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Women’s Birthing Rights

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Planned Parenthood’s Statement on Margaret Sanger

In response to the irresponsible and unethical attacks on Planned Parenthood on, of all things, the feminist blogosphere:

The Truth About Margaret Sanger  

Margaret Sanger gained worldwide renown, respect, and admiration for founding the American birth control movement and, later, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, as well as for developing and encouraging family planning efforts throughout the international community.

Among her many visionary accomplishments as a social reformer, Sanger established the principles that a woman’s right to control her body is the foundation of her human rights; that every person should be able to decide when or whether to have a child; that every child should be wanted and loved; and that women are entitled to sexual pleasure and fulfillment just as men are brought about the reversal of federal and state “Comstock laws” that prohibited publication and distribution of information about sex, sexuality, contraception, and human reproduction helped establish the contemporary American model for the protection of civil rights through nonviolent civil disobedience — a model that later propelled the civil rights, anti-war, women’s rights, and AIDS-action movements created access to birth control for low-income, minority, and immigrant women expanded the American concept of volunteerism and grassroots organizing by setting up a network of volunteer-driven family planning centers across the U.S. Continue reading

“Dear Injurious Physician” — In Memorium: Barbara Seaman, Sept. 11, 1935-Feb. 27, 2008

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Once again, a giant of the movement to liberate women has passed on.  Barbara Seaman, tireless pioneer and principal founder of the feminist women’s health care movement, passed away yesterday of lung cancer at the age of 72.

Beginning in 1960, with second wave feminism still in its embryonic stage, Seaman pioneered patient-centered health reporting.  Under her watch, women were to learn for the first time that they were not receiving the information they needed in order to make good, informed decisions about contraception, childbirth, or breastfeeding (this last during a time when formula manufacturers were boasting that their products were better for children than mother’s milk.)  An engaging and passionate writer, Seaman’s work was sought out and picked up by mainstream women’s magazines – Ladies Home Journal, Family Circle and Bride’s Magazine.  Her essays appeared in major newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post.  From time to time, she served as a consultant for television programs which dealt with health care issues.  Continue reading

Mom in Charlotte, NC Jail on “Immigration Hold” — Not Allowed to Pump Milk

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Danielle Souza Ferreira, 29, a Brazilian immigrant, was arrested recently in Charlotte, North Carolina, at the local mall. Her brother was with her and, unbeknownst to her, he had hidden a CD in the pocket of her stroller, which contained her two babies. When the two left the store, they were arrested for shoplifting.  Ferreiro was then jailed on an “immigration hold.” Her visa expired in 2005 and she had been scheduled for a deportation hearing, but she had signed a waiver stating she was returning to Brazil voluntarily and wanted to forego the hearing. She already had purchased airline tickets for herself, her brother and her two children, who were born in the U.S., and she was scheduled to leave in a month’s time. Nevertheless, because of the expired visa, she was arrested and is languishing in jail waiting to be turned over to immigration officials once the shoplifting charge is handled.

Her two-month-old, Samuel, is breastfed and was abruptly separated from  her.  Jail officials will not allow her to pump out the milk which is engorged in her breasts.  She is feverish and she is in great pain.  Her 2-month old, being cared for by a friend lest police make good on their promise to turn the babies over to social services, is refusing formula, spitting it up, crying, and doing poorly.

Even though just this month, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement formally adopted guidelines that allow pregnant women or nursing mothers to be released from custody under supervised conditions, Ferreiro is still being held. Jail policy, officials say, is that breastfeeding mothers may not pump their milk without a court order.  The mothers are “treated” for “symptoms” when they must stop nursing abruptly.

This is inhumane, this is cruel and unusual punishment, it is misogynist, it is torture. It is unbelievably painful to be forced to stop breastfeeding abruptly, especially at two-months post-partum when milk supply for a baby who is fed only mother’s milk is generally abundant.   On average, depending on the baby’s weight, a mother of a two-month-old will  produce 28-32 ounces of milk per day.  After two or three missed feedings, as the breasts fill up with a quart or so of unexpressed milk, women experience painful engorgement. After two or three additional missed feedings without pumping, serious infection can set in. Anyone who has ever had a breast infection knows how painful and debilitating these are. You become extremely ill with fever and chills, your entire body aches, and your breasts are exquisitely painful and tender.  Over time, they will blister and peel. If the infection goes too long untreated, you may develop abscesses in the breasts which require surgery.

Yet the jail requires a court order to allow the mother to pump her milk! Best case scenario, it takes several days to obtain a court order. An attorney who is willing to represent the mother must first be found, hired, paid and consulted. The attorney then has to draw up the necessary court pleadings, schedule a hearing before the judge and present the motion. Finally the judge signs the order — or not — and it must be presented to jail officials. This is not something which can happen quickly, especially in a large metropolitan area where courts are busy. And who knows what “treatment” this jail might be providing for this woman– probably pain relievers and that’s it.

It is a desperately sick society that treats its most vulnerable members — breastfeeding mothers and their infants, immigrants, women of color — with such callous disregard. So far as I’m concerned, this is torture. If only heads would roll over this.  They will not.  In fact, the woman will be blamed for every indignity and for all of her suffering.

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Discussions We Will Not Have Here

I sometimes have read whinings that I do not allow dissenting points of view here.  This is very true.  There are certain “dissenting points of view” which will not find their expression on my blog.  They are as follows:

  • Defenses of pornography.  Defend pornography on your own blog or in any one of the multiplicity of venues available for defenses of pornography.  Here?  No.  This is a radical feminist blog.  I oppose pornography with every fiber of my being, as do most of the women here.
  • Defenses of prostitution as a matter of “choice” or as “empowering”.   You may make these defenses on all sorts of blogs and websites and in the mainstream media.  You will never make those defenses here, on my blog, because those defenses cause deep harm to the thousands and millions of children and women who are forced into prostitution and trafficked as sex slaves throughout the world.  Those defenses aid and abet pimps, procurers, johns, sex traffickers, and the pornography industry.  You will never see them approved or entertained here.  Never.  
  • Defenses of sadomasochism as liberating, empowering, or good, whether it occurs in the course of sexual intimacy of any kind, in “scenes”, in “play parties,” between fundamentalist men and their wives, in marriage, out of marriage, in relationships, in friendships, overt, covert, unapologetic, unrecognized, none of it is going to be defended here.  Sadomasochistic relationships are at the heart of the systems, institutions, mechanisms, dynamics, social orders which have created the world as we know it, teetering on the brink of annihilation.    Whether it is the sadomasochism inherent in war, imperialism, colonialism, conquest, fundamentalisms of all kinds, sexism, racism, classism, lesbophobia, transphobia, abuse of children disguised as “discipline,” abuse of animals, abuse of the planet, seas, mountains, skies, earth, or whether it is sadomasochism in intimate relationships between individuals, all of it, because it is about dominance and subordination,  about some groups subjugating others, harms human beings, creatures, and the earth, it participates in the destruction of beneficent life on the earth, and so I oppose it.  It will not be defended here.  Defend it elsewhere.
  • Defenses of males as oppressed (as males) or accusations that feminists are “sexists” or “misandrists”.  Read.  Study.  Learn which sex, far and away, owns the world’s wealth, runs the world’s corporations, heads the world’s governments, religious organizations, judicial systems, academic institutions.  Learn who rapes and who is raped, who batters and who is battered (and for that you might take a look at Stormy’s link from yesterday).  Learn your history.  I will not be welcoming “dissenting opinions” about men as an oppressed class here on this blog.  You may have that discussion all  over the place, not here.
  • Defenses of Big Pharma, patriarchal medicine, “elective” surgeries and treatments, i.e., cosmetic surgeries, boob jobs, face lifts, liposuction, Botox injections,  and the like, “weight loss” surgeries, c-sections,  removals of nondiseased organs and body parts for any reason.  People will do whatever they will do, that’s up to them, I do not stand in judgment on anyone’s personal decisions or what she has done to herself, or he has done to himself, attempting to survive in this world.  But.  These practices will not be defended here.  Big Pharma and patriarchal medicine are gigantic, rich, greedy, exploitive conglomerates which have caused and continue to cause immeasurable harm and destruction to the planet, to human beings, to animals.  That is what we are going to talk about here. 
  • Defenses of medical or other surgical procedures forced on human beings without their consent, whether it is circumcision, female genital mutilation, surgeries performed on infants and young people born intersex or with “ambiguous” genitalia, the “Ashley Treatment”, or most procedures forced on the mentally ill and those considered disabled.  See above re Big Pharm and patriarchal medicine.
  • Defenses of religious fundamentalism of any type, anywhere in the world.

The above “dissenting points of view” will not receive a welcome on my blog.  Almost anywhere you want to go, read, write, on the internet, mainstream media, television, radio, newspapers, wherever, you can find all the information you want to find, all the discussions you may want to have, on everything listed up there.

While we may discuss the defenses commonly offered for the above in the course of  critique or discussion, I am not going to engage in arguments here with  people who are actively defending practices, ideologies, institutions which hurt human beings, animals or the planet. 

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Children’s Cold Medicines Pulled from the Market, or Why We Crones Stop Talking to People, and How to Raise Healthy Children

So I sat there watching the 10 o’clock news just steaming last night as the latest revelation was delivered from god on high, excuse me, the patriarchal medical establishment:  children’s cold medicines don’t work and sometimes they kill children.   So, at long last, they have been pulled from the shelves of the drug- and grocery stores throughout the land.   The “latest”  is that parents should let children’s colds run their course and should rely on natural remedies, i.e., vaporizors, lots of liquids. 

What a news flash.

For 35 years, over the course of raising 11 children, I have steadfastly rejected over-the-counter and prescription drugs for my children, along with the doctors who prescribe these toxic and (for the most part) useless substances.  I have steadfastly urged, in writing, in articles, in my magazine, that other mothers do likewise.   I realized very early on in my motherhood journey that the reasons doctors prescribe pills and drops and liquids for children is, parents think doctors possess magical healing substances which cure all and every malady.  I never understood this expectation and never trusted doctors who enable it, because they know better, which tells me, worst case, they are dishonest, slightly better case, they trust what their teachers have taught them, suspending disbelief when faced with clear evidence to the contrary.  The principles of feminist self-help when it comes to health care run deep in me, the most basic of which is that it is not going to work to put one’s faith and trust in the advice of a patriarchal medical establishment, particularly if you are a woman, and particularly if you are a mother.

When my kids developed colds or flu over the years, I did what I knew worked, ignoring, for the most part, whatever medical fads might be in vogue at the time.  If my kids were croupy, having a hard time clearing their lungs, had hacking, dry coughs and couldn’t sleep, I wrapped both of us in a towel or blanket, went into the bathroom, shut the door and turned on the shower full blast until the room was full of steam, their croup had subsided, their lungs had cleared and they could breathe again.   If they were coughing productively but so much that they couldn’t sleep, I propped them up on pillows because drainage, including of the sinuses, follows gravity.  If my kids were feverish, I washed them down with damp cloths, gave them a cool cloth for their forehead, brought on the popsicles and ice water, to be sipped slowly through a straw or by spoon.  If the fever hung on for too long and I began to fear they might get dehydrated, or if they were in pain with  headache or body aches, I gave them children’s aspirin.  (Aspirin is the one over-the-counter remedy I use and know to be effective, forget Tylenol, and don’t even talk to me about Reyes syndrome.   The minuscule chance of children developing Reyes syndrome from taking a couple of orange St. Joseph’s for Children doesn’t hold a candle so far as health risks go to Tylenol’s toxicity to the human liver.)   I watched my kids closely and could usually tell when they were coming down with something, often because of what they were craving, which I provided in abundance.  When they suddenly wanted to eat orange after orange after orange, for example, that was a very good sign to me that they were fighting off a cold or flu.  So I provided them with all of the oranges they could eat.  I have watched as my toddlers in their high chairs ate three, four oranges at one sitting.  For nourishment, in addition to the juice and popsicles, I provided Old Maid’s Tea (freshly-brewed hot tea with honey and fresh lemon  juice, sipped from a spoon) and, yep, you got it, homemade chicken soup which included dark leafy greens like spinach and a little extra pepper to clear their nasal passages. 

I breastfed my children until they weaned themselves (between 18 months and seven years of age, yes, that’s right, seven years of age).  When they began showing an interest in solid food (by reaching for it or bobbing their heads around when they saw it), I offered them whatever they showed an interest in, including fresh salad, fresh and cooked vegetables of all kinds.  The evidence is all anecdotal, but all of my children raised this way love all vegetables and salads, to include broccoli and spinach.  They ask for broccoli and spinach and salad.  They consider it a treat and turn their noses up at junk food and fast food. 

Finally, my children were taught to wash their hands after using the restroom, when their hands were dirty, after touching or playing with animals or children or adults.   This is the simplest thing in the world, to teach, to practice and to model, and I am convinced that it is often this practice that makes the difference between a child who picks up every cold going around and a child who is rarely sick.   I also taught them, or they taught themselves and each other, not to touch doorknobs, faucets, or toilet seats in public restrooms.  Don’t use your hands.  Use your foot (with the shoe on it), your elbow, or cover your hand with your sleeve or a paper towel.  Knowledge of how disease is transmitted via germs and how handwashing prevents it ended the epidemic of childbed fever and could end all sorts of other epidemics, as well. 

And, of course, I stayed away from doctors’ offices where all of the sick children were coughing and hacking away, exuding great streams of drool while teething, and chewing on the toys together!

Occasionally over the years I succumbed to the temptation to buy cold medicines for my kids when I was feeling like a bad mom for some reason, as when someone suggested that every good mother parked herself and her kids at doctors’ offices with regularity, that’s the mark of a good mother, you know, when the child sneezes, oh my god, call the pediatrician!  When the ears ache, get in line for tubes in the ears! (Another discredited “remedy” for childhood earaches which subjected children to unnecessary, costly and dangerous surgeries and pain and which never resolved the earaches.)  When the child coughs, demand antibiotics!  Teach your children young to line up, stick out their arms and let experts in funny clothes stick needles in them, no crying, buck up, be a big boy, be a big girl, it’s just a little stick!  Suspend all disbelief in patriarchal medicine when your constantly-examined-and-evaluated-and-medicated-and-stuck children develop all sorts of sicknesses, allergies, impaired immune systems, and so on. 

