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Griner takes aim at fighting bullying April 5, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, Sports, Sports, Women.
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Roger’s note: Confession: I love sports.  I am an unrepentant sports fan.   Blame the golden era of the Brooklyn Dodgers and my father who took me to witness history and Jackie Robinson at Ebbets Field in 1947.  Blame a Rose Bowl appearance in my freshman year at Berkeley (there has not been once since that day in January 1959).  I know this is not politically correct (note that I use the phrase as it was originally intended, to indicate a minor and relatively insignificant aberration of principle [an acknowledgement of human frailty], and not how the phase has been perverted by the radical right to denote someone who is zealous in the pursuit of the principles of social justice).  Every once in a while, rarely perhaps, a story comes out of the sports world that conflates the world of sport with socially positive principle.  Such is the case of Brittney Griner.  I also cannot help pointing out that Texas’s Baylor University, a self-proclaimed “Christian” school with overt and repressive anti-gay regulations for its students, was willing to “overlook” Griner’s lesbianism as long as she kept her mouth shut about it and continued to rake in big money for the school with her extraordinary basketball skills.

As you will see from reading this article, she is now a wealthy professional basketball player in the WNBA and still feels compelled to share her painful history and re-live that pain so that LGBT youth of today may not have to experience the same degradations that she did.  I consider her a heroic figure, both on and off the court.

 

By LZ Granderson | ESPN.com, April 4, 2014

 

Brittney GrinerJennifer Stewart/USA TODAY SportsBrittney Griner’s app will provide resources to school officials looking for ways to aid bullying victims.

 

It was hard watching Brittney Griner struggle to keep the smile on her face.

With each breath, it seemed a tiny portion of the joy she came onstage with slowly dissipated, like smoke fleeing the wick of a candle that has recently been blown out. Barely five minutes into the first session of this year’s SXSW’s sports plenary and one of the most accomplished players in NCAA history is broken.

When I asked her to begin the panel discussion by reading aloud a passage from her autobiography, “In My Skin: My Life on and off the Basketball Court,” I had assumed the 22-year-old was over it.

The bullying from middle school.

The teasing from high school.

The ridicule and isolation that can sometime come when who and what society says you are supposed to be are not reflective of who and what you actually are.

Because the Venn diagram our culture etches into the national narrative makes happiness a subset of wealth, from the outside looking in, and we naturally assume professional athletes have it all. Griner has a Nike deal and 77-foot banner of her likeness draped over a building in downtown Phoenix before she took a single WNBA dribble. And yet here we are, in a crowded banquet room of an Austin, Texas, hotel, and the only sounds that can be heard are the occasional creaks a chair makes when the occupant shifts his or her weight — and the gentle sobs of someone who is supposed to have it all.

 

They say it’s important for kids to express themselves, but from the moment kids start to make choices — what clothes they want to wear, what toys they want to play with, what activities they want to pursue — society tries to define them and put them into neat little boxes. Girls are supposed to act this way, boys that way. And any kid who doesn’t fit into one of those boxes gets labeled as weird or strange or different.

“I really don’t talk about the past that much because it just wasn’t good,” Griner told me later after she had read the above passage from her book at our panel. “Even when I was writing the book I was reliving that pain all over again.

“There were times when I didn’t want to do the book anymore because of all of the pain. But I felt that if I did it, maybe I could help someone else who was in school right now and having a very hard time.”

 

 

 

Brittney Griner, who scored 3,283 career points, dunked 18 times and set the NCAA record (man or woman) with 748 career blocks at Baylor, shares her coming-of-age story, revealing how she found the strength to overcome bullies and to embrace her authentic self.

 

Griner: Book signing, interview

• Brittney Griner will hold a book-signing session following an exclusive interview with espnW.com’s Kate Fagan, as part of the weekend’s festivities at NCAA Tourney Town. The event begins Sunday, April 6, at 3:30 p.m. local time at Music City Center in Nashville.

 

In addition to the book, Griner is launching a smartphone app to help bullied teens and provide resources to school officials who are at a loss as to how to help them.

“The one question I would ask my teachers is, ‘Why?'” Griner said, her voice starting to shake. “‘Why didn’t you do anything to try to stop what was happening to me? Why didn’t you do anything to help me or any of the other kids who were being bullied every day?’

“But then I wonder if they even knew how to help. Or even if they understood how important it is that they do help. They might think it’s just kids being kids, but really — it’s more. They could save somebody’s life.”

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the second-leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 24, with LGBT youth being four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers. It’s a statistic that resonates more when familiar faces like Griner’s are attached to it. She spends time in the book discussing what she calls “the dark days” and the time in which she imagined what would happen “if I didn’t exist anymore.”

Only the most callous of hearts could hear such a statement and not be touched. And usually those hearts have Twitter accounts.

Despite rewriting the record books, the names directed at Griner, even still, are as demeaning as the ones that began circulating soon after the “High School Girl Dunks” video clip made her a YouTube curiosity while at Nimitz High School. The ridicule via social media remains as relentless as the insults schoolmates would direct her way in the halls of Teague Middle School. Griner said one of her tormentors walked right up to her in the hallway, rubbed on her chest and then yelled, “See, I told you she was a boy.”

The teachers nearby did nothing.

“I remember thinking once I got to college I would finally be free,” she said. “And then I get there and I had to stay hidden. My teammates didn’t have a problem with me being gay, but the school did. It was crazy.”

Whenever an athlete — be it Griner, the NBA’s Jason Collins or NFL draft prospect Michael Sam — publicly talk about their sexual orientation, inevitably the question “Who cares?” can be heard. And in many ways it is a legitimate response. If someone wants to be judged by their on-the-field performance, then why willingly choose to draw attention to one’s private life?

“In My Skin” is Griner’s way of answering that. In one passage, she writes: “Being true to myself has often been at odds with my desire to please others. I’ve spent years trying so hard to be the version of myself that would make the most people happy. Over time, though, I’ve come to realize that no matter how much I compromise, some people will never understand me. And accepting this truth has given me a new level of comfort and freedom.”

And by expressing that comfort and freedom, Griner said she hopes to empower young people who, like her younger self, spent many nights feeling hopeless and alone. This weekend she is the Grand Marshall in the Phoenix Pride parade, and, along with Blake Skjellerup — an openly gay Olympic speed skater — will be doing a meet-and-greet at the celebration’s youth zone.

 

[+] EnlargeBrittney Griner, Rebekkah Brunson, Maya Moore

AP Photo/Stacy BengsBrittney Griner hired longtime NBA assistant Dean Denomopolis to help her with her game this offseason.

 

“It was important to Phoenix Pride to showcase individuals whom are not only out, but actively using their celebrity to make the world a better place,” said Dani Logan, the celebration’s program manager.

“One of the hardest parts about growing up was not having any role models,” Griner said. “I mean I don’t know if that would have stopped kids from bullying me, but it would have given me some strength. … There were a lot of days when I was tired of being bullied, that I didn’t have strength.”

There used to be a time when the thought of someone who was routinely the biggest kid in class — someone who currently stands at 6 feet, 8 inches and 200 pounds — as not having the strength to fight off bullying was ridiculous. But that was before the environment that 6-5, 312-pound Jonathan Martin had to contend with in Miami came to light, and suddenly the size of victims and bullies was diminished.

“From the very first day, we clicked,” said Janell Roy, a high school teammate of Griner who remains close to her today. “We were like sisters, but she wouldn’t tell me everything that was going on. I guess because she knew I would try to protect her, but there’s only so much you can do, you know?

“But I saw some of it. Even in our locker room. They would say she was a guy and talk about her sexuality. Sometimes things would get real tense, and that would be hard for her. She didn’t tell me all that had happened to her in middle school until years later. My sister’s been through a lot.”

Nearly 82 percent of LGBT students are verbally harassed and close to 40 percent are physically harassed, according to the 2011 National School Climate Survey. And unfortunately, there’s no shortage of faces who fall into those categories.

Faces such as Jack Andraka, the high school whiz kid who in 2012 invented an early detection test for pancreatic cancer at age 15, talks about relentless bullying and thoughts of suicide. His story is not very different from Griner’s. Their stories are not very different from the ones featured in the 2011 documentary “Bully” or the stories regularly heard by volunteers at organizations such as The Human Rights Campaign, the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Alliance and The Trevor Project, which the San Francisco 49ers’ Chris Culliver visited as part of his mea culpa for anti-gay statements made during Super Bowl XLVII media week.

All of it continues to drive Griner.

“I can’t live my life and pretend as if everything is OK now that I’m a professional basketball player when I know it’s not OK for kids who were like me,” she said.Which is not to suggest her basketball development is taking a back seat to advocacy work.

Far from it.

Though fans made her a WNBA All-Star, a knee injury kept Griner from playing in the game. And besides dunking in her first game and hitting a series-clinching jumper over Candace Parker in the first round of the playoffs, Griner’s inaugural season was plagued by foul trouble and overshadowed by Chicago Sky’s Elena Delle Donne, who won rookie of the year honors. There’s work to be done, and she knows it. After signing to play in the Women’s Chinese Basketball Association last summer, Griner hired longtime NBA assistant coach Dean Demopoulos to travel with her to help her develop her game.

