Friday, April 27, 2012

The Moment of Silence is Over

As I sit here on the last Friday before most of my major final assignments are due, I think of all the ways in which female oppression around the world is the same but different, instead.
A woman in Beijing, China confronts the brutal abuse she faced at the hands of her husband. 

Beijing. I was just there. I left with this euphoric feeling of how beautiful the city was, how it was different than the US.  But, it’s so much the same.  Women – silenced because abuse is something to be ashamed of. Something you aren't supposed to talk about publicly.

Women in Haiti are still being raped.  Still being silenced, because girls are so promiscuous… No help from the cops because girls always want it anyway. Men raping women, raping children, raping babies….and it’s the victim’s fault? It’s the victim’s fault that she was held down and violated?

Source: FreckledChimp

I live in a culture of women that think they’re free because they get to walk out of their front doors without having to cover their hair or hide their faces.  They can show off their legs and get into cars with men that aren’t family members.  But, when (God forbid) they are raped – the question lingers: well, what were you wearing? The judgment rises: maybe if you hadn’t worn that tiny skirt…Why did you get into the car with him? Why did you go out with him?

Yes, because men can run the country and tell me what to do with my womb, my reproductive organs, MY BODY, but they can’t control themselves around a woman in a skirt.

Forgive me my Muslim friends if I get this wrong, but isn’t part of the oppressive culture surrounding hijabs and burqas directly related to the sexuality of women? And how women must cover themselves to avoid raising the lusts of men? Please, correct me if I’m wrong.*

Wholly different circumstances, but still so much the same.  America likes to place itself on a pedestal, pointing a naked finger at all of those other countries that are so backwards and must be saved from themselves. “My, look at how women are treated in Iraq/Iran/[insert othered Middle Eastern country of choice here] we must liberate them so they, too, can be free like our women!”

You throw too many stones America.

It seems that women, by their very existence, are responsible for their rape, their abuse and their status as object, as less than in any country.  And when we speak up against it – we’re feminazis, we’re seeing things, we’re not working hard enough, or we work so hard we’re bitches and ballbusters.  When I confront blatant sexism and misogyny I “can’t take a joke." We're liars because "stuff like that" doesn't happen "here." Or, we just don't understand because that's part of "culture." 


STOP letting them silence you.

*Note 8/28/2013: I meant in no way to disrespect women who choose to wear hijabs, etc. My comment was focused on the idea that how women are clothed, in form, is in anyway related to how they are or should be treated. I am still learning. Forgive me if I overstep or mis-speak while doing so. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Marissa Alexander

Wow. 3 posts in one week! I know I should be focusing on final assignments/exams for the semester, but life just keeps distracting me.

I was minding my on business this morning, taking down my hair and attempting to style the lioness’s mane while listening to the radio.  The TJMS to be exact.  This particular segment concerned the plight of a young, black mother in Florida who is facing 20 years in prison for “defending” herself against her verbally and physically abusive husband against whom she'd filed an injunction.  And I use the word “defending” loosely because what she actually did was warn him.  She didn’t even touch him – but we’ll get to that later.

From what I can tell, he entered her home and began to attack her while she was using the, how shall we say, facilities.  She managed to escape to the garage to her car, at which point she realized she couldn’t get the garage door open due to mechanical failure, she didn’t have her car keys and she didn’t have a cell phone to call the cops. She had no other means of egress.

What she did have, concealed in the garage apparently, was a gun – for which she had both a permit and training. According to her personal testimony, found here, her husband and his two sons were supposed to be exiting the house through the front door. She goes back into her home through the kitchen only to find that her husband is still there.  Her husband yells “Bitch, I’m going to kill you,” and charges.

Now, if someone’s just physically assaulted me in my home, and  screamed that they were going to kill me while they’re charging at me in my home – I’m going to fire the weapon I’ve been trained to fire.  I’m going to protect myself.

