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Lucius
Posted on Monday, August 04, 2003 - 10:11 pm:   

Katherine Dunn gave me permission to paste up this essay (published in Mother Jones back in '94) concerning female aggression, a subject in which both she and I are intensely interested, she for reasons herein stated, me for reasons having to do with work I;m doing know. I'm interested in seeing what, if any, reactions it evokes, whether pro or con or whatever. So, here 'tis....




Just as Fierce

by Katherine Dunn


The girl wanted to fight. She was young and blonde and
she spoke good English and at first the guys in the
boxing gym laughed.

But when Dallas Malloy stepped into an amateur boxing
ring in Lynnwood, Wash., last year, she broached a
barrier far more imposing than the crusty male bastion
of the sport. She challenged an ancient and still
powerful tradition of what it is to be female. She
defied what may be our most pervasive notion of gender
difference--the idea that men are physically
aggressive and women are not.

Malloy was 16 years old, the youngest daughter of
college professors. She was already an accomplished
pianist, writer, and athlete when she drew
international attention by suing U.S. Amateur Boxing
for gender discrimination and won the right for
American women to compete as amateur boxers. Reporters
and television news crews from three continents
jostled for space at ringside to watch Malloy outpoint
Heather Poyner in the first sanctioned women's match.

Asked why they wanted to fight, the young women said
they enjoyed it, just as some men and boys do.

The more potent, unasked question is how society at
large reacts to eager, voluntary violence by females,
and to the growing evidence that women can be just as
aggressive as men. A small part of that question was
answered in the bleachers that October fight night, as
packs of rowdy women lawyers waved manicured fists and
cheered with tears streaming down their cheeks.


After 13 years as a boxing reporter, I was a little
misty myself on that historic night. Much about Dallas
Malloy seemed familiar. A certain steadiness in her
eyes reminded me of the woman who raised me.

My mother, still a witty and gifted artist in her hale
80s, got a rifle a few years ago. I pity the burglar
who gives her a chance to use it. When we kids were
small, she never had a formal weapon but made do with
whatever came to hand. Her broom, skillet, spoon, or
shovel served to rein in pesky bill collectors,
hostile relatives, rats, rattlesnakes, rambunctious
drunks, or any other threat to the peace of her
regime. Mom came from a line of frontier females who
could drive four horses and the school bus, plow and
shoot straight, slaughter beeves and negotiate a sale,
reroof the barn, and then go home to embroider flowers
on pillowcases while supervising the kids' math
homework.

One of Mom's favorite relatives was her Aunt Myrtle, a
gentle woman, revered by her farming clan. A classic
Myrtle tale describes how she dashed into the subzero
cold one winter night, clad only in boots and a
nightie, to battle a pack of prairie wolves who were
killing her prize turkeys. My mother, a child then,
watched amazed from the kitchen window as Myrtle the
dainty, the kind, danced with her kindling hatchet
flashing into the skulls and spines of fanged and
flickering beasts. Blood exploded in black sprays
across the snow. "And that Christmas," the story
always ends, "she gave us kids wolfskin mittens, with
the fur side in, and stitched snowflakes on the
cuffs."


More than 70 years have passed since Myrtle swung her
hatchet. Our current era is downwind from the social
upheaval of the Vietnam War, the pacifism of the civil
rights movement, and the determined progress of
feminism. American culture is torn between our long
romance with violence and our terror of the
devastation wrought by war and crime and environmental
havoc. In our struggle to restrain the violence and
contain the damage, we tend to forget that the human
capacity for aggression is more than a monstrous
defect, that it is also a crucial survival tool. The
delicate task is to understand the nature, uses, and
hazards of the tool. The first step is to recognize
that it exists, and that we all possess it to one
degree or another--even us women.

This is difficult because so many of us are convinced
that women are incapable of aggression on the same
scale as men--that women are physically too weak, or
are inherently, biologically different in aggressive
capacity, or are spiritually superior to the whole
concept of violence. These beliefs are the legacy of
ancient, traditional definitions of the female role,
inadvertently augmented by some recent efforts to
combat the oppressive social factors that still assail
women.

But most of us would not be here without a generous
sprinkling of physically aggressive women in our
bloodlines. Throughout most of human history, long
before antibiotics and prepackaged foods, many women
had to be strong or they didn't survive. They had to
be fierce or their young did not survive. And these
gifts have not declined in this upholstered age of air
conditioning.


The regular cop on the night beat in my neighborhood
is alone in her patrol car because of budget cuts.
Some midnights I can see her parked across the street,
doing paperwork by the dash lights. The clerks at the
local 24-hour market say our cop calmly interrupted a
mugging in the parking lot last week. The bad guy was
big and wild, but she grabbed him and held him
facedown on the pavement until her backup arrived. A
thumbhold of some kind, the clerks think.

During the last few decades, American women have
proven their efficacy in every law enforcement agency,
earned the trust of those who fight forest fires
beside them, and struggled for the right to
demonstrate brains, resourcefulness, courage, and
strength in a thousand venues from sports to the space
shuttle. But the idea that women can't take care of
themselves still permeates our culture.

The bouncer at many a college tavern will let a
scrawny, pencil-necked male wander home alone at 2
a.m., but will insist on an escort for the captain of
the women's soccer team. This kind of protectionist
attitude, however grounded in good intentions, defines
women as less than equal to men. It also reinforces
the stereotype of the helpless female for both victim
and assailant: Women believe they are helpless against
male aggression; criminals see women as vulnerable.

The fact that women are subject to rape (and men, for
the most part, aren't) is often used as the reason why
females warrant special protection. While this
distinction is not to be dismissed, the fact remains
that the majority of rapes in the United States are
committed behind closed doors by people known to the
victims. Rape by strangers on the street is
dramatically less frequent than muggings and assaults.
Advocating protectionism for women based solely on
their vulnerability to rape further reinforces their
victimization, and discounts other vicious acts as
serious crimes. Women's "rapability" seems small
justification for the uncategorical separation of the
sexes.

There is no denying that some women could use the
protection of a stronger person--but so could some
men. And when the soccer captain, a fit, fleet expert
in the elbow, kick, and headbutt believes she needs a
bodyguard to get to her dorm room, she has been robbed
of part of her own identity.

Ironically, some of the most dedicated defenders of
women have enhanced this mythology of weakness, rather
than worked to combat it. The intense campaigns
against domestic violence, rape, sexual harassment,
and inequity in the schools all too often depend on an
image of women as weak and victimized. A few
well-known feminist leaders, including Andrea Dworkin,
Catherine MacKinnon, and Patricia Ireland, regularly
portray women as helpless targets of male violence.

This idea that males are physically aggressive and
females are not has distinct drawbacks for both sexes.
Defining men as the perpetrators of all violence is a
viciously immoral judgment of an entire gender. And
defining women as inherently nonviolent condemns us to
the equally restrictive role of sweet, meek, and weak.



Most arguments for a difference in aggression between
the sexes fluctuate somewhere between nature and
nurture. But hard as it may be to believe, there is no
known biological reason that women cannot be as
physically aggressive as men. Geneticist Anne
Fausto-Sterling and biologist Ruth Hubbard are two of
the many women scholars who are critical of research
that postulates a variety of biologically determined
gender differences beyond the reproductive functions.
Both scholars argue that the innumerable factors of
nature and nurture affect each other in highly complex
ways.

Anne Fausto-Sterling has examined many familiar
theories of biological difference. Her work debunks
claims that physiological differences exist in male
and female brains, and that females have better verbal
abilities, worse visual-spatial abilities, and less
capacity for mathematics than males.

Fausto-Sterling also attacks the central idea that
males are inherently, biologically more aggressive
than females. She specifically deflates the myth of
testosterone--often named as the root cause of war,
riots, murder, bar brawls, corporate takeovers, wife
beating, clear-cutting, and other forms of "male"
aggression--demonstrating that no credible evidence
indicates that testosterone causes aggression. In
fact, studies of soldiers preparing for battle in
Vietnam suggest that testosterone levels actually drop
severely in anticipation of stressful situations.

Gender differences in the form and context in which
aggression is expressed, concludes Fausto-Sterling,
are more likely to be caused by learned and cultural
factors than by biology. The broad spectrum of
aggressive behavior in humans is far more complex than
the mere squirting of a gland. Science is only
beginning to grapple with the jungle of questions and
concerns that surround it.

Even our understanding of physical differences between
women and men is changing. In "The Politics of Women's
Biology," Ruth Hubbard points out that many physical
characteristics are extremely variable, depending on
environmental and behavioral factors. We tend to
assume, for example, that men are genetically endowed
with greater upper-body strength. But this disparity
(and others of size and strength) between the sexes is
inflated by cultural strictures on exercise,
variations in diet, and other factors.

Training of female athletes is so new that the limits
of female possibility are still unknown. In 1963 the
first female marathon runners were almost an hour and
a half slower than the best male runners. Twenty years
later the fastest women were within 15 minutes of the
winning male speed. Female sprinters are now within a
fraction of a second of the top male speeds, and some
experts predict that early in the next century women
will match male runners.

Perhaps the strongest evidence that women have as
broad and deep a capacity for physical aggression as
men is anecdotal. And as with men, this capacity has
expressed itself in acts from the brave to the brutal,
the selfless to the senseless.

Historical examples of female aptitude for the
organized violence of warfare, for instance, include
the 19th-century tradition of African women warriors
who formed the core legions of the kingdom of Dahomey
and the 800,000 Russian women who fought in every
combat position and flew as fighter pilots during
World War II. The gradual movement of women into
combat positions in the military forces of Canada,
Britain, the Netherlands, Norway, the United States,
and other nations is evidence of a growing
contemporary understanding that women can be as
dangerous as men.

And while national military forces have historically
resisted the full participation of women soldiers,
female talent has found plenty of scope in
revolutionary and terrorist groups around the planet.
According to criminologists Harold J. Vetter and Gary
R. Perlstein, nearly a quarter of the original Russian
revolutionary terrorists were women--mostly from the
educated middle class. More recently, Ulrike Meinhof
and the other women of the nihilist Baader-Meinhof
Gang were only the most publicized of many female
terrorists in Europe. There is also substantial female
revolutionary involvement in the Irish Republican
Army, the Basque Separatists, the Italian Red
Brigades, and the Palestinian Intifada, as well as in
revolutionary groups throughout Asia, Africa, and
Central and South America.

In "Shoot the Women First," British journalist Eileen
MacDonald published remarkable interviews with 20
female terrorists, including Leila Khalid, leader of
the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in
the '70s. The book's title is taken from advice
reportedly given by Interpol to anti-terrorist squads.
Many experts, it seems, consider female terrorists
more dangerous than males. They are reputed to endure
more pain and to stay cooler in a crisis. The Basque
women interviewed by MacDonald gleefully admitted to
escaping severe punishment when caught by claiming
that a boyfriend had fooled or forced them into
robbing the bank, firing the gun, or planting the
bomb. The women saw this as outwitting the authorities
by turning their own antiquated macho mind-set against
them.

Nonetheless, it is still popular to assert that all
female criminals are driven by male threat or
patriarchal pressure. (The characters in "Thelma &
Louise" and the defense of serial killer Aileen
Wuornos are good examples of this stereotype.)
Although on the surface this presumption of female
innocence corrupted by male aggression seems
complimentary, in fact it is deeply patronizing.
Columnist Amy Pagnozzi, writing for the New York Daily
News on the trial of Lorena Bobbitt, said, "A baby.
That's what an American jury decided Lorena Bobbitt
was yesterday, in deciding she was not responsible for
her actions. It is a decision that infantilizes and
imperils all women."

On the rare occasion when a woman has been held
responsible for her actions, she's been branded a
monster far more frightening than a male perpetrating
the same acts. For years scholars believed female
criminals were hormonally abnormal, with more body
hair, low intelligence, even an identifiable bone
structure. Freud thought all female criminals wanted
to be men. The female criminal violates two laws--the
legal and cultural stricture against crime and the
equally profound taboo against violent females.


As in the public sphere, there is ample evidence that
women can be as physically aggressive behind closed
doors as men. Here, too, a failure to acknowledge the
bad that women can do is a failure to take women
seriously.

We should not be surprised when women's aggression is
expressed in the one place where they have
traditionally held equal or superior status, the home.
And it is in the home where that most frightening of
crimes, child abuse, most often occurs. Studies of
family violence and reports from state and national
agencies are consistent in finding that while males
commit the majority of sexual molestations of
children, women commit more physical abuse of children
than men. A Justice Department study released this
July found that a full 55 percent of offspring murders
are committed by women.

