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Posts Tagged ‘feminism’

I have been doing a lot of reading on ecology and indigenous peoples recently. It is very, very fascinating. How sad to think of all the time wasted in schools when we could have been learning how to grow things, study soil, how to fix and mend our goods, where our goods come from, how all things are connected. Instead we got a lot of computer classes, math quizzes, pep-talks about the new and intense global economy, and read lots of books by white men. What a bummer. Anytime we talked about indigenous peoples it went something like: “How sad they are all gone now. We should try to save the rainforest or something. Now let’s have a bake sale for the newspaper, drive over to the game twenty miles away tonight, and waste lots of resources!!”

Digression aside, I’ve come across all sorts of inspiring actions and movements I knew nothing about, such as the incredible International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers. They are wonderful.

Their lives and work are so phenomenal. All the bad news, the repetitive mantras of “economy, free market, deficits, Afghanistan, terrorism, security, unemployment, tea parties, filibusters…” it goes on and on and it doesn’t seem to stop. When I came across these women I felt a breath of relief for a moment. Here is something good happening. Here is something older than all of our fleeting concerns, here is something sustainable, here is something totally inspiring.

Here is the briefest of sketches: these women come from indigenous tribes, and they are the preservers of a wisdom which conflicts with much of our modern culture’s narratives. They apparently are the fulfillment of ancient prophecies among their respective peoples which speaks of the coming together of 13 grandmothers from all over the world. They speak profoundly about the loss of memory, the loss of much wisdom, about serving as guardians of the Earth, about the importance of prayer and connection to the land and our communities.

Here is their Statement of Alliance taken from their website:

WE ARE THIRTEEN INDIGENOUS GRANDMOTHERS who came together for the first time from October 11 through October 17, 2004, in Phoenicia, New York. We gathered from the four directions in the land of the people of the Iroquois Confederacy. We come here from the Amazon rainforest, the Alaskan Tundra of North America, the great forest of the American northwest, the vast plains of North America, the highlands of central America, the Black Hills of South Dakota, the mountains of Oaxaca, the desert of the American southwest, the mountains of Tibet and from the rainforest of Central Africa.

Affirming our relations with traditional medicine peoples and communities throughout the world, we have been brought together by a common vision to form a new global alliance.

We are the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers. We have united as one. Ours is an alliance of prayer, education and healing for our Mother Earth, all Her inhabitants, all the children and for the next seven generations to come.

We are deeply concerned with the unprecedented destruction of our Mother Earth, the contamination of our air, waters and soil, the atrocities of war, the global scourge of poverty, the threat of nuclear weapons and waste, the prevailing culture of materialism, the epidemics which threaten the health of the Earth’s peoples, the exploitation of indigenous medicines, and with the destruction of indigenous ways of life.

We, the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers, believe that our ancestral ways of prayer, peacemaking and healing are vitally needed today. We come together to nurture, educate and train our children. We come together to uphold the practice of our ceremonies and affirm the right to use our plant medicines free of legal restriction. We come together to protect the lands where our peoples live and upon which our cultures depend, to safeguard the collective heritage of traditional medicines, and to defend the earth Herself. We believe that the teachings of our ancestors will light our way through an uncertain future.

We join with all those who honor the Creator, and to all who work and pray for our children, for world peace, and for the healing of our Mother Earth.

For all our relations.

Margaret Behan-Cheyenne-Arapahoe Rita Pitkta Blumenstein–Yup’ik  Aama Bombo–Tamang,,Nepal Julieta Casimiro-Mazatec  Flordemayo-Mayan  Maria Alice Campos Freire-Brazil Tsering Dolma Gyaltong-Tibetan  Beatrice Long Visitor Holy Dance-Oglala Lakota  Rita Long Visitor Holy Dance-Oglala Lakota Agnes Pilgrim– Takelma Siletz Mona Polacca-Hopi/ Havasupai  Clara Shinobu Iura-Brazil  Bernadette Rebienot- Omyene”

I just can’t more highly recommend reading up more about what these women are doing, where they are coming from, and what they stand for.

