Gendered value

29 Jan

Italian women partisans

For many years, American women have served in the United States Armed Forces, in many different capacities: in both Iraq and Afghanistan women served in ground combat troops. Despite the fact that a female soldier was not technically allowed to be in combat troops, this prohibition never meant that women were not involved in on-the-ground battle, saving lives and risking their own.

However, because of the continued ban, the recognition the women received for their duties and their abilities to move upwards in the Armed Forces chains-of-command were severely limited.  Last week’s decision to lift the ban, basically allowing women to enter into all echelons-upper and lower-within the Armed Forces provoked delight and satisfaction in women in the military.   

http://www.npr.org/2013/01/24/170198106/woman-who-sued-to-reverse-combat-ban-was-stunned-then-ecstatic

Colonel Ellen Haring was one of the two women whose lawsuit provided the final nail in the ban’s coffin. Haring was interviewed last week on NPR, and spoke of the many opportunities she saw bypass her; 80% of the highest position general officers were taken from people (men) in the combat specialities units that women were barred from joining. This structure could not be integrated unless the ban was revoked.

Does this mean that women in the military are now on a fast track to equality? Of course not. Sexual assault in all of the armed forces is only now finally being seen as the epidemic it is. More women in more places will not make this disappear, but it will almost immediately make finding an administrative ear somewhat easier.

In the above interview, Colonel Haring was asked whether the decision would make her more likely to hesitate if her daughter approached her about joining the military, seeing as how now there would be no impediment to her serving in the most dangerous elements available.

Haring replied that she has one daughter and two sons, and would be fearful and hesitant for all three of them. “I don’t think you can place more value on one of your children versus the other simply because of their gender.”

Haring brings up an excellent, contradictory, thorny point. For as long as “women and children first” has been stated, as long as women and children have been counted as casualties of war and men mentioned afterwards, and the idea of Chivalry has been considered infallible, the female sex have been deemed to be of more “value” than the male.

This “value” is by no means monetary, it instead refers to a kind of sacredness that the female embodies. She must be protected, guarded, defended. This type of value is that of the negative: for it is what she is not, what she cannot do, that renders her of value. She is weak, she must be protected. To no longer see her in this light the spell is broken. If she does not need male protection she is no longer weak. If she can protect herself, the historically male duty to protect, defend, and guard becomes no longer male.

To not “value” a daughter more than a son, is to perceive one’s children as equals, in ability, potential and possibility.

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If men could get pregnant….

24 Oct

When I was in high school, I remember this bumper sticker:

I didn’t really grasp the strength of the rhetoric, nor did I know that it was a quote from an amazing African American feminist–Florynce Kennedy:

The point is, I was thinking about the statement today, as I heard about the most recent remark in favor of complete abortion bans, this one by Indiana republican Richard Mourdock. He expressed the following gem at a recent debate: “The only exception I have to have an abortion is in the case of the life of the mother. I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize life is that gift from God. I think that even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/23/richard-mourdock-abortion_n_2007482.html

This extremely profound expression of compassion and empathy sounds even better when put to the trauma test. Tsunamis, genocide, child abuse, earthquakes, rape–all are events that God wanted to happen, and must therefore be considered gifts. But we’re not talking about the Biblical parable of Job here; specifically, something that will most likely never happen to Mourdock, is something that he insists a rape victim must consider to be a gift.

Think on this: Rape has been used as a weapon of war, as an instrument of torture and soul-killing, in the Serbian rape camps, by Congolese paramilitary soldiers, and in thousands of other examples across the centuries. Specifically, in the case of the former Yugoslavia, Serbian soldiers corralled Bosnian women into camps wherein they were raped for months on end. The goal was not just to torture the women, but to impregnate them, sowing their seeds for a future Serbian generation (and ensuring a life of shame for the raped Bosnian woman). Whether one believes in a God or not is an obfuscation here: these acts do not take place in a sphere where gifts–as such–occur.

Mourdock’s remarks, prefaced as they are with his admission of having “struggled over it for a long time,” clearly reveal his complete inability to look, feel, see, envision, guess, at what another person might be feeling after such trauma.

