On normal and justice.

When I was in high school, I remember an evening at a friend’s house. This friend, and her family, were Good People(tm) by all definitions I knew at the time – they were kind and charitable, they attended and supported their church, they lived comfortable but not extravagant lives. This one evening I remember distinctly my friend’s father bursting out with a torrent of vitriolic hatred toward blacks – I have no memory of what prompted the outburst, only that the words he used to describe black people were deeply ignorant, dehumanizing, and offensive. I was shocked and afraid beyond words and lacked that knowledge or capacity at the time to respond at all, much less to counter his bigotry and hatred. But I don’t think I ever went back to their house, and I know I’ve never forgotten the hateful screed I witnessed that night.
It’s that memory that keeps coming to mind these past few months, these past few days. Racism, hatred, bigotry, and irrational fear are bred into the very fabric of our white society. It lurks in “normal”, in the tacit understandings of our neighborhoods, in our churches, in our schools, in our town halls and police forces. It’s “the way things work”. It’s “trust the system” and “if only they understood that blocking traffic doesn’t help their case.” It’s “they should protest by donating their money to make their lives better, not by disrespecting the flag.” It’s when black people’s lives are less important than white people’s inconvenience, when black people silently protesting violent, institutionalized racism causes white people’s discomfort and complaint.
I don’t have grand answers. The only answers I have are small, infinitesimal, grains of sand on the beach, teaspoons in the ocean. The only answers I have are these: Look at what you think is normal, at what you teach your kids and grandkids, nieces and nephews, chosen family, friends and strangers is normal. Look at what lies underneath that normal – how you shape it with your words, your actions, the choices you don’t consciously make. Understand that the difference between “them” and “us” is something we created to justify creating a normal that benefits us more than them. Maybe not consciously, not by everyone who worked to create and maintain our normal – racism and bigotry and hatred are not newly sophisticated and clean-cut – maybe not intentionally by you but absolutely, without doubt, the patterns of systemic racism have been incorporated into the foundations and fabric of our realities for hundreds of years. And whether or not we were complicit in creating the normal we enjoy, we benefit from it. Try to start seeing it. And when you do, when you start to recognize it and it starts to niggle at you, point it out to other people. Talk about it with your families, show them how maybe normal isn’t “just the way things are”. How normal isn’t just at all.

Links, because I’m not sure I can be coherent on this right now.

From Shakesville last week, “Lessons from the rape culture” (emphasis is mine):

It’s only a kiss. Don’t make drama over it; he’s not hurting you. Besides, you like kissing, right? And it’s not like you’ve got a boyfriend, so you can kiss whomever you want. What’s the big deal? “See? Good kisses.” He says it as if he’s showed me something. As if telling me to like it will make it so. I don’t remember his name. We only met that night. I extracted myself from his presence as quickly as was polite and never spoke to him again.

From LiveJournal, cereta posts “On rape and men (Oh yes, I’m going there)” (via) (emphasis in original):

Because men raping women is systemic, and cultural, and yes it is the patriarchy and it is misogyny and it is men thinking they are entitled to women’s bodies. “Well, what did she expect, getting drunk like that?” isn’t salt in the wound, it is the foundation of the problem. The idea that if a woman is not actively preventing a man from sticking his penis into her (and even then, if she’s an enemy), he is doing nothing wrong, and hey, who can blame him, IS THE PROBLEM.

From Sociological Images, “Do You Love Animals? Do You Have Lady Bits? Take Off Your Clothes!

I know, PETA is low hanging fruit, but the pictures so nicely illustrate the difference between the roles that men and women are supposed to play and what about a woman is supposedly important.

From the Rochester Post-Bulletin, “Man given jail, probation for sexual assault“.

A Rochester man has been ordered to serve 90 days in jail and be on probation for 30 years for sexually assaulting a teenage girl

Edited to add one more.. from the Houston County News, “Hokah man charged in sexual assault” (emphasis mine):

A 21-year-old Hokah man is accused of sexually assaulting an intoxicated woman while she slept.

[The accused] entered the woman’s Onalaska, Wis., bedroom early June 30 after a stream of harassing telephone calls, according to the complaint filed July 15 in La Crosse County Circuit Court.

[The accused] was charged with second-degree sexual assault and returns to court July 29 for a preliminary hearing.

He is free on a $5,000 signature bond.

Open letter re: Choice.

