Monday, November 10, 2014

God, man, and my body.

Downtowne Coffeehouse
12oz Soy Campfire Mocha
Vegan Peanut Butter Cookie

I think I said in my last blog that I could dedicate a whole blog to my comment about the hijab.  Here's the tweet in question, from November 2nd:

"There are two ways you could make me wear a hijab: convince me you're right, or use violent manipulation.
Only one might save my soul."

Well, I'm glad I waited to tackle the topic because I got a reply to my original tweet with an article in support of wearing it.  I read the article, and replied within my limited 140 characters that I appreciated the article but remained unconvinced.  My correspondent has replied with links to two more articles, but I have delayed responding because I knew that I was going to need a lot more than 140 characters.

These are the links he sent, for your reference:

On the prohibition of wearing the hijab in French schools...

A shorter one on the ideas of oppression and liberation...

On the impact of psychoanalysis...

Firstly, I greatly appreciate this correspondence as a civil attempt to win over my heart and mind, so to speak.  To be clear, the man in the 60 Minutes interview that prompted my initial comment about the hijab, didn't seem to care what I thought about it, so long as I submitted to it.  My correspondent, on the other hand, I believe holds more peaceful and hopeful intentions.  Even though I disagree with a number of his assumptions, I could not ask for more than to approach this dialogue with that spirit.  So...

As I initially replied to the first article, I agree that France's decision to ban headscarves - a de facto ban on a Muslim girl's observance of her religious obligation - is hypocritical and intolerant.  America has plenty of this "stupid" too.  Schools all over this country have no idea how to deal with dress codes, in general, and get especially stupid when it comes to religion.

In general, this country has not uniformly figured out how to handle religious plurality and the government's relationship to it.  The predominant trend seems to be to try to make schools, or other government institutions, religiously aseptic.  They dither and quake and create prohibitions about any references to any religion, for fear of lawsuits, usually.  I remember before we could learn about the rise of Islam in our history class, the teacher had to spend a good ten minutes disclaiming how the school was not in any way endorsing or promoting Islam or any other religion, but simply spending the time to discuss the impact of the development and expansion of the religion on the events of world history.

Or, if a school or government courthouse, for instance, has some religious artifact or custom - a copy of the Ten Commandments, or pre-game prayer - that they wish to hang on to, they may offer, rhetorically, to also provide time or space to any other religion that wishes to be represented.  To avoid being sued.  This is why I find it so amusing when the Satanists demand to put a statue in the rotunda and they have to allow it lest they lose their own preferred religious artifacts.  That's not because I support Satanism, but because I love to see people called out on their hypocrisy.

Here's how I feel about school and religion in a nutshell: if it doesn't actually demonstrably prevent the other kids from being able to learn, there is no reason to prohibit any religious accoutrement or observance.  And I do not recognize "distraction" or intolerance as valid reasons for preventing learning.  If anything, the kids who are distracted by or hostile towards the kids who are different are the most in need of some more learnin'.

Lastly, this country has wisely learned to make reasonable accommodations for people living with physical or mental disabilities - making wheelchair accessible ramps, incorporating special education into the regular school system.  It would take significantly less effort to just not ban certain religiously-prescribed clothing, or to adjust the class schedule slightly to allow a student to observe a prescribed prayer time.

I'm not equating religion with a disability, by the way.  Just clarifying that it is incredibly easy to make space when we recognize differences as being a part of the unified whole.

As for other government institutions, while I don't think there is any need to inhibit any individual's ability to practice and be faithful to their religious belief, I think it is simply inappropriate to incorporate any religious concept, artifact, or practice into the actual government structure.  I think it is totally inappropriate to have "In God we trust" on our money, or "one nation under God" in our pledge of allegiance.  The far more accurate and appropriate pledge would be something like the one illustrated by artist and author, Micah Wright, which pledged to the Constitution (instead of the flag) and the "one nation of many peoples" it created.

The problem of allowing religion - any religion - to be used as the foundation for the establishment of any law, is that it requires universal agreement on, not only which religion and denomination is to be used, but also the interpretation of dogma set forth therein.  For instance, my grandfather is a retired Methodist minister and, while the official position of the United Methodist Church is currently against marriage equality, my grandfather supports it.  More and more ministers within the Methodist Church are also beginning to openly support it, even officiating same-sex marriages.  It seems very possible that the organization will, in time, also come to support it.  Yet, if that denomination were recognized as the basis for all laws of the land, where would the right to marry stand in the meantime?  We have immutable divine law one day, then a different immutable law the next?

The other problem is, what if we don't all agree with the predominant religious views of the land?  Such a system can't protect my religious freedom to not be ruled by what I might view as the heretical religious practices of others.  What if I did agree, initially, but then had a crisis of faith?  If the divine imperative behind the law were lost, and if our premise is that a law ought to be followed because it comes from a divine authority, what then would be my compelling incentive to abide by that law?  As it is, the hope is that our religiously open social contract must use universal reasoning, and empathy, to construct our laws, not supposedly divine authoritarianism.  We have set down certain governing principles that should apply to all human beings, and we endeavor to construct our laws in keeping with those first principles.

