Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Taxes: totally like slavery. And genocide.

You've probably already seen this ad. No doubt it's making the rounds online right now. I saw it on the news last night. Obviously it's blatantly ridiculous and hurtful and wrongheaded and dilutes the seriousness of big issues like actual real-world slavery and genocide.

But it's also a great example of a popular misconception bandied about by the tea partiers and their ilk. According to their version of history, the founding fathers broke with England and established a new nation because they didn't want to pay taxes. Period. They just did not want to pay one penny in taxes. And so now when our government taxes us it's a terrible injustice akin to slavery and genocide.

So first of all, to set the record straight, the founding fathers were opposed to taxation without representation. See how that's all one package? It's not taxation. period. It's taxation without representation. In other words, you give us representatives who will reliably bring our concerns and wishes into the political decision-making process, and we're cool with the taxes. No voice in the political arena? Then no taxes. See, the founding fathers thought the two should be tied together. That's actually how it worked. For white property-owning males, that is.

I think all Americans would pretty much agree to that: taxation without representation sucks. It's rather straight-forward. Which is why it's strange that most people don't realize that for more than 5 million people in the U.S., taxation without representation is exactly the condition they are currently living under, and they will probably remain in this condition for the rest of their lives. Because they have felony convictions. Many of them have done their time and "paid their debt to society." They're "rehabilitated." Right? Except that they'll never be a full citizen again, because they'll never have a political voice again. And in a democracy, having a political voice in the form of a vote is a constitutive part of what it means to be a citizen. And paying taxes is the flip side of voting. It's the old reciprocal privileges and responsibilities that my parents used to yammer on about. Or if you're into those Existentialist types, freedom always comes with terrible responsibility, and abdicating your responsibility amounts to abdicating your freedom, and all that.

But if you're a felon in the US, you fall through the giant loophole. You get to keep the responsibility - the paying taxes bit - without the reciprocal privilege. And this, my friends, is in fact anti-American. It does defy one of the most fundamental tenets of our democracy. It also serves to maintain the status quo - in terms of both race and class - by disproportionately excluding the groups who were most vulnerable to begin with and have thus landed in a bad position with the criminal justice system. But does anyone (least of all the libertarians and tea partiers) give a shit about that? Doesn't seem like it to me. I'm not hearing any kind of public outcry. Correct me if I'm wrong...

Monday, June 28, 2010

Monday Miscellanea

This morning on NPR there was much talk of Elena Kagan's confirmation hearings. In one clip, Jeff Sessions mentioned that he would like to mansplain to her how supreme court justices serve under the constitution. It's interesting how gender is so clearly present in the very language they use in these cases. If the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee happened to be a woman, and the dean of Harvard's Law School and Supreme Court nominee happened to be a man, I doubt we'd hear much talk about whether or not the nominee "understands" the role of the constitution in supreme court decisions. There might be talk of interpretation, about whether the nominee views the constitution as a living document, and undoubtedly the perennial talk about "activist judges" would occur. But framing it as a lack of understanding is a distinctly male thing to do when the person who allegedly lacks the understanding is female. Apparently getting a grasp on the basic workings of our supreme court is just too much to ask of any ladybrain, even when that ladybrain has been educated at and affiliated with law schools that make Huntingdon College and the University of Alabama look sort of ... provincial and benighted.

perfume bottle with classic Play-Doh logo on itI'm told there's a play-doh scented perfume out there, which is kinda awesome, if any product of the the beauty-industrial-complex can be awesome. I tend to think that anything which issues forth from such a problematic source is inherently problematic, but if you have to have perfume...

Then there's this: Baby’s first bacteria depend on birth route, featuring a study showing that babies born via c-section lack a wide range of bacteria on their bodies that babies born by vaginal birth have. The current speculation is that these bacteria are of the beneficial type, since babies born by c-section experience higher rates of allergies, asthma, and various immune-system issues. Of course, babies born by c-section also tend to have more issues with breastfeeding, which makes sense given that babies who were born vaginally had lots of lactobacillus (the good stuff in yogurt that helps you digest milk) on their bodies, while c-section babies had lots of the scary stuff like staph. Interestingly, most of the early feedback from the medical community reveals that, rather than using this as a reason to work to reduce c-section rates, the medical community would simply come up with a pro-biotic mix to administer to babies born by c-section. In other words, it's the same old "anything a woman's body can do, we can do better" song and dance.

A new study found a fairly effective way to predict the age at which a woman will hit menopause, potentially giving women more control over their reproductive lives. But experts worry that women will "become too reassured by this." I'm interpreting this warning about becoming too reassured as a preemptive means of holding onto the fear-mongering tools based on women's "biological clocks." Because losing the power of intimidating women with the threat of childlessness is a tough prospect to face.

Finally, police in Toronto are taking a preemptively violent approach in dealing with G20 protesters. In 2 police officers in riot gear attack a single protester while a group of officers stand in the background also wearing riot gearorder to avoid some of the bad PR they might earn from this, they're also using plain clothes officers and trying to isolate smaller groups of protesters and remove them in unmarked vans. Of course, the most violent thing most of the protesters seem to have done was make a lot of noise banging pots and pans together. Which is totally the kind of offense one ought to get beaten and imprisoned for.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Webcomic of the Day



So, I'm looking for a particular kind of cheese slicer on eBay for a friend. And then there's this. Out of the blue. I was unprepared, y'all. It's a high-heel cheese slicer. With a pink heel, no less. It appears to be a real thing in the world. Which you need for your kitchen. The seller assures us it's very sex and the city. I would say some other stuff, but ... I'm not sure what to say.

Shocking...absolutely shocking...except not really

Nations fail to limit whaling, Japan still hunts
Of course, since Norway and and Iceland also hunt whales I'm not sure why American media outlets continue to focus only on Japanese whaling activities. I could take a guess but don't know enough about each nation's whaling activities to feel very confident about it.

On the other hand, since tissue samples taken from whales show that many whales have increasing amounts of toxic and heavy metals (mercury, cadmium, aluminum, chromium, lead, silver, titanium) in their systems, maybe we should just say "eat up." You wanna kill and eat a whale? Go for it. Apparently they're doomed because of the toxins we've dumped into the oceans anyway, so help yourself to a whale steak, laced with sixteen times the levels of mercury thought to be dangerous to humans in shark and swordfish. Bon appetit.

Unemployed? Think immigrant laborers are to blame?

Then fight back. Go take those American jobs away from them. Be proactive. Be patriotic. Be a farm laborer.

To apply for a seasonal job as a farm laborer, click here: Take Our Jobs.org

Disclaimer: Job may include using hand tools such as knives, hoes, shovels, etc. Duties may include tilling the soil, transplanting, weeding, thinning, picking, cutting, sorting & packing of harvested produce. May set up & operate irrigation equip. Work is performed outside in all weather conditions (Summertime 90+ degree weather) & is physically demanding requiring workers to bend, stoop, lift & carry up to 50 lbs on a regular basis.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Lyrics from the god-awful

Lyrics from the god-awful country song at the dentist: 'where would we be without the love of a woman, standing behind her man even when he's wrong.' For serious. I'm not making this shit up.

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Monday, June 21, 2010

Civilization and the Death Penalty

First, a couple of pictures:

This is the chair Ronnie Lee Gardner sat in as he was executed by a firing squad in Utah.

And this is the wall the executioners stood behind.

I've discussed Jeffrey Reiman's argument about capital punishment here before as it relates to torture. But the recent execution by firing squad got me thinking about it again, particularly as it relates to the reality of the need for executioners in a government which allows for capital punishment. Here's how I summarized it in the earlier post:
Being a civilized nation entails that we turn away from cruel and horrible ways of treating people. We like to believe that we've evolved past the enjoyment of public hangings, drawing-and-quartering criminals, and displaying the heads of beheaded criminals on public fenceposts. But to evolve past this, we need to also move past the necessity to have executioners among us. What does it do to an individual to be the one whose job it is to kill people? Can someone who has this job comfortably live among others in a civilized nation? And what must our self-conception be if we're OK with the fact that our criminal justice system necessitates the existence of executioners?
Obviously there's an executioner, or several executioners, in every form the death penalty takes. But in particularly violent methods like firing squads, the question of what it means to adhere to a system that requires some of the citizens of your nation to get paid for killing others seems particularly salient. Obviously military service is an instance of getting paid to kill. But something about the quiet calculation involved in executions, the protection and anonymity provided by the wall the marksmen (markswomen?) stand behind, the helplessness of the convict as he's strapped to the chair, the spectacle an execution always becomes as friends and family watch from behind darkened glass... I'm not really sure what arguments could be made that this is the action of a civilized nation.

Incidentally, while writing this post I learned that markswoman is not a recognized word in our language, while marksman is. And they say language isn't normative. How cute.

Webcomic of the day

from A Softer World

Children's Food Bill of Rights

By Mrs Q at Fed Up with Lunch. I personally love it and can't believe there isn't already something like this.

