Richmond, VA: The Virginia personhood bill has been tabled by the state senate. Don’t worry, folks! It’s only been tabled until next year. Because the real con game here isn’t about personhood or abortion, it’s shaming women! (BTW: the unnecessary ultrasound bill is ready for the VA governor’s signature, even though it’s no longer a trans-vaginal probe ultrasound!)

Ever disliked a woman? A female boss, an ex-girlfriend, Nancy Pelosi, that mean girl in high school, that woman who got into a college that rejected you? Weeellll. This game shames all women, and that’s gotta be good for all of us!

This game is a lot like chess, except with blunt instruments. This is the long con, the game that stretches out for years. This game is not for the faint of heart.

Step #1 has already been accomplished: Making the abortion issue solely about women’s shame. When was the last time you saw a woman in one of those t-shirts that says, “I had an abortion”? Ha! All that screaming outside of women’s health clinics = success!

Step #2: Shift those glasses you’re wearing to black and white. Don’t be fooled by talk of “incest exceptions,” “women’s health,” “rape,” or “Republicans favor small government.” There is right and there is wrong, folks! Never the twain shall meet! And what is right is that men get to have patriarchal control over everything, and that women be shamed into silence and sexual submission.

Step #3: There is no hyperbole too outrageous. Propose a bill that requires all women seeking birth control to undergo religious counselling. A bill that requires female circumcision of all girls starting at the age of 10. Nothing is too extreme if you’re draped in the righteousness of Christianity!

Addendum to Step #3: Don’t worry if you lose these small battles — that’s not the point! The point is that we win the war, and the war is about shaming women and requiring female silence! In fact, the more hyperbolic the bill, the more we make all women think, “Hang on, am I supposed to be ashamed that I need birth control pills to manage my fibroid condition?”

Step #4: Shame all women in the public sphere who might offer up a counter-argument to female shame and silence. Let’s take the story of Quanitta “Queen” Underwood, the female boxer who’s likely to be the US’s best Olympic hope for the lightweight belt. Just recently she revealed something she had never told her closest friends: that between the ages of 10 and 13, Queen’s father raped her and her older sister on a regular basis. At first, he raped her older sister while Queen lay next to her in bed, pretending to be asleep. Eventually they told their (absent) mother, and he was imprisoned. This kind of coming-through-slaughter story is exactly what we need to squelch!

Solution: Propose that female boxers be forced to wear skirts when they compete. See how wearing a skirt reminds women athletes that the only important thing about their skill is their lady-business and/or how pretty they are? Get everyone distracted by the skirts question such that they ignore the Queen’s tale of survival — it doesn’t matter that you lose this campaign, because we’ll just propose skirts again for the next sport!

Our favorite part of this proposal: the perversion of the notion of choice. The outcome of this battle is that now, female boxers get to “choose” between shorts or a skirt.

And that leads to our last Step, #5: Rewrite the notion of choice. Bombard the airwaves with new definitions of the “right to choose” in a campaign so intense that everyone forgets that this terminology once had anything to do with abortion.

Example: Michelle Bachmann calls herself a feminist and speaks of the right to choose to raise 23 foster children. See how that muddies the water about choice, narrowing it down to the issue of how to be a mother?

Example: Sarah Palin calls herself a feminist and speaks of the right to choose between using a vacuum cleaner or crawling around the house on one’s hands and knees with a sponge and a bucket of water. You gotta leave room open for the fundamentalists who decry vacuum cleaners, after all.

Example: Lawmakers decide to end what some feminists call “rape culture” by urging Americans to “choose femininity, not rape.” This will mean nothing aside from shutting up those ugly women who want to break the silence. “Why do you choose rape?” we can ask in response. “Why talk about such nasty things as infections, diseases, humiliation, injury? Why not choose femininity?”

