Thursday, February 7, 2008

imperialism starts at home

While I was at my workplace yesterday, I heard a recording of Hillary Clinton’s voice saying that her mother, who was present at the speech, was born before the right for women to vote. There was an appropriately enthusiastic response from the crowd at the implication that things have now improved to the point that a woman can seriously run for President. And I remember thinking, yeah, now we have equal rights to be bloody imperial warmongers, hoorah. I did begin to think about gender, however. It seems to me that the original precedent for thinking of another human being as the other, as a lesser, as someone who may be exploited for work without respectful compense—the original sin, as it were, lies in gender.

I was brought up as a boy, and confusing as that was for me at times, I learned that I was expected to sort of herd my younger sister. Far from being accepted as a rival, she was to be a sort of livestock. Talking over her was expected, correcting her—although as it happens she’s quite a bit more intelligent than I am. Every male learns these things to lesser or greater degrees at an early age, and then the society sets in with a theater-wardrobe of oppressive roles. One of the more lasting oppressions is the disastrous idea that women are exclusively responsible for home care and child care. I see that weakening around the edges in Portland’s liberal Hawthorne District, but I don’t hear discussion about it nationally. The economic benefit to men of this poisonous idea is undeniable; conversely, the economic weakening and social exclusion that it hangs on women is devastating. Meanwhile the religious fanatics picket the local Planned Parenthood, trying to intimidate women from removing a blastocyst the size of a pinhead, on the absurd theory that it represents the equivalent of a fully formed baby.

It’s as if children don’t exist except as a purview of women; further, women, who certainly cannot produce children without the enthusiastic cooperation of men, are somehow solely to blame for their existence. And they are to blame for the economic devastation and workplace exclusion of single parenting; and they are to blame if the children suffer.

Imagine if a man earning a living wage—let’s say at least eighteen dollars an hour with health benefits—wanted to pay properly for the care of three small children. Let’s allow him no exploitation; he pays the same wage, for after all raising and educating children is more than full-time work. He would then expend all of his wage, and have nothing for himself. Or he could abandon his good job and take care of the kids. He would then live in poverty. His peers would then doubtless chastise himself for his choice and say that he had a right to his own dreams, and perhaps imply that he was weak for not pursuing them while he was raising the children.

Of course, most divorcees and widowers do nothing of the sort. They immediately find a woman to exploit for child care. This is called love.

It is child care, more than any other economic paradigm, that enforces the gender apartheid system we live in. That is not to denigrate the myriad insults and injuries that women face as they grow to maturity, from exclusion from activities to that old standard, molestation and rape. Rape is the enforcement arm of patriarchy. But this is where we learn—male and female—from an early age that there is an other, someone inherently lesser, someone to whom it is allowable and necessary to assign punishment, disdain, banishing, death. It starts with gender.

We are told this is the natural order of things, which is a blasphemy against the universe if ever I heard one. It is the unnatural order of things, and one of the more poisonous aspects of it is that it can then be transferred to any person or group that is not viewed as accepted or virtuous—and that certainly includes any group not well known, which then falls under xenophobic suspicion. Gender apartheid is a mental disorder that swiftly spreads into gaybashing, warmongering, racism, chauvinism, and hatred of dissent. There’s no mystery to it; once you can withdraw your feelings from your won women kin, you can even more easily designate others as targets rather than people, or as unbekannte as Hitler once said. Notice that societies that are more brutal generally also treat women like livestock—Saudi Arabia, for example, where women are forbidden to drive, where some women live in special compounds where they live out their lives as sex objects and zoo animals, after having been abducted from around the world, yes, including from the United States.

So I am glad to see that Hillary is able to run for President, and I am glad to see that Obama is also succeeding so far, if only because superficially they represent a weakening of the standards of oppression. Their corporate funding reveals just how superficial that impression is. The real wheeling and dealing goes on, and I fear the wars will go on, including the upcoming aerial bombing war with Iran.

And the denigration and punishment of all that is feminine goes on, in its many forms; we are barraged with images of women as lithe and lonesome and young and vulnerable, selling everything from makeup to cars. And then there’s me, the ultimate insult to the gender apartheid system, altering a male-appearing body to a somewhat feminine appearance. The insults, aggression, and assaults I face from the public are directly linked to the reasons women can’t drive in Saudi Arabia. It’s the same dynamic that lets men create and direct wars against others across the world. It’s the same reason we have 2.2 million people, disproportionately people of color, languishing in our foul and terrifying prisons: we accept exploitation as a way of life, and we learned the ways of exploitation by starting with our own mothers and sisters. One crime feeds another.

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