Monday, November 29, 2010

Let's get away from the fairy tales, shall we?

Those of you who can read my Swedish blog have probably figured out by now that I am not a big fan of monarchy. I think it is a thing of the past, something which is better left in fairy tales, allowing real people to deal with the real world.

With the Wikileaks cables there is more information out on the personalities and dealings of the prominent people in the world, and among them, of course, the British royalty. Some of the stories are just arguments that any person with anti-monarchy sentiments will take as an early Christmas (or other holiday) present, and this story on Prince Andrew, Duke of York is one of them.

This man seems to be completely disconnected from the world where people spend their everyday lives. He is rude, he is arrogant, he is pompous and he has no qualms about using up your tax money on helicopter rides to go to his golf club for an hour. He is the embodiment of everything that is wrong with monarchy.

It has never been clearer that monarchy is a system in which people are born into positions with a silver spoon in their mouths, as they literally live in castles and are treated as the royalty out of fairy tales, because that is what they are. They have no qualifications whatsoever (apart from DNA) to hold the positions they are in, and because of this, there is no guarantee they will do it well. You might get a King (of Sweden, for instance) that praises dictatorships, or a Prince (of Britain, perhaps) that has no manners at all. They are not representative of the people at large, because they have lived fairly sheltered lives belonging to the upper-crust of society and probably have never stood in a queue in a bank in their entire lives. If they are the crème de la crème of the royal family they also do not have to pay tax or fines. This is how the Crown Princess of Sweden racked up an impressive amount through parking all over Stockholm city.

What is really worrying, though, is how this man, and other members of the royal family rely on the average tax payer to fly them around in private jets and helicopters. It would be acceptable to some extent if they used it within reasonable limits, but when they start (as the Duke of York in the article above) to use it to fly to and from golf club functions which they only attend for an hour, because they want to avoid the traffic, it is just short of spitting the tax payer in the face.

One thing I think the Guardian failed to mention was the huge disservice this particular member of the royal family has done to the environment. Not only is he chewing through people's hard-earned salaries, he is also probably increasing global warming by 50 per cent just by himself.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Lack of Sexual Education Leads To Social Ills

BBC published an article late last night on their website that discusses the issues with abortion in Thailand. Abortion is there, as in many societies, illegal with the exception for cases of incest, rape or where the mother's life is in danger. In Thailand, as in other countries restrictive on abortion, it is socially conservative with regards to sex; it is thus not only the issue with 'taking a life', if that is how one views it, there is also a big problem with sex outside marriage.

Being a liberal myself, I am not a big fan of restricting human beings in this sense. Also not being religious, I don't believe that having sex outside marriage is inherently evil and will inevitably erode the morals in society. But this is not about trying to change Thailand's policies (although that would be very welcome), it is about the complete disconnect between attempt and outcome; something which can also be found in big parts in the US even though it is probably the most liberal country in the world when it comes to abortion. Some would even say too liberal as abortion is allowed up until when the foetus is viable outside the uterus, making the lines between consciousness/life and biological signs/non-life even more blurred.

Interesting is how these conservative views on sex seems to be linked with a high number in teenage pregnancies and single mothers. Conservative views on sex often, unfortunately, lead to a lack of sexual education as teenagers are believed to be too young to discover such things. Instead, they are expected to wait until they are of a certain age and in a committed relationship. Some societies have even stricter view on this and require waiting until marriage.

The problem with this is not necessarily that teenagers and adults are encouraged to wait until they are in a relationship with whom they feel very comfortable; it is the lack of information they receive when they are deemed not to be in that state. Lack of sexual education does not mean that teenagers will not engage in sexual activities. Teenagers will find out one way or another what the fuzz is about and how it all works. Unfortunately, when they do, their lack of knowledge on the topic makes them all the more likely to become pregnant or catch a sexually transmitted disease. If abortion is then also restricted, there will be an increase in single (often young) mothers who may not have any emotional or financial support from her family or the baby's father; either because they simply cannot give it, or in worst case because of the mother-to-be is ostracised from her community because of the taboo. Let's face it, if a teenage father becomes scared, he has the option to leave, like the father in the BBC piece above, but a mother cannot. There are many young fathers who do not, and they are amazing, but unfortunately, this is not the norm. At least not in societies that judge you if you took part in something that is considered a moral wrong and social taboo.