The shame game is one we will win, provided we all commit to it for the long haul. Down side: your daughters will grow up stupid, hunchbacked, and will cringe annoyingly whenever they’re spoken to. Up side: you won’t have to pay for college! and when you get bored with your alternately pregnant/breast-feeding wife, you can sleep with whomever you like, free of consequences.

Men = winners!

Blood libel

12 January 2011

In The Unbearable Lightness of Being, the protagonist Tomas hears Czech political leaders of the 1960s claiming to be innocent because they did not know the true effects of their actions — and it reminds him of the tale of Oedipus.  When Oedipus learned he had been sleeping with his own mother, he did not loudly proclaim his innocence.  Unable to live with what he had done — however unknowingly — he gouged out his eyes and wandered blind away from Thebes.  With that classic myth in mind, Tomas is furious with his own leaders’ unwillingness to acknowledge guilt for having wrought terrible outcomes:

As a result of your “not knowing,” this country has lost its freedom, lost it for centuries, perhaps, and you shout that you feel no guilt?  How can you stand the sight of what you’ve done?  How is it you aren’t horrified?  Have you no eyes to see?  If you had eyes, you would have to put them out and wander away from Thebes!

Sarah Palin could have done the right thing:  acknowledge that her crosshairs poster may have been irresponsible, and apologize for it.  Certainly it received criticism long before Jared Loughner’s shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and others in Arizona on Saturday.  Certainly critics made it clear long ago that such a poster was irresponsible due to the widespread, if less catastrophic, violence perpetrated by many individuals during the summer and fall of 2009; and they likewise criticized the broader culture of overheated right-wing rhetoric encouraging violence, such as Sharron Angle’s “Second Amendment solutions.”

Instead, Palin issued a video comment today that denied all culpability and claimed the crown of free speech for herself and her Tea Party compatriots.  In fact, she lashed out with such vitriol against critics that she used the term blood libel to refer to criticism against her.  “Journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence that they purport to condemn.  That is reprehensible,” she says.  It’s a move she has made before:  I can say whatever I like because of free speech in America; but when you criticize me you are guilty of crimes that are immoral and possibly illegal. In using blood libel she likens herself to Jews who, for centuries, suffered violent persecution due to vicious lies claiming that they killed Christian children and used their blood in religious ceremonies.  In drawing such a bizarre analogy — implying that she has somehow suffered the same persecution as Jews of the past millennium — Palin should be ashamed.  The attempted assassination of a political figure is no time to claim persecution for engaging in free speech.  Sharron Angle goes even further to turn this into an opportunity to heighten the rhetoric:  “The irresponsible assignment of blame to me, Sarah Palin or the Tea Party movement by commentators and elected officials puts all who gather to redress grievances in danger.”  Have you no eyes to see?

We have no clear evidence that Jared Loughner was inspired by the Palin crosshairs poster, and I’m certainly not accusing her of indirectly contributing to the Giffords shooting.  But unlike Oedipus, who was wholly innocent, Palin has heard criticism of her overheated rhetoric ever since she and John McCain were forced to start denouncing the racist, anti-Obama slurs that got thrown around at their campaign rallies in 2008.  More generally, critics have long warned that hysterical political rhetoric contributes to a broader culture of violence now just as much as it did during the 1960s, the last terrible era of political assassinations.  The fact that Palin felt the need to explain her “taking up arms” comments — “When we say ‘take up our arms,’ we are talking about our vote,” she says in the video — signals the tortured logic of one who should know better.

As a result of your “not knowing,” this country has lost its freedom, lost it for centuries, perhaps, and you shout that you feel no guilt?  How can you stand the sight of what you’ve done?  How is it you aren’t horrified?  Have you no eyes to see?  If you had eyes, you would have to put them out and wander away from Thebes!

I don’t understand why major figures like Palin cannot step back from the abyss, why they refuse to see the power and respect they might command by taking responsibility and changing the national conversation.  I don’t understand how an event like this can leave someone eager merely to claim innocence.  I don’t understand why we cannot collectively feel a sense of shame and loss, and through that fire become a better and more responsible nation.