Archive | July, 2012

Voting and living in Libya

20 Jul

There is a saying that a Libyan woman faces 5 problems: her father, her brother, her husband, her son, and the working man.

This is to say that the problem is being a woman while living in Libya. However, are there signs that this problem might be dissipating?

45% of the voters in the July 7th elections were female, and because of an invoked requirement mandating that all parties maintain a “zipper system” of alternation between female and male candidates, women numbered around 45% of the candidates.

After tally, 16.5% of the 200-member transitional government are women. This number is extraordinarily positive, considering the fact that the number was previously zero, and that women historically have had little presence in politics or social activist organizations.

In the United States Congress, women hold 16.8% of the seats. Given that the United States has not just emerged from a decades-long dictatorship, given that the United States does not supposedly suffer from entrenched male-dominated home, work and cultural life, given that American women have been able to vote–and thereby run for office–for almost 100 years, what’s our excuse?


France’s female housing minister

20 Jul

This is the dress that Cecil Duflot, housing minister of the governing Socialist party, was wearing this week when she addressed the French parliament. This is where she stood, speaking on an architectural project, as hooting and catcalls echoed through the chamber.

The incident was later  released on video, creating a mini scandale, French ministers clamoring all over themselves to justify their hoots:

*She “probably put on that dress so we wouldn’t listen to what she was saying.”

*She “put on that dress so we would listen to her.”

*(The extraordinarily demeaning and diminishing) shouts were “in homage to this woman’s beauty.”

Duflot states that she has worked in the businesses of housing and politics for years, and has never encountered such treatment. She is one of the 17 female members of government appointed by Hollande, who appointed his cabinet according to a policy of gender parity: 17 women and 17 men.

In May, Duflot received a similar share of attention when she appeared at a cabinet meeting in jeans:

This undue and insane amount of attention paid to the attire of a politician cannot be linked to anything other than extremely reactive, ridiculous and outmoded sexism. It’s not the bright-colored dress, it’s not the wearing of jeans to a government building, it’s the female politician. Drawing attention to her clothes draws attention away from her political personhood–her ideas, her policies, her actions, her intelligence, her position. Insisting that she remain linked to how she looks disallows her from being otherwise; if she responds to the absurdity she only becomes more embedded within it.

Duflot is trapped in the middle of a patriarchal French cul-de-sac.

The trial of Pussy Riot: “Mother Mary, drive Putin away”

20 Jul

The three young Russian women above–members of Pussy Riot all–have been sentenced for another 6 months of  pre-trial imprisonment in a Moscow court. The women have been imprisoned since February, and were arrested after storming the stage of the Christ the Savior Cathedral and staging an anti-Putin prayer. In January of 2013, they will stand trial on charges of hooliganism and face another 7 years of prison if convicted.

The band members are accused of  “a malicious, carefully planned act to denigrate the feelings and beliefs of the many Orthodox Christian worshippers and to belittle the state’s spiritual foundation.” Although Russia seemingly considers itself a secular nation, charging artists with blasphemy is definitely not in line with a non-religious state structure.

However, perhaps the true blasphemy at issue here is against Russia’s self-appointed god, Vladimir Putin. It cannot be argued that Putin is devoted to stamping out national blasphemy and non-religious attitudes; but it is undeniable that Putin is devoted to eradicating non-believers of his religion.

Pussy Riot is a sprawling collective of young female artists. Generally dressed in short skirts and tights, their faces always sheathed in balaclavas, the women have performed in the Red Square, on the tops of buildings, at anti-Putin protests, and in Moscow streets. While only three of its members are on trial, their arrest must serve as a warning to their bandmates and other vocal critics of the Putin regime.

The prayer to the Virgin Mother to protect her Russian children from an atheist dictator has not been answered.

P.S. July 30: The accused members of Pussy Riot were again in front of  a judge where they still pleaded “Not Guilty,” with the following caveat: “We are admitting that we made an ethical mistake, but an ethical mistake should not be punishable as a crime.”

This change in response might be attributable to the intense scrutiny and severe imprisonment the women have faced, or a relative admission of contrition. It is difficult to speculate. The women are most definitely uncomfortable and upset regarding their situation, so their words of contrition must be taken at least partly as the result of such conditions. Whether singing  in protest on the dais of an Orthodox church is “unethical” is another issue entirely. How might a passionate prayer of protest against an evidently authoritarian leader be deemed unethical? Could it not be argued that to live in compliance is itself a breach of community ethics?

P.S. August 1: Pussy Riot’s imprisonment has been followed by the recent imprisonment of opposition blogger Alexei Navalny on charges of government theft in 2009:

Navalny is unsurprised by the arrest, considering it a correlative of a repressive regime intent on authoritarian rule.

It is interesting to consider the arrests of punk rockers Pussy Riot and blogger Navalny as acts on a continuum stretching outside of the political confines of Moscow and into far more nebulous regions of art, speech and the internet. With the advent of the anti-Putin protests last December, it must have been increasingly clear to Putin that he had to respond. However, responding pre-election would have appeared too reactive, his actions too clearly reflecting the charges levelled against him by the protesters. By biding his time, he provided an illusion of tolerance. By now focusing his intimidation on 2 of the more vocal and popular factions, he is able to create a more pressing climate of fear of dissent amongst the common protester;  the latter will be tempted to think: ‘if a group now made famous by their acts and the state’s aggressive response is forced to remain in prison, what might happen to a lesser known, “unimportant” member of the White Ribbon campaign?’

Death by AK-47 for Afghan woman

10 Jul

A young Afghan woman, wife of a Talibani, was shot to death after being accused of adultery. Video of the event can easily be found online, the “God is great!” cheers of the male bystanders heard after the woman is shot several times by automatic weapon.

The hideousness of this incident is so obvious it almost needs no comment. The murder occurred in Pashwar Province, one of the “safer regions” closer to Kabul and home to many Western military forces. It does not matter how close a woman is to the occupying Americans, how close to the most cosmopolitan city in the country, how seemingly unfriendly to Taliban forces the area is supposed to be, and how completely chaste she is. All it takes is an accusation, one sentence decrying any woman’s character, and she is as good as dead.

These are the daily obstacles any woman faces in the country of Afghanistan.

July 11 Update:

Dozens of female activists protested near President Karzai’s compound in Kabul this morning, including a woman deformed from an acid attack by a spurned suitor, and another woman who, as a child bride, was tortured and imprisoned by her husband’s family after she refused to prostitute herself.

However Karzai responds, what effects could his government produce? His administration has completely and utterly failed in its battle against the Talibani resurrection, nor has the man himself ever convincingly argued for the rights of Afghan women. The protest is effective if it increases international awareness of  the plight of Afghanistan’s female citizens.

Prometheus: Male Surgical Procedures Only

5 Jul

When Prometheus‘ Dr. Elizabeth Shaw discovers she is pregnant with an Alien baby, her spontaneous response is to remove it from her body immediately. Kept sedated by the malevolent android, she feigns sleep, knocks out several orderlies, and runs to the nearest (and only) robotic medical surgical pod. Typing her request–C-Section–into the keypad, an electronic voice insists “Male surgical procedures only,” the pod then attempting to terminate the exchange. Shaw overrides the shutdown, typing instead “abdominal surgery” into the keypad. The pod opens! And Shaw begins the process of removing a deadly monster from herself.

Despite the horror and general grotesquerie of the scene–Prometheus‘ best, by the way– the real-world implications here are redoubtable. Stranded on a spaceship 2 lightyears away from earth, Shaw turns to the only medical help available for her singular problem. What she finds is not assistance, but negation based on the very fact of her sex and her condition. She’s resourceful however, using reinterpreted keywords and scientific know-how to cut herself open and get the job done. If only it was so easy…!