Monday, January 07, 2008

Back to the Ironing Board?

From yahoo news:

Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign stop was interrupted Monday when two men stood in the crowd and began screaming, "Iron my shirt!" during one of her final appearances before the New Hampshire primary.

Clinton, a former first lady running to become the nation's first female president, laughed at the seemingly sexist protest that suggested a woman's place is doing the laundry and not running the country.

From the Wall Street Journal blog:

After the event the protesters told reporters that they don't have anything against women they just don't think one should be president.

Today's Tired Thought

Sometimes this work is like rowing a water-logged boat against the current.

When Violence Against Women Is A Must

Via feministe, I learned about this opinion piece published in Yemen:

There Must Be Violence Against Women

This title may sound strange, but it's actually not just a way to attract readers to the topic because I really do mean what it indicates. Violence is a broad term, especially when used regarding women. In this piece, I want to shed light on those instances where violence against women is a must.

The author then goes on to explain the relationship of some Koran verses to both wife beating and the physical disciplining of daughters and sisters by fathers and brothers.

The article concludes:

Dear readers – especially women – don't think that I hate or am against women; rather, I simply mean to preserve the morals and principles with which Islam has honored us.

I hope my message is clear, since it's really quite relevant to the future of our societies, which must be protected from any kind of cultural invasion.

Note the reference to "cultural invasion." It's a way of linking feminism to Western imperialism, a way of implying that the culture which is to be protected is one which is based on the ability of men to beat women who endanger it. That the women don't have the same right to discipline the men who endanger the native culture is not mentioned, probably not even realized by the writer.

Two other things are worth mentioning about this opinion piece. One has to do with the idea, common in the past around the Mediterranean region, that the honor of a family is buried in the vaginas of its women. Thus, when a woman "misbehaves" she destroys the family honor. This is the justification for honor killings, but it is not something coming from the Koran but from a cultural tradition. Sadly, as the vaginas move around whenever the women move around, the only really safe way of guarding the family honor is by sequestering its women.

The second thing worth mentioning is that whenever the Christian fundamentalists talk about protecting the traditional family they have something a little related in mind. The family is so important that it doesn't really matter if certain of its members, such as the women (and often the children, too), get forced into subservience. It's as if "family" consists of the family patriarch, pretty much. But it's certainly true that the acceptable level of physical violence to guarantee the survival of the traditional family is considerably less in most Christian sects today.

Emotions and Hillary Clinton

The headline asks: Can Clinton's Emotions Get the Best of Her?

This, and all the hullabaloo right now about her tears, must be placed in the context of months of articles about how Hillary Clinton appears too controlled, too cold, too ambitious. Only female candidates for the presidency are regarded as "too" ambitious, the boys are obviously expected to be just that ambitious. The subtext in all that worry about Clinton's likeability was of course about gender. Women aren't supposed to be cold and ambitious. That's what bitches are. On the other hand, men are supposed to be just that: cold and ambitious.

Then Hillary Clinton tears up, and the sky falls. Ohmygod, she cries! She might fall apart at a nuclear crisis and just sniffle away! This is a quote from the link above:

How voters weigh Clinton's composure may not differ between genders, according to Georgetown's Owens.

"Male voters are basically going to see a hysterical woman," said Owens. "Women are going to think that if Clinton is going to take on this responsible role and represent women in such a visible way she should do a better job of it and not expose the gender to this criticism."

So it's not about Hillary Clinton at all. It's about whether women are suited for public offices, being so very hysterical. Note that entering into bouts of red-hot rage is not seen a problem when nuclear crises hit, even if my own experience is that red-hot rage makes you considerably less likely to be careful than tears. But red-hot rage is an acceptable male emotional state, not regarded as making you a dangerous leader.

What really angers me (yes! emotional female here) about all this is that it took the media a very long time indeed to get one tiny episode of tears from Clinton, but then - boom - suddenly she is the weepy woman we cannot trust. And the reason I am angry is that I really didn't expect this level of shitty sexism. Always the naive goddess high on hope.

