Mark Driscoll (Re)Invents Patriarchy

Once again, Libby Anne puts words to my thoughts about a certain segment of Christianity, this time in response to a recent sermon by Mark Driscoll titled “Real Men: Men and Marriage”:

Patriarchy has never been about all women being somehow in bondage to all men—it has always been the individual level Driscoll is talking about. Think of the law of coverture—upon marriage a woman legally ceased to exist, subsumed into her husband. Patriarchy was always about individual women being under individual men. A wealthy noblewoman was not “under” the footmen who waited on her—she was under her wealthy nobleman husband. Under patriarchy, individual women obey and are subject to individual men, obeying and submitting to them in return for protection from other men.

Preach it, my atheist sister.

Tunisia Opens Its First Domestic Violence Shelter

From its 1957 law granting women the right to divorce to its legalization of contraception and abortion in the 1960s, Tunisia has long served as a beacon of women’s progress in North Africa.

But when it comes to domestic violence the country’s shining reputation is missing polish.

Resistance to confronting the problem is deeply rooted in Tunisian culture, says Badi, whose hold on her post could change as the government, which has been undergoing turmoil, restructures. “Some people,” [Sihem Badi, minister of women’s affairs] says, “are afraid to see women gain autonomy; they fear it’s going to break families.”

This attitude keeps so many women—all over the world—oppressed and dehumanized. The cry of “What about the children?!” excuses so much inequality.

Still, hurray for Tunisia! Late is better than never, and you have to take a first step before you can take a hundredth step.

"Sex 101 Class"

Women in Liberian universities have frequently had to exchange sexual favors to professors for passing grades. Even if they report the man and he loses his job because of disciplinary action, he can usually find another teaching job elsewhere because no universal system for tracking such offenses exists.

Elizabeth Gbah, programme manager for women’s and girls’ rights at ActionAid Liberia, says transactional sex is so entrenched in university life that it’s a seemingly accepted practice. And tackling the problem is not helped by the fact that some women willingly choose to do it – knowing they are unlikely to pass their course if they don’t “pay” for grades – or believe that this is how women get on in life. Gbah says girls grow up thinking they are inferior to men, and often don’t feel able to articulate their concerns or fight back.

This is why there’s no such thing as benevolent patriarchy, or at least, not benign patriarchy.

"How Do I Report the Government to the Government?"

Trigger Warning for Rape/Sexual Violence

The testimonies filed to a Nairobi court last week are difficult to read. A woman is raped in front of her daughter, first by police and then by looters. A student is dragged into the bush and has his foreskin cut off. A terrified woman hides under her bed as attackers scale her roof but they find her, beat her, then three men rape her.

These horrific stories constitute a tiny fraction of the sexual violence that exploded amid the post-election chaos in 2007 and early 2008. There are no definitive figures on how many women and men were sexually abused, but activists estimate at least 3,000 women were raped, with at least 60% of the reported gang rapes attributed to the security forces. No one has been convicted.

The eight stories filed to the high court on 20 February are also chilling because on 4 March, Kenyans will go to the polls to choose a president, MPs, senators and county representatives. Campaigners fear a repeat of sexual atrocities if violence erupts.

I’m going to give away the ending because you’ve heard it before: you have to change the culture, starting with male superiority over women.

Three Girls, Aged 5, 9, and 11, Raped and Murdered in India

The three girls, who lived with their mother in Lakhni village in Maharashtra state, disappeared on 14 February, on their way home from school. Their widowed mother is a poor labourer, and when the grandfather went to the police to report their disappearance there was no attempt to search for them.

The police found the bodies of the three girls in an old well two days later, and recorded the deaths as “accidental”. But it was only after people from the village blocked a national highway on Wednesday in protest against the police inaction that the state home minister finally took notice.

A few protests over a single gang rape aren’t going to change centuries of patriarchy for India; they’d better be in it for the long haul.

An Everyday Campaign

In the wake of two high-profile murders of young women in South Africa, Sally Matthews responds to President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation address, in which he mentioned the need for “an everday campaign” against gender-based violence.

Many call for harsher sentences for rapists and murderers, but there is little evidence that such sentences actually act as a deterrent for such crimes. Others respond to GBV by renaming Valentine’s Day “V-day” and dancing in protest against rape, but many feel that such trendy forms of protest are nothing more than “slacktivism”—actions, which make us feel better, but have little actual influence.

Some look to the establishment of new institutions, such as the National Council on Gender-Based Violence which Zuma mentions will change things, but the creation of such institutions may do nothing more than make government appear to be doing something.

All of the above—stronger laws, stricter sentences, protest events and new institutions—may well form a part of such an “everyday campaign”, but for such a campaign to be effective, we also need to think carefully about the everyday actions and attitudes that form the foundation upon which GBV is built.

Her thoughts on those actions and attitudes apply pretty accurately to the United States, as well.

Via Feministing.

Somalia Jails Alleged Rape Victim

A Somali woman who accused government security forces of rape was sentenced to one year in prison on Tuesday after the court ruled that her accusation was false. A journalist who had interviewed the woman but never published a story was also sentenced to one year in prison.

The Somali court ruled that the woman had not been raped based on the testimony of a midwife who performed a “finger test.” According to the Human Rights Watch, the so-called “finger test” is “an unscientific and degrading practice that has long been discredited because it is not a credible test of whether a woman has been raped.”

As I’ve said before, that test has got to go. It’s rooted in ignorant beliefs about female anatomy held over from the days when a woman’s only worth came from her monetary value as a bona fide virgin on the marriage market.

Florida Man Accused of Fraud for Changing His Last Name After Getting Married

Lazaro Dinh (neé Sopena) changed his last name to his wife’s to prevent it from dying out (her father has no sons). He got a new Social Security card, passport, and credit cards before going to the DMV to get an updated driver’s license. Over a year later, the DMV notified him that they would be suspending his license at the end of the month for “obtaining a driving license by fraud”.

When he called the state DMV office in Tallahassee he said he was told he had to go to court first in order to change his name legally, a process that takes several months and has a $400 filing fee.

When he explained he was changing his name due to marriage, he was told “that only works for women,” he said.

Florida has no gender-specific laws regarding name change upon marriage. Dinh’s license has since been revoked, and he is appealing the decision.

Radical Woman of the Day: Camilla Collett

On this day in 1813 was born Camilla Collett, considered to be the first Norwegian feminist. Beginning as a diarist during her teens, Collett continued to write fiction, essays, polemics, and memoirs throughout her life, although she published only one novel, Amtmandens Døtre (The District Governor’s Daughters), one of the first Norwegian social realism novels.

Amtmandens Døtre addressed the lot of women in patriachal society, particularly the issue of forced marriages. Collett advocated allowing women to marry for love and grew ever more vociferous on behalf of this ideal as time passed. Although she viewed happy marriage—not career or independence—as offering women the greatest chance for success, many of her literary critiques and essays called for women to cast aside the feminine model of self-sacrifice and subservience and create a new image for themselves.

Collett herself married happily and for love. Her husband, Peter Jonas Collett, was a politician and literary critic who unfortunately died young, leaving Collett to raise their four sons on her own. She never recovered financially from this loss but continued to write despite opposition both gender-based and ideological. She died in 1895.

Via the Radical Women’s History Project.

♀ The Objectification of Haddie Cooke

Haddie Cooke and Dan Benjamin

Haddie Cooke and Dan Benjamin

Many of my real-life friends know that I love the podcasts produced by Dan Benjamin’s 5by5 network. In fact, they know it all too well; I can barely shut up about it, most weeks. 5by5 features shows about Apple[1], software development, technology in general, music, comics, productivity, sports, and other sorts of geekery. One of these shows is The Frequency, a daily news show hosted by Dan Benjamin and Haddie Cooke, the network’s Associate Producer and Account Manager.

Dan and Haddie recently designed and sold a batch of 5by5 coffee mugs, and they shipped them out to buyers this week, packaging and labeling the mugs themselves at their offices in Austin with the assistance of their friend and occasional guest-host Shlok Vaidya. On Sunday, Dan posted a few pictures of this process to Twitter, including this one of Haddie and Shlok putting the mugs into USPS Priority bags. Not long after Dan tweeted the picture, one of his followers (a man) replied to it with “blonde girl is hot :)”. I won’t link to this guy’s Twitter account because I’m not here to shame him, but if you feel compelled to find out who he is you can look at the replies to Dan’s original tweet.

To Dan’s credit, he tried to subvert the offensiveness of this comment with humor by replying back, “HOT COFFEE IS HOT”. The guy then made an apology of sorts: “lol! No offense meant. She really is pretty though.” I assume he thought that the word “hot” was the objectionable component[2] of his original statement.

The next morning, on The Frequency, Dan mentioned the incident, and he and Haddie spent a few minutes laughing about it. You can hear this segment starting at 1:44 in the mp3 file. Later, in the “After Dark” that follows the regular broadcast, Dan explained the comment as likely stemming from a mismatch between the sound of Haddie’s voice and the imaginary picture of her that the audience create in our heads (12:50 in the mp3). He also theorized that people don’t expect the host of a radio show to be attractive, citing the expression “a face for radio”. Possibly he was just trying to make Haddie feel less uncomfortable about the unwanted attention given to her physical appearance, but I think this theory is incorrect—or, at least, incomplete. Shlok Vaidya, despite being a young, conventionally-attractive man, received no comments on his physical appearance, as Haddie points out during the podcast. “A girl would never do that”, she generalizes.

We tend to laugh away this sort of behavior as just “creepy” or “anti-social”, and maybe that’s what public figures like Haddie Cooke need to do in order to be able to shake off the gross feeling such comments produce. She and Dan certainly made a number of jokes about the incident and even pretended to sympathize with Shlok Vaidya over the lack of attention paid to him. Alternatively, some women think remarks like this are “cute” or “sweet”—or at least, they pretend to think this so they won’t be perceived as frigid, prudish, or uptight.

But commenting in public on the physical attractiveness of a woman whose occupation has nothing to do with her appearance is not just creepy, and it’s definitely not cute. It’s a symptom of the pervasive subconscious belief that women exist for men to look at them. We define them in these terms; this Twitter follower’s first instinct on seeing Haddie was to objectify her, to make her a thing to be admired (or not, as the case might be), reducing her identity, with all its complexities, to nothing more than a body. Not content with doing this mentally, he made a comment about her in a public setting, inviting others to join him in admiring Haddie’s body. This implies a sense of ownership.

The unspoken—and, in many cases, unrecognized—belief that women’s bodies are public property has deep roots in our culture, and we program men to subconsciously “possess” every woman they encounter by objectifying her physically or sexually. For an extremely thorough analysis of how this issue affects young women, I encourage you to read this report by the American Psychological Association about the sexualization of girls.

I can certainly sympathize with any man who struggles not to objectify women; I do this myself, even about women whose many other good qualities I should appreciate. Much like Haddie’s admirer on Twitter, when I first saw a picture of Haddie on the 5by5 website I initially thought, “Oh, she’s pretty.” Unlike Twitter Guy, though, this is a behavior I am actively trying to change, so I reminded myself that Haddie is much more than a body. She is Dan’s producer for all the shows he hosts and the account manager for 5by5’s many sponsors. She is the only co-host of a show who is a member of his staff; in fact, I think she is the only full-time employee of 5by5, and Dan gives her responsibility, appreciation, and respect commensurate with her position. She has opinions, skills, quirks, likes, dislikes, and a full, three-dimensional life I can hear hints of on the shows she hosts. Reducing her to her appearance insults her and lessens me. I love listening to Haddie, and this would be true even if she were unattractive. So my second thought when I saw her picture and registered her physical appearance was a prompt to myself: “Who cares?”

I’m pretty stereotypically hetero and visually-oriented when it comes to women and sexual attraction. If I can work on recalibrating my mental attitudes toward women, other men can, too. This may not seem that important—Haddie doesn’t know, or probably care, whether I objectify her—but I plan to have children one day, and I want to pass on to them healthy, respectful attitudes toward women. Moreover, mental frameworks have a way of coming out in our speech and actions. If I view women primarily as people, not bodies, I will speak and behave differently than if I make a habit of objectifying them. And who knows what effect my speech and actions have, or how I might slowly and steadily influence others to think differently by making subtle adjustments to my paradigm? This is my feminism, and the feminism we need from every man: a constant war of attrition against patriarchy that begins with me.

Photo Credit: Scott Beale via Photo Pin (cc).


Update: “Twitter Guy” has pulled his replies to Dan Benjamin’s tweeted picture of Haddie Cooke and Shlok Vaidya because he agreed they were offensive. He has also apologized to Dan on Twitter for posting them in the first place.

  1. I know you’re surprised.  ↩

  2. Or COMponent, as you say.  ↩

If you appreciated this post, you might also like my new series of fantasy short stories featuring the immortal woman whose adventures we now know only through scattered myths and legends. Read them for free starting at the Her True Name story archives!