“I don’t know if I taught her anything new,” he said. “When we met, she could pretty much do everything. She had the footwork, she had the touch. She can shoot. And I mean really shoot. I spent two years with Ray Allen, so I know what a shooter looks like — she has a stroke. What we worked on was repetition. Taking the second-guessing out of her game and letting things come naturally.”

 

I can’t live my life and pretend as if everything is OK now that I’m a professional basketball player when I know it’s not OK for kids who were like me.

— Brittney Griner

 

The results? MVP honors in the league’s All-Star game and coming a game short of a finals appearance.

“She could probably play the 4, the 3 — she’s that agile,” Demopoulos said. “It’s going to be interesting to see just how much better she’s going to get, because she has a big glass and it’s not near full.

“She got it, by the way — that ‘it’ stuff — she’s got it. That charisma you want your franchise player to have. Only thing is she’s got to change that diet. That girl ate Pizza Hut, KFC and candy for four months.”

But if you let Griner tell it, that was the best thing on the menu.

“Let’s just say the food was really interesting,” she said with a smile.

And it is good to see her smile.

With high cheek bones, flawless cafe-au-lait-colored skin and shoulder-length locks with tips that appear to have been dipped in honey, the great irony about Griner being harassed for her appearance is that she is really beautiful. Sweet, too. The kind of woman who still smiles when referred to being her daddy’s little girl even as her daddy still wrestles with who his little girl is. Early on, Griner writes that her father never wanted her to play beyond the backyard of their home. And when he learned she was gay, he told her, “I ain’t raising no gay girl in my house! You can pack your s— and get the f— out!” And for two months she stayed at an assistant coach’s home before reconciliation.

An estimated 40 percent of all homeless youth are LGBT, with nearly half being kicked out of their homes for that reason. Again, statistics resonate more when familiar faces are attached to it.

“I think we’re getting better,” Griner said. “I still love my family very much. But it’s hard.

“I guess this is why I thought it was important that I did this book and shared my story. I don’t like thinking about the past and all of that pain. But if talking about it helps just one person — I’ll do it.”

 

The Longest War is the One Against Women January 24, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Women.
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Published on Thursday, January 24, 2013 by TomDispatch.com

A rape a minute, a thousand corpses a year: hate crimes in America (and elsewhere)

by Rebecca Solnit

Artists in San Francisco protesting violence against women. (Photo: Marta Franco/ SFGate)Here in the United States, where there is a reported rape every 6.2 minutes, and one in five women will be raped in her lifetime, the rape and gruesome murder of a young woman on a bus in New Delhi on December 16th was treated as an exceptional incident. The story of the alleged rape of an unconscious teenager by members of the Steubenville High School football team was still unfolding, and gang rapes aren’t that unusual here either. Take your pick: some of the 20 men who gang-raped an 11-year-old in Cleveland, Texas, were sentenced in November, while the instigator of the gang rape of a 16-year-old in Richmond, California, was sentenced in October, and four men who gang-raped a 15-year-old near New Orleans were sentenced in April, though the six men who gang-raped a 14-year-old in Chicago last fall are still at large.  Not that I actually went out looking for incidents: they’re everywhere in the news, though no one adds them up and indicates that there might actually be a pattern.

There is, however, a pattern of violence against women that’s broad and deep and horrific and incessantly overlooked. Occasionally, a case involving a celebrity or lurid details in a particular case get a lot of attention in the media, but such cases are treated as anomalies, while the abundance of incidental news items about violence against women in this country, in other countries, on every continent including Antarctica, constitute a kind of background wallpaper for the news.

If you’d rather talk about bus rapes than gang rapes, there’s the rape of a developmentally disabled woman on a Los Angeles bus in November and the kidnapping of an autistic 16-year-old on the regional transit train system in Oakland, California — she was raped repeatedly by her abductor over two days this winter — and there was a gang rape of multiple women on a bus in Mexico City recently, too.  While I was writing this, I read that another female bus-rider was kidnapped in India and gang-raped all night by the bus driver and five of his friends who must have thought what happened in New Delhi was awesome.

We have an abundance of rape and violence against women in this country and on this Earth, though it’s almost never treated as a civil rights or human rights issue, or a crisis, or even a pattern. Violence doesn’t have a race, a class, a religion, or a nationality, but it does have a gender.

Here I want to say one thing: though virtually all the perpetrators of such crimes are men, that doesn’t mean all men are violent. Most are not. In addition, men obviously also suffer violence, largely at the hands of other men, and every violent death, every assault is terrible.  But the subject here is the pandemic of violence by men against women, both intimate violence and stranger violence.

What We Don’t Talk About When We Don’t Talk About Gender

There’s so much of it. We could talk about the assault and rape of a 73-year-old in Manhattan’s Central Park last September, or the recent rape of a four-year-old and an 83-year-old in Louisiana, or the New York City policeman who was arrested in October for what appeared to be serious plans to kidnap, rape, cook, and eat a woman, any woman, because the hate wasn’t personal (though maybe it was for the San Diego man who actually killed and cooked his wife in November and the man from New Orleans who killed, dismembered, and cooked his girlfriend in 2005).

Those are all exceptional crimes, but we could also talk about quotidian assaults, because though a rape is reported only every 6.2 minutes in this country, the estimated total is perhaps five times as high. Which means that there may be very nearly a rape a minute in the U.S.  It all adds up to tens of millions of rape victims.

We could talk about high-school– and college-athlete rapes, or campus rapes, to which university authorities have been appallingly uninterested in responding in many cases, including that high school in Steubenville, Notre Dame University, Amherst College, and many others. We could talk about the escalating pandemic of rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment in the U.S. military, where Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta estimated that there were 19,000 sexual assaults on fellow soldiers in 2010 alone and that the great majority of assailants got away with it, though four-star general Jeffrey Sinclair was indicted in September for “a slew of sex crimes against women.”

Never mind workplace violence, let’s go home.  So many men murder their partners and former partners that we have well over 1,000 homicides of that kind a year — meaning that every three years the death toll tops 9/11’s casualties, though no one declares a war on this particular terror. (Another way to put it: the more than 11,766 corpses from domestic-violence homicides since 9/11 exceed the number of deaths of victims on that day and all American soldiers killed in the “war on terror.”) If we talked about crimes like these and why they are so common, we’d have to talk about what kinds of profound change this society, or this nation, or nearly every nation needs. If we talked about it, we’d be talking about masculinity, or male roles, or maybe patriarchy, and we don’t talk much about that.

If we talked about crimes like these…we’d have to talk about what kinds of profound change this society, or this nation, or nearly every nation needs. If we talked about it, we’d be talking about masculinity, or maybe patriarchy, and we don’t talk much about that.

Instead, we hear that American men commit murder-suicides — at the rate of about 12 a week — because the economy is bad, though they also do it when the economy is good; or that those men in India murdered the bus-rider because the poor resent the rich, while other rapes in India are explained by how the rich exploit the poor; and then there are those ever-popular explanations: mental problems and intoxicants — and for jocks, head injuries. The latest spin is that lead exposure was responsible for a lot of our violence, except that both genders are exposed and one commits most of the violence. The pandemic of violence always gets explained as anything but gender, anything but what would seem to be the broadest explanatory pattern of all.

Someone wrote a piece about how white men seem to be the ones who commit mass murders in the U.S. and the (mostly hostile) commenters only seemed to notice the white part. It’s rare that anyone says what this medical study does, even if in the driest way possible: “Being male has been identified as a risk factor for violent criminal behavior in several studies, as have exposure to tobacco smoke before birth, having antisocial parents, and belonging to a poor family.”

Still, the pattern is plain as day. We could talk about this as a global problem, looking at the epidemic of assault, harassment, and rape of women in Cairo’s Tahrir Square that has taken away the freedom they celebrated during the Arab Spring — and led some men there to form defense teams to help counter it — or the persecution of women in public and private in India from “Eve-teasing” to bride-burning, or “honor killings” in South Asia and the Middle East, or the way that South Africa has become a global rape capital, with an estimated 600,000 rapes last year, or how rape has been used as a tactic and “weapon” of war in Mali, Sudan, and the Congo, as it was in the former Yugoslavia, or the pervasiveness of rape and harassment in Mexico and the femicide in Juarez, or the denial of basic rights for women in Saudi Arabia and the myriad sexual assaults on immigrant domestic workers there, or the way that the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case in the United States revealed what impunity he and others had in France, and it’s only for lack of space I’m leaving out Britain and Canada and Italy (with its ex-prime minister known for his orgies with the underaged), Argentina and Australia and so many other countries.

Who Has the Right to Kill You?

But maybe you’re tired of statistics, so let’s just talk about a single incident that happened in my city a couple of weeks ago, one of many local incidents in which men assaulted women that made the local papers this month:

“A woman was stabbed after she rebuffed a man’s sexual advances while she walked in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood late Monday night, a police spokesman said today. The 33-year-old victim was walking down the street when a stranger approached her and propositioned her, police spokesman Officer Albie Esparza said. When she rejected him, the man became very upset and slashed the victim in the face and stabbed her in the arm, Esparza said.”

