Archive | June, 2011

And the right to drive continues…

30 Jun

Ahhh…Saudi Arabia: land of gleaming deserts, historic mosques, rich oil fields, and home to the United States government’s closest allies in the Middle East (other than Israel, of course.)

The U.S. and Saudi Arabia have had an intimate friendship for decades: the monarchy providing land for the U.S. military to camp on (and bases from which said military conducts its war-mongering); and last year the Saudi government paid 60.5 billion dollars to the U.S., in its biggest weapons sale to date.

But that’s not why I’m writing this….

The ongoing fight for the right of women to drive a car in Saudi Arabia continues. Popping the trunk of a car, changing the oil, climbing into the driver’s seat, and driving wherever she needs to go. Simple, tiny, daily things that any autonomous individual needs to do. But you can’t be a woman in one of the world’s richest countries and drive a car!

What else can’t you do?

Well, you can’t get an operation unless your male guardian authorizes it. You can’t work unless your male guardian authorizes it. You cannot leave the country unless your male guardian authorizes it. So, maybe driving a car is relative….if you can’t go to the airport to board a plane, search for a job and work it, or go to the hospital to have your appendix removed. After all, if there’s such an extreme prohibition against what a woman can and cannot do, where’s she going to drive to?

And yet, the burgeoning movement of Saudi women determined to sit behind the wheel–to be the driver–persists.

Five women were arrested for driving yesterday in the kingdom, four of which were riding in a car together, begging the question: are there four steering wheels in the vehicle? Or is the implicit danger found not just in one woman driving, but in women banding together and attempting to free themselves from the enormous amount of legal, physical, emotional, cultural, and religious constraints that all women in Saudi Arabia face?


Lysistrata in today’s world

28 Jun

The feminist cultural website Jezebel published an article detailing an organized group of rural Colombian women who decided that a sex strike would be the only effective way to get their men together and get some roads paved!:

Tired of the added remoteness that unpaved, muddy, avalanche-prone, dangerous roads provide to the reality of already living very far away from anywhere else, the women decided that the most fruitful form of getting their men inspired would be to withhold sex until change starts happening.

In April of 2009, another organized group of Kenyan women called on their female compatriots of all political stripes to join their week-long sex strike in an effort to draw attention to (and ideally help combat) infighting and corruption in the government.

Do such bans work? Are a few to several hundred women abstaining from sex working in concert to achieve productive outcomes? Arguably, the very fact that such efforts achieve international reportage implies that their goals are being met to some degree. If the women in a remote area of Colombia are tired of their lack of roads and accessibility, drumming up a strike and achieving publicity works: now it is inevitable that the Colombian government has been informed of the problem.

But will this information lead to a follow-through? Will funds, workers, equipment, machinery, and cohesive vision be provided because of a publicity stunt? Would the strike be more successful if the female villagers convinced the wives of Bogotan politicians to strike alongside them? After all, the structuring problem is most likely one of apathy and indifference to the lives of those who live so remotely and differently from those who live in gleaming houses and paved roads.

These recent strikes have been referred to in terms of the ancient play Lysistrata, written by Aristophanes in 411 B.C. The women of Greece, exhausted by the horrors and violence of the Peloponnesian War, join together in a concerted effort to convince their men to stop fighting and live in peace. Through a ban on sexual activities of any kind, the women-led by Lysistrata-hope to persuade the men that their need for peace will counteract the prevailing tendencies towards violence.

This is a curious maneuver indeed, for it implicitly suggests that a woman’s most powerful effort at achieving her needs and desires is accomplished through withholding her sex. Indeed, using her voice to argue, her brain to create new scenarios, and her physical strength to bend others to her will are all apparently of lesser importance than her mouth to suck and her vagina to fuck.

Is such a state of abstained affairs depressing or realistic? Perhaps to be depressed about the shrewdness of the tactics and the likelihood of their quick results is to be naive and adrift in the realm of feminist abstraction and philosophical questioning, whereas to be realistic is to literally have one’s feet on the ground (and off her back, so to speak).

