Saturday, April 16, 2016

Positive News Items, 4/16/2016

Believe it or not, I am not always full of doom and gloom and bitter anger, even though it could look that way on this here blog.

To provide some balance, here are a few of my favorite recent news items:

1.  This woman is awesome.  And these women are awesome.  And this woman is awesome.

2.  And this man is awesome.

3.  US teen pregnancy, abortion and birth rates reach a forty-year low.

4.   Then cats.  Not news items, but always appropriate in cyberspace:

5. And this blueberry muffin recipe is awesome.  I'd use less sugar, however.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Sex And Sermons: Fundamentalists and Women's Sexuality

A delicious topic:  How fundamentalist religions cope with sexuality in general and with women's sexuality in particular?

The short answer is that all fundamentalist religions frown upon non-reproductive sex, including homosexuality.  They also wish to  take the ownership of a woman's sexuality away from her and assign it to her parents or her husband.  The deeper answer is that those religions want control of all fertility.  Those goals require that women should not be able to control their own reproduction. 

At this point in my writing I feel a strong pull towards discussing how getting more people-in-the-pews or on prayer mats keeps religions powerful and large, how that works against the whole idea of contraception or even non-reproductive sex,  and how it ultimately means that women must be assigned the role of producing babies for the common good but not the role of determining how many or at what intervals.

This time I won't go there.  Instead, I want to look at that fascinating storm of emotions which are revealed when, say, an Islamist preacher argues that the world will end if the sexes are allowed to intermingle at work or in the public sphere.  Why will the world end?  Because such intermingling will cause people to copulate like bunny rabbits, on the streets, in the stores and on the roofs!  Marriage will collapse!  Nobody knows what man sired what child!  Chaos ensues!

See what a frightening and powerful force sexuality is to such a preacher?  It's almost as if the only thing which stops him from participating in such orgies is that women are segregated from men and properly covered up.  One frail wall of fabric is all that keeps the flood of erotic tornadoes at bay.

And the maintenance of that wall of fabric is the duty of women.  Indeed, while all fundamentalist religions want to appropriate women's sexual agency, none of them wish to take any responsibility for the sexual attraction between heterosexual men and women.  That task they see as belonging to women alone.

Men are viewed as sexually liable to stray** and women are to stop that straying.  Hence the solution to the imaginary storm of random sex the fundamentalists so fear is to make women behave better, to make women the goalkeepers in the game of pre-marital sex (where heterosexual men are expected to try to get the puck in the net and heterosexual women are expected to try to avoid that outcome), to tell women to avoid places where rape and other sexual assault might happen (as John Kasich has just suggested), to tell women to cover up so that the weak men will not fall into sin (did she wear a mini-skirt?  was her hair showing?)

Thus, although the fundamentalists want to control all sexuality and rule out homosexuality altogether, much of their focus is on the control of female sexuality.   Customs such as female genital mutilation (FGM) are to make women less sexual, more faithful wives, less likely to take lovers***. Female masturbation is the most pleasant of roads to hell and dildoes the homes of Satan. 

And then there is the novel idea of sado-masochistic sex as a road to heaven for women, a form of religious female submission turned into the language of pronography [sic], this being one depiction of the kind of sexuality that is seen as acceptable among some believing women of fundamentalism.

When I put all this together (whether it belongs together or not), I get an explanation of women's sexuality inside various fundamentalist movements:

Women should not be active agents in sex, they should be active agents in stopping the kind of sex the fundamentalist fathers don't want them to experience, but otherwise their role should be passive and subject to the control of their kin. 

The incentives for women not to have "improper" sex consist of largely punishments.  The US anti-feminist right and the home-grown misogynists argue that sexually active unmarried women become soiled toilet paper, will never be able to have a happy marriage, will end up alone and weeping over their cats, whereas nothing much is written about the destiny of sexually active unmarried men, as long as their partners are female.  That's because men cannot become soiled toilet paper.

Other types of desired punishments abound.  Some pro-life activists seem to regard unplanned pregnancies as the proper punishment for "sluts" and the resulting children as an appropriate life sentence.  Those who don't want to subsidize "sluts" having sex in their health insurance policies when contraception is also covered never to howl out in despair about how other people's Viagra prescriptions amounts to exactly the same kind of subsidies.

The differences are driven by the deeply hidden assumption that it is women who are responsible for not having sex of the wrong type.  On the whole, very few restrictions in that field apply to heterosexual men's erotic life.