But I misspoke. It isn’t “another person,” it’s a woman. Mourdock’s description of “struggling,” very clearly and sadly emphasizes his complete, presumptious disconnect. The ongoing tragic irony of these incessant and ridiculous declarations concerning rape and abortion have all been made by men, about women’s experiences. The fire, fury, and righteousness of their mandate occurs in the vacuum of their sex and gender. In 1998  the artist Barbara Kruger produced this poster for the New York subway system:

 14 years later, what’s changed? (Perhaps the former percentage is now higher?)

Back to the notion of “sacrament.” Arguably, the two most famous mothers are the Virgin Mary and Mother Theresa. Hmmm, both were virgins! So, two of the most historically revered mothers in the Western world were not literally mothers at all. Maternal, submissive, self-sacrificing. But nothing went into their vaginas and nothing came out, they remained pure of defilement, empty vessels. This is relevant because, in all this talk about abortion and rape, there’s been little talk about the woman and the mother herself. And, as usual in the anti-abortion argument, near zero talk about the child once s/he’s born. Further, in all the ranting about rape and its “gifts” I haven’t heard a single politician mention rape counseling and support groups, or the funding for such. In this blog I have often ranted about the anti-abortion movement’s obsession with the fetus as a kind of figment, an abstraction encapsulating the movement’s fervor; but I think that the woman herself remains a figment in a similar fashion, what’s done to her body seen solely hypothetically. Also, the movement’s recent emphatic shift to the eradication of the “rape or incest clause” previously allowed by the right, drags the abstraction of pregnant woman even further into the absolutist mire of Christian fundamentalism. It’s not about the woman, it’s about the embryo/zygote/fetus. It’s not about the woman, it’s about (my) God.

Malala Yousafzai: Brave enough to go to school

19 Oct

Malala Yousafzai, now being treated in hospital in the north of England, has woken up and communicated with her doctors. The passionate and vocal advocate for the education of all girls everywhere, no matter the opposition, excuses, and violence of her foes, was shot in the head by a member of the Taliban.

Despite the international outcry–complete with people everywhere declaring their support through the slogan “I am Malala”, the Taliban have publicly stated that a bounty remains on Malala’s head. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/oct/16/malala-yousafzai-deserved-say-taliban

The group refuses the right of Malala to express herself or even to exist based on their claim that because of her positions in support of President Barack Obama and against the Taliban army, she must–in accordance with the Qur’an–be killed.

Human rights crusader Angelina Jolie penned an opinion piece titled “We are all Malala,” claiming that this tragedy has led to the beginnings of  a revolutionary movement in Pakistan for the rights of girls to be educated. She insisted that the Taliban is losing, that in its declaration “Let this be a lesson,” it is the Taliban that is being schooled.  http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/10/16/angelina-jolie-we-all-are-malala.html

If only this were the case. As long as Pakistan remains desperately poor, corrupt, and at the various mercies of the United States and Islamic fundamentalism, positive change will remain virtually impossible. Thousands of Pakistani and Afghan teenage girls might shout that they are all Malala, but that is because metaphorically they are: lacking in access to education, health care, and civil rights, at the mercy of the adult men in charge of their lives.

Angelina Jolie and girls around the world might shout “we are all Malala,” but they fundamentally are not. The average American, French, Japanese, Chilean girl cannot possibly understand the difficulties, obstacles and potential daily tragedies that a young female in the Swat Valley faces. It’s a nice turn of phrase, but it’s false.

Of course, Malala and all the other girls in the region yearning for the basic human right of access to education must be supported. But the fact remains that as long as American and NATO forces continue their military scourge, complete with daily drone strikes and omnipresent occupation, the Taliban and its allied jihadists will continue to wage their war against Western forces, and whoever and wherever else amongst their fellow countrymen and countrywomen they see it reflected.

When the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, America had not yet begun its war against the nation. Prior to its occupation, President Bush claimed that one of the reasons for its strikes against the enemy state was its severe and brutal oppression of women. This was a telegenic excuse. Further, it must be acknowledged that the American and coalition forces’ occupation has done little to change the average Pakistani or Afghan girl’s life for the better.

