Monthly Archives: May 2014

Misogyny in America: It Really is Everywhere

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Following the recent mass shooting in Isla Vista, California, in which a misogynistic shit-weasel killed seven people and wounded thirteen others all because women refused to to have sex with him, the Twitter hastag #yesallwomen went viral. It not only blew up on Twitter, but soon found its way to Facebook and was being discussed everywhere, from CNN to the Huffington Post to Salon.com. While many people responded to the shooting, and to #yesallwomen, by rallying behind the victims and openly discussing the realities of everyday misogyny, many others have attempted to undermine the prevalence of misogyny in our culture by arguing that not all men hate women or that women in this country have made many strides or, in some rare but truly disturbing instances, to not only defend and applaud the women hating diatribe left behind by the shooter, Elliot Rodger, but laud him as an American hero.

As sick and twisted as it is that there are actually people who agree with the entitled, misogynistic ramblings of Rodger, it is nearly as disturbing that there are people who honestly believe that misogyny is not as serious an issue as the #yesallwomen campaign has attempted to demonstrate. I say that it is nearly as disturbing because it illustrates just how pervasive misogyny is in our society; it has become so engrained in the fabric of our culture that it goes virtually unnoticed by those who are not directly affected by it, and almost accepted, if not fully expected, by those who are. This is disheartening, to say the least, because as long as people willfully ignore or excuse everyday acts of misogyny, women will continue to be victims of it. Regardless of whether or not everyone wants to admit it, misogyny, as every woman likely knows, is very much alive and well in America and its time we take it seriously and take action toward ending it.

Misogyny, to be clear, is not merely the overtly and extremely violent hatred of women, as exemplified by Rodgers and his ass-chasing ilk. It is, by definition, the, “dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women.” Misogyny, like any form of prejudice, can manifest itself in a variety of ways, many of which seem innocuous on the surface but are, to those who endure it, anything but. As the #yesallwomen campaign has so brilliantly highlighted, women experience misogyny everyday in a variety of ways. From cat-calling to the disgusting way in which we talk about women’s bodies to the numerous political attacks on women’s rights, from health care to wages, misogyny is all around us. 

1) Street Harassment aka “Cat-calling”: As a woman, I have endured this demeaning and extremely annoying act more times than I can count. So often, I’m sure, that if I had a dollar for every time that it has happened to me I’d probably be able to pay off my credit card and have enough left over to celebrate with a delicious steak dinner (to be fair, my credit card balance is only about $250). Most of the time it’s a simple honk and/or a quick, “Wooo! Baby!,” sometimes it’s a more explicit, “I’d like to hit that ass!,” and on a couple of occasions it’s been followed by a, “Fuck you bitch!,” when I’ve ignored the comments as I usually do. While, for the most part, it seems relatively harmless, especially to the sort of men who do it, for women it is insulting and belittling; and in some cases, deadly. To be yelled at by a man, or group of men, as we walk down the street or wait at a bus stop or are sitting in our cars at a traffic light signifies the dim and unsettling reality that, in the eyes of many men, a woman is little more than a thing that exists to entertain or bring pleasure. Yes, before any man bothers to say it, we know that not all men behave this way, but that’s not the goddamn point, a lot of you do; enough, in fact, that every woman at some point in her life will have some jackass harass her as she goes about her day. And how does that make us feel? As this brilliant project by Brooklyn based artist,Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, illustrates, it leaves us feeling humiliated, objectified, ashamed, scared, dehumanized, and powerless. It’s not a compliment, it’s a blatant declaration that you do not see us as human beings to be respected, but as walking, talking sex dolls. To deny a woman the right to freely move about in the world without being verbally harassed is to deny her her very humanity, that is misogyny. Period.

2) Physical/sexual harassment: Unlike cat-calling, I have luckily experienced this less frequently, but the fact that any woman has experienced it at all is just plain disgusting. There’s something deeply and profoundly fucked-up with the psyche of a man who finds it acceptable to grab a woman by the arm and try to force her to sit next him (yes, this happened to me and very recently), or to smack her ass as she walks by (yep, I’ve experienced this too), or to come up behind her as she’s dancing in a club with her friends and grind up to her so closely that she can actually feel his dick on her ass (sadly, I’ve endured this as well, and it’s one of many reasons that I hate going to clubs). Now while my personal experiences with this should be terrible enough, sadly they are relatively benign when compared to other forms of physical/sexual harassment that women have been made to endure. What this form of harassment ultimately succeeds in doing is to tell women is that our bodies are not our own, that we have no right to determine when, where, and how we will be spoken to or touched. Like cat-calling, but to an even larger and more harmful degree, it denies the humanity of women and it is explicitly misogynistic.

