Monday, February 27, 2012

Recommended media: Lakota Woman, The Color Purple, Foxfire

Recently, my roommate brought home a big bag of books from a used book store she had visited while out of town. The books all had in common that they were authored by women. One by one, my roommate started reading these books. While reading and after finished she'd tell me how wonderful they were. So, one by one, I read each book she did, picking each one up practically immediately after she set it down. (I've also been happy that there has been films adapted from most of them!)

Usually, it will take me at least a couple of weeks to read through a book. This may be because I most often read non-fiction. I'm also noticing many of those non-fiction books are written by men (albeit pro-feminist, radical men). There's something refreshing about these books, though. Whether it is because they are not non-fiction theory, or because they are written by women, or both. Here are a few I've read and/or watched most recently:

Lakota Woman, both a book and film, is an amazing autobiography of Mary Crow Dog (now Mary Brave Bird), feminist and former member of the American Indian Movement (A.I.M.) She tells her experiences growing up on a reservation and being forced to attend a boarding school. Her rejection of assimilation into white culture leads her into the revolutionary A.I.M., with whom she stages an occupation at Wounded Knee in the early 1970's. At the same time of her radicalization, she also rekindles participation in sacred Lakota spiritual traditions. This story is filled with history and the personal narrative paints the picture of a brave and inspiring human being fighting for a better world. Favorite quote:
They say that the law is getting ever more enlightened and liberal and color-blind. That is bullshit. In 1884 the first Crow Dog won his case before the Supreme Court which, under the 1868 treaty, ruled that the government had no jurisdiction on the Sioux reservations. Almost a hundred years later the courts ruled against us on the same question. The thing to keep in mind is that laws are framed by those who happen to be in power and for the purpose of keeping them in power.

The Color Purple is a novel by Alice Walker that speaks to sisterhood and struggle of African-American women in the southern U.S. only shortly after slavery was formally abolished. This classic story follows Celie as she learns to appreciate her body, speak up and fight back against abusive and controlling men, and struggle for her humanity and self-determination. Favorite quotes:
I loves Harpo, she say, God knows I do. But I'll kill him dead before I let him beat me. Now if you want a dead son-in-law you just keep on advising him like you doing. She put her hand on her hip. I used to hunt game with a bow and arrow, she say.
She say, My first step from the old white man was trees. Then air. Then birds. Then other people. But one day when I was sitting quiet and feeling like a motherless child, which I was, it come to me: that feeling of being part of everything, not separate at all. I knew that if I cut a tree, my arm would bleed. And I laughed and I cried and I run all around the house. I knew just what it was. In fact, when it happen, you can't miss it.

Foxfire is a film, based on a book by Joyce Carol Oates, about a group of girls in high school who meet in unity to stop a male teacher from sexually abusing them and others. After physically confronting him, the loyalty they feel to each other grows as does their embracing of sisterhood and the will to fight back. I absolutely loved the uncompromising attitudes against men's abuse of women in this film. It did have it's drawbacks, though, in that like many "mainstream films", there was unnecessary sexualization of female characters. A favorite quote:
If you ever put your hands on me again, I'm gonna snip your little nuts off with my toenail clippers!

Friday, February 17, 2012

"Politically Correct" vs. Politically Opposed

In the early days of my being politicized, I spent time with people in a subculture which can be summed up with the title “anti-authoritarian punk.” A favorite activity of people in this group was to bash something they called “political correctness.” At almost every gathering I attended—without fail—hours would be spent snickering and bad-talking the notion of being politically correct, and ostracizing activists accused of subscribing to that notion.

As I understand it, the argument went that political correctness, or “P.C.,” was apparently a plot by some do-gooders to censor everyone else and prevent them from saying and doing what they want (for example using infamously common hate speech against women and people of color). The battle they claimed to be fighting was one of retaining the “freedom” to “shock” people, because, in the end, the ultimate goal is one of breaking social conventions rather than justice.

Later in my life, having been an activist and a radical for several years, I now see the whole subculture of “anti-authoritarian punk” as having been entirely entrenched in, and supportive of, the privileges that come with being a beneficiary of sadistic arrangements of power (be it white supremacy, patriarchy, or capitalist exploitation).

Historically, those in power have had to objectify others—made into “capital O” Others—before they could exploit them. When I think of the people I knew in this “anti-P.C.” camp, I am generally overcome with disdain and rage, because they are simply a new face doing the same objectification. Their effect on social justice movements is not benign, but a significant part of the problem. Oppression is effectively normalized by their brand of “freedom to” rhetoric, thus duping disenfranchised youth and others who stumble upon this sentiment to buy into the thrills of breaking boundaries instead of realizing their potential to make the world a better place and then plugging into projects and communities of righteousness.

If “P.C.” means I’m not okay with hate speech, if it means that I stand against behavior that is cruel and obviously inappropriate, then I’m fine being identified with it. But, if we want to speak honestly about the political element of reinforcing unequal dynamics, I’d much prefer the term "politically opposed”. I am politically opposed to actions and words that are oppressive, because I see it as a part of the continuum of struggle that has been the reality for many generations of people coming from traditions of feminism, anti-racism, and social justice activism.

The political element of these situations is what causes the impossibility of their harmlessness. It’s one thing to poke fun at your close friend in a way where you can both share a laugh. It’s quite a different matter for a person who is, for example, a white man, to verbally or physically assault another person who is, for example, a woman of color, despite the perpetrator claiming the guise of “freedom of expression.” The former scenario can be called “joking”, but the latter scenario can’t be called anything but oppression.

I certainly am politically opposed to oppression. Whether someone thinks I am correct or not to hold this position is of little concern to me.

Image credit: Shaun Slifer

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Recommended Book: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

After finishing Margaret Atwood's A Handmaid's Tale, I feel more ready than ever for the feminist revolution. I also feel horrified.

The main character of this book, Offred, struggles with memories of freedom, love, and life, which she must suppress in order to survive in the society that's been forced upon her. In this society, she exists as a vessel for carrying a child. Whom would be immediately taken from her and used "for the good of the race". Offred is not free to read, write, choose her clothing, say what she thinks, eat what she wants, live as a human being.

An underground network called Mayday exists and is secretly gathering information to resist. By collaborating with them, Offred frequently dares to claim her own humanity in defiance of the authority constraining her.

Detailed in this book is the patriarchal wet-dream of probably most men within civilization: total domination and control. It should be obvious: the horror I mentioned is in the myriad similarities between the "fictional" culture described in the book, and the current arrangement of power.

I so appreciate Margaret Atwood for writing this book; let her words not be in vein. Men, time for you to lay down your weapons, or better: choose justice and join the fight.

I leave you with a quote from the book, said by the main character:

I believe in the resistance as I believe there can be no light without shadow; or rather, no shadow unless there is also light.