Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Let’s Talk About Sex - Part I

Contributed by Katie Foley
Intercourse. Coitus. Making love. F^#$ing. Whatever you call it, sex has been a hot topic for much of human history. Whether it's because I am twenty-something or because I read between 2 and 5 romance novels a week, I often find myself involved in discussions of cultural attitudes toward sex.

Rape Culture in America

A couple of weeks ago I attended a forum discussion entitled, “Dismantling Rape Culture, Dismantling Capitalism.” The forum was hosted by the Socialist Alternative at Mayday Books in Minneapolis.1 A presentation opened the discussion, during which the speakers sought to establish sexism (and racism, ageism, homophobia, xenophobia, etc) as a tool that Capitalists use to execute their “divide and rule” style of governance. By wedging apart natural economic allies, Capitalists are able to prevent the working class from uniting in a meaningful way, in a way that would invalidate the Capitalists’ exploitation of their underpaid employees. 

One of the hallmarks of sexism is the idea of traditional gender roles.  Have women, throughout the 200,000 years of human history, always been ideologically limited to being barefoot and pregnant in front of the hearth? What gave rise to what are now known as “traditional” gender roles?    

The answer to the first question is a resounding “NO!” For 95% of human history we are hypothesized to have subsisted in hunter-gatherer or forager societies. It is hypothesized that gender roles as we would define them did not exist in a hunter-gatherer society. The society was egalitarian, with all members contributing to the benefit of the whole. Some of the tasks associated with male physical strength were performed by men in these equalitarian societies, but it was because of their strength and not their possession of external genitalia. Furthermore, child bearing was not the “blessing” it is today because it was a huge tax on resources for a hunter-gatherer society to raise to maturity another human being.  For that reason, infanticide was not uncommon and hunter-gatherer societies tended to be very small communities of people.2

Barefoot and Pregnant 3

 Around 10,000 years ago humans stopped relying primarily on hunter-gatherer techniques and began cultivating food to grow. This allowed the establishment of permanent settlements which in turn provided for the first surpluses in human history. The need to manage these surpluses arose and a governing class and/or managing class developed.  Those in “power” were then able to manipulate the surpluses in a way that allowed them to accumulate wealth. The ability to accumulate vast amounts of wealth during a lifetime brought with it the issue of inheritance. How does a powerful man ensure that his land, possessions and other forms of wealth are secured and going to be enjoyed by his progeny? Enter sexism.

In a time before paternity testing, the best way to ensure that the baby a woman carried belonged to any particular male was for that male to have been the only possible father.  Monogamy was a tool “unilaterally enforced against women” to ensure that there were no questions about a child’s paternity. Suddenly a woman’s virtue was prized above any other contribution she may make to society and the ruling classes cosseted and protected their female offspring until they could marry her off, thus continuing the cycle of isolation and repression followed by procreation.
Women were kept cosseted at home, producing a child every once in awhile if she was a good wife who performed her “wifely duties.” Since women were home anyway it only made sense to utilize them as keepers of the household, whether she was a poor women doing all the child-rearing and household work, or an upper class woman whose job it was to ensure the smooth running of the household by the hired help.  Women bought into their own oppression by judging harshly other women who failed to adhere to society’s strictures, something that still occurs and is a phenomenon to which anyone who has spent any time with high school girls could attest.4
To this day exists the ideal of the virtuous whore, a woman who is aware of and appreciates her own sexuality, but who does not herself engage in promiscuous behavior.  It reminds me of an advertising campaign that attempts to unify the advertising axiom “Sex sells” with the ideal of abstinence.5 This idea could likewise be summed up by a line from Coyote Ugly, “The trick is to look available but not be available.” Yet even though we are still trying to idealize the nexus between sensuality and chastity, a woman who is sexually assaulted often faces probing questions about which (potentially) risky behaviors she may have been engaging in prior to the rape.  
Control your fate or someone else will.”6
Women, it seems, are in charge of their own sexual destiny.  This includes whether she will be the one in six women who is a victim of rape or attempted rape.7 To that end, a young lady we’ll call the “reasonably prudent woman” is expected to act with a certain degree of circumspection in her social dealings. For example, as a college student I knew to never let my drink out of my sight, going so far as to [mildly] physically assault a friend who had failed to babysit my keg cup. I have walked with my keys between my fingers, or alternatively, with a lanyard sporting a canister of “bear spray” around my neck. I know not to dally alone on a dark street and have insisted on accompanying more than one friend home from the bar, lest they find themselves walking alone at night.
To some extent people are in charge of themselves and there are cautious behaviors one can adopt to help protect against being victimized. But the first question that comes to mind after hearing that a woman was raped should not be anything along the lines of “Well, what was she wearing?” Focusing on what actions women can take to not be raped can force those who are raped to feel as though they could have avoided the situation if they had only ………what? Not been a woman who came into the consciousness of a man who would not take “no” for an answer?  Followed the advice of the illustrious NYPD and wear pants so as not to attract any potential rapists she may come across as she lives her life?  This type of sanctioned advice is not only insulting, it is disingenuous.  Rape is seldom about sex but about power.  If it was about sex, rape would all but disappear during winter months, since snow suits are not in the least provocative. Rape is a serious issue, yet the best solution I’ve heard is to carry a mace key chain and wear pants.
I recently went to the theater and then out for a few cocktails with the friend I assaulted in college for losing sight of my cup (among other things). While observing the dance floor, her and I noticed a particularly sketchy looking man dancing with a very young looking woman.  I looked closer and asked my friend, “Does her hat say ‘I like to party’?” To which she replied, “Yeah. I hope she likes to get raped too…” We both laughed, but then I was disappointed at myself for having fallen back into my college, it’s-your-job-not-to-be-raped mindset when the issue of how to destroy this mentality has been percolating in my brain for weeks. We have to stop “blaming the victim” in order to confront the fact that we have systemically reinforced sexism in America through how our culture addresses rape. This will not, however, be an easy accomplishment since there is not a person among has not blamed the victim either explicitly or impliedly at some point in their lives.