Considering how much more time women spend caring for
children than men do, these figures shouldn't be
surprising. Unless, of course, we fail to recognize
that women are capable of violent reactions to stress
just as men are. Yet female involvement is scarcely
visible in the media's coverage of child abuse.

Spousal abuse is an area where research is questioning
still more closely held beliefs about sex roles and
violence. Historically, the campaign against wife
battering has been a primary vehicle for the "men
violent, women nonviolent" message. There is no
question that a terrible number of women are
brutalized, and even killed, by their male partners.
Every effort should be made to punish the
perpetrators, help the victims, and, most of all,
prevent such crimes in the future. But this reality is
only part of the complex and ugly domestic violence
picture.

An increasing amount of research suggests that women
are violent in domestic situations just as often as
men. Studies based on large, random samples from the
whole population have found domestic violence to be
distributed more or less equally between the sexes.
These include studies conducted by Dr. Suzanne
Steinmetz, director of the Family Research Institute
at Indiana University-Purdue University at
Indianapolis, and by Murray Straus and Richard Gelles,
who have conducted the large-scale National Family
Violence Survey over a period of 17 years; and
research by Anson Shupe, William A. Stacey, and Lonnie
R. Hazlewood.

The overall pattern depicted by Straus and Gelles is
that spousal violence falls into four categories of
essentially equal size: male battery of an unresisting
female partner; female battery of an unresisting male
partner; mutual battery usually initiated by the male;
and mutual battery usually initiated by the female.

They found that when only the women's version of
events was analyzed (that is, the men's version of
events was omitted), the results were the same. When
only the most severe forms of violence were analyzed,
the results were the same. (In a fist-to-fist row, a
bigger, stronger man is obviously far more likely to
injure a smaller woman than the reverse. But a man's
superior strength is often neutralized by a woman's
use of weapons.)

The public has received a dramatically different
picture of domestic violence. Other, more widely
publicized studies do suggest that women assault their
spouses much less frequently than men and rarely or
never initiate mutual assaults. But these studies are
based on small, self-selected "treatment group"
samples or police records and are statistically less
likely to measure accurately the overall rate and form
of domestic violence.

The rhetoric and reality clash: Our mythic fantasies
of a female ideal contradict and undermine the actual
strength and multidimensionality of women. In cases
where female aggression is destructive, our denial
compounds the problem.

In boxing, they say it's the punch you don't see
coming that knocks you out. In the wider world, the
reality we ignore or deny is the one that weakens our
most impassioned efforts toward improvement.


We live with a distinct double standard about male and
female aggression. Women's aggression isn't considered
real. It isn't dangerous, it's only cute. Or it's
always self-defense or otherwise inspired by a man. In
the rare case where a woman is seen as genuinely
responsible, she is branded a monster--an "unnatural"
woman.

But slowly these stereotypes are crumbling. We are
starting to realize that, in the words of columnist
Linda Ellerbee, "The truth is that women, like it or
not, can be brutal, too. Brutality's not sexist."

I suspect that the mythology of females as essentially
non-violent grew out of a profound impulse to give
special protection to the bearers of future
generations--a sort of gender version of the
non-combatant status of medics and Red Cross workers.
But the problem is the same for all non-combatants,
whether in wartime or danger-ridden peace: You can
still get hurt, but you're not allowed to fight back.

Then, too, we humans don't respect victims, and the
disrespect in the language of the nonviolent female
nature is too familiar. It echoes the chauvinist
romances of past male authorities who explained why
women needed to be banned from vast sections of the
workplace, prevented from learning to read, excluded
from doing business or owning property, and relieved
of the onerous responsibility of making fundamental
decisions about their own lives.

Such rhetoric is absurd in a time when millions of
American women are shoulder to shoulder with male
colleagues in every field of human endeavor. Women
have fought for their achievements over decades,
battling in courtrooms, classrooms, legislatures,
workshops, and the streets of the nation. It took the
ferocious, unconquerable will of a great many women to
win recognition for equal intelligence, invention,
organization, and stamina.

In the boxing world, that kind of courage is known as
heart. Now, with the possibility of genuine equality
visible in the distance, it is self-destructive lunacy
to deny the existence of women's enormous fighting
heart.

It is time to recognize the variability of females,
just as we do males. Women are real. Our reality
covers the whole human megillah, from feeble to
fierce, from bad to good, from endangered to
dangerous. We don't just deserve power, we have it.
And power in this and every other society is not just
the capacity to benefit those around us. It includes,
absolutely and necessarily, the ability to inflict
damage and the willingness to accept responsibility.
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Bob Kruger
Posted on Tuesday, August 05, 2003 - 12:16 am:   

My dad's a psychiatric social worker, and he used to say how underreported the domestic abuse against men is. I remember as a kid asking him if the men were little wimpy guys, and he said that my question was naive. I pictured some Jack Sprat juxtaposition, and I think that prejudice came right out of the media.

Maybe Katherine plays down the biology of strength and aggression a bit much as regards hormones. I fought fires with a woman bodybuilder who personally knew the big stars, and she said that these women took steroids until their hair fell out and their breasts disappeared, and if it weren't for wigs and breast implants, they'd look like guys. They were taking a number of so-called "andro"-gens. Maybe testosterone gets more credit than it should, but it's not the only male sex hormone, right? She also mentioned that the drugs made them aggressive.

Consider that even with the borrowed male endocrinology, these women don't attain the mass and strength of the top men in the sport, though, granted, they get pretty strong. There are women who can clean and jerk well over three hundred pounds. But as far as I know, the top guys still have them beat by a couple hundred pounds. And I doubt we'll ever see a woman break Bill Kazmeier's 660lb bench record (if that still stands even).

But Katherine makes her point that maybe for all practical purposes, women can be as strong and aggressive as men. We've hardly begun to tap the social implications of that, and I'm sure a lot of us could weigh in with anecdotes about women who were a lot more aggressive -- if not more abusive -- than their male partners.

Bob



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Rob Furey
Posted on Tuesday, August 05, 2003 - 07:06 am:   

Aggression is a tool that organisms use to accumulate resources. Even plants are aggressive, between and within species. It isn’t surprising that women will be aggressive in sports since sports now give an outlet for aggressive behavior that once served to get that extra cave bear pelt. Sociobiologically aggression is easily explained. That society permits this kind of behavior to be expressed in a ring probably keeps the streets saner. Lots of organisms or groups have behavioral pecking orders and these are maintained through aggressive behaviors. In any case, is there any real difference in physical abuse and mental cruelty? Or is there really any difference between throwing a punch and saying, “I’m going to have my boyfriend kick your ass.”

And by the way, gender is not synonymous with sex. Gender identity may be genetic, I don’t know. But sex is chromosomal and so undebatable.
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Rob Furey
Posted on Tuesday, August 05, 2003 - 07:08 am:   

Lucius,

If you are interested in this topic from more than a human/social position, let me know and I can send you some stuff from sociobiology and the relatively new study going on about meme selection.
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Lucius
Posted on Tuesday, August 05, 2003 - 07:27 am:   

Rob,

Yeah, if you got some stuff, both Katherine and I would apppreciate it. Thanks.
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Lucius
Posted on Tuesday, August 05, 2003 - 07:39 am:   

Bob, I think Katherine's main point is that women are just as violent as men by nature, as capable of vicious behavior, and the whole thing about how if women ran the world there would be no war is crap. Gee, I was kinda hoping for some female response to this...oh, well.
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Deborah
Posted on Tuesday, August 05, 2003 - 08:30 am:   

One female responds...

I loved this essay. Katherine makes the point that both men and women are capable of the full range of behaviors, emotions and impulses.

Look, I love football, but I also do needlepoint (me and Rosie Greer, huh?). If I hadn't grown up in the 70s I might have been one of those girls who tried to play football. Now I have a son -- he loves martial arts and boy-stuff but he also wants to learn to sew and he likes jewelry. I hope I have enough guts as a parent to keep him from feeling like a mutant, to let him express a wide range of interests without dividing the world into girl-stuff and boy-stuff.

As Rob points out, there is gender identity and there is biological sex type -- and the former is cultural and there isn't always a one-to-one and onto mapping between them. Why should that be troublesome? Well, if you're highly invested in maintaining the social order, then gender outliers are a threat (women boxers, etc.).

So, yeah, the last paragraph says it clearly -- accepting that women can be violent and aggressive means accepting that women are real and some people (men and women) don't want that. Now, that's the scary part.
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Lucius
Posted on Tuesday, August 05, 2003 - 08:38 am:   

Deborah, you do needlepoint and love football, but can you kick Panther butt? I know who can. :-). Anyway, thanks for the response. And I agree wholeheartedly with YOUR last para.
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Bob Kruger
Posted on Tuesday, August 05, 2003 - 09:21 am:   

Rob says:

>And by the way, gender is not synonymous with >sex. Gender identity may be genetic, I don’t >know. But sex is chromosomal and so undebatable.

Well, usually. XX is female and XY is male...maybe. But what about an XXY or XXXY? Are those still males? And my sister tells me about a couple of well-known celebrity actresses who are chromosomally XY men born without androgen receptors for testosterone. What's ironic is women with their condition tend to match the Western ideal of beauty, with long legs, large high breasts, and flawlessly clear skin! And, yes, they have vaginas, though no uterus or ovaries. Most women have some testosterone receptors and that accounts for some female acne problems.

Check this out:

http://www.medhelp.org/www/ais/articles/MARIA.HTM

So maybe gender -- if not sex -- is largely a hormonal condition, at least in the West. I know that I'm stepping into a big quagmire with that, given all the ink that's been spilled over the issue of its social construction...

Bob






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Bob Kruger
Posted on Tuesday, August 05, 2003 - 09:36 am:   

Before Dr. Rob gets me on this one: yeah, I know XXY and XXXYs are technically male. Bad example.

Bob
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Deborah
Posted on Tuesday, August 05, 2003 - 09:59 am:   

Lucius, you aren't referring to the Miami Gentle Breeze, the one that barely ruffles a Panther whisker, are you? We'll see. We'll see.


Back OT, I remember seeing one of these PBS shows about child development which talked, among other things, about the difference in the way care-givers, rgardless of gender, behaved toward infants/toddlers. They tended to be much more gentle with the girls, held them longer and so on, than they were with boys. Let the boys cry longer before picking them up, that kind of thing. That seemed pretty significant for the kids' development and the caregivers didn't seem aware of the difference.

Nature-nurture, who knows?

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Lucius
Posted on Tuesday, August 05, 2003 - 09:59 am:   

Jamile Lee Curtis and who else....
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Lucius
Posted on Tuesday, August 05, 2003 - 10:15 am:   

Deborah, I got two words for ya... Hurricane Warning,

Nurture, socialization....I think that's what little girls are made of....
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Deborah
Posted on Tuesday, August 05, 2003 - 10:38 am:   

...and little boys, too is the point.

As for the Hurricane Warning, well that's why they go ahead and play the games, now, isn't it?

:-)
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Lucius
Posted on Tuesday, August 05, 2003 - 10:52 am:   

Deborah, yeah that Pitt-Miami rivalry over the years has been pretty tight. :-) Couple of darned good Pitt moral victories in there somewhere.

And yup, little boys too...
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Bob Kruger
Posted on Tuesday, August 05, 2003 - 11:01 am:   

I won't publicly speculate who has the condition. I just wanted to make the point that it exists and undermines our suppositions about sex. I vote for these XY's being women, but that's my arbitrary position.

Bob
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Vandana Singh
Posted on Tuesday, August 05, 2003 - 12:23 pm:   

This is a disturbing and fascinating subject.... I suggest that one of the ways to go about studying what is innate and what is culturally determined in either sex is to do a really broad cultural survey. This may not give a definitive answer, but that in itself would be valuable data.

Commenting from a Hindu/Indian perspective: Hinduism seems to recognize the potential for violence in women, if you look at the number of agressive goddesses in the pantheon. Many of these are violent forms of otherwise benign female deities. For instance, my favorite, Kali, (much maligned by hack writers from the West) is an extreme form of the warrior goddess Durga, who is the angry form of the gentle goddess Uma, consort of Shiva. Kali has been known to drink the blood of demons and was once so infused with lust for battle that (having decimated the enemy) she began to destroy the universe. Only a timely (and nearly suicidal) intervention by Shiva saved the day. Kali is now a symbol of many of the women's movements in India.

