Saturday, August 18, 2012

On Pussy Riot


The name refers to a Russian feminist punk band:

Given how world famous Pussy Riot has become, people are sometimes surprised to learn that the entire oeuvre of the women’s punk band is made up of six songs and five videos.
Badly recorded, based on simple riffs and scream-like singing, the feminist singers were dismissed by many critics and listeners as amateur, provocative and obscene.
But the performance and release of each song’s video mirrored important steps in the rise of the opposition movement in Russia that protested Vladimir Putin’s return to power as president.
By Friday, when three members of the group were convicted of hooliganism for performing a “punk prayer” in Moscow’s main cathedral in February to protest the Russian Orthodox Church’s support of Putin, it was clear the group also has won support around the world, including from stars such as Madonna and Paul McCartney and Amnesty International.

The band members wear balaclavas which means that only three young women could be identified for the court case.  They received a two-year penal colony sentence.   This is the reason:
The three women, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alekhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, were picked up outside Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior last Feb. 21, after entering a priests-only section of the church and performing a 40-second "punk prayer" that called on the Virgin Mary to expel Putin. Police initially just took down their names and let them go, probably because the church was largely empty at the time, no one was hurt, no property damaged, and the women had left voluntarily when asked to do so.
The women claim their song was a political protest targeting Orthodox Patriarch Kirill who, in the midst of an election campaign, publicly described Putin as "a miracle of God," thus allegedly violating Russia's strictly secular constitution (Article 14).
 The lyrics of their song (English translation here) might well be seen as offensive on many levels, but do appear mainly directed at the moving political targets of Putin and Kirill.
Prosecutors, and in the end the court, saw things otherwise. They chose to view it as a conspiratorial "hate crime" motivated by anti-Christian loathing and directed at Russian Orthodox believers.
The verdict against the women reads in part: "The Pussy Riot singers colluded under unestablished circumstances, for the purpose of offensively violating public peace in a sign of flagrant disrespect for citizens.... The women were motivated by religious enmity and hatred, and acted provocatively and in an insulting manner inside a religious building in the presence of a large number of believers," it said.
According to court testimony, the church was almost empty at the time. But the Pussy Riot performance, filmed by a cameraperson, subsequently went viral on YouTube, and it was only after about two weeks – and, most experts believe, as a result of political intervention – that the women were rearrested and the stage was set for a controversy that shows every sign of enduring.

Based on that Monitor article, most Russians don't care.  But then most people in general don't care about protest movements.

The harsh sentences of the three women can be put in perspective by comparing the situation in Russia with that of the Occupy Wall Street movement.  What the role of feminism in all this might be is hard to say.  One of the Pussy Riot songs urged Virgin Mary to become a feminist and that could have angered the establishment boyz in the Orthodox Church.  But mostly this seems to be about squashing protests against the current Russian tzar, Vladimir Putin.


Added later, courtesy of stoat, the closing statements of the three sentenced members of the Pussy Riot.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Old Summer Pictures

From my files

A reminder that how we dress is not just an independent choice, totally uninfluenced by the culture we live in. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Today's Deep Thought

A re-thought, in fact, because I found it in my archives.  Someone else probably said it before but it's still a delicious one!  Here it goes:

There are two kinds of observers in this world:  Those who find the world and its phenomena complicated, many-layered and hard to decipher and those who work in false dualisms. 

From The Memory Hole: John Tierney, The Meninist

I'm still going through my old archives.  Remember John Tierney?  For a while he was a conservative political opinion columnist at the New York Times.  In November 2006 he returned to writing about science in the same place.

Which is a truly frightening thought.

I only read Tierney during the year of 2006*, and this is what he wrote about women during those few months:

In January 2006:

Judge Samuel Alito is a reactionary - at least according to feminists horrified by his notion that a woman can be required to notify her husband before an abortion. But Alito's critics in the Senate face two big obstacles this week if they try to make that label stick.

The first is public opinion. Most Americans tell pollsters that they think a husband should be notified before an abortion, and the Pennsylvania law that Alito approved was hardly a draconian version of that principle. It merely required a woman to say, without presenting any proof, that she'd told her husband. If she said she feared physical abuse, she was exempted.

The second obstacle is the logic of feminism. Spousal notification has been denounced as retrograde by the same advocates who have been demanding gender equality in the workplace and at home. If men are expected to be parents with equal responsibilities, shouldn't they at least be allowed to discuss whether to have a child?

This is an easy question for those on the pro-life side of the abortion debate. They'd like men to be not only notified of pregnancies, but also given veto power over abortions.

