Sunday, May 24, 2009

On Righteous Indignation

I was born in the mid 1980's to a card-carrying member of NOW and an absent-minded engineer. I was raised not believing, but knowing I was equal in every value to boys, but also knowing that stupid boys might try to harm me if I reminded them of that fact. From that I grew to understand that I was equal in value to smart, worthwhile boys, and was actually worth more than stupid rednecky ones. I knew that I had every opportunity to be as smart as I possibly could, pursue any career I wanted, and that I had the right to say no, or yes, as the spirit moved me.

I also knew that when I reached adulthood I would be held responsible for my actions and choices, that my self respect and sexuality were mine alone, that a woman was prime minster of England and there would soon be a woman President, and that I had a personal responsibility to maintain my sense of self-worth in the face of all that might oppose me because I was a girl.

It was a lot to absorb before 1990.

But absorb that I did, and I think that may have harmed the feminist movement in the long run. See, I grew up under the very erroneous assumption that my rights, responsibilities, and opportunities were a given. That they were not something I would be called upon to fight for, because that fighting had been done for me. All I was asked to do was maintain it, and not waste it.

Which is why I was a bit shocked to learn, upon leaving Fort Mill, that the oppressed women we'd glossed over in social studies were actually real people, and the institutionalized rape, murder, and imprisonment of forward-thinking women was actually going on outside of the protected bubble I called home. I got through the chunk of my education in which my teachers focused on making us appreciate what we had, but before they could get to the point where, I think, they were going to tell us to help others attain it too, 9/11 occurred and the message of "promote women's rights in the Muslim world" was trampled by the much louder, "kill all brown people."

The hoopla did die down a bit and more recently our politial sights have returned to the plight of women living under the Taliban and other Back-assward regimes. I think the reason Western women have a hard time wrapping our heads around the fact that women haven't en masse risen up against institutionalized rape, honor murders, punishable education, and forced marriage is that we really don't understand how they can feel powerless. Our reeducation in the 1960's was pretty damn thorough--girls do feel empowered, women know we have rights, and we know when they're being infringed upon. We do get angry when our neighbors only pay for their sons to go to college. We do get upset when jackass old men leave their wives of 40 years for teenage gold-diggers. We're saddened to see the ghetto produce teenage baby-mamas who erroneously believe that having kids of their own will free them from the abuse they receive from their families. And people do work to help women break free of these patterns of male-dominance, or at least sue the bastards for everything they've got. People do go into the schools to try and help teenage girls see that college, not babies they can't handle, will help them break free of poverty and subjugation by men. We do try in our own communities because we know that the overall sentiment among women here is that we are equal, and we deserve our equality.

In the West we are shocked and horrified to read inquiries into the institutionalized beating, rape, and neglect of children by religious schools in countries we call our own--especially when we know that something could have easily been done to stop it at the time. I think the abuses perpetrated by the Irish Catholic Church against the children in their care are identical to the abuses against women in Saudi Arabia, in almost all ways. The children were captives, raised in the abusive institutions, understood that they could be abused at any time for any reason, and that if they spoke up about it or even cried that the pain would be worsened and they would be isolated, called liars, shunned, sent away, or killed. Many had never known any other way of life, and they inherently knew that fighting would get them nowhere--they were smaller than their captors, and in many instances kept weak and on the brink of starvation partly to ensure that they would never effectually fight back. Indeed, they also knew that complaining would get them nowhere--even if they sought an outside authority, such as the police, the adult in the confrontation's word would always be taken more seriously than theirs, even if their bones were broken and their bodies clearly violated. If you were raped by a priest it was your fault for reaching puberty in his presence. If you were beaten senseless by a nun it was for your own good because otherwise you'd end up like your mother, who was a prostitute and the spawn of Satan. You are alone, you have no recourse to aid, and you have no rights at all--not even to your life.

I have never lived in this world. I don't ever want to. I have felt victimized and have occasionally feared for my life, but I have never been made to feel utterly helpless for any sustained period. I've always had the right to leave, the ability to seek help, the right to a grown-up or a lawyer or a jury of my peers. No one's authority over me is absolute, and I always have the right up to stand up against what I perceive as injustice. I have stood up against what I perceived as injustice. It got me nowhere, as the last time I did was during the Bush administration, but I was not harmed or punished for doing so. I have petitioned, written my senator, peacefully protested, and voted again and again. I have taken my side up in court and won with the validity of my argument. I've been intimidated by cops but only in one instance have I ever felt that they were twitchy enough to abuse their authority or harm me. I have said no, and been respected for it. I've also said no and been told to fuck myself for it, but I've still had the confidence to uphold my dignity that I believe must come from the inner knowledge that if this punk tries anything, I'll totally bring the law down on him.

But that's the difference between me and girls my age living under oppressive states, with oppressive religions and oppressive parents. They don't have that confidence. If punks try something against a girl in a community where she is repeatedly told she is worthless, she is browbeaten and will not find anyone sympathetic to her plight, where even the nice people say she probably asked for it, she'll probably find herself raped and beaten by a man, then beaten or killed by her family, the state, and the church for allowing it to happen to herself.

Where's the strength to stand up for yourself? Where's the self-assurance that comes with knowing this is wrong? Feminism is Western and the West is Satan, so Feminism is satanic, therefore many men are working very hard to convince women that they are worthless and might as well like it that way. How many women in these communities genuinely believe that rape is the fault of the raped? How many mothers feel a strong responsibility to raise their daughters to submit? How many mothers felt that their forced marriage to the douchebag that fathered their children was appropriate? Why?

It's this aspect of the mindset that baffles today's Western woman. It is one thing for a mother to impress upon her daughter that yes, this sucks, and I'm sorry for bringing you into this horrible world, but if you don't marry your cousin willingly you'll just be beaten senseless and married to him by force so you might as well deal with it like I did--but when a mother says "this is what you must do, this is my will, you may not marry the man you love because your father and I want your money" to her daughter without a shadow of empathy or just doesn't make a damn ounce of sense. That seems contrary to every basic instinct that makes up the female condition. How can adult women willfully suppress love for the sake of money or propriety? How can fathers so deliberately sacrifice their daughters--entities deemed sacred by their own endocrine systems--to lives of misery and servitude for the sake of their own finances or reputations? How can this behavior continue through the generations? How can parents defeat biology?

Love is not an abstract entity--we know that. It's a huge and complex network of synaptic responses to stimuli that demand we protect our offspring and those with whom we mate. In my culture people who deliberately harm, or appear to not have good intentions for their children are considered insane. Assault and battery are one thing when it comes to strangers, but if you hurt your own kid, prevent her from going to school, make her marry a man she detests, or refuse to let her go outside unattended by a male relative the police inquiry will probably include some Rorschach tests. Child abuse is a sign that there's something terribly wrong going on.

So what does it mean when a culture institutionalizes it? Condones, encourages, even demands it? What we call catastrophic human rights abuses, brainwashing, and the subjugation of over half of the population, Saudi Arabia calls "Thursday." The small clusters of women that do feel inspired to start grassroots equality campaigns are choked out early before they spread, and are often publicly raped or stoned until dead to serve as examples to everyone. These displays don't prove rightness or wrongness to anyone--they just remind everyone that violence will always defeat pacifism. The Westerners who manage to get in and start talking to people are imprisoned for espionage, or simply disappear. These are countries that don't want their people to want life to improve. They'd rather blame the West for their horrible lives than take the initiative and improve them for themselves. It can't be this repressive religion or culture we've built around ourselves that makes us so unhappy, that makes our finest minds escape to America at their earliest opportunity to pursue respectable careers and send their daughters to school, thereby leaving us devoid of modern healthcare or access to legal representation. They appear determined to make a bad situation worse even though they can easily see that their goals are not realistic and their ideals are intolerable. All for what? Spite? God? Didn't they say their god was benevolent? What idiot worships a god that she believes hates her? Why is the pursuit of happiness a sin?

This is the problem. We don't get it. We don't understand. The misery of these women's lives doesn't make sense to us, because to the empowered mind it doesn't seem possible. And it's because we're a little bit empowered. We're not on top, we're still struggling for our own voices to be recognized as true authority and not merely conciliatory authority permitted and supervised by nice men. (Between two equally awesome hypothetical candidates, a woman and a man, I'll vote for the woman out of a sense of "it's about damn time.") Western women have a sense, fulfilled or not, of ideal equality. We seek it, we crave it, sometimes we even feel it. Do oppressed women know this feeling? Do they get the urge to fight? Do they want to?

In our idealized eyes we know that if we could simply get all repressed women to stand up as one and throw off the shackles of their government they could succeed in overthrowing their way of life. Sadly revolutions must have a starting point, and it is pretty easy to stamp out little fires of revolt. Moreover, even if they did really all stand up as one and demand their government and religion be restructured to include them as equals with rights to themselves, i'm pretty sure they'd be attacked, as one, and wrestled to the floor by their husbands, fathers, brothers, and community men who flatly refuse to allow women to consider themselves people, even if every single one of them demanded it. Because it's not just a small group in the government controlling the masses--the permeation of culture through religion and education allows the masses to control the masses. Just as American education and a lot of Western religion does in favor of women.

Our idealized notion of empowering the women themselves is not going to work because a large portion of their culture was established to prevent them having power, and to prevent the men in their lives from wanting them to have it. Even the men who genuinely do love them. Look at how much American men fought against women's suffrage, for centuries, and came up with a host of bullshit excuses why they shouldn't--excuses as far-ranging as "women don't need to vote because they can't hold land--oh what, now you're going to tell me you want to do that too?" and "women shouldn't have say in what the country does--it's not like it affects them." and "frankly my dear, you're just genetically stupid." Love or no, if you convince a person he or she is better than another flavor of person, he or she is going to have a hard time granting that flavor of person the same rights and privileges he or she enjoys. (for a list of flavors, allow me to direct your attention to the Anti-Discrimination Policy included in most American corporate models. Baskin-Robbins ain't got nothin on it.)

America as a nation is still pretty bad at the whole "live and let live, everyone is equal--yes, even Transvestites, Mexicans, and Mormons, so knock it off" thing, and we claim the greatest Human Flavor Diversity Index of any country ever. (The combinations! The mix-ins! The subtle hints of mocha!) Imagine the difficulty of convincing people who's lineages determine what they eat for breakfast of the equality of all people. (My heritage recall gets hazy beyond my grandma, and in my country that's a-ok--even desirable, as I'm not entitled to anything, but I don't have to apologise for anything either.) Plenty of Americans' backgrounds are so diverse it's easier for them to just mark "yes to all" on the survey sheet. Our ethnic diversity is so great that equality is paramount among all lessons taught in public our urban centers. In states that turn red on election maps...that tends to be glossed over.

To diverge from my topic (further), I just want to ask Islamic Nationalists which chunk of America they find more despicable--places like New York and San Francisco, urban centers of diversity and typically peaceful interaction among races and cultures, or places like Oklahoma and Nebraska that have reputations for promoting and wishing to impose upon the rest of the world their homogenous race, religion, and ancestors?

I don't know what type of intervention into repressive religious government is appropriate. How was denazification so successful? I guess we...bombed Germany into a pulp and then rebuilt it as the global community saw fit. Somehow, though, I don't think the same technique would be effective in an area we've been continually bombing for decades for no readily apparent reason. I think the trick is to covertly re-write the laws, and when somebody notices, just point at the humanitarian re-write and the Qu'Ran and say "oh, but look--it totally fits! It must have said that the whole time."

Seriously, I don't know how Western women managed it, rising up and demanding to be respected after lifetimes of repression. It's been a gradual process and we're not there yet, but we're the closest we've ever been in centuries, and sadly as our culture has filled in behind the waves our foremothers made we've lost the fire, the spark, the anger that got us here. We have no reason to fight for what we have, and have a hard time doing it when it is asked of us. (Prop 8's success startled many people.) What we have, instead, is a sense of cultural identity built upon the understanding that we are in fact equals, always have been, and always will be. I was born knowing that, and as such can't genuinely fathom an existence without it. I don't know how to fight for the right to self-respect. I sadly feel like Marie Antoinette saying "let them eat cake" simply because I'm truly so far removed from the matter that I don't get it. I don't know how to help.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Oh Come On

This past Tuesday I sent a rather large amount of money to confirm my place in the graduate program I've decided to attend--technically my second choice, but the first had been giving me the run-around and I'd run out of time to wait for them.

So naturally this past Friday I received an email confirming interview dates and times for
my first choice school.

It's just one of those things--I knew it was going to happen, it happened, it annoyed me anyway.

In better news, Congratulations Patrick and April!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


I'm heading to SC for the weekend to witness the nuptials of one of my best friends (and the lovely lady who astonished us all by agreeing to it.) I plan to also give my mommy flowers and hugs in a belated-but-awesomer show of Mother's Day appreciation. Two for the price of one flight. Holla.

I also plan to change out seasonal clothes and shoes so I may look a little funny if my bags get opened by airport security. "So you're taking sweaters, snow boots, heavy socks, and a giant woolen South Carolina. In May. Right. So why don't you just make this easier for everyone and dig out the contraband?"

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Thursday, May 07, 2009

I think the most profound difference between scientists and religious followers is that scientists are looking out at and trying to figure out the baffling vastness of it all, while the religious believe the vastness has it all figured out and is looking in.