Sunday, September 30, 2007

If, on any chance, someone is in fact keeping track of me here, stumble on over to my new attempt at regular blogging, A Secret Chord.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Can we even call it a rape trial at this point?

I realized in replying to a comment on my last entry (the livejournal version, of course) that the story I alluded to briefly--about the judge who ruled that a rape victim couldn't use the words "rape" or "sexual assault" (not to mention "victim", which was already out) in her testimony--was something that probably warranted some further commentary with my linguist hat on. For background, here is a link to a news report of it, and here is the take at abyss2hope (which, as always, is pretty darn good).

What I was saying in the comment on my last post is that in some ways I have a lot of difficulty making effective arguments against this type of attitude, which is extremely common and pervasive, because it's partially usurping my own framework--that rape is a unique crime in a lot of ways and that it needs to be talked about separately from plain old assault. But they take that construction and use it to mean, therefore, that a rape accusation is the most horrifying charge that can be leveled against a man, akin to calling him Satan incarnate, ensuring that he was spend the rest of his life with a scarlet "R" emblazoned across his forehead, never able to work, marry, or find a good neighbourhood in which to live again. As usual, I have no intention of coming off unsympathetic towards those who are actually falsely accused (and I have complicated feelings surrounding the legal construct of paroled sex-offender registration), but my position is that a) obviously, this is immediately transferring the primary focus away from where it always belongs, which is on the victim, and the rhetoric they use to do it is very successful and b) the problems they're purportedly trying to counter are not actually entirely real. I don't really want to talk about the Duke case here, but it seems to me that what a lot of people could not recognize there was that the accused were never being universally vilified and that the bulk of the media and public opinion immediately leaped to their defense, talked about them as otherwise upstanding boys, and started rallying around them to preempt exactly this quase-mythical phenomenon. In the interests of not getting too far off-track, I'll leave that example at that.

This judge is so steeped in that framework that he's absolutely crippling any attempt to actually prosecute this case. One of the reasons I like Marcella's analysis at abyss2hope is that she immediately hits to the heart of the problem, in a way that, because of the way our society thinks, comes off as reductio ad absurdum but is actually pretty straightforward quid pro quo:
The words "sex" and "we" and "they" should also be barred from descriptors in any questioning or testimony regarding the alleged sex crime or events which preceded those alleged crimes since they all imply consent and would prejudice a jury against the alleged victim.

It's the "we" and "they" in this argument that I think makes it effective. It forces out into the open what "he said/she said" really means--"she" is depicting an agent/patient scenario, and "he" is depicting mutual agency. It exposes that every word, including each tiny little pronoun, is loaded with content, and bias, framing and "prejudicial" aspects cannot possibly be removed from the courtroom language. And no one ever expects that they should or can be in anything but a rape case--imagine a murder trial without the corresponding words. Keep in mind even the phrase "sexual assault kit" was banned--a legal method of collecting evidence that may be brought forward at trial as part of determining whether sexual assault occurred, and if so, the identity of the assailant. What this judge has done, therefore, is obviously exactly the opposite of stripping away potentially "prejudicial" language and in fact ensuring that only the "he said" framework is really being presented. In an adversarial legal system, in a case regarding a crime that is inevitably construed as "he said/she said", even when there is a plethora of other evidence, that sounds the death knell of the prosecution.

What really got me thinking about this today when I was writing that comment was mentioning the fact that the jury was not informed of the judge's ruling limiting the victim's language choices in her testimony. In combination with the inability to use the term "sexual assault kit", that made the cynic in me come out and wonder if they were even allowed to know what sort of crime they were apparently ruling on. But it got me thinking about how I would have perceived the testimony had I been on the jury. A couple of things:
  1. Obviously, I have no way of knowing the specific content of her 13-hour testimony beyond what I've seen reported, and pretty much everything I've seen focuses on the same salient points that the linked news article does.
  2. I will never be on a jury because my activism and experience working with victims will make any defense attorney toss me out immediately on the assumption that I am incapable of a reasonable legal judgment.
Were I nonetheless on this jury--or any jury--in addition to the content of the testimony presented, I would be paying very careful attention to any and all word choices. I wouldn't be able to avoid noticing the framing, knowing both that the witness testifying is likely revealing a great deal more about his or her attitudes and assumptions than he or she understands and that the lawyer pulling the razzle-dazzle 'em strings has coached the witness very specifically and with the intent to manipulate me and the other jurors in this manner, and presumably with the assumption that we won't notice (maybe that would also keep me off any jury). So it would not slip past me that the victim never used the words "rape", "assault", "victim", "assailant" or "attack", and if it did, I'm sure whatever exceptionally unnatural substitute was inserted in place of "sexual assault kit" would tweak my ear and make me think. Personally, I would likely suspect something extremely strange was going on with this testimony and infer judicial interference, but that's because of my background working in sexual assault cases and the number of reports of exactly this kind I've seen in the past (the fact that I would have been right, but also excluded from jury contention, because of that very point, is another to consider, if you ask me).

But what if it's somebody else on the jury who has some awareness of the concepts of framing and rhetoric, but lacks my experience dealing with sexual violence? That juror will be on the lookout for the word choices that are designed to manipulate, to hide and reveal as the lawyer/puppetmaster intends, and would logically assume that the prosecutor is the puppetmaster of the witnesses for the prosecution, including the victim. I could write 12 Angry Men with that juror going back into the room and being the Henry Fonda who dismantles every aspect of the prosecution's case based on, among other things, the implication that the victim is hiding something because even she can't bring herself to call it rape.

Now, with that person, and with any standard juror who's just listening to the "facts" and not actually noticing the words, there are obviously a whole bunch of ways that could end up falling out. The fact that the trial in question ended with a hung jury (7-5, with the majority going for "guilty") belies that reality and undermines some of my stormier rhetoric here. Somehow that linguistic Henry Fonda image is eating away at me, however (in black and white, of course), and I can't help but wonder of the impact that it would have had in the jury room if someone on the jury had noticed that aspect of her testimony but not the man behind the curtain. I don't know if the results of the new trial will end up widely reported, but I'd be very interested to see how it turns out, both because this case has sparked my righteous anger (and damn, this woman clearly needs this to be over so that she can figure out how to heal, not to mention identify everything she's going to need to heal from, including all of the aspects of this trial and any yet to come) and for academic reasons--will the judge alter his ruling in any way? If the jury selection attempts to exclude anyone who's read about that aspect of the previous case, will it be difficult to find an "untainted" jury in that community? What will be the result of that--ie. in what ways is the jury suddenly being demographically constructed entirely of people who don't read the news, or whatever, and do you really want me to get started on this whole concept of "unbiased" jury member, to which I've now alluded several times? If they don't attempt to impose that restriction on jury members, but the judge does continue his ruling--either adding an acknowledgment of it to the jury or assuming that it may be conveyed to the rest of the jury by any one member who was aware of it from the previous case--how will the jury's awareness of the order affect deliberations?

Oh, and for good measure, I'll just make sure it's known that the judge in question is less-than-cordially invited to bite me.

Here we go again...

Still wishing I could shake what bugs me about livejournal. But whatever; this is x-posted from there (day late).

The good(ish) news. From the British blog "The F-word", a story about proposals for legal reform that *actually* sound somewhat practical in terms of dealing with many of the problems currently inherent in prosecuting rape cases within the legal systems of, oh, everywhere, apparently. The middle one on the list deals with simply making life easier for an individual who has been traumatized, and honestly, I just can't ever value procedural bladeebla over that. The other two--allowing expert testimony on the range of reactions from rape victims and allowing the introduction of evidence that a woman who didn't go to the police immediately may have spoken to someone else--seem to me to be all about leveling the playing field in terms of what sort of doubt is "reasonable" and what sort is myth-driven in rape cases. In a week in which I've also seen, among other things, news reports that a judge sentenced a man convicted of raping a ten-year-old girl to no more than two years because she dressed provocatively and presented herself as though she were sixteen (in other words, the ten-year-old was asking for it), and a great deal of discussion surrounding the decision of an American judge to force a victim to testify without ever using the words "rape" or "sexual assault" in describing her recollection of the events (while, of course, allowing "had sex with" and other such terms), it's honestly comforting just to realize that somebody somewhere is thinking about practical solutions to the problems with the treatment of rape, legally speaking. The "ish" part comes, if you read the link, from the depressingly predictable opposition that the reforms are facing, as well as from what had to be taken out of the bill because it was "too controversial".

The bad news. Well, this just depresses me, see, for a lot of the same reasons as are indicated in the original post, but, as should be obvious to most of you, for several others as well. Now, I didn't think it was physically possible for me to hate Chicken-Soup-for-the-Soul, heartwarming, God-affirming/confirming, etc etc and so forth, chain e-mail than I already did, but apparently the universe likes to tease me when I start thinking categorically like that. Now, I really like the original poster's identification of the first problem: "It turns God into nothing more than an omnipresent form of mace", especially balanced against the obvious counter-implication, which is that if someone does get raped, it's because that person hasn't been faithful enough (see also: everything I've ever said about "The Secret"). The concept over-heralds Christianity and Christians at the same time as it makes them seem shallow and self-centred, and it manages to doubly insult God in one fell swoop--one, by suggesting that He (and by extension, His followers) creates suffering amongst non-believers, either as punishment or so that He can get more people to sign on to His list because they're easier to convert when they're hurting, and two, by way oversimplifying the intervention of God in the world. Victim-blaming, slut-shaming and self-congratulatory smugness wrapped up in a supposedly feel-good bow with a liberal sprinkling of fear-mongering on top. The closing line of the email? "Repost this as A GIRL RAPED IN (your city) if you truly believe in God… "

That line literally makes me feel sick to my stomach*. The whole idea of rejoicing in someone else's victimization--not just being grateful that it wasn't you, not even a request for prayer for the woman who was victimized after that headline, but actually feeling joy and a confirmation of your moral and spiritual certitude--just horrifies me.

I was going to spend some time talking about what I dislike about the original post's "rewriting" of the chain mail, but apparently my brain isn't functioning quite well enough to allow me to do that. So I'll just end off with the message that, in case you were wondering, please don't send me any of this sort of email, at all, ever, under any circumstances. It makes my eye-roll and delete-button muscles hurt. If you're netiquette aware enough to actually read blogs, I suspect (or rather, am sure) you're not really my target audience on that, but it kind of feels better to say it anyway.

Friday, May 11, 2007

What Makes Sarah Cry: Part 2

It's somewhat ironic, given the content of this post, that the whole reason I had to split this into two was that I can't figure out how to use hide things behind a cut on blogger. Nonetheless, on I go.

The second thing that made me cry was that I finally came across a major blog with several posts on this issue and absolutely no comments that inferred that this broadcast (discussed in previous post) described anything other than rape. The blogger put a warning above the audio clip that it was extremely offensive, then went on to discuss the content behind the fold. That discussion included details on how the radio comments could never be "funny" to someone who was nearly "fucked to death" herself, and a horrifying, graphic description of the violent rape that she experienced at 16. When I first clicked on the audio, I did so with lots of warning that it was offensive, and I chose to do it anyway, fully aware of the probable content. I made that decision because I, personally, don't tend to find fantasy descriptions designed mainly to cause controversy to be triggering--they make me feel like vomiting, they make me cry or want to cry, and they make me angry, but they don't make me fearful and bring back actual memories. Others have different reactions, which is why the warnings are there on the audio links, and we each have to make our choices about the limits of what we can handle listening to and reading at a given time. Graphic descriptions of real stories are sometimes past my limits, and they were this morning, and I clicked through to the rest of the post expecting commentary on the offensive hypothetical, but not even remotely anticipating what was there and the feelings it brought up in me. Maybe that was naive, and maybe I'm asking people to be over-cautious about the nuances of reactions to discussions of sexual violence.

I posted a comment requesting that another trigger warning be put up before the cut. The response I got was that such a warning would be like saying she should be "ashamed of her experiences". I don't think it's like that at all, especially if it's worded as a "trigger warning" and not "potentially offensive content". I said in my comment that I have immense respect for her willingness to share that story and to relate it directly back to the kind of bullshit contained in that clip, because it relates, and people who don't think it does need to be told, possibly graphically, how wrong they are. I don't think she should refrain from posting it, nor that she should feel that she has to hide it from the world because she has something to be ashamed of. But I don't think it's respectful to other people who have experienced rape to leave them unprepared for the feelings that may come up. I think that's very different from attempting to shame her, and while I'm sure she wasn't accusing me of having those reasons, since I was very clear in my comment, I can't help but feel that my request was being equated with that intention. I'll read personal stories of sexual violence a lot of the time, and I really think that these personal stories are a vital part of raising awareness, and sometimes I choose to read them when it turns out that I'm not as prepared as I thought I might be, or end up reading one that is way too much like my own stories for me not to be triggered. But I make the decision of what I can handle on a day-to-day basis, and there are many days when that line is somewhere between "news and media portrayals of rape" and "personal experiences", and I appreciate the kinds of warnings that generally accompany these posts.

So I didn't actually cry when I first read the post. I shut down. I didn't stay that way for long because I hate feeling that way, and I'm familiar enough with my own patterns and needs to pull myself up to a place I'm more comfortable with. Then I submitted the request, which wasn't easy. Getting the response is what made me cry, because I feel like I should be ashamed of having these reactions to what I read, and that I'm part of the problem by thinking that we shouldn't have to hear about this stuff if we don't want to--the reality is this woman shouldn't have had to experience it, and my having to read it is on a different planet of impact.

As I said, maybe I am placing overly high expectations on others to consider a variety of feelings. Maybe I actually am part of the problem when sometimes I want to stick my head at least a little ways into the sand about what rape looks like, and I'm silencing this woman with this request. Maybe I have to rethink all that. But as it stands, the choice I'm making now is to stop reading that blog, which sucks, because it was one that I liked for a lot of reasons. If I don't know what to expect, I can't decide when I'm up for what I'll see--I've done this same with television shows, but this is the first time I've felt ashamed of myself for doing it.

What Makes Sarah Cry: Part 1

Well, two things, right now; split into two posts because I'm not tech-savvy enough to follow blogger's directions on how to post with a "read more", and I know I'm too wordy. Not so long ago, I wrote a livejournal post on the UWO "spoof" article. What I see as the most important point of that post is this:
What really makes me want to cry is that the Maclean's article says not once, but twice, that the spoof article "made no mention of rape". Made. No. Mention. Of. Rape. "Police Chief Murray Faulkner stopped greasing his nightstick and intervened. He grabbed the loudspeaker from Ostrich's wild vagina and took it into a dark alley to teach it a lesson. To Ostrich's dismay, the vagina followed, giggling as it said 'I love it when a man in uniform takes control'". For fuck's sake, I could write a dissertation on the layers of offensiveness in that. But, um: Maclean's? The most widely read and respected Canadian newsmagazine there is? Can you get your head out of your ass long enough to realize that what those sentences describe, right there? Is rape. Unquestionably, not-even-that-well-hidden, rape. Back alley rape, even, so it's the kind you should recognize. Does a guy have to say "I'm going to rape you now" for it to be rape? Because that's pretty much the message I'm getting regarding what you would consider a description or "mention of rape". And did any of the commenters pick up on this? Nope. At least not in the first twenty-five comments or so, and I don't think it's expecting too much of Maclean's readers to think they should notice.
Apparently, we do, in fact, have to hear the word "rape" in order for a situation to become unacceptable. The latest story on "rape jokes" is from an XM radio station clip in which "Homeless Charlie" is egged on to say, among other things, that he would enjoy seeing the look of terror on Condoleezza Rice's face as he "fucked her to death". If you can stomach the clip and a comment thread full of nothing but references to stupid, repressed, anti-free speech liberals, as well as the unquestioned assumption that this is not a description of rape, follow this link. But it's on the Feministing thread that someone actually answers my question (emphasis mine):
I agree that what they said is really offensive, but in no way did they threaten anyone. A threat would have required them to say "we are going to rape you." However they were only speculating on how nice it would be to have sex with Rice, not using the threat of sex in any way.

Yes it sounds ignorant and mean, etc. Still in no way is there a threat or mention of rape. They don't say that the sex would be against the will of either Rice or Bush.

Is sex automatically rape now? Did I miss something?

Now, legally, this commenter may be right that the statements do not constitute a "threat" and therefore cross over beyond what is "protected speech", however vile, and an actual, illegal act--a threat. But that's not all he says. He says there is no mention of rape. He uses genteel academic language like "speculating" and acts like these guys are really talking about how "nice" it would be to have sex with this woman. Nice. To "fuck her to death". He's equating those of us who see it as rape when a woman is threatened with death and held down by a man who clearly hates her with the mythological feminist beasts who think that even the nicest, roses and romantic music love-making is rape. On a blog called "Feministing".

In a world where people who have experienced sexual violence are constantly having to argue that what happened was actually rape, minimizing the validity of their experiences because they weren't beaten/he didn't use a weapon/they were drinking/they may have encouraged him, and where naming a rape for what it was remains one of the earliest and biggest hurdles to recovery, this kind of interpretation of a hypothetical does matter. A guy who regularly reads a feminist blog doesn't think that people who say they would enjoy watching a woman fear for her life as they hold her down and "fuck" her are describing a violent, hateful, misogynistic rape. And seeing it, over and over, finally made me cry. It's beyond anger, it's grief and a fear that this fight is hopeless.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

A Rhetorical Question

As I suggested in an earlier post, and have been saying regularly for a while now, I think the most frustrating aspect of any of the political issues I'm reading about has to be the rhetoric. Every single "discussion" is being framed in overly simplistic terms or entirely inflammatory ones, and as soon as certain buzz words are used in one context, it defines who is allowed to comment in that space and who is not.

An article on "The Thinkery" deals with frustration from liberal Christians with fundamentalism from both the atheist and Christian side. One side says we can't be "true believers" because we don't meet [x] requirement, while the other says we are irrational for believing in God in the first place, thereby immediately dismissing our ability to present a rational and cogent position. I have some great conversations with atheists and spiritual believers alike who are listening, but the alternative happens often enough that my frustration is there.

