My parents’ marriage


Mom and Dad, laughing at Lake Arrowhead, circa 1956


My parents had a really happy marriage.  They met and fell in love in a Seventh-Day Adventist (SDA) high school in Los Angeles.   Basically good and good-looking, outdoorsy, kids, they rebelled against their church’s strict rules against drinking, smoking, and pre-marital sex.  Before they got hitched, at the frighteningly young ages of 21 and 22, they shared sleeping bags while camping out before the Rose Bowl Parade.  The early years of their marriage were hard.   My father was in medical school and worked 24 hours at a time in the hospital before going on to his part-time jobs at a gas station and a mortuary.  He didn’t have time to think, let alone feel.  My mother, though, grew lonely and depressed at her secretarial position and afterwards, trying to attend to four year-old me and my much cuter and quieter two year-old brother.  Just because we had been running around all day at our grandmother’s house playing with our uncles and cousins didn’t mean we were tired, or that dinner and the dirty house would take care of themselves.

Mom and Dad in matching Norwegian sweaters with my mother's brothers
Mom and Dad, before they got married, with my mother’s brothers and a snowy friend.
My beautiful picture

Mom and Dad, exploring gold mines and camping somewhere in California, circa 1957

The U.S. Army drafted my father right out of medical school and my parents opted to spend three years in Germany in lieu of two years in Texas.  Although it was difficult at first, especially since my father had to train for six months away from the family, the easier work schedule and social life that they found on the base gave my parents the opportunity to turn towards one another again.  Both of them enjoyed skiing and traveling and socializing with people from different cultures, ethnic groups, and religions. They explored Europe together, usually with my brother and me, but also alone or with friends.

My beautiful picture

Mom and Dad clowning around with their friends at a party on the base in Augsburg, Germany, circa 1966

I remember them laughing, but cannot think of a single time I saw them yelling or arguing at one another. Disagreements usually had to do with money—my father thought my mother spent too much on clothing for herself and the kids, while my mother complained that he spent too much on his sailboats.  He generally deferred to her in actually enjoyed spending money on her, because she was beautiful and elegant and looked great in diamonds.  She appreciated how hard he worked to pay for luxuries and went along with his enthusiasms, such as sailing, even though she never got as excited about it as he did.

My beautiful pictureShe enjoyed just being in his company, she said, even if he seemed to be ignoring her behind his computer monitor.  Both came from musical families that valued classical music.  My mother also liked popular songs but deferred to my father’s more intellectual interests in jazz and opera when they sat together in the evenings.  My father admired my mother’s taste in decorating, so if he decided what they did together, then my mother determined how the boat or the home they did it in would look and feel.  My father liked to jokes and my mother liked to laugh. She laughed at everyone’s jokes. Mum Dad & K

One of the most important lessons I learned from my mother is that one’s husband should be interesting.  “Your father never bores me,” she said.  He loved the way she rubbed his neck on long family car journeys.  While my mother probably dedicated more cognitive room to my father than he did to her, and was generally less able to discuss his feelings, she was emotionally intelligent enough not to read any irritation or frustration he expressed as an attack on her person.

Family Latta

Dad, Kari, Kimberly, Chris, and Mom, in front of our home, 1986

My father’s temperament was basically sweet, and both of my parents had strong, emotionally involved mothers, so it was easy  for him to accept her dominance in the household.  She respected his dominance in the business and financial spheres.  He wasn’t too keen on her wish for another child in her late thirties, but he went along with it because he loved her.   He also accepted very little responsibility for the nurturing of my sister.  “Joan, your child is crying,” I can remember him saying.

They accepted stereotypical gendered roles without buying into a philosophy of male dominance.  My father had some old-fashioned attitudes, but he respected intelligence and ability in women.  Both of them were strongly pro-choice.  They pursued different hobbies but generally practiced them together (Mom needle pointed or read while Dad puttered on the boat). Mom never did master the black runs and usually got cold long before Dad, but she was a good sport and headed out with him every day.

Mom and Dad on the slopes,  Sun Valley, circa 1979

Mom and Dad on the slopes, Sun Valley, circa 1979

Because my father’s job was so demanding, they had to learn how to entertain themselves separately, but they shared the same Southern Californian, SDA roots as well as the same dream of a healthy, happy, family in which parents and children spent a lot of time together outside having fun.  They planned a rich, relaxing, athletic retirement together, but that dream never came true.  My mother died of colon cancer after a short illness in 1990.  She was 54.  Dad remarried another woman from the same high school, but she was an altogether different sort of person and did not bring my father much joy.  Truly happy marriages are rare and precious.

Mom, as seen by Dad, on Freya, circa 1981

Mom, as seen by Dad, on Freya, circa 1981

My parents taught me a great deal about what a good relationship looks like.  Partners do well when they admire each other’s  interests and respect their different strengths.  I also think a man who bores a woman will soon lose her, no matter what else may offer, and that mutual admiration and toleration for one another is vital for long-term happiness.  My parents’ good marriage will always inform my interpretations of other relationships.  It will also help me, a committed feminist and apprentice psychotherapist, to see that even couples who adopt relatively rigid gender roles can share power equally and effectively.

Please Help Laxmi


Laxmi on the porch near the kitchen

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

I’m very worried about Laxmi, the woman who has been working at Sugandha’s house.  As I reported before, she was living with relatives in Pepsi-Cola until quite recently.  They moved away, leaving her homeless.  I do not know why they did this to her.  It is unthinkable for a Nepali family to abandon one of their own and yet it happens all the time.  Most of the children in the orphanages have been abandoned or rejected by their parents, usually their fathers.  Husbands abandon their wives when they become pregnant, or if the children from her body fail to be male. In this powerfully patriarchal culture, women do not count for much.

Laxmi came to the attention of VSN only because she has been attending English lessons at the orphanage, where the women’s group has been meeting.  She is my age, 50, very gentle and kind.  When she first arrived she had a strong, full-bellied laugh and a direct gaze.  Now, only a week later, she is withdrawn, downcast, and somewhat frightened.  She is also very, very anxious.  Sugandha arranged for her to live with her sister, but the sister’s generosity has expired, and Laxmi again has no place to sleep.  In my very broken Nepali and her weak English, I discerned that she will spend the night at a friend’s house tonight, and that the friend’s house is very far away.  Before she could set out on this journey, she needed to eat.  She receives two meals of dhal bhat (rice and a watery lentil soup) per day, at 10 am and at 8pm, after the volunteers have eaten.  For this she spends the entire day, beginning at 6 am, cleaning and waiting upon the family.  She has no source of income.  I would like to help her find a secure place to live and a more reliable and dignified way to earn a living.

