Saturday, May 01, 2004


This is the first annual Woman And Media conference, just held in Boston, Massachusetts. I participated as the only amateur (and only goddess, probably) among a large group of very intelligent and lively media women or future media women. I ought to have posted about the event before that took place, but that would have been much too sane.

The event began last night with an enjoyable speech by Katha Pollitt. She speaks as well as she writes, and yes, she did point out the odd omission of our media commentators on the question whether a moron can be the president of the United States. Then today we heard from many famous women, all experts in media. I am all revved up and ready to do battle, which is slightly misplaced as it's Saturday night and I can't apply for a job anywhere right now. Ah well, maybe it will keep until Monday.

Anyway, the point of the meeting was to get women's voices more audible in the media, to get all sorts of women into the media and to make the media finally take women's issues seriously which would mean seeing them as human issues. This is all very important, but it has been very important in the past, too, a sceptic might say. What makes this conference any different from what we have read before?

The differences are in the large number of young women participating, the role of the cyberspace and the freedoms it offers, and the palpable energy in the air during the conference. Maybe things will actually change now? Also, the participants were very knowledgeable and smart, and any television station or newspaper worth its salt would want to hire them immediately or suffer a serious drop in its market share if it didn't do so. Or so we all thought.

The event ended with a farewell speech by Julienne Malveaux. She had us alternately pondering deep truths and rolling on the floor laughing. A wonderful end to a good conference.

If you are interested in learning more about this conference and not missing next year's conference, check out this link for more information.

Friday, April 30, 2004

No Nightline Tonight?

Ted Koppel, the unpatriotic liberal television commentator has decided to read the names of men and women who have died in the Iraq war on Nightline. Immediately the Sinclair Broadcasting group decided not to air this reading of names on its television stations, because a) it isn't patriotic to do so and b) if these names are read, so should the names of those that died in the events on 9/11/2001.

Except of course that many of the names of the 9/11 victims were read in ABC news programs, and it's hard to see why honoring those who have made the utmost sacrifice for their country would be unpatriotic; rather the reverse. And ABC hasn't exactly stayed silent on various aspects of the Iraq war before now, so it can't be accused of not covering a variety of points of view.

No, the real reason for criticisms is the idea that reading the names of those who have died makes war sound a lot less fun and might even make some people more anti-war. THIS is what is now viewed as unpatriotic: any deviation from the policies of the Bush administration. THIS is what is now viewed as biased: showing both sides of an argument.

Yet, surely, one of the important aspects in judging the desirability of a war is the number of casualties it causes? If you are pro-war only because you are unaware of the true numbers of the dead and wounded, aren't your opinions then faulty? It is up to the administration to show us that the war is worth fighting despite the casualties it causes (including those affecting Iraqi civilians). It is not up to the administratrion or the media to censure the information available for American citizens about these casualties.

Or so an old-time traditional-values goddess would like to think.

P.S. About partiality, by the way: The Sinclair Broadcasting group is politically quite partisan itself. According to Common Cause:

What is also troubling is Sinclair's own record of partisanship. Since 1997 through the end of 2003, Sinclair and its executives and affiliates have given 100% of their political contributions exclusively to Republicans, more than $165,000 in total.

What Was I Thinking?

I spent most of the day at the hairdresser's, having my hair streaked. My butt is sore from all the sitting, and my wallet is much lighter now. The result: hair exactly as it was when I entered the cavernous place this morning. The streaks I chose were the color of my hair...

Why can't I be normal, just once?
Does this sort of thing ever happen to you?

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Some Thoughts About Misogyny

Misogyny, like in the hatred of women. This term always seemed inadequate to me, as there's considerably more contempt of women in the air than actual hatred, though the latter can be found, too, especially on the net, and there is also something close to fear of women. We need a word that encompasses all of these, or words to reflect the different types and intensities of feeling.

I believe that misogyny has always existed. I also believe that the majority of men, or the majority of people in general, are not misogynistic, but there is a sizable chorus of hateful voices, and these voices are always humming in the background. The effect this has is to make us almost oblivious to mild hatred of women: it's just how things are. This happens to me a lot. I read an article or see a cartoon or overhear a conversation, and I'm left with an odd displaced feeling which is not quite fear or disappointment but something similar, a feeling of something being wrong or missing, like looking at a group photograph where one person has been whitened out, yet nobody notices. Then later my overworked brain puts the pieces together and I realize that the point of the story was something negative about women or that the cartoon was only funny if you think that women are stupid/greedy/indolent/overemotional, or the overheard conversation expressed an anger at some woman by smearing her for being a woman.

David Gilmore, an anthropologist at New York University at Stony Brook, wrote a book titled Misogyny some years ago. In it he gives us hundreds of pages of evidence on the existence of fear and hatred of women in primitive societies, in so-called advanced societies and in all types of intermediate societies. He also almost delights in showing us the extent of misogyny in many religious writings, in literature and in the visual arts. Any reader brave enough to read him should prepare by downing a stiff drink of nectar or two.

Just about the only people not committing misogyny in Gilmore's book are women. My suspicion is that this omission is a direct result of Gilmore's mild misogyny: that women don't exist except as objects of men's hatred and/or veneration. But this omission is a serious one. Misogyny is not uncommon among women. Misogynist women give us advice in radio call-in shows and political advice as television commentators. They are hired by some religious extremists and politicians to justify largely anti-woman practices. They write articles and books telling women how to live and then blaming them for the negative consequences of these 'choices'. Some of them probably even live in your neighborhood.

True, there are many more misogynistic men than women, but the ignorance of the fact that women, too, can be infected by misogyny casts doubt on Gilmore's theories about the causes of woman-hating. These rely largely on psychological and genetic explanations stressing men's experiences and emotions about women, in particular about women as mothers or as sex objects. Since Gilmore specifically argues that women's experiences and emotions are different from those of men's, his explanations can't cover generalized misogyny.

Which is sort of disappointing, as he provides the reader with a multitude of possible theories. In fact, almost anything seems a likely cause, which doesn't bode well for women, or the reader who might reach for another strengthening sip of nectar. Still, there are a few dim rays of hope for us equalists: Studies suggest that misogyny decreases when men take a more active role in child-rearing and when the sexes work together. Maybe it's just a case of increasing the general understanding between the sexes? I don't know. Disappointingly, Gilmore ends his book by appealing to men to fight their incipient misogyny by noticing how gentle and kind creatures women really are. He obviously never met me.

Whatever the other reasons for misogyny might be, I believe that one reason for its endurance is that people bash women because they can. Women have traditionally not been able to fight back very effectively, and have thereby become a safe target for the general venting of spleen, diffuse rage and other sinister emotions. Obnoxious children torture flies, not bears or lions or tigers. It doesn't matter to these children that the flies might be wholly innocent of any wrong-doing.

So one solution to misogyny and similar maladies might be to fight back: Be a bear or lion! Roar! Or if you prefer to be a fly, at least crap on the misogynists' dinner plates.

One More Bad Poem


I met her in the swimming pool
I cannot stand the crowd
But Hillary was different
and seemed to say so, loud.

Her skin was silvery and cool
Her swimming like a dream
Her crawling style was ancient
but made the waters stream.

Her eyes were deep and green as sea
I never saw them blink
Yes, Hillary was different
but how, I could not think.

Until at last it came to me
and I saw what I had missed:
These facts made it evident
That Hillary was a fish.

This is actually an ode for Hillary Clinton which went bad as usual with my poetry

Spring Vacations in the Liberal Coalition, Part I

These are my tips for a weekend getaway from the gray everyday world. Though only the trip is included in the price, these are good deal, given that the price is just one click away!

For a holiday with some nice liberal anger on the administration and the media, I recommend the following:
- Lambert on Corrente takes down Jodi Wilgoren a peg or two (or a whole ladder);a lovely, biting article
- dohiyimir scolds Karen Hughes on her Kerry-comments; another acerbic break
- Rook rants about how the British press beats ours in proper aggression towards the powers-that-be
- Jeff on Speedkill looks at the religious right-wing and how to do this objectively.

If you prefer something more ruminative on politics and the society, you'll lurve
- Rivka of the respectful otters on pro-choice attitudes by age groups; she shows us why the polls must be interpreted carefully
- Trish Wilson on the real-world horrors in the life of one of the little girls that acted in the Little House on the Prairie
-iddybud on what the media attention on Pat Tillman's death tells about Americans
-And Then... on the teddy bears we have given to Iraqi children in hospitals and what's wrong with them (and there is something wrong with them, believe me).