But online discussions of US Supreme Court decision on partial-birth abortion and a few other issues have been characterized by one phrase: "It's that simple". That phrase says one thing, regardless of what comes before it--"Stop talking. I'm not changing my mind, there is no chance I can increase my understanding here, and anybody who thinks there's more to understand is just delusional. Stop. Talking." In the case of the abortion ban, I've seen it used to flat-out dismiss and dehumanize sexually active women: "Don't have sex and you won't have any babies to kill. It's that simple" and I've seen it used in cases where it's completely factually incorrect: "This law prevents all second trimester abortions. It prevents women from deciding when they're 5 months pregnant that they just don't want to be pregnant anymore. It's that simple".

For the most part, those who have agitated against the ban or spoken out since have been much less inclined to oversimplify, probably because they're the ones with their backs against the wall being caricatured to death, and they know their strongest argument against that image is to show the many, many complicated situations in which a woman may choose or require an intact D&E. Many of them continue hoping against hope that the people who misunderstand the law in the way of the latter commenter can hear them when they back up their statements with links to what the law really says. But I've seen some bloggers who have gotten to the point of "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" frustration with respect to rhetoric, using terms like "the forced childbirth movement". I'm right, you're wrong, it's that simple, stop talking, I'm not listening anyway, your perspective doesn't count here.

Dancing the dance of being heard in both feminist and Christian circles means I choose my words very carefully (that I'm long-winded is unquestionable, but that's my personal battle against "it's that simple"). Oversimplifications like "pro-life" vs "pro-choice" make me uncomfortable. I don't know how to refuse to let someone define me as "anti-life", and I certainly have no intention of dismissing the nuances of the positions of others with terms like "forced childbirth". My best friend and I have had some heated debates over the issue of abortion over the years, and she doesn't much like being portrayed as "anti-choice" either, though she acknowledges that "anti-life" and even "pro-death" sounds a hell of a lot worse. The competing echo chamber aspect of contemporary politics is pretty well-understood, and yet all we're saying is "it's that simple". Go away--if you're Christian, you can't be rational, if you're atheist, you hate Jesus and those who stand for Him.

The linguist in me understands that not only is it politically vital to get control of the terms of the debate, it's also cognitively natural to label. I need simple basics if I'm going to describe someone to someone else, and one-word titles will do that. I need to know whether certain topics are going to be controversial and where we might have common ground when I meet someone. And dichotomous options are the easiest. But it's never that simple. Smart people, even most people, know this, but they still choose their short-phrase summaries of people and positions: Fundies. Anti-choice. Islamofascists. Tree hugging dirt munching hippies. Maybe they'll acknowledge that people can fit into multiple boxes--though in my experience, feminist Christian is a tough combination for many to reconcile--and maybe they'll understand that the boxes are bigger than they might think, but they still need boxes.

Kristofferson got that: He's a poet. He's a picker. He's a prophet. He's a pusher. He's a pilgrim and a preacher and a problem when he's stoned. He's a walking contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction.

It's never that simple. It's that simple.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Amnesty report on sexual assault among U.S. indignous women

(x-posted from my livejournal, as part of hoping for a better forum for more serious writing and the ongoing battle to figure out why I started this blog in the first place)

One of the most depressing factors in reading lots and lots of blogs has been reading the writing of people of colour who regularly point out that the mainstream white feminist community is just not speaking in a way that really includes them. There are certain news stories, certain posts, certain concepts that lead to racism being mentioned, and for the most part, that mainstream group is putting some effort towards increasing the number of those posts, challenging racist ideas as well as sexist ones, and increasing the profile of the voices of non-white feminists. But the basic framework for the discussions are coming from entirely different places on a number of these issues.

What shook me out of thinking I wasn't up to posting was this report from Amnesty International on sexual violence among U.S. aboriginal women*. There was a report with similar findings on Canadian indigenous women in 2004. Being reminded of this got me thinking again about the reading I was doing a few years ago and some conversations I had with the Dene women on the Cold Lake reserve in Alberta. At one point, I was really interested in the portrayal of sexual violence in literature [hey, maybe there's a Hathor books post in there] and started seeking out examples of works that dealt with that topic. I was looking only at literature written relatively recently, and only in North America, but I found examples from both white authors and authors from minority communities (mainly African American in the U.S., all First Nations authors in Canada). It didn't take me long to notice a pattern of difference in the works--where white authors** were writing in a way designed to raise awareness of just how frequently sexual violence occurs, they wrote about it as a tragic, life-shattering experience that should not ever happen (which of course is true). They wrote about overcoming shame and silencing, they wrote about anger and violation, and they wrote about stopping this kind of violence from continuing. Female authors of colour wrote about it as the status quo. They wrote about is as the default condition, with the assumption that women in their community had experienced sexual violence almost without exception. There was certainly an element of wanting their stories to be heard, but where white characters had to reveal their "victim" status to their peers, getting responses both positive and negative, but all based on the idea that the experience was a shock, the First Nations and African American characters spoke to other women in the community as though there was no revelation, and certainly no surprise.

Two things were scary about this difference, to me: the first was just how hopeless it felt. The Amnesty reports show aspects of this. While white feminists in Canada are working to improve the system so that rape victims who seek medical care and legal action are treated fairly and to reduce the culture of slut-shaming and victim-blaming that would allow us to wear low-cut shirts without fear or discomfort, North American indigenous populations are trying to work to build a system that provides adequate health care and legal resources at all. In Canada (as well as the U.S., from what I can tell), First Nations people live as political footballs in arguments about who is responsible for each and every thing most of us take for granted--health care is generally provincially funded, but reserves are federal space administered by the anachronistically named Ministry of Indian and Northern Affairs; the political climate means that every medical need faced by someone living on a reserve is subject to scrutiny, not to mention the racist public perception of "lazy Indians" sucking off of the government welfare teat and never paying taxes. The AI report mentions the technicalities of jurisdiction that prevent prosecution of crimes that occur on U.S. reservations based on whether the perpetrator is or is not an aboriginal person, and such is the reality of living in limbo between two systems that constantly overlap based on simple geographic and economic practicality, not to mention that the system theoretically designed to meet the specific needs of those on the reserves is chronically deprived of the resources necessary for basic functioning. My ranting about the stories I've heard and personally experienced of doctors, police officers, media outlets and acquaintances who question women on how much they had to drink or what they were wearing or whether they led the guy on, my attempts to raise awareness on the impact of sexual violence, my accompanying women to the hospital or police station and talking to them when they are in crisis and not sure if they can make it through the night--all vital. But when the woman isn't even sure she can access standard medical and legal resources, not to mention faces race-based judgments that don't even get to the point of asking what she was wearing before dismissing her as entirely without value, what I'm saying is not even in the same book as what she's dealing with.

The second is that, though the realization came to me through literary examples, it forced me to see that the same difference had pervaded many conversations I had had. One of the byproducts of volunteering at sexual assault centres is that I very quickly became a safe person to whom to disclose past experiences, for both friends and people I had literally just met. I'm grateful for that, because I've been in a position to support more people in that way than I ever could if I waited for all of them to walk through the doors or call the crisis line. Since during my Master's, I did some of my research on a reserve and worked on some indigenous language development courses, I ended up having quite a few of these conversations with First Nations women. Many were old enough to have gone through the insanity of residential schooling, a few were younger. They talked about the sexual abuse as just another aspect of the systemic violence designed to eradicate their self-worth and the value of their entire nation. It was horrifying, they had been damaged in their relationships and in their understanding of personal autonomy, just like me, but unlike me and unlike the highly educated, middle class white women like me that I've spoken to, they never described it as the most horrible thing that had ever happened to them. It was rarely a revelation, it was an assumption. Recovery was being presented not just as something unique and personal, but as something needed within the entire community, since the abuse of the residential school system and the current policies have been perpetrated on First Nations peoples as entire communities. Since I met most of these people in the context of language revitalization efforts, that probably biases that perspective, because you can't talk about that without talking about the impact of being beaten into forgetting how to speak your native language. But when I talk about rape and abuse, I still talk about it as a revelation, as the worst thing I've ever experienced. I talk and write a hell of a lot about the attitudes toward women that make people refuse to recognize rape for what it is, and therefore make it acceptable. But I forget how ongoing colonialism brings in all these competing aspects of horrible, and how the attitudes towards First Nations people make many refuse to recognize them as people at all, and therefore make rape practically inevitable. The hopelessness comes from the sense that in those cases, there's just no time and energy to deal with rape in and of itself, because it's part of a picture that's just so much larger than that. And I don't know how to bridge the gap of talking about it in a way that it becomes relatable to people living with all of those circumstances, so that I'm not continuing to add to the problem of privileging my own experiences as normative.