I have donated an amount of  money to set the women’s group up in their own headquarters.  These funds will pay a year’s rent on a large flat.  I want this place to become a shelter for women like Laxmi, women who have suddenly found themselves cast out, good women who need help.

Right now the apartment stands empty.  We need to bring in furniture, a counter-top gas range, a refrigerator and basic household items. Most important of all, we need beds, mattresses, pillows, and sheets.  It is vital that we provide a safe harbor where Laxmi and others like her can recover from the trauma that they have undergone, and begin to rebuild their lives.

I am still in the process of bringing this project about, but Laxmi cannot wait.  She needs your help now.  Any amount that you can give will go directly to her.  She is a very strong and capable woman, but she has suffered a severe setback and needs support to get back on her feet again.  Please give as much as you can.  Your money will help her through this crisis.  There are no overhead costs.  Every cent will go this deserving woman who needs your help. Please click to  HELP LAXMI NOW


			

Some Thoughts about Feminist Teaching and Feminist Advocacy


I have begun volunteering my time and skills at the Women’s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh in their legal advocacy program.  The work is challenging, fascinating, and compelling.  Working here I feel the same exhilaration that I have when leading discussion on feminist topics in the university classroom.  This is the work I want to do.  In many ways it is more satisfying than teaching, because I know that everything I do or say will immediately affect another person’s life.  This factor also makes the work daunting and pleasantly challenging.

In the classroom, I teach women and men to think critically about the formation and practice of gender in the world.  I ask them to consider the structures and institutions that have shaped their identities and their choices in the world: their families, their churches, their schools, their governments, their workplaces.

As a legal advocate, I work to support women who have suffered intimate partner violence and taken the first step to protect themselves and her children.  I guide each woman through the confusing and intimidating legal system.  I urge her to make her own choices, after thinking critically about her options and their consequences.  Obviously,  the woman sitting and weeping across from me with blackened eyes and broken facial bones neither needs nor deserves a lecture on gender and prejudice.  What she needs is my support, my compassion, and my discretion.   I have to set aside my own prejudices and cultural expectations, and respect her as the person who best knows what will keep her safe, and what she really wants.  (Note: I am not yet fully trained in this job, and therefore am only describing the position as I understand it after observing other advocates in action.)

So, here’s how I see the parallel, the similarity, between what I do in the classroom and in the anterooms of the court:  in both places I am trying to get people to think for themselves and to understand that they have choices about how they live in the world.  Of course, when teaching people to think about gender and sexuality as social constructs, identities created and enforced over a long period of time, I am asking them to consider themselves on an abstract and esoteric level.  When I am working with women as a legal advocate, I am teaching them to think about the court system, the laws pertaining to their situation, and the consequences of their and their abusers’ actions, so I am working on a much more concrete, practical level.   But in both situations my single, driving goal is to enable each individual to speak and choose for herself.  In both situations I am working to support the subjectivity, the active agency, of another person.

Although I will not bring up the topic of gender as an abstract concept when I’m working with a woman who has been beaten, stalked, harassed, raped, stabbed, assaulted, or threatened by an abuser, she will often raise questions about sexual prejudice and common myths about how men and women are supposed to behave.   She will often say, “I don’t have to take this,” or “he thinks he has the right to control me,”  or she will name some of the common insults that men hurl at women in order to demean and manipulate them.  One doesn’t need a college education, or even a high school degree, to understand that when men physically or emotionally abuse women, they are acting out of contempt for women.

Obviously, intimate partner violence is not limited to heterosexual couples, nor is the male partner in a heterosexual relationship always the aggressor, but men commit the overwhelming percentage of intimate partner violence incidents against women.  As the Pennsylvania Coalition of Domestic Violence states,

Domestic violence can happen to people of all racial, economic, educational, religious backgrounds and in heterosexual and same gender relationships. While both men and women may be victims of domestic violence, research shows that the overwhelming majority of adult victims are women and that domestic violence is a major cause of injury to women.

The underlying cause of intimate partner violence–and victims’ greatest enemy–is masculinism, the wholly arbitrary and erroneous belief that male beings are inherently superior to female beings and that, therefore, men justly have greater political, social, economic, legal, spiritual and psychological rights than women.

Unlike in Saudi Arabia, where women are not permitted to vote or drive, women in this country enjoy many of the same privileges that men do.  What we often forget is that women had to fight hard for these rights.  We still have not managed to elect a woman to the Executive branch, and very few State governors are female.  The GOP is currently waging a “war on women” and seem to care more about shutting down funding for programs that provide medical care, food, shelter and education primarily to poor women than about any other political agenda. A right-wing, mostly Christian minority has recently had great success in rolling back women’s hard-won right to sovereignty over their own bodies.  These “forced-birthers” want to force women to bear children against their will, even if pregnancy will kill them, and have introduced legislation to make the murder of an abortion provider a justifiable homicide.  As Amanda Marcotte notes, “It’s hard to overstate how much Republican energy is invested in bringing the uteruses of America under right-wing control.”

Moreover, we too often forget that our male-dominated legislature still actively opposes adding this language to the Constitution of the United States of America:

Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.
Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

Yes, that is the entire text of the Equal Rights Amendment.  Finding it hard to believe that we have still failed to pass this protection against sex discrimination?  Consider this also unbelievable fact: every 30 seconds, a man batters a woman in the United States.  See if you can figure out the connection.

The Media Assault on Women and a Lecture on Gender


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

We’ve seen many of these images before, of course, but not while thinking about them as Newsome allows us to.  She skillfully juxatposes the pornographic male gaze with a more honest look at actual women and girls.  Seeing these images out of context, away from the narratives that lull us to sleep, or encourage us to buy products, or vote the way particular corporate interests direct us to think about ourselves as women or men, allows us to understand how they damage us.

Distorted and insulting portraits of women as sex objects for men to use, deride, revile, and torment with abandon express the fantasies of adolescent porn addicts.  Sut Jhally makes a similar point in his compelling Dreamsworlds 3: Sex and Power in Music Video. These phantasms of the misogynist mind do real harm because they seep into the collective unconscious and register there as accurate, acceptable, even laudable.  That is why we see eleven year-olds vamping up in sexy outfits and heavy makeup and housewives taking up pole-dancing, or imagining that such activities are appropriate and authentic means of self-expression, even artistry, and that dressing and behaving like slaves will garner them genuine love, affection, companionship.

