Tag Archives: feminism

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 This structure could not be integrated unless the ban was revoked.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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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.

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

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

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.

Voting and living in Libya

20 Jul

http://womensenews.org/story/the-world/120719/libyan-elections-give-women-17-starting-point

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?