3) The Wage Gap: As mentioned above, misogyny is, in part, the “ingrained prejudice toward women.” A clear example of this is the wage gap between what white men earn and what women, of all colors, earn. Women in nearly every occupation, despite our level of education, earn less than men. On average, working women earn just 77 cents for every dollar earned by a white male. Surely there are some out there who may be wondering how the wage gap is indicative of misogyny, and the answer is simple: the wage gap signifies that the work of women is worth less than the work of men, which is the result of millennium of both the relegation of women to the domestic sphere and devaluing of women’s bodies. Throughout human history, with very rare exceptions, the primary worth of a woman has been the sum total of her marriageability and her ability to produce offspring; if she could not succeed at both, she was essentially worthless and a burden. Even in our seemingly more enlightened and evolved era a woman who does not reproduce, be it because of infertility or by choice (gasp! I know, some women actually choose to not have children! by gods the horror!), is treated, by both men and women, as if she’s breaking some sacred, universal law that will destroy all of human civilization if she doesn’t flood the world with an endless brood of babies. Now, for the modern woman, the decision to have children lands her in a rather precarious situation because one of the main arguments used to defend the wage gap is that, since women give birth and, assuming she can afford to do so, take time off from their careers/jobs to both nurture their new born children and care for ill children or family members they contribute less to industry in which they work. Ultimately, women are being monetarily punished for both our biological predisposition to child-bearing and the socially constructed expectation to both have them and nurture them. To insist that women must have children and that women must be the primary care-givers to those children and then turn around and punish them for doing that which society has, for forever, insisted they do is misogynistic. And this brings me to the next issue….

it is important to note, because agism,racism, and sexism both play a role in the wage gap, that when broken down by race the wage gap gets worse, with one exception, for women of the non-white persuasion: caucasian women, 78%; african-american women, 64%; native-american women, 60%; hispanic/latina women, 53%; with the one exception being asian-american women, at 87%. moreover, the wage gap expands with age.

4) The attack on Women’s health care: I have written extensively on the issue of women’s reproductive rights here on the blog, and in the two years since I first began focusing primarily on feminist issues the attack on women’s health care has yet to abate. In 2012 there were 916 laws introduced across this nation that attempted to limit not only women’s access to safe and legal abortions but to also limit our choices of and access to birth control. According to a 2013 report by The Guttmacher Institute, a total of 43 laws restricting women’s access to reproductive services were passed and enacted in 2012; each one of them putting the health and welfare of women in serious jeopardy. As if the attack on women’s health care from right-wingnuts wasn’t enough, this year women have had their rights to birth control challenged in court by conservative Christian corporations, which are attempting to deny female employees access to certain forms of contraception under the guise of wanting to protect the unborn. In addition, 2014 has seen the introduction and/or passing of some of the most detrimental laws to women’s reproductive health yet, for example: the Alabama state legislature passed four anti-abortion bills, one of which would ban abortion after the detection of a fetal heart beat, which occurs at about six weeks gestation (never mind that if born this clump of very nearly undeveloped fetal cells would immediately die), making no exception for rape or incest because, as one Alabama law-maker, or in this case rights-denier, put it,  a life is “a life regardless of the painful, painful circumstances;” and South Dakota introduced a bill that would not only ban most abortions, but would put doctors who perform them in prison. The never-ending assault on women’s reproductive rights is entirely symptomatic of a culture built on and plagued by misogyny, as the premises for it’s entire argument boils down to the fact that the primary purpose for a woman’s existence is to conceive and bear children and that the potential life of a clump of developing cells is more valuable than the woman within which said clump will develop. Think about that for a while, I mean really chew on it and digest it: the health, welfare, and agency of a living, breathing person is of less concern and value than something that cannot survive outside of it’s host. Essentially what this boils down to, given the sort of people who are designing and promoting these abominable pieces of legislation, is that a woman is less important, less valuable, less worthy of protection than the seed implanted in her by a man. Anything that aims to deny women’s autonomy, to limit our free agency, to rob us of our dignity, or to strip us of the fullness of our humanity is an explicit and utter act of misogyny.

5) Demeaning women’s bodies: The idea that a woman’s worth is contingent almost entirely upon her looks is, sadly, very much a reality in our culture. It’s also something of which both men and women are guilty, but misogyny is a societal ill and as such it’s going to influence, to some degree, how both sexes view women. The demeaning of women’s bodies occurs in a number of ways from fat-shaming to criticizing women for going out in public without first putting on some make-up to agism. The idea that there is only a single female form worthy or respect and desire is, to put it bluntly, fucking stupid and it stems entirely from the misogynistic perception of women as vehicles of sexual satisfaction.

