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Well, damn. Here’s a curveball: Sarah Palin’s 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, is pregnant. With most politicians’ children I’d say “big deal, it’s none of our business,” but Sarah Palin is so damn sure that my uterus is her business, so this one, my friends, is open for discussion.

First, a caveat: it’s probably really shitty to be pregnant at 17. I can only imagine that, being still a child and all, you must be damn scared for your future. Forget college applications and SATs, you have chosen Door Number Three! Congratulations, you’ve won: a baby! And at least eighteen years of massive responsibility!

Now, I imagine it’s also really shitty to be told by your VP Candidate mom that you have to marry the boy who got you pregnant, even though he’s also still a kid and is probably more interested in his Nintendo Wii than the ins and outs of effective parenting, never mind interested in creating that lifelong romance you’ve probably dreamed of while watching all those Disney movies growing up. But, whatever, shit happens, and I feel really sorry for a young girl who is not only going through the trauma of an unexpected pregnancy but also the much scarier trauma of having 300 million people talking about what’s in her uterus. Oh, and dealing with the whole “mother running for Vice President” thing.

Now, here’s my problem with how this delightful little fetus has been discussed by the McCain/Palin team. The McCain campaign has been careful to say that Bristol Palin made the decision “on her own” to continue with her pregnancy. But as Ann at Feministing correctly points out:

While it’s obvious why they made this statement to assure the public that Bristol was not coerced into keeping the baby (after all, she does have a parent who is a staunch opponent of the right to choose and is currently on the Republican presidential ticket), as my significant other pointed out, there’s some serious hypocrisy at play here. I mean, John McCain and Sarah Palin don’t believe women have a right to choose. It’s absolutely absurd for the campaign to emphasize the fact that Bristol “made this decision,” and then push for policies that take away that choice.

Ann is right on the money. It’s hypocrisy to suggest that this 17-year-old girl made the right choice when the whole idea of choice is so beyond any Republican position right now. Other women should be denied any choice as to whether they continue with their pregnancies, but Bristol Palin should be congratulated for exercising the choice that would be denied her if her mother was elected? That’s fucked up.

I’m glad that Ann also brought up Cara’s great post from last week on the discussions surrounding Sarah Palin’s “choice” not to abort her son, Trig, who was born with Down’s Syndrome. Here’s another case where Palin was congratulated for choosing to continue with the pregnancy, even though under a McCain/Palin administration, she would deny all of us that same choice. As Cara said,

You know what we often say about how conservatives care a whole lot about fetuses but very little about actual children? Well here’s your example. It’s almost as though they think that Palin became pregnant and gave birth to a child with Down Syndrome simply to please them. And the thing is that if they really believe their rhetoric, the answer was obvious, so obvious in fact that Palin didn’t really have a “choice” to make. Only now, because it’s convenient, they want to acknowledge that the decision of whether or not to abort after getting news that your child will be born with a disability is a difficult one, simply so that they can point and say “but look at her, she searched her soul and then did the right thing — so should all women!” They don’t want women to have a choice, but then want to praise this particular woman for the choice that she did make.

Cara and Ann make great points. As a pro-choice woman, I believe that my uterus is mine and mine alone, and I am grateful to be living in a country (not the U.S.) that upholds my right to decide what is best for me and mine. At least in this country I am judged to be intelligent enough to make these decisions for myself, without needing a Sarah Palin telling me what I should and shouldn’t be doing. It’s hypocrisy, then, for the Republicans to be congratulating these two women on their choices not to terminate their pregnancies when Palin doesn’t believe she or her daughter should have that choice in the first place.