These perverted images do not directly rape women, but they do a symbolic violence that is as devastating and long-lasting as rape, and this symbolic violence, this grotesque representation of women as sex-starved sluts desperate for male attention, or as “bitches” or “dykes” when they refuse to defer to men and stand up for themselves, leads to actual, physical violence.  This symbolic violence encourages men to rape and to brutalize women, and then trivializes these horrific crimes.

Media symbols of degraded femininity do real violence not only because they broadcast a particularly narrow and misogynist message, but also because they reinforce the underlying patriarchal structure of our society.  They reiterate the male/female dichotomies that organize our culture and guide the way that we learn to understand ourselves narrowly as masculine or feminine, rational or irrational, subject or object, light or dark, good or bad.

As my favorite Spinster Aunt at I Blame the Patriarchy notes, femininity is not inherent or natural, but rather a way of being that is acquired, developed, within a patriarchal and heterosexist culture:

That’s right. Femininity is not a natural expression of femaleness. It is not an hereditary, hormone-based fascination for fashion, submissiveness, mani-peddies, baby-soft skin, or catfighting. It is not a fun-loving lifestyle choice. Femininity is a rigid system of behaviors imposed on us by the Global Accords Governing the Fair Use of Women as a means to control, subjugate, and marginalize us, entirely at our expense, for the benefit of the male-controlled megatheocorporatocracy.

While some people believe that

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Extreme Plastic Surgery, “Artificial” Sex, and the Insane Death of Carolin Berger


Today’s post began as a response to ECHIDNE of the snakes. who brought Carolin Berger to my attention

She was a German erotic actor who died in her sixth breast enlargement surgery, at the age of 23:

She went under the knife for the last time at the Alster Clinic and was having 800g (28oz) of silicon injected into each breast.  But her heart stopped beating during the operation. She suffered brain damage and was put into an induced coma.The tabloid’s headline read: “The senseless death of Big Brother star Cora shocks the whole of Germany. “(Her) frail, 48kg (106lb) body struggled against death for 224 hours. She lost. Cora is dead. …Her previous five operations were reportedly done at a private clinic in Poland which refused to admit her for a sixth time.

I kept going over those weight numbers, the amount of silicone to be injected into her and her body weight. Then I started thinking about the widespread impact of heterosexual pron on what women’s breasts should look like and how we now regard artificial breasts as really the natural ones, how seeing a very thin woman with very large breasts on television now looks normal, in the sense of averages. Porn has also affected the shaving of the pubic hair.

If it has done all that, surely it must have had some impact on general interpretations of sexuality and on the roles women and men take in sex?

I think that the cultural turn towards increasingly artificial bodies would indeed affect sexual habits and roles.

Women who are willing to alter their bodies dramatically are likely to engage in degrading and humiliating acts that do not sensually stimulate themselves, but, rather, their partners.  Of course, being able to excite their partners would theoretically also get them off.  Presumably, they would be more stimulated by partners who fit the roles that they have learned to find exciting–wealthy, powerful, dominant.  These are the very men for whom they are mutating their bodies, after all, the men for whom they (think they) live, presumably.

Or would it be more accurate to say that these women live entirely in the Gaze, permanently disconnected from themselves as subjects, and utterly and only aware of themselves as objects?

I think that porn alters the mind and sexual experience because the culture has prepared the mind to alter.  We are all subject to deep and long patterns of dominant-submissive  behavior that are not at all “natural” in the sense of being permanent and unalterable.

In other words, it has not always been this way.  We have been humanoid, Homo Sapiens, upright, intelligent, and communal, for approximately 100,000 years.  Only about 10,000 years ago did human males begin to figure out how to dominate human females. Human females learned how to cope with that arbitrary and unnatural situation in various and often freakish ways.

Sexual desire is very malleable, easily manipulated–we know this.

But at what point does the subject who is experiencing sex as an object, and nothing but an object, utterly lose herself (or himself)?  At what point does the long-objectified self break down completely, in severe depression, catastrophic phobias, or addictions, or bizarre, disfiguring and self-destructive behaviors?

Coralin Berger seems to have broken down in the last sort of way.  We can imagine that she at one time had a sense of herself as a person, a girl, a young woman, before she became obsessed with her body, or, rather obsessed with the notion of herself as a body, a body that needed, in her eyes, continually to be improved.

We can speculate about the forces that influenced the way that she came to think of herself.  They are the forces that influence all of us: the family, the church, the schools, the juridical system, the economy.  There is also the increasing power of the media that manipulates our sense of ourselves as women, as men  (for some good examples, check out About Face and the film Generation M).  Each one of us resists these forces to the best of our abilities.

My question is: at what point do these forces drive us completely insane?  At what point does the self who struggles to think independently break down so completely that there is nothing left but a shell, thin, brittle, and driven to the operating table for the sixth and final fix?

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.

Looking for work or having a baby? Leave the country: The Global Gender Gap


Of all the interesting and depressing statistics that the authors of a recent Newsweek essay on sexism at work–U.S. men still earn 20 per cent more than U.S. women do–the following seemed most important to reiterate:

The Global Gender Gap Index—a ranking of women’s educational, health, political, and financial standing by the World Economic Forum—found that from 2006 to 2009 the United States had fallen from 23rd to 31st, behind Cuba and just above Namibia.

The report measures how countries distribute their resources and opportunities between women and men.  That means it also measures how various countries continue to treat women as less than human beings.   It measures “hard” statistics in four “pillars” of civilization:

  1. economic participation and opportunity: “hard” statistics measuring what women and men get paid for relatively equal work; the ratio of women to men in positions of leadership (bosses) and workers;
  2. educational attainment: girls’ and boys’ access to education and literacy rates;
  3. political empowerment:  the ratio of women to men in positions at the highest levels of government;
  4. health and survival: life expectancy of women and men and  sex selection at birth.

Scores in each of these countries measure the level of sexual equality and freedom for women.  Women have more liberty in 33 countries than they do in the United States.

Women have the most liberty in the following countries: Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden, New Zealand, S. Africa, Denmark, Ireland, Philippines, and Lesotho.

Women are least free in the following countries, in descending order: Morocco, Qatar, Egypt, Mali, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Benin, Pakistan, Chad, Yemen.

Why does the U.S. score so low? The statistics don’t look so bad at first, especially when you look at education.

