What I Meant to Say

Wendy Babiak's Visions and Revisions


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The Problem With Single-Motive Thinking And The Zero-Sum Game

So unless you live under a complete media-free rock (in which case I don’t think you’ll be reading this), you’ve heard about the killings in Isla Vista last weekend, and probably also about the media shit-storm(s) that followed. Because that’s what media does…it feeds the violence-for-display beast, and then gasps loud and long about what might have caused each instance of violence-for-display, pitting single-motive thinkers against each other in click-producing battles that fill the media moguls’ coffers but do little to bring the general public to a greater understanding of the cultural forces that are making life in America (and around the world) feel more and more like the world intimated by one of my favorite bumper stickers: “Where are we going, and what are we doing in this hand-basket?”

So you’ve got gun-rights activists fearing that this is some kind of false flag to justify someone coming for their guns, mental-health-care advocates imagining that this is simply a case of failed psychiatry, gun-rights opponents imagining that if they just got rid of the guns everything would be okay, and feminists pointing out the deep misogyny displayed in the killer’s manifesto and YouTube videos, some insisting that to talk about mental health is a mistake. While the truth is, as always, complex and involuted and known probably only by God and the young man who killed himself after taking out the innocent victims of his twisted thinking. (And there’s an aspect that too few are discussing, which is the overculture’s obsession with sex, as if it’s some magic key to happiness. I’m quite sex positive, but y’all, it’s not all that. When you’re done basking in the afterglow, the laundry still needs doing.)

For the past few days I’ve spent a fair bit of time (which sometimes felt like an important investment, and sometimes like a waste I had to ask forgiveness for during my evening prayers) on Twitter, reading and participating in the #YesAllWomen and #YesALLWhiteWomen hashtags. And several things are pretty clear to me. There are a fair number of men who get their panties in a bunch at any implication that women have it pretty hard at the hands of men, who seem unable to grok that when we try to bring attention to rape culture (which, yes, is a thing that affects all women, whether they’ve actually been raped or not, because violence exists on a spectrum and being subject to it triggers fear, and the possibility of the extreme end of it exists even at the lesser end) we are not trying to say that all men are rapists, but that a minority of repeat offenders make it miserable for all women to one degree or another. And guess what? Rape culture makes things miserable for many men and boys, too. If you need to hear such a thing from a man to believe it, watch this excellent TED Talk about how violence IS a men’s issue. This guy’s really smart, and gets intersectionality, something I’ll talk about later.

 

Also, that some women are just as unable as too many men to grasp the point of the hashtag, and feel the need to pipe up with “this is sexist, I’m not a feminist because I don’t hate men” (ladies, your misogynistic conditioning is showing). And at least as frustrating as the women who won’t consider themselves feminists because they’ve bought into the backlash idea that feminism=man-hating (guess what? I’m a feminist and I love my husband, and more than that, my husband is a feminist, too, and only a fool would accuse him of having a vag…he’s got a power rack in the basement that he uses on a regular basis), are the white women who refuse to examine and check their own privilege and insist that women of color bringing up the fact that, for example, Native American women are three times as likely as white women to be raped, are trying to derail rather than deepen the conversation. Thus was born the #YesALLWhiteWomen hashtag, and if you’re a white feminist, you really ought to be quiet and scroll through it, practice some empathy (just like we’re asking of men at the other) and try to understand someone else’s experience and how things you do or say may be contributing to someone else’s suffering. To admit that there’s a Venn Diagram of oppression and that some people exist in the intersections doesn’t diminish the fact of your own suffering, and when we can do this and do our best not to be oppressors, it gets better for everyone.

 

Just as the Marxist who comes in and bashes an indigenous woman for being a capitalist overlord because she likes vintage Chanel ads because it’s all about CLASS and not gender or race, white women who can’t share the spotlight with women of color suffer from simplistic, zero-sum thinking. There is enough attention to have all the conversations that need to happen, and when we go ahead and let them happen, without defensiveness, without fear that in the attention economy we’re going to get the short end of the stick, we might actually end up discovering that, <gasp> we are all human beings, that we all suffer in one way or another, and that when we humble ourselves enough to admit that we sometimes contribute to the suffering of others, we can start to change our ways and do what Christ calls us to do. The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, y’all. We just need to participate in it, by loving each other. The zero-sum game is a construct, not reality. There’s enough food, enough attention, enough love to go around, especially since all three are things that we can cultivate. One key value that indigenous cultures on this continent share and the settler culture suffers from the lack of is the value of cooperation. When we cooperate instead of compete, we can actually increase the available resources. Empathy can also be cultivated (reading other people’s stories helps), and if we had more of that, events like the recent killings would become a thing of the past. We might find ourselves living in a world that seems more like Heaven than the Hell we’re speeding toward in this whacked basket. Let’s make it so.


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Talking About Trees and What They Mean

So fellow poet Metta Sama and I engaged in a week-long conversation for Her Kind about the natural world and what it means, how issues of race and gender play into it, what the persistence of rape culture and how the Mother Earth trope plays out within it are destroying the life systems of the planet. Get a cup of tea when you have a moment and eavesdrop on two earnest souls. And then engage us there in the comments section, if you feel moved to do so.


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Christianity, Cultural Identity, Misogyny and Terrorism

I’ve spoken of rediscovering immanent divinity as being necessary for creating the sustainable human culture capable of coexisting with the rest of the biosphere as it recovers from the damage we have done with our ignorant idea of “progress” during the Industrial Revolution and its ongoing aftermath. If we recognize everything as sacred, as part of The God that Is the World, we’ll treat it with the care it deserves and which will ensure a livable planet. This is not just a convenient attitude, either. There’s much evidence in the accounts of the mystics, recent and ancient, as well as modern scientific accounts of quantum entanglement, that indicate that it is, indeed, all one, and that our perception of separation is a delusion.

As part of my own embrace of my rejected spiritual heritage, Catholicism, which has been left in the hands of the stupid and the mean for too long, I’ve run up against a problem: I can’t participate in the Church because of its institutionalized misogyny. So I’ve sought to simply be a Christian. I’ve even taken to wearing a cross, on occasion (a lovely silver Celtic cross, with a dove in the top arm, created by a local craftsman): the Celtic cross, with the solar circle, acts as a symbol of the god of resurrection rather than the god of sacrifice (symbolized by the crucifix). I was saddened to discover, after acquiring it, that some white supremacists have begun wearing the Celtic cross as a symbol of white pride. So it came as no surprise to discover that the terrorist in Oslo self-identifies as a Christian, though he admitted that he’s not very religious. Like other white supremacists, Christianity for him is more of a cultural identity. It represents a means for him to align himself with a group against another group, the Muslims. (Of course, I have a feeling that Islam operates for terrorists who self-identify as Muslim in much the same way.) I should not have to remind you, gentle reader, that Christ did not condone violence, and elevated love above all other virtues, the “Christians” on TV and inside the Beltway notwithstanding.

I was fascinated to discover, though, that he also went into detail regarding his opposition to feminism (here’s an interesting analysis), and I found this misogyny to be particularly ironic in light of his self-identification as a Christian. Christ, you see, was a feminist (see, again, The Chalice and The Blade for more on this). And while Christ’s gylanic message has so far largely fallen on deaf ears (as has his call for compassion and social justice), it has not been entirely wiped out and continues to give hope to many that we will, one day, manage to create heaven here on earth and “live presently.”

Norway’s response to the massacre is heartening. Instead of giving in to terror, they are more resolved than ever to practice peace and unity in diversity, determined not to let their democratic ideals be undermined by fear. Would that we had taken a similar path after 9/11. It would be a different planet.


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Why is My Body Your Business? Or: The Boob Blog

Unless you’re one of those folks in the habit of seeing through a glass so darkly that you’re able to deny reality completely, it’d be hard to miss the fact that the female body, or our right to own our bodies, is under attack. I mean, it’s not like we, since the advent of patriarchy several millennia back (see The Chalice and the Blade for more on this), have ever enjoyed full sovereignty, but since Roe v. Wade here in America we’ve at least been granted a certain level of privacy regarding what happens with our girly bits. That looks like it’s about to change. They’ve unfunded Planned Parenthood, states like Virginia are considering Draconian measures to limit a woman’s access to affordable, safe abortions, and this brain trust in Georgia wants to criminalize miscarriage…on pain of death! And in case you’re someone who’s pro-life (I can respect that, if you’re actually pro-life, and not just anti-woman), here’s what illegal abortion looks like. We really don’t want to go back there, whether you think life begins at conception or not. Late-term fetuses delivered live and decapitated: I don’t think that’s what you want. That can’t be what you want. Please tell me that’s not what you want.

Now, I’ve had my kids, the factory is closed, and I could ignore all this. Except not only do I have a daughter, but I also feel a certain sisterhood with my fellow women, and a certain responsibility, as a woman enjoying a significant level of privilege, to defend those of my sisters who suffer under patriarchy and its evil cousin, misogyny. And, truly, the lack of reproductive freedom is one of the more extreme manifestations of that misogyny (and it’s gentler, well-meaning cousin, patriarchy). It does get worse, of course: human trafficking, child brides, morons throwing acid in girls’ faces for daring to learn to read. (For more on this, read Half the Sky.) Life’s hard, really hard, in some places, and women and children, especially girl children, suffer the most.

And all of this bubbles around in the psyche when we encounter manifestations that are less heinous, like the recent VIDA Count, showing the disparity between male and female bylines in top literary mags. Not the end of the world, surely, but does that mean we shouldn’t be concerned? Nope, and it’s not just a matter of fairness. Women’s stories are important. We won’t find our way out of this dark forest, we won’t establish a gylanic culture in which men and women relate as equals, support each other lovingly as brothers and sisters in the human struggle, until women’s voices are heard, truly heard. Imagine how different things would be around the world if we had all been weaned on stories that illuminated what a healthy relationship with the natural world (and each other!) looks like instead of stories that glorified violence and war. I love Shakespeare, but I would have loved to hear what his sister had to say, too.

Coming back to women’s bodies and the apparent belief by some men that they are appropriate objects of interest for their lawmaking and commodification: I recently read this brilliant essay by Lidia Yuknavitch about the cover of her soon-to-be-available memoir, The Chronology of Water (which sounds well worth reading), and the resistance it’s already receiving. See, the cover sports an artsy photograph of a middle-aged woman in the water. Naked, and framed from her taut neck to her ribcage. You got it. It’s a boob. (It’s actually a woman in the water, but because of the way we’ve been programmed to reduce a woman to her bits and pieces, it’s a boob.) Both the author and the editor of this book are women, and so it’s not the hey-hey-baby kind of boob picture we’re accustomed to seeing. It’s much more beautiful, much more real, and therefore much more disturbing to those who’d prefer to forget that women’s bodies belong, you know, to people, people who age, who have moles and freckles, who are subject to gravity (though less of it, in the water). Ms. Yuknavitch does a better job than I can going in to the nuances of the conundrum (she also provides scads of fascinating links), but I have to point out how totally whacked it is that, in this day and age, people still think of the breast as a sexual object.

Because it’s not. Can it be used as such? Sure. But so can the hand. The lips. The toes, if you’re kinky. But we don’t ban pictures of those on Facebook. The breast is not a sexual object, it’s an amazing evolutionary development that allowed mammals to become the dominant class of animals on the planet. I mean, seriously. They’re brilliant. They allow us to make food for our children, and to have it available, any time, anywhere. It doesn’t spoil, and it provides exactly what they need, changing with their needs as they develop. (No wonder formula can’t hold a candle to it.) We should worship the breast, not as some plaything for men, but as the nearly miraculous gift that it is. Preparing to write this (I’ve been ruminating on my own “boob blog” since reading Lidia’s essay), I stumbled across an article about breastfeeding. I found the number of women who expressed revulsion at the sight of a child nursing to be depressing. One woman actually said that the breast is a sex object, and she didn’t want her children to see that! Oh, woe. That we have been so programmed by patriarchy to believe such a thing.

And that brings me back to the VIDA Count and the ensuing discussions of it online. While I saw some amazing, big-hearted responses from some men, mostly I’ve seen guys get defensive about it. What really gets my goat is when we’re told to stop whining, that we got equality back in the 70s, that we just like to play victim. That’s when I think about girls having acid thrown in their faces, or being railroaded into brothels, or left to die of fistulas after giving birth to children when they were children themselves, and too small to do it safely. When I see some young guy rant about reverse sexism, or the evils of quotas, I start to wish that something like the point-of-view gun from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy were available. I’d like to see how they like it, being a woman on this planet. Mostly I’d like to see us move past patriarchy into gylany. As my favorite male Muslim feminist points out, patriarchy traps both women and men in its constructs. Seems like we should all be eager to free ourselves, and each other, from that trap.

ADDENDUM:
2/26/2011 — This morning I ran across this, The War on Women, a NYTimes Editorial. So I’m not being melodramatic here.