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The Baby Matrix

15 Oct

Yesterday I was reminded again why the world needs feminism. Why everyone, men, women, children do. And how it is sometimes hard when you start seeing gender in everything and how it permeates so many facets of lives and absolutely every facet of reproduction and child rearing. And how difficult it is to make someone – who does not see the world this way – understand without him or her accusing you of exaggeration.

But let’s start at the beginning. Yesterday, I went to the hospital to visit a baby. Not just any baby, my boyfriend’s sister’s baby. Which, by extension, is something like my niece and I am very proud. She is the tiniest baby with the most hair in the world. As I stood watching her, it seemed like she was singing to herself while she kept touching her face, not understanding that her hands and face all belonged to her. She is incredibly cute and adorable, obviously. However, I cannot be sure if she was already, like I suspect, singing Yellow Submarine to herself because I didn’t hear any sounds coming out of her mouth. Why is that? Because I could only see the tiny human from behind a glass wall and I wasn’t able to touch her. Do I suffer from the Plague or any other contagious disease which could potentially be fatal to newborn beings? Not that I know of.

The hospital I went to look at the baby was a Hungarian hospital. Hungary has a pretty advanced health system in terms of the actual treatment, proven, for example, by the fact that gazillions of Austrians and Germans come over the border every year for dental treatment because it is good and cheap.

But when it comes to newborns, what I saw yesterday is this: the mother, after the birth, is normally put in a room with one or two other mothers in the maternity ward. The maternity ward is a no go area for anyone who is not a mother, a baby, a doctor or a nurse. This means that you cannot visit the mother in her room, for reasons that evade me. If you want to see her, she has to come out. I guess one of the reasons is that the mother can get some rest and is not subjected to strangers visiting someone else in the room when she doesn’t feel well. However, this means, that a) the mother is totally alone there with no family or support to comfort her (the mum I visited told me she couldn’t stop crying when initially she was totally alone in a room and that she appreciates the presence of another mother now so that she has at least someone to talk to) and b) for you to visit the mother, she actually has to come out at the maternity ward. Yesterday, there were about five other mothers standing outside the maternity ward in a hall which had two iron benches and a snack machine and lots of crude lighting. All of these mothers wore night or hospital gowns and some additionally carried around their urinary catheters in a plastic bag. Now that is the state in which you want lots of strangers to see a tube carrying your pee emerge from between your legs, right?

But even worse than that, for me, was that the mums were not allowed to bring the babies outside. So there were five little ones in tiny beds on wheels propped behind the glass door for relatives to watch them and take pictures and make baby noises. The most positive hospital memories I have (well, the only positive ones) are from visiting friends and family with newborns. You sit around their bed, you marvel at the tiny hands and feet and their funny grimaces. Everyone takes turns in holding the baby and remarking how much it looks like Uncle Michael when he came out. You might wipe away a tear when you witness older siblings seeing their younger brother or sister for the first time, carefully stroking their head and then doing it again for the camera. You help the new mum with adjusting to this new life a bit, by reassuring that you are there, that you will be there through all the poo and baby vomit and sleepless nights ahead and that her baby is indeed the best, cleverest, most beautiful, funniest human being on this earth, the bullet that killed Kennedy.

None of this was possible in this hospital. And the very worst part, the thing that just put me over the edge, was that it was not even possible for the dad. Indeed, the person who actually took part in making the baby was not allowed to touch it either! He was allowed to stay in the delivery room with the mother for two hours after the birth and from then on he could only see his newborn child through glass. If there are minor complications during the birth which cause the mother to be very weak afterwards and prompt her to need a lot of rest for a couple of days during which she is unable to care for the baby, the baby’s father is not allowed to stay with his baby, not even during the day. The baby is cared for by the nurses and will, in that case, have little physical contact with anyone.

For the sake of completeness, in this hospital, it was  possible to pay for a private room in which the parents of the baby could stay together. So rich dads get to care for their newborns. In this room, however, no other visitors could be received either.

This experience was disturbing on so many levels I couldn’t believe the gender stereotyping and the sexism that this system manifested. I was outraged on behalf of all the fathers that had to look at their baby through glass not being able to hold and fed them and sing to them. On behalf of the mothers who had to go through the humiliating experience of carrying around their pee in front of twenty people they had never seen before. On behalf of the baby who should be able to experience physical contact from both their parents, as it is proven to be important to their development and well-being, particularly right after the birth and during the following days. And on behalf of them both for the obvious institutionalisation of gender roles and ideas on how child rearing should be organised and who should have a say in it. Mum stays in and cares for the baby, dad goes out to celebrate the arrival of his child with a couple of drinks (because, what else could he do, not being allowed to be at the hospital?), showing up every day with flowers and good words but not actively being able to help. Now many people only spend two days in the hospital, but with complications, it can easily amount to more than a week in which a baby can only be seen behind glass. I was appalled by the paternalism this whole system reeked of, telling grown up women that it is their and only their obligation to tend to their babies needs and that they mustn’t let anybody else touch the precious offspring (offspring which were totally healthy and, if it weren’t for the complications because of which the mum had to rest a little longer in hospital, would long be home and cuddled by friends and family).