We’re at the number one spot, with Iceland, when it comes to literacy.  93 per cent of our girls and 92 per cent of our boys are in primary school.  96 per cent of our women get some education beyond high school, while only 68 per cent of our men do.   Still, gender equality in U.S. literacy rates is no greater than it is in Mongolia, Cuba, Honduras, Latvia, and Nicaragua, so it’s hard to brag.   Consider the fact that, in Kazakhstan, women hold 63 per cent of the tertiary (beyond high school) teaching positions, while only 45 per cent of the tertiary teachers in the US are women.

Men overwhelmingly dominate positions of authority in U.S. institutions of higher education. There.  We’re not feeling so smug now, are we?

Things also look  not too terrible in category one–employment.  After all, 69 per cent of US women work, compared to  81 per cent of U.S. men.  But the average woman makes only $25,613, which is paltry compared to the average man’s salary: $40,000.   In Iceland, where 83 per cent of the women work, and 89 per cent of the men (it seems the Scandinavians DO have a stronger work ethic in general), women earn $29,283 compared to $40,000 for men per year.   There are even statistically more women in positions of authority in the workplace–bosses, managers, and senior officials–in the US than in Iceland.

In short, fewer U.S. women have access to paid work, and those that do get paid a lot less for the same kind of work than in other countries. Men are still powerfully discriminating against women in the U.S. workplace.

It’s rather humbling–and quite infuriating–to find out that women in 16 other countries–including Mongolia, Kazakhstan, and Mozambique–have greater economic equality and opportunity, compared to men, than they do in the U.S.  Canada is way ahead of us in providing jobs and equal pay for women, and Uzbekistan is ahead of Canada.

When you get to category 4, political empowerment, it becomes very clear that men are making most of the laws in our country:  women hold only 24 per cent of our high-level (ministerial) office, while 76 per cent of the high-ranking officers are men.  In Iceland, women occupy 36 per cent of high-ranking positions.  But they have also had a female head of state for 16 of the last fifty years, while we have never had one.

What really brings the US down in this study of equality between men and women around the world?   You guessed it: our abysmal health care system.

Maternal morality rates are a very good indicator of how a country takes care of its people, especially women.

HAVING A BABY?  LEAVE THE COUNTRY:  Women are  more likely to die in childbirth in the U.S. than in Austria, Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and the Netherlands.

11 out of every 100,000 women who give birth in the U.S. die.  In Iceland, 4 of every 100,000 women die.   Okay, so we’re way ahead of Yemen, where 430 out of every 100,000 women, or Nepal, where a startling 830 out of 100,000, die giving birth.

Humane health care is the sign of humane attitudes, not wealth:  Women who have children in the U.S. receive far less support from government and private sources (like employers) than they do in 39 other countries, including Guatemala, Barbados, Columbia, Mauritius, Mexico.

Here’s the really startling statistic that shows that our failure to provide health care results in many more teen mothers than in other countries:

In Iceland, as in all countries that offer universal health care, or nearly universal health care to its citizens, only 14 out of 1,000 adolescents give birth. In the U.S., where  religious extremists who oppose giving women their constitutional right to make their own health care decisions, 41 out of 1,000 adolescents have babies.

How many of those 15-19 year olds are ready to be mothers, do you think?  And what kind of health care are those new mothers and their children getting?  How likely are those children with babies to get a higher education? How likely are they to fall into poverty?

I’m still mad and I’m still writing.

The Hard Road to Freedom


What does it all mean?  And why am I still ANGRY?  Why are the National Organization of Women and NARAL, our nation’s strongest advocates for women women’s health, upset?

The mostly male members of the House and Senate managed to bring a little bit of sanity to our insane health care system last night.   With nearly all Republicans voting against health–which in my book amounts to the same thing as voting for death– the Democrats took a first and very timid step towards better health care for all Americans last night.  But they caved into right-wing demagoguery and big-business interests anyway.  When will they learn?

Here’s how this bill, if it is allowed to stand, will reduce the liberty of women in our country:

1.  It will severely curtail women’s access to abortion.  Employers and employees will now have to write two checks EVERY MONTH, one for health care, and another for an “abortion rider,” if they want to have coverage for abortion.

WHY THIS IS BAD:  Before the bill, 85 per cent of insurance companies covered abortion without stigmatizing it.  : it imposes new restrictions–burdens and cumbersome procedures–that will effectively limit women’s access to choose, which is exactly what the religious zealots and terrorists wanted all along.

2. It will effectively cement the power of the Hyde amendment, which is not an established part of the law, but rather a measure tacked on to the appropriations bill every year.  Why?  Because the President agreed to issue an executive order that will lending the weight of his office to the anti-abortion measures included in the bill.

WHY THIS IS BAD: It shows us that the guys in government are willing to trade away women’s rights to get what they want.  The end does not justify the means. By strengthening the Hyde amendment, which prohibits federal funding for abortion, this order weakens women’s constitutional right to choose to end unwanted or dangerous pregnancies.

3.  It will allow insurance companies in the health exchanges to discriminate against women and the elderly, most of whom are women, to charge women and the elderly more for health care –if the pool of people to be covered is greater than 100.

WHY THIS IS BAD:  It penalizes women for being female.  In the case of elderly women, who are poorer because they’ve been discriminated against in the workplace for their entire lives, it redoubles the penalty against women for being female.

4. It imposes cruel and unreasonable limits on health care coverage for immigrants.  Legal residents must wait a for five years to be eligible for Medicaid and other assistance, and undocumented workers cannot even use their own money to purchase health insurance through an exchange!

WHY THIS IS BAD: It’s racist and classist and backwards.  We are a nation of immigrants, and every one of us deserves equal access to health care.   And by the way–did you know that 25 per cent of all Black people in American immigrated to this country at the end of the 20th century?  So this policy is going to hurt, badly, at least 25 per cent of Black women in our country today. That’s shameful!

A good end does not justify bad means.  You can’t achieve justice for all by trading away the rights of some.

But WHY AM I STILL PISSED OFF?  Because religious extremists and religious terrorists are steadily eroding our basic freedoms!!!

Women have a basic right to bodily integrity and subjectivity.  By limiting our rights to the governance of our own bodies, by telling us that women do not have the ability or the freedom to choose what happens to their own bodies–a right they would never dare to take away from men–the lawmakers are attacking women’s fundamental rights to subjectivity, to personhood, to liberty.

I’m mad because these guys don’t care about my freedom, about my liberty–in fact they’ve shown me again and again that they’re perfectly happy to treat me as a less human than men, less entitled to basic freedoms than men.

Not enough Democrats and Pro-choice Republicans seem to be getting this message:  Women’s basic liberties are  falling under the monster-truck tires of the demagogues and the religious terrorists, who are determined to grind women into the mud.