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So at this point everyone knows about the horrific plane crash last weekend which decimated Poland’s leadership.

One of the passengers on board was the extraordinary Anna Walentynowicz.

Anna Walentynowicz has often been referred to as the woman whose firing served as the catalyst for the formation of Solidarity, the Polish Trade Union whose strike helped bring Poland freedom from the Soviet Union. Her role in the birth of Solidarity has often been overlooked in favor of Lech Walesa, and feminists such as Marilyn French argued that her impact had been overlooked by the media.

Most of the mentions of her legacy I’ve seen seem to basically just describe her as the prologue to Lech Walesa’s accomplishments. The only article which really seems to pay due tribute can be found here. She was a feminist and a committed socialist. It’s unfortunately unsurprising that as she started the strike to take down the totalitarian state her role was relegated to “godmother” as Walesa began to take over as patron saint of Solidarity.

Though her name will likely never appear in high school textbooks, Anna Walentynowicz was one of the foremost figures in bringing down the Soviet Union. The bravery she showed in resisting her corrupt bosses before her retirement sparked a strike which managed to hold the attention of the world. In a culture which still shows utter disdain for unions and the right of workers and their safety, Anna Walentynowicz’s name may have faded from newspaper pages, but what she stood for is as relevant as ever.

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This Stupak bullshit really, really, really angers me. A friend (of course a dude) told me that really, it’s worth it in order to get health care reform, and hey, it probably won’t actually really change anything.

What the hell is wrong with our political system when people think it is perfectly sensible to exchange one right in order to achieve another right? Rights aren’t exchangeable, there aren’t only so many rights to go around, whatever moderate Democrats may think. Yeah, health care should be a fundamental right in our society. But personal autonomy is pretty much the most basic fucking right of all, so why on Earth should half of our population cede it to make sure health care is passed? What the hell? It makes no sense.

It’s unbelievable that people who hate and desperately want to control women are so well-respected that they can completely piss all over our legal rights. It’s unbelievable that they’re taken seriously. Obama wants me to respect the sensitivities of people who want to control my body, he wants me to respect that we all feel differently on this issue, and that I should agree to disagree with those who think I am not allowed to decide what happens to my body since I am a woman.

No, sir, no fucking way! You know what I find morally repugnant? Murdering people. Actual people. I hate having MY tax dollars going to building bombs, going to weapons to murder actual living, breathing human beings. I hate my tax dollars going to torture, the death penalty, corporate welfare, and the general destruction of the planet. I hate tax dollars being spent by a government that does nothing for the poor, but perpetuates a power structure designed to benefit parasites who use their power only to make more money.

But my tax dollars go to all of that stuff, and my anger about it doesn’t matter because the progressive agenda is easily dismissed by those in power. Now we’re supposed to smile as they continue to snatch control of our bodies away for us, because health care reform is necessary for the general good. No, you know what’s good for everyone?  Respecting every citizen’s personal autonomy. Or, Medicare for everyone, and shutting down for-profit insurance companies, because no one’s well-being should be subjected to the profit motive.

So I think this bill is bullshit. Everything about it is bullshit, and people who think of themselves as liberal but are willing to exchange one right for another are not liberals at all, but cowards. We should never, ever negotiate when it comes to human rights. You don’t give one up in order to get another. We shouldn’t feel forced to pick and choose which ones to support now and which ones to betray. The way is always forward, never back. If you betray one right, if any basic human right is worth giving up, then any of them are. Sometimes we have to agitate for one more than another, sometimes one is more threatened, sometimes one isn’t being recognized and needs more attention. Right now the human right to medical care needs to be fought for. But to just completely abandon one right, to say it’s okay, it’s negotiable, something else is more important? That’s insanity, and it’s wrong. It’s  wrong to support this bill with this amendment, because it can never be morally right to give up a right (which is what the Stupak amendment does by making abortion even more inaccessible) to achieve something else. The means define the ends, and these are bad, bad means. Let’s not get Machiavelli about health care. It may not seem important to some people now. But tomorrow, it may be a right that they find precious, and things may suddenly seem very different.

Here’s some links to other people who are outraged. Which means, I love them.

Kill This Bill. Right on!

What the Stupak Amendment actually does.   Best line:

Remember the promises? Reform was about expanding choices, not allowing government to come between you and your doctor, no one will lose their coverage, and if you like your current plan you get to keep it. Apparently being female is a preexisting condition that exempts us from the promises, too.”

I like the contempt here. When the President treats women with contempt (as well as the entire progressive agenda), then I read things like this, and nod. Vigorously.

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Malalai Joya is an advocate for women. She is an antiwar activist. She has strongly denounced corruption in her own government.  These are all excellent things. What makes Malalai Joya’s work stand out is that she is not doing all of this work in a western nation, where we happily let women, you know, talk and walk around. Malalai Joya is working and speaking out in Afghanistan.

malalai2

This is a pretty big accomplishment. I was, from the very very beginning, against the invasion of Afghanistan. It’s not that I’m an utter pacifist. It’s simply that anyone taking a step back and looking at the demographics of the population there would hopefully have come to the sane conclusion that bombing a nation of children is not the best way to promote democracy and end “terrorism.” The vast majority of children, nearly 100%, had witnessed an act of violence. Two-thirds of those acts involved seeing dead bodies. This information is from UNICEF in 1997. I can’t imagine what the statistics are like after the invasion. My personal beliefs tell me that murder is wrong. They also tell me that the murder of innocent civilians and children is especially evil. I am not interested in terms like “collateral damage.” People cannot, and never will be, collateral damage. My own logic also tells me, strangely enough, that to bomb, kill, and destroy usually does not win one too many friends. The people of Afghanistan who are now in their late 30s have been witnessing horrendous violence since they were pretty much in their infancy. I can’t imagine what the long-term effects of this shall be. I’m against sending more troops there. It is not the “good war.” It was a bad, shitty war in the first place that was followed by a war with absolutely no justification in the realm of human decency. The Taliban was (and is) an absolutely atrocious organization. I find some of the mujahedin to be terrifying (from what I understand of them). They also live in a region of the globe which has been subjected to so much violence and so much outside manipulation that no one living outside it can honestly understand what life has been like for them. To not even bother to understand the anger, rage, ignorance, tragedy, oppression is an act of supreme self-involvement. It stuns me that our culture is capable of constant innovation in computers, iPhones, fighter jets… and yet our answer to Afghanistan and Iraq is still to blow things up and drop bombs. On children.

With that in mind, one of the good things to have come out of this is the representative democracy set up in Kabul with a good deal of participation by women. Unfortunately the repression of women’s rights continues, and it will be a long struggle; possibly there will be some major set-backs in the years to come. Malalai Joya is a woman who exemplifies the current situation. She was a delegate to the 2003 Loya Jirga in Afghanistan (the Loya Jirga is a grand assembly used in times of transformation) and was then elected to Afghanistan’s National Assembly. Good! On the other side, though, there have been multiple attempts on her life, and she was suspended from the National Assembly for three years (she has the habit of pointing out the National Assembly includes criminals and warlords).

I’d like to point out some of the things Malalai Joya has said and done in one of the most dangerous political environments on the planet.

She spoke out on how the Northern Alliance, the group the U.S. helped take over things while the Taliban fled, are warlords and also repressive fundamentalists. Anyone reading anything about Afghanistan and not just listening to cable news, by the way, was aware of this:

Respected friends, over five years passed since the US-led attack on Afghanistan. Probably many of you are not well aware of the current conditions of my country and expect me to list the positive outcomes of the past years since the US invasion. But I am sorry to tell you that Afghanistan is still chained in the fetters of the fundamentalist warlords and is like an unconscious body taking its last breath.