Anyway, I would occasionally begin to cave and would temporarily buy into all of this malarkey if I felt insecure, usually because some blowhard had given me (or one of my kids) a piece of his mind he could not afford to lose, and I would buy the pricey cold medications.  They didn’t work.   Of course, one reason they didn’t work is, they tasted so bad, children would not ingest them, and who could blame them? Why would anybody?!  This was horrible stuff, thick, green, red, orange liquids which tasted so bad there was no way to disguise it, and if it even made it past the tongue, usually the stomach would say “no way” and it would all come back up. 

Well, children will not have to suffer through some parents’ forced ministrations of these patriarchal elixirs any longer, because they are so removed from the shelves.  I can only wonder whether this decision might have come in part on the heels of the murder charges against the parents of Rebecca Riley, who died after having taken medicine prescribed for her “bipolar disorder” (diagnosed at age 2) and a variety of cough and cold medications.   According to the Consumer Health Association in the article linked above, from 1969 to 2006, at least 45 children died after taking decongestants, and 69 died after taking antihistamines.  This is likely just the tip of the iceberg, of course.  How many children’s deaths were attributed to complications of cold, flu, or influenza but were actually the result of these medications? 

In the ’80s I read Dr. Robert Mendelsohn’s books, bought them in bulk and distributed them to my friends.  Mendelsohn had been the chair of the American Academy of Pediatricians, had taught in medical schools, and was, of course, an M.D.  His consistent advice was to stay out of doctors’ offices unless you were deathly sick.  In his book, How to Raise Healthy Children In Spite of Your Doctor, he advocated against “well child” visits, against all over-the-counter and prescription medications for common illnesses like colds and flu, against tubes in the ears, against circumcision.  In his book Male Practice:  How Doctors Manipulate Women, he urged women to steer clear of obstetricians and gynecologists and commonly-prescribed tests and evaluations of all kinds.  Decades before angioplasty was recognized as ineffective following a heart attack, Mendelsohn was recommending against it and a host of other AMA-recommended procedures in his Confessions of a Medical Heretic.  Although I knew that feminist women had written similar books years before, books like Gena Corea’s, The Hidden Malpractice: How American Medicine Treats Women as Patients and Professionals, published in 1977, and Barbara Ehrenreich’s For Her Own Good: Two Centuries of the Experts Advice to Women, first published in 1979,  I was glad for Mendelsohn’s work, given that so many people seem only to trust white males with letters after their names.   I particularly valued his steadfast insistence that doctors need to listen more to mothers than mothers need to listen to doctors, that mothers are the ones who know when there is something really wrong, and Mendlsohn’s encouragement to mothers to honor our own insights as to our children’s health.  Mothers, he said, know when something is really wrong with their children.  Usually it is a change in behavior or appearance, Mendelsohn said, that tells a mother her child is ill:  strange or unusual crying, listlessness, sleep problems, the look on a child’s face, the glassy eyes, the flushed cheeks.  Mendelsohn urged mothers to believe what their eyes and ears were telling them, to have faith in their own observations and judgments about their children’s health.

Well, eight of my 11 children are grown now, with the oldest 35.  They are the very picture of health, as are the three still at home with me.    It’s been a very long time since any of the three still at home has even had a cold.  Each may have had the flu once or twice, and they are 9, 12 and 16.   I have steadfastly, as much as possible, avoided the institutions and advice of patriarchal medicine, as I have avoided all dangerous patriarchal institutions, for 35 years now.  Most of my kids grew up drinking clean well water from the wells on our property in the country and breathing clean air as well.  I refused to subject them to the intrusions and invasions and “sticks” and prods, pills and liquids, patriarchy insists are the mark of “good parenting.”   My opinion is, their good health is the result. 

But, what’s 35 years and 11 kids’ worth of experience anyway, when people can always turn to 20-something white guys wearing Nehru jackets and stethoscope necklaces for the latest and greatest patriarchal medicine has to offer?  It’s not just conservatives either, it’s not just the mainstream, feminists and progressives of all stripes consistently behave as though patriarchal medicine operates with the best interests of women and our children at heart, ignoring all  of the evidence to the contrary, as though it makes sense to offer up our blind trust and faithful obeisance.

If anybody wonders why crones and wise women are reticent to offer up their wisdom, their voice of experience, unless someone specifically asks them to — and often, even then — it’s because of this phenomenon I have just described.  As women, so often we do not even recognize, let alone honor, our own elders or their lived experiences.  Instead we institutionalize them, abuse them, mistreat them, treat them with disrespect, matronize them, ignore and dismiss what they have to say.  And so, each generation of women starts from scratch, reinvents the wheel, learns what needs to be learned too late, if at all, and the hard way, laments and boo-hoos that there are no trails to follow.  Well, the trails were there, it’s just that men and their apologists came right along after and covered them up.  And the next generation of women trusted what the men said, not what the women said, about those trails.  So long as this is true, there will be no real or meaningful challenge to the abuses of patriarchal medicine, or for that matter, to any of the abuses of patriarchy.

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Why is Michelle Duggar Fair Game?

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(The above image of of the Duggar family was posted to a blog of a woman who seems to be, in general, a decent person.)

Found on various blogs via a quick Google search on “Duggar Family”:

The mother has a mullet. Please, someone from TLC, give the poor Duggar woman a makeover. That would be a huge money making show. I am sure millions would tune in. Get her looking less matronly. She looked normal and attractive when they started out, now it’s Little House on the Prairie with a hint of Nascar. Yet a makeover may cause more Diggley Duggars, Jim Bob might just go crazy with his willy. Bang, bang, bang. I digress.

She looks brainwashed. It takes about two years for your internal organs to get back into their cozy natural state after pregnancy. The article below sites that she has been pregnant ten years of her life. Right now her spleen is probably floating near her armpit and her liver on her knee

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The Duggar family of Hicksville Arkansas welcomed their 17Th child! And this beastly woman will likely get knocked up again! It gets easier as it goes, as now the 3rd eldest child has a newborn to take care of, as he gets home schooled in the art of child rearing.

…Birth control – just do it, or don’t do IT, get it? I feel bad for the husband, but it can’t be that great after child 17 just popped out, no problems.

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70023398.JPGWant 16 Kids | Arkansas mom gives birth to a whole freakin’ baseball team. How deeply should you cringe?

I think it might be a worthwhile exercise to do some thinking on why it is that Michelle  Duggar seems to be fair game for pretty much everyone, including for feminists.  It’s open season on the woman– mock her, make fun of her hair, her appearance, her clothes, her body, her reproductive organs, other of her internal organs, her vagina, attack  her, depict her as a pig, call her brainwashed.  (If you haven’t seen this, then look here for the latest, also here, here, here, and sadly, here and be sure to read the comments.)  

Consider these photos:

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This is a Hindu family which recently converted to Roman Catholicism.

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This is a Muslim family.

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This is a Rastafarian family.

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An Amish family

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A Conservative Mennonite family.  I corresponded with the mother in this picture when I published my magazine, and she occasionally wrote articles which I published.  She’s an amazing, wonderful woman, brilliant, warm, funny and a great writer.  I miss her.

Somebody — anybody — tell me with a straight face that feminists would do to any of the women in the above photos what they have done and continue to do to Michelle Duggar — even if instead of having six or eight or 12 children, as the women above do, they had 16 or 17 children, as Duggar does. 

This would not happen and it will not happen, but if it did, it would be sharply, quickly, immediately — and correctly in my opinion — called out, challenged, and denounced. 

Why is this not so for Michelle Duggar?  Is the reasoning  that Duggar’s religious beliefs or faith are not as central to her life, or as valid, or as worthy of respect as the religious beliefs of Muslim women, Hindu women, Amish women or other devout women?  (And men.)  How so?  Why are the beliefs which undergird the choices of other women of faith which result in their bearing many children understood to be valid or respect-worthy in ways Michelle Duggar’s are not?  But if none of the belief systems which support the bearing of many children is valid or respect-worthy, then why is it that Duggar is singled out in such a hateful manner whereas the other women above would not be and have not been?

And why does it seem to be the consensus amongst feminists that Duggar must be brainwashed, stupid, a mindless shill forced to breed, whereas the women in the other photos are likely to be viewed as devout, their beliefs and intelligence respected, their decisions understood to occur in the context of a particular culture or religion?  If the view is that it’s somehow acceptable to target Duggar because her husband is a conservative Republican and hence is anti-choice, lesbo- and homophobic, and so on, well, does it occur to anyone that the women in the other photos likely hold similar anti-choice, lesbophobic/homophobic views? 

Most importantly, does anybody stop to consider how the ongoing public trashing of a woman like Michelle Duggar by feminists might read to women in groups like those represented above?  Does anybody think trashing Duggar makes feminism appealing or an attractive option or a possible refuge to women like those in the above pictures, or their daughters,  who in fact someday might want out? 

Michelle Duggar, as is, in my experience, true of many, many women in conservative and fundamentalist groups, probably enjoys pregnancy and bearing and raising children.   Some women do, hard as that is for other women to understand.  I know that I did.  I had 11 children, one at a time, the first when I was 19, the last when I was 46.  I was in abusive marriages and abusive fundamentalist churches throughout most of my childbearing years.  That didn’t mean that I didn’t love having children, love being pregnant, love giving birth, love breastfeeding, love raising, homeschooling, and spending time with my children.  I loved it, even when I was scared, overwhelmed, exhausted, weary.  Even when I felt trapped.  Even when the burdens and work were so great I was not sure how I could continue.  That never kept me from loving or enjoying my children or being a mother.  I think one hallmark of intelligence and maturity is the recognition that truths which at first appear to be in conflict with one another can nevertheless exist alongside each other.  As parents most of us know this.  As human beings we know this.  We can love our children, love our partners, love our friends, and yet at times feel overwhelmed in various ways by our relationships with them.  Is it so hard to fathom that there are women in the world who love bearing and raising children despite the hardness of their lives in fundamentalist or other sexist communities?  Or that women inside of these communities enjoy their lives as mothers for other reasons, for example, because they find ways to make community with other women like them, and that these relationships make their lives rich and nourishing in ways it is hard to replicate apart from community in a world which is hostile to women?

I was not brainwashed, and neither is Michelle Duggar, and neither are the women in the photos above.  Speaking for myself only, in entering into fundamentalist religion I cut the best deal I believed I could cut at the time, given all of the circumstances of my life*.  I believe this holds true for many to most women in conservative and fundamentalist religion throughout the world, particularly mothers or women who want to be mothers.  They are cutting the best deal they can.  There is one place, and one place alone, where women who want to be mothers can go when they don’t have support, don’t have supportive community, and especially, when they don’t have money, and that is into fundamentalist religious cultures.  There they will be accepted, honored, protected, defended and supported in every conceivable way, and in ways they will never find support outside of fundamentalist community.   Do they exchange their freedom and their personal autonomy and their right to pursue both for what they will receive in fundamentalist community?  Yes, they do.  Does that make them dull, stupid, or brainwashed?  Hell no.  It makes them shrewd, resourceful realists who at the very most might be unable, for many reasons, to see beyond a certain set of life choices**.  Do they pay for what they choose?  Yes, they do.  Sometimes with their lives, always with their bodies, their hearts and their souls. Does every woman exchange something in this male supremacist world  in order to survive in it?  Yes, we all do.  Do we pay for what we choose?  Hell yes.  Sometimes also with our lives, bodies, hearts and souls.  Of all people, as feminists, we know this.

So why do some of us treat Michelle Duggar as though she isn’t a woman, just like us? 

Instead of scapegoating this one woman and targeting her as though she is the enemy, why not make it our business to critique the real enemy– systems and institutions of male heterosupremacy which make the choices Duggar and women like her have made the best deal they feel they can cut?

Heart

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Notes:

I have blogged about the quiverfull/patriarchy movements here, here and here

* For a detailed, eloquent, brilliant discussion of the choices of right-wing women, read Andrea Dworkin, Right-Wing Women

**Janja Lalich, an expert on women in fundamentalist religion, has done good work on what she calls the “bounded choices” of fundamentalist women.  She has published articles and books which you can find if you do a search on her name.

“We Will Not Slumber Until Every Woman Wakes”: The Fifth Carnival of Radical Feminists

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Image from our sisters at Friends of the Lolas

The world breaks open. Underneath the layers, transcending the past, making the present.

I have seen it written. In the hour of our forced surrender. The world will diminish as the time draws near.

Aching with the lost and ancient tidings, her beginning has come. Rekindling our magic. Lusty, wild and untamed. Recalling to us a time when freedom was a word that had meaning.

Do we have her power? This one that calls to us. Cries out long forgotten secrets. Screams our true names. Falling silent as the moon wanes. She is the one that tells us of the future.

She comes in before the dawn, when our power awakens from the stealthy sleep of those who can ill afford dreams. When half of our world is drowning beneath the man-made weather, whether, weather. When half our world is starving. Sacred ground as dry as dust.

Speak to me of your power. Speak to me in riddles, in a woman’s tongue. This day is coming into being and I need no translation. I can feel you breathing, sisters. The calm static before this long-awaited storm.

Our storm.

We have been without our rain and thunder for far too long…

I smell the tumult of our revolution, rising from the east…

Come to me then, in fury and in rage and with warmth. I will not let the cold decay of this bleaching rancour. I will not let this mindless, bloody, relentless torment hold me any longer. I am breaching the walls of this prison. My love, my heart, myself within my sisters. My sisters in me.

Even death cannot strip us of our elemental power. We sisters do not fear the earth.

Listen to the seasons. Listen to the earth beneath your feet. Breathe with the beauty of her. Sing it out. Sing our tempest into being. And as the storm of us gathers on the horizon, know this. We will not slumber until every woman wakes.

Let the rains come in with the tide. Beat out a rhythm in women’s time. And let us soar.

Allecto, whose beautiful writings I’ve published here before on Women’s Space, wrote the poem above to and for me. It meant so much to me, inspired, comforted and encouraged me. Thank you, Allecto! I offer it to you as the perfect beginning for:

The Fifth Carnival of Radical Feminists!