These people are not just against health care, not just against abortion, they are against WOMEN.  (And on Stupak’s resolute disregard for women, especially for Nuns, see Jodi Jacobson).

And yes, some of these extremists and terrorists are women, but that means nothing.  Women have historically traded away their liberties in exchange for financial and emotional support from men–Women are not the only group of oppressed persons who believe what their oppressors tell them to believe, and who would rather take the lazy road of slavery than the hard road towards freedom.

Let’s all of us stop going along with the people who hate women.  Let’s all of us get on that road to freedom.

Anti-choice theocrats and terrorists


As Amanda Marcotte explains in a recent “reality check” blog, the anti-choicers who want to deprive women of the right to make their own health-care decisions are universally religious people who want to force their own theological definitions and morals onto people who do not share their views.    But many of these people are also terrorists who routinely harrass, follow, stalk, and badger the healthworkers, their children and their families in order to enforce their theological viewpoint.  People who do this are rightly called terrorists, because terrorizing–and sometimes murdering–supporters of women’s rights, is their principal activity.

Since 1977 there have been 17 attempted murders, 383 death threats, 153 incidents of assault or battery, and 3  kidnappings committed  against abortion providers.

These theocratic bigots have terrrorized pro-choice advocates by setting fires, bombing, and sending anthrax through the mail.  They have also murdered on number occasions (the following statistics are from wikipedia’s article on anti-abortion violence):

In the U.S., violence directed toward abortion providers has killed at least eight people, including four doctors, two clinic employees, a security guard, and a clinic escort.[5]

  • March 10, 1993: Dr. David Gunn of Pensacola, Florida was fatally shot during a protest. He had been the subject of wanted-style postersdistributed by Operation Rescue in the summer of 1992. Michael F. Griffin was found guilty of Dr. Gunn’s murder and was sentenced to life in prison.
  • August 21, 1993 Dr. George Patterson, was shot and killed in Mobile, Alabama, but it is uncertain whether his death was the direct result of his profession or rather a robbery.[6] [7]
  • July 29, 1994: Dr. John Britton and James Barrett, a clinic escort, were both shot to death outside of another facility in Pensacola. Rev.Paul Jennings Hill was charged with the killings. Hill received a death sentence and was executed September 3, 2003.
  • December 30, 1994: Two receptionists, Shannon Lowney and Lee Ann Nichols, were killed in two clinic attacks in Brookline, Massachusetts. John Salvi, who prior to his arrest was distributing pamphlets from Human Life International,[8] was arrested and confessed to the killings. He died in prison and guards found his body under his bed with a plastic garbage bag tied around his head. Salvi had also confessed to a non-lethal attack in Norfolk, Virginia days before the Brookline killings.
  • January 29, 1998: Robert Sanderson, an off-duty police officer who worked as a security guard at an abortion clinic in Birmingham, Alabama, was killed when his workplace was bombed. Eric Robert Rudolph, who was also responsible for the 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing, was charged with the crime and received two life sentences as a result.
  • October 23, 1998: Dr. Barnett Slepian was shot to death at his home in Amherst, New York. His was the last in a series of similar shootings against providers in Canada and northern New York state which were all likely committed by James Kopp. Kopp was convicted of Dr. Slepian’s murder after finally being apprehended in France in 2001.
  • May 31, 2009: Dr. George Tiller was shot and killed as he served as an usher at his church in Wichita, Kansas.[9]

We live in a country that has long prided itself for religious toleration.

It has always been very simple: against abortion? don’t have one.  Leave the rest of us alone.  And put the terrorists in jail.

Rough Day with Margaret leads to Ephesus and the Myth of Temple Prostitution and the Anxiety of Some Really Scary Christian Men (and Women)


3/10/10 (mistakenly deleted and reposted today)

What a day!  I was storming out the door, fuming for no reason in particular, on my way to the library, finally, to get to my writing, my real work, and then stopped, stupidly, on the sidewalk as soon as I saw her and remembered.

Margaret, good old thing, 25 years old, sitting bleakly at the curb, neglected, dirty, and flooded.  Still beautiful, of course.  She’s a Jeep Grand Wagoneer, Limited, with wood sides and shiny burgundy finish, all-leather tan interior, a fully loaded (for 1985) 4- to 10- seater with all-power everything (for 1985), four-wheel drive, and 8 cylinders of ma-jo (as opposed to mojo).  And that’s not what’s good about her.  She’s my legacy, the only car on the planet now that has held my mother, my father, my sister, my brother and me all together at the same time in it.

She’d been giving me trouble for weeks.  Yesterday she petulantly choked up and refused to start.  I couldn’t let her rust there.  If I didn’t take her in to Bruno’s now, she could die.  So I lurched back into the house, called triple-A, and  spent the rest of the morning waiting on people to help me with her.  I was remarkably serene about it, considering that I really had hoped to get away from family responsibilities and dog-care-taking for a change.  God, I needed to get some work done.

The triple-A guy was nice enough, friendly, cordial.  He locked my keys in the car, though.  Also had a surreal Christian show playing loud on the radio.  Some Australian guy, fairly articulate too, ranting on about the debauchery of Ephesus.  The people of Ephesus and their gods were so debauched that they actually had temple prostitutes, “male and female.”  Imagine that, having sex and calling it communion with God.

It really bummed me out.  I wanted to ask, “you don’t really believe this Brit, do you?” or say, “you know, it’s true that some religious practices associated with fertility gods in that region seem to have involved some kind of sexual rituals that some people call “prostitution,” but whatever they were–and we really don’t know–they were nothing like the practice of today.”  It wasn’t a conversation I wanted to have with him, actually.  I couldn’t see the point.  Some people just believe anything they hear on the radio, especially if the speaker’s a preacher.

But still, I kind of wish I had engaged him.  He struck me as reasonable and decent.  Had four children.  And he liked Margaret.  Kept going on about how sturdily she was built, how the doors closed, click (not true, but the myth made him feel better about having locked the keys in), and how she was the kind of car that would keep on going long after all the newer models died out.  I liked him so well I really thought about giving it a try.

Anyway, the incident brought me to think about how long we have been agitating and protesting patriarchy, which the nicest of men have been enforcing for thousands of years.  Gerda Lerner says it arose as a system of social organization around 3000 B.C.E. but did not get fully institutionalized until about 600 B.C.E. Biblical and ancient Mesopotamia scholars have been documenting the religious practices of the regions, many of which involved fertility goddesses and gods, for a very long time now.  Early Christians, like their Hebrew predecessors and contemporaries, conflicted with these religions and obviously won the public relations war.  In the long run, they got to say that the other, bad guys’ followers were prostitutes and pimps and tricks, which is how these guys liked to describe idolatry, the worship of false gods.  The Whore of Babylon (pictured above in an 1800s Russian engraving) is the last in a long smear campaign.

So when I got home today I did a little looking into Ephesus, which was the second largest city in the Roman empire during the time of Constantine (the Emperor who converted to Christianity because he thought he’d have more military victories).  Although the story of temple prostitution is so widespread as to be a commonplace in the radio pulpit, Christian scholars do argue that

the current view rests on unwarranted assumptions, doubtful anthropological premises, and very little evidence.

That’s S. M. Baugh, associate professor of New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary, who also notes that

the Anchor Bible Dictionary…has no discussion of either cultic or secular prostitution in the NT world. Perhaps the editors could not find enough material for an article?

Tongue in cheek aside, he’s serious about the job of proving that no form of temple prostitution–the exchange of sex for money that might go to the temple–in Ephesus or in an other major city during the New Testament Era.

Baugh reminds us to distinguish this practice of cult prostitution from erotic or symbolically erotic activity in rituals or mystery rites. Moreover, he cites and then interrogates ancient sources–there is actually only one–of evidence of cult prostitution during the New Testament Era.  What he finds out blows me away.  There are only two things to say about the only source we have, the Greek geographer, Strabo (ca. 64 BC-AD 21):

  1. Strabo was talking about a period 600 years before his time, and was relying on oral stories, hearsay and myth; and
  2. All Strabo says is that the temple devoted to Aphrodite was reputed to have “had,” as in “owned,” prostitutes, who may have been male or female, and who may or may not have conducted their trade on temple grounds.

They may have been concubines or slaves owned by the temple for income in a relationship of dependency not unlike working in incredibly sexist capitalist workplaces,  where employers regard women (like men) as things that make money for the institution, and think of women as the least valuable or worthy things, which are also often the biggest money-makers for the institution.  Whether or not temple prostitution existed during 600 B.C.E., is not so interesting.  The really big news is that there are many good reasons to suspect that if it did, it DID NOT survive into the first century, B.C.E, when Paul was living in Ephesus.

This blows me away. Wide-spread, bald rumors about temple prostitution at Ephesus (for which there is no evidence!) on Christian talk-show are another totally obvious example of the rewriting–Pierre Bourdieu calls it “dehistoricization”–of history by men in order to make women look bad.  Worse yet, it’s another example of the way that group that got control of the early Christian movement demonized members of different religious groups by denouncing them as debauched practitioners of carnal sex for money. You’ve heard this before:

They were so evil then, and we are so evil now, brothers and sisters.  We have to remember that we are sinners, that we were born in sin and dwell in sin except that Christ our Lord save us and cleanse us.  And once we humbly admit to our Lord and Master that we are humbly sorry for the sorry state of our souls, and begging for His help to correct ourselves, and overcome our weaknesses, then, and only then, and only with much continual scrutiny and soul-searching, and constant vigilance, will He save us.

This is the Protestant mindset.  I know it intimately.  I was born into it and I love it although I have spent my entire life trying to unwind myself from it.

I don’t know.  It is actually kind of interesting.  Every believer is feminized, put into a position of subordination to a figure who is supposedly neither male nor female but who has for so long been referred to and represented as male, as a father, and governor that the deity has been effectively gendered male.  Think, for example, of John Donne pleading with God to beat and “rape” him:

BATTER my heart, three person’d God; for, you

As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend;

That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow mee,’and bend

Your force, to breake, blowe, burn and make me new.

I, like an usurpt towne, to’another due,

5

Labour to’admit you, but Oh, to no end,

Reason your viceroy in mee, mee should defend,

But is captiv’d, and proves weake or untrue.

Yet dearely’I love you,’and would be loved faine,

But am betroth’d unto your enemie:

10

Divorce mee,’untie, or breake that knot againe;

Take mee to you, imprison mee, for I

Except you’enthrall mee, never shall be free,

Nor ever chast, except you ravish mee.

Sometimes this Father-God is a war-monger who muscularly scourges his enemies: The speaker of Psalms 18:34  boasts “He teacheth my hands to war”  and the speaker of Psalms 70: urges his lord to punish his enemies: “Pour out thine indignation upon them, and let thy wrathful anger take hold of them. Let their habitation be desolate; and let none dwell in their tents…add iniquity unto their iniquity, and let them not come into thy righteousness. Let them be blotted out of the book of the living…” (24-28).  This Father-God’s human children have wives and concubines.  This kind of prostitution is okay, because it ultimately serves the right God.

I think the paradox of Christianity is that Christian men are supposed to be all strong and powerful in governing their wives and children and family compounds (like Abraham’s) and states (like David’s), and yet, in relation to God, they are women: weak, subordinate, suppliant, rape-able.  This is a problem because in mainstream and traditional Christianity, as in mainstream and traditional Judaism and Islam, masculinity is lauded, celebrated.  It is the mode of being that is most like God, the best, the strongest, the most powerful, while femininity is denigrated as the lowest form of life, or trivialized at best.  That’s because masculinity can only define itself in terms of what it is not, of course.   But contemporary Christian men can never really be confident in their masculinity because they are always made to feel–as they think about it–like wimps in relation to God, who still exhorts them to be “men.” God as Coach, as Army Sergeant, or, for the more new-agey types, God as therapist, guru, teacher, Abba.   He helps them to be men even while He’s constantly reminding them, sometimes by screaming it at them, that they are women.

So in the theological and social hierarchy that Christianity embraces, men are higher, more dignified, and more powerful than women, okay?  It’s not good to be a woman in this world.  Especially if you are a man.  This is not an easy place to be–and while this conundrum makes a lot of thoughtful Christian men really lovely human beings, it and lots of other pressures in our society make a lot of Christian men very scary, very domineering and aggressive men.  They are especially scary and domineering when they lower their voices into a soft, intimate tone.  Have you all seen The White Ribbon?

I think the guys who go round spreading the rumor about temple prostitution at Ephesus in order to prove that Christianity was somehow the better religion have been doing this for a long time because, as  bizarre as it may sound, men have been under a lot of pressure to conform to a rigid notion of masculinity that is not at all human, or Christ-like, for that matter.  The war-mongering Constantine, who is said to have introduced the symbol of the cross to Christian iconography after he saw it in the shape of his sword handle, did not help matters.  It’s all one big game of men playing “who’s got the biggest.”