The US government removed the ultra-reactionary and brutal regime of Taliban, but instead of relying on Afghan people, pushed us from the frying pan into the fire and selected its friends from among the most dirty and infamous criminals of the “Northern Alliance”, which is made up of the sworn enemies of democracy and human rights, and are as dark-minded, evil, and cruel as the Taliban.”

Being a woman from Afghanistan and daring to verbalize this is one of the reasons Malalai Joya has to fear for her life. The people she is speaking out against are still in power.

According to a UNIFEM survey, 65% of the 50,000 widows in Kabul see suicide as the only option to get rid of their misery. UNIFEM estimates that at least one out of three Afghan women has been beaten, forced into sex or otherwise abused.

The gang-rape of young girls and women by warlords belonging to the “Northern Alliance” still continues especially in the northern provinces of Afghanistan. People have staged mass protests a number of times but no one cares about their sorrow and tears. Only a few of the rape cases find their way into the media. One shocking case was that of 11 year old Sanobar, the only daughter of an unfortunate widow who was abducted, raped and then exchanged for a dog by a warlord. In a land where human dignity has no price, the vicious rapist of a poor girl still acts as district chief.”

Malalai Joya also has addressed some of the attacks she has to live with:

A mafia system is in place in Afghanistan. The US backed president Karzai and his westernized intellectuals have joined hands with fundamentalists of all brands to impose this mafia system on our people. This is the main reason for today’s problems in the deadlocked Afghanistan. Those who speak for justice are threatened with death.

My voice is always being silenced even inside the parliament and once I was physically attacked by pro-warlord and drug-lord MPs in the parliament just for speaking the truth. One of them even shouted “prostitute, take her and rape her!” Despite hating guns, I need to live under the protection of armed bodyguards to survive.”

Ms. Joya has also forcefully condemned the continued occupation and airstrikes. I find the following excerpt a little frustrating, because the people who argue continually for our involvement there are the same people who A) know nearly nothing about the history of Afghanistan or the Middle East in general B) are certain military involvement is the way to change things and are loathe to discuss other options. Those without a grasp on historical knowledge and lacking in ideas constantly seem to be the ones who know the only way to do things. Ugh.

It is a shame that so much of Afghanistan’s reality has been kept veiled by a western media consensus in support of the ‘good war.’ Perhaps if the citizens of North America had been better informed about my country, President Obama would not have dared to send more troops and spend taxpayers’ money on a war that is only adding to the suffering of our people and pushing the region into deeper conflicts.

A troop ‘surge’ in Afghanistan, and continued air strikes, will do nothing to help the liberation of Afghan women. The only thing it will do is increase the number of civilian casualties and increase the resistance to occupation.

To really help Afghan women, citizens in the U.S. and elsewhere must tell their government to stop propping up and covering for a regime of warlords and extremists. If these thugs were finally brought to justice, Afghan women and men would prove quite capable of helping ourselves.”

Malalai Joya’s memoir will be released this October. Obviously she is a woman of great bravery. She has stood up to warlords and criminals, her own government and the most powerful government in the world. She speaks truth to power and lives with the dangers that creates for her. She tirelessly advocates for the rights of Muslim women and refuses to accept rationalizations of oppression on the grounds of religious fundamentalism. To live with the very real threat of death and to remain so outspoken and committed…

The fundamentalists are counting their days to kill me, but I believe in and follow the noble saying of the freedom-loving Iranian writer Samad Behrangi:

‘Death could very easily come now, but I should not be the one to seek it. Of course if I should meet it and that is inevitable, it would not matter. What matters is whether my living or dying has had any effect on the lives of others…’

Thank you.”

*Interesting bit of trivia: Malalai Joya shares a name with one of the female heroes of Afghanistan, Malalai of Maiwand. During the Second Afghan War (yeah, Britain invaded Afghanistan three times), the Afghani troops were falling back in a particular battle. Malalai, who had been tending the wounded, stood up and rallied the troops, charging into frey herself. She died, though the battle was won. I hope Malalai Joya is able to keep raising her voice and inspiring change, and hopefully one day she will live in a more peaceful nation where she won’t require bodyguards.

Also, I thought the pictures of Afghan women protesting the marital rape law, protesting with their faces exposed, should be seen by everyone. The law was supposed to be overturned, then it was supposed to be reviewed, and there is a powerful faction still advocating for the law. I don’t know what the current status of the law is, but the fact that this is even an issue is beyond horrible.

afghanistan

All of Malalai Joya’s speeches can be found at this excellent website, as well as lots of other information on her doings.

Here is also some basic information on the horrific airstrikes in Farah, Afghanistan that took place in May.

I super-duper highly recommend reading Robert Fisk’s monumental epic The Great War for Civilisation. For some off-the-beaten track information on Afghanistan in particular, see Blue is the Colour of Heaven. By the way, is that the best book title in the world? Yes, yes it is.

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A great but sad post on Joan and Richard Feynman.

Glenn Greenwald discusses Dan Froomkin’s dismissal from the Washington Post.

Aung San Suu Kyi celebrates her birthday in prison by sharing cake with the guards.

Well, that about sums up how I feel about that.

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One of the issues I intend to address in depth here are the ways women’s work is trivialized and forgotten. How many times have I read a book on art history or philosophy where the author excuses the lack of featured women by explaining that up until the 20th century females did not have many opportunities to contribute to that particular field? This is utter bullshit. I am constantly discovering female artists from the Renaissance and female philosophers from ancient Rome and so on and so forth. What is more frustrating is how past discrimination is used to justify present-day neglect, and so all sorts of brilliant women from history simply disappear from our collective memory. I reach the pinnacle of angst when I see how this has never stopped and is still happening with living women. Women’s rights are often discussed in terms of cultural relativism, and people have to fight tooth and nail to point out that women who do not want to undergo genital mutilation need to be protected, or that girls have the right to be educated, and women should be able to live without fear of rape or domestic violence. In our own culture women barely have the right to dictate what happens to their own bodies, and appealing to women is something our popular culture seems less and less interested in. A woman has never won an Oscar for Best Director. Women compromise only 17% of the US Congress. But as some folks like to say, feminism was necessary once but not anymore and now can be safely laid to rest, right?

That’s why I want to talk about women who matter, women like Simone Weil. Simone Weil was a brilliant philosopher, writer, mathematician and activist. She lived an intense life of passionate devotion to her ideals before dying at the age of 34 during WWII. After graduating at the top of her class (a class which included Simone de Beauvoir) she taught, wrote constantly, worked at a factory so as to understand those conditions, and joined the French Resistance. She was a contemporary of Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre, men who made equally worthy contributions but who are far better known.

Simone Weil

Simone Weil

Some of Simone Weil’s excellent works include Gravity and Grace, The Need for Roots, Waiting for God, and Intimations of Christianity Among the Greeks. Wikipedia has a pretty impressive page discussing her philosophy, but I highly recommend Intimations or Waiting for God in order to really get an idea of what she was all about.

Simone Weil’s thought deserves much more than a brief summary, a summary which I am not really qualified to make. Some of her ideas are fascinating and I hope I get to talk about them at some point later on. Her own words are the best introduction, and as I have a great interest in ends&means I think this excerpt is fitting.

“…the law of all activities governing social life, except in the case of primitive communities, is that here one sacrifices human life — in himself and in others — to things which are only means to a better way of living. This sacrifice takes on various forms, but it all comes back to the question of power. Power, by definition, is only a means; or to put it better, to possess a power is simply to possess means of action which exceed the very limited force that a single individual has at his disposal. But power-seeking, owing to its essential incapacity to seize hold of its object, rules out all consideration of an end, and finally comes, through an inevitable reversal, to take the place of all ends. It is this reversal of the relationship between means and end, it is this fundamental folly that accounts for all that is senseless and bloody right through history. Human history is simply the history of the servitude which makes men – oppressed and oppressors alike – the plaything of the instruments of domination they themselves have manufactured, and thus reduces living humanity to being the chattel of inanimate chattels.” – Oppression and Liberty.

Pretty interesting, right?

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