Being pro-choice, I don't agree with that position, but I admire the logic. It's a gender-neutral policy: if either parent thinks it's wrong to end the pregnancy, then the pregnancy must proceed.

In February 2006:

Yes, husbands may usually make more money on the work front, but wives still typically make the important decisions on the home front, like where the children go to school or how to spend the family's money. Wives also (and Haltzman presents supporting data here on the gender gap in libido) tend to make the decision on whether to have sex.

And more in February 2006:

Freud confessed that his "thirty years of research into the feminine soul" left him unable to answer one great question: "What does a woman want?" Modern feminists have been arguing for decades over a variation of it: What should a woman want?

This week two sociologists from the University of Virginia are publishing the answer to a more manageable variation. Drawing on one of the most thorough surveys ever done of married couples, they've crunched the numbers and asked: What makes a woman happy with her marriage?

But it turns out that an equal division of labor didn't make husbands more affectionate or wives more fulfilled. The wives working outside the home reported less satisfaction with their husbands and their marriages than did the stay-at-home wives. And among those with outside jobs, the happiest wives, regardless of the family's overall income, were the ones whose husbands brought in at least two-thirds of the money.

In March 2006:

Some opponents of polygamy call it the exploitation of women by rich men, and that's true if the wives are coerced into the marriages. But many wives have willingly chosen it, like the three women on "Big Love," who have married a successful businessman.

These three wives, who live in adjacent houses, sound much like the women in polygamous marriages I've talked to in rural Africa. The African wives told me they had mixed feelings about the arrangement — and their fellow wives — but over all, they figured it was better to share one prosperous husband than to marry someone else without land, cows or a job.

That's the way social scientists figure it, too. Polygamy isn't the cause of women's low status in traditional societies, but rather a consequence of their trying to move up. The biggest losers from polygamy are the poorer men who end up with no wives. Women benefit because polygamy increases their number of marriage prospects — and in traditional societies, marriage is often the only way for a woman to improve her status.

And in July 2006:

When Title IX was enacted in 1972, women were a minority on college campuses, and it sounded reasonable to fight any discrimination against them. But now men are the underachieving minority on campus, as a series by The Times has been documenting. So why is it so important to cling to the myth behind Title IX: that women need sports as much as men do?

Yes, some women are dedicated athletes, and they should be encouraged with every opportunity. But a lot of others have better things to do, like study or work on other extracurricular activities that will be more useful to their careers. For decades, athletic directors have been creating women's sports teams and dangling scholarships and hoping to match the men's numbers, but they've learned that not even the Department of Education can eradicate gender differences.

At the University of Maryland, the women's lacrosse team won national championships year after year but still had a hard time getting 40 players to turn out for the team. The men's team had no such trouble, because guys were more than willing to warm the bench even if they weren't getting a scholarship, but the coach had to cut the extra ones to maintain the gender balance. The school satisfied Title IX, but to no one's benefit.

On or off campus, men play more team sports and watch more team sports. Besides enjoying the testosterone rushes, they have a better chance of glory — and of impressing the opposite sex. Thirty-four years after Title IX, most women's games still attract sparse audiences. Both sexes would still rather watch men play games, especially football.

I haven't checked if Tierney wrote anything more on the proper gender roles during that year.  But the guy does seem a bit obsessed by that Woman Question.    Seeing his posts like this, one after the other, is pretty shocking.  I'm sure he has kept up the good work even after 2006.


*The first links go to my blog posts, the links in the body of the quoted material go to Tierney's NYT columns.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Normal Breasts Gallery

I came across this link again in my archives.  The site is well worth visiting, for a reality correction.  Our views of what female breasts are supposed to look like are probably even more affected by pron and television and movies than are our views of what women are supposed to look like, in general.

Paul Ryan

Time to write about the Republican VP pick, right?  When I first saw the news I kept thinking that this is someone I know very little about and must research.  Vacations seem to mean an empty head for me.

Because I have, indeed, written quite a bit about the granny-starving poster boy of the Tea Party!  For a few examples, go here, here, here, here, here, and here. 

What's to say about this VP pick in general?  It's not unexpected.  A real extreme fringe warrior, to soothe the hearts of wingnuts who worry about Romney's political values.  Ryan has all the right characteristics!  He wants to work in the government to destroy it, he wants lots of freedom for firms and the NRA and zero freedom for women and so on.  He's not sufficiently religious, given that his proper religion appears to be AynRandianism, though his religion is quite acceptable for movement conservatives.

And what a clever time to announce that pick!  Just when people were asking for Romney to release his tax records for more years which he refused to do!  Now we have all forgotten about the tax records and talk about the topic ordered for the day.  Funny how the conservatives still determine every day's political topics.