And let me agree with another point Cara raised; while Palin’s “choice” to have a baby with Down’s Syndrome has been congratulated by the right-wing for being an example of her pro-life family values, this is not a choice that only “pro-life” women make! It is ridiculous to suggest that all pro-choice women would all immediately choose abortion if faced with the same amnio results. Pro-choice doesn’t mean pro-abortion; it means pro-choice. It means supporting safe and accessible reproductive health care for women, whatever your politics. Many pro-choice women choose to continue with pregnancies even when faced with abnormalities like Down’s. The point is, they have the freedom to make that choice according to what works for them. I don’t know why Sarah Palin should be held up as a great pro-life role model for having a baby with Down’s Syndrome when there are a hell of a lot of pro-choice women who do the same, and when she wouldn’t have a choice anyway if she got her own way. Under a McCain/Palin administration, all women would be forced to continue with all pregnancies.

Isn’t that a frightening thought?

I find it very creepy that Palin is against abortion even in the case of rape or incest. In response to being asked what she would do if a man raped her daughter, she answered, “I would choose life.” Drew Westen at The Huffington Post puts it like this:

Palin apparently even believes in forcing teenage incest survivors and rape victims to bear their rapists’ babies…the position she and others on the right have articulated gives every rapist the right to pick the mother of his child. That position is tantamount to a Rapist’s Bill of Rights, which privileges the rights of rapists and child molesters over the rights of their victims. Those are McCain-Palin’s “family values,” and they are not mainstream American values.

Thank you, Drew Westen, for pointing out how sick Palin’s values really are, and for once again bringing the point home: pro-lifers hate women. Sarah Palin hates women. Sarah Palin hates me.

Welcome to your Republican Vice-Presidential candidate, America. This could be your future.

*Update: Check out Rebecca Traister’s great piece in Salon on this same topic.

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The Independent reveals today that the Admiral at the head of the Royal Navy at the time of the Iraq invasion seriously doubted whether the war was legal.

This confirms what I already suspected about the chasm between the military and government in 2003. From what I understand – in the UK, at least – the military was not keen on invading Iraq. Nor are they keen on staying in Iraq. Yet they can’t say this publicly because they aren’t supposed to be political. It’s a shame, really, because it seems to me the people who are actually on the ground might have a little more to contribute to the debate than, say, a Prime Minister who is more concerned with creating a legacy for himself and cozying up to Bush than doing what’s right.

The Iraq war is the responsibility of Tony Blair and the Bush Administration, not the military. I can’t tell you how angered I was to hear that tool Lou Dobbs tell Bill Maher recently that the failures in Iraq were due to the poor planning of the U.S. military. No, the failures in Iraq are due to the shitty idea of going into Iraq in the first place – a decision that was taken by Bushy and his cronies. Hell, I was still in undergrad when the invasion happened and even I thought it was the stupidest idea ever – not only because the reasons for it were unclear and it was illegal, but also because there was no way they’d win. It was a bad strategic move – expensive, deadly, wasteful, pointless. Oh, and morally wrong – but that’s a different argument that the pro-war folks don’t really want to engage with.

Here’s an excerpt from the article on Admiral West:

What was noticeable was the difference in attitude among the men and women compared to the Afghan war. There was genuine unease and it was the duty of the chiefs of staff, as the head of the services, to get clarification about whether they would be in breach of international law. There was also a degree of worry about the independence or otherwise of the government legal advice.

Admiral West approached lawyers … on whether the impending action over Iraq was justified. It was a personal decision on his part and he felt this was necessary because of his duty of care towards people serving under him. He and the other service chiefs did not walk blindly into Iraq, they asked all the questions they could under the circumstances and with the ever-present caveat that they could not stray into the field of politics.

I have as many problems with the culture of the military as the next anti-war feminist – military culture is inherently misogynistic and pro-violence – but I’m also not one to blame the messenger. The responsibility in going to war lies with the politicians, while the responsibility for the conduct of war is shared both by the military and by the politicians that sent them there ill-equipped. And, remember, it is the politicians at the top who gave the military the OK to torture, and who continue to proclaim the virtues of torturing suspected terrorists. The recent Republican presidential candidates debate reveals that all the candidates, with the exception of good old Ron Paul, are clear supporters of torture – even going so far as to say that the US needs more folks like Jack Bauer. (Watch that clip – sickening!)