Children's Food Bill of Rights

(Assumptions: Children are not small adults, but are growing and developing. Additionally children are not responsible for what they can eat as it is provided by parents and schools.)
  1. Parents have the right to advocate for their children because children have no voice or real power.
  2. Children deserve to be treated with respect and dignity in the food choices adults make on their behalf.
  3. Parents and schools have the obligation to seek out the healthiest and freshest food available to optimize the development of children.
  4. Children must eat food free of contaminants including but not limited to toxic metals (such as lead), trans fats, and fillers and as well as artificial sweeteners and preservatives where possible.
  5. Children should not be targeted by fast food advertisements from corporations. See Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood
  6. Parents have the right to access all nutritional information for the foods that their children eat regardless of where it is consumed (school, community, home).
  7. Children regardless of poverty level should have equal access to fresh food at minimum when they are on school grounds.
  8. Fast food corporations will be banned from any participation on school grounds including food service and "gift card" rewards.
  9. Children have the right to nutritional education including information about healthy eating based on the latest in nutritional science and evidence-based research and if possible basic cooking skills provided by schools in situations where parents are unable to do so.
  10. Children have the right to enough time to properly consume a meal without being rushed. The time to consume a meal shall include time to quietly socialize with thier peers or those they are at the table with.
  11. Children also have the right to utensils, including, at the proper age, forks and knives.
  12. Children have the right to interact with soil and seeds in the classroom or in a school or home garden wherever possible.

Go enter your comments and suggestions here.

Monday Miscellanea

Study: Blacks Routinely Excluded From Juries. It's nothing we didn't already know or suspect, but it's nice to have it documented like this. The problem, of course, is that you can make it illegal to dismiss potential jurors on the basis of race and gender and whatever, but a prosecutor who believes people in this demographic are inferior is going to find some reason to dismiss them. And that's pretty hard to prevent. To complicate things, most attorneys who are involved in jury selection probably honestly believe that they're not racist (because who would openly embrace that title in this day and age?) but implicit beliefs and attitudes have a huge impact on something like jury selection, and if deep down you really really want to exclude someone, you'll find a reason that sounds viable. After all, we all tell the story we need to hear, right?

Medical pot can cost parents in custody disputes. In most states that allow the use of medical marijuana the law states that patients who use marijuana as directed by their doctors "shall not be penalized in any manner, or denied any right or privilege," or something like that (that's the WA version). But family courts don't see this as applying to them in any way, so parents are losing custody battles over it.

Think about the alternatives for people with chronic pain. You could get a prescription for opiates. My daughter's dad's brother (sorry, complicated) has an inoperable brain tumor. Chemo and radiation have prevented it from growing any more for the time being, but it's there and it gives him skull-crushing pain. He has morphine for it. As much as he needs. Sometimes the morphine makes him a little fuzzy and a little groggy. But this has never even entered into discussions of custody, and he frequently picks up his son in a neighboring state and drives him back to his home to spend the weekend or spring break or several weeks during the summer. I don't know about you, but if it were my kid, I'd rather have someone using pot driving my kid around than someone on morphine. Not that B isn't careful when he has his son with him - but it seems to me that pot is easier to control. The morphine can be kind of unpredictable, and the same amount that left him clear-headed and alert one day will space him out to heck another day. But in our fucked-up cultural view, using pot for chronic pain renders one an unfit parent, while morphine is all fine and good. Think about that for a minute. We prefer a parent on narcotics to a parent on pot.

This would be a great time for me to go on one of my rants about how our cultural and political attitudes are shaped by the pharmaceutical-industrial-complex, but I've got other shit to do, and I suspect I've already got a reputation as a wild-eyed conspiracy-theory type when it comes to this topic.

Sexual Assault in Prison
U.S. Likely To Miss Deadline On Prison Rape Rules and
The scourge of rape in prisons in which we learn that the Justice Department is most likely going to miss their deadline on producing new guidelines and measures to protect inmates from sexual assault, mostly because we as a nation are unwilling to spend a single penny to protect inmates. Because in the view of most Americans, inmates have relinquished their claims to basic protection and human rights. They are disposable, worthless lumps of human flesh and why the fuck would we care about what happens to them in prison. If they didn't want to get raped then they ought notta gotten caught committing crimes. I know...it's charming.

But it gets worse if you already belong to a marginalized group due to your gender or sexual identity. You think you were vulnerable in prison as a cis straight person? Try it as a transgender, transsexual, or intersex individual. Of course, as a trans or intersex person you were already statistically more vulnerable to violence before you were incarcerated, but now you have nowhere to go to escape predators, and no access to the advocacy groups that might have helped you on the outside, and you have the added stigma of criminal conviction, making you even more worthless in the eyes of the general public. And what most people refuse to acknowledge is that the way we allow people to be treated when they're locked up and vulnerable is a direct reflection of who we are as a nation. The words "uncivilized" and "barbaric" come to mind.

Cara has had a lot of good stuff to say on this topic, and much of it is linked here.