Many aspects of Hinduism quite frankly acknowledge women's potential to wreak havoc. In the Hindu view the universe arises due to an esentially female creative energy (shakti) and, according to the patriachs, every woman has the potential to tap into that unless controlled. Nice excuse. Interestingly many modern women's movements in India (which are predominantly rural, so you can't talk about the uplifting influence of Western ideals there, sorry) call upon this very power as a means to a life of dignity.

Regarding the domestic violence debate --- regardless of whether women are as potentially violent as men, my impression is that most women don't act upon this potential. Which is where social conditioning comes in. I volunteered for five years with Asian women's rights groups assisting domestic violence victims in the immigrant Asian community, and in only one case that I know of did the woman physically attack the man, and that was in self defence. Most of the time these immigrant women were isolated, terrified and desperate to hold on to their kids. One was shot and killed by her husband after she left him.

So I guess what I am saying is that there are really two things here that need to be separated. One, there is the question of whether women as well as men can be violent. If so, then how and why is this violence expressed or not expressed, and in what way is is different from violence by men, and in what way does it change from culture to culture?

This question is, in my opinion, completely different from such issues as domestic violence, which are to do with how violence is actually played out (as opposed to any talk of *potential* for violence) in different cultural climates around the world. I believe that UNICEF statistics from the late 1990's estimate that some 25% to 50% of the world's women have been abused at some point in their lives. A lot of this abuse occurs in South Asia, which has the dubious distinction of being one of the few places in the world where men outlive women. Any discussion on women and violence, whether academic or otherwise, should not ignore, deny or belittle what women suffer under patriarchal domination in most places in the world (including the West).

Having said that, the question of women's potential for violence is a fascinating one. So is the related question of whether a world run by women would have war or not. My non-expert answer to that would be that it depends --- mainly on the particular culture and society. I think it is quite likely that some societies would indulge in war, but I also suspect that it would be different from war as we see it today. My gut feeling is that war in such worlds would tend to be more local, more personal, and more easily negotiated.

As far as hormones are concerned, I'm no expert but do consider the effects of prolactin, the "mothering" or "nurturing" hormone that is released into a woman's body during pregnancy and child-rearing. I don't know about other women but when my daughter was a baby (and even now to some extent) I could not react with composure to the sound of a child crying. Any child, not just my own. (And one of the worst things about war, for me, is what it does to children). Also I read somewhere (may have been Science News) that male ravens dosed with prolactin exhibited nurturing behavior toward their young. Whether nurturing behavior translates into a lesser degree of agression I don't know --- I guess if the feeling encompasses more than your own family and is not complicated by an "us versus them" attitude then it might.

I guess it is a pretty complex issue. In practical terms, even if men and women have equal potential for violence (of the same or different kinds), the governing factors are what Lucius and Deborah said: nurture and socialization.

Vandana


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Lucius
Posted on Tuesday, August 05, 2003 - 06:25 pm:   

Vandana,

Thanks for this perspective. Given this recognition of the female potential for wreking havouc, how, iin your opinion, does that play in to the horrific abuses of women we hear about in India? Or does it play in at all? Pehaps this is an ignorant question, but I'm not that informed about India. Does the fact that Kali and Durga are such fearsome members of the pantheon play in part in male attitudes toward women?

I'm fairly well acquainted with abuses levied upon immigrant women. For instance, when I was in Borneo, the Arab oil workers in the coastal areas used to buy Thai wives, have them imported for US 500 or thereabouts, and
to say those women were ill-treated is the height of euphemism. 500 dollars for an oil field worker is not so much and if one woman doesn't work out....it's only another 500 to get another one. A lot of them were found dead,

Your mention of rural women's movements in INdia is fascinating. Where might I learn more about them?

Tnaks for your response....
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Rob
Posted on Tuesday, August 05, 2003 - 10:08 pm:   

I’m not at home this week and will only have sporadic internet access time. Wish this thread was happening later.

Bob, that depends on what a woman is. Is being a woman the state of being feminine? Or is being a woman the state of being female? The first is gender the second is sex.

If having a vagina was all there was to being a woman then an operation would be enough and you wouldn’t have to sight some rare and arcane disorder.

Lucius, since I am out of town this week and will have to get you material next week but I won’t forget.

PS I know who the other actress is.
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M. Bishop
Posted on Wednesday, August 06, 2003 - 05:47 am:   

This is a fascinating topic. From Joyce's ULYSSES and Molly Bloom's concluding stream-of-consciousness soliloquy:

"itd be much better for the world to be governed by the women it it you wouldnt see women going and killing one another and slaughtering when do you ever see women rolling around drunk like they do or gambling every penny they have and losing it on horses yes because a woman whatever she does she knows where to stop sure they wouldnt be in the world at all only for us they dont know what it is to be a woman and a mother how could they where would they all be if they hadnt all a mother to look after them what I never had thats why I suppose hes running wild now out at night away from his books. . . ."

And it goes on. I think Joyce knew a fair amount about women, but even Molly, as "real" a woman as she is, couldn't conceive of women prizefighters, soldiers, or prime ministers, and she bought into the prevailing Western worldview of her era, which makes her a realistic character but a flawed human being. In any event, Margaret Thatcher should have long ago put period to the idea that female rulers would willy-nilly remake the world into a more peaceable kingdom. Which slips the question of what might have happened if she had not had to rise to power in a system dominated by males. I think Katherine Dunn's essay strongly suggests that, over time, it's philosophy rather than biology that most pragmatically influences one's political stance.

Sigourney Weaver?
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Rob
Posted on Wednesday, August 06, 2003 - 06:32 am:   

I think that politics and philosophy are biologically constructed. But then, it's my job to think that.

How the hell are you anyway, Michael?

Naw, not Sigourney.
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Lucius
Posted on Wednesday, August 06, 2003 - 06:35 am:   

Not Sigourney, Mike....Ya wanta know, send me an email.

And yeah, Katherine's essay is a really clear summary of the situation, I think. KD's pretty damn fierce herself. :-)
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Vandana Singh
Posted on Wednesday, August 06, 2003 - 10:47 am:   

Lucius, you have touched upon one of the great contradictions of Indian / Hindu society: women are acknowledged by Hinduism as having great power, and are even considered deities in a way (a good daughter-in-law who brings good luck to her in-laws is referred to as the goddess Lakshmi incarnate) but at the same time it is a heavily patriarchal society and there is no lack of abuse of women. Part of it has to do with the need that such a society feels to control such power, but that is only a partial explanation. It is hard to examine this issue in a couple of paragraphs --- it is something I have been immersed in and studied all my life. Hinduism is full of the most magnificent contradictions, unsurprising because it has no founder or even a clear beginning, and there are thousands of scriptures instead of just one. Depending on which one you look at, women, like all other creatures, are manifestations of the divine, worthy of great respect --- or they, like drums, need to be beaten periodically. Women are considered spiritually superior by some, and earthy, dangerous and unreliable by others. Add to all this the complexities of history, foreign rule and colonialism, and the notion of a society’s honor being bound up in the purity of its women, and you have a few more reasons why women are suppressed. There is some evidence that in certain ages in India’s past, women were free to choose their mate, to remarry upon widowhood, and to take part in scholarly discourse --- and certain classes of women have always been freer than others.

Women of low caste and class, as well as rural women in general, have had to work for a living, as farmers or laborers, and they have not had the luxury of leading sequestered lives like upper caste/class women. (The much maligned practice of Sati, for instance, was practiced by upper-class warrior caste women in a certain sub-section of Rajasthan state in western India). Courtesans are another category that enjoyed extraordinary freedoms --- many courtesans were cultured, literary women who wrote women-centered versions of the great epics like the Ramayana, as well as erotica (that scandalized the British rulers). They were often rich. In present day urban India middle-class women are usually well educated, and are doctors, lawyers, engineers, and police officers.

As for whether the Kali/Durga mythologies affect men’s attitudes: it is possible for a woman to be possessed by what is known as the “devi” or goddess (Sanskrit word with the same root as the word “divine.”) This is the dangerous aspect of Kali or Durga or their regional versions. Such possessions often take place in more rural areas. During this time the woman behaves in a wild or unseemly manner, and may even be considered insane, and this provides her with some measure of protection from unwelcome attention. (I have a character like that in one of my early, sadly unpublished stories). This is one reason why the patriarchal set up seeks to control women.

I should add, by the way, that the situation of women in India does not mean that Indian women quietly take all the abuse. I mention this because there is this really annoying myth that Asian women are meek, and it makes me furious as hell. At least among Indian women I’ve found that the truth is more complex. My own extended family consists of powerful and dominant women who rule the roost, even when they do so within patriarchal family structures. And I have observed that even abused women, while they may not consider leaving the guy, do find ways to fight back --- too much salt in the food, burnt offerings, withholding sex and constant nagging and cursing are examples. Women’s movements in India are among the most vibrant in the world.

I find rural women’s movements most interesting because they completely overturn one’s assumptions. My first introduction to them was as a 17-year-old trekking in the Himalayas as part of a student environmental group. On a remote mountainside at some 10,000 feet above sea-level, we found ourselves in the middle of a meeting where women who were traditionally not supposed to speak before strange men were shouting slogans and raising their fists in the air. They were so out of touch with city culture that they were uncertain whether some of us trouser-clad city women were women! --- but they had the guts, or had suffered enough, to throw convention down the toilet. This was the now famous Chipko movement, started and led by village women, beginning as a revolt against tree-cutting but developing into a wider social movement that fought caste issues and illiteracy. A book I have heard about (but not read) that describes this movement is called The Unquiet Woods, by Ramachandra Guha.

Another example is a more recent movement (1990’s) against State-supplied hard liquor in the state of Andhra Pradesh in south-Western India. These women were not against drinking per se --- they themselves drank the local palm sap brew --- but against the deliberate introduction of hard liquor as a way for the state to get money through taxes. There is an absolutely wonderful movie about them, made with great artistry (and music!) as well as attention to the complexities of the issue, called “When Women Unite: The Story of an Uprising.” The video is available (last I checked) through the non-profit organization Media for International Development, 55 East 92nd Street, 4th floor, New York, NY 10128. tel: (212) 289-6790.

A couple more good references about rural women’s movements include:
The History of Doing, by Radha Kumar, which is very comprehensive, if somewhat dry, and takes into account caste and class issues, and
Women Writing in India, 600 B. C. to the Present, edited by S. Tharu and K. Lalitha, which has poetry and prose by Indian women through the ages, including some very beautiful poetry by rebellious Buddhist nuns in 600 B. C.

These may be available at feminist bookstores in the U.S. You can browse more titles at the site of a feminist press in Delhi called Kali for Women:

http://www.kalibooks.com

And there are more resources for those interested at the South Asian Women’s Network site, http://www.umiacs.umd.edu/users/sawweb/sawnet/.

Hope these are useful. And my apologies for the inordinately long post.

Vandana



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Lucius
Posted on Wednesday, August 06, 2003 - 12:41 pm:   

Vandana, thanks for the references. I'm out of town for a few days after this, but I'm gonna invest some time in this when I return. I'm definitely getting the book of women's writings. That sounds wonderful.

Thanks so much,

Lucius
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Lucius
Posted on Wednesday, August 06, 2003 - 12:43 pm:   

Rob, I'm outa town myself, but I';ll catch ya in a few.

Lucius
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Lucius
Posted on Wednesday, August 06, 2003 - 01:52 pm:   

Vandana,

btw, did you ever see the Sayajit Ray film, DEVI. I think it's really remarkable. It has to do with a woman who has been designated as a divine reincarnation. If you've seen it -- or if he can get to see it -- I''d be interested in yr. opinion.
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R Furey
Posted on Wednesday, August 06, 2003 - 05:19 pm:   

Yes indeed, Mike. Send me an email and I'll let you know if mine is the same as Lucius. Maybe there are three!
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Lucius
Posted on Wednesday, August 06, 2003 - 05:44 pm:   

At least three....
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vandana singh
Posted on Thursday, August 07, 2003 - 06:40 am:   

I haven't seen the film but I know the story, and I'm going to try to rent the movie. Thanks for reminding me about it. Will get back to you on that!

I'm trying to remember a more recent Hindi movie in which a woman fighting some kind of social injustice gets raped by the bad guys and ends up tracking down and killing the main villain with a hatchet. It didn't have the artistry of Ray, but it was something!
Vandana
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M. Bishop
Posted on Friday, August 08, 2003 - 05:08 am:   

Rob, I don't have your e-mail address. Lucius, I'll eventually e-mail you, after you get back, if I can manage it. Vandana, if you can recall the name of that more recent Hindi film, I'd be grateful if you informed us all. And, everybody, I'm fine. Good discussion, this.
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Rob
Posted on Friday, August 08, 2003 - 08:44 am:   

My email address is hotlinked to my post.
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Lynda Rucker
Posted on Friday, August 08, 2003 - 09:07 am:   

Vandana, was the movie you’re thinking of Bandit Queen?