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Women Deserve Better

Holly Ord has posted a rousing, passionate call to action entitled What We Deserve which may help us to begin to move beyond feelings of hopelessness or disgust, the consequences of our ongoing engagement with those vested in our subordination.

Women do deserve better, and what is better is within our reach. It’s to be expected that to the degree we threaten the “rule of the fathers,” to that degree threats, intimidation, and attempts to silence us will increase. It’s also to be expected that to the degree that we threaten the rule of the fathers, hope remains that we will in the end be able to save our own lives and all life on the planet.

Sexualized Violence as Silencing

In all of the sturm and drang over recent internet attacks on me, on Biting Beaver, on Laurelin, and on other radical feminist bloggers, Marcella Chester — way back on August 6 when the attacks were just beginning — wrote as intelligent and prophetic an analysis of the dynamics of ongoing attacks on radical feminist women online and in real life as I have seen so far. We aren’t “exclusive.” We do not “discriminate” against anyone. We are under attack and we have been under attack for a long, long time.

When people are being attacked from all sides … outsiders who declare “I come in peace, let me in” aren’t likely to be trusted or allowed in. This isn’t about discriminating against those outsiders, it’s about the natural consequences of non-stop attacks. When the attacks cease then inclusiveness will become a possibility. This is why those doing the attacking will try to repackage themselves as the group under assault — often while deriding others for playing the victim… The position that some people hold that they are only responsible for their own words online and therefore can blithely say and do nothing as those around them attack others, including on the blogs or forums they run, is a pro-attack position.

I guess the bottom line is this: Do you have a zero-tolerance policy against all forms of sexualized violence including the making of direct or backhanded threats of violence?

If you answer with something that begins with, “No, but …” then “No” is your final answer.

“Our Silence Is Our Dissent”

In a post entitled Dominator Tentacles posted at VeraCity, Vera notes that those involved in the recent attacks don’t target the sources of cultural and societal domination which affect and oppress all of us who are marginalized, oppressed or poor — big business, big government, Wal-Mart, the Pentagon. In fact, they are in league with these powers, with The Man; they do his bidding and dirty work, willingly and free of charge. In this, they are as conservative, or right-wing, or liberal, or left-wing — but above all as sexist — as the powers are.

As a result of the recent attack, there are fewer radical voices on the web. A few radical feminists have taken down their blogs; some will not be reopened. Others have made their Flickr photostreams private. At least one blog and one forum are now private; a muting of voices if not an outright silencing. Going private, having to hide: the parts of the radfem community that are still intact are no longer fully open, and no longer fully a part of the human conversation on the web. …

I don’t like it that radical voices, however unpopular, are being expelled from the human conversation by online thugs. I like it even less that it’s happening with hardly any notice, and without comment by more mainstream writers.

Vera’s statement above reminds me of something Andrea Dworkin wrote in an essay entitled “Against the Male Flood: Censorship, Pornography and Equality,” in Letters from a War Zone” (and this is especially for you, BB):

…writers are … people who by writing do something socially real and significant…writing is never peripheral or beside the point. It is serious and easily seditious. …Censorship is deeply misunderstood in the United States because the fairly spoiled, privileged, frivolous people who are the literate citizens of this country think that censorship is some foggy effort to suppress ideas…not something in itself– an act of police power with discernible consequences to hunted people…

Subordination can be so deep that those who are hurt by it are utterly silent. Subordination can create a silence quieter than death. …The Three Marias of Portugal went to jail for writing this: “Let no one tell me that silence gives consent, because whoever is silent dissents.”…The silence [of the women] is a silence over centuries: an exile into speechlessness. One is shut up by…abuse. One is shut up by the threat and the injury. …If what we want to say is not hurt me, we have the real social power only to use silence as eloquent dissent. Silence is what women have instead of speech. Silence is our dissent during rape … Silence is our moving, persuasive dissent during battery…Silence is a fine dissent during incest and for all the long years after.

Silence is not speech. We have silence, not speech. We fight rape, battery, incest, and prostitution with it.. But someday someone will notice: that people called women were buried in a long silence that meant dissent.

Women’s Art as Resistance

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The Blogger’s Dilemma, by Rosa Sparx at Insultadarity

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Postcards by Margaret of Margaret’s Wanderings

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Close up of part of a quilt The Quilter created for a quilt exhibition she participates in to raise money for domestic violence victims.

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Tears(top) and Bedouin(bottom) by Palestinian artist Salwa Arnous whose work, displayed in an art gallery in Texas, was recently condemned in the San Antonio Times as “anti-semitic.” She invites us to see for ourselves by watching the video below (allow a couple minutes for the video to load– it is well worth the wait).

Visions of Palestine by Salwa Arnous

Radical feminist poet and blogger Lynn Sweeting writes:

Shelter the young Saffron,
And save the garden,

Shelter the battered woman
And save the world.

For the young tree,
A circle of stones,

For the young woman,
A tribe of sisters

Read Womanish Words

Staceyann Chin

Staceyann Chin is the second to perform in the above video. She is one revolutionary woman; I have watched her perform the past two years on night stage at Michfest. This year she inspired all of us to new heights on opening night; she just gets better. It was an amazing thing to look across a sea of women’s raised fists as we all, across the boundaries of race, ethnicity, age, physical ability, heard our own stories, our own realities, in Chin’s words.

Iraqi Women

In Call for Action: Dua Khalil, Whedon, Nothing but Red, writing evolution discusses an upcoming anthology inspired by the recent stoning of Du’a Khalil and Joss Whedon’s blogging of his reaction to her death. (Whedon is the creator of the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” series.) The anthology seeks to promote awareness regarding women’s issues, and particularly violence against women. The stoning of Khalil has inspired regular readers of Whedonesque to create their own memorial and feminist blogs, one of which is entitled I am Dua Khalil.

The Crisis Facing Iraqi Women — Honor Killings, Suicides and Misogynist Passport Rules is the title of a post at Feminist Peace Network which says:

The Taipei Times reports on the mind-boggling number of honor killings and suicides in Kurdish Iraq. According to one of their sources, Aso Kamal, there have been 12,500 women murdered for reasons of honor or who have committed suicide in three Kurdish provinces since 1991. There were 350 such deaths so far this year.
The Women’s Union of Kurdistan in Sulaimaniyah has recorded 83 cases of women burning themselves in the first six months of last year and 95 in the first half of this year.

Feminist Peace Network blogs tirelessly about the effect of the war in Iraq on women. In recent posts she describes the huge rise in maternal and infant mortality deaths and in the large numbers of girls and women being driven into prostitution as a result of the war and the deaths of so many of the women’s husbands and sons. In this post she blogs about the stoning of 11-year-old Sarah Jaffar Nimat, a fifth grader, and reports that 40 women and girls have been stoned since the stoning of Du’a Khalil. In this post Feminist Peace Network describes an e-mail exchange with Yanar Mohammed about the disappearances of Iraqi women and laments:

Yanar closed her email with this line–”Thank you for still standing with us.” I wish I felt that we were doing that in some sort of adequate way. Every day our media is filled with reports of soldiers being killed, insurgents, terrorists doing this that or the other act of violence. Our politicians blather on about whether to continue the war while they keep on funding it and make pious assertions that the Iraqis have to take responsibility for fixing the mess we made and the truth is that we totally ignore the plight of these women who are experiencing what women always experience in the aftermath of war.

Afghan Women

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Afghan women in camp of displaced people, July 2007, posted at Frida’ Notebook

Frida of Frida’s Notebook is an attorney documenting civil rights abuses and trauma in Afghanistan. In Tell your story she describes her struggle to find ways to honor the women she interviews as they tell her their stories:

Where is the time to simply listen? To listen to the story as the teller wishes to tell it. To let it be, perhaps, for today, explaining that I would like to document this story as a human rights case but that in order to do that I will need to ask more detailed questions. To ask if I could return to do that another day, once the storyteller has had time to think about what he or she wants to get out of telling the story to me. Where is the time to do that?

Some people might tell me to concentrate on my work as a lawyer and human rights monitor and not to stray to far from what I know into the complex territory of psychological responses to trauma. But I can’t see that boundary very clearly. More accurately perhaps, I see the boundary but the reality of work doesn’t not respect it. Stories are not always about facts and events, they are often about feelings and responses to those events. The remedies people seek are not always about justice, they are also about the acknowledged need for reconciliation in order to build a peaceful tomorrow. In Afghanistan our human rights work is always going to cross into the territoriy of ‘transitional justice’ and all the questions that come with that.

Poverty and Other Obscenities of American Capitalism

Barbara Ehrenreich has a fantastic post up, Smashing Capitalism, about the effects of Bush’s and the Republicans’ economic policies on poor and working class people, casting the impending record-high numbers of home foreclosures and accompanying economic difficulties as poor people’s “plot” to smash capitalism:

First they stopped paying their mortgages, a move in which they were joined by many financially stretched middle class folks, though the poor definitely led the way. All right, these were trick mortgages, many of them designed to be unaffordable within two years of signing the contract. There were “NINJA” loans, for example, awarded to people with “no income, no job or assets.” Conservative columnist Niall Fergusen laments the low levels of “economic literacy” that allowed people to be exploited by sub-prime loans. Why didn’t these low-income folks get lawyers to go over the fine print? And don’t they have personal financial advisors anyway?

Then, in a diabolically clever move, the poor – a category which now roughly coincides with the working class – stopped shopping. Both Wal-Mart and Home Depot announced disappointing second quarter performances, plunging the market into another Arctic-style meltdown. H. Lee Scott, CEO of the low-wage Wal-Mart empire, admitted with admirable sensitivity, that “it’s no secret that many customers are running out of money at the end of the month. “

When, for example, the largest private employer in America, which is Wal-Mart, starts experiencing a shortage of customers, it needs to take a long, hard look in the mirror. About a century ago, Henry Ford realized that his company would only prosper if his own workers earned enough to buy Fords. Wal-Mart, on the other hand, never seemed to figure out that its cruelly low wages would eventually curtail its own growth, even at the company’s famously discounted prices.

The sad truth is that people earning Wal-Mart-level wages tend to favor the fashions available at the Salvation Army. Nor do they have much use for Wal-Mart’s other departments, such as Electronics, Lawn and Garden, and Pharmacy.

In this post, Lo at Braless Living LA mocks — in satisfying fashion! — rich, white anti-war activists who think they are “conscious” with a heart felt letter from a downtown Los Angeles war activist (to a soldier in Iraq):

Thank you for being willing to die, so that I may continue to drive my car. I live in downtown LA. I recycle. I have a Porsche, but I only drive it on the weekends (it was a gift from my parents). I usually drive my Prius. I don’t own conflict diamonds. I am a good person. I hate Bush. I hate him so very, very much. I have a picture of him on a dart board. When I invite my friends over to have a pretend drive-in movie theatre on our roof top (most recently we had a screening of Inconvenient Truth, it was so educational) we play a drinking game before the movie and throw darts at Bush. I hope that doesn’t offend you, but you’re dying for nothing. I don’t even like driving. Traffic is so bad out here. The 405 was murder this afternoon.

In Vacationing While Poor posted at AROOO, Kitty Glendower writes about what passes for “vacations” for poor people:

All the poor people that I have every known, including my own family when I was young, do not routinely take vacations. Vacations are expensive even on the cheap. Most of the time poor people take vacations when it correlates with another task that involves something to do with their poor circumstances. For example, if someone has an extra clunker (or can no longer afford to maintain that clunker) and a family member needs it to survive, the errand becomes the vacation for the one driving the car to that person. Bus, train and plane tickets are expensive even when planned in advanced; however, most impromptu type vacations are not typically efficiently planned. In addition, having efficient means is a privilege in itself, having some money to save after the necessities are covered and having available credit for emergencies, etc.

Manufacturing Crime

In How We Create Our Own Crimes, The Agonist talks about why the US economy needs, and hence creates, both “crimes” and “criminals.”

“Large numbers of US local economies are predicated on a prison industry that pays rural whites to incarcerate urban blacks. But the bottom line is, the US makes policy choices that set the crime and incarceration rates — and makes them higher than any other industrialized country in the world.”

Woman Centered Birthing and Women’s Reproductive Rights

La Doctorita at unconventional beauty writes about the newly-released statistics about the alarming rise in US maternal mortality because of unnecessary c-sections in death from childbirth: it’s not just for “little house on the prairie” anymore.

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Midwife: Sage Femme, Hebamme, Comadrona, Partera reviews Pushed: The Painful Truth About Childbirth and Modern Maternity Care, a book about women’s loss of agency and autonomy in hospital births, the large number of unnecessary c-sections performed which is causing rising maternal and infant mortality in the U.S. , and about the importance of women advocating for themselves and insisting that their birthing plans be respected. Some midwives accompany birthing moms during hospital births and act as doulas or advocates while doctors attend the births. Sage Femme disagrees with this practice, not only because of the double binds inherent in working both for patriarchal medical establishments and birthing mothers, but also because of the value she places on women advocating for themselves:

“a reader was surprised (negatively, is how I read it), that I just couldn’t do hospital births any longer as a doula. she says that this is [when] women need support the most. well, when you stand by and watch abuse happen, it feels like you are condoning it. again, it goes back to the idea that somehow a doula can protect a woman or prevent all this from happening. we cannot. they cannot. sometimes we can influence a woman’s choices and decisions – but even then we have to be careful not to create a bias, which is really, really hard. I think the more professional doulas weave themselves delicately through an almost impossible web of medicalized birth. for me, I was no good to anyone at a hospital birth if the things done stirred up feelings of disgust, victimization or even plain abuse and rape of women. believe me, it is much better that a doula move away when she feels like this.

…empowerment, like advocacy, MUST come from within. we cannot empower anyone. usually when women advocate for themselves and use their own voice, they are empowered. sometimes empowerment for women comes more from what we don’t do rather than what we do.”

Happy Birthday, EC! posted at Menstrual Poetry celebrates the one-year anniversary of the legalizing of over-the-counter emergency contraception in the U.S.

The patriarchists never tire of finding ways to limit women’s reproductive rights, however. Feminist Law Professors writes that a Proposed Ohio Law Would Require Man’s Permission For Abortion. In response, in Support Law To Create Consensual Sex Registry at abyss2hope: A rape survivor’s zigzag journey into the open, Marcella Chester writes a tongue-in-cheek counter proposal.