Here in the UK, blood is boiling about the war and I suspect there’s only a few little loyal Blairites who are still in support of Iraq. It should be interesting to see what Blair’s legacy really is a few years from now, and how long the British public – and the British military – put up with a bunch of tools making stupid decisions that are costing far too many lives.

Guess what The New York Times revealed today?

WASHINGTON (AP) — American Indian women are more than twice as likely to be raped as other U.S. women, and the suspects often go free because of confusing police jurisdictions and a lack of nurses, Amnesty International reports.

Don’t believe me? Read this post.

(Cross-posted from my other blog)

 

Upon my return to the UK this week I was brought up-to-date on the Don Imus “hos” affair as well as the continuing saga of harassed blogger Kathy Sierra. Before I get to this, I’ll tell you a brief story of something I witnessed while shopping in my local grocery store on Friday night. It brought back memories of working in a grocery store in high school, and reminded me of the attitudes towards women that I encountered in restaurant jobs and the service industry throughout university.

Four employees were stacking shelves in the cereal aisle. Two were women and two were men. The younger woman employee – in her early twenties – stood up and turned around to get more boxes. At this point her colleague, a man in his mid-forties, said loudly to her, “you’d better wipe your bottom, you have dust all over it.” She stopped, visibly stiffened, and replied, “maybe I don’t mind it that way.” And his eyes widened and said, “I’m just saying, is all.”

What happened next is interesting. As I continued down the aisle, the young woman brushed past me and headed to the back of the store. I saw her face as I was passing. She was visibly upset, but it seemed to me like she was trying very hard not to show it. I looked back at the aisle, and the older man was laughing about her reaction with the other two employees. Their attitude was “what is she making a big deal about?”

I’m not placing the full blame on the man here. He should know better than to comment on a colleague’s rear end – whether or not there’s dust there. And he should know better than to laugh about her when she leaves. But I’m not blaming him, because he probably doesn’t have a frickin’ clue about the power relations between men and women workers, and how easily one small comment can trigger feelings of vulnerability in women, and how some women dread those moments because there is danger in speaking out. This is easily a case where the comment could be seen as “no big deal.” Women understand this – they understand the danger involved in not being understood, not being taken seriously, and being accused of hysteria, exaggeration, or weakness. Like many women, I have both witnessed and personally experienced these moments – drawing attention to a woman’s body at work, laughing at a woman’s reaction to an unwanted comment, calling a woman “frigid” or “prissy” because she doesn’t smile at a joke that isn’t funny. And the resulting feelings of powerlessness and vulnerability, which once again remind you that you’re just a woman and we’ll never look at you as an equal and you’re less than us, bitch! There is always an underlying current of disrespect towards women that many of us want to forget. And just when you finally think you’re safe and respected, someone has to remind you that no, really, you’re not safe, and you’re not respected. Unfortunately this feeling can be triggered by one small, seemingly innocent comment like “you’d better wipe your bottom.”

I’ve been thinking about this brief moment in the grocery store for two days, and am finally able to put it into context, thanks to two fabulous bloggers, Twisty and Chris.

Twisty has a super new post at I Blame The Patriarchy on the reaction to well-known blogger Kathy Sierra’s decision to quit blogging after receiving death threats. Sierra chose to walk away for her own safety – only to be accused by fellow feminists of playing the victim card. Here’s a fairly lengthy excerpt, which is absolutely essential reading on revolution and the patriarchy:

 

If, by some Stone Age fantasy-world turn of good fortune, our society had not been permitted by the clumsy aliens of the planet Obsterperon to devolve into a patriarchy, Kathy Sierra wouldn’t have done anything wrong. The Rutgers basketball team wouldn’t have done anything wrong. They would have just been human beings, doing whatever the fuck they felt like doing.