We are not evil.  If there is a God, and if that God is good, and that God created us, then we must also be good, like everything that would come from an all-good God.  You could say that what has happened is not the fault of God–if you believed in one, and I don’t–but rather the fault of the human beings who invented these stories, these paradigms for understanding the world, and who have gotten trapped, like the limed bird, in their own shit.

Starting again


Hello all,

I’ve started the blog again on wordpress, this time with a better format.  I was uncomfortable having my full name on the site, as on the old blog, and also thought the title, “feminism in our time,” was extremely dull.  I started thinking about the titles of great feminist books, and very quickly hit upon The Left Hand of Darkness (see my “about” page for more on this), which is one of those great books that I never get tired of re-reading.  I’ve read The Scarlet Letter almost as many times as I’ve read Left Hand, but don’t see myself picking up Hawthorne again any time soon.

I’ve posted some older blogs in order to have all my writings together, but unfortunately cannot transfer the comments.  I’ll stick to this page from now on, so please hang here with me.

K

Writing


Well, this is a relief.  I’ve had two good days in touch with my so-called real self: the scholar-writer person. I’ve been wondering about this particular persona for a while, since she’s been so out of touch.  Did she still live, after all this time?  Could we still talk, hang out?  Would it feel the way it used to? And what about her dearest companions, our books? Would they  still reassure me, communicate their serious love?  Would I still feel serious love for them?

It was, I am happy to say, very much a good experience.  I love to be in the library, especially when it is empty, as it is during spring break and summer.   The elevator always comes promptly, and I don’t have to wade through the hordes of students draped all over the the place like seals on the way to my blissfully set-apart study.  And there I find these things, bound in cloth or, lately, plastic and string and god-knows-what kind of glue, that have carried me through these years.  My friends.  There is that one, who, like the other dear ones, has been with me through the whole terrible broken-from-the-start love-affair with X, and then after that through the heartache of Y, and then my father’s death, and the strange eye-in-the-storm calm that followed, when I was so busy with the estate, and felt, for a change, important, respected, needed.

I’m tempted to go into some inquiry about what precisely it is that makes teaching so horrible these days, so impersonal, so mechanical.  Not that I feel like a machine.  No, that’s the problem.  It’s not just the institution, but the students, who want me to be like a machine.  They want me to be like a tv program, or, better yet, like a music video, that fascinates and manipulates them, that robs them of their subjectivity.  They only seem to experience their subjectivity these days when they are feeling outraged over having been denied some service that they are convinced they have already paid for.

Having to read, discuss and write thoughtfully about feminism is definitely not what they signed up for.  And I’m not quite as trim as I used to be.  I no longer wear those killer tight miniskirts and high heels.  No, these days I’m more likely to show up in the only pair of jeans that still fits, a ski vest I’ve had for 12 years (Patagonia), and a long t-shirt.  I think my ratings used to be higher.

Okay, so it’s true, Peter Weddle, this workplace has been making me sick for a long time now.  And I certainly have been guilty of not taking care of myself by forgetting that it is up to me to care for the fitness of my career–not my academic department or mentor.

Why has it taken me so long to “stop drinking the koolaid,” as Sabine Hikel so wisely advises? There have always been a few, wonderful students who have made it all worth while.  They are usually women, gay men, and black men, but there have also ben some fantastically alert and open-minded  heterosexual white men in my women’s studies classes.  There’s no reason to trash the entire genus.  As I as saying, there are the few students who make it all good, who not only do the reading and follow what I’m saying but who for some totally inexplicable reason seem to live on the same planet as I do, and who, like the few people left who seem to be willing to declare themselves feminists, grasp how important it is to understand how we all participate in a world of predictable gendered patterns, and that we step outside of the normative patterns at our peril.

Not just the people who don’t fit into the heteronormative paradigm, the resolutely heterosexual people in the J. Crew catalog, are hurt by sexism, by narrow conceptions, rigidly enforced, of gender.  No, even the pretend-people’s earthly representatives, the really, really, really, you-can’t-even-imagine-how-rich rich people, who benefit from these crude stereotypes, are limited and depressed by them and the system that they perpetuate.   Okay so the pretend-people in the J.Crew catalog are better off than the women in Snoop Dogg music videos, and the men in those videos.  At least the crude stereotype that they are personifying do not depict women as universally nymphomaniac, narcissistic slaves or black men as thugs. (On this, see the entire brilliant documentary Dreamworlds 3)

Ja, even the guys at the various apex points of the multi-dimensional power-grid that we all inhabit, unequally, are damaged by these narrow visions of sexual identity.  Because these are so incredibly limiting.  Men have so much more to offer than they are represented as offering in the media.  And so do women.  Obviously.

Right.

Yep.  Think that’s where I’m gonna end this one.

International Women’s Day


3/8/10

Today, March 8, I am blogging in commemoration of International Women’s Day.  The great German socialist and feminist Clara Zetkin is credited for having invented the memorial as part of her fight for women’s suffrage and for better working conditions for women and men everywhere.

Clara Zetkin

The socialist movement had always been an international campaign, part of a worldwide movement to resist the psychological, economic, and political damages inflicted by a capitalist economy in which every aspect of life is tied to the market.  Zetkin and other socialist feminists around the world understood what so many of us have only lately come to understand, which is that when you let the bankers and the wealthiest corporations and employers do whatever they want, without any regulation whatsoever, things fall apart. And when things fall apart, women and children are the first to suffer and the last to recover.

It is worth remembering that while the first International Women’s Day celebrations, held in Germany, Denmark, Austria and Switzerland in 1911, were wildly successful (thousands of women turned out for meetings, and men were happy enough to acknowledge women’s many unpaid services to the family and the state as mothers, wives, and caretakers with gifts of flowers and cake) women did not win the right to vote in Switzerland until 1990.   Danish women won full voting rights in 1915, Austrian and German women in 1918.  Women in the United Arab Emirates still do not have full voting rights, which is an outrage.  As we know from long and hard experience, even once women have won the right to elect government officials to office, they do not always vote in their interests.  Many cultural factors work against them.  These include widespread and deeply entrenched male-centered assumptions, and various forms of symbolic and real violence that prevent women from knowing and employing their true worth and power.

Attitudes that encouraged both sexes to regard women as inferior and relatively unimportant members of society led to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911, in which 148 workers, mostly women and girls, died because their employers had locked them into their work area.  The tragedy, which became a centerpiece of American celebrations of International Women’s Day during the first part of the 20th century, exemplifies the ways in which gender discrimination and capitalism work together to oppress women.