The man, in other words, framed the situation as one in which his chosen victim had no rights and liberties, while he had the right to control and punish her. This should remind us that violence is first of all authoritarian. It begins with this premise: I have the right to control you.

Murder is the extreme version of that authoritarianism, where the murderer asserts he has the right to decide whether you live or die, the ultimate means of controlling someone.  This may be true even if you are “obedient,” because the desire to control comes out of a rage that obedience can’t assuage. Whatever fears, whatever sense of vulnerability may underlie such behavior, it also comes out of entitlement, the entitlement to inflict suffering and even death on other people. It breeds misery in the perpetrator and the victims.

As for that incident in my city, similar things happen all the time.  Many versions of it happened to me when I was younger, sometimes involving death threats and often involving torrents of obscenities: a man approaches a woman with both desire and the furious expectation that the desire will likely be rebuffed.  The fury and desire come in a package, all twisted together into something that always threatens to turn eros into thanatos, love into death, sometimes literally.

It’s a system of control. It’s why so many intimate-partner murders are of women who dared to break up with those partners.  As a result, it imprisons a lot of women, and though you could say that the attacker on January 7th, or a brutal would-be-rapist near my own neighborhood on January 5th, or another rapist here on January 12th, or the San Franciscan who on January 6th set his girlfriend on fire for refusing to do his laundry, or the guy who was just sentenced to 370 years for some particularly violent rapes in San Francisco in late 2011, were marginal characters, rich, famous, and privileged guys do it, too.

The Japanese vice-consul in San Francisco was charged with 12 felony counts of spousal abuse and assault with a deadly weapon last September, the same month that, in the same town, the ex-girlfriend of Mason Mayer (brother of Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer) testified in court: “He ripped out my earrings, tore my eyelashes off, while spitting in my face and telling me how unlovable I am… I was on the ground in the fetal position, and when I tried to move, he squeezed both knees tighter into my sides to restrain me and slapped me.” According to the newspaper, she also testified that “Mayer slammed her head onto the floor repeatedly and pulled out clumps of her hair, telling her that the only way she was leaving the apartment alive was if he drove her to the Golden Gate Bridge ‘where you can jump off or I will push you off.’” Mason Mayer got probation.

This summer, an estranged husband violated his wife’s restraining order against him, shooting her — and six other women — at her spa job in suburban Milwaukee, but since there were only four corpses the crime was largely overlooked in the media in a year with so many more spectacular mass murders in this country (and we still haven’t really talked about the fact that, of 62 mass shootings in the U.S. in three decades, only one was by a woman, because when you say lone gunman, everyone talks about loners and guns but not about men — and by the way, nearly two thirds of all women killed by guns are killed by their partner or ex-partner).

What’s love got to do with it, asked Tina Turner, whose ex-husband Ike once said, “Yeah I hit her, but I didn’t hit her more than the average guy beats his wife.” A woman is beaten every nine seconds in this country. Just to be clear: not nine minutes, but nine seconds. It’s the number-one cause of injury to American women; of the two million injured annually, more than half a million of those injuries require medical attention while about 145,000 require overnight hospitalizations, according to the Center for Disease Control, and you don’t want to know about the dentistry needed afterwards. Spouses are also the leading cause of death for pregnant women in the U.S.

‘Women worldwide ages 15 through 44 are more likely to die or be maimed because of male violence than because of cancer, malaria, war and traffic accidents combined.’ “Women worldwide ages 15 through 44 are more likely to die or be maimed because of male violence than because of cancer, malaria, war and traffic accidents combined,” writes Nicholas D. Kristof, one of the few prominent figures to address the issue regularly.

The Chasm Between Our Worlds

Rape and other acts of violence, up to and including murder, as well as threats of violence, constitute the barrage some men lay down as they attempt to control some women, and fear of that violence limits most women in ways they’ve gotten so used to they hardly notice — and we hardly address. There are exceptions: last summer someone wrote to me to describe a college class in which the students were asked what they do to stay safe from rape. The young women described the intricate ways they stayed alert, limited their access to the world, took precautions, and essentially thought about rape all the time (while the young men in the class, he added, gaped in astonishment). The chasm between their worlds had briefly and suddenly become visible.

Mostly, however, we don’t talk about it — though a graphic has been circulating on the Internet called Ten Top Tips to End Rape, the kind of thing young women get often enough, but this one had a subversive twist.  It offered advice like this: “Carry a whistle! If you are worried you might assault someone ‘by accident’ you can hand it to the person you are with, so they can call for help.” While funny, the piece points out something terrible: the usual guidelines in such situations put the full burden of prevention on potential victims, treating the violence as a given. You explain to me why colleges spend more time telling women how to survive predators than telling the other half of their students not to be predators.

Threats of sexual assault now seem to take place online regularly. In late 2011, British columnist Laurie Penny wrote, “An opinion, it seems, is the short skirt of the Internet. Having one and flaunting it is somehow asking an amorphous mass of almost-entirely male keyboard-bashers to tell you how they’d like to rape, kill, and urinate on you. This week, after a particularly ugly slew of threats, I decided to make just a few of those messages public on Twitter, and the response I received was overwhelming. Many could not believe the hate I received, and many more began to share their own stories of harassment, intimidation, and abuse.”

Women in the online gaming community have been harassed, threatened, and driven out. Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist media critic who documented such incidents, received support for her work, but also, in the words of a journalist, “another wave of really aggressive, you know, violent personal threats, her accounts attempted to be hacked. And one man in Ontario took the step of making an online video game where you could punch Anita’s image on the screen. And if you punched it multiple times, bruises and cuts would appear on her image.” The difference between these online gamers and the Taliban men who, last October, tried to murder 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai for speaking out about the right of Pakistani women to education is one of degree. Both are trying to silence and punish women for claiming voice, power, and the right to participate. Welcome to Manistan.

The Party for the Protection of the Rights of Rapists

It’s not just public, or private, or online either.  It’s also embedded in our political system, and our legal system, which before feminists fought for us didn’t recognize most domestic violence, or sexual harassment and stalking, or date rape, or acquaintance rape, or marital rape, and in cases of rape still often tries the victim rather than the rapist, as though only perfect maidens could be assaulted — or believed.

As we learned in the 2012 election campaign, it’s also embedded in the minds and mouths of our politicians.  Remember that spate of crazy pro-rape things Republican men said last summer and fall, starting with Todd Akin’s notorious claim that a woman has ways of preventing pregnancy in cases of rape, a statement he made in order to deny women control over their own bodies. After that, of course, Senate candidate Richard Mourdock claimed that rape pregnancies were “a gift from God,” and just this month, another Republican politician piped up to defend Akin’s comment.

Happily the five publicly pro-rape Republicans in the 2012 campaign all lost their election bids. (Stephen Colbert tried to warn them that women had gotten the vote in 1920.)  But it’s not just a matter of the garbage they say (and the price they now pay).  Earlier this month, congressional Republicans refused to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, because they objected to the protection it gave immigrants, transgendered women, and Native American women.  (Speaking of epidemics, one of three Native American women will be raped, and on the reservations 88% of those rapes are by non-Native men who know tribal governments can’t prosecute them.)

And they’re out to gut reproductive rights — birth control as well as abortion, as they’ve pretty effectively done in many states over the last dozen years. What’s meant by “reproductive rights,” of course, is the right of women to control their own bodies. Didn’t I mention earlier that violence against women is a control issue?

And though rapes are often investigated lackadaisically — there is a backlog of about 400,000 untested rape kits in this country– rapists who impregnate their victims have parental rights in 31 states. Oh, and former vice-presidential candidate and current congressman Paul Ryan (R-Manistan) is reintroducing a bill that would give states the right to ban abortions and might even conceivably allow a rapist to sue his victim for having one.

All the Things That Aren’t to Blame

Of course, women are capable of all sorts of major unpleasantness, and there are violent crimes by women, but the so-called war of the sexes is extraordinarily lopsided when it comes to actual violence.  Unlike the last (male) head of the International Monetary Fund, the current (female) head is not going to assault an employee at a luxury hotel; top-ranking female officers in the U.S. military, unlike their male counterparts, are not accused of any sexual assaults; and young female athletes, unlike those male football players in Steubenville, aren’t likely to urinate on unconscious boys, let alone violate them and boast about it in YouTube videos and Twitter feeds.

No female bus riders in India have ganged up to sexually assault a man so badly he dies of his injuries, nor are marauding packs of women terrorizing men in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, and there’s just no maternal equivalent to the 11% of rapes that are by fathers or stepfathers. Of the people in prison in the U.S., 93.5% are not women, and though quite a lot of them should not be there in the first place, maybe some of them should because of violence, until we think of a better way to deal with it, and them.

No major female pop star has blown the head off a young man she took home with her, as did Phil Spector.  (He is now part of that 93.5% for the shotgun slaying of Lana Clarkson, apparently for refusing his advances.)  No female action-movie star has been charged with domestic violence, because Angelina Jolie just isn’t doing what Mel Gibson and Steve McQueen did, and there aren’t any celebrated female movie directors who gave a 13-year-old drugs before sexually assaulting that child, while she kept saying “no,” as did Roman Polanski.