The Market For Macaque Sex

A recent popularization of a study about sex and grooming among the long-tailed macaque monkeys has those almost invisible strokes out of which the daily edifice of views on women is ultimately created. The strokes are practically not there, and ignoring them seems to be the sane reaction. Until you realize that almost every single study selected for popularization has those same tiny strokes and that none of the studies missing them gets picked.

I have not yet managed to get the original paper, so what I say about the study itself must necessarily be limited to conjectures. But happily we do have a couple of popularizations. Here is the summary of the study:

Male macaque monkeys pay for sex by grooming females, according to a recent study that suggests the primates may treat sex as a commodity.

"In primate societies, grooming is the underlying fabric of it all," Dr. Michael Gumert, a primatologist at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said in a telephone interview Saturday.

"It's a sign of friendship and family, and it's also something that can be exchanged for sexual services," Gumert said.

Gumert's findings, reported in New Scientist last week, resulted from a 20-month observation of about 50 long-tailed macaques in a reserve in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia.

Gumert found after a male grooms a female, the likelihood that she will engage in sexual activity with the male was about three times more than if the grooming had not occurred.

And as with other commodities, the value of sex is affected by supply and demand factors: A male would spend more time grooming a female if there were fewer females in the vicinity.

"And when the female supply is higher, the male spends less time on grooming ... The mating actually becomes cheaper depending on the market," Gumert said.

Neat, is it not? I thought that anthropomorphism was a no-no in animal research, but here we decide that monkeys have markets with not just barter, but a currency: grooming. This makes the female monkeys into sellers of sex (or prostitutes, really, continuing the anthropomorphizing) and the male monkeys into buyers of sex (or johns), and the dollar they use is grooming: cleaning burrs and fleas and so on from the other monkey but also stroking the other monkey.

How do we know that what Gumert describes is a market with a currency? If we were to force monkey behavior into the human construct of a marketplace, then the one he describes sounds a lot more like one of barter: a situation where two monkeys trade services. Why can't we view the market as one for grooming, where the female monkeys are buying grooming services and paying for it with sex? That would make the male monkeys into the sellers and the female monkeys into the buyers. See how deciding that this is a market for sex and not for grooming warps our views and prepares us to superimpose all the human values and all the human biases on what is happening?

There are additional problems with the use of the market metaphor. First, if you read enough of the popularizations you will find that grooming didn't necessarily result in the grooming male getting more sex, and that sometimes the groomed female instead had sex with other males in the area right after the grooming. It sounds a bit as if she may have been turned on by the grooming, does it not? But the point I'm making here is that if grooming was the actual currency paid for sex the female supplier should have given the sex to the groomer every time, not just some of the time and not sometimes to males who didn't pay.

Of course grooming may well have the value of currency in some sense. But it's not money. It's a service which is associated with affection, bonding and perhaps even love. How is our understanding of the macaque behavior improved by putting that all into the human market structure, one which I'm pretty sure the macaques don't explicitly use?

And where is the sexism in all this, you ask, sarcastically. Here, my friend, in another popularization telling us what the study really means:

Selling sex is said to be humankind's oldest profession but it may have deep evolutionary roots, according to a study into our primate cousins which found that male macaques pay for intercourse by using grooming as a currency.

Michael Gumert of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore made the discovery in a 20-month investigation into 50 long-tailed macaques in Kalimantan Tengah, Indonesia, New Scientist reports on Saturday.

On average, females had sex 1.5 times per hour.

But this rate jumped to 3.5 times per hour immediately after the female had been groomed by a male -- and her partner of choice was likely to be the hunky monkey that did the grooming.

Market forces also acted on the value of the transaction.

If there were several females in the area, the cost of buying sex would drop dramatically -- a male could "buy" a female for just eight minutes of nit-picking.

But if there were no females around, he would have to groom for up to 16 minutes before sex was offered.

The work supports the theory that biological market forces can explain social behaviour, the British weekly says.

"There is a very well-known mix of economic and mating markets in the human species itself," said Ronald Noe of France's University of Strasbourg.

"There are many examples of rich old men getting young attractive ladies."