Right. Yes, I know what day it is. Yes, I’ve already voted. No, it’s none of your business who or how I voted, though many of you can pr’bly make reasonable educated guesses.

Now, please, stop with the repeated exhortations, demands, orders, threats, etc. that everyone seems to think are appropriate to get other people to vote. Yes, remind people you think might not remember, post it to your blog or email your friends. Remind them that today is election day, talk about how much of a rare privilege it is for every day citizens to be able to participate in the election of their leaders, remind about the struggles to secure that right.

And then, respect them as individuals and respect their choices. It’s none of your business whether or not they choose to exercise their suffrage rights.

Think of this like the abortion debate if it helps – voting is a right, or a privilege, and not compulsory; it’s a *choice*, a decision, and for many people it’s a very personal and complex one. We all not only have the choice of whom to vote for, but also whether or not to vote at all. Just because *you* choose to exercise that right or privilege does not give you some moral authority over others who choose otherwise. Just because you may think it’s morally reprehensible not to vote does not mean you get to impose your beliefs on others. As fervently as I believe that each of us should have control over the choices we make regarding our respective bodies, I believe that each and every one of us gets to have control over our respective suffrage rights and no one has to justify to anyone else whether or not they choose to vote.

Just Say No.

Right.. So, I’ve been more or less “collecting” various posts from sundry sources the last month and change all more or less loosely centered on crime and the criminal justice system. I keep thinking I’m going to write some wonderful post tying them all together, but with the academic year officially starting next week, and things already picking up noticeably in my office (U.S. News results will be released to the public tomorrow, which is always the more or less official start to the craziness that is fall term), combined with plans to do some more involved stuff around the house the next few weeks, I have finally admitted that’s not going to happen. So, what follows are the links I’ve been gathering with as many of my thoughts about them that I can remember and have time to put down in text while waiting for data to compile today.

About a month ago, a post on trends in imprisonment from (where else) Sociological Images picked up on some of the thoughts I’ve had about the ways in which our CJ system is broken for years. There are lots of ways I think the system is horribly broken, but those really aren’t what I wanted to go into (really.. lots of ways.. ). Instead, I wanted to take a moment to think about Nancy Reagan’s War on Drugs and it’s continued impact on our economy. In a nutshell, the War on Drugs made felons of a lot of non-violent people (yes, and quite a few violent ones, but not the majority), clogged the courts and jails with a huge influx of cases and inmates, and effectively removed the vast majority of those people from contributing to the economy. We overcrowded our prisons, requiring increasing tax dollars to be funneled toward them, thereby decreasing the pool of funds available for things like, just to pick on that’s a little near and dear to me, public education. We stamped “felon” on a huge number of people who are now increasingly prohibited from accessing jobs with living wages and opportunities for advancement, simultaneously cutting our own work-force (and ability to compete in an increasingly global market) drastically and reducing the ability of our economy to weather cycles of recession. Don’t they say wars are s’posed to be “good” for the economy..?

More recently, and mostly unrelated to the above, M LeBlanc at Bitch Ph.D. recently wrote about a new law allowing judges in Illinois to require violators of orders of protection to wear GPS tracking devices so that police could better track them. Like M LeBlanc, I’m conflicted by this law – on the one hand, it seems to be a step in the right direction in protecting victims of potentially violent perpetrators, but on the other hand it does so at the expense of those potentially violent perpetrators’ civil liberties – potential is a key word in all that; these are people who have not been convicted who are now allowed to be under near constant police surveillance. M LeBlanc comes to a conclusion that is both heartening in that it’s not the over-the-top rhetoric that sometimes seems pervasive in our society and at the same time utterly sobering and depressing in the enormity of what it means:

The criminal justice system does nothing but create more criminals. We need it, like we need a tourniquet to staunch the bleeding of human dignity from every woman on the planet, but it can not, and will not, solve our problems. These GPS devices will not stop women from being hurt and killed, and they will be another chink in the wall that we put between citizens and the state. The lock and the key, the bracelet and the computer, will not stop or even slow the violence.

For that, we need a revolution.