In Memory of Jyoti Singh Pandey

What’s the matter with manhood? There’s something about how masculinity is imagined, about what’s praised and encouraged, about the way violence is passed on to boys that needs to be addressed. There are lovely and wonderful men out there, and one of the things that’s encouraging in this round of the war against women is how many men I’ve seen who get it, who think it’s their issue too, who stand up for us and with us in everyday life, online and in the marches from New Delhi to San Francisco this winter.

There’s something about how masculinity is imagined, about what’s praised and encouraged, about the way violence is passed on to boys that needs to be addressed.

Increasingly men are becoming good allies — and there always have been some.  Kindness and gentleness never had a gender, and neither did empathy. Domestic violence statistics are down significantly from earlier decades (even though they’re still shockingly high), and a lot of men are at work crafting new ideas and ideals about masculinity and power.

Gay men have been good allies of mine for almost four decades. (Apparently same-sex marriage horrifies conservatives because it’s marriage between equals with no inevitable roles.) Women’s liberation has often been portrayed as a movement intent on encroaching upon or taking power and privilege away from men, as though in some dismal zero-sum game, only one gender at a time could be free and powerful. But we are free together or slaves together.

There are other things I’d rather write about, but this affects everything else. The lives of half of humanity are still dogged by, drained by, and sometimes ended by this pervasive variety of violence.  Think of how much more time and energy we would have to focus on other things that matter if we weren’t so busy surviving. Look at it this way: one of the best journalists I know is afraid to walk home at night in our neighborhood.  Should she stop working late? How many women have had to stop doing their work, or been stopped from doing it, for similar reasons?

One of the most exciting new political movements on Earth is the Native Canadian indigenous rights movement, with feminist and environmental overtones, called Idle No More. On December 27th, shortly after the movement took off, a Native woman was kidnapped, raped, beaten, and left for dead in Thunder Bay, Ontario, by men whose remarks framed the crime as retaliation against Idle No More. Afterward, she walked four hours through the bitter cold and survived to tell her tale. Her assailants, who have threatened to do it again, are still at large.

The New Delhi rape and murder of Jyoti Singh Pandey, the 23-year-old who was studying physiotherapy so that she could better herself while helping others, and the assault on her male companion (who survived) seem to have triggered the reaction that we have needed for 100, or 1,000, or 5,000 years. May she be to women — and men — worldwide what Emmett Till, murdered by white supremacists in 1955, was to African-Americans and the then-nascent U.S. civil rights movement.

We have far more than 87,000 rapes in this country every year, but each of them is invariably portrayed as an isolated incident.  We have dots so close they’re splatters melting into a stain, but hardly anyone connects them, or names that stain. In India they did. They said that this is a civil rights issue, it’s a human rights issue, it’s everyone’s problem, it’s not isolated, and it’s never going to be acceptable again. It has to change. It’s your job to change it, and mine, and ours.

© 2013 Rebecca Solnit
Rebecca Solnit

Rebecca Solnit is an activist and the author of many books, including: Wanderlust: A History of Walking, The Battle of The Story of the Battle in Seattle (with her brother David), and Storming The Gates of Paradise: Landscapes for Politics. Her most recent book is, A Paradise Built in Hell, is now available. She is a contributing editor to Harper’s Magazine

 

War Crimes against Women: A Private Hell May 16, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, War, Women.
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Published on Sunday, May 16, 2010by Laura Carlsen

Gender justice is an unfamiliar term to most people. Many assume it is merely a feminine (and therefore diminutive) form of justice, created by adding an awkward adjective to an abstract ideal.

But thanks to years of documenting gender-based crimes, pressure from women’s movements, testimony from victims and legal arguments, there is now a body of jurisprudence and a history of movements that define gender justice and promote it internationally. At an historic conference in April, organized by the Women’s Initiative for Gender Justice (WIGJ) and the Nobel Women’s Initiative, fifty women gathered in a Mexican beach town to evaluate the progress of gender justice and set forth a three-year work agenda.

I had the good fortune and tremendous responsibility of being among the luchadoras -women who struggle-charged with beginning this task. Participants made a collective promise to work closely with organizations back home and with the International Criminal Court and other bodies to end gender-based crimes in armed conflict and attain justice.

No small task. In a place as orienting as the edge of the Pacific Ocean, I often found myself disoriented by the enormity of it. I was part of a world linked by common values, but fragmented by hundreds of seemingly senseless wars-each with a political complexity and historical intransigence that defied solutions. The room filled with the stories of how women from diverse cultures, rich in resistance but plagued by discrimination and traditions of gender violence, seek peace and justice in equally diverse ways.

Some are immersed in internationally recognized conflict situations, others in peace processes, and others in rebuilding post-conflict societies. The law provides some framework, albeit insufficient, for their demands for punishment and reparations for gender-based crimes. They are learning to use those legal tools.

But many of us from Latin America came from countries where conflict situations are not internationally recognized; peace in Honduras and Colombia has been restored, we are told, even as murder, displacement and crimes against women continue on a daily basis. Mexico’s growing violence against women in the context of the drug war and impunity is the dirt that is routinely swept under the political rug. We grappled with questions of where we fit into the international legal system, how we could build movements to stop gender-based crimes in low-level local conflicts, how a stronger gender perspective could help fend off the growing militarism that marks our lives.

Some women spoke the language of the courtroom and explained the international instruments that have been developed to document and punish gender-based war crimes. Other women talked of grassroots organizing tactics and how to build peace movements that take women’s demands and realities into account. Their experiences combined provided a broad and complex range of strategies. They reflected what Brigid Inder of WIGJ called “the tension between the punitive formal justice model and the more comprehensive and complex agenda for what we call transformative justice, where the finding of guilt or innocence is accompanied by efforts to transform both communal and gender relations.”

Common themes soon emerged. Testimonies from brave women revealed that within the hell of war lies a private hell. The hell of sexual violence-an inner circle shielded from scrutiny by the socially imposed shame of its victims and the willful ignorance of legal and political systems.

Our Latin American perspective required us to interpret from a framework of recognized conflict with an applicable body of international law, to a continent of emerging threats including the drug war and local battles over natural resources. The thread that united our experiences was the role of women as the leaders of social justice movements and the victims of conflict.

The sands beneath our feet shifted during the conference. Not when the tide rolled over during early morning walks on the beach-although those moments were also an important part of forging a common commitment-but when we heard survivors´ stories and statistics like these, from Joan Chittister:

* At the turn of the 20th century, 5% of war casualties were civilians
* In World War I, 15% were civilians
* In World War II, the figure leapt to a 65% civilian death toll, as whole cities were bombed
* By the mid-nineties, 75% of war deaths were civilians
* Today, 90% of the human war toll are civilians-the majority women and children

Forget the complaints of “collateral damage”. As military leaders brag that modern technology has produced the most accurate weapons in history, during war strikes in places like Iraq or Afghanistan, women and children die.

They are not the collateral damage-they are the targets.

When finally, through the efforts of women like those at the Dialogue, international agencies produce some statistics on rape and other forms of sexual violence in conflict situations, the figures are so staggering, the stories so shockingly brutal, that all attempts to explain away the phenomenon as the acts of a few rogue soldiers or part of the pillage of war fall away. Rape is a calculated weapon of war. It decimates communities, destroys families, spreads disease and leaves deep physical and psychological scars. That is the purpose.

No geographic region has a corner on barbarity when it comes to gender-based crimes. For example, women reported sex crimes and violence by paramilitary and military forces against displaced populations in Burma, Colombia and Sudan.

Many speakers noted that the use of women’s bodies as both the spoils and the battlefields of war appears to be on the rise. In some cases, women organizers for peace and justice have made progress, such as the fight against land mines and for peace in Northern Ireland, but new and terrible challenges have emerged in unexpected points of the planet, like Honduras. The opportunity to compare notes, to learn what works, what doesn’t work, who are allies and who are enemies gave renewed commitment and shared knowledge to women peace organizers who girthed themselves to return home to local battles.

Gender Justice is now an international issue

The International Criminal Court as a Tool of Gender Justice

The timing of the Dialogue responded to an immediate challenge: in early June the Assembly of State Parties will hold a 10-year Review Conference of the International Criminal Court. In addition, the year marks the fifteenth anniversary of the Beijing World Conference on Women, the tenth anniversary of the UN Security Council resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, and the dawn of a new “gender architecture” within the UN to promote women’s rights. As the organizers explained, “This is an opportune moment to reflect on the progress and work of the ICC, the possibilities embodied in the Rome Statute for the accountability of conflict-related crimes, and the responsibilities of the United Nations for the deterrence and resolution of armed conflicts, women’s global citizenship and gender-inclusive international justice.”

The ICC is currently hearing cases from four armed conflicts-Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic and Sudan-and all include charges of gender-based crimes. It has provided a forum to seek justice and to create public awareness of these crimes and has launched innovative projects, including the ICC Trust Fund for Victims. For women involved in giving testimonies-women and girls who live with the scars of war-time rapes and mutilations-the work of the court may be far away but the concept of justice that it seeks to provide is at the core of their daily lives.

