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.”

“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…


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?

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.

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:

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?’