Finally [Trigger Warning! Medical abuse of minors], a researcher at Cornell, as well as the group of medical writers who reviewed his work, think it's totally appropriate to 1) decide that a young girl's clitoris is too big (wtf?); 2) perform clitoroplasty on tiny children incapable of consenting or resisting; and 3) repeatedly test the success of the surgery by applying a vibrator to the very young girl's clit, labia, inner thighs, etc. with random strangers (nurses, doctors) in the room and the child's parent looking on. I don't even know what to say about this other than OHMYFUCKINGGODWHATPLANETAREYOUPEOPLEFROM??

Once again I failed to come up with any good news. Sorry. If you have a link to any good news, please post it in comments.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Video of the Day

Just cuz I've always loved this song forever and ever. Have a good weekend y'all.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Obesity and fun sexy time

So...there's this: Obesity's impact on sexual health which is loosely based on this study: Sexuality and obesity, a gender perspective: results from French national random probability survey of sexual behaviours in the current BMJ. The basic ideas are:
  • high BMI impacts sexual health negatively for both men and women (the study only seems to refer to heterosexual people but I can't really tell)
  • both men and women with high BMIs are less likely to be sexually active than men and women with lower BMIs
  • heterosexual people of both genders are likely to have a partner with a BMI in the same range as theirs, but it's more likely that a man will hook up with a partner of lower BMI than that a woman will
  • men with high BMIs are more likely to report erectile dysfunction
  • women with high BMIs are less likely to use oral contraception, to seek medical treatment in the area of sexual health, or to require their partner to use a condom in hetero interactions, resulting in higher rates of unplanned pregnancies
  • some other stuff that I've forgotten since I read the articles this morning.
I always cringe when I see stories with these types of titles hit the news. First, the kind of reporting that occurs in MSM outlets is generally very slanted and selective and filled with innuendo and depressing assumptions and stereotypes. Second, the conclusions that are reached often extend far beyond what you can actually conclude from the study - especially when they reinforce some preexisting cultural attitude or belief. Third, they often seem to be so salacious and eager to condemn. So I generally avoid them altogether.

But I think there is something here we should pay attention to, and it's not the "obesity is a terrible pandemic sweeping the globe and obese people are bad and worthless and also totally backward sexually" message that articles like the one in Time are generally either straight-up saying or implying. It's also not the conclusion that is almost universally reached following these kinds of studies that the answer to all of this is for the obese people to put down the pizza and ice cream and lose some fucking weight already. No...the thing we should be paying attention to is the fact that many fat women are so beat down psychologically and have so thoroughly internalized the message that they are not sexual beings, that they don't deserve love and sexual fulfillment, and that their bodies are worthless and disgusting, that they often put their sexual health at risk. That is fucked. You know what else is fucked? The fact that many fat people have had such negative experiences with medical professionals that they would rather risk their sexual health than interact with them.

The fact that fat women are less likely to protect their sexual health is most definitely a matter of concern. It's most definitely a symptom of a larger problem. That problem isn't "the obesity epidemic." It's the shitty cultural attitudes and medical care that fat people encounter so often in their lives. This is a feminist issue y'all.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Monday, June 14, 2010

We're Insane

First a quote from Paul Watson, of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society:
Back in July of 1975 we descended into a trough between some whales, and we just sat there in this boat really transfixed. As a whale rolled about on the surface I caught his eye and he looked straight at us and I saw understanding. I saw that the whale understood what we were trying to do. But the other thing I saw in that eye was pity, and not for himself or his kind, but for us. At that moment a harpoon went over our heads and slammed into the backside of one of the females in the pod, and she screamed and rolled on her side. It was like a woman screaming. I said "well, here we are destroying this incredibly intelligent, socially complex, beautiful creature." And that’s when it occurred to me: we’re insane. As a species we’re insane. So quite frankly, I don’t really care what people think about what we do. They can criticize us all they want, but their opinions mean nothing to me.
Then this news, which nobody really seems to be aware of. See the idea is that there's a global whaling ban in place right now, but certain countries continue to slaughter whales anyway, ya know for "research," and then they just coincidentally happen to sell the meat on the market once their "research" is done, which is pretty much right after they get the whale killed and butchered. So instead of banning whale hunting we should publicly condone it and instead just ask if please please pretty please would they just limit the number of whales they kill and limit their whaling to the whale "sanctuary" in the Antarctic pretty please with sugar on top? Don't you love the Orwellian use of the word "sanctuary" here? We're gonna call it a sanctuary while allowing whales to be slaughtered there. War is peace, freedom is slavery, etc etc. And of course, our government appears to be going along with it, in a secretish back-door sort of way.

To take action, you can donate here, and sign petitions here and here.

Monday Miscellanea

Arizona's next move: deny birth certificates to babies born (in the U.S.) to illegal immigrant parents. Seriously. Because if they get a birth certificate proving they're born here, then their parents can't be shipped out, seeing as they have a family member who's a citizen. These people will stop at nothing.

