Jimmy Carter is My Hero


Losing my religion for equality…by Jimmy Carter

25 JANUARY 2013 393,009 VIEWS 31 COMMENTS

Women and girls have been discriminated against for too long in a twisted interpretation of the word of God.

I HAVE been a practicing Christian all my life and a deacon and Bible teacher for many years. My faith is a source of strength and comfort to me, as religious beliefs are to hundreds of millions of people around the world. So my decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention’s leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be “subservient” to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service.

This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths. Nor, tragically, does its influence stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue or temple. This discrimination, unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority, has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women’s equal rights across the world for centuries.

At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.

The impact of these religious beliefs touches every aspect of our lives. They help explain why in many countries boys are educated before girls; why girls are told when and whom they must marry; and why many face enormous and unacceptable risks in pregnancy and childbirth because their basic health needs are not met.

In some Islamic nations, women are restricted in their movements, punished for permitting the exposure of an arm or ankle, deprived of education, prohibited from driving a car or competing with men for a job. If a woman is raped, she is often most severely punished as the guilty party in the crime.

The same discriminatory thinking lies behind the continuing gender gap in pay and why there are still so few women in office in the West. The root of this prejudice lies deep in our histories, but its impact is felt every day. It is not women and girls alone who suffer. It damages all of us. The evidence shows that investing in women and girls delivers major benefits for society. An educated woman has healthier children. She is more likely to send them to school. She earns more and invests what she earns in her family.

It is simply self-defeating for any community to discriminate against half its population. We need to challenge these self-serving and outdated attitudes and practices – as we are seeing in Iran where women are at the forefront of the battle for democracy and freedom.

I understand, however, why many political leaders can be reluctant about stepping into this minefield. Religion, and tradition, are powerful and sensitive areas to challenge. But my fellow Elders and I, who come from many faiths and backgrounds, no longer need to worry about winning votes or avoiding controversy – and we are deeply committed to challenging injustice wherever we see it.

The Elders are an independent group of eminent global leaders, brought together by former South African president Nelson Mandela, who offer their influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity. We have decided to draw particular attention to the responsibility of religious and traditional leaders in ensuring equality and human rights and have recently published a statement that declares: “The justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable.”

We are calling on all leaders to challenge and change the harmful teachings and practices, no matter how ingrained, which justify discrimination against women. We ask, in particular, that leaders of all religions have the courage to acknowledge and emphasise the positive messages of dignity and equality that all the world’s major faiths share.

The carefully selected verses found in the Holy Scriptures to justify the superiority of men owe more to time and place – and the determination of male leaders to hold onto their influence – than eternal truths. Similar biblical excerpts could be found to support the approval of slavery and the timid acquiescence to oppressive rulers.

I am also familiar with vivid descriptions in the same Scriptures in which women are revered as pre-eminent leaders. During the years of the early Christian church women served as deacons, priests, bishops, apostles, teachers and prophets. It wasn’t until the fourth century that dominant Christian leaders, all men, twisted and distorted Holy Scriptures to perpetuate their ascendant positions within the religious hierarchy.

The truth is that male religious leaders have had – and still have – an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world. This is in clear violation not just of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and the prophets, Muhammad, and founders of other great religions – all of whom have called for proper and equitable treatment of all the children of God. It is time we had the courage to challenge these views.

OBSERVER

Jimmy Carter was president of the United States from 1977 to 1981.

Copyright © 2013 Fairfax Media

 

http://www.womenspress-slo.org/?p=11440

Laxmi Update


27 June 2011

I continue to worry about Laxmi.   We’ve started math classes at the women’s center and she appears to have trouble even with rudimentary arithmetic. This may have something to do with her unfamiliarity with western-style numerals, but I fear that the problem is deeper.   It would seem that she has had very little schooling of any kind.  This concerns me because at 50 she is old by Nepali standards and will certainly be discriminated against as she looks for a job.  I brought her to the attention of the director of VSN, who wanted to do something for her.   I had hoped that we would be able to give her a temporary bed at the Women’s Center and a job as a house cleaner and caretaker.  But Shreezanna, whom Tej has wisely made manager of the center, did not want to bring her in for fear that she would never leave.

Tej and Shreezanna offered to help her to learn a new skill so that she could go into business for herself.  She could take sewing lessons at the center and work as a seamstress.  Or she could borrow some money in order to set up a small shop selling vegetables.  Neither of these options particularly appeal to her, not because she is lazy but rather because she knows that she lacks the bookkeeping, personality and time-management skills to go into business for herself.

Twenty-three years ago her husband abandoned her after seven months of marriage for another woman.  She continued to live with her husband’s family for a few years, but they pushed her out.

Nepal still operates under the medieval cultural assumption that a woman who has had sex but is not living with her husband is little more than a whore.   Therefore, traditional Nepalis regard a jilted or divorced woman as unclean, worthless, and untouchable.  The double standard permits men to sleep with whomever they please, as often as they please, without losing any status.  The fundamental assumption underlying this hypocrisy is that women belong to men as a kind of chattel and constitute lesser human beings.  Men enjoy greater political, economical, and social privileges than women do solely because they are not female.  What is the most pernicious effect of this misogynist worldview?  The damage it does to women’s self-esteem.  A woman who has been treated as a lesser being, a servant, a breeder, or a status symbol all of her life generally regards herself in those terms, even if she still has the sense in some forgotten region of her body and mind, that she is worthy, beautiful, and that she has the same right to a dignity and respect as any other person.