In Abortion is the New Satanism. Activist Mommy writes about reproductive choices and the women she has known and comforted in their seeking and having of abortions, even though she herself is anti-abortion.

Touchingly Naive writes about honoring mothers as an act of sisterhood and solidarity in a post entitled Blaming Mum:

When I honour mothering in other women, it is not just an act of sisterhood. It is about honouring myself as a mother; and it is about honouring my own mother. It is about celebrating what mothers do. When I recognise and confront the darker, painful aspects of motherhood, it is not just an act of confession or truth-speaking. It is about sisterhood with all mothers, including my own, about acknowledging what it is like, how hard it is, and the sheer bloody strength of mind and will and body that it takes to keep soldiering on. And when someone obliterates the mother, erases her importance or her experience, silences her voice – it is as though it is myself that is obliterated, erased and silenced.

Making Feminist Knowledge

Aletha at Free Soil Party Blog has a great post on Feminist Diplomacy:

I see feminist diplomacy bringing an end to all that, an end to any desire to dominate, from the world to another being, human or otherwise. That is the road to more disaster, the sudden end of ability of this planet to sustain human life, perhaps all life. Men have to listen to reason, talk truce, or stand aside as women negotiate peace plans for wars around the world, end the war on terror, put forth ideas to stop the vicious cycle of retaliation. Men have gotten it wrong, more or less distorted or reversed, on just about everything, what they think they know notwithstanding. Most of that is based not on reality, but male theory, structured hierarchically on every level, which in practice glorifies violence, making it seem normal, casual, the expected way to solve an escalated conflict. Violence is only justifiable in self-defense or to aid self-defense, to stop or capture a violent criminal. Aggressive violence is never the only way or best way to resolve a conflict.

In The Benefit of the Doubt, Nanette at Feministe explores what it really means for marginalized persons to extend the “benefit of the doubt:”

So, I went into the comments of the post and said something to the effect that, while I usually love all your pictures, I do not love this one. It’s racist. And his reaction was to change the picture immediately and then to comment on why he had used it, and what he was trying to accomplish, but that he definitely could make the same point with a different picture. Or something like that, this was a while ago. In making the decision to not just shake my head and move on, or to stay silent and probably seethe or to roll my eyes and think “oh well, par for the course” but deciding instead to bring this to his attention, come what may, and to believe (or at least hope) there would be no blowback from it… I was giving him the benefit of the doubt.

Teetering Slightly has an interesting post up entitled Lesbian Gatekeeping:

… one huge problem I have with current lesbian culture is that constant pressure to dichotomise, to decide whether you identify with “butch” or “femme” and to stick within the look and behaviours prescribed for that label.

Julie Bindel, in a post entitled My Trans Mission, begins an interesting post with the statement, “Sex-change surgery is the modern equivalent of aversion therapy for homosexuals.”

In the new radfem blog Sister Medusa’s Radical Lesbian Underground, Sister Medusa writes about the way words like “transphobe” are used to silence lesbian and radical feminists and the way this silencing prevents dialog and healing.

The recent controversy around Catherine Crouch’s film, The Gendercator, and the banning of Bitch from the Boston Dyke March are two prominent examples of a phenomenon that is taking place all over the country, and not just in August as a small group of people attempt to silence and take away the rights of Females to gather in private in the woods of Michigan. The word “transphobia” does not have any meaning to me because this far, no one who has thrown it out – to me, to Bitch, to MWMF, to Catherine, has been able to articulate what they mean by it, and why and how we, as Lesbians, have any power over transpeople.

Take a look at Witchy-Woo’s post about Radical Feminism and Body Image at Well I’ll Go To The Foot Of My Stairs….:

Radical feminists acknowledge that for women (and men) to be who they truly are patriarchial capitalism has to cease to exist because it is oppressive in the extreme. One of the minor bastions of patriarchal capitalism is ‘feminine’ beauty standards.

Then move on to read There Is Nothing Rebellious Or Countercultural About Being “Pro-Porn” posted at Feminist Law Professors. So true! One question I have never heard answered persuasively or convincingly is this: Just what is alternative, progressive, countercultural, rebellious, and above all non-mainstream, let alone feminist, about being pro-pornography? There are men who identify as allies to feminists whose activism consists almost solely of advocating for the pornography industry. This is feminism precisely how?

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Speaking of being pro-pornography, Packaging Girlhood has an interesting post up about the new Bratz movie (Bratz dolls, targeted for elementary-school-age girls, are pictured above, nod to Gingermiss):

No matter how they clean up the movie girlz to mimic every other perky wanna be a teen girl flick, it’s important for parents to see the sexualization that defines the overall Bratz package.

Gingermiss has a post up about the movie as well entitled Why Bratz Dolls Are Evil Incarnate and the questions she asks are right on:

Why can’t girls be assertive rather than ‘bratty’? Why can’t they have dolls that reflect something of what their lives are actually like? And, if they actually live lives like those of Bratz dolls, why would we encourage anyone to celebrate or idolize that mentality?

In Memorium

Grace Paley and Shekhinah Mountainwater passed on in the past month. Turtleheart Cove offers a loving tribute in Farewell, Shekhinah Mountainwater, and Robin Morgan remembers Grace Paley here.

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Ariadne by Monica Sjoo

I suspect Krishanna’s remembering shekhinah might strike a chord for many who read here, even those who never knew of Shekhinah Mountainwater.

I don’t often discuss or talk about my spiritual leanings on my blogs because for the most part, I think people make too much of it. I don’t care much for people who shove their spiritual or religious bent in my face and so I don’t do it to others. Even in passing. I am past the years where I need to wear my beliefs on my sleeve and past the time in my life where I feel the need to explain, justify or even label what my spirituality is. When I think of God or a Higher Power, I think of something feminine, distinctly womanly. Sometimes it is nature, sometimes it is life, sometimes it is a specific goddess, almost always referred to as the “Goddess”. It is, for me, what it is. And it is not static. It is fluid and evolves as I evolve. However, many years ago, when I was searching for a power greater than myself, I was not so sure. It was then when I found the Goddess. … At this time in my life, I explored women’s spirituality. I identified for years as a witch. I cast spells, maintained several altars in my home and studied all manner of pagan religion, trying each on, I suppose, to see how they fit. It was during this time that I discovered a new book called Ariadne’s Thread written by Shekhinah Mountainwater….I learned about the phases of a woman’s life and it was here that I first read about cronehood. Ariadne’s Thread helped to change my world and shape my spirituality.

Various and Sundry

Elaine Vigneault and Angry for a Reason have definitive posts up about dealing with web harrassment. Here, too.

Treehugger Week in Review posted at The Worsted Witch is great!

I want to end this carnival in an inspiring and uplifting way. I believe we are living in a time of rapid change, standing in the center of a paradigm shift. It is a time of shaking and realignment, and we are feeling the strength and power in the changes.

I leave you with these images which remind us that as women, we are in the process of Re-Membering our Archaic Future, even though we may be aware of this only occasionally and dimly.

In Love and Sisterhood,

Heart

———-

That concludes this edition. Submit your blog article to the next edition of carnival of radical feminists using our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

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Because I Am a Girl

becauseiamagirl.jpgWhy Do Girls Face Discrimination?

Girls face the double challenge of being female and being young, which can result in them having little opportunity to make decisions about their lives. Discrimination against girls is grounded in a series of traditions and norms, based on the assumption that biological differences between females and males justify that girls are denied access to rights, opportunity and voice. It is both systematic and widely tolerated. Emerging research commissioned by Plan in West Africa shows that, its manifestations, such as gender based violence, are deeply rooted in the inequalities between  women and men, and girls and boys.

The Early Years

Discrimination against girls begins at birth, or earlier, through attitudes and patterns in behaviour passed down through generations. As this report demonstrates, the lower social status of a girl can have serious consequences for her health and well-being as she grows up and has children herself. By age five, most girls and boys have already internalised the gender role expectations communicated to them by their families, schools, the media and society as a whole. The next generation is then likely to repeat the same cycle. Despite progress in securing a number national and international legal standards designed to protect and promote the rights of girls, cultural and social beliefs about gender and the value of girls and boys have been much more difficult to overcome.

In many countries, particularly in South Asia and China, the birth of a boy is something to be celebrated and the birth of a girl a cause for commiseration, particularly where a marriage dowry requires the parents of daughters to make a financial offering. Much of this is to do with the fact that in some cultures, a boy will grow up and look after his parents, while a girl will be married into another family, and is therefore seen as a financial burden to her own parents.

The family is where children first learn about their potential. It is here that millions of girls are socialised to believe that they have a lower social status than boys. Women are themselves the keepers of much of the knowledge passed on to girls and boys in their early years. In order to ensure that girls can access their rights and have the same opportunities as boys, changes of attitude within the family are necessary.

Girls face discrimination in five crucial areas:

• Invisibility. This includes female foeticide, lack of birth registration, and public environments which discourage their visibility and participation.
• Capacity. This affects the ability of girls to benefit from all of their rights. Girls’ capacity can be impaired by educational curricula, which reinforce negative gender stereotyping, and by preferential access to nutrition for boys within the family.
• Physical and mental discrimination. This includes gender based violence and trafficking, temporary marriages, and judgemental attitudes to the sexual activity of girls limiting their access to preventative measures and health services.
• Family and household responsibilities. This includes discrimination caused by lower minimum ages of marriage for girls, and the sexual and economic exploitation of girls in work, in particular child domestic workers.
• Local and national customs and traditions. This includes embedded religious, judicial and secular traditions, which allow for inequality in inheritance and the creation of status offences discriminating against girls in the legal system.

Achieving gender equality and a better deal for girls requires a challenge to deep rooted attitudes across societies, and a new momentum for investing in girls’ education. An ambitious programme in Haryana in India aims to increase the value placed on girls by their families and prevent early marriage. A small sum of money is put into a savings account by local government for each girl at birth. If she is still unmarried at the age of 18, she can collect the amount plus the years of interest.

The Challenges of Adolescence

The social status that a girl occupies has consequences in all areas of a girl’s life, and in particular during her transition from girlhood into womanhood. This is a time of making the choices which will shape the remainder of her life. Education can make a huge difference to the lives of girls, particularly if they have access to quality, free, girl-friendly educational facilities. A host of academic studies, national and international initiatives and projects on the ground have proved the case for girl’s education.

Recent studies show a striking correlation between under-five mortality rates and the educational level attained by a child’s mother.

Progress in this area has been notable – recent progress in enrolments at primary school level has benefited girls in particular.

The reality for millions of girls in some of the world’s poorest countries is that they have to spend much more time on domestic, non-economic work than boys, and have less time for education and recreation. The rites of passage that determine the transition from girlhood to womanhood can themselves be challenging for girls. Female genital cutting and other initiation rites are customs which violates the rights of girls. Marriage while still in her teens, or younger, and early pregnancy usually has a detrimental impact on a girl’s right to education and to fulfilling her potential.

“To stop this inhuman attitude towards girls, there should be stringent laws against the practice of child marriages, and both the governments and the civil societies should initiate awareness raising campaigns at every community on gender equity and the evil consequences of child marriages.” B. Savitha, aged 14, India

The family is the place where girls and boys should feel safe, and where they learn how to grow into mature and responsible adults, where they form their first relationships and hopefully follow the positive role models shown by their parents. But it is also the place where millions of children, especially girls, face violence and abuse. Much of this violence is gender-based and perpetrated mainly by men against girls and women.

As a girl moves into adulthood, her education or lack of it, will have a significant impact on several areas of her life. There is clear evidence that knowledge, information and self esteem help girls to protect themselves from HIV infection, exploitation and hazardous child labour. Her children are more likely to be healthy and to go to school themselves if a young woman is educated. For example, children with unschooled mothers are 4.8 times more likely to be out of primary school in Venezuela, 4.4 times more likely in Suriname, and 3.4 times more likely in Guyana. An educated young woman also has a better chance of earning an income, which has a positive effect on her family and on the economy. Studies have shown that as a country’s primary enrolment rate for girls increases, so too does its gross domestic product per capita.

Survival

• Girls are discriminated against in the womb,  before birth, as the growing practice of female foeticide and sex selective abortion in some parts of the world demonstrates. An estimated 100 million women are ‘missing’ as a result.

• 10.5 million children die before the age of five every year. There is evidence that more girls than boys die in the developing world.

• An estimated 450 million adult women in developing countries are stunted as a result of childhood protein energy malnutrition.

• Girls are less well-nourished than boys. Girls have more chance of getting diarrhoea than boys.

Family Life

• Mothers pass on knowledge steeped in their own experiences as girls and women.

• As there is little in the way of enforced protective legislation in many developing countries, millions of girls are subjected to early marriage with its inherent risks to their education, physical health and economic prospects. 60% of girls aged 15-19 in sub Saharan Africa are married.

• It is estimated that about 140 million girls and women worldwide have undergone female genital cutting, with an additional two million girls undergoing the procedure every year.

Education

 • It is impossible to overstate the links between
health and education, especially women’s education – data shows a striking correlation between under-five mortality rates and the educational level attained by a child’s mother.

• 62 million girls of primary age are out of school. This is more than all the girls in North America and Europe.

• Girls will not remain in school if they are subjected to abuse and violence, and lack adequate sanitation facilities.

• Despite gains for girls in school achievement in the North, women are paid less than men for comparative jobs and are more likely to be in low-paid employment.

Health

• Pregnancy related illnesses are a leading cause of death for young women ages 15 to 19 worldwide. Half a million women die of pregnancy related deaths every year.

Work

• There is clear evidence that girls and boys form clear opinions about work which is deemed suitable for each gender from an early age.

• 90 per cent of child domestic workers are girls between 12 and 17 years old, and are at risk of both sexual and economic exploitation, violence and abuse.

Girls in Exceptionally Difficult Circumstances

• Gender discrimination – in the form of reduced access to education, healthcare, food and information, limited participation in communities and society, and defined roles in the household – means that girls are particularly vulnerable to a series of risks to their development and well-being, and less likely to attain their rights. At times of  uncertainty and insecurity, these risks increase.