For me, this was such an obvious manifestation of sexism and symptoms of antique gender stereotypes in a country in which a man is entitled to a grand five days of paternity leave and in which the paternity leave can only be shared after the child turned one, the constitution calls the family the ‘fundamental framework for community, in which the pre-eminent values are loyalty, faith and love’, and Fidesz (the governing party) politicians refuse to call domestic violence by its common Hungarian name (translated as violence in the family) because the family is a cozy sacred nest of peace and cannot be besmirched by associating it with anything negative. A country in which a member of parliament for the government party physically assaults his wife in such a severe manner that she ends up in hospital and, when asked, explains to the bewildered nation that his wife tripped over the pet dog. And a country iwhere another Fidesz member of parliament claims the reason of domestic violence is the fact that women don’t make enough children in order to be respected within the family and calls upon ‘ladies’ to produce two, three or four children ‘as a gift for the fatherland’ before  they ‘can fulfill themselves and may work at different jobs’.

But I am told that sexism has no influence on this particular case, on how maternity wards are organised and on the rights and obligations of mothers and fathers there. I am told that the reason are practical issues, or maybe corruption (that the hospital wants people to pay for private rooms) etc. I see how it can be hard to associate a specific case with a broader, systemic issue of society. I am not claiming that other issues are not also at work here. But it is frustrating to try to explain something that is so obvious to you to someone who just totally doesn’t see it. It makes me feel like in the sexist matrix. And it is easy to be told or to even feel like a fundamentalist, to feel like the one crashing the party when everyone else just wants to admire the baby (from far away). But these things are interconnected. How should dads and mums get a sense of child rearing as a shared responsibility when a newborn baby gets cut of basically any contact between themselves and their father in the first days of their life? How should couples arrive at the conclusion that they both have to tend to the physical and emotional needs of this tiny person when one of them is prohibited from doing so by the same institution which patronises them and puts their baby behind glass walls? And how should new mothers not feel left abandoned to the child-rearing tasks in a place where they are physically, actually, alone? All these are leads for and expressions of greater societal persuasions, convictions held by a majority that see a division of household/child-rearing labour and gaining employment and financial support of the family for women and men. They manifest themselves everywhere in the world, on all levels, in law and policy, as well as in the cribs of tiny humans.

How are maternity wards organized in your country? Can dads come and visit or even stay overnight? Are visitors allowed to see the mum and  baby in their room?

Vacationing in Vienna: Mujica speaks for Morales and for Latin America

5 Jul

Are you tired of reading Anglophone media covering the issue of Evo Morales’ trip to Vienna in the light of the extreme statements issued by Bolivia’s Vice-president or the declarations of other extreme (whether we like them or not) leaders of South America? I am.

Personally I don’t agree with everything Morales has done, I certainly disrespect Maduro and the way he campaigned for his election and I am suspicious of some of Fernandez’ more extreme measures of capital control, despite her achievements in human rights protection in Argentina. But that is beside the point. Whether Morales and his friends are leftist or not shouldn’t really matter.

Most articles I’ve read only focus on the “bad facts” of the leftist presidents when reporting the UNASUR meeting called by Humala to discuss this situation, but I’ve also been surprised by the lack of reporting of this issue, though I probably shouldn’t be as this is usually the way it is when it comes to Latin American issues.

It has to be said: it’s not just the leftist countries who feel attacked in Latin America. The OAS has issued a statement condemning that four countries (France, Spain, Italy and Portugal) revoked flight permission while the presidential plane was taking Morales home. Also, besides the UNASUR and ALBA countries, Costa Rica, Mexico, Brazil, Nicaragua and Cuba have also condemned this act. Note the first two on the list are actually right wing governments. So it’s essentially  about a sense of regional humiliation and a right to demand, at least, an apology.

Was this legal? A question few media channels have cared to answer. BBC Mundo (Spanish version) consulted a professor of international law from the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid who described the deviation of Morales’ presidential plane to Vienna as a “clearly doubtful act”:

This is not any plane, it is a presidential plane carrying on board a Head of State and as such, it enjoys full immunity and the same inviolability and freedoms it would have within its own nation. A measure of these characteristics, prohibiting the flyover, must be very justified: for example, that the president is being pursued for  an international crime. But when he isn’t, as in this case, it is very clearly an abuse of his sovereignty and highlights the impropriety of many governments.

A State may decide to close its airspace, but this has been done when a political leader is wanted for prosecution or linked to a measure of punishment, as in cases of international crimes, or to exert pressure to countries linked with these crimes. In this case it was a presidential plane, with a head of state on board, where there was no reason for a government to prevent him from transit and over flight of its space for peaceful behavior. What European countries did was based on a rumor that was not true. And clearly it is an action that is inconsistent with international law.

After a funny and detailed chain of tweets that President Fernandez wrote about her various phone calls with her fellow Heads of State during Morales’ “trip” to Vienna, the leaders of UNASUR decided to gather in Cochabamba, Bolivia, to define what actions they will take regarding these acts.