Another popularization with the same message can be found here.
So we leap from monkey grooming to human prostitution. Male monkeys can "buy" a fuck from a female monkey, rich old men can "buy" a fuck from attractive ladies. Females are the sellers of sex, males the buyers. And this is the essential message of this popularization: not about monkey sex at all but about human sex, and the popularizations leap deftly across species, biological differences and cultural difference (yes, even monkeys have cultures) to hasten to the point they wish to make.

Is the original study itself sexist? I have no idea, given that I haven't managed to read it yet, but I notice that the researchers followed 60 male monkeys, not female monkeys. A different observer might have spotted different patterns. Remember that what we see depends on what we are looking for.

Note also how female desire is erased from these kinds of popularizations. It's as if the female macaque monkeys are not in heat at all, as if they are not having lots of sex with lots of male monkeys all the time anyway (1.5 times an hour). And what do we really know about the sexual desires of male and female macaques and the feelings they experience? Are we anthropomorphizing about that here, too? And what IS the role of grooming when the monkeys are at different places in the dominance hierarchy?

I think the market metaphor is a poor one, because it gives us an odd bias in looking at the behavior of these monkeys. It makes us ignore the pleasure of grooming (it might even be pleasurable to the groomer, just as stroking your cat or dog is pleasurable to you) and it makes us forget that we are watching the monkeys in their everyday life, not at some marketplace where sexual services are being traded.
First link thanks to Oscar, the second one from The post there and the comments are well worth reading to see why feminists are concerned.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Establishment Will Cover Up Reality As Long As They Can. News You Can Depend On. Posted by olvlzl.

Quick, name a province in Iraq. No, me neither, at least not one except the much touted “Anbar”. Anbar, where the sheiks were allegedly won over to the “American side” after they turned from the insurgents they originally backed, is one of the few places outside of Baghdad mentioned regularly in the American media last year. All of it is going like clockwork in Anbar province where our pals the sheiks are making the trains run...,

As the violence has faded, an argument has been raging over who speaks for Iraq's Sunni Arab minority: the province's largely secular and fiercely independent tribal leaders who resisted the US invasion or the main Sunni political party, an Islamist group led by former exiles who cooperated with the Americans from the start.

In slightly more than a year, Anbar's sheiks have helped accomplish what US military might, and endless rounds of political negotiations, could not: driving out the extremists who had flourished in Iraq's western desert since the invasion in 2003. Pockets of resistance remain in Anbar, but the US command says many of the Sunni insurgents, now allied with Al Qaeda in Iraq, are seeking new sanctuaries north of Baghdad.

Now, the sheiks say, it's payback time. They want more schools, better healthcare, clean water, and reliable electricity for their war-ravaged province. They want jobs for their followers. And above all, they want a stake in government for their Iraqi Awakening Conference movement.

That “payback” is what really has me worried. And notice the last sentence quoted below.

The sheiks accuse the Iraqi Islamic Party, which controls the local councils in most Sunni areas, of hijacking development funds and monopolizing jobs for their own supporters.

"There is corruption up to here," Sheik Hameed Farhan Hays said, raising his hand to his forehead, after delivering his speech during a recent visit by a representative of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government.

Leaders of the Iraqi Islamic Party countered that the sheiks had only themselves to blame for boycotting the 2005 elections that ushered in representative government in Iraq. And they challenged the sheiks to take their accusations of corruption to court.

Whether true or not, the accusations underscore the mistrust between the two sides. For now, it is a war of words. But some worry that the dispute could escalate.

Countered that the sheiks had only themselves to blame for boycotting the 2005 elections that ushered in representative government in Iraq.” Notice that in this statement the fact that the elections were boycotted, elsewhere in the story it says that fewer than five percent of the voters installed the Islamic Party, resulting in an unrepresentative government unacceptable to a good portion of the 95% of the population, is less important than the process. The problems on the ground today are considered to be less important fact than that the election was done and an unrepresentative government resulted. That kind of thinking, ignore reality when it’s tidier to look at process, isn’t peculiar to Iraq, it is one of the favorite tools of political gamesmanship in all places. Unfortunately, when the sides are armed and fighting, it looks like a more impressive argument here than on the ground there. Here no part of reality was to get in the way of the iconic purple fingers of PR.

Accounting for local peculiarities the problems of local power and politics in Anbar are a picture of the entire country.

Iyad Samarrai, the Islamic Party's secretary-general, said he was as unhappy about the vote as they are. The boycott gave the majority Shi'ites and ethnic Kurds a disproportionate share of provincial council seats in mixed parts of the country, as well as in the national parliament.

More Sunnis voted in the December 2005 parliamentary polls, which eased the imbalance at the national level, but new provincial elections have been postponed pending agreement on a law setting out the relationship between national and regional governments. The bill is one of several key power-sharing measures that have stalled in parliament.

The bill is one of several key power-sharing measures that have stalled in parliament.” How long does something remain “stalled” before it’s given up as dead?

The DC establishment, with the aid of our most respected media organizations, is already burying the “benchmarks” that were used to stall ending American participation in the Iraqi civil war. Their posturing about the great success in Anbar will be similarly covered up as the parties there jump start the infighting and realign. If the sheiks changed sides once, they’re quite able to change them again as the shifting power politics make them recalculate their advantages. Do you think the insurgents would not reunite with them for temporary advantage? Do you think loyalty to Americans will prevent that? Anbar will disappear from the news. Here it will disappear except when they have to report on an American who gets killed there. And that will feature mostly in the local news. The networks and flagship papers, that’s small potatoes for them.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Having To Tell The Truth Posted by olvlzl.

Around the turn of the millennium, Brian Lamb asked Molly Ivins a predictable and banal question, what was the most important book of the previous century. After about a half-minuet of thinking she said, "Hiroshima" by John Hersey, which is probably the most intelligent answer ever given to that question. It was “Hiroshima” which began the process of holding up to our eyes what dropping a “small” atomic bomb did, what it meant in terms of peoples’ bodies evaporated, burned, lives altered down to their sliced and distorted molecules. Other people nominated the book as the most important, I found out later. If there is something as presently contingent as a literary history in the future, that judgment is as secure a one as could be made.

This particular spot, he thought always would be peaceful, for it was off the beaten track, distant from any possible target of atomic war. Except for the remote possibility of some ancient and unrecorded, long forgotten minor conflict in prehistoric days, no battle ever had been fought here or ever would be fought. And yet it could not escape the common fate of poisoned soil and water if the world should suddenly, in some fateful hour of fury, unleash the might of its awesome weapons. Then the skies would be filled with atomic ash, which would come sifting down, and it would make little difference where a man might be. Soon or late, the war would come to him, if not in a flash of monstrous energy, then in the snow of death falling from the skies.

Way Station, Clifford Simak, 1963

Sometimes you are reminded just how old you are, how the world you grew up in has become alien territory for children you know. That’s what happened reading this to my nieces, 12 and 13, last week. Of all the many things I’ve ever read them, of all the dark and dangerous things in different novels, this is the only one which has really scared them. They wanted to know if it was true.

If you have never been in that situation before, of having to tell children that age that what you just read them was a real possibility, that it was possible for a nuclear war to kill everyone including everyone they knew and that the death, if not immediate, would be horrific, it is a singular feeling. Being responsible for telling them something like that, something I must have assumed they knew already. They grew up in a family of inveterate news junkies and political activists who constantly discuss what's going on.

People my age grew up knowing that we lived under the threat of nuclear death and something of what that could mean. I don’t remember what it was like to be too young to know it. Being about their age during the Cuban Missile Crisis it was something we discussed on the playground like Ralphie and his friends talked about tongues on frozen metal. Older children gave us lurid details of radiation sickness, some of it turning out to be accurate. Apparently it’s not discussed on some playgrounds today.

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto and what could happen if Pakistan falls apart, what happens if Pakistan’s bombs are used, should refresh our memory to talk about this again. How did the topic of nuclear war fall from notice? The cold war was declared over but there are more nuclear powers in the world than ever before, one or two of the “minor” ones have enough bombs to kill hundreds of millions of people if not set off the end of life on the planet. It isn’t a problem that has been solved or even diminished. Policy wonks are pursuing new generations of nuclear weapons and setting things up for a new round of arms racing. You get the feeling that the issue of what it would mean in terms of the possibility of their actually being used is seen as being something from a quarter of a century ago. Like those ridiculous “duck and tuck” messages, only too unhappy to be campy. It doesn’t help to have members of the Bush regime using it as just one more lie told to justify the illegal invasion of the non-nuclear Iraq. Condi Rice has probably done more to discredit talking about nuclear dangers than anyone in the past decade. Nuclear weapons are too important for falsely crying wolf over or to be undiscussed due to their being deemed to be trite.