Consider what is happening today, March 8, in India, where people take International Women’s Day far more seriously than they do in the United States.  Two political parties are threatening the stability of the government because they refuse to support a bill that would ensure that one-third of the seats in Parliament be awarded to the group that makes up more than one-half of India’s population.  Here’s a country where women have been voting since 1935, and where a woman (Indira Ghandi) was elected to the highest government seat of power in 1966, continues to thwart equal political rights for women. And yet  long-ingrained scorn for women’s intellectual and governing abilities persist.

And what about here, at home, in the USA?  Hollywood–one of the great bastions of sexist powers in the world–is currently reeling with self-congratulation and shock because it finally, finally, after 82 years, managed to grant an Oscar to a woman director, Kathryn Bigelow.  Obviously, the problem was not that women haven’t been making great movies all this time, but rather that men–and some of the women voting–could not bring themselves to put the two words “woman” and “director” together.  O, we’re perfectly comfortable letting women direct women–but in this country we have frighteningly tenacious antipathies to letting women do the things that directors do: oversee, govern, supervise, other men.  Just think of the way that the same Americans who think they’re the most enlightened people on the planet brutally attacked Hillary Clinton when she ran for president.   Consider William Kristol‘s not-funny joke about “white women,” which he thoughtlessly told right next to one, on Fox News.  Think of the stupid Hillary nut-crackers, or the voodoo dolls which allegedly gave men the ability to power to “stick it to her” that they feared she was going to take away from them.

Mosquitos with bad attitudes like Kristol are, fortunately, not the greatest threat to international women’s freedom, to the dignity, political, social, and economic well-being of global women today.  But corporations such as Fox News may be.  As the internationally renowned gender theorist  Raewyn Connell observes, “the corporation is the dominant form of economic organization and the key institution of developed capitalism,” and corporations have always been gendered institutions.  Overwhelmingly owned, directed, and managed by men, corporations promote a gendered division of labor that relegates women to the lowest paid and least respected jobs.  Even in countries where significant numbers of women have reached middle management, the so-called “glass ceiling” keeps women from positions of senior authority.  Congress studied this problem in 1991 and found that, among the biggest corporations in this country, 97 per cent of senior managers were White, 95 to 97 per cent of them were male, and of the top 1000 companies only 2 had women CEOs.  Linda Wirth, who examined the problem globally in 1997, states,

Almost universally, women have failed to reach leading positions in major corporations…irrespective of their abilities. Women generally fare best in industries employing large numbers of women, such as health and community services and the hotel and catering industry.

As in the global media, the international business community seems to be comfortable letting women direct women, but not other men.  Chalk one up for Bigelow.

Transnational corporations work hand-in-hand with states, most of which are also dominated by men, and constitute the largest business organizations on the planet.  They operate in global markets of capital, commodities, services, and labor, that are also strongly gender-structured.  Recent feminist research shows that these markets, which are very weakly regulated, foster a misogynist and aggressive trading culture.  This masculinist culture is often reinforced by the global media flooded with pornographic images of women as sex-crazed objects and servants of men’s desires.  With few exceptions, sports programming also dishes out images of hyper-masculine, heteronormative, muscular machismo.

While the new media, especially the World Wide Web, nurtures important sites of resistance, such as all the blogs participating in International Women’s Day, the trend that characterizes transnational corporations, the global market, and the global media does not bode well for gender equity. The research shows that we are increasingly bound together as women and men, as lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgendered persons in this global marketplace.  We therefore need, now more than ever, to revive the original call for justice in the workplace that Copenhagen International Women’s Conference and Clara Zetkin sounded in 1911.

The Rapists at College


The commonplace that men who rape women are misogynists bears repeating. A recent study by psychologist David Lisak shows that college rapists are overwhelmingly repeat offenders (9 out of 10) who deliberately seek out vulnerable women, especially women who have been drinking. “When compared to men who do not rape,” Lisak observes, “these undetected rapists are measurably more angry at women, more motivated by the need to dominate and control women, more impulsive and disinhibited in their behavior, more hyper-masculine in their beliefs and attitudes, less empathic and more antisocial.”
In response to this observation, Jacylyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti (authors of the book Yes Means Yes and blog by that name), wisely note

Guys who seem to hate women … do. If they sound like they don’t like or respect women and see women as impediments to be overcome … they’re telling the truth. That’s what they think, and they will abuse if they think they can get away with it.

NPR recently covered the story, and note that David Lisak interviewed more than 2000 college men over 20 years. 1 in 16 of those interviewed men answered yes to both of the following questions:

“Have you ever had sexual intercourse with someone, even though they did not want to, because they were too intoxicated [on alcohol or drugs] to resist your sexual advances?”

“Have you ever had sexual intercourse with an adult when they didn’t want to because you used physical force [twisting their arm, holding them down, etc.] if they didn’t cooperate?”

You might think that these schmucks would have been reluctant to admit to these acts. Lisak reports that the men he interviewed were “eager” to talk about them. “They’re quite narcissistic as a group — the offenders — and they view this as an opportunity, essentially, to brag.”

Lisak also found that the men who admit to coercing or forcing a woman to have sexual intercourse do not generally consider what they did rape. These men also typically rely on the fear or shame of young women to prevent them from reporting the rapes. They want the women they have coerced into unwanted sex to believe that they are somehow to blame for what they have done to them. They also know that the culture on college campuses discourages victims from coming forward and shields perpetrators from detection and conviction in the criminal justice system. He reports:

In the course of 20 years of interviewing these undetected rapists, in both research and forensic settings, it has been possible for me to distill some of the common characteristics of the modus operandi of these sex offenders. These undetected rapists:

  • are extremely adept at identifying “likely” victims, and testing prospective victims’ boundaries;
  • plan and premeditate their attacks, using sophisticated strategies to groom their victims for attack, and to isolate them physically;
  • use “instrumental” not gratuitous violence; they exhibit strong impulse control and use only as much violence as is needed to terrify and coerce their victims into submission;
  • use psychological weapons – power, control, manipulation, and threats –backed up by physical force, and almost never resort to weapons such as knives or guns;
  • use alcohol deliberately to render victims more vulnerable to attack, or completely unconscious.

College rapists are criminal sex offenders who are largely undetected, unpunished, and unrepentant.

Keep this in mind the next time you find yourself hanging around with someone who openly or covertly expresses his disrespect and hatred for women. Listen and believe what he is saying.