Another awful Republican rape statement

13 Sep

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/13/us/politics/behind-romneys-decision-to-criticize-obama-on-libya.html?ref=politics

As the crisis over the amateur anti-Muslim video spreads across the Middle East, its effects on the presidential campaigns here continue to gain in intensity. Romney’s premature statements criticizing the White House’s response (which had not yet occurred), have been widely mocked and ridiculed.

So in turn, Romney’s backers gathered around him, crowing about the American value of free speech, while happily ignoring the very real convergence of hate speech. As the haters manned the defenses: of Romney, of American values, of America’s never-having-to-say-we’re-sorry, Arizona Republican Jon Kyl had this to say:

“This is like a judge telling the woman that got raped, ‘You asked for it because of the way you dressed,’ ” he said. “O.K.? That’s the same thing: ‘Well, America you should be the ones to apologize. You should have known this would happen.’”

America having to apologize to ANYONE is as ridiculous and horrific as a judge telling a woman she deserved to get raped. America is akin to a woman in hot pants walking down a dark alley and getting attacked….it’s like the First Amendment in an up-to-there mini-skirt getting jumped on an un-lit socialist cobblestone path.  Well, I hope that America as rape victim does not get pregnant, because America as Republicans will sure not pony up for an abortion.

Iran begins universities’ semesters with bans on female students

24 Aug

As of the fall semester, many Iranian universities have installed a ban on female students in 77 different courses and degrees.  The courses range across the subjects of English literature, English translation, hotel management, archaeology, nuclear physics, computer science, electrical engineering, industrial engineering and business management; spanning the disciplines from the humanties to science and technology, the bans’ lack of subject specificity signals a desire to shrink female college attendance overall.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iran/9487761/Anger-as-Iran-bans-women-from-universities.html

Female students greatly outnumber male students, with the number of females approximately 65% of student bodies. The Science and Higher Education Minister, Kamran Daneshjoo, has claimed that the bans answer the need to achieve equality and a balance between the sexes in education, implying that the male student population is somehow suffering from its lack of parity.

Human rights lawyer and Nobel Prize winner Shirin Ebadi has written to the United Nations Secretary General and High Commissioner for Human Rights demanding an external investigation, claiming “[T]he aim is that women will give up their opposition and demands for their own rights.”

With education and exposure comes open-mindedness, enlightenment, and a requisite desire for more of it: freedom, in other words. With these bans, the Iranian male religious elite is attempting to cut the power-source of such demands at their roots, thus stifling the potential before it is even glimpsed or realized.

P.S. (As of Sept. 25) Online Slate Magazine just published additional information regarding the ban, centering on 77 programs, notably concentrating on degrees generally related to business and entrepreneurship.

http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2012/09/24/iran_bans_women_from_77_college_majors_can_leaders_really_stop_progress_.html

These recent attempts coincidentally dovetail with the Ayatollah Khamenei’s August declaration urging Iranian adults to focus more on the family, and the subsequent decrease in government support for birth control and family planning.

http://www.aninews.in/newsdetail4/story65450/ayatollah-khamenei-urges-iranians-to-039-have-more-babies-039-.html

Rape is rape

22 Aug

There are connections currently being made between the recent Akin comments on “legitimate rape” and last year’s anti-abortion legislation–co-sponsored by Paul Ryan and Akin–that made emergency allocations soley for “forcible rape.”

What exactly is “forcible rape”? Is it like fatal homicide? Is it like a robbery theft?

Is the definition of rape not “any act of sexual intercourse that is forced upon a person”? Rape is the malevolent use of force against another, for sexual ends. Because it is forced, it is rape.

What is a non-forcible rape? Perhaps Akin and Ryan intended to make sure that all those pregnancy cases via statuatory rape flooding the still-standing abortion providors would be turned away…or, Akin and Ryan were attempting to align their position with that of the federal government, which recently expanded the dated, narrow definition of “forcible rape” in order to more fully respond to victims and their needs?

Nah.