In order to function, capitalism needs poverty. Poverty is certainly not unique to the human existence, nor to capitalist economic systems in particular.  However, we apply our "blame the victim" mentality not only to the issue of rape, but to te issue of poverty as well. We tell people that have to "work harder" or "pull themselves up by their bootstraps." Many in our society are unabashed in their view that the impoverished are morally deficient. Maybe instead of seeking examples of how the poor are lazy or lack the requisite work ethic to "make it," we should be critically discussing the systemic forces at work that prevent most impoverished people from ever rising above their poor diets and mediocre housing. When people dare suggest that perhaps the poor are facing an uphill battle, the Right cries, "Class Warfare!" again implementing their "divide and rule" style of governance. If we could eradicate this "blame the victim" mentality we could not only go a long way toward eliminating sexism, but a long way toward meaningful discussion on how to address the issue of poverty.

Perhaps we need to change the conversation, shift the paradox in some way. Women should not be compelled to feel as though they alone are responsible for not being a victim of sexual assault, just as men should not sleep with a woman and then fear she may misconstrue the exchange as nonconsensual. The culture and attitudes surrounding rape exemplify the larger issue of sexism in our society and the "blame the victim" mentality spans across multiple social issues. By continuing to judge each other harshly, by blaming those who are victimized rather than those who do the victimizing, we are we are perpetuating the sexism that is used to drive a wedge between people with economic interests in common. People vote against their economic interests solely on the basis of wedge issues such as abortion, a women’s rights issue, which in turn perpetuates the cycle of poverty. By changing the conversation surrounding rape we can loosen the grip sexism has on our society, which would take us one step closer to spanking those greedy Capitalists where it hurts most, their bottom lines.  

1 Like many people, I experimented with being a Socialist in college – going so far as to help bake and decorate cupcakes for a Socialist Alternative fundraiser. Though I have since moved back into the fold of a mainstream political party, I remain networked through Facebook with many of my former Socialist comrades, which is how I came to know of the event.
2 I’ve never studied anthropology, but this is among the more fascinating aspects of human social history.  This is a great scholarly article on the subject, though it’s a bit dense.  You could, of course, always Wikipedia the subject. Also, here is the SparkNotes on the famous book, The History of Sex
 3 Much of the information in this section is uncited, and for that I apologize. Blame intellectual laziness if you’d like, but the information is derived from the presentation and various books I have read along the way.  For Example, I recommend Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond. If you do not feel I have been factually accurate, please tell me so that I can either correct or verify the statement.
The movie Mean Girls is pretty great and is a believable example of how terrible women can be to one another.                                                        
7 Rape statistics are difficult to measure as rape is the most under-reported crime in America. See for a discussion on the modern history of rape, statistics related thereto and a discussion of the evolution of the legal definition of rape and sexual assault.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Liberté, égalité, fraternité