I should note that now, I tend to default to the assumption that any woman to whom I'm speaking has experienced sexual violence. That may seem cynical or depressing, but first of all, the percentage of women in all corners of Canadian society who have been raped is too high to do otherwise, and second, I've yet to meet anyone among the remaining women who hasn't experienced some form of sexualized behaviour that has made her feel, at minimum, uncomfortable. And that helps me in a number of ways: I don't get to be "poor me" about my own experiences, I'm less likely to accidentally say something that may come off as dismissive or start another iteration of the "suffering Olympics", and I'm prepared enough for a disclosure that I don't react with the kind of shock and horror that I've personally found condescending or insulting in the past. But I still end up feeling shaken by the way I hear it being talked about by First Nations women, and I still feel paralyzed by the magnitude of the interrelated problems being talked about in those two Amnesty International reports, which of course I still forget about the bulk of the time I'm talking about sexual violence from inside my white feminist bubble, where it's the most horrible thing that's ever happened to me. And I'm not entirely sure how to talk about it in a way that's remotely approachable from outside that bubble. I'm not looking for a gold star just for asking the question, I'm seriously trying to figure out how to break through the walls that are in place just based on the basic differences in discourse on the subject that I'm noticing in the above paragraphs. But at that point, I find myself feeling hopeless and just figuring I need to detach from the world of issues encapsulated by the internet, or moving on to thinking about the next source of outrage that everybody else is talking about as well.

*Note: I don't really know what the dynamic is in the U.S. with regard to this terminology. I see the demographic term "American Indian and Alaska Native" persons in academic literature, including the AI report, but I still personally balk a little at anything using the word "Indian" for North American indigenous peoples because of the way that term is viewed in Canada. I'm assuming some acceptance of the terms "aboriginal" and "indigenous" based on the fact that those are the terms being used in a neutral (rather than sarcastically pejorative) manner on the few blogs I can find written by U.S. aboriginal persons. When referring to Canadian communities, I'm more comfortable using the term "First Nations", except when it's unclear whether the studies/examples include Métis and Inuit people as well, because the political implications change--and don't think I don't hate that in and of itself. Basically, this is my apology for the reality that I don't have a clue about the equivalent implications in U.S. policy or common discourse.

**Both the white authors and those of colour were predominantly female

Thursday, April 26, 2007

A Feminist Christian apologia

Look: I’m sick of having my religion controlled by a bunch of sexist, homophobic assholes. I’m sick of having to say “Yes, I’m a Christian, but...” in any conversation with other feminists, and the reverse in conversations with Christians. I don’t want my beliefs presumed based on either of those adjectives.

I’m a Christian because the image of Christ as God fits best with my intuitive understanding of how God works. That’s not particularly academically rigorous, I realize, but it’s far from an uncommon reason for religious choices. I have faith that there is, in fact, a God because I have directly experienced changes in my life that I can only describe as miraculous. I don’t feel the need to subject to the scrutiny of others the fact that I attribute those changes to God, because I don’t understand why anyone else should want to break down the joy I experience as a result. Again, that’s not academically rigorous, but that’s because it’s faith. My understanding of God will always be limited, because I am finite and He is not. But I choose to call myself Christian because my finite mind cannot grasp a benevolent God that does anything other than give every human being an equal opportunity for salvation and grace. I choose to call myself Christian because I believe that Christ’s sacrifice represents that opportunity, and I choose to participate in Christian community because it gives me joy and constant reminders of the presence of God. Beyond that, things get very complicated because living in an imperfect world cannot ever be considered simple.

I have no real interest in talking about heaven and hell, because I don’t really think that much about it and am not living and making decisions in this world as a holding ground or test of my qualifications for some future better place. My faith is not a sedative that prevents me from fearing death. There are plenty of atheists in foxholes, I still fear death as the ultimate unknown and living my faith in a real, fucked up world is more often frustrating and challenging than it is reassuring. I have no idea what gets people their tickets to eternal happiness, and while I do my best to live my life in the way I think God would want me to, I have no idea if I’m listening carefully enough, or if I’m ending up rationalizing selfish choices and reframing them as God's will in order to serve my own desires, or if some combination of specific failures is going to prevent me from getting on the guest list. I also have absolutely no idea what is in anyone else’s head or heart, which, in combination with the unknowability of God’s “naughty” vs. “nice” criteria, means I have no opinion on whether or not anyone else is or should be on the guest list. Even if they do things I won't do for moral reasons. Even if they’re atheists. Even if they’re serial killers. That last one is tough to apply, but it reminds me that I may be radically incorrect about the nature of God on every level. If unrepentant torturous serial killers are getting in, I’ll probably be given the “handbasket” pass, but I gotta do what I gotta do here and now.

I have a strong interest in wresting control of Christianity away from the dominant voices of sex-obsessed power hungry men who need women to be servile and can’t handle the threat that love between members of the same sex presents to their understanding of the “natural” gendered hierarchy that puts them at the top. I base my conceptualization of women and gender roles in Christianity on two fundamental biblical concepts. The first is that Jesus Himself showed many signs of a radical viewpoint on women (including marginalized sex workers and those with the audacity to study and speak on scripture) and their value that went well beyond the oft-cited “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” passage. The second is that, by my reading, patriarchal Christianity has completely misinterpreted Genesis in construing the subordination of women as God’s original intention and not the consequence of the Fall, or the breaking of the designed relationship between God and His creation. Because of sin, not because it was what He wanted, God tells woman “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (Genesis 3:16). Blame for the Fall lies equally in man and woman if Genesis is given careful reading, and if the goal as Christians is to live in a way that brings us closer and closer to the original plan God had in Eden, to truly create His kingdom on Earth, then we must be working to dismantle the consequences of the Fall, one of which is male dominance over women. Being an active feminist is, for me, the logical consequence of seeking to restore God’s creation and the natural extension of the work Jesus was doing in His lifetime.

I use male pronouns to refer to God because it’s convenient, not because I think only “man”, in the limited gendered definition, was created in God’s image. I look extensively at the ways in which imperfect human language, imperfect human interpretation, and the limitations of translation have influenced Christian practice, such that the pre-Fall reference to Eve as a “helper” (or “helpmeet”) to Adam has been taken to enforce subservience even though God refers to Himself in relation to humanity using that same term, and I’m not aware of any Christian who has suggested that God should therefore be subservient to people.

I support the legal equality of women, and I oppose paternalistic policies that suggest women can’t or shouldn’t make their own decisions, the persistent use of violence and threats to silence women, the continued politicization of every choice a woman makes regarding her body and how to clothe it.

I support equal rights for members of the LGBTQ community, including but not limited to employment, marriage, and freedom from the same kinds of oppression on the list relating to women, and I think all Christians should do the same regardless of whether they think the behaviour is sinful.*

I recognize that correcting a system of injustice involves reducing the current power of those who have been historically privileged, and frankly, I don’t care. I’m a straight, white, extremely well educated woman who has benefited extensively from my race and class background, and I do appreciate that it’s a huge challenge not to feel entitled to what I’ve always had because of that. My response to those men, both within and outside of the Christian community, who feel unfairly maligned by feminism and other equal rights movements is therefore generally “Get over it”, though it’s not said entirely without sympathy.

Even though I say at the beginning of this apologia that I’m sick of having to justify my faith, I don’t believe Christians are marginalized in any way in North American society and I’m far more sick of hearing that we are. The requirement that I explain myself has more to do with the oversimplification of words and knee-jerk principles of categorization than does with “oppression” or “discrimination” by any definition of those terms. That concept will at some point be fleshed out in a future post on language with a catchy (?) academic title like “A Rhetorical Manifesto”.

I'm not unique in these beliefs, but if we're going to be having any kind of conversation at all, apparently you're going to need to understand the context of my self-identification in order to have a chance at mutual respect, so here I present my narcissistic apologetics.

*I don’t, personally, but part of my point is that I don’t think my view on what is and is not sin needs to be brought into discussions of politics, rights and discrimination, so I don’t intend to present a biblical justification for that aspect of my belief system. I apologize if that seems contradictory given that I just provided exactly that justification for my feminism.

Monday, April 09, 2007

What is Sarah doing 101: Part 1-Feminism

This is Part 1 of what should have been introductory posts. See the reasoning behind it here.

I'm separating the feminist stuff into two posts: This general one and one on violence against women and sexual violence in particular.

Bitch, PhD has a great thread (as she says, be sure to read the comments) on Misogyny in real life filled with individual stories of exactly what the title implies. It covers everything from sexualized comments and dismissive reactions to rape (there are some disturbing and possibly triggering stories in there), to threats to job advancement and invasive critiques on women's behaviour.

“The Male Privilege Checklist” also covers a lot of what I think is important in contemporary North American feminism, particularly the ubiquitous and therefore altogether too easily dismissed stuff.

Women still fight for equal pay. The vast majority of households in poverty in Canada are headed by women, because they can’t afford adequate child care, because their attempts to advance their careers are put on hold by the time it takes to raise children, and because of the aforementioned actual, everyday occurrence of not receiving equal pay for equal work. Though it’s illegal in Ontario to even ask someone in a job interview about his or her present parenting arrangements or future plans, the idea that it’s not desirable to hire a woman who may end up taking maternity leave, or who has small children for whom she is probably the primary caregiver, is often brought in by backdoor means.

Expanding a bit based on personal experience and anecdotes, as a woman, I have to think constantly about what my clothing says about me sexually. Men, of course, can and do focus on how the way they dress reflects upon their status or their desirability, but don’t have to evaluate whether they look like they’re looking to be looked at. What I wear is never just about what I wear, but who I’m wearing it for. Despite being an intelligent, funny, generous woman, I am regularly reduced to a body by comments that ignore what I am saying and focus entirely on the way I look from the neck down. I complimented a male acquaintance on his appearance recently, because he had been sick and it was very nice to see him looking healthy and vibrant again, and his immediate reaction was to turn the conversation to talking about my body. I politely said “thank you” to his basic compliment, and his response was actually “No--thank you”, complete with a leer at my breasts, as though my physical appearance were actually some kind of gift to him, or in any way connected to his enjoyment at all.

The power to attract men sexually is being mistaken for actual political voice and political power. As I said, many more articulate people than I write about this stuff, so here's a link on the subject from The Happy Feminist.

Am I an anti-sex prude? Hell no. Do I recognize that sexual appeal is often linked to appearance, and even sometimes want a sexual partner to think of me as appealing? Damn straight I do. But there is a big difference between physical objectification, being reduced to a set of body parts, and being a human being with a body, just as there is vast ground between recognizing that certain clothing choices may call attention to my body and wearing them for the sole purpose of getting that attention or communicating any kind of message to any and everyone else around me.

I will probably get into this a lot more when I start to cover my opinions and beliefs as a Christian feminist, but reproductive rights are also a huge feminist issue, and for good reason. The idea that there is or should be government regulation or consent required from anyone other than the woman in question over something happening inside a woman's body goes completely against personal autonomy in a way that can only apply to women. I recognize that the issues are complicated (and again, will deal with that when I post on Christian issues), but it is not okay to legislate a requirement for a woman to go through nine months and more of changes to her body and changes to her lifestyle (no drinking or smoking, eating properly, committing to regular doctor's appointments, possibly enduring bedrest), followed by childbirth, which can be painful without drugs, risky in both cases, may involve major surgery, and may have lasting implications for her life and reproductive health. That's all assuming that this woman is okay with the option of adoption and we don't even have to consider the career, lifestyle, health and financial impact that becoming a mother would have on her life.

The fact is that men don't have to deal with the physical consequences of pregnancy and childbirth, and it's much easier for a father to shirk his parental responsibility, forcing the mother to either go through time-consuming, expensive, emotionally draining legal processes or to find a way to support their child on her own. I've heard men who are pro-choice express that they favour the choice of both parties involved, but the reality is that it has to become a women's rights issue, because while ideally, a couple will discuss their options and come to some sort of agreement on what to do about an unplanned pregnancy, in the case of a disagreement, one opinion has to trump the other, and that always has to be the woman's, for all the reasons in the above paragraph.

Women who do give up their children, either by relinquishing custody, somehow managing to become "deadbeat moms", or giving them up for adoption, are subject to comments about how it's just not "natural" for a woman not to want to care for her children. People express shock, tsk-tsk disappointment, and assume something has gone terribly wrong in her head. Men are reprimanded and generally frowned upon for the same behaviour, but the level of vitriol is drastically different, and the sense that they're "going against nature" is completely absent.

I can think of several other concepts to bring up in this regard, but this constitutes a lot of the groundwork, and I have other angles on Sarah 101 that remain to be covered.

Friday, April 06, 2007

I just don't know what to do anymore...

Okay, so I’m going to be expanding the purpose of this blog somewhat. First of all, livejournal is frustrating me sometimes, because I’m feeling generally discouraged from posts that a) are long enough to cover what I’m really thinking, and b) involve thinking. Second, what I’m watching includes the internet, so yay semantics!

As a result, I want to put forward a couple of posts that outline the basic principles from which I’m operating--why I’m writing from a feminist point of view, for example, or what "rape culture" means, or what the hell is so frustrating about contemporary Christianity, or how it is that I manage to reconcile myself to being a feminist Christian at all.

Since I started posting at Hathor, I've taken to following a lot of the links to prominent feminist blogs and encountering first and foremost an awesome number of sites by passionate, articulate, much-smarter-than-Sarah feminists, but secondly a hell of a lot more stories and anecdotes about sexism and misogyny, both heinous and creepingly innocuous. I feel like crying a lot of the time. The stories about the threats against Kathy Sierra have been probably the most upsetting, and the very fact that it's being constantly called into question whether she's "overreacting", or whether this is in fact a case of misogynistic violence, makes me ill.

What it also makes me realize, however, is that I often have trouble formulating cogent arguments against those criticisms, and by extension, explaining why I am a feminist. I've seen Café Press ads for feminist statement t-shirts all over the place, and I totally want one that says "This is what a feminist geek looks like", as advertised on Hathor. But when I think about it some more, I realize that wearing a shirt like that means that I am going to have to explain what the hell that means, over and over again, every time I choose to put it on. I'm going to have to answer the people who just don't get it, who insist on telling me that as white men, they have now reached the point where they are at a disadvantage in looking for a job, or the people who dismiss as entirely ridiculous my desire not to be seen as a sexual "object", or the people who assume that "feminist" means sexless, humourless, incompatible with also enjoying wearing revealing clothing.

As I put up these posts, I'll be updating this one with links to them, and trying to create a sidebar list of links that cover some of my basic positions as points of reference. Hopefully, if people actually start reading this damn thing, they can serve as a starting point.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Battestar Galactica: The search for Earth

I finally got around to watching the two-part season finale of BSG last night, and let me just say that they are really establishing a pattern of serious mind-fuck season finales. I started to have my suspicions of some stuff in Part One, and then they started to come true, and now I have to come to terms with the fact that one of my hard-core crushes is a cylon, but that it's actually completely awesome.

But the drooling OMG awesomeness is not what I'm actually here to talk about. A member of my church, who is also a professor at a theological college and has done a lot of evangelism to young people, is developing a series of "sermons" on "The Gospel at the Movies". One of the biblical themes he's working with is "The Restoration of God's Creation", which got me to thinking about how well that fits in with Battlestar. Since he's rejecting television for this purpose, I'm taking it upon myself to write some of it here.

As a general idea, the Christian teleological course of the Earth is to get it back into right relationship with the Lord and restore what was in place before the Fall. That's pretty much what we're saying when, in the Lord's prayer, we say "Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven", working toward it in a short-term sense within our lifetimes. To some extent, it's the underlying motivation behind "end times" Christianity, though in my opinion they've got the whole damn picture wrong, focusing only on the long-term end result, presuming they know how and when that's going to happen, and disrespecting God's creation as it currently is in favour of looking both to a personal eternal life in heaven and a post-apocalyptic restoration of God's creation.

How does this fit in with Battlestar Galactica? Why, in the search for Earth, of course. There is a great deal of question around whether or not Earth is mythical or real, and that is part of the central question of whether or not to settle on New Caprica at the end of Season 2. Do we accept that things are never going to be the way they really should be, and decide to go with a possibly good-enough version, or do we struggle and try to reach a goal that we don't know is ever going to come to fruition? The end result of the New Caprica storyline suggests that "good enough" will never actually be good enough, though obviously that's not the only point. One of the biggest themes of the series is how humanity functions in the context of the ultimate crisis, and on a purely political level, there is a constant struggle between setting aside what's actually right because of this crisis and realizing that this state may actually be permanent, or at least very long-running, and therefore ensuring that the system of justice and fairness is adapted to work in that context. But is that a purely political (ie not spiritual) question? Do prison rape, inherited class stratification, and ad-hoc committees of angry victims making life and death justice decisions become okay when things are bad, even as part of working toward the restoration of creation? (I hope that's rhetorical enough for you). Restoration is an ongoing process, and respecting God's work means doing our best for it as it is now, neither settling for something that maybe looks close enough (because comfort will let us behave more morally) nor suspending our morality and our attempts to improve it in order to move us closer to the perceived utopia to come.

The views of the various characters on the subject of Earth are also informative: we see only brief glimpses of what I would call "true believers"--the priestesses, for example, who are essentially watching prophecy play out, but exerting little influence over the actual process, and, interestingly enough, cylons like Three (the fact that these debates go on among the enemy robots is a separate, though equally intriguing, question).

We see a number of characters in powerful positions who believe in Earth on various levels and behave in ways that comment heavily on the current real-world political structure. Laura Roslin is one shrewd politician, but a good portion of the time, she seems to actually think that she's doing what she can to bring about utopia. Though she was initially reluctant to accept her potentially prophesied role in the process, she's gradually moved toward an attitude of forceful confidence and desire to push toward that goal. She's certainly one of the most willing to do what is politically expedient, especially if she sees it as fitting into her long-term plan, regardless of whether the action in and of itself is morally right. Commander Adama shows flashes of believing, or at least hoping, but has lived a hard military life and often displays a cynical willingness to offer platitudes about Earth to the people if it will get them on his side, of a kind that's a little reminiscent of a lot of what's wrong with the real world politics-religion connection (which is not meant to suggest that I don't love Adama and totally want him in charge should the apocalypse strike without warning). He and Roslin have moved closer and closer to the position of the other on this issue since the mid-season 2 mutiny; her taking on some more "get the job done" cynicism and him giving in ever so slightly to glimmers of hope behind his craggy eyes.

