Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Righteous Fury

I have been experiencing some serious post-election fatigue, and I know I am not alone on this! The 2012 presidential election was bruising and full of oppressive suggestions. I felt I had to vote for Obama to fight the fascists. But his victory is terribly, resoundingly hollow when he immediately turns around and defends his right to kill any American citizen, anywhere, for any reason, without the facade of judicial review. I now have a better understanding of why anarchists historically oppose elections as an avenue for change. They sap the organizing energy of the people and fool us into complacency.

As a result of this slump, I have been less outraged than usual over the random legislative assaults on liberty. Yes, the Kansas legislature is leading particularly vicious and harmful attacks on women and workers. Yes, my relatively secure and middle-class job as a teacher is being transformed into a fragile, low-wage job. Yes, getting pregnant in this state is now dangerous because of the restrictions on women's health care. But if Wisconsin showed us anything, unfortunately, it was that even massive and well-supported protest can do nothing against an elitist and misogynistic legislature and governor.

In the past, I have argued that a centralized state can successfully enforce some superficial anti-discrimination against oppressed groups. But today, the Supreme Court is listening to arguments on the Voting Rights bill, and they seem inclined to declare it outdated and unnecessary. This is doubly insulting after a campaign season where overt racism and attempts to keep people of color from voting cropped up continually. Thus the state proceeds in gutting even its few possible positive effects on the world. What the state gives it can take away. Cursed be the name of the state.

Still, I can't do anything about these events, so there's no point in arousing my usual fury on them. But Seth McFarlane's Oscar performance of "We Saw Your Boobs" made me furious with blood boiling, headache inducing, manic shouting, fury. Jezebel has already published a great article about sexism fatigue, and Salon demonstrated that many of the scenes described portrayed rapes and other brutality against women. And certainly, there is a grain of truth in that Hollywood makes few movies from a woman's perspective. Most of the movies described probably did feature nudity because studio execs figured that female nudity = more male viewers. Men probably do frequently see only sexual objects on screen, because they are looking for it. But that does not make this okay, or even funny.

This song is a tool of oppression. It reminded all the women in the audience that even immense success, in a capitalist and celebrity obsessed world, cannot protect women from sexual objectification and humiliation. Many of the women named (Meryl Streep, Kate Winslet, Halle Berry, others) have done a lot to encourage empathy and spotlight oppression; certainly, all the women named have done more noble work than McFarlane--as anything is better than no or negative efforts. But he is a man, so he should be able to remind them that in scenes of emotion and hardship, men only see breasts. That when women portray complex characters, they are really only portraying a sexual stimulant. That no matter what, a women whose breasts have ever appeared anywhere deserves mocking and shaming.

These are the insults and put downs that keep us depressed, on the defensive, always remembering that we are not equal to men, and fearful that we never will be (or that god forbid we transcend gender and interact with other human beings on basis of other characteristics than their functional reproductive parts). Even riches and fame are no defense against casual abuse. There is not an electoral solution to crap like this.

We must relentlessly organize against sexism. In a more just world, McFarlane would never work again, never date again, never wake up without a rush of shame. In a truly just world, that song would never have happened because no one would ever visualize humiliating female-bodied humans because of their complex artistic works; no one would turn a portrayal of injustice into an opportunity to get aroused. Unfortunately, McFarlane probably will work and date again, but we must not accept this as just more awkward humor. Take arms against a sea of sexism, and by organizing, education, and stomping out, end it!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Today in Public Libraries Rock

Not too far from where I live, there is a particularly hateful group of people who preach a vicious, life-denying Christianity. You may know them as the Westboro Baptist Church, most often seen at funeral protests. They also protest area rock concerts and recently made an appearance at the church I attend. They are an embarrassment to the state of Kansas (not that we need another).

But two of their members recently escaped, due in part to the influence of the Lawrence Public Library! Megan Phelps-Roper spoke about leaving the church and shared how a visit to our library helped open up her eyes to the breadth of human thought and experience. Congratulations to Megan on leaving, and I hope she can find peace in a new life.

On reading this, I remembered with fondness the library in my hometown. Some wonderful librarian in my town purchased the community subscription to Ms. Magazine and the Utne Reader. After my introduction to feminism, these were the only pro-woman texts I saw for two years until my own escape to college. During near-daily trips to the library I would check for the new issues incessantly, and secretly, lest anyone see me reading them. I found my first Douglas Coupland books there, and my first Simon and Garfunkel album; they loaned me all of Madeline L'Engle's books, a great deal of science fiction, Holocaust memoirs, The Bell Jar, literary biographies--most of my literary loves came from that one big room filled with books.

The people running that library were hardly leftist or even liberal; they most likely did not agree with the sentiments of those publications. But they had a commitment to open access and knowledge that I respect deeply, and that commitment was rare in small-town Iowa. So the arson that destroyed my hometown library was particularly traumatic. Some local ruffians threw firecrackers in the book-return box and gutted the structure, taking most of the collection in the fire. These young people were caught and punished as little as possible, due to family connections and most probably the low regard those in power felt towards the library.

Later, the library was rebuilt, bigger and more beautiful than before. I never felt the same about the new structure, though; it lacked the central fireplace and cozy surreptitiousness of the former building. The old stacks allowed me to disappear into books; the new were too open, too revealing, too few places for young feminists to hide.

Anyway, if there is one thing that is truly great about America, it is our libraries. I am sure that there is inequality in them, also, in where they are and in how fines accrue and in which writers and artists are represented in the collections. Nonetheless, they are the most promising institution we have, a source of hope for a free and educated future. The public libraries helped me escape; they have given some of my students access to a larger vision; and they helped Megan Phelps-Roper see a new light. Congratulations to all who leave lives directed by hate for lives directed by love and reading. May love and reading bless all of you this year!