Friday, July 31, 2009

Malalai Joya: The woman who will not be silenced

[the image is credited to Getty; what follows here is the original caption to this photograph located, in a cropped version, with the article about her:]
The story of Joya is the story of another Afghanistan - the one behind the burka, and behind the propaganda

Thanks to Jenn McLune for linking to this news piece from The Independent, which may also be found here as well as below:

* * *

Enraged by Taliban oppression Malalai Joya became a women’s rights activist, and after the US-led invasion, took on the new regime as an MP. But speaking out has come at a cost. She tells Johann Hari why death threats won’t stop her exposing ugly truths about Afghanistan.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

I am not sure how many more days I will be alive," Malalai Joya says quietly.

The warlords who make up the new "democratic" government in Afghanistan have been sending bullets and bombs to kill this tiny 30-year-old from the refugee camps for years – and they seem to be getting closer with every attempt. Her enemies call her a "dead woman walking". "But I don't fear death, I fear remaining silent in the face of injustice," she says plainly. "I am young and I want to live. But I say to those who would eliminate my voice: 'I am ready, wherever and whenever you might strike. You can cut down the flower, but nothing can stop the coming of the spring.'"

The story of Malalai Joya turns everything we have been told about Afghanistan inside out. In the official rhetoric, she is what we have been fighting for. Here is a young Afghan woman who set up a secret underground school for girls under the Taliban and – when they were toppled – cast off the burka, ran for parliament, and took on the religious fundamentalists.

But she says: "Dust has been thrown into the eyes of the world by your governments. You have not been told the truth. The situation now is as catastrophic as it was under the Taliban for women. Your governments have replaced the fundamentalist rule of the Taliban with another fundamentalist regime of warlords. [That is] what your soldiers are dying for." Instead of being liberated, she is on the brink of being killed.

The story of Joya is the story of another Afghanistan – the one behind the burka, and behind the propaganda.

I "We are our sisters' keepers"

I meet Joya in a London apartment where she is staying with a supporter for a week, to talk about her memoir – but even here, her movements have to be kept secret, as she flits from one safe house to another. I am told not to mention her location to anyone. She is standing in the corridor, small and slim, with her hair flowing freely, and she greets me with a solid handshake. But, when our photographer snaps her, she begins to giggle girlishly: the grief etched on to her sallow face melts away, and she laughs in joyous little squeaks. "I can never get used to this!" she says.

Then, as I sit her down to talk through her life-story, the pain soaks into her face once more. Her body tightens into a tense coil, and her fists close.

Joya was four days old when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. On that day, her father dropped out of his studies to fight the invading Communist army, and vanished into the mountains. She says: "Since then, all we have known is war."

Her earliest memory is of clinging to her mother's legs while policemen ransacked their house looking for evidence of where her father was hiding. Her illiterate mother tried to keep her family of 10 children alive as best she could. When the police became too aggressive, she took her kids to refugee camps across the border in Iran. In these filthy tent-cities lying on the old Silk Road, Afghans huddled together and were treated as second-class citizens by the Iranian regime. At night, wild animals could wander into the tents and attack children. There, word reached the family that Joya's father had been blown up by a landmine – but he was alive, after losing a leg.

There were no schools in the Iranian camps, and Joya's mother was determined her daughters would receive the education she never had. So they fled again, to camps in western Pakistan. There, Joya began to read – and was transformed. "Tell me what you read and I shall tell you what you are," she says. Starting in her early teens, she inhaled all the literature she could – from Persian poetry to the plays of Bertolt Brecht to the speeches of Martin Luther King. She began to teach her new-found literacy to the older women in the camps, including her own mother.

She soon discovered that she loved to teach – and, when she turned 16, a charity called the Organisation for Promoting Afghan Women's Capabilities (OPAWC) made a bold suggestion: go to Afghanistan, and set up a secret school for girls, under the noses of the Taliban tyranny.

So she gathered her few clothes and books and was smuggled across the border – and "the best days of my life" began. She loathed being forced to wear a burka, being harassed on the streets by the omnipresent "vice and virtue" police, and being under constant threat of being discovered and executed. But she says it was worth it for the little girls. "Every time a new girl joined the class, it was a triumph," she says, beaming. "There is no better feeling."

She only just avoided being caught, again and again. One time she was teaching a class of girls in a family's basement when the mother of the house yelled down suddenly: "Taliban! Taliban!" Joya says: "I told my students to lie down on the floor and stay totally silent. We heard footsteps above us and waited a long time." On many occasions, ordinary men and women – anonymous strangers – helped her out by sending the police charging off in the wrong direction. She adds: "Every day in Afghanistan, even now, hundreds if not thousands of ordinary women act out these small gestures of solidarity with each other. We are our sisters' keepers."

The charity was so impressed with her they appointed her their director. Joya decided to set up a clinic for poor women just before the 9/11 attacks. When the American invasion began, the Taliban fled her province, but the bombs kept falling. "Many lives were needlessly lost, just like during the September 11 tragedy," she says. "The noise was terrifying, and children covered their ears and screamed and cried. Smoke and dust rose and lingered in the air with every bomb dropped."

As soon as the Taliban retreated, they were replaced – by the warlords who had ruled Afghanistan immediately before. Joya says that, at this point, "I realised women's rights had been sold out completely... Most people in the West have been led to believe that the intolerance and brutality towards women in Afghanistan began with the Taliban regime. But this is a lie. Many of the worst atrocities were committed by the fundamentalist mujahedin during the civil war between 1992 and 1996. They introduced the laws oppressing women followed by the Taliban – and now they were marching back to power, backed by the United States. They immediately went back to their old habit of using rape to punish their enemies and reward their fighters."

The warlords "have ruled Afghanistan ever since," she adds. While a "showcase parliament has been created for the benefit of the US in Kabul", the real power "is with these fundamentalists who rule everywhere outside Kabul". As an example, she names the former governor of Herat, Ismail Khan. He set up his own "vice and virtue" squads which terrorised women and smashed up video and music cassettes. He had his own "private militias, private jails". The constitution of Afghanistan is irrelevant in these private fiefdoms.

Joya discovered just what this meant when she started to set up the clinic – and a local warlord announced that it would not be allowed, since she was a woman, and a critic of fundamentalism. She did it anyway, and decided to fight this fundamentalist by running in the election for the Loya jirga ("meeting of the elders") to draw up the new Afghan constitution. There was a great swelling of support for this girl who wanted to build a clinic – and she was elected. "It turned out my mission," she says, "would be to expose the true nature of the jirga from within."

II "I would never again be safe"

As she stepped past the world's television cameras into the Loya jirga, the first thing Joya saw was "a long row with some of the worst abusers of human rights that our country had ever known – warlords and war criminals and fascists".

She could see the men who invited Osama bin Laden into the country, the men who introduced the misogynist laws later followed by the Taliban, the men who had massacred Afghan civilians. Some had got there by intimidating the electorate, others by vote-rigging, and yet more were simply appointed by Hamid Karzai, the former oilman installed by the US army to run the country. She thought of an old Afghan saying: "It's the same donkey, with a new saddle."

For a moment, as these old killers started to give long speeches congratulating themselves on the transition to democracy, Joya felt nervous. But then, she says, "I remembered the oppression we face as women in my country, and my nervousness evaporated, replaced by anger."

When her turn came, she stood, looked around at the blood-soaked warlords on every side, and began to speak. "Why are we allowing criminals to be present here? They are responsible for our situation now... It is they who turned our country into the centre of national and international wars. They are the most anti-women elements in our society who have brought our country to this state and they intend to do the same again... They should instead be prosecuted in the national and international courts."

These warlords – who brag about being hard men – could not cope with a slender young woman speaking the truth. They began to shriek and howl, calling her a "prostitute" and "infidel", and throwing bottles at her. One man tried to punch her in the face. Her microphone was cut off and the jirga descended into a riot.

"From that moment on," Joya says, "I would never again be safe... For fundamentalists, a women is half a human, meant only to fulfil a man's every wish and lust, and to produce children and toil in the home. They could not believe that a young woman was tearing off their masks in front of the eyes of the Afghan people."

A fundamentalist mob turned up a few hours later at her accommodation, announcing they had come to rape and lynch her. She had to be placed under immediate armed guard – but she refused to be protected by American troops, insisting on Afghan officers.

Her speech was broadcast all over the world – and cheered in Afghanistan. She was flooded with support from the people of her country, delighted that somebody had finally spoken out. One dirt-poor village pooled its cash to send a delegate hundreds of miles across the country to explain how pleased they were.

An extremely old woman was brought to her in a rickety wheelbarrow, and she explained she had lost two sons – one to the Soviets, one to the fundamentalists. She told Joya: "I am almost 100 years old, and I am dying. When I heard about you and what you said, I knew that I had to meet you. God must protect you, my dear."

She handed over her gold ring, her only valuable possession, and said: "You must take it! I have suffered so much in my life, and my last wish is that you accept this gift from me."

But the US and Nato occupiers instructed Joya that she must show "politeness and respect" for the other delegates. When Zalmay Khalilzad, the US Ambassador, said this, she replied: "If these criminals raped your mother or your daughter or your grandmother, or killed seven of your sons, let alone destroyed all the moral and material treasure of your country, what words would you use against such criminals that will be inside the framework of politeness and respect?"

She leans forward and quotes Brecht: "He says, 'He who does not know the truth is only a fool. He who knows the truth and calls it a lie is a criminal.'"

The attempts to murder her began then with a sniper – and have not stopped since. But she says plainly, with her fist clenched: "I wanted the warlords to know I was not afraid of them."

So she ran for parliament – and won in a landslide. "I would return again to face those who had ruined my country," she explains, "and I was determined that I would stand straight and never bow again to their threats."

III "In every corner is a killer"

Joya looked out across the new Afghan parliament on her first day and thought: "In every corner is a killer, a puppet, a criminal, a drug lord, a fascist. This is not democracy. I am one of the very few people here who has been genuinely elected." She started her maiden speech by saying: "My condolences to the people of Afghanistan..."

Before she could continue, the warlords began to shout that they would rape and kill her. One warlord, Abdul Sayyaf, yelled a threat at her. Joya looked him straight in the eye and said: "We are not in [the area he rules by force] here, so control yourself."

I ask if she was frightened, and she shakes her head. "I am never frightened when I tell the truth." She is speaking fast now: "I am truly honoured to have been vilified and threatened by the savage men who condemned our country to such misery. I feel proud that even though I have no private army, no money, and no world powers behind me, these brutal despots are afraid of me and scheme to eliminate me."

She says there is no difference for ordinary Afghans between the Taliban and the equally fundamentalist warlords. "Which groups are labelled 'terrorist' or 'fundamentalist' depends on how useful they are to the goals of the US," she says. "You have two sides who terrorise women, but the anti-American side are 'terrorists' and the pro-American side are 'heroes'."

Karzai rules only with the permission of the warlords. He is "a shameless puppet" who will win next month's presidential elections because "he hasn't yet stopped working for his masters, the US and the warlords... At this point in our history, the only people who get to serve as president are those selected by the US government and the mafia that holds power in our country."

Whenever she would despair in parliament, she would meet yet more ordinary Afghan women – and get back in the fight. She tells me about a 16-year-old constituent of hers, Rahella, who ran away to an orphanage Joya had helped to set up in her constituency. "Her uncle had decided to marry her off to his son, who was a drug addict. She was terrified. So of course we took her in, educated her, helped her." One day, her uncle turned up and apologised, saying he had learnt the error of his ways. He asked if she could come home for a weekend to visit her family. Joya agreed – and when she got back to her village, Rahella was forced into marriage and spirited away to another part of Afghanistan. They heard six months later that she had doused herself in petrol and burned herself alive.

There has been an epidemic of self-immolation by women across the "new" Afghanistan in the past five years. "The hundreds of Afghan women who set themselves ablaze are not only committing suicide to escape their misery," she says, "they are crying out for justice."

But she was not allowed to raise these issues in the supposedly democratic parliament. The fundamentalist warlords who couldn't beat Joya at the ballot box or kill her chanced upon a new way to silence her. The more she spoke, the angrier they got. She called for secularism in Afghanistan, saying: "Religion is a private issue, unrelated to political issues and the government... Real Muslims do not require political leaders to guide them to Islam." She condemned the new law that declared an amnesty for all war crimes committed in Afghanistan over the past 30 years, saying "You criminals are simply giving yourselves a get-out-of-jail free card." So the MPs simply voted to kick her out of parliament.

It was illegal and undemocratic – but the President, Hamid Karzai, supported the ban. "Now the warlord criminals are unchallenged in parliament," she says. "Is that democracy?"

We in the West have been fed "a pack of lies" about what Afghanistan looks like today. "The media are 'free' only if they do not try to criticise warlords and officials," she says in her book, Raising My Voice. As an example, she names a specific warlord: "If you write anything about him, the next day you will be tortured or killed by the Northern Alliance warlords." It is "a myth" to say girls can now go to school outside Kabul. "Only five per cent of girls, according to the UN, can follow their education to the 12th grade."

And it is "false" to say Afghan culture is inherently misogynistic. "By the 1950s, there was a growing women's movement in Afghanistan, demonstrating and fighting for their rights," she says. "I have a story here" – she rifles through her notes – "from The New York Times in 1959. Here! The headline is 'Afghanistan's women lift the veil'. We were developing an open culture for women – and then the foreign wars and invasions crushed it all. If we can regain our independence, we can start this struggle again."

Many of her friends urge her to leave the country, before one of her wannabe-assassins gets lucky. But, she says, "I can never leave when all the poor people that I love are living in danger and poverty. I am not going to search for a better and safer place, and leave them in a burning hell." Apologising for her English – which is, in fact, excellent – she quotes Brecht again: "Those who do struggle often fail, but those who do not struggle have already failed."

Today, she fights for democracy outside parliament. But, she says, any Afghan democrat today is "trapped between two enemies. There are the occupation forces from the sky, dropping cluster bombs and depleted uranium, and on the ground there are the fundamentalist warlords and the Taliban, with their own guns." She wants to help the swelling movement of ordinary Afghans in between, who are opposed to both. "With the withdrawal of one enemy, the occupation forces, it [will be] easier to fight against these internal fundamentalist enemies."

If she were president of Afghanistan, she would begin by referring all the country's war criminals to the International Court of Justice at the Hague. "Anybody who has murdered my sisters and brothers should be punished," she says, "from the Taliban, to the warlords, to George W Bush." Then she would ask all foreign troops to leave immediately. She says that it is wrong to say Afghanistan will simply collapse into civil war if that happens. "What about the civil war now? Today, people are being killed – many, many war crimes. The longer the foreign troops stay in Afghanistan doing what they are doing, the worse the eventual civil war will be for the Afghan people."

The Afghan public, she adds, are on her side, pointing to a recent opinion poll showing 60 per cent of Afghans want an immediate Nato withdrawal. Many people in Afghanistan were hopeful, she says, about Barack Obama – "but he is actually intensifying the policy of George Bush... I know his election has great symbolic value in terms of the struggle of African-Americans for equal rights, and this struggle is one I admire and respect. But what is important for the world is not whether the President is black or white, but his actions. You can't eat symbolism."

US policy is driven by geopolitics, she says, not personalities. "Afghanistan is in the heart of Asia, so it's a very important place to have military bases – so they can control trade very easily with other Asian powers such as China, Russia, Iran and so on.

"But it can be changed by Americans," she adds. She is passionate now, her voice rising. "I say to Obama – in my area, 150 people were blown up by US troops in one incident this year. If your family had been there, would you send even more troops and even more bombs? Your government is spending $18m (£11m) to make another Guantanamo jail in Bagram. If your daughter might be detained there, would you be building it? I say to Obama – change course, or otherwise tomorrow people will call you another Bush."

IV "It's hard to be strong all the time"

"It's not good to show my enemies any weakness, [but] it's hard to be strong all the time," Joya says with a sigh, as she runs her hands through her hair. She has been speaking so insistently – with such preternatural courage– that it's easy to forget she was just a girl when she was thrust into fighting fundamentalism. She was never allowed an adolescence. The fierce concentration on her face melts away, and she looks a little lost. "Yes, my mother is proud of me," she says, "but you know how mothers are – they worry. Whenever I speak to her on the phone, the first sentence and the last sentence are always 'Take care'."

Two years ago, she got married in secret. She can't name her husband publicly, because he would be killed. Her wedding flowers had to be checked for bombs. She will only say that they met at a press conference, "and he supports everything I do". She has not seen him "for two months", she says. "We meet in the safe houses of supporters. I cannot sleep in the same house two nights running. It is a different home every evening."

Where does this courage come from? She acts as if the answer is obvious – anyone would do it, she claims. But they don't. Perhaps it comes from her belief that the struggle is long and our individual lives are short, so we can only advance our chosen cause by inches, knowing others will pick up our baton. "When I die, others will come. I am sure of that," she says.

She certainly has a strong sense of belonging to a long history of Afghans who fought for freedom. "My parents chose my first name after Malalai of Maiwand. She was a young woman who, in 1880, went to the front line of the second Anglo-Afghan war to tend the wounded. When the fighters were close to collapse, she picked up the Afghan flag and led the men into battle herself. She was struck down – but the British suffered a landmark defeat, and, in the end, they were driven out."

When she ran for office, she had to choose a surname for herself, to protect her family's identity. "I named myself after Sarwar Joya, the Afghan poet and constitutionalist. He spent 24 years in jails, and was finally killed because he wouldn't compromise his democratic principles... In Afghanistan we have a saying: the truth is like the sun. When it comes up, nobody can block it out or hide it."

Malalai Joya knows she could be killed any day now, in our newly liberated Warlord-istan. She hugs me goodbye and says, "We must keep in touch." But I find myself bleakly wondering if we will ever meet again. Perhaps she senses this, because she suddenly urges me to look again at the last paragraph of her memoir, Raising My Voice. "It really is how I feel," she says. It reads: "If I should die, and you should choose to carry on my work, you are welcome to visit my grave. Pour some water on it and shout three times. I want to hear your voice." I look up into her face, and she is giving me the bravest smile I have ever seen.

'Raising My Voice' by Malalai Joya is published by Rider at £11.99. All profits will go to supporting the cause of women's rights in Afghanistan. You can donate to her campaigns at

A Not So Open Question by a Patriarchy-denier

[the image above, of the superbutchboys of cinema, Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino, is called "Righteous Kill" which is the name of the 2008movie they starred in. It has to do with men killing other men, primarily in racist and other atrocious ways. It was found here, and the review of the movie the image goes with is copied below my commentary]

I came upon the following question recently, and it typifies the what I would assume would be an embarrassing level of stupidity and displaced rage of MRAs and antifeminist men generally.

The question was posed by some doofus over to one of the most pathetic sites on the web, Bizarrely, it was actually picked up by It reads: Why aren't hateful women like Andrea Dworkin demonized by feminists?

A bit of commentary. Then that movie review written by John Lingan.

Andrea Dworkin was never hateful. She was a humanity-loving justice-seeker and a truth-teller. That her cogent critiques of men are seen as hateful only proves how fragile, if also grandiose, many men's egos are. White men, not women, have hated men (especially men of color, and women, and non-human animals, and the Earth) quite actively for millennia. Note, for example, every man-made war since civilisation existed. Note how men torture one another. Why don't these "antimisandry" jerks focus their attention on them? Hmmm. Because they're too busy focusing on approximately six white women, many of whom died a while ago, who said some things that "weren't nice" about men. Poor, poor babies. It's so easy to focus one's rage against women, isn't it? And so, so cowardly to avoid taking on the men who really do beat the shit out of each other, crap out as fathers, bully those males less powerful than them, and murder one another for every stupid reason imaginable.

Who maims and kills more men per year? Women, or men? Answer: men.
Who insults and degrades more men per year? Women, or men. Answer: men.
Who actively and unrelentingly hates men, and demonstrates this hatred through overt acts of warfare? Women, or men? Answer: men.

Why aren't assholes like the man who posted that stupid question demonised as irrational jerks? Why aren't antifeminists and patriarchy-deniers rejected by the majority of caring citizens who oppose violence against women? Why aren't patriarchy-deniers understood as just as unfit to speak truth as Nazi Holocaust deniers?

Now, on with the review:

ATTN: Angry white men
SUBJECT: Have we got a movie for you!

The Mighty Keep Falling
by John Lingan

Do you hate your job? Do you have a nagging, general animosity towards other people, specifically minorities and authority figures? Do you blame them for your own deep-seeded dissatisfaction with your personal and professional life and wish that someone would just shut up and do as you say every once in a while? Do you enjoy reading Maxim because it keeps women at a disrespectful, marginalized, and over-sexed distance and therefore masks your own inability to please your wife and/or girlfriend either physically or emotionally?

Well today is your lucky day. We’ve made a movie that can be summed up in just a couple words: De Niro. Pacino. Righteous Kill. This is a movie for men, real men, guys who know the right answer when your boss asks why you’ve been late to work recently: Fuck you. Guys who know that sometimes a woman just needs—no, wants—a good, hard, doggy-style fucking to put her in her place. Guys like you.

Here you can watch the guy from Scarface and the other guy from that taxi movie act like real men, even more than the first half-hour of Heat that you watched on TNT before it got boring. They’re old detectives with real guy names, Turk and Rooster, and sick of all the bureaucracy and paperwork; what they really want to do is clean up the streets. You know, get rid of all the riff-raff and drug dealers, specifically black and immigrant ones, with a couple well-placed bullets. They quote Dirty Harry with reverence. They lift weights together (in a totally not-gay way) and say “fuck” a lot, like when they get asked if they’re willing to risk their pensions for a little renegade vengeance and they respond in unison: “Yeah. Fuck yeah.” And these guys are almost 70 years old. If they can kick a cocky rapper’s ass—did we mention that 50 Cent is in this? Could you forward this to any black friends you may have?—then just think of how tough you could be.

There’s more: They talk down to a couple of younger hotshot cops, one of which is Hispanic, and share an honest, working-class Roman Catholic upbringing. They drink whiskey and wear a lot of black. There’s a lot of chugging, angry rock music playing in the background, the better to drown out all the pussies and ballbusters that stand in the heroes’ way. And there’s even a big surprise twist at the end, because this isn’t just some piece of crap action movie…these guys have Oscars and stuff. Prepare to have your mind blown.

You’re a real man, a man who has the answers that nobody seems to want. What you need is a movie that reminds you it’s okay to kill people as long as they’re scum, particularly black or immigrant scum. You need a movie that validates your long-held beliefs that other people are stupid and that women, especially big-lipped and big-titted women who get off on rape fantasies, should be defended righteously in word and then borderline abused in deed. Get a big popcorn and settle in.

Fuck yeah.


Thursday, July 30, 2009

Funny People?: Misogyny and Racism in one little promo

Just how humorous (and profitable) is it for white dudes to joke about beating up "hookers"--due to watching the atrociously anti-woman videogame Grand Theft Auto--and make fun of a Chinese language, confusing it with The [U.S.] American War against the Vietnamese? Watch the promo below and note the box office sales figures on your favorite entertainment news show to find out.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

White Male Supremacist Liberalism vs. White and/or Male Supremacist Radicalism: Notes on Accountability

[Aboriginal Activists Group poster was found here]

Several months ago I was sitting at a restaurant table eating lunch with two white liberal friends. The topic of discussion, after going over what good movies we've seen, and family member's health issues, became the problems I was dealing with in the profeminist communities or networks of which I am, for better or worse, a part. I described in some detail how someone's lack of accountability had taken a lot of time and energy from a particular group, and the two liberal friends remarked at how silly it all seemed; how radicals seem to get so hung up on every little thing--what terms one uses, how one acts in a single moment, etc.

I noted, probably not too effectively, that this is a liberal misperception, in my view, of what was going down. It also reveals a great deal about the values that come with white masculinist liberalism, which, depending on class position, often determine the the degree to which "rocking the boat" or "being confrontational" is seen as something good to do. I noted that among my radical activist friends, most of whom are feminist and profeminist, that "accountability" is a core value, out of necessity and out of love for responsible community.

Whatever strands of dominant politics one comes from or finds oneself in, by choice or default, "accountability" it seems to me, is practically an allergen to the way most political groups operate. Going with the flow, accepting a "free marketplace", and assuming what too many white masculinist liberal and conservative people assume about sexuality, gender, race, and class, among other social-political realities, are, in my experience, central values, eclipsing the possibility or probability of creating and supporting systems of accountability. When someone in a radical, politically activist group shuns accountability, this becomes a serious matter, not one that is best dealt with by sweeping things under the rug, or ignoring the white elephant in the room. "Enabling" the status quo to maintain supremacy is a core value of white male supremacist conservative to liberal societies.

One of the better descriptors of white male supremacist (WMS) liberalism I've heard is that "it makes promises it has no intentions of keeping". So poverty and racism are spoken of as social wrongs, but altering fundamental systems and structures, laws, customs, and practices which maintain each are never on the table to be discussed, let alone effectively dismantled or transformed. By comparison, WMS conservatism tries to keep its promises to maintain white male supremacy in as many forms and guises as possible, often unabashedly and without apology.

"Calling one another out" on matters that impact the community in oppressive or harmful ways is crucial to a healthy radical movement or community. Being open and willing to being held to account is also crucial. Too often, in radical circles, the parting of company, the rending of political networks happens because someone has decided they are above such things: they ought not be held to account, nor called out on something they are doing that is oppressive and otherwise harmful to individuals and the movement as a whole.

Once upon a time, it appeared at least that the proponents and agents of WMS liberalism and WS or MS radicalism, as fosterers and maintainers of these ideologies, while fundamentally different in values and goals, could work together to achieve what was termed "progressive" goals. What also has become grotesquely clear is that proponents of each, whether coming from the liberal traditions generated in Europe and the U.S., or radical traditions such as marxism, particularly those whose activists operated within a white male supremacist worldview, had little to offer Indigenist activists and communities, and in fact were and remain part of the problem rather than the solution. This is so to the extent that Indigenist concerns, people, and values are excluded from the conversation about strategy and approach to dealing with matters of oppression, including women's liberation and putting an end to genocide.

With the on-going effort of inclusion of Indigenist views and values, the term "progressive", as well as "radical" comes into focus through lenses other than those of the dominant society. Progressivism can be seen as a step away from what once was, before the era of Christian domination, mission work, and genocide. As Winona LaDuke points out in "Talking About A Revolution", what Bush as president (pick either Bush) did was, in many ways, "radical" if understood from an Indigenist traditionalist perspective. And many Indigenist values and acts can rightly be termed "conservative".

Centralising the experiences of women of color in feminism means, for me, as a radical profeminist, always being mindful of what a "radical" is and does, of what my values are, of how they support processes and goals for achieving various forms of liberation, and how best to live those values while challenging WMS liberal and WMS conservative systems and structures of oppression, including how such systems play out in the interpersonal realm. It also means challenging progressive and radical streams of social movement.

What I'm about to lay out is a sketch, one that is necessarily incomplete, as any analytic sketch is, and, indeed, as any theory is.

My experience of the adherents and activists of WMS liberalism, and one of the key dangers, is their lack of self-awareness about what their liberalism is, and what its values do when enacted in the world, across the globe. WMS conservatism's proponents and activists seem somewhat more aware of the fact that they are operating out of an ideology, one with a history and purpose. This doesn't make them less dangerous, as their social program is distinctly and primarily gynocidal, genocidal, and ecocidal. But WMS liberalism, too, is each of those things, whether liberals want to admit it or not. And many strands of radicalism, if white and male dominated, also don't constructively serve the struggle to end the oppression of women including Indigenous women, to end men's and male supremacist violence against all women, and to support women liberating themselves from systems of men's harm and exploitation, including on the interpersonal realm.

Most if not all white liberals I know do not even own that their worldview has a history, a set of values, and modes of being in the world that have detrimental affects on many oppressed people and non-human life worldwide.

The conflict I told my two white liberal friends about involved a white person behaving in a way that was effectively misogynistic, even while he claimed not only not to be sexist in any way, but to not be able to be misogynistic or sexist, because he was, after all, "anti-sexist" and "profeminist", radically so.

Such arguments, made to me when I've tried to hold to such an absurd line of reasoning, falls flat into the constructs of WMS liberalism, one tenet of which is that intentions matter more than effects, and that individuals can be "just individuals" and not also raced, gendered, classed beings. This is to say, that one strategy employable by anyone seeking to evade accountability is to claim that one's actions, somehow, are coming from a person who is not socially and politically located somewhere in the real world. It's as if location, and the entitlements, privileges, and ways of seeing and doing that come from living in such a position, disappear, even if temporarily.

As many oppressed people will tell me and anyone else with significant social privileges and entitlements, those attributes and permissions don't leave town, ever. They come with us, wherever we go, whatever we are doing, even when we are doing work which is reportedly anti-sexist or anti-racist.

One can do anti-racist work (defined by oneself as such) in racist, fundamentally white supremacist ways. So too can anti-sexists behave misogynistically, while doing anti-sexist work. That the radicals I know see this as an important thing to call out, only means that the namer values integrity of community with regard to its professed values. It doesn't mean radicals are particularly and distinctly argumentative or persnickety.

Calling someone out on something oppressive the offender has done is not, in and of itself, being either argumentative or persnickety. It is a simple act, usually done with trepidation, that holds to the values that make radicalism meaningfully different, in an anti-oppressive way, from liberalism and conservatism. Conservatism, especially, it seems, is steeped in a tradition of secret-keeping, of honoring certain codes of unethical behavior, such as thievery, gross dishonesty, mass exploitation, and overt violence against others. One need only listen to how various U.S. presidents speak of our wars against people of color around the world to see how much we value the evasion of truth-telling. This applies to both WMS liberal and conservative presidents, btw.

To be called out is to be called into account, to be challenged to be part of community, not a refugee from it. It's when the person with social privilege relative to the person calling someone out gets defensive or obstinant that problems generally ensue. Learning to welcome being called out is, for me as a white class-privileged man, a key component of being a radical. To not welcome it is to be status quo, and utterly disrespectful to the person naming my behavior. We need not have to agree, but I do have to listen, with an open mind, to what the namer has to say to me, without defensiveness and without being argumentative.

On a grander scale, radical movements for social change seek to name a lot, and to hold many people, and the systems they support, to account. If a company or corporation is destroying ecosystems and making the rape of women more possible than it already is, it is the radical's duty to address this directly, without mincing words. Hearing unminced words is also a responsibility, and for more on this please read Pearl Cleage's writing in the early chapters of Deals With the Devil and Other Reasons to Riot (Ballantine: 1993/reprinted in 1994), as well as several of the essays on this subject in Audre Lorde's book Sister Outsider (Crossing Press: 1984/reprinted with a foreword by Cheryl Clarke in 2007).

For an integration of radical feminist values and Indigenist values, I recommend reading the work of Andrea Smith. One of her books is Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide (South End Press: 2005), as well as this essay on how a pro-life vs. pro-choice debate of women's reproductive rights marginalises and invisibilises women of color.

When called out by someone who has way more knowledge (especially experiential) than you about matters of sexism, heterosexism, or racism, to name but three systems of oppression, move yourself into "a posture of listening" (Cleage), rather than a posture of defensiveness. Doing this means interpersonal and institutional challenge can generate growth and solidarity, and bring the process of radical social transformation that much closer to its goals of liberation from subordination and destruction for all people, non-human beings, and the Earth.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Unnaturalness of Sexuality: On White Men, Colonialism, Misogyny, and Media

Edited/revised on 30 July 2009:
As a gay white Westerner, I have heard that at least three groups of people have a sexuality that is deemed by so-called straight white men as "unnatural" (as well as morally corrupting to evil). The three categories of people are "homosexuals", people of color, and those white people who have sex with non-human animals (I guess of the opposite sex). A ridiculously postulated "[sky-]Godliness" is attached to some expressions of sexuality, which even among the Godly is seen as generally earthly and base. But to the extent that sexual touch can be "pure", it stands at the polar opposite end of the particularly beastly, rampant, and unholy sexuality white men have deemed people of color and "homosexuals" to possess. As for white men having sex with animals, one rather bizarre and especially egregious tenet of white male supremacy is that women of color, being neither male nor white, are presumed, in literature, myth, and media, to be particularly non-human animals when compared to the palest of "civilised" human beings with a dick. It need not be noted, but will be here, that such views of human beings are totally fucked up. And from a pro-non-human animal point of view, let it be said that white male supremacists' sexuality is far more harmful to the world than any sex any non-human animals have.

In my view, the stigma of having fucked-up sexual values and practices, as well as value system, belongs to those who historically have had the power and status to cast this stigma upon others: it belongs to white het male supremacists, a population noted for chronically having sex with non-human animals, with children, with women inside systems of coercion and exploitation, and with men inside and outside such systems of exploitation.

Yes, white heterosexual men have purchased or unpurchased sex with men--who may or may not need to dress up as "women" for them. Whether secretive or not, more than a few white heterosexual homophobes and misogynists who have sex with gay men do so in the evening hours after spending their days preaching from Christian pulpits or the various political soapboxes in Washington, D.C. about the debasement that comes from such contact.

The implication in such preachings and rants, sometimes stated overtly, sometimes not, is that if a man--let's call him John--has sex with another person as if John were a woman, that is an abomination; so too is it an abomination for him to have sex with men who, in whatever sexist and heterosexist ways, are seen to be woman-like. So hetero men having sex with so-called effeminate-appearing men, with drag queens, with trangendered males transitioning to be transwomen, or with men who are stigmatised as womanly for other reasons, are scorned and ridiculed by other white het men who function socially as border collies around a herd of human sheep. The objective seems to be: "Let's make sure 'our own' don't get caught up in the kind of sex that brings with it lower status and degradation. What is missed in all this tossing around of judgment, is how lacking in self-awareness the negative impact is of what white het men do that they call "having sex".

For example, incest perpetrators, disproportionately father-figures who rape girls, have always had major roles of leadership in patriarchies where incest occurs. They harm children while they somehow excuse themselves from the kind of social stigma and public condemnation reserved for those who "practice" homosexuality or what is seen as sex-with-animals. Instead of coming to terms with the fact that most molesters and rapists of children are heterosexual men, we gay men, and often lesbian women too, have been branded as "the" population of people most likely to sexually harm our youth, through either sexual contact or by exposing them to the fact of our not being heterosexual. This is why there's been so much fuss about lesbian and gay teachers being "out" in grade schools. Never mind that straight men harass, fondle, and rape female in kindergarten through 12th grade, and beyond--it becomes especially prolific in college settings. Never mind that racist heterosexist, animal-abusing pornographic standards of sex, in video games, on television, in pimp-produced pornography, and in men's and boys' social circles, has far more influence over young males than do lesbian and gay teachers of English Lit and Algebra. Stigmas assigned by the most powerful are meant to stick to those who do not control social status and speech, including media.

In response to this absurd and utterly insulting and degrading association of being lesbian or gay with being evil for not being heterosexual--and probably also a child molester, and the equally disturbing and degrading links made in white male supremacist societies of people of color being "animalistic" due to not being as "civilised" as upper crust whites, some of us, of every color, in queer political organisations have, not without reason or responsibility, set forth to prove that homosexuality is natural--just as natural as human heterosexuality. It has, thank the Lorde, long ago been established that the sexuality of people of color is no more or less holy than the sex white folks have with one another. (Which is not to say there aren't still white bigots who believe otherwise.)

As for the effort to make homosexuality "natural", I see this strategy as so seriously flawed as to be harmful and oppressive, particularly to women of all colors and sexualities. Let me explain.

I have always believed, with what I feel is glaringly obvious evidence, that there's very little (or nothing) about contemporary adult heterosexuality that is, strictly speaking, "natural". Boys and girls have to learn how to masturbate, kiss, have oral sex, and fuck. Jokes abound in pop culture about males who don't learn how to "do it" well enough. And girls and women are punished in various ways my boys and men who don't like how females "do it", or, also, if females refuse to "do it" with boys and men.

Boys also learn what social methods of obtaining sexual contact are appropriate, or inappropriate but doable and effectively legal. Video voyeurism and peeping perpetrators have recently made the news, again.

None of what humans do together that is termed "sexual" occurs instinctively or asocially. All of our sexual practices are tied both to culture and history. As Catharine MacKinnon notes in her book Women's Lives, Men's Laws (2005), sexuality does, in fact, have a history, and the history of it is one in which the abuse of women is frequently named and experienced by men as sex. While this is not acknowledged by men generally, much of racist and misogynistic sex requires is "man-made" economic systems, industries, and technologies that, unless I'm greatly mistaken and especially unfamiliar with the few remaining regions of the world not populated by humans, do not occur naturally.

As mentioned in other posts on this blog, the popular nature/nurture binary that attempts to draw far too straight and deeply corrosive lines between that which is occurs naturally and that which occurs through nurture or environmental factors is a spuriously false one. As Barbara McLintock* revealed years ago, even while in the field of Western patriarchal science, genes are not fixed or distinct from their environment, and there is little (or nothing) that is. What we now know to be "the natural world" is, generally, a by-product of human culture and science. So pretending these two categories are discreet is about as truthful as the claim that "woman" and "man" have nothing at all in common, and are, somehow, opposites. *For more on McLintock's work, please read Evelyn Fox Keller's excellent book about her career, titled A Feeling for the Organism: The Life and Work of Barbara McClintock (1984).

For me, another of the most obvious bits of evidence that men's socially expressed and imposed heterosexuality is "unnatural", if we're going to use such terms, is that an inordinate number of grown men, of color and white, who are attracted to women are attracted to women whose appearances have been dramatically culturally altered such that they have no facial hair, no underarm hair, no leg hair, and in some cases have implants under their breast tissue, wear make-up, high heels, have "unnaturally" straightened or curled scalp hair, as well as painted, if not also glued on, fingernails.

Somehow the heteromale supremacist argument, as flimsy as it is destructive, is that all of these modifications "enhance" women's natural allure. (Right.) It is especially amusing, while also obnoxious and expensively oppressive, to note how many cosmetics companies, depending on the culture and era, promote the many ways that their products make women look more naturally sexy. Perhaps I'm dense, but in what way would not using the products leave one appearing "less natural"?

Women's sexuality is made more cultural by being bound to industry standards of beauty, not more natural. Choices by women with agency to assimilate into an oppressive system are made always in the context of being socially and economically ostracised and rejected if they do not, in some ways, conform and buy into the system. This means women survive patriarchy by participating in it, as the alternative is loneliness and punishment. It is with bitter irony that we can note that the women who most embrace white male supremacist beauty standards are also routinely punished. If, as many liberals claim, women are free to choose their fate, why can't women choose to not be ostracised and objectified, raped and oppressed?

For much more on how oppressive white male beauty standards impact women negatively, read The Bluest Eye (1970), by Toni Morrison, and Sheila Jeffreys' Beauty and Misogyny(2005).

To any man who finds the unnaturally airbrushed and/or Photoshopped women featured as centerfolds in Playboy magazine "naturally sexy" I welcome you to explain what you mean by "naturally sexy". As C. A. MacKinnon and Patricia Hill Collins, among many other feminists and womanists, have noted, what is sexy is culturally relative and socially constructed, usually and most often with a white heterosexual male supremacist agenda to keep women subordinate to men in a variety of ways, including sexually. See especially, Black Sexual Politics (2005), by P. H. Collins.

What exactly is natural about a man purchasing or renting a human being in order to have her perform "sexual acts" that involve industry-made props, such as leather head masks with zippered mouths? Do such "accessories" occur in the natural world? Does "purchasing and renting" humans occur in nature? Do whales have "red light districts"? Can someone please direct me to the natural, biological causes of capitalism? (... waiting ...) I didn't think so.

What is natural about a woman feeling insecure, ugly, or socially uncomfortable if she leaves her home or is in her home with facial, armpit, and leg hair that is, by all reasonable measures, naturally occurring?

What is natural about high-heeled shoes and bossom-scrunching boddices? Were cavewomen known to place two to six inch sticks under the heels of whatever protection they wore on their feet, for, I don't know, the fun of it? Did women compulsively collect sticks for this purpose? I don't recall those images being painted on cave walls of Lascaux. Did they seek out animals hides that only hid half of each breast? That Sarah Jessica Parker enjoys the fashions made by Dolce and Gabbana tells me what, exactly, about how "women's brains are different from men's"? That most women I know don't wear high heels tells me what about their psyches? That they aren't female?

What many heterosexual men report to me that's "attractive" or "sexy" or "hot" about a woman or women has little to do with their complex individual humanness, and has much more to do with the ways in which women negotiate limited decisions made, institutionally, by pimps and pornographers, as well as misogynistic advertisers. These men, not the women who purchase their products, define, market, and control what is "beautiful" about women. Women, in many ways, actively participate in this marketing of misogyny, no doubt. But women never participate freely, which is to say, with the unpunishable option of not participating at all.

In contemporary Western and Western-influenced male supremacist societies, is "natural beauty" a term of some redundancy, or an oxymoron? I'd argue it is far more the latter than the former.

[image of Johnny Weismuller as Tarzan]

Are we really supposed to believe that a man, in this case a Romanian white one with no visible chest hair, raised by apes, named Tarzan, would be instantly attracted to a whiter city-raised woman who in no way resembles any being he has encountered to date? Well, this is one of the first human women he's ever seen, you might respond; why shouldn't he be attracted to her? To those with this rationale I ask, what are we to do with the matter of King Kong's infatuation with Fay Wray (1933).

[image of Fay Wray in King Kong's hand]

Are we supposed to believe that King Kong "naturally" finds Fay Wray "sexy" and that it makes sense that he fondles her with his big hairy fingers? Are we supposed to believe that anyone and anything will find white thin women beautiful, but only if they are pretty by Hollywood standards?

Inside these racist, colonising, genocidal, misogynist, heterosexist assumptions or "givens" is a widely held and irresponsibly unowned conceit: that white men are appropriately in charge of controlling the parameters of beauty and what constitutes sex. In the Western world, this conceit or belief hasn't radically changed in the many decades cinema has been in existence. Although in the 1930s some white women were allowed to portray women far more independent and self-possessed than the women who appear in U.S. films twenty and thirty years later. If you watch these films, note how the Black women who portray the maid or servant of white folks, who may or may not have a first name in the film, rarely shows up in the credits the way the white people do, even though she has a speaking part.

What also hasn't diminished in centuries is the world's oldest forms of oppression and sexual subjugation, prostitution and female sexual slavery. While at times being completely indistinguishable, each has existed to meet male supremacists' culturally relative wishes to use and abuse women-as-sexthings. The fact that some women choose, with very relative levels of "freedom" to be prostitutes, in no ways lessens the responsibility of pimps and procurers to stop using women as such. Bosses in any profession ought not oppress and otherwise harm workers, no matter how much the worker chose the job. Men ought not oppress and otherwise harm women, no matter the venue or context.

White heterosexual male studio heads, and pimps, with the two groups very often overlapping, promulgate this oppressive theory that white women's sexuality--however it is constructed by white men--is naturally very powerful, particularly when adorned with urban cultural artifacts. "It" is, in fact, so overpowering that het men must rape women, must possess, purchase, or rent them, must harass and verbally debase them, must invasively approach them at any and every opportunity, regardless of the non-verbal cues and overt verbal messages women direct at men to leave them the fuck alone. According to white male supremacist logic, men violate women's space and bodies due to the fact that what women possess, men cannot resist trying to steal. But we mustn't forget that women's "beauty" in a white male supremacist and heterosexist society, is deeply raced and gendered in an oppressive binary way; "what women possess" is "whiteman-made"; it belongs to men first and is then sold to women. "Female beauty" becomes a key ingredient in any woman's success if she is in the media in a way that "male beauty" is not a factor in men's success. I personally think the late Walter Cronkite was adorable, but he was not, according to Hollywood studio heads or Madison Avenue execs "beautiful", or even handsome. Men's interpersonal and intellectual abilities, their business acumen, or their organisational and administrative skills, is assessed as more important than "looks". This is never the case with women. If you doubt this, find me one butch woman in the news media whose success matches any major male news anchor or reporter. So women, paradoxically, are not "naturally" beautiful at all, according to the men who feel entitled to identify women this way. Some women are beautiful, and the ones that are, curiously, adhere closely to politically charged standards created by and for men.

White men, pimps and non-pimps, along with the coerced collusion and collaboration of those who work for them, have constructed and maintained industries to mass market their ideas about women's beauty standards, which is code for white women's beauty standards, which is code for the inhumane beauty standards aggressively and unrelentingly imposed on all women. The message to women of color is two-fold: either work as hard as you can to attain those same white standards, or allow white men, especially, to hold you out as "exotic" and "primitive", possessing a kind of raw, untamed sexuality that is more beastly than beatific.

Duran Duran's very popular 1982 video, "Hungry Like The Wolf" illustrates these values. It was directed by music video creator Russell Mulcahy; he also directed the first video shown on MTV, "Video Killed The Radio Star", as well as the despicably racist video with sexual overtones, "Turning Japanese", a 1980 UK, US, and Aussie hit by a New Wave band of British white dudes named The Vapors. (In those early years, MTV was especially racist and uberwhite; from day one through to the present it has always been misogynistic.)

"Hungry Like The Wolf" portrays white men the way white men often portray themselves including in movies like King Kong and Tarzan, and behave in the non-cinematic world, as unstoppable colonisers, merciless invaders, greedy thieves, and rampant rapists, aka, in whitemanspeak: heroes.

I ask you: with heroes like these, who needs villains?

With a "natural sexuality" that comes to you directly from white men's racist, homophobic, and patriarchally withered imaginations, why are "products", Why can't it just naturally be diverse and unowned--neither purchased nor sold--by us?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Two and a Half Misogynist Men, and counting

[watch, especially one minute into this video, also, ironically, 2:29, and also 6:17]

[And here's one more, making clear who controls what during men's procurement of women as prostitutes]

Note above and below the overt sexism typical of any network television show featuring more than two heterosexual men:>">Promo for Two and a Half Men (2009)

[ And please also read this post on Charlie Sheen: ]

In a currently running TV promo for the Fall 2009 season of this blatantly misogynistic program, an adult male (played without great difficulty by Charlie Sheen) asks the young teen male (played by Angus T. Jones) if he thinks he's providing a good home for the boy. The boy replies enthusiastically with a remark like: "You bring home a different woman almost every night. It's a perfect upbringing!"

I saw this promo piece for the first time yesterday, and it was yet another reminder of why I've never watched that program, and so many others. In fact, the videos above are the most I've ever seen of that particular TV show.

While very temporarily on the subject of a certain sexist actor, one of my all-time favorite Tina Fey lines, from her work as anchor of "Weekend Update" on Saturday Night Live, goes like this:

Tina Fey: "Today marks the final episode of 'Everybody Loves Raymond.' Next season CBS Monday will be anchored by the show, 'Everybody Has Mixed Feelings About Charlie Sheen.'"

Everyone, I guess, but this boy.

And what a great role model Sheen and his character have been for other heterosexual males.

Liberals love to argue how dominant media only reflects culture; it never has any impact at all, according to liberals, on how we behave. Never mind that commercials work to sell the product being advertised. And never mind that a young male relative of mine decided beyond the shadow of a doubt--after watching the movie Top Gun over and over again, that he would enter the Navy as soon as he was old enough. As soon as he was old enough he entered the Navy.

I post this as but one among a million plus examples of how media influences culture, much to the detriment of anyone's hope that society will one day be free from male supremacy, sexism, and misogyny.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Modesty, Rape, Frankness and Consent, by Paul Spencer

[image is from here]

What follows is a piece submitted for publication to this blog by someone I know.

Modesty, Rape, Frankness and Consent
by Paul Spencer

I’m reading a book at the moment called Pornography: Men Possessing Women by Andrea Dworkin. (Unfortunately, it’s not because I’m really healthy and comfortably pro-feminist but as part of a project at the request of others to challenge my dodgy, sexist behaviours and attitudes.) It led me to a series of thoughts about the way romance and sexual relationships work in our society.

Part of Dworkin’s thinking is that the accepted understanding of romance is a formalised and civilised veneer for an underlying conquest in which men are empowered and women are used as objects through which men experience their power. A woman’s romantic role is to flirt and be desired, to resist and be chased, to be caught, to give in and be conquered. And to love the experience. A man’s role on the other hand is to be pro-active, choose his woman, pursue her, seduce her and be the active agent in making love to her.

While I can intellectually find gaps in the story and bring up examples of how it isn’t so, it rings very soundly true and I know unmistakably that that is the teaching I’ve had all my life about what romance is. The relationship is so commonplace that it’s hard to notice how horrible it is. When the best a woman can expect is to be seduced by a man who is civilised enough to take his time and buy her wine, but the background power relationship stays the same, the step from there to rape is a very short one: just a momentary loss of civilised values on a par with drunken fights or stealing someone’s property.

My thinking is that the practice of romance as currently conceived depends on a certain shyness and reluctance to talk about sexual issues. For the romance to proceed properly, the relationship must be developed by feel, with both parties aware of the tension that comes ultimately from playing a power game and a game of predator and prey. A woman’s coyness is attractive in this game because it signals her submission in the first place to the rules of the game. Similarly a man is not permitted to spoil the sense of the hunt by launching straight into discussion about sex.

The alternative to romance is openly discussed, consenting sexual relationships. It rests on the presumption that both men and women have final rights over our own bodies. It also props up the view that sex is an expression of love and that love is about being good to one another.

While these views seem self-evident and are routinely spoken as the values of an advanced society, they have yet to filter through to our society’s internal workings. Sex as an expression of power is seen in its raw state in even soft-core pornography and typical male pub banter. Rights over our bodies are limited in law and practice, as shown by society’s reluctance to defend a woman’s right to refuse sex with her husband, for example. And our teaching is still not sure whether love is about being good to one another, desiring each other and having sex, or maybe about owning one another.

As an example of society’s reluctance to confront and challenge the norm of men subjugating women, Dworkin cites a study by the Institute of Sex Research, in which the authors wrote: “If we labeled all punishable sexual behaviour as a sex offense, we would find ourselves in the ridiculous situation of having all our male histories consist almost entirely of sex offenders” and then went on to say that in an everyday case such as that of a man kissing an unwilling woman, “to solemnly label him as a sex offender would be to reduce our study to a ludicrous level.”

It is hard to imagine a real step forward in sexual equality without that recognition though. Our male histories do consist almost entirely of sex offenders; so do our contemporary male peer groups. Acknowledging that situation is a basic first step towards equality, in the same way that reconciliation between races in Australia is not possible without first understanding that the European occupation of the land is founded on and synonymous with racism, denial of the humanity and sovereignty of Indigenous people and the violent suppression of their efforts to exist outside that model of themselves.

There is a future, yet to be built, in which all people are the active players in their own lives and in decisions about their own bodies. It’s a grown up future where our childish habits of selfishness, helplessness and petulant demands for others to indulge our weaknesses are treated with healthy adult intolerance, and where sex and other emotional entanglements are discussed from a position of sovereignty. Two things that stand between the present and this future are the economic position of women, which remains unequal to that of men and creates power imbalances in all other areas of life, and the direct refusal of men to accept the existence of women as complete, independent people who may adopt purposes in life that are unrelated to the service and pleasure of men.

This kind of stuff really brings out the vitriolic anti-feminist in comfortably sexist men and their apologists but let them spit and curse. If I’m forced to take responsibility for my attitudes and behaviour, then by christ I’m going to take yez all with me!

Masculinist men and Feminist women: truths about each

[the above image is from here]

The above image is titled "Henry VIIIs manhood is safe". What does this title and image tell us about how men understand "manhood"? And who, if choosing from the two most popular genders, do you suppose this suit of armor is designed to protect him from: women or men?

A collection of systems of belief, made real through practice and institutionalised policies, laws, and customs, that holds that men ought to have power over women, and ought to have unimpeded sexual access to women.

A collection of systems of belief, varying greatly, that generally agree that men ought not have power over women interpersonally or institutionally. Efforts on private and public fronts to hold men accountable to the abuses we perpetrate against women, because we are men who have come to believe we have the right to do so, are opposed by all of the feminists I have ever known.

Another truism: Masculinists are in charge of society. Feminists are not.

It is men themselves, masculinist men, who define and decide what sex and manhood are. This is not done primarily done in the abstract. It is done primarily in the course of men having sex with others and also engaging with others in their social world. But how heterosexual men treat women during sexual acts is one of the significant ways "sex" gets understood and registered in the bodies of men as such, by those men. How men treat images of women is part of this process. How men understand "womanness" while using pornography is one central factor, along with religious and secular dictates. That men, as procurers, as prostitutors, as bullies, as harassers, as batterers, as slave-holders, behave in those ways condones and reinforces social meanings, and behaviors, of men and women are, do, and can be.

So if a man uses heterosexual pornography, or exploits women directly in systems of prostitution as his primary or secondary means of obtaining sexual satisfaction, that use and abuse is then registered and reinforced in his body as "sex". It therefore comes to be commonly misperceived, if looking at this from a humanitarian/pro-woman point of view, that men see efforts to criminalise "johns" (prosititutors/procurers) or to take civil legal action against misogynistic, racist pornographers and the consumers of the materials they mass produce as "limiting men's right to have sex [with women]". Why aren't these feminist efforts seen as potentially liberating women and men from masculinst sexual paradigms?

As common practice, many straight men brag to one another homosocially about their conquests, their violations and intrusions into women's lives both sexually and otherwise. Clearly a significant population of men believe at least one of two things: women exist for men to use and abuse, and men exists to use and abuse women.

When men speak out against abusive actions by men towards women they are often and commonly considered to be "not manly". They are called misogynistic-homophobic names by masculinist heterosexual men who prefer to abuse their entitlements and privileges than examine and challenge them. It is men who reinforce other men's misogynist actions, through such put-downs and ridicule of anti-masculinist men.

Masculinist men, not feminist women, make the argument that men will always be rapists.

Masculinist men, not feminist women, hold out little to no hope of men becoming humane citizens in a patriarchal society, capable of radically transforming that society into one that is no longer patriarchal.

Masculinist men hate and show disdain for women in theory and in practice systematically, in part through imbuing whole instituions with anti-woman values. Feminist women in theory and in practice seek justice and social transformation such that men no longer find meaning, value, and pleasure in exploiting and otherwise harming women and girls.

The "opposition" to viewing men as "people capable of ending rape" is masculinist men, not feminist women. And masculinist men hold positions of power, structurally and institutionally, as well as culturally, that women do not hold.

That there are a handful of men who side with feminists and womanists, not masculinists and Men's Rights Activists, is not, for me, a source of great hope. It is a source of shame. Why aren't all men fighting against masculism? Why aren't all men fighting to support feminist and womanist agendas?

Just as any man who does significant and humane primary care for children, as a parent or guardian, should not be held up as "special", so too should men who fight for women's liberation from men's tyrannies over them be seen as "exceptional".

Being humane, when male, ought not be portrayed socially as "exceptional" to the rule of men behaving badly. We should be seen as simply doing what we should have been doing all along.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

And by 'Sex' you mean what exactly?

There was a hopefuly piece on Britian and the matter of sex trafficking in the Daily Mail, which I only now have read. Click on "Comments (11)" below to be brought to the site's article, reprinted below, with comments.

Sex can be bought for just £15, new survey reveals
By Daily Mail Reporter
Last updated at 1:18 PM on 04th September 2008
Comments (11)
Crackdown: Ministers hope the move will help stop people trafficking

New laws against men who use prostitutes came closer today as a survey revealed sex can be bought for just £15.

Harriet Harman stepped up her campaign to make it illegal to pay for sex by publishing opinion research showing 58 per cent of the public would back the move if it prevented the trafficking of women and children to the UK.

A government inquiry will report at the end of the year on proposals to reform the prostitution laws, which already make kerb-crawling illegal.

Her move came as shocking new research into the scale of London prostitution found huge numbers of foreign women are forced to sell their bodies for almost no reward.
Brothels in the capital also promise risky ‘extras’, such as unprotected full sex which spreads HIV.

Anti-trafficking charity Poppy Project revealed the ‘disturbing prevalence’ of prostitution by posing as punters to survey-more than 900 brothels.

Many of the women involved had come from eastern Europe and south-east Asia — well known hotspots for young women being coerced into prostitution and trafficked to the west.

The average price for full sex was just under £62 but some were as cheap as £15 and one offered a 50 per cent discount for repeat visits.

Such low returns suggest women are being forced into the sex trade. Some brothels promised risky sexual practices for only £10 extra.

A researcher says in the report: ‘I do remember there was a chain of south east London places which promised “the lowest prices in London” and a place in Islington stood out as sounding particularly unpleasant and dodgy.’

Most of the brothels were in ordinary-residential streets.

Report coauthor Helen Atkins said: ‘For most women, the reality is a cycle of violence and coercion, perpetuated by poverty and inequality.’

Ms Harman’s poll found men were more likely to regard prostitution as acceptable.
‘Our survey suggests that there are double standards out there,’ she said.
‘Even among people who thought selling sex was a reasonable choice to make, the overwhelming majority would then find it unacceptable if a family member was working as a prostitute.’

Some brothels offered ‘very young girls’, implying they were under age.
Ms Atkins said: ‘It has been said that we are never more than six feet away from a rat in London.

‘Apparently, something similar applies to brothels, places where thousands of women are regularly exploited by men who buy sex.’

And Ms Harman, the Minister for Women, urged: ‘To protect women, we also need to tackle the demand side.’

At 11:59 on April 9, 2008 Andrew M, from Central London, wrote:

'To protect women, we also need to tackle the demand side.'

Intrigued to see how Ms Harman is going to stop men wanting to have sex...

To Andrew M:
Your understanding of "sex" requires that men rent women in systems of prostitution or sexual trafficking?? How curious. And is it conceivable that "sex" [among women and men] could happen without men demanding anything from women? Without any level of coercion, be it social, religious, legal, or economic? Without any man making assumptions about "what women are on Earth to do"?

More on Michael Jackson: on stardom and stigma

[image from this site:]

After a long and complex conversation with my friend Yolanda, one of the women I most look to for clear analysis on matters of gender, race, class, and sexuality, I wanted to comment further on "the case of Michael Jackson", following that conversation.

First, there is the issue of allegations by boys against him. As someone who generally supports victims coming forward, and tries my best to support victims naming their experiences, believing victims unless there is an obvious reason not to, the allegations against Michael, at the time they occurred, made it difficult for me to believe he was "innocent" of these charges. He was, at the very least, guilty of sharing his bed with adoring boys, which alone is an abusive act, as far as I'm concerned. Whether he engaged any children in sexual acts, in acts of molestation or other abuse, is unknown to me, and, for the foreseeable future, is unknowable by me.

The issue of how Michael Jackson has been used by the media, media which he also used, is a separate matter from his innocence or guilt on charges of child molestation.

What we can note is the great level of dis-ease much of the public had with Michael's appearance and mannerisms. How many white folks did I hear comment "He wants to be white!" when he was lightening his skin through make-up or pigment reducing medication to try and cope with what must have been an extremely difficult challenge: vitaligo. Too many times to count. Unless you're famous, have darker skin, and have vitaligo, you are in no position to judge how someone chooses to deal with this physical-emotional challenge.

There are many assumptions about the supposedly morphing race of Michael Jackson by whites that highlight our overtly white supremacist racism. We assume everyone must want to be white, if also tan. Given that we collectively and institutionally uphold up whiteness as a perfect synonym for greatness and worth, we take cruel pleasure in critiquing people of color who, in various ways, physically assimiliate into white society. But Michael didn't assimilate. He created his own world in which to live, perhaps to his demise due to on-going prescription drug abuse and the doctors who "took care" of him. It has been reported that any attempts by family members or friends to intervene on his substance abuses only resulted in them being shut out, and him being shut tighter inside an increasingly small world, albeit one constructed with great wealth and for a time on plenty of land.

The white public showed great unease with Michael's appearance from the time the Jackson Five hit the small screen through to when MJ was a teenager with an acne problem, and on until his death. Whne MJ was a child, his father reportedly berated him for his appearance, especially focusing on Michael's nose, calling it "ugly".

Few people have known the level of public and private scrutiny and critique endured by Michael Jackson. That the U.S. has trouble with matters of race, gender, and sexuality is not news. When someone's appearance or other ways of being blurr lines, we become uncomfortable, at least, violent at worst.

Social ostracism is difficult for just about everyone. Few people have skin thick enough to repel the darts of indignity hurled at those of us who stand out for being "different". Michael, due to his talent and the marketing of that talent, his race, his gender presentation, and his lack of readily identifiable sexuality, including the way he lived his adult life, marked him for scorn and ridicule.

My friend and I were commenting on how no matter what choices a woman makes about her appearance, there is no decision that will allow her the comfort, the relief, of living in a shame-free and violence-free zone. She can tweeze or not tweeze, shave or not shave, wear high heels or not, wear dresses or slacks, have breast enlargment or reduction surgery, and still the contemptuous scrutiny finds its way to her.

Michael lived his own version of this inescapable shame and violence. Exactly what tones of brown skin make a person of color "acceptable" to whites? Exactly how straightened, or not straightened, does an African American woman's hair have to be before it is not commented on critically? How wide the nose? How much of an upper eyelid is required? How straight and narrow does the nose have to be? How thin the lips?

Michael Jackson, by some accounts, knew and was deeply distressed that he'd gone too far with plastic surgery on his face. But whether his nose was wider or more narrow, people were ready to criticize him, to make all manner of rude comments about his appearance, and to show little to no understanding of what he was dealing with. The lack of understanding is not a surprise; Michael's life was not a typical one. Few celebrities, with exceptions such as Judy Garland, have been in the speculative spotlight, one that comes with periods of pleasant darkness and glaring brightness. Michael and perhaps Britney Spears are two contemporary examples, targeted by the media from the time they were young. And the media is more invasive now than ever before, but no less white male supremacist and homophobic, no less ageist and ableist.

One new biography notes that Michael, was, in fact, sexual with adult men, not boys. We can see how, if this was the case, he couldn't "come out" to get media off his back. Michael's atypcial gender presentation somehow was taken by dominant media as a sign that he might just be a child molester. Usually if a man is seen as "not manly enough" it misogynistically causes people and press to spread rumors about him to the effect that he must be gay. But as Michael had women and children as friends, and was not generally seen hanging out with males his age, he was spared some of the gay-bashng commentary, and instead was fast-forwarded into the role of child molester. I am rather amazed that the two were not more conflated. As a gay man, I've come up against the stereotype and stigma that "that means you're into children" on more occasions than I care to recall. With Michael, "gay" was never a strong presumption by the media, at least as I recall. "Strange", "bizarre", and "freakish" were the more common adjectives used to describe him. Brits were most fond of the term "Wacko Jacko".

I am left wondering: what do white heterosexual men have to do to be stigmazied similarly? It's not that white straight men don't do things like form online networks with which to pass around their latest rapes of babies and young children, as well as older girls and women. It's not as though white heterosexual men don't traverse the globe, looking for "bizarre" ways to get oppressive and exploitive sexual needs met. How fucked up is it for white men to marry or adopt in order to have a sexual slave?

Yet no such stigmas exist for white hetero men comparable to those that attach themselves to women of all colors, gay and non-gay men of color, and white gay men.

One day, perhaps, it will be understood as "strange" to harass, rape, and otherwise possess women. One day, not likely just around the bend, it will be considered "freakish" for white men to take pleasure expressing harmful forms of power and exploitive expressions of privilege due to our whiteness and manhood. But I accept, with a rather contradictory blend of resignation and rebellion, that white heterosexual men's crimes will never be attached to their whiteness or manliness in the harmful ways that being a woman, being gay, or being of color are conditions which, regardless of personal action, mark the bearer as contempt-worthy.

That some whites go on and on about how much [fill in a group of people of color] hate us, and some men go on and on about how some women hate men--all men, mind you, we know the truth: hatred flows most easily and abundantly from the top of a social, structural hierarchy down. The economics of social contempt do not trickle, they pour. And the consequences for actively hating the oppressed are identified by oppressors as trivial when compared to the price the oppressed pay for being remotely resistant to the dictates of those who seek her and her sisters' destruction.

May Michael Jackson, and all women and girls, boys, intersex, and trans people, lethally harmed by men, rest in peace.