I believe that abortion is part of the human rights to self-determination over your own body, so in an ideal society this service would be available to all women, but unfortunately this is not the case. If abortion has to be restricted, why not put more effort into sexual education? Teenagers and young adults who have a solid base of knowledge in these matters are less likely to find out for themselves, and if they do, they are less likely to end up pregnant and poor, or infected with an STD. It makes sense to provide extensive sexual education anywhere to make citizens aware of the what it is exactly they are becoming involved with. An ignorant population makes for more mistakes. If teenagers do not know what contraceptive options are available to them, how are they going to be expected to use them? If they do not learn how the menstrual cycle works (and this is important for both girls and boys, as both are involved in a sexual act), how can anyone blame them when they say "I thought I couldn't become pregnant at this point in the cycle?"
If teenagers and young adults are expected to take their responsibility in sexual mattes, so should adults be: provide the young with proper sexual education.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Women's Rights and the Sustenance of Society

The New York Times had a piece yesterday on women in China. This article discussed how Chinese women have made big gains in rights, but have also, with industrialisation, lost rights. Since 1992, there has been a piece of legislation called the Law on the Protection of Women’s Rights and Interests, which, since 2005, has made gender equality a state policy, ensuring that women have protection against sexual harassment, discrimination and other such things. For a country not exactly being famous for its policies on human rights, this is quite huge. Women often have to stand aside when human rights are being installed in countries where they have previously been lacking. First universal human rights, and then, if they feel like something can be gained from it, women's rights.

Interesting to note, as the article does, is the huge discrimination women still face in employment, not with regards to their capabilities, which do not seem to be at question here; it is the reproductive possibilities that matter. Young women are being asked in job interviews if they plan on having children soon, and even if they claim that they will not, they are rarely believed.

This is a problem that, at one point or another, every society with stated women's rights that have begun to incorporate women in the work forces has faced. The fear of having to pay for maternal leave and child sick days often discourages companies from hiring women to the same extent as men, because, as we know, the likelihood that the woman will be the one staying at home with sick children and taking out more parental leave than the man, is quite big. Most countries do not even have anything near to equal division of parental leave, so the woman is simply forced to stay at home unless the family has the finances to hire a nanny.

What strikes me as odd, though, is how this is allowed to go on. China is a country with a vast population, and there are policies in place to discourage families from having more than one child, but at some level there has got to be a realisation that if women are discouraged from reproducing altogether, there will be no future citizens. When the pre-restriction generations of people hit the retirement mark, who will be ensuring the running of society then? For every generation, child births are dwindling. Obviously, in a country with such a huge population as China, a restriction on child bearing makes sense, but a complete discouragement? These women are the ones who will be bearing the future men, who seem to be more valued in the work place, and in society in general - China is notorious for its abortion of girl foetuses (see the Economist's article on 'Gendercide' - subscription required). A further discouragement for women to have children, and especially girls - the ratio of boys to girls born is 124 to every 100 - seems like a huge flaw in the planning for a future society. Every year, there are less women to give birth to future citizens and now they are also being discouraged to do so if they also have a need for a job. Combine that with the one-child-policy and there is at some point going to be a huge disparity in people who can work, and those who cannot (mainly retired people).

Women's rights, and in this case reproductive rights specifically, are directly correlated to the sustenance of every society. Women are as much needed as men in carrying forward the society. Unless they have started making artificial wombs, China needs to start reconsidering their acceptance of this kind of discrimination in the workplace.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

16 Days of Action to Eliminate Violence Against Women

Today starts 16 days of action to eliminate violence against women here in Glasgow. It is a 16-day campaign coordinated by Glasgow Violence Against Women Partnership (GVAWP) Campaign's Working Group. During these 16 days events will take place around all of Glasgow to raise the awareness of violence against women (VAW) and gaining knowledge to prevent it in the future. There will be theatre productions, workshops and cookery sessions just to name a few. The events are divided by areas and the programme can be found here.

Tonight the campaign is kicked off by the fourth annual Reclaim the Night march. The assembly is at Botanic Gardens in the West End and the march will commence at 6.30 pm with the destination of S.T.U.C., Woodlands Road, Glasgow.

I wish I could go to the Reclaim the Night march tonight, but I have my first Thanksgiving dinner to attend. However, you will probably see me at some of these events during the next 16 days.

For those of you not in Glasgow, there is a possibility events are running in your city today as well, as today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and the 16 Days campaign is not exclusive to Glasgow. Do a quick Google search and you might just find there's a Reclaim the Night march in your own town. If not, perhaps it is something to consider organising for next year?

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Importance of Rhetoric

In an article from a few days ago in the Guardian, the current issues of rape in South Africa is being described. Rape is widespread in South Africa, and no woman, regardless of age is safe from it.

From the article:
"When will it end?" asked Phumla Matjila, a columnist in the Times of South Africa. "How can it end when our children hear adults say: 'Some women enjoy being raped' or 'They asked for it'? Why do we shudder when they repeat the words they have heard us say?"