None of these quite fits the bill? Don't despair, here are a few additional suggestions about politics: all hit the point
- Gotham City 13 shows a picture of a coathanger (trigger-warning, but it's impressive)
- Andante tells what terrible crime made the police in Texas handcuff a 97-year old woman
- David on blogamy gives us more funny bushisms
- while T. Rex shows a bunch of meaningless classroom polls on voting intentions which are nevertheless pretty interesting to interpret

Don't want to read about politics as such? Not to worry, here are other interesting suggestions
- Pen-Elayne got a raise and is moving house
- Steve Gilliard tells us what to keep in the kitchen and the pantry cupboards
- Mustang Bobby has an interesting series on writing (he 'sees' things!)
- and the Fulcrum has a most beautiful picture of a spring meadow: a sea of blue

More suggestions in the near future. And no, I have not trackbacked any of these, given that doing the work Haloscan requires for that would make me too unwell to travel anywhere in the next forty years myself. Sorry.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Why, Despite Everything, Humans Should be Given a Second Chance

This is meant to be a happy post, to keep my dear readers reading rather than running away in disgust at the gloom and doom I usually radiate. So here is my list of wonderful things that humans have created:

1. Chocolate. True, the ingredients are from nature, but people invented the formula for chocolate. It is food for goddesses and anyone else sane. It is said to contain chemical ingredients similar to those that are unleashed when one falls in love. It should be called 'the little orgasm', and it should be declared the national food of all countries. Eating chocolate is good for you, researchers have established (too lazy to find the link now but this is true). The only bad thing about chocolate is something called 'white chocolate'. It is an imposter and should be shunned. The best, absolutely the best chocolate is a home-made truffle. I make a mean chocolate truffle.

2. Buttons, zippers and safety pins; all things to hold us together. Nothing else has come close to these nifty inventions, not therapies or antidepressants, not even velcro (which sticks too much). Where would we be without these helpers? Imagine Bush trying to march looking militant while his toga disintegrates all around him. Sorry, maybe you don't want to imagine that.

3. Vermeer's paintings, especially his blue tones. They are a good substitute for illegal drugs.

4. Dickinson's poetry; so innocent that it covers the most obscene with equal surety.

5. Taj Mahal. Though I've never been there, so this is provisional. But based on the pictures I've seen it is an eternal ode to love.

6. The ancient South American feather murals. I want one!

7. A little medieval wooden head of Christ in a tiny rural church somewhere in Scandinavia.

8. Physicians Without Borders.

9. Blogs.

10. Emergency Rooms, for reasons that to me are obvious.

11. Pesto, another food for goddesses, and freezable!

12. French kissing, though only by people who know what they're doing.

13. Siberian throat-singing, because it is so inexplicable, and sounds to me like an attempt to French-kiss oneself.

The Tendrils of Talibanization

In Afghanistan,

Female performers in an Afghan province have been banned from performing on television and radio. According to Reuters, female entertainers have been declared un-Islamic in the Southeastern province. The provincial government, according to Radio Free Europe, ordered state-run television in Jalalabad to stop broadcasting singer's performances.

I thought that they could sing if they didn't "move their bodies"? They are very protective of their audiences, these Afghan authorities. Who knew that women's voices are that powerful? They don't seem to have that much impact when used in speech. Maybe all women should communicate by singing?

In the United States,

Bush Administration officials rescinded funding for an international health conference because Republican staff members and right-wing groups such as the Traditional Values Coalition complained that the conference promotes abortion.

According to the Washington Post, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) withdrew funding for the Global Health Council's conference entitled "Youth and Health: Generation on the Edge." House Republican aides sent an email to anti-choice groups stating that they found the conference to be "outrageous" because they believe one of the groups speaking at the conference, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), "performs abortions" and helps "the communist Chinese force them on women." These accusations were proven false by the Bush Administration's own experts who investigated and cleared the UNFPA of abuses in its programs in China

Ok, maybe the two are not comparable, but remember that we're at different stages in the Talibanization process. The conference is to discuss issues such as sexual health, nutrition and the spread of SARS. Well, aren't we all glad that our tax money isn't spent on such an evil idea!

Monday, April 26, 2004

Widows, Merry or Not

Widowhood is a sorry state. Just think of expressions like "the widow's weeds" (clothes for the mourning period) and "the widow's mite". At least in our cultural heritage a widow is someone to be pitied; poor thing, she has lost the mainstay and love of her life. This is of course often true, but why is my image of widows also tinged with poverty? Why do I instantly think of begging and of women perpetually dressed in faded black?