Ryan doesn't believe in reproductive rights for women, of course.  He believes for those rights for rapists and for the government and so on, but not for women.  

In short, he's exactly what we might have expected.  And with that pick the Republicans are also back to the old and tested pattern of Two White Guys for the top posts.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Man In A Dress

This is interesting:

An unusual angle to the question of why clothes must inform us about a person's gender.  My take on that is somewhat different but I'm still too jet-lagged to launch on a longer writing project.

A short summary of my ideas would begin with the question why it is so important for clothes to tell whether someone is a man or a woman, and the answer to that immediately dumps us into the jungle of different gender roles, different esteem and value and a different place in the societal hierarchies. 

That currently in the West boys and men are punished more than girls and women for wearing the traditional garb of the other sex  probably can be explained by two things:  Homophobia on the one hand and the lower value of all things female on the other hand.  A girl dressing in traditional boys' clothing (a tomboy) is aiming upwards, a boy dressing in traditional girls' clothing (a sissy)  is careening down a chasm.

The situation elsewhere is more complicated and that's where the longer post would be necessary.  But I think most of the dress rules in the West have been relaxed and that makes some people's discomfort of men wearing dresses etcetera stand out more.

Then, of course, various religious men have always worn dresses and nobody has complained... 

Digging in My Archives

I'm going through my old blog posts for a project I have in mind.  So far I've finished with the long-past year of 2006!

The toil has several unexpected side-effects.  For instance, I cried when re-reading my posts after my dog Hank died.   Those who leave holes in our hearts are always missed.

I also think I wrote better all those years ago.  Less condensed and more cheerful and less focused on Evil Questions.  So I'm trying to re-inject some of that into my posts now.  On the other hand, I'm older and wiser and have more scars than I did then.  Once burned, twice shy on certain topics and on blog wars and the like.  That's both good and bad, depending on the point of view but I kinda miss the early innocence and bubbliness.

A very interesting side-effect of this search will soon become evident!  I'm gathering some auxiliary material on a few NYT writers' opinions on women throughout the years.  The persistence of those opinions is something that I, at least, tend to forget over time.  Then I wonder why I detest some particular writer (coughDavidBrookscough) so very much!  My lovely archives show the strong foundations for that feeling!

I also noticed how very much time and effort I put on writing about people and events which are now completely irrelevant.  Politics has many ephemeral chunks.  Yet the articles on women, say,  seem still relevant to me.  That may support my decision to focus more on general theories and ideas than on the specific problems of a particular time and place, though I might be the only person moving my archive stacks of ideas.  Never mind.

Memory is a funny thing.  I read through long posts which clearly showed evidence of much research and thinking and had no recollection ever having written them, even though they clearly were mine and not by a guest blogger.  Yet some other posts I remember as clearly as what I had for breakfast this morning (nothing).

Is there any general point in this post?  Probably not, except that I'm beginning to appreciate those who keep a diary.  An external memory to stop that Memory Hole from sucking out so much of our past.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Academic Arguments

Given this recent (and very angry) post by Paul Krugman on three economists: Glenn Hubbard, Greg Mankiw, and John Taylor , I thought an old post of mine is worth linking to.

It demonstrates how a graph can be manipulated to give different messages.  The graph was used by Greg Mankiw in a blog post.

As an aside, the term "academic arguments' is pretty fascinating if I say so myself.  Because the word "academic" means both "unimportant or theoretical" and "pertaining to things in the academia."  It's the latter meaning here which applies.

Postcards from Finland

These are my vacation videos!  Aren't you glad that I offer them to you.  Sit down, over there and pay attention, now.

Just kidding.  This will be relatively painless and quick.  First, the sky there is a deeper color blue than here.  I don't know the reason, but I spent delicious hours on a balcony watching the white fluffy lamb clouds sail across the bright blue eternity.  While sipping nectar and reading useless and trashy books.

Second, the silence.  This is both because of a sparsely populated country but also because Finns mumble.

Third, the food!  How would you like a helping of nettle waffles with cauliflower puree and odd sauces?  Followed by chocolate mousse, liquorice soup and blackcurrant leaf ice-cream?  With one glass of champagne that will set you back only fifty Euros!

To be fair, that was the one fancy meal I had but all the locally grown food (my family's vegetable beds etc) was delicious.

An expensive country, most argue, and it can be, for tourists.  But Finns get stuff for their taxes, including such trifles as higher education and universal health care, so any proper comparison of taxes between the US and Finland should consider the education and health care costs here.   Tourists should note that the sandwiches and even full meals at gas stations and highway stops are quite decent and that the coffee is excellent (unless you prefer a pale beige liquid as coffee).  If you go, contact me for more tips.