The Sonke Gender Justice Network, a campaign group, attempts to tackle the crisis at root by working with men and boys. Bafana Khumalo, its international programmes manager, says: "We certainly have a major problem in South Africa. There is a culture permissive of sexual violence. In a society where people can get away with it with impunity, they are encouraged to feel there is nothing wrong with it.

"Apartheid was predicated on violence – the army, the security establishment, the state apparatus used it to dominate for decades. That became a culture in our society. Violence was seen as a normal part of life."

The criminal justice system is seen by many as ill-equipped to meet women's needs. Khumalo says: "Sometimes a raped woman who goes to the police is not believed . . . Sometimes they are raped by the police."
It is clear here that there is little respite for women from sexual violence. The worrying part is that it seems to have become more of a culturally acceptable thing. There is the assumption that can be found in other cultures that when a woman says 'no', she really means 'yes', an assumption that is being fed to us through mainstream media. When you watch television for instance, start thinking about how many sexual violence (both men's and women's) include some kind of implication to sexual violence. Someone slamming the other against the door, forcefully holding their hands down; or why not the old she turns his advances down, but he doesn't take no for an answer and he repeats his advances. In both scenarios the woman usually submits and she is quite clearly enjoying it, feeding into this assumption that in the bedroom women are naturally timid and need to be told how they like it.

This problem is not isolated to South Africa, it is found wherever women's virginal status is being held as something next to sacred, where the sexual liberalisation has not yet been fully completed (and as I have written before, I don't believe it is anywhere). Because women have to guard their innocence, they are required to refuse sexual advances as first in order not to be seen as sexually promiscuous, or in fear of being branded as a whore, as many people today mislabel sexually promiscuous women. This is where the myths of "she says no, but means yes" and "if you try hard enough, she will come to her senses" come from.

A continued rhetoric along the same lines is dangerous. It erodes barriers of self-determination and reproductive rights. If courting a woman becomes connected with violence or an expectancy of having to repeatedly come on to her for her to 'give it up', the line between sexual assault and persistence become increasingly blurred. And blurred lines make for easier crossing.

If a woman declines your advance, whether romantic or sexual, she declines it. There is no hidden yes in the 'no', and it is under no circumstances acceptable to take the decision for the woman. This is essentially what happens when a man (or in the reverse, a woman) continues to adamantly pursue someone who has said no. The implication of this continued pursuit is that she (or he) doesn't know her (or his) own good, so suitor will make the decision for her (or him). In what other aspects of society would this be acceptable for a mentally capable adult? Surely people would be reluctant to go up to other people and tell them what to eat, how to dress, where to go and what to do? What is it, then, that makes it all right to determine what lovers other adults should have or how and when they like to have sex?

Once again, I would like to make the point that the responsibility of sexual assault, in all forms, should be laid on the perpetrators, not the victims. A no is always a no, regardless of what situation, and regardless of how innocent one's advances are.

The rhetoric needs to be changed in order not to reproduce false assumptions about women's agency or lack thereof. There is no such truth as "women like it rough" or "they are all the same; they say no, but mean yes." This does not extend beyond the individual. So let's do it a bit different this time, shall we? Let the woman tell you how she likes it instead of deciding it for her.


This article, published at the Guardian website 25/11/2010, tells of some very disturbing statistics, to say the least.
One in five men in South Africa believe that sometimes women want to be raped and nearly one in three has raped someone. Barely half of the people asked in the survey thought that it is possible for a husband to rape his wife, probably reflected by the nearly 40% of men and 30% of women who thought that women cannot refuse their husband sex. Sexual violence and patriarchy being reproduced in society is showing in the statistics.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama

Tonight I finished The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama; a book I have been reading for at least a year, if not nearly two. The reason for this is not that it is incredibly dull or anything the like; it is simply because I have put it down every time my course work has been demanding too much time, and that has been often. Nevertheless, I have now finished it and I thought I should share my thoughts on it. Unfortunately I did not think to take notes on the first few chapters and as it was a very long time ago I read them I will not be referring specifically to them.

Obama is clearly trying to portray himself as a politician with experience, probably because of his young age and his actual relative inexperience for a presidential candidate. In the first part of the book talks about the intricacies of the power plays on Capitol Hill. A particular area of interest is where he discusses the role of lobbying in the American society, both clearly condemning the development of the practice where the people with the money have the most access to politicians, but also its value in that interest groups can truly represent minority interests of value.

When it comes to the economy, Obama is an outspoken supporter of FDR and Keynes, and so also an efficient welfare system (even though he may not use exactly those words), especially health care and education. The bleak picture Obama paints of America and the poorer part of the population reminds me of a pre-welfare Europe where status and blood (in the US - money) mattered more than you being a human being. He quite clearly believes a solid system of education will enable USA to become a more efficient and developed country, and key to this is better access to higher education.