• 20-50% of girls have experienced violence from a family member.

• Girls from indigenous or minority groups and girls with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to violence and abuse.

Full and Executive Reports

Sponsor a Girl

From me, Heart:

  • This is why we still need a dedicated, committed, purposeful, female-centered feminism which commands all of our time, energy, money and attention, as much as we can spare.
  • This is why we need spaces which are female only.  As females, girls, women, we have grown up, from the time of our births — however much we have differed from one another, whatever specific experiences we may have been personally spared — either directly experiencing some or all of the above and/or knowing that it is our kind which has been born to, appointed to, experiencing all of the above.  The above are the experiences to which females are born in the world.  Males are born to a different set of experiences and a different lived reality, again, however individually different males’ lives might be.
  • This is why it is not possible for anyone to “change sex.”   Changing one’s body or one’s gender presentation does not change any of the above lived experience of femaleness, whether the “sex change” is from male to female or from female to male.  The lived experiences and reality remain.  The awareness of which group one was born to, and everything which accompanies that awareness, and that reality, remain as well, and with them certain  habits, responses, and  patterns of relating to boys, to men, to power.

–Heart, enraged over the status of girls in this world and fully committed to devoting the rest of my life to girls and women, female people, my own kind

High Praise for Off Our Backs

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From the online magazine Third Estate Sunday Review:

[Discussing progressive and feminist news outlets] …we thought we’d note a few of the standouts in the past month. One article or your every-two-year editorial doesn’t cut it as a standout, just FYI.

Let’s start with Off Our Backs. Check out the cover illustration. “Military Power: Is It Power for Women?” Not afraid to ask the hard questions, not afraid to move beyond the Britney-Justin-Paris gossip loop that so many pass off as feminism. Not afraid to step up and address the issue of war. When C.I. started noting this issue (repeatedly and we’ve also noted this edition — vol. 36/ no 2 — twice here) there wasn’t anything available online from it. Now you can read the following online:

Women in the Military: Who’s Got Your Back?” by Jane Hoppen
The Rape of the ‘Hadji Girl’” by Cheryl Lindsey Seelhoff
Serving in the Rape Zone” by Allison Tobey

In addition to those three articles being made available online, the print edition also features:

Women in the Military: Is Armed Service Compatible with Feminism?” by Taryn McCall Runck

“A Rape in Iraq: Rape, Brothel Rape and Prsostitution in Wartime” by Suki Falconberg

“U.S. Soldier Pimps Women Under His Command” by Cheryl Seelhoff

That’s six features in a single issue. In The Nation‘s dreams, it wishes it could be this hard hitting. (Though, of course, since The Nation only believes in printing 1 woman for every 4 men, all features would have to be written by men to appear in The Nation — see “The Nation Stats” from last week’s edition.) This is the issue of Off Our Backs that did what The Nation couldn’t, mention Abeer by name, tell her story. Around the time Katha Pollitt’s big concern was that CODEPINK was being ‘mean’ to War Hawk Hillary Clinton, Off Our Backs was addressing the very real issue of the gang rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl by US soldiers (3 have confessed in court). But in The Nation? Even the ‘feminist’ Katha was too busy gas bagging about Hillary or sharing the ‘importance’ of political candidate Ned Lamont. Apparently War Crimes weren’t important and gang rape and murder aren’t topics that token ‘feminists’ tackle? (Alexander Cockburn would mention Abeer in April 2007 — the first time her name would ever appear in The Nation. Or any details of what was done to her and her family.)

Off Our Backs did an amazingly hard  hitting look at war, the military and the costs.  It can be done, they proved it while others stayed silent.

Link

Off Our Backs was also the 2006 recipient of the Michigan Media Award for Excellence in the Coverage of Women and Gender, from the University of Michigan Institute for Research on Women and Gender.

Established by the Institute for Research on Women and Gender in 1999, the Michigan Media Awards recognize outstanding examples of media coverage of neglected, underrepresented issues of concern to women; that appreciate and emphasize the gender aspects of a particular issue or event; that challenge gender-based stereotypes, including stereotypes about feminism and feminist politics; that bring a fresh, feminist perspective to familiar stories; or that offer excellent coverage of academic research on gender.

Go us!  We are a group of radical feminist women with regular, full-time jobs, sometimes not only one, but two or three of them, and we are not paid for the work that we do.  Only office staff is paid.

I am so proud!

Heart

War on Women in Nicaragua: Left and Right Unite in Total Ban on Abortion (UPDATED)

Protest at Embassies in Nicaragua

[Note:  This is a blog post from last November which I’m bumping because Profacero posted an update in the comments last night.  — Heart]

In a move of catastrophic proportions for the women and girls of Nicaragua, and  ignoring hundreds of women protesting the passage of the measure outside of the National Assembly last week — many calling the decision a “death sentence” for pregnant women and a “violation of human rights” —  the Nicaraguan parliament has unanimously moved to implement a total ban on therapeutic abortion. 

The measure was approved a week before the national elections.   Of the five candidates, three are conservatives — conservatives having won in elections over the last 16 years — and two are liberals.  One of those liberals, Edmundo Jarquin, of the Sandinista Renovation Movement, was opposed to the total ban on abortions.  He had the support of the Feminist Movement of Nicaragua.

But the other — none other than Daniel Ortega, former president of Nicaragua, one time revolutionary Sandinista, and, come to find out, a child molester, having systematically sexually assaulted his daughter from the time she was 11 years old — supported the total ban.  Why?  He got religion, yessiree, became a devout Roman Catholic.  So hey.  Forget about the sexual abuse charges.  He denied them, after all, and then refused to give up parliamentary immunity to allow the charges to be tested in court, and so they were thrown out.  Forget also about the way Ortega presided over the “disappearances”  and imprisonments of political opponents in years past.  Ortega’s a new man.  God forgives him and so should you.  These days he’s all about peace, love, and all babies all the time for all pregnant girls and women of Nicaragua.  In fact,  Ortega’s former (Contra) enemies, who once fought a bitter civil war against him and the Sandanistas, as well as members of the Catholic Church — which he once accused of collaborating with the CIA —  stand united as brothers in their belief that Ortega is a new man now.  Especially since he has supported the total ban.

When Ortega’s daughter outed Ortega for his sexual abuse, one-time Sandinista leader and feminist Sofia Montenegro — one of the many woman Sandinista members who left to work on women’s sexual abuse and domestic violence issues — said Ortega’s daughter would do to him what Somoza,  Reagan and the Contras never could.   But that didn’t happen.   What’s a little sexual molestation charge among bro’s?  Ortega continued to appeal to the poor and downtrodden of Nicaragua, all the while his jewel-bedecked wife called their daughter a “slut” and took Ortega’s side.   Corruption amongst conservatives in power allowed Ortega to deflect attention from his own corruption by working the crowds, appealing to them,  calling government leaders  criminals and “Somozista.”  Now, without explaining how, he says he will provide jobs, improve human rights and turn Nicaragua into the most developed country in the region.

Political analysts say that the total abortion ban comes on the heels of intense political controversy over a 2003 therapeutic abortion provided to a nine-year-old Nicaraguan girl who had been raped in Costa Rica, either by a stranger or her stepfather (who would not submit to tests to rule him out).  When the family returned to Nicaragua, doctors agreed that the girls’ health would be as jeopardized by a full-term pregnancy as by an abortion.  She ultimately obtained the abortion at a private clinic, despite the Nicaraguan “Family Ministry’s'” threat to prosecute doctors who provided  it.

Autonomous Women’s Movements of Nicaragua issued this plea last week, before the vote (and sadly, I did not learn of it until after the vote):

As part of the electoral campaign, the Frente Sandinista under the leadership of ex-revolutionary Daniel Ortega and his Somocist vice presidential candidate, along with other right wing parties (PLC, ALN) have formed an alliance with the Vatican and its catholic hierarchy and some evangelical churches to rush through a law (in 10 days!!!) to outlaw any form of abortion.

This violates established legal process and the secular constitution of the republic as well as basic human rights. It will roll back rights established in a law allowing for therapeutic abortion that has existed since 1891. The only party openly in favor of guaranteeing women’s rights and the therapeutic abortion law is the MRS (Movement for Sandinista Renewal) who has signed an alliance with the Autonomous Women’s Movement.  If the new law passes (probable, due to the correlation of forces in the present National Assembly) it means a death sentence for poor women with pregnancies that threaten their lives and torture for raped women, or any woman who can’t or doesn’t want to go ahead with an unwanted/unplanned pregnancy for her health or because of problems with the fetus.

It will also be an excuse for political persecution against the women’s movement and the medical profession if one of these parties wins the election. Women and doctors involved in abortion could face up to 30 years in prison and it will be illegal to promote the right to an abortion, as it will be  encouraging a “crime”.

This is a flagrant violation of women’s right to life, to health, to make decision over our own lives. It is also form of institutionalized torture and paves the way for dictatorial measures that violate of our rights as Nicaraguan citizens to free speech and free association, men and women alike.  We are facing a new inquisition. Behind this is also the repression of sexual rights which is also on the agenda of religious fundamentalist and their machista and corrupt allies in the political arena.

Autonomous Women’s Movements
Movimiento Autónomo de Mujeres (MAM)

The Feminist Movement of Nicaragua issued this plea entitled Stop Sandinasta Betrayal!

Campaign to stop Sandinistas and Chuch Right wingers voting to pass a law to allow therapeutic abortion

In Nicaragua, Catholic Church hierarchy, together with the FSLN and other
right wing parties are voting on a law to penalize therapeutic abortion. The
present law allowing for therapeutic abortion (since 1891) cite as justified
causes: a pregnant woman’s life, serious damage to the fetus or embryo and
pregnancies due to rape. The President of the republic Enrique Bolaños has
sent a document to the National Assembly asking members to vote on the bill
without it going through normal procedures in the Justice Commission, but
discussing it only in the plenary session. This means the proposal could be
approved in only 48 hours.

If therapeutic abortion is made a crime this means that a large number of
women and girls who have been raped or are victims of sexual abuse in the
family will be forced to carry their pregnancies further and give birth, it
will condemn to die women who have life-threatening pregnancies, or force us
to give birth to children with serious birth defects without necessarily
having the adequate conditions (emotional, economic, or family environment)
to attend to their need as they should be.

WE ARE ASKING FOR YOUR URGENT ACTION IN ORDER TO STOP THIS VIOLATION OF WOMEN AND GIRLS BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS, ESPECIALLY THE RIGHT TO LIFE.

Michèle Najlis
Director Department of Theology
Ecumenical Centre Antonio Valdivieso
Member of the Feminist Movement of Nicaragua

Here are actions these feminist groups asked that supporters take on behalf of the women of Nicaragua.  Since the vote has already been taken, we’re too late.  But Autonomous Women’s Movements intends to seek an injunction against the ban.  If we get our names on their mailing lists by writing to them, hopefully we will continue to learn how to offer our support.

In sum, a leftist accused of incest and sexual assault joins forces with conservatives and those backed by the Roman Catholic church in supporting a ban on abortion in the hopes he’ll become president.  As always, women’s and girls’ lives and bodies are the necessary sacrifice.

Heart

_____________

 

Liza Sabater covered the abortion ban here, Jennifer Woodard Maderazo covers it here, and Costa Rican blogger Julia Ardón reprinted a public letter signed by the Nicaraguan Association of Writers (ANIDE) [ES] here.

Here is a good article about Ortega by Sophie Arie; here is an interview with Sofia Montenegro, and here is a good article about Ortega from Common Dreams.

Germaine Greer on “Menopause the Musical”: New Heights in Bad Taste, and the Way Male Heterosupremacy Lies About Menopause

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Menopause the Musical (a registered trademark) puts a hand on our chests and shoves us firmly back into the biology-equals-destiny dead-end. One of the false claims made by the promoters of the show is that menopause is universal and unites all women, which is simply not true. Menopause is not only complicated by the ageing process, which is entirely individual; it can coincide with life crises that are stressful and even devastating. There is nothing in the musical about dealing with the terminal illnesses of parents, for example. Not too many laughs there. A significant proportion of women will go through menopause with no symptoms whatsoever, but the show presents menopausal uproar as unavoidable, just as it presents a lust for chocolate as universal. Another piece of misinformation peddled by the show is that women do not discuss the symptoms of menopause and think they are alone, which would be a possibility only for women who never read the women’s press.

I’m all for wearing a lapel badge that says “Beware mood swings”, but that’s about it. Menopause the Musical is a version of Springtime for Hitler, the show that shouldn’t have been a hit. I’m thinking of a moneyspinner called Prostate Pandemonium, starring Michael Parkinson and Peter Stringfellow. Wouldn’t it be empowering to see ageing men living their urinary chaos out loud, being upfront and honest about their humiliations, dressing in purple, high-kicking and wetting themselves?

Read the entire Germaine Greer article here.   While I’m thinking about it, Germaine Greer’s book on menopause which you can order by clicking here, entitled The Change:  Women, Ageing and the Menopause is GREAT.  It is by far the best book I’ve ever read on this time of a woman’s life.  I had essentially zero symptoms of the so-called “change,” which is now nicely and tidily behind me.  I have never felt better physically than I feel right now.  I have more energy than I have ever had, and I’ve always been very much a high-energy person.  I had no recognizable “hot flashes.”  I had no “sleep disturbances” which weren’t attributable to something besides this theoretical “change.”  I did not have “mood swings” or become “depressed.”  I had no problems with incontinence, of course.  Incontinence is not something any woman should ever suffer, or expect to suffer;  it is almost always caused by doctors who cut women in medicalized childbirth, who remove women’s (often healthy) uteruses just because, who “induce” labor prematurely, or who mismanage women’s labors and births.  I have had 11 children, one at a time, and have absolutely zero problems of this kind, despite all the ageist, misogynist spin about “menopausal” women.  My cycles were different from time to time as I neared menopause, but a cycle is a cycle is a cycle; this did not cause any grievous disruptions to my life.  Basically, if I didn’t know there was such thing as a “change” (mostly because it has been lied about and hyped to the seventh level of heaven by male propaganda), I wouldn’t have noticed anything except that my cycles stopped.  Then I would have said, “Oh, my cycles stopped.”  And moved on with my life!