Akin and Ryan were undoubtedly using the definition in another attempt to narrow, and eventually destroy, reproductive rights all together. State by state personhood bills aren’t enough after all: start by declaring a zygote a person, proceed by limiting the definition of rape bit by bit until the qualifiers themselves are so overwhelming as to altogether prevent any victim from coming forward, seeking assistance, or doing anything other than welcoming an unwanted potential pregnancy.

Ryan has attempted to backpedal his support of the redefinition, declaring “rape is rape.” Has he recently volunteered for a rape crisis center? taken a women’s studies class? From where did this newer version come?

http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/244715-ryan-dodges-question-on-forcible-rape-language-in-house-bill

In a country where less than 10% of rapists go to prison and a victims’ suffering carries the potential to continue life-long, combined with the already massive amount of bureaucratic, psychological, medical, and legal disincentives to come forward in the hopes of prosecuting the perpetrator, how do these Ryan-sponsored measures and platforms help the actual victims of sexual violence?

They don’t, working instead towards the opposite ends. Until:

Of course, sexual violence will continue, but the ability to prove and prosecute would become so difficult, that overcoming these odds will no longer feel worth their enormous trouble. Is this the desired effect here? Attempting to redefine rape with terms like “forcible rape” gradually dilutes the term’s weightiness, rendering it affectless, or relative. If the re-definition is not used, does that mean the victim was not truly raped? Not raped by force? Should the victim proceed to mull the traumatic events over ever more in the hopes of discovering the perfect definitive qualifier?

Why would such a qualifier be necessary? Has there been such a procipitous decline in violent rape that when a person comes forward claiming to have been raped it is just as likely that it did not occur via force? Have the estimated 2% of fabricated rape claims caused so much damage to the legal system that the linguistic team of Akin and Ryan felt compelled to respond?
Of course not, such assertions are ludicrous. But that is what Akin and Ryan and their terminology have done–rendered the real act of sexual violence questionable, interpretable, trivial, in need of clarification.

Such a gesture is itself a deep and dangerous figurative violence to international struggles to prevent rape. Having to tread water and nitpick with Republican anti-choicers about how forced any victim was literally stops forward motion to change violent cultures and effect positive, peaceful progress.

Akin after the weekend

22 Aug

As mainstream Republicans have scrambled to distance themselves from the growing controversy, Missouri Republican Akin has himself refused the calls to quit the Senate race, or to disappear into the background. Akin has mildly disclaimed his previous statements concerning “legitimate rape,” but insists that his anti-abortion agenda is synonymous with that of the Republican party’s.

http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5glBmitf1lUorR_op1yYbSljxnU0g?docId=CNG.a3d8f6f6aa4c9643bffb399a9520db3d.441

And he’s right. The party is currently pressing for a constitutional amendment that would ban abortion in all cases, even for rape and incest. (The latter being the kind of catch-all clause, insinuating an admittance that it’s not just flighty career gals getting abortions on the fly). But the victims of the clause are no longer safe either. Akin and Romney’s vice-president Ryan supported a bill just last year pressing for a similar ban, making a vote for Romney akin to a vote for Akin. And now, the Republican party itself has voted to again make the amendment endemic to their platform (as they have done in 2000, 2004, 2008).

Despite Romney’s initial claims to be running for president to fix the economy, that jobs are Americans’ first priority, and that he wants to make our country productive again, the overriding theme in the election has become the fight to end abortion at any cost, and in all cases.

What’s this got to do with jobs? How does the Tea Party reconcile its anti-government stance with support for measures that fully assert the government’s right to interfere with half of its citizens? An interference that plays out physically, psychologically, financially, and permanently? How does less government translate into more government control of the female body? How does opposition to female reproductive healthcare butt up against anti-abortion policies? Because if the church/college/state government/shopping mall that you work at doesn’t provide any kind of female reproductive healthcare, this means not only that you are refused reimbursement for the birth control pill, but also refused any kind of neo-natal care.

Concern for the fetus only goes as far as an amendment and a billboard.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/22/opinion/dowd-just-think-no.html?ref=opinion