Today, it is only the United States that did use atomic weapons on a human population. The only possible explanation in defense of dropping them on cities was that it might not have be certain of what they would do. You wonder if Truman had known if he wouldn’t have decided to demonstrate their use in an unpopulated area, but that chance is gone never to come back. We know. Entertaining the possibility of that not being the last time they are used is criminal insanity, criminal insanity engaged in by national leaders and the most respected members of societies around the world.

In 1902 Natsume Soseki, on the death of the poet Masaoka Shiki, wrote:

See how it hovers,
In these streets of yellow fog,
A human shadow.

Forty three years later, the shadows were seen written on pavement. They need to be written indelibly on everyones mind.

Is One Of The Dark Lords’ Horcruxes On The Verge of Death? Posted by olvlzl

While it’s not the most dangerous of the guardians of the soul of aristocracy embedded in the American system of government, the days of the Electoral College might be dwindling. Maryland has become the first state to adopt what is called National Popular Vote or NPV. The idea, invented by a computer scientist named John Koza, looks like a brilliant means of doing what couldn’t ever be done by constitutional amendment, ensuring that the presidency can’t go to the person who loses the national vote. States are given the ability to control how the electors cast their states’ electoral votes by the constitution. In NPV the electors are required to cast their votes for the winner of the nationwide popular vote instead of the winner of the state’s popular vote*.
If a majority of the states adopt this idea it would effectively destroy the possibility of the Supreme Court selecting a member of their party to rule against the will of The People.

That is if the Supremes don’t use their power to prevent democracy flowering here, the epicenter of the cult of “democracy”, where democracy is prohibited by rule of law. The federal and state courts again acting as a roadblock to democracy is another of the horcruxes provided by the aristocrats who wrote the constitution. But we won’t do anything about changing that until we have people in elected office who are answerable directly to the voters instead of those best at gaming the corrupt system we have today.

The article linked to above, by Martha Biondi goes into some detail about how the Electoral College disenfranchises the majority of voters who live in “safe” states which can be ignored and dilutes the power of minority voters. The blather about its genius from those tedious souled, leaden-eyed college teachers who made the Electoral College their specialty, which is heard every four years as the broadcast news covers up for the shameful system, is a series of lies. The Electoral College ensures that the direct democracy which we demand in every other election around the world can’t happen here, at least until now.

The anti-democratic structure of the Senate, life tenure for Supreme Court Justices, the Electoral College and, most dangerous of all, their child, corporate personhood, these are the greatest dangers of a dictatorship here, they are the active means by which the rich lord it over us now. Changing them will take an enormous effort against the entrenched power of the most wealthy and their stooges in the media and elsewhere. We need to support NPV and to look for means short of the impossible reform of the constitution. Gaining democracy through the courts has proven to be a short-term illusion, something easily overturned by those opposed to democracy by stacking the courts through our most anti-democratic elected body, the Senate. Whatever rights have been wrested from the hands of the aristocrats has been taken by The People, not granted by the courts.

The peculiarity of the “states-rights” provision in the Electoral College might prove to be its downfall, we need to look for other weak places in the wall of aristocracy. But most of all we have to change the culture of sycophancy to the “Founders” and their supposed wisdom. Oh, they were wise, that isn’t the trouble. What they built they built to last, it’s just that they didn’t build a democracy, they didn’t intend to. But even the worst provisions of our undemocratic constitution are in place only as long as The People tolerate them and accept their mystique. The only secure gain we make is by changing the publics’ mind and through them the elected officials.