It was actually based on the real-life story (if that is in fact the one you’re thinking of) of Phoolan Devi, a low-caste woman who ended up being elected to Parliament. Apparently she disliked the film because of the depiction of the rapes. She has since been assassinated.

I liked the movie a lot, though parts of it were hard to watch.

As for Katherine Dunn’s essay, I loved it, and agree with it wholeheartedly. It’s an argument I’ve had many times over the years with both men and women (till I finally gave up arguing about it). I have found it interesting that I encounter this attitude that women are supposed to be good and peaceful and non-violent far more in the urban Pacific Northwest, where I live now, than in rural Georgia, where I grew up, and where women shoot guns and fist-fight and chop the heads off rattlesnakes as needed.
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m. bishop
Posted on Sunday, August 10, 2003 - 05:06 am:   

"Where I grew up, and where women shoot guns and fist-fight and chop the heads off rattlesnakes as needed." Amen.

I'd bet BANDIT QUEEN is the one.

Rob, please forgive my ignorance, but I don't even know what "hotlinked to my post" means. Do I have to break into a car and fiddle with the wires under the dashboard?

Roseanne?
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Lucius
Posted on Monday, August 11, 2003 - 07:22 am:   

Mike, hotlinked means you just click on his name and you get an email set-up direct to Rob...or else Jimy Dea pays you a personal visit.....

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Lucius
Posted on Monday, August 11, 2003 - 07:26 am:   

Vandana,

Yup, I think the others are right. Bandit Queen. And do let me know your take on DIva. Odd, isn't it, how Ray's name seems to have been diminished of late? People sttill accord him greatness, but it's like he's dropped a few levels on the great-o-meter. To my mind, he's a seminal figure in the history of film,
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Snock
Posted on Wednesday, August 13, 2003 - 11:58 am:   

Lucius,

Please excuse me for using your board to ask a couple of my own related questions...

When you folks see a fight between a woman and a man... do you feel inclined to break it up?

How about if the woman is cleaning the guy's clock?

Are you more likely or less likely to step in when it's 2 men fighting?

I've seen a few situations here in China that have made me think twice about the answers to these questions. I'm just curious about what you all might think...
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Lucius
Posted on Wednesday, August 13, 2003 - 12:39 pm:   

Snock, I don' t know if my inclinations have any bearing on the essential situation. Certainly I'd be more inclined to break up a fight between a man and a woman, and if the woman was cleaning the guy's clock, I'd probably think about it more, but I'd still get in there. As to whether I'd bust up a fight between two guys, It would depend on the two guys, y'know. Like I'm not jumping straight in between Tyson and Lewis. I know a good many women from boxing gyms who could kick the average much bigger man's butt, so maybe this makes me slightly untypical in my degree of committment to such actions, but I think I remain fairly typical on the whole.
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Snock
Posted on Wednesday, August 13, 2003 - 01:56 pm:   

FYI… Here’s an excerpt from _someone’s (?)_ diary (it just popped up when I searched “Manzhouli” - my hometown- on Google). I think it’s kind of interesting,, as the author is (apparently ) a woman…

“We witnessed a female laying multiple punches onto her
passive partner(?) Mostly the punches were to the chest and
arm region but they were solid. It looked quite brutal to
me. He stayed and at times tried to cuddle her. They were
not in constant contact so at any time either could have
got away. They were on the train platform when we were in a
train on the way to Manzhouli. There was no way we could
have got out to intervene.
It just occurred to me - I wonder if many would intervene
in this with "the table reversed" so to speak? Admittedly
this was an unfair match, but, for the record, I felt sorry
for the guy but I don't think I'd have tried to stop it if
I were closer. I guess as a female I feel I'd lack the
strength to physically make a difference. Also I felt that
maybe his staying there to take it meant he felt he
deserved it somehow. To me it definitely seemed like the guy
had done something to hurt her emotionally and she was
retaliating physically.”

P.S.

You know,, I'm pretty damn sure that Katherine Dunn's essay, or at least the first 5 paragraphs, have been reprinted in ESL textbooks as a jumping off point for discussions with students. I’ll have to search for the book I think I saw it in.


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Lucius
Posted on Wednesday, August 13, 2003 - 03:07 pm:   

Snock, There are abused husbands -- it's really unreported, but--according to various authorities--fairly wide spread. So it's not a given that this guy hurt her emotionally by any means. And after seeing some of the women I know from boxing fight, I have a healthy respect for their strength. I'm talking about athletes who can do a hundred one-arm pushups.

I don't know for sure KD's essay's been reprinted, but it wouldn't suprise me.
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Vandana Singh
Posted on Thursday, August 14, 2003 - 05:38 am:   

The Movie I was thinking of was not Bandit Queen. It is an older movie whose name will come to me by and by. As for Bandit Queen, while I haven't seen the movie, I believe it is quite controversial. Phoolan Devi, the bandit in question, herself protested against the movie because it didn't stick to facts and reportedly sensationalized and "bollywoodized" the actual events. But in terms of the violence capability of women, it probably does not veer too much off track --- just a guess.

Lucius, if Ray's importance in film has diminished, it is a great pity. The few movies of his I have seen I found to be incredibly honest and moving. In fact I've asked my parents to send me a bunch of DVDs of his movies from Delhi. I'll let you know what I think of Devi.

Vandana

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Lucius
Posted on Thursday, August 14, 2003 - 06:06 am:   

Vandana, of course it's not that Ray's importance has diminished, just that in the circles I run in (the movie circles) he seems to be absent from the conversation about great filmmakers. There's no doubt in my mind that he was a massive influence on the French New Wave, and his body of work is at least as impressive as any European filmmaker of the time.

I hope you enjoy DEVI. Don't know how culturally accurate it is, but it's a great movie....
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MI Wells
Posted on Friday, September 26, 2003 - 09:53 am:   

Lucius:

For a different perspective on this issue, you may wish to check out Franz De Waal's wonderful book, "Chimpanzee Politics".

De Waal is a primatologist who essentially creates an "anthropology" for a group of apes at the Arnhem zoo.

One of the aspects he treats is female agression amongst chimps. To make a long and nicely told story short, he shows that the males threaten and posture far more than the females, but inflict less real damage on each other during conflicts than do the females.

The females kill and maim, and the males (who De Waal hypothesizes are aware of their generally superior strength) only scream and throw things. This is particularly evident when a group is without a clearly dominant male (their most common social structure).

Lots of learning about 'I' by examining the 'other' in this book.

MI Wells
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MI Wells
Posted on Sunday, September 28, 2003 - 06:51 am:   

Dear Lucius:


I'm sorry to go on about this, but I was hoping that someone would continue this really interesting thread. Since no one has, I will blather on a bit.

A note from the initiated: Scientists disagree all the time. The arguments are many, bitter and often for nothing of particular consequence - like two bald men fighting over a comb.

There ARE differences in male and female brains - I know this, because I worked on several of these projects as a research assistant when I was in college. The biggest difference, and the one that has held up over time, is that women have 20-30% more nerve endings connecting the hemispheres of their brains via the corpus callosum.

In plain English, we are wired more densely than men, and this difference is detectable at 23 prenatal weeks.

No one is really sure what advantage (if any) this gives women, but research with children by Gilligan ('In Another Voice') suggests that females approach problem solving very differently from males.

Female children in Gilligan's study tended to come up with far more complex solutions to problems than did their male counterparts. But the fascinating thing was that the difference between the 'winners' and 'loosers' in the female scenarios was much less well defined.

Of course, no one is sure whether this is a demonstration of biological difference, or mere co-incidence.

To run with that idea, however, into the realm of speculation, one might argue that women's tendency to go for the negotiation instead of the right hook is (partially at least) because of our different wiring.

So how does De Waal's work with chimps reconcile with the lines of evidence from human neuroanatomy and social psychology? I'm not sure it does. I just wanted to throw those issues onto the table for the forum to consider.

____

Beware the sociobiologists. I used to teach it (for my survival) up at the temple of the high priests of the subject in Cambridge. Some of it is fascinating, and some of it dreck. It makes good argument, but generally bad science in the strictest sense, because it usually cannot be demonstrated in animals anywhere near us on the 'scala naturae'.

____

At least part of the problem that society has in dealing with female fierceness is due to the rediculous media images of women we are subject to at nearly every turn of our lives. In commercial films, accomplished, fierce women are usually played by 23 year old silicon-stuffed bimbos (don't light a match near her, she'll explode!) who wade into crisis situations without weapons.

In the rare instances when a believeable heroine is cast, she is often depicted as being pushed to her extremes before she fights back. What a load of crud! 'Crouching tiger' was a refreshing departure from these expectations (I didn't like the bandit love bit - but that is a near standard in the Chinese films that the director was paying homage to).

Thanks for bringing up this issue. Its obviously one I am also interested in.

Sincerely,


Isabelle


P.S. I know a diver stricken with polio who travels 'round the world to dive. If you want to interview her about the freedom this imparts her and the other reasons she (and her husband) dive - I can hook you up.
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richard
Posted on Tuesday, October 07, 2003 - 07:01 pm:   

Coming in late on this one, having scan-read the thread very rapidly, so somebody stop me if I'm covering old ground anew...

I don't doubt women's capacity for violence - I do tend to doubt their enthusiasm for it. In my admittedly very limited, largely anecdotally based experience, women generally (as far as such a generalisation can be made)seem to need a pressing reason to commmit acts of violence, whereas (generalised) men seem only to need an excuse.

I'm thinking particularly here of the mindless football-related violence that plagues my own country (and from which female actors are almost entirely absent), but the same dynamic can be seen in a great number of other criminal acts as well. As far as I'm aware, the very VERY large majority of violent crime (murder, assault and battery, rape, armed robbery etc...) is still committed by males. Why this should be so is a complex issue, but I don't think WHETHER it is so is in any kind of dispute.

The issue of what exactly constitutes violence has also been raised, but I think the salient point is this - which would you rather happen to you - get nagged or get your skull caved in? I'd argue that mental cruelty, however despicable, is a more civilised behavioural pattern, since the victim can at least choose to absent themselves from the assault. In contrast, statistics show that women who leave a physically abusive spouse run a very high risk of being murdered by said spouse.

I certainly don't think we should be infantilising women or acting as if they can't function without male support, but it is dangerous I think to in any way downplay the staggering mass of male violence committed in all societies around the globe against women. A recent UN report stated that violence against women was so globally endemic in human society that it was in many areas of the world invisible - a given of life, not even subject to consideration as a problem. I know that in every country I have lived, newspaper reports of women murdered by men were common currency - men murdered by women were so rare as to make stunning front page news on the very few occasions that such a death occurred.

Finally, Katherine Dunn states: "It took the ferocious, unconquerable will of a great many women to win recognition for equal intelligence, invention, organization, and stamina." I would be interested to know in which broad swathes of global society Ms Dunn believes this recognition to exist - I have travelled somewhat and I have never seen it in substantial quantities anywhere.
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Lucius
Posted on Tuesday, October 07, 2003 - 08:07 pm:   

Richard,

I don't comprehend how Katherine's article "downplays" male violence against women. Nor do I see how the example of hooliganism and its lack of female participants relates to anything other than socialization--it certainly has no bearing on the argument that by nature, women's ferocity is the equivalent of men's. Nor is K stating that the recognition of women's intelligence and etc. is universally accorded. She's merely stating that things in this regard are better than they were, particularly in the west, and that with this new status, signs are emerging of the female capacity for physical violence. For instance, female serial killers have recently come to the fore, whereas previously men were the sole perpetrators of this sort of crime.

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Lucius
Posted on Tuesday, October 07, 2003 - 08:16 pm:   

Isabelle,

somehow I missed your two posts. Sorry. Thanks for the recommendation of CHIMPANZEE POLITICS. I'll pick it up. And for your reference to Gilligan, who i have not read either. I am not, obviously, as conversant with the science aspect of this as are you -- it's a matter of interest to me as well, but I'm an infant in the study. If you don't mind I'd like to forward your posts on to K. Dunn -- she's far
more up on the subject than I.

Agreed about the sociobiologists.

In any case, I don't know as I can comment much on your posts until I read the book.. But I will read them and I do appreicate it.