It is interesting, because the chapter entitled 'Opportunity' (Chapter 5) is the chapter where it becomes very noticeable that Obama is trying to appease people not normally within his voter base. He glosses over uncomfortable questions and tries almost a bit too hard to meet halfway instead of perhaps trying the slightly more radical approach (not radical by European standards by far, however). Nevertheless, it seems Obama has a sensible approach to economy and worries about the large national debt, something that doesn't receive too much attention in political writings. Joseph Stiglitz, former Senior Vice President and Chief Economist of the World Bank, deals with the topic in his book Making Globalization Work: The Next Steps to Global Justice, a book I would recommend.

Obama deals with religion in a very diplomatic way. He argues that it is dangerous not to admit what a great place it has in the US society, but he does not seem to think that it should be muddled with politics. It is a private matter, very important, but private. A big disappointment is when he starts talking about his mother and comes to the conclusion that she was incurably alone because she did not belong to any faith. While this will sit right with a lot of religious groups in America, it is still a very offensive generalisation, and one that may not be entirely correct. On morals, he states that he believes that it is these that bridge the American society, and while that may be a very nice notion, it becomes worrying when he writes "I believe that American society can choose to carve out a special place for the union of a man and a woman as the unit of child rearing most common to every culture" (p. 222). This is a statement on which, in his chapter on family (chapter 9) seems to contradict himself when he talks about the changing forms of family. This is precisely the type of balancing acts that can be found throughout the book where he attempts to appease both red and blue, but not always managing. Perhaps he thought that placing the two statements a couple of chapters apart would make most people not notice?

I have always been attracted by Obama's foreign policy and he did not disappoint me much in his chapter on the wider world, although I was a bit surprised to find out that he had, already in this book published 2006, stated that he believed an early withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan was dangerous. The way media had portrayed him when he decided to deplore more troops to one place and slowly withdraw troops from the other was as a peace-loving, war-hating pacifist who voted against the war and would stop it at almost any cost.
A particular highlight was when he discussed IMF and World Bank policies and argued that they had been unsuccessful, implying that he does not himself believe in the neo-liberal approach with trickle-down policies and all that comes with it.
Further, the section where he explained why the US needs to co operate diplomatically and not charge violently through the world was simply beautiful. He argues that it is the duty of the US, as a world leader, to lead by example, that they cannot make demands of other nations without first adhering to principles themselves. It is a brilliant piece where he plays to people's patriotism and compassion and shows what makes him such a brilliant rhetoric.

Obviously I wish there would be an entire chapter on women, but I have to say that Obama does not skirt over the issue. He openly acknowledges that he has fallen into the gender role trap and expected his wife to bear the brunt of responsibility over the rearing of their children while he pursued his career. I am sure this appealed to a lot of women, but (there's always a but) there are several issues he neglects to address. As with many other articles and chapters on marriage, he argues that children need both a mother and a father. Himself being raised by a strong, single mother, knows how damaging it can be to a child not to have a father figure. Not once does he address the assumption of a heterosexual norm for the family. The two mommies or two daddies scenario is completely left out on the picture and not even fleetingly brushed upon. Neither does he address the socio-economic differences that usually lead children in a single parent family into hardship. The assumption is that if fathers start taking their responsibility, the world will automatically be a better place. If I am not mistaken I think he addresses the wage gap at one point, but it is nowhere satisfactory and there is no correlation made between this and the poverty of families headed by single mothers or a solution besides keeping the heteronormative nuclear family.
Besides, even after admitting to wanting his wife to sacrificing her career in favour for his, he does not reveal what conclusion they reached. There is not even a mention if they came to an agreement in the end or if he just kept to the same pattern and expected her to follow. Describing her as smart, beautiful and funny does not make up for that. That barely reaches the grade Satisfactory, president Obama!

The book is an interesting read, especially after Obama has actually been elected president. Although he is trying to appeal to both sides of the electorate simultaneously and sometimes seems to compromise on his own views because of it, he still comes across as more determined and steadfast than he has as president. Trying to achieve bipartisan co operation is all very well and a noble and important point to strive for, but if he does not end up achieving it before his term is up, he may just be remembered for being indecisive on issues splitting the party - compromising on health care, the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy etc.

Still, read it! This is arguably the most powerful person in the world, or at least one of them, and we need to be familiar with him.