The ICC takes a case when national systems of justice will not or do not function. It can be a blow against impunity. It is easy to think of impunity as a sin of omission. The hand not raised in protest appears genteel alongside the hand stained with the blood of the victim. And yet we learned from the testimonies of women on the frontlines of the battle for gender justice that impunity not only perpetrates crimes against women, it teaches generation after generation how to continue the practice.

Dialogue members noted that the international system offers both opportunities and limitations. Joanne Sandler of UNIFEM warned that Resolutions are not always proof of resolve. Since the Security Council issued Resolution 1325, there have been 24 formal peace processes. Women have been only 10% of the negotiators and 2% of the signatories. Worse yet, she said, there doesn’t seem to be progress. More formal mechanisms are needed to assure compliance with gender policies. Without permanent pressure from women organizers and experts, legal advances could remain a dead letter.

From the Courts to the Streets and Back Again

Gender-based crimes require responses in three areas: Prevention, protection and reparation. Experts working in the international legal system noted that prevention, the most important of all, is given fewer resources because it does not have measurable benchmarks. How do you measure the number of lives not nearly destroyed by horrors we can scarcely imagine? Participants agreed that although bureaucrats have yet to come up with a formula, prevention should be our ultimate goal.

To prevent sex crimes requires nothing short of a revolution in cultural, political and social norms. This group has demonstrated its willingness to step up to the task. The Nobel Women’s Initiative was founded by six women Nobel Prize winners who refused to rest on their laurels. Then there is Yanar Mohammed of Iraq, who went out into a Baghdad street to speak on International Woman’s Day in a bullet-proof vest, following numerous death threats, and then went on to denounce the rape of women in detention centers and sex trafficking, and create a vibrant cultural movement for youth.

Or Gilda Rivera, who was kidnapped and beaten during Honduras´ dirty wars of the eighties, then saw the nightmare return when a military coup d’état took over her country in June of 2009. It would be enough to drive anyone into exile or retreat. It drove Gilda into the streets of Tegucigalpa. Every morning she marched against the coup and every afternoon organized with Feminists in Resistance to protect women and document the crimes against them.

Too often the cry is not heard. Deputy Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, in a taped message, called rape “the silent crime against communities.” Then she immediately questioned the terminology, asking “Is rape really silent?” Women scream, yet far too often no one hears. Just sharing stories was a sort of catharsis for women who see far too much suffering in their work and lives. The Dialogue provided a forum to cry out to a gathering that will not only hear, but act.

What to do faced with such a daunting challenge?

The question was on the table, and since this was an action-oriented gathering there was no escaping it. The International Gender Justice Dialogue sketched out ideas for the coming years in three areas: peace talks and implementation, justice and jurisprudence and communications. Dialogue members came up with lists of tactics, hints, strategies and challenges for the coming years, from Nobel Laureate Jody Williams´ creative messaging in the successful campaign to ban land mines, to lawyers´ advice on using the court.

But the key message was just one: Don’t give up. Ever.

As I write this, we have just received word that human rights defender Bety Cariño was murdered by paramilitary forces in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. She was part of a humanitarian aid caravan and is the third woman murdered in the conflict in this region recently. Bety wasn’t necessarily singled out as a woman, but it’s no coincidence that she was one. The same concerns and qualities that make it imperative for women to be among the peace negotiators and the leaders in social reconstruction and justice proceedings are the qualities that led Bety to become a defender of grassroots movements and to be carrying aid to an autonomous indigenous community when she was shot to death.

Bety´s assassination, the recruitment of girl soldiers in the DRC, rape in Sudan all are issues of gender justice. Jody William points out that that doesn’t mean they are “women’s issues.”

Gender justice is not a subcategory of social justice; it’s an essential component.

This article was originally published by Open Democracy.

Copyright © Fluxxus Digital Limited 2010

Laura Carlsen (lcarlsen(at)ciponline.org) is director of the Americas Policy Program (www.americaspolicy.org) in Mexico City, where she has been an analyst and writer for two decades. She is also a Foreign Policy In Focus columnist.

Financial Planning March 21, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Humor.
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          George was a single guy living at home with his father and working in the
          family business. When he found out he was going to inherit a fortune when
          his sickly father died, he decided he needed a wife with which to share his
          fortune.
         
          One evening at an investment meeting, he spotted the most beautifu woman
          he had ever seen. Her natural beauty took his breath away.
          ‘I may look like just an ordinary man,’ he said to her, but in just a
        few years, my father will die, and I’ll inherit $65 million.’
         
        Impressed, the woman obtained his business card and three days later,
        she became his stepmother.
         
        Women are so much better at financial planning than men.

Why can’t a woman write the Great American Novel? February 24, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture.
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Female authors hold their own on the bestseller lists, but Elaine Showalter’s provocative new history wonders why they get so little respect.

By Laura Miller

Feb. 24, 2009 | Every few years, someone counts up the titles covered in the New York Times Book Review and the short fiction published in the New Yorker, as well as the bylines and literary works reviewed in such highbrow journals as Harper’s and the New York Review of Books, and observes that the male names outnumber the female by about 2 to 1. This situation is lamentable, as everyone but a handful of embittered cranks seems to agree, but it’s not clear that anyone ever does anything about it. The bestseller lists, though less intellectually exalted, tend to break down more evenly along gender lines; between J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer alone, the distaff side is more than holding its own in terms of revenue. But when it comes to respect, are women writers getting short shrift?

The question is horribly fraught, and has been since the 1970s. Ten years ago, in a much-argued-about essay for Harper’s, the novelist and critic Francine Prose accused the literary establishment — dispensers of prestigious prizes and reviews — of continuing to read women’s fiction with “the usual prejudices and preconceptions,” even if most of them have learned not to admit as much publicly. Two years before that, Jane Smiley, also writing in Harper’s, alleged that “Huckleberry Finn” is overvalued as a cultural monument while “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” is undervalued, largely because of the genders of the novels’ respective authors; the claim triggered a deluge of letters in protest. Alongside the idea that women writers have been unjustly neglected, there has blossomed the suspicion that some of them have recently become unduly celebrated — an aesthetic variation on the conservative shibboleth of affirmative action run amok.

Onto this mine-studded terrain and with impressive aplomb, strides Elaine Showalter, literary scholar and professor emerita at Princeton. Showalter has fought in the trenches of this particular war for over 30 years, beginning with her groundbreaking 1978 study, “A Literature of Their Own: British Women Novelists From Brontë to Lessing,” and culminating in her monumental new book, “A Jury of Her Peers: American Women Writers From Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx.” Billed as “the first comprehensive history of American women writers from 1650 to 2000,” “A Jury of Her Peers” has to negotiate the treacherous battlefield between the still-widespread, if fustian insistence on reverence for Great Writers and the pixelated theorizing of poststructuralists hellbent on overturning the very notion of “greatness.”

Showalter is certainly the woman for the job. One of the founders of feminist literary criticism, she has also written about television for People magazine and confessed her penchant for fashion in Vogue. Unquestionably erudite, she has always striven to communicate with nonacademic readers, and her prose is clear, cogent and frequently clever. She has insisted that themes central to women’s lives — marriage, motherhood, the tension between family and individual aspirations — constitute subject matter as “serious” and significant as traditionally masculine motifs like war and travel. Yet she rejects the preference of many feminist literary scholars for emphasizing “culture importance rather than aesthetic distinction,” and she doesn’t hesitate to describe some of the writers discussed in “A Jury of Her Peers” as artistically limited, if historically interesting.

All of this is controversial enough in Showalter’s chosen profession, and “A Jury of Her Peers” mostly steers a judicious middle course, examining the major figures in depth while giving a nod to innovators who may not be well known or exceptionally brilliant. (The latter includes many 19th-century authors but also some 20th-century writers more notable for the “cultural importance” of their subjects — Anzia Yezierska on the lives of Jewish immigrants, for example, or Jessie Redmon Fauset on the genteel black middle class of the ’20s and ’30s — than for the power of their work.) Most illuminating, she will, when needed, chart the rise and fall of the reputation of someone like Sarah Orne Jewett (who wrote about late 19th-century life in the small towns of coastal Maine), a trajectory that went from being “patronized as the epitome of the little woman writer” in her own time to being touted as a “recovered” feminist pioneer in the 1970s and ’80s, and finally, in the ’90s, to being “excoriated and banished by feminist critics for her endorsement of bourgeois values and her political thought crimes.”

Jewett’s posthumous “dizzy ride on the roller coaster of critical politics” offers a textbook case of the absurdities of ideological criticism in the late 20th century. One scholar convinced herself that the meandering structure of Jewett’s best-known work, “The Country of Pointed Firs” (a lovely book, by the way), was intended to be a weblike, “feminine” alternative to the oppressively “masculine” convention in which a linear plot accelerates to a climax; a more circular story supposedly corresponds to the purportedly non-goal-oriented unfolding of women’s sexual response. This dubious sort of analogy is surprisingly popular among academic critics, despite the fact that the vast majority of women readers have always exhibited a hearty appetite for linear narratives — much as most women, when given a choice, would prefer to have that orgasm, thanks very much.

Showalter gently but firmly suggests that the lack of resolution at the end of “The Country of Pointed Firs” is instead merely the result of a failure of technique. Jewett had difficulties with plot because satisfying plots are difficult to write, a challenge that most novelists — including Jewett herself and several others covered in “A Jury of Her Peers” — have readily acknowledged. As an active participant in the birth and coming-of-age of a new school of criticism, Showalter knows well that an excessively political approach can lead a critic to similarly silly, baroque conclusions, which may in part explain why “A Jury of Her Peers” contains, on balance, more history than interpretation.

Nevertheless, if you’re inclined to make interpretations yourself, Showalter offers more grist for the mill than a hundred volumes of theory. Why, for example, did Britain produce several women novelists of genius during the 19th century — Jane Austen, George Eliot and the Brontës, as well as accomplished lesser artists like Elizabeth Gaskell — while America did not? That question could (and sometimes does) lead to a lot of speculation on the national characters of the English-speaking peoples, but Showalter mentions an equally plausible, practical cause: “While English women novelists, even those as poor as the Brontës, had servants, American women were expected to clean, cook and sew; even in the South, white women in slaveholding families were trained in domestic arts.” Quite a few of the short biographical sketches she offers feature women complaining about being compelled by parents to learn to make pies or mend when they would rather write. In 1877, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps made the heroine of her novel, “The Story of Avis,” fume, “I hate to make my bed, and I hate, hate to sew chemises, and I hate, hate, hate to go cooking round the kitchen.”

Housework in America has never been an uncomplicated matter. The class system in Britain consigned a certain set of people to this humble labor, while America promised the enterprising among them an opportunity to make something more of their lives. Nevertheless, the cooking and cleaning still had to be done — especially on the small family farms that were the economic engines of early America — and so the responsibility for it was transferred from a servant class to the female relatives of the new republic’s self-made men.

America is the first nation united by ideas rather than a shared cultural and racial history, and foremost among those ideas is the paradigm of self-invention, via hard work, in the free territory of the frontier. Our literary culture has always hankered after fiction that, in one way or another, embodies this hope. “The answer to the American quest for originality,” Showalter writes, “seemed to lie in the coming of the poet-hero, a genius who, through divine inspiration, would create immortal works, and an art commensurate with the vastness of the nation and the scope of its dreams.” Only such a protean figure could sum up the whole country in a single work. This in turn led to the fantasy of the Great American Novel — and also to a condition that I like to think of as Great Literary American Novel Syndrome, a term whose acronym, GLANS, gives you a pretty good idea of just who’s expected to write the thing.

If rugged individualism was the sacred vocation of the American male, then cooking his meals, keeping his house and raising his children became by necessity the holy and ordained duty of the American female; the very soul of the nation rested upon it! The majority of the women writers whose lives and work Showalter chronicles wrestled with the nagging feeling that they were going against nature as well as country in pursuing what was rightfully a man’s work. She detects the persistent recurrence of images of freaks and hybrids in the poetry and fiction of American women, and a taste for the grotesque and the gothic in writers like Flannery O’Connor and the great, underrated Shirley Jackson. Other women authors constantly made gestures of self-deprecation, beginning with the Puritan poet Anne Bradstreet, who wrote “Men can do best, and Women know it well./ Preeminence in all and each is yours.” They felt hemmed in by the need to observe a ladylike decorum and to disavow any great literary ambition. No wonder, then, that much of American women’s writing before the 1960s can seem cramped and apologetic compared to their more entitled sisters across the Atlantic, let alone compared to a rampant (if charming) egoist like Walt Whitman.

The obvious subject for such women was what they knew: home life. But, as Showalter observes, “Domestic fiction has been the most controversial genre in the literary history of American women’s writing, an easy target for mockery and an embarrassment to feminist critics who wish to change the canon.” Margaret Fuller articulated that ambivalence when she announced that she wanted to “not write, like a woman, of love and hope and disappointment, but like a man, of the world of intellect and action”; she never managed to pull it off. Meanwhile, titans like Nathaniel Hawthorne complained of a “damned mob of scribbling women,” whose sentimental tales of love and family outsold his own books. By the 1850s, according to Showalter, “the American literary marketplace became a battlefield between women and men,” with the sales mostly going to the women and the esteem reserved for the men. Even socially influential writers, like Harriet Beecher Stowe (teased by Abraham Lincoln for starting the Civil War), got sniffed at by the critical establishment, and it only got worse when the 20th century ushered in the cult of the he-man novelist as personified by Ernest Hemingway. (The leftist writer Meridel Le Sueur complained that an editor rejected one of her stories for lacking the requisite amount of what she called “fishin’, fightin’ and fuckin’.”)

The indignant litany of insults and hindrances flung at woman writers throughout history has become a familiar motif in feminist literary criticism, and Showalter wisely refuses to indulge in it overmuch. She prefers to focus on what they brought to the table. Still, surveying this history, it seems that before the 1970s there was nothing more conducive to a woman’s literary success than the failure of the men in her life. More often than not, what prompted these writers to sit down at their desks and send out their manuscripts to magazines and book publishers was the bankruptcy, desertion, idleness or death of her husband or father. When the touted sanctuary of the nuclear family let them down, and they needed the money to feed their children and keep a roof over their heads, their talents were finally loosed. Women like Stowe apparently supported hordes of relatives with her pen. Yet despite this manifest evidence that the traditional, conventional gender roles really don’t fit all, only a few American literary women (rich women like Edith Wharton, lesbians like Willa Cather and the odd wild card femme fatale like Edna St. Vincent Millay or Katherine Anne Porter), ever felt entirely at ease in their profession.

This began to change in the 1960s and ’70s, and Showalter, building on past work, describes the evolution of “the American female tradition” as going through four stages: “feminine,” “feminist,” “female” and finally, the current one, which she has dubbed “free.” By this she means that “American women writers in the 21st century can take on any subject they want, in any form they choose.”

This may indeed be true, but to a certain degree it always was; a writer’s feeling of artistic power — her authority — has been there for the seizing, even if at times it’s been almost impossible to lay hands on it, given the fog generated by our national myths, rigid ideas of the genders’ innate capabilities and downright sexism. The difference between then and now lies just as much in the ability to get published and read, and in the economic factors, from book sales to teaching gigs to grants and fellowships, that permit a writer to support herself in her chosen vocation. Francine Prose, in that Harper’s essay a decade ago, argued that the prestige awarded by critics and prize committees is crucial in securing these supports for literary writers (as opposed to commercial and genre writers), and they are still distributed unfairly.

Prose maintained that the authorities in charge of these goodies still harbored the tacit assumption that “women writers will not write anything important — anything truly serious or necessary, revelatory or wise.” Prose is right that many critics and editors, especially male ones, make a fetish of “ambition,” by which they mean the contemporary equivalent of novels about men in boats (“Moby-Dick,” “Huckleberry Finn”) rather than women in houses (“House of Mirth”), and that as a result big novels by male writers get treated as major events while slender but equally accomplished books by women tend to make a smaller splash. One response to this situation is to argue that the novel of psychological nuance focused on a small number of characters shouldn’t be regarded as less significant than fiction painted on a broader social canvas.

Another is for America’s women writers to seize their share of those big canvases. Showalter seems to feel that they are now doing so, and lists authors like Annie Proulx and Jane Smiley as examples. It’s difficult, however, to think of the equivalent — both in attempt and reputation — of “Underworld” or “Infinite Jest” by an American woman. By contrast, with examples ranging from Iris Murdoch to Doris Lessing, British women are perfectly at home with the capacious novel of ideas; after all, George Eliot practically invented the thing.

The great exception to this rule is women of color — most notably Toni Morrison, but Prose also singles out the Native-American novelist Leslie Marmon Silko — whose work became mainstream in the 1980s. Apart from their own considerable talent, these writers have been politically liberated to claim a big swath of territory that white male novelists could not make a feasible bid for anyway; Don DeLillo knows better than to attempt the Great American Novel about slavery. Morrison’s black male counterparts, on the other hand, have raised an infamous ruckus over her apotheosis, which suggests that winning the right to speak for an entire people is still, in some minds, a prerogative of men.

Great Literary American Novel Syndrome is a surprisingly persistent condition, despite the increasingly obvious likelihood that no work of art can sum up a nation as heterogeneous as ours without neglecting somebody. And in the end, critical reputation might become a moot point; substantive book reviews are a vanishing phenomenon, and the guardians of the citadel are fading away on every front. The last generation of old-fashioned androcentric Great American Novel practitioners will die out with Philip Roth; it’s difficult to picture a new version of that crew gaining a foothold in a marketplace where the vast majority of those who buy and read fiction are now women. Furthermore, in my (admittedly limited and anecdotal) experience, literary men under 45 are as likely to idolize Joan Didion or Flannery O’Connor as Norman Mailer or John Updike.

