What Is Traditional?

A few weeks ago, I was putzing about on the internet when I came across an article that upended my mental image of Saudis. I suppose I had never given it much thought, but my image of Saudi Arabia includes men in long white gowns and women in flowing black abayas. It never occurred to me to wonder about the origin of these clothes or whether or not Saudis had always dressed in this fashion. Then I read,

Until the seventies, women here were free to wear almost whatever they wanted. Bedouin women wore bright clothes and burqas, the parting of their hair and their kohl-lined eyes left exposed. The women of the city donned their abayas, the fabric drawn in around their waists. The Arab women wore their colored hejabs, and the non-Muslim women dressed modestly and without a veil.

The women in my father’s village, Tarfa, to the north-west of Mecca, wore bright clothes with pink and white scarves wrapped around their heads and necks. Like the Bedouins, they left their faces and the parting of their hair exposed.

This description, written by Manal al Sharif, a women’s rights activist in Saudi Arabia, led me to some more poking around online, and I highly recommend that you take a look at The Museum of Saudi Arabian Costume Online by the Mansoojat Foundation. It shows some of the varied, and often colorful, clothes al Sharif described.

Al Sharif continues:

This all changed when the state-supported wave of religious fanaticism struck our society. The black abaya and facial covering was imposed on all female government employees, and on schools and universities. And the black hejab was imposed on all non-Saudi women, regardless of their religion or creed.

I had some vague sense that Muslim women were not so heavily veiled when I was a child, but the Muslim population here in the United States was so small at that time, I really couldn’t be sure how representative the handful of people I had met might be. However, the sense that this is a phenomenon that has occurred within my lifetime has received confirmation from people who are more familiar with the subject.

I don’t have the book on hand, so I must report from memory, but in Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s memoir, Infidel, she describes the colorful clothes Somali women wore in her early childhood. Older photographs of Somalia indeed include many images of women whose arms and necks are frequently uncovered. Islam arrived in Somalia in the seventh century and over ninety-nine percent of the country is Muslim, so it can be presumed that these bare armed, and sometimes bare headed, women from the past considered themselves Muslims.

Orhan Pamuk’s novel Snow takes place in Turkey, a country which is officially secular and whose population is mostly Muslim. In the novel, the main character has returned to Turkey to write about a spate of suicides by young women who choose to wear headscarves, which were, until recently, banned in Turkish schools. Obviously from the description of the plot, some women wear headscarves and some don’t. Although the women wearing the headscarves seem to be more religious, beyond simply being devout, they support a political version of Islam. In reality, outside of the novel, conflicts between the officially secular government of Turkey and religiously conservative women who choose to wear headscarves has been increasing since the seventies.

In a description of yet another group of Muslims and their manner of dress in the past, Kenan Malik, in Multiculturalism and Its Discontents, describes how his parents’ generation, first generation Muslim immigrants living in the UK, most of whom came from the Indian subcontinent, “were pious in their faith, but wore it lightly.” “No woman wore a hijab, let alone a niqab or a burqa.” His own generation, he describes as being secular.

So, it seems to me, that the association between the hijab, the scarf that covers the neck and ears and reveals nothing but the face, is not quite as “traditional” as those of us who are not Muslims are liable to see it and that the increase in its visibility is related to the rise Islamic fundamentalism that began in the seventies known as the Islamic Revival or Islamic Awakening and is associated with the political movmement Islamism and parallel social movements known as Islamization or re-Islamization.
It is ironic that the headscarf has become a symbol of Islam for many people because there is a good indication that it arose, not from Islam or Arabic cultures, but from Jewish and Christian cultures. According to Wikipedia:

Veiling, however, did not originate with the advent of Islam. Statuettes depicting veiled priestesses precede all three Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam), dating back as far as 2500 BCE. Some scholars postulate that the customs of veiling and seclusion of women in early Islam were assimilated from the conquered Persian and Byzantine societies and then later on they were viewed as appropriate expressions of Quranic norms and values. Elite women in ancient Mesopotamia and in the Byzantine, Greek, and Persian empires wore the veil as a sign of respectability and high status…. Veiling was thus a marker of rank and exclusive lifestyle, subtly illustrating upper-class women’s privilege over women in lower classes in the Assyrian community. …

Strict seclusion and the veiling of matrons were in place in Roman and Byzantine society as well. Between 550 and 323 B.C.E, prior to Christianity, respectable women in classical Greek society were expected to seclude themselves and wear clothing that concealed them from the eyes of strange men…. Like in Assyrian law, respectable women were expected to veil and low-class women were forbidden from partaking in the practice. By the 5th and 6th centuries, societies of the Mediterranean Middle East were dominated by Christian and some Jewish populations. At the inception of Christianity, Jewish women were veiling the head and face. …. The Christian church’s attitude towards sex as shameful was focused most intensely on the shamefulness of the female body, which had to be totally concealed. As the prominent scholar, Leila Ahmed states, “Whatever the cultural source or sources, a fierce misogyny was a distinct ingredient of Mediterranean and eventually Christian thought in the centuries immediately preceding the rise of Islam.”