* In some states the elector has been able to cast their vote for whomever they choose. I seem to recall in that in the early 70s that accounted for the Libertarians receiving the one and only electoral vote they’ve ever gotten, not that you would guess that from the fuss that is made about the Kinky Republican Coalition all the time.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Voting Your Gender in the Iowa Democratic Primary

This is an interesting post on the topic by Virginia Rutter, especially interesting given the concerns Chris Matthews has aired about women possibly voting on their gender than on the issues. What Rutter argues is that men were more likely to have voted their gender in Iowa than women, though perhaps both did:

Given that distribution, here's what we know about "voting one's gender" in Iowa: Out of all the men who voted for either Obama or Clinton, 60% of those were for Obama--that is men voting for a man. Men voted their gender 5 percentage points more than we would expect if their voting weren't influenced by their gender. Meanwhile, out of the women who voted for either Obama or Clinton, 46% of those were Clinton supporters--that is women voting for a woman. This means that women voted their gender more than we would expect—but only by 1 or 2 percentage points.

Her argument goes like this: About 61% of the votes went to either Obama or Clinton, and if we now regard that 61% going to the two candidates we have singled out as 100%, then the inside split of those votes was roughly 55% to Obama and 45% to Clinton.

Now, do the same exercise as above, but look at how men and women voted in two separate goes. For example, 58% of all men in the Iowa Democratic caucus voted for either Clinton or Obama. Now set that 58% as the new 100% and see how the male votes were split between the two candidates. The answer is that roughly 60% of those votes went to Obama and 40% to Clinton. So compared to the overall split, men were more likely to vote for Obama and less likely to vote for Clinton.

The percentage of women who voted for either Obama or Clinton in the Iowa Democratic caucus was 65. Out of that total 54% of the votes went to Obama and 46% to Clinton. Compared to the overall split women were very slightly more likely to vote for Clinton and less likely to vote for Obama.

The Huckabee Mirror

Kos has a post which compares those who support Mike Huckabee for president with the progressive gate-crashers:

One thing that's fascinating about the Huckabee victory in Iowa is that the movement that propelled him to victory -- his Evangelical base -- is truly a cousin to our very own people-powered movement.

Think about it -- these are people that have been taken for granted by the Republican establishment, exploited and overworked, only to receive crumbs and empty rhetoric in return. Sick of being marginalized except when needed (election time), they have taken matters into their own hands and -- without money or "professional" organization, propelled their candidate (one of their own) to victory.

I think the Evangelists have received more than just crumbs, though, including lots of funding through various Faith Based Initiatives, and lots of important posts in all the parts of the government which the social conservatives wish to use to change the society. But it's certainly true that the Republican Party hasn't given them the things they really, really want, such as a total ban on abortion, because then the voting carrot wouldn't pull the Evangelists to the polls any longer. It's a tricky thing to keep the Evangelists on the outrage edge, and that may have finally failed.

Kos is right that both parties would prefer to ignore certain segments of their core supporters. Where the Huckabee comparison fails, though, is in what those segments desire from their respective parties. As far as I can tell, the Evangelists would like to change the Constitution and the Bill of Rights to reflect a theocracy, whereas the gate-crashers tend to want to preserve the First Amendment and the other amendments which are on the way to the garbage chute right now. It's sort of sarcastic that the conservative stance is taken by the progressives and the radical stance by the conservatives.

Your Comfort Reading Suggestions

Would be most welcome. I've had this thread before, I think, but I can never have too many suggestions for comfort reading. The term, by the way, refers to books which are like mac-and-cheese or mashed potatoes or whatever you associate with the kind of food that is comforting when you don't feel particularly great.

I'm going to read Bill of Wrongs (by the late and great Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose) this weekend, but though I might feel inspired after finishing it I'm unlikely to feel comforted. And sometimes we all need that.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Obama and Huckabee Win in Iowa

The youth vote seems to have been crucial for Obama's victory, and the slogan that worked was "change." Huckabee is the candidate of the fundamentalist wing of the Republican party and an awkward winner for the rest of the party (though they should have anticipated a fundamentalist takeover, given their own policies over the last decades, as Digby points out). He would be a disaster as the president, of course, unless one yearns to live under the Taliban.

On Choice Feminism

The first time I heard the "feminism was all about women's right to choose whatever they wish" theme was some time in the 1990s when Kathy Gifford was razzed by Regis Philbin on morning television for coming back to work after the birth of a child. He was blaming her for being a bad mother for not staying at home, and she responded with that choice argument.

I remember the incident because even then I was pretty sure that I had never read a feminist book where the goal of feminism would have been stated as "to give women more choices". The goal was usually framed as getting women equal rights and opportunities with those men had. That this would automatically give women more choices in most fields of life goes without saying, so Gifford's way of framing the feminist message wasn't that far off.

Or so I thought. But later I learned that this particular way of viewing feminism had odd consequences, consequences which did not follow from the original definitions of feminism. One of those was the commercial use of feminism in a form which equated women's liberation with the "right" to consume and spend more.

Another was the idea that feminism somehow made all choices any woman made into feminist ones or at least immune from feminist criticism. If a woman chose to stay at home, that was a feminist choice. If a woman chose to be employed, that was a feminist choice. If a woman chose to relinquish all her rights and to subject herself to her husband's authority, well, even that was a feminist choice! (No, I'm not making that last one up.) The very definition of "feminist" became identical with "some woman has chosen it" and that "some woman had chosen it" became identical with "feminist." This is circular thinking, but what is worse is the usual addition that these choices cannot therefore be criticized or discussed. After all, wasn't feminism all about giving women more choices?

The impetus for this post lies in an earlier comments thread, long buried now, where one commenter asked why feminists criticize women who choose to become strippers or housewives. Wasn't feminism all about giving women more choices?

What is fascinating about those two choices: being married to a man as a housewife or working in a sex industry for men, is that they are the two occupations that women have always been offered (or required to hold), in all historical time periods and places. No feminism was needed to open the doors to these lucrative careers for women. Astonishing, really. And a little suspicious.

That may provide some necessary background information to understanding why some (actually very few) feminists criticize these choices today. Most feminists do not make such criticisms, and others criticize not the choices themselves but the poor security, pay and working conditions of those traditional occupational "choices" for the majority of world's women. Yet others criticize the societal arrangements which require that women have to make choices between having an occupation and having a family.

My own observations suggest that feminists criticizing housewives or strippers for their occupational choices are less common than non-feminists criticizing employed mothers, say. But in any case feminism never promised the total lack of any questioning about the choices people make.

No discussion of choice feminism would be complete without discussing the concept of choice itself. It is often used to imply that something was voluntary, the decision of only the person affected and that therefore the consequences, both good and bad, are hers to endure. Sometimes it has the additional flavor of being "frivolous" or "optional", and all these meanings play together in the way the term is used in "choice feminism".

For example, if women "choose" to stay at home with their children, the society is then freed from the need to provide any assistance to those women, either with the children or with the women's own later return to the labor market. After all, it was the women who made the choice. At the same time, nobody should interfere with that "choice" because doing so would be unfeminist. See how interesting this all gets?

Add to that all the layers of constraints that actually limit our choices in the real world. Nobody makes choices in some state of complete freedom. A woman who has children and no access to good daycare may "choose" to stay at home if she can afford it, but the reason she did so may well have more to do with that lack of alternative care than her preferences. A daughter of a very wealthy family has a different set of available choices than the daughter of a very poor family. Which of them is more likely to "choose" to become a stripper?

Choice always takes place within constraints, and it is those constraints which have not completely equalized between men and women. As a subtle example, societal and religious norms sanction different behavior from women than from men, even in the most feminist of current societies, and it is women, in general, who are seen as responsible for the hands-on care of children. It is women who are castigated when a child is assumed to suffer and it is women who are expected to adjust to the changing needs of the children. All this means that when women "choose" a particular occupation, including that of a stay-at-home mother or spouse, they are choosing within the female constraint set. This is something that the pure form of "choice feminism" ignores.

Ron Paul on Immigration

An interesting YouTube video where the selection of pictures gives a message more racist and fearful than the words indicate.

Shakes On Feminism

Shakes has written a thoughtful essay on feminism as one solution to the question how women react to the message of themselves as "less than." She mentions several different coping strategies (other than feminism which I find the healthiest), but I'm not sure if her list covers denial. It's not just a river in Egypt but a major coping mechanism for many women.