I didn't see any government enforced camps or any of the supposed horrible effects of socialism though I looked hard.  They even have Clear Channel!  Perhaps not quite an unalloyed joy, that.

On issues that are of interest for feminists:  Mostly I was pleased with what I saw, in terms of increasing gender equality.  Young fathers were out with their children a lot more than where I live in the US,  and construction and road repair crews had more women than here.  The women weren't just holding up those warning flags, either, and seemed well-integrated and accepted.  The numbers of women were still much lower than those of men but greater than my observations suggest they are here.

On the not-so-pleased side of the ledger,  I saw several Muslim Somali couples  (Somalis are the main refugee group living in Finland) where the woman was completely shrouded, often including a face veil and gloves, while the man walking with her was dressed in hip-hop type street clothing.  Religious rules about modesty appear to have different bases for application by gender.  --  That's intended as a criticism of religion and not of the individuals involved.

The most central impression of my vacation was naturally the light.  The light!  The almost never-ending light!  The evenings, in particular, were mythical in their charm.  And after rain the frogs/toads were everywhere on the wet asphalt, for whatever frog/toad reason they might have had.  I had to shuffle my feet not to squash them, but they were still a welcome sight, given the recent worries about what environmental pollution might be doing to our froggie friends.

Today's Silly Thought

I saw a t-shirt somewhere with "#1 Wife" on the front.  Immediately imagined the t-shirts for #2, #3 and so on wives....

Sunday, August 12, 2012

A Guest Post by Anna: A Feminist Literary Canon, Part Five: 1966-1969

(Echidne's note:  Part Four is here.  It links to earlier parts.)

Gloria Steinem (born 1934) is an feminist, journalist, and political activist, and is widely known as a spokesperson for feminism.  In 1969 she published the article, "After Black Power, Women's Liberation" which, along with her early support of abortion rights, brought her to national fame as a feminist leader. This article describes early feminist actions (such as demonstrations in favor of coed dorms and against bridal fairs) and how sexism in left wing movements led to second-wave feminism ass a separate and distinct movement, and sparked women thinking of themselves as a minority group, just as African-Americans are. The article concludes, however, with the assurance that "women's liberation will be men's liberation too", perhaps an acknowledgement that if feminism could not be made appealing to the men in charge it would not advance.

"After Black Power, Women's Liberation" can be read in its entirety here.

Naomi Weisstein (born 1939) is a psychology professor, and a cofounder of American Women in Psychology,  now Division 35 of the American Psychological Association.

She is probably best known for her pioneering essay, "Kinder, Küche, Kirche as Scientific Law: Psychology Constructs the Female," which was first published in 1968, and was read by activists throughout the feminist movement, as well as psychologists.
The title is taken from the German slogan Kinder, Küche, Kürche (meaning children, kitchen, church), describing what the Nazis believed was the proper domain of a woman. The paper, which has been reprinted over 42 times in six different languages, is a seminal paper in feminist psychology, criticizing psychologists for promoting stereotypes about women, and buttressing its conclusions with unproven theories and inapplicable biological research (shades of evolutionary psychology.) " It further criticizes psychology in general for not taking into account how much social context affects a person's feelings and actions.

 "Kinder, Küche, Kirche as Scientific Law: Psychology Constructs the Female" can be read in its entirety here.

Frances M. Beal (born 1940) is a political activist. She is perhaps best known for writing  "Double Jeopardy: To Be Black & Female," first published in 1969. This paper criticizes the oppression of all black people by racism, but also criticizes the oppression of black women by sexism, even within the the civil rights movement, which often tried to build black men up by putting women down.

Beal declared that this was a "counter-revolutionary position" and that blacks should be fighting for the end of all kinds of oppression, an endeavor which she notes will require everyone's help, women as well as men. She also blames capitalist exploitation for keeping black men in menial jobs and encouraging black women to strive for the life of a full-time housewife. She ends by declaring that revolutionaries against racism and capitalism must treat each other as equals, and that all are needed in the struggle.

 "Double Jeopardy: To Be Black & Female" can be read in its entirety here.

The National Organization for Women (founded 1966) adopted the "National Organization for Women (N.O.W.) Bill of Rights" at its national conference in 1967, and published it in 1968.

It is a sweeping document that shows how ambitious the feminist movement had become, and advocates for many things (such as removing all laws limiting access to contraceptive information and devices and laws governing abortion, and establishing national child care facilities) that still have not become law. An extended analysis of the "National Organization for Women (N.O.W.) Bill of Rights", also written by me, can be read here.

The "National Organization for Women (N.O.W.) Bill of Rights" can be read in its entirety here.