Then we have "the rest of us"--those of us who are cogs in the wheel and who are still pretty scared about the idea that we have a responsibility in the restoration. In the real world, there are a hell of a lot more people, so our roles are less obvious, but suddenly, with 40,000 people to work with, each cog is a lot more apparent. There's Starbuck, who never quite wants to believe that she could be some kind of Chosen One*, and who fights with all her might against accepting that power. There's Apollo, whose season finale speech says more than anything else about why the ends don't justify the means, and why living God's creation means now, not just then, and not just when we're comfortable. There's the Chief (see asterisk, re: Starbuck), who's got some resentments against his religious upbringing, but who can't help but notice the signs that Earth may be real and feel moments of spiritual power. There's Gaius Baltar, who's actually desperate to be the hero in this story, so much that he is constantly narrating in such a way that it's never really about the restoration of God's creation, but about the exultation of Gaius Baltar. He, of course, manages to royally fuck everything up in the process, because it's entirely self-driven and not remotely connected to God in his mind.

Obviously, a lot of the picture of what Earth really is and whether or not the restoration is really possible in this fictional universe will shift with future developments, but the picture of how people behave when those answers are up in the air (so to speak) remains captured in what has happened so far, and I think it's the actions and beliefs within a state of uncertainty that says the most about how the search for Earth fits in with the quest for restoration.

*Recent events obviously change that picture, but I'm leaving them aside in favour of the big picture of her character, to avoid both spoilers and speculation

Monday, March 26, 2007


Dammit, I wrote a long post yesterday about the documentary Jesus Camp and it completely crashed on me. So now, when I explain that even though it seems like no one really IS watching, I'm going to try to post again in the vain hope that kicking at the darkness will bleed daylight. Not that I'm dramatic or anything.

General 6:30 a.m. summary of what I had to say about Jesus Camp:
  • I'm impressed by the fact that though the filmmakers were both non-religious individuals, the only voice they showed within the film critiquing the corruption of Christianity into a political institution, not to mention the use of children as "spiritual warriors" was a Christian talk radio host. It's easy to point out the problems a non-Christian might have with the Jesus Camp folks, but one of my problems is that the only image of Christians anyone is getting to see is these vehement, aggressive, right wing soldiers.
  • I was somewhat less impressed with using ramped-up Exorcist-esque music while the children were spinning and speaking in tongues and whatnot, because I think if it's freaky enough on its own (which it probably is), we don't need to editorialize about how freaky it is to watch them "being filled with the Holy Spirit". That just provides more fodder for dismissing attempts at discourse.
  • Ted Haggard makes a very interesting appearance at one of their rallies--the woman in charge of them camp is absolutely and completely emotionally genuine about why she wants to get these kids active politically. She sees the politics as the means to the end, and the end as the religious aspects. I mean, she scares me, but Ted Haggard is a totally different story. Obviously, hearing him speak about the sin of homosexuality is ridiculous in retrospect, but the level of cynicism he expresses is pretty depressing in and of itself. He basically seems to represent the reverse of the woman in charge--he wants the power, and he figures the religious rhetoric will get it for him. The kids are so excited to see this great Christian warrior, and he tells one of them that people only probably listen to him because he's a cute kid, so he should just milk that and not worry about content until he's 30. The kid totally knows he's just been insulted and dismissed, and the look on his face is real disappointment.
  • There are several scenes of kids being taught how to offer counter-arguments to those who don't believe in Creation science and who do believe in climate change. Wait, global warming is in the Bible? First of all, I don't see how this can be made into anything actually biblical and not just based on "George W. Bush says so", and their letting politics influence their faith instead of vice versa (I do know the dispensationalist attitude that it would be better if the world ended, so we shouldn't protect the environment, but if that's the case, why argue against the existence of global warming? Why not welcome it?). Second, they provide counterpoints to only the thinnest of straw man arguments--maybe not all of it was shown, but these are fairly young children and it's pretty easy to convince them of some things.
  • And that represents my fundamental problem with this movement. I think the thing that scared me the most was when this guy got the kids all worked up, literally screaming, crying and begging God not to let abortion continue. Now, I'm pro-choice, so putting red tape that says "LIFE" over a child's mouth says to me "No choice, no voice", but more than that, using mob frenzy charisma to rally children to this cause upsets me. The issues are far too complex for them to understand, and it's part of seriously lowering the level of discourse.
  • There is so damn much about this particular Christian movement that I do not understand. Leaving aside whether I agree with the party to which they have hitched their train, I can't really fathom why they don't understand that separation of church and state is designed to protect the church more than the state, and that having the church directly linked to a party, the will of the majority, and power is fundamentally bad for it. I mean, I realize they're winning right now, but it's just so short-sighted. There's one quote from someone saying, essentially, "If we get all the people in power to make the laws we want, then we'll have complete freedom". Yeah, except for the freedom to change your mind later and go against the rules you wanted.
  • Not being American either, I am completely unable to relate to any statement about the US as, essentially, the promised land. Quoting the Bible to say that "we" have to give God's land back to his people, and meaning specifically America, not the world in general. That is some crazy-ass manipulation of the literal text.
  • But then, these are also people who believe that Satan possesses PowerPoint presentations to prevent them from getting out the true message of God. Because we all know projectors and laptops never get glitches during presentations by those heathens of the liberal intellectual elite when they're speaking against the president.

In sum, a pretty good documentary, and part of a weekend filled with stuff that frustrated me about the state of the world. I think I need to start issuing more memos to humanity.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Some Happy Thoughts

I don't often post anywhere about stuff that I liked--I'm a bit of a curmudgeon that way, I guess. But I watched this week's episodes of Heroes, Veronica Mars and half of House (I fell asleep), and was pretty happy about some elements of all of them.

I want to talk about VM in particular, which I have been hard on lately, and which has received some related criticism for the episode in question. The salon article that linked me, among others, feels that it irresponsibly suggested that RU-486 and the "morning after pill" or "Plan B" are the same thing, and was misleading about the availability of the former. That's not wrong, and the author is right that it's damn important for a show that has a very wide appeal among young women to provide accurate information about a volatile and much-misunderstood issue such as this. But then, that's back in the category of "Should I really expect, nay, dare to even hope, that television writers would consider the social import of the lines they write?"

What I did like is the way the evangelical Christian preacher comes off. Much as my feminism has been on display lately, I do also notice the fact that Christians are rarely well-portrayed on television either. This week's Law & Order did a take-off on the Ted Haggard story that also included the Reverand's devoted wife (played by Julie Benz!) having been a prostitute before marrying him, and hiding this fact from the congregation for the sake of not pissing off their conservative pocketbooks. We see a lot of pedophile priests, abortion-clinic bombers, and on the non-criminal side, hypocritical, judgmental, exceptionally non-loving people. Occasionally we see someone like B.D. Wong's character on Oz, who's at least not crazy, but who is kind of a powerless pushover and not exactly a beacon of hope.

In this week's VM, the mystery of the week revolves around a girl who discovered that she was pregnant, considered an abortion, changed her mind, and was subsequently drugged with RU-486 against her will, leading to a miscarriage. She has been previously established as sexually active with more than one partner. Her father is also a conservative television evangelist. He finds out from the family doctor that his daughter is pregnant (yes, the fact that that is supremely uncool is acknolwedged) and immediately sends her a balloon bouquet letting her know that he and her mother are happy to welcome a grandchild. Veronica goes to check him out later, pretending to be pregnant, and drops the "I bet you'd kick your daughter out of the house if she came home pregnant". He responds by getting teary-eyed and revealing that regardless of the circumstances, he would be very happy to have a grandchild to love, and show his daughter all the support that she could possibly require in raising the child. He was, of course, pro-life, a position I do not share, but which can actually be held by individuals who are not crazy, not hypocritical, and are willing to talk about it from a loving and caring perspective with, say, young pregnant teenage girls, contrary to what we usually see on television (including other characters in this episode). He is in the room when the culprit is discovered, and his daughter gets extremely angry and she moves in a way that suggests that she might get violent, or at least start screaming at that person. He stops her, takes her into his arms and comforts her in such a way that it's obvious he's trying to control his own immediate knee-jerk tendency toward anger as well as hers. He tells her that the person in question did not want to hurt her (she didn't), that she was misguided but acting out of love, and that anger ultimately hurts the person who feels it more than the person it's directed towards. He quotes Jesus' words. Typed out, it kind of sounds like platitudes, but the way it was phrased and acted, including the element that he was clearly making some effort to convince himself at the same time, made it very genuine, and the idea that it would have an impact on the anger Veronica herself was feeling toward someone else did not come off as forced or unrealistic.

I know that this guy came off well precisely because it goes against the predominant expectation of a conservative megachurch--let's not forget television--evangelist. I know the writers weren't really going for the message that some Christians are actually nice, but rather simply the plot twist, primarily. But I'm glad it came in anyway, because Christians, even evangelical ones, even ones who hold some right-wing positions, even television preachers, can in fact be loving, caring parents and people who actually read the parts of the Bible where Jesus speaks and live their lives based on His primary messages. Maybe next time we'll even see a sympathetic feminist--hey, maybe even a Christian one! A girl can dream, can't she?

Saturday, February 10, 2007

What IS Sarah watching anyway?

I've been struggling to keep up with actually watching the shows that I like, let alone writing posts on them, and my TV-related thoughts have been directed toward my scheduled and subject-to-deadline posts over at The Hathor Legacy...apparently, that was a good move, if my goal is getting myself some attention, because wrote an article on Veronica Mars (scroll down), and of all the places they could link to on the internet to suggest that the show has come under fire for its portrayal of the serial rapist arc, they posts. Sarah says: buh?

Anyway, here's a TV-related thought that doesn't fit with the Hathor theme (or, really, with the fact that I have to be smart at Hathor, cause I might get linked by salon or something ludicrous like that):

I've fallen in love with the rather intricate web of crossover-ism on geek TV. It seems natural that genre writers/directors like Ronald Moore would hire other proven genre writers/directors like Jane Espenson, or whatever, but the way the same actors seem to be appearing in all the geeky TV shows is a little less natural. Other than the fact that the casting directors are likely to see them and see their ability to do sci-fi/fantasy type work (not to mention recognize their audience appeal), there's nothing that says a good actor for a sci-fi show has to come from another sci-fi show, but it happens all the freaking time. On Battlestar Galactica, we have (or, sniff, had) Lucy Lawless, Sam from Quantum Leap, Ensign Ro Laren, the original Apollo as Tom Zarek, and probably some more that I can't think of right now. On Veronica Mars, the Buffy-connected guest stars extended as far as Joss himself (being admittedly boring, of course). An old (well, obviously) episode of Babylon 5 I saw featured Majel Barrett, which is like the crown jewel of actors who will officially geek-sanction your show. And being the geek that I am, and given the fact that I watch the geek shows and follow the geek actors, I'm fallilng hook, line and sinker for their every marketing ploy and accepting the knighthood bestowed upon the shows through the sword of Xena, or whatever. The current show doing best at this? Unquestionably Heroes. Christopher Eccleston rocks--I'm really, really sad that he bowed out of the new Doctor Who after one season, because I actually can't watch it anymore because the new doctor pisses me off, and I was completely empassioned with Eccleston. I admit I get a little tickle every time I see even the most minor of Buffy guest stars on a show, so Leonard Roberts (Forrest) is points too. But what drives it over the edge? George FREAKIN Takei. I haven't watched last Monday's episode yet, so I've only seen him appear out of the shadows all imposing-like at the end of the previous episode, but that rocked so damn hard I can't even stand it.

While I'm on the track of not being smart and just geeking out for a while, can I also just acknowledge that the exchange between Pasdar and Masi Oka a couple of episodes ago (rumoured to have been ad-libbed) was completely unbearably awesome? From the moment Hiro yells "Frying man!" to Petrelli's surprised face, to the "But you fry! WOOSH!" [hand motion]/"Keep it down"/"woosh?" [smaller hand motion, very cute face], to the "Bad guy, like, birran?" exchange with Masi exaggerating his attempts to pronounce the "v", everything about it just absolutely killed me. I bust up a little every time I think about it.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Do I give up again?

First: I mentioned a new website discovery of mine called "The Hathor Legacy" a few entries back. I'm going to be one of their regular posters now, with posts at least once a week on Friday mornings. I'm starting with a series on rape in Veronica Mars, first entry to appear at some point on Friday.

Second: I've pointed out some of the problems with Studio 60 on my livejournal, and MaggieCat over at The Hathor Legacy covers what I'm about to say pretty well, but I'm wavering on the point of giving up on that, too. I don't have a hell of a lot of time in my life, so a show that's gone from frustrating me with its arrogance to downright offending me should probably be stricken from my list of viewing material. I am stubborn though, so it might take a while.

The latest episode shows Danny, one of our heroes, flat-out stalking Jordan, who is first of all pregnant with another man's baby and second of all his boss. In the Christmas episode, he issued this statement of intent that he was "coming for her" that I'm baffled to believe Sorkin intended to be romantic, but that really came off as a "run far, far away now" warning coming out of Danny's own lecherous mouth. In this first one back after the break, we see him calling her repeatedly, changing his number so that she will answer when she starts rejecting his calls, asking her out many times despite her very firm, clear "no", and soliciting reference letters from his famous and powerful friends in order to convince her. I'm not sure how he got those reference letters, given that he was recently a practicing cocaine addict, but more importantly: what. the. fuck. The first three are bad enough in any context; the last is heinous given her professional position, which, let us not forget, is not only this man's boss, but also that of a woman struggling to be taken seriously in a man's world (not that she's being helped in that regard by Sorkin's insisting on making comedy out of ridiculing how much she eats during her pregnancy).

She gives Danny a very intelligent and clear speech at the end of the episode, in which she outlines exactly why that is inappropriate and embarrassing. He apologizes for embarrassing her--I commented on MaggieCat's post that it comes off as one of those non-apology apologies, in which what he really means is "I'm sorry you feel that way, but I honestly don't understand what I've done wrong". That's borne out when she asks him to stop, and he looks at her thoughtfully and intently for a moment before saying "No." I really think that not only are we supposed to think this is charming and romantic and represents devotion that tells us their love will last till the stars turn cold, but that Jordan's moment of being an intelligent and professional woman in this regard is going to be altogether too brief. Something in the next episode is going to make her swoon and be won over by Danny's bullshit, and that's pretty much the point at which this show stops being something I watch out of the hope of possibly enjoying it and starts being something I look to hoping to find a rant.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Giving up

I've said in the past that I watch and read things not in spite of knowing they will offend me, but in fact because of that. I used to enjoy the anger, the righteousness, the ire. Not so anymore. Perhaps it's a sign I'm growing as a person, perhaps it's merely a sign that I'm just finally overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of offensiveness out there in the world.

I can no longer watch Law & Order: SVU at all. Granted, I've become much more interested in serialized, character-driven drama (or comedy, really), but I think that show has also seriously declined in quality. My watching it these days had already been reduced to keeping it on in the background while I surf the net if it happens to be the only thing on at a time when I'm sitting on my couch anyway. But even doing that makes me batty now. It seems they can't air an episode that doesn't contain any or all of the following elements:
  • A faked rape or story of childhood sexual abuse
  • Police officers suggesting to the victim or to their fellow detectives that despite witness reports of having seen the victim arguing or fighting with a man prior to her alleged assault, that man may have been her boyfriend or an acquaintance (as if those people are never rapists), or saying "Maybe she just had one too many and woke up with the wrong guy, so she decided to call it rape in retrospect".
  • Benson and/or Stabler telling a survivor that it's her responsibility to report the rape to the police in order to protect other women from being assaulted in the future
  • Various members of the detective squad telling the victim's family, friends or boyfriend about her having been assaulted without that woman's permission or even knowledge.

Honestly, the first three are becoming so expected I'm just sick of getting angry and offended about them. But they treat the last as though there's nothing that would even cause them to question doing such a thing, as if the importance of the victim's privacy and power over who has access to that information has never crossed their minds, and as if the boyfriend's--for it is indeed most often the boyfriend--right to this knowledge takes precedence over any recovery issues with which the victim herself is dealing. The lack of any voice at all that questions this action shows me that the writers feel that it's a given that this is "the right thing to do", or at minimum, that they're too damn lazy to care about what was occasionally interesting about their show, which was presenting the politics, differing opinions, and struggles that surround the perpetration and prosecution of sex crimes. Fuck it. I can't waste my breathe and keystrokes anymore.

On a lighter note, after I "watched" SVU on Tuesday night (meaning I let it contaminate the airspace in my apartment while I read some blogs and stuff), the next thing to come on to CTV was the premiere of American Idol featuring, as usual, the heinous and largely delusional audition round. I only left it there for about 5 minutes, but that was long enough to see that as they were showing shots of the large crowd gathered to put their talents on display for the judges and the world, they were playing the opening strains of The Who's "Teenage Wasteland". That? Is pretty meta and hilarious, and a much better use of that song than as the theme song for CSI: Buttfuck Iowa or whatever.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

"Feminist" television

First of all, I found another site I really really like that I'm going to have to check regularly. It's like a curse, the goodness of the internets, sometimes. This one: The Hathor Legacy focusses on the depiction of women and feminist issues in television and film.

Which inspires me to write a post that's been knocking around in my head for quite some time: I'm bloody sick of the kind of television that is usually held up as "feminist" and putting forward progressive views of women/sex/relationships. Back on my livejournal, I wrote on the limitations of Buffy in this context a few months ago, but to be fair, the more mainstream shows that usually get mentioned in the same breath as "feminism" don't even belong in the same sport as Buffy, to say nothing of ballpark.

Exhibit A: Sex and the City. There was a time I liked that show and bought into the "feminist" rhetoric, with the whole 30-something, single and sex-positive kind of deal. But aside from the fact that the characters are ludicrously shallow and kind of suck, there's a difference between being sex-positive and sex-defined. The original ideal of showing happily single 30 something straight women whose friendships are more important than being made complete through marriage or monogamy falls flat in the face of what actually develops on the show: as Miranda herself says angrily in one episode "Why can't smart, funny, successful women find something to talk about other than men?" Worst, in my opinion, they undermine the whole point of presenting the show that way when all 4 main characters end the series married or in relationships presented as the best thing that ever happened to each of them. Without even getting started on Mr Big's quality as a human being/long-term love interest, contrast that with the final episode of Golden Girls from ten or fifteen years earlier: Dorothy is heading off after getting married, but the others are all sticking together, and the last scene shows the women saying goodbye to Dorothy and her coming back in repeatedly to hug them while her husband waits patiently off screen because these are the relationships on which we built the show. Carrie walking down the street alone and getting a phone call from Mr Big not only tells me that I don't give a shit that his name was John, but leaves me with the message that ultimately I'm supposed to be happy for her because she's landed the one and only love of her life.

Exhibit B: Ally McBeal. Everybody knows this show sucked, but I've thought about it more lately because Calista Flockhart is on the new show Brothers and Sisters, which I actually mostly like, the former Ms. McBeal and her pucker-face kind of included. Why did that show suck? Because, again, we have a relatively successful, not-even-all-that-old career woman who is supposed to show us that men and relationships are not the be all and end all of a fulfilling life, and who really sends us the message that single women are whiny, man-hungry and completely neurotic. Oh, and it wasn't funny at all.

Exhibit C: Desperate Housewives. The marketing of this show veers wildly between yet another apparently woman-positive group of female friends and just plain sexy soap opera, but the ads for the Golden Globes have repeatedly shown Teri Hatcher's way-hyper acceptance speech which included a rant about how fantastic it was for people to recognize such a high-risk show (because the main cast is predominantly women over 40, neglecting to notice the complete lack of risk inherent in filling the show with gossip, sex, murder and deception). So I feel compelled to point out that again we have a cast of women with the following positive and redeeming characteristics: a former model whose self-worth depends entirely on her looks and material possessions, and who actually commits statutory rape; a divorcée single mother who literally falls all over herself to impress men and has absolutely no ability to actually parent or get over herself for even 30 seconds; a career woman who struggles with her husband over which of them should stay home to care for their terrorist children, but who actually manipulates her entire family for personal gain and status; and a neurotic obsessed with projecting an image of stability from whom we apparently learn that Republican women don't have orgasms, ever, at all. It's kudos to Marcia Cross that she actually makes this last one, in all her homophobia and snap relationship decisions, seem anything but entirely reprehensible.

Can we have a moratorium on anyone, like, ever, putting together an ensemble of women designed to show us some sort of positive female something or other? Because it pretty much always winds up doing exactly the opposite, and as I said back in my Joss Whedon livejournal post, a show like Firefly, which is about a whole whack of other stuff and not explicitly strong women, actually ends up doing a much better job of making the women real, likeable and strong in a way that is not forced and that makes it seem like strong women are just a natural part of the world. Which, by the way, they are.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Snow day=Babylon 5 day

McMaster is closed due to freezing rain, which means I get the day off, which means, after I got up at my usual 6:15 time vowing to sleep in just a little and then get a whole bunch of useful stuff done, in reality I was going to go back to sleep until 11:30 and then amend my plans to watch a whole bunch of Babylon 5 on DVD.

I've just started watching Season 4 of this thing, which is apparently going to be balls-out insanely awesome the whole time because Straczynski, having planned out a very elaborate 5-season story arc for the entire show, found out at some point that there was a threat of cancellation and had to pack in the bulk of the resolution into Season 4 (meaning there's not much left to do in Season 5 after they didn't get cancelled, and it's a little boring, but for now, it's all good). I have so many thoughts and analytical questions on this show I almost don't know where to start, but I think what I'll do right now is run through some of my thoughts on some of the spiritual elements.

I'll stay away for now from the fact that Sheridan was just resurrected from the dead somewhat altered (after falling for ages into a deep pit called "Za Ha Dum", which even sounds like "Khazadum", so, hi, Galdalf the White, sort of) mainly because I don't know yet exactly how he's changed or whether that First One he brought back to B5 with him in the last episode I saw is, like, the devil (or the Balrog, all Maia and whatnot) or whatever. I'll also just peripherally acknowledge that, obviously, I think the revelation that "the One" of prophecy is the Trinity is very, very cool.

I really like the Mimbari (Tolkien Elves, much?) spirituality in general, and think Delenn is a great overall representation of its grace, serenity, beauty and depth. I love her teach-by-living-example attitude with the more jaded human crew members. But the character I really love from the spiritual angle is Leneer. The episode with the terrorist bombings is so poignant from the perspective of personal moral decisions. His best moment ever (well, so far) comes after he is badly injured saving Londo from a bomb, and wakes up to find Londo at his bedside, thanking him. Leneer turns to him and says (paraphrasing): "Let me be clear: I saved you because I believe all life has value. But because you do not feel the same, that choice may be worse for the universe in the long run" and he turns away with his face packed with conflict and pain. Contrast G'Kar's choice in the same episode: he's trapped in an elevator with Londo, who was unconscious for a good chunk of the time, and who wakes up demanding to know why G'Kar didn't do anything to help him or get them out of there. G'Kar answers that if he kills Londo, the Centauri, occupying the Narn homeworld, will kill 500 Narn including G'Kar's family, but if he just watches him die, he gets the satisfaction without the consequences, even if he himself dies later as a result. It's a situation somewhat analogous to Leneer's: both men want to see Londo dead, for very different but pretty much equally valid reasons, but know it has consequences. The effects are immediate and tangible in G'Kar's case, and existential in Leneer's. Both are presented with the loophole option that they could simply choose not to act to save Londo (requiring different levels of exertion and risk to their person in the process) when he's placed in peril through circumstances outside of their control. They make the opposite choice, and as the viewer, you can understand both on a very deep level. What I love most about Leneer's decision is that you can see on his face that he knew the loophole was there, and he almost could have justified inertia to himself, but he also knew that would have been deluding himself as to what was truly the right thing to do, and he had to look at his own action in and of itself, outside of all "ends justify the means" excuse-making or, really, a morality that extends beyond his own personal choices. G'Kar has much more intense personal reasons for wanting Londo dead, and takes the loophole, partially because his consequences are essentially "legal" ones, and he isn't so much looking for grace and salvation as for a way not to be enslaved and exercise some form of power (not that grace and salvation don't ultimately do that, but at that point, G'Kar is not in a place to be looking that far ahead).

Oh, G'Kar. I love love love G'Kar. He makes some bad choices, the best example of which is when he decides to essentially mind-rape Londo, but his character development is profoundly spiritual and ridiculously awesome. It's in the mind-rape episode that he starts to look big-picture, beyond his personal pain, to some extent beyond the suffering of "his people", and to see that, for lack of a somewhat less clichéd expression, he has to "be the change he wants to see". The near joy he expresses while he's in prison makes me think of Johnny Cash at Fulsom Prison closing with a line about how his body may be imprisoned, but his spirit was free with the Lord. The character is also brilliantly acted, in my opinion, especially for a dude covered in makeup and prosthetics, and his incredible pride in himself and in his people, especially as his ability to hold his head up high is shattered and stripped away from him more and more, just bleeds from his eyes (that's the expression that came to mind, and I thought about changing it knowing he's going to lose an eye in the near future, but couldn't find a better way to say it). While it's not part of the spirituality of the show, I must note that the episode in which he's being tortured by the Centauri Napoleon Bonaparte, first forced to play court jester, then culminating in being whipped with electricity in ever-increasing intensity, knowing that 40 will kill him and that Napoleon Bona-wanktard will only stop if he screams...that scene, with the Emperor just counting nonchalantly and the camera just showing people's faces as it happens--the Emperor's complete callousness, G'Kar struggling with his competing desires to maintain his personal pride and help his people in the long run (you know if it was just about him and not saving Narn, he would rather die than scream), Vir in absolute shock that anyone could behave this way, and Londo mouthing "Just scream"--was fucking genius and absolute, well, torture, at the same time.

I'll close with a note that my friends Erin and Jeff have been assuring me since Season 1 that Londo gets really really awesome (from a character perspective, rather than necessarily a "gee, he's a great heroic guy" kind of angle) and I'm only just starting to see it (which, appropriately, I had to swallow my pride a little to inform them of last night, as I've been bitching about him in emails pretty much forever). I appreciate that he's been somewhat conflicted as he realizes more and more the cost of his personal advancement and the glory of the Centauri people, but fuck if, for the most part, I don't give a damn. The two parter in Season 3 where Sheridan gets "unstuck in time" and ends up meeting him in the future was something of a turning point in my view of him. I sent an email after watching part 1 bitching about future Londo blaming Sheridan for what happened to the Centauri after they won the Shadow war, like Sheridan was seriously supposed to come and bail out his dear Centauri friends who had no responsibility whatsoever for their own fate, but then part 2 revealed that he was just doing that to appease the demon controlling him and waiting for the chance to actually save Sheridan, and then one-eyed G'Kar comes out and they kill each other, and it's a little different. I'm was still kind of like "yeah, well, you did sell your soul, dude", but the real moment of making Sarah think came when he was telling G'Kar to just scream, dammit, so that he could buy time to save him, save the Narn homeworld from occupation, and save Centauri Prime from Caligula, and G'Kar says "You don't know what you're asking", to which Londo responds, "Yes, I do. Yes. I. Do.". The intensity there, and everything he himself is putting to the side to accomplish this coming through in that simple line, made me much less inclined to say "Fuck waiting for a legal/moral loophole, just kill the fucker".