I just saw the video of José Mujica’s speech on this UNASUR meeting. I might be biased by the fact that I believe him to be one of the few good leaders we have on my continent, and definitely, the most consequent leader when it comes to living what you preach. If you don’t know much about Uruguay’s President, know at least that he was a political prisoner for 14 years, that he lives with his wife in a small shabby farm, refused to move to the presidential palace and gives 90% of his monthly salary to charity. You can read more about him here.

I translated his speech because I believe it to be authentic, and a true representation of what Latin Americans are feeling regarding  this issue. Watch the video if you speak Spanish as well.

First, it seems that there are world powers that want to apply a kind of ideological terrorism over the right to asylum, an institution that all fighters of the world’s history defend. In the name of those that have been persecuted and will continue to be persecuted, the right of asylum is sacred and it’s a principle that we must uphold for humanity.

Second, the worst, to be benevolent, they screwed up. They were wrong. I think they ate a screw! I suppose that the intelligence services that sent them to ruins are probably sitting down folding little papers in a dungeon. I suppose so, because this is very embarrassing for the Old Countries, so called Mother countries.

But the worse is that now, they treat us like toddlers. Instead of assuming, with republican humility, that they made a mistake, no one says anything! It seems that Evo was vacationing in Vienna! No one denied him a right, no one did anything. I mean, the answer is almost an infantilism, and I think we, Latin Americans, have a right not to be treated as toddlers.

We are not their sons anymore, we aren’t colonies anymore, we are what we are, we try, and we deserve respect. And when a country, a leader, is abused, we all feel abused in Latin America. So, we ask them, in name of civilization: dignity, dignity and decency.

Being wrong is part of life. Making mistakes is inevitable. When you do, you have to show your face, assume responsibility and say so to the international community. Not take us for idiots. Thank you.

So at the end it isn’t about left and right, it’s about which countries you can bully and which are treated with respect. Do you wonder if this would have been done to a European leader, or a country that could pose a threat to international peace in response to what Bolivia considers an “act of aggression”? Do you wonder if this would have been covered more seriously by the media if that was the case? If Spain, Portugal, France or Italy would be issuing apologies? I do.

When the private becomes public, and we close our eyes at it

4 Jul

£££250PEOPLE-ONLY-Nigella-Lawson-1955474

We have all read about it. Nigella found herself a victim of domestic violence in the eyes of Britain and the world. The horrible event has been covered by the media from different perspectives that all dance around the Achilles’ heel of this particular form of abuse: are we really still categorizing this as a private matter?

Mainstream media in the UK covered the issue and public figures commented on it. The coverage revealed, with some exceptions, that people will bravely stand against domestic violence as long as they are talking about the topic in general, but not about a particular situation, person or woman. More importantly, we repeatedly read how accusing a man who might just have been joking or trying to make a point is surely not something we should rush into. After all: no one knows what really happened, is what people say. And it drives me crazy.

I saw the pictures and have a pretty good idea of what his actions against her were. I don’t know why he did it, but I don’t think it matters. Saatchi described the situation as a “playful tiff” and people seek to believe it: after all, who doesn’t dream about being choked in public by their husband? People just don’t understand humor these days…

Reading and talking about it, I am shocked by the amount of persons that insist they cannot judge the situation from those pictures. Have they really seen them? Unless these were fabricated (which no one, not even Saatchi, has alleged) the situation is pretty clear to me. Yet, these are some of the comments we were lucky to read from UK media and public figures on Nigella’s personal via crusis:

The only way the Saatchi marriage stands a chance is if everyone – including the Metropolitan Police – back off. Sadly, I doubt this is possible.” Said Christine Odone in The Telegraph. This one is so far out there I doubt I need to comment, right? I love the way she refers to the Saatchi marriage as an institution needing rescuing. Do take a look at the article though; you don’t want to miss Odone’s advice for victims of domestic violence: fry a Mars Bar to overcome your marriage crisis”.

Another one that made my day was Nick Griffin MEP’s tweetIf I had the opportunity to squeeze Nigella Lawson, her throat wouldn’t be my first choice”. Vote BNP!

Nick Clegg in a radio broadcast interview refused to comment on the issue because he wasn’t there and he had only seen the photos: “it could have been a fleeting situation”, he said. After all, it’s not violence if it was just this once… right Nick? He later rushed off to condemn domestic violence due to hard criticism, but only once Saatchi had himself gone to the Police and accepted a caution for assault.

Similarly, Greenslade had to issue an apology in The Guardian, as he initially said it was a rushed judgment to call this domestic violence and that the pictures only told part of the story. He made his point stronger by quoting Saatchi’s declaration: “I held Nigella’s neck repeatedly while attempting to emphasise my point… There was no grip, it was a playful tiff.” In his apology Greenslade claims his doubts in condemning the act come from years of friendship with Nigella. With friends like these…

The Independent’s Ellen Jones could think of nothing better than to attack Nigella for lying to us: “Nigella has welcomed us into her home, but not her heart. More so than any other TV chef, she’s selling the illusion of intimacy – and we’re buying it”. Nailed! How dare Nigella not include her most private, difficult problems in her worldwide show!

While other newspapers took a strong stand on calling this abuse, they immediately dwelled on how this will have a catastrophic impact for her career and gave Nigella’s drama a paparazzi style coverage, rather than a serious analysis of a serious issue.

