Activism


One of my loooong replies to a discussion on Feministing. It was a discussion I started on a skit on SNL that made fun of Tiger Woods’s saga, but also wound up making fun of violence against men – not funny. Just thought I’d share my thoughts:

from reading the various insights and experiences shared so far, it seems like domestic violence against men brings up some important issues:

1) statistics are confusing because there are many important things they might not explain. many men might report experiencing some sort of violence from their wives, but often it is minor and doesn’t fit the cycle of abuse (which is not to say that it’s not important). i remember that in college a survey reported that ~30% of male students experienced “sexual harassment” from women, while the vast majority of female college students did too. but the study also showed that the quality of harassment was different. for example, many male students thought of sexual comments of notes as harassment, but were not intimidated or even bothered by it. on the other hand, harassment experienced by many female students were more predatory, and had a bigger affect on them. so i suspect it’s the same case with domestic violence, where men as a group have the power of the system, and it victimizes women as a group.

2) there’s a notion that because men are generally physically stronger than women, that violence can’t happen to them. that highlights the important point that domestic violence isn’t about strength, it’s more about the intention behind it. just like men are expected to defend themselves, so can women defend themselves, although the attacker’s physical strength can be overpowering. the common theme between male and female DV victims is that they felt they deserved punishment, or that they should do better to avoid beatings, or they can’t leave their partner, etc. and again, because we live in a patriarchal society, women are victimized more.

“Both genders need to be taught the signs of an abuser NOT just to avoid them but to be able to recognize those signs in themselves.” – Phenicks

that is so true! all of us have a tendency to take advantage of, use, abuse, or just not care about those who’re less powerful than us. women often direct their violence and abuse (even sexual abuse) towards children. i’ve experienced this growing up in bangladesh where many people consider it okay to beat children to “discipline” them, just like many consider it okay to beat women. there are news stories of women torturing and even killing their domestic servants, especially if they’re child servants. within the family, parents often beat their children inhumanely in the name of discipline.

this is also why many feminists are environmental activists and animal rights activists, because both men and women justify superiority over animals. not many justify torture of animals, but still many women don’t recognize the abusive premise of animal industries.

the reason feminists mainly focus on violence and rape against women is that in a patriarchal society, violence is considered natural for men, and often justified against women. thus, it’s a woman’s fault for making her husband angry, or it’s a woman’s fault for arousing a man who raped her. non-feminists don’t realize that rape happens because men feel justified to use women’s bodies, or use rape to “discipline” or “teach a lesson,” or simply, just use it for their own pleasure.

i think when we see abuse from women against men or other women, it seems either horrifying or funny because it’s so “unnatural” for women. for feminists, this is an opportunity to point out that abuse and violence result from a sense of entitlement, not because it’s a male characteristic. and it’s because of patriarchy that more men feel entitled about women than vice versa.

DV shelters and sexual support organizations often perpetuate this stereotype about men while trying to help victims. but that doesn’t help change society, and also ignores abuse in non-heterosexual settings. as feminists, we should raise awareness about it, amongst ourselves and others at such opportunities.

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As we all know, recent recommendations about mammograms and Pap smears have caused some confusion among both women and doctors. I can understand at a time when we’re discussing cutting costs in healthcare and setting up death panels to kill old people, guidelines to reduce screenings can cause suspicion. Nonetheless, I was surprised that the discussions on my favorite blog (yes, even more than my own!) Feministing generally perpetuated that suspicion/outrage. I expected that feminists would be more skeptical of American healthcare and skeptical of the original mammograms guidelines to be so struck by the changes.

You can read more about the science behind the new guidelines here, and I’m sure in many other blogs. The whole point of revising the once-a-year mammogram rule is that it leads to a lot of over-treatment. Of course, screening too little would be under-treatment. Evidence based guidelines are always trying to find the happy medium, and yearly mammograms are not that happy medium. One author I read complained that the new guideline was not based on new studies, but faults of older studies that lead to the yearly mammogram rule. But if the yearly mammogram rule was based on flawed studies, isn’t that enough reason to question the guideline, especially when it leads to over treatment? A poster on Feministing had asked “how could reduced screening ever be a good thing?” Well, you have to consider the invasiveness and cost of the screening. X-ray imaging, which has more risks, and MRIs which are expensive, are done less often. On the other hand, self breast exams can and should be done more often. I wish the authors of the guideline had done a better job of explaining the reasoning. Instead of highlighting that yearly mammograms lead to unnecessary anxiety, which understandably made women mad, they should’ve made it more clear that previous guidelines were not based on the best evidence, and the risks of over treatment are greater than the benefits of frequent invasive screening. They should’ve also emphasized the importance of breast exams, by self and doctor. It would be useful to know other countries’ policies on this too.

I expected feminists to think about the above reasoning intuitively, given the context of women and healthcare. So I was surprised to see the notion that a right was being taken away, rather than questioning whether yearly mammograms were the best thing to do in the first place. Are we so naive to believe that existing healthcare practices on women’s issues are always in the best interests of women? Haven’t we discussed before that sometimes profit motives of pharmaceutical and biotech companies can interfere with evidence based medicine, and over-pathologize certain issues like PMS and reduced interest in sex, to create a market for drugs? And who can forget “designer vaginas?” Feminist theorists have pointed out that because we have historically considered the male body as the norm, many female bodily processes have seemed inherently pathological. While access to birth control is definitely a positive thing for women, some feminists have also noted the sexism in the drive to regulating women’s fertility with drugs and devices, as opposed to researching birth control on men. For social reasons, women’s bodies are more tampered with on the aspects where women are different from men. In America especially, where healthcare practices are heavily influenced by profit and inequality of access, we tend to have widespread use of technological and pharmacological interventions on women’s bodies, from interventions during labor, C-sections, hysterectomies, pills for PMS, PMDD, etc, etc. It’s not that such high use of gadgetry is unsafe, but it’s not based on scientific recommendations or medical indications either. In countries with more socialized healthcare, cost-effectiveness is always an issue, so the necessity of pills and surgeries are under more scrutiny. I’m not saying that previous mammogram guidelines were based on biotech companies wanting to make more money. I’m saying that given the context of American healthcare, guidelines for less use of gadgets is likely to be a good thing, as the norm for us is usually overuse and waste. Has our widespread use of invasive medical procedures led to much better outcomes for American women? Not really.

I realize that the mammogram issue is different for two reasons, 1) it’s not really in the realm of reproductive health where inequality is clearer, and 2) it’s because of feminist activism that breast cancer awareness and prevention has become such important issues in the first place. Once upon a time, breast cancer research was actually being done on men (!), who comprise a small minority of breast cancer patients. It has been a huge success of feminist activists to shed light on a disease that affected and killed women (for the most part). Breast cancer awareness, screening, and treatment have saved many women’s lives.

But as feminist activism changes society, feminists have to deal with new issues of a new society. Nowadays, breast cancer awareness is so commercialized that merchandise is ubiquitous. Community posts on Feministing have pointed out the sexism in using breast cancer campaign slogans like “Save the Tatas.” It seems now that feminists have legitimized the threat of breast cancer, the interest in the issue is becoming a little sensational. After all, it is about boobies, not non-sexual things like cardiovascular diseases (which kills more women than breast cancer) or colon cancer. So I think we feminists need to take a step back from the notion that fewer mammograms mean that the scientists don’t care about women dying from breast cancer. It just means that as far as we know, fewer mammograms will reduce over-treatment yet not reduce survival rates. This is also an opportunity to think about how breast cancer isn’t women’s only health issue. Let’s start focusing some effort on cardiovascular health, which is also an area where we need more women-specific research.

This was originally a reply I wrote to a post on Feministing.com. It became so long and elaborate that I re-wrote it as a post.

I think feminism and veganism in America are so closely associated with each other because of the extreme cultural significance of meat here. As Carol Adams showed in The Pornography of Meat, advertizing of meat is so sexist and so vile, as are advertisements using women, that it’s impossible for feminists not to see the connection. I don’t think it’s the same in many other cultures, and certainly not this extreme.

Many Hindus are vegetarian (not my family) and traditional Hindus are strict about widows being vegetarian, since they’re supposed to give up all pleasures of life. Growing up in that culture, it was kinda feministic for me to rebel against vegetarianism. I’ve realized later that this is not the way to be radical, as I was basically following a patriarchal model of appearing dominant by oppressing another group of beings. Now I usually never eat meat, milk or fish, or eggs, though I still remember the taste and give in at rare times. I have a lot of respect for feminists who maintain their veganism strictly.

I don’t think it’s universally wrong to consume meat, because in many parts of the world, vegetation is scarce, so people have a meat based diet. Meat consumption also makes sense for some climates and some nutritional reasons, when vegetables aren’t adequate. I think humans have always been a part of the food chain so it’s not “unnatural” to eat meat either. Besides, just as animals have lives, plants have lives and creating a hierarchy between organisms with sensation and organisms without apparent sensation (plants) is just as arbitrary as the hierarchy between humans and animals.

However, what’s wrong is the amount of meat we consume, and many people’s attitudes about meat consumption. Western countries, and countries that are westernizing fast are consuming wayyy too much meat and it shows in our health. Meat is not easy to digest and any food that stresses our digestive system out raises the level of inflammation in our body. If we have meat once in a while, the damage can be repaired, but if we have it so often then the damage can lead to inflammatory diseases, which can predispose someone to everything from arthritis to heart disease to cancer. The concept of factory farming of animals is also wrong to me. Meat is not supposed to be cheap, because we aren’t supposed it eat it as often! Factories grow animals under filthy, high stress environments, then give them antibiotics to promote rapid growth. This not only damages the meat but increases the number of antibiotic resistant microbes in the environment. Then there’s the obvious torture of animals in factory farming (fois gras anyone?), and who knows how it harms the health and psyche of the low-wage factory workers. As for hunting for animals for food, it isn’t wrong to me, but for sports it is.

So I support and admire vegan feminists in this context. Giving up animal products is a strong and effective political statement. There’s no way to defend consumption of factory farmed animal products for feminists who are informed about the issue.

Animal research is another thing I’m conflicted about. For sure it’s unethical from an egalitarian view. We haven’t used results from Nazi experiments on Jews because they were unethical, so it is wrong to not apply the same standard to animals, who in my view are equal to humans. Any experiment that deliberately causes pain is absolutely wrong. However, being a medical student, I can see how much knowledge has been obtained from animal experiments that don’t cause “direct” pain. Ultimately though it doesn’t really matter whether the experiment causes pain or not, because the concept of using an animal for our benefit is unethical. Switching to strictly human based clinical trials or observational studies should provide different, but equally important knowledge. I basically think there are many things we already do know about human medicine, if only Westernized scientists would try to understand other medical systems. I don’t mean in a randomized clinical trial way, that proves whether something is a placebo effect or not; that is evaluating other systems only from a Western medical view. I mean traditional Western medicine has to see other systems completely, and understand that a lot more factors are required in those systems. Substitution of an herb in place of a synthetic drug without making dietary or lifestyle changes is not so-called “alternative” medicine.

Where I disagree with most traditional vegans is the way they defend the ethics of not eating meat. Many vegans tend to think that meat eating is inherently wrong because we are hurting a being, and that is the end of that. I heard from one person that this was an “Utilitarian” argument, which I can understand. But being utilitarian is not being absolutely ethical. We judge the morality of an action by the amount of suffering we PERCEIVE. So let’s say we don’t understand how much suffering a group of people – poor/minority/women – go through, then we won’t see anything wrong with oppressing them. Or let’s say that a person isn’t outwardly expressing suffering, would we be able to judge their action properly and react appropriately?

What I’m saying is that the difference between the suffering of plants and animals is a matter of our perception. Of course there seems to be multiple differences, but it doesn’t mean that we won’t discover later that plants have other ways of showing “suffering.” Besides, if suffering is the main issue, is it okay to anesthetize an animal and then kill and eat it? There are a small number of people who are FRUITARIANS – they eat only fruits that don’t kill the plant while extracting, so no potatoes, cabbage, greens, wheat, etc. Are they at a moral higher ground than vegans? They might even be damaging their own health for the cause of not killing life.

I think this difference between sentient/non-sentient life forms is a weak theory to defend vegetarianism/veganism. For me a much stronger argument is environmental preservation, and health reasons. Environmental preservation includes includes eating very little meat and fish, and not growing mono-crops to make processed food that deplete the soil of nutrients. It also supports local foods, as growing genetecially engineered foods in unnatural habitats, or transporting vegetables from far away is very environmentally degrading. One person commented on this that should we stop sending food to poor countries because it’s environmentally harmful? Well, first of all, many of those countries are now in need of food because of our very agricultural practices. And many of those countries are suffering because of the pollution from industrialized countries causing global warming. The purpose of supporting local foods, vegetables and meat, is to reduce this pollution and make communities self-sustainable, so they’ll need less food aid. Heck, if Americans just ate healthy portions then we wouldn’t spend so much energy making huge amounts of low-grade food that we waste. It’s all about reducing our carbon foot print.

This brings me to another comment someone brought up – if people have all the necessary vegetarian foods, then is it wrong for them to consume meat? Not if those vegetables aren’t locally grown, so it harms the environment in transportation, but the meat is local. If the deer population in your area is high, and you can hunt a deer to feed your family for days, why would you buy more non-local fruits and veggies instead? You may be supporting evil Monsanto by doing that. Now of course in reality many of us don’t plan our diets so ethically and then we are in the wrong. I’m guilty of that too.

So again, I believe eating meat is not inherently wrong. Herbivores eat plats, carnivores eat meat, and omnivores have evolved to eat both. In some cases it may even be more wrong to eat highly processed vegetarian foods that damage the environment. eating meat is only wrong in certain contexts, like the current industrialization of meat. I admire people who’ve made the conscious decision to harm the environment less, and not take part in animal torture, but I see no basis for saying all meat eating is wrong.

This is not an argument against vegetarianism/veganism though. Along the same lines of evolution, humans have evolved to have a conscience, so we can make decisions that are above and beyond our survival. Hence, it’s wrong to eat animals in certain contexts, especially if we have other food options for adequate survival.

This is only my first article on the issue of marriage. As I started putting my thoughts together I realized I have so many that I ‘d have to do a series of articles rather than one. I don’t know when I’ll do the next ones, but at least this is a start. Before I go on, I’d like to post some other articles that have made me think:

1) AnjuGandhi, 2) Chrysalis, and 3) The Marriage-Go-Round

I don’t really care about a marriage legally or spiritually. I mean, I wish to find a partner in life, but there’s nothing specifically about the wedding/social declaration that entices me. Furthermore, I realize I’m basking in the glory of heterosexist privilege, while many people don’t have the right yet to the economic and communal benefits of marriage that straight people take for granted. I hope to mitigate that by supporting gay marriage, or really any kind of marriage.

Going back to why I bother with marriage when I don’t care for it individually – I have a big fat South Asian family that is my social support. It’s not worth it to alienate them with a radical move they won’t even care for. Perhaps it’s more “radical” to create a different kind of marriage for myself, one that challenges harmful traditions and presents a happy alternative.

One day while lamenting about the patriarchy-drenched Bengali Hindu weddings and whether I’d be a hypocrite for taking part in it, my good friend told me the solution was Arya Samaj wedding. Apparently these weddings are spiritual, egalitarian and simple. When I googled Arya Samaj weddings though, I read otherwise. The Kanyadaan ritual, the one I most object to, is an important part of not only Arya Samaj weddings, but Vedic weddings in general. Was Hinduism at its very core is so sexist??? So much for all those times that Hinduism defenders told me sexism was in the “culture” not the “religion.” I used to think naively that the Vedas were above the nasty patriarchy of its times.

Next, I googled whether Hindu weddings could take place without Kanyadaan. Only one relevant post came up, and it was Anju’s. She, like me, exclaimed how unjust it was to donate your daughters as if they’re property. One blogger, Chrysalis, disagreed, and you can read her post on the link above. Basically, Chrysalis believes that “donation” is the wrong word for Kanyadaan, though she doesn’t provide an alternative. To her, Kanyadaan is not about inequality but valuing the woman even more than a man. Such a “gift” to a family is therefore spiritually magnanimous, not sexist. She seems to say women have an intrinsic ability to form communities, and she herself “took pity” upon her husband who wasn’t good with PR, and decided to move to his family to help him out. When someone pointed out that it’s different for women who are worse at PR than their husband, Chrysalis suggested reversing the roles to ghar jamai. Well, that sounds reasonable enough to me. In extended families, one spouse has to move in with another and if both have the equal opportunity to choose, that’s great! I disagree though that women are better equipped to do it than men. That’s simply a cultural construction, and we need to make both men and women good at community building rather than shoving the responsibility down women’s throats.

What I don’t get then, is why isn’t Putradaan a part of Vedic weddings? It seems like even when taking a ghar jamai the bride is still donated to the groom first. It’s this ritual that I have a big problem with. Whether Hindu weddings are equal or not is irrelevant for now; I’m annoyed at the pervasiveness of daughter donation, especially as women are becoming more and more independent. I don’t agree with Chrysalis that “donation” is the wrong word for Kanyadaan. Daan is donation, or giving.  You could give money, land, food, animals, services, and women. When women are put in the same category as the others, but men aren’t, what else does it imply but that women are property, not human beings? Valuable property, perhaps, since women bear children and raise them, but property nonetheless. And if indeed Kanyadaan is about joining of families, rather than property donation, why does the woman have to take her husband’s family titles? Shouldn’t there be creation of a new joint family title?Donating daughters is supposed to be good karma for her parents. Why do the groom’s parents not get the same opportunity? And if as Chrysalis implies, women are inherently valuable, are we saying that men are not valuable???? Boy, some men are going to be offended!

This raising of women on a pedestal is just as sexist as treating women like sub-humans. Both of these ideas don’t recognize women as being HUMAN. I think this dichotomy is the basis of many mistreatment of women. We are told that we are Goddesses, intrinsically valuable or something, and therefore expected to live as Goddesses. When we inevitably fail to live as Goddesses, because we’re fully human, not less, not more, we’re treated as disposable property. If any woman feels empowered by having these beliefs, and uses such re-interpretations of Kanyadaan to promote women’s rights, more power to her. But for me, this ritual signifies something totally different, on top of the fact that I don’t see a spiritual necessity for it. I don’t think this was a ritual God created. I think this was a ritual men made, based on their views of women’s worth, not women’s own views. They were kind enough to emphasize equality and understanding between families, but it’s a man-made, patriarchal tradition nonetheless.

Kanyadaan as it is traditionally practiced, is a part of the Hindu patriarchal culture that denies women the right to inherit property. It entrusts a woman’s care on her husband, rather than herself. Maybe this system was still egalitarian in Satya Yuga, but that day is long gone, and it was a mythical utopia to begin with. We aren’t perfect. As many women know very well, no matter how noble and beautiful Kanyadaan seems, we simply can’t blindly trust a man to make us his equal partner in Dharma, Karma, Artha, and we simply can’t live up to this compassionate Godliness ourselves. Both men and women need practical recourse in marriage. In Hindu societies, Kanyadaan has led people to think that it’s not worth investing in daughters, as they’ll leave the family anyways. And who can blame them? As long as we don’t change this system of giving away daughters to a man’s family, parents won’t invest in their daughters. Some people may say that things equal out when parents give away their daughter and bring home a bride for their son. But what about parents without sons? They have no choice but to live alone? Most importantly, why can’t we think of a system beyond gender roles? Gender roles will inevitably lead to one gender’s inequality, and we have to think of a freer system that accepts each person’s uniqueness.

So what have I decided about my wedding rituals? Weddings are nothing more than a social affair, and if my family wants to fulfill their elaborate social roles in a Bengali wedding, that’s fine. I don’t have a problem with most of the rituals, though I’m sure more would come up when I learn the significance of each. But, NO KANYADAAN. I’m a fully capable woman who takes care of herself. My parents don’t need to entrust me to another man, and frankly, no parent owns their kids. No person owns another. I just don’t believe in Kanyadaan, sindoor wearing, or shakha pala wearing all the time. I might wear it on a day when I feel like it, but other than that these things have no spiritual significance for me, so I shouldn’t be required to do them. I think it’s completely possible and realistic to have a spiritual wedding where the bride and groom give themselves to each other and their families, if spirituality is important to them, that is.

Coming up soon, a rant about sexist Hindu men!

This post is about a very powerful documentary called The Price of Pleasure, of which you can see a full length preview here. I advise caution before watching this documentary as it contains sexually explicit material as well as very degrading examples of porn. At the same time, it makes you aware of the intense exploitation of the sex workers in porn and the effect it has on viewers and society.

A lot of the debates about porn center around its potential effects on viewers. While that’s certainly an important issue, I first want to discuss the effects on the sex workers themselves. I’ve heard ignorant comments like “they’re getting paid to do it” used to justify degrading acts of porn. But getting paid to do something degrading does not justify it. It’s called EXPLOITATION. How many dollars would you want to be paid for each of these acts: 1) being waterboarded, 2) having your face forced down a toilet and flushed on, 3) being penetrated by a car gearshift, 4) having sex with an animal, or perhaps 4) having 10 guys cumming on your face/in your mouth? These are all acts in certain porns, and not totally uncommon. Even if you can put a price on these acts, do you think a porn actress is getting paid that much? I don’t think so. Assuming that the actresses are getting paid for their work and forgetting the pain they may be going through for the viewer’s pleasure is ignorant.

As for the effects porn has on viewers, I for one don’t believe it causes all viewers to perform degrading acts, but it certainly normalizes it. A lot of violence against women happens in countries where porn is not widely available – South Asia being just one example. The porn makers aren’t the only ones thinking of ideas to degrade other humans (mostly women). However, porn brings certain degrading or unhealthy acts towards women into the mainstream. It even makes degradation seem desirable, as in the Girls Gone Wild videos. Whatever we might consider disgusting suddenly becomes acceptable if being done for profit.

Not all porn aims to degrade women. There are feminist porn films too, which some people prefer to call erotica. Banning any form of sexual images is certainly not the solution. But like any other industry, porn needs to be regulated. It needs to be regulated on the basis of human rights and public health. I’m not hopeful that it’ll happen anytime soon, as Americans don’t even seem to be interested in regulating a corrupt, failed financial system, or a corrupt healthcare system that let’s people die. But that’s the direction we should go for.

I wanted to write some kind of post on this issue after hearing a friend talk about how her boyfriend watched porn with friends. She didn’t seem to have a problem with it since her boyfriend only watched it to laugh at the absurdity. But any kind of pleasure from porn, sexual or entertainment, comes with a price. It comes at the expense of porn actresses, and at the expense of women in general.

One the things feminists have to deal with a lot is the issue of “choice.” We are told all the time, everywhere, that somehow we restrict women who “choose” to be housewives, sex workers, or women who “choose” plastic surgery to enhance their looks or women who “choose” not to breastfeed their infants. Many times we know when someone is making a “choice” that is not really a “choice,” but we don’t have the words to explain logically why we’re right.

While working on my senior thesis on American women’s choices about childbirth, I came accross this little gem by Barbara Katz Rothman that put into words what I had known all along:  “There will never be ‘free’ choice, unstructured reproductive choice. But the structure in which choices are made should, and I believe ultimately can, be made fair, ethical and moral.” It’s so true! Every choice that we make in life is constructed, whether it’s constructed by our skills and interests, resources, social expectations, or a desire to defy social expectations, or usually a combination of all these factors. And all these factors provide the structure in which our choices are made. Hence, it’s really important to examine these structures in which the choices are made to decide whether it is a “free” choice or not. “Free” is a misnomer because really what we’re implying is “happy” or “satisfactory.” But anyways, if a structure is oppressive, then a happy choice really can’t be made in it. That’s why some privileged women might experiment with sex work and find it empowering, but it’s not really empowering for poor, abused women who were unaware of other options in life, or never had any. That’s not to say that all these women need rescuing or can’t be empowered by the money they make from sex work, and it’s also not to say that the misogyny in the sex industry doesn’t exist in others, but what I’m saying is choice is really context dependent.

This is also apparent in the area of pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding. Are women really “choosing” a C-section because it’s healthy and cool? Or are they choosing it because they’re not fully informed about the risks to both themselves and their babies from a C-section, and that labor pains need not be excruciating, and vaginal tears are unlikely if their births are attended by a good midwife and supportive system? Are they aware of the better systems other countries use? With the issue of breastfeeding, did the women just wake up one day and decide they didn’t want to breastfeed? Or did they find it annoying because our employment structure doesn’t allow enough flexibility, and our doctors aren’t encouraging enough of an option that is clearly superior to the best formula out there? Worse yet, are the women “choosing” not to breastfeed because they hold on to the notion that it’s poor and uncultured to breastfeed, or that breastfeeding will make their breasts sag which will make their “boys will be boys” husbands unattracted to them?

The “choice” to be a housewife is only a “free choice” for those women who are privileged enough to not worry about earning money or housework (done by a maid). Even then, I guess their choices are constructed by the misfortune of not having and interest or skill they could explore rather than just spend money. Being a housewife is not a “free choice” for a woman who decides that childcare is actually more expensive than what her job can afford. Getting plastic surgery is not a “free choice” when a woman is getting it to conform to society’s standard of beauty. How many white women in America choose to be paler? How many choose to be a size 10 if they can be a size 6? I’m fine with women conforming to certain expectations of society, because I do to, but don’t tell me you’ve made a “free choice” to get Botox in a culture that doesn’t like wrinkles!! Recently I heard friends discussing about how a certain woman’s choice to get breast implants was “awesome” because “she did it for herself.” Some people think that a woman is doing something for herself as long as a man is not directly involved, but I don’t think that’s correct. Where did that woman get the idea that getting breast implants was cool? Where did she get the desire to get the implants in the first place? And why didn’t she have the desire to get flat breasts, or artificial wrinkles, or extra fat injected in her tummy? It’s because the society she lives in considers fake breasts to be beautiful, and even though she didn’t get implants to please any particular man, she got implants because she felt better about herself as she fit society’s beauty standards.

In Bangladesh, many women don’t shave their legs because most women don’t show them. In America, many women shave their legs because they have to appear smooth when appearing in public. That choice is cultural. Most women may not mind it, but it is still not a “free” choice. I myself shave my legs and tweeze my eyebrows, but I wouldn’t have done it id hairy legs and bushy eyebrows were in vogue. Would women have gotten breast implants if the beauty standard was to have flat breasts? I don’t think so. The only kinds of choice that might be considered “free” are the ones a person makes for themselves despite unpopularity and resistance from society.

And finally, this concept of choice is important to be a global feminist. Some ignorant Americans tend to question whether third world women have “choice.” The implication is that third world societies are less equal than Western societies. While that might be true, it’s true because third world countries have been exploited and depleted by the West so now we have to deal with another set of problems. Both men and women have fewer choices in the third world, it’s not just that third world men are more sexist. It annoys me to no end when some American women think their choices to put of make up everyday, wear uncomfortable shoes, or get plastic surgery somehow make them “freer” than third world women. Yeah right, they’re freer now to put more toxins in their body like Botox and now Latisse (for “inadequate” eyelashes). Some ignorant women take it a step further and assume that because America is a land of opportunity, it’s a woman’s choice to do porn. Somehow getting a few bucks for having your head forced down a toilet is a “free” choice.

Hardly any choices we make in our lives is a “free” choice by itself. But it can be a happy choice when made in a free structure that doesn’t have preset standards for what is beautiful or what is acceptable. I realize that is utopia, but until we get such flexible standards, please don’t tell me that you made a “free” choice to use Latisse.

I’ve been mulling over these thoughts for quite a while, and giving President Obama the benefit of my doubts. But comments from a prominent intellectual made me think I’m not the only Obama supporter doubtful and disappointed by some of his actions or lack thereof. Dr. Dyson articulated it best when he said “We don’t expect any more of Obama than [previous white male presidents], but we don’t expect any less either.”

I’d modify that by saying I don’t expect any more of Obama than other intelligent, thoughtful,and humane American presidents, (which excludes G W Bush because I didn’t expect anything of him but the worst), but I don’t expect any less either. So while I understand and appreciate his vision of unity and collaboration, there are some issues where I don’t think centrism would be compromised if he did the right thing.

I don’t think I see politics through rose colored glasses. As great as Obama is, he’s had to get to the top somewhat like all other politicians, through powerful allies to whom he’s obligated, even though they’re not his ideals. His election was partly revolutionary but equally just regular politics. So I don’t expect him to be like Gandhi or Dr. King, revolutionary leaders who I don’t think would’ve been presidents. I have realistic expectations of President Obama. I also admire his continual efforts to unite people of different ideals and opinions, even though I think, and he probably knows, that those efforts won’t actually be successful. I disagree when some liberals say that Obama should just govern without regard for what Republicans/conservatives say, now that liberals are in power, just like what conservatives did when they were in power. I think it’s a great political move by Obama to continually reach out to people of the “other” opinion because it places the ball in their court. And as we’ve seen so far, Republicans haven’t been playing too well because now instead of just criticizing Obama, they have to come up with the alternatives. This reaching out also sets Obama apart from previous tyrannical presidents.

I also appreciate Obama for the things he did do right already: reverse the Global Gag rule, sign the Lilly Ledbetter Act, stop federal funding to the harmful abstinence-only “no safe sex allowed but spreading diseases and unintended pregnancy are A-okay” programs, propose the closure of Gitmo (though thwarted by idiotic, inhumane congresspeople – do they get off on watching the torture of unethically imprisoned “exotic” men?), as well as his nominations to the HHS, Dept. of Labor, and recently the Supreme Court.

If you’ve had the patience to read till here, you’re probably wondering what the hell disappoints me about Obama. Here goes, in no particular order of priority:

1) His comments on race and ethnicity in America, articulated well by Dr. Dyson in the video above, so I won’t repeat.

2) His pick of economic advisors and “czars.” Really, Obama, I mean REALLY?? Lawrence Summers??? Really? Thanks for saying a big Fuck You to all the human rights people who voted for you. Thanks. If you won’t appoint intelligent and humane people to direct American and world economy then we can’t expect any other president to do so. Exactly why do you have to appoint the wrong Clintonite people over many other great alternatives? Exactly why do you have to pamper selfish, evil executives of insurance companies and then crack down on the companies of blue-collar workers? Being Republican much? Why do you perpetuate this idea that somehow capitalism and the whole realm of economics are only understood and should only be directed by ignorant, inhumane oppressors like Summers and Greenspan when it’s understood just as well, and directed better by economists who don’t disregard human rights?

3) His direction so far of healthcare reform: American healthcare reform could’ve been started while the wave of change around Obama’s election lasted. But alas, that wave has almost ended and the chance for true reform is distant again. No matter how difficult the logistics of universal healthcare in America maybe, why is Obama so weak in articulating the ideals of basic human rights? Only some ignorant Americans think good healthcare for American citizens is somehow a liberal or conservative issue, that it’s somehow contrary to capitalism. Conservatives and capitalists of other industrialized countries don’t make healthcare a political issue. That’s because just like public education, public housing, public transportation (roads and highways), and public communication (mail), healthcare is a BASIC HUMAN RIGHT, and not a product or a service of corporations. Good health of workers increases productivity, which serves both capitalist and human rights interests. Ignorant conservatives have a patriarchal, corrupt and oppressive idea of capitalism, which is not the kind of capitalism necessarily theorized by Smith, Keynes of Pigou. The American conservative’s idea of capitalism is just an oppressive application of neutral ideals, much like their application of neutral religious and spiritual morals to oppress poor people and women. As mentioned before, the logistics of universal healthcare is something to be worked out and there too, I don’t expect utopia. But that’s no reason to not be clear about what is ideal and what Americans should achieve. I can collaborate with people of different views who recognize the utterly disgusting human rights violations in American healthcare and the need for a good basic health coverage. But there’s nothing to debate with people who are so blinded by their privilege that they don’t see the suffering, or worse, those who see the suffering caused by oppression and don’t prioritize change.

4) His indifference to “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell:” This is just one more of of the things Obama should’ve taken care of in the first 100 days. It’s so simple I can’t believe he hasn’t done something about it. Although enacted during the Clinton years, this policy is not the intention of Clinton but the kind of harmful, idiotic policy you get when some stupid Democrats, after being the majority in Congress, think it’s alright to compromise on human rights. Now I understand that many people don’t care about the rights of non-heterosexual people, but at least they can care about their MONEY!! This policy has done nothing but wasted money after thousands of qualified gay servicepeople have been fired after money was spent on their training. So the American military is willing to let convicted criminals serve in the military, but not qualified gays? They’re willing to waste money on Blackwater Security, an unnecessary and criminal Republican business that is supposed to “protect American armed forces,” by employing violent criminals who have documented cases of rape and murders of Iraqis against them, but they’re unwilling to invest in enforcing safety and solidarity for female soldiers? BTW, Obama has renewed the contract with Blackwater too. Go figure.

5) His stance on the Israel’s occupation of Palestine: Now it’s refreshing to hear an American president say clearly that Palestine has a right to exist, and for the first time tell Israel to stop further “settlements.” And yes, Obama’s speech in Cairo was more nuanced than anyone of the previous administration could’ve dreamt of speaking. But it’s just not enough to say Palestine has a right to exist, because Israel doesn’t disagree there. It’s merely lip service and infuriating empty rhetoric. NO DUH, Palestine has a right to exist, and now let’s make it possible. Obama told Palestinians that they should not use violence to justify their cause. Great. Why did he miss telling Israel that the violence they use to justify their cause, so many magnitudes greater than that of Palestinians, is wrong as well? As ignorant as Americans already are about the Israel-Palestine colonization, why do you perpetuate the biased and completely wrong view of the situation, President Obama? You lead those ignorant people to continue to believe that Palestinians are the only ones using violence, that Hamas is the culprit, and if they only started being peaceful then the problem would be solved. No the problem would not be solved until Israelis stop violently destroying humble Palestinian homes to build their pristine mansions. It would not be solved until Israel stops destroying Palestinian roads with their tanks,until they stop cutting off electricity and water supplies to homes, schools and hospitals, until they stop bombing homes and hospitals of Palestinian civilians – they fucking bombed Palestinian hospitals in January 2009, though not reported by Rupert Murdoch’s media. Palestine can’t exist unless Israel stops making giant concrete walls cutting off civilians from their schools and work, setting up checkpoints just to harass Palestinians and non-Israelis. And Palestine sure as hell can’t exist if America continues to fund Israel’s terrorism, which it is doing even under Obama. Some people will equate my stance with anti-Semitism but those people can keep their heads buried in the sand. It wasn’t Muslims, Hindus, or any one else but a group of Europeans who slaughtered Jews during the Holocaust. Most people’s opposition to Israel today is against their occupation and colonization of Palestine, having nothing to do with a dislike for Judaism or Jews. Yet ignorant people continue to point to Ahmedinajad as somehow being related to supporters of Palestine, though he has much more in common with G W Bush. They continue to disregard the disproportionate amount of Palestinians murdered while focusing only on murdered Israelis. Isn’t one of the lessons of the Holocaust not to let another one happen? Do we have to wait for six million Palestinians to be killed before we change something?

Well, that’s enough for one post. I’ll give the black man in office more time to clean up the rest of the mess a bunch of stupid rich white frat-boys on “legacy scholarships” left behind.

-vidyarthi

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