A bunch of immigrant workers have been arrested in a raid on an Arizona Sizzler restaurant. Which is notable because WTF, Sizzlers is still in business? Damn. There used to be one in Seattle years ago but so many people got food poisoning there it closed down. But the real point of this new story is that no management personnel for Sizzler have been arrested, despite an alleged policy of hiring undocumented or illegally documented workers. So we raid the restaurant, arrest the workers, and wave cheerfully to the management staff as we leave. Sound right?

The oil spill:
BP is experiencing some political and financial pressure. Of course, it can always dodge a great deal of economic responsibility for this by declaring bankruptcy, right? But where's Transocean in all of this? I don't think I've heard anything about their liability in this debacle. And beyond the companies at work, why isn't there a major media uproar about the steady deregulation and erosion of safety and environmental standards that led up to this? Interesting question, no?

Apparently it's The Year of The Republican Woman in California, or just The Year of the Woman in general. And the recent success experienced by a number of female politicians has people wondering what this has to do with feminism. Does increased success by female politicians have to be seen as a good thing from a feminist perspective even if most of the politicians in question are conservatives advancing decidedly anti-woman positions? Please. During times of political and social backlash, colluders will always experience success. Is it a good thing in general that conservatives seem to be warming up to the idea of a woman who's not barefoot and pregnant, or at least financially dependent on a man? I guess. But more than anything, this seems to me like an opportunistic strategy rather than an ideological shift. If using a person who's good at appealing to people and building consensus through the use of sound bites and clever but dishonest rhetorical tricks and big hair and nice tits to sway voters to your side counts as an ideological shift then, OK. It's just not exactly the kind of ideological shift feminists had in mind.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Pacific Ten Conference

Not Pacific, not ten.

I know this really shouldn't be a big deal but...Jesus Christ what the fuck is going on in collegiate sports? Seriously. Leave the conferences the fuck alone. Colorado is one thing (I sorta like the Buffs) but Oklahoma (sorry Eric) and Texas in the Pac-10? Are you outta your fucking minds? I'm sure these are all perfectly nice teams, but they should stay in their own conference or make up a new one of their own. The Pac-10 has always been the Pac-10, and was an important fixture in the cultural landscape of my childhood. I feel irrationally fond of this particular group of teams, even when they piss me off a little (ahem, USC). So, just...whatever. Actually I think I might be over it already.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

More Miscellanea

In my newsfeed this morning: Surgery Not Required to Change Gender on Passports, which appears to be mostly good news. For one thing, it's an instance of the government actually listening to a trans advocacy group when formulating policies that affect trans folk. I know that seems insignificant, but...baby steps y'all.

On a totally unrelated note, I got in a bit of trouble with friends last night for saying that we shouldn't be cleaning oiled seabirds and other animals in the Gulf. According to the studies I had previously read concerning the Exxon Valdez spill, the effort to clean up and rehabilitate seabirds that have been mired down in crude oil is a very public but token waste of resources. It looks good and makes for good (considering the circumstances) PR for the company at fault as well as companies like Dawn. And nobody wants to admit that the birds and turtles and dolphins who are exposed are goners and we would be much kinder to quickly euthanize them rather than letting them die a slow and painful death. But... it turns out I'm right about this. And it really does suck. We don't want to admit it. We want there to be a happy ending, and for someone to be doing something. But in reality, continuing to capture and transport and scrub up and then release these birds is simply a way to make us feel better at the animal's expense. And that's just cruel.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Things that don't suck

I've now been told by three different people that my Monday Miscellanea post was too depressing. Sorry bout that. Sometimes the world is a make-you-want-to-poke-yourself-in-the-eye kinda place. So I thought I'd counter with a things that don't suck.

Ya know what doesn't suck? Roller derby. In honor of the 2010 roller derby season, here's a question for y'all: What's your roller derby name? I'm not sure if there's a formula for arriving at one of these like there is with porn names.

Mine? Rainbow Blight. Complete with rainbow-striped tights. Cuz that's how I roll, bitchez.

Monday Miscellanea, on Wednesday

BP doesn't want you to see photos of animals that have been injured or killed by the oil in the gulf. Does this tactic sound familiar? Hint: think the Bush administration and photos of flag-draped caskets coming home from Iraq and Afganistan...

Click here to view some really depressing images of oil-coated birds.

What's worse than being raped at the age of 15 by a leader in your church? Having to publicly apologize for it. Harsh. Trigger Warning

Over 40% of the largest hospitals in the U.S. lack policies protecting same-sex partners or providing other support to LGBT patients.

The New York state senate defeated the proposed Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act which would have protected the rights of transgender people on the job, in public spaces (such as, ya know, bathrooms), and extended hate crime protection to them.

And finally, here's a new title to add to your summer reading list: Broke, USA: From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc. How the Working Poor Became Big Business by Gary Rivlin.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Today in News that's not News

The New York Times reports that computer use makes us dumber. Except that it's not actually the use of computers (and other electronic devices) that makes us dumb. It's excessive computer useage. The article profiles a couple who spend ridiculous amounts of time using various electronic devices, who report that their relationships and regular life activities are negatively affected by their excessive use of computers, smart phones, etc. A brain researcher warns that all the googling and gaming and emailing and texting is changing the way our brains work and making it harder for people who are "addicted" to technology to focus on things like real people, books, real life events and conversations, etc. Shocking, right? Yeahno.

It's not rocket science, and it's not a new idea. I suspect this dates back to before Aristotle's time, but since this is my area of competence, I'll just stick with Aristotle: "It is better to rise from life as from a banquet - neither thirsty nor drunken" and "excellence is found in the mean relative to us." As your mom probably told you, too much of anything can be bad for your health. Except maybe gardening. And playing with your kids.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Gardening in the Rockies. Seedlings emerge, hail beats them down. Replant. Seedlings emerge, hail beats them down. Rinse, repeat.

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Saturday, June 5, 2010

Neighborhood yard art at its finest

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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Some thoughts on religion and sexual abuse and patriarchy and forgiveness

Trigger warning: sexual abuse
I've been thinking for months and months now about forgiveness, and how the expectation for forgiveness or the pressure to forgive is deeply gendered, and how this is particularly true within religious frameworks, and how this expectation for forgiveness is tied together with the expectation that women will be nurturing and accomodating and deeply concerned about the well-being of others, etc. etc. And of course, there's a context for these thoughts.

My uncle G, the molester, is now in prison. Not for what he did to me or (to a lesser degree) my cousins so many years ago, but for what he did to his daughter (E). Four years in prison for pleading guilty to incest. The other charges were dropped in order to spare my cousin E a court appearance.

As you might know, my family is very religious in a fundamentalist, conservative, protestant sort of way. And I have a big extended family that is both a loving network and a suffocating sort of machine that seeks to control you for your own good and keep you "in the fold." For your own good, of course. But also because when they love, they love intensely and completely and cannot stand the thought of someone they love spending eternity in hellfire and separated from the presence of God. And this is something I have to remember in every interaction I have with them. If I believed that my loved one was going to spend eternity in hellfire, I suppose I would be willing to violate their personal autonomy and risk alienating them forever in order to save them from that fate too. But I digress.

So, my uncle, the golden child and darling beloved of my grandmother, the cherished baby brother of my mother and aunts, the spiritual leader who was better than all of us, and a shining example to emulate, and always too damn good for whatever church he landed in, resulting in a string of churches he founded his own damn self based on ultra-conservative, ultra-patriarchal, ultra-legalistic interpretations of scripture, the smug, arrogant, hypocritical, judgmental, smirking serial child molester and (in my case) attempted rapist, who isolated his family from the rest of us so that his abuse of my cousin would go undetected and he could maintain the mind-control over them that was necessary... is now in prison.

But not because of what he did to me and my cousins so many years ago. Why? Well... I can't speak for my cousins, but in my case things were complicated.

I was six years old. I lived in a very religious world in which I already understood that a man's word was much more valuable than a woman's, and an adults word was much more valuable than a child's. He was both a man and an adult (from my vantage point - he was sixteen and fully grown). I also lived in a world in which sex and genitals were dirty and not something to be discussed. I didn't know the phrase "attempted rape." I didn't understand the things he did to me, but I knew they made me uncomfortable and sometimes scared and they seemed kind of naughty, and he didn't want me to tell anyone, and trying to explain it and convince anyone of the truth of what I said would be really difficult and embarrassing.

Embarrassing mostly because I didn't want to embarrass the adults I would have to convince. Because I was already socialized in a feminine role, and knew that it was better to live with something painful than to inconvenience or embarrass someone else. And I was socialized into a very patriarchal religious context in which men spoke and women listened and tried to find a way to be at peace with the decisions men made. I played with other kids on the floor during women's Bible studies in which my mom and aunts and their friends discussed submission and what it meant and how to achieve it and how to really be happy with it. So, needless to say I was nowhere close to having the tools to conceptualize and communicate my experience with G.

And anyway, I was right. At some point several years down the line my cousin J told her mother about the abuse (did I mention that my granddad, G's dad, also molested us all?) from both G and his dad, and the response was exactly what we had expected. My aunt was horrified and confused and had a really hard time believing it. Don't get me wrong; it's not that she accused her daughter (and then later both daughters) of lying. She just thought they must have misinterpreted some innocent behavior as sexual in nature. So she kept her own counsel.
Then when I was seventeen I got knocked up by that beautiful, sweet, but not a church boy boyfriend of mine that nobody knew a goddamn thing about, and I slipped up. I left the pregnancy test in the trash in the bathroom where my mother found it. I was a master of disguise and strategy, and normally would never have made that kind of rookie mistake. I was known for my smooth diversions and wide-eyed innocent front. Except in this case I was freaked the fuck out because I had just discovered I was pregnant by a well-intentioned but totally irresponsible boy who was so badly damaged by his own childhood I knew there was no way he could parent a child or be any kind of a support to me, and anyway, I had just gotten a national merit scholarship and I would be damned if I was giving that up. So I kind of panicked and slipped up just that one time.

And all hell broke loose. I came home from my after school job to find my mom waiting for me, pregnancy test in hand. There had never been any question that it might have been my sister's. She was the good girl who really was good, not just good at managing the flow of information. There was no getting out of this one, so I did what I always did - I created a diversion. Big time. I said "well, anyway I don't know how you expect me to act after what G and granddad did to me."

And it was on. Everyone was reeling. Confessions were made, fingers were pointed, aunts and grandmothers were called and held long intense tearful phone conversations. My dad - the most calm and reasonable one of the bunch - became public enemy number one for defying the will of the matriarch (my grandma) and insisting on disclosure and consequences and criminal charges and therapy and punishments. Except in the end he didn't win either. My mother was so worn down and stressed out from being pulled between her husband and her family (along with the stress of having a defiant and inscrutable, pregnant 17 year-old daughter) that my dad finally backed down just to prevent my mom from having a nervous breakdown, and to take a minute to deal with the problem of my pregnancy.

Of course, I had made up my mind that I was not having that baby, and had laid plans to terminate the pregnancy. Down to the bus route I would need to take if they took away my car keys. But as it turned out, it took care of itself. I was very athletic and still lacking the weight I had never regained after having mono (not to mention being incredibly stressed out the way you are when you're 17 and pregnant), and about 11 weeks (my guess) in I spontaneously miscarried. Which wasn't surprising given the fact that I frequently missed my periods anyway (which is why it took me so long to figure out I was pregnant...). So that little problem was solved by no act of my own, and I was spared the alienation I would have experienced had I gotten an abortion.

But... Now the cat was out of the bag, and so many questions had to be answered and discussions had to be had, and other cousins came forward, and my aunt who had kept the secret earlier conferred with my other aunt and my mom, and my grandma never really could believe it all, and my granddad, who was an elder in the church surely must be made to resign, right? And the story became that this had been a repressed memory for me all these years. Which wasn't true, but even at a fairly savvy seventeen years old I couldn't explain to them that I didn't know how to discuss it with them or make those kinds of accusations against these men who had been held up as larger than life both in my extended family and in my church.

Ultimately my mom and aunts, who were so terribly sheltered and still so intimidated by the patriarchal family and church structure, gave in under it all again. Some pressure was put on my granddad to confess to the church and resign. I should say that being an elder is a major fucking thing in that church. Elders must be blameless and have a perfect ("in the Lord") family. Like, if one of your adult kids skips church two weeks in a row people start talking about how you should resign as an elder. They are the ultimate leaders of the church in this context. So needless to say my grandfather should not have been an elder. But oh the disgrace that would bring upon the family! Oh how my grandma couldn't bear it. And surely this was just an isolated indiscretion that he could pray about and overcome through the healing grace of God, right? And G had been just a teenager when all this happened and it was just a curious phase. He promised to never ever do anything like that again. And so everything was safely buried again, and I just wanted to get the fuck out of there and go on with my life, so I wasn't going to press the issue any further.

So it remained buried for a few more years.

It occasionally occurred to me over the next few years that pedophiles don't just give up their predatory ways. I was much more worldly than my mom and aunts, and I knew better. I looked at the iron-fisted control G had over his family and wondered if it was possible that he wouldn't do that to his own sweet little girl. It didn't seem like it. I didn't believe for a second that you could pray the chimo away.

But - for several years I was so heavily invested in carving out my own space and dealing with my own issues (did I mention that the beautiful, bad-boy boyfriend referred to above went and got himself killed by a train the summer after we graduated from high school?) that I simply didn't have it in me to fight the battle that I wasn't even sure existed on behalf of my much-younger cousin. And G was very good at isolating his family from us and preventing the close relationship I had with my other cousins. And he taught them that we were worldly and not to be trusted. And he isolated them geographically.