6) Slut-shaming: As one brilliant #yesallwomen tweet stated, “because the term ‘friendzone’ is attacking a woman’s right to say no and ‘whore’ is attacking their right to say yes.” Female sexual agency is, for many men, something to both loathe and fear; which for women means that we’re damned if we don’t and damned if we do. We here in America, like many other places where one would find vaginas lurking about, have a terribly antiquated opinion about female sexual activity and consent known as the “double standard.” You see, in much of the world, even right here in the land of free, men can pretty much stick their dicks in just about anything and anyone as often as they please with extremely little to absolutely zero negative reaction; in fact he’ll likely be lauded as stallion among men, a god of sex and conquest. However, when a woman dares to enjoy the same uninhibited sexual exploits she’s a wanton, dirty little slut. Every single word in the English language (‘Murican for those who despise foreigners) that negatively defines a sexually promiscuous person is not only used to describe a woman, it is in the very definition of the word itself: whore, slut, harlot, skank, floozy….the list, quite frankly, goes on. The very fact that there are so many words in the English language that we still use to this very day to demonize a sexually active woman not only indicates that our culture stems from a deep seeded root of misogyny, it’s still producing fruit.

7) Rape and Rape Culture: In case you’re living under a rock or are just willfully oblivious, we live in a rape culture. By that I mean that we live in society that teaches women to not get raped rather than one that teaches men to not rape. By that I mean that we live in a society that, when women say we’ve been raped or sexual assaulted, asks us what were we wearing, where were we going, what were we doing in the place where it happened, were we drinking, or did we give any indication of being at all interested in the man who violated us; despite the fact that a woman is more likely to raped by a man we know, who feels a sense of ownership over us, than by a stranger, but facts be damned because clearly the sheer act having a vagina means that we’re responsible for it being violated against our personal will. By that I mean that we live in a society in which 31 states grant paternal rights to rapists. By that I mean that we live a society in which one in six women will be the victim of an attempted or completed raped, in which 9 out of 10 rape victims are women, and in which 97% of rapists go unpunished. Rape is not about sex it is, as this article accurately points out, about control; control over a woman’s body, and what we’re wearing or whether or not we’ve feigned even the slightest interest in our attacker has nothing to do with it. Those who rape or assault see a woman’s body as something to be claimed, a rapist does not see the victim as person but as an object over which to take ownership and do with as the rapist sees fit. Rape is about sexual domination, not sexual gratification. Not only do rape and misogyny go hand in hand, but so does the way in which our society talks about and treats rape victims. When society lays the blame for being raped or sexually assaulted at our feet, it is accusing we women of being vile temptresses and is essentially implying that, on some level, the rapist is the victim of the uncontrollable lust that we women evoke in the loins of men, which in turn legitimizes the objectification of women. Putting the blame for being raped at the feet of women is, beyond any rational doubt, misogynistic.

8) Domestic Violence: While both women and men can be victims of domestic violence, women are far more likely to not only be victims of physical abuse but to die as a result of it. According to the CDC, 1 in 4 women have been victims of physical abuse at the hands of an intimate partner, compared to 1 in 7 men, and, in 2010, 1,095 women were murdered by their domestic partners, compared to 241 men. According to the American Psychological Association, three or more women are murdered by their partners everyday and nearly half of all women (about 49.4%) have reported experiencing some form of physical violence from an intimate partner in her lifetime. According to the FBIs 2011 Supplementary Homicide Report, of the 1,601 women murdered in 2010, 1,509 of them were murdered by a men they knew, and most of them were murdered during the course of an argument. As with rape/sexual assault, physical abuse is about power and domination. Abusers abuse typically to exert control over their victims, abusers see their victims as property as opposed to a person. Given the fact that the majority of domestic violence victims are women, and that the majority of aggressors are men who have laid claim to said women, domestic violence is an act of misogyny. Men who beat women do so for a variety of reasons, but all of them boil down to one underlying social problem, men have been acculturated to believe that the women in their lives belong to them. One cannot view another person as property and still respect them as a person. Men who abuse women do not view us as fully human, they view us as things to be owned and controlled, and even something to fear and hate; which is, by very definition, an act of misogyny.

Sadly, for women, misogyny is all around us. While it is true that not all men are misogynists who disrespect or objectify women, and while it is true that not all men hate women and seek to own, control, marginalize, or abuse women; it is true that all women experience acts of misogyny. Every. Single. Day. That is the point to #yesallwomen. Every woman, everywhere, everyday is a victim of misogyny. So of those men who are not, by their own account, misogynists we ask you: Don’t ignore it, don’t dismiss it, don’t downplay it’s prevalence; rather, listen to us and take our experiences seriously, acknowledge and admit to the fact that misogyny is both endemic and systemic within our culture so that we can eradicate it together.