Contributed by Katie Foley

In another nod to the fact that GOP candidates for president don’t “get it,” Herman Cain explained to Bob Schieffer of CBS’ Face the Nation that he stood by his earlier comments that the Occupy Wall Street protesters and the tens of thousands around the nation participating in solidarity protests are simply “jealous” of those whom they are protesting.  He described the protests as “un-American” and an example of “class warfare.”

On the same program, Mr. Newt Gingrich, another GOP presidential nomination “contender” voiced his opinion “that a ‘bad education system’ that taught ‘really dumb ideas’ was to blame for the protests.”

First I’ll address the idea that these protests are un-American.  The Founding Fathers, you know, those men about whom the Tea Party and others of their ilk tend to wax poetic, created this country from the smoldering ashes of revolution. Protesting the government, in their case the English government, is at the very heart of our nation’s founding. Therefore I fail to see how exercising rights important enough to have been in the First Amendment could be construed as un-American.

As for the idea that the protesters are laboring under the mistaken assumptions imparted upon them by their crappy public school educations, how do you explain all of the well-educated participants? My exposure to a “bad education system” got me a 28 on my ACT and two higher education degrees by the time I was 25. How do you explain my participation?  Or was it the silly ideas of  “personal liberty,” “work hard, be rewarded,” or “you too can have your American dream” I was taught that have left me cheering for the occupations taking place around the nation?

Perhaps, for some people, the claims of Misters Gingrich and Cain are correct.  Maybe some people are jealous of bankers’ “golden parachutes.”  It’s possible that drastically reducing public school funding has left many of those protesting with less-than-adequate educations. But more than likely the people protesting Wall Street, claiming to be the 99%, would not include “jealousy” among the emotions they feel. 

For example, I’m not jealous of Herman Cain’s net worth of $18 million USD, I’m just exhausted from working three jobs to pay for my peanut-butter-and-jelly diet. I’m not jealous of Herman Cain’s wife and two grown children, I just regret that working three jobs leaves me no time to date. I’m not jealous of his M.A. from Purdue University, I just resent that, in this economy, my J.D. is worth less than the paper upon which the degree was printed. 

I’m not jealous that Herman Cain used to be CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, I’m just dismayed that my J.D. has gotten me to where I am able to deliver Chinese food for minimum wage. I’m not jealous that Herman Cain has a pulpit from which to preach his offensive brand of politics, I’m disillusioned by the fact that people are taking a man who has never been elected to public office seriously.

I’m not jealous that Wall Street stock brokers drive BMWs and Mercedes, I’m distraught that I barely make the car payment on my Chevy Cobalt each month.  I’m not jealous that the wealthiest 1% can afford haute couture or designer clothes, I’m just bitter that I have to budget a trip to the Goodwill. I’m not jealous of those who live in Beverly Hills mansions or estates in the Hamptons, I’m just perturbed that $300 rent credit to clean the building I live in has been a godsend this past six months. 

I’m not jealous that Wall Street banks were bailed out by the government, I’m just disgusted that conservatives still have the nerve to call ours a “free-market system.” I’m not jealous of people fortunate enough to have pulled up their bootstraps sufficiently to land them in a prestigious career, I’m just enraged by the idea that the rest of us just need to “work harder.” I’m not jealous of people who have such wonderful health insurance coverage that they fear a single-payer system, I’m just incredulous that Obamacare protestors want to keep government out of their Medicare. I’m not jealous of all of the press the Tea Party got by demanding “their America” back, I’m just incensed that it took so long for the so-called “liberal media” to even begin covering the Wall Street protests.

I’m also angry that I do not have the funds or credit to visit my mother in Florida.  I’m frustrated that I don’t have the funds to replace the clothes I bought ten years ago while I was in high school. I’m disturbed that I have been so hungry that I’ve eaten the food off of the plates of strangers while I’m clearing their table. I’m resigned to the fact that receiving an $80 grocery gift card from my step mom causes me to weep with gratitude. I’m stunned that the GOP insists that there is nothing wrong with the current economic system, when in actuality the whole global monetary system is at risk. I’m reluctant to exercise my Constitutional right to peaceably assemble because I’m not sure I can take the time off work to participate in Occupy Minnesota. I’m also fed up with the fact that the movement is being deliberately misunderstood by people like Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich. 

But most of all, I am determined to keep working my ass off so that I can make my life work on my own terms.  I am relieved to have friends and family that love and support me. I’m optimistic that this movement could lead to the type of change that Obama promised and then failed to deliver, and I’m invigorated that the 99% have finally rose up to strike fear into the hearts of their oppressors.

So you see, I’m a lot of things, jealous is just not one of them. So, Misters Cain and Gingrich, along with all of you other conservative talking heads who want to discount the movement as nothing more than lazy, unemployed hippies who want everything for nothing, I have only one thing to say to you and your need to deliberately misconstrue the growing desperation of the working/middle class: you had better be right, because I’ve read about something like this before, and I can tell you that it didn’t end well for those in the upper classes.   

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Letter to the Red States

This is a classic (published here as early as 2005) but I've been thinking a lot about States' Rights.  This letter implies secession, but what I'm thinking is less an act of war and more an act of "be careful what you wish for."  I think we should roll back federal government, just in the way the Tea Party is suggesting.  If we allow states more authority, or delegate them more responsibility, under the Tenth Amendment, I have no doubt that the blue states would remain good places to live.  

I can't speak to the veracity of any claims contained herein, but it gets me thinking just the same. I hope you enjoy this "oldie but goodie."  

Dear Red States... 

We've decided we're leaving. We intend to form our own country, and we're taking the other Blue States with us. 

In case you aren't aware, that includes Hawaii, Oregon,Washington, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois and all the Northeast. We believe this split will be beneficial to the nation, and especially to the people of the new country of New California. 

To sum up briefly: You get Texas, Oklahoma and all the slave states. We get stem cell research and the best beaches. We get Elliot Spitzer. You get Ken Lay. 

We get the Statue of Liberty. You get Dollywood. We get Intel and Microsoft. You get WorldCom. We get Harvard. You get Ole' Miss. We get 85 percent of America's venture capital and entrepreneurs. You get Alabama. We get two-thirds of the tax revenue, you get to make the red states pay their fair share.

Since our aggregate divorce rate is 22 percent lower than the Christian Coalition's, we get a bunch of happy families.  You get a bunch of single moms. 

Please be aware that Nuevo California will be pro-choice and anti-war, and we're going to want all our citizens back from Iraq at once. If you need people to fight, ask your evangelicals. They have kids they're apparently willing to send to their deaths for no purpose, and they don't care if you don't show pictures of their children's caskets coming home. We do wish you success in Iraq, and hope that the WMDs turn up, but we're not willing to spend our resources in Bush's Quagmire. 

With the Blue States in hand, we will have firm control of 80 percent of the country's fresh water, more than 90 percent of the pineapple and lettuce, 92 percent of the nation's fresh fruit, 95 percent of America's quality wines (you can serve French wines at state dinners) 90 percent of all cheese, 90 percent of the high tech industry, most of the U.S. low-sulfur coal, all living redwoods, sequoias and condors, all the Ivy and Seven Sister schools, plus Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Cal Tech and MIT. 

With the Red States, on the other hand, you will have to cope with 88 percent of all obese Americans (and their projected health care costs), 92 percent of all U.S. mosquitoes, nearly 100 percent of the tornadoes, 90 percent of the hurricanes, 99 percent of all Southern Baptists, virtually 100 percent of all televangelists, Rush Limbaugh, Bob Jones University, Clemson and the University of Georgia. 

We get Hollywood and Yosemite, thank you. 

Additionally, 38 percent of those in the Red states believe Jonah was actually swallowed by a whale, 62 percent believe life is sacred unless we're discussing the death penalty or gun laws, 44 percent say that evolution is only a theory, 53 percent that Saddam was involved in 9/11 and 61 percent of you crazy b*****ds believe you are people with higher morals then we lefties. 

By the way, we're taking the good pot, too. You can have that dirt weed they grow in Mexico.

Peace out,

Blue States