Take Care,

Lucius
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Trent
Posted on Wednesday, October 08, 2003 - 03:50 am:   

Lucius wrote: "female serial killers have recently come to the fore, whereas previously men were the sole perpetrators of this sort of crime."

The crime deduction in THE BIG SLEEP hinges on the fact that women do not kill (we're not given a motivation for her, but neither are we for the true killer).

Re: abused husbands, did you read that in Ethiopia a man died from having his balls crushed and was reportedly too embarassed to go to the hospital? They were fighting over his drinking away money, so maybe they were too poor to go as well (though any reason we supply is suspect as dead men don't tell tales--Alfred Hitchcock would no doubt supply an intriguing spin). Yahoo News listed it under "Oddly Enough," which I take to mean: "Here's something really funny" or "Isn't that cute?"
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richard
Posted on Wednesday, October 08, 2003 - 04:47 am:   

Lucius,

I wasn't disputing Katherine's claims that women have equal natural capacity for ferocity - only that the ferocity takes an equal form - it's interesting to note that in almost all Katherine's anecdotal examples, the women who are engaged in acts of violence are doing so for what we might call "justifiable" reasons - defending a home against wolves in the case of Myrtle, defending society against a criminal in the case of the beat cop. The reason I selected football hooliganism for my own example is because it seems in contrast a near perfect exemplar of what we might call "mindless" violence - violence, on thinly disguised xenophobic grounds, for its own sake. In this arena, women are definitely notable by their absence (just as they are, generally, in violent crime statistics). Whether this is down to nature, nuture or (most probably) a tangled mix of the two is a matter for on-going debate. My own feeling, for the record, is that the biological necessity of putting up with a parasitic lifeform inside your own body for nine months and then (noisy, demanding, utterly selfish)in your immediate vicinity for a couple of years after is likely to create evolutionary pressure towards a less *gratuitously* violent behavioural profile - female hunter gatherers will apparently smother or expose infants born at inconvenient times during the tribe's migration, but this is a matter of survival - what they *don't* tend to do is cave said infant's skull in because it's crying too much or touching their stuff. This seems to me to be the natural base - tens of thousands of years of human society will then trowel the socialisation/nurture aspect on top and we end up here.

What worried me about the article (and the thread) was the way in which such statements become a rallying point for "deadlier than the male" anecdotes and a shunting aside of the undeniable statistical fact that male violence against women is endemic, female violence against men is at worst an unpleasant peripheral social ill, and that *gratuitous* violence is largely a male problem. You can see a similar tendency in issues of race, where examples of black racism against whites are held up, anecdotally, in the media to mask the underlying white racist basis for all of western society. Sure there are black racists, but they are NOT the major race issue that needs to be faced. Sure there are female killers (serial killers, even), but how many as a percentage? Female violence is NOT the major problem facing society today - male violence is.

And, yes, in the face of this overwhelming problem, women *do* need social protection against male aggression - what form that protection takes is arguable - personally I'd start, as Robin Morgan recommends in her very excellent "the Demon Lover", by requiring all female children to receive martial arts training from age about five, thus bringing out their capacity for aggression in the right context. But at the same time we need to look very seriously into what makes the male psyche tick where violence is concerned, because brother, the truth is that in this world you run almost zero risk of being murdered by a woman.

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MI Wells
Posted on Wednesday, October 08, 2003 - 04:52 am:   

Thanks Lucius:

Feel free to forward anything . . . I love to argue about intellectual issues.

I also look forward to your reply.

How 'bout we all make a list of famous fierce women (in literature & in real life)?

What did they do? (why are they on the list)

and

What were the consequences of their actions? (was their punishment any less or any worse than a man would have received for similar actions).


My first contribution is: Tamara

Barbarian queen who kills and tortures members of Titus' household.

Killed (beheaded or stabbed - varies with the production) after being tricked into eating her own offspring.

(THIS is the play they should be teaching to high school students - not R&J.)

MI


(They started referring to me as "MI" on the other threads, so I just adopted it)

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Lucius
Posted on Wednesday, October 08, 2003 - 05:53 am:   

Richard, IMO, there is so much material relating to violence against women, I don't think there's any real fear of a nearly ten year old essay and a thread on a message board causing a neglect of the topic. Katherine is simply pointng out that the female of the species is wired for violence, just like the male, and in the United States, this is beginning to manifest in interesting ways. Interesting to me, at any rate, as a writer. One evidence elsewhere in the world that's of note, again to me, is the fact that a large number of Chinese women now work as bodyguards for men. All these little incidences seem to reflect that some change is occurring...

As MI's posts relate, there is a great deal of research now being done in the area of how brains are wired, so I think your concerns are being met in that regard.

As far as mindless violence being a male preserve, it's an interesting topic. I'm not sure I believe that it's a topic that can be examined without taking into account socialization -- despite the growth women's soccer, the football pitch and arena's are on a professional level pretty much male-dominated. Without socialization, I'm not sure that would be the case.

As for Morgan's suggestion, well, yes, but it won't happen anytime soon, and a good many of the women I know who rely on martial arts nowadays really shouldn't be hooking in the streets with two hundred pound guys -- they gain a confidencefrom training that's not always founded on reality. Early training might serve to make them more efficient, but like I said, it's a long way off.
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Lucius
Posted on Wednesday, October 08, 2003 - 05:58 am:   

MI,

My reply will come a bit later, because I'll be traveling in November, but I'm hoping to pick up the books and read them en route.

I guess for the list I'l lnominate Aileen Wornos, the first known American female serial killer, executed by lethal injection.
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Lucius
Posted on Wednesday, October 08, 2003 - 06:01 am:   

Trent,

I'll have to go back and look at the Big Sleep. Been a while. '

Nope, never saw the Yahoo ball-crushed thing. Interesting. Not cute... :-)
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Trent
Posted on Wednesday, October 08, 2003 - 06:01 am:   

Richard wrote: "female violence against men is at worst an unpleasant peripheral social ill"

Richard, what worries me about your statement is that it seems able to compartmentalize violence. Violence by men is a problem, true. But by women it's "at worst an unpleasant peripheral social ill?" This is what I was pointing out by Yahoo's label of "Oddly Enough:" it'dn't dat the darnedest thing you ever heard! To paraphrase Gertrude Stein: violence is violence is violence. To paraphrase Shakespeare: violence by any other name would smell as sweet.

It seems to me Lucius is only pointing out that violence is a human phenomenon. That more men do violence is true (at least via police statistics), but why would you only want to focus on part of the problem via gender when you can encompass it wholly with the term "violence?" Dunn & Shepard point out a problem of gender bias that could cloud, say, Philip Marlowe's mind from discovering who the real killer is.

Your statement, on the other hand, seems to imply the opposite: that only one kind of violence is important. The implication is like racial profiling. Profiling may be useful in narrowing down possible suspects, but don't let it cloud your judgment. The real killer may lie outside your profile of what killers look like on the surface. Humans have a lot more variables than sociology based on statistics allows for. This is why so many diseases go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. We have to be prepared for not just the expected but the "unexpected."

p.s. Doesn't "Dunn & Shepard" sound like a country band?
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Laura
Posted on Wednesday, October 08, 2003 - 07:16 am:   

Mr. Shepard:

There is fascinating fodder in current events on this topic.

I refer of course to the "Plame-game".

Today's Washington Post has interesting quotes from her neighbors about them, "not being able to imagine her carrying anything but a baby bottle or a diaper bag."

The reporters also comment on her cooking and mothering skills as being great, "cover" for her real profession.

I also point out to MI that Tamara did what she did in revenge for Titus' own injustice. She was the original Annie (I can do anything better than you) Oakley. It doesn't change the horrible nature of her acts, just makes them more understandable. Also, Shakespeare casts her as a barbarian - an outsider. One of HIS OWN women would never do such a thing. I suppose that casting was more safe for him as a playright as well.
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richard
Posted on Wednesday, October 08, 2003 - 10:33 am:   

Hi Trent,

Yeah, didn't mean to imply that an individual violent act committed by a female criminal wasn't worth taking seriously - only that there ain't a lot of it about, and thus it comes a very poor second to male violence as a focus for social concern.

Lucius, you're right about the change - what seems to be occurring IMHO is that women are gaining access to the arenas of violence, in much the same way (and in the same limited number of places globally) as they have gained some access to the arenas of political and commercial power. What I'd also venture to suggest is that they're bringing a more "civilised", less joyously destructive dynamic to the arena, much as women in business seem to be pioneering a more inclusive and productive approach to management (See Deborah Tannen's Talking 9-5 for more on that). Men, in both these arenas, still seem largely concerned with matters of hierarchical dominance and win-at-all-costs strategies.

Whether this more social approach is due to the corpus callosorum differences MI Wells mentions, I don't know, but I fear it may well be the case - I think I probably tend further towards the nature end of the spectrum than you, but of course I wouldn't deny the enormous impact nurture and socialisation still have.

Btw - in the UK there are a large(ish) number of women interested in both playing and watching football, but they still don't tend to crop up among the hooligan element. And this is despite being quite successfully aggressive on the pitch *within the context of the rules of the game*. In the end I wonder if it's as simple as that - tens of millenia of oppression have trained women (through hard wiring *and* socialisation) to get what they want by playing within the rules, deploying complex strategy and avoiding straightforward violent showdowns which they would tend to lose. Men in contrast have never really had to learn this, and so remain relatively undeveloped and unsophisticated in hardwiring and socialisation. Bit depressing as an analysis, if you're a man, but there you go...gotta try and rise above it, I guess :-)
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Trent
Posted on Thursday, October 09, 2003 - 09:20 pm:   

Driving in the car today, I noted one of the drivers was particularly aggressive. I assumed male but pulled up to the driver and saw it was female. Are cars like Heinlein's armored suits? I mean, if more women felt they had power, would more abuse it? Feel free to extrapolate.
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MI Wells
Posted on Friday, October 10, 2003 - 04:01 am:   

Two words:

CONDI RICE




P.S. Actually, the agressive female drivers usually don't have any power at all - they are simply small people in usually extraordinarily large vehicles that they cannot control (love the Heinlein image). And frankly, most urban and suburban drivers of these vehicles tend to be pretty sloppy and/or agressive gender be damned.
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MI Wells
Posted on Friday, October 10, 2003 - 04:23 am:   

I'm not sure if this belongs here, but its a recent true story of a fierce and manipulative woman.

I have a friend who has had some bad things happen to her recently: separation from her husband, lover with stage 3 cancer bomb in his belly. So someone in her life (I think it was her therapist - way to go!) suggested that she answer a few online personals.

She did. Found a man she really liked and started a regular correspondence with him. Exchanged pictures. He said all the right things, referenced her favorite poems, Chopin Nocturnes - perfect.

They meet, not once but three times - nice polite dates: coffee, walks, he came to the martial arts class that she teaches - seemed to get turned on by her weapons instruction (she's drop dead gorgeous by the way).

Next "date": dinner at "Agent M's" house (she's not really - its an old joke). Big Greek meal. Towards the end of the meal, this guy starts saying he has a secret . . . He's not sure how it will effect their relationship.

They actually wind in her room - on her bed.

(Alert readers have at least guessed part the ending I'm sure)

It turns out that "he" is a "she" and a somewhat famous lesbian columnist who is doing research for a book called "Self Made Man", and yes my friend is going to be in the book.

It turns out that this woman - disguised as a man - is seducing both men and women and chronicling her experiences for fame and fortune. (And yes, the advance was huge).

Not exactly Tamara or Wornos, but fierce and manipulative in a psychological sense.

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Trent
Posted on Friday, October 10, 2003 - 06:31 am:   

Interesting story, MI, but I'm curious: do you think that fierce? Bold, yes, absolutely. Clever, yes. And slightly manipulative--is that what you mean by fierce: possibly destructive of feelings with the old bait and switcheroo?

***

To clarify my comment on automobiles and to compare MI's story for mutual relevance:

In science, if you want an answer, you eliminate the variables. Here, it seems to me, if you give the subject (both genders studied separately) powers over another, you should be able to find out definitively whether one gender is liable to abuse power or not. MI's story is an example of power over another human, which MI thought of as a psychological fierceness. Is it that we've just been examining the wrong variables? If we gave armored suits to women to live in, would they be similarly fierce physically?
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MI Wells
Posted on Friday, October 10, 2003 - 07:03 am:   

Its interesting that you mention that because I was beginning to puzzle over the same issue.

(These posts are for me, and I assume for others as well (I could be wrong about this) written off the top of one's head. The ideas seem to evolve over time in dialogue with others).

We have so far seemed to equate fierceness with negative agression and violence. Only the initial article lists a few examples of positively channeled aggression (defending of home and family against the wolves etc).

How bout all those women in the services who fight for their countries or patrol dangerous streets in defense of the innocents?

And yes Trent, I do consider Dr. Ed/Ms. Edna to be fierce and not at all clever. It takes a tremendous amount of aggression and manipulation to actually DO such a thing (its only clever to THINK about doing it). It takes far more balls to seduce and destroy than it does to cut someone off on the highway who you'll never see again.

Added to that, Dr Ed/Ms Edna also plays in an all male bowling league - real salt of the earth kind of guys - who would probably beat the crap out of her if they knew what she really was. AND she puts herself at great personal risk by "coming out" in people's bedrooms. Quite frankly, she's lucky she's alive. My friend, like most well-trained martial artists, has a great deal of restraint.

I personally would like to out this project on the web - with a "Do not date this man" site - complete with massive press coverage. I think its truly awful and a sad commentary on the state of the commercial publishing market.

But, alas, it's not my decision. My friend is writing it all down and dreaming of her fifteen on Oprah.

(MI sighs and is grateful for the love of the world's most patient man and their rugrats)

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Deborah
Posted on Friday, October 10, 2003 - 09:48 am:   

MI, your friend's story left me wondering why a woman with a sense of her own power (you describe her as a martial arts instructor) would seek what?, I started to say comfort or solace or something through internet personals in the situation she was in. I mean, you say she was separated from her husband and her lover was dying or had died, so her first thought was, Let me see if I can meet someone in a situation in which lying/misrepresenting oneself is almost the norm (internet personals)? It seems a bit like saying, Let's see, I have bubonic plague and smallpox, but I still seem to be surving, let me see if I can score a case of cholera.

So, yes, I'd say the seducer's game is reprehensible from the point of view of how I'd like to see people treat one another, but not what I would call fierce. Manipulative, to be sure, but I do think Katherine's article is more about women's capacity for physical violence, and the many societies in which that capacity is denied or suppressed.
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Deborah
Posted on Friday, October 10, 2003 - 09:52 am:   

Trent, you make a good observation about driving. I drive my son to and from school and, while I try to be safe and calm, I see countless other moms who take another approach. In other words, you don't want to get between a Mama driving a mini-van and her destination. It's weird. Here in the suburbs, the most agressive drivers I see are the aforementioned moms and young girls in small cars. Being behind the wheel does seem to convey both power and anonymity -- a combination that unleashes something in some people.
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MI Wells
Posted on Friday, October 10, 2003 - 12:24 pm:   

Deborah:

She's very vulnerable at the moment - probably why she was "preyed" upon by that beast. Her former conquest (at least the one that I know of) was a man.

I agree it was a stupid thing to do - but she didn't ask my advice before she did it (I would have recommended against it).

I'm down two for two (you and Trent both disagree that it was "fierce"). Oh, well (she shrugs). We may have to agree to disagree and move on. Or as we say in my current line of work, "take a footnote".

It's nice to have a woman back in the mix on the topic of female fierceness. Strange that it doesn't attract other female voices.

Do you have a nominee for the list of fierce women?
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Lucius
Posted on Friday, October 10, 2003 - 12:51 pm:   

"Strange that it doesn't attract other female voices."

I was thinking the same thing. Why is that? Are many women still reluctant, you think, to embrace less traditional configurations of female behavior? Kind of aggressively disinterested? At the risk of pissing some off, it strikes me that some strains of feminism are peculiarly counter-subversive in that they tend to support traditional views of women's roles with here and there an exception, and shrink from even considering more radical possibilities. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. To each her own. But it does seem strange.
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ellen
Posted on Friday, October 10, 2003 - 09:15 pm:   

I know this is off on a tangent but I don't see how using an internet dating service implies that MI's friend was insecure or somehow psychologically deficient. I've never used one but Pat Murphy met the guy she's now married to through an internet personal ad.

I obviously don't know MI's friend's pov but to use a dating service to meet people is no worse than meeting someone at a bar. And it sounds as if her friend did all the right things--corresponded with the "guy" for a while before meeting and getting to know him. It would have been just as likely that an asshole like that would be on the street picking up men and women as on the internet.

So Deborah, I'm kind of surprised by your reaction. Internet personals are no less reliable than newspaper personal columns, which I once did try (and found useless, but not because anyone misrepresented himself).
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Laura
Posted on Saturday, October 11, 2003 - 07:26 am:   

Tend to agree - but people usually misrepresent themsleves in the mating game - making themselves a little or a lot more desirable than they really are. Whether they meet in a bar, through an ad or in a crowded foreign airport lounge (how I met my husband) - most people tend to lie at least a little bit.

I do agree with MI and Deborah though that dating on the rebound of such tragedy is a bad idea.


Mr. Shepard (Lucius, if I may - although we have never met - I do read your writings): I think that since feminism tended to grow out of the left wing, it initially carried with it the political underpinnings from that side of the spectrum.

However, the near absence of "feminism" as a real political force since the late seventies (let's be honest here) has actually been a good thing, and allowed powerful women to emerge as a really diverse group of people.

"Feminism" doesn't mean a thing to women my age. Liberation is something our mothers fought for. We, in general, (in middle class N. America) grew up free and with a wide variety of choices for our futures.

As MI pointed out, there are a lot of women making inroads into traditionally male professions that require a certain amount of physical prowess and aggression for success - soldiers, cops etc.

The truth (to a certain degree) depends upon one's point of view - and of course - who you talk to.



Here's an addition to the list to warm the cockles of MI's heart: Boudica






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Lucius
Posted on Saturday, October 11, 2003 - 09:09 am:   

Ellen -- what Deborah was saying, I think, was that given her shaky state of mind, involving herself in a less than reliable dating circumstance (and just because Pat lucked out doesn't mean its not unreliable) seems pyschologically risky...

Laura...well, since you're speaking for all women your age, I probably shouldn't mention all the women your age who bring up feminism to me as something meaningful to them and would argue with you the notion that they have grown up free and with a wide variety of choices. I further should not, I suppose, mention that feminism is a world wide movement, not a phenomenon peculiar to middle class North America. Living in NY perhaps does not acquaint you with the numbers of women both in Middle America and around the world who feel entirely unliberated and do not perceive themselves as having that freedom or those choices. Be that as it may, the point I was making, perhaps none too clearly, is that while many women have accepted the fruits of the women's movement, at the same time they seem to reject as inappropriate certain areas of advancement, which strikes me as clinging to a tradition that once oppressed them. Case in point. Lucia Ryker, the world's foremost female boxer, a woman who frequently KO's men larger than in herself in the gym, takes endless shit from women who deride her as being a man, a lesbian, etc. etc. Ryker is overtly hetero, quite good-looking, but has her basic femininity put in question by women all the time.

What I (and MI to a degree) was remarking on was the fact that It's been difficult to engage in a dialogue with women on this board about women's issues -- the fact is, I've found this true outside the board. It's almost as if a kind of role reversal has taken place in certain levels of the culture.. Now it's women who don't want to talk. :-) And I'm wondering to what degree this relates to a rejection of the gains of feminism in certain of its aspects.
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richard
Posted on Saturday, October 11, 2003 - 09:16 am:   

>>"Feminism" doesn't mean a thing to women my age. Liberation is something our mothers fought for. We, in general, (in middle class N. America) grew up free and with a wide variety of choices for our futures.<<

Eeek! Maybe this is unwarrantedly paternalistic of me, but that kind of statement scares the crap out of me. As far as I'm aware, the Equal Rights Amendment has yet to be ratified in the US, every study I've ever read indicates that women EVERYWHERE are still paid systematically and substantially less for the same work as a man, and the current political climate seems to favour (for one thing) an attempt to overturn Roe vs Wade asap. If that's freedom, I'm a banana.

Moreover - every major religion in the world remains gynophobic to its roots, and religion, in case no-one's noticed, is making a BIG comeback. They say the price of freedom is eternal vigilance - the price of women's equality/liberation (which you still haven't even close to got) is the same. As an observer with no axe to grind (ie a male), I gotta tell you - blink and they'll take it all away again. This is no time for post feminism
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richard
Posted on Saturday, October 11, 2003 - 09:23 am:   

Oh yeah, and Arnold Schwarzenegger just became governor of California despite (maybe because of??) numerous allegations, from women whose words we have no reason to doubt, of what amounts to sexual assault.

Strange days indeed.
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Deborah
Posted on Saturday, October 11, 2003 - 10:00 am:   

Thanks Richard, I'm a bit apoplectic here about two things Laura said and you handled a couple of points I wanted to make.

Feminism did not merely grow out of the left saddled with all those Leftist underpinnings. Let's ignore 19th century feminism for a minute, let's even ignore the suffrage movement, let's just talk about post-World War Two: In a nutshell, there were two distinct branches of feminism. One was characterized by NOW, it's focus was bringing about change in women's status through changes in the law. The second branch did grow out of women who were involved in the civil rights and anti-war movements who experienced discrimination in those groups (Carmichael's famous quote, The only position for women in SNCC is prone.). These two branches had very different philosophical underpinnings and very different agendas. I would argue that not a whole hell of a lot of either has come to pass.

FYI, the ERA was first introduced very shortly after women were granted suffrage. It's been around for a while.

And remember, "sex" was added to the Civil Rights Act in a last minute attempt to kill it.

I'm not sure what age you are, Laura, and maybe you have more choices than your mother had, but as Richard points out, there is still a long way to go.

Consider this: you talk about having choices. Do your male age cohorts talk that way? Especially when it comes to parenthood? In my mind, as long as women have to think in terms of "choice" and men just get to think in terms of "stuff I'm going to do" we've still got a problem. It's early and I'm watching a football game as I try to write this, so I know I'm not being as articulate as I might.

Ellen -- yeah, Lucius was right -- I was a bit mystified as to the woman's actions when she seemed to be particularly vulnerable. And, as for the relative unreliability of bars versus the internet, the fact that the perp chose to conduct her study by luring people via the internet indicates to me that she figured it would be easier to fool people online than in person.
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Deborah
Posted on Saturday, October 11, 2003 - 11:19 am:   

And, yes, as Lucius and Richard both point out, Feminism is world-wide, so even if some percentage of middle class NA women felt they'd outgrown the need for an organized movement, it wouldn't mean anything about the rest of the world.

As for women being reluctant to engage in this kind of dialogue, I don't know. Sometimes I'm reluctant to engage in it because I've been engaging in it for 25 years and I'm tired...maybe a lot of women feel that way. Beats me.
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Laura
Posted on Saturday, October 11, 2003 - 11:32 am:   

Wow, I didn't mean for it to be so explosive! And yes, I did misspeak when speaking for all women my age - I apologize.

I am in my early thirties, a child of the working class who received a fantastic education courtesy of scholarships. I have a great job in a large "corporation" (not in NY), and my current reality has greatly exceeded the ethnic and economic expectations I was born into.

Most girls I grew up with CHOSE to get married young instead of attending college or getting some sort of professional training and have fared much more poorly than I have. Many are now multiple divorcees and struggling to support children with few marketable skills.

I don't doubt that some - perhaps many women from a background like my own perceive themselves to be oppressed, but very often, at least some of the choices they made led them into their situations.

One cannot have equal rights if one refuses to take equal responsibility for one's choices and actions.

Even among women with "successful" professional lives the choice of what to study or teach matters for the future of one's career. Whether to work at home, or take a few years off for kids matters. These are all choices that women make in the course of their lives that effect their earning potential.

Men make these choices too, they just come at the issues with a different mindset. Making a decent living is not a choice for most men - it is something they simply must do. Far too many women (in this country and class) still choose to be economically dependent on men, and this (all too often) leads to social oppression.

I am lucky enough to be surrounded by lots of outspoken successful women who earn at least as much as their husbands, boyfriends or partners do. By and large the most senior management is mostly older, white and male - but I expect within another generation that that will change. The old white guys also seek out people according to expertise, not their sex.

I disagree that Feminism is a global movement. Perhaps people here think it is, but, believe me, women in Bihar have never heard of it. The only thing that will help them are programs that begin to bring economic parity. That's why education and microcredit programs are so good and so important to fund.

Neither of my parents ever graduated high school - but they made damn well sure all three of us went to college and trained for jobs that would support us.

We have summer interns every year, and I see the college girls coming in that are stronger and more sure of themselves that we ever were even a little more than a decade ago. They don't even overtly compete with the young men they way we did. They don't feel they have to.