I recognized with profound uneasiness the signs of abuse in all of this. But I was not the person then that I am now. At that point I didn't have my feet under me and hadn't fully found my voice and my confidence and even the resulting clout this has earned me in my family that I do now. Now, things would be different. And I know you can't hold yourself accountable for failing to care for others when you were still learning to care for yourself, but I still feel a little niggle of guilt when I think about how vulnerable and isolated my cousin E was, and how she had an older cousin who could have gone to bat for her. It's easier for me to cry for E than to cry for me. On the other hand, what would have happened if I had gone to bat for her? I'm already both the black sheep and the golden child of my generation in my extended family, and it would have been easy for G, who held (still holds) so much sway, to convince everyone that I was just a troublemaker who had been indoctrinated with worldly, liberal ideas off at my fancy college. That I was too big for my britches. Whatever.

The abuse of E came out a couple years ago. She had finished college very young and married right away and already had a kid when something prompted her to confess to her brothers that their dad had manipulated and drugged her and sexually abused her on and off for years. And the kind of manipulation she described to them was identical to my experience, even though she never knew anything about that. Her brothers felt terribly violated when they found out about how the earlier abuse had been hidden from them, and nobody had really done anything about it (my mom and aunts spoke to Gs wife when they got married and "warned her" about his "teenage indiscretions," but that was it).

So another eruption ensued, with more finger pointing and woulda coulda shouldas all around, and harsh words and alienated family members and hurt feelings. And Es brothers resolutely worked with the police and the therapist that G had tried to utilize as a last-ditch effort to avoid prosecution (his sons didn't go for it) and the church G had founded and headed dissolved, and his wife, who had been so totally under his control for years, left him, and he lost his job and the house he built that was so much better than anyone else's house and the garden he designed which was so much better than anyone else's garden, and he went to prison. With my mom (to some degree) and my aunts still defending him to the end. In their defense, they don't defend his actions (in their minds) but only the power of grace and forgiveness and keeping it out of the papers and the church and the courts. Cuz that worked so damn well for so many years. And he is their little brother and you can never really view your little brother as unsalvageable, can you? Even as I feel so deeply how their defense of their dad and brother silences and devalues all the female children in the family who were abused by these men, I empathize with the fierce loyalty that refuses to see your baby brother as unsalvageable. I think I get it, even as their actions are so very backward and indefensible to me.

So anyway... on to the topic I started with: gender and forgiveness. Now we're at the point as a family where everyone acknowledges the abuse and the errors in the way it was dealt with. My mom and aunts realize that they handled it oh-so-very-badly, and through the grace of Alzheimer's, my grandparents are beyond the reach of this whole thing. But, there's still bitterness between the cousins and the aunts (sounds like a Gilbert and Sullivan piece, no?) about how this all was handled. Residual, unspoken accusations of un-Christlike unwillingness to forgive still float on the wind.

The male cousins (also damaged by Gs sexual misbehavior, but less so) seem to be exempt from this expectation of forgiveness. They're expected to harbor righteous anger and not expected to talk about it. Cuz that would be sort of unmanly or something. But the female cousins are expected to forgive, were not supposed to push for his incarceration (not too hard, anyway), were not supposed to accuse the aunts of valuing their brother and father and family reputation in the church above their daughters' well-being. (This accusation is totally understandable to me but kind of oversimplifies the situation, in my view).

This expectation even extends to me, who was sort of the focal point of all this on accounta my getting knocked up and forcing this to the surface, and also experiencing the most severe and prolonged abuse (among the older cousins) from both men. In spite of this, I am still expected to want to hear about Gs well-being, his hardships in prison, the (you're gonna love this) prison ministry he's working so hard to establish, the physical threats he experiences, and how he's had to be transferred to a prison that's too far away from the aunts for regular visits. I am supposed to sympathize with him for these things and be impressed with his "ministry." For real. If I go home for a holiday I am supposed to be pleased to engage in detailed discussions of his well-being and his tribulations and accomplishments. If a stranger had sexually assaulted me, imagine the ferocity with which my extended family would have protected me from any discussion of the man that I didn't freely initiate myself.

Add to this the fact that I truly believe the prison system in our country is profoundly broken and perpetrates so much social injustice and lays waste to so many already-damaged lives. I don't particularly want any person to experience prison the American way, not even G. Even if I didn't have issues with the prison industrial complex, I don't see his incarceration as doing me any personal good, or making the situation any better, or righting any wrong. I find the idea that prison will somehow fix him absolutely laughable, even as I agree that he has to be prevented from abusing again. All of this is an added internal conflict to complicate the situation even further. In this case, prison is a patriarchal means of attempting to right a wrong that was only possible because of the patriarchal mess (exacerbated by religion) we live in to begin with.

So I guess I'm just realizing that one of the perennial projects of my life is sorting out the strange and tragic mess that results in the intersection of gendered expectations and religion and patriarchy and sexual misbehavior and the social norms governing forgiveness.