Also, on a side note: can I recommend this article from the Edmonton Journal that reports on an anti-rape campaign that tries to place the focus and responsibility where it should lie - on the perpetrators. It is nice for once to see preventative methods that does not tell women not to dress in a certain way or not to walk in certain areas, implying that if they still do and end up being sexually assaulted, they are the ones to blame.
A fantastic book dealing with this issue, since we're on books tonight, is Joyce Carol Oates' novel Rape: A Love Story, a tragic but educative story. It is fiction, but very important.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sex Work and the Logic of Business

Tonight I have been watching the US Senate hearing on the ratificiation of the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Interestingly, USA is the only industrialised country that has not ratified the treaty since it was agreed upon 1979. No, not 2009, not even 1999, but 1979 - 31 years ago.

Not so surprisingly there were a lot of supporters and not many opponents. The only opponent debating was Steven Groves, expert at the Heritage Foundation, an American conservative think-tank. I do not wish to talk about exactly what was said for and against CEDAW in this hearing, as the ratification has not yet been voted on in the Senate, so I will leave that to be the contents of a possible later post. What I wish to discuss is something I picked out from his speech.

Groves had problems with CEDAW because of different points in the treaty he believes to be against US morals and views. He disagrees with CEDAW's 'social engineering', i.e. the points where CEDAW urges that changing and challenging gender roles are key to women enjoying full equality in any society. One of the problems he has with this is the CEDAW committee's encouragement of the protection of sex workers. They have at one point urged that it is important not to punish women in the sex trade as it is likely they are already in an exploited position, usually due to socio-economic reasons.

The problems, I would assume, he has with this is the moral implications of making sex into a trade, and that the women sex workers, through selling sex, encourages and fosters such an environment and thus, also, the eradication of the morals in society. This assumption is really interesting, because it implies an elaborate scheme on the part of these women to corrupt humankind. Somehow, along the lines of the evolving sex industry, which has survived as long as civilisation has, women have gathered and decided that they are going to use their sexual powers to corrupt men, and along with it, society.

I think it is quite clear that assuming such an elaborate conspiracy that has be inherited through history, with sex workers being completely unrelated to each other, is a bit far-fetched to say the least. It would require an organisation that women resorting to a highly stigmatised work simply do not have the resources for because they usually get involved in the sex trade precisely because they do not have any resources.

What Mr. Groves has completely failed to see here, or just intentionally neglected is that sex work, as any other type of work follows the simple logic of supply and demand. The supply continues to be there because the demand is. Now, as I have pointed out before, sex in itself is not an inherently bad thing, neither does sex work necessarily have to be, it is under the current power structures of society that it becomes a means of exploitation and power abuse. However, this is exactly the point. The morals are not being corrupted through some kind of mythical succubus prostitute; they are already in place. It is exactly the morals in today's society that allows a sex industry to thrive, and a great part and energiser in that is sexism. The rigid confines of our gender roles, including both men and women here, lead us to take actions within the framework of these.

Masculinity is the exact antonym to femininity. It is the absence of all that is deemed to belong to the feminine. For every masculine gender role there is a feminine gender role that corresponds just a little bit too neatly: calm/surging, weak/powerful, passive/active, nurturing/violent are just some examples. Therefore, in order to be masculine, or a man, one needs to be the exact opposite to a woman, which includes exerting power over them. If you can subject the feminine, then you are a man. These are the kinds of morals that society impresses upon us and, more crucially, have been for centuries.

I am not saying that every man and every woman adheres to these stereotypes - in that case society would be far more frustrating than it already is, but there is a force in society that steers us in the direction of respecting these presumed innate qualities and many of us simply have not stopped to reflect long enough about them to be aware of them.

Point being, these kind of morals and virtues have been in place for a very long time. Sex work is one of the oldest types of work known. Once it may have been the simple transaction of sexual favours, but it has long since evolved into something else. Prostitutes have been viewed to be dirty, cheap and less than human for a very long time. It is because we have these values that the sex industry can thrive, not because women have some innate corrupting capability as Groves would like to think. It is because these power relations are in place that CEDAW encourages countries to ensure that sex workers have some basic rights; the simple reality is that many of them are being exploited and abused. They are not paid nearly as much as they should be, and they are often victims of violence - both sexual and other. Prostitutes are quite often raped because the men who commit these acts see these women as a commodity. Yes, sex workers can be raped, even if you give her money after the act. There is still a lack of consent involved and her line of work is irrelevant in that respect. Where do those morals come from, Mr. Groves?

There is one thing Mr. Groves and I agree on - there are a lot of things wrong in the sex industry, but that is an even stronger reason to ratify CEDAW and ensure other women's rights laws are in place to help stop the exploitation and stigmatisation of women in this line of work.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Day I Killed Bat Girl and Cat Woman

Tonight I went to this event on the sexualisation of society. It was organised by Women's Support Project, an organisation here in Glasgow that works with issues around violence against women. Four areas were discussed in this event: prostitution, sexualisation, "adult entertainment" and pornography. The discussion included women, and one man (thanks, dear friend for coming along!) who discussed each of the topic in small groups.