And perhaps the literary novel itself is doomed. “A Jury of Her Peers,” while a fascinating and often revelatory history, is decidedly historical. The boundless horizon that Showalter sees opening up before us is more likely to feature memoirs and other forms of nonfiction as its landmarks, yet her book barely touches on these genres. Whatever the future of America’s women writers will be, it is women readers who will have the most say in it, and their tastes are shifting. This is, indeed, a jury of her peers, and every American writer now finds her- or himself hanging upon their decisions.

Women’s Liberation Through Submission: An Evangelical Anti-Feminism Is Born January 12, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Religion, Women.
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true-women-2008Weeping at True Woman ’08

Kathyrn Joyce, www.religiondispatches.org, January 11, 2009

 Six thousand evangelical women gather to support biblical womanhood, and hear from theological leaders about the great influence wielded by “a woman on her knees.”

This October, more than 6,000 women gathered in Chicago for the True Woman Conference ’08: a stadium-style event to promote what its proponents call “biblical womanhood,” “complementarianism,” or—most bluntly—“the patriarchy movement.”

Women gathering to support the patriarchy movement? It’s evangelical counterculture at its most contrarian.

The Associated Baptist Press explains the relationship of biblical womanhood to feminism, highlighting an ambitious initiative that arose from the meeting: a signature drive seeking 100,000 women to endorse its “True Woman Manifesto,” which, the ABP writes, aims “at sparking a counterrevolution to the feminist movement of the 1960s.”

To outside observers of the patriarchy movement, the starkness of the calls for gender hierarchy often seem amusingly outdated (not to mention historically misleading: feminist blogs Feministing and Pandagon have deftly dismantled some of the speakers’ Leave it to Beaver idealizations of the 1950s as a time when women were universally protected).

Though only just under 3,000 women have actually signed the document since its unveiling on October 11, the fact that it exists, and the campaign to gather such a large showing of public support, reveals something important about this movement: that its followers don’t view themselves simply as a remnant of polite, churchy women, holding out against a crass culture, but rather as a revolutionary body waging “countercultural” rebellion against what they see as the feminist status quo.

“We are believing God for a movement of reformation and revival in the hearts and homes of Christian women all around this world,” one organizer, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, said at the close of the conference. “I just believe there is a massive women’s movement of true women in those millions of women who are able to capture all kinds of battlefronts for Christ.”

The terms of the manifesto (downloadable here) serve as a good shorthand description of the aims and principles of the submission and patriarchy movement. Signers affirm their belief that women and men were designed to reflect God in “complementary and distinct ways”; that today’s culture has gone astray distinctly because of its egalitarian approach to gender (and that it’s “experiencing the consequences of abandoning God’s design for men and women”); and that while men and women are equally valuable in the eyes of God, here on earth they are relegated to separate spheres at home and in the church.

The “countercultural” attitudes that signers support include the idea that women are called to affirm and encourage godly masculinity, and honor the God-ordained male headship of their husbands and pastors; that wifely submission to male leadership in the home and church reflects Christ’s submission to God, His Father; that “selfish insistence on personal rights is contrary to the spirit of Christ”; and, in a pronatalist turn of phrase that recalls the rhetoric of the Quiverfull conviction, their willingness to “receive children as a blessing from the Lord.”

Finally, in a reference to the importance of woman-to-woman mentoring within the conservative church, they affirmed that “mature Christian women” are obliged to disciple the next generation of Christian wives, training them in matters of submission and headship, in order to provide a legacy of “fruitful femininity.”

The speakers at the conference were the A-list of complementarian celebrities: Pastor John Piper, Christian radio personality Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor and antifeminist author Mary Kassian, J. Ligon Duncan III, chairman of the board for the Council for Biblical Manhood & Womanhood (CBMW), Susan Hunt, an author and consultant to the Presbyterian Church in America’s Women in the Church Ministry, and others. The conference was organized by DeMoss’ St. Louis-based ministry (and eponymous twice-daily radio program), Revive Our Hearts, a women’s ministry that stresses submission as a militant discipline that will alter the culture.

DeMoss’ fellow speakers shared her faith. Striding to the stage to the soundtrack of Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman,” Mary Kassian riffed on a common biblical womanhood theme: that the queasy unhealthiness of the vintage Virginia Slims slogan, “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby,” was representative of feminism’s unhealthy promises to women: appealing to women’s desire for independence, but selling a dangerous product. Kassian’s premise—that feminism took women a “long way” in the wrong direction—echoed that of Mary Pride, submission and headship advocate and author of the homeschooling mother’s cult classic book, The Way Home: Away from Feminism, Back to Reality, published some twenty years earlier.

Pride made the case in the late ’80s for submission as a revolutionary calling, and Kassian’s evocation of Reddy’s old feminist fight song was as deliberate a declaration that the “True Woman” movement was as revolutionary as feminism had been. “I’m praying that God is going to raise up a counterrevolution of women,” she told the crowd, “women who hold the knowledge of our times in one hand and the truth and the clarity and the charity of the Word of God the other; women whose hearts are broken over the gender confusion and the spiritual and emotional and relational carnage of our day and who, like those men of old, know what to do.”

DeMoss has collaborated with a number of her fellow speakers before. In 2002, she edited a compilation of essays on submission and headship entitled Biblical Womanhood in the Home, which drew contributions from Kassian, Hunt, and other complementarian matriarchs, such as Dorothy Kelley Patterson, who with her husband, Paige Patterson, created the homemaking degree and curriculum introduced at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2007 and P. Bunny Wilson, author of anti-feminist Christian books such as Liberated Through Submission. In her introduction to the collection, DeMoss wrote of her culture-transforming ambitions:

 

I began to wonder what might happen in our day if even a small number of devoted, intentional women would begin to pray and believe God for a revolution of a different kind—a counterrevolution—within the evangelical world… Unlike most revolutions, this counterrevolution does not require that we march in the streets or send letters to Congress or join yet another organization. It does not require us to leave our homes; in fact, for many women, it calls them back into their homes. It requires only that we humble ourselves, that we learn, affirm, and live out the biblical pattern of womanhood, and that we teach the ways of God to the next generation.

 

To that end, DeMoss has worked with the CBMW, Campus Crusade for Christ’s Family Life, the Moody media empire, Moms In Touch International, and other organizations—pushing not just the familiar list of Christian right demands, but a more subtle, and more thorough, transformation of Christian family life and structure, from which to wage a more effective culture war.

The imperative of such a return to “biblical” gender roles is even farther- reaching though, as Kassian explained. Feminism, she argued, in a paraphrase of the argument in her book The Feminist Mistake: The Radical Impact of Feminism on Church and Culture, is a multistage process that begins with feminism’s insistence on self-definition and self-determination, and ends with feminism’s declaration that women can interpret and decide for themselves who or what God is: a statement of theological relativity that threatens to undermine biblical literalism completely. In The Feminist Mistake, Kassian explained this slide more thoroughly:

 

Feminism begins with a deconstruction of a Judeo-Christian view of womanhood (the right to name self); progressed to the deconstruction of manhood, gender relationships, family/societal structures, and a Judeo-Christian worldview (the right to name the world); and concluded with the concept of a metaphysical pluralism, self-deification, and the rejection of the Judeo-Christian deity (the right to name God).

 

To the age-old question of “who is God,” Kassian complained, feminism answers, it’s up to you. And this, to Kassian, is a blasphemous statement of authority in and of itself, and even a sign of self-worship. “According to feminism, women decide, and ultimately, that means that they themselves are God.”

This is the charge of complementarian’s biggest advocates. The Southern Baptist seminary where Kassian teaches is also the location of the SBC-affiliated CBMW, the preeminent institution of complementarianism and publisher of the most authoritative book on the subject, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, co-edited by theologians John Piper and Wayne Grudem.

“Wimpy theology makes wimpy women,” Piper told the audience. Reinforcing a common message that biblical womanhood, true womanhood, may look meek, but is actually fierce, Piper, who spreads the complementarian message not just through his writing and affiliation with the CBMW, but also through his church-planting Desiring God ministry, explained, “Wimpy theology does not give a woman a God big enough, strong enough, wise enough, good enough to handle the realities of life in a way that enables her to magnify Him and His Son all the time… Wimpy theology doesn’t have a granite foundation of God’s sovereignty underneath.” Non-wimpy theology gives women both a God strong enough to see them through the worst of life, Piper continued, and also a set of non-negotiable mandates for life. Namely that submission is a wife’s divine calling, and truest form of power. “I distinguish between authority and influence,” he said. “A woman on her knees sways more in this nation than a thousand three-piece suited Wall Street jerks. There is massive power in this room, so I do not take lightly this moment.”

Neither should observers, however laughably retrograde the True Woman prescriptions and manifesto might seem. What a conference of this size means—along with the publicly-declared ambition to gather exponentially more women—is that the biblical womanhood movement is getting organized.

Kathryn Joyce is the author of Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement, a study of conservative Christian women’s movements forthcoming from Beacon Press in Feb. 2009. Her articles have appeared in The Nation, Mother Jones, Newsweek, and other publications

Obama: Ratify the Women’s Convention Soon December 5, 2008

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The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly, is often described as the international bill of rights for women. The United States remains the only democracy that refuses to ratify the treaty. (Photo: WILPF) Friday 05 December 2008, www.truthout.org Nearly 30 years after President Jimmy Carter signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the United States remains the only democracy that refuses to ratify the most significant treaty guaranteeing gender equality. One hundred eighty-five countries, including over 90 percent of members of the United Nations, have ratified CEDAW.

by: Marjorie Cohn, t r u t h o u t | Perspective

 

    US opposition to ratification has been informed not simply by an objective analysis of how CEDAW’s provisions might conflict with US constitutional law. Rather, it reflects the ideological agenda and considerable clout of the religious right and the corporate establishment. Issues of gender equality raise some of the most profound divisions between liberals and conservatives. The right-wing agenda was born again in the Bush administration, which issued numerous directives limiting equality between the sexes. Bush targeted funding for family planning and packed the courts and his administration with anti-choice ideologues.

    The parade of horribles trumpeted by ratification opponents includes predictions that it would force the United States to pass an Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Opposition to the ERA in the 1980s was also grounded in religious fundamentalism. There are fears that ratification may lead to the legalization of same-sex marriage and the abolition of single-sex schools, and create a nation of androgynous children.

    Much of the hysteria directed at ratification is based upon false assumptions. One opponent warned: “A messy divorce case shouldn’t end up in the World Court.” This is a reference to the International Court of Justice, which does not even have jurisdiction over marital dissolution cases. An editorial in Hanover, Pennsylvania’s, The Evening Sun predicted CEDAW backers will use the International Criminal Court as an enforcement tool. But, the International Criminal Court only has jurisdiction over war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.

    Cecilia Royals of the National Institute of Womanhood said, “This treaty represents a battering ram against free and democratic societies, and particularly against women with traditional values.” The Weekly Standard charged the treaty “mandates complete sex equality in the military, the overthrow of market wages and implementation of ‘comparable-worth’ pay scales, rigid gender quotas, abortion on demand, and federally mandated child care.” Many opposed to ratification seek to protect the large corporations – the backbone of US capitalism – from having to enact equality provisions that would imperil the bottom line.

    Although President Carter signed CEDAW in 1980, the treaty has never been sent to the full US Senate for its advice and consent to ratification. When the president signs a treaty, we are forbidden from taking action inconsistent with the object and purpose of the treaty. But we don’t become a party, with all the treaty obligations, until the president ratifies the treaty with the advice and consent of the Senate.

    After Ronald Reagan became president and the Republicans gained control of the Senate, CEDAW languished in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Neither Reagan nor President George H.W. Bush sought ratification. Reagan made his contempt for CEDAW perfectly clear when he said that once adopted, the treaty would lead to “sex and sexual differences treated as casually and amorally as dogs and other beasts treat them.”

    In 1994, at the behest of the Clinton administration, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held hearings and recommended full Senate approval of CEDAW. Yet committee chairman Jesse Helms continued to hold CEDAW hostage by keeping it from a vote in the Senate. In response to a last-minute campaign against ratification fueled by radio talk shows, a “hold” was placed on the treaty, preventing the full Senate from voting on it.

    Five years later, 10 female members of the House of Representatives, including Nancy Pelosi, delivered to a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (the Committee) a letter supporting ratification, signed by 100 members of Congress. Jesse Helms scolded them with, “Now you please be a lady,” before ordering uniformed officers to “[e]scort them out.”

    When the Committee recommended ratification in 1994, it attached proposed reservations, understandings, and declarations (RUDS) to its recommendation, which purported to qualify the terms of ratification. These qualifications, however, would effectively eviscerate the promise of equality enshrined in the treaty. For example, ratification opponents insist that the First Amendment, particularly freedom of religion, trumps a woman’s right to privacy. CEDAW prohibits discrimination by private as well as public entities. States have defined issues of family planning, child care, marriage, and domestic violence as “private.”

    CEDAW, in effect, mandates that states take affirmative action to ensure equality for women in the areas of employment, education, health care and family planning, economic, political, cultural, social and legal relations. CEDAW specifies that temporary measures taken to achieve equality will not constitute discrimination. The US reservation makes clear that notwithstanding the prescriptions of CEDAW to eliminate gender discrimination by any “person, organization or enterprise,” ratification would not mean that the United States would have to ensure that private entities regulate private conduct.

    Jesse Helms added an understanding to ratification stating that CEDAW does not create a right to abortion, and that abortion should not be used as a method of family planning. This understanding is unnecessary because CEDAW does not even mention abortion. Opposition to reproductive rights has been a hot button issue for the right-wing evangelicals.

    Other reservations specify that the United States undertakes no obligation to enact statutes requiring comparable worth or paid maternity leave. Full-time, year-round, wage-earning American women now earn an average of 75 cents for every dollar earned by men in similar jobs. Women in the United States only enjoy the right to short, unpaid maternity leave, and they can be fired for being late due to pregnancy or maternity-related illness. Women in Canada, Europe and Cuba enjoy greater wage equality and paid maternity rights than women in the United States.

    The recommended RUDs purport to ensure that ratification of CEDAW would not require that the United States adopt greater protections than those afforded under the US Constitution. Yet US equal protection jurisprudence falls short of safeguards women would have under CEDAW. Classifications based on race require strict scrutiny and mandate that the government demonstrate a compelling government interest to support them. But classifications based on gender require only intermediate or skeptical scrutiny. Instead of a compelling government interest, there need only be a substantial relationship between the interest and the classification. The secretary of state even indicated in a 1994 letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the United States would continue to follow the [lesser] intermediate scrutiny standard after ratification, notwithstanding the treaty’s defining principle prohibiting gender discrimination.

    Moreover, CEDAW defines discrimination against women as “any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose” of impairing or nullifying women’s human rights and fundamental freedoms. Yet, US constitutional jurisprudence requires that there be proof of both a discriminatory impact and a discriminatory purpose in order to establish an equal protection violation.

    It has been US policy to eschew limitations on speech that reinforce the inferiority of women. Indeed, significant inequality between the sexes persists in the United States in employment and education, and in the economic, political, cultural and criminal system. Women in the United States do not enjoy guarantees of social welfare rights such as food, clothing, housing, health care and decent working conditions. The refusal to enshrine these rights in US law is the reason our government has also failed to ratify the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). See Obama Spells New Hope for Human Rights.

    CEDAW, like the three human rights treaties the United States has ratified – the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Torture Convention, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – contains a declaration that the treaty is non-self-executing, which means that it requires implementing legislation to make it effective. Scholars, including Professor Louis Henkin, maintain that the Senate’s general practice of appending non-self-executing declarations to ratification violates the Supremacy Clause, which mandates that treaties shall be the supreme law of the land. The opposition to ratification stems not only from the belief that the United States should not ratify any treaty with provisions inconsistent with US constitutional jurisprudence; it also demonstrates a refusal to require our government to change or enact laws that comport with the obligations we would undertake by ratifying a treaty.

    Finally, there is a declaration that the United States will only submit on a case-by-case basis to the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice to resolve disputes about the interpretation of CEDAW. According to the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, RUDs which are incompatible with the object and purpose of a treaty are void. The RUDs proposed by the Senate committee are not only incompatible with the mandate of equality in CEDAW, they shun the primary object of the treaty: non-discrimination against women. Professor Cherif Bassiouni has said: “The Senate’s practice of de facto rewriting treaties, through reservations, declarations, understandings, and provisos, leaves the international credibility of the United States shaken and its reliability as a treaty-negotiating partner with foreign countries in doubt.”

    Yet, in spite of the RUDs, CEDAW continues to languish in committee. Early in 2002, President George W. Bush called CEDAW “generally desirable” and said it “should be approved.” Yet, once the right-wing pressure geared up, Bush backed down. Five months later and shortly before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 12-7 to approve the treaty, Secretary of State Colin Powell reported that the treaty was “complex” and “vague.” Attorney General John Ashcroft, no champion of women’s rights, was charged with “reviewing” CEDAW. Bush never sent CEDAW to the Senate for advice and consent to ratification.

    More than 120 organizations, including AARP, the League of Women Voters, Amnesty International, and the World Federalist Association, support ratification. The city of San Francisco voted in 1998 to adopt the treaty, and its provisions are in force there. City departments have incorporated the treaty into hiring practices as well as budgets for juvenile rehabilitation programs and public transportation.

    President-elect Barack Obama has said he supports ratification of CEDAW as well as the Equal Rights Amendment. He has promised increased enforcement by his Office of Civil Rights to ensure effective protection from sex discrimination. Obama should not hesitate to send CEDAW to the Senate for advice and consent to ratification, without the proposed RUDs that would eviscerate its protections.

    It took nearly 150 years for women to gain the right to vote in this country. There is no principled reason our government should resist full equality for women. The United States must climb on board and ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

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Marjorie Cohn is president of the National Lawyers Guild and a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law. She is the author of “Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law.” Her new book, “Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent” (co-authored with Kathleen Gilberd), will be published this winter. Her articles are archived at www.marjoriecohn.com.