The biggest and most important — and best kept secret, it seems to me — is that post-menopausal life is GREAT!  It’s the BEST!  In so, so, so many ways, it’s a revelation, a time of new beginnings, deepening strength, greater vision,  a new and greater capacity to connect and make sense of things, much greater self-awareness, and, for women, importantly, a greater determination to act out of one’s own beliefs and views, as well as out of one’s own self-interest, without feelings of wanting to please people or put them at ease, make them comfortable at one’s own expense.   There is also a deepening of compassion and empathy, or there has been for me, without any accompanying difficult-to-handle emotional anguish or upsets of the kind which drained my energy and confused me when I  was younger.  Why don’t we hear about these very positive aspects of this dreaded “change”?   They are not unusual.  I have never taken a single dose of “hormones” or “hormone replacement therapy” and I never will.   Neither did or will my mother, and she’s doing great.  Same with my grandmothers. 

Male heterosupremacy LIES about menopause like it lies about few other phenomenon– and that’s saying something, given how much male heterosupremacy lies about almost everything!  I love it that feminist women are rising up and naming the lies for what they are.   No woman should grow up as we did, fearing this dreaded “change” that amounts to nothing at all — so long as a woman stays the hell away from doctors as much as she can.

Heart

HPV Vaccine, HRT-Cancer Connection: “The Deadly Profits of Misogynist Medicine”

The latest issue of Ms. Magazine has an unfortunate article (which unfortunately is not online) about the HPV vaccine. The gist of it is that the vaccine is good for women and anyone who opposes it (and they only acknowledge opposition that is based on fears that it will promote promiscuity) is anti-woman. Nowhere is there any mention that there are concerns about both the effectiveness and safety of the vaccine that have not yet been fully addressed or that Merck, the company that manufactures the vaccine, has provided very significant funding to many of the legislators that are pushing the vaccine.But that actually isn’t what this post is about. This last week there was more confirmation that hormone replacement therapy is probably responsible for a significant percentage of breast, endometrial and ovarian cancer deaths during several decades. According to the Washington Post , “An awful lot of breast cancer was caused by doctors’ prescriptions,” said Larry Norton of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. “That’s a very serious and sobering thought.”

I love Lucinda Marshall, founder of the Feminist Peace Network, who wrote this article.  Read the whole thing.  I have been a voice crying in the wilderness for DECADES now that in all likelihood, it is PRESCRIPTION HORMONES which are responsible for the huge rises in breast, ovarian, and uterine cancers in the United States and the UK.  Women who have spent their lifetimes studying these connections have been saying precisely the same thing.  Of course, we have to have a MALE DOCTOR admit to it before anybody takes it seriously, after who knows how many women have died. 

Thanks so much, Lucinda, for all you do.  I didn’t realize you were blogging and am adding you to the blogroll yesterday!

Along the same lines, from the Global Sisterhood Network, which I also love and can’t say enough good things about:

US: Sharp fall in breast cancer in 2003 linked to post-menopausal women’s decreased use of HRT

UK: Women taking HRT have increased risk of lethal cancers, stroke & thrombosis

 Heart

Seung-hui Cho’s Sister Heads Iraq Reconstruction Agency in State Dept., Works for McNeil Technologies; Father Worked in Saudi Arabia; Aunt Says Cho Was Diagnosed Autistic, Many Questions, Few Answers

According to the English version of the Korean newspaper Chosun

The older sister of Virginia Tech shooter Cho Seung-hui works for McNeil Technologies, a contractor for the State Department in a reconstruction project in Iraq. Three years her brother’s senior, Cho Sun-kyung graduated from Centerville High School and went to Princeton University in 2000. After completing the undergraduate course with a major in economics in 2004, she returned home to work in Virginia and lives with her parents.

Headquartered in Springfield, Virginia, McNeil Technologies provides information management and analysis, language services and program assistance to customers, mainly U.S. government agencies like the departments of defense and energy.

Cho’s parents are Cho Sung-tae, 61, and Cho Hyang-ai, 51.  According to an article in the Guardian:

Cho’s mother was forced into an arranged marriage with his father, Sung-tae, who was 10 years older and from a very different background. She was from a well-educated family of North Korean landowners who had been forced to flee without possessions during the Korean war; he was from a poor family in the south but had made enough money to marry by working in Saudi Arabia for 10 years ion construction sites and oil fields.

As Hyan-im was 29– a late age for a woman to find a husband in South Korea– her father told her she had to accept the proposal.

Kim Yang Sun

According to an article about Cho’s parents in the Mirror UK in which reporters spoke with Kim Yang Sun, 85, (above) an aunt of Cho:

After they were married he went away twice to Saudi Arabia in the 80s to try to make some money in the construction boom. He came back with about £2,000, which was enough to buy a small house in Seoul. He also ran a second-hand bookstore. His mother was living in the States on a long term visit to stay with his sister. She asked him to bring his family to live there.

According to Yang Sun, Cho was diagnosed as autistic shortly after he arrived in the United States with his parents.  She said that Cho’s parents did not seek special treatment for him because they were poor, could not afford it, and had to work to survive.

From the McNeil Technologies website, following are some of the “services” the contractor provides:

  • Intelligence Architecture Operations in support of the US Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC).
  • Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) which supports the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and other government agencies, and
  • HUMINT (Human Intel) operations in support of DIA, or with federal counter Intel outsourcing effort.
  • Our Linguist operations, with linguists deployed in various theaters of operations,
  • Translation operations which include document and website translation,
  • Testing, Training and Research of language and cultural awareness.

The Security Center at McNeil Technologies provides “full spectrum security services:”

  • …Physical Security which includes Access control, escorts, and Guard services, Electronic systems monitoring, as well as classified mailroom and package inspection.
  • Personnel and Logistics Support is provided by MILPO operations
  • Program Security consists of arms control and nonproliferation support, treaty vulnerability assessments, and support of Balanced Survivability Assessments

Maybe there is little relevance or significance in these connections, this assortment of facts.  If you read this article about Sun Cho, Cho’s sister, she sounds progressive.  She spent time working with migrant workers in Burma as a grad student and says the experience deeply affected her and resulted in her changing her thesis.   We all  have to work, and when we are at war,  as in the war we’ve made on Iraq, there are plenty of jobs available for college-educated, multilingual persons with companies which contract with the Department of Defense.  It sounds sort of positive to work for a company which is helping to oversee “Reconstruction” efforts in Iraq.   Perhaps Sun Cho’s work has no more significance than that she needed a job and this was the job she found.

As to the father’s work in Saudi Arabia, it’s entirely possible that he was just one of the many Asian people who were poor and took their poportunity to earn much-needed cash by shipping out to work construction in Saudi Arabia.   From what I’ve read, Asian workers in Saudi Arabia are, in general, treated poorly, and his work may have had no significance other than, he needed cash to support his family.

Maybe it’s true that Cho was diagnosed autistic.  This would have been decades ago, in the dark ages so far as the way autism was diagnosed, and especially, treated.  There is no reason to believe Cho’s aunt would lie about this; there is also no reason, in particular, to believe that the diagnosis of autism was correct.  This was a quiet young immigrant boy who didn’t speak English or spoke English poorly and who was being diagnosed by white American doctors.

So.  Maybe there is no significance in any of this information.  Or maybe there is.  At the very least, it is really interesting and thought-provoking.   These are the questions and thoughts which come to my mind:

  • What the heck is “Open Source Intelligence”? (!) Something like Wikipedia intelligence?  A gathering of helpful hints and factoids about easy-to-implement espionage, psy-ops, black-ops, photo-ops, surveillance you can use at home?
  • How creepy is the creep factor of the acroynym “HUMINT” for “human intelligence?”  This is spies, right?  I mean, “HUM” intelligence as opposed to what kind?  Nonhuman?
  • What might the term “Intelligence Architecture Operations” mean?  Is that something like engineering, designing, building a surveillance/intelligence infrastructure?  Sounds  like it to me.
  • These acronyms and strange terms are redolent of language used by the Unification Church (“Moonies”), a shadowy, extremely conservative religious organization with a lot of money and many powerful connections worldwide, whose founder and leader, Sun Myung Moon, is South Korean.
  • It sounds like Cho’s father was in Iraq during the Desert Storm era.  Is there any end to the way the U.S. moves the world’s citizens around in order to support its ongoing commitment to, and activities around, accessing, make war over, mining for, making friends with the owners of, and depleting the world of, oil?
  • Who might Cho’s father have met in Saudi Arabia?
  • The implications of Cho having been diagnosed as autistic, if he really was, and yet gaining admission to Virginia Tech and presumably performing adequately are staggering. 

There is more about some of these and other possibly interesting connections here.  The comments thread has interesting discussion of the issue Akkari, I think, raised as to how Cho might have developed the gun-handling expertise he demonstrated in the shootings.  As one commenter said, “You don’t get that playing video games.”

Thinking about all of this can become sort of a postmodern hell experience.  Is this a story about marginalized people, trying to survive, struggling, and one of them losing it in a spectacular way?  Is there a story underneath about the way these very human struggles might have been exploited by Americans with money and power in ways which aren’t readily apparent?  Or was the shooter, like so many other, similar shooters in American  history (supposedly), just a disturbed loner, playing copycat in a way which was deadly and horrifying, but which seems eerily familiar,  because by now, it is a familiar story to Americans, especially, and so there is the temptation to create connections out of whatever clues we can find, just to make sense of what in fact is senseless? 

Does the press sensationalize and hype everything because that’s what Americans want?  Because the press is racist and xenophobic or Americans are racist and xenophobic?  Or underneath the hyping and sensationalism is something else at work, an interest in diverting attention from other important issues, like the Gonzalez fiasco, or our obvious failure, as Harry Reid called it, in Iraq?  If so, what would the mechanics of that diversion actually be?   A straight up orchestrating of a calamity?   Or “just” exploiting a calamity for partisan purposes? 

Or might it just be that Americans are more interested in following calamities like this  one than the usual calamities, like thousands of people dead in Iraq and hundreds more every day, like the unprecedented dismissals of highly respected Attorneys General, with the knowledge of Karl Rove, at least, and possibly George Bush himself?  Or “smaller” calamities, mostly of interest, sadly and discouragingly, to women — like the exoneration of the Duke stripperhounds, like the outlawing of “partial birth abortion” so called, like the unfinished business and partisan and diplomatically sensitive politicking around Japan’s treatment of the “Comfort Women,” many of whom, and among the most visible of whom, interestingly, are South Korean

Just questions is all I have right now, no answers.

Link to Evelina Galang’s blog post which lists an e-mail address for Asian-American activists hoping to connect and help Asian-American students at Virginia Tech.

Heart

Cho Sueng-Hui and the Virginia Tech Massacre: These are the Sons America Has Raised

Cho Seung-Hui
This is the young man who shot 32 people dead, then shot himself, and injured many more.  His name was Cho Seung-Hui.   He was born in South Korea and immigrated to the United States with his mom, dad and sister in 1992, when he was eight years old.  The family had a sponsor in the U.S., probably a relative, when they immigrated.  He was a permanent legal resident of the U.S.  His home was in Centreville, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C., and his folks supported the family by running a dry cleaning business.  Neighbors say they were nice people, hardworking.  He had a sister who attended Princeton.  He was quiet, liked to play basketball. 

He was an English major whose writings and work were sometimes disturbing, troubling, to the point that at one point, his profs had referred him to Virginia Tech’s counseling service. 

 Emily Hilscher and Ryan “Stack” Clark, the first to be murdered.

Although early news reports speculated that the young woman student Cho first shot, Emily Hilscher, above, was a girlfriend or ex-girlfriend, more recent reports say she was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and that there was no connection between she and Cho.  Cho shot Hilscher first, then Ryan “Stack” Clark, above, a resident advisor who was in Hilscher’s room, responding to reports of an outsider in the residence hall.

Cho went to his room then.  At some point, he wrote a suicide note in which he railed against “rich kids,” “debauchery,” “deceitful charlatans” on campus, and in which he blamed others for “forcing” him to kill.  According to some reports, Cho had recently behaved in ways which were menacing and violent, including setting fire in a dorm room and stalking women.  He had been medicated for depression.  When he died the words “Ismail Ax” were written in red ink on the inside of one of his arms.

Emily Hilscher was a freshman, which would mean she was 18 or 19, in all likelihood.  She was studying to be a veterinarian and had worked at a local vet’s office during the summer.  She loved animals and horses and went horseback riding.  She was known as “Pixie” on Myspace; there’s a certain sadness in what is written there.  She didn’t update her page often.

“Stack” Clark was a month away from receiving a bachelor’s degree in May and had pursued a triple major in English, Psychology and Biology with the goal, ultimately, of a graduate degree in psychology. He played in the school band, was friendly, charismatic, and was deeply respected by those who knew him.  He had a twin brother, Bryan, and a sister, Nadia,

After penning his suicide note, Cho went to Norris Hall, chained the doors from the inside, so no one could leave the building, and went through the building, shooting people methodically– professors, students, staff people.  Most of the students he shot were in a German class.  Finally, he shot himself.

Among those killed were Juan Ramón Ortiz, 26, a graduate student from Bayamón, Puerto Rico, Daniel Perez Cueva, 21,  of Peru studying international relations, Caitlin Hammaren, a sophomore and international studies and French major, Jarrett Lane of Narrows, Virginia, a senior and civil engineering major, Henry Lee of Roanoke, Va., a freshman and computer engineering major,  Leslie Sherman, a sophomore and history and international studies major; and Reema Samaha, a freshman from Centreville, Virginia.

Four faculty members died, that have been reported so far:  

  • German professor Christopher James Bishop, 35, known for his gentle manner and signature long hair;

Dr. Liviu Librescu

  • Engineering professor Liviu Librescu, 75, a Holocaust survivor who had emigrated from Israel and a 22-year veteran of Virginia Tech.  Librescu had confronted Cho when he tried to enter his solid mechanics classroom, attempting to hold the door shut to give students time to jump out the windows.
  • Kevin Granata, one of the nation’s top five researchers in biomechanics.  His life work had been trying to crack the code of cerebral palsy.   He was a professor of engineering science and mechanics.
  • G.V. Loganathan, 51, born in the southern Indian city of Chennai.  He had been at Virginia Tech since 1982. He won several awards for excellence in teaching, had served on the faculty senate and was adviser to about 75 undergraduate students.