It’s not surprising to see all these comments and excuses stem from similar, old paradigms:

  • Domestic violence is private and no one should say, comment or do anything about it. It’s up to the couple to solve it and intervening is intrusive and unhelpful.
  • If it’s just once, not very hard, happened very fast, or was in any other way “excusable”; then it’s not really domestic violence and we shouldn’t rush to judge.
  • It’s good to condemn domestic violence in abstract and theory. However, when speaking about real people, let alone friends, one shall never comment on, even obvious, situations of violence.

Thankfully I have also read some articles (an exception to this trend, though) and some commentators still have the courage to call this what it was: outright abuse. Suzane Moore reflected on the fact that no one intervened despite later being eager to report on Nigella’s obvious distress. Moore writes: “If a man had his hands round the throat of another man during a meal would the waiters have carried on as normal?” I don’t think they would have…

Readers’ comments and non-traditional news sites have condemned this act: why didn’t any one help her? Erin Ryan for Jezebel has it right: this is NOT a private matter! And it isn’t really, when statistics say that 1 in 4 women will be a victim of domestic violence in their lifetime, that one incident of domestic violence is reported to the police every minute and that on average, 2 women a week are killed by a current or former male partner. It’s a complex issue to analyze and a complete picture of the extent and nature of domestic violence in the UK can be found at the British Crime Survey of 2004. However, those numbers are surely enough for us to conclude that it is a matter of public interest.

The issue is not simple: the reason why domestic violence is still affecting societies where gender equality has otherwise improved is the fact that it combines two problems we have a hard time dealing with; gender discrimination and the private sphere dilemma.

Domestic violence is a form of gender discrimination and a violation of human rights. Yet we seek to justify it or find an excuse for every concrete situation we come accross: there must have been something she said to provoke him, we don’t know his side of the story, etc. Saatchi’s ex-wife said he was never violent towards her, so there must be another explanation. We are desperate to find excuses for the powerful, dominant aggressor. He is, after all, the white, rich, male. If he says he was just joking, that surely should appease us all…

Take that and add the fact that we are taught to never intervene in private issues, and you have a perfect formula for the perpetuation of domestic violence. What should it mean, for the average Joe, that domestic violence is a public matter? And here I’m talking about any kind of domestic violence, where men and children can be victims as well.

It should mean that we should all stand against it when encountering it. A male victim of domestic violence said on BBC’s Radio 4 “Woman’s Hour” that the hardest thing for him was how his relatives, friends and neighbors isolated him when it started becoming obvious. They would look away on the street and it made him feel he was alone in it. His situation ended when someone anonymously called the police, but no one ever offered him help or approached his wife.

So all in all, it doesn’t matter if we all saw the fear and tears in Nigella’s eyes, if we saw the series of photographs of him grabbing her neck or pinching her nose like a school bully, or those of her fleeing the restaurant in tears. Let’s not rush to judge, right? Those must have been happy tears, she was still laughing and was surely just in a rush to buy her Mars Bars at Waitrose.

When we think of it, the reasons why we continue to be silent when we hear our neighbor’s walls bang and a crying voice are far beyond gender discrimination issues. We have lost (did we ever have it?) a sense of community and human solidarity. And I’m not talking about spying on your neighbors but about walking away when we know that there is an abusive situation going on. We say nothing when we see a parent hit his child or yell abusively at him on the street, even if we get enraged by it. We choose to walk away because “it’s a private matter”.

What do we fear will happen should we intervene? Embarrassment? Next time we’re confronted with a public act of violence or abuse we should stop and think. What does the person affected fear? Is our fear that important after all?

Let’s all cry for da poor widdle rapists

22 Mar

This week in the little town of Steubenville, Ohio, two man-boy-monsters were convicted of rape. Ma’lik Richmond, 16, and Trent Mays, 17, were found “delinquent” (juvi court code for “guilty”) after prosecutors presented copious evidence proving that they had digitally raped a 16 year-old girl while she was virtually unconscious (blacked out from booze, though recent allegations indicate she may have been roofied). This evidence wasn’t hard to come by, seein’ as how the man-boy-monsters photographed the victim’s limp, urine-soaked body, texted/Tweeted the pictures for everyone to see, and posted a 12-minute video to YouTube bragging about their conquests. (Can one be charged with “idiocy” in addition to rape? And is that an aggravating or mitigating factor?) For a detailed and gut-churning account of the more than 350,000 text messages from the 17+ phones confiscated for evidence during the investigation, read this article from Yahoo Sports. (And can I just say, I’m fucking embarrassed that I just linked to Yahoo Sports as a thorough journalistic source. Do your job, mass media outlets.)

Because they are minors, the perps received relatively short sentences — a minimum of one year in juvenile detention for Richmond, two years for Mays (added time for distributing photos of a naked minor), with the possibility of remaining in juvi until they are 21, at which time the case will be reassessed.

Both teens will also have to register with the sexual offenders registry, meaning that they will always and forever be linked with this rape.  From now until the day they die (or until Congress ends the registry, whichever comes first), their neighbors, colleagues, employers, prospective mates, and future children will always be able to trace them to this heinous crime. (For the record, I absolutely despise the sex offender registry, though I understand and am sympathetic to its origin and purpose.)

Everything about this tale is tragic. That said, let us remember that the tragedy stems from the actions of the rapists and centers around the effects on the victim.

Apparently CNN missed that memo. The network is currently taking a beating for its sympathetic (to the rapists!) coverage of the sentencing hearing. Nothing like two semi-handsome budding football stars crying in open court to make middle America feel twangs of sympathy. Reporter Poppy Harlow told anchorwoman Candy Crowley (yes, those are real names; I can’t make shit like that up): “I’ve never experienced anything like it, Candy. It was incredibly emotional — incredibly difficult even for an outsider like me to watch what happened as these two young men that had such promising futures, star football players, very good students, literally watched as they believe their life fell apart.”

Needless to say, other news outlets and the general public wasted no time in condemning Poppy, Candy and the rest of the Lollypop Kids for their failure to recognize that (a) the rapists brought this shitstorm on themselves, and (b) the victim — remember her, the little girl who was raped? —  is picking up the pieces of her life after it actually fell apart.

Many are comparing CNN’s coverage to a two-year-old story by the Onion, a satirical website that has been prescient in much of its coverage recently. Life imitating art?

In a three-way tie for “Most Shitastic Coverage of the Steubenville Rape,” CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC all aired the first name of the victim on live television. Really? You don’t think bleeping out the victim’s name would have been a wise use of the seven-second delay? Or is that only reserved for when Bono drops an F-bomb during his Golden Globes acceptance speech?

I find the Steubenville rape deeply disturbing at a very personal level. There have been a few times in my life that I have witnessed or been the victim of sexual harassment or (I now realize) rape. I was in my late teens or early twenties, so older than these kids, but I was a special kind of naive. I had no idea that what I was witnessing or experiencing “counted” as anything criminal. All I knew is that it made me feel icky — the kind of icky that is impervious to hot showers and heavy drinking.

So what made me not tell someone on the French train that an employee had tried to molest me while I was alone in a sleeper car? What made me not call the cops when I, in bed with a girlfriend sleeping off a bender at a close friend’s house, awoke to find a friend — who had been sleeping on the couch in the living room — dry humping me in his tighty-whities with his hand down my pants? (Although I did tell my brother a few days later and he, much to his credit, never once said “well, at least you learned a lesson”. Instead he called the dude and calmly threatened to kill him if he ever came near me again. So there’s that.) Why didn’t I intervene when a situation eerily similar to the Steubenville rapes unfolded before me at a small house party, except the rapists (and yes, now I realize they were rapists) wielded a VHS camcorder instead of cell phones and had no social media website to upload the video to?

Why did I stay silent? Because of the victim-blaming assholes that came out in droves following the sentencing of Richmond and Mays. “Public Shaming“, a Tumblr blog devoted to calling out social media douchebags, features three pages of posts to Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, and other forums espousing the “slut was asking for it”/”she shares responsibility” mentality. Public Shaming came across such gems as:

image

and

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Then you have “Why don’t we have a Dumb Fucking Whore Registry? Now that would be justice” by the aptly named Judgy Bitch. Charming. She argues that the unconscious girl (who was dragged from party to party, finger repeatedly, urinated on, and left naked on a stranger’s couch) was not actually raped. Rather, it was a case of “boys being boys” and “stupid whores being stupid whores.”  (Did I mention there’s a 12 minute video of the boys bragging about “how hard she got raped”? So by THEIR definition, let alone that of the Ohio criminal code, she was raped.)

And you wonder why I, like so many scared teens, stayed silent.

In my mid-twenties, a bit older and a bit wiser, I began to fight back. One incredibly strange night, a large man began beating his teeny-tiny girlfriend outside my friend’s apartment while we were having a party. (We didn’t know either of them.) He dragged her across the lawn by her hair while she kicked and screamed, pulled her between two buildings, pinned her down across his lap like a small child, and repeatedly punched her face while she wailed. After all the guys at the party refused to help her, I ran up, grabbed the woman, and kept running with her until I got behind a closed door. Cops were called, statements taken, and the biggest asshole at the party (now a US Marshall) yelled at me for butting into the business of others. I was shamed for, uh, I still don’t know — my action highlighting his inaction? (I realize this was not actually a rape incident. Still, you get the idea.)

In Steubenville: this is rape culture’s Abu Grhaib [warning: graphic (though pixilated) photo included], Laurie Penny from the NewStatesmen is able to articulate the importance of the Steubenville rape far better than I:

The pictures from Steubenville don’t just show a girl being raped. They show that rape being condoned, encouraged, celebrated. What type of culture could possibly produce such pictures? Only one in which women’s autonomy and right to safety counts for so little that these rapists, and those who held the cameras, felt themselves ‘perfectly justified’… The Steubenville rapists claim that, when they drove a passed-out girl from party to party, slinging her into and out-of cars like a deflated sex-dolly and sticking their fingers inside her, they didn’t know they were doing anything wrong. That’s plausible, although it’s no defence. It’s plausible if, and only if, you have internalised the assumption that women are not real human beings, just bodies to be manipulated with or without consent, pieces of wet and willing meat there for you to use for your pleasure. There’s a word for what happens when one group of people sees another as less than human and insists on its right to hurt and humiliate them for fun. It’s an everyday word that is often misused to refer to something outside of ourselves. The word is ‘evil’… Anyone can be outspoken about Steubenville after the fact. The question is: who will stand up when the next Jane Doe is attacked, without expectation of thanks or acclaim, at risk of derision and ostracism or worse, and speak out about all the other Steubenvilles that are still taking place, and will continue to until enough people say ‘stop’?

Could the horror inflicted upon Jane Doe be a catalyst for change? Maybe. A Change.org petition calling on CNN to apologize for its coverage has over 200,000 signatures. Internet terrorists/hacktivists (depending on your point of view) Anonymous (@YourAnonNews) has steadfastly refused to let the rape go gentle into that good night. It continues to build a case against the “rape crew”, compiling and releasing additional information implicating a huge number of people. Some argue that Anonymous has gone too far — that most people involved in the case, including the victim, just want the mess to go away. But isn’t victim shaming and rape culture part of the reason they want everything to go away?

From the ashes of this soul-destroying story rises one anecdote that gives me hope for humanity. The aforementioned Yahoo Sports article highlights what seems to be the only teen in the greater Steubenville Metro Area with morals. Sean McGhee, Richmond’s cousin and Mays’ best friend, was at one of the parties attended by Jane Doe. He saw her stumbling and slurring and knew she was shitcanned. So that night, when rumors (and photos) began to surface of Mays and Richmond abusing her, he confronted his best friend and his cousin via text: “…you are dead wrong. I am going to choke the [redacted] out of you for that. You could go to jail for life for that. What the [redacted].”

Maybe there’s hope after all.

[To get a full breakdown of the photos, video, and timeline of events, see So you’re tired of hearing about rape culture? Warning, graphic. Because, you know, a girl was raped. And that shit is horrible.]

So can we talk about gun control yet?

16 Dec

Are you kidding me? Shooting in Connecticut leaves at least 27 dead, potentially more, around 20 of whom are children?  If THIS doesn’t get a national dialogue about gun control and lack of access to mental health treatment going, nothing will.

No need to reinvent the wheel. Go ahead and review the Telegraph’s painful tally of mass shootings in the US since the Columbine shootings that emotionally rocked my pre-9/11, naive, coddled, hopeful 18-year-old self. Or Mother Jones’s analysis of the 62 (sixty-two) mass murders committed in the US since 1982. I’ll wait. Try to keep down the bile.

You know what’s sadder than the sheer length of those lists?

I mean, besides the fact that Columbine, with 12 dead, seems like child’s play compared to the 32 dead in Virginia Tech?

That I’d never heard of some of those shootings before opening this Telegraph article?

That I forgot about a February 2008 shooting that left 16 students dead at the University of DeKalb?

That the March 2009 shooting of eight elderly people at a nursing home never even registered has having existed the static of day-to-day bad news?

No, what’s even more tragic is that the list is woefully incomplete. In December alone, four were shot while Christmas shopping at a mall in Portland, Oregon, and today 20-ish babies and 7-ish adults died while attending school.

Now read this poor mother’s accounting of her pre-teen son’s violent struggle with some unidentifiable mental illness, entitled “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother.”  (Good luck. It’s touched a nerve with so much of the American public, the site keeps crashing.) That poor baby. That poor family. And if that child doesn’t receive the care he needs before he becomes large enough to out-wrestle his mother or, say, shoot her in the face with her own guns, then that poor community. This is a little boy who has threatened to kill himself, his mother, his siblings, Yet he is not eligible to receive mental health care until he actually commits a crime. WHAT THE FUCK?!?!? I’ve heard of pre-existing conditions before. But since when is a pre-existing body count required to diagnose a mental condition?

Le sigh, as the French say.

After the recent murder-suicide of an NFL football player and his girlfriend (I’ll let you guess who was the murderer and who was the murder-ee), Bob Costas, America’s never-aging sportscaster, attempted to use his national platform on Sunday Night Football to start a dialogue about gun control and the pervasive gun culture in the United States.

He mostly quoted from a Fox Sports Columnist, Jason Whitlock, who wrote: “our current gun culture simply ensures that more and more domestic disputes will end in the ultimate tragedy” and that “if Jovan Belcher didn’t possess a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today.”

And BOY did Fox News get its panties in a bunch, claiming that Sunday Night football was not the correct venue for such a discussion, and that the “bodies aren’t even cool” blah-blah-blah-convenient-false-deference-for-victims-blah. There is so much wrong with this argument, I’m not sure where to begin. No one says it better than Jon Stewart, so I’ll let him doing the saying: Any given gun day

There is no inappropriate time to discuss something this important. It is appropriate for Bob Costas to mention this shooting on Sunday Night Football; for the postman to mention it as he delivers mail; for the Disney tram conductor to mention it between the parking lot and the ferry; for the goddamned gynecologist to mention it while my knees are around my ears. It is always appropriate. Because failure to discuss gun control is not only killing children and old people, it’s infecting our society with a distrust of society (yeah, wrap your mind around that one) that will rot us all to the core.

And let’s get real: the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms was created at time when it took a full minute to reload a gun–and that’s if you were good. (Hence the term “Minutemen” to describe America’s rebel militias during the Revolution.) I’m relatively certain George Mason is turning over in his grave at the thought of crazy people using the Bill of Rights to justify the use of semi-automatic weapons by civilians against civilians.

I understand the origins of the 2nd Amendment. It was intended to allow the people access to the fire power necessary to overthrow a tyrannical government. But who missed the memo that the U.S. has nuclear bombs? That’s bombssss, plural. Not to mention submarines, tanks, black death helicopters, and unmanned drones that can take out an individual from a couple hundred feet. An Uzi is going to do shit to protect you from the U.S. government, and it will turn Bambi into inedible Swiss cheese. What an Uzi IS good for, though, is killing five-year-olds. And old people. And people sitting in malls. And university students walking to class. And high-schoolers in the lunch room. The only thing it is good for is killing people. So unless NRA whacknuts are actually advocating for allowing public purchase and distribution of dirty bombs, this is a completely moot point.

I’m waiting for the first person on FB to say something like “if more sane people had guns, fewer crazy people would use theirs to kill people.” (Whoops, look at that; took less than a day.) If the crux of your argument is that five-year-olds and/or their teachers should be packing heat then You. Have. A. Losing. Argument.

You don’t want to talk about gun control? Fine. Then talk about the machismo that encourages young men — but not women — to commit these crimes year after year, ratcheting up the violence with each incantation. Talk about access to mental health care. But talk about something. You cannot ignore the statistics. You cannot ignore the tiny caskets that are to be buried in Connecticut next week. Reality has an ugly way of making itself known.

Now pardon me while I try not to pop the heads off my children as I hold them very, very tight. Tonight my only hope is that they never have to stare down the receiving end of a 9 mm while learning their ABCs. And that is sad.

Feminism and the German Media: Condescendence, Ignorance, and the Inevitable Purple Satin Top

17 Sep

“Her dark hair shines, her neckline is plunging and her sentences are ready for press… “. What could this be? Introductory line for some cheap erotic novel? How about  “She wears a purple satin top and black ballerinas and her answers are always measured and polite “? A fashion blog? Or some more sex lit, this time the demure little shy girl, waiting for it to happen (come on, she obviously does, she wears a purple top! Satin!).

No, actually. These sentences are both taken from an article published on ‘SPIEGEL Online’(www.spiegel.de), the online portal of ‘Der SPIEGEL’, the biggest weekly political magazine in Europe  and once the forefront of quality coverage and the proud spearhead of investigative journalism in West Germany.  That said, two of the criticisms that Der SPIEGEL had always have to battle was that it was run as a boys’ club, and that its coverage of gender issues had this ever so slight patronizing and ironic undertone. Really now?

The article in question is about the young US-American blogger, Julie Zeilinger,, editor of the blog The F Bomb, an online community for teenage girls that deals with feminism and women’s rights. The article combines my three personal journalistic capital sins when covering feminist issues: 1 often patronizing and sneering language; 2. a remarkable lack of knowledge on the subject matter; and 3. obsessive concentration on the physical appearance of the protagonist(s).

Though the first issue is certainly not limited to the newspaper I am bitching about here, Der SPIEGEL is arguably particularly ambitious in committing deadly sin no. 1. Their style is characterized by articles that are often written from the perspective of a condescending narrator, playing the accentuated naïve but well-meaning common man asking rhetorical leading questions with eyes wide open in bewilderment as to all the exotic and bizarre things out there. This way the protagonist is denied autonomous motives for their actions, and, in the context of feminist issues, portrays them either as your usual man-hating feminist or as naïve, hapless girls. One example of this was the Pussy Riot coverage, where SPIEGEL could combine another of their specialties, condescending reporting on non-Western European countries with condescending reporting on feminist issues, concluding that a dark and uncivilized Russia puts women in jail for something that ‘appears like a harmless joke’.

An example of this condescension from the Julie Zeilinger article:

“The student appears in TV talk shows, faces up to radio interviews and does readings in book stores. Besides that, there is the already mentioned meaningful blog, it is called “The F Bomb”. There, the world can learn on a daily basis why feminism is really not out of date. Is it not? When women like Angela Merkel lead states, and Christine Lagarde presides over the IMF? When more than half of the students at many universities in western countries are female? How does a 19-year old American get the idea to wanting to revitalize a movement that had already seemed passé in the 1990s? Back then, people that were of Zeilinger’s age and were, in all seriousness, concerned themselves with Simone de Beauvoir`s standard work ‘The Other Sex’ were already then considered outdated”.

Sexism is passé because of Angela Merkel? Never mind wondering whether the German chancellor or the Managing Director of the IMF really are perceived as role models to the US-American teenagers for whom Zeilinger’s blog is primarily intended. It’s a reoccurring theme: racism is not an issue anymore because there is Barack Obama and; hey, Berlin has an openly gay mayor–even Christian Democrats are said to have a couple of gays somewhere–so homophobia is so last century.

This SPIEGEL standard method is, of course, not limited to male correspondents. In fact, the author of the quoted article is a woman. A woman, that, I found out after minutes of relentless investigative googling, is 24 years old, which means that in the 1990s, when feminism was oh so passé, she was in kindergarten. But I am sure her experienced older male colleagues were happy enough to confirm that back in the day, everyone caught reading Simone de Beauvoir was publicly tarred and feathered and struck off the ‘females to invite to the trophy room and read Hemingway to’ list.

The quoted paragraph also nicely illustrates my second deadly sin, namely demonstrated lack of knowledge on the subject-matter. Sometimes I have the suspicion that these sort of articles are solely written for the comment trolls. (Yes, I admit it. I make the mistake time and time again even though I promise myself to abstain for the sake of my mental health and for that of the people around me. I read the readers’ comments to newspaper articles. Sometimes, when I have an especially off day, I even answer. I have not not regretted it a single time. It’s a waste of time. Everyone knows it. But it is procrastination, enough said).

I’m not going to go into more details of what is wrong with this particular article (partly because I don’t really know where to start). But after having read a couple of articles that go in the same vein, a pattern emerges: German journalist seem to collectively have missed third-wave feminism. It is true that compared to the US, the feminist movement in Germany, while having been pretty strong in the 70s and 80s lost some momentum after that and third-wave feminism in Germany has largely been inspired by said movement in the US . It is also true that compared to Scandinavian countries, compared to France, Germany is hopelessly behind when it comes to implementing feminist policies and, maybe even more severely, feminist theories and rhetoric are largely non-existent in public discourse, meaning that leading female German politicians regularly feel the need to publicly pronounce that they are NOT (God forbid), feminists. In mainstream public discourse, feminism is equated with purple dungarees, unshaved armpits and is more or less always associated with one name alone: Alice Schwarzer.

Ms. Schwarzer is undoubtedly the most prominent feminist in Germany and German women owe her much for her courageous fight for the right to abortion; for her constant taking on of sexist stereotypes in the German media; for her groundbreaking publications inspired by her long friendship and fruitful professional collaboration with Simone de Beauvoir (dating back to the 1970s when Schwarzer came to Paris to study under Michel Foucault); for her fearless and tireless reminders to the German public that not all is perfect in the motherland. Unfortunately, in recent years, Ms. Schwarzer predominantly generated publicity with a gigantic ego, with systematically discrediting anyone emerging as a possible successor, with ‘warning’ against the islamising of Germany and with abolishing the benefit of a doubt in a column she wrote for Germany’s biggest (populist/right/sexist) Tabloid ‘Bild’  documenting a rape trial involving Germany’s most prominent weather forecaster.

Furthermore, her rhetoric reveals a classic 70s second-wave Western radical feminist world view in which men are by trend oppressors, Muslim women are voiceless demure beings that have to be liberated with the help of Western feminism, and pornography is per se degrading and needs to be banned. All in all, her world view hasn’t change much since the 1970s. A couple of years ago, she famously called young German third-wavers wellness feminists (see also: http://maedchenmannschaft.net/fur-eine-lebendige-feministische-debatte/) for their sex-positive attitudes, for their less lenient views on tools of ‘islamisation’ (aka head scarves), for pointing out that men, too, can suffer in patriarchic structures .

Alice Schwarzer is THE feminist in Germany. The one and only. I am pretty sure that if you’d ask random Germans about a German feminist they know, this is the answer you would get in 9.9 out of 10 cases. Every TV show, article, radio broadcasting on feminism features her and she happily has an opinion on any given topic (which I don’t mean in a pejorative way, that is quite an achievement. I, too, owe a lot to her activism, I just think she should have retired about 20 years ago).

This predominance of Alice Schwarzer in German is very convenient for the writers of troll articles, because they can comfortably withdraw to her public image where she has been depicted as the slightly hysteric witch. They can point to Alice, who will happily agree, and tell their readers: “This, she, is feminism”. And naturally, many people, too lazy/busy/uninterested to look further, will agree, even young women who identify themselves with many of the demands of feminism will say If this is feminism entails, I am out. And who can blame them?

My third deadly sin is an obvious one: drawing the reader’s attention away from the protagonist’s ideas and opinions and towards her body and her appearance. This is once again done using this irritant naïve sleazy old man, who voices his surprise about these women that call themselves feminists and wear makeup, or the women who call themselves feminist and don’t wear makeup (win-win situation for the writer here), which gives him/her the opportunity to elaborate on cleavage, or the lack of it, and also discredits the protagonist as a serious partner of debate.

So here it is. The condescension, the ignorance, the purple top (satin!). All in one. I don’t really have an explanation for why this sort of reporting is so predominant in Germany, other than the obvious and sad one: that our public discourse on women’s rights is light years behind that of some other countries, while we are, at the same time, convinced that we are spearheading progress and that our society is more equal, fair and social than all the rest. In that, we are the Americans of Europe (sorry rest of the Americas, sorry US of A, it just sounds too catchy [necessary aside? Distracting from your conclusion]): we don’t have that much of an idea what is going on around us, all the while, we have a very clear conviction that this is as good as it gets and everywhere else is generally worse and overall slightly dodgy. Maybe these things are slowly changing. Maybe it’ll just take a few of more years. Until then, I look with envy to some of the knowledgeable, informative, and yet critical stuff published in some major papers in Britain, in the US or in Scandinavia.

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