There were several disturbing issues that were raised, and I think, for me, especially the imagery around children. The amount of little girls who are dressed up in sexually provocative clothes is just appalling and the amount of women in the room who told real-life stories of unsuccessfully trying to find their daughters clothes that did not somehow play on sexuality was enraging. Corporations are feeding the sexualisation of society in order to make money on children. It's absolutely abhorring.

I have bought into this, I have to admit; I both have and I still am to an extent. I think it is very hard as a human being to interact in society and not buy into it to some extent whether it be through make up, through shaving of body parts or through trying to make oneself physically attractive to the other sex in some other way (plastic surgery, exercising, padding - both equally applicable to men and women). This is why I have decided to take a somewhat radical action tonight.

Here we have two of my t-shirts. Two of my t-shirts that I have always really liked. Looking at them now it might be hard to understand why they have been so attractive to me. These are clearly a sexist portrayal of women, drawn with stupidly big breasts and bodies unattainable in a natural way; not something a feminist should want to wear.

I think what is easily forgettable with these characters is that, while they are extremely sexist, they are also symbols of female power. Females who took what they had and made what they could out of it, while unnecessarily dressing up in ridiculously tight leather and making themselves sexual objects. Nevertheless, they are still very attractive symbols to me, as a feminist, just because they are women who, despite the odds, made it into a male dominated world and made a name for themselves, not only because they are sexual symbols, but also because they are pretty kick-ass. They are empowered partly because they take control over their sexuality. This is why I have always liked these t-shirts. After tonight, however, it is a different story.

A couple of weeks ago I started wondering about the irony of me, a self-proclaimed feminist, walking around with these blatantly sexualised, unnatural women on the chest. (When you think about it, it's not really a wonder they are painted straight across the chest, especially not since a significant number of males I have spoken to describe these women with sexual language.) I started wondering if I had gone about this the right way. I have always been aware that they are sexual symbols, but this has just given these characters more power over men, and over themselves in a way. They did what they could with what was given to them. I have always figured, when it comes to these t-shirts, that perhaps this was part of the trade-off for Bat girl and Cat Woman, that they would gain some and they would lose some. But I never expected it for me. Not in my wildest imaginations of a sexist dystopia did I ever imagine myself trading any kind of sex, or sexuality, for empowerment, but each to her own, as they say.

Now, tonight, I have come to a realisation. There is, under no circumstances, any good reason why someone should trade sex or become a sexual object in order to reach empowerment. The reason for this is that there is a deeply disturbing irony in these kind of trade-offs and it has very much to do with what I have written on before - the incompletion of the female sexual liberation. There is still an inherent double standard in our society that associates females and sex with something shameful. Essentially what you are doing when you are sexualising yourself in this way is just trading one kind of oppression - the one seeing you as at least partly incapable - to another one - the one where you are seen as used goods, or even filthy. By empowering yourself in one way through using your sexuality, you are also allowing yourself to become an object for trade, or sale - a commodity. You are engaging in the violent reproduction of gender, as Laura Shepherd (Gender, Violence and Security : Discourse as Practice, 2008) terms it.

It is not sex or sexuality in itself that is the issue here. Sex and sexuality are not inherently bad or negative - it is the consequences of these that are the issue. Sexualisation and objectification have serious negative impact on society in the form of marketing sexuality to children not older than 4 (!!), the increase of gendered violence and the incapacity to celebrate Halloween without seeing a sexy [insert whatever is suitable here]. It is this type of commercialisation of sexuality that makes society judge people on how many partners they have, or in the case of males, have not, had, because essentially that is what the commercialisation of sexuality is making sex: cheap. Sexuality is being disconnected from the act - regardless of what you make it to be: love, biology, reproduction - and made into a social pressure, a norm, that decides how and when you have sex and what, or rather what you shall not wear, in order to make profit on it. We are no longer the masters of our own sexuality, corporations are.

This is why I am stopping wearing blatantly sexualised images of women. I refuse to believe that in order to become an empowered woman I have to let someone else own my sexuality. In fact, I believe these to are complete contradictions. That is why I am killing Bat girl and Cat Woman tonight.

Please, do not try this at home. It is dangerous. Throwing things out will suffice.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Don't Ask, Don't Tell upheld by Supreme Court

The Guardian reports today that the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy has been upheld by the Supreme Court. It's sad that while court proceedings to assess whether DADT is unconstitutional or not, all the gay men and women who serve in the US military still have to live a life of secrecy.