I guess what I was trying to get at (and didn't do a good job of) was that the change has already occurred and now needs to spread beyond the middle class. The progress and integration into the power structures outside the family that women have made in a little over a generation have been nothing short of remarkable.

I truly feel we don't need an equal rights amendment. What we need is more mothers (and fathers) like my own who would have broken my legs if I refused to go to college and carried me there on a stretcher.. . Or hit me hard upside the head if I wanted to get married young. And in the scholastic and professional worlds we need more professional women to actively mentor the next generation.

I'm sorry that this has brought this thread off on a tangent, but perhaps money and power are side topics worth discussing? I hope so - if not, I will desist.
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Lucius
Posted on Saturday, October 11, 2003 - 12:31 pm:   

Laura,

whether you disagree that feminism is a global movement makes small difference to the feminist global movement. I suggest you reference Vandana Singh's posts on this thread wherein she cites rural female activist groups in India and her own work with Asian feminist groups, I myself have had contact with strong and increasingly active feminist groups throughout Latin America. I would in fact submit that the strongest and most active feminist groups in the world exist beyond the borders of the USA and mostly in the 3rd World, where the trenches of the battle have been dug. I have no proof in hand that the women of Bihar know about the feminist movement, but I rather think they do.

Also I would quarrel with your notion that the change has already occurred. "The change?" All it would take to destroy the gains of feminism in this country would be a prolonged bout of econmic failure. If "the change" has occurred, why then all the talk of glass ceilings and such? Your sample--college interns, friends--is too limited to draw such sweeping conclusions from. And your notion that better parenting will suffice to spread the gains of feminism beyond the middle class begs the issue -- economic parity, such as you suggest is needed in the third world -- is essential in order to create the opportuniity for better parenting. What's happening in this country is a steadily increasing division of the poor from the wealthy, and should this trend continue, the stability of the middle class will eventually be threatened. True, old white guys will likely hire on a non-gender basis, but they will be not be hiring many poor people. But this last is apart from my main point, which is this -- the gains of feminism should not be taken for granted and, as evidenced by previous post, it would seem that there are those who do take them for granted, at least in the sense that don't feel imperiled in their relatively comfortable circumstances. It's still a battle that needs fighting.

Certainly there's no one here who would ask you to desist. All angles on and facets of this topic are on the table.

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LeslieWhat
Posted on Saturday, October 11, 2003 - 12:32 pm:   

I'm feeling especially proud on my daughter, who recognizes the injustice that her own university did not enroll women until the late 70s. She was just an egg then, but she doesn't see the 70s as the distant past.
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ellen
Posted on Saturday, October 11, 2003 - 06:41 pm:   

Deborah and Lucius, re: the internet dating stuff, I don't want to belabor it but I don't see that the woman was taking much more chance than going out on a date with any stranger. It's not like she met some guy online and after that one "meet" got together with him in person. They were in correspondence for a period of time (now if it was 2 weeks that's one thing; if it was two months that's another). They went out on pleasant dates three times and no problem. This could have happened to anyone--I just don't feel it has anything to do with her vulnerability. She was scammed. Plain and simple.
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Laura
Posted on Saturday, October 11, 2003 - 11:28 pm:   

The international community (funded by monies from USG, WB, private foundations, DIFD etc and often implemented by or with the assistance of NGOs) do a huge amount of work in the developing world. This is not feminism it is human capital development. It works and it lasts because it has local, state and federal buy-in.

I am happy to say that wealthy corporations overseas are beginning to foot some of the bill as well (Grameen stands out here).

I don't wish to denigrate any of the work done at the grassroots level in S. Asia, but by and large the situation remains truly miserable. A great deal of the change that is occurring - is really trickling down.

I am hopeful for the future though, some governments have begun to realize the importance of healthy, well-educated, productive people, and are beginning to fund and borrow for the people - tho' not nearly as much as for basic infrastructure.

For what its worth, both my college and grad school admitted women in the 19th Century. Female education trickled down from the upper classes and took the better part of a century to become widely available to women. I expect social change in the developing world to take at least as long.
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richard
Posted on Sunday, October 12, 2003 - 04:54 am:   

>>perhaps money and power are side topics worth discussing?<<

Hell, yes - as is true in most cases, they're the real core of the issue. There is no long term political or personal emancipation without economic empowerment.

However, I'd have to take issue with ANYONE who thinks there's no need for a ratified ERA. Laura's right that this is about individual girls and their parents as well, but you HAVE to have a legal structure in place, so that those parents have some recourse when reactionary forces try to shove us all back in time a century or more. The fact that the US political establishment has been so unwilling to bring about ERA ratification says something in itself about the agenda of that political establishment. And while a certain number of old white males may be smart and unblinkered enough to see the sense in promoting regardless of gender, there's too much evidence suggesting that this isn't the standard trend.

In microcosm, you can see something analagous in the UK (sounding off about my own backyard for a change! :-)). Although there are now many women in the British police force and the military, it's become clear that these pioneers often survive against a backdrop of alienation, victimisation and in numerous cases sexual assault. In other words, the patriarchal system continues to use gender and sex as an enforcement tool for maintaining a male-dominated hierarchy. It's a totally counterproductive dynamic, of course, but then much of male psychology (innate or cultured) is. Against that idiocy, you NEED a legal framework and, hopefully emerging from this, a social norm that supports women in their struggle for something approaching equality.

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richard
Posted on Sunday, October 12, 2003 - 05:25 am:   

Laura,

With regard to funded work in the developed world, you said "This is not feminism it is human capital development." But recent surveys suggest that the key to any successful development is the empowerment (economic and political) of women. To caricature the situation a little, men in developing countries, given money, seem to spend it on status enhancing symbols - alcohol, clothes and a ludicrously expensive car; women opt for education for their children, common community projects and small business growth.

To lend less caricatured credence to this, a couple of examples: a friend of mine who works in consultancy recently returned from an extremely poor South American country and told me he'd seen shanty towns in which, outside rusting and decayed tin shack houses you could see parked big, shiny new 4-traks. The men of the household habitually bought these before they would spend money on home improvements, schooling or any other more practical outlay. Needless to say, no-one other than the man of the house was permitted to drive the aforementioned vehicle.

Another friend who has worked as an overseas volunteer for many years recounts how in many African villages projects to install local water supply were received less than enthusiastically by local men because they didn't WANT their women freed from the daily labour of a twenty klick round trip on foot to fetch water - there was too much danger, apparently, of these women getting all aspirational and wanting their men to do something other than sit around all day drinking tea and talking of weighty male matters.

The only viable response I can see to this is an overtly feminist agenda.
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Laura
Posted on Sunday, October 12, 2003 - 06:40 am:   

Richard, in a sense I agree with everything you've said.

However over-salted food (as in Ms. (Dr?) Singh's example) doesn't ensure that your daughter survives childhood or that she is educated. Schools do, compulsory education laws (that are actually enforced) do, subsides of supplies and school fees do. And all that takes a tremendous amount of money flowing from the developed to the developing world.

The reason I don't think that we need an ERA is that most of it has been (at least in the US) passed as piecemeal legislation. At this point in time, it would be largely redundant to existing laws.

All that aside, I find it hard to comprehend that others here seem reluctant to acknowledge that someone who has never felt oppressed (at least not really) has a different world view from people who do. I acknowledge the accomplishments of my parent's generation but reap the benefits of their work without having any of their anger or expectations of unfairness. I have always been taken seriously by men and promoted fairly. Not speaking for all women (I made that mistake earlier) - but there are a fair number of youngish women like me. I am not all that unique.

To get back to the original topic: Good looking, het women beating the stuffin' out of men in the ring and encountering backlash and ridicule from women. I think its just that they are on the frontiers of athletic prowess like tennis players were 30 years ago. Remember all the backlash that Billie Jean encountered even before she came out as a bisexual? (I personally don't, but I have heard about it) Female tennis players who can wallop the ball as well as men are now commonplace . . . but back then it was a very butch thing to do and she encountered a lot of resistance doing it. So, I'm not sure that its necessarily women's movement backlash that's causing the problem that the female boxers are having.
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Laura
Posted on Sunday, October 12, 2003 - 06:41 am:   

I meant DON'T need an ERA
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MI Wells
Posted on Sunday, October 12, 2003 - 12:09 pm:   

Jeez Louise!

What a discussion I missed!

While I certainly don't agree with everything (or even a whole lot) of what Laura said, I have heard opinions like this from women in their 20s and 30s before.

Their worlds and expectations are very different from those of young old-broads like myself (having the first of the hot flashes while changing the last of the diapers).

I have a question - mostly for the women, but men feel free to answer either for yourselves or for the women in your lives - has anyone ever held a job that was really a gender trendsetter? Or one where fierceness and aggression were necessary or beneficial for success?
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Lucius
Posted on Sunday, October 12, 2003 - 02:18 pm:   

Ellen -- interent dating. Your opinion that it's no less risky than dating is undeniably yours to hold. But there are a great many people with experience of it who feel completely opposite. But none of this speaks to the basic point--a woman in the shaky psychological circumstances of MI's friend might have been better served, if she was going to date at all, to take a more secure path -- double date with a friend of a friend, et al.
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Lucius
Posted on Sunday, October 12, 2003 - 02:25 pm:   

Laura, your logic, to wit, that feminist movements don't exist or don't somehow count because they aren't yet effective, kind of eludes me. Nothing's effective until it is, and very few revolutions get off the ground without development capital in one form or another. The thing is, without grass roots movements, there'd be little inspiration to fund improvements.

MI -- I was a bouncer in a sort of night club slash brothel for several months. Not a trendsetter, but aggression helped a good bit on the job.
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richard
Posted on Monday, October 13, 2003 - 06:43 am:   

Laura - It's fantastic that you've never felt oppressed - a shining tribute to hold up for all the women who have struggled to make it so. However, the reason I think you're encountering a reluctance to dance in the streets about it is due to an understanding of the dangers inherent in "post-feminism" and the attendant loss of alertness to those dangers.

Andrea Dworkin (whose ideas I have mixed feelings about, but for whom I continue to have a huge respect) put it very nicely:

"The mental geography of Amerika (sic) is a landscape of forgetfulness, useful in a country saturated with sexual abuse....a desert lit up by the blinding glare of a relentless, empty optimism. The past is obliterated because the past is burdened by bad news."

And the same could be said, perhaps to a slightly lesser extent for the UK. I have lost count of the number of young, successful women visible in the British media (and others I have met in a personal context) who sing the "it's all over, we don't have to worry anymore" tune. What's telling and terrifying is this:

a) contingent with this song usually comes a hasty statement along the lines of "oh, NO, I'm not a FEMINIST!!! Of course not!!!"

b) the women in question (those whose success is media related) very often owe a large chunk of their success to their groomed good looks and what we might cynically call their "sexual charge". For other, non-media women, this may not be quite such a vital factor, but these women will still be well aware of what will happen if they slack off in the make-up, hair, clothes (and God help us cosmetic surgery) departments. Sexuality continues to be a defining factor of success for women in a way that it is not for men.

So why so hasty to dissociate themselves from the label feminist? one would have thought pride, solidarity (and historical memory) would be uppermost in their minds. Well, when you dig into this, what you tend to find is that the "feminism" being rejected is a distorted image of ugly, hairy-legged, bra-burning castrators who hate all men and are probably lesbians because they were too ugly to get laid by a man. Anybody recognise this stereotype? Yes, it's the decades-old yikes-Scooby-a-threat-to-my-masculinity male response to feminism - and these allegedly liberated young women have taken it deeply to heart. Make nice if you want to get along. Above all, you must NOT appear to threaten men in any way or form. If you can appear decorative for them, so much the better.

This isn't liberation - it's a travesty. Naomi Wolf covers it very efficiently in the Beauty Myth, a book which is over a decade old but has lost approximately none of its relevance to the situation of first world women in the 21st century. This is why none of us can afford the forgetting inherent in post-feminism.
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richard
Posted on Monday, October 13, 2003 - 06:57 am:   

Lucius - how does it feel to share a past profession with Vin Diesel???

(and MI, hi) Interesting thing about bouncers - in the UK a number of women are now doing the job, and the consensus seems to be that this works well because their gender often serves to defuse potential confrontations. No macho kudos in taking on and beating up a woman (and considerably less if there's a good chance she'll take you down), plus the women themselves are less inclined to go for the option of physical violence if it can be (within the context of doing the job) avoided. In a male/male situation, it seems the reverse dynamic applies - the men on both sides of the divide are often gagging for the chance to have a go (See my previous posts on mindless violence).