I was recently chided by a few friends and acquaintances for getting upset about a spoof Guinness ad that I found demeaning and objectifying of women; they found the ad clever and/or amusing and felt that I was making too much of it – reading too much importance into what was clearly intended to be a joke. I wish I could explain to them why their response was exactly the problem, or that M LeBlanc had written this earlier so I could quote it then:

Our society is sick—it is a patriarchy where men are promised power and dominion over women and they are taught that violence is noble, that using force is masculine. It is a pornocracy where children are sexualized, where women’s dismembered bodies are used to sell soap, blue jeans, and hamburgers. It is a market economy where the right to have a young woman rub her naked body on you can be legally purchased in any town or city, but where those same young women are arrested for accepting money for giving a blowjob. It is a world where all things deemed within the fake construct of masculinity are positive attributes, and all those within the construct of femininity are deprecated. Where women make less money, hold far fewer political offices and judgeships, where motherhood is “the most important job in the world,” a privilege for which mothers are treated like utter shit.

Abusers aren’t just bad apples. They are normal dudes. They are the guys you work with, the guys you went to college with, the guys you see in a bar on a Friday night or the grocery store on a Sunday afternoon.

They bear the blame for what they do. But the rest of us do, too. Every guy who stands by and heh-hehs when sexist jokes are made, who views their co-workers or classmates not as colleagues, but as eye-candy, who refuses to acknowledge the misogyny inherent in pornography, is a part of this sick society. Every woman who tut-tuts her friends or neighbors for trying too hard to look sexy, or not trying hard enough, who criticizes other women for being too assertive, who criticizes other men for not being manly enough or showing too much emotion, is a part of this putrid virus.

It’s the pervasiveness of the power structure that is so utterly terrifying – whether it’s patriarchy, or  institutionalized racisim, or our criminal “justice” system, or any of half a million other things.  It’s when we can see it and choose to ignore it without realizing how that just works to reinforce it, when we write off those who rail against the injustice as zealots who are over-reacting.. when we acquiesce to the status quo, or tell ourselves it’s not our problem to solve, or that there’s nothing we can do, or worse that there’s nothing wrong.. those are the things that frustrate me most. Because in truth, to twist another Reagan-era campaign, ignoring these injustices is part of the problem, not the solution.

Right then.. one more jump.. still on the idea of crime, but this one’s going to have to speak mostly for itself, with the warning that it may be triggery for some folks – a video of a purported “news agency” asking abortion protesters who believe abortion should be illegal what punishment women who have abortions should face. Yeah.. not thinking about the consequences of our laws seems to be “as American as apple pie”..

Symbiosis and “abortion rights”

Don’t get me wrong, South Dakota scares me. I just find the logic in this essay.. a little specious.

Fetuses are whole and separate. Therefore, being a law-abiding citizen, you have no reason to believe that separation will cause fetal death. Therefore, under the law’s terms, separation is not abortion.

There are a lot of symbiotic species that are considered whole, separate, unique living beings, even though they can’t survive without their counterpart species – clownfish and sea anenomes, for instance. This is where I have issues with the trend – since Roe v. Wade – of defining abortion in biomedical terms; because at it’s crux, it’s not a biomedical distinction, it’s a social one.

I would be defined as pro-choice*, but for me the important word there is “choice”, and it’s not just about what I may or may not do should I find myself unexpectedly pregnant. I don’t think our legal code should have any say in how I choose to care for (or not care for) my body. That decision should be mine, hopefully in consultation with qualified medical professionals. And it doesn’t stop just with the question of whether or not I would abort an unwanted pregnancy – should I choose to end my own life, for instance if I were diagnosed with a terminal disease and the quality of my life had deteriorated to the point of pure misery, I think that should be my choice, too. By the same token, unless I’m harming someone else, the decision to use narcotics should also be my choice (if I did, though, and harmed someone else, that harm should be punished appropriately, and the punishment neither increased nor decreased by the presence of narcotics). In the end, what I do with the life I have is up to me; it’s my *choice*.

For me, then, abortion isn’t a legal issue; there’s no reason the legislatures or courts should be involved. I know why they are – because it’s a fuzzy line when you start to say that “as long as you’re not harming someone else, you’re free to make your own decisions” and we as a society haven’t been able to come to consensus on when someone is.. well.. someone. And as soon as we started trying to use biomedical terms to define when someone is a someone, we started the chain reaction the has led this issue to devolve to where we are – where we’re now embroiled in a national debate to try to define – in biomedical terms – when life is really life. And in the process, we’re creating all kinds of policies and laws that are harmful in both intended and unintended ways (or maybe direct and indirect ways?).

But this distinction – when someone becomes someone – can’t be made biomedically. You can’t set the criteria on independence of survival – see the above regarding symbiotic species – any more than you can set it on organ function. The distinction is ethical and moral, and until we as a society recognize that and deal with it as such – instead of by trying to hide it underneath biomedical justifications that serve only to impede the ability of our healthcare providers to focus on actually caring for our *health* – we will continue to cloud the issue. Until we recognize that we are, at base, a society based on a specific and identifiable moral code – one we’re so very proud of denying exists but is intertwined in everything on which our country is built – this fight will never end. Like a pendulum, it will swing between two extremes ad infinitum.

I don’t have the answer – which shouldn’t surprise anyone. As with so many other things, I’m simply tired of the apparently intentional misdirection and unending energy wasted because we, as a people, can’t reconcile our identity crises.

* We have that whole label issue here again, though.. *smile*

On being female and resisting the feminist label..

This is another one of those head-spiral posts.. another that I started originally some time ago and decided needed some exposure. I guess you could consider these my concession to the idea that my life shouldn’t have to be politicized for me to contribute to social justice.

Several months ago, I was reading blogs and came across this post from Bitch, Ph.D. and as I was reading it I kept coming back to the idea that this isn’t just stuff for a guy to do to show his girlfriend he supports her in “her feminism”. Most of the things discussed in the post aren’t about gender; they’re about basic respect for someone as a person. And while I know that at least by some definitions, that’s what the feminist movement is – respect for persons regardless of gender – taking that idea and labeling with one gender – *femin*ism – strikes me as disingenuous.

I resist being labeled a “feminist”* because I don’t think that there’s anything particularly gendered about human decency, and it rubs me the wrong way when one group tries to advocate for universal equity but then slaps a label on it to brand it as belonging to one gender (or race or creed or what have you). And I have to admit that I’ve wondered on more than one occasion about whether respect for people would increase if we stopped trying to make it about someone’s gender expression or their sexual orientation or their race or ethnicity or religion or, or, or.. Again, this ties in with the idea that if the point is equality, why should anyone have to emphasize who they are or what they’ve been through to be seen as part of the fight? Shouldn’t it be more important that they can hear and understand what others have been through, to acknowledge the injustice, and work to counter it?

*sigh* I’m tired of having who I am become a political statement. I am a person, just like every one of you. The fact of my personhood should be the end of the decision tree about how to interact with or think about me.

However, as Sociological Images illustrates so well on a daily basis (they are quickly becoming my new favorite blog), we as a society are obsessed with gender roles, with instilling them from a very young age and inundating ourselves with reinforcements of those roles at every waking moment. It’s insidious and frightening and all too often, completely overlooked. For example, the practice of using blue hats for boys and pink hats for girls in newborn nurseries may seem an innocent visual depiction of whether a child is male or female, but.. why? What does it matter what biological sex a child is if it’s in need of care or attention or love?

If it really were innocent and a matter of classification purely for the sake of sense-making (which.. well.. it isn’t.. can’t be, really) it might be a different matter. But we also go one step further and turn it into a question of power and control. Both the subliminal and direct sexualization of advertising (this one has images that may not be work-safe) are just two of the many ways in which we instill the idea that sex equals status and sex equals power. The idea that if a woman appears attractive must mean she wants to be objectified is so complicated it’s maddening – we’re raised in a society where beauty is overtly equated with success, so it’s ingrained into our heads from the very beginning that we should want at all times to be beautiful, but at the same time, in attempting to play that role, we’re portrayed as capricious, teases, or whores. And goddess forgive we may be both beautiful and intelligent.. (And no, it’s not any better being male..)

So.. to bring this back around.. I simply can’t justify the inherent contradiction in being a “feminist” when that label is used to mean equality for all. I want something better, something that doesn’t used a gendered label to try and epitomize a struggle to stop a persons gender from being used to evoke a pre-determined power structure or status hierarchy. Practice what you preach.. if it’s about recognizing the individual differences in each person and acknowledging their worth, don’t make that the province of one gender or another.

* In truth I resist being labeled at all. I understand the psychological need to be able to categorize our experiences to make sense of the otherwise completely overwhelming set of external stimuli we encounter on a daily basis, but there’s a difference between sense-making in your head and smacking someone with a label that you then use to determine how you interact with them.