The right to drive…part II

25 Jun

In May I wrote a post describing a very brave Saudi woman, and her campaign to drive herself wherever and whenever she wanted. She was part of a group of Saudi women who had begun to quietly drive themselves where they needed and wanted to go; in turn leading to a protest: a drive-in, if you will.

The protest occurred June 17th, and though it did not garner the amount of women drivers it had hoped for, the international news coverage that precluded and surrounded it has more than helped the national cause. Indeed, a large number of the women publicly criticized the lack of American support–particularly coming from noted “feminist” and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. The outcry was so loud that Clinton was forced to amend with a released statement in which she spoke of her personal support of the drivers.

The movement has met a diversity of responses in Saudi Arabia, many of which are described in the linked article below:

Criticisms such as: “aren’t there more important causes for Saudi women to get behind?” and concerns regarding the driving women being surrounded by men who aren’t relatives or husbands have been readily voiced, of course. But truly, the right to go where one needs and wants to go is surely a fundamental right. Think about it: I need to go to the store; I need to pick up my child; I have to go to the mosque to pray; my mother/father is sick and I must go attend to them; I have to get to my job; I need a new niqab. There are a million things in any given day or week or month that the average woman must attend to.

Think on this…without the means to engage in these errands, jobs, necessities, and obligations, each woman is totally dependent on a man (be it husband, brother, cousin, father, or paid driver) to actualize these simple and complicated tasks. Each day is instead spent orchestrating how to get to these places and things, rather than actually doing, being, and getting.

The criticism of triviality in terms of larger issues stems from a fear that it is this very fundamental and quotidian concern being addressed and fought here that will lead to a larger absolute and total female revolution. Because once a woman starts fighting over her right to drive….anything is possible.

The Good Wives

17 Jun

The latest straying politician debacle, Wienergate, has gotten me thinking (again!) about the sexual politics of the politician and the wife.

I was talking to my sister about it, ranting about all the good wives who stand mutely by their man on the podium, as he denies, apologizes, prostates, shucks and jives. But, as she pointed out to me, one of my first examples–the South Carolina governor’s wife Jenny Sanford– was false, the lady in question left her man before the denials and recriminations even began.

That made me think I needed to compose a pair of lists, detailing the stays and the stay-nots:

  • Huma Abedin: Hillary Rodham Clinton’s primary assistant, Abedin is generally believed to be more indispensable to the Democratic party than her Wiener husband. Abedin was overseas with Clinton as the Wienergate scandal broke, and was likewise absent when he resigned this week.

Though apparently Abedin is pregnant, it remains to be seen how  long  she will tolerate her sexting-addicted husband.

  • Jenny Sanford: When news reports stated that the South Carolina governor was missing, hiking somewhere along the Appalachian trail, Jenny Sanford was preparing to separate from her husband, after having found out that his avid hiking was taking place  in the wilds of Argentina, with another woman.
  • Silda Wall Spitzer: Silda stood quietly by as her governor-husband admitted his predilection for prostitutes. Silda has been quoted as saying that her husband looked outside of the marriage for sex because she was not providing it.

  • Maria Shriver: When Arnold Schwarzenegger first ran for  governor of California, numerous accounts of sexual misconduct were reported from at least a dozen women. None of these accounts were considered unbelievable, and photographic evidence dating back to “Pumping Iron” was constantly displayed. Shriver defended her husband, going so far as to deny all of the other women’s charges.

When the recent news accounts of Schwarzeneggar having carried on a decade-plus affair and  fathering a child with a household employee aired, Shriver was nowhere in sight. She has since filed for separation, and their son tweeted that his surname is now Shriver, not Schwarzeneggar.

  • Michele Lee: Republican Chris Lee resigned in February of this year after shirtless photographs displayed by him in Craigslist personals ads were discovered. Accounts vary as to their current state, but the two remain married.
  • Suzanne Craig: After Idaho republican Larry Craig was revealed to have gone searching for gay sex in a Minnesota public restroom, his wife Suzanne vehemently denied (along with Larry himself) that he was gay.

  • Matos McGreevey: In 2004, New Jersey governor J. McGreevey admitted to conducting a gay affair with an aide. Though his wife Matos appeared by his side throughout the scandal, they have since engaged in a lengthy custody battle and divorce.