Finally,  consider this form of punishment for women who report a rape or a sexual assault at the Brigham Young University:

Students say Honor Code involvement means a victim who reports an assault faces possible punishment if she or he was breaking curfew, violating the dress code, using drugs or alcohol or engaging in consensual sexual contact — all banned by the code of conduct — before an attack.
In a statement, BYU said a student "will never be referred to the Honor Code Office for being a victim of sexual assault," and that its Honor Code proceedings are "independent and separate" from Title IX investigations.
But multiple BYU students investigated by the school's Honor Code Office disagree, saying they were scrutinized as a result of reporting a sex crime. In some cases described by past and current students, Honor Code investigations were launched even when the accused assailants were not BYU students — the alleged victim being the sole possible target.

This smells to me like a (much) milder version of the difficulties of proving rape under the sharia law****.  If a woman fails to make her case she can then be punished for adultery.  In both of these cases,  the specter of punishment for consensual sex serves to make women less likely to report rape or sexual assault.

*   From 2006, this story gives us the most explicit version of the belief:

In the religious address on adultery to about 500 worshippers in Sydney last month, Sheik Hilali said: "If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside on the street, or in the garden or in the park, or in the backyard without a cover, and the cats come and eat it ... whose fault is it, the cats or the uncovered meat?
"The uncovered meat is the problem."
The sheik then said: "If she was in her room, in her home, in her hijab, no problem would have occurred."
He said women were "weapons" used by "Satan" to control men.
"It is said in the state of zina (adultery), the responsibility falls 90 per cent of the time on the woman. Why? Because she possesses the weapon of enticement (igraa)."

** An extremely sexist assumption, by the way, amounting to assuming that men have no self-control at all or even need it.

***  FGM is a cultural practice but appropriated by religions:

No religion promotes or condones FGM. Still, more than half of girls and women in four out of 14 countries where data is available saw FGM as a religious requirement. And although FGM is often perceived as being connected to Islam, perhaps because it is practiced among many Muslim groups, not all Islamic groups practice FGM, and many non-Islamic groups do, including some Christians, Ethiopian Jews, and followers of certain traditional African religions.
It has been justified as follows:
Psychosexual reasons: FGM is carried out as a way to control women’s sexuality, which is sometimes said to be insatiable if parts of the genitalia, especially the clitoris, are not removed. It is thought to ensure virginity before marriage and fidelity afterward, and to increase male sexual pleasure.

**** For an extreme example, see Saudi Arabia's practice.



Thursday, April 14, 2016

On The Recently Found "Judith Beheading Holofernes" by Caravaggio (Or Not) And How Gentileschi Saw It.

The story is told in several places, including here.  I have no idea if the painting is a forgery, a genuine Caravaggio, a contemporary copy of his work or a genuine painting by some other painter of the same era.  But it can be interesting to compare the painting to one on the same topic by Artemisia Gentileschi.  Here's the recent find:

And here is Caravaggio's earlier take on Judith beheading Holofernes (left), next to Gentileschi's painting (right) of the same topic:

This quote states what I find interesting about that comparison:

And, most importantly, whereas Caravaggio (above, left) pairs his delicate Judith with a haggard attendant who merely looks on, her eyes wide with disbelief, Artemisia depicts two strong, young women working in unison, their sleeves rolled up, their gazes focused, their grips firm. Caravaggio’s Judith gracefully recoils from her gruesome task; Artemisia’s Judith does not flinch. Instead, she braces herself on the bed, as she presses Holofernes’s head down with one hand and pulls a large sword through his neck with the other. The creases at her wrists clearly show the physical strength required. Holofernes struggles in vain, the thrust of his arms countered by the more forceful movement of Abra, Judith’s accomplice in this grisly act.

The Judith in the first two paintings appears someone who has to be talked into the violence, someone hesitant and maidenly.  Gentileschi's Judith is very different.  Some argue that it's because Gentileschi's own experience of rape and its consequences.  Perhaps.  But I also spot a difference which I find hard to name.  It's as if Gentileschi's Judith is an individual, someone who has agency, whereas I find the Judith in the other two paintings an almost mythological figure:  The passive, virginal maiden who abhors the task she must face. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

My Equal Pay Day Post

This is a re-run, because I spent the time writing about other stuffMy 2014 Equal Pay Day post gives you lots of link to juicy and important theories and data, however, if you feel so inclined.

Or you could just take the various anti-feminists at their word which is that men earn more because they are out there hunting dinosaurs and jumping across the Niagara Falls 24/7  (24/7!), while women mostly want to be cozy and comfy in a little pink office, preferably working part-time.

But because you are my erudite and interesting readers you will prefer to read me first, including this more recent post which talks a lot about choice in this context and has even more links for your perusal.

The UK Guardian Guards Against Trolling

This is an interesting piece by the UK Guardian newspaper:

New research into our own comment threads provides the first quantitative evidence for what female journalists have long suspected: that articles written by women attract more abuse and dismissive trolling than those written by men, regardless of what the article is about.
Although the majority of our regular opinion writers are white men, we found that those who experienced the highest levels of abuse and dismissive trolling were not. The 10 regular writers who got the most abuse were eight women (four white and four non-white) and two black men. Two of the women and one of the men were gay. And of the eight women in the “top 10”, one was Muslim and one Jewish.
And the 10 regular writers who got the least abuse? All men.
The paper uses the proportion of comments that are blocked based on their commenting policy as their measure of trolling, and though that measure has some problems I think using it is a first good step.

What I'd love to see is an experiment where two columnists write two columns, essentially saying the same things in one of the hot-button areas, such as feminism*.  One columnist should be a man and the other a woman, and there should be some time between the columns, but not too much.  The time is needed so that the nature of the experiment is hidden.

Then see what happens in the comments!

Ideally, of course, exactly the same piece would be posted under a male and female bylines, to see what the effect might be.  I can't see how it could be done in practice, but we should be able to get fairly close to that by making sure that the two columns state the same arguments, albeit in different written forms.


*  Now that I have thought about this a little more, the same should be done for a thoroughly boring and bland article, too, and ideally also by all sorts of race/religion pairings of the writers.

The Wounded Young Hero of Literature, Arts, Politics And Especially Journalism


This post has no mothers, but it has multiple fathers, the wounded young men of arts and literature who rebelled against the society from their garrets, hungry and full of erotic lust and rage, the wounded young actors who portrayed "rebels without a cause,"  the wounded young political writers who were allowed to rage and rant against unfairness and inequality, but who were also allowed to wear proudly those mystical scars which womanhood had cut into their hearts and brains, thus turning them into misogynists.

I call these men wounded young heroes, though they were not always young when they gained the label or wounded in the way most of us would define the term.  Being "wounded," being "imperfect," is what makes them into truth-speaking heroes.

Philip Roth proffered us his misogyny like an orchid reeking of dying flesh and he was applauded for it.  Picasso painted women as the deepest nightmares of his soul and he was applauded for it.   Norman Mailer, John Updike, Milan Kundera, and many other famous mainstream male writers celebrate their fear, loathing and just plain misunderstanding of women in their literary works, and though they have been criticized for it, they still wear the laurel leaf wreaths of public approval and fame.

Now flip that over.  Assume that it is the hatred or fear of men or the analysis of those feelings which largely fuel the art or writing of some talented woman.  What will her reputation be?  Into what box will history place her art?

Women cannot be mainstream artists or writers if they knit their hatred of men into their art or writing.  But it takes much, much more for a man's work to be discounted in history than just loathing towards half the humanity.  He can still be mainstream, he can still be adulated, his work can still be widely taught.

He can Break The Rules.  He can be a rebel while supporting an ancient and traditional part of human history with his misogyny.  He can rebel against the capitalists and oppressors and be a protector of the weak, except when he rails at women, the weakest in many societies.

He can show us the scar some woman has inflicted on him (or so he believes), praise that scar, generalize that scar to all womanhood, use that scar to sell sexual humiliation of women as the rightful outcome in a rebel's world (Henry Miller), and we, the audience, take him seriously, accept his young-hero status, his truth-speaking status.  We, the audience,  honor the great Tolstoy's writings*, even though he assigned women to only their biological roles and frequently employed the Madonna/Whore dichotomy.  We, the audience, don't slam the door in his face. 

And we shouldn't slam that door.  But that door would be slammed against any woman who did the reversal.  Even the term "wounded young heroine" elicits utterly different images in our minds, and women cannot be wounded young heroes.  Not really.

This is the hi-falutin prologue to a post  which is about more mundane writing and about more mundane concerns.  Still, my central concern is to ask if we switched the gender of the main protagonist in these stories, would the stories still read the same, would the consequences of the stories be the same, would we even have reversal stories of this type published anywhere.

I have selected examples which are not all so clear-cut as those I mention above, but they flow from that same archetype:  The truth-telling young rebel whose misogyny scar doesn't invalidate the hero's ascent but validates it.