Another coping strategy is the "honorary man" device. It goes something like this: "Sure, women are harebrained and over-emotional and untrustworthy and sly and weak and sinful and... But I'm not! I'm just like the guys! In fact, I AM a guy!"

The Hillary-Meal-Deal for $6.66: 2 Fat Thighs, 2 Small Breasts...

This piece of political humor about Hillary Clinton is making its rounds. It appears to have been on the Drudge Report on 1/2/08 and also was shown in the British Telegraph, where it was associated with the Obama campaign. I don't see any evidence which would suggest that someone in that campaign created it, though.

The humor it shows is very sophisticated, linking Hillary Clinton via the price to Satan, a horned bad guy in Christian mythology, and making fun of Clinton's body as not quite what we want to see in our chicken dinner (or in our women). Too much thigh and not enough breast.

I leave the deeper analysis to my able readers.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Gearing For The Primaries

Do you have a hard time deciding how to assign your vote in the Democratic Primaries? Don't worry, you can ask Maureen Dowd about the details that might matter. Here she explains whether you should vote for Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama:

Has Hillary truly changed, and grown from her mistakes? Has she learned to be less stubborn and imperious and secretive and vindictive and entitled? Or has she merely learned to mask her off-putting and self-sabotaging qualities better? If elected, would the old Hillary pop up, dragging us back to the dysfunctional Clinton kingdom? She is speaking in a soft, measured voice in these final days, so that, as with Daisy Buchanan, you have to lean in to listen. But is she really different than she was in the years when she was so careless about the people around her getting hurt by the Clinton legal whirlwind that she was dubbed the Daisy Buchanan of the boomer set?

The underlying rationale for her campaign is that she is owed. Owed for moving to Arkansas and giving up the name Rodham, owed for pretending to care about place settings and menus when she held the unappetizing title of first lady, owed for enduring one humiliation after another at the hands of her husband.

Oddly, Barack and Michelle Obama also radiate a sense that they are owed. Not for a lifetime of sublimation and humiliation, but for this onerous campaign, for offering themselves up to save and uplift the nation, even though it disrupted their comfortable lives.

It may be interesting, especially if you live inside the Beltway and live your life in those little social circles, but it offers nothing about how Clinton and Obama would govern, what their policies are and which of them (or of the other candidates) would be best for a particular voter. I know that some think we live in a post-modern era, but maybe we could at least deconstruct the candidates' policies instead of their private lives or the gossips about their characters?

Easing The Pain

A new study suggests that hospital emergency rooms under-treat pain in black and Hispanic patients. This matters, not only for humanitarian reasons, but because recent theories in medicine encourage early pain control for good recovery.

What causes this difference? The articles I linked to above offer several guesses, ranging from racism to the fear that blacks and Hispanics are more likely to ask for stronger drugs in order to sell them or to abuse them. Of course the latter belief might itself arise from racism if the person's skin color or ethnic group is the only indicator used in that decision-making. Access to health insurance (and therefore income) and educational differences may also explain some of the difference.

That the under-treatment exists for patients under twelve and for those in severe pain appears to disprove the drug-abuse explanation, at least as the only explanation.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Will You Have My Back?

An odd aspect of writing both on liberal politics and on feminism is that I tend to think of certain male liberal bloggers as in my team. Some of them I admire and respect and some of them I'd even want to have as friends. Then I read something like this blog post. And I make a mental note that the post is written as some trivial entertainment, in-between the more serious posts, so that what it reveals is most likely not something even intended to be revealed. It's a trivial post about a trivial gender, just a little bit of fun among the guys. Some ideas how sex could sell ice-hockey games better. To men, of course.

I have to keep reminding myself that those* guys will not have my back. Unless it's naked.
*To clarify: "Those guys" refers to only the ones who reveal themselves not to be on our team, not all liberal guy bloggers.

Archive Research on My New Year Wishes

Sort of interesting, especially when my muse has gone out somewhere, probably to get a new tattoo. He's really into body-piercing, my Erato. So instead of writing I have read through my old New Year's wishes. If you want to do the same, here they are: