostly want to be fed.  So.  FEED THEM.  Get the slogans out there; advertise, throw all your creativity into the project.  OUT PERFORM them.  What has gone wrong?  Are we stuck in the 18th century? Don’t we know how to sell knowledge?

Don’t get me wrong.  I admire the President.  It matters that we finally elected a man who defines himself as a Black man.  And he is a great man, a well-educated man, an eloquent man, a philosopher, an intellectual (he’s practically French–he’s our Jefferson!).  He’s thoughtful.  He’s a feminist.  He’s by all accounts enlightened in his views about women, race, class, ethnicity.  He gets an A plus for human rights.  He won the Nobel Prize.

I like him.  But why isn’t he standing up against intolerance and bigotry with greater strength?  What, in fact, is the difference between fundamentalist Christians and fundamentalist Muslims?  None that I can see.

What is good, in Barak and in Tony, is the turn towards the light, the truth.

Too many people seem to think is that the truth is fixed. Therefore. once they find what they think it is, they freeze it in time, and won’t let it move or change with the flow of history and events.  We call these people fundamentalists.

But really the truth is not fixed.  It is continually in flux, like an amoeba or an energy.   It is always changing in response to historical events taking place in a specific environment.  These might be events that have uncertain and potentially cataclysmic, world-altering consequences.   Like, for example, if Ahmadinajhad and his cronies were to get possession of the nuclear bomb and to set it off.  World-altering.  But who would you fear more?  I’m-a-dinner-jacket or Rick Santorum?  Mike Huckabee?  Mitt Romney?  Re-read The Handmaid’s Tale.  Say hello to our possible future.  We have to overcome our unwillingness to embrace the product, to sell “the truth.”  We need positive slogans.

Or do we?  We can’t predict events.  But we can predict the way that we respond to them.  Do we escalate the violence?  Or do we master ourselves?  Could we ever really master ourselves as long as we were trying to dominate an Other? Isn’t this the message and the method?

What is Gender?


The people in this cartoon are “doing gender.”  What does this mean? What is gender?

Gender is an embodied social program, an ideological construction of the body that we do not simply perform in language and gesture,

but also inhabit and experience somatically (from the Greek, soma), in the body .

Gender is durable, although not inevitable, because it is produced and reproduced through symbolic and physical violence that privileges a purely relational, yet rigid, conception of masculinity that is sustained over against rigid conceptions of femininity.

The privileging of masculinity over femininity is wholly arbitrary–it makes no sense and might just as easily have been reversed, had certain factors in our history been different.

The patterns according to which we have interpreted our anatomies and behaviors come from culture, not nature.  Gender is a historically constructed way of responding to biology, sure.  But it is also a historically determined way of responding to  established practices of culture.

Historians and evolutionary psychologist believe that the invention of agriculture made an enormous impact on the way that human beings think about masculinity and femininity.  See, for example, the work of Christopher Ryan.

Gender is enforced and reinforced through symbolic and physical violence.  We all undergo a certain degree of symbolic violence, and we experience it directly whenever we “apply categories constructed from the point of view of the dominant to the relations of domination, thus making them appear to be natural,” as Pierre Bourdieu explains in his stellar book, Masculine Domination (p. 35).

So, for example, when women view themselves through the constructed categories of ideal femininity in, say, women’s magazines, and perceive themselves to be hideously fat and unattractive because they do not have the elongated and emaciated bodies of the models featured there, then they are experiencing symbolic violence.

Or, when we learn, from our parents, our media, our teachers, civic leaders, and preachers, that women are less able to do math or philosophy or auto mechanics or law than men, and unconsciously choose believe these fictions, and make choices in our lives because we have accepted them, then are experiencing symbolic violence.

We see ourselves through the categories that are present in our culture. And because our culture is patriarchal, organized according to a scheme of perceptions in which things masculine are considered to be higher or better than things feminine, the categories (for example, categories of the perfect female body) through which we see ourselves are also the expression of that patriarchal order.

When we see ourselves according to these paradigmatic ways of understanding “woman,” we are victims of symbolic violence.  The culture doesn’t need to beat us up–we do it do ourselves every time we compare ourselves to these idealized images of starvation or hyperbolic nymphomania and find ourselves wanting.   We learn to think about ourselves as second, less important than men. We also learn to fear that if we do not look as though we are continually hungering for men, that they will not want us.

This, of course, is complete rubbish, since no one but an absolute ass wants someone around who slavishly caters to their idiotic desires.  And yet there are so many men who can’t seem to stand women who assert themselves, and so many women who slavishly cater, or who spend inordinate amounts of time preparing themselves to be the objects of men’s desires, and little or no time thinking about what their own desires really are.   There are also plenty of men who can’t seem to imagine that women have any legitimate desires whatsoever.

Gender works through a series of oppositions.  Men know themselves as “men” only insofar as they can declare or prove that they are not “unmen” or women.  Over against a denigrated Other, men set themselves up as men, as subject, as powerful, right.  Just as light knows itself to be light only in contrast to darkness, so masculinity is defined over against femininity.  There is no such thing as absolute masculinity or essential masculinity, just as there is no such thing as absolute or essential darkness, or absolute “down” that exists in and of itself without the concept of “up.”  Similarly, men habitually define themselves as men only in opposition to women.

But instead of understanding a reciprocal or equal relationship between men and women, we tend to set ourselves into hierarchical relationships.  That is, we understand gender as an order in which masculine always takes precedence over feminine.   But this doesn’t make any sense.   There is a reciprocal relationship between up and down, or hot and cold, or dry and wet.  You cannot think one term without the other.  That understanding makes it possible for you to see both ideas as concepts, mutually determining ideas, but not as a hierarchy.

(every wonder why the light half is usually on top?)

Yet we generally do not understand these sexual oppositions as mutually dependent and equivalent, but rather as a superior-inferior relationship, in which masculinity is always superior to femininity, always “above” that which is “below” it.  This is false thinking, an illusion of reality that has been enforced by symbolic and real violence.  Women who have defied it have been punished, branded as whores or sluts or witches or monsters or hags.  They have also been subjected to physical punishment, to beatings and rapes and mutilations and murders.  Think of Anne Hutchinson,

or wise women, or people you may know of extraordinary autonomy and intransigence who, because they have refused to play the part of the “good” woman within the patriarchal order, have been slapped down or destroyed.

Fear of Writing


fellow wordpresser relates that she typed in “fear and writing” and that a lot of stuff came up.

She didn’t explain what came up,, or what prompted her to google “fear and writing,” but she did say this:

A friend and I laugh about how it’s gotten that not only do you have to write a book, you’re expected to edit it, market it, and then pulp it too. You certainly have to know exactly what shelf it’s supposed to be on.

The stress and frustration comes when the mind refuses to participate.

The fear, of course, is that we will not be able to pull off all of these different tasks, which used to be shared between various people.  And that fear taps back into the anxiety that most of us picked up when we were children, when, no matter what we did to please our parents, we were still not good enough.

Now, it appears that the writer of this blog and her friends are non-academic writers, but the anxiety she describes about presenting her work as a commodity in the marketplace before it has even become a thing, a work of art, a symbolic expression, a statement to the world, affects scholars as well.  She writes,

The marketing buzz has gotten out of hand. We are trying to market before we’ve even created. And there are writing books that actually say don’t type a word until you know your audience. Don’t let a thought fill your head until you know who you’re going to sell it to.

Although we academics and the upper-echelon university administrators for whom we work like to pretend that we transcend these petty concerns of profit and interest, although we claim to be engaged in the pursuit of truth and knowledge, the realities of the market affect us, too.  Whole books are stifled because presses are increasingly under pressure to publish only what they think they can sell.  And who wants to read an academic book other than other academics?

A friend–I say “friend” although the trust on which a friendship is built has yet to be established–let us say, the husband of a friend of mine, a man who is the child of academics and who spent long years working in academia, recently said to me, when I told him that I was still plugging away on my book,

Why?  What is the point of writing something that no one, or maybe five people will read?  What are you writing it for now that you know you’re not going to get tenure at X?

He was not exactly encouraging. I, however, was prepared for him and answered that I believed that I had a contribution to make, an original argument that deserved to be published, and that it meant something to me to express it.   Then he asked me if I had anyone reading it, an editor or fellow-writer to bounce ideas off of.  When I said that I had sought such a helper in vain, he responded,

In my experience people who don’t have a reader cannot finish their books.  You simply can’t do it.

Okay, so this really irritated me in that way that a microscopic piece of glass under the skin of your index finger irritates you. And it deflated me to a certain extent because I have heard this same refrain in my mind for years and years. And yes, to a certain extent, the echo still reverberates.   This person seemed to be encouraging me to give up and admit that I had failed and would never finish the work that I had been working on for so many years, the book that I had originally envisioned completing in two or three years.   But for some reason I didn’t hear him saying this.

When people say things like this to me, what I hear is that they would like to write and are afraid to do it.  If they can convince me to give up my project, that will justify their decision to give up theirs.  This sort of statement only comes from someone who has bought into the whole, ridiculous belief-system that a person is only real once he or she has published a book, or made a fortune, or conquered a country, and so on.  What they–we–are all afraid of is of being scorned, or ignored, or somehow evaluated as inadequate.  And this fear probably comes to us not only from our childhood, from our parents, who projected onto us their feelings of failure and unworthiness, which they experienced in their own relationships with their parents and their cultures.

This is an old, old fear, passed down from generation to generation.  But it is also a new fear, one that we encounter when we enter into the market as writers and believe that what we are selling is somehow a part of ourselves.

I do not know how to write without understanding my writing as a part of myself.  I know that lots of people do grasp this.  Popular authors invent or copy a formula and reproduce it in a fashion that is sure to sell.   I also do not know how to write without feeling the pressure to sell what I am in the process of writing, of expressing.  It’s not possible to be a writer who expects or needs to get published without being subject to market pressures.  And this is as true for scholars as it is for popular writers, for novelists and poets and self-help manual-writers.  It is not possible to create art, to be an artist, without being conscious of, or in some fashion under,  the force, the influence, of commercialism. We live in a commercialized world.

Hell, we are all forced to become capitalists.  Or we are if we are wise.  In this economy, saving money in a savings account or CD simply pays so little that, after the effect of inflation, the value of our money actually DECLINES.  We think about what is happening to our wealth as a sum, a number, in nearly every decision we make–when we decide to rent instead of to buy, when we decide to buy goods of any kind–milk, paper, educations, lawnmowers, sheep, art, companions– at exorbitant prices or at the bottom of the market.   And in our particular economy (as opposed to say, earlier forms of society, when economic values were largely held in land and people and animals, as opposed to in money and stocks), it doesn’t pay to save money without figuring out some way to make that money grow.  People don’t keep gold coins in chests anymore.  People didn’t used to believe that money could make money.  They also didn’t used to approve of lending money for interest, or of deliberately paying a person to produce a commodity a fraction of what you know you’ll get when you sell that commodity in the market.

So, we think of our selves as body/minds for sale–newscasters and politicians nearly always have to be physically appealing to succed.  And how many obese, female CEOs do you know?  We sell ourselves, our skin color, our education, our reading list, the newspapers we subscribe to, the cars we drive, the labels we wear, the dogs we care for, the accomplishments of our children, even our most intimate companions, our lovers, our wives, our husbands, these things become attributes, aspects of our abstract portfolio, our virtual net worth.  We are not evil or bad or selfish, inherently,  for thinking this way.  It’s our culture.  It’s all we’ve ever known.

So of course writing–and all art–is subject to market pressures, the need to know who your audience is, and how to market it, and where to try to sell it.  And yes, the people who are best at promoting themselves as commodities are in fact the people who make the most money.  They’re not necessarily the best at what they do.

Okay, so in very few instances, they are.  Mozart was good at selling himself, and he was great.

You could say that even the idea that we are writing for reasons other than material need is cultivated and promoted in the market as a way of trumping up the value of what we produce.  This “true expression of the spirit” is what we covet, what we as buyers want to purchase.  We put it on our bookshelves and on our walls when we are rich.

And yet there is somehow the drive, the insane push to formulate some kind of analysis or narrative of something or other, purely for sake of expressing it.  This is the same impulse that we are all under to “be creative,” to find some means of representing our “inner selves.” This, of course, cynically viewed, is just another way of buying into the idea that there is an inner self that could be expressed.

Still, there is something more than this, too, a need to contribute, to get into the conversation, with other people who also care about the past and who want their scholarship or their novel or their craft or skill to explain things in a way that will make a difference.

In the past, people like Milton believed that this wish to generate art, or to have a job best suited to his or her capabilities, was the yearning of God to show himself (Milton believed that God was male) in the world, to communicate with his creatures.  This was a radical idea, believe it or not, compared to the older belief that people worked in the fields and the stations to which they were born; they didn’t even have a concept of individual desire, inclination, or talent for one thing or another.   We are all subject to this longing–not just the writers among us, but also those of us who work in business.   In corporate culture more than anywhere, in fact, the pressure to be “creative” is felt.

I am still thinking that this may be a universal longing in the human spirit, even though I don’t actually believe in transhistorical longings on the grounds that our desires are constructed and sustained in historically specific environments.

Tara Brach writes and speaks about an ancient Tibetan wisdom which teaches that the divine abides in everyone.  She tells a classic tale about a monastery that has fallen on hard times.  There are only four monks left, and they are all old. The community is not thriving, and they have no ideas for how to continue.  One day the abbot goes to visit a rabbi.  He tells him that he is extremely worried about the future of the monastery, and asks if the rabbi has any suggestions for how to plump up their membership and coffers.  “No, I can’t think of any way for you to plump up your membership and coffers,” the rabbi says, “but I can tell you one thing.  I can tell you that one among you is the Messiah.”

The abbot is astonished to hear this and relates the news to his brethren.   Once they learn that one of them is the Messiah, the monks begin to treat one another with an extraordinary courtesy.  And an extraordinary change comes over the monastery, a light of kindness seems to glow in the faces of the monks, and bye and bye word gets out and new monks come to share in the extraordinary community.  Soon so many new members have come, the monastery swells and thrives.  All because each of them believed that one among them was the Messiah.

So Tara Brach interprets this tale according to the Tibetan wisdom that the divine inhabits each one of us, and that the god or goal we seek is already here, within us, and that our true nature is love.  This is not so different from the advice of my fellow blogger, Nina Killham, encourages us all to ignore the market and write out of love.  Love is the main ingredient, she says, of what we ought to be writing.

That’s nice.  But in fact we can’t ignore the market.  Nevertheless we could try to write out of love, not fear.  Fear comes to us, seeps into us, through the market, which transforms each of us into small children needing to be accepted and valued by “parents”–our audiences, our publishers, our critics, our rejectors, our deniers–who don’t give a shit about us, who have not entered into anything like a dignified and loving relationship with us, and who never will.

What I suggest is what Tara Brach would suggest.  Let us all put our hands upon our hearts and acknowledge with compassion the need to be loved, our longing to be accepted and valued–hell, not just valued, but SEEN, recognized, acknowledged–in this particular time-frame of human culture, and accept that this is.  Let us also see that we are seeing this.  Let us step above ourselves for a moment, and understand with love why it is that we need this, why it is that we fear writing, because of what it has come to mean for so many of us.  Let us find some way to write in spite of this anxiety, from which we cannot every fully come free.  Let us understand ourselves as writers with love, not fear, and try somehow to get across what it is that we need to get across, in order to have an intelligent conversation with someone, and to get a better sense of what it is that we are trying to understand.

under the radar


I hang out with a group of women in their forties and fifties.  A few of us in their sixties, and a few in their twenties.  What do we have in common?  You could mention loss, heartache, trauma, success, strength, chutzpah, charm, beauty, brains. You could say we are women who are awake.  What holds us together is our willingness to see one another.  To take the time, and to screw up the courage, to look one another in the eyes and see what’s there.  And to drop the masks, for a little while, to let go of the strictures and be as we are.

Okay, not everyone can or will do this.  There are probably only a few of us doing it.  And even we are only trying to drop the masks, the space-suits that we wear around ourselves and call our personas, our identities.   Isn’t it because we know that these identities are not who or what we really are that we spend so much time playing?  trying on different roles, parading, posing, acting, exaggerating, being the fool?  Isn’t this play-acting the origin of religion, of drama, of literature, of philosophy?  Or is it the other way around?

Last night I arrived in a low-cut dress and it seemed that everyone was ooing and ahing and making a big deal out of my  breasts.  Okay so I like my breasts.  Lucky that way.   But then my friends, whom I adore, and who delight me, got to talking about women they knew who had had implants.  The gauntlet had been thrown.  What else could I do but say that mine were “real and they’re spectacular.”  Ybethy got it instantly.  She’s quick.

But I got more revenge.  In a lucid campaign to prove that everyone’s breasts were beautiful, I started taking pictures.  At first I didn’t tell them that I was doing this.  I just aimed low.  But after a while it struck me that the photos would be better if I could prepare the subjects of these photos in advance.  So I asked the girls to pull or push or stick up their “girls.”  At one point I even reached in and tugged them up…all in the name of art, of course.

I think that was the moment at which someone said, “You’re a lesbian, aren’t you?”  I nodded, even though that term was not quite right.  I’m not averse to being lesbian, I just don’t think this word, big or little l, is the right term.   And no I’m not thinking tribade or some other alt. label.  There isn’t an acceptable term for what I am, or for what most people are, because our sexuality is not only what we can conceive of ourselves to be.  It is yet also something more, something in between the categories but really not exactly OF the categories.  Something in excess of them, if also them.

So I said I was “somewhere on the continuum.”

“Bixexual,” she said.

No.  Still not quite it.

“Something like that,” I said.  “I’ve always been this way.  I was born this way.”

And I wanted to tell the whole story.  But I caught myself before spilling out the whole drama, which she wouldn’t have heard.  I stopped.

How often do you meet someone who hears you?  Who listens and focuses on you long enough to grasp what it is that you are going through or trying to say?  And isn’t it a shock when you actually meet someone who stops and listens to what you have to say.  Who makes an effort to understand you, even if it is hard to do, and who tells you, silently, “you matter.”

If you find a person who listens to you, who really takes the time to pause and pay attention to what you are saying, who makes you feel as though you matter in the world, treasure that person as a gift from the heavens.  He or she is not a gift from the heavens, of course, but rather simply another human being in one place at one time.  Mortal.  Fragile.  Fallible.  But infinitely valuable, and good.

And if you know someone who is mortal, fragile, and fallible, but infinitely valuable and good, then by all means tell them how much you appreciate them by listening to them.  Don’t interrupt, don’t judge, don’t advise.  Don’t tell stories about yourself that their experience brings to mind.  Don’t blurt out the first thing that comes to your mouth, but hold it, and pause, and say to yourself, “O, I am thinking x and wanting to say it.”  And then go back to listening to the person you are listening to.

You must go at it with your whole heart, with a genuine yearning to understand, to hear, to learn about the other person.  You must be patient with your impatience, and resist the urge to speak.  You must let go of your needs for the time being, and become present, awake, and attentive, to the person you love.  Because you love them.  You need to hear them.

You want to hear them.  But you haven’t yet had the patience to hear them, not really.   They have even complained, “you don’t listen to me!  You never listen to me!”  Stinging words.  But it is okay.

We are so guarded, so continually on the watch for attack that we take on the nervousness as a mode of being and lose the ability to pause and listen curiously and patiently.  Nervousness is just a habit.  If we can never completely unlearn it we can at least try to become aware of it as an habitual, emotional response to a thought, or an habitual, cognitive response to an emotion.  It’s healthy to be skeptical about our thought patterns when we are under a great deal of stress.

But we also need to play.  We need to get up and dance in a bar with our girlfriends, who miraculously can belt out all the words to all the songs on the jukebox.  We need to laugh. It takes so much energy to pretend to be the people who we are not actually that we need to go on vacation a lot.  That is to say, our brains need to take breaks.  It’s so taxing to be continually processing and analyzing and enduring the incredible tedium with which we preserve our adopted personas.  We should cut ourselves some slack, but we should also cut ourselves loose.

I think I just figured out what is really meant by the expression, “cutting loose.”  It means cutting your marionette strings and being willing to flail about for a while, mimicking and soberly attempting to digest the various paradigms for understanding reality, but finally deciding to take another path, to a better destination.

Not death.

Arizona, Aliens, and Abortion


What do two laws recently signed by the Republican Arizona governor, Jan Brewer, have in common?  Both unreasonably invade the privacy rights of human beings.  Both laws treat some people as more “alien” and less human than others.

The most talked-about law, SB 1070, makes it a crime to be a woman (or a man) walking or breathing in Arizona without the right identity papers.   SB 1070 effectively legalizes racial profiling and definitively authorizes the police to require anyone–anyone at all–to show evidence that they are not “aliens.”  That word choice is sickeningly ironic, since fear and hatred  for people who don’t look, speak, and act the way that the dominant group thinks they should have inspired this legislation.  And it gets worse!  The law actually allows any Arizonan who thinks that the browner people in the State have not been sufficiently interrogated to bring a lawsuit.

The second law, SB 1305,  is being called a “mini-Stupak” and is the first in the nation to prohibit insurers in the state-run health care exchange “from providing coverage for abortions unless the coverage is offered as a separate optional rider for which an additional insurance premium is charged.”  Mcjoan, writing on the Daily Kos, notes that his bill

prevents insurers from offering abortion services, except under the most extreme circumstances, even if only private money were used to pay for those services. Most if not all women in the exchange would only be able to purchase coverage through an impractical, separate abortion “rider” or leave the exchange entirely and find coverage in the shrinking individual health insurance market. Since it’s unlikely that many insurers will offer abortion riders or that women will purchase them in anticipation of needing an abortion — in fact, “in the five states where abortion riders are currently required, no insurance company offers them” — the Arizona law will severely disadvantage poorer women who would likely have to pay out of pocket for abortion services.

Immigrants are often the poorest people.  This law makes it even harder for immigrant and other women of poor means to make their own choices about their reproductive health.  It effectively forces some women who have gotten pregnant to stay that way.

Let’s just forget about how economically foolish it is to pass a law that will result in the expansion of the very population that the xenophobic racists in the state would like to reduce, and consider the way that both laws invade the privacy of individuals.

Our legal tradition places an incredibly high value on bodily integrity.  Over 100 years ago, the US Supreme Court stated:

No right is held more sacred, or is more carefully guarded, by the common law, than the right to every individual to the possession and control of his [sic] own person, free from all restraint or interference of others, unless by a clear and unquestionable authority of law.  As well said by Judge Cooley, “The right to one’s person may be said to be a right of complete immunity: to be let alone.”

[cit. Susan Bordo, "Are Mother's Persons?" in Unbearable Weight(UC Press, 1993)]

The women and men who voted for the laws that Governor Brewer signed recently violate the basic right to “be left alone” that the Supreme Court acknowledged so long ago.

Anyone who looks like an “alien,” who doesn’t walk and talk in a way that pleases an Arizona officer of the law has now just lost the right to the possession and control of his or her own person and bodily integrity.  As Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ)  exclaimed,

This is a slide back on the rights of each and every American,…Arizona has become ‘a show me your papers’ state. I read the Arizona law, and it’s just replete with the type of broad descriptions that invite discrimination, that invite racial profiling, that invite violations of constitutional rights and civil rights.

The anti-choice legislation that Brewer signed makes it legal for insurance companies to  treat women as less than human than men, who do not need to sign any special riders for legal, medical procedures that can only be performed on men, such as a vasectomy, or treatments for testicular cancer.  Abortion is legal in the United States of America, and insurance companies should not be allowed to discriminate against women by treating procedures that only women undergo differently than procedures than only men undergo.

The Arizona legislation is designed to invade women’s privacy and to prevent women from exercising their constitutional right to terminate their pregnancies.

So are two anti-choice laws recently passed in Oklahoma.  The governor of that state, Brad Henry, a Democrat, vetoed both laws.  The legislature voted to override.  One of them requires a doctor or technician to set up an ultrasound monitor so the woman can see the fetus before she aborts it.  The doctor or technician must then describe its heart, limbs and organs.  No exceptions are made for rape and incest victims.  This legislation is designed to torment and punish a woman for exercising her constitutional right to choose.

The other law, as Governor  Henry explained, grants “a physician legal protection to mislead or misinform pregnant women in an effort to impose his or her personal beliefs on a patient.”  It protects doctors who withhold information about the disability or malformation of the fetus from suing after birth.

Let us not forget what the anti-choicers are after:  they want to force every women who gets pregnant, no matter how, to stay pregnant.

They want to the law to reflect their belief that women’s bodies are nothing more than incubators, and that a woman’s body, faith, rationality, psychological and/or physical well-being are secondary to the so-called “right to life” of a mass of cells.

This theologically driven agenda treats the fetus–or even a zygote–as a “human being” endowed with “rights” that override the rights of a living, breathing adult woman.   Susan Bordo refers to this way of thinking as the “subjectification of fetal being” that points out that it amounts to an attack on the personhood of women:

The nature of pregnancy is such …that to deprive the woman of control over her reproductive life–whether by means of involuntary or coerced sterilization, court-ordered cesarean, or forbidden abortion–is necessarily also to mount an assault on her personal integrity and autonomy (the essence of personhood in our culture) and to treat her merely as pregnant res extensa, material incubator of fetal subjectivity.

Anti-choicers who subscribe to this thinking deliberately disregard the beliefs, choice, health, and well-being of the mother while they elevate  the thing inside of her to the status of a “super subject” whose alleged rights supercede her own.

Anti-choicers treat the mother as the “alien” or the “thing” whose rights are less meaningful than the fetus inside. They  elevate their will and desires over the will and desires of those others.  In short, they regard pregnant women as “aliens” whose rights to breathe, walk, work, and make choices are non-existent in comparison to the rights of the narrow-minded people who  change the laws.

What have the people of Arizona have just shown us?  that it’s not just Mexicans, Latinos, and other darker-skinned people  whom they treat  as less than human “aliens,” but also women, especially mothers.