In other cultures widows wear white. In India, laws banned sati, or the self-immolation of widows, in 1829, and other laws in the nineteenth century gave widows the legal right to remarry and to inherit. Yet, Indian widows are still often expected not to marry or to demand any inheritance. When this is combined with child marriages for girls, frequently to a much older men, it is possible to have very young widows with no employment skills and nobody willing to take care of them. Add to this the fear of widows by the rest of the society:

After the death of a husband, a woman is shorn of her bridal ornamentation; her head is shaved by the local barber and her body is wrapped in a stark white sari so she may not arouse carnal pleasures in other men.
The bright red sindoor, the red smear that a married woman wears in the parting of her hairline, is substituted by a vertical ash smear from the top of her forehead to the top of her nose. Her very presence is considered so inauspicious that even her shadow may not fall on a married woman lest her terrible fate befall the other woman.

and it's not surprising that most of these unfortunate women survive as beggars near religious shines:

When they arrive at Vrindavan and Varanasi, the widows find shelters that were built almost a century ago for local ashrams or religious institutions. Today, the cramped, leaky spaces--administered by local government officials--accommodate about three women each, who sleep on torn sacks.
They receive meager rations of rice and lentils only if they spend six hours singing devotional songs at the ashram. Young widows are often lured into sex in exchange for more food or money

The future looks a little brighter for these women, as several organizations and the Indian government have started paying attention to their plight.

But what is it about widows that would have caused such ill-treatment of them to begin with? And not only in India; the widow's lot has not been much happier in many other countries. Is there something about widows that reminds us of death, that ever-present silent menace always there, always waiting for the smallest amount of carelessness that will allow it to swoop and catch us? If there is, isn't the same threat equally hovering around the shoulders of widowers? Yet no culture that I know of treats the widowers with such harshness as widows have traditionally provoked. No, this explanation doesn't suffice.

I find a more promising one in economics or, perhaps, in simple human greed, combined with sexism. If a wife is regarded as a belonging of the husband, something that he is responsible for and alone can use, then his dying first is comparable to someone leaving all their property littered around for another person to pick up and care for. What is to be done about the poor widow? How can the other heirs get their maximal inheritance while also somehow escaping the stigma associated with someone who mistreats widows and fatherless children? Or, to put this less cynically, how can widows be provided without destroying the value of the estate for the later generations?

One solution is to provide for her legally, and this is the most common traditional solution. Widows in the twelfth century Sienna were entitled to their dowries and any 'morgengabes' their husband had given them, and in most of medieval Europe a widow had some legal claim to her late husband's property, though the widow's inheritance share was often rather small.* This is all on paper, of course. It is much harder to find out how widows were actually treated, though some at least must have been lucky or successful, given the frequent medieval image of widowhood as a happy time of life for independent-minded women (for the first time, these women were free of male guidance). Still, having to support the widow reduced the available inheritance for other heirs and must have caused pressures to leave her as little as possible, especially if she had no adult sons to fight for her share.

In some African societies, a man's inheritance went to his brothers. This included his widow. Thus, she was taken care of by being married to one of her erstwhile brother-in-laws, though I doubt that her opinion on the desirability of this match was an important consideration to anybody.

Another solution already referred to is to remove the stigma attached to any mistreatment of the widow. When this is successful (as it was in the sati-tradition), the remaining heirs can divide the whole pot. I'm not discounting the other reasons for sati, including religious fervour and true devotion on the widow's part, but neither am I convinced by their sufficiency, given that widowers were not expected to reach the same peaks of religiousness and love.

None of these solutions are very good from the widow's point of view, and ultimately they fail even the other heirs who are made to act in all sorts of unbecoming ways. Much better to circumvent the whole problem by declaring women and wives and widows as full human beings, by training girls in trades and occupations and by allowing for the sorrow that the loss of a spouse can cause in both widows and widowers without making either one into some everlasting symbol of grief.

*See The Marriage Bargain. Women and Dowries in European History, by Marion A. Kaplan, pp. 69-73.

Media Coverage of Yesterday's March

What a wonderful occasion the march was! Democracy in action. And it was even covered by many of the mainstream media. But how exactly was it covered?

The short answer is: neutrally. For the mainstream media this translates into giving the two sides equal time. As one side consists of hundreds of thousands and the other of a few hundreds, the final effect is to give the pro-life people much more coverage per person. In fact, the march was a real bonanza for them: they got half the publicity with zero organizing costs. Even the Bush administration got free coverage this way. Here's Karen Hughes on the real meaning of the march:

Karen Hughes, an adviser to President Bush, appeared on CNN today to provide a counterpoint to the anti-Bush sentiment on the Mall. She praised the president on his "very strong record for women," saying he has employed more women in senior-level staff positions than any other presidential administration.
She also said that abortion-rights activists were moving against what she said was popular momentum, particularly since the terrorist attacks of 2001, in favor of anti-abortion policies.
"I think that after September 11, the American people are valuing life more and we need policies to value the dignity and worth of every life," she said. "President Bush has worked to say, let's be reasonable, let's work to value life, let's reduce the number of abortions, let's increase adoptions. And I think those are the kinds of policies the American people can support, particularly at a time when we're facing an enemy and, really, the fundamental issue between us and the terror network we fight is that we value every life."

We are at war, she reminds us, and the difference between Us and Them is that we value life and freedom and they don't. Therefore, the multitudes marching yesterday were obviously terrorists. The ones heckling them along the route (one with a placard saying "God Hates You") are the Real Americans, the ones that are reasonable. And valuing lives is something that covers the period from conception to birth for everybody, but thereafter becomes very selective as to status of motherhood, occupation, religion and country of citizenship. Shame on you, Karen. If president Bush has actually said "let's be reasonable", he has done so somewhere outside the reach of microphones and cameras.

In a bizarre way the media's neutral coverage is exactly the opposite of neutrality. Here is this gigantic event expressing a political opinion, and the media interpretation of it is trying to nullify what happened by reintroducing the same old parameters of debate. As if nothing has changed. As if suddenly it isn't quite clear that young women indeed are concerned about their right to their own bodies, as if they didn't march yesterday in their hundreds of thousands. No, the television and papers tell us; nothing has changed, this is all old hat and will have no effect on elections this year.

Let's prove them wrong.

If you want to hear more personal opinions of the march, click here, or here.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

A Sunday Post

The "s" in my keyboard is sticking due to a tiny accident with yogurt (pear-flavored). I have to avoid it if I can, hence problems with sstyle.

Did you march for freedom and women's lives? I hope that you did.

I didn't. Because I was in Novocaine-induced sleep for the last 24 hours, and my hand is very much improved by it.

What happened was this: I was meditating, as usual in a dark room. I had been standing motionless for a couple of hours, when I got the brilliant idea of becoming a whirling dervish. No brilliant idea should be wasted; so I immediately started whirling. The stars were whirling, the room was whirling, the emptiness was whirling. And the Last Final Question suddenly appeared at the end of a long tunnel of light! Yes! I screamed, Yes! I whispered, I'm coming! The Consciousness looked down and spotted me...

AND WHAM. The answer to the Last Final Question: the final communion of my right hand and the corner of some very sharp window glass. I think that Rumi would have laughed at this. I certainly did, despite also feeling slightly queazy when I turned on the lights and saw what the room looked like. I couldn't stem the bleeding so off to the emergency room I went.

Emergency rooms are weird places at four a.m.. The television is on at full blast: you can learn how to lose twenty pounds in one day, though they don't mean by bleeding to death. Maintenance people hover around, not maintaining much except the vending machines for fifty-year old coffee. And on the benches lie pain, curled up, vomiting, hoping for some answers. As I wasn't very high in the pecking order of horrors I had time to listen and observe. One woman had a headache that never went away. She had been installing wall-to-wall carpeting for years, and feared that the glues she had used had caused this ache in her head. Her employer had fired her for taking too many days off from work. She had finally too much pain this Saturday morning at four o'clock, and she was waiting for some relief. I so hope she found it.

Another woman had brought a toddler in, because he had fallen on some toy the previous night and was now bleeding in the mouth. Except that the bleeding had stopped, and the toddler was happily making the rounds in the waiting room. His mother tried to jump the queue by appealing to higher powers: that she was a patient of someone important in the hospital, that she (unlike the rest of us dregs of humanity waiting there) actually paid for health insurance, that the people coming in on stretchers from traffic accidents surely shouldn't be admitted before her toddler and so on. I understand the fear of a parent with a small child that might be badly hurt, but it was not nice to observe this human pecking order instinct at full swing in an emergency room. After all, some people there were very ill indeed.

Anyway, finally I was admitted and had my finger nicely stitched. Though I suggested to the physician that he should take a course in embroidery. He wanted to know all about the blanket stitch, but I couldn't show him with one hand. He couldn't understand why I felt no pain, and I didn't really want to explain about the goddess thing; my explanation about the meditation and so on was already what they were all talking about, inbetween giggles. I do think that I gave them all a small moment of joy in that place, though maybe at some cost to my reputation as a sane and responsible member of the community. I was also wearing my "Bitch" t-shirt...

I'm feeling much better now, thank you all well-wishers, and the "S" seems to be working better, too. And I only got six stitches, though they're all on one finger. What does that count in bragging rights?