Grieving Virginia Tech Women

People scramble to make sense of the killings.  Based on my reading so far, as is true of most violence, most murder, there is no sense to be made.  Murders, whether they are legal and have the blessing of empire, as in war, capital punishment, police shootings, and other acts of government sanctioned terrorism, or illegal, meaning whatever governments don’t order, authorize or sanction, are about the exercise of power, about brute force, about rage and resentment, spite, vindictiveness, fear, hatred, needing to be in control, needing the last word, needing the final say, even at the cost of one’s own life. 

It enrages and pains me to read the bigoted, racist responses to the murders, that the murders made sense because Cho was from a “communist” country (as one commenter attempted to comment), or that the “Ismail AX” written on Cho’s arm indicated he must be an “Islamic terrorist.”  There’s no reason to believe or even consider that, unless someone hates Muslims.  “Ismael” or “Ismail” or “Ishmael” is a figure common to three religions which share certain holy books:  Christians, Jews, Muslims.  Cho could have used that word or imagery for any number of reasons. 

There are no clues in the sex or race of the murdered persons; they are of all races, all ethnicities, both men and women.  One, like Cho, was South Korean.  And yet, understandably, a spokeswoman for the 500 Korean and Korean-American students at the 26,000-student Virginia Tech expressed fear of retaliation.  South Korean diplomats are on their way to Virginia Tech and have expressed grief and unbelief.  There has never been a known school shooting in South Korea, and private ownership of guns is banned there.

Our reactions and responses bring our weaknesses, racism, bigotry, and deep and grievous failings into stark relief.  We stampede to point fingers, to blame  “Islam” or “Islamic terrorists,” or “immigrants,” or “South Koreans,” or “Asians,” or the university for failing to prevent, or limit, the tragedy, or police, or violent television or video games.  We point out that it was said of Cho that he was that most anathematized and despised of young American men, the dreaded “loner,” read: “loser,” read:  “not like most,” read “other” and therefore eligible to be demonized and forgotten.  We wonder whether Emily Hilscher was his girlfriend;  a man killing his girlfriend or ex-girlfriend is, after all, however tragically and horribly, something at least we all understand, it is something familiar to us which makes a certain hideous “sense”.  We cast around.  Both Cho and Clark were English majors and seniors; did they know one another?  Had they had words, conflicts? Did the “loner” Cho resent the respected and “charismatic” Clark?  Enough to shoot him?   We rush to blame somebody — anybody —  so as to delay the day of reckoning which thoughtful and honest people among us know must come if there is to be any reason for us, as Americans, to have hope.  In fact, our country, America, is a violent and racist nation, sick with power.  We have been a people obsessed with pioneering and perfecting the theory and practice of wars, small and large, of might making right.  Our history is a history of seizing, taking, and killing because we could.  Our young men are born into and come of age in this sharkfeed of a milieu, and, whether legally or illegally, whether state-sanctioned or outlawed, most of them inevitably, in small or large ways, practice the terrorism they have experienced and known, which has been preached and modeled to them in a thousand different ways over all of their lives.

My heart goes out to the mothers, girlfriends, sisters, daughters, of the dead in particular, including the mother and sister of Cho Seung-Hui.  He was a little boy once in his mother’s arms, smiling, playing, smart and promising.  She devoted her life to cleaning the clothes of the comparatively wealthy to give him the best chance she could give him in life.  She gave all she had.

As to you fathers, leaders, patriarchs, manly men throughout this United States:  there will be more and more Chos and gangs of Chos and armies of Chos and nations of Chos so long as the search for someone other than you, yourselves, to blame continues.   You’re the men.  These young men are no anomaly.  These are the sons you have raised.

Link, Link, Link, Link, Link
New Advent:  “Ismael” in Catholic Dictionary
Eight Asians page
Emily Hilscher’s Myspace Page

Heart

Republican Bill Would Have Jailed Women for Not Reporting Miscarriages to Police

Divine Purpose sent me a heads up about the antics of a Republican legislator, John Cosgrove, of Virginia, whose bill would have required that Virginia women who miscarried and who weren’t attended by medical professionals report their miscarriages to police within 12 hours, with failure to do so constituting a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by jail time and thousands of dollars in fines.  This is what women would have had to include when reporting their miscarriages to police:

place of occurrence
usual residence of patient  (mother)
full maiden name of patient
medical record number and social security number of patient
Hispanic origin, if any, and race of patient
age of patient
education of patient
sex of fetus
patient married  to father
previous deliveries to patient
single or plural delivery  and order of plural delivery
date of delivery
date of last normal  menses and physician’s estimate of gestation
weight of fetus in grams
month of pregnancy care began (sic)
number of prenatal visits
when fetus died
congenital malformations, if any
events of labor and delivery
medical history for this pregnancy
other history for this pregnancy
obstetric procedures and method of delivery
autopsy
medical certification  of cause of spontaneous fetal death
signature of attending physician or medical examiner including title, address and date
signed
method of disposal of fetus
signature and address of funeral director or hospital representative
date received by registrar
registrar’s signature
registration area and report numbers.

As Maura, who blogged extensively about this, wrote:

Remember, Virginia defines “fetal death” regardless of gestational age, and requires reporting of deaths of all “products of conception”.  At early gestational age of pregnancy, how are you supposed to get some of this information?  Are you supposed to find a kitchen scale and weigh the “products of conception” so you can get a report in grams? 

Ultimately, Cosgrove withdrew the bill and says it will be rewritten to cover only babies which are “stillborn,” as opposed to all “fetal deaths”.   In part, he withdrew the bill because of the response he received from those who had read blog posts about it.

I think it’s important to keep an eye on these guys, though, as Maura, Daily Kos, and other bloggers have.  Who knows what they will try next?  Thanks, Divine Purpose, for the heads up.

Heart

Four Years Ago Today: Remembering Rachel Corrie

 Rachel Corrie

Four years ago today, I was in Nablus in the Occupied Territories of Palestine, volunteering with the International Solidarity Movement that supports the nonviolent movement among the Palestinians. I was also supporting my friend Neta Golan, an Israeli woman and one of the founders of ISM, now married to a Palestinian, who was about to give birth. I had spent a strangely idyllic day in a small village outside Nablus, where a group of ISM volunteers had gone because we¹d received a report that the Israeli army
was harassing villagers. When we got there, the army had left, the cyclamen and blood-red anemones were in bloom underneath ancient olive trees, and the villagers insisted we stay for a barbecue.

We were just passing through the checkpoint on our way back to Nablus when we got a call from Rafah, in the Gaza strip. Rachel Corrie, a young ISM volunteer, had been trying to prevent an Israeli bulldozer from demolishing a home near the border. The bulldozer operator saw her, and went forward anyway, crushing her to death.

Continue reading Starhawk, via the Feminist Peace Network.

Heart

Ansar Al-Islam Threatens Iraqi Women’s Rights Activist with Death

houzan_mahmoud.jpeg

Houzan Mahmoud, Representative of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq has been threatened with death by Ansar al-Islam, an Islamic fundamentalist organization based in Kurdistan Iraq.  On February 26, 2007, she received an e-mail which stated: 

With the permisison of Great God, we will kill you either in Iraq or in London by the middle of March, because you are campaigning against Islam.  You should be sent to God for punishment.

Mahmoud, who is currently living in London, is originally from Iraqi Kurdistan, where she led a campaign against the imposition of Islamic Sharia law in the constitution.  She is a militant feminist, secularist, journalist and human rights activist.  Most recently she co-founded an initiative to end the occupation of Iraq and to present a secular, egalitarian alternative through the Iraq Freedom Congress. 

In March, 2004 Mahmoud wrote for the Guardian:

From the start of the occupation, rape, abduction, “honour” killings and domestic violence have became daily occurrences…

A lack of security and proper policing have led to chaos and to growing rates of crime against women.  Women can no longer go out alone to work, or attend schools or universities. An armed male relative has to guard a woman if she wants to leave the house.

Girls and women have become a cheap commodity to be traded in post-Saddam. Owfi knows of cases where virgin girls have been sold to neighbouring countries for $200, and non-virgins for $100.

The idea that a woman represents family “honour” is becoming central to Iraqi culture, and protecting that honour has cost many women their lives in recent months. Rape is considered so shaming to the family’s honour that death – by suicide or murder – is needed to expunge it.

Like Iraqi men, many women have lost their jobs. Marooned at home and lacking independence, are faced with new miseries. Islamist groups have imposed veiling, and have issued fatwas against prostitutes. Now “entertainment” marriages are taking place. This is an Islamic version of prostitution, in which rich men marry women temporarily (often for only a few hours) in return for money.

The Iraqi Governing Council – an American creature – offers no hope for Iraqi women consisting as it does of religious or tribal leaders and nationalists who rarely make any reference to women’s rights. In fact, many IGC members have a history of violating women’s rights.

…One of the IGC’s first moves was symbolic. International Women’s Day in Iraq has been changed from March 8 to August 18, the date of birth of Fatima Zahra, the prophet Mohammed’s daughter. This has nothing to do with women’s rights, and everything to do with subordinating women to religious rules.

When the IGC proposed replacing the secular law with sharia, there were big demonstrations, but these have received almost no media coverage. This is no surprise. When the Union of the Unemployed marched for jobs, American soldiers arrested some of the organisers. This, too, passed unnoticed.

What is needed is a secular constitution based on full equality between women and men, as well as the complete separation of religion from the state and education system.

Gender

I.

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II.

women2.jpeg

III.

widows.jpeg

IV.

mothers-of-the-world.jpeg

V.

abortion-rights.jpeg

VI.

I, II and III, IV, V and VI , art in numbers II and III is the work of Erin Currier.  Art in numbers Iv, V and VI is the work of Eric Drooker.

 

Heart

River to America: “You Lost” — American Troops, Iraqi Security Forces Raping Iraqi Women

sabrine1.jpg

River who lives in Baghdad and whose blog is Baghdad Burning has posted this week.

She might just be the bravest Iraqi woman ever. Everyone knows American forces and Iraqi security forces are raping women (and men), but this is possibly the first woman who publicly comes out and tells about it using her actual name. Hearing her tell her story physically makes my heart ache. Some people will call her a liar. Others (including pro-war Iraqis) will call her a prostitute- shame on you in advance.

I wonder what excuse they used when they took her. It’s most likely she’s one of the thousands of people they round up under the general headline of ‘terrorist suspect’. She might have been one of those subtitles you read on CNN or BBC or Arabiya, “13 insurgents captured by Iraqi security forces.” The men who raped her are those same security forces Bush and Condi are so proud of- you know- the ones the Americans trained. It’s a chapter right out of the book that documents American occupation in Iraq: the chapter that will tell the story of 14-year-old Abeer who was raped, killed and burned with her little sister and parents.

They abducted her from her house in an area in southern Baghdad called Hai Al Amil. No- it wasn’t a gang. It was Iraqi peace keeping or security forces- the ones trained by Americans? You know them. She was brutally gang-raped and is now telling the story. Half her face is covered for security reasons or reasons of privacy. I translated what she said below.

“I told him, ‘I don’t have anything [I did not do anything].’ He said, ‘You don’t have anything?’ One of them threw me on the ground and my head hit the tiles. He did what he did- I mean he raped me. The second one came and raped me. The third one also raped me. [Pause- sobbing] I begged them and cried, and one of them covered my mouth. [Unclear, crying] Another one of them came and said, ‘Are you finished? We also want our turn.’ So they answered, ‘No, an American committee came.’ They took me to the judge.

Anchorwoman: Sabrine Al Janabi said that one of the security forces videotaped/photographed her and threatened to kill her if she told anyone about the rape. Another officer raped her after she saw the investigative judge.

Sabrine continuing:
“One of them, he said… I told him, ‘Please- by your father and mother- let me go.’ He said, ‘No, no- by my mother’s soul I’ll let you go- but on one condition, you give me one single thing.’ I said, ‘What?’ He said, ‘[I want] to rape you.’ I told him, ‘No- I can’t.’ So he took me to a room with a weapon… It had a weapon, a Klashnikov, a small bed [Unclear], he sat me on it. So [the officer came] and told him, ‘Leave her to me.’ I swore to him on the Quran, I told him, ‘By the light of the Prophet I don’t do such things…’ He said, ‘You don’t do such things?’ I said, ‘Yes’.


[Crying] He picked up a black hose, like a pipe. He hit me on the thigh. [Crying] I told him, ‘What do you want from me? Do you want me to tell you rape me? But I can’t… I’m not one of those ***** [Prostitutes] I don’t do such things.’ So he said to me, ‘We take what we want and what we don’t want we kill. That’s that.’ [Sobbing] I can’t anymore… please, I can’t finish.”

…Let me clear it up for any moron with lingering doubts: It’s worse. It’s over. You lost. You lost the day your tanks rolled into Baghdad to the cheers of your imported, American-trained monkeys. You lost every single family whose home your soldiers violated. You lost every sane, red-blooded Iraqi when the Abu Ghraib pictures came out and verified your atrocities behind prison walls as well as the ones we see in our streets. You lost when you brought murderers, looters, gangsters and militia heads to power and hailed them as Iraq’s first democratic government. You lost when a gruesome execution was dubbed your biggest accomplishment. You lost the respect and reputation you once had. You lost more than 3000 troops. That is what you lost America. I hope the oil, at least, made it worthwhile.

Thanks to Gaia’s Muse, who alerted me to River’s latest post.

Heart

Nawal Al Saadawi: “War Against Women, Women Against War — Waging War on the Mind”

Nawal Al Saadawi

Above is the amazing writer and revolutionary woman, Nawal El Saadawi, who is 78.  She is one of my sheroes.  On my old website, The Margins, I included a quote of Saadawi’s which I have often remembered and felt so encouraged by:

They say, “You are a savage and dangerous woman.”  I said, “I am speaking the truth.   And the truth is savage and dangerous.”