And that’s exactly what Marissa did. She fired her weapon into the ceiling in warning. Her husband (now ex) fled the domicile. She was denied the right to have her case dismissed under the now notorious “Stand Your Ground” law because, according to Judge Elizabeth Senterfitt she could’ve have escaped through a window, the sliding glass door, or some other exit.  Mind you, this woman had just given birth 9 DAYS ago. Do you really think it’s fair to ask her to slip out through a window?

More to the point, this man was in her house. He was the intruder, and he admitted to being the aggressor. There was an injunction against him and he violated it, thus committing a crime. There is documentation of his physical abuse toward her. But Marissa had to flee? She had a duty to retreat?

Under the “Stand Your Ground” law people who feel threatened have no duty to retreat.  Under this law, they have the right to defend themselves. I’ve included the important bits of Stand Your Ground as they apply to this particular case:
A person is presumed to have held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another when using defensive force that is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm to another if:
(a)The person against whom the defensive force was used...had unlawfully and forcibly entered, a dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle...and
(b)The person who uses defensive force knew or had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry or unlawful and forcible act was occurring or had occurred”

“A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.

Marissa is now charged with 3 counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon with no intent to harm, and child abuse because she fired a weapon with her child in the house because, according to Judge Elizabeth Senterfitt, she had an opportunity and the means to escape.

Once again, the victim is blamed. Once again, the victim is made out to be a criminal and once again - women's rights, especially in the face of violence directed at them, are abrogated. 

If you do nothing else today, please follow this link to the blog her family has put together for her and follow this link to sign the petition in her honor.  This woman does not deserve 20 years in jail for protecting herself, especially when Florida has granted her the right to Stand Her Ground. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Conversation That Never Was

At this point in my life I've been told more times than I can count to 1.) think before I speak, 2.) think before I act 3.) do my own research and 4.) don't jump to conclusions about what I see on the internet. 

By now, many of you have seen, read or heard about the Great Swedish Cake Controversy of 2012.  If you haven’t, allow me to direct you to the only article I’ve read that makes an effort to examine the facts and remain unbiased by the immediate assumption of racism.

I’ve seen the now infamous picture of a crowd of white people laughing as the cake in the shape of a naked black woman’s body is carved for their pleasure.  I’ve seen the crumbs of red velvet cake run like rivers of blood as slice after slice is made into her body, a body that offers pleasure to those amassed to view her. I’ve thought about the racism that such an image implies.

And, from that vantage point, it seems like another issue of white vs. black, of racism in its most abhorrent, overt form. And if you take that picture as the alpha and omega of things that occurred in a Swedish museum that day, then you’ll see it that way too. But, what I’m going to ask you may shock you to your very core, it may cause you to shiver in disgust, it may even cause you to walk away from the computer screen to you get your sudden urge to vomit under control.

What I’d like you to do is this. Take a moment to think about what happened before and after that picture was taken.  Think about the fact that this image that’s come to represent “racism in its most abhorrent form” is merely a split second shot in a timeline of events that most of us can never know much about….unless, of course, we have a video

I want to examine this work of performance/visual art, the images that ensued and the anger it’s created.  Some have attacked the artist, believing that what he did was “racist,” whatever the definition of that word in this context may be. I want to ask,  “did this piece of art do its job?” Doesn’t the image make a profound statement about the pain and victimization of women in any male dominated society? Doesn’t it give voice to the trial of woman everywhere, the fight to have her voice heard in a room full of people that would otherwise laugh, point and objectify her with their finger-pointing and photograph taking?  The act itself, the cutting of the cake, the screaming initiated by the head of the cake whose artist is housed therein – doesn’t it make a larger statement about voicelessness and silence in the face of female gential mutilation (for the artist), and women’s oppresion, racism, othering (for the rest of us)? 

I think it makes all of those statements when you take a moment to really think about it.  
However, it seems that it failed in generating the sort of conversation the artist seems to have sought.

What I’m really trying to get at here is that – while we’re busy pointing fingers and getting upset over the image, we need to have the conversation about the  issue that it’s supposed to be representing. After all, isn’t that what we – the othered – always ask people to do? To engage in dialogue about the nature of the issue? Aren’t we always saying that problems such as these arise when people refuse to have honest, open discourse?  Why aren’t we teaching people about female gential mutilation (FGM)? Why aren’t we talking about what this image, what this cake, what the videos, etc, mean about the nature of being subjugated as not only a woman, but a black woman? The artist has opened the door, and we’re refusing to walk through it with him.

After watching the video, I can tell you that the visual makes me uncomfortable to the point of cringing and it makes me think about how much my cringing pales in comparison to the screams and pain of girls that suffer from FGM. But the people in the video were obviously not uncomfortable enough or aware enough of the stark reality of the differences between their own situation and that of FGM victims to forgo the temptation of some delicious red velvet cake, even as the plated victim screams in agony with each slice.  I want to ask these people – why were you more concerned about cake than about what it was meant to represent? Why didn’t the torment of the woman on the table and her screams speak louder than your need to eat cake? (And, while we’re at it, doesn’t this say something about the concept of “herd mentality?”) As you watch the woman approach in the beginning of the video and ready her camera – think about how it seems to be one big joke, one big assed spectacle.

The people in this video missed the point, and so, I’m afraid, did the rest of us.  So, to beat the dead horse, why in the hell are we so busy pointing fingers and not busy talking? 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Why save for tomorrow, what you can do today

I often post articles, blog posts, tumbler feeds that I find interesting to my newsfeed to share them with my cyberfamily and generate discussion and debate. It doesn’t always work, but, today, I had an interesting discussion about the lack of color on my television set lately. It all started when I read this article [we'll take a break while you consider following the link, but in the end decide not to because you know it's about to be partially summarized] which discusses the lack of minorities on the show “Girls” – a new HBO show set in Brooklyn, New York. The article pretty much hit the nail on the head for me. I’m tired of not seeing black, Latina, Asian, gay, lesbian, transgender, bicurious/sexual, male, female, twentysomethings on my television set, dammit. And I don’t think it’s too much to ask that someone put them there. 
I'm not attempting to make this a white v. non-white, gay v. straight issue.  What I'm really focused on is how few people in the television/film industry make honest efforts to step beyond what they know and into new and exciting communities. Take a step beyond the default white, male, straight setting and experience some flavor so that you can write a new something that you know.  The sad part is, people in those industries have the largest opportunity to do just that. They have the opportunity to broaden the scope of the world in the characters they create and the stories that they write - they just don't do it.  James Cameron made millions of dollars off the backs of blue people – BLUE PEOPLE – and you mean to tell me we can’t put a Chinese woman on mainstream, American television? Of course we can, she just needs to be crouching like a tiger or hiding like a dragon. Black women have to be loud and sassy, fat and matronly, or thick and sexual. They can’t exist in a role in which their skin color, and the stereotypes that come with it, are afterthoughts.
The people that create these fictional universes, that create lives with a scratch of their pens or the swiftness of a keystroke, have the best opportunity to include the faces of those identities that we so rarely see. And when asked why their shows don’t include these people, they too often say “well, I’d like to include them. We’ll have to examine if there’s a place for that in the future.”  Do I have to tell you that during the Civil Rights Movement, quite a few of its detractors said they liked the idea of desegregation, of giving second class citizens their rights as taxpayers in this great nation that is the United States, but they thought the Movement was asking for too much, too soon.  They wanted the movement to slow down, and only change a little bit at a time.So, when I hear producers, scriptwriters, show creators and the like telling me “we’ll have to examine that in the future,” what I’m really hearing is the collective voices of all those people saying, “yeah, we need it, but not. Right. Now.” To quote “The Great Debaters” “The time is always, is ALWAYS, right now.”
            I can’t tell you how excited I am to see Kerry Washington leading the cast on “Scandal.” And I can’t tell you how much it saddens me that I don’t have another show to watch in which a minority leads the cast. Still, minority actors in supporting roles definitely deserve their respect – Sandra Oh  and Chandra Wilson on “Grey’s Anatomy,” Taye Diggs, Benjamin Bratt and, formerly, Audra McDonald on “Private Practice.” (Notice, all three of those aforementioned shows are created by a black woman – Shonda Rhimes). Gabourey Sidibe is holding it down on “The Big C,” while Tamala Jones and Jon Huertas have appeared in nearly every single episode of “Castle.” David Zayas and Lauren Velez on “Dexter.” (I can’t think of any shows off the top of my head featuring LGBT characters). I could go on, but the point here is that while so many people are saying “we’ll look at it in the future,” there are those that are just doing it. Right now. And the ethnic background of the characters I mentioned above rarely, if ever, comes into play (with the exception of Sidibe on “C”). What does this mean, Hollywood?
It means that inserting racial, ethnic, gender and sexual diversity into a show does not make the show about racial, ethnic, gender and sexual politics. It means that you don’t have to figure out if there’s a place for us in your script, you just put us there. What it means is that the next time you issue a casting call for the next great female lead – just ask for women or men of a certain age, of a certain height, maybe of a certain build. Step beyond the boundaries of your cookie-cutter nation and add some flavor to your melting pot.

Just DO IT already.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Reproduction 101 - It's elementary...or at least it should be.

I’ve been away from the blog for a while (and should perhaps stay away a little bit longer if my final assignments are any indication) but I cannot endure the silence any longer.

I got an e-mail from Mr. President (and co.) today.  It was asking me to donate, as most e-mails from politicians do, but what stood out to me was this:

We can't afford an endless war in Afghanistan, a return to policies that hurt the middle class, and a social agenda from the 1950s.”

Please note, the emphasis is my own. I believe this "social agenda from the 1950's" is meant to refer to the current war on my right to have and maintain a blessedly empty womb. 

A few days ago I was made aware of Arizona House Bill 2036 which was sent up the chain to the governor on April 10th.  This bill makes it illegal to perform abortions after the fetus reaches a gestational age of 20 weeks.  According to this bill, gestational age is calculated from the first day of the woman’s last menstrual cycle to the current date.  Let me repeat that: the age of the fetus is to be calculated from the first day of the woman’s last period. That makes sense…


No it doesn’t.

I immediately began to research, because biology is my bible (sorry, Ma!).  Being a woman of a certain age, I thought I understand menstruation. Based on that understanding, I assumed that being on one’s cycle usually meant that one wasn’t pregnant.  But, under this bill, a woman seeking an abortion would effectively be considered pregnant during a time that she couldn’t have been pregnant. (I understand that there are exceptions to the rule. As a rule, exceptions to the rule are usually considered minorities.) 

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, gestational age is typically calculated in this way, so Arizona didn’t just pull this out of its rather large ass. I mean, we can trust doctor’s right? Right?!

But, this same page also says that “gestation is the period of time between conception and birth…”

Conception: the process of becoming pregnant involving fertilization or implantation or both.

(Hang in there people, I know I’m getting academic on ya!)

Fertilization occurs when a sperm wriggles its way into an egg.  Said egg is released during ovulation. Ovulation typically occurs 14 days AFTER a woman’s period begins.

To summarize: the period is that time of the month when the unfertilized egg is excreted from the body.  An unfertilized egg means that either your birth control did its job or the sperm didn't do his (or hers as the case may be). 

So, I ask ye newly educated citizens of Blogospheria, how in the hell can a woman be pregnant on the first day of her period, a time when her body is getting rid of the very egg that was supposed to be invaded by sperm, but wasn't? 

How can a woman be considered pregnant a full 2 weeks before she can even biologically GET pregnant, ipso facto - when pregnant she ain't? 

Think of the ramifications people! A woman is losing critical time to adequately enact her right to choose.

Arizona can hide behind the claim that their definition of gestational age is backed by medicine, but they, and their doctor cronies, are wrong. Doctors have been known to f*ck up before, and let's face it, how often does our government get it right? 

Note: bills similar to Arizona's are planned in Georgia and New Hampshire, and have already passed in Nebraska.