Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Personhood for the superiority of man

Even when their own strategist specifically tells them to do so, Republicans just can’t seem to stop talking about rape. Rape rape rape. They looooove rape. You don’t even need a woman’s consent to MAKE MOAR BABIESZ. It’s a Freudian power-fantasy and the manifest destiny of their superior white sperm, all rolled into one.

Which is why it should come as no surprise that Paul Ryan’s latest version of his seminal “cell clusters and more valuable than the slutty sluts harboring them” bill contains deliberately-ambiguous language that would actually serve to protect the rights of rapists at the expense of the rights of women.

Section 2(2) of the proposed legislation states, “Congress affirms that the Congress of each State, the District of Columbia, and all United States territories have the authority to protect the lives of all human beings residing in its [sic] respective jurisdictions.” Which means if a woman tried to access her legal right to privacy and autonomy in her health care decisions, the man who raped and impregnated her against her will could force her into a courtroom and sue her because the magic fetus he created with his omnipotent male god-sperm is a life.

I’m not sure I can even bring myself to write about the unmitigated horrors of that kind of situation.

This acceptance and legitimization of rape absolutely must stop. Rape is not a “method of conception” or an unintentional “gift from God;” rape is an abomination and a vile reflection of the hellish depths to which our society is sinking. Rapists do not have equal rights; they are criminals.

Do you know how many times the word “woman” is mentioned in Ryan’s Sanctity of Human Life bill? Zero. Exactly zero times. Not that this is shocking, since Republicans have publicly declared via their refusal to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that not all women are people. Women are not guaranteed a “sanctity of human life,” they are only guaranteed their proper place beneath a man and breeding.

None of this Republican crusade to “protect babies” has anything to do with protecting actual, innocent human life. If Republicans had a Jesus-like concern for innocent lives, they would expand protections under VAWA, they would expand social services for underprivileged children, they would increase social support for women so bringing a child into the world wouldn’t be such a financially daunting task, they would cut military spending and increase school meal programs – not the other way around.

They don’t want to protect “babies” – they want to protect the sanctity of their own sperm. Sadly, I’m not kidding. They want legislated recognition that human life spews forth from their uncut dicks, and that they therefor are superior to women in all ways, just as their convoluted interpretation of the bible dictates. Their life-sabre penises are the wand of God, spreading their sacred seed far and wide. By any means necessary.

Sanctifying the result of rape as an act of God negates the very humanity of the woman upon which the crime was perpetrated.

But unfortunately for Republicans, it’s 2013, and the tide in this country seems to be slowly but surely turning. I hope these vainglorious attempts to sanctify fatherhood at the expense of a woman’s very humanity are the last dying gasps of a spiteful breed of misogynists facing the reality that “white male” is no longer an unparalleled virtue. The defeat of nearly every idiot Republican who said something stupid about rape in the 2012 election seems to indicate that humanity in this country is not faltering and falling prostrate at the altar of regressivism and hatred.

Until then, though, we must continue to speak out against these insidious hatemongers and identify their disingenuous rhetorical bullshit for what it is: blatant and deadly misogyny. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The United States and CEDAW

I wrote about CEDAW before – the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women – but I got one fact wrong. Though it was enacted as international treaty and President Carter signed it in 1980, the US never ratified it. In fact, we’re one of six nations, keeping illustrious company with paragons of women’s rights such as Iran, Sudan and Somalia, that have never ratified.

CEDAW creates a blueprint for countries to follow to work toward progress for women and girls. Is it the end-all-be-all solution to discrimination against women? No, of course not, but it is effecting change, slowly but surely.

  • In Bangladesh, CEDAW provided impetus for attaining gender parity in primary school enrollment
  • In Mexico, as of 2009, all 32 states have adopted the General Law on Women’s Access to a Life Free from Violence
  • In Kenya, CEDAW helped eradicate differences in inheritance rights that disparately affected widows and daughters of the deceased
  • In Kuwait, a recommendation by the CEDAW committee led to women finally being granted the right to vote in 2005.
CEDAW is intended to reduce sex trafficking, domestic violence and discrimination in education and employment; to ensure the right to vote; to end forced and child marriages; and to guarantee better access to maternal care.

And therein lies the problem for our always-charming Republicans. Maternal care. You see, the language of CEDAW “protects a woman's equal right to life, health, and to decide on the number and spacing of her children. The full protection of these rights requires the removal of obstacles in access to abortion services, and will also require the state to provide services in some circumstances.”

One hundred eighty seven other countries have - at least on paper - recognized that women have a basic human right to control the outcomes of their own bodies. One hundred eighty seven other countries recognize that yes, women are, in fact, people. But we do not. Because Republicans believe we are God’s broodmares, put on this Earth for the sole purpose of bearing man’s baby, with no value beyond the contents of our uteruses.

We are all God’s children, worthy of saving, unless we are women. Then we are expendable.

Women in the US continue to face the 41st highest maternal death rate (out of 184 countries), over 2 million women a year will report (report!) injuries from current or former partners, and women still make 77 cents on the dollar to men, all because a vigilante group of religious nuts have seized control of the Republican Party and subjected us all to the alleged whims of their imaginary-God-friend.

Not such beacons of progress and freedom in the world anymore, are we…?  

CEDAW is up for vote again in the Senate in the 113th Congress, and I urge you to write to your Senator, particularly if you have a Republican Senator, and urge them to ratify this important treaty. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – women deserve better. 

Monday, January 7, 2013

Calling it like it is

I’m done playing nice. I’m done hemming and hedging and countering every ‘the Republicans did this stupid thing’ with a ‘…but the Democrats aren’t that great either.’

The truth is - the current iteration of the Republican Party really is THAT bad. They really are a threat to American democracy as we know it. And allowing the media and ourselves to attempt to seem “fair” by blaming both parties for an anemic economic recovery and fiscal cliff crisis is not really fair at all. Because the Republicans really are to blame.

Money – and religious extremists with money – controls the Republican Party. Money gets Republicans into power and it keeps them there. And once they’re there, they do the bidding of the money that got them there. Thanks to gerrymandering, most Republican representatives are only in danger of being defeated in the primaries by other, more extreme/conservative Republicans, so they have become even more right-wing and polarized than ever before in history. Meanwhile, Democrats have come back to a more centrist position with the nomination and election of Obama in an attempt to secure the independent vote.

This means our two-party system, which is meant to work through checks and balances and compromise, is actually being overrun by a parliamentary-style Republican Party hell-bent on obstructing and damaging the credibility of the Democratic party at every turn.

A bipartisan group of Senators known as the Gang of Six came up with a $4 trillion budget proposal in June 2011 that closely mimicked the balanced budget approach favored by the GOP. The proposal would have cut spending, reformed entitlements and preempted the fiscal cliff crisis and it had widespread GOP and bipartisan support. Until Obama announced he would support it. Then the Republicans killed it.

Why? Because making Obama look bad is far more important than unemployment rates or economic recovery or the welfare of this country. It’s sad, but that’s really what it boils down to. The Republicans have hijacked our government and are jeopardizing the livelihoods of millions just to play a rousing game of “Spite the Black Guy.”

Republicans have manipulated the rhetoric to make themselves seem like anti-tax crusaders fighting valiantly to defend … the wealthy. The biggest point of contention? Tax rates for people making over $400,000 a year. Newsflash – those people are doing just fine, and they can probably continue to take care of themselves.

And now the pro-gun, Obama-is-a-Kenyan-Muslim-terrorist-impeach-the-traitor Republinuts are furious – FURIOUS I say! – to discover that people making $30,000 a year are being hit harder than people making $500,000 a year under the fiscal cliff deal that was finally reached. Newsflash number 2, folks – that’s what you’ve been supporting all along. That’s what this fight has been about – protecting the wealthy at the expense of the poor and the middle class. You elected the GOP hardliners who sacrificed your family’s well-being on the altar of the Koch brothers’ empire.

There are currently more than 100 nominations for public office awaiting Senate confirmation (at this time 10 years ago under Bush there were 13) – something that reflects poorly on Obama because it makes him look ineffectual. But those nominations are still pending because Republican Senators have put anonymous holds on them to block them indefinitely unless specific, ridiculous demands are met. The minority Republican Party has corrupted the nomination process and turned it into a means of preventing the enforcement of already-enacted federal laws. They have thwarted the legislative process to bully the country into submitting to their whims.

The Republicans have set out to make “government doesn’t work” a self-fulfilling prophecy. It certainly won’t work when half of Congress refuses to allow it to work. And naturally the party of “small government” benefits from making it appear that government is ineffective.

The thing is – I’ve never identified as a Democrat and I still don’t officially. I kept my party affiliation as “unaffiliated” when I got a new driver’s license this weekend. I voted Democrat for the very first time in my life in the 2012 election. But I am done pretending that honest discourse about current American politics has to include some caveat that shifts some of the blame away from Republican leadership.

Nothing the Democrats do could compare to the heartless evil of refusing to authorize relief money for Superstorm Sandy victims or to refusing to reauthorize the 68-year-old Violence Against Women Act.

Fear of being perceived as having a ‘liberal bias’ has led to a less-than-the-whole-truth bias, and the Republican Party has exploited that at every opportunity. I’m happy to call Democrats out on bullshit too, but a solution to our current economic and social crisis has to start with recognizing the heart of the problem: religious-extremist-backed Republicans who hate the President more than they love our country. 

Friday, January 4, 2013

Get your hands off my flab!

New Year – new diet advice. The magazines are full of pictures of tiny women, ‘weight-loss wonder’ diets and ‘super foods’.  It is our national obsession with weight – you can’t escape it wherever you go. Now even the political sphere is entering the conversation, as Jo Swinson, Minister for Equality, criticises ‘fad diets and fitness myths’, even as a group of doctors call for a ‘Minister for Fatness’ and a think tank proposes that overweight benefits claimants should have their benefits cut unless they start exercising.

Everyone has an opinion on my body, what I do with it, and what I put into it. Mostly I should eat less, and especially less cream and cheese (Grazia would have a fit…)

Feminism is full of a backlash against this, preaching an incredibly positive message of loving your body and eating what you want, highlighting the ridiculousness of adverts that suggest we feel guilty for eating a yoghurt. On the other hand, there is the vitally important post by Squeamish Bikini (www.squeamishbikini.com - Weighting for Change), expressing her worries that this message too can be triggering for sufferers of eating disorders. Differing messages of weight, diet, and exercise bombard us everywhere we look.

This blog is not so much an impassioned piece of political commentary as a confused stream of personal thinking – I really don’t know how to feel about weight and exercise. And it isn’t just my confusion. A series of tweets by the lovely @popbadger appeared on my news feed yesterday and really resonated with me:  ‘Weird being back at the gym (in the changing room anyway). I was so nervous to come back that I sat in my car outside for 15 minutes.” She went on to question her motives for using the gym: “I think that I feel I’m letting down the feminist cause by wanting to change my body.”

I share this fear. I worry about tweeting about exercise and diets – I worry that I may inadvertently be triggering sufferers of eating disorders, I worry that people will read these tweets and look down on me for not being a “proper feminist”. I want to justify myself constantly with the fact that it is for health or sport reasons. “It’s not about being thinner!” I want to cry. But, in the interests of honesty, I must quietly whisper “but it is maybe a little bit about being thinner.” I am ashamed to admit that I like being slim (and I much prefer that word to ‘thin’) – and that I would like to remain so whilst eating all the cheese, roast potatoes, and creamy food my taste buds can take.

We live in a patriarchal society where we are constantly bombarded with images of women with unattainable bodies – whether unattainable through Photoshop or through the sheer amount of training that our wonderful Olympic athletes do. We also live in a patriarchal society where women are constantly being told what to do, what to eat, what to wear, what time we should be safely at home by (before dark, unless accompanied by a big, strong man).

I really want my feminism not to be any part of this. I want everyone to get their hands off my flab and STOP TALKING ABOUT IT!! (This blog post excepted, of course….!) I don’t want anyone to feel that they have to lose weight, or that they are not beautiful unless they are a size 8 with abs like Jessica Ennis. If you want to eat a three-course meal followed by cheese and finish off a bottle of wine on the sofa, I want to say, “Enjoy! Can I join you?” Equally, if you want to lose weight, then I would like to say “Good luck! Have fun! Running in the rain is horrible!”

You can still be a feminist. You can hate beauty magazines and the government telling you what size to be and what to eat – you can make those choices yourself, to exercise or not to exercise, to diet or not to diet. No matter what choice you make, in my opinion, you are no more or less a feminist.

And now I’m going for a run. J

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

It's a New Year in Gilead

Happy New Year everybody! I had a brilliant night last night involving roast lamb, three episodes of Homeland, and then going with my boyfriend up to Trafalgar Square to watch the fireworks. We were entertained at the fireworks by a man with a loudspeaker and an “alternative New Year’s message”, telling us to “keep your eyes on the bright lights and loud noises, don’t stop to think about what you are really doing here and who you really are.” His firework commentary was not exactly the official commentary: “there goes your child benefits, there’s another hospital closed…”

It got me thinking though. 2012 was an incredible year for me, especially as it involved buying a flat, moving in with my boyfriend, and adopting our lovely little kitten, Oscar. But let’s be honest, it’s been a rubbish year for people, especially women, across the globe – ending on the horrific story of the Indian woman who was brutally raped and murdered (but let’s remember that this is not just an “Indian problem” – perhaps there will be a blog post on that later!)

This great article by Laura Bates of the everyday sexism project (www.everydaysexism.com) outlines 2012 – the year in sexism -> http://www.newstatesman.com/lifestyle/lifestyle/2012/12/2012-year-sexism
Her list encompasses the dangerous obsession over female celebrities’ weight, to the joky rape culture that pervades our society. But one instance of sexism per month is nowhere near enough to fully show what women have had to put up with this year. Rape culture is not just found on the pages of the unilad website, but in our courtrooms and from the mouths of our politicians. George Galloway, discussing Julian Assange, stated that he was simply guilty of “bad sexual etiquette” for having sex with a sleeping woman. In December, a judge described a rape victim as having “let herself down badly. She consumed far too much alcohol and took drugs”. The war on women continues in the economic sphere, with the main force of austerity being felt by women – Yvette Cooper in December said that “women are being hit three times harder than men, by a Cabinet with three times more men than women”. There have been real-terms cuts to child benefit, maternity allowance, women’s services such as the Sure Start children’s centres, and to public sector pay – 70% of the public sector are women. With 2013 being the year when the true force of the austerity measures will be felt, this is not shaping up to be a great year for women.

But – is it all doom and gloom? I would argue not. Increasingly the term “feminist” is being seen as something to be proud of. There are growing backlashes against women in the public eye who do not identify as feminists. There are great campaigns afoot in the UK such as the previously mentioned everydaysexism campaign, cataloguing the relentless onslaught of sexism that British women deal with on a daily basis. There is the No More Page 3 campaign, attempting to end the practice of putting a topless woman on page 3 of a national daily newspaper. There is the Women’s Room UK – a database of women with expertise and experience so that never again will a radio presenter have to ask his all-male guests to imagine they are women in a discussion on breast cancer. And combatting the evidence that young girls are no longer interested in feminism is the Twitter Youth Feminist Army (#tyfa) – a group of young girls new to feminism ranging in age from 9 to 28 (I think). I’m very proud to be a member of the latter and am really looking forward to being more involved in the New Year. It is about raising awareness and increasing our own knowledge, about meeting others that share our thoughts, values, and worries about the world we are growing up into. Only by coming together and continuing to fight, in the smallest of ways, in the most important of ways, can we even attempt to make a difference. My hope for 2013 is that it will see the birth of more grassroots campaigns like those I have mentioned. That we will talk and shout about violence against women until it cannot be ignored anymore. That (unlike the handmaids) we will not just sit back and let it happen to us.

Happy New Year!