Laxmi has a strong sense of her own dignity but few options.  After her in-laws excluded her, she went to live with her brother.  He was kind to her but his wife looked down on her as a ruined woman and abused her.  Laxmi held out for nine or ten years, and then went to live with a niece.  I do not know why she did not stay with her niece’s family.  Laxmi then went to live with her sister in Pepsi-Cola.  Years passed, and the sister and her family decided to move back to their village in Solu Khumbu, the region around Sagarmatha, which westerners call Mt. Everest.  Laxmi did not want to join them because the villages would treat her roughly and rudely on account of her status.

She came to the attention of Sugandha, who wanted to help her but did not have much to offer.  She has been working long hours in his house for two meals a day and 500 rupees (about $8) per month.  He also convinced his sister, , but this situation became unbearable for one or both and ended soon.  Laxmi is now living with a friend.  Sugandha intended to assist Laxmi for only a short time, to give her shelter and food until she found a way to support herself.

I could have pushed Tej and Shreezanna harder and even, perhaps, have forced them to give Laxmi a room at the women’s center.  My donation, after all, made it possible for VSN to rent the flat, and it still has an unused room.  What difference does it make if she comes and never leaves?  Is the women’s center not supposed to help women just like Laxmi, women who have no husband, no family, no source of support, no or few skills, and no money?  Yes.  It is.  But the women’s center also needs to keep on going after I am gone.

Here is my still-evolving philosophy:  It is wrong to force well-intentioned yet potentially unrealistic and inappropriate Western attitudes and ways of doing things onto a culture that I still imperfectly understand. I believe that all human beings have the right to flourish and to meaningful work and to live their lives with dignity.  But I don’t know the best way for Nepali people to flourish with meaning and dignity.  I am a visitor here and aim to tread lightly.  Even if I did try to impose my way of doing things, the Nepalis would only go along with it for a short time and then return to what makes sense to them, what they know works.  So I think the thing to do is to aid people who are already working to improve the lives of their countryfolk in ways that make sense to me

I think it can be very hard to know whom to trust, but I trust Tej and Shreesannah.  I will defer to them in most cases.  But I will also do what I can to make the lives of the people whom they are helping happier, healthier, and more dignified. I want to enable and empower women and children to make their own decisions about their lives, to have a measure of freedom that they would probably not have without VSN.

So, what will happen to Laxmi?  I don’t know.  I was not able to raise very much money on her behalf.  What I received went to her.   People tend to prefer to help children and young people.  There is no social security system in place in Nepal.  She may end up going to her sister and her village, where she will be excluded from the hearth, the family circle, the fellowship that sustains emotional well-being and good humor. I don’t know for sure that this will happen to her.  I only know what people tell me, and that is this: a woman who has been abandoned by her husband leads a very terrible and hard life.  I don’t think Tej will let her fall into the streets, but I also do not know what he can or will do for her.  She cannot depend on him or on me or anyone else to take care of her.  I don’t know enough about her story to do it, or her, credit.

Daily life


After a bad bout of the johhny-jump-ups I’m back to work and beginning to settle in.  I rise with the rest of the Nepalis, at 5 or so, puddle around on the rooftop garden having tea in my pajamas and then get myself into the shower.  On clear mornings I can see the Himalayas looming up behind the Kathmandu Valley hills like a huge, benevolent spirit.   I study Nepali for about half an hour and then gather up whatever I’m bringing to the orphanage, and walk two minutes to the west to its gate.  There I am greeted by beautiful, cheerful children who throw themselves on me, all six of them wanting to hug me at once.  They grab my hands and pull me into the house.

On the way to this delightful destination, I pass intensely thin and dark-skinned women throwing bricks into enormous baskets that hang from straps around their foreheads and balance on their back.  They are building a house.  Sometimes they stand at a plastic barrel brimming over with water and cement, mixing the water into the sand by hand. Or they are shoveling dirt. They labor in the mud or on rocky ground in full sun from early in the morning until sundown.  They wear ragged, faded saris and tie their hair back with the scarves that wealthier women wear properly draped across their chests.  They work for men and receive very little to live on.  They did not go to school.  They have no marketable skills, no property, no support system.  If they fall ill, they die.  I think about this as I pass them on my way to work that never feels like work in the morning.  I salute them with Namaste as I go, and they return the greeting.  And then I thank the universe that we have the chance to save Gorima, Nirmala, Anura, and Krishala from their fate.   Because of VSN, its staff, and its current and former volunteers, they have a clean and pleasant house, nutritious food, and a good school.  They have also been very lucky to find a home with Bimala, who is loving, patient, and kind to them.   All of this costs money, and without donors from abroad these kids would end up breaking and hauling rocks or worse. Many Nepali girls are sold into servitude or sexual slavery by parents who can’t afford to keep them.  They spend their lives in windowless, dank rooms submitting to rape.  Anura, Gorima, Krishala, and Nirmala are lucky.  Today I brought earrings for the girls and nothing for the boys, so I’ll have to find something tomorrow.

 

New Post

Katya’s Story


The horrific summary appeared in the Guardian:

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

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

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

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

As Katya herself has asked,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catholic Bishops Actively Oppose Equality of Women, Again


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whither the Revolution for Women in Egypt and Yemen?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexist Science in the New York Times


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

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.

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.