However, it is important to note that the Supreme Court has not ruled that this is a fantastic policy to keep in place or that gay people do not deserve the same rights as straight people. They have only refrained from judgement in favour of upholding the ban while court proceedings are still taking place, i.e. while this case is appealed over and over again. They have thus not taken a stance on the issue of DADT itself and will refrain to do so until (and if) the case proper makes it to their courtroom.

Meanwhile, BBC reports, a leaked Pentagon survey shows that most military personnel does not have objections to end DADT. A quotation from the Guardian shows that the Pentagon has already taken steps toward a possible ending of the ban:
The Pentagon has already begun developing transition plans for accepting openly gay soldiers. Officials have advised gay service members to keep their sexual orientation secret while the court fight continues.
While it is still too early to predict how, and when, this is going to play out, and whether it will be through the legislative, executive pressure, or the judiciary, it is still a step in the right direction.

The Supreme Court deciding to allow the upholding of the DADT should not necessarily be viewed as a setback, rather as a postponement of something that is already long overdue.

(Huffington Post on the matter)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


My sister is studying to become a psychological coach. A big part of this is the study of happiness, how to best achieve it and such, but also subjects such as what drives us humans, what motivates us and I suppose you could say attempting to unravel human nature.

Tonight she brought something very interesting to my attention. In a recent lecture, her lecturer pointed to studies that have shown how, when seeing someone we dislike or oppose suffer, the human brain experiences a pleasure stimuli, (I apologise for any weird sounding expressions, I am no psychology scholar myself) i.e. we feel good when someone we dislike or oppose is hurting. The lecturer had gone on to make links between this and hatred or dislike of minorities or other social groups; war; and other forms of violence and aggression.

While this might not be an entirely new revelation to a lot of people since the concept of schadenfreude (the pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others) has been around for a long time, this is proof that it actually exists; we feel good from seeing people whom we dislike suffer. Imagine the implications this could have.

While I would not argue that human motivation could be summed up from something as simple as schadenfreude, I think it is important to bear in mind that it could be a motivator, or at least a factor in the motivations of people. Knowledge makes for informed choices. Simply being aware of the fact that some small part of you, however much you would like to disassociate with that part, actually enjoys to see your opponent lose or suffer. It makes sense that we should feel happy when we ourselves make advances, and rightly so. Everyone has a right to be proud of their own success. Just be aware that there is a fine line between being proud of one's success and gloating in the misfortune of others.

My sister also, rightly, pointed out that anyone who, like me, studies politics needs to be especially aware of this. If we are trying to fight for a fair and just world, everyone deserves the same chance as us, and they deserve the same empathy. They deserve to oppose us fiercely, but at the same time deserve respect for putting up a good fight if they come out on the losing side.

Moreover, I think that this piece of knowledge also calls into question our motivations more than ever as well as the importance of questioning things. If you cannot justify what you are fighting for with more than the argument that "it feels right," then you might be threading a dangerous path. That is when we might have people who start fighting for the fighting's sake and sign up for wars just because their government/officer/family said it was the right thing to do. If we can't motivate our actions when they have such huge ramifications, then we should not act at all.

As I said, I don't believe human motivation is so simple that it comes out of the striving of maximum happiness, but I think that the fact that others' misfortunes can give us pleasure is an important one to bear in mind.

Also, I am seriously considering lending my copy of Hobbes' Leviathan to my sister for the Christmas holidays. Somehow, I think she might find it interesting.
You can find her blog here. It points out the beauty of life and gives us the small things that make us happy.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Don't Ask, Don't Tell, but Actively Discriminate

It seems that the much longed for repeal of the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy in the USA which stops gay men and women from serving openly in the US army is facing some difficulties. While a court in California is currently trying to decide whether or not the policy is constitutional, it seems that if the DADT policy is going to be repealed, it is not going to be through the Senate, but through a long and difficult judicial process. Because the issue is such an inflamed one, with some people on the right being strongly against gays openly serving in the military, the process would not stop until it came before the Supreme Court. And what would happen there is impossible to say.

Personally, I don't see what the discussion is all about. Yes, DADT is unconstitutional and it is also discriminatory. It is a huge impairment of freedom of speech, which is supposed to be guaranteed in the First Amendment. If a gay person were to come out while employed by the military, he or she would not be allowed to keep his or her job. The only chance for a gay person to keep their job is to hide their identity. It is a situation where they are damned if they do, and damned if they don't.

Furthermore, all American citizens are supposed to be equal before the law. The fourteenth amendment states that:
No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
How is it to be equal before the law when you can be discharged for falling in love with the same sex, but you cannot if you adhere to the social norm? This separation has been legal for 17 years. Inequality is, under DADT, institutionalised as well as legalised.

What really baffles me, however, are the arguments for keeping this ridiculous policy in place. NY Times writes:
In comments to reporters in California this weekend, General Amos said that ending the ban in the middle of two wars would involve “risk” for Marines, who, unlike other service members who generally have private quarters, share rooms to promote unity. “There is nothing more intimate than young men and young women — and when you talk of infantry, we’re talking our young men — laying out, sleeping alongside of one another and sharing death, fear and loss of brothers,” said General Amos, 63. “I don’t know what the effect of that will be on cohesion. I mean, that’s what we’re looking at. It’s unit cohesion, it’s combat effectiveness.”
I simply do not understand what the problem is here. A gay man and a straight man sharing quarters? First of all, it would be ridiculous to assume that the gay man would automatically be attracted to the straight man on the basis of they being of the same sex. Arguing that would be just as ridiculous arguing that all men want to have sex with all women or are attracted by all women and vice versa. While I am sure there are some very sexual men and women out in the world, these are the exception, not the rule. All heterosexual men and women are not automatically attracted by each other, so why should all gay men and women be?

Secondly, assuming that the gay man or woman would be attracted by their quarter mate, why would that be a problem? Yes, sure, we all deal with people being attracted by us when we don't reciprocate those feelings, but we deal with them. Sometimes it is uncomfortable, but being adults, we will tell the person that we do not feel the same and then we will put it behind us. One-sided attraction would only be a problem if the person feeling the attraction would not respect the other person turning them down. I sure hope that General Amos doesn't automatically assume that being gay means you have no boundaries, because that would be just as ridiculous as assuming all gay men and women are attracted to each other. Not respecting boundaries is not inherent to homosexuality, otherwise we would not have heterosexual rape or any kind of heterosexual sexual assault, abuse etc.

Third, grown men and women should be able to handle homo and bisexuality. It is not beneficial for an individual or society as a whole to be narrow-minded and adhering to every norm as if they were social commandments written in stone. Without questioning and broadening our views, society will not move forward. It is because we have accepted things outside the social norm that society has been able to progress. Accepting social norms as some kind of unchallengeable truth is not going to achieve anything other than the stagnation of society. We need to continue being humans and bring forward the curiosity and the progressiveness.

Stop being afraid of that which you do not understand. Deal with your fears instead. It is absurd that people, in this day and age, should still be judged on whom they love. After all, it is the love that seems to be a problem here. How can love between two consenting adults be ugly or wrong? I would rather think that it is the hatred and intolerance that is wrong, that distorts society. Stop projecting your fears onto other people. Just deal with it.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

The Religious Morals of Homosexuality in Society

The Guardian writes that two prospective foster parents' application was turned down due to their conservative view on homosexuality. Somehow, this seemed to them completely baffling. Their lawyer even stated, expressing that incredulity:
"The promotion of values is something that the court should be protecting, especially when these religious values are recognised as giving a moral framework to values in our country. No one is disputing that the duty of every public authority is to safeguard and promote the welfare of a child. It is conceivable if there was an extremely vulnerable adolescent practising [homosexual] child, who may be placed in a certain familial relationship that was disapproving, that may not be a sensible placement."

What seems to me here to be contradictory is the link between morals and certain values of religion and its good for society. While I completely agree that some fundamental Christian (and other religious) morals can be for the common good for the society, these are values and morals that pertain to our capability to coexist, not the opposite. Values like love, compassion and tolerance are all part of the New Testament and something that most Christians value dearly. One may even argue that a person is not a Christian unless they adhere to these values. After all, it is the forgiveness and inclusiveness of Christ that separate Christianity from the other religions. (I'm not saying here that other religions are intolerant or any such thing, but the couple in the text were Christians and so that religion is relevant here.)

Intolerance of what breaks from the social norm is ancient in Christianity and most of it belongs to the Old Testament. The New Testament and the tale of Christ is what, in my eyes, redeems Christianity as a religion somewhat. It speaks of love and compassion rather than intolerance and cruelty, and I would argue, contrary to what the couple's lawyer seems to believe, that this is the values and morals society wants to promote today. With the growth of liberalism, social liberalism in particular, civil rights have never been so much valued as today and an essential part to those, is the acceptance of people who strive from what is the norm. Granted, society is not exactly there yet in its acceptance of anything but the white male, but it is fighting to get there. To say that the Old Testament values such as no homosexuality, no sex outwith marriage and other restrictions is what society today uses as a framework to set the morals and values is tweaking the truth to say the least.

Ben Summerskill, the chief executive of the lesbian, gay and bisexual rights charity Stonewall summed it up quite neatly when he expressed it thus:
"Too often in fostering cases nowadays it's forgotten that it is the interests of a child, and not the prejudices of a parent, that matter. Many Christian parents of gay children will be shocked at Mr and Mrs Johns's views, which are more redolent of the 19th century than the 21st."