Saadawi knows whereof she speaks.   Saawadi is a medical doctor.  After having set up the Arab Women’s Solidarity Association in 1981, the first legal, independent feminist organisation in Egypt, she was jailed under then-president Anwar Sadat.  She was released only after Sadat’s assassination.   In 1991  Sawadi’s name appeared on a fundamentalist death list and she was forced into exile for four years.  During the year 2002 a campaign was launched against her by fundamentalists who accused her of apostasy and who brought suit in Egyptian Personal Law Courts demanding that she be divorced from  her husband, the novelist, medical doctor and activist Sherif Hetata.

Always controversial, she most recently caused an uproar when she endorsed the view of her daughter, journalist Mona Helmi,  that children should be named after their mothers, not their fathers.  Her books  have been routinely banned in Arab countries.

She’s in the news today because an Egyptian publisher has removed her recently published book, God Resigns in the Summit Meeting, from the shelves because it “offends religion.”

In response to withdrawing her book from the shelves and book fair, Sawaadi said,  “My book contains nothing offensive to religion. This confiscation is a violation of the reader’s right to choose and judge the worth of a book for themselves. These people want to stifle our imagination. If my ideas are questioned and suspected, they should be debated, not suppressed. A work of art should be judged by the critics, not religious clerics or government bureaucrats…

“I feel worried about the future of Egypt whose young people are denied a real chance to be educated and exercise their minds. Confiscation provides a breeding ground for extremism.”

Following are excerpts from a speech Saadawi gave in 2004 at the World Social Forum entitled War Against Women, Women Against War — A War Against the Mind, which is a classic, so far as I’m concerned, and right on time for the situation Saadawi is facing now and for the situation of all of us as women, throughout the world.   I have bolded the portions that are most striking to me but it is all so well worth your time to read. 

[The public call to prayer I heard] as a girl was beautiful to hear. It wafted over the city in soft and sometimes musical tones.Now it has become a cacophony of strident vengeful voices, a threatening call shot through with violence. It strikes fear into the hearts of people, tears them from the depths of sleep in the dark hours of early dawn, is repeated throughout the day until at night exhausted they lie down on a floor, or in a bed to be awakened the following dawn in the name of godly worship. The call to prayer, the sermons and religious teachings pouring out in an incessant stream of loud and angry voices from ninety thousand microphones spread over the country encroaching on peoples’ right to rest and to silence are a form of war.

This is one of the many wars unleashed on millions of peaceful people since Sadat came to power in 1971 and reopened the doors to American neo-imperialism. It was Sadat in agreement with the United States administration of Nixon and Kissinger who encouraged and supported the political movement of Islamic fundamentalism, helped it to flourish and grow. It was Sadat who … paved the way for the World Bank, for foreign multi-national capital, and for Islamic fundamentalism. He needed an internal ally, the support of a political, economic, and cultural Islamic movement to fight against the democratic and more socially oriented parties and movements which opposed his policies. It was in this way that during his regime, international capital, spearheaded by the United States in alliance with the ruling class reimposed its domination on women, men and children and paved its way under the guise of restoring the values and practices of Islam, of Islamic traditions and of the family unit as basic to the health and prosperity of society.

The multinationals and their intermediaries hid behind the cloak of Islam, of a revived religious fundamentalism.  This was a war on the mind of people, a campaign launched to control and domesticate their thinking, a religious brainwashing required to facilitate and hide what capital was planning to do with their land, with their life. This war on the mind is a global phenomenon. The growing influence exercised by political fundamentalist movements is a development which has taken place in many countries in both the East and the West, even though it is particularly visible in the Arab region as a result of the close cooperation which exists between local dictatorial and corrupt regimes on the one hand and United States neo-imperialists allied to the aggressive Zionist rulers of Israel on the other. The neo-conservative, neo-colonial forms have dealt severe blows to the more progressive, more socially oriented movements and political parties in the Arab countries.

The most furious attacks during the past thirty years have been directed against women considered as the main target by political fundamentalist movements. Control of women, domestication of their bodies and especially of their minds has always been considered by them as one of their most important, if not their most important aims. This is manifest in the banning of many women’s groups and associations during the past years.   In 1991 for example the Egyptian branch of the Arab Women’s Solidarity Association was shut down by a government decree because it denounced the war waged on Iraq by a coalition of more than thirty countries led by the United States. The invasion of Iraq in 1991 led to more than 150,000 deaths most of them women and children.

The thirteen years of economic embargo enforced on that country mainly under American and British pressure led to two million deaths most of which were among children and women, always the first victims of scarcity and hunger in patriarchal societies. To prevent women from fighting back against war and increased exploitation their organizations must be dissolved when they arise as has happened so often.  More effective is to prevent them from arising by draconian laws such as the law on associations promulgated two years ago in Egypt. But perhaps best of all is to prevent them from thinking of change, of organizing for change, of seeking ways to resist. Whence the repeated banning of books and articles, T.V. programs discussing the situation of women, criticizing religious fundamentalist thought, exposing patriarchal values and practices, extolling democracy, real democracy and not the electoral farce of capitalist pluralism, or defending the rights of women, whence also the vicious attacks, the accusations of apostasy, the threats of physical assassination and the campaigns of character assassination launched against public figures, writers, journalists or activists whether women or men who dare to defend the rights of women, unless they belong to the establishment, and come forward with demands which adapt women to corporate consumer values and norms of behaviour favourable to a “free market” catering for affluent or relatively affluent middle class and upper class women. It is a ferocious war waged against the minds of both women and men, but especially women because it is only women who can liberate women and in so doing constitute a tremendous force for the liberation of society as a whole.

In this war women are besieged by a double pincer assault that of “corporate consumerism” and a “free market” on the one hand and “religious political fundamentalism” on the other ostensibly at odds but actually combining to maintain the subjugation of women, to control their minds and their bodies by patriarchal imprisonment, veiling, domestication and subjugation where fear and obedience become prime movers, or by a pseudo freedom built on sexual commercialization of their bodies and various forms or degrees of prostitution, by transforming them into cheap labour in the informal or sweat sector or in free trade areas, or in services. However in our area the most dangerous and pervasive forces in the war on women’s minds are those of political religious fundamentalism at home in the traditionalist conservative social structure of our societies. For it serves to conceal, to perpetuate, to reinforce and to rationalize the economic, political, social and cultural exploitation of international corporate capital and United States imperialism made easier by the adaptability and versatility resulting from new technologies in the field of information and communication. Countries like ours are described as “poor” or “backward” or “Third World”. We are not poor. The Arab countries are amongst the richest countries of the world due to their immense natural and human resources. But their riches in labour, mineral, fossil or other resources continue to be poured into the pipe lines of foreign plunder by the capitalist, corporate World Bank, World Trade Organization “free market” mechanisms of unequal trade balances, foreign debt, speculation, currency devaluation and exchange, structural adjustment and investment policies. A military and economic war, a trade in arms, in human beings, an economic genocide continues to drain the life blood of our lands.

In Egypt poverty has increased at an alarming rate as a result of “open door” free market policies, and privatization of industry as well as of many services. Over 40% of the population mainly women and children live under the poverty line of two dollars a day. The feminization of poverty is visible everywhere. Five million women are occupied as small producers in workshops, in services, trade etc.. or as female labour. Their monthly income often does not exceed 40 US dollars per month for a working day of 10 hours. Their lot is almost always worse than that of men because they are unorganized and have little political power or representation.They constitute only 2% of the members in the Peoples Assembly (Parliament) and only 1% of the members in local assemblies (district and village councils) and these women representatives are not interested in women’s rights. Our region has lived through many wars mainly due to its rich oil resources which made it the prey of the colonialists and the neo-colonialists serving the interests of international and multi-national capital. …

Women and children are the weakest section of our populations, the first and the worst victims of these massacres. In my village Kafr Tahla many women continue to wear mourning for fathers, brothers, husbands or other relatives killed in war. Many of them find it hard to feed themselves after the loss of a bread winner. Wars have become terribly destructive due to the development of sophisticated technologically advanced weapons. The worst are called weapons of mass destruction but there are so called conventional weapons which are almost as bad (two ton bombs, laser directed one ton rockets, cluster bombs, bombs that suck up the oxygen around them where they explode, rockets coated with depleted uranium etc.) …Nuclear, biological and chemical weapons threaten the lives of millions of people and above all unprotected women and children. Yet perhaps the most lethal and the most dangerous weapons of all are those that brain wash, or anaesthetize, or paralyse the mind, namely the media, the educational systems and above all the religious fundamentalist teachings which create a “false consciousness” among men and among women who constitute more than half the population of my country and more than half the populations of the world. False consciousness makes women obedient instruments of their own oppression, and transmitters of this false consciousness to future generations of children, of girls and boys. It is lethal because what it does to women’s minds is not visible. Unlike physical female genital mutilation it is an invisible gender mutilation which destroys the dynamism, the capacity to understand what is happening, to react and resist, to change, to participate in making changes. It destroys the essential creativity of the human mind. It instills fear, obedience, resignation, illusions, an inability to decide or it leads women to make decisions, to take positions, to defend values and ideas inimical to their own interests, to the health and development of their life. t makes women their own enemy, incapable of discerning friend from foe.  Arab women are being driven to enslave themselves.

…The spread of war in the Arab region, the daily massacres directed against civilian populations in Palestine and Iraq, the threat of other imperialist wars against Syria and Iran with which the Bush and Sharon administrations are closely linked, the terror exercised by corporate militarization and by local police states seeking to keep their peoples in check, the military bases dotted over the area, the atmosphere of growing violence leads to more and more patriarchal violence outside and in the home. With violence fear grows in the hearts and minds of women, makes them more and more obedient, prone to yield to the slightest pressure and accept their fate without resistance, to change. It affects women more than men because they are ruled over by men, by the violence exercised within the family, at the work place, in public life, in the religious institutions. Fear is the midwife of slavery. Poverty combines with violence to instill even greater fear in women. Economic insecurity, the struggle for survival not only instills fear, it preoccupies the mind, exhausts the energy, the vitality leaves no time, no driving force to do anything else, to fight, to resist, to organize.

In Egypt 81% of female university and technical school graduates are unemployed. The Egyptian government faced with a public debt of 156 milliard pounds equivalent to 137% of gross national income has borrowed 146 milliard pounds from the national social security fund in an attempt to redress the balance of payments and continues to seek different subterfuges in order not to pay them back. Most of this money serves to keep women, widows, single women and female children who have no independent income alive. Their dependence on male members of the family tends to grow making them more vulnerable to patriarchal oppression and violence, more prone to resignation and fear.

The neo–imperialist alliance with political religious fundamentalism. Why during the last three decades and until quite recently have the neo–imperialists cooperated with Islamic (as well as Jewish) and other religious fundamentalists all over the world? Why did the Texan oil interests, the Bush family, the CIA cooperate for so long with the most radical Islamic wing of the ruling Wahabite dynasty in Seoudi Arabia and engender Ben Laden, his coterie of cadres and his 35,000 strong army of guerrillas in Afghanistan? Why did they encourage and nurture the Islamic fundamentalist movement in the Arab countries, in Africa and Asia. It is the age old use of religion in power politics by ruling classes needed by them especially in an age where wealth is concentrated in the hands of a shrinking minority. An integral part of this political utilization of religion is the war on women to decapitate them, to make them bodies without a mind. The capitalist corporations make them bodies for commerce, for consumption, for sexual pleasure. The Islamic fundamentalist mercantile capitalists imprison them as bodies for the use of men at home, in the family in reproduction, in caring and nurturing the males. The neo–corporate rulers of the world use military force violence, police, prisons and economic servitude to protect and reinforce the class patriarchal neo-colonial system but they know that force alone is not enough. They fear the human mind and they fear the minds of women above all. Women are the rock bottom of society, of the family unit, of the home, the connective tissue of society, the mainstay of economic life, the producers and reproducers. They shoulder 90% of all the work but own only 10% of what is owned. Women on the move will change the world, will give birth to another world. Four hundred and thirty one men own as much as more than half the population of the world, the gap between the rich and the poor grows deeper and wider every year. The Bushs, the Blairs, the Chiracs, the Sharons, the Mosharafs, the Vajpayees and the kings and rulers of the Arab world, the five hundred multinationals controlling 80% of trade and investment in the world, the military industrial complex, the neo-conservative, neo-imperialists of the United States with their control of the media, with their laser and atomic weapons, their permanent military bases in 36 countries and their military presence in 120 of the 189 countries of our globe, with their global outreach and global market enmeshing our lives everywhere constitute a super force more rich, more powerful, more aggressive than history has even known before. Nevertheless women in the Arab region, in Iraq, in Palestine, in Egypt, in Syria, in Lebanon, in Morocco, in Bahrain, in Seoudi Arabia have never stopped struggling side by side with women in the United States, in Latin America, in Iran, in Afghanistan, in India, in
Asia against gender oppression, for peace, democracy and social justice. They have never stopped struggling in different ways against the brain washing of the media, against economic servitude and genocide, against militarization carried on at the expense of health, education, environmental protection, economic security, and employment. They have never stopped struggling to protect themselves and their children against prostitution and slave labour.

Hundreds of thousands of women have marched in demonstrations all over the world for peace against war, for democracy against violence, for women’s right to own their bodies and their minds against patriarchal enslavement. Women in the Arab countries have succeeded in changing laws, have imposed themselves on many sectors of economic and social activity, have changed values considered as eternal, have drawn increasing numbers of young men into the struggle against gender discrimination. The movement against corporate militaristic capitalism is a growing superpower of the people, is a movement with a potential, a richness, a democratic content, a versatility, a promise for real participative democracy, for peace and real justice which the world has never known before. …we must all remember that for many years, for much too long women have been banished, have been exiled by the most progressive, the most democratic, the most socialistic movements, and even to varying extents by the local and global social forums of the world. …the road to making gender an integral part of the struggles for another better world is still long. A better world is not possible, without freeing the minds and bodies of women, from the class patriarchal control exercised by corporate capitalism on the one hand and religious fundamentalism on the other. There will be no better world without organizing women everywhere, there will be no peace, no justice, no real democracy. But it is only women, women themselves, who can free themselves from all forms of gender oppression and so become a vital dynamic force capable of creating another world.

Nawal Al Saadawi’s Website 

Link to article about the banning of her latest book

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