…Veiling gradually spread to upper-class Arab women, and eventually it became widespread among Muslim women in cities throughout the Middle East. It gradually spread among urban populations, becoming more pervasive under Ottoman rule as a mark of rank and exclusive lifestyle. Women in rural areas were much slower to adopt veiling because the garments interfered with their work in the fields.

As someone from the United States, and whose knowledge of history reflects that, it is sorely tempting to make generalizations to try to make sense of this diverse array of cultures and traditions without having to read several history books on each of the many countries with significant Muslim populations. While there are some recurring themes, there are also significant differences which should not be overlooked. Whereas young women in Turkey have been fighting, successfully, to wear a headscarf while at school or in public employment, and many Muslim women in countries where Muslims are not a majority emphasize that no one forces them to wear it, Norhayati Kaprawi, a filmmaker from Malaysia, made a documentary on the subject. In Malaysia, the headscarf is called a “tudung.”

The pressure to wear one is a dominant theme: “I think this conformity is the most dominating factor on why women in Malaysia wear a tudung,” Shamsul Amri Bahruddin, director of the Institute of Ethnic Studies at the National University of Malaysia, tells Ms. Norhhayati, adding that those who don’t can expect to hear from the lady next door every day, saying “you will go to hell or your hair will be burnt in hell.” Often, he adds, the women don’t understand the Quranic verses surrounding the reason for the hijab.

Indeed, at times it seems wearing it has little to do with religion. Nik Aziz Nik Hassan, former head of the Dakwa (missionary) department at National University of Malaysia, tells Ms. Norhayati, “In the late 1960s, Nik Mohamad Salleh, the son of a Kelantanese mufti (Islamic scholar)… was really against the imposition of tudung on Malay women. However he was not against the wearing of tudung. It is up to women’s own taste and style…. He opposed the claim that women who do not wear tudung are not faithful Muslims and are un-Islamic.”

It is so tempting to try to ease our way out of this large mound of facts by imposing on reality a meta-narrative we already know, East vs. West, Men vs. Women, or which ever one makes us the most comfortable, the end of the Cold War, the dissolution of the European Empires, class conflict, religion vs. modernity, and so on. All of those elements are in there, but to become too reliant on any one narrative requires ignoring inconvenient facts.

This was the train of thought I followed when I read about the hashtag illridewithyou. In a post that was critical of hashtag activism, Michael Luciano wrote:

The origin of the hashtag campaign — #illridewithyou — was born of a humblebrag on social media in which “Sydney resident Rachael Jacobs wrote on Facebook that she had seen a woman on the train remove her headscarf and offered to walk with her.” Subsequently, users of the hashtag “offered to travel on public transit with those in Islamic dress who felt insecure.”

Rachel Jacobs told the story herself in The Brisbane Times.

She was on a train in Brisbane looking at her phone to find out information about the hostage situation which was happening in Sydney.

At this point I saw a woman on the train start to fiddle with her headscarf.

Confession time. In my Facebook status, I editorialised.

We’ll skip for the time being that Jacobs doesn’t understand the meaning of the word editorialise.

What she wrote on her Facebook page was:

….and the (presumably) Muslim woman sitting next to me on the train silently removes her hijab (ellipsis hers)

As she makes it clear in her newspaper story, she heightened the effect the interaction in her Facebook update. That the woman was sitting at the other end of the carriage rather than next to her doesn’t change the interaction significantly.

By sheer fluke, we got off at the same station, and some part of me decided saying something would be a good thing. Rather than quiz her about her choice of clothing, I thought if I simply offered to walk her to her destination, it might help.

It’s hard to describe the moment when humans, and complete strangers, have a conversation with no words. I wanted to tell her I was sorry for so many things – for overstepping the mark, for making assumptions about a complete stranger and for belonging to a culture where racism was part of her everyday experience.
But none of those words came out, and our near silent encounter was over in a moment.

Her second Facebook status reported that the woman hugged her for about a minute. If that was her response, then it would seem that her assumptions were probably correct. I confess that I don’t understand how a person can be aware that they are making assumptions, be aware that those assumptions can be wrong and still have the confidence to run after that person shouting at her what she should do. She’s very fortunate she did not make the woman feel mortified.

Strangely, this story put me in mind of a friend of mine who was a theist, not Muslim, but Christian, an Episcopalian of the ecumenical sort. Once upon a time he believed in God but thought that many forms of worship were equally valid. He had the misfortune to witness the collapse of the World Trade Center towers first hand. He felt that if that was what worshiping God could make a person do, he didn’t want to belong to that group of people. During the course of the following year, he would become a flat-out atheist, but it started with feeling uncomfortable being a theist.

Who knows, maybe sitting on the train she had a crisis of faith.

In any case, the story led me to all sorts of thoughts about the assumptions we make.

Manal al Sharif, who wrote the article about the clothes of Saudi women, says that the state supported religious fanaticism “was exported out of Saudi Arabia by the power of the petrodollar. I remember the days of the Bosnian war (1992—1995), when Saudi Arabia sent convoys of aid to those besieged in Sarajevo. The people in charge of the convoys distributed the hejab to the besieged women along with the cartons of food.”

What We Could Try Instead of Sunday Assemblies

Well, I just had a thought and I’d like to run it by everyone. This isn’t a well-developed idea, just something that was running through my mind as I was making that second cup of coffee.

Now, if anyone is actually happy with the Sunday Assemblies and similar concepts, keep on going to them. I know I’ve mocked them, but at some level I just have to admit they are simply not to my taste. Enough people have made similar gripes, so I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. It occurred to me that maybe we should take a page out of the practices of a different religious group.

Christian Scientists make skeptics more than a bit irate due to their position on medicine, and I’m sure that the fact that I’ve borrowed the idea from Christian Scientists will not thrill anyone. First, I would like to mention that I have a few close personal friends who are Christian Scientists and, except for their position on medicine, they’re not any crazier than any other believers. It might also be worth adding here that they don’t actually believe in faith healing. Christian Science was related to the Transcendental Movement. For those of you who are not from the U.S., Transcendentalism was a religious movement that arose in the United States in the nineteenth century. You can see its very American nature in its emphasis on individualism and self-reliance. Originally it grew out of Unitarianism and incorporated elements of Idealism, Romanticism, Swedenborgianism and Hinduism. A variety of American religious and philosophical movements grew out of Transcendentalism.

The aspect of Christian Science that I think could be very useful for atheists, agnostics, skeptics and related groups is the Christian Science Reading Room. If you live in the U.S., you’ve almost certainly walked by one. It is seen as a public service and is both a library and a bookstore.

They were created to provide both a quiet place for reading, study and prayer and a means for the public to come into contact with Christian Science.

I think this idea would be especially amenable for atheism. Were it ever created, I would hope that we could follow our own principles about “free-thought” and not be too terribly narrow in what we included.

Any thoughts on this?

Well, It Works

I’ve got a big day ahead, so I’m just going to write a quick post to announce that my little media box seems to be working. Yesterday, I was up to my eyeballs in computer parts. I woke up this morning to realize that I’m now up to my eyeballs in empty boxes. Sissy and Mum are coming tonight and taking me out to a play for my birthday this weekend, so I’ve got to wrangle the boxes and get them to the garbage/recycling, give the apartment a quick, lazy-ass cleaning, do a grocery store run for coffee and maybe a nice Chablis for Sis (No promises!) and then clean myself up so I can greet them looking as relaxed and cool as Ginger Rodgers in high heels going backwards.

The good news, is that the hardware of my HTPC appears to be working. I’ve installed XMBCbuntu, which is the Kodi media playing software, which was formerly called XMBC, which comes already set up on the Lubuntu operating system, which is a lightweight version of Ubuntu, which is an easy to use distribution of Linux, which is an open source operating system. Got it? Actually, it’s pretty easy to get since it’s free. Link: Kodi.

After the weekend is over, I’ll explain in more detail what I did in case it’s helpful for anyone else.

Bookshelves

My new apartment in New York is about half the size of the last apartment. If you know anything about New York City, especially Manhattan, space is always at a premium unless you’re a multimillionaire. Nothing is as unrealistic in movies as the size of an apartment in New York. Besides the fact that everything is more glamorous in the movies, it’s probably next to impossible to actually shoot any footage in a typical New York apartment. We’d have movies where we saw nothing but the actor’s nose for two hours!

My current apartment is smaller than my last New York apartment as well. In fact, it’s probably smaller than anyplace I’ve lived since I had that basement apartment when I was nineteen. Don’t get me wrong. I like the apartment, and there are a few fortunate things, like an elevator in the building – and a bagel shop that opens at six in the morning on both Saturday and Sunday. Still, I’m doing my best to make efficient use of space. To that end, I’ve designed a bookshelf to fit inside a closet in the living room. The closet has sliding doors and I intend to take the doors off and stash them on either side of the bookshelf.A bookshelf drawn using SketchUp.The shelf was designed using pipe fittings. It was partly inspired by a desk I saw on the Simplified Building website. Here’s another inspiring desk project. If my bookshelf project goes well, I might follow it up by making a custom desk for myself.

The second shelf, which has a relatively small height about it, was sized to hold an HTPC for which I plan on choosing the components today. One gripe I’ve had since the advent of MP3s is that I haven’t had a convenient way to listen to music. For older things, I’ve been using my old audio system, but it seems that the stereo receiver I bought when I had my first apartment at nineteen has finally decided to give up the ghost. I’ll use the HTPC mainly for playing music. If anyone has built one and has any suggestions or tips I’d love to hear them. I probably won’t sign up for a streaming service right away, but I’d at least like it to be a possibility. At this juncture in time, I don’t know where the technology for music is going to go.

I’ll let everyone know how this projects go. I hope to have the bookshelf and computer completed so I can play so music when my family comes over during the holidays.

What’s Wrong with This Picture?

Okay, I’m an adult woman, a serious, intellectual type person. I don’t want to admit that I play games. It’s even more embarrassing to admit that I’ve paid money to play games. You know, I’m supposed to be spending my money on having my vulva waxed, or something like that. You know, paying a hundred bucks to lie back with my legs spread and screaming while a stranger who doesn’t speak English rips several hundred hairs out by their roots at a go, and does that for about twenty minutes. All that so I will be qualified to allow some stinky guy in t-shirt with a day old beard come in my mouth while he looks at pictures at younger, prettier, thinner women.

Yes, I’m getting a little obsessed with getting laid again. I know, you’re all bracing yourselves. It’s okay. I’m not depressed. I just refuse to lie about it. I want to get laid. I don’t want to spend lots of money or time worrying about my appearance. I know some guys will say, then what do you expect? True enough, but then don’t give me any of that Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus crap about how men want sex and women don’t. Don’t give me any of that crap about how nice guys can’t get laid. If you’re willing to put your cock inside a hairy pussy and will be minimally polite about a woman’s appearance while doing it, you can get laid. If you want a twenty year old starlet to dance all around you while you do nothing to even get her aroused, yeah, you can’t get laid.

Anywhooo… I thought I might distract myself from my lousy sex life by playing a game.

I had some technical problems and the game wouldn’t launch, so I went online to look for a solution. Now, I never got past this screen, but it stopped this grumpy old bitch in her tracks.

ten cartoonish images of men.Maybe I’ll go amuse myself by masturbating.

 

The Ninth Year of the War on Pluralism

One interesting thing about writing down my memories slowly and online, is that I am confronted by the assumptions people make based on their own experiences and some of the assumptions I make based on mine. For instance, I didn’t realize how “white bread” many people assume the United States to be. Meanwhile, I assume it is a “nation of immigrants” and that, if I say that I grew up in an ordinary suburban town in New Jersey, everyone will assume that there was an ethnic and religious mix. To me, that is ordinary.

However, the towns around New York are occasionally associated with one group or another. This doesn’t negate what I said about pluralism. For instance, Bergenfield, New Jersey, is sometimes known as “Little Manila” due to the concentration of Filipinos. According to Wikipedia, about seventeen percent of the population is of Filipino descent. So, in this area, a concentration doesn’t mean any sort of exclusivity. The town where I lived when I was in grammar school and junior high school was known for having a concentration of Jews. This means that many of my childhood friends were Jewish, including my best friend, the first boy I kissed, and so on. It’s hard to describe without making it sound more interesting to me than it was. When you’re a child, you just accept things as a matter of course. This, to me, is just the way the world is. There are people of different backgrounds in it, and they’re your neighbors. So, when I was in seventh grade and the local synagogue was vandalized, it wasn’t just an attack on Jews, but an attack on my friends and an attack on our town. It drove home the point, in a profound, emotional way, that antisemitism exists and is real.

When you grow up in a pluralistic town, accommodating other people becomes second nature. My mother would get two sets of cards, one that said “Merry Christmas” and another that said “Happy Holidays.” Our school would have a “seasonal” music recital around mid-December. Typically, we’d have one obviously Christian song, one obviously Jewish song, and the rest would be songs about winter or “holidays.” Going easy on the obviously Christian iconography in public places like the school was not meant to accommodate atheists, but to be inclusive to Jews. This also helped relations among Protestants, Catholics, other Christian sects, as well as the small number of Buddhists and Taoists. I’m tempted to say that we had no Muslims or Hindus in our town, but part of the point of having a secular society that downplays religion in the public sphere is that I can’t even tell you for certain. Again, it’s hard to communicate how uninteresting this was to me. There was no sense of making an effort to do this. You had friends who were different religions and you wouldn’t want them to feel uncomfortable, just like you wouldn’t say rude things on other topics that might make them uncomfortable. I wouldn’t think it was even worth mentioning, except it seems that other people didn’t grow up this way.

When I first heard about Bill O’Reilly’s “War on Christmas,” I actually was shocked that someone on television would be promoting something so obviously antisemitic. You see, I didn’t hear this as an attack on “secularists,” and I still think it’s mainly antisemitic. Greedy merchants who want to take your money but won’t say “Merry Christmas,” what is that if it’s not a nasty stereotype of Jews?

Many atheists who come from Christian families still celebrate some version of Christmas. After all, my mother was a non-believer sending cards that said “Merry Christmas” to her friends. She wouldn’t send any of the deeply religious one with bible verses, but a Christmas tree, Santa Claus, even an angel were all fine with her. We put up a tree. We exchange presents. We used to eat a big ham until my sister and mother became vegetarians. (Yes, yes, Sis. I know. You’re not really a vegetarian; you just don’t eat meat.) We don’t have a problem with Christmas; it’s people from ethnic groups that were never Christian to begin with that have a problem with Christmas.

A while back, Hemant Mehta put up a post about a woman getting an anonymous note telling her that her Christmas display was tacky. Mehta wrote:

We don’t know if the letter-writer (and I’m assuming there really was a letter-writer here) was an atheist, but it looks that way.

However, the incident reminded me of something that happened to my sister. Shortly after she moved into her current home, one of her neighbors stopped by. Now, my sister is frequently taken for Jewish. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the New Jersey accent. Her neighbor said to her, “Whenever someone new moves in and they put up Christmas lights, we say, ‘There goes the neighborhood.'” Although it was unspoken, in the context it was obvious that she was referring to the Jewish character of the neighborhood and has mistaken my sister for Jewish.*

I guess I’m a goy who’s a bit too steeped in Jewish subculture, because when I read Mehta’s post, some things stuck out to me that Mehta seemed to miss. First of all, the tenor of the criticism, “cheap”, “tacky”, “bad taste,” said to me that there was a cultural aspect beyond religion to this. The other thing that leaped out at me was the location, Newton, Massachusetts. Upper West Side, Lower East Side, Williamsburg, Englewood, the aforementioned Bergenfield, Short Hills, Pikesville, Brookline, and, you guessed it, Newton, Massachusetts. According to Wikipedia:

Newton, along with neighboring Brookline, is known for its considerable Jewish and Asian populations. The Jewish population is estimated at roughly 28,000, about one-third of the total population.

We need to stop giving into the framing of the Christianists. We all know that there’s no “War on Christmas.” There’s a war on pluralism that was started by the Christianists. Let’s call it what it is.

This long rant was originally meant to be a short introduction to the following video. Since many of my internet friends acquaintances are non-believers, I thought you’d all get a kick out of this. If you like it, stop by the original post and give Michael Luciano some love. (Warning: The Daily Banter is now metered, so if you go to that page you won’t be able to look at anything else on that site until tomorrow.)

Another code for “Jewish”: Hollywood.

* I’m always a bit hesitant to repeat this incident. As I said before, I’m very aware of real antisemitism and I’d hate to write anything that feeds into it, even unintentionally. Therefore, I’d like to add that this incident, like that anonymous letter in Newton, is rare.

Vulnerabilities

The other day, while discussing sexual assault on college campuses, I wrote, “there exist people in the world who will watch for a vulnerability and attack when they see one.” The next day, I came across an article that drove home that point. It was about sexual assault and disabled people.

… women with disabilities are one of the most at-risk demographics in the world. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, a staggering 80 percent of disabled women are sexually assaulted, and the rates are even higher for women with cognitive disabilities.

Nor is it only women. According to The Arc, an organization which represents people with intellectual and developmental disabilities,

Researchers have found that men with disabilities are twice as likely to become a victim of sexual violence compared to men without disabilities.

We all, I think, know of the stereotype of the drunk woman at a party who is sexually assaulted. It is not just being drunk, however. It is anything that might make you more vulnerable than another potential target, being small, being disabled, even being too trusting.

For more on this subject, you can read “#yesallwomen Includes Women with disabilities.”

 

Advice to Young Women Applying to College

On news related internet sites, I keep reading about the subject of sexual assault and colleges. One subject keeps popping up, fraternities and how they foster certain attitudes about sex and women. “Stepford Sororities,” by Maya Richard Craven, talked about how the writer’s acquaintances changed after they joined sororities. More recently, UVA suspended fraternities after a gang rape was reported in Rolling Stone magazine. There seems to be a new story everyday. This situation is not new, however.

I’ve gotten to an age and I can now look back and I can say which decisions I made were right and which ones were wrong. One of the right decisions was that I chose to only look at schools where fraternities and sororities were not a major part of the social life. Most of the schools I considered had none. I wasn’t thinking about rape and sexual assault. I simply found the entire atmosphere associated with fraternities to be not to my taste. I had been bullied a little bit in middle school, before I was able to turn the situation around and managed to actually become popular. One thing this incident had taught me about myself is that I am an iconoclast. Conforming to larger social groups is not the route to a happy life for me. I do best when I go my own way and do what I want to do, when I function from the assumption that my friendship has value. This was my route out of a bad school situation. You dress however you want. You do whatever past times you like. Listen to the music you prefer. Maintain your own opinions on books and movies. Most importantly, associate with the friends you like most and date the boys you want without worrying whether or not other people approve.

It is inherent in the nature of fraternities that the individual is subsumed by the group. You become part of a mob, and the mentality that goes with it. I know some people will argue that their own fraternity was not like the ones that are raping women, and I’m sure that’s true. Still, the repression of individuality is an inevitable part of fraternities. Gang rapes are a symptom of a larger sickness, a sickness that asks its victims to abandon their conscience to that of the mob, to curry favor with the group, to behave in ways that will get group approval. Colleges should be nurturing the individual conscience and intellect, not encouraging mob behavior.

This doesn’t mean that going to a school that has no fraternities will mean that you will never be assaulted. As a small person who has been physically assaulted on multiple occasions, both sexual and not, there exist people in the world who will watch for a vulnerability and attack when they see one. However, it is far less likely to be done by a mob, and, even more importantly, if it does occur, you will not be subject to the social pressures of that very same mob.

If you’re getting accepted to the University of Virginia, in all likelihood you have choices. It’s a fine school and one I might have considered myself if they didn’t have fraternities and sororities. In the end, I went to a small liberal arts school. A lack of frats didn’t mean we had no wild parties. What we didn’t have was social exclusion. Twice a year we had weekend long parties. The cool kids, the poets, the theatre freaks, the coke sluts, the dykes, the queers, the science nerds, those people who hung out in the basement and played D and D, we all got drunk as hell, stripped off our clothes and danced in the moonlight. If we consumed more beer than we had the year before, we thought we’d done an admirable job. So, do know that when I’m railing against fraternities I’m not arguing against fun or partying.

Despite what you see in the movies, all schools don’t have frats. Mine didn’t. My sister’s school didn’t. Many of them are very good schools. Gang rapes are a symptom of a larger problem. Go to a school without fraternities.

Addition: After rereading what I wrote, it occurred to me that it is also good advice for young men. Further more, when I wrote, “a sickness that asks its victims to abandon their conscience,” I actually was seeing the men as victims as well.

Dispirited About Politics

Well, I see I haven’t written a post in over a week. I’ve started a few, and yet I can’t seem to push myself to finish one. So, I’m just going to sit here with my coffee and not do anything else until I hit that button that says publish.

It’s not for lack of ideas. I wish I could explain. I just feel so impotent when it comes to expressing them, and I feel so buffeted one way, and then another, flitting from subject to subject.

Since the last election I’ve felt so dispirited. All along, I believed that the extreme radical right wing couldn’t ever get very far. That doesn’t mean that I thought that we were headed towards an endless stream of progressive victories. Still, the far, far right, the anti-science, indeed, I would say anti-American, right, couldn’t succeed outside of a few small areas. With 435 voting members in the U.S. House of Representatives you’d expect a handful to be a bit extreme. It’s more surprising from Senators. Yet the recent election leaves me feeling like I ought to do something but not actually wanting to do anything.

A year ago, I met an Australian woman who was going on over lunch about Sarah Palin. She was saying how awful and stupid she was. I found myself getting a little hot under the collar, although I didn’t say anything, because the clear implication was that Americans must be awful and stupid themselves if she was campaigning for Vice President. Then the Australian woman paused and said, “Whatever happened to her?”

I said, “She wasn’t elected.” The Australian woman didn’t really understand that Palin doesn’t have wide support.

Really, I thought these extreme right wing figures were like Sarah Palin, public clowns with no real constituency, put forward by the media because they result in a lot of page views and clicks.

Meanwhile, Libertarians like Glenn Greenwald have the left sitting home pouting over the NSA. Russell Brand tells people not to vote and to meditate their way to a revolution. The far left has been smacking Obama at every turn. They seem to be unaware of the larger context in which the President functions.

I have not doubt that Obama is much more of a centrist than I am. There are a great many issues on which I wish he had been more aggressive, economic policies favorable to the working class being chiefly among them. Yet I’m under no illusion that he had a free hand. I was reading an article on Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy and came across the following statement:

I support the president. I think the president has been right. I mean, look at the numbers, look at the job growth, sustained job growth—the greatest in American history. The. Greatest. In. American. History. Why didn’t people run on that? So you know that a bunch of political people say, ‘Well, it is not deep enough, and some people are hurting.’

Despite the fact that I like to think that I’m reasonably aware of politics, I wasn’t aware that the job growth has been that good. I knew the economy had supposedly recovered, but I also kept reading about a recovery in which only the rich had benefited. Canada didn’t play fast and easy with their banking laws and the crash didn’t hit them in the first place. However, it hit Europe. After the 2008 crash, we got a stimulus while much of Europe got austerity. Yes, I follow Paul Krugman and I’m very aware that the stimulus was not as large as many people recommended. But don’t think for a moment that the pressures that pushed many European countries towards austerity weren’t working to push the United States in the same direction, a direction which would have been disastrous according to this article in the Atlantic Monthly from 2012:

Euro zone unemployment just hit a 15-year. German unemployment just hit a 15-year. What can those of us across the Atlantic glean from this seemingly bipolar state of affairs? That austerity, every economic conservative’s favorite prescription for an ailing economy — the medicine Republicans here in the United States are pushing hard — is an utter disaster.

A disaster that the Democrats kept the United States from sharing.

It’s no secret that in the past few years the far right has widened its attacks on women’s reproductive autonomy from an opposition to abortion to objection to contraception. In the past, I’ve toyed with the idea of having a tubal ligation, but now with menopause approaching that seems like overkill. Now, with the recent elections it feels like everything we have worked for for years is up in the air. Yet, who didn’t vote? Young people! And it’s not just a women’s issue, damn it. I have a young cousin that got married and joined the army at eighteen when his girlfriend got pregnant. What, do you boys think that it’s only the girls you don’t care about that get knocked up? I hate to tell you, but it’s your steady girlfriends too. We don’t hear about that much because once a year or two has passed no one wants to admit that they didn’t want their kids and that they only married their spouse due to pregnancy. Meanwhile, the unwed mother is a walking billboard. Anyway, I want to say, “What the fuck do I care, now. It’s your life. Why am I fighting when you don’t care.”

And that’s kind of how I’m feeling about everything.

Connecting Ideas About Wifely Submission

As everybody can probably guess, I just love love love Dan Savage. I’ve definitely disagreed with him on occasion, but he’s right far more often than he’s wrong. More than anything, I grew up in a culture that was not ashamed of sex, where I was told that sexual pleasure was normal, natural and good, and I love that Dan Savage unapologetically continues advocating for that when so many other people have become mealy-mouthed on the subject.

My mother very much wanted to raise strong, independent minded women who were not ashamed of their bodies or normal sexual desires. Needless to say, she wasn’t anything like Michelle Duggar. We didn’t have “rules”, just advice and suggestions.

No one is going to put my mother on the cover of any magazines soon because her opinions on sex are highly commonplace for women of her generation. As the old saw goes, Dog Bites Man is not news, Man Bites Dog is news, and the Duggars are better than twenty-one men biting twenty-one dogs in tutus and tiaras. Consequently, Michelle Duggar, with her highly unusual opinions about women’s sexual behavior gets her own tv show and magazine covers announcing “Our Rules for Sex and Love.”

Really, you almost have to feel bad for Dan Savage, sitting in a barber shop, having the two eldest Duggar daughters smiling at him over that come hither headline. The man has made a career out of being a bold advice columnist writing primarily about relationships and sex and here are two young women, living in a religious cult version of Plato’s cave, talking about their parents’ rules for sex and love. It’s almost like a provocation.

(Note to Dan Savage’s barber: Get better reading material.)

As Savage notes in his column, the Duggars are not just a few individuals with quirky ideas. They are a politically active family that would like to remake the rest of us in their image.

One of the rules for marriage they are promoting is that a woman can never say no to sex. Via Savage:

And once a Duggar girl is married, says Mom, she is never allowed to say no to sex. “Duggar women don’t get headaches,” Michelle told Us. “You always need to be available when he calls.” And if you’re not always available—if you do get a headache, or you’re just not in the mood one night, or if turns out that your husband prefers Dad’s auditions—then you’re to blame when your husband cheats on you.

Sometimes, I am under the impression that we in the United States are a little bit naive. We have lived in a modern society for so long that it really doesn’t register in our minds what the full impact of these ideas might be. Michelle Duggar is not horrifying to us because we know that she lives in the U.S. and if she wanted to leave Jim Bob Duggar she could. There is little preventing her legally, or in society as a whole.

Shortly after reading Savage’s opinion of the Duggars, I came across a blog post that put Michelle Duggar’s comment about how she must always be sexually available for her husband in context. It was an email from a woman who lives in a culture where wifely submission is the norm. It was written to Pakistani-Canadian illustrator and blogger, Eiynah who writes about sexuality on her website Nice Mangos. In this email, the writer, who lives in Pakistan, says that she’s sharing her story because “so that other women may speak up if this is happening to them.”

The writer, who reports being intimidated by her husband, was in labor with her second child. Her husband went to a friend’s party while she went to the hospital alone. Eventually, however, he showed up.

Immediately after the birth of my child he spoke to the hospital staff, stating that our first born was still a toddler, and that I was needed at home because of that. I was discharged within 6 hours.

I don’t know what is the norm, but it is clear that she was discharged according to his needs, not hers. Afterwards, she was in excruciating pain from the episiotomy.

As soon as I got home, I was expected to care for all my in laws, cook and clean for them as well as look after my two children. An impossible feat when one can barely stand. The first days after child-birth, you need pampering, as any new mother will tell you. You need to be looked after and you need to recover. You need all the help you can get. And to have two children under four, is extremely exhausting. To be expected to cook and clean and wait on people as soon as you enter the house, borders on some sort of abuse. It is abuse actually, now that I look back on it. I don’t know how I managed. But somehow I did, because I had no choice. I was expected to take over the house work, because I was the ‘daughter-in-law’ and that was my role. If I refused the consequences could have been worse. I got through it somehow, but I would never wish it upon anyone.

Then we see the result of a society in which women are not allowed to ever refuse sex to their husbands.

On the third day after my delivery my husband tried to initiate intercourse and I told him (hesitantly) that I had stitches, and that the doctor had told us to refrain for 40 days as well. Then he got mad (as he often did) and I was terrified of him going elsewhere to satisfy his sexual needs so I decided to just let him do what he wanted. He said he ‘needed’ it, and that nothing would happen.

He said that I shouldn’t refuse him sex because then he would have to go elsewhere for it. He could tell that I was in pain and he continued anyway, my body had tensed up, I told him that I was worried my stitches would tear, and he told me it would be ok, because he would be careful.

After that experience I was bleeding excessively and had to continue doing the housework for the whole household including waiting on my in-laws. At my next doctors visit, I told my doctor that we had had sex on the third day and she was very shocked and upset. She told me that we had to refrain. But even after that we continued having sex every four or five days (not my choice). I have never refused my husband sex, ever. Its just not an option. I was raised to keep the peace and please my husband.

She concludes:

Many years later, we obviously don’t have a great relationship. But I continue to do what I need to, to keep my marriage going.

Even in cultures where men are clearly dominant in a relationship, there are kind, caring men who would never dream of behaving in this way. However, if someone has the misfortune to be married to someone who is not, she has no recourse. The ethos the Duggars are promoting can only seem benign the context of the United States where we know that the wider society does not enforce these beliefs, but let’s not kid ourselves about what this would mean for some women if it were widely embraced. We have moved away from these attitudes because over the decades women have agitated to change them.