Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Mother as Monster: The Demonisation of Nadya Suleman

The written material here in this blogpost is copyrighted 2009, by Julian Real. All Rights Reserved. [This is a revised version of a recently posted piece titled "Conceiving Misogyny: the Top Ten Steps Toward the Demonisation of Nadya Suleman".]

Social scorn hath no fury greater than that aimed by media at women for doing little to no harm relative to what men do in abject abundance with impunity.

THIS IS WHAT RACIST, CLASSIST MISOGYNY LOOKS & SOUNDS LIKE. [WARNING: The following three videos are of P.R.I.C.K.s, saying what P.R.I.C.K.s make sure they have plenty of time to say, ad nauseam]:

The media's overt and undisguised hatred for a woman seen as a thing, in this case a person named Nadya Suleman, has been upsetting and bewildering me for the last couple of weeks. I seek here to unravel or separate out some of the strategical strings that comprise the noose that dominant media have put around her neck. There is a vicious collective will at work that is manufactured and manipulated by and through the media. We are welcomed to hope she will fatally fall or, barring that, that she'll have [at least eight of] her children taken away from her because she's one or more of the following terms:] selfish, stupid, irresponsible, inhumane, psychotic, and/or a freak.

This post is not focused on the politics of over-population, an ecocidally serious topic indeed. To approach that issue, I'd start with a critique of people at the top by focusing in on privileged white heterosexual nuclear families and other politically non-threatened, socially unstigmatised kinship units who are determined to make sure they maintain dominion over the Earth, nonhuman animals, and people who are not so powerful. Nadya Suleman, viewed from the ladder of social hierarchy is--reality check--in the "not so powerful" category.

One secret wish buried inside the hope of Nadya having at least eight fewer children, a wish made considerably less secretive through death threats, is that she'll then take her own life and rid society--finally--of the Greatest Threat to Humanity by a Creature since Godzilla. According to many, she is an out-of-control beast, an entirely irrational human being. Her current media moniker, "Octo-mom", reflects this contemptuous dehumanisation and demonisation of her.

I have been considering her imagined crimes against humanity and their relative impact on the globe given events that have occurred over the last eight, sixteen, and thirty-two years, including fairly contemporary actions by only one human being, such as the case of the grand thief, Bernie Madoff. His actions and their consequences are considerably more harmful to humanity and the Earth than anything Nadya may hope to do in her lifetime. This example demonstrates how the least powerful, the poor, are systematically accused of doing what only the wealthy are capable of doing: stealing tax dollars, hiding millions of dollars that would otherwise be taxed, corruptly wasting our money, ripping off the middle and working class in ways the poor cannot even dream of doing. When news stories like the one about her hit analog airwaves and digital networks, it's enticingly easy to lose an international/global perspective regarding urgently important dangers and atrocities. Put simply, Nadya Suleman is not more dangerous and unstable than nuclear waste, or the U.S. government and its corporate-owned economy.

The media, let's not forget, is a group of human beings with political and technical power. They control a great deal, including the degrees to which some human beings can think of themselves as being unconditionally estimable, lovable, and wonderful. When a poor woman of color is systematically negatively targeted for contempt, such as in the ways Nadya Suleman has been grossly mistreated, it is never an attack on one person alone: it is an assaultive attack against a gendered class (women), a raced class ("non-whites"), and an economic class (the poor). It functions as a warning, a reminder from the elite social groups and the media that spreads their values. Such groups, which overwhelmingly comprise the populations that own media, have incessant institutional control over how we are perceived, treated, and live our lives. One of the messages in the media is that women are not really women unless they birth children.

There's irony here, given that Nadya, in the eyes of alleged pro-Lifers, has committed many egregious sins: she was born female and grew to be a woman (it would be a different kind of sin if she grew up to be a man), she is single, she is of color, she is poor, and she is reliant on relatively few tax dollars for child support (compared to people with Swiss bank accounts or corporations that take their mailing address and/or business off-shore). No woman in any of these category goes unscrutinised or unstigmatised, while super-rich individuals and corporate execs behave with little to no public awareness or any form of accountability to U.S. tax-payers.

Taking one of these categories of appropriate womanhood, being a mother, we can note an overtly discriminatory, oppressive, and misogynist double standard. The standards set by media for being 'a good mother' have all the flexibility and compassion of steel trap. To be a good father, on the other hand, one must simply be present some of the time, earn some income, not be a drug addict or alcoholic, and not be an active or caught incest perpetrator.

To be a good mother, one must approach sainthood, daily--I'm sorry, I mean hourly--with a dominant cultural clock with video capability, ticking and clicking away across the land, especially noting the actions of women who fall into one or more of the above mentioned categories of social contempt. Women struggling to balance childcare and pay-work are not only criticised, but their very existence is blamed on feminism. Systematically in the media, feminism, not our misogynist, racist economy, is "to blame" for women having to make these choices. Never mind that prior to the emergence of a Black middle class, African American women always did both. Hey, media-makers: this means before the appearance of the white middle-class feminisms of the 1960s and 1970s.

That rich white men and women often do not raise their own children is not considered a systematic form of child neglect and abuse by them as parents. Class-privileged children are sent to live out their young lives in physically and emotionally abusive boarding and prep schools; that's not deemed parental neglect: that's what the responsible wealthy parent does. Children have also been forced into boarding schools across racial lines, with no negative stigma attached at the time to those who did the forcing, even while those children were corporally punished and otherwise treated more like slaves than students.

There are bewildering paradoxical messages given to all women, though, as long as the women appear and behave the way rich media mogels tell women to be heterosexual. The media-acceptable woman must be sufficiently heterosexual. This includes being personally and legally attached to a man, perceived by media as striving to achieve white status, be at least middle class, and overvaluing a nuclear family model of kinship.

If the woman is culturally categorised as heterosexual, media messages vary from the compulsory and mandatory to the 'merely' routinely repeated and manipulative. Within the spectrum are the following proclamations: You must be chaste until such time that you are wedded to a man and then you must not be chaste; You must be sexual with only one man for to do otherwise is a sin against God and 'Man' (God being a man, and 'man' being a god); You also must be sexually attractive to men, whether married or not. Because if you can't do what women who have been trained by pimps can do, you might lose your man. Married, partnered, or single, women should present themselves as appreciative of all heterosexual men's adoration, seduction, exploitation, by being made unconscious, or, if conscious, through brute force; You must bring forth children from your own womb, and if the little ones are determined to be male, or have fleshy genital parts that sufficiently resemble or can be surgically constructed soon after birth to be a penis, all the better. If you do not succeed in these areas, be prepared for social rejection and scorn. Note: raising an intersex child who has no medical issues, without employing surgical intervention, marks you as a bad parent as constitutes child abuse.

Women who parent must also limit the number and moment-by-moment monitor the behavior of men who have access to their children. If a father, step-dad, grandfather, uncle or male neighbor turns out to have perpetrated child sexual abuse, the mother of the children is summarily blamed for this happening, not only by society but often by the incest or molestation survivors. There is absolutely no expectation that men will or even should report their own sexual interest in children, let alone their perpetration. Lorde knows the child molesters never report one another to the police, nor take responsibility for their inhumane crimes. The world of men behaving badly is taken for granted as an unshakable social given. Men have the entrenched entitlement to have sexual access to just about anyone of any age. The sphere of motherhood is expected to negotiate that patriarchally mined and perp-protecting terrain as if there is a map pointing out dangers here, here, and, don't you see?, two over there.

One spank of a toddler's butt, or yank of child's arm in a supermarket parking lot is enough to outrage the misogynous, misopedic public, a public that has been spanking and yanking children, and doing far worse, than we collectively care to admit. (I am opposed to all forms of physical and emotional abuse of children; the point is that those who point fingers hypocritically do what they are upset with "caught" mothers for doing. As in the case with Nadya, being caught in the spotlight makes you a target, and all rights to a private life may be revoked.)

That men secretly, privately rape their daughters and sons is less "controversial"--such stories come and go in the media, but there's no sustained effort by the media to prevent this from happening inside the home. And the difference here is not that the "problem behavior" isn't recorded on video; it's that because the video was made by the rapist and is often networked to other child rapists, it becomes "one of those awful things men do and can't be stopped from doing", not worthy of the kind of mass ridicule and murderous contempt reserved for, say, a poor women who has sixteen children. Social scorn hath no fury no greater than that aimed by media at women for doing very relatively little (or no) harm relative to what men do in abundance with impunity.

In the days, months, and years following mid-September of 2001, Amerikkkan masterminds and their media have been able to project what the U.S. does with impunity (except on Sept. 11, 2001) onto the existence, intentions, and purposes of what has been termed "Islamic Terrorism" or "Islamofascism". (Now please explain to me why 'white Christian Terrorist' and 'white Christofascist' and aren't commonly used terms?)

That Nadya Suleman is reportedly of Iraqi descent on her father's side, only makes this story more appropriate in garnering the around-the-clock attention of the massive U.S. media.

It is necessary to note a sequence of commercial manipulations that is now so repetitive as to be predictable. This is how misogynist media frenzy operates:

We begin by being misled as to who, really, is in charge. Morning and evening 'news' shows and channels, entertainment and talk shows are made by corporate officials to convince us that the wrong people are to blame for what ails us.

Meanwhile, the mass media--in harmonious concert with every other dominant social and cultural institution which comprises the political fire in the belly of the U.S.--remains controlled by rich white men. White male dominated politicians and press habitually get into bed with CEOs, COOs, and CFOs. They engage in "immoral and unnatural acts" while curiously opposing any loving interpersonal, non-commercial union that is not between one [allegedly] heterosexual man and one [allegedly] heterosexual woman.

These very unnaturally corrupt and oppressive acts, with the generous support of their apologists and less generous support of their lawyers, get short-term media attention. (I mean, really: is there anything more boring or repugnant than watching CEO-madmen "coupling" with mostly male Senators, or in threesomes with Press people?)

While their selective stories are breaking news, doused are the incendiary details and perspectives which might clarify why we keep catching blurry glimpses of this endless line of competitors. Part of the dousing procedure involves replacing statused public figures with another far less corrupt perpetrator, one who has little to no impact on the global human community, the Earth, or its many nonhuman inhabitants.

The replacement might, for example, involve a disappeared North American white girl, usually blond and always class-privileged; a succession of pornographic details are periodically strewn about so as to keep the depth of her humanity, and therefore the humanity of all girls, under wraps.

Better yet, a story about a woman, preferably of color, and even better for distraction: let's hope she's poor... oh, and without a male partner!! We also need an angle on the story, something that makes it "unusual".

Enter the story of Nadya Suleman. The facts, being only partially relevant here, are as follows: a woman who grew up lonely as an only child wanted to have children, and lots of them. She prepared for this by arranging to have many of her eggs fertilised and frozen. On occasion, some of these eggs would be surgically implanted in her womb. Usually most of the eggs wouldn't thrive, and one or two babies would eventually be born. Until recently she had six children. Nothing about this story warrants special media attention.

She then decided to have another child, maybe two more at most. An utterly corrupt unethical doctor implants her body with six of her eggs at one time. All take hold, draw on Nadya's body for nutrition, and grow. Two of those eggs split, and thirty weeks after implantation, something that has never happened before in recorded history occurred: she birthed eight living babies who have stayed alive to date.

Everything else the media has done with this story is misogynist, racist, and classist scapegoating of this woman as a Demon.

A misogynist media-fueled frenzy ensued.

The only newsworthy story, if there is one, is that someone birthed eight living octoplets. Given the odds against such a birth, the story of note isn't even how this fertility doctor could make this remotest of possibilities possible. Please note: many doctors implant many eggs into many women. He is not special. His ethics don't differ significantly from many other fertility doctors. His ethics don't differ in the least with countless plastic surgeons who will perform procedure after procedure on any woman who has the cash or insurance to pay him. Where is the media outrage at the doctors who perform hundreds of breast implants? Or at routine and medically unnecessary hysterectomies? Or at the history in this country of forced sterilisation? The medical establishment is a greedy, woman-hating community. Nadya's life was put at great risk by a doctor who could have refused to put six eggs into her body. That she didn't want to selectively abort speaks to her values about fertilised eggs, fetuses, and lack of self-regard.

Giving birth to multiple children is dangerous to any pregnant woman; carrying eight fetuses is likely to be fatal for her. The patriarchal Right-wing rule about banning abortions is they are to be banned only when the woman carrying them isn't killed along with them; killing hundreds of pregnant women in Iraq, Afghanistan, Grenada, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Korea, and Japan, to name but a few places--of color--White Rightists also systematically prevent the birth of otherwise viable fetuses, en masse, through barbaric woman-killing. White men have also been ruthlessly creating and enforcing laws and policies that force U.S. women of color to be sterilised.

Putting birthing over any pregnant woman's own well-being is the patriarchally correct thing to do. Making the possibility of women of color having healthy babies much less a probability than for white women is one of white male supremacy's agenda items. A poor woman of color who has values that preclude her from selectively reducing the number of viable fetuses in her womb is not praised for her integrity, because women aren't supposed to have integrity, including physically. Her body should have been reprobed, the media shouts, to take out some of those fetuses!

One might ask: if she only wanted one more child, why didn't she just adopt? Nadya didn't have the option to adopt just one more child because she's publicly if not also legally categorised as "unfit" to do so.

The period of scrutiny of corrupt rich white men by the public generally lasts as a central spectacle, as a phenomenon, for about four days. (If the U.S. Right is personally going after a man left of centrist, the spectacle may go on for years; sometimes the criminal characters have to be recast while the story continues. But for such a story to continue, there must be "bad women" involved in the primary or secondary plot lines. Our attention, in other words, even while supposedly on men's sexual behavior, is habitually fixed on the 'questionable' behavior of women. If we can focus only on a woman or on women, this works much better; we needn't notice the evil-doing men behind or around the curtains, beneath desks, and between sheets.

Keeping all this in mind, we can see how this story of a woman of color, a poor single woman, and a mother whose fitness for parenthood is called into question.
According to the 'universal law' of misogynist media frenzy, given each of her 'crimes' her story can be expected to stay in the headlines for weeks if not months to come.

Life in the U.S. prior to President Obama's inauguration on January 21st, 2009 is meant to be a fading neo-fascist nightmare. The media helps this process of forgetting along by focusing on what a fashion plate Michelle Obama ought to be each and every day of her life; what Paris Hilton is doing; which female celebrity is sporting a 'baby bump'; which heterosexual stars are getting married or divorced; where the Jonas Brothers are currently performing; who ought to be the next American Idol; and whether or not Jennifer Aniston has bumped into her ex, Brad Pitt. The media relies on us maintaining no historical perspective and having increasingly short attention spans.

If we mentally resuscitate the recent past and are willing to take in material that is longer than a sound-bite, text message, or typical YouTube video, we can remember that G.W., Dick, and Donald committed copious impeachment-worthy breaches of the U.S. Constitution, accomplished so many unfathomably cruel and horrific acts of genocide, and violated any measure of International Human Rights, all with a very well-rehearsed plan. This plan is designed to make wealthy mass murderers richer and strengthen their control of more landmasses and their natural 'resources'. They have been doing this while children, women, and men, predominantly of color, as well as Earth's many other nonhuman beings, have been poisoned and slaughtered. That such men are pro-Death should go without saying.

Unasked are a few questions which I think are pertinent.

Why do white men, one man at a time--a man named Bernie Madoff--not garner as much public vitriol as Nadya Suleman?

Why selectively call out Nadya on bearing children with an emotional agenda that saddles her newborns with a job--to fulfill unmet needs cultivated in her lonely, siblingless childhood--and not also call out men who impregnate woman after woman, or the same woman, so as to have an emotional claim to immortality, to have a son who will carry on his name? Is this not at least as common an emotional agenda that also saddles newborns with a job?

Given the proclivities of rich white men to procure women (and pubescent girls) for sexual use and abuse, women and girls on the streets, women and girls in brothels, women and girls in far-away "exotic" places, women and girls next door, women and girls at home, and given that one of the things wealthy men like to do is have unprotected intercourse with women and girls, and given that once the "rental period" of the woman or girl has ended, what are we to make of his routine impregnation of these women? Is this not an ethical issue for him? How can it be that this behavior doesn't demonise him?

Many men who have casual sexual intercourse with women, once, occasionally, or serially, engage in behavior that gets women pregnant. The men I know in this category do little to nothing to assist in the nurture and support of those babies from birth through adulthood. Are those men demonic for bringing countless children into this world in an irresponsible manner?

If father/daughter incest is the most common form of child sexual abuse, why is it not seen as "unfit" for men to father (here meaning "raise") one or many daughters? Is there nothing more demonic (if we're going to use such a term, and apparently with women we are) than a father or father-figure crawling into the bed of his daughter to violate her sexually and traumatise her physically and psychically?

For me, this is the moral conclusion I arrive at:
What men often do (by engaging in unprotected, coercive, and/or unwelcomed heterosexual intercourse), that frequently results in women becoming pregnant, and leaves women with the trauma of sexual assault, is a form of evil. So to is what the U.S. government and military does. So too is what globalisation, The World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund does.

Nadya is doing at least one of the three interrelated things Western patriarchies tell her she exists to do: be beautiful according to media standards, be sexually available to at least one man, and have babies. Seen this way, it appears her 'crime against patriarchy' was that she didn't have heterosexual intercourse in order to conceive. Get out the stones, and consider throwing them instead at the windows of media centers: Nadya Suleman did nothing criminal nor evil.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Heterosexuality Is Unnatural, no matter what Sex Essentialists say

What follows is a book review from Achille's Heel: The Radical Men's Magazine

The Invention of Heterosexuality by Jonathan Ned Katz

Twelve years ago, Gore Vidal asserted that "there is no such thing as a homosexual or a heterosexual person. There are only homo- or hetero acts." He repeats this hypothesis in an argumentative foreword to Ned Katz's book. But Katz seeks to dig deeper than this and questions the assumptions that lead us to divide people, acts, relationships and feelings into binary opposites. Starting with the first appearance in the United States of the word hetero-sexual, in 1893, he shows how it has moved from its original medical definition to its use in describing "normal", different-sex eroticism.

The original definition is important in the argument that Katz develops. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, attempts were made to identify and name various deviations from the procreative norm. "Hetero-sexuality" described one type of non-procreative perversion involving different-sex desire. Erotic attraction was seen as a healthy sexual instinct when procreation was its aim, but not if it involved only the satisfaction of lustful impulses. It was these drives and impulses that were taken up by Freud, from 1905 onwards, in the development of his theories of sexuality.

It is difficult to imagine a time before knowledge of the powerful concepts and images that Freud put before us. Katz shows how the presumption of a predominantly male, heterosexual norm pervaded Freud's writing, creating an assumption of the biological and historical roots of the hetero/homo divide. In a similar way, Freud displaced the procreative norm and replaced it with the concept of sexual libido and its satisfaction.

In terms of individual development, the choice of sexual object (same- or opposite-sex) was not fixed or restricted, but Freud made it clear that a heterosexual outcome would be both normal and preferred. Homosexuality is seen as "fixated" and "immature" and an undesirable developmental outcome. This impression of an essential, historical and biological truth focussed negative attention on abnormal homosexuality. More importantly, it directed attention away from the heterosexual norm. Katz invites us to check the relative invisibility of discourse on heterosexuality by browsing the indices of relevant seminal texts. As an example, he cites the standard index to Freud's complete works. This contains only one reference to heterosexuality but more than a column of references to homosexuality. Katz goes on to show how heterosexuality grew rapidly from a preferred developmental outcome into a universal, cultural norm. He places Gore Vidal's distinction between persons and acts as post-Kinsey in that Alfred Kinsey's research, reported in "Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male" (1948), described a range of behaviour and practice that did not fit neatly into exclusively homo- or heterocategories.

In the same decade, the words "gay" and "straight" were being used as descriptions of sexual identity, with "straight" meaning "not homosexual". The concept of a gay or lesbian identity and the growth of identity politics have been instrumental in affirming the feelings and lifestyles of those who are glad to be gay. Ned Katz recognises the importance of this movement, but is pessimistic about its potential in the breaking down of the heterosexual norm.

Acceptance of genetically-determined sexual orientation is compared with similar biological "evidence" used to justify the practices of slavery, racism and sexism. Rather than argue on these grounds, he sees a way forward, through a focus on what is held in common and not through an emphasis on what makes us different from each other. His model for this is based on challenges to the dominant male, heterosexual culture posed by liberal, radical and lesbian feminists since the early 1960s. Katz draws together the strands of a feminist de-construction of heterosexuality, from Betty Friedan's dissatisfaction with arbitrary sexual designations, placing limits on women's potential, to Adrienne Rich's explicit criticism, in the early 1980s, of institutionalised heterosexuality.

Katz looks forward to a time when homo- and hetero- distinctions will become redundant. As Lisa Duggan points out in her afterword, this is bound to make some readers uncomfortable, if not downright hostile.

Conservative "essentialists" will perceive an attack against the institutions of marriage and the family. On the other hand, those working for lesbian and gay rights may feel that their position is undermined and that it is better to argue for equality on the basis of gains already made. Katz and Duggan both suggest that an acceptance of "difference" can lead, at best, to a state of tolerance, whereas true equality can only come if we "change the notion that heterosexuality is normal for the vast majority of people, and shift social, cultural and political practices based on that assumption".

Ned Katz's main aim in this book is to focus attention and to encourage debate on the problem of heterosexuality. In this respect, he has produced a valuable resource. "The Invention of Heterosexuality" distils almost fifteen years of discussion, research and writing. It contains a wealth of notes and references that will provide an excellent platform for further study. But, above all, this is an essential read and a fascinating journey through the sexual politics of the 20th century.

Andrew Martin

Copyright © Achilles Heel Collective

Prostitution, Education, Ecocide, and Speaking Out

Among the men I know who are profeminist-identified there is disagreement about many topics, which is understandable given that within large groups of people who identify closely with a collection of related political perspectives--such as Catholic Christians, Secular Liberals, or Sex-positive people--there is generally and usually disagreement. This myth that "profeminism" is "one point of view on the entire world" is made up by Western liberal academicians and the white heteromale supremacist media's spokespeople. In my experience, "profeminists" are grossly pro-civilisation, especially pro-Western civilisation, and grossly silent and "unactive" about the many oppressive conditions women of color--incluing Aboriginal women, Native women, and Indigenous women--experience that are distinct. Other profeminists seem not so pro-feminist as pro-men who speak positively about aspects of feminism. I am thinking at the moment of the inclusion into the academy of Men's Studies programs that are run by whites. Speaking only for myself, I'm not especially interested in making a career out of "studying men" and depending on what, exactly is being studied, and for what purposes, I wouldn't even term this career choice "proWomanist" or "profeminist". Robert Jensen is one man who is profeminist, and who gets criticised by many different groups of people for taking the positions he does, or, for the manner in which he takes these positions. I think it is important for men to not "speak as women" or "speak for women". And I think it's very important that men who listen to women who have been harmed by men in various ways, both institutionally and interpersonally, speak out the best ways we can. While some things Robert Jensen says or does do not resonate with my understandings of "being profeminist", I do believe he is an important voice, a rare voice, as a white man who speaks often about the politics of being both male and white in a white male supremacist system. I applaud him publicly for that. As I've expressed to many people, we men are likely to speak as men, in the politic sense. We are likely to want to speak for people we do not know or represent, to speak in ways that are experienced as (or, well, are) obnoxious, self-congratulatory, and ill-informed. I include myself in the group of men who is likely to speak in those ways. And I try, here, to make space for Womanist and feminist women's voices to be heard not "through me", but rather by linking to or quoting what various women actually say.

One of my friends was a prostitute for several years. (She uses the term "prostitute"; she does not use the term "prostituted woman", or girl.) This is her story, not mine:

She was on the street as a young teenager; a pimp considerably older than her approached her and pretended to be a caring boyfriend. She was not on the street to be a prostitute. She was on the street because she ran away from home and had nowhere else to go. She was a prostitute because a pimp found her, seduced her, and seasoned her to be his prostitute. She was a prostitute because there were procurers who felt entitled to "rent" her for sex, with cash money going from prostitutor to pimp. (It is easy to forget that without pimps and procurers, or prostitutors, prostitution wouldn't exist as such. This may be evidenced in the fact that since Sweden decriminalised being a prostitute, and instead criminalised being a pimp and prostitutor/procurer, by many accounts the rates at which men seek to "rent" women for "sex" has decreased.

For much more on Sweden's approach, see here.

This friend of mine has done lots of work with other women inside systems of economic and sexual exploitation, specifically the systems of poverty, prostitution and pornography, which greatly, but not entirely, overlap. Note the "with" italicised above. It is often assumed by pro-prostitution folks that the women who work to fight against white and male supremacist systems of sexual exploitation are only Academics. The very privileged Melissa Farley, often miscited as THE spokesperson for "the anti-prostitution movement" by pro-prostitution activists, and Catharine A. MacKinnon, often miscredited with being the sole creator of sexual harassment law, are exceptions to the rule, however. My friend worked primarily with very disenfranchised, very socially disregarded women, white and of color, most poor, some illiterate, many of whom understood quite clearly--intellectually and viscerally, the links between the devaluation of girls and women, incest, rape, prostitution, pornography, genocide, and ecocide.

There are a collection of female and male bloggers and/or activists who are pro-prostitution and pro-pornography who, along with many others, claim to more accurately speak for all women in such systems.

Many who claim to speak for these women are, not surprisingly, men who engage in the practice of procuring sexually and economically exploited women for their own sexual gratification. To be clearer: pimps, whether rulers of corporations or street corners, claim to speak for prostitutes incessantly. Pimps even teach women "what to say". Prostitutors also tell women what to say out loud, because they believe they temporarily own the woman "rented".

Corporate/industry pornographers, by definition and by practice, put words in women's mouths, and make women do things that only some misogynist-racist men desire women to do. As I once remarked on the website Hustling The Left, "Larry Flynt's corporate-pimp speech is spoken with a patriarchal accent, somehow through a vagina. Exactly how is it that a woman's open vulva became his mouthpiece?"

Many of these white women and men who speak for or represent women in prostitution have various other forms of privilege, such as what is termed "education privilege".

I understand "education privilege" to mean a combination of things, including valuing the schooling and the Academy and what it does, as well as access to, entrance into, and success within the Academy, or, making it successfully (however that is defined) from nursery school or kindergarten through one's senior year of high school, or "The Sixth Form" in some upper class prep schools; I get confused by the terms the UK has for its own intellectual schooling levels. I believe obtaining a GED or high school diploma, if not also an undergraduate, graduate, or doctorate degree, counts as a form of "education privilege" because so few people around the world, disproportionately very poor, of color, and female, do not have opportunities or the stability of health and regular access to clean water and nutritious food necessary to make studying in or out of school viable. One of the opportunities is to be literate in such a way as to be able to read and comprehend the content of pro-civilisation textbooks. Most people are not literate, as defined by people who value Western white industrialised societies.

I remain unconvinced that industrialised/technologised societies are promoting and doing much more than being anti-Earth, anti-Life, anti-Indigisism, anti-woman, and pro-white supremacy. Such society's cultures, organised by written language, deeply valuing "Western literacy", grade school, and college are termed "civilisation". As Derrick Jensen and others effectively point out, being "for civilisation" and being "for life" are very, very far from synonymous.

From what I can see, a tiny fraction of people emerge from Western white male supremacist educational systems with the will and energy to challenge patriarchies, end white supremacy, confront heterosexism and capitalism, and expose the general inhumanity of Western civilisation. Due to this view and experience, I am not convinced of its usefulness in radically altering a death-worshipping society. And this is said from the perspective of someone with a lot of education privilege. Were I to have acquired the very same feelings about this society that I now hold, I suppose I'd be far less equipped to do much about it. The Catch-22s of Western civilisation are, well, quite catchy.

What I long for is something that apparently cannot happen: for every woman speak out, without fear, without shame, who understand that sexual exploitation is what pimps and prostitutors are in the business of doing, about the systems of prostitution speak out, without fear, without shame, about what they have lived through or are living through. And that "the rest of us" be able to hear them, clearly, and respond accordingly.

For among all the detractors and proponents of prostitution, very few make the case that it is not sexual exploitation, among other things. As I see it, we collectively and strongly disagree on what forms of exploitation are acceptable and worth fighting to end. As someone who is, at heart, in mind, anti-capitalist, anti-misogyny, and anti-ecocide, my values are antithetical to being an advocate for any form of sexual or economic exploitation. Which doesn't mean I speak out for women. I speak for myself, with the hope that what I say benefits rather than harms a collective group of people known as women. It is inevitably the case that women will have varying points of view about the degrees to which any man speaking out about patriarchy, white supremacy, ecocide, and misogyny are helping or hurting women.

I close this post with the voices of North American women who have been in systems of prostition.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Accountability and Profeminist Men

I have been thinking about the matter of feminist accountability among profeminist men, and how profeminist men speak honestly and challengingly about misogyny to other men without pretending to speak for women, or deluding ourselves that we can and do speak for women.

I thought about this matter especially when reading the following quote by Andrea Dworkin, which I most recently encountered here. For me, Dworkin is speaking to something that often goes unchallenged: men's ways of engaging women, men's attitudes about women and how they are expressed interpersonally to other men, and the ever-present issue of whether men think we know more than women do about women's lives and conditions under white and male supremacy, among other ideologies of inhumanity.

So, let's begin with the quote. Because Dworkin is so enthusiastically and misogynistically misread and misunderstood by so many men, in my experience, I'd like to note that she is CRITIQUING the matter of women being called stupid, when men who say or do exactly the same stuff, or worse, are called smart. THAT'S the issue. OK, boys, read on:

Women have stupid ideas that do not deserve to be called ideas. Marabel Morgan writes an awful, silly, terrible book in which she claims that women must exist for their husbands, do sex and be sex for their husbands. D H. Lawrence writes vile and stupid essays in which he says the same thing basically with many references to the divine phallus; but D. H. Lawrence is smart. Anita Bryant says that cocksucking is a form of human cannibalism; she decries the loss of the child who is the sperm. Norman Mailer believes that lost ejaculations are lost sons and on that basis disparages male homosexuality, masturbation and contraception. But Anita Bryant is stupid and Norman Mailer is smart. Is the difference in the style with which these same ideas are delivered or in the penis? Mailer says that a great writer writes with his balls; novelist Cynthia Ozick asks Mailer in which colour ink he dips his balls. Who is smart and who is stupid?

Andrea Dworkin, Right Wing Women, 1983

Next up is a review of Robert Jensen's book, Getting Off, the title of which repulses me, personally and politically. I know it's being marketed to white young men, but the whole cover design (which may have not been designed or chosen by Robert Jensen himself, but rather by the publisher as is usually the case) for me is counter-productive to the issue of men using pornography.

You can find the review here.

Conversation about this topic is welcome.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

On Revolutionary Organisations and Male Supremacy: an interview with Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

I highly recommend checking out this interview with long-time activist, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, whose photo image is above.

From the interview:

I wouldn’t spotlight any one revolutionary organization as male supremacist during the 1960s and into the early 1970s, because they all were; they all reflected the general society that was fundamentally male (and white) supremacist. I actually was convinced that truly revolutionary men immediately would realize that male supremacy would have to be eradicated once they were made aware of its harm to revolutionary projects. I was shocked when this was not the case, or not widely. I was shocked when revolutionary men who became pro-feminist were hassled by their male comrades. I was shocked when self-proclaimed revolutionary men refused to deal with male supremacy on the theoretical level in terms of how capitalism emerged, became dominant, and persists, that is, refusing to deal with patriarchy. I was horrified when these men accused feminist comrades of being selfish and bourgeois.

Happy Birthday Yoko Ono!!!

The image above is of Yoko Ono looking at a birthday cake presented to her last year by her son Sean, on the occasion of her 75th birthday.

The cake is designed to be a replica of a famous work of art, an all white chess set, ready to be played. It speaks to me of the insanity of war, of people killing each other and the Earth, thinking that, in the end, there will be "a winner". Once you begin to begin to "play" this sort of "game", you realise the enemy and "your side" are not discernible. Brava, Yoko, for a brilliant work of conceptual/visual political art.

For Cara's whole Happy Birthday Yoko Ono post at The Curvature, and many more links and information about Yoko and her artwork, please go here. Go there also for Cara's brilliant series, Yoko Ono: a Feminist Analysis, specifically linked to here (intro), here (part 1), here (part 2), here (part 3), and here.

Many more happy, healthy, creative birthdays to you, Yoko!

On The Compression of non-white U.S. History into Months: Is the Alternative Better?

I touched on this subject not too long ago, but wanted to repost and link to a more recent discussion happening over at Racialicious, also linked to in my blog roll, which for me says a lot that needs to be heard, and further discussed.

It is safe to desegregate history?
by Latoya Peterson

Every year, in February, I receive the same two things:

(1) A bunch of targeted marketing surrounding black history month. (McDonald’s celebrates 365 black with a Big Mac! Chrysler salutes African Americans!)

(2) The predictable “When is Black History Month going to be over?” emails, requests, and newspaper articles.

One shining exception is Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Black History Month. Meh.” post, where he writes:

I think people who want to get rid of Black History Month are only slightly less annoying than people who complain about Kwanzaa. Yes, it’s true–Bob Johnson and Michael Jordan weren’t what Carter G. Woodson had in mind. But the true mark of a movement’s success is its descent into hackery. Black people don’t get to pick and chose what aspects of America we want to integrate into. We have to take it all. White people who complain that there is no “White History Month,” much in the way that one might complain that there is no “Black Rapper Show”, merit no real response, except that we all look forward to a day when there is one.

Me on the other hand, I tired of black history month, circa 7th grade. True, I did do a recital of Marcus Garvey’s “Look For Me In The Whirlwind” at the “Black Awareness Assembly” in 12th grade. But mostly when I think of Black History Month, I think of being made to watch footage of Negroes getting the shit kicked out of them, and then Negro teachers extolling the nobility of letting someone kick the shit out of you. You can imagine how well that went over in West Baltimore at the height of the Crack Age. And then there was, as one of my editors put it, the “I Am Somebody” bullshit, in which you were forced to memorize a litany of black achievement facts. The goal seemed to be to prove that my history took to rote for just as well as anybody’s. I too can be reduced into a list of facts, America.

Meh, indeed. I’m only moved to comment on Black History Month when some fool is adamant that we’ve outgrown the need for it, despite showing their ignorance in, say, a letter to the editor.

So, when Carmen dropped me an email with yet another article asking if its “Time to End Black History Month,” I admit, I just yawned. I can’t muster up the same righteous indignation year after year. It is what it is, and as someone who recalls being in multiple black history month school events (as Wilma Rudolph (twice), Ida B. Wells, singing Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing more times than I can count, and reciting both “Mother to Son” and “A Dream Deferred” in my K-12 career) I can see both the arguments for maintaining black history month and quietly integrating it into the official curriculum.

Yet upon further reflection, I realized that I actually would oppose such a move. Why?

Because the way we teach history in America is guaranteed to leave people with the wrong ideas about a lot of crucial moments in our history.

The history that we currently teach is hopelessly sanitized to the point where people are still unsure exactly what happened at a lynching, and are unaware of the historical meaning behind leaving nooses as “a prank.” We learn about major people, events, and dates, but not so much the ideas behind the actions. This is why we learn Crispus Attacks was the first person to die in the American Revolution (though it was technically the Boston Massacre that sparked the war), and that he was black, but generally have no idea why he was out there in the first place, and if he was included in organizing activities or just an unlucky casualty.

Also, when history lessons focus on nonwhites, the results are fairly grim, at best. Black history month is often linked with the word “trivia,” but other months have the same struggle to create a lasting impression. Lisa Leong described what she learned about her people’s history:

Everything I learned about Asian Americans in my K-12 education can be summed up in one sentence: Chinese laborers built one half of the Transcontinental Railroad. I accepted that that was all there was. Here it was, my people’s greatest and sole contribution to the country: getting exploited.

I remember that the Chinese were good workers willing to risk their lives blowing up mountains to make way for train tracks. Some died from the dynamite blasts. They were well-behaved in contrast to the Irish workers who drank and gambled. Because of their diligence, the Chinese finished their half of the railroad before the Irish.

This is a pretty racist version of history to learn in the fourth grade. While the stereotyping of Irish people is obvious, the depiction of the Chinese laborers seems like a compliment. “Positive” stereotypes are deceptive like that. Good, diligent, and hard-working is the model minority stereotype about Asian Americans, which shades how elementary school kids learn Asian American history. Everyone who goes through the American education system gets the standardized version of U.S. history—from which Asian Americans are largely absent.

Native Americans don’t get a great shake either, being relegated to “helpers of the pilgrims” roles and the occasional exciting backdrop for “heroic settlers” to fight against. After learning about the founding of our country, the stories of American Indians fade away to the background, only vaguely remembered when “Columbus Day” pops up once a year.

They say that history is written by the victors, but this is ridiculous.

I recently started reading The Color of Wealth: The Story Behind the U.S. Racial Wealth Divide. I started reading this book to further my understanding of wealth, capitalism, and people of color. However, while slowly working my way through the chapters, I noticed that the format of the book was amazing in its simplicity.

The chapter overviews describe what was happening in the United States during the time period examined, and each summary provides a snapshot of what was happening with Native Americans, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, and Latin@s. While this tactic isn’t perfect, I think it comes much closer to exploring how historical events can impact different demographics positively or negatively.

I would like to see history taught as more of a conversation than a series of events to memorize. How did these events impact different communities? How is history interpreted by different groups of people? How did these events that occurred in the past have an impact on our actions now?

Until history is seen as something to be analyzed and understood, rather than just memorized, I have little hope for anyone reaching an understanding of our nation’s past through the presentation of facts and timelines. Moreover, I don’t see how we can ever hope to fix how black history month is implemented until we fix how we talk about history.

But that’s just my opinion. What say you?

[For the original post and the comments posted to date, click here. -- JR]

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Sexting & Sex Education & Safety

This post is copyrighted 2009, by Julian Real. All Rights Reserved.
Sexting turns us into flattened out non-human beings. The images can turn us on because we live in a society that says being three-dimensional, being authentic, being unique, is not sexy, and being "a thing", an image, for someone to possess is hot.

Digital technology that allows sex to be flattened out promotes the idea that people are things, are not of much worth, and are certainly not worth as much as the digital technology itself.

Sexting: digitally sending graphic sexually explicit images or words often from cell phone to cell phone, sometimes among friends, acquaintances, or people one would like to hook up with.

The general popular media is stupid about sexuality, and pornography is completely idiotic on the subject. School system leaders are ridiculous if they think kids are not having sex, or will not have sex before adulthood.

Among many other lessons, boys and girls need to be taught how to use a condom. At least if not more important than that, people must be taught how to respectfully initiate sex, and how to stop sex from continuing once it has started. If you don't know how to stop it, you're not likely giving free consent to everything that is going on. If you're not safe to stop it, do your best to avoid getting into situations where it is started. (I know this is not always possible, especially if one is being sexually abused at home.)

Learning that performing oral sex on boys is only fun and always safe is a lie. Learning that you will feel better about yourself by giving a boy a blow-job is a lie. Learning you don't have to have sex with boys is an important lesson to learn. Girls often find deeper pleasure with other girls. And when that happens, it's not supposed to be recorded for boys and men to watch. That "lesbian sex" is seen as something that should exist for men, is an idea men have that is completely stupid and self-centered.

I don't think girls find self-worth by giving boys head. I can tell you I never did. I liked pleasing other men, but didn't know how little I thought of myself while I did so, and how much of myself I'd be willing to give away to make a man feel good.

If girls who are coerced into performing oral sex on a boy are lucky, they may learn how they feel about giving boys head--and many women I know have grown up to realise they don't like it at all. Some do like it. A few like it a lot. The few that like it also like receiving oral sex, a lot.

What a girl who performs oral sex on boys is likely to learn, that is false, is that sex must be all about the penis and all about giving males pleasure. Boys often want girls to be a substitute for their right or left hand, a simple means of reaching orgasm, not a sharing of feelings between two people. Boys use girls sexually. Not always, but often. Sometimes girls use boys too. But boys also often sexually abuse girls because they have the power and desire to do so. This means that in any sexual interaction between a girl and a boy, the girl or boy may end up feeling used, but the girl, if she's smart, knows she could also be in serious danger. For this to not be the case, every person would have to respect themselves, know what respectful sex looks like and feels like, and practice only that when being sexual. Needless to say, we're not there yet.

Given that in many parts of the world, most of boys' and girls' sex education is actually learned in front of a computer monitor bombarding viewers with images of pimped, raped, and drug-addicted women, it is not likely that material is going to teach us much about respectful sex, the many conflicting or confusing emotions one has during sex, and how to make healthy choices about how to express one's desires.

Pornography and pornographers teach people how to have good sex in the sense that McDonalds and KFC teach us about good nutrition. (Um, they don't.) Industry-made, corporate pimp-produced, and mass marketed pornography does teach us about sex and makes things into sex that weren't sexy before, by combining the experience of sexual arousal with repetitive viewing. It also teaches us how to have sex that requires a person to not be a complex emotionally unique human being. It doesn't teach us that caring fun should be mutual, that mutuality should be desirable, that sexual acts need to be consensual, or that pleasure need not be linked to the gross objectification and degradation of real human beings, turned into images. Pornography does teach us (over and over and over again) that women like being forced to have sex, or that women want sex so much they'll do anything, including being completely degraded, to get it. What pornography teaches boys and girls is that being a pimp is good, and that being a whore is inevitable. That no girl is ever a whore, no matter how much she has had sex, is not something pornography or Abstinence-Only programs want you to know. Pornography wants you to think that a lot of their brands of sex is good. Abstinence-only programs want you to think that their rules are right.

If you believe, deep down, that digitally or surgically altered body parts are desirable, that they make a person sexier, you have been sufficiently brainwashed by pimps and surgeons who make a lot of money marketing this inhumane idea. I recognise that for some transgendered people, surgery is desired, but not so someone else can think they are sexy. Some transgendered people, not all, desire some forms of surgery because it makes them feel more like themselves. There's a big difference between doing things to bring ourselves closer to who you are, deep down, and doing things to make others find us more desirable. Intersex people often have the opposite problem: decisions are made for us, usually when we are very young, obviously without our consent, about being surgically altered even when it is not medically necessary. This is a gross violation of our bodies. We learn a lot of things about gender and sex, and most of it is not healthy or useful.

What pornography and Abstinence-Only "sex ed programs" have in common is that they are each extremely anti-sex while deceptively claiming not to be. (If you are interested in reading more about how Abstinance-Only programs fail teens, click here.)

Our bodies can experience lots of kinds of pleasure, under safe and respectful circumstances. The sex that is had in heterosexual marriages can be and often is, boring, awful, and assaultive. When that's what sex in marriage is, it's not good or "holy". Heterosexual marriage does not come with a guarantee that sex, or married life beyond sex, will be respectful, healthy, or safe. Sex with men who act as if women (or other men) are objects or things to be controlled and used, or worse, is not good for anyone. It erodes self-esteem, destroys self-awareness, and makes people believe that they should be treated, or treat themselves, like images--flattened out non-human beings.

Sexting turns us into flattened out non-human beings. The images can turn us on because we live in a society that says being three dimensional, being authentic, being unique, is not sexy, and being "a thing", an image, for someone to possess is hot.

But you don't have to be able to see to have good sex. You don't have to be able-bodied either. What you have to be is present, self-aware, and empathic. You have to care if someone is being hurt or is being made uncomfortable. You have to know how to tell someone is uncomfortable or being hurt when they don't say so out loud. You have to know that sex is not an obligation, or a healthy route to becoming popular, or a successful way to gain self-esteem if you feel worthless.

Digital technology that allows sex to be flattened out promotes the idea that people are things, are not of much worth, and are certainly not worth as much as the digital technology itself.

When you create an image of your physical self inside a piece of digital technology, you become something that is less than who you are. You become one thing among many, a two-dimensional image in a cyber-universe of these same kinds of images. You become a tiny slice of who you are. Your wholeness as a human being, greater than just your gender or sexuality is sliced up when you make yourself into a flat image. Human beings are naturally designed to not look or be exactly like anyone else. If you believe in God, that's what God created: uniquely valuable fully human beings. When you are collapsed into a picture that tells the receiver "This is who I want to be for you and this is what I am for" you rob yourself of the opportunity to share the wholeness of yourself with another person. You become a product. You become something that can be digitally passed around and looked at as if you didn't have a history that includes complicated feelings and changes in mood or opinion. If you've ever felt regret after doing something sexual that made you feel like less than all of who you are, that's one very good reason not to turn yourself, forever, into a flat thing.

There's also a very dangerous assumption in Abstinence-only messages, that is also in pornography; that assumption is that kids are only sexually approached by other children, and that teens only approach other teenagers. As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, three different times before the age of thirteen, I can tell you that adults seek out children and teenagers for sex, and that those adults don't give a damn about who you really are. They are well-versed in talking to you like they care about you but underneath it all what they want is selfish and destructive. What they want is for you to make them feel good, for you to give them pleasure, for you to exist for them. We exist for ourselves and each other collectively, not for any one adult or individual. And any adults who make other people, of whatever age, feel like they exist only for them are emotionally messed up human beings to be avoided.

I know far too many other survivors of incest, child rape, child sexual assault, child molestation, traumatic fondling and kissing by a drunk, stoned, or soberly abusive relative or adult friend of the family. Because that was my introduction to sex, I didn't think much of myself. I thought I was dirty and bad to the core because bad, dirty things were done to me. I thought I couldn't be whole. I thought I existed to be used, or to use other people.

No one has to have sex, and no one should be made to have sex. And, sex can be enjoyed alone. If you can't enjoy sex alone without using images of flattened out people, find out why. If you have a choice, break the habit. The idea that we need images to have sex is sold to you by pimps and predators; they want us to believe that having sex is best or most sexy when someone is turned into a thing. If you believe this, and especially if you are the one making someone into a thing in order to experience sexual feelings, consider the cost to your own and others' humanity of having learned that lesson.

Most predators don't behave like strangers. They look like daddy, or an uncle, or brother, or grandfather. They look like a church priest, a family doctor, or a neighbor you've known since you were very young.

Here is a link to one National Sex Offender Registry. Check and see if anyone who is around you is on this list. MySpace is a breeding ground for sexual predators. Keep your page set to private, and make it available only to only those you have known, and can trust, in non-cyber life.

Know that once you become a flattened thing to be used, adult sexual predators can and will try and get those images of you. And they may try and find you to take more images, or to take more from you than anyone has the right to take. I was lucky that I was abused at a time before there were cell phones with cameras. I am sure the married heterosexual man who sexually assaulted me, and possibly my other abusers as well, would have documented my worst moments alive. And if they had done so, they'd be out on the Internet, impossible for me to collect and destroy. Part of my life, a a very personal part of who I am, would increasingly not belong to me if the perp had one of those cameras. I'm glad he didn't.

We cannot control all of what happens to us. One thing we often can control is whether or not we turn ourselves into a thing.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

On Being a White Jew in Racist Amerikkka: comments and discussion

The image to the right is the cover of a book recommended to me. I have not read it, and am concerned and troubled by its title. It reinforces the idea that "Jew" = "white" or perhaps "off-white" which very effectively invisibilises Jews of color inside and outside the U.S. Now, on with the discussion.

Valerie, a frequent visitor to ARP, and I have been engaging in a discussion elsewhere on this blog that I believe ought to have its own space. I feel this way particularly because the comments have existed only, until now, under an initial post that is primarily about women of color and the Academy. As the comments there thus far are not centrally focused on the politics, experiences, or perspectives of women of color and women of color's presence in the Academy, I'd like to keep comments there open to such a discussion.

Meanwhile, there is a much needed on-going discussion traveling around the U.S. and abroad, including here at the moment, about the degrees to which being Jewish and white can be or is the same thing as being Gentile and white, structurally, institutionally, historically, culturally, and especially politically. As should be clear, not all Jews are of Eastern (or Western) European descent primarily or at all. There are Jews of color, of all colors, across the globe in every continent. With that, I'll post the comments, including the newest ones, below.

Valerie wrote:
As a Jew, I have to say that neither my parents nor I have ever felt anything other than White. I'd feel like a bit of a poseur trying to claim anything like the oppression of WoC.

Sorry to be so persnickety on your blog. I really do appreciate your writing, and this really was a pretty brilliant entry.

Julian responded:
Hi Valerie.

Thank you for bringing up this issue! I *really* welcome and appreciate your comment, and, just to be clear, persnickety remarks are very welcome here! No apologies are necessary. : )

Speaking now from my own experience, I've met many white Jews from and beyond the U.S. who do not consider themselves to be white. And as a U.S. white Jew, I strongly disagree with them about this, in terms of how race is and has been defined and enforced in the United States and most of white supremacist Europe for one to two hundred years. If "we" are in nations whose ruling population has distinguished races with terms such as Black and Colored and White (think white South Africa), I believe the Ashkenazim fall into the white category unambiguously! Then again, I've never set foot in the white areas of South Africa.

What constitutes being "of color" (racially, ethnically, and politically) varies widely; some people of color and whites include white folks in the population termed "people of color"; I do not.

Unlike you, I have felt something other than white as a U.S. citizen: the historically white supremacist ads by Abercrombie and Fitch have no use for me, for example; "All-American" is rarely a Jew of any ethnicity or race, if being Jewish is identified as such in their ads.

I think the experience of Jewishness as it pertains to being white, among the Ashkenazim only, is very varied. There are places I know of where homophobia, anti-Black racism, and anti-Semitism/anti-Jewish bigotry are each strongly and virulently held and expressed among heterosexual Gentile and/or Christian white boys and men against those who are perceived of as "other". (They don't tend to view any girls and women, including white ones, too favorably either.)

Any neo-Nazis or Klanspeople I run into are not likely to regard me as white, and could beat or kill me because I'm not their idea of "white". Of course being gay also does nothing for my level of "acceptability" with those folks.

The Ashkenazim, as well as the Sephardim and the Mizrahim were all found to be "[not-white]non-Aryan" under European Nazi rule--at least as Nazis ridiculously while lethally defined the term "Aryan". Neo-Nazis still consider any Jew to not be white, or to be "impure". As if any white person is pure! (Again, don't get me started!)

Any Jew in the U.S. of entirely European descent (let's say north of Spain), particularly of Eastern European descent, I regard as white, in terms of race-related privileges and entitlements as I understand and experience them.

And, also in my experience, U.S. white Jews do not collectively have the standing, status, or level of entrenched occupational presence or colonising and controlling white supremacist force that Gentile whites do, particularly those Gentiles of Western European Christian descent. In Israel, yes. In the U.S., no. I see Israel, among other things, as an increasingly violent white male supremacist State. (And the Jews there are not comparable to white U.S. Christians, in any historical or political reality.)

Even given all that, I personally and politically consider the U.S. Ashkenazim, generally speaking, to be racially white. But not so the Sephardim or Mizrahim, inside or outside of the U.S.

I think those of us who are raised and treated by non-Jewish whites as whites who "happen to be Jewish" (don't get me started!), should own that albeit ethnically marginalised privilege. And, of course, Jewish folks do not often occupy one ethnic, political, racial, or cultural location. Some Ashkenazic Jews I have known have last names that have been anglocised (Greenblatt to Green, for example), and are fair-skinned and light-haired enough to "pass" as white throughout their lives. For me, if they are not religious, that means they ARE unambiguously white.

In my view it works this way: if "feminist" or "profeminist" implies whiteness, that's a gross distortion of reality, even while it is reinforced by the media reporting on feminism and the Academy teaching it. If "lesbian" or "gay" is equated with being white, in white-dominated, white-controlled social circles, that too is racist. If "Jew" equals or implies white, that's just as politically problematic, as it invisibilises so many Jews around the world, including within the U.S., who do not and never did speak Yiddish, for example, and who may have no relationship whatsoever to Eastern (or Western) Europe.

I welcome more discussion about this.

Valerie replied:
You have actually made a brilliant point here. While I'm the fair-haired and pale-skinned daughter of Eastern-European atheists who made it clear that they considered their trips to synagogue a part of being "culturally" Jewish, and while there are many people with similar experiences in power, I should not speak on behalf of Sephardim or those who are more religious.

In the extremely anti-semitic environment in Texas where I grew up, I did not feel white, but since moving north, I have always felt white. Perhaps the whiteness of Jews varies according to local attitudes?

There's this great book, How the Jews Became White Folks, which sort of perfectly explains how I can feel and operate as white while my aunt does not. I haven't had any major setbacks due to my heritage, but she has had to run from genocidal maniacs to a country where she was treated as a burden and occasionally threatened with violence.

Valerie added:
I guess that what rubs me the wrong way is that many many Jews in this country who have never experienced any social role other than whiteness appear to use a legacy of persecution to conjure anti-semitism at will. They are extremely prone to doing this whenever the topic of Israeli occupation comes up, and then blythely informing me that I am a "self-loathing" Jew. The fact that I have actually had to worry about my physical safety due to my Jewishness and they have not doesn't come up, possibly because they don't want to discuss the ways in which I'm probably much more attuned to what actual anti-semitism looks like than they are.

Julian responded:
Thanks for continuing the conversation, Valerie, and for alerting me to that book. I think another important addition to this conversation is James Baldwin's classic essay on African-American non-Jews and white Jews in the U.S., found here. I think there is a core way in which we are in deep agreement and in this response I want to be sure I make that explicitly clear. What follows is a direct reply to your last comment to date.

Yes, I agree, there are many white folks in the U.S. who are also Jewish, who claim to be "not-white" because they are Jews. And to that I say "Bullshit". And I'll add that my experience alone, or my feelings about my own whiteness are not central to the discussion of whether or not I am politically racially white. I am white here. I live each day as a white person in the thoroughly racist United States of Amerikkka, which means I benefit every day from this privilege and status.

As for the experiences of Middle Eastern, Eastern European, African, and U.S. Jews in Israel, as I have never been to Israel, nor been close friends with anyone who did, I do feel qualified to engage in much discussion about this issue. I am experientially ignorant on the topic, and to pretend otherwise would likely become glaringly apparent soon enough. This doesn't mean I am without a political perspective on current events in Israel, woefully ignorant though it may be. I can say that I believe Israel is a currently behaving as a white male supremacist colonising racist State. I understand that some Jews and non-Jews argue convincingly it has always been that. If one wishes to discuss the racist conditions some Jews experience, one need only note how Ethiopian Jews are (mis)treated in Israel by non-Black Jews. The Israeli military's decimation of regional Palestinians--Israeli or not, who often have far fewer economic privileges than Israeli Jews, is further evidence of blatant injustice running rampant there. And, also, I have never lived in a country where "my people" believe themselves, correctly or not, to be regionally despised and threatened with annihilation. That "my people" includes Palestinian and other Middle Eastern Jews, must not be forgotten. Too often their stories are left out of the news reports. But the only population of Jews in the U.S. facing extinction, that I know of, are those whose race, ethnicity, and heritage is also American Indian.

I remember sending out something on white privilege, probably written by Tim Wise, who is also Jewish, btw, to some Jewish and non-Jewish white friends of mine. One white person wrote back that she never thought of herself as white before, only as Jewish; that she sided with people of color, not with white people, if such "lines in the political sand" were being drawn; such lines are not drawn, as far as I can tell, and if they are the tide washes them away twice daily.

I understood this came from how her parents framed up race, ethnically, in her home of origin--mostly in terms of past generations of people who lived elsewhere under very different circumstances. She had consciousness about race and racism in the U.S., and so it stunned me that she'd think of herself as "not-white" here, now, in this grossly assimilationist country she and I were both assimilated into. I'd met her family, knew a bit about her upbringing, including where she'd lived in this country, and none of that information led me to conclude she was anything but white here. And Jewish. Definitely Jewish too. So I want to confirm, affirm, and validate your irritation with white Jews who pretend not to be white, or who think we can claim "non-white" status here, just because we are also Jewish. This is not to say that there do not remain, globally, places where conditions exist such that being white and Jewish has effectively equaled being not-white. It comes down to the ways those particular nationally or regionally empowered race supremacists have defined and controlled the meanings of racial identity through systems of exclusion and institutions of genocide.

My own family fled pogroms, as not-yet-white Jews, not as white Gentiles, in Eastern Europe. My father was not born in this country. I was. He fully assimilated and so I grew up partly in a home that was secular, celebrating Christmas and Easter as "U.S. American" holidays. (Those occasions means had much more to do with Capitalism than "Christ", and at least as much to do with the Pagan elements subversively absorbed by the Christian churches, such as decorating trees and coloring eggs.) In any racially diverse social space it was assumed he was white. Everywhere I have lived I have been white. Everywhere I have traveled to I have remained white. Even encountering, not infrequently, anti-Jewish sentiments, stereotypes, and bigotry hasn't rendered me "less white". It may have made me feel less white. But that's not the same thing.

I'll add that there are ALSO plenty of non-Jewish white folks who ALSO claim to be "not white", sometimes due to economic or other forms of persecution. I encounter this belief most earnestly and callously among Gentile poor and working class white folks I know, but it shows up among the middle class as well, including, among the upper middle class. Only because my social circle is primarily female, some very white women have expressed to me some variation on "Oprah has far more privilege than me." This is a classic retort usually rhetorically designed to mix apples with oranges, as if me being gay and Jewish, for example, somehow means I don't also have economic, education, white, and male privileges. Whites, in my experience, are often clumsy and careless in supposing that because we are marginalised or oppressed in some other way, by gender, sexuality, or class, for example, that that means we don't still have our white privilege solidly and institutionally intact.

Related to this: a white, middle class gay male acquaintance, who was my age, once told me an overtly anti-Black racist joke--not the kind that I could "misunderstand", adding it was OK for him to tell it to me because he's gay, and it's a joke originally told by Whoopie Goldberg in a video he saw of one of her stand-up performances. Somehow, in his politically delusional mind, being white and gay meant he was also Black (?), or that gay white guys experience enough of what Black people do who are lesbian, gay, or neither to qualify us as "one people". One thing white people don't experience is being Black, and I let him know it wasn't OK with me that he shared that joke with me--no matter who originally told it, that since it was delivered from him to me, I didn't think it was funny at all, and that such an attempt to bond with me over such a bizarre understanding of "shared oppressions and permissions" would undoubtedly fail to win me over as a friend. I promptly cut him out of my life and have not spoken to him since. That I could afford do so speaks to some of my own privileges.)

But back to the issue of Oprah Winfrey having more privileges than any given white person. "Being more privileged" doesn't mean "having more white privilege" necessarily. It may mean having far more economic privilege and power, but even that is not as secure for any person of color as it is among the white rich (in the white supremacist countries I'm aware of, at least), even if the white person's wealth was largely accumulated in their own lifetime, as, obviously, was Oprah Winfrey's. Oprah must obey white supremacist rules of conduct if she is to maintain her social standing, and keep her wealth. If she insisted, against the wishes of her white producers and corporate sponsors, on doing a series of programs on her talk show about white supremacy, having guests like Andrea Smith, Marimba Ani, and Tim Wise, with her not arguing against them, she'd (and we'd) find out rather quickly how tenuous her "social standing" is among whites. If she agreed with Andrea, Marimba, and Tim that this country is currently deeply and viciously white supremacist, murderously racist, and aggressively genocidal, and that all white people participate in and benefit from this racist system, we'd see her white audience tune out, her producers be threatened to "get things back on track", and her corporate pals quickly "unfriend" her.

Second, Ms. Winfrey still faces anti-Black racism every day of her life, and can't live a day without doing so, no matter what middle class white folks think her life is like. The very fact that many white folks apparently look to her as a "humanitarian who happens to be Black" role model is founded in a deeply racist assumption about the capacity of the individual to escape structural oppression and identity, in this case as a formerly impoverished African-American woman. Too many whites--women and men--assume that Bill Cosby and Oprah Winfrey have "made it" into Whiteboyland just because they are rich. Sorry, not so fast.

Ms. Winfrey and Dr. Cosby are also called the n word, and she is also called the b word (among other misogynist-racist terms), routinely by bigoted whites--women and men, and by bigoted men--white and of color--across the economic and social spectrum. And those whites and men, often one and the same, get to feel superior (or not) when they do so. Regardless of how they feel hurling the n word or b word around in this way, they are exercising their white/male entitlements to do so; they are enacting their white/male privilege; they are maintaining white/male supremacist power.

Ms. Winfrey and Dr. Cosby will only "benefit" to the degrees they speak in accordance and in collaboration with corporate white heterosexual male Amerikkka. It goes without say that white some white Jews and some people of color do collaborate quite profoundly with the powers that be, no group collaborates more so than economically and sexually privileged white men. White women are marginalised and oppressed due to gender, every day, more extremely so if lesbian or poor.

An activist I know who is of color has noted how white women and men of color are in uniquely troubled places, structurally and socially. Women of color are so marginalised that they have relatively little to lose by resisting. White men are so rewarded that it is highly unlikely we will collectively organise against the powers that be ourselves. But white women and men of color are caught in a zone where the white male supremacist rulebooks offer this: "if you play your cards just right, you might be rewarded"**.

**Fine print: Rewarded as an individual, never as a group.

What I have noticed is this, and this is an observation about the coercive power of structural location, not genetics or biology. The institutional power of "whiteness" and "manhood" is neither elucidated by the Human Genome project, nor atrributable to hormones and brain structure, much as white male supremacist sociobiologists whimper on and on about how much this is the case. White men are, on the whole, hopeless. (And I welcome white men to rise up against white male supremacy in a way that is fully accountable to women of color, and please, PLEASE, prove me wrong.) Some political white women disproportionately focus activist energies against "patriarchy" and not white supremacy because they are implicated as oppressors when the focus is on white supremacy, and, just like white men, they don't, collectively, relish the idea of investigating what their privilege really means. Men of color disproportionately focus on racism, not on patriarchy, not on male supremacy, because to do so implicates them directly as structural and interpersonal oppressors of women, particularly and usually the women of their own ethnic groups.

In primarily liberal to progressive circles I have been part of, there is a certain kind of useless oppressor-guilt that results in privileged people feeling not remorseful, not non-oppressively rageful, but instead sheepish and sluggish about owning the merits of their status, as they/we benefit all the while. Among white Jews, I see this liberal guilt and sluggishness impeding own our understanding and responsible action as whites. We wish not to deal with the fact that our whiteness, like anyone else's whiteness, is a socially real manifestation of power that is unjust and deadly to people of color, some of whom are also Jewish.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Breaking the Silence: Fulfilling The Promise, by Marimba Ani

I just found this statement, this declaration, by Marimba Ani. It is linked to here:
"Breaking the Silence: Fulfilling The Promise"

[An excerpt follows:]
It is now Tuesday, November 4, 2008. Is this the final act of assimilation, accommodation, and integration? Is this how we are fulfilling our promise to the Ancestors? Has America made restitution for what was done to them, still being done to us? Is the Maafa over or has it merely morphed into another, more insidious form of genocide? Are we now experiencing a life-threatening condition of cultural AIDS in which our immune system has turned on itself? Has the Yurugu virus mutated so that it looks like us? Are we participating in our own self-destruction?

We are witnessing a time of the most blatant acts of genocide such as “Katrina” (Maafa - 2005), in which thousands of our people were slaughtered, left to die, placed in disease-producing holding pens, forcibly relocated, separated from their families and support-systems, and their (our) children “lost”, all this for the purpose of corporate profit and for the illegal misappropriation of land.

[Text by Marimba Ani; for the rest of this work, click on the title-in-quotes above the except.]

Marimba Ani's Critique of Western Civilization

It is fortunate for all of us that portions of Yurugu: An African-Centered Critique of European Cultural Thought and Behavior, Marimba Ani's brilliant book of philosophy, sociology, ethnography, ethics, and politics, is available to us online.

Below I link to those portions of two chapters from that book. It should go without say that Yurugu ought to be read in its entirety. It is my strong believe that that any literate person from the West ought to be required to read it. I believe much of men's radical perspectives on race, gender, and civilization rises out of the work and perspectives of many women including Marimba Ani. Women, particularly women of color, have been telling this truth-tale among others for centuries, only to be silenced by the white noise of Western male arrogance and aggression.

Part of that arrogance is defining Great Philosophers as people who are usually white, and always men. Part of the aggression is endemic rape and the on-going Western patriarchal colonisation and exploitation of women and girls, also called gynocide. Gynocide, the atrocity, may also include the overtly organised or seemingly random execution of women and girls by men, but does not have to include that dimension of human destruction to appropriately describe what female human beings, raised as girls and women, endure interpersonally and institutionally through white male supremacist values and behavior.

Biographical information about Dr. Marimba Ani may be found here.

An except from chapter 1 of Ani's book Yurugu: An African-Centered Critique of
European Cultural Thought and Behavior
may be found here. It is called "Utamawazo: The Cultural Structuring of Thought".

An excerpt of chapter 6 of her book Yurugu may be found here. It is called "Hypocrisy as a Way of Life".

The Savage and the Sustainable: Part Four [of four] (Derrick Jensen)

Derrick Jensen, Endgame, vol. 1:

'There's another problem, though, that trumps all of these others. It has to do with a characteristic of this civilization unshared even by other civilizations. It is the deeply and most-often-invisibly held beliefs that there is really only one way to live, and that we are the one-and-only possessors of that way. It becomes our job then to propagate this way, by force when necessary, until there are no other ways to be. Far from being a loss, the eradication of these other ways to be, these other cultures, is instead an actual gain, since Western Civilization is the only way worth being anyway: we're doing ourselves a favor by getting rid not only of obstacles blocking our access to resources but reminders that other ways to exist, allowing our fantasy to sidle that much closer to reality; and we're doing the heathens a favor when we raise them from their degraded state of society. If they don't want to join us, simple: we kill them. Another way to say all of this is that something really grimly alchemical happens when we combine the arrogance of the dictionary definition, which holds this civilization superior to all other cultural forms; hypermilitarism, which allows civilization to expand and exploit essentially at will; and a belief, held even by such powerful and relentless critics of civilization as Lewis Mumford, in the desirability of cosmopolitanism, that is, the transposability of discoveries, values, modes of thought, and so on over time and space. The twentieth-century name for that grimly alchemical transmutation is genocide: the eradication of cultural difference, its sacrifice on the altar of the one true way, on the altar of the centralization of perception, the conversion of a multiplicity of moralities all dependent on location and circumstance to one morality based on the precepts of the ever-expanding machine, the surrender of individual perception (as through writing and through the conversion of that and other arts to consumables) to predigested perceptions, ideas, and values imposed by external authorities who with all their hearts--or what's left of them--believe in, and who benefit by, the centralization of power. Ultimately, then, the story of this civilization is the story of the reduction of the world's tapestry of stories to only one story, the best story, the real story, the most advanced story, the most developed story, the story of the power and the glory that is Western Civilization.'

The Savage and the Sustainable: Part Three (Derrick Jensen)

Derrick Jensen, Endgame, vol. 1:

'I have another problem with Mumford's statement. In claiming that the widening of communication and economic intercourse are admirable, he seems to have forgotten--and this is strange, considering the sophistication of the rest of his analysis--that this widening can only be universally beneficial when all parties act voluntarily and under circumstances of relatively equivalent power. I'd hate to have to make the case, for example, that the people of Africa--perhaps 100 million of whom died because of the slave trade, and many more whom find themselves dispossessed and/or impoverished today--have benefited from their "economic intercourse" with Europeans. The same can be said for Aborigines, Indians, the people of pre-colonial India, and so on.

'I want to reexamine one thing Mumford wrote, in part because he makes an argument for civilization I've seen replicated so many times elsewhere, and that actually leads, I think, to some of the very serious problems we face today. He concluded the section that I quoted above, and I reproduce it here just so you don't have to flip back a couple of pages: "ultimately the purpose [is] to make available to all men [sic] the discoveries and inventions and creations, the works of art and thought, the values and purposes that any single group has discovered." But just as a widening of economic intercourse is only beneficial to everyone when all exchanges are voluntary, so, too, the imposition of one group's values and purposes onto another, or its appropriation of the other's discoveries, can lead only to the exploitation and diminution of the latter in favor of the former. That this "exchange" helps all was commonly argued by early Europeans in America, as when Captain John Chester wrote that the Indians were to gain "the knowledge of our faith," while the Europeans would harvest "such riches as the country hath." It was argued as well by American slave owners in the nineteenth century: philosopher George Fitzhugh stated that "slavery educates, refines, and moralizes the masses by bringing them into continual intercourse with masters of superior minds, information, and morality." And it's just commonly argued today by those who would teach the virtues of blue jeans, Big Macs TM, Coca-cola TM, Capitalism TM, and Jesus Christ TM, to the world's poor in exchange for dispossessing them of their landbases and forcing them to work in sweatshops.

'Another problem is that Mumford's statement reinforces a mindset that leads inevitably to unsustainability, because it presumes that discoveries, inventions, creations, works of art and thought, and values and purposes are transposable over space, that is, that they are separable from both the human context and the landbase that created them. Mumford's statement unintentionally reveals perhaps more than anything else the power of the stories that hold us in thrall to the machine, as he put it, that is civilization: even in brilliantly dissecting the myth of the machine, Mumford fell back into that very same myth by seeming to implicitly accept the notion that ideas or works of art or discoveries are like tools in a toolbox, and can be meaningfully and without negative consequence used out of their original context: thoughts, ideas, and art as tools rather than as tapestries inextricably woven from and into a community of human and nonhuman neighbors. But discoveries, works of thought, and purposes that may work very well in the Great Plains may be harmful to the Pacific Northwest, and even moreso in Hawai'i. To believe that this potential transposition is positive is the same old substitution of what is distant for what is near: if I really want to know how to live Tu'nes, I should pay attention to Tu'nes.