  • Hillary Rodham Clinton: Hillary caused a national scandal when she stated during a “60 Minutes” interview that she was not some “stand by your man” type of Tammy Wynette woman. However, after numerous accounts of President Clinton’s dalliances were publicly aired (to the point of impeachment motions in Congress), dresses were examined for semen, and every blue-collar woman this side of the Mason Dixon line reported to have experienced some illicit attention and/or advances from Ol’ Red Nose, Rodham Clinton is still standing by her man.

  • Elizabeth Edwards: Until her death from terminal cancer this winter, Elizabeth Edwards remained with her husband– despite his child with a campaign videographer and the subsequent scandal, and despite many other suspicions and near scandals. However, her tell-all autobiography and subsequent book tour last summer left the impression that she was standing by her man, albeit with an unsheathed knife at the ready.

The times they are a not-changin’

16 Jun

These two photographs were included in a recent Huffington Post op-ed piece written by blogger Marlo Thomas–“That Girl”!!!

Marlo begins her piece by saying that Wienergate, this month’s John Edwards’ trial, Schwarzeneggar’s love-child, and DSK’s IMF scandal are good things for women everywhere.

This declaration is made despite the facts that sexting, being a dirty twitterer, having an affair with your videographer and allocating funds for it via your presidential campaign, having a decade-long affair with your housekeeper while your wife does whatever it is a supportive Kennedy wife does, and raping your chambermaid do not appear to signal that women have made great strides in terms of human rights. (Do not forget the love children in the second and third examples).

For “That Girl” it is these very facts, and the outrageous, loud and vociferous responses they have evoked that signal that the times are a changing. Obviously, these types of things have been happening as long as men have been pontificating, measuring, speechifying, and flexing; it is now that some women are shouting back. These shouts are becoming more and more noticeable: sometimes availing themselves in the forms of the beautiful thumbs-downs being gesticulated in the above photographs.

So, let’s look on the bright side! Women are organizing, drawing attention to themselves (and sometimes their anger), and–shockingly enough!–not showing up at the podium alongside their man.

But is simple whistle-blowing enough? Arguably, on an evolutionary, relativist, progressive, or historical scale, mere vocalization of the dismal facts on the ground is not that large of a shift. Indeed, speaking truth to power is the perhaps only the beginning in any attempt to overturn it.

Further, how are we not there yet?!?!? As a society, it seems that Americans often like to look back at the recent past and its errors and horrors and exclaim–my! how much things have changed! But in considering these recent ridiculous examples of men in power behaving absolutely egregiously (and as if there is no oversight whatsoever), it becomes a little difficult-strained if you will- to believe that the roles of women in society (and women themselves individually) have experienced great strides in terms of egalitarianism.

The more I write about it, the angrier I become. When I first read That Girl’s piece about an hour ago, I felt optimistic; the time to be silent is finished, women are now speaking up!

As I have written down these feelings of support and optimism, said feelings have begun to sour. The time to be silent was finished decades ago! and we’re still having to resort to being happy at not being silent in 2011? It would appear that our expectations have not really changed since the second wave of feminism….

Who the hell is V.S. Naipaul?!?

14 Jun

Though I prefer to leave personal anecdotes behind, in this case I will make an exception.

I am a waitress, mistress of eavesdropping–whether I want to or not. Tonight, as I was attending to a table, I overheard someone describing a patron of Picasso’s, a literary round table figure. I immediately knew that the person was referring to Gertrude Stein, but their erudite guest did not; he asked who was being spoken of, and when told, asked “were they a writer or something?”
Granted, I suppose that Gertrude Stein is no household name at this point, but whether one has read “The Making of Americans” or not, it was astonishing to me that this adult had no idea about whom their company was speaking.

How does this relate to my title? Well, I will tell you. When a notable blowhard, trouble-making, canonical, striving-to-be-relevant writer attempts to draw attention to himself, he often resorts to the literary fistfight. In this case, the writer V. S. Naipaul recently caused a raucous by declaring no female writer (apparently in the history of the written word) to be his match: “I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not. I think [it is] unequal to me.”