 

Coming to Terms with Loss: There is Hope in Unbelief

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I wasn’t always an unbeliever, an agnostic with atheistic tendencies if you will. No. Once upon a time I was a doubter, who wanted desperately for God to be real despite the lack of any concrete reason to believe so. I have suffered much and seen much suffering, too much to be able to rationalize the existence of a benevolent and all-powerful deity, much less to rationalize the need to worship one. To those believers out there, please do not take this as either an attack on your personal beliefs (have at them, they’re yours not mine) nor as it an invitation to attempt to lure me back into a flock in which my fleece was always black. I assure you, I have found peace and I have found hope. I no longer wrestle with the question as to why God allows innocent children, women, and men to be murdered, to be raped, to suffer starvation, to struggle in poverty, to be surrounded by war, or to suffer debilitating diseases because I have come to conclude that God is nowhere. We humans are in this on our own. It sounds depressing, but in reality it is not. No, it is actually freeing and full of hope.

I did not come to this conclusion lightly, nor did I reach it suddenly. Rather it was the result of a process, the culmination of years of pain, self-reflection  and scholarly study. I was raised to believe that God exists and that, if we believe enough and pray enough, God will provide. At the same time, I watched my mother drink herself into near oblivion every day of my life for years. I watched her attempt suicide, nearly succeeding twice. I watched her put our family into debt as she drank away the money for the electric bill, the car payment, the rent. Yet, no matter how much I prayed to God for my mother to stop drinking and to just be a mother to my sister and me, God was nowhere.

I watched my Grandpap, whom I loved with all of my heart, suffer a stroke and then slowly fade away. I learned much from him, though not as much as I, in hindsight, would have liked. He taught me, via his own quite actions, to not judge others, to always grant people the benefit of the doubt, and to be open-minded. I never heard him mutter an unkind or disparaging remark about anyone. He always greeted people, friend or stranger, with a wink and smile. When he passed away it was seven years after he had had a stroke; the final years of his life had been spent in a nursing home, unable to communicate clearly, unable to walk freely. Here was a man who never disappointed and never broke a promise, here was a man who was, by all accounts, a good person, trapped in his own body. He never talked about God with me, I am not certain he himself even believed, and when he died, over a decade ago, I myself was still in my doubting phase. With his death, I struggled to find a reason as to why God would allow someone, like my Grandpap, to suffer in his final years as he had, there was not a single answer religion could give me that made an iota of sense. Again, God was nowhere.

Moreover, in late 2012, I watched my father-in-law lose his five-year battle with cancer. I watched a man who loved fishing and hunting, who was always active and full of life, who was a firm believer in God and who prayed and went to church every Sunday, wither and die an agonizing death right before my eyes.  Although I had by this point in my life left behind my doubt and reached the conclusion that there is most likely no God, I still could not help, as it is only natural to do in those moments, but to question how the God in which my father-in-law so deeply believed could allow him to suffer and do nothing to ease his pain. Yet again, God was nowhere.

I was reminded recently of a Robert Green Ingersoll quote, “They who stand with breaking hearts around this little grave, need have no fear. The larger and the nobler faith in all that is, and is to be, tells us that death, even at its worst, is only perfect rest … The dead do not suffer.” It is only the living who suffer and are left to make sense of the loss, to find consolation for our grief, and to seek meaning for both life and death. I understand why some people choose to believe in, or rather hope for, heaven; the promise that someday, if you are a good boy or girl, you will be transported to a perfectly sublime existence where everyone whom you have ever loved and lost will be waiting for you…It’s a tantalizing idea, but that is, in all probability, all it is- an idea.

We cannot know for certain what, if anything, awaits us when we die. Whether or not there is an afterlife at all, whether or not we go to heaven or are reincarnated or cease to exist at all is, in all honesty, irrelevant because either way we only get one shot at this life. We each get only one chance to be this person, living this life. This, right here and right now, is all we get; therefore we must do all we can to be the best possible selves we can be, to treat others with respect, dignity, and compassion because in the end it is most likely that the legacy we leave behind through our actions is the only true afterlife there is.

While I have concluded, after years of study and personal reflection, that there is no great and mighty deity coming to our rescue, I have also concluded that this is ok because we have each other and in that there is hope. There is, most highly probably, no God, but we are here nonetheless and our actions, regardless of belief or lack thereof, determine the quality of life that we and our fellow humans will live. We humans have the power, via our choices, to lift up one another and make life good. We can feed the hungry, end poverty, find cures for diseases, stop violence, prevent rape all by simply learning to value our fellow humans by pure virtue of the fact that we are each a person worthy of respect and compassion. We need neither the promise of heaven nor the threat of hell to do right by each other, we need merely the realization that good action begets good action and will create a legacy of goodness from which current and future generations of humans will benefit.