Monthly Archives: November 2011

Some things speak for themselves

: screen shot of ad that Facebook put on my Facebook sidebar today:

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Mother-in-law

My former mother-in-law so loved her sons.  She had pet names for each of them, by which she still referred to them even when they were adults in professional careers.  There was The Smart One, The Handsome One, The Strong One, The Creative One.  The perfect quadrumvirate, “the boys.”  They adored her.

Her husband called her mother, as if he were a son in an incestuous affair.  And he did adore her, too.

They adored her so much, that they kept her all to themselves.  Driving, this she was not allowed to do.  A mandate of the father, uncontested by the boys.  Walking out on their country road, this her husband eventually granted, as it made her slimmer and better to look at.

One day, she sighed, and left the house, telling her husband she was going for a walk.

It was a bright day, sunny, spring and warm. Unwitnessed, she walked into the path of an oncoming car.


On agency

I was reading a course-required blog by a very articulate graduate student in a women’s studies course.  She was reviewing a novel in which the main character, a young girl who is trafficked, is “not established as a victim.”  The character “chooses” and has “agency throughout the novel.”  The student wrote that she “appreciated” the non-victim characterization of the trafficked child.

Recent feminisms (i-feminism, “sex-positive” feminisms, et al), which are all “in” in academia, are reproducing, through biased curricula, another generation of feminists with distorted views about liberating feminist theories and practices.  One of the great mistruths of recent feminisms is that “old” radical feminism is an ideology of victimhood that doesn’t endorse—or even worse, believe in—the agency of women and children.

Quite the opposite. Yes, it is true that radical theory refuses to ignore and appropriately uses the word “victim” to describe the recipients of such acts as racial violence, sexual violence, hate crimes, and domestic violence.  But we do that in order to name and hold accountable the individuals (eg. predators, traffickers, perpetrators of lesbian and gay hate crimes, perpetrators of race hate crimes, rapists) and the power structures (eg. patriarchy, institutionalized white racism, skewed legal systems, capitalism) that create, maintain, and benefit from victims.  If victims are rendered invisible, then those individuals and power structures are in turn rendered benign, unaccountable, and unnamed.

Equally important:  radical feminism does not stand in opposition to or deny women’s agency.  We recognize the truism that victimhood and agency can and do co-exist.  Moreover, our endorsement of agency is why we are such a threat.  We are all about unleashing women’s agency, full force, unfettered.


The lonely list or What is truly transformative vegan politics?

I haven’t written anything about veganism or ecofeminism since I started this blog three weeks ago.  Thanksgiving Day is an ideal day to do so.

I was doing my morning round of readings, checking out the blogs I follow and miscellaneous places deeper into the Internet where that process takes me, and I came a cross a vegan blog post that listed the author’s top ten vegan people.  I didn’t know all of the people on the list, but the descriptions indicated that many, along with one’s that I did know, wouldn’t be on my list.

The list included, for example, Dr. Neal Barnard, who is the head of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.  The typical privileged white guy, Dr. Barnard, among other things, gives talks along with one of the authors of Skinny Bitch.  Skinny Bitch is an egregious bit of writing that endorses a PETAphile vision of the world.  The benefits of a vegan diet for women, according to Skinny Bitch?  You’ll look so terrific that you can “prance around in a thong.”  The book is also heterocentric, sizeist, racist, and ageist.  (Gad, yes, I’ve read it.)

He also lists Robert Cheeke, who is a vegan body builder.  Although Robert Cheeke has clearly dispelled the idea of veganism = weakling, he is also into a hyper-masculine view of veganism.  This gives me a mixed review of Cheeke.  I fatigue from people’s constant worry that I’ll be unhealthy or weak because I am a vegan, even though I’ve been a vegan for a long, long time, and there’s no evidence to support my shriveling away into the ether.  But just as I find problematic the ultra-feminine endorsement for veganism found in Skinny Bitch, I find problematic the ultra-masculine endorsement for veganism found in the work of Robert Cheeke.

The author of the blog describes his veganism as “edgy and raw.”  This language to me speaks of an alliance with “transgressive” and “queer” politics.  These are not my vegan politics.  My list of important, current vegans would include writers and activists who grapple with the myriad current and historical masculinist underpinnings of food politics, incorporate woman-identified analyses into their work, and/or understand white supremacy and its tethers to racism, environmental destruction, and the abuse of animals.

The unfortunate thing is that I have to put “and/or” into the above criteria for my list.  At first, I put “and,” which meant all criteria needed to be met.  It was tough to come up with anyone for that list.  As it is, my list is still very, very short.

My list:

Breeze Harper.  Breeze Harper is the editor of the book, Sistah Vegan: Food, Identity, Health, and Society: Black Female Vegans Speak.  Her blog “focuses on how plant-based consumptive lifestyle is affected by factors of race, racisms, sexism, heterosexism, classism, and other social injustices within the lives of black females.”

pattrice jones.  pattrice jones identifies herself as an “eco-anarcha-feminist-animal.”  Although I can’t side with her on the anarchy part, I’ve heard her talk at a couple of conferences and she’s into weaving the whole “intersections of racism, sexism, speciesism, homophobia, and the exploitation of the environment” into her analysis.  She also tells a great love story about two male geese living in her animal sanctuary.  My conflict?  She identifies with “queer” theory, theory which is inherently masculinist.

Carol J. Adams.  Carol J. Adams is the author of The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory, which explores a relationship between “patriarchal values and meat eating by interweaving the insights of feminism, vegetarianism, animal defense, and literary theory.”  I was actually hesitant to put Adams on my list, but I am not sure why.  Probably just a personal bias–I don’t relate to the theological aspects of her work.  My own veganism is strictly political and not spiritual.  Also, quite a number of spiritual white ecofeminists have crossed over into problematic, racist appropriations of other spiritualities, and I do not know where Adams stands on this.  Or perhaps it’s because I see her work as kind of a light calorie version of radical feminism.  She doesn’t appear to incorporate—or critique—new, critical directions in radical feminism into her work.

I know, I know.  I’m a tough sell.  This is a very short list, but so many animal rights activists and vegans fall short, or very far from, understanding or even attempting to address the mesh of oppressions supporting, woven into, all messed up with animal oppression.  For example, I do like the academic, thoughtful writings of Norm Phelps, and that he has taken the Dalai Lama to task for his consumption of meat.  But, alas, he has a link to PETA on his website, under which he describes PETA as “the world’s premiere cutting edge animal rights group.”  This “premiere” group is preparing to launched its XXX porn site this December.  There’s something very important that Phelps doesn’t understand.

Marti Kheel, however, may well end up on my list.  I am reading her Animal Ethics right now, and think it is a strong bit of ecofeminist writing.

I would welcome recommendations for further authors and activists to add to my list—as well as critiques of the ones I did choose.  It is a pretty lonely list.

(For the conflicts between “queer” theory and lesbian/woman-identified politics see Sheila Jeffrey‘s Unpacking Queer Politics: A lesbian-feminist perspective.)


The totally awesome decorator

One of the things about having been alive for a number of decades is that you get to watch the evolution of language.  Verbs such as snuck, which were purely slang forty years ago, are now grammatically acceptable.  Some words come and go.  Some are regionalisms.  Political words, such as “feminist,” are co-opted and muddied.  Other words are completely transformed.  Many words and phrases are born fresh from old stereotypes, oppressions, and the deep roots of patriarchy.  For example, “that’s so gay” was born in the mid-1990s, around the time I first heard it uttered by an intern at a feminist organization.

However, widespread co-options and transformations in political and social language aren’t merely simple shifts in language.  Widespread changes in the usage of words reflect widespread cultural beliefs.  Patriarchy is amazingly efficient.  When any radical social change group begins to push back against patriarchy’s self-declared authority, patriarchy implements numerous counter strategies.  One is the manipulation of language.

Over the past decade, the language of prostitution and pornography has gone mainstream.  It has also taken on an unassuming benignity.  Pimp, for example, has morphed from meaning to prostitute women and girls to now meaning to decorate or make something fancy.  You can pimp a car, a room, your wedding.  Pimping is a lovely thing.  Hardcore used to refer to extreme forms of pornography.  Now hardcore is synonymous with “awesome.”  On Urban Dictionary, a contributor offers this definition for hardcore: “Really tough and awesome. Socially accepted and worshiped.”

When the language of prostitution and pornography is co-mingling in people’s minds with idea of awesome worship—or bizarrely of awesome home decorating—it creates a surreal space into which radical activists and writers must continually fight to insert the fundamental language, the fundamental truths, surrounding men’s violence against women and girls.


Child prostitution, parental consent, and the erasure of victimhood

I came across this quote while following a link in an article on the Anti-Porn Feminists blog:

In the United States the system of care for trafficked children has been developed within a framework based on middle-class Western ideals about childhood as a time of dependency and innocence during which children are socialized by adults and become competent social actors. Economic and social responsibilities are generally mediated by adults so that the children can grow up free from pressures of responsibilities such as work and child care. Children who are not raised in this way are considered “victims” who have had their childhood stolen from them. . . . many of the children did not consider themselves trafficked victims, but thought of their experiences as migration in search of better opportunities that turned into exploitation. Many also did not think of their traffickers as perpetrators of crime and villains; after all in some instances the traffickers were parents or close relatives. — Elzbieta M. Gozdziak, On challenges, dilemmas, and opportunities in studying trafficked children

It immediately reminded me of this quote:

….phrases such as “prostituted children” or “children exploited by the sex industry”…deny some of the reality of the children’s lives and ignore the strategies that are employed….The search for victims of child abuse sometimes obscures the acknowledgement of the children’s agency…it was their money that supported their parents and kept families together.  Even though they were socially and economically very marginal, by most definitions they were dutiful children whose respect and difference [sic] towards their parents was honorable and admirable…Personally I felt that the children were exploited but that this exploitation came not through prostitution but through their general poverty and social exclusion. — Heather Montgomery, Children, Prostitution, and Identity: A Case Study from a Tourist Resort in Thailand

Response:

The idea of universal human rights engages in the truth that there are violations against persons which are de facto violations.

It is a de facto violation of the universal rights of a child to be prostituted because young children’s bodies cannot endure adult penetrative sex without physical harm.  All prostituted women and children experience physical trauma such as “broken bones, concussions, STDs, chronic pelvic pain” inflicted upon them through rape and battering within the violent institution of prostitution (see Raymond).

It is a de facto violation of the universal rights of a child to be prostituted because that child is put at high risk for HIV/AIDS.  In Northern Thailand, for example, 50% of prostituted women and girls have HIV/AIDS (CATW).  These women and girls will die.

If parental consent and cultural practices erase the idea of universal human rights, then we would have to accept as unproblematic a parental choice or cultural practice that involves throwing children into oncoming traffic in which 50% of the children sustain injuries that will eventually result in premature death.

The exchange of capital for goods or services is not an ethical practice.  It is simply the exchange of capital for goods or services.  It is neither ethical nor unethical in itself.  Therefore, the fact that money is earned by a child through trafficking or prostitution does not make trafficking or prostitution ethical.  It is irrelevant.

Trafficked children are unable to attend school.  The denial of education to a child is a de facto violation of the universal rights of a child.  According to the UN, education is “the smartest investment for breaking the poverty cycle and achieving social justice” for women and girls.

These are not the classist, racist ideas of white, middle-class Americans.  These are ideas embraced by women in the struggle for justice all over the world.



At this moment

It is late fall, so there are no leaves on the trees.  There is a dusting of snow, and I can see that there were a couple of mountain bikes on the trails earlier.  But there is no one in the woods now.  I know that, because I can see deep, deep into the woods, through the empty trees.

I run, hard.  It is very cold.  My face is numb.  There’s a brisk wind, and it cuts through my clothes.  So I pick up my pace again.  I begin to flush with warmth.

I do not have that strained watchfulness that I must maintain when I run in the spring and the summer, eyes scanning the dense brush, constantly, for any human form.  Any man.  Danger.

I just run.

At this moment, I am free.


The making of a man

My brother’s transition from boy to man was marked by fierce and deliberate verbal assaults on his mother.

“You’re a cunt,”  he would scream.  “A fucking cunt!”

These assaults went on into his twenties.  Then they stopped.  Not because he regretted the assaults.  But because his entitlement was now secured and did not need constant reinforcement.

Now, ten years after her death, he only speaks of her fondly.


The place from which to fight

This video, I HATE being a Girl, hit a strong note.  So although I came across it today at gendertrender, I decided to write about it here.

I hated being a girl, too.  I still hate having been a girl.  I can’t rewrite that.  Being a girl was rough.  And when as a girl I looked around me at the adult women in my life, I didn’t want to be them either.  In the small world in which I grew up, that was primarily my mother, mocked by my father, constantly, for how she spoke, what she thought.  My mother cried a lot, privately.  I know that because I sometimes stumbled on her, and she would be angry at me and tell me to go away and not talk about it.

By the time I was in high school, I had already been molested, stalked, a victim of an attempted abduction, and sexually harassed (all by different men).  By college, I had already fended off two rape attempts, was fondled by a university employee, was again a victim of stalking, and was a victim of sexual abuse by a physician in his exam room.

I hated my girl body.  Hated it.  It was the nexus of so much pain.  The only part of my body I liked was what I called my “boy butt.”  Small and unfleshy.  I would use a hand mirror to look over my shoulder at a larger mirror to admire it.  Everything else, I hated.

Fast forward three decades.  I love my woman’s body.  My misunderstandings from youth—that the problem was my having a female body—have all eroded through the process of fighting back.  Not just fighting back against the rapists or filing charges against the university employee but also through personal, internal fighting back.  Although I can identify flashes of fighting back as far back as my memories go, it wasn’t until my thirties that I truly began to understand that “the problem” did not originate in my body.  It was something very large and very insidious.  It was something that hated that I was a woman, and wanted me to hate that core part of myself, too.

That systemic hatred of women–reinforced over and over in patriarchy through rape, incest, domestic violence, and even the simplicity of media and advertising—absorbs so deeply into our psyches that it makes us turn on ourselves.  Some women cut.  Some women starve themselves.  Some women kill themselves.  Some women ask a doctor to take a knife and cut off their breasts and carve out their vaginas.

The beautiful, intelligent young woman in this video wants to be a man because “you wouldn’t have to worry about so many different things.”  Yes, women do have to worry about many, many things.  But we are women, and that is the place from which to take a stand and fight.


Lesbian rape “documentary”

I came across this video, She Stole My Voice, while trying to find some research on lesbian sexual violence.  Although it was released two years ago, I couldn’t find anything on feminist blogs critiquing it.  But it was reviewed on a men’s rights website as “utterly ground-breaking.”

This “award-winning” “documentary” is pornography.  No, I have not watched the entire movie (and I don’t intend to put any money in the pockets of the filmmakers to do so), but the film’s trailers show rape narratives juxtaposed with pornified reenactments.  The highly popular thirty-two outtakes on YouTube—retitled variously as “lesbian seduction,” “sex porno lesbians,” and “sister incest hot sex girls pussy”—confirm that this is a porno flick.  Pro-rape commentary on the YouTube videos include:

In my opinion, anything hot/sexy isn’t a crime. And if the *ahem* ‘victim’ whines that it is, well then they just didn’t appreciate that the lesbian rapist found them sexy.

Regardless, the filmmakers attempt to maintain the following false distinction between their film and pornography:

There are almost no depictions of it [lesbian rape] anywhere. The only video versions of lesbian rape that exist right now are found in pornography, in which the “victim” invariably starts to enjoy the rape. 

(Note the use of victim placed in quotes in both excerpts above…..)

Clearly, the filmmakers did not do their research.  I have.  A distinguishing characteristic of rape pornography is victims pleading, crying, and cowering.  That’s exactly the kind of pornography that turns a rapist on.

This film deserves the full censure of the community of women.  Lesbian sexual violence does need to be discussed and understood.  But this is a film for rapists.  It is not an advocacy film.