But it is a patriarchy. And in a patriarchy, where women are the lowest caste, a public woman is always wrong. Which is why Sierra and the basketball players and lard knows how many others over the millennia have been victimized by a gazillion patriarchy-enthusiasts. These women attempted publicly, in a society in which they are devalued as dirty jokes, hysterics, babymommas, and receptacles, to behave as sovereign human beings. It is one of the first laws of patriarchy that insubordinate females should be jeered at and harassed, from the moment they dare, as members of the sex caste, to step into the gray subumbra of proto-celebrity, to the moment the last blurb is written by some feminist blogger who criticizes their behavior as victims-who-let-the-terrorist-manbags-win.

Do you get the implications? Even the feminists — we’re as poisoned by establishmentarianist dogma as anybody else — operate under the patriarchal paradigm. Thus, even some feminists think we ought to criticize Kathy Sierra for not taking her reaming like a man. We recognize that victimhood does not equal personhood, but beyond that we’re constrained by some dim twilight denial. We can’t believe, even though it is true, that victimhood the only available outcome, so we say insane things like, “don’t act like a victim, you idiot!”

Twisty is right: feminists do wrong when we criticize women for backing down. If backing down means finding a safe place and refusing to submit oneself to continuing violence and hostility, then why not? Why continue to engage with people so detached from reality and so lacking in kindness? Why make yourself a target of death threats? It is a woman’s right to run in the opposite direction. There is something seriously wrong with a society or an ideology that requires someone to continue to “take it like a man” and continue to subject themselves to nastiness and cruelty. Yes, we need to continue to fight against oppression and harassment. But Kathy Sierra had every right to do what she needed to do to be safe. The problem here is not that Kathy Sierra didn’t “take it like a man,” but that there are no protections in place for her from the anonymous bloggers. These people who threatened her with rape and posted her personal information on the internet, all because she was a woman and she exercised her right to speak publicly, should be prosecuted. It shouldn’t be up to her to withdraw from public life – it should be the public that finds a way to protect her.

Also, Chris at Pandagon has a post on “How Not to Be an Asshole: A Guide for Men,” in response to the loser male bloggers who seem to think they know all there is to know about violence against women. These are different bloggers from those who make death threats – they’re the ones who decry the harassment while arguing that women are a bunch exaggerating, illogical whiners who should take these threats “like a man” and get on with it. Chris’ point is that these men, who downplay women’s experiences of violence and ridicule their feelings of victimhood, should shut up and actually listen for a change.

Here are a few excerpts from Chris’ post:

I see there are some kind, helpful men who are taking pains to make sure emotion doesn’t run rampant in the discussion, that unfair accusations of misogyny or characterizations of harassment statistics get spread in an understandable emotional response to a few very upsetting instances of harassment by piglike men who fall far outside the norm. Surely, these men reason, we mustn’t let these nasty experiences color our judgment of the actual events involved. Surely it helps no one to make wild and baseless charges without looking, in uber-dispassionate detachment, at the actual statistics and methodology and margin of error of the studies that show women get harassed more than men.

If you doubt that the nature of abuse and harassment women suffer, online or off, differs from that men experience, then you don’t know what you’re talking about.

If no woman in your life has ever talked to you about how she lives her life with an undercurrent of fear of men, consider the possibility that it may be because she sees you as one of those men she cannot really trust.

In short, if you’re interested in quibbling with the data or suggesting alternate interpretations of what Kos really meant when he called Kathy Sierra a lying “crying blogger,” and your goal is not to be a flaming asshole, shut the fuck up.

And when you shut the fuck up, two magical things happen:

1) You’re no longer actively contributing to the very problem you’re discussing;
2) It’s easier to listen to what the women are actually saying.

So what does this have to do with the woman at the grocery store? It’s simple: when people refuse to understand why women feel vulnerable, when they refuse to acknowledge that there may be something to that feeling, when they assume they know how a woman should react (from the ultra-serious such as death threats to small comments that may seem harmless at the time) they are contributing to the problem.

I hereby nominate Twisty and Chris for the “World’s Best People of the Week” award. Go read their posts!

Salon.com has an excellent article on women soldiers in the U.S. Army who are sexually assaulted or threatened with sexual assault by their fellow soldiers.

Some excerpts:

I have talked to more than 20 female veterans of the Iraq war in the past few months, interviewing them for up to 10 hours each for a book I am writing on the topic, and every one of them said the danger of rape by other soldiers is so widely recognized in Iraq that their officers routinely told them not to go to the latrines or showers without another woman for protection.


“There are only three kinds of female the men let you be in the military: a bitch, a ho or a dyke,” said Montoya, the soldier who carried a knife for protection. “This guy out there, he told me he thinks the military sends women over to give the guys eye candy to keep them sane. He said in Vietnam they had prostitutes to keep them from going crazy, but they don’t have those in Iraq. So they have women soldiers instead.”


The real attitude is this: If you tell, you are going to get punished. The assailant, meanwhile, will go free.
Check out the article here.

As a feminist I find it incredibly frustrating to have to explain why feminism is still relevant to our generation of women. Those who don’t “get it” assume that everything’s all rosy now that women can (gasp!) vote and (shock!) succeed in their chosen careers – up to a point, of course. Gotta love how women on the tenure-track or whatever work ladder can easily be pushed aside or frowned at whenever they make the decision to a) have kids; b) take care of their ailing relatives; or c) deal with some real life issues that places work second to family and health matters.  Because that’s what we do: we make choices that benefit our lives outside of work (that’s why it’s a society) and we still get penalized for it in a way that men most often don’t.

But that’s not the only reason why I’m a feminist. My feminism is based on several things, such as: solidarity with women around the world who are fighting to be free of discrimination/violence/poverty/oppression; dissatisfaction with the feminization of poverty; anger at continuing structural, physical and emotional violence against women that permeates all aspects of our society. This last point is evidenced in porn, pop culture, advertising, low conviction levels for rape, stalking, domestic violence, multiple murders of sex workers, so-called “honour killings” (oh, how I hate that term), the Pussycat Dolls selling themselves as “feminists” (despite what they claim, they are not an example of women’s empowerment), sexual violence and threats of sexual violence, war, the threat of war, being called “frigid” or the c-word by a stranger at a bar because I won’t let him grab me…

So if you are also angry at continuing structural  violence against women, take a look at this post by Jill at Feministe. She is a few years younger than me, a law student, and a great writer. In recent months she has been targeted by a group of male law students (law students! those who are supposed to defend our liberties! those who are supposed to improve our society!) who have been stalking, harassing and threatening her via a popular law-school message board. The creators of this message board have claimed that this is about free speech, and refuse to defend Jill. But it’s not about free speech, it’s about slander, and violence, and hate speech, and nastiness. It’s about never feeling safe, because there’s always a creep out there (or, in Jill’s case, hundreds of self-important, privileged, wealthy, woman-hating creeps) who thinks it’s his right to go online, post your picture, and threaten to rape you, because he doesn’t like your ideas. This is an example of why I’m a feminist, folks: our society – including the “elites” such as those attending this law school – hates women.

This is our generation, and it’s our problem. Go read her post.

In Israel, ultra-Orthodox (read: extremist) Jews are now forcing women to the back of the bus.
Don’t speak out, or they’ll beat you!

Here’s some news from the Globe and Mail that might make you seriously question what kind of society we live in:

Hundreds of Young Girls Work Winnipeg’s Sex Trade

Girls as young as eight are selling sex in the street and in crack houses.

An excerpt:

“Why are we accepting this?” she asked. She believes part of the answer is rooted in racism. The sad reality of sexual exploitation in Winnipeg is that 70 per cent of victims are aboriginal, she said. Compare the attention paid to them, she said, to the outcry over Internet luring, which she described as a middle-class preoccupation.

“They’re people who yell and scream and get a response, while those who are impoverished don’t,” Ms. Runner said.

So, why are we accepting this? And what role do you play in this? Silent observer? Indifferent worker? Not your problem?

Apparently, if you’re a woman brave enough to enter politics in Pakistan, you could be shot dead by a woman-hating serial killer.

This is the seventh woman this man has murdered – that police know of. He was acquitted of the first six murders for “lack of evidence.”

Anyone still doubting why I’m a feminist?

Those of us studying feminist IR, gender and conflict, “new wars” in Africa, and grassroots politics are never surprised by stories like this. Rape is very common in conflict. It is a deliberate strategy often used by all parties to the conflict, whether rebel groups or national militaries, or security services such as the police. In patriarchal societies (ours included) women are conceptualized in terms of their bodies and as reproducers of the nation. Rape is about power and hate. In conflict, rape is a way to humiliate and shame the enemy. It is done to take power away not only from the woman but from her family and community. It is at once a personal and communal attack.

We all know that in the years since the United States invaded Iraq security for women has been severely curtailed. Many Iraqi women are afraid to leave their homes. Occurrences of rape have multiplied in the last few years and many women have disappeared. When a Sunni woman claimed on Monday that she had been raped by three officers in the Iraqi National Police, the reaction wasn’t pretty. Iraq divided along sectarian lines: Shiites condemned her while Sunnis supported her. In a ridiculous move, Iraq’s Prime Minister released some kind of medical reports that supposedly show the woman was not raped. (U.S. military officials cannot confirm the authenticity of the document, nor can they say how the Prime Minister’s office actually got these records in the first place.) Now the Prime Minister’s office is calling her a liar and a wanted criminal. This is bullshit.
Here is an excerpt from today’s New York Times:

“If we want something, we will take; and things we don’t want, we will kill,” the woman said she was told.

She said that the attack was videotaped and that she was told she would be killed if she told anyone about it.

A nurse who said she treated the woman after the attack said that she saw signs of sexual and physical assault. The woman, according to the nurse, could identify one of her attackers because he was not wearing a mask, as were the others, and could identify a second attacker by a mark on his genitals.

The nurse would speak only on the condition of anonymity because she feared that Shiite militiamen would kill her for speaking out. The nurse said she was also wanted by the authorities, who believed the clinic she works at was used by insurgents.

She said the clinic was simply for Sunnis in the Amil neighborhood who were too afraid to the visit the Shiite-run hospital.

It is not uncommon for rape victims to be further attacked and vilified when they speak out against their attackers. It is very rare for women in Muslim societies – or any highly patriarchal society – to actually speak out against this, because they are often blamed and, in some cases, killed for making it public. Why would any woman in Iraq make up a story like this? As the NYTimes says:

Sabah Salem, a professor at the Baghdad University College of Law, said that while men were occasionally charged with rape in Iraq and punished, many cases went unreported.

“Rape cases in Iraq are viewed as a shameful thing to any woman regardless of the fact that she is the victim,” he said in an interview.

I’m surprised that the Prime Minister of Iraq would be part of these attacks on this woman. Whether the sectarian issue is “delicate” or not, the reaction should be to condemn rape completely, not to accuse the woman of making the story up. It looks like the Americans haven’t gotten around to conducting gender mainstreaming training for their new friends in the Iraqi leadership – not that I’m surprised. Prime Minister or not, he’s still blaming the rape victim, and that is wrong. Then again, given the high-profile cases of American soldiers raping Iraq girls, why would we expect them to get it either? Proof that there is still a very, very long way to go.

I remember thinking when the U.S. invaded Iraq that this would be very dangerous for Iraqi women. I wasn’t wrong.