Saturday, May 01, 2010

The Reason For Liberalism To Exist At All and Why Violent Pornography Should Be Suppressed [Anthony McCarthy]

Two people hearing the same piece of music won’t have the same reaction to it. One person will hate it and the next person will find that it compellingly speaks to their condition. And those aren’t the only two possibilities. The person who finds a piece to be irresistibly absorbing of their attention will have a half-ally in someone who likes to ignore the same piece as background music while they read a book. The first cousin to indifference.

And what is true about different responses to a piece of music is true of books, movies, pictures, and just about anything else. It is also true of ideas. One person who finds an intellectual position to be totally convincing will be matched by many who think it is hogwash. And there are few passionate dislikes quite like colleagues who hold similar but competing positions on a subject within the world of scholarship.

Clearly people react in significantly different, often significantly opposite ways to the same experience. Which will come as a surprise to no one. When it comes to the things above.

A note I had from someone who read the exchange from last weekend provided the same old lines about pornography that can be abbreviated to “there isn’t any proof that pornography leads to violent behavior”, with the obligatory mention of statistics thrown in. While I’m not convinced that the statistical analyses, such as I’ve seen, are convincing, I ‘ve come to be even less convinced that they are relevant to the topic of the damaging effects of pornography. The statistics won’t show us what we need to know about this topic.

For the purposes of thinking about the possible impact of pornography in the actual lives of people, it is the individual people that are important, not the artificial, nonexistent conglomeration that is the focus of statistical analysis. A person isn’t raped by a number, they aren’t strangled or slashed or bludgeoned by a tolerable confidence interval, mode, median or average, they are attacked by one person, or a group of actual, other associated people. I hold that it is a reasonable conclusion, that if those people who attack have been exposed to violent pornography, their actions have been motivated by that pornography. That another person – OK, let’s cut that even handed garbage now — if another man happened to view exactly the same pornography and was entirely unaffected by it, that does nothing to negate the motivating effect it had on the attacker.

When it is a matter of a crime, the events of that crime are more important than a sociological generality. The life events and condition of the individual who commits a crime are more important in understanding that crime than the experience or condition of any or, even, all other individuals. Just as the crime of an unrelated person cannot be justly blamed on another accused person*, the non-response of another person to pornography can’t negate its likely effect on a person who acts in a way that is consistent with it and the ideas it promotes.

n individual perso's experience isn’t watered down by the experience of another person, our lives aren’t neutralized to a tolerable acidity by the introduction of an inert substance. When looking for the possible effects that violent pornography has on the victims of violence, the only relevant subjects for study are those who attacked them. Unfortunately, since we are talking about the internal conditions of peoples’ minds in this, you have no access to that except through their self-reporting. And in the case of the consumption of violent pornography and its effects on those who act violently, I don’t know how you are going to reach a reasonable level of confidence in their testimony about their consumption of it or its place in their motivations. I’d be rather disinclined to view violent rapists and sexual sadists as reliable in matters of self-knowledge and truth.

As I’ve always been stunned to realize, in our society today, words and images are granted a higher level of respect than mere mortals, both human and animal. I strongly suspect that what began as an abstract Jeffersonian ideal that was supposed to allow the best ideas to incubate and naturally rise to prominence, in practice hasn’t worked out with anything like uniform success. I also strongly suspect some of the worst of it, flows from the fact that not all words and ideas are of equal attractiveness to people with the power to change things. The idea that women are inferior to men and so women were subjugated by natural law is an idea that we are still struggling against. It was such an accustomed idea to the late 18th century that women could be left out of the founding documents of this country, its expression isn’t sufficient to disqualify men from holding important public offices now. ** Jefferson’s actions show that he certainly didn’t see women as being the equals of men, certainly not women of color.

Clearly, for most of the history of this country, the idea that women were inferior to men had greater appeal than the idea that women are equal to men and possessed the right to full personhood and equality. It was to the benefit of men to pretend they knew this, it was to their economic benefit and to the gratification of their self-concept to have women subservient to them, their chattels. The struggle of the idea that women had equal rights is an idea that has had a hard time winning out over the traditional viewpoint of patriarchal domination. That the factual case of women’s rights is solid and entirely more credible than the self–interested hunches and habits of patriarchy has not made it strong, politically, and even under the judiciary it is constantly endangered in 2010.

Just think of that. In 2010 women are in danger of losing their right to control the most personal and intimate aspects of their personhood! Despite the centuries of reasoned discussion and proof, we are still struggling against the most primitive and obviously dishonest line of oppression that deprives more than half of the human population of their equal rights. The “more speech” of women’s rights has not yet effectively won over patriarchy despite what must be the daily experience of more than half of the species. And it is the freely spoken lies, the freely presented images and dramatic presentations and Madison Ave. style PR in favor of male domination that are what maintain the oppression. And in no part of the freely spoken, freely expressed discourse of patriarchal oppression is that as obvious as violent pornography.