Naipaul went on to deride Jane Austen for her “sentimentality,” and refer to a specific female quality in writing, one that reveals that she is not the “master of the house.”

Granted, these declarations are so insipid as to almost be unworthy of a response. After all, does my foil in question–the novice reader/wine drinker–read V. S. Naipaul? Probably not.

But I believe that my ire and irrational linkage of Gertrude Stein’s anonymity and V. S. Naipaul’s desperate attempt at relevance are connected, if only in so far as the failure of the literary canon.

I have read Gertrude Stein, and come to my own conclusions concerning her literature, persona, poetry, and relevance to the topics of modernity and surrealism. However, I sought her writing out in the auto-didactic approach with which I have discovered, recovered, and enjoyed hundreds of female writers whose mere names have drawn little more than blanks if mentioned at the tables of literates.

V. S. Naipaul is only a drop in the bucket (much to his chagrin). As long as the existing canons of literature remain as overwhelmingly male-centered as they have always been, Jane Austen will continue to serve as the lone example, and a rose is a rose is a rose will be just another cliche.


Of interest: The Guardian published a short quiz for those of you who tend to think that (good or bad) a writer’s sex can be deduced from her or his writing:

As someone who has mixed feelings regarding the topic–and more than dabbles in essentialism (good or bad, again!)–this quiz is onerous…none of the examples listed can be readily viewed as female- or male-written.

Berlusconi the maiale: pig in Italian

7 Jun

Even though the world really needs no extra proof, the recent New Yorker profile of the Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi by Ariel Levy provides the extra fat on the slice of prosciutto:

(Or maybe the extra little speckles of preservative on a cheap slice of pepperoni….)

Though Berlusconi’s many, many egregious political gaffes, mistakes and tragedies truly need no addendum at this point, an anthology of his misogyny (and its inevitable spillage into the Italian political system) still begs mention. After all, dinosaur that it may arguably be, the nation of Italy still stands as one of the members of the increasingly obsolete collection of nations known as the G-7.

Oh! the G-7! A group where a nation such as Russia can disguise itself as both democracy and economic powerhouse; a collective of raging giants who were once great but now often appear anachronistic, patronizing, and oblivious to a constantly evolving international world.

That said, perhaps it’s fitting that Italy remains a member. A country that insists on electing a man who has shown himself time and time again to be remarkably unsuited for the governorship of a rapidly changing country. An oligarch who, unlike the buff Renaissance stud of a man Vladimir Putin, shows little indication of any knowledge of an outside world, or maybe little recognition of the fact that he needs to at least pretend to adapt.

And Berlusconi has persistently refused to adapt. A billionaire who urged poverty-stricken Italians to “Do it my way! Earn more money!” The head of a nation enormously affected by immigration from North African, who travels to the island of Lampedusa during the Arab Spring and tells an audience of immigrants the following: “Did you hear the latest poll? They asked women between twenty and thirty years old if they want to make love to Berlusconi. Thirty-three per cent said yes! Sixty-seven per cent said ‘Again?’ ”A prime minister who, in response to a national upsurge of sexual assault, replies “We don’t have enough soldiers to stop rape because our women are so beautiful.”

Really?!? How is it possible that the leader of a country as culturally significant, historically rich, and arguably evolved can respond to horrific factual violence in such a manner? How is Berlusconi still standing?

Levy writes, “according to the World Economic Forum’s 2010 Global Gender Gap Report, Italy ranks seventy-fourth in women’s rights, between the Dominican Republic and Gambia.” This status is by no means bragadocious; but on the other hand, it cannot lead to any presumption that, because of such statistics and the actual repugnant fact of Berlusconi, Italy is a feminist backwater.

However, it cannot be that just because Berlusconi owns the majority of television and cable channels in Italy, he controls information, cultural perceptions, and national expectations.

There is an ongoing trial attempting to convict Berlusconi of indulging in a prostitution ring with state funds; maybe this is an attempt to bring him down once and for all. But such grandstanding ignores the central tenets at stake here: who cares if Berlusconi is a philandering, sexist, misogynist, chauvinist, egotistical pig as long as he does a good job of governing? The latter has yet to happen, so the former continues to be the issue.