Questionable whether this would apply outside a brothel, tho'.
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Lucius
Posted on Monday, October 13, 2003 - 07:24 am:   

You know, I never thought about that, Richard. I guess it feels good but irrelevant.

Re your thing about female bouncers in the UK. Many professional bodyguards in China are now women, but not for quite the same reason, I think, that female bouncers are on the up in England.
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MI Wells
Posted on Monday, October 13, 2003 - 07:34 am:   

I am a couple of degrees away (friend's sister) from a woman who became a firefighter in 1991. Its still a bit of a trendsetting profession for women (my sister has recently joined these ranks as well), but back in the early 1990's it was a truly unusual thing for a woman to do.

I also have some experience in a fierce field (I can go on offline a bit on this).

One of my female inlaws retired as a senior Marine officer a few years back. She has done quite a bit of close support in combat, and I know a few other women in the service as well.

That's all I can think of at the moment.
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Laura
Posted on Monday, October 13, 2003 - 04:22 pm:   

Richard:

You have inflamed me!

All that talk about the lack of feminism coupled with good looks!

We don't threaten men because we are well prepared to succede in their world - period. End of story.

I have on board at least one more minority than the rest of you (at least I think so - I might be wrong).

Syndicated columists don't move me or represent me - they write their own opinions for a living without consulting any of us (at least to my knowledge).

My writings have already moved the hands of the most powerful men and women in the WORLD to action. Its not because I'm a decent looking woman, it's because of the quality of my work (and the work of those who support and assist me.)

I'm signing off here - I can't take it anymore.

Best of luck to you all.

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God Herself
Posted on Monday, October 13, 2003 - 04:56 pm:   

"I can't take it anymore."

Obviously not.

Back to moving the hands of the hand of the most powerful men and women in the world, no doubt.

God knows how you could find the time to mess about on a message board with such as these....

It's quite clear that aside from being not a femininist, you have the brains of a peppermint....
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MI Wells
Posted on Monday, October 13, 2003 - 06:11 pm:   

Lucius:

Another lovely example of a(n) (apparently) powerful female being ridiculed by other "women" (at least someone who claims to be a woman).

So its not just physically powerful women that face discrimination from other "women"is it?

Interesting that the attacker couldn't use his own name - isn't it? Or engage in dialogue with her . . .

Sorry to belabor the conflag - I just thought it was an interesting event.
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Lucius
Posted on Monday, October 13, 2003 - 07:05 pm:   

Well, MI, there are a few perhaps pertinent points.

One, the dialogue ended when Laura cut out. Thus, no further dialogue was possible.

Two, the attacker (anonymous though he or she may be) was not the person who "inflamed" her and made her abandon the thread.

Three, I'm appalled at the attacker, but I have to admit I'm underwhelmed by someone who makes claims of rather grandiose non-specific power and yet can't stand honest debate, which I feel Richard was offering, no matter whether or not one agrees with his POV. That carries, to my mind, an odor of BS.

Conversations like these draw all kinds of flies. I chalk this up less to gender bias than to the nature of message boards.

Frankly, though I would have liked to have seen a reasoned response to Richard's post in non-personalized terms, I had the sense that this would not have a happy result.

Too bad.
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Trent
Posted on Monday, October 13, 2003 - 07:59 pm:   

Lucius,

I think I can explain Laura's sentiment: She already knows she is equal to men and doesn't need anyone to tell her that. She does not need anyone's crutches when she has two, more than capable feet. Implicit in Richard's statement (unintentionally?) is that women in media (i.e. Laura) get by on sex appeal and not on what they do well. In other words, it was a compliment with a slap attached, which some might interpret as sexist, operating in exact opposition of Richard has been espousing: i.e. you got where you got on a lucky technicality of birth, not your ability. I suppose that I might be offended as well. However, if Richard wanted to compliment me on my sex appeal and how it brought all of my glorious success....

Okay, maybe not.
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Lucius
Posted on Monday, October 13, 2003 - 09:23 pm:   

Trent:

I don't know who Laura is -- we're all just names on the board -- as perhaps you do. Nor do I particularly get the notion that anyone on this board possesses the vast powers to which she stakes claim --to wit, that her "writings have moved the hands of the most powerful men and women in the WORLD to action." Neither her actions nor her stentorian announcement of her capabilities strike me as emblematic of any consequential power, or, for that matter, of any intellectual balance. I've strongly disagreed with things Richard said before and haven't felt the urge to flee. Nor have I had the urge to flee in the face of things Laura said that I found somewhat--to be kind--shortsighted. I simply responded. It might be that Richard's intent was different from what she took it for...or it might not. Richard will have to be the arbiter of that. Being offended by something, it would seem that one might want to educate or illuminate or challenge. That would strike me as a mature reaction. Not that it's necessary that one be mature in order to be powerful. Children can be incredibly powerful, for example.

I've tried to decipher the curious message with which she signed off on the thread. It's a little cloudy to me. Her comments on syndicated columnists strike me as something of a non-sequiter. Is it possible she mistook Andrea Dworkin for a syndicated columnist? Is Andrea Dworkin a syndicated columnist, perhaps in some alternate universe? The whole thing's extremely incoherent.

The conversation we were having, you see, was not about Laura. She made it a conversation about herself by voicing an self-aggrandizing opinion that blithely crapped in the face of every other person's opinion on the thread, and when one states such an opinion, you would do well to expect some contrary reaction. I found her basic assumptions oddly formless, to say the least, and her attitude was in my view not especially female or male, but incredibly American in its blase dismissal of otherness, in its tendency to perceive all things as an extension of self, in its--to my mind--callow appreciation of the nature of reality. I'm sorry she took offense at something said, and if she wishes to rejoin the conversation, perhaps things could be smoothed over. But she does not appear to use language well and, given that, I feel it was only a matter of time before she took offense at something.

I started this thread in order to generate reaction to Katherine Dunn's essay. I was hoping that some women would pitch in and educate me on a subject I found of interest. I have found their opinions interesting, but Laura's was truly the most educational of all.
I think now would be a very good time to follow her example and turn to my attention to other things.
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MI Wells
Posted on Tuesday, October 14, 2003 - 04:19 am:   

I hope this thread isn't really over? Is it?

Don't let a fierce little l'enfant terrible ruin it!
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richard
Posted on Tuesday, October 14, 2003 - 05:49 am:   

OOOOOOhhhhhhhhhhh shit!!

Laura,if you're still out there, please be aware:

I wasn't talking about you AT ALL - I don't know you, your writings or what you look like (and even if I did, I'd consider it pretty low to take a personal swipe at you for any of it). Fierce debate I'm up for - personal insult (or backhanded compliments, Trent!) I'm not.

The examples of media-visible and sexually attractive women were exactly what they purported to be - reasons why I find "post feminism" scary and examples of how female sexuality is very often still the currency of female success (whereas for men male sexuality is not), AND how the vital ingredient seems to be not to rock the male dominance boat with frightening "feminist" associations. I don't want to re-state the whole case, but I think the jury will find, m'lud, that no personal attack was either made or intended.

MI - I sure as hell hope this thread ain't dead. It's hard enough to find intelligent conversation in this world as it is. I'd be interested to hear if your marine and firefighter friends ran into any heavy discrimination of the type I mentioned in the UK forces? Plus more than interested to hear about your own fierce field experience - I'm sure no-one on the thread would mind in the least you "going on" about it.

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richard
Posted on Tuesday, October 14, 2003 - 06:25 am:   

Hey Lucius, don't go - can you tell us any more about the female Chinese bodyguards?

Reason I ask: over the last few years, I've had the chance to provide in-service training to a number of Chinese teachers, many of whom were women. Many of them had lived out their youth during the Cultural Revolution and the common characteristic that came through to me was an incredible toughness of mind, body and spirit. I still remember with some mortification that when I met these women at the airport, they were both bemused and a little put out when I offered to carry heavy luggage for them! It was the first of many salutory culture bumps I got from them.
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Lucius
Posted on Tuesday, October 14, 2003 - 06:50 am:   

Richard, I don't know much about Chinese bodyguards, just what I read in the Far East Economic Review. They're supposed to be quite deadly and are, as you might expect, hired both for their efficiency and looks.

As to Laura, more and more these days, cluelessness is coming to piss me off. What you said to her --while I can understand her misreading your remarks--reactions like hers just don't get it for me.

In any case, I'm around.
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Tuesday, October 14, 2003 - 07:23 am:   

I know I'm late to this party (and reading back, I am kicking myself for not having shown up a week or so ago), but here's my contribution...

What Richard and others have said about "post-feminism" being scary hit home for me. I had a dubious opportunity not long ago to attend a presentation at Tulane University dubbed "ManifestA," purporting to be a lecture on the new wave of feminism.

It was nothing of the kind, or if it was, I'm damn depressed about it. What it was, was a pair of otherwise bright, seemingly educated young women who seemed to have confused feminism with "girl power." Their presentation blandly endorsed anything a woman wanted to do with her life, whether or not her activities were politically responsible or even ethical. They seemed to have an intense aversion to any kind of evaluative statements concerning women's chosen ways of life, or indeed any type of critical thinking whatsoever. And self-critique? No thanks.

Manifesta, indeed. Had Karl Marx written his Manifesto as these women wrote their ManifestA, we would have been given, "Um, like, it's okay to work, and stuff, and people shouldn't bag on you for it." All right, I exaggerate. But not by much.

Not that I think any person should have his or her life prescribed by others, but goddamnit, if you want to play Barbie for the rest of your life, have the courtesy NOT to call yourself a feminist.

The worst part of all this was the sizeable minority of female attendees who delighted in this "girl power" message. The sadness I felt for them was relieved only after the presentation, when I heard a larger group of students grumbling about the direction the presenters seemed to be taking feminism. I found myself thankful that there were still some college-aged women unwilling to abandon principles to join a nebulous sisterhood of cheerleaders.

And yes, for the record, I am male. I was also raised by a mother who had to work three jobs to support her children when a male would have been able to do it on the income from a single job. And no, I don't think that's an accident of the market; it is a normative (and punitive) tactic in the culture wars, and it is engaged in by men (and women) who prefer the idea of the patriarchal household to the principles of equality and justice. Such practices are not about choice; they are about its removal. And they are wrong by any honest ethical standards. That is the direction post-feminism will lead us, not because post-feminists think oppression is right, but because they don't think at all, and they resent being asked to do so. And that's why I'm a feminist.
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sneakin' suspicion
Posted on Tuesday, October 14, 2003 - 07:50 am:   

I have watched this little psychodrama unfold and have a sneakin' suspicion that it was staged to demonstrate what unexpected (and irrational, unbridled) female aggression does to mixed group dynamics.

Laura's character seemed designed to raise almost everyone's hackles (an equal opportunity offender).

At least a few of you seem well versed in anthropology and sociobiology (Rob and MI especially) what say you to that possibility?
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Lucius
Posted on Tuesday, October 14, 2003 - 08:06 am:   

What I say, anonymous person, is that what Laura demonstrated was not aggression, but cowardice. Instead of defending her position, she chose to abandon the field. That's aggressive? Passive aggressive maybe. True aggression would demand she stand up for what she believes and, further, that she would be prepared to do more than make ditsy pronouncements of power, like maybe actually displaying some. This wasn't a pyschodrama, this was just a drag.

Note to self--in the future I'm going to ask Jason to eradicate sock puppets on this thread. If you don't have the moxie to post as yourself, don't bother.
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MI Wells
Posted on Tuesday, October 14, 2003 - 12:24 pm:   

Oh my!

I really don't have anything to say (I'm only responding because I was asked for my opinion).

If what 'sneakin suspicion' suggests is true (that the whole thing was a deception) then I think that was a crummy thing to do.

Mad Madame Mim must be very bored to play games like that.

I think I need a vaction (a long one) far away from computers and the internet.
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Lucius
Posted on Tuesday, October 14, 2003 - 12:45 pm:   

I agree, MI...but I don't think it was a deception. I think it was what it seemed to be. The deception part, if any, would lie with the anonymous one, who might be Laura coming back to justify or else is simply one of those circling flies I mentioned upthread.

Whatever, you're right about the vacation.
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Marguerite
Posted on Tuesday, June 15, 2004 - 04:43 pm:   

Good lord, a year late to the party. Too bad this thread's been abandoned.
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Dave G.
Posted on Tuesday, June 15, 2004 - 04:58 pm:   

Lucius, I used to get the spit knocked out of my mouth in 7th grade by a girl half my size. Does that have relevance?
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Lucius
Posted on Friday, November 18, 2005 - 11:12 pm:   

Dave, only an irrelevant relevance.

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