To grant pornography the legal status where it must be convicted at a standard beyond mere reasonable doubt is one of the absurdities of our times. A standard granted to pornography is well past a standard based on perfect certainty that it is innocent. If there was absolute proof convicting pornography in promoting violence, I would bet you anything that the absolutists would still claim it was the right thing to allow it to live. That is the essential stand that is unstated in free speech absolutism. It is the standard of those who oppose all libel and slander laws which are, obviously, a restriction on speech. That standard makes the most damned lie immune from suppression. The counter-argument that bad speech be answered by “more speech” is made false by the fact that a lie, even countered, generally has a damaging effect on those lied about. There isn’t enough of the distilled water of “more speech” to render the lie of no consequence. Of course, if you have a prominent position in the media or other realm and often according to where you live, those consequences are often of less impact. The effects of many of the worst lies varies by area and economic status.

In Massachusetts on Thursday, a young man was convicted of the stabbing murder of James Alenson, a 15-year-old school mate. The jury didn’t find the psychological mitigation presented by the defense to be convincing. Among other things learned in the trial, the murderer, John Odgren, was obsessed with a series of Stephen King stories. The testimony in the case documented that what he read in those books influenced his behavior to the extent that he called himself by the name of the principle character in them. To assert that his behavior was unaffected by the book is, clearly, to lie. He was, clearly, impressed with the trench coat cult, which I associate with the killers at Columbine High School. He would have had to hear about that from someone, most likely through the media, perhaps through the sick online cult that sees the Columbine killers and their kind as heroes. I don’t know what it was in the mass of psychological jargon presented by either side of the court case that made him attack a randomly chosen student, one who apparently he didn’t know, who was small and gentle and not someone who would have been likely to taunt him. Someone who was probably seen as unlikely to put up an effective defense. I don’t know exactly why Odgren killed, I do know that to discount his media driven obsessions is willful detachment from reality. It is as delusional as the thinking asserted by his defense team as the motivation of the murder. Just as an observation, if I was the author of stories that played a role like this in a murder, I would at least cease from producing similar tales. My right to tell a story can hardly be equal to the right of a 15-year-old to live.

The political impotence of the left is the result of the pseudo-judicial requirement imposed, by us and media coercion, on our public life by the free speech industry.**** That standard of extra-judicial impartiality has been absurdly inserted into our political speech and our lives as political animals. It is a standard of behavior that no other part of the political spectrum feels they must practice. It is seen clearly in the scrupulous observances maintained on the left about speech and expression. When someone can’t object to the word “cunt” or about the business practices of Hooters without being chastised as violating some bizarrely inverted concept of justice, it’s clear that we mere human beings are the vassals of words and images, so much more so when they are the products of commerce. It is time for women and the rest of those struggling for progress to declare we are going to throw off that mind forged manacle that is so notably a benefit to our opponents. The idea that all speech is equal and must be treated impartially will always benefit those with more power and fewer morals.

When you add the mass media to violent words the results can be genocidal. As mentioned in last weeks argument, free speech in the form of lies is the basis of most of the loss of rights due to bigotry and discrimination. Misogyny, racism, ethnic and religious bigotry, hatred of LGBT folks, are, in almost every case today, founded on and fueled by freely expressed speech. Hate talk radio and cabloids are the most prevalent media informing the American People of what their government and others do. Our virtually unrestricted media, just about entirely freed of the obligation to serve the public interest is the product of the free speech industry and the corporate media it so often acts on behalf of***. There has hardly ever been a time in the history of speech, when hate speech by and in the interest of those with power wasn’t given complete freedom, no matter what other speech was suppressed.

Of the many clear examples when speech has a homicidal impact on mere human beings, abridging every right those mere humans have, the Rwandan genocide is a relatively fresh and undeniable example. By the time the “more speech” had time to catch up with the hate speech and incitement to commit genocide that was uninhibitedly broadcast in a way that our shock jocks are quickly catching up to, hundreds of thousands of people were dead. If you think that can’t happen here, it does now. Women, the identifiable class most subject to hate speech, freely expressed, are murdered in the United States every single day because they are women. The slaughter of women is slow motion terrorism that has an inhibiting effect on the freedoms of women and girls. It is a lynching campaign that is the product of words that accumulate into attitudes and social norms. The same can be said to an extent of other groups which are regularly and irregularly the topic of hate speech. As is undeniable during this time of “open carry” rallies, our opponents are showing us that they are armed well past the teeth. Anyone who is willing to bet that they could not be incited to kill with them is an idiot.

In thinking about this and other topics, I’ve come to the conclusion that the way we have been led to think of human behavior is basically wrong. People aren’t atoms and molecules, they don’t behave with reasonable uniformity, there aren’t just a few simple vectors to describe their motion and interaction with their environment. I think much if not all of this statistical activity concerning human behavior might be quite useless. I don’t believe anymore that human behavior is subject to any laws and rules that our science is able to discern with any reliability. It is in determining the actions of any individual. While it might be very desirable to be able to make predictions about future behavior, trying to determine that with statistics is of wildly variable success at the very best. The more complex the behavior, the less likely it is liable to be understood simply. With complexity, given the nature of behaviors and their possible source in unknowable motivations, the complexity of the network of those possible motivations expands very fast. I don’t think behavioral science works even as well as the observations of a good fiction writer. That conclusion is something I didn’t want to be true, I used to believe the opposite, but I think it is true. I would like there to be a reliable science to deal with dangerous mental illnesses, but I don’t believe that, other than administering drugs to prevent some of the adverse behavior, the results are reliable.

We don’t have to like something for it to be true. Nature and science don’t have to conform to what would be most useful to us or most convenient for us. It would be extremely useful if we could predict who will have a bad reaction to violent pornography and use it as a how-to manual. But we can’t. To pretend that inability requires us to accept complete libertarianism, allowing pornography to throw off its chains and to flourish in its infinite depravity, is insane. To ignore that it is at least as effective as Viagra commercials in changing behavior or encouraging behavior that is latent in a potentially dangerous person, is also insane.

* The results of the habit of generalization are on full display in the infamous law recently passed in Arizona. Allow sterotypes and group libel full reign and you get laws like that one.

** When you add the element of ownership, as in slavery, the interests of slave owners asserted themselves and the original Constitution included mention of slaves, conferring extra privileges to slave holders and the states they lived in. The importance of that distinction is seen in the fact that the constitution didn’t give extra weight to the representation of states based on giving unenslaved women a fractional value, the infamous 3/5ths person value. Of course, that added representation wasn’t given to slaves, it was given to their enslavers.

*** If you want to know why our government doesn’t work, despite the majority that was elected with Barack Obama, our media is the foremost part of that. The impotence of Democrats in the congress and the administration is inflicted by the free media, exercising their unrestricted free speech in the absence of the onerous burden of risking an accurately informed electorate voting in an effectively beneficial way.

**** It was exactly that media coercion that fueled my first blog post.

Note: In the end, you have to stand for what you stand for.

I would have risked making this post of even more unreadable length if I’d gone into the all important issue of what the values of liberalism are for, in the end. To hold that governments and societies should treat people equally, to allow them to practice the control of their bodies and lives, isn’t an isolated end in itself. It has a goal, that of allowing people to live peaceful, happy lives, to not be harmed by other people with the ability to suppress and harm them. I don’t think it’s wrong to point out that much of speech and expression is an attack on that goal, it isn’t of innocuous intent. The goal of many people is to hurt people and animals, some people are gratified by hurting other people, they want to steal the product of their work, up to and including the most basic sustenance. There are people who like to hurt and kill other people. To deny that is to deny the reasons that liberalism and democracy are necessary in the first place. To deny that it is necessary to prevent that harm is to deny the only legitimate reason that laws and government exist.

There are also people who are so enamored of their self-righteousness that they will preen in a posture of scrupulosity in the matter of free speech even as they wash their hands of the results of the malignant speech they champion. “More speech” is the water that is held to clean up the blood. Only it doesn’t clean up the blood. It does, however, mask the indifference to it.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Happy Birthday, Gerda!

Gerda Lerner turns ninety today! Her Creation of Patriarchy is interesting reading.

You can read her marvelous recent essay on aging here (Scroll down the page until you see the cover of the book and then click "View Inside." This will let you read the chapter on aging).

Return of the Lilith Fair (by Suzie)

I was excited this week to hear that the Lilith Fair is coming to town. I caught all three tours 1997-1999. This puts me at odds with feminist bloggers who are considered hip. (I hate hip, but that’s a topic for another Friday.) Sacha Whitmarsh defends the tours, but I imagine no one will take her seriously because she’s a fan of Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls, and OMG, that’s lesbians with acoustic guitars, how boring can you get? We want Lady Gaga!

In 1996, Lollapalooza had no female acts. Rarely did two women tour together. A female star had to be balanced out with a male opening act. In 1997, I wrote that the Lilith Fair was bound to change things. I wonder how much it did. It’s still common for mega tours to have few, if any, women. I rarely listen to the radio, but when I do, it’s still one male artist after another on most stations.

While home for my 20-year high-school reunion, I caught the first Lilith Fair in Dallas with one of my sisters. Next to us were a straight couple next to a dad and his daughter next to four frat boys next to a lesbian couple. A man in a Texas A&M cap sat behind a woman with a Celtic triskelion tattoo. With men outnumbered 4-1, they either respected music by women or they kept their mouths shut. It felt so different from other outside tours where men dominate.

In 1998, I caught the tour in Orlando with three lesbians active in the struggle for LGBT rights. For a break from the sweltering heat, we ducked into misting tents and then walked around in wet T-shirts free from harassment. In 1999, I went to Atlanta with a boyfriend who couldn’t handle the crowds, and I ended up hearing some great acts from the parking lot. Each time, I felt like I was in a world of women.

Did any of you see the Lilith Fair?
I'm sparing y'all a Miranda Lambert video of "I'm Texas as Hell." Instead, the video above is from the Court Yard Hounds, which consists of Martie Maguire and Emily Robison, the two sisters who formed the Dixie Chicks. The third member, Natalie Maines, is taking a break. Lambert and the Hounds are on the tour, along with many others who are not from Texas.

Friday critter blogging (by Suzie)

This is Pudge in a photo that his mistress, Mary Hestand, titled "dog tired." She got him because he matched her sofa. Just kidding, she likes boxers.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Dorothy Height RIP

Dorothy Height has died at the age of 98. Her funeral was today. She was a Civil Rights warrior and a fighter for women's rights:

Though not nearly as well known as her male contemporaries, Height was a steadfast presence in the civil rights movement. Often the only woman at strategy meetings with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders, she was a determined voice pressing the importance of issues affecting women and children, such as child care and education.

President Obama called Height "the godmother of the civil rights movement and a hero to so many Americans."

"Dr. Height devoted her life to those struggling for equality … and served as the only woman at the highest level of the civil rights movement — witnessing every march and milestone along the way," Obama said in a statement.


Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, told The Times in an interview, "Dorothy understood from the beginning the importance of both the civil rights movement and the women's rights movement and how they're intertwined. She's always tried to keep people together and united."

Drill, Baby, Drill!

I can't help hearing that wingnut chant in my ears every time I tune in to the news and learn that the oil leak catastrophe is even bigger than already anticipated.
Added later: I hear that people in New Orleans can now smell the oil. The wetlands...But then some still worry about money-making activities and the loss of money-making activities.


You really must read this article in the U.K. Guardian by Bidisha, because it faintly links to our recent knitting conversations:

Somehow, a decision is being made, probably subconsciously, about what is worthwhile and what is worthless. When I was judging the Orange prize last year we all noticed how major bookshops consistently stacked 10 men's books to every one woman's book on its "recommended read" tables – in whatever genre. In one bookshop, fellow judge Martha Lane Fox was told barefacedly by the sales guy that this was because men published 10 times as much fiction as women. But as everyone knows, chaps are heavyweight colossal conceptual geniuses of quite massive greatness and literary ladies are clever little fairies, handstitching our charmingly personal tiny tales out of skirting-board dust and featherweight neuroses.

But mostly I call Bidisha's piece awesome because that's what its tone is. She takes no prisoners, doesn't mumble, doesn't apologize for pointing out the invisible women.

We see far too little of that these days.

Let's Not Have Feelings!

While writing about the Harvard racist e-mails thing, one editor of Above The Law says this:

Here at ATL, we're actually very pleased by the fantastic traffic frank and robust discussion that this email controversy has sparked. But we — okay, I'm shifting to "I," since your three ATL editors have rather divergent views on this episode — actually wish that DNA's email wasn't so controversial.

In an academic setting, it should be possible to put any proposition on the table for debate. No position should lie beyond the pale. Some — in fact, many — such positions will be stupid or wrong. But we should be able to debate all issues rationally, vigorously and openly, without having to worry about offending anyone.

Set aside the question whether e-mails are part of an academic setting. The fact still remains that debating any issue, "vigorously and openly, without having to worry about offending anyone" is impossible for mere humans to do. Unless those mere humans happen to belong to a group which is obviously assumed to be capable of intellectual thought, leadership and the creation of civilizations.

It's that imbalance which makes me very scornful of urgings to debate everything vigorously and openly, without any repercussions that might come from offending a person. If this editor has routinely debated his/her own value and worthiness openly, vigorously, robustly and in all those other wonderful ways, my hat goes up to him or her. But I suspect that is not the case, simply because of that initial assertion that one should not be offended by having one's own humanity subjected to a robust debate.

Here's the important point: I am NOT arguing that we shouldn't debate anything and everything. I'm just pointing out that if I'm put on a panel as the only woman and the topic is "Can Women Think?" I will certainly be angry, I will feel pressured to put on my best and brightest arguments and I know that many in the audience want me to make a mess of it. Whether all this will affect my performance is an important question (stereotype threat comes to mind here), and one men on that hypothetical panel would not have to think about when deciding on their own arguments. So such debates are never really on an even ground.

To ask that one should have no feelings when under attack is idiotic.

The Girls Protection Act

Do you know what it is? Nope, it's not about abortion though it sounds like one of those "blue skies" initiatives which meant the exact reverse during the Bush era. This actually tries to protect girls from being transported outside the U.S. for the purpose of FGM:

A piece written for Salon by longtime contributor Lynn Harris has inspired Reps. Joseph Crowley and Mary Bono Mack to introduce legislation to combat the practice.

The procedure, which includes partial or complete removal of the external female genitalia, is already illegal stateside, but the Girls Protection Act "would make it a federal crime to transport a minor outside the United States for the purpose of female genital mutilation," explains a press release.

Call your congress critters and ask them to support this Act. Similar ones are already used in many other countries.

And no, such laws are no substitute for changing minds about girls and women in general.

How It Is Done. The Separation Of State And Church.

The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision breaking on the obvious conservative-liberal lines, has decided that a Christian cross on public land is A-OK:

To Kennedy, the cross "is not merely a reaffirmation of Christian beliefs" but a symbol "often used to honor and respect" heroism.

He added: "Here, one Latin cross in the desert evokes far more than religion. It evokes thousands of small crosses in foreign fields marking the graves of Americans who fell in battles, battles whose tragedies are compounded if the fallen are forgotten."

My hat goes off for Justice Kennedy, because he is excellent in his slipperiness. Note that by stating that the cross is a general symbol for past sacrifices he preempts the argument that we can now put, say, a pentagram up on public land. Only the cross has those historical associations in the United States! Well, with the possible exceptions of Native American symbols.

So which Native American religious symbol should we put up on public land?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Diversity, Diversity, Tra LALALAla LAAAH

I have this inner song in my head, about diversity, and I tried to express it in the title. Doesn't work. You are supposed to sing higher with the capitalized LAs.

I don't like diversity that much. I bet that came as a surprise to you! The reason I don't like diversity is that it has superseded fairness in our debates about gender, ethnicity and race. And I like fairness a lot.

Let me explain: Diversity dispenses with any attempt to match representation of a group to its actual size and replaces it with an attempt to have one or two faces from each group. Thus, diversity might be satisfied by, say, a Supreme Court which has eight men and one woman, as long as each of the men comes from a different ethnic background. Or more realistically, a firm might feel satisfied with its diversity if it has a few people of color/women/both scattered here and there in the organization and a few of them in some visible position.

Diversity explicitly rejects any whiff of quotas. But by doing that, it also forgets about fairness. If half of Americans are women, not having roughly 50% of power in the hands of women requires a long and careful explanation. In a fair system the Supreme Court should have four or five women. But a system emphasizing diversity doesn't aim at that kind of fairness.

So I'm exaggerating here a bit. But it is required, because we are so immersed in the diversity thinking and in a focus on the benefits of diversity. And those benefits do exist, of course. It's important to have minorities represented and it's important to have people with different life experiences contribute to public decision-making. But an excessive focus on diversity can be used to avoid actually being fair.

All this is hidden when we begin with a system which is all male and pale. Any move towards greater diversity also serves the goal of greater fairness. But if I had to pick between the two concepts I would pick fairness with proper safeguards for very small minorities to be also represented. A compromise, if you will.

What caused these musings? Monica Pott's TAP post on the Washington Post columnists. It's not the post that I criticize. It makes excellent points about what is wrong at the Post, starting with its title (But What About The Menz) and including this:

Out of 27 total columnists and reporters, three are black men and three are white women. The rest are white men.

Compare those figures to population statistics and what do you find? White men are very well represented. Black men are also well represented. White women are poorly represented. Black women? Latinos and latinas?

My point is not to demand quotas for all the different ethnic and gender groups, not at all. But a focus on diversity as opposed to fairness hides the fact that the main problem at the Post is about the lack of women.

Diversity doesn't necessarily address that, because three (white) women might look like a good representation for the category "women" in general if you forget that women are the numerical majority. A fairness approach reveals the flaws in that way of looking at the problem.

Diversity also has an additional problem. The TAP post discusses George Will's recent column and in particular this from Will on the Arizona immigration law:

Non-Hispanic Arizonans of all sorts live congenially with all sorts of persons of Hispanic descent. These include some whose ancestors got to Arizona before statehood -- some even before it was a territory. They were in America before most Americans' ancestors arrived. Arizonans should not be judged disdainfully and from a distance by people whose closest contacts with Hispanics are with fine men and women who trim their lawns and put plates in front of them at restaurants, not with illegal immigrants passing through their back yards at 3 a.m.

Monica notes:

I shouldn't even have to make the case here for why diversity is important. Today's George Will column, which suggests that liberals only contact with Latinos involves their gardeners and waiters, would have only been more egregious if it included the line, "Hey, some of my best friends are Hispanic!" Yglesias points out that there are few voices at the Post to challenge Will on his views and assumptions. And now, that's more noticeable than ever:

Anyways, the Post has a snazzy new PostPolitics page that helps you swiftly summarize the fact that there don't appear to be any Hispanic opinion writers at the paper who might be able to have a word or two with Will about this.

That is indeed one of the reasons why diversity matters: The different life experiences and opinions it offers. But what if all those life experiences and opinions were so commonly appreciated that it was no longer important to bring them into the public debate? Then diversity would lose some of its teeth as an argument for a more representative set of columnists at the Post, say. But fairness would not.

And Even More on Knitting

The picture is made by me. It's reverse applique and applique and embroidery. Click on it to see the details.

What a wonderful discussion below in my first knitting post! Thank you, all. Just when I think I can't take the arguing anymore something like that happens and blogging is, once again, fun.

Reading the comments, while keeping in mind that 'knitting' here means any pink-smelling handicraft, I noticed one reason why I have ambiguous feelings about the idea of reclaiming them:

Feminists are not reclaiming something like a dead language here, but reclaiming something which is still very much a living language (in some cultures in the U.S. and in many cultures abroad), and often one forced on little girls, whether they wish to learn it or not, because doing certain crafts is part and parcel of the female gender role. That the reclaiming and this no-choice-world are taking place at the same time is what causes my worry.

The analogy might be to the use of the slur "cunt." Some feminists have tried to reclaim the word, to use it in a different and positive meaning. But given the widespread use of the term in the general society, that reclaiming really does not work. Instead, it may give "cunt" more power as an insult, because even feminists use it!

Using that analogy, reclaiming knitting and other crafts might be used to support patriarchal gender roles in general. I don't think that is actually going to happen, mostly because feminists are not powerful enough to have that effect in the groups which bring up girls all ready for an inferior life as women. But this is the theoretical aspect which sticks in my craw.

But note that all of this has to do with the question: "Is knitting feminist?" It has nothing to do with related questions of whether knitting is fun and creative and useful and psychologically helpful and so on. Of course knitting and other similar crafts are awesome! So is cabinet-making, book-binding, pottery and so on.

I guess the real question I'm asking, once again, is about how to define feminism. How wide is the definition? How specific? What is it that drives it? Do we start from concepts or from women or both?
Added later: Lindsay's take on this topic is a good one.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Is Knitting Feminist?

(Sweater designed and made by me with lots of credit to Kaffe Fasset for the general style)

What do you think? If lots of women reclaim knitting, a traditionally female craft, will knitting be more esteemed? Will it improve women's lives or make men interested in taking up knitting?

Or is reclaiming knitting a bit like reclaiming the competition between 1950s housewives about who has the whitest laundry hanging on the line? After all, knitting is not something little girls reallyreally wanted to do, in most cases.

It was something girls were made to learn so that they could knit socks and mittens for their husbands and children. We have to go pretty far in the history to find women who could have supported themselves with just knitting. Or with crocheting or many other feminine crafts.

I am really writing about crafts here, and about very specific kinds of crafts, the pink-smelling ones. Oddly enough, many of the traditionally male crafts (carpentry and furniture-making) have a higher general reputation. Women wanting to take up those are usually admired. Men wanting to take up knitting... Are they admired?

How does reclaiming work? I'm not quite sure about the basic rules. Does it matter what the past generations thought or does it not matter? Does it matter if feminists now pick up only rudiments of knitting, for example?

And where is the line between art and craft? I have always felt angry about the dismissal of textile arts in general and women's textile arts in particular. All those anonymous women, stitching away, and what did they get for it? Not even their names written down anywhere. Yes, fabric preserves poorly, and, yes, it's difficult to exhibit. But it's still true that traditional women's arts have been allowed to molder down the memory hole.

But not all embroidery, knitting or crocheting is art. A small fraction qualifies, and it's not that small fraction the reclaiming is all about but something else altogether. What is that "else"?

I can knit, by the way, and I can also crochet, embroider and quilt. I like doing things with my hands. But I'm not an artist and my crafts are not feminist ones (except in the choice of topics).

Where the feminism enters is perhaps in my desire to cast more light on the art that women have created throughout the centuries: the embroideries of India, the carpets of the Middle east, the molas of South America, the altar clothes, the stuffed work, the blackwork, the Amish quilts, the lace and on and on.

Meanwhile, in Arizona

Everyone knows about Arizona's horrible new immigration laws. But not everyone knows that Arizona is the first to enact a Stupak provision in health care:

The new Arizona law is a radical mini Stupak. It prevents insurers from offering abortion services, except under the most extreme circumstances, even if only private money were used to pay for those services.


Many other states are considering similar bans, but only Arizona has the distinction of leading the nation in adopting the most conservative social policies. Earlier this month, Brewer also signed a measure requiring abortion providers "to report on the individual abortions they perform. Though the names of the women would remain confidential, the bill would also require statistics on how many times courts bypassed parental consent laws, among other things."

It's the Hyde amendment expanded into private money. Just as Stupak and the bishops wanted!

Meanwhile, in Nebraska and Oklahoma

In Nebraska, almost all abortions will be illegal after twenty weeks:

Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman signed two abortion-related bills into law April 13. One requires screening of women seeking abortions. The other bans most abortions after 20 weeks because they cause pain to fetuses.

What provoked the Abortion Pain Prevention Act's introduction two months ago was the stated intention of Nebraska abortionist Leroy Carhart to step into the role of Dr. George Tiller, the late-term abortion specialist murdered last year, and serve the national market for late-term abortions from his clinic in Bellevue, Neb.

The Nebraska Legislature's speaker, Mike Flood, got the ball rolling when he learned of Carhart's plans, says Julie Schmit-Albin, executive director of Nebraska Right to Life. Flood approached Nebraska Right to Life looking for draft legislation.

The Nebraska Catholic Conference provided Flood support for the second bill, which requires physicians to screen women seeking an abortion to help avoid any post-abortion complications — mental or physical. Both bills passed by a 44-5 margin.

Note that the above quote is from a Catholic source.

What is the new evidence concerning fetal pain? I'm not sure if there is any:

What new scientific evidence did Nebraska's legislature look to? In accordance with regular legislative practice, all testimony on the bill was heard by a small fraction of the 44 lawmakers who ultimately voted for it. Two witnesses testified on the topic of fetal pain. One was an expert in pain management and anesthesiology who admitted he had no personal experience treating or studying fetuses. The second was a pain expert who had administered fetal anesthesia in a neonatal intensive care unit, but only starting at 23 weeks. He also asserted that "life begins at conception" according to his "religious viewpoint" and his "maker." (This same doctor, venturing far beyond his apparent medical expertise, spontaneously volunteered that electroshock therapy to induce a grand mal seizure should be the preferred treatment over abortion for a suicidal woman 20 or more weeks pregnant.) It can hardly be said that Nebraska lawmakers learned of some new and authoritative evidence on fetal pain.

Reading about forced birth laws does make me see how very apt that term I prefer: "forced birth" is. Note that a woman's mental health will be screened for abortion but not for going on with the pregnancy. She might be out of her mind but nobody cares about that as long as there is no abortion.

And in Oklahoma the forced birthers have also been active:

The Oklahoma House voted overwhelmingly Monday to override vetoes of two restrictive abortion measures Gov. Brad Henry has called unconstitutional intrusions into citizens' private lives and decisions.

The Senate was expected to follow suit Tuesday, after which the bills would become law.

One of the measures requires women to undergo an ultrasound and listen to a detailed description of the fetus before getting an abortion. The other prohibits pregnant women from seeking damages if physicians withhold information or provide inaccurate information about their pregnancy.

Supporters said the second measure was aimed at preventing women from discriminating against fetuses with disabilities. The votes were 81-14 and 84-12.

You can now lie to pregnant women in Oklahoma! They are unimportant in the scale of things. In fact, they are mere vessels and vessels don't have to be told the truth.

I understand that all these examples are part of the current forced-birth approach: Make abortion impossible to obtain everywhere even if it is still theoretically legal. But they also tell us how women are viewed in Nebraska and Oklahoma and that is with contempt.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Män som hatar kvinnor

It translates into "men who hate women" and appears to be the original title of Stieg Larsson's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. It is also the name of the film based on that book.

I have just read the first two books in the series but not the third one. Neither have I seen the film, but I plan to write about the series later. From a Nordic angle, if you like.

Did you see the film? Did you read the books?*
*Forgot to ask what your thoughts are if the answer is yes.

Have You Got A Plan B?

A long time ago when I was but a tiny goddess one kid in the neighborhood got a scooter. Everyone gathered around, wanting to test it. Someone (my brother? my cousin? can't remember) got on it, started it and off he went, yelling all the time: "How do you turn this thing off?"

I always remember that when I read about grown-ups acting in the exact same way. George Bush goes to Iraq with no plan on how to get out of there! How do you turn this thing off, indeed.

Anyway, I believe that some humans, if not all, have this design flaw. The urge to jump into something brand new with great optimism and no backup plans. That we let this happen on the level of societies is a disgrace. Honest.

Political opposition and public debates and other similar arrangements should take care of that problem but they do not. The conservative opposition in the U.S. right now is not about asking careful questions about some backup plan but about charging ahead, fast and without any backup plans, into a world of gated communities and great general poverty. Or the mythical middle ages of theocracy.

This was the impetus for writing on the general topic today, and yes, I know that Plan B has a slightly different meaning for feminists.

The Boobquake

I honestly tried not to write about it. The story begins in Iran:

A senior Iranian cleric says women who wear revealing clothing and behave promiscuously are to blame for earthquakes.

Iran is one of the world's most earthquake-prone countries, and the cleric's unusual explanation for why the earth shakes follows a prediction by the president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, that a quake is certain to hit Tehran and that many of its 12 million inhabitants should relocate.

"Many women who do not dress modestly ... lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which increases earthquakes," Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi was quoted as saying by Iranian media. Women in the Islamic Republic are required by law to cover from head to toe, but many, especially the young, ignore some of the more strict codes and wear tight coats and scarves pulled back that show much of the hair. "What can we do to avoid being buried under the rubble?" Sedighi asked during a prayer sermon last week. "There is no other solution but to take refuge in religion and to adapt our lives to Islam's moral codes."

Women are to blame for earthquakes. But then feminists were to blame for the 911 atrocities, too, according to American fundies.

The next stage of the story happened today in Washington, D.C.:

Today, women gathered in Washington's Dupont Circle for a protest. There weren't typo-ridden signs or rallying cries to pass legislation. Instead, there were just a lot of low-cut shirts.

Jen McCreight came up with the idea for the protest and proposed a tongue-in-cheek experiment to test this claim by Iranian Cleric Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi: "Women who do not dress modestly ... lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which increases earthquakes."

So McCreight encouraged women to join her at "Boobquake" and "embrace the supposed supernatural power of their breasts. ... With the power of our scandalous bodies combined, we should surely produce an earthquake." As of today, Boobquake had over 53,000 fans on Facebook.

Amanda at Pandagon wrote about the boobquake before, pointing out several problems with it if it was supposed to give support to women in Iran. But it doesn't sound as if that was its intention. Instead, it's a way to make fun of anti-woman clerics and to point out that earthquakes are not caused by titties and such.

With earthquakes being what they are, we just might have one tomorrow somewhere on the earth and then the joke is ruined, of course.

The deeper layers in all this are about the dangerous women's bodies and who owns the right to look at them or to stop others from looking at them. The Iranian cleric wants to have that control! Lots of hetero guys in the west want to have their pron! Women want to have a say in it all, too! But until we really, really understand that this is all about the ownership of the Body (and who has the right to look at it or to cover it) we are not going to get anywhere much.

That comment is separate from all the cultural commentary I could write in this context. It is indeed very true that the boobquake probably feeds the anti-Western thinking in Iran because it suggests that it's just one big chaos over here and it is that very chaos which the Iranian cleric fears late at night, tossing and turning in his bed.

The one who rides the tiger cannot get off.


I saw wild turkeys courting the other night. The boy turkey made sounds which sounded like a dog with laryngitis and that's what made me go and look out the window.

They were slowly ambling down the street (on the sidewalk!). The girl turkey was walking away, but not very fast. In fact, she stopped once in a while (looking at the trees and such) when it looked like he wouldn't be able to keep up.

The reason for his slowness was a wardrobe malfunctioning. He tried to show his plumage but only one side rose. Pretty iridescent colors, though.

Sorry, I have no idea of the ending as they disappeared behind a neighbor's house.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Author's Query [Anthony McCarthy]

Are the music posts something you like? Do you try the pieces linked to?

I will continue with posts on Carla Bley, I'd written a review of her Christmas album, unfortunately my brother didn't turn me on till the middle of January. I might post that as part of it.

And Even More On Sizing

Ms Fahrenheit has spent some time studying the average men's and women's sizes in the United States, and how they compare to what is shown on television and in magazines. It's tricky to get good information on the average sizes but you might be astonished by some of her findings.