Friday, April 27, 2012

Politics, Politics, Politics

I can't believe we still need this image.
Dia ar sábháil! Since my article a few weeks back about vaginal protests and politicians attempting to legislate idiocy, very few things have changed. We have some victories- such as the narrow defeat of Arizona's "show me your prescription" bill- but we also have continued pressure from numerous lawmakers to curtail the rights and personhood of (cis) women across the United States. Foetal personhood amendments, parental consent laws, and name-calling continue to shape the country's political landscape. I recently gave up frothing at the mouth in favour of banging my head against the wall as a result.

Here's the thing. I grew up surrounded by rhetoric that claimed that America is the greatest country in the world. We have the most freedoms. We have the best history. We have the biggest trucks, too, in case anyone was measuring. Even as a small child I was pretty skeptical of this rhetoric, mostly because my family didn't own a truck and was the product of fairly recent immigrants with their own cool histories. I was, however, raised with a healthy respect for the fact that the United States has the capacity to evolve and change as circumstances require. It's certainly not a speedy or easy process- there was a solid 100 years between the end of the Civil War and the (legal) end of Jim Crow, for example- but it's a process that's certainly possible. In other words, in spite of overwhelming evidence that my home country is a slow-moving behemoth when it comes to social change, I was taught to remain optimistic.

What I forgot to remember is that social change isn't unidirectional, and all the equalities Americans have fought to achieve can be stripped away by an equally determined regressive force. Many of the recent attacks on women's rights have been from the anti-abortion camp, but that's just one piece of a broader movement that apparently seeks to keep women down. Senator Scott Brown, attempting to pander to Massachusetts women recently, praised the "strong women" in his life for teaching him to cook. Apparently, while men knowing how to cook, clean, and sew is a good thing, it takes a strong woman to ensure that that knowledge is adequately imparted. Never mind the terrifying thought that a man might live on his own at some point, or be raised by dad(s), or that women- people- are strong for things beyond throwing a couple of ingredients into a pot. Never mind that his remarks indicate that a woman's strength is in the kitchen.

::insert sound of head hitting wall here::

What drives me crazy is that this is all happening in spite of the aforementioned self-aggrandizing rhetoric. Anyone with a pulse who spends time outside the United States ought to be able to admit that America is a pretty good country but that other countries and cultures have amazing things going on too. Many of us, myself included, might even look at those other countries and sigh wistfully, believing that they could improve a few things about our social systems (coughcough only two parties?! coughcough). But many of us fall prey to the belief that we can- and should- teach Others how to do things. "We might not be perfect on health care," we say, "but at least we're not cutting our children's labia and clitori off! Let's teach Them alternatives!" Off we march to Do Good In the World, forgetting all about our home troubles in the process. I challenge back: "We might not be perfect on genital care, but at least we don't punish the victim of a crime for the rest of their life!" (This is a work in progress as various countries change their post-rape marital and childbirth laws, but you get the picture.)

Note that I'm not trying to make light of genital cutting, which I believe is a pretty serious health risk and a systemic failure to provide alternative cultural and medical options for a specific 50% of the population. I would suggest that there's some hypocrisy, however, when Americans (and other Westerners too, I suppose) decry Female Genital Cutting but circumcise male babies as a matter of course. Believe me, I know that the amounts of flesh removed aren't comparable- but we're still okay with cutting an infant's genitals when the evidence in favour of the practice is rather controversial. To make a long story short, Americans spend an awful lot of time criticizing other countries and cultures for their practices while we've got our own cultural challenges to face.

The term "War on Women" that's been floating around the Internet has me a bit kerfluffled, to be honest. On the one hand, while the coordinated attacks on women's health, well-being, and personhood are certainly reminiscent of a political-military strategy, it also feels like a minimization of the sorts of war experiences that Americans haven't had in the homeland for about 100 years. No one's firing guns (I think) and town after town isn't falling to a literal invasion of policymakers. Yet the rhetoric we're seeing here vilifies women on a regular basis: we're studding bulldogs, we're baby-killers, we're drama queens who (according to Brown, anyway) should save our strength for the kitchen. It's just rhetoric, right? But that's where it begins. Discourse and belief feed each other like crazy, and before you know it, the way we talk about women is the way we perceive women. We might not be involved in a literal war quite yet, but this is a great way to lay the groundwork for one.

Let's nip it in the bud. On Saturday the 28th, all 50 states in America will be hosting marches and rallies to protest the nasty-talk. Check out Unite Women for details specific to your state if you're in the U.S., and if you're reading from elsewhere, please send us your support in one way or another. Goodness knows we can't trust our internal politicians to treat us like humans.

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