That's the idea, anyway.  As I said before, we still got a whole lot of stupid around here.  Anytime the majority forgets its humility, that it is ultimately no different and no less vulnerable than any minority group, the majority will tend to try to establish laws that benefit it best - unless we cultivate the safeguards necessary to protect against this. be continued at another coffeehouse that is not closing in 15 minutes...

Dobra Teahouse
(open til 10pm - woo-hoo!)
Shakespeare's Tea
(found in The Winter Tale, Act IV, Scene 4 - so good and winter-y)

So, where was I two hours ago?

Ah, yes - god, government, authority.  That was the part of that first article that I agreed with - the hypocrisy.  What I did not agree with was the assumption that the discrimination was against modesty.  I think the example that less-dressed women were currently being afforded more protection than more completely dressed women was ironic, not indicative of men still imposing their preferences on women.  I think the matter was entirely about religious intolerance.

That being said, I think supposedly liberated cultures like ours are, in fact, still dealing with pressure to abide by men's preferences in our beauty standards.  That does not, then, mean that women are only "liberated" when they "free" themselves from the lustful stares of men by covering themselves from head to foot.  That's a pretty Orwellian interpretation - "Freedom is slavery" kind of thinking.

When societies make a great shift in their institutions or ways of thinking, they rarely have a totally healthy "correct" alternative structure or philosophy ready to take its place.  We found tyrannical monarchy unacceptable and moved towards democracy as keeping with a truer state for mankind.  And we kept slavery at the same time.  It takes a long time to shake all the stupid out of better ideas.  We're still working on it.  And since the freedoms women are finally being granted are fairly recent recognitions, we're still dealing with the vestiges of the mentality we are trying to leave behind.

Feminists use the term "Patriarchy," but it should be understood that is meant to refer to male-gendered dominance, not some inherently masculine values or behaviors.  Feminism, if you need it spelled out, is not about hating men.  It's about valuing men and women equally, allowing people the freedom to define themselves by whatever traits they feel fit them best, and to exercise their wills with equal freedom.

If a woman must hide herself in public, she is inherently not exercising her will freely.  Even if you don't agree that she has to be completely covered to be considered modestly dressed, her attire should not be a requisite to be treated respectfully or to go about her life safely.  To say that she must dress a certain way to keep men from lusting after her to such intensity that they are driven to assault her, or engage in other criminal or deviant acts in their sexual madness - that is absurd.  It assumes men are savage and cannot cope with their emotions.

And if men are so weak, shouldn't they be the ones who should wear blindfolds to protect women and the greater population, being led around by their obviously superior female family members who are somehow capable of mastering their own desires?

I have grown up surrounded by men - my single father, brothers, uncles, even male family friends who lived with us at different periods of time.  None of these men suffered any kind of ungovernable lust or psychosis because of the abundance of female skin in our society.  My parents' generation, in fact, threw off many cultural norms, including, for some of them - clothing.  Nudity was embraced as the natural state of being for many of their peers.  They viewed clothing as representing old religiously-based fears of sexuality, especially woman's sexuality.  And all the convoluted garments the women of their parents' generation were expected to contort into, were viewed as extensions of the same old desire for men to control women's bodies - from bodice to Burka to brassiere.

And while I happen to think they are generally right, and though I happen to be wearing flowers in my hair right now, I have no desire to strip down and run around like the Flower Children of my parents' generation.  I'm just not there.  Plus, it's chilly out.  And that's why I don't think clothes are going anywhere in our modern society.  Because we now build permanent structures for our jobs and permanent homes from whence to go to those jobs, we are stuck in environments with variable weather, necessitating weather-appropriate outerwear.

Also, I've worked a number of food jobs - I want the people handling my food to wear underwear!

The problems in our society are not nudity or semi-nudity.  Our problem is the sexualization of nudity, and a latent fear of sexuality, itself.  Frankly, it's just a body.  It does not inherently drive a person to lust and craziness.  I remember in one anthropology class, seeing a video of an indigenous tribe of ... New Guinea, I think... and the members of the tribe were almost totally naked.  Men tended to have something tied to their boy-bits, and women routinely wore a kind of long net sack on their heads, running down their back.  That was their form of modesty because, for that particular tribe, a woman's back was the most alluring feature.  Which made me think, "It's always something, damn it."  But the exposure of all the rest of a woman's body was completely incidental.  That particular society had no problem with that much feminine nudity, and exhibited no disproportionate amount of violence or "deviant" behavior within the tribe.

The truth is there is no level of modesty that will keep a woman safe from male violence.  There is no age that will keep her safe, no number on the scale, no disfigurement or degree of ugliness to make her so repellent that she will be left alone.  This culture has a real problem with sexual violence, but neither modesty nor religion, alone, will stop it, because the problem lies more within the presumed authority of men that still lingers.  How do I make this assertion?  Because that's what the statistics say.

Women in Burkas get raped.  Little boys and girls nowhere near sexual maturity or "desirability" get raped.  Old women get raped.  Fat people, thin people, sinner and saint.  They all are within the statistics.  And they have been for centuries - even when Western women's ankles were scandalous - and all around the world.  This is the World Health Organization's study on the subject, which includes the statistic that 37% of women in the Eastern Mediterranean Region (including many Muslim countries that require women to wear the hijab) have been victims of violence by an intimate partner or sexual violence by a non-partner.  There's more to be said about the details of those statistics.  The point is simply that the violence exists even where "modesty" is common practice.

The most attractive thing to a predator is opportunity.  And opportunity is not just proximity, a dark and convenient venue for the crime.  Opportunity is also about the ability to get away with it, the permissiveness of the culture which collectively assumes the victim did something to deserve what she - or he - got, or that the victim is lying.  Sometimes the culture just collectively assumes that rape isn't really rape because, oh, he paid for dinner, or she had said yes once before.  Or because it was her husband.  This is rape culture, and it allows some predators to believe that they are not even predators.  We are most definitely dealing with this reality.  At least, we are beginning to deal with it.

And that is the first step to changing it, because it absolutely can be changed.  First, we acknowledge that it's happening.  Second, we put the responsibility to change the behavior on those perpetrating it - not the victims of it.

There was a viral video of a woman in America walking to work where she was cat-called - the common term for street harassment - 100 times.  In response, a model in New Zealand recreated the video.  She was not subjected to a single cat-call.  The only difference is how that culture deals with men who engage in street harassment.  Men here just need to be taught better.  It is as simple as that.

When a man sees a woman walking down the street - no matter what or how much she's wearing - that he finds particularly attractive, he does not need to feel bad about having that feeling.  It's normal and healthy.  It's also healthy to view her as a whole being, essentially no different than him.  Just another human being walking down the street.  And instead of following her, or hollering out what he thinks is a compliment, or leering at her with that creep smile we women know only too well, he can just quietly "bank it for later" and leave her, the person, alone to go about her day.

And when I say "bank it for later," yes, I am talking about masturbation.  Because that, like sex, is healthy.  Healthy for everybody - of an appropriate age - when practiced safely and consensually.  Desire to dominate and abuse someone else, is not healthy or normal.  It does not originate with lust or arousal, but with suppression and fear of those and other emotions, and with an implicit belief in superiority over others.

Women feel lust.  We can look at a man walking down the street and think that he is attractive, even experience arousal.  (In fact, if women never experienced sexual arousal, sexual intercourse would be an exceptionally painful experience every time, because it is her body's arousal that provides the lubrication for the act).  But the reason women are almost never the abuser, is because we are not taught that we have any implicit authority over men.

The first article I referenced above included this passage:

"The believers are directed in the Quran:

"And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband’s fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess, or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. And O ye Believers! turn ye all together towards God, that ye may attain Bliss. [Quran 24:31]"

It is reasonable to think that men of the same biological family would not normally be attracted to women of their family (there have been studies to this affect - in one, women found the sweat of men most genetically different to be the most appealing), and thus, could safely view their beauty.  But there are a few men on that list that are permitted to view the beauty of women not biologically related to them.  What is to stop them from lust-driven acts because of this open exposure (at home, anyway) to female attractiveness?  Rules, Commandments, social norms?  If they are capable of overcoming this supposedly inherent animal aggression when they view these select few women, why can't they extend that ability to all women?  Do they not also have obligations to all women?  Obligations to respect them and their autonomy?

Ultimately, I am not trying to talk anyone out of practicing their own religious customs.  I point these things out to say that the logic and assumptions behind these customs don't fly with me.  Since I am agnostic and have no religious regulations to adhere to, there is no rationale left for me to abide by these customs.  I don't believe men are incapable of self-control.  I don't believe women are safe when they conform to any standard of cultural modesty - or beauty, for that matter.  I believe objective statistics, including historical accounts, confirm that.  I believe that reason confirms that.

Finally, I will say that, while I think there is nothing overtly sexual in simple nudity, I don't believe that anyone has the right to force the exposure of anyone's body.  I think the recent publication of nude celebrity photos is a kind of sexual violence.  Because we do still have cultural taboos about nudity, and it is a fundamental violation of a woman's consent to share her nudity with whom she pleases.  It is akin to being stripped down in the middle of town, over and over again, against her will.  I hope some day we will recognize that act, the sharing nudity without consent, as the shameful act it is.

But that's another aspect of this culture we need to work on.  And that makes me hopeful, because we are so very capable of change - for the better.

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