Archive for the ‘USA’ Category
According to Daily Kos, recently re-elected US president, Barack Obama, is the target of more than 30 potential death threats every day. No other US president has gotten this amount of death threats, ever. The Secret Service apparently finds the level of death threats against him ‘overwhelming’. Which is not surprising considering that since he took office in January 2009, ‘the rates of threats against the president increased by 400%.’
So, there really isn’t much to say on this that hasn’t been said many times over, but I wanted to share what I think is the most astute commentary on the whole incident. From Ilyse Hogue at The Nation:
The Twittersphere went nuts yesterday after a video was posted of Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin expressing some jaw-dropping views on rape and abortion in an interview with local news:
“First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare,” Akin told KTVI-TV in an interview Sunday. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
The short-term consequences of such an incendiary remark are predictable: Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill will trumpet the remark to her own political advantage, donations will spike to her campaign and the party committees will offer the remark as one more proof point of the GOP’s war on women. But the impact of Akin’s effort to redefine the terms of this debate reaches beyond this one race. In the multidimensional chess that shapes public opinion, the game is less about individual elections and more about a sustained effort to mainstream radical ideas. In the case of denying women control over their lives, there’s evidence that the bad guys may be winning the long-game.
Akin was Paul Ryan’s co-sponsor on a House bill just last year banning the use of federal funds for abortion except in cases of “forcible rape.” This term seemed laughably redundant since all rape, by definition, is forced. But this redefinition of rape was deceptively sinister. Statutory rapists often use coercion but not physical force. If the measure had passed, a 13-year-old emotionally manipulated into having sex with an older friend or relative would no longer be able to use Medicaid to terminate a resulting pregnancy. Nor would her parents be able to use their tax-exempt health savings fund.
While the measure was defeated, conversation around it introduced skepticism about whether all rape is created equal and what distinctions should be recognized by law. Instead of making him politically toxic, Ryan’s support of the pioneering forcible rape measure likely made him a more attractive vice presidential candidate to a Romney campaign needing to energize the right-wing base.
And whether or not Akin loses this cycle, his comments have already escalated the stakes. In his world view, the rape victim’s body will be the ultimate judge of whether a crime has taken place. If she gets pregnant, by Akin’s standard, her reproductive organs consented to the pregnancy, so she must have consented to the sex. This bizarre standard of innocence is reminiscent of medieval Europe, where the men in authority held the similarly scientific view that women guilty of witchcraft floated in water while innocent women would drown. Being cleared of witchcraft was of course not much consolation to the drowned women, though they at least got to skip being burned at the stake.
Akin’s comments appear an awful lot like step one in the GOP’s favorite two-step tactic to redefine the world around us: first, more extreme figures voice opinions that would never fly from more politically palatable ones. The right-wing echo chamber picks up those opinions in the guise of news coverage. Then, the more politically acceptable candidates shift their rhetoric to acknowledge the newly accepted opinion as reality.
Do go over and read the whole thing. It’s phenomenal.
Well into its second week, the Daniel Tosh rape joke controversy shows little sign of abating. Though every conceivable opinion on the topic appears to have been given in the US, it hasn’t featured as heavily here. Naturally, I decided to step in and fill that void. This was published in Eureka Street today:
Last week, US comedian Daniel Tosh sparked a furore when, warming up his audience for a ‘hilarious’ rape joke, he was heckled by a woman yelling, ‘rape is never funny’. Tosh’s response is a subject of contention. The woman claims he said, ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if five guys raped this woman, like, right now?’ However, the club’s owner says Tosh scoffed, ‘Looks like this girl’s been raped by five guys.’
Either way, the response cuts to the heart of what is fair game for comic fodder. Some feminists say it is never funny to joke about rape because, statistically speaking, there are bound to be rape survivors in every comedian’s audience. Other writers and comedians came to Tosh’s defence, crying censorship.
Taking to Twitter to defend himself, Tosh wrote, ‘there are awful things in the world but you can still make jokes about them #deadbabies’. In this he is correct. Comedians can serve a higher purpose than simply making us laugh. My favourite comedian, Bill Hicks, used comedy as a medium for exposing society’s worst ills. Hicks aimed to enlighten as well as entertain as he told what he perceived as the truth.
But what is the ‘truth’ about rape, and can we ever laugh at it? A friend of mine, Zach Rhinier, works as a stand-up comedian in New York City. When I asked him if it is ever okay to joke about rape, his response echoed that of many feminists, ‘Only if it mocks the rapist, but not a victim.’
Read the rest here
This piece was published in The Age last Thursday (May 3) and was a response to this essay by the incomparable Mona Eltahawy, who, unsurprisingly, has copped a huge amount of flak for her trouble. But back to me, it never ceases to amaze me how angry people get when I dare compare the treatment of women in the West to those in the Arab world. To be clear, I do not mean to suggest that we have it just as bad. In fact I clearer state within the article that we do not. But, our own marginalisation and the oppression of Arab/Muslim women stem from the same place: the fear of female sexuality.
My only regret in this op-ed is that I fell into the trap of using the word ‘hate’ without clarifying what that word means to me. I think misogyny, and any sort of what we call ‘hate’, is really a manifestation of fear and a desire to control. Women’s sexuality is feared, both here and in the Middle East, and there exists in both realms, a desire to control it (often at all costs).
Anyway, here it is.
Misogyny has reduced women to headscarves and hymens.
‘WOMEN have very little idea of how much men hate them,” wrote Germaine Greer in The Female Eunuch. So outraged were men that wives reportedly took to concealing their copies by wrapping them in plain brown paper.
More than 40 years later, Egyptian-American commentator Mona Eltahawy has caused a storm with her Foreign Policy essay, Why Do They Hate Us? ”They” being Arab men and ”Us” Arab women. Forget America’s so-called inequality, Eltahawy implores, ”The real war on women is in the Middle East.”
Women, she writes, have not benefited from the Arab Spring because they remain oppressed by the men in their lives who consider all is ”well with the world as long as women are covered up, anchored to the home”. ”Until the rage shifts from the oppressors in our presidential palaces to the oppressors in our homes, our revolution has not even begun.”Advertisement: Story continues below
Not surprisingly, Eltahawy has also sparked outrage. What is surprising is that so many of her detractors are Arab women. Gigi Ibrahim, a blogger and activist who came to prominence in the Egyptian revolution, called the essay ”disgraceful”. Samia Errazzouki, a Moroccan-American writer retorted, ”Dear Mona Eltahawy, You Do Not Represent ‘Us’.”
The consensus is that Eltahawy uses simplistic, Orientalist arguments to ”otherise” Arabs and drive a wedge between Arab men and women. ”Women in the Middle East are not oppressed by men out of male dominance,” writes Ibrahim. ”They are oppressed by regimes (who happened to be men in power).”
This is a facile argument. Men do not just ”happen” to find themselves in power. Men are in power because the patriarchal system that dominates the world favours men by systematically demeaning and marginalising women based on sex and sexuality.
Astonishingly, Eltahawy’s critics have managed to miss her central thesis: men hate women out of a deep fear of female sexuality, which has reduced women to ”their headscarves and hymens”, and it is up to women to wrestle control of their sexuality back from men.
Eltahawy made two vital errors leaving her open to those claims of Orientalism. The first was her decision to ”put aside what the United States does or doesn’t do to women”. The second was her failure to explore how women themselves also perpetuate patriarchy. Consequently, she divorces the struggle of Arab women from millions of others around the world, thus making misogyny appear a peculiarly Arab problem. In doing so, she unwittingly adds fuel to the myth that Arab men are more monster than human.
As an Australian woman of Arab Muslim background, I have often been struck not by how different but by how similarly women are treated in the West and in Arab/Islamic cultures. In both societies women’s sexuality is treated with suspicion and distrust.
Muslim women are required to dress ”modestly” to ward off attention from men. With the onus on women to alleviate male desire, victims of sexual assault are likely to find themselves blamed for their attack.
So too in the West. How many rape victims have had their sexual history and choice of clothing called into question? How many times have we wondered if ”she asked for it”?
They may not be required to cover their hair or faces, but Western women are derided for being sexually active in a way men never will be, as Sandra Fluke, the US college student who testified before Congress about the necessity of including birth control in health insurance, can attest. Fluke was called a prostitute and a slut by shock jock Rush Limbaugh.
Limbaugh is not known for his reasoned commentary but, sadly, women also joined in the attacks. Political pundit Michelle Malkin called Fluke ”a poster girl for the rabid Planned Parenthood lobby”, while Everybody Loves Raymond actress Patricia Heaton tweeted: ”you’ve given yer folks great gift for Mother’s/Father’s Day! Got up in front of whole world & said I’m having tons of sex – pay 4 it!”
The Fluke saga demonstrates how patriarchy isn’t just men oppressing women. It’s a system so entrenched in our collective psyche that it demands and acquires unconscious participation of both men and women in order to perpetuate itself.
Moroccan teenager Amina Filali swallowed rat poison after being forced, by the courts and her mother, to marry her rapist. Shortly after her death her mother pleaded, ”I had to marry her to him, because I couldn’t allow my daughter to have no future and stay unmarried.”
This mother is not a monster. She has simply internalised misogyny to where she honestly believed her daughter, no longer a virgin and thus doomed to a life of spinsterhood, would be better off married to her rapist.
Yes, the magnitude of Arab women’s suffering is greater because of the lack of laws protecting them. But, while their oppression is different in degree, it is the same in kind. It all comes down to sex. How can women ever hope to attain equality when an act as natural, and vital, as sex is regarded an acceptable means to devalue them?
Both Greer and Eltahawy are correct. But I would change ”men” to ”patriarchy”. Patriarchy hates women.
That some of Eltahawy’s fiercest critics are female only serves to show that many women continue to have very little idea of just how much.
The United States is no stranger to unintentional irony. The Star Spangled Banner, with its proud ‘land of the free’ proclamations, was adopted as national anthem in 1931, even as segregation and lynchings abounded, and Jim Crow was the law of the land.
Last Monday, Americans celebrated Independence Day, secure in the knowledge of their place as the world’s greatest bastion of freedom and democracy. But the familiar Fourth of July spectacle once again masks a barely concealed hypocrisy, evident in the way the rights of two groups, long the victims of discrimination, are currently faring in America’s legal system.
For the gay community, the long march towards equality continues. The latest, and many say most important, victory came three weeks ago, when New York legalised same sex marriage. As civil rights attorney Evan Wolfson told CBS News, “Now that we’ve made it here, we’ll make it everywhere”.
For millions of American women, however, there is not much to celebrate as their right to bodily autonomy comes under greater threat than ever.
Anti-abortion activists have for some time realised their likelihood of overturning Roe v Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision which legalised abortion in 1973, was slim. In recent years, they have, instead, set about undermining the ruling in such a way as it make it all but meaningless in practical terms.
This tactic is working. In 2010, the New York Times reported that by June of that year, at least eleven states had passed laws regulating and restricting abortion. These include forcing women to undergo and view an ultrasound before an abortion can proceed, the intention being that once a woman ‘knows’ what she is aborting she will naturally change her mind. This leads one to wonder just what the law-makers believe these women think they are pregnant with.
Other measures include the current push to defund Planned Parenthood, the national women’s health clinic. Despite a Senate vote in April blocking its federal defunding, some states including, Indiana and Tennessee, are passing bills to strip the organisation of funds on a state level. According to Planned Parenthood’s own records abortion only makes up 3% of its total services. Others include routine pap smears, STI checks and birth control advice. This targeting of Planned Parenthood is less an attack on abortion, and more a full-scale assault on American women’s health and reproductive rights.
Last year, Mississippi passed a law barring insurance companies from covering abortions, whilst Oklahoma now requires doctors to answer 38 questions about each abortion they perform, including the reasons for the abortion, a seemingly clear violation of the right to bodily autonomy and privacy.
Some states, including Kansas, have just one abortion clinic servicing the entire state. With a mandatory 24-hour waiting period, it makes for a time consuming and expensive trip, which many simply cannot afford. This, presumably, is entirely the point. Roe v Wade is fast becoming an empty statute granting ‘rights’ that women have no means to exercise.
It doesn’t end there. A recent article in The Guardian revealed some American women who miscarry are being charged with murder. One of them was 15 years old at the time and faces life in prison if convicted.
All these factors combine to make America, in the words of feminist blogger Melissa McEwan, “a scary place to be a woman.”
What is ironic, however, is that the push of the anti-abortion movement to grant ‘personhood’ at the moment of conception (a battle they appear to be slowly winning), ignores the fact that, historically, abortion in the early stages of pregnancy was never seriously challenged. The absence of any serious taboo is evident given the late 19th century’s plethora of newspaper advertisements appealing to women to act before the ‘quickening’, it being generally accepted that the ‘soul’ entered the body at around eight weeks into the pregnancy.
Abortion’s status as a religious and moral issue, and the general distaste with which it is viewed, was not created until abortion was legalised. Far from progressing in a straight line, the rights of American women are in danger of regressing to pre-19th century standards.
All of which goes to show, that despite our tendency to believe that each generation lives better than the last, society rarely progress in a straight line on any issue. Whilst the hard-earned victories of the gay community deserve to be celebrated, it is ironic that they come even as the hard-earned victories of feminists are being obliterated.
Media Failed Us On Bin Laden Kill.
As part of my masters degree in Media Practice, I am researching and writing a dissertation on press criticism and the role it plays in promoting/maintaining a functioning and democratic press. Whilst my thesis is focused on the New York Times’ and how it rates its own coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, over the last week and a half I have been struck by how suitable the coverage of the US operation that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan has been for systematic criticism.
The death of bin Laden, and subsequent media circus, is an ideal opportunity for the news media to assess its own performance and function. In our western media system, the news media and democracy are inextricably linked; with some journalism academics go as far as to say they are one and the same. In such a context, the news media must provide the public with all the information they require to be free, informed and functioning citizens.
The job of a journalist is to question, to demand answers and to verify information, particularly that obtained from politicians. To keep the bastards honest, in other words. So why, in just over a week of bin Laden death coverage has the mainstream media functioned largely as a mouthpiece for the US government?
The death of Bin Laden was witnessed by no one other than the American operatives and their (mostly dead) victims. It was relayed to the world in a shock announcement by the US president, Barrack Obama, who proudly advanced the cause of American exceptionalism by declaring America can indeed do anything it wants to (he must have been paying attention to Gillard’s’ speech in the congress earlier this year). The world’s media immediately reported the death as fact, even though it had occurred, in the words of Guy Rundle, ‘in the President’s words and nowhere else.’
Whatever happened to the word ‘allegedly’? Since when has the media existed only to regurgitate the claims of the government and declare them true without independent verification? Turns out, questions were just were what was required, given the ever-changing details of the surreptious raid. Was the Obama administration ‘correcting facts’, as the Sydney Morning Herald politely claims, or merely making them up as they go along?
Scepticism should not be confused with conspiracy propagation. Yet, conspiracy theorists is exactly what the many in the media, whose very job description calls for healthy scepticism, were quick to label anyone who dared ask questions. The fact the raid came hot on the tails of the release of Obama’s long form birth certificate prompted many to liken sceptics over the US government version of events to the notorious ‘birthers’, who refuse to believe the president is a natural-born US citizen. This is a preposterous comparison. Conspiracy theorists ardently stick to their beliefs, even in the face of overwhelming evidence. The evidence for Obama’s citizenship was both abundant and in the public domain. The evidence for the death and deep-sea burial of bin Laden exists only in the hands of the Obama administration, evidence they still refuse to release. It is not conspiracy propagation to doubt the veracity of the statements made by a government that had just enacted a kill operation in total secrecy in a foreign country- without that country’s knowledge. It is simply asking for transparency.
Had the media acted more critically, perhaps it would not have been left up lawyers and academics to question the morality and legality of the raid, let alone the claim that ‘justice had been served.’ A claim first put forward by former lawyer Obama himself, faithfully repeated by western leaders including PM Gillard, and disseminated by the media. The irony of a life-long opponent of the death penalty ‘welcoming the news’ of the manner of bin Laden’s demise seemed to be lost on the great chunk of the local media, save for the usual inquiring suspects including Crikey, Eureka St and New Matilda.
To be clear, I am not implying that the government is lying about all aspects of the operation, nor do I mean to suggest that bin Laden is still alive or not buried at sea. Rather, I mean to stress that demanding verification and evidence is both right and proper when it comes to any story, particularly ones which appear to be as one-sided as this. It is the only way in which the public can hope to know anything approximating the truth. As more details emerge, and change, making yesterday’s facts today’s misinformation, the news media should use this as an opportunity to assess their own performance.
Whilst few may have any sympathy for bin Laden, what is at stake is bigger than the life and death of a single man. The news media cannot go down the road of accepting, without question, any claim by any government, much less that of a foreign administration. It directly contradicts the function of the press and sets a dangerous precedent where the media exists not serve the public but to advance the interest of the ruling elite. Nor can the media shy away from criticism such as this. Press criticism is a vital aspect of assessing whether the media is fulfilling its function. Our democracy depends on it.
Pamela Geller, owner of Ayn Rand-inspired blog Atlas Shrugs hates Barack Obama. I mean really, really hates him. So it’s not surprise to see this recent post on her blog accusing him of being “a communist.”
As ‘evidence’ she presents a speech he gave to the US Chamber of Commerce, in which he proclaims:
“If we’re fighting to reform the tax code and increase exports, the benefits cannot just translate into greater profits and bonuses for those at the top. They have to be shared by American workers, who need to know that opening markets will lift their standard of living as well as your bottom line.”
Geller and her
readers, who don’t so much comprehend the English language as disregard it, accuse Obama of revealing his Marxist tendencies. See! Obama wants workers to share the profits!
Um no. Obama clearly states wants workers to share in the benefits of the said profits. It is a testament to how much the far right in America despise Obama when a clearly capitalist statement- he even mentions trickle down economics ‘lifting the standard of living’ for crying out loud-can be twisted to colour him Red.
Opening markets. Standard of living. Bottom line. Could it be any clearer? Geller is either extremely dishonest or extremely unintelligent. And for someone with her amount of influence, I don’t know which is worse.
Barack Obama: Muslim one day. Communist the next. Incredible. And laughable if these people weren’t so plentiful.
Here’s the speech: