Archive | August, 2012

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

The 2 words that never belong together

20 Aug

In a televised interview this weekend, Missouri Republican Todd Akin defined his opposition to abortion in the strictest of terms, and including in cases of rape. Akin further hedged his bets with the following claim: 

“If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something: I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.”  

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/20/us/politics/todd-akin-provokes-ire-with-legitimate-rape-comment.html

“legitimate” and “rape”: by stringing the words together Akin would seem to imply that rape isn’t always illegitimate; he further undermines the catastrophe of rape with the use of the word “legitimate” itself. Rape is devasting, violent, horrific, tortuous, and any other synonym available. It is not legitimate or illegitimate. “legitimate” is defined as lawful, valid, just. When considered thusly, the word itself should never be strung with “rape,” for a rape is never valid or just; whether or not it is lawful, is a confused term: does this mean if it is persecuted? or if a judge deems it actual? Where does the woman herself figure into this?

Further, by asserting that if it is “legitimate”/actual rape, the victim’s body will engage in a kind of “natural abortion” implies disastrous notions about the act of rape itself, and complete ignorance as to how the female sexed body actually functions. So, if the body of the victim doesn’t naturally abort the pregnancy, that then implies that an actual rape didn’t occur. Such confused magical thinking can be likened to the witchcraft trials that occurred centuries ago: if a woman accused of witchcraft drowns, she’s innocent.

And another further, Akin’s claims that the rapist should be punished, not the child, demonstrates the same muddled conception of biology and reproduction that I critiqued in last week’s post on Paul Ryan’s anti-abortion position. There is no child. There is a woman’s body with fertilized eggs at conception. Akin, like Ryan, does not even mention the woman in the equation here, the potential mother, without whom a fetus could not develop.

The Romney camp initially issued a tepid response, distancing itself from Akin. With the growing outcry however, Romney publicly stated his disagreement with Akin’s views. He should probably look over to Ryan and wonder wherein lies the disagreement…

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/21/us/politics/republicans-decry-todd-akins-rape-remarks.html?_r=1&hp

2 (more) years for Pussy Riot

17 Aug

Earlier today, the 3 imprisoned members of Pussy Riot were sentenced to an additional 2 years in prison. The trio have been imprisoned since February, and their treatment and trial have become an increasingly loud cause celebre. The three were charged and sentenced with “hooliganism driven by religious hatred.”

Charging young people with religious hatred in a country wherein atheism was the proscribed national religion for decades is absurd. The 3 women–all in their 20’s–came of age after nationalized atheism; that said, they also came of age in a post-Soviet, presumable “democracy.”  The absurdity borders on the surreal when it is cut with the authoritarian omnipresence of Putin, a noted KGB official during the waning years of the Soviet Union, who more than probably has zero religious sympathy. Is the punishable offense that the women dared to sing on a church’s altar, or what they sang? If the claim is the former, how can the charge still be “religious hatred,” for Pussy Riot was singing against Putin, not against organized religion.

In Russia right now the national religion is Putinism, to rebel against it, to sing an anti-Putin prayer (in a church or anywhere), is to consign oneself to a jail cell. What might have happened without the international outcry? Are the women being made an example of and therefore getting a more severe sentencing? Or, without the exposure, would they have languished in jail even longer?

Is Russia such a backwards state that, not only is punk rock appearing 40 years after the fact, but it’s criminal too?

http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2012/aug/17/pussy-riot-sentenced-two-years

http://blogs.voanews.com/russia-watch/2012/08/01/russias-political-summer-olympics-putin-x-pussy-riot/

ONE of the (many) errors in logic of the “Personhood” bills

14 Aug

This weekend, Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan as his running mate. Ryan is known primarily for his extreme fiscal conservativeness, yet there are many other problems to be found in his political agenda. A conservative Catholic, Ryan has spoken consistently against abortion, family planning and Planned Parenthood.

2 years ago, he published on opinion piece for the Heritage Foundation, outlining his support for recent severe anti-choice legislation known as “personhood” bills. http://paulryan.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=207539

At onset, Ryan declares his support of both “free market choice” and the “natural right to life,” opining that the use of the word “choice” has been woefully colonized by those found in the pro-abortion camp. According to Ryan, one chooses to buy or sell a car, wear or return a sweater; human beings cannot be trafficked in a similar way. It is the duty of the federal government to get out of the way when it comes to its citizenry’s choices; conversely, it is the duty of government to intercede when it comes to the protections of human rights.

For Ryan, it is the rights of the most vulnerable–the unborn– that remain the most in peril:

“I cannot believe any official or citizen can still defend the notion that an unborn human being has no rights that an older person is bound to respect. I do know that we cannot go on forever feigning agnosticism about who is human. As Thomas Jefferson wrote, ‘The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time.’ The freedom to choose is pointless for someone who does not have the freedom to live. So the right of ‘choice’ of one human being cannot trump the right to ‘life’ of another. How long can we sustain our commitment to freedom if we continue to deny the very foundation of freedom—life—for the most vulnerable human beings?”

Ryan consistently elides the differences between a not-yet-born nor even partially formed being and an out-of-the-womb fully grown woman. Further, he denies that the latter should be able to make choices (apparently against God and Thomas Jefferson: i.e. against both the church AND the state) that would in any way interfere with the potentiality of the former.  A hierarchical system is thus established, wherein the potentiality of the former must be held at highest regard and protection, and the potentiality and literal present of the latter must be kept in subservience.  

In his use of the term “human beings” Ryan also elides the specificity of sexual difference, rendering the argument about the rights of human beings solely. But any discussion of motherhood and/or abortion cannot ignore the sexual specificity of the equation. Only a female human being will be confronted with the happiness or impossibility that a pregnancy brings to her body and then her life. The being-that-is-not-yet-born is dependent on the female sexed body it is within, therefore it cannot legally, scientifically or even figuratively be considered a “human being” as such. The pregnant woman, however, is considered legally, scientifically and figuratively to be a “human being.”

“The freedom to choose is pointless for someone who does not have the freedom to live. So the right of ‘choice’ of one human being cannot trump the right to ‘life’ of another.” Because a fetus is not being given the chance to live, its freedom to choose is irrelevant; therefore a woman’s choice cannot decide the freedom of a fetus. Ryan’s logic is illogical: by rendering the concept of “choice” as an abstraction of which a fetus is being denied by being aborted, he then revokes the choices of the pregnant woman and her freedom to live–as she sees fit. In this construction he is attempting to equate the two parties, but because they are inherently unequal he inverts the paradigm:  rendering the fetus to be more deserving of equal protection under the law, which in turn has the effect of rendering the pregnant woman less deserving. The choices and freedoms a female human being has (or does not have) are not abstractions or flights of political fancy: they are not hypothetical. To speak of the fetus as possessor of the same choices and freedoms is to deal in conjecture and the imaginary.

Medals for Supermodels

13 Aug

The Olympics closing ceremony was an epic spectacle of cars, rock stars, wannabes, athletes and supermodels. Supermodels? Dressed in notable British fashion designers, the 8 women and 1 man strutted, posed, vamped and preened for the world audience, and for all those thousands of athletes who have spent years working towards the event of the 2012 London Olympics.

What were these 9 doing on the world’s loudest stage?

Being fabulous because they were born that way…

But isn’t that kind of “talent” and lifestyle the very things that the Olympics gives the lie to? The very way-of-being that the effort and strength and will manifested by all participating in the Olympics reveals to be based on superfluousness, triviality, artificiality and superficial standards? Being skinny and tall and wearing a $10,000 dress is not equal to being skinny and tall and spending 15 of the first 20 years of one’s life jumping hurdles. However, displaying these glamazons on a stage that many of the struggling athletes who did not achieve medal greatness were not elevated to produces a standard wherein the models are bestowed a degree of superiority and elevated eliteness that the others are not. Such a production implies the physical and symbolic superiority of the supermodels to be on a par with the Olympics’ participants, which in turn works to dampen and dispel the actual magnitude of the participants’ efforts and unique experiences.

Yeah, okay, it’s the closing ceremony, not a medals ceremony. Well, it’s not a fashion show either. The only super-tall, attention-gathering ladies gracing the arena’s stage should be long-jumping, volleyball-tossing, 800 meter running, soccer goalies.

The true Olympic supermodels: