Friday, July 13, 2018

Weekend Reading: Other News About Women And Religion Etc.

The news snippets in the post are collected over time.  Some are very recent, others are a little older, but they are all of some interest, even though the urgency of the Trump reality has pushed them aside. I have marked some items with a plus-sign and some items with a minus-sign, depending on whether I view the news good or bad.

1 (-)  There are all sorts of far right men's organizations today, such as the Proud Boys.  Its founder, Gavin McInnes,  tells us that the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court is great news for the patriarchy*.  By that McInnes literally means that men have the power, women obey, and all women should really stay at home, under the leadership of their lord and master.   And part of that plan, of course, is the denial of reproductive rights for women.

It's bitterly hilarious how similar those goals are to the gender-related goals of ISIS, given that the US far right pretends to hate ISIS.

2 (-)  If that far right passion won't make you accept patriarchy, little lady, maybe the conservative version of the Christian  god does?

Mark Harris is the Republican Party nominee for the US House of Representatives from North Carolina.  He is or was also a Baptist preacher.  In 2013 he gave a little sermon about the proper roles of women in the family.  You can watch the video here.

The gist, little ladies, is that we are supposed to be the eager helpers while the men are supposed to be the benevolent leaders.

The former is a little like being a handmaid in Margaret Atwood's tale, whereas the latter does not mean, not at all, that the husband can be a dictator!  Nope.  He will be a servant-leader (though nobody will actually check on that servant-part in the definition). 

And, for some weird reason, Harris calls those subjugated Biblical women servant-lovers.  I don't know if they are supposed to love their own lower status or the pretend-servant boss, but in either case Harris stresses the importance of placing that help-meet role first in women's career plans.  Sure, women can have jobs, as long as those jobs are secondary (and won't pay very much, because that would disrupt the power relationships inside the family).

These two examples are not at all uncommon, and often I don't bother writing about them.

But it might be good to be reminded of the fact that the political right and the religious right (in all countries, by the way) views women inherently and explicitly as lower-class citizens**, not as equal partners in a marriage or a partnership, that almost all anti-feminist activism is on this level, about the basic rules of the game, about the impossibility of women's rights.

Contrast this with the kinds of things feminist activists argue about or plan for.  Almost all of that just takes it for granted that general equality*** in the labor markets has been won, that equality at home will somehow magically sort itself out and that other types of concerns are what feminists should focus on now.

And, sure,  there are many other serious concerns and many other useful forms of activism.  But  I wouldn't turn my back on these Patriarchy-Strikes-Back plans, because if they succeed none of that other activism will be allowed.

3 (+)  On the good news side of the ledger, Saudi women are now allowed to drive.  This is important not only for their freedom of movement in general, but also because removing the driving ban makes employment a more feasible choice for women who don't have the funds to pay for a male driver's services.

4 (+) The death sentence of Noura Hussein in Sudan was converted to five years in prison by an appeals court.  Hussein was initially sentenced to death by hanging for killing her husband.  The overturning of her death sentence is good news. Hussein was married without her consent, fought to avoid the forced marriage, but failed in that.  She was then raped by her husband while his brother and two of his cousins restrained her:
A day later her husband tried to rape her again, and she stabbed him to death. When she went to her parents for support, they turned her in to the police.

5. (±) The Southern Baptists are American right-wing Christians.  The sect is a good example of the fact that women's rights don't have to increase over time.  Beginning in 1980, Southern Baptists became considerably more conservative. Women were banned from pastoral and leadership roles, the "complementary" aspects of men and women were stressed and patriarchy was explicitly advocated.

Then things proceeded as an outside observer might predict:  Those whose power was not allowed to be questioned tend to misuse it.  Thus, the most recent leader of the Southern Baptists and one of the architects of the conservative takeover, Paige Patterson, was recently fired for mishandling complaints of rape and for all kinds of sexist statements.

Some have described the events leading to Patterson's firing a Southern Baptist #MeToo movement, because the push for getting rid of him was driven by complaints from the women in the organization.

The new president of the Southern Baptists, J.D. Greear, selected this June, is supposed to be a gentler and kinder patriarch.  He is telling Baptist men to apologize to the Baptist women for the sexual injustice and other kinds of abuse in the church.****  But he also supports the conservative rules which ban women from pastoral roles, and he supports the basic patriarchal structure hidden in the presumed "complementary" gender roles.

6.   This discrimination suit reminds me of the tremendous importance of the "blind"audition test in the hiring of musicians for orchestras:

Since "blind" audition processes were introduced at most American orchestras in the 1970s and 1980s — in which musicians play hidden by screens and usually on carpeting to disguise the distinctive clicking sound of women's shoes on the floor — the number of female musicians hired to play in U.S. symphonies has risen exponentially.

I always think of this little change and its impact when someone demands evidence, any evidence (though there's lots more of such evidence), that discrimination could somehow affect women's employment or earnings, that they wouldn't just be lower because of women's choices.

7.  Finally, and just for the fun of it, here's a song where Echidne is portrayed in one her many shapes (the silly one where archeologists put a cat on her head).  The video may not be safe for work.

You Gotta Believe from Nina Paley on Vimeo.


*  Patriarchy means different things to different people.  Innes uses it to mean that men have always been the bosses of women and will always be the bosses of women.  This may require that women be kept limited to their reproductive roles.

Thomas Edsall in the New York Times writes about the vast gender gap cropping up in polls about the 2018 midterms, and pretty much suggests the Innes explanation for it:

In recent polls, men prefer Republicans 50-42 while women prefer Democrats 58-33.  Even white women in those polls say that they would vote for Democrats 52-38 (whereas white men would go for Republicans at 58-33). Note that white women went for Trump by a slim majority in 2016.

Edsall's piece suggests that more men than women like Trump because he is fighting for the preservation or the explicit return of patriarchy.  On the other hand, Trump is a Republican and white men are the largest part of the base of that party.

As a complete aside, the quotes from the Republican media consultant ( and Trump fan) Alex Castellanos are utterly uninformed.  He assumes that people used to live in caves, he clearly does not know that chimpanzees, for example,  do not only have alpha males but also alpha females (i.e., that there are also female hierarchies), and then he defines all Republican-voting men as alphas and all Democrat-voting men as betas.  He probably wanted to call the latter cucks.  In other words, I smell a strong Alt Rich stench there. (Just needed to get all that from my chest before I thump it.)

**  There are three theories that I see the right wing use to justify women's inferiority and subjugation:

1)   Evolutionary psychology -based musings about the assumed innate nature of women and men and the appropriateness of "traditional" sex roles (which actually never were traditional):  The women stay hidden at home, focused on child production and child care, while the men do all outside work and the defense of the nest.

This approach, best exemplified by the writings of Jordan Peterson, argues that patriarchy developed to protect those feeble, frail, constantly pregnant or constantly menstruating women,  and that it was for the women's own best.  That the idea of women as the angels of the home in the West is largely a Victorian middle-class construct appears irrelevant to prophets like Peterson.

2)  Conservative religious explanations, largely based on the views of men who lived thousands of years ago.

The Biblical (and Quranic) defense of women's subjugation is based on the myth of Eve and the snake.  Women, as some eternal concept, committed a crime against god eons ago, in some alternative mythological history, and this crime is so bad that all women forever more will bear the guilt for it and the punishment for it.  Because this punishment is assumed to be from god there's nothing that can be done about changing the treatment of women.

This explanation works loads better in reverse, as an "explanation" for the later bad treatment of women.  It has the great advantage for the believers that no actual counterargument needs to be entertained, given the assumption of divine determination of women's sinfulness.

The biological and religious theories often go hand-in-hand.  Here's a quote about pope Francis, liked by much of the political left:

"At what point does our hope for him become denial?" asked Jamie Manson, NCR columnist and books editor, who said that Francis is circumscribed on women's issues by "the church's teaching that biology is destiny." In papal statements, women are ascribed nurturing roles, while men are still viewed in the context of asserting leadership. The pope believes, said Manson, that as women, "Our first and most essential vocation is motherhood and raising a family."

3)  The brute force explanation.  The shape of this is becoming clearer only now when the Alt Right is blossoming.  It's the best explanation for what Gavin Innes is saying.  He seems to believe that men should have the power in the society because they can wrest it from women by using verbal and physical violence.

Innes and others of his ilk don't spend much energy trying to defend patriarchy as somehow good for women, too.  He doesn't care if women suffer.  Indeed, that might be the extra pleasure he takes in the movement he leads.

It should go without saying that all the three theories lend themselves to mixing and matching, like a travel wardrobe for sexists.

***  It's very much not won for all women, especially for women in poorly paid service occupations, and it's  differentially won across ethnic and racial categories.

But all the feminists whose work I know of seem to believe that the basic legal changes about sex discrimination in the labor force and in education are not going to be touched, that they are part of the strong foundation of the society and its culture, that this is an old battle which has been won.

The election of Trump and the erection of Trump Reich should serve as a warning sign that nothing can now be taken for granted.

****  Such apologies are pretty meaningless, in general, both because they don't require any real change in behavior and because not all men in the Baptist church